Friday, 20 July 2007

Kesa Giri - Tough Iaido training

Well it was a tough training session yesterday. My mind is exploding from it. You think you've nailed a form (haha) and then the teacher just points out one or two things.... (sighs)

So we started the iai with Mae. Firstly I was shown that it's important not to collapse the elbow in at O chiburi. I tend to flatten the wrist and lose the cutting grip and bring the elbow forward first. If the cutting grip is maintained the chiburi can be executed correctly and with much less effort. Equally the tip of the blade must advance over the wrist and the elbow should follow. I was tending to bring forward the elbow and flick down with the hand.

More practice!

But the real penny dropper moment came during Kesa giri. The beautiful standing form which cuts up and then down through the kesa line. After these cuts the tip is brought immediately up whilst stepping back into hasso gamae. (Tsuba at mouth level!) It was here that I was shown the importance of maintinaing the cutting grip- if this grip is kept then the chiburi can be executed. If the hand flattens (as in my O chiburi!!!) then correct chiburi can't be made. PING! Oh yeah. I didn't realise that before.....

My teacher once said that iai practice isn't cutting with a sword. It's everything-it cultivates an attitude towards life. See the bigger picture and have your vision and goals by all means but take care of the detail and make sure you do the job properly. If it's worth doing it at all then do it well! If you decide to do something then you may as well set out to do it well! Why choose to do something then make a half hearted effort at it. It makes no sense. Stay focused on the task at hand and do it well.

(This ripped from web somewhere:)

Bart- "Dad I gave up playing the guitar because it was too hard- I hope your not mad."
Homer- "Son, if something is too hard to do then it's not worth doing. Just put the guitar in the cupboard along with your short wave radio and karate oufit and we'll go inside and watch TV."
Bart- "What's on?"
Homer- "It doesn't matter."

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Training with a strong, sweaty partner

This week's training in Shorinji Kempo seemed difficult. It was a hot evening and I'd made the mistake of eating quite close to our training times and I had an upset stomach. All of these things contributed to my state of mind and the approach I had to the session the other night, but another factor made for an interesting session also: a strong, sweaty partner!

After kihon training we grouped up and started working on a wrist grab and release: yori nuki.

So we started off pacing through it but very soon my partner wanted to execute this technique much quicker, but the effect of the sweat and the fact that he is much stronger (with bigger hands) meant that he just popped out of it easily each time! To his credit he realised this and backtracked which I felt was important. Getting to grips (pardon the pun) with the true essence of the technique is the only route to mastery. Skip those subtle elements now and your technique will develop a shallowness which may not stand up to pressure.

Take for example a simple kick: front kick. Beginners tend to scoop their foot straight up in order to kick skipping the intermediary bent knee position. Even some more experienced karateka have the tendancy to execute a good kick outward but pose the foot straight back down without coming back to this halfway 'cocked' position.

So I'm endeavouring to get to the heart of the technique right from the outset otherwise I'll get into bad habits.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Music and focus

I studied art to A level and loved it! It helped that our sixth form teacher was a passionate artist, well known locally, and his lessons never failed to inject us with enthusiasm.

One day I heard that while we were all sketching outside (as we'd been told to) Big Sharpey had been admonished by Big Bob Watson for wearing his Walkman. Remember those?- Yup the things that used to play cassettes? I know it seems unreal but there you are. That was the 1980s. Mr Watson wanted Sharpey to feel the atmosphere, hear all the sounds which really add up to the illustrative experience. Feel it and it'll come out in the art.

Anyway we were all on Sharpey's side of course. Well he was our chum. And he was big! We didn't really get what Big Bob (er, I mean Mr) Watson really meant by this seemingly killjoy attitude.

But I do now. I own an ipod and I love music (don't get me started!) but if not carefully listened to music becomes part of the background, numbing the senses (not only the hearing!) so that neither the music is really enjoyed, nor the activity being partaken of. I still need music but there are moments when an appreciation of stillness is needed. That's why I don't listen to music while practicing martial arts. So I can hear and feel everything and be completely lost in the moment of my experience. That's true training. Full commitment to the task in hand.

So Bob Watson didn't realise he was a martial artist. Maybe he didn't realise he had a warrior spirit but he certainly had an appreciation of the moment.

Thanks Bob.

Cross training in the martial arts

I don't think any martial art is 'pure'. In fact most of the modern oriental martial arts (in my opinion) descend from Chinese martial systems spread throughout Asia by trade routes. Interestingly I even read that Okinawan 'te' was thus created. As you know this is the granddaddy of karate. Okinawan te was originally called Te-gua. Very close to the Chinese 'Pak-gua'. I appreciate that Karate has evolved a lot and taken on a very Japanese 'flavour', but it certainly has roots in China. II read that 'Yawara' was the only native Japanese martial art which was a kind of battlefield combat giving us today sumo, jiu jitsu, judo and by extension aikido.

And of course, Shorinji Kempo is in fact a very blended art form, its name meaning Shaolin Fist! So I do agree that there has been a lot of cross fertilisation for arts to have developed into what they are now and that's where cross training is good: testing or developing the technique. But I (quite openly) train in SK for the personal development, not to become good at self defence. Most stylised martial arts (in my opinion) aren't great at 'self defence'. If you want to learn about self defence go to a Krav Maga or Systema lessons (which I studied for many years). But for me that's not what I want. Sure I enjoy the physical training of the body, partner training and the free form randori in SK but it's all in to an end of training my senses and mind. (It could be argued that this does help in self defence, but for me that's just a nice to have by-product!)

So yes, I think cross training is great if you want to develop 'your' own self defence style but for me I have a single minded purpose in training but it's taken me nearly 20 years to get there!