Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Forest run

In another cramique-busting measure I went for a long run in the Foret de Soignes today up to the unfortunately named 'Etang des enfants noyés'; a cold and bright morning I returned happily tired out and sweating just in time for tea...

Agrandir le plan

Monday, 22 December 2008

The cramique workout

The cramique workout has been thus named in honour of the yummy if calorific raisin brioche found in Belgium! I had to do the workout to burn some of the bloody calories off!

For the cramique workout you will need:

4 slices of cramique
1 dob of butter
1 empty room
1 old t-shirt
1 old pair kung fu pants
- Firstly spread the butter on the cramique
- Eat the cramique
- Feel lardy
- Wait an hour or so.
- Pull on the items of clothing and go to the empty room with a bit of floor space.
- Do x10 burpees, x10 block and punch combos, x10 front kicks (each leg), x10 round kicks (each leg), x10 side kicks (each leg), x10 press ups, x20 sit ups.
- Reduce heat and each subsequent set by 1 repetition, so next set is x9 burpees, x9 front kicks...etc
- Repeat all the way down to 1.

- Salute the sun (real sun not needed) and at each pose hold for 10 seconds.
- Repeat sun salutation holding each for 20 seconds
- Repeat sun salutation holding each for 30 seconds

- Stand breathing in mother pose.
- Have a hot bath!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Tornado kick!

I was mooching around on the net the other day and I saw a reference to a Tornado kick! Wow... TORNADO,..... KICK! Sounds spectacular and as I'd never heard of it before I googled. I think I youtubed actually but it turns out that the TORNADO KICK is in fact a 360 degree jump spinning roundkick. Yes, I agree the term 'Tornado kick' is snappier. As I was youtubing I found this great tutorial from one of our MMA friends-really nice vid and the technique is only slightly different from the one I do:

...and this is the sort of effect it can have on someone: all the body power and inertia from the spin can make for a strong, powerful kick in competition sparrring:

PS to my shame I can't remember the Korean for this....anyone? (Possibly E Dan Dwi Tollyo Cha Gi)

Autumn Lightning - The Education of an American Samurai by Dave Lowry. A Book Review.

Autumn lightning details not only Dave Lowry's apprenticeship and learning process with the Japanese sword but also the lineage of the style he practices: Yagyu Shinkage ryu weaving the two themes together with relevant insights and inner thought processes. This book is compelling as it is a personal journey which reflects the ancient philosophies and practices upon which this particular ryu was founded giving two aspects to this bugeisha's lifelong journey.

Don't be misled into thinking this is simply a narrative of Lowry's day to day training nor a dry recounting of the ryu's inception and subsequent history! Lowry also works in a lot of feeling about traditional martial arts and underlying philosophies which for me, as a martial artist, help make sense of some of the more esoteric aspects of budo. Easily readable this book covers some interesting concepts such as the spiritual side of training, the hard physical obligation of training, mushin, musogi and much more. 159 pages long in my version and with a good writing style I reckon there's no reason not to make this part of your martial arts reference library.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Mucking about in the garden

So I decided to do a little in-garden entertainment today instead of a run. Warm up was 5 minutes skipping with 12 burpees then some light hand techniques. 

I took this photo through vanity I guess. Sad I know but I wanted to see how it looked (I can't lie!)-and at least I get to examine my round kick a little closer. It seems ok I think- back foot turning out but the kicking foot isn't as horizontal as I'd like: maybe I could roll that hip over a little more. I suppose it depends on the target. If I was aiming for side of jaw I'd be happy enough with that. Bal dung in Korean- the top of the foot.

Interestingly Korean round kick (dollyo chagi) tends to encourage a lean back further with the upper body in order to reach for the higher targets, but I much prefer to stay more upright with my round kick. I feel it's more stable and I can bring my hands into play. Certainly Shorinji Kempo mawashi geri is more upright discouraging the lean.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Master Alex Campbell

My bloody thumb!

Energetic sparring and conditioning session at Tang soo Do last night. I learnt another important lesson whilst bashing up a fellow student: keep your bloody thumbs tucked in! I didn't have my gloves so was free sparring 'naked' (so to speak) and as I thumped him (with a good straight punch I might add!) I caught a hard part of him and as my thumb wasn't tucked tightly round correctly I whacked the end of it which drove it backwards and stressed the first joint. (the carpometaparpal joint apparently! see below) Bollocks, it hurts. But as I said I'll learn. Hopefully ... I'm fairly sure I've done this before! 

Subsequent bag work was good as I was then obliged to tuck it in firmly to contact correcty without further injury.

As it was the last lesson of the year we went for a curry afterwards. The company was great but the Curry Queen on Mill Rd has gone done the swanny for sure....

Sunday, 14 December 2008


"A Florida pizza delivery man who was challenged by armed robbers in the city of Miramar got in first with his own weapon - a large pepperoni pizza."


Taido (躰道)

Nathan Teodoro brought my attention to Taido on the convocation of combat arts (a cool martial arts networking and discussion site) and I thought I'd post a video or two of this quite spectacular style of karate which uses lots of spinning and jumping techniques making for interesting jissen (or randori).

Interestingly the founder, Shukumine, wanted to update karate with more flexible and less 'linear' movement.

Check out the result here...

It was simply-myself.

"What I saw wasn't a ghost. It was simply-myself. I can never forget how terrified I was that night, and whenever I remember it, this thought always springs to mind: that the most frightening  thing in the world is our own self. What do you think?"

The Mirror by Haruki Murakami from Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.

Translated by Philip Gabriel.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Three step sparring

This evening at Tang Soo Do training we did some little-practiced three step sparring which turned out to be very satisfying. It's not usually part of our training like one step sparring is but it brings in an interesting dynamic and forces sharp thinking and quick reflexes making it a good pre-sparring technique.

The three step sparring we exercised tonight were random techniques in classical, formal style so not codified and open to creative interpretation. Given this it meant you had to think fast to get some correct blocks and counter techniques in. Although it's a very linear structure (go see this article by Dojo Rat for more on linear or circular) in many ways there is a lot of room for interesting counter techniques on the third defence bringing the entire syllabus into play: hits, kicks, grabs, throws, immobilisation and although done in a very contrived way I think this may be a good precursor to sparring for some junior grades.

A big problem I see with junior grades and sparring is that they rely far too heavily on strength and speed, forgoing a lot of technique. When I see this I always encourage them to slow it down, take the opportunity to try some fancy stuff and practice things 'live' rather than see it as all out conflict! The aim isn't to kick me black and blue. Not yet anyway. I find ramping up to sparring much more sensible than throwing the juniors in at the deep end at full speed and strength. Tang Soo Do sparring is very energetic and quite spectacular to watch and it would be a shame to miss out on this. Above all I find it thrilling to do and great FUN!

Friday, 5 December 2008

What remains...

"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten."

This makes me think of Picasso-somebody who mastered the rules, then forgot them.

Most people think of Picasso's paintings as being of the abstract or cubist variety. His politically charged and poignant Bombing of Guernica is a fine example of his analytical and cubist style which he, along with Georges Braque, pioneered and for which he is well known. What some people fail to understand is that in his early life he was an exquisite realistic painter, mostly leaning towards neo-classicism which was popular at the time. At the age of 15 he painted the incredibly life-like 'First Communion' (1895/96) which prompted his own father (and teacher) to give his son his own palette and brushes and vow never to paint again! 

Although Picasso may be known for his fantastic and innovative cubist work and possibly later in his life for his whacky neo-expressionist work it can't be forgotten that this guy was an innovator and art pioneer who had gone through the process of learning the rules-mastering them even so as to be able to (at a very early age) create paintings with almost photographic detail and then pushed through those rules, burning them up forming new styles, new adventures in art.

Sound familiar? It should. Martial artists do similar things. Learn the rules-practice hard and do the basics well. Then get your black belt. It's after this we can start pushing boundaries, looking at other styles (if that's what takes your fancy) or just looking deeper into your own style and making it your own. We might not end up being a Martial Arts Picasso but at the very least we should, just like him, learn the basics thoroughly in order to master them. It's then that our true journey of discovery begins. (See also this article about black belt being merely the introduction...)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Why oh why...?

Run and kicks

Just done a light run on this bright day and half way round worked on Ee dan ahp chagi (two-step front kick) and Deah ahp chagi (direct jump kick). 

My main aim in deah ahp chagi was to drive off the back leg and jump at the same time without unnecessary preliminary movement or telegraphing of the technique. This guy illustrates how NOT to do it:-

You'll see he brings his legs together and prepares his body to jump which I feel is no good. Maybe he's trying to close someone down then finish with a powerful jump front kick but for me it's best to practice a seamless deah ahp chagi from fighting stance, straight up and thrust. None of this getting ready..ooh,.... right I've stepped up now...erm....jump....and kick. Jump and kick off back leg. End of story.

Finished off training with some stretches and sit ups. Drawing the bow and propping up the sky.


Whilst reading Dave Lowry's Autumn Lightning I was intrigued by his mention of sojutsu or the techniques associated with spear (yari in Japanese) handling.  

There's a neat video on spear kata here: embed was disabled though :-(

(image: Général lançant ses troupes à l'assaut du château de Nagashino en 1575. Estampe de la série Tsuki hyaskushi ("100 aspects de la lune") de Taiso Yoshitoshi, 1887)

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Midday training

Well it's all well and good me blathering on about training but the only way to train is to get on and do it! And as Nakayama says in his solid training manual 'Dynamic Karate', "the ultimate goal of karate should be the attainment of a developed moral character built through hard and diligent training", I set to do some training.

I warmed up with some aerobic activity and then rotations (it's good to think of muscles like chewing gum: it's more mobile if you warm them up first) I practiced simple punching. My main aim was to initiate the punch from my waist rather than my shoulders. So as an exercise to see my punch driving straight out from my side rather than flicking the elbow out I stood next to the bookcase so my arm had nowhere to go!

Following this I did simple mae geri (or ahp chagi in Korean) keeping my shoulders as they were during the kick to facilitate a follow up punch with the weight of my body behind it.

I finished up with some dynamic tension techniques and some breathing.

Feel better now.

Gonna have my noodle soup soon....


If, like me, you're huddled up inside with the rain and the wind sweeping down outside wishing it were the summer, why not swing by Dojo Rat and think of it in a different way.

It's all part of the big cycle of life: the hibernation, slowing down and growing fat stage followed by the anticipation and joy of the coming spring. Just like themes within Carmina Burana.... 
Don't know Carmina Burana? I bet you do....

Monday, 1 December 2008

The call of the dunes

As I woke up and curled under the duvet of the cold attic bedroom I knew the day had come. I could hear it calling me and although I wanted to stay a little longer in the warmth of the bed I could tell it wouldn't be long before my body would be inexplicably dragged to the seaside and beasted. To be honest I'd seen it coming. It had been calling me all weekend. The sea was waiting and I couldn't wait any longer. After a brief breakfast of a banana (this could have been a mistake but turned out to be fine in the end) I drove to the old fairground car park and looked out across the wide stretch of beach leading down to the North Sea. Seaton beach (recently famous as the place where the canoeist and scamster John Darwin lived and 'died') is beautiful. Wide and long with golden sand. Spoiled only by the odd littering it really is a marvellous place. The dunes, however have even more character and this is where I needed to run- to expend my energy and train my limbs and muscles.

As I set off on the bright and cold morning I headed to Longscar pier not knowing that when I arrived I'd be so inspired by the view that I'd continue on to Teesmouth which is what happened. Just before the pier I had picked up a fairly light but long log and perched it over my shoulders to give me more of a work out. At the mouth of the Tees there's a sand bar and small ridge of dunes where a lot of flotsam can be found. I exchanged my light log for a heavier one. It wasn't too bad-maybe 15-20kg but it was big!

I learned 3 main things as I chugged (I can't really say I 'ran') back to the car park along the dunes:

1. Breathe. It was a long old haul back to the car: about 2 miles and I was completely lost in the moment of carrying the log and progressing one foot after the next that I was aware of my
 breathing. Left to it's own course it was a choppy and fairly quick cadence: in over two paces and out over two paces. I found I could muster more energy by dropping into longer inhalations right down into my belly (using my diaphragm) and exhaling deliberately. It was enough to do this occasionally for a minute or so to keep me going.

2 Mind strength. More than a couple of times I thought, "Oh, knickers to this" and was about to drop the log, or even I found I wasn't jogging along but fast walking. Just at that point I simply told my body to keep going. Or I said sharply: "do it!" I was reasoning that actually my body could endure much more than it was going through at t hat moment and I used the power of my mind to keep at it. This time it worked! Other times it doesn't and I end up eating the chocolate bar....

3. Tucking my spine in. With the weight of the log and climbing dunes my bum started to stick out. I knew this wasn't a smart move as it puts great pressure on the lumbar region of the back so I tucked my butt in. This had the consequence of me waddling up the dune-with a straight back-but with my legs spliced out like a frogs'. Although seemingly ungainly I did work out my quads more in this fashion and saved my lower back some discomfort and possibly pain.

That last point reminds me of an article I read on Fighting Arts about front stance and posture. Go here to see 'A Simple Lesson in Body Mechanics'

Enjoy the route and the pics.

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Last Man Standing

This is a fun tv show about some top athletes who turn their hands to esoteric martial arts and sporting feats throughout the world, usually out in the middle of nowhere!

This series (it's the second one so far) seems a little less focused on martial arts and more about indigenous sports but there are some interesting insights to be had seeing these guys (not sure why it can't by girls too) battle against each other to the winning position. There's a lot of rivalry and a real drive and desire to win. Often the gruelling training leaves injuries scattered amongst the group but just like in the first series they want to continue and to try and win. A great example of this was when Rajko, who had previously split his toe in two whilst chopping wood in the run up to the match, stood up to take part as the last man in a local 'cricket' match (which seemed more like a preparation for war with taunts and shouts). Rajko limped over to the wicket and simply batted his team to victory as well as himself to be the Last Man Standing! 

This is a fantastic example of indomitable spirit. The guy is a true athlete and talks a lot about how positive visualisation and serious meditation helps him. I think it works for him and there is much to be said for positive reinforcement and visualisation. Maybe you might also think of itas  like pumping yourself up before a combat: a mix of adrenaline, psychology and a desire to win.

See the episode of Rajko's amazing comeback here.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The art of war

I visited Duxford Imperial war museum today with my daughter. It was a beautiful clear skied day with a strong wind which cooled us as we walked from hanger to hanger. Whilst in the incredible Norman Foster built American Hanger I was minded of the amazing price young men paid for my freedom during the Second World War. The hell some of them went through. I remember watching a documentary about the making of Saving Private Ryan when Tom Hanks paraphrased Spielberg by stating that we all know war is hell, but that war films never really portrayed this, always erring on the heroic and 'glamorous' side of army life. Well Spielberg certainly changed the war film genre as we know it huh?

But I digress somewhat. My main point was that as I saw memorials I wondered about the art of war, and realised that martial art means literally that. "relating to, or characteristic of war, soldiers, or the military life" (Collins). Further investigation sees the term coming from the Roman god Mars (god of war). Having recently read a story about a spitfire pilot who had (during the war) shot down a Dornier and watched the crew bale out only to realise, in horror, that one of the crew's parachutes had become entangled in the tail structure, I wondered whether martial arts as I practice would have helped this military man? Surely they aren't related. And less so these days with more precise and modern weaponry...

I can see how a martial code and training in a fighting school may have helped hundreds of year ago. Saxon soldiers stood on Senlac hill (picture above with the Abbey of Battle in the background) holding shields in the famous 'wall' as well as their heavy battle axes holding off a strong horse-mounted Norman foe in 1066. I'm sure that both these protagonists would have needed schooling in the arts of war. William of Poitiers said, "It was a strange kind of battle, one side attacking with all mobility, the other withstanding, as though rooted to the soil". Different martial philosophies being tested in battle. Surely this is martial art-kicking and punching and hacking limbs in a mortal struggle to annihilate the enemy?

Can I really develop a sense of what it's like to be at war and use this in my daily life? For example Zanshin is an element of modern training which we aspire to, but I'll never acquire the level of total awareness that this guy did: Terry L. Bryan was in a K-9 unit serving deep in the jungle with just his rifle and his dog. After spending so much time in the jungle and listening outwardly and inwardly theybecame so attuned to the senses of the jungle they could smell people who were out of sight and even be able to judge whether they were Asiatic or American. Read his amazing story here on Fighting Arts.

No, I don't think I'm cut out to be a soldier, but I am a martial artist: someone who uses combat tools and strategies to appraise his own life: not only in a metaphysical way but a bodily one too. My studies help me in my daily life either by working through a situation clearly in my mind or being focused on the moment in order to do something truly well, or even just to sit correctly aligning my spine and muscles as I sit and type a blog.

Some schools of martial arts insist that theirs is still a way of killing and I don't think we should lose sight of this heritage as it clearly lays out our techniques for combat and immobilisation but I like to take elements of these strange (almost archaic) fighting or war arts into my daily life as it's clear I am no soldier. Warriors do however have warrior codes such as 'Noblesse oblige'. a code which helps the warrior lead their lives in society as well as martial times.

These codes can also help us set out clear goals in our lives.

Happy training in your chosen art.

Sunday, 23 November 2008


Another good seminar. As with the last seminar it was high energy and up-tempo from start to finish. Three hours seemed to whizz by and I think we were all a little surprised when time was called (although we extended it a bit by going to the pub). I got a lot out of this energetic session and from its theme of movement. We worked on moving out of the line of attack and countering, moving in between techniques and remaining fluid, staying focused and following your opponent. Within juho we looked further at movement in circles in the footwork and in the hands for gyaku gote and a two handed grab I wasn't familiar with (possibly maki gote?).

Unsurprisingly we were soaked with sweat and tired out when the session closed-just as it should be! The only thing I felt it lacked was a bit of guidance during zazen on breathing techniques. 

Overall a fantastic seminar with much learned and sweat dripped! Thanks!

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Happy breathing.

It's difficult to put my finger on really. I mean, why do we train? Why do we endure difficulties and hardships in order to exercise within our chosen art? Is it so we can put a black belt on one day? Well, I can buy a black belt from a martial arts shop anyday so I think it's deeper than that. I do know people who attained black belt and then, rather than seeing this as the start of an amazing journey, simply left the platform and headed home, never to be seen again. They'd achieved all they needed to.

It's in my fibres though. When I don't train I get itchy. I pace like a caged animal. The energy needs to be expended. But again, there is more to it than making myself out of breath. I can do that by taking up smoking, surely. We go back to the dojo week in and week out as if there was an obligation or something drawing us there. Something about repeating well trodden systems of punches and kicks, repeating these over and over again striving for the perfect technique. Knowing we'll never attain it brings us back even keener to learn because this is a process- a way of learning and feeding your body and mind. What is important is how we as martial artists deal with this process and how this comes into our lives on a daily basis. I read a story about someone who was asked at a grading how often they had had to use their martial arts skills outside of the dojo. Never they replied to which the instructor replied that martial skills should be used on a daily basis. Of course he didn't mean kicks and punches and self defence. He meant that the attitude that we craft and the outlook we aspire to when practicing our techniques should be with us always- in our work and play and maybe even when we're at rest. When we're resting we can visualise our desired successes or play through conflicts we have at work and figure out the best way forward in the safety of our mind-dojo, or maybe we can simply breathe deeply. Breathing deeply is something we've hopefully all benefited from in our training.

Happy breathing.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Joe Hyams dies at 85

"Joe Hyams, a former Hollywood columnist and bestselling author of books ranging from biographies of Humphrey Bogart and James Dean to a popular tome on Eastern philosophy, has died. He was 85.

"Besides his reputation as a Hollywood chronicler, Hyams also was known as an icon in the martial arts community.

"Hyams, who studied martial arts for more than 50 years, was the author of the 1979 book "Zen In the Martial Arts."


Gun's lane run near Histon

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Great 3 mile run around fields and along ancient lanes: the greatest way to spend a bright November day!


Just for fun....

Yours for only $1286. Oh yeah and you have to speak Chinese.
Go see the fancy promo video here.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Nagasone Kotetsu 1597-1678

Nagasone Kotetsu (長曾禰虎徹) (c. 1597-1678) was a gunsmith who later took to making swords and earned a reputation for making simple sabres which were extremely strong. Said to have only made 31 swords in his working life which bear his name, he later became a Buddhist monk whose successors were Nagasone Okinao and Nagasone Okihisa.

Practice is like...


I didn't originally say this although anyone who knows me will feel it very fitting for me.

"You can’t even trade a single fart with the next guy. Each and every one of us has to live out his own life. Don’t waste time thinking about who’s most talented"
Sawaki Kôdô Rôshi

I read this as being described as a metaphor for making practice your own: the guy next to you can't practice for you just as he can't fart for you!

Another run...

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1.62 miles and a wonderful view of swans, moorhens and ducks. Just ignore the noise from the A14!

Building up strength and stamina by running

I've been feeling a little stodgy lately. Maybe it's the weather coming in cold or maybe the extra chocolate biscuits I pack into me but either way I knew one thing: I had to run...

One Saturday morning was a turning point for me. Flo took the kids for the day and I planned a good long route along the roman road near Cherry Hinton and into Wandlbury ring (an iron age hillfort). I obtained details from this really informative site: http://www.plcane.clara.net/cambridge/wandleb.htm and parked where suggested but ran straight along the road to the start of the roman road and on to Wandlebury. What an amazingly beautiful, autumn day. The run invigorated me and when I got home I was tired out, sweaty and getting cool so I jumped in a really hot bath with a cup of green tea. The bath was so hot I nearly burned my balls off. 

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Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Tunnel vision

Tonight in training I was consumed. Consumed with a feeling of well-being. Unfortunately this meant I lost all focus on the techniques I was executing. The exercises we were doing demanded attention on distance and visual focus, especially limb length and penetration. When the teacher explained which techniques we were to do I very ably visualised what I had to do- I imagined myself moving thrrough the technique and where the problem areas might be and ironed those out. Problem was half way through the sequence I realised I had this warm fuzzy feeling. Maybe I was feeling smug but I managed to drift off whilst still going through the motions. My execution was perfect. Well, it was good but I lacked focus on what was ahead of me, my opponent, my reach-where was I hitting? Where was my target. 

I looked up Zanshin as I felt that this was what was lacked but wasn't sure of the phrase and found this sentence which sums things up I think:

"When body, breath, speech and mind are broken from each other and scattered in concept and strategy, then no true action can reveal itself."

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Okinawan -> Japanese -> Korean forms

Some time ago I was researching the origin of the matial art of Tang soo do, particularly the forms we practice (or Hyung) and I came across an interesting thing while training with a local karate club. The teacher is an impressive martial artist called Malcolm Howlett who was trained in (I believe) Goju Ryu and is very knowledgable with an instantly easy rapport. The revelation I made when training with Okinawan and Japanese stylists was that the forms I had taken great care to learn have a strong heritage in the Okinawan forms! I could happily follow a kata class with these guys, even understanding the names of the forms. I believe also that the Korean hyung have vestiges of an older style, that is to say the Japanese kata seem to have evolved in a different way and often the instructor would remark that I would perform an 'older' variant. 

The lineage of Korean karate is often disputed: certain exponents believe it has a pure lineage back to the 3 kingdoms era with no Japanese influence and mostly some Northern Chinese teachings (Northern Chinese kung fu or Mountain style is typified by higher stances, high and jumping kicks). what cannot be disputed though is the similarity between Tang Soo Do's hyung and the Japanese and Okinawan style katas.

Okinawan karate was influenced by Chinese traders who practiced Chuan Fa (chuan meaning 'fist'). The Okinawans developed this into a hard style which they referred to as 'Te' (or fist).  Kara te (originally meaning Chinese hand) was then taken to Korea during the early twentieth century occupation. Note the similarity between Kara te and Tang Soo (China Hand). Of course the nomenlature does not in itself make an argument in itself and it is true that Korean karate is typified by spectacular jumping and spinning kicks with high energy but I believe the structure of the Tang Soo do forms is irrefutably linked to a Japanese and Okinawan heritage.

Okinawan kata Japanese kata Korean Hyung
Pinan Heian Pyong Ahn
Naihanchi Tekki Naihanchi
Passai Bassai Bassai


Rohan Meikyo Rohai
Chinto Gankaku Jindo
Kusanku Kanku Kong Sang Koon
Useishi Gojushiho  
Seisan Hangetsu  
  Jitte Sip Soo

I'll get round to making this look prettier soon!

Friday, 14 November 2008

The new gladiators

Interesting clip on Youtube with some great Benny The Jet footage. This guy moves really fluidly and I love to watch this sort of sparring. It's high energy, focused and hard.

This next video shows him knocking down Koshikawa. Check out Benny's duck at 15 seconds. Takes a lot of balls to do this and much confidence. Great counter blow to the body as he rises up from this.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Book reviews

Traditions: Essays on the Japanese Martial Arts and Ways (Tuttle Martial Arts),
I'm a big fan of the Dave Lowry series of books which give helpful insights into the bridge between martial arts and our daily lives.

Living the Martial Way : A Manual for the Way a Modern Warrior Should Think,
Written by a committed and dedicated martial artist who's been around the block and come back to his house with a load of bruises, experience and a different take on how to progress in the martial ways.

Zen in the Martial Arts, 
Good short read about the contemplative side to the martial ways.

Moving Toward Stillness: Lessons in Daily Life from the Martial Ways of Japan,
Fantastic insights into how Dave Lowry leads his life through martial ways. This is not a technical tutoring book but what you learn from this anthology of short essays can help your attitude towards your martial training as well as in your daily life.


Well the grading went quite well, but not without a few pre-exam nerves. As I didn't have a partner I asked others to help me revise some problem techniques but as they were busy cramming themselves they weren't too chatty. Understanably so.

Upon registering I was told I'd work in a group of 3 with 2 Cardiff Kenshi who were (naturally) charming. These guys helped me out throughout the grading. I needed it as the acoustics were terrible in the hall- lot's of kiais alongwith shouted instruction meant I had real trouble making out what was being said. At one point I interpreted kiritz ('attention' or 'line up') as Chris, so I stood forward only to be looked blankly at and told, again kiritz.... Doh!

Gradings are a great way to pressure test techniques. When you're nervous and have lots of other stimuli to contend with it requires a lot of focus to stay on task. Occasionally I found it hard. Disecting how it went with one of my partners, Beth, she made a salient point: focus on the positive and when a mistake is made, leave it behind- move on.

Important points brought out at the end of the exam were that:  there must be improvement, from one grading to the next. Moving on and focusing on improvement with constant learning is essential. 

Needless to say I came away from this charged for more training and more learning....

Saturday, 20 September 2008

A pain in the back

Following on from my pullled back muscle article (which is doing nicely now thanks) I thought I'd add this snippet I picked up: it's the straighten up campaign!

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Torn muscles and tempers

"BLOODY OUCH!", I said the other day during a Tang Soo Do session. Early on in the warm-up I stooped over and suddenly I felt a "BANG" in my lower back over to one side. After the initial shock of the pain I realised it wasn't going to magically go away. I was most annoyed. Mostly because I didn't warm myself up properly as I should and as I like to before the 'official' warm-up started. This pre-lesson warm-up gives me the time to stretch in a personal way: I know my body best ans know where I need to put in a certain amount of attention, stretch more here, give more attention to the feet and ankles (especially in winter!). But that day I was annoyed at myself, mostly as I wouldn't be able to continue the lesson.

But I did. Reckless I know but I was working on the assumption that keeping it moving (gently) wasn't going to do it as much harm as stopping dead. I have since learned that putting an ice pack on a muscle tear is probably the best thing just afterwards. I came home had a bath and popped some ibuprofen.

I checked some details about muscle repair this evening and from what I can tell (although I'm no expert) as a muscle tear heals it will form scar tissue which is less flexible generally. During this healing period it is therefore an idea to gently stretch out the muscle to try and maintain some of the previous flexibility and build this in to the newly healing part of the muscle. Of course I'm not doing it if it hurts but an interesting point as I think I'd have just left well alone till it was completely healed otherwise. This is a great article!

"Gradually training muscles specifically in eccentric contractions is helpful in reducing muscle strain injuries." Not sure what this means.... :-)

More DOMA blog articles about injuries in the martial arts.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Step forward and achieve your goals

Nick Thorpe meets a Hungarian judoka who has returned to competition after a string of serious injuries - and a family tragedy.


Sunday, 29 June 2008

Occam's razor

entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem
entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity)

We were talking about efficiency (in movement terms in class the other day) and I thought this was pertinent (in a sort of REALLY high level way :-)

See also God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

Friday, 11 April 2008

Efficiency of movement

Effortless power. I read a book called the Principles of Effortless Power which claimed that the author, a winner of wushu competitions in China (unheard of for a Westerner at that time) would imagine himself like a drop of water: fluid, mobile, unrestricted.

My teacher pulled me up on something the other day and illustrated back to me how I executed a technique. It was right (I note this for my pride...shame!) but I was adding in unnecessary movement. Power and movement should be effortless and above all efficient. I am reminded of something a very good classical guitar player told me once: the fingers should hover above the frets like pistons, ready to fire down onto the strings when needed. To lift the fingers high off the fret board is useless as they have to come all the way back down! Only bring them off the strings enough not to foul the note, but close enough to zap straight back onto the string when needed.

Thus it is for martial arts and movement of the body. Only do enough. Make power effortless.

Chaos taking

The term literally means "chaos taking" or "grasping freedom," (Reference.)

Kitchen sink yoga

It's always hard to make time for stuff you want to do isn't it?

I mean, between the kids, work, housework, garden, cooking, relaxing, time with spouse, DIY, blogging....the list could go on! Plus as mentioned in another blog article it's easy to make excuses. The one-eyed god is sat in the corner of the room demanding our attention. Oh and there's a bottle of wine open, so why go training? It's cold outside...!

I there is a way to supplement regular training in everyday movement and tasks. And I don't mean doing kicks whilst waiting for the bus at the bus stop. But you could practice deep breathing at the bus stop! Or discreetly stretch out leg muscles. Visualise those kata while you're waiting for your appointment at the doctors. As you're moving around cutting the lawn ensure correct posture. Bend with your knees, breath fluidly, stretch your muscles.

May sound like common sense, but this can really complement your martial training. When I competed at Tang Soo Do I would often visualise hyungs in bed before going to sleep. Or even just single or combined techniques. This non-active training helps keep you sharp.

It also goes by another name: mindfulness.

Monday, 7 April 2008

A regular martial artist

It's been a long time since I've been in a normal training regime due to half term and laziness- I could have found a club in Brussels or Hartlepool or even just trained for 20 minutes in my own time and space, but no I haven't trained actively for a couple of weeks. I'm reminded of my Tang Soo Do teacher's analogy of rowing a boat up river: when you stop you don't stand still, you go backwards.

He also was keen on emphasising that it's easy to say we don't have time for things that are hard work, require effort. Oh, I'm tired and I've had a long day. Oh the children were keeping me busy. Oh I was invited for a beer with a friend on that night. He would say simply that if you desire something you will make time for it. Simply put if you are invited to dinner on Wednesday, the only reply can be: Wednesday is training night, so no thanks. Regular training is an essential part of martial arts. You just can't study it from a book or in isolation. For a time, maybe, but long term, like many creative arts, you need critical input.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Despondent days

feeling or showing profound hopelessness, dejection, discouragement, or gloom.

Feeling sorry for myself as I've been getting more stick about my cutting technique in iai.
Cheesed off as it's been nearly 3 years since I started and it seems that I'm *still* not doing the basic cutting correctly. This is really the core of iai too!

So I spent 20 minutes in the garden the other day cutting into a punchbag posed atop the wheelie bin with a shinai. Gave me some succour, but I need to keep practising.

And I need to keep taking the criticism on the chin and working on it.

Still feel sorry for myself....

Friday, 25 January 2008

Mirror polishing (Meikyo)

Well the past few sessions of iaido have brought me turmoil and seen me agitated somewhat. Last night I was determined to concentrate on the iai and not let the knocks daze and confuse me.

My resolve was soon broken when during the practice the sensei pulled me up on a few things. Actually I found he was hovering over me somewhat and picking me up - passing over others who were making glaring mistakes! Agh! I was in a real huff. The more he did it the more I blew my cool, the more I fouled up. Now there is a flip side to this. Many really.

My main feeling is that this is probably just my reaction- the way I am: hyper sensitive. Don't take it to heart man! But what about my resolve, my focus? Is it shattered that easily? What a sap. What would my sensei have said if I'd whinged: " Why me?". Well, he may well have retorted that it is somewhat of a compliment to attract the attention of one's teacher. 6th Dan no less! Making time for me! The fact that it was criticism is just a detail. Criticism is part of teaching is it not?

Staying focused on what I'm doing rather than checking out other people's technique won't make my iai any better. Certainly not if I'm denigrating others: finding fault in their iai to make me feel better about myself or justify my feelings of doubt and self satisfaction. Christians have a saying about planks and splinters (Luke 6:42)- quite apt to meditate on just now...
But I sucked it up as they say in the States. Suck it up man, suck it up. You know: Ouch! Just been punched in the gut. It hurts, your breath is caught but you don't want to show it. YOu make a sucking noise, turn red, stand up straight. I sucked it up. Refocused and was back on track. I determined to take on board the points and get the hell on with it.

So what was I so upset about? Ah well it was all this bloody detail-just a fraction over here, do this not that. Hey I'm co-operating here! It was only during the course of the lesson that I realised that that's what it's all about in iai. Maybe not all, but quite a lot of it is about the detail. Getting it right, the constant striving towards that state. Every day we polish the mirror a little otherwise the dust will gather.

So I stopped griping like a spoiled kid and started polishing.

And I had a good session and learned a lot.


Monday, 21 January 2008

Feeling good!

As I made the toad in the hole tonight for dinner I felt suddenly quite tired. I'd not slept well the previous night and I'd cycled my youngest daughter to playgroup this morning so I wasn't surprised when I felt fatigued on coming home from picking up my eldest daughter! I was, however, surprised when I at the start of training tonight i perked up. Usually this lethargy brought on by sleep deprivation and general busy-ness gets me down during training, seeping in to my mind and my body. I try and re focus and bring in zanshin into my training and it does help. But tonight I felt, well ... good! My idea is that it's likely due to the fact that I've stepped up my aerobic training generally. More running, more cycling, more healthy!

So all that pain and discomfort from pounding the pavement seems to be paying off!

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Ouch. Iaido hurts....

Hurts my ego, that's what Iaidio hurts. I find it difficult being told my iai is poor. I don't feel angry or aggressive towards the critic rather disappointed in myself or my performance. My good friend John thinks I'm hyper critical of myself and I think he's probably right. I need to find a balance between pushing myself towards an idea of perfection and trying to live like that and not being devastated if I drop off the path. Just get back up and back on...

And this is what I'm writing about. After two difficult iaido sessions I was driving home and felt glum. "I'm not going next week", I thought for about 2 seconds then in a sudden flash of realisation I shook my head to rid myself of that thought! Last week I my mind was unfocused, no zanshin, and certainly no mushin. I was so worked up I felt all hot and bothered and my mind kept wandering to the thought of global warming. This came about as I looked at the dark windows with mud streaks on them; for a moment I was fooled into thinking it was rain: but no rain! Mild weather for January, ergo: global warming. Consequently no mushin. Boo! The sadder aspect of this for me is that I didn't focus and get on with my iai. It affected my iai.

So this week came around and I was determined to diligently work through my setei iai. This was a good beginning mind set and I went about it seriously. Until sensei picked me up on something. You think I'm being petty? Well let me tell you- I think I was too! As ever he was kind and informative and coached me through Shihogiri and my ego was bruised. But there is no place for ego in the dojo. Especially when there are so many masters who have gone before who have shown humility towards younger and less experienced students. My lesson has been learned. I need to implement it now, next time my wanders. I wonder what the weather is like later....

  • The first strike with the hilt must show real intent to forestall the attacker. Large and powerful movement quickly executed!
  • Draw the sword out and up to threaten this first opponent, with good sayabiki, the the threat is maintained. Once the sword is released and out at chest level, pivot the feet, do not step out.
  • Thrust second opponent, strike first opponent, cutting him down.
  • With a feeling of moving through ukenagashi the hands move up and back (or to the left of the head) as the body turns and moves towards third opponent. If an opponent was striking down at this time the body will already be moving away.
  • Turn through waki gamae. Note: turn sword down first then body follows.
  • Strike down fourth opponent.
  • Return to jōdan-gamae. Crucially keep seme on the opponent and raise the tip of the sword first, as if cutting upwards along the centre line of the stricken man (in my case my opponent is a man)
Also see pp258-268 Japanese Swordsmanship-Technique and Practice by Warner and Draeger.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

The Sword

I'm reading a book about signs and symbols. This is an are which fascinates me. For me it's linked to the development of communication and written language. How did we develop writing systems which were pictographic, or a picture of say a cow... to the written letters forming the word cow! Interestingly the letter 'a' which derives from the Hebrew aleph for bull doesn't feature in the word cow or bull!

Anyway- I digress... My eye alighted rather on the article in the book regarding swords! Swords which stand for power and virilty with their phallic form. He who holds the sword upright and threatens is to be feared! Perhaps I'm over-egging the virile element of a sword. After all, I'm not quite sure what other form a sword could take, other than phallic! There are some Bronoze Age Celtic swords which were 'leaf' shaped, but all in all it's a big metal stick with a pointy end :-)

Interestingly the sword is used when honouring Knights to bestow honour and authority but the book also says the sword can be seen as a symbol of purification. I wonder whether warriors of old thought of their swords as a purifier-cleaving the enemy in two to 'purify' them! Maybe. Maybe not....

The sword is often a violent symbol of death and power.

Japanese swordsmen do have, however, a slightly different take on this called Satsu Jin Ken / Katsu Jin Ken, or life-taking sword / life-giving sword. When the sword is applied without discipline it is destructive or Satsu Jin Ken but with experience and ability the master of the sword can resolve matters without the drawing of the sword, or by the re-sheathing of the sword to show an intention of peace. This is Katsu Jin Ken. Iaido is in fact a non-combatative mental discipline as much as it a physical one. Iaido is the art of drawing the sword but futhermore can be seen as "the way of mental presence and immediate reaction"(ref: wikipedia), thus we see the handling of the sword in a thoroughly peaceful way for the personal development of the practitioner.

Life taking and life giving sword.