Monday, 28 December 2009

Ickworth House run

A pleasant post Christmas run around the National Trust's Ickworth House in Suffolk with EP.
3.5 miles on googlemaps but if felt like 5 or 6! Lots of mud and I was carrying a few too many mince pies...

View Ickworth run in a larger map

Me striking a Brucie pose and EP (comically) pointing out the round house on the map. Phew. We're not lost...

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Samurai

In Our Time this morning, as ever hosted by Melvyn Bragg, explored the history and 'myth' of the samurai throughout Japanese history. This is a 45 minute radio show in a discussion format with analysis from experts in this field: Gregory Irvine author of The Japanese Sword, Nicola Liscutin of the Japan Research Centre (SOAS), Angus Lockyer lecturer at SOAS.

This was a good, broad history of the samurai from early settlement and warring tribes in Japan through to the Second World War with some emphasis on the samurai's chief weapon, the sword. The talk also covered the symbolism of the sword within the Japanese culture as well as its effectiveness as a fighting weapon and how it adapted with the changing methods of warfare.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Information on knife defence

Post-training pub talk led to a conversation about knife attacks last night. This is still, in my mind, a hot topic in the martial arts world extending the age old conundrum of, "Is my style effective in a real situation?" into a whole new and different area. Knife crime is a possibility in this country where gun ownership is tightly controlled but there is much debate about what the stats actually mean. The government and the police force try and portray a safer society but who knows what the real statistics are? This article talks about how we can't say whether knife crime is coming down but CS dug out this interesting snippet from a book called 'This Will Kill You' which clearly states that in the UK "stabbing is the most common form of murder". So that's pretty clear. There is a debate, of course, about how likely you are to end up in a stabbing scenario (most murders are perpetrated by people known to the victim) but this highlights that an awareness of knife defence may be beneficial.

If you do want to practice knife defence then here are some facts, as stated in the aforementioned book:
- Repeated stabbings will kill likely lead to death (er..yeah). The point being that maybe one stab may not be enough to kill an attacker may be after a repeated onslaught.
- Slicing of veins and arteries will result in heavy blood loss
- Defensive wounds occur on the hands and arms due to weapon fixation
- Long blades are often used in a downward stabbing motion to chest and neck area (although are at their deadliest when thrust from the elbow.)
- Usual cause of death: organ failure, loss of blood, shock.

This Will Kill You: A Guide to the Way in Which We Go by Newquist and Maloof

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Martial arts monkeys attack!

A monkey trainer was attacked by his own students in what can only be described as vicious martial arts monkey mayhem! In order to make money street performer Lo Wung trained up a troupe of small monkeys to perform martial arts tricks in Eastern China.

Something sinister was happening in this imprisoned monkeys' brains though and this day they'd had enough. It all came to a head when one of the little chaps had had enough and leapt at Mr Wung with a flying kick. the other monkeys soon joined in bopping him in the eye and pushing him to the ground.

One spectator to this said, "It was better than a Bruce Lee film-they were leaping and jumping all over the place!"

A chastened and humiliated Mr Wung punished the monkeys by tying their hands behind their backs and forcing them to kneel on the ground.

Mr Wung is now being investigated for animal cruelty.

As you sow, Mr Wung, so shall you reap!

Ref: The Sun plus photos. (where did you think this story came from!?)

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Second dan presentation

It's always a pleasure to attend friend's belt presentations.
Oli Moran, 2nd dan. 16th December, 2009.

Monday, 14 December 2009

The Use of Weapons

After a few repeats of kesa giri I made it my learning point to look at losing the tension in my hands and arms. I needed to make the cut flow naturally and fluidly. I was minded that the fencing tutors told us to hold the foil handle like it were a small bird: too tight and we'd crush it, too lightly and it'd fly away. For the next ten or so repetitions of kesa giri I just concentrated on that and loosing my shoulders which led to some improvement but still not the lightness of touch I wanted or expected. The sword and I were two different processes and I was starting to experience a certain level of discomfort and unease. Relaxation of the grip and arms eluded me so I eased off, stood there and waited. It was cold but I took the time to breathe and waited for the draw to begin which it did. I drew and cut and re-sheathed in one (fairly) smooth line.

And then I waited.

Another draw with less tension- without focusing on the problem areas I was allowing the sword to follow its path more 'naturally' and inhibiting it less in it's flow. De-focusing or working on the core element of relaxation helped me connect better with the nature of the sword and of the cuts.

Following from this I took up the bo to continue training with this relaxed attitude which had worked just fine with the sword. I have a beautiful, traditional red oak bo staff which, while not being heavy as such, is substantial enough to lead to tight forearms after a while of training. I was looking for this lightness that I had found in the iai practice. It followed on nicely while executing simple low blocks, turns and strikes. Not grasping at the technique helped me flow and integrate better with the movement rather than fighting against it with my mind.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Wish I'd brought me sword

It doesn't happen often but this morning I've finished my house chores in good time, have little design work to do and find myself at a loose end. Being faced with this moment to myself I decided to make the most of it and drove to Anglesey Abbey for a cup of good coffee and to read a book or two. It's a very foggy day and makes the grounds look really atmospheric-wish I'd brought my sword. I'd love to practice some iai in this freezing fog in beautiful surroundings. Not sure though. It might spook the silver haired visitors to the Abbey grounds!

I find having time for oneself is very important. I *love* being with my family but sometimes I just need a bit of air and time to be with my thoughts. Or even better with no thoughts at all! There's a great chapter in the super little book about zen by Joe Hyams called Zen in the Martial Arts about a fencing master who would have 'do nothing' days. On those days he would not make appointments, reply to calls or even listen to the radio. A good time for him to be comfortable being himself and being with himself. Yesterday on the radio there was an interesting debate about whether 'me time' as an institution or whether really it should be woven into our lives seamlessly so that when we do have calmer moments we can reflect deeply at that point and not need for longer periods of being completely withdrawn from everyone around us. After all we (mostly) live in an increasingly crowded society so getting that 'away' time when you can find absolute solitude is pretty difficult.

I suppose that's why I wish I'd brought my sword! Nothing better than meditation through iai on a cold foggy morning. I did satisfy my longing for meditation by walking through the wooded area concentrating on my footsteps one after the other, breathing with each step. This is pretty useful stuff as when done enough you can learn to slow down, calm yourself and meditate anywhere.

Book review: The Way of the Warrior

This is a hardback, colourful almanac of descriptions of the world's martial arts but is it any good?

There are many entries in the book, which is encyclopaedic in its format, and it does give a good, broad look at the martial arts around the world. I'm sure that some esoteric arts might not be covered but to me it looks pretty comprehensive. The entries I have knowledge about seem fairly accurate but don't stray from the 'party line' and therefore have no analysis. This isn't surprising from such a broad look at the martial arts. What does lift this book is the photo documentaries sprinkled throughout which give more insight into the human aspect of living martial arts, examining how people today, all around the world, dedicate themselves to their art. As a human documentary this is interesting and helps to convey the idea that to some people the martial arts is a unifying force, despite its basic premise of conflict.

Chris Crudelli is mentioned on the cover as the author but apart from a couple of little editorial snippets where he adds that he has trained in this style or that, I can't see what else he really adds. Perhaps he was responsible for the photo journals.

Buy it or not? Good clean, fun book, lots of descriptions about many martial arts around the world but no in depth analysis or critical appraisal. Have this on your shelf as an encyclopaedia of martial arts (especially as Borders is now closing down and has some pretty good offers on!), or just use Wikipedia for free.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Man wrestles gun from assailant outside Manchester pub

Interesting clip. Not my choice of music.

The accompanying news article says the big guy came out to see what was going on and check on his wife. I am somewhat amazed that he walked, seemingly coolly, towards the gun toter. Staying cool may have played in his favour and he certainly used a minimum of movement, possibly as he thought he didn't want to spook the gunman, possibly out of ignorance or that he felt that the other guy didn't *really* want to use the gun. In any case this is pretty ballsy.

What I'm interested in here is the use of weapons; how people use them and why. Surely brandishing a weapon is partly to have a psychological effect on others, showing that you literally hold power, much like fasces were used in ancient Rome. But what likelihood is there that a brandisher of weapons will turn into a shooter? Is the act of brandishing a weapon completely different from having a weapon with intent to use?

Geoff Thompson in 'Dead or Alive' (p.174 ) "a stabber rarely shows and a shower rarely stabs".
Having said that he doesn't recommend taking these people on in the first place! Don't be there is his first line of self defence.

'Big guy' in the video seemed to have intent as he strode out to meet the gunman, so was this a foolhardy act?

Friday, 4 December 2009

Beckham as warrior

I'm far from a fan of football but enjoyed Beckham's take on the prospect of the upcoming World Cup in South Africa and playing some of the best teams in the world. I'm guessing he was asked something like, "So, which team do you fear in the tournament?".

Check out his reply.

Last days fencing and ki ken tai

The fencing course culminates with a competition with the rest of the club. This includes fun atmosphere and prize giving so I was fairly relaxed about going along, despite not having actually fought anyone for real!
It was quite a liberating experience for me as when I have been to martial art competitions I'm always a little anxious about technique, remembering stuff, wanting to do well and not let myself down. These all buzz around my head so calming them is a process which takes up energy. Last night at the fencing tournament however I didn't mind at all! Everyone sees you are a learner due to the blue plastron beginners wear and I had nothing to prove. I went along to see how sword combat would be and to maybe get a few points on other fencers, which I did.
One thing to remark was how tired I was after each bout. I'm sure this was because I didn't really know about the correct and most efficient way to fence, but also maybe because I was lunging too much. I think more astute and experienced fencers don't need to lunge and this takes up a lot of energy. Also I was probably chasing the hit a little too much- I couldn't rely on sitting back, parrying and riposting as my technique wasn't developed enough.

My fights ended against M, a tall left-handed fencer who was very able and who thrashed me soundly with me scoring only one point on him. Afterwards in the pub he told me he'd been working on his footwork a lot which improved his fencing. He found that this could free up his mind to work on the 'point' work and bringing these two together, he said, really improved his game: foot and point working in unison. I couldn't help chipping in to add that ki ken tai (breath/spirit or shout, sword and body) was a similar concept in kendo and other striking arts. Bringing together the spirit of the attack (the raw will of the attack) with the body movement and footwork together with the strike of the weapon (be it sword or fist) gives a unity and firmness to the offence. Ki is sometimes considered as the shout or kiai and in some martial arts if the kiai is not present the point is not scored.

This concept is important on a physical level as it improves the structure of the given attack but also on a philosophical level makes the strike more complete. Movement within a traditional martial art is considered more correct if these three elements are present. This is particularly pertinent within kata or hyung practice when intent, focus and body movement are essential.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

All in the mind

The second half of this BBC radio 4 programme looks at mindfulness in everyday life, taking the presenter through some simple steps to achieve a more relaxed and concentrated lifestyle.

Monday, 30 November 2009

2nd Kyu Grading Shorinji Kempo

Grading was a little nerve wracking as sensei Jee graded a group of 11 kenshi- this meant extreme scrutiny by him with nowhere to hide. Of course this is the right attitude but when you're nervous that's all you want to do-hide!

I was pretty well genned up on everything so felt comfortable but did some pretty poor ukemi which shook my nerves further!

After the grading we slotted into the main seminar which concentrated on the 'mother technique' that is to say: gyaku gote.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


When I started studying martial arts twenty years ago, I was training in Goya Ra Ru (now Tetsudo). This is a pseudo Tibetan, very modern martial art. I say pseudo Tibetan as all the stances, blocks and kicks seem incredibly similar to traditional karate styles and to me the 'Tibetan' tag is an attempt to seem different or aloof. Having said that this artform ignited in me a lifelong passion and drive for the martial arts as a wave of improving body and mind-back then it was touted as the "thinking person's martial art". Take that or not it, I found its approach to free fighting or sparring quite enlightened.

There was, and probably still is, three levels of sparring: compromised, competitive and combat. These are fairly self explanatory and as a beginner the compromised version of sparring in a stress free environment; slowed down and collaborative helps to boost esteem and skill in stringing together techniques. Both participants understand that this is a training exercise with nor pressure to 'score'. I still enjoy this form of sparring as a training exercise much like I enjoy one step and three step sparring. These contrived varieties of conflict help beginner's and experts alike. More experienced practitioners can really feel comfortable looking for striking points and target areas and feeling the flow of different opponents.

There are times and places for more intense and rapid combat but tonight at Shorinji Kempo we were encouraged by TO to really flow through the randori and it felt good. Stress free and gave me a chance to feel more what Kempo is about. Conversely I recall training in Grenoble when I was a student in France with the local University Shotokan club. While they were a nice bunch of people I never felt part of the club. I recall that their kumite or randori consisted of lining up against each other and upon 'Hajime' crap was kicked out of me. You could, of course, tell me to shut up, suck it up and take it but what I found very frustrating was that the brown belt I was sparring with would pull up half way, stop and realign. I didn't understand and he explained that he scored a point so we start again. I was a beginner so really didn't get a chance to score any points! All I got was a load of frustration, sadly. There is a way of thinking that you train in a hard way and the students have to go through a long tortuous journey of getting kicked in but eventually....they get it. They train and train and get pounded but sooner or later 'ils pigent'.

I prefer the slower but more thoughtful approach.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Fist Foot Way

Anyone seen this martial arts film? Looks like it's funny.
Maybe a bit close to the bone in some of the aspects, but funny!

Monday, 23 November 2009

With respect to swords

I have enjoyed my fencing beginner's course with Cambridge Sword but something I find amazing, shocking and at the same time fascinating is the complete disregard for the weapon as an object of beauty, of spirit and as something to be respected.

At the start of the lesson we collect our equipment from the main 'Salle' and transport it over to the smaller one. This entails bringing a bunch of foils which are more often than not unceremoniously dumped on the floor and sometimes kicked into a corner! I understand that in fencing this is simply seen as another piece of equipment but having trained in iaido where the blade should be shown respect it shocks me a little.

The katana or indeed the iaito can be something of beauty and article to be loved in some way. Respect must be shown not only for spiritual reasons but for practical reasons: it's a weapon and deadly! Cleaning, caring and ensuring safety is paramount. The idea of using the sword sensibly is referred to as Satsu jin ken, katsu jin ken or life giving sword, life taking sword. A sword irresponsibly wielded can lead to death and destruction whereas a sword user with good intentions can use his or her sword to 'give' life.

Counter riposte

The counter riposte in fencing refers to a continuation of an attack after the first riposte has been parried. The first attack has been defended and the attacker presses on his or her attack.

This made me think of something we worked on in boxing a week ago and that is to continue the attack even when your opponent is attacking. In other words parry and attack (in this case punch) a the same time. This tactic can of course yield great results but often in our kata work and one step techniques we can overlook this by assuming: block, punch, block, punch in sequence. If we don't understand the forms we can step through them in quite a linear fashion. The boxing counter punch is almost simultaneous.

This isn't to say that traditional Asian striking arts don't advocate this quick counter riposte, it's just something we need to bear in mind.

Some karateka often churn out the old chestnut, "Ah yes but any block can also be an attack". This is certainly true but I think there's more to it than simply banging in a block hard and claiming that the force would have hurt your opponent's arm/leg. This is too simplistic. Of course bunkai or the attitude of seeing and practising applications within kata is now more and more popular and we can use this within our visualisations during training. It's in these applications that we can unlock many of the more sophisticated block ripostes. for example see the following video outlining one of the very first moves many karateka make from Pyung Ahn Cho Dan (peinan or heian shodan). Here the actors show first the moves as they exist within the hyung then the interpretation. Here you will see a fierce multiple counter riposte sequence.

My fencing teacher made a point which might clarify the issue here. We were happily trying out the riposte and counter riposte over and over again with application and quiet dedication and thought we were doing a good job of it. When he came over he said that it was ok but we needed to spend less time on the blade when blocking. Parry and counter were quickly executed almost like one flowing technique.

It's easy to think of the blocks and counters within hyung to be linear and sequential. No matter how quickly you execute them they still seem like a block and punch combination whereas we should be mindful of the idea of a counter riposte without spending so much time "on the blade".

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Starting Right

The following is the first lesson of the Animator's Survival Kit given by Oscar-winning animator Richard Williams. This is a two-minute video about a principle that Williams holds dear and which is often spoken about in martial arts: focus. It's possible that this also touches on no-mind, also called mushin, although Williams doesn't explicitly explore this. He puts forward the idea that we must focus on the task in hand and avoid unnecessary distraction: this is one interpretation of 'kime'. Body and mind focused directly on the sole purpose of executing the task at hand. A decisive technique with full focus of body and mind. Seems like animators use this technique too...

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Meditation 'eases heart disease'

"Heart disease patients who practise Transcendental Meditation have reduced death rates, US researchers have said."

Monday, 16 November 2009

Olympics 2012 'Fighting Chance'

UK sport is drumming up interest for their 2012 teams. This video is for the Tae Kwon Do team. Does this mean there isn't a decent UK team yet? Haven't UK sport got any good links with the TKD organisations and federations? It does seem like this campaign is opening up the entry to all martial artists: open to people with, "Current success at national level or above in a kicking orientated combat sport". Or in other words, Sportification of martial arts.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Grading in martial arts

The aim of grading is not to acquire a new coloured belt but to improve and hone one’s technique and skills. The grading and acquisition of a new belt is a milestone in the continual process.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Tiredness and training

I'm tired out today. It doesn't help that one of my children had a nightmare and I tended to her at about 2am. But I can't blame her, poor thing! The reason I'm physically tired is that I've had training sessions, non-stop for the past couple of days. Shorinji Kempo on Monday night, boxing for an hour and a half on Tuesday morning then Tang Soo Do on Tuesday evening.

I feel a bit run down but I like the tightness of the muscles and the feeling of having worked at something.

Shorinji Kempo gave me insight into the way I learn a martial art. The philosophy discussion was based on this and as a Zen art has some fairly regimented attitudes towards learning. What I found on Monday was humility works quite well at learning. Being there, present for training and willing to soak up knowledge goes a long way. It's sometimes very easy to become over-confident about one's own abilities if one is never challenged! You can potentially get an over inflated estimation of your own abilities. Of course confidence is a good thing and I believe martial arts training delivers this in bagfuls: not the confidence to beat someone up or defend yourself (which is achieved) but the confidence of knowing yourself, your limitations and your ability to train within a process or system.

Boxing was fun. I was completely tired out after it and all the younger scamps looked like they could have trained for another hour! Interestingly the teacher told us that the best way to box is to not get hit. Sounds like a no-brainer but there were a couple of big guys there trading slugs at each other and I think this was meant for their benefit. We looked at turning the body sideways to minimise the target area, laying back, parrying and countering rapidly. I was amazed at how these similar elements crop up in more traditional martial arts. I shouldn't be I suppose because fundamentally there can be only a limited number of strategies to striking another person in 'sparring'. Very good practice of laying or leaning back, out of range and then returning with counters. Very tiring!

Tang Soo Do started off quite up tempo as well with light sparring straight off to warm us up! I realised quickly that my body was tired and I wasn't recovering as quickly as I would like! When this happens I try to focus on core technique, slowing it down if I have to but maintaining good posture. It's easy to shoot out tired limbs to make the technique *look* ok but it's another do the technique well under stress. This was what I was trying to do but very often I ended up gasping...and sweating! Later I had the pleasure of working with a young woman for her hyung. This was made a pleasure as she was reacting very well to my coaching to the extent I saw a great difference between starting and finishing the session! We mostly looked at engaging the whole body from foot through hip rotation and ending up at the arms. It's a difficult thing for beginners to grasp but she did a great job! Younger practitioners tend to fling their arms and legs out without engaging their whole body and this, in some ways, is normal: they haven't seen or been shown the intricacy of the body mechanics involved. I find, however, that once the whole body is being used to generate power it becomes an entirely better experience! And you get more feedback from your body when you do this. Otherwise you just end up flapping your arms about...!

These guys seem to be trying REALLY hard to engage their entire bodies...
(oldie but goody!)

Monday, 19 October 2009

Cambridge fighter Tommy “Two Gunz” Maguire wins MMA Welterweight title

Cambridge fighter Tommy “Two Gunz” Maguire wears his soubriquet well as he shot down title holder Nigel Whitear at this Anger Management MMA Welterweight title fight in the first round.

There was much anticipation regarding this Mixed Martial Art fight and the local crowd in Kidderminster gave Maguire a hard time as he made his way into the packed hall. The atmosphere was electric as these fighters entered the cage and Maguire looked pensive as he focused hard to keep out the boos from the audience. As they lined up toe to toe we knew one way or another the fight would be explosive. Little did we know just how explosive.

Maguire, representing Tsunami Fight Gym, came out swiftly while Whitear seemed to be gauging the lie of the land, possibly planning his moves. Before he could do anything Maguire struck. Maguire pounded into Whitear rocking his opponent back onto his heels before rolling him over and onto the ground. Maguire, on top, faked an arm bar getting Whitear to respond one way but before he knew what had happened Maguire had flipped it and went for and succeeded with a Triangle choke, forcing Whitear to submit in a total of one minute and nine seconds.

Maguire, buzzing from adrenalin, took the belt still punching the air and Cambridge's Tsunami gym added another title to it's cabinet. Given Maguire's emphatic win he'll be relishing the next three defence fights for this title and the opportunity to use those 'Gunz'!

Martial artists leave man in wheelchair stranded up Snowden!

So much for 'integrity', 'No retreat in battle' , 'perseverance' and 'indomitable spirit'...

This shocking story shows a real lack of moral fortitude or at the very least of intelligence. A group of martial artists ascend Mount Snowdon in a very noble fundraising attempt carrying a wheelchair bound guy with them. Having just checked out some photos of Llanberis Pass where they climbed they must have known they had their work cut out for them. Little did they know that when the hike up the path became too tough they'd decide to leave the man in the wheelchair and finish the climb, returning to pick him up some time later. This seems crazy already but there is still more to come! When they came back to pick him and his wheelchair up for the descent they realised they were too tired to take him down and called mountain rescue!

I don't think mountain rescue were that impressed saying that it was "cheeky"and a call-out could have been avoided if the group had decided to turn around altogether rather than ascending to the summit.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Milton Park and River Cam run

On my way round during the river leg I overheard a rowing coach say to his ladies four boat to just maintain balance, don't worry about anything else and enjoy the beautiful morning. What sound advice! A lovely October morning: bright and cool. I tried to enjoy this lovely morning and to forget about the other runners I saw who I was convinced were: a. running faster than me (even though they were running in the opposite direction!) and b. were ridiculing me for my shuffling speed.

Enjoyable too as you pass through the Country Park, pass Baits Bite Lock, the river Cam and a Local Nature Reserve called Logan's Meadow.

Final tally: 4.71 miles at 47 minutes. No change on my speed, but I didn't stop!

View Milton Park and River Cam run in a larger map

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Pro Am Fight Centre flyer

Ok, so it's flyer season and I'm helping Pro-Am Fight Centre out with some marketing communications so here's the second flyer in the series.... :)

They do pretty much what it says on the I mean flyer. MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) training in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, boxing, muay thai as well as full on weights gym and training cage, all in the centre of Cambridge!


Fencing Foil Positions

Is her back hand supposed to be that far over?

Teaching at Tang Soo Do

Tuesday night's Tang Soo Do was less sweaty and more cerebral. It's good to explore lesser taught aspects of the art and tonight meant much in-depth teaching of forms and one steps. I love to teach forms and their applications: it's somewhere you can find real depth in karate so needless to say I had a fun time and loved grilling students to make sure stances were in order. I enjoyed seeing a beginner react to my tuition and 'get it'. She was executing movements in the last phase of the step and from the elbow. A step through and punch should be one fluid movement starting from the front stance, flowing through with the step, arms engaging and body weight and momentum adding power to the torquing punch. Once I'd explained that this step and punch was one movement she stopped prodding the air and got it together! Fantastic. I hope she gets more from her forms now. Hyung is a connected and organic entity not really a series of movements. Describing it as a series of movements almost implies that the movements are disparate. It really shouldn't be considered as 35 moves nor should it be thought of as one 'process'. Usually forms can be conceptualised as 4 or 5 grand processes within one entity. (See also Rhythm in Hyungs)

On that note I am pleased to say that I learned a new form. Something I haven't done in years so it was a pleasant experience. It seems a completely different process from when I was a white belt. Back then I struggled with basic concepts such as low block or front stance or (as above) dealing with chunks of form rather than piecemeal. Now I know how to execute a low block so I don't need to expend energy on that but I do need to dig deeper into the application and rhythm (or punctuation) which is challenging but in a different way!

This is not the style of Rohai I learned but this is beautiful to see:

New books

Found a book on fencing in the library and bought another on Medieval Combat.

Unfortunately the fencing book I borrowed 'blind' as I ordered it from another library over the web so didn't see the contents beforehand. This meant I was a little disappointed as what I really needed was a broad overview of the basic foot movements, stances and positions. This is undoubtedly a detailed book but this is for the advanced fencer. I have gleaned some interesting information: prime, seconde, tierce, quarte, quinte, sixte, septime, octave... but on the whole too advanced for me. (Fencing: Essential Skills Training by Ed Rogers)

Medieval Combat by Hans Talhoffer (ed Mark Rector) seems more my thing. I won't be taking any lessons from this into the salle or the dojang (particularly the illustration of trial by ordeal of a man in hole pitted against a woman with a club...!) but it's given me more to get my teeth into.

This book is a reproduction of Hans Talhoffer's fifteenth century treatise on combat and fencing called 'Fechtbuch'. Smashing illustrations showing combat covering wrestling, sword work, pikes, daggers as well as mounted conflict. Very interesting to see the parries, stances and weapon positions used plus plenty of blood with hewing of heads and murder strokes as well as weird 'judicial duels' where the loser would fight in front of his own coffin.

Great insight into medieval justice, fighting techniques and attitudes towards weapons.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Mudrunner 2009

Ten kilometres of real hell and pain mixed with comedy, laughter and occasional breathtaking scenery! Amazing where you go to in your head on a long pound like this. Occasionally I found myself counting in Japanese up to ten repeatedly just to keep a rhythm going. One step in front of the other.... Keep on going, keep breathing...

6 miles of the Land Rover test course over rough terrain, sharp and long inclines, mud baths, fording becks and slog, slog, slog. I made it in where all the fairly fit non-runners came: 279 out of 400 competitors in a reasonable time of 1 hour 34 mins. Way more (in my naivety) than I thought I'd make.

View Larger Map

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Never judge a book by its cover

...or a lesson in not underestimating one's adversary.

Worth a watch as 'drag queen', Steve floors thugs on a night out in Swansea. The interesting bit starts at about one minute in.

Does the dragged up victor then scrawl lipstick on the thug's chest? Sweet.

Turns out the 'drag queens' were cage fighters...
(Thanks CS)

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Walking in the air

Dean Potter seems, to me, an unusual guy. He is an avid rock climber and in addition he loves to highine. Highlining involves crossing a nylon cord tethered at both ends: a bit like tight rope walking but the nylon is about an inch wide and seems to be usually flat.

Nothing unusual so far. This sort of 'rope walking' might be a great way to improve balance and sharpen focus when attached a few feet off the ground. The unusual thing is that Dean Potter likes to do this whilst the line is tethered between rock faces. Oh yeah...nearly forgot...he likes to do it without any safety harness....!

Whilst this sort of thing seems crazy to me I was drawn into the documentary I saw the other night called 'The Sky Walker' on channel 4 and saw some obvious parallels with the martial arts. I'm intrigued as to the way he deals with the fear. An earlier pioneer highliner who used safety lines spoke of the amazing fear you get, even knowing that when the same line is tethered low to the ground can be almost jogged across! This pioneer took many times before he could get across to the other side. He says that it's difficult to combat animal instincts of fear of falling and self preservation: all his fibres in his body screaming at him to stay on the ledge and not venture out. the pay off of course is the feeling of being alive upon arrival on the other side...

But Dean Potter takes this to another dimension. Sure, he admits nerves and we see him trying out the walk on the highline with a safety harness but he's learnt to control his fear. I think he mentioned that this is what drives him: the feeling of being alive! I don't think he's blase about the risks he's taking; he mentions a good friend who died (doing extreme mountaineering) but he needs to feel this aliveness and has to go through a process of fear to get there. In order to do this he controls his fear through breathing and focus, "I'm focusing on my breath and trying to stay real calm", he says. As well as giving him a massive rush it also heightens his awareness to the extent, he says, that in extreme moments he can see the air move.

Now I think he is unusual, not because he wants to conquer fear but he goes to such extreme lengths to do so. We all want to conquer fear. We all have demons to face (this phrase always mystified me when I used to watch trashy martial arts films but I've solved that now- I don't watch them any more!) but most of us are happy enough to deal with tricky presentations at work or a karate championship. That sudden burst of adrenalin, pounding heart and cold sweat in the hands but despite all this you know you have to perform. Occasionally I can drop out of this cycle by recognising that this sales pitch or kata I need to perform isn't a life threatening situation. It just has to be done. But to be honest I find that this takes the edge off my performance and actually the adrenalin squirt helps keep me sharp. Focusing on the task and breathing regulation as Dean Potter does helps enormously but in his case, it really is life or death.

I watched the documentary with detached interest and admiration for the guy 'til it got to the scene where the camera records his passage across the line at considerable height and it was then that I realised explicitly what sort of situation this guy was putting himself in. See for yourself here: (note, although some of the film shows footage directly under his feet I believe this was due to a downward facing camera rather than him looking directly down)

Saturday, 3 October 2009

A case of stating the bleedin' obvious

"The taste of your own blood in your mouth while someone is punching you in the face is not a nice thing"

(Commentator on the Phil Goodwin / Bob Ajisafe boxing match)

Wimpole Hall 10k run

I started today's run in the front section, encouraged by EP to start in the 'those who think they'll finish under 1 hour'. This was ok as we set off and I felt good running with the lead pack. At the back of the lead pack, I grant you. Slowly over the course the rear pack one by one or in pairs would overtake and jog on by. I really had to stay focused and not worry too much about other people's races. This was me and the course and the time: that's it. It was good to have people all around to keep me on track and enjoying the day.

View Wimpole Hall Run: 10km in a larger map

It was much hillier than I had thought. I know Wimpole Hall and the surroundings and I imagined slightly undulating wooded areas. It turns out I don't know the area so well. Lots of (what I consider) gruesome hills, through woods and over fields. At one particularly sadistic part of the course it descended sharply over a grassy slope for two hundred metres or so. At the bottom: turn round and get back up the slope. Gasp.

I plodded on and didn't finish last. My time was curiously a little worse than last week but with hindsight I reckon this week was a hillier.

Final time over 6miles: 65minutes.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Fencing debut

I can't say I am unbiased about my first fencing lesson: I was *thoroughly* looking forward to it. I've wanted to taste what fencing is all about for years and this course only runs once a year which only highlighted the anticipation.

I turned up and met a few other beginners: a big class (not surprising given its infrequency) and after an initial introduction we set to practising footwork. This didn't surprise me at all as this seems (much like other martial arts) the basis of movement and by extension of fighting. Most of the two subsequent hours were given over to this moving forward and backward in basic forward lunging stance and fighting stance. These were very similar to a classic karate front and back stance which didn't come as much as a surprise. They did have some differences but as a family these stances used in fencing and classic karate are in the same family. Not the same but siblings certainly.

It was exciting to be learning and drilling within a completely new framework outside of my order of understanding. You could say that sparring is sparring whether it's with your fists or with a length of steel in your hand. The aim is to get the opponent: tag, touch, hit or strike. Movement seems much more restrained in fencing though with it's linear back and forth, to and froing. For example I only learned fighting stance in a right hand guard and our drills were in this format forward and then...backward! There's no deviation from that (at this stage at any rate!).

The following video shows much more than what we covered in our first lesson and is a great and deep study of body movement and weight distribution:

Sunday, 27 September 2009

First 10km run...ever!

I completed my first ever 10km (6mile) run and I'm happy to report that I survived, although given my rough start I thought I mightn't've even finished it!

We arrived with plenty of time to register and relax a bit but at the last moment I needed to dash off to the loo and when I re-emerged they'd started! Without me! So I was running hard just to catch up with the stragglers and then the uphill struggle really started. A long slow incline stretched out ahead of me which I dutifully pounded into. As we descended into a farm I thought I might be getting in a good stride only to find another set of sharp-ish hills to get up. It was important for me to concentrate only on the moment I was in: one foot in front of the other. If I'd focused on how hard it was and how much left of the course there was still to run I may have given up. I kept at it and came out over the small heights above Royston and could see the finish line down below.

My final time was nothing to crow about but I did maintain roughly 10 minute miles. The overall route was 6.4miles and I managed a time of 62 minutes: just better than my training times probably due to other runners helping me set a pace.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Slightly quicker Gunn's lane run

Did this run again yesterday morning (lovely weather for a run: cool but bright!) and I managed to do it a bit quicker. Only by three and a half minutes quicker though, dammit! I guess I should be pleased though as I didn't stop this time for a gasp and a rest. I felt stronger and more ready to finish. So some progress there is better than none!

Time was 41 and a half minutes (about ten minute miles).

Quote of the day

Plutarch - "The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled."

Google offered me this little titbit which I thought was quite useful for a amrtial arts training outlook!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Boxing class at MMA gym Cambridge

I stopped off at the Pro-am fight centre this week: they have an extensive gym as well as a full size cage and mat area with plenty of hanging full size and half size bags. These guys train in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) in Cambridge and even have professionals who drop in to train for fights. I was roped into a boxing class, which was entirely new to me. I have done some savate in the past but really nothing to talk about so I was intrigued by a boxing lesson.

The teacher was ABA affiliated and extremely good: polite but worked us hard. There was some very different levels here (including me, relative beginner) and he catered for us all and by the end of the hour (or was it 90 minutes?) I was sweating buckets... But I was happy and felt I'd learnt a lot (hands up, strike and move, maintain a distance, stay relaxed).

Great class, I'll be looking at doing more! Maybe I'll try the Muay Thai class....!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Another run

A light run in preparation for my 10K in a week or so.

A disappointing 12minute mile. I had to stop a little half way round for a pee but honestly...12 minute mile!!!

View Short run in a larger map

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Teaching debut

Last week was my first lesson in charge of the little uns without back up. This in itself didn't worry me at all! I always have fun with the junior class and I try and instill in them broad principles of martial arts such as awareness, confidence, responsibility, as well as physical techniques.

I did find it a problem not having an assistant though. This meant that I had to spread across the entire range of abilities from absolute beginner to very competent and eager brown belts. Delegation helped and I managed through the lesson to get everybody involved but felt that the level may have been a tad simple for some of the older and more advanced children.

It's going to be a challenge to get their syllabus taught when I have to introduce base concepts to other younger members which is, very often, a time consuming exercise! The other children of course benefit from revising basic elements but I need to work carefully on my lesson plans!

Tips welcome!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Gunn's Lane run

For the first time in ages I went for a run and half way round this 3 mile route my body told me it had been a *considerable* time since I last ran! I was pleasantly surprised to calculate the run at the end of the course at 4 miles. I'm glad it was 4 and not 3 as I only managed to hobble, spluttering around it in 45 minutes! (11minute miles!) Well...there's progress to be made!

View Gunn's lane run-variant in a larger map

Friday, 4 September 2009

Sine wave in forms/hyung/poomse

I'm currently reading a fascinating book by Alex Gillis regarding the history of Tae Kwon Do which is called 'A Killing Art-The untold history of Tae Kwon Do'. This is an excellent read, if somewhat dry in parts, and reveals some interesting facts about this very modern art.

I often thought that certain Korean Tae Kwon Do practitioners had a certain bobbing up and down feel to their forms somewhat and reckoned this was due to stylistic or cultural differences. I've always been told to move through from one technique to another aspiring to keep the head as level as possible and to minimise 'bobbing'. Gillis says that General Choi introduced what he called a 'sine wave' to his forms when he was introducing Tae Kwon Do to North Korea in 1980. This, maintains Gillis, "distinguished it from Karate and Kim Un-yong's Tae Kwon Do".

This sine wave relies therefore on gravity for power and not a hip rotation and as Gillis writes, "gave Choi's...patterns a distinct style-slower, more rhythmic".

Whether or not this is more powerful I cannot say as I have never practiced the sine wave but it helped concretise the schism within Tae Kwon do and meant Choi could claim the North Koreans were practicing "pure Tae Kwon Do" and that other instructors were "fakes".

Here's an interesting video showing the diminuative Choi himself emphasising the 'big' sine wave:

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And this other video shows 'Choong Moo' hyung being performed showing this chracteristic bobbing motion:

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Encouragement for beginners to sparring

I offered some pre-tournament sparring practice to a friend who gladly accepted. Off we went to the country park...

As we searched for a suitable clearing to kick off our shoes I asked her what her 'problem' was (so I could focus on this in the following 45 minutes) and she replied that she found it difficult to score a point. She was a bit flustered by the plethora of techniques she knows and felt unable to bring them into play during sparring.

OK-let's bring up her confidence by concentrating on a few essential sparring techniques, after all much free-fighting is made up of front kick, round kick and a variety of straight punches. Of course we aspire to be able to use all our techniques in order to score the point but invariably we rely on a stock of well serving base techniques and sometimes the simpler, the better.

So with a minimum of time we set about improving her confidence (she'd only sparred twice in class before!) and this is how we did it:

Round 1: Just front kicks from her. I would encourage her to connect with the attack and I would counter at competition speed with anything I fancied but she must use only front kick.

Round 2: Same deal for me, but front and round kick for her.

Round 3: Front kick, round kick and punches.

Last round: Focus on these three but feed in any 'fancier' technique if she felt that there was a scoring opportunity availing itself. (In the end she only really added in back kick and possibly side kick).

I also emphasized kihaping.

How did it go? She's a natural. She didn't need my help she just needed confidence. It's easy to forget that when we started out in a particular style there is a bewildering amount of techniques that we are exposed to directly in our syllabus or indirectly in group classes and often this is just too much information and we cloud up. "Oh yeah but I can do this, no wait....Er, what about this technique...."

No. Stop. The object of competition sparring is to get the point. To score within whichever framework of rules exist. In order to score you have to react to the attacks of the opponent as well as look for opportunity to counter or initiate. My advice today was to use a core set of techniques (as the student is a relative beginner) in order to score points. Keep it fairly simple.

What I didn't do was go easy on her. My attacks were speedy and of varying heights: I wanted to get her flinching, checking out her blocking reactions, which were great!

Photos courtesy of my little girl...

Friday, 28 August 2009

Exercise won't make you thin


I thought it was a done deal! I exercise more therefore I burn more calories and stand a better chance of fighting the flab. Ah, but that it were that easy.... After reading a recent article in Time magazine I can see my efforts are futile.

So my exercising might make me feel good-of that there's no doubt but what I really need to do is knock off the post work out muffins.

"In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless," says Eric Ravussin, chair in diabetes and metabolism at Louisiana State University and a prominent exercise researcher.

The regular exercise I do *may* reduce my risk of developing some of those really nasty diseases so that's coolio, but not help me lose weight. This thinking had baffled me but I read on and was enlightened: your metabolism is regulated by the exercise you do. If you do more exercise you are likely to get more hungry. It's that simple, plus you might be more likely to indulge yourself in an aforementioned post-workout 'treat', piling back more than the colories you burned off.

The important thing about exercise for me, though, isn't the weight loss it's about that great feeling you get from it. Feedback from my body during and after exercise makes me feel great! It could be the endorphins that are released that do this but I'm talking about the real communication with my body-aches, lactic build-up, the feeling of my skin tightening, muscles contracting. Massive.

But exercise as health insurance isn't guaranteed either. The boffins reckon that we are designed more for low energy activity spent very frequently throughout the day (gathering nuts, hunting, checking on the cave guttering-that sort of thing) and it's this sort of exercise which proves very beneficial. Binge exercising is not as healthy as it seems.

Lose weight: eat less and ensure low level activity often.

I'm peckish now.

Rex Kwon Do

Ok, ok....last in the series of funnies!

"Do you think anyone wants a roundhouse kick to the face while I'm wearing these bad boys!"

Monday, 24 August 2009

Advice for martial arts teachers

I read recently in a book on the subject of teaching the following passage:

"it is very tempting to propose something like 'Do you understand?' or 'Is this clear?' The problem with these questions is that despite feeling unsure about what they have just been taught, most students when confronted with a question like this are unwilling to admit they don’t understand. They will most likely answer 'yes'. As teachers it is our job to check if students have understood rather than simply ask them."

OK, so that's the first self defence technique- understood? Good, off you go and practice in pairs, I'll be back in 10 minutes.

Seem familiar?

It seems glaringly obvious but as teachers we should concept check often: get the students to show that they have understood before pairing off to practice and even then come back and concept check often.

As a student I find it hard sometimes when a teacher comes back to check then introduces a further level of complexity before I've even grasped the initial concept.

The solution: KISS them.

Not literally or there may be ramifications. But Keep It Simple Stupid. The Stupid was probably put on the end by the marketing guru who thought this up to give it some pazazz.... ho hum.
(Wikipedia states: that KISS is possibly based on ideas "such as Occam's razor, and Albert Einstein's maxim that "everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler"".)

Keeping it Simple need not mean not showing examples or context but I find the simpler the better.

Concept check and KISS.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Ricky Ponting's fighting spirit

It's always great to beat the Aussies. Why? Well we're old rivals, it's clear to see, but also it's cos they're such bloody good athletes. As I type this on a sunny summer afternoon England are on the verge of winning the Ashes from them. It's not over and there is a *slim* possibility that they could see today out and bat all day tomorrow. But it's so slim that I wouldn't want to make a ham sandwich of that slice of slim-ness.

The amazing thing is though that the Aussies never give in. They have an amazing resilience in the face of adversity which has stood them in good stead in the past. At the opening of play today they were 80 for no wicket and the openers looked mighty comfortable. Even when they were sent from the field of play Ponting looked really in command. If it wasn't for an amazing run out Ponting, one of the best batsmen in the world and certainly a great captain, he may well have steadied the ship. The commentators never cease to say that the Aussies have the "stomach for a fight", "never say die" and this has been clear today with an incredibly solid fight back. They'll be kicking themselves over their first innings collapse of 160, something which has been attributed to English teams in the past.

If you're going to pick a fight with an Australian then make sure you know you're in for the long run.

And good luck.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Epee and foil

Introduction clip regarding the difference between epee and foil fencing:

I wasn't impressed with the fencing videos I found: there were no in-depth studies or good tutorials in my opinion. Please post if you've found some of note.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Organic food 'has no health benefits'

"Organic food is no healthier than ordinary food, a large independent review has concluded."

"Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."

""Although the researchers say that the differences between organic and non-organic food are not 'important', due to the relatively few studies, they report in their analysis that there are higher levels of beneficial nutrients in organic compared to non-organic foods."

As clear as organic mud pie.

Tuesday class

Guinness is good for you-official!


"The old advertising slogan "Guinness is Good for You" may be true after all, according to researchers."

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Killing Machine

I have a deep, dark and for a martial artist, a terrible, terrible secret. It's ok though. I'm happy with myself. I can say it... I'm a martial artist and I don't like martial arts films.


I know.

I've even had some people say to me that the reason they started practicing martial arts was because of the Bruce Lee films they saw! Dutifully I've tried. I really have but the best I can say about them is that they're crap. None of the fancy choreography or fight sequences do anything for me.

Sadly the latest film I watched called 'Killing Machine' (1976) didn't really change my mind either. It's fairly rough and ready and quite badly put together and cliche is piled upon cliche so I hardly warmed to it. There is, however, quite an interesting story underpinning the whole film, that this is the (unofficial) biography of Shorinji Kempo. So for me to say the fight sequences are lame might put me on thin ice. There's plenty for kenshi to enjoy in the film but you'd think that the only technique in Shorinji Kempo was gyaku gote!

The actors are quite obviously trained kenshi and this raises the film somewhat but it can't mask the true nature of this film and that is as a corporate video. OK so it's the way they might do corporate videos in 1976! The film shows the development of Shorinji Kempo after the war and the hot-headed Doshin So's efforts to create a dojo for the betterment of the common people. These are fine fundamentals and they still remain at the heart of kempo. As such the film does have a certain inherent value but I'd say only for the die hard Kenshi or maybe martial arts film geek. Sonny Chiba is 'good' in the film.

Bit cheesy, good kempo moves from Chiba, interesting as a training/research 'aid' or insight.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Iced coffees 'a meal in a drink'

"Some iced coffees being sold on the high street contain as many calories as a hot dinner, a cancer charity warns."

Another nutrition/dietary article from the BBC website.

(and just in case you were sitting there feeling smug while tucking into some 'healthy' dark chocolate...think again:

Stressed and strained

I seem to be having a stressed couple of weeks. Modern life sometimes goes at a billion miles an hour. But we have to find a way to get on, carry on and push through the mist.

Part of this process involved a long barefoot run along the beach. 5 miles of firm sand and a salty bite to the air. It was sunny but I kept my running jacket on as the wind was chilly.

View Long Seaton Carew run in a larger map

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The British do not like to fart


Are lentils the perfect food?

This article outlines one journalist's love of lentils and the wonderful benefits they can bring to our well being. Professor Jeya Henry explains why the British tend not to eat lentils, mostly because post war food production was geared towards meat but also adds because, "The British do not like to fart". That's a matter of opinion.

And in an attempt to balance this healthy article, you should check out the heart attack grill. Beware, as their website states, "None of the women pictured on our website actually have any medical training, nor do they attempt to provide any real medical services".