Friday 30 January 2009

Neighbour jailed for sword death

"A man who killed his neighbour with a samurai sword in a row over a football has been jailed for 11 years for manslaughter."

Mr Martin died when one of his major heart blood vessels was cut.
Kelly told the court he acted in self-defence.
Judge Christopher Moss said to Kelly: "You had lost your self-control by reason of provocation.
"Your use of the sword was quite deliberate."

Note the use of the word 'samurai' in this piece's header.

While this may be seen as fodder for the ban the sword lobby (see the Mail article below) I see it more of a case to keep one's level-headedness and cool approach to conflict. Don't lose your cool! (or bring out the 'samurai sword' to settle domestics...!)

Whilst digging around for references to this article I came across another sword related death. This time (unsurprisingly in the Daily Mail) more samurai scare-mongering over this sword. Samurai sword mentioned in headline and in the image caption.

This is the sword.

Thursday 29 January 2009

Martial Arts Festival UK

Will it be worth the trip along the A14?
I'd like to think so, plus if we get booked into some seminars then it's more likely to be useful.

I would snip in a synopsis of the site but ALL of the text is saved as images..



Wednesday 28 January 2009

Free fighting

Last night I was struck how little of interest is on telly these days. Granted I don't watch a lot of tv (I have two young kids!) but a couple of times a week I want to sit down for an hour after all the chores are done and absorb something. As I said-nothing doing on tv so I rooted around and found a DVD about martial arts I'd forgotten I had! Smashing-beer and martial arts documentary...

The blurb on Deadly Arts (it was first shown on National Geographic) says:
"A martial artist with over 25 years of experience, black belt Josette D. Normandeau sets out to uncover the history and culture of six martial arts. At the same time she will train under each art’s top masters… to the very limits of her endurance and ability. Her goal: to win what the masters possess: a touch of invincibility"

Hmmm. I won't be too disparaging. If you can't say something nice...!

Despite some small annoyances the capoeira episode I watched was very well produced and gave a great insight into this martial art (I thought it was more dance-like than this show illustrates) and made me think about the different aspects of free fighting (sparring or randori ). Quite timely as Mokuren Dojo has a thread about kata and Dan Praeder makes an interesting insight in the comments. Plus I had a frustrating randori session the other day...

So what did I see in capoeira? an immense amount of focus and control. What seems to me as a dance interspersed with kicks is much more aimed at a flow back and forth of energy between the players. There is definitely an aim to trick the opponent and 'win' but there also seems an implicit rule of respect and 'conversation' within the fight. Each player gives and takes taking care not to crush the other's techniques but allowing free movement and expression. It doesn't seem to me that the players want to oppose their will or their crushing force onto each other but there is a level of playful deceit too: all done with a smile.

Following is a clip of the show with some controlled 'sparring':

This brings me to my frustration with my recent randori session: there are many (unofficial) levels of randori ranging from non-contact learning skills, to competitive point scoring or even full contact. At the more sedate end of skill learning in free sparring there needs to be this sort of precision and mutual respect. At that level it certainly is more of a conversation! Give and take is essential. Unfortunately it doesn't gel sometimes. Your opponent and you end up striking mid technique, neither gets into the swing of the conversation and you tend to stifle each others techniques. It becomes difficult and staid. When this happens I try and slow it all the way down and highlight each technique or string of techniques that I'm making-this way there's more a chance of a flow to develop. Sometimes junior grades go at it full pelt, thrashing away at you. Everyone wants a piece of the black belts. But I just don't think this is so constructive at an early stage of randori development. Slow and steady then building up the speed makes for solidand more accurate fighting. When this is achieved you can then vary the pace according to the situation.

Much like the player in the clip above sparring can be intensely accurate and controlled in slow motion, stretching and reaching for the opponent in an unrushed and mutual way.

Sunday 25 January 2009

William E. Fairburn and close combat fighting...

I read with interest an intriguing blog article over at Just a Thought about early 20th Century Jiu jitsu showing men in bowler hats attacking each other. What a fascinating thought! Here's me thinking self defence was a thoroughly late 20th Century concept but apparently not only was making sure your bowler hat was 1 inch above your ears and your collar clean and starched a main preoccupation for the well-dressed man of 1904, so was the issue of personal safety. 

I also mistakenly made the assumption that the author of the book, a certain captain H. H. Skinner, was the same military man who had learned jiu jitsu whilst in the Singaporean police force then came to the UK and instructed special forces during the second world war. I was wrong! The man who did this was called William E Fairbairn who developed the killing commando knife (along with Eric Sykes - the military man, not the comedian!) also known as the Fairbairn Sykes.

Fairbairn served in the army and as a police officer in Singapore. He attended the Kodokan and was awarded a 2nd dan black belt from Kano himself! Ref here. He was well known for his ruthless efficiency in fighting and killing which is epitomised in his handbook,written during the Second World War for servicemen called: 'Get Tough!'.

In his foreword he says: "I should like in conclusion to give a word of warning. Almost every one of these methods, applied vigorously and without restraint, will result, if not in the death, then certainly in the maiming of your opponent".

Not traditionally the idea of a fair play gentleman, Fairbairn had a reputation:

"British Major Fairbairn, who had been chief of police in Shanghai before the Japanese capture of the city, taught the Fairbairn method of assault and murder. His course was not restricted to Camp X, but later given at OSS camps in the United States. All of us who were taught by Major Fairbairn soon realized that he had an honest dislike for anything that smacked of decency in fighting" [Dunlop, Richard (1980). Behind Japanese Lines. US: Rand McNally & Co. ISBN 0-52881-823-6.]

In 'Get Tough!' he often talks about hits and knee strikes to the testicles. This, after all, was war. It was produced at a time when there was a real threat to the UK of a German invasion and the civilian population was being prepared for all-out war. The Home Guard was mobilised even having secret squads trained in Fairbairn's techniques ready to infiltrate behind the enemy lines and wreak havoc. Ref. If ever there were a time to 'get tough', now was it...

The techniques which he taught during the war were from his own style of self defence called Defendu.

Interestingly there is a separate jiu-jitsu based martial art called Defendo (apparently unrelated to defendu) developed by Bill Underwood who, while working in theatres in Liverpool in the early 1900s, saw and trained in Judo and Jiu jitsu. He subsequently moved to Canada where Defendo and the curiously named British Jiu jitsu still exist: a style with roots in ancient Asian martial arts but with a realistic modern edge.


Wednesday 21 January 2009

Bag work

Regardless of what some people might think about me as a martial artist, I don't go around beating people up on a regular basis! I do often work with a partner and this is essential for timing, distance and striking points (vital areas) and of course feeling the dynamic of different people. What you can't really do with your training partner is whack them really hard, as you might in a real fight or defence situation. So it was with some pleasure that the teacher got some focus mits and pads out the other night. I knew we were in for a punishing session as Master Campbell had a glint in his eye-lots of aerobic and lots of thwacking!

As well as a great feeling of energy I found that the bag work helped me focus on how I hit correctly. The parts of my hand (in this case) which made contact with the pad sort of worked itself out on its own! As I was half way through 30 kap kwon (back fist or uraken) strikes I realised I was connectnig with the wrong part of my hand. How did I know? The back of my hand was starting to smart and the hit felt 'flat' without a cutting sharpness I expected. I had to work on angling the fist outwards slightly in order to connect with the knuckles. This worked better and was less painful. I also had to check I wasn't damaging my elbow by over extending. All this together made for what I thought was a powerful back fist and I appreciated the feedback the bag gave me.

Of course just because it smarts a bit doesn't mean that you're striking with the wrong part! My knuckles did redden (you can also use bag mits for this sort of training and certainly juniors shouldn't attack bags without adequate protection on their hands and feet and then again only lightly: their bodies are still growing and forming!) but this coupled with my own knowledge of how to strike made for a good exercise.

Strike well!

Saturday 17 January 2009

Tow path run

Along the tow path of the river Cam.

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Shirou Ietaka Kaneko

Shirou Ietaka Kaneko is head of the Takeda school of horseback archery the sport which, in Japanese, is called yabusame and which this article calls the sport of the samurai. 

Kaneko, riding since he was 10 and shooting since he was 17, grew up with horses aruond him in his parents stables. Reading about him and this interesting 'sport'. I find it hard to call it a sport, but as Kaneko himself states "In our school, it is our earnest desire to connect [with the target]." It certainly seems to require great skill to keep the steed steady and stable in order to provide a platform from which to shoot accurately then one needs to ensure archery skills are mastered before getting anywhere near the target. 

"When people think of the samurai, they don't realize that in the old days, archery was more important in battle than swords," said Hisashi Yoshimi, a competitor at a recent beach event.

Check out the video and you'll see the skill required- they don't half belt along!

Thursday 15 January 2009

Pyrrhic victory

A Pyrrhic victory is a hollow one. One which is gained at such a great cost that the original victory's value is debased. King Pyrrhus of Epirus (an area of Greece) won a major battle against the Romans during the Pyrrhic War of 280-275 BC but his losses were so great it prompted the king to bemoan that another such victory, "and we are undone".

Another way to say this might be that we should choose our battles in life. I've been thinking of this recently as I've always had to battle with my rising anger. I don't think I'm an angry person but every now and then, and I suppose it's inevitable, ire swells within me and I feel miffed off by something. Occasionally I can rationalise that I'm in a bad mood for some other reason and that the immediate source of my anger is not the reason why I'm angry, so I can swallow it. It's no big deal- the kids wind me up but I'm tired and grumpy anyway and as long as I understand this I can rationalise and move away. But occasionally some guy cuts me up in traffic and I feel real hurt! Flushed with rage I think about what I'd do to him but this helps nobody- I just end up simmering for ages. I need to get rid of that feeling rather than hold on to it. It happens. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose the battle with the black dog (Churchill called his depression 'black dog').

I sometimes excuse myself based on the curse of being a man (!)'ve guessed it: testosterone! Testosterone levels in men change throughout the day and I like to blame the 'ready-to-rut' levels:

"T levels fluctuate wildly. If you were to measure your Testosterone levels throughout the day, you'd likely be amazed. One minute you have the hormonal profile of a hyper-muscular bull ready to "fertilize" an entire herd of cattle… and the next minute your blood profile is that of a fully menstruating Martha Stewart intent on color coordinating your powder room."

But I'm a man, not a bull. I need to know myself and know that I'm not going to fly off the handle at short notice EVEN when I'm pumped full of testosterone :-)

This article was highlighted by Dan Praeder in his blog Martial Arts and Modern Life and is a great example of choosing the 'third way'. Nice story about how a Tai Chi master overcomes his base urges and dissipates a potentially aggressive situation.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

"Paleoanthropologists tell us that our ancestors left the trees for the ground millions of years ago. Competing hypotheses attribute this shift from a predominantly arboreal to terrestrial locomotion on postural-feeding, socialbehavioral, or thermoregulatory pressures. In any case there is a strong consensus among scientists that our heritage is deeply rooted in both climbing and bipedalism, i.e., both swinging from the trees and functioning on two feet."

"In the broadest and most useful sense, the functional distinction between arboreal and terrestrial skills is that arboreal skills are rich in pulling movements whereas the bipedal movements mostly comprise hip extension and pushing movements. As a consequence of this
distinction and the dearth of climbing skills drawn upon in fitness programs, the pulling capacity of modern athletes is woefully deficient. Compare briefly the number of pushing to pulling movements available in the course of our normal training. Push-ups, dips, handstand push-ups, bench press, shoulder press, and jerks versus, what, pull-ups and maybe rope climb?"

" Even the bodybuilding repertoire, which includes seated cable rows, bent-over rows, one-armed rows, and curls, includes more pulling movements than more functional and developmental weight training like weightlifting and powerlifting, but the motivation and value behind these moves is somewhat more anatomical or cosmetic than functional."

Thanks Crispin for pointing this out. Although a piece of advertorial for some climbing equipment I thought it was interesting to examine where we came from and how this affects our range of movement, limitations and strengths.

Friday 9 January 2009

Neil Adams, Putin and Judo

Broadcast on radio4 on 9th January 2009 at 11am.

Well sadly, this show is one of the very few that can't be listened to again on the BBC website. Tcha!

I only heard half of it too! What I heard of it I enjoyed: Mr Adams made a well structured plan of what he wanted to do: travel to Moscow to see how Judo is taught there in order to help him set up a dedicated facility on Wales to cater for judo which Mr Adams deems essential for the sport.

As a sideline he wanted to meet one of Russia's famous judo exponents and also one reason for the resurgence of the sport in that country, non other than Vladimir Putin. The first part of the programme (the bit that I caught) had an interview with Mr Adams and a biographer of Putin who outlined how he thought judo had an impact on Putin's character (he derived this through interviews with the Russian leader). He spoke of the fact that Putin is small and in judo needs to use canny thinking and intelligent use of levers to win matches, not brute force. The biographer then went on to draw parallels with the Georgia incursion which I thought weird as this seemed rather heavy-handed to me! I guess it depends on whether you think the Georgian conflict was staged by the US as Putin himself claims.

I digress. The radio show sounded great, apart from some cheesily voiced Kano quotes, and I'm sad to have missed the end. I met Neil Adams some time ago at a Judo workshop where I was demo-ing Tang Soo Do for some school children. I was pleased to be able to join in with some of the sessions and was tutored a little by him. I remember seeing his feet and being struck by how much I thought that they seemed articulated like hands! they could move in lots of different ways that my feet couldn't begin to try. Natural I suppose from a Judo Olympian. He seemed friendly and approachable but a little detached after he'd finished teaching. He did join in with our breaking demo (the kids always love some flying side kick breaks) and that was good of him. 

Good luck Neil Adams with the dedicated facility and good luck Wales!

Pob Iwc!

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Cold, hard dojo floors

Cwor it's cold! Cold by Cambridge standards anyway which I realise isn't particularly 'arctic'-despite what the press in this country might have us believe-but to me it's damn cold. This makes for stiff pre-session groanings when pulling on dogi/dobohk... Dammit the material's not quite dry! Brrrr. So moaning aside, what does this mean for the martial artist? Long, steady and even warm ups! Gradually increasing aerobic to get us going. I admit that I felt like a wooden mannequin at first. I think I'm getting old. I still had enough desire to get to training though and this helped warm me up. A little of my belly-fire gently simmered from within and before I knew it I was practicing kihon almost forgetting the 'nibbling' cold. The soft clicking of my teeth soon abated and thankfully sensei kept us moving. 

Oh yeah, the gas heaters helped too...