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.

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