Saturday, 28 February 2009

Oakington footpath run, 3.5 miles

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Upon exiting the wood and entering Oakington, the field to the left is bumpy and lumpy and I believe is the site of a saxon settlement.

Nearing the end of my run I was puffing and panting and I think my excess noise frightenend a beautiful Green Woodpecker which flew right in front of me. Was a nice highlight to the long, hard run.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Body clock, nutrition and exercise

I watched Horizon documentary the other night:The Secret Life of Your Bodyclock and learned plenty about the way our bodies react throughout the day and night to our activities and conversely when those activities are best suited to our bodyclock. I was particularly interested by the ideas about exercise and eating. When is the best time to exercise and what should our eating patterns be like?

The documentary alluded to Siffre's famous experiments of living in a cave for 6 months without natural light to see how is body clock reacted. Based on this and other experts analysis the programme comes up with some interesting results:

- Between 7 and 11 in the  morning our body has an increased blood pressure, vessels can't widen and blood is stickier (more resistance to flow) showing that the heart is under great pressure. Statistically you are three times more likely to have a heart attack.
(Something I already knew! Mornings are for larks, not for people....)

- If you increase your activity at the right time of day it can be beneficial! Exercise in the afternoon reduces blood pressure by 10 -11 % while exercise in the morning does not reduce bp at all.
Even gently walking in the afternoon can be beneficial.

- Body temp and alertness rises in afternoon and exercise is best late afternoon /early evening.
When training or the Olympics, the cyclist Chris Boardman says he found no pain in evening training like he experienced in the mornings. Records in cycling tend to be broken in afternoon and evening. In cycling hard training seems to be often conducted in the evenings when the body temperature has risen. This helps as the body seems to be in a pre-race or warm up mode.
(The only caveat was that balance and hand steadiness may be better in the morning.)

- Our eating patterns now show that the average UK main meal of the day is at 8pm. Linda Morgan from Univ Surrey says that over the last 100 years our eating patterns have changed: 100 years ago we had big breakfasts, large lunches and less in evening. Recently this has been reversed so that little of our day's calories are consumed in the morning and more later in the night. This means glucose remains in the blood more in the evening: high blood glucose levels in the evening is not great. According to her experiments into eating we should aspire to: "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper."

So we haven't learned something we didn't already know, right? I mean we train in the evening as that's when most lessons are held: after people have come home from school and work and not too late as to interfere with our sleeping (I find if I exercise late int he evening I have to wait some time to come down before I can go to bed). 

Plus I eat too much anyway. Interestingly if I stack my calories up at the start of the day I'm in a better position for my insulin to regulate my blood glucose levels throughout the day (it seems). I did read a long time ago about an American football coach who recommended to players who wanted to lose weight to eat nothing after 8pm. This is something I aspire to do- it also helps with my IBS!


As I was ripping home from dropping a daughter off at school I couldn't help but think of the tasks I had to cram in during my two free hours and as I rushed towards the traffic lights in the car I knew I had a choice. I had pulled alongside a hearse which was turning left and I was in the right hand lane to go straight on. The faster route would mean me having to cut up the hearse and scream down the slip road ahead of them or I could meander onwards leavnig the hearse and its lovley wicker coffined occupant in peace. Food for thought. I took the slow route. Why? A bit of respect, I guess, but I also realised that rushing around isn't really going to get me there any quicker. I'll be in the grave soon enough so why hasten it on by dashing madly around.

I thought of 'Days' by Larkin (1922 - 1985).

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Sparring strategy (Tang Soo Do)

Last night was a good, long, hard sparring session looking in particular at some set pieces. Before we set to, though, we got into the spirit of things with some regular sparring which started off gentle and finished in a hard but well-natured manner.

It was tough though. I was trying to get a point onto my taller and strong opponent who very often stopped me with a firm but polite side kick. I was chasing him (which puts me at a disadvantage) but I wanted to play! At one point he attacked with a high kick to my 'open' side (ahneso pakeso cha ki I think) so I defended and countered with a spinning hook kick to his head. I didn't score but I avoided a kick in the chops. His kick did, however, connect with my spine at the top of my back about T3 and my body shuddered! It didn't hurt so much as rock and surprise me. It ached much later after my shower but it made me think about not getting hit there again!

That particular bout also made me reflect on closing distance on my opponent to score a point. Tang Soo Do 'neutral' distance is just out of normal kicking range-this is primarily a kicking style after all-and the two fighters want to be just outside of each other's kicks to be 'safe'. 

Distance is very important and knowing where you are on the distance spectrum can help you with techniques. As far as I can see these distances exist:

- Out of range
- Jumping kick range
- Rear leg kicking and spinning kick ranges (spinning kick has a slightly longer range)
- Front leg kicks
- Biting, gouging, finger techniques.

For sure not all of these are permitted in Tang Soo Do sparring! Biting and gouging were not permitted even before Queensbury codified boxing. Not even pankration allowed these either, but this illustrates how close real fighting can get. Feel free to add to the list. In competition however if you want to win, don't draw your opponent's blood. Although this seems harsh it is intended to ensure techniques are controlled and you will be disqualified if you see blood from your opponent as a result of your technique. In any case direct frontal attacks to the face are not allowed.

The issue I'm thinking of is getting from neutral range into scoring range quickly. A jump kick is possible but rarely scoring. I always find an initial attack of a jumping kick is seldom missed by the opponent and consequently easily blocked or evaded. This said it's very good at closing the distance in order to follow up with other techniques-more likely a kick, chasing down with hand combinations. You can also gain ground by replacing the standing front foot with the back foot and kick gaining you some distance and then follow up with other techniques.

Gain your ground into your opponent's space and follow up with point-scoring techniques.

This stringing together of techniques is important and something beginners often find hard to achieve. The truth is that your opponent will most likely evade techniques 1 and maybe 2 but will struggle or at least be on the back foot (so to speak) for technique 3. Follow up the attack and pursue. Having said that I mentioned earlier that chasing the point-scoring technique is sometimes a disadvantage as the *best* fighters are those that counter well. Don't believe me?

Sunday, 15 February 2009


The kogatana was an accessory knife associated with the wakizashi (which originally meant 'side arm). Samurai would wear this shorter sword along with their katana as a pair and this would be known as the daishō (a contraction of daitō, long sword, and shōtō, small sword, thus meaning big-small)

References of wakizashi being used date back to the 16th Century and Turnbull in his book Warriors of Medieval Japan implies that the wakizashi was used during the Age of Warring States or the Sengoku period of mid 15th Century to 17th Century Japan.

A small knife was often carried in a small pouch on the wakizashi and was known as the kogatana after the blade or the kozuka after the hilt. 'Weapon-A Visual History of Arms and Armoury' (DK Books) maintains that this small blade, while very sharp, would be used as an accessory knife for cutting paper and envelopes perhaps. states the kozuka, "have many uses including being used as a small throwing weapon".

check out some examples of the kogatana here:

Below is a film about sword forging and in this example they are making the short blade or kogatana.

Interestingly medieval European hunting swords may also use scabbards with 'trousses' within which would be held small knives for meat trimming or a bodkin for piercing holes.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Rhythm in hyungs (kata)

A brief training session in the garden today threw up the idea of rhythm within hyung or kata.

Although my main focus currently is Shorinji Kempo I still like to keep to date with my Tang Soo Do forms and as I was running through them today I was focusing on recalling them thoroughly, moving fluidly (thanks to this blog) and having strong techniques (not flopping my arms around just for the sake of trying to recall the hyungs). Along with these ideas another one came to mind and that is rhythm in forms. There is a natural rhythm to forms. I don't mean consistent and unchanging one-a-two-a-three-a-four-a- throughout.... Music is often syncopated to make it sound more interesting and music uses crescendo, diminuendo, staccato, stopping and so on. This gives more feeling to the music and helps tell a story more accurately.

Forms do tell a story but they should do much more too, so it's important to know when to pause, when to run two or three techniques together and when to speed up or slow down. Often in the lower forms there is a short pause after the punch but the block-punch is somewhat run together. So the tempo would be 'block-punch, block-punch'. This example is not a universal truth throughout all forms practice but it illustrates that forms must be performed with this 'punctuation' in mind otherwise it turns into one long chain of techniques. If you don't know where this punctuatino is in your forms, my advice is to find out!

Pyung ahn Ee Dan performed by a Tang Soo Do master and followed by Heian Nidan by a Japanese sensei. Both different interpretations of this same form but both with a rhythm to it punctuated by pauses, linking techniques together, crescendo and diminuendo (If you don't like the music analogy try thinking of commas, semi-colons, full stops...).

Friday, 13 February 2009

War dance and confrontational body language.

A very quick post tonight as I'm pooped. Need to get my feet up and a glass of whisky in my hand...

As the Six Nations is upon us I was intrigued to see the New Zealand team perform the haka the other day. This is a Maori war dance made at the opening of combat to strike fear into the enemy's heart through the words of the song they sing and the violent gestures used. I have since read that the word 'haka' can refer to any sort of ceremonial dance and the haka that the New Zealand team has used is called the peruperu. In any case check out the body language used and see those wonderful scary faces they pull. 

All these gestures seem quite frightening to me and probably have added meaning to Maoris. I especially like the tongue sticking out which although can be comical in isolation, when used here with eyes ablaze and arms slapped it feels far from comical. Some people have said it gives the kiwis an unfair advantage (to scare the opponents?) and maybe they took it too far during the 2005 tri-nations series when they used a new haka (Kapa O Pango) finishing with a thumb drawing across the neck gesture. Very aggressive, and highly laced with symbolism. It was eventually withdrawn, despite one of the South African opponents who saw it for the first time saying it was a great privilege to see it.

Many opponent teams brave it out and maintain it has no effect. That may be so but in any case what an amazing way to pump yourself up pre-fight erm, I mean pre-match. Shouting (or singing) helps get oxygen into your body and performing like that in front of the opponent would no doubt allow you to disspiate a bit of your nervous energy.

Try it next time you spar.....

"Ka mate, Ka mate...."


Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The first enemy

"It was a troublesome scramble...because I momentarily behaved like a bad tempered boy who is apoplectic with his toy-train. The straps were a fuddle, the engine was recalcitrant, and ...I ...noticed someone had altered the setting of the rudder bar. Ugh-urrr!

'Oh, Jesus , this is it, this is it-just time to get above...Where the hell!'

Momentarily I panicked, my mouth became so dry it seemed I had been licking thousands of stamps.

Then my thoughts raced with a hare's rhythm. Battle had commenced!"

Once Kenneth Hemingway had attacked some enemy bombers with his Hurricane in this, his first enemy engagement he, by his own admission, was quite calm: "my nervousness had gone".

When I read this story (taken from Wings Over Burma, 1944) about a fighter pilot in the Second World War who flew alongside the AVG I was intrigued by his pre-combat 'nerves' and it reminded me much of something I'd read by Geoff Thompson who wrote comprehensively about the fight or flight phenomenon. I was also interested in the clarity or calmness that this pilot achieved in the midst of combat.

In Thompson's book 'Dead or Alive' he identifies aspects of adrenaline in order to understand, to know what the body undergoes in stressful situations. This way we can better face it when it actually happens. There is a huge section on adrenal reactions and I'd recommend getting hold of the book. Besides if I reproduced it all here Geoff Thompson would kick my head in...

As a taster here is his list, some of which can be seen in the above story.
Adrenal reaction
- Pre fight shakes
- Dry mouth
- Voice quiver
- tunnel vision
- Sweaty palms
- Nausea
- Bowel loosening
- Adrenal deafness
- Time distortion
(edited list)

As Hannibal Lecter said in Red Dragon, "Yes, that's the fear. It takes time and experience to master it..."

The second idea relating to martial training that I was minded of was 'mushin no shin' or mind of no mind. This is the state of mind open to all senses without being transfixed by anything. this freedom from extraneous 'clutter' enables the warrior to act and react without hindrance. A calmness just like the hurricane pilot felt after his initial adrenaline squirts.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Andy Hug and the Axe kick

Checking out Mark's training blog and I came across a post about axe kicks. There was of particular note an interesting video dedicated to Andy Hug (1964-2000), a Swiss born kyokushinkai karateka who gained fame on the F1 circuit in Japan and the amazing sobriquet of 'The blue-eyed samurai'. Even more amazing as he had brown eyes.

His trade mark axe kicks are quite something to see.

It seems to me that the effectiveness of the axe kick depends on getting the leg up very quickly. It's a confusing kick to counter. As the foot whips up into the air the defender feels like maybe a crescent kick is coming not knowing that it's really going to come slamming downwards usually on the clavicle, or perhaps even the chin. As the defender it's hard to pick this one out. See at about 41 seconds in the above video the defender raises both his hands either side of his head but too late for hug's kick to raise and pop straight down between them. Wollop (in the vernacular). At 1 minute 15-same deal in slow motion. Kick shoots up fast, confuses 'uke' who's arms protect either side of his head. Shame Hug's foot is now travelling down chinwards. Eat foot.

Hug obviously trained hard and long on getting his kicks rapidly up very high. This makes the axe kick devastating but also check out his spinning crescent kicks and spinning round kicks- fast, furious and fatal...

As with all high kicks there is a risk of becoming unstable and vulnerable to counter, especially if you're striking with force- you don't want to bounce off at this point! But see the way Hug stays rock solid: no tottering, stumbling or chance for the opponent to counter. Of course this is a 'best of' video but check out his stats: W37 (KO22) ,L9, D1. This guy worked and trained hard, and got his high kicks up rapidly.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Do raku

I like to think. It's what distinguishes us from animals (as well as recreational sex...and then again dolphins do that apparently!) and I like to think. That's why I've got the blog on the go. To think and analyse my way through the martial arts and to make it more worthwhile. Maybe I think a bit too much though and as I was flicking through a French kendo book I found this interesting and striking quote:

"L'aspect du kendo, vecu comme une discipline de doit pas faire oublier que, comme l'indique la sentence 'Joue sur la voie' le fait de pratiquer le kendo doit etre vecu comme un jeu intense, joyeux." Decouvrir le Kendo, Cl. Hamout, K. Yoshimura.

[Kendo is a life discipline but it is also, as indicated by "do raku" (enjoyment on your way), to be experienced as intense, joyous play.]

Maybe I think too much and work at it too hard and forget to enjoy it. The martial way is a discipline and for many has to be worked at constantly but it should also be enjoyed intensely.

Enjoy yourself on your way.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Incubation, learning with Abba and chunking.

Not only did I sit through Mamma Mia (the Abba film/musical) last night I also endured the documentary about the making of. I consider this paternal duty. 

During the choreography documentary the associate choreographer, Nichola Treherne, kindly announced to the dancers not to worry if they hadn't fully remembered the entire dance sequence as it would be better the next day, "Somehow," she said, "the body learns it overnight!"

I thought this was a great insight and made me think of the 'incubation' period we usually go through when learning new systems or structures or even when we're weighing up a big decision in our mind. this takes me back to my thesis on design development and the creative process. Incubation is often referred to as the period between  setting the objectives and actually getting down to doing the concept generation. Incubation might then be considered, as Debussy defined for music, "the silence between the notes" : That time during periods of creation or learning when we've committed the problem to our mind. It then goes and works on it in the background while we get on and do other things so that when we apply ourselves again to the problem (be it creation or learning) we've already got a bit of a head start (pun intended).

So learning as a process might have useful 'spaces' between practice too: just like those Mamma Mia dancers whose bodies magically remember moves overnight, then we can be encouraged by the fact that complex new forms or sequences might be helped by periods of incubation.

As incubation is helpful to learning new sequences, so too can chunking. (This idea first came to my attention from reading a blog but I can't find the reference for it! If you've seen it let me know and I'll gladly acknowledge.)

Sadly chunking is not a new form of Cadbury's chocolate. Happily it is helpful in our training and maybe even when teaching techniques to others. Chunking consists of breaking down new experiences to be learned into chunks of seven (plus or minus two). It is said that our short term memory has this capacity (7+/-2) and that learning within these confines is beneficial to increasing the power of our learning capacity. For example I would find it quite hard to memorise a number such as 3871095847, but if I break it down into 'chunks' then it suddenly becomes much more 'appealing' to my cranky old brain: 38, 710, 958, 47. The first string is 10 digits so more than our 7+/-2 but the second sequence of four chunks falls within this easy-to-remember range.

The similarity to learning new sequences or forms in the martial arts can easily be seen. Chunking might be a good teaching aid for seemingly bafflingly long hyungs. Often we break down these long forms into shorter chunks for the learner to easily digest. Hopefully not ALL in one go as I think quality is sometimes lost but at least this rule of thumb helps in knowing how much information to give to newbies.

So don't forget: having trouble learning that new form? Don't worry: chunk it up and sleep on it!



Snow way to train

As I was making the snowman by rolling a ball in the snow I thought about pushing with the whole of my body not just with arm strength and slapping the snow away like a Sumo wrestler.

The questions are:

a. Does this make me a martial arts nerd?


b. Is my stance a bit high?

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Helio Gracie taps out

"Why fear death? I don’t need anything, I don’t have anything, I don’t want anything. I think it’s silly for somebody to be scared of dying. One should be afraid of being born. I have already told my children when I die I want a party, with no alcohol, no hell raising [general laughter]. But I want a party with music, food… I don’t know if you guys believe in reincarnation, but we all go and come back until the day we no longer have to return. My brother [Carlos Gracie, already deceased] used to say the fellow only stops returning to Earth when he mingles with the Whole. Even when you’re thinking just a little bit wrongly, you come back to continue evolving. Hell, my friends, is right here on Earth." - Helio Gracie (Gracie Mag) Ref

Bread do(ugh)

I made some lovely bread this morning. It was the first time I've done it and it seems to have turned out ok. Maybe it could be a bit lighter and from what I've read it's all in the kneading. There's a knack to it!

As I was stood kneading the bread I felt lost in the mechanical process pushing the dough away from me with one hand and dragging it back into a ball then repeating on the other side. I knew I had to exercise the dough in a particular way and also had to take care with correct posture for my back and not locking my arms out. I did lock out a couple of times and thought about how silly I was for doing it as this is exactly the sort of thing I need to think of in training when I punch! It felt like a great connection between technique and an everday exercise: lost in the moment of kneading, correcting posture and knowing that I was making bread. That's all, nothing more! Just stood looking out over the garden on a cold winter day kneading dough. 

Moments like that are magic!