Tuesday 31 March 2009

Clever Hans and observer expectancy effect

No this isn't a pun on hands it's actually the name of a horse. Called Hans. Who was...wait for it....clever! Yes a clever horse who could count and do simple arithmetic by tapping out numbers with his hoof. The case amazed all of Germany (and probably the world) in the early 20th Century. He amazed so many people that an eminent psychologist called Oskar Pfungst was called in to investigate Hans in 1907.

Pfungst's studies established that Hans was, sadly, unable to count or make simple sums. His gift was an uncanny ability to read the expectation on the face and in the body language of his owner who would ask him questions. When the answer was five (for example), the owner would (inadvertently) give off signals for the horse to stop tapping his hooves when five had been reached. He couldn't repeat this when the owner wasn't in sight. Hans seems to have had an ability to read these visual clues in order to please his owner (and possibly get a food reward).

I thought of this the other night in training because when we train in partners we tend to do this too. No, not tap our hooves to count but we do give off 'expectation' in our expressions. What is meant to be 'spontaneous' attack is sometimes telegraphed by these expressions or even simply an eyebrow raise! In Tang Soo Do a kihap is often performed by both attacker and defender to ensure everyone is ready and from that point onward the attack can be initiated at any moment. In practice the kihap is perfunctory and initiates the technique. This shouldn't be the case. We need to stay focused and ready to receive the attack at any time and without telegraphing by the attacker. No raised eyebrows, head lifting or hoof tapping.

So Hans couldn't count but he could read his owner's subtle body and facial language. We should train with this in mind.

Sunday 29 March 2009

Beautiful dojang

I love this dojang in Switzerland. I came across it some time ago and was struck by the wonderful minimalist interior stripping out all extraneous distractions giving you no chance to do anything other than concentrate on your art. Ahhh!

Soo Bahk Do in Switzerland, Wald, near Zurich.

The Black Knight

Taken from the 7th Chapter of the Hagakure:

"It is said that every time Oki Hyobu's group gathered and after all their affairs were finished he would say, "Young men should discipline themselves rigorously in intention and courage. This will be accomplished if only courage is fixed in one's heart. If one's sword is broken, he will strike with his hands. If his hands are cut off, he will press the enemy down with his shoulders. If his shoulders are cut away, he will bite through ten or fifteen enemy necks with his teeth. Courage is such a thing"

Sound similar...?

The art of war

A hectic night out with the lads in Bristol was followed by a sedate Sunday morning nursing hangovers. I managed to slip away from the group and mooch around and, as is often the case, I gravitated to the local museum and art gallery and found a couple of smashing pieces of art portraying fighting arts.

The following is a roof tile portraying Guan Yu, a popular 3rd Century Chinese general who is still revered today.

This solid looking chap was worked by Gaudier-Brzeska at the turn of the 20th Century. I was struck by his quiet power and t'ai chi hands. Although this sculpture looks still and unmoving (because of the nature of the subject), Gaudier-Brzeska famously worked on dynamic movement in his work.

Friday 27 March 2009

Saturday seminar (mawashi geri)

Given that trains to London via Kings Cross were all cancelled and I had to take a train to Liverpool Street Station which seemed to stop at intervals of 3 minutes I should have been in a grump on the way to the seminar on Saturday. Somehow I felt good though. The sun was shining through and I had plenty of time to meander across London on the tube so I was in no rush. Equally I'd prepared all of my equipment the night before: gi, knee pads (a must when you don't have the luxury of using mats- a tip I picked up from practicing iai), mitts, tanto, flip flops, towel. Ah! Everything in order.

I further felt lifted when, upon approaching the gym, I saw a tall, muscular guy on a traffic island, nestled away from the cars by the trees around him, dressed in bright orange trousers and Chinese style gaiters warming up to do some kung fu. He was windmilling his arms gently round in what looked like preparation with the sun warming him. It was going to be a good day.

This seminar focused on mawashi geri: attacks and defences. The three main elements we looked at were: 'bouncing' out of the attack and back in to counter, receiving and blocking the mawashi geri attack early and countering with a straight kick and finally stepping striaght in with punches against a jun mawashi geri (no block). These were built up nicely so weren't hammering away at it straight away. I found bouncing out and in again to counter quite dynamic but you have to make sure both feet are pointing towards your opponent for maximum efficiency of movement. It has to be quick!

We eventually mixed up the attack defence so it was random: we could choose which counter from the three we'd practiced. This always makes me a bit anxious. Oh the choice! Will I get it wrong? Well as long as I remain focused and if I mess up put it behind me that's ok. It's a collaborative environment so I need to relax more. I need to relax more (full stop!).

Finally we worked on some juho take-down techniques with particular application of pinning the opponent to the floor when s/he is resisting. Good to feel the best places to apply in order to pin effectively.

On the way home the day was still bright and the wind quite refreshing. Three hours of training does wonders for you and as I made my way to the tube station the same guy was still practicing his kung fu (this time he seemed to be using a hand held mop). Train when you can.

Thursday 26 March 2009

MMA going mainstream?

Well, the fact that I came across this article on the Telegraph's website testifies to this idea that Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is becoming more and more mainstream. The journalist who wrote this article about TUF (The Ultimate Fighter) coming to the UK has "recently added" MMA to his portfolio. Probably due to the anticipated increase in demand.

So for those who don't know (I didn't) TUF is a reality game show based on MMA. Sure we've seen Pop Idol, Strictly Come Dancing,  Dancing on Ice: all 'reality' based shows whereby contestants are on subsequent weeks knocked out. Well watch out UK, the contestants on TUF9 may well be getting completely knocked out!


The menuki is a sword hilt decoration found on Japanese samurai swords. It is fitted to the handle (Tsuka) over the (usually) ray skin and under the handle bindings called 'Tsuka-Ito'.

This ornament hides one of the mekugi or holding pegs which are driven through the tsuka joining it to the tang of the blade. It also affords a little 'grip' as this protrudes slightly into the palm of the hand ad I find helps 'locate' the left hand. The left hand is important for cutting in iai.

Nice schema on wikipedia of Japanese sword:

An interesting article here about shortening the tsuka which also shows some construction of the handle.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Good intentions

Go check out Conskeptical's article about intentions in everyday life. 

Or getting more done with less effort.

Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bardo.

Monday 23 March 2009

Karate ni sente nashi

As I was reading the news online today I was minded of the famous Funakoshi quote, "Karate ni sente nashi". This translates as, "there is no first attack in Karate". 

You could argue about the exact translation or the meaning behind this phrase but the article I saw made me think about this in a slightly different way. Or maybe it's the same meaning. The article is a very sad case of a man who in his rage punched another guy and killed him. Technically it was the head banging onto the floor which killed him but either way he's dead. He's been taught a lesson eh? Maybe that's what the aggressor thought..., "I'll teach him a lesson!"...BANG! Dead. This is how it happened, I'm not exaggerating. The incredibly sad thing is that the judge in the case says of the man who perpetrated this crime, "I am confronted with the prospect of having to sentence a perfectly respectable citizen who has committed an act which has had simply appalling consequences." 

The judge sees him as a "perfectly respectable citizen" who has (this is my interpretation) lost his cool in a moment of madness and decided to teach the other guy a lesson. Well it seems that the lesson is a very harsh one: death of a young fella and maybe 2 and a half to four years in nick.

Behind Funakoshi's saying there may be an idea of benevolence towards our fellow humans (let's all get on). We encounter so many people in our daily schedule that invariably we'll come across a dickhead from time to time (and don't get me wrong- I'm sure I'm somebody else's dickhead from time to time too!). Don't strike out says Funakoshi, don't attack: use your art for self preservation. The added dimension to this that I feel this news article brings to me is that it highlights the fragility of the human body. 

I studied Systema for two years under some fine teachers and at one seminar we were coached by Vladimir Vasiliev: one of the head honchos of Systema who, when asked how he dealt with aggression, said that he avoided, shirked it. He yielded, and tried not to get into a physical fight. His point was that the human body is fragile. Despite being very well trained and knowing how to disable assailants without killing them, even he knows that things can go wrong and someone could end up dead. If he can help it, he just doesn't take the risk. And he makes sure he can help it by not being there.

Of course this is all rather a negative view of why not to strike first. A way of self-preservation. As I said at the beginning there may be many ways to interpret Funakoshi's saying, or maybe he just intended it as read. My main point is to highlight this rather sorry tale of a guy who strikes in anger "not in self defence" and to see the terrible results.

Keep your cool. Don't lose your head. Don't lash out. 

To finish with here's a (sort of ) relevant Systema video with Vasiliev showing 'redirection' of an  opponent.

Sunday 22 March 2009

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Chinese heritage of Tang Soo Do

This is to finish off the series of articles on the subject of the history and influences of Tang Soo Do. In the last article I focused much on the Japanese influences owing to the occupation of Korea by Japan (1905-1945) and the influence it had on Tang Soo Do: kata and framework of the style seem to have been drawn largely from karate. Contemporary Tang Soo Do differs in many ways from karate, notably with its acrobatic and powerful kicks and this is what I'll examine here.

Some official Tang Soo Do training manuals are swift to point out that this Korean art can trace its lineage back 2000 years and has particularly been developed by the Hwarang warriors. It's easy to see why this claim is made as the Hwarang were an elite fighting corps which unified a once fractured Korea. What I don't understand is how this claim can be substantiated given that the forms are of Japanese origin and many of the drills and combinations are also shared by Japanese and Okinawan styles. What is certain about Tang Soo Do is that the kicks used in this style are different from the Japanese styles. There are much more acrobatic kicks used and this, I feel, is where the indigenous Taekyyeon and Subak may have passed on some of their martial arts 'DNA'. 

Northern Chinese style Kung Fu must have influenced Korean martial arts such as Subak and indeed King Sunjo (1567-1608) took an interest in Chinese arts after having read a Ming dynasty martial arts manual by Chuk Kye-Kwang. He was so interested that he invited the Ming military officers to demonstrate their warring arts and the notes which were taken eventually became the Muye Jebo (Martial Arts Illustrations) which is seen as the benchmark of martial arts documentation in Korea. As well as technical aspects of martial arts the Chinese may well have passed on some of the Northern style of Kung fu with its high kicks, flowing movements and jumping techniques. This is said to come from a people who lived in the plains of China where horse communication was made easy by the lack of great mountain ranges or rivers to bar progress. Jumping techniques may have been developed to dislodge mounted warriors and the Korean arts were certainly influenced by the Chinese martial systems of the time.

Check out this impressive performance of Chang Quan - a Northern style of Kung Fu. It isn't Tang Soo Do but the kicking techniques seem closer than to karate. Even to the extent of the way this practitioner turns and flows into jumping and spinning techniques.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Korean kicks (all through the night)

This is a post in reply to Dan Prager's comment here and follows on from my previous post about which kicks are used within hyung (forms) and drills and what proportion of drills are kicking based.

This is a very good point as traditionally Korean martial arts are heavily oriented to kicking techniques, notably high kicks and jumping and spinning techniques and this can sometimes be seen in competition Tae Kwon Do. Indeed whenever I have trained with the University Tae Kwon Do club all we seem to do is incredibly tiring kicking drills with jumps a-plenty. This influence on Korean martial arts is said to come from the Northern Chinese Kung Fu tradition of high, acrobatic kicking and high stances as opposed to the Southern styles which were more 'grounded'. (Following is cut from Wikipedia: "The main perceived difference about northern and southern styles [of Kung Fu] is that the northern styles tend to emphasize fast and powerful kicks, high jumps and generally fluid and rapid movement, while the southern styles focus more on strong arm and hand techniques, and stable, immovable stances and fast footwork.").

It has to be said though that Tang Soo Do is Korean 'karate' and effectively a traditional martial art with it's main heritage in Japanese karate. Karate's name was originally taken from the logograms for Kara and Te (唐手): China and hand. It was later (~1930s "a few years after I came to Tokyo...I was then able to suggest that the art be renamed" ref1) that Funakoshi changed the meaning to 'empty hand' (空手) for political and ideological purposes. Tang Soo also means China hand. 

So we see the semantics of the names but are the arts themselves similar? It's true that the core forms are very similar which I have outlined previously and I have trained with Japanese clubs and compared forms. One of the sensei actually noted that the version of the form I was doing seemed like an 'older' version which had since further developed in his style. It's certainly interesting to see how seeds are planted and grow into the same plant but with slightly different variants.

Tang Soo Do is a kicking-based karate but as it has it's roots firmly in the Japanese/Okinawan heritage there is a lot of traditional hand techniques to be practiced and this brings me directly to Dan's question: what is the proportion of hand/kicking combinations in drills outside of kata? The short answer is 70/30 kicks/hands. The longer answer is that it's a bit more complex. Often the combinations are mixed and after hand techniques there may be a period of combined hand and feet. 30% techniques in the class may be done from front stance (chungul ja sae) which lends itself to the hand combinations with a few kicks interspersed much like in the hyung. We then develop into kicking from back stance (hugul ja sae). Finally we'll practice jumping kicks and jump spinning kicks.

Tang Soo Do is a Korean martial art with strong traditions within Japanese karate, as the similarities of the original names imply. It does, however, hold on to some of the indigenous high, powerful and acrobatic kicking typified by Northern Chinese influences. This is reflected in the training: traditional forms, altered only slightly with higher kicks but more leg-based drills than traditional 'te' derived Japanese arts.

(ref1 p. 34. Karate-Do, My Way of Life, Gichin Funakoshi. Published by Kodansha, first paperback edition 1981)

Saturday 14 March 2009

Forms and their kicks

I read recently an interesting point put forward by Vince Morris in a book 'Karate Kata Applications' (Vince Morris and Aidan Trimble, Ebury Press) how the traditional kata don't incorporate many kicks which are widely practiced in modern karate such as roundhouse kick, reverse roundhouse, axe kick or back kick.

I thought, for fun, I'd run through the Korean forms to document which kicks are included. As I've discussed previously these are based on Japanese and in turn Okinawan forms.

Kicks used in Tang Soo do Hyungs
Pyung Ahn Cho Dan: No kick.
Pyung Ahn Ee Dan: Yup chagi, ahp chagi. (Side kick, front kick)
Pyung Ahn Sam Dan: Pahkeso ahnero chagi (Outside to inside kick.)
Pyung Ahn Sa Dan: Yup chagi, ahp chagi. (Side kick, front kick, knee strike.)
Pyung Ahn O Dan: Pahkeso ahnero chagi. (Outside to inside kick.)
Bassai: Yup chagi. (Side kick.)
Naihanchi Cho Dan: No kick.
Naihanchi Ee Dan: No kick.
Naihanchi Sam Dan: No kick.
Sip Soo: Pahkeso ahnero chagi (depending on the style of Tang Soo Do)

Morris further states that developing new forms with other variant kicks may be beneficial. 

Friday 13 March 2009

Don't try this at home

I was pacing again. I'd missed two training sessions this week due to ill health. Well, it was a mild cold but you know how blokes are. So by about 7.30pm, once I'd put the kids to bed, I felt like stretching out a bit but felt too lazy for a run so I opted for a stroll around the block. Unusually for me I decided to pull out my ipod and pop it on for my jaunt which turned out to be a cool and dark evening.

On the way round I started texting a friend and we got into a text conversation which was fun. Trouble was I soon realised I was absorbed in a world of my own: deaf due to the music and blind due to the texting (looking into a shining bright light doesn't help your night vision).

Now I'm all for bringing martial training to everyday life but I didn't feel threatened: it's my neighbourhood which is fairly safe apart from the odd 'youff'. I remember reading on some MA forum how one guy only ever wore special elasticated jeans and trousers with sewn in gussets in his daily life just in case he was attacked so that his kicks wouldn't be hampered by tight trousers! I think this may be being a bit over zealous and I wasn't concerned that I could've been jumped at any moment!

So why the post? Well, here's the punchline of the story: as I was walking along in time to the music and happily texting my friend and thinking about that glass of Glenmorangie that was waiting for me at home I nearly walked into a hedge! And I don't mean a glancing blow, I mean I looked up from the mobile phone and my nose was a 30 cms away from a 6 foot hedge!


There're plenty of conclusions you can draw from that, my friends....

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Practice, practice, practice...

I love the following quote from Musashi. This idea of constantly appraising technique and striving gives me great focus. When I feel myself drifting off during lessons I like to focus using this idea of always checking form and movement, getting feedback from my body and knowing that I'm staying on the path.

It's also interesting to see Musashi talk about the 'chosen' art-in a general way. Although he famously was a (two sworded) swordsman he encouraged training in other arts. I like to think that you can be a warrior in any artform where technical accuracy and physical discipline is present: art, flower arranging, karate ...

"Practice is the only way you will ever come to understand the Way of the Warrior is about. Constant striving for perfection of the self through the chosen art is the only path to enlightenment. Words can only bring you to the foot of the path, and to attain mastery and perfection you must constantly strive to better yourself through an understanding of your chosen Way."

Musashi's Book of Five Rings By Stephen F. Kaufman, Musashi Miyamoto.

Monday 9 March 2009

Front kick, ahp chagi, mae geri

I was enjoying another impromptu garden session the other day and I found myself practicing and studying front kick. My kempo teacher introduced me to an interesting (but probably not new) concept of following through front kick with shoulders 'cocked' in their original starting position so that upon landing you are ready to deliver a powerful punch. Below the mannequin kicks off the rear left leg keeping left shoulder back, lands forward onto left leg and can then rotate body round to deliver effectively a reverse punch (although it is off the front leg technically)

I measured the distance from my front toe to the effective target which for me was 80cm.

The second option I was playing with was the good old reverse front kick, powerfully delivered. Follow-up punches weren't as powerful as above but can be very rapid. Effective distance from front toe to target was 110cm.

Lastly I practiced a lunge kick with a hopping step: this involves a regular front kick from the back leg, as above with much power and forward momentum which 'hops' you forward into the target. As can be expected this thrusts you forward more than the previous two techniques and my measurement was 140cm.

See also Sparring Strategy.

Questions on style

I have so much floating around in my head to blog but I've been bogged down by...work. Ach there's always an excuse. I just have to make time for the things that are important to me!

Interesting post at Mokuren regarding stylistic differences within and between styles.
Lots of intriguing questions spring to mind from this article: how different are styles really? Is artistic/individual interpretation the difference between styles? Is there a commonality between (almost) all martial arts? Can we link Karate to Jiu jitsu or Judo even when superficially they seem so different?

For another post regarding stylistic 'differences' or even commonalities, check out Ikigai's post regarding Sanchin.

Lots of questions to be investigated in future posts...!

Tuesday 3 March 2009

Running in Spring

Is it Spring? Maybe...?

I went on a run around the lake today and saw a variety of birds. Maybe it was the lovely birds I saw or the pleasant weather but it feels like there's a change in the air.

- Grebe (I love seeing this bird)

This wonderful gathering of birds gave me a visual treat as I shuffled around the lake. 

I enjoyed the moment thoroughly.