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!)