Monday 28 December 2009

Ickworth House run

A pleasant post Christmas run around the National Trust's Ickworth House in Suffolk with EP.
3.5 miles on googlemaps but if felt like 5 or 6! Lots of mud and I was carrying a few too many mince pies...

View Ickworth run in a larger map

Me striking a Brucie pose and EP (comically) pointing out the round house on the map. Phew. We're not lost...

Thursday 24 December 2009

The Samurai

In Our Time this morning, as ever hosted by Melvyn Bragg, explored the history and 'myth' of the samurai throughout Japanese history. This is a 45 minute radio show in a discussion format with analysis from experts in this field: Gregory Irvine author of The Japanese Sword, Nicola Liscutin of the Japan Research Centre (SOAS), Angus Lockyer lecturer at SOAS.

This was a good, broad history of the samurai from early settlement and warring tribes in Japan through to the Second World War with some emphasis on the samurai's chief weapon, the sword. The talk also covered the symbolism of the sword within the Japanese culture as well as its effectiveness as a fighting weapon and how it adapted with the changing methods of warfare.

Friday 18 December 2009

Information on knife defence

Post-training pub talk led to a conversation about knife attacks last night. This is still, in my mind, a hot topic in the martial arts world extending the age old conundrum of, "Is my style effective in a real situation?" into a whole new and different area. Knife crime is a possibility in this country where gun ownership is tightly controlled but there is much debate about what the stats actually mean. The government and the police force try and portray a safer society but who knows what the real statistics are? This article talks about how we can't say whether knife crime is coming down but CS dug out this interesting snippet from a book called 'This Will Kill You' which clearly states that in the UK "stabbing is the most common form of murder". So that's pretty clear. There is a debate, of course, about how likely you are to end up in a stabbing scenario (most murders are perpetrated by people known to the victim) but this highlights that an awareness of knife defence may be beneficial.

If you do want to practice knife defence then here are some facts, as stated in the aforementioned book:
- Repeated stabbings will kill likely lead to death (er..yeah). The point being that maybe one stab may not be enough to kill an attacker may be after a repeated onslaught.
- Slicing of veins and arteries will result in heavy blood loss
- Defensive wounds occur on the hands and arms due to weapon fixation
- Long blades are often used in a downward stabbing motion to chest and neck area (although are at their deadliest when thrust from the elbow.)
- Usual cause of death: organ failure, loss of blood, shock.

This Will Kill You: A Guide to the Way in Which We Go by Newquist and Maloof

Thursday 17 December 2009

Martial arts monkeys attack!

A monkey trainer was attacked by his own students in what can only be described as vicious martial arts monkey mayhem! In order to make money street performer Lo Wung trained up a troupe of small monkeys to perform martial arts tricks in Eastern China.

Something sinister was happening in this imprisoned monkeys' brains though and this day they'd had enough. It all came to a head when one of the little chaps had had enough and leapt at Mr Wung with a flying kick. the other monkeys soon joined in bopping him in the eye and pushing him to the ground.

One spectator to this said, "It was better than a Bruce Lee film-they were leaping and jumping all over the place!"

A chastened and humiliated Mr Wung punished the monkeys by tying their hands behind their backs and forcing them to kneel on the ground.

Mr Wung is now being investigated for animal cruelty.

As you sow, Mr Wung, so shall you reap!

Ref: The Sun plus photos. (where did you think this story came from!?)

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Second dan presentation

It's always a pleasure to attend friend's belt presentations.
Oli Moran, 2nd dan. 16th December, 2009.

Monday 14 December 2009

The Use of Weapons

After a few repeats of kesa giri I made it my learning point to look at losing the tension in my hands and arms. I needed to make the cut flow naturally and fluidly. I was minded that the fencing tutors told us to hold the foil handle like it were a small bird: too tight and we'd crush it, too lightly and it'd fly away. For the next ten or so repetitions of kesa giri I just concentrated on that and loosing my shoulders which led to some improvement but still not the lightness of touch I wanted or expected. The sword and I were two different processes and I was starting to experience a certain level of discomfort and unease. Relaxation of the grip and arms eluded me so I eased off, stood there and waited. It was cold but I took the time to breathe and waited for the draw to begin which it did. I drew and cut and re-sheathed in one (fairly) smooth line.

And then I waited.

Another draw with less tension- without focusing on the problem areas I was allowing the sword to follow its path more 'naturally' and inhibiting it less in it's flow. De-focusing or working on the core element of relaxation helped me connect better with the nature of the sword and of the cuts.

Following from this I took up the bo to continue training with this relaxed attitude which had worked just fine with the sword. I have a beautiful, traditional red oak bo staff which, while not being heavy as such, is substantial enough to lead to tight forearms after a while of training. I was looking for this lightness that I had found in the iai practice. It followed on nicely while executing simple low blocks, turns and strikes. Not grasping at the technique helped me flow and integrate better with the movement rather than fighting against it with my mind.

Friday 11 December 2009

Wish I'd brought me sword

It doesn't happen often but this morning I've finished my house chores in good time, have little design work to do and find myself at a loose end. Being faced with this moment to myself I decided to make the most of it and drove to Anglesey Abbey for a cup of good coffee and to read a book or two. It's a very foggy day and makes the grounds look really atmospheric-wish I'd brought my sword. I'd love to practice some iai in this freezing fog in beautiful surroundings. Not sure though. It might spook the silver haired visitors to the Abbey grounds!

I find having time for oneself is very important. I *love* being with my family but sometimes I just need a bit of air and time to be with my thoughts. Or even better with no thoughts at all! There's a great chapter in the super little book about zen by Joe Hyams called Zen in the Martial Arts about a fencing master who would have 'do nothing' days. On those days he would not make appointments, reply to calls or even listen to the radio. A good time for him to be comfortable being himself and being with himself. Yesterday on the radio there was an interesting debate about whether 'me time' as an institution or whether really it should be woven into our lives seamlessly so that when we do have calmer moments we can reflect deeply at that point and not need for longer periods of being completely withdrawn from everyone around us. After all we (mostly) live in an increasingly crowded society so getting that 'away' time when you can find absolute solitude is pretty difficult.

I suppose that's why I wish I'd brought my sword! Nothing better than meditation through iai on a cold foggy morning. I did satisfy my longing for meditation by walking through the wooded area concentrating on my footsteps one after the other, breathing with each step. This is pretty useful stuff as when done enough you can learn to slow down, calm yourself and meditate anywhere.

Book review: The Way of the Warrior

This is a hardback, colourful almanac of descriptions of the world's martial arts but is it any good?

There are many entries in the book, which is encyclopaedic in its format, and it does give a good, broad look at the martial arts around the world. I'm sure that some esoteric arts might not be covered but to me it looks pretty comprehensive. The entries I have knowledge about seem fairly accurate but don't stray from the 'party line' and therefore have no analysis. This isn't surprising from such a broad look at the martial arts. What does lift this book is the photo documentaries sprinkled throughout which give more insight into the human aspect of living martial arts, examining how people today, all around the world, dedicate themselves to their art. As a human documentary this is interesting and helps to convey the idea that to some people the martial arts is a unifying force, despite its basic premise of conflict.

Chris Crudelli is mentioned on the cover as the author but apart from a couple of little editorial snippets where he adds that he has trained in this style or that, I can't see what else he really adds. Perhaps he was responsible for the photo journals.

Buy it or not? Good clean, fun book, lots of descriptions about many martial arts around the world but no in depth analysis or critical appraisal. Have this on your shelf as an encyclopaedia of martial arts (especially as Borders is now closing down and has some pretty good offers on!), or just use Wikipedia for free.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Man wrestles gun from assailant outside Manchester pub

Interesting clip. Not my choice of music.

The accompanying news article says the big guy came out to see what was going on and check on his wife. I am somewhat amazed that he walked, seemingly coolly, towards the gun toter. Staying cool may have played in his favour and he certainly used a minimum of movement, possibly as he thought he didn't want to spook the gunman, possibly out of ignorance or that he felt that the other guy didn't *really* want to use the gun. In any case this is pretty ballsy.

What I'm interested in here is the use of weapons; how people use them and why. Surely brandishing a weapon is partly to have a psychological effect on others, showing that you literally hold power, much like fasces were used in ancient Rome. But what likelihood is there that a brandisher of weapons will turn into a shooter? Is the act of brandishing a weapon completely different from having a weapon with intent to use?

Geoff Thompson in 'Dead or Alive' (p.174 ) "a stabber rarely shows and a shower rarely stabs".
Having said that he doesn't recommend taking these people on in the first place! Don't be there is his first line of self defence.

'Big guy' in the video seemed to have intent as he strode out to meet the gunman, so was this a foolhardy act?

Friday 4 December 2009

Beckham as warrior

I'm far from a fan of football but enjoyed Beckham's take on the prospect of the upcoming World Cup in South Africa and playing some of the best teams in the world. I'm guessing he was asked something like, "So, which team do you fear in the tournament?".

Check out his reply.

Last days fencing and ki ken tai

The fencing course culminates with a competition with the rest of the club. This includes fun atmosphere and prize giving so I was fairly relaxed about going along, despite not having actually fought anyone for real!
It was quite a liberating experience for me as when I have been to martial art competitions I'm always a little anxious about technique, remembering stuff, wanting to do well and not let myself down. These all buzz around my head so calming them is a process which takes up energy. Last night at the fencing tournament however I didn't mind at all! Everyone sees you are a learner due to the blue plastron beginners wear and I had nothing to prove. I went along to see how sword combat would be and to maybe get a few points on other fencers, which I did.
One thing to remark was how tired I was after each bout. I'm sure this was because I didn't really know about the correct and most efficient way to fence, but also maybe because I was lunging too much. I think more astute and experienced fencers don't need to lunge and this takes up a lot of energy. Also I was probably chasing the hit a little too much- I couldn't rely on sitting back, parrying and riposting as my technique wasn't developed enough.

My fights ended against M, a tall left-handed fencer who was very able and who thrashed me soundly with me scoring only one point on him. Afterwards in the pub he told me he'd been working on his footwork a lot which improved his fencing. He found that this could free up his mind to work on the 'point' work and bringing these two together, he said, really improved his game: foot and point working in unison. I couldn't help chipping in to add that ki ken tai (breath/spirit or shout, sword and body) was a similar concept in kendo and other striking arts. Bringing together the spirit of the attack (the raw will of the attack) with the body movement and footwork together with the strike of the weapon (be it sword or fist) gives a unity and firmness to the offence. Ki is sometimes considered as the shout or kiai and in some martial arts if the kiai is not present the point is not scored.

This concept is important on a physical level as it improves the structure of the given attack but also on a philosophical level makes the strike more complete. Movement within a traditional martial art is considered more correct if these three elements are present. This is particularly pertinent within kata or hyung practice when intent, focus and body movement are essential.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

All in the mind

The second half of this BBC radio 4 programme looks at mindfulness in everyday life, taking the presenter through some simple steps to achieve a more relaxed and concentrated lifestyle.