Friday, December 24, 2010

A crazy time of year

It's been a hectic time of year, too much to do and not enough time to do it.  It seems once you're an adult, the holidays always seems to sneak up on you.

I'll be off doing holiday type things for the next few days.  As always, martial arts won't be far from my mind, in fact, there are a few martial arts items on my list to Santa.

I've been discovering some great blogs out there lately.  When things settle down, I'll be adding a few links to my blog.  There's some great people out there with some great ideas and opinions.  I'll also be delving deeper into the topic of knife fighting and realistic defenses to edged weapon attacks.  There's been some interesting discussion on line lately about these topics.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone out there.  I wish you all the best!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Get off the tracks...

One of the simplest concepts that often proves difficult to apply is to 'get off the tracks'.  I think naturally, we tend to back straight up when we are being attacked.

It is very important to get off the center line.  Sideways, angles, circles, moving in, these are all options.  I see it again and again where people keep backing up.  This is a bad idea.  First off, it's easy to lose your balance and fall or not see obstructions behind you (including another attacker).  Second, it very rarely offers any tactical advantage.   You are in exactly the same place you started off from, and often you're worse off.  Third, it is quite likely you may be bowled over by your attacker if they continue forward.

It's a simple concept, it sounds simple.  It's not so simple to do.  My particular style usually moves in towards the attacker, or off to the sides to best utilize their strength and momentum against them.  We often yield to the opposing force and then re-direct to a position of advantage.

Occasionally, I still find myself backing up, but this is normally during sparring, and less often during Randori.  Spend some time watching other students to see if they tend to move straight back.  Spend some time watching yourself too.

Remember, you're not in control if you're backing up.  You can't plan and get out of danger.  At best, you're just trying frantically to protect yourself, which doesn't help you get control of the situation.  Your opponent can also track you and time their attacks.  A linear target doesn't require the attacker to reacquire their target area and re-aim, they can just keep firing off shots  The same can apply if someone pulls a gun on you, but that's a topic for another post.

So the next time that trains coming towards you, do yourself a favor and get off the tracks!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Magic and making immovable

From time to time we discuss Ki, (or Chi, or Qi, depending on your discipline) in our training.  While performing a technique, Sensei will have us work on drawing energy and projecting it into what we're doing.  I have to admit, it seems to help.  Whether it's actually Ki, or just the level of concentration that improves it, I'm not sure.

It is possible to root yourself and make it harder for your opponent to unbalance you, all while remaining in the same stance or position. Concentrating on becoming immovable makes it far harder to for your partner to shove, trip or throw.

I have had the opportunity to see a master who could make himself unmovable at a seminar.  He invited students from any school to come and lift him off his feet.  The master locked in a stance (a high stance, by the way) and had 4 burly young students (none of them his) try to lift him up.  They could not.  Now, I'm naturally suspicious that it was acting, but I knew one of the volunteers and he said he was really trying.

I also saw a Sifu sitting on a chair and four of his students, after concentrating, lifted him up, chair and all, using only their index and middle finger on one hand.  They lifted him up to their shoulder height without any visible strain.  I still can't say whether or not it was the Sifu making himself light or the students using Qi.

My cynicism says it's parlor tricks, my experience makes me think it's real.  I want it to be possible and attainable.

I'm curious if anyone out there uses Ki in their training or have experienced it in their travels.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I had an opportunity to spend some one on one time with my Sensei recently. Something hasn't been feeling the same lately.  I felt that I had somehow slipped into neutral with my training.  I was getting to class, I was training with a serious mind and I was enjoying myself, but I didn't really feel like I was improving.  My technique still worked, but something was a little off.

So I asked him about it.  He said simply that he had noticed and I hadn't been as focused lately.  At first I was taken aback.  I always pay attention and am serious about my training.  As I started to respond, saying that I didn't realize I had been unfocused and that I hoped he didn't think I wasn't taking things seriously, he sort of chuckled and said "No, no, I think it's all the stuff going on in your life right now."

I've got lots going on in my life right now, and most of it's positive but it was an interesting statement.

My Sensei wasn't concerned in the slightest.  He just mentioned that he thought my mind was really busy, with lots of 'stuff' bouncing back and forth.

I usually think of focus as paying attention, really listening and concentrating on the task at hand.  I also consider it training in technique seriously and realistically.

The other day I realized focus can be a different thing.  I came away with two things:

1.  Sometimes our focus is affected by what's going on in our lives.  You can lose focus from negative or positive things that are going on.  This is o.k.  It'll happen from time to time.  There's no need to worry about it too much.

2.  I plan on spending a few moments on meditation before and after class, to re-focus myself on my training.  Life can be so busy, a few minutes here and there can work wonders.  In fact, meditation shouldn't be confined to martial arts training, it's good for almost anyone, anytime.

Interestingly, we went on to work on some concepts and techniques after our chat and it was one of the most productive sessions that I've had in a long time.  Just talking about focus helped to free my mind and my body followed suit.

Focus means many things.  Accepting that my own will vary with the ups and downs of life was a valuable lesson.  In martial arts, as in with life, it's always good to look at something from a different perspective.

Focus on that for a bit...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What are you training for? Think hard and answer honestly...

J.C. over at Bujutsu: The Path made an interesting comment several months ago.  From time to time it rattles around in my head.

We had been chatting about martial arts and the pros and cons of different styles and the effectiveness of some techniques we'd been working on, and how some people are critical or others or have strong theories of what will or will not work and who knows what else when he said, somewhat in passing:

"There's faster ways to learn how to fight"

That statement has bounced around in my mind since then.  Any readers of this blog will know the emphasis I put on learning realistic techniques that can translate to the real world and work in dynamic stressful situations.

I have also met lots of people out there that are examining and exploring their martial art to gain a deeper understanding and to compare what they are learning to what they need to know to defend themselves, should the need arise.

Some enlightened artists are discarding some techniques.  Others are discovering ways to apply a learned technique or are discovering deeper layers to their art which translates into real world usability. A few are abandoning what they study or are at least supplementing their training.

Many are moving towards the many Reality Based Systems out there, feeling that they strip away all that 'other stuff' and just teach pure technique.

All these things are good.

Two simple but important questions that you need to ask yourself:

# 1. What am I training for?

# 2.  Is my training reflective of my goals (#1)

These are mental checks that should be done from time to time to make sure you're on track.  It's a simple but effective way to keep yourself on the right path.

If your goal is purely self defense, and time is of the essence, perhaps a reality based system is right for you.

If however, you just like the fitness and camaraderie of it all, well, you don't need to be as selective.

Can you have different goals?

Yes, but they can't be conflicting goals.  My main goal is learning a realistic effective flexible martial art that works on the street, under stress, every time.

My other goals are to improve myself, perfect my character, find inner peace and banish ego.  These goals compliment each other, and often work in tandem.  My main goal, however, is always my priority.

It is possible that as I continue my journey over the years, my focus may shift.  If it does, it will likely be as a result of mastery of my primary goal.  I believe that this is the process Morihei Ueshiba went through when he created Aikido.  He moved towards the loftier goals of self improvement and harmony, but only after he had mastered several different disciplines and styles of martial arts.

If you feel your training is not reflective of your goals, you need to figure out why.

Most important, is your head in the game?  Do you approach your own training in a serious manner?  If you don't, it doesn't really matter what martial art you take.

It's rarely the martial art itself.  Each art has strengths and weaknesses, it is the students and the teachers that are most often lacking.

My suggestion is to cross train.  Take a reality based seminar.  Try out a different art for a bit.  See what's out there and if that training lines up with your goals.  Don't abandon your art in favour of a 'quick fix', however.  Most true martial arts are just that, martial systems that were proved in combat as some time.

I found that while taking some seminars, watching videos, experimenting in this and that and doing some reading, that I kept seeing Jiu Jitsu techniques.  It confirmed that my style, and more importantly, my Sensei, was teaching a relevant and effective system.

Know yourself.  What do you want to get out of training?  Almost everyone you talk to who takes any martial arts will say they're in it for self defense.  I believe that they believe that they are, but I suspect that for many, it is not their primary goal.  Their approach, mindset and expectations don't always match up to their words.

This isn't always a bad thing.  It's not wrong to put a priority on the social aspects of martial arts study.  It can boost physical fitness, improve confidence and teach a few good techniques to almost anyone.

In fact, the true understanding of combat application may be unrealistic for some.  Many people have never been in a real fight in their adult lives, and many never will.  There's no frame of reference from which to measure training against real world violence.  For those that have, or for those who's profession comes into contact with violence, it's a different story.  So know what you want and need.

I read a thought provoking post over at the Chiron blog touching on this. Worthwhile reading.

One interesting thought that emerged for me as I was chewing on these topics is how difficult it is to know how well you are doing if you abandon an established system with a curriculum and grading system.  If you focused solely on reality based seminars and courses, how would you know how you are doing?  It's not like you typically get a black belt in a reality based system.  A counter argument could be that a black belt in a martial art which isn't taught with a focus on real world application isn't an indicator of anything either (if your only goal is reality self defense).

What started as an innocent comment from J.C. sparked quite a bit of thought on my part.  Sure, there are faster ways to learn how to fight, but I'm not sure there's necessarily better.  I feel I could teach a seminar on reality self defense.  I have taught new police recruits in restraint and control and arrest techniques with success.  There are some pretty good crash courses out there for self defense.  For many, this is enough.  For me, I expect a little bit more from my training.

I guess at the moment,  I'm majoring in combat, with a minor in self improvement and perfection of character.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Flinch training and follow-up

In my last post, I touched upon the instinctive 'flinch' response that it ingrained in us when we are unexpectedly attacked.  I said that I hoped one day that my flinch response would be completely overcome and I would achieve a state of Mushin.

Sue from "My Journey to Black Belt" made an interesting comment which led me to read her post entitled Block of Flinch in martial arts?.  It's definitely worth a read.

When I said that in an unexpected attack I accept that I would most likely have an instinctive response first and then have to deal with the situation at hand, it didn't necessarily mean that I felt it was a bad thing.  It was largely meant to point out that in the real world, you may not have the opportunity to observe and recognize what type of attack is coming in, formulate a counter, execute it properly and then continue on.

I do hope that one day I will be so highly trained that I am aware of every potential threat and no attack could ever take me off guard, but I recognize that achieving this omnipresent state is a lofty goal indeed.

In our dojo, we are always required to finish a technique.  It may not end up being the intended technique due either to the uke going 'off script' or ending up in an unexpected position.  For example, if we are practicing a block from the inside and then a counter and we block from the outside by mistake, there is no stopping and saying "oops" and starting over.  You need to adjust to what you have and where you are.  We also use free practice or Randori to test our mettle.  Nothing like unscripted attacks to make you think, or not think, if you do it right...

Read my Importance of Randori post for more on this type of training.

Now that my curiosity is piqued, I'd like to know how many clubs out there train to use the flinch response to their advantage.  I'd love some feedback.