Saturday, March 31, 2012

Japanese Jiu Jitsu : A Journey turns 2!

It was two years since my first post on March 22nd.  A lot has gone on in my life since then.  I truly find it amazing that I have no shortage of topics to discuss.  I hope this indicates my journey is constantly evolving and moving forward.  

A couple observations and thoughts as I being year three of this blog.

1.  Maintaining a blog is more work than I anticipated.

2.  Maintaining a blog is more rewarding than I anticipated.

3.  A blog takes on a bit of a life of its own.  JJJ: A Journey is not what I had initially thought it would be.  I'm happy about that though, it's far more interactive and takes me in directions I might not have gone in without input from readers and from reading and commenting on other blogs.

I'd like to thank everyone out there who maintain quality blogs.  I get a lot of inspiration from reading the material of others.

I'd also like to thank everyone who has taken the time to follow, comment, recommend, link, or just visit this blog.  I was surprised to discover how much this means to me. Thank you to all.

I will do my best to keep things interesting for year three of the journey...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

More pieces of the puzzle - Musubi, fascia and the body

The martial arts are very much like a puzzle to me.  With each new piece, vague shapes and ideas start to take form.  You get hints or glimpses of the bigger picture when each successful piece finds it's home. Of course, with each pieced placed, you realize the whole picture is bigger than you thought.  I love that.

I read an interesting article over at The Dragon's Orb by Sensei Strange on the concept of Musubi. There's also some great video clips to be seen.  I recommend you read it.

Musubi is an interesting concept central to many Aiki-based arts.  It's definition or translation is somewhat vague depending on where you look.  It can mean connecting two things, it can be displayed or described as a knot.  It can mean to bind together, or to combine.  It can also mean a sushi like dish made of spam, rice and nori, but I digress.

We often talk about becoming one with our opponent, about accepting their energy.  This is also related to the concept of Musubi, of connecting two things, be they people or energy.  

Just as the word Musubi has differing definitions, martial artists have different interpretations of what it is, and of how to do it.  The one thing most of us know is that when someone has a high skill level in aiki, there are times it seems that you must comply with their touch or technique.  It's difficult to explain, but if you've felt it,  you'll know what I mean.  With my own Sensei, there are times that he moves me so easily that it's clear he's not using any strength.  I feel compelled physically to go with the movement.  There are also times where the slightest movements on his part cause major disruptions to my center of balance.  A shrug or a flick of a wrists sends me flying.  There are also times I've grabbed him and when he moves, it seems I can't let go.  Weird but wonderful.  My interpretation is that all these examples are tied into Musubi.

This video was posted on The Dragon's Orb, and it is Lowry Sensei's interpretation of Musubi.  Here it is:

Interesting.  Try the things he's showing and you'll definitely get a sense of what he's talking about.

After watching the video, I started pondering why this works.  

A while back, I posted on the topic of fascia and power generation.  I was going to try to do a re-cap but I've decided to re-post instead as I feel it sums up the topic quite nicely (if I do say so myself...)  So from June 2010:

"I've been doing some preliminary research and reading on fascia. Fascia is a band of fibrous gel- like connective tissue that runs all through our bodies. It surrounds our muscles and essentially is part of all our movement.

Recent research is indicating that fascia plays far more of a role in the generation of power and strength. Some are theorizing that there really are no isolation movements for muscles. Fascia plays a part in all movement.

This elastic type skeletal covering acts like a rubber band. If you can stretch it and release, lots of power is generated.

An athlete trainer I know tried to explain some of what fascia does and how manipulating it can cure or improve other areas. And the area where the problem surfaces may not be where you treat it. (anyone see a traditional Chinese medicine tie-in?).

The trainer said when you tuck in a dress shirt too tightly, you have trouble raising you arms all the way above your head, indicating a shoulder mobility problem. By loosening the shirt at the waist, un-tucking it a little bit, you can easily lift your arm. Fascia is sort of like the shirt. Stretch it properly and other problems can clear up.

This is an oversimplification of course, but it gives an idea.

It is theorized that Bruce Lee's one inch punch is a result of a healthy fascia and his ability to use his body as one, stretching and snapping his rubber band like fascia.

Fascia also learns to adapt to what it's subjected to over time. This may be why our hip movement is so poor. Being a generation that spends that majority of it's time sitting, the fascia adapts to being in this position. This is why it's so important to stretch out your hips.

Martial artists know that power comes from the hips, so this is particularly relevant. Active functional stretching is important for mobility, power and injury prevention.

I will continue to research these findings and see if adding some of the recommendations has a positive impact on my training and movement."

I suspect that fascia comes into play in the technique demonstrated by Lowry Sensei in his interpretation of Musubi on the video.  Too deep a pressure on the arm, and you're fighting muscle and bone.  Too light and you're just pulling or pinching skin. 

The pressure that makes this successful seems to be just enough to manipulate your fascia.  This is just a working theory of mine, but I think I may be on to something.  Just as the example of the shirt tucked in too tight in my original article affects other areas, so would Lowry Sensei's example affect other parts of the body.

By taking up the 'slack' as he described it, you pull on the gel like elastic band, so while the forearm is the point of contact, the 'pull' is experienced throughout the rest of the body structure.  

does work.  That's not to suggest I'm not interested in the scientific reasons behind them, I just don't always need to know them first.  I'm also a firm believer that if a 'feeling' assists you in achieving a technique, it's not always necessary to break it down to it's nuts a bolts, at least not at first.  I also suspect there may be some things that defy scientific explanation.  Magic versus science.  Yikes.

As for this example though, learning a bit about fascia may open up new areas or understanding and experimentation in your training.  It may also explain why more isn't always better, or why we're often told not to work so hard when practicing technique.  It also goes a long way to explain why you feel compelled to comply with a talented aiki practitioner's techniques that seem devoid of any use of strength or effort.

Food for thought.

I'd also like to welcome the new followers to this blog.  Glad you've chosen to follow my journey.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Confidence- Will it work?

My last two posts were all about the effectiveness of joint locks.  There was a lively discussion over at My journey to black belt.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  

My position, of course, is that joint locks are effective, and often superior to other forms of engagement in dealing with a violent confrontation.  Joint locks, to a large degree, negate or greatly reduce the inherent advantage of being bigger and stronger.  They also work on opponents who have certain advantages due to pharmacological assistance.  

I say this all as I have used joint locks successfully on several occasions in real encounters.  I have confidence in the techniques.  I have proved that they work.  I believe in the technique, and my ability to apply them.

As with any topic, we must always be careful not to be closed minded.  

This is actually a statement directed at myself.  Sue is one of the most open minded individuals that I have 'cyber' met.  She read my comments, and those of others, and carefully considered a variety of points of view.

What I need to make sure is that my belief or confidence in joint locks do not make me closed off to different points of view.  Sue made the following statement which I've been thinking about a lot lately.  
She said:

"Size differences between attacker and defender may or may not be relevant – but if you want to convince me they are not then you’ll need to provide me with a good rational scientific explanation and with some tips on how small people can make techniques work on big people because I’m not yet convinced ;-)"

This comment may warrant a scientific discussion on balance, fulcrums, inertia, and the makeup of the human body and joint construction, but I'm not going to do that, at least not right now.

The part that has stuck with me is the last part.  "...because I'm not yet convinced"

I could go on and on stressing how joint locks equalize size difference, but doing this would effectively close my mind to the real issue with anyone in the martial arts.  If you don't believe something will work, it won't.  I could put up diagrams of human anatomy, and write mathematical equations that would essentially 'prove' my point, but what good would that do?  If you don't believe or feel confident that a technique you are practicing will work, or even could work, then they're of no value whatsoever.  

The whole point of this post is to make sure that I remain open minded in the true spirit of Budo.  I'm quick to criticize martial artists who believe that their way is the only way.  While I pride myself on keeping an open mind to different points of view, I must remain ever vigilant that my own beliefs don't make me 'pushy' or close me off to conflicting points of view or underlying issues that I could miss in my desire to prove a point.  I don't think that was the case here, but I've done a lot of thinking since the discussion.

Sue discussed that she struggles to turn a larger opponent's hand over into a wrist trap, or a z-lock, or a chicken wing, whatever you want to call it.  She states she doesn't always have the strength to do so, depending on who she is working with.  Fair enough.  I offer (ed) up the idea of using a distraction technique to loosen him (or her) up to apply the technique.  I talk about isolating, or hyperextending the joint to a place it has no strength to resist.  This information I proffer is correct, and someone might agree on an intellectual level, but if they don't believe they can do it, or if their experience suggests it doesn't work, then it doesn't matter what I say.  

In Sue's case, I might suggest forgetting about that particular technique for now, and focusing on joint manipulations which might be easier to apply.  Any time you can use your entire body weight against a joint, you'll likely end up on the winning end of the equation.  A wrist throw from a hook punch or an elbow lock/break technique may be viable method to increase confidence and proficiency in certain areas.  This could lead to experimenting with more joint locks.  

Without having the opportunity to train with someone, I am limited to discussing concepts as opposed to examining the execution of a specific technique.  I will also say that some things just won't work for some people.  I, for one, don't have as much confidence in some throws as I'm quite tall and have some issues with dodgy knees.  A shorter opponent clearly has some advantages in this realm.  The important part for me is that I still believe in throws, I've just had to adjust my style to focus on the ones that work for me. If I had not been allowed the opportunity to make it my own, I might have given up on throwing all together.

I want to make it clear that while the discussion with Sue was the springboard to this article, I am in no way making any comment on her training or on the instruction she receives.  This is all about me and making sure that my own mind remains open to all points of view.  I must remain ever vigilant against the insidious thing known as ego.

Train with an open mind.