Sunday, 15 July 2018

The 7 Deadly Sins and Martial Arts

Hi, everyone!

This week's blog post is really late, isn't it? 

The reason for that is quite good. For once I have spent a Saturday away from my computer with my best friend and the nicest kids I know. That was a Saturday well-spent. 

Today's post might not make sense to a lot of modern day martial artists or martial arts fans as I see that training these days is all about plyomentrics, explosive power training, sparring and so forth. Well- I guess it gets the job done if the job is being a good athlete.

To me, however, martial arts are about the improvement of the human condition. The fighting techniques we learn are not the only useful part there is to a martial art. 

Shaolin Kungfu we know started at almost the same time as Zen Buddhism in China. Buddhist monks are known for staying away from violence. The monks of our favourite temple in the Songshan mountains in Northern China are no different. For them- the fighting and martial training that they undergo serve a far higher purpose than beating up villains or winning tournaments.

Now- I am sure that a lot of Western readers have at least a basic knowledge of Christian teachings.
For this reason I have decided to take a very classical Christian principle, that was originally taught by Christian monks like Evagrius the Solitary in the fourth century after the death of Christ to show you how one's performance as a martial artist reflects on one's spirit and also- how one's conduct in day to day life affects one's development as a martial artist.

 Image result for dante's inferno gameImage result for dante's inferno game
Image result for dante's inferno gameImage result for dante's inferno game

Long before the advent of the PS3 and a game called Dante's Inferno it was actually my 8th grade History teacher who introduced me to the concept of 7 deadly sins. I was tasked to go and found out what these deadly sins for our lesson about the Middle Ages and particularly the part played by the Roman Catholic Church in those times. This has to be seen in the context that all of us in the class came from a Protestant upbringing and we had no idea of Catholic teachings such as this.

Well- a trip to the town library later I came back with a list of these sins and saw that they had very little connection with the Ten Commandments, so I would never have been able to guess them without research.

Later on- I have learnt that the reason why scholars concentrated on these particular sins, which are in effect 7 different states of mind, was because these were the states of mind that weighed down on a person's soul. Buddhist scholars would also agree that these 7 states of mind will prevent you from ever attaining enlightenment as long as they are present and followers of Hare Krsna will tell you that you will not see your next life in the Realm of Lord Krsna if any of these sins are part of your life.

Whatever you believe- these 7 states of mind are a good guage of spiritual refinement and if one regards the practice of martial arts as a spiritual activity- you will understand that you have to overcome these 7 states of mind in order to attain mastery of your martial art as well.

So- without further ado, lets look at these sins and how they affect your martial art skills:

1. Pride 

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Well- if you are to ask Vegeta here he'd say that pride is a great motivator. Well- maybe. So is greed and anger. As with all motivators, though, pride is inevitably a weakness. Taunting is not supposed to work in a fight. Still- it can get a proud fighter to launch an expected attack against someone who is ready for him.

The sin of pride is basically committed when one seeks to satisfy one's own ego.

I think MMA fans can still remember how this inflated ego got deflated after the incident in the photo below...
Image result for ronda rousey holly holm weigh in

We also know that many of us have started martial arts to feel better about ourselves, but ended up finding that the training involved can deal quite a blow to one's ego. Some students feel that they would rather avoid being humiliated or simply made to do things at which they are not good yet simply to spare their own egos and then they quit.

True martial arts masters like Bruce Lee understood that the goal of martial arts training was not to feed one's ego, but to destroy it. We do what we do not because it makes us look cool or because we regard ourselves as being better than anyone else, but because it is right. No other reason.

2. Greed

You know- writing a paragraph about this nowadays is far too easy.

I think many readers out there can tell us how greed buggers up the quality of teaching and that of the "masters" that get produced by a system where making money is prioritised over the heart of martial arts.

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What I will add, however, is that a student can also suffer the consequences of greed if he thinks that his skills and knowledge are to be used to help him get whatever material benefit that he desires in this world.

Where warfare strategist Sun Tzu wrote that one is to lure the enemy with "the prospect of gain" Shaolin Kungfu also teaches the one on one fighting strategy of intentionally creating openings for the opponent to attack. Greed makes one over-eager to seize what you see. This shows in a person's fighting style as well and can be used against him.

3. Lust

  Image result for jiraiya peepingImage result for master roshi nosebleed gif

If you look at these two well-known pervert masters from classic martial arts themed anime you can see that the Japanese actually know that lust actually has no place in the martial arts, which is why these two characters appear at their most ridiculous when they fall prey to their own lust.

In the West we also see how a teacher's lust can actually destroy the learning environment in a modern-day martial arts class. Now I am trying to remember... Jackie Bradbury called one such instructor or that type of instructor Sensei Scumbag or something...? Yes! I think it was Sensei Scumbag!

Thing about it is. Sure! Your status as a martial arts teacher can get you respected, but if everyone can see that you use that status to score with female students you will very quickly lose that respect. A class where the teacher is not respected is not a class.

And yes! 

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I am well aware of how this guy's lust basically ruins the reputation of what has always been the most sacred sources of martial arts in the world!

Taoist martial arts teachers (like teachers of Taijiquan) might tell you that excessive sexual activity also drains your qi to such an extent that it can render your technique useless. This view is not shared by all modern teachers, nowadays, but one teacher of Nei Kung had told me that THIS was the reason for Samson's capture as portrayed in the Bible rather than his hair getting cut.

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From another point of view- if you love Ninja stories as much as I do you probably know a story or two about some lecherous diamyo or politician who had met his end at the hands of a seductive kunoichi because of his lust.

4. Envy

Envy leads to shitposting among other things...

Wherever envy of another person's style, skill, equipment or anything else might take you- it takes up time that you could have spent on improving yourself.

Sure- we know that there is always someone better out there. That is not relevant to our training, however.  What is relevant is that you have to be better than you were the day before. Sitting around thinking about how much better someone else is does not do you any good. Working on yourself, though- that always does a lot of good.

It is true that over time your skills and abilities improve enough for you to take it outside and beat others with it, but that is merely a side-effect of training, not the goal itself.

5. Gluttony

I don't think I can write anything better on this topic than what Sensei Jesse Enkamp had written in the article below:

In Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book we also found that Mowgli had waited for the tiger Sheer Khan to first eat himself full before he killed him.

If I am not mistaken the legendary Arjuna from Hindu Lore killed a demon the same way...

Nonetheless- I am sure we can all understand that if our bodies are to be weapons, they cannot operate efficiently if they are overweight and the stomach is full of food all the time.

6. Wrath (Anger)

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In the movie, Dragon- The Bruce Lee Story Bruce was shown testing a college boy's patience to its limit when he delayed fighting to take off his shoes, warm up etc.

While I don't know whether that had actually happened in the real Bruce Lee's life I had read a more dreadful version of this story in a chapter about Musashi Miyamoto in one of the martial arts books that I had read during my childhood.

In the story a 13 year old Musashi was armed only with a bokken- the wooden sword that Samurai used for practice while the older boy was ready to kill him with a live katana. Musashi first arrived late to face the challenge, then stalled further by taking off his overcoat.

When he was finally ready his enraged adversary was so relieved to finally get to the point of fighting that he rushed in blindly, only to have his attack miss and to get rewarded with a death blow with Musashi's bokken...

One of my favourite DC comics characters is Lady Shiva.

When she trained Tim Drake, the second Robin, she also said that only a fool thinks that anger can help him in a fight.

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It sounds very ironic in this day and age where trash talk and displays of rage are associated with martial arts in this day and age.

Masters know, however, that an opponent that easily gets angry also easily gets defeated.

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Anger disrupts our timing, slows down our responses and diminishes the precision of our techniques. Martial artists fight best with a calm, focused mind.

7. Sloth (Laziness)

We don't know what laziness does to martial arts because we have never seen lazy martial artists, right? :D

Well- you could skip a class or two, train only when you really feel like it and then quit when it stops being fund and you will end up with the skill of a McDojo dropout.

Thing is- your skill will be like that even if you drop out from the best dojo in the world...

If you want to have anything near the skill of a Shaolin Monk, however, you need to train reguarly and dilligently.

Sure- a body becomes stronger during its resting time, but only because of the hard work it has been given before then.  

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The movements of a lazy martial artist are easily recognised for being clumsy and slow. The grace and poise we see in Wushu competitors are the result of rigorous training.

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Image result for shaolin golden bell cover

With all this being said it can easily be understood how martial arts can also help to make the world a better place.

That's it from me for now.

Have a good week ahead!

Saturday, 7 July 2018

The Pommel- For those smartasses who want to get close

Weaponry is not the main focus of my training, but I do enough practice with weapons to know their limitations.

Most weapons we know- like sticks, swords and those weapons related to them can be used to deliver straight thrusting attacks, but we are used to swinging these weapons to strike.

That is all well when we have the room to do so.

I sword for instance creates a lot of safety for the one holding the hilt while the ones facing the blade have much to worry about.

Well- those who know their unarmed combat techniques will be quick to tell you that they love deling with attackers swinging weapons at them because they know a lot of responses that involve just stepping into the arc of the attack and then attack the user while he is virtually powerless at close range.

This is where the pommel of the weapon comes into play. The pommel is that part at the bottom of the hilt. In the photo of my sai here it can be seen really clearly. If you don't want to puncture your opponent, but still want to hurt him, the grip shown below can be used to thrust the pommel, instead of the sharp end into the target.

Holding the sai in a normal grip I can still strike downwards with the pommel in some instances. While the head may seem an obvious target I find that the wrist is most likely to receive blows from this side with this grip.

The tonfa has two pommels in some designs. With this modern-day plastic pair I am able to adapt a dual fist strike under the ears which I have learnt in Taijiquan to an armed blow to the same area.

The sketches I have made depict two scenarios in which the pommel of a weapon is used defensively.

In the first scenario with the katana we see an unarmed opponent intercepting the sword strike with a rising block/ arm bar. This move may or may not be followed up with a grab. Hooking the unarmed opponent's forearm with the pommel, sinking body weight and stepping back- while also turning the body to get clear from the opponent's free hand- the swordsman prepares for his counterattack.

After having made enough space with another step back he can use his blade.

The sai user here is getting his wrist grabbed by someone who wants to come in to stab with a knife. This attack is from the side. Turning from natural position to cat stance the sai user sinks his body weight and pushes down on the opponent's wrist with the pommel. With the hip-turn the sai user also closes off the opponent's free hand by putting the grabbing arm in the way. From there the opponent is open to a counterattack, which I happened to choose to be a whack against the head, just so you know that the sai is not just a stabbing weapon.

I think one can tell that somebody is trained in the use of a weapon if he is not at a disadvantage at close range. Sure- one may not be able to land hard swinging blows at close range, but one can still control the opponent.

I also know some joint locks with weapons, but really don't practice them a lot because I honestly have not seen the opportunity for them arise in any fights or tests that I have seen.

That's it about weapons from me for now.

Stay well and train hard! :)

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Blocking and Parrying in Asian Martial Arts

There are days where it seems that martial arts students of today did not learn the same things that we have learnt back during the 90's.

The first time I saw a post of Facebook of someone saying that blocking does not work I wondered how that person fights then...

The second time I saw a post saying blocking does not work it was in the Karate Nerds Facebook group. While I can expect that these groups can also have members who have not attended a single class in any martial art before I was still surprised to see the post in a Karate group that has lots of active Karateka.

If I have to think of a reason why this line of thought is emerging I would guess that it is because MMA has given us fighters from different disciplines like boxing which relies a lot more on evasion and body positioning than deflecting punches and kicks.

This is fine. Evasion is the king of defense techniques because it leaves both hands and feet free to counterattack. 

One must understand, however, that fighting arts of China and other Asian countries were often not invented only for fighting unarmed assailants or for sports purposes.

Image result for medieval swordplay techniques

In boxing keeping an area covered up is sufficient protection against a gloved fist. I am sure that there are also boxers whose forearms are strong enough to hurt the fist of an adversary who happens to punch that forearm instead of the face or body.

Bring weapons or simply just greater strength into the picture and that forearm will not be enough, though.

From another perspective- if you are fighting in any kind oft tournament then it is indeed so that the one who wins is the one who hits the most and not the one that blocks the most.

If you happen to be the one who took the initiative and got control of the fight- good for you. I can understand then that you do not need to block.

If your opponent, however, got on the offensive before you- you would like to know how to turn the tables, don't you?

Now- instead of saying that blocking does not work, I'd rather tell you WHEN it won't work. That way you will know when to block and how to use blocking to your advantage.

First off- you cannot block an attack when you are preoccupied. Sure- you can stand still in yoi during ippon kumite practice or during a demonstration and your opponent can attack and you will flawlessly block and counterattack. During free sparring, however, you find that you get hit. Well- let's look at this in perspective. You get hit while you are:

-thinking of attacking;

-busy attacking

- busy blocking somewhere else

-busy moving

-busy panicking

-being angry and thinking about that

or busy with anything else when you are being attacked.

Fighting like a Kung Fu or Karate expert requires a calm and EMPTY mind. I know this is a weird concept to many people and even black belt Karatekas and Senseis have told me that they don't fight that way, but still- thought slows you down a lot.

Wing Chun experts will tell you that they don't guess where they are going to get hit. If the hand comes to hit them their hands or forearms immediately meet the attacking hand to deflect or trap it. 
In Karate we see that a master blends with his opponent the same way in which an Aikido master does. The appropriate block meets its corresponding punch without any hesitation or delay and without the master thinking even acknowledging that it is doing so.

If you are a Karateka THIS is the purpose of your ippon kumite training. If you are a Wing Chun student- THIS is why you practice Sticking Hands or Chi Sau. If you study any other discipline and do not know what Ippon Kumite or Chi Sau is I can understand why you don't know how to block.
I'll just say that the bottom line of all this is that you should know how to practice blocking if you want it to work.

Then- you also need to fight with the correct mindset. 

You will then understand why a karate competitor is sometimes wary of just attacking an opponent who stands waiting calmly. 

Well... That's it for now. Have a great week and train well! :)

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Little Legends- Kids in the Martial Arts World

If you ever wondered whether teaching kids martial arts is a good idea let me tell you this story:

I was 22 and working in a Chinese Restaurant when I asked my boss about Kung Fu and how the Shaolin Monks develop their skills.

Mrs Ku told her daughter in Chinese to tell me something and via her I got the reply:

"You should have started when you were 8, while your bones were still growing."

Well- I started Karate at 14. Still- I have no regrets.

From about the age of 9 I had entered this phase of playing Bruce Lee and Ninjas out of which I guess I have never really gotten so far.

I'd really recommend that children who love martial arts should be allowed to study it.

Now- I am sure parents love seeing their children doing well at the dojo.

I can hardly imagine how the parents of the following children must feel:

1. Mahiro Takano

Just so you know- THIS is the video from which I have learnt Kanku Dai.

I had to polish the kata later at the dojo so that it looked like the way we do it, but the difference is really minor (only the closing movement at the end).

We hear a lot of critique against the use of kata in martial arts, but I think this video demonstrates exactly what kata does for one's coordination and mental development. How many 7 year olds have you ever seen move like this?

2. The Little Tai Chi girl

Taijiquan may seem to most laypersons as a form of light exercise done by old people in parks, but the more knowledgeable among us know Taijiquan as a martial art which develops power through its movements instead of by using weights and punching bags. The extremely low stances in this video clearly demonstrates this. This girl's poise and balance is just amazing. Many of us adults don't have that grace in movement.

3. Qigong Kids

I remember once hearing a newsreader on CCTV say that Qigong should not be taught to young children. No explanation was given and I have stopped trying to find out why. Seeing these youngsters this organised, however, tells us a lot about the way martial arts instills discipline in one's life.

4. Ryusei Imai
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This kid is a little monster! I have seen a couple of kids his age at Karate schools. It is already a challenge to get their minds around the principles that make techniques work, then comes the part where their bodies have to get taught to put that knowledge into action.

That kick against the chair says that this kid understands really well how his technique works.

He actually scares me a bit...

5. Then we have this girl...

I know a Sensei in Hazyview that would appreciate this video...

In fact- the youngest child I have ever seen to do Karate was from her dojo. It was not this little girl, however. The pacifier in her mouth tells me she is even younger than that girl. :D

You know- there is a lot that we could teach kids with martial arts, but interestingly enough- if you pay attention- you may realise that you can learn something from them as well. :)

Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Legends of our Time

Hi, guys and girls!

Some years ago I wrote a blog post listing some of the most awesome martial artists that I have come across from browsing the internet.

Back then it was already a long list.

We have legends of martial arts heroes from ancient times. Truth is, however, that as the martial arts are still alive in this age- some really extraordinary martial artists can be found in the world today.

In this post- I am going to list some really awesome people who have become celebrities and in my book- legends- because of what they have done for the martial arts.

This list also serves as a means to inform anyone who has not yet heard of these people of their existence and what they do.

So- without further ado...

Here is my list, in no particular order:

1. D K Yoo

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I may not be as crazy about Korean martial arts as I am about Chinese martial arts, but I admit that South Korea has produced one scary individual. DK Yoo's skills and demonstrations remind one a lot of Bruce Lee. It is also noteworthy that the universal combat system that he teaches is also the product of understanding various existing martial disciplines. 

His demonstrations are really awesome to watch. The skill you see in his videos is really inspiring.

2. Ken Andre

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Where most martial artists would apply their skills to the sports aspect of their art Ken Andre takes his to the street to keep his neighbourhood safe. He is not wealthy enough to get a Batmobile and all sorts of gadgets to aid him in his crusade. Still- armed with only a stick he makes as much of a difference as he can in keeping the streets of his town Yeovil safe.

3. Martial Club

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Martial arts choreography is an art form that makes martial arts movies entertaining and spectacular. The members of Martial Club are really awesome to see in action. Their skills are insane!

4. Randy Brown and Tony Puyot of Mantis Boxing

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While many Chinese people prefer MMA to traditional Chinese Martial Arts Mantis Boxers Tony Puyot and Randy Brown demonstrate the relevance and effectiveness of Mantis Kung Fu's techniques on a regular basis. 

Shaolin Kung Fu has traditionally been taught in a way that is too difficult for most Westerners to apply in a real fight. Randy and Tony puts traditional forms aside in their videos to show you the combat applications straight up.

5. David Torok

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If you are German you may have seen him in movies. I have only recently heard that he is an actor. What I do know him for is his Wushu training videos on Facebook and Youtube. He has tremendous gymnastic ability!

6. The Unknown Phoenix

All I know of her is that she has gone viral in China. By the look of her I am guessing that she lives somewhere in the Fujian province. Her strength and beauty are definitely the stuff of legend. Guys be warned- one look at a video of her and you'll be powerless with love!

7. Sniper Girl

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Slingshots are mainly used for hunting in China, but with the amount of skill displayed by this lovely woman a slingshot can be a fearsome weapon! I have no idea who she is, but she has also gone viral in China.

Times have certainly changed since the days of Feudal Japan and the Jiang Hu period of China. Nowadays we have the internet instead of word of mouth and videos and photos to go by instead of stories. 

It is easy to go to the dojo every day and get so caught up in doing the training for the day that we forget that martial arts are actually awesome. These people remind us that martial arts are about more than just tournaments, gradings and belts. It is about being all that you can be and better!