Saturday, 9 December 2017

What is the best distance?

Who of you has seen Game of Death?

I think Bruce Lee's fight scene with basket ball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar is one of the most memorable fight scenes in all of his movies. (An all-time favourite of mine is the fight with Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon).

Image result for kenjutsu sparring

Kareem's obvious advantage in the fight was the length of his limbs. We saw Bruce Lee getting kicked this way and that until he figured out a way to beat his tall adversary.

In training we find that our basics and forms involve techniques that are meant for someone the same height as ours and whose limbs are the same length as ours.

Under these circumstances one can block and counter without having to move at all- except for the instance where kicks are involved, because either the defense and counterattack or only the counterattack shall always require some body movement. 

When your partner or opponent becomes taller than you, you realise that avoiding his attacks come at the price of you not being to counterattack. Well- that is only if you do not know how to manage distance well enough.

Today I will tell you a short story. I mean- really short, because it is weekend and I don't want anyone to concentrate too hard on a weekend.

After the story- I want to see your views on what the teacher has told the student. O! By the way- I am not going to take the time to write a clause saying that it's a work of fiction and that I have not intended any similarity with any real persons alive or dead. Just be cool and accept the whole thing is made up- okay?


Here goes:

Michelle is an orange belt student at a Tenshinkan Karate dojo. Free sparring has not been any fun for her ever since she had started as she had often received a lot of punches and kicks while not landing any herself. Every time she attacked her kicks or punches landed short of their target. 

Well- to be fair- Michelle was sparring with senior students who did not stand still. This was partly because her teacher felt that it is a good idea for a 25 year old orange belt (8th kyu) student to attend only the junior class.

After one such class Michelle asked her Sensei: 

"I never seem to know at what distance I  should be. What is the best distance?"

The Sensei replied:

"Too far to be punched. Too close to be kicked. Never attack from too far away."

That is the story.

Now- what was the Sensei trying to tell Michelle?  

Saturday, 2 December 2017

A discussion on Kamae/ Fighting Stance

I am starting with this photo of me with the bokken today as my first guideline on what fighting stance to use came from Musashi Miyamoto's Book of Five Rings. I realise, though that we have students and instructors of different disciplines and that we do not all look at fighting stances the same way.

Boxers want to cover up. I, on the other hand like opening up. Some prefer an offensive stance. Some purely defensive. 

Today's post is not meant to be informative at all. It is meant to invite comments and get a discussion going. This is the kind of stuff we like talking about, right?

The Zanshindo Kamae

Now before you get a chance to comment I get to fill an entire blog post with my view on the matter...

Also a Zanshindo kamae. The hands follow the opponent's hands in the same way that football players stick to their numbers on the field.

My Jeet Kune Do stance

Before I have named my style Wenhsiuquan (Wenhsiu's Fist) I have actually given it the Japanese name Zanshindo. It was heavily influenced by Japanese martial arts while I did like to incorporate the flow and mobility of Chinese martial arts.

A Shaolin fighting stance.

Middle Attitude

Zanshindo's fighting stance came from Musashi's "Middle Attitude" as described in the Book of Five Rings". 

It was a neutral stance from which could attack and defend and return to as soon as a move is completed.

While the physical arrangement of the stance allows for quick parrying in any direction and quick striking from any direction the mental state in which this stance is adopted (one can say the internal aspect thereof) is that of non-commitment. The eyes do not lock onto any particular object or part of the opponent's body. In fact- the gaze is wide. The eyes see across their entire field of vision without moving.

Also- no attack and definitely no defensive move is yet chosen when this stance is adopted. The appropriate response flows naturally from this posture as the situation dictates. 

In Kenjutsu it is about as important for one to be able to return to this posture immediately after his attack if it is desired or necessary to do so. This ties in with Karate attacks seeming a lot less committed than some of those of Xingyiquan or Muay Thai. From a tactical point of view martial artists often like to attack their opponents as they attack. An opponent's preoccupation with his own attack creates the ideal opening to be exploited.

Then we also know, of course, of the underlying principle in Japanese grappling that an opponent's momentum is to be used against him rather than being resisted.

    When I got introduced to Bruce Lee's Tao of Jeet Kune Do, however, I saw that Bruce Lee was not half as much concerned with defense as I was. He preferred to attack as soon and as quickly as possible.

The fighting stance he prescribes in his book relies on covering up for defense. This cover is of course broken for the moments when you actually have to attack, but even then you are advised to keep a guard up. 

By the time I had changed the style's name to Wenhsiuquan blocking and parrying played a part second to that of body positioning and evasion. I admit that blocking plays a larger part where you don't have a lot of space for evasion, but where the arms have previously been defensive tools to defend and to attack when the opportunity arises my arms have now become more concerned with attacking while defense has become a matter of body movement, rotation, ducking, leaning and slipping. Sure- I still block. I can't help that, but I really do not give it any thought. I am a lot readier now to counterattack, though than what I was with the previous stance. 

Shaolin tactics involve manipulating the opponent by , among other things, creating deliberate openings or opportunities for the opponent to seize. It could be a lowered guard, an arm extended to be grabbed or something of the like. This actually seems a lot more proactive than the Middle Attitude.

One can actually argue that high, low, left and right positions in fencing are used in a similar manner.

You can see these different approaches reflected in our daily lives as well. We have the ones who are not hasty to commit to a course of action, those who try to make their own opportunities, those who proverbially keep their ears to the ground and those who would rather be proactive. 

What fighting stance do you prefer and why?

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Goku's New Power- What does it teach us as martial artists?

While a lot of the people I know are on about what is happening in some show called Game of Thrones or Riverdale or the like my series that I follow without fail is this-

Dragonball Super

Since the first appearance of Dragonball in a Japanese weekly magazine we have first gotten to know the main character Goku as the fearless young boy with amazing strength, a magical fighting staff, a cloud on which to ride and of course- martial arts skills.

Dragonball Z showed us the adult Goku- married and well on his way to achieve a transformation that existed only in the legends of his native people, the Saiyans.

Dragonball GT is not going to be mentioned in this post.

Dragonball and Dragonball Z saw Goku surviving one physical ordeal after the other. Being beaten up, having to train on a planet with 10 times the Earth's gravity and many more challenges. These challenges were all overcome and as they got overcome Goku emerged with some new power level which had greatly enhanced his fighting ability.

The first was the Kaio-ken, a technique taught to him by King Kai- an overseer of a part of the universe who lived on a planet much smaller than Earth, but with 10 times its gravity. The Kaioken basically involved Goku unleashing all reserve strength into a very powerful attack. While King Kai had initially advised Goku not to exceed going beyond 3 times his normal strength with this technique we have already seen Goku going up to 20 with it. This had featured again in the latest installment of the franchise where Goku uses Kaioken on top of his highest Super Saiyan form.

After Kaio-ken the anguish of watching his friend Krillin getting killed triggered the first Super Saiyan level to come forth. A radiantly blonde Goku now held enough power to destroy a planet with a single ki blast and his speed and strength was exponentially increased.

After this level- and not counting GT's Super Saiyan 4- Goku has transcended the first Super Saiyan power level to a second and third level- the last one being very taxing on his stamina and although more powerful than the other two, much less sustainable.

The common attribute of these power levels that we find in the Z series is that these levels were triggered and seemingly enhanced by strong emotions and increased jing (power/ force) attributes such as strength, speed, resilience and explosive striking power. 

I have written about Goku's latest teacher Whis in an earlier blog post.

What I love about Dragonball Super is that it took Goku's training into a new direction. His Super Siayan God and subsequent Super Saiyan Blue form has enough power to shake the universe, but his teacher Whis is more concerned with controlling this power.

I really think that this is something that needs a lot of attention in this day and age where traditional arts like Karate get questioned and Mixed Martial Artists look to arts like boxing and wrestling to give them an advantage over fighters trained in an art like Karate.

There are a large number of people who can land destructive blows against a heavy bag, smash concrete blocks and so forth. The number of people who lands a destructive blow efficiently without telegraphing it with unnecessary preparatory movements are fewer in number, though.

I have also read a post from someone long enough ago to forget who it was who had said that traditional blocking is not effective in a real fight. Well- I can understand why someone would say that since we have since the start of this MMA culture become preoccupied with hitting hard, knocking our opponents out, going for fractures instead of tap-outs and so on. So- I'd understand if your defense is suffering and you think that it is meant to be that way.

Episode 116, that aired this last Sunday (and which got removed by some martial arts group admins on Facebook when I shared it) showed us the latest form Goku has taken- Ultra Instinct.

Gone are the loud yells and reckless charging in. We no longer see the raw aggression of the previous forms where Goku would even resort to headbutting to best his opponents or the desperate do-or-die attitude with which he had faced impossible odds.

No- this Goku seems really calm. Unsettling so. He seems completely detached as he dodges his opponent's attack with minimal effort. He shows no sign of strain or frustration as he weaves his way through energy blasts to his opponent and his defense seems absolutely flawless.

Seriously- I can understand if laypersons see this episode and just chalk it up as a super power, but if you are viewing this as a martial artist this should be reminder of what exactly you are striving to achieve.

Trash talking and WWE-like showboating has no place in the martial artist's life. The public might like adrenalin filled fights and visible aggression, but the martial artist does not concern himself with these things.

In fact- he does not care about how his technique looks or how he looks while fighting.

Bruce Lee wrote that victory is for the one who even before the combat has no thought about himself or the outcome of the fight. Zen Buddhists will also tell you that vanity (specifically meaning concern over how you appear to others) is an obstacle to perceiving actual reality and definitely an obstacle on the road to enlightenment.

That time you spend practicing your kihon (basics) and kata/ taolu was not originally intended to enhance the aesthetic appeal of your movements (although I love looking at a good form), but rather to teach you to move efficiently as you deliver powerful attacks and defend timeously.

Once you have mastered that aspect (which in most styles mean having attained black belt level)- your body has to respond in the manner which it has been taught without any conscious thought from your side and without hesitation. If you are able to do this you will have acquired the skill to which Musashi Miyamoto refers as the "No design- No conception Cut".

Wing Chun people might know about Bruce Lee's wish that he had been able to hit with his eyes. He had expressed this wish when he realised, like many Wing Chun masters probably teach, that the delay between the message of what you see going to your brain and the issue of the instruction on how to respond thereto is actually significant. Thought and emotion actually aggravate this delay.

Karate people might see the transcendance of this obstacle in Naka Sensei's oi zuki (lunge punch).

Sparring is essential in training your reflexes. Sparring with the wrong attitude, however, does more harm than good- especially if you are not the strongest person in class.

I have recommended, if not outright prescribed, meditation to many of my friends. I still do. Cultivating a calm and detached mind is essential for mastery of any martial art. Next to this is the ability to maintain this state of calm detachment in any situation- even in times of crisis.


I have now reached the end of my post for this weekend. I can't wait for tomorrow's episode. If you have not started watching yet I recommend you do so without delay. We will be at Episode 117 tomorrow, so you have a lot of catching up to do. :D

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Where exactly is the art in all of this?

Not so long ago, in a Karate class, one of our Senseis said after a really good class:

"This is an art- let's make it look beautiful."
We have also heard a reference to "artistic fighters" in other classes.

Apparently I, with my love for unorthodox (yet classical) attack and defense patterns and spinning techniques, am labelled as such an "artistic fighter".

Is this what being a martial artist is about? Taking a fight and making it look beautiful?

I must confess that in my vanity I have often endeavoured to make my sparring matches worth looking at, but that is hardly the main objective of what I practice and what I have learned. 


That is also not why any martial art, be it Karate, Kungfu, Judo or anything else is called a "martial art" instead of just a "combat science", "fighting method" or "fighting system".

At the moment, for instance, I'd say that Krav Maga, which I regard as military CQC taught to civilians, can perhaps be more aptly described as a fighting system than as an art.

 To understand whether anything is an art it helps to understand what exactly an art does.

 Has any of you ever tried to draw a picture of someone or something? You have a picture in your mind, but getting that picture on paper is a different matter altogether. At the beginning you find that there are lots of factors that contribute to the picture on paper not being what you had in your mind- lack of focus, doubt, fear, distraction or any kind of intangible obstacle. Things such as these make the picture on paper look a lot different from what you had intended in the beginning.

With practice, however, each of these obstacles get removed, even if it takes a long time and lots of practice, until you are able to put the vision in your mind on paper.

Now- a Seoi Nage ( shoulder throw) is fairly easy to do if you have learnt the method, right?

Image result for seoi nage

We know, however, that having been told the method, even when remembering the method, is not enough to enable you to perform this throw.

Even in a pre-arranged setting we may find our minds wanting to do one thing and our bodies another. In a free setting we have issues like sensitivity, timing, opportunity and responses to deal with in executing the technique.

With diligent practice, however, we remove each and everyone of those obstacles until the mind and body are unified in executing the technique as intended.

In essence- we can say that art involves us making ourselves a promise we might not yet know how to keep and then working until that promise has been kept.  

 Image result for seoi nage

This of course, does not only apply to throwing.

In Karate we find that the training at beginner level is mainly concerned with how each basic technique has to look. At this stage things such as keeping the hikite (withdrawn fist) tightly at the side and the heel on the ground are paramount. At this stage of training actual sparring or combat is not yet an issue- or should not be.

In Kungfu we find similar methods that start with preparing the body for the ways in which it has to move in a fight.

At this initial stage close attention is paid to oneself.


During a sparring match or an actual fight preoccupation with yourself will get you a serious butt-whuppin' if you survive. Here the vision or objective would be doing the right thing at the right time.

We know that our respective systems have their methods for teaching students to block on time, evade at the right moment and to strike as the opening presents itself. This is not the type of ability that is gained with just knowledge. As we practice we remove those obstacles standing between us and perfection. We might never reach perfection, but the skills we gather along the way are just awesome!

Seeing things in this light can make you realise that living in itself can be an art. Whether the vision you have comes from the Bible, Buddhist Scriptures or just plain ethics, behaving in the way prescribed by those teachings are not always easy, but by sticking to our principles we grow closer day by day to being the persons we want to be.


Saturday, 11 November 2017

Still treasuring her gift

I realised at the end of a really busy week that tomorrow was going to be the 12th of November.

This date holds huge significance to me as a person and I realise that for Wenhsiuquan this is a really important day as well. 

On this date in 2002 I have met Chen Yu Chi.

Yu Chi, or Carol as she was known to me back then, was 26 at the time. I was 24. I have just finished my LLB exams for that year and showed up for work at the Chinese Restaurant when she had just arrived with her friend Jamie from Johannesburg's OR Tambo Airport.

At that time I thought I would get along with all Chinese people in general. I realise now, however, that this woman is a rare breed.

This post, however, is not about her as a woman, but about what she had taught me of Chinese martial arts.

Looking at Kungfu nowadays I would understand if the public associates it with flowery movements, acrobatics and spectacular techniques. This has been perpetuated by the sport known as Wushu, which also happens to be the Chinese term used to refer to fighting arts.

At that time I had a background in Karate, Judo, Aikido and Jujitsu. I have just started learning Jeet Kune Do and was adopting its teachings within the context of what I already knew and practiced. Back then I called my eclectic style Zanshindo. 

It emphasised elevated awareness, defense and swift response.

Sticking hands (chi sao) was something I took from Wing Chun and that had formed the largest part of my defence at the time as well.

So- back then- I blocked quite well and evaded attacks quite easily, but my strikes and punches were not very powerful.

Now- Carol stands about 5 foot 4 tall and is really small built. She is definitely much smaller in build than I am. She had also not told me right away that she knew martial arts, but had heard very quickly that I studied martial arts in my spare time.  

It was after a couple of days during her stay here in Nelspruit that we had our first conversation about martial arts. The topic was self defence. Back then, blocking and parrying was everything to me- so- when she said that she had learned some self defence techniques I asked her to show me and threw a quick, but controlled punch towards her solar plexus.

The response refuted everything that I have thought I knew.

She did not divert the punch the the side or moved her body, but simply attacked the fist with her palm. The blow had tremendous force and I remember myself being knocked back a bit. I am sure that my wrist would at least have been sprained if the bones of my hand and wrist had not been properly aligned. This type of attack might sound weird, but a while later I got told of a fight between two Chinese masters in an open tournament in China where one of the fighters' fingers got broken when the other punched his fist as he was attacking.

That was the day I have realised that speed and reflexes are important, but that strength was too. And not just any strength...

Before the encounter above I have read about internal strength and concepts such as jing and chi. I have not found any reference to any of this at any of the two Karate schools at which I have studied by then and I have not yet begun a serious undertaking to study Taijiquan at the time.

Carol was my first live example. She was definitely not muscular and her small frame seemed very delicate. Still- when she hit her fists felt as hard as stone and her body immovable as a 2 ton boulder.  

This was what had prompted me into studying Taijiquan, Shaolin Kungfu and Xingyiquan.

For a long time afterward I have seemed to gravitate further and further from the light formlessness of Jeet Kune Do and more and more towards the firm stances of these arts.

Besides the secret to developing devastating power with relaxation she has also taught me the following valuable lessons:

1. A martial artist's level of mastery is revealed by what the way he speaks and acts. There are a wide range of signs that reveal one's training or lack thereof.

2. Illness should not occur if your internal training and lifestyle is conducted properly.

3. Martial artists are not controlled by their emotions. It is the other way around.

4. How to spot true friends.

5. Raging and complaining is useless. If something bothers you- do something about it. If you can't- accept it.

I have last heard from Carol in 2012. I don't know what she is doing now and whether she got married or any of those things about which one usually asks.

I have never stopped training, however. For years to follow since her departure I would diligently do my Qigong exercises and meditation, regardless of what type of martial art that I may be learning.

It is little surprise that Carol's teachings remained in place when I have finally settled into Wenhsiuquan. She may be long gone, but I still treasure her gift.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Me the grumpy hermit. lol

Let me say right from the beginning that there is nothing to learn from today's post- unless you are one of those who collect the photos at the bottom every week. 

I simply had too much on my mind this last week to form any idea of what to write.

Still- I like writing blog posts for my favourite community on G+ and to chat with other martial artists during the weekend.

For many of us martial arts make up that part of our lives devoted to going to class, meet other students, train with students, hearing announcements and maybe even chatting with classmates before or after class.

It was pretty much like that for me as well until a while ago. Largest part of my life, however, I have trained by myself. I have grown up with lots of examples on how to do it and after-training meditation is still one of the greatest parts of each morning.

This is the ultimate me-time...

I understand very well that we all have our own experiences of humanity and mine in particular is mostly that humans have a way of constantly looking for an undisturbed, calm person on which they can dump their problems. Some martial artists may have heard the saying that "the superior man, when he stands alone, is without fear" and nice as that sounds I can confirm from my point of view that A: superior men- or women- are few and far in between and B: that may only be when they are alone, but when they are amongst people things may be very different altogether. :D

It is understandable if you associate martial arts with gyms and schools full of people and tournaments and events with lots and lots of people, but to me- it is also about regrouping, spending time by yourself and gathering strength to deal with people when you have to be among them.

Talking to others certainly have its benefits, but so does some quiet introspection.

For one- you realise how much better life becomes if you just learn to control yourself. Controlling everyone out there is impossible. It is not even a viable solution to stay clear of them for good! What you do learn, however, is how much you can figure out on your own and probably most importantly-
that happiness and contentment- especially contentment- comes from yourself.

I know it won't make sense to a lot of you, but that is just because you don't meditate.

One important benefit of training by yourself, though, is reaching that maturity in your training where it becomes independent from an instructor, availability of a dojo or external motivation. 

Heaven knows a lot of people would do well to learn some self- motivation!

The sun is getting low now and I have stuff to do. It has been a pleasure chatting with you anyway and I hope you all train well and improve with every passing day. 

Until next time...