Saturday, 8 August 2020

Taking time to learn



Hello, everyone. 

You see this list below? This is what I use to make sure that I practice all the katas that I have learnt. Saturdays are easy. On Saturdays I practice all 5 Heian katas and all 3 Tekki (Naihanchi) katas from Karate.

On Sundays I practice Taijiquan and my kata and fighting practice is on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. It used to be two katas per morning just before I finish my workout, but- as you can see- the katas have now been put together in groups of 3. 



3 of these katas are brand new to me and there are also some old katas of mine that I have decided to brush off and add to my list for regular practice.

One kata that I have really enjoyed learning is Gekisai Ichi from Goju Ryu. I just list it as "Gekisai" in my Kata Rotator because it is the only Gekisai that I will be practicing- well... for now...

The kata first came to my attention when Jesse taught it to another martial arts Youtuber in one of his videos. Then- when one of my martial artist friends on Facebook showed a video of him doing it I decided to study the video and learn the kata for myself. 

Having so many Japanese based katas was getting kind of boring, so I decided that a nice Okinawan based kata would be really nice to learn.

With Karate I have long since thrown off my fear of looking silly. Once you get that part right- learning kata is really a lot of fun. 

This kata, however, is really short and learning the sequence did not take me so long.

Next week, however, I will show you a Chinese kata or taolu as the Wushu people call it. Learning that one took me a couple of hours. I will then tell you how I have managed to memorise the movements.

Until then- have fun training!

 

Saturday, 25 July 2020

New Book Coming: Taolu Practice for Kungfu


It has been a while since I have sat down to write any book. You may have noticed that I even neglect my blogging nowadays... 


I have, however, had enough time to think about what to write about next. I have chosen to write about form practice in Kungfu.



In our general language we use the term "forms" to refer to those sequences of movements that are performed without an opponent.



Kungfu people, however, call these sequences "sets". The word "forms" are usually used by Karate people when they refer to kata.

In Karate the Japanese term kata is used while the Chinese term taolu is used by Kungfu practitioners.

Kungfu forms are generally longer than Karate forms, though.

In Karate we find that the traditional styles follow a very conservative approach to teaching and practicing forms. 

 

During the 80's some more progressive styles of Karate have appeared with acrobatic forms- performed to music, no less...

Long before this had happened to Karate the forms of Kungfu have also changed in their design to be more suited for entertainment than for practicing fighting techniques.

A lot of people say that the purpose of these forms is to preserve and memorise fighting techniques used by past masters. That is not wrong. 

We see, however, that while some forms have fast, explosive movements- others have slow, flowing movements.

Some traditional forms have movements that cannot be linked to fighting at all!

Why is this?

This is one of the topics that we are going to explore in my new book:

TAOLU PRACTICE FOR KUNGFU

Having trained in both Karate and Kungfu before I have developed Wenhsiuquan, I have some interesting insights that I will share in my book.


That is all I can tell you for now.

Watch this space! :)



Saturday, 27 June 2020

What Judo could learn from other martial arts



Weird as this may sound these days- Judo was the not only the first martial art that I took up, but it was also the first "soft" martial art that I have learnt.



With the standards of competitive grappling having gotten really high we hardly see anything that appears to be soft in Judo these days.



Then I won't even mention anything about the Founder's maxim of minimum effort, maximum effect.
Judo nowadays seems to be about:



I was happy to learn my first throws and found that some worked even on people that were bigger than I was at the time. Still- I have found that I easily got toppled sometimes by a completely untrained person.

Well... as you all know by now I have found the bugs, fixed it and wrote a book about it...

The first major bug-fix came from Karate. And- it was not even Japanese Karate, but an Okinawan-based style, Shukokai (a style that was derived from Shito Ryu).

Karate taught me the value of a good stance. Now... the stances that you find in Karate do play a part in the success of one's strikes, but where I have found stances to really matter was with grappling.




Well... I have found that out when I was 15... That was long before there was an internet and Youtube...

Now- in this technologically advanced age in which information on numerous martial arts is at our fingertips I have found this video:



Now... even though we can see a distinct difference between Japanese and Chinese martial arts both recognise the importance of the centre of gravity. In Japanese it is known as the "hara" and in Chinese it is known as the "dantian". 

Now... Japan is no stranger to grappling...


We all know that Sumo has been around in Japan for centuries and that it is part of Japan's Samurai culture.

Sumo was a form of combat training for Samurai during the Japanese Middle Ages (which were from the 1100's to the 1600's). Now- we all know that grappling is a natural part of any real fight, but it wa an extra important part of fighting in this time because combatants normally wore armour.

Punches and kicks would not do much against an armoured opponent, but I am sure that you can imagine what a good body slam would do...

So- before Karate made its appearance in Japan during the 20th Century (Yes! That late!)- Japan did not have as good a system of fist fighting as some other countries. The closest thing to fist fighting that Japan had was Jujutsu. The atemi or strikes that one finds in traditional Jujutsu were nowehere near the destructive power of Karate punches. 

(I must mention that Ninjutsu enthusiasts will say that Taijutsu was a system with well-developed strikes that had existed at the time, but I shall only accept that if they can come forward with historic records corroborating that. While they can't Ninjutsu shall just have to remain in the shadows where it seems most at home...)

All in all, however- Japan has known grappling for a long time.

Then you get China...


One thing about Chinese history that never ceases to amaze me is how much older Chinese civilisation is than that of Japan and the West. This country that used paper money while others were still trading gold coins also had grappling for a much longer time than other countries.

Long before the world marveled at Jigoro's creation in 1881 China already had a similar martial art long before it. That martial art is Taijiquan. 

As the video shows- Taijiquan has grappling techniques. Trust me- it has throws and joint locks that can more than compete with those of Judo and Aikido. 

The one big thing that I want to show you from all this- is that Judoka actually can benefit from learning at least the basic principles of arts like Karate and Taijiquan. I am sure that the above video by itself makes for a convincing argument.

But- why let Master Wang Zhanhai have all the fun? I want to show you some throws as well...

Now...
If you are a Judoka you will know the frustration of trying to topple some stubborn opponents with this inside leg sweep... Sometimes you end up getting thrown because you were spending just a little too much time on one leg while your opponent had both feet firmly on the ground...

Well... Let's see how this is done in Karate...

Sure- Karate has leg sweeps, but if you really want to be sure that your opponent is the one falling over while you stay on your feet- you might like this better...


What?!, you may ask. A knife hand block?! 

Well- not exactly...

What is of value here is the lowered centre of gravity and the leg over which your opponent is going to trip himself...


As you know- Karate fight don't start in shizentai like Judo bouts. So- in this demonstration I first close the gap between us and then preoccupy him with the pain in his nose before I take hold of him. Now I am no longer standing on one leg desperately trying to kick my opponent's firmly rooted leg out from under him. My leg is also firmly planted and- using the simple short lever provided by my arm and upper body- I simply guide my opponent over my extended leg...

Now- another simple Judo throw that is equally easy to mess up is O Soto Gari or, as Judo books usually translate the name- "Major Outer Reaping".

alchetron.com/cdn/osotogari-490d60d5-fa1d-42d3-...

It is a really nice and simple throw and a good confidence builder for white belts, but it can also become damn near impossible to do against some either very sturdy opponents or some really agile ones.

Can you relate to this?

If you can- you are not alone. I have seen enough Judo contests that look like shin-kicking contests to know that this is a common problem in Judo bouts. But- why stand on one leg when you can stand on two? In fact- you'd rather want one of your opponent's legs in the air!

When you do Karate you do not have to search very far for an opponent who wants to attack you standing on one leg... This particular throw was taught to us as a good response to a high roundhouse kick. Sure- it is easier now that I have hold of one of my opponent's legs, but he is not guaranteed to fall over if I just swing a low hooking kick to his supporting leg. And trust me- Karate people know how to recover from a leg trap if you give them the time to do so...

So- instead of using a desperate hooking motion with my leg- I plant it in this stance:


All that remains then is to push him over my leg...

Another stance, that does use an outward hooking motion at its beginning, but that ends with both legs firmly planted, is the Hourglass Stance.


This stance is seen in Southern Kungfu forms and also in Okinawan Karate forms. The leading leg can be hooked around the opponent's leading leg and then you just need to push...

When we use these throws in real fights we could not care less how the opponent hits the ground, but in sports we do not want our opponents hospitalised or crippled for life. So- during training and competition always keep a firm hold on your opponent to prevent him hitting his head when he falls.


 

Looking at this photo it seems that Professor Kano has known this principle. As with most martial arts, however, it got messed up when techniques got modified for sports.

Sports and competition are usually associated with adrenalin and lots of effort. 

A valuable lesson that classic Judo teaches us, however, is that it is best to remain calm and rooted while your opponent goes mad and becomes unbalanced.

That's it for this week!

I have no idea about what I will write next, but I know more ideas will come to me.

Until we meet again- Train well! :)





Saturday, 13 June 2020

Time to Revisit the Theoretical Aspects



Hello, everyone.

How are things in your country? Is your dojo open? Are you training at home?




If you are a student living in a country under lockdown like ours, I am sure you have a lot that you can do. The number of things that you can practice at home is virtually unlimited with online classes and instructional videos abounding.



I am also sure that if you are studying an art like Karate you have enough forms to practice anyway.

Plus- many of those exercises that you normally have to do in the dojo can be done at home.





If you are a teacher, however, you may feel derailed now. You had this or that competition lined up for the next month, maybe a grading around the corner...




Now those plans have been derailed, right?

So- what is left to do?

Well...

How about teaching martial arts? :)

But- you may ask in disbelief- what have we been doing all this time?

Sure- you have been teaching martial arts. Most likely it was the syllabus handed down from your style's headquarters, or the scheduled kata and kumite training sessions for the upcoming competition, right?

But we know that is not all that martial arts are about, right?

Well... maybe sparring is all that some schools really have, but traditional martial arts have so much more...

I admit that I was a major annoyance to my teachers when I was at their dojos. While they were concerned of getting us fighting fit for the next tournament I had questions about technique, the style's history and self defense situations. And- I have not bothered with philosophy with 3 of my teachers because they did not look like people who had time for that kind of thing...

There were more important things to focus on. There was simply no time...

Well... now we have time...

If you are worried about not having enough material to last you during the lockdown, I can assure you- I have been writing this blog for 9 years now and I always find something to write about. Besides- even though much of the knowledge that we have in martial arts have been passed on to us by a previous generation- we must remember that we are benefiting from the contributions of those past masters who have shared with us their observations, insights and in some cases even what they have created.

As a teacher you now have your chance to build a similar legacy.

To have insights we have to train, however, don't we?


Keep on training. We will get through this. :)

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Jian Basics- A form to practice

Hello, everyone!

I hope you have also had a good morning's workout and that you are having an awesome weekend.

Today I am at the last post in a series of posts that got written for my friend Nicolas in the U.S.. Nicolas loves sword-fighting and is into HEMA and Lightsabre League battles. Even though weapons training is not a big thing with me I do practice with weapons on Saturday mornings. To me, however, it is more of a physical workout than training for an actual fight using the weapon.

That does not mean that I do not practice fighting techniques at all.

So- how does one get a physical workout while practicing fighting techniques? Well... One way is with forms!

In the previous posts we have looked at some exercises that are also basic attack and defense moves.

We can string all these together in a single pattern that can get practiced regularly. This way our bodies get used to doing all the movements that we need it to do when we use the sword.

Here is our form for doing just that:


1. Every form in Asian martial arts has an opening movement. Ours starts from an upright standing position with the sword's hilt in the right hand (yes- selfie mode on my phone really messes that up, but I really was holding the sword with my right hand!) My left open palm gently touches the blade.

My shoulders are kept relaxed and my arms are kept loose and light. My feet are about a shoulder width apart- or a bit more to make me feel more firmly rooted.


I breathe in, feeling my whole body filling up with air and energy and the sword becomes lighter in my hands, floating upward.


Breathing out I feel my body become as heavy as a rock as my energy sinks down to my stomach and my hips sink as low as they can between my feet. The sword also follows suit and sinks to rest at a point in front of me- just below my navel.

I am now calm and ready to begin...


2. When I breathe in I twist my left hip and shift weight onto my left leg to let a thrust pass me. The sword would stick to the opponent's weapon and ride it all the way until it has passed me.


Breathing out my legs uncoil and like a snake striking at its prey I explode into a sudden lunge and straight thrust.





3. Breathing in again I shift my weight into my back leg and squat down to duck a high swipe attack.

Breathing out again I shoot forward with my thrust just when the opponent's weapon has passed harmlessly overhead.


4. Breathing in again I turn around and withdraw into a crane stance to get my leg safe from an attack.My free hand is extended to prevent me from getting closed off from attacking and the sword is drawn back to have room.

Lowering myself and extending the lifted leg I breathe out and shift my weight forward as I deliver another thrust.



5. Cross stepping with my back leg past the back of my lead leg I breathe in again and prepare to uncoil in a vicious back spin. Then- breathing out- I uncoil and whip the blade out in an outward cut.


5. Twisting my hips into the opposite direction I maintain my firm base and power an inward swipe to my other side.



6. Breathing in again I withdraw into a cat stance facing the front with the sword poised at my hip and then I breathe out as I shoot into another lunge and thrust.


7. Breathing in again I withdraw into another crane stance facing the back again and...

...breathing out I shoot another thrust out to an opponent behind me.


8. Now- doing the cross step and back spin again I turn around to beat the opponent's mid-level thrust to the side while standing in cat stance, then immediately


 circle the blade over my head to come around in an outward slice to the opponent's arm or wrist. It is immediately followed up with a pull-back and thrust that ends in forward stance.

9. Breathing in again I twist into a cat stance facing the other way and parry inward this time, circling with the blade to follow up with in inward slice and then I immediately shoot into forward stance with a straight thrust.





10. This turn and twist may feel awkward if you have never done katas like Gankaku/ Chinto or Bassai Sho.


It makes a lot of sense, though, if you imagine being attacked with a downward slash or straight thrust from your right. To avoid the attack and to turn the tables on the attacker and yourself you simply turn and pivot on your back leg to sidestep the attack and then follow up with a lunge and thrust.


11. Pivoting on my lead foot to turn into a back stance facing my right (as seen from the front. Don't let the lack or mirroring in the camera confuse you.),

I prepare to shoot into forward stance and end the move with a reverse thrust.


12. Then, quickly pulling in my back foot I turn around and chamber the blade to deliver a thrust into the opposite direction, ending in forward stance.



13. Now pivoting on my lead foot I twist my body to guide a thrust from my left past me, using the hard part of the blade to stick to the opponent's blade and to guide it past me. This is typically done in forms while breathing in.


I exhale again as I shoot forward with the next thrust...



14. Turning back again to face forward in cat stance again I parry an attack outwards to my right and then circle the blade around to follow up with an outward cut to the opponent's hand or wrist.

  15.  I then pull back...


 ...and then shoot forward with the last thrust in the form.



I then conclude the form by rising into a natural stance as I breathe in, letting the sword float up to chest level...


...and then I relax as I breathe out, letting the sword sink to dantian level...


I hope you have fun practicing this form and you are welcome to send me any questions or comments on my page, this blog or to my Messenger Inbox. 

Have a great weekend!