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!

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Training to hit a person- as opposed to hitting empty air or an object

Hi, everyone!

One of the my favourite training tools is the Wing Chun Dummy. Too bad I don't own one myself.

Still- Regardless of what style you practice- this simple piece of equipment reminds you of one very obvious thing about fighting- Your opponent is not a punching bag. 

A lot of what I see in the way punches are done for basic practice or in forms makes it easy to forget that our opponent's have arms and legs. The path that our fists take toward their targets are often not without obstacles in the way.

You would agree with me that it feels easier to land a hard punch on a wide open target than it is doing the same with a target that is behind an arm or a hand. 

The creator of Wing Chun Quan- The Shaolin Elder Ng Mui knew this. That is why she deemed it necessary for a fighter to practice hitting a solid object, but with the portrusions that we see on our wing chun dummies these days.

Punching bags serve a purpose too, of course. Kicking and punching empty air is one thing, but you start learning to hit properly once you get to deal with the instinctive urge to brace yourself for impact when you hit a real object. It really makes a big difference to how you actually hit.

Aside from that- our opponents' fighting stances also do not always allow for us to attack from the front in a straight line. I have felt that shadow boxing actually feels a lot less comfortable when you have a leg or a foot to work around.

That was the idea behind the placement of the shoes and the chlorine buoy in the video below.

There is also a huge difference between hitting on the move to score a point for a tournament bout and landing a serious blow while moving. The largest part of hitting hard is timing. 

Lastly we have the fear of getting hit ourselves to deal with. The only advice I have bout that is that it is not no much that we will calm down once we are in control of the situation, but rather that we can gain control of a situation as soon as we calm down.The timing, relaxation and fast-twitch movement that goes into a powerful punch or kick are things that can only be accomplished with a calm focused mind. How you train that depends on your style.

That's it from me for today. Have a great week ahead!

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Some things only come with time

I remember back when I was still 13 when I saw a photo of Sensei Morio Higaonna's fist in a book on martial arts.

Not long after that I started doing knuckle push-ups and put up a makeshift makiwara in the yard. Still- my fist still did not have that callous over the knuckles like Higaonna Sensei's.

About 11 years later I got interested in Kung Fu. Part of what I have liked about the training was that it focused on strengthening bones as well. My fists still did not look like Higaonna Sensei's, but they hit pretty hard... Learning to channel force through them was an awesome experience.

Now- this year- at the age of 39- I find my fist looking like this...

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It is still not like Hiagaonna Sensei's fist, but the skin over the two first knuckles are now thickened and tough.

Stick around in our martial arts groups long enough and you will notice that martial art styles get evaluated a lot on their perceived ability to help you defend yourself. Well- we can't argue. It is a fair expectation that a martial art should enable you to do that.

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My problem with styles focusing on only self defence is that they cannot deliver the kind of benefits you get from a traditional martial art like Shaolin Fist or Karate.

Even MMA fighters become stronger and fitter because of consistent and regular training. Your self defence orientated arts don't give you that because they stick to teaching those techniques that are the simplest and that require the least of effort to perform.

These days we have arts like Systema and Krav Maga rearing their heads. Yet- how many people do you see practicing Krav Maga by themselves? Hell! I don't even know whether Krav Maga even has anything that you can practice by yourself.

Meanwhile- those traditional styles that people (usually uninformed members of the public) criticise as being outdated and ineffective have practitioners who become tougher, fitter, stronger and who end up becoming better fighters just because they do what they do regularly and much longer than those who attend one or two classes only to learn moves.

Thing is- a technique that you may think does not work, but which gets practiced regularly might actually be do more for you in the long run than something you'd rather use, but have only trained once long ago.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Honestly expressing yourself- What does that mean in martial arts?

A while ago someone has shared this video on our Martial Arts Forums group page.

I don't know how it is for people who have studied Jeet Kune Do at one of the Innosanto lineage schools, but having learnt my Jeet Kune Do from the book I got exposed to the underlying philosophies of Bruce Lee's way and have learnt a lot about Bruce Lee's views on martial arts and fighting.

It is therefore not surprising that I was immediately reminded of this paragraph:

This has made me think a lot back in the day. I am sure many of you will agree that a large part of your training at beginner level in Karate or Kung Fu got spent on learning the correct stances, the proper way to punch. The proper way to block, kick etc.

I am certain you can also remember what happened to it all the moment you found yourself in a real fight or a sparring match.

What I notice the most is the difference in feeling.

When there is no fear, panic or anger we can still manage to move looking like this:

Turn up the intensity, though, and we end up looking like this...

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This is what sets Jeet Kune Do apart from any other style that I have learnt in my 26 years of martial arts studies. While other styles would seek to suppress, alter or even deny this side of ourselves- Jeet Kune Do outright accepts and embraces it.

My biggest obstacle in Karate was that I could not spar as well as my classmates because I was afraid. And the fear was what held me back from moving freely enough to fight, yes?

No- it was struggling against that fear that was impeding my movement.

One of the biggest advantages I got from Jeet Kune Do training was that it taught me to fight when I am afraid, when I am angry and whenever I have to even though I don't feel like it.

This is the reason why although I know kata like this-

I also have a part of my training where I actually move like this:

What I do in the second video- if you were wondering- is not a predetermined kata. It is a simulated fight against 4 imaginary opponents. Even though I am only imagining being attacked from all sides one can see a huge difference between how nicely movements are rounded off with the preset kata and how it looks when I am blocking, striking and kicking for dear life.

I will not say that the tranquil, rooted movements of kata have no place in training, though.

Sure- this panic training prepares you to move when you are under actual pressure, but- that alone only gets you fighting inefficiently.

A lot of tension and unnecessary movement may be part and parcel of your current emotional state, but it drains a lot of energy. It took me a long while to get behind the purpose of the structure and techniques of an internal art like Taijiquan. Karate's punch also does not seem like the type of punch you'd be throwing if you really wanted to hit someone, right?

Well- the polished technique you see in these forms can in fact be executed in a fight if you have mastered control of your emotions through the study of an internal art like qigong. These techniques require accuracy and timing which you will not have when you are panicking or in a blind rage.
Once you have mastered the emotional control part the result is an attack that happens when you need it to without any telegraphing.   

Well- be honest to yourself. Can you do that yet?

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Where did the concept of stillness in martial arts come from?

Since about the turn of the Millenium I have found that when people got introduced to me as Martial Artists it no longer meant that we had as much in common as before.

Thing is- my life with martial arts has become much easier when I had learnt about mindlessness and mindfullness. If you asked me about it back in those days I would have said that it was a Zen concept that got applied in Japanese martial arts and that training without it would amount to making useless movements.

In Japanese the state of mindlessness is known as mu-shin ("no mind"). In the beginning it was uncanny for me to understand, but I loved how it worked. Now I still get amazed at a new generation of martial arts students who don't know how not-thinking can help you in a fight at all...

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But yeah... I am old-school like that...

Well- Maybe Okinawa had someone like Mr Miyagi from the Karate Kid movies to teach that with his Karate...
Thing is, however, that Okinawan Karate is Te in its undiluted form designed for practicality rather than spirituality, so- I'd understand if a tranquil mind was not first on its agenda. 
In my research and studies thus far I have only found this mental- no- spiritual aspect of martial arts training in the martial arts of Japan, China and Korea.

It may exist in other martial arts from other countries, but I would not know simply because I had no contact with these systems at all.

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In Karate circles I have noted a strong gravitation towards Karate's Okinawan roots, which is understandable and which is to be encouraged, but if you want to experience Karate as moving Zen I cannot think of anyone better than a Japanese Sensei in the Shotokan or Wado disciplines to teach it to you.

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Now- I said that if had asked me about mindlessness and mindfullness I would have said that it is a Zen concept. Well- it does not mean that it originally comes from Zen Buddhism.
I have recently been fortunate to read the most life-changing scripture to date- the Bhagavad Gita.
This awesome scripture is one of a group of recognised scriptures in one of the oldest religions in Asia- Hinduism. Hinduism predates Buddhism by centuries and contains a lot of philosophical teachings that are of great value.

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Now- it is not unusual for religions to have songs, rituals and practices with which the religion itself is practiced.

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With Hinduism it goes further, however, in that it has actual exercises to tune the mind and body into a state of what is called "Krsna Consciousness". While some scholars might tell you that Krsna Consciousness merely means thinking of the Supreme God Krsna at all times (because that is what is literally said in many verses of Hindu Scriptures) I believe that it goes further than that.

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The Bhagavad Gita tells us that human souls are fragments of Krsna's own soul. It also tells us that all matter and energy in the Universe originates from Krsna's energy.

Ask anyone that has been moditating actively for a couple of years and you are likely to hear that they have achieved a mental state of connecting to the very energy from which anything in the Universe originates. Well- when I was 16 I would have said everything on Earth- but still- I have not read any of these scriptures when I was 16, but I have felt this to be true.

Much of the Yoga we see nowadays seem to be a physical exercise for physical health purposes. If you read the Bhagavad Gita, however, you realise that it was originally intended to be a spiritual exercise aimed at cleansing the soul and devoting the person to Krsna.

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During around 558 to 491 BCE Buddhism got introduced to the world. The first ascetic who 
taught people meditation and practices aimed at reaching a state of mind that was then to be known as 
"Enlightenment" is known in history as The Buddha.

Where mainstream Buddhism from this point on ended up becoming a religion that mainly involved
the honouring and worshipping of the first Buddha and his various incarnations a sage known as 
Bodhidarma strove to teach people the practices aimed at achieving enlightenment more or less like the 
first Buddha. This particular system we now know in Chinese as Ch'an and in Japanese as Zen Buddhism.

Meditation is an integral part of Zen Buddhism. In Shaolin Kung Fu we see that the mental conditioning   

obtained from Ch'an exercises enable practitioners to perform amazing feats of resilience and strength.

In all martial art systems that have this Zen element we note that the clear minds of practitioners give them really quick reflexes and feats like the catching of flying objects with chopsticks have been recorded in old martial arts texts in China.

Samurai warriors like Musashi Miyamoto mention the concept of mindllessness in their writings. In Musashi's Book of Five Rings we see that he mentions what he calls the no design/ no conception cut which we may view as the 16th Century Japanese forerunner of Bruce Lee's Intercepting Fist.

It is no coincidence that this state of mind has found its way into martial arts. As we see- Asian religion has for centuries not been just a matter of observing certain rituals at certain times, but rather has been- and is- a matter of maintaining a particular state of mind in everything one does. That includes fighting.

Then- of course- no article on the tranquil mind in martial arts is complete without mentioning Taoism that had begun to spread in China from about 400 BC. The teachings of Taoism are basically embodied in Taijiquan. Lesser known systems like Xingyiquan and Baguazhang are also based on Taoist teachings.

Taoism espouses a return to the "no-mindedness of the Great Origin" which is in my view identical to the mindlessness of Zen. This no-mindedness we know to have been taught by the late Bruce Lee as well.

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Whatever you wish to call this state of mind- it has come a long way. I have seen that a large number of schools don't bother to teach it. 

Yes, Coolio. Or maybe they just don't think it necessary...

To me, however, it is the secret ingredient in martial arts like Karate, Kung Fu (all systems), Judo, Aikido, Kendo and all forms of Bujutsu and Budo from Japan that make them work.

I have seen how some students have discovered mindlessness for themselves without having been taught. That does not mean to me that teaching it is unnecessary, though.

That's it for today! :)

Have a great week ahead and if you have not done so yet-

Go watch Deadpool 2!