Saturday, 21 October 2017

Capturing a moment in time.

I remember learning the concept behind chi sao (sticking hands) in Yongchuan or Wing Chun.

Although many teachers insist on having one learn and memorise the different defensive positions found in Wimg Chun forms I have found that these positions are naturally occurring events in a sparring match if a student understands the basics.

Later- when I have learnt about Shaolin force training, though, I have realised that we cannot just discard basic movements or positions in martial arts. They are practiced repeatedly for a reason.

Wing Chun is certainly not the only Chinese martial art that has fixed positions that one learn to move from the one to the other. In fact- Karate and Taekwondo forms have the same thing.

Each of these positions represent a certain moment in time. It may be the moment your attacker's arm got lifted to expose his ribs, his fist got knocked downward to expose his upper body or face or that moment of having created just enough space for that side kick...

 One of the effects of slowing these moments down and looking at them a bit closer is that one can easily find the move that is to follow that particular moment. The benefit of not flailing around in a panic when you are under attack is certainly something worth having if you are to spar with fellow students or defend yourself against an actual attacker.

I was once knocked off balance as I circled my sparring partner's punch and blocked it. The moment the block made contact I felt that I might have been better off not blocking at all. 

Later on- having analyzed the incident- I realised that I was blocking at a moment when both my feet were airborne. I was not even aiming to leap, but my hurried footwork resulted in a very low leap that had compromised my stability for that moment.

That particular problem got solved by replacing the sharp hip twist that I have used along with its footwork with a movement called the "Unicorn Step" as I block and then follow it through with a step past my opponent.

Breaking down the movement had provided me with the necessary clarity to see where I have gone wrong. It can also show you where you could go wrong before you even fight.

Actual fighting is not force training, however...

It is important to make these positions and movements part of you so that they can be forgotten. Then- when your hands go where they are supposed to and your feet find their targets without you telling them to- these movements will occur by themselves and these positions become part of the flow of movement in the fight.

Starting from this thoughtless place, though, without having first internalised every movement and position may just result in you landing on your butt...

That's it for this week. Enjoy your weekend and see you again soon! :)

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Learning subtlety in all things

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while would know that I value relevance over effectiveness.

I have a very simple reason for doing so. I simply do not deem a martial art effective if its teachings are not relevant to everyday life. This is because fighting in itself is subject to the same laws that govern the universe as is everything else under Heaven. 

Understand this and debates over which system should be studied or which technique should be preferred becomes of very little concern to you.

I have once again found a lot of photos with which to decorate my post so that it looks a bit more appealing than just a mass of text that I want to drop onto you during the weekend- so I'll just ask you to enjoy the photos as you scroll down to what I have to say...

Scroll on...

Okay! We are here!

The idea to write a post on subtlety has come to me during this week. I have realised how I had yet to apply one very valuable lesson from the martial arts to my daily life.

When we fight we do not want to telegraph our intent to our opponents before it gets carried out. For a student of internal arts like myself it means that one needs to develop impeccable control over one's energy. The result is an absence in the change of one's facial expression when he's about to hit, absence of telegraphing as a shoulder that pulls back or a visible shifting of weight.

It means movement that is light, decisive and unencumbered by thought or emotion.

As Bruce Lee would say: "I do not hit- it hits for me." :)

Still- throughout my life I have been an open book all along. Part of this was that an earlier version of me was not always brave enough to speak his mind and did not feel free enough to act as his heart dictated.

When I have finally developed the courage to act on my emotions and to say what is on my mind I wasted no time enjoying this freedom and taking every step possible to protect it. Still- I found that in life itself I have always found that someone still had the better of me. Details are not important here, but suffice it to say that this is the expected result of wearing one's heart on one's sleeve. This is true in work, family life and in matters of the heart (of which Crouching Tiger's Bei Lao Ye once astutely observed even the greatest heroes to be a consummate idiot...). 

Keeping one's thoughts to oneself or not showing your anger at something that annoys you- regardless of how brave you feel- is not weakness at all. It is smart.

Sure- there are times when immediate action is required, but many a soldier will tell you the disadvantage of giving away your position before you have begun to engage the enemy.

An enemy that sees your attack coming will not stay in place for it to find its mark. To add insult to injury- an attack's failure has a demoralising effect on the attacker as well. 

Just as we can maintain control of a fight as long as your opponent does not know what you will do next so our lives have a way of spinning out of our control when those within the circle that pressure us (I won't really say "enemies", but definitely people who can willingly or unwillingly do us harm) can easily perceive our intentions.

So- if you find that you are still an open book. Take some advice from Lady Gaga and work on that poker face. It will change your life for the better. :) 

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Ask not what your enemy can do to you (at least not ALL the time...)


Every style has its precautionary measures. Kickboxing coaches will tell you to keep that guard up, Wing Chun teachers will tell you to parry towards the opponent's centre line and with classic Shaolin you have to keep your hand over your groin when you do high side kicks or roundhouse kicks...

That is all well and easy to remember until the free sparring starts.

Back in 1997 I have used a free form of sticking hands when I trained with friends. It worked well, but there were numerous times where I used an inward block against the inside of a sparring partner's arm.

This was not intended, of course, but then again- when we block and redirect a volley of punches- how much of what we do is actually intended? The hands go where they need to without you thinking and when you realise what has actually happened you realise that some of what has happened during the bout was not as prescribed by the text book.

With a full-on free sparring bout it is also not unusual to emerge from all the chaos and realise that you have done a lot that was not exactly as taught, but you came out at the other end okay.

One of my teachers once remarked when she found me being hesitant during a match and said to me:

"You only have that little bit of time in which you can counter- why would you want to waste half of it worrying about getting hit?"

Thing is- fear is okay. It tells us to be on our toes and it can save your life. Worrying, however, is thought.

In times of peace- which in our modern day lives mean during practice- it is alright to go through all the possible scenarios that can occur and devise strategies to deal with them. When the fight is on, however, these strategies should get implemented without any further thought and when contingencies arise that require a deviation from the game plan then one has to adapt without hesitation. The time for thinking has then passed.

Hitting while an opening appears is hard enough. Thinking about how to hit at that time will make it impossible.

That is my thought for this weekend.

Stay well, everyone and train hard.

Until next time... 

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Who remembers Bravestarr? (And what the f*%k is a post about him dong in a Martial Arts Group?!!)

Okay- scroll down the photos so we can get to my text...


Stop! Here we are...

Okay- if anyone on Martial Arts Forums can read this it means that this post did not get removed (Thank you, Admins!)

I really appreciate my posts getting read very much and I will not waste your time for doing so- so let's cut to the chase...

Next year I'll be 40. Apart from gaining weight I also noticed a slight decline in my eyesight- so- what did I do?

I started training my eyes.

Did you know you can train your eyes? Well- I will tell you about that soon.

But first- Bravestarr...

If you are not my age- or you are about my age, but did not watch as much TV as I did watch this intro to get yourself up to date:

Yes- Bravestarr was a space- sheriff in a futuristic sci-fi series that was mostly set on the planet New Texas far away in space. Like his contemporary, He-Man he had a line of toys from Mattel and a series and probably some other merchandise as well.

Now- Bravestarr had powers from 4 totem animals. (Actually it is very clear in the series that he was from a people very much like Earth's native Americans...)

He had the eyes of the Hawk, ears of the Wolf, Strength of the Bear and the speed of the Puma. You would not see him train in any of the series' episodes, but he had these powers.

In real life, however, martial artists have found ways over the centuries to develop abilities beyond that of the everyday person and now that you have read this far- I am going to share the martial arts version of each of Bravestarr's powers with you:

1. Strength of the Bear

Ummm... Do we really have to discuss this one in detail?

I think strength training is a no-brainer for most of us here. You use weights, you have to make your muscles work against resistance and so forth.

What makes martial arts different from bodybuilding of course is that it usually teaches you to use your strength in the most efficient and economical manner to overcome your opponent. That does not mean that martial artists of old- or even our modern day gladiators in the UFC- don't deem it necessary to get stronger, though...

Sure! Prof Jigoro Kano said that Judo is about minimum effort and maximum effect, but you are welcome to show me a Judo competitor in this day and age who does NOT do any weight training... 

I know there are Karate schools that do not really do a lot of strength training, simply because it is not necessary for winning a tournament under WKF rules. Still- those karateka who are intent on turning their bodies into weapons spend a lot of time developing strength.

The weights you see in the photos here have been part of every dojo in Okinawa for centuries.

The Shaolin Monks are legendary for their skill as well as their strength. Sure- you plank, but do you plank like these guys in the photo below? :) 

I think you'll also agree that Sifu Yan Lei looks really ripped in all his videos.

A core principle of Shaolin strength training is that it is done with gradual increase of resistance. Have you ever heard the story of the guy that was told by the monk to hoist the same calf over his shoulders every day and then jump with it on his shoulders over the same sapling every day?

Well- I admit to not have tried that, but Tony Jaa ( you really should know who this is!) says that his amazing jumping ability comes from jumping onto his pet elephant's back ever since the elephant was still very small and continuing to do so even as the elephant grew bigger over the years.

So- yes! Martial Arts have ways to make you strong. We got that out of the way now...

2. Speed of the Puma

You know- a cheetah is actually faster than a puma, but let's not dwell on that now...

Speed is really important in fighting of any kind. So- it is no surprise that regular sparring will improve your reaction time, hand speed, speed of body movement and footwork and such. You'll learn to slip punches, catch up with retreating opponents and even develop the ability to block multiple blows.

But- we all know that, right?

Who knew of this cool way to develop blinding running speed, though?-

The Ninja of old had young students run with a straw hat against their chests. What had to hold the hats pressed against their chests? The answer- the pressure of the air in front of them as they ran. I have tried this before when I was still doing cross country at school. Paper also works if you don't have a straw hat. Just be warned, however: It really winds you!

3.  Ears of the Wolf

Okay- your average sports orientated dojo or even the health and fitness orientated gym won't really care much about how well you can hear, but to a group of warriors who made a living on espionage and infiltration (Yeah! The Ninjas again!) superhuman hearing was very important!

The way to develop really keen hearing, however, consists of two parts:

1. Shutting down the noise in your own head;

2. Becoming more sensitive to the sounds outside your head-

in that order.

One of the early stages of meditation is an acute awareness of distant sounds. That is because we become aware of these sounds when we finally managed to silence all thoughts within our minds for that moment.

You won't get better at hearing by straining to listen. What will  help, however, is calming down and then finding what you want to listen to and focus on that. Closing your eyes help a lot as well.

4. Eyes of the Hawk

Oookay! We are finally here!

This is the exercise that I do every morning after training and before meditation that made me think of writing today's post.

This one does not come from Ninjutsu. It is actually from Shaolin! :)

It is actually quite simple. Once you understand how it works you can make your own variation thereof (like I have), but the method I explain here is how it is mostly taught:

Stand  outside and find a leafy branch that is a fair distance away from you. Then- on that branch find a leaf from which to start counting and count the leaves on that branch. As you get better at this you can then try doing the same thing from further away.

By now I can single out blades of grass on the lawn, holes in the fabric of curtains in the house and the tiny indentations in the paintwork of our house.

It really does not take very long to do.

This exercise became really important to me since over here we get tested every 5 years for our driver's licences. The test involves an eye test for the moment. It may change later on by adding on other tests as well, but the eye test is a recurring part thereof and probably shall be for a long time to come.

Well... Now you have read the entire post and I thank you.

Have a great week and train well. :)


Saturday, 23 September 2017

Forgiveness and the Martial Artist

I know that Zen Buddhism or Taoism is not part of martial arts training for most of us. Over here in South Africa I think a lot of Christian parents would pull their kids right out of a dojo if anything remotely Buddhist-like rears its head there...

It seems, however, that lots of decent, upright, churchgoing folk can appreciate a good sports metaphor when we talk about life.

Heihachi's son and grandson won't forgive him any time soon... Then there is his own conscience...

I suppose the reason for this is that sports have a way of revealing a lot about a person's character. We notice the daring, the cautious, the cowardly and the courageous. We see when someone has gained momentum and is riding high on a wave of positive energy and when some have already accepted defeat and are now only going through the motions.
Fighting in itself, either is a sport or in the case of a real fight has a lot in common with sports in the sense that a fight has a winning and a losing side and that winning requires the right state of mind, preparation, effort and so forth.

So- what does forgiveness have to do with any of this?

Knives managed to forgive Scott! 

Well... you see- life, just like in any fight, has its ups and downs. That is true for all of us. The only difference between those who manage to overcome the odds and emerge successful and those who get dragged down never to get up again is how these people deal with adversity.

Those who do not forgive very easily allow bad luck to affect them long after they have first met with it and this failure to let past events go leads to even more bad luck being created. Now- believe me- you can be as positive as Barney the Dinosaur and you will still meet with bad luck, but dwelling on that for too long afterward has you much worse off than those who have just moved on.

Unless you are one of Steven Seagal's many untouchable characters it is a given that if you fight you will get hit. It will hurt.

A large number of fighting strategies involve using pain or emotional distress to impede an enemy's fighting ability. Most humans get angry, upset and feel pain.

Image may contain: 4 people, wedding and indoor

In tournaments we know all to well of those coaches who tell their boys to give the other kid a good punch in the nose at the beginning of a match just to "rattle" him enough. It is a proven method to ensure victory.

It is one of the oldest principles in fighting strategy. Stay focused, mess up the other guy's focus.

Forgiveness is actually the result of focusing on that which is important. If your goal is to knock out your opponent, getting angry about the hits that you have taken is not focusing on that goal. 

Rolling with the punches and not giving up until your opponent lies out cold is... 

Whatever goals you may have in life, thinking about those who wrong you along the way is not part of the plan. In fact- hating them and refusing to let go will hold you back.

In the end you can't completely control what happens to you, but you have control over what you do and with that you can already accomplish a lot.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

To the point where Martial Art ceases to exist

I love a good martial arts movie.

I have often watched a good fight scene and then imagined myself fighting like the protagonist in the story.

Later on, though, I have found that I could fight even better using less agility and definitely a lot less acrobatics.

Since I am speaking to a community of martial artists I am sure I am not alone.

Kungfu is a great example. Its jumps, somersaults, swinging hand movements and spectacular kicks are world famous.

Yet- when you hear stories of actual encounters with Kung Fu exponents you are likely to hear something like the story I have once heard of the old lady who had her assailant fall on his ass with a simple front kick.

I also don't think that we have to search very far to hear an account of an attacker being sent stumbling back and falling down with a simple push.

ICE FANTASY Huancheng movie asian oriental action fighting warrior fantasy martial arts television series chinese china romance drama supernatural 1icef perfect

While my first Karate teacher's students learned elaborate block/trap/throw or block/trap/counterattack sequences against attacks with sticks he was also very quick to show us that many blows can be stopped from happening with a simple front kick.

Kendo students can tell you that their teachers can prevent a large number of attacks from reaching them with a simple whack on the head with the shinai.

I am sure that none of the above would make for a good fight scene in any movie. Hell- there's not even enough time to play a decent techno track in the background with a fight this short...

That is, however, a sign of mastery if you are able to solve big problems with minimal effort.

I won't tell anyone not to practice agility and advanced techniques, though. For one- an agile body and fluid mind is what gives us the ability to escape clinches and arm locks and to land attacks against seemingly impenetrable defenses. If the simplest of answers do not work you still need to be able to give the opponent more than he can take and take more than he can give.

In strategy, however, the above observations serve to remind us that all problems start out small. The amount of effort it takes to contain any problem at its initial stages is always much less than the effort needed to deal with a problem that has gotten out of hand.

In class you can demonstrate this to students by using multiple blocks (like Wing Chun's "chi sao" or "sticking hands") to deflect a number of punches and strikes and then demonstrate the effect of closing up an opponent's centre line with his first attacking arm and immediately counterattacking.

I think you would agree with me that being able to duck and weave your way past a series of spear thrusts like this girl is an awesome skill and a sign that one's body and mind has been trained to an extraordinary level.

Image result for aikido disarm

More of us, however, can pull off a simple pass/disarm move like what is taught in Aikido. Also- it finishes the fight sooner and uses less energy.

In life, however, it goes even further.

A story I have once heard goes something like this:

A lord in ancient China once asked a physician which one among him and his two brothers was the most skilled healer.

He replied:

"My eldest brother removes illness before it takes shape, yet his name does not get out of the house. My second eldest brother cures illness while it is still minute and his name does not go beyond the neighbourhood. I puncture veins, prescribe potions and massage skin. My name gets out and is occasionally heard by lords."

Do not be surprised if you one day become so skilled at fighting that you reach the point where martial art ceases to exist. :)

Stay well, everyone.

Hope you have a great week.