Saturday, 10 March 2018

Karate Spoilers- It is not as bad as it sounds. I promise!

Image result for stan schmidt spirit of the empty hand

Hi, guys- and girls!

It is ironic that I have planned to publish some spoilers about the journey ahead for most karateka while some wise-ass thought it a good idea to publish spoilers about how Dragonball Super was going to end.

Well- a post about THAT will follow after I have watched the controversial episode...

Now, however, I want to get really open and frank about what really goes on in Karate what you are to expect if you have just walked into a dojo for the first time.

Image result for street fighter ryu
Now WHY would I bother to write this?

Well... because in spite of information being freely available all over the internet nowadays there are a lot of misconceptions about Karate in general.

These misconceptions keep some people from starting and with some who have started it causes disappointment.

Image result for street fighter ryu

Now- I must say beforehand that I am aware that this is a very generalised post. Things may be done differently in your country, or at your dojo, but the expectations that I outline here are about as universal as it gets- especially here in the West.

Image result for street fighter ryu

I have picked Karate to write about because it has the most in common with all other forms of martial art that I know and I know that students of Kendo, Kenpo and even Judo will find something here to which they can relate.

Now- before I get into what you can expect to really happen if you stick around at your Karate club long enough- let me first tell you about some of the rumours and stories that were spread in my country:

1. "Karate systematically taints one's soul with violence in order to make him/ her into a servant of Satan". 

Sounds really ridiculous, doesn't it? You have to understand, however, that from 1961 until 1994 South Africa had a government that has not only been oppressing the Black population here as you all probably know, but that was also manipulated by a not-so-secret-anymore society of people who had worked towards keeping South Africa's people ignorant and compliant. In those days these people, called the Broederbond, had a huge influence on our churches and back in those days the Church had a lot of power here.

Many of the traditional Afrikaner Churches preached this right from their pulpits. Well- one can understand how anything linked to Asia and Buddhism can't be welcomed by Christianity, but someone came up with this little rumour that spread through our primary and high schools like wildfire:

"White belt means you are still innocent. As your soul becomes more and more tainted with violence and hate the belt's colour grows darker. When it eventually becomes black you are ready to offer your soul to the Devil."

Well- times are more enlightened now, but you still get Afrikaners hissing at anything Asian like a vampire would do at the sight of a crucifix. :D

Just like any good Chinese restaurant would take out the MSG if the customer does not like it many Karate Schools have removed any and all Buddhist or Shinto practices from Karate over here- or rather- they did not even bother to bring it into their schools to begin with- so as to not scare people away from their classes.

Image result for ninja

Image result for ninja

2. "After you have become a Black Belt you start becoming a Ninja!" Okay- this one is not the Broederbond's fault. :D

Still- this was a very popular myth when I was in school and explaining to a bunch of 13 year olds that there is a thing such as Ninjutsu (which now actually seems not to exist...) did not do much to stop the spreading thereof.

Although it is true that some schools of Karate teach Kobudo weaponry and some Freestyle schools teach their version of weaponry that goes beyond just Okinawan Kobujutsu/ Kobudo weaponry- the fact is that the teachings of Ninjutsu encomapssed a wide range of skills and practices that went beyond mere hand to hand combat. No Karate school that I know of has ever bothered to teach that.  

Image result for miyagi karate kid

Image result for miyagi karate kid

3. "Karate teaches you self control and inner peace"

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhh... This is not really a lie, but it is also not so true either. The thing is- when the Buddhist teachings and Zen got thrown out the door you ended up with your average joe who likes fighting and you find out soon that these guys can get angry and in some cases even beat their wives and kids! Thing is- if you are a tofu eating hippie who thinks that you are going to find kindred spirits at your local Karate school you are in  for a huge surprise! Funny thing is- long before the days of the UFC we had dojos run by Senseis who felt like Karate needed to become a lot more credible and during the early 90's we were beating the living crap out of each other. 

4. "Karate will give you superior fighting abilities" 

Uhmmmmmmmmmm... Maybe... But then again- what a lot of people forget is that the things that determine the outcome of any fight are strength, technique and tactics. Fighters all over, trained or untrained possess at least some of these qualities to a larger extent than others and can as a result be victorious in combat. The sad thing is- the Universe does not give a damn about what style you practice.

Noneteheless- Karate is fun and beneficial. I always recommend it to people who want to get their kids to become stronger, healthier or just become more confident. As a sport- it is safer than Rugby and the amount of fitness and balanced conditioning one gains from practicing it, regardless of style or school, beats what I have seen in spinning classes and gyms.

Okay- the spoilers are about to follow so- if you don't want to see it then just stop reading right here...

1. White belt: Welcome! I think by now you realise you were not to wait outside the Master's house for days and you also did not have to bring the Master a present. :D
Image result for Krillin's gives Master Roshi a gift

Nope. Rather- you have most likely been given some forms to fill out, an indemnity to sign and got told what kind of gi to buy if you did not yet have one.

Life at the dojo pretty much consists of learning and practicing basic blocks, straight punches and- hold on a bit longer- you might soon learn a Taikyoku Kata! :)

Some schools- like my old Shukokai dojo- give older white belts, from ages 13 and up- an early taste of free sparring. The results of that are good in the sense of it not being so much of a surprise later on, because Karate is a fighting art after all, but the bad result is that you develop bad habits that are hard to shake as we rather like to stick to doing the things that save our asses in a fight, although those things aren't necessarily the kind of technique your grading panel wants to see in your basics (kihon) and kata.

The Kata that you have to learn besides Taikyoku differs from school to school. I won't say from style to style as there are even differences between different schools of Shotokan. It can be agreed however that you will invariably learn Heian/ Pinan Shodan.

2. Yellow to Orange: Let's get a move on... This post is going to be a very long one otherwise and I don't have that much time... :D

Okay- you are doing free sparring without really knowing what you are doing. You may even be copying a roundhouse kick from your senior classmates. Your grading syllabus, however, features only a simple set of prearranged sparring sequences called ippon kumite. It may seem silly and a waste of time because you are already being deemed smart enough to do free sparring at tournaments, but the actual fact is that you were actually supposed to master these sequences before you try your hand at free fighting. The Masters, however, reckoned that withholding free sparring from you for that long would result in you getting bored and leaving early, so you get to do free sparring too.

As for your kihon- you actually learn to kick too! At this stage you ought to know mae geri. Mawashi geri might also get learnt.

As for your kata- You should at least know Heian/ Pinan Nidan by now...

What I would hope you pick up at this stage is proper stance. Thing is- you can fool yourself into thinking you are doing good karate just because you win a fight or two, but the foundation of karate's effectiveness lies in its technique and the stance is the cornerstone of that technique.

I have seen many people progress to the next level with poor stances and that really does more harm than good. I will deal with this in another post, though... Now- lets get on to the next level.

3.   Green to purple:  By now you are most likely aware that things are tougher in the road up ahead. You attend senior classes now. Free fighting is a lot more intense and by now you know Heian/ Pinan Yondan.

Yoko geri has been added to your inventory- perhaps couple of other kicks as well as you are no longer a novice at competing... 

You find that your teacher is a bit tougher on you and that mistakes are not really tolerated with you anymore. By now you should know how to do things correctly. Mistakes happen, of course, but you realise how far you have come by noticing the abilities that you have gained. Hopefully this motivates you to push on...

4. Brown to 1st Dan: By now you know every kick, punch, strike and block to compete in a tournament. You may notice that there aren't any weight classes in your division now. In the Kata division you show up doing really advanced Kata now -no longer just any of the Heian/ Pinan Katas.

You also have an extra class to attend on Saturdays.

At this stage nobody should have to tell you how to stand or move properly or how to perform any technique.

You now know enough techniques with which to fight effectively. Whether you are physically and mentally capable of handling yourself in a fight remains to be seen...

By now you have taken a lot of hits. Your fitness levels get pushed to their limits and the dojo is most likely not such a friendly environment to you anymore. Many decide that they have had enough at this stage and quit. Realise, however, that the dojo in which you find yourself exists because of somebody who pushed on beyond this point.

In some schools your 1st Kyu (last brown belt) level is the last level where jiyuu ippon kumite (semi-free sparring) is the highest kumite requirement for grading. In Shukokai we already did one on one free sparring for our blue belt gradings. In Shotokan, however, free sparring becomes a requirement. This type of free sparring is also not the point sparring of competitions, but the dojo kumite about which I have written earlier. It is actually full contact, but the bouts aren't as long as MMA fights. In many cases one such bout is enough, but it has become a trend at Shodan gradings nowadays to have candidates fight multiple bouts.

New Shodan students then get introduced to the Black Belt initiation. Sure- if you pass your Shodan grade you receive your certificate, but it is customary for the right to put on your kuro obi only after you have fought every black belt in class- either at the place and on the day of your grading or the day of your next class- before you are allowed to put on your black belt.

5. Second Dan and upwards: These gradings are a lot further away than the ones before, of which you probably had two in a year.

Old Shotokan has 26 Katas in their syllabus. You probably know most of them by now, but I have not yet met anyone who knows all of these katas. No- wait! My old JKA Sensei knows them all...

The weekly classes are actually a breeze now. It is the black belt class on Saturdays that challenges you.

At this point your school expects you to start giving back. You referee at tournaments, you help teach classes. Some open schools of their own. An interesting trend at 3rd Dan Gradings and probably upwards is that candidates are also required to write and submit a thesis on a topic of their choice, that of course relates to what they have learnt from their Karate training.

Gradings become more challenging. In some schools more complicated kihon sequences get added. In all you can be assured of one or more advanced katas to learn and perform successfully.

You have that thesis to write.

As for free sparring- you can be assured that multiple bouts of dojo kumite will get fought. Some schools now decide to test your ability to defend against multiple opponents attacking you at once.
(A Shukokai school in Polokwane, South Africa did that with its Shodan gradings. I have not seen that with Shotokan yet, but am certain that it lies waiting on the road ahead eventually...)

Now- interesting thing to note- In most Western countries your highest Dan level to be reached is somewhere around 8th Dan or so...

The Chief Instructor always holds the highest Dan grade.
So- let's suppose you have stuck with it until the very top of the ladder- all the way up to let's say- Tenth Dan- which is held by your Chief Instructor...

What happens then?

Well- he/ she (I do not know of any female chief instructors yet, but let's keep an open mind) automatically promotes him/ herself to 11th Dan! :D

No! I am serious!

At this point, I must say, however, that it is said to be a very lonely and scary place- at least for those who felt comfortable in the security of having a teacher above you at all times to guide you.

What happens now...?

Well- if you ever get there- let me know.

You'd expect that here from 6th Dan on you'd find teachers pondering the meaning of really Zen questions like "What is the ultimate aim of Karate?" or something like that. Well- with all due respect- in reality it is often much more mundane questions like "Who is going to the Nationals this weekend?" or " Where do we find a place to train when this place's lease expires?"


Nonetheless. Any teacher will tell you- and they will be very right is saying so- that how rewarding your training is going to be is ultimately up to you.

This is it for now. Next post is...

No! Not about the ending of Dragonball Super!

It is going to be about some of the really cool stuff in Karate that does not get taught so much anymore and how self-study and training outside the dojo helps in learning them.

Until then- train hard and have fun! :)


Saturday, 3 March 2018

I swear this is of interest to Karateka as well! The Scouter App that I have found in the Playstore

Hi, guys!  :D

I am super excited about today's post because of an awesome app I have found in the Google Playstore during this week.

I was going to write a post titled "Karate Spoilers" today, but it seems like a higher power intervened this week and gave me something much cooler to write about.

Before I tell you more about it and SHOW you what I found it does- let's first look at this scene...

Those of us who know the Dragonball franchise very well know that these scouters first made their appearance in Dragonball Z with the arrival of the malevolent Saiyans. This scene where an amazed Vegeta reads Goku's new power level after his return from Kaio Sama is definitely one of the most memorable scenes.

The scouter was alien technology that measured a living being's Ki.

We have seen a similar device being used in the Street Fighter II animated movie.

Now the app that I have found in the Playstore is not called "Scouter" or "Ki Detector" or anything like that. It looks like this...

No! Not like my girlfriend's hand! Stop staring at that! :D

It looks like the icon on the screen and as it shows- it is called "Ghost Camera".

Now- before I type anything further- have a look at what it does!


Okay- let me calm down and tell you what I know so far. I have done some reading about this app. Whoever designed it believed that ghosts will emit something that would be picked up by any of the following sensors which are all in your basic smartphone:

1. Electromagnetic sensor/ Radio receiver,

2. Camera

3. Microphone

4. Motion sensor

Now- it was meant to find ghosts or paranormal presences in your immediate area and when you use it you will find that it does not pick up your TV or any electronic equipment. I have noticed, however, that it likes living creatures. In fact- if it is to be believed then our Staffie Bruno probably has a power level over 9000. :D

Here's Bruno. He does not like being photographed...

Well- having been introduced to a device similar to a Ouija Board in the past and having experienced how occultists communicate with spirits I have experienced that the sensations I feel during such activities are very similar to the feeling of qi flowing during qigong exercises and meditation. 

So- I just had to try...

Before I have found this app I have been able to resuscitate an unconscious bird and some people who practiced Taijiquan with me were also able to feel the electric-like tingle of energy emanating from the palm of my hand. And- of course- I have felt qi within me ever since I have started qigong at the age of 16...

Some explanations that I got in the past were along the lines of suggestions either planted within myself or within other people. Now that we have a phone, which cannot be hypnotised, involved I am more certain now that our bodies do emanate an energy that can be detected and that can affect electronic devices.

Now- practitioners of Ki-Do, Nei Kung, Qigong, Taijiquan and any other style that pays attention to Qi/ Ki in its teachings- I strongly recommend you download this app and use it!

You know- I realise I have completely forgotten about my initial ghost hunting trip as well...

Well- okay... Karate Spoilers will be next week then.

For now- stay well and train hard and have fun! :)

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Similarities between Goku and Arjuna- because that is just the kind of stuff I think about sometimes

Hi, everyone.

This week I have gotten started on a new book that I could have read much earlier, but now finally got down to reading.

That book, my friends, is the famed Bhagavad Gita.

Sun Tzu's Art of War and Lao Tze's Taode Qing are actually very thin and make for relative easy reading. If you manage to get your hands on Musashi's Book of Five Rings you can find yourself finishing it within a month.

Image result for arjuna

The Baghavad Gita, on the other hand, is a montsrous volume of approximately 500 pages. The copy I have contains commentaries and translations that raise this number to over a 1 000 pages.

Yes- It is a lot to read.

Image result for arjuna

One of the main protagonists in this book's story is a man called Arjuna. Now- if you are like me who does not know anything about Hinduism whatsoever you might never have heard of him, but since he is a close friend of Lord Krishna I am certain that the followers of the Hindu faith know very well who he is.

Here is a bit of what I have learnt about Arjuna:

Arjuna is the son of a celestial King and a warrior. He is particularly famed as an archer. In the Bhagavd Gita he is at the command of an army with Lord Krishna fighting at his side.

Being of the ksatriya caste he is not allowed to back away from a fight or a challenge.

Now- about Goku:

You don't have to search far for someone who would tell you that Akira Toriyama's most famous character is actually based on the Monkey Sun Wu Kong in Wu Cheng'en's Journey to the West.

We know Goku as a bit of a goofy character, but one that is endowed with godly strength and supernatural fighting ability.

Having done some extra reading I have found the following similarities between Goku and Arjuna that makes me wonder whether Toriyama has not intentionally based Goku on this famed warrior of legend:

1.     Huge appetite:   Any Dragonball fan can tell you that when Goku gets hungry he can clear out a restaurant by himself. This huge appetite seems to be of great significance to the Hindus since Arjuna , like the demigods and demons in their mythology, is capable of eating a 32 course meal! 

2. Being without sin:  Goku is a buffoon, but the Nimbus Cloud deems him pure of heart enough to stay afloat on it. We also know that Goku did produce progeny, but is not fascinated by women at all, unlike Master Roshi and Krillin of course. Goku also has no desire for earthly wealth, but instead of appearing like some divine ascetic his indifference to riches makes him look down-to-earth and happy-go-lucky by nature.

Arjuna is described by Lord Krishna himself as being without sin.

3. Friends in high places: Arjuna is distinguished from all other devotees of Lord Krishna as he is a close friend of his. We have seen Goku on familiar terms with all manner of gods in the Dragonball Universe without the gods feeling any need to smite him for his forward manner. Goku's first godly friend was Kami, who does not appear much like a god to viewers now, but ask anyone who speaks Japanese what the word kami means...

Later on in Goku's life he had befriended some of the Kaioshin and is known for busting into King Yama's office without knocking. King Yama is the gatekeeper to the afterlife.

Then there is Lord Beerus and his Angel and teacher Whis, of course...

4.  The love of battle: Lord Krishna knows that Arjuna likes to fight because it is in his blood and even approves of it as it serves a purpose in his plan. Goku, of course, is famous for his love of fighting strong opponents.

5. Slayers of supernatural foes: Arjuna had his fair share of demons to fight and he had defeated them all. Okay- with one it took a bit too long, but what I am saying is that mere mortals weren't the only adversaries that Arjuna had to face.

Besides aliens Goku has faced foes like Zamasu, a Kaioshin, two demons from the Underworld- Dabura and that ridiculous devil that was once summoned by Baba and of course- Majin Buu, a being so terrifying even Kaioshin were intimidated by him.

Thing is- Dragonball, Dragonball Z and Dragonball Super contain a lot of references to ancient teachings from martial arts, religion and philosophy. I refer to it a lot in discussions on martial arts myths and pilosophy myself. 

Well- now you have to excuse me. I have about 855 pages more to read...


Friday, 16 February 2018

Don't fight when you are angry and don't be angry when you fight

Yes. I know very well that what I am saying is not making sense to many of you. That does not bother me if it doesn't make sense to someone who does not know any martial arts, because it gives me something to teach and then I can actually show how martial arts can solve the world's problems instead of adding to them.

Image result for karate championships

What does bother me, however, is that there are high ranking martial artists- not only in MMA- but in Karate schools- who don't get it either.

Image result for hulk angry gif
I often imagine how dangerous this guy will be if Goku taught him to control that rage...

I trust however that there are still some old-school Karate teachers around that know the Japanese Okinawan proverb that starts with something like "Njiraa te hiki..." or something like that...
Anyway- it translates to: "If you are angry- withdraw your fists. If your fists are out, withdraw your anger."

A little help here, please Jesse Sensei- if you are out there and reading this...

I think Sensei Iain might also know this.

Oi! Miki-chan! You might also know this saying. Could you please tell me what the proper Japanese sentence is? :) Tasukete Kudasai! :)

These senseis and those teachers who still remember the old teachings might even know the story of the fisherman who got the above advice at a bar and when he came home he looked through his bedroom window and saw his wife in bed with someone else. 

Now- how that story ends I want to leave to someone in Martial Arts Forums, either of the two Karate Senseis Jesse or Iain or anyone in the Karate Nerds Facebook group to tell- if they know the story. Just put it in the comment section. If it lands first on Martial Arts Forums I'll share it in the comments to this post in the Karate Nerds group and if it lands first in the Karate Nerds group- well... you get it, right...? 

Image result for mma fight

Well- I guess it is common sense that anger messes up your performance in a number of ways. It hinders your coordination, your timing. It slows you down and even messes with your accuracy.

I have written in an earlier post that one can use rage to get you out of that state of passive fear just to spur you into action, but that really is only a crutch for beginners and definitely not the mark of an accomplished martial artist.

The thing is- anger messes up your technique as well.

It causes muscles to tense up before they should- especially shoulders. What are supposed to be precise movements become big clumsy movements.

To give you an example. Taijiquan's straight punch seems much weaker than a common haymaker that is delivered with shoulders raised and so forth. To master this type of punch one needs to learn to relax the body and to contract the participating muscles in a lightning fast twitch, the fist clenching only on the moment of impact.

This type of punch is really powerful. Using it in a fight is a bit of a challenge, though. Stress causes muscles to tense up prematurely. Then you have only brief opportunities to strike that do not allow for you to charge up with as much energy as you want to before hitting.

This is not the type of punch to throw angry. Anger just messes up the entire technique.

The world is already filled with destructive messages promoting competitive spirit, aggression and drive. While I myself, a very passionate person at times, can agree that there is nothing wrong with a good old can-do spirit we as martial artists have a duty to show our students that we do not prevail through rage and aggression, but through rather through harmony and balance.

Let's face it. You cannot always impose your will upon the world. When it is time to fight you fight. When it is time to mend relationships you make peace. Switching those two around just because you want to has disastrous consequences. 

There are few skills greater than learning to put aside your own emotions in order to do what your current situation dictates. Anger is that bugger that tells you to punch when you are supposed to block or to rush in so that you can get thrown.

For an example of how anger has led to the mortal defeat of a fighter I am also going to leave it to someone else in either one of my favourite online groups to tell us in the comment section how Musashi Miyamoto ended up killing someone with a bokken (wooden sword) when he was about 13 years old.

Now- if you wonder how on earth we teach that I can elaborate further in another post if you like, but for now I think it is enough of a tip to say that in martial arts we can learn that the emotions follow the body just as the body follows emotions.

In Kungfu we learn that sinking the qi, relaxing the shoulders and adopting a rooted stance calms the mind the same way a calm mind helps you relax your shoulders, sink into your stance and to sink your qi. In Karate- doing a proper oi zuki has a similar effect. One can either calm down and then have the results of relaxed shoulders, a crisp explosive punch and a nice firm zenkutsu dachi or- you could keep those heels to the ground, relax those shoulders, keep the arm and fist relaxed until the point of impact (or imaginary impact if it is kata or kihon) and find that your mind has calmed down in the process. 

So- anger does not only hamper your ability to fight effectively. It even messes up your kata and kihon.

This weekend's post gets published a bit earlier than usual because I am going to spend the weekend with some of my Chinese friends in Johannesburg and at Nanhua Temple to celebrate the Chinese New Year!

And since this year is the Year of the Dog- I guess my brother's staffie Hiccup is most qualified to show his furry brothers and sisters his best smile.

To the rest of the Chinese communities of the world- and I mean it in the nicest, non-racist way:

Dogs are friends- not food!


Have a great weekend, everyone!

Saturday, 10 February 2018

A brief change of scenery

This year is the year in which I will turn 40.

Looking back at how I have trained ever since I have joined my first karate class at the age of 14 I am grateful for always having had a way for my training to continue, regardless of moving to another town, another house, changes in work hours or whatever life threw at me.

I have always found a time and a place to train.

And- I always will.

Don't be surprised if I end up starting a martial arts class in the old age home when I am 94!

Getting between me and my training is about the same as getting between a hippo and the water. If you live in South Africa and know the bush you would know that doing so is a very bad idea.

Today my usual training space was occupied. Lots of tree cutting being done and so forth...That did not mean that I was not going to train today, though...

I just took the weapons to another part of the yard and kicked off my training there. The usual exercise with the coffee tins filled with sand got replaced by the brick catching exercise. I found a small space between a shrub and the house (not the space shown in the video) and found that I had enough room to kick, punch and evade as I attacked the shrub. Not touching it, though- There is really no glory in destroying shrubbery. :D

Still- an added challenge was getting my roundhouse and reverse roundhouse kicks to pass over the shrub, which stands about as high as the one in the video.

The staff did not join Patrys and myself today. Still- the jian (Chinese Sword), bokken (Japanese wooden sword, nunchaku (you all know this one), tonfa and sai all got some time.

If you do not remember who Patrys is- she is the bullterrier who has been supervising my training since 2013! Here she is in the background. :)

She was quick to follow me to our new temporary spot and faithfully waited for me to finish.

The shuriken of course also got a turn.

My usual multidirectional attack practice did take place in a smaller space, but it is good to be reminded every once in a while that we can also fight in confined spaces. Still-
as this video shows- I have been used to training on a lot smaller surface before. The space I had today actually felt much bigger.

I don't think training is real training if I cannot throw a couple of high kicks in the process. :D They tire you out quickly, but that is sort of the point. Scary thing is- I am used to kicking like this now. I can comfortably kick my own head's height, but it starts being a strain if I go higher...

This is actually overcooking it a bit and actually slows me down. I have since decided to prefer speed and power when I fight and to practice these high kicks when I am not sparring or practicing fighting.

During the week I take two days of the week to practice martial arts and the other two for weight training. On each of these martial arts training days I do any two of the following Shotokan kata before stretching and meditating:




Kanku Dai

Bassai Dai

Gojushiho Sho




On Saturdays, however, all 5 Heian katas and all 3 Tekki katas get their turn.

The Tekki katas, which move only sideways, were really easy to do on a narrow paved walkway.

The Heian katas, though, needed some adaptation. These kata usually move in that I shape that karate teachers often mention. Now- having only a fairly narrow rectangular space I started near one of the corners of that space to give me enough room to completely make all the strides needed for the part of the kata that moves to the front end of the floor. The sideways part was made slightly diagonal in places to allow for long strides to be taken when performing this portion of the kata. Kata in a high stance does not serve any purpose for me.

Well- before you know it an hour has passed and then it is time for stretching, qigong and meditation!

Now what better way is there to start a Saturday?

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Learning a Martial Art- some basic guidelines

I think we have by now come across a couple of people who are studying some martial art or the other on their own.

Back when I tried doing it at the age of 10 I used a book and later more books followed.

Well- even after I did join an actual dojo more books followed even then...

People are quick to say that you can't learn a martial art from a book.

That is understandable. I for one know that you can't work as a lawyer if you have only gotten your law degree. In fact- few people feel as incompetent as a bright graduate starting out as a candidate at a law firm.

Image result for kung fu scrolls

The main reason why martial arts can't be learnt by reading alone is that experience plays a large part in developing the skills that any martial art has to offer. Knowledge is not enough.

Nonetheless- self study is possible. We may argue about to which extent, but the history of Chinese and Japanese martial arts feature instances where people studied a scroll or a form passed down to them and attained a measure of proficiency.

It also has to be mentioned that past knowledge, which is passed on, is only part of the learning process. One's own experience makes up a major part of what you learn and how good you actually get at your chosen style.

Now- from my experience- here are some guidelines to learning a martial art, whether you are studying by yourself, or at a school.

1. Suppress the urge to show off

With this I can also say- stay out of fights!

Really- it may be tempting, but showing off is a bad idea. Last time I have read about WTF Taekwondo it was said that competitions in this sport were reserved for only black belt students. I will not be surprised if it has changed since the 80's, but the reason behind this policy is understandable. Many martial artists will tell you that you are not combat ready in that stage of learning the basics of an art.

During the learning process circumstances are controlled and the unpredictability of the world outside of training cannot mess up your performance. Real life, however, has a nasty habit of messing things up when you least want it.

If you planned to just show how high you can kick or something like that- well... You have to bear in mind that most non-martial artists are non-martial artists because they simply don't care about stuff like that. Fortunately, in this day and age we have martial arts groups in social media, though...   

2. Don't just look at the pictures

Who has seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? 

It was funny to see that this mistake could be made even in the Jianghu days of China. It gets made a lot these days as well. The same could actually be said about copying from movies or Youtube videos. Whether martial arts teachers tell you this or not, martial arts techniques have external aspects, which can be observed by just looking at the person performing a technique, and internal aspects, which are those things that can't be seen from the outside, but which are felt by the exponent performing a technique.

I have to mention, however, that in many, and I mean MANY cases, the text of a book or the explanation in a tutorial video does not even touch on the internal aspects of a technique. 

Fortunately- internal aspects of a technique can sometimes be gleaned from regular practice and pressure testing. Still- having a good teacher is the best way. Next best would be really good source material.

3. Start with the basics

  Every martial art has basics for a reason. Karate, for instance, has enough basics to fill 9 Kyu grades- those grades of which the belt is not black. Learning to do a certain punch or kick properly, for instance, is one thing. Then it is necessary to learn to combine the technique with others. Later on- in a sparring situation- one has to learn to do these techniques as a fight requires.

4. Having mastered the basics does not yet make you combat ready

A basic guideline is that as long as you still have to think before you deliver a technique you cannot fight. Whether you practice a martial art for enlightenment or to defend yourself- free sparring is the test of your level of accomplishment. People who still have to think before they punch and kick in a fight lose. Those are also people who have not yet attained the Zen state of Mushin in their attacks and defense. Whether you are learning a Russian martial art or a Japanese one- you need this level of accomplishment to at least master the fundamentals of any martial art.

5. Physical training is a must

I remember that Tom and Jerry cartoon where the baby mouse (not Jerry) learns "Bat-Itsu" from a video by his hero Batmouse and then immediately goes and flips Tom around. 

Reality, however, is that fighting takes strength and in many instances stamina. Then things such as flexibility and agility also play a big part.

You may have been blessed with some of these things, but physical training is an integral part of martial arts study that cannot be avoided.

Well... I have said as much as I can on the subject. Anyone who has something to add is welcome to comment.

Wishing you all a great week ahead!

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Defending the Hikite

Remember last week's post?

I am really happy with the response I got.

In that post I have mentioned that the Universe does not have any respect for the Hikite. This, I admit is not entirely true and mostly applies to real fights or continuous sparring situations like the Dojo Kumite about which I wrote in that post.

The truth is- using the hikite simply out of habit in a fight, without knowing its purpose- makes Karate look more ridiculous than the style of a completely untrained brawler and has in many instances led to untrained persons beating up karateka in confrontations throughout that unrecorded history of unfortunate karateka having had to fight outside the dojo (or who did not have to fight, but chose to and got unpleasantly surprised- we all know of such incidents).

Now- If you practice Karate you know very well what the hikite is. For those of you who do not know, probably because you do not practice Karate at all, the hikite is that hand that withdraws during the performance of a Karate basic technique.    

It is usually associated with punching and has led the untrained public to believe that that is how karate people punch and it has led many karate people to believe that it is the best way on earth to punch. 

Looking at kata and lessons learnt from the Universe during free sparring sessions, however, we know that Karate people do not punch like this all the time...

The non-punching hand usually has a job to do in a fight like what is going on in the photo below.

A lot of old Karate students will tell you that the sharp pulling back of the other fist adds power to the punch. To be frank- I have learnt punching from other systems than Karate with punches that dent oil drums that work well enough without this emphasised pulling back of a hand.

The hikite also features in Karate with blocks. The most common explanation, which is not wrong by the way, is that the withdrawing hand is preparation for the counterattack that one wants to follow directly after the block. We know of course that we cannot always attack directly after the first block in a real fight, but it is something to try for.

In many instances the Universe shows us that unlike in your prearranged Ippon Kumite situations, blocking your opponent's first attack was just him keeping you occupied so that he can try his luck with the second attack that was lined up, so the non blocking hand often ends up being where this guy's is...
Image result for karate kumite

Well- not only Karate people have noticed this kind of thing.

MMA enthusiasts and full contact fighters- which include boxers- are quick to tell you to "guard up" with your non-attacking hand.

Boxers know this very well...

Image result for boxing punch

A certain Tang Soo Do instructor once remarked that the application of putting one's fist at one's hip during kata actually denotes you catching your teeth as they get knocked out.

Now... it may seem that this has led to people finding a use for the hikite, but I am sure that the application of the withdrawing fist being grabbing of a limb and pulling it towards you have actually existed for a long time.

I did not have to search long to find a video like this one-

These applications completely transform the blocks we know so well into grappling techniques.

So- Karate people can rest easy knowing that the Hikite is not useless. 

But hey- some of you may ask-

If this technique is no useful- why do other martial arts not use it?

Short answer is- they actually do:

Shaolin Kung Fu's advanced fighting stances actually resemble Karate techniques to a great extent with the fist tucked in at the hip. A common explanation for a fighting stance like this is that the primary weapon is kept hidden from view. 

In my experience, however, I do not really find that to give one such a big advantage.

Kung fu forms have many techniques that involve grabbing a limb and pulling it towards you. The big difference, however, is that the pulling hand often either passes the body and ends up away from it or pulls the limb to the side, away from you, instead of towards you as is the case with Karate. 

Special mention has to be made of Wing Chun Quan! :)

Nobody messes with Wing Chun, right? Wing Chun people are smart enough to use one hand to trap an opponent's arm while they attack with the other, right?
They will never dream of pulling a fist back to the hip, will they?

Master Mazza Wing Chun


Well- take a look at their basic forms:
Thing is- Kung Fu in all its forms- which include Wing Chun- has this fist pulling back to the hip. You may not see done in Taijiquan exactly as it is done with Karate, but a Taiji punch also comes from the hip and a Taiji technique like "Parting Wild Horse Mane" contains one hand pulling back pressing downwards.  

If we look at the movement of Karate's hikite to determine whether it is most suitable for pulling we will find that it utilises the arm optimally for this purpose. The bicep muscle is employed and with the help from rotating hips and a well-grounded stance this is actually an efficient way to pull someone. 

Well- we are almost at the end of this post... A post like this is not complete without a practical example now, is it?

Well- you are in luck because I have remembered this excellent video of Heian Sandan bunkai by a Youtuber called Wetblanket3 (I have no idea why he calls himself that! Sensei Ando also seems to like his videos, though..).

You all (who practice Karate) know this part in Heian/ Pinan Sandan, right?

I bet that many of you were told that it was punching someone who has grabbed you from behind, right? I can safely assumed that this is what all the Karateka in South Africa got taught anyway. If you guys in other parts of the country got taught something else- good for you.

If your Sensei happens to be Iain Abernethy you are not allowed to give input now and we don't want to see that all-knowing smirk on your faces! :P

-Just joking: Sensei Iain is the most awesome person in the Karate World. I know- however- that his students get taught proper bunkai and that they probably laugh in secret at many of us that got taught in the way that I have known for so long.

Okay- back to this- the movement consists of two roundhouse punches. Each punch has its own hikite. Now- if you are thinking of the face-punching application the hikite's job is not that important, but when you look at this the Hikite takes center stage!  

That first "punch" is actually grabbing hold of the opponent's neck. Where is that punch's hikite?- you may ask. It is around the opponent's waist or could even be hooking around his leg.

Second punch- We know what happens is one hand goes back and the other now comes forward, right?

The result is just beautiful! Judo people may claim this for themselves- and they won't be wrong.

Video is here:

It just doesn't seem right to leave this post without a video from Sensei Iain. So- here it is:

That's it for today! :)

Hope you all have an awesome week!