Friday, 28 March 2014

The difference between a weapon and a target

Where other people would read about a thing such as "mind over matter" and continue doubting whether they could ever attain something like that we as martial artists are in a position to practice and train with it and experience it first hand.

We already know the value of conditioning. Some of us will know about skills such as Shaolin's "Iron Shirt" and "Golden Bell Cover" and may still not know how to develop the ability. Well- I reserve that kind of knowledge for my students.

Something I will leave for my fellow martial artists to contemplate however is this: When is a body part a target and when is it a weapon? Short answer- It depends on how qi is focussed.

A more understandable explanation would be more like this:

If you accidentally bump your hand against a table while rushing off somewhere in a hurry- it hurts. When, however, that hand is used to break a board or a tile- it does not hurt (or at least not that much...) What was different there. Simple answer- the intent behind the use of that hand. This same type of intent can provide you with a natural armour to shield you against attacks- after a lot of training in the correct method!

I won't be that stingy, though. Here is something to try at home. Ever wondered about what the phoenix eye punch ("ippon ken" in Japanese) would feel like and how to train it? Simple method- first go knock on the nearest door. Now use that same knocking motion against your makiwara or training dummy. Train to put more and more speed and impact into that knock. This way you will have a strike that can inflict some serious damage to short ribs.

And about finger tip strikes like snake fist and spear hand ("nukite" in Japanese)- you don't drive your fingers into the light switch like a choku zuki or attack the keys on your keyboard that way- so why do you practice these techniques like that? Use that same tapping movement when training against a makiwara or whatever impact tool you use and continue to develop more speed and power in that particular movement.

Have fun training. You are welcome to send all questions to    

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Isometric stretches

To many of us stretching is that bit we do after training to get rid of gathered lactic acid and to relax the muscles. These stretches, however, are not that kind of stretch at all. They are meant to enable you to kick high and also to develop kicking power.

The effectiveness of the exercise lie therein that one is isometrically stretching the muscles on one side of the body while the other side is being exercised isometrically.

The stretches take on the form of three basic kicks, the front-, side- and back kick.

These kicks all have one thing in common- they drive into the target.

To do each stretch you have to stand far enough from a wall so that you have to overextend to reach it with your foot. The more flexible you are-the further away you may stand.

Then the foot is placed against the wall. This is where you push against the wall as hard as you can, holding the position of any of these kicks as shown in the sketch.

20 seconds on each position, with each leg, should be enough. Then go forth and kick!��

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Martial Art Technique is meant to improve one's natural movements in combat, not to restrict it and not to replace it.

I think all of us who have gone to a dojo at some stage in their lives know about someone like this in class-
a boy or girl who has received belt after belt in gradings and whose basics and kata are exemplary, but whose kumite is really bad and who- to be frank- just can't fight... 

True- The disadvantage may in many cases be psychological, but another poison- which is especially fed to students who have never fought before in their lives, is that those blows, kicks, blocks (oh don't get me started on blocks...) and stances are effective for use in actual combat.

Truth, however, is that they aren't.

Why do we practice them this way then? I have actually given the answer to this question a couple of posts ago when I discussed the three elements in martial arts. Now those techniques are supposed to develop power when practiced regularly. As for technique itself, you really have to find that element in the technique that makes it work, preserve it and make it a part of you and discard the inessential bits that are not necessary. I really don't give a flying f*#k about whether my fist is level with my shoulder in the parry that I actually use to deflect my opponent's punch or that my shoulders are not square when I punch into his sternum.

What I do care about is that my blows have the necessary speed and power, that my footwork and body positioning is efficient and that I am not creating unnecessary openings.

The fact is- whatever style you learn is just part of what enables you to defend yourself. Your style may not encourage ducking, jumping, hooking or whatever else, but discarding those movements may cost you your life. Instead- you should incorporate such natural movements into your arsenal in order to make them work for you, rather than against you.

For example- I used to get angry at myself for turning away from my opponent in karate matches when I was under attack. And yes- because it was not part of my arsenal it only put me in more danger. Later on, however, having learnt spinning attacks and defenses I have found that this way of moving can actually surprise the opponent and unlock options such as spinning backfists, reverse elbow strikes and spinning kicks.

I'll close this post by saying that learning traditional techniques of any style is essential, but when the time comes to defend yourself- do what it takes instead of trying to fit this or that move in somewhere. If you take this approach you'll find that the technique will show up by itself when it is needed.    

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Berserker and Sage- The Yang and Yin personalities in the martial arts

Yang and Yin feature in the tactical as well as the psychological aspect of the martial arts. At least for the Chinese martial arts, as I have no idea what is being taught in other systems...

For the purpose of this post Yin refers to a calm, yielding disposition, whereas Yang refers to an aggressive, proactive nature.

In history two types of warrior have each exhibited the characteristics of Yang and Yin. I'll refer to them as the Berserker and the Sage. 

The Berserker

In ancient times the Berserker was a zealot warrior who worked himself up into a state of fearless aggression. For this purpose they were known to wear bear skins, sharpen their teeth and growled like animals.

A typical berserker ritual that we see to this day is the All Blacks' Haka which is known to all rugby fans.

Whatever the technique or ritual used- the berserker state is a result of Yang energy being raised and the objective of destroying the enemy takes priority over all else- even personal safety. We witness a manifestation of the berserker state where a karateka kiais loudly when he breaks a board or tile.

In order to learn how to raise Yang energy you are welcome to mail me.

The berserker state transforms a person into a ruthless fighting machine. Mastering it helps to dispel fear in times of danger to enable one to act.

The Sage

I use this term to refer to fighters like Aikido and Taijiquan exponents who use a calm and yielding approach to avoid attacks and to subdue an attacker.

This state is achieved by lowering qi to the abdomen. The calm state encourages the devising of tactics. Movement in a one-on-one situation is more reactive than proactive. Further- effort spent is entirely proportional to the attack being faced at a given moment.

Lastly- The Master

One only has to see an overly aggressive opponent being subdued by a yielding fighter who uses that opponent's attack against him- or an overly passive opponent being overcome by a fighter who actually steps in to act- to know that a balance between the two is essential. If this balance was easily attainable it would not be considered the level of mastery.

By learning both approaches, identifying one's position on the balancing scales and applying the appropriate technique to rectify imbalances one can attain mastery over himself and any situation.