Saturday, 25 June 2016

Can't wait!


You all know that there are monks from Northern Shaolin who travel the world to present arguably the best martial arts demonstration in the world.

I am not exaggerating. Sure- Wudang has Pushing Hands and the movies tell us they walk on water etc, but what have they actually demonstrated thus far?

We have even seen tile breaking and Iron Shirt demonstrations from Karate and related arts.

Shaolin, however, has demontrated amazing feats of strength and resilience off the silver screen.

These amazing skills include:

- One Finger Zen: Having so much strength in the index finger that it can support the whole body;

- Iron Shirt: Being able to withstand percussive blows, but wait- there is more!


The saying goes: "Every martial art under the sun comes from Shaolin".

To some of us this will not hold true. I know that the custodians of the Rajput traditions in India will be quick to shake their heads.

I also often tell people that fighting itself existed long before the Shaolin Temple started practicing martial arts.

What has not always been around before Shaolin, though, was spiritual practice through combat training.

The techniques and exercises used by the Shaolin Monks are due to the sage Da Mo's efforts to strike a balance between the long hours of meditation and prayer they spend with physical training. The fighting skills and abilities are the fruits of dilligent cultivation of an unassailable body, mind and spirit.

The show is going to be at Montecasino in Johannesburg this next Saturday.

I don't know whether I'll be able to snap a photo or maybe take a video, but I shall certainly tell you all how it was when I am back. :)

Have a great week, everyone!

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Footwork- New and Old

I still believe that we have Bruce Lee to thank for the footwork we see in sports karate today.

He, as we know, started out with traditional kungfu, but also had a lot of admiration for the late Mohammed Ali. Now his Tao of Jeet Kune Do shows that he has taken a lot from boxing.

Where with styles like Western Fencing, Boxing and Sports Karate we see that a springy movement mainly on the balls of the feet are preferred we may believe that this is how we also defend ourselves.

If you have read Sensei Iain's article from last week, however, you'd know that this is not the mark of  traditional karate. The footwork I use in the photos above are from Xingyiquan and is a sample of the footwork I use in Wenhsiuquan as well. Taijiquan is also known for using it.

With forward movement Shaolin Kungfu and Karate seem to prefer landing on the ball of the foot with every step first before settling weight onto the stepping foot. In my experience it actually makes the step quicker. 

Wudang styles seem to prefer a stance like Cat Stance where one leg is firmly on the ground while the other is kept light and mobile to move about. I have traded Bruce Lee's fighting stance for this a couple of times, but I have also found that although this stance conserves energy it makes you lazy. At the WSKF dojo we have started rope-jumping and work on our bouncy kamae. I have found that this actually makes the legs stronger and that I have become more mobile after that. I do know its limits, though.

In a conversation with a former navy soldier- from which a couple of demonstrations followed- I have noticed that military hand-to hand combat does not use the springy footwork seen in combat sports. It seems that natural footwork is preferred in life and death situations. The paragraph below is from Musashi Miyamoto's Book of Five Rings. If the advice of a person who has survived 61 sword fights is anything to go on I think it is something we have to take note of.

Although Bruce Lee was not known as a martial arts contestant a lot of what he says on footwork seems to come from boxing. He has, however, stressed economy and I can imagine that these long, at times even aerial, lunges we see in WKF tournaments nowadays would not sit well with him. From the paragraphs below we can see what in footwork was important to him.

What I find non-negotiable in the entire affair, though is that all blows intended to do damage are to come from a solid stance. You may choose to be light on your feet while setting the opponent up or evading an attack, but when it is time to attack your feet have to be firmly on the ground. 

Another important thing that I often teach is that you know your counterattack should not require a step forward. 

Now we know why we don't see any kata with springy shuffling back and forth. I have noticed some jumps and long lunges in kungfu forms, though. I will agree that it can be effective with the element of surprise on your side, but know that you are taking a huge risk.

Baguazhang is a Wudang form of martial art that uses circular footwork. I find this very useful as we often find that our opponents' guards protect them best against attacks from the front. Making your opponent have to adjust to your changing position also gives you an advantage. 

Lastly I want to remind you all of the Taoist principle that pursuing and striving exhausts or energy. If you must go forward, let it be in the most economical way possible. Let your opponent do at least half of the work, though. Most martial artists are prepared for a person coming at him/ her head-on from a distance after all. 

That's it for the weekend. Hope you all have a great week! :)

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Know the purpose.

I had an exciting time on the internet last night. Not only did I help teach a certain member of a certain band some manners after misbehaving toward my girls, but I also found this article by Sensei Iain Abernethy:

Before I have read this I was under the impression that karate was this deadly fighting art that got watered down for the sake of sports and ease of teaching. I realise now that the traditional karate of the kata was intended to protect one from harm in violent situations.

So- if you are a karateka and had any hope of learning Ansatsuken (Assassin's Fist) techniques from your dojo I am afraid that you may be disappointed.

This has actually raised questions, though. A lot of Kungfu went into karate. Kungfu was known for its duels, its contests and its brutal applications. Has anyone heard the story of Chan San Feng and the village full of bandits? Plus- Toudi (Karate before it became "Karate") was taught in the Ryukyu Islands as military hnd to hand combat.

My only conclusion is that Itosu Shihan referred to his own style of Karate.

A further- huge contradiction to Itosu Shihan's statement is that Japan's soldiers and policemen practice a very brutal form of Shotokan as hand-to-hand combat.

I have not forgotten about Masutatsu Oyama's antics with bulls either...

From my point of view- no matter what style you practice- you are bound to lose a fight at some point- especially if you fight more than once. Karate and its contemporary arts were developed in a time before fighting has developed into what it is today. Contact with other styles was bound to cause practitioners to realise that there are limits.

Strange thing about Bruce Lee's Tao of Jeet Kune Do is that a lot of what he teaches actually applies to the one-on-one contest scenario. He dealt with self defense in a separate series of books.

Just like karate can get weaponised, pimped up and tuned down to fit different purposes other non-combative arts like modern Taijiquan, Aikido and Judo can help you in a fight as well if you know the original purpose of these styles and the limits they impose.

I almost forgot! Here's the next couple of pages from my first book. :)

I have to leave my computer now.

Stay well and train hard.


Saturday, 4 June 2016

You may leave your posture now...

If you asked me some years ago what the difference between Kungfu and Karate was I would have told you that Karate requires the back to be straight at all times while Kungfu is a lot more liberal. 

Well- if you never get beyond the kihon stage  of karate training it will look like it, but the truth is that while even kungfu training has a phase at which posture is strictly adhered to and the back never bends so Karate has examples of ducking, bending and leaning.

I experienced my liberation while learning Jeet Kune Do. Where being within range used to mean a definite punch in my face I have now become able to slip that straight punch and go for the exposed ribs at the same time. :D I still block, but really- leg attacks are often most easily evaded by just getting your leg out of the way and face punches by a relatively small movement of the upper body.

While I know a lot of karate instructors who would not want to see you bobbing and weaving like a boxer the Mantis, Drunken and original style of Shaolin Kungfu are fully aware of the advantges of having two hands and feet available while evading an attack without moving out of range.

The same can be said about dropping to the ground. While it may be unusual for a lot of us to drop to the ground in a fight we find at an advanced level that it has its uses. Some of the ones I am able to think of at short notice include:

1. Briefly getting out of the opponent's line of sight;

2. Evasion of high attacks;

3. Pulling the opponent down.

Your basic posture is nonetheless important as it is the base from which other movements originate. What I do advise, however, is that it is not necessary to take a blow to the face because you could not move your legs fast enough and your training prevents you from ducking.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

See you with my next post.