Sunday, 27 November 2016

Where I have been this Saturday

I like my routine.

I'd lie if I say that it has never been disturbed. One group of people with whom I have grown more and more comfortable giving a Saturday to every once in a while is my karate school. 

I have noticed that I don't find Sensei John on the internet if I search WSKF South Africa, but definitely when I search "Shotokan Karate South Africa".

Yesterday's year end training for brown and black belts was at Hazyview's dojo. This awesome class room is situated on the farm of Sensei Danie Janse van Vuuren and his wife Sensei Sandra.

It was once a tobacco shed. 

Sensei Danie told me that the mats and equipment you see on the walls were donated by one of the students- Vincent Galaca. He has recently passed his Shodan Grading.

Due to the rubber pistols being there we got treated to a gun disarming demonstration from Sensei John.

That was after an intense kihon session with Sensei John (still stiff!), a really harrowing kumite session with Sensei Louis (the throbbing from a certain mawashi geri to my head has worn off- I'm sure I'll get to return the favour somewhere next year...) and lastly Sensei John teaching us the kata Sochin, which is now finally part of my collection of kata! This now puts me at 15 out of Shotokan's 26 kata.

Then this photo got taken...

It is really an honour for me to appear in the same photo as this awesome group of people.

O! If you wonder why this post did not come earlier today you should ask her:

That is it for now. Wishing you all a great week ahead!

Zai Jian!


Saturday, 19 November 2016

That damned kick

At my karate class I am known to stubbornly insist on using kicks not normally practiced in our dojo.

Most of these kicks come from my Shukokai days.

This particular kick, though, has undergone some changes over the years as I took up Chinese martial arts.

I refer to both the reverse roundhouse kick and the back spinning kick as the reverse roundhouse, but recognise that the faster version is done with the lead foot while the back spinning version is more powerful and employs the rear foot.  

In karate this kick is usually done by doing a front kick or side kick past the target and then to hook the the sole or heel of the foot around to hit the target from the side.

I do not find this version very powerful and substituted it with the Dragon's Tail form that involves whipping the leg around and through the target from the side.

A problem that reared its ugly head a while ago, however, was when I did the kick against a wall (don't ask) I saw that the whipping motion is powerful, but instead of the sole of my foot making contact I ended up hitting with the side of my foot!

Now that has caused me weeks of trouble. Not an injury, but the question of how to fix this kick so that it stays powerful, but hit with the sole of my foot.

Sure- I have nothing against the reverse crescent kick that hits with the side of the foot or the side of the lower leg (when I use it to deflect a kick or a stick), but I love that slap my foot gives the target.

Eventually I found the root of the problem. When your supporting foot faces with the toes towards your opponent your kicking foot will want to remain vertical. This also happens when your supporting foot faces your opponent with the inner edge.

Bring the supporting heel more towards the target, however, and your kicking foot is more inclined to turn horizontal.

Something useful that I got from Sensei John is shown in the sketch below:

Numbers 1 and 2 show what I have been doing. To get these kicks to hit with a lot of power you need a big swinging motion with the leg. That requires a lot of room around you.

Number 3 is Sensei John's preferred method. Instead of directing the force to the side like I do with 1 and 2 the force is rather directed diagonally away from you. I have found that this focuses more of the kicking legs inherent strength, harnesses more momentum and requires less room around me. 

As a result I have made Sensei John's kick my own. Now that it is no longer bothering me I can focus on being more efficient at fighting again....

Well- now you all have to excuse me, but I am going to see how the All Blacks' rematch against Ireland is going to turn out.

Stay well!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Yelling in martial arts

Before I began my study of the martial arts I have regarded shouting as a natural part of fighting. That is what we do when we are angry, right? Let me rephrase- that is what we do when we are angry and brave enough to show it.

Without the mental conditioning of martial arts training a loud voice tends to instill fear in most of us. Hell- even with my mental conditioning I find being yelled at unbearable. Even if it doesn't scare you, you must admit that it stirs one emotion or the other in you.

Now before I type out my observations over the years- let me share what I have been able to find on the internet thus far. One of these videos shows a teacher of some Japanese martial art demonstrating the effect of a sudden yell on an unsuspecting student and then- from two of my favourite movies from China- Princess and the Seven Kungfu Masters and Kung Fu Hustle the "Lion's Roar" done by female characters in these movies:

Now- since I have been studying Chinese and Japanese martial arts the most I shall limit this post to the martial arts of China and Japan. I know Korean styles actually has similar techniques, but because I have not studied Korean martial arts with as much enthusiasm as those of Japan and China I shall rather not include anything about Korean  styles.

In Japanese Martial Arts:

The collective term for Japan's battlefield arts (that existed long before karate) is Bujutsu meaning "Warrior Art". This term refers to all methods of combat that were employed in Feudal Japan,whether armed or unarmed, on foot or on horseback.

Now- in the time of bloody battles and defense of a warlord's interests took priority over mere self defense it was customary for Samurai to charge into battle loudly announcing their names or that of their warlord. This is not unique to the Samurai. In fact- any movie showing Vikings, Spartans or Celts going into battle will show warriors yelling their lungs out.

After the Feudal Era we found a focus on one-on-one fighting. In this new age the kiai is found in systems like Kendo and Kenjutsu. A person whom I regard as Japan's foremost martial artist in this time, Miyamoto Musashi, had this to say about shouting in swordplay.

I know- we see nothing of focussing energy or committing to the strike in this, but we see that yelling as a psychological means of attack is recognised and encouraged. 

In Feudal Japan the Samurai were the only people that were allowed to practice martial arts. So- civilians were not allowed to defend themselves. In spite of this a group of people have nonetheless trained their minds and bodies in what is most likely the most intriguing and mysterious martial art system in the world today- Ninjutsu!

Now- the Ninja had very little use for making a lot of noise when he struck. They are known to us today for striking silently and disappearing without a trace. Well- that is true, but the Ninja was also an expert in psychological warfare. In the right circumstances a sudden shout could freeze an opponent long enough for the Ninja to escape or to even disarm him. I was surprised to read about Ninja master Masaaki Hatsumi demonstrating such an attack on one of his students. To briefly describe to you what he showed was that the student stood ready with a bokken (wooden sword). Dr Hatsumi kiaied suddenly and loudly- a short, explosive yell- and his opponent was immediately rattled. Before he could recover from being startled Dr Hatsumi had stepped in and disarmed him.

It seems that timing plays a huge part in an attack like this.

Then there is Karate. Introduced to Japan in the 20th Century by Gichin Funakoshi I suspect that karate was the first proper method of fist fighting that Japan has ever had up to then. As a karateka I can confirm that we strike with a sharp, explosive exhalation from the abdomen. This sharply tightens the abdominal muscles. When we kiai the yell also comes from the abdomen and the sudden contraction still takes place. The yell is loud, explosive and short. I have noticed some contestants charging in with a loud yell in WSKF tournaments and they are allowed to do so. Recently I have been taught that the jump in one of our katas (Heian Godan) has a kiai while you are in mid-air. This feels entirely different from the sharp yell thatis in sync with your strike. It does indicate, however, that the yell is recognised as useful for more than just concentrating effort into a blow.

In Chinese Martial Arts

Well... Taijiquan may be slow and tranquil as the majority of us practice it, but the way members of the Jingwu Athletic Society practice it- it is a very aggressive martial art. In this school yelling is used to raise the fighter's courage and  to instill a feeling of strength. These yells are not the explosive kiais that I have come to know in karate. It is more like a primal scream... 

Ever since this had come to my knowledge I have realised that Bruce Lee's yell is not the kiai I have learnt in karate and that it is based on an entirely different principle.

Yells that actually accompany the strike are found in Xingyiquan. Xingyi uses explosive strikes. Although I have heard Chinese practitioners (even masters) using a long "Haaaaaaa!" or "Hoooooo!" when striking I have decided to stick to the "Ei!" I know well. This supplements my strike whereas a long sound feels as if it actually drains the technique's power.

Shaolin Kungfu shows a lot of similarities with Shotokan Karate in this regard. The yells that accompany strikes are also short. For some reason they just do not sound very explosive...

In one of the exercises I do in Shaolin Kungfu the palm is pushed out ten times as I breathe out. In this movement I feel the hand being driven forward by internal force rather than my effort. After that the fingertips shoot out as I make a strong "heerrrrit!" sound. The reason for this was never told to me, but the feeling of focusing energy in my index and middle finger as I do this has changed my nukite in karate for good.

In Wenhsiuquan:

Well- knowing stuff is not of any news if we don't put the knowledge to use, right?

So- I still have the explosive kiai from my Karate training in some of my blows. In each of Wenhsiuquan's striking forms there are also two kiai points like we find with karate. The kiai here marks a committed attack executed with a "do-or-die" spirit.

 In a situation where you absolutely have to act, but find your body unwilling to comply (due to fear for instance) the kiai is also used to shut off all thought and emotion while you charge in kamikaze style. In instances like this I regard it as a sign of desperation and one's desperate situations tend to disappear as you become more proficient at a martial art. That is why I am often content to spar without making noise. 

As far as distractions go- there are many methods with which to throw off an adversary. A short sudden yell is one of those ways.

I am not one for long battle cries, though, and Wenhsiuquan does not have that. Funny thing- in spite of Bruce Lee's movies I doubt that Jeet Kune Do has it either...

Well- that is what I had to share on this topic.

 In case anyone wants to develop a technique with which to knock out an opponent with your voice you might like this article:

Have a great weekend, everyone!

See you next weekend!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

How practitioners of different martial arts punch

I remember waiting my turn with the punching bag at a gym when this boxer was bouncing it around with a series of punches. Sure- the bag was rocking with each blow and swung around, but none of the blows seemed to be anything as damaging as what I have come to encounter in my exploration of the martial arts.

When my turn came the bag did not shake as much, but a loud "BOOM!" emanated with each punch and a nice dent started forming. Oh! And no-one was holding the bag...

The difference between the two ways of punching lay not so much in the movement- or the external aspect- but in the internal aspects.

Now- most of us know what Bruce Lee said about the difference between a karate punch and a kungfu punch, right? Sure- we have all heard it, but here it is again to refresh our memories:

What Bruce Lee was referring to here was the internal aspect of the punch. In short- the external aspect is about how the technique is performed physically, the internal is about how it feels.

Now with what Bruce Lee said- here is a photo showing a typical karate punch:

Now- here is a kungfu punch:


To be exact- that is a Shaolin Kungfu punch. A Wudang style like one of the styles of Taijiquan would have people punch like this:


This is my karate punch:

Wenhsiuquan did not really throw out the horizontal fist, but definitely uses the vertical fist as its first choice due to the heavy influence of Wing Chun and Taijiquan.

This is a video capture of me using a vertical fist in a Wenhsiuquan form.

Looking at these photos one could say that the Shaolin punch and the karate punch are actually the same. Fact is, however, that you will find that Shotokan Karate stresses the "hikite" or withdrawing hand a lot, relying on this push-pull motion for power while in kungfu the emphasis is on the fist gathering energy while in rest position (what internal specialists call the fasong phase) and the explosive expulsion of energy during the punch (the fajing phase). 

What happens to the witdrawing hand in kungfu? It depends on what form of kungfu you refer to. Wingchunquan, Taijiquan and Shaolin Fist each have their own way to use the non-punching hand and their reasons for that.

Now- I want to give an explanation of how the internal power is used and developed, but first I am going to ask you to look at this from an older post of mine:

How do you punch out a candle flame like this?

The thing is- I feel energy gathering in my fist and forearm as I prepare for the punch and inhale. Then- I do not push my fist out, but it shoots out in an explosive movement as I breathe out- tightening at the very end.

Upon impact with a solid target I can often feel the object vibrate. Now- if you were only taught to breathe out as you do the push-pull motion you actually miss a lot.

I still recommend punching into a bucket of water to see how much water you can splash out in one punch. It is an excellent way to develop explosive power and to attune you to the internal aspect of your punch. Just doing the push-pull motion and going "IYAAAA!" is not going to do you much good, though.

Btw- should my next post be about yelling in martial arts?

Oh! While doing research for this post I found this post by Jesse! Give it a look.

Now I am off to go and watch Dr Strange! Until next week!