23 May, 2011

From Iaido to a new World

This past weekend was a long weekend in Canada (still is, as I write this).  As luck would have it, this was the perfect opportunity for an Iaido and Jodo seminar.

I may have mentioned that I am studying Iaido.  I originally started as this as a requirement for my upcoming (1.25 years still left!) yondan grading.  Since starting Iaido a whole different world of martial arts and living have opened up to me.  I previously had no idea what the true benefits of the weapons arts were.

Let me start with the story of my training before and after my first Iaido seminar.  Here I reveal the levels of my own ignorance! (I write that as if there isn't more ignorance still to come... :) )

I originally started karate as I thought it to be an immensely practical style.  After all, the most common attack anyone can launch is a strike using the hands or feet.  I think back to rough-housing as a kid, and this was always the first reaction.  So what makes the most sense than to study an art known for its punching, kicking, blocking and general striking techniques.

As I grew up and as I grew into my art, I found that there was more than just striking.  Some throws, locks and pressure point strikes.  Kobudo, which did exist alongside karate, was never really a part of class as much as it was another art.  Even today in my current dojo kobudo is taught as a separate program.

Fast forward to about two or three years ago, when my Sensei told me that we needed to have some basic Iai sword forms for yondan.  I didn't really see the importance of weapons arts.  I had done a little sword work before as a novelty, and some sai and escrima stick work, but nothing formal and nothing with any intent behind it.  It was just another aspect of training, as much as the pushups were.

As a side note to a rambling narrative, was I the only one who hated pushups when rising through the ranks?  My arms are tiny when compared to my legs or core, and I never thought I would get better at them.  Now I can crank them out with a decent amount of ability, although I still prefer to perform different types of pushups (wide, narrow, forwards, backwards hand positions) rather than tons of the usual.  I think it helps with general strengthening rather than bicep overload, but that may be the reason for my thin arms!

Back to the story!  So I was studying Iaido once a week with my Sensei, when he recommended coming to an Iaido seminar with his Sensei.  This Sensei is rather well known, highly ranked in Iaido and Jodo, teachers self defense at a university, and is a key member of the Canadian Kendo Federation, which in turn is connected to the All Japan Kendo Federation.  In short, he knows his stuff.

One question that kept circling my mind was how he taught self defense.  As far as I could tell, he had no training in a practical, empty-handed art.  It didn't really compute to me how weapons training could possibly help with defense when empty handed.

Then came the seminar.  And with it the understanding of what it means to train in a weapons art.  And the power and possibilities behind it.  And then the realization dawned on me.  I need to get another black belt in another art!  Oh no.  Oh yes.  Oh no.  Those were the three following thoughts.  Not that I was worried about starting at the bottom.  But a realization.  I can compare it to climbing a mountain, reaching a good height, and being proud of your accomplishments.  Then looking up, because now you can see above more clearly, and you realize that you are so far from the top.  You realize your hubris and insignificance.  What you thought was climbing to the clouds is only an ants journey to an elephant.  To reach the greatness of those who came before, it is a long and arduous journey indeed.

Anyways, this weekend was great.  I was only able to attend one day of a three day seminar, but I felt like those 8 hours of training were longer than the 12-hour trainings I have done in Karate.  My feet never felt so tired.  I gained a whole new level of respect for everyone in this art, and for the art itself.  And I realized how much more I have to learn.  I don't find it daunting.  I am thoroughly excited with the prospect of learning more.

If have I time, I will write up my experience(s) with the seminar from this weekend.

16 May, 2011

Training for Reality

I have been looking around at blogs and vidoes with regards to koryu, jujutsu and silat.  My interest stems from what the goal of these systems is - training for reality.  And I have seen a sort of similar approach to how they handle a given situation.

What is mean is that, in karate, the key points of training are fitness and conditioning, kata (solo forms), and sparring (pre-arranged and free-style).  I would like to be clear that sparring in this context does not mean point sparring - our dojo long abandoned that path.  The distancing and timing that you learn from sparring in a more realistic manner can be very enlightening, and I think this is something that karate shares with kendo.  But sparring, in any case, is a recent invention, and previously the kata and conditioning were the primary tools, along with some application of the movements.

Contrast this to silat, koryu arts or jujutsu, where a specific attack (or set of attacks) are launched.  The order and nature of the attack is understood, but the slight variations required to handle the attack at speed with intent to harm is very different from the approach found in karate.  I would like to think that karate can learn a lot from this approach, but the key item that I try to include in practice is intent.

In some ways, the application of kata are like the above - some pre-determined situation of attack(s) that must to countered or eliminated.  But what I find important to note is that the senior is usually the "kata-side" in such drills (contrasted to koryu where the senior is the opponent), and that we do not have an agreed upon and remembered opponent side to the kata which is practiced (this was missing for several decades, at least, in almost all styles that I know of).  Since my interest in koryu, I try to perform the attacker side for such drills, to put myself in the right frame of mind.  The Budo Mind is a curious thing...

DISCLAIMER: I don't think any art is the peak of the mountain - different strokes for different folks, as the saying goes.  But I do think I understand my own art to a decent degree.  I think I know what I want, and this has affected the way that I perceive my art, my training, and colours my view of others.  In addition, it brings me to examine what I know and what I can learn to cover what I perceive I need to learn.

One thing which I am concerned about is that karate is not a combatic discipline along the lines of others.  I feel pretty confident that this is not the case, but I want to ensure that what I practice is practical, realistic, and will keep my family, friends and myself safe from harm.  I liked a quote, I can't remember from where, but the gist was that "wherever I am, the people around me are safer from my being there".  If anyone knows the source, please remind me, at least so the credit can go to where it is due.

So, what it comes down to is, what is training for reality?  What is your training about?  Do you think it is practical?

06 May, 2011

Recovery & Injury

As far as many other martial artists go, I consider myself lucky to have had only very minor injuries so far (knock wood).  But I think the whole idea of fitness, health, and the martial arts are something which might be easy to forget.

I recently went to a physio-therapist for a shoulder issue and wrist issue.  The wrist has some nerve issue which is hard to help, but the shoulder apparently was slightly pushed forward.  Its like a mild dislocation.  I got it while trying to workout to get healthier and prevent injury.  A bit ironic!

But I think it is sometimes easy, as martial artists, to shrug off injuries.  We get a feeling for our bodies, and rely on the feedback to know what we can and can't do within a particular time frame or motion.

But if, like myself, one doesn't have a good working knowledge of anatomy, then I think its easy to ignore the minor ailments of training.  They can easily develop into something worse.

As a good example (of my own foolishness perhaps!) I will relate a little story.  About 2 years back, in preparation for a mudan's grading into shodan, we were doing some rougher sparring.  A bit more contact and such.  I wasn't as careful as I should have been, and when I performed mae geri (front kick), it was with a more upward intent than forward.  The result?  I broke my big toe, with an audible crunch/crack, on the mudan's elbow.

I thought it was just a pop or something, so I tried to work the toe a bit.  It didn't stop hurting, but it wasn't too bad.  So I took it a bit easier on my foot for the rest of class - another 2 hours at that point, as the mudan's class was leaving and mine starting.  To cut the story short, I eventually went to the doctor and got an X-ray.  Yes it was broken.  No there wasn't much to be done about it.  But you better believe I went stir crazy being unable to walk (which I enjoy doing, and at the time did a lot of), do karate or pretty much spend time on my feet or walk around at work.

A lesson in paying attention to my actions AS WELL as paying attention to my body was well learned that time.

The recent injury is not so bad, and far better than what others have suffered, so I am not complaining!  But I think that this has reinforced to me the importance of some knowledge of a more than superficial level.  This is what has sparked my own interest in herbal remedies, self massage and the like.

As a quick guide, for those who can't be bothered to google a more knowledgeable website, here are some tips that I use.  Don't use them yourself without consulting a doctor!  This is just what I feel is safe for my own use.
  • Inflammation - Ice is the key!  Don't try to move the injury too much.  Frozen veggies or fruit are useful for this.
  • Soreness - Heat is wonderful.  Massage is helpful and so is the "internal" massage that you get from using the muscle.  I wet a towel, microwave it for 40 seconds and then carefully apply.  Adjust timing to your own home food nuker.
  • General help after a workout is a firm massage of the feet - they take a lot of pounding.  Knees may also be in order.
  • When I feel a cold coming on, and I mean right away at the very beginnings of a throat tickle, I take a half glass of water with tinctue of goldenseal and echinacea.  A few drops of oil of oregano also go in.  Take with a zinc tablet for the full effect.
  • Arnica for bruising.  I used this around my toe (which when broken had turned several shades of blue, green, black and purple) and it helped a lot.  Also working it into the area is also a light massage, another beneficial effect.
  • I have been told that comfrey for sprains is great.  I haven't had a chance to try it myself, but check out the link below for more information.
Herbs for Martial Artists

Finally, some extra fitness regime outside of and different to your martial art of choice.  I take a class twice weekly with my wife - core strength, cardio, etc.  Using different muscles has been very helpful in my performance in class and has raised my confidence of ability significantly.  Keep in mind that stretching and body weight exercises also help your soft tissues like fascia, tendons, ligaments and other doctorly words.  A stronger body means easier recovery from injury, and reduced injury at that.

Anyways, enough ranting.  Good health!

05 May, 2011

It's just Pain

I wanted to relate a brief, insightful, and (to my mind) funny incident which happened at the dojo.

First some background.  Every week I have what we affectionately call (at my dojo) an assist.  What this means is that I am leading a class of mudansha youths and adults while Sensei oversees everything.  I should also note that it is not just me, but another yudansha as well, and that Sensei alternates between teaching the whole group (working on a given form, partner drill, self defense situation, etc), working with a few, or correcting my own instruction.  Overall, I think this is a great way for students to give back to the dojo and help Sensei with larger classes.  This is very important when it comes to the younger children's classes, but also useful for the older classes with which I am involved (take that Churchill!).  Those assisting get the benefit of adjusting and correcting their mudansha curriculum as well as experience in teaching classes.  Those getting assisted get the benefit of difference emphasis of the exercises.  In my case, I just hope I don't contradict what they have learned so far or give them too much wrong advice before Sensei catches me!

Anyways, the little incident I mentioned above occurred during my assist.  One of the youths tends to give up when things are hard.  It is not that the youth in question doesn't have the ability to continue, but rather this youth THINKS that they have reached their limit.

So we are doing a brief drill to break up class a bit, where everyone gets the luxury of using the wall to perform shiko dachi (think of a 'horse stance' popular in many styles, but with the toes pointed outwards at a 45 degree angle and the thighs about 100 degrees from the shins).  In keeping with the exercise I decided to perform the stance with everyone, sans wall, to encourage everyone that I am suffering with them. :)

Anyways, this youth keeps rising up, and Sensei keeps telling the youth to get back down.  What followed is a series of rising and being told the lower, the youth lowering, and the cycle repeats every few seconds.

At one point, Sensei (who is very good natured about such things, but shows a comical exasperation with such incidents), jokingly (and yet also seriously) tells us that "its just pain."  He told the youth, and everyone else, that you thought you were going to die, but you didn't.  Play the odds.

I thought this was very interesting as a life philosophy.  How many times have we all sweated through a tough drill, thinking its all I can give, and then pulled out a little extra from somewhere deep inside?  How many times did your body scream at you that you can't do this any longer, and yet your mind insisted that you could, so you did?  And you lived.  This happens everyday, 365 days a year, and yet we are all still here to think about it.  Play the odds, you probably won't die from one more pushup, no matter what your arms are telling you.  Its just pain.

While on the topic of pain, there is another funny and serious phrase my Sensei uses - "First Pain, then Anguish."  I think this is along the same lines as the above.

03 May, 2011

More about Wado Ryu and Shindo Yoshin Ryu

As a follow up a previous post, I found the following article very interesting.  This was one article from a Wado Ryu perspective which did not claim that Ohtsuka Hironori was a grandmaster of SYR, and so I thought it worth posting as some good food for thought.



I need to look further into this, as this provides some insight into how Karate and Jujutsu can be melded together into a cohesive whole.  The interesting aspect is that of striking arts and their usefulness (or lack thereof) on the battlefield against armoured opponents.  Clearly this is not the case today, so the usefulness of striking has increase dramatically.  But it led me to some further thoughts.

It also raises some questions I have seen around the internet with regards to Aikido's combat efficacy.  I recall a video of an Aikidoka going against an MMA fighter.  I cannot comment on the skill of either, but I think that the Aikidoka was a black belt by the way he moved and his comfort level with his own techniques.  I noticed that the Aikidoka used a lot more striking than I think the art emphasizes in most schools these days.  If I recall correctly, there is a quote from Ueshiba Morihei which states "Aikido is 90% striking" or something to that effect.

If I can dig more into the curriculum of Daito Ryu to see what striking was involved, this might answer some questions as well.  It is my understanding that Daito Ryu is based to some degree on sumo techniques (as Takeda Sokaku and his father both were considerable sumo fighters).  Sumo is known for its considerable "hand slapping" (similar to Teisho Uchi) techniques.

It should also be mentioned that early Karate teachers were also well versed in a knowledge of Okinawan sumo.  I recall something from Charles Goodin indicating this, and how this knowledge was assumed with a study of Karate (at the beginning of the previous century, not clearly as much now).  Much of karate's unusual  techniques would be clearer with a solid grappling understanding.