26 October, 2012

Dream on Principles

Just this morning, I had a dream which stuck with me long enough and which excited me enough that I wanted to write about it briefly.  First, some background about my current headspace.

I have completed my yondan grading, and with that I intend to spend more time with my wife and less at the dojo.  We have been thinking about doing something together, regularly, just to help keep fit and have fun.  So I have been looking into another martial arts school, a style I am not familiar with, that we could do together once a week.  So mentally I have been thinking about new schools and styles.

Additionally I have been listening to a new podcast (Hiyaa podcast - I heartily recommend it on iTunes) which features martial arts news, style histories (praticularly Chinese arts) as well as interviews with people like Ellis Amdur (mentioned in my previous posts and well known in Aikido and Koryu circles).  Any rate, back to the dream.

So I dreamed about visiting a koryu teacher.  I was interested in training at this school, and so the teacher was highlighting the aspects of study.  I was so excited this part of the dream seemed to run in high-speed.  While I can't recall what it is he was showing me, I recall him demonstrating and pointing to students doing weapons and certain aspects that I didn't like.  There were some good and interesting things, but the first few were not something I was keen to jump into.

At this point I woke up, and had a realization.  I have been doing a lot of research into styles, histories, techniques, etc in addition to my training because I am looking for something.  If I am to further understand my own art, I need to have another, very different frame of reference.  I need a style whose workings are laid plain, and whose focus is on principles instead of on abstract techniques.

To make my thoughts more plain, I have been often frustrated by my efforts at reverse engineering bunkai from our kata.  I also have a hard time figuring out where one technique begins and another ends.  I am further confused as to what I (should) think about the bunkai and the kata:
  • are they explicit examples of techniques?
  • are they idealized, are they training gross motor function?
  • are they showing principles?
  • where does one technique (waza) stop and the next begin?
  • when am I turning towards a new attack and when am I still dealing with the current one?
  • are there linking movements between techniques without martial application, or does everything have a martial value?
  • are there built-in chi building exercises which are hidden by the external movements?
  • when should the hard and soft come in, respectively?
  • should my techniques become softer and more subtle as I progress?
I want another art to validate my knowledge in karate.  Perhaps my own style will result from a fusion of the two, perhaps I will just change the subtleties of my practice, or perhaps I will find the new system preferable.  But I am coming to realize that without another strong point of view from which to analyze what I do and figure out why I do it, I will be at a great disadvantage.  After 15 years in karate (as a whole) and almost 10 in Goju, I need a change to bring in something fresh to my practice.

So the question becomes: what arts/styles will give me this additional experience?  This is as personal a question as any I can think of, but it comes down to what I feel interested in and what will give me the most benefit.  Any readers who have a suggestion or would like to chime in would be appreciated!

At the moment, my main choices are as follows:

A) To find and try to join a koryu group in my area.  I think it needs to be a larger system, with a focus on jujutsu while maintaining at least two or three weapons (preferably with differing ranges - daito, shoto and bo would be sufficient).  I think I would gain some valuable insight into a different mindset of training, some grappling focus, great work with principles, and refinement of handling weapons and working on ma-ai.

B) To find a quan fa school with southern Chinese roots and a focus on internal work.  Taking the principles of subtle movement and developing greater power through internal training is tempting.  Southern Chinese schools would meld more easily into my existing training as well (karate for one, and the imported Shaolin Quan and Bai He Quan we do as an aside).  Plus quan fa schools usually have at least a few basic weapons that are used in a very different manner than the more rigid, Japanese style of movement used in karate.  Despite whatever circular, soft motions I attempt to incorporate, the default is still hard and direct.

C) To find a school which has captivated my attention from videos, such as silat or kalaripayat.  There is a certain fluidity and directness in their application which I can appreciate, and they are both fairly well rounded styles.  I can only imagine the mindset and approach in training of these styles.  The trick is in finding something in my neck of the woods.

So I have a potential journey ahead, but I don't know where this will lead, if anywhere.  But the dream was as close as I will get to being taught in my meditations. :)

22 October, 2012

Post Grading Feelings and Plans

I apologize to followers of my blog.  You may have been wondering what happened to me.  I have mentioned in the past that I have been preparing for a grading for my 4th degree black belt.  I have been concentrating on my essay and working my partner and solo forms with some intensity.  I will probably post some of my essay notes/discoveries/points in the near future.

The grading was this past weekend and I did my shtick.  Regardless of outcome, I am glad to have done it and I look forward to hearing the results.  I think I presented an accurate representation of my skills and abilities, despite a terribly rough neck injury I got the day before.  So I think this was a success, at least for me personally.  I will be disappointed if I don't make it, but I think the journey was more important that anything else.  In many ways, I have been training carefully and with mindfulness for at least the last three years, and I think that the effort comes through, despite any mistakes.  A favourite saying I have now: Training will never let you down!  As Musashi said: The way is in the training.  Somethings just make more sense with more experience.

At any rate, I wanted to give a quick post on my feelings and what I want to work on.  Some things I was glad about, while others were less than stellar.

For the bad news first, I got caught with a roundhouse to the head, just above my eye.  It wasn't hard, but that was more luck than skill I suspect.  Later, another roundhouse kick got my head again, on the same side.  The head examiner stated that this was a mental problem, not a physical one, on my part.  I wince to think that this is how I will be remembered in my grading.  And while I felt quite upset with myself for such a large gap in my defense, I can't say anyone got the better of me despite it.  And it has since given me resolve to improve, with a definite and clear goal of what I need to improve.  I have to track down this gap - suki - and where it comes from.  Then tear down the foundation and rebuild it into a strength.  This coincides with my efforts and research into a different sparring posture (meotode - the old way of holding the hands) and hopefully will provide some additional insights.

I also had some trouble with a partner form we hadn't worked much but were called upon to perform.  It went well enough, but we had to do it twice because I mixed up a punching and kneeing combination.  We also increase our intensity a bit, which I think helped the form as well as our concentration.  Ironically I thought I had the form reasonably well before this...Lesson learned!  Training is the medicine, as usual!

The good news - I dodged two 'attacks' from other people doing their own forms.  One was a jo form I was walking around behind - the jo swung up, but I knew it was coming so I was able to dodge around and avoid injury.  The second was a grader next to me whose height and size, along with the particular form, meant he would invade my space (in particular my head, with his fist).  I caught this movement from my peripheral, recognized the form, and moved in time with the technique to avoid it.  Both of these were seen by the audience (and fellow dojo members and graders) and the examiners, and I hope this shows a better presence of mind than my lapse above.

On the side of so-so my iai embu was limited in space, since so many others were up for iai as well.  I believe I did a good job on all the parts I was worried about, but since my breadth is limited to seitei and a few koryu, I had to improvise a few forms out of seitei to make them with a koryu twist.  I am sure it was unrecognizable to anyone with a keen eye.  But we didn't have much time, and I didn't have to do many forms.  As a result I didn't have to do my less favoured iai forms, so I felt okay about that.  All in all, it wasn't the big deal I thought it would be.

So overall I have no idea of the outcome.  I hope the training shows through.  But despite this I am more interested in improving my new found faults.