All posts by admin

The Joy of Rust

A Return to Training is Sometimes Painful

A Return to Training is Sometimes Painful (Credit: PhiladelphiaBJJlive.com)

His opponent seems about the same size, perhaps a little taller, wider, but not too much stronger. They slap hands as a sign of respect before reaching for collars, sleeves, pant-legs – anything to start a little movement, generate a reaction and most importantly, identify an opening.

The attack comes far slower than he expected it would. A grip on his left sleeve is sunk into the ground, minimizing his ability to move, and then there are feet within the crooks of his arms, and then he’s on the floor, and a heavy weight rolls onto his stomach. Hands find their way to the thick fabric around his neck, and then he’s choking.

He taps. The couple reset. They begin again.

There are many good things about taking a break from martial arts training. One of them is renewed interest, discovered as you mutter “I really missed this,” while chugging water, desperately attempting to replace the sweat pouring from your body. Another good thing is that you develop a little rust.

I know that doesn’t sound like a good thing, but bare with me.

When a beginner, improvements come quickly. You step onto a mat, no matter what your art, and you learn something new almost every class. Fitness improves, awareness improves and even knowledge of the cultural aspects of the art you’re learning seems to build up week after week. It’s one of the reasons that so many people get enamoured with martial arts almost immediately.

Unfortunately , it’s also one of the reasons people stop training. Because after you improve quickly at the beginning, you plateau, and it can take a lot of time or effort to break through and get your next improvement. This can lead to boredom, and people stop training, sometimes for a short amount of time, sometimes permanently.

If someone doesn’t find a new motivation to train, beyond the gradual improvement and natural progressions one gets from training, it’s often the case that they stop. And that’s where taking a break can help in one’s development in the martial arts.

What was once second nature is perhaps a little slower. The strength one used to have is perhaps lacking. The determination to succeed is perhaps not quite as robust as it once was.

And that is not a bad thing.

Because those things will return, and they will be noticed returning. That feeling of improvement is there again. The reward for participating shows up at your feet, knocking the rust off, reminding you of the ability you once had, and motivating you to get better in the future. It’s not a feeling that lasts a terribly long time, but this “honeymoon” of sorts is significant, it’s a lovely way to resume.

It feels great to be training once more.

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Reddit

When the Fight Goes to the Ground: Book Review

When the Fight goes to the Ground

When the Fight goes to the Ground Book Cover

I have long been a fan of grappling systems and ground defense mechanics. As a beginner, my Japanese Jiu-Jitsu Sensei took the time to introduce our entire class to the “game” of ground-work and why it was important for a martial artist to learn. Because of that exposure, I eventually found my way to learning some Brazilian (Gracie) Jiu Jitsu to compliment my skill-set in Japanese Jiu Jitsu, which was primarily focused on throwing and locking. Although my knowledge of martial arts still relates primarily to self-defense, my knowledge of ground-work relates primarily to competition and there isn’t a great deal of cross-over between the two. Such is likely the case for a number of people, which makes Lori O’Connell’s book When the Fight goes to the Ground, so welcome.

This is a book that is focused on providing a set of solutions to a very specific problem; that of being taken to the ground when self-defense is your primary goal. Lori O’Connell uses her experience within Can-Ryu Jiu-Jitsu to compliment her experience with grappling to create a book of strategies and tactics for removing yourself from an undesirable ground-based combat scenario.

The first thing that When the Fight goes to the Ground does very well is provide the contextual background to self-defense on the ground and the myths and truths related to it. Understanding the (legitimate) chances of a fight going to the ground, what the dangers are surrounding such an incident and the legal ramifications of what you do in response to that situation are immensely important things to understand, not just for martial artists, but for anyone who has a concern about their own well-being and vulnerability. O’Connell does a great job of presenting the facts here, without drawing upon personal opinions or experiences, which can always be subjective. In addition, O’Connell’s experience with Can-Ryu Jiu Jitsu provides an excellent framework for the practice of this type of training, including recommendations for what to wear and attitudes to keep in mind.

It is when the book gets to individual techniques and methods for defending yourself that it really comes alive. When the Fight goes to the Ground is filled with photographs, well annotated and explained, that make the tactics presented firstly much easier to understand, but also well presented in terms of effectiveness. A number of the techniques in the book were things that I wasn’t familiar with (like bites to the nipple for self-defense). The psychological effect of the techniques are also discussed, which is incredibly refreshing to see when many martial arts books focus purely on the mechanical aspects of technique. The information is presented in very easy-to-read, and in each case, the technique or concept is presented with contextual information to ensure the reader understands not only how to do the technique, but when as well.

There is a great wealth of information included in the book, which makes it a great purchase. I can definitely see myself returning to the book for inspiration and ideas when crafting self-defense drills for my students. Included are strategies for basic movement on the ground, how to attack vital targets, strategies for an attacker mounting you, standing above you, in your guard, on your back, kneeling on you, restraining you and even applying joint locks to you. I was also pleased to see an excellent treatment on how to deal with someone who is wielding a weapon (such as a knife) while on the ground, which is a topic that is not often covered in ground-grappling seminars or schools. Due to O’Connell’s experience with Can-Ryu Jiu Jitsu, which has a use-of-force background, the techniques presented never seem too challenging or complicated. They are often simply a case of applying the right energy in the right locations – something that is easy to learn.

The final aspect of the book is the accompanying DVD. The video, which is about an hour long, includes demonstrations of a huge number of the techniques explained in the text, making it easy to get an idea of how the tactics look when performed in reality. It’s a nice addition to what is already a well-presented and easy-to-understand technical manual.

When the Fight goes to the Ground now has a place in my martial arts books collection. It’s an excellent source of information on something that is not often seen, and is presented cleanly and professionally. It’s also wonderful to see something of this nature come from a smaller, female martial artist, rather than a larger person, who might not have as much “need” for good technique in such a situation. It is a good book that is deserving of attention from anyone who has an interest in the martial arts or self-defense.

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Reddit

Know When to Rest

Even Tigers Must Rest

Softly, the old master placed his hand on the shoulder of his student. A slight smile crept into wrinkled cheeks and a few words of encouragement were spoken in a tired and quiet voice. His student’s face held pride, hope for the future, but also overwhelming excitement. After a slow step backward, the master then bowed, eyes down. The student followed suit, lower. They turned as a pair toward the rest of the class, who were watching and waiting intently.

After the closing of the class, the senior instructor waited for each junior student to leave the mat. They took their time, joking and talking as they collected their possessions. His successor waited with him, patiently following his mentor’s lead. After they were all gone, the master got to his feet and smiled once more at his student, before making his way to the side of the mat, paying his respects, and stepping away from the space he’d built.

There are more opportunities than can be counted to adjust one’s path. Whether you’re trying to change a bad habit, are writing a book, training for a half-marathon, doing drugs, walking a dog, teaching a class or having a shower, there will always be a number of little chances to change your course and start doing something different. Whenever you reach the end of a page you’re reading, you can choose to keep reading, or you can place the book down. We are faced with those kinds of decisions countless times in our lives, in big and small things, and each time it happens, we decide whether to continue,to stop completely, or perhaps, just take a rest.

Sometimes, continuing is the last thing in the world we want. Sometimes, it’s the only thing in the world we want. Most of the time, it falls somewhere in the middle and we have to make a choice based on what we think is best. Of course, sometimes, we don’t even notice that we have a choice. Habits are strong, our attention is fickle, and the opportunity for change is often subtle. It is a valuable skill indeed to pay attention to the opportunities of change and make decisions.

I have now been writing in this blog for over a year and at this moment, having taken a temporary step away from the martial arts, I must decide whether to continue to write in it, or take a rest. Because I will have a number of other things to write about over the course of the next few months, I’ll be resting my martial arts writing habit for the time being.

There are numerous benefits to taking a rest from that which you enjoy. Obviously it’s a good idea to take a rest from the less enjoyable habits one might have built up, but even for those things that you love, taking a break can remind you just why you started loving it in the first place. We can sometimes forget those reasons when we get caught up in the day to day requirements of our interests. Not just that, but our interests can also tire us – we spend countless hours investing in them – a process that can be incredibly tiring. If one doesn’t take the time to restore and reinvigorate, then one can risk resentment, exhaustion or even disgust with what was once a boon.

No matter what it is you’re interested in, what you do, you’ll have a relationship with it. Relationships require maintenance. If you don’t take time to assess the status of your relationship, and take appropriate action (be it a rest, an abandonment or another kind of action), then it is my prediction that you just might end up somewhere you never wanted to be.

So take care with the things you love. Don’t forget why you fell in love with them in the first place. Take a rest if you need it. When you come back, you’ll be in a much better place.

 “Resolve to be thyself; and know that he who finds himself loses his misery.”

~ Zen Saying

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Reddit

Why to Let Go Of The Past

Let Go Of The Past

The Samurai’s sword sat across his lap, his left hand clasping the saya lightly and his right palm resting on the tsuka. His eyes were closed, his breath measured, his mind clear. His legs were crossed in front, and his spine was straight. His meditation was coming to its natural close; he felt relaxed, calm and ready to continue on his journey. Slowly, his eyes opened, looking out toward the countryside. Silently, he gave thanks for the world he lived in, then stood up and brushed the dust from his rear.

He looked around to ensure that he was leaving the space as he had found it, then attached his katana to his hip, along with his wakizashi. He walked on.

Lately I’ve been preoccupied with the idea of letting go. In only a few days, I’ll be leaving the life I know in Canada behind, to travel, find a new space in the world and let go of the past. It’s not that the past was particularly painful (at least for me), but our attachments to the past, its people, its places and its activities can often blind us from seeing what’s possible for the future.

As I sort through my possessions, deciding just which of them I’m going to hold onto and which I’m going to let go, I realize that I’m very attached to the history that they represent. They remind me of friends, of relationships, of moments in time, of lessons learned, of lessons ignored and my past hopes for the future, for what is now the present. All those thoughts take up space, and if you don’t make room, they’ll keep your brain full. The only way we can evolve is by letting go of the unnecessary, to give ourselves space to grow, and to fill that space with new thoughts, new experiences, new lessons. Whether we like it or not, the past has changed us already. We are all the people we are today because of our past decisions, good or bad. So the more time one spends living in the past, thinking about attachment, thinking about what could have been, or what was, the less energy we have for what is happening right now.

And right now, I don’t have those things anymore. They’re in the past. Some of them were beautiful, some of them were ugly, some were life changing, some innocuous. The one thing they have in common is that they are now gone. Right now, I have a whole different set of things to focus my energies on, again, some beautiful, some ugly, some life changing, some innocuous. I realize that any energy spent on the past is energy I cannot spend on the present, and on building for future presents.

So I am trying to let go of those attachments. It’s difficult. There is a lot of resistance. You end up spending a lot of time just sitting, thinking about what was. Perhaps it’s that we as humans try to justify our actions, that we so greatly desire meaning for our lives. Maybe it’s just me. I think that the reluctance to let go of those things is useful, as it ensures we keep what has worked for us in the past within reach. Those attachments are comforting, they’re familiar, they’re understood. But, ultimately, they’re only useful for the version of you that’s already come and gone. As I said, you’re already who you are.

A fantastic yoga instructor told me yesterday, “where your attention goes, your energy flows.” The question becomes where you want your energy to flow. Toward the past? Toward the things that are now gone, that cannot change, that cannot be affected in any way, or toward the future? Toward any one of an infinite set of possibilities, toward dreams becoming reality, toward your next challenge, your next chapter, and perhaps what could make you happier than you ever thought possible.

Red pill, or blue?

 ”Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

~ Andre Gist

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Reddit

Capoeira: Sing, Play, Live

Capoeira

Capoeira

A few quick beats get things started. Those standing and chatting shuffle toward each other, forming a circle and begin to nod their heads in time. Hands come together and a percussive energy settles into the group, building as time passes.

Two eager capoeiristas settle down in front of the bermibau, crouch, shake hands with huge smiles on their faces, then cartwheel into the center of the circle, moving their feet in time with the music, syncing their movements to the energy of the group. They begin to play…

One of my earliest memories takes place in a park in the UK. It involves hanging from a climbing frame with a set of bars, set up as a horizontal ladder. I’d swing from bar to bar, like a monkey, from one side of the frame to the other. My family won’t shy away from telling you that I was always keen to jump around and climb on things. (And occasionally fall off them too.) I’ve always had an interest in this kind of athleticism and much of my appreciation for martial arts started with an appreciation of break-falling and agility.

This past weekend, I got to scratch an itch I’ve wanted to for a while now; to practice Capoeira. I looked into classes in Kingston some time ago, but none existed, so the interest was placed on the back-burner. Thankfully, Mark Ross (a Capoeira instructor from Peterborough, Ontario) attended a training event I was also attending and took the time to expose the group to a bit of this Brazilian martial art. As I fully expected to, I enjoyed it greatly. What I took away from the exposure, however, was a lesson in energy and teamwork.

Capoeira is primarily practiced in the form of a bout, called a “roda.” Two capoeiristas cartwheel in to a circle to start things off, and then begin to rhythmically move inside the circle in a movement called a “ginga.” The circle is made up of other people, who are clapping and singing along with music to build the energy of the game. The capoeristas who are playing respond to each other’s movements, throwing kicks and performing acrobatics. The history of Capoeira explains why this is the case. For me, the important thing wasn’t so much the movement itself, but the role that the training energy had in the practice.

Because everyone has their part to play. Those clapping, singing and playing instruments are contributing to the beat and the energy they give determines the intensity that the capoeiristas play with. I could not help but think of other martial arts, in which the energy of the room is unspoken but immensely important. I truly believe that constructive training is only available when there is life within the dojo. In Capoeira, that energy is just far, far more apparent. The art literally cannot happen without it.

The nice thing about giving energy to training is that it does so much for you. It makes you sweat, makes you smile, takes you out of your own head, reduces insecurity, it pushes you to train harder, concentrate more, appreciate more. As it is in martial art, so it is in life. When you step into the roda, you must listen to the music, give your all, and you will be a better creature for it.

 “The flame of this beautiful art is now in your hands. You can dampen it, you can burn yourself or your brothers and sisters, or, afraid of its heat, you can let go of it.”

~ Mestre Accordeon

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Reddit

My Martial Manifesto

Keep Training

Keep Training

She was clumsy, unprepared and careless. He was just doing his job. The attack wasn’t particularly brutal, but it was on target, designed to test her slightly, to provide her with an opportunity to shine. Her defense reflected her attitude, and the technique was sloppy. She fell, dragged him with her, slamming his shoulder into the mat, separating it, injuring him. It would take 9 weeks to fully recover.

He stood up. A nearby instructor noticed the lightning-white of his face and knew something was wrong. One shoulder slumped, useless. He instantly knew it was over, that the work, the effort and the sacrifice would, that day anyway, result in no change. His first aider gave him a choice. Either continue or not, but to be sure, either way, he was in shock, definitely hurt, and nowhere near capable.

Of course he would try. Pain shot through nerves with every movement. Body grabs, weapons defense, throwing techniques. Only one challenge remained. Outnumbered and disabled, he was unable to surmount that which beset him. Struck once too many times, he was called to the judgement panel. There, he was told that the test was over, that the injury was too severe, that to continue would be to his detriment. He broke down.

Stories are important to me. Everything we do becomes a story. They hold our triumphs, our flaws, our revelations, mistakes, challenges, our great loves and our worst enemies. Through them, we share our lives with those we care about. We teach. We learn. There are big ones and small ones. Some make you laugh, some make you cry. Some lift you up. Some make you think. Some leave you empty. Some change your world.

And everyone has at least one big one to tell. Everyone has a great challenge to overcome, one great battle in their lives. We all have our dragons to slay, our crosses to bear and they can take many forms. We all have our stories. One question is whether or not we choose to share them with others. Another is whether we’re conscious of the fact that we can affect their outcomes.

That’s why I’m a martial artist.

Because martial arts have always helped me to first find the details of my story, my dragons to fight and then best them. Whether its through kata, or competition, or analysis, or instruction, martial arts have this tendency of making you very aware of what’s going on for you, of what you’re dealing with. Sometimes it can be physical, sometimes it can be mental, sometimes it can be emotional. They are the primary conflicts of our stories and the martial arts are a great way to engage with them.

Now, when you train hard and I mean really hard, you’ll be laid bare before those tests. Your martial art will stick them in your face, beg you to pay attention to them, and punish you for ignoring them. You can either listen to the tale they tell, or not.

And I sincerely try to. I try to listen for the next challenge, for the next turn in the story. Each step along the way, I become, I hope, a better person, a more sincere person. I find a little bit more of myself to know, a more true reflection of who I am. Whether or not the arts I practice shape that self, or reveal it, I don’t know. I don’t care. All I know is the story moves forward, shifts and I try to shift with it, get to grips with the challenge, try to beat it, then move on.

Martial arts can be many things at the same time and I expect that because of that, they will always have a place in my life. There are a lot of things that, I’m sure, could serve the same purpose. But I train because martial arts serves that purpose for me. My martial manifesto:

I train because I am left tired and broken. I train because I am left stronger than I thought was possible. I train because there is more to learn. I train because I can teach. I train because someday I may need it. I train so that I won’t. I train to inspire my friends. I train so my friends inspire me. I train because I think I know it all. I train because I don’t. I train to find peace. I train to find anger. I train to stay blind. I train to find truth. I train to find the next step. I train because my story isn’t over just yet.

If you’re reading this, and you’re a martial artist, then perhaps what I’ve written will make some sense, perhaps not. Either way, my martial manifesto is my own but by sharing it, it makes my reasons for training a little more real, a little more certain. Many times in my career I have had doubts about my commitment to the arts, but each time I reinvest, I find more reasons to train. My advice to you is to keep training; to see where it takes your story, to see what conflicts you can overcome because of it. And don’t forget to share what you find along the way. You’d be surprised how many people will connect with the adventure you’re living.

 “Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

~ Plato

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Reddit

Find Space Between The Strings

Find the Space Between the Strings

Find the Space Between the Strings

Coarse and calloused skin is wrapped around the tips of his fingers. He runs his left thumb across them, as he has thousands of times before, mentally reviewing his next song before beginning. The classical guitar sits on his lap, leaning against his chest, more comfortable than any piece of clothing he owns. The sun has long since set, and his audience are slightly tipsy from the sangria on their tables. Smiles and laughs are never too far off, and only a few eyes are drawn to the musician just finding the right moment to begin.

With eyes closed, his right hand gently settles upon the strings and he starts playing. Note after note is perfectly struck, his rough fingers dancing about the fret board. The piece begins to pick up speed and the musician concentrates. A slight smile creeps across his lips as he rolls through a particularly favourite sequence. The crowd is won over and are now listening intently to the crisp tones that are filling the bar. It’s a short song, purely instrumental, but builds from beginning to end, concluding with an intricate and satisfying crescendo.

As the last note is plucked, the musician finally opens his eyes and is happily surprised by the room watching him. The applause begins.

I first picked up a guitar when I was probably fourteen or fifteen years old. At the time, I only wanted to be like my friends, who were all choosing instruments and beginning to learn about music. Since then, I’ve played off and on, not enough to move past beginner songs, but enough to embarrass myself occasionally after a few too many drinks and in front of a non-judgmental audience. That was until a few months ago, at which point the collected hours I’d put in started to reap a slight reward, and I found myself able to play in a way that I, at least, didn’t find too objectionable. Progress had been made and with it, some inspiration to play a bit more and hopefully improve to the next level.

I found a bit more space between the strings.

Of course, the space hasn’t actually changed, but to me, it feels like it has. While I’m playing, my fingers are faster, more precise, so now I’m far more aware of how much space there actually is between the strings of my guitar. What once seemed like millimeters has expanded, making it easier for me to hit the right strings while playing chords and pluck the right notes when needed. The game hasn’t changed, but the way I see the pieces has.

The important point here is that perspective is reality, and often, it’s not that the environment changes at all, but that we change within in, become more capable of understanding it and then manipulating it for our purposes. In this case, it’s simply having more finger dexterity and a deeper understanding of the dimensions of the instrument. In other cases, it could be that the weight of a skateboard under your feet seems lighter, it could be that your fingers get a little closer to the floor while doing yoga, or that your opponent seems like they’re moving just a little bit slower than they were before. In each case, something within the body has adjusted, improved and become more efficient, meaning the mind has an easier time of dealing with the challenges before it.

A beginner will look at the strings and see nothing special at all. The advanced player has spent hours searching for that space, looking through different lenses, of frustration, jubilation, entrancement, and discipline. By searching high and low, the advanced player has found the space; it’s a space that can only be seen in the mind. It’s a space that requires time to find, effort to find, introspection to find. Sometimes you find hints, sometimes sign posts, but everything you do find gives you an microscopic improvement. And they add up.

And so it is; the martial artists finds an extra moment to react; the skateboarder finds a few less ounces of weight to flip; the Yogi’s arms are just a bit longer.

Keep looking for the space between the strings. I promise you’ll find it.

“Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded.”

~ Jimi Hendrix

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Reddit

In Defense of Kata

Kata Builds the Body and the Mind

Kata Builds the Body and the Mind

Face serene, eyes focused, arms relaxed, his foot steps onto the mat. Thousands of spectators sit and watch. Light streams into the arena through massive plain glass windows. Outside, raindrops fall, the wind blows and the Japanese fall will soon be winter.

He walks with an even pace, stopping in the middle of the mat to bow toward a panel of judges, who simultaneously lower their heads in return. His next movements will be scrutinized closely, every moment analyzed in a number of ways; for style, balance, intent, concentration, precision and presence. The Karateka hopes only to perform at his best. The judges hope he performs with perfection. The spectators collectively inhale, wishing for the best.

The martial artist performing pauses for just a moment following his bow. He attempts to clear his mind, drawing his attention fully to the moment, then begins.

This past weekend, I attended a nage-no-kata course and learned a great deal about an approach to training that I’ve never really given too much credence to; formalized sets of movements, practiced repeatedly, as a method of gaining understanding and perfecting form. In Japanese martial arts, this is known as kata training. There are many different types of forms available to martial artists, and many traditional styles of martial arts place emphasis on this approach to training. In our MMA-influenced modern world, however, this “rigid” approach comes under criticism quite often because it is not reflective of true combat, which is unpredictable and more realistic. Forms or kata are thought of as flawed. The question is “how much can one learn of fighting by never fighting?”

And the answer is a lot. There’s a great deal to be gained from training in this way. I don’t think I’ll ever be someone who’d focus primarily on kata, but certainly, there are numerous benefits that  help to produce fantastic martial artists.

Focus

One of the main tenants of form based training is the concentration of the practitioner. It’s quite easy to tell the difference between someone “dialed in” to whatever they’re doing and someone who’s half out to lunch. Kata requires focus, mostly because one is required to be incredibly focused on what they’re doing in order to perform their movements in the correct fashion.

And focus is an incredibly useful tool for any martial artist. Whether one is sparring, or attending a long training seminar, or fighting for their life, the ability to bring one’s full mental faculties to bear on a single task or goal is immensely powerful. Kata trains this “secondary” skill with amazing efficiency.

 Understanding

By practicing movements slowly, there is the potential for one to be performing them with absolute perfection. Kata takes away all of the “barriers” to perfect technique, including the need to hit (or throw) a moving target and the danger of someone hitting you. What this leads to (as long as you have a good instructor) is the opportunity to see exactly how something is supposed to look, how it’s supposed to function, how it would work in an ideal situation.

With an in-depth understanding of the techniques at your disposal, you’re more likely to be able to use them appropriately. Of course, kata training does not guarantee understanding – one has to be engaged enough and have an instructor that is teaching good principle. However, when those things are present, understanding of technique through kata training is likely. Then, of course, it’s up to the martial artist to start applying that understanding in more realistic ways.

Patience

Mastering kata takes a really, really long time. That means that to get anywhere with kata, you have to be patient with yourself and your practice. Most effective martial artists need to be patient in order to achieve proficiency, and kata provides ample opportunity to work on your patience. You will screw it up. You will forget which part comes next. You will perform poorly one day, better the next, even worse the next day. Getting through all of that requires patience.

And the same is true of sparring, or competing or training for fighting. The first time you do it, you’re going to get rocked. You’ll be tapped out, smacked in the face, completely overwhelmed and it’s likely to happen a great deal. Getting through that phase of your journey requires patience, and patience is something that kata can provide.

Tradition

There are likely many who care little for tradition and could likely cite many other training methods that would provide the same benefits listed above. But, for this martial artist, loyalty and reverence are important traits. Paying respect to the roots of martial culture is important to me and as much as I love more realistic and competitive training, I also have a great appreciation for the tradition of kata and the history behind it. For that reason, I’m more than willing to use kata in my classes and try to relay its importance to my students.

Even though in recent years it has perhaps fallen out of favor in many circles, I for one hope that martial artists all over the world continue to use kata as a training tool and area of interest.

 “Students of any art, including Karate-do must never forget the cultivation of the mind and the body.”

~ Gichin Funakoshi

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Reddit

Learn to Listen

Learn to Listen

Learn to Listen

The Dojo is silent. Ten students all sit with their backs straight, in seiza, eyes closed, breathing in through their noses, out through their mouths. Sweat runs down their backs, seeping from the pores on their heads. Muggy air fills their nostrils, and each student feels their heart beating in their chests and the blood pumping through their bodies. The faint sound of a car accelerating too quickly can be heard, the quiet buzz of the heater. One particular student’s nose twitches, the corners of his lips rising for just a moment, before settling back to their motionless state.

There are many points in my martial arts career I wish I could relive; the first class I ever attended, the first time I was punched in the face, the first time I punched someone else in the face, the first time I executed a diving roll, the first time I really threw someone, my black belt grading, my first student grading. There are many more. You get the point.

Often, we get so caught up in the anxieties of our lives that we forget to appreciate the moments that we live through. Those moments make up our lives and if we’re not present for them, it’s entirely possible to go our entire existences without ever feeling like we’ve lived at all. It’s such a tragic thought, that we could spend seventy to eighty years on this earth, learning, loving, teaching, training, falling, getting up, getting down, succeeding, failing, loving again, experiencing, traveling, hurting and healing without ever really appreciating the feeling of being alive.

The question becomes how to appreciate what you have, how to pay attention to those moments such that you really remember them, such that you really live them, such that your life has meaning for you.

My answer is no more complex than just to listen.

Stop talking, stop thinking, stop planning, stop reading, stop writing, stop arguing, stop waiting, stop fighting, stop working, stop caring, stop moving, stop everything.

And just listen.

Just as with focusing on your breath during meditation or a yoga class, listening forces you to live in the moment. You can’t listen to something actively, meaning thinking solely on the noises you’re hearing without being present. And being present, at least in my experience, gives one a great feeling of appreciation for what is happening right now.

So as you sit at your computer, or stand with your phone, or lie with your laptop, or however it is that you’re reading this, stop. Close your eyes, listen to the world around you. Be present.

And then, perhaps, in a few years time, when you look back on the moments of your life, you won’t need to feel like you want to relive them, because you’ll have already been there fully the first time around.

“The past is history,the future is still a mystery and today is a gift, that is why it is called the present.”

~ Master Oogway (Kung Fu Panda)

 

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Reddit

What Martial Schools Can Learn from Yoga Instructors

Immersion into Yoga

Immersion into Yoga

With fingers spread wide, she jumps backward into a high plank, spine straight and eyes forward. Slowly, she lowers her chest toward the mat, then slides forward, through her arms and lifts her head up toward the ceiling. Her back is curved, her legs are strong and her heart beats rhythmically within her chest. Just for a moment, her mind wanders, wondering how much time is left in the class, how much more she’ll have to push before a rest. But it only lasts a moment. Realizing her drift, she focuses on her breath, drawing her attention back to the moment, where she is fully engaged.

At the surface, yoga and martial arts seem to aim for very different things. Without real knowledge of either, one could be forgiven for thinking that yoga is about peace, and most martial arts are about fighting. The truth is they can share many qualities, including calm mind, effortless movement, self development and physical prowess. Yoga makes for an excellent compliment to any martial artist’s training regime, and there is much that said artists can learn from the way that yoga studios choose to teach their art.

Immersion

For a practice that is based primarily around breath and flow, the idea of immersion is quite important for a yogi. Ideally, students are focusing on their breathing for the majority of the class, listening to their instructor’s commands and moving through poses in time with their breath (at least, this is what I’ve come to understand). Breaking that flow can be detrimental to the point of practicing yoga (moving meditation) and so immersion becomes one of the hallmarks of a great yoga practice.

In the martial arts, many students yearn for one to two hours of immersive practice, where they can let go of the daily stresses of their lives and engage in their art of choice. When students are brought into a different world, be it competitive, developmental, traditional, combative or whatever, everyone can benefit from less distraction and more concentration on the moment.

In both cases, good instructors create an environment in which it’s hard to get distracted. This relates to tone of voice, class content, dojo or studio location, music, other students, etiquette and more. It’s important to realize that immersion into a style, no matter what style it happens to be, will produce better and happier students.

Invocation of Personality

A friend of mine recently said “it’s hard for a dude to be an earth mother, you know?” He was referring to the different types of voice that yoga instructors use while teaching. Perhaps its because yoga is such an individualized practice, but many of the instructors that I’ve experienced have a very unique way of presenting their material. Some sing after class, some read poetry, some push you hard, some make it easy. There is a great flexibility within yoga to teach in a way that is a reflection of who you are and what you like.

That can be used for martial arts too. While I’m not saying one should throw the rule book out and teach things completely differently, what I am saying is that one’s personal approach to the martial arts should shape the way one presents it to their students. Martial artists should not be afraid to experiment with their practice, to try new ways of conveying ideas, to practice skills in different and perhaps challenging ways. This creates a more sincere interaction between students and teachers, and creates an authentic experience for those within the dojo. In short, students and teachers should be who they are, and teach from that place, rather than attempting to be something they are not.

Concentration upon Principle

I always secretly smile when a yoga instructor says “and then one day, you’ll jut pop into a handstand” because at the moment, I’m so far from performing a controlled handstand that it seems comical. But they’re right. One day, it will just happen. Through continued practice, the performance gap will get smaller and smaller until it happens of its own accord.

The yoga classes I’ve been to seem to place a great deal of emphasis on being where you’re at – concentrating on your own challenge and not pushing yourself before its time. Very rarely will an instructor “force” you to do something you’re not capable of. Instead, you’re asked to walk at your own edge, making tiny improvements with each practice, while concentrating on the bigger picture stuff.

Martial arts work very much the same way. Although many instructors will concentrate on the nitty gritty details and make continual refinements to their students, progress is made far more slowly. One cannot be taught in one day a picture perfect shoulder throw – only through continuous repetition is the lesson learned. Only by practicing principle is enough learned that the throw comes into shape. It’s a puzzle solved little by little, not realized in a single moment.

While there are definite differences between yoga and martial arts (especially when it comes to the application and practice of self-defense) that necessitate different training methods, certain aspects of yoga can be adapted to benefit martial arts experience. Obviously it depends on what your martial art is like, how it’s practiced and what its goals are, but for me personally, the practice of yoga will only serve to enhance my ability to teach and train in the martial arts. As always, reaching beyond one’s knowledge can provide insight and new ways of thinking that serve to improve and develop one’s art.

Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.

~ Unknown

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Reddit