Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jiu-Jitsu is Adaptable

The Adaptable Art
Jiu-jitsu is usually translated as the gentle art, but other translations are valid. I particularly like the flexible or adaptable art as alternatives which help to fill out the meaning.

Jiu-jitsu is adaptable because in just about any self-defence situation it offers a wide range of techniques to hopefully dispel the threat.

If you only have a hammer(e.g. hit 'em in the head) or maybe also a screwdriver (head or groin?) there will be a narrower range of threats that you can deal with, and in more ambiguous situations a nuanced response may be beyond you.

Jiu-jitsu instead offers a wider range of responses via a huge collection of techniques, and limitless combinations. For example, in our system there are around 80 distinct restraint and control techniques, not counting variations. And restraint and control accounts for about 30% of our training.

Of course more techniques means more complex decisions. In a self-defence situation one does not have the luxury of planning! The art must be internalized to the extent that response flows from the situation with minimal thought. This requires long practice and regular training. The techniques must become literally second nature.

One useful exercise is to practice against common attacks. A partner attacks in a pre-arranged way and you respond. At first students of jiu-jitsu learn standard responses, but are encouraged to move on to a more reflexive form of practice in which initially the response (and later the attack) is not pre-determined.

Once someone has a couple years of training and has a reasonable grasp of a range of techniques, a great exercise is to take a pre-determined attack and not plan a full response to the attack, but just try some initial movement and see what flows from there. For example: If someone grabs my wrist, it does not matter whether I twist to the left or the right, I can continue to turn and apply an effective jiu-jitsu technique.

Over time the better initial responses should become ingrained through such training.

The syllabus is not just a bag of tricks, but rather embodies a set of principles in myriad ways.

In a real attack the situation will not exactly match what has been practiced, but the practitioner must nevertheless respond to the threat. In doing so (s)he will invariably deviate to a degree from classic technique, but will apply the principles nevertheless.

Application to every-day life
If I only have a hammer everything looks like a nail.

We all face difficult situations, often when dealing with others. If we only have one or two habituated responses we are very limited in how we deal with these situations, and will find ourselves with little or no choice. With no choice one inevitably feels disempowered.

By acquiring more options through learning, and becoming more adept at when and how to apply them, we give ourselves more options.

So even in the toughest situation, you can exercise choice. The more options that you can find, the better the chance that you will deal gracefully and effectively with the situation, rather than resigning yourself to endure it.

Now that's empowering!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Developing Social Qualities 2: Cooperation

To develop your martial arts skills, you will need more than willingness and instruction:
You need training partners.
There are -- at least -- three good reasons for this:
  1. You need someone to execute the techniques on you so that you can feel how they work.
  2. You need someone to execute the techniques on so that you can learn and refine them.
  3. You need practice executing the techniques on lots of different people, so that you can make them work on anyone regardless of shape, size, strength or speed.
What is more, your training partners need you for the same reasons. So learning a martial art is a shared enterprise, and requires cooperation.

Assailants, Opponents and Training Partners
A person who attacks you with the intent of causing you harm is an assailant. To survive you will need awareness, presence of mind, physical conditioning and self-defence skills.

A person who is trying to defeat you in a competition is an opponent. To win you will need competitive spirit, knowledge of the rules of the game, and relevant skills and physical conditioning.

A person who is paired with you in a class is a training partner. To learn and develop you will need to work cooperatively (and also apply your patience, perception and intelligence) to get the most out of any class.

Working effectively with training partners will help you build the skills and qualities needed to face opponents and to survive attack.

Becoming a Great Training Partner

Want to get better at martial arts? Become a great receiver of techniques Then the best martial artists will want to practice with -- or demonstrate on! -- you and you will feel how the techniques should be done. You will learn by osmosis.

Being a great receiver means giving the appropriate degree of resistance or energy to allow your partner to execute the technique that the two of you are practicing as well as (s)he can. This will vary depending on the experience and skill of your partner. For example: If a beginner is trying to throw you, you will need to guide her into placing you into the correct position to be thrown. Do that with a black-belt and she will be insulted!

Working as a Team of Two
You can think of your and your training partner as a team of two, working together to make the technique work as well as possible, and figuring out all the details that make it work. Once you have the basic idea of the technique you can try little variations to see what effect they have, and how the technique can work against particular resistances or under varied circumstances.

Remember: Your training partner is not your opponent. Your partner will often play the role of an opponent or assailant -- as will you for your partner -- but you are both on the same side.

Your real opponents are ignorance and ineptitude. Your instructor can provide guidance, but it is up to you and your "team" to do the hard work.

By working constructively with partners with different personalities and levels of experience you will obtain many benefits, and become increasingly adept at the art of cooperation.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Developing Personal Qualities 2: Self-Discipline

I see the exercise of self-discipline as a composite of the following personal qualities:
  • Drive
  • Patience
  • Persistence
  • Imagination
Exercising self-discipline requires and strengthens these qualities.

Self-Discipline: Who Needs It?
If I find an activity pleasurable or interesting then I have no need of self-discipline to persist. It is when an activity is painful or boring that self-discipline comes into play.

Of course there is another option: Avoidance. A fair question to ask is, "Why am I doing this?" If the answer is "For a greater goal" (e.g. future pleasure, avoidance of pain, financial reward, ambition, helping out a friend, raising a child) I might just need to call on self-discipline to help me.

So I need self-discipline with respect to an activity when:
  1. The activity is not pleasurable
  2. I nevertheless have good reason to carry it out
Getting Smart about Self-Discipline
The first trick is to make the new activity part of your routine. For example, I brush my teeth after breakfast and before I go to bed. You can piggy-back other non-pleasurable activities onto existing routine. This makes them seem "nothing special" and you relieve yourself of the burden of "making time" to do something unappealing.

The second trick is to apply one's creativity to minimize the boredom or pain, and increase the interest and pleasure.

A third trick is to take advantage of the social effects of positive peer pressure. For example, in taking up a martial art such as jiu-jitsu, the major initial act of self-discipline is making it to class regularly (routine!) and applying yourself diligently. Once you are in class you will be swept along by the example of the instructor and senior students, and motivated to do your best by the desire to improve and to help your fellow students.

Case Study: The Horse Stance
In Jiu-Jitsu formal stances are typically used transitionally, and are learned in the context of actual application. For example, in this photo I am applying a reverse-armbar -- a restraint and control technique -- from a horse-riding stance:
From here I could take Adam down to the ground or move into a more mobile lock to better escort him to the local police station. Either way I would not need to stay in this position for very long.

By contrast, in training in a Chinese martial art such as Hung Kuen Chinese Boxing (a Southern Shaolin style) stance training -- i.e. holding stances statically for significant periods of time -- is a core part of training. Of all stances, the horse stance is generally regarded as the most fundamental.

Here is Adam in the orthodox Hung Kuen horse stance:

Now, anyone who has ever tried to hold a horse stance for a period of time will know that it is not pleasurable! In fact, folk law has it that the horse stance is a device best used by cruel martial arts teachers to test a student's commitment or punish him (or her) for misdeeds.

But: I have it on good authority that learning to hold a horse stance for long periods will significantly improve several aspects of one's martial art. [Apparently, it used to be the case that students of Hung Kuen first had to learn to stand in horse stance for half-an-hour before being taught any other forms or techniques!]

The Twenty Minute Horse Stance Challenge
So I have recently set myself the slightly more modest challenge of learning to stand in horse stance for twenty minutes. Given that most people will wilt in under a minute the first time they attempt a horse stance, this is a substantive goal which cannot be achieved by will-power or bravado alone. In fact, I aim to get the most out of the challenge by not purely increasing my pain-tolerance and will-power, but by learning how to stand more effectively and relaxedly in horse stance.

So this challenge fits the bill of not being pleasurable, but something that I wish to do in the service of a greater goal (developing as a martial artist). The exciting bit is that there will be other benefits that I will discover through the course of the journey.

Update (January 2009): For a different spin on stance-holding see Dojo Rat's post on standing meditation. He discusses somewhat less physically demanding stances, but longer durations. This comment by Jose de Freitas is particularly informative.

My approach
Most mornings I get up very early and do around 45 minutes of solo Chinese Boxing practice before breakfast work or family time.

While engaging in the challenge I do the standard warm-ups and then sit in horse stance for "a period of time". I do this immediately after the warm-ups to get straight into it and avoid the temptation to not work on the challenge today. It also contributes a degree of stability to my routine and allows me to feel purposeful (and a little bit virtuous).

At first my plan was to count a standard number of breaths to help estimate the time-in-stance and ratchet up the number of breaths on a weekly basis, but interestingly I found that with daily practice my breathing rate slowed down considerably. First benefit: Improved awareness of breathing and increased relaxation under the stress of holding the stance.

Every week or two I plan to time how long I can stand so that I can quantify my progress.

After completing the stance I do some other training activities -- typically empty-hand or weapons sets -- and intersperse these with other horse-stance related exercises, such as punching in a horse-stance or "holding the ball". I am also careful to train other stances a bit, such as cat-stance and forward stance. Second benefit: The other stances seem to be getting easier without particular effort.

You see, although I want to succeed in this challenge, the challenge is not an end-in-itself. I am interested to see how working my horse stance is affecting the other parts of my training, and what I can bring from other parts of my training into the crucible of the horse stance.

Although I have set a quantifiable goal -- a very Western thing to do -- the ultimate benefits may be more qualitative.

After sitting in horse stance for a while usually something starts to hurt. Having gotten through the simplistic "pain bad - avoid" attitude through years of martial arts training, I now distinguish between pain as a sign that something is wrong, and pain as a warning of imminent structural damage. In the case of horse stance it appears that the pain is telling me where I am holding tension and need to subtly change my posture. Third benefit: I am becoming more aware of habitual tensions and starting to work them out.

Update (September 2008): I have found that working with my breathing is a great help here. See my article on breathing, especially the part about breathing through your feet.

Sitting in horse stance has started to feel less boring. By simply accepting it as part of my routine -- like brushing and flossing my teeth -- I do not give myself the option of avoidance. As my familiarity with the stance increases I am becoming more attuned to my body while in the stance. It is no-longer boring because there is so much to observe and learn.

Hopefully more benefits will ensue. I am enjoying the challenge aspect, and am looking forward to consolidating the benefits that I am already experiencing. In fact, horse-stance training is starting to look like a super-efficient exercise.

Finally, having blogged about this, I have made the challenge more real, and feel honour-bound to give it my best shot, but sensibly, and on my own time-table.

Hmmm, I think that I had better stop writing now and get back on the horse!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Developing Social Qualities - Part I: Trust

Kancho, the grand-master of my style said: "The Martial Arts begin with trust".

I had just given my first martial arts seminar on The Science of Judo, in which I likened the training hall to a laboratory for personal experimentation, and it was generally well-received. But Kancho was making a fundamental point: Without trust between student and instructor, and between training partners, there can be little learning.

When you first step into the world of martial arts you need to make the decision to trust your instructor. This is critical, not only to learn, but for your own safety and that of your training partners.

Training in the martial arts involves learning deliberately dangerous techniques which must be practiced safely:
  • There are throws: You need to learn to fall safely as quickly as possible, and to learn how to throw your partner safely
  • There are strikes: You need to learn how to strike safely so that you are learning proper technique and distancing, without damaging your partner when (s)he fails to evade or redirect the strike
  • There are joint-locks and strangles: You need to learn to apply these techniques slowly and gently, and when receiving signal submission when the technique takes effect and not be a hero by "toughing it out".
Maybe you are a skeptical person who thinks that trust must be earned and cannot be given. Then you should observe closely before joining a new class and ask yourself,
  • "Is this instructor trustworthy?", and
  • "Do the students trust each other?"
If the answer to either question is no, you should not join the class. If the answer is yes, then you can trust your own initial assessment and begin by trusting the instructor and your new class-mates.

Through on-going training, your trust for your instructor and training partners -- and their trust of you -- should grow, as you all practice in a sincere, safe and trustworthy manner.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Developing Personal Qualities - Part I: Resilience

Personal Development is a a fairly fuzzy concept. As a notion, I like it. Develop yourself in deep ways. But what does it mean?

We can make the concept more substantial by formulating a list of desirable qualities, and then look at how these can be developed in concrete ways. In doing so I will explore how the martial arts can act as a vehicle of personal development, not just in physical skills, but in mental, emotional, social, and -- I have to be careful here! -- spiritual dimensions.
The key idea is that the physical and social aspects of martial arts training lead in to the other dimensions.
Training physically, observing etiquette, and working with others act together to develop the individual as a whole.

Desirable qualities

If -- like me -- you are a parent of young children an easy way to come up with your own list of desirable list is to think about what qualities you would like your children to develop. [Be sure to include ones you would like to develop or further in yourself to avoid an exercise in narcissism.]

Other approaches are to think about the qualities that you admire in others, especially friends and your own role models. You can even make a game of it: What are your the top three admirable qualities?

You may wish to construct your own list independently at this point, before reading mine. Leave a comment if I have missed a quality that you hold in high esteem.

Here is my working list, ordered mostly according to whim:
  1. Resilience
  2. Perceptiveness
  3. Decisiveness
  4. Patience
  5. Humility
  6. Perspective
  7. Compassion
  8. Loyalty
  9. Honesty
  10. Reflection
  11. Scepticism
  12. Love of learning
  13. Sense of humor
This is my number one quality. Resilience, especially the dimension of mental toughness, is what gets you through when external circumstances conspire and you are hit with more than you you can handle. You may have all the qualities and skills in the world, but sometimes you just cannot hold your ground or get out of the way, and you get knocked down. In the words of the old and much-covered song Pick Yourself Up:
Now nothing's impossible,
I've found for when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.
Life, with its slings and arrows, is kind of a school for resilience. Just wait for disaster to strike, and see how you cope. It will happen! "What does not kill you makes you stronger."

But can resilience be learned in a less chancy fashion? Organizations such as Outward Bound have quite a good recipe: Put people into new circumstances and give them challenges outside their comfort zones, but within their capability, and do it in a social group with competent leadership.

This description also applies to martial arts training:
  • The initially unfamiliar setting is the traditional training hall
  • The challenges are the physical techniques
  • The social group are the other beginners
  • The competent leadership is the instructor
Additionally, there is a physical metaphor for resilience in learning to fall correctly (an essential skill in martial arts that use throwing techniques). Each time that you are thrown to the mat you literally -- and repeatedly -- need to pick yourself up and start all over again. This is a metaphor, model and practice opportunity all rolled into one!

And there are many other benefits to learning correct falling technique.

* * *

I will look at how the other qualities listed are developed through martial arts training in future installments. Which reminds me of one more:

14. Persistence

Saturday, March 17, 2007

What's Om got to do with it?

The popular image of meditation goes something like this:

Seated in lotus position, eyes closed, hands forming esoteric signs, the adept repeats the mantra Om mani padme hum and seeks oneness with the Universe.

This all looks and sounds very passive and peaceful (and more than a bit New Age); almost the exact opposite of the stereotype of martial arts as active, violent and blood-thirsty.

But there is more to meditation than passivity and navel-gazing, and there is more to martial arts than beating people up. A significant component of meditation is a state of mind that is essential to the mental side of martial arts, and one that is of great value in everyday life.

So I hope you will join me on a brief tour on the nature and relationship of meditation to the martial arts:

What is meditation?
In reality, the meditative state is almost the exact opposite of being oblivious or pre-occupied. My working definition is:

A state of relaxed concentration on the reality of the present moment.

In other words, it is about being really awake, alive and tuned in to what is going on in and around you. I consider it to be the same as being "in the zone" or in a state of flow.

Anything that leads you to this state can be viewed as a form of meditation.

While it is true that there are many types and techniques of meditation with varying aims and extensions, I take the above aspect as the common foundation. (At least, it is the aspect that I am going to stick to for the purposes of this article!)

Martial arts = Moving meditation
Clearly, in a life-and-death situation, such as being under attack, or needing to take quick action to save someone else in danger, being relaxed, aware, concentrated and undistracted is gold.

So rather than getting a huge adrenalin rush -- the fight-or-flight response -- and going berserk, the martial artist trains to enter a meditative state in which his (or her) every action is swift, accurate and efficient.

The Samurai called this state mushin or no mind, and it is characterized by the absence of fear, anger, pride and cogitation; a feeling of calmness and clarity; and the ability to act swiftly and decisively.

For this reason, any form of martial arts training which seeks to train the mind in this respect can be seen as a form of moving meditation, albeit one with extremely practical application!

So where the practitioner of a sitting meditation technique seeks to extend the meditative state into day-to-day life, the martial artist trains her- or him-self to be mentally ready for life's toughest challenges.

Explicit connections
Legend has it that the Indian monk Bodhidharma brought Zen Buddhism to 6th Century China. Furthermore, he is alleged to have introduced the then-puny monks of the Chinese Shaolin Temple in martial arts techniques to build them up physically and mentally to be able to withstand the rigors of hard-core meditation practice!

Similarly, the traditional aim of hatha yoga is not to become a contortionist and run off and join the circus, but to prepare oneself for advanced meditation techniques.

It is possible to regard meditation as a useful practice to "bolt on" to one's martial art, as a somewhat esoteric form of cross-training, but I believe that it is much more integral than that.

The Inner Game
The most accessible book on meditation that I have found is Tim Gallwey's classic, The Inner Game of Tennis. Without mentioning the M-word, Gallwey gives a compelling introduction to what are effectively moving meditation techniques that work on the tennis court.

Gallwey starts by asking a perceptive question about self-talk: When you criticize yourself for mis-hitting a shot, who is talking to whom?

Side-stepping more loaded labels such as mind/body, left-brain/right-brain, conscious/unconscious, Gallwey calls the vocal critic Self 1, and the listener Self 2. He suggests that Self 1 is a bit like an incompetent boss, while Self 2 is like a harried, but potentially highly able underling. Gallwey's introductory techniques aim to get Self 1 off Self 2's back by giving him something more useful to do.

Gallwey's classic introductory exercise is called "bounce-hit", in which the player is asked to say out loud "bounce" when the ball bounces on his or her side of the court, and "hit" when the racquet strikes the ball. This gives Self 1 something to do actively (say "bounce" or "hit"), while incidentally providing useful sensory input to Self 2 (about the location of the ball).

As a meditation, bounce-hit forces the individual to stop worrying about the past or future and instead focus on the location of the ball right now. It is a great exercise and most people get immediate results. (Maintaining the improvements as Self 1 starts to get self-congratulatory is the next challenge!)

I have personally adapted some of Gallwey's other techniques for teaching martial arts, I think with some success, but that's a subject for another article or -- publishers please note -- maybe part of a book. ;-)

Martial arts, meditation, yoga, excellence in sports, flow: If you are deeply interested in one, research the others. There is a common core that cuts through the lot.

Further notes on Gallwey and the Inner Game
Translating Inner Game techniques to other areas is not all that easy, even for Gallwey! There are several sequels to The Inner Game of Tennis including the follow-up Inner Tennis and the variations: The Inner Games of Golf / Skiing / Music and even Work. However -- for my money -- the original book is the best. (Interestingly, the current boom in life-, business- and executive-coaching has its origin with Gallwey.)

Going in the other direction, Gallwey seems to have derived his techniques from particular Yogic teachings brought to the USA by controversial Indian "guru" Prem Sawat (also known as Maharaji). The consensus seems to be that the techniques taught are real enough, but Sawat himself gets mixed reviews.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

In a comment on a previous post, John asked:

Which is better for self-defence, Japanese or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
These are both fine styles, and while I am trained in a Japanese style of Jiu-Jitsu I have taken a few classes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, attended a seminar given by Carlos Gracie Junior, taken a few classes at the main Gracie dojo in LA, read the books, and followed the buzz.

In this comparison I say go for instructor and school over style.

Look for:
  • Safety in training
  • Technical excellence
  • Skilled and well-behaved students
  • Good training atmosphere
  • An emphasis that fits your goals
  • No lock-in contracts
An experienced martial arts practitioner is going to be in a better position to be discerning than a complete new-comer.

Some more on emphasis. Consider:
  • Self-defense vs sport
  • What are the main areas of technique that you are training?
  • Balance between drills (kata) and free practice (randori)
These factors vary from style-to-style and instructor to instructor.

The broad technical areas in martial arts are striking techniques, throwing techniques, standing grappling techniques, groundwork techniques, and weapons.

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu

In the style of jiu-jitsu that I practice the main areas of emphasis are throwing, groundwork, and standing grappling (what we call restraint and control). Striking is there from the outset, but has less emphasis, and weapons enter later. I personally emphasise the self-defence and health aspects, with a little competition for fun and stress-testing, but not an aim in-itself. We do mainly drills, with a little free practice. If we are optimized for one thing, it's general self-defence.

Because there were many styles of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu -- not to mention the "reconstituted" styles -- technical emphasis and training methods will vary from school-to-school.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu the main emphasis is going to be on groundwork, because that's their speciality. So if you opt for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu you can expect to get good at ground-work comparatively quickly, while development in other areas seem to be taught later, if at all. Sports / self-defence seems to vary between instructors, but since they are into no-holds-barred, my primary concern would be about safety-in-training. Expect lots of free practice, but this may vary between instructors.

While it is true that a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner can bring a fight to the ground, in self-defense against multiple attackers you need to keep your feet to escape. You may need to look for a school that teaches a separate class in self-defense to complement the usual classes. The Royce and Charles Gracie book Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Self-defense Techniques shows what to look for, and the techniques shown look very familiar to anyone schooled in the Japanese techniques.

Instructor and school over brand. Talk to the instructor, ask around, see if you can try out a sample class. If you can find an "old-timer" who has been teaching for more than -- say -- 25 years, (s)he should have a good perspective on all these issues.

For those in Australia, especially Melbourne, come and have a look at what I and my instructors teach. After you have seen what we and our students can do, you will at least have a handy benchmark.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ideas for articles

In no particular order:
  1. What came before? (On respect for masters teachers, and older traditions.)
  2. Favourite martial arts books
  3. Intrinsic motivation
  4. Feldenkrais and his technique
  5. The martial arts begin with trust
  6. Health or Self-Defence (A false dichotomy)
  7. The higher goals of martial arts
  8. The subtle and the spectacular (cool stuff in martial arts)
  9. On the limits of book-learning
  10. Diversification or Unification
  11. Points of Focus
  12. On Ki / Chi
  13. From Skill to Art
  14. Elite selection or elite training?
  15. "Make haste slowly"
  16. Learning a martial art vs conventional education
  17. Super-Efficient Learning in the Chinese Martial Arts
  18. Portable Principles
  19. Getting started in the martial arts
To suggest another topic, or vote for which one I should write next, just leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Training at Caulfield Resumes on March 5 2007

It is almost time to re-start the regular weekly class, after the Summer break. It will be at the same time and place as in previous years: Monday nights, 7.30 pm, in the Aerobics room.

When I say Summer break, it's been more of a break from routine than any kind of rest for me. I had the pleasure and privilege of teaching a course over January, and as is usually the case, I learned a lot from teaching and trying out my ideas. Thank-you to everyone who participated.

I also had the opportunity to learn from other instructors in a range of different classes. In particular, I participated in Sensei Jay's course on "Attacking Skills and Drills", which drew inspiration from the words of the great swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, continued to learn the Dragon Pole set with Shihan Chris, and studied some of the finer points of Judo randori with Sensei Leonard.

All of these classes were held as part of the Summer Program at the Honbu (HQ).

Training with several different Federation Instructors is always exciting because you experience different perspectives on our martial art(s). As a student, this means that there is a greater chance that a particular technique of principle will "click", since it gets presented in a variety of ways, and the different angles also help to fill in a bigger picture. As, an instructor, I get to see how different approaches work, and expand my bag of teaching tricks.

So now I am looking forward to getting back into the regular routine, and seeing what 2007 will be like. I hope that you will share the journey.

See you at training ...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

From Karate To Jiu-Jitsu

This post is written by one of my Jiu-Jitsu students, David Taylor. David has been learning Jiu-Jitsu with me since early 2006, after many years training in various Karate styles.

Switching to a new martial art can be a very rewarding and at the same time frustrating undertaking. The good bit is that you should have already learned valuable lessons in mind-set and culture. The difficult bit is unlearning incompatible principles.

Happily for David, he was prepared to "empty his cup", and is adapting well. Here are some of his reflections...

From Karate to Jiu-Jitsu
by David Taylor

I have just finished my first year of Jiu-Jitsu with Sensei Dan at Monash Caulfield (that's me in one of the early photo entries having my arm twisted and then reciprocating). In the previous 20 years I have trained in 4 styles of Karate and reached middle brown belt levels a couple of times. Sensei Dan thought that I might like to write about my experiences on this change-over in styles from the kicking and punching of Karate to the throwing and grappling of Jiu-Jitsu.

Before we go further: I do not claim to be an expert in either martial art. This article is intended to share some of my observations and experiences, not to be a definitive comparison on the relative merits of Jiu-Jitsu and Karate.

Why martial arts?

I started doing martial arts while attending University. This was just after the movie An Officer and a Gentlemen had come out with some good karate-style fight scenes in it. I wanted to take up an exercise that had other benefits besides keeping me fit. In our uncertain world no-one can guarantee that they will never be attacked. When that day comes it is no good breaking out into an aerobics routine!

Fortunately I have never had to use my Karate training for self-defence. Maybe the awareness that goes with doing a martial art has helped me from ever getting into a tight enough spot to resort to having to kick and punch. As one of my instructors used to say, "If you need to physically use your Karate you failed your awareness training".

Switching to Jiu-Jitsu

As I moved around Melbourne a couple of times I would join the nearest Karate club that had a good style I was familiar with. In my latest move I could not find a club that I was happy with. I remembered someone from one of my Karate clubs saying that they had tried Jiu-Jitsu and enjoyed the complementary skills of hand-to-hand grappling and throwing. At work there was a Jiu-Jitsu black-belt who lent me some of the Ultimate Fighting Championship videos where the Jiu-Jitsu guys blitzed their opponents with grapples and holds - more like the sort of messy fighting is likely to happen out on the street. When I found the Jiu-Jitsu club at Monash I thought that I would give it a go …

What is training in Jiu-Jitsu like?

Jiu-Jitsu is complex and intricate

How does it compare? Complicated right from the start! In Karate you start with a couple of basic kicks, punches and blocks and even if done half-right they sort of work. As a beginner you can sweat away doing the routines and get a great deal of satisfaction thinking that you are going well.

Immediate feedback from hands-on practice

With Jiu-Jitsu it is possible to throw someone twice your size, or restrain him with a painful lock, but in learning these techniques I found that they never ‘half-worked’. The immediate feedback on the effectiveness of your technique is much more confronting than in Karate training!

Lots and lots of techniques; infinite combinations and counters

The range of techniques — initially mainly throws and holds — is also much wider in Jiu-Jitsu. In Karate if an assailant punches at your head you respond with some sort of upper block, but in Jiu-Jitsu there seemed to be an almost infinite range of possible counters and counters-to-the-counter! Do I attempt a choke? A hold? A throw maybe? How do I choose?

Mentally challenging

As a beginner in Karate I used to come home physically exhausted until my fitness had built up. In Jiu-Jitsu I tend to come home mentally exhausted. The challenge is to learn the basics of a technique and get it to work well on a variety of partners, but that is only the beginning. How does each technique work in combination with other techniques? Where can it be used as a counter to an opponent’s attack? With practice the techniques become honed and more automatic, but the possibilities become more and more varied.

Works at a very close range, both standing and on the ground

Another big difference is preferred fighting range. In Karate training you strive to keep your opponent at something of a distance, and it is only at more advanced levels that you begin to work a variety of ranges. Through Jiu-Jitsu I have become comfortable operating at very close range, both standing and on the ground, even grappling from on top of or underneath an adversary.

Unlearning as well as learning

I had to unlearn a few things about how I weighted my stance, learning to be much more aware of my balance, and about varying the distancing from the opponent.

In conclusion

I enjoy the mental and physical workout of Jiu-Jitsu class. It is an on-going challenge to learn and combine all the different techniques, but as I do so I am improving my ability to defend myself, and widening my options in the event of an altercation. If the day comes when I have to actively defend myself maybe I will be able to restrain my attacker without throwing a single punch!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

5 Things About Me

Tim van Gelder tagged me in a blog-based game / pyramid scheme combining tag, and truth-or-dare. The rules say that once tagged you have to reveal five things about yourself that are not commonly known, and then tag five more people.

Five things that you probably did not know about me:
  1. My brain: Although right-handed, I am not left-brain-hemisphere dominant, but either right-brain-hemisphere or mixed-dominant. I believe that this is the case because I grip a pen like many left-handers, with the pad of my thumb resting on the side of the second joint of my index finger, with a somewhat flexed wrist.
  2. Taboo: I have kissed another man on the lips (on stage, while acting in an improvisational theatre format called Micetro).
  3. Self-treatment: After falling prey to a very rare medical condition, and doing the rounds of specialists to no avail, I used my non-medical scientific training to scan the literature (using via PubMed) and found a mild and effective medicine.
  4. Genetics: Despite neither me nor my partner nor any of our parents or grand-parents having red hair, both of our children are red-heads.
  5. Unheralded author: I have co-written a hilarious -- yet unpublished -- children's book. (Still waiting on our illustrator.)
I tag:
  1. Nigel Thorne
  2. Steve Hayes
  3. Lliam Amor
  4. Kevin Yank
  5. Peter Sbarski
Having once been tagged I now claim future immunity or "barley".