Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hard stuff

Both stylistically, and by temperament I tend towards the softer end of the spectrum in my martial arts. Sure, when I throw my partner hits the mat hard and when I apply a joint lock it hurts, but I aspire to use leverage and whole-body power, rather than the "brute" force of local muscle.

That said, lately I've wondered whether a teensy bit of "hard" practice might do me a bit of good. So I've picked three training drills that have a hard element and have added them to my personal routine: 2-5% hard, leaving 95-98% soft.
  1. Horse stance with tension: Just stand in horse stance and tense every muscle, all at once, increasing the duration over time. Warning: If you try this do not allow pressure to build up in your head, as it can be dangerous.
  2. Low forward stance: The front knee should be in line with the toes; the back leg braced straight. Sound hard? It is.
  3. Circular punching: This should actually be fairly relaxed, but my shoulders and upper arms don't understand this, and tense up, making me want to stop.
Note that the former two exercises are static hard exercises, not dynamic. There's some virtue in exploring what hard feels like, as opposed to adopting it as a normal state of movement.

For dynamic I still want soft. The latter two drills are primarily hard in the sense of difficult, and this leads to hard in the form of unwanted tension. Certainly, the punching should become softer with practice.

What exercises do you find hard, in either or both senses? How do you balance hard and soft in your training?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hand-y hints

In judo and jiu-jitsu we generally:
  • Keep our thumbs and fingers together (not splayed), so that an adversary can't snap 'em off, and for concentrated force
  • Grip more tightly with the weaker fourth and fifth fingers to strengthen them, while keeping the thumb, index and middle finger more relaxed and sensitive; these guidelines apply whether taking a grip of your partner's gi, forming a fist, or a holding a sword
  • Breakfall mainly with the hands (thumb and fingers together!), even though there is greater surface contact with the fleshy part of the forearms.
It's one thing to read tips like this; it's another to make them second nature. Good luck!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Go on: Put me in a lock!

In jiu-jitsu we learn a lot of joint lots, mainly as part of our restraint and control syllabus.

To apply them for real you need to be more skilful than your opponent because people will try to naturally try to escape, typically by either using muscular resistance or trying to twist themselves out. Part of the art is first breaking your partner's balance, so that (s)he loses the ability to effectively resist, as well as adapting to whatever response they (s)he manages to muster.

But what happens if your opponent is simply much, much better than you? Check it out:

Although the attacker is allowed to start to apply locks, at no stage does he control the defender's balance (or center). Quite the reverse!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Seminar Reactions

Two weeks ago the head of our martial arts organization, Kancho Barry Bradshaw, hosted and co-presented a series of three seminars along with two guest instructors: Perth-based karate master Hanshi Tony Jackson, and local karate master and zoo-keeper (more on this later) Shihan Angelo Foresi. Other local karate luminaries also dropped by.

I made it along to the middle seminar, and was gratified that three of my students -- Lejoe, Jeremy, and Damian -- all new to jiu-jitsu this year, but keen! -- also made the trip out to the Honbu dojo for two packed hours.

At the next class at my club, following the lesson, I asked the seminar attendees them to join me at the front of the class and talk a bit about their seminar experience by describing a personal highlight. These included:
  • Damian seeing "fireworks" when Kancho struck a couple of pressure-points on his wrist.
  • Lejoe seeing a technique demonstrated in the middle and wondering whether Kancho's uke was just "falling for him", until Kancho repeated the technique on Lejoe, and all doubt as to its efficacy vanished
  • Learning about breathing, mental aspects, and of course martial arts applications of animal movements from both guest instructors
  • Shihan Angelo's message to work to simplify your martial art as you progress
My own highlights included having Hanshi refer to our Kancho as "young fella", and the opportunity to train with and share knowledge with martial artists from other schools and other arts.

Some of the animals discussed were the crane (pictured), tiger, monkey, snake, deer, gorilla, and even the squid.

I also liked this format: I would happily attend a series of seminars given by any of the presenting masters, but it was also inspiring to see them working together. I was left wanting more.

* * *

It's also worth mentioning that Shihan Angelo blends his day job as a zoo-keeper with his martial arts avocation. Rather than learn about animal styles from other humans he has used his day-job as a zoo-keeper as an opportunity to extensively study from the ultimate source, the animals themselves. In turn his karate has been influenced by what he has learned from his decades of working with and observing the animals, supplemented by additional, more traditional studies leading to his own unique blend.

Now for the plug: Shihan Angelo offers a fairly regular and, I dare-say, unique one-session class open to the general public entitled Animals and the Martial Arts, held at the Melbourne Zoo. Having heard how great the seminar was, many of my students were keen on a visit to the zoo with a difference. I plan to get along at some stage, too.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful

My fellow blogger Kick Ass Sue asks: Should women train differently from men in martial arts? based "on the premise that traditional fighting arts were developed by men for men to fight other men and are thus best suited for the male physique".

I'm not so sure about the premise. Men, who as a broad generalization start out strong and top-heavy, have the option of developing their strengths while they are young, but this is a short-cut to nowhere. As we age, if this strength, speed, and even flexibility are the basis of our ability, the young guys will soon overtake us. The natural strengths of women -- low center of gravity, strong legs and core, superior grace and rhythm -- on the other hand, are a more sound and long-lasting basis out of which to build a martial artist.

On another point, though, in this day and age it is true that there are more senior male martial artists than females, and therefore fewer role models for aspiring female martial artists to look up to. In Sue's post she mentions the legendary founder of Wing Chun, Shaolin nun Ng Mui. But what about living female role models?

The amazing Keiko Fukuda springs to mind. Her grandfather was the first significant Jiu-jitsu teacher of Judo founder Jigoro Kano. In turn Kano taught Judo to Fukuda in the Kodokan's women's division. As a 5th dan, at the 1964 Olympics she demonstrated the advanced Judo two-person kata Ju No Kata, which she also wrote the book on.

At time of writing she still teaches judo 3 times a week at age 96, is the highest ranked female-judoka ever (9th dan). Fukuda's life is the subject of the film, Mrs Judo: Be strong, be gentle, be beautiful.

Here's the blurb:
Her destiny was set two generations before her birth, during the final days of the samurai era. In 1934, at 21 years of age, Keiko Fukuda embarked on a long journey with judo as her vehicle. This path meant giving up marriage, family, and her Japanese citizenship. She has endured war, discrimination, and crossed oceans, to become the highest ranking woman in judo history. She is the last living link to judo’s original history. Today at 96, she still teaches judo three times a week, and through her gentle soul she exudes wisdom and inspiration to all who come in contact with her. “Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful,” is an hour‐long documentary film about K it eiko Fukuda’s inspirational journey.
I'm looking forward to seeing it.

[Edited May 2016: Keiko Fukuda was promoted to 10th dan in 2012 and continued to teach Judo until shortly before her death in 2013, aged 99.]

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Some Judo hand-throws and their Jiu-jitsu relatives

Judo techniques are great training for the body (and mind); in jiu-jitsu the techniques are more directly applicable to self-defence. In judo we start from a standard grip, where both partners hold each other's collar and sleeve (symmetry); in jiu-jitsu we often respond to an attack (asymmetry).

There are similarities too: The underlying gross -- meaning broad, not 'yuck' -- body movements are the same. The jiu-jitsu techniques add more pain by way of additional locks, strikes or strangles.

In class this week we looked at and practiced several of the judo hand-throws, immediately followed by one or more of their jiu-jitsu relatives:
  1. Tai otoshi (Body drop, Judo): Throat Attack & Double-strike turning throw (Jiu-jitsu)
  2. Uki otoshi (Floating drop): Lapel choke takedown & Sleeve pivot throw
  3. Kuki nage (Minor floating throw)
  4. Hiji otoshi (Elbow drop): Defence against a straight-arm choke from the front
  5. Mochiage otoshi (Lifting drop)
  6. Sukui nage (Scooping throw)
  7. Sumi otoshi (Corner drop): A follow-on to the Come-along armbar
  8. Obi otoshi (Belt drop)
  9. Kata ashi dori (Single leg drop): Pressure-point take-down to the lower leg
  10. Ryo ashi dori (Double leg drop)
There are, of course, others.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Theme of the month October 2009: Handy hand-throws

Theme of the month returns, with a difference: This October we will focus on a particular area of the syllabus: Hand throws.

In class we will concentrate on the 10 hand-throws in our system, explore some of the principles that they embody, and finding connections to other techniques and especially to self-defence applications.

Hand throw #2: Uki otoshi

Note that while in the Kodokan's gokyo the shoulder and hand throws are considered a single grouping, in the Kawaishi classification the shoulder throws are split off as a separate group, leaving ten hand throws:
  1. Tai otoshi (Body drop): A handy take-down method for self-defence. Adding pain compliance makes it very effective. Note: The version that we do doesn't put the leg across.
  2. Uki otoshi (Floating drop): Almost like a half-sutemi, wherein tori drops to a knee rather than the back or side.
  3. Kuki nage (Minor floating throw): Performed as a combination technique
  4. Hiji otoshi (Elbow drop): Includes an arm-lock
  5. Mochiage otoshi (Lifting drop): A very useful technique for use in groundwork
  6. Sukui nage (Scooping throw)
  7. Sumi otoshi (Corner drop): Another effective self-defence takedown method
  8. Obi otoshi (Belt drop)
  9. Kata ashi dori (Single leg drop)
  10. Ryo ashi dori (Double leg drop): Similar to the double-leg takedown beloved by the BJJ-ers
Most of these throws are challenging to pull off in competition, since most offer limited connection to the partner: Feel and timing become all-important. Switch to self-defence though, add a little pain compliance, and it's a different story.

Practicing the hand throws instills effective body movements which are highly applicable to self-defence.