Training discussion part 3 – new kata!

So to wrap things up, I also thought I’d share something about my new kata.

In the past, I’ve really struggled with learning the pattern of kata, but this year I’ve been trying to go about learning kata a bit differently. First up, I’m trying hard to apply much greater focus in class and keeping myself from getting distracted or relaxing or taking things too easy. When I first started learning my previous grade-kata, I experimented with this and found that I was able to pick up the kata much faster than I usually would. Following my last grading I’ve been working on my focus even more and am trying to make every session of regular training as intensive as possible, trying to match the same dedication and effort you typically put into a grading but in an everyday class scenario. And the same goes for my kata – focus-focus-focus.

And strangely enough, it appears to be very effective – last week was the first time learning my kata, and by the end of the lesson I’d managed to memorise the basic pattern. True, my form was pretty poor, but I was still managing to work on my breathing and put in focused energy into some of the techniques. It was actually kind of amazing, as I entered that tarnce-like state of awareness you can often get when performing kata despite the fact I was still very early on in my understanding of it.

As a result, I came away feeling really chuffed that I’d manage to make such a productive first step in learning my new kata. True, part of being able to pick it up relatively quickly can also be attributed to greater experience and being able to tune into the patterns in other Heian kata, but I also think my attention to detail and my focus were big parts of this, and it’s always nice to find that, despite what you may think sometimes, you are improving as time goes on, you are evolving as a martial artist… even if you habitually look a bit unco ;)

Now I have to hope that I’ll be in good form next week! Will have to put some time aside between classes to go through the sequences, I don’t want to put this good start to waste.

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Training round-up

Training this week was a little bit different – Sensei wasn’t able to make it, so we had training with Dai-Sensei (the Big Sensei), who is actually my usual Sensei’s father (and who I trained under during 2007-2008… which reminds me, I really should add a couple of posts to fill in the blank spaces between the old Gisoku no Jutsu and the new Gisoku Budo blogs).

Anywho, training was different, as it sometimes is when Dai-Sensei takes our class. This time, we focused on bunkai from some of the lower kata, which was good as I’ll be required to demonstrate it in my future gradings. Now, this is all well and good, but Dai-Sensei brought in some goodies to accompany training – kobudo weapons :D We had a few options to work with, including jo, hanbo, sai, nunchaku, tonfa, katana, wakizashi and kama. What Dai-Sensei was trying to demonstrate was the relationship/connection between open-handed forms and kobudo forms, showing how one complements the other and that your open-handed karate kata has forms the work well with weapons. More importantly, it demonstrated that the principles of attack/defense/counter in kata can be re-enforced by applying the same principles in kobudo.

But the best part of the evening was playing with these:

SaiImage sourced from Wikimedia Commons, original image by chris ?

:D :D :D

Sai are awesome, and that’s probably because I watched too much TMNT as a kid :D Was great fun using them in class, and while I didn’t learn much that was all the useful due to the short period of time using them (though I learned a basic method for how to trap a Bo!), it was still so much fun :D

It also brought to the fore my interest in kobudo, and that I’d really like to get into it down the line. Though I can imagine the look Wifey would give me if I came home with more stuff to complement some of the staffs I have around the place from when I started doing mixed-style stick fighting last year ;)

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Training roundup

Last night’s training went really well – by the time I was finished the top of my gi was soaked with sweat, and whenever that happens, I always figure it’s been a good session :)

With grading coming up this weekend, there was a lot of emphasis on getting core techniques polished in preparation for it, as well as kata. Despite the fact I did two stupid things (jammed my thumbnail into the side of my nose accidentally while doing a wrist-grab counter, which cut it and had it start bleeding; and knocked one of my fingers on my right hand and caused it to start swelling up [nothing an ice pack when I got home couldn't fix!]), it was a really good, productive session. The best part was when we were working on kata towards the end of class – the first two times I did it I felt I was doing a bit of a rubbish job, so with the next few times we did it, I deliberately slowed down with increased focus, and felt extremely satisfied at the end of it. I’ve corrected my bad shuto habit where I would typically raise my striking/blocking (When is a block a block? When is a block a strike? Think about it…) arm too high, but I’m still falling into the trap of doing my age-uke too high and wasting the principle that demands economy of motion in perfecting your skills as a martial artist. Despite the fact I’ve read up on the concept in various forms over the years and know better :P

So yeah, still plenty to do, but it was a good, solid training session :D

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Kata is kinda like watching subtitled anime…

So, let’s get it out of the way for the nth time – I’m a bit nerdy, right? Anyway, part of my nerdy habits is that I like watching anime, but I’m picky in that I only like watching it in Japanese with subtitles (mind, I extend that to all foreign film/music – I’d rather watch/listen to it in its original language with subtitles than something dubbed into my native tongue). So, Jyastin-kun and I were heading to karate last week and we were chatting about stuff, and I came up with this awesome analogy, that kata is like watching subtitled anime – if you take it all at first glance and verbatim, you only get one aspect of the whole story, but as soon as you begin to understand it and read more into it, you get a greater understanding of it.

The part of the conversation this came from was how we were talking about how knowing a smattering of written and spoken Japanese reveals all the inadequacies of a simple, literal (or localised) translation from one language to another gives. In the English language compared to Japanese, the system of honorifics does not exist to such an extent, and the gravity of different accents, levels of formalities and other specific eccentricities unique to the Japanese language makes it difficult to bring all this across in a series of subtitles. However, as soon as you start to learn some of the language and cultural norms, your viewing of the material changes – you understand the various levels of honorifics and how they establish hierarchy within the context of the story. Awkwardly-translated phrases (not awkward through any fault of the translator, but awkward through the act of transliteration) somehow make much more sense when you understand the language behind it, and in-jokes and cultural norms suddenly open your eyes to a much deeper experience of the story at hand. Then, with all this in hand, when you watch something you can take the subtitles as your guide, but you’re free to interpret the deeper or more subtle meanings behind the language or content your own way, and in turn, gain a deeper understanding into what’s happening on-screen.

Similarly, when you start learning a kata, you start by following the movements verbatim. As your knowledge of the kata and what the movements signify increase, you gain a deeper understanding of the routine actions represent. Once you have developed your base understanding and precepts behind the actions, you begin to make the kata your own, and instead of it simply be a series of pre-assigned movements, it becomes an involved exploration and an expression wholly personal to you, the individual.

I’m hoping the above is reasonably coherent… and in looking over this post, it’s not just subtitled anime that this can be applied to – movies based on books are another example (i.e. you’ve read the book, then seen the movie), exploring other literary works with an understanding of the context of its creation or expression by the author (whether it be music, film or literature), and so on. I just chose subtitled anime because it came up in discussion and proved both obscure and apt in the grand scheme of things :D

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Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo-jutsu seminar roundup

The weekend just gone I had the chance to attend a two-day seminar with Renshi Jason Griffiths, a representative of Koyru Uchinadi Kenpo-jutsu, a style that has been brought back into practice by Hanshi Patrick McCarthy. If you’re interested in reading up a bit on the style, the Wikipedia entry is here, and there is a wealth of information about the style (and many other topics) on the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society website. While both of those websites provide a much more succinct explanation of the style and its precepts, I’ll still say a little on it to put it into context.

Koyru Uchinadi Kenpo-jutsu is based on going back to the pre-20th century interpretation and practice of karate and looking at the style before it was systemised into what we have come to see today, whether it be Goju, Shotokan, Wado, etc. From a historical and anthropological perspective, it is a fascinating look at how societal values and expectations were inherently present in systems of self-defence in the Ryukyu Kingdom, and assists in explaining the norms present in most mainstream karate systems practiced today. The two areas of Koryu Uchinadi I have found interesting from a Shotokan perspective is the emphasis on flowing tegumi (2-person) drills and the way the system blows away any pre-conceievd notions of the forms present in kata.

This isn’t my first experience attending a seminar with Renshi – those who have trawled through my blog’s older posts will note I had a smaller 2-ish hour session back in March (click here to have a read), which served as a huge stimulus in changing my perspective of kata, applications, bunkai, oyo, the whole lot. This seminar over the weekend though, truly eye-openening, and was an amazing training experience (it also helped that we had Renshi take our class as a guest instructor last week, which was cool).

The training was split across two days, with 5 and a half hours on Saturday afternoon, and five hours on Sunday morning. Some people attended either day, and a few came along for both – I was there for both days. The core emphasis for the weekend was to establish and leave us with guiding principles that were demonstrated in flowing two-person drills, or tegumi. The amount of physical effort that was used in the tegumi drills were entirely up to the practitioners – you could use maximum effort/speed if you were comfortable with the techniques, or perform the techniques at what Renshi called “Tai Chi speed” – maximimum focus and technique, but without speed and explosive power. This proved beneficial to me as I’m a bit unco when first learning drills and techniques, so for the most part I didn’t try and go super-fast, but tried to apply as much focus as possible.

Saturday saw us working with different partners over the course of the day (same for Sunday) working on locks/holds and escaping them and turning the techniques against the opposing partner, flowing from one technique to the other. By the end of the first session, we had gotten the sequences down for escaping from a series of different holds and chokes and flowing one into the other – start off escaping from a rear sleeper-choke, slip behind your opponent and put them into a full nelson, partner escapes from this and plies the other person into a back grab, and so on and so forth – I think there were five smaller drills that made up this sequence, but it was possible to mix up the flow of techniques to keep you on your toes into one long drill. Whilst I struggled to get the speed up, some of the other more experienced practitioners were demonstrating an impressive amount of skill and dexterity in moving between the forms.

In addition to this, we also studied simultaneous parry/attack combinations, various counters, holds, chokes and some ground work. Under Renshi’s instruction, we were able to see a lot of the raw utility that sat in the art before it was altered for mainstream appropriation – there are plenty of strikes to the groin and other vitals, an amazing amount of chokes, holds, grabs and other forms of biomechanical manipulation and, suprisingly enough, plenty of groundwork involved, which is amazing because karate has primarily been seen as very weak on groundwork and criticised as such.

On Sunday, we repeated the multiple grab/escape drill, added in more striking/defending/countering drills, spent more time on various chokes and groundwork and continued through learning about the theoretical framework of Koyru Uchinadi and how we can see applications of this in our usual karate styles, whether it be shotokan, goju and so forth.

The really cool thing is that the drills we were being given were related to various kata, and the meaning behind those first simple steps in Tekki Shodan was amazingly eye-opening. I know I wax lyrical about kata applications (or bunkai/oyo/etc), but that’s because I’ve only heard very basic precepts behind the techniques until I started studying shotokan, and things continue to evolve as time goes on. It also emphasised the precept I’ve read elsewhere that “there is no such thing as a block in karate” – over the weekend I saw the various blocks we do in basics as strikes, grabs, chokes and all sorts of stuff.

Hmmm, I think I’ve started rambling now :P Which means it might be time to summarise things and wrap this post up. For those who may have the opportunity to attend a seminar on Koyru Uchinadi Kenpo-jutsu, I would highly recommend you attend and check it out. For Australian residents, check the forums on OzBudo, as there are specific areas for announcements of events and seminars that are on the way. Check the links I posted earlier to read up a bit more on the style and the research society as well – I’m considering joining so I can increase my knowledge on the history and applications of karate and other martial arts down the road as well, and grabbed a couple of books Renshi had on display for myself to read through while he was down (will have to do a post on recent book acquisitions too, as Wifey picked up a couple of awesome books for me recently! :) ).

I’d also like to take a quick moment to acknowledge Renshi for his time and efforts in taking us for the weekend, to my Sensei for organising and hosting the session with Renshi, and to all who attended and were very patient with me – there were many higher-grades attending which was very intimidating considering my lack of comparable experience, but all were patient, understanding and were happy to work with me, which I’m very grateful for (big props to Chris [who runs the SA Martial Arts Newsletter]for helping me get that twirly-escape technique thing sorted out on Sunday morning – I’ve struggled with that when learning it in the past, but with his help I was able to get through the technique much better than I had previously been able to do!). It was also cool to put a few faces to names of people I’ve talked with on the OzBudo forums which was ace!

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