Note to self – don’t over-complicate things :P

I was reading a great piece Matt wrote over at Ikigai Way about how over-complicating technique when it comes to martial arts can be extremely counterproductive when translating said techniques into a real-world scenario (here). I can definitely see what he’s getting at, and can also relate to over-complicating things πŸ™‚ I think part of it might be due to how my brain operates with all its lovely idiosyncrasies, and part of it might be a determination to try and look outside the box so much (and thus impress with a broader understanding of the technique) that it loses focus and meaning.

This is particularly important as I have a grading coming up in December, and from here onwards I’ll be expected to dissect and provide bunkai for previous kata to demonstrate that the forms aren’t just a dance, but have practical application and techniques that can be applied. Ever since I had my eyes opened to the extent to which you can dissect kata to discover the hidden depths of application contained therein, I’ve found a really satisfying challenging in this realm of martial arts study. While I’m still pretty green when it comes to it, I have to say it’s really rewarding, and I’m glad its a formalised part of my training.

Again, my problem with doing this is not to over-complicate things, and to demonstrate what will ultimately be a 7th-kyu perception of bunkai, and not trying to go too deep in demonstrating bunkai that it gets muddy. I’ve already done that a bit in class already, and have found that, at this level, it’s great to think outside the square, but it’s equally important to adhere to the old adage that you need to walk before you can run πŸ™‚

But back to Matt’s post, I believe there’s a place for crazy, out-there thinking when it comes to breaking down kata, but it is absolutely essential that you bring the application to something that can be easily applied to the scenario if you can use it. To borrow from his example, there’s little utility in wasting time trying to recall a fancy grapple/sidestep technique when a straight-up block/parry/counter would suffice, as the time taken to cycle through your options may well negate any form of defense.

At higher levels of expertise, when you have drilled those particular techniques to a fine art and have built in the required muscle-memory to support them, it maybe well be a different scenario.

Importantly, as long as you have a guiding set of principles to cope with the act of violence, regardless of your level of technical expertise, I think this is the most important thing to have, as the principle can be acted upon faster than a specific arrangement of techniques. To that end, I think studying bunkai is important, as it begins to teach your mind about the core principles behind the techniques you are performing, whether it be as part of your basic drills or as kata, so you can apply them when needed. Granted, it takes a great deal of time to achieve mastery thereof, but as long as the core principles are understood, it doesn’t matter if it’s a fancy collection of techniques or a standard oitsuki – the technique must, ultimately, be applicable in a scenario of self defense.

… and that’s my jumbled response πŸ˜€

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Working on my mawashi geri technique

So last month I whinged about my crap mawashi geri technique, and while I haven’t been to training in a two weeks due to all sorts happening, I’m pleased to say that I haven’t put my training completely out of my mind.

Much as Wifey loves it, I do have the habit of doing karate around the house. Over the last couple of weeks, this has been divided between 2-3 techniques – strong, whipping, flexible and smooth oitsuki (reverse punches), Maegeri (front snapping kicks) and mawashi geri (roundhouse kicks). With the last of those, I’ve been really pissed with my technique of late, so taking into account my belated realisation that I’d already worked out the trick to doing it with one leg, I’ve been practicing to try and get it to work correctly. At first I was constantly over-compensating with the technique and was having trouble retracting my leg fast enough for a graceful landing. It was an improvement, but the overbalance was killing it a bit, too.

So, with a bit more practice, and while far from perfect, I’m managing to snap the technique out and back in again and landing back on my foot without so much of a stumble. I’m also working on utilising my hips more as well – in fact, this lead to something quite interesting that happened only an hour ago – the hips!!!!

I was working up and down the corridor in the house earlier in attempts to be useful (having some issues with the server, and in getting an old IDE hard drive for McAdam that was inaccessible due to an old Norton Ghost/Type 44 partition — doing both at the same time also meant it took abnormally long to get either fixed :P), and I thought I’d try something different with my front kicks… I’ve always read and watched those with two legs perform snapping or normal front kicks and utilise their hips, but I’ve always really struggled as utilising your hips relies on a degree of muscular and body symmetry… and lacking a limb, naturally there are some issues with this πŸ˜‰ So I thought – bugger it, give it a crack and hopefully you won’t fall over πŸ˜€

… and it worked!

I mean, it looked a bit stupid and I couldn’t kick anywhere near as fast as I would with an ordinary snap kick, but I think there was considerable more power in there.

And the trick? Same as with the mawashi geri, use your arms/shoulders/upper torso to take over and assist the hips.

Hopefully in time I’ll get more coordinated at it!!

Oh, and something else has been fun as well lately – I’ve always loved the kicking demonstrations where the martial artist performs multiple kicks with one leg, kinda like foot-boxing or something πŸ™‚ Anywho, I’ve been trying for years now to pull off doing two proper kicks with my real leg (and therefore balancing on the left or the prosthesis, which is where it gets tricky πŸ˜‰ ), and note that I said proper kicks, not stupid little kicks that look more like leg lifts than kicks πŸ˜€ Anywho, I think I’m finally making progress on this – granted there’s not a lot of utility with with this one, it’s there for fun and training balance. Again, getting control to actually start making the two kicks look like actual kicks has come down to greater mastery and control with my hips, so I figure I’m on the way πŸ˜€ If it actually starts becoming decent, I’ll let you know.

Hmmm, should sign this one off for some awesome tomfoolery πŸ˜€ Stay tuned πŸ™‚

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Training discussion part 2 – mawashi geri pain

So, continuing on from my previous post, at training last week we started focusing on improving mawashi geri technique as it’s now formally graded as part of my syllabus, which means more practicing and more focus on improving the technique. Unfortunately for me, my mawashi geri is pretty rubbish, especially when kicking with my right leg (i.e. the real, whole one :P). Since you’re required to rely on extra flexibility and coordination with your standing leg for this one, I’ve always struggled with it as it’s really difficult to balance on my fake leg. Then you add hip movements, shifting weight using your knee and ankles, adjusting pressure with your foot – all this I can feel when balancing on my right leg and kicking with my left, so it’s hard trying to compensate for such a difficult series of complex, subtle movements.

So following class, I’ve been breaking the technique back to basics, and as I do my infamous “karate-around-the-house” habit that drives Wifey up the wall, I’ve started incorporating mawashi geri in stages. For the most part this has been in volving my lifting my right leg with the leg drawn back, but with my bent leg held parallel to the floor and hold my balance. I felt that part of my problem was that I was having trouble gracefully moving into the motions of the mawashi geri, and by working on the first step in performing the technique, I’m aiming to improve part of the foundation for the technique.

The next challenge is controlling the whipping-out/whipping-back motion so that the technique can be performed as close as possible in light of my situation. Stupid me forgot my recent post on how to do a better mawashi geri, which of course contained that extra bit of info I needed to overcome the lack of control with the fake leg – use the torso and the arms to make up for the difference. I then put it all to test while walking around the house last night before going to bed, and it made a world of difference.

But seriously, trust me to forget something I actually wrote about that would have been hugely helpful in this case πŸ˜›

So, next training I’m hoping to show a reasonable degree of improvement with this technique. Unless I forget it again, which is entirely possible πŸ˜›

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Another lightbulb moment – amputee-friendly round kicks (mawashi geri)

So, recently Wifey and I watched Enter the Dragon (again). And me being me, afterwards whilst getting ready for bed and doing the last-minute clean-up before bed, I started doing karate around the house – in the kitchen, the lounge room, the hallway, stuff like that. Weird thing though – I was practicing my mawashi geri (round kick) with my real leg (i.e. right leg kicking, left leg pivoting), and had a crazy lightbulb moment. This doesn’t happen often, so bear with me while I try and make this coherent!

The secret as I understand from all of you out there with two legs is that a good mawashi geri relies on awesome hip power (in fact, the root of all good karate comes from the use of your torso, which works in conjunction with the rest of your body in perfect harmony… right???). Unfortunately, things get a bit tricky for me because my mawashi geri with my right leg is generally pretty weak, as there’s no knee/ankle/foot to drive and pivot the left leg, which are essential in throwing your hips into the technique to create a controlled reaction. Think of it chopping off your left leg, substituting it with a vertical pole with a hinge in the middle, and blindly flailing around 180-240° trying not to get the pole to collapse underneath you whilst trying to make a decent kick. Doesn’t work too well.

The answer, possibly, is a simple one, and crazily enough I mentioned the precept in one of my posts from my old blog in 2007 (here) – use your upper body to control your body’s rotation. I found that by simply using my shoulders, I could regain control of my hips and follow through with a considerably improved technique.

I’ll try and explain further – I start with my left leg forward, right leg back in a short fighting stance (give me time to get it working reliably in a long zenkutsu dachi!). Follow the usual components of a mawashi geri – knee-raised to the side, lower right-leg pulled in tight to help with producing a snapping motion; make this form whilst pushing off your right foot to propel the action forward.

Now here’s where the new stuff begins – try and swivel your hips to get you started, but twist your shoulders going in the same direction of your mawashi geri. Don’t go crazy, make it a measured, control action, keeping your arms up in a defensive position, controlled, and tight (i.e. don’t flail them about). The combined use of these forces will drive the leg by way of the hips in a circular motion, using the planted left leg as a single vertical axis.

Once the leg extends and snaps forward, start with the hips as much as possible with control, then use your shoulders to finish the backwards snapping motion. Pull the foot back and land from the technique with control, no arms flailing, no landing in a sloppy stance. Control is essential, which in turn means watch your speed and stay focused.

I’ll have to keep at it to see how this technique holds up, but I’m really, really excited by this – my mawashi geri with my right leg has always been rubbish, but through this lightbulb moment and my consistent efforts in stretching my legs regularly during the week to increase their flexibility, I reckon I’m getting somewhere πŸ˜€

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Shin kicks

I was over at Win Demeere’s blog a few minutes ago reading through a couple of his recent posts, and he has a great two-part series on shin kicks (links – part one, and part two). I’ve been curious to see if I could use this technique for a while now, so will have to give it a crack over the next week and see what I can come up with. The posts in question give plenty of detail in how to perform the kick, and he’s linked in a few YouTube videos to demonstrate their use too.

I’m particularly keen because I feel my prosthesis would make for an awesome shin kick given I’d be delivering the strike with a raw titanium pole. Might just be the perfect technique if I can turn it into a fast, effective move. The extra bonus will be if I can get pull it off using my real leg, so we’ll see how that turns out.

In the meantime, check out the posts on his blog if you’re interested – plenty of good info there. Thanks Wim!

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