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 😛 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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Amputee missing foot, but she still has her junior black belt (SunJournal.com)

Stumbled on this one via the Prosthetic Center of Excellence News blog – the Sun Journal has an awesome story on a young below-knee amputee’s push to learn karate and earn her junior black belt!

Now this is the kind of thing I love to read about – like the girl in the story, Jaedyn, I lost my leg when I was really young as well (click here if you want to have a read of my story), but I always wanted to learn martial arts, and I always had the support of my family and instructors in doing so. I tip my hat to her parents for encouraging and supporting her in this, I’d like to pass along a big thank you to her instructor for doing such a wonderful job, and a big high-five to Jaedyn for earning her junior black belt. This is such an awesome thing to share, and I wish her the best of luck on her journey.

For those interested, please visit the site and have a read. The direct link to the story is here.

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Trained last night, and I busted my foot up again!!!

Well, I finally went back into training last night, and it was awesome 🙂 I’m a bit sore today because I tried to push myself as far as I could, but it was definitely worth it. There’s a grading on this weekend, but I’m definitely in need of further practice so I won’t be attending. At the moment the biggest thing I want to work on is my kata – I have pretty much the basic form sorted out for Heian Nidan (though, let’s be honest – it isn’t really all that complicated to begin with compared to other, higher-grade kata), now its moving to refine my technique. The biggest problem I had last night was my breathing. I’m generally/reasonably good with controlling and utilising my breathing during training, especially kata, but I just didn’t find my center with it last night, there wasn’t the natural flow I aim to achieve. Sensei made the comment that I looked like I was going to explode some times because I wasn’t regulating my technique correctly, and looking back on it immediately afterwards and again tonight, he was definitely on the ball.

In the past, I’ve tackled this by slowing my kata right down, focused on the detail, rhythm, breathing and visualisation of each technique’s application, and would repeat until hitting that crazy, transcended state you sometimes get through really good, focused kata. I don’t get it every time, but when it hits it really makes you appreciate the continual uses of kata, not only as a test for form and the key to technique usage/application, but as a means to use physical movements as a form of meditation.

The other bemusing thing that happened last night was that I ended up splitting open my foot enclosure again, and I think I’ve started splitting it open in a second spot as well! Ah well, serves me right for not being super pro-active in calling up and making an appointment to see if the replacement’s in. Will have to do as such tomorrow and get it fit asap. I stumbled a couple of times as the foot crumpled up beneath me, but I didn’t seriously injure myself or any of the other students, so at least that was good!

Oh, and I dragged Jyastin-kun along to training last night and by the sounds of it he really enjoyed himself. If he’s keen to continue training with our school, will be good to have him come along as he used to be an excellent training partner at our previous club, so we’ll see how it goes!

For those checking out the blog on a semi-regular basis, apologies for being a bit slack with posting this week, it’s been busier than I anticipated. I’ll make sure to get another one added tomorrow so I can at least the lower-portion of my average, which is two posts a week!

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Learning to walk again through karate

Normally I’d be gearing up to train about now, but I was falling asleep at my desk, so I’m home taking it easy and having an early one tonight. This will likely ensure I get paid out next week at training, but that’s fair enough 😛 Ever since I injured myself through lack of concentration due to sleepiness at training a few years back, I’m always hesitant to train if I’m feeling particularly knackered, so I err on the side of caution these days 😛 Anywho, I digress…

Today I wanted to talk about how doing karate has, for me, taught me how to walk again. This may be a bit of a misnomer, as some may think that doing martial arts was part of my rehabilitation post-amputation; it isn’t, as I had my leg amputated when I was a baby, so I learned to walk as a kid. What I’m getting at is how karate has taught me how to walk *again*.

I’ll explain – as an amputee, you compensate for the lack of muscle movement and control as much as possible. For a below-knee amputee, they utilise their existing knee to a greater degree than an able-bodied person would in order to compensate for the lack of movement you normally derive from your ankle, and the act of shifting pressure and distribution of weight you use the various muscles in your foot for. A below-knee amputee with a good gait can obtain quite a high degree of movement from mastering the use of their prosthesis and their remaining muscles – I’ve seen some footage of Ron Mann doing some work with pads and a bag, and the guy’s awesome despite being a below-knee amputee (if you’re interested in reading more, I’ve linked to his MySpace site and blog on my side panel).

For above-knee amputees, it’s a little different. We have to use our hips to compensate for the lack of a knee, and rely on our stump to pick up the remaining walking motion with our gait. I was watching on… Enough Rope with Andrew Denton a few years back, where they had an above-knee amputee and a below-knee amputee on the show talking about their conditions. It was the first time I’d heard amputees from both sides of the spectrum talk about their conditions, and I didn’t realise that above-knees had to put a higher amount of energy into their gait to achieve the equivalent movement that a below-knee would. That would explain why I look a bit unco compared to the likes of Ron!

Anywho, the preamble is meant to set up discussion on walking. So, as an above-knee amputee with a reasonably good gait for my condition to begin with, my typical method for walking was to simply plod around the place without paying much attention to how I walked, except to try and minimise the limp 😉 However, over the years I’ve found that I have gradually evolved my complete method of walking. I’m no longer plodding around – instead, I’ve learned to use my remaining leg to a much greater degree to assist me in walking. Before where I’d simply walk or plod everywhere, I now use my calf muscles, knee, ankle and all the muscles running along my foot and in my toes to walk with far more control and less tension. Instead of each stepping-phase being a case of stepping with my right foot, step with the left and try and match up as the body falls forward as fast as practical, I can now take measured action preceding the step with my prosthesis, gently arc my body over my center line, and gently ease myself into the next step.

Karate has also had an immeasurable improvement with balancing on my left leg. Walking as an amputee is kinda like walking on slits; the extra problem you get as an above knee is that your stilt has a free-swinging hinge in the middle of it, and the wrong move will see you fall over in a dramatic, if not amusing, fashion. From doing karate, I’ve gradually improved the ability to balance myself on my left leg, move my center of balance, and be able to control my body by twisting myself while pivoting on my artificial foot. The simple act of kicking with my real leg and holding myself up with my prosthesis has meant that I’ve gradually enhanced my balance as a general rule, but particularly on the fake leg.

The end result, as far as walking goes, is that I have a two-pronged attack on my previous method of walking – my control has become far greater with my real leg, and I have learned “flexibility”, enhanced balance and more control over my prosthesis, meaning that I can walk in a way that places less strain on my body while achieving a far superior gait.

So my advice for other amputees out there is to give martial arts a go – it will be hard work training your body to work with your prosthesis, but if you can stick with it, the results are not only beneficial for all the usual reasons (fitness, confidence, self defense), but it will also assist in the most basic of movements – walking.

So there we go, I’ve made a contribution that should ease my guilt for not being at training tonight 🙂

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Training roundup

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these!

Had training last night, went very well! It was extremely full-on, but rewarding. Sometimes when you head out to martial arts training you have spurts of flat-out exercise, and then by the end of it, you’re not feeling knackered; then you have the opposite, where despite the few breaks between drills, your gi is soaked all the way through with sweat, your muscles are getting achy, but despite it all you have that stupid look on yourself that says “Check out my awesomeness – I just jumped around in a pair of white pajamas and probably looked a bit on the unco side, but I’m exhausted and it was uber”. Last night’s training is closer to the latter – I tried to work really hard to improve my technique, though there were some points where I wasn’t sitting right in the socket on my leg and I was paranoid the leg was going to drop off, despite the fact I always strap it to my waist before I head out for training 😛

So yeah, excellent training. The only thing we didn’t cover was kata, as we’d run out of time to focus on it properly. I’ve decided that I’m going to squeeze in some extra kata practice over the next week, as I’m keen to get the pattern solid in my head so I can move beyond simple memorisation and start to focus on the quality of my technique, and from there, executing that same quality along with appropriate speed and kime. I normally take a while to solidify the pattern of a new kata, but I’ve been trying to really suss this out in my head. It helps that I’m doing pure shotokan, as there are plenty of vids of people demonstrating kata. In fact, a couple of weeks back I wanted to have a quick refresh of my kata, I looked it up on YouTube and tracked down a demonstration of it by Kanazawa-sensei, and was blown away by the technical proficiency of such an early kata in the shotokan syllabus. It’s bizarre, you think you know a kata and do a good job of it with your peers, but when you see your instructor or legendary figures like Kanazawa perform the same sequence, it really hits home how much more you can achieve with your kata.

But talk on kata could probably be left to a future blog. Besides, its getting late and I’m planning on getting into the office earlier than usual tomorrow, so I might call it a night. I’ll try and squeeze in another blog before next week’s training, but we’ll see how I go. If nothing else, expect another round-up next week along with my usual musings!

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