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Showing posts from 2009

The importance of visualisaton

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I find visualisation essential in martial arts training: from learning new techniques, to applying them in a dynamic context.

There was a time (2003) when I was confined to a hospital bed on a drip for 3 whole months. All I could do was visualise things. I used to look at the drip and think of it as an arm, with the bend as the elbow. Then I'd imagine locks or holds. I progressed to thinking of entire sequences in 3D (takes a bit of mental discipline and practice). It was during this time that I conceived of most of our 2 person drills.

The net effect was that when I did return to training (some 20kg/44lb lighter) I was able to apply techniques I'd never applied before in sparring.

The biggest "down side" to "just visualising" (apart from physical weakness) was that I couldn't judge speeds and distances properly, so I copped a few twisted fingers and broken toes as well as walking into a few punches, missing deflections etc.

However once I got over t…

Fight dynamics: how civilian defence and combat sports play out differently

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Two recent blog posts have caught my eye - both relating to broadly the same issue, and one that is close to my heart: the difference between combat sports and civilian defence.

I have previously described, in some detail, the difference between civilian defence and combat sports (or military combat, for that matter). However both these blog posts offer a different perspective which I find quite enlightening.

The first blog entry is Andre Bertel's article "Traditional Karate Fighter?". Andre states that traditional karate is not a fighting art. He says: "What I mean by a fighting art is a martial art which is for 'dueling with an opponent and winning'. Traditional karate is technically not a martial art which produces fighters, but rather a ‘hit and escape self-defense system’."
Andre Bertel in ippon shobu competition action - a particularly nice tokui-renzokuwaza!

The second blog entry is Phil Elmore's "The myth of pressure testing". In t…

Extract #1 from "Essential Jo"

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Here is the first of a series of extracts taken from my upcoming book "Essential Jo: Comprehensive techniques and combat 2 person drills for the Japanese 4 foot staff".

The muido/wu-wei dao jo method

We call our school “muidokan” or “wu-wei dao guan” – the “house of the way of least resistance”. This reflects both our philosophical and technical emphasis of avoiding unnecessary action by “going with the flow” and using the attacker’s force against him or her.

At the core of our jo method are a series of 20 basic techniques called “suburi”. We have retained these from aikijo (the jo method of the art of aikido) as we find them to be a comprehensive catalogue of the different deflections, strikes and sweeps that one can make using the jo.


A detailed performance of the first 5 suburi or basic jo techniques

Added to this are 9 “kumijo” (literally “an encounter with jos”) – 2 person combat drills that apply the suburi in a dynamic, effective environment. These drills are modeled on…

Memories of sensei: Part 2

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Continued from Part 1:

I mentioned in my previous post that my teacher, Bob Davies, is an "old-school" teacher. I'm not sure how he teaches nowadays, but certainly my early years of training with him were underlined with a kind of discipline that would probably meet with grave consternation in today's Australia.

Well do I remember his shinai stick (a split bamboo sword used in kendo) - affectionately named "Suzuki No. 2"1 - which he used as a "motivator" during heavy sessions. Students who were flagging would, without warning, receive a crack across the back or the legs - whereupon they would "miraculously" find a second wind.

As I have said, this kind of disciplining method might be frowned upon today in the bulk of the developed world, but in the South Africa I knew, it was de rigueur. Caning was quite commonplace in schools for any number of "offences" ranging from not completing homework to "wagging"/"bunki…

Memories of sensei: Part 1

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Recently my karate sensei - Bob Davies - asked me to write a "warts and all" reflective testimonial of my experiences with him.

I have previously recounted some of those experiences, but I thought I'd give a fuller account. With regard to the "warts", I'll make this opening remark: every martial arts teacher is a human being with foibles and idiosyncrasies, and these are generally neither here nor there when it comes to defining the sensei as an important figure. Rather, what often distinguishes the sensei is the significant role he or she plays in shaping not only the student's martial arts technique, but how the student perceives and relates to the world generally.

The archetypal sensei figure might be something of a cliche nowadays, but this phenomenon is nonetheless a reality for many people.

Students of the martial arts can often idolise their teachers, placing unrealistic expectations on them. I certainly did this in my early years of training. G…

Making movements "smaller"

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In my previous article "Abandoning form: the paradox of the shrinking martial art" I discuss how movements become smaller as you progress - until ultimately the form you have learned is abandoned altogether.

Recently this approach has been suggested to me as the reason for the use of "koshi" - and by this I refer to a preloading/telegraphing hip action - in the kata naihanchi. I've previously noted my disagreement with this way of performing that kata in my article "Whole lotta shakin': hip use and naifunchin".

One example that might be offered in support of this kind of "koshi" in naihanchi/naifunchin is that of 70 year old Higa Sensei who shows a remarkably efficient and effective hip use in the following clip, only to be shown teaching his students the kind of "koshi" with which I disagree. Surely this is evidence of the effectiveness of this method? Isn't Higa just doing a "smaller" movement of the hips, some…

Internal arts and pushing

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I have previously highlighted my disdain for "mystical" interpretations of the internal martial arts. In my view all martial arts function within the bounds of known physics; there is simply nothing metaphysical - nothing that is left wanting for a "paranormal" explanation.

However there are still many people out there who adhere to the opposite view. To quote a correspondent on an internet forum:"My view of internal martial arts is when the strike's power is so refined and seemingly defies physical laws. Where there is a transfer of energy enough to lift someone off their feet yet have very little to no body momentum to justify the result of the strike."And there's the rub: "lifting someone off their feet"...

What I want to know is, why do so many people who see themselves as "internal artists" think that pushing is a good measure of martial skill - or applied force, for that matter?

Typically, these internal artists will point…

"Dropped diaphragms" and "internal power"

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There is a persistent myth that I've heard over the years that somehow training in the internal martial arts gives you a big belly.

I've never regarded this myth as anything other than an obvious, self-referential joke: ie. "I don't have a beer gut - it's just that my belly is full of qi/ki."

Recently however I have become aware that some people actually think there is such a syndrome. Just yesterday a correspondent on an internet forum said that practising internal arts had given him a "dropped diaphragm" that "stretched the fascia" giving him a "thick inflated core [which] is great for MA but definitely not a hit with the ladies".1

Indeed, many famous internal martial arts masters were, shall we say, well endowed in the mid-section. Consider the picture at the top right of this article of Wang Shujin, a formidable street fighter and student of the famous internal arts teacher Chen Pan Ling (my teacher's father).

The forum cor…

Jo: an introduction to the 4ft staff

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I will admit to having a love affair that started after I met my wife and that endures to the present day. No, the object of this affection is not another woman/man (although I suspect that my wife, like many women, probably envies its figure!).

The object is none other than a 4 foot stick, made of Japanese oak.

It feels surprisingly light in the hands, is textured with the bumps and bruises of contact over 20-something years, is well-worn at the edges and smells faintly of my sweat, absorbed over countless training sessions.

Like any relationship, my affair with the jo has followed a kind of cycle: a mad infatuation with something brand new, sleek and good looking; periods of frustration and hard work; and more recently a period of renewed appreciation - of loyalty, fidelity, deeper understanding and a kind of reverence.


A video where I discuss the basic grips and stance relating to the jo.

In short, my old jo occupies a sacred place in my heart. Nowadays I reserve it for solo practic…

Going solo?

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A common criticism of traditional eastern fighting arts is the emphasis those arts place on solo practice - often at the expense of 2 person practise.

Indeed, many traditional fighting arts are so steeped in solo forms that they have barely no partner application at all. When they do, it is often stilted, stylised and unrealistic.

This criticism has led many martial artists who are interested in pragmatism to abandon solo forms - be they full kata/xing/patterns or shorter drills such as "deflect/strike" combinations - in favour of going straight into 2 person application.

I can see the issues - however I still think that, depending on the technique being taught, some level of "solo" training is essential if you want to hone correct, efficient form.

In my experience, the need for any "delay" in moving to 2 person drills is a function of just how sophisticated (ie. complex, but for the purposes of gaining greater efficiency) the movement is that you want to te…