Saturday, 14 February 2015

Farewell!

I haven't posted to this blog for about 1 year now and felt that I shouldn't just leave without saying goodbye.

I have been busy training to be an artist (a childhood dream) and I have just set up a small creative business. This is why I haven't had time to write this blog.

However, I am still actively training in karate - it's business as usual in that respect - and I haven't lost any enthusiasm for the art. On the contrary, I am busy training towards my 3rd dan in about 18 months time. I still read any comments that are left on my posts and leave answers for most of them, so if my posts still interest you please keep reading them and I will reply.

I would like to thank everyone who has supported this blog over the 6 years I have been writing it - it has been fun communicating with you and I will still be popping over to read your blogs from time to time.

Best wishes

Sue.

P.S If you are interested in seeing my art here's my new website: www.suzibradway.co.uk




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Monday, 2 December 2013

Something to say!

Sorry I haven’t been blogging for a while. It’s partly because we have had some illness in the family, partly because of college commitments and partly because I haven’t had anything interesting to blog about recently – with over 200 posts under my belt it’s getting harder to find new things to talk about!

However, I finally have something to tell you – I've passed my Nidan grading! It took place on Saturday 30th November, an all-day affair over at the SKK Judo centre near Manchester. It was a bit hit or miss whether I would actually take the grading because of the family illness problems, my husband (and grading partner) had an operation on his ear only 5 weeks before the grading date but fortunately was sufficiently fit to still partner me, so it was all systems go on Saturday.

It was a tough grading! I had decided that I was only going to attempt it once so it was a bit of a ‘do or die’ situation. I definitely pushed myself harder than I did for shodan and the grading panel pushed me really hard – I think they really wanted to see if I had the strength and stamina to keep going when I was clearly exhausted. This is when you realise that it’s your mental strength that is being tested and not just your technical ability. I was the only candidate (out of 10) grading for nidan so I had to do several sections on my own which the grading officers decided to put back to back, so I was on the mats continuously for 4 pretty rigorous sections of the syllabus.

I made a few small mistakes. A wobble in one of my kata, a small mistake in one of my bunkai, a complete transposition of technique in 2 of my ippon kumite i.e. I started with my first technique and finished with my second and then had to do the same with my second ippon (start with the second and finish with the first) so that I didn’t repeat myself. I don’t think they noticed that mistake! I also felt that one of my kicking combinations wasn’t great either. Apart from that I did my bloody best and if I didn’t pass then there was no way I would ever be capable of doing so.

I would have been relieved to have just scraped a pass. I would have been happy to have equalled my score for shodan. So I was ecstatically happy to have scored several marks higher than I did for shodan!
The grading panel were right to have advised me not to grade last June. I wasn’t ready. This last 6 months have allowed me to correct all the problems I had following the last pre-dan and improve quite a lot. So I am now glad that I waited.

I’m so glad that it’s all over now and I can just get back to ordinary training and not be so syllabus focused. We have a lot of new and interesting changes coming up next year on our curriculum and so next year should be an exciting time in our club…



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Friday, 4 October 2013

Martial Art or Self-Defence?


Is there a difference between learning a martial art and learning self-defence?

No! You all cry, by learning a martial art you are learning self-defence, they are (or should be) the same thing.

But are they, really?

I don’t think they are the same thing, not exactly; they are overlapping but serve slightly different purposes. Let me explain….

I think that the difference between learning a martial art and learning self-defence is a difference in purpose, focus and mindset.

Learning karate as a martial art is about preservation of the art for future generations. The purpose is one of ensuring all aspects of the system are conserved and passed on in their entirety to the student, warts and all. The focus is on the art, not the student. The mindset is to explore the secrets of the kata. Exploration of kata will reveal many techniques that have no place in the modern world of self-defence, techniques that are illegal and excessive and would have you in the dock if you were to use them to defend yourself, such as neck breaks.

One hundred and fifty years or so ago in Okinawa the death of an opponent during a confrontation did not necessarily result in imprisonment. The karate master Chotoku Kyan was said to have caused the death of a rival, Chokuho Agena, following a disagreement, by jumping onto him from a tree and breaking his neck.* Today this would be classed as murder but back then this just resulted in a feud between their families that lasted for years.

Social, legal and political systems have changed over the years but a martial art remains pretty much the same – a snapshot of an older time, preserved for historical reference. The kata are like historical documents, revealing the fighting techniques of a previous age. It takes many, many years to learn a martial art.

I am making it sound as if martial arts are irrelevant to a modern age of self-defence. Of course they are not. There is much in these ancient fighting systems that are still relevant to us – the skill is in picking out these techniques and strategies and re-packaging them for today’s students.

This brings me to self-defence. Where the purpose of learning a martial art is about preservation of the art, the purpose of learning self-defence is about preservation of the individual, i.e. teaching students how to defend themselves. The mindset is different. The instructor’s role is now about selecting appropriate techniques from the repository of ancient ones that are suitable for the type of students he/she is teaching. The focus is on the student, not the art.

This is the basis of good Reality Based Self-Defence systems (RBSD) and short self-defence courses aimed at particular groups of people such as women or University students. With RBSD the instructor will have developed his system by selecting a subset of techniques probably from a range of different martial arts and re-packaging them. He will have selected techniques based on what he thinks works best from his own experience or the experience of others and with a knowledge of how violence plays out in the real world and the risks his client group face. I doubt the students would be taught how to snap someone’s neck. The result should be that the students learn to defend themselves adequately in a relatively short period of time.

However, these RBSD systems have their limitations. They will contain instructor bias – the instructor will have chosen only those techniques which he feels are appropriate and will ignore those he doesn’t like. We all have different preferences and thus each RBSD system will be a slightly different microcosm of martial arts based self-defence centred on the instructor’s world view. Techniques that may suit some student’s better will have been lost or ignored and some student’s may find that they trail from one school to another trying to find something suitable.

Going back to martial arts systems, the problem for the student looking to learn self-defence is the opposite. They are being taught everything - relevant and irrelevant for a modern world, often spending lots of time analysing kata moves that reveal only past fighting glories and could not be used today. Amongst this are the highly useful and relevant techniques. Students are often left to pick their own way through this plethora of kata moves, identifying what is useful and legal and what should be consigned to history.

So, is it possible to become proficient at personal self-defence when you are in the environment of learning a martial art?

Well, yes but it relies on two things: a willingness of the student to study and learn about the nature of violence, the law as it relates to self-defence and to think intelligently about the aspects of the art that are relevant to them personally for their own self-protection. Secondly, an instructor who is clear in his/her own mind when he/she is teaching the ancient art (focus on art) and when he/she is teaching relevant self-defence (focus on student). This may prove a longer and more tortuous way of learning self-defence but the student may learn many other useful things along the way which relate to personal development of a more ethereal nature (mind/body unity, character development, a sense of spirituality and controlling one’s own mind and body better). These are things that won’t be learnt in the more pragmatic environment of a RBSD system.

I think it is important that we continue to have clubs that focus on teaching martial arts as art, to preserve the ancient fighting systems in their entirety and to further the historical research into the meaning of the kata. This is as much an intellectual pursuit as a practical one and suits many people.

However, some people have a real need to learn self-defence, either because of personal risky lifestyles or because they work in an environment where they may need to confront an aggressor such as in the police force, prison services or the military. These people may need more targeted training than a martial art can offer and are probably better off accessing a RBSD club or a targeted self-defence course.


These are my personal views; I think that martial art and self-defence are not entirely interchangeable. What do you think and why? 

* ref: Okinawa No Bushi No Te by Ronald L. Lindsey. Page 79.

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Thursday, 22 August 2013

End of summer training.....


We’re getting towards the end of summer training now – just one more week to go…

Summer training was a concept my instructor introduced to our club a few years ago to help deal with the drop in student numbers over the summer holiday period.  Basically, the junior and senior classes are merged into one all summer. For the senior students this means starting classes an hour earlier than usual and for junior students its means they get 1.5 hour classes instead of just 1 hour.


There are obviously pros and cons to merging the classes this way. Sensei has to design lessons that suit the entire spectrum of students from white to black belts and from 6 year olds to middle-aged people. This is almost an impossible task and there are generally winners and losers. The main winners are probably the mid-graders, particularly the older children and adults as the classes are pitched much more to their level. The main losers are probably those at the extremes of the class – the youngest lower grades and the older senior grades.


It has been a challenge for sensei to get the right balance for these classes to ensure everyone gets something out of them. In previous years (in my opinion) the balance has been too much in favour of the children with lots of drills, sparring and games to keep the kids interested. However, this year sensei managed to pick a formula that has worked better for adults too.


We have spent the entire summer focussing on basic kihon and its relationship to the pinan katas, including bunkai. All of us benefit from really drilling the kihon and I mean really drilling the kihon – until you’re dripping with sweat and your legs feel like lead! Our younger or more junior members are particularly benefiting from this as there is plenty of scope for improvement in their basics but we  more senior students are also getting some insights into how to improve our body alignment and correct some simple mistakes or bad habits in our execution of kihon.  I particularly appreciate the opportunity to do this as I was pulled up on some fundamental errors in my basic kihon at my pre-dan course a couple of months ago. I’ve particularly been working on my spinal alignment and hip positioning over the summer and it’s all starting to feel much more natural now to tuck my pelvis under more during stance transitions.


We have also spent every lesson going through all the pinan kata in detail to improve both our performance of the kata but also the understanding of the applications of the kata in the form of ‘pinan drills’. This has been particularly suitable for the more senior students who value the opportunity to work on applications and benefit the most from doing so.


The classes have been very physically demanding all summer.  The warm-ups have been more like demanding work-outs and some of us oldies could have done with a warm-up before the warm-up! We have then gone straight into a demanding kihon session for about 20 minutes before being allowed a drink – and it’s been unusually hot weather here for a change. Then we’ve done all the kata several times each which, as you know, can be a workout in itself. This high-paced, physically demanding karate has suited the teenagers and older children best, though having said that the only students who have had to sit down because they felt ill have been teenage boys. We oldies stoically endure the discomfort so as not to be upstaged by some young pretenders (but we’ve been quietly feeling like death inside).


As Abraham Lincoln said: “You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”  This has been true of these summer classes. On a personal level I am fairly easy to please most of the time so although these summer classes have been a bit of a beasting, on the whole I have enjoyed them and have got a lot out of them. Other students have found them less enjoyable and some students have avoided them altogether. I have missed not being able to work on the stuff that is more relevant to my forthcoming dan grading so I have had to work on that on my own at home but the classes are not all about me and I know that I will be getting plenty of attention as the grading draws closer.


We have one more week of the summer classes and then we will be back to our usual schedule and hopefully back to more application based karate and less fitness based karate.  The kids and junior grades will have gained a lot from working with the seniors and will have gleamed some insight into what to expect as they move up the ranks but will ultimately be better off returning to their normal classes where the pace is a little easier for little ones. Likewise the seniors should all be a lot fitter and sharper with their basics and understanding of the pinan katas but will be grateful to return to their usual training patterns.  


Does the style of your training change over the summer months? What do you think about it?


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Friday, 26 July 2013

Some eclectic karate musings....


Sorry I haven’t blogged in a while, it’s just been a busy time with holidays (had a week in Malta – very nice, and a weekend visiting a vineyard – yes we can make wine here); decorating (new bathroom and decorating my son’s bedroom); gardening to catch up on now that summer has finally arrived (and is about to disappear again); weekend visitors and various other things.

In karate terms: my husband passed his 2nd dan for which I partnered him; I’ve just finished teaching my after-school karate classes for the summer and I’ve been covering some club classes while my instructor has been on holiday.

So, this post is an eclectic mix of thoughts that I have mulled over in my mind over the last couple of months…..

1.       I’ve had a hard time shaking off the disappointment I felt at not dan grading with my husband in June. It’s silly, I know, but I’ve experienced a whole roller coaster of emotions about it over the last few weeks from disappointment to anger to resignation back to anger. It’s ridiculous I should have felt like this. My head told me to wait until November but my heart wanted to do it in June. Attending the grading with my husband was a really hard day emotionally, particularly at the beginning when everyone started warming up and again at the end when certificates were presented. A lesson in humility I suppose. During the actual grading I was okay and I just got on with supporting my husband who did a really good grading. I’m on a more even keel again now and looking towards my own 2nd dan grading in November.

2.       Why do students find it so hard to learn stances? I’ve been doing a lot of teaching recently and I’m always constantly amazed at how sloppy many students are with stances. You can tell them until you are blue in the face to ‘bend the front knee (in zenkutsu dachi)’, or ‘bend the back leg’ (in neko ashi dachi) and they still don’t do it – even at brown belt! When you watch them do kata above the waist they are looking pretty good but watch their legs and there is hardly any attempt to use the proper stances at all. I’ve tried getting them to do a basic kata such as pinan nidan with their arms behind their backs so that they just have to concentrate on their legs but they still just walk through the pattern with hardly any discernible stances! Do you have any effective ways to teach stances?

3.       I think I have found the source of my leaning problem in karate. This problem raised its ugly head again during my pre-dan (it has plagued me for years!). However, my husband seems to have pinpointed the subtle thing that I am doing wrong and I am practising hard now to correct it. It appears that when I am transitioning between stances during kihon combinations or kata I am slightly hyper-extending my back and pushing my hips forward. You would think that this would make me lean backwards but it actually results in me leaning forward slightly when I change stance. I also think it makes my stance transitions slower because my weight is not correctly balanced between my feet and there is a slight pause before I can move. My husband said that I need to tuck my pelvis under more to straighten my spine (like you do in sanchin dachi). When I try doing this in zenkutsu dachi I can get my hip back more and step forward more quickly because my weight is more evenly balanced. I also don’t lean as I step forward. I am now practising to make this feel a more natural movement and hopefully some of my other problems may disappear at the same time i.e. leading slightly with the hand rather than the foot and occasionally losing balance.

As you can see my karate seems like a series of highs and lows at the moment, but that’s par for the course isn’t it.?We’re on a long journey, not in a race. It’s normal to have training plateaus, move forward, slide back again, have Eureka moments or discover small flaws in technique that are holding you back. Keeping going is the most important thing and not letting disappointments blow you of course.

So I am keeping going – I have started training daily, i.e. a little and often strategy. I find training about 7.15 in the morning the best time for me. If I’m not in the gym by 8.00am then in my heart of hearts I know it will not happen! The day will take over and I won’t get around to it, so I’m trying to be very disciplined with myself. I’m determined to crack the problems that plague my karate and stopped me from grading last month.


The biggest battle we all face really is the one inside ourselves isn’t it?

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