Friday, 27 February 2009

Karate is....never having to say you're sorry

When I signed up to learn karate I knew that it would almost certainly involve some physical contact with other people. I had worked out before I even started that occasionally that contact may be a bit painful or unpleasant, after all it is essentially a fighting art. However I reasoned that I would just have to learn to take it, to toughen up, and I have learned to do so. However, this does not seem to stop my partners from constantly apologising to me every time they hit the pad hard, push me off balance a little or catch my ankle awkwardly with a sweep. They don't hurt me by doing this, in fact it generally means they are doing it well! They don't need to keep saying sorry, I know they are nice people and they aren't trying to hurt me. But the apology is off putting. It says to me, ' I don't like hurting you so please don't hurt me!' This obviously has an inhibiting effect on me when I am punching the pad in return or sparring with that person. I have even had partners who at the beginning of a sparring session have said to me, 'I don't like hurting people'. The subliminal message here is, 'so go easy on me'.

This culture of constant apologies makes it very difficult to practice your karate to your full ability because there seems to be a general fear (at least amongst the women) of getting hurt or hurting someone. In Dave Lowrey's book, Traditions, he devotes a short chapter to this very problem of whether to apologise to your partner if you have accidentally hurt them. He basically says that the need to keep apologising is, '...the unconditioned response of the untrained budoka'.
He further states that the dojo, ' not the place for unconditioned responses,' and that the budoka, '...must realise that there is a chance, a risk involved, every time he trains.' When we take up a martial art we voluntarily accept an 'assumed risk' and should not be surprised if occasionally we get hurt or hurt someone.

So how do we deal with it? Well I don't think we should apologise at all for doing karate properly on an opponent. If a partner hits the pad really hard and I feel the shock wave through my body or get pushed back a few paces, or they make contact with me in sparring I should be saying well done, not expecting an apology, and vice-versa. However, if someone does genuinely get hurt by a mis-hit, Dave Lowrey suggests that the perpetrator should first accept responsibility by saying, ' my fault' and then just say, 'you okay?'. In other words keep it simple, honest, straightforward and respectful.

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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

I have a bloke's brain!

I have just completed an online 'Sex I.D' test on the BBC's website. This psychological testing programme is based on the premise that women's brains perform differently to men's brains i.e women always know where to find the car keys and men always know how to read the map! There were several categories to complete covering skills like spatial awareness (men are supposed to be better at this); processing visual information i.e knowing which objects had been moved around in a picture (a woman's skill); empathy skills (women) and systemising (men). You were given individual scores for each section and then an overall score in the 'female-male continuum'. If you imagine a scale with zero in the middle, the female zone is to the left of zero with scores up to 100 and the male zone is to the right of zero with scores up to 100, then the average woman scores 50 in the female zone and the average man scores 50 in the male zone.

I scored 25 in the male zone!

Please don't get the impression that I'm some kind of 'butch' karate kicking woman. I'm not. In fact I am fairly petite and on the whole feminine, though I admit I'm not a girly kind of girl. Anyway this got me thinking, is having a 'male' brain the reason I like karate? Is it the reason I'm quite competitive? Do other women who do martial arts also have a 'male' brain? I'd love to know the answer to that one. If you are interested in finding out whether you have a male or female brain why not go and do the test yourself and let me know the answer. Is the reason I am turning this post into a scientific experiment because I have a male brain?

If you are interested this link will take you directly to the test. You can do it anonymously and it takes about 20 minutes. Good luck!

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Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Blogging course

Just thought I'd let you know that I am currently doing an online blogging course so that I can perfect the art of blogging. This is why I haven't posted recently but hopefully you will start to see some improvements to my site over the next few weeks - and some posts! I'd welcome any feedback you have on the site (good and bad) or any suggestions for improvements. Thanks.

If you are interested in finding out more about the blogging course I am doing then you can find out about it by going to:

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Thursday, 19 February 2009

Martial Mutterings...

As much as I love martial arts it does have its down side - the Gi wash! Today I have 6 gis to wash. Washing them is not too bad, the washing machine does that, it's drying and ironing them that is the problem. It's too damp to hang them outside so they are draped all over the radiators in the house. I know this is not wise because they will dry to a crisp and be even harder to iron but I have no where else to dry them. They can't be tumble tried because they'll shrink. Fortunately my husband shares the ironing of gis with me. Why do we need so many gis anyway? My husband and eldest son have two each (one for jujitsu, one for karate) and my younger son and I have one each, though I do have a second 'kata' gi for competitions. And that's another thing - why do we need different gis for different things? Take my husband's jujitsu gi for instance - it's twice as thick as my karate training gi. It has a life of its own, its so thick it can virtually stand up on its own; I have to wrestle with it to get it in the washing machine and then it takes up 2 whole radiators to dry. It is a selfish gi! But then my kata gi is thicker than my training gi. Why does a kata gi have to be thick? It's also a 'ladies' gi which means it has a longer jacket. Why do I need a longer jacket? Am I expected to cover my bum? Gis are clearly specialists! And my final mutter on gis: How do you make a gi crack? (Sounds like a joke, perhaps you could come up with a punchline). When my sensei demonstrates kata his gi makes distinctive cracking sounds when he does sharp clean blocks and strikes. It doesn't matter how sharp I try and make my moves my gi remains silent - it is a mute gi! Does your gi have personality?

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Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Six minute workout

If you're short of time for exercise and want something effective in as short a time as possible, try this. I devised this quick workout based on an article I read in the Daily Telegraph in which a research study showed that short 30 second bursts of activity can increase BMR and improve insulin function by 23% with only 15minutes of exercise over 2 weeks!

Using a cross trainer/exercise bike/treadmill/running on spot:

1 min slow warm up

30sec quick burst as hard as you can (feels like longest 30sec of your life!)

30 sec slow pedalling/cycling/jogging

30 quick burst

1 min slow pedalling/cycling/jogging (you need slightly longer to recover by now)

30 sec quick burst

1 min slow pedalling/cycling/jogging

30 sec quick burst

30 sec slow pedalling/cycling/jogging - then you can collapse on the floor!

See, 6 minutes and its all over but you feel like you've ran 5km.

I think these short bursts of intensive aerobic activity are good for kumite training. I challenge you to try it - let me know how it goes.

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Saturday, 14 February 2009

Kata v Kumite - is there a sex bias?

I have noticed in our club that people are polarised between either prefering kata or kumite. There seems to be a slight sex bias here with women on the whole preferring kata and men preferring kumite, though there are one or two exceptions. I presume that this is probably because women generally don't like confrontation and therefore don't like sparring with each other whereas men like to test themselves out against each other.

I could understand this difference in attitude if the the type of sparring we did in Shukokai karate was full-contact but it isn't. We only practice non-contact (or minimal-contact) sparring so the aim is not to land a punch or kick on your opponent. This means that, unless you get it wrong -as we do occasionally, you don't get hurt so its very non-threatening. It's not so much about learning to fight as learning to have good control of your strikes and kicks in order that they stop within 1or 2 inches of your opponent or just make touch contact. This is incredibly difficult to get right as you must throw the kick or punch as if you really mean to hit them but focus it on a target just short of your opponent. You need a lot of control over your limbs to do this right!

I suppose kata is completely non threatening and non-competitive so appeals to women a lot more. I think most women in our club do karate a form of physical fitness training rather than because they really want to master the art. In this respect learning kata is a bit like learning a dance and dancing is good exercise! But if you are interested in karate as a fighting art you have to see kata as more than a sequence of choreographed moves but have to understand it as something that encodes real fighting and that means you have to learn the bunkai. The men in our club definitely seem more enthusiastic about learning bunkai than the women.

So what do I prefer? Well I admit I find learning kata much easier than learning to spar. I like the grace and elegance of performing a kata well and I try to make the moves as sharp and punchy as I can. But I don't want to learn kata merely as a means to getting my next belt and then forgetting it and learning the next one. I admit that I do inwardly groan when sensei says we are going to some bunkai but that's only because I find it difficult and confusing to to learn. I want the katas to mean more than a strange kind of dance, I want to understand them so I'll just have to persevere with the bunkai. Kumite is definitely harder to learn. We are introduced to it right from white belt but even as a purple belt I still struggle with finding openings or having any sense of strategy! But despite that I am a competitive person and I don't want to shy off from the confrontational side of karate. My aim is to feel confident and competent enough to enter a kumite competition, hopefully within the next year.

So are you a kata or kumite addict? I'd love to hear other peoples views on this.

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Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Back stance blues

I have noticed the back stance (kokutsu dachi) appearing more and more frequently in the training syllabus, both in the combinations and in the kata, particularly pinan godan where it is done twice. I find it a difficult stance to get into mainly because we have to step forward into it. Stepping forward into a back stance does not feel very natural! It is very difficult to get your weight distribution correct i.e. most weight on the back leg when you have just stepped forward. There is a tendency to want to put your weight forward initially and then adjust it backwards - but this is wrong. When sensei demonstrates the move it looks natural, elegant and strong. When I do it it looks, well feels, awkward, ungainly and unbalanced! I expect with practice I'll get better at it but I can't imagine why you would step forward into this stance in a real self-defence situation. According to Nakayama in his book 'Best Karate - fundamentals' the back stance is... "useful for blocking when moving backward, or for getting the body safely out of the opponent's range," implying that you step back into the stance. So is stepping forward into back stance peculiar to shukokai style karate? I don't know - I would appreciate some insights from any senseis out there.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Competition Cancellation

I am gutted. I have just been phoned by my sensei to be told that as I am the only woman to enter my category the category has been cancelled for Sunday's competition. How are you supposed to get competition experience if you have no one to compete against? Usually when there are few entrants for a category the categories get condensed together so this cancellation must mean that I was the only female entrant over the age of 21 in the whole of Britain who practices Shukokai karate between 6th and 4th kyu! Yet there must over a hundred women who were eligible to enter. Why don't women like entering kata competitions? It's such great experience and there is nothing like competing to help you raise your game.

In the two competitions I have entered I have been really impressed with the standard of kata performance - it is much higher than the average standard at club level. I think you put much more effort into learning your katas when you know you are going to be on show and it is so inspiring when you see how good katas can look when you watch good people performing them in competition. I think everyone who is learning karate should at least go and watch a competition just so they can see what is achievable with a bit of extra effort.

Why can't men and women compete together in a kata competition? After all there is no real gender bias in kata so we can compete on a level playing field. This would ensure that there were sufficient entrants to prevent categories being cancelled and ensure that women don't fall behind men in standards of competition.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Competition Jitters.

I'm entering my third kata competition this Sunday (SKU National Kata Championships). I'm feeling more nervous this time than before because at 4th kyu I'm entered in a higher category. Though I suppose looking at it another way I ought to be better than a year ago and I think 4th kyu is the highest grade in the category so I'll have the advantage. But am I better than a year ago? I certainly know more katas but I'm not sure I am any sharper or technically precise than I was. I suppose the difference to being competent at kata and being good at it lies in the attention to detail. Are the hand and feet positions correct? Are the strikes at the right height? Are the kicks pulled back properly? Do you turn to look before changing direction? Is the breathing correct? So much to think about and thats on top of remembering all the steps in the first place! However there's nothing like standing in the middle of the competition arena to focus the mind - it feels very different to performing a kata back in the dojo. With the adrenaline pumping around your body at high speed and knowing you are being watched from every angle by the judges you have about 45 seconds to prove yourself. Somehow all this enables you to rid your mind of all other thoughts and think only in the moment so that each step just seems to happen. Before you know it you are doing your final bow and walking backwards out of the arena and it's all over. Unless you get through to the next round - then you do it all again but with another kata!

When I did my first competition the things that struck me most were the loudness of people's kiais - they really belt it out long and hard! The kiais we do back in class are pathetic little wimpers or grunts in comparison. The other thing was the way people announced their kata. It seems you are expected to shout it out rather abruptly with an inflection on the end that makes it sound as if you are rather rudely asking a question - SANCHIN? Well if you don't know what its called mate!

My little repetoire of katas that I've been practicing for this Sunday are Pinan Godan, Jurokono and Tensho. Hopefully I'll only need two of them since so few women enter these competitions it never seems to go more than 2 rounds! Where are all the women? Anyway I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Fighting Back.

We became a martial arts family about 6 years ago when hubby and the boys took up Jujitsu. Unfortunately it became a bit like living with Kato from pink panther with hubby jumping out from behind doors or sneaking up behind me to put me in locks or practice throwing techniques. I decided 18 months ago it was time to fight back! However, I didn't fancy jujitsu - all that grappling and rolling around. I reckon if an attacker got me down on the ground I'd be dead meat. I needed a martial art that would allow me to stay on my feet and not get in too close and personal with my attacker - karate seemed the perfect choice with its kicks, strikes, blocks, sweeps and running away! I managed to find a club which had it's dojo conveniently located in my sons' school. However, the men in my life couldn't bare the idea of me getting good at something they couldn't do and signed up with me! My youngest dropped out at red belt but the rest of us have continued on and now sport a rather fetching purple belt (4th kyu).


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