Monday, 31 August 2009


I had a kobudo lesson last night in which we focused entirely on the sword. As a complete beginner I am obviously focusing on the very basic components of iaido, namely: Nukitsuke (The initial draw and strike of the sword); Kirioroshi ( The primary, vertical cut after nukitsuke);
Chiburi (the shaking off blood from the sword) and Noto (Returning the blade to the saya).

I find the whole process quite difficult but fascinating and fun. I'm currently using a bokken which I find quite heavy and hard to control. Sensei suggests getting a wooden katana instead (at least for kata work) as they are thinner and lighter - I may take him up on this idea as my right wrist was pretty sore this morning!

The part that fascinates me the most though is the chiburi. I'm not sure if it's just the word that fascinates me - it almost sounds Italian, Chiburi! Or whether it's the idea of shaking blood off the sword that appeals to the darker side of my nature! Anyway I wanted to find out a bit more about this process:

The term Chiburi means "to shake the blood." In the days of the Samurai, after cutting down an opponent using a sword technique, the bulk of the blood was usually removed with a one handed flicking action. The reason for doing this was primarily to stop the sword from rusting and to prevent blood from being put into the saya from where it would be difficult to remove.

I was a bit dubious as to how effective a chiburi action would be at removing blood from the sword. I have a lot of experience with blood, (I used to be a dialysis nurse), and it is fairly thick sticky stuff! Not easily shaken off a sword I would imagine. In fact it seems that a lot of other iaido practitioners are also dubious about it as well. I checked out a forum that was discussing this issue:
and found several people appear to have practiced the chiburi with real blood - and found it wanting!

One contributor, Meik Skoss, said: "A student cut himself during iaijutsu training and, while he was being attended to, the teacher saw the sword lying on the floor, with the guy's blood still on the blade. "Waste not, want not." He picked it up and tried a number of different chiburi (beginning with that of Katori Shinto-ryu) and found out that, lo and behold!, none of them had ANY effect on removing blood from the blade. He concluded that chiburi, regardless of the way it is done, is a stylistic affectation. Looks nice. Doesn't "work.""

Another contributor, Richmond McCluer, clearly has macabre tastes, he recounts: "Years ago I did a couple of cuts on whitetail deer carcasses after we hung them during hunting season. Lessons learned included: chiburi, done a variety of ways, does not get the blood off the blade; chiburi will get some blood off, but not all of the fur".

However, perhaps chiburi is not meant to get all the blood off the sword - just the excess!

One-on-one samurai sword fights gave the victorious warrior time to also wipe the blade then proceed to clean the blade in a correct manner. However sword fighting moves delivered during a battle wouldn't have allowed the time for this, so a quick cleaning action and re-sheathing would have been more practical.

Nowadays it's a ritual action performed in sword kata (forms) to symbolize the act of blood removal from the blade. I love the flamboyancy of the chiburi movements - very showy!

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Sunday, 16 August 2009

Karate as an Olympic sport? I'm not so sure.

I don't know about you but I have mixed feelings about the IOC's rejection of karate as an Olympic sport for 2016.

On the one hand it is disappointing because I think karate is a world class level sport and it is exciting to watch. Personally I think it is more exciting to watch than either judo or taekwondo (but I may be a little biased!). Karate is more varied than either of these two martial arts with both kata and kumite events. However, I believe the proposal was for 5 different medal events, so whether that included kata and kumite or just kumite I don't know.

The details are immaterial though. It didn't get chosen. Other commentators have suggested that the reason it didn't get enough votes is because it has insufficient funds to effectively lobby the IOC and market itself with the public. Also the public understanding of karate is limited and they would be unable to distinguishing it sufficiently form judo and particularly taekwondo!

There is a side of me though that is relieved that karate didn't get picked. My concern would be that the modern sport side of karate would come to dominate. It would be seen as the most prestigious side of karate. The fit, most able people would gravitate to the sports side and the people preferring the traditional karate-do side would be considered 'second class'. This would be a great distortion of karate.

I know there is already world level competition in karate and my 'doom and gloom' prediction hasn't come to pass with that, but with it's lack of publicity and prime TV sports coverage, these competitions are only generally followed by other martial artists and competitors families/friends. It is not a sport that is in the general consciousness of the wider public and so karate has not been distorted by it. But make it an Olympic sport and it will be another matter. The Olympics is watched world wide by many people who have no interest in sport during the four year gap between events and then suddenly become 'couch enthusiasts' for two weeks!

They will form their impressions of karate from what they see, which will be two people sparring in short bursts with a cheering crowd in the background. To the uninitiated it will look similar to taekwondo or boxing. Only a tiny fraction of what karate is really about will be on display and that is what the public will think karate is.

If kata were an Olympic event what would the public make of that? Would they think it was some kind of weird athletic dance? In front of an informed martial arts audience the kata performance would be appreciated and understood but in front of a general audience I'm not so sure.

The other problem is how it may distort the training values of the competitors. Kumite will basically be seen as a method of controlled fighting in an arena with rules and referees and that is what people will just train to do. The consequences for kata would be even worse. The emphasis for competitors would be on the performance rather than the understanding of the kata. Though you may argue that to perform the kata well you need to understand the bunkai within it. However, to make it more exciting to a general audience perhaps there will be a temptation to make it more like gymnastics with leaps, spins and somersaults!

Am I just being a 'harbinger of doom' or do I have a valid point? What are your views on karate as an Olympic sport - are you in favour or against?

clip art courtesey of :

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Learning karate in new ways

Sensei has been trying out some new approaches to teaching us recently. These are not things that we have never done before but we are doing them with much greater emphasis.

1. Kihon. We have always done kihon practice, particularly in the lower grades, but Sensei is now taking a slightly different approach to it. Previously, after going through all the basic block, strikes and kicks together we would then practice the different combinations commensurate with our grade. However, Sensei was finding it difficult to watch all of us at the same time and occasionally sloppy technique was slipping through the net unnoticed, which was then filtering its way into our performance of kata.

Now, we all do the same combinations regardless of grade (some relatively simple, others very difficult). After each technique in the combination we have to freeze and hold the position. Sensei then comes and looks at each of us and corrects errors in stance, arm height, hand position etc. We then move to the next technique and corrections are made again and so on until the combination is complete. If several of us are making the same error on a particular technique then the correct way of doing it is demonstrated and we practice it several times. Eventually we move onto doing the whole combination at full speed (hopefully incorporating the corrections made).

This approach is working well. Often you don't realise you are making a mistake until it is pointed out and it doesn't take long for bad habits to be established and they can be difficult to get rid of! Hopefully, new and better habits will be established and this will drive up the standard of kata performance. Well I think it's working on me! I didn't realise my age uke block wasn't quite right or that my hand position for a uraken zuki was wrong - now I know, I can do something about it.

2.Break falling. The first two years of my karate training we never (or hardly ever) did break falling practice. We didn't need to - we never did any throwing! Plus we always trained on a hard floor rather than mats. When we were practicing self-defense moves we would put in all the blocks, strikes, escapes and locks. We may even get into position as if to throw our opponents - then we'd stop. But karate does have throws in it doesn't it? Or at least it did. In many styles the throwing techniques seem to have been watered down or lost altogether.

So in order for us to practice some simple throwing techniques on each other we are now learning to fall safely. Most lessons now we get the mats out and practice throwing ourselves onto the ground! I actually find this quite confidence building. The reason I didn't follow my husband into jujitsu was because I didn't think I could cope with being thrown. I just presumed that it would hurt and be an unpleasant experience. But I've learned through karate that I'm tougher than I thought I was and if you fall properly it doesn't hurt at all. It can be a bit jarring occasionally and after a session of break falling I often have a stiff neck and shoulders the next day. In fact, between you and me, I actually quite enjoy being thrown now!

However, we are still a karate club and not a jujitsu club so most of the take downs we are practising are unbalancing techniques with pull downs or sweeps rather than the impressive throws you see in jujitsu or judo. I think we are all gaining in confidence since we started doing this break fall practice which comes through in the more assertive way we are doing ippon kumite and bunkai.

I love the fact that in karate you perfect techniques through constant repetition and yet despite a lot of repetition there are so many things to learn that it never gets boring! I can't wait for tonight's class ( I had to miss Monday's).

Friday, 7 August 2009

Can Aesop teach us about self-defense?

I was discussing last night, with my husband, whether or not it is possible to have a single initial response to an attack that would work in all (or most) situations or whether you actually needed to develop a range of techniques and then choose the right one to suit the particular circumstances you find yourself in. He reminded me of this Aesop fable:

The Fox and the Cat

A Fox was boasting to a Cat of its clever devices for escaping its enemies. "I have a whole bag of tricks," he said, "which contains a hundred ways of escaping my enemies."

"I have only one," said the Cat; "but I can generally manage with that."

Just at that moment they heard the cry of a pack of hounds coming towards them, and the Cat immediately scampered up a tree and hid herself in the boughs.

"This is my plan," said the Cat. "What are you going to do?"

The Fox thought first of one way, then of another, and while he was debating the hounds came nearer and nearer, and at last the Fox in his confusion was caught up by the hounds and soon killed by the huntsmen. Miss Puss, who had been looking on, said:

"Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon."

Courtesy of

Okay, this is just a story but Aesop had some wise words. I think sometimes we learn too many ways to deal with the same problem e.g. several ways to get out of a wrist grab, strangle or bear hug - would we be able to choose, in the heat of the moment, which one to use? I think it's important to explore a range of techniques to find out which works for you but maybe you then have to settle on a small armoury of techniques that you can apply to a range of scenarios and that you can practice over and over again.

The thing that worries me most though is the initial response to an attack - the very first thing you should do when attacked. Is it possible to have a single response to all situations, like the cat? Or do you need to have a selection of initial responses followed by a selection of follow through techniques, and risk getting confused like the fox?

Do you have a favoured technique that you know would work well for you in most situations? Man of the West told me in his comments to my post, Block or Flinch in martial arts, that:

"God knows it's been years since I've been in any "street fights," but on those
rare occasions, literally every single one of them ended quickly with me
delivering a more-or-less uncontested shot to the solar plexus. Quick, easy,
very effective..."

What would be your favoured technique(s)?

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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Combat Trivia!

Here's a bit of combat trivia to cheer you up:

Weird weapons:

So you thought biological warfare was a modern phenomenon? Not so! In 1500 Leonardo da Vinci suggested using bombs containing saliva from mad dogs or pigs, or the venom of toads or snakes. They even catapulted the corpses of rotting horses and other animals into enemy castles to infect the inhabitants! (Meat) pie in the sky, I say!

In 1865 during a war between Uruguay and Brazil a Uruguayan ship ran out of cannon balls. Instead they fired stale Dutch cheeses, one of which dismasted an enemy vessel and killed two sailors! Hard cheese, eh!

In 1870 the US military invented boomerang bullets, designed to fire in a curved line. They had to be withdrawn when they kept travelling in a complete circle and killing the person that fired them!

After inventing gunpowder the Chinese hit on the idea of turning camels into killers! A small cannon was strapped to a camel, then covered with silk, so called 'silk guns'. Obviously Camels of Mass Destruction (CMDs) - that would really give you the hump!

The Chinese and Okinawans weren't the only people to use farm implements as weapons. In 1862, C.M French and W.H Fancher of Waterloo, New York patented a combined gun and plough. It was designed to be used by farmers so they could quickly turn their ploughs into powerful guns if they were attacked while ploughing. 'We'll plough the fields and blast you....'

Weird laws:

It is against the law to wear a suit of armour in the House of Commons.

There is an un-repealed law that states that within the city boundaries of York, a local man can kill a Scotsman on sight with a bow and arrow.

Anyone detonating a nuclear weapon within the city limits of Chico, California, USA, is liable to a $500 fine! Don't do it, it will cost you an arm and a leg!

If you live in Arkansas, USA, then you need to know that it is illegal to extract the teeth of a bear or otherwise surgically alter it.

Beware all those that live in Spades, Indiana, USA - you are not allowed to open a can with a revolver.

And just to end:

Kung Fu Chaos

When the British first witnessed Chinese soldiers using Kung-fu they didn't quite know what to make of it. One observer described it like this:

"It is impossible to imagine anything more whimsical and comic than the evolutions of the Chinese soldiers; they advance, draw back, leap, pirouette, cut capers, crouch behind their shields, as if to watch the enemy, then jump up again, distribute blows right and left, and then run away with all their might,
crying "Victory! Victory!" "

Hope you enjoyed!

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