Monday, 20 June 2011

New look, same name.....

I hope you like the new look blog. I decided it was a good time for a new fresh look. However, I've decided not to change the title. Somehow " my journey to black belt" still seems appropriate. I've only just reached the borders of black belt territory and will now spend the rest of my life travelling into its deeper terrain, exploring all it has to offer. So there's no need to change, its just business as usual......

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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A heart felt thank you....

I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has sent me their comments and congratulations following my shodan success.  I really appreciate the support and advice many of you have given me over the last 2½ years that I have been blogging about my karate journey. I have taken on board many of the things that you have said to me and learnt a great deal from your own blogs. My success belongs to you as well; it is as if I have had many teachers from around the world, so thank you.

I think my feet are now descending back to the ground ready to start the next leg of the journey! Sensei told me I was now a white belt again – a beginner. It’s true; I am (along with my co-graders) the most junior of the black belt students. It’s a place I’m happy to be as I have much to learn.

We had a great lesson on Monday – we didn’t touch a single thing on the syllabus. After the intensity of the last few months we all needed a break from that, even Sensei! So instead we spent the whole session looking at some ‘urban’ self defence situations. This was different, it was refreshing and useful. We kept it all light but some useful things were learnt.

You know, I feel really released from the ‘shackles’ of grading at the moment. Training is just going to be fun for a while. I also intend to focus more seriously on the assistant instructor program; Sensei has already asked me to assist him with some ‘taster’ sessions he is planning to do in a local primary school so I’m looking forward to that.

So many opportunities now seem open to me – I’m really buzzing at the moment….

Thank you again xXx

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Monday, 13 June 2011

One proud lady owner of a.....


You know, I can hardly believe that what was such a huge mountain in front of me only 24 hours ago is now behind me! It feels amazing, shattering, but amazing all the same. As I write this I am looking at a huge certificate with my name on that says I have been “….officially entered into the records of Seishin-Do Shukokai Karate and is herewith licensed to rank in the 1st Dan grade of shukokai Karate-Do in recognition of the degree of excellence achieved in the study of the art.” Who me? Wow! 

Me and Hubby!
Of course, I also have to congratulate my husband who also passed with flying colours and made a brilliant partner. Thank you. 

It was a good day, a positive day.  I had been so worried that I would feel drained and negative at the end of the day and that it would feel like an anti-climax but in reality I didn’t feel like that at all. I felt fairly relaxed and positive throughout the day.

We had an early start, up at 6.00am and out of the house by 8.00. We had an hour and a half drive to the grading centre and were expected on the mats by 10.00am. After a warm up and some practice time we started the grading at 10.30 and finished at 5.30pm. Nineteen people graded – seventeen passed.

With 19 people and 15 sections to get through the grading officers had organised the day with military precision. The kihon sections were done in rows. There were 14 combinations to do in all. The front row graded first with the first two combinations then moved to the back and the second row came forward, then the third row. Then the first row did the next two combinations and so on. It took about an hour and a quarter to get through that little lot. I made my first big error during the stance combination – I stepped left into shiko dachi and everyone else in the row stepped right. They were right, I was wrong. My mistake obviously stuck out like a sore thumb!

Receiving my belt
As an aside, I was the last person on the third row. I thought this was because my last name begins with ‘W’ and we were in alphabetical order. I had rationalised that the reason my husband wasn’t standing next to me (there was a person between us) was because we were grading partners and we were being allowed a ‘1 person gap’ between me partnering him and him partnering me for our ippons and goshin waza. It wasn’t until we were driving home that my husband took joy in telling me that the reason I was last in the line was because I was the oldest person grading!

For the kata/bunkai sections we were split into two groups. One group left the grading hall to have a lunch break for an hour whilst the second group did their 3 kata and bunkai demonstrations individually. We then swapped over. I was in the second group. For me the kata demonstration was the most nerve wracking part of the grading but I managed to do all the kata without any mistakes so I’m pretty sure that section went okay.

The rest of the sections were either done in two or three groups at a time or individually with partners. My only other blunder was during the ippon kumite section. Despite having gone through all nine techniques endlessly in my mind whilst waiting for my turn (last of course, since I was the old lady!) when it came to actually do it I unconsciously substituted one of my defences to oi zuki for one of my defences to mawashi zuki. Then when I got to my mawashi zuki defences I realised I’d already shown one. I couldn’t immediately work out which oi zuki defence I’d missed out so couldn’t think quickly enough to adapt it to a mawashi zuki attack. Instead I just repeated the one I’d already done. Naturally, the sharp eyed judges noticed I’d repeated a technique! Still it was better than standing there wondering what to do.

With our instructor
The last two sections were sparring. First jiyu kumite then shiai kumite. I was partnered up with a teenage girl who was grading for 2nd dan. She was clearly a more agile and experienced sparrer than me but I thought I didn’t do too badly against her in the jiyu section (free sparring) – I got a reasonable range of kicks and punches on her, though she knew exactly how to deal with my mawashi geri kicks – catching my foot, spinning me round and thumping me in the back! In the shiai kumite section (competition sparring) I had to fight her again. According to my husband I held her off me pretty well and even scored a half point. Then I made the fatal mistake of doing a mawashi geri and again she caught my foot, span me round and punched me in the back, scoring herself a full ippon. I should have known better! So she won but it didn’t matter the grading was finally over.

We were all asked to leave the grading hall whilst the marks were added up. The atmosphere in the waiting area was very upbeat. We were all tired and glad it was over but there was a lot of camaraderie and positive talk going on. In fact, throughout the day the atmosphere had been friendly and supportive – almost enjoyable!

My fellow club members
After about 40 minutes we were called back in and lined up again. Each person’s final mark was called out and that person walked to the front to shake hands with each grading officer and receive their belt and certificate. This was obviously a difficult time for the two people that didn’t pass as they just had to stay in line after receiving their mark. They were both only youngsters and I thought they dealt with it stoically and maturely (no tears or complaints). They even came up to congratulate other people when we were celebrating at the end so I hope they both have success at their next attempt.

You know, I didn't feel as shattered at the end of the grading as I had expected to. I was tired and a little achy but not as shattered as I was after assisting at the last dan grading last November. I don't know if this is because I am fitter now than I was 6 months ago or whether that carbo-loading regime Felicia advised me on really did work - all I know is I felt okay at the end. The porridge for breakfast fuelled me for a few hours (thanks Marie) and the mango pieces were the most practical and enjoyable snack food I took (thanks Patty).  I nibbled food at every opportunity (thanks Charles) and drank cranberry juice as well as water (thanks kururunfa). The other food I took that was really palatable and useful was - sushi! It contained protein and carbohydrate, was tasty, easily digestible and came in bite size pieces - perfect! I'm pretty sure all your nutritional advice helped get me through the day, so thanks.

I have a double karate class tonight so I am looking forward to stepping into the dojo with my black belt on. The belt is stiff and virtually untie-able at the moment but I'll manage!

The whole grading group!

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Thursday, 9 June 2011

The need to understand human violence...

It has occurred to me in recent weeks that I know very little about the nature of violence. What makes a person attack another? What are the trigger factors? What is the order of events in a fight? Is there an order of events, i.e. is there a ritualistic nature to the way a person attacks another? What factors may escalate a fight? What are the main differences between the way a man attacks another man and the way a man attacks a woman?

I’ve come to realise that if we don’t understand the nature of violence then how can we realistically prepare ourselves to defend against it?

I found an interesting article on the SIRC (Social Issues Research Centre) website called ‘The Human Nature of Violence’, written by Prof. Robin Fox (Professor of Social Theory at Rutgers University). In this article Prof. Fox suggests that violence is a natural human state rather than a ‘disease’ or something for which we need to find causes of.  He says:

Whether we like violence or not is not the question here. We are not concerned with evaluating it but with explaining or understanding it. And the causal explanation may simply not be the appropriate one, driven as we are by dislike to look for the cause to remedy the supposed disease.

He likens the behaviour of young men to that of young males in the animal kingdom and equates the violent outbursts of some young men to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection:

At puberty, our males, for example, increase their testosterone levels as much as ten to thirty times. Given sexual competition, the dominance of older males, and the rise in testosterone, it is entirely predictable that violence will occur. Thus, we find in all cultures young, post pubescent males acting aggressively, and older males acting to restrain and divert them. The females, in their wisdom, pick off the winners. This is what Darwin called sexual selection.

It seems that young males fighting together are just the product of their biology – firing off hormones in a predictable manner: first adrenaline as they become aroused by the sighting of a rival, this puts them into a state of readiness and a display of aggressive posturing will ensue. Testosterone levels rise at this point. They will then show menacing behaviour (moving towards each other, circling each other, squaring up etc) as serotonin levels rise. Finally they may attack and a ritualistic fight may ensue. If they ‘win’ the fight a flood of endorphins are released.  Escalation points in a fight may include the ‘taking off of the coat or watch’. De-escalation may occur with the ‘hold me back or I’ll kill him phenomenon”.  Apparently this is an invitation to spectators to intervene and stop the fight occurring.  Many of these altercations don’t get past the ritual/posturing stage.

Human behaviour really can be amazingly predictable and a fight may be more ritualistic than we realise. Understanding this behaviour can help us to better plan our self-defence strategies, particularly in response to avoidance and de-escalation tactics.

However, the above scenario is pitting like against like – people who understand each other’s motives and know the ‘rules’ (even if they don’t realise it). The more scary violence for most of us is the ‘predator/prey’ variety.

The predator/prey situation arises when the attacker sees their intended victim as being different to them i.e different gender, different race, different religion, different gang or even just different nationality.  In this situation the ‘stalk/attack/kill (rape)’ sequence is in operation. The attack may be quick and decisive with no ritualistic behaviour or escalation/de-escalation points. There are no rules in this behaviour. Your only option is to try and flee or fight back. A different self-defence strategy is needed to deal with the predator/ prey situation.

I am just touching the surface of understanding human violent behaviour but already I’m starting to see how important it is to self-defence training – you need to understand your enemy so that you can work out how to deal with them effectively.

I think that women have a particular problem here. It is much harder to study violence against women because it is more clandestine in nature. There is a lot of mobile phone footage or CCTV footage of men attacking other men on the internet –even of the predator/prey variety because men will openly attack each other in daylight in a public place.

Men rarely attack women in a public place in daylight. So shameful is the act that even hardened, violent criminals do it secretively, away from the public gaze. There is no video footage of men attacking women that can be studied. I’m not passing judgement on this – it is just a fact. It would seem very distasteful to watch such a video. However, this means that women have to rely on victim testimonials, witness statements, criminal statistics or ‘experts’ knowledge to find out the nature of the threat to them – how exactly are they likely to be attacked and what, therefore, is the best way to learn to defend yourself?

Many people have recommended the book ‘Facing Violence: preparing for the unexpected’ by Rory Miller. I have ordered my copy and will read it with interest. I don’t particularly want to focus on violence in this way but it does seem to be an integral part of understanding self-defence training.

Do you study the nature of violence as part of your self-defence training?

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Friday, 3 June 2011

MMA: A smart lad re-mix it!

This post is a little different to my usual ones. I think that all my training for shodan grading is taking it's toll on my brain and I have writer's block this week! So, here is a post I wrote about 18 months ago for my blog on the Martial News website. It is about MMA! I don't do MMA or know much about it but Martial News supports a lot of MMA and cage fighting so I decided to find out more about it and write my take on it. This is what I made of it....

Anagrams of mixed martial arts include: a smart lad re-mix it (Is this a clandestine reference to Bruce Lee – sometimes attributed as the father of modern MMA?) Or: art drama sex limit (is this some kind of description?) or how about slimier mad ax tart (unkind, I’m sure) or perhaps the best: its real drama time! (If you substitute the ‘x’ for an ‘e’). Yes, I really do have time to do this!

Things I like about MMA:

It has a history: Any sport that has bothered to trace back its own roots and write about it gets my vote. There is a good Wiki on MMA – check it out if you haven’t already done so. Though its current form is very modern the concept of mixed martial arts is very ancient. The earliest reference to it in recorded history is the Greek sport of Pankration which is a mixture of wrestling and boxing. This was introduced to the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC. Apparently modern mixed martial arts competitions have come to feature many of the same methods that were used in pankration competitions in the ancient Greek world.

Skill and fitness: I have watched several videos of MMA fights, read about training schedules, listened to some fighters being interviewed and it is clear that these people are fit, highly trained and skilled individuals who show a lot of dedication and commitment to the sport – at least as much as I’ve seen in any other martial art.

Excitement: The fights are quite exciting to watch and would probably be more so if I understood more about what I was seeing (I can’t quite work out what is going on during all that clinching and grappling on the ground). I prefer watching the fight whilst they are still standing up but that’s probably because I understand striking arts better.

Honesty: There is an honesty about MMA in that it claims to be a sport and nothing else. It’s all about the fighting. Sometimes more ‘traditional’ martial arts don’t quite know what they are really about. There are dozens of styles of karate now and most of them will lay claim to having their roots in classical Okinawan Te. Yet many have developed karate into a competitive sport or have diluted karate to a few kicks, blocks, strikes and kata. Karate is clearly different things to different people. MMA on the other hand does not promise to train you on the path to enlightenment or improve your whole life – it’s a sport, plain and simple.

Things that confuse me:

The name: ‘Mixed Martial Arts’. This name was coined in the early 1990s by the super heavy weight Greco-roman wrestler and Olympic gold medallist, Jeff Blatnick. I suppose the name fits when you think about the definition of MMA, which according to Wikipedia is:

“Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full contact combat sport that allows a wide variety of fighting techniques, from a mixture of martial arts traditions and non-traditions, to be used in competitions. The rules allow the use of striking and grappling techniques, both while standing and on the ground. Such competitions allow martial artists of different backgrounds to compete”.

The thing that confuses me about the term MMA is that it’s not clear whether it’s referring to the individual who is trained in more than one martial art style or whether it’s the competition that is ‘mixed’, i.e. boxers vs. Wrestlers, karateka vs. Jujitsuka etc. I suspect historically it is the latter and this fits better with the wiki definition above. However, from what I have learnt it seems that now it is more likely that it is the individual who is trained in more than one martial art and the competition pits against each other people with very similar skills.

I think MMA has evolved to the point where the term MMA is not so appropriate to describe it. There are now many clubs that offer to train you in Mixed Martial Arts. Presumably this refers to training people in a set of fighting skills borrowed from arts such as Brazilian jujitsu, boxing, wrestling and full-contact karate and re-packaged to offer the optimum fighting portfolio for an MMA fighter. I would imagine this approach would offer a more fast-track way to learning what is necessary to become a good fighter. Whether a fighter trained in this way is better than one who has trained in each martial art individually and evolved their own package of skills I don’t know.

I would also argue that this new ‘genre’ of martial arts training referred to as MMA training has in fact become a new ‘single’ martial art in its own right so perhaps MMA is not the right thing to call it anymore. Likewise with the competitions – the fighters generally have similar skills to each other so the fights aren’t really ‘mixed’ anymore. Still, I expect they are stuck with the name now.

Rules for winning a fight (or not losing one): According to Wikipedia: “Victory in a match is normally gained either by the judges' decision after an allotted amount of time has elapsed, a stoppage by the referee (for example if a competitor cannot defend himself intelligently) or the fight doctor (due to an injury), a submission, by a competitor's cornerman throwing in the towel, or by knockout.”

I can understand from a health and safety position why you would need so many ways of stopping a fight but it seems to me that you win by virtue of not losing! This doesn’t sound to me like a very satisfactory way of winning. I won because I went the full time, I wasn’t stopped by the referee, doctor or cornerman, I didn’t give in and I wasn’t knocked out – but one of these things did apply to my opponent! Isn’t that a bit like winning a race because all the other competitors dropped out – you didn’t need to be the best or the fastest or even finish the race? You just needed to be the one that didn’t drop out! It sounds to me that you win an MMA round by default.

Things I don’t like about MMA.

The posturing and the hype: I once went into WH Smiths to see if I could buy a martial arts magazine. They were positioned on the top shelf, which I couldn’t reach, so I asked a man nearby if he would pass one to me. He looked at what I was pointing at and asked me if I really wanted that one. Not being able to see what it was I said yes so he gave me a funny look and passed it to me. I can’t remember what it was called but it was an MMA magazine. The first thing I noticed was the testosterone wafting from the pages. This glossy magazine was full of pictures of oiled, tattooed bodies posturing for the camera. There didn’t seem to be any useful articles about martial arts in it – just news about competitions and who the top fighters of the day were. I felt embarrassed looking through this magazine, as if I’d picked up a porn mag by mistake – no wonder the man gave me a funny look!

It seems to me that MMA is portrayed as being more about the fighters than the fights, that having sex appeal and the ‘body beautiful’ is the most important thing. I’m sure it’s not the most important thing but it is portrayed that way in the media. This brings me onto my other bug bear....

Overt sexism in female MMA: If you are not a ‘hottie’ or a ‘babe’ in female MMA then you may as well forget it – or at least it seems that way from the way these girls are portrayed in promotional videos. Though these girls are good fighters it is clearly their looks and bodies that get them a long way and it seems to be the feature most admired about them. I visited a website for an MMA club and there were tabs to click for information on class times, instructor details, future events and one labeled ‘babes’. I thought (naively) this was going to be information on children’s classes so I clicked on it and was taken to a page with photos of scantily clad female fighters holding up their winning trophies! It is hard to believe that such overt sexism has been allowed to creep into a 21st century sport. Presumably the girls involved revel in the male attention it brings and there is no doubt they take the fighting seriously but you just don’t see this attitude to women in other martial arts. Shame on MMA.

Conclusion: Well that’s my appraisal of my first impression of MMA. I admit I have never visited an MMA club, attended an MMA competition or even know anyone that does MMA fighting so my appraisal may be simplistic and naive. However, apart from the hype and sexism, I think MMA as a sport is okay. It’s more exciting and skillful than just boxing or wrestling and is going to great lengths to make itself an acceptable mainstream sport – you never know, maybe one day it will make it back into the Olympics.

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