Sunday, 31 May 2009

Lake District Holiday

I've just returned from a weeks holiday in the Lake District, and didn't I pick a good week weather wise after all the rain we've had! We stayed in a Lodge on the banks of Lake Windamere. This was not the most comfortable accommodation I've stayed in but the pool was great!

The Lake District really is a beautiful place. We managed to fit in three long walks, a boat trip on Lake Windamere, visits to Ambleside and Keswick and the highlight for the boys - GoApe in Grizedale Forest (GoApe is a challenging assault course high up in the forest canopy).

Here's a few of my holiday snaps:



Lake Windamere in the evening

Easedale Tarn


Hope you liked them. I'll post some GoApe video next time!

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Thursday, 21 May 2009

Kata and Bunkai Confusion

We have been doing a lot of kata and bunkai practice in recent classes. I like doing this as it feels like we are really getting to the heart of traditional karate training. Learning kata has always been an enjoyable part of karate for me and it is no chore to practice a kata repeatedly. Bunkai on the other hand has been more difficult for me to learn and I did not initially like doing it. However, I could see that there was no point in learning kata if you did not understand what the applications of it were, so I have persevered with trying to understand the bunkai and I have made reasonable progress.

The problem for me though is that although I theoretically understand that the kata and bunkai are mutually related things, in practice they sometimes seem mutually exclusive. When sensei is teaching us some bunkai he will demonstrate the sequence from the kata that represents the application being taught. Then he will demonstrate the bunkai. Unless it is a very straight forward application I often cannot recognise the kata sequence in the bunkai application. It looks different - often very different.

I realise that the techniques that are performed in the kata are generally very stylised and need to be adapted in the bunkai. Distance and timing will be different. Some moves may be omitted (or occasionally added) and stances may sometimes may be altered. Sometimes the bunkai explain a move from the kata that seemed strange but on the other hand something that seemed straight forward in the kata such as a knife hand block, transforms into a grab or a strike in the bunkai and looks completely different.

If sensei were to demonstrate an application from a specific kata I would have difficulty in saying Oh that's from pinan yondan or whatever kata it was from. Just occasionally I can see the relationship between kata and bunkai but more often than not I can't. I don't think this means I'm stupid or slow to learn, I think it is just difficult.

I've often read in books how in the early days of karate students would spend a year or more learning one kata and wondered why on earth you would need to do that. I'm now starting to realise that just learning the kata itself takes a long time and understanding it - well that takes even longer!

I'm sure with training and practice the mist will start to evaporate and I will begin to see things more clearly.

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Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Dojo Doldrums

My karate club is normally held in a school gym. I think this is an ideal place to practice karate - it's spacious but not too big; it has nice smooth wooden flooring which is kept pretty clean; it has good lighting and doesn't get too hot. In summer we can fling open the two sets of fire escape doors to let the breeze in. It makes the perfect dojo.

Occasionally we have to train in the adjacent sports hall. I don't like it in there so much - it's too big for the size of the class, the ceiling is too high and the sound echos a bit, but it's okay.

For the last fortnight the school has required the gym to display A level Art students work so we have been accommodated in either the dining room or the performance studio. The performance studio is okay but it's a little small for the class and has a completely mirrored wall which is a bit disconcerting. I find it disorientating to watch myself in the mirror, I end up turning the wrong way or using the wrong arm. The floor is very smooth but more highly polished than the gym and so can be a bit slippery sometimes.

The dining room was just about passable as a training space. All the tables had been cleared to the side but space was still a bit tight. The dining room is in the basement and so has lots of supporting pillars dotted around. More than once I turned during a kata to find myself virtually nose up to a pillar! The floor was the main problem though. It was so dirty you had to keep brushing the bits of your feet - which we identified as chocolate cake crumbs! It was so bad that sensei advised us to wear trainers this week. It was a novel experience for me to train wearing shoes - my feet felt like lead weights and you just can't do cat stance properly in shoes!

They say you can practice karate anywhere - you don't need much space and you don't need a partner for much of it. This is true BUT... doesn't it make a difference having a nice dojo to train in. Can't wait to get back into the gym!

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Monday, 18 May 2009

Dark Side of the Lion Dance

I was fascinated by the lion dance performance at the recent martial arts festival I attended. It was colourful, clever and entertaining. I wanted to know more about its origins and history and was astounded by some of the things I found out. This rather innocent looking art has quite a chequered past.

The lion dance is over a thousand years old, originating in China during the Han Dynasty, it spread to other Far Eastern countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Korea, Japan and Indonesia. The Chinese have long admired the qualities and character of the lion, which is featured in Buddhist lore, despite it not being a native animal of China. In fact lions were introduced to China by Westerners who were trading with China via the Silk road from India. Knowing how much the Chinese loved lions they brought them as gifts - along with some lion tamers to look after them!

Initially the lion dance was used to entertain visiting dignitaries, at festivals, religious ceremonies and at other official functions. However, during the Ching Dynasty it was somewhat misused and became a bit of a military or political prop. It was used to smuggle agents in or out of palaces, exchange secret information, recruit fighters from the enemy camp - all sorts of espionage designed to topple governments. The 'lions' were used as a sort of mini Chinese Trojan horse!

Even in the 20th century the lion dance fell into disrepute. It has a long association with Kung Fu and is often performed by Kung Fu clubs. In earlier times these martial arts academies were rivals and attempted to control territories. The more 'territories' a martial arts academy controlled the more prestigious it was regarded. Particularly ambitious schools would invade others to take control of them. They would often do this under the guise of a lion dance competition which they would use as an excuse to have a fight.

By the 1950's the rivalry between martial arts groups (via their lion dance troupes) had turned into gang warfare. Groups of gangsters were controlling the troupes and people were pulling their kids out of lion dance troupes in droves because of the violence that was occurring whenever rival troupes met at festivals. All sorts of nasty tricks were used such as hiding daggers in the lion costume and using them to slash the opponents legs during a 'lion fight'. In the end the lion dance was banned in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Indonesia for social or political reasons. The ban lasted for decades and was only lifted in Indonesia in 1999. Even now, in Hong Kong lion dance troupes must obtain a permit from the government to perform a lion dance.

Whoa! And I thought the lion dance was something innocent and entertaining - silly me!

Still, all is not lost. In recent years the lion dance has regained it's honour and is again performed for entertainment purposes at festivals and at Chinese new year. It is now thought of as a recreational sport and competitions are held all over the far east - in a properly refereed and judged arena. In fact lion dance competitions are extremely skillful and acrobatic, often performed high up on stilts! It is generally only the most experienced martial artists from a club that are invited to join the troupe because those martial art skills are needed to perform the lion dance to a high standard.

Here's some video from YouTube of a lion dance competition, it's pretty spectacular:

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Tuesday, 12 May 2009


I went to the MarFest09 martial arts festival in Sunderland last Saturday. This was the first time I've been to a martial arts festival and it was a real eye opener for me. When I opened the door to martial arts two years ago I really didn't realise what a big world I was entering. Fourteen different martial arts were demonstrated including kung fu, jujitsu, aikijitsu, kobudo, tae kwon do, kickboxing, capoeira - you name it they had it and some pretty class acts too. Apparently there were 4 world champions present!

Well here's some piccys and videos to share with you:

Tai kwon do

Capoeira. With their own band!

Kung Fu

The Lion dance

And here's an impressive demonstration of jujitsu and tai kwon do:

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Friday, 8 May 2009

The influence of fellow bloggers

Every now and again someone writes a blog post that just strikes a real chord with me. Michele has managed to do that with a recent post of hers called Instructor as guide. In this post Michele recalls the advice she was given by her instructor and has adopted for herself in her own practice as an instructor:

The instructor teaches us by guiding us down the martial arts path. Students need to take responsibility for their training.

I think this identifies very clearly the roles of instructor and student and I definitely agree that the student should take the responsibility for their own training. I am fortunate enough to have found a karate club in which I receive high level of training from an excellent sensei but I still expect to read and find out things for myself or do some training outside the classes. I am also thinking of taking up kobudo because Shukokai karate does not include any weapons training at all. This is not my sensei's fault, I cannot expect him to teach me things that are not part of his own training- it is up to me to go out and seek these things for myself. My sensei has the same attitude himself and is taking aikido classes and learning some jujitsu to compliment his karate expertise.

I think that if your club does not offer what you are looking for you should not blame your instructor for not teaching what you want but go out and look for it somewhere else - it's your martial arts journey so take the path you want.

One of Michele's commentators
Rick posted a really inspiring poem which I have reproduced here:

Marcel Proust (Remembrance of Things Past):
We do not receive wisdom,we must discover it for ourselves,
after a journey through the wilderness
which no one else can make for us,
which no one can spare us,
for our wisdom is the point of view
from which we come at last to regard the world.
The lives that you admire,
the attitudes that seem noble to you,
have not been shaped by a paterfamilias or a schoolmaster,
they have sprung from very different beginnings,
having been influenced
by everything evil or commonplace
that prevailed round about them.
They represent a struggle and a victory.

I just think this sums things up very nicely.

Another blogger also influenced me this week, though in a more fun way. On the Mokuren Dojo blog site, Patrick Parker has been posting about the 'unbendable arm'. I thought I'd give this a try with my husband and to my astonishment (and his) he could not bend my arm for love nor money, despite putting a lot of effort in! I could barely tell he was doing anything, it didn't stress me at all. Amazing!

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Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Martial News - Read all about it!

Just to let you know that the latest edition of the new online martial arts newspaper- Martial News- is now out. Aimed predominantly for martial artists in the North of England it has articles and blogs that are relevant and interesting for martial artists everywhere so it is worth looking at. I have had the honour of being asked to write a regular blog for them which is called: Sue Wharton - the Student's Eye. I will be writing different posts for the Student's Eye blog than for this blog but the posts are only once per month, my first one is in the current edition.

If you are interested in reading Martial News
click here.
If you want to go straight to my blog click here.

Also there is an international martial arts festival on this Saturday (9th May) called MarFest09. It is at the Seaburn Leisure Centre, Sunderland from 10.00am. It is sponsored by Martial News and all proceeds will go to Cancer Research UK. I am hoping to be there and will write some posts about it next week. For more information about the festival visit the Martial News website.

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