Friday, 25 March 2011

karate - is it about fighting or self-defence?

I recently wrote a post on my Countdown to Shodan blog about solo training and in my opening sentence I suggested that martial arts were essentially about learning self-defence. I was surprised, therefore, when I received a comment from Charles James (a person whose opinions and advice I respect) in which he said: “A martial art is not about learning self-defence. Martial arts are about fighting. Fighting is not self-defence.”

I can’t help thinking that Charles and I are actually of the same opinion of what martial arts are about but have slightly differing definitions or interpretations of the words ‘fighting’ and ‘self-defence’ and therefore appear to be at cross purposes when in fact we aren’t.

In the interests of clarity I have researched a bit deeper into the meanings of these words and how they apply to martial arts, particularly karate.

The words fight and fighting have been defined as (respectively), 1.“To attempt to harm or gain power over an adversary by blows or with weapons”, and 2. “…a purposeful violent conflict meant to establish dominance over the opposition.”

Self-defence is defined as: 1. ”the act of defending one's person when physically attacked, as by countering blows or overcoming an assailant.”

Another definition is: 2. “Physical self defence is the use of physical force to counter an immediate threat of violence. Such force can be either armed or unarmed. In either case, the chances of success depend on a large number of parameters, related to the severity of the threat on one hand, but also on the mental and physical preparedness of the defender.”

In some ways these definitions of fighting and self-defence seem very distinct from each other but in other ways they overlap. Fighting may be about ‘gaining power or dominance’ over another person but so might be self-defence. The best way to defend ones-self may be to dominate and control the other person.

However they differ greatly in the intentions or motivations of the people involved. The aim of the fighter is to win and will continue attacking their victim to that aim. The aim of a person being attacked is to survive and get away. This difference is crucial to understanding what martial arts are teaching you.

On the recent Iain Abernethy course that I attended he touched on this very subject. He said (paraphrasing) that a fight required two (or more) people having the mindset of wanting to hurt the other person and ‘win’ the fight. In other words a fight is consensual. Rivals fight e.g rival football supporters or rival street gangs. He then said that in self-defence only the attacker was consenting to the ‘fight’ and the defender was ‘fighting’ against their will. In this situation the altercation is non-consensual.

This now gives a clearer distinction between fighting and self-defence. In karate are we training people to hurt others and win an altercation? Not in my club. Surely the emphasis should be on training people to survive an attack, using only sufficient force necessary to stop the attacker and get away.

However, we do fight in martial arts as well – it’s called sport and it has many rules to make it safe. Fighting is an appropriate term to use in this context because a sparring/wrestling/boxing/MMA fight is consensual and the aim of each competitor is to win.

I think the introduction of sport into karate has blurred the distinction between learning techniques for fighting and learning them for self-defence. A punch is a punch and a kick is a kick whether you use it to attack someone or to defend yourself. However, the difference in intent is huge!

I think that instructors have a responsibility to clearly distinguish to their students, particularly children and teenagers, what it is they are learning to do at that particular time. They need to know that in martial arts terms, fighting is a rule bound sport that takes place in a controlled environment and is not something they should participate in outside the dojo in street/playground environments i.e. they never consent to or lead an altercation.

Students also need to know when they are participating in ‘classical’ karate which is about self defence. As part of self-defence training they should also be taught the importance of avoidance, awareness and conflict resolution. These are not necessary for ‘fighting’ but are essential for self-defence. Students need to be aware that sports karate and classical karate have different objectives even if they appear to use similar techniques.

Two or more people fighting in a public place, causing alarm to other members of the public is called an affray and is a public order offence in most countries. To be an affray the fighting has to be mutual. If one person unlawfully attacks another who tries to defend himself it does not amount to affray. Here the first person is guilty of assault. The defender is guilty of nothing.

So, is karate about fighting or self-defence? Well, by the definitions I have given it is both. Sports karate is fighting because it is consensual and the aim is to win. Classical karate is about self-defence and the aim is to do the minimum necessary to disable the opponent and escape. The opponents have different objectives – for the defender it’s about survival, not winning.

So what do you think – is martial arts about fighting or self-defence?

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Thursday, 17 March 2011

Thoughts and discoveries about karate training part 2 – learning the basics

This is part 2 of my review of posts I have written over the last year or two. In this post I look at how I am learning to understand my own body and my attempt to master control over it through training the basics of my art…

Every martial artist comes to appreciate the importance of training in the basic or fundamental ways of moving for their art. In karate the basics are generally thought of as the range of different punching, kicking and blocking techniques along with the various stances that can be used. We generally refer to this as kihon training. Most kihon training is done as whole class teaching with the students standing in rows, punching and kicking the air, moving up and down the dojo in various stances or working in pairs punching and kicking against a pad.

However, during the last couple of years training and through researching and writing for this blog, I have come to the realisation that basics are even more fundamental than kihon training. It’s about how we actually move our bodies at all, how we balance, how we align our muscles, bones and tendons, how we coordinate and time our movements and how we internalise and remember our techniques. In short, it’s about understanding and mastering our own bodies and minds.

My general approach to my own personal training and development in martial arts is to identify my weaknesses (or have them pointed out to me, which is what generally happens) and then follow through with that at home to discover why it is I am making a specific mistake and what I can do to correct it. For example, some of my most fundamental problems have revolved around leaning and having a fairly shaky dynamic balance.

I explored my leaning problem in If I had a pound…. and concluded that the leaning was related to my balance problem. This lead me to research into what balance actually is, how our bodies control balance and how we can utilise that knowledge in martial arts. This led to one of my most popular posts so far – Martial arts – a balancing act.

However, there is no point in researching or writing about it unless I’m going to practice what I preach, so I do actively try to think about the principles of balance when I’m training in order to stop my leaning and wobbling. I think I’m making some progress in this respect and my instructor has not told me I’m leaning for several months now. I still occasionally wobble when turning but I realise immediately why this is so and take steps to correct it – I’m finally starting to understand my body!

Still on the topic of body movement and alignment I became fascinated by the principle of nanba aruki after reading something about it in a book (Empty hand, by Kenei Mabuni). Initially I found it hard to believe that a couple of hundred years ago Japanese people used to walk with the same arm and leg moving backwards and forwards together (nanba aruki walking). It seemed so counter intuitive.

I set out to research the subject and discovered that the principle of moving the same arm and leg together so as to pivot around your centre line was inherent in all martial arts systems and led to greater efficiency of movement. The maxim, ‘Don’t force, don’t twist and don’t disconnect’ comes from the application of the nanba aruki principle. I now see nanba aruki in action in pretty well all my karate techniques and use it as a bench mark to decide whether I’m executing techniques correctly or not.

Of course there always has to be an exception to the rule and in karate this is the gyaku zuki punch (reverse punch) which definitely does not utilise the nanba aruki principle. I wrote about this in Gyaku zuki – odd punch out? I’d read somewhere (possibly in Kenei Mabuni’s book) that this punch was a modern 20th century addition to karate, introduced when karate became a sport. However my own research suggests that the reverse punch has very much been a part of karate for a long time as it is present in several old kata. Odd punch out or not, the gyaku zuki remains an important weapon in the karateka’s arsenal and is practiced extensively during kihon training.

Another fundamental principle of movement that we need to master and is notoriously difficult to do is the principle of hard/soft. By that I mean tensing muscles when you need to and relaxing them when you don’t. We gradually come to appreciate as we train that punches are harder and faster when muscles are not all tensed up.

I wrote about this problem in karate – hard not tense and suggested that one way of learning to relax during the execution of techniques was to participate in a softer style of martial arts and that for me this is sword training. To get clean, fast sword strikes you have to relax and let the sword do the work. I am trying to adopt the same thinking in karate i.e. let the fist do the punching (not the bicep) but it remains a work in progress!

And finally, how do our bodies remember how to do all these basic, fundamental techniques and ways of moving? I tackled this subject in the post, Muscle memory – it’s all in the mind! I described how the learning and remembering of new skills was a staged process in which, through repetitive practice, led to the development of new neural pathways and the laying down of ‘memory maps’ in the brain – a process that can take months or years to complete depending on the complexity of the skill. These memory maps can then be executed quickly and subconsciously whenever we meet a stimulus giving us the impression that it is our muscles that have remembered what to do when in fact it is our brains.

I feel I have come a long way in understanding how my body moves and how I can align my limbs and torso to maximise efficiency yet generate maximum power in technique. However, I’m also aware that I still have a long way to go – like I said, those memory maps take a long time to lay down and become stable! When I watch my instructor moving with such speed, grace and fluidity I feel like a dancing elephant in comparison but I can also see that I have made progress and there is no reason to why more progress can’t be made if I continue to train – in the basics.
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Friday, 11 March 2011

Home protection....don't get burgled !

I was approached recently by the Home Alarm Monitoring website who suggested that some of their blog articles may be on interest to me and my readers. Well I went and had a look and did find some of them quite useful. You may find some of them useful too so here are some links to a sample of their articles. They are all written in a '10 ways to.....' format and they are all on a home protection, burglary prevention theme....

10 tricks to make burglars think someone is home

10 types of self defense anyone can learn

10 great ways to avoid a stalker

Hope you found them useful!

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Monday, 7 March 2011

Thoughts and Discoveries about karate training, part 1 – training outside the dojo….

I have been running this blog for just over two years now and I have been looking back at the kind of things that I have been blogging about in the last 12 months. As a result of that I have decided to review some of the things that I have written about and my current thoughts on those subjects.  This article is the first of a series which is divided into two sections: 1.Thoughts and discoveries about karate training and 2. Teaching and learning karate.
Thoughts and Discoveries about karate training, part 1 – training outside the dojo….

I have written several articles on the ‘how, why and when’ of training in karate.  In March 2010 I asked the question, Karate training – is little and often best? In this article I pondered the difficulties in finding time to train solo at home and wondered if Funakoshi’s suggestion that three 10 minute training sessions each day was a more accessible way for people to train when they are leading busy lives.

Comments suggested that home training was a good way to follow up on things taught in class and reinforce them. People agreed that short bursts of training could be more easily fitted into everyday life, such waiting for the kettle to boil, sitting on the bus or even in the office.  Other comments received suggested that some of this training could be mental i.e. running through things in your mind or meditating.

Though I have arranged my life to fit in two long home training sessions per week I still often spend a few minutes just working through a kata or a combination whilst in the kitchen or looking something up in a book. Karate is never far from my mind and I still think that ‘little and often’ is a good way to keep on top of training, particularly when new things are being learned and need to be remembered.

In June 2010 I asked the question, Is extreme physical training necessary for martial arts? I had been surprised by the amount of physical fitness training some fellow bloggers did and pondered whether it was necessary, or whether you got sufficient fitness just from martial arts training. I wondered whether you just risked more injuries with this (often) extreme fitness training.

Comments suggested the level of fitness required depended on your aims e.g. self defence or sport. However it was also pointed out that physical training can actually prevent injury by improving the efficiency and strength of muscles, bones and tendons. Others argued that skills training in martial arts were more important than extreme physical fitness. I gradually came to the conclusion that I did need to supplement my karate training with some general fitness training, particularly coming up to black belt grading so I have instigated a personal training programme with which I continue and is documented on my other blog, Countdown to Shodan.

I then raised the subject of cross training in January 2011 – a subject that often polarises people’s opinions! This post, should a kyu grader be cross-training? led to a small flurry of posts on the subject on other blogs. I suggested that cross-training leads to a kind of comparative martial arts training, allowing you to see the similarities and common principles between different art forms. I still think that even a kyu grader can benefit from the different perspective gained by cross training, enabling you to put your main martial art into context, to see its strengths and weaknesses.

Most commenter’s remarks were in agreement about the benefits of cross-training though a couple of experienced martial artists cautioned against it, citing the importance of getting a good grounding in the basics of your main art first. I am starting to see the wisdom in this viewpoint at the moment as I fast approach my karate black belt grading. I have been practising basic kihon a lot in the last few weeks and have realised that I still have a long way to go with mastering basic kicks, blocks and punches. I am therefore considering (temporarily) abandoning my kobudo studies until after my shodan grading.

In conclusion then, I think that general fitness training is necessary to complement martial arts training. Good technique requires a level of strength, fitness and flexibility that may not be accomplished by martial arts training alone. However, I don’t think this fitness training needs to be too extreme unless, perhaps, you are training for sport and competition. One of the things I have learned from setting myself a fitness program is the importance of setting realistic, objective goals that challenge you to improve yourself. I am now trying to transfer that understanding of goal setting to my karate training.

I also think that if you are serious about getting good at your martial art it shouldn't ever be too far from your mind. This is why I think the idea of ‘little and often’ training is also important and enables real improvements to be made without having to set aside large chunks of time to train in. I think this is a way forward for people who genuinely don’t have a lot of spare time.

Finally, my thoughts on cross-training have slightly changed since I wrote my article. I have gained much from the cross-training in kobudo that I have already done and expect to gain a lot more in the future – but just now I think cross-training has become an added stressor as I approach my black belt grading. I pulled out of a tonfa grading last weekend as I did not feel ready and my mind just wasn’t in the right place. I will not grade in it until at least September now. This has taken some of the pressure off but now I have to consider whether to stop training in kobudo completely until after my black belt grading….

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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Computer Virus Frustrations!

I have had a very frustrating week! My computer has downloaded a fake anti virus software program which has completely locked up everything on my computer and is holding me to blackmail until I pay a fee to download the 'solution' that promises to get rid of the '39 viruses, worms and trojans' that it has 'detected' on my hard drive (I'm writing this on my husband's computer). I have no intention of doing that (it's probably just a ruse to get my credit card details anyway) so I have spent several hours looking for a solution to remove this heinous virus/worm/trojan or whatever it is from my computer.

This thing has bypassed my McAfee software (and disabled it) and blocked me from using the Internet or any of my programs or files (it is 'protecting' them from harm). In short, my computer is completely useless!

I have managed to get into 'safe mode' on my computer and activate a scan which found two viruses. Apparently McAfee dealt with them but the problem persists. McAfee's own forum suggests downloading Malwarebytes software but I have no experience of using anything like this - do you?

Despite the frustration of this, the time wasting and the inconvenience of trying to sort it out I have remained pretty calm and philosophical about it. Over the years my computer has provided me with many more advantages than disadvantages. It has allowed me to shop in places I wouldn't otherwise be able to shop, buy things at prices I couldn't get them in High Street shops even buy things I couldn't buy in High Street shops. I often order my groceries online and have them delivered (for free) - that's a great service. My computer allows me to communicate with people all over the world and express myself in the written word. It allows me instant access to a range of resources on subjects that interest me. On the whole, my computer is a good friend, so I forgive it for getting infected!

I don't know if it's my martial arts training that is enabling me to have a fairly zen calmness about all this or just the mellowing with old age! A few years ago I would have felt like throwing my computer out of the window at this stage but now it sits patiently next to me at my desk, waiting to be fixed. Of course having access to another computer is helping to ameliorate the feelings of frustration though it won't prevent the time wasting and inconvenience of fixing my computer that is yet to come.

I had made some quite extensive notes for a blog post that I wanted to write yesterday but they are trapped inside my computer at the moment so it will have to wait.

Have you experienced this type of malevolent fake AV software virus? Did you find a solution for getting rid of it?

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