Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Knife awareness seminar - bridging the gap between traditional and reality training...

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Last Sunday my husband and I attended a KEWAP seminar (Knife and Edged Weapons Awareness Programme).

I was interested in attending this course because I thought it offered something different to our usual karate training - a course focused on the practicalities of personal self-defence out on the street, specifically defending against attacks with knives and other edged weapons.

I was a little surprised that only a handful of us turned up for the course but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise because those of us that were there obviously had a lot of personal attention from the instructor. Also, as a small informal group, we were able to have a lot of useful discussion together about various aspects of personal protection.

The course was different in many ways to the usual kind of courses we do. To start with we wore ordinary outside clothes and kept our shoes on. Secondly, the practical training was interspersed with mini lectures and power point slides. I thought this format worked well as it gave the instructor a chance to educate us on a variety of issues such as self defence and the law – what you can and can’t do to defend yourself; awareness issues; how to assess developing situations; how to use the environment to create and manage distance and a discussion on different strategies one can use.

The instructor also showed us some slides of weapons that have been used in real fights. Did you know that there are gas-powered knives that force the blade in further and knives that are also guns that fire bullets at you as the blade goes in? I was quite staggered that such grisly weapons existed!

In between these short talks we did some practical knife defence training. We learnt about half a dozen different ways of disarming a knifeman depending on how he was attacking with the knife, including situations when you have your back to the wall. What struck me about these techniques was that though I hadn’t specifically done them before the principles of movement and technique that I have learnt in karate and kobudo were being directly applied in these self-defence moves.

I thought that we all picked up these techniques quickly because we already knew how to move, evade, block and apply locks. So, applying what we already knew to this new situation of knife defences was not too difficult, it was just a case of relaxing some of the more stylistic aspects of karate in order to be able to respond more intuitively and naturally.

A case in point was when we moved onto the topic of pre-emptive striking. The instructor told us that in order to strike quickly and without telegraphing the move first we shouldn’t pull back the punch first. This made sense but since we have trained to punch from the hip it was hard not to instinctively pull the punching arm back first before striking. However, after a few minutes practice of punching a focus mitt it was starting to feel more natural. The instructor emphasised the importance of using the hip thrust to add power to the punch so this was very much still a karate principle being employed.

Apparently my punches against the focus mitt in this way were quite hard but I know this is only because of the gyaku zuki training I have had. The standard karate training has helped me to build up strength, speed and power in my punching and this was not lost when the punching technique was varied to omit the pullback.

I sometimes feel that there is a gap between the defensive moves we learn as part of karate training and the self-defence moves in reality based training but I also feel that this gap shouldn’t exist – it can be bridged with thoughtful and intelligent training. I feel uncomfortable when I hear people say, “this is the art of karate but in real self-defence we do it this way”, as if they are completely different things. To me they are just flip sides of the same coin – not different coins.

On this KEWAP course I think the instructor helped to bridge this gap. We learnt a lot of new self-defence techniques – techniques that have been tried and tested in real situations but we were applying many of the principles we already knew from our classical karate training. The instructor even showed us how some bunkai from Pinan Shodan and Seipai can be used in knife defence scenarios.

Overall, I thought this was a great course, taught in a very effective way. It was informative, practical and enjoyable.

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Friday, 16 September 2011

Eyes Wide Open...

A lot of martial artists, particularly instructors get very frustrated when they see a lot of crap being taught or talked about to students. They get frustrated when other instructors teach techniques that clearly don’t work or don’t push students hard enough to achieve a high standard because they are afraid the student’s will leave (taking their money with them).

In my view there are three types of bad instructors:

  1. Instructors who lack knowledge and skill and therefore teach to a low standard. 
  2. Instructors who are highly skilled but misinform you about what you are learning to do e.g. they tell you that you are learning self-defence but you are in fact learning sport.
  3. Instructors who are too indifferent or lazy to correct student’s mistakes and then allow them to pass gradings at a low standard.
However, no art, no club and no instructor is perfect so if you want to become a good martial artist yourself then you:

  •  have to train with your eyes wide open, 
  •  be objective in your assessment of the system you train in and 
  •  don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Let me explain a little more about what I mean:

Train with your eyes wide open
Don’t take everything you are taught at face value. For example, if you are training in a traditional art such as karate and you are told that you will be learning self-defence then think about how much time you are spending doing application work. Karate is composed of kihon, kata and kumite. These are initially taught as separate elements but at some point they need to all come together and that is during the application of principles to self-defence. If your club only ever treats these three cornerstones of karate as separate elements and does no application work then you are not learning self-defence.

Remember that ‘good technique’ and ‘good techniques’ are not necessarily the same thing. You may develop the technically perfect spinning hook kick but is a spinning hook kick a good technique to have in your self-defence armoury? Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t; the point is you may meet people who are technically perfect in the performance of all their techniques but the techniques themselves may be useless. 

At some point, as a student, you will have to make your own decisions about whether the things you are being taught are useful and effective. Some of what you will be taught will be excellent, some will be okay and some will be useless – take some responsibility for deciding yourself (this gets easier as you get more experienced) and  remember to train with your eyes wide open.

Be objective in your assessment of the system that you train in
No system is perfect or complete - whatever your instructor says.  A system in its infancy may have an incoherent structure and either a deficient or excessive number of techniques until it has evolved to a more coherent and optimal state. A mature system will have developed bias as its founders hone it to their own strengths and beliefs about what makes a good system. However, whatever evolutionary stage your system is in it should be dynamic, slowly changing, evolving and improving. 

If your instructor boasts how he is still teaching the system the same as it was 300 years ago in Okinawa or Japan you might want to be a bit worried if you are expecting to learn realistic street defence.  The world 300 years ago was very different to the world today, particularly in relation to the law. What was acceptable practice back then may leave you in prison today.  Though ancient fighting arts may have little contextual currency today they may still have cultural and historical value and so be worth practising in order to conserve them for future generations. If you’re interested in historical preservation then studying these arts may be for you.

Though a living martial art needs to avoid stagnation, you need to be sure that in a very new, contemporary system that the founder hasn’t completely thrown out the baby with the bath water and just made it all up. A good contemporary reality based system is generally still based on many traditional principles and its instructors generally have a lot of experience of traditional martial arts. Those that don’t often end up re-inventing the wheel but not managing to get it quite round.

So be objective in your assessment of the system that you train in. You have to get to know it and you have to give it a chance. No system will provide you with 100 percent of what you need or want, so try and assess its strengths and weaknesses. If it’s giving you 80 percent of what you need then it’s probably not doing badly.

There is no point in flitting around from one system to another either, trying to find perfection – you’ll never get anywhere. Find a system that gives you much of what you want and then look at how you will fill in the gaps. This brings me to my third point…

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
In my opinion cross-training between different arts is a good thing. Not everybody agrees with that. Some people think that cross-training confuses students because different arts often have a different way of moving and follow a different fighting strategy. This can be true but if you cross-train intelligently the two arts can work synergistically together.

So how do you cross-train intelligently? Well first decide which your main art is and stay true to the strategy of that art. Then choose a supplementary art that complements rather than contrasts with that main art. I do karate as a main art and kobudo as a supplementary art.  Some people would say that kobudo is a part of karate and in some systems it is. But then jujitsu could be considered a part of karate because the kata contain throwing techniques. All arts overlap to some extent and share some techniques or principles so you could argue that there is no such thing as cross training – you are just broadening you horizons.

To cross-train intelligently you also need to think what it is about the supplementary art that you want to learn – is it a more flowing way of movement, to learn some new techniques which can be integrated into your main art, or just gaining a new perspective about self-defence? Be clear on what you are trying to get out of cross-training and then it may work very well for you.

When you first start training in a martial art you will slavishly follow your instructors teachings, you have to and should do because you don’t know any better. However as you progress up into the dan grades you may start to (and should) become more objective in assessing and identifying your systems strengths and weaknesses and your instructors’ biases and beliefs. It is up to you as a student to decide whether this system is really working for you and whether you can plug the gaps with intelligent cross-training.

Learning a martial art is an active process not a passive one. It requires the student to think objectively about what they are learning, keeping their eyes wide open and working out for themselves how to overcome any deficiencies in their training.

So train intelligently – it’s your responsibility…

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Monday, 12 September 2011

Let me introduce you.....

Martial News logo, click for link.

I have been a blogger for an on-line martial arts newspaper for the last two and a half years. The newspaper is called Martial News and is written and published from the North East of England. Martial News is unique in that it remains wholly a newspaper rather than a magazine. It publishes local, national and international news stories as well as feature articles and of course, the blogs.

About three months ago the Editor asked me if I would become the Blog-Editor-in-Chief for Martial News, an opportunity I jumped at! I have been busy these last few weeks setting up new blog platforms for all our blogs (10 in total) and transferring archive material to them. I am just about there with sorting everything out and thought I would introduce you to our blogs and bloggers (okay, so it's a shameless plug!)

Aikido Extras. This blog is written by Sensei Peter Seth, a 3rd dan Aikido expert who runs the Zanshin Aikido club at Sunderland University. Peter is also the founder and organiser of the Great Northern International Festival of Martial Arts, an annual event that I have attended for the last 3 years and is great fun and raises money for Cancer Research UK. Peter writes some fascinating articles about the journey we all make within ourselves as we endeavour to get to grips with what it is to become a true martial artist. Peter is always a great source of inspiration to me.

Below the Belt. This blog is written by Martial News Editor Phil Doherty. Phil is a founding member of DFM Martial Arts which teaches a type of street combat called Directional Fighting Method as well as DFM Reivers MMA and DFM kickboxing. He is also a Senior Conflict Resolution Trainer. Phil is an experienced journalist by profession and set up Martial News two years ago to plug a gap in the market and to raise money for charity. He uses his blog, partly as an editorial column, partly to promote local martial arts events but also to air his own views and knowledge about martial arts.

Black Belt Adventure. Okay, so this is written by yours truly! You may recognise some of my posts as I often post the same material on both blogs! However I do occasionally write something original for this blog so can you risk not looking?

Core Reality. Author, Paul Green our newest and, currently, our only non British blogger. An American, Paul is the founder of Stonewall Tactical Defense Systems. Having achieved black belts in several traditional arts, including receiving his 6th dan in jujitsu recently; he has served as the technical director of the American Budo Society and served as the special projects director for the international combatives and self defense association (ICSDA). He writes on a range of tactical subjects.

Kobudo Korner. Written by Sensei David Macintyre, a 5th dan in both Shukokai karate and kobudo. He runs his own karate and kobudo club.  David writes on a variety of  karate and kobudo related topics, often based on his own experiences.

Martin Clarke on Sambo. Martin has an impressive sports record: he has won over 300 medals in Judo, Sambo, Olympic and Power weightlifting, Jiu-jitsu and amateur wrestling! He has represented Great Britain at judo, jiu-jitsu and sambo wrestling and was a member of the Olympic Judo squad from 1978 to 1980. With such an impressive record he is a man who very much likes to speak his mind in his blog posts and doesn't hold back any punches!

Ninjutsu Uncovered. Blog author, John Atkin, is a top ninjutsu, jujitsu, MMA and kickboxing instructor  and boxing coach.  He owns and runs the Advanced Fighting Centre in Newcastle in the north of England.  John is also a man who has earned the right to have strong opinions, often writing about his own experiences of martial arts and his views on the state of martial arts today.

Reality Bites. This blog is written by John Barrass with occasional contributions from his assistant instructor Matt Chadwick. John is the founder and senior instructor of the Evasive Self-Defence Combat System (ESDCS). He is a 4th dan in jujitsu and holds other dan grades in Wado Ryu karate, Aikido and Kenjutsu.
John writes about modern day combat arts but always with an eye on the importance of the traditional arts that underpin them.

Reality Check. Author, Chris Turnbull, is a modern day combat specialist. He has trained in boxing, kickboxing and MMA. His expertise is in Street Combat, with knowledge honed from more than 15 years working on the doors in clubs, pubs and events. He writes on a variety of topics related to effective street combat for the real world.

Street Edge. Stuart Rider, the blog author, runs his own self-defence and protection martial art called Rider Martial Arts which is a combination of the many systems he has learned over the years. He writes on the principles and strategies of his art.

I hope you enjoy reading our blogs and will consider adding some of them to your blog lists.

Martial News is planning to expand into the United States next year. This will be called Martial News USA and will focus on the clubs on the eastern seaboard from New England down to Florida.

Phil Doherty said: "Once the beach head is established we will be rolling it out through the States until we have different editions across the country."
I'll keep you posted on developments!

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