Friday, 20 July 2012

Olympic Judo...

I don't mean to make you jealous but.....I picked up my tickets to go and see judo at the Olympics today!

Yes! Hubby and I will going down to London at the weekend to see two events at the games. On Saturday we have tickets to see the beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade and on Sunday we are seeing men's (66kg) and women's (52kg) judo. We will be staying in a 4 star hotel for two nights as well!

I'm so excited!

How could we not go to the Olympics when it is in Britain for the first time in decades? It seems like a once in a life time opportunity, and in my 50th year as well! Yes it was my 50th birthday back in June so this trip was planned as my birthday treat. I didn't want to leave anything to chance so last year when the tickets were released for sale in that awful lottery fiasco we opted to book a short package deal with guaranteed tickets for 2 events instead - I can't believe more people didn't choose that option after all the fuss about the ticket lottery. 

We got to chose the main event (Judo) but had no choice on what came with it. Beach volleyball sounds okay though - we'll my husband's looking forward to it....I wonder why that is?

Did I mention that I'm excited!

As well as actually being at the events I am looking forward to just being in London with all the festivities and crowds. Hopefully the atmosphere will be great and the weather okay. It appears that the forecast is for better weather than we've had these last few months - I've never seen so much rain! Apparently the jet stream is finally shifting north allowing some high pressure to come in over Britain and let the sun finally shine.

Britain has 14 Judoka in their team. They all seem to have a string of National, European and World competition medals so hopefully we are in with a chance for a medal or two! You can find out more about the GB judo team here.

I'll let you know how the weekend goes when I get back.......

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Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Training with injuries....

Do you train when you are injured? Should you train when you are injured? Of course it depends to some extent on the nature of the injury and whether surgery or other medical intervention is required to correct it.

I had an e-mail from someone who had fairly recently taken up martial arts but had sustained a shoulder injury requiring surgery and her doctor had advised her to stop doing martial arts. She was asking me what I thought about this advice and whether I had sustained injuries doing martial arts.

Well, who hasn’t sustained some kind of injury doing martial arts? Anything from bumps, bruises, sprains or pulls to ACL tears, rotator cuff injuries, fractured ribs or noses – you name it, it will have happened to someone.  It is almost inconceivable that you will never sustain some kind of injury when you train in martial arts – it’s an occupational hazard!

Surely if we gave up a physical activity every time we were injured we would soon become a world of couch potatoes. Being prepared to risk physical injury and endure the pain of it whilst training on is part of the mental and spiritual development that martial arts are known for.

I had a chronic ‘quad’ injury last year when preparing for my black belt training. I could barely lift my knee up let alone kick with that leg. It didn’t occur to me to stop training until it healed! However I was highly motivated to speed up the healing process (6 weeks from grading) and eventually got relief from a deep tissue massage. Now I have a chronic shoulder injury. I have had a course of physiotherapy which has brought about some minor improvement and I’m planning to try another deep tissue massage to my shoulder, neck and back. However, I have continued to train throughout, putting up with the discomfort and pain afterwards.

My husband continues to train with a chronic hip problem – he literally hobbles home sometimes. My husband is a doctor; if he were his own patient he would probably advise himself to stop doing martial arts. However, this advice would only help his hip (or maybe not – it might get worse with no exercise!) but it wouldn’t help him – he is a whole person, not just a hip. He would be miserable if he couldn’t carry on with training – he’d rather put up with the pain!

How far should we be prepared to go training with a chronic injury? I am always impressed with the courage and fortitude of people who fight back to fitness after a serious injury so they can continue enjoying the activity they love. Michele fought back from her ACL tear a few years ago and has now just been awarded her 6th dan. Likewise, Middle-AgedMartial Artist tore his ACL during his black belt test but fought back to re-take the test a couple of years later. Tiger Lady is fighting back following a brain injury caused by boxing. I’m sure you can all name someone who didn’t give up their martial art because of an injury and fought back to fitness, probably in spite of their doctor’s advice.

Of course there are things we can do to minimise our chance of injury. Injuries often happen because muscles are not strong enough to stabilise joints, or our posture is bad or our technique is incorrect. Keeping our bodies in tip-top condition is a necessary part of martial arts training. Good posture, muscle tone, flexibility, general body movement, as well as good technique – particularly for throwing where you need to bear the full weight of your partner- will help to reduce the chances of injury and help to speed up recovery if it happens.

In my opinion (and I’m not a doctor) unless it is actually fractured, dislocated, sprained to the point you can’t weight bear, bleeding heavily, just been operated on or has rendered you unconscious there is no need to stop training. Grin and bear the discomfort and train on. If it’s bad enough to put you out of action for a while then phase your return as you build up your fitness again – but don’t give up all together.

Remember!  You are more than the sum of your parts. You are certainly more than your injury so don’t be defined by it. What’s best advice for your injury isn’t necessarily best advice for your whole person – you just have to be more sensible about the way you train in future. There are people out there training from wheelchairs, now that’s to be admired!

If you are determined to succeed you will find a way …

Happy training!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor so don't take this post as advice on whether you can train with your injury. It's your injury so it's your call....

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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The art and science of unbalancing.

I have become quite fascinated recently about the use of unbalancing principles in karate. It seems to me that it is an art form in itself; something that can and must be studied in isolation as well as in combination with various techniques.

Unbalancing is about disruption and control: Disrupting your opponent’s attack and seizing control of them. There is both art and science in understanding balance and unbalancing methods. It requires a scientific understanding of how the brain and body work together to enable balance combined with a sense of creativity in assessing the many ways in which your opponents balance can be disrupted.

To understand how to unbalance an opponent you first need to understand how we are able to balance in the first place. I wrote a previous post about balance called ‘martial arts – a balancing act’  where I described the three main tenets of good balance as being having a wide base of support, having a low centre of gravity and maintaining the head and spine in a vertical position.  In this article I also discussed the importance of the ears, eyes and proprioception in the maintenance of good balance. 

To unbalance an opponent then you have to disrupt at least one on the main tenets of balance: pull them out of their base of support (or reduce their base of support), raise their centre of gravity or disrupt their vertical alignment. Of course you must do all this whilst maintaining your own balance.

So how do you do it?  

Ways of disrupting the base of support:

Pushing or pulling: pushing or pulling will move someone out of their base of support but you need to know which way to push or pull. This requires some knowledge of the “eight points of off balance” which relates to stances. Look at this diagram:

diagram from 

As a point of principle your off-balance point is generally perpendicular to the plane of your stance. So if your feet are positioned on points 8 and 4 on the diagram (this could be a left foot zenkutsu dachi (weight forward) or kokutsu dachi (weight back) and facing point 1 or even a shiko dachi if you were facing towards point 2 or 6) then you will be off-balance if pushed or pulled in the direction of 2 -6 or 6-2

So for example, if you are grabbed by the wrist by someone standing in front of you in a natural stance i.e with feet positioned on 3 and 7 then you only need to trap their hand and step backward to position 5 to unbalance them.  In order that you don’t unbalance yourself you need to use fairly strong, deep stances to ensure your centre of gravity remains low, your base of support is wide and your spine remains vertical. I never understand why people argue that stances in karate are no good and only useful for building leg strength – good strong stances are great for pulling people off balance. Of course taking just one step back many not be sufficient and you may need to take two or three long low steps backwards to pull your opponent over.

Reducing the opponent’s base of support: you can reduce the opponent’s base of support by taking one (or both) leg away e.g. with an ashi barai (foot sweep) technique or just a plain and simple ‘trip’. You may want to follow this up with a push, pull or even a throw.

Raising the opponent’s centre of gravity:

If a low centre of gravity assists with balance then a high centre of gravity will help reduce it. Getting your opponent up on their toes will make them seem lighter and easier to displace. Getting a good arm/elbow lock on can often get them on their toes. They won’t drop their weight back down to compensate because that will tighten the lock and cause more pain. You will now have them controlled and not fully balanced making it easier for you to apply your next technique – this may be a sweep or throw or just maintaining the restraint to march them off (always walk backwards with your restrained ‘prisoner’, I am told on good authority, it is harder for them to resist).

Disrupt your opponent’s vertical alignment:

Getting your opponent’s head and spine out of a vertical alignment will disrupt balance because it stops them from pushing their centre of gravity in a downwards direction. It is also very disorientating because it upsets the ‘balance sensors’ i.e. the eyes can no longer maintain a horizontal plane, the cochlear fluid in the ears may start to swirl and cause dizziness and the proprioceptors may have a hard time working out the body’s position in relation to the ground.

Techniques to disrupt vertical alignment include pushing the forehead backwards. This is especially effective if the other hand is placed at the lower end of the spine to create a push/pull effect. Alternatively you can twist the opponent pushing on one shoulder whilst pulling on their opposite hip.
These are just a few techniques you can use to disrupt balance, I’m sure that with a bit of creativity you can think of more!

Of course your opponent will instinctively try to correct their balance once they feel it starting to go. They will do this in predictable ways – the same ways you will try to do it. If you are pulled forward you will put a foot out to steady yourself. You will put your foot out in the direction you perceive yourself to be falling. If you are falling backwards you will try to step backwards. To stop your opponent from trying to correct their balance you need to stop them from putting their foot in that optimal position for regaining balance – you do this by making sure your foot is there first, forcing them to put their foot in a sub-optimal position and thus still being off-balance. 

To conclude: Unbalancing your opponent is a good tactical self-defence principle. It enables you to disrupt your opponent’s attack and gives you an opportunity to gain control of the situation. Good unbalancing is both a science and an art form. It requires some serious study into the physiological principles of balance and an exploration of ways of disrupting those principles. In any martial arts class it is worth spending time with a partner just manipulating and observing the effects of balance point disruption. Experiment with this in isolation as well as incorporating these unbalancing principles into various strategies and techniques and notice how much more quickly you are able to disrupt and control your opponent.

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