Monday, August 28, 2006

Karate: Some broad discussion on OPENING THEORY

Although the subject of opening moves rarely seems to be given the weight it may deserve in most books on martial arts, as with chess, backgammon or go the first movements of a match or fight can decide the outcome. If mixed martial arts tournaments have taught us anything, it is to paraphrase an adage "in like a lion, out like a light." Please feel free to leave a comment about your views on opening and the discussion itself!
The correct practice of forms or kata is essential to effectively act and react in the Spring of a match. Kata, when practiced with vigor and imagination (bunkai ring any bells?), can improve speed, accuracy, mental reaction and proper form. Indeed, kata, when properly adhered to, lays the foundation of attack and defense in an encounter. With that point clarified, the question becomes: how can one refine their practice of forms to genuinely prepare them for a real opponent?
The long road to effective kata
When practicing kata it is essential to keep your eye single to your own development and perfection as a martial artist and not to practice to win trophies or titles. When you have surpassed your weaknesses as a martial artist, those things will come, if you still desire them, because you will have progressed beyond the showman and become the master. This true motivation will put a snap in your kicks, quicken your memory and put a fierce dragon in your kiai. However, heart is not enough, there must also be a plan. A route to tread that will give direction and progression.
First, of course, must come the basics. Like the first stretch of any journey, the basics allow a student to accustom him or herself to what lies ahead. Stances, movement, blocks, punching and other strikes help the burgeoning karateka develop themselves and get a "feel" for the art. As these techniques become familiar, the karate student will begin to learn karate kata.
Next, as the student becomes more accustomed to their particular style, they begin to understand not only about different movements and stances, but also about the distance between them and their opponent. These concepts seem to blossom and bloom as the dust rises and the sweat begins to drop on the martial Way.
Then, the student will find the deeper philosophical and spiritual meanings behind the practice. Concepts of dodging, escaping, forcing, et cetera are all second nature and practicing karate kata or engaging in karate kumite only seem to nourish their souls and teach them more and more. The distance between karate student and opponent seems less and less until both become one.
Finally, the karate-ka will come full circle: from mastering techniques to teaching them. The karate-ka will be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and know how to apply them to their martial encounters. Still, the journey is not over and the trail must be trod again. With each repitition of the cycle, the level of proficiency and dedication of the martial arts student are increased and what once was an unwashed vagrant has now become a pilgrim, a champion of the Way.
For discussion
How does the martial artist's opening sequence develop in each of these phases? What are some effective opening moves and theories?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Smell Flowers

When life changes dramatically it can often leave you feeling desperate and out of control; almost as if something were pressing down on you. While this is unfortunately common, it is also preventable. Consider the following Chinese parable as an example of what haste can do to impair judgment:
~~In ancient China there was a man who because of an accident had a limp. It was next to impossible that anyone would want him for a husband and so the man went to a good friend to ask for advice. The friend, being wise yet harmless, told his handicapped friend that he would do whatever he could.
The friend then proceeded to visit another friend of his- a woman with a crooked nose. Now in those days a defect like a crooked nose was no small matter and the woman was becoming desperate to be wed. She implored her wise friend to arrange a marriage for her. The friend then realized the solution to his problem.
The wise and twice burdened man went to his friend who walked with a limp and told him that he had found a beautiful girl for him. In fact, he told his friend, that he should go by and see her at such and such a time and at such and such a place. He further told his friend to borrow his horse so that he could appear to be more important than perhaps he was.
Then the wise man went to his crooked-nosed friend to instruct her in the way to be wed. He told her that he had arranged for a very handsome man to ride by her house at such and such a time and that if she liked him, she could marry him. Only, he told her, to be truly more enticing you must feign disinterest. "When he rides by, press this flower to your nose and lean out the window as if to look at the horizon while smelling the flower." All this was done and the crooked nosed woman and the halt-legged man both agreed to marry. However, after the wedding ceremony was over and the guests went home the bride and groom were revealed to each other when the bride removed her veil and the man escorted her to the bridal chamber. It was too late for anything to be done and they realized that they had missed out on some important details.~~
This story, called "zou ma kan hua" (ride a horse to see a flower), illustrates the importance of taking the time to see exactly what it is you're getting yourself into, especially when you begin to feel desperate. Here are some tips for keeping your head:
1. Take a step back. This means look at your situation objectively and try to identify the who why what where when and how of your predicament. Also, see who else you are going to effect and what that would mean for them.
2. Get some advice. In my opinion it is not unreasonable to have a kind of "council of sages" to turn to when you have a major life crisis. Try to get someone with life experience to lay a second pair (or a third, fourth, et cetera) of eyes on your scenario. However, don't misplace the weight of the advice given. Your friends may be fun to hang out with, but your old neighbor who just went through his fourth surgery might have more life experience and give you a new way to look at things.

3. Make a decision. You should never just be idle. Make a choice about how to respond based on the best information you can get and carry out that choice. When new information presents itself or the situation changes you can also
make a new decision. The making of a decision does not mean that you cease to have options, it means that you cease to be a bystander in the farce that is your life and become an active participant, a player if you will, in that grand production.
4. See clearly the consequences of your choices. Don't just be an animal that acts without consequence. When you do anything ask yourself if it was worth the effort you expended, what you could have done better, what you did well, et cetera. When evaluating yourself try to be honest. This process will help you in the future when tougher choices are presented before you.
5. Make a plan. Based on your experiences, make a plan that will help you in the future. For example, if your car breaks down- how will you get home? How will you go to work? What would be the cost of doing so? Is there another way? In this way, you can anticipate problems and respond fluidly to them.
In karate, that is yushin/mushin. Thinking actively about all solutions and then developing a "sense" for solving problems by making it a habit.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Genealogy of Styles

Human beings are social animals. We often sort outselves out into groups and orders of people. There are social classes, political groups, religious groups, gender, race and cultural groups. But I would say that the most universal of all types of groups is the family group. We identify first and foremost with our family. Our names are a constant reminder of who we are and where we came from. Those who have lost family members in some way, like a father abondoning his child or a beloved sister dying, feel a deep sense of something missing in their lives and in themselves. It is difficult for a person to feel whole without some connection to family.

For many years, there have been family-based and passed martial arts. In Korea, they call it Sah Doh Mu Sool, and in China its decents can be seen it styles like Chen style taijiquan, developed from a traditional family style. In Japan also, families would have styles specific to them, passed down from parent to child over generations. They would even go so far as to harbor violently well-protected family secrets from other clans.

What are the merits of this kind of style? What is gained and lost by the exlusion of those outside of the genetic line? What of those schools today which bear the names of the family styles yet have little traceable link to the family itself? Is this a dying form of martial arts study? Should it be encouraged, eliminated, or updated for our times?

Personally I think that the serious practicioner of the martial arts, if he truly feels his lifetime of learning is valuable, should want to share it with others. He should especially want to share it with his children, whom he has the greatest responsibility to teach that which he feels is important. If this cycle of learning-teaching is continued over the generations, a person need never fear that all of their hard work through their life has gone to waste, because their skills will be passed on and improved over time.

With the isolation of a family line, a person has the freedom to teach what he wants without fear of legal or organizational retribution. For instance, because he wouldn't have to organize his school under the name of a certain style, Kenpo, Aikido, or Kyokushin for example, he has no obligation to adhere to the guidlines and restrictions of those styles. He can teach any range of curriculum from strict duplication of the styles to what he feels are the most beneficial aspects of as many styles as he chooses. Also, since he will be teaching within his family, he won't feel like he has to incorporate 'crowd pleasers' (excessive high kicks, frequent belt advancement) to keep his students and their parents coming back and paying the monthly dues.

While laws vary from state to state, country to country, it can generally be said that a parent is ultimately responsible for their children. You don't have to sign wavers and invest in expensive insurance policies if your dojo is made up of those who you yourself have direct responsibility for. No one is going to sue themselves. This is said with the assumption that all truly serious practitioners of the martial arts care about the mental, physical, and spiritual well being of those they practice with and teach.

Teaching martial arts within the family can create strong familial bonds and assist in the indoctrination of correct belief and action. In short, it can be a good parenting tool. Any parent who devotes their time on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis to the loving instruction of their children will see and enriched bond with them. This bond can strengthen lifelong relationships of trust and friendship and ultimately make the student-teacher relationship easier, both in the martial realm and in the general sculpting of a well-adjusted human being. The wise Confucius has said that "the strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home."

What of the exclusion of those outside the blood line? I would say that is up to the parent. Some may find is better to confine their instruction to one-on-one lessons in the home, some may invite other children they feel could benefit (though this would add in the aspect of liability), some may encourage their children to join them in their own dojo practice with a class, and some would rather support their children while they are instructed by someone they feel is qualified to teach. That is the beauty of our modern world; we are not confined by strict cultural codes that dictate our family behavior. Thankfully, a war-like society does not drive us to fiercely protect our 'martial secrets', as in cultures of the past. Because of the relative peace and acceptance of our present culture, each parent is free to seek the wisest choice for themselves and their child.

Friday, August 04, 2006

pei shan