Monday, October 20, 2008

Where Do you Stand?

I literally mean ... where do you stand?

If I was to stand in front of the dojo and close my eyes, I could picture where each student stands on the dojo floor. I can visualize a brown belt in the back corner, a green belt directly in front of him, an adult brown belt in the back row center. I could go on. When I think to my own training at the Honbu, I inevitably stand in the back row close to the entrance. If my training partner is on the floor, we gravitate to the back row near the air conditioner.

Does it matter where you stand? I think it does.

One evening, I was reviewing chounokun with a brown belt student. The student was working on the kata for an upcoming test. I made some minor corrections and suggestions and realized that all the comments were directed to one side of the body. It was the side that could not be readily seen from where the student always stood. The moves were hidden from sight. The end position was fine but the moves in between needed some work. I suggested that the student move to the other side of the room to get a different view.

Last Tuesday was my second Tai Chi Chuan class. I wanted to try again even though I felt dopic the first week. I walked into the room and stood to the left. The instructor does not stand in the center of the room, he stands facing the mirror to the right. I could not see the moves and had to use the mirror to follow the pattern. Eventually, I moved to the back corner of the room so that I could see the instructor from a new perspective. What a difference it made!

If possible, vary where you stand in the dojo. If you cannot see the instructor, move to where you can. It is easy to get comfortable and claim "your place" on the floor. It is important to see the instructor from different angles.

Enjoy your training!


Classical Tai Chi of Buffalo said...


That injury has to hurt.
I know as well that there is no "sweet" spot where one can see all there is...except by moving advantageously as you suggest.

Double Ouch,

I wouldn't worry too much about seeing the instructor, since you can always move around for a better view. It takes time to see if you will like Tai Chi, years to understand it and a lifetime to master it.

At this juncture, because of such an injury, I would start loving my lower body, knees, ankles, etc. I did nasty things to my knees back in the 70's and 80's when I had just started Tai Chi and was still doing Tae Kwon Do...ta da...I was "indestructible".

I'd recommend maintaining a "loving relationship" between my knees and my toes. "Loving" as in don't go too far afield, "relationship" as in the length of the step is directly related to the amount (and quality) of the bend of the knee.

No further ouches,

In other words, knee not past the toe in the forward position, knees in line with one another when in the sit back position.

Don't be fooled by the "splits" that one sees, the very low and stretched out stances that one sees on the covers of the "Kung Fu Rags"...sooner or later the knees will pay for that folly.

Anyway, the secret of a strong body is most often found in what you don't do to it, not in what you do...

Jim R.
* see the videos concerned with "Tai Chi Walking" or "internal discipline in Tai Chi walking" for further tips.

Martial Arts Mom said...

We line up according to rank, so it depends on who shows up to class on any particular night. I have to admit, I do like being aligned with the A/C though! I usually end up in the front row though. No slacking for me!

Colin Wee said...

Fantastic perspective.

Many instructors don't have this awarness - everything in the environment and the environment itself will affect the athlete.

When I used to coach the national archery team, there's really very little variance in any of the moves. The coach has to get into the skin of the athlete and into their heads. You've got to become a close observer of the minutest thing.

All perspectives are relevant!


Patrick Parker said...

Cool post - this is actually something that I do as an instructor - try to watch each repetition or set of reps from a different angle. Another great habit that I took the time to acquire was to keep the dojo wall to your back so that you can see most of the mat. If you stand in the middle then you can't see the folks behind you, but if you stand with your back to the wall and work your way around the edges you get different angles on the whole place.

Michele said...

Jim: Wise words. The instructor demonstrated the complete (108 move) form this week. I was very impressed.

MAM: We "line up" according to rank at the beginning and end of class. After warm-ups, we move around the room. Gotta love that front row! :-)

Colin: Thank you! I appreciate your comment. In regards to the environement...I never thought of it that way. Thanks.

Pat: Thank you for stopping by my blog. I tend to move around the room when I watch the students to gain different perspectives. I like your suggestion about standing near the back of the room to see the whole picture. Thanks.

Littlefair said...

(You may have done this but...)An interesting exercise I've undertaken in the past is to turn to a wall other than the front wall when starting a form -see how this changes perception. If you're really up for a mind warp turn 45 degrees to a corner and see where you finish!

Good spacial awareness exercise if nothing else.

Anonymous said...

In our old dojo it was custom to sit down according to rank when sensei showed a technique, the problem with that is that you miss about half of the detail even though he did switch sides regulary. Nowadays we all stand around sensei (not the old one) and move around when needed. The funny thing with beginners is that they either stay motionless (missing alot of detail while they need it the most) or stand too far away (sensei doesn't bite and it gets a bit annoying when he has to keep calling out to everyone). Another common occurence is that they turn the wrong way when observing, apparantly they don't know which way the uke is going to fall.

When training I usually pick the nearest student and invite him or her (the best way to avoid getting too used to one body-type is to switch frequently), where we train on the mat is not important aslong as it's far enough away from others and especially the wall. Some people really should look before they throw somebody, just last week I had to quickly and forcibly jerk away my partner or she would have collided with one of our neighbours, even though I maintained the proper distance. Keeping an eye on others is not only beneficial in terms of dojo-safety but even more so in street-situations with multiple opponents: the guy you didn't pay attention to is usually the one who'll nail you or sucker-punch you from the back.

Spatial awareness is indeed very important, on many levels. Very important in zanshin.

Good post,


Michele said...

Hi Zara,

Thank you for reading my blog. I appreciate your comments and perspective.

You make excellent points regarding spacial awareness and dojo-safety. We have a few structural support poles along the edge of the dojo that we have to be mindful addition to the mirrors and the walls. :)

Thanks again,

Anonymous said...

Hi Michele,

You’re welcome, I like your blog since it’s well-written and you obviously know what you’re talking about. Always interesting to communicate with fellow martial-artists, even though it’s through the rather impersonal medium of a blog.

The walls in the dojo are very useful things: for one they allow you to practice defenses against various attacks while being shoved forcibly into them (this calls for a slightly different approach since you simply cannot move backwards anymore, also you need to make sure you don’t bump your head into them or it’s game over) and they can be used to your advantage. What I like to do is take someone in a come-along hold and escort them to the nearest pole or wall and simulate throwing them into it, this is neat and easy since he’ll be so focused on the pain he won’t think about offering resistance or putting his hands up to protect himself. Another way would be to take advantage of their momentum and throw or simply trip them up, sending them head first into the bricks. Why expend energy when you can get the environment to work for you? Training in open environments with lots of room like on mats is great but in reality chances are you won’t have that kind of space and you still need to be effective if you want to come out on top. In general I’m wary of techniques that require a lot of space to be effective: short and to the point, that’s my motto.

That’s why I don’t like styles that rely mainly on kicks and long-range weapons: if you’re in a bar, bathroom or a crowded place you simply can’t use them and you’ll be totally out of your element. A short-range style (obviously with effective entries) will always work, long-range styles are pretty limited in my view. Your most devastating impact-weapons are short range anyway: elbows, knees and the infamous head-butt. One of the most valuable exercises we do in our dojo is to stand against the wall and let the partner launch attacks (from all directions: straight punches, hooks, uppercuts, hammer fists), slowly and without much power at first but faster and faster when you get better at it. This teaches you the value of covering-up: classic blocks and defenses are simply too slow at this range and sooner or later you’ll eat a fist which will open you up for the next one, most likely leading to a knock-out. Cover up and weather the storm: if you see an opening you take it but the most important thing is to protect yourself against a barrage of attacks, in reality you would counter-attack and move out of the way (slipping to the outside, bobbing&weaving) as soon as possible but this particular exercise is invaluable in my view, albeit pretty advanced. Naturally we always wear boxing-gloves and mouth-pieces with this one. Defending attacks with enough room to maneuver and with enough time to see them coming is relatively easy but when he’s in your face (up close & personal) it’s a whole different ballgame and most people just don’t seem to train to handle this level of stress and danger.

Thanks for the compliment,