Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Review: The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker is a powerful book that examines the intuitive nature in all of us. He systematically explores the details of prediction and survival skills. Gavin De Becker discusses pre-incident indicators (PINs) of violence. It is an amazing book. The words written across the cover are “This book can save your life.” I am sure this book has helped many people and I encourage all to read it.

On a personal note, this book was very difficult for me to read. I had to put it aside a few times before I was able to finish. Our dojo was touched by violence in the most horrific way possible. There are two framed photographs on the dojo wall. The first photo is of an eight-year-old girl (J) wearing a karate gi. She is standing in the back yard of the dojo. The grass is green and the wind is blowing her hair. She is smiling. The second photo is of a ten-year-old boy (V). He is wearing a gi striking his best karate pose. He looks shy and slightly awkward.

V and J loved karate. They never missed a class and trained with us for four years. V and J were brought to class by their parents who would sit and watch each class. One day, V and J’s mother came into the dojo holding a PFA (Protection from Abuse) against her husband. She left her husband and took the kids. She was instructed to show a copy to everyone who routinely saw the children. Within a week of the PFA, the husband took her to court and was granted unsupervised visitation.

We were waiting for V and J to arrive at a local tournament. They never showed up that Sunday morning in March 2000. On his first unsupervised visitation, the husband drugged the children, tucked them into bed and suffocated them. He then killed himself. As I read The Gift of Fear, I could not help thinking of V and J. I think about V and J’s mother and cannot imagine how hard it must be to go on without her children. I do not think I will ever be able to get the image of V and J lying side by side in their joint coffin out of my mind.

The man that killed V and J was the person that was supposed to protect them and keep them from harm. This tragedy haunts the dojo to this day.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Kata and Kumite

In my previous post, I discussed the importance of evaluating kata. I study traditional Okinawa Kenpo and there are fifty-one kata (21 open hand and 30 weapon). BobSpar, the author of the Middle Aged Martial Artist blog, asked the following question.

"When you spar, how close do you think your execution is to the form you strive for in kata?"

Hopefully...very close. The techniques used in kata should be of the same caliber as the ones used in sparring. The techniques should be clean and technically correct. A punch or kick done properly will generate more power and be more accurate. The practice and study of kata develops timing, precision, control of center line, distancing, two foot movement, removal of target, angles and turning. During kata we strive to remain level and connect our body movement. For example, the power of a punch is not created by the arm alone. The body is connected to the floor and the power is generated through the hip and out the arm to the target.

After my initial reaction to the question, I began to think of the best fighters I know. I ran down the list in my mind. Each and every one of them are excellent kata practitioners. I think of the students in this dojo where kumite is part of the curriculum. We practice kumite but the most of the classes focus on kata, kobudo or application. The students love to spar and sometimes compete in tournaments. The students do extremely well in kumite even against fight focused schools. Good basics and good techniques are the key to their success.

When I watch people spar, I look for their kata. I see it in the way they move and how they cut angles. I look at their techniques and often find pieces of kata. Some examples are the parry reverse punch from Wansu, the rolling back fist from Pinan Yondan or a block back fist from Pinan Sandan. A simple inside forearm block becomes a parry strike when using the prep hand as the block so the block becomes the strike. We read our opponents by picking up cues from the body. Movement in the shoulder or hip can telegraph a punch or a kick. Kata practice helps eliminate the extra body movement.

In my opinion, kata training is the core of my kumite.

What do you think the relationship is between kata and kumite?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Kata "Stuff"

Have you ever seen "stuff" creep in to your kata? This happens all the time. It may be a natural process the gives us the opportunity to improve. "Stuff" comes in many forms: extra moves, odd angles, extra body movement (this seems to be the most prevalent), similar techniques from other kata, space constraints, or modifications due to injury that remain after recovery. I am not speaking of major movements or pattern problems. "Stuff" is subtle. I am referring to the refinements that can take your kata to the next level.

Some students may think that I am too picky. On the contrary, it is my obligation as an instructor to guide the students along their karate journey. Teaching and learning the pattern of kata is the easy part. A close examination of the techniques and how they function is when the real studying begins. For example, when I am looking at my own kata, I feel when something is awry long before I see it. There is a punch in Passai that is executed off the left hip. It felt wrong. After closer examination, I realized that I did not chamber the technique properly. A subtle correction can make a huge difference in function.

As students learn kata, they must remember to bring along the kata they already know. New students often seem surprised that rank testing is cumulative. The current material includes all the material you already tested for and passed! The earliest material must grow stronger with each rank. The first kata in Okinawa Kenpo is Nai Hanchi Shodan. A brown belt level student demonstrating Nai Hanchi Shodan should do so with brown belt level ability.

I encourage a close examination of kata. You can ask an instructor, work with a training partner or even self-evaluate.

Enjoy the process!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tai Chi Hip Movement

Tai chi class was excellent. We spent the entire class on brush knee and the hip joint. The instructor broke down the movement and watched/corrected our form. I love the precision and conservation of movement in Tai chi. It is beautifully complex. When I watch the instructor, I know that there is a depth and purpose to the movement. The instructor ended class with an assignment...think about the hip joint.

There is a basic hip movement in Tai chi which I am having trouble. During warm-ups we perform a hip movement exercise - we stand shoulder with apart and turn our torso using our hips. This sounds easy...but it is not. The instructor looks at me and tells me that my knees are going to hurt because of how I am moving. I end up twisting at the knee which puts pressure on the joint. The instructor has explained this movement several times and indicated that this movement is difficult for many people. He demonstrates how the hip moves when you turn one foot out. The movement is in the joint. When I try to turn at the hip, I keep thinking that my hip is not meant to move this way!
My instructor gave a brief anatomy lesson on the hip joint. He reminded us that the hip is a ball and socket joint and is not like the knee or elbow. Here is where I had a "light bulb" moment. The hip is like the shoulder. I know that this may sound like common sense or information that I should have connected. I was not thinking about the hip as a ball and socket joint. In most instances the hip joint moves forward, can lift or extend to the side. At that point I knew that the hip joint can turn this way! The instructor informed me that it was mind over matter. My brain believes I can turn at the hip...now I need my body to follow. Here is an interesting article on the hip and the waist in Tai chi.

I was discussing my hip joint difficulty with a fellow Okinawa Kenpo black belt. I was explaining how difficult I found this fundamental movement in Tai chi. I was describing (to the best of my ability) how the hip joint should move. He tried the move, thought for a moment and told me that it was sort of like a cat stance. He is right! When we sink into a cat stance the hip opens up. Another "light bulb". We discussed how the human body works in specific ways...no matter what martial arts style you practice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Welcomed Reminder

Tonight I was given the opportunity to sit and talk about women and martial arts. This discussion could not be complete without mentioning Sensei Bobbi Snyder. Sensei Bobbi Sndyer was a pioneer for women in martial arts. Forty years ago, women were not allowed in most dojo. She wanted to learn self-defense and she sought out a dojo. The sign outside the dojo said "No Women" but she proceeded to knock on the door.

In many dojo, women represent approximately fifty percent of the student population. There are women instructors, dojo heads and directors of organizations. I was asked the question "How would you feel if you were the only woman in class?" The discussion was a welcomed reminder of how far women have come in the martial arts over the last forty years.

I attended a women's self-defense seminar taught by Bobbi Snyder when I was a 7th kyu. My encounter with her was brief but she made an impact on my training.

I wonder if I would have knocked on that door.

This is my 100th post. Thanks to all those who have read or commented on my blog.