Injuries – What A Pain: By Russell Stutely

I have of late become more interested in how to keep training as you get older, as many of us lose flexibility, get stiff joints/injuries and lose the natural athleticism of youth.  As such, I’ve become more interested in what I call “natural movement“.  By this I mean, (as far as is possible) moving in a way that is natural for the body, rather than forcing a movement.  For example, many people overly tense up at the end of the end of a technique with too much forced exhalation.  Learning to relax more and breath more naturally is healthier at all ages, but more so as get get older.

Being a subscriber to Russell Stutely’s email Newsletter, it seems he is also having thoughts about adapting training as you get older (and he’s younger than me).

Anyway, I’ve long been an admirer of Russell Stutely (who has done an interview for this website before, so I thought I would share his thoughts.  If you want to join up to his newsletter or find out more about Russell then CLICK HERE to visit his website.

Anyway, here in Russell’s own words:-

What are we all training for?  You know I have been giving this a lot of thought over the last few days.  After many long years of training, some great times, some awful times, some amazing times… I look back at the training partners / friends / colleagues etc.  So many have stopped training for various reasons; Family, fed up, drifted away, injuries etc.

We have trained pretty hard… In my biased view anyway! We were always the first to step and try something out, spar or fight at whatever level people want… and for what?  What did we really gain from it? I have a list of niggling little injuries (some a bit more than that) which are going to plague me for life.

I have friends in the same boat give or take.  Yesterday I was at the gym, at my hilltop lair… and there was a younger couple doing Yoga together.  They looked in great shape, were physically gifted (judging by the positions) and as I found out were completely injury free after 20 years!

I hobbled away cursing them under my breath 🙂 They were also really nice to chat to… which made me hate them even more! 🙂

As a Coach it is my job to teach in the best possible way. To give the best possible advice on an individual level. To guide, help, assist and to pass on as much knowledge and information in the most efficient manner possible.  I am asked on many occasions about hard training, sparring, fighting etc. My answer recently has been do it if you want to.
A few years ago my answer was ALWAYS that you MUST do it.

My answer today and for the forseeable future, is why do it?
Unless you have aspirations to be a proper fighter, then why bother? You will probably get injured.  The injury / injuries could well have an impact on your daily life – for the rest of your life.

Do you really want to take those chances to satisfy your own ego?  I need to know what I am doing works? Is a standard cry… or it needs to be pressure tested.

Well… yes and no. We all know that a good punch in the mouth works right? So do we really need to pressure test that?  We all know that a soccer kick to the head works right? Do we really need to pressure test that?

What we really need to pressure test is HOW TO GET INTO POSITION to punch them in the mouth etc etc.

This can be trained at speed and power with SAFETY in mind.
This is called training HARD AND SMART.

Something which I did mention in my 200+ A4 Page Book – Karate – The Hidden Secrets many years ago. Available all over the web and at my store:-)

I don’t know about you but I really wish I was as injury free as the Yoga couple I met!

NO.. I am not bothered about being in as good as shape as them either! Or about being as nice….They need to rotten up like the rest of us! 🙂

What is IMPORTANT is knowing what I / You want from your training. That is the KEY.  Everyone is different and everyone is on their OWN JOURNEY. I will try to NEVER judge anyone else’s journey ever again.

If you / they or I am ENJOYING my training, then carry on doing it.  I still think it is CRITICAL to UNDERSTAND as much as possible about your Art. It is ESSENTIAL that you make it as efficient and effective as possible.

This is achieved through UNDERSTANDING…. and NOT through beasting yourself and others in the blind hope that ONE MORE PUSH UP will make me understand better!
Use some of the annoying Yoga couples wisdom… take your Art to the next level by UNDERSTANDING IT BETTER.

Ironically, this is what I have been doing for years with the various studies made… BUT at the same time doing that ONE MORE REP as anyone who has actually trained with me will testify!

Now it is time to drop the ONE MORE REP mentality!
I have officially stopped hard / open sparring. At 46 that is acceptable I think!

I am actually taking my own advice and training a bit smarter!  I hope that this little note has given you food for thought?
I will write more soon.

Thanks Again,

Russell Stutely

How Exactly Is Fighting More Mental Than Physical?

For centuries masters have taught that fighting is more mental than physical.  However, when training martial arts we concentrate mainly on the physical technique.  As we progress, we learn to be more focused, aggressive and intense; but how exactly does that make fighting more mental than physical when we are still punching, kicking, throwing, gouging or simply bitch-slapping some bugger that deserves it?

I’m going to ask you to bear with me as I explain, as at first this is going to look like I’m going of subject, but it will fit together in the end, I promise.

Something that I’ve come across a couple of times lately is the idea that we should be “living in the present”.  Well of course we are you might say, how can we not be in the present?

Let me explain a bit more.  Many people spend a lot of time living in regret for things they have done in the past or missed opportunities; or resentment about things that have been done to them.  They are in effect, spending a lot their time thinking about and focusing on the past, constantly re-living the causes of their regret/resentment.

Others spend a lot of time looking to the future.  How many times have you thought, “I can’t wait for work to finish and go home”, “I can’t wait for the weekend” or “I can’t wait for my holiday/retirement/promotion/whatever”?  This is in effect living for the future.  The idea is, “I’ll be happy when . . . . . . . whatever”.

The key to actually being happy, or even effective in live, is not to be re-living past problems or to be just biding your time until something better comes along, but to be consciously present in the current moment.  This is not to say that you don’t plan for the future, just don’t focus on being there instead of now.  Be present now, whilst you plan your future (you’ll plan it much much better that way).  This is a big subject which I can’t really do justice to in one post.  Books have been written on this subject, so for now please just accept this general idea.

So what has this got to do with martial arts?

One more detour first, then I’ll answer that.  I have read several times in the past that soldiers in real combat report that they had “never felt so alive”.  That’s not to say that they found it to be fun!  Rather they found it very intense, the very fact that their existence could end at any instance made them very much aware of that instance (rather than dwelling on the past or what could be).  They were very intense on staying alive and very present in that moment.  Hence feeling really “alive”.

OK, back to the martial arts.  How often have you said (or heard somebody say) that when training you/they forget all your worries and problems?

Why does this happen?  It is because we are practising a combat art.  We need to maintain our concentration and focus, especially when partnered up for sparring.  We know we’ll soon get hit if don’t focus and be present in that moment.  Even in pre-arranged sparring routines, if you don’t block/parry/evade an attack that is coming in full-steam, you’ll get hit.

In solitary practice as well (basics or kata/patterns/forms) we should still train with an opponent in mind.

Note:  Our nervous system can not tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined.  For example, if we watch a scary film, we know full well that we are safe and it’s only on a screen.  However, we still “jump”, our heart beat can speed up and our breathing can change.  This is our nervous system responding to our imagination as we are engrossed in the film.  Therefore training with an opponent in mind is almost as good as training with a real partner.

Our training forces us to be in the present.  It forces us to forget our past problems and to forget about our daydreams of our future and to be much more there, focused on the guy in front who is about to knock you into next week if you don’t focus fully on what he is about to do to you.

Being fully focused and aware in the present moment is a necessary reaction to danger.  Fortunately it is an almost automatic reaction to being in danger.

That said, some people still struggle with it.  When confronted with a bully/mugger/predator, some people will focus on “this isn’t fair”, “why does this always happen to me”, “this b*****d is always picking on me”.  The are still partly in the past.

Some will be thinking, “I’m going to get killed”, or “this could really be humiliating”.  They are still partially in the future.

Over time with many sessions of partner activities (whether free sparring or pre-arranged activities), we don’t just get used to physical technique, but we get uses to being in the present moment.  We get better control over our fears and become more able to instinctively push out the fears of defeat/humiliation or feelings of victimisation.  It is often said that martial arts fosters courage.  One of the main ways it does this is by teaching you to be in the present rather than focusing on the past or future.

Usually if you get a black belt sparring with a somebody of a middle range grade (say purple/blue belt) then assuming all other things are equal (age, build, strength, size, etc) the black belt will usually dominate.  Obviously the black belt should have the better technique, but if you put the 2 of them side by side and tell them to perform say a punch at the same time, the black belt will be only a split second faster.

Does this split second account for the level of domination that most black belts have over lower grades?

Obviously it is part of the reason, but I don’t think it is the full reason.  By the time somebody reaches black belt, usually they are much more used having their mind in the present moment and not worrying out defeat, humiliation, fighting a higher grade etc.  They find it much easier to commit to their technique and just go for their target, un-hindered by a mind worrying about what the outcome might be.  There is a greater sense of certainty about the way they move.

This is where the mind is trained to be “present”.  It is more important than just the physical technique that the body is performing.  This is where fighting becomes “mental”.  This is where your focus and concentration over many years will take you to.

A side effect of this is of course is that you learn to be more “present” in your everyday life as well.  You usually find that high grade martial artists often have more resilience to deal with the everyday problems that life throws up than most other people do (whether it’s divorce, career, health, whatever).  Why?  Because you can solve your life problems much better if you are thinking in the present rather than resenting how you got there (thinking in the past) or fearing the outcome (thinking in the future).

So many martial arts talk about making you a better person with a stronger character and it is irrefutable that they do.  Most however are short on explanation on how this actually happens.  I personally believe that learning to be “present” is one of the most central principles of the “Do” (The Way).

This concept is a continuation of the idea of silencing that little voice inside your head (which I’ve written about before).  You know, that little voice that keeps telling you that you can’t do something for this or that reason.  That reason is usually something in the past – dragging you back there and away from the present moment.

 

Note:  Being “present” is a very big subject which I cannot do justice to in one posting.  If you want more information then I would suggest that you check out either:
A Bug Free Mind (heavily marketed, but has changed my outlook)
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle (I’ve seen this recommended several times.  I have a copy waiting for me to find the time to read it).

What Does An Ore, A Handbag & Half A Brick Have In Common?

The video below recently came to me via my Youtube subscription. It is the old Okinawan kata of Chikin Sunakake No Eiku by Akamine Hiroshi.  This is a weapon that originated from a humble oar.

There is a story of an old Okinawan master who was famed for being good with this weapon, who was repeatedly challenged by a Samurai.  He declined the challenges several times until eventually the Samurai confronted him and told him this it is, basically you fight or die.  As the Okinawan Master reluctantly picked up his oar, he used it flick sand into the Samurai’s eyes.  He then took advantage of the Samurai’s temporary blindness, to strike him in the throat with the oar, crushing his windpipe and killing him.  Very crude, simple, yet highly effective bunkai from such a basic weapon.

Not many of us are likely to carry around a oar these days just in case.  It’s not common to be confronted by a sword wielding Samurai either for that matter.  However, it does make a good point of using everyday implements as a makeshift weapon.  That is a principle that we can use today, even if we don’t practice traditional weapons.

Imagine if your home was broken into and you were attacked (or you had to defend your loved ones), what could you use around you as a weapon.  How about a photo frame on the mantlepiece?  Or a pen/pencil on your desk?  Could you use a fruit bowl to fend of blows or even hit with it.  Do you have chairs that are small enough pick up swing around.  Of course if you’re in the kitchen then there are many more potential weapons.

But have you ever stopped to look around your house (in every room) and see what you could pick up and use in an emergency? Then of course, have you ever practiced a few strikes with it, or even made up your own little kata?

Then of course what about when you’re out?  There’s the obvious ones like bottles and glasses.  How about an ash tray or a pool que.

When Shotokan Karate was still quite young in Europe, women did not have to free fight for their black belt.  Instead they had to perform self defence techniques.  One scenario commonly used was that they would carry a handbag that the “mugger” would have to try to take from her.  He would do this by grabbing her wrist with one hand trying to take the bag with the other hand.  The defence was the twist the wrist and pull back the hand, then continue the movement in, up over the top and come down striking the top of the head with the handbag (third movement in Heian Shodan/Pinan Nidan, normally ending in a hammer-fist . . . . without the handbag).

At an early grading I took, my class was told the following story by the late Ray Fuller (our grading examiner).  When his then wife, Pauline, who at that time was the highest ranking woman Karateka in Europe took her 1st Dan black belt, they demonstrated that particular defence.  When she struck him over the head with the handbag, she knocked him out cold.  He later asked her what the **** she had in the handbag?  She apparently said “half a brick”.  He asked why, to which she allegedly said, “to make it look good”.

Well women carry many things in their handbags, maybe some will start carrying half a brick now!!

Although I’ve always found that an amusing story, it does show how an effective weapon can be made out quite ordinary things.  It does make sense to look around your home, your workplace, places you socialise to see what can used as a weapon in case of emergencies.  In the home at least, it is also a good idea to pick them up now and then and make up your own little katas with them.  It does not have to as sophisticated as the oar kata below, but just being used to handling any object that could become an unsuspected weapon could be the deciding factor.