Tai Chi: For Advanced Martial Artists

Many martial arts are misunderstood.  I have written a number of times about how Karate and other arts have become dumbed down and stylised to a point where a lot of what is practiced would not work under pressure.

However, I don’t think any martial art is more misunderstood than Tai Chi.  I think this is for a number of reasons, but mostly: Continue reading “Tai Chi: For Advanced Martial Artists”

Back To Basics With Al Peasland

Al Peasland (5th Dan with the British Combat Association, 3rd Dan Traditional Karate and internationally renowned teacher) wrote an interesting article on “Back To Basics”.  In this article he compares an experience he had learning to ski with how he teaches self protection.  He spent most of the time learning how to do “the plough” (position where the front of the skis point inwards, forming a triangular plough shape).

Al asked why they spend so much time in the plough position when it is not the way that they do “real skiing”.  The instructor explained that practicing the plough gives you control over the snow, when you have that, the rest of the fancy stuff can be mastered.  But without control over over the snow, the ability to ski fast, turn and (most importantly) to be able to stop; will be very difficult to learn.  When you see a good skier whizzing down a slop, skis parallel, twisting and turning around obstacles, you don’t see the plough.  Yet without learning the plough first, you would not see the speed and agility.

So (as Al explains) it is with martial arts and self protection.  Without learning the basic stances, basic techniques and sparring/drilling routines, you would not have a very a structure that you could use under pressure.

Although I am a further down the martial arts food chain than Al, I agree entirely.  People often talk of “muscle memory”.  However, muscles don’t have memory, only the brain does.  When you do a movement, any movement, or even a particular behaviour pattern, you fire a series of tiny electrical signals across the brain.  These are the parts of the brain that control that movement or behaviour.  When you repeat a movement over and over, those tiny electrical signals get stronger and the brain forms more links inside to carry the stronger signals.  This is called a “neural pathway” through the brain.  It is here, rather than the muscle that the memory of movement is stored.  The more we practice a movement over and over again, the stronger and bigger that neural pathway becomes, until eventually we no longer have to put in any conscious thought, we just fire the neural pathway and instinct takes over.

This is what we want when under pressure.  We want such strong, deeply rooted neural pathways, that we don’t need to think about how to punch/strike/kick etc.  We just want to be able to think this is it, action, and the rest just happens automatically.  The main difference between a master and a beginner is not necessarily their strength or physical prowess, it is the strength of these neural pathways, forged by years and years of repetition.

People often look for the quick fix (which is human nature).  Partly for that reason, pressure point fighting has become popular over recent years.  However, as I’ve said before, if you don’t know how to hit, if you can’t move with speed and accuracy, you will not be able to strike pressure point targets effectively.

Whatever your style of martial art, practice basics, basics then some more basics.  It is the only way to really be able to perform under pressure.  I promote the use of practical bunkai on this blog, but without good basics you will struggle to make them work.

I liken it to the foundations of a building.  The first thing the builders do is to dig a bloody great hole and fill it in with ugly cement and steel.  When the nice new shiny building is finished, you don’t see those foundations, you don’t see that hole and cement.  You only see the building on top.  But without that cement filled hole, the building would easily collapse.  So it is when you see a great fighter performing great athletic feats, breaking boards, fancy jumping kicks or annihilating an opponent.  You don’t see the years that the same fighter spent in a basic stance practicing a basic technique over and over again until he/she had a really deep foundation and incredibly strong neural pathways.

And let face it, if it was easy to learn in a few weeks, then all the muggers and predators would have done it to, so they would know what we know.  What sets us aside as martial artists is that we take the time to study and to evolve.  And in so doing we not only become better able to defend ourselves, but we become better human beings in the process.

Wing Chun: Finishing Quickly

Here’s a video where Keith takes the lead for a change (gives me a break) 🙂  Although Keith practices more Choy Lee Fut these days, his base style always used to be Wing Chun (which I trained with him for a while).  One of Wing Chun’s characteristics is its very fast multiple attacks, or as one instructor puts it; “be all over them like a rash”.

This is an effective fighting method.  However, during his time teaching, Keith noticed that sometimes people get a bit too focused on the rapid multiple attacks and forget to put in any real power into their techniques or to aim for good finishing targets.  This is not a criticism of Wing Chun, it’s just a mistake that sometimes people fall into.

Although emphasising fast close quarters techniques, Wing Chun practitioners can still develop a lot of power and finish fights very quickly, which is especially important with multiple opponents.  You don’t want to be caught hitting somebody 20 times, whilst their mates are trying to hit you too.  So in the following video, Keith reminds people of ways to use Wing Chun to finish a fight very quickly by being selective in your targets, rather then getting drawn into hitting them too many times, which sometimes ends up becoming very “slappy”.

The Humble “Yoi”

The kata’s (patterns/forms) within a traditional style often have different salutations and ready positions.  This would indicate that they have different meanings, beyond being just a salutation.  Think about it, if they were no more than just a salutation, why would they not be standardised.  Why would any style need more than one salutation which it would use on all of its kata’s/patterns/forms.

Logic would suggest that these salutations/ready positions are moves that could stop an opponent early in the proceedings, before a full blown fight breaks out.  If that does not work, then its into the kata to use techniques that will deal with a full blown fight.

The most common salutation or ready position in Karate is the “Yoi”.  The performance of the Yoi may vary from style to style, but generally the arms come up to head height (sometimes higher) then circle inwards and downwards, crossing over your center line, then back outwards, before settling just about hip height at  about a torso width apart.

Here’s our interpretation of how to use the humble Yoi against somebody who is acting aggressively, to turn the tables on them and put them in a position of disadvantage which you can exploit as you see fit.

Please tell us what you think.  Is your Yoi or salutation very much different?  Do you see the Yoi as being no more than a salutation with no practical function, or do you see it as a functional movement as we do?  Feel free to leave your opinion in the comment box below.

Yoi

Kata: Training Beyond Technique

Much is debated and demonstrated about the fighting applications within kata (patterns/forms), myself included.  But not too much is spoken about the mindset, or mental approach you should take when performing your kata.  Yes we all know that we should concentrate and focus, but beyond that . . . . what?

Whilst we are learning our kata, then obviously a certain amount of our concentration will be on making sure that we get the techniques and sequence correct.  With practice we should be able to perform our kata without having to think about them very much.  So now that we no longer have to think about the movements, what do we think about?  What’s for dinner?  Going for a drink afterwards?  Or how cool we look doing this kata without thinking about it?

Well my answer might surprise some people, especially as a large part of our training is about self development and making ourselves better people.  What I think you should do when you perform a kata that  you know well is to pour all you nastiness, malevolence, viciousness and malice into your kata.  That may sound strange from somebody who believes in self development as well as practicality, but please bear with me.

Real violence is nasty, malevolent, vicious and full of malice; and performing kata (or basics) is a mental rehearsal as well as a physical rehearsal.  Thugs may not have good technique, but they are used to “training” in the “adrenalin zone”. When you have to fight to defend yourself or your loved ones, then you are entering the thugs world of real violence and you have to be able to cope with it.  Adrenalin will effect your body, your perceptions and your ability to think. Your training should be real enough in your mind that you get a small adrenalin rush each time.  Whilst too much adrenalin can be unhealthy, a regular amount at low levels is fine, plus you become more immune to it’s negative effects after a while.  You will be able to remain calmer in a crisis.

Now some people may be concerned that training with this mindset may also train a thuggish mentality.  But as soon as you finish your kata, you step up into Yamae (finish position), you go back to calm.

We train ourselves to “switch on” quickly and “switch off” just as quickly.  If somebody attacks us, we do not want to freeze in shock (which happens even to high grade martial artists).  That said, if we successfully defend ourselves and incapacitate our attacker, we do not want to jump up and down on their prostrate body or perform River-Dance on their head.  We need to be able to stop and not be carried away in the heat of an unfamiliar moment.

As martial artists we need to know when to stop for  legal and even more importantly; for moral reasons.  We need to enter the world of vile malevolence when needed and exit it just as quickly when the job is done.  However, nasty the thug may be, we as martial artists should be able to show mercy once we overpower him/her.  It is part of the Yin & Yang of training and of our development.  Its about balance in our personality.

The only way to have little or no fear of violence is to be good at it.  I am not advocating that you act in a violent manner, but when you know that you can handle yourself in most situations, you project a confidence which most predators of the human world will recognise and they will be more likely to avoid you.  Please note that I say “most situations”, as there will always be someone more experienced or better armed then you.

Most human predators mirror the animal predators.  Think of the lion, king of the jungle.  They hunt in prides, but do they for the big muscular young bull buffalo with the great big horns.

No.

They go for the old, the young, the weak, the one with the gammy leg that can’t run properly.  Basically, for predators its about finding an easy target.  For us training is about making you a hard target, physically and emotionally.  The big fit bull with the horns does not need to threaten the lions, the lions just know.  So it is when you walk with an air of confidence, the human predators just know.

But projecting true confidence is not just about how you walk or your posture.  It’s about knowing that you are prepared physically and mentally should a conflict make it necessary.  As Bruce Lee once said in his films, “the art of fighting without fighting”.

I heard of a study years ago where they got 3 groups and tested them at throwing balls through a basketball hoop.  After recording the results, they had one of the groups practice shooting the balls at the hoop, one of the groups not practice at all; and the third group just visualise throwing balls at the hoop.  Later they tested the three groups again.  The group that practiced improved by something like 24% (if I remember right).  The group that did not practice made no improvement at all.

The amazing thing though was that the group that just visualised throwing the balls improved dramatically, with about a 23% improvement.  Visualisation achieved almost as good a result as doing the real thing.  Therefore whilst practicing kata, using visualisations of the violence and malevolence of the situation can actually help you prepare for it more than most people give it credit for (even if you don’t fully understand the bunkai).  Although good technique is important, unless you are practicing primarily for competition it should not always be your main focus.  Funikoshi said that spirit is more important than technique and he primarily taught by kata rather than kumite (sparring).

This concept may be a bit new to some people.  Whether it’s new to you or not, please leave a comment below to tell me what you think, I’d like to hear from you.

Wing Chun’s Chum Kiu

Following on from our last video on bunkai from the kata Nijushiho, Keith takes the lead and we take a look at similar applications from Wing Chun’s second form, Chum Kiu.

Usually we do things mainly from the Karate perspective and look at similar Kung Fu moves, but this time we start from the Kung Fu perspective (about time too).  Sorry to all the Kung Fu people out there that its taken us so long to do it this way round, but Keith is a bit shyer in front of the camera than me.  He’s not so shy in other ways, I would explain that this is not kind of blog 🙂

WOW! An Endorsment By Geoff Thompson!

Geoff Thompson is co-founder of the British Combat Association and a pioneer for reality based martial arts training.  His experiences as a martial artist (now 6th Dan)  and working as a bouncer gave him a great insight into what does and does not really work when under pressure.  He put this experience into his own teachings and was polled as the number one self defence instructor in the world by Black Belt magazine USA.  From there he has become the author of thirty-four books, five multi-award-winning films (two BAFTA nominated, one BAFTA winning), two stage plays and hundreds of published articles.

It was with a little trepidation (and quit a bit of cheek on my part) that we sent my new DVD, Inside Bassai Dai to Geoff Thompson for review.  We are delighted and honoured to have received the following endorsement from Geoff:

“Shotokan has always been my base system, so it was fascinating for me to watch the Charlie Wildish DVD on Bassai Dai, and come away with so much new information about this powerful kata and its origins.  I particularly like the historical element about Sokon Matsumura (who created the kata) and how, when & why he created the “grappling kata”.  I got a lot from this DVD and highly recommend it”.

I also sent Geoff a copy of my other DVD, 10 Kicking Tips, which I will be giving away free for a limited time to anybody who buys Inside Bassai Dai.  Geoff’s comments on this DVD were:

“I thought your kicking DVD was very good too.  You presented well and the info was strong”.

I’ll be honest, I was also given a few tips on improving presentation, which I was very grateful for and which I will be looking to implement as soon as I can.  To find out more about Inside Bassai Dai and 10 Kicking Tips, or to buy them, please visit our on-line Store.

7 Questions to Enhance Your Bunkai

This is an intersting article from www.ikigaiway.com which is very relevant to the aims of this blog as well.  I hope you enjoy it:-

“Without bunkai (applications), kata is little more than pre-arranged dancing. The hands can be flowing in exciting and vibrant ways but if we never discover the meaning of the motion then our time would be much better spent hitting a heavy bag or sparring.

Bunkai is the key to developing useful and effective techniques preserved for us by those individuals who developed and tested them in fierce, life protection situations. Over the course of time much of the true meaning of these movements has either been lost or purposefully disguised. If your desire is to unlock some of the skills of our predecessors, you’ll need to know the right questions in order to find the best answers.

The following are seven things to ask yourself that might illuminate your kata in a different (and hopefully productive) way. These are in no particular order and are not prescriptive. Use some when you can and invent others.

eizo shimabukuro bunkai

1. Can I change the angle in which I address my opponent?

Many times during bunkai we assume that an opponent is coming straight from the front or from the sides, and that we must stay directly in front of them and try to defend. What happens if you cut a 45 degree angle during your technique? What if turning from left to right allowed you to arc around the same opponent instead of addressing a new one?

2. What came just before and what is coming right after?

When we learn kata, it generally occurs in a set cadence. Step1 – block up. Step2 – block down. Step3 – punch kiai! That being the case, our mind generally sections itself off in those little boxes. It is our job to look at what is occurring right before our current technique and right after and how the body moves from one to the next. Stringing techniques together makes for a more devastating outcome to your opponent.

3. Am I utilizing all of the technique or just the end piece?

Techniques are often more dynamic than we give them credit for. Take for example the knife hand block. When we perform a knife hand block we generally step somewhere, prep the block, and then shoot the block out. The block itself is what we use to defend against an attack, but what about all the stuff that came before it? Can’t we use that too? Can’t the body shift be used to off-balance or attack our opponent, and can’t the prep be used to either defend or attack?

4. Can I condense the number of opponents I have to face to get through my applications?

If you find yourself going through a dozen bad guys for your bunkai you may be too segmented. In order to mentally escape from a tricky technique we often dismiss the current bad guy and invite a new one in from a different direction. Worse yet, if we are using two hands at once and don’t really know what’s going on we might invite two bad guys to attack us at once from different directions. Multiple opponent training is valuable, but kata is not suggesting that GuyA is likely to kick low while GuyB punches from behind. Those scenarios are too unlikely and miss the real intent of what’s happening. Condense the number of opponents as much as possible.

5. Are my opponents behaving naturally and with likely techniques, or am I forcing them into increasingly unlikely scenarios?

Patrick McCarthy Sensei developed the acronym HAPV, or habitual acts of physical violence. The point of HAPV is to keep focused on the techniques you are most likely to encounter. Furthermore, the longer you make the string of actions done by your uke the more unlikely an actual attacker will follow that pattern. Therefore, when performing bunkai, we want our opponents acting as naturally as possible. If the opponent has to punch, step back punch, step back punch, step back block up and receive your strike, you’ve asked your uke to behave in a way they never would in real life.

6. Have I affected my opponent in a way that makes more technique work?

Let’s say you manage to block your opponent (so far so good). You then put them in a wrist lock or arm bar in order to control them. That progression seems very effective, especially after years of training, and generally works in the dojo. However, if you’ve ever come across a live opponent who is experiencing adrenaline dump you’ll know that manipulating that arm is extremely difficult. Your attempts to bar or lock it will be met with iron resistance and counter punches to your face. Always be sure to negatively affect your opponent as soon as possible, then go into more technique.

7. What is the emotional content of my encounter?

What kind of scenario is your kata taking place in? Is it a school yard pushing match? Is it a life or death home invasion? The emotional environment you place yourself in is going to alter your bunkai dramatically. Your technique may need to restrain or it may need to kill.

Mental Gymnastics

With all of these questions/problems/complications we have to address the concept of simplicity. In a real life altercation, your simplest and most effective techniques will be the ones that help you. Thinking about responses in the heat of the moment will keep you one step behind your opponent.

Why then bother with all of this business about bunkai? Shouldn’t we simply practice a series of basic, effective techniques and avoid the mental gymnastics?

The short term answer is yes. For the first 5-6 years of your training you need to become “brilliant at the basics”, as Bill Hayes Sensei would say. Without a rock solid foundation and instinctual integration of your style’s stances, punches, and basic techniques nothing else can be built firmly. However, once you do achieve that level of proficiency, you acquire the privilege of exploring your art even deeper and improving the way you go about your business.

Simple techniques practiced a certain way seem like the best option until you learn how to improve them. That doesn’t necessarily mean complicate them. Instead the goal is to find ways to improve your angle, distance, timing, striking locations, and technique progression in order to enhance what’s already been built. This style of study leads to an understanding of tichiki, or “what the hand is doing”, which can be used extemporaneously with great percentage of success”.

By Matthew Apsokardu

Bunkai For Nijushiho (Niseishi)

Here we look at the opening sequence of the kata Nijushiho (also known as Niseishi).  In Shotokan in particular the usual interprutation of the slow forward moving “elbow strike” is that it applies an armlock under the opponents elbow by applying upward pressure.  However, it seems to work much better if you apply the armlock across your chest.  Have a look at the video and see what we mean.

Nijushiho/Niseishi Bunkai

New DVD: Inside Bassai Dai (Kata Bunkai)

Keith and I are very pleased to release our new kata bunkai DVD, “Inside Bassai Dai”.  For those not familiar with Bassai Dai, it is a very central kata in many Karate systems and is often used for black belt gradings to 1st Dan.  This is fitting considering it’s author is the Okinawan master, Soken Matsumura who is a very pivotal character in the development of Karate.

Matsumura was one of the prime movers in developing linear technique (previously, Okinawans practiced primarily Chinese based circular techniques).  He also taught Azato and Ituso, who went on to teach Funikoshi (who introduced Karate to Japan and hence the World).  So Matsumura’s impact on Karate is enormous.

Matsumura’s master was taught by a Chinaman and Matsumura is known to have gone to Shaolin to do some training.  It is therefore appropriate that I am working with Keith (a Kung Fu exponent) as it takes us back closer to Matsumura’s original influences.  It also makes this DVD a bit unique.  There is also a free DVD on Kicking Tips being given away with it.  Anyway, it’s been getting some great endorsements and is available at our store with full details if you want to check it out.

“This DVD delivers a down to earth and realistic look at the often misunderstood Kata of Karate.  Simple to follow and easy to understand.  It is great to see Charlie Wildish incorporating my ABC system of manstoppers in to his karate, it is must have principle for any serious combat martial artist.  Good work Charlie”.

Kevin O’Hagan:  7th Dan Combat JuJutsu, 6th Dan British Combat Association.

“This DVD is a must for any true Karateka who is interested in uncovering the essence of Bunkai, and understanding the true meaning of Kata.”

Mark Winkler:  6th Dan Wado Ryu Karate, Qualified Systema Instructor