Striving For Perfection: Combat Effectiveness And Spiritual Development

How often have you heard the phrase “before you can overcome others, you must first overcome yourself”, or “your main opponent is yourself”.  If you’ve never heard these phrases, then take a long look at who’s teaching you!  You should have heard these phrases before as this really is one of the most central core philosophies of doing any traditional martial art. Continue reading “Striving For Perfection: Combat Effectiveness And Spiritual Development” »

Martial Arts In Times Of Peace

Martial arts vary in times of war/chaos compared to times of relative peace.  Despite what you hear and read in the media, most of us today live in relatively peaceful times where we can call the police if anybody threatens or attacks us.  Obviously if you have a job such as policeman, prison officer or bouncer; you will see more violence then most others.  Also if you go to Continue reading “Martial Arts In Times Of Peace” »

Moksu: Does It Actually Have A Martial Application?

For those not familiar with the term, Moksu it is Japanese for the kneeling meditation at the beginning and end of a martial arts class.  It is often seen as just clearing the mind from the day’s ups and downs to prepare you for training.  It does of course do that, but it can actually represent a lot more in the long term.  Apart from just clearing the mind, when practiced regularly it can over time help to completely silence the mind.  Continue reading “Moksu: Does It Actually Have A Martial Application?” »

Mind Like The Moon & Mind Like Water

Mind Like The Moon (Tsuki No Kokoro)  and Mind Like Water (Mizu No Kokuro) are old Japanese/Chinese phrases which are integrated into Zen and martial arts and are inter-related to each other.  This posting looks at them primarily from a martial arts context. Continue reading “Mind Like The Moon & Mind Like Water” »

Kaizen: Continuous Improvement And Martial Arts

Kaizen is a Japanese concept which basically means “continuous improvement”.  It can be applied to business, engineering, management; in fact, just about anything.  It is a very powerful tool for self development.

The idea is that you take one small area and work on it for a week.  Depending on what field you are working on, it can be something as simple as just smiling more often (which can be good for building business or personal relationships).  By the end of the week, it should have started to become a habit.  Then you pick some other small improvement to focus on.  After a year, you should hopefully have made 52 small improvements.  This obviously all adds up to a very substantial (and very deliberate) overall improvement.

Very interesting you may say, but what has that got to do with martial arts.  Well our grading system is roughly based on just this same principle.  It should not be a surprise then that it was the Japanese that created the coloured belt system which was later copied by the Koreans, Chinese and many others.  Most martial arts have gradings every 3 months though it will vary from style to style.  Although Kaizen looks for a different subject of focus each week, it would obviously be impractical to have gradings every week.  However, the belt system is clearly following the same underlying principle.

Each grade has clearly specified requirements for kata/patterns, basic techniques and sparring (free or pre-arranged) and generally the student will not move on to the next level of training until they have been examined for the current level.  It is a very well defined and structured system that ensures that the student learns the required skills in logical and progressive sequence.

Another powerful tool for self development is goal setting.  Everybody who teaches self development always recommends goal setting as it is a way to focus the mind in order to achieve the best results.  The belt system sets our goals for us.  As soon as we decide that we want to take a grading, we set ourselves the goal to learn the next set of techniques (or combinations), the next kata/pattern, and the next sparring drill.  We also set ourselves the goal learning them to the required standard.

Kaizen is actually a very structured form of goal setting.  The Japanese really took this process very seriously as they rebuilt themselves from the devastation the Second World War to become almost an economic superpower.  The South Koreans who took a similar approach punch well above their weight economically for such a small country.  Yet the principle of Kaizen is intimately ingrained into our martial arts and goes almost unnoticed as we take it for granted.

This is another serious lesson that we can learn from our martial art and take into every area of our lives.  There is nothing in life that cannot be improved by looking for constant small changes and practicing them until they become ingrained, just as we do with martial art training.

Some purists will point out that originally there were no grades in martial arts.  However, martial arts was usually taught secretively in very small groups, with a master and just a few select students.  Those students would normally be motivated by wanting to stay alive if they become involved in a physical conflict (rather than scoring a point or keeping fit, etc).

They were warriors.  Most of us today are not, but that’s OK, we don’t need to be.  Our motivation and mind set is often different to their’s, therefore its reasonable that different things will work for us as worked for them.  Gradings may not be necessary in small motivated groups, but make it much more practical to teach in today’s much larger classes.

It’s a shame that some people just become obsessed with getting a grade and they miss out on learning some of the finer points and applications that are not included in the grading syllabus.  However, they still have to perform the syllabus for their grade to the required level so some standards are still maintained.  There are definitely faults and limitations within the grading system.  There are also many abuses on many different levels, by students and examiners.

But overall, it is a very good system which when you look at it more closely, teaches us a method to live by as well as for learning martial arts.

 

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 Continue reading “How Exactly Is Fighting More Mental Than Physical?” »

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?

kata bunkaiWhy does this happen?  It is because we are practicing 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.

wing chun bunkaiOver 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).

Do You Have A Monkey Mind?

I recently wrote about how to keep calm in the face of danger, which was basically about silencing the mind so that it does not distract you too much when you really need it to stay calm.  Shortly after that my Sensei, Paul Mitchell, started talking about the “monkey mind” in one of his classes.

Now maybe I’m insecure, but I wondered if he meant me at first!

However, it is an old Chinese phrase for when the mind wonders, or when you are trying to silence it and random thoughts keep popping in to say hello.  Like a mischievous monkey, the mind cannot be properly controlled.  It can be very difficult to stop those random thoughts coming in, not matter how hard you try.

Monkey Mind
Me struggling with the “monkey mind”

Don’t you just love Chinese phraseology.  As discussed in my previous posting, giving the mind something else to focus on is one of the best ways to deal with this monkey mind and help to banish these random thoughts.  This can be kata/patterns/forms etc.  It is easier in the begining to focus the mind with movement.  Doing it when you are still, as in meditation (moksu) for example is much harder.  However, when we do get to this stage, we start by focus on our breathing.  When we can focus on breathing to the exclusion of the random thoughts, then we can start to even cut out the focus on breathing and just let it happen.  This is when we start to develop a tranquil mind.

Do the Chinese have a phrase for this?  Of course they do.  You feed your monkey mind a banana!

Pre-Emptive Strike: Modern Reality Based Training Or Traditional Karate

I am a big admirer of Geoff Thompson.  He has done a lot to promote the cause of reality training and is very much into keeping it real.  His training methods are often as much about how to avoid getting into a fight (not taught in many martial arts) as has how to actually conduct the fight itself.  Traditional martial arts generally teach you how to win in a fair fight.  But that’s the problem, most fights aren’t fair.  Sometimes you could be outnumbered, your assailant(s) could have a weapon and they often start from right up in your face without warning (rather than bowing first from a safe distance before gradually moving in).

So assuming that you’ve done all the avoidance techniques and the guy is still coming in and it is clear that the conflict is going to become physical, what is universally the best tactic to use?

Note, I said tactic, not technique.

In the words of Geoff Thompson himself:

“And if an encounter does by necessity become physical I teach and I preach the pre-emptive strike (attacking first). It is the only thing that works consistently. All the other stuff that you see, that you are taught or that you imagine might work ‘out there’ probably will not”.

And:

“If your choice is a physical response, my advice is to be pre-emptive and strike first – very hard – preferably on the jaw (it’s a direct link to the brain”.

In the Karate world in particular, people used to quote Funakoshi when he famously said:

“In Karate, there is no first strike”.

This has been taken to mean that we have to actually wait for an attacker to throw the first strike and then try and block and counter it.  This is a dangerous game to play.  Geoff is spot when he describes this as:

“not only unsound it is dangerous and extremely naive”.

It’s not so bad when you are in a competition and your opponent is just out of range, then suddenly tries to attack (usually whilst still maintaining full leg or arm range).  But in a street where somebody may be right up in your face, nose to nose, screaming obscenities at you, its not so good.  Also, in a street fight an attacker is likely to grab you and pull you around or off balance (a tactic that is banned in Karate, TKD, Kickboxing and some others sport fighting systems).

So why would Funakoshi give advice that would leave his students in a vulnerable position?  Well it is widely accepted by many now that something has been lost in the translation and what Funakoshi really meant was, that you don’t instigate or look for the fight.  However, when in a  situation when physical threat is unavoidable and you cannot get away, Funakoshi wrote in his book, Karate Do Kyohan:

“When there are no avenues of escape or one is caught even before any attempt to escape can be made, then for the first time the use of self-defense techniques should be considered. Even at times like these, do not show any intention of attacking, but first let the attacker become careless. At that time attack him concentrating one’s whole strength in one blow to a vital point and in the moment of surprise, escape, seek shelter, and seek help.”

Funikoshi is clearly talking about a pre-emptive strike.  He recommends that you strike a “vital point” which is not so different from Geoff Thompson recommending that you strike the jaw as it has a direct link to the brain.  He was trained for reality, not competition.  This is the part that has been overlooked in the way that so many people have trained for a number of decades.  I believe that this is largely because Karate has been dumbed down (see my 5 part video course if you haven’t already) and the fact that for such a long time Karate has been interpreted through the eyes of competition fighters.

Geoff Thompson and the other modern reality based martial arts teachers are not the first ones to train this way.  Clearly the old Okinawan masters did too.  However, after decades of being dumbed down for social and political reasons, Geoff and the other masters of reality based training have helped to bring the “lost” elements to help us make our training more complete.

Some people will (quite reasonably) have a concerns about the legalities of using a pre-emptive strike.  Firstly, as you can never be sure how far an attacker will go, it is best to make that you are still around to deal with the legalities.  No point being killed for the sake of worrying about going to court.

Secondly, in the UK at least (and I suspect most other countries), if you feel that you are in a real danger of being harmed by a would-be attacker, you are legally entitled to use a pre-emptive strike.  I don’t know about other countries, but this is a defence that will stand in a British court.  However, you will have to give good reason why you thought that you were in very real and very imminent danger.  Somebody giving you a dodgy look will not be accepted.