Interview With Andi Kidd, 4th Dan Karate & Author

Andi Kidd is one of the most practical minded Karateka that I know. He runs the Genjitsu Karate Kai, is an author and runs seminars all over the country. Like many of us in traditional martial arts, he had many doubts about the practicality of what he was being taught, so he sought out teachers to fill the gaps. Andi Kidd is one of the most practical minded Karateka He has trained with some of the top names in the Karate World as well as some of the top experts in reality based martial arts and the psychology of violence outside of Karate. He has re-structured his own training and the syllabus that he teaches, gearing it real life self protection rather than sport or simply to preserve tradition that he did not feel serve any practical purpose (from a self protection point of view).

Iain Abernethy who is world renowned Bunkai expert and author of numerous books and DVD’s, said of Andi: “Andi Kidd is one of the most impressive bunkai teachers I have worked with. His ceaseless exploration of the pragmatic aspects of our tradition have seen him develop a way of approaching kata that is very holistic. Andi is not one to be trapped by dogma, but instead he questions deeply and it is this approach that ensures what he teaches is always focused on the core traditional values of functionality and practicality. It’s not just Andi’s material that sets him apart, it’s also the way in which he delivers that material. Andi is a warm and humorous guy who is able to effectively communicate his thinking. I highly recommend Andi to anyone who wants to practise karate in an logical and open-minded way”.

Andi has recently had his first book published, From Shotokan To The Street. Don’t let the title put you of if you’re not a Shotokan practitioner as it is aimed at helping like minded martial artists of any style who may be interested in making their training more practical.

I asked Andi if he’d do an interview with me and he accepted. The interview, like his book and the rest of his teachings are thought provoking, humorous and honest. So here we go:-

 

CW: Andi, you have over 25 years experience in the martial arts, was Shotokan Karate your first style? Or did you dabble with other styles first (before you saw the light)?

AK: I first started martial arts training with a friend of a friend who did Lau Gar. We trained in my mum and dad’s front room and had to move the furniture for sparring. We did stupid things like hit the focus mitts till our knuckles bled, you know stupid stuff that young people do that makes them think they are training hard! Then at college my friend said we should start a club and we did, he found a local instructor who would come in, I had no idea what the style was or anything, it just happened to be Shotokan. People generally fall into their martial arts style by luck, beginners don’t know enough about the subject to make an informed choice and that is why instructors need to be honest about what they are teaching.

CW: Since you’ve started Shotokan Karate, what other traditional martial arts have you practiced and how have they influenced your approach to training and teaching Karate?

AK: Practiced or dabbled? There is a huge difference. I have had a few lessons or seminars with a whole host of other arts. The only two that I have played with for more than a year, other than karate of course, are judo and kobujutsu. Judo is obvious, it gave me a much better appreciation of throwing and groundwork. The biggest lesson on the floor was to relax, this really helped! Kobujutsu was fun and helped with my hips, which was interesting after so many years of karate.

Everything I have done has aided my appreciation of karate, you see the same things through a different lens and some things that karate-ka feel are advanced are much more basic in other styles. Having seen some other styles punch, they may well feel the same way. Most of all, training in other styles can be fun and training needs to be fun!

Andi Kidd demonstrating Bunkai
Andi Kidd demonstrating bunkai

CW: I agree, I’ve trained a few other styles as well and I always feel that I learn more about my Karate from doing so.
From talking to you and from your book, you obviously had serious doubts about the way mainstream Karate was being taught with regard to real world self protection. However, something made you stick with Karate and not give up or change style as so many others have done in order to find “the truth” elsewhere. So what is it about Shotokan that made you stay and stick with it for all those earlier years despite the lingering doubts?

AK: Good question. The early years I figured I didn’t know enough to make a decision so I plugged away assuming that the secrets would come to me eventually. Plus I knew and knew of a lot of karate people who could fight, so it had to work, right? I am also stubborn. Maybe I should have given up and moved on, but I thought there had to be something in it. When I came close I had my own club and I felt guilty about bailing out on them, so I stuck it out. This went on through a couple of cycles!

CW: Can you tell us more specifically what your doubts were about the mainstream approach? I know you could write a whole book on this subject (and you have), but could you give us a summary?

AK: Firstly was ‘could I fight’? Was my training helping? I assumed it was as I traded blows on a regular basis during kumite. I was further encouraged as one guy in the club would only spar with six people as the others he thought were pointless (he was big and a few belts ahead of me) and I was one of the six, so that bolstered my confidence.
I couldn’t see the links between the three K’s. Kata and Kihon (basics), yes, kihon and kumite even to a degree but kumite and kata, what was that all about. We never did kata stuff in kumite yet everyone said kata was the key to karate. I was confused!

Kumite also didn’t look like a real fight, not at all. So would it work in a real fight? I wasn’t sure.

Also shouldn’t we be trying to avoid fights, didn’t Funakoshi say that? Was there any training for this?

It seemed to be a bit like a jigsaw with half the pieces missing and some others from another picture thrown in for good measure.

I wanted to piece it all together and I wanted it to make sense, so I kept digging.

CW: I know what you mean, I used to have similar questions too. Having sought out the teachers to fill the gaps in your knowledge, you’ve adapted your own training and teaching in ways which overcomes these doubts whilst still sticking to a Shotokan framework and syllabus (unlike many who go off and create their own style)! Who were the main influences leading to these changes and what were the main lessons learnt from each of these people respectively?

AK: Wow, how long have we got?

Firstly some people say that I don’t do Shotokan. In my opinion they are right and wrong. My syllabus differs from the majority of Shotokan practitioners but I use the Shotokan kata and use the principles I learnt from my Shotokan days. So I usually say we are a Shotokan base. Does this mean I do Shotokan? Does it really matter? Funakoshi said he didn’t want the style named after him anyway!

As I said above, you can learn stuff from everyone but a few people who put me on the right road are listed below and I am sure I have missed lots so apologies to anyone who I leave out.

Peter Manning of the TSKA helped me sort my basic Shotokan technique, it was also where I first saw bunkai not being taught as an aside every month or so, you could see he’d actually thought about it. He was also totally open in letting me bring in guest instructors to teach for the association.

Vince Morris was one of those teachers. As we know Vince drastically changed the way he taught karate and what he was doing made a lot of sense. I saw that I didn’t have to be trapped in what I was doing and that kata had a meaning. He really helped kick start the transition.

Andi Kidd, receiving the gentle touch of Iain Abernethy - Bunkai Jutsu
Andi Kidd, receiving the gentle touch of Iain Abernethy

I met Iain Abernethy at Andy Daly’s dojo in Bridgewater and he seemed to have done a great job at working out a plan of how to train bunkai in a logical and progressive manner. I invited him to come and teach at my dojo and he has visited every year since. I went on his instructor’s course and picked his brain, I owe a lot to Iain.

I read Rory Miller’s ‘Meditations on Violence’ not too long after it came out. I can’t remember who recommended it to me, but whoever you were, thank you! As soon as I had finished it I recommended it to my fellow instructors and students. This was a whole new perspective and it made so much sense. I started looking into bringing Rory over to teach when I got an email from someone else looking to do the same thing. Rory has visited every year since. Rory has an amazing ability in explaining real violence and putting your training into context.

CW: Yes, I’ve trained with Peter Manning and Iain Abernethy too and was there the last time you had Rory Miller over. All great instructors.
You relate the oriental concept of Zanshin to what modern reality based martial arts refer to as Soft Skills! For those not familiar with this term, could you elaborate for us please?

AK: Zanshin is awareness, avoidance, de-escalation; it’s everything that is not the actual fight. A lot of time there is talk of zanshin but little explanation of what it is and how to train it. Sparing in a crowded dojo is not zanshin training, there is so much more to it. Estimates vary but the fighting part of self-protection is often quoted at being only five percent of the total. Five percent! If that is the case then surely we should be paying more attention to it. Everything needs to be put into context. Legal and ethical implications, types of violence, the freeze. There is so much to look at apart from just the actual act of violence and I think sometimes karate, or indeed any martial art, people miss that.
CW: You said that some people suggest that what you teach “is no longer real Karate”. I personally would say that your approach to teaching Karate is going back more to the Okinawan way of doing things as it has long been established that the Karate taught to the Japanese by the first Okinawan masters was dumbed down for social and political reasons. However, how would you answer this accusation?

AK: It’s pretty simple really, each to their own. You need to look at karate, or whatever you do, and ask a simple question, why am I doing this? If you are doing it for sport, follow that path, read about it, talk to experts in the field, experiment, play. If you are doing it for fitness or spiritual reasons, read about it, talk to experts in the field, experiment, play. My main focus for my karate is self-protection, so guess what I try to do. Yep, I read about it. I talk to experts in the field. I experiment. I play. When I say experts in the field I don’t just mean karate, I also mean violence.

The problem is that when you start a martial art you may know what you want but in most cases clubs promise everything. Self-defence, fitness, inner peace, trophies and to be honest that would be great, all in one package, you can have it all. So you go to your nearest club, you don’t know enough to be able to judge. Some years later you may, or may not, find that your club is not teaching what you want, then you have a decision, do you stay or do you go?

Of course there are overlaps and quite large ones but the main failing I see is context. Karate works for self-protection, or can work, it just needs the right context and in my opinion that is what a lot of practitioners lack. I know I did.

So being accused of not doing real karate doesn’t bother me, it is my path and for me it is right. I keep learning, researching and if needs be altering what I am doing. It is not the path for others and that is fine, there is room in karate for many approaches.

Andrew Kidd6
Andi’s new book, “From Shotokan To The Street”. A must read for any martial artist serious about self protection.

CW: Moving on to your new book, From Shotokan to the Street, who is your main target audience and does it include non-Shotokan people?

AK: My main target audience is anyone who has been training for some while and wants to look at their karate from a self-protection point of view. I say karate but it could really be any art. I know the title may limit it but it is indeed for anyone who wants to follow that path.

I have feedback from several non-karate-ka who tell me it is applicable for any art. It is not meant to be a ‘how to’ book but one to make sure you are on the path you want to be on!

CW: Now we’re not just talking another Bunkai book are we, with a lot of kata moves and their applications. Nothing wrong with those books, they’re great; but you’re coming at this from a very different angle and I think you’ve created something quite unique. Please tell us what the reader can expect to gain from your book?

AK: Firstly can I say that bunkai is starting to get some backlash from certain quarters at the moment. We have seen it on the letters page and in articles and you know what, some of that criticism is valid. I don’t want to be labelled in a ‘bunkai’ camp. One of my test readers for my book is a good friend and follows a different karate path to me. He said that he thought that bunkai was a distraction from self-protection and I thought about this for a while and you know what, he could be right. It could be as much a distraction as line work, competition work or anything else really. Bunkai is a tool, a means to an end, part of a process. I think karate people should really be careful about labelling themselves; different approaches bring different things to the party. Know what you want, question, analyse and importantly, be prepared to be wrong and then take your new knowledge and move on. Karate guys shouldn’t be fighting with each other, we can disagree but as my friend says ‘truth before tribalism’.

Sorry for the aside, let’s get back to your question. All I have tried to do in this book is give some direction to people who are at the same stage I was maybe 15 years ago. They have done the line work, know some kata and can spar but find something missing. Again we come back to context. The book isn’t a how to, it’s more a look at your training from your own perspective and asking yourself if you are doing the stuff you need to be to make that training effective.

I want this book to save some people time, it took me a long time to bring all this together from varying sources and I don’t think anyone has written it from a karate perspective before. So if you train karate and are interested in self-protection this may help, I hope!

CW: I see. But despite these changes you’ve introduced to your own teaching/training, I think it is fair to say that you still have a love of traditional Shotokan, its basics and kata etc. Can you comment on this?

AK: People see some of the stuff I do and think that it is divorced from basic club training. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Basics are the fundamental building blocks of how you fight, they include the principles of your style and how to use it. All styles, all martial arts have kihon (basics) in one form or another and getting good at them is essential. Although I must stress that kihon is not always line work. It can be hitting pads, performing locks or throws or ground positions. You cannot be good at karate without solid kihon.

To me karate is kata. You can learn to fight without kata, you can be a great competition fighter, you can be a street brawler, all of this can and has been done without kata. If you drop kata from karate then you aren’t doing karate, you are doing a fighting art, but it isn’t karate. Kata defines karate in my opinion. Everything is based on kata and the lessons it contains.

CW: You’ve been quite open that this book has been a few years in the writing and you’ve been pushed a bit by some of your friends to complete it. Why has it taken you so long and who have been the main influences pushing you to complete it?

AK: The simple answer is that I keep learning new stuff. I got to a stage a few years back when I thought it was nearly done and I was quite happy, then I read ‘Meditations on Violence’ by Rory Miller and I realised I didn’t have the context quite right. So I hosted Rory and read his stuff, which led me to other stuff and then integrating it and making sense of it has taken a few years. My fellow instructors at Genjitsu Karate Kai, Steve and James kept hassling me to finish it as did Rory. In fact if you ask James I think you will find he may have had a wager that it would never come out! I already think that there are bits missing and expansions I could make but that will happen forever so at some point you have to stop. So thanks to all the aforementioned, without you I’d be on draft 782!

CW: I do know that you’re one for continual learning and development as I’ve met you a few times now on seminars with Kris Wilder and Rory Miller. Are there any other particular teachers that you are yearning to train with that you haven’t done so yet? And what would you specifically like to learn from them?

AK: That is a tough one. There are a lot of people who are really good and I’d like to train with loads of them. I am much pickier now than I once was for seminars as time is precious. I have trained with a lot of the people who I admired over the years so this list may be missing notable names!

I’d love to train with Kanazawa as he is a living legend but I’d like a small session as being in a group of hundreds staring out isn’t the way I’d want to do it. Dave Hazard would be awesome, I just keep missing his seminars! Patrick McCarthy is another karate pick as he just has so much knowledge.

Outside of karate I’d like to train with Jamie O’Keefe, he offered me some great advice when I was thinking of bouncing and spent ages on the phone with me when he didn’t know me from Adam. I still haven’t trained with Marc MacYoung and I’ve read loads of his books, so that would be fun. I have wanted to train with Nick Hughes since reading his column in FAI many years ago.

So many people with so much to offer, I have so many more, I could go on forever.

CW: I’ve trained with Dave Hazard and Marc MacYoung, so I can tell you, you will enjoy it! I’ve only trained under you at the Bunkai Bash (sadly I could only make the last day). However, your style of teaching is very relaxed and informal with a lot of humour. I haven’t seen you teach at a club level, but do you feel that the formality with which much of Karate is taught is no longer necessary?

AK: The early clubs I trained with were quite strict. In one of them the instructor wouldn’t even talk to you outside of the dojo, not in the changing area, nothing! I believe that there is a place for humour in the dojo, why not, you learn better when you are enjoying yourself. Adults react to this well I find, although some seem to be seeking either a really militaristic style of teaching or some sort of oriental mystical wise man to teach them. Generally they have been watching too many movies! I like the relaxed style, especially for adults, it doesn’t mean that the training is weak which seems to be a common misconception.

With kids, I like to have fun as well but they need more structure. You can still have fun and laugh but sometimes they need reigning in, although I do have some adults like that!

When I visited Japan I only attended one club for karate and that seemed less disciplined than many I have seen in this country but they had some great karate-ka. I think a lot of people want to be more like the Japanese but don’t know how the Japanese act. Are the Japanese right anyway, as far as I am aware they changed the teaching model from the one in Okinawa.

CW: You’ve answered more of less how I thought you would, your approach is quite similar to my own. You now teach at seminars throughout the country and in particular you organise the very successful annual Bunkai Bash. Can you tell the readers how long you’ve been running this event, what your aims were in creating it and how you select your teachers (as they’re not all Karate-ka are they)?

AK: The Bunkai Bash has now run three times and from feedback this was the best one yet! I planned to do a gasshuku some years back with a couple of friends of mine and it got postponed due to mad cow disease! Some years later I was toying with the idea and so decided to combine it with one of Iain Abernethy’s visits and so the Bunkai Bash was born! The only real aim was to bring together like minded people, train and chill together. So far I have been lucky as everyone seems to get it and the atmosphere is really quite special.

As for teachers, there is, of course, me as well as the other Genjitsu instructors. Year one we had Iain and just other random people I know. I try to change the instructors each year and try to have at least one non karate session, so year one we had Matt Sylvester from TKD, year two we had a problem as the Kung Fu guy coming to teach was injured just before hand. This year we had Garry Smith from Ju-Jitsu.

As long as they have some bearing on reality training I am happy to have a go at anything!

15. Although being known for his book, Practical Taekwondo, I believe Matt Sylvester is also a 3rd Dan at Karate. Do you intend to keep this event going indefinitely each year? And if so, how do you plan to improve the Bunkai Bash next year?

As long as it keeps working well then I’ll keep doing it. It is a lot of work but I get lots of great feedback with some people saying that is one of the highlights of their year! How could I stop doing that!

There is a feedback session going on now and I am gathering ideas for next year. One of the problems with organising any outdoor event in this country is the weather. I’ll be writing to potential Instructors soon and possibly a new venue. Watch this space!

Andrew Kidd5CW: I look forward to attending next year. Separate to teaching Karate, you also teach Self Protection both to individuals and groups, as well as running scenario training. Can you tell us about these seminars, how they differ from mainstream traditional martial arts and how mainstream martial artists can benefit from this training?

AK: That is a lot of questions in one go! So self-protection is, as I talked about earlier, more about soft skills than your fighting ability. When I teach we spend more time on awareness, avoidance, de-escalation and strategies to avoid problems. We talk about the nature and causes of violence and where all of this fits into their world. Of course we have some basic physical techniques but the first course is mostly non-physical. If we can only get people who are physically gifted to look after themselves, then we are doing it wrong.

Scenario training is something I have been planning for a long time but we have only recently got off the ground. This is generally for martial artists who want to put their training to the test as close to reality as we can get. This doesn’t mean it always ends up in a fight, a lot of people seem to think that is what scenario training is, but all your skills are tested, including your zanshin, articulation and judgement. We try to tailor it to the student’s needs so that they get the most out of it, it’s a good day and something that practical martial artists should do more of.

CW: I agree totally, having done a few similar courses myself. It really brings martial arts alive. What are your future plans in terms of building your own school, writing more books and teaching seminars nationally and internationally?

AK: My club is relatively small. That is Ok but who wouldn’t want a couple more students? I had plans for my next book but after a chat with Kris Wilder, I am now possibly thinking of doing something else first. I have plans for a couple of DVD’s and other writing.
I’ve done a few seminars and I really enjoy them, you get different people with different perspectives and different questions, I am hoping that I get to do a lot more as they are great fun!

So just need to keep plodding on, writing, working and training, the next year looks as though it is going to be busy!

CW: For anybody who is interested in your book, how can they acquire a copy?

The easiest way is from LULU publishing, just search my name and you will find it. I’d rather that than Amazon as, to be frank, I get more of the money that way, although I have now found out why authors are poor! Personally I like signed books so if someone else likes to do that they can contact me direct and I’ll get one off to them!

CW: Should anybody be interested in having a signed copy of your book or hosting you to teach a seminar, how should they contact you?

AK: They can email me at andi@andikidd.com or contact me through my website www.andikidd.com it would be great to hear from them! We can discuss what they want and come up with something that will fit their needs!

CW: Thank you very much Andi for an interesting and informative interview. I wish you well with your plans and look forward to training with you again sometime.

I would also like to recommend Andi’s book From Shotokan To The Street, to any martial artist who is serious about real world self protection. Sometime soon, I’ll post a review on it.

Reverse Punch With Sliding Step

I have done a very similar video to this before about maximising the thrust in the reverse punch (gyaka zuki).  This time however, I wanted to take it a bit further by adding a sliding step, which is a very useful and powerful technique from both competition and self protection points of views.  It moves the body weight forward further and even more rapidly giving a lot of acceleration, impact and covers distance in a very deceptive maner.

In the video, I look at some of the details of the technique to achieve this sliding step more easily and efficiently.  It’s nothing new, it just goes a bit more into detail which I personally feel not people explain in much depth.  If you find it useful, please “like” it and leave a comment below.

Moving Meditation: Kata/Forms/Patterns

It’s often been said that performing Kata/Forms/Patterns (Kata for convenience) is like moving meditation; but what exactly does that mean?

Well first let’s look at meditation then see how performing Kata can be similar. Meditation is a practice which (amongst other things) aims to silence the mind and help focus the intention. There are many variations, but (put very simply) one of the most common methods of meditation is simply to sit and focus all your minds attention on the breath so as to “distract” the mind from other thoughts. With time and practice, you get used to distracting the mind till it gets used to becoming quiet and absent of thought.

Generally speaking, many of our reactions to given situations (including what we would call “thoughts”) are just conditioned responses based on our upbringing and previous life experiences. We often respond to many situations with automatic responses, which have little or nothing to do with actual logical or rational thought or informed choice. Yet the self talk we hear in our heads makes us feel that we are actually thinking rationally and choosing our responses when we’re not really.

A Neil Genge1busy mind with a lot of internal “self talk” can be distracting, cause stress (as self talk is usually negative) and often has difficulty thinking straight. Quieting the internal self talk with meditation can be useful for attaining calmness (cutting out negativity) and helping with the clarity of actual rational thought (cutting out distracting thoughts which don’t help).

There are also spiritual connotations as many people believe that you can connect to higher spiritual parts of yourself (usually called higher self or inner being). Now I know some people will believe in this and others won’t and it is beyond the remit of this post to argue that case either way.

However, without doubt, it is known that we only consciously use a small percentage of our brain, most people say about 10%. By silencing that 10% that we do have direct access too, we slowly learn to access some of the other 90% (our subconscious). This part does not usually speak to us directly with words or thoughts; but with feelings and intuition which guide us. This can be in a self defence situation, our job, relationships or any part of our life.

Furthermore the human brain takes in enormous amounts of information, most of which our conscious mind filters out (as it would be a burden to be aware of so much insignificant detail every second). However, when we have a problem or seek an answer, the subconscious which has absorbed this vast amount of information can sometimes give us an answer from this vast amount of information, which the conscious mind has filtered out. But we need to quieten our conscious minds long enough to become aware of it.

Now whatever your paradigm (higher self, inner being, subconscious mind); it all works basically the same way. Therefore it’s not worth arguing over which is right or wrong, all that is important is that by silencing the conscious mind we can access a higher level of intelligence/intuition.

SoFunikoshiooooo, back to Kata! Try observing your mind for a while (without meditating). High grade martial artists should have fairly quiet minds already as it is a side effect of our training, so this may not work too well with experienced martial artists. However, you can get your students to try this. Normally, after a while you will notice a certain amount of self talk inside your mind, this is natural.

Then choose a Kata that you know well and can perform without having to think or concentrate on. As you perform that Kata, put just a small part of your attention into observing your own mind. If you know the Kata well, you should notice that your mind falls silent as you flow from one movement to another to another, without the need for thought. The use of breath in meditation for distracting unwanted thought is replaced by the well rehearsed dynamic, fluid and powerful movements of the Kata. Instead of conscious thought there is intension, focus and a sureness of purpose. Ironically, some Kata movements can be quite complex, detailed and demanding; yet rather than thinking about them, we shut of thought to perform them!

The same is true of course of basics, but they are generally shorter, giving less time to gain the benefit.

If we can perform complex movements and turns; with power, grace, speed, balance, accuracy and poise better without conscious thought than with thought, surely that’s a lesson for other areas of our life. I’m not suggesting that we stop thinking altogether, but silencing the mind can bring benefits to many other areas of our life. It does actually help us to think more clearly and to an extent helps us overcome our automatic responses to situations where we respond from conditioning rather than from any rational thought.

Imagine a situation for example where one person picks a fight with another. Often the person being picked on (especially young men) will respond with a conditioned response such as, “who’s he think he’s talking to” or similar and actual clear rational thought has nothing to do with it. Being able to clear away the “who’s he think he’s talking to” self talk actually allows us to take the ego out of the situation, think more clearly and find a way out without having to resort to a pointless fight. With rational thought rather than conditioned response, we would usually observe a fool trying to intimidate us and why on Earth would we value the opinion of a fool? If we do not value the opinion of the fool, then it is easy to walk away and NOT be provoked by it! Why would a fools opinion be provocative? Isn’t that very rational and logical?

This is not an overnight thing, but slowly over long periods of time, we gain access to the deeper parts of our mind and intuition.

There is of course a lot more to it than what is covered here, but this is just a blog post and this subject could take a book. Please leave your comments below and let me know what you think?

Karate Kime (Focus) & Tension At The End Of The Technique

“Kime” is a Japanese word, roughly translated as “focus”.  It is where Karate derives it’s power from at the point of impact of a punching or striking technique.  But how well is it understood?

Most people loosely describe achieving Kime as moving with relaxation, then tensing the whole body very rapidly at the completion of the technique with a heavy exhalation.  But tension stops movement and do we really want to tense (hence not be moving or hardly moving) even be it for a moment?

Does it really add anything to the technique?

Is there another way?

Master Kousaku Yokota speculates in his book, Shotokan Myths, that as Kata (patterns/forms) competition become popular, the tension at the end of the technique became more and more exaggerated so that competitors could emphasis to the judges that they were actually focusing at the right places.

There is a story (which I’m not able validate) that Gichin Funakoshi’s son visited the Japan Karate Association (for many years the main driving force behind promoting Shotokan throughout the World).  Apparently one of his comments was, “where did all this tension come from”?

For many years, Karate (Shotokan in particular) has been criticised by other styles for being tense, stiff and wooden; because of this heavy emphasis on tension at the end of a technique.  It is called a “hard” style, despite it’s Okinawan roots being more akin to the “soft” Chinese styles from which Karate evolved!

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the subject.  Please let me know what you think and leave your comments below.

 

Emotional Content In Martial Arts And An Interesting Experiment

This clip above is now an iconic scene from the Bruce Lee movie, Enter The Dragon, where Bruce Lee is teaching a student.

Bruce Lee:  “Kick me”.
Student looks surprised.
Bruce Lee:  “Kick me”.

The student kicks

Bruce Lee:  “What was that?  An exhibition?  We need (pointing to his temple) emotional content.  Try again”.

The student kicks again.

Bruce Lee:  “I said emotional content, not anger.  Now try again, with me”.

The student kicks again, but more sharply.

Bruce Lee (with a smile):  “That’s it”.

There is more to the scene, but this is the part that I want to cover in this post.

What emotion do we need to feel when training or even defending ourselves and/or loved ones for real?  As Bruce says above, not anger.  But what?  I’ll come back to that later.

Emotions do effect our whole body.  Those who are into spiritualism will often say that we vibrate at a higher frequency when we are in more positive emotional states (love, happy, excited) then when we are in more negative states (fear, anger, frustration).

For those that are more science based in their thinking, we have a small part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which creates chemicals known as peptides.  Every emotional state that we experience has a separate peptide to go with it.  When we go into any given emotional state the hypothalamus will produce the corresponding peptides which circulate the body via the blood stream.  Each cell of our body has many tiny receptors on them which are designed to receive these peptides.  When these peptides enter a receptor, they actually send a signal into the cell.

I personally believe in both, but the bottom line is we are affected on an cellular level when we change our emotional state.  So which is the best emotional state to be in when we need to defend ourselves and/or our loved ones?

I decided to conduct an experiment with some of my adult students.  But first the disclaimers:

  • This experiment was only conducted with 4 students (not exactly large scale).
  • This has not been pressure tested (see, I said it first).

So I am not suggesting that the results are hard evidence, just an indicator.

I asked my students (2 men and 2 ladies) to select the kata (pattern/form) which they felt that they could perform most competently.  I told them that we were going to conduct an experiment, that some of what I was about to ask them to do might seem strange and contrary to my normal teachings, but to just go with the flow and give it a go.  And they would have to use their imaginations.

The experiment was in 2 parts.  Firstly I told them to close their eyes.  Then to imagine that somebody had hurt somebody that they loved or had wronged them in some way.  That they hated and loathed this person who was truly a nasty bit of work and who deserved no sympathy.  As they performed their kata, they were going to visualise destroying this person who completely deserved it and with no mercy at all.  There was a bit more embellishment, but you get the drift.

One of the ladies was struggling to contain a small smile.  Was she not taking the experiment seriously I wondered?

I told them to open their eyes, and “go”.

Their kata’s did not really look much different to any other time to be honest.  Towards the end, one of the men turned and bumped into the other one, and the 2 ladies had giggles.  I must admit I was a bit disappointed, as they didn’t seem to be taking it seriously.

But never mind, on with the second half.  I told them to close their eyes again.  This time, I told them to think of somebody that they loved.  It could be a boyfriend/girlfriend (non of them married), a family member, a child, maybe niece or nephew (none have their own children), or it could be a close friend that they cared about very much.  Somebody was going to hurt their loved one and they were the only one who stood between their loved one and the aggressor.  They were going to have to fight to protect their loved one from harm.  They were to focus their mind on how much they loved the person they were going to protect, how they would do anything, risk anything for their loved one.  Rather than thinking of anger and hate, they were to focus on love.

There were no smiles this time.  I had them open their eyes, and “go”.

One of the men was of like a battle tank on steroids, I’d never seen him move quite like it before.  The others did not look greatly different from before, but completed their katas with more focus, without bumping into each other and without any giggles.

I asked them afterwards, with which emotional state did they feel that their techniques were better?

Well Mr Battle-Tank-On-Steroids definitely felt better when in the love/protecting emotions than in the hate/anger emotions.  The others were a bit more hesitant and unsure at first, then one of the ladies offered that when doing the hate/anger emotion, she felt a strange tingling which didn’t feel right.  The other lady agreed that she felt the same.

Basically, they rejected these feelings because being full of hate and anger was an alien feeling for them.  We all get angry at times, but most well balanced people find it difficult to sustain a state where we have absolutely no compunction about hurting and destroying another human being.  Yes I know there are exceptions, but I’m talking about the majority of well adjusted civilised people.  I guess this explains the giggling and smiles as they could not relate to this state!

I then asked them about mental clarity.  Did it feel any different between the 2 emotional states.  They all agreed that focus and sense of purpose was much better during the love/protection emotional state.

I had to comment afterwards that isn’t it ironic that they performed better at a fighting art when in a state of “love” rather than “hate”!

OK, I know there are many limitations in this experiment and it hasn’t been pressure tested.  Arguably, none of them even really achieved the state of anger/hate, so it could be argued that the experiment was void!  It would be much easier to hate when hurt for real.

But how does this relate to defending yourself rather than others?

Well to my mind (and this could lead to an interesting debate) is that you should love yourself.  Not in an arrogant and conceited way, but by being at peace with who you are and what you stand for and live by.  Martial arts literature is full of talk about self development and being a better person.  Being able to defend yourself obviously gives you more confidence so you can stand up for what is right and for what you believe in.

But does standing up for what is right and what you believe in make you more able to actually defend yourself?

One of my former Sensei’s has admitted that he used to get into a number of fights when he was younger.  He says that when he felt he was in the right, he always won.  When he got into fights that he didn’t necessarily believe in, or perhaps others around him persuaded him to fight, he didn’t do so well.

Obviously somebody who is much bigger, stronger and better trained will nearly always beat somebody who is small, weak and untrained.  I’m not suggesting that if you just lead a good honourable life, you’ll be able to defeat anybody, you do the physical training too.  What I am suggesting however, is that with 2 people who are closely matched, the one who feels that he is fighting a just cause and who is in alignment with his/her own personal integrity will fight harder than somebody who is just out to bully!  The old masters always taught that we should live with integrity and humility.  If we live that way, then should we be forced to fight we shall do so with a clear conscience.  We can “love” (or at least feel good about) ourselves.

As I’ve said above, this little experiment is far from conclusive.  However, I’d like to invite you (especially instructors) to carry out similar experiments yourself and report the results in the comments below.  It would be nice to get a little data base of similar experiments here for others to share.

Alone with myself – How Karate changed my life

First of all, my apologies for not having been active on this blog for a long time.  I hope to resume normal service early next year.

This posting is not actually by me, it is by somebody who wishes to remain anonymous.  Although the author is a Karateka, his story could equally apply to any martial art.  The author suffered a debilitating stroke at just 6 years of age and this post chronicles his struggle to overcome many challenges; physical, emotional, mental and even just getting a perspective on life.

It’s longer than usual posting, but it is a fascinating read from a truly inspiring individual.  It really does sum up what martial arts are all about.  Well over the author in his own words:


Before I start telling you my story, I would like to let you know that I want to remain anonymous. I have been through a lot of sad moments in my life and I don’t want anybody to know who I am. Just because I feel proud of what I have accomplished, and because now I look like I am a normal person, I would like to keep my identity secret. I would prefer to be known for my Karate or something else rather than my own personal story. The reason why I am writing this article now is that I now believe that sharing my story will probably help people who are suffering or have suffered in their lives for some reasons and give them the will to never give up.

I used to be a footballer. I have always like watching and playing football. Even if I am now grown up and do not really like all the business that is around this sport, I still support my favourite team with my brother. I started playing at the age of 6. As I was already very lazy at that time and as I hate to run, I chose to be a goalkeeper. Quite a perfect role for me, as I was the last defense wall. My senses and reaction skills were challenged every time the other team came into my penalty area, but I could also rest whenever there were not a lot of actions.

I used to be a goalkeeper, and I think I was pretty good at it.

But I guess you are wondering why I am talking about football and why I am not talking about Karate straightaway. Well, be patient and please take your time while reading my story.

I used to be a goalkeeper…before I had my stroke.

How it happened

A stroke is a brain attack. A stroke happens when the blood supply to a part of the brain is cut off and brain cells are damaged or die. It is a leading cause of adult disability. There are approximately 152,000 strokes in the UK every year. It doesn’t really tell you when it’s going to happen and in which way it is going to affect you. In reality, one in five strokes is fatal.

I had a haemorrhagic stroke, which happens when a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain.

It happened when I was just 9 years old, in the morning of one of the last days of school in June. When I woke up this day, I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew that I had the worst headache one can ever imagine. Still I had my breakfast, prepared myself and brushed my teeth. Then I went to the living room and I noticed that something was wrong with my balance. I tried to shout some words that I thought were intelligible as I fell onto the floor. My mind was somewhere else, I felt out of time and I was in and out of consciousness, just able to notice that the firemen were taking care of me. When I woke up from a coma in this hospital bed, unable to move or speak, I was just able to moan and cry, unable to understand my situation. Then I was transferred to the rehabilitation centre.

Coping with stroke

There was a time from when I was at the rehabilitation centre when I could not realize what had happened to me. As the left part of my brain has been affected, it is the ‘logic’ area of the brain that enables you to sense the time as past and future (and therefore to be stressed about time), it was the right area of my brain that took control of my mind. It was actually not bad. In the right part of the brain, there is present time and the ability to feel. It was like a way for the brain to protect itself from making me aware of the pain of what had happened. As a consequence this disruption effected the way I was feeling time, it felt like I was in another dimension where time was flying fast and was also easily forgettable.

My stroke happened in the left part of my brain. For those who will read this article with poor knowledge of how the brain works, here are some explanations so that you will be able to follow my story without being lost. Due to how the blood circuit/ circulation is made, the left part of the brain controls the right side of the body and the right part of the brain controls the left side of the body. So as my stroke happened in the left area of my brain, it affected the right side of my body. After the stroke, I could not speak, I totally lost my balance and the all the muscles of my right side were very weak, both my right arm and leg. Problem: I was right-handed…

After a few months of rehabilitation, the left side of my brain had recovered a bit and I was able to realise that I was in a very bad situation. Still, I could not understand the words that the doctors used several times to tell me what had happened to me. After all, I was only a 9-year-old child at that time. Because of what happened, I was forced to become left-handed. I can remember that I really hated the fact that I had to change side because I really liked the way I used to write.

I really hated that weak situation.

But something in me saved me. Something that I had from birth from my parents: A really stubborn character.

In my mind I started to ask myself: “What are you doing here? This is not the right place for you. You are different from the other young people here. This is just temporary. You shall escape from here!”

Try to imagine… these words really had a positive effect on me. I was just 9 when I had this stroke. All I wanted to do was to come back to my former life, to be myself again, surrounded by my family and my good friends from my local school.

From the moment I realised that, I knew one thing: now that I had a goal, I would do anything to make it become a reality. After nine month of physiotherapy, speech therapy and other stuff of that kind, I finally could legally escape from this ‘prison of nightmare’ which I thought was not the place for me to stay…

Coming back to real life

There was a school at the rehabilitation centre so I not missed anything when I came back to school, and one of my goals was realised: I was having classes with the friends that I had to leave because of the brain operation I’d had and because of the rehabilitation time that followed.

I was finally back home full time but as my body had changed so much and as I still needed my parents to help me with most of the things I had to do, I really felt like I was dying. All I used to be, all the habits I used to have, were destroyed to the point that I even thought of killing myself. I was not myself anymore and it was going to be my life, forever.

Yes, at that time I was just ten, but a ten-year-old with the mind of someone who is old, with an experience of suffering that nobody around could understand.

In terms of sensation, I used to feel a bit lost in my thoughts, probably a consequence of the heavy medication I took. I felt out of time, and to be honest, I still have some troubles to manage my time.

The fact that I had a stroke also had an impact on my social life. Even if the speech therapist did a good job, when I came back to the real world, the one in which everybody would assume that you are normal and in which nobody will take time to really take care of you if you do not move or speak as fast as they are moving, I still did not feel at ease when speaking at that time. In this situation, most of the young people would make fun of me or would not care if I had difficulties to speak. This does not help to build confidence. I could notice a slight change in the way my friends were watching me, even if it did not change our bounds in the end.

Yes, I was so weak and nothing around me could help me because I still did not have a full understanding of what had happened to me. I did think that it was unfair though. I would be more likely to cry than the boys of my age, crying in despair. I had my family and old friends around me but nobody could understand me, even myself. All I wanted was to look like I was a normal boy, to be respected for what I was inside and not outside.

Starting karate

This was the context in which I started karate. At the age of 10, one year after my stroke. In the beginning, it was just a way for me to do an extra school activity. I did see a bit of the main Karate stances such as zenkutsu-dachi for example, in order to stretch my bad right leg, at the rehabilitation centre because one of the physiotherapists was black belt in Shotokan Karate. I do not know if this experience was what made my father think that I should start Karate in my home town. I finally joined a club in the end and that teacher was great and humane.

I started Karate in a very good environment. However, I had been seeing it as a funny activity for three/four years as I was a bit young when I started. That does not mean that I did not progress at all: I got to green belt at that time. I did not think of starting another ‘sport’. In a way, as I was growing up, my will to forget and to erase my past grew as well (it is quite funny now that I think of it that it is now that I am no longer thinking of it that the my work on myself is the most effective !).

At school I had some very bad moments that made me cry. When I was doing Karate I was always happy, even if I did not have the same understanding of it as I do now, and whenever I cried at my club, it was because of the effort that I had to do and because I was making some significant progress.

The turning point, when I started to understand what karate was

I had always been seen as a weak guy when I was at school. But this was before I started to understand what Karate truly is: it is an art of life. Once you get the mindset that is characteristic of Karate, your life will definitely be different because you will start to think that you do not have any limits anymore.  You will discover a true power that is hidden inside: the power of will. If you use it properly, you can get anything in life, as long as it remains something that on which you can have an effect on. Therefore, everything you could not do because of yourself, because you thought ‘No, I can’t do it’ will be possible if you think that you can do it.

At the time I began to understand Karate, I had an ‘enemy’ in my school. Or should I say a guy that hated me for some unknown reason. This guy tried his best to prevent my friends from playing with me, without success. He was the kind of guy who is overconfident and needs to show it to people he thought was weak. Bad news for him, I was very strong inside my head. He always provoked me, saying he was going to fight me and win. I was not the weak guy that I was after my stroke anymore. I did not reply to his provocation with violence because it was what he wanted me to do. Instead, I told myself that I would punch him only if he punched me. I spent the year waiting for him to finally dare to attack me, in vain. So after a year in which he tried and failed to ruin my social life, the moment came. We were visiting this beautiful museum in Torino with school. He was behind me in the visitors queue, continuously kicking me in the back. As we are in the museum, I waited until we came outside to let my rage out: too late he tried to attack me again, but this time he was in front of me. Bad luck for him, I launched a very bad mae geri that had the effect of making him fall to the ground slowly but surely. My best friend, who was there during this trip and who did not like what this guy tried to do during the year with me, witnessed the scene. But he chose to prevent me from finishing him in the ground. Whenever we talk now about this story, he says that he should have let me finish him but with time and experience, I think he made the best choice.  This guy started to respect me and be nice to me after this ‘fight’. I had what I wanted: peace. I was just 14. And I was not that weak guy anymore.

Then about one year from this even, when I was 15, I have been involved in another fight. The other guy was 17. Our school sport class used to be at the same time and we were using the men’s changing room at the same time. Once, I noticed that this guy, taller than me and my comrades, had a lot of fun: he took some of my school mates, kicked them in the feet to make them fall. I could feel that I was next on his list. His muscles were stronger than mine so I could not resist the attack and fell. As he was having his victory over me and showing off to his friends, I was pretty pissed. I then stood up. I took my time. I put myself in front of him, in Zenkutsu Dachi stance, and as I was loading my left arm, I knew my punch was going to go through him. I did the punch and then it hit him in the plexus and I had trouble breathing. He did try to move after but all he could do was insult me. In the end he was sorry and even shook my hand, and that was quite unexpected.

I did not know when I did this punch that it was going to be that powerful; this was my first introduction to the power of Karate. Even though I was far from knowing all about it at this time.

Getting better and better

From this point in time, there was no turning back: I was on a course of constant improvement of myself.

In the previous part, I said that I began to understand Karate. It actually took me a long time to understand it fully. What I mean is that Karate is not just a normal sport activity. Doing Karate is not just working on those three mysterious things: technique, Kata and fighting. Karate practice gives you more; I guess it is the same with other martial arts. It really creates a better version of you.

First, as you get more and more confident, it will change your body language. I used to be looking down, always walking in a weird way, bent back, and putting most of my balance one my left ― strongest ― side. This was obviously the body language of a weak person, and somehow, my Karate teacher made me aware of that. In every moment at my Karate club, I had to have my back straight, to keep my head high and to care about my balance: this is the posture of a strong person. Then I adopted this posture in my everyday life and I quickly saw the positive results of this change of behaviour: as it is quite an open posture, I have noticed that people were more likely to notice me, to look at me and to feel good in my presence. It actually helped me to get out of the vicious circle of ‘I can’t ‘and to go into the virtuous circle of confidence. I also met good and crazy friends at secondary school that were a very good source of inspiration. In a way, when I was alone fighting myself in the beginning, it took some craziness to think that I would succeed. Those friends were the ‘extra’ craziness that came into my life at the perfect time just when I needed it.

However, Karate did not only have a positive effect on my body but also on my mind. My teacher of Karate of that time always said to me ‘You can if you think you can’. Those magic words broke almost all the barriers that I had in my mind that prevented me to be as I wanted to be, to do what I wanted to do. I do not want you to think that the change is direct and that there were not any obstacles. Of course there were some. The key I used to overcome them was to act as if I was confident, even though I was not. I kept telling myself that I was able to do the things that I was not feeling confident enough to do. For instance, even if I recovered most of my speech ability, I still had trouble speaking during any oral examination at school. So for the A-level oral examinations I found the solution: I used a breathing technique that I learnt from my Karate teacher to unblock my voice and to feel confident. The result was that I passed with a good mark.

If you want to succeed, you should adopt a way of thinking like people that succeeded before you. I do not believe that those successful people were successful straightaway, without having doubts or thinking of giving up. Those kind of people are a myth and do not exist. This is just a way for some of them to maintain the gap between you and them. This is another point of my story that will be seen further in my article.

Thus, even when I was not practicing, Karate kept on having a good influence in my life and it became such a part of my life that I could not escape it.

The way to the Black Belt

At some point, Karate had become my life and my life had become Karate. Due to my stubborn character and as I hate to lose, I decided to ‘win’ my life in order to feel free and to remain true to myself.

In my former club, there was a hidden rule that everybody respected: everybody can learn from each other. The one who had a better understanding of what was being studied would help the one(s) who got lost and did not know what to do. As I got the blue belt, there were a lot of lower grades than mine and I started to enjoy giving a bit of advice, using my own words, to make the other understand what I had already understood about a particular thing of Karate. It could be anything, as long as knew it. I became a model which serves as a basis for lower grades.

Helping my teacher during the classes by doing this role of advice giver was a great experience. There was this 18-year-old guy that I started to help when he came in his first classes in my club. We became good friends. Three years after his first class, he got his black belt, one year after I got mine…

In the Karate club I was in I had two friends, a guy and a girl, that were of the same age as me. I thought we were at the same level more or less but one day I saw my friends get to brown belt and I failed the examination so I was stuck at the blue belt level. On that day I was pretty pissed because they would prepare for the black belt examination and not me. It was not jealousy, no, but rather me asking myself: ’Hey mate, what have you been doing? What went wrong? You know that your place should be with them but you couldn’t pass the exam? This is unfair; you should be brown belt as soon as possible.’

Well, due to my character and own story, I hate it when I think something is unfair to me. It was not the fault of my teacher at all, but mine. So I changed what had to change and soon got the spirit of a brown belt. I got it six months later.

Then I was preparing for the black with my two friends, as I planned. This year, I really was on fire. Unbreakable, both mentally and physically. In the end out of the 3 of us, I was the only one to get the black belt directly while the girl got it entirely at the next exam session and the guy gave up trying to get it. I felt so good. This belt was the proof that if you really work on something with all your strength, you can get it. I was happy and contrary to my comrades, I saw this belt as a beginning, not as the end of something. I was right, because then I came to realise that having the black belt (first Dan) only means that you master the basics of Karate. I am naturally curious, so I just wanted to improve more to see my limits and I did not stop doing karate.

Bad news, I need another operation

During my childhood, I had to go back to hospital several times to check that my brain was okay and developing well. At the age of 16 I have been told by the doctor that a part of the stroke I had was reforming itself, that what I had in my head was like a bomb that could explode at anytime and whose probability to explode would increase by 1% every year.

Well, that was a very hard choice but I chose to have a brain operation again, to finally get rid of my past. At least this time, I had time to think about it and to prepare myself for the worst…that did not happen.

We agreed with the doctor to wait until I get my A-levels to do the operation. At the age of 19, I had to live again the part of my past that I hated most. I hated the fact that the result of the operation was not predictable. I was going into the unknown.

 This new operation actually worsened the situation in which I was in. Despite all the Karate training, I had not recovered fully from my stroke. With this new operation, my leg and arm’s situation worsened, even though I could still move them and be able to have some kind of balance that enabled me to stand up. My speech worsened, but I was able to speak, it was just that my speech was very slow and I could lose my words easily as a result of the new operation. I could have a word in my mind but not be able to say it.

You might find it a little too harsh but I have always been thinking that the stroke I had was like an experience of death. I died when my stroke happened. The rehabilitation process that followed and Karate were my resurrection. Well, with this operation was like another death. And I needed to resurrect again.

As I already had the same kind of experience, it was pretty tough to live it again. However, I was in quite a different situation than before. This time, even if my body was not okay, I had the willpower to push me  going more and more forward, higher and higher, something that I owe to Karate practice. The mind is controlling the body, and not the contrary. I hated myself every time I forgot that sort of ‘contract’ with myself.

The operation took place about April or May and from June until the end of August; I was at the rehabilitation centre. I actually should have stayed there a bit longer but I really wanted to escape – again! – and to start a university degree so I did not care what the doctor said, and I finally got back to my previous life.

There is another part of the story that needs to be told before I go on because it had some repercussion on my life. I will try to make it short. You may think that it is not related but as I was recovering from the operation in the rehabilitation centre, I fell deeply in love with an amazing girl. It was so perfect, I was feeling so good, not noticing that there was anything wrong, maybe because of my lack of experience with girls (yes this is one of the bad things for stroke survivors, we all struggle with our love life). In the end, I felt like I had been stabbed in the back when she broke up with me. Not by the girl, but rather by the circumstances. Actually, I did not know at that time but I was emotionally weak as a consequence of the operation. In terms of feeling, after the new brain operation I had the same side effects as after a stroke. That means that all the pure feelings of love that I had for this lovely girl was strongly increased by the state of my brain at that time. The consequence was that when she broke up with me, I felt like dying. It was my third death and, I hope, the very last one.

Therefore, as I was going to start university, I felt completely destroyed inside. However, I was about to discover a very great power: the power of will.

Building myself again

I guess that you need to suffer a bit to be able to enjoy your life fully. After this, I swore to myself: ‘I will never be that weak again!’. And this was one of the bases of what happened next and what made me feel that ‘I was myself’ at 20.

In this month of September, I was alive but dead inside. The side effects of the new operation were the same as after my stroke. It drove me crazy, because nobody around me could understand. During the months that followed I was quite lonely and full of despair, despite the fact that I made good friends at university. Whenever something was going bad in my life, or not the way I wanted it to be, I could be very angry very easily. That was again due to the brain operation I had.

Thus, I had been through a very intense state of depression. I did not have the same problems as I had when I was young. This time they were different, a little bit more serious but in the end it was the same kind of depression. However, this time, I could not afford to have time for that !!

Starting a rebellion inside myself

At that time I may have lost some of my previous abilities a bit (my balance got worse for example), but there was something that I could not lose: I was first Dan at Karate. Due to my past, I already had the mind of a samurai, I was an experienced warrior who survived several wars. At that time, I was going to be involved into my last one so far, and it was a pretty big one: the war to improve myself.

I could not allow myself to be falling into depression again, so I used some tricks to help me. I believe in the power of words. Just a simple thing as to keep on telling myself some positive things such as ‘You are going to be okay’, ‘You’re going to be successful’, ‘You’re strong’, ‘I doesn’t matter what the other say or think about you’, ‘You’re awesome’ and some other phrases that I do not remember now helped me a lot to build the confidence in myself that I had lost. I was not telling myself lies in order to escape reality, it eventually became a reality in the end and I felt so good.

I also used Karate as a means to get rid of my anger. Remember, I could be angry about anything very easily. I found a very good way to get rid of it every time a ‘crisis of anger’ happened: I kept it inside me and then I went to my Karate training. Then, I put all of it into my punches and kicks. The results were more effective than what I first thought. As a result, every time I was coming back home after Karate, I felt good, very calm, at peace with myself. The rage I could bear inside of me turned into positive energy. It also made me improve my Karate a lot. This was my revenge against life, and for the very first time in my life I felt that I was happy with myself and in control of my life. I felt very lucky as well to have overcome such much bad things in my life. From this point on my life was mine. It would never be controlled by anyone or anything anymore. True freedom. I was winning against the elements, the demons, god, life itself, or whatever it may be called. And I truly intended to live my life as I intended it to be.

One year after the operation, as a consequence of my work on myself, I recovered most of the abilities I had before this second brain operation and I had even improved in comparison to the pre-operation version of me. From this point of time, I started aiming high, and I still am. I started what proved to be a long process: getting rid of all the remaining things that blocked me eventually, and to be honest, I did surprise myself sometimes when I did things that the previous version of myself would have thought to be impossible. I soon realised that in my life, as long as it was in my power, I could do anything that I wanted !

Winning against life

I started to have my own projects of life.

I wanted to start Karate competition in my form club. My teacher always said to me that I could do some disable competitions first, in order to introduce me to the world of competition, but I did not  agree with her because I thought ‘I don’t care about this kind of competition, I want to win normal competitions !’. I used to think that way. Then, I realised that I could be good for me, a good experience. So I did prepare for this annual disabled Karate competition that took place not far from the area in which I was living. I thought ‘I’m pretty good, I’m going to win everything easily”. Well it was not that easy because I was not the only one in this competition that had problems in my life and so all my opponents had fire in their eyes. I remember  a man who was practicing his Katas perfectly, very strong, without any loss of balance. I thought ‘He is so damn good, what is he doing here. Well, as I was watching him in his eyes  I could only see his upper body, I did not notice that this man had a plastic leg. He sure was a good source of inspiration. In the end, I lost my three fights due to a lack of experience. I sure was overconfident before this competition. I won my first Kata with my favorite Kata, Empi. After it, a teacher from another club came to talk to me because he was impressed by the jump I did. I did actually jump very high this time ! We had a very inspiring talk. He told me that he saw in my eyes a very high level of concentration and that he saw in me a great potential. I can tell you that it was totally unexpected. However, for the first time in my life, the words of this man made me realise that all the work I had done on myself so far was not in vain and I then felt very good. From this moment, my story and my past had gained recognition. I then lost my second kata to a man whose technique was of a very high level, very impressive. I did think that this man was not disabled at all. In reality, he was even stronger than I expected: he had mental disease.

After this competition, I realized that I was only relying on my past and I forgot the real purpose of Karate: Of endless self-improvement. I thought that from this moment that I was going to train as hard as possible. Because my only enemy is myself. I really am my own worst enemy.

I did participate to another competition earlier this year with sensei John Johnston, a ‘normal’ one. This time, I had time to prepare it. I knew that I had already improved a lot with Sensei. I believed  in my capabilities but I remained realistic. I knew that I lacked spirit in the previous competition so as well as the specific body and mind training we did in the club with the other guys, I did train my brain so that my body would accept the violence of the trainings. For instance, I used other mental tricks that I said to myself to unlock the remaining mental barriers that I had. Telling myself some words such as ‘Faster, Faster !’ when I was working on my fights or ‘Do it as a champion would do it’ really helped me to unlock the last few doors locked in my mind and to make  full use of my power of will. I was mentally prepared. At the competition, I also discovered that I had a new power: I could see from the eyes of the guys from the other team who was prepared to win and who was not. In the end, I had not been lucky to compete against those who I felt were unprepared. I did a much better version of Empi but I lost my first Kata to a guy who went to the finals and who turned out to be a European champion. My job was done, we were not in the same category but I was fascinated. ‘What makes you become a champion ?’ I was not feeling jealous but I felt very curious and I wanted to know how it was to be a champion. ‘How can I reach this level ?’ I was still lost in my thought when I also lost my fight. However, I started to think in a more practical way about the losses of that day. I actually won a lot by losing this time. I was asking myself ‘Why do you lose ? you felt very prepared for this one’. And then the answer was inside of me. Yes I was mentally prepared to win everything this time but something lacked to make it happen.  To be honest, I have got a bigger left side than my right side. To make you understand, I am like the Rafael Nadal of Karate in terms of body. I had always been thinking negatively about my right side, as if all the reason of the sad things that happened to me in my past was because of it. After this competition, I told my right side that it was not its fault if I lost on that day. I told it that I wanted to become an ally with it, that I was no longer considering it as my bad side because it bears the solution within itself. And then in my head, everything was clear: now that I had the mentality to do anything, I needed the physical to be able to reach my goals. So I started going to the gym and asked for a program of specific improvement for my weaker side that will, I believe, not be weak anymore in a few years !

This competition really helped me to know that I had no limits, I was just limiting myself. I really want to become a champion one day and my dream is to be a champion in the ‘normal’ tournaments. I will do everything in my power to reach this goal, not to be the winner, but rather as a way to improve myself and to be okay with myself. I won’t accept anymore to be prisoner of the dictatorship of my body. Because I still have fewer muscles in my right side, it is still weak. I cannot accept it anymore so I will do everything to improve it and to finally reach this goal. I just need a strong body now. With a strong mind and a strong body, I will be unstoppable.

I am going to stop here because I could also write pages about my other life projects. However, I would like to let you know that I have been improving them with the same unbreakable spirit.

Conclusion: you are not as limited as I might think you are

Those 3 last years have been the best in my life so far because I felt so alive trying to make my projects a reality. I would like this article to inspire other people. Because, yes, there is a life after stroke. Even more than that, I believe this article could inspire other people, whether disabled or not, or practicing another martial art, it does not really matter because life strikes us and will keep on trying to bring us down in an equal way. I would be glad if my story inspires others to fight themselves. Therefore, I would like my message to be universal, not only limited to stroke survivors but rather to be for everyone.

You can change yourself  and reach your goals. Dream big.  When I say that Karate changed my life, I really mean it but this is my thing, you are not required to start practicing Karate. If you are having problems in your life, start searching for solutions, for activities that would make yourself better. Then when you find it, give all you have got into it. Do not change yourself entirely but rather improve yourself.

Accept yourself the way you are, do not lie to yourself. Be true to yourself. If not, you will keep on making mistakes. You are the only one to make most of the choices in your life. Think positive as well, it is the key to everything. Then, if you make some mistakes, you will be able to react in an appropriate way and to move on quickly. So many people are stuck in their past life. As a consequence they cannot live in the present that is dark because of their perception and they will find no solution because they do not see any future. The solution is within you. You have to change your perception. It took me almost ten years to accept  the fact that I had a stroke, I wanted to forget everything that happened to me. But it was impossible because my stroke was the starting point of my life. From that moment of my life, I made some bad choices that had so much impact on me that I cannot undo them. However, as I am living in the present, I can change the future and make this thing of the past not be something that has effects on my present anymore. Now every time someone tells me to go easy on my body, even if it’s just to be nice with me, I reply : ‘I still haven’t found my limits so I won’t stop until I find them !’

To be honest, I have done so much and lived half my life with an after-stroke body that I am quite afraid of the kind of person I would have become if I did not have my stroke. If I managed to take the best out of that life-changing event, then anybody can change their life ! I still cannot believe what I have done because I am of a very lazy nature.

To conclude, I would say that the only way to free yourself is to fight yourself . You should see every problem of your life as a challenge to overcome. Try your best to change things that you can change (mentally and physically). Wage a war against yourself. And win.

PS:  I ‘m serious about keeping my identity secret. So, for some of you who know me in real life, please don’t mention my name in the comment section below or on Facebook.  Cheers!

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.  Silencing the minds usual internal chatter has a feeling of peace and tranquillity (a bit like the sudden quietness of turning off a factory air conditioning system).

This can sometimes be achieved quite quickly, but sometimes it can take years.  How often have you knelt there thinking “my knees hurt”, “how long is this going on for”, “I hope we do sparring tonight” or “I hope we don’t do sparring tonight”, whatever!

Moksu is as much an exercise for the mind as a reverse punch is for the body, but it is often underrated and its potential overlooked.  We are not simply looking for peace and tranquillity (though this is a worthy achievement in itself), we are also looking to directly take back control of our own minds so that it does not undermine us at crucial times.  It is about being able to silence at will that voice in our head which undermines us.  The voice that says “I can’t do this”, “he’s bigger than me”, “I’m going to get killed here”, “he’s always picking on me”, whatever.  Gradually, bit by bit, we take this quietening of the mind more and more into the rest of our training.  It is often said that combat is more mental than physical, well Moksu is actually a practice for the mental side.

When we can free the mind of it’s internal clutter, then we can use our mind more efficiently.  We become more conscious and more aware of whatever our present situation is.

It is almost like we have 2 minds; one which is a powerful tool that we deliberately think with and one which almost acts independently of us and usually undermines us.  This undermining part of our mind is often referred to in many self development/spiritual texts as the “ego”.   It relies on past experience rather than original thought, therefore it keeps us where we are rather than allowing us to move forward.  It acts to cover up weaknesses with a false show, rather than face and conquer the weaknesses.

Unfortunately both “minds” do not work well at the same time.  When the ego is in full flow giving us negative thoughts, we find it very difficult to access the power of the deliberately thinking part of our brain or our intuition.

When facing an opponent (whether sparring or for real) we need to be able to think tactically, yet at the moment of action we need to let our intuition take over and react according to how our opponents moves (or doesn’t move).

This can of course apply to almost any part of our lives, whether it is our job, driving, relationships, school or whatever.  We always function better when we can silence the ego, think more logically and engage our intuition.  The ego left unchecked can rob us of access to these facilities, which is why people with low self esteem or those who worry a lot seem to be unable to find a way out of their situations; whether in training, street attacks, or in any other aspect of life.  You are more capable of finding solutions to problems within any area of your life when you can think clearly.  You always think more clearly when you can silence the ego.

Just to clarify, I refer to people of low self esteem above, which might on the surface at least appear to be the opposite of what we normally consider to be a person with a “big ego”.  We tend to see what we consider an egotistical person to be somebody who brags, boasts and puts on a show.  However, this kind of egotist putting on a show is in actuality usually a person of low esteem, but is putting more effort into hiding their own perceived weakness rather than facing and conquering them.  A person of low self esteem (whether they are depressive or showy) is usually focusing a large part of their conscious thought on their past experiences which they cannot escape.  They are in many respects living in the past as they measure all new experiences/challenges in terms of their previous experiences.

Now this is a very human thing to do and is very common.  But silencing that inner voice, accessing your intuition and higher intellect are the best ways to escape that cycle of living in the past and to become more conscious of your present situation (living in “the now” as some people say).  Solutions to problems (both in self protection and everyday life) appear much more readily when you are focused in the present then when you’re being held captive to your past experiences by the ego.  Moksu (or any form of meditation) is a great tool to help with that and ideally should really be practiced more often than just at the beginning and of the Karate class.

Do you practice your kicks and punches at home?  Then why not practice Moksu at home.  It may take time to produce noticeable results, but it will in time allow you to access higher martial skills by engaging intuitive responses as you stop your own ego getting in the way!

Karate For “Perfection Of Character”: Truth Or Just Part Of The “Marketing”? – A Historical Perspective

“The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of character of its participants”.
Master Gichin Funakoshi.

Gichen Funakoshi

The above words by Master Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan/Shotokai have been widely quoted, but I wonder if that was what his teachers had in mind.  Gichin Funakoshi had a number of teachers, but the main ones were Yasutsune Itosu and Yasutsune Azato.  Both of these had (prior to teaching Funakoshi) been body guards to the King of Okinawa.  In this role, they could have been faced with superior numbers of armed men, whilst they themselves were actually unarmed due to Japanese law.

If you had to face a superior number of men, they had weapons whilst you did not; which do you think you would be most interested in:

  1. Victory or defeat?
  2. Perfection of character?

I don’t doubt that self development/perfection of character has always been part of the training, but I do doubt that it would have been the main focus when your very life could be on the line.  However, it helps to have a look at what was happening in Japanese society when Funakoshi went to Japan and what Funakoshi’s own goals would have been.

Funakoshi travelled to and demonstrated Karate in Tokyo, Japan in 1922.  At that time Japan was modernising very fast.  Japan had been almost completely isolationist under the Tokugawa Shogun until being forcibly opened up by the American fleet in 1853.  This humiliation led to the overthrow of the Shogun and the reinstatement of the Emperor in 1868 (Meiji Restoration).  From this point on, Japan under the Emperor eagerly and hungrily absorbed whatever it could from the West, not least of all in terms of weapon and armaments.

Having found that raw recruits with a few hours training could easily shoot and kill a charging Samurai with several decades of training, it is understandable that traditional martial arts were being seen as obsolete from the a real combat point of view.  The rival clans and warlords had lost their power which had shifted from clan Samurai to the new Japanese military forces answerable only to the Emperor and Japanese government.   Japan was moving ahead more and more as a single formidable unit and developing it Imperial ambitions overseas.

From August 1894 to April 1895 Japan had fought China for control of Korea and had won.

From February 1905 to Sept 1905, Japan fought Russia over Korea and Manchuria and again came of best.

Parallel to this, it is interesting to note that after the death of the King of Okinawa (exiled in Tokyo since the Emperor regained control of Japan), Yasutsune Itosu started to teach Karate publicly in Okinawan schools in 1905.  He was then 71 and this was the first time that he’d taught publicly.  By 1905 Okinawa had been much more integrated into being part of Japan rather than just an occupied territory.  An ambitious Japan had military conscription and it had been noted that youths with Karate training had better physiques and took to military training better than those without Karate training.

So what were Itosu’s motives behind this sudden change in policy and teaching this previously secret art to the public for the first time?  It is hypothesised by Bruce Clayton PhD in his brilliant book, Shotokan’s Secret, that the bodyguards would have had some kind of oath of secrecy to the King of Okinawa.  When the king died in exile, the oath was no longer binding so Itosu was free to teach publicly.

Gichin Funakoshi demonstrating on a makawawa

As Karate trained youths performed better when conscripted, arguably this sudden expansion of Karate training was to prepare young men for war.  This may sound horrifying to us today, but that was a different society with different values and unquestioning loyalty to the Emperor was an important social value.

So bearing in mind that traditional martial arts were seen as obsolete from a combat perspective, and that you don’t really want school children damaging themselves too much in a playground brawl, what do you suppose was the emphasis of the teaching?  Most likely the emphasis would have been to toughen up young men physically and mentally.  Not for self defence in the usual (Western) sense of the words, but so that they could be physically and mentally tough when fighting with bullets, bombs and bayonets.  Being mentally tougher to serve the Emperor without question (and without mercy to the enemy) would have been “perfection of character” under those societal conditions.

But before we condemn, the British Empire (and other colonial powers in their day) committed many atrocities to build their empires.  We also taught our you men at school similar “values” to protect “king and country”.  This was considered normal and patriotic at that time.

Later in 1922 when Funakoshi travelled to Tokyo, many Japanese martial arts had already transformed from their combat form (Jutsu) to self development form (Do).  Judo had been created from Ju Jutsu, Aikido had been created from Aiki Jutsu and so on.  Furthermore the Japanese tended to look down on the Okinawans who they saw as a bit primitive and backward, so for Funakoshi to gain acceptance of his Okinawan art, he had to go with the flow of Japanese martial arts and emphasis the “Do” as well.

Funakoshi’s main sponsor in Japan was Jigoro Kano, creator of Judo.  Kano also worked for the Ministry of Education and represented Japan as the first Asian member of the International Olympics Committee (IOC), so he was a very influential ally to have.  As Kano had changed his combat Ju Jutsu into a sport and a Do, Funakoshi would have been obliged to do similar things with Karate.

That said, I do believe that Funakoshi took the self development side very seriously and was very genuine in his beliefs.  Unlike his teachers, he had never been a bodyguard, facing superior numbers of armed men.  Furthermore, there are hardly any records of Funakoshi getting involved in any real fights.  This goes back to his early years too, when he would have likely learnt the combat emphasis of the art.  In later years in Japan, Funakoshi was challenged many times by Japanese Judo and Ju Jutsu exponents, keen to show that their art was superior to this strange new art from backward Okinawa being introduced by this diminutive Master.  But Funakoshi consistently refused all challenges as he believed that it would be dishonourable to himself and his art.  It is unlikely that Funakoshi declined out of fear.  Funakoshi’s master, Itosu, at the age of 75 had been challenged by a Judo expert who thought that Judo should be taught in Okinawan schools rather than Karate.  Having dispatched his opponent (who was about half his age) with just one punch, Itosu applied first aid and left.

Funakoshi would have probably been able to do the same and gain respect and credibility for the effectiveness of Karate at the same time.  It could have been a good way to speed up Japanese acceptance and gain more students, but Funakoshi was adamant that he would not lower himself.  So this (and many other stories) would indicate that Funakoshi was indeed a man of great integrity and honour.  He did not just say that Karate was about self development, he lived according to what he taught.

In his autobiography he recalls how just after the Second World War ended Japan was in chaos and people were starving.  On his way home, he was accosted a by a younger man who tried to rob him.  Funakoshi was in his senior years and very short.  As the young man swung at him, Funakoshi easily evaded, then grabbed and squeezed the other mans testicles.  Most of us would say fair enough the young man deserved it.  But as Funakoshi reflected he realised that the young man probably had a family to support and acted out of character in shear desperation.  He was overcome by a terrible feeling of guilt and shame that he would have caused this man excruciating agony when he was already in such desperate circumstances.  Not many of us would have been so generous to a man who had just tried to mug us.  Most of would have proudly recalled the story of how we gave some young thug what he deserved.  Funakoshi was truly a man of great character and honour, no doubt his Karate training had a great deal to do with this.

 

Kata Bunkai for Shorin Ryu Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan)

This is something that has been discussed on my Facebook page before, but I wanted to go into more depth with it.  Most traditional martial arts have been dumbed down.  Karate applications (Kata bunkai) were dumbed down when the Okinawans decided to introduce it into their school system in the late nineteenth century.  This dumbed down version was taught to the Japanese and from there to the Koreans.

Kung Fu too has suffered.  The Chinese were at first very reluctant to teach martial arts to anybody who was not full blooded Chinese.  Later it was realised that it could be quite financially lucrative to do so!  However, in the main they still held back a lot from Westerners.  It is known that when the legendary Master Ip Man was teaching Wing Chun to Bruce Lee, he held back some of the more advanced secrets because Bruce Lee was not full blooded Chinese.  If Bruce Lee was not taught the full system, what makes any Westerners think that they have been?

So moving on to the point of this post, I want to look at the end sequence of Shorin Ryu’s Kata (form/pattern), Pinan Shodan, as evidence of how Kata has been changed by people who most likely did not understand the meaning of the moves.  In particular I draw your attention to the end sequence which finishes with a Downward Block (Gedan Baria) followed by an Upper Raising Block (Age Uke).

You will notice that the performer goes into a fairly a low stance for the Lower Block, but very deliberately rises up when he performs the Raising Block.  Now if he was in fact actually “blocking” a punch, then it would make sense to move his head away from the punch.

It makes no sense at all to “block” a punch by pushing it upwards, as you move your head upwards at the same time.  If you don’t completely clear the attacking punch, then you are moving your head right into the firing the line.  In fact you probably end up with your throat in the position where the original attacking punch was aimed, which is even more dangerous.

If this so called Rising “Block” was actually an upward strike using the forearm to smash up under the chin and into the neck (which many martial artists now accept it as being), then it makes much more sense for the whole body to rise up.  One of the principles of linear Karate (such as Shorin Ryu) is that the techniques are powered by the momentum of the body movement.  In this case, the body momentum is clearly moving upwards and would be a great way to power an upward strike.  If you look at the above video closely again, you’ll note that as the performer executes the Raising Block, he actually steps through in a relatively low stance and only rises up at the end of step as he actually executes the technique.

The other consideration (which has been discussed many times before in very many places) is why would a Kata finish with a “Block”?  It means that your attacker is still able to continue attacking you.  Viewing this technique as a “strike” makes more sense as you can incapacitate your attacker and the fight/assault is over.

Now fast forward Shorin Ryu as it develops into Shotokan Karate.  The Downward Block and Raising Block sequence are performed at the same level without the performer raising up as he performs the Rising Block.

So why did this change?

It changed because the Japanese did not know that this technique was actually supposed to be a “strike” and it is not in their culture to question the master.  If you view this technique as a “block”, then there is no advantage in rising up as you execute the technique (in fact it would be a distinct disadvantage as mentioned above).  So as with many other movements within Kata, there was a lot of standardisation.  The heights of the stances were standardised so that the stances all stayed the same height throughout.

Of course many styles have been derived from Shotokan, so this is very much the norm in the majority of the Karate world today.  This is why I always encourage martial artists of any style to look at their Kata/patterns/forms with a questioning mind.  Also, don’t get hooked into looking for why your style is superior to others; instead look at other styles (especially your styles predecessors) to find out what has been changed and why.

The Japanese changed a lot of the Okinawan Katas because they did not understand the true meanings.  The Koreans changed a lot of their patterns to make them “more Korean” (hide the Japanese influences).  I don’t know so much about history of Kung Fu forms, but I do know some associations that train a very large number of forms yet barely scratch the surface of the applications.

Always question and always think for yourself!

Diaphragmatic Breathing In Martial Arts

Diaphragmatic breathing is used in many traditional martial arts, but I don’t think that all martial artists completely realise the full extent of how important this really is.  It actually helps us on a number of different levels.

But first though for anybody new to martial arts (or this concept) lets have a look at what diaphragmatic breathing actually is.  Most adults breathe into the top of their lungs and as they do so their shoulders and collar bones rise slightly.  But with diaphragmatic breathing, the diaphragm (which is a large internal muscle at the base of the lungs) is used.  This pulls down on the lower part of the lungs, opening up the whole of the lungs and thus pulling in more air (hence more Oxygen).  When breath is pulled in this way, the shoulders and collar bones do not rise.  However, as the diaphragm pulls down it displaces the lower torso organs and the stomach area in particular is pushed outwards.

Young children and animals naturally breathe this way.

Many people say that you “breathe into your stomach”.  This is of course not physically possible, but that is how it feels.  And sometimes looking for a feeling will help you to get the correct technique, even if it is not actually possible.

So lets look at some of the many ways in which diaphragmatic breathing helps us:

Technique

As above, when you pull the breath in with your diaphragm and it feels as if it is going down to your stomach (otherwise known as hara or dan tien).  This is where your centre of gravity is, so by having your focus on that part of your body, you can start to move more fluidly.  When you movement is generated by your centre of gravity the rest of your body follows naturally, whereas if you lead with shoulders or upper torso (which is common with beginners), you drag your centre of gravity which will slow you down and compromise fluidity.

When you inhale with your diaphragm it has a relaxing effect on the rest of the body.  Again this helps with the fluidity of movement as it helps to remove tensions from the rest of the body.

When you exhale rapidly from the  diaphragm, it allows you to generate rapid muscular movement to drive your strike/punch/kick into your opponent.  As the diaphragm is connected to the core muscles, it also assists with the over stability of your body and your ability to absorb any reaction force to the impact of your blow.

Masking Intent

In a conflict situation the last thing you want is for your opponent to know what you are planning to do and when you plan to move.  It is instinctive to inhale before launching an attack.  As mentioned above, most untrained people breath into the top of their lungs and their shoulders and collar bones rise up.  When you see this, you get a warning that you are about to be attacked.

Even if you did not know this fact and your conscious mind does not notice, your unconscious mind will notice and give you that intuitive feeling that something is coming, giving you that tiny fractional bit more time to prepare or react.

When you inhale with your diaphragm your shoulders and collar bones do not rise so you don’t give away this little warning signal, so your opponent has less chance to react or prepare for it.

Calming the mind

Much is written these days about the effects of adrenaline, especially by those who are into reality based martial arts, and that is a good thing.  One of the effects of adrenalin is that breathing becomes short and shallow.  Oxygen tends to be pumped into the limbs ready for fight or flight, but the brain receives less oxygen which blunts the ability to think a way out of the situation.  This can even lead to panic or freezing up.

Diaphragmatic breathing should be practiced during pressure training.  That way when you are in a real street conflict situation you are more likely to be able to maintain diaphragmatic breathing rather than resorting to the short shallow breathing.  This in turn allows you to draw in more oxygen which will allow you to function better both physically and mentally.  It will keep you calmer.

If can use this to keep your calm when you are facing a violent assault, you can also use it in other areas of your life (problems at work, exam nerves, relationship tensions, even just stressed when stuck in traffic).

intuition

This is tied in with the section on calmness above.  As mentioned earlier, the unconscious mind can pick up a lot of signals that the conscious mind misses.  This is when we have a feeling of intuition, when we just sense or feel something but don’t really know how or where this knowing comes from.

However, a mind that is in a state of panic will not access this intuition as well as a calm mind.  This is why you can sometimes fight/spar with a very experienced person and they just seem to read you like a book and know what your moves are almost before you do.  They respond with what seems almost supernatural reactions.  But what you notice from anybody with this ability is that they stay completely calm throughout, allowing themselves to access this intuition.

Health

Firstly, we need oxygen to live.  Oxygen has great healing properties and can even kill cancer cells.  Diaphragmatic breathing pulls more oxygen into the body then just breathing into the top of the lungs.

Also, toxins always gather in the body, including in the lungs.  Those who only breathe into the top of their lungs do not clear the toxins from the bottom of the lungs.  People who are used to diaphragmatic breathing will pull the breath right down to bottom of the lungs and clear these deep rooted toxins.