Friday, September 11, 2009

Kodomo Tame Ni

Kodomo Tame Ni translates to For the sake of the children. Since today is the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it has been a reflective day for everyone. Everyone will remember what they were doing at that moment for the rest of their lives. Societies around the world are working for a safer future. As martial artists, we also are trying to make the world a better place for future generations.

The pictures here are of the entrance gate at the Sakura Budokan. The inscription of Kodomo Tame Ni is a reminder that Budo is not only about making ourselves better; but, also creating a better place for our children. Entering through the gate with that reminder helps maintain our focus in the pursuit of Budo.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Samurai Mindset: Sasamori Sensei Interview

Sasamori Sensei is the current head of Ona-ha Itto Ryu. Interviewed by student Douglas Tong, Sasamori Sensei shares his thoughts on the different nomenclature, philosophy, and mindset of the Japanese warrior. In keeping with Japanese simplistic beauty, he explains the kamon or crest of the school. The kamon is two circles and a line; but, the meaning of True Perfection behind them can leave you meditating on that for a long time.

Since I can not explain it better then Sasamori Sensei, here is the three part interview.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Let us know what your favorite part of the interview was.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Center

If you listen to a martial arts class for repeated concepts, at the top of the list will probably be the center. There are many centers within martial arts and all will have to be understood to progress. You will hear move your center, center line, take center, control center, connect to your opponent’s center, join centers, and other variations.

Start with your own center. A lot of beginners lean when doing a technique. They may want to kick higher or finish the move by extending a little. This should be corrected early. Leaning will put you off balance and less likely to recover for the next move especially if something unexpected happens (i.e. you technique does not work). Your power will decrease and you will be more susceptible to a counter move. There are always a few exceptions; but, have a solid foundation before you explore them.

One way to test moving of center is to have a partner about your size hold their arm straight out in front of them. Walk into the arm. If you bounce back or are stopped, you are not using your center. Now concentrate on moving your center as you walk into their hand. They should be pushed back. Take this feeling and use in all your movement from evasion and blocking to attacks.

Next will be controlling the center between you and your opponent. Boxers move around the ring to control the center. In Kendo it is much more subtle. It may even look boring watching a match with no outward action. But, there is everything going on subtly to control center. When they someone gains center, the point is almost over before the strike happens.

Here is a Kendo video that has slow motion replays so you can see.

The last center we will talk about here is controlling your opponents center. This will give you the advantages you seek in ending the situation in your favor. Striking styles will use blocks, punches and kicking to manipulate the opponent. Grappling styles will use a physical connection to control their opponents center. This will also have to encompass many other martial concepts like distance, timing, unbalancing, body movement and more.

Here is how you can manipulate your opponent by controlling his center:

Remember to think about the different centers while training and your martial arts will continue to grow.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Student Responsibility

Budo is about becoming the best you can be. We use martial arts as our method to do this. Since we always strive to be better, we will be a student for life. Here are a few things to help be a better student.

1. Empty your cup.

You have probably heard this saying before. One of the most popular versions of the origination of this saying is:

A professor visited a Zen master to inquire about Zen. As the master was speaking the professor kept interrupting with his own opinions. So the master served some tea. He overfilled the cup and tea went everywhere. The professor shouted "the cup is full, there is no room for more tea!" The master replied "like this cup, your mind is so full of its own opinions, there is no room for anything new, in order to taste my tea, you must first empty your cup."

You have come to learn. The best way to do that is forget when you know or think you know. If you have no martial arts experience, it may be easier then if you have some already and change to a different martial art. Having studied several different styles, I still have to remind myself to "empty my cup" and learn and do that particular style. If the class is learning a technique you know already, look for a deeperunderstanding of the technique. How can you make it more effective, efficient, powerful, etc.

Zen master Shunryu Suzuki explained it best:

In the beginner's mind there is no thought, "I have attained something." All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something.

Next class, pretend you are learning something for the first time. Ask yourself lots of questions. Where does the technique start from? How does the timing work? What distance is this effective? How do I recover if it does not work? These should be enough to get you started.

2. Work with senior students

One of the best ways to learn is to work with someone better then you. I get annoyed when I ask a class to find a partner and the most senior student is left standing alone. It is fun to work with your friends; but, you will get plenty ofopportunities for that as well. The benefit of working with a senior student is that you get to see their technique and movement over and over. At first try to imitate until you learn the technique. Then you can make it your own; but, continue to look for the finer points as you get better.

3. Working with junior students

What if you are the senior person in a paired drill? Is your workout over? Not at all. First, you still get to practice the technique. You will have to adjust a little for the experience of your partner; but, there are always things to work on. Second, can you explain the technique to the junior person if needed? Explaining is harder then it looks. Ask someone who has had to lead class for the first time. They usually can't wait to get back in the class. Thirdly, by watching others, you can see what to do and what not to do. Maybe you made the same mistakes they made. Maybe they make different ones. If you know how to correct them (and therefore yourself) you will have a deeperunderstanding of the technique or principal being practiced.

4. Journal

This is not only a good method to reinforce what you learned; but, it can also be used to reflect on how you feel physically and mentally. Also, journal any questions you might have. These may be things you can find out on your own or ask in a future class. Yourunderstanding of the martial arts will continue to change for as long as you train. If you go back and reflect on previous journal entries you can see how you have progressed.

5. Steel the technique

This is a Japanese saying about how to learn. The teacher may not teach as much as show the technique. It is up to you to learn and figure it out on your own. However, in modern times we are not full time warriors and we need some teaching. But, the drive to learn more should follow this mentality. You will also have a betterunderstanding of the technique. Sometimes this is because you now know hundreds of ways the technique does not work.

6. Physical recovery

Training is obviously a physical activity. Some classes are harder then others. But, take the time to take care of your body. Hydrate, eat properly, stretch, and get enough rest to balance your training. With only a limited time in class, the instructor will not go into details. This information is readily available on the Internet, books, and magazines. If you have a specific question, talk with your instructor on the best way to stay physically fit for your art.

Additional Reading

Customer vs. Student

Instructor Responsibility

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Review: Surviving a Traditional Dojo

Surviving a Traditional Dojo is a free e-book by Matthew Apsokardu of Ikigai - Blogging the Marital Way. It is geared towards beginning students; but, long time students of the arts can appreciate the reminder of what it is like from the beginners point of view. The sidebar comments highlight key areas. With lighthearted humor and 80's references, this 95 page book is a quick read.

As you might gather from the title of the e-book, the first half of the book covers what to expect before and at the very beginning of your training. Chapters on What is a Traditional Dojo, Beginners Mindset, Gi and Obi, and etiquette will help make the student's transition into a tradition dojo much smoother. Many useful pieces of information that would have been nice to have when I started.

The second half deals more with the ongoing training you will be doing. This includes discussions on sparring and the subtleties of rank structure. There are frequent reminders that this is a general guideline and to observe and follow your dojo's rules and etiquette. The concept of Shu Ha Ri is discussed. This is a model of progression in practice and shows that are many if not infinite levels of training in the practice of martial arts.

He also offers suggestions on additional resources from books and magazines to movies. You can brush up on the 80s references. One area I will recommend additional reading on is the use of 'Osu'. Some schools use it for everything. There is an excellent article that gives a lot of background on the term here. Personally, I use other terms. Usually 'Hai, Sensei' for yes or agreement. But, the background is good because if you are in Japanese arts for a while you are bound to hear it and should know some background.

The book concludes with some guest tips from Ikigai readers. This continues the warm feeling of the book. So check out the book and continue with the blog for a constant feed of topics to think about in your training.

E-book: Surviving a Traditional Dojo

Thursday, June 11, 2009

6 Steps for Self Defense

When you hear Self Defense, what do you think of? Many will think of firearms, pepper spray, or martial arts classes. But, these should be the last step in self defense. Throughout history, society has used walls, moats and other barriers as a defense or deterrent. Personal self defense should also start with deterrents. Predators will go after the easiest target. This goes for wildlife and human predators. The less you look like easy prey the better. This will reduce your chances of being attacked; but, unfortunately it can not eliminate it.

Here are some basic steps you can use to help avoid becoming a victim.

1: Be Aware. First is being aware of your environment. Walk in the open on sidewalks and parking garages. If you are talking on the cell phone (or worse texting because your head is down) walking next to parked cars, someone can easily grab you and pull you into a car before you know what is going on. The longer an attacker is out in the open more risk of being seen. I am also not a fan of headphones when walking or running in the street. People can easily come up behind you. Also, you can't assume a driver sees you. Be aware of what is going on around you.

2: Breath. When we are nervous, we can become tense and freeze up. This is what happens in 'Stage Fright' or 'Fight or Flight'. You will hear the director say to take a deep breath and relax. This causes the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation, awareness) to regain balance with the sympathetic nervous system (analytical). Conscious relaxed breathing will help you relax and maintain awareness. If you don't look like a victim, an attacker will move on to an easier target. If something does happen, you will be in a better position to handle it.

3: Remain Calm. This is sometimes easier said then done. But, by reviewing what to do and practicing awareness, you will be in more control of the situation. You have to draw the line between being aware and becoming paranoid. Being calm will reflect confidence and is another deterrent.

4: Defend. Learn some basic self defense or hit them as hard as you can with what ever you have (hand, foot, package). If you don't think you have it in you, think about if they attacked someone in your family. If someone grabbed your mother or kid, your instinctual response would be to do what ever it takes to defend them. Yell 'Fire'. People are more responsive to this then a scream. It draws attention to you.

5: Escape. As soon as you can, get out of the situation. Even before an attack, if you do not feel comfortable, leave. If someone follows you onto an elevator and you don't feel comfortable, step out and take the next one. Find someone else or go into another business on that floor. Being aware of exit options in new places can come into place. If Kids get separated from their parent or guardian they should seek an authority figure (police, teacher, or any other parent) immediately.

6: Fight. This is last because it should be your last resort. If your attacker is much larger then you or you feel overwhelmed, drop down on your back and kick and punch while yelling fire. This is an effective defense for kids. It draws attention and is very hard to pick up someone that is kicking and punching wildly.

Please share your story or website on avoiding becoming a victim.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Instructor Responsibility

Originally I was going to write an entry on self defense and the law. But, during my research, I found an excellent article on it by Peter Hobart, Esq. Mr. Hobart is an attorney, martial artists and author. He is the author of Kishido: The Way of the Western Warrior. A very good book that I will review in detail later. I will focus on a piece of the article.

His article, Self Defense Law, covers criminal liability on non-lethal and lethal force, third parties, defense of property, use of force to prevent a crime, civil liability, tort law and laws aimed at martial artists. This extensive review will give you the legal systems view of self defense. Although laws vary by location and over time, you will get an understanding of how the legal system views use of force in different situations.

The end of the article describes the legal responsibilities of martial arts instructors for the behavior and acts of their students. The three main points that will get an instructor in trouble with the law under the Theory of Agency are:

1. An instructor approves or promotes unlawful conduct.
2. An instructor who teaches dangerous/lethal techniques and the student misuses this knowledge
3. An instructor who provides negligent instruction that causes the student harm

The first one is easy to understand. Promoting aggressive violent behavior goes against socially accepted behavior. The second and third are opposite ends of the spectrum. This demonstrates the fine line instructors have to walk. If we teach dangerous techniques to people who can not handle the responsibility, we can be held accountable. At the other end, if we teach things that do not work, we can put the student at risk if they choose a self defense option that they can not handle.

For centuries, arts have been passed down through family or a very strong teacher/student relationship. Often, the students would live with the teacher. This reinforced the bond outside the dojo and kept students that would misuse the art to a minimum. In today’s society, few of us are full time warriors. And to keep the art going it may be necessary to cast a wide net to catch a few students. See Customer vs. Student. This will require more work from a teacher; but, does not change their responsibility in providing proper instruction to serious students.

A genuine instructor will have the respect for their teachers and the art to pass it along to students that meet the ethical standards of the art. Students interested in budo should look for a teacher that exemplifies these standards and there personal beliefs. If the instructor talks about price and the contract in the first few minutes of discussion, it is a good sign you might be at a McDojo and should continue your search. Don’t be shy about going to smaller schools. They may be what you are looking for. They may not have 100s of students on purpose. Likewise, not all larger schools are bad. They may run a large school and still have the quality of training you are looking for.

What do you look for in the instructor/student relationship from either side?