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