Thursday, September 30, 2010

Uechi-ryu Partner Conditioning

Last night was a great workout, especially the conditioning drills. I thought I’d be banged up but not one bruise in sight. J Conditioning in Uechi-ryu karate is another facet of training that leads to better protection from attacks and may help keep you in a fight longer to win or to get a chance to run away.

It’s important not to abuse your partner during these drills because you only work on conditioning certain areas of the body, and strike/kick in specific ways. It also keeps the “conditioner” from hurting their wrists, legs or feet. My technique in this drill was good at first (we exchange alternating strikes and kicks with rotating partners) but worsened as we went on. Apparently after my kicks to the thighs I was steadily moving closer to my partner instead of getting back into Sanchin. My Maai (spacing) was way off and I was using the wrong part of my leg to use to condition my partner. Luckily my partner was Master Folta so I got a good lesson out of it.

My issue with Maai was a product of me not having control over the first battle in Sanchin. I was so focused on kicking to the correct part of the body that I lost sight of my overall focus. I’ve still got a lot of work to do on my Mushin. 

I couldn't find a good picture to demonstrate this so here is a picture of Elvis Presley doing some sparring. Is that a shoken? :-)

Picture found at: Keith Matthews Kenpo Karate.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

All is in Sanchin Book Review: Meditations on Violence by Sgt. Rory Miller

All is in Sanchin Book Review
Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence
Author: Sgt. Rory Miller

There are many interesting Martial Arts (MA) books on the market. I thought about first reviewing a Uechi-ryu book such as The Way of Karate by George Mattson or Karate: A Master's Secrets of Uechi-Ryu by Ihor Rymaruk. As I went through my collection, I began to think “Why do most people train in MA?”. Why do you train? That’s when I knew which book to start with.

Whatever your specific reasons are for training, they will invariably be related to violence. Whether it’s you or someone you know having been bullied, mugged or worse; or simply wanting to learn “self-defense” because of all the local news stories, it all relates to violence.

Sgt. Miller is a corrections officer with years of fighting experience in multiple situations. He does a great job of explaining the different kinds of violence, people’s perceptions of it and how we deal with it afterwards. I appreciate the fact that he states upfront that he is only telling you about his experiences and observations. Take them for what they are and remember that nothing is more important than your own experiences. That said, he does provide useful insights and training for your body and most importantly, your mind.

Many martial artists will take issue with Sgt. Miller’s assertions that MA will really not help you in an “out of the dojo” attack. That your training and mindset are perfect for the controlled environment but not when you are attacked while in a calm, normal state of mind. According to Sgt. Miller’s experience, the “perfect” fighting distance taught in some MA styles rarely happens in real life – in a parking lot, a bar, bus station or in your own home; nor are the situations that some train for very realistic.

Sgt. Rory does not offer any one MA style or ‘way’ of fighting as a solution since none covers everything one needs to know. But he does give great training advice and outlines what kind of training will help prepare you for the types of attacks you may face and the physiological and brain reactions to being attacked unexpectantly. The book categorizes violence into different types with general defenses to combat them. These include training for surprise attacks (though it isn’t really a surprise if you’re expecting it), using confidence and boredom, and knowing when to flee and use counter attacks.

I realized before starting training in Uechi-ryu Karate that it wasn’t going to make me a “kick-ass” fighter like on TV, though I expected to and have learned some great offensive and defensive tools. According to the book, part of the issue with MA is that you usually only work on certain moves and many people going into dojos get their concepts of violence from Jackie Chan and Jason Statham movies. Training with this mindset can be dangerous to yourself and your fellow students. Time and distance are crucial in a fight and the simplest counter attacks are often the most effective.

I do like Sgt. Rory’s insights on the psychological aspects of violence for both the attacker and victim, and of the “Monkey Dance”. I have no real experience in this to the degree he presents but he provoked me into learning more about it. Challenging assumptions is a large part of this book and many of the author’s assertions can be very useful. I saw myself in some of the examples and am trying to improve on the ones I feel I need to work on the most.

So how does Sanchin and Uechi fit into all of this? Opinions differ greatly but this is what I can say.

Honestly I don’t know. I haven’t reached the black belt level. Black Belt training is where you really start getting into the “hardcore” Uechi training. As a 2 Kyu in my school, we do get trained in the basics of striking hard, fast and at your opponent’s weakest area available to you. This training is similar to some of what’s advocated in this book.

Sanchin training conditions your body to at least absorb some blows and protects your core. This may give you the opportunity to quickly counter-strike, get out of the way or run. As for the rest, I will find out more as I progress.

Meditations on Violence is a fresh offering in a sea of self-defense and Martial Arts books. It consists of one person sharing his experiences and observations on the causes of, types of and combating violence. The book has generated discussion on multiple forums and blogs and deservedly so. I agree with much of what is in the book, not all, and believe it should be required reading for all self-defense /martial arts teachers and students. It provides great information, advice and examples. Most of all, it makes you question your assumptions and way of thinking.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Back to Training: Who do you Train With?

Classes started last week after a longer than normal break. Two things stuck out for me.

The first was how much my shoulders were sore the next day. I can't recall doing anything unusual except for some extra sparring drills at the end of class. These worked on covering large distance and speed. The Sanchin testing was not particularly hard either (the shoulder muscles are also tested for tightness, to check your balance and how 'grounded' you are). Spooky.

The second, and more important to me, is even with a relatively small class where the ranks are within 1-2 kyus of each other, we always seem to use the same partner for two-man drills (bunkai, Kyu kumite).

I stood back for a second to see how the dynamics work (who would seek out who) and nothing really changed from last session. This is in spite of our Sensei advocating working with different partners. Working with the same partner over and over may help you prepare for a rank promotion test, but not your overall technique or even your basic ability. It actually hurts your advancement.

These drills aren't going to necessarily help you in an actual ambush or a bar fight, but working with different partners helps you adjust and use you skill in these drills more effectively. If you work with a shorter person, you get used to his or her reach, attack speed, etc. If you suddenly have to work with a taller partner with unknown reach, attack speed, etc, you will get flustered and be more likely to screw up the drill. It's happened with me and I see it with other students too. I am going to try to break this up a bit.

Overall working with different partner types (men v women, tall v short, more experienced v less experienced) will increase your brain's ability to quickly adjust to different 'threats'. Conditioning your brain in this way can be applied to every aspect of your martial art and in life. Most importantly, you learn to react better and this alone could save your behind.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Uechi-ryu Karate vs. Working Out

As I got older and moved on from playing lots of sports like basketball and football and lifting, I gained weight. Lots of it. I did not have the time to go back to playing any team sport and time at the gym ended up being wasted by half-hearted goes at the stair climber, rowing machine, etc.

So I sat around a lot eating in front of the TV at night doing nothing. None of these ways to work out really worked for me.  There was no real incentive for me, it was like I forcing myself to go to a job that I didn’t like. I did make some progress, but it never lasted.

Uechi-ryu, and I imagine most styles of traditional Okinawan karate, really do give you a great overall workout. For example, when I perform the Sanchin, or any kata, “properly”, I am winded. These are pre-arranged movements that don’t last more than a couple of minutes.

When done properly, the practice of Sanchin will give you many benefits. These include everything from core development to efficient breathing, aerobic conditioning, flexibility, muscle toning, coordination, stamina, and overall strength training. And these are just the physical benefits. It sounds like a lot and it is.  This does not come quickly but you feel results within a month.

Additionally your mind becomes more focused on what you are doing at the present and you will become more aware of your surroundings. The military, police and self-defense industry call it situational awareness but it is more than that. It’s also an internal awareness that helps you reach your body’s potential.

Since I have been training in Uechi-ryu, I have noticed that I breathe better all the time, not just when training.  I have lost most of the weight I’ve gained since college and my stamina has increased. Without any weight training, my upper body especially has also become more defined.

The fact that Uechi-ryu is more than picking up street-fighting skills appeals to me and I can combine the different elements to make me a better karate-ka and a more fit person, mentally and physically.

This is a video of Gushi Sensei (10 Dan) performing Sanchin. It is an extreme example, but so are the hotties and studs in the NordicTrack commercials. I do have three of his DVDs, the technique is excellent and he is a great example of getting his body "only" from Sanchin and karate (he told us at a seminar that he never did any weight-training or body building). He conducts seminars around the country at various karate schools.

Note – I now do other exercises to help with my back, flexibility and aerobics. 

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