Thursday, November 11, 2010

Guide For TMA Newcomers - Part 2 - Man this Kata is Hard

In most martial arts schools and always in a TMA dojo, you will learn kata. Kata is a set of pre-arranged movements that incorporate strikes, blocks, kicks and other elements of your style. You can get overwhelmed when you first see a kata demonstrated at full-speed by your instructor or senior students. Others, like Sanchin, seem deceptively easy at first. I remember thinking about Sanchin, "Hey, you just walk slow, throw some strikes, rinse and repeat and you're done". That was wrong.

In Uechi schools, you will learn kata Sanchin first, and throughout your training. As you progress through the ranks, there will be new dimensions taught and self-discoveries for you. Most instructors will then teach you katas Kanshiwa and then Kanshu. They do look difficult, but as you focus and practice more it will all come together for you. What is the best way to learn a kata? Everyone has different methods to learn them. The following ones help me with learning my katas.

Keep a notebook. It's easy to forget the many things taught in class. Write in it after each training session. Anything that strikes you as useful, unusual or just 'cool'. Of course instruction and tips from your instructor should be recorded. With kata, breaking down the individual steps on paper can help you visualize it better when practicing it at home.

There are many kata videos on the Internet. I only recommend utilizing these as you progress in rank. There are some issues with them that can negatively impact your learning. The performer could be performing with poor technique or showing a version slightly different from what you are being taught. For example, there are plenty of Kanshiwa and Kanshu videos to watch. But none are exactly like what we learn in my school. If you are having trouble remembering your kata's movements, then only use these to help visualize the the order of the movements; and only if the performance's basic steps are just like your kata. This can be hard to determine as a beginner.

Practice. A lot. Then some more. Practicing will help you learn and perform the movements you have visualized or written down. Once you don't have to *think* about the movements, you can work on your technique. It can be difficult at home, but try to practice in a room with a mirror or two so you can watch your technique. In my room I have two mirrors on one wall and use the reflection in a TV at the opposite end of the room. Dojos will have lots of mirrors so use them as much as you can in class.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. About anything. If you don't understand or forgot how to turn in your kata or want to know how a strike or series of moves is applied (bunkai), just ask. You'll get an answer and each one will help build your knowledge of the kata.

Implement the feedback you receive from your instructor and senior students. In TMA they will earnestly help you. The senior students were at your level not too long ago and they remember the good advice and instruction given them by their senior students. I sure do.

Try these tips and see what works for you. If you have something not included, please comment and share. I hope some of this can help you learn your kata and be a better TMA practitioner.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Guide For TMA Newcomers - Part 1 - What to Expect in a TMA Dojo

For newcomers to Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) - Welcome. I hope you have first well researched and taken some free or discounted classes at different schools. You need to do this to see if you like and are are willing to spend a good amount of your personal time with a TMA style and instructor. If not, I suggest you read this article on what to look for in a TMA school. If you see this guy, run.

What do you do after you pick a school and instructor you like? You should get some type of written or oral explanation from the instructor on expectations and specific behavior in the dojo. Follow them If you are in a respectable school, these rules are geared toward your safety, self-control, respect for everyone, and learning. If there are higher ranks of students in the class, ignore them, unless they are teaching part of the class or demonstrating with the teacher. Keep your eyes and ears on the instructor and yourself.

You are learning your new style from the teacher or sensei, so you need to focus on him or her. As you learn from your sensei, watch yourself. There should be many mirrors in the dojo. They are there for you to watch yourself when performing katas and practicing techniques.

Most importantly, go at your own pace. Never try to rush through an exercise or kata to show how fast you are. There's a 100% chance you did it completely wrong. Everyone is different and we all progress at different rates. Go at a rate you are comfortable with and can do. This is about you learning a fighting art. It is not a competition. Have some fun too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Back Injury Update

After visiting my orthopedist I have decided to have an epidural steroid injection (ESI) as the course of action I should take for now for my back and sciatica pain. ESI is the only non-surgical treatment option that allows me to function normally for the long-term. My previous one lasted nearly two years. However, it does not and cannot address the root cause of the problem.

I have a herniated or degenerative disk that is compressing the sciatic nerve that runs down my right leg. Any pain related to the compression of or damage to a sciatic nerve is called sciatica.

Before the nerve became an issue, I just had the back pain due to my disks. I was able to knock out the pain with Chiropractic treatment. The nerve pain came a little later and Chiropractic could not treat this. I could have continued but did not see the point. The primary issue was now nerve pain and the treatment could not help me in this regard. I have a great Chiropractic doctor who admitted as much, he is a rare one who will tell you when it cannot help you. I do recommend him for normal adjustments if you are in the Vienna, VA area.

Before I initially saw an orthopedist the first time I had this problem, my primary care physician prescribed physical therapy and some muscle relaxers to help with the pain.

Physical therapy was to strengthen the core muscles in order to help support the spine. I can't really say that it helped much. However it felt really good. Especially the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). After massaging the back the therapists would place a TENS device with four electodes on my lower back and cover it with a heating pad. The TENS unit uses electric current to stimulate your nerves. This treatment lasted about 15-20 minutes. It felt great. But 10 minutes after I left the clinic, the nerve pain returned.

Meds are for short-term pain management and can make life easier when you are on them. But they also didn't help me much. My muscles felt really good, or not at all, but it didn't do much for the nerve pain. I did get some temporary pain relief but only used them when it was nearly unbearable. And of course you can't take these during the day without looking and feeling like you are in the Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem band. So I take some Advil as it and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) do help with the inflammation around the disks.

ESI is essentially long-term pain management and an anti-inflammatory treatment. It can be effective anywhere from a few weeks to a few years and it's recommended to have not more than three injections a year. Long-term effects (good and bad) are still under study. My first one worked for nearly two years. Other than ESI, surgery is the only option I can consider. But I am very leary of that right now and do not want to be laid up for a month or so.

I will miss the last quarter of my current Uechi-ryu training session. And contrary to a certain myth regarding Uechi Kanbun (I am not affiliated, nor familiar with, the group in the link), Sanchin is not the only position/posture where I feel no pain. Sanchin is actually very painful in this condition. With ESI, you can pretty much get back to normal/exercise in a day or two if you have no complications. I look forward to that and starting the next Uechi session in January. I am bummed as I thought I may test this session, but hey, it's my back.

I'll have an update on this later next week.
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