Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! Wishing you all health, wealth and luck in 2012.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lyoto Machida Karate Kata

Lyoto Machida is a karate-trained MMA fighter and former UFC champion. He just lost his last bout against Jon Jones. What was interesting to me is that he demonstrated a kata at an UFC open workout. I don't watch MMA enough to know if this is common but it was cool to watch. It's not as crisp as he has done at competitions but it's still good form.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Martial Arts Jobs in München, Germany

For any German or EU readers, there are some opportunities at Karate Club Bunkai in München. See the link for details.

http://www.karatemünchen.de/lehrer.html

Friday, October 14, 2011

Karate Front Kick and the "38 Special"

Something you don't see emphasized outside of traditional martial arts much are good basic kicks, especially front kicks, which can be especially devastating. Just ask Vitor Belfort after Anderson Silva unleashed one on him.

The 38 Special is a pretty cool kata developed by Sensei Bill Glasheen, Uechi-ryu 8 Dan. It demonstrates the various kicks used in karate, especially the front kick. The kata starts about 1:20 into the video. It is not the best quality but you can really see the crispness and good form.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Coaching Soccer and Teaching Karate to Kids

Both the Fall soccer season and Fall/Winter karate session started up a few weeks ago. This will be the first time I have coached and helped teach karate simultaneously. Needless to say I have been very busy. And though the teaching methods are a little different in the beginning, the goals of each for working with children are very similar, including teaching responsibility, decision-making skills and discipline to name a few. 

In karate, there is not much room for creativity, other than in sparring. In soccer there is actually a lot, but up until recently it hasn't really been promoted at the children's level. There is usually a lot of drilling and a sort of submission to the coach. You can see this difference in soccer styles by watching Major League Soccer games vs. La Liga or Série A. You can also see which is more successful.

As most of you know, Martial Arts students begin to learn by mimicry while the teacher(s) demonstrate, correct, fine tune and answer questions. At first there is not much room for creativity, but that is by design for reasons of safety and to make the fundamentals easier to learn for the students. I love both. For children the goals are similar but for adults they are very different, self-defense versus playing a game at a high level. Still, working with the kids is pretty rewarding

I coach under-12 boys in a "house league" that follows the coaching guidelines set by the Virginia Youth Soccer Association and US Youth Soccer. The league is competitive but the overriding goal is to foster and instill an enjoyment of the game so that the children will hopefully continue to play recreationally, professionally if they are very good and very lucky, into their 30s and 40s. I'm not sure how that's tracked but it's a great goal. Do I need to keep tabs on them...? :-) This is a similar goal in martial arts though I have never seen it written anywhere. Karate is a lifetime pursuit. By making it fun and interesting for the kids, you hope they will continue on when they get older as well. This is the tough part, especially when there is not any wiggle room for 'play'.

In our soccer coaching certification sessions we were encouraged to have the boys at this level play 'games, not drills and to "coach without coaching". That is, let the 'games' teach the techniques and offer points and ask implication questions throughout practice. For example, a player is defended by two players and tries to dribble out of trouble but can't and loses the ball. You can ask him what he could have done differently. Let him answer or if he can't, suggest he pass to an open teammate, etc. Then compliment him on something and keep the 'game' or scrimmage going. You put the kids in situations where they have to decide for themselves, not look to a coach or an adult for help or to ask if something was right or wrong. This style takes some getting used to but it seems to be working for our team so far.

I'm coming to the realization that all children should play a few years in an environment like this (having played it, basketball offers the same aforementioned opportunities for coaches and children but I don't know the philosophy currently used to teach it). This setting compliments how Martial Arts are taught, and compliments other sports and activities by really getting the children to think for themselves and to try new things without fear of repercussions (laps, sprints, etc.).

Soccer is a perfect medium because there is constant action that provides multiple decision-making opportunities for each teammate at a fast pace. Whereas football and baseball (both of which I played and enjoyed) are essentially played in short bursts with lots of down time.

Children at this age really show growth and eagerness in their learning. Providing safe, fun and competitive environments are starting blocks for their continued learning and interest in sports and Martial Arts.

Guess who I like?


Monday, August 29, 2011

Impressions from a Rank Promotion Test

Sunday's rank promotion test went off without a hitch. The candidates were ready to roll and the volunteers running the RPT did a fantastic job. My son received his 5 Kyu and is now ready for some bunkai, kotigitae and kyu kumite. Unfortunately, I could not watch him perform the whole time as I was judgng one of the other candidates in his group. I did get to see his sparring and that was fun. I was pretty impressed with how well a lot of the students performed, especially the beginner ranks. There were lots of good fundamentals on display.

Judging was a treat. It was my first time on the test board and I have to say I really like it. It was nice to see some old friends who were there on the test board and as candidates, one who was promoted to 1 Kyu. Judging is also difficult. You need to be fair. And some performances were a bit shaky in parts. For example say someone testing for 7 or 6 Kyu makes mistakes they shouldn't be. How do you handle it? Mark them down, maybe fail them? Probably/maybe if it's an adult. Our school has pretty strict standards, I know from my own testing experiences. But what if the candidate is 7 or 10 years old? They certainly are nervous, you can see it in their eyes. But you also know they are ready for the next level, having seen them in class. So would you fail them? In the end it's a judgment call and I learned a lot about judging and scoring from Master Folta, 7 Dan and the 1 Dan who I sat next to on the board (FYI, I don't use names from my school unless it's pre-approved by the person in question). Oh, no one failed. :-) We also had some really good free sparring at the end.

We were very lucky to be able to have the RPT as the worst of Hurricane Irene just barely missed us. We had a lot of rain and high winds - and sticks for my son to pick up. I know many people who were hit very hard by the storm in the Southern and Eastern parts of Virginia and Maryland. Luckily no one was seriously injured. We all wish for a speedy restoration of electrical service and all repairs. So count your blessings and help out your neighbors and fellow martial artists caught in the storm's path. Get more information here.







Monday, August 15, 2011

Zengu - Martial Arts/Boxing Equipment Wholesalers

There is new martial arts wholesale site online now. It's called Zengu and is part of the team from Karate Depot. It combines equipment for owners of martial arts schools (Karate, BJJ, TKD, etc.) and Boxing gyms. (Side note - it's funny how we tend to seperate Boxing from other MA styles even though it is a Martial Art).

There is a good selection of equipment on the site and prices are pretty good as well. It seems a big feature draw is the ability to create lists of equipment that you need for various events. I do like the system they use for further filtering your search results with links on the left side of the page, it reminds me of the system used on Puma's website -- BTW, I'd love a gi from them; I may need to create a Puma-based MA style to justify it. :-)

I cannot test Zengu's ordering system as I am not an owner and can't prove that I am one. They do restrict membership by having you send them a copy of your business license and a copy of a brochure from your school. I don't know how or if they verify this information.

Zengu.com looks like a great resource, espcially for the selection and pricing. There is more information on their site here and on the Ikigai Blog.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Another RPT Coming Up

It's Rank Promotion Test time again. It's Summer so there are fewer students overall going for their next rank, but there are more younger kids and "lower" ranks testing. My son will be going for his 5 Kyu. A little work on the history of Uechi-ryu and I think he'll do well.

It's also nice seeing the kids I helped teach in the no belt - 8 Kyu class earlier this year move up the ranks. They have definitely improved. We'll see how they do in a few weeks.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Product Review - Breakable Boards and Focus Targets

I will be reviewing products from time to time for Karate Depot. I do not receive any compensation for the reviews but do get to keep the item(s) that I review. I purchased a few things (sparring gloves) from Karate Depot before I started my blog. I was pleased with the products at the time and considered my experience to be a positive one.

I received four products this time and was able to test them out with my son and wife (she took Karate and Kickboxing for a few years). I will be including links to the products and some pictures, etc. from me.

The first two items are Rebreakable Boards by KD Elite. These are strong plastic boards that are made to be more resistant as you progress. You can purchase boards that are harder to break as your strength and technique improve. See the product description on the web site which includes a good how-to video, especially on putting them together for the first few times.







The boards are strong and you can tell the difference between the levels. I received the “White Belt” and “Yellow Belt” boards (the two easiest ones). My son, who is a 6 Kyu, was able to easily break the white board but had difficulty at first with the yellow one. There is definitely a difference in the resistance levels. He was able to easily kick through them both. My wife could break the white one, but not the yellow; she even got a small bruise on the palm of her hand. But that had more to do with her not having trained in a while. In my opinion they may not be for true beginners, not all martial arts schools teach breaking right away.

Beginners should not attempt to break these with a seiken strikes (full-fisted punches). If not done correctly, you will hurt your hand, wrist or arm. It’s better to start with an elbow or palm strike. Talk to your instructor first before trying this at home.


Seiken
I liked the rubber padding on the back of each one that makes easier to maintain your grip while holding them. I also like the fact that they are durable and from the look and feel will keep their resistance and last for years. If price is not an issue or you are buying this product for your school, then these boards would be a great option for you.

The third item is the Elite Vinyl Focus Target: Double by KD Elite. This target can be used for striking and kicking, but mostly kicking. The target is easy to hold and the wrist strap stays on and does not get in the way. The padding is good and it makes a loud popping sound when kicked hard. I’d say this target is better suited for children due to its size though more advanced students would get good some really use out of it too. The striking area is 8”x11.5” and it is well padded and feels very sturdy for its size.



The last item is the Square Hand Target by KD Elite. This target measures 10”x9”x3.5” and is a great target. It’s got thick padding and the straps are easy to get your arms through to hold it. We all had a good time striking this one over and over. I would definitely recommend this.



 I hope these reviews help you, leave comments if you have any questions.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review- The Little Bubishi: A History of Karate for Children


It's been awhile but I think I have a few interesting posts coming up this week. First is my review of a children's karate book. This is a rare book topic, at least in the U.S., and Little Bubishi does a pretty good job of entertaining and teaching.

There is really nothing like this book on the market for children. The only books that I found are Karate for Kids (Martial Arts for Kids) and Karate (Illustrated History of Martial Arts).  I have not read them but from quickly glancing at them they seem too skew to an older demographic.

The editorial review on Amazon.com says that The Little Bubishi "is essential reading for all young karate enthusiasts." I wouldn't say it is essential but it does provide a wealth of moral stories similar to Aesop's Fables that should appeal to children, and they did to me as well. You could almost compare the stories to Norse or Roman versions of the creation of their peoples which morph into actual ancient history. The chapters on the Twenty Precepts of Karate-Do, Karate Terminology and Dojo Etiquette/Rules are well written for children and many adult practitioners could benefit from should reviewing these as well.

This was a little difficult for me to review. It is a children's book and I am not used to reviewing them, much less reading them anymore. So I enlisted help from the target audience, a youth karate-ka. We'll hear from him later.

The folktales that start the book are descriptive and let the imagination run wild. The morals focus on good vs. evil, and using karate with restraint, and never for offense or petty issues. The author continues this theme throughout the book and reinforces them in the final chapters on defense and dojo etiquette.

The stories also begin telling the basic history of karate. This is done concisely - the chapters are very short. The author thankfully does not get bogged down in the different traditions, styles, politics, etc. that you find in many "adult" martial arts literature.

The precepts of karate at the end of the book are a great summary of moral, martial and personal values that are prevalent in all societies but tailored for Karate and based on Japanese culture. Reading these along with proper reinforcement by the karate instructor, and parents, should help any child instill these values in his or her life.

Though this is a children's book, there are a few small things I want to comment on that caught my attention. The writing style caught me off-guard and may affect the book's success with children. It felt like the fairy tales were translated into English by a non-native speaker. So the flow of the stories, and some chapters, were choppy. Perhaps the author intended it this way for it to feels more "authentic". I could be wrong but to me and the aforementioned youth, that was not the affect.

This may be nitpicking but I could not stand the font of the chapter titles. They were painful to read. I suppose you could give your child a pat on the back for successfully reading the titles on the first try. But it was very distracting to me.

Children love pictures. Unfortunately, there aren't many in this book and compared to the cover artwork, they are very anime - think of the kids from Pokémon.

Now for the youth review. Being a typical kid, he kept it short and sweet. In fact he gave me bullet points. So here are his thoughts:

Liked

  • Lots of useful information
  • the stories
  • Some stories are freaky
Didn't Like
  • Some really short chapters

I couldn't coerce more out of him so this is what we get...

Except for a few issues not related to the content, I do recommend this as a gift to your beginner karate-ka. Read it with him and discuss the stories, reinforce the morals and let their imagination run free. Just don't let them fight a typhoon or hurricane. A rain storm created from a garden hose will work just fine.

Monday, June 13, 2011

RPT Congratulations!

Congratulations to all of the successful Rank Promotion Test candidates yesterday at AWCNF. Especially to the two newest Uechi-ryu Shodans!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Guest Blog on uTest.com

Sorry this is not for me, but my better half. She was invited to be a guest blogger on the uTest blog. Very cool. If you are interested in mobile application testing, she's the one to see.

Click here for her guest blog: "Early Impressions of a Mobile App Tester" and here for her own blog.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Walking Blindly into a McDojo

There are plenty of articles and posts that tell you what to watch out for when you are looking for a martial arts school for your children and yourself. I touched on it as well here. Though you may be following some of the guidelines, you can still unknowingly walk into a McDojo.


One of my co-workers asked if I knew of any schools in her area for her daughter. There aren’t any Uechi-ryu dojos nearby, so I asked my teacher if he could recommend anyone in her general area and gave me a name to try. I looked him up and apparently he is a well-respected martial artist with years of experience, a rather large school with a few locations, and he runs a large annual tournament.

When my co-worker went to check it out, her daughter loved it. But the staff started hitting her with a large registration fee, a uniform fee, and mandatory paid pre-training sessions which is in addition to the pretty high monthly fee for regularly scheduled classes. All in all it was about $300 upfront, not including the regular class fees. Oh, they also require a contract. ;-)

I felt really bad about it though she took it well and has since found another school that is more sane. The recommended school’s website does not list schedules, costs, etc. which is normally a red flag, but I assumed it wouldn’t be an issue based on the recommendation. That was wrong on my part. I am sure my teacher does not know how that school is run, as he was basing the recommendation on martial arts reputation, not a business model. It really irks me how these schools are run, and it gives martial arts schools a bad name. I’m just glad my co-worker didn’t drop martial arts out of consideration.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Rank Promotion Test

Tomorrow is a rank promotion test for some students at my school. I look forward to the event and the kids showing what they have learned. They will have to demonstrate Kata, Hojo Undo, History and in higher ranks, Kumite, Bunkai and Sparring. Good luck to everyone! It will be fun.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Teaching Children

This session I've been taking a class with my son. Most of the students are kids and beginners - from "no belts" to 7 Kyus. As a higher rank student, I'm helping out as a Teacher's Assistant (TA) along with a few others. Teaching is a completely different experience from learning.

I may know my martial art at my skill level but this doesn't mean I know how to teach it. One of the things I have learned in karate over the years is that observing and following along really work when you are learning new things. My teacher is very good working with kids so I am trying to emulate some of the ways he instructs. I'm also learning from whichever Black Belt is in class and the more experienced TAs. It seems to be coming along pretty well.

Working with kids and beginners presents some challenges that I understand theoretically but are difficult to overcome in practice. It was almost painful at first to just work on the basics. I am used to working on kyu kumite, multiple katas and sparring. Demonstrating in slow motion forces me to concentrate more on my form and I'd better do it right or the kids may be performing some goofy Sanchin.

While we teach and demonstrate we keep an eye on the students to help correct form or just get the correct foot or hand in front. As you slowly go through the motions, you can see that this way of teaching works. Their eyes are watching you and they are trying real hard to copy you. They also ask good questions. One unexpected comment from a little boy was how I look like his uncle except that he has grey hair. He may need some work. :-)

So what's it like teaching your own son in class? I don't know. Any TA who has a child or spouse in class is not supposed to instruct his relative. It's a good policy. My son gets enough instruction from me at home...Plus he gets the benefit of learning directly from a Black Belt, usually a 7 or 3-4 Dan. So there is no sense of special treatment. It also helps him to work with other students who are not a foot an a half taller than him. We are both enjoying this session. My son likes karate again and will be testing for his next rank soon. I am able to take on a different, yet useful role on the school while my back is healing. It's a great way to give back and I look forward to continuing it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Situational Awareness: Gunmen Storm Orange Line Train, Beat and Rob Passengers

It was reported to the Unsuck DC Metro blog that six masked, armed men attacked and robbed riders on the DC subway on back December 23, 2010. The whole event is pretty horrible, especially considering that Metro is a pretty safe public transportation system. But this is not a great area either. Read the article here.

Other than this act of violence, the thing that stood out to me is the "...witness said some people didn't even seem aware of what was happening." Situational Awareness is so important, but it can be difficult. I'm amazed at how the child noticed this. Seats on the trains face front and back and many trains have mini see-thru barriers between the entrance doors and the seats. It is not the best design. In my experience the New York, Boston and Moscow trains are designed much better, with open spaces. Still, they are not ideal, especially during rush hour, and special/sporting events. I hope the police catch these guys. 





Light Capacity

Jam Packed

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Experience Okinawan Culture through Uechi-Ryu

When you study traditional martial arts, you expect to learn about fighting and self-defense. And in most programs and schools, that's exactly what you get. One of the things I like about studying Uechi-ryu Karate is that you can get more out of it than just the self-defense.

Uechi-ryu allows for experiencing the culture of Okinawa. The history of the islands is fascinating and in the DC-area there are good opportunities to observe and take part in Okinawan and Japanese cultural events. Many teachers incorporate parts of the culture in their classes, especially those that have studied for extended periods of time in Okinawa. Many TMA schools make periodic trips to study and train in Okinawa and there are events in the US to check out.

There are many local events sponsored by the Japanese Embassy and by Okinawan organizations. One of the bigger ones here is the Shin Shun Kai Spring Celebration in Annandale, VA. My Uechi-ryu school participates yearly by performing karate and applying it in traditional and non-traditional ways in a 10-minute routine. It's a good way to enjoy and experience the culture and to entertain the crowd. Below is a recent performance video. Keep training and learning.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Do You Look Like a Victim?

Over the Holidays, I received a book called The Little Black Book of Violence: What Every Young Man Needs to Know About Fighting. I put it on my Amazon.com wishlist after reading "Meditiations on Violence". The subject matter is very similar though the authors have different backgrounds.

Both books tell you that the best way to win a fight or confrontation, is to avoid getting into one in the first place. This falls in line with most martial arts teaching. There are excellent examples in both of what has a high chance of working for you. One, which seems obvious, can be dificult for many people to pull off. Carry yourself with confidence. That is, don't look like a victim or an easy target.

There is more involved, including situational awareness, to help you keep clear of such situations and both of these books are great for learning more about avoidance. I try to to keep higher awareness in certain areas to help avert any possible threats. Luckily, most of where I commute and travel is pretty safe. But I recently had an enlightening experience with this.

I bought a walking cane for my mother-in-law after she had injured her leg. I had to carry it home on the subway. The train was a little crowded and after a few minutes, someone tapped my shoulder from behind. A young lady offered her seat to me which I declined. I couldn't figure out why for a few seconds. Then it dawned on me - the cane.

Even though I was not limping, showing no signs of pain or even actually using the cane, someone perceived that I was injured (I was holding the cane in the same hand as my lunch bag while reading "Little Black Book" in the other).  I wasn't worried at the time because I "know" the area and crime is practically non-existent there.

But what would a thug have thought? "Great! An injured guy, I can take him." Or would he have noticed that I actually showed no signs of being injured and could possibly use the cane as a defensive weapon? Luckily that's a situation I didn't have to deal with. It just goes to show that you can never tell what people are thinking about you. Stay safe.
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