Monday, July 30, 2007

Tan Tui (彈 腿) for Tang Soo Do folks

This Sunday, I had the opportunity to invite a good friend of our club in for a special class. Sifu Mike Grigsby of the OSU Shuai Chiao club once again volunteered his time to work with us on a foundational kung fu set: 12 Road Tan Tui (Dham Toi Sip E Ro.) Of the 12, we worked on 1-5, having covered 1-3 in a previous session. As a fan of Tan Tui, I was very pleased to see my students smile as they so openly attempted movements that were at once similar and different from their normal routine. It was also fun to watch people scratch their head at Road 4.

Tan Tui, a set of 12 basic movements, is a cornerstone of many northern Chinese styles, and has deep roots within the Hui people and Islamic martial arts. Techniques such as Hwakuk Jang Kap Kwon Kyong Kyuk (yoke fist) are signature movements of these ancient arts. However, the basic purpose of Tan Tui is to build a strong foundation with leg strength and hip rotation. Its large frame movements also lend themselves well to creating relaxed, whipping movements for practicing fluidity.

Tan Tui, which roughly translates to "Springing Legs" is beneficial as a leg workout. Multiple stances are tested, and the ability to transition smoothly from one to another is the true test of skill.

When you practice these movements properly, you begin to get a feel for how the theory behind the techniques greatly affected Doju Nim Hwang Kee's interpretation of Karate. Taking the static pictures from books and working with other martial artists, he synthesized the hyung in ways that were quite unique from how they had evolved in Okinawa and Japan. It also makes you wonder what his first foray into martial arts, "hwa soo do", was like.

I also appreciate Tan Tui for its differences. To see a technique performed differently that what you are usually exposed to, it gives you a unique opportunity to consider what it is you do and why you do it in that manner.

Finally, I enjoyed having someone else teaching class for the benefit of showing my students that there are other instructors out there who share my standards and ideas. Maybe it makes me feel a little less crazy, and a touch vindicated as well. For my students, they get to hear the same lesson from a different angle, and perhaps a few will now more easily absorb the lesson.

Many instructors would cringe at the thought of allowing someone from another style, with more experience, to teach their class for a day. In the end, I like to think that my students recognize that I'm extremely selective about who I allow to influence their training and that appreciate my selective judgment.

Author's Note (6/26/08): Judging by my statistics, this article generates a great deal of traffic to my blog. I'm curious as to what people are looking for, and if I've helped them at all. Please leave a comment if you feel so inclined. Thanks!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why blog from a MA teacher perspective?

Part of my Sam Dan essay discussed how martial artists instructors may find blogging to be a beneficial way to reach students. As part of my essay, I noted that I would create this blog, and post sections of my essay. Since that paper made it's way into Kwan Chang Nim's hands, I better have something useful up here should he ever want to look!

Blogging, for me, is multi-faceted in its benefits. It gives me a springboard/soapbox for my thoughts as I develop them, it gives my students an opportunity to further understand my methods and madness, and it serves as a method of building a community.

I'd like to especially touch on that last point. I strongly believe that the Internet has the potential to play a large role in the development of martial arts, as it breaks down borders and constraints, allowing people to work together who would otherwise never cross paths.

In 1968, Grandmaster Shin, Jae Chul came to the United States as a representative of Tang Soo Do. He wasn't just here to put up a shingle and start teaching in a gym on the East Cost; he - along with a few other Korean masters -- was an ambassador for Tang Soo Do. In a sense, my blog seeks to do the same: to spread a positive message for Tang Soo Do and the WTSDA across the Internet. I'm not recruiting, or being paid a commission. No one at the home office is really concerned with me (I hope!) I merely want to share my knowledge and ideas and encourage others to do the same.

Certainly, I don't purport to be on the same level as the men who brought TSD to the US. I don't need to be in order to share my enthusiasm. Instead I want to be an example of the professional and scholarly approach that is taken within our organization. Really, it's no different than holding classes in public.

I hope one day that more senior practitioners share their thoughts online. Unfortunately, most people see the Internet as a waste of resources, and it is hard to blame them for that. People engage in petty flame wars, or outright trolling online all the time. It is a fatiguing proposition to actively participate in many online ventures. Blogging, however, does allow the author some controls. As my own site, I control the content, I can moderate comments (or disallow them completely) and the only person I have to control is myself.

So, where's your blog? :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Keeping a log book.

In my last post, I wrote a bit about unintentional discoveries that come up when you start dissecting techniques and hyung. If you're anything like me, short term memory can be a very fickle thing. I rarely remember things people tell me, yet will retain information I've read or written for years. Writing down things I want to remember has served me well, whether it was remembering random AP History facts, conjugating French and Spanish verbs, or anything else. Once written, the facts are more permanently retained, with the luxury of having a backup later.

When I started to take my Tang Soo Do training more seriously, I realized that I was often forgetting details because they were being transmitted orally. Being my worst way to remember things, I decided that it was time to start keeping a journal. At the end of class, I would write down things which I found interesting.

The results of this are somewhat fascinating for several reasons. First is that I managed to write down a few things that I'm grateful for: anecdotes, background info, technical tips. I almost certainly would have forgotten these things rather quickly. Going through my journal, I am reminded of "neat" drills to revive for another class.

About a year ago, I was asked to chair a gup testing in Dayton for a fellow instructor. In preparing for the test, I looked back at my notes and found a set of combinations that I'd learned a few years ago. Coincidentally, these drills were devised by none other than my host's instructor. When I typed up these drills and gave them to the conductor, it was a memorable moment for the instructor when he realized what was being demonstrated. Consequently, these drills have been revived.

Another benefit: not only was I writing down what others told me, but my own random thoughts and ideas. Nothing worse than coming up with a seminar or lesson idea while sitting in traffic or on the bus. My notebook is littered with random combinations to try on unsuspecting students.
An unintentional advantage is that I can see how my understanding and processing of new information has changed over the years. It's interesting to see something written down that now is obvious and natural. But it only became that way to me because I felt it necessary to write down and practice later. That same lesson could have been potentially forgotten over time.

The biggest problem is over time, you will probably neglect your journal. While it would be nice to have a pocket reference of every class I've taught over the last 5 years, I only have little snippets. A week here or there. Imagine if I'd developed enough personal discipline to keep better track of these things. Oh well, there's always a goal to aim for.

So get a notebook. I like the spiral-ringed mini-notebooks, but I also like the pocket-sized Moleskine. If you're plugged in, a PDA will work as long as you back it up, or you could be a Luddite and go with the "Hipster PDA." Write things down! Then test them and share them.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Unintentional Applications

I've been taking some time lately to review Dangum hyung with my students. This is the basic dagger form within the WTSDA curriculum. I think the form is extremely interesting because there is a lot of application that lies beneath the surface of this fairly "basic" form. As a hyung, it can be very stylized at times with some high kicking and other exotic techniques that normally wouldn't see it's way into a "knife fight." What's more, the techniques themselves seem like pretty basic stabs and slashes while employing the reverse, edge-out grip.

I've been working with the yudanja in our class, working on application. This was an interesting proposition, since I normally do not teach knife work in our class. I tend to refer my students to the Experts, those who taught me what I know, within our Association. I showed one or two techniques to some junior black belts, and they may have walked away a little, well... terrified.

Dangum Hyung

On some level, I think it's good to have a little terror, as it can contribute towards a real respect for the blade. When you stop and think about how really nasty and brutal every technique can be, you start to really take your training more seriously. This seriousness applies itself to Tang Soo Do overall. Yes, we have a lot of fun, but don't forget for one second what you are training for.

I will often say that the knife is a tool, used for the specified purpose of cutting. I say this in an attempt to remove the "evil" factor from the blade itself, and transfer it instead to the grey matter of the individual wielding the tool. You shouldn't be scared of a knife, no matter how weird, intimidating or scary it may look. A screwdriver will puncture you just as easily (and often, quite nastier.)

After the student has a good feel for the form, we can start talking about how the knife can be applied. The first thing I point out is that the dangum has 4 application points: the tip, blade, back of blade and butt of the handle. When doing dangum hyung, we often think about the most obvious parts: blade and tip. In reality, almost every movement has 2-3 extra applications when we use the other parts.

Employing the punyo and back of the blade, we create locking, trapping, pressure point, and striking applications that just weren't "there" beforehand. In fact, they may not have even been imagined by the creator of the form. These movements just happen to occur on the same line of motion, and only bring themselves to the foreground when you focus on them.

That, for me, was the real lesson. I wasn't too concerned if they remembered any of my neat killer applications. I wanted them to instead experiment and see what they found or created "by accident." I see it in the face of a student when they stumble into one of these ideas, I see the real learning take place.

Now, they own that information. They aren't just parroting my ideas anymore. They have something of merit and value that they can share with their contemporaries and their own students. I especially hope that one day they can teach me something that I haven't seen, and when I pass it on I can say "this is something my students came up with. Ask them if you want to learn more."

It's starting to happen. Yay!