Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sign of the Times?

Was looking through the latest Century catalog and found this. My thoughts on XMA notwithstanding, a unique selling point stuck out in the description to me:

"The traditional jacket even includes an integrated pocket perfect to hold MP3 players!"

Now, I should point out that I hide any number of things in my dobohk from time to time: pen and paper, knife, mouthpiece and even occasionally my iPod. I should also point out that I don't have all of these in my dobohk at once. ;) One of my students actually took to sewing a small pouch in his dobohk for his mouthpiece. If only he'd patented that, he'd be sitting on a goldmine!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Setting Goals

The transition from one year to another is a completely arbitrary point in time, yet here we are at the end of December and preparing to enter the New Year. At this time, all of us make resolutions to improve and do better. Sometimes, when we are truly brave, we look back on our past resolutions and goals and sigh.

The new year in a way for me is a New Year, as I was born in very early January. From a training perspective, I've always tried to reflect on the past year and look for improvements when I can. Sometimes I pick a small detail to focus on, or have a larger goal. On year, I decided I was going to lose 20 pounds, and I did it. Unfortunately, I've packed it all back on, so it's back on my list.

What I found successful was to write it all down. It's an extra commitment. For me, putting my pen to paper and writing my goals is a true irrefutable statement. Notice how I used the terms "pen" and "paper" rather than blogging, tweeting, or starting a Word OpenOffice document I'll never open again.

Some of my training goals are very physically oriented, as you can imagine. For example, I've made it a goal this year to be able to do the splits. This has no other purpose than be able to finally say I can do it again (Not since I was 17.) Others are simply a continuation of a longer quest. In this case, it is my goal to create a comprehensive curriculum surrounding the staff that culminates in free sparring. Not necessarily full contact in the style of the Dog Brothers, but to build a curriculum that builds to sparring, similar to our empty hand curriculum.

So how does this relate to technology? As it turns out, there are some great tools out there for making and keeping to your goals this year.

Trying to lose some weight? Weight Watchers has an online-only (no meetings with old ladies complaining about how guys don't have to work hard to lose weight) version of their program that lets you track everything you eat, as well as exercise, forums and recipes. From there, maybe you'll want to share your successes and missteps with the world by posting to your blog using skinnyr. I've even done this on my site, as you can see.

Maybe you just want to set some goals. 8Goals has a nifty online interface for adding goals and keeping track of progress. You may also enjoy FitDay if your goals are more fitness oriented. Other ideas can be found here.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hi Speed Photography

Holy Moly.

I just finished wrapping up a few hours of watching Time Warp on the Discovery Channel. All I can say is I wish I had access to a high speed camera so I could watch something as mundane as a low block in super slow motion. :)

Nifty. What a cool (and almost completely unnecessary) way to break down a technique! :)

and just for giggles:


The Last Class Tradition

Like a few other schools, BTSD has a special tradition for students who are leaving. Everyone who comes to class that evening has the opportunity to spar that person for one last time as a way to bid them farewell.

Did I mention this is how we handle people who leave on good terms?

Now, before someone gets the wrong idea, I should point out that this is not meant to be a hazing or any sort of brutal method of scaring people into staying. The point is NOT to have to carry the person out of the room and set them on the curb. Still, it boils down to having to spar 20 of your closest pals consecutively. We line up from junior to senior and spar in that order. By the time you get to the old folks black belts, you're pretty much moving on instinct and sheer willpower.

It is a test of willpower and endurance, allowing you to see how much you've gained in your tenure. It is a test of your physical abilities and mental perseverance. But most importantly, it is a time to say goodbye.

Each person brings their own special attitude and method to Dae Ryun. Patient, methodical fighters who wait for you to trip up and feed you your mistakes; Crazy furious "kitchen sink" fighters who bring everything they can; Wrestlers, grapplers and more. Every time you work with them, they influence your outlook on dae ryun and you take something from that match. It becomes part of your portfolio either as something to incorporate, or something to watch out for.

That final match is your way of saying "You will never find someone else who spars like me. I am giving you my very best to take with you as a gift."

It's a hell of lot easier than being sad and missing how that person influenced your dojang. Part of the problem with running a college club is that the time it takes to get a black belt is roughly the same as the average undergraduate career. Just when the student gets interesting, gets to the "good stuff" in training, you have to say goodbye and hope you've given them the tools to continue on their path.

So while I wish Mr. Petrasek the best of luck with his future schooling and career, I am confident that our paths will cross again, and I know that he has been given the tools to truly "make it his own."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Sword Profile
Originally uploaded by weddings{by}robert
Have you given much thought to your kihap lately? I've heard some bad ones in my days. Some seem to have the wrong goal (in my less than humble opinion) while others just don't seem to be sure why they are doing it at all.

Iain Abernethy's site has an interesting article written by Jamie Clubb on the subject of Kiai. One of the more interesting things I took from the article was the idea of 3 different kiais: pre-fight, during the fight, and post-fight.

In some way, this makes sense... the Kihap is meant to intimidate, gain a psychological advantage, give an extra kick to your technique, catharsis, all of these things. The parallels to Geoff Thompson's work on modern fighting make a certain level of sense.

Kihap is a pivotal motivator in class. A strong snappy kihap inspires action in your students. Likewise, your boredom or lack of excitement can also come out. I'm sure all of us can name an instructor whose very tone inspires you to do better, either from the strong energy and confidence or the sheer terror of disappointing them.

Sometimes, you can even tell a person's lineage by their kihap. Every instructor has a student who tried to emulate their kihap. Just like any other aspect of their martial art, we try what we know to be successful first. Mine doesn't sound much like my instructor's anymore, but it is definetely LOUD, just like my instructor. Sometimes I have 2 different kihap in class, depending on what I want, once again, something I stole from emulation and made mine.

Now, go out there, yell, and find your kihap!

Meanwhile, I'm going to ponder how odd the written word "kihap" looks...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Good Black Belt Class

This weekend, we had our monthly Black belt class on Saturday morning. We took the opportunity to review and discuss fundamentals of staff or bong. To be honest, I wasn't sure what direction I wanted to take with the class, since my perspective on bong has been changing a lot lately. I've given a great deal of thought about working our dexterity drills and techniques together in a more cohesive fashion and then progressing into hyung and application.

What happened next was a nice surprise. The class became less about me teaching, and more of a discussion. As it turns out, everyone had some insight to share on the topic. Even the questions - which tend to be pretty simple technical questions -- turned into a pleasant discussion. We experimented with some different feelings, different planes of motion and I found that everyone was able to visualize and express what they were doing. Along the road, we came across a few surprises and I think everyone -- myself included - learned something about bong.

Instead of feeling like the teacher, transmitting a rigid lesson, I was the discussion facilitator. It was an excellent feeling to know that our black belts are progressing and making their own sense out of what they are doing, rather than just parroting back what I have to say.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

WTDSA on YouTube

Whenever I find a great movie on YouTube showing the WTSDA, I love to share it with people. Here's a great share from a recent Region 20 competition:

Kids, being cute:

I love to see how my friends in South America are practicing. I'm not going to have many chances to make it in person, so I really enjoy YouTube for this reason:

And a nifty group hyung demonstration of Jion:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I love Front Kick.

When it comes to kick techniques, they don't get much more basic than front kick. Aside from being the first kick we teach, it's probably the least complicated kick from a mechanical standpoint. Most new students can imitate a front kick pretty quickly, compared to a diagonal kick or something more exotic.

Yet, such a simple kick can present itself in many different ways. Just off the top of my head, I can produce this list of different types of front kicks: instep snap kick, ball of foot front kick, push kick, bottom of the heel front kick, toe kick, lead leg, rear leg, stepping front kick, jump front kick, scissor jump front kick.

With all of these varieties, it should be easy to keep your students from getting bored with front kick. Once you've introduced your students to the 400 garden varieties of front kick, you can really explore their options. It's not enough to just know that there are a million different front kicks, but each kick is a facet which must be studied, practiced and mastered. Each of those 48.7 kicks has a different attitude, direction, application, and more. How do they change when you pair them up? Pair a lead leg snap kick with a push kick and a jump front kick, and watch the students play with the distance and timing of this versatile kick.

Speaking of versatility, all ages of students can excel at front kick. Some of your older students may relish having a fast, strong kick that they can aim right into the shin or thigh of some of the younger, more limber students.

Instructors beware that the high kick of a 6 year old is roughly your groin level.

It's a valuable skill to be able to take a relatively simple technique, and use it to create physical and mental challenges for students of all ranks. Front kick is a great tool for this, but with some work and enthusiasm, you can use almost any technique to suit your purposes.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


I've been watching a lot of Scott Sonnon's flexibility clips on youtube. Good stuff:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Doing versus Overseeing.

I haven't had a lot of opportunities to "do" Tang Soo Do as of late. In fact, the last 2 years have been a rather painful transition from lining up in class and occasionally teaching, to being in front of the class and doing most of the teaching. In a 2 hour class, I may do roughly 5 minutes of demonstration.

For me class has become less doing, and more teaching. As things progress, I even teach less and oversee others teaching even more. In some ways, I almost feel superfluous to the whole thing. In some ways, that's a good thing as it means I have great faith in my other instructors and senior students.

So now I find myself wrestling with the same problem as many of my teaching colleagues. Where and when do I find the time to train for myself?

How much time do I need? If it is my primary form of exercise, quite a bit. If I'm just working on recall and refining my current skillset, not nearly as much time is needed.


Monday, October 20, 2008

introducing forms (part one)

I wanted to share with my 2 loyal readers some of my recent thoughts on how to best introduce the concept of forms to a new student. If you can think back to your first few weeks of class, you may remember some of the initial awkward, difficult movement that came with joining a dojang. In addition to the new stances, footwork, hand and foot techniques, remembering to breathe, when to bow, and a new language, we also introduce our students to hyung at a very early stage. That's right, we take those extremely complicated movements and create a 20 move choreographed sequence.

Oddly enough, kids tend to pick it up pretty fast. They are blank slates who are content to follow along and have amazing abilities to emulate.

Adults on the other hand are seemingly bound by self-consciousness and the need to over-analyze the movement. While my goal as instructor is to get them stepping in the right direction, they are fretting over the exact angle of the wrist. They can't see the forest for the trees.

The WTSDA starts new students out with an introductory hyung named Sae Kye Hyung Il Bu (the 2nd pattern in the video.) It fits the traditional box pattern that most of us are familiar with: 2 steps to the left, turn 180, another 2 steps, turn left, 3 steps, etc. This hyung provides the foundation for future movement in terms of patterns and footwork. The framework serves the student more or less through the pyung ahn series, with some tweaking and exceptions.

In my opinion, the faster the student recognizes and absorbs the pattern, the quicker we can begin to focus on technique. Unfortunately, a student's working memory can only remember a short number of elements. 20 techniques is far beyond the capacity of most people.

The traditional approach I see to this problem is to teach the first two moves, start over, add another move or two, start over and continually add techniques until the form is completed or the student's brain explodes on the mat. Since white belts are responsible for cleaning the floor, it doesn't do well to melt their brains.

Let's try a different approach, shall we? Instead of looking at this form as 20 separate movements, let's eliminate all of the repeated movements. Now, we have boiled down the first hyung to three motions: low block, center punch, and front kick. Already, this form sounds a lot less intimidating.

Now, let's take advantage of the symmetry and patterns of the form. Low block is always followed by a center punch (motion a). Kicks are always in trios (motion b). At this point, we're beginning to chunk the movements and teach them together.

I should point out that we're not practicing hyung yet, we're just doing line drill combinations and conveniently ignoring the turns. In a way, all we've done is unfolded the pattern to fit a straight line. Students are more comfortable with line drill, and we're getting them familiar with the patterns they will need.

Thanks to the repetition and symmetry of this form, we can make our chunks a little bigger. A low block and center punch is always paired with another low block and center punch to the opposite direction. We'll call that Sequence A. After that, we always turn left, kick three times, and turn left 270 (we could have just turned right, but what fun would that be?) let's call that Sequence B.

We can now describe the form in the following manner:
1. Sequence A.
2. Sequence B.
3. Sequence A.
4. Sequence B.
5. Sequence A.

By chunking, we've managed to reduce the content of our active memory from 20 components to 5. In doing this, we spend a lot of time working on combinations and then applying them to form. The level of comfort tends to me much higher, the form is transmitted much faster, and the level of retention is as high as the other methods.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

truer words were never written:

"Instructors unfamiliar with a 'class plan' will be quick to find or develop one after the first day."

This is from a Master instructor in our Region, speaking to the perils and joys of teaching a youth class.

For years, I've done very well with a "loose" class plan for my adult classes. I know what needs to be done and how to get to the goal for the most part. I often assess my plan at the beginning of class based mostly upon who shows up and what their needs are.

I double dog-dare you to do that with your first youth class. :)

In truth, I love my kids class. All of our students have very distinct personalities and have their own unique physical and mental challenges. Even when they cause trouble, I'm still glad to have them because it gives me a chance to flex and increase my teaching ability.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Postman brings gifts!

I had two big smiles this week, due to surprises on my doorstep. Friday night, I found a package from one of my black belts. I really wasn't sure what to expect...

We've been quoting the preview for this movie for months in class. This BB in particular teamed up with a few other students to make our own, BTSD-style, spoof on the viral videos which have found a permanent place in BTSD lore. Thanks Derrick! :)

On Saturday, we drove to Indiana for the wedding of another black belt alum.

After a long drive to and fro, I was surprised to find yet another package on the doorstep, this one via Amazon. I hadn't ordered anything, nor had KB. We scratched our heads in confusion, and then I remembered that I'd linked to the Amazon wishlist for the club library. Surely no one had... Yes they did!!!!

Pure Awesome. Thanks Heather for the first online donation to the BTSD library.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Youtube Roundup: Week 2

Another busy week is behind me. We had a blast this week with orientation and meeting tons of new students. First week at BTSD went well with several students trying a class for the first time yesterday. I'm very proud of all of my black belts who worked with the new students to share their unique perspective on TSD.

I haven't gotten to train much this week with everything else going on, but have spent some time thinking about staff training and building fluidity and dexterity. That said, I have a few related links to share with you.

I've been keeping up with the tutorials from playpoi for awhile now. It's very interesting to watch his videos and hear how similar his concepts are to what we teach with staff and nunchaku. When I was a green belt, I was told that I should improve my staff dexterity by trying figure eights with a 6 foot length of rope. Years later, it was a neat treat to find this video.

Now compare the flexible weapon lanes with this young man.

I like how he hints at the concept of being able to move directly from this dexterity skills and creating momentum for full power strikes. Like this gentleman:

In a related vein, I had an opportunity to chat with a Shotokan instructor about Jitte / Sip Soo. Jitte, as practiced in the Shotokan tradition is often related as a form which teaches unarmed defenses against an attacker wielding a staff. Obviously, closing the distance and intercepting the swing is pivotal to making these techniques work, and can be best described as desperate measures for an already bad situation.

This is the only video I could find amongst the jitte bunkai showing a staff application. I find that odd, given that I've heard this so many times. It would be nice to see some more people demonstrate on camera. There are several related videos to the above link which all show some interesting perspectives on this underappreciated form.

Friday, September 19, 2008


  • Next week is Welcome Week at Ohio State, which means that campus is about to be infiltrated by thousands of lost freshmen, looking for something to do with their lives beyond beer pong and studying. Hopefully, that's where we come in. We are doing several events over the next week, handing out hundreds of fliers and having an "open house" demo class on Thursday to encourage new students to join.
  • BTSD is now Twittering! We've been using Twitter this month as an experiment, and it is starting to gain acceptance. As fall quarter begins, I'll be encouraging more students to sign up for the service.
  • CTSDA has moved to it's new location in Pataskala, Ohio at the YMCA. We've successfully taught 2 weeks of classes, and our youth and adult programs are both starting very well. Hopefully as more people notice our presence and word of mouth spreads, we will grow beyond our wildest dreams! :)
  • I have 1 student up for Cho Dan, and another for E Dan in October, and they are doing very well preparing for the exam. They've gotten some good feedback and are making excellent progress.
  • We've created a library for BTSD students, consisting of all of the WTSDA books and journals, as well as several donated titles, DVDs and Videos. Already, we have a few students who have taken advantage of this service. I'm also making an Amazon wishlist for the library. Feel free to donate to it ;)

All of this in the last month, so I hope you can understand why I haven't had much time to blog! As I get into the groove with my teaching schedule, I have a few topics brewing that I want to share.

Youtube Roundup: Week 1.

I've decided to add a new feature to my site. I've found some excellent stuff on YouTube over last 2 years, and I'd like to share some of the more interesting things I've come across this week. That's right, I'm sifting through all the poop on youtube to bring you the pearls. You're welcome. :)

Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming lectures on Taiji (3 part series)

Very interesting insights into soft, hard, soft/hard styles. As you may know, Dr. Yang originally was an electrical engineer who worked for TI in the 1980s. I've always like his circuit analogies for Taiji, and this lecture using Ohm's law is very similar, and good for bridging that East/West confusion.

Bit Cha Ki Demo

Great use of Bit Cha Ki. It's an undervalued kick, and I really wish I could understand what he was saying about it.

Tae Gi Hyul by Master D. Segarra

Tae Gi Hyul, Version 1
Tae Gi Hyul, Version 2

This is Master Dan Segarra of the Warrior Scholar Academy demonstrating the "Big Earth Hole" form. Master Segarra was nice enough to dust off some old videos and convert them to digital and upload for us. I've never seen this form, but it's very cool to see an old piece of MDK history. You'll have to ask him if you want the details...

That's all for this week. I haven't had too much free time for browsing, but I'll have some time to waste next week! :)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

here come the new kids!

Fall quarter at Ohio State is our biggest recruitment period. A few thousand new undergrads descend on campus and are essentially forced to attend orientation programming that we participate in as a club.

The last few years, I've started to notice that the students don't get all of my obscure references and that there is a bit of a disconnect as I become more of an "adult" in their eyes rather than a fellow student. As an aside, let me just say that it is perfectly acceptable for me to notice this. Any student unfortunate enough to make this observation in public is volunteering for "demo dummy duty."

I noticed that this year's crop of frosh will have been born in 1990, give or take. As a child of the 70s, this gives me some pause. The kids in my class are potentially some of the first results of my cohort's lackluster sex ed program.

I first noticed last year that the kids in class had different frames of reference because some of them had never seen the Karate Kid! This movie probably defined the martial arts to a large majority of my generation, and many of my generation probably consider Pat Morita to be their sensei.

Imagine a whole group of kids who may not instantly understand the concept of wax removal or addition, or even a crane kick. What movie will I need to watch to understand their frames of reference? Surf Ninjas? I think not!

Anyhoo, now that you're depressed as well, I present the Beloit Class of 2012 Mindset. In pasty years, I've thought the list was more interesting. Whoever does this at Beloit must be have reaching a little, or was too ashamed to admit their knowledge of some of the uglier parts of 1990.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Twitter for a karate school?

Have you heard of Twitter? Essentially a micro-blogging tool, twitter lets you inform the world of any banal, trifling and occasionally important thoughts bouncing through your head at any given time. The catch is that you must condense this brain fart into no more than 160 characters.

The end result looks somewhat like someone's Facebook updates. That is, if you have a friend on Facebook that updates their page incessantly.

So how could such a tool possibly assist your karate school? In a traditional studio, perhaps not much. If you're like me, and you run a school at a University, you might find a use for it.

Scenario 1: Class is at 7, and I discover at 6 that the rec center has decided to give our room to a convention of furries. I need to get the word out...fast.

Scenario 2: Furries have taken over the campus, forcing all extracurricular activities to cancel. I need to let my students know, since what has been seen cannot be unseen.

Scenario 3: Tonight is the last night for everyone to turn in their tournament registration paperwork, and noticing a lack of participants, I want to remind everyone. Furries.

In all 3 cases, Twitter could be a big save. Normally, I'd resort to publishing a news article on the web site and hope everyone sees it, or initiate a phone tree, and have my officers call everyone (and hope that everyone has their roster handy.)

Orrr, I could text my message to 40404 and sit back, letting twitter update, my web page pull in the twitter feed, and - best of all -- students who subscribed to my twitter feed get an SMS update wherever they are.

Also works for karate social functions. After class, we may decide to bathe the lepers, but it turns out there aren't enough lepers. I tweet to students: lepers too few and too clean. meet at local soup kitchen instead. Bam! everyone is in the know, and can show up for meaningful social interaction.

Over the next week, I'm going to roll it out and see how it works. Toughest part will be encouraging everyone to set up a twitter account and following the BTSD feed.

Twitter still appears to be a mostly fringe tool, especially amongst college kids. My basic fear is that is a little *too* nerdy, perception-wise. Not as nerdy as furries, though. Yikes.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Receiving Criticism

I've been reading "The Winner's Manual" by OSU Football coach Jim Tressel. Thus far, it is a pretty interesting read with some great insights as to how he manages over 100 young men in a successful program. Reading the book, I saw that we're both fans of John Wooden. Coach Tressel shares this quote from Wooden:

"Fellows, you're going to receive some criticism. Some of it will be deserved and some of it will be undeserved. Either way, deserved or undeserved, you're not going to like it.

"You're also going to receive some praise on occasion. Some of it will be deserved and some it will be undeserved. Either way, deserved on undeserved, you're going to like it. However, your strength as an individual depends on how you respond to both criticism and praise. If you let either one have any special effect on you, it's going to hurt us."

Ironically enough, I read this on Saturday night, while I was at Black belt camp.

Monday, August 11, 2008

2008 Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Wow!

This video is absolutely stunning. 2008 martial artists, performing in sync. Notice the perfect lines, moving together, splitting and regrouping. I'll remember this next time I try to get my class to line up quickly.

I heard on the news this morning that another team from the opening ceremonies literally practiced 8 hours a day for 4 months. I can only imagine a similar effort went into this performance.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Secret Art of Hua Quan Xiu Tui

Since Sunday, I've run across this phrase twice, once in Chinese and once in English. Hua quan xiu tui roughly means "flowery fists and brocade (silken) legs."

Isn't that sweet? In fact, it may even sound downright poetic.

However, saying such a thing to a "serious martial artist" would be tantamount to a gauntlet being thrown at their feet. Why not just insult their mother's virtue and kick their dog?

Flowery fist and silky kicks... a great way to say something looks very pretty, but has no substance. In other words, fluff. Like the movie Wanted, or the gun kata from Equilibrium.

I'm not sure if I like the meaning of this phrase, or if I think it rather snobbish.

Monday, August 4, 2008

BTSD Tan Tui Class

Thanks to Mr. Holtman and Ms. Suzanne Grigsby for being so kind to shoot our Tan Tui class on Sunday. Once again, Sifu Mike Grigsby of the OSU Shuai Chiao club was kind enough to share his knowledge with us.

We worked on the first seven roads, and went at a pretty good speed. As it was meant to be a general introduction for our newer students, I'm not so concerned that they learned the roads, but got to see a different application of the techniques and concepts we are training. Maybe a few people will have a peaked interest in the matter and can begin to study the form more in-depth.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


During hyung practice last night, I am discussing Pyung Ahn E Dan with a green belt. In this discussion, I mention that I've always thought that each of the 5 pyung ahn have their own sort of personality or flavor to them, and that I've always found it to be a bit of an amateur psych test to see which form is someone's favorite.

So I ask my black belts: "What's your favorite Pyung Ahn?"

#1: E Dan.
#2: E Dan.
#3: E Dan.
#4: E Dan.
Me: E Dan.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Summer Tan Tui Love

Every summer, it seems my focus in training returns to the famous Tan Tui set. I've been practicing the sets now for about 3 years, but with nowhere near the intensity of my Tang Soo Do training. I often add them to my class drills without explicitly calling it Tan Tui, because I enjoy how they flow right into normal TSD techniques.

Historical reasons aside, I've been contemplating why I enjoy the techniques of Tan Tui so much. To be perfectly honest, they aren't exactly special. In fact, once you've practiced them enough, they lose their exotic (to a karate person anyhoo) luster and just become another technique in your repertoire. In fact, I've thought of making Tan Tui required for black belts to know. When I mentioned this once, the irony of having black belts learn a "basic" form was not lost.

As I practice more, I find the Tan Tui movements to be especially useful in 2 distinct areas: upper body relaxation and using the legs to drive power into a technique.

Almost every karate student has done a punching drill in horse stance. Watching from the sides, you should be able to see a distinct difference in efficiency and power generation. Senior rank should have pretty loose upper bodies, allowing their core to lead the body. Lack of excess motion creates a faster technique because they are doing less. Junior rank, in a futile attempt to keep up with their seniors, attempt to force the technique. Their arms and necks tense and they start to throw a punch that is disconnected from the rest of the body, relying only on the arms and shoulders. After 100 punches, they start to get winded and wonder why the yudanja have just started to form perspiration. When I first started doing Tan Tui, I practiced with far too much tension, and was very disconnected in my movements. Even though it looked powerful, it was off-balanced and nowhere near its potential.

Tan Tui motions, especially 1 and 3, work the shoulders and require them to be loose and moving in a large frame. Remember when you were a kid and would let your arms hang dead while you spun in a circle? Remember the force that whipped your arms as a result? Tan Tui feels kinda like that. It has a whip to it that translates well to Tang Soo Do.

As for the second point, Tan Tui loosely translates to "springing legs". Ask a Tae Kwon Do or Tang Soo Do person to visualize a form that earns such a name, and I imagine you would get a very different form. I would expect to see a lot of jumping spinning kicks, maybe even a 540 or tornado and butterfly kicks. In Tan Tui, the spring refers to the momentum generated by transitioning from one stance to another. Moving from a horse stance to a front stance, you really feel that back leg getting into the action.

Of course, both of these principles should be expressed in the practice of Tang Soo Do. Unfortunately, this is often forgotten, especially with junior ranks.

So why add ANOTHER form if students are struggling to correctly perform their current curriculum? Let me attempt to answer from an instructor's perspective.

Frequently in class, I remind students to pay attention to their stance and transitions, hip rotation, relaxing the upper body and any other tips I can come up with. Sometimes they stick, but I often find myself saying the same darn thing every class. The pessimist in me thinks they've long since stopped listening to me, no matter how I spin it.

Then, we go to a clinic, and my students work with another instructor. The student returns to class and says to me in that star-struck amazed manner "Master so-and-so mentioned that we should be paying attention to hip rotation in our movement, as that is the source of our power." As I explode internally with frustration thinking "what sort of q-tips did Master so-and-so use to clean out my student's ears????" I politely gather myself and say reverently "Yes, Master So-and-so sure knows her stuff." Conversations like this have given me an affinity for bourbon.

Tan Tui is a lot like that. It's a new (from our perspective) way to teach something old; something that you should already be practicing. The focus is just different enough that you can really understand the needs for relaxation. Once you catch the feeling, you get a bit of an epiphany and apply the new found knowledge to your other hyung and movements. Ironically, that's a very circular path, as the movement principles used in Tang Soo Do were largely acquired from Hwang Kee's training in Tai Chi and--you guessed it: Tan Tui.

Tan Tui is practiced in many schools of Kung Fu, especially in the northern styles. There are 2 major differences: 12 and 10 "road" style with a few other number variations in the wild as well. Within these 2 schools are a world of difference in terms of speed and tempo, techniques, height of stances, size of frame and more. A few Shaolin versions don't even feature the famous "yoke punch" but do regular punches like you'd see in karate. If it is in the cards, I'd love to have a "Tang Soo Do" flavor of Tan Tui for my school with it's own emphasis, expression, and lessons to pass on.

We'll see...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

More Summer Reading: Shui Hu Chuan

Shui Hu Chuan (水滸傳) is considered one of the major classics in Chinese Literature. It is known in English under several titles: The Water Margins, Outlaws of the Marsh, and All Men Are Brothers. The image to the right was created by Miguel Covarrubias for the Pearl S. Buck translation.

My instructor spoke of this book often as a "must-read" for martial artists. The same for his instructor, and HIS instructor. For many years, I've toyed with this book but have never made it all the way through. The Buck translation (All Men Are Brothers), while it was the first English translation, is not a stirring read in my opinion. I have since found the Shapiro translation (Outlaws of the Marsh) to be far more entertaining, despite its flaws with the English language.

Since I am only halfway through the book, I can't comment much, except to say that is a great adventure novel with themes of loyalty and virtue throughout. There is a good deal of talk about fighting and violence, with a good deal of humor as well.

This weekend, I read the chapter telling the tale of Wu Song. Wu Song, who becomes the village hero after killing a dangerous tiger with his bare hands, is later exiled as a criminal for avenging the death of his brother. During his exile voyage, his guards are coerced into murdering him. Wu Song, while wearing a yoke and manacles, manages to defeat his enemies and break free.

Upon reading this, I stopped. The name of Wu Song was familiar to me, but I couldn't remember why. Later, the phrase "Wu Song Breaks the Manacles" bounced in my head, and with a little help from Google, I found this:

Obviously, the form represents a bound man fighting several people. Neat! This form was also featured in an edition of Kungfu Magazine, which is probably where I read about it originally.

Just wanted to share this with everyone.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More Breaking Fun: A Shameless Plug

Lately, I've found it very hard to shop for wood at the local big box stores. The quality of pine will vary wildly, and I don't have time to sort through 10-12 foot planks looking for the ones that will yield the most boards.

I strongly recommend using the good folks at BreakingBoards.Com Their web site isn't pretty, but they're selling boxes of wood, for Pete's sake!

I have used their wood for a few testings now, and I have found it worth the extra price. Every piece of wood is excellent and free of knots, warping, staples, sap, etc. They are sent in easy to transport cubic boxes (with a pleasing pine aroma added at no charge) and they ship quickly. Shipping is expensive, but it's a 25 pound box, so you have to expect a little premium.

Compare this to:
1. Going to the big box store.
2. Sifting through the wood.
3. Picking wood and waiting for someone to cut it (or transporting the planks and DIY)
4. Sorting the wood into various grades (OK, Bad, Horrible)
5. Burning 30% of the unusable wood in your fireplace.

All in all, I would highly recommend their services, and no, I'm not getting any free boxes for this review. :)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Breaking fun

The other day, we spent some time in class talking about the spear hand strike and other fingertip strikes. Fingertip strikes are amongst the legendary techniques, and among the few strikes that impress even the most skeptical of anti-breaking martial artists. We've often heard the tales of ancient masters plunging their hands into buckets filled with sand or beans to strengthen their hands and deaden their nerves to the pain.

Jack Hibbard's book Karate Breaking Techniques outlines similar strategies for refining the spear hand strike, but an especially helpful hint he gives is to practice with 3" strip boards instead of the full-sized board. Work your way through the increased resistance, and perhaps you too will one day break 4 boards with a spearhand strike.

One of my eager black belts was quick to follow this advice, and promptly brought in a stack of 3" strips for our yudanja to attempt. Knowing full well he didn't have access to a power saw, I asked where he had the cuts done. The gentleman at Home Depot did it for him. I'm sure that he was NOT particularly thrilled with that task!

A few of us decided to give it a shot and we all succeeded, at which point we had a 6" board to try. To his credit, the student who bought the wood was brave enough to attempt it. It didn't work out, but luckily his fingers bent in the correct direction, and no major injury was sustained. I didn't want his hand to look like that of Shinjo sensei of Uechi-Ryu fame (above.)

There's nothing worse than an unbroken board in class. It just silently mocks the group, questioning the ability of everyone. It needed to be broken for the good of the club. The question was how. To break it with an "easy" technique such as a kick or punch would not have been enough. A fingertip strike had to be used, but I was in no mood to break my hand!

I decided to try a technique I've used in sparring from time to time: a beak strike, or washide uchi as it is known in the Japanese arts. It's done as a sharp, whipping strike, and I felt I'd have better luck with it than a thrusting strike.

Luckily, it worked, but not without some discomfort. Specifically, it ripped a little bit of fingernail back. Oddly enough, Hibbard's advice about keeping the nails trimmed short rung true in my head about 30 seconds too late.

I really like the power in the Washide Uchi strike, since the fingers can press against each other for strength, and can deliver a sharp blow to a hard area such as the solar plexus, jaw, or temple. The small surface area of the strike penetrates very nicely as well.

In all, I was very glad to be successful. A missed break often carries a lot of psychological baggage with it, making you question the power of your strike. To know I could at least break something with it was a positive inroad for the development of this strike.

World Championship Video. Lots of people.

Friday, July 18, 2008

WTSDA World Championship

I recently returned from the WTSDA World Championships, held in Orlando, Florida. We had a massive turnout from many countries around the world. It was amazing to see so many people uniting for a FRIENDLY martial arts tournament. Listening to 1500-2000 people lined up together and performing punch exercises is a very breathtaking and amazing experience.

I was lucky to be one of the staff photographers for the event, which essentially gave me free run of the facility to take pictures of competitors, Masters and more. I probably snapped around 2000 pictures over the course of the weekend, which means I got about... 4 good ones. So while I didn't compete, I still ended up learning a lot about timing and competition.

An interesting thing about shooting an event like this is that you get to see everything, but you don't really see any of it. I couldn't tell you much about the forms or matches I shot because I was focused on my own timing. Even a good picture doesn't tell me too much about the person's form, it just tells me how they looked for 1/160th of a second.

I haven't had time to fully digest the experience, so I will post just a few highlights from the weekend.

  • Getting to see my instructors and their baby for the first time.
  • Taking out my earplugs to listen to the entire group line up and kihap together.
  • Watching a hard-fought match between 2 men who didn't speak the same language, ending with smiles and an embrace.
  • Bagpipes. Nuff said.
  • Happy kids with their medals getting an autograph from Grandmaster Shin.
  • Seeing the Grand Champions of a WORLD organization being from the US, UK, Puerto Rico and Mozambique!
  • Watching as my students volunteered their time to work at the merchandise table so others could enjoy the tournament.
  • Seeing the enthusiasm of the international instructors as they worked with Senior Master instructors.
  • Getting lost in the advice Master Strong was dispensing when I should have been taking pictures. :)

That being said, there were a small handful of people who took competing for the big trophy way too seriously. There were some hurt feelings and some very poor attitude displayed that was not true to the purpose of us getting together. I blame it on youth and rashness, and I hope as they get a little older they see more value in my points listed above than a silly (albeit very nice looking) cup.

In all, I had an excellent time, and the tournament reminded me of why I'm proud to be part of the WTSDA.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Good Reads!

I love books. That solitary fact is the only reason I have not gone insane at my current vocation. Working at the University gives me access to literally tens of millions of books. If Ohio State doesn't have it, I can get it from one of several OhioLink institutions across the state. (Chances are, your local university or even public library is plugged into a similar system. Harass your local librarian today!) If that doesn't work, OSU offers free Interlibrary Loan to staff and faculty, which gives me access to almost every library on the planet. I think of what Hwang Kee did with his local library and wonder what would have happened with the sort of access I have today.

I started to think of books that I would classify as "must read." Books that have fundamentally changed my perspective on the martial arts. Books that I have borrowed from extensively to improve my understanding and teaching of a subject. I've decided to try to list a few today, and I encourage others to add their submissions. I'm linking to Worldcat records of these books to help you find a copy in your local library. AbeBooks is also good if you want to buy.

I have divided my list into technical and non-technical books for simplicity sake.


Millman, Dan. The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. Great, eye-opening book. It was just made into a movie, so I'll have to look into that.

Wooden, John. Wooden on Leadership. John Wooden was a legendary basketball coach at UCLA. His system of leadership fits very nicely into a dojang.

Culling, Louis. The Incredible I-Ching. This is the book that has helped me understand I Ching the most. It is very small (less than 50 pages.) but uses some interesting math and analogies to get across the meaning. Unfortunately, it's way out of print.

Cook, Harold & Davitz, Joel. 60 Seconds to Mind Expansion. This is another outstanding, small, and out of print book. This is my favorite book in terms of meditation, and helps my ADD brain find a little focus when I meditate.

Yang, Jwing-ming. Tai Chi Theory and Martial Power. A great job of explaining how the Chinese arts think about "power" and how it ties in with I ching, qi, and more.

Caputo, Robert. Tang Soo Tao. This book is part technical, part biographical. The technical stuff isn't much different than anything else, but the bio of training in Korea, Japan, China, and his study of Buddhism is pretty interesting.

Twigger, Robert. Angry White Pyajamas: A Scrawny Oxford Poet Takes Lessons From The Tokyo Riot Police. Very funny/sarcastic, but some good points as well.

Nichol, C.W. Moving Zen: Karate as a way to gentleness.

Urban, Peter. The Karate Dojo: traditions and tales of a martial art.

These last three are really good for a sort of anthropology study of martial arts culture. Very entertaining, but some of the thoughts are a little dated.

More later...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Forward and Backward

A few years ago, my instructor was asked to do participate in a regional tournament's demonstration. This evening show has been one of the yearly highlights in our Region as we get to see the skills of our area's Master Instructors and a few of our other senior instructors. My instructor agreed to participate, and when people asked, he told them he would be demonstrating "Bassai."

A few people's body language unintentionally revealed their disappointment. "Oh, I've seen that form a million times. Whoopee!" was the unspoken sentiment from a few. And really, who could blame them? They were probably hoping to see a cool Master level hyung, possibly performed blindfolded while on fire, or sparring against an angry bear, or using the spinning techniques of a staff to ward off an angry hive of hornets. You know, something entertaining!

Then the surprise hit.

He demonstrated Bassai, and it was an excellent demonstration. After the last move, everyone expected him to return to choonbee jaseh and bow. Instead, he did something a little different. He started going through the form again. In reverse. From the last move to the first move, like a video in rewind (for the most part.)

As he finished the form in reverse, he returned to choonbee, and the audience began to applaud. But wait; there's more!

He then started with the first technique, then the last technique, 2nd technique, 2nd to last, etc, doing the form both forward and backwards at the same time. To this day, I've not had the discipline to try and work that one out. It starts out pretty simple, but there's a point where those two forms must meet, and it is extremely difficult to remember whether you are going backwards or forward.

When he was finished, the crowd gave him his due. The next morning, I saw one or two people trying to do it, and a few even asked him how he managed to pull it off. As always, he gave a frustratingly simple answer: "practice."

In our school, re-arranging sequences of a hyung is not uncommon, and most of our students are encouraged from a very early time in their training to perform a mirror-image version of the form, as well as a backwards version. If you want to make a green belt's head explode - you know the type: the one who thinks they know everything about Pyung Ahn E Dan, and think it is perfectly reasonable to start working on Rohai from videos -- ask them to perform Pyung Ahn E Dan backwards and mirror-imaged.

(It does help if YOU can call their bluff and casually demonstrate it for them after they get stuck about 6 counts into the form.)

This is me performing our most basic hyung in reverse. Sorry for the video quality, but my little digital camera is several years out of date. I've found that performing the form in this manner really helps students pay attention to their footwork and transitions. In order to do the form in reverse, they REALLY have to think about their forward motion. It isn't good enough to just think "low block." Now they have to think about how they distribute their weight, how they chamber, timing, everything.

Once your students gain this deeper understanding of the form, they will begin to truly take ownership of that form and make it theirs. They will literally know the form inside and out, forward and back.

It's a great tool, try it with your students (after you've practiced it!)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More thoughts on E Sip Sa Bo

A few weeks ago, I posted my demonstration of Esipsabo on Youtube. It has been viewed a fair number of times, and I did receive a good piece of feedback. Someone asked me why I had omitted the Sanchin stance.

An excellent illustration of Sanchin Dachi from KeithGeyerKarate.com

The truth is pretty simple: I don't know anything about the Sanchin stance. I have a rough idea of where the feet should be, but aside from that pigeon-toed look, I'm completely ignorant of the stance. It is simply not taught in my flavor of Tang Soo Do. I have a few people I can ask, but until I see them, I'll just be doing a shorter front stance. To me, that currently feels more appropriate, as my performance currently represents my understanding (or lack thereof) of the form.

There seems to be a lot of variation out there, and to be honest, I'm not knowledgeable enough to know if the differences are because of aesthetics or because of a biomechanical advantage. I wouldn't be shocked to hear that the stance had changed in some groups to conform what a set of tournament judges preferred.

I'm curious if the White crane folks (from which Sanchin is derived) use the pigeon-toe stance?

This is fun for me, and it's one of the benefits of trying out this form. Obviously I don't know everything, and I have to ask questions, do some research and experiment. In the end, I will have learned more than a "cool form" but also a little bit about some other arts, mechanics, stances and more.

Monday, June 23, 2008

stumbled across...

Karate Thoughts Blog. This blog is written by Mr. Charles Gooden, head of the Hawaii Karate Museum, which sounds like the coolest job in the world.

I really enjoy his brief postings on karate, in which his main idea sticks with me a bit after I've left the page. That's a pretty rare moment on the internet these days.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ow! My Brachioradialis!!

I know, one doesn't say that very often, but I find this to be one of my most common injuries after a sword workout. The brachioradialis is the muscle responsible for flexing the arm at the elbow. If you've ever done a lot of sword work, you may recognize this as the muscle which is especially tight the next day on your right arm. especially in that fleshy point just to the side of the elbow.

Big deal. People hurt themselves all the time during martial arts. Why is this little muscle so special? Well, unfortunately for me, it takes all the fun out of several other toys such as nunchaku, rope dart and sai to name a few. I also feel it for a few days afterwards at work, making me even less productive than usual.

Left untreated, the tightness in the forearm starts radiating into the hands and wrists, making them feel stiff and painful. In fact, this is why I really started paying attention to the problem, as it was becoming very painful to do other things, and I was really starting to worry about wrist problems or carpal tunnel. Over Thanksgiving, my future aunt - a massage therapist -- gave me some excellent advice on my wrist problems. After talking to me for a little bit and getting some ideas about the motions I was performing, she grabbed my arm and jammed her thumb into my upper forearm. My jolt and yelp confirmed her theory (and made me wonder if she was a secret ninja.) that my "wrist problem" was really a forearm problem.

I had not considered this option. To me, if my wrist hurt, it was because there was a problem in my wrist! Then I thought of my back injury, and how we spent so much time in PT warming and stretching the hamstrings and I started to understand how tightness in one area can radiate throughout the body.

Afterwards, I started doing a little research, and came across this article in EJMAS. It's title, "Iai Elbow" says it all for me.

Prevention: Try stretching! The Aikido wrist exercises work great for this. In the last few years, I've come to put a greater value on stretching. Maybe some strengthening of the area could help as well.

Recovery: Ice and Advil. Contrast baths may also help. I've found massaging the muscle helps a great deal as well.

I'm certainly not an expert in sports medicine or pain management, but I've found that this helps me a great deal. I hope that someone with hand or wrist pain comes across this and it is helpful to them. I know that the thought of hanging up the sword or nunchaku was very depressing to me, and I'd hate for the solution to be hidden from someone else.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What color is your awareness?

If you begin the study of self-defense, everyone reaches a point when they realize how awful the world can be and how violence can arbitrarily enter their lives. At this point, a little knowledge becomes a dangerous thing, and we find ourselves living in a state of hyperparanoia. Awareness is heightened, but too distracted to really process an actual threat. Police scenario drills find that cadets assigned to clear a room often pull the trigger on anything that moves: something that tends to reflect poorly on a department in real life.

An excellent guide was created by Colonel Jeff Cooper, a renowned small arms training expert, and has been in use for almost 30 years. According to Cooper, the odds of surviving a truly dangerous encounter have very less to do with physical skill and your weapon, but rather a combat mindset.

The color code progresses as follows: Condition White, Condition Yellow, Condition Orange, and Condition Red. There is plenty of excellent literature out there on this subject, but allow me to hit the high points:

  • Condition White: You are completely unprepared and unaware of your surroundings. Ideally, this is when you're home, behind locked doors with the alarm on and enjoying some quiet time. Unfortunately, this is how far too many people walk, act, and drive. Being on the street in this condition is essentially asking for something bad to happen and for you to be ill prepared to deal.

  • Condition Yellow: You are relaxed, but taking everything in, looking for anything that trips your Spidey-sense. Most people only get to this point if they are already a little scared for their safety (dark parking garages, in traffic in a bad neighborhood, etc.) Ideally, you should be in Yellow anytime you're out and about. The key concept is that you're relaxed and observant, NOT paranoid. The nice part about being in Yellow is that you may notice something wonderful you've never seen, heard, or smelled before. So it's not all about looking for death lurking on every corner. :)

  • Condition Orange: Something is out of place and has triggered that gut feeling. Maybe it is a person who doesn't appear to belong, a strange noise, a usually noisy area that has fallen quiet, etc. At this point, you're not karate chopping or breaking out the nunchaku, but you've recognized the potential for a problem and you begin planning your response. "Oh, that screaming derelict is making eye contact with me and walking in my direction. I should duck into this shop or be prepared to bash him into the corner of this building." In other words, you have recognized a threat and have recognized that action MAY need to be taken.

  • Condition Red: The doo-doo has found the fan and is being blown into your vicinity. If you are not yet actively engaged in the fight, you are on the cusp and are prepared to do what is necessary to end the fight. You have said to yourself "if he does X, I will (insert strong action verb) to end the threat."

This system has nothing to do with the one developed by DHS, and I'm not sure if they were inspired by a mix of this and a DEFCON type system. Cooper's system is actually useful, or as he he more tactfully says:

"Now, however, the government has gone into this and is handing out color codes nationwide based upon the apparent nature of a peril. It has always been difficult to teach the Gunsite Color Code, and now it is more so. We cannot say that the government’s ideas about colors are wrong, but that they are different from what we have long taught here.

The problem is this: your combat mind-set is not dictated by the amount of danger to which you are exposed at the time. Your combat mind-set is properly dictated by the state of mind you think appropriate to the situation. You may be in deadly danger at all times, regardless of what the Defense Department tells you."

Quick breakdown:

White: relaxed and switched off. Maybe you have a good drink in one hand and you're enjoying a fire.

Yellow: relaxed but aware. Think of your mind as a radar screen, looking for blips.

Orange: A potential problem has been recognized. You think "If things progress, I may need to shoot this guy."

Red: Lethal mode. "If X condition is met, I WILL shoot this guy." Your weapon is probably out, but not necessarily. If it's pepper-spray on a keychain, you've probably released the safety tab and you're ready to go.

If at Orange, the POS sees you in an elevated state and flees, or it turns out to be a false alarm, you get to relax and work your way back down to yellow. Chances are, switching to orange will emit non-verbal cues to the attacker that you are not the bipedal cheeseburger he thought you were, and he will look for another snack.

condition white: don't be that guy.

Good for you, but unfortunate for someone else who is walking around in Condition White. (Obviously, if a shifty POS is in your area, call the cops and let them sort him out!)

Please don't be a cheeseburger, I don't have enough readers to lose any. :)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Are you a "bipedal cheeseburger": awareness part 2

The simple fact is, there are people out there who are nothing more than a bipedal cheeseburger. They're a self propelled snack pack looking for someone to eat them. There is no helping the truly consumable among us. -- Ken Cook, a term coined at SDF.

Pretend you are a mugger. You want your score, but you also don't want to be caught or shot. So you wait for the right person to come along. After all, you're not exactly going to be late for work. You size up people as they walk down the street.

Are they distracted? Are they looking around, or walking with their eyes up? Do they walk with a purpose, shoulders up, or are they shuffling along with a sort of half-glazed, half-asleep look in their eye?

Which one would you choose to attack? If you're like me, one looks like a harder target, while the other looks pretty easy; a big, tasty, cheeseburger if you will.

Ok, you get it. Walk around with your eyes up and look tough. Right?

BZZZ. Sorry. What's the use in looking around if you're not noticing anything? So how do we become accustomed to processing information? Simple. By practice.

Here's a really simple awareness drill to practice in class with your students.

Line everyone up, and ask them to close their eyes (you can do this at the beginning of class, or wait a bit, doesn't matter.)

Now ask one of them at random: "who is directly in front of you? to your left/right/behind?"

Shuffle the class, and do it again (for example, go from rows of 4 to rows of 5.)

Black belts should be able to close their eyes and name everyone in class.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Teaching Awareness

My teacher Grandmaster H. C. Hwang for example could put out a candle flame by pointing from over a foot away, I've also been amazed by his awareness, I've seen him spot one person in a crowd of hundreds that did not belong. I've seen him on countless occasions catch details that no one else did.

I'll never forget when Master Bonsigniore had tucked folded knife into his uniform which was no bigger than a pack of gum. He was using to as a prop for a demonstration. Grandmaster walked by and after he passed two steps he turned back and reached in Master Bonsigniore's uniform and said 'what's this?'. How he spotted something you couldn't even see if you know it was in his uniform to this day amazes me. His awareness was extraordinary .

- Master Dan Segarra, Warrior-Scholar

Awareness is a key component of the martial arts, and is an attribute that must be built via constant practice.

I teach on a college campus. For a vast majority of the kids on campus, they are walking in a haze, listening to an ipod, checking their latest text messages, lost in their own world. I imagine this is why the obliviously walk into oncoming traffic, usually in front of my car.

"Wake up!" I want to yell, shaking the student by the shoulders.

Maybe it's just a pet peeve, but a lack of awareness is completely unacceptable in a serious student of the martial arts. Subtleties can be the difference between surviving a violent encounter, and the alternative. On a less serious note, a strong leader - which I aim to develop -- must be constantly aware of the class and how to anticipate problems.

Here's an example: Halfway through class, I give the students a water break. They all leave the room, get a drink, and come back. Right?

What if one gets sick, needs to use the restroom, or falls down the stairs? When will a good leader know they are missing one of their charges? Will they notice when they line everyone back up, and see the gap? Maybe they keep going and halfway through drill think "hey, where did Jane go?" If she ran into a friend and got pulled into a discussion, no problem. But if she went to throw up, I'd be very upset if one of her seniors left her behind.

Grandmaster Shin wrote a section on the relationship between hu bae and sun bae, or junior and senior rank (Notice I didn't say lower and higher rank, another pet peeve.) Sun bae watches out for junior rank and takes responsibility for their training. Hu bae offers respect to senior rank, and also work hard to keep senior rank on their toes.

The above example plays exactly into the sun bae / hu bae relationship, and to meet the responsibility of sun bae, you must be aware.

Monday, June 2, 2008

2 birds, 1 stone

In my previous post, I discussed my love/hate relationship with YouTube and its proof of the decline of western civilization. I received some encouragement to go ahead and post a few videos, so I thought I'd make a noble attempt to put 1-2 videos up a month and use them to further my talking points.

Here's a video of me practicing E Sip Sa Bo, aka Nijushiho.

If you recall my previous posts on this form, it is not a commonly taught hyung in Tang Soo Do. In the WTSDA requirements, it doesn't exist. In a nutshell, my goal was to take a form that is well documented in Shotokan, and attempt to apply principles of Tang Soo Do.

Needless to say, I'm still working on it. The double palm strike at the end feels very weak, and I'm not satisfied with the front leg side kick into reverse punch combination either. However, I feel pretty stable (despite the horrid slipping mats) and I can really feel some power behind some of the motions. I'm certainly not ready to compare mine to that of Asai, and I'm sure my rendition would leave more than one Shotokan, or Tang Soo Do, student scratching their heads.

In a few weeks, I'll post an update, and we'll see how I've come along, if at all.

How do I feel about using YouTube? I'm still not 100% comfortable with it, but I suppose it's not that different than performing a form in public, which I've done plenty of times. The scale of the audience is larger, but I'll never meet 99.999% of the people who watch it anyhoo.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Posting Videos on YouTube.

I love YouTube.

I hate YouTube.

The gold prospectors of the 19th century, sifting through silt, mud and rocks in search for the littlest bits of gold and nugget would be very comfortable with YouTube. Just as blogs are replete with navel-gazing tripe, so too is YouTube. Only with sound and shoddy cell phone camera video.

In all seriousness, Youtube is great for martial artists. There is some great footage online these days ranging from historical to educational to "wow, I can't believe she did that!"

Over the years, I've found great drills, new ways of thinking, inspiration, connections with others, and several of my WTSDA friends online.

Of course, we can't have good unless there is also bad. The bad videos are easy enough to avoid, but the flow of comments on YouTube is the absolute dredge of humanity. Comments range from rude to uninformed to a wild combination of both. Factor in our younger generation's inability to fully spell any word longer than three letters, and you find yourself worrying for the future. Truly.

I have no doubt that there are extremely knowledgeable and gifted people on YouTube. The problem is, they are the quiet observers. They have little reason to either participate in fruitless flame wars or expose their own work to the "hayterz." Can you imagine a high ranking Master putting a video of themselves performing a hyung and seeing:

OMFG, dat wuz teh ghey. U shuld fugin kil yurself. i train in BJJ and culd fuk u up.

(The fact that I could craft that sentence with little effort makes me want to see a psychotherapist.)

I have wrestled with the idea of integrating more streaming video into our club's website, using it either for promotional or educational purposes, and I'm really torn on the issue. Firstly, I'm afraid I'm scared of watching this video 5 years later and wondering what I was thinking. I don't need permanent proof that I fail to grasp even the most basic tenets of what I'm purporting to teach.

Secondly, I'm not sure I want to deal with the masses of idiots online. Trust me, I know I'm not that great. Your opinion indicating the same is redundant. I know I can disable comments, but that seems like I'm trying to hide from people exposing my flaws. I'd love to be part of the wave of using YouTube in a positive and productive manner, but I'm not sure I have the energy for it.

So, maybe over the next few weeks, I'll put up some video, even if it does stink. :)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What's in your engine?

Engine Room, By Joep Roosen
Andre Bertel, a student of the late Asai sensei, wrote a blistering article on the state of Shotokan in New Zealand.

I am not a student of Shotokan, and profess to know little of the politics of his organization. His article, however, gave me much to think about as I nodded my head in agreement with his views.

When the fundamental 'engines' of Shotokan karate are not included, or seriously flawed, one merely has a thin shell.

This quote, along with one more:

Shotokan karate is such narrow and deep river, so without depth, it really has nothing. It reminds me of a saying I’ve heard several times here in Japan; “there is no worse karate than bad Shotokan”. Clearly this is because of Shotokan’s simplicity, and therefore, requirement of extreme technical exactness.

gave me a great deal of thought as I related it back to my own training. Specifically, it brought 2 questions to mind:

1. In many ways, this premise rings true for Tang Soo Do. There is a great deal of variance between schools, across all organizations, which call themselves Tang Soo Do. Some are very rigid and move almost like their Shotokan counterparts, while others have taken the Chinese influence very much to heart and have a very "longfist" type feel to their motions. In an art that is based largely upon creatively modifying concepts from other arts, when does someone truly need to stop and say "I'm not really doing Tang Soo Do anymore!"? If the "engine" as Mr. Bertel calls it remains the same, is that enough?

2. What is the "engine" of Tang Soo Do? What drives all of our techniques. Certainly we can all agree on the concept of Hu Ri, Ho Hup and Shin Chook. Are there other ideals which, when combined, create this truly unique art?

After reading this article about a month ago, and finding it in line with my other thoughts on Ryu Pa, I've been spending a great deal of time in class talking about what I feel are the engine components of the art. In most ways, class is no different than usual, but I'm working very hard to make sure the basics are thoroughly applied to all techniques. The last thing I want is a "thin shell."

For me, you can't call it Tang Soo Do unless:
1. Motion originates in the waist. (Hu Ri!)
2. The back leg drives the body forward into a technique, as opposed to just stepping forward. This is a bit of simplification as the front leg is somewhat involved, but I don't just step into a technique.
3. The opposite hand acts counter to the technique, enhancing the rotation of the hip as well as the opening and closing of the chest.

For those of you reading, I'd like to hear from you. What are 3 things you think Tang Soo Do must have in order to remain "Tang Soo Do" in name?