Monday, July 11, 2011

One Steps

If you're studying a relative of Karate, then you understand the concept of a "one-step" defense. Attacker steps back into a front stance with their punch chambered, and awaits your permission to attack. You indicate that they are allowed to attack - usually in the form of a kihap, nod, grunt, what-have-you -- and they step forward into a front stance while executing a center punch. You respond in kind with the predetermined one-step.

Some people will probably find endless repetition of these skills to be tedious, a tax on their memory, impractical, and so on. In my particular system, we have 90 prescribed one-steps that are rationed out on the way to black belt. At each Gup examination, you are expected to demonstrate a basic competency with them. Some people really enjoy getting to their next rank and learning the new one-steps. But, in our system, there are no more new one-steps once you reach Cho Dan. You can imagine how devastating this must be to some people hoping to be able to rattle off 100 ways to kill a (one-handed unmotivated and compliant) man, and falling just short of this goal. Makes me want to just get every issue of Black Belt Magazine I can get ahold of and start memorizing MORE one-steps so my brain can have an un-ending list of ways to impart death and destruction spoon-fed to me.

As it turns out, I occasionally get a student who claims they've exhausted the one-steps of their value and want to know where to go from there. In fact, I once had a white belt proudly proclaim that they had "mastered" their required one-steps and were wanting to move on to the next set.

I will now pause for a moment, so that like-minded instructors can roll their eyes, think of one of their former students (as they almost always end up being a former student) sigh, and come back to the article.

Annnnnd, we're back!

To these frustrated students who have found my blog in their effort to learn more ways to kill a man and are waiting for the pictures, or preferably videos of new ways to file in the back of their mind... students who are most likely breathing with their mouth open in frustration at all of this very small text, finger hovering over the "back" button... I present you with:

How Good Are You -- Really -- at One Step Sparring?

I don't care if you know 5, 10 or 100 one-steps. Let me lay down my levels of expectation and see how many you can rise to meet. If you can swipe the pebble from my hand, I will show you the secret llama-hand techniques of Tom Soo Do.

1. You can perform all of your required one-steps, without hesitation. That means your partner isn't uncomfortably figeting in a front stance with their chambered punch waiting for you to remember if you need to step left, right, block, kick, whatever.

2. You can perform all of your required one-steps, in random order, on demand. I say "show me #10" and you do it without hesitation.

3. If I punch with the left hand (or as cho dan bos call it, the "wrong hand.") you do not fall apart into a sputtering mess, but you instead have learned to defend yourself against a two-handed attacker.

4. IF you can do #1 and #3, you won't mind if I get rid of the time-consuming concept of announcing my intention to attack and waiting for your permission, will you? I'd really prefer just to jump at you with either my right or left hand without warning.

Now we're starting to cook!

5. Cool. Now, remember how when earlier I would only throw one punch, and then stand very politely and still while you whirled around me like an impressive banshee? You're a big kid now, so I'm going to block that counter attack and see what you do. I'm also going to wiggle out of joint locks and reverse throws whenever you give me the opportunity to do so.

6. When you hit me with your strike, channeling the spirit of Ikken Hisatsu, I'm going to look at you, brush the dirt off my dobohk and look at you with a "If I wanted a kiss, I would have called your mother" sort of expression. In other words, your technique didn't finish me, so now what?

7. That's a nice ready stance you are starting from. Looks very official and a very convenient position from which to receive the attack. Yeah. I'm going to go ahead and shove you really hard and while you concentrate on getting back to a balanced point, I'm going to attack you because I'm just a mean guy that way. I may also elect to do this from any direction while your eyes are closed, just to get you used to the whole "surprise, bad guys don't care about you!" thing.

8. You're starting to get pretty good, so you won't mind if I invite a friend? Good, because he's going to rudely grab you from behind while I punch you. Frankly, I need every advantage I can muster at this point.

At this point, you can tell I'm not a professional blogger, because if I were, I would have thought out 2 more possibilities and then entitled this post "10 Sure Fire Ways to Step Up your One-Step Training." I should have been more up front about that, and I apologize.

By the time we've gotten to step 8, you might see that we are a long way from the original material. But that's a good thing, right? The one-steps were designed to be a bridge to sparring and self-defense and present the concepts needed for survival in a safe and educational environment. I do not advocate grabbing a white belt from behind and having someone else rain blows upon them, at least not until the third class.

Progressive training is where the one-steps can shine. Forms and one-steps are merely dead expressions of the martial art you study. Pieces of dialog. How YOU put them together in your own special way is what makes them alive, growing and thriving.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bong Hits

Ok, the Koreans use the word bong to describe the staff. Let's get all of the jokes out of the way now. I'll be honest, I've been teaching bong at clinics, and I've always wanted to tell the host that the name of my session was "bong hits."

Now that we're all done tittering. Oops, that word probably didn't help. Are we all perpetually in fifth grade?

For the longest time, I've focused almost exclusively on bong dexterity and relating the planes of movement to that of my body. Learning to make the bong, gravity, momentum and my body work together rather than forcing each other to do things we don't want to. I was aiming for effortless bong practice. For awhile, I even became interested in "contact staff" where - as a rule -- the practitioner avoids grasping the staff altogether. Far from battle practical, this was on the far side of the martial:arts plane.

On some level, I feel that this a great example of mastery. Mastery of the bong and how it relates to the user.

But, this is a martial art. So when I pick up this staff, it has to be with the expectation that I will have to use it against another person. All of my fancy twirls will be for naught if I get my skull caved in by my opponent. Therefore, I've felt it natural that my study of the staff must now extend to how I relate my motion to that of another person. We see the same progression in empty hand sets. We learn drill and hyung, move to striking targets, heavy bags and breaking materials, and then we also practice via 1-steps, flow drills and sparring with a partner.

For me, staff is a great natural extension of the body. At first, I thought of this only from the perspective of whacking another person. Longer reach = Big win for Tom!

As I've started teaching staff, I've found that same extension also does a really good job of exposing weaknesses in my students that need to be corrected. A student who still doesn't quite "get" the concept of hands pushing and pulling in opposite direction will have a tough time covering that up with a staff in their hands. The extra momentum from whirling that staff around will expose flaws in their stance and balance. Poor grip will be exposed when their partner hits their staff for the first time.

That's it for now. I'm off to watch my google analytics to see what kind of people are coming in after searching for "bong hits."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Meihua Poles

A few years ago, when I had the time and an available instructor, I practiced Tai Chi. One of our fundamental warmup exercises was a posture. Now before I even tell you the name of that posture, let's just let that thought marinate in our head: we warmed up by standing in a spot for a long time. :)

The posture was called "embracing the tree" or "get in a horse stance and hold your hands up for a really damn long time" if you're not into flowery names. If that wasn't enough, we would also practice the posture while balancing on bricks that were laying along their longest edge. Nothing like the gentleman in this picture. If we got good at that, we set them up on their more narrow edge, and a good time was had by all. I still remember the pictures from Dr. Yang's book of him standing on stacked bricks and thinking that he must have a genetically superior inner ear. or something...

The posture practice on bricks really told you a lot about your stance, balance, weight distribution, etc. Crappy stance? Fall over. Easy.

Meihua, or plum blossom, poles are a whole other monster. We're talking Shaw Brothers movie style body conditioning. And now you move on them? Ok...

Naturally, I think this is completely awesome, and I'm one step away from buying a post hole digger and start planting 4x4s. My wife, meanwhile is contemplating cracking me in the back of the head with said 4x4 before I make our backyard into a wannabe 36 Chambers of Shaolin playground. Side note: You've NEVER seen the 36 Chambers of Shaolin? Shame on you.

That's OK, I found a portable version using PVC pipes. So I can make it, bring it to clinics and torture Cho Dan Bo. Mwahahahaha!

What will I do on them? Heck that's easy, I found a book in the OSU Library with very precise step-by-step details outlining their use.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Shim Sa

Note: I think I've deleted this post about 6 7 times before posting it. Originally, I was going to complain about unmotivated testing candidates, but then - as usual -- I overthought the entire process.

Testing for a new rank. To the prospective candidate this may make them very excited; a chance to get out on the floor and blow everyone away and show them that not only do you deserve that promotion, but you should have been promoted a long time ago. The candidate is en fuego - as my old roommate used to say -- rock solid stances, faster, louder and more precise than their peers. Their boards break from the sheer intimidation of their steely gaze.

Other people may think "Oh, it's time to test? I'm going to go crawl under this rock until it's over." They don't like being under a microscope. They do this for themselves and their students and really don't care what a bunch of strangers think of their techniques, their instructor, politics, etc. They would prefer the days of secret karate where one day their instructor just told them "you're ready."

In the last two weeks, I've watched a Dan test and a Gup test. So that makes me an expert, right? ;) In those tests, I've seen both personalities come out, and it has made me question my biases for what makes a good candidate.

At both tests, I saw performances that frankly surprised me, and not so much in a good way.

It seems to me that very rarely does someone rise to the occasion, so to speak. If they are a borderline student, testing does not magically make them better. More often than not, it seems like the testing process creates more pressure for them to succeed and they lock up. They get confused on a combination, lose their place in a hyung or forget a one-step. Sometimes they recover, sometimes all the errors just add up into an avalanche of disaster ending in "sorry, maybe next time."

Does pressure at testing simulate pressure "in real life?" Maybe, maybe not. I know people who use their Tang Soo Do in a professional environment (security, law enforcement, etc) who test poorly. Perhaps they train in a school that reminds them daily in 200 point Arial Bold "MY GOAL IS BLACK BELT." And here they are, testing for that elite status that will make them Superman, Mr. Miyagi and Arnold Schwarzeneggar all wrapped into one. Surely there's no pressure. :)

These are the people I want to find a way to help. Do they really forget that one-step, or can I prepare them in a different way to deal with the pressure of performing in public? How do I help this person that I KNOW is a great student show it to others?

There's another type of candidate that drives me up a wall. Someone who just expects to get through the test and get their promotion. They know what they are doing, but watching them has all of the excitement of watching water in a pan boil. Except that the burner was never switched on, so you keep waiting for the bubbles. Waiting. waiting. w a i t i n g . . . What the hell? Why are they here??? You consider withholding their rank, but you're not sure they'd really care.

Now really, I think this person tends to be a very small minority in the percentage of testing candidates. And I don't think there's anything to do with them except fail them until they care. Or leave. Whatever. In fact, just get out of my way because I keep having to alter my form to keep from cracking you in the back of the head.

My more pressing concern is how to take care of the student who is mistaken for being part of the latter group. The quiet people who may be overlooked despite their skill, or the very nervous people who simply don't perform well. They want to be a black belt, they want to do well, they've put in the time and know what they are doing. I have students like this. Kids who in class constantly impress me with their ability, but I put them in front of people and they are like Michigan J. Frog. That's right, put them in front of a panel and "ribbit." Actually, these people are so nervous that if I asked them to ribbit it would probably come out as "moo."

I wonder if the people I bring in for my tests look at these kids and just say "whiskey, tango, foxtrot. over?" Maybe, but I know they have kids who have the same problem. :)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

nak bop sul

nak bop sul are simply Falling Techniques. I just sounded so much smarter and fancier by using the Korean term. Put the term in your deck of terminology flash cards and sound smart like me! ;)

Falling is one of my favorite niche topics to work on. Everyone can and should be able to do it with a little practice. Of all the martial skills that apply to life outside of the dojang, this is among the most important. Everyone slips and falls, but not everyone takes the fall the same way. On the way back from lunch, I slipped on a wet step and recovered by going with the fall and dropping into a really low horse stance. Looked much better than me cracking my melon on the step behind me.

Most people fight the fall, struggle for balance, or vainly throw their hands out to catch themselves. How many of these people would willingly catch a 150 pound bag thrown to them? This is what you're doing when you fall on your hands.

When I teach my kids to fall, we use the big cushy mats, we have the wedge mats that they can roll down for backwards fall, and we use exercise balls to help them learn to roll. Kids who come in with gymnastics training have a little tougher time since they want to tumble. "Different skill" as a Master I know would say. Generally, kids love the falling class, and they love to line up at the end and I toss them with O-Goshi or Osoto gari. (Bad kids get Tomoe Nage :) ) They are young and fearless and, for some reason, trust that I have their best interests in mind.

My adults do not line up quite so readily. Why not? Well, they've already fallen a few times in their life. They've learned that falling hurts and they aren't really anxious to do it. So when I grab them, they tense up, they hold onto me, they even sometimes squeal in anticipation of what they perceive to be their imminent doom. Even after a successful toss and landing, they are not eager to repeat it. I remind my students that fighting the fall just makes it worse.

I believe falls should be practiced regularly to help keep the motion smooth, the neck muscles strong and confidence high. I really like this drill as a quick way to practice all of the falls:

Now what are you waiting for? Get off your seat and start nak bopping!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tan Tui Lessons

On the left column is a list of the martial arts blogs that I read on a semi-regular basis. Among them is Kaimen, which is written by Ted Mancuso at Plum Publications.

Aside from being a great resource for Chinese martial arts books and videos, Mr. Mancuso has written several articles on Tan Tui that are featured on his website. He has now taken it a step further and placed short instructional videos for each of the 12 roads on his website.

Take a look here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Too easy...

This is a bit of an old story, but just another reminder as to why you shouldn't underestimate your youth students.

About six months ago, one of my 11 year students proudly told me in between drills that his parents bought him a cellphone. A little thrown off by the non-sequitur, and a little surprised still that kids have phones, I say to him "Man, you're 11. You don't need a phone. Who are you going to call?"

Not missing a beat, the student replied with a dead-pan "Ghostbusters."


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

the evil san-setsu-kon

A few years ago, I was really, utterly, and intently into nunchaku. I was Bruce Lee and Michelangelo rolled into one. I absorbed almost every resource I could find on the subject. I have a duffle bag full of different styles of nunchaku: foam, alumnium, wooden, plastic, micarta, tapered, non-tapered, pencil-thin, ultra heavy and a custom pair of cocobolo nunchaku that would break just about anything out there. The only one I still haven't bought are the muge nunchaku that are allegedly what nunchaku looked like in days of old when they still served as horse bridles.

If you have ever looked thru the AWMA catalog, or at the ads in Black Belt magazine, then you have surely seen the "San Setsu Kon." It looks like this:

Now, one could literally translate san-setsu-kon to three-sectional-staff, which is where the confusion ensues. This is what most of us know as the three-section-staff:

I just know that song is going to be stuck in your head all day now... :)

But that's not a san-setsu-kon. A san-setsu-kon is like a freak baby from the nunchaku factory with a third arm. Like one day, they had an extra stick, and someone with a perverted sense of humor said "ehh, drill some holes on the end of that pair and add the stick. We'll call it an ancient weapon and add $10 to the list price."

So, I bit the bullet a few years ago, and decided to buy one. Never having seen someone actually USE the weapon, I thought it might be fun to try and put something together.

Now, my second year in college, I took a philosophy class. How is that relevant? Well, the first time I tried to use this evil nunchaku freak, I found myself becoming overly ambitious and hit myself in the head hard enough to remove any knowledge gleaned from that class. I then proceeded to hit myself in the babymaker hard enough to put down the san-setsu-kon, and spend the next 20 minutes developing a form that revolved around laying on my back and using an ice pack as a shield.

I don't pick it up very often, mostly because it really requires a fair amount of space to work with. What I have found is that:

1. Don't even try to use it like a three section staff. It flat out doesn't work that way.
2. If you like flexible weapons work such as snaring, grabbing and locking, you will really like this weapon.
3. It twirls in a fashion somewhere between a nunchaku and a chain whip. Once you figure out which nunchaku transitions work and (more importantly) don't work, it becomes easier.

There's not a whole lot of youtube help out there on this one, but this guy does a decent job.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hagakure Quote

"There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything." -Hagakure (葉隱)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

There's a little Master Wong in all of us

Depending on how conservative your workplace is, you may not want to watch this clip at work, especially with the sound on...

The first time I watched this clip, I watched it with the sound off, which is something akin to watching The Wall with your eyes closed. Watching it muted, I was impressed by his strength and power generation. I was also impressed by his student/target taking so many shots on camera without complaint.

So, imagine my surprise when I watched it with the audio a week later!

First off, aside from my biases not expected an English accent from Master Wong, I was surprised to hear his strong language. In fact, I stopped and scanned back to replay a section to verify what I'd heard. Master Wong had caught my attention. And now I was laughing quite a bit. It's now an inside joke with my students to "f'ing taaaaaaaste the power!"

I've been known to use the occasional swear word in class, which is problematic when teaching in the YMCA, so I try hard to keep it in check. I do appreciate his sense of humor though.

His skill and presentation aside, I can't help but remark on the fact that his assistant is getting clobbered. Gear or not, he's gotta feel that. It makes me think of my teaching style, and how other instructors I know feel the need to dispense great amounts of pain on their compliant partner. I've seen instructors seriously injure their students, cause brief flashing pain and sometimes just hit them for the sake of hitting them.

In any other environment, this would be met with complete shock. But in the dojang? You see some evil smiles and giggles. Is it how we cope with seeing our fellow students getting thrashed?

Why do we as instructors feel the need to punish the volunteer? Is it to prove the effectiveness of the technique? Is it to prove OUR ability? Is it to show why we're at the top of the dojang food chain? Is it a way to give passive-aggressive revenge on a student who is annoying you? Is it any, all or none of these things?

I can't say in your case. And I'm not trying to say that demonstrations need to be free of contact pain or slight (albeit controlled) risk. I just want people to think about why they demonstrate the way they do. If it's for some of the reasons I listed above, maybe you should think twice before landing the punch.

Side note: Master Wong has an extensive curriculum on Youtube that he shares for free. If you're interested in Wing Chun, check out what he's doing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Youtube Treasures

I recently read a post out on the tubes which talked about using Youtube to further your martial arts training. And I completely agree. Once Youtube hit the scene, I knew that martial artists would take this medium to heart. There are lots of GREAT things to watch online.

Like this!

Oops, wrong bookmark! I mean, typo, typo!

Damn it I just can't type today...

Ah, that's better, and certainly more on-topic for this blog (we'll save musical animals for another time.) This is a great example of some of the material on Youtube that people are willing to share with the world. Great example of taking a form that some of us fall into the habit of mindlessly repeating and making us really think about what's going on.

Over the last 3 years, I've become very interested in the Asai style of Shotokan, specifically the relaxed snapping movement. Andre Bertel is kindly continuing to spread this message after the passing of Asai and is making it more and more accessible by sharing on Youtube. I'm probably never going to make it to New Zealand, but now I've been exposed to a different way of thinking that I can work with and try to make my own.

So get out there on Youtube and search for someone, embrace what is different and new and learn something.

And maybe watch a few cute cat videos too.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

WHAT did you say?!?!?

Remember that Bill Cosby show "Kids Say the Darndest Things?" If I recall, it was supposed to be about the cute things that kids say. Turns out, kids say some pretty nasty things. Sometimes intentional, and sometimes without realizing they've offended.

Last night in class, I decided that my green belt youth were performing their ho sin sul with little to no enthusiasm. Already, my level of annoyance is reaching "Who thought Jar-Jar Binks was a good addition to the script?" type levels. So I pull aside one of the moms in class who assists with teaching. I tell her that I'm going to grab her for a one-step and I want her to put on the ground as forcefully as possible. She looks at me briefly, excitement mixed with slight confusion. "I'm serious," I say, "I want you to bury my ass in the mat."

She complied. In fact, she planted me so vigorously that I have mat burn across the side of my head. All of the kids were duly impressed with this example of how hard work and intensity will pay off in self-defense.

All of the kids, that is, except for one.

"Wow! I can't believe you let yourself get beat up by a GIRL!"

Now, my anger was approaching "Hey guys, let's go catch the sequel to the Matrix; it's going to ROCK!" levels. As Samuel Jackson eloquently stated in Pulp Fiction, I was a mushroom cloud laying-MFer.

Kids say the darndest things.

I quickly informed him that not only was he NOT funny, but he'd just insulted every girl in the class many of whom worked far harder than him, and that he owed them all an apology. They begrudgingly accepted, but I think he was scared of his next - most likely female -- partner. I don't know if it was the fact that I was truly angry and practically on top of him telling him this, or if it was because my head was bleeding, but he seemed quite scared.

After class, I thought that perhaps I was too hard on him, that I let my anger with the situation overflow into what could have been a positive learning experience where we'd all hug it out under a double rainbow and unicorns would fart gold wrapped chocolate candies. I also thought I could have just ignored it rather than give him any sort of attention. In retrospect, I'm glad I came down on him.

In this case, I think ignoring him would have given his comments a tacit endorsement, as would laughing it off. And quite frankly, I have too many girls in my class to abandon them.

This has been part of my latest set of pet peeves in class: kids who laugh at other kids when they mess up, fall over during a kick, do the wrong move in a form, etc. It's probably an even bigger pet-peeve than not giving 100%.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bo Makiwara: Spring Fun Project

Once spring rolls around, and my backyard comes back to life, I have a project. Well, two projects, because I also want to make a fire pit. The second will be equally as cool if you are into these sorts of things. :)

A Bo Makiwara. I'm thinking a 6 foot 4x4 for the main base, supported on the bottom with planks reinforced in the middle by 4x4 blocks. Same for the upper-body (shoulder-width) and a 45 degree leg jutting forward from about waist height. Drill a big hole right in the center for practicing the thrust. Reinforce/pad with rope. I don't have any kendo gear, nor willing to plunk that kind of money down. (now if I can find someone with completely trashed gear... like Kendo gear is sooo common at garage sales in Central Ohio)

We shall see. Fire pit takes precedence. I like fire. :)