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!