Monday, December 3, 2012

Hyung of the Week

One of my problems in training has always been focusing on one thing. I just jump around from one thing to another far too much. This is great when I have LOTS of training time, as I always have something to work on. When my personal training (as opposed to teaching and training others) is limited, I need to have a focal point.

So, I created my "box of hyung." I cut out a bunch of little paper strips, wrote the names of all of my required hyung, as well as some extras that I like (so ho yun, bassai sho, tokumine no kun, and few others) and put them in a small box. Shake the box, and every Monday morning, pick a new hyung.

Week one was Dangum Hyung, week two: Seisan. This morning, I was re-introduced to a old chestnut: Pyung Ahn Cho Dan.

So far, the experience has been really exciting and interesting. Sometimes, I just like to get up in the morning and walk through the form once or twice, followed by a few harder reps. Then maybe I go backwards, or spend the day thinking about a sequence.

Sitting at work in a boring meeting, pull up Youtube and search for alternate versions. Study the differences, ask yourself why you do it your way, and try the other way out. Seisan is a great example with the use of kicks in many other versions. Adding the kick, or thinking about the implied kick in the footwork gives you some flexibility in thinking about the movement.

Dangum hyung has been my favorite so far, and I hope to blog some of my results when I get some time. One of the things I truly enjoyed about studying Dangum hyung was that when I started to break down the hyung into repeated movements, the results surprised me. What I always categorized as a "slashing" form actually has a close to equal number of thrusting movements. Some other factoids (right handed versus left handed, reverse grip versus forward grip) were in line with my thinking.

One thing I was initially worried about was whether changing my focus weekly would be a detriment. Sure, I could pick one hyung and study it for years on end, but that doesn't really match my training goals, and I continue to need to access the parts of my brain that teach the other hyung. Instead, what I've found is that I can apply a lot of universal concepts to each form, and whichever concept I'm working on, it allows me to apply it to a more "basic" hyung. Sometimes, the form is just a starting point or a springboard, and what I actually physically practice looks almost nothing like the form. Just movement inspired by the form. This happens a lot when taking a posture or movement and adding in any extra strikes, kicks, etc. It's not supposed to look pretty or be a canon version of the form, just a training tool for that point in time.

Note taking is very important. I keep a small journal with me, and I write down ideas while walking so I can explore them later in class. I can't recommend the Moleskine notebooks and a good archival quality pen.

In my next entry, I'll try to list a few different methods I'm using to play with the hyung.

Friday, November 16, 2012

I'm still alive!

Last post was in... March?  Yikes, time for the "here's why I've been so busy, and here's a half-hearted pledge to post more" blog. :)

My attention span has been all over the place this year, attempting to round out my own development, build some interesting drills, and get past "here's what I was taught" in terms of my teaching ability in a few areas.  What I can tell you is that nothing makes you really examine what you know and what you are comfortable teaching until you are in charge of your own class.

Youtube is finally catching up to being the martial arts instruction utopia that I thought it could become when I wrote about it back in 2006 for my Sam Dan essay.  Video is so cheap and easy now; even cell phone video is tolerable.  In my opinion, there are two folks out there who are setting the bar high for everyone else: Iain Abernethy and OneMinuteBunkai.

What I really enjoy about 1MB is that there is no excessive talking, no 30 second banner intro with obnoxious music. Just quick applications that are easy to see and make sense. Add these guys to your subscription feed, right now. More soon... maybe even in less than 6 months. :)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A healthy respect for weaponry.

Hey, we're all adults.  We know that knives are pointy, swords are sharp, and sticks can crush.  Most of us have had a few cuts and contusions to hammer the point home.  Oddly enough, for most beginners, I feel that while they are inherently aware of these facts, it doesn't register in a martial context.

I will have an adult student who does food prep on a regular basis, chopping vegetables, cutting chicken, beef, etc. look at me thunderstruck when I do a cutting demonstration.  Something about that cutlet of chicken breast is so far removed from a living thing that we can't see how the damage done - and let's be honest, we are damaging that chicken breast by irreparably cutting it in half -- could ever translate to being stabbed.

I have never been shivved or stabbed.  I've barely been lightly poked by a knife.  I'd say this puts me firmly among the majority of first world residents.

You see this in a movie theatre.  People will watch the most amazing displays of violence without batting an eye.  If the star of the movie gets a paper cut though, everyone gasps and shudders a little bit.  We can identify with this pain, it is familiar and we relate to the discomfort on a personal level.  Being stabbed or beaten is just so far removed from our experiences we can only look at it from a clinical level.

So as a service to your students, do everyone a favor and line them up and stab them. At this point, I should point wildly to the disclaimer on the top left of the page which mentions my parent organization does not share or endorse my views.

Though the Internet Sarcasm Font is still in development, I think everyone can tell that I was joking.  Right?

Why am I thinking about this?  For most of my time as an instructor, I have taught adults.  I've taught adults from 16-60+ from White Belt to 3rd Dan.

For the past few years, I've taken to teaching kids.  My most senior kid is a Red Belt.  And he is nine.  He has been my guinea pig as I get used to teaching kids (because he gets everything first as senior rank.)  How do I teach Bassai? Let's try with the kid...  Expectations for drill combinations?  Let's try with the kid.

At red belt in my organization, you are formally introduced to the knife.  While the dangum hyung is still many years off, we begin teaching standard knife defenses at Red Belt.  That means disarming someone who wants to stab you.

That means disarming someone who wants to kill you.

Adults, adults who should know better, often forget this.  I watched an E Dan Candidate at her black belt test perform a jump split while simultaneously performing a low x block to her attacker's knife wielding hand.

Does a nine year old stand a chance in hades of disarming a fully grown, knife wielding adult intent on killing them?  Well, let's say I don't like the kid's chances.

So the lesson boils down to teaching the mechanics.  Like most techniques, they will grow into it.  Focus on the distance, using the body with the throw, breaking the balance, etc.  All great lessons.

Consider the knife again.  To be a good partner, we must also give a good attack.  This means, we need to teach the nine year old how to cut, how to stab, etc.  We are trusting the kid with deadly motions, even in the hands of a nine year old.  Where his back kick may harmlessly bounce off me, he can probably stick a tanto into my ribs pretty easily.  Can I most likely outsmart him and defend against him?  Sure, but don't be an idiot and think that the stakes didn't just go through the roof.  People have been killed in dumber situations...

You might roll your eyes and think I'm being a little hypersensitive.  "It's just a skill",  "if they are a serious student, it'll be ok" , "no big deal we teach our kids sentry removal techniques all the time."

It is a big. Damn. Deal.

Let us go back to the simple staff, the great teacher of the weapons.  What lessons do we learn from staff? A hard long stick gives us reach and extra power.  Ask a kid who messes up a full speed figure 8 if staff can inflict damage.  They've felt it.  They respect it to some degree.   Even a staff is a dangerous weapon, and needs to be treated that way from square one.

I force my kids to carry their staff to and from the dojang upright tucked behind their arm, paralel to the body.  Don't swing it, or carry it horizontally, bumping clumsily into your surroundings.  Look at who is around you before you pull it from the bag, be aware of your surroundings before practice.  Hand off the staff respectfully.

Why do I focus on these things?  Because each of these kids, with a staff in their hand, can seriously injure someone and being accidental in nature doesn't make it hurt less or take back the action.

How many people have been killed and their last words were "relax, it's not loaded."

We might dress up a staff, taper it, cover it in glitter, holograms or unicorns farting rainbows, but it still represents something very powerful.

All of this babble leads back to my Red Belt.  The one I've already trusted with a staff.  He's a good kid, but I'm not giving him my Spyderco anytime soon.  He gets a wooden knife.  Then maybe a more real looking rubber one, then an aluminum trainer, and finally maybe an actual dangum.  This is over the course of years.  If Mom and Dad want to buy him a Randall A-1, that's their choice, but on the floor they can use the stick for a few years.

My goal is to create a weapon safety program for my kids, like the Totin Chip card used in the Boy Scouts of America, to show that they have earned the right to practice with weapons in the dojang.  If a kid earns his card and does something stupid like take a swing at someone, then they can't bring their staff on the floor for 3 months.  Three months?  But what about testing?

I guess if they can't bring the required tools for training onto the floor, they can't pass, so I guess it's not even worth letting them test.  Lesson learned.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Meihua Saga Continues - DIY Plum Blossom Poles

I have posted a few times about Meihua or "Plum Blossom" poles in the last year.  Traditionally planted into the ground at varying heights and distances, these poles are great for building strength in stances, building endurance, balance and maintaining proper weight distribution and alignment.

Planted into the ground, they are a great permanent addition to your yard or training area.  Not everyone has this luxury (or the desire to dig several holes in the yard.) In researching the topic, I came across this thread.  A portable post set that is lightweight and easy to move.  Unfortunately, the thread is now several years old, and there isn't much information on the construction.  But after seeing the video, I was hooked.

I used 3" PVC pipes for the poles, and 2" pipes to join them.  The 4 corner poles have 3" to 2" tees.
The tops and bottoms have 3" PVC flanges.  Each one uses a 12" length of PVC and a 6" length. The Tee and the flanges give a little extra height and it takes a good step or hop to mount the poles.

2" PVC joins each corner to the center pole.  each piece is 12" long.  That doesn't sound like much, but put two together, and the width the the cross and the two tees, and you've got a pretty good stance length.  If you're like me, you will vastly overestimate the length of your front stance (must be a guy thing.)  Do NOT be overly ambitious.  I think I've heard that one somewhere before...

Do you like the chairs?  Since people notice them first, and then the poles..  They are from Target, about $20 a piece.  They are good for sitting on and watching someone else use the poles. :)

I haven't talked about the center pole yet, because it's a little different.  We use 2 3" x 2" crosses joined by a 3" piece of 3" PVC.  To get everything to work out right, you have to finagle your measurements so that everything lines up properly.  I believe I used 2 6" pieces of PVC for the center pole on the top and bottom.  This, combined with the 2 crosses matches the height of the corner poles.  This is why two sets of corner poles have the long end on the bottom, and two have the short ends on the bottom.  Why is it this way?  So we can do this:

It folds up.  By not gluing the little piece in the center post, it allows us to rotate the pieces for quick storage.  Since the force in your stances is all downward, you're not really losing anything to stability.  Now we can pick it up, put it in the car, or store in the corner of the garage so you can still park inside it.

And now you've got a good idea of scale.  For me, the width is about right for a good front stance.

OK, so now for the interesting part.  How do we use them?    I'll be completely honest, the first time I got on them, I immediately regretted the decision and was positive I was going to impale my crotch on a pole.  Luckily, this did not happen, but any dreams I had of immediately moving from pole to pole like a martial mountain goat were quickly dashed.

Static training is a blast.  Getting the body used to holding the stances on the poles (there is a little wiggle due to my completely lackluster construction skills ) is a challenge.  From there, moving slowly from one stance to another with balance is even more fun.  Pretty much every stance is possible on these, as illustrated below.

Han Bahl Ja Seh

Kyo Cha Rip Ja Seh

Hu Kul Ja Seh

Chun Kul Ja Seh

Kee Mah Ja Seh

Yes, I'm also rocking my Vibrams.  Best training shoe ever.  Sorry Feiyue.  Word of warning.  If your shoes or the poles are wet, the difficulty factor goes thru the roof.  Make sure everything is dry for your sake.

So where am I at this point?  Just getting started, and still getting used to the poles.  Trying to work on static stances for now and building up strength, balance and endurace. Putting together some transitions that I want to try (1 legged stance to front stance, turn into fighter stance, etc.)  Research a form, modify some TSD hyung and see what comes out of it.

Good times...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Meihua Followup

In a few previous posts, I've talked about my Meihua pole project.  Over the winter, I was able to procure all the materials and put them together with a little trial and error to make everything match up.

This weekend, I was able to glue everything together (I needed a high enough temperature in a well-ventilated area.) and I'm happy to say that it is ALIVE!

Pics to come soon.  After Saturday's gup test, I will hopefully have some time to take pictures and start training on the poles.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hyung in a Minor Key

As we are on our path to 10,000 repetitions, we will most likely find some ways to mix them up a little bit. Hyung practice is no different. As adult students, many of us can recall training sessions where we repeated the same hyung over and over again, no rest, no instruction, just doing. This in itself is a great practice, especially if we get our brain to shut off and just perform the hyung.

However, we've probably all mixed in a little variety to keep things interesting from time to time. You may have practiced your hyung at top speed -- or maybe -- in slow motion. I once made the kids in my class do the hyung with animal noise kihaps on every movement. You can even do the forms mirror image, or even from last move to first. All of these are great exercises and key to understanding the hyung beyond the surface.

Another fun exercise is to perform the hyung in a different key, so to speak. Look beyond the labels of the techniques, and try to execute them with a different mindset or intent. Maybe the low block becomes a low strike. Or maybe that hard low block becomes a softer, more circular technique. Think about each move, how it relates to the move before and after. Maybe, instead of stepping to the left for the first technique, you turn left, but step backwards. Make the transitions into formidable attacks and defenses.

Ever been to a class where the senior instructor asks if people can demonstrate an application for a movement? And in that same class, no one raises their hand because they don't want to be wrong? And, you're one of those people, who suddenly becomes very interested in your toenails, hoping to disappear and not be called on? Fear not. Try these drills and methods to unlock new understanding, and be a hit at parties and in the dojang!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Give that Tiny Tiger a Black Belt!!!

File under: Kids Say The Darndest Things, Part 2.

Watching our Tiny Tigers class the other day, the instructor asked the kids "What do we protect when we do Low Block?"

One little girl, no more than 4 years old, raised her hand, did the chambering motion for low block and said "your face!"

In retrospect, I should have taken my belt off right then and there, and tied it around her waist. Smart, creative kid that doesn't get tied up in the labels and has already digested one of the "secrets" of training. I should have her start teaching a class for me. :)

Meihua Follow-up (Or, I actually follow up on a project.)

Last year, I came wrote a short article on Meihua Post training. My dear readers may recall that I toyed with the idea of planting posts in the backyard. In the end, I decided my neighbors already think I'm crazy, and may not need any further evidence. Not to mention the gas and electric companies have used the best parts of my backyard for underground lines, and digging through them is not how I want to ruin a weekend.

So I went to the idea of a portible unit as described by "Yao Sing" on the Kung Fu Magazine forums. His folding post stands seemed like just what I would want. I can set it up outside, or in the garage, and then fold it out of the way when done. I could even elect to wear a shirt when I use it, as I'm not quite to his level of performance. ;)

Last year was a little rough from a personal standpoint, so the project was tossed onto the pile of things that I'd like to eventually get to. Last week, however, I was inspired to dabble in PVC for an unrelated project. After finishing that, I decided to use some leftover PVC and a little free time to put together this project. The only problem: no dimensions are available for the stand, so I had to guess a little. In my head, I saw the total length of the posts to be about the length of my front stance, and the distance from one corner to the other to be about a horse stance.

Last night, I picked up all of the extra pieces from the big box hardware store (sticker shock... those connector pieces add up to around $90) and started cutting, swearing, cutting, swearing until I achieved victory.

These are the posts, in all their glory. The first battle has been won. I connected them using 2 foot long pieces of 2" wide PVC. This, as it turns out, was way too long. A 48" front stance may not sound too bad, and on the ground it isn't. However, what I failed to add to my calculations was that the joining pieces would add another 11" of distance between the posts. For me, that takes it out of Front Stance territory, and more into Front Split territory. That's a whole other project!

Aside from that, standing on the posts in a good horse stance made for a challenge. Different muscles work harder at keeping you stable and balanced. It was a lot of fun, and I can see how one gets very good at weight shifting when moving between posts.

Still thinking that a 48" stance was manageable, I cut off 6" from both pieces, so that the longest distance between posts was 48". Let me tell you something. If you're safely on the ground, reaching into a long front stance is easy. When you're standing on a 4 inch pole 2 feet from the ground and you need to put your other foot on a 4 inch wide pole 4 feet away... Oh, also, there's another pole halfway there, so if you miss, the middle pole catches you in the goodies.

That means, my connecting poles need to be closer to 12" in length. I wanted to cut them down, but by this point, I was "le tired." So this battle will wait another night. The next phase of the project involves PVC cement and making sure the pieces stay nice and tight. Once everything cures, I look forward to getting on the posts and practicing a bit and then torturing my students.

In the meantime, here's a fun link to some more things you can do once you get up on the posts.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

You're doing it wrong.

I've often heard the benefits of martial training. Supposedly, it's great for the body. Indeed, if it wasn't for my training, I'd probably look more or less like these guys. I know lots of folks who have injured themselves needlessly over the years, and as a result are no longer able to enjoy training in the same way. Oddly enough, I also know a lot of people who pride themselves on their swollen knuckles, crooked toes, bad shoulders, Costco-sized barrels of Dit Da Jow, etc.

And I'm not talking about this:

That's just funny!

I'm worried about things that are a little more subtle. Shortcuts that are taken to get to a level of power, speed or flexibility beyond one's actual ability. Most of the time, we are unaware of what we're doing. Instead, our brains have come up with a way to replicate what we've seen. I'm always fascinated that even in senior instructor classes, we spend so much time talking about our stances. We always return to this very fundamental lesson. Indeed, stances are the foundation, and we build our techniques atop them. What happens when we build too much upon a poor foundation?

An odd thing occurred with the construction of the tower of Pisa. The flaw in the foundation was actually noticed very early, as it began to sink after the 2nd floor was added. Progress on the construction was actually halted for decades to allow the soil to settle and compensate for the flaw. (Boy, if that's not an obvious metaphor for aspiring black belts, I don't know what is!)

When they resumed construction, an interesting approach was taken: One side of each floor is taller than the other. Now, even if the building was straightened, it would have a curve to it. In modern times, over 800 tonnes of counterweight has been added, cables have been used, and countless cubic feet of soil have been removed from underneath. Hilariously enough, this has been done not only to keep it from falling, but to keep the tower at its distinct angle (as a straight tower of pisa would not be a tourist boon.)

I see this problem in many students. They make rapid progress in a technique and then plateau. Usually, it's because a fundamental flaw in their motion is stopping them. In an attempt to fix the flaw, their technique regresses. Not because I'm necessarily wrong (though I should point out that I'm wrong all the time!) but because their body is so used to doing it wrong that I'm essentially re-teaching the technique.

The student is now at a fork in the road. To stick with the method they have used so far, and be content with their progress (usually thinking that if they practice more, they'll get it.) OR they can go with the "new" way which feels odd and awkward. It's admittedly a rough path, because they student is re-learning and they must go through the painful process of looking silly, messing up, etc. I often joke that I've brought them "back to white belt" with their technique and they must work to understand the change.

Over time, the tower was no longer able to support it's own weight. The bells were taken out at one point to relieve weight. The same thing happens with training. We reach a limitation, and then as it slowly settles in and degrades the joint, we find that we can no longer kick or punch like we used to. Is it because we're too old? Tell Jhoon Rhee that he's too old to throw a high kick... Go ahead, I'll wait here.

Oddly enough, I came to this line of thought when listening to an NPR broadcast on the dangers of Yoga. Yeah, yoga. Similar problems infest both practices, with similar tragic results.

In the pursuit of false goals and ego, we are often motivated to go too hard, to get too low. I've seen people completely break the connection between their rear foot and the ground to get into a seemingly lower front stance for no other reason than to satisfy people who make the false conclusion that "lower is better, therefore lowest is best." I have no problem with people striving for a low stance as there are plenty to attributes to gain from such training, but for your sake do it right.

Think long term. It might not hurt now, or even tomorrow. But our injuries come back to haunt us in later years.

Train smart, and train safe. I personally want to continue the pursuit of this martial art as long as I can. Like him:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

getting to 1000.

"There's nothing wrong with your kicks that ten thousand repetitions won't fix."

Catchy little rhyme, right? I have used the oft-repeated axiom that a technique needs 10,000 repetitions to work towards mastery. I doubt that this nice, round number is the exact number for every person and every technique, but it gives one a sense of scale as to the lifetime pursuit of martial arts mastery.

I joke with my newest students not to worry about whether they are "doing it right" yet. I gently tell them that the first 100 attempts are just roughing out the track in your brain for this movement. Once they get to that 100th - or so -- rep, I see a look of accomplishment on their face, and I watch the disappointment settle in as I tell them that I think it takes at least 1000 repetitions to develop proficiency with the technique.



For most of us, one thousand starts to become difficult to visualize. If you think about it, you might be able to visualize 1000 people in a gymnasium, maybe 1000 pennies or 1000 pieces of paper. For most things, 1000 officially counts as "a lot." Since Tang Soo Do classes often revolve around repetition, it often surprises students to learn that they've done 1000 repetitions faster than they may think. In fact, by green belt, most of us have done 1000 center punches, or 1000 front kicks.

Ok, so if I'm "proficient" by green belt, what's the point of going any further? What will I gain? (Ever notice how green belts seem to know everything? I know I did...)

At this point, we can consider the fine art of ryun ma. Polishing, in other words. 1000 repetitions is a mere 10 percent of the numbers needed for "mastery" of a given technique. Even if we have mastered a single technique, each technique has varations that must also be mastered. Take our front kick example: we may have 10,000 center-level kicks under our belt, but only a few hundred (if that!) low front kicks. If you think those skills transfer over perfectly, I challenge you to try it as I did and feel the humility spill over you.

Working towards 10,000 isn't necessarily a race, nor is it a pursuit where we can check off each repetition like a prisoner marking his wall for each day in his cell. Instead, strive for improvement with each repetition. Each time you practice, focus on one aspect and attempt to improve it. After your practice, reflect on what you have practiced and what you have learned.

Before you know it, even 10,000 will seem a distant memory.