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.