Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The "Two Steps Forward" Days.

Rivington Terraced Gardens ]

I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again. Karate training for me always seems to be a "Two steps forward, three steps back" kind of a process. Just when I think I'm getting somewhere I seem to lose the plot and end up feeling like I know less than I started with.

It's not always like that though - for every day of stepping back there are also those training days where I actually feel like I'm getting somewhere. The "Two Steps Forwards" days. Thankfully this weeks training (Sunday and Monday) have felt like forward stepping days :)

I couldn't believe just how much I'd missed my Sunday training sessions. We've only missed 2 weeks (one for Halloween and last week for the seminar, so that wasn't really missing a session, only missing my usual session) but it really felt good to get back to business as usual. The Sunday class is a completely different experience than the Monday session. It's adults only and a much smaller class so we get to cover much more stuff at a much more concentrated level and pace. We spent a lot of time on the Intermediate Taisabaki forms which have been plaguing me so of late. My practice has clearly paid off though because I was much more confident with my blocks and counters and managed practically the whole session without making a balls up of it! I did end up with a little Kata homework to take home with me (making sure I'm using both hands in my blocks consistently) but I had plenty of opportunity to work on that on Monday.

Monday's class is much busier and has a much wider age range which makes for a totally different training vibe. We were drilled on our Tagioko Katas again (Shodan and Nidan) but this time concentrating on stances and kick (for Nidan). What I discovered is that my Zenkutsu dachi (long forward stance) often isn't wide enough. I really need to work on my foot positioning in my kata, especially after turning. We took turns doing the kata and holding each stance and strike while our partner checked the stability of our stances. There was much correcting of position and shuffling about but I think most of us got there in the end. I'm really enjoying this indepth kata study. It's forcing me to think of every element of my kata (stance, block, strike, hips, pace, focus) and even though we're running over this stuff on the lower kyu kata I'm finding myself almost automatically applying it to the higher level kata I need. It shows that basics pay I guess.

The last portion of Monday's class was a bit of a marathon sparring session. There was a pretty big group of us paired up for kumite (around 17) and as there was an odd number one group at the end of the row went 2 on 1. My sparring is the area where I sometimes often struggle to see progress in myself but I really felt a improvement this week. What I love about getting to spar against everyone in the class is that there are some rounds where you're the higher kyu and are "teaching" your opponent and then others where you're the lower kyu and are the one doing the learning. It's great to be able to take what you've learnt and pass it on to others. I managed to get a few good strikes in against the higher kyu grades I was sparring against which felt great. In the 2 on 1 I even managed to nab the purple belt who was attacking me as a shield against my other opponent which was fab (we'd done some work on shields a few weeks ago so at least I know something about that stuck in my head!). My final bout was again Ciaran (2nd kyu). He's taken far too much joy in giving me a pasting the past 12 months and I finally felt like I held my own a little. I managed to get quite a few strikes to land on him and didn't fall for the moves he usually gets me with. Sorry to ruin your fun Ciaran!

I really noticed a massive improvement in the sparring of lower kyu grades in the class when I was paired with them too. I saw all things I know they've worked on over the last few weeks being implemented and a really marked improvement in their techniques and forms. I was really quite proud of all of them. We all rocked!

So, all in all a much more positive karate week than I've had of late, which is probably clearly evident by the tone of my post - I think I've been a bit doom and gloom around here the last few weeks!

Fingers crossed I can continue with the improvement next week..... I'd like a little reprieve from the suckage before I reach my "Three Steps Back" days! I know they're coming, but I'm praying they'll wait until after grading to arrive!! LOL.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Reward and Frustration

The only good thing about Tuesdays, is that they follow Mondays - which means I get to waffle on about what happened at class last night. Yey! Talking about karate, that's pretty much my second favourite thing...after practicing karate, of course. I think there's a very serious possibility that I'm becoming a karate bore! I'm sure people at work are sick of hearing all about my karate exploits. So I'll share them here instead. Chances are if you're here it's because you love hearing about martial arts too - so at least I know my audience gives a crap! LOL.

So, on with the waffle.

A bit of a mixed bag for the Cookie Family karate training experinence last night. A really good effort from Grace saw her being awarded the Student of the Week award (cue super pround Sempai Mummy moment!). There was quite a lot of messing around with the junior class last night - is the dark nights, a post Halloween/bonfire night sugar rush? I don't know. They just seem a little more hyper than usual. Grace managed to actually pay attention though and at least attempt to be doing what she was supposed to be doing.

As for the grown up contingent of the Cookie Family, not such a good showing. I definitely wouldn't be lined up for the Student of the week award (if there were one). For me..... it was more a case of this this week:

(Can I just take a moment to scream here? I'd written about 6 paragraphs of waffle which blogger has kindly neglected to save and then had a posting error. Now I have to rewrite it. We are not amused. >:( ).

On a positive note last night, I felt like my Kata was much improved after last weeks grilling. Much sharper and more focused and stronger. So, it wasn't all bad.

On the head-banging-inducing side of things... the intermediate taisabaki No.1 form still eludes me. I was somewhat better, I felt, with working my angles and stepping out more but I still always come to a point where I seem to hit a wall. It seems to work like this: I have a plan in my head about what block and counter I'm going to use against each strike. The impending strike comes. I block. I've used a different block than the one I had in my head and have ended up somewhere I wasn't expecting. I pause. That's it. Kiss of death. Once I've paused I can't seem to follow up with the counter because I'm not where I was expecting to be so it throws me. Then I have a total brain fart and my mind goes blank. Not good.

On the upside, clearly my muscle memory is beginning to develop - because I don't struggle getting some sort of block up for the strike, in fact I do that instinctively now which is great. So much so that when I had a couple of run-throughs of the second form for this taisabaki (avoid and counter) I found it hard NOT to block. On the downside, as it's instinct it's not really premeditated so I don't always know where to go with the counter.

This is a perfect illustration of the difference between myself and my DH in terms of the kind of karateka we are. When it comes to things that are prescribed - kata, forms with a fixed defense, pad drills with a fix pattern - I have no problems. My brain gets it and I can get on once I'm told what do to. When it comes to anything that involves thinking on my feet - forms with a free defense, kumite - then I lose the plot.

Kendo is completely the other way - he's much happier sparring and doing stuff that requires him to react and finds it more difficult with the stuff where he has to learn a set pattern and stick to it. Part of me wonders if it's a gender thing in terms of the block/counter response. Us girlie's (on the whole) are much less used to hitting and being hit then you boys. Growing up boys tend to have more rough-housing, fighting, wedgies, dead arms etc. Stopping themselves getting whacked and whacking back is programmed into those neural pathways at a much younger age and we all know it's much easier to learn stuff when you're a kid. It think I might just have to accept that my block and counter neurons are currently a bit rusty (if not non-existent) and it's going to take time to get them up to speed. More than anything I am frustrated with myself for not getting it.

So, acceptance of my lack of brain function in this area aside I need to think about a solution to this. Grading is coming up the first week of December and this is one of my requirements. I want to be ready.

One option I suppose is to make what doesn't work for me work for me by fitting it in with what I know best. That would mean setting up a fixed block and counter for each strike and sticking with it (having established that I'm much better with prescribed forms). I don't like that though, for two reasons.

1) I can't guarantee I won't suddenly whip out a completely different block when the strike comes and therefore end up with the same problem I've got now.

2) (and most importantly) Doing that feels like something of a cop out. It's taking something I have difficulty with and dragging it back into my comfort zone rather than using it as an opportunity to learn more. That's not what I want my karate to be about. I want it to be about learning more, growing more, experiencing more, understanding more (about myself and about things outside myself). If I don't push against the things that are hard for me I will never get past them and progress.

So, if I chose not to cop out and go with option 1, that leaves me with option 2 which I guess is to work harder. Strange how it always comes down to one thing: Practise more. Or maybe not strange at all?

Learning Zone, here I come!


**I'm sure I wrote loads more stuff than this in the first incarnation of this post. I guess readers should be thankful to Blogger for it's ineptitude forcing the condensed version of my waffle! See - a silver lining after all!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Butterflies In My Hara

I had a whole new karate experience at the weekend. My first ever karate seminar.

I have to say I was a little nervous about it, definitely some nervous butterflies about the whole process - mostly I think because I wasn't sure what to expect. Plus, there was talk of video playback......which I'm quite certain can never be a good thing!

10 members of our club (8 students ranging from yellow to brown belt, plus Shihan and one of our Sensei's) trouped over to a fellow TKGB school in Runcorn (Juurai Martial Arts) for the seminar on Sunday afternoon.

Despite my nerves it turned out to be a really enjoyable experience. The seminar was based on Bunkai for 2 kata.

Juurai's Senior Instructor (Andy Wilkinson) took the first half of the seminar. He taught us the Niseishi kata (which Sue has talked fluently (as always) about over here). The version we were taught was similar to the Shukokai version (although Andy did talk us through and demonstrate some of the Shotokan version (called Nijushiho) to illustrate the differences.

I quite surprised myself by how quickly I was able to pick up the pattern - Sensei Andy was really good at explaining each section, breaking it down in to managable chucks and building on the bits you'd already learnt. We applied the bunkai to various sections as we were going along (which really helped with the understanding of what we were doing in the kata). It always seems pointless to me to just do kata without knowing what you're supposed to be doing. Kind of like trying to put up flat pack furniture without reading the instructions! LOL.

We did mix up partners for the Bunkai exercises but unfortunatley very few of the Juurai students were able to make the seminar (due to sickness and injury) so we were pretty much mixing with ourselves (something we do in class anyway). It would have been nice to have been able to work with more students from another school I think (always interesting to see how other people do things) but alas we out-numbered them about 5 to 1 so it wasn't to be.

After we'd run through the whole of the kata a couple of times and examined the Bunkai for the various sections the higher grades ran through it a couple of times in a multiple attacker form which was good to see. Then we watched the video playback - ugh! Just horrible. I hated seeing myself. I'm probably my own worse critic (sitting there thinking -eek - that block was sloppy, that stance was rubbish....and yes, my bum does look big in that! LOL). I know they say the camera adds 10lbs - there must have been about 5 pointing at me! :P. If nothing else, I've definitely come to the conclusion that a new Gi is justified. I've lost over 2 stone in weight since I started karate last year and bought my Gi and it absolutely swamps me. It looks like theres about 3 times more material than necessary! There's comfortable - then just plain ridiculous! I think I'll have to ask Father Christmas nicely to bring me a new one. Maybe one of these, with my name embroidered on........... I think I might have earned it this year!

Anyhoo, I digress! The video playback was both excruiating, and informative. Once we'd watched through the video of the Niseishi section and had a spot of lunch we got started on the second half of the seminar.

Shihan Dave took us through Kata Saifa. This couldn't have been more perfect for me as it's the Kata I'm currently working on for my red belt. I know the pattern for this kata, I know the moves for this kata but I'm still working on tweaking it to get it just right (you know all those little bits that you need to work on....how to transition from this stance to this stance, which arm position there). Going through the kata step by step with some people who didn't know it was really, really useful -as was the bunkai (back to those flat pack instructions again). What was particular interesting was that Shihan looked at the kata in terms of ground work application (always a recipe for some good fun!). We dragged out the training mats and worked some drops and take downs (one in-one out so Shihan could keep a close eye on some of the lower kyu and the Juurai guys who don't do a lot (if any) ground work in their training). Unfortunatley we were a little pushed for time for the second half as we needed to be out of the hall so we had to rush through the last parts of the kata a little and zap through some of the video playback for that section pretty quick (personally I think all video playback should be video in Fast Forward - it hides a multitude of errors! LOL).

All in all it was a really interesting experience. Something I'd definitely do again (and probably be a little less nervous about next time). Shihan has a number of seminars lined up for next year at our club (including some weapons ones which I'm really looking forward to). I still can't believe that I'm doing this kind of stuff. Shihan asked me in the car on the way home did I ever imagine I'd be this interested in karate.....er NO! If someone had suggested this time last year that I'd be a blue belt and attending Karate seminars I probably would have burst something from laughing. If they'd have suggested I would a) spend my Friday night at home watching THIS (subtitled martial arts movie) and b) actually enjoying it, you probably would have needed a stretcher to carry me out of there! It's strange the directions life takes you when you're least expecting it!

Its back to karate business as usual tonight with Sempai-ing for the kids class and training afterwards. Hopefully my Saifa will have improved some with the extra knowledge and practice from yesterday. I'm hoping we get to work some Taisabaki again this week too. I must have block and countered those 12 strikes a million times in my head this week! I know what I need to remember:

1. Work the angles
2. Don't be so Linear

Okay, that's probably the same thing three times but it's that important (and it worked for Tony Blair....almost ;)).

That's it till tomorrow post-training debriefing.


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Mastering the Art of Suckage.

Here we are already in November. I can't believe how fast the weeks are flying by. Another Tuesday, which means another post-Monday class debriefing.

Last night was a tough class for me. Not particulary physically tough (although my legs are feeling it somewhat from plenty of stance practice) but mentally tough.

If I had to sum my karate experience last night up in one word: FRUSTRATION.

Shihan drilled us on our lower kyu kata (Tagioko Shodan, Nidan and Sandan in particular) for about an hour, really focusing on our stances, blocks and attacks. There was a lot to take in at once. Concentrating on how your hips are placed (off for the blocks, square for the strikes), on maintaining stance (not bobbing up and down, particulary with kicks), on making sure you look before turning. I got a particular grilling over these and there seemed to be much shouting of "Marie - square your hips up", "Marie - lengthen your stance out", "Marie - bend your front knee more". There was very good reason I know why Shihan chose to pick on me so much. He's got me teaching the newbies in the kids class the first of these kata and in order for me to teach it, he needs to know that I've got it down perfectly. I know this, so ultimately I don't really mind being picked up on things (I'd much rather be picked up on this stuff now than still be doing stuff wrong several belts (and a whole lot of muscle memory) down the line and have to unpick it then. I know this, but that didn't stop my petulant "inner brat" feeling a little put out by it. LOL. I guess it doesn't matter how old we get, there's always that part of us that doesn't like being called out for doing something wrong. It whisks you straight back to primary school and pretty much makes you want to crawl under a table and hide. I managed to resist the urge though and took it on the chin. I'm reminded again of Jesse's quote I mentioned in my previous post:

"......sucking at something is a gift. It’s nothing but free information from nature, and the message reads: “Practise more”.

I'll certainly be giving these areas of my kata my full attention in future!

The last half hour of the class saw the continuation of me embracing the art of suckage! Myself and my fellow karateka Jon (he of the extraordinarily bony forearms!) were paired up to work on the Taisabaki requirements for our next gradings. For us these are a series of 12 attacks:


For red belt the response to these attacks is Block and Counter. For Purple (Jon's next belt) it's Avoid and Counter.

Kendo and I have practiced this a few times at home but clearly last night I was having a total brain fart when it came to this section. I just couldn't seem to get a handle on it at all. Jon pointed out what I'm doing wrong (which wasn't a big surprise to me) which is I'm not working the angles enough when I'm blocking. I need to be stepping out more with my blocks. It ties in with a lotus footwork pattern that seen in our previous Kata (Koke Ho) and I know I should be implementing it but I seem to really be struggling to get out of the linear mindset of our previous Taisabaki form (which is a ten step linear form so you just work forwards and backwards). Shihan suggested one way to help get into this habit is to practice working a higher requirement Taisabaki - the same 12 strikes but the responses must be kicks. This really forces you to make space between yourself and your opponent so you can open up enough of a gap to get your kicks in. I will definitely have to try that. I need to get it into my head that I need to move more. Work the angle, look for the possible rotations. Don't just stand in the line of the strike!! Grrrrrrrrr. I'm so frustrated with myself over this. I'm angry with myself for not "getting it" when I know what needs to be done.

For the moment. I'm embracing the Mastering of the Art of Suckage. I will own the suckage! It's mine and it will only force me to become a better martial artist in the long run. I hope!!

© Cookie Family Karate
Maira Gall