Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Building Blocks

Right now I am beyond frustrated that Blogger has eaten the massive post I'd just written.
Grrrrrr.I never really blog with a structure in mind...it's more a stream of consciousness kind of process, so it's almost impossible for me to rewrite a post once it's been zapped off into the lost realms of cyberspace.
So annoying.




So. Lots of stuff has been going on around here of late. We had a grading a few weeks ago where I was (very happily) awarded my red belt (4th kyu). I know there rages wide debate amongst karate exponents on the validity and usefulness of the coloured belt grading system. Sue has a great post on this topic here, which you should read, if you haven't already. Personally I have to agree with Sue's sentiments here:

"Yes I agree that it’s not just about getting the black belt. I don’t want to follow some watered down syllabus that fast tracks me to shodan. I want to immerse myself more fully in the physical, mental and cultural aspects of martial arts and I need time to do that properly. BUT… I like my brown belt and I liked all the coloured belts I had before – they are markers of my progress, they help me put my new found skills and knowledge into context, they motivate me. They are like mini rewards for the effort I have made. And yes, I want that black belt."

For me making my next belt is a way of showing (to myself) that I've begun to start to master (I won't say mastered....clearly I have a long way to go before I master anything and I don't think truly mastering a martial art even begins until black belt) a certain skill set. It's a milestone. A way marker. A tool to say "this is how far you've travelled since you began with that brand new (decidedly unbendy) white belt around your waist so long ago". It serves another purpose too. In our club grades are only awared to students who have not only a certain knowledge, but also the ability to implement that knowledge. With a higher kyu belt comes the possibility (and indeed likelihood) that lower kyu grades will come to you with questions. There's nothing like being quizzed on kata or kihon to make you make sure you know your stuff!

I've been giving the process and evolution of my karate training much thought of late. I find I'm beginning to see the building blocks of my karate now. Kendo and I had a discussion after the Sunday class this week. We'd been doing some higher level combinations (involving cross blocks). Kendo has always struggled previously when we've done combinations but this week he managed them with no problems. I think it comes from building blocks. When you first begin combination work there are so many elements to think about. You've got to think how to form the block/strike, then you've got to think about how to move between them, then think about how to perform the next technique, then transition again. It's no wonder it's hard work when you start. As you progress through your training the blocks and strikes become second nature. Your muscle memory takes care of those and you only have to worry about the transition (much less to think about, so the whole thing seems that little bit easier). You've got a nice foundation of building blocks to balance your transitions on. Once you've worked combinations for a while the transitions themselves become second nature and soon find you only have to do a combination a few times before it sticks (you've got a nice shiny building block tower to play with!).

I'm seeing links like this all the time now. Clearly they were always there, but it seems that the pieces of the syllabus are falling into place more and more. In our classes we're constantly looking back over things we've already covered, and looking ahead slightly to things we need to know so as part of this process you start to see patterns unfold and pathways become clear. We started with this drill which we use here and that progresses to this part here which leads onto this. It's comforting to know my understanding and awareness of karate is increasing. When I see a new combination now I'm looking not only at the combination in and of itself but also "where have I seen this before?" (kata....and some bunkai), "how can I use this?" (in my taisabaki forms and kumite). I see whole new avenues opening up each class.

I think I mentioned previously that we were beginning new classes at a different Dojo location on Thursdays. These started last week and were already a great success. There were six students for the junior's class (there would have been 7 except Miss Grace has been stuck at home with the Chicken Pox, bless her. She's not amused). I'm acting as Sempai for the junior class there as well as the Monday class. Its strange. I never really harboured any inclination towards teaching growing up (I never thought I was one to impart knowledge well to others) but I've actually really take to it and I think (hope!) I'm doing a reasonable job. It's hard work teaching little people (they don't always have the attention span you'd like them to have) but it's really rewarding too. Everytime one of my little guys (they're mostly boys!) grades it's a really proud moment to know you had a hand in them acquiring that knowledge. Shaping young minds! LOL. Scary!

The adult class had an even greater start with 20 students (and not all the current ones how'd signed up where there!). It was a very different vibe from the Sunday and Monday classes though. We've been training together so long now in the other group (with the addition of new students only one or two at a time so they're easily absorbed) then we've becoming quite comfortable with each other and how we train. Having a class where more than half the people were new students was a whole different ball game! It was back to very, very basics for us - how to make a fist 101 being the first port of call, and became a opportunity for higher kyu grades to get into groups with the new students to help them through the techniques we were trying. I'm a firm believer now that there's nothing like having to explain something to someone else to help crystallise it in your mind. It's a great feeling to know that you now understand things that were completely alien to you not so long ago. Its much easier to see the control, or the escape. To know where your opponents body mechanics are going to lead them (and you) before you get there. It's a real eye opener to stuff you sometimes didn't realise you'd learnt and processed.

What struck me most about the first adult class was two students in particular. A young engaged couple had come together. They're looking to improve their fitness and wanted to do something they could do as a couple. Reminders of where Kendo and I were at when we started were obvious. The woman looked as terrified as I remember being! It was nice to be able to say.... hey, I was you 18 months ago! It won't always feel like that!

So, lots of changes around here (all of them good, thankfully). For me the immediate karate future mostly holds all things Bassai Dai (my required 3rd Kyu kata (purple...my fave! yey :). I have the pattern down to pat now but Shihan wants me to work on really getting my stances in place properly. I need to be able to perform this kata at full focus for my grading. The part I'm really struggling with is moving in back leaning stance (kokutsu dachi). I can't seem to get a handle on shifting my weight through the transitions without looking and feeling awkward. I've been quizzing the higher grades on tips for how they deal with this (it seems a common problem with this kata) and I have some ideas....any other tips from the land of karate blogging are greatly appreciated - I know some of you have this kata under your belt already (so to speak!).

Right then. That's it for now. A little disjointed I'm afraid. Blame blogger for ruthlessly eating the first post and totally crashing my thought train. Hopefully it won't be so long till bloggy inspiration hits next time.



  1. There's nothing wrong with being proud of the scrap of fabric around your waist as long as it's just a symbol of your inner progression. As for Bassai; try doing the kata with your thumbs tucked into that coloured belt. Just imagine the blocks and strikes. I found this really helped me to focus on how my stances transtition...

  2. I've typed up a long post on blogger and lost it enough times that I now write up my posts in a Word document on my computer so that it's saved there first before I upload it to the internet.

    Congrats on your red belt grading! It's funny - in my class red belt is our last before black.

    I can really relate to what you said about teaching the kids. I help out with the kids class pretty regularly. I've never been one to like teaching, but I've come to really enjoy it. Being a part of their training is awesome. I usually work with the beginners, so seeing them going up for their first test is a really defining moment for me as an assistant instructor.

  3. Hi Marie, we obviously share similar thoughts and ideas about karate training and have the same kind of enthusiasm and curiosity about it. Congrats on your red belt (red is the first belt after white for us but I know it's also a Master's level in some systems!). The version of Bassai Dai you are learning must be different to the one I'm learning as we have no back stance in it. However I sympathise with your difficulty doing the transition into back stance. Try practising the transition backwards i.e start where you want to end up (in back stance) and then just pivot round to where you would have come from to get there. This will help you assess the exact position you need to place your feet in when beginning the transition. I don't know if this makes sense on paper but it works for me!

  4. Thanks for the tips guys. Suze... doing kata without arms is so hard!! LOL. Who'd that thought it. Definitley helps though.

    Sue - I'm trying to go through the steps backwards and that's really helping with the foot positioning - which is half the battle I think.


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Maira Gall