Monday, 28 November 2011

Playing Uke

Yesterday was Black Belt grading day at the Isami Ryu dojo. Not mine (thankfully! LOL).

Two of my fellow karateka were grading, Keith for his Shodan and Sensei Chrissy (who I assist in the Little Dragon's class) for her 3rd Dan.

I was invited to attend and participate (as uke) in the grading and it was an amazing experience. Particulary pertinent to me as it was my first experience of a black belt grading and it was great to see an example of what I will be facing then the time comes for mine.

It was a tough experience for sure. Over an hour and a half of fitness/stamina training including all sorts of hideous things like tricep dips (yuk!) and wide arm push ups and planks (hate those... but actually managed to hold them for the alloted time so was quite proud of myself!) and sit ups of a million incarnations and pad drills and kick drills and combinations (both familiar ones and ones set by instructors from other clubs which weren't at all familiar). And that was just the beginning!

I was seriously flagging at a few points but managed to keep hydrated and fuelled (with the help of some carb-gels... BEST. INVENTION. EVER! LOL) and completed everything that was asked of me.

The rest of the grading is something of a blur! When DH asked me later what we'd done I would talk through bits and kept forgetting stuff and ten minutes later would be like... oh, yeah and we also did......X, Y, Z.  There was randori work (starting back to back and remaining on your knees while you attempt to pin your opponents shoulders), the candidates doing escapes from various grabs. Some Aiki-Jitsu work involving lots of continuation of movements and some lovely elbow locks/arm bars (my left arm is extremely sore this morning from being somewhat hyper-extended in the excitement of an arm bar! LOL).

There was more pad work based on one of the non-club combinations given by the panel members (which I really enjoyed, even though it was hard work remembering the combination (very strange getting to do a headbutt, we don't ordinarily use them in our style). Then there was a huge amount of taisabaki (forms based on a set array of attack/angles). I ended up in the role of uke for a considerable number of those (which probably explains why every inch of my body is vying for the "most painful appendage award" this morning.)

Thankfully after making it through all of that us non-grading participants got to sit down for a while with the candidates did kata and their presentations. I don't think I've ever been so glad of a sit down and a banana snack as I was at the moment. Keith gave an excellent presentation on Kata Bassai Dai including a really interesting take on the bunkai for the kata. Chrissy presented Kata Hangetsu with excellent bunkai and a really well thought out weapons section with Sai versus 4 other attacking weapons (Jo, Bo, Sword and Tonfa). They certainly set the bar high in terms of presenation work. I've already got my thinking cap on over what I might do for my required presentation!

Keith and Chrissy both performed amazingly and accordingly they were both successfully awarded their grades. They certainly did us proud.

In terms of the learning curve for me I was very pleased that I managed to keep up with all of the fitness requirements. That tells me at least that even at this point my fitness is good enough to make it through such a long stint of fitness testing.  I have plenty of time to work on improving my fitness which can only get better. As to whether I would have been able to function enough to perform kata and a presenation to a coherent standard? I think I might have been hard pressed to form a coherent sentance yesterday, never mind present and then face questions from a panel.  Definitely an incentive to improve your fitness if nothing else!


Monday, 14 November 2011

Your (Not-So) Flexible Friend.

So, here I am again after a week back in the karate fold. I've had a much more positive attitude towards my training this week which was clearly evident to my Shihan and my fellow karateka. Definitely got my head back in the karate zone. Phew!

Now I'm back to full steam I'm incredibly conscious of the fact that I really need to be stepping up my game now. Knocking on the door of 1st Kyu I need to make sure that I'm focusing on doing the absolute best I can with the tools I've been given.

Following on from my post last week about confronting your weakness I've decided that I'm going to take a look at the areas of my training that really need work and implement some stragegies to improve them.

Perhaps the biggest weakness that I omitted from the list in the last post is FLEXIBILITY, or rather lack thereof.

As a young child (up the age of 10 or so) I was quite a sporty individual. I took 4 gymnastics classes a week, was on the squad for the gymnastics club, I ran, I swam and generally had a good level of fitness and flexibility.

Around age 11 (or there abouts, I not sure exactly how old I was but I recall it was around the time I started Secondary School) I had a somewhat  ridiculously stupid accident at a local park. It involved one of those old-fashioned A-frame log built slides that were really popular in kid's playground in the 80s... like this one (sorry for the awful photo, its the only one I could find!)... do you remember them?

Sitting on the top of the wooden frame (not on the metal bit) as we had want to do at that age I was nudged off by another person sitting next to me and slid down the steep side (where the steps were) and landed on the bottom of my back. Cue a bruise coccyx (youch!) and many months of pain. The  result of this childhood stupidity was that I had trouble bending at the waist for a very long time which ultimately led to very short hamstrings (as well as I think being a contributing factor to ongoing back problems I've suffered as an adult).

In terms of my karate journey, short hamstrings make for painful stretching sessions and pretty crubbish kicks. Not so much of an issue for front and side kicks but for round kicks I find that I can't get enough rotation on my hip (my pelvis doesn't tilt very well) to get a good kick in and for crescent kicks I struggle with getting any height (I just don't stretch that far!).

A little while ago I purchased this book:

Unfortunately apart from a brief look through and an attempt to formula a stretching plan when I first purchased it it's mostly been languishing on the bookshelf for months. I've recently dragged it down again and I'm hoping to put together a plan that will improve my all over flexibility as well as more specifically my hamstrings. Hopefully it will mean an improvement in my kicks (as well as my other kihon in terms of hip rotation) and might even help with my recurrant back problems.

So, any stretching tips from all you martial arts bloggers out there? All ideas gratefully received.


Monday, 7 November 2011

Like Boiling Water.

Let’s begin with the words of a Karate Master. Number 11 in Gichin Funakoshi’s “Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate”:

Karate wa yu no goto shi taezu natsudo wo ataezareba moto no mizu ni kaeru. Karate is like boiling water. If not given heat, it will go cold.

 My karate (and indeed the rest of my fitness in general) has definitely been off the boil of late.  The last week or so I’ve come to the scary realization that my “I’ll just have a few days of not doing much/not eating well/not going to the gym” has very quickly stretched into months. How frighteningly easy it is to slip back into old habits. Fortunately, an awareness of being back into old habits means a decision that things need to get back on track. I need to get back on the boil. I didn’t work hard for 2 years to shed 35lbs just to let it slowly drift back on again.

The difficulty is working out how to get the heat back on. After a bit of self-reflection I know that I’m guilty of happily working on the things that I know I can do. I like the comfort zone. It’s…..well… comfortable.  Mindfully though, I know that the comfort zone isn’t what will generate the heat needed to boil my metaphorical karate water.

 I’m reminded of this post over where Jesse talks about karate zones:

The Comfort Zone

The Learning Zone

The Panic Zone

(a good read if you have a few minutes).

Basically I know I need to get my backside out of my comfort zone and into my learning zone, but how to do that?

Ultimately I think it begins with confronting your weaknesses. If you continue in your comfort zone only working at what you’re good at you’re only going to get better at what you’re good at. But it’s hardly a challenge, not enough energy to bring things to that boil.

Stepping out of the comfort zone, looking at your weaknesses, braving the scary waters of what you’re not good at. That’s what will bring the energy, the heat needed to get your karate bubbling nicely.

So, following that mindset, what are my weakness?  Alas, I think they’re probably numerous but there are a few of which I’m particularly conscious.

1)      Kata.

For me the weakness in kata isn’t learning the pattern (I’m usually pretty okay with that – although for some reason Empi is giving me some serious brain ache at the moment). Nor is it the techniques (for the most part I’m okay with those). The weakness in my kata is intensity. Kime ultimately, I guess.  I struggle to put some “umph” in my kata.  I used to be quite  a fiery personality but age and two kids has mellowed me somewhat and I don’t find it easy to put venom in my kata performance. Couple that with the fact that I actually find the rhythm of kata quite soothing and it means my kata tend to look a little laid back. As my Shihan has said to me before… like I’m enjoying it a little too much. Short of getting my fellow karateka to put me in a bad mood before every kata session I’m not quite sure how to deal with this. Visualising my opponent helps some. I think I might just have had a “eureka” moment though so I’ll move onto the next weaknesses and see where that thought leads me.

2)      Kumite.

Ahhhh. Kumite. The bain of my Martial Arts existence. Is it truly weird for someone who loves karate to hate fighting so much? That’s the problem here. I  just. don’t. like. sparring. There, I said it. Shoot me now! Prior to starting karate classes two years ago I had never really intentionally tried to hit anything or anyone (maybe once but I was about 7 so I don’t think that counts). It was a completely alien concept to me and it took me a while to get my head around.  Sparring then, the most difficult element of karate from my point of view, because I don’t really like trying to hit people, and I don’t really love getting hit (who does, really?).  It’s also the worse element for me because I find it really difficult to see any progress in myself in this area. I must be getting better somewhere along the line or I’d be having my arse handed to me by white belts all the time but I just can’t see the progression. Maybe it’s because even after all this time I still feel awkward and clumsy and bumbling when I’m sparring. Kumite is the point in my karate where I’m certain someone is going to come bounding into the dojo and shout “Oi, you with the brown belt (did I mention I made 2nd Kyu by the way, I can’t remember) you total faker, you should not be here, be off with you, you charlatan”. I feel like I’m going to get “found out” any minute. I’m thinking it might be a clue to the Kata weakness though.  I’m beginning to see a tie in here.

3)      Breathing.

Despite my many protestations in class (usually when my lips have turned blue after a sparring bout or a long kata) that “Breathing is for wimps” I really think I need to start working on this one! How it is possible for someone to forget to breathe? Honestly?  I get so hyper focused on the task at hand that I forget the most intrinsic of bodily functions. Stupid. Dangerous. Not good.  I’ve been trying to work on this with some “Awareness of Breath” techniques but I can’t even get that right. Breathing in for the count of three, hold for three, breathing out for three. Trying to focus just on the breath whilst counting. Who would have thought counting to 10 was so damn hard? I can barely get past 3 before I’m distracted from my breathe by some errant thought or outside distraction. I think there’s definitely a link to this weaknesses and the kata issue too.

Tying all that up then. I’m struggling with kata intensity, kumite and breathing and the “eureka” moment is that maybe all these things are connected. I don’t like sparring so I have difficulty seeing the kata form in terms of a fight scenario. Which means it’s hard to get that fight level intensity in there. When I am sparring or doing kata I focus so much on the techniques that I forget to breathe, which means I can’t get the tension/intensity levels right in the kata techniques and in sparring I’m not getting my brain and muscles fuelled with enough oxygen to be able to think well enough around the fight.

Lots to think about for me in terms of getting out of my comfort zone and getting my karate back on the boil.  Apologies if this is something of a karate brain dump. I haven’t really thought about my karate in such an analytical way for a while and it seems to have all spilled out once I got going!

Food for thought for sure. All this talk of boiling has made me want a brew though …. Off to put the kettle on.

© Cookie Family Karate
Maira Gall