Thursday, December 31, 2015

If It's Not Broke

J usually rides her bike to work, but since it's New Year's Eve I drove her, so she doesn't have to worry about the people who might have started celebrating early. A car offers a little more protection. We'd been watching some bunkai videos and J was critiquing them. She's never trained at an established dojo and has trained only to be as ruthlessly efficient as possible, so she's more critical than I am. We started talking about the false idea of an exchange during combat, or rather taking turns. Watch most UFC matchs and you'll see what I'm talking about. A fighter will get in a technique, a punch, a kick or even a combination and they'll all land, and he'll pause, step back, stop and see what the effect was. They do this even if the opponent is stunned, reeling, moving backwards and about to fall. They've performed their combination, so they stop and wait their turn.

We do this during sparring all the time. Wait, opening, strike, wait, opening, strike, attack, defend, strike, attack, defend, wait, opening, strike. Rarely is it attackattackattackattackattack. Drills are practiced this way as well. Attack, defend, counter attack, break. We are trained to stop after we've "succeeded" even if the result is not what we want. We are rarely taught to "shoot until they're down" as gunfighters are taught. They are taught to keep firing until the enemy drops, not when they hit a vital target or when they "should" go down. When me and J spar, I catch myself wanting to do different techniques even if the first technique continues to land. We learn to take turns, and we want to practice what we want to practice. It seems it doesn't work that way.

When we spar we need to continue to do a technique that is working, until it stops working. The kata changes techniques every few steps, but the kata is not fighting. In kumite, crossing hands, we don't get to decide what techniques we'll throw. We don't get to decide what techniques will work. If we did than fighting and self defense would be very easy. We'd decide to do x and x would work, no matter what happened. We need a plan of course and we need a plan for when the first plan doesn't work, but we don't abandon plan A when it's working just to shake things up.

I find myself when I engage in kumite doing this at times and I see it in others. We plan for failure and want to test the counter to the counter. I punch and it lands, I use the same punch and it lands and I think to myself "I need to practice something else" so I try a different punch or technique and it doesn't land and I've lost the advantage. We shouldn't give quarter, we shouldn't give the opponent a chance.

When a person attacks their first attack is their chance, they don't get a second. The first is their chance to put you down and their only chance. After this they shouldn't get another, and this is what we should train for. If technique A is working and it continues to work and stops the other from attacking while you pummel them than you shouldn't switch to technique B until technique A fails. We shouldn't train for an exchange, or taking turns.

If it's not broke, don't fix it.

Motobu Choki's Watashi no Karate-Jutsu by Patrick McCarthy Review

My cat is currently nuzzling me to death as I try and write this. Apparently she thinks that sitting down in front of the computer is proof that I'm bored and free to pet her. On to business.

Karate my Art or Watashi no Karate-Jutsu by Motobu Choki has been on my wish list since I discovered it at the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society website.

 It's translated by Patrick and Yuriko McCarthy and is more of a compilation of articles and essays than just a single book. It even includes a piece by Kyan Chotoku, amongst other high level karate practitioners. There are much too many to names to list.

I've wanted this book for awhile and even though the book itself doesn't cost that much the shipping from Australia is steep. It's hard to justify, for me at least, spending almost $50 on such a short book. It was however completely worth it.

If you don't know who Patrick McCarthy is and you practice karate, shame on you. You're obviously not doing your homework. There's a laundry list of awesome things about him including a tournament career, full contact fighting career, time spent in China, Okinawa and mainland Japan doing extensive research on the history, application and theory behind karate and the developer of an old-school style of karate based on his habitual acts of physical violence theory, two person drills and kata. There's more, much more, but I'll stop here.

The book is short, very short and I can't help but think of Motobu as a kindred spirit. If I were to write a book on how I practice karate it would probably be very short as well. Many things in karate need to be learned for yourself. Even if someone flat out tells you what to do, if you don't understand the concepts than you won't believe them. This happens to me when I read the Bubishi. I think "Well crap it was written right there all along. Why didn't I just do that from the beginning?"

Motobu's book has more guidelines than instructions. He's definitely allowing room for people to figure out stuff on their own. This also shows the more fluid and flexible form of karate that was practiced in Okinawa during the time he lived. It seemed inherently understood that there were no hard and fast rules for anything that your only loyalty was to yourself and not your "style" and that it was expected that you would learn, change, adapt and grow your karate to suite yourself rather than stick to a rigid curriculum designed by someone else that was supposed to have all the answers.

Also contained within the book are his two person drills, training tips and some of his theory on the Naihanchi kata with a step by step guide on how to perform the kata.

One thing I found interesting about his take on Naihanchi was that the almost infamous elbow at the beginning of the kata is explained as a punch. When I read this my mind immediately raced back to Jack Depsey's book Championship Boxing, where he explains the mechanics of the hook. Elbow bent with the first and forearm almost parallel to the body with the power coming from the rotation of your trunk. I imagined having a head or neck in the crook of my elbow where I'd have much more leverage than at my hand taking advantage of my body weight and not my arm strength and twisting a sharp hook into someone's temple. If the person backed up slightly out of my grasp, the attack would instantly turn into an elbow without reorienting or rethinking about it. Two for one. Sweet.

This also shows a profound difference between the tactics of old school Okinawan karate and modern karate. Old karate is halitosis range wrap someone up and pound the crap out of them until they drop type of fighting. Basically that your "block" should prevent the other person from reorienting for another attack. They should be off balance, out of weapons and defenseless, while you rain down hell on them. This is very different than the fencing type quick exchange chess match style engagements that we see in modern prearranged kumite where after your first three attacks are parried you find the opening and end it with one precise "killing" blow.

I will say that this book is not about self defense. This book is about dueling and brawling, or rather mutual combat. It's not a handbook on how to deal with sudden unprovoked aggression, and I wouldn't expect it to be. Having a 100 street fights under your belt makes you qualified for street fighting not self defense in a modern first world country.

Overall, the book is wonderful, insightful and illuminating. I'd recommend it to anyone with a serious passion for karate.

I will add as an aside that I was very nervous about getting this book. I always advocate that people use the scientific method and try to disprove their assumptions rather than look for confirmation. This is easy to say and harder to do, because it's unnatural. This book for me was something that could either reaffirm my views on karate or completely obliterate them. Motobu being a known fighter, who trained in the classical ways of karate, before they were classical, could completely prove me wrong, because he actually lived his karate. He learned, trained and fought during a time of kakidameshi before there were concrete styles of karate. He was also dedicated to the old ways. If there was anyone who could completely change my views on karate it was this man. I'm happy to say that my views still stand and my convictions are stronger, but it doesn't mean I'm right. It only means I haven't proven myself wrong.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Stuff and Things

Recently finished reading Facing Violence by Rory Miller, mostly because I've been a little under the weather and believe in letting my body rest and recoup though I hate having recover ground in my fitness progress. If that makes sense. Also picked up the Art of Hojo Undo by Michael Clarke, so I'll also have a review of that when I'm finished with it. I guess it's book review season on my site.

I've got a few different post ideas kicking around my head that haven't been put to paper, so I'll either have a review or a thought tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Training, and a Review of Meditations on Violence

Strength training and kata with J followed by a game of Get Up. The game is pretty simple. One person face down on a mat the other person on top of them in any position they want. The idea is that the person on the bottom is in a very compromised position. The goal of the person face down is to get to their feet and escape. The goal of the person on top is to keep the other person from making it to their feet. Pretty simple. It's a drill for body mechanics and escape and not a fighting drill. At it's simplest form, the person on top uses their dead weight and just holds on forcing the other to manipulate them to escape. You can also ramp it up with actual fighting techniques that the person also has to deal with, but the main goal is always escape. It should go without saying that the person on the bottom is allowed to use controlled strikes and techniques to get free, but they shouldn't try and move to the mount or take the person's back for a rear-naked choke. They should fight toward the goal.

J is better at striking than escaping, and I'm better at escaping than striking. She bends my fingers back, gouges, hits sensitive places, but sometimes does this when she doesn't have to. I forget to strike when I can and focus on squirming out of stuff. Probably a bad thing. If the other person is more focused on trying to breath from a spear hand to the neck than he'll probably be less focused on trying to keep a hold of me.

Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller

Holy shit.

I love books like this because they increase my known unknowns. The stuff that you know you don't know. Unlike unknown unknowns, which are the things you don't know you don't know. Those are the things most likely to kill you. Like eating poisonous plants, or picking up deadly creatures, or believing that your knife defense skills work.

Unlike Facing Violence by Mr. Miller that I'm currently reading, it's not an instruction manual, or a road map. It's got a lot of the same information, but not all of the stories. Meditations is all the wet gooey icky shit best expressed through narrative.

"Gather around children, and I'll tell you the story of the first time I saw a man get his spine broken."
 (Not a quote from the book)

In a nutshell, like the sentence on the front of the book, it's about the difference between martial arts and violence. Martial arts for the most part is the fantasy that we play at, violence is what actually happens or the stuff that has happened. He explains the differences, the similarities and what we might do about it. Or as he puts it, the difference between a unicorn and a rhino.

I don't want to get into a lot of the nitty gritty details of the book, because I'm trying to convince you to read it. Just go read it. I bought it for less than $7.00 on my Kindle from Amazon. It's also on Smashwords I believe.

I will say that if this book doesn't scare the shit out of you, and make you think deeply about your training, your goals and your moral and ethical lines than you're either an idiot, or you've seen some really fucked up shit. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

BAB Training

Thirty minutes training with J. Five minutes of one step sparring with the metronome. Rory Miller type rules: each get a simultaneous movement per beat, full structure and movement, no targets are off limits, but slow implementation for safety. A few of his touch sensitivity drills. One of us blindfolded with a few points of contact. I call out a target and she touches it with a striking surface. Example, "throat" she touches my throat with her knuckles. Another blindfolded drill where she's blindfolded and she puts her hands on my shoulders, I initiate a strike in slow motion and she blocks based on what she feels.

I have a responsibility to be her worst nightmare, to show no mercy. I'm not going to drill her in the face full force, but I'm not going to limit my techniques or give her an inch. Today during one step, I had her curled up in a ball raining down blows on her. Controlled of course. "Okay you got me," she said. "You're not allowed to practice dying," I responded. She hit me in the nuts and then hit me in the neck with her forearm. Good girl. I won't come close to being the most vicious person she might meet, but I still have to try.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Small Karate Physics Lesson

Physics is very counter intuitive. The fact that us and everything around us is actually accelerating toward the earth all the time under the force of gravity is weird and strange. The only thing keeping us from falling through the earth is that the ground can absorb the combined force of our mass and acceleration. This is more commonly called weight. The moment that what we are standing on can't absorb this force we fall, like falling through ice, rotten wood or just anything.

Objects also have a limit to the amount of force they can take. There is an absolute threshold to the amount of force any specific object can absorb. After this threshold it either breaks, is crushed or is pushed. Basically it will deform. This force works both ways. If I punch a wall and the force is more than the wall can withstand it will deform in some way. If I punch a wall and the force is more than my fist can withstand it will deform in some way. They bend, break, buckle, shatter or if they can withstand the force nothing will happen. If my fist can withstand the force, but the wall can't I'll either push the entire wall backwards or my fist will go through it. I also can't impart more force to the wall than it can take before breaking. If it takes 10 newtons to break the wall than 10 newtons is the maximum amount of force it will encounter. Even if my punch had the power to put a hole in a wall that could withstand 20 newtons, if the wall I'm currently punching can only take 10 then it receives 10 newtons and my hand goes through it.

What this basically means is that no matter how big, strong, fast or proficient my striking is there is an absolute upper limit that I cannot cross without damaging myself. I could produce a lot of force jumping off the Empire State Building, but I'll splatter on the pavement. You can't out exercise physics. The strongest toughest man in the world still splatters on the pavement after jumping off the Empire State Building. Because there is this upper limit, one needs to be more concerned more with not losing energy rather than gaining energy. If I can only hit with 10 newtons of energy than I want to make sure that all those 10 newtons are getting transferred into my target. One way that you lose energy is through bad structural alignment.

Because the force of a strike works both ways, my own body can act as a shock absorber for the other person. If my arm is bent the wrong way, or if my legs aren't in the right position my joints will bend with the force of the impact and some of the force will be absorbed by my flexing joints. It's the same as jumping from a high place and bending your knees on impact instead of locking them out. Locking them out is more jarring, because you receive the full brunt of the impact. The same goes for striking.

Now if I strike someone and it sends them flying backwards, I've also wasted energy. Instead of the person absorbing all of the energy of my strike, some of the energy is just used to push the person backwards. I want the person to absorb all of my energy. This is where the hikite comes in. If I pull them into my strike, they can't bleed off the force by moving backwards their body has to absorb the impact or break. It becomes similar to stomping someone on the ground, because the ground won't flex with the impact, all the energy is either absorbed by the person or they break. It's why being stomped is dangerous and a killing blow in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. A hikite doesn't make you punch harder, it just means you don't waste the energy you were already using.

This is why structure, good structure, is what I think about the most. I want to hit with good structure, so that I don't waste any of the finite amount of energy that I can produce. I want to hit like a hammer, not a pool noodle. It's also why you strike anatomically weak parts of the body. The frontal bone of a person's skull can absorb more force than your fist, therefore you will shatter your fist if you punch it. A person's neck however cannot withstand as much force as a fist, so their neck gets crushed when you punch it.

At it's very heart, striking is about whacking people with geometry and physics.

A Karate Christmas

This Christmas like most Christmases I got martial arts books. Facing Violence and Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller, as well as Watashi no Karate-Jutsu by Motobu Choki translated by Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy.

I've already devoured Watashi no Karate-Jutsu and can't thank Mr. and Mrs. McCarthy enough for translating the book and the accompanying articles and essays that are attached to it. To me, it really shows the differences between the thinking and training goals of old style Ryukyu fighting traditions and modern karate. The one thing that I found immensely interesting was even during Motobu's time, kata was a bit of an enigma.

I'm half-way through Meditations on Violence and once I've read all of them I'll be doing a short review. Especially short when it comes to Motobu's book because it's very brief and I feel that if I write too much about it, I'll be undermining all the hard work of all the people that worked on it.

So far, they've all been awesome.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Vital Point Bunkai Test

Many times martial applications are developed based on how it could work and not based on how it could fail. It's very easy to develop interpretations on a best case scenario basis. There are so many different scenarios that can play out that it's easy to find one where your five step wrist lock of death analysis fits and puts an enemy on their butt, however, we not only need to know when a technique will work, but more importantly how it can fail and fail hard. A way to test this is by knowing your vital points.

Vital points work both ways and there are several that require almost no power generation or skill to damage and are severely debilitating. These points are the ears, eyes, throat and where the base of the skull and neck meet (we'll call it C1 from here on out).

A cupped-hand slap to the ear can cause permanent deafness and loss of balance. A finger in the eye can obviously cause severe pain and blindness. Any strike to the neck including a nukite can close a windpipe or cut off blood flow. A strike to the C1 vertebrae can cause death with only the momentum of the arm.

These are the baseline vital points that need to be defended and denied access while performing a technique. If your bunkai allows easy access to these vital points than it fails and should either be modified to meet this criteria or abandoned.

With this in mind, it's easy to see why many preparatory uke positions begin with one hand or the other up by your ear with the forearm blocking your neck. It's a smart standard operating procedure.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Kata with Intent

When I first started practicing karate, I was told that the techniques in kata would spring forth subconsciously when they were needed. It was supposed to be like magic, and I practiced kata like it was a prayer to the karate gods to make me strong. Practicing in this way never made me any better. I still fell back on the type of kickboxing techniques that we're so familiar with when we see people spar. My kata was empty. It lacked intent and was never linked to action.

Kata requires intent. We need to visualize or rather feel what we are doing for it to have any impact on our abilities. We cannot just blindly go through the motions and expect to make any improvement. An illiterate can copy a book it doesn't mean that they can read. Fast or slow each movement should down our opponent, protect ourselves from harm and allow us to escape.

Without this, kata is merely empty gestures.

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Belts are a big deal in the martial arts. There's always a conversation somewhere about what a black belt is or what it means. In most discussions about martial arts you can often find the comment "they're not a real black belt," or "our black belts have to earn it." Even in dojo where the phrase, "a belt is for keeping your gi closed," there's some sort of belt system. There's numerous arguments for why a belt system is needed, and most of them have to do with making it easier on instructors, who don't spend enough time with their students and dangling a carrot in front of students, so they work "harder."

It seems rather disingenuous to talk about how the belts don't matter and then have a belt system. Students should really work hard, because they want to work hard and learn. If they work hard, they get to learn new stuff and if they don't work hard than they don't learn new stuff. Simple really.

As far as making it easier on instructors, this is ridiculous. Instructors should know their students. They should know what they're capable of and a simple question like "who knows (blank) kata?" is simple enough to do to separate people into different groups. The question is usually asked anyway.

In my opinion, belts devalue skill, place emphasis on rank and make people cling to organizations and associations, so they can keep their precious black cloth. 

The only reasonable argument for belts is for sporting classification. For this you really only need white, brown and black. Novice, intermediate and advanced.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Karate Programming: The Software

This post really is very closely connected to the last one, but I've broken it up because it tackles a different aspect. Mostly conditioning, meaning operant conditioning. I'd also like to take the time to cite Rory Miller from Chiron Training as the source for the basic idea though the execution is somewhat different.

The next step in programming ourselves using karate is to condition our brain to react accordingly to the situation without having to run through a laundry list of techniques or responses. We are giving general jobs to the movements in our kata, which I believe are used generally to attack our opponents based on position and not necessarily based on our opponent's own attack. They can attack from the left, right, back, front, and laterally (coming in from the sides) and medially (coming down the middle).  To a lesser extent they can attack from above and below. This leaves about eight positions and a few basic counters and reversals, which is much easier to hold in our heads and condition than the thousands of different individual attack variations, which can be thrown at us.

We condition ourselves through partner practice by using trial and error, and employing the stimulus, response, success and failure pattern to ingrain it. This means for every situation we are given (the stimulus) we act (the response) and it either succeeds or fails. When we succeed our brain releases "feel good" hormones, which reward us, like when we do well on a test, or it punishes by making us feel bad, like when we do horrible on a test. The successes we will retain and reuse and the failures will slowly be weeded out and abandoned.

An example of this is the first set of repeated movements in Seisan. It's a middle block, punch, step combination, which is most beneficial for attacks where the opponent comes straight down the middle. The stimulus for your partner is any attack that comes down the middle. Grabs, punches, pushes, kicks, gouges etc as long as they come down the middle are neutralized and countered with the above movement. Your partner is not constrained by strict adherence to the movement, but is allowed to use it as they wish to reach a successful result. Each success or failure is allowed to stand on it's own. It's also important to note that your partner doesn't have to use the movement differently for each attack. If it works, they should keep doing it the same way. If it fails, they should try something different.

While you can be made aware of what plane of attack your partner is going to use, you should not be aware of the individual attack. This will keep you from preemptively preparing yourself for each attack. You won't know what your enemy may do, so you shouldn't train like you can read minds.

These are the general guidelines I use to train myself and my wife and they've been much more successful than any of the previous drills and exercises that I've tried to ingrain these techniques. I hope they're helpful to you in your own training.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Karate Programming: The Wiring

Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

This is something I heard in the Marine Corps, and I think it brings up an important difference when it comes to how we build neurological pathways in our brain. This is how we learn most anything, but it applies to karate as well.

The more we practice something the more neural pathways we build in our brain for that activity. Our brain has a property called plasticity where it can adapt itself and literally change it's structure to make certain activities more efficient. The more we perform a movement the more efficient our brain becomes in interpreting and initiating the movement. Walking is a good example.

We may forget this at times, but walking is a learned skill. Children learn how to walk through trial and error until they can get the timing and weight shift correct to walk without falling. The more the children walk the stronger those neural pathways for walking become until they become almost unconscious movement. If we are in good health, we usually don't have to think about putting one foot in front of the other and we use our body's ability to sense position to guide our movements instead of sight. It is the cumulative affect of those successful steps that lead to those neural pathways being strong. If the unsuccessful attempts outweigh or are even with the successful attempts than the neural pathways remain weak.

Karate practice must be the same way. Deliberate, consistent and with intent over and over again until the principles of those movements build strong neural pathways. The more movements the longer this takes, the more inconsistent the techniques the more those pathways become diluted.

In karate, we use structure to defeat strength. Proper bone alignment and posture leads to good structure, which must be perfect every time. We want to obliterate our enemy with a strike, not break our hand or wrist. Each movement must conform to proper mechanics and structure. Practice must be conducted carefully to only build pathways for the most efficient and most useful movements and techniques and weed out all those that are sub optimal or redundant.

The next step is conditioning those movements through operant conditioning to hard wire the correct circumstances where each movement can be used. We've perfected the movement now we need to give it a job to do.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Karate Programming: the hardware

I've spent a little bit of time writing about this in other posts, but I figured I dedicate a couple completely to this idea. The idea is that you can program yourself. Your body and your brain are adaptable. It's how we learn, it's how we get stronger and it's pretty easy to do if you know how to do it.

Training your body is very easy especially when it comes to physical attributes. We may not all have the genetics to look like Arnold in his hay day, but we can definitely make ourselves better. The answer is steady increase in intensity at planned intervals. It doesn't need to be much of an increase. We're not Olympic athletes for the most part. We can throw out much of what professional athletes do, because we're not training for a big game. We're training for an unforeseeable event that we hope will never happen.

All you need to know is how your body adapts to exercise. When you workout your body adapts by overcompensating the recovery of your muscles for future stress. This over compensation period occurs one to three days after you workout. It's important that you increase the intensity of your workout within this time frame, so that the pattern repeats itself. If you workout after this super recovery period your muscles will have reverted back to their previous state because you didn't stress them again during the appropriate time.

This is all you need to know about exercise. Pick some exercises you enjoy doing and go for it, and you can forget everything you ever read in the muscle rags.

It's important to recognize that professional athletes have huge amounts of resources behind them including constantly evolving manufactured performance enhancing drugs, which change the way you train. Steroids for example almost completely change the way you lift. When you take steroids, which I don't and never have, all you need to do is get your reps in. You've taken out your body's natural cycle of recovery, adaptation and hormone secretion. Basically the more you lift, the bigger you get.

The mental aspects of karate training is where careful planning and knowledge of how we build neural pathways for skills come into play. I'll elaborate on this more in the next post.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Few Minutes a Day and Life as Training

I try and practice karate in some shape or form every day. Sometimes it's for a few minutes, sometimes it's for a few hours, but I always try and do something even if it's just doing sections of the kata while I'm cooking dinner.

I always let my mood and energy level dictate the amount of training that I do. It can be fun to try and push through the pain and train hard for a few hours, but if I find myself glancing up at the clock more than a few times than I call it a day. Karate has to be fun after all.

Today for example J and I did four minutes of training. I attacked her for two minutes and she attacked me for two minutes. The idea isn't to stay on defense it's just to learn how to counter off the cuff and end things in as few moves as possible. We also practiced our kata for a few minutes. This is sufficient for one day. A little kata, a little hands on training and you still have enough energy in case things go sideways during the day.

I try and make karate a habit in my day to day life. One way I use my life as training is by choosing to forgo power tools when I can and do things by hand. For instance, I'm currently hacking apart a giant maple tree that's lying in my front yard. It was threatening to topple over onto our house, so now it's in our yard. I'm using an axe and chopping away at it until it's small enough for me to use my little chainsaw to eat through the rest of it. Today, I spent an hour and a half at it. I also never use the elevator in buildings, park at the back of parking lots, walk whenever I can and choose to ride my bicycle when I'm able.

These are simple things, which can make you stronger without setting aside huge chunks of your day devoted to training.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

BAB training

Training with J went well. We took some time working through applying some of the kata movements, and began work on a new section. She's very comfortable with the first repeating set of the kata. A middle block/ punch combination that can be used in a variety of ways. She's become very good at jamming her forearm into my neck if the opening arises and more than once she put me on my butt.

She was less comfortable with the second section we worked on though that should change with just a little bit more practice. She just needs to remember to keep contact, so that you're aware of where your opponent's limbs are without looking. I was able to get her with a variety of circular attacks, but she was still able to perform the main application of the movement.

The funny thing is that she thinks that I've let her get the better of me, but she's been improving so quickly and adapting so readily to the new concepts that I'm scrambling to defend and counter with other sections of the kata, but once she's gotten the hang of those she'll be exceptionally hard to deal with. One of the signs that techniques are working as they should is they feel too easy. When you use structure, you don't feel muscular strain or the resistance that is inherent in other practices, so it sometimes feels as if you're doing nothing.

We finished up the session with five minutes of Rory Miller style one-step sparring. We use a metronome to tick off a steady beat and on each beat we each make one move simultaneously against each other. It helps you work to improve your efficiency since you have little time to adapt and readjust to your opponent making you do many things with a single movement.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Some thoughts on structure

I think I've mentioned structure, but I don't think I've actually explained what it is. Structure is basically just using the natural alignment of your skeletal system to facilitate power generation and conservation. You can lose energy in your techniques through shock absorption if your structure collapses kind of like jumping down from somewhere and bending your knees to absorb the shock. If you have good structure backing up your punches than you could extend your fist and someone could push on it and you wouldn't move. Your skeleton is supporting the weight that is put on it and transfers it to the ground, so your muscles don't have to do the majority of the work.

Here's an example you can try in the next ten seconds. Get down on the floor in a push up position with your arms straight and shoulder width apart. The bone structure of your arms keeps you up. You need to use very little arm strength to hold this position. You abdominal muscles will most likely give out before your arms do. This is an example of good structure as far as your arms are concerned. Now bend your arms, so you're about halfway to the floor and hold it. Your arms will get tired much more quickly, because you're using muscle to hold yourself up instead of your bones.

With proper structure you can throw almost your entire body weight into your techniques without much of any muscular strength, because your skeleton will support the technique not your muscles. This also brings up the concept of tension. First you don't need to tense at the end of a technique. Tensing your muscles at the end of a technique just makes you tired. It doesn't support anything. I'll prove it. Get down in the push up position again, but as if you were going to do knuckle push ups. Now straighten your arms all the way as before. Now tense your arms as hard as you can. You stayed put right. Okay, now relax your arms as much as you can without bending them. You still stayed put didn't you. You didn't need to tense at all to hold the position. It's the same with punching or any technique. You can relax and if you're structure is good it will still be devastating.

I've been thinking about structure a lot lately especially when it comes to striking. I've been thinking that testing your structure may be more important to powerful striking techniques and easier to achieve than whacking things like a punching bag. It goes back to perfect practice and is very similar I think to makiwara training. There are a few videos out there where people show you how to test your structure. Basically you pick a wall, extend your fist and lean on it like you're punching, if you collapse than your structure is bad, if you just lean there than your structure is good.

I've been kicking around the idea that maybe this should be the bulk of the training used to promote striking. Getting as much energy into the strikes you can land might be more important than getting as much energy into the strikes you want to land. Meaning you might not have three good feet to power a right cross into someone's temple, but you might have one foot to power your fist into someone's kidney. If we use structure to power our techniques than we should focus on strengthening our stances and knowing where we can generate the most power in all positions.

It's funny that I remember reading this somewhere when I was 16 in what was probably an article in Black Belt magazine most likely titled "How to get Monster Power" or something and how I remembered being let down that all it entailed was leaning up against walls. It seemed incredibly boring. Luckily I feel that I'm wise enough to know that just because something can be boring doesn't mean that it's useless.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Dichotomy of the Single Kata

Single kata practice requires a different state of mind than other types of karate. The kata repetitions, the focus on particular movements and the hojo undo make up the completeness of your karate. It becomes where your karate both begins and ends. There are no other kata waiting in the wings to begin polishing, there's no upcoming belt test, no ranking, no sensei to give you a different application now and then for a movement. There is only you and your kata. Deeper understanding comes, but the movements remain the same. It becomes both the journey and the goal itself. If one never has to use their kata to defend themselves, which is the best of all possible scenarios than the practice of kata becomes the culmination of ones training. The practice, the repetitions, the movements and the hojo undo, will impact your life more, if a tragic event never occurs.

This means one must be both satisfied with their practice and unsatisfied as well. They must be satisfied completely with the kata as it stands. Whether it be the first time, or the 10,000th time the kata will be the same but each is also different, each is new. One must also be unsatisfied with the level of their knowledge. One must ask the question why? Every movement becomes a study, a riddle that needs to be uncovered, learned and then perfected.

It becomes moving meditation and violence together, one inseparable from each other and supporting each other.