Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spectator Sparring

This is a miscellaneous entry.

It's about 2AM and I'm on YouTube watching videos of sparring matches from different styles of martial arts. The video I'm currently watching is a montage of clips from the 2004 Taekwondo Olympic games. It's pretty crazy! These guys really know how to kick. I've never really realized how effective the axe-kick can be until now. There was this one guy who had chambered for a really strong spinning-back kick, but his opponent stopped the kick with an axe kick to his back, while he was chambered. Man, that's fast! I probably can't even fathom how fast he had to be to catch his opponent halfway through a kick like that. With an AXE kick, no less! That has to be one of the slowest kicks that doesn't require spinning.

Something I noticed about the sparring gear they're wearing is that they not only wear the chest-protectors, but they have shoulder-protectors, too. That's indicative that it's common to see a kick to the collarbone. That can be very damaging, since it only takes 4lbs of pressure to break a collarbone.
When I was little, I thought that the Taekwondo guys wore all of that gear because they were kind of wimpy, since we didn't wear much gear at all while sparring. Now I know that it's because Taekwondo kicks are so powerful and dangerous that not wearing gear could probably kill you or seriously injure you, especially if the opponents are going all-out...which it looks like they are in this match!

I watched a video of Shaolin monks sparring, as well. Actually, I watched a couple of videos. Nothing on Taekwondo, but I know what a TKD sparring match looks like. Shaolin Kung Fu is a different story. The speed at which they were hitting each other was ridiculous. Rather than focusing on power, it seems that speed is a really big thing with Shaolin Kung Fu. Speed and stances! They must practice footwork for years and years! I noticed that one of the guys used low dragon stance to offset his opponent's center of gravity. It was so fast, though, that if I hadn't been looking for it, I would never have known that he was doing a version of low dragon. Also, I was absolutely astounded by one guy's ability to take five (5) (FIVE) groin kicks without flinching or falling over. In fact, he took the kicks and then retaliated with a flying side kick. What?! I don't think I'd be able to stand after that. And I'm a girl.

Let's see...I also watched some Sanda, which is Chinese kickboxing. It looked like the exact opposite of Shaolin Kung Fu, although some people have told me that Sanda is just a part of Kung Fu. I don't know...this looked more like Wushu than Kung Fu. It definitely didn't resemble boxing. Lots of kicking and sweeping! They also did some pretty cool throws that reminded me of wrestling. It had a kind of 'anything goes' atmosphere to it, but not as much as UFC. It was kind of like UFC without Jujitsu...if you can imagine that.
Maybe that's a very American way of looking at it. The Sanda video was definitely one of my favorite I've seen tonight. It made me really want to work on my sweeps. I don't usually think about sweeps as an option when I'm sparring, but these guys really know how to make them count.

Of course, Judo is Judo. I'm watching a match between Kim Jaebum and Sergei Shundikov from Beijing 2008. Again I am dumbfounded by the speed at which these guys move. Hmm...I see a recurring theme in sparring, here. Speed is good. I'm also starting to notice how Sensei's different martial arts styles play different roles in his repertoire. He definitely uses a Judo-like stance when sparring. Anyway, I see why they keep their center of gravity lower than other styles of martial arts. It's harder to throw someone when they drop their weight. Also, I'm watching these guys use their hands to distract each other rather than to strike. Jaebum really likes to do this. He'll throw in a few fake grabs, but they're really just to redirect Shundikov's attention away from...his legs, while Jaebum goes in with what looks like a scissor-leg variation and takes him to the ground. Nice. It worked.

Another lesson learned about sparring: redirect your opponent's attention to some other thing that you're doing before you strike with the REAL attack. That way he doesn't see it coming. Sensei tells us to do this all the time, but it's a different thing seeing it being applied to a real match.

One more thing about Judo: these guys must have seriously strong fingers to be able to grab each other like that. Shundikov has more than one finger taped up on both of his hands. I jammed my finger today (again) while working Escrima with Zach. I wonder if Shundikov's fingers feel like mine did. He must have some serious pain tolerance.

Last one. I just watched an Aikido guy completely destroy a Judo guy. I think it was a demonstration, so I guess it's really not as valid as the other videos, but I really like Aikido. I like Judo, too, so I was really excited for this video. It was short. The Judo guy kept trying to grab the Aikido guy, but he would end up in some submissive lock or throw. It must've been like an Aikido nightmare where everything you did just ended up being used against you. Any time the Judo guy came near him, he was out of the way and his opponent was somewhere on the ground, somewhat far away from him. The only thing you could hear was the sound of the Judo guy hitting the floor. Man.

Anyway,  I think you can learn a lot about sparring by watching other people do it. Also, it's good to take into consideration the style of the person you're sparring. For example, I don't think I'd want to spar a Judo guy because I don't know a lot about Judo. I don't want to spar an Aikido guy because that would frustrate me to no end. I don't want to spar a Shaolin monk because I'm not fast enough...

But if I don't spar any of these people, I'll never learn. So while it's good to watch other people spar, it's also good to spar, yourself...Although I don't think there's anybody who wants to spar me right now, as it is now 3AM and pretty much every sane person I know is I'll just watch videos until I can resume practice!

Or sleep. That sounds better.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


One more about staff and I promise I'll write about something else in the next post.

This one isn't really about staff, actually, it's about water. It just poured rain on us, here in Helotes and I thought, "Wow, this would be a really cool time to practice staff". I couldn't resist. We don't get a lot of rain and usually my staff practice sessions are hot and sticky, so the cool rain was a nice reprieve from the usual humid mugginess.

It was a good workout. The rain seemed to give me more energy than I normally have while practicing. I could feel the power of the storm and it gave me power, somehow, to watch the streets fill with running water and hear the thunder off in the distance. There's just something about water. I couldn't put my finger on it. At first I thought it was the steady consistency of the storm that made it powerful, but then I remembered that rain can also be very sporadic and unpredictable. Then I thought, "Well, it's pouring, so maybe it's the hard way in which rain asserts itself that makes it so powerful", and then I remembered that it can rain lightly, too.

Then I realized that it's really the changeability of rain that makes it powerful.

I've noticed that in many martial arts movies (and I guess martial arts culture, in general) there tends to be a lot of allusion to water. You've seen the movies where the masters meditate beneath waterfalls and if you're somewhat well-versed, you've probably read or heard someone talk about Bruce Lee's "be like water" quote.

If not, here's the quote:
"Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless- like water. Now you put your water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put your water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."
 -Bruce Lee
 Water is strong. It can take any shape. It can be powerful and gentle. It can be both calming and frightening. It can be unforgiving and destructive, but it can also be healing and cleansing. If you touch it, it moves around your hand, adapting to the change. And when you take your hand away, it moves back into position so that no trace of your hand is left there.

Bruce Lee was onto something, here. Martial arts is like water. It is strong. It can take any shape. The techniques are powerful but the spirit is gentle. It is calming on the inside but can be frightening on the outside. Martial arts techniques can be dangerous and destructive if the need arises for them to be used, but the process by which we train and learn is healing and cleansing of the spirit.

Martial arts students can be like water, too. Adaptability is what makes you strong; the willingness to learn new things and to flow, perhaps even in a direction that you weren't expecting. Life is full of those. Standing rigid will knock you down; resisting a throw can injure you. Flow with the situation, adapt, and decide where to go from there.

Be like water.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sensei said

On Wednesday, I had some trouble focusing in class. I'm not sure what was the matter with me; perhaps it was just an off day. I don't have many of those, so I suppose I might have been due for one. Anyway, for whatever reason I was having trouble staying on task...and I couldn't shake it off.

This went on until the end of the first class, which is the class that I usually help Sensei teach because of its size. Afterward, I felt like I was more in the zone. I was sure that I was ready for the 6:30 class.

Well, 6:30 had a lot more people in it than 5:30 did. It kind of threw me for a loop because usually 5:30 is the larger class. Not only were there more people, but there were two complete beginners that required my full attention during striking practice and one slightly more advanced student that I could tell REALLY didn't want to be there.

It was very difficult to get said student to cooperate with me, and since he was working with one of the new students, they kind of fed off of each other and ended up getting very off-task. If I wasn't watching them constantly, they would trip each other and play around, like children do. It could've been dangerous to the other students. I told them this, but they only obeyed when I was watching.

Eventually, I had to help two other students who were having notable trouble with what we were teaching (osoto gari), and leave the other two alone. I hadn't been watching these students because Sensei had been working with them and I had been working with mine. When Sensei moved on to help another pair, I noticed that the older student, whom I could tell also didn't really want to be there, was being unnecessarily rough with the younger one. When I went over and told him to be a little more gentle, he said,

"But Sensei said this is how we're supposed to do it." And then he shoved his hand into the other student's face. I could tell that the younger student didn't know what to do to block the motion, so I told him to put his hand in front of his face so that the older student wouldn't hurt him, but the older student kept on doing it, before the younger student could protect himself.

Again I told him to be gentle and not hurt his partner. I even gave him an alternative. You don't have to push your opponent's face when you're doing osoto gari. You can push their shoulder instead and still sweep them all the same. I suggested this to him and he got very distressed and said,
"But Sensei said this is how you're supposed to do it! And I want to do it how Sensei showed me!"

I didn't know what to do because I'm not Sensei, I'm Becky. When it comes down to it, I'm only a senior student. Sensei has the final say in all techniques and situations. It kind of really hurt me when my classmate wouldn't listen to me because I'm not Sensei, but I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me. He was frustrated and didn't want to be in class, so that didn't help matters, but even so, he should've been more careful and respectful of his classmate.

Since I didn't know what to do, I asked Sensei to work with them and went back to work with my other younger classmates. I'd never been confronted with a situation like that before, where my friend wouldn't listen to me. It upset me, obviously, or I wouldn't be writing about it. It was just an off-day.

Anyway, I think I did the right thing asking Sensei to work with them. I was starting to become frustrated and when that happens, I'm at risk for saying things that are counterproductive and mean. As a senior student, I want to help the little ones, so I want to encourage and build them up as much as I can. It was just an off day, I guess.

I'm sure things will go back to being fine by the next class.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Staff and Perfectionism

I've been practicing my bo shodan kata a lot recently. I really enjoy learning staff; it has always been my first weapon choice (now don't laugh at me!) while playing various video games and occasionally when practicing on my friends as a kid. There's something about keeping my opponent at a distance that really satisfies me. You don't have to touch me. Don't even come near me. If you do, you'll feel a sharp pain in your head before eating the dirt. Treat your concussion with rest and relaxation. Ice it...and leave me alone with my stick.

Anyway, this kata is starting to really bring out the perfectionist tendencies in me, which is probably a good thing. Sensei videotaped me and Zach practicing the kata and it's really easy to see where I need work. Upon seeing the video, I found myself feeling very critical, rather than particularly excited about my progress. My stances really need work. I look off-balance. My strikes aren't clean. It kind of looks like I'm just swinging a stick around. Perhaps the staff is still too heavy for me. More push-ups maybe? Also, something that I didn't think about much: I'm not looking where I'm going! My kata looks like a string of memorized movements, not an actual potential fighting sequence.

Despite all of these things, I don't feel discouraged. I know that I have a lot to improve on, but I'm confident enough in my persistence, if nothing else, to not feel worried. Maybe I'm learning the difference between perfectionism and having high expectations.

I think one of the key differences is that when you have high expectations, you actually expect yourself to perform well, hence 'expectations'. When you're a perfectionist, you need everything to be perfect and when it's not, you feel really down about yourself. Perhaps subconsciously you don't even expect yourself to truly succeed.

I think there is a point where you have to say, "it's good enough". I'm not saying that we should settle for less than what we're capable of. Only that we should know our limitations and respect them.
You never 'get there' in martial arts. You never reach perfection; you can only refine.

But that doesn't mean you can't get close!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

All of life's a staff kata

It's midnight and I should really head to bed so that when I have to wake up tomorrow morning at 6:30, I'll be well-rested...but something inside of me just needs to move. I am wide awake and itching to do something, so, by default, I've decided to work my staff kata.

There are a lot of things that I need to work on; correct stances, hesitation, looking, and even posture. My balance is off on some moves and I face the wrong direction sometimes. But the most challenging thing for me is to center myself and to not over-think things. I tend to panic when I get lost or hesitate because, just like with music, the form is supposed to be smooth and flowing. Hesitation interrupts the flow of energy and momentum...and freaks me out!

It flows until I start to second-guess myself. It's almost like driving; I get behind the wheel, turn on the music, and then suddenly I'm pulling into my driveway at home! I bow to begin the kata, and then suddenly I'm stuck at the one move where my footwork gets messed up. I fix that, but by then I've stopped and it doesn't feel right to resume from there, so I start over...I bow, and then suddenly I'm stuck at the next move that I have trouble with. I adjust that and then I start over again...and the whole process repeats itself until I finish one rep without stopping in the middle to fix things.

Over-thinking. I do it so often. I want my kata to be perfect right now and I get so caught up in that mentality that I don't regularly practice the form without stopping to correct something. I realize now that it won't be smooth unless I practice being smooth, which means continuing the flow of energy, even if I'm unsure of whether the move is correct.

Life, I think, works this way, too. It has a natural flow; there are things that we do by instinct. Things like laughing. Crying. Feeling emotions. Loving people. Reacting to situations. We do all of these things without having to think too much...but it's easy to over-think all of them and to complicate the flow. I think this happens when the flow scares us; when the imperfections show and we want to constantly correct ourselves.

We often say, "Don't think this" or "Don't feel that". We often feel threatened by things that are natural and normal...because life tells us what we should be. How we should think. Social norms tell us what we should feel and how we should react...and we feel threatened when we suddenly feel the opposite of those things.

Maybe we should practice flowing more, regardless. Even when we're unsure.
Perhaps especially when we're unsure.