Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Training with others

Group photo of students and instructors who participated

Last Saturday; students at Hidden Sword Martial Arts participated in a invitational sparing event at Master Starnes’s North Texas Karate Academy in Bridgeport TX along with two other martial art schools.  Students and instructors came from as far away as Jacksboro, and Bowie all in an effort to give their students a chance to work with other students on their sparring skills.

Mereck under the watchful eye of Jackie gets ready to spar

After speaking to the students, the instructors, and the parents who took part in this event, I must say this was a huge success.  For us at Hidden Sword Martial Arts this was an important cross training opportunity and an important networking opportunity for us as a school.   As the head instructor at Hidden Sword I have been looking for opportunities such as this to give our students a chance to work with other students at other schools.  In talking with Master Starnes and the other instructors hopefully we will continue this process of giving our students unique training opportunities like this in the future.

With close to 40 students participating sparring was tight on the mat

Cross training opportunities like this are the business model that the AKATO works on.  Instead of having closed schools because their style is to secret or to dangerous for the common man they instead encourage cross training opportunities amongst their students and the instructors.   In the DFW area many of the instructors and students cross train by going and working out with other classes or under different instructors in the AKATO organization.  We on our side of the DFW area don’t have quite the same opportunities however some instructors such as master Starnes and I, are actively pursuing these types of training opportunities for our students.  

Mereck blocking a punch (why we teach blocking skills)

By having our students work with other students from other like minded schools, it helps them to get a clearer picture as to their true abilities.  Having our students work with other students of different ages, skills, ranks, adults and children ultimately helps them to adapt accordingly to the various opponents; ultimately helping to give them confidence in their skill sets while at the same time laying bare the skill sets they need to work on. 

Kimberly showing good form with her side kick

While Saturday was a great first step for our school cross training  with these other schools, hopefully in the future we might expand this training to tap into the various skills that we as instructors (of the schools that participated) have such as grappling, sparring strategies, self defense and of course my specialty the Filipino martial arts. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Special Sparring Training on Saturday the 21st

I want to remind everyone that this weekend we will not have our normal classes at the Roanoke Rec. Center.  I have arranged for our students to attend a semi open sparring and training event at North Texas Karate Academy in Bridgeport TX.  The training is scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m. and run until 1:00 p.m. or so.  You do not have to stay for the full time.

I met sensei Starnes through the AKATO (our parent American Karate TKD organization), and finding a like minded instructor in the martial arts we have become friends and slowly have worked to open up training opportunities for our schools.  Sensei Starnes has been a guest instructor out at our school teaching a great class on sparring, I in turn have helped teach his senior students who are attending the AKATO Kobudo (traditional weapons) program.   We have had each other sit on belt exam boards for our students so we could see the skill levels of our schools.

Both of our schools have strengths and weaknesses and I believe compliment one another.  Our school has a much bigger emphasis on kata, self defense, and weapons work, while his school has a much bigger emphasis on sparring.  Sensei Starnes's school is also networked in with several smaller martial art schools out in our area that he has known for years where our school is fairly isolated in regards to cross training with other karate students.

Training with other students is very important, in fact I believe it is vital to a student’s proper development.  As a student learning the martial arts in my instructors private dojo we were very insular and my instructor recognizing the need for us to train with others arranged for us to attend other classes so we could train with others students.  As an instructor today I still go to outside training opportunities, such as last weekend to the Iain Abernethy camp, to give me a wider view of the martial arts and to interact with different like minded instructors.   

This semi open sparring session is just that, a chance for our students (your kids) to go and face some of their fears.  Sparring others is fun for some students but to others it can be very unsettling.  It is the fear of the unknown, it is the fear of how will I match up, will I get hurt, will I win, etc. etc.  Unlike team sports where a person of lesser ability can hide in the team (so to speak) out on the mat it is one on one, it is up to the individual student to stand up and do their best.  Sensei Starnes has arranged for 2-3 other like minded schools to be there as well so it will be a controlled environment with other black belts watching over the students and running the matches.  I refer to this being a semi open because other schools are involved, but students can’t come in from just any school without being invited.

Attendance at this training event is NOT mandatory, your child won’t be held back from testing etc. etc.  It is free, there are no trophies, no awards it is just a chance for you child to face their fear and to get an opportunity to spar with different students and to test themselves against other students.  It is sensei Starnes and mine’s goal, if our students have a good time and learn together, to open up more opportunities such as this and to change or rotate locations, so in the future we might be hosting a sparring session like this as well.

But first we need to have good participation to see if we can proceed.  If you are interested and you child will be attending please email me so I can get a count.  This is also a good opportunity for your child if they are planning to compete in October at the annual AKATO tournament (the one tournament we attend each year) to experience sparring with others but in a non competitive way, it helps to get the butterflies out prior to the tournament.  I’ll be sending out and posting directions soon.  Here is a link to sensei Starnes's school.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Putting your Heart into it

During a recent Wednesday night karate class, I got on the students for not having enough heart when performing their kata.  Only one of the three students present (the youngest and the lowest rank) performed the kata like he was actually engaged with an opponent.  The other two students just kind of coasted along like “I’m bored, I need to just get through this one and we can move on.”

The problem is that having a lack of heart in the execution of the kata or of techniques in general is what holds a student back in learning the martial arts.  What ever you do you must have heart for what you are doing.  Perhaps a better word would be passion, or intention, conviction, belief, to convey what I mean.  But the word heart (for me) sums up all of these words and more which is why I use it.

Having heart is what it takes when you are tired worn out and beaten up and you know you have to pull it together to face another opponent.  When all you want to do is to drop your hands turn your back away from the person and wish they would go away.  But they don’t; they keep hitting you and you have to pull it together and fight back.  It takes heart to go through all of the training that brings you to this moment in time, you must have desire, a caring, a belief in yourself; that keeps you showing up day after day to take the beating, to do the endless kicks, to perform the endless katas and basics etc. etc. which ultimately brings you to your black belt exam.

Having intention behind a technique is what makes the technique work in real life.  This lesson was taught to me by GM Remy Presas when I asked him to help me to understand why I couldn’t make the transition from the two finger center lock to the over the shoulder take down.  I kept losing the lock during the transition and he promptly applied the two finger lock and it felt like he nearly ripped the fingers off of my hand as he made the transition for the take down.  He didn’t of course, but he taught me that in real application when you apply the lock the person should be in enough pain that they can’t counter and you don’t lose the lock in transition.  Of course I can’t do this to my training partner so I must use control but I had to learn the lesson of having intention or heart behind my techniques.  Practicing kata allows me to practice my techniques with power, with attitude, in short with heart.

In our arnis class later that evening I watched our Yellow belts go though Anyo Isa (empty hand form 1).  Three of the students had pretty good execution of the anyo (kata or form), but a fourth student in particular put his heart into it when he executed the techniques.  Isaiah, even though he was probably the least confident in completing the kata, or what the next technique was, he still had the most heart in his execution of the anyo.  You could hear his uniform snap, you could see his hips move as he punched, you could see it in his eyes he meant each hit to connect.  This same student even though he was of lower rank was chosen to perform his nunchaku form at a demo over a more senior student because of the effort and passion he put into his kata.

I don’t worry about a student not having the highest or prettiest kicks, I worry about the student if they don’t have heart behind their kicks.  I don’t worry about a student making mistakes, I worry about a student who gives up or acts impatient when they make a mistake, like “Ok let’s move on, you’ve corrected me” and then they turn around and do the same thing again, with the same attitude.  I look for students like a white belt who after already completing one class last Satruday complied with my request to show me his kata for Gold belt while the next class was warming up.  Since he had already learned his kata for his Yellow belt but had not yet tested for it, I started him on his Gold belt requirements.  Now this little man was done with his class but he got up in front of me and performed his kata.  He made a mistake at the ¾ mark.  I corrected him and he then did it again and again and again but instead of getting frustrated with him I was pleased (and amazed) with his  attitude.  After the second or third time making the same mistake the boy corrected himself and started over, again and again and again for probably 20 times and after he got it right he kept saying “one more time so I’ll remember it right” time after time after time.  In time, I didn’t have to say anything he just started over.  This student has heart.

Back to the Future (Iain Abernethy seminar review)

It’s 6:00am the morning of the 3rd day of a three day seminar with Iain Abernethy from the UK.  I woke up with my mind immediately shifting into gear going over what we did yesterday (Saturday) and Friday night.  Therefore this review.  To place this review in context, I have spent many many hours traveling to go see some of the top instructors in the martial arts teach in a variety of different arts that I’m interested in.  There are many more that I haven’t seen and I know from being on the mat working with other instructors who run schools or teach part time that there are many instructors out there that can teach and could give seminars as well.  I also know that my main area of interest has been in the Filipino martial arts (FMAs) so I’m not a “karate” sensei of high rank in a traditional organization nor am I writing from that view point when I say that hands down this was one of the best and one of the most enjoyable seminars I’ve attended yet in the martial arts as a whole.

Iain is a great communicator, an excellent technician, and as a whole had his material so well put together that like I said, I woke up thinking on how I could adapt his material to what I do to in order to make what or how I teach better for my students.  Ultimately that is why I’m here to get ideas on how to improve my study of karate (and TKD) and to see if I can bring techniques, ideas, drills and concepts back to my school for my students.  I have always felt there was a disconnect in the way karate was taught (I use karate as a general term for karate and ITF type or inspired TKD).  This is a big reason I gravitated more to the FMAs because I liked how things were tied together; in fact it was through studying the anyos (forms) of Modern Arnis that got me interested in studying the applications of my TKD kata.   Iain helped provide me the answers as to not only why there was a disconnect, what the disconnect was and how it got there, but also inspiration on how to solve the problem.

Iain started off by explaining his view on kata applications by explaining or I should say tying in historical references of writings by Okinawan masters of  karate and then over time how things went as it karate moved to Japan.   It wasn’t like a boring lecture rather it was like getting a history lesson from Dan Inosanto on the FMAs (and how they came to America and such).  It helped frame the context of the subject at hand.  This would continue throughout the weekend providing insight into techniques and into the katas and into the men who created or taught the katas in the early days of karate.

Then he started off yesterday explaining the techniques found in the katas and had us practicing them in a flow drill.  This was unique in my experience because I had always learned the bunkai (application) of a move as a set apart move, ok if I was lucky maybe 2-3 moves but not Pinan Shodan as a whole flow drill with combative applications.  Understand what I mean here, Pinan Shodan not as 15 different techniques or individual moves (I’m just using 15 as a random number here to illustrate the point, it is 6:00 am remember) but as a whole drill that flowed from one technique to the next.  So you would start at the opening move and practice it, he would then add a second move and then you would practice both, a third move and you would go through all three techniques and so on till the end of the kata.  All of the while he would explain what the techniques could mean how they fit into the kata, humorous stories which fit into the presentation etc. etc.  OK now image going through Pinan Shodan – Yodan in this format.  

At the end of the day after about 8 hours of being on the floor (we got maybe 1-1 and 1/2 hours in break time overall) we were getting pretty brain dead and yet the flow drills still stayed with us, or I should say parts of the flow drills stayed with us.  Enough so that it wasn’t just a couple of moves here and a couple of moves there.  At the same time we should remember why this move is this way or that etc. etc.

At the end of Friday night's session I was up till 2:00 a.m typing my notes from that 2 hour lesson, I managed to recall about 10 pages of drills and notes on the core principles of the katas (what they teach) and specific drills to back these up.  This set the ground work for yesterday’s workout.  (I took these from my hand written notes at the seminar.)  So I know I have about a week work ahead of me to go over and type out yesterday and today’s lessons and many months/years of working to implement this kind of material into my curriculum.

So why call this review Back to the Future?  Because I believe it is by going back and researching our katas and applying them in this manner that the future of the art lies.  Whether it is applying pressure point techniques (like so many other teachers do), or the more combative type of techniques such as like Iain was showing; having an alternative to the “traditional” sparring mode type bunkai applications I believe is the future.  As this type of teaching method takes hold I believe the art becomes more realistic and more interesting to the public at large.  Hopefully we can then teach more and more adults instead of having karate and TKD becoming just a kid sport in the U.S.A.  I’m not sure how many adults attended the seminar, I only saw 1 kid or teenager, but there were about 50 + black belts (and a few under black belt rank) working together.  This shows me that there is interest among other instructors into this material who in turn hopefully will pass it on to their students and so on.

At the end of the day this was a great seminar and training experience and I highly recommend his (Iain’s) seminars (or any of his material really), to anyone interested in application principles in the study of kata for the Japanese or TKD arts.