Thursday, September 24, 2009

New kata

Well, well. I was expecting, post shodan test, to be left alone to process for a while and not have any new kata thrown at me. Instead, Sensei has launched right off into showing me a new sai kata. I can't complain. I always love learning new things, and I'm liking this kata a lot, but I am rather surprised.

Chatanyara no sai is what I'm working on. It's easy to see why this one is a black belt kata. It has what appears to be a lot of repetition, but in the performance no two repetitions are the same. Not just the right-left-right changes of previous kata, but significant alterations more like a Bach theme-and-variations than a repetition. The linked video doesn't show this terribly clearly, due to the horrible quality, but unfortunately that's rather more the rule than not with footage of Master Shimabuku.

I seem to be picking up Chatanyara fairly quickly, but I can already tell what my big issue is going to be. It's supposed to be an aggressive, forward moving, fast kata. Sensei is already after me for my overly restrained motion. Much like Kusanku, which was good for teaching me to take up space (still working on that), this is going to be good for teaching me to show aggression and dominance. (Stop that Bill, I can hear you laughing from here!) I'm looking forward to getting the kata down so I can work on the style of it with some level of confidence and comfort.

In related news, Robbie has set his sights on the Lennox Legacy Tournament in Akron, OH the second weekend of November. It will be his first ever competition. Mommy will be going and competing also, as I do every year. I need to decide which empty hand kata I want to compete with and get cracking on dissecting it and putting it back together. Wansu, Sunsu, and Chinto would be the primary candidates. Wansu is my favorite, but also the earliest/least advanced of the katas. Sunsu I like very well, but it's also the one that gets used as a tie-breaker, so I'm not certain about using it for the primary competition (I.e. having never competed in the black belt rings before, I'm a little jittery about what's approved of vs. what's allowed). Chinto seems the most likely candidate.

Robbie will of course be competing with Seisan, the only kata he's going to have done by then. We also need to get him more comfortable with sparring. He's a bit prone to being either on full defense, warding off shots without making any himself, or full offense, throwing poorly aimed punches and kicks without any regard for whether he's opening himself up.

He's doing much better with his math now. We just got the next report, and he hasn't had any completely missed assignments since we talked to his teacher about his forgetfulness. I'm picking him up from school for this month, and making sure he has everything he needs before we leave school grounds. Once he gets reliable about packing his backpack correctly (right now he's getting it right about 2/3's of the time), he can go back to riding the bus. But at least now he's out of danger of getting himself booted from the advanced math class (You have to turn in 90% of your work with at least an 85% average to stay in.)

Aaron is dealing with a low-grade bug this week. We'll find out tonight if he can go back to school. He was running a fever last night, and the district rule is no fever for 24 hours without drugs, so while he seems to be feeling much better, if he shows any fever tonight, no school tomorrow. Fortunately, his grades are thus far ridonkulously high, so missing work isn't exactly an issue.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How do you tell?

We had a visitor to the dojo the other day. Without having seen him do anything but talk, I'm strongly inclined to write him off as a poseur - you know, the kind of dude who's convinced he's death on the hoof, but can be demolished by a 12-year old orange belt?

As it happens, there's some reasons I can pin down why I think that this time. The offers to show my sensei "some stuff he can probably use", when Sensei has been a black belt about five times longer than this guy has been in martial arts. The excessive, and somewhat random qualifications of the dude he claims as his teacher. And the fact that the last student from this particular teacher we had show up of an evening was exactly that sort of dude.

He's supposed to be coming by again, and we'll see if he lives down to my expectations, but I'm wondering why I'm quite so certain. Certainly there are teachers who have both good and bad students. Some of the cocky people convinced of their own deadliness are actually reasonably skilled - if not as skilled as they think they are, because nobody could be.

So, I guess my question of the evening (or early morning as the case may be) is this: Have you run into this sort of martial arts guy? What signs and symptoms did you notice?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


I got to spend a couple hours at Sensei's basement dojo this weekend, getting in some learning time after spending the last couple of weeks teaching. He taught me the beginning of Chatan yara no Sai (which I am loving), and then we worked bunkai for the basics, using more variations in more depth than we have before. It was a nice mix of mental learning and physical practice, after the several months of almost straight physical drill running up to my shodan test.

Sensei had a DVD by an Isshinryu/Dillman karateka named Chris Thomas, and we worked those applications, seeing what worked for us, and what didn't (things like relative height were very relevant for some applications). We spend a good half-hour just on one five minute segment, so the DVD seemed very worthwhile, and I've put it on my Amazon wishlist, though it's a little outside my budget right this moment.

The title for this post though, comes from one of those enlightening moments when an explanation clicks and something finally makes sense. Sensei Thomas was showing a technique that included an extremely short range punch, and started talking about the difference between a push and a throw.

The human upper body is well put together for both throwing and pushing, but mechanically the two actions are quite distinct, even though they use the same body parts. To throw, the movement starts with the hips or with the feet, and travels up and out to the hands, almost like the crack of a whip. Pushing, however is almost the opposite motion. You don't start pushing a piece of furniture by throwing your hips into the action before your upper body is set. Instead, the upper body gets into frame (like a ballroom dancer's frame), and then the lower body and hips kick in to add the power.


Pretty much every hand technique we use boils down to an essential pushing movement, or an essential throwing movement. I knew that I had a much easier time making the connections from core to hand with some techniques than with others, but it hadn't hit me that it might be because things actually needed to happen in a different order. 'Throwing' motions have worked well for me for a while - I'm dangerous with a downward tetsui - but how often does one use that outside of board breaking? - while 'pushing' techniques have lacked that connected feeling more often than not.

So I've been having fun the last couple of days playing around with various techniques and the feel of pushing vs. throwing. It's already giving me a better feel for when to engage the hips - if only by giving me more notions on how to vary things when experimenting. If the advanced sessions continue this enlightening, it's going to be a fascinating year!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Four Lies and One Martial Arts Fact

Blame Martial Arts Mom for this one. One of the following is true. I will not be telling you which one.

1. My first sensei was Steven Seagal's bodyguard.

2. I once roomed with Michelle Yeoh at a national tournament - and I had no idea who she was until after I was back home.

3. My father once treated Chuck Norris after a drinking binge (when they were both in the Air Force).

4. I and my friend Chia were back-up singers for Jackie Chan on his album "Shangrila".

5. One episode of "Spencer for Hire" had several scenes located in my dorm room.

I'm not going to tag people, partially because I generally don't like to, and partially because virtually everybody I know in the martial arts blogs has already been tagged - but if you want to try this one, consider yourself tagged!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Whoa! Teaching!

Well, it turns out that I've only even seen Sensei once since my test. Except for that once, I've either taught or co-taught (with Sensei D) every class. Four so far, with one more to go, since Tuesday is a scheduled night off for Sensei. In penance/reparation for this, Sensei is having me over for a private session tomorrow, so I get some learning time this week.

Not that teaching hasn't been its own learning experience. Trying to find things to keep our very mixed, but very small group occupied is rather entertaining. We've been doing a lot of creative sparring and some kata work, not as much drill as usual. Sensei D did a highly informative session on the details of kicking technique for roundhouse and front kicks, though I suspect a lot of it was lost on the yellow belts. Sensei D was taught in a very analytical dojo and it's always fascinating listening to him dissect out the details of any given technique. With any luck, though, Sensei should be back to teaching most classes after next week.

School is going well so far. Aaron's teacher is a sweetheart, and he likes her an awful lot. He's having his usual adjustment troubles - every year it takes him a few weeks to get back into school mode. Robbie is also doing well, except for band which has been a rough start. He was absent the day they distributed instruments, and when he came back on Monday, the band director thought he didn't have a flute. In fact, the band director had tucked Robbie's flute (rented through the school) into a locker and forgotten about it. So he's three days behind in learning how to get a note out of his flute. Topped off with talking in class (he spent most of one class sitting in the hall), and forgetting to bring me the paperwork to sign for two days - I don't think the director thinks very highly of Robbie right now. Robbie is practicing diligently, though, and doesn't seem to be holding a grudge (which is a relief, Robbie can be very unforgiving of adults he thinks are being unfair). With any luck, their relationship should improve as Robbie catches up with his bandmates.