Friday, June 25, 2010

Have Bo, Will Travel

I finally made it to my first kobudo class last week. McCauley Sensei last visited our dojo in April. "Fluent" in Okinawan Goju-Ryu, he took us through the basics of bo reishiki and yoi before teaching us the beginning of kata Kihon no Bo. Thursday night, it was our turn to visit him.

His dojo is about 20 minutes from ours, which is about an hour from my house. Because his class began an hour and a half later than we normally start, he suggested we "warm-up" with a short class at "home" then swing by to work with his students. His is a very traditional dojo (I'm talking rice paper doors, tatami on the floor, etc), but still I didn't expect to see a room full of adults with bos in hand, ready for kobudo when we arrived. When I tell you there were 30 folks of every rank, shape and size imaginable, I'm not exaggerating. Everyone was most gracious and courteous, anxious to assist in any way and equally as eager to learn our names. The hour and a half literally flew by and before we knew it, we'd worked up quite a sweat from bo drills/running through the entire kata about a million times and it was time to formally end class. But my training partner, Peg, Sensei S and I stayed after a bit to chat with McCauley Sensei - who, although tired after teaching for most of the evening, generously presented the kata for us at what is supposed to be its normal cadence. Suffice to say it was a bit faster than we'd been doing it all evening. Now - if I only had another day each week, I'd perhaps be able to squeeze in a kobudo class with McCauley Sensei and his students. That's not too much to ask, right?

The most ironic part of the evening was the name of the dojo: Go No Sen, which means to wait for an opening or respond after being attacked (i.e. you get hit and you hit back). When I taught my first "theory" class at Sensei S's, the lesson and drills I chose focused on the koshi (hips) but the "sens" (go no sen, sen no sen [to strike back at the same time you are attacked - sort of like a simultaneous counter attack] and sen sen no sen [a pre-emptive strike]) were featured prominently throughout.

As my sensei so often reminds me: You can't make this stuff up...

Friday, June 4, 2010


Last night's class featured a special treat: Sensei S's sensei - Kyoshi K! Part amazing practitioner, part comedian, Kyoshi took us through kicking and punching drills as well as kata for three solid hours - but the self-defense intro that preceded all that was incredible. He still chided me for "fighting like a small person" but he recognized that some of the scenarios and add ons to the one-steps (ippon kumite techniques) we'd created on the spot might not work for someone my height (6'2"). Same for my 5'4" training partner - and he let us modify them accordingly, which was really cool.

But I noticed something while we were plowing our way through the ippons with various ukes: the three females in the room seemed to face a little bit more of a challenge when it came to making the techniques flow one into the next. The guys - the two senseis, a black belt (training partner, Ed), a brown belt and a green belt (two of Kyoshi's students) blended those suckers with hardly a hiccup. Although we worked similar add-ons two nights before and do them quite regularly in class, they didn't feel quite as familiar to me as they seemed to for the guys. Perhaps the fact that I've never been in a physical confrontation before except for sparring in the dojo or in competition had something to do with it?

Guys, it seems, kinda grow up tackling, wrestling or play-fighting. Constantly! I remember when my son was about three or so, his four-year-old cousin came over for a play date once and about two seconds after they said their hellos, they started wrestling. They slipped into it so naturally that is almost looked liked they'd coordinated a plan to play fight until they were sweaty and tired well beforehand. It was interesting to watch - especially since my son's female cousins never did anything like that when they got together for play dates. There doesn't quite seem to be a female equivalent to grabbing each other around the neck and wrestling each other to the ground. Eventually, the boys separated and played with Matchbox cars or something, but I still remember their impromptu match - 13 years later - like it happened yesterday.

A few weeks ago, my cousin, Mick, who is very much like a brother to me as we are close in age and hung around each other a lot as kids, came downstate for a visit (he lives in Rochester). Our family went out to dinner after church and while sitting in Chili's, his mom leaned over and asked him about an old scar he had near his eye. He said he'd gotten it way back in college when he was in a skirmish with a few guys. Five of them, he said, attacked him at once. He is quite a quiet and unassuming guy so it was sort of shocking that he'd been in an actual fight that drew actual blood once upon a time. Most every guy I know has been in a fight at some point in their lives. Not one of my female friends or relatives can say the same.

So perhaps things like reaction times and movements that don't look so forced or unnatural are easier for guys because many of them have actually been in real-life "block of get out of the way" situations before. Like most of my female training partners, I don't really have a strong reference point for that. My real-life "block or get out of the way" scenarios have only come in the dojo while facing an uke who is throwing a technique from a side he/she's already told me will be used. In other words, I usually know what's coming, where it's coming from and how hard/soft it will be arriving. My reactions are sort of rustily learned on the fly at age 43 - perhaps the same reactions that many of my male training partners started learning when they were three or so.

Getting the techniques to flow one into the next, I'm finding, is a bit more complicated for the ladies than the guys make it look.