Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kata "Flow" Drill

Thankfully, I've been fortunate enough to have trained with some truly amazing martial artists and instructors. One of the third dans I train with on occasion will soon represent the U.S. in a tournament in Portugal where she'll be doing both bo and empty-hand kata. In fine-tuning her presentation, she's been working with others who have been helping her smooth out her footwork, transitions, cadence and timing. In turn, she's passed the drills she's gotten from them onto us.

One of the drills that I like working is the kata "flow" drill. To smooth out transitions from, say, hard to soft, she was instructed to go through her kata at one speed a minimum of 10 times a day. All the movements were relatively soft and without dynamic tension or cadence changes. She got to pick the speed, but it had to be consistent throughout - no speeding up or slowing down allowed. Although she said she hated it at first and had a hard time erasing the speed an ferocity of Seipai as she'd learned it, eventually she forgot to think about what move came next and how hard or soft it had to be. And when her brain shut off and her body just moved, she had an easier time working the subtleties like foot placement in shiko dachi (horse stance) and hand positions.

In other words, when she stopped thinking and started doing, her kata began to flow.

As I have a tournament of my own coming up in November, I thought I'd give working it for the long haul a try as she's doing in preparation for competition. For the past two weeks, I've been flowing Senchin - Peter Urban's USA Goju version of Seiyuchin - every morning. What I've found is that without the abrupt changes in tempo the kata calls for, I've had cerebral epiphanies regarding my angles, head movement, stances and the efficiency of my hand positions. In other words, the rush to get from here to there is gone and instead I find myself thinking of the best ways to move so there's no wasted motion. For example, I've always had difficulties lining up my rear foot correctly when doing a neko ashi dachi (cat stance), but suddenly I'm nailing all of the three done in this kata - including the one the form ends with - without a lot of "oh no - here it comes!" thought and effort. It was a full month before the third dan who taught me this drill was allowed to do her kata full-speed - and like her, I haven't done my kata full speed yet, either. I'm excited to see what it will become when I put the cadence back together!

It's really an very cool tool that can also be used to iron out problem spots in a kata. To do that, you'd flow the part of the form that gives you grief. Vary the speed so that a few times it's done relatively quickly and a few more super slowly. Even cooler is that it only takes about 15 minutes or so a day.

If you're feeling adventurous, give it a try for a bit and let me know how it works for you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Make Some Noise!

Meet my dog, K. I introduced him (here) about a year ago, but today I learned a valuable lesson while walking the dog I didn't want: the importance of using your voice and how necessary it is to sometimes stand your ground.

K is a lab/husky mix, we think. He's only a year and a half old but weighs about 70 lbs. This morning as we were taking our regular stroll through the development, a neighbor's Rottweiler broke its lead and tore out of his back yard towards us. I sunk into a fighting stance and seriously considered a half-baked plan to kick this 100 lbs. beast in the head - until I remembered that I was tethered to K. The thought of somehow protecting us both was truly an OMG! moment. How could I kick one dog without hurting the one leashed to my arm? What should I do if the Rottie somehow latched onto K? How the heck was I going to get us both out of there safely?

K simply turned and faced the dog. He didn't growl or bark - he just stayed between me and the other dog. When the Rottie got to us, he opened his mouth and tried to get behind K, who simply shifted his position so he could stay between me and the other dog. Finally I remembered my voice and started yelling "Come get your dog!" hoping that someone -anyone! - would come and get this big brute away from us. One gentleman ran from the backyard and another from the front of the house to grab their dog's lead. The one from the backyard just kept saying "It's alright! He's not going to bite! He just wants to play!" Tell that to the heart that was trying to leap out of my chest...

Perhaps K knew that already, because shortly after the other dog got to us, he and the Rottie began doing what dogs do when they are trying to get to know one another: sniffing and rubbing against each other in that "Pleased to meet you!" kind of way. He wasn't jumping all over the place as he usually does when squirrels are near by, but he made sure he was always between me and his new friend. When the Rottie's owners finally got there (and yes, it seemed like it took them daggone near forever to cross the street), they had to use every ounce of strength to pull their dog away. He, I found out, is just a big puppy, too...

The few self-defense seminars I've been to have all talked about one thing: using your voice. The immediate threat of a dog charging towards me and my dog almost made me forget I had one, but, eventually, I did yell like a lunatic. Although standing your ground isn't generally recommended, I knew that running from a dog was probably not the best idea. But that my dog did in a way that made sure I was as safe as possible was a nice surprise.

Yeah - he got lots of hugs, kisses and even a treat when we got back home :-)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Taking It to the Streets

In the dojo, uniformity is the thing: We dress alike (in gi and obi) - right down to our shoe-less feet. Japanese culture and Okinawan tradition aside (meaning I understand the reasons behind being all gi-ed up and barefoot in the dojo), I don't think training in my baggy karate uniform and without my shoes emulates any kind of true self-defense situation at all. Really, the only time I'll probably ever need to defend myself like that is if I actually get jumped in the dojo, in my living room as I'm packing my gear bag and preparing for class or if I'm on the beach (where my swim suit would have to substitute for my gi).

I've mentioned before how some of my outside of the dojo clothing choices have caused me a bit of concern over the prospect of getting away from an attack or fighting back if necessary. A pencil skirt and kitten heels - my usual work attire - hardly make it easy to run away, throw a spinning kick or even be all that steady on concrete or cobblestones. But, since I wear that stuff for more hours each day than I'm in gi or sweats and a t-shirt, I guess chances are that a "man jumping out from behind the bushes" attack would probably happen when I'm wearing my "girl" clothes.

Earlier this spring, Sensei S held class in the dojo parking lot. I'd worn some sweats, a t-shirt and my favorite pair of slides to class - which made movement not so restrictive - but I soon found out that shoes change the game a bit. Unable to grip my toes into the ground, the very first front kick I threw sent my slide flying over Sensei's car. My uke was a brand-spanking new white belt who had been training for about three weeks and was still learning what the heck appropriate resistance/strength meant - which meant there were no gentle takedowns onto the blacktop at all. And since we were all so used to having the cool wooden dojo floor or the comfy mats underneath us (which make slapping out a whole lot easier), we all got a few scrapes that night if I remember correctly.

All that made me never want to go for realism on the "street" ever again. Sensei keeps telling us that one winter day, we're going to train in boots, long pants and coats - and I truly hope he forgets by the time the cold months roll around again. And he might, as he says we don't do the "real clothing" training more often because anything you can do barefoot in gi you should be able to do in espadrilles and a mini-skirt, but I'm not so sure.

To test that theory a bit, at a recent Women's Self Defense seminar I attended, I did the class in the jeans and a button-up shirt I'd worn all day. So not to soil the dojo's mats, we all kicked our shoes off at the door, but the belt of my jeans as well as my earrings, necklace and watch felt weird, as those things usually gets removed before we bow in. A little more "real" than the gi/no shoes scenario, but still not "pencil skirt and brief case" real, y'know?

Have you ever trained or thrown some techniques in regular clothes? Did you like it or miss your uniform?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Me + Sit-Ups in a Gi = Sore Hiney

In class, our ab-work is mostly about leg raises and crunches, but occasionally, we do pair up, lock legs and do partner sit-ups. And every time we do, I end up with a rug burn-like rash on my tailbone. The funny (as in ironic, not comedic) thing is that I usually don't notice it until after class is done, I've driven home and jumped in the shower - because soapy water on a raw skin is not a pleasant experience, let me tell you.

No one else in the dojo seems to have this issue for some reason. I figured it had something to do with the seam in either my gi bottoms or the bike shorts I wear underneath, but since I had no live person with a similar experience to compare notes with, I couldn't really put my finger on what the issue was.

Until I stumbled across this blurb on All-Karate.com. Sorry to find that others have also had issues with "the wound" but happy to hear they had solutions, too! Misery really does love company, I suppose.

I guess I'll be adding a roll of gaffer's tape to my already over-loaded gear bag...