Sunday, July 13, 2014

Blast From The Past

Those guys could use a little more room. (I gotta get me some barbells like that!)

Now go check out this fine article on Okinawa's history of karate and kobudo.

(photo h/t: Isshin - Concentration the Art)

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Self-Defense We'd Like To See

Master Ken's quick tutorial on how to counter a two-handed wrist grab.

Wait for it...

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Too Extreme For The UFC

Years ago I went to an Eskrima workshop that was offered at the karate school that I was attending at the time. Eskrima is a Filipino martial art that employs the use of rattan sticks (among other weapons) of various length, similar to the Japanese jo. Eskrima calls for a pair of sticks to be used in unison (at least as what I had been shown on this day). The strikes, parries, blocks and counters of the style knows no bounds. For sure, any type of weapons training will end things quickly in the real world. For the uninitiated, one hard whack on the knuckles from these things and it's game over.

In the late 80s, students of Dan Inosanto (a master Eskrimador and former disciple of Bruce Lee) developed the Dog Brothers style of full-contact weapons fighting. Practitioners use little or next-to-no protective gear for single and double-stick sparring, but also mock knifework and even chain whipping that combines standup hand-to-hand fighting and ground game similar to MMA complete with tapouts. Matches are often brutal and bloody preceded by the caveat that "there isn’t any suing each one spends the night in the hospital" and at the end of the day "we’re friends."

The credo of the Dog Brothers system, "The greater the dichotomy, the profounder the transformation. Higher Consciousness through Harder Contact," refers to the centering of awareness despite the intense adrenaline rush and pain experienced during a real fight. It is with the hope that the practitioner's lessons "carries over to the rest of one’s life; and should one ever need to use one’s skills that it will be done with a calmness that allows for good judgement as well as good skill."

When the UFC began building steam in the mid 90s, they considered using Dog Brothers stickfighting for airtime. But after viewing a demo tape of DB in action, the UFC decided against it as it was deemed too violent, even for the type of viewership they were catering to. A letter dated 1995 to DB's headquaters reads:

[T]he UFC tournament has pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable in TV sports entertainment. The political foes that this event has attracted, because of the tournament, has made us acutely sensitive to what the limits are on North American television. So it is with great reluctance that I must tell you that stickfighting, such as your group has pioneered in the USA, is just too extreme for the UFC format at this time. We have the utmost respect for your group's skills and fighting spirit. Perhaps like the UFC, your type of fighting is just ahead of its time.

In addition to the stick (30") a DB stylist should be able to handle himself proficiently with clubs, knives, staff (54"), improvised weapons and empty-handed techniques in all ranges and against multiple assailants. Like Filipino arts, empty-handed skills are learned after weapons training.

The Dog Brothers martial arts are not for everyone says the group's guiding force, Marc 'Crafty Dog' Denny. Players could fortify themselves with heavy protective gear, a la kendo, but that would be counterproductive. "The danger and risk are necessary to the transformitive nature of the experience."

(h/t: reddit/martialarts -- link includes mildly graphic video)

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Translations of Chinese Martial Arts Manuals

For those into Chinese boxing and weapons systems here's a site written by Paul Brennan that translates into English an impressive collection of original Chinese works by various authors dated from 1875 to 1963 on Taiji, Shaolin, Xingyiquan, among other arts.

Texts include sections on self-defense, saber training, pushing-hands techniques, fitness, diet and philosophy.

Esoteric topics such as breathwork ("energy" or chi) and intent (xing) are discussed in Li Jianqiu's treatise on The Art of Xingyi Boxing (1920):

If you gather energy into your chest, you will gasp and it will not stay for long. If you gather energy into your lower abdomen, it will stay long and not hinder your breathing. It will accumulate gradually until it is abundant. This kind of energy is vast, and is more readily led by the intent.

Explanations and illustrations appear throughout on form and function as well as the differences between internal and external theory. Many of these works emphasize the unity of mind, body and spirit along with encouraging the would-be aspirant to cultivate a proper attitude and moral integrity in relation to the martial arts.

[Note to readers: Chinese martial arts are not my forte; for those schooled in this area I'll leave it to you to decide the value of these texts in today's world.]

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Leaving My Style

I have decided to embark on a new path. It is with a heavy heart that I will no longer be associated in any way with Isshinryu karate. You read that right. This is no joke, I assure you. In the coming weeks I'll be traveling to Italy to begin my tutelage under the world renowned grandmaster Gilberto Pauciullo. I'm sure you've all heard of him -- who hasn't? Professor Pauciullo holds the distinction of earning more black belts and honorary certificates than anyone in martial arts history. He has attained 10th dan black-belt rankings in twenty-two styles; five in jiu-jitsu, one in mexed [sic] martial arts (MMA from Mexico?), one in plain ol' self-defense, and others that I have to admit I've never even heard of.

Why waste my time with one style when I can have pretty much all of them?

Check out this (abridged) list of the master's achievements:

10th Dan – Katory Yama RyuJu-Jutsu
10th Dan – Okonawa [sic] Go JuRyu
10th Dan – Street Rapid Defense System
10th Dan – WOSD/Kapap System
10th Dan – Self-Defense
10th Dan – Agni Kempo
10th Dan – I.F.Knife Fighting System
10th Dan – Ju-Boxing Full Contact
10th Dan – Shin KakutoJutsu-Hanshi
10th Dan – Gung Chi Pai Gung Fu System
10th Dan – Ju-Hitsu AJJIF
10th Dan – Ju-Jitsu IJJF
10th Dan – Ju-Jitsu ACJJ
10th Dan – Ju-Jitsu UAJJ
10th Dan – Martial Arts Police Method
10th Dan – Makoto Ryu Ju-Jitsu
10th Dan – Bu-JutsuSigung
10th Dan – Mexed Martial Arts
10th Dan – SERCSU [?]
10th Dan – Dim Mak
10th Dan – Nefusen Submission Ju-Jitsu
10th Dan – Vietnamese Combat Martial Arts
9th Dan – Ken Jitsu
9th Dan – Tatsu Seiki Kikou-Do
9th Dan – Kamishin Kai Ju-Jitsu
9th Dan – Chinese Kempo
9th Dan – Kokusai Sin JutsuKempo Kai
8th Dan – Judo
8th Dan – Kimuchino Aikido
7th Dan – A.O.S. Tai Chi System
7th Dan – Ashihara Bu-Do kai
7th Dan – Ting Ho Dao
6th Dan – SeishinryokuGoju Kick Boxing
6th Dan – Kendo
4th Dan – FULUNGJJ [??]
2nd Dan – Sakibo

I never knew the Police Department had their own martial art, complete with a kyu/dan ranking system. (To say nothing of the Japanese rank of dan being used in Chinese and Vietnamese arts.) Pauciullo also claims 11th duan (?) in something called Man Seer Kung Pai Kung Fu, a style he created in his spare time before he became too busy collecting black belts. I heard he was invited to enter the UFC but declined because, obviously, the techniques he uses are just too lethal. I have my work cut out for me. When I come back from overseas I'll be describing my training experiences in future posts. Wish me luck!


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lower Back Issues

A typical karate class commences with jumbi undo (warm up exercises) to prevent injuries sustained during heavy sparring, drills or other complex movements. Still, being able to crank out a hundred knuckle pushups or run around the deck for ten laps may seem tedious if not downright unnecessary. A warm up routine is designed to prevent injuries, not to gauge stamina or waste class time.

Karateka are used to performing dozens of crunches, leg-outs and leg raises at the beginning of class. There's a good reason for this as having a strong abdominal wall is a prerequisite for core strength and stability. The antagonistic muscle region to the abdomen is the lower back. And a fairly common injury that visits martial-art practitioners - really, just about everybody at some time - seems to be lower back pain.

Weak back muscles will lead to injury, but even the exercises that promote this area can be problematic, especially when care isn't taken. Years ago while performing heavy barbell squats I felt excruciating pain in my lower back that resulted in sciatica. I was able to go to work, but for several weeks I had mild paralysis in my left glute, hamstring and calf. In 1970 Bruce Lee famously blew out his back performing 'good-mornings' -- a lower back exercise that involves holding a barbell on the shoulders behind the neck and lowering the torso parallel to the floor. Lee was reportedly using 125 lbs. for his good-morning routine -- 90 percent of his bodyweight! He was bedridden for six months, took time off to write, but eventually rehabilitated himself and resumed his training and movie career.

I've never even attempted good-mornings. Back in the day I'd perform heavy deadlifts, but after my squatting episode I became leery of hurting myself again. So for the past several years I've been using a hyperextension apparatus for my lower back. What I use is very similar to the one in the image below.

Some pointers:

  1. Lie face down on a hyperextension bench, tucking your ankles securely under the footpads.
  2. Adjust the upper pad if possible so your upper thighs lie flat across the wide pad, leaving enough room for you to bend at the waist without any restriction.
  3. With your body straight, cross your arms in front of you (my preference) or behind your head. This will be your starting position. Tip: You can also hold a weight plate for extra resistance in front of you under your crossed arms.
  4. Start bending forward slowly at the waist as far as you can while keeping your back flat. Inhale as you perform this movement. Keep moving forward until you feel a nice stretch on the hamstrings and you can no longer keep going without a rounding of the back. Tip: Never round the back as you perform this exercise. Also, some people can go farther than others. The key thing is that you go as far as your body allows you to without rounding the back.
  5. Slowly raise your torso back to the initial position as you inhale. Tip: Avoid the temptation to arch your back past a straight line. Also, do not swing the torso at any time in order to protect the back from injury.
  6. Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions.

I do hyperextensions with some added resistance. I'll hold a weight plate to my chest with my arms crossed. I'll do thirty reps, place the weight down, clasp my hands behind my head and immediately pump out twenty more reps. And that's it. That's my lower back routine. Hyperextensions primarily work the quadratus lumborum muscles in the lower back and the spinal erector muscles that extend the length of the vertebral column. To a lesser extent the trapezius muscles that extend from the base of the neck to the upper back are activated and also the hamstrings. (Hamstrings in particular need to be stretched out after this routine as they will be very tight.) I perform this routine in conjunction with abs; sometimes before ab exercises, sometimes after. My rep range is high to promote endurance, modest strength and plenty of blood flow to an area of the body that is more bone, cartilage and sacral nerves than muscle.

For lower back exercise some martial-art routines employ use of the 'butterfly' or 'superman' where you lie on your stomach then lift your head and limbs a few inches off the mat. They're challenging but they're static. For this reason I prefer and recommend the full-range hyperextension for lower back. In my opinion they're safe and very effective. Core stability that includes developing a strong lower back is imperative to performing any physical activity, whether you play golf, work for a living, or practice martial arts.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Teenage Samaritan Defends Kid Against Bully

When 16-year-old Roman Rodriguez walked out of his father's Kenpo karate school in Holyoke, MA little did he realize that his training mettle would be sorely tested. Thereupon he witnessed an 11-year-old boy with mental disabilities being harassed by a group of rowdies. The apparent ringleader was a strapping 14-year-old at six foot and 220 pounds. When Roman intervened, the instigator - identified only (and ironically) as "Angel" - attempted to hit him, but was summarily taken down by Roman. "He's a lot bigger than me, so I only knocked him down and restrained him," the 16-year-old, who has earned a purple belt, said. "I wanted to avoid things getting worse."

Unfortunately things did get worse.

The bullying Angel runs home and returns to the scene with his mother to settle the score. Apparently picking on young kids who are mentally challenged is a rite of passage for aspiring punks. Only now our Angel is brandishing a large kitchen knife ! It would seem Angel and his mom have some disabilities of their own, proof that bullying and sociopathic tendencies are not merely learned but highly heritable traits.

Thinking quickly and smartly, Roman ran back into the karate school where his father Ricardo was getting ready to close for the day.

"I witnessed this kid's mother encourage her son to stab mine. She was instigating a fight," Ricardo said. "My first reaction was to protect my son, but also to avoid any kind of tragedy."

Within minutes, officers of the Holyoke Police Department were on the scene. The 14-year-old was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. His mother, Jomery Rivera, was charged with disorderly conduct.

Reflecting on the high-intensity situation, Ricardo said he is proud of his son. "Just as I taught him, he defended someone who couldn't defend himself."

The "best part" came a day later, Ricardo said, when another of his students who witnessed the incident, 11-year-old Timothy Colón, gave Roman a certificate of recognition to thank him.

"It emphasizes what I already knew; he's a really good kid," he added.

I see a black belt in this fine young man's future. His father is rightly proud.

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