Sunday, August 26, 2007

Listen To Your Body

In the martial arts, the concept of awareness should be all encompassing; not just in our surroundings, but in ourselves. In Isshinryu karate we say, The ears must listen in all directions. This could be a metaphor that includes listening to the inner workings of our thoughts and our body. How in tune are you with your body? Most of us know the difference between good and bad pain, and this tends to be more intuitive than physiological. Anything that can compromise our longevity - such as poor health - should be regarded as inimical as any adversary.

Even if we take care of ourselves; train regularly, take vitamins, and so on, we can still be at risk. In 1984, fitness guru Jim Fixx died at the age of 52 of a massive heart attack following his daily jog. Fixx was a seasoned runner who wrote a book on the subject and espoused a healthy lifestyle, but an inherited predisposition to coronary disease along with his earlier years of smoking and improper diet had finally taken their toll on him.

There was an instructor from my area who lived and breathed the martial arts. He'd give clinics and on occasion would show up at a couple of schools that I trained at. When it came to sparring he wasn't afraid to mix it up with anyone. An adept in a number of styles, he had a vast reserve of knowledge and I can personally attest to his fighting prowess. When he experienced chest pain he was told he needed surgery and then all should be well, but his days of heavy kumite and randori sessions would have to come to an end. Not fighting was unthinkable for this salty warrior and he failed to heed the doctor's stringent advice. One day he was invited to a ceremony at a renowned karate school to receive a lifetime achievement award for the martial arts in addition to an honorary black belt certificate. When the 46-year-old budoka stepped up to the podium to accept his citations he suddenly collapsed. The heart that served him so well in countless matches had given in. He was buried in his gi and black belt.

As we grow older we naturally become more susceptible to health issues. About once a month take a full-body check to explore the possibilities of lumps or other abnormalities. Every year, a physical examination is imperative and after a certain age you will be advised (based on your family medical history) what kind of special examinations you may need. But if you feel something is amiss right now, see your doctor immediately.

We all enjoy making and spending money, taking vacations, enjoying time with our families and practicing martial arts, but without our health what do we have?

Every patient carries her or his own doctor inside. - Albert Schweitzer, M.D.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Losing My Religion

I've been reading some thought provoking articles concerning the curious mixing of Christianity and the martial arts. Patrick Parker's guest post at TDA Training was a response to Bob Patterson's original essay, and both provided good material. Now it's my turn, but instead of discussing Christian values' fusion with Asian combative systems and the advent of Christian martial-art organizations, I'll be taking a different slant: Devout Christians who are opposed to certain aspects of the martial arts, in particular Eastern thought's influence on them.

Recently I received an email from a reader (a Christian) who asked me to suggest a martial arts program for him, one that didn't include "Eastern religion" as part of the package. I obliged, explaining that while Taoism and Zen are the philosophical foundations that most Asian martial arts are built upon, they are not theistic religions as we understand them in the West. Bowing, meditation, and other forms of dojo etiquette could be misconstrued as paganism to an outsider, but they're just part of the stock ritual that exists at most schools.

A born-again Christian who I trained with years ago refused to wear the Isshinryu karate symbol of the mizu gami - the water goddess - on his uniform per a certain Biblical commandment. I explained that the Isshinryu patch or any other school emblem was not designed to usurp divine authority, but he wouldn't budge on the issue.

The non-Christian Asian view of an almighty omnipresence is somewhat vague. In Taoism, "The Way" itself is sometimes equated with God. Zen, a common metaphor for the martial arts (and vice versa), does not recognize a Supreme Being whatsoever. Shinto is a unique religion indigenous to Japan that has no founder or moral code, but features an array of deities (kami). Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba actually saw himself as a Shinto demigod, and stories of the O'Sensei disappearing in a flash of light to avoid bullets from marksmen only fostered his reputation as a mystic.

The martial arts should be presented as a secular discipline and are totally compatible with holding strong Christian views. Any references to the Buddha or Bodhidharma (the mytho-historical founder of Zen and martial arts in China) and the like are largely unnecessary and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Jesus' commitment to non-violence was not an open invitation for abuse, and I'd like to think that He wouldn't completely disapprove of the modern martial ways and their aims. Today, unfortunately, the martial arts god goes by a different name: money. But that's another story...

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hockey Fight Club

A Canadian summer hockey camp has recently been set up to teach the "science" of ice hockey fighting for players between the ages of 12 and 18.

Hockey has had a long history of mayhem in the professional ranks. Fights that erupt between players are seen by many as an inevitable, even favorable part of the game. Naturally, these tendencies are picked up by impressionable youngsters in an attempt to emulate their heroes. With the high impact nature of the sport, along with its resident "goons" or "enforcers" who mete out punishment with on-ice fisticuffs, some kids are justifiably fearful of getting busted up during a game.

Enter Trevor Lakness, the general manager for Puckmasters, a hockey training center franchise, and Derek Boogaard, a professional player with the Minnesota Wild, to come up with the idea for a hockey fight camp. At 6'7 255 lbs., it's tough to imagine anyone giving Boogaard much of a challenge, on or off the ice. But supporters insist that the camp is really about instilling confidence in kids through teaching self defense techniques should a fight break out during a game.

Says Lakness: "It's no different than karate - why do people put their kids in karate? It's protection, it's an art."

The Art of Ice Hockey Fighting. You can't make this stuff up.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Low Kicks Rule

Striking Thoughts' Bob Patterson got me thinking about the efficiency of low-target kicking versus the impressive albeit impractical high kicks of tae kwon do and other arts. "Sporting" kicks look nice, but the follow-up consequences can wreak havoc. Anytime you kick above the obi (belt) you leave yourself wide open for a serious counter. To further compound the problem, kicks that are aimed even at the midsection are typically met by your opponent's arms, where kicks can be blocked, redirected, or grabbed. Competitive practitioners have developed a plethora of moves to combat mid and high-section kicks, so depending on who you're playing with, it pays to watch out.

In a recent sparring match I executed a crescent kick to the head of my opponent only to be taken down unceremoniously. Granted, I really pulled the shot, so I ended up paying for playing nice. I wouldn't dream of trying that move outside the dojo anyway. Strictly speaking, high kicks are not, nor ever have been part of any traditional karate syllabus if you're using kata (practice forms) as a textbook. Bill "Superfoot" Wallace, the 70s full-contact karate high kick extraordinaire once said in an interview that kicks were never shown above the waist in the Shorin-ryu he trained in during his military hitch on Okinawa. Still, who would mind being able to kick like him?

Karate, Wing Chun, Muay Thai and Savate all incorporate low-section kicks as core techniques. I really like that inverted rear-leg side kick to the knee that savateurs use, as it can be used at close range with virtually no adjustment in stance. In karate, blade kicks delivered to the knee and step-over stomp kicks are signature moves taken directly from kata.

High kicks require a certain degree of flexibility and athleticism that many practitioners lack. Low kicks are definitely recommended for the street, while I have my doubts about the former variety. If you're an avid high kicker, consider including low kicks into your regimen. Simply put, low kicks are relatively easy to learn and can be indispensable when you need them.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Human Weapon: Road to Okinawa

Once again Human Weapon hosts Jason Chambers and Bill Duff take it on the road in their quest to train and scrap with some of the world's best martial artists. This is the episode we've been waiting for - Karate - the Okinawan art of empty-handed combat. As usual, our trusty guides are bemused, abused and amused by the rigorous training regimens they endure during their brief stay on the island of Okinawa.

Some of the training methods displayed on the show are rarely practiced anymore, especially in the West. True karate entails turning parts of the body into viable weapons, as some of the Okinawan masters demonstrated with board breaks utilizing nukite (fingertips strike) and an impressive baseball bat break using a special back-wrist technique. Also explained was kyoshu-jutsu - vital point striking which included a palm-heel technique delivered to the chest that is capable of stopping the heart.

I especially liked the segment on the traditional hojo undo karate equipment that many karate practitioners may have never seen or heard of: Kongo ken - oval metal weight. Tou - bamboo bundle used for nukite strikes. Nigiri game - gripping jars filled with sand or water (see photo). And of course, the makiwara - the striking post.

I've already written about some of karate's iron-body exercises, so I won't go into that here. But I had to laugh when Duff quipped that it was "hard to not hit back" when he was being struck about during a body toughening routine.

And speaking of tough guys, our man Duff went up against an Okinawan karate champ in the showdown. All I can say is that karateka are notorious for holding their hands way too low in kumite. Check it out:

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