Saturday, January 23, 2016

Karate for stress!

Does Karate help eliminate stress?

This is one of the things I hear most often when answering questions about class. 

I think many people look at this the wrong way. I'm sure many other holistic practices get this all the time, finding balance, offering an outlet for the days frustrations, escapism etc. 

Truthfully it's not as complicated as that.

How does adding another commitment to your life relieve stress? 
How does following another's instructions alleviate tension?
Time constraints, mental taxation and physical exhaustion?
Not to mention the parameters of  pseudo-foreign culture rituals...

Engaging in any physical activity and in my experience especially Karate only ADDS stress; so what I try to explain is by confronting ourselves daily we are serving to increase our resistance to stress. 

By challenging the body you are encouraging it to grow. 
By pushing the near limitless limits of your mind you are programming it to succeed. 
By placing your self under extra stress, met with a determined attitude to overcome, you exceed the expectations you may have placed on your self.  

Your body requires more energy caused by new demands so it does something amazing; it tells you to take in more fuel. Suddenly you have the energy adequate for your life, suddenly you have the mental capacity to meet the days requirements. You've evolved (in a sense).

 So does Karate relieve stress, no, Karate is stress but intentional. 
Karate increases your resistance to stress, and through it you find a way to overcome it. 


Friday, January 17, 2014

The Importance of Free-Sparring. (In Traditional Karate)

Why practice free-sparring in traditional Karate?

Is it practical to assume "fighting stances" and square off against another Karateka, who will most likely use some or many of the same techniques as you?  What about some of the "light/no contact" type sparring you see in many places.  There are plenty of arguments that can be made against free-sparring but believe it or not, this is a Pro-sparring article.

The benefits of sparring far out weigh the negatives in my humble opinion, however we must understand it's limits and short comings.

First off, what environment are you training for?
Personally, I'm not training for points or training to win a No Holds Barred competition.  I'm more concerned with, if need be, protecting myself and those around me.  This may mean engaging with an assailant, or it could be utilizing the conditioning I've gained through Karate to endure and escape.

Time to get to the meat of this article.

Now there are many other methods to acquire these benefits but like I said this is about sparring.
Squaring off with someone, especially for the first time, outside of the safety parameters of "one-step" or two person drills does something for the mindset and attitude of the Karateka.  Fear and aggression are things we must constantly face ourselves with we are to ever protect ourselves in a "live" situation.  Staying calm under pressure while under attack, and fostering a necessary aggressiveness towards an opponent are essential in taking that first step towards being able to protect yourself.

How to take a hit, and how to give one.  In a quasi-live environment like free-sparring it's different taking a hit than it is having a partner hit you in the stomach when you're ready for it.  How to breath and absorb a blow or roll with a punch so you can respond.  How effective is Karate when you're a crumpled mess on the floor after having the wind knocked out of you.  It's all about preparation. It's also important to know how it feels to hit a live target with some intent.  I'm a small guy and often I hear my teacher say "Make them respect you."  Not in a "come get some" kind of way, but in a "give as good as you get" kind of way.

Distance of engagement, maai.  I believe that Karate's ideal range is up close and personal.  So what does free-sparring teach us?  How to bridge that gap of course.  How can I get past this guy's punches and kicks? What if he/she is a good thrower? Do I panic when I'm grabbed or if my hair is pulled?  When I do get inside and up close, what do I do with my Karate then?  These are all questions that should be answered when sparring.

Unfortunately sparring can get us stuck in a rut. Eventually sparring has to evolve, or else we feel ourselves getting stuck. Many life time competitors find them selves with the same problem and ultimately come to the same answer, kata.  So how does Kata fit into free-sparring?  Many schools have the same problem.  We spend hours working two person sets, analyzing the kata, working bunkai.  Some schools have self-defense where they number it by attack. 1. is a wrist grab 2. is a collar grab etc.  but when we spar none of it is evident.  Why do we fail to make the connection?  Is it because our partners don't attack us the way it's prescribed in the drills? Or because it's too fast paced? Or because we've spent years training a certain way we've put ourselves in a box.  Many schools have many answers.  Some may not have this problem at all, others may not realize there is a disconnect at all.

My teacher calls it moving bunkai, I'm sure it has another name but it fits.  Our partner, or attacker engages anyway they want, and continuously at that.  The attack is not defined and if we fail to meet and stop the attack then they continue.  The key is to not let it turn into a sparring match but utilize the tactics and principles of the kata.  I can go into more detail later but for the purpose of the article I'll cut it short.  Strikes, throws, locks, pins, chokes are all viable.  Hair grabbing, ear pulling, finger locks etc.  It obviously has to start at a medium pace to avoid injury, but hey, you can only build a house from the ground up.  As we progress so too should the level of intensity of this type of moving bunkai.

To be honest, I had a hard time penning my thoughts on this one so I apologize if I left anything unclear and can perhaps clear things up in the future.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Distractions and Excuses.

  • I have too much to do.
  • I'm too tried and I didn't get enough sleep.
  • I'm too caught up in something right now.
  • I don't have enough time today.
  • I'm taking a break.
The list goes on and on...

What is the real reason we choose to ignore our art for other pursuits?

Should Karate be the most important thing in our lives? No.
I don't even expect it to reach #5 on your list of priorities.  

I hear people every day say things like "I'm way too busy" or "my life is so hectic".  In some cases I know that's true.  For the most part though, it's an illusion.  Life filled with clutter and mess.  We murder our time with things as mundane as television, cellphone apps, pop culture, politics.

Get your stuff together.

No one can train for you.
Most importantly no one can train like you.  Take pride in that.

And get to work.

"So this leads us to the conclusion that all authentic karateka should be working toward a certain standard that the past Karate masters have left us. This is our legacy..."
-Richard Barrett Sensei,

Friday, January 10, 2014

Just another post about Karate.

I sat down to write another post. My intention was to be well informed, concise and well written. Well... After seein an ad somewhere.

I don't want to write about Karate.
I don't want to read about Karate.
I don't want to talk about Karate.

I just want to do it.

So until next time, good night.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Flow Drills... (And why I dislike them)

I'm not a huge fan of flow drills.  Flow drills are, to my knowledge, set patterns of attack and defense designed to be continuous.  A good flow drill is designed to take advantage of the natural flinch and protective response/reflex mechanism.  This type of training most certainly has it's place, especially when practiced sincerely.  My fear, however, is it has the potential to build increasingly bad habits.

One bad habit is failure to commit to a technique.  This happens because we get too set in the "flow" of the drill.  We end up sacrificing technique (proper timing, distance, target, intent) for speed or perceived "intensity".  What I mean by perceived intensity is how it looks from the outside, someone watching the drill (for demonstration purposes, or video).  The drill's prescribed movements teach us to immediately "flow" from one technique to the next, usually in a back and forth manner, thus rushing and half committing.

A second habit flow drills have the potential to form are what I call "failure expectations".  Many of the flow drills I have seen or practiced usually involve sequences the have you launch an attack, and the drill dictates your partner counters your attack and responds.  You in turn block/counter etc.  The psychological repercussions of this practice, in my view, are they build a mental barrier for your technique.  I'm not a big subscriber to the "one hit, one kill" but I feel this is a proper mindset to have when engaging in self defense practices.  I just don't want to subconsciously train my technique to fail.

One last bad habit, and I'll give it a rest.  This sort of plays into the first two, but you run the risk of developing poor "launching".   As a flow drill is designed to launch a technique after another we learn to apply techniques from positions or situations we may never find ourselves in.  One flow drill I've seen practiced has your partner, about midway through the drill, in an armlock, they bite you on the shoulder and you release the lock, spin them around and "tear" our their throat(the instructors exact words) then put them in a guillotine choke... If I want to train a choke it won't, most likely, ever be after "tearing" someone's throat out.  And I want to train my armlocks in such a way that even if my attacker bites me, it's too late.

Do these potentially negative factors rend practicing flow drills pointless? Of course not.  The limited exposure I've had to them has been in most cases been fun opportunities to train with other Karateka.  I'm not looking to change anyone's mind or belittle their practice.  I'm simply offering up my view, and feel there could be time better spent.  I will give my thoughts on the solution to this in a future post.

Thank you for reading and happy training.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Little and Often

My dog Lucy, the gripping jars, and the chi'shi

Happy New Year!

First day of the year, a day of re-dedication for many people.  Maybe a day of new beginnings.  For me, it was just another day of training.  Sure last night the clock struck 12a, I kissed my fiance, then went out side and began to work Kata, but that is really the only symbolism I give the holiday, usher in the new year with Karate.  Today however, today is Wednesday, I awoke naturally, and waited for my fiance to stir.When the coast was clear I threw on my sneakers and jacket and went out side to engage in some Hojo Undo.  It was raining and cold, so I was stuck under the carport but it didn't stop me from wishing my good friends the nigiri-game and chi-shi a happy new year.  I only had time for about thirty minutes of work before I had to hop in the shower.

  Thirty minutes may not seem like a good amount of time for something like Karate but a lesson I learned a long time ago was "Little and Often".  Years ago when my teacher first introduced me to the nigiri-game I went home and trained it until my hands wouldn't close. I couldn't open a door or turn my steering wheel.  Conveniently the next day my Sensei had me working bo, specifically Tokumine No Kun.  Well, needless to say I kept dropping the bo and making a spectacle of myself, upon witnessing this my Sensei stopped me and simply asked "what's wrong with you." after explaining my over indulgence in the nigiri-game the day before he shook his head and as if with a "tsk tsk" he said "little and often, little and often" and left me with my bo to continue practice.

Now this has come to mean a couple of different things to me.  It can mean not to over train.  Or it can me modesty in things.  It might mean, thirty minutes in the morning, just to do an hour after work, and another thirty before bed.  It's also interesting to ponder what "Little and Often" can mean when applied to other areas of life.  It may simply mean diligence.  Either way "little and often" has really helped guide my training and keeps me motivated,  keeps things simple.

So when feeling burned out or overly exhausted, remember.  Little and Often.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


I suppose if you, the reader, are to understand where I'm coming from as a Karateka some introductions are in order.

I have been involved in martial arts for just over 14 years now, more than some, less than most.  In fact I don't count it as anything substantial, just putting it out there.

The first 7 years of my journey were spent training in a Mu Duk Kwan Tae-Kwon-Do dojang.  Funny enough MDK seems to have the closest resemblance to the Okinawan Kata out of the other TKD systems ( Pinan- Pyung, Naihanchi-Na Ba Jhin).  This training gave me a pretty solid foundation (for the most part).  I trained earnestly, polished my poomse (Korean forms) for each tournament, sparred every chance I got.  I was teaching classes and held private lessons and ultimately felt satisfied in my training this, I would later come to realize, is a bad thing.  One day I hit a wall, a plateau if you will.  Luckily it was around this time my current teacher, my Sensei, began showing up at the dojang.  ( Full story later, its a good one)
Over a period of a few months he was in and out, working with the head instructor and I showing us some pointers.  He would say things like "I'm going to show you what you've been doing, with out knowing you were doing it." and really opened up the importance of proper training and more importantly Kata. Long story short, ultimately the head instructor of the dojang decided not to continue learning and was content on keeping things the way they were.  I'm not sure on the particulars but he left, and I followed. I shed my black belt, donned a white belt and I've been training with him ever since.

The last 7 years I've spent studying Okinawa Goju Ryu Karate.  Initially the training was a rude awakening.  Learning to take a blow, even learning to give one.  The endless Kata, the conditioning,  I had no idea the training would be so holistic, so relevant.

It's no doubt that the majority of readers to this blog will be of the Karate community, but it's my true goal to support the argument for Karate's efficacy in the modern world.  My aim is to point out some of the errors in today's view of Karate and explain, to the best of my ability, why some of these views exist.

Thank you for reading I hope I have something to offer.