Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011


Throws can be devastating.

Because we learn how to fall properly--on mats--it is easy to forget how powerful a well executed throw can be.

On a hard surface such as concrete, it could mean broken bones, concussions or even fatal/damaging injuries.

This last result is why we have to be aware of the threat level, for both legal and moral reasons. Remember, we study defense tactics that are not to be used lightly. This is easy to forget. Ultimately, we must remember that possessing discipline, and not using one's skills unnecessarily is always the best outcome for everybody involved.

But back to throws.

It is my thinking that in any close quarter system, throws can prove to be more valuable than one might think. Along with the impact of the throw itself, the thrower (tori) also achieves a huge advantage in position following the technique.

Many of the arguments against throws that I have heard are based from fans of sport-fighting, such as the UFC, where throws aren't so common (albeit effective when used). Often, the judo guys don't get the throwing opportunities without a gi (shirt) to grab onto, and that is a big disadvantage for them. However, what no one points out is that on the street we don't normally go around without a shirt on (true, streakers can be hard to get hold of and subdue). Nor are we abnormally sweaty and slippery (again, this applies to most of us).

And another thing that is overlooked is the fact that many judo throws are cleaned up or banned in competition, and many traditional jiu-jitsu throws occur following a joint lock and/or bone break.

These differences are, in my opinion, game changers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lesson from the desert....

Several years ago, my wife and I were driving through the desert in Arizona, enjoying the vastness of the landscape. There were no houses, save the odd Navajo dwelling every few miles or so, and any cell phone signals were nonexistent.

Yet, at one point, after an hour of driving, we came upon several sheep trying to cross a ditch to get to the road. There were no fences anywhere to be seen, or people, just a ragged looking border collie nudging the animals back from the road.

Whose were they? Why weren't they fenced in?

The memory reminded me of saying I came across in a book by the Zen Buddhist Shunryu Suzuki: To give a sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him.

Hmm. I love thinking about this. And although I am sure it has martial parallels or daily life application, I don't feel I need to delve into these areas. I just enjoy thinking about these sheep and how by giving them absolute freedom they were under more control than any barrier could achieve.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sword and Stone

The legend of the sword and the stone is a well known myth, conjuring up images of King Arthur and Camelot.

The outer meaning is simple: The person who can dislodge the weapon from the rock is preordained to become the ruler of the kingdom. There is apparently a magic spell fusing the sword and stone, and although not based in any real physics, it provides a mysterious beginning to the lore of the round table. Kids love this stuff.

But as always, there is a second meaning when it comes to mythology.

And in this case, the esoteric meaning is profound.

Stone, a very dense substance, is often a symbolic reference to the world and its matter. Limiting and immovable, it is bound to the physical laws such as gravity. It represents the Earth and our mortal bodies.

The sword is spirit and intellect. It cuts through the veil of any false perception and allows us to experience the spiritual aspects of life.

The King is the higher self who realizes the two different aspects of Self.

In a more eastern context, the fusion could be seen as yin and yang.

The fact that the many knights and dukes who feel entitled to the kingship fail to remove the sword despite their utmost physical effort is telling. It is the meek and ego-less boy who manages the feat, and he does so with no strain whatsoever.

A familiar lesson to be sure.

Monday, April 11, 2011

well grounded....

The debate over stand-up combat versus ground fighting is a touchy one.... myself, i think going to the ground in a real life situation should be a last resort. The ground is harder than mats, and assailants may lurk nearby. Also, if a knife is drawn, the best defense--running away--is eliminated. That said, I do think a martial art that doesn't prepare an individual for possible ground combat is incomplete. This doesn't mean full-scale Brazilian jiu-jitsu or wrestling skills, but rather a few go-to chokes, strikes, or dirty and quick methods of escape.

Many individuals today, such as many a UFC fan, may not realize that much of the ground tactics employed in the ring are derivatives of the Japanese system to begin with. These pictures are all from Judo (judo is a sport derived from Japanese jiu-jitsu, as is the grappling art of Brazil).

Realistically, Judo has a very solid ground component, despite being known by for its throws and leg sweeps. I remember learning a scarf hold when i was about eight-years-old. I've never forgotten it, and never stopped believing its effectiveness in controlling an opponent (more damaging joint manipulation or chokes can be added to the basic technique if required). I also picked up a couple of standard defenses from high school wrestling classes that stay with me to this day.

And as my sensei has always stressed, most joint manipulations and choke techniques you can apply while standing, can be used as well on the ground.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Language can determine outcome.

It can shape our vision and therefore our approach.

Advertisers know this and use specific trigger words to manipulate human behaviour; politicians know this, and as a result, carefully craft their sentences in order to shape and fulfil their desired results.

But it works for us, too.

For example, when it comes to martial arts, exchange the word practicing for cultivating. Immediately a more organic, slow, and more patient vision comes to mind. I see a garden when I hear the latter word. Something sensitive and adaptable to the elements surrounding it.

Qi, teachers will suggest, is cultivated rather than learned. You start from nothing. It grows. The process is slow, but as a result, the knowledge of qi should permanently meld into the mind and body.

Another term is self defense. It is much different than combat training or grappling, etc. It suggests an entirely different situation than, say, fighting. It conjures up scenes of street violence and how to escape them as quickly and effectively as possible. Fighting brings to mind more calculated strategies, feints, combinations, and often a referee.

This means we approach self defense differently than fighting. For me, this is a huge difference, and involves very different training.

The brain works like this: Put the word "fighting" into a search engine. Look at the pictures that appear. Now do the same with "self defense", and you will see a much different take on violent situations.

This is what your mind does.

And it can change everything.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Of Action and Regret....

"That samurai was right who refused to compromise his character by a slight humiliation in his youth; 'because,' he said, 'dishonour is like a scar on a tree, which time, instead of effacing, only helps to enlarge.'"

Ah yes, once again the words of Inazo Nitobe's Bushido.

This paragraph deserves some thought. Although the original context is discussing the role of shame, and how this emotion is the basis of all moral behaviour and honour, the scarred tree analogy goes so much further. We all have such wounds that have increased over time rather than diminished. Some are based in matters of confidence; some are in areas of relationships; and some are based in more tangible and physical injuries that we ignored until they spiralled out of control.

Technically speaking, these imperfections are the result of improper understanding and/or teaching, that start out as tiny bad habits, eventually to become glaring weaknesses. This is why accomplished martial artists still listen to constructive criticism. It is why the best athletes in the world still rely on professional coaching.

In this case, dishonour could be interpreted as a lack of humility among one's peers. Or in the misjudged abilities of an adversary.

It could be rooted in a dishonest self-perception, individually, or as a society that puts humanity on a pedestal separate from the natural world.

This is why all actions are best examined closely, lest regret becomes the growing scar on the tree.