Thursday, January 22, 2015

Infection And Review

I haven't posted in the last week due to a lingering illness.  As the cold/flu season rolls across the US I thought I had escaped the clutches of fever, chills and snots as my friends and co-workers were laid low all around me.  Alas, not even my robust immune system could fight off all of it.  Instead of snot I ended up with lung problems.

It's been two weeks since the beginning of the symptoms and there hasn't been much change.  Any movement induces coughing jags that last up to five minutes.  I found some old bottles of codeine cough syrup and I'm disappointed in the lack of progress.  I apparently developed a tolerance in one day.

Anyway, I decided just go to class and cough my way through.  I mean I'm going to work so I figured I might as well go and cough on my fellow students.

When I got to class Kyle let me know that the last three sessions were dedicated to preparation for Celebration. Celebration being the name for the testing gathering.  I have been told that in years past that the whole region collected for these quarterly events.  This would include 50 blackbelts and everyone's family, making a fairly massive event.  Obviously  this has scaled down.  Only the grandmaster (10th Degree Morris Mack) and another instructor come and visit the class to review the testing.  I keep wondering if this is a trend.  The TKD schools just seem to have the business model ironed out.

I think as a nod to my general hacking Reed Sensei had me act as a judge to our brown belt.  Mark did ten kata and I was supposed to be keeping notes on his acumen.  I had absolutely no idea how these katas were supposed to be performed so I would bother Reed with observations while he watched another student preparing for her 2nd Dan.

In my old class we were constantly nagged about head turns.  "You should always be looking where you're going!" they would tell me ad nauseam.  My guy didn't really make any particular effort in that area because his kata were complex enough that he was really concentrating on the next move.  Reed Sensei pointed out that as a rule there should be, per kata, two fast head turns for 90 degree and less turns and two slow head turns for 180 degree moves.  Neat rule.  My guy wasn't quite there, but Reed didn't appear to think that was a quick fix.  More of a long term correction.

I was bothered about my guys kicks.  He was just flinging the leg out.  Granted he's 62 going for a black belt so I don't think I can judge too harshly, but when I mentioned to Reed he was nice enough to bring it up in the review.  He actually had me stand up and perform a front kick so Mark could see how it was done.  I did one of my best.

Reed gave me some interesting information about the Kata section of the test.  Apparently, some of the kata performed are Shūdokan only and considered secret!  The doors and windows are actually covered so no one can see!  However, Reed did point out how funny that was because anyone walking by can see us practice them.  Still I liked the nod to traditionalism.  I find comfort that there is a connection to the past.  

Class finished up with jump rope.  Two instructors tied some belts together and we were to run through the rope.  They started with it not moving and we jumped.  They went one way and were to time our run to get through.  They went the other way and we had to jump to clear the rope,  and finally there were two counter-rotating belts (ala double dutch).  Kyle told me to focus on the front belt and I cleared without any problem, but after than I fell apart in the timing.  I would forget to pick my feet up after clearing the first rope.  Durrrr.  However a nice light way to end the class.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Shūdokan 20 - Fight Night 2

Based on the fact that I completed my 20th class, I'm going to leave off the Shūdokan in the title in the future. I think I can safely say that I enjoy the class enough that I'm going to stick around for as long as I'm engaged.  So much for my martial artists tour of various styles.  I simply can't beat the cost, location and teacher.


It a burst of ingenuity the Teacher decided to go fast and hard into movement.  Last night he took out flat rubber disks and placed them into patterns on the floor.  We would do follow the leader with various foot work.  Essentially enforcing the fact that movement translates into better distance control and trying to stop crossing feet if possible.  With all kinds of variations we worked our way up to cartwheels.  Which, being 48, set my confidence level to low, but it turned out that I could do them fine on one side, but the other turned into a round off.  Either way it was great exercise, but I'm guessing little practical martial art value.

In the past (by that I mean at my old school) Fight night wasn't regular unless I lead the class.  In retrospect I can see that I should have more rigid rules in place, but the way it was presented to me was to be close to realism versus point fighting.  It kind of blended for us over the years.  This version of Karate I'm in now stresses no fighting (or lack of conflict?) at all, minimal contact and point sparring.  I haven't seen much in the way of advanced technique either, but the work on basics is intense and multi-faceted.

In this school there are clear rules in karate point-sparring, but probably the only one last night that had a good working knowledge was the Teacher.  The line judges were struggling a bit with out of bounds and areas of contact that would give a point.  After a couple of false starts we got down to good business and had a fine time.

I have lots of experience from my other class, but this rigid environment is a bit tough for me.  I want to do take downs, which are fine, but have to be carefully managed so you don't bust joints. Definitely no throws.  Sigh.  So it was block, punch, kick and I was blocking too early.  So I had a majority of punches landing on my lead arm.  My hand feels like a complete bruise but with no visible signs.

So pretty sore and stiff today.  In the best way possible.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Shūdokan 19 - Happy Feet!

Did you ever have one of those classes where everything the teacher says appears directed at you?  I had that last night.  By the third time he stopped the class to make a point I was starting to blush. Although he didn't look at me directly, but I'm pretty sure that my issues were stimulating ideas to point out to the class.  Dang!

I can't say what makes the teacher chose the nightly curriculum but last night we fell back on 10 kata. Since this is major component for testing he hits this pretty hard.  Each person has to perform 10 katas.  The students perform one and wait for everyone to finish.  Then we are critiqued.  This eats up class time so much so that I worry that we won't get to the tenth one.

After the first Kata, the teacher brought up the overhand block.  I'm not saying that I a super student and that I've got the concept after the first time I'm told, but I was getting a red face because he'd told me already the rationale for how he does the block like he does.  I love it and I'm trying to do it, but trying to remember old kata didn't allow for the space to recall to do the overhead blocks in the "new" fashion.  About the sixth block and I remembered to start doing it.  And then he grinds it in during the explanation.  Ugh.

The next component to draw his attention was Happy Feet.  My second kata was much like the first, but my "C" step forces me to move my feet around while I seek balance.  Boom he saw that and was like, "yeessssss".  Probably the worst part of this was that he pointed out something that I never knew I did or even thought about.  Moving from one stance to another necessitates a shift in balance and he wants to see no movement in the foot.  To him (and I agree as much as it chagrins me) a constantly shifting foot indicates that the balance is not set before movement.  A solid and still foot indicates a strong base and good balance.

Finally, when we got to move advanced and explosive katas he stopped us and pointed out how important breathing is.  I couldn't stop from inwardly groaning.  Breathing is one of my worst problems.  I often hold my breath to point of exhaustion, hardly aware I'm even doing it until I'm completed doing whatever I'm in the middle of.  His story instruction was basically that.  Verbal exhalations remind the person that they are breathing.  Keeping it quiet doesn't do anything for you.  So when we went back to the next Kata I tried hard to breath loud, but I was so wrapped up around the feet issue, totally forgot about half way.  Arrgghh.

I should mention that I'm so self-absorbed that I never noticed if the other advanced students had an issue with this things or not.  I was just so wigged out that they were plainly issues for me.  MaryAnn did give me compliments about the power I bring to the katas.  However, this is only in contrast to the others around me.  They don't appear to give anything gusto in my eyes, but what do I know?  I can barely walk and breath at the same time!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Shūdokan 18 - Judgement

We're between two holidays and class membership is minimal.  Two kids, a teen, Marcus and me.  Sensei is still focused on prepping for "celebration" which is the nickname for testing.  In this vein the class was structured around one portion of the testing called "bunkai".  I always took that word to mean practical application of the moves from kata.  However, this appears to be components that everyone acts out at the same time at various levels depending on skills.  So the white belts would do a side kick whereas brown and black has to a spin, downward block, side kick and into fudo dachi (low stance) followed by a schto (I have no idea how to spell this word, but it's a strike with the bottom ridge of the hand straight from the chest).  We were only able to get through a few of these before we got bogged down in technique correction.  Even with the five of us organizing the different levels was technically challenging for Sensei.

At the end of class Sensei likes to talk about something briefly.  He told a story about the founder and his pupil (in the US, not Japan).  It seems that one loved kata and other loved fighting.  The one who loved the fighting (main student) was eventually passed over for promotion because other folks were simply better and this was because he originally eschewed kata.  Once he realized this he got better, etc.

In my mind I said, "cool story bro.  We get it. Be well rounded, etc."  But there was the cool bit that never dawned upon me.  Sensei said that someone might be a natural fighter or just be plan speedy, but no one is a natural at Kata.  That's why the weight in belt testing falls on kata.  The judges can tell maturity and base level skills by how well the kata is performed.

I always like kata, but I was depressed when I didn't do well in kumite (fighting/sparring).  So there might be a bright future for me in kata; as long as they don't keep deconstructing my work.  It's like learning all over again.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Shūdokan 17 - Pre Holiday Rush

Class was down to it's bare minimum which I would assume would be standard for the week of Christmas.  Traffic is building and people seem to be in a hurry, so it's pleasant to go to class and just focus on one thing for a while.  Kind of like a Zen retreat with punching.

Class was spent on a longer warm up, which I find that I need to get my legs completely ready to go. This included kicking drills for the most part and then we broke up into skill groups and it was back to working on Wando kata.  Not that I don't mind working on this frequently, but I do like variety and it can be a bit much to work on in such long repetition.  My regular joke is, "only 47 more times to go".  Thankfully, that's well received.

One portion of the kata (which is very definitely Goju Ryu based), requires a small sequence of Sanchin footwork combined with a typical Goju block.  To me it's like being asked to rub my belly and tap my head with the addition of pretending someone is trying to hit me.

I went over that in nauseating detail and I'm still not sure I'm doing it completely correct.  The teacher focuses on a lot of different things and I'm still trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing with one hand.  I guess that's the problem with coming in with a black belt from another art.  They are going to figure you know something or assign a knowledge level to you;  even with obvious deficits here and there.  

We finished the evening in my basement and worked for several hours on stances and transitions.  Something I thought I did well, but found that I need constant refinement.  During that time they introduced me to "European Blocking".  Another preset attack and defend demo with two people.  It's a set pattern of just a couple of moves.  So it can be executed fast and it's designed to be a show off thing in competition, but since the head guy liked it so much, it's become part of testing.  

The upside to all that work (3 hours) is that I slept like a rock.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Shudokan 16 - Fight Night!

Despite any small misgivings I might have had with the Shūdokan style or how Reed teaches them, there were safely put away last night when we got to spar.

I think I've mentioned that the style that Reed presents is fairly straightforward.  By this I mean simple punch and kick combos and actual forward and backward movement.  Granted I haven't seen him spar against anyone at his skill level so I'm basing a lot on just what I've seen in class as part of lesson.

Class started as a "10 Kata" night.  Which is actually like what it sounds like.  We are to perform ten unique kata (if you know that many) or repeat the ones you know until you hit ten.  We stop at the end of each kata and the Senseis walk around and provide a critique.  They start by telling you what you do well and what to work on.  A nice formula.

Much to my chagrin, remembering my basic forms from Tang Soo Do became a painful process in stopping and restarting. There was much squinting and thinking as I rolled back the years to remember my first four or five forms.  I also had to announce which one I was doing.  I remembered about six names.  Very embarrassing.  I usually practice the last 5 black belt forms and my new one from Shūdokan.  So to dredge up stuff that I haven't practiced in over a year was a fairly horrible experience.  At one point Reed came over and did his version of Bassei Dai with me, but of course our versions were different, making our attempt look a Dick Van Dyke-esque off set dance competition.

We still had time left in the class after all that and thus the sparring.  A square was laid out with a judge on each corner and the match would go to 3 points.  Reed asked me if I'd like to go first and had me hold up my hand. He punched it very lightly.  He must have seen the blank look on my face then and when asked me to do the same to his hand.  He was telling me that's the impact level. Ahhhh.

The match went very quickly.  My one to his three.  I was a bit embarrassed because it was really run in and out type competition, not advanced technique practice.  I'm just not used to it.  Back in the old school we went until we hit three minutes or someone was sitting down.  This is all high speed and getting the right setup for a response.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Shudokan 15

I'm not sure what happened last night but I got little to no sleep, or at least it feels that way.  I normally associate that with drinking too much on a weekend night.  When the alcohol converts to sugar at 2 am and I thrash around because my heart is pounding like I'm running up hill.  Well, I wasn't drinking and I was in bed at the right time after a very long night at beatings.  I should have passed out and slept like a log.  Instead I kept surfacing every hour.  I was grateful when the alarm went off.

Due to the short nature of class time, the black belts meet after class on Monday and work out for another couple of hours.  I originally thought it was just to get the one Brown Belt, Mark, up to speed for his test, but I see that folks just want to get together and continue working.  There is way too much content to be covered or reexamined for the two hours a week we normally have.

I'm loath to miss any class because I'll be missing new material or assistance on current material that needs refinement.  So the after class, continuation is nice, but I'm suffering for it today.  The final move in the application portion is a shoulder lock on me. And, of course, it's the shoulder that plays up because it's been locked and ground for so many years.  That and the knees and back and everything else.  Maybe that's why I didn't sleep well.  Ibuprofen would have been smart.  I've got X-ray hindsight.

Generally speaking I'm working on three main areas of memorization.  An application of the Kyoku Yondan kata, the application of Kyoku Godan kata, and Wando.  Between all of this I'm retooling a lot of stuff.  How to hold the hand, stances, stances and more stances and the very straightforward approach to sparring.

Last night Reed Sensei took one of the teens and did a sparring sample.  There was much bouncing on toes (what I call body fencing) and then straight rushes.  I'm sure there would be more if there were two qualified folks, but it was explosive and no circling.

Since the school is reduced significantly there is no mass visit to the main school for testing.  I have found that Morris Mack Sensei comes and tests.  Last night I heard a few stories about testing in front of him and stress that created in the students.  Fun stuff filled with foot cramps and pain.  So I blithely wonder when would I be asked.  I realize I do this a lot and realize how important it would be for me get tested in another art.  Confirmation that I know a thing or two from a external source.  How sweet would that be?!