Rhythm of the fight

Ever since the Kyokushin tournament I did a year ago, I felt like I lost confidence in my sparring. I didn’t fight the way I wanted to, and this has plagued my sparring for a long time.

I’ve been experimenting a lot, perhaps too much. Always trying something different and always seeming to be in no mans land. Caught between my old shodan brawling style, a hint of my controlling the fight nidan and trying but failing to adapt to a counter striker. In the latter style I’ve been very accurate, but often find myself off balanced and not able to dominate or control the fight like my normal swaggering style.

Outside of karate just for fun I’ve been taking up salsa with a couple of work colleagues. Naturally I just throw myself into it having a laugh. I get asked if I have rhythm. I normally just follow my own beat.

Recently however, one of my colleagues has been practicing with us a couple of times a week, I’m actually starting to nail down the basics, actually finding the beat of the music.

Another colleague of mine has been doing Capoeria for the last decade. We have bouncing off a shared passion for the martial arts with one another. I tried out Capoeria if he tried out karate (only fair) and I love it (no where near my first love of karate) this beautiful hybrid of dance martial art mesmerises you in there movements. Your not always sure when they are going to kick, until they kick. They do so many tricks, trips, feints and takedowns. It made me feel like if I experiment with this for karate (yes I know, I’m experimenting yet again) then I might be able to evolve into a counter fighter at will.

Flash forward to yesterday, a mate from our London club came to spar me for two hours. He is training for his thirty man next year the same challenge I did two years ago and he is one of our associations top fighters.

At first I felt useless, my accuracy was there but my feet were all over the place, I was predictable. My mate (with coaching from one of my best buddies) rapidly improved for the whole session. Am I really a nidan I thought. Then my buddie told me to close him down, going back to what I know best for that round brought back my old confidence, I’m a natural sanchin fighter. This allowed me to experiment my a bit of capoeria in my fighting which both worked and didn’t work.

Then I felt his rhythm. He is a dancer, and has this natural ability to feel rhythm, and flow and change in a fight. But I felt it, I connected with it, and waited for when I wanted to disrupt it with a different beat. It was like magic, I flowed from one style to the other and back again.

Today was not about winning, for him to gain some outside perspective and experience and for me to gain a bud, to begin to evolve in how I want to fight.

The London Shihan is correct, to be a good fighter you first need to be a good dancer.

Goju and its many paths

When you start this martial journey, you do not know which path you will follow.

After rugby, I started in jistu (Japanese not Brazilian). I Liked it, I learnt the basics well (it gave me a solid foundation for karate) and I wanted to be a black belt, but it wasn’t the style or  the people for me. In a sense I failed, but it was the wrong path for me. No, thats wrong they were part of my path, I just had a different destination.

Goju ryu is the first thing I joined when I knew in a moment I had found my path. I can’t explain why but I was dedicated to it from the moment I walked into the dojo.

It has helped me gain great friends, led me to train in China, to achieving shodan then the coverted black gi of the nidan via the 30 man kumite.
My path seems to have been set, but I have met many great martial artists on my path. Of all my inner group of those I graded with (near similar low grades) to where I am now, I am the only one that has remained. 

Does that make me a better martial artist? It’s a question worth thinking about, I know for some family, hobbies, work or life come first. I understand that, but karate came first to me. I sacrificed a lot to get where I am. I trained a lot, and although some were more skillful than me at the time, my perseverance and dedication helped me to get to where I am.

One of my friends, trains in another country. Our style and ethos are his, and he has had a variety of experiences. He was always the joker in the class, and I became friends with him from the moment we first sparred. He always says how much he misses our style, our way. His work always came first. He has trained in three or four different countries, a bit of muay thai but mostly different styles of karate. This variety surely gives him a more open view on what karate is but should be.

I have another friend who was a nidan in another style of karate, joined us and started in the low grades. Alot of the ways my personal karate evolved was training with him outside of karate, experimenting and me being the higher grade (only in our style) enabled me to blend what I learnt in China, to what we do in karate.

Sadly he gave up karate, focused more on other creative outlets. He seems far happier, and yet goju is his personal philosophy. It defines who is, how he approaches life and lifes problems. The way he sees life is by the balance of go and ju. It astonished me that every chat, or problem we discussed, he related to goju and how the way of goju helps you deal with life.

My next friend was my first friend in karate, we had opposite styles of fighting, but we were both very creative in how we would approach karate, bunkai. We would fight each other extremely hard, full contact, scared but because we trusted each other that we had no intention of hurting the other, of knowing when to lay off if it got too bad. We could constantly push the boundaries.

When we drank, we would discuss life, interests but we would often bump heads when it came to karate. We respected each other so much that we would often argue our own ways on karate. It helped us to grow because we would challenge each other’s concepts. 

People often wondered why he seem to do so little in sessions, but would do so well in gradings. If they knew what I knew, that he was obsessed with karate (probably more than anyone I know), it was part of his every day life. To him doing something whilst pouring coffee, to how he walks, how he thinks. He sends himself to sleep thinking or kata and bunkai. Always self experimenting. Sure there are dangers to that, you do need to have a guide. He has dabbled in krav maga to further aid his understanding of karate.

All three men are like brothers to me, I trained with them as a kyu grade up to I got my shodan. It feels strange that I have stayed upon this path,  that they have gone on different paths. They could of reached the same path that I have walked, if they chosen to do so. They are equally obsessed with the path that is goju, I still consider them as equals.

We are all walking on a different path, one is exploring other karate styles, one karate is his philosophy on life, the other karate is his way of life, and I am still walking this path, focused on my goal. Yet all four of us are still Goju brothers, it still influences our lives.

The way of the martial artist isn’t set in stone. The way of Goju can lead us on to many different paths. When we get together, It’s like time hasn’t changed, we are still the same young men with the same passions, that main passion has helped each of us define who we are.

All four of us are walking the path of the Goju.

I am a Nidan

It feels strange, I now wear the black of the shadows I was dreaming of facing all those years ago as low grade.

I wear the black blackbelt of someone who has been focused on their goal, and not let it be just a dream.

I wear the black gi of a warrior that faced 30 men, a long line of shadows, facing down fear to prove to myself that I am a warrior, I do belong. To overcome doubts and demons.

I always had this little niggle, that people thought I was just a brawler, or not smart enough. It’s all in my own head. Most of my life, I have let my demons take over me.

They led me to self destruction, in many different ways. Karate was different, it was the first place I belonged. No matter how much I tried for my dad, I was not the rugby type, I was an outsider an observer.

Karate was the first place that I met people like me, forged friendships through the fiery pit that sparring can be. It is where I found love, where I didn’t know I deserve it. It was the first place that I realised I could actually be good at something.

From my first lesson I knew karate, the style of Goju ryu, specifically the hard path of the DKK association that it was for me. It is the first place I faced fear, and no matter how many times I have fallen, I keep fighting, improving inch by inch.

This fear and doubt that has affected me most of my life, has been like a catalyst in my way of life that is karate. I know I have to practice more than most to get things right, so I trained harder at home. I became obsessed with its history. Hanging with mates, we would drink and feel like we have discovered new ways (well new to us, but ancient like the katas) and we would play and find our understanding evolved.

People knew from a low grade that I would get this far, I didn’t believe them. I was always scared.

I reached shodan, a grade I deserved but felt like I could of done better. Don’t get me wrong, I did my best.

When I asked for advice for attempting the 30 man kumite, people said I’m tough, withstand twenty fights, brawl the next ten or vice versa. This got to me, I knew deep down I was a better fighter than this. This was the first time I believed in myself.

I trained with two men, one small but so exceptionally technical, a counter striker. I knew if I could get a fraction as good as he is then I am on the right path to where I want to be. The next man is like a juggernaut, powerul bigger, but a really smart fighter that people underestimate. He pushed me to new levels, where I had to change my style to last thirty fights, to become the smart fighter I knew I was somewhere deep inside.

We had our fight club, I would go through highs and lows, and the boot camp people that followed were so supportive, they got behind me like a big family seeing me fight through it all. My love was one of them, she saw my spirit my laughter even in the darkest moments and saw me through my journey.

Our shihan’s lessons seemed to be focused on me (thats how we all think), and his advice though simple made the biggest difference in the darkest moments. I based a lot of the way I wanted to fight on him and his way of fighting.

We had the big tournament with our London club, I won the grappling and got tons of advice on how to improve for the next three months. Simple advice, but ones I took to heart, their approach helped me to evolve into the calm warrior I became on that sunny day.

Every fight I always have great fear, every grading I always thought I would fail. This time, I knew it was my time. I knew I trained like a professional, I knew I dedicated my life to this one moment. I didn’t drink alcohol for nine months, no snacks except for ice cream on a Sunday. I trained twice a day, I didn’t do as much cardio as others, my cardio was based on fighting and sparring fitness and toughness.

I think the difference between some is that they jusy want to survive the nidan grading, for others it was a test. For me it was my chance to prove I was the best. Not out of ego, there will always be a better fighter. It was to prove I was the best, the best fighter I could become, to slay my demons and prove I am a black gi, I do belong.

My future girlfriend dragged her family to see my fight, she was meant to be at a family reunion. She didn’t want to let me down.

My dad was 88 years old, I was 29. I wanted to prove to him, and show although I couldn’t become a professional rugby player like he wanted, I would for at least this moment become a professional fighter. Proved to him and myself that I can earn something beyond what I thought I could. I wanted to make proud.

Apparently mine was one of the best performances that many had ever seen. I am still struggling to digesting this, me how can I do this? Was it really me. 

10 months later I am only just starting to accept this, I did achieve the impossible. But it will mean nothing, if I don’t keep training, if I don’t keep pushing my boundaries. I know I can be better than I was.

This is my way of life, I am a blackbelt, I wear the black gi of those who have faced the black dragon. I am part of this brotherhood, this cult.

It is in my blood, I can the scars of my marital journey like a proud warrior.

Karate has shown me that a man can reach his dreams, if you stay humble and have iron will then anything is possible.

Vegan diet challenge (and heavy kettlebell)

So my normal weight is slightly under 13 and half stone, lighter in summer, slightly heavier in the winter.
The last year I have been feeling off in terms of my fitness and diet, been perhaps to laxed or at least not on the top of my game, which in itself has been demoralising.
Before Christmas I was feeling sluggish, and gained the usual half a stone during Christmas. But for the six weeks after the holidays I gained almost another stone, mainly from eating too much fish a day (at least twice a day, not lean fish like tuna.)
Plus side to the extra weight is with sparring I can go more toe to toe with bigger guys and can dominant my ground more. I was surprised that I was fairly lightfooted but my fitness was atrocious for my standards and felt uncomfortable with my own body, I don’t normally have a noticeable belly and it reduced my self esteem.

So I decided to do a two challenges for lent, first focus my training on a 32 kg kettlebell, the next was to be a vegan for the forty days. Now normally I eat alot of meat, thinking I need my protein etc but I decided to see how I would cope with the effort. The last few years I have gone vegetarian but me being me I decided to up the challenge.

First few weeks I felt like my normal self, my digestive system was running much smoother, and I was training regular with both karate and the kettlebell. I actually gained weight and was feeling too full over compensating with excess sources of protein like beans, tofu, vegan protein powder etc. But throughout instead of eating as much bread. I would have wraps.Beans are really lean but in the first week I would have like two cans as part of one meal. I was nearly 15 stone and now 17.5% fat

Once I realised I couldn’t maintain such a high level of protein or could afford it at that rate I decided rather than focusing on the level of consumption a bodybuilder would intake, I focused on the daily recommended amount for an average adult male, if mine was slightly higher that was a bonus.
I followed the theory of rather than having all your protein at once, make sure you get enough between all of the meals.

The mid weeks the scales seemed to fluctuate alot between losing half a stone to being the same weight, it was really confusing to know if I had made any difference in losing the belly I had gained. I was feeling very sluggish even more so than before the diet, and I realised I couldn’t keep training with the kettlebell my energy was burnt out.
So I focused for one week on just my karate, then the other two weeks of doing at least one day of calisthenics.

The moment I let my self have even more rest the belly virtual dropped within days and I barely noticed. My weight flew down below 14stone. Back to my normal winter weight. I still felt incredibly sluggish but was pleased with the fact that I looked more like my normal self.

I would say a week after eating g a somewhat normal diet my energy returned to normal, I felt abuzz with it, something that I’ve been missing since way before Christmas.

I have learnt that I use to eat too much meat which would make me sluggish, but having no major protein sources also made me sluggish. That I need to control my eating habits slightly (not go over the top). My fitness hasn’t really changed as a result of the diet, maybe if I did more cardio during the vegan phase it would of.

At the moment I’m just about 13-9 and although not in super shape I can feel my abs under my belly again.

New years resolutions for a karate man

Most of.last years resolutions were a success I achieved my blackbelt and have completed a few stories.
This year my main resolutions will be consistency in whatever I am aiming to achieve.

So in karate terms to train daily, not as in the only thing I’ll do in my spare time but if I want to get better than I have to be more consistent with it.

For instance, more focus on stretching, conditioning, practicing kata everyday but asign a different kata per day, so Monday will be sanseru and Wednesday geksai etc but each day I will do a sanchin kata be it sanchin, tensho or even sanzhan.

With story writing I want to record most of my ideas in one journal rather than scattered everywhere and go to courses on how to write stories.

Consistency is where most people fall off the wagon, and this year it’s something I want to focus upon.

Pullups the key to Martial Arts pt1

In my view pullups should be a key component to any martial artists training regime. This post will be me giving a detailed explanation focusing in all key areas of mind, body and spirit and giving examples on why this relates to martial arts both modern and traditional.

Let’s start with the easiest section the body, pullups will help both a budding and serious martial artist develop a strong more athletic body, it stimulates virtually all the muscles in the torso, with a great emphasis on the back muscles and core.

Some people may think that training for your body is a vanity thing, but we as martial artists focus so much on our front muscles that we are endanger of causing imbalances which often leads to injury. By doing pullups or variations both much easier and much harder we can help make us stronger fighters with a healthier body.

It makes our backs stronger and much more powerful, in my few months in China my sifu in the white crane style was of the view that the secret to his style was a strong back, that his power generation over the inch punch or any short distance was developed from a strong back. People who studied his style at length doing sanzhan for at least an hour a day developed very large lats as a result of this training.
I have noticed from my experience that it is the same for me, my power or explosiveness in my strikes as increased because of this. Katas like sanchin or tensho equally help develop the lat muscles.
Think of the sportmen today compared to years ago, they are so much stronger, faster and much more explosive thanks to their aim of training to get stronger.

Your grip strength increases tremendously as your hands and forearms have to carry all your weight (or more if you add weight) which aids in alot of joint, strangulation, holds, throws and groundwork.
Alot of the white crane kung fu and alot of okinawan martial arts focus alot on grip work, which is also useful for styles like judo, bjj etc.

When someone kicks you in the ribs, there is alot of muscle there to protect your ribs from the power of the impact.
But with bigger stronger lats, whilst they don’t protect the ribs, twisting your body at the right moment can mean that they obsorbed some of the impact helping to protect your ribs.

They engage your core, and as we know the core is the key to everything from striking in boxing and taekwondo to throwing in judo they all say the same thing a stronger core gives you more power and protects your spine.

No matter how good or bad you are at pullups, they are always a mental challenge as it is not something we do every in our daily lives. (we probably did thousands of years ago) and so you have to focus your mind on completing a pullup, matching or beating your previous goal and trying not to cheat. Unlike with most exercises it is so much easier to cheat yourself on pullups, a focused mind is the key to pullups and a focused mind is the key to martial arts.

The battle of the mind and body both help to cultivate a stronger spirit which is at the heart of many martial arts like goju ryu karate, like in its key kata Sanchin (sanzhan).

In my opinion I think either all dojos should get a pullup bars, or better encourage their students to get one and incorporate pullups as part of their training, to make them more rounded stronger healthier fighter, who have strong grips and powerful strikes. In fact I change my view slightly they should only encourage the students to get a pullup bar. Like karate it can be a personal and everyone will have different limitations on pullups, ideally everyone’s limitations can be worked through so everyone can make progress.

Pullups to me are a key component of my martial arts training, there are other reasons why I do them, one being if I ever fell off a high ledge, would I have the strength and ability to pull myself up. When I realised I couldn’t all those years ago I have been heavily focused on pullups. Like karate not that I am to fall of an edge or fight someone in the street, but to prepare myself if I have to save myself or someone I hold dear to my heart.

In part 2 I will give examples of how to progress to different kinds of pullups, ones where anyone can do, to more challenging ones and how to train differently like focusing on grip work, more muscle or how to stimulate them so your able to do them.

Never give up, never back down, Osu.

In honour of a Dkk warrior

Yesterday I found out about the death of a fellow Dkk karateka, his long battle with leukaemia ended with pneumonia over the weekend. It is shocking news that will affect the club (his martial arts family) but most importantly his own family and close friends so much more.

It’s hard to imagine what they are going through, although cancer is closer to home than you think it would be,we all know someone who has been affected by it. 11 years ago when I was 16 I lost a close family member to the evilness that is cancer. It can make or break families, and while it tore my larger family apart it strengthened the bonds of those closest to us.

But this isn’t about me, it’s about a man called John who despite having leukaemia still dreamed of coming back to the club and train. Despite cancer of the blood he wanted to come back, now that takes spirit and guts to still dream of fighting when your already having the biggest fight of your life. I don’t know how many people in any walk of life would have that kind of spirit. His family must of been so proud of his inner strength to keep going.

As he mainly trained in Portishead (me in Bristol university) I didn’t know him as well as those in the Portishead club, but I had trained there quite a bit when he was around, and he made an impact to me, I can’t imagine how others are feeling who knew him better.

He often showed great spirit during training, nothing could keep him down, he would simply get stuck into the thick of it all. It’s his smile I’ll never forget, it was infectious and was always well timed when you were at the most hellish part of the session.

He may of only went up a few grades in our association (although he spent many years training in various martial arts), but to me he was already a blackbelt in spirit, and people like that are rare to find.

To a man named John,
That would never back down,
To a man named John,
Who would smile through the grit of it,
To a man named John,
Who had the karate warrior spirit,
To a man named John,
You’ll never be forgotten.

My thoughts go to those that you hold dear, your friends, your family.

I salute to you in silence my Dkk brother.

Wilderness training

I went training with my mate, over the fields and far away. It was a really good karate workout, first we did sanchin, first normal then extremely tensed, then relaxed, then normal but a focus of tension then relaxation.

Straight away we went into three punch drill, three kick drill, three strike drill and rotated through until we did 6 punch drill, six kick drill and six strike drill. Then light sparring focusing on using sanchin principles.

We discovered a bar for pullups and inverted rows and I taught him the correct form, and how to change it for explosiveness or endurance or muscle building.

After this we worked on San Dan gi 1 and 2, drilling this in. After this we did sparring again focusing on our guards.

Then I showed him some Kakie with some games me Adam and mike had created from it, only touched upon Kakie and sparred a bit more with a focus on reading our opponents movements.

We finished off with inverted rows for him and pullups for me. It was a very fun session, we got drill some advanced stuff we don’t do enough in the dojo and sparred inbetween to bring it’s relevance to the fight. It was also the first time in a long time I taught a karate session, I have things to work on but I think the tempo was very go-ju.

We are hoping to do this extra training once a week depending on our work schedules but already I have new ideas how this can help us both grow and develop into more well rounded martial artists.

The passion still burns

All the way up to my shodan I knew I couldn’t cope with the level of mental intensity I had towards karate, I needed it to survive and thrive through my grading. I had ideas of having a break from karate, either completely from martial arts or training in another style briefly (the style and club are my home I could never leave it) just work on areas I’m weak on and to have a break.

I did not expect that my passion and enjoyment (not the intensity) was higher than before, I was playing with kata or weapons or combos everyday, I made sure I did something everyday and covered all the kata I knew.

Now at the moment I have decided to set a minimum a day even when I’m busy or stressed. So one day I’ll at least do tensho/sanchin with sanseru or shisochin a minimum of three times that day, or five times but a maximum of ten times. If I want to make it more of an exercise I’ll add 10 burpees or 5 Solomon burpees per set.

The next day I’ll do Sanzhan, sanzhan kicking (kicking from that stance) and abs a minimum of three times and no more than ten times that day.

I’ll try to do quickflame and other kata at least once a week, and condition once a week until I’m more use to it (I’m not going to rush into it, I’m not in China).

I use tensho for I think it’s a great way to train your guard, sanchin for chi like power, sanseru for power and kicking, shisochin for defence ( at least that’s how it’s affecting my style aggressive defence) sanzhan for power and being subtle with strikes.

I’ll stick with my normal strength training as well, and am doing sprinting at least once a week.

Living beyond Shodan

Shodan was a huge achievement for me, a life goal achieved an obsession of five and half years built up into one moment. I proved something to myself that day, I faced my fears and even shed a few tears.

My best friend was worried about me, he knew that I need something to focus on and without that focus or drive I could get very down. He was right and is one of the few people to know me so well.

Two or three¬† weeks before my grading I met my girlfriend, an elegant beautiful woman with a quirky side I love. I was worried that it could distract me from my grading, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

I found before during and afterwards I had some to look forward to other than karate, something that was special, it gave me a new strength to get through my grading.

I became more normal in that karate wasn’t the only thing to govern my life, I never went through that big depression I should of gone through knowing what my personality is like. But because of her I have not be as happy since I was in China.

I didn’t realise how obsessed and focused I was until I was chatting to a mate at work today, apparently all I talked about leading up to my grading was training, resting, training not wanting to rest but should, training. Some of the workouts he told me I did were intense, at least I know I trained harder than I realised I did for my grading. It does feel nice to be more relaxed, enjoy my training and enjoy living more.

Karate is a large part of my life, I have to do a bit of training in it a day to feel sane, but I now understand why some karateka struggle with family and karate. Example my mate would rather spend his whole Saturday with his family, which I understood, but I would think you could see them anytime training is special. Now I realise how wrong I was, and must make sure I fit both in to my life.

My girlfriend gives me a reason to believe in a better future, the world is a brighter and more beautiful place with her by my side.