A moment of reflection

Last year I became a caveman to karate, I decided to train for the 30 man kumite. I trained with an obsession like no other, it was my chance to train at least in my mind like a professional fighter, diet lifestyle everything was focused on that one goal.

Not only did I achieve an impossible dream, apparently mine was one of the best performances they had ever seen. Which is something I’m still coming to terms with.

Next week I turn 30, and I often wonder what have I achieved in life. I tend to be negative about myself. There have been some dark moments, I failed university and that period nearly destroyed me.

But through that dark period, I have in my own mind gone through my hell and become a stronger person. I refocused on karate, worked in an abattoir (literally like hell), and managed to chase a dream and train kung fu in China (my heaven).

After China I had to go through another period of darkness in unemployment where I felt worthless, karate was the only thing keeping me going.

I learnt I had a talent teaching kids, specifically in swimming which gave me a new lease on life. I love helping others, making people laugh and making a difference in someone else’s life.

I achieved a blackbelt which was impossible to me before. I was a wreck, nerves and fear ruined me. I met a girl who gave me confidence, but tried to change me and mentally scarred me by saying no woman would ever want to be with me long term.

She tried to take me away from my dad and karate, which are really important to my foundations.

I trained like a caveman (with a caveman beard), achieving my nidan and the coverted black gi.

Along the way I fell in love to the woman that gives me happiness, who excepts me for me and who trains in karate as well. She is also a badass. (What an awesome bonus!)

Life isn’t always easy, its the hard roads that have taken me to where I am. It led me to swim teaching, achieving nidan level and being with the love of my life.

My twenties don’t look so bad now in hindsight, and I look forward to my thirties with my foundations of karate and my beautiful girlfriend by my side to keep me strong and on the right path.

The yang to my yin

When the skies are blue,

And not even a single cloud in the sky,

When the sun is high,

Shinny brightly over the world,

When a gentle breeze passes on a summers day,

And all is calm,

And there is nothing but laughter,

This is how you make me feel,

When times are tough,

Fighting through the eye of a storm,

You are what anchors me to the ground,

You are what gives me light,

Even in the darkest moments,

You are what gives me peace,

That I have never known before,

Even when the world is at war,

You give me the strength to be me.

A journey through shadows

Circled by darkness,
The birds of shadow are hunting,
Waiting for my fall,
Scavengers of life,
Waiting to take me piece by piece,
The darkness spreads,
I no longer know what light is,
Despair pain and madness are all the same,
A vicious cycle that never seems to end,
I’m looking for someone to save me,
Why will no one save me,
Lost alone,
I reach the abyss waiting for the shadows,
No one is there to save me,
I am alone,
I realise as I fall,
Wind rushing against my face,
Only one person can save me,
That is me the shadows,
I am the one circling,
Hunting myself down,
It is not weakness,
But fear of nothingness,
Of never being more than I am,
Embracing the darkness,
I no longer run away from its pull,
But neither do I let it drag me down,
Of the deep waters of the lagoon,
I embrace who I truly am,
And fight,
Fight against the current,
My arms spread,
Growing longer and wider,
Wings are forming,
Sheer will is my power,
Pulling against despair,
Shoulders burn with intensity,
As I fight to fly high above the sky,
The shadows pounce on my flesh,
I growl,
A beast is released from within my chest,
I fight to be amongst the skies,
To the one I truly I am,
To earn the white feathers,
With the black stripe around my waist,
Then you show up,
Showing me who I could be,
The shadows have gone,
I no longer fight,
I am happy for a time,
I learn to be more than fight over fear,
Laughter is in my heart,
But then you change,
Still beautiful but with a colder edge,
You want me to be something else,
Someone else,
You make me choose between those I love,
And you,
I am nearly torn in two,
Who am I,
I no longer know,
I never felt pain as much,
Since the fall of Man,
My soul has grown,
I love me for me now,
First time since forever,
How dare anyone try to turn me into a shell of the being I am,
I am proud of who I am,
Despite my flaws,
I remember the shadows,
Pain the beast from within,
I shall not fall,
But embrace who I am,
And battle the eternal battle,
Of life versus fear,
I will confront my  fear,
Amongst the line of shadows facing me,
Their faces cold with no emotions,
Ready to destroy me,
I am my strength,
My will, will be strong,
But I won’t forget the light that you showed me,
I now live instead of hiding from the shadows.

A magical journey

Down the magical river,
on a boat hiding from the evil fairies,
Popping from tavern to tavern,
meeting all kinds of strange and wonderful folk,
Magic is fresh and alive,
Reborn after years of its century of turmoil,
The boat is being invaded by pixie pirates,
The drummer scares them off with his portable drums,
But it only slows them down,
The singer finds a magic carpet,
And embracing the bold,
They jump,
Tumbling down about to fall into the water,
The magic carpet comes to life,
His name is Henry bonbash
The carpet flys them to the castle in the sky,
Dodging birds the size of planes,
And enter into the palace of palpatine

Embracing fate

Silent by day,
Bright by night,
I now know what is my fight,
Tumbling down the river,
Reaching the summit,
It shall not escape my might,
As long as I have it within my sight,
I will,
I will,
I will it to be,
Bracing for the inevitable impact,
I shall fly across the heavens,
Flying above the devil’s fiery pit,
I will not fail,
Confronting the storm,
The wind,
The rage,
The beast that surrounds me,
Trying to engulf me,
I will pass the storm,
And find the sunshine,
From within.

Finally a connection with Stances

For the last week it feels like I have had many eureka moments, where something makes sense and it’s been a constant if accidental theme, stances to generate power from the ground, stances that helps with your covering and deflecting, it is what is seemed like as kid like training of karate but is actually in the heart of its true power.

Roundhouse kicks is a kick I have often struggled on, I can kick quite hard on either leg but that is with lot of effort, and my quads often get burnt out really quickly making it hard for me to do them fast for a long time.
Andy one of our nidans is a very good fighter the amount of power he can generate is incredible but also the speed and stamina he can perform for lengths at a time. He has often discussed his type of kick, but whether it just finally made sense (large parts of it have, it’s just putting them together) to alot of us or whether his teaching style has evolved I’m not quite sure yet.
First he took out the speed and got us to focus on the technique raising the knee high, dropping it down, rolling the shin kind of corkscrewing your body into the kick, almost being side on with your bodyweight and structure and rebounding it back.
Elements of it I have been told before, from the likes of Darren etc but it’s the first time when it all clicked into.place that I didn’t need alot of effort to generate power, my thighs weren’t burnt out and the roundhouse kicks were much more effective.
He went on about range, and different levels but a quick discussion with him at the end was his keenness that it all related to sanchin.

Power from the turn, effectively using the stance to generate power is an element I have often struggled with (unless I’m in animal mode), I have been looking into bunkai and stances for a while (mainly saifa and seiunchin) but generally my connection has been quite weak. The during Smiley’s Sandan Course the London Shihan came over and gave me some advice, that I was just turning and punching I wasn’t using my stance, legs or bodyweight into the punch.

This was the drill where our partner had a fist out by our heads and held a pad with the other, we had to turn and defect block the strike and then strike them back.

The London sensei demonstrated and the power he generated caused the pad holder to go backwards quite a bit. He pointed out that I wasn’t using the corkscrew on the turn to drive into my stance, and that I should use the stance to drive my bodyweight into that pad.
The effort was the same, intent was different and the power I achieved enabled me to send the pad holder backwards.
This changed my perspective for the whole course, the kihon ido wasn’t just something we had to do, but became a fundamental aspect of karate, and I could feel the power driving from my legs into my stance, and the turn now was transformed. Not only was i having the reaction time to deflect block and strike, the corkscrew of my legs meant power from my stance went into my block and strike and I felt drive aggression as if someone tried to attack me.

This ended up effecting me throughout the rest of the course, when it came to being surrounded by pad holders calling north, south, East or west I was using what the London Shihan said instinctively and driving through the pads. This lead to sparring where it all came together.

After the course I wanted to thank the London Shihan as it made a huge difference, and admitted my weakness in not using my stances so well when it comes to striking. He gave me some great advice on when they are so important, and why we aim not to hurt but to knockout a person. Pain isn’t enough when  you could knockout and end the conflict quicker, be it from mental, physical or spiritual consequences, but that intent is the most important aspect even if you have to internalise with a partner, with a pad you should always release it. This mindset will get you through alot of trouble and get you most of the way with your karate journey.

I asked the London Shihan does it imply to sticky hands, and he answered yes because they will lead to the final strike which will always aim to be that knockout blow. He demonstrated that a heavy hand, is nothing compared to the combined strength of the stance, corkscrew and bodyweight shift into that strike.

It made me realise that while my time in China was great and beneficial for me, with learning Sanzhan, I have been so focused on being subtle I have stopped using all the power I use to use. It’s like a yo-yo going from exaggeration to subtle, and finding the right balance. I will have to start exaggerating my movements focusing on connecting stances to strikes before I can make it subtle again.

Mindset, when it comes to striking no point in just trying to hurt someone, intention is.key, is strike especially on a pad should be a knockout punch, just giving them pain isn’t going to do much, when sparring intention is to knockout as that will bring your mechanics into it, but internalise it as you have the mindset to do knock them out, with damaging your training partner.

Gripping the ground from your stance be it Zenkutsu dachi or sanchin dachi, gripping with the feet gives you this connection with the ground that you are driving against which can make you more solid in using your stances or help driving you to and from. The Bristol Shihan was on fire last night, and this eureka moments starting from Andy last Thursday, smiley and London Shihan to the Bristol Shihan, everything seems to be slowly connecting together.

Rather than just grip the floor with your toes, which raised the arch in your foot so your not rooted and connected, therefore can’t generate power from it, you pull the ground with tour toes from in to out slowly, it acts like a suction rooting you to the ground. In sanchin kat, your drive the lead hip in, draw the other the other hip in, sink and bring the knees in and rise up almost upright but sinking with your tailbone. This is stuff us high grades have heard before, but trying to walk like that brought new insight and as I discovered new muscle groups into effect.
A similar principle is developed from zenkutsu dachi, where the lead foot gets rooted to the ground and the release enables you to drive backwards effect for sparring.

Maybe it’s just me getting older, but it’s been nearly a week of karate relevations, but the only way for me to learn them is by practice.

Smiley’s Sandan Course

It was a privilege to take part in smiley’s Sandan grading, where he had to teach a course to the association on an aspect of karate that we might sometimes over look, and so the course enables us to learn train and drill this for two hours.

I was impressed with the warmup, to most it might of been just kihon ido (moving basics) but it completely warmup up the body, preparing us for training without causing injury. What was most impressive of it was that it lead straight into what he wanted to teach, the turn.

A seemingly simple drill to turn the opposite direction and to be prepared to defend to yourself from attack from behind. Smiley noticed that many ranging from high grades to low grades often rush this to try to keep in time with everyone else and therefore we often don’t properly cover, block and strike on the turn.

So he had us slow it down take our time, the cover starts just before you start the turn, you end up covering your head and have time to block and strike with plenty of time to do everything and actually to be able to generate power from the corkscrew like action of the turn going into your stance be it zenkutsu dachi or sanchin dachi. By taking our time and not rushing our techniques we had time to fit everything into the turn, covering just before we pivot allows us to let everything flow together.

Smiley later analysed why we turn initially with the current front foot and not the current back foot, the first gives you time to react to a punch to your head and takes you off their center line putting you in a stronger position, the latter forces you to react Instantly, sometimes forces you to move your head out of the way maybe by moving your body depending on the effect of your deflect and blocking but with put you on equal footing with your attacker, which is a disadvantage as you are effectively turning into their attacks.

We drilled this with a partner holding out his fist, then he held a pad with the other arm so we could practice the turn and react into a punch, drilling in that instant reaction of seeing danger in the corner of your eye and reacting immediately. This reaction gave a new meaning to the turn and help visualise that we should have the mindset of reacting to the turn as if someone was about to attack us from behind.

We returned to kihon ido and the whole lineup looked and felt better, we were smoother and the turn itself felt very reactive which transformed everyone’s kihon ido. Moving basics suddenly felt like they made more sense, an new element was added to them.

We then got into.groups of three and trained this reaction with the first kata (geksai dai ichi) bunkai, but this time instead of just doing  bunkai, we had to react as soon as we finished off the previous bunkai as the strike would be coming when we were turned away from the second attacker.

After the excitement of the reactive bunkai we again returned to kihon ido, this time as well as turning around he would ask us to turn 90 degrees one way or another.

Smiley got us to walk around and at random we could grab someone’s shoulder or someone could grav our shoulder and we would have to react Instantly turning  correctly

We got split into groups again, and returned to kihon ido several times as his goal was to prompt us into turning into an attacker in an advantage (stronger line of attack, keeping your head clear of his fists). We were split into groups of five, depending on the angle the call was made would depend if we found it easy or hard, some people prefer one side to another. I found using the drill helped me generate power and react much quicker than I perhaps would normally do.

We again returned to kihon ido, and now I could feel the connection between my guard, stance and strikes everything was flowing in harmony.

Then he got us to do the grab the shoulder, from back or side and we would have to react into an instantaneous spar for.several moments before the next. It was exciting to feel as my stance work connected with my strikes and I was therefore more effective, I could see it happening throughout the whole group.

Smiley gave one of the most well taught lessons ever, from start to finish everything fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle, turns something that seems simple maybe even boring and an area that annoyed it’s lack of cohesion in alot of gradings not only getting fine tuned but to bring the karate spirit into, see how it transcends through to all aspects of karate, making us better at deflecting, power generation, reacting. The list could go on.

The Shihan’s speech at the end was very insightful, they didn’t necessarily agree with everything smiley went on about, but found it very thought provoking where they had to go and discuss and think about it to themselves several times in the grading. They were proud of him and so were we.