New ways to release tension

My way of life is karate. It is who I am. It has led me into teaching kids to swim, apparently I am quite funny. It led me to love to a girl who is more special than she realises. 

I love karate, it shapes who I am and what I do. However everyone still needs an outlet, to release tension. In karate I am dedicated to being the best I can be, to go through this journey as a warrior. That when life gets hard I just train harder.

Recently I wanted to evolve my karate and fighting style. I started doing bodybalance classes. I didn’t want to go, my mateat work roped me into it, I didn’t want to do a naff class surrounded by ladies whilst making a fool of myself. It has elements of tai chi as a warm-up, yoga stretches, pilates to work the core, balance work to help you to be better on one leg, and meditation at the end.

First, it was the first time that meditation has consistently worked for me, first time I have been able to mentally relax. Second, It’s working on all areas I need to for martial arts, but usually ignore as all I want to do is get stronger and fight more. I noticed in less than four weeks a massive difference in my sparring, I felt looser and more relaxed, and my kicking has become not only sharper but high kicks feel so much more natural.

I couldn’t believe how much one class has improved a lot of aspects of my karate. When I have tried yoga, I have gone two months with it only just starting to work, one week or day off and it’s back to square one.

I have been really stressed recently, my mind has been in turmoil. And because of all these stresses I decided to go surfing last Saturday. I rode the first wave I tried (I first learnt 20months ago with a karate friend (surprise, surprise) where for a week we learnt to surf, karate on the beach, drink and repeat.

I was expecting myself to be clumsy, but I seem to have improved and I felt free. Free from all constraints and the different masks that I have to wear, free to be just me. Joy filled my mind, I got excited but I also found peace, It’s a perfect form of meditation. It released so much tension in me, that I was able to deal my problems as I should. This feeling lasted for days. I may have found my hobby away from not only life, but also karate.

Yesterday another mate (a former karateka, go figure)roped me into reading out one of my poems at a poetry gig. He was performing and wanted my support. I was nervous, and I couldn’t believe that I have done it. To express my inner feelings and emotions in front of others, I normal bare it all inside like a man feels like he should. I felt liberated.

I am being encouraged to write again, I need new outlets in my life. I feel like I am trying to find out, who I am all over again.

I’ve hid it for so long, but I am the creative type. I let fear stop me, as I often do. It’s strange, on how all the stress the last few months, but specifically the last few weeks has fostered this new growth within me.     I wouldn’t of gone to this bodybalance classes, I wouldn’t of gone surfing on my own, I wouldn’t of performed in front of people before. I wouldn’t of had the courage.

My way is of karate, but outside of my way, I wonder where my journey lies.

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.

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.

Teaching Shisochin bunkai

So I was going through shisochin bunkai with my best friend, as he will need it for hos shodan next year.

I was impressed on how well he learnt it, and how well I was able to teach it. It has been by far the easiest bunkai to learn simply because many of its applications are applicable to sparring, which I’m already using, from the sneaky slips to strike, to confusing them with hidden strikes, it has a definite fighters mindset to it.

I didn’t realise how much I knew about it, as I was already describing mechanically why I prefer to do certain applications, it’s like my sub conscious has been digesting it and it’s come to the front of my mind, I knew it without realising I knew it.

My mate had a similar approach to learning it that I did, I like some people’s bunkai but adapted it to suit what works for me. He did it with one of mine, and it’ll be something I’ll have to drill (and I was meant to be teaching! Ha)

I’ve been thinking more and more how parts of bunkai/kata can be used in sparring, I have been focusing on certain kata as I think they suit me more in my ideal fighting style, but I’ve also discovered today how each bunkai I’ve drilled in for shisochin builds from the previous one.

He did well today, definitely maturing as a martial artist, and there was no fear in teaching him bunkai, unlike a two years back when he was going for brown and we practiced together in a park, how I knew he could injure me ar any moment.

Of course I still got a few surprised shots, but I just found them too funny.

Never give up, never back down, Osu.

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.