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.

Styles of fighting – Kata

Styles of fighting – kata

For the last year but particularly the last six months I have been watching people spar and analysing what mindset they fight like, as a karateka in Goju ryu I naturally link it all to Goju’s katas, Geksai ichi for linear, distance fighting to smash and destroy your opponent, Geksai dai ni similar but angles of counter attack, Saifa smash and tear so closer quarters and really focusing on angles, seiunchin for close quarters, shisochin for 4 ways of destruction thinking more of speed, kung fu and using your structure more, Sanchin using body structure to achieve power without relying on muscles that could slow you down, tensho for misdirection, confusion and the list could easily go on.

People don’t necessarily follow a particular mindset/kata and could fight a mixture of katas, some adapt it to their body structure and way of fighting, I know on Nidan who uses fast high kicks and I would say he is a Sanchin fighter.

Watching people and writing it down has helped me recognise their strengths and weaknesses, how I should approach different people and how I should fight them, it has also let me recognised that of my weaknesses and how I can improve them to make me a better fighter.

Originally I was probably a geksai fighter, naturally aggressive who tried to turn himself into a Sanchin fighter with mixed results.

Naturally through asking mates and analysing myself I have noticed I fight in several katas depending on my mentality and area of the fight. In aggressive mode I am a Sanzhan fighter training in China did me so much good for my martial arts, I appreciate more and more every year what I learnt in China, most people there were learning a flavour of the style and crammed so much in that I doubt they remember a fraction, White Crane can be boring he drilled the same stuff over and over again, I didn’t get to learn as much as some other people but it has transformed the way I fight and think about martial arts. Yen Da Shi (the White Crane master who trained me in China) as a large place in my heart.

Anyway back to the subject, after learning tensho back in January and focusing on it for three months enhanced what I learnt in Sanzhan, in defensive or counter attack mode I become very Shisochin in the way I fight, it is an amazing kata and I fell in love with it the moment I learnt it, it just seems to make so much more sense to me than other katas which then shouldn’t surprise me that I use its principals in fighting.

I have a third style, because I am a close quarters fighter, when people get into longer range I tend to feel more panicked and become far more linear than I am in close quarters, I decide at this range that I can kick but am so uncomfortable with kicking that I am out of range or am chasing them down. I need to learn to get use to this range, and blend my kicking with my other two styles of fighting, I am even toying with the idea of blending them all together but I don’t want to get too predictable like I did in the past and reveal too many of them which means it becomes drilled out of me and I don’t use them again.

Keep training, Never give up, OSU

Sparring in Sanchin/Sanzhan style

Trying to fight in sanchin/sanzhan has been very interesting, and something I will continue to experiment with. there are positives and negatives to it, and I will try to highlight and discuss as many as I can, please remember that this is only from my perspective up to this moment, and it may change in time.

Some of the positives, are that i have noticed that it is harder for opponents to punch you as your strikes seem to be less noticeable. Gives you a solid base, and with the right sanchin mentality you can absorb strikes and unleash them like a beast, leading to some of your friends believing that you have become very tense in your actions (going backwards in a sense) where in fact you feel extremely relaxed, and that relaxation makes your strikes alot faster. It was seems help me to tie up my opponents quicker, and leads me to think that if people argue that karate is only striking, then you only need to look at sanchin for all its grappling concepts (need to ask sensei about this).

Some of the negatives are that it makes you much more reliant on striking with the upper body, but that maybe just a mindset of how I have been doing sanchin/sanzhan, also the solar plexus and center line seems to be much more open and vulnerable which means you need to time your breathing and hope your center line is conditioned enough. Your in the area of close quarters all the time, so you don’t rely on light footwork and if your opponent is using sanchin type fighting style as well, but are much faster than you then your size advantage goes out of the window as they will strike you more, your only way of beating them is to hope to time a power strike in time and then unleash a fury.

So there are several ways I can develop this way of fighting for me, and see why we need the other kata! To protect my center line I either practice the forms of san dan gi 1 and 2 with a mate, or practice geksai especially linear to make sure i’m training myself to protect my center line. Ideally I wish I could learn tensho! It is a kata I have wanted to learn since I started karate, and I consider it part of my holy trinity of training of sanchin/sanzhan/tensho. Tensho is almost the opposite of sanchin, works the centre line and develops the softness, but I will need to have patience until I learn it.

I need to work on footwork like a boxer, so moving from my stances, skipping, being lighter on my feet and learning to move in angles. Update on this, my footwork has greatly improved, however Instead of just being heavy footed, I use it way too much, the best strikes i have delivered are when I change from southpaw to orthodox without the opponent expecting it.

With kicking and a faster opponent its simple, practice kicking or shadow boxing! Similar with a faster opponent, I tend to fight like a brawling boxer in orthodox and a counter striker in southpaw, I need to write down (not here!) what combos work for me, and in which stance, what I give away and how to time my strikes better.

Time to start training 😉

Skipping to the karate beat

I used a skipping rope in two years, and I am very surprised in how much my coordination as really improved (except when people watch me), and think it shows that martial arts make a big difference in your balance and hand eye coordination.

I started skipping again because of both injury and with me trying to get lighter on my feet for sparring. I always seem to be injured on my left side, so recently I have been trying to do things south paw style, which although lets me land a faster strike, I seem to be less able to move away and end up getting hit more. Also I find it harder to get my cross hand over but that is because I am not use to it.

I presumed it was because my left leg is my faster kicking leg, and that me right leg is my slower heavier leg so my power/speed balance was turned upside down. I discovered through skipping that although I kick faster with my left leg, it is my right leg that reacts quicker. When I skip I can jump with both, but if I run and skip on the spot I have to start with my left leg, as when I start with my right leg my left leg is too slow to come up. It is the same if I hop and skip, on my right leg it is piss easy, but I have to really concentrate on my left leg as it is slightly slower.

Which means that when I spar in my normal stance I can get away from quicks quicker, but if I am in south paw my left leg doesn’t react as fast and therefore I am taking the hits.

So hopefully more skipping will equal faster fit reaction, and better hand eye coordination.

Sanchin-The path to fighting

The more I understand Sanchin kata, the more I realise that it is the basic blueprint on how to fight an opponent and that all these hidden techniques are very much in the Sanzhan form (from White Crane Kung Fu) that a lot of Kung Fu styles scoff at, simply because they don’t understand it’s true meaning.

Last night was a great opener in what I need to do to improve my Sanchin, towards the end sequence I am starting to rush it and with a little chat to Sensei, I can now have a further understanding of what I need to do to get to the next level in my way of Sanchin. Which ironically will be me drawing more from the Sanzhan form that I learnt from in China.

Someone requested that I do my own thoughts on Sanchin and it’s role in the way we fight and spar, and at the moment I am unable to do that as my new level of understanding of Sanchin kata and it’s role in fighting started when work was getting in the way, followed by a rib injury and a shoulder injury.  But through two great resources and trying to implement them in in my shadow boxing has made a huge difference, in fact with the pad drills I am now able to throw faster punches without straining the shoulders through this method (it is a little like wing chun principles.

The book the way of Sanchin and a few videos by the actor Michael Jai White (he holds several blackbelt’s one of which is in Goju Ryu), and for me they go hand in hand to developing the way I think of Sanchin, which is the role of a fighter or gives you all the basic tools in how to deal with the situation. I won’t say too much, and if anyone wants me to review them I will, but these have been great tools, in developing my way of Sanchin, and the way I think about the battle of Kumite which is a testing ground for if you want to go into the ring, or have to deal with a situation on the street.

State of mind

My state of mind has changed to a large thanks to karate. Before I was obsessed with karate, I was really obsessed about rugby,only my dad knows this but I wanted to become a professional rugby player. I’m not saying I was good enough or anything, I’m just saying that I had the right drive and passion, and if I had the skill I would of tried to become the best I could of. But without the right skill, or the right chances when I realised I would never be good enough, I lost alot of interest in rugby. Also I use to think that I was indestructible, I am very strong for my size of 5ft 11in and 13 1/2 stone but I use to try and play like I was a 6ft 5in 18 stone bloke. Then I had an ankle injury, nothing too serious but it made me realise how vulnerable I was, combine this with the fact that I lost the passion for rugby, I turned my back on playing the game, I couldn’t get over the fear factor. I tried to comeback a few times, but I lost my confidence.

Training in jujitsu and other martial arts lessened the fear of it, I didn’t mind being thrown so much, even with going to China and most of my time in Goju Ryu this fear that I developed when I was 18 stayed with me. Even though I had gained alot of skill from karate, I wasn’t confident enough with myself in sparring in China, and when I got my tooth broken at a karate grading of my own (plus the fact I went through a really really dark period in my life) when I returned to karate after 4 months (this was a year prior to china) my fear had magnitude  and I would flinch, it took me along time to stop flinching, but people tend to think I don’t fear injury, that I just rush into it, they could be further from the truth. It is a combination of my fiery passionate side, plus a my fathers words to me which work in all contact sports or martial arts “The harder you hit, the less damage you will receive, the more gentler you hit, the harder your opponent will hit you and your body will take more of blow”.

So that is how I generally fight, a mixture of passion and fear, hence my poem about the tranquillity of Kumite which can be applied to any sport. The best fights in the dojo I have had is when I have had this Zen feeling and I feel like that I have transcended above my passion and fear, I just let my body react and have this really calm and spiritual feeling, which I have normally only got from Qigong or a few times with yoga.

I have noticed my state of mind change recently, well since I broke my ribs (I suppose I technically broke them twice or thrice in a week because i didn’t care about the pain at the time) normally when I have a bad injury I would have the fear factor inside of me about if i went back to karate after it’s healed  about getting re-injured that is apart of being human. But I’am just getting more and more frustrated that I have to spend so much time away from the dojo and I try to keep training around but really through the injury which keeps making it worse.

The other night I actually collapsed, first time in my life, no I wasn’t drinking, apparently the doc said it was a fluke, a combination of my body trying to heal itself, me catching a chill, and after I had been sleeping I had lowered my blood pressure and after going to the toilet and I had lowered my volume so much that all these factors were too much, even for a very healthy and fit 25 year old. Collapsing and going into slight shock was a weird experience, but I didn’t have any major fear, I was just thinking well this is going to set me back even more in my goals. And listening to the Doc and my mother (who use to be a nurse in charge for the neurosurgery department) I am going to take it much more steady then I have been. My plan for the next month of so is to cycle in the gym alot, do leg exercises, stance work, slow kata and some conditioning on my arms and maybe grippers.

Why am I like this now, this obsession if you will. Goju Ryu was the art that I had been searching for all my life when I wanted to try martial arts, its fills I can’t explain a void that most other martial arts don’t seem to fill to me. Not that i think it is perfect, I still have want to try many other martial arts! I love the history of them and how they have evolved, I should of done a degree on them!

Going for Shodan Ho to me is a step to going for Shodan (1st blackbelt), and I started training for it since I finished my last grading. I have messed up way to much in my life, and I want to achieve something that I have been passionate about for 4+ years, to me it is the ultimate redemption for some of my mistakes, a baptism under fire if you will. I won’t go travelling or get any tattoos until I have achieved it. In the past I took my time with gradings, with the fear of knowing each further grading gets worse, and that the fights get much harder and more brutal, and the fear is still there, but it is giving me a drive that I need at this period in my life. Don’t get me wrong I still want to try lots of different things like disco roller skating and tough mudder, but I have stopped trying many things at once, and focusing what I need to do not to achieve a belt, but to become the man I always thought I should be rather than the one I am now.

I now have goals, and I am bloody determined to achieve them. I will no longer be weak, I will be forged into an iron will of steel.