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.

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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.

Blackbelt/Brownbelt Goju Ryu course

It is always special when you are taught under Shihan and a privilege when you get to go to one of his high grade courses, you feel like you soaked a huge wealth of martial knowledge that will take you months or years to fully digest and to integrate with your own martial art journey.

The courses focus was seiunchin and focus is the key word. We practiced the kata several times aiming to get everyone in sync with one another. We worked on where our focus should be, thinking about application whilst doing kata, looking before we strike, playing a little with the katas tempo exaggerating key moments to focus the mind.

We made it more snapper at one instance and at another far more Sanchin and gentle and Ju like but equally as dangerous.

Shihan has an amazing way of bringing the kata to life, not just a string of techniques, principles or a series of movements, but a living breathing organism that just makes the kata so much better, you could feel electricity in the room when everyone’s seiunchin evolved, it made you think oh my god this is how kata should feel like all the time.

We then looked at a section of seiunchin that a lot of people have a weakness in the kata, where you drive the hip at an angle to deliver a powerful uppercut. We focused a lot of time on this sequence with Shihan explaining about short range shock power. It was at this moment that a light ball clicked in my head, he was describing the short range power that I learnt in China through White Crane, the only difference was that my leg starts of in the air.

The way I like to think of it is like a gunshot as if you pulled a trigger (I never have but I have a very powerful imagination.) it’s not about speed it’s about the right muscles firing the right body structure at the right time, it’s a state of mind, BANG and you explode into it. Too much thinking and you can’t achieve it.

After we worked on this then we practiced this section of the kata in randory, then we use the gun principle to hit pads, reacting before you think, focusing less on chambering but always having your hands in guard and just react.

After this we went through the main kata and for the last section of the course he wanted us to practice principles of tensho. To do this he had to teach the lower grades tensho. I will deviate slightly off topic this was like the best Christmas present, I’ve always wanted to learn tensho ever since I first saw it when I started Goju ryu, when I first really appreciated the karate kid films, when I went to china and saw Tensho like movements within the second and third forms of white crane, when you watch Wing Chun form. I’m surprised I didn’t bounce off the walls! It’s like learning Sanchin all over again, I understand the principles and can only do the basic form but my mind-body connection doesn’t understand the deeper seated principles of  tensho, that will takes many years.

Well back to the topic, after this Shihan showed us how the principles of tensho were useful in sudden confrontation and he ended up looking like a kung fu master from the movies, with hardly any effort of stepping to the side and using tensho’s relaxed movements to get his attacker into a vulnerable position. We tried it with multiplies which was very fun, it was very aikido like and surprising how effective the moves could be. Sometimes I would get stuck because this is a new form of defending and it will take years to master, but when it worked it felt freaking awesome.

 

Sandan Course – Sanchin Punch

You can always tell how good a course is when months later you are still practicing its principles on your punch bag, and this course was especially awesome. The underlying feature was the three mechanisms that Tim and Caz (Bristol’s newest Sandans) use when striking an opponent.  What they refer to as the Sanchin punch. It was really interesting when they showed how they generate so much power just from body mechanics and structure, with a combination of the three principles that derive from Sanchin.

The first one is the simple spear, where you punch through the pad, but rather than just focusing on the punch, your focus is on pulling the other arm back with force which seems to drive your shoulders and hips more into the punch therefore generating power.

The second mechanism they use was the circular hip punch, rather than punching through the pad, you use your whole core to pivot providing more weight to the punch enabling you to deliver power without using tensing your muscles.

The third mechanism was the corkscrew punch , drawing yourself from the ground and using the structure from the hip to the punch. It appears deceptively less powerful than the other two seem but you can generate power at a far shorter distance than the others.

When we combined all the principles together there was a considerable difference in our power output with minimal effort. This in itself is very useful for a fighter, not having to rely on their physical power to give power to the punch it means that your punches can be faster and use less energy. It shows that when you use the principles of Sanchin that you don’t need to muscle your way in. The Sanchin punch relies on technique giving a small person the ability to generate a lot of power though their body structure.

Videoing each punch was very useful as it shows us how each principle works, and what we need to work on to make them far more effective. Mix in watching how the Nidan’s adopted it to how they fight on the pads, surprise Kumite with the London lot, ale and the ingenious of a collapsible donkey toy it made for a very special course.

Journey and pressure of a Shodan Ho

I haven’t posted much about martial arts recently, so I guess i best get back to it, even though I have been thinking alot about it still, just haven’t put the words onto the blog where it belongs.

My main focus is trying to do a little bit of martial art training everyday, trying to become the  blackbelt I believe I could become. Of course doing stupid things and injuring myself still happen, but if I continue to learn from them I can only come back stronger.

I definitely feel more of a pressure being a Shodan ho (probationary blackbelt) than I was expecting. I mean I knew that it was going to be a hard year of training, but the expectation in some classes of feeling like I should know more, and not wanting to make mistakes in front of newer people is a weight upon my shoulders. A similar feeling to when I was a low grade in Jitsu 6 years ago, and I stopped training for a few months, and people below me were suddenly higher, I felt that I couldn’t cope with it.

7 years ago I started my martial arts journey after playing rugby and did Jitsu, five years ago on november 9th I would of started my karate journey. When I started Jitsu, i did the classes because I wanted to, not because I enjoyed them. I tried taekwondo at the time, and really enjoyed it, but knew I wasn’t designed for it. Drifted in and out of several martial arts, never fitting in.

Then I discovered Goju Ryu. my first lesson scared the crap out of me, looking back as I have matured since then it seems those simple things should never of scared me, but it was outside my comfort zone. It had everything i wanted realism, jitsu, striking and kata a form  to practice at home.

I instantly fell in love with the art, and kept going, the only difference to me and those other beginners who gave up, was that I kept going, going through the highs and lows, through the fear you get whenever you enter the dojo, it was inspiring to hear last summer school that even one of the toughest nidans still gets scared everytime she goes to the dojo, its facing your inner demons.

Jitsu i made one or two friends, who kept me going but they left and I felt very alone and isolated, I didn’t i in with them, I’m use to being like a lone wolf in rugby and here. It happened everywhere I went. In Goju ryu it was different, they seem to except you for who you are, we all have bizarre sense of humour and it was just a click, but I didn’t make any friends straight away. the higher grades kept to themselves, and the lower grades didn’t have the same passion, just something they did. unlike jitsu, I used this to motivate myself to keep going, hitting a deep and dark depression it was the only thing keeping me going on many occasions.

It wasn’t until the following summer of my first year that I made my first friend at karate, who is pretty much now my best friend. He was older, young at heart had experience in karate before, and came back after a ten year gap, but with our backgrounds and fighting spirit, our jovial attitude our friendship was born in the heat of kumite, testing each other and trusting each other, we push each other harder than we will push others. the first of several friends.

Another extremely close friend I made was back when I was a purple belt, and had to face an orange belt (3 grades lower) who was simply awesome, so much power and skill in man much smaller relative to me, when faced with this in jitsu , I cracked and couldn’t cope. In karate I smiled, and we had an instant friendship in  heart of kumtie, I knew the more I trained with this phenom the better I will become.

There are many more stories of friendship to be told, most of them from the heart of kumite, where you have to let go of your ego, if I let it get in my way I never would of made such awesome mates.

What I liked about being brown belt was being inbetween, I could talk to both higher and lower belts, and make novices feel really welcome, I even helped two prepare for their last grading. Now as a blackbelt, it is like an officer at sea, they can be friendly with the lower belts but that respect and status is something that can separate the two, and is something I will miss when I heal up (again!) and train at the Union with some new students. the pressure of being a probationary blackbelt will make the sessions much more mentally challenging.

But if I continue to keep training everyday, spar as often as I can, and plan out strategies, analysis the best way of me fighting, and stay humble, this will be like making a sword in  a great furnace. Where you test out if the metal is cracked and the potential sword needs throwing away. Or if the heat and intensity makes it stronger.

Grading, a journey towards.

Well practicing skipping and doing my own drills is starting to pay off I believe (cross fingers or touch wood, depending on what you believe) my pad work was much better in the session, my arms were much quicker and looser which may be due to the fact that i did less sanchin this week and have focused more on cardio (8 weeks and 1 day till the grading).

So after thursday’s session i felt really good, and on saturdays double session they asked for requests and i asked for three punch drill which lead into conditioning. The Daniel from china would of relished at the prospect, but my conditioning has gone, and it will be a 2 month journey of hell to get it back, Sempai’s punches seemed to go through me, and his thigh kick which he put NO effort into it, no strength speed or power, just dropped his body weight sanchin style and it nearly made me drop. But he did tell after all the pain in how the raised and dropped his kick at an angle, and his grounded leg completely relaxes which combines the full body drop onto the thigh, his girlfriend also a Sempai did not like him teaching me this trick.

Then we did some sparring, and I have noticed that when I fight south paw, I am much longer ranged then when I spar in the orthodox stance, which is much more close quarters and in your face, old school brawler Daniel if you will. Whereas when i am in south paw I seemed to switch personality, using techniques i acquired in china, and learning to fight longer range since last year at summer school when i was outmatched by a guy going for the same grade as me who could keep me at bay and kick me willy nilly in the face. Most of the other people I faced that day I could dominate to a certain extent, but not him. It was one of the few times where I just smiled at how awesome and easy he looked to kick my ass. I later found out that he previously did taekwondo and is a personal trainer, which spurred me on my year long journey to develop the kicking aspect of the way i fight, which has lead me to be longer range.

The jounery never ends, there is always something to improve on, I just need to keep focused.