Chair bunkai, learning to defend yourself whilst sitting down.

 

I taught my first session on Saturday (adults that is!), it was after our fitness session and I decided to train in something that we have never done, but applies to every martial art that are about self-defence,  how to defend yourself when sitting in a chair.

Humans now days spend more time in a chair then in any other position, so why as martial artists do we train only from standing and from the ground? There isn’t real reason except that we haven’t tried it before.  So I showed them some of the ones that I learnt from White Crane in China, and they were practicing them. I showed them two from when someone was getting into your personal space, two from attacks, one from behind and one if someone attacks you from sitting next to you.

After they had learnt the chair bunkai (as I like to call it) I wanted to apply it more with the concepts of the first four kata’s. Now I know that all the ones I showed them did apply one way or another to the principles of the first four kata, but I wanted them to think on the principles of each kata and how to apply it to that situation.

So With Geksai Dai ichi (Smash and destroy number 1) how to explode out of the chair to meet the attacker on, or to use a strike to stop the attackers momentum. Geksai Dai Ni (smash and destroy number 2)  on how to use angles to get into a better position and then deal with your opponent. Saifa (Tear and Smash) when someone grabs you how do you deal when they start grabbing/grappling you. Seiunchin (Trapping battle) where it deals with grappling and how to deal with those situations.

None of the bunkai we created for the chairs weren’t necessarily strictly from one kata or another, but it gave us a chance to try and deal with how to react by focusing on different concepts. We learnt that some techniques from sitting were weaker, whilst others were actually enhanced. It showed us that in some ( definitely not all )situations being in a chair could be an advantage. But the problem with chairs is that there can be so many different kinds of chairs, tables, chairs attached to the floor etc. it allowed us to be much more creative than usual.

If you don’t train for these situations how will you ever be prepared for them, it is a different experience to defend yourself when sitting in a chair. What are your views on this type of training.

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Comparing the short range power of Goju Ryu and White Crane

While I feel that the inch power of Goju Ryu and White Crane are of a similar level, they employ slightly different methods to achieve it. They both rely on a stable base and a strong core to achieve this power, Goju Ryu uses the hip to fire out this power, like a boxers punch, the strength comes from the core, and we use the last inch of the punch to torque the body into the punch.

When I was discussing this with a blackbelt on the night duty at the last summer school, and I was telling him of the inch power in white crane was of a similar impact to the Sanchin inch punch he assumed I was still referring to the hip. I showed him that I could use short range power without pulling the arms back, but mainly relying on my stance and short range explosiveness of my arms.

The abs are still tight, but you are able to generate it from your lats and forearms. It is really hard to explain as it took me a few weeks in China to be able to generate this kind of power, through practice of the Sanzhan form and makiwara training.

I had an interesting discussion with Sensei the other day, he was say how the Okinawan system is a similar way to generate power to the Chinese, but that it was hard  for the Okinawans returning to Okinawa to describe how they generate this power, which lead to the exaggerated movement of the hips, as both the stance and the core are key to developing the short range power.

Kicking, a Journey in itself .

I have always been more of a puncher than a kicker, with me not having the greatest flexibility I tended to use my kicks to smash the knees or thighs, which is probably another reason why I have been drawn to Goju ryu, because of their effective kicking to joints rather than the head. It worked for me I had big legs, and used my strength to power through someone, I knew the principles of proper kicking, but as I couldn’t apply it to myself I thought that my kicks are effective  but will never be that good.

When I went to China my flexibility increased a lot, stretching everyday and being Shaolin stretched will do that to you, but my kicking became a lot worse in China. White Crane does do kicks, but unlike many other Kung Fu systems they won’t teach you till you have done 6months to a year. So through lack of use my kicking became shockingly bad. Shawn was a kickboxer, a really cool guy who I use to bounce ideas off with in China. He observed me kicking the bag and told me my problem is that I knew I was a strong guy with heavy legs. I over relied on this, which meant I was limiting my potential and kicking much worse than I should have been. He went through principles and techniques I had heard and learnt in Goju Ryu before, but couldn’t help on having the same habits. He told me about opening up my hip, pivoting more on my foot and taking the strength out of my kicks and just follow through with all my hip and body weight. I have a tendency to not follow through, because I worry about losing my balance, but Shawn told me that the weight of the big bag or opponent will stop you.

Sure enough it improved dramatically, but alas Shawn left the Kung Fu school too soon, and my kicking got worse again. I suppose as my defence and inch power were improving so much I can’t complain too much about it.

When I returned to England and training, my kicking was terrible, I had great defence but bad habits had reformed with my kicking, and it had taken many months to get my kicking back to how it was prior to China.

There was a period when I was injured after my last Grading (I passed by the way) and couldn’t do my normal strength training, so I decided to work more on Sanchin Kata, I was working on combing the Sanchin power and white crane power together in the punches, using a little hip motion which got me thinking on how to balance it with my kicks. Then I was thinking how Sensei and a blackbelt student can generate a lot of short range power in their kicks, whilst holding it in the air. It wasn’t just hip motion, but they were really opening up the hip, and using it to drive through which automatically pivots the foot.

I was ecstatic, I was really working a lot on my short range defence, feeling more like a Goju Ryu ka and recalling the principles I saw of one of our Sempai’s at a demo they did, which is probably what inspired this new train of thought.

Then I was playing a video game, MGS4, and playing when snake fights like his old school style, with a few punches and cool kicks, and I was getting jealous and inspired. Why can’t I fight like that, that looks so cool. Then it got me thinking, of the best fighting characters I liked, Solid Snake, Jim Kazama from Tekken and Kazuma Kiryu from Yakuza.

Now don’t get me wrong I know my limitations, but combing what I had learnt about Sanchin kicking (A term I named itself as it uses Sanchin principles in my opinion), what Shawn taught me in China and my new found belief in myself from the grading I was practicing my long range combo along side my short range, to try to be more of a complete martial artist. Use the big motions, taking the strength out of my kicks for now and following through I was able to somewhat emulate the type of kicking I have always wanted to do, with more practice I have gotten even better at it, its like the next stage in my personal karate.

Then Ironically when I returned after my injury I had found out that Sensei had been on a similar wave of thought with head kicks, reverse etc. For the last 2 months we have been working on it, and whilst I am not a natural head kicker, and with my body type I wouldn’t use it in a self defence situation I have a new tool in my arsenal and I feel like a real karate man! Be able to do head kicks is so exciting.

In a sparring situation, my big reverse kicks and head kicks are more of a deterrent at the moment, people are aware of my clumsy legs and are getting out of the way, so a weakness has become a strength. With time I am able to make the faster and more accurate, and the journey with my kicking continues.

How White Crane Kung Fu Has developed my Karate

My personal karate has obviously changed from my three months of training in China, some of the changes were pretty obvious, whilst others completely surprised me.

Starting with the obvious training every day from 5.30 in the morning till 5 in the evening had obviously left me pretty fit, my stamina improved, energy I was running two or three times a day and spent my lunchtime usually doing an extra training hitting the weights. I was conditioned well against blows, as white crane spends the majority of its time conditioning the body to be as hard as rock, there can be no weak spots as an attacker can hit you anywhere on the body.

The obvious aspects of the White Crane kung Fu style I was learning had become integrated into my motor skills such as its extremely short range power generation. I want to make one thing clear styles like Wing Chun and Goju Ryu are close ranged fighting, but White Crane takes this to the extreme of virtually face to face, where you only have an inch of space to generate power to deal with an attacker with maximum force. What makes this impressive is that whilst Wing Chun and Goju Ryu generate their close range power from the stance and the hips, White Crane doesn’t, it generates from a strong stance and by connecting all the muscles in one motion. Sifu Yen use to say it’s like splashing water you have to use your lats and other muscles to generate this relaxed power. It takes a very long time to be able to generate this power, let alone understand how you are doing it.

8 months later I am still able to deliver this inch power, that helps me not only in sparring through disrupting or winning the battle, but also because I can disguise when I am about to fire it out.

The two traits that really surprised me was my new found speed and my increased defence. The way I use to spar prior to China was just to go forward, rely on the strength on my punches to make my opponent go backwards, whilst having the ability to absorb the blows, as my muscles were a little to heavy and therefore slow to block or deflect any attack. So in essence my defence was basically rocky balboa style. Post-china there was a big difference, whether it was from White Crane Kung Fu or my one week of Baji Quan (my last week of training in china before I went travelling around China) where the key to the style is relaxation) helped me to speed up my punches, and learn that I don’t need to put all my strength in a punch to make it work, being relaxed had increased the power of my punches, with less effort, more energy and the ability for me to fire out more punches.

But it was and still is my defence that shocks me, some of it has to do with the increased speed and relaxation, I am able to do more combos in a shorter amount of time then I could. Also being lighter, much lighter meant that I couldn’t rely on just absorbing the blows like I use to, which meant I wanted to rely more on speed. My defensive speed has increased a lot, but it isn’t down just to my knew found defensive speed.

Let me try to explain it like this, I started to incorporate my of a Kakie style of defence, which when introduced in sparring is similar to the Wing Chun defence. But I never did that in china! I didn’t do that much sparring, because I wanted to focus and spend as much of my time on White Crane as I could, I really loved it there, I wanted to absorb as much as possible. Then if I wasn’t sparring, and we weren’t practicing kakie, or Wing Chun type drills, then how did this aspect of my karate develop tenfold?! The answer I realised was its basics, the basics we had to practice every day, which students of other styles mocked because it looked boring compared to what they were doing. The basics are similar to Karate and Wing Chun basics, but the two limbs are acting in unison together, part of a big circular wheel. You’re not only practicing short range attacks, or short range blocks in a drill, but most of the time they were a strike and a block at the same time. This Unison of the limbs, I am sure is the main reason why I now not only have a good defence, but now I have an instinctive defence system in my muscle memory.

All those endless drills actually paid of, I know the reason why my defensive reflexes have improved so much, it shows to me that practicing the absolute basics time after time helps you to build on the blocks of what you have been learning. You are never too advanced to do the basics.

Exploring other martial arts, whilst still training in the path of Goju

I have found the martial art for me, Goju Ryu karate, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying others, I love the culture and the beauty behind these arts. Sometimes it’s just curiosity, sometimes its I feel like I am lagging in a certain area of my own Karate, not Goju itself but in terms of my strengths and weaknesses and what I need to work on. I find it fascinating comparing martial arts, but when I try another martial art I am solely focused on that art during the class, as I feel it would disrespect the other arts, I am like a kid in a candy shop I want to try loads!

Since training in Goju Ryu, the martial arts I tried out pre-china was Capoeira, White crane in the UK, Muay Thai, tai chi. The martial arts I learnt in china was White crane, Shaolin Kung Fu and Baji Quan. Then when I returned to England I tried Kenjutsu and Wing Chun.

This post will deal with the ones I tried in the England as the ones in china have become a huge part of my personal martial way, and deserve their own post.

I tried to study Capoeira and Goju Ryu at the same time, it was great fun, I thought it would help develop great strength, better kicks and help me to become flowier. The main problem was the drills, they made my head feel like they were in a dish washer, and I actually didn’t mean to quit the classes, I was actually focused on study at that point.

So before I went to China to learn Fujian White Crane kung Fu, I tried out Fujian White Crane kung Fu in England. Before you ask they were completely different, they may come from the same province, but their attitude, approach and style was different. Whereas my Sifu in China was beyond excited that my style was Goju Ryu, because White Crane influenced it, he loved comparing my kata to his forms and pronouncing white crane, he often had me sit by him during eating out in the local village. The teacher in England was the complete opposite, saying that he doesn’t know about other martial arts, doesn’t care White Crane is everything does everything end of. The comparison is shocking, my Sifu has spent his whole life studying White Crane, but loves observing other martial arts, he and the other teachers embrace Martial arts. While I did learn a lot from the teacher in England, he told me that I had to give up Goju Ryu, pay membership the next class and with the fees triple that at a normal martial art. He said the wrong thing to me.

I wanted to try it to work on being more flowing and relaxed, pre-china I was always very tense and static in my movements, and wanted to try the ancestor art to see if it would help. The moment he told me to give up the art that not only I love, but had made some real good friends and so much more, with my grading coming up (I was a blue belt, going for my Purple 4th Kyu), no chance!

Next I tried Muay Thai boxing, I wanted to work more on my sparring, and I loved the session, they are fit bunch of guys, and they were impressed with my karate fitness, I would of carried on with the classes with Goju but an injury I sustained meant I didn’t return to martial arts for several months, and needed to focus on Goju ryu at that point.

Next I tried Tai Chi, I had a friend who was feeling a bit depressed at the time, and I tried to help make her feel better about herself, so we did tai chi together. Plus I figured it could help with me needing to be relaxed.

Post-china I tried Kenjutsu, which is Japanese sword training, and while it was a nice class, they had their own group they were trying to develop.

Then I tried a few Wing Chun classes, before I discovered Goju Ryu, I was thinking about doing Wing Chun, so a few months ago I got to try them. I did like what I saw, fast hands, relaxed position, their sticky hands drill (like kakie), I was more excited about my last lesson in Wing Chun when I discovered similarities between not only White Crane and Wing Chun but also Goju ryu and Baji Quan!! White Crane is said to be the ancestor style of Wing Chun, which was great to observe and discover, that the main martial arts I wanted to study in the past all have a connection, and a certain running theme. But with that said as many similarities as there are, there are twice as many differences, which makes them more unique, with Goju Ryu being developed in Okinawa from Naha Te.

I will probably continue to explore other martial arts alongside Goju ryu, some just for fun and some to see if  it help me work on a aspect I may be lagging in.

Goju Ryu Karate

This part of my blog will be about my martial art experience and my perception as I continue to grow and develop in it. I am currently 2nd kyu Brown Belt Studying Goju Ryu karate a style that I enjoy and believe suits my needs in the martial arts world. I also trained for three months in studying White Crane in China, a style that influenced Goju Ryu’s development, and which I believe has me to not only progress more in Goju ryu, but also understand more of its history. I don’t claim to be an expert, but since China I have be going through more eureka moments (karate people will knows this as doing moves and having a general understanding, but then something clicks after months or years of practicing that one move, and its meaning, motion and its purpose suddenly jump at us) and I want to start writing these moments down, so that I can (and maybe others) have something to remind me of the progress I’ve made and recall anything I may of lost through time.