13 October, 2013

Importance of Weapon Training

This post comes from a variety of thoughts circulating in my head recently.  It has come as the result of recent discussions with those wiser than me in karate.  And that topic is of the importance of weapons training.

Now let me preface all of the proceeding writing with information about my current state.  I have been doing karate, in some form, for the last 15+ years, more than 10 of which have been in my current style of Goju Ryu.  In those 15 years, I have studied at least 4 years of Iaido and at least 10 years of Saijutsu (as a component of karate).  I have also have the opportunity to play with tai chi sword, butterfly sword, nito (Musashi's two sworded style), eskrima sticks, butterfly knives and bokuto/bokken.  I have use briefly also a bo.  So I am not a stranger to weapons training, but definitely not well experienced in anything but sai and iaito, which I would claim some measure of capability.

But specifically I have been really thinking hard about learning traditional Okinawan Kobudo.  Not only would this reinforce my interest in Okinawan Karate, it would directly benefit it.  It can be seen as a form of strength training at the least, but this would be a poor reason to study it.  It is an entire history of the islands I have come to respect with lessons that reinforce what I know and would let me learn that which I have yet to imagine or comprehend.

Recently (I mean for the last 50-100 years) karate has been taught separately from kobudo, despite there being a solid history of their combined methods being taught together.  In fact, many of the greatest names in karate have kobudo kata named after them.  This alone should give any karateka pause to consider studying kobudo.

But beyond this, I don't want to learn just any weapons.  I want to learn the most esoteric.  I have recently seen some great applications of weapons forms.  Here is an example of applied nunchaku or surujin technique:

I have also come to the realization that much of the island's bo techniques are based around not just the staff (what in Chinese Quan Fa is called the Grandfather of weapons) but also the oar (eku) and spear (yari).  So much of what I want to learn is the technique and application of armed combat from the masters of armed and unarmed combat from the Ryukyu islands.  I see and sense a great depth there which I have yet to tap or understand, and hope to in the future.

Anyways, this leads me to the question: why did the split happen?  Why is karate taught alone, and kobudo the same?  I ask this because I ask myself what I would want to teach.  My answer is always a complete art: one with strikes, locks, throws, weapons (improvised or otherwise), escapes, restraints and healing technology.  When I look at the curriculum of a other martial arts, I see the inclusion of at least a few weapons forms/techniques/styles.  Why should I or my students (should I ever have any) be any less demanding of our art?  When I look to the past, this is what my lineage should hold: all of the above.  The history of karate is deeper than the common place "peasant/famer's art" that is considered standard history: it is one of police and palace guards.  It is one of such depth that I hope to one day see enough to consider myself a true student rather than someone lost in the deep end of a swimming pool.

The way is in the training, as always...

Fighting taller and stronger

This is an old post I meant to post months back, but I am finally posting it as something to think about.

I had a dream.  The details are somewhat fuzzy, but I think I was bicycling past some guy, who hits me in the back of the head as a I go past.  My male ego flares up, and I stop and ask WTH that was about.  He responds that he thought I was a boxer based on my reaction.  I proceed to try to hit him in the face, unsuccessfully.  I woke up, realizing how stupid this situation and my reaction are/were, and calming down to realize this was a dream and not real.

My reaction to all of this was multi-fold.  First, I need to ensure I always check that ego at the door - it serves no purpose but to escalate primate behaviour with no good plausible outcome.  Second, I need to examine my own technique and be aware of using my own height and weight as an advantage - technique should trump physical characteristics and should work without those advantages.  Third, what the heck am I going to do against someone who has reach on me?

The first point I think is self explanatory - I strive to be a humble person, but there is always an element of pride in one's skills as a martial artist.  Be humble!  Don't rise to the bait.  Best to be more aware, more careful, and avoid going past some smartass.  And if it happens, get away!  The goal isn't to dominate or prove who is the alpha male - it is to get home and protect those I love!

The second requires some clarification.  I am one of the most senior karateka in my dojo.  Also, at 5'11" and 205 lbs one of the heaviest.  It is easy to become complacent with one's skill and (without ego) superiority over others when you have all the advantages (experience training, reach, mass, strength (theoretically)).  I need to strive to avoid that - break down what I do and how I do it so that it will work for even the lightest, smallest person.

The third now also becomes obvious.  If I rely on mass and technique, I just need to find someone with comparative experience and greater height to end up on the losing end of an exchange.  I need to work my techniques and polish up my bag of tricks to deal with those situations.  Case in point, there are probably 4 people in the dojo with greater reach or strength or mass that I would be hard pressed against.  Am I preparing against an opponent like them?  That is the test of my skill I should strive to best.