• Martial Arts,  Reading

    Reading Formats and Martial Arts Books

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    When it comes to fiction, I’ll generally consume it in whatever medium is convenient: traditional paper, ebook, audio, hypertext. It’s all good, it’s all valid, it’s all fun.

    But when it comes to non-fiction, and especially to my martial arts reading, I have a vast preference for paper, which isn’t to say I don’t do a lot of reading online, but when it comes to heavier or longer stuff, I’d really rather hold it in my hand or put it on the table or desk in front of me.

    Because I highlight stuff, make notes, mark stuff for additional research, and circle or underline things for emphasis so things jump out at me when I pick up the book again or decide to make my own notes from it. I’m studying this, not just reading it. It’s more involved and it takes longer.

    So I won’t, usually, buy an ebook of a martial arts text even if it’s vastly cheaper or otherwise out of print. I’ll wait until I find a used copy, someone mentions they have one I can borrow, or it comes back into print. Whenever my supply of marital arts reading gets low, I’ll look at the first eight or ten books on my ‘to read’ list that I don’t have, check prices and availability, move the OOP stuff out of the next 10, check on the OOP titles that are really appealing in the moment, and order a book or two to carry me through for a while.

    I’m within spitting distance (what a weird expression) of finishing my current book and down to only one left to read after that, so I went through the list a few days ago to complete the ritual. A book I’ve wanted for a long time that I can’t remember the last time I saw as available when I checked was listed as in stock and at a price tag that surprised me a bit. Into the cart it went, arriving this afternoon in the mail.

    If you’re interested, the book is Fortress Storming by John Burke and is supposed to be as detailed a breakdown and analysis as has ever been done in book form on one of my favourite kata, Bassai Dai.

    It may have moved to the top of the reading pile. Mostly because I’ve been waiting for it for so long, but maybe just a little bit because of the last sentence in the warning in the front of the book, something I haven’t ever come across before in a technical martial arts manual, though I’m sure I just haven’t picked up the right book before now. “Everyone should be aware of the Law and how it pertains to ‘Use of Reasonable Force’.”

    My interpretation of that is two-fold. First, the author is being responsible to his audience and reminding us that some of the stuff we practice in martial arts can be very dangerous. Second, he’s telling that audience that he considers at least some of what’s in this book to fall into that category.

    Now, I know there’s some nasty stuff in Bassai Dai, and I know that I’m probably only scratching the surface of what’s there to find, even remembering that I practice two different lineages of this kata. There are a lot of things in the kata that only make a little bit of sense or I haven’t figured out how to look at yet and there are a lot of things hidden in the transitions that I just haven’t seen. That’s the beauty of karate and, I expect almost every martial art: there’s always more to learn.

    And I’m hoping this book will show me more than I know now. I expect it will and there will be pencil marks and highlights to trace the path.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life,  Martial Arts

    A Learning Experiment

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    It’s funny how the human brain works, sometimes.

    Although, in this case, I mostly mean my brain.

    A lot of methods of teaching seem to be to break things down to a very fine level, teach the first piece of it, and then build from there, either piece by piece or layer by layer depending on what it is you’re teaching. And there are a number of different ways of teaching and learning, frequently depending on the methodology that works best for the student and often involving how very senses contribute to the process for that student.

    Most big things are made up of little things, but a lot of the time those little things can be complete things on their own.

    Considering the primary purpose of me keeping a blog relates to writing, it would seem obvious that I should take a writing tack on this, looking at the various basic skills involved from the basics of grammar up through the elements of style and all of the disparate pieces and nuances of storytelling.

    But I don’t teach writing and most of those basic skills are ingrained enough that, whether or not I still consider myself to be learning each one (and I do, a lot, on the storytelling angle), to break things down far enough to make sense to build on and then do the building would likely take a fairly large book to do to my own satisfaction.

    Writing a book about writing is not on the near-future menu for me.

    From a martial arts perspective (my hobby that means the most to the core of who I am), there are experiments I can run on myself.

    I’ve always been a visual and linguistic learner. I learn by seeing or reading things, doing some background mental processing to figure it out, and then doing them to solidify the skill or lesson. The linguistic piece can be audio, but doesn’t need to be; I’m just as comfortable with a book as a lecture.

    My experience in the martial arts is that we typically break things down into bite-sized chunks and feed those chunks to you one at a time. But there are bites and there are bites, and bite-sized to one person can be a choking hazard for another or not worth picking their teeth with for a third.

    The simplest example of this to express quickly is a kata or form, a prearranged sequence of movements and techniques designed for solo practice. I’m going to leave the description of kata at that – there are plenty of books written and yet to be written for as deep a dive as you want to take.

    I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve recently started on a new martial journey, one of Okinawan kobudo, traditional weapons training. Recently being something like a year ago now. No need to go into the major whys here, just know that it’s fun. I’m looking just ahead into the middle of the coloured belts now; it’s still a couple of years at least before I’m thinking seriously about black.

    COVID, however, has brought with it some martial bonuses to go along with the difficulties. We get no in-person classes, no partner work, no contact. But we have virtual classes and a significant part of that is a focus on solo work – basics and kata – at various levels. As our chief instructor wants to be sure we’re all getting something out of the classes, he’s teaching to multiple levels simultaneously and exposing many of us to weapons and kata that we wouldn’t normally get if we were still living in a pre-COVID world. I’ve learned basics and kata beyond what I need between now and shodan. Ultimately, I’m learning it all at the expense of the two-person forms and partner drills I should be learning at this stage, but things will come around eventually.

    But I said I was going to conduct experiments. I’ve started the first one.

    One of the benefits of all that online instruction is that there’s often available video to reference. So I picked two different kata that are both well beyond where I should be worried about practicing but which I have access to detailed video of my chief instructor breaking down and which are for weapons I already have at least basic familiarity with: bo (staff) and tonfa.

    The experiment is to find out how it’s better for me to break things down: a bunch of small pieces or one big piece.

    For the tonfa kata, I’m taking a handful of moves at a time, watching the instructional piece until I think I can repeat the sequence without it. Once I can manage the sequence five times in a row without referencing the video, I add it to the rest of the kata I’ve built so far and make sure I can do everything up to the point I’ve just finished learning three times.

    For the bo kata, I’m doing the entire instructional video segment for the whole kata, during which sensei builds the kata from the first move finishing with three repetitions of the full kata at increasing speed and power.

    I’m doing both of these things every day so I’m learning two kata, one at the beginning of my workout and one at the end, alternating which comes first each day. The net effect, theoretically, is that I’m teaching myself two advanced kata at the same time. The objective is to find out what should be the size of a bite for me. Whichever kata sticks fully in my brain first will at least lead me in the direction I should be learning things in, right?

    Well, maybe. Remember, these are both advanced kata, stuff that would normally be considered beyond me at the level I’m at. Probably well beyond me. But things aren’t normal right now. The tonfa kata is ahead. The parts of it I’ve taught myself are sticking well from beginning up to what I learned this morning. The bo kata hasn’t gelled yet, but I have moments where whole sequences just happen, so it’s getting into the brain cells and I wonder if I’ll have a day where it just clicks. I wonder if that will happen before or after I have the pattern memorized for the tonfa kata, which is slightly longer.

    That’s actually an important side note: pattern. I’m not learning what all of the movements mean, although I can figure out more than I expected, at least at a basic level, or all of the applications. I’ve got plenty of time for that. Right now, for these two kata, I want to establish the pattern in my head. I’ve got years for the applications.

    But it does occur to me that a better test might be two mid-level open-handed kata. That’s been my primary martial wheelhouse for a decade or more now and there are any number of interesting forms that might be fun to try, and a couple that are actually on my list.

    Which might be the next experiment, in a similar format to this one. I’ve got a couple of non-martial arts ideas, too.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Martial Arts

    DIY Martial Arts Equipment

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    A while back, so I had some different things to hit than just the heavy bag, I built myself a pair of makiwara. One is a hang on the wall version, currently hanging in the garage:

    And the other is a portable, fits in the palm of your hand kind of thing that can go with me anywhere:

    I love my makiwara and have every intention of putting a full version somewhere at some point, but that may wind up waiting until after we move into the house we plan to retire in, which is a year or two out, at least.

    More recently, about two months into COVID precautions and isolation, I made myself a pair of tecchu to see if I could. (I think I’ve written about those before.)

    While not even vaguely professional quality, they feel a lot better in my hands practicing than a pair of cut-down chopsticks.

    A few weeks later, I decided I needed something to practice kobudo on, not really willing to risk my heavy bag. So I built this:

    You can punch and kick it, if you like, but I made it to be able to unload on with staff, sai, and tonfa. It takes the punishment very well and gives me a little feedback on how a variety of techniques actually feel. Plus, no risk of puncturing or tearing my heavy bag. The top of the upper tire is about five and a half feet off the ground, but the chains will let me adjust that upwards almost another two feet if I like. There are a few small drainage holes so I can avoid breeding mosquitoes, too.

    Lately, I’m feeling the lack of partner work in my training. It’s been more than four months. And I’ve always wanted a Wing Chun dummy, so I thought maybe I’d stretch my carpentry skills a bit. But space is limited and budgets are tight, so I decided to start with the flat, wall mounted version. Here’s where I’m at so far:

    I’d like it to look nicer, so there needs to be some sanding and staining. I’d like to be able to hit it in a couple of spots, so there probably should be some padding, too. But I’m quite happy with it so far.

    The ultimate goal in this vein is theoretically something like this:


    But I’m a long, long way off from being able to manage that, and I think I should probably work with the one I’ve got for a little while to see if I like it.

    I’m thinking about this as a traditional pursuit. Making use of what you have or what you can put together to build your skills and further your training. Plus, it’s fun to stretch myself out of my comfort zones. Added to home and yard improvement projects, I’ve spent more time with tools this year than probably in all the time we’ve been living in this house before this year. You can hardly call me Al, but I can manage more than I thought I could.

    And there are definitely still other things I’d like to make.

    I do need to reclaim more of the garage, though, and not for the car. The home dojo is slowly taking shape, though I doubt it will ever be completely done.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Martial Arts

    The Stages of Making Your Own Martial Arts Weapon For the First Time When You Have No Woodworking Skills

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    For reference, the Tekko is a traditional martial arts weapon from Okinawa. A lot of them look like they may have been derived from horse stirrups. The type you see in this post hasn’t, obviously, but these also involved the least amount of cutting work. As the title of the post suggests, I have no woodworking skills, so this seemed like a good idea for a starting point when I decided to make my own, especially if I wanted to keep all of my fingers.

    On to the actual post.

    • Start with the picture of what you want.
    This particular one came from Pinterest.
    • Analyze that picture.
    • Measure what you need to (including your hand in this case) every way you can.
    • Draft a paper template
    • Turn it into a cardboard template (I used a cereal box)
    • Cut the template out.
    • Find some random wood in the garage.
    • Trace the template onto that wood. Twice.
    • Cut them out.
    • Sand it until you can comfortably hold it.
    1. Consider oiling it to preserve your masterpiece. (I haven’t done this yet.)
    2. Figure out how you could have done it better and start over again at Step 1. (Coming soon.)

    I said it about something else involving wood-based skills recently, but things aren’t always as hard as you think they’re going to be, especially if you take the time to figure stuff out in advance. But they’re often a lot harder to do well. It’s probably going to take more repetitions than I want to put into things, and more money than I have available to spend on tools, for me to produce a good set of Tekko.

    But these work for practice, and I like them. They’re special because they’re my first.

    There will be at least one more set, and those will be better.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

    And try something new if you can.

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  • Martial Arts

    The 100 Kobudo Kata Challenge

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    There are certain events in the martial arts year that somehow speak to me. In April, we have the 100 Kobudo Kata Challenge. The basic idea of that is that you do 100 repetitions of a weapon kata. Ordinarily, this would be done as an event, as a group, or as a dojo. That’s not really how things work right now.

    My kobudo journey is still young. I “know” a few kata, but none of them really well yet. Still, I thought this might be something I would like to try. I mean, 100 repetitions of the same kata in one day? It may not sound exiting to you, but it’s more than I’ve ever done of a weapons kata before. (There’s a similar karate challenge in the fall that I have done in the past.)

    Officially, the home of the event is Sakiyama Park, Shuri, Okinawa and it takes place 10am-1pm on April the 5th this year. Adjusting for time zones, that was beginning at 9pm tonight Eastern time. Staring a 3-hour physical event at 9pm seemed a little bit much, pushing too deep into the night, so I started at about 545, finishing about 830pm. A little ahead of official, but it worked for me.

    I picked Shushi no Kun, a bo (staff) kata. In fact, the first bo kata in our system. It’s not a short kata but not super long and 100 repetitions in 3 hours seemed reasonable on the surface of things.

    But I knew it was going to be a good workout.

    And it really was. Also a very interesting experience. And harder than you might expect. I’m not wired to do one thing continuously for very long so focus was hard to keep for the whole 100 kata and I wonder if I would have been better off to split the effort between several kata.

    After every set of 10, I gave myself time for a water break (or an apple if I needed calories) and a moment to scribble down a thought or two.

    The thoughts along the way:

    10 – my footwear may be inappropriate for the whole exercise, but I am on cement. (The cement pad next to the deck in our back yard – I didn’t want to monopolize a large fraction of the main floor for the evening as that isn’t fair to everyone else and there are five of us living in the house.)

    20 – I think I’m correcting my stances too much.

    30 – I haven’t kiai-ed once yet. I mean, the neighbours already think I’m crazy…

    40 – Mmm. Apple.

    50 – That set was harder to focus for some reason, but I’m half-way!

    60 – Time to come inside. It’s getting a little chilly. (The sun has gone down and the breeze is picking up.)

    70 – Wait, am I stepping correctly there? And this move doesn’t feel right. Time for some video… I am stepping right and I’m missing a kamae in one spot.

    80 – This is harder than and my brain is getting a bit mushy.

    90 – I should have stretched more.

    100 – Whoo hoo!

    There’s no video. Since I haven’t started outdoor clean up yet (too wet and I like to wait until the weather is a bit warmer so that the various early-spring inhabitants of the leaf detritus no longer need it to avoid freezing at night, though I did allow myself a victory selfie.

    This was an interesting experience, but not something I’m going to repeat too frequently. Aside from the overall intensity wearing me out a bit, I think I need a little more variety in my regular practice.

    Anyone else discovering new depths or hidden facets of their hobbies or past times?

    Be well, everyone.

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