• 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

    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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  • Life

    Studying Kobudo

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    In my post on karate, I alluded to the idea that I’m walking other martial paths, too.

    I’m going to draw your attention to kobudo which, many sources seem to want to tell me, means “old martial way”. More descriptively, traditional Okinawan weapons. In the case of the system I’m studying, there are four primary weapons.

    The Bo:

    The Sai:

    The Tonfa:

    And the Nunchaku:

    Note I said primary weapons. Depending on the path you’re taking, there may be fifteen or sixteen you’ll encounter along the way, but these are “the big four”.

    There are some out there who are probably already asking why? Kobudo isn’t like empty-handed self defense. You can’t carry around a set of nunchaku in your back pocket, or a pair of sai or tonfa tucked into your belt, so what’s the point?

    Well, I could talk about how it expands your experience, teaches you to use your brain and body in new ways, puts you in touch with a tradition and a culture that you wouldn’t otherwise get to experience, develops reflexes, strength, and coordination, and a whole bunch of other mental and physical benefits.

    Or I could tell you how it’s just plain fun. Because that’s really what it comes down to. Not just the rush from moving quickly and feeling the impact of wood on wood (or metal) or the swoosh the end of the staff makes through the air when you swing it just right, but the joy you get from the practice and the participation with other people who feel the same way.

    I’m studying kobudo because it’s fun. Yes, all of those other things add up to it being fun, but my journey isn’t the same as anyone else’s. If you’re doing something for a hobby and don’t get any joy out of it, why do it?

    I’m not very far down this particular path yet, but that means there’s a whole lot more fun ahead.

    Be well, everyone.

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