Breaking a kata into steps

After iaido training last night I mentioned my 30-day challenge to one of my instructors.  If I do focused practise for at least ten minutes a day for 30 consecutive days then I will reward myself.  My reward?  Purchase of an iaito.  An iaito is an unsharpened, but still rather pointy and capable of stabbing yourself with, metal practise sword.  It will be a step-up from my bokken (wooden practise sword).

My instructor gave me some good advice.  Rather than practice a whole kata in the time I have available, break the kata into components and practice a component each day.  The moment he said it I thought, “how obvious, why didn’t I think of that.”  I have come close, practising my sword cuts (which remain in dire need of improvement) but not the other parts of each kata.

Tonight I focused on the chiburi going from seiza (kneeling) to standing.  Chiburi is the act of removing blood from the sword by means of a downward flick.  As you do so you rise smoothly from the kneeling to standing position, feet hips width apart and knees slightly bent.

The first five attempts went OK.  By ten I could feel the move becoming smoother, my feet starting to reach the correct finishing position.  By 15 my thighs were complaining.  By 20 I had to pause for a couple minutes, switch sides and start again from the other side.  It occurred to me that high thigh strength is required do this move smoothly and repeatedly.  Time to increase my weight at the gym when I do squats!

Best of all that concentrated ten minutes allowed me to start focusing in on things that I hadn’t noticed I did before.  The most obvious was pushing off from my back foot rather than rising from centre.  These little details get lost when you focus on doing an entire kata.  So I am going to pass on my sensei’s advice and say, break down your throws, katas and locks to focus in on a certain step or body movement.

Posted in Iaido, Technical, Training | Tagged , , , ,

Am I practising it right?

On Sunday I attended a seminar in Niten Ichi-Ryu.  This is a sword style that our dojo only trains in once a month so it’s good to travel, train with others and spend a day covering stuff that would normally take several months of teaching time to get across.

The warm-up was left to ourselves to do.  So having done my stretches I moved into practising the basic hasso cut which differs to the iai cut that I am used to doing.  Our dojo only has two hours of Niten teaching each month, so I try my best to practise out of of class.  I’m slightly hampered by having a house with low ceilings (no room to swing the sword) and the downsides of the British weather (wet, numb hands in cold, driving rain don’t really do it for me). But when I can I do, because some practise is better than none.

Or is it?

I was practising my cuts up and down the dojo when the Sensei came over to me.  There were a number of things that were leading to my cut being inefficient and next to useless.  I gratefully listened to his advice and did my best to correct things.  But as the day went on my cuts kept reverting to those very same mistakes that had been pointed out to me.  In addition, my sword cuts weren’t straight they were going off at odd angles.  Niten is a paired technique.  At best it’s unfair to my training partner when I don’t cut straight, at worse it means I end up hitting them by mistake because I can’t do a proper cut.

On the way home I mulled over this basic cutting exercise.  Two thoughts developed.

  1. When there is no one in front of you it’s hard to tell if you are cutting straight.  A field or lawn does not provide an indication if you are off by 10 cms (4 inches for anyone from the USA reading this).
  2. That over the past month I had allowed my cutting mistakes to accumulate because I had no idea I was doing them wrong and no-one had seen me doing the cut and was able to help me correct the errors.

Then I was struck by the gloomy thought that it might be better not to practise at all if all it was going to do was make mistakes and ingrain them in my memory.  But it wasn’t long before I thought, “rubbish!”  Part of being able to do a technique is knowing the steps and having confidence.  If I never practised then I wouldn’t have any sort of confidence, I would be hesitant and uncertain, and I would make even less progress.  It’s only by making the mistakes that they get picked up on, I can improve and move on in my understanding.  Because sooner or later I will make those mistakes and it’s better to make them sooner.

In addition, just because one part of the technique was in need of correction it didn’t follow that it was all terrible.  (My teachers may well raise a sceptical eyebrow if they are reading this!)

niten_170430_03

Training at our Niten Ichi-Ryu.  Photo from Heijoshin Dojo, UK.

It’s too easy to get hung up being perfect. If we obsess with perfection that we become too scared of making the mistakes that are needed.  Then we forget that martial arts is about the journey not the end goal.  It was Churchill who said, “success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

So, am I practising right? I’m practising, and that’s better than not practising at all.

Posted in Courses, Iaido, Training | Tagged , ,

Furikaburi to Kirioroshi

The weather has improved in the UK during April.  This means I can now go outside and practice my kenjutsu sword cuts without my hands turning blue from the cold within 5 minutes.  Lately I have been going through some of the basics of furikaburi to kirioroshi.

Furikaburi is moving the sword from the horizontal cutting position to the overhead position ready for the downward cut that is kirioroshi.  These two moves are seen from 14 seconds to approx 17 seconds in the video below.

 

The kirioroshi, in common with many other martial arts moves, looks deceptively simple but has a lot going on.  It’s the left hand that creates the action, the right is there to guide and stop the weapon from crashing ever downwards.  (Don’t believe anyone that tells you Japan had no left-handed swordsmen, they were all left-handed.)  The most common cry from out Sensei when we are practising this technique is, “more left hand!”

The position with which the hands grips the weapons is important..  The hands go over the top rather than around the sides, and at first this feels uncomfortable.  As the sword descends in to the cut the grip tightens from the little fingers towards the index finger, and it is this that has suddenly clicked in my mind.  Before it felt like a rather odd motion.  I was told it contributed to the cut but being told something and feeling it are two different things.

Yet now I see/feel/get it!  It’s the tightening action that brings about the swords initial movement, not the wrist and arm movement.  It’s the tightening that controls it’s descent before bringing it to a halt.  That’s only taken 1000’s of cuts to realise this.  No doubt it will take 1000’s more to make it flow more beautifully.

Enough typing.  Back outside to keep practising those cuts!

Posted in Iaido, Training | Tagged , , , , ,

International Women’s Day

A very quickly written post.  Today is International Women’s Day.  The Internal Aikdio Federation is using it to promote and encourage woman in aikido – #AikidoWomen.

I strongly feel that any traditional martial art is beneficial for women (I know nothing about modern ones, but I suspect the same applies).  I appreciate that for many women walking into the first class can be daunting, especially if the class is all male.  But do it!  I walked into my first jiu jitsu class not knowing anyone, and within two hours I had fallen in love with jitsu and made friends with a group of diverse people.  If it helps then take a friend with you to that first class, even if they sit on the side like I have done for someone in the past.  No one will mind, in fact they may have done the same thing themselves.

Yes, the practical side of a martial means you learn some form of self-defence skills but there are many other benefits.  I have seen shy women starting a class and over time their confidence both on and off the mat increases.  Martial helps improve your general fitness, but in a slow and steady way that crash gym courses don’t do.  Very few people are super-fit when they start a class but over time your health improves.

All clubs take it easy with beginners.  If falling is required then you learn to do so in a safe way that helps prevent injury.  Initial attacks that you learn to defend from will be done in a slow and controlled way.  We want our beginners to stay and learn!

The best thing about martial arts?  I don’t know!  There are so many to choose from.  Friendships, learning a new skill, being able to face down your fears, having fun….

So women, take up a martial art.  Men, encourage women in your life to take one up.  For those in the UK I have provided some links to some national organisations.  These websites will in turn provide lists of clubs so you can find one local to you.

 

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Blog from Kai Morgan: Discover your Depths – Seven insights for martial artists from a world record-holding freediver

I am loving this blog post from Kai Morgan!

“Your body is the vehicle for your soul to touch, taste, smell, feel and have amazing experiences. The reason we know our truth in any given moment is because we feel it in our body. We’re given the body so that we can know our truth . . . ” The post Discover your Depths…

via Discover your Depths – Seven insights for martial artists from a world record-holding freediver — Budō Inochi

Posted in Other Blogs

Leave the ego at the door

Ego – def. a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.

Saying someone has a large ego or a super-ego is generally meant as an insult yet arguably we need some ego in order to keep functioning in daily life.  Lack of self-esteem can be a larger issue than an over-inflated ego even if the former is easier to deal with in other people.

Last night in Kenjutsu the subject of egotistical people (those who are excessively conceited or absorbed in themselves) came up during training.  I hastily add that no one in that dojo has ever struck me as egotistical but that doesn’t mean I haven’t encountered a few egocentrics both in and out the dojo.  Of all the places I dislike egotistical people the dojo has to be the main one.

Studying and training in a martial art  is a path of continuous learning.  It’s impossible to know everything on a martial art.  On a simple level every person you train with will be different in their attacks and react in different ways to what you do to them, both mentally and physically.  At an intermediate level your own body changes as you get older and techniques you could once do have to be adapted to allow for the ageing processes.  Japanese martial arts and Zen Buddhism refer to the importance of Shosen, lacking preconceptions when training, thus maintain a beginners mind no matter how advanced your training is.  Sounds easy, but often our egos get in our way.

A few years back I was at a weapons seminar with a fantastic instructor who showed us some techniques with variations I hadn’t seen before.  After a while he called a halt and called out two people.  Pointing at an older man he barked, “how long have you been training?”
“Over 30 years,” came the reply.
“And what about you?” asked the instructor to a younger girl.
She looked up at the clock.  “I  started for the first time 40 minutes ago,” she said quietly.
“Yet she, ” continued the instructor, “is the only person doing what I asked.”

Ego, and to a certain degree habit, had got in our way.  Our minds decided they knew better than our eyes.  We had attended that seminar to learn new things not to repeat stuff we thought we knew.

Sadly you occasionally see inflated ego in those that teach.  The one thing that makes me grit my teeth are instructors who wont admit they have made a mistake.  I’m not expecting a full apology, just a quiet, “I’ll do that again.”  Yet I have encountered teachers who try and pretend their mistake is a genuine technique even when it blatantly is anything but that.  My favourite instructors are the ones that make mistakes, and better still those that take the mistakes and use to demonstrate how easy it is to fall into a incorrect technique trap.  It proves to me those instructors are human and I can relate them to far more than the ones who never appear to cock-up.

I don’t think Shosen is easy to develop.  There’s a fine balance between being open to new ideas and being so overly critical of yourself that nothing is ever gained.  I had a wonderful example in Aikido training a few weeks back.  I was training with someone who was just having one of those blank moments (we all get them).  I patiently went through the technique and at some point he queried what was being done.  It would have been easy to have dismiss this confused almost-beginner to my admittedly-not-very-long four years Aikido practice, but something made me listen.  Instead we went slowly through it and together produced a working technique.  We both learnt something that day and probably both gained more respect for each other.

I guess we all have to watch our egos.  However, I am going to have one very self-centred moment and say this.  Within six days I passed my 4th kyu Aikido grading and my 5th kyu Iaido grading.  I just needed to put that on the blog somewhere!

Meanwhile, be you an instructor or student please leave the ego at the dojo door.

chinese-traditional-wooden-door-e5110r

Posted in General observations, Mental development, Training | Tagged , , , , , ,

Practise, practise, practise

An interesting article by Deborah Klens-Bigman on the benefits of Solo Iaido practice.  The only thing I have to add is that if you circumstances force you to train at home then please check the ceiling height by carefully drawing your weapon!

http://www.fightingarts.com/reading/article.php?id=367

Posted in Iaido, Other Blogs, Training | Tagged , ,

Martial arts, druids and everyday life

I am a pagan druid. I have never felt this relevant to mention on my martial arts blog because until recently I viewed druidry and martial arts as two very different aspects in my life.  A book as a Yule present this year gave me pause for thought.  (Yule is celebrated on 21st December when pagans celebrate the shortest day of the year and the return of the sun.)  The book  was Flashing Steel by Masayuki Shimabukuro and Leonard J Pellman.

As well as addressing technical aspects of Eishin-Ryu Iaido (the style of Japanese swordsmanship I practise) Shimabukuro and Pellman explore the philosophy behind Iaido.  From the book I learnt that the kanjii for martial art breaks is derived from the terms prevent and conflict, making the idea of sport martial arts seem an oxymoron!  The authors also explain the importance of Heijoshin (peace of mind) in martial arts.  This be expressed through a balanced mental development in:

  1. the intellect,
  2. the emotions,
  3. our character.

Mental development is something that will last us a lifetime (or for most of it), where as physical development will inevitable peak and decline as we become older.  Good mental development allows us to “win” in many situations long beyond the point where brute force dominates.

To read this in a martial art book was fascinating.  My jiu jitsu teachings have never really emphasised mental development, it’s implied but rarely specifically mentioned.  Aikido touches on the subject occasionally, but the iaido has certainly bought the importance to the fore.  Yet the principles of heijoshin discussed in Flashing Steel are the very things I seek to cultivate in my druid practice.  While I carry those druid teachings over into my daily life outside of work I rarely put them into practice in my work and I have never consciously applied them to my martial arts.

As humans we have a habit to compartmentalise things.  (Think how confusing it is to meet a work colleague when out food shopping, they belong in the work environment not the bakery aisle.)  Yet segregating thought patterns limits our understanding so we perceive only the surface of a subject rather than develop a deep understanding.  Core skills are transferable and these include the mental disciplines we develop.  Theoretically I am well aware of this but my application has been lacking.

As an example.  It is easy for me to apply peaceful negotiation when someone tries to be confrontational down the pub but trying to find the peace within my own antagonistic mind at work or in the dojo?  I can use the same techniques for calming my mind but have frequently failed to do so.

I guess my point is that we should not take our martial art lessons as only something for the dojo or for combative situations.  We can use them anchor ourselves in life more solidly.  Similarly it is foolish to ignore lessons from outside martial arts because they lack immediate obvious relevance.

So don’t think this…

east

Doesn’t relate to this…

dec2016

Because it does on so many levels!

Now it’s over to you to think of connections between your martial arts and other aspects of your life.

****

First image:  https://setantii.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/east.jpg  [OBOS Summer Gathering 2016, with yours truly in the picture.]
Second image: http://www.shiroibaradojo.com/Shiroibaradojo.com/Shiroi_Bara_Dojo_Home.html  [Yes, spot the druid now wielding a sword.]

***

By a complete coincidence Andrea Harkins published a very similar post on Google Plus today to promote her new book, The Martial Arts Woman.  Great minds think alike Andrea!

Posted in General observations, Mental development, Training | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Child protection

The UK has recently been made aware of historic child sex abuse in football, but sadly it would seem that football is not the only sport where this has happened.  While we have currently legal measures in place to vet adults that are responsible for teaching children (known as Disclosure and Baring) they are not by any means foolproof.

Martial arts is very much a hands on.  One of the reasons I have huge reservations about training with under-16’s is that an accidental contact with an adult’s privates is very different to an accidental contact with a child’s privates.  In the UK we have a deep disgust of paedophiles and even the shadow of an accusation can have long lasting consequences.  I’d rather avoid a potential situation by not training with children to start with.  However, there people are willing to train children and recognise the benefits in doing so and occasionally I find myself in a situation where I am training with people under the age of 16.  This raises two questions.

  1. How do you ensure that you conduct yourself in way that a child doesn’t feel sexually harassed or leaves you open to false accusations?
  2. How do you respond when a child tells you that one of the adults they train with is acting inappropriately?

This subject is a tricky one and even asking those questions may make some people feel uncomfortable.  I hesitated several times before writing this and posting it the hostile world of the internet.  I also like to think everyone I train with is above reproach, but in reality I know little of their lives outside the dojo.

Here are some thoughts, please feel free to contact me if there are any more you would like to see added.

  • Firstly, comply with the law in your country when it comes to working with children.  In the UK this means DAB checks.  If your martial arts school is part of a nationwide organisation check that they have the same measures in place.
  • Ensure that there is always at least two  (maybe even three?) children and two adults in the room.  This way both parties feel more comfortable.  My aikido club sees the parents of the children sat at the entrance of the dojo while their children train.  (In addition if the children suffer any  injuries the parents are on hand).
  • It sounds obvious, but adults should  hold off getting changed until all the children have left.
  • If a child mentions something to you, take it seriously.  Children can be poor communicators, not knowing how to explain something to an adult.  With the historic  sex abuse cases in the UK it would seem time and time again when children did speak out their concerns where dismissed.  It’s easy to do but don’t automatically believe the adult over the child.
  • It may be wise to have separate children’s classes, but I recognise that this is not always an option.
  • If an adult member of class says they don’t wish to train with children then avoid pairing them up with children.  The adult may have very good reasons for their request, which probably wasn’t an easy one to make to start with.  It’s not for the person teaching to question that request.

I would really love for us adults to have more open discussions about our concerns with working with children in a contact sport.  The one time I raised it at a dojo I was training at I was dismissed outright.  “You’re a nice person, you’ve got nothing to fear.”  No, I may not have, but I don’t have any children of my own and have had very little interaction with them.  Believe it or not I don’t instinctively know the line at which a child feels uncomfortable in a contact sport, and I don’t want them to dread training because of thoughtless behaviour on my part.   For example, is grabbing a child’s hips to correct their posture OK?  I don’t know, but to my mind it’s OK for adults to do to each other.

The subject of child sex abuse is a tricky one but by taking a proactive approach we can  ensure that all parties are comfortable and aware of the boundaries and hopefully avoid the worse case scenario.

Posted in General observations | Tagged , , ,

When is a retreat not a retreat?

After last weeks blog post I received some good feedback from online martial arts acquaintances – get your head down, train like you mean it, concentrate on doing your best and giving your best.  All this advice helpfully detail in this blog post by Ando Mierzwa : http://www.senseiando.com/perfect-sparring-partner/   Cue me going along to training with a very different attitude.  (Sometimes we need the metaphorical boot up the backside.)  And guess what?  Instead of coming away from training feeling like a failure I came away knowing I had gained something, that I had improved and that I knew exactly what to work on away from class.  So thank you everyone who commented on that blog post.

There is one thing I want to share, and which will also help jog my memory in the future, and this relates to a paired sword work exercise.  The aim is to help hone your foot work, striking technique and maintaining good distance from your partner.  It goes like this.

  1. Tori attacks – shomen (straight sword cut).
  2. Uki counters by side stepping and bringing their sword onto tori’s.
  3. This is then repeated with tori effectively chasing uki across the dojo.  At the end of the dojo you switch rolls and former tori is now chased up the dojo with the attacks.

All well and good.  Except when I was dong the counter we were making it across the dojo in about five attacks, but when I was attacking it was a good eight to ten before we reached.  I know I have small legs, but my stride isn’t that tidy.  What was going on?  Our instructor watched and then pointed this out.

“If you retreat a lot, he’s going to move in to close the distance.  If you stay put then he can’t move in because he can’t attack close up.  So he is adjusting to what you do.”

light-bulb

Well that’s like jitsu!  You can’t swing a punch if you are hugged up close to someone.  (And similarly you can’t make contact if you are more than an arms length away from them.)  So with my iaido by not retreating I was taking control of that attack.  In fact, I could even turn my counters to the attack into a form of attack by stepping in more.  Because if tori wants to attack he is now going to have to make room to swing that sword.

So in response to last weeks question about being scary enough, the answer to seems to be take the imitative and train hard.

 

 

Posted in General observations, Other Blogs, Training | Tagged , , , ,

When can I be scary?

Two new people joined our iaido school last month, which means I am no longer the very bottom of the class. Which also means when we line up at the start and end of the class I need to be a little more on the ball because the guy to my left is looking at me for what to do.

The style of iaido our school practises is Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū but on the last Monday of every month we train in Niten Ichi-ryu.  So far I have had six lessons (totalling 12 hours) formal teaching of Niten and as I type that out I realise that that’s the equivalent of my first week training in jiu jitsu.  Arguably I have had longer time outside of class to absorb the Niten lessons and get some practise in.

Some quick background information on Niten.  It is practised as a series of katas with a partner where one person is attacking (uchidachi), the other person responds to the attack (shidachi).  Like much iaido there is a certain level of mind games involved – using body posture, the way you look at your partner (not romantically!) and the intent you express.

  1. Shidachi has to encourage uchidachi to attack in a certain way.
  2. Uchidachi attacks and shidachi defends.
  3. Once shidachi has executed their defence they move in for their attack.

 

When you train you  are adjusting to the other persons stance and weapon reach accordingly.  But like any paired kata it works best when intent is put into it.  When our sensei pairs with me I don’t have to think, “oh this is the point where I step back,” I automatically flinch back because of the intent he’s projecting.  And yes, we train with wooden swords but I still have no desire to be clonked on the head with that sword by someone who looks like they are prepared to kill me with it.

It’s the intent I seem to be having the issue with.  My training partner was left trembling with giggles rather than fear when I went for my attacks.  OK, the physical technique needs working on (a lot) but arguably if I’m projecting that desire to cleave him in two then having my weapon at the wrong angle is a minor point.  But it seems I just don’t want to do that enough, as was pointed out to me by both my teachers and training partner.

My first thought was, “eeek, I’m too much in the mentality of defensive martial arts.”  Yet I recall a gauntlet run I did in jiu jitsu where no-one in the line would attack me because I looked too scary.  The sensei had to call a halt and tell people that someone had to punch or kick me in order for me to demonstrate a technique.

Didn’t even get as far as blocking an attack on that gauntlet run.

 So where’s the difference?  What did I have the day of that jitsu gauntlet run that I lacked so much of Monday’s Niten session?  Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Confidence.  If I feel I know something then you project that conviction without even thinking about.
  • Knowing the people you train with.  The longer you train with people the more you know how well they react, which then feeds back into the confidence point.  I don’t actually like knocking my training partners out (partly because it’s messy to clean them off the mat and partly because I loose training partners fast) so I tend to be cautious with those I don’t know no matter their grade.
  • Time training.  Nothing more to be said here.

 

Better go and pick up my sword and keep practising then.

 

Cover image from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8C6uAd0FCI 

 

 

Posted in General observations, Training | Tagged , , , , , ,

When nothing stops you

I have a neighbour, let’s call him Alun, who loves road cycling.  He rarely takes part in any competitive cycling but everyday he is out on his bike cycling the roads of the UK.  And I mean every single day.  No matter the weather.  In fact Alun loves cycling so much he recently cycled across the UK, caught the ferry to France and then cycled some more in France in order to start a European cycling holiday,  When the holiday was complete Alun cycled back to his home in the UK.  His friends thought him bonkers but part of me understands why he chose to do that.

I remember the love I felt for ju-jitsu from day one and how nothing would stop me attending as many training sessions as I could.  Other commitments were made low priority, work and social life revolved getting to the dojo on time.  Even with my current back injury I have to forcibly remind myself that I must not train until the back is better.  Short term training loss vs. long-term health gain.

This week I found I had developed a passion for my Japanese sword art (Eishen-ryu).  What had started as something to fill in the gap while my back issues prevent me from training in jitsu has now started to fill my thoughts.  Each day I find myself thinking about the katas, practising my stances and/or practising how I hold the weapon.  I want to do better.  I want to keep training.  Roll on the next teaching session!.

Studies into attitudes regarding exercise show that most people understand exercise is important for their health, but conversely they know they don’t do enough of it.  Reasons given for lack of exercise include the following.

  • Time constraints.
  • Health issues
  • Poor location.
  • Lack of knowledge.
  • No one to train with.

Let’s have a look at these reasons.

  1. If you have enough time to stare at the TV for an hour each day then you have enough time to go out and do exercise at least once a week.
  2. Don’t think that because you have health issue or disability that this precludes you from exercise.  Many things are adaptable be it team or solo sports.  Try something, ask the instructor, research on the internet to see what others have done(*).  Maybe you can’t be the rugby halfback but chances are there is something more suited.
  3. Miles from any sports facilities without any transport?  Walk, jog, follow YouTube videos on yoga, Pilates or hula-hooping.
  4. Try not to be put off going to a gym or a sports for the first time, everyone in there was new at some point. Tell people you are new and you will be surprised how friendly they are.  People who have a passion for their exercise want to share the love!
  5. Don’t be frightened to try other activities if the one you are doing feels a drag.  Just because aqua-aerobics was not for you then it doesn’t mean you will not enjoy water-polo or just swimming 20 lengths of the pool each week.

I honestly feel that if you find a sport or form of exercise that you love and feel the same passion for that Alun and I do for our then exercise happens not because you feel it’s good for your health but because you genuinely enjoy what you do and want to do it better.  Go and try something today because until you do you wont know how fun you find it.

(*) Check out this blog.  The Karate Kickin’ Dwarf.

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Sitting on the side of the mats

A fellow blogger has discovered that sitting on the side of the mats watching other people practice is a good use of time.

What Do You See?

Posted in Other Blogs

Cross-dressing in kenjutsu

Alternative title: the problem with wearing martial arts clothes designed for men when you are a woman.

A consequence of my persistent back injury has been a pause in my jiu-jitsu training, a slow down in my aikido training, and the start of training in Japanese swordwork (kenjutsu and iaido).  While I have been carefully managing to dodge my hakama wearing in aikido (hakama being those big baggy trousers some martial arts wear) it has become rapidly apparent that I can’t really get away with this for the kenjutsu.  Why?  The art of drawing the sword partly depends on all those bits of string that go around the waist region – obi and hakama ties.

hoshina_sensei

Image from http://www.iaido-koeln.de/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/hoshina_sensei.jpg

So I gritted my teeth, donned the dammed hakama and within an hour was reminded why I don’t like wearing them.  They are designed to be worn by men and women have a different shaped body.

Now I fully understand that historically martial arts were the provenance of men.  I also understand that the martial arts I am studying originate from Japan and an oriential body shape can differ considerably from a western body.  For those that haven’t had the ‘pleasure’ of wearing hakama let me just run down how to wear them.

  1. Tie your obi (belt) around you.
  2. Put the hakama on.
  3. Bring the front set of strings around you twice and tie at the back.
  4. Bring the back set of strings around you and tie at the front.
  5. At each stage the ties need to be tight to prevent them becoming loose.

 

If I wear the hakama in the correct position, just above the hips, I can draw the sword correctly.  BUT because my body shape thins above that to my waist then the obi and hakama rise up, become loose and then come undone.  Cue the entire class pausing while I tie up all the bits of string again.  This is not a problem most men have!

If I wear the hakama on my natural waist line then nothing comes undone.  But now the sword sits so high I can’t draw it properly.  And,to put it bluntly, the sword knocks my lady bumps when I draw it out from my belt.

Am I the only woman who has this hakama wearing problem?  Are there any female kendo, iaido, kenjutsu or other weapons based Japanese martial arts systems that have come up with a good way to tie them?  Please let me know.

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Image from http://www.mjer-iaido.org/

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Adaptability

I have been thinking a great deal about adaptability in martial arts of late.  Every modern martial art has evolved over the years, no style has remained static.  Of the martial arts I practise it is a requirement for the higher dan grades to show they can continue to evolve and adapt the martial art, “to make it a style that is uniquely theirs.”

The first trigger point for my thoughts was the excellent article by Kai Morgan, hosted by the Karate Kickin’ Dwarf,  about teaching martial arts to people with physical disabilities.  Amongst the issues Kai discusses is how we view people and the parallels between able-bodied and non-disabled.  We frequently adapt our training without much thought for people taller, shorter, heavier, lighter etc, so this can be readily extended to people with disabilities.

The second trigger was I had injured my back, again.  One of the side effects of this is I get horrible pain in my left hip so I cannot land from throws on this side.  Ironically after the initial high intensity pain has eased off from my back pain (typically three to four days) I need the exercise martial arts gives me to prevent the muscles seizing up and becoming stiff.  My doctor assures me that I cannot damage my back, what I have a is nerve issue rather than bone, disk or muscle damage.   I can carry out the techniques, I just have a limitation in how I receive them, i.e. I can’t deliver right-handed punches because that leads to me being thrown on my left side.  Consequently I couldn’t do my jitsu grading.  To say I felt frustrated is an understatement, but everyone I spoke to said, “well, it’s just too confusing in the heat of a grading telling people you can only land on your right side.”  To be honest, I partly agree.

Then the Stick Chick wrote a blog about some of the reasons she felt why women find it difficult to progress in martial arts.  And I found myself glaring at the computer and muttering, “what is with the inflexible attitude of some martial arts?”

In the last three paragraphs I have shown that there are people out there who want to learn and progress and show that they have progressed in their chosen martial art, but often artificial barriers are erected that can lead to a person loosing heart.  No, I don’t expect that with my back problems that I can carry out a full range of techniques, but there is a heck of a lot I can do.  No the Stick Chick isn’t expecting her partner to take over the childcare so only she can progress, but she would like to see a more integrated approach with martial arts classes and childcare.  And again, I am sure people with physical disabilities acknowledge that you can’t do things exactly the same, but if a man with one leg can learn taekwondo then it just shows that adaptability to teaching, training and assessment is vital.

So next time someone turns up at your martial art class and says, “I’d love to learn but…” don’t see it as a problem, see it as just another challenge in your own learning.

 

 

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