Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kano's rainbow nation - Part 3

I am constantly amazed at seeing this happen. The American who has may have a cultural mindset that he bow to no man is totally comfortable performing the rei to his sensei and other judoka. A Brit who suffered seeing his father being interned in a POW camp in Singapore in WW2 and vowed never to buy anything Japanese is now trying to pronounce words like Harai Goshi while trying to perform that exact technique

In my dojo, I am blessed by the multitude of nationalities that train there. And I have to admit for someone as cynical as I am, that I get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I see Korean white belts eagerly learning from their Japanese sensei, a remarkable sight given the degree of traditional animosity between the two groups. An Iranian judoka gives his Japanese opponent a hug after an incredibly intense randori, that is his cultural sign of respect and affection. For the Japanese, where this display of physical contact is not the norm, accepts it good naturedly.

Even on a more personal front, it allows me, a very Westernised Malaysian chinese, to interact with my more traditional chinese speaking brethren in a way that is filled with bonhomie and fun, while in any other situation; the degree of uncomfortableness and unfamiliarity would give way to plentiful moments of awkward silence. It's where the different races in this country which sometimes clash over the smallest things, learn to give respect, tolerate and even appreciate each other.

Judo doesn't solve all the world's problems. Global warming won't be solved by getting everyone to do Judo. But on a micro scale, if Kano could have seen what it was going to do in terms of uniting at least a small group of rainbow coloured individuals in peace and harmony, at least for a short while, he'd be chuffed

Of that, I have no doubt

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kano's rainbow nation - Part 2

Rather than learn a few styles of jujitsu and safe guard the authenticity of the techniques, he melded them, modified a few and applied a new concept to it. The techniques were now for exercise, recreation or even self defence but now, the latter was not the overriding objective. Nor was learning it for the reason of maiming and killing, although they still could do those, with a modicum of modification

But that wasn't enough. Unlike a lot of the people of his day, he saw a world outside Japan that..and this is the important bit...could benefit from the practice of Judo. Not defeated in competition to prove the superiority of the Japanese race (although I have no doubt there were a few who though that as there are those who still think that these days whether in regard to Judo or other arts), but because it could enhance the quality of their lives, irregardless of whether they were Japanese were not.

The codified techniques meant that there were no 'secret' techniques held back to ensure dominance by one group over another. Randori practice meant that even if this occured, it would be for a short while until the counterweight would shift in the opposite direction. And because there were no real secrets save for hard, regular dedicated practice - everyone could do it. Thus, it spread to the world

Being made an Olympic sport did not hurt it's chances either. But one great thing about Judo, is that in not overly pushing the cultural element, it ironically enabled it to be embraced in far greater numbers and I am sure, has done a lot more to carry a slice of Japanese culture to the world that many would not have been exposed to.

Kano's rainbow nation -Part 1

The Japanese have usually been a closed society where not many things are revealed to outsiders, especially in the area of martial arts. Now, this goes for other societies as well. The chinese were (and some still are) particular about teaching Kung Fu to non-chinese. Sometimes, other chinese are even prohibited, with the 'secret' techniques residing within the clan, or the family

Judo is one of those very rare abberations where divisions of race, gender and societal differences are broken down very quickly. When Judo was established, it was not long after that women were allowed to practice it. On the mat, no one knows if you're a rich man or a poor one, in a judogi, the only means of telling someone apart is the belt colour and how hard they throw you.

It is even more remarkable that Jigaro Kano then proceeded to open the practice of Judo to non-Japanese, to the extent that legends like Yukio Tani and Ishikawa were sent to Britain and Europe to spread the gospel of Judo. I suspect that this may have much to do with Kano's upbringing.

When he was young, he was enamoured with American baseball, which he was exposed to as a student in an international school. Mind you, remember that Japan at that time had no sport, or a concept of sport. Martial arts was for killing, and that was it. But by that time, it was starting to fall out of favour with a populace more attuned to the change that modern society was bringing. Western clothes and technology were more relevant that learning jujitsu from an ever decreasing pool of teachers. And furthermore, it was archaic. It was the equivalent of learning the art of the quick draw from Wyatt Earp in the 21st century. Good for a yarn but quite impractical.

What Kano did was a fundamental paradigm shift. He didn't just learn the old arts as a keepsake. No, he changed their operating structure by applying a sporting mindset to it. He made the mental leap and understood that Jujitsu as practiced and taught as it was, would gradually die out, even if he himself learnt and practiced it meticulously to to the end. He was just one person trying to stop the tide from coming in.

But how did this look in practice?

(To be continued in part 2)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It's all in the footwork

All martial arts emphasise footwork. For some, it's incredibly prominent and obvious, like the acrobatic leaps of Northern Shaolin or the low stances of certain kinds of Silat. In others, it's more subtle but nonetheless of primary importance. Aikido is not one art that one thinks about when the phrase 'dynamic footwork' is mentioned. They look like they hardly move, and even when they do, it looks more like a slight turn of the feet.

However, it is said that footwork is of such significance that it forms the main reason for the wearing of the 'hakama', which is intended to disguise the movements of the feet from the opponent. This is even more surprising given that there are no kicks in Aikido so one's opponent is not likely to be even looking at that area of the body

The detail is in the subtletly. The ancient masters knew that without the methodology of learning how to move, walk or balance; the fight might be over, and consequently, probably their lives. It was all in the footwork. Once mastered, it meant that you could move out of the way of an attack rather than block it, which was more inefficient. Also, it enabled you to deliver a counter attack. Learning how to balance also protected you from being swept, or thrown to the ground; all of which were fight enders in those (and also these) days. No one wanted to get swept and be at the mercy of an enemy who was not only standing, but who had a sword or knife as well.

It is why much time is spent learning how to maintain one's balance in Judo. It is interesting that in old Judo schools, the first techniques they leart are ashi-waza's, or foot sweep techniques. Modern schools teach the big throws first because techniques these score at competitions. However, this is done often at the expense of a reality outside the sporting arena, which means that that huge drop seio which scores and Ippon is likely to get your knew busted in the streets and have your assailant behind ready to brain you.

Learning how to keep your balance first, and then working on unbalancing your opponent while doing so gives you a huge tactical advantage in the street. It also works on the mats in a sporting context but the impact is less rewarding in terms of a point scoring system. Personally, I would prefer the old approach. Judo is more than winning medals. And these will cease anyway as you get older.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A good man on the mats, a better man off the mats

When I was came back after a long hiatus due to a severe injury, one of the few people I trusted training with was my friend Rizan. There was no hesitation at all. I knew that he would not try and bust me up, either accidentally or purposely. He was the default 'good guy' on the mats. Everyone wants to roll, drill or train with him because it's a very positive experience. Every good Jit's gym should strive to have as many of him as possible. They are more valuable than diamonds. Let me explain why

Every person that comes into a Jits class is a rough, uncut, unpolished rock. Some prove to be diamonds and some, well..remain rocks. The latter you stay away from. You know the type. They are excessively rough, do not take care of their training partners, have negative attitudes and are generally a stumbling block to the whole class. Unfortunately, most classes have at least one rock.

The diamonds know that they are being polished and cut, and they accept it. They understand that the process of Jits is a long, character building one and that it will take patience, understanding and humility. In the journey, they are more than willing to assist others; even if it is at the expense of his time and effort. It's a great thing to watch and experience.

Rizan is one such person. That fantastic attitude that he displays on the mat is reflected off it as well; hence the title of the post. There are some fantastic BJJers who would roll you into a pretzel in three seconds but you would not even want to spend three seconds with them outside the gym. And there are others who you would like to spend a hour rolling with, and two hours at the mamak drinking teh tarik with because you enjoy their company

He is one of those people. If you come to KDT, look for him - a good man on the mats, and an even better one off it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What's open mats for?

Some gyms have open mats, usually on a weekends, and the people who go to these gyms are considered to be quite fortunate. This is because this affords the opportunity for people to train with much fewer restrictions than the weekly classes and try out new things that they learnt. Tragically, however, a lot of people waste this chance either by opting to do something else or wasting that time doing the wrong thing

What is this wrong thing? Well, usually, this means just getting on the mats and rolling or sparring with no aim other than to beat their opponent. In other words, it's an exercise in ego boosting rather than skill building. And the hours given for open mats is a great way of working on something you didn't have the time to hone during class, preferably with a good training partner who is trying to help you as well.

While beating your "opponent" or tapping him out may feel good, you can be rest assured that he is not likely to help you next time you really need help. But hey, if you don't require assistance - then be my guest but I can imagine you'll be one unpopular hombre at the gym.

Open mats is for growth, in my opinion. And this growth is..and this part is vitally growth. It's not how much I can get for myself in these two hours, but how much I can help my training partner improve and how much he can do for me in this time. This is thus less about a clash of egos than looking out for each other in a nobler way. Another important aspect of open mats is balance out the work/play ratio. It should be fun, but not to the extent that you're sitting, gabbing away on the sidelines after one 2 minute roll. Yes, I've done this before...

One has to train seriously, and intent but with a sense of play. The person I am competing with is myself, no one else. If it's a fight you want, take it to the streets or the Octagon; but not to the open mats where the word is "open"; welcoming you in a friendly, mutually beneficial manner.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Self Defence in 5 minutes

The answer to that is easy: Lock your door and never leave the house

Sometimes, this is the flippant and I have to admit, uncharitable response I give to those who ask me this question. But at times, I think I'm justified. No one would ever dream of asking Tiger Woods how to be No.1 in the golfing world in 5 minutes. Nor would they even ask their club pro how to play 18 holes in 5 minutes if they were a beginner. They know they would have to spend hours at the driving range even before they get to tee off on the first hole.

In the old days, when self defence was literally self-preservation, the role of martial arts was non-negotiable..unless you wanted to die. So, as soon as you could stand, you learnt how to fight. Notice I didn't say, learn how to defend yourself. The best defence was an offensive slash, stab, kick, punch or whatever. If someone came after you with intent, it's likely that you weren't going to get a second chance to sign up for a short term course at the "Y" after that. It had to work there and then

Fast forward to the civil (or so we think, 21st century). In the age of Blackberry's and designer wear for kids, it's inconceivable that something as primitive as physical violence occurs. But it does, and you know it. From the irate person who cuts you off in the street, to the guy you accidentally bumped in that posh shopping center, we are all to aware that beneath the 100% cotton t-shirt and tertiary education, it could, in the parlance of the street..kick off at any time.

Hence, the question. And the answer to it is that there is no easy answer. Don't fall for the line which tells you what to do in 3 steps. That's what the marketing guys know you want to hear. They know that you don't want to listen to me say that it's complex, a long process, involving both the physical, mental and spiritual. No, you just want to to learn a few secret moves that will take care of every situation. And you want it fast.

I can't do that. But what I can do is recommend a good locksmith who can sell you a damn good deadbolt in 5 minutes..