Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Impossible is Nothing

Two days ago, I threw someone with Uchimata

Those of you who do Judo will know what throw I'm talking about. To the uninitiated, it's a kind of throw where you come in from the side, throw a leg between your opponent's and lift him up in the air as though he's riding on it. No wonder that the name for a similar throw in wrestling is called the 'flying mare'

It's also one of the most beautiful and spectacular throws in Judo, and also one of the most challenging to pull off properly. It's also a throw suited to bigger guys, not smaller, shorter ones like me. And this is where the story comes in.

All through my judo years till now, every instructor has told me that as someone of diminutive size; I should concentrate on throws better suited to my height and stature. Thus, they taught me ippon seionage ( the classic shoulder throw) till I knew all the variations.

But I wasn't satisfied.

I would dream incessantly of uchimats and it's closely related cousin; harai-goshi. But each time I asked my sensei's to teach it to me properley; they gently suggested that I learn some other throws suited to my stature. So, I continued doing what I was doing until sensei Junji came along. When I asked him to teach me haraigoshi and uchi mata; he didn't brush off the request but went patiently with me and broke down the technique bit by bit.

What was refreshing was that he never once made a comment about the unsuitability of the technique for my height; he just taught it to me. And over the course of a few lessons, I felt sorry for him as my clumsiness in executing the technique must have caused him some physical pain whenever I didn't quite get my throwing leg into his inner thigh. Those of you who have received some badly executed uchi matas will know what I mean :-)

Then, one day, it came. As Matt Thornton would say - it became Alive. It had timing, energy and motion, and I was as shocked as anybody when it happened. My training partner hit the ground and I replayed that throw over and over again in my head

Sensei Junji saw it. But all he said was: "Now, let's work on that some more"

And that is the essence of this post. It's not to crow about me, but to give the biggest props possible to my judo coach, sensei Junji. What he did epitomises what a great coach should be - someone who tells his charge that impossible is nothing. Who makes him believe that it can be done. And makes them work as though the seemingly improbable is just around the corner. After that, they then show you another road and another corner to go through. It's the answer to that perenial question beloved of kids in the back of car on a journey"

" Are we there yet?"

Not yet, not yet, but we'll get there soon, says a real sensei.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Martial arts: It all starts at school

My biggest peeve about martial arts in Malaysia is that it should start when you're young but parents by large just do not do any research into the what's, how's and why they should let little Johnny do martial arts.

Most times, it's because it's part of the school extra-curricular activities and thus, the kids end up doing it because it's something like music lessons or art; another skill to have. But how does it work?

The answer is that this is how it goes; I,the parent, will send my kid to learn martial arts (and I don't care what it is) from a bored instructor who is only interested in cramming as many students he can into his class. I will boost their self esteem by saying how good they are even though they get their arse handed to them in sparring and even if they can't kick above the tibia. Then, because they contributed to my bank balance - I'll give them a black belt to put on their shelf and their resume

Some of you will read this and think I'm banging on TKD. Well, in a way I am as it is the most popular MA in Malaysia and the most common one taught in schools. But I am definitely not knocking the art itself. I took TKD in University for five years. And actuallly used it to defend myself in my last altercation. My instructor worked security and was also a part-time bouncer. His TKD wasn't pretty but it was effective

The point is that I wish parents would do some research into the combat arts. I have gained so much from them that it kills me when someone comes in and has no clue why they are there. Each art has a history, some ethno-related culture and also a contemporary-localised way of being practiced that makes it clear without saying, that not all arts and instructors are the same.

And if you do that, you will do your kid a favour by introducing them to something that they might seriously enjoy. Also, you become a participant in this process, even if you do not participate. Just that little bit of effort will go a long way to changing the perception of martial arts in this country

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Counting the Cost

I haven't updated my blog in a while as I've been overseas. Recently, while I was in Australia, I was supposed to train Jits with a friend but as Murphy would have it, he suffered a really bad injury during training, which required an immediate operation. He's on crutches and will be stuck with a metal plate permanently in his ankle

This should give us pause and food for thought. We sometimes forget that what we do can be a dangerous sport and it will take it's toll on the body. We idolise Bruce Lee for his severe training methods but he passed away in his youth before we saw what time and old age would have done to his body. Those masters of yore like Mas Oyama were beset with athiritis from all the pounding to those joints to "toughen"them up.

Thus, there is a cost to this sport, which for most of us is a hobby. We stand (or roll) as though we are invulnerable until that which we do not dare speak about, the dreaded injury, rears it's ugly head. Then, we count the cost. We have to, there is no other option

The cost of time recuperating, in pain, lost income, the all counts. And you should ask "is it worth it?". It's not a question of cowardice or lack of manly courage but it takes more strength of character to admit that maybe, just maybe, there are certain priorities that should take precedent over your 'hobby' (for that what it is, essentially. No one is pointing a gun to your head to take up the combat sports)

For too long, there's been this macho culture underlying the combat sports which has subverted an essentially useful vehicle for a certain measure of self-development into a truck of self-aggrandasising posturing and preening. Instead of making someone look at themselves in self-reflection; it has caused many to fall into denial and an escapist fantasy.

It takes guts sometimes to say that maybe golf is more my thing now, or table tennis. Or maybe you want to spend more time with the kids. Or your loved one. At the end of the day, your kimono won't love you back. Of course, if you think it will..there are probably websites that will cater for that :-)