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..

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Up you game!

There is a type of martial artist out there who will say that all they hope to do is do a little bit, not take what they do so seriously, and when they reach a certain level, be satisfied. In other words, they see the martial arts as something no more than an occasional hit of badminton, or a few minutes of table tennis. A time filler, a nice hobby and a bit of exercise

Well, sure..that's possible. May I recommend a Tae Bo DVD for you to watch at home so your little fantasy world isn't challenged? Because that's the only arena in which all your presumptions are going to be fulfilled

Martial sports like MMA, Jits etc are more like tennis than table tennis. I can pick up a paddle in ping pong and within a few minutes, get the ball over the net with an ugly push shot and my partner can do the same. The learning curve is fast. Tennis on the other hand is different. If you never played it before, it can be immensely frustrating and unforgiving. Just getting a ball over the net is hard, and anything more than a three shot level takes a certain modicum of skill, training and hard work

In other words, you need to commit a lot more than the bare minimum. And martial sports are the same. You always need to 'up your game' otherwise you're not going to see that progress you were looking for, and you won't be able to come close to pulling off those fantastic techniques you saw people like Marcello Garcia do. Because the moment you think you want to stop at being able to hit three shots in a row over the net, your opponent hits four; and you will start losing, and tennis won't be fun anymore. Trust me.

This doesn't mean that you have to be some crazy, obsessed martial arts junkie that lives in a dojo 24-7 (But if you want to, hey, that's your life). It does engender the awareness that it's difficult to set the bar so low that it's ridiculously easy to achieve your goals

My goal in BJJ was to get a blue belt. I thought that was the equivalent of swimming the English channel. Now, I'm gunning for purple, and that is beginning to feel like trying to swim the Atlantic ocean! I once said that I would end my time in Judo at Brown. Black was impossible. Too difficult, too painful etc. Now I'm just working on hanging with the other Blacks and trying to move up the totem pole.

This is not the equivalent of the unhealthy beggar my neighbour manipulation and political skull duggery that you might see in, say, the corporate office. This is healthy co-operative competition. You want to get better, and you want your opponent to get better because then both of you can work for greater heights. And in doing so, new vistas in training and experience open up to you. Everybody wins. Nobody loses.

And finally, now you're actually playing tennis as it was meant to

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Crossing the Rubicon

What I am about to post soon almost contradicts what was written in my last post. I previously railed against the training-more-training mentality and argued for a saner schedule. But what did I do today? I trained literally in the morning, afternoon and night.

Yes, my faithful less than a handful of readers out there, I spent the morning in Brickfields doing Judo, then boxing and BJJ in the afternoon. To cap it off, five very hard randori sessions in the evening. I literally lived martial arts today. It was insane, something probably never to be repeated normally, but it was fantastic.

Why? Because every now and then, you have to cross the Rubicon of your training. The body, mind and spirit imposes limits way before it crosses the line. I think it's partly a survival mechanism, but recently, I think it's a product of environment. We seek comfort on our own terms. Thus, we apply the same to workouts similarly - it's got to be 'hard' but we define it as such and we reserve to right to walk away from it if it is too hard

But in real life, sometimes you can't walk away from whatever annoys, pisses you off or is trying to hurt you. It probably means that the only option is to stand and face it head on. This is what the martial arts is all about. It cares less about your self esteem than tearing it down and making you see that you are a whinging, soft, out of shape marshmallow who can't walk the talk. Yes, it's painful. But it does that

Today, I had a crummy session in the morning but the patience of my Judo sensei was almost Nelson Mandela like. He knew that I sucked, but he tried to make me suck less, even though I did at the end. I wanted to leave early, but I didn't and vowed that the best thing for me to do was to bugger this rest of the day and forget open mats; sleep in and feel sorry for myself

A few hours later, I was sparring with some pretty handy boxers at KDTA. You can't think about what a crappy day you have when something is jabbing at your head with GPS like precision. All you can do is react. This went on for couple of hours, by then I was physically and mentally spent. All I could think off was a hot, relaxing bath and a good meal. In the end,I found myself wearing my morning-soaked judogi eating a yoghurt to carbo load for one session of hard Judo randori

Or make that five. Everytime I slammed into the mat, the impulse was to stay down, or get up, sulk and make an excuse to leave. My timing was off, I was beat, and I was sucking more than what I was in the morning. But then suddenly, I started making some throws. Big ones. Not all the time, I was still the group whipping boy..but slowly was all coming together.

I had crossed the Rubicon.

At the end, I nearly passed out on the floor and the sound of me dry retching definitely was not my finest moment. But I didn't cop out. I stood face to face with the Bear, and God willing, I'll do it again.

You don't cross it once. It's got to be done again and again, until someday, you cross it for the last time. But that's another story

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Silly Season

Currently, I am on holiday at the moment. No, given how porous information is on the internet, I am not going to say where, but suffice to say; it's about as far away from the mats as possible.

But with social networking these days, it's almost impossible not to stay connected even though I may be miles away from everything, and through Facebook updates or Tweets; one is reminded of how much training one is missing out on. This was definitely the case in previous years. If I missed just one training session, there was an implied sense that your 'game' would slip and that things would slide downhill etc, etc.

I am glad to say that I have finally moved away from that silly nonsense in 2010. In other words, I can enforce a break, and not feel guilty about it. Yes, I will gain weight during a holiday because that's what happens on a holiday. No, I won't be training as the body, mind and spirit needs a break occasionally - no matter how good you feel. More importantly, I need to take an enforced break because no matter how much I like doing Judo, Jits etc - in the big scheme of things..and wait for the's relatively unimportant

We need to challenge the consumerist mindset that says that "more is good". Somewhere along the line, this has been incorporated into the realm of martial sports. More seminars, more training, more sparring. Then you will get 'better'. For what, I might ask?

So that you can spend less time with your family? Or less time at church? So that I can pretend that my problems don't exist by working out like a maniac? As if problems solve themselves by doing one more set of crunches.

The corruption of participating in something healthy like martial sports comes when we use it to escape into a world that is unrealistic and untenable. Bills, problems, issues of life and death do not dissapear miraculously because one has a roll on the mats for a couple of hours. So in one sense, the practice of a healthy sport has become inherently selfish where all you are concerned about is my own self and what I get out of it. Who cares about the outside world?

The Silly season comes when we build our own little world on the mat with training partners who share our view that the world is no more than a 12x12 set of rubber mats. The real world is people dying of malnutrition, disease, wars and neglect out there. And it can benefit from you taking some time out to pray for them, give them money or lend a helping hand. But it will not benefit from you constantly using your God given five senses and perfectly functional limbs in the dojo, kwoon or gym everyday and at all times

Monday, January 11, 2010

What are your goals this year?

I want to wish all my readers of this blog a happy new year. Maybe there are only two of you, but what the heck, I wish you a really blessed New year anyway! :-)

Anyway, I would like to start off the year by asking if you have any goals for the year. You would be surprised at the number of people who look at me blankly when I ask them that. Isn't the aim of martial arts just to train? Well, is the aim of driving just to drive? You got to have a direction

Now I'm number 1 or at least 2 for being notoriously shy about setting goals. Maybe it's because I am scared of not achieving them. But guess what, getting older and other priorities means that I can't keep pretending it's business as usual; whatever that means. I don't know how much time I have to be able to train in the short or long term so I have to set some realistic aims

Hopefully, I can get my shodan in Judo this year. And in Jits, I want to be a solid blue belt 3 striper at the end. Now I know some people balk at the setting of belt or rank goals as not being in the 'spirit' of martial arts. May I contend that it is.

To get to whatever higher rank compared to where you are at the moment - you have to improve. Yes, that means hard work and sacrifice. Like it or not. And so the setting of wanting to achieve higher ranks is an acknowledgement that life is not going to be so easy anymore and one that is to be encouraged