SSK Karate

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Friday, 27 September 2013 11:47

Gashaku 2013 - the report!

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The sun truly shines on the SSK! Nobody dared to hope that we would have a repeat of last year’s beautiful weather – no one can be that lucky 2 years running, well not in England. However, despite a dismal forecast for the weekend it turned out to be every bit as sunny as last year. The rain stopped on Friday evening just as people were arriving and we barely saw another cloud in the sky all weekend. I expect the campers breathed a sigh of relief over that!

Friday evening kicked off with Hazel’s famous curry in the marquee. However, this was not without its problems as the cooker was not working properly – the hob was on a go-slow and the oven went on strike completely. But Hazel is not easily fazed by such setbacks and with a team effort the Indian snacks were cooked in the oven of one bunkhouse and the naan breads micro waved in the other. The meal finally came together to feed the gathering hungry masses at 9.00pm. And it was well worth the wait!

We awoke Saturday morning to clear blue skies and warm sunshine. Breakfast was an informal affair in the bunkhouse kitchens – basically that meant get it yourself! At 9.30am we amassed outside the marquee in our gi’s ready for the first training session.

This started with the now familiar run to get the blood pumping. I don’t know if the instructors were a little hung-over or something because they only asked us to do one lap of the circuit – perhaps the thought of watching us go round twice was a little exhausting? (Just kidding!)

We then grabbed our nunchukus for a session of kobudo with Steve Hegarty (he’s been to Okinawa you know – twice!). We spent the next hour twisting and twirling our nunchuku around attempting to follow Sensei as he took us through a kata. It was such a nice feeling being able to do this in the open air on the grass. Goodness knows what other campers thought of us as we twirled our sticks on chains around dressed in white pyjamas!

After a drink we then moved onto learning a bo kata. Those without a bo went with Steve Nelson to learn the zillion bunkai he knows from the kata Shihozuki. What? You didn’t think there was much to learn from that kata? Think again – you could train an army in un-armed combat from what Sensei can teach you from a simple ‘block and punch’ kata!

Meanwhile we bojutsukas were trying not to knock each other out with our 6 ft bo staffs. Sensei patiently took us through two bo kata and taught us some bunkai as well. Everyone finished with their bo intact – oh, except sensei who inexplicably decided to turn his bo into a jo by hitting the ground! Any excuse sensei to buy yourself that new bamboo bo that you’ve been after ;)

It was now time for lunch in the marquee, beautifully prepared by Hazel and her army of parent helpers.

Saturday afternoon was activity time! We all split off into our various groups to do a range of activities – raft building, kayaking, archery, climbing/abseiling and water boarding – or should that be body boarding – no, it definitely looked like torture! Several people opted for the chill out activity – you know, feet up with a good book.

Late afternoon it was time for our second training session, this time it was all about sparring. Led by Sarah, we started with some sparring techniques against the pads. This was followed by free-sparring with a variety of partners and then ended with having to pull out the white tag from each other’s belts. It all got a bit competitive at this stage and some of us ended up grappling on the ground to get the tag from our opponent (sorry about that Chris!).

Saturday evening was BBQ time! We weren’t dependent on the cookers this time since we created our own blazing furnaces to cook the food on! This was a chance to unwind under the stars on a barmy summer's evening and socialise together, imbibing much needed alcoholic refreshment. The children had the freedom to run around and play together and remained fascinated for most of the evening with keeping the fires alive, which we were using to keep warm after dark.

On Sunday we rose to yet another glorious morning! After breakfast we went down to the marquee to start our morning run. This time we had to do 2 laps except I have a sneaky feeling that many people only did one (you know who you are!).

Steve Nelson then led a session on kata, basically everyone worked on their own grading kata – except the kata squad who went off to practice for their forthcoming European competition – good luck to you all!

Finally it was time to de-camp and we all went off to pack and clean and tidy the bunkhouses. We then met in the marquee for the final speeches and awards. Steve Nelson was awarded his 6th dan – congratulations!

Mike Sheffield (not from Sheffield) received 2 awards – one for gaining his instructors certificate and the other for being the most entertaining person at the gashaku, well I think that’s what it was for (I was laughing!).

This motley crew got the award for best helpers at gashaku 

 

What? Your wives don’t believe you? Here’s the evidence….

Finally Matt Knight, father of student Luke Knight (sorry Luke but dad’s can be embarrassing) received the Wooden Spoon award for being unable to pronounce the word gashaku correctly, though he swears that he’s the one saying it right!

Now there was just time to eat our packed lunches (lovingly prepared by Hazel’s Army Inc.) before setting off into the afternoon sun……

The Gashaku would not be possible without the tireless efforts of both Steve Hegarty (for organising it and persuading us all to go) and his partner Hazel Wilkinson (for planning, shopping and preparing/cooking all the food for about 70 people). So a big thank you to you both for enabling us to have such a great weekend.

Steve and Hazel getting a thank you gift from Sarah

Until next year!

 

 

Sunday, 28 April 2013 17:30

The importance of reishiki

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In general terms reishiki refers to the demonstration of good etiquette or ‘correct behaviours’ in a traditional martial art dojo or club. This can be anything from knowing the correct way to enter or leave the training area, how to address your sensei, knowing where and how to stand in line, to showing good manners and respect to your fellow students. Each club will have its own variation on reishiki but at the heart of all reishiki is the concept of respect (for your club, for your sensei and for each other).

In more specific terms reishiki refers to the opening and closing ceremonies that most traditional martial art clubs observe and this is the definition of reishiki that I want to discuss in this post. The word reishiki is made up of rei (bow or respect) and shiki (ceremony) and is all about setting the right tone for the class and preparing the students mentally for the training ahead. I have been involved in seminars or classes where reishiki has consisted of nothing more than a quick standing bow to sensei at the beginning and ending of class to a rather elaborate and prolonged standing , walking, kneeling, presenting the sword, bowing, more standing, walking backwards, more kneeling, bowing, standing etc. etc .etc - like a rather complicated and precisely executed kata. I had the feeling my head would be cut off if I got it wrong!

These, of course, are two extremes of the bowing ceremony.  A ceremony that is too short does not adequately prepare the students mentally for the training to come. One that is too complicated is just unnecessary and time consuming (in my opinion).

So, what should a reishiki ceremony help the student to achieve?

When we enter a dojo or training hall we are entering a world that is different to the one outside. Our roles and responsibilities inside the dojo are often very different to the ones we have outside. You may be very senior in your career and be in charge of many staff but in the dojo you may be the new white belt. On the other hand you may be an unskilled manual worker outside but a senior black belt inside the dojo. It is important to be able to leave your external roles and responsibilities outside the dojo and assume your ‘internal’ ones. A reishiki ceremony is one way of helping you to make this separation of external and internal roles. The wearing of a gi is another.

Participating in a martial art requires us to learn about and practice violence towards other human beings. Though the mindset of the martial artist should be purely about defending oneself, the techniques often needed to do that are inherently dangerous and violent. It is imperative that training is done is a controlled and mutually respectful environment that is free from ego and machismo. Reishiki helps to create this respectful environment.

When practising a martial art we are benefiting from the skill and teachings of our martial arts forebears, people who devoted most of their time to developing and perfecting techniques and encoding them in ways that we can remember today. Reishiki is a way in which we remember and honour the founders of our system and also honour the sensei that teaches us that system today.

How does reishiki achieve these things?

A typical reishiki ceremony:

Sensei gives the following commands:

  1. Seiretsu. The students are called to line up in grade order. This is the time when you have to address your position in the dojo and let go of external roles which become unimportant in this context.
  2. Seiza.  The students sit in a formal kneeling position. In some clubs the students may be sitting opposite the shomen or shinzen (shrine). In clubs that meet in a school gym or other temporary ‘dojo’ the students may face a symbolic shomen i.e. face a direction that sensei points to. Other clubs may miss this stage out altogether and just face sensei.
  3. Mokuso. The students close their eyes and observe a few moments of meditation. The idea of this is to let the students clear their minds of distracting (outside) thoughts and prepare for the training ahead. 
  4. Mokuso yame. The students stop meditating and open their eyes.

 The senior student (or a student chosen by sensei) will then give the commands:

          a.   Shomen ni rei. The students bow to the shomen in order to remember and show respect to their founder.  In clubs where there is no longer any connection or communication with their Japanese origins this step may be omitted altogether.

          b.  Sensei ni rei.  The students bow to sensei to show their respect to him/her and show that they are ready to listen and learn.

          c.   Otaga ni rei. The students and sensei bow to each other in a mutual display of respect and courtesy. Remember, in martial arts bowing is about showing respect not subservience.

At this point the students may say words such as onegaishimasu or osu (note that osu is a contraction of the word onegaishimasu). This basically means "please let me train with you." It's an entreaty often used in asking the other person to teach you, and that you are ready to accept the other person's teaching.

 Sensei then gives the following commands:

     5.   Kiritsu. The students stand up with feet together and arms by their side.

     6.   Rei. The students perform a small standing bow to end the ceremony.

The whole ceremony is then repeated at the end of the lesson with the gesture Arigatou gazaimashita which means thank you.

Though each class begins and ends with reishiki it must be remembered that good manners, courtesy and respect must permeate throughout the class. This keeps the class civilised, controlled and safe at all times and keeps big egos in check.

Do you have any particular reishiki rules or behaviours to share?

Friday, 01 March 2013 13:36

One body, two minds.

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 We often talk about the practice of budo but what exactly is budo and what is its purpose? My current understanding of budo is this:

At the heart of budo is the premise that the biggest battle we face in our lives is not with the enemy outside but that which resides within ourselves – the ego. Through hard physical training we come to know our true selves and become more able to defeat the ego. The reduction or control of ego is essential to allow our true selves to be nurtured and developed. This developing of the true self allows us to reach our full potential in our daily lives: at work, home, relationships, friendships and other activities we are involved in.

Ego is an interesting concept; it has several definitions related to the human psyche and I think that only one of them is relevant to the subject of budo. Ego is defined as:  The self, especially as distinct from the world and other selves. Clearly budo is not about trying to lose one’s sense of self. Ego is also defined as: an appropriate pride in oneself; self-esteem. We can all agree that self-esteem is important to our sense of self-worth and happiness and an appropriate level of pride in oneself keeps us clean and sociable, provides a desire to keep healthy and gives us motivation to do things well. So budo is not about ridding ourselves of this type of ego either. Thus it must be about the third definition: An exaggerated sense of self-importance; conceit.

So, some ego is necessary for normal human functioning and good mental and physical health but a surfeit of ego tips over into self-importance, conceit and perhaps an unwarranted sense of entitlement – this is what the budo practitioner is trying to rid themselves of.  But why? What’s wrong with egotism? We need to answer this question because if you don’t see a problem with excess pride, vanity or an exaggerated sense of self-worth or entitlement then you’re not ready to take on the challenges of budo.

Excess ego damages both yourself and others. It damages others because ego is inherently selfish; the egotist puts his/her needs before others. The need to acquire wealth and status may be overwhelming and the egotist may become ready to lie, cheat or just display shear ruthlessness to get what they want (or think they deserve) in life. The egotist may neglect family and relationships in pursuit of personal goals leaving a trail of unhappiness behind him/her.  The egotist may also think nothing wrong with acquiring a surfeit of the world’s resources (property, money, land etc) without concern for how this may affect other people. In essence the egotist’s sense of entitlement can impact negatively on other people.

Ego is also damaging to the self because it limits the opportunity for real self-development – development of the true self. Ego lets the true self hide behind bluster and boasting; it stops you from learning new things because you already think you know them; it makes you compete with people in environments where you should be cooperating (e.g. work colleagues or even with your neighbours – got to have a better car on the drive than they do?) While your ego is busy controlling your behaviour your true self is just languishing in the background, unloved and un-nurtured.

How do we tell the difference between what is ego and what is truly us? Well, one tell-tale sign is the way we focus on tasks. Ego tends to be driven by outcomes – reaching the goal is more important than how we get there. You got the big car, big house, pots of money, pile of trophies or whatever it is you wanted and you didn’t really care what you had to do, or who you hurt to get it – that’s ego.

On the other hand the true self is driven by process – the need to do a good job regardless of reward. You do your job to the best of your ability because that is what you expect of yourself and that is what you contracted to do with your employer – seeing your company thrive or your clients happy with your service is its own reward. Working hard at your relationships – each partner giving selflessly to the other (and therefore each partner also receiving) builds a strong, happy environment in which both partners can thrive. Training hard in the dojo for the pleasure and challenge of getting better and better, revealing the courage, persistence, determination and focus needed to improve will lead to its own intrinsic rewards.

If you focus on the process the outcomes will reach themselves but more importantly your true self will have developed as you strive to learn the skills needed to do your job well, showed compassion, trust and integrity in your relationships and revealed the positive aspects of your character through hard physical training.

Does this mean that every man or woman who has a fast car, big house, well paid job or lots of trophies is an egotist? Of course not, many altruistic people who have worked hard to develop themselves and do an excellent job, showed honesty and integrity in all they do have been rewarded with good salaries that can buy some of the luxuries of life. Many of these people give back to society through philanthropic acts of generosity. For these people the process of how they lived and developed themselves was more important than achieving outcomes – the outcomes just followed.

Budo teaches you to focus on the process of training rather than the outcomes. Your ego wants the outcome (black belt, trophy, fame, recognition, money); your true-self wants simply to be the best it can in your chosen martial art and in every aspect of your life.  If positive outcomes follow then great but your true-self should not desire the outcome at any cost!

There isn’t room in your body for both the inflated ego and your true self – one of them has to go. Which will you choose?

 

Monday, 11 February 2013 12:23

Sport kumite - what does it teach you?

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Sport kumite is a modern 20th century Japanese addition to the original Okinawan karate. For those that choose to follow a very classical budo Way of karate the sport version represents anathema to them; to others the sport version is karate. After all why learn all those techniques if you have no arena to test them in?
 
For me personally I tend to swing hot and cold with sport kumite as I have no interest in competing and let's face it - I'm getting on a bit so it's hard to keep up with the younger ones!  However, sport kumite is a part of our syllabus and I think there are some benefits to be gained from doing it whether or not you are interested in competition.
 
First, the problems with sport kumite:
 
1.       It can teach a ‘fighting’ mindset rather than a ‘self-defence’ mindset. Fighting requires two people to consent to the ‘fight’. Both are trying to ‘win’ the bout by attacking the other person. Self-defence requires a mindset that wants to avoid fighting and does only what is necessary to avoid, prevent, de-escalate, control or escape a violent situation.
 
2.       It can cause confusion to the student if both classical and sport kumite are being taught side by side. I found this very confusing when I was in the junior kyu grades.  Until I understood that two different types of karate were being taught I didn’t understand why in one part of the lesson I needed to keep my feet planted firmly on the floor and punch from the hip and then later on I had to be up on my toes moving around and punching quickly without pulling back to the hip first!  I cope with it now by completely compartmentalising these two different versions of karate as if they were two different arts.
 
3.       It does not provide an arena for testing out skills and techniques (other than sport karate skills and techniques).  It bears no resemblance to how an encounter in real life may pan out, mainly because of the rules designed to maintain the safety of the competitors which means that most of the effective techniques are taken out.
 
However, though I don’t feel that sport karate bears any resemblance to a real situation and has many negative aspects that doesn’t mean that there is nothing positive and useful to be learnt from it either. I’m always the optimist and generally look for positive things to take away from any aspect of my training.
 
The benefits of sport kumite are:
 
1.       For many people facing an opponent in a sparring bout is the first time they’ve ever been in a ‘fight’ and had to find their courage to defend themselves. Not everyone who does martial arts has a history of getting into street fights or bar brawls as a youth or has worked as a bouncer or in the security sector. Sport kumite is as close as they’ve ever been to a real fight. It can take some people a while to find their courage to spar effectively with an opponent. Finding this courage is essential if you are to have the confidence to defend yourself in a real situation one day.
 
2.       In sport kumite, despite the relatively safe environment and limited number of techniques in use, the fight is still unpredictable and has a random element to it. This teaches you to be very aware and focused for the whole of the fight. It teaches you to react quickly and anticipate your opponent’s next move. It teaches you to look for opportunities to strike and to recognise telegraphing by your opponent and capitalise on it. You have to keep your mind empty of extraneous distracting thoughts, stay in the moment and control your aggression so that you don’t lose control of the fight.
 
3.       Sport kumite also teaches you to take a punch. Even in the light weight version of kumite that we do a punch can land a bit harder than intended and wind you or land on your nose which is very painful. A kick can catch you in the ribs. When this happens you have to learn to carry on despite the pain. This comes as a shock to newcomers whose instinct is often to stop once they are hurt or stop if they have hurt their opponent. However, unless the injury is quite serious the referee won’t stop the fight so you have to learn to just carry on. You can’t afford to just stop defending yourself in a real fight when you feel pain – your attacker will just carry on.
 
In conclusion:
 
I think that when one is engaged in sport kumite it is important to recognise it for what it is – sport. A real violent encounter in the real world will not resemble a sparring round in the arena and so sport kumite cannot entirely prepare you for this event (neither can any other form of martial sport e.g. boxing, wrestling, MMA etc.). However kumite does teach some skills that are essential to good self-defence – good speed and reaction times, anticipation, focus, defending your head, carrying on after being hit etc. In fact one could question how these skills could be learnt without the random element that kumite provides. 
 
Never the less, sport kumite is an incomplete package, it leaves out the techniques that are essential to controlling and/or restraining an attacker – slaps, eye rakes, vital point strikes, locks, throws, joint breaks etc. It also focuses your attention on violence and attacking rather than avoidance and escape which would be the self-defence strategies of choice. 
 
Though sport kumite offers something useful to the martial artist it is important to be mindful of its limitations as well. What do you think about sport kumite in karate? Feel free to leave a comment or e-mail your comments to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Tuesday, 15 January 2013 10:38

Some thoughts on stances

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I’ve been thinking a lot about stances recently. I like to see good stances: correct feet positioning, strong bend of the correct knee (or knees), correct weight distribution, good back posture, head held up looking forward etc. Good stances look strong and stable.

Beginners find stances difficult to master; they generally lean too much with their upper torso, don’t bend their knees enough, have their feet in a line, have incorrect weight distribution or look down at the floor. I’ve been there; it’s hard to get it right or for it to feel natural. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to get stances right and even longer to get the transitions from stance to stance smooth and quick.

A lot of people would argue that stances are for beginners or that they slow you down or are just too unnatural to be useful in real self-defence situations. I would beg to differ.

Stances are an essential part of achieving economy of movement when doing self-defence. Economy of movement is essential if you are to move swiftly around your opponent, getting yourself into advantageous positions to apply a technique, unbalance them or evade a strike. Good footwork is essential to achieving this; if you teeter around your opponent with lots of small steps, getting your legs crossed and generally wrong footing yourself you are likely to come a cropper.

Good use of stances helps you to:

…Shift your weight smoothly and quickly from one leg to the other as required

…Maintain your own balance and stability by keeping your centre of gravity low but your posture upright

…Unbalance your opponent either by directly using the stance to destabilise a balance point e.g. placing your knee directly behind theirs using a zenkutsu dachi (forward stance) or shiko dachi (sumo or horse stance) or more indirectly by using weight transference e.g. grabbing them and stepping back into a kokutsu dachi (back stance) or neko ashi dachi (cat stance).

…Quickly put yourself in the most advantageous and stable position to execute a restraint, takedown or throw.

…Move out of the way quickly and effortlessly if required.

Karate pays a lot of attention to stances. Most karateka will have spent many hours of their training going up and down the dojo in shiko dachi or neko ashi dashi with sensei picking up on the smallest postural transgression –“bend your knee more”, “stick your bottom in”, “turn your back foot in more”, “turn your back foot out more”, “put your weight back more”, “put your weight forward more”…….

It can all seem so picky sometimes and people will question the wisdom of needing to be so precise with your footwork and postures. After all, if you are attacked would it matter if you weren’t in the perfect cat stance?

Well, yes it would matter if cat stance was integral to the technique you were trying to execute on your assailant. If your technique depended on you suddenly shifting your weight backwards, pulling your opponent off balance whilst allowing your front foot to follow through quickly with a swift snap kick and then be able to spring forward off the back leg to land a punch; then being able to instantly get into a perfect cat stance may be crucial. Failure to achieve it may leave you unable to pull your opponent off balance and with too much weight on your front leg you won’t be able to kick effectively either and if your back leg is too straight you may not be able to spring forward for that punch – that could all lead to disaster!  

Stances are more than just good footwork, they involve the whole body. Good upright posture is crucial to a good stance. Without good posture you cannot engage the core muscles properly and without the core muscles engaged you cannot get any power in your strikes. Also, with poor, bent over posture you are liable to lose your own balance and be easily pulled over by your opponent.

Stances aren’t always an integral part of a technique; sometimes the situation may require you to be lighter and quicker on your feet. Evasion may be more important than getting a technique on your opponent. The art of tai sabaki (body movement) is an exercise in good stance work, except this time the stances are higher and lighter allowing quicker movements. Tai sabaki still involves attention to posture, feet positioning, weight transference and good transitioning so it is still stance work even if you don’t choose to call it that.

I really feel that we neglect stance training at our peril. Without good stances our techniques will be weak and our movements clumsy. When you watch a senior black belt in action the thing that really stands out more than anything else is the way they move – it is precise and effortless. This is because of their use of stances; they always put their feet in exactly the right place with their weight distributed correctly and their posture upright and it all flows so smoothly and naturally.

So if your own stances are poor and your movements clumsy get back to some formal stance training – up and down the dojo until your thighs ache; you’re actually doing yourself a big favour….

Friday, 04 January 2013 11:56

Latest Dan grading results

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Blog post by Sue Wharton..


Congratulations to all those students who successfully passed their dan grading in December.

The successful students were:

 

Sensei Steve Hegarty: Awarded Shodan - Iona Blundell, Sean Stanley, James Seamer, Joey Humphreys, Poppy Clarke

Sensei Phil Jones: Awarded Shodan - Ellie Bickerstaffe, Rebecca Hamilton, Bradd Parfitt

Sensei Dave Moon: Awarded Shodan - Louise Topham, Colin Williamson

Sensei Steve Nelson: Awarded Nidan - David King, Martin Wong.

 

Monday, 27 February 2012 12:26

Karate books - for kids!

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We’ve had a couple of kids in our club (or rather their parents) ask if there were any suitable books that they could read about karate. We were a little stumped at first because we hadn’t really considered that children might actually want to read about karate as well as practice it. We know plenty of good books for adults but not for kids…

Anyway I decided to set about researching what books were available for children of different ages to see what I could come up with. I was amazed – there are actually a lot of books written especially for children on all matters related to the martial arts from story books to technical manuals to history and cultural books and books that help kids adopt the correct mindset/attitude for studying karate. Here’s a synopsis of some of those books (all books available from Amazon, just click on title for direct link)

Thursday, 12 July 2012 12:21

Broadening your horizons...

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Do you ever feel a little stuck in a rut with your martial arts? Perhaps feel a little uninspired by it at the moment? Losing enthusiasm? Or perhaps you are the opposite – chomping at the bit to learn more, understand it better, ready to embrace the martial arts in a broader sense?

All the best martial artists have broad minds when it comes to learning more – it’s healthy to look outside the dojo walls from time to time. The martial arts world is a much bigger than you may imagine and all those different types of martial arts overlap, inter-link, influence and inform each other in a myriad of ways. Many will trace their roots to the same source. Karate, kung-fu and taekwondo can all claim a common heritage; so can jujitsu, judo, kendo, aiki-jutsu and aikido. It makes sense to learn from each other – to look for the similarities and differences between the arts.

Friday, 06 July 2012 12:07

The art and science of unbalancing...

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I have become quite fascinated recently about the use of unbalancing principles in karate. It seems to me that it is an art form in itself; something that can and must be studied in isolation as well as in combination with various techniques....

Unbalancing is about disruption and control: Disrupting your opponent’s attack and seizing control of them. There is both art and science in understanding balance and unbalancing methods. It requires a scientific understanding of how the brain and body work together to enable balance combined with a sense of creativity in assessing the many ways in which your opponents balance can be disrupted.

To understand how to unbalance an opponent you first need to understand how we are able to balance in the first place. I wrote a previous post about balance called ‘martial arts – a balancing act’ where I described the three main tenets of good balance as being having a wide base of support, having a low centre of gravity and maintaining the head and spine in a vertical position. In this article I also discussed the importance of the ears, eyes and proprioception in the maintenance of good balance.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012 10:54

Training with injuries....

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Do you train when you are injured? Should you train when you are injured? Of course it depends to some extent on the nature of the injury and whether surgery or other medical intervention is required to correct it....

I had an e-mail from someone who had fairly recently taken up martial arts but had sustained a shoulder injury requiring surgery and her doctor had advised her to stop doing martial arts. She was asking me what I thought and whether I had sustained injuries doing martial arts.

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