Posts Tagged ‘Katherine White’

Baguazhang and Boxing

Written by Katherine. Posted in Black Belt Research Project 2013

BuaguaREPORT 5 – SOFT AND HARD MARTIAL ARTS

Baguazhang and Boxing

 

And so to the final part of this part of my project – looking at 5 hard and 5 soft Martial Arts.  I deliberately saved boxing until last as it is quite controversial in its inclusion and also Baguazhang as I really struggled to find a fifth soft art to look at.  Many that I initially researched were ultimately labelled “hard/soft” and, to be honest, I think most Martial Arts (dare I venture, all) would come into this category on a sliding scale. I really wanted to do Wing Chun but this definitely sat on the fence and so I landed on Baguazhang. As a report I found this entry (on Baguazhang) the hardest – partly because there are many variations or it practised, some of which don’t fit into my labels as nicely as others and also because I genuinely found the research confusing. It is, therefore, a mere scratch on the surface of what is a very complex and deep Martial Art and if it whets your appetite I would encourage you to study it further yourself – I really cannot do it justice here and am no way proficient enough to begin to fully understand it.

 

SOFT MARTIAL ART 5 – BAGUAZHANG

WHAT IS BAGUAZHANG?

 

Baguazhang is one of the three main Chinese Martial Arts (the other two are Tajiquan and Xingyiquan). Historically it can be traced back to its accepted founder Dong Hainchun, back in the early 19th Century. He trained other students who were already students of other fighting systems and he sought to add to and deepened their existing knowledge with his school of fighting. Hainchun had learned from Taosit and Buddhist teachers and it is here that the roots lie.

 

Baguazhang literally means “eight trigram palm” – referring to the trigrams of the Yijing (I Ching), one of the canons of Taoism, to explain the relationship of all natural phenomena, and Baguazhang seeks to be the physical manifestation of the properties. There are differing layouts of the eight trigrams – older and newer but each shows how the elements are linked and also their representation of yin and yang. This is a topic to be researched all on its own but if you are interested this site explains it more – http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/Chinese_Customs/bagua.htm

 

Nowadays there are many different schools of Baguazhang, as students of Dong Hainchuan took their own practises and formed new schools. The main similarities are their use of the palm techniques and the distinctive circle walking technique. Most styles use strikes with the hand (especially with the palm), fist, elbow etc as well as thrown and locks, but with an emphasis on a flowing style and spiralling practises, and body evasion.  Baguazhang, as a martial art, is based on the theory of continuously changing in response to the situation at hand in order to overcome an opponent with skill rather than brute force.

 

BAGUAZHANG AS A SOFT MARTAL ART

 

Baguazhang is quite a difficult Martial Art to categorise as there are so many variations of it – each with their own styles and focuses. Generally, however, it is considered soft because of its emphasis on circular movements and evasive footwork – the Yijing trigram, as seen above, is from “The Book of Change” and it is this ability to change movement and direction and flow around attackers that defines Baguazhang and adapting the body to use energy most efficiently. As with other “soft” Martial Arts, Baguazhang does have hard elements – especially its palm strikes and its use of weapons from small, concealed knives to the large bagua sword. Different styles may place more or less emphasis on certain techniques – throws, grappling, locks, strikes, kicks etc – but they all have the circling, spiralling and palm techniques in common.

The circle walking avoids direct confrontation with an attacker and draws them off balance and off their centre so that they can be overcome with momentum and flow rather than strength. Baguazhang seeks to use an attacker’s aggression and energy against them and does not encourage power-on-power moves as this will disadvantage a smaller fighter.

UNDERLYING PRINCIPLES

Baguazhang was designed to improve the health of the student – both physically and mentally. Because of its foundations in the Taoist trigram, its aim is to harmonise all the elements – especially yin and yang, and to be able to balance the energy flow within. By being in tune with, and listening to, your internal side, your body will flow perfectly, the blood will circulate smoothly and you will experience heightened senses.

Baguazhang is a very internal practise, seeking to harness “neijin” or inner power (ki, qi chi), as well as promote a supple, flexible, adaptable body. It is concerned with the experience of change – coming from the Yi Jing, or “Book of Changes” – right from the atomic level in the makeup of our bodies to the vast planetary systems.  Changes can be made from the smallest level in one’s life right up to universal level.  Baguazhang is based on the 8 symbols, “gua”, that are the building blocks of the universe – heaven, earth, water, fire, thunder, wind, mountain and lake.

Effective practise of Baguazhang requires understanding of the trigrams and their relationship to each other and then be able to translate this externally to use angles and shapes and intuition to overcome an attacker.

As I am struggling to fully understand and explain Bagua I will add a description from a long time practitioner of Chinese internal Martial Arts, Gwilym Panah Williams:

“Bagua is more than a mere martial art, it is a complete system, a scheme: and as such is a repository for many important disciplines of ancient and authentic Chinese culture: the metaphysics, the traditional medicine, and the philosophy and spirituality. It is more than mere actions and movements: its forms and internal practises seek to infuse the practitioner with celestial energy drawn from the eight primordial energies. Their very qi, or life force, is inside Baguazhang!”

POWER GENERATION AND EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUE

As Baguazhang is by far the most “internal” Martial Art that I have looked at, much of its theories of good technique and power generation are concentrated on harnessing QI from inside. I do not pretend to fully understand this but will attempt to give a basic explanation.

Externally, Baguazhang is characterised by continuous flowing movements, with the body constantly changing direction and twisting and turning – the footwork is highly evasive and the body almost snake-like.

There are 3 physical fundamentals to learn in Baguazhang although there are many, many more techniques than just these – but these are what set it art from most other Martial Arts:

Circle Walking: Although there are many variations in styles of Bagua because Dong Hainchuan adapted each training to the style of his students, each variation includes circle walking. It is what is says – literally walking in a circle while executing the upper body techniques and forms.  This trains the legs to generate power but also to have quick footwork for evasion and the control the body.  The student walks round the edge of a circle in low stances, while periodically changing direction.  It is important to keep the body engaged the whole time so that you can then apply the feeling to the rest of your movement. In circle walking you aim to connect the whole boy from the feet right u to the skull and allow the blood and qi energy to flow round.

The body is kept open and upright, breathing is from the dantian (lower abdominals) and the feet are rooted and the legs engaged. It also helps teach control of the body through twisting motions, which improves flexibility but also uses the torque of the body to add power. The circle itself adds a layer of power through the use of centrifugal (which draws a body away from the centre of rotation) and centripetal forces (which keep the body moving along a circular path, towards the centre of the circle).

Here are 2 different Youtube videos of circle walking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RquLh85KaoI

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BbLWxLwO4g

Circle walking is believed to be a Taoist form of meditation – to focus minds and gather energy from around you to heal and energise.

Stepping:  Obviously a key component part of the circle walk is the step. In Baguazhang there are many different steps to be learned but the fundamental one is known as “The Mud Slide Step”, from which all of the steps are spawned. This step is also the root of shin kicks, ankle stamps and many leg sweeps. The step is important as it is used to train balance and stability but also how to thrust power up through the legs and to engage energy flow from the feet upwards.

The feet are always kept close to the ground, and usually flat and parallel so that in the event of an attack both feet can be quickly put in a string position back on the ground. This method of walking also trains the leg muscles to be fully engaged and powerful as they have to lift the entire leg rather than coming up onto the toes.

The foot can be slid forward over the ground which is useful for those who like sweeps or trips or it can be lifted slightly and hovered over the ground in the forward step.

Using the palms: Baguazhang places a great emphasis on the use of the open palm as a weapon rather than a closed fist. There are 8 fundamental positions – each based on one of the signs from the trigram, and each 8 positions can be practised in 8 different easy (based on different animals e.g. the bear or the snake) which leads to a huge variation of applications. The palm has more options than a fist – from sharp fingers of a spear hand to the wide surface of the palm, as well as the sharp blade edge of the palm. Defensively the palm can scoop, lift and grab while the hand is open and relaxed and this relaxation helps speed and momentum rather than a tight closed fist which is more likely to tense up the shoulders. The palm movements and shapes are practised in a form known as “Eight Mother Palms” – but it is done whilst circle walking to engage the legs and feet while using the hands.

The eight animal models – (I won’t list them as they vary in different styles of Bagua) each focus on a  different aspect – for example the lion is Yang – hard, powerful, fierce and derives power from the waist whilst the snake is more coiling and develops the back and arms and is especially suited to using knives.

Internally Bagua, and most other Chinese Martial Arts, include:

Qigong: – this is breath control and visualisation which helps to increase circulation and awareness. It seeks to control breath and movement together to develop qi. It is typically practised with rhythmic breathing and fluid movements while visualising the qi flowing through the body.

Neigong: this is also breathing and meditation with deliberate movement, designed to relax but also to learn to have awareness and control over every aspect of your body, even parts which are usually unconscious. Practitioners believe it will lead to health benefits such as faster healing as well as more flow and flexibility.

Waigong: the external element – balance, agility, strength, posture all come under this heading.

All these elements need to be combined and an appreciation of one will lead to insights in the other areas as all are connected. The aim is to develop QI – which is a combination of mind, breath and body – all need to work in harmony and co-ordination to maximise the power from one’s own life energy.

So – I have not really dwelt on the actual fighting techniques of Baguazhang and in fact, hardly any of the information I researched was about specific techniques but overwhelmingly the importance was placed on the foundations – the circle walking, the palms and the use and harnessing of QI.

http://youtu.be/cSg6fUhXNig – Training and moving

http://youtu.be/E6FyX0ICcxo   – This one demonstrates applications

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6FyX0ICcxo&feature=youtu.be

 

 

BoxingHARD MARTIAL ART 5 – BOXING

WHAT IS BOXING?

 

I decided on boxing as one of my hard martial arts almost straight away but when I researched it on the web there seemed to be a lot of dispute as to whether it counted as a Martial Art at all. In the NO camp is the idea that boxing is merely a sport – you train to fight in competitions where there is a clear winner and loser and the objective is to only win the fight or “beat someone up.” Martial arts practitioners also look at the philosophy behind the art and learn to use their skills for self defence and have to weigh up when and if to use their skills in earnest, and would think about the consequences and any alternative strategies.  Without this element to training it is seen as just a fighting sport.

 

However, the YES camp would classify it as a martial art as it is a recognised fighting system, albeit less ritualized than many Oriental styles. It still follows a specific system and can be very effective in teaching self defence.  Historically, particularly in Western countries, boxing and wrestling were taught as self defence methods. Also, they would argue that boxing is not merely “slugging” that there is a mental skill involved which takes it beyond a purely physical pastime.

 

So – I am choosing to look at boxing as a form of Martial Art, albeit not one that possibly fits the category so obviously.

 

Boxing has been around for thousands of years – originally in African and Egypt before spreading to Europe where the Greeks, notably, picked it up and included it in their Olympic Games in 688 BC. It started as bare knuckle fighting – often a fight to the death – and it was not until the 18th Century that it began to be controlled by rules. It was starting to be the boxing we know today – a stand up fight, with the two participants wearing padded gloves fighting in a ring seeking to punch their opponents’ head and torso only.  Today there are amateur competitions where the emphasis is on points scoring and professional bouts where they are more keen to seek a knockout.

 

BOXING AS A HARD MARTIAL ART

 

The aim of boxing, and the underlying goal, is to punch your opponent into submission or unconsciousness. In amateur matches where points are scored – these go to the most aggressive fighter and the one who can land the most clean techniques. In my mind, this has to be classified as one of the “hardest” Martial Arts as it is uncompromisingly direct and, apart from when in defense, the intention is to hurt and debilitate your opponent.

 

“Boxing is the art of hitting an opponent from the furthest distance away, exposing the least amount of your body while getting into position to punch with maximum leverage and not getting hit.”
Kenny Weldon

UNDERLYING PRINCIPLES

Probably because of the reasons why there is dispute as to whether boxing is a Martial Art, I found it difficult to find a true underlying principle or philosophy. Unlike many of the Oriental – Japanese and Chinese arts – which have roots in religions such as Buddhism or Zen, boxing has not grown out of such foundations. However, this does not mean that boxing students do not try and apply their commitment and dedication to other aspects of their lives.  There has to be commitment to training and improvement, there has to be self discipline in training and also outside in terms of keeping healthy and fit and one is always seeking to move up to the next level of fighting – self improvement.

Two quotes I found try and explain this:

Joyce Carol Oates in her book “On Boxing” – Boxers are there to establish an absolute experience, a public accounting of the outermost limits of their beings; they will know, as few of us can know of ourselves, what physical and psychic power they possess – of how much, or how little, they are capable.

Gordon Mariano, a boxing trainer and Professor of Philosophy – While Aristotle is able to define courage; the study and practice of boxing can enable us to not only comprehend courage, but ‘to have and use’ it. By getting into the ring with our fears, we will be less likely to succumb to trepidation when doing the right thing demands taking a hit. To be sure, there is an important difference between physical and moral courage. After all, the world has seen many a brave monster. The willingness to endure physical risks is not enough to guarantee uprightness; nevertheless, it can contribute in powerful ways, to the development of moral virtue.

POWER GENERATION AND EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUE

In my opinion boxing is “simpler” than many of the other martial arts I have looked at, in that it has a much smaller bank of techniques that are called on.  The boxer’s main arsenal consists of four punches – the jab, the cross, the hook and the uppercut (ring any bells, Kickboxing form fans?).  There are, of course, variations of these (such as the bolo punch or check hook) and also infinite combinations, but the basic toolkit is as outlined above.  Defensively there are more options – slipping the body, ducking, bobbing, parrying and blocking, covering up or clinching, although this is only a shortlived defense and can be penalised in matches.

However – as with other Martial Arts, good technique and power begins at the feet – with the stance. A good stance will give you:

  • Power & Defense
  • Range & Balance
  • Flexibility & Security
  • Stability & Mobility

A Good Basic Stance

It needs to be a compromise of stability for power but also lightness for mobility and should enable you to land a variety of punches from different distances. Basically, feet should be should be width apart with the toe of the front foot roughly in line with the rear heel – this turns your body providing a smaller target ad also allowing you to pivot.

The back heel should be slightly lifted off the floor to maximize mobility and even on the front foot which is more planted the weight should be towards the ball. The knees remain bent to spring for power but also to absorb punches and aid balance. Weight is generally distributed 50/50 to keep an even spread. If the feet are too wide it will mean you have to take larger steps to move and are more likely to be caught out in the middle of a step, when you are weakest.

Moving up the body, it is important to keep the shoulders and arms relaxed with the elbows tucked in and the hands up to provide body cover.

Power in a punch starts from the feet up, and depends on leverage and body rotation, using the twist/torque of the body from the hips especially on cross and hook punches. The body rotation and transfer of power from the rear to the front foot adds impact.

There is also a Physics equation I have found that can help to explain how to maximize power:

Power = speed/velocity x mass – so heavier fighters can still have power even with slower punches, and counter to this, a lighter fighter can increase power by their use of speed.

Having said this, some very successful boxers haven’t been the most powerful. Precision and exact placement of a punch can have devastating effects and secure a knockout, even if not at full power – punches to the chin, temple or liver can be as useful as pure power punches.

There are some building blocks in getting the most power in your punch – the most important of which is good technique.  This means that your punches actually land and cause damage – they are not able to be defended because telegraphing is minimised. Good technique also puts the whole body behind the punch to maximise mass – exploding up from the balls of the feet.

Control behind technique is also essential – that you keep your balance if a hit misses, or if it connects that you have the stability to follow up with another powerful punch. Once control is established, speed can be layered in – which increases power and also reduces the chances of it being blocked or evaded.

 

Once speed and mass have been exploited, what else is there that can add power? The answer is timing, strength and flexibility. Timing can be used to use an opponent’s mass against them – as they move forward as you land your punch then their mass can be added to the equation.  This is a harder trick to master as actual contests tend to be quick and dynamic, rather than drill training, so reading the opponent is essential.

 

Strength, rather than huge muscle mass, is sought by boxers, as they prefer to have a better power to weight ratio and huge muscles counter this. Strength is especially focussed in the calves, quads, abdomen, shoulders, chest, lats, triceps and forearms – delivering a pathway for power to travel through.

 

Flexibility allows a greater range of movement, can maximise leverage and will also contribute to an increase in speed.

 

Finally, breathing on the punch will give that final element of power – holding your breath will slow your body and tire you out, whereas exhaling on the effort will concentrate the move.

 

Defensively it is important to have good technique too – as the aim in boxing is to hit without being hit – the best delivered punch is no use if the other guy gets you first! Footwork and the ability to correctly move the head (with the rest of the body following) are the main skills in avoiding an attack and need to be as honed as delivering a killer blow.

 

Footwork: going away – easiest way of evasion, can tire an opponent by making them chase but can tire you also and puts you out of range to counter

Footwork: going around – more akin to tai sabaki, using angles and pivoting which keeps you in attacking range rather than a step backwards but leaves you vulnerable on the move and uses more energy.

Footwork: going forward – smothering punches with your body or “clinching” by trapping their arms with yours, and is good against taller opponents but is only a temporary strategy.

Blocking/Covering Up – keeps you in range but using your gloves/arms to cover your head and body and you can add to this by using your hips to turn and roll the attack away.  This is effective, particularly against jabs, but does leave you slower to counter and also might result in you being pushed back or even broken through by stringer opponents.

Parrying – deflecting a punch rather than receiving it straight into a block. This is useful against larger attackers and can render them off balance using their own weight and momentum against them. It works best against straight punches and against opponents who throw themselves into a punch.

Rolling – A step up from parrying, this is using the body to deflect attacks. Rolling the shoulders deflects a punch but leaves your hands free to counter

Slipping/Swaying/Fading – This also rotates the body but so that a punch is evaded by turning the head or body to the side.

Ducking/Bobbing/Weaving – other body evasion moves – ducking under a punch, bobbing the head sideways and under a punch then weaving back upright using the legs to lower and raise the body.

Surely the quote that sums up these two, contrary sides of boxing is Muhammed Ali’s famous, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”

A successful boxer must have powerful, accurate punches but also be nimble and light enough on their feet to avoid injury. A perfect combination of power and grace.

 

http://youtu.be/qMWs6rYMvwM   – Knockouts, good examples of the “hard” nature of boxing

 

http://youtu.be/woTLysKIQVM   – Mike Tyson using different evasion techniques

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Soft and Hard Martial Arts – Aikido vs Kendo

Written by Katherine. Posted in Black Belt Research Project 2013

Aikido, BasingstokeREPORT 3 – SOFT AND HARD MARTIAL ARTS

Aikido and Kendo

 

Part 3 of my project is looking at Aikido and Kendo. Both of these are Martial Arts that I had heard of, but really had no knowledge of.  It has been a tough report to finish – there is just so much information available and some of it seems to slightly contrast what other resources say. Every style, of course, has developed many branches over time, so no two Aikido clubs, for example, will teach identical techniques and principles, but I hope I have been able to pick out the main areas and illustrate them – allowing you to find common threads with the other Martial Arts I have reported on so far.

 

SOFT MARTIAL ART 3 – AIKIDO

 

WHAT IS AIKIDO?

 

Aikido is a Japanese Martial Art with roots in jujitsu and was developed by Morihei Ueshiba in the late 1920s, combining his own martial arts training with religious and political beliefs.  Aikido takes the joint locks and throws of jujitsu as well as body movements from sword and spear fighting and adds in Ueshiba’s own ideas.  Aikido can be translated as: AI – “to meet or come together, harmonise”; KI – “soul, mind, spirit” and DO – “the way”, so together can be read as “the path, or way, of harmonizing with the universe” or “the Way of harmonious spirit.”

 

AIKIDO AS A SOFT MARTAL ART

 

Aikido is very similar to judo in its softness – it is a martial Art that does not promote overtly offensive moves but rather how to take control of an attacker with minimal effort.  It uses the same ideas that judo does of blending with an opponent’s movement and redirecting their energy in circular motions which relies more on technique rather than brute strength. Like with Judo, the aim is to break the balance, throw and lock but there is a difference in that there is (usually) no hold on the gi.

 

Ueshiba’s aim was to produce a Martial Art that could be used defensively but also protected the attacker from excess injury – and this is why he incorporated twisting and throwing techniques to subdue rather than maim or kill.  However this does not mean that it cannot be used in a more direct way as nerve, pressure points and locks can also be used to overcome attackers.

UNDERLYING PRINCIPLES

Ueshiba was very influenced by the Omoto (Oomoto-kyo) religion, a derivative of Shinto, which promoted pacifism, world harmony and peace. Because of this he always saw the Aikido should be “an art of peace” and evolved the style to receive an attack and harmlessly redirect it – leaving the ideal resolution of both attacker and defender remaining unharmed.

He sought to extend the idea beyond the Martial Art itself – which is the concept of “Budo”, where a martial art becomes more than just a fighting skill but becomes part of everyday life.  Ueshiba wanted his values to extend beyond teaching techniques and to apply to the wider world – ideas of harmony, love, moral strength and self discipline which would help build a strong and worthy society as a whole. He worked hard to combine his religious, spiritual beliefs with his excellent technical knowledge. Aikido, for Ueshiba, was a complete art for every aspect of life, intended to change the aikido practitioner – to build their self defence skills but also to build character, self confidence, discipline and respect.  This is linked to Jigoro Kano’s (founder of Judo) idea about promoting a spirit of mutual welfare and benefit.  Aggression and fear can be changed into self improvement and awareness of others around us. A calm spirit is to be encouraged, which can remain level in any situation – expressing a spirit of loving protection to all. For this reason there are no competitions in Aikido training, as ego and the idea of being better than another is not part of the philosophy.

POWER GENERATION AND EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUE

(With reference to “Aikido: Principles of Kata and Randori by Nick Lowry, plus other aikido websites)

As we have seen with other Martial Arts, the study and understanding of KI is an important part of achieving effective techniques in Aikido. In my research I found out that the kanji for KI is 氣 which represents a lid covering a full pot of rice and the “nourishing vapours” contained within are the KI.  Other Japanese terms contain the Ki symbol, such as health or shyness. Ki is involved in understanding the timing and rhythm of the attacker, so as to be able to effectively counter it. It is also becoming attuned to your body’s own energy (ki) and being able to maximise efficiency with it by using minimum force.

Different branches of aikido have developed over the years but most of the styles practised have the same basic techniques.  There are 3 ways in which Aikido differs in technique from most other Martial Arts:

  • Its use of avoidance in an attack. Shihan Karl Geis describes it as a “force-avoids-force” art, rather than force-joins-force (judo) or force-meets-force (karate).  The initial response to a threat should be to move from the line of attack and get in a safe position.
  • The use of off-balancing in strikes and locks – the idea of off-balancing stems from judo but its use is widened in aikido.
  • Using “hazumi” (force generated by using the momentum and unified action of the whole body) rather than “ikioi” (physical or muscular strength) which allows successful aikido techniques to be applied regardless of size and strength.

As with judo, efficiency of movement is vital, and it needs to be realistic – as techniques that require superior strength, speed or size are impractical.  Repetition of correct technique was also stressed by Ueshiba as it encourages natural progression.

Aikido techniques apply both to the physical side and also to the mental/conceptual side and both are needed to be efficient and effective.

Physical Principles

Physically, aikido’s posture and movement are based on the notion of centredness. The posture is upright with the centre of gravity based in the “hara” – the lower abdomen. Weight is 50/50 and the body is centred over the hips. The lack of definite stance, “shizen no ri” or “natural body”, is also seen in kendo and it means that any response is possible and there is no pre-planning of movement, it can be entirely spontaneous and unrestricted. Movement begins from this centre and the feet will follow in the direction that the body is shifting. When using the hands in aikido they mostly stay within a “box” defined by the hips and shoulders, allowing the energy to come out from the hara, rather than overextending the arms and relying on shoulder or arm strength alone.  This box also incorporates the body’s centre line, and most attacks are directed against this line to achieve maximum effect with least effort.  When holding the arms within this centred box, aikido often uses the pushing position known as “unbendable arm”, a similar position to how we would push a car. This delivers the force using the shortest distance, in straight line, not curling round and allows a faster and more direct response to an attack.

When pushing or pulling in a throw the same hand and foot are forward – to help with stability and to deliver the most body weight forward. By stepping forward you maximise the range or the attack and can deliver energy anywhere in that step.  The reverse applies for pulling – dropping the centre and stepping back with the same side leg, keeping relaxed and allowing the energy to flow through the body.

Practically, learning breakfalls, “ukemi”, is necessary – both as a protection for if you are thrown but also to help deepen the understanding of what makes an effective attack – feeling the off-balance for yourself and the effectiveness of another’s throw.

Tae sabaki (body evasion) and kusuzhi (balance breaking) are two other practical principles involved in aikido – and also seen used in other Martial Arts.  Unlike karate, for example, that generally meets an attack head-on, or judo, that seeks to join with an attack, aikido teaches to avoid the attack by moving off-line.  Keeping the correct distance from an attacker is vital – let them come too close and it is hard to avoid the attack, or evade too early and the attacker can adjust their moves.

Indeed, this movement is so important to Aikido that their first kata is known as “The Walking Kata” and incorporates the building blocks of all Aikido movements – co-ordinating the centre, hands and feet. From this basic set of moves, all aikido techniques grow.  Shihon Tsunako Miyake, who was a founder of this kata, was asked how long it took to perfect this kata and replied that she didn’t know as she had only been doing it for thirty years!

Conceptual Principles

There are a number of “mental” principles that apply to aikido (and other Martial Arts) which help to give the practitioner the upper hand in a potential conflict. Very briefly, they are:

Mushin – or empty mind. This is not meaning vacant or day dreaming but rather unconstrained by external thoughts and concentrating on the situation in front of you.

Zanshin – or the remaining maind – being in a state of relaxed alertness and awareness, ready to act in instinct rather than stop and think.

Sen no sen – “sen” can be loosely thought of as initiative. Sensing what your attacker will do, redirecting the attack while trying to create your own opening to apply a counter technique.

Sen-Sen No Sen –Sen-sen no sen is a more intuitive and proactive form; sensing the attacker’s intentions by pre-empting it and neutralising their attack before it happens. It is overcoming the opponent both mentally and physically.

Sen – this is more of a simultaneous response – avoiding and countering an attack at the same time.

This mental strength means that a Martial Artist will not be easily intimidated but also will keep their minds clear from malicious, negative thoughts and allow them to use their awareness to read the situation and respond instantaneously.

I shall end with a quote which sums up aikido’s attitude to training, from Kyuza Mifune: “There are no shortcuts because there is no end”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXBudD_z6No – An aikido demonstration of some throws and locks

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws2Iczref5U – Morihei Ueshiba demonstrating some weapons and his philosophy

 

Kendo BasingstokeHARD MARTIAL ART 3 – KENDO

 

 

WHAT IS KENDO?

 

Kendo (literally KEN – sword and DO – the way, “The Way of the Sword”) is a Martial Art based on traditional Japanese principles of Samurai swordsmen, and the old art of kenjutsu. The philosophy of Kendo comes from Bushido, translated as “The Way of the warrior”, which was the tenet that the Samurai followed, and can loosely approximate to “chivalry”. Modern Kendo seeks to combine traditional values with physical, sporting elements. Whereas the skills kept the Samurai alive, nowadays it is more of a competition sport, using the same accurate strikes shown by the Samurai.

 

Kendo is practised with bamboo swords called SHINAI and protective armour called BOGU, with particular covering on the vital points (head, throat, wrists and side of chest). These are the only areas where points can be scored in a competition.  Wooden swords known as BOKUTO are used to practise kata and higher grades can progress to metal swords.

 

KENDO AS A HARD MARTAL ART

 

Kendo can be classed as a hard Martial Art because the emphasis is on strikes and thrusts to specific parts of the body – executed in often a linear manner and face on to the opponent.  Rather than the emphasis being on deflection and redirection, a straight point score is sought. It is key that techniques are performed accurately, correctly and with intent.

 

Because it is practised with swords there can be no room for error so each attack has to be effective and ideally the kendoka has to be ready to strike at the first opportunity and make it count. An old saying in Kendo is that “your opponent may cut you on the skin but you should not lose that very moment to cut him to the bones”.  Emphasis is definitely placed on attack rather than defence.

 

Modern Kendo has two types of attacks:

  • Strikes – which are only allowed to the top of the head, the right and left sides and the forearms (these targets were chosen because they are the most difficult to attack)
  • Thrusts – generally only allowed to the throat.

In competition, points are only scored for proper attacks with good control to the exact targets with an accompanying kiai.

UNDERLYING PRINCIPLES

Because of Kendo’s Samurai roots, its underlying principles stem from their beliefs. As with other Martial Arts, the concepts are further reaching than merely training in the dojo – they relate to life in general.  Once actual sword combat was unnecessary in Japan, the Samurai used their training to encourage discipline, patience and skill in order to build character.

“The Concept of Kendo” from the All Japan Kendo Federation –“Kendo is a way to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana (the standard Japanese sword).” It is through this study that the goal is to improve yourself to be both an asset to your family, your community and your country.

 

The Federation also outlined the Purpose of Kendo as follows:

 

To mould the mind and body.

To cultivate a vigorous spirit,

And through correct and rigid training,

To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo.

To hold in esteem human courtesy and honour.

To associate with others with sincerity.

And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.

Thus will one be able:

To love one’s country and society;

To contribute to the development of culture;

And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.

On a more physical level, the principle is of maximum efficiency – summarised in SHIN-KI-RYOKU-ICCHI – “mind, spirit and power in unison”. This is achieved through mental and spiritual control; manipulation of the sword and physical movement.

POWER GENERATION AND EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUE

From my research into Kendo, it seems that the ideas for effective technique are far more prevalent than those for power generation. I think this is because there is such an emphasis on mental readiness – and the physical will follow – and also because nowadays it is a competition sport where precision and intent are more highly sought after than straight power.

A key concept in producing an effective strike in Kendo is known as “KI-KEN-TAI-ICHI” which can be literally translated as “Spirit – sword – body –as one”, with the idea being to co-ordinate and connect your strike, your body, your mind and your kiai on point of impact. This is a fundamental concept in Japanese sword arts.

Ki  – This is the mind/spirit which is trained to see the opponent, feel for the opportunities and, when attacking, to produce a strong kiai to demonstrate fighting spirit.

KenThis is the movement of the sword in its sweep towards the target and must be precisely coordinated and controlled with the will and the body’s movement forward towards the opponent.

Tai – Finally the body must act as the kendoka wants it to and must direct the shinai precisely to the target. The legs are used to lunge forward and the back is kept straight.

Footwork and posture are critical in achieving an effective technique, and also power in kendo. Balance is especially important as you are wielding a weapon and it needs to be kept under control and only move where you want it to go – rather than waving it around uncontrollably. Kendo posture requires the spine to be kept upright; the shoulders relaxed and level; and your feet, hips and shoulders to be in line on top of each other. Weight is placed evenly across both feet with the centre of gravity centred.  As well as balance, this allows for explosive forward movements. The stance usually taken is with the left foot slightly behind the right and the left heel slightly raised, with both feet pointing forwards.

Footwork (known as ashi sabaki) and movement come from this very precise stance and is the foundation of Kendo. The most used footwork is called suriashi, or rubbing feet. The feet are not lifted off the floor, but rather slid with the toes kept down and the heels light.  It is important to flow the steps together, producing a swishing rather than thumping noise. Good technique with the feet allows or coordination with the rest of the body and the shinai.

Effective technique is taught via drills – repetitive practise of big motions with the sword and sliding steps, ending in imaginary strikes. This drills the coordination of the KI KEN TAI ICHI – all happening at once.  On top of this there are also kata and working with partners which can be progressed to once the basics have been mastered.  Kendo kata consist of pre-arranged sequences practised between two people using solid wooden swords called bokken.

As Kendo is now practised as a competition sport there are specific things looked for to correctly score a point – beyond merely hitting the target. The attack should be seen to put pressure on the opponent and the attacker should demonstrate strong spirit. These two areas are known as “SEME” – or pressure, both physical and mental – achieved by physically moving towards the opponent with the body and tip of the sword, making them break their stance and balance and mentally remaining in control.  “ZANSHIN” is “resolute will” – mental and physical readiness and alertness shown both before and after an attack.

Much of Kendo’s training focuses on the mental preparedness rather than physical power (which comes with correct footwork and movement). Being trained to watch your opponent carefully and to read them is essential. The ultimate aim is to be able to use your “mind’s eye” to pre-empt your opponent and create “sukis” (openings) and react instantaneously to an opponent’s attack.  This mental awareness can be the decider in a Kendo match as great posture needs to be backed by a determined spirit.

In a competition distance and timing are other key features – known as “ma-ai”.

Distance – holding the opponent at YOUR preferred distance will give you the upper hand, whilst not letting him achieve his.

Timing – catching your opponent off guard, finding that split second when he has let his mental alertness slip and you can take advantage of the gap this creates. These can be found in “secret” teachings in Kendo which also apply to life outside training – “Clear Mirror-Still Water” – the state of mind to never miss any move or happening, and “Water and the Moon” which is where you have achieved a high level of training and have a complete and natural harmony of mind and body.

The idea of utter mental readiness harks back to the days of actual sword fights where there was no second strike and your life depended upon reading your opponent and striking the instant there was an opening – but striking accurately and cleanly rather than slashing indiscriminately. It is this idea that Kendo seeks to replicate – “shotachi ippon” or winning with the first strike.

Similar to the idea, seen above of KI-KEN-TAI-ICHI, is Shin-ki-ryoku-ichi  which can be described as Shin (a heart able to predict an opponent’s action through a state of Mushin – empty mind), which guides one’s Ki (the dynamic mental state of one’s spirit) which in turn dictates one’s Ryoku (physical actions in the form of technique).  When these three elements, Shin, Ki and Ryoku are brought together in a simultaneously harmonized fashion it is called Shinkiryokuicchi.

This is achieved through:

  • Breath: to make your spirit come alive. You hold the air in your “tanden” – the home of Ki, believed to be in your lower belly and exhale slowly and inhale briefly.  This leads to a clam spirit and readies you to read your opponent, undistracted by life.
  • Ki: with proper breath control you can transport your energy (ki) from the tanden, through your fists, and into your sword. There are two sayings that hold true for Kendo: “your spirit should be correct and calm, and you ki strong” and “pressure with your ki, overwhelm him, break his kamae (position) and spirit and seize the opportunity you create”. This comes from a chain of correct breathing, which leads to a calm spirit and correct posture which leads to good execution of technique – and breath is at the root of this chain.

As with Aikido, I shall finish with two quotes which highlight the Kendo attitude: “There is no defence…There is only attack” and “your opponent may cut you on the skin but you should not lose that very moment to cut him to the bones”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oh2TNO5CGXQ – Kendo World Championships (May The Force Be With You!)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_x7YD-3Bsc – Slow mo clips of point scoring, full speed is super fast!

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Martial Arts Standards Agency British Judo British Council for Chinese Martial Arts – National Governing Body The World Union of Karate Federations Shi Kon Martial Arts British Council for Chinese Martial Arts – National Governing Body

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