***Special Thanks to my visitors from BlackBeltMama.com. For those of you who aren’t familiar with BBM’s site, I recommend checking it out right away. She is a friend of mine (and I teach her some karate from time to time), but she is also my blogging Sempai! Many bloggers look up to her (including myself), and you’ll see why once you read some of her entertaining commentary on life and the martial arts.***
On to the topic at hand…
It is said that once you study a martial art long enough, you begin to understand all martial arts. I thoroughly believe in that. Over the past few years, one of my goals has been to identify connections between what I’m doing and what other people are doing.
Even though I’ve had this mindset for awhile, I’m still shocked when I realize a new connection, and wonder how I hadn’t seen it earlier.
Silat – Malaysian Art of Self Defense
I’m a fan of the show Human Weapon, but haven’t had the chance to see all the episodes yet. I finally sat down today and watched the episode about Silat.
Silat is a Malaysian born martial art that has roots that go back as far as the 7th century. In the cluster of Asian countries that have significant martial arts backgrounds, Malaysia is tucked in quite nicely. Have a peek at this map –
You’ll notice China, Korea, Japan, India, and Okinawa all hanging out in the same vacinity. You’d better believe that trading routes were open between these countries, and it wasn’t only material goods being exchanged. China, as the dominant force for a very long stretch of time, is a common thread to which almost all Asian arts can trace roots. Take that shared background, combine it with cultural contact through trading and war, and what you’ve got is a lot of styles that share ideas.
Silat and Karate
My empty hand training is in Okinawa Kenpo Karate, which is why I use that style as a reference point when looking at other arts. But I wonder, when you read some of the similarities I found, will you notice them in your art as well?
Here are some things I saw:
1. Movement to the Outside. When slipping a punch or kick, Silat combatants love to move to the ‘dead side’, or outside of their opponents. This is a critical concept in Okinawa Kenpo as it removes many of your opponent’s weapons from effective range.
2. Quick,Circular Block/Counter Combinations. No doubt from Chinese influence, both Silat and Karate try to shorten the time needed to respond to an attack by using circular block/counter combinations. These can often be found in karate kata as ‘rolling backfist’ style techniques. Practitioners of Nai Hanchi Kata should be pretty familiar with this rhythm of attack.
3. Balanced Stances. I noticed something that strongly resembled shiko dachi. While both Karate and Silat utilize these stances, they don’t rely on them during quick techniques; only as tools to add power and balance when appropriate.
4. Vital Point Striking. By vital point striking I mean targeting those areas of the body which are naturally weak. A ridge hand strike to the throat or claw to the eye can be much more effective than a straight punch blindly aimed at the chest region.
5. Bunkai. Bunkai is analysis and application of techniques in a kata…and something neat happened while I watched the Silat practitioners show their self defense tactics – I was able to slip each combination into my own kata with very little stretch of the imagination. There were series of strikes and targets that I immediately equated with particular sequences in Karate kata. Not that it took any special skill on my part to do so, it was just a matter of keeping an open mind.
If you get a chance, go back and check out that episode. I think I’ll watch it again in the near future to try and pick out even more connections.
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Welcome to the Japanese Sword Game! Exciting, right? I was thinking about going into a detailed explanation regarding the differences between various sword arts, but this is the age of web 2.0. We should get a little interaction going here. So, instead, I’m going to describe to you a scenario (pictures will be provided), and you try to figure out which of the multiple choice answers is the correct art (answer key will be provided at the end).
Since I’m your host today, please consider me this guy –
(Grand Host of Iron Chef – Takeshi Kaga. He Rules.)
The first art presented is considered a sport. In fact, it’s one of the most popular pastimes in Japan with about 7 million participants. The action is fast and furious, and yet very much like a chess match.
Players of this sport don very recognizable helmets and body armor to protect themselves from the bamboo strikes of their opponents. In very spirited matches, the players can be found screaming at each other in an effort to unbalance or disturb.
This sport runs many tournaments and competitions, but still manages to maintain a high level of traditionalism.
Name that art!
This next art is not for the feint of heart. Bamboo is rarely found in play here; instead, participants use wooden swords called bokken, or metal swords. Beginners tend to use unsharpened blades called iaito, while experts will use razor sharp blades called shinken.
Cuts, strikes, blocks, and all other manner of technique will be found in use here. There are no designated hit zones and no rules (except to win, of course). Despite its combative nature, this art still makes time for the building of mind and spirit, with the intent of overcoming one’s opponent and one’s own weakness.
Name that art!
The third art in question is more serene than the first two…at least, on the surface. Often performed from a kneeling position, this is the method of drawing a sword. Few people realize that the act of drawing a japanese katana is an art all by itself.
Unlike other sword practices, this ‘way’ is used for perfection of character moreso than combative effectiveness. That being said, the techniques used are still quite effective, and in some Ryu, maintain a high level of aggressiveness.
Meditative, empowering, and woefully difficult, this art makes you think twice about hurrying (lest you lose a finger).
Name that art!
What would this be –
***ANSWER KEY***ANSWER KEY***ANSWER KEY***
Question 1 – b.) KENDO. That’s right, this is the sport of kendo. Popular, aggressive, and exasperating.
Question 2 – a.) KENJUTSU. Kenjutsu makes up a bulk of what we see in swordplay, but is hardly the only art involved.
Question 3 – c.) IAIDO. It seems so easy…until you try to kneel with grace and poise in a hakama for the first time. Then there’s the sword to deal with…
Question 4 – NONE. Actually, that’s not true. It’s sort of a trick question – one practitioner is doing kenjutsu (the drawn sword) while the other does iaido (the sheathed sword). Did I trick you? Probably not, but maybe I kept you on your toes.
How did you do? Let me know in the comments below and thanks for playing!
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We always hear about ‘martial arts spirit’. But what is it? Is it intensity? Is it faith? Is it Anger? What an elusive concept!
Consider this clip-
Even eclectic guys like Bruce Lee concerned themselves with martial spirit. It’s very universal.
If we analyze the above scene from Enter The Dragon, we see that Lee is quite unimpressed by his student’s first kick. It was merely a technique. When kicking the second time, the student showed ferocity in his face and kicked with greater power. Again Lee was unimpressed. This anger was not what we wanted. Upon his third try, the student briefly achieved what Lee calls ’emotional content,’ a kick exhibiting the true character of the student. Unfortunately, the success is short lived and the student must suffer more taps to the head. So what’s the difference between an angry attack and a spirited one?
Experiencing Anger and Spirit
Let’s start by analyzing both states-of-being. Anger is a primal urge that we all understand. When angry, we feel our temperature rise and our face redden. Adrenaline strikes our system and we are prepared to lash out. In many ways, being angry enhances our readiness for the rigors of combat.
Unfortunately, it also comes with some serious side effects. When very angry, we experience tunnel vision and lose some of our fine motor skills. The worst symptom is the clarity of thought we forfeit. How many times have you heard, either in person or on tv, ‘I don’t know what I was thinking…I was just so angry…I flipped out!’
Martial spirit is not the same. Sometimes referred to as kiai – focused or concentrated life force. Sometimes referred to as aiki – united spirit. Martial spirit is the lightning expression of everything that makes you you. When exhibiting martial spirit, you will still feel signs of physical stress. It’s different for everyone, but some tunnel vision and adrenaline pumping are likely to occur. The difference is, when utilizing martial spirit, you forfeit no clarity of thought and no consciousness of action. There is no ‘flipping out’ here, only dominant intent.
Let’s take things one step further. After suffering from a bout of sever anger, how do you feel after all is said and done; after you’ve taken a walk and cooled your head? Generally speaking, you would probably feel very drained. A small amount of depression is likely to set in, both in regards to your actions and the situation in general. You would also likely feel a burdening amount of stress, and desire to be alone. (Please remember these are just common results, you may experience anger differently).
But if you were to use spirit instead of anger, the result would be different – you would feel invigorated! You would experience a sense of power and forcefulness, as if you could have handled a situation twice as bad with no regrets. You would also feel appreciative of those people around you – both the friends who are behind you, and the opponent whom you dominated.
The Taking and Giving of Life
There is another concept in the martial arts that relates to what we are discussing. In Budo, there is such a thing as Satsujinken and Katsujinken – The life dealing sword and the death dealing sword.
Katsujinken – The sword that takes life. If a Samurai were to kill for the sake of pride, ego, or out of agitation, it was considered Katsujinken. This killing was not meaningful, and protected neither family, nor honor, nor state. Anger can be considered Katsujinken in that it is fueled by that which is negative. Even more perplexingly, sometimes the action of the Samurai (or an angry individual) is correct – but he still has followed a negative path to achieve positive ends.
Satsujinken – The sword that gives life. Often Samurai were called upon to perform meritorious deeds that involved murder, espionage, and warfare. Furthermore, there were occasions when a Samurai took it upon himself to slay bandits or dangerous Ronin (rogue Samurai). These are the same violent acts as an angry, vengeful Samurai might commit – but when done with Satsujinken, right reason, the Samurai knows he may have saved many lives by his actions. This Samurai proceeds invigorated by his martial spirit and will likely show his opponent full respects.
People often wonder how Samurai acts of suicide and dueling could be done ‘respectfully.’ This provides a small peak into that mindset.
Cultivating Martial Spirit
Luckily, you and I rarely have to make such monumental, life and death decisions. Most of the time, like Bruce Lee’s student, we just have to figure out how we want to express ourselves.
In order to cultivate martial spirit instead of anger, jealousy, etc., it’s important to keep the end feelings in mind. After training, if you feel powerful, capture the essence of that training session as best you can. If, after training, you feel bitter, let it go as best as possible. Before you know it, you’ll be able to summon that forceful spirit when you need it.
And when you do, I see it going a little something like this –
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