Big John’s Blog

18th November 2019

Week commencing 18.11.19

Back in the real world, this Saturday was noteworthy for a couple of reasons. The day kicked off with an advanced training session for a couple of hours and was followed by a Black Belt grading for Lucy, and 3rd Dan gradings for Roger and Lee.

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The session was, as usual, a brilliant example of how to apply kata moves (in this instance Jihon) to real life simulations, otherwise known as bunkai. This is an opportunity for Sensei Dave to reveal how he thinks about the science of combat in the context of attack and defence using hands and feet. 

One of the many interesting points for me, is how the response to a particular attack hinges almost entirely upon whether the attack is initiated from a left leading arm or right, or whether one chooses to block with left or right. One small element changes everything. Of course, all of this is beside the point when it comes to kumite, because everything is happening so much more quickly. But what if this is not the case? Perhaps as we become more proficient we begin to subconsciously make those tiny adjustments like switching the leading leg or showing fake ‘tells’ to mislead the opponent. This is perhaps an example of why repetition of drills is of such importance.  When the body finally has to act instinctively, there is a chance that the reaction to the attack might just be  sufficient to take the aggressor by surprise, and allow us to overcome.

Watching the subsequent grading, I was struck by how performance anxiety affects physical tiredness. Because the participants were being scrutinised, their stress levels were higher than usual, even though they were not really performing a great deal more activity. Not surprisingly, because of the high quality of teaching, all three rose to the occasion and pushed themselves to that extra level, as did the other students present, who were required to make up the bunkai and kumite. Consequently we witnessed some fiery sparring which was really exciting and made the event more ‘real’ - special thanks to Daz, Corbes and Steve……..

So, congratulations to you all! It is great to have another Black Belt on board in the form of Lucy, a truly dedicated student - remember, the Black Belt is a beginning and not an end, so we expect great things from you in the future! (no pressure then!!).

Roger, you are an inspiration and a credit to us all. Lee, I always prefer watching you to fighting you!! your speed and athleticism is a joy to behold.

Well done all of you, see you next session! Oss!

Enviro Blog Extra

Week commencing 11.11.19 

Talking of water, the weather seems to be deteriorating, or rather, our perception off what constitutes temperate weather appears to be becoming more difficult to manage. Once again, it is a matter of perception. We seem to struggle when weather strays outside of ‘the norm’ Decades ago, a downpour of rain would just happen, I remember clearly, heavy rainfall in various places around the world, but it never made the headline news. These days we have roving news crews beaming at us from under umbrellas, anxiously reporting the rising water levels in towns and cities unfortunate enough to be flooded. This of course is awful and alarming when you consider the consequences of water systems overflowing. Unfortunately it would appear that it is not simply a result of the media capturing more data and reporting it, statistics are telling us that we are encountering record breaking levels of rainfall.

Simultaneously, there seem to be more and more reports of fires from all over the southern hemispheres giving the impression of the planet being drenched and parched at the same time. 

We reap what we sow. The industrial revolution and population explosion have led us to the position we are now in. Unfortunately a large proportion of the human race have been in denial about this to the extent that even Prince Charles, hardly a left wing revolutionary or member of Extinction Rebellion (to my knowledge) has said that we have approximately ten years to turn the whole thing around. 

If I may be indulged a flight of fancy for one moment, the analogy I would propose might be that my Grandparent’s generation went to a hotel with a restaurant and booked in. Later on they gathered at tables and gazed at the menu, then ordered loads of expensive food and proceeded to eat it. They repeated this every night for decades, without paying the bill, ever. Simultaneously they had  children, who went on to do the same. Fights broke out amongst the children and all the other species of animal in the grounds of the hotel were slaughtered. The children, in turn, had more children, all of whom continued to gorge upon the food, whilst throwing the same amount away because they couldn't eat it all, and continuing the slaughter of the animals, all at no cost. 

That final group of unfortunate children were woken up one day last year by a 16 yr old schoolgirl called Greta, who calmly informed them that the hotel was burning down and they had a bill to pay, which was so enormous, that no one knew of a number that could describe it. 

4th November 2019

Week commencing 04.11.19

Big John in action at St Peters Centre Central Dojo's new saturday venue

Training recently has been aimed at an advanced level in preparation for a black and brown belt course in two weeks time, which is followed by a Dan grading. A template has developed in which we begin with drills, move on to one step kumite and end with kata plus some light sparring. Variations include alternating the one step with three step, in which an attacker delivers a high punch, a mid punch and a kick, which are deflected and finished by a counter attack of some sort. Something I have learned over the years is that it is best to keep your one step responses simple, unless you are asked to display a variation of responses. The more complex responses have to be regularly practised until they feel simple but flow quickly. Any hesitation, and then they will look poor and attract another attack. More importantly, if you ever did get attacked with a nice simple straight ahead kick or punch, you would forget that amazing fancy dan takedown unless it has become embedded in your muscle memory.

Theses drills and one step, three step, or jiu ippon kumite have to be practised so much because if it ever came to that one life defining moment, you would hopefully at the very least, respond, rather than freezing, and any response is better than none. With that in mind, it is good to have a little script of responses that you practice each time we come to that point in the session when Sensei will say “right, pair up”. More often than not, it will be either three step - jodan punch, chudan punch, mae geri, counter attack. Or it will be two jodan, two chudan punches followed by mae geri, kekome, mawashi, ura mawashi, ushiro geri kicks, each demanding an appropriate response. If you plan what kind of response you would like to make, and ask if you aren't sure!!, and then do the same every time, straight away you have at least a dozen responses, ranging from simple to fancy. The seniors usually practise very similar responses each time and thats why they can sometimes look sharp. Its not some kind of ‘ninja genius’ that the more experienced of us have, its simply about memory, conditioning, timing, footwork, breathing, balance, speed, effort and “Ki” (universal energy or spirit, hence “Ki Ai!” - the shout you make on contact).

So, next session, choose the responses you want to make and stick to them and practise those. Think about your kata and choose things from them to see if they would work in one step. The more you practice, the better you will become, but also, you wont stay good without practice. Remember what Bruce Lee said, “training is like water in a kettle, you have to keep heating it to make it boil, if you want to make tea”.

28th October 2019

Week commencing 28.10.19

Remarkably, the Rugby World Cup finally ended today. Six weeks of almost military logistics and several years of preparation. It was almost thwarted by a natural disaster which would have closed down the UK completely, let alone seen it continue to host an international sporting event. Imagine if we had been hosting it, like we did four years ago, and we had endured a typhoon, in which nearly a hundred people died, many became ‘lost’ and thousands had their homes destroyed. How would we have coped? would we have continued with the competition? Crikey, look what happens when it snows here!

Anyway, it continued despite the typhoon and we almost had a northern hemisphere final,of two neighbouring UK countries! As it was England were given a masterclass in destruction, a strategic battering, a proper duffing up and hanging out to dry. England went into it as favourites, but by the end, the Boks were toying with us. We were almost unrecognisable from the team who last week beat the then favourites, New Zealand. However, thats the beauty of sport, when the unexpected occurs, with big change hingeing upon little twists both physically and psychologically. The Boks sowed a seed of uncertainty amongst our forwards early on and we never really recovered. As someone once said, “Its not the fight, its what you bring to the fight” and South Africa brought an intensity, passion and brutality that simply shocked us into delayed submission.

Shortly afterwards I came training, feeling slightly nonplussed but eager to get in the dojo and ‘give it some’, which is exactly what we did. Sensei Dave decided to focus upon one step sparring, offering a few excellent takedown responses. Specifically, in defending a mae geri, he suggested a step back on right foot from yoi (ready stance), by the defender, with a sweeping forearm block. Then, by jumping and switching feet, and using the arms, the defender uses their right foot sweep the attacker and finish.

Another response was to a side thrust kick, in which the defender uses soto uke to block, stepping back. Then by simply walking forward into front stance past the defender and simply straightening the stance, the take down takes care of itself. Assistance can come from the arms, or by grabbing the thick edge of the gi to put the final touch, before the ground finish. Finally, the old favourite of blocking a reverse roundhouse, thus appearing behind an opponent, then grasping both shoulders and ‘creasing’ the back of the knee to take down and finish. We all seemed to be ‘on point’ today and the focus and delivery allowed one or two of us to let out some frustration built up from witnessing the early morning sporting exertions in Japan. 

21st October 2019

Week commencing 30.09.19, 07.10.19, 14.10.19, 21.10.19

Apologies for the slacker attitude from your weekly blogger, if i’m not careful its going to be a monthly blog at this rate, but sometimes there just don't seem to be enough hours, days, weeks etc. So what happens when what is meant to be a weekly blog drags its heels in this fashion? its not as if I’m sat doing nothing. Its more a case of the list of things that need doing, from organising doctors and dentists to shopping and vets, or planning visits and changing lightbulbs, cutting keys or remembering to buy washing up liquid and poo bags for the dog; all get reshuffled and de prioritised to the extent that one has to begin again with lists and priorities, inevitably forgetting some things, remembering others and discovering new ones as one goes along. 

Simultaneously, the spectre of Christmas looms on the horizon…………if you are a student or work in education, it usually means so much needed downtime, however, these days students end up trying to make ends meet to cover exorbitant rents, by working ridiculously hard in zero hours contract jobs, the so called ‘gig economy’. We have found that with our two children who are now adults, we actually see less of one of them who is just finishing full time education, because she is trying her hardest to cover her rent and bills, whilst the other one is unable to make the break from home yet for the same sorts of reasons.

And this is where Karate comes in. Whatever life has to throw at you, you come training and all that slides to one side as you try to refine your drills and kata etc. You simply don't have time to worry about all the other stuff. Having said that, it was quite extraordinary coming training today, Saturday, straight after England had muscled their way in to the Rugby World Cup Final. What a game! they only went and beat the reigning champions, New Zealand, who were favourites to win the competition. It just goes to show that no matter how much a favourite is expected to win, there is always the chance that someone, with the right planning and execution, has a chance to beat them. It happens in sport and in life. I have heard countless tales of people in Karate and in Rugby who have snatched victory away from the favourite in what seem unbelievable or even dream like circumstances. Take the boxer Anthony Joshua, an odds on favourite to beat his last opponent John Ruiz Junior. Ruiz knew it was just two men in a ring with two hands and two legs and of similar size, so who knows? what if a little luck goes your way and all your meticulous planning comes off? anything can happen, and it did, he won. There is an old saying about young players being put in with adults when the youngster is yet to reach their peak. “If he/she is good enough, he/she is old enough”. So when you step up to the mat to face an opponent, or you walk into a room to face an interview panel, there will be a reason for you being there, and that reason could just make you victorious in winning the bout or securing the employment position. 

30th September 2019

Week commencing 30.09.19

A memorable Saturday. Not only did the England rugby union team advance in to the quarter final knock out stages of the world cup in Japan, but my son Max called me by mobile phone from the very stadium itself in Tokyo. How extraordinary, the power of information technology and communication, it was also free!! Quite a start to the day, and it was followed by yet another simply brilliant session at our amazing rubber floored church.

Beginning with basic block and punch techniques which built up in speed eventually leaving us breathless: the session then morphed into a brilliant examination of ‘bunkai’ taken from the katas Nidan, Godan and Tekki Shodan.

At close quarter, the defender meets a haymaker with a high block and neck punch simultaneously, then when the attacker grabs the defender’s clothing, this is followed by a soto uke and shift in stance to deliver a tidal hammer fist.

Next attack was a counter punch or gyaku zuki, to which the defender draws back with a downward sweeping block. A low kick is followed by a hammer fist to the neck/shoulder.

Another haymaker at close quarter was then met with a high nidan style block after which the defender reaches around, makes a headlock, swings the rear foot around and delivers a good old fashioned ‘duffing’ - most enjoyable!!

Finally, and this one was a favourite, from a position of freestyle or kumite, the attacker attempts to sweep the leading leg of the defender. The defender sees it coming, quickly snaps that leg up and back down, landing on the outside of the attackers leg whilst simultaneously drawing back and swinging back in with both arms like in Tekki Shodan. The positioning and momentum allows the defender to simply ease the attacker off balance to create a take down. Amazing!!

These bunkai really are the secrets of Karate that are brought into the light by Sensei who have truly studied the kata and unlocked the potential of the set moves that are intended to be adapted in unique ways by teachers who really understand the katas.

23rd September 2019

Week commencing 23.09.19 

Unusual as it is for me to make a blog entry on a Saturday, I simply had to follow up closely on the heels of the last one because of news from the rugby world cup in Japan. Unbelievably, having beaten South Africa in the last tournament group stage, Japan have gone one better and  beaten the number one seeded tournament favourites, Ireland. This is a rather seismic (excuse the somewhat unethical adjective) event in world rugby, possibly more explosive than what they did last time around, as teams now know they are capable of causing upsets. 

Having made an analogy last week, of Torquay Utd beating Manchester Utd, I struggled to find another pair of clubs until I remembered Europe, and came up with Torquay Utd beating Real Madrid. This, however, still feels unsatisfactory and so I should perhaps just say that Japan have gone and beaten the team that, at the start of the tournament, were expected to be in the final alongside New Zealand. There it is then, whatever they do next, they will be remembered, again, for a simply brilliant display, in which instead of a bunch of talented guys playing together, they are the epitome of the word team, producing a situation in which the ‘whole’ is actually a stronger structure together, rather than  just the sum of its parts. 

So when the team is effective, despite having far fewer famous names in it, it is stronger than the team of famous faces who are not operating effectively as a team. This is also known as Gestalt Psychology, developed in the early 20th Century in Germany and applied to various spheres including sport.

Whether this exciting news from Japan was all the more poignant because my Son Max is actually out there watching it, I cant say. However, I skipped off to training today with a spring in my step that was soon to be amplified by the rubber floor of our Saturday morning Dojo at St Peters Sports Centre Torquay. 

To say today’s session was good was to do it a disservice. Sensei Dave, seemingly effortlessly, produced a near perfect session of combat training: a basic set of one and three step fight drills, performed at speed with real energy, followed by a competitive kata routine and all rounded off with a few rounds of ‘dojo kumite’ in which we swapped partners in a kind of ‘speed fighting’ scenario. The three Ks, Kihon, Kata and Kumite: or put another way, basic drills, katas and light touch fighting. 

These are the ingredients for a classic session and I mention it because once again, I want everyone who reads this to understand and remember that its not like this for everyone. Not all Karate Sensei are as good as ours, so don't take it for granted. To ensure we keep on learning from the best, we need to keep attracting new members to the club, for when the old crumblies like me cant do it anymore!! To sustain the club we need to build a team and to do that we need to attract new people, so wherever you may be, try thinking about if you can find an opportunity to  spread the word and attract new members: school, college, place of employment, wherever you are, consider if it would be feasible for people to make the journey to the club, and then get them in!!

16th September 2019

Week commencing 16.09.19

The Rugby World Cup has finally kicked off in Japan and if the opening ceremony and first few games are anything to go by, it looks like its going to be a rip-roaring success. The general public are really enthusiastic and warm, they seem genuinely excited about sharing the experience and showing off the simply extraordinary architectural achievements that have been put in place for the tournament. 

Japan is a stunningly attractive country boasting all of the geographical and urban features that would appeal if one were simply considering a holiday, let alone a festival of rugby between the twenty most successful teams in the world.

Four years ago at the tournament in England, Japan stunned the rugby world with a totally unexpected victory in the group matches, over former world cup champions South Africa. Coached by Eddie Jones, now England’s coach, Japan were keeping possession of the ball, hoping to be awarded a penalty that would allow them to draw the match, which in itself would be an extraordinary achievement. Against the advice of their coach, the Japanese captain opted to gamble on the draw and instead mounted a series of attacking phases that culminated in a totally outrageous try, instantly winning the match, as it was by now deep in to injury time. To those of you who don't know rugby, the best way to explain the enormity of this result would be to imagine Manchester United losing to Torquay United in the FA cup. 

It announced to the world, the serious intent of Japan, as a force to be reckoned with in international rugby, a country that nurtures and rewards players and sees the relationship between sport and the corporate world in the same way that the ‘tier one’ countries do. 

Moreover, the victory epitomised the Samurai spirit prevalent in the world of martial arts and naturally leads one on to thinking about the next sporting event that Japan will be hosting - The 2020 Olympics, which will feature our very own Karate for the first and hopefully not the last time.  

September 9th 2019

Week commencing 09.09.19

Not only are we settling in to the new dojo space during the week, but we now have a new space to train on Saturday mornings, a Church no less, and this led me to wonder what, if any, connection there might be between religion and martial arts. 

There is certainly an overlap between eastern religion and martial arts, we have all heard of Shaolin Monks and Kung Fu. Indeed Taoism and Buddhism have a long and colourful history throughout Asia, which is richly documented.

However, Karate, as a martial art, is relatively young (I noticed that Rugby has been practiced for longer than karate in Japan, which seems extraordinary) and Karate began life as we know it, in Japan. Okinawa to be precise. 

One of the main or rather, the indigenous religion of Japan, is Shintoism (translated to ‘Way of The Gods’). It is similar to Taoism in that it includes animist elements and spirit worship. Shinto Gods are called Kami and they are sacred spirits which take the form of the landscape and the elements, the most sacred of all being The Sun Goddess. 

There are no absolutes in Shintoism, no rights or wrongs and nobody is perfect. Rituals are practiced to keep away evil spirits by purification, prayers and offerings. 

There are many texts surrounding  Zen Buddhism and the martial arts: the blending of religion and martial arts is clear in a way that does not really appear in Christianity, Judaism or Islam. 

I have heard it said that in Wales, rugby is close to being a religion, which is quite a coincidence really, because next week we see the opening matches of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, in Japan!

2nd September 2019

Week commencing 02.09.19

Rounding off the long, occasionally hot summer, we had a wedding to attend in Penzance and St Ives, which culminated in an afternoon and early evening lounging on the beach enjoying the last rays of the sun. My thoughts turned towards another ending of sorts, that being the final sessions of SWIKO at Central Dojo in Winners 2000. 

As the name suggests, the club has been training there for nearly twenty years, Sensei Dave established the club at Winners when it opened and many people have come and gone in that time and much water has flowed under the bridge. I have been a club member for about half of that time and consider myself something of a newcomer, however that might simply be something to do with getting older. It was difficult to assess how I felt about not training at Winners anymore, after all, its only the actual Karate classes that have had to move elsewhere, the conditioning sessions are still taking place at Winners, but not everyone can manage to attend those. 

One of the overwhelming sensations I experienced was a fear that some of the learning that had taken place inside that dojo, would remain, like some kind of tangible memory, within the walls of the dojo. Almost as if all the katas learned and the drills practiced and the fights won or lost, were laid down like images on film emulsion, only to be brought with us into the next dojo, if they could definitely be accounted for. This of course, is a ridiculous notion, but I know where it comes from, it is to do with association: have you ever noticed how when learning katas as a less experienced practitioner, some sequences of katas are remembered by your actual position in a room and what you can see when you reach a pause or a Kiai point? So that if you were asked to do the kata in a different dojo, you suddenly wonder if you are making a mistake. Furthermore, I wonder if this is to do with how learning Karate begins by creating body shapes with yourself, because someone is telling you to, until you begin to understand a bit more and actually start to feel what you are doing. When I was much younger, we were at a point in a session of call and respond drills, when the Sensei suddenly paused, then shouted “make the moves real!!” and I never forgot that. Of course, the older ones amongst us will know of the legendary Sensei Oenida, who was occasionally on the telly in his time, and was asked about Karate by an interviewer, he said that “Karate takes about fifteen years to learn, and about twenty five to become any good”……………..

Anyway, new dojo, new Karate, new times. I’m sure we all appreciate the work behind the scenes to keep the club rolling along in the new premises, so lets start building up those memories again and one day we’ll actually get quite good at this!! Oss!!

26th August 2019

Week commencing 26.08.19

Part three of our summer came around all too quickly as usual, but was much appreciated just the same. We usually ‘camp’ at the same venue, as I have mentioned above: however, occasionally it is nice to explore new areas and sample different cultural locations, when you consider how much time off those of us in education enjoy. Consequently, my Wife and I decided to head in the opposite direction and ‘go east’ to a hitherto unexplored part of our coast known as ‘The Isle’ of Purbeck, with a target location of Swanage, in-between Weymouth and Bournemouth.

The journey time is just over two hours by AA estimates and I would concur with this, as long as one follows the proscribed route. Accidentally sailing past the Honiton turn off from Exeter, can instantly double that time with almost no extra effort, and so it was that we managed to waste wonderful daylight hours back tracking around the A303 with a fractious Jack Russell and Wife displaying her best ‘deja vu’ expression. 

Despite our haphazard outward journey, we arrived in Purbeck and discovered a truly magical place, complete with a fairytale castle albeit in ruins, known as Corfe Castle. Many of the roads and place names are unusual and represent a history of turmoil and cultural imperialism. One thing that hasn't changed however is the coastal path and dramatic scenery. This is the heart of the ‘Jurassic Coast’ and as the name suggests it is steeped in history, of the oldest kind - geological history. The name Kimmeridge for example, denotes a small village which is actually a coastal world heritage site of immense geological importance. A piece of strata from the area bears the name and is an internationally known type of rock formation. It has a period of geological time named after it, such is its value, in understanding the formation of the world’s surface, on which we all perch. 

There are many fossils here, just like a few miles away in Lyme Regis and it really is a place that allows you to focus on just exactly where we are in the universe, and how important ‘Ki’ or ‘universal energy’ is. As we all know, ‘Ki ai’ is the noise we make when we expel air in Karate, when creating explosive force. It was this idea of universal energy that I was thinking about as I stared at the strange and twisted rock strata of this amazing coastal national park.

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