Wednesday, 25 April 2018

TSYR NZ in the paper!

The last time Threadgill sensei was out, our club took the opportunity to put an interest story in our community newspaper. The local paper known as the Hamilton Press sent a series of questions via email for sensei to answer then booked a time for a photo shoot down at the dojo. 

Chris McMahon and Threadgill Sensei.

You can look at the digital version of the article here.

It is a very light article but gets the point across. We are a Samurai-era historical preservation society in need of more members to preserve the teachings and techniques of Takamura-ha Shindo Yoshin Ryu. 

It is an obscure pastime that only a few people are interested in. This makes holding members difficult with a city of about 200,000 people. Martial arts such as karate, judo, aikido and mma dominate the community and of these people only a small portion may look into koryu. 

Our martial art also favours budo practitioners 20 + years who have already gained a dan grade in a Japanese martial art. So this narrows down future students even further. 

It is my hope that after the release of this article and increasing our digital profile with a new website, we may get one or two committed students to join our ranks. 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Does the martial art you choose, matter?

How has martial arts practice affected my thinking?  This was a question asked of me the other day in my work place. I was taken back a bit at first as it is not something I would expect to be asked by a fellow high school teacher. The person asking the question was a trainee teacher who had two sons. He wanted them involved in combat sports/martial arts and when he had overheard a conversation between another colleague and myself he approached me with the above question.

After some thought I said, "Well, that's a big question, how long do you have?"

It was near the end of the lunch break and we were both heading back to class so it went no further.

The following day we caught up again to have a discussion. The guy was very sincere and interested in what his boys could get out of martial arts. He was a triathlete so the martial arts were new territory for him. From what I can understand he had an idea that different combat sports/martial arts provide different values and he wanted me to suggest which ones would be best for his boys. 

However, I didn't agree. I came from the angle that all martial sports/arts teach people a type of power over others. Usually this is physical power but it can also be mental or emotional power depending on the pursuit. Power can be used to help or to abuse.The famous Japanese quote, "Setsuninto - Katsujinken" roughly translates to "the sword that takes life" and the "sword that gives life". This quote is very old and refers to the use of the sword to simply kill for killing's sake or to use it to protect and keep order.  I used MMA as an example. The fighters are exceptional athletes with fantastic technical ability but I dislike the ego and poor sportsmanship that was displayed in the sport. I compared this with the Gracies' Brazilian Jujutsu and how those people were also technically very good but acted with honour and integrity. This being said, then how would he ensure that his boys would be training for the right reasons. In my opinion most of their values will come from their father and mother. I would trust that they will teach the boys integrity and honour. So would it matter which martial art they learned?

At one point in our discussion he liked my use of the term "body awareness". I was using the term to describe how practices like martial arts and dance allow a full range of motion, increasing mobility but also improving the sense of where your body is in space at all times. This was actually what he wanted his boys to get out of the training. Yes, he wanted the boys to protect themselves but he also wanted them physically competent. 

I believe the martial art isn't as important as the instructor teaching it. All martial arts are taught by people, usually men who have their own take on things. Some people teach martial arts for the joy of it. Some teach to make money, other teach for their own agendas, sometimes these are not honourable. 
So my advise to this man was that he should let the boys choose whatever martial art they or he sees fit but meet the instructor first, watch a class and get a feel for the person. If your gut tells you it is not for you, then walk away with no regrets. 

It was a fascinating discussion that helped me crystallize my own ideas about why I practice martial arts and whether my training influenced my thinking. 

Sunday, 11 February 2018

A Good Day of Training.

Yesterday (Saturday), I had a very satisfying day of training. A friend of mine from Auckland had come down Friday night. He joined us at the Hamilton dojo for the morning session. Then after lunch we drove back out to my place for a further two hours of training.

As usual McMahon sensei was on form and we worked through five idori hand releases. I always enjoy these exercises as they focus on very precise movement and sensitivity.

After the idori we moved to standing techniques from a cross-hand grab. We worked on flow and intensity while trying to keep to good form. By the time we worked through all of those, the session was near its end. I certainly felt wrung out and my body felt loose and strong.

The training at my own dojo was slower and steady. We went back over the five idori from the morning session to reinforce the key ideas then moved to five idori kata that require a more aggressive mindset.

Predatory gaze of Samurai Jack.

The mindset of a TSYR practitioner should be that of a predator. Patiently hunting the opponent, pressing for an advantage, waiting for a mistake to occur. When an opening presents itself move in without hesitation and finish quickly. Many of the kata we were working on involves the uchitachi initiating AND finishing the kata. The initial movement must not alert the uchitachi of the attacker's intentions and then, once started, the job must be finished quickly and precisely with certainty.

We worked on getting intent into the movements, not just going through the motions. It was very much a session of study and critique. Very enjoyable but a different pace from the morning.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Chokes and Throws.

It is very hot in New Zealand at the moment with temperatures reaching up to 30 degrees Celsius. There is something about training in the extremes of temperature that I enjoy. Stepping off the mats with skin wet with sweat is invigorating. My body feels loose and supple and I have the warm buzz of exercise flowing through my veins. 

This morning's training at the Hamilton Dojo was great. We don't officially start classes for another week so we have been working on a collection of waza from the Chuden syllabus. Today we started with chokes. We worked through ten different ways to wrap our arms around someones neck. By themselves, these chokes are just a list of possible options. But when combined with certain kata we practice, things start to make sense. One of the chokes is in fact the attack uchitachi initiates in one of the idori kata. So learning how to do this choke correctly aids shitachi in performing the correct response to escape and counter. Another one of the chokes is used part way through a different kata. Understanding what the choke is attempting to do helps shitachi perfrom it correctly. 

After swinging on each others' necks for awhile we moved to some of the chuden idori. Now, these are fun!  I can still remember when Robbie Smith sensei introduced us to these techniques. They are quite...memorable. The first technique starts in a similar way to a shoden level kata but ends, wait for it, with a choke. Being on the receiving end of this kata is not very nice. Threadgill sensei has some stories about people losing bowel control with this one as they can be choked out very quickly. The second idori kata we practiced involves someone coming up from behind to choke you but you counter and throw them. It is quite dramatic.

After idori kata we went to standing throws. The throws we were shown today work off concepts we are taught in the shoden syllabus. It was satisfying seeing the progression of techniques from the "basic" five throws we learn morphing into other variants or versions of the same concept. We are told often that the shoden mokuroku holds some of the key principles and concepts of the school and it is obvious in moments like these how true it is. An understanding of the Shoden syllabus really does make learning the Chuden stuff easier as the waza are often an extrapolation of an idea or movement learned previously. 

All in all it was a great session today. 

Saturday, 13 January 2018

A surprise training session.

So a couple of days ago I was asked by the mother of the girl I am training aikido if I would run a session through the holidays. We decided upon a Thursday morning at 9am before the day got too hot. My daughter joined me and we had our first aikido class for 2018. After giving the mats a good clean we finished up for the day. Or so I thought.

That afternoon I am enjoying some family time when there is a knock at the door. In walks my friend from Auckland, Jules. With him is another TSYR member from Auckland and Marco Pinto from Portugal!

Now, I knew Marco was in the country as Jules had invited him over for a seminar this weekend. I was not able to make the seminar and although Jules and I discussed Marco coming to my dojo I assumed that it was not going to happen. I was wrong.

So it goes without saying that I jumped up and grabbed my training gear and headed for the dojo.
We trained for two hours going over the idori kata. It was humid, stinking hot and fun. I always enjoy Marco's instruction, he moves precisely, totally dominates the mat and has a friendly banter.

There were four of us on the mats and I could see we could perhaps have up to six people total at a push.

After training they were going to go into Hamilton to run a karate session so my wife and I invited them in for an early dinner to fuel them up for the next stage of their journey.

My daughters enjoyed the visitors as well. Board games were played while dinner was being prepared.

All in all it was a great day of training for both aikido and TSYR.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Into a New Year!

So here we are, 2018. 

I sit here typing this post at 7:40 in the morning as the sun streams through my window. It is summer here in New Zealand and I am on holiday. 

Were am I in my training? Well, I started 2018 by getting up in the morning of the 1st of January and went to my private dojo to train. My daughter came with me. I have been giving private lessons of aikido to my daughter and a neighbour's daughter who is a similar age. So it made sense to me that my daughter could follow a tradition I have done for years; either train into the New Year or (in this case) train on the first day of the New Year as soon as possible. 

I do this for a few reasons. Firstly it is a way of making sure I start in a way I mean to carry on for the year. If I get out and train as soon as possible I feel I have started well. Secondly, its important from a Japanese perspective. I train in budo with Japanese roots. The New Year is important to the Japanese so I am respecting the roots of my two arts. 

After warming up on the mats I decided I would do 18 cuts for each of the TSYR battojutsu techniques to represent 2018. My daughter followed along with a bokken doing aiki-ken cuts of her own. As I mentioned, it is summer and it didn't take long for the sweat to appear on our skin. There was only the sound of bird song and the fabric of our keikogi rustling as we went through our cuts. It was a time where I could bond with my daughter without saying much except the occasional technical reminder. It was a time I enjoyed immensely. To be able to share my joy for the martial arts with one of my children is exciting and I feel privileged.

My daughter and I in the dojo.
I continue to work on the dojo. I have been painting the entrance just inside the door. A coat of paint is making a big difference to the original wooden shelves and wall there. I am enjoying the time I have to tick along with projects like this. 

I formally get back to the Hamilton dojo to train tonight (the 3rd) it will be good to see the others and iron out some kinks after being away for a break. 

To my readers who are martial artists, all the best for your training in 2018. May you grow stronger and wiser (whatever that means to you) and keep safe.


Sunday, 23 July 2017

Training in July (winter)

Well, it has been a very wet week here in the hills above Cambridge, NZ. The South Island has suffered severe flooding and a state of emergency has been declared in certain areas. However, training continues here.

My instructor, Chris has been overseas and left me to run the classes in his absence. The reality is that only a few of us are left to train while both Chris and Nat are gone so during the week we trained at the Hamilton Dojo and on the Saturdays we trained at the Te Miro Dojo.

I have been thinking about the way we train when Chris is away. We are left to work through our training problems and must rely on our own muscle memory and notes to do the techniques correctly. We have video footage of Threadgill sensei and notes of senior students to look at as well.

One tool we use are the key principles of the Ryu. If what we are doing is not working we return to principles. The more we train, the more we see the principles emerging in different techniques. It is empowering to solve a problem and push through our training on our own. Many times Threadgill sensei has mentioned one point or another and we think we are doing it but we are not. Then we have an epiphany during our training and realise he had been telling us that all along.

We watch our posture and structure a lot. We check the position of our shoulders compared to our hips and elbows. If our shoulders are ahead of our hips, we are often using too much arm force and not letting the lower body provide power. We watch the spine and check to see if we twisting or bending our spine in unhelpful ways. Things like this help us stay true to the training.

I have also enjoyed training over intense cold days (well as intense as it gets in our temperate climate) and very wet ones. There is something invigorating about trudging out to the cold dojo and forcing my limbs to get moving to warm up. Then afterwards feeling the warm glow that only post-training brings. Staying active in the colder months is important for health in my opinion.

The last couple of weeks has been satisfying and affirming of where we are in our training while our teacher is away.