Friday, 1 January 2021
Saturday, 10 October 2020
I want to touch on a topic that came up in a podcast I was listening to. The podcast was called Managing Violence by Joe Saunders and it was an interview with Savannah Archambault. Savannah shares openly in the discussion about her experience of rape and sexual assault and the impact that has had on her and the way that she teaches martial arts. It was refreshing to hear a woman's perspective on the martial arts. I highly recommend it!
During the discussion, Savannah is asked what the key factors are to teaching female students. She answers by saying that to her, gender doesn't matter. What matters more is the psychological state of that person and their size. In martial arts, size DOES matter. She admits that having a woman only class does help a female student recover from trauma initially but ultimately, once the student can move past some of those triggers, having a mixed class is more beneficial. This allows women to work with men and to see that the techniques being taught can work on a male.
So I would like to explore the ideas of the mental state and size of a person in martial arts.
|Size does matter.|
Firstly, size. To me, this is simple physics. The greater the mass of an object, the harder it is to move. I weigh 76 kg and stand 186 cm (6 foot, 1 inches). Think of a thin pole - that's me. Now if I am training with someone who is 110 kg and 168 cm (5 foot, 5 inches) I am going to have a hard time. I am giving away a lower centre of gravity and have less mass than my training partner. Of course, if I get my technique right I can move the other person around but I will have to have very good technique or I will most likely fail. I mean, this is the reason they have weight classes in sporting martial arts like judo. We discuss this very thing with body throws in TSYR. If we are trying to throw a person that is absolutely huge, then rather than take them over our hip it might make more sense to chock their ankle or leg and have them fall at that point. It still requires good martial principles such as taking their balance but there is less chance of injury for both parties if it goes wrong during training.
Consider a tall, strong woman who is into training and conditioning, perhaps she goes to the gym, perhaps she is a competitive rower. Now, put her up against a smaller man who is fairly inactive. Perhaps he spends most of his days behind a computer screen at work or playing video games at home. The size and strength difference will be obvious, we can ignore the genders of either training partner because in this situation, the woman will most likely have an easier time of performing the technique than the guy. This is what Savannah was getting at. Size matters more than gender. Yes, this is an unusual situation but is possible. My wife is of Dutch descent, she is 183 cm (6 foot) tall and weighs more than me (I will not be stating her weight here, I have some sense.) So this makes her on par with me for height and reach but I give away a little mass. However, I have trained and conditioned my body for many years in martial arts while she prefers daily walks and yoga. If we have a fun, play-fight and wrestle about on the floor, I can prevail. However, I believe should she want to (and she doesn't), with a bit of training she would be formidable because she has the size already there.
So with all things being equal, size IS more important that gender when training in martial arts.
What about the mental state of a person? I have already talked about mind set in one of my other blog posts so you will know how important I think this is. No matter your size, if you think you can't beat the other person or you think you can - you are right. Attitude is so important. Confidence is so important. Often we think of women being the victims of abuse, and while this is statistically, most likely, we mustn't forget that men can also be victims of abuse. Men can come to the dojo with trauma. Again, this is Savannah's point. Gender is second to the psychology of the martial artist.
|Where is your head at?|
I started my budo journey in Aikido. Historically, it is a martial art that has a higher percentage of female practitioners than some other martial arts. So from the very start I have trained with women. I now teach Aikido to children and only one of my students is a boy, all the others are girls, my daughters included. If I look at my two daughters, their psychology is different, they bring a different energy to the mat. My youngest is a rough and tumble kind of kid and throws herself (sometimes literally) into her training. My older daughter is more considered. Here we can see, within the same gender, a difference in attitude. Both do Aikido, both are strong, confident girls, but approach their training differently.
In Shindo Yoshin Ryu: History and Technique by Tobin Threadgill and Shingo Ohgami a past female student of Takamura sensei talks about how she was treated differently to the male students as she could not match their power. He had high expectations of her all the same and demanded that she surpass their speed and precision. He asked that she become deliberate, determined and dangerous. Just think about those adjectives for a moment. If that isn't all about psychology then I don't know what is!
I would like to add my own thoughts to Savannah's. Although gender is second to size and mindset, I do believe males and females communicate a little differently. My years as a secondary school teacher have taught me this as well as raising my daughters. Women and girls like to talk things through while men and boys like to just do it. While this is a generalisation, on the whole I find this to be true. As an instructor it is important to find a space for both approaches. Letting females talk out what they understand, at the right time, helps them. Letting a male just get on with trying the technique, helps them. The trick is making this work in a mixed class and of course, there are exceptions to every rule.
Hopefully, I have given you some things to think about in this post.
Sunday, 6 September 2020
I thought I would just write a short post this time.
Winter is a tough time for me as I don't get in as much training time as I would like. My Saturday morning training sessions are hijacked by my obligation to take my daughter to her football (soccer) games instead. Now, don't get me wrong, I really enjoy watching her play but I miss a key training session each week. As weeks go by I find my body tightens up and old injuries start hurting.
|Jack having a bad day.|
Saturdays at the Hamilton dojo usually focus around taijutsu and bodywork stuff. It is the foundation a lot of the other things hinge around. By the end of the football season I am really noticing the reduced training. During the week during our kenjutsu class, I really felt by body fighting me. Quality sword work really suffers if your body is not aligned correctly and it physically hurt to adjust habits I was forming from working on a computer and driving the 40 minutes to and from work everyday. Certain muscles had tightened up and it took fifteen minutes or so to get everything working correctly again. By the end of that session my body had limbered up and I was feeling better but I was discouraged how one less training session a week was hampering my progress. My lovely wife opted to take our daughter to training yesterday so I could get a Saturday session in. During the training we covered chokes, vital points for striking and body throws. I could feel tendons and muscles clicking and crackling back into place as I trained and walked out the the dojo feeling much, much better.
As I get older I appreciate more and more the need to stay mobile for good health. Stuck in a chair for long periods or stooped over a computer increase my chances of getting injured as muscles stiffen and tighten. I have known this for a while now, mobility is the key to physical health in my humble opinion but sometimes as work and family keep me busy it is easy to get lost along the way.
As I write this I am reminded of a quote from Morihei Ueshiaba, the founder of Aikido:
The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit.
I certainly feel like I am in need of some serious slack-tightening! It feels to me like O'sensei must have had days like mine for him to say such things.
Train safe, everyone!
Friday, 21 August 2020
As I write this blog, New Zealand had recently succeeded in being free of Covid-19 for 100 consecutive days. Unfortunately, our luck has run out and we have had a small outbreak which has placed restrictions on Auckland and less so for the rest of the country. I have had the luxury of training at my usual dojo, I go to work and life is still pretty much normal. Not so for my friends in Auckland. Training has stopped for them until further notice as the Auckland region awaits the release of the restrictions.
As I have watched the Covid pandemic unfold around the world, as I have heard of long standing dojo having to close their doors due to low numbers and lack of funds in the U.S.,(a good aikido friend of mine in Tennessee recently let me know his dojo is closing its doors). I can't help thinking about the hardship and obstacles the ancestors of our martial arts went through to keep our traditions going.
In my own tradition of TSYR, the members of the ryu had to survive many 'choke points' in history where the school could have ended. The founder of Shindo Yoshin Ryu, Matsuoka Katsunosuke, created his school in 1864. Note this is a few years before the Meiji Restoration, a turbulent time in Japanese history where loyalists to the Shogun were thrown down in support for the Emperor and the Westernisation of the country. Anyone supporting the old regime was considered a fugitive and Matsuoka had to keep a low profile for a while as he was on the shogunate's side during the strife. Luckily, he was officially pardoned in 1887 and continued to teach his martial art and grow his membership once more. Had Matsuoka been killed in the fighting or tracked down afterwards by authorities, the martial art I now practice would have ended then.
Moving forward in history we come to the Obata line of Shindo Yoshin Ryu. At this time Obata Shigeta was training his own son, Hideyoshi in the art, training him hard. Hideyoshi would eventually join the military and with the start of World War II, many students departed the dojo for military service. Hideyoshi was now an officer in the army and had to leave as well. Obata's grandson, Yukiyoshi was being trained at this time. In 1944, news of Hideyoshi's death was reported to Obata and seeing the future of Shindo Yoshin Ryu residing with his grandson, he put plans in place. Yukiyoshi was granted a Menkyo Kaiden at 16 years of age (his training would carry on) and he and his mother were moved to the countryside. This ensured the line would continue. The Tokyo fire bombings destroyed the Obata Dojo and Yukiyoshi's grandfather disappeared at about the same time. Through careful foresight and some luck, the school continued through Yukiyoshi. There are many moments through this part of TSYR's history that the koryu could have ceased. Had Obata been killed earlier without handing over the Menkyo Kaiden to his grandson, Shindo Yoshin Ryu would no longer be considered a koryu. One of the defining characteristics of a koryu is the unbroken line, documented with scrolls of transmission. As it was, Takamura Yukiyoshi had several years of training ahead of him at this stage.
It is a daunting task maintaining and ensuring the growth of a koryu bujutsu. It is important to have good quality deshi but perhaps more importantly, to have enough deshi to ensure someone from the group can rise up and fulfil the role of leading the koryu into the future. This is harder than it sounds. A simple mishap and a student who has been training for years can be gone.
Ellis Amdur has said many times in interviews and in his books that he was the last remaining student of one of the schools he trained in. All the other students had dropped away for one reason or another until it was just him and his teacher. I wonder if his teacher ever thought that would be the case?
So I look at the situation the world finds itself in now. We are living in unusual times, there is no denying that. But I believe our ancestors have endured far worse and I see the best thing I can do for my ryu right now, is train. Keep grinding the stone and polishing the mirror. We don't know what tomorrow will bring so make the most of it.
Monday, 6 April 2020
My relationship with other deshi in the kai is quite unique as well. I cover these in more detail in this post. It is a very unique situation where I am part of an international community.
So, that is my thoughts on this crazy obsession of mine.
Train safe and wash your hands.
Wednesday, 1 April 2020
|Samurai Jack training his proprioception.|
|Even after training for years, you may not get it.|
Tuesday, 31 March 2020
|Jigoro Kano and Kyuzo Mifune|
Here are some of the 'universal truths' I have discovered, please note that some of these concepts are hard to explain with words alone and some have to be experienced to get the full meaning of what I am trying to say. Also I am sure I will change my mind about some of these ideas as I refine my understanding. So, a disclaimer - this is how I understand things as of now, in no particular order of importance, and they are all up for discussion.
POINT OF IMBALANCE (the third point)
HAVING A SOLID BASE
MOVE FROM CENTRE
CONNECTING TO ONE'S OPPONENT
|Throwing with good posture.|
I believe all of the above concepts apply to good martial arts mechanics. If I see someone applying these principles, no matter what their background or training history then I know I am looking at a proficient martial artist.