Unsung Heroes

July 20, 2011

This article is about the thousands of unsung heroes throughout the martial arts world. The senseis who don’t have a big reputation and don’t run their own clubs but nevertheless turn up every week to pass on their knowledge. Often they do this in spite of the fact they can’t train to the same extent as they did before because of age or injury or both.

Injuries are a way of life for any martial artist or sports person. It’s really sad when an injury means that you can no longer train with the same intensity as before especially if you’re still young or relatively so. For most people this signals the end of their martial arts career as mentally it’s too painful to be in the Dojo and not be able to train as they did before. At the moment one of my 2nd Dan’s, Lee Penston attends every week despite chronic back pain which means he can’t train as well as he did before. He went through the pain barrier and more to get 2nd Dan and now he’s taking it easy in the hope his back will heal. I for one hope it does too. For me it’s a huge bonus to have his knowledge, enthusiasm and teaching ability available to my students. I know he still feels as though his knowledge and technique are improving as he teaches but I also know how hard it is for him not to spar especially when he’s wistfully watching the groundwork!

Age of course is something that comes to us all and of course we can adapt our technique to combat this to some degree. Even so I really admire the older Senseis like Sensei Jim Trowers and Sensei Eric from Kyoshi Mike Johnson’s club and Sensei Reg Pagin from my original club in Liverpool who keep turning up and making invaluable contributions to their clubs despite creaking joints and other ailments. Their contributions are invaluable not only for their technical advice but also for the stories of old that make study more enjoyable and make you feel part of a lineage.

Finally there are many Senseis who are still able to train to a good level but may not aim to get another grade and just enjoy training and passing on their knowledge. London Ju Jitsu and I’m sure thousands of other clubs like it wouldn’t be able to run as well and certainly wouldn’t be as enjoyable to be a part of without these dedicated people. As mentioned at the start of this article for me they are the unsung heroes of martial arts.

London Ju Jitsu Martial Arts Tip Of The Week: What price tradition?

June 3, 2011

On Sunday 22nd March 2011 Sensei Quentin Ball of Hakuho Daito Ryu Aiki Ju Jutsu once again taught a seminar for us followed by an authentic demonstration of Japanese weapons techniques using Hanbo, Katana and Wakizashi. Sensei Ball studied for many years under Okabayashi Sensei in Japan and now teaches those techniques in the UK. This is a very different style of Ju Jitsu to the modern style taught at our school, but the benefit of learning even a small part of it is enormous.

Firstly it’s really helpful to understand the roots of the art you study. This often enlightens us as to why a technique is done a certain way and helps us to refine and improve it. As an example in Ju Jitsu we have defences from wrist grabs. When these techniques were developed the opponent would grab your wrists in order to prevent you from drawing or using your weapon. Once you understand that and also understand that the opponent would do everything in their power not to let go as that would leave you free to use your weapon, then the techniques make much more sense. Of course the technique may need to be adapted for modern use but knowing the history helps our understanding and that in turn makes it more enjoyable!

Secondly learning a martial art can sometimes resemble a game if Chinese whispers. As each generation teaches, small modifications or misunderstandings may occur until the technique may no longer resemble the original. As an example I studied Shotokan Karate for a couple of years and there was often debate about the practical uses for movements in the various Kata. Learning techniques in the traditional manner should mean we’re closer to the source when the techniques were used in battle situations. Because they’re closer to the source they may be more precise and suitable for defence than later more “sportified” or modern versions. It’s not a one way street of course. In martial arts as with life we
must evolve and adapt or die. Techniques and training methods can and do improve over time as well. Also the traditional techniques must be adapted for the modern world and more modern forms of attack. If you can experience both and get a view of the journey from the ancient to the modern form of your art I believe your understanding of that art and therefore your ability to apply it will be improved. Even in Japan and other countries in the East a lot of this knowledge is dying as the older generations die. So if you get the opportunity to train in the ancient as well as the modern styles you should grab those opportunities with both hands!

London Ju Jitsu Martial Arts Tip Of The Week: The camera never lies!

May 13, 2011

It doesn’t matter how good or how experienced you are, you always need a coach. As with driving, you can get into bad habits and not even notice. At London Ju Jitsu the main instructors have a mentor, Kyoshi Mike Johnson (7th Dan) to ensure we receive our own coaching. In addition we also invite him and Sensei’s who we respect from other organisations, such as Sensei Quentin Ball and Renshi Vikartóczky Gusztáv, to run seminars for us and our students. Attending these seminars ensures that we as instructors constantly learn new things and therefore don’t stagnate.

Even with coaching when you think you’re doing something right it doesn’t mean you are however. I wish I had a pound for every time a student was surprised when I told them they were doing something they absolutely believed they were not. Modern technology has given us an advantage that our predecessors didn’t have however and that’s the ability to watch ourselves on film. Mobile phones are making this even easier. My advice therefore is to ask a friend to film you at a grading s or some other event so you can see for yourself how you really move. If like me you are supremely self-critical you’ll notice many things that need to improve. And the next time your instructor tells you what you’re doing wrong you’ll be more ready to believe him or her as you’ll have seen the proof!

London Ju Jitsu Martial Arts Tip Of The Week: Strategy for defending yourself against multiple attackers.

April 15, 2011

Post grading we at London Ju Jitsu spend a few weeks defending random attacks from one or more attackers. The aim is to ensure we can develop Zanshin and our ability to defend ourselves rather than only practising in a choreographed way. When faced with more than one attacker the odds of winning the fight obviously decrease. If you can avoid the fight by reason or flight obviously that’s a sensible option. If you can’t then good strategy is as important as good self defence techniques.

Firstly you should try to get your opponents in front of you. If you can, try and get your back to a wall. This way you can’t be hit or grabbed from behind. If this isn’t possible you just have to accept that an attack from behind may occur and react when you’re either hit or grabbed. There is no point in trying to constantly look in front of you and then behind you. If you’re constantly swivelling you’re head you can’t focus and you won’t see those in front let alone those behind. You’ll also be off balance both mentally and physically. If you’re facing three or more opponents you should try to break out of the circle if they surround you. Again this is to try and get them all in front of you. Whether you attack first or wait for their attack and then break out the objective must be the same.

Secondly you must use your peripheral vision. Don’t focus on any one person or object. Stare ahead into the middle distance.

Thirdly under no circumstances should you go to ground if you can help it. In the UK more people are kicked to death than are killed by either guns or knives so the ground is absolutely the last place you want to be. If you do end up on the ground get up as quickly as possible. Even if you are taking a beating try and stay on your feet. Don’t think they’ll take pity on you and leave you alone once you’re down as they probably will not.

Lastly and perhaps controversially, I believe you have to really hurt at least one of your assailants. In some ways it’s better to hurt them than to render them unconscious. If one of the group is screaming in pain, it may make the rest of the group hesitant to be next. Hopefully this will give you a chance to escape.

London Ju Jitsu Martial Arts Tip Of The Week: You can learn more from failure than success

April 5, 2011

Today one of our students, Sam Owens, passed his blue belt. At London Ju Jitsu that is 3rd kyu, the 5th belt of our 8 kyu grade system. That is a decent achievement in itself of course but it is made even more special by the fact that he failed this grading the last time he attempted it.

I believe it takes a tremendous amount of courage and determination to come back from a failed grading and pass that same grading with flying colours the next time around. I have known students who stop attending class after a failed grading, or even after being told they’re not ready for a grading! To be at a grading watching everyone else receive their new rank when you didn’t pass is a lonely place. With focus and heart from the individual, plus the support of the rest of the club, this can be turned into a positive however.

At London Ju Jitsu we always do mock gradings in class to ensure that students are ready for their grading before they’re entered. Sam did such a mock grading before his failed one and was certainly good enough to pass. On the day it didn’t happen for him but today he was excellent! While it’s obviously not good for the individual to fail, I do believe it’s important for the club as a whole to see people fail. If everyone passes no matter how average their performance then the achievement of a new grade is worthless. We at London Ju Jitsu don’t like failing people of course, hence the mock gradings. All at the club do understand the need to be as close to their best as possible however in order to pass.

So what can be learned from a failed grading? Well in martial arts as in all walks of life success is easy to deal with and is not a test of ones character. To show the will to succeed after failing a grading, losing a fight or another setback is the mark of a true martial artist. The ability to look inward at what you could have done better rather than blaming the examiners, the tatami, the conditions (too hot or too cold) or some other excuse is really important in the road to becoming a better martial artist and human being. The ability to look your peers in the eye in the class immediately after the grading and show the will to not only continue on your journey but to have the resolve to exceed all of your previous efforts will stand you in good stead for the tests to come. In short the ability to overcome adversity is a pre-requisite to success.

Congratulations to Sam and all who have failed before only to become better and to those who will do in the future. It is up to you what happens next.

London Ju Jitsu Martial Arts Tip Of The Week: There is no such thing as a bad training session!

March 24, 2011

There are times when you turn up at a training session and nothing goes right. Your mind knows what you want to do but your body doesn’t do it. You may lose sparring bouts and kick yourself because you know where you went wrong and know it could have been avoided. All in all you think it was a bad training session and you may walk out downhearted. Be reassured that this happens to all of us! We all have off days of course whether through tiredness or injury, but sometimes I think your body is readjusting itself as well. We have to train our bodies to move in a certain way that may not be natural and to do that we have to break down old habits and rebuild with the new ones. It takes time and the body sometimes needs to get worse before it gets better!

 You may think your ability goes up and down with each session but as long as you keep applying yourself the trend will always be up. You only need to look at the novices to remember what you were like when you started and how far you’ve come! In my experience the training session that follows immediately after a really bad one is one of the better ones when everything goes right. I think this is partly because of the body readjusting as mentioned earlier, and partly because the bad session has focused your mind. During the days since the ‘bad’ one you’ve thought a lot about what you can improve and you enter the Dojo with renewed hunger. This sharpening of the mind and body is really useful and a reminder that we have to continually work hard to get better. Therefore In a lot of ways you’ve learned more from that session than a good one!

Finally the fact the you were there training and not finding an excuse not to is a success in itself!

London Ju Jitsu Martial Arts Tip Of The Week: Practice makes perfect.

March 5, 2011

Last week I read a great article by Matthew Syed in The Times. The article talked about the hours the rugby player Johnny Wilkinson puts into training and how those hours make us believe he is a genius. In the article Wilkinson was quoted as saying

 “My dedication is my greatest strength. I am able to stay out there practising until things are absolutely right. I don’t give up!”

The article then goes on to say. “Dig down into the biographies of Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, David Beckham or Mozart and the same story keeps repeating itself. Sustained dedication, passion and a powerful belief that with long devotion the rewards will flow. To put it simply, there is no such thing as effortless or preordained greatness.”  The article concludes with a quote from Pele.

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

This article inspired me to look up a few quotes on the subject from some famous martial artists. Here are a few.

Bruce Lee:

“I refer to my hands, feet and body as the tools of the trade. The hands and feet must be sharpened and improved daily to be efficient.
It is true that the mental aspect of kung-fu is the desired end; however, to achieve this end, technical skill must come first.
The techniques, though they play an important role in the early stage, should not be too restrictive, complex or mechanical. If we cling to them, we will become bound by their limitation. Remember, you are expressing the technique, and not doing Technique number two, Stance three, Section four?
Practice all movements slow and fast, soft and hard; the effectiveness of Jeet Kune-Do depends on split-second timing and reflexive action, which can be achieved only through repetitious practice.
When performing the movements, always use your imagination. Picture your adversary attacking, and use Jeet Kune-Do techniques in response to this imagined attack. As these techniques become more innate, new meaning will begin to emerge and better techniques can be formulated.”

Bruce Lee:

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Gichin Funakoshi

“Each year in the month of April, a great number of new students enroll in the karate classes of the universities’ physical education departments – most of them, fortunately, with the dual purpose of building up their spiritual as well as their physical strength. Nonetheless, there are always some whose only desire is to learn karate so as to make use of it in a fight. These almost inevitably drop out of the course before half a year has passed, for it is quite impossible for any young person whose objective is so foolish to continue very long in karate. Only those with a higher ideal will find karate interesting enough to persevere in the rigors it entails. Those who do will find that the harder they train, the more fascinating the art becomes.”

Morihei Ueshiba

“Progress comes to those who train and train; reliance on secret techniques will get you nowhere.”

Morihei Ueshiba

“The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit.”

And this one from Ueshiba I’ve included just because I like it!

“When an opponent comes forward, move in and greet him; if he wants to pull back, send him on his way.”

London Ju Jitsu Martial Arts Tip Of The Week:So what happens after black belt?

February 26, 2011

The months after gaining black belt can be difficult ones for some martial artists. After many years of hard training to get first Dan there are suddenly at least two years before they can go for second Dan and so the training lacks some of the intensity it did before for a little while. For some the lack of a goal on the immediate horizon is a little deflating and some even stop training at this point. To me this is a real shame. Let’s not forget that first Dan means first step and getting your black belt just means you’ve learned the basics!
At London Ju Jitsu the 1st Dans are encouraged to teach the Kyu grades. I believe it is honour to teach and I also believe that you owe it to your club to pass on some of the knowledge you’ve learned. Also as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, teaching improves your skills. The important thing here is not to be passive whilst teaching. Instead of teaching the technique and just watching, you should teach and then practice as hard as the Kyu grade is practising! Of course this will keep you fit and sharp but there are other benefits too. As an example it’s probably been at least four or five years since you passed your first grade. Now you have so much knowledge you should put all of that into practice and become as good as you can be at that first grade. In life we don’t get to relive our youth with the bonus of experience but in martial arts you can and you will become better for it! By the time you’ve mastered all of the kyu grades again and began to train in earnest for your second Dan, you should be much better. If first Dan is first step, the step up in class when taking second Dan should be a big one!

London Ju Jitsu Martial Arts Tip Of The Week:Every action deserves an equal and effective reaction

February 19, 2011

Recently a student at one of our clubs ‘resigned’ from London Ju Jitsu as he thought one of the techniques I was teaching was dirty and not worthy of the budo tradition. The offending technique was a head butt, and as I grew up in Liverpool and spent the first 13 years of my martial arts study in Dojo’s there, I was quite shocked to learn that a head butt was considered dirty! I always thought it was just one of your best weapons! If you’ve ever been on the end of a real Scouse (or Glasgow) kiss you’ll know why. Funnily enough I was teaching the same technique in the leafy suburbs of Surrey many years ago when one of the students, Lindsay Comens (now 3rd Dan Daito Ryu Aiki Jutsu) said
“Excuse me Sensei, but how exactly do you head butt somebody”. Up until that point I’d never really thought about it, but once this question was asked I realised that there were good techniques for this just like any other move. People from Glasgow, Liverpool and any other inner cities must have these techniques in our DNA!

So what constitutes a dirty technique? Is it breaking fingers, head butting, eye gouging, fish hooking or something else? In my opinion there is no such thing when it comes to self defence and a lot
depends on the situation. It’s better to have all of these things in your armoury in case you have to use them. Of course I wouldn’t advocate breaking someone’s arm because they’ve stolen your sweets! But what if they’re trying to kill you? In the case of the offending head butt the technique being demonstrated was a defence to a strangle. You can of course be strangled to death so in my opinion anything goes once someone’s hands are on your neck! Also saying some techniques are dirty implies that there is an acceptable level of violence which I don’t think is true.
There is a wider issue here of course and that is what does bushido actually mean and what is its place? There are lots of Hollywood films that romanticise bushido of course. There are also books such as Hagakure  that eulogise the Samurai way and their code of honour. This code of honour largely came about during the Shogunate era when nearly four hundred years of peace caused the Samurai to look for some meaning to their lives. Before Tokugawa Ieyasu became the first Tokugawa Shogun there were many times when a Daimyo (lord) would order his troops to change sides during battle. Does this sound honourable to you? One of these times was at the Battle of Sekigahara which led to Tokugawa taking power. Before this the Samurai would often use poison, assassins, kidnap and many other less than honourable means to ensure one thing and one thing only, victory over their enemies. There was no imaginary line they wouldn’t cross to achieve this. Honour to a Samurai meant one thing only and that was obeisance to your master. Even then you can judge for yourself to what extent the threat of execution for a samurai and his whole family played a part in that obedience. I’m not saying that the virtues advocated by the various writers on the subject if bushido are wrong. In fact I largely agree with them and aspire to being honourable myself. I also think that a lot the world is moving forward slowly towards a more caring civilisation and long periods of relative peacetime has brought that about. What I am saying is that there is no such thing as an acceptable level of violence. Luckily most of the serious martial artists I know aren’t violent people. They are capable of defending themselves, sometimes with extremely brutal techniques but that is not what they wish to do. They understand however that it’s easier to achieve peace from a position of strength. If you aren’t prepared to at least match the violence inflicted upon you then you’ve already lost.

London Ju Jitsu Martial Arts Tip Of The Week: Remember the word ‘art’ in martial art.

February 10, 2011

Sometimes there is a misconception that the martial arts are rigid. That a technique must only be done in a particular way or only used in a particular attack or defence. This is partially because of the way the techniques are taught. For example you may have been taught a strike or throw as a defence to a punch or kick. Remember that the way a technique is taught may not be (and probably isn’t) the only way it can be applied. It would be impossible to teach every application for every technique. None of us live long enough for that!! So the techniques are taught in a drill but that drill is only a method of teaching that technique. It is not a mathematical formula as in x + y = z.

Also there may be subtle differences in the way each technique is best executed due to the height, build or strength of you or your opponent. So try and think of each technique you learn as a tool to be added to your box of tools which can be used in lots of different ways. The balance, strength and movements that your body learns while training are also part of that toolset. Once you’ve mastered these techniques and movements it’s up to you how they’re implemented and in what situation. When you can begin to do this that’s when you become an artist in your own right!