“Shugyo”

In response to a query about seemingly “extreme” physical training

What your GM is doing is probably his unique version of shugyo as applied to the world of today. Shugyo means “the Way of enlightenment through physical discipline”. It is a method of physical training that pushes the trainee to the utmost of his or her physical limits. The samurai did it, as did the ninja, as well as various other traditional martial arts at one time or another. In the broadest sense of the word, today’s foremost practitioners of Shugyo are the special forces of the world: the SEALs, the SAS, etc., etc.

Shugyo exists in every form of traditional martial arts. The difference lie in the focus and extent to which each art emphasizes it.

Usually, Shugyo is done as a special event (after adequate preparatory training) that goes over the length of a certain time-frame (a few days, a week, etc., ala special forces’ “Hell Week”). Participants usually prepare themselves physically, mentally and spiritually in advance prior to Shugyo.

Your practice of punching the tree till you bleed would be one form of Shugyo, and I can understand why you’d then write your name in your own blood. Your name, in blood, is declaring to whatever “gods and spirits” of the world that are watching, in vivid, fiery red, “This I have done; I, who is mortal”.

To paraphrase a certain saying, “Pain, where is thy sting”.

As a form of Shugyo, if it works for you, then it works for you. But you must grasp what it is that your GM wants for his students to accomplish through this practice. Your interpretation of the purpose of this practice might be different from that of your GM’s. Don’t just train. Learn as well train.

Having said that, whatever the reason and purpose behind your method of training, look after your hands (and your understanding) well.

Soft hands don’t necessarily make you a lousy martial artist. Hard hands don’t necessarily make you a great martial artist. Functional hands at least let you brush your teeth.

On a lighter note, to paraphrase Mr. Miyagi, “What tree ever do to you?”

“Lo, There Do I See My Teachers”

I remember a phrase from “The 13th Warrior” (starring Antonio Banderas) that went:

Lo, there do I see my father,
Lo, there do I see my mother and my brothers and my sisters,
Lo, there do I see the line of my people,
Back to the beginning,
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me to take my place among them
In the halls of Valhalla,
Where the brave may live…
Forever.

While our learning and training is an expression of who we uniquely are, our art is not our own. They are as much our “fathers’, mothers’, brothers’ and sisters’ in the art.

Many lives and generations have gone into our art, a legacy left by those who have gone before.

It is the art of “our people, back to the beginning”. And we are bid to take our place among them, in the halls of “Valhalla” where strength, honor, courage and valor resides, where the teachers, the bearers of the flame of knowledge and wisdom live forever – in the hearts, and minds, and souls and lives of their students.

A few years ago, I had a student turn up at my place of business and presented me with a medal which she won at an international meet — so that I can hang it around her neck for her. She had moved to another state to work and started training there. She’s 25 now and had been with me since she was 16. If I may be so presumptious to say so, I took her from a little “Octopus” (uncoordinated flailing arms and legs) and turn her into a little “swan”. She has won many national and international titles (and I don’t mean the “open” kind of tournaments where any Tom, Rick and Harry can take part. I mean the sanctioned tournaments where you have to qualify through selection and performance rankings before your country can even submit your name)

Since moving to another state, we seldom see each other anymore. But she calls at times and we talk, and I try to find out what’s going on in her life (and her fiance’s — now husband — who is also one of my students and moved to the same state).

As I said, one day she turned up at my place of business with her medal. I took the medal, looked at it appreciatively, looked at her proudly and hung it on her. She bowed and said thank you. When I turned, a couple of my staff who was watching the whole thing the whole time, were crying.

I asked them what was the matter. And they said they had never seen anything like it. It touched them deeply. And I jokingly said “You gals should get out more”. But I knew what they meant.

I think I can safely say they now have a more appreciative view of the kind of man their “boss” is.

You see, martial art is not merely about technique. In the final analysis, being a teacher is about leaving a living legacy in your students’ lives. In that sense, you never die, but you live on.

As Stephen Covey says in his books, “to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy”, that’s what it’s all about. And In the martial arts, we have ample opportunities to do that and more.

At the end of my days on earth, when I look back, I shall be grateful for all the living, learning, loving and leaving a legacy I had been able to do through the martial arts. And when I breathe my last breath, it shall whisper “Leaves Fall”, and I shall smile… and if I be permited another two words, I shall say to the Great Spirit “Thank You”…and die.

Yes, leaves fall…but they nurture the next generation, as I’ve tried to do my entire martial arts life.

Teachers fade away, and teachers die…but they live on. So, be not merely an instructor. Be a teacher. Medals rust, titles fade, but memories and legacies live on.

“Lo, there do I see my teachers…”

Training Your On-Guard

Question: Well, I have a problem with guarding in Taekwondo. I was sparring in class today (open-handed) when my master* told me to close my hands. It seems strongly stressed that you have to keep your hands closed while fighting, but I’ve been trained by my Karate sensei to keep my hands open.

I instinctively close my fists when I go in for a punch now, but when I don’t punch, I have my hands open and, eh, I’m a loose fighter. I move my hands around and move around my opponent a lot. It’s as if I’m dancing. I was even asked today if I was a good dancer by a classmate.

My Karate sensei taught me to be a freestyle fighter. But with my hands closed, I find moving around a lot more difficult because it’s uncomfortable and it makes blocking hard (I feel ridiculous fighting like this. I’m not saying the Taekwondo way is wrong, it just feels awkward to me). I block with my hands open also because I can either stop the attack in its track or have it pass right by me. With my fists, it’s as if I were trying to stop an attack with.. well, ANOTHER attack.

Now, my intention all along was to mix two martial arts while pursuing my goal of going to the Taekwondo Olympics, but fighting with my hands closed is tough. I prefer my Karate guard because it blocks my whole upper-body (the lower too, but it takes a bit more work). And I feel that it’s a bit disrespectful to ask my master if he can make the exception and let me fight open-handed because I am learning his art, and it’s not my time yet to tell him how I’m mixing an art with his. So, do you guys think I should confront my master about this guard problem, or do I just sit back and accept the guard for now? If any of you have had a similar problem like this, I’d be happy to hear them. Advice is always welcome.

Answer: If adaptability is one of the attributes that a martial artist should be well-versed in, then consider it your chance to try something new.

Here’s something you might want to try. Practice that hands-closed guard with boxing-type bobs and weaves. Hold your fists in a relaxed manner, arms loose. Bob and weave. Then incorporate some footwork. You’ll soon get the hang of it.

Then “tigthen up” the bobs and weaves. Meaning make the bobs and weaves much, much less obvious than the boxer’s. Call it “micromovements”. Pretty soon, you’ll have no problem with the hands-closed guard.

Master this (and combine it with occassional staccato-like shoulder/body feints) and you’ll also develop a good sense of “rhythmic control” where your opponents won’t be able to tell whether you’re coming or going. In short, they won’t know whether you’re feinting, bobbing-and-weaving, or actually attacking.

Olympic-Style Taekwondo: Why No Block, No Guard?

Another informative post for the Olympic-style competitor as well as those who are wondering why said competitor don’t put up their guards and don’t block.

Here was the gist of the question regarding blocking:

But I’d think for a person on the Olympic team, they’d be taught to block.

Answer: Not really. For various reasons, some of which were stated in the above post. Here are a couple more reasons:

1. In a game of speed, blocking slows you down. The jarring effect of a block affects your attacking/counteratacking momentum. In addition, blocking usually involves a “1-2” rhythm (block-then-counter). By the time you’re done with the 1- the oponent’s already gone. Unless you judiciously use the block as a strike once in a while (Judiciously because if you do it all the time, the chief referee can penalize you with “conduct unbecoming”)

2. In most tournaments, a competitor has to fight a series of bouts before he gets to the final. If he blocks full-power kicks all the time in every bout, he’s going to have some very sore arms, to say the least, and make it difficult to go all the way to the final. As he carries on with subsequent bouts, he’ll start to get concerned with preventing anymore “shocks” to his arms, and will tend to (unconsciously) focus more on preventing pain than on what’s needed to win. I see that a lot with new competitors.

The experienced competitors know better and prefer to stay as fresh as possible, so they don’t block indiscrimately. They’ll block only when they absolutely have to.

As with any other sport, sport Taekwondo requires a competitor to have game-plan specific to sport Taekwondo in order to do well. Part of that game-plan calls for not blocking unless when absolutely unavoidable.

Why don’t they just condition their arms to block kicks then? In my TKD school, they do full contact, and I’ve never been in pain when blocking continuously, even after having a kid trying to run me in and I don’t even wear a forearm protector. There are some kicks I understand that you should try to avoid blocking, but simple roundhouses, sidekicks, and whatnot, these can be blocked..

Have you ever blocked a really powerful roundhouse/turning kick thrown by a top-level competitor? It’s no fun, trust me. You don’t want to do that for 2 minutes, 3 rounds (or 3 minutes, 2 rounds, or whatever, depending on the organizer) for 4, 5, 6, 7 bouts. You’d be stacking the odds against yourself by slowing yourself unnecessarily.

Now to come to your question. Would you try something with me here? OK, notice how you were not afraid to block because you thought it didn’t hurt? Even when some kid tried to run you down and you were’t even wearing arm protectors.

Great confidence. Now imagine someone who has become very good at blocking and fears (or feels) no pain when blocking. Very confident of his blocking ability, and therefore confident that he can handle himself in any match. So what does he focus on in a match?

What he does best: Blocking.

Yes I know he’s not stupid. He will, of course, try to score. But the very nature of his “notion” of doing well in competition is entirely different from the what is required to win: score.

He thinks that because he is preventing the opponent from scoring on him that he’s doing well. But preventing the opponent from scoring is not the same as actually scoring points.

It is scoring points (or getting a KO or TKO) that wins the game, not blocking. I’ve seen this many, many times with numerous would-be competitors. Don’t fall into the same “trap”.

In fact, personally, if I was presiding at a selection to pick a team for WTF competition, and a competitor blocks extensively throughout his matches, I would not select him. Why? Because he is unnecessarily stacking the odds against himself.

However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that WTF competitors don’t condition their hands, and don’t think that they don’t have blocking techniques for competition. They do, but those look and work very differently from the “traditional” blocks. When you get to the stage where you’re ready for serious competitions, your coach should be able to help you there.

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The Olympic-style Guard-down/No guard stance

This question came up in response to some videos posted on the forum that showed someone being knocked-out because he didn’t keep his guard up.

I’ve always wondered why that doesn’t happen more in the Olympics, the way the never have guards up.

Answer: The guard-up/guard-down (like everything else) should be viewed in context.

In the case of the WTF “competion guard”, it has nothing to do with the nature of the art itself, or the philosophy behind the art, but with the practicalities of the context in which the game is played.

In WTF competitions, points are given for hits to the upper torso (kicks and punches) and the head (kicks only). In high-level competitions, it is very difficult to score with head kicks, especially from a starting position (not impossible, but difficult).

The bulk of scores are usually made on the body, and aproximately 90% of body-scores are made with the turning kick (or “competition roundhouse”, if you will).

In this context, holding a both-hands-to-the-side down guard gives a competitor some degree of advantage in protecting the game’s major target – the torso.

If a competitor don’t have enough time or space (or alertness or in the middle of an exchange) to move out of range, with a slight turn of the body, or a simple and small outward extension of the arms (always with slightly bent elbows and a loose feeling of relaxed-tension), one can often prevent an incoming turning kick from landing on the target.

Due to this focus, WTF competitors (and coaches) are not inclined to emphasize a high kickboxing- or MT-type guard, which would expose the major target big time. Which is not to say they are not mindful of their heads, though. It’s just that priority is given to the torso.

One other thing: holding a rigid up-guard in WTF competitions is actually quite cumbersome for the speed and agility required to spar well.

Having said that, if a highly-trained competitor gets decked like in the video, then he deserves it, guard or no guard. He was sleeping on the job.

Schools which are specialised in sparring don´t teach “guard up”, because it is nonsense.

Actually they do…and it’s not nonsense. While the basic guard is taught as a mid-guard with both hands up, with some slight modifications, it can be turned into a slightly different version of the hands-at-the-side guard, but this time protecting the front of the target. With a bit of movement, this modified mid-guard can be turned into the “side guard” in the midst of action.

One of the problems associated with beginners or juniors using the guard-up during competition sparring is that they get into this “now me, now you” rhythm. Because they have their guard up, they have a tendency to try to either paryy or block an incoming kick before they counter. Even when they’re out of range, they’ll reach out to tap the kick and then counter with a kick.

This sing-song “now me, now you” rhythm is detrimental to scoring. For instance, the student throws a turning kick, and because he is so used to tap-parrying in this sing-song manner, he will actually wait for the opponent’s counter (so that he can tap it, remember “now me, now you”) and then kick again. In the end it ends up looking a bit like pre-arranged sparring, which in a sense, it is. That’s no way to win a match.

As soon as they are more experienced, they don´t anymore [put up their guard]

In a sense, this true. What happens is that as they train, they see either their seniors doing it (who in turn may have seen competitors doing it at actual competitions or on video), or they saw it for themselves and try to imitate it, without actually knowing why. Pretty soon everybody is doing it…and everyone looks cool (mbac640 actually has a point there). But they’re not as well-trained as high-level competitors, and they can’t act/react as fast.

To “qualify” to use the low-guard/no-guard, one must have done a great deal of homework on footwork and simulation drills as well as actually sparring. Otherwise he would just end up looking like a hunched up gorrilla with arms that are too long (no offense to gorillas).

In the final analysis, nothing is as it seems. Remember, the duck looks quite peaceful on the surface of a lake, gliding along easily, with no cares in the world. Underneath the water, he’s paddling like crazy.

To be able to use the no-guard in competitions, you’ve got to do a whole lot of paddling in training and sparring prior to getting in the water.