Sunday, December 17, 2006

Yagyu Shingan Ryu Techniques

These are several techniques from different parts of the Yagyu Shingan Ryu curriculum as demonstrated in Japan a few years ago. See if you can pick out the "secret" techniques.

This is not classical koryu... But it's still fun to watch...

Santa's Naughty List...

Naughty Santa

Saucy Rachel Ray

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Some essays on Ma-ai...

"Ma-ai" means "harmonious distance." It refers to the concept of the proper interval of space, and often the associated time, between two opponents in Japanese martial arts. I prefer an alternate translation of "critical distance" as it implies the proper sense of urgency in most martial arts encounters.

There is no set rule for ma-ai, and the "critical distance" varies according to the bodies of the individual opponents and the tools engaged in the encounter. The determining of ma-ai is not intrinsically difficult. As has been pointed out (most recently by He Who Shall Not Be Named!), most people have a sense of their own comfort zone for conversation. Interestingly enough, although this comfort zone does differ from culture to culture and person to person, in the West, it generally extends to the limits of defensible distance.

If you want to see what I mean, the next time you have a standing conversation with an acquaintance, set a distance. Then try to shuffle forward as unobtrusively as possible. Even if your action is not threatening or alarming, the other person will probably take a noticiable step back to reset the original distance. You can expand your experiement by trying the same trick on a good friend. Chances are good the friend will let you get closer. But even so, if there is no perceived "need" for you to be so close, you may notice your buddy begin to get uncomfortable.

You can also watch ma-ai while driving. Tail-gating is bad ma-ai. But more importantly, the "critical distance" between you and the car in front of you will change depending on road and weather conditions, and the type of vehicle you are driving.

Sparring seminar...

Last Saturday, our dojo's Fearless Leader (FL) invited his teacher, the awe-inspiring "He Who Shall Not be Named!" (or HWSNBN!) to give a seminar on sparring. As usual, HWSNBN! gave an excellent class and threw out many comments for us Mere Mortals to consider when we slink back to regular training to work on improving.
I was thinking about one of the rhetorical questions thrown out by HWSNBN! "Why are you in Ichimonji?" He said any response of "I don't know why I'm doing this" is incorrect. I liked that.

However, from a teaching point of view, I'm not sure that's always 100% true. Because the student's understanding of why he does anything should constantly improve.

I expect a beginner to say, "I have no idea why I'm doing this other than myteacher told me to, and I trust him." I think that's valid.

Somewhere in the middle, the student should be able to explain that the kamae is optimal for defense, offense, mobility, etc. How the student expresses that is going to change. Defense and offense might be defined as having the arms up to block strikes and be available for punching in response. Later the student might describe how blading the body protects the vital areas, and that three of the four weapons (2 hands, one foot) are between you and the opponent.

The student will later talk about more subtle concepts, "I feel right in this posture; I'm ready to act." Or be able to explain how and why power can be generated from the hips and knees more efficiently.

I think the most advanced people are fully aware of these parts, but probably (and legitimately) they go back to, "I've been doing it so long, I'm comfortable with it. I trust that it works, because I've experienced it working."

I'm told that our dojo needs, as a group, to work on bending our knees. We've been hearing that for ages. I was watching HWSNBN! demonstrate, and paid particular attention to his legs. He does get low, and he uses a rocking motion to create an illusion of distance for his opponent. Maybe the importance of the low knees will drive home when I finally understand the manipulation of ma-ai in that way.

I've also heard, in an ominously vague way, that some students, "Didn't seem to have a grasp of Gyokko Ryu Ichimonji." Comments like that cause me to ponder on my own training and lead to the first few paragraphs above.

Here's a training tip: Always assume that a criticism of your group automatically applies to you. Think long and hard about it. Never, ever, hear yourself say, "I'm glad he's not talking about me." He probably is talking about you in that case.