Monday, April 29, 2013

What does Uke mean?

"The primary role of blocking is not mere parrying, it goes beyond that. In fact when one executes a real block it marks the beginning of a counter attack. If properly done the block nullifies the opponents attack for a short span of time that might be very short, but it is long enough for a counter attack." - Kenji Tokitsu Author of  The Inner Art of Karate.

In martial arts the root  term uke is usually referred to the person receiving a technique. In karate it ukete, in kendo ukedachi. In judo it is uke and in grappling arts it can be referred to as ukemi. Each of these variations convey the same general idea of receiving a technique. It is not an exercise of force being met with force but rather a redirection of force.

Once this concept is understood it completely transforms your training. You are not training to see if you can shatter an incoming technique, but rather flow with the energy that is being directed towards you, using it to your advantage. You are not just a passive participant in the exchange. Together with this concept of uke a student must learn what maai (distance) means and the importance of timing. In order to redirect incoming force your timing must be impeccable, this is only learned with constant practice.

When advanced students engage in kumite or the exchange of techniques, this ability can be seen. It seems effortless and it usually is. The difference is stark when a less experienced student interacts with an advanced student. The junior can be seen to expend large amounts of energy and use much effort, while the senior appears to be using very little to none.

Initially these techniques are taught as "blocks" because it is easier to understand. However, as the student progresses they will hear comments like "there are no blocks" or  "that technique is not really a block." If the student continues training they will discover that the techniques they have been practicing for years have different applications, that a parry is actually the inception of a counter, not and end in and of itself.

This transformation takes time. It takes time to learn the cadence and rhythm of dynamic interactions. It also takes time to become proficient at understanding the concept of distance and how it pertains to an effective uke. The benefit is that if the student perseveres long enough all of these techniques begin to unfold in their complexity, providing a deeper understanding of what it means when it is said "there is no first strike".

A vivid example of the power of "blocks" was Mas Oyama , the founder of Kyokushin karate. It was  recorded on several occasions that those who would engage in kumite with  him did so at their peril. His "blocks" were so powerful that he did not need to punch and kick.
 It is a level of technique we can all aspire to.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando

Monday, April 22, 2013

Fighting - Sparring and Combat

I took a brief break from blogging to catch up on my reading and writing. I am in the middle of rereading Scaling Force by Miller and Kane. This was part of series for me that started with  The Little Black Book of Violence, by Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder. Followed by The gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker and culminated by Scaling Force. I recommend getting all of the above and studying them, repeatedly.

Why reread these books and books like them?
First a little background: I was born and raised in the streets of the South Bronx in NYC. In the process of my growing, despite having a very strong parental influence I knew what it was to join and be in gangs. In my life I faced pipes, clubs, bottles, knives and the barrel of a gun several times. I know what it is to be in a fight one on one, the chaos of two armed mobs fighting and being in a situation when you are outnumbered. I don't share this as a badge of honor, it was and is a stupid path to pursue, grounded in a false sense of pride and ego that usually sends you to an early grave. I share it because it gives me insight into what the differences are between sparring and combat. I wont go into the military aspects of combat, because I have never been in the military (although I have family who have served with distinction) and so I cant give that perspective. I want to approach this from the perspective of street violence. Which is what we are most likely to encounter.

In our school we have the poster you see above hanging on one of our walls. In fact I have seen the same wall chart of striking points in several schools. Its so pervasive that it has become part of the scenery, no one really asks about it and its just accepted as part of the decor. If you stop a moment and take time to examine the wall chart  you will see that the points it shows can be quite devastating if struck with force. The points are not often taught in a regular class even though most of them are contained in the kata in most styles of the striking arts.

 This is the case with sparring and fighting. Most schools teaching fighting are actually teaching sparring, there  is protective gear and points and places on the body that are off-limits. All of this is good and has its place. I like to send students home intact without visits to the hospital or broken and dislocated parts. The danger lies when this is all that is taught, or is taught as combat. At some point the student must be taken to the other side of fighting, which is combat. There are no rules in combat. No one is going to wait while you don gear and get yourself mentally ready. No one is going to step in and break you up if it gets too rough. There are no rounds and  no points. When you are in this context survival is the goal.

This is not to discount the legality of this type of encounter. There are and can be severe legal penalties for causing damage and breaking a person when that level of force was not required. Which is why awareness is paramount. The concept of scaling force is also indispensable to meeting violence with the appropriate  response. I always tell my students- if you have to get physical, you weren't paying attention and your defense failed. The legal ramifications are so involved that a book would be required to do the subject justice, see the above titles for a good start.

So how do we reconcile these concepts of sparring and combat? Sparring is a tool to introduce concepts and principles. It is a safe, controlled environment that allows for mistakes. It is a laboratory of sorts, where you can explore and ask and try out techniques. The stakes, if there are any are low.

Combat / Fighting is almost the exact opposite of sparring. It is not safe or controlled. It is chaotic, fast, sloppy and messy. It sends your body through a hormone cocktail that you will not be able to control. Mistakes usually result in serious bodily harm or death-the stakes are high, sometimes the highest.

If you find yourself in a school or self defense class that does not make this distinction, do your research ask questions of the instructor and find out the strategies and tactics of the style you are currently engaged in and how it would deal with violence in an uncontrolled situation.

I recently had to revise the way one of my students was sparring. The method she was learning was a formal sparring method, which she was struggling with. When that was changed to a no rules type of fighting, this works on the street method, her ability and understanding shifted and improved considerably.

Both have their place in training and your life, just remember to know the  difference between the two.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body,
Sensei Orlando