Thursday, October 27, 2016

Dojo cho seminar

What a time!  The biannual Jinenkan Dojo cho seminar has ended and I am left with an overwhelming sense of brotherhood and community that is certain to sustain me well into the future.
A week ago, we gathered at the hombu to bring our intentions, knowledge, humour and goodwill to each other.  We were there to further our martial skills and refine our character under Sensei's tutelage.
It was the UN of the Jinenkan world.  Almost all continents were represented and dozens of countries like the United States, England, Wales, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland & Australia.
The training was intense, as the skill levels were very high amongst the experienced Dojo cho and the adrenaline was pumping.  Training with those who's skill far surpasses your own can be daunting, but it almost always lifts your game too.  I am forever grateful of the opportunity to train with such experienced budoka.
The first two days saw most participants nursing bruised and bleeding knuckles, but the sweet spot came on day 3 when everyone had settled into a good rhythm of safe but intense training.  The regular visits to the bath house, south of the hombu, definitely helped some of us with the aching muscles.  Can't say I was a fan of the electric bath though.  Simon was right about the agony of that one.
Sensei was in fine form.  Thanks to some good anti-arthritis medication, Lloyd Jewel has found for him, his hands are more mobile and pain free than they've been in years he says.  He had also recently come from a fasting practise at a Shingon monastery that has really put a spring in his step as he is feeling lighter and healthier.
At night we all sat around the larger kitchen table in the rear apartment above the dojo, drinking beer and sake, talking about our lives back home, training, students and whatever other nonsense came to mind.
We also travelled to Kashima Jingu and trained for two days amongst the ancient cedars of the beautiful Kashima Shinto Ryu dojo, Butokuden.  The dojo itself is 400 years old and had a masterfully crafted, nail free, sprung wooden floor.  A real treat, with its traditional look and feel.  The sense of samurai tradition, blood, sweat and screams hung heavy in the air. 
After our Karaoke party at Nanzan on the last night, the kick-on vibe was still strong with Morris playing 3 hours straight of whatever songs we wanted to sing, as we kept on screaming and drinking well into the wee hours.
I made some great new friendships and caught up with old friends too.  I was sad to leave, but am looking forward to the next meeting of these wonderful people who treasure Sensei's teachings and kobudo.

Travis de Clifford
Kensho Dojo - Australia


Tonnes to think about.

Keiko last week at the hombu (and two days at the Butoku at Kashima Jingu) was like nothing I had ever experienced. Intense, focussed, hard, fun and filled with epiphanies and revelations.

Initially, Sensei wanted us to focus on Shuhen Shiya (周辺視野) and Chushin Shiya (中心視野). The first, shuhen shiya, relates to peripheral awareness, i.e. turning your peripheral vision on and maintaining that awareness throughout your keiko. The second, chushin shiya, refers to focusing in on your opponent or on a certain point in your vision. The key is to maintain both at the same time. This is where it gets tricky as tunnel vision is often the immediate result when shit goes down and we fall under duress. However, being aware of this and remembering to fall back into peripheral awareness will help your performance, mental equanimity and keep you together. For those of you who meditate or 'sit', falling back to the focus of your breath or your last count is kind of like the same thing and, I guess, this practise will eventually become something natural and habitual.

Sensei also imparted the idea of kakusei mushin (覚醒無心) and its importance in keiko and everyday life. Mushin, as we all well know, refers to the zen idea of 'no mind' (please note that another Japanese translation for this compound is 'naïvety' or 'to be childlike' - this has no relation to the way we use the phrase). Sensei gave us examples of not having any thoughts during keiko and combat and not to think of an outcome or what kata or technique we might use. Doing so would be fatal and would also prevent us from moving naturally and freely. Kakusei, on the other hand, refers to being aware or awakened as both kanji refer to the same sort of thing. Therefore, awareness coupled with no mind. Sensei propounded the idea that by maintaining kakusei mushin we will be free of the opponents deceiving tricks, taunts or traps and we will not be taken in by them.

Some pretty heavy concepts with a lot of underlying facets, right? Well, of course. This kobudo, remember? The learning of the old and the esoteric with the idea of relating it to the present or learning something new from it, i.e. onko chishin (温故知新).

I found kakusei mushin maintainable during normal one-on-one kenjustu no keiko (well, most of the time) but as soon as we started performing 'one against many' kenjutsu no keiko it fell apart almost immediately. I guess more keiko is the key to becoming better at this. Interestingly, when we returned to the usual paired keiko, my movement felt better and had a sense of 'mushin'. The last day, i.e. the 6th day of keiko felt incredibly pleasant and I ended the seminar's 6 days of keiko with a feeling that I still had a three quarter tank available and ready. I commented this to Sensei whilst getting changed telling him that funnily, this last day was my best day of them all and that I felt elated. He said that I was most probably paying attention to my state of 'kakusei mushin'. I will now endeavour to do this during each and every session of keiko along with paying attention to my tanden, my feet, relaxing my shoulders, keeping my back straight, getting lower and the hundred other things he has as asked me to pay attention to in these past 16 years!

Next time, I'd like to talk about 'brotherhood' and how it relates to us in the Jinenkan, particularly in relation to our time spent together during the dojo-cho seminar.


Maurizio Mandarino
Chiba, Japan

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Power v's Weight

An interesting topic came up recently at training, speed v’s strength.  And as a result, power v's weight ratio.  Which is more desirable to the martial arts student, particularly, a student of kobudo?

Those who train in our art realise that speed has the benefits of enabling us better timing, better maai (distancing) and a certain advantage to our strategies.  Our arts were not always developed with maximum speed in mind, but without it in our arsenal of tools, we are like a three wheeled wagon.  Strength is also a necessity for combat.  When locked in an encounter, strength of our legs, core and to some extent, upper body, are vital.  But how much strength is really necessary?  And what sacrifice do we have to make in terms of overall weight?  How much muscle is too much weight to carry?  How light do we need to be for speed without sacrificing strength?

In May of this year, on our visit to the hombu, Sensei discussed the issue with us over a delicious meal and a “few” warm cups of sake ;-)  His thoughts, were that the issue of speed and strength comes down to a power/weight ratio.  There is no use being 195cm (6’4” approx) tall and weighing in at 120kg’s (250lbs approx).  He said, “You will be too slow!”  Sensei was stating this rationale with the assumption that the weight you are carrying is more muscle than fat.  He believes, the proper ratio for martial artists is your height in centimetres minus 100.  You are then left with your ideal weight in kilograms.  Example, I am 179cm tall (5’11” approx) and weigh 75kg.  By Sensei’s reckoning, I am 4kg’s under weight.  However, being long limbed and an athletic build, I would say I am about the right power to weight ratio for my build and height.  His formula is an approximate only.  It was understood, as we talked more, that this is a rough calculation.  A few kilo’s either side is fine.  What is more important with this formula, is that you feel strong, fast and quick on your feet.  As I say to my students often, there are no excuses for not being able to move what you have.  If you can’t, then there are two simple choices: Get faster or get lighter.

There are times I feel strong, but not always fast and vice versa.  For me, I have felt my best on the mats when lighter than 75kg’s by a little margin.  However I will add, that I was doing a lot of surfing and interval running, so muscle strength was still present while being a little lighter seemed to help a lot for my movement and overall stamina.

What works best for you?  A lot of us don’t assess these matters much unless we’re trying to get into an old pair of jeans, or our training starts to plateau, right?  We tend to go along happily with our training at much the same weight and conditioning level.  Active people don’t tend to oscillate much with their weight.  However, if you’ve noticed a deficiency in your movement and training, or you’re just not progressing, perhaps you haven’t really assessed this power/weight ratio.  Perhaps it’s time to have an objective look at your physicality and make the necessary adjustments?

Travis de Clifford
Dojocho - Kensho Dojo

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Journey Through Pain

Phil - sitting with his pain ;)
Training here at the hombu these past two weeks, we've been reintroduced to some acute pain.  It's not that sensei is being harsh, it's the nature of the techniques within the Shinden Fudo Ryu Dakentaijutsu.  They are designed to inflict sufficient pain through strikes, locks and flesh grabs to create an opening to take your opponent down and finish them.  Logical really.  I'd forgotten how harsh they can be, but beautiful in their simplicity and brutality.

Just the word itself, 'Pain', leaves us with an auto-response.  All of us have felt it.  We are born into it from the moment we take our first lung-full of air.  Pain is unavoidable, whether it be physical or emotional.  Our arts can help us put context to our pain and therefore transcend it to a bearable degree.  Pain, like fear, sadness and anxiousness, are not meant to be stopped or healed.  They are meant to be held and responded to with acknowledgement.  In the dojo, pain should be viewed the same way.  You should not be concerned with trying to end the pain or judge it.  Just note it without judgement.  In training, the pain we inflict is not done with malice, therefore, it doesn't last.  As uke, your are right to take notice of it and respond.  We either tap out, submit or use it's feedback to change our position or cease our current action.  To get caught in the dualistic notion of, "This is bad, holy s#%t!" is to miss the opportunity to train the mind in dealing with it.  We have to sit with our pain, however briefly or intense.  Just by acknowledging it, it will begin to lose its power over us.  Then it's over and you are free.  But if we run from it, it just hurts more. Once you approach it this way, it loses its strength and accuteness and becomes, instead, a reference point of what really hurts and what is just feedback.    

Pain in the dojo is a unique experience.  Few of us, in this modern age, get to place ourselves in an environment each week where we can experience pain of the body.  Yet, this pain isn't about masochism or a self destructive mindset.  It is a by-product.  We go to learn how to inflict enough pain on another in order to stop them inflicting pain on us or those we want to protect.  In the process, we learn that pain is a valuable tool of life.  If we avoid pain in the dojo, we learn nothing from the technique.  If we tap out early, we've missed the opportunity to really feel the flavour of the technique and our limits of flexibility and pain tolerance.  If we avoid the pain of lung busting conditioning, we miss the value in knowing what we're capable of under real pressure.  It's the same in life.  Avoid difficult situations or dodge challenges based on fear and the pain of loss or failure, then we only live half a life.

So the next time pain, fear or sadness catch you in the moment, embrace it for a second, recognise it, sit with it and see what manifests next.  As long as you don't feel the need to escape these emotions and sensations, I wager you'll be surprised at how your imaginings are worse than the reality.

Travis de Clifford - Katsuyoshi

Dojo cho
Kenshō Dojo

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I'm torn...

First up, I'm no expert, nor a sports medical practitioner.  But here are my thoughts on this topic, so please, take it with a grain of salt :)

We often hear conflicting advice on how best to warm up before physical activity.  The latest research shows we perform better with joint mobility warm-ups rather than static stretching before rigorous exercise.  But a combination of the two is not a bad way to go, I feel.  The thinking behind why static stretching is not as effective as we've previously beleived is due to the nature of our muscles.  With static strecthing before training, we are making micro-tears to the muscle fibre.  This is not what we need in order to warm up our muscles.  It feels good, admittedly, but it's not very effective at getting blood into the muscle fibre, or more importantly, our joints.  I hear of more lingering bad knees than bad muscle tears in our art.

We do need to maintain our range of motion and strive to be more flexible as we age, but it's best to stretch at the end of training, or a couple of hours before bed.  While we sleep or rest, the muscle grows more fibres to repair the micro-tears and accomodate the increased attempt at lengthening.  If we do too much intense static stretching and immediately go into our training, the muscle can become like an overstretched elastic band that may not hold our joint structures with enough stability.  This makes us prone to injury, especially with the types of dynamic movement we undertake in studying Kobudo.  We are better to do joint mobility warm-ups and rotate our joints (but not the neck), building and encouraging the flow of cenovial fluid to better protect and buffer our skeletal system, cartilage and meniscus for a safer and full range of motion.

Stretching isn't bad, nor does stretching before exercise mean you're assured of injury.  However, we need to think about our longevity in the art.  If we maintain a stretching routine outside of the two or three nights we come for keiko, then we will increase our range of motion safely and find we are better able to perform the techniques we study.  The goal is to still be training at Unsui Sensei's age, right?.  And who doesn't want that?!?

Travis de Clifford
Sessa Takuma Dojo

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Need for Speed?

An interesting topic came up during Keiko one night.  Speed.  How much is realistic and is a lack thereof detrimental to our learning?

As Morris and Manaka Sensei have stated previously, a slower pace at the beginning will allow you the best chance to absorb and fine tune.  Speed can come later.  Trust the slow pace.  However, when first viewing a technique, the discerning mind can come up with all manner of perceived flaws within the kata.  Speed, or the lack of, can fool the dualistic mind into thinking something is either flawed or perfected.  How do we then overcome this trap of the analytical mind?

A beginner may indeed view our training as unrealistic at first sight.  We move in set patterns of Uke & Tori.  One could be mistaken into thinking there are no dynamics to our kata.  However, this type of attitude is one that quickly dissolves once your feet are on the mats.  There is nothing dead about our combative techniques, but the speed at which we train can come across as unrealistic, choreographed and pre-determined.  These, so-called, predetermined outcomes are not lacking in realism or true combative movement whatsoever.  A lack of speed at times can also be detrimental.  When we first see some kata, we are mystified by Uke’s apparent lack of seizing the chance to counter Tori.  But this sort of analysis is not trusting the kata’s effectiveness and misses the fact that Uke has just received some sort of kuzushi (balance breaking) or atemi (softening blow or strike) and has no realistic opportunity to counter.  This is something I hear all the time.

We train at a moderate pace to ensure we can train safely and maintain our alignment, footwork and posture so we can sync our structure better and overcome the chaotic nature of real combative movement we can experience under adrenal stress.  This adrenal stress can create all manner of wild and unruly movement.  We may get too high through the knees or hips, footwork may become toe-oriented rather than mid-foot, our posture may get curved etc. etc.  The economy of our form is what sets us apart from the gendai arts.  A slower pace is essential to reveal flaws in our structure and assist in drilling good basics into us.  Later, we can speed things up a bit to pressure test our technique.  Randori (sparring) and keiko no ho (varied or random attacks within a set technique), training are also opportunities where we can pressure test ourselves and the juice and realism can be experienced.  Starting with speed only masks the flaws.

  The true physics to some movement can be distorted when seeing a kata for the first time at a slow pace.  But if we rush through a kata at speed in order to maintain an idea of “realistic v’s unrealistic”, we could miss the flavour within the kata or movement.  It is only when we slow things down that we may glimpse the secret to our path of perfected movement.  In the end, timing is of more importance, but that's a topic for another day.

Travis de Clifford
Sessa Takuma

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Tyranny of Distance

Maai (pronounced - Maa-eye), - combative distance, is something worthy of our constant focus. "Thanks, Captain Obvious", I hear you say?  Yet, it's something taken for granted during training every-so-often.  We either make assumptions or forget entirely, especially if we pat ourselves on the back about all the other things we ARE remembering, ie: footwork, posture, intent, speed & rhythm - the list goes on.
Most often, we only become aware of poor maai when we are taking the role of Tori (receiver of technique) and notice our Uke (attacker) has pulled up well short or has over-reached greatly.  However, as Tori, we can fall prey to incorrect maai when counter striking or attacking during a weapons kata.  Kukishin Ryu's Rokushakubo techniques, where Tori initiates the attack, are a prime example.  If you are short on your attack, then Uke never feels he is in danger or under serious threat.  The kata has then lost its spark, its life, its essence.  You are rehearsing moves, rather than fighting.  Also, you look ridiculous as you swat at your opponent from afar.  I see a lot of this in embu's from other styles.  Not to criticise but it's pretty common.  No wonder it's hard to get people interested in Kobudo these days when they can see the direct impact of correct or incorrect maai in other gendai budo such as Muay Thai or MMA.
These seemingly insignificant lapses in our distancing at times may not seem like a big deal, but if left unchecked, can impact the Jissen (real combat) nature of our arts and turn what was once an effective and highly dangerous fighting art, into nothing more than choreography.

Travis de Clifford
Nidan - Sessa Takuma Dojo