Unyielding

A lot of posts about Mugai lately, but I suppose that’s because it’s the most interesting part of my week to me. Tonight we were doing grappling- lots of fun. As much as I love the sword, I feel more at home barefisted- unarmed, mano il mano, good old fashioned knock-’em down. We did some really cool locks- a wrist-lock I didn’t know could be implemented so easily, an armbar and aikido-style takedown, a neck-lock which I never imagined possible… Kaneda really knows what he’s doing- he understands the body’s functions and limitations and is familiar with pretty much every possible joint lock in the book. He knows so many variations of takedowns, escapes and counter-locks it’s amazing. He draws examples from Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, aikido and ninjutsu, as well as mugai ryu. That’s why it was so comforting to me to see that he physically didn’t have the strength/mass to apply an armbar to Simon.

Sometimes, in my life, I just haven’t had the strength to apply a lock. The person’s physically too strong for my to turn their arm so that it’s weaknesses are made available to me. I can’t turn their wrist enough to apply a wrist lock, can’t turn their hand over for an armbar, can’t move them at all. They’re just stationery, resisting, and I’m struggling and pushing at them trying to get them to move for crying out loud. Those are the moments in my life when I’ve felt useless as a martial artist. I’ve come to terms with the fact it’s not my technique that’s poor, but the way I implement it. What I learned tonight was to create openings. Moving backwards causes them to off-balance, distracting them long enough for you to turn their wrist and apply the lock. Pulling one way before moving another so that their resistance adds to your momentum will give you enough energy to force them down. But sometimes, even when you’re sitting on top of them putting all your weight on one joint, they’re still strong enough to get up (with you on them) and roll on top of you.

Kaneda’s good advice in this situation is to change tact. If one technique isn’t working, don’t keep struggling with it! Adapt. Accept that it’s ineffective against them, for whatever reasons, and react quickly enough to catch them off guard with the next technique. And if that doesn’t work and you’re in a situation where you’re about to roll around on the floor and start wrestling, get the hell out of there. If you’re a grappler, grapple. If you fight on your feet, get back on your feet. You can dabble in the other, but play to your strengths. It seems grappling is not one of mine. I’m tempted to start going to the gym and building some muscle on these arms of mine, but I’m worried it’ll slow me down. It’s a tradeoff I’ll have to make I guess, but I really do want to progress from being a lightweight. At least a little.

One really cool thing I’m getting much better at is the unbendable arm. Everything must be done with purpose. Even if someone grabs from behind and binds you, breathing, anchoring, and ‘raising the cup’ is all that you need to do. Ignore them, they’re not there. You just want to raise the cup. You’re not trying to do it, you are doing it. Nothing exists but the cup. This gives you enough room to make your escape, and it’s a fun thing to do! When I tried it with Andy however, I couldn’t budge. It seems either a) I still have a lot to learn, or b) I just need the arm strength to pull it off. Or perhaps c), both of the above.

The other amazing thing about tonight’s lesson was a demonstration by Kaneda. He invited Bert and I to apply any sort of grab we wanted to him and he would attempt to get out of it. I went behind him for the good old fashioned secure choke-hold, bracing against his body and pulling with the strength of both arms. It’s able to knock out a person within eight seconds (I’ve heard) if applied so that it cuts off the blood to the head. Bert went for something more unconventional, trapping Kaneda’s right hand against his right leg and wrapping his arms around them so they couldn’t move. Unable to breathe and with half his body negated, he created enough space to get oxygen and by manouvering us around, eventually managed to get enough leverage to throw me off. It was spectacular, I dropped straight back and had to breakfall because of the force of it. From there he turned his attention to Bert and created space to escape that as well. There was a lot of resistance and struggling through- he wasn’t happy with it, and at the end of class asked us to do it again. He took a much different approach this time, and rather than fighting us for a good minute or two, he simply anchored, breathed and slipped out. He escaped within seconds, and did it again this time freeing his right hand first. He thanked us for helping him learn what he needed to work on. I’m so grateful that my teacher isn’t infallible- he has weaknesses too, just like me. It’s very reassuring. I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to play to my strengths.

Okay, exam time. Here we go!

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Circles

Mugai Rui tonight was awesome. Beth and I took Kaneda out to lunch on Friday (delicious Utopia followed by equally delicious dessert) and he told us about a drill they did last week in class. Two people closed their eyes, were put on the map in random places, and one had to find the other, who stayed perfectly still and made no sounds. Tonight, Kaneda repeated the drill, and he demonstrated with me. I closed my eyes, was shuffled about and sat down on the mat, and he was put on the other end and treated the same. The assistants stood to the side so it was just us, and when Ellora said "Hai!", Kaneda paused for a moment before turning to look right at me. It was scary because his eyes were closed, but if they had been open they would have been staring right inside me. With his arms half-extended in an open guard, he strode across the mat, stopped right in front of me, and bopped me on the head with his palm. Not only could he tell which direction I was in, but he knew exactly how far to walk before he was standing right in front of me. Things got crazier as everyone (all eight of us, I think) was shuffled randomly around on the mat, we elected one person to find, and Kaneda (eyes closed) walked around each of us until he found the person we nominated and touched them. He swerved around people he sensed weren’t the target, moving towards each person, eyebrows furrowed as he tried to understand their energy. It was awesome. Admittedly, he thought I was Bert the first time, but when he tried again he found Ellora relatively quickly. It was really impressive to see him move around us so quickly- he describes the sensation as a bubble, and he can feel the pressure of other bubbles around him. He also feels pressure with his hands- as he gets closer to someone, he knows it just from sensation. At the end of class, he demonstrated the practicality of this by asking me to extend my hand. He put one of his hands below and the other above, just out of reach, and concentrated. All of a sudden I felt this warmth come into my hand, a kind of tingling and a little pressure. I don’t know if it was heat radiating from him combined with my excitement, but I genuinely believe Kaneda’s warrior spirit is immense, and can effect the physical environment around him.
 
Lots of good practice today. I must not lapse into assuming I’m doing things right- I must be ever vigilant of how I can improve my technique. But a realisation came to me as we were doing a three-on-one sword drill: my mind became perfectly clear, stiller than any lake could be. Everything moved slowly, and as swords came down on my, it was as if leaves were falling in slow motion, and I could easily sweep out of their way with no more effort than I needed. I came up with a rough quote to describe what it was like: "I am the calm amidst the tempest: you cannot disturb my peace." Sounds good, ne?
 
I love Mugai. I love Rebel. I’m going to devote more time and more of my life to it, because it really matters to me. It’s one of those important things in life I was talking about. Even if I have to give up karate, I can do that for the pleasure of doing things I love with people I love. Things can only move forward from here.

The important things in life

For a little while now I’ve been contemplating the possibility of studying part-time. Something I’ve noticed over my experiences in uni is that I never have enough time to study to my satisfaction- even if I devote myself to doing well in one unit, all the other units suffer as a result. I’m always struggling to get the next assignment in, and I generally stop doing the readings somewhere around Week 2 or 3. I have too many extra-curricular commitments to spend time leisurely, and I never have the time to see friends during semester. What time I spend with Bethwyn isn’t normally anywhere near enough for me. And always at the back of my mind is the thought of what study I should be doing. I think it would be healthier for me to study less- to take two units a semester and study them well, or three units and study them averagely, rather than four units and barely make deadlines. I want more time to live- to be happy, and enjoy what I’m doing rather than breezing through these four years in exchange for a degree. I don’t mind spending extra time studying if it means I’ll be able to live in the here and now and to enjoy what I’m doing rather than waiting for it to be over.

On the flip side, I am little worried I’ll have too much time. As I’ve said previously, gaps in my schedule scare me. I start to panic when I run out of things to do with my time. It’s starting to happen now, as semester draws to a close and I’m beginning to get little gaps of time (just a few hours here and there) where I don’t have to study just yet. It’s quite stressful. But I don’t want to fill my life with crap to pass the time. If I’m uncomfortable with emptiness, I should find out why, not run from it. I want to know who I am underneath all the stuff I keep busy with, what my values are and why I have them.

Speaking of which, life is too short to spend doing things you hate. Ajahn Brahm suggested there is a hierarchy of the important things in life, and that we should always be aware of what is most important, and what is not, and  to base our lives around that. So this is my little moment of self-reflection to identify some things that really, really matter, when all the layers are stripped off and you look at the essence of things.

  • My relationships. Most specifically, the very special relationship I have with Bethwyn. It is something to cherish and look after because it makes life worth living.
  • My family. As much as I run away from it sometimes, the bond I share with them is unique and something worth honouring. I must look after my parents as they have looked after me, and respect and love my brother.
  • Peace of mind. No matter what the situation, if I accept it wholly and commit myself to it, I can be at peace with it.
  • Being kind to others. Life without love is a sad, sad thing.
  • The martial way. I live and breathe martial arts- everything I do, every movement, every thought, is part of my warrior journey.

Other things which I have been treating as more important than they should be include study, work, extra training, taking on extra responsibility… These matter less than being happy. Not in the future, but now. Because who knows what the future holds? I could spend the next year and a half studying my ass off, only to get hit by a car the day I get my degree. What a sorry waste of life that would have been. Life is all about remembering what is important. So that’s something I’m going to strive towards from now on.

Ja <3

Laser Corp.

Today was the celebration of Selena’s 25th birthday, held at Laser Corp. in Swan Valley (a lovely area). Beth and I got up early to get there just in the nick of time, but unfortunately even though she had already paid for her session she wasn’t feeling well and sat out. I don’t think she saw very much though, as the field was massive and we were mostly just crouching behind cover and popping out to pick off the opposing team.

It was my second time at Laser Corp. and there was a significant difference in my style and performance since my brother’s birthday in early 2007. It’s interesting to me how strategies and tactics come intuitively to me. Andy (more on him later) says a lot of it’s common sense, but I think I understand combat on a deeper level: I see the paths of bullets, so to speak. I can sense the appropriate move at the right time. For instance, when I was pinned down by Sel who was shooting at me every time I peeped out of cover and losing health fast, I looked for a better way of trying to overcome her. I moved around to the other side of cover and saw a path towards the next point of cover- I’d be in the open for a few metres, and when I reached cover the angle would be awkward and very narrow. Visibility from that position would be poor, and if she saw me transiting she might change position to counter the move. To avoid this I would have to take a moment to centre and check for movement (either by leaning out of cover for a brief moment, or at an extreme low to minimise the target) before closing in. From Sel’s position she would only be able to see outwards, and to fire at me she would need to either expose herself or break from cover. I could force her to move in a certain direction by coming from directly behind her, or I could try to outflank her and move to her blind side. Both had risks, and I decided to approach the barricade silently from behind and lean over the top to shoot her.

This is just one of the countless examples of knowing intuitively the best thing to do at the best time. Like paintballing, I understand on a deeper level that it’s not about skill. It’s not about accuracy, or how many bullets you have, or how fast you can run. The most important thing is strategy- being one step ahead of your opponent, always being in control. Accuracy, ammunition, timing, rate of fire, distancing, environment, enemy position, support fire, reliability of team members, incompetency of opposition team members… These factors all come into it, but they need processing on the spot. Combat is instant strategising and adaptation to enemy’s strengths and weaknesses.

A few points that really, really stand out for me as treasured memories include:

  • Duelling with Selena. I was crouching behind a fallen tree, she was on the other side. I could hear her, sense her. She had five health, I had two. I switched to single-shot and proceeded to pop in and out of cover, going over or to the side of the log at random intervals, shooting at her every second or so. The erratic movement and my slightly better accuracy/distance for the weapon allowed me to overcome her with just one health remaining. It was awesome.
  • Captain Andrew Phillips, leader of our team. Of us all, I think Andy understood tactics the best. Certain other people knew what they were doing, but enjoyed one style of combat to the exclusion of others. For instance, Matt (who was covered in frayed rope so he looked more like a wookie than a
    shrub) lay in a trench with his sniper rifle peaking over the top, waiting silently and perfectly still for a target to present itself. He stayed there for almost the entire game, while the rest of us moved backwards and forward like a chess match. It would have been a good tactic if he had better view of the enemy, but for the most part the action was on the other side of the field. What he lacked was adaptability. Andy understood this- he gave us a battle plan before each match. In The Last Stand, he split the team up into three groups: two groups would flank in both directions, using snipers and medium-range weapons to close in on the defenders. Andy and I, using our short-range rifles, would serve as a distraction, presenting ourselves as targets and drawing attention and fire away from the others. As it turned out, the others were all picked off over and over again until Andy moved up and up and up until we had secured the area around the base. We did this through leapfrogging and advancing from cover to cover, watching each other’s backs and taking out the opposition’s snipers. Of all the people there today, I was most glad to have Andy covering me and vice versa- we weren’t afraid to move at the risk of being shot if it meant securing better ground.
  • Limited respawn death matches. That is to say, matches where you don’t come back if you’ve been shot dead. As we were discussing tactics, we decided to let all our team know how many were left by using the old samurai war cry "Yo!" In the early days, this was used on the battlefield to let your side know you had just delivered a killing blow. The effect of this is that if one side was a constant chorus of "Yo!", the other side’s morale would weaken. Further, if you’ve been hearing one man yell "Yo!" over and over for half an hour, and it’s your turn to face him, it creates a very different sort of battle. It was indescribably satisfying to hear someone’s death throes and then turn over my shoulder and bellow "YOOOOOO!" to my team. Truly, there is nothing more satisfying than screaming a war cry on the battlefield to let everyone around you know you just incapacitated your enemy.
  • Saving Drew from a killer ant. At the end of the day when we were taking photos, there was a giant muthafucking ant (l;ike, at least an inch long and half as tall) crawling across his hat. He was kneeling in front of me, and I freaked out and said "Dude, there’s an ant on your head!" Then, I decided I’d do him a favour by knocking the ant off with my 15kg rifle. I got the ant off, but I clocked him over the head as I did so. Everyone thought it was hilarious, though I couldn’t apologise enough. I’m still not sure if he entirely believes there was an ant. It became a running joke every time someone needed to hit someone else.
  • Saving Tristan’s arse. No disrespect to Tristan, but he was kind of amateurish. I was teamed up with him to block off the enemy at a crucial point- a hill in the centre of the field. He had a sniper rifle, I had a short-range weapon. He was basically looking out for the enemy while I was to cover him, but in the time I was with him, he never really took out anyone. He saw where they were and ducked behind cover to avoid being shot at without returning any fire. I think he was using the semi-auto setting as well so he was going through ammo pretty quickly. I ended up sneaking around taking out the people who were trying to take out him. I remember this one epic moment where there was a counter-sniper in the trees shooting at him and he was shooting back. I could hear Tristan’s gun screaming from being shot at, and he was one bullet away from being killed when I ran up behind the counter sniper and shot him in the back of the head. So satisfying.
  • Selena crying when she got her Darth Maul lightsabre, packed in a giant box cushioned with marshmallows. She’s come so far since she’s come to Rebel- I’m really glad she has a family to love and be loved by.
  • Hearing someone run out of bullets as their gun clicked with an empty chamber, I ran out of cover to assault them before they could reload only to find my chamber was empty too. I hit reload and ran back, going "Shit shit shit shit!" as other people on their team started shooting at me.

I think that’ll do for now.

Awesome times. Looking forward to $8 paintballing these holidays.

2nd Kyu

Just a quick note, before I drown in assignments.

I had my second grading in karate tonight, and have earned the rank of 2nd Kyu! I believe this means I am now a brown belt (how exciting!!), and am two ranks below black. I have decided that I am not interested in the belt- I wear it just for show, just to let the other people in class know that I *am* of a certain level of skill. Unfortunately, even I judge people by their belt colour before anything else. But I know in my heart that I deserve the rank I’m at- this is where I am now. And when I am ready, I will transcend it to 1st kyu. And eventually, if I continue pursuing karate, I will achieve first dan. But only when I’m ready.

Things to keep in mind for the future:

  • Form and technique is great. Intent is great.
  • Kiai could be stronger.
  • Work on getting a correct stance- not too narrow. Turn in the knee for neko-dachi.
  • Get the mindset of a karateka. Skill learnt from Taekwondo will no longer carry you through.
  • Demonstrate your power when doing kata. Don’t hold back anything, really radiate it.
  • Same goes for kumite. This is what scores.
  • Learn to spar better. Be ready to block, be prepared to feint, learn to draw attack.
  • Don’t look down during kata. Interestingly, learn to look into the ‘eyes’ of your opponent, not the point of attack

So that’s where I am! I’m thinking of taking some time off from karate. I really want to check out some of the other classes at Rebel Empire- see if I can get into stage combat and that sort of thing. I think I would be really good at it- a way of demonstrating skill in an easy-to-apply but still-so-awesome setting. Plus it’ll be fun learning to beat on each other. I’ve been thinking of getting into aikido, too. Capoeira’s still in my mind. I’d like to try kung fu, wing chun and Muay Thai in the future as well. So many things to study and not enough time to study it. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll stay with karate, but I’ll leave when I’m ready to learn something new.That is to say, when I reach a plateau in my understanding of what karate is and how it works. That’s not quite yet, but I’m getting there. A year and a half, I’ll stay, at the most.

Well, you idiot, it’s now almost 11. Time to get to work. Ja, everybody! Yay brown belt!