A gathering of masters

Yah, that title’s rubbish, but I do like to play it up. Last weekend my friend Bert organised a get together for some of his friends who are trained martial artists. Five of us met together at the park with our training gear to learn from one another and to discover more about our own martial prowess.

I came, bringing four years experience in Taekwondo, three years Karate and six months Iaido, as well as bits and pieces from various other arts.
Bert brought with him all the experience it took to reach the honourable rank of Si Hung (big brother) in Malcolm Sue’s Ging Mo Kun- a form of Kung Fu based on the Northern Preying Mantis style.
Ben Wilson trained for several years in Karate, practicing weapon forms and grappling as well as empty hand techniques.
Manchoon trained in Kung Fu as well, though I can’t recall which form he used. His movements were rapid and twitchy, the strikes close and fast.
Another Ben was perhaps the strongest of us all, studying Choy Le Fat intensively for many years and learning under tournament champions.

It was a great experience for me to test my skill, and I learned many lessons. These include:

If someone is hitting you, don’t drop your guard and back off assuming they’ll stop after they’ve landed two or three hits. If they’re wailing on you, break off before disengaging. (This lesson came in the form of a bloody eyebrow as Manchoon delivered strike after strike without resistance and tapped me with his elbow. I didn’t feel any pain, but it apparently broke the skin. I later bled on his shirt in accidental vengeance, before putting on a bandaid.)

Combat is slower than sparring. Light, quick hits might score points in a tournament, but in a street fight they won’t stop anyone who’s trying to knock you down. Stronger attacks carry an intimidation value- even if an opponent has plenty of time to jam you, if they see you spinning on the spot or chambering your leg for a vicious roundhouse, the chances are they’ll go into defensive mode. This should not be relied on for experienced fighters.

It’s sometimes safer to take the hit full on than to try and dodge it. Like Sanosuke, charging into the fire might be the best way to minimise burns. Conditioning will come with time, but if you learn to take enough hits it won’t matter how many times they hit you if you don’t feel it where it counts.

Don’t get into a grapple if it’s two-on-one. While you might eventually force someone to submit in a one-on-one, this becomes much harder when you’re being hit in the face simultaneously.

Don’t stop after one or two techniques. It’s the fourth punch that lands.

Simple is just as effective as complex. Use more advanced techniques to throw off the rhythm of the fight and to catch your opponent unaware, but for the most part, go for efficiency rather than flash.

If you train in a technique for hours on end, you might get the opportunity to use it in a fight. Although it takes a long time to be proficient in it and the chance to use it is rare, it’s better to know it and not need it than need it and not know it.

ALWAYS keep your guard up, even if there’s no chance they’ll reach you within one strike. They can always reach you, and they might be faster than you realise.

For taller people with longer reach, get in close. The maximum efficiency of their techniques is reduced, so even if you take a few hits, you stand a much better chance.

Don’t keep purely on the defensive- you’ll never win a fight just by blocking, and you’re tiring at the same time. Don’t leave it to a battle of stamina- you always think you have more than you really do.

For three-on-two, if you’re in the two, always be aware of your partner’s circumstances. Just because you’re holding your own against one of them doesn’t mean you’re winning the fight if your partner’s on the floor having their head kicked in.

In a two-on-one, control the “one”‘s distance by moving yourself- they’ll come to you if they want to fight.

Learn some control. Throwing techniques as often and wildly as possible is not safe for your partner, nor a good reflection on your character. If you choose to strike, do it with control, and be prepared for your opponent to move into it.

Also, Bert raises the valid point that it’s important to counter. Not just to attack or block, but to attack as you block, or to evade and then enter to take advantage of the opening. A match should not be spent either defending or attacking, but preparing to do either at any given moment.

My grappling is limited, one of my greatest weaknesses. For now, it’s safer to stick to striking than trying to apply a lock against a resisting opponent. If the opportunity presents itself though, against an opponent who hasn’t had any/much experience in grappling, applying a chokehold sincerely has a good chance of succeeding.

It isn’t about training long. Eight years of training doesn’t make you a good fighter. Eight years of good training, hard training, make you a good fighter. It doesn’t matter how experienced you think you are, unless you’re putting in the hard yards in a useful way (e.g. learning to fight in a combat scenario rather than a tournament or exchanging one-step techniques), most of that training is for squat.


I also got to practice with nunchaku for the first time, which was lots of fun. I didn’t hit myself in the head or groin nearly as easily as I had been led to believe, but I did rap myself over the knuckles once or twice.
At karate last night, it just happened to be my second ever lesson in weapons other than the jo, so I got to practice with nunchaku again. I learned a few basic strikes and blocks, and I think I would be able to use them for self-defence with reasonable assurance that I wouldn’t hurt myself. The only problem is I haven’t hit anything with them, so I’ll need to learn how they move when there’s an equal and opposite force acting on them.

I really enjoyed sparring with Manchoon because he’s around my proficiency, not too much higher or lower, so I really got to experiment and see what worked and didn’t work. I tried a little snake-style, and I wouldn’t say my guard was impenetrable, but it was enough. Can’t say my fingertips are hardened enough to strike with any kind of damage though. I’m also particularly proud of my use of tiger-style Kung Fu. I’ve only had one lesson in it, and I know a total of 2 strikes, 1 take-down and 2 blocks. When I used it against Manchoon, I nearly managed to catch (and then rake my fingers down the sides of, before throwing him to the ground to claw his throat/eyes out) his foot with my tiger-claw, but he withdrew as he saw I was ready for it. However I did manage to very cleanly land a tiger-claw across the face- just a tap with an open palm, but for some reason it’s the strongest of all my hand strikes and I know I could have put all my strength into it and still connected. It was enormously satisfying.

Also worth noting is the spectacular takedown Ben Wilson used when he was on one leg. He threw a kick which Bert successfully managed to grab, leaving Ben open for any left-handed or left-footed strike to various parts of the body. While Bert relaxed into the advantage, Ben jumped up with his other leg, twisting in the air and somehow wrapping it around Bert to throw him to the ground. Though he said it wasn’t perfect because he didn’t land directly on top and couldn’t apply a lock, sufficing for striking instead, it was so unexpected and so beautifully executed.

Well, I think that’s about it. Apart from my nicked eyebrow and Manchoon’s severely bruised ribs (my God does Ben have a lot of power in all his strikes, especially his kicks), everyone came away relatively injury-free and hopefully with many lessons learned. It was a really great day, and I hope I’ve become a better martial artist because of it. I’m so happy to have friends who are (or were) as passionate about and dedicated to the martial arts as I am. I have much yet to learn.

EDIT: One more thing! I’m also really proud to say that when a car broke down nearby the park we were training at, all of us jogged over to help push it. And without a moment’s hesitation, Bert and Manchoon went off to fetch jumper leads to get the battery running again. I’m glad that martial artists can still be generous human beings.
Plus I got to do a close-to-full-power double palm strike (more of a push, really) to prevent the car from crashing into the one behind it. Good times.


Lately it seems that I haven’t had enough time. Time for what you ask? (not that anyone’s actually asking…) Time for anything. Time to read, time to play, time to train, time to study or go to classes, time to see friends… I’ve been wondering. Will I ever have enough time to do everything I want to to the level I want to? No. The answer is obvious. Then why do I get so stressed when I can’t finish all the books before I need to return them? Why do I get so anxious when I can’t do all the iLectures and readings before an assignment is due?

This has been a key issue in my thoughts over the last few days. I’ve been stupidly busy with work (it may not seem like much, but I worked 40.5 hours in the past fortnight, which is essentially double the work you normally get) in an attempt to pay off my PS3 (yay!) and to repay Mum’s credit card debt due to a week-long holiday in Margaret River (yay!). Money at the moment is my priority, even though I know that there will be better paying jobs in the future. But right now especially, money is useful, and I would like to store up as much of it as I can over the next few weeks.


So, with half or most of my week being consumed with work, that’s left not quite as much time for study. Is it that simple? Is that the cause of my stress- too many commitments? Possibly. But I think it’s more a symptom of the unhelpful thoughts along the lines of “I need to get x, y and z done by this time today”. I spend most of my life planning out my days, more loosely than I used to. In high school for instance, I scheduled every 15 minute block of time I had in order to meet as many of my commitments as I could, and I still didn’t have enough time for my homework. Scheduling and time management isn’t so much the problem as the urge to do. I have a compulsion to get things done, even when they might not matter. I keep wondering what would happen if my computer exploded and lost all my files, or if the house burnt down and destroyed all my games/books. With nothing left to do, would I simply search for new activities to pass the time? Always, always I must be doing something “productive”. Even my leisure time is productive- I’m playing games I’ve intended to, even if I don’t enjoy them, just for the sake of completing them so they can be checked off the list in my drawer of Games I Own But Have Not Completed. Surely there must be a better way of living.

But I just can’t let go. I know (in theory) that spending time with loved ones doing things you love is the happiest way to live. Instead I drown myself in tasks like shopping, spending vouchers, signing up to this site, cancelling subscriptions to that site, emptying email, doing iLectures and readings, reading books A, B and C before 4pm… It’s just killing me, and I don’t know how to stop. It feels good to get lots of things done sometimes- to check everything off the list and to bask in the feeling of accomplishment. But there’s always more to do, tiny tasks that only take 5 or 10 minutes, but with enough of those, you can spend hours doing nothing.


It seems that every day, we (as a society) drag ourselves upright while we’re still tired and find enough energy to survive as long as we have to before collapsing again. The metaphor I see in my mind is of a kind of tinman whose parts inside that are keeping him running are slowly shutting down. Rather than taking a day to oil himself and do some minor repair jobs, he simply puts on some casings to hide his malfunction and loads himself up with borrowed energy, maybe in the form of batteries or the tinman equivalent of caffeine. Day after day after day he does this, until he gets too sick to get up.

Maybe I should just take a day off every now and then? But why does the thought of all that spare time scare me?


Throughout my life there have been great moments of accomplishment. A few that come to mind include the 40-hour famine, ripping that apple clean in half and winning the Wai-con ’07 Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament. Last night, another similar event is added to the list of great things that have happened in my life.

After the last Hand-to-Hand class at Rebel Empire Workshops HQ in Jandakot (sadly, we are moving because we’re thousands of dollars behind rent), I stayed back at bit to help move some furniture and throw out anything we didn’t have use for. Once the bulk of the heavy work was done, I decided to head home to get some study done. But as I was walking to the car, I saw Kaneda standing in front of the very full skip bin with his hands up in a guard. I froze to watch him as he brought his leg up and back down again with a crash. I continued to watch as he re-centred himself and tried again. Deciding whatever he was doing was very exciting, I jogged back over to see him trying to snap a table-top in half with a kick. He’d propped it up on a 45 degree angle between the floor and the skip bin and was attempting to break it with a kick. Very excitedly I offered to try, and after being dissuaded from a double-leg strike (due to the possibility of the top half of the table snapping too suddenly and giving me a concussion) I attempted to break it with a sidekick. If Kaneda couldn’t, I didn’t think I could, but it was worth a shot. After a few failed attempts, Kaneda realised it was quadruple layer plywood which was essentially reinforced. I had one final proposal for him: the two of us kicking at the same time.

There was a moment of stillness where we both got in opposite fighting stances and focussed on the heart of the board. “Ichi… Ni… San!” Our legs went up at the same time, chambered in the same place and struck out in synchronity. Unfortunately the board held, but we tried again, this time using the same stance, right-leg back. Again he counted down and we moved at exactly the same time, kicked in unison and hit the board in the right spot. It would not withstand our combined might and snapped beneath our feet. Kaneda’s half was noticably cleaner than mine, but it was still a great moment of success, where many hi-five’s were had. Kaneda was really hyped up and said he wanted to break more stuff now and I laughed thinking he was joking. Then he pulled out the other three or four table-tops.

Let’s just say it was awesome fun taking turns to snap the crap out of those boards. Skipping sidekick, double sidekick and even a few jumping sidekicks later (to get closer to the 90 degree angle) we tossed them all into the skip bin in pieces. It was a beautiful moment when all that Taekwondo could really shine. One of my treasured memories: breaking crap with the K-man. (H)