So I met a ninja today…

When I think ninjutsu, I think hardcore training with medium contact, focus on pressure points and lessons in stealth. I met someone who had achieved their first dan over two years and was an assistant instructor in his dojo. We started chatting and he taught me various ways to throw shurikens and knives, how to trip or throw someone, different kinds of chokeholds, various pressure points and one very cool double-handed technique for shattering a person’s collarbones. When he agreed to spar with me it turns out his technique is a little sloppy and his speed is lacking, though he has strength about him. While he’s trained to become the assistant instructor, his qi, his power level, is still surprisingly low. I see now why he said he’s a weapon’s man- he uses instruments as the extensions of his body and needs nothing else to defend himself. Not at this basic level, anyway. So while he taught me some cool stuff, it was a little disappointing when he didn’t instantly part my head from my shoulders.

That said, the kid was 15 so in hindsight, I really should have cut him some slack…

An anti-climactic end

I’ve, more-or-less, left Taekwondo Oh Do Kwan. I say more-or-less because it seems too sudden to be definite or permanent. I woke up this morning, realised my monthly membership expired, and have decided not to renew it after all. My feet suck after basically ripping the skin of the soles from training too much, they’re worse after this evening’s session, it’s costly, Ross pretty much hates me. He’s generally an arse, anyway. I don’t have a real goal or purpose for training and I’m just tired of it. I’ve learned most of what there is to learn in terms of techniques and tricks, so I’m moving on.

I still owe my mother $250 (which should take me 2-4 weeks to pay off if I stop spending entirely) and I’m just poor. I’m thinking aikido, a more peaceful solution to meeting my martial arts needs, is for me at the moment. We’ll wait until I can afford all the equipment, insurance and training fees before picking anything new up. So for the moment, Wii Fit will be my main source of exercise over the coming weeks.

I am so very tired. Good night.

Scorn

I have been repulsed by Taekwondo for the first time since… well, ever, I think. Perhaps repulsed is too harsh a word. Maybe "put off" or "disinclined to return" will suffice. All the same it’s a shocking first for me.

Last night I attended the competition class. It’s where the members of the club who want to enter competitions and tournament gear up and practice whooping each other. It’s much more intensive because it doesn’t concern itself with basics (out of the 17 attending, 15 of them were black belts so all the exercises were on the top end of the scale) and focuses entirely on scoring (and preventing being scored on) in a tournament. Aside from being physically draining (my knees gave way after forty minutes- I’m just not used to the intensity of the exercises), I found for the first time that I was not amongst the best when I walked into a room of martial artists. In fact, I was the worst (save for the 14-year-olds and unders). By quite a margin, too. You know how I was talking about the millimeters which divide a hit from a miss? In TKD competitions, opportunities are marked by milliseconds. Your opponent tenses, s/he’s either feinting or about to attack. You read into the smallest signs your opponents sends and you use those microexpressions to find an opportunity where you might just be able to get one in before your opponent recovers. All the battles are decided on those milliseconds.

While about 35% of the class were good people (Patrick, for example, was patient with me as I tried to keep up, and Jason was trying to teach Victor to take advantage of openings), the remaining 65% (as far as I could see) were completely up themselves. Even the trainers, Master Ross and Master Graeme (though I’ll never,
ever call him that) were arrogant. They made fun of those who were not
on the state team, basically. Those who had less skill, the weaklings
of the group. Graeme told Jessica not to smile or else he’d kick her
teeth out. Ross told everyone to go easy on me because I was crazy.
Instructors who breed that kind of malice within their own ranks
disgust and hurt me. Furthermore, Oh Do Kwan is the most successful Taekwondo club in Western Australia, and most of the champions train at the Maddington branch. So essentially, we had most of the state champions training in the room, and they were all out to beat everyone else. I’m probably generalising, but they were impatient, arrogant and focused solely on dominating worthy opponents (i.e. each other).

And who wants to be that kind of person? Not me. So while I amongst the best in a normal Taekwondo class, when it comes to competition, the bar is raised well and truly above my head. And to meet it, I’ll need to train for months or years to develop reflexes slightly faster than the ones I have now so I might attack that split second earlier and get away with it. But to do so, I’ll need to devote myself to beating or matching the champions of Western Australia. And it’s just not worth it. I don’t want to spend the next few years of my life striving to become like them so I might be the tiniest bit faster at kicking.

No, my friends, it’s time I leave Taekwondo. I’ll finish this month’s membership and continues tournament training to see if my initial impression is wrong (which, as psychology taught me, it usually isn’t). After that I’ll settle into Curtin’s Karate club for a while and see how it suits me. I’m strongly put off dominating others, but Sensei Ho is a great man and I have much to learn from him. However, I do not believe Karate is all there is for me. It has weaknesses that I want to cover. But rather than learning a bunch of martial arts to cover the others’ weaknesses, I’d rather learn one good one. As far as I can tell, there are only three which are nigh on flawless if practiced well. Firstly there is Cobra Martial Arts Club in Cannington. The instructor there learned Muay Thai, Karate, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Kickboxing and combined the best of each to make a great self-defence course. It sounds good, although I am wary of any club which has a picture of a smiling family wearing uniforms on the front of the building. Secondly, there is Jeet Kune Do (although I don’t know enough about it to pursue it at the moment). Bruce Lee would have covered all the angles, I’m sure, and of course if anyone could ever fight like him, they’d be unbeatable. Thirdly there is ninjukai taijutsu, the ninja’s art of hand-to-hand combat. Lethal and very intense, a practitioner of ninjukai might never come up against an opponent of equal skill within his or her lifetime. But I’m not sure I want to become Musashi just yet.

So that’s an update on the martial arts side of my life. Which, admittedly, is huge. I realised last night that pretty much everything I love (besides Bethwyn) is based on some form of fighting. I can’t imagine that’s going to end well for me…

Musings

I have come to another nother realisation about martial arts.

With my current skill I would be able to defend myself from a large chunk of the populace. Why then do I continue to train?
1. To maintain my skill and to improve on it minutely over time. Why do I continue to try and improve?
2. Health, discipline, fun etc. Personal development. Oh, and…
3. The possibility of meeting someone with greater skill than me who threatens what I love.

Meeting such a person outside the club is unlikely, but not impossible. My scuffle with Mew taught me never to challenge a ninja to mortal combat.

When it comes to elitism, it is the minute difference in skill that tip the battle. Yes, it helps to be better with a sword than the other guy if you’re in a duel, but microseconds ultimately decide whether you can deliver the blow or not. Millimeters (or less) decide whether you get hit. And it is those millimeters you must be extra wary of- all you need to do is maintain the distance and you remain unscathed. But then, someone with the slightest trace of greater skill might be able to cover those millimeters and strike you. And that is what really wins the battle.

So, while I am only scarcely behind the others in my club, it is that tiny, tiny distance that means I will almost certainly never win a fight against them. And of course, anyone of much greater skill than me (the actors in Bruce Lee’s movies were all talented martial artists, but let’s face it, they would have gotten whooped whether it was scripted or not) would just floor me.

That’s why Nameless studied the Broken Sword’s scroll.
That’s why Shishio Makoto never took his eyes off Kenshin.
That’s why Ocelot couldn’t land a shot on the Big Boss.
That tiny millimeter which would have tipped the scale of the battle.

I still have so much to learn. But I am learning.

The way of the Sword

I tried out for Curtin’s kendo club on Wednesday. Here are my thoughts on it.

Kendo is a highly ritualised art, both efficient and inefficient. It teaches the very basics of landing a strike to four different areas of the body and little deviation thereupon. However, in a swordfight, you would hardly need to use any other techniques unless your opponent was a better kendoka than you, so I think it’s quite cool. The lack of variation or embellishment is disheartening, though I understand the necessity of simplicity.
Stamping the foot and shouting the name of the area you plan to strike are, I feel, more for point-keeping rather than to improve the art itself. It would more than likely alert your opponent that you’re about to strike and, if they’re particularly adept, allow them to prepare to defend the area/s you’re striking at. Plus, after hours of training, I imagine one’s voice would get very hoarse. Furthermore, shinai are very, very different to katanas and so I believe learning to fight with them can hinder swordsmanship itself.
The sensei himself is a terrifying man. He is of little patience and demands great respect and discipline, expecting utmost obedience from all of his students. While I respect him as a swordsman, I would not want to learn from him for any extended period of time.

So no, I will not be picking up kendo for the moment. Tryouts for Wushu were moved to a time I couldn’t make, but my first lesson for karate is on Tuesday.
Couldn’t find the capoiera or judo club, but I’ll keep looking.

Also something important I’d like to mention…

These past few months I have let my arrogance consume me. While I still respected and sought to learn, I did not allow myself to see just how very much I have yet to learn. I aspire to once again humble myself, as I did in January 2007, and return to my roots as a warrior. I remember now, and must do so always, why I learn the arts:

Bushido.

Fearless

I know I write about this a lot but it’s just such a big part of my life. I was reading a book I found amongst my Dad’s ancient tomes. It was written in 1962 and is a compilation of secret martial art techniques and styles from around the world, their basics and their principles. I was reading a chapter on hardcore Indian boxing and I thought, Would I ever want to learn this? Admittedly, being able to take a full strength punch to the face without batting an eyelash would have its advantages, and being able to punch steel walls for hours without injury would be impressive, but… The philosophy of basically being completely and fully able to kill your opponent doesn’t sit with me. The more vicious you are, the more you let go of morals and limits and mercy, the more powerful you become. But it is those inhibitions, that morality that makes us human, able to judge when enough is enough. Animals can kill in rage but humans can choose to kill in perfect calm, in cold blood. And I don’t want to be one of the people where strength and domination is the number one reason for training. It’s just not worth what you’d have to give up. And should I ever come across an Indian boxer, I would feel no shame in losing to him, because I have more to live for than that.

Now I’m not so sure I want to learn Wushu or the more deadly arts, just because of what the power implies… Strength to kill and cripple should never be taken lightly, and only with purpose. Maybe I don’t want that power. Heh.

I’m really keen on capoeira at the moment. When I was learning to dance with Caysin, I busted out my poor attempt at the jinga. The dance teacher recognised it and started playing with me, and that was really cool. It’s an awesome form of dance and really athletic. If my shoulder ever heals I’d love to pick it up. Plus it’s mostly harmless and serves as a cool party trick. Hardly risk of death, unlike krav maga for instance (sorry Derrick). Or maybe I’ll just pick up French knitting, ’cause that’s kinda cool too…

Roots

Just re-reading the last entry, I’d like to make a comment or two.
 
I watched a fight scene from a movie in a DVD store yesterday. It was a fight between a Kung Fu master and a Taekwondo master. The styles were so enormously distinct, I could see the advantages and disadvantages of both. But, as I would have predicted, the Kung Fu master beat the absolute shit out of the Taekwondo master, who could (only once or twice) penetrate the former’s incredible guard. So yes, I believe Kung Fu to be a superior art and well worth learning. But not to be the best fighter.
 
That’s my second comment. I am trying, quite hard, to let go of my ego. To stop pretending I’m the best fighter around, to keep telling myself how awesome I am. I know I’m not the best, and I must humble myself, to learn the true purpose of the skills I have learned. And, returning to the humbleness at which I started training, I’d like to learn other arts. Yes, to cover the weaknesses of the others so I might defend myself and my loved ones better. But also out of respect to each art, its philosophies, its teachings, its styles. I believe that the martial arts reflect different ways of engaging with conflict and different approaches to coming out alive at the end. Some I respect more than others, some just look plain fun. All of them are good for the mind, body and soul. I wish to humble myself and learn what I am capable of. That is the reason I first devoted myself to the arts. I must return to my roots so I might continue to grow.
 
 
 
 
Moving on to something entirely different…