Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Martial Arts and Life -- Chief Instructor's Blog July 2020


What you learn while practicing and studying martial arts can go way beyond the dojang.  Learning a martial art may appear to focus on the physical side during class, but there is so much more you are learning. 

All of us have had a technique or new form we did not think we could learn, but we stuck with it and eventually learned it.  We learned to overcome challenges and continue on to the next one.  And as we overcome each challenge, we have gained more confidence and mental toughness to overcome the next challenge that came our way.  This is life.  Life is filled with challenges and adversities that we must face and overcome to move forward. 

In Gichen Funakoshi’s The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate, his tenth precept is “Apply The Way Of Karate To All Things, Therein Lies Its Beauty”.  He states “One blow or one kick, give or take, can mean life or death.  This concept forms the soul of karate-do.  If all aspects of life are approached with this seriousness, all manner of challenges and hardships can be overcome.”

Another skill practiced inside the dojang is maintaining control both physically and emotionally.  Hardships and challenges in life have the potential to provoke one to react physically or emotionally.  Martial arts should never be used as an emotional reaction, only if your physical safety is at risk.  
This is why the mind-body connection and body awareness are critical to learning a marital art.  In learning this skill in the dojang, it can ensure you stay in control outside the dojang and choose how and when to respond.

And each time we overcome a challenge, practice maintaining control inside the dojang, it helps us with the next challenge outside the dojang.  And every time you utilize the skills outside the dojang it will help you inside the dojang.  The value of learning martial arts is far more then protecting oneself…it can help you through life.  

I think Funakoshi tells it best in his finishing statement of his tenth precept (in reference to practitioners of marital arts), “They will come to see the wonderful power that stems from polishing the mind and body through the Way of Karate, and will recognize the exquisite beauty of this path.”

Regards,
Kelly

“Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better.“    ~ Mr. Miyagi, fictional Okinawan karate in The Karate Kid saga.

“Put Karate into your everyday life any you will find its subtle secrets.” ~ Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), founder of Shotokan Karate

Monday, June 1, 2020

Adding Variety to Practicing Hyung -- Chief Instructor's Blog June 2020


In this current environment, is your solo training getting stagnant? Are you looking for some variety to mix it up and stay motivated? Adding variety to your Hyung may be the answer.

As I mentioned last month, practicing Hyung outdoors or on different terrain, in regular clothes, in natural environments might be a good place to start if you have not already, especially with the weather turning nice to be outside. And maybe you have been doing that already and you are also looking for some other ideas to mix it up.

So, here are some other suggestion for you (some I have mentioned in other blogs, class notes, or in class itself), but sometimes it helps if all ideas are in one place.

1. Practice the Hyung mirroring all the techniques. For example, start to the left, versus the right. This has several benefits. (1) If you have not noticed, in most Hyung we do more techniques on the right then the left. So, by mirroring you are physically balancing yourself out. (2) If exercises are performed to increase muscle strength on one side of the body, voluntary strength can increase on the contralateral side [Ref. 1]. (3) It also helps train the mind. Sometimes we get stuck mentally and by doing things similar but different it helps create new neuropathways.

2. Practice the Hyung Backwards. Start with the last move and end with the first move – this is similar to the mirrored version (especially for the Kibon series) but can be more challenging.

3. Practice with your eyes closed or blindfolded. We have done this in class from time to time. In doing so, you will learn if you are using mostly visual ques to stay square then ensuring your physical movements are perfectly square. This will also force you to use and enhance your other senses.

4. Practice starting at a different orientation, like starting at a 45-degree angle to a wall. We have also done this in class from time to time. And similar to the above, by doing so, you will learn if you are using mostly visual ques to stay square then ensuring your physical movements are perfectly square.

5. Practice each technique very slowly. This will help you focus on making the techniques very precise, challenges your mental focus, and it will help improve your balance tremendously.

6. Practice each technique as fast as you can. This will help you work on speed, breathing and cardiovascular endurance.

7. Practice each technique with devasting power and force with an intent to do damage. This will help you work on breathing and cardiovascular endurance and aligns with the Han Moo Kwan philosophy.

8. Practice using only a single stance. For example, practice Pyung Ahn 1 all in Cat Stance. This will give more practice in each particular stance and challenge your mind to do something different.

9. Practice with only one arm. We have done something similar in class during sparring, but not necessarily Hyung. This will challenge your mind.

10. Practice with no reciprocals. This will force you not to rely on the reciprocal for force or power.

11. Practicing just visually going through each technique imaging you preforming each technique precisely. Visual practice has shown to be very effective in sustaining and improving techniques.

12. Practice with a book on your head. This practice will definitely tell you if you are working from the center and staying level throughout the Hyung.

13. Practice the Hyung with loud noises (music, tv, etc.) in the background. This will help work on your focus and mental strength. This is similar to having someone in class trying to distract you.

14. Practice the Hyung by starting in the middle or the third move or the tenth move. This will help you really break down and learn the Hyung versus a body movement from start to finish.

15. Practice the Hyung with ankle and or/ wrist weights. This will help build muscular endurance.

16. Perform some explosive moves then perform the Hyung. For example, doing 25 pushups then go through the Hyung. Or perform 25 burpees and then go through a Hyung. This will help work on your cardiovascular endurance as well as your mental strength.

17. Practice sections of a form until you can perform it precisely. This will also help you really break down and learn the Hyung versus a body movement from start to finish.

18. Finishing at Starting Spot. This is usually more for advanced students, but you have probably noticed that the Hyung do not start and finish at the same spot. By practicing such that you do, you are discovering what adjustments need to be made to finish at the starting spot. The ability to adjust stances to be able to move to an exact spot is a vital skill in self-defense and sparring.

19. Practice the Hyung with more expansive moves (but never lock out elbows). This is also usually more for advanced students. By being more expansive, it improves your range of motion, but will also challenge you to stay grounded and connected with your center.

20. Practice Hyung with short strikes. This will challenge you to improve you power and aligns with the Han Moo Kwan philosophy.

21. Create your own Hyung (one of my favorites). I like to use the Kibon patterns and replace the techniques. For example, instead of low block and attack punch (Kibon Hyung), maybe you try Medium Block and Extended Spear Hand as the pattern. Or maybe you try High Block followed by Knife Hand. You can mix up the techniques and the stances. With all the various techniques and stances, we practice, you can end up with creating hundreds of Hyung to practice. This is a good way to practice techniques and challenge you mentally. In self-defense you have to be ready to use all your techniques starting from different places and in different stances. This is a great way to get more comfortable to use any technique, in any stance, from any angle.

22. Perform Hyung studying your energy. This is also for more advanced students. The concept is to ensure each technique, move, or transition direction of focus and movement, technique or transition to the next technique matches the direction of the energy.
    • Go through Hyung with open hands extending energy; watching where energy is directed
    • Go through Hyung with open hands extending energy; viewing if leading, dragging energy
    • Go through Hyung just moving from one technique to the next flowing energy and not pausing between techniques
    • Go through Hyung, noticing where your energy is retreating and adjust
Have you discovered a way to practice the Hyung in a way to add variety to your practice? And in doing so, maybe learning something new about the Hyung or art form? If so, would love to hear about it. And if you created your own Hyung, video tape it and send it to me – would love to see it. I hope some of these suggestions adds variety to your solo training and keeps you motivated to continue to practice.

Stay safe, stay heathy and look forward to the time we get to practice together again.

Regards,
Kelly


References
1. https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.00531.2006, Retrieved 29 May 2020


“Like textbooks to a student or tactical exercises to a solider, kata are the most important element of karate” ~ Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), founder of Shotokan Karate

Friday, May 1, 2020

Value of Practicing Outside the Dojang -- Chief Instructor's Blog May 2020


As the shelter in place or social distancing continues to extend through May (at least in the Bay Area), many of you may be getting discouraged about not having classes to go to and believe your skill may be degrading. 

First, I want to encourage you all the continue to practice the physical aspects of martial arts by practicing solo.  As I noted in an email a couple weeks ago, practicing at home can add some unique value to your practice.  While we practice standards for basics and hyung, when it comes to moving for self-defense purposes, you cannot choose how big the space is…and in many cases it might be in very confined places. So, you need to be able to adjust the length and width of your stances to fit your space and circumstance when defending yourself.

I want to extend on that thinking,  because it is not just about confined spaces.  Maybe the surface you have to work on is not smooth or flat.  To be able to adjust to these conditions is critical if you need to use these skills against an assailant.  So, I actually want to encourage you to go out and find a place to practice that is not flat, not smooth.  Maybe it even has some obstacles in the way or you create obstacles so you have to adjust the length of your movements.   You might also practice in the dark or with very low light.   Practice when it is cold, practice when it is hot.   Practice in the full sun, when the light may blind you from time to time.  Practice with shoes on, in your jeans, in sweatshirts, in your business clothes.

Continue to keep in mind that practicing basics and hyung is not the goal at all.  These are tools, but learning a new technique or hyung is not the goal.  The basics and hyung provide methods to practice balance, grounding, alignment, breathing, work on flexibility, coordination, power, speed, etc. 

The goal is to learn skills you can use to defend yourself if that is your only option.  And you will be able to do so more effectively if you spend time practicing in non-ideal spaces, non-ideal conditions.   If you can effectively move, stay grounded, balanced with powerful techniques in the various conditions above, I guarantee you will be better equipped if you ever had to use your skills to defend yourself on the street.  

Stay safe, stay heathy and look forward to the time we get to practice together again.

Regards,
Kelly


"Tomorrow's battle is won during today's practice." ~ Samurai Maxim

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Ultimate Goal of HMK – To Know Ourselves, To Better Ourselves -- Chief Instructor's Blog April 2020


If you asked Mr. Kim why we practice martial arts, his response was “To Know Ourselves, To Better Ourselves”.
 
I have discussed in several blogs how a martial art at its true essence trains the mind, body, and spirit.  It supports your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual growth.  At its true essence it trains us To Know Ourselves, To Better Ourselves.

There are many activities out there that can help you improve physically and when adding in focused intention can help you improve both physically and mentally (running, weight lifting, cycling, motorcycle riding etc.).  There are activities that can help you spiritually like meditation.  There are activities that can help physically mentally, emotionally and mentally like yoga but even this is not provide the same benefits as martial arts training.   

Don’t get me wrong - I am not advocating that other activities are not beneficial to you or you should not bother to take part in enjoying them.  I, along with many of you partake in many of these activities and recommend you continue to do so.

But I contend, no activity is better than martial arts when it is taught and practiced for its true essence To Know Ourselves, To Better Ourselves.

Why do I believe this?  A self-defense based martial art like Han Moo Kwan trains you to perform under the most stressful times…when you are potentially in fear (getting hot, injured), when someone may be emotional and yelling at you trying to push your buttons, when there is chaos around you.  At these times, you must be in control of yourself.    You must stay grounded and balanced at these times.  You must stay focused and be able to be at your best physically.  At these times, you must be able to get past the emotions and fears.  No other activity trains you for this – to learn about ourselves and to better ourselves not just through our own internal convictions but while there is external opposition.
 
When you are in control mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, you have the power to make better choices and have clarity in those choices.  With that clarity of mind body and spirt can come wisdom and the ultimate of knowing ourselves and bettering ourselves.
 
While this may sound simple and easy when written as a one-page blog, I am not saying that at all.  In fact, there are days when you feel in complete control, and then you have an emotional trigger you were not aware of, and you realize you need more training.…and hence why practicing a martial art is a lifelong journey.
 
Regards,
Kelly

"Fear comes from uncertainty; we can eliminate the fear within us when we know ourselves better." Bruce Lee (1940 –1973) American-born Chinese Hong Kong martial

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Why Do We Practice That Technique? -- Chief Instructor's Blog March 2020


Some of you might be wondering why we spend time working on some techniques (especially if the technique is considered part of the basics we practice the start of every class), if the utility of it does not seem that extensive.  Some examples that come to mind are spear hand and high kick.

Spear Hand:
Martial arts masters used to practice spear hand in a bucket of sand or gravel to strengthen their spear hand.  It is also said that some masters filed the tips of the first three fingers, so they were all the same length to make a more effective, stronger spear hand.

So, one may ask, if we are not training in this manner to make an effective Spear Hand, why do we practice the Spear Hand at all.

At a beginner level, the benefits to practicing Spear Hand include a simpler motion technique to enforce keeping arms close to the body during the strike, introduction to close in strikes, introduction to another open hand technique which in of itself helps strength the hands differently than fists.

At the intermediates level, the Spear Hand is another technique to train the body to throw techniques linearly, more practice with shorts strikes and utilizing the body versus just the arm, to continue to strengthen the hands, and an open hand technique that is usually easier at the beginning for students to practice flowing energy.

At an advanced level, the Spear Hand is an excellent technique for refining and practicing extending through the target physically, linear techniques, practicing throwing techniques energetically to be as effective as closed hand techniques without filing off the tips of the fingers.

High Kick:
At a beginner level, the benefits to practicing High Kick include improve flexibility in the legs, balance practice, understand the importance of a lock leg in a simpler motion, and preparation for learning Turnaway Kick.

At the intermediates level, the High Kick is excellent technique to practice focus and intent downward as well as upward, and to practice some basic leg sweeps.

At an advanced level, the High Kick is excellent technique to practice flowing energy in kicks and directing the flow in various directions (upward, downward, plus inside out and outside in) as well as refining sweeps techniques.

Everything we practice in our club has utility.  Some of it may not seem obvious or may take time to master in such a way that the utility and effectiveness is understood, but all of it has value.  The Spin Kick, for example, has selected uses - as a counterattack or a secondary move when the opponent has forced you to start a turn.  However, the value of practicing includes improving balance, regaining your focus/intent quickly, and targeting, to name a few.  This is why Mr. Kim would say about the spin kick: “Practice.  Never use”.

So, even if the technique is limited or will take years to be effective in its use in a self-defense scenario, one should practice with the same focus and intent as every other technique.

Regards,
Kelly

"Do not place hope in finding a secret technique. Polish the mind through ceaseless training; that is the key to effective techniques." Kyuzo Mifune (1883 –1965),  one of the greatest exponents of the art of judo after the founder, Kanō Jigorō and the author of  The Canon of Judo

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Are Nerve Points Effective For Self Defense - - Chief Instructor's Blog February 2020


You may have heard of pressure points, nerve points or vital points.  The theory of these points is typically associated with meridians and energy lines in the Eastern cultures to nerve clusters in Western cultures.   Whichever names you have heard have been part of martial arts for at least the last century and most likely even longer.  Vital points are discussed in the Bubishi [Ref. 1], a classic Chinese work handed down from master to student in Okinawa for generations describing the philosophy, strategy, medicine, and techniques used to master the art of karate-do.

These points in the body can cause various reactions when force is applied:  pain, numbness or weakness in a muscle, fixed reaction, paralysis, and even death.


In Vital Point Strikes by Sang H. Kim [Ref. 2], a vital point is described as “a pressure sensitive point on or near the surface of the human body.  Vital points function like gateways to the nervous system, the main controller of the body, allowing you to use pain to influence the actions and reactions of an opponent.  Even a single strike can cause serious damage, unconsciousness or, in rare cases, death.”


The Dim Mak or touch of death technique in martial arts is a vital point strike technique. Some have speculated the Dim Mak technique was the reason for Bruce Lee’s death.


In our Club, we do discuss and from time to time practice against nerve points.  However, we do not focus on them or practice them as an effective technique for self-defense. 


The problem with nerve points as a means for self-defense is you must be extremely precise and to be precise you must practice these techniques a lot.  In addition, not everyone has the same pain threshold or reaction to nerve points.  Some people have zero reaction to certain nerve points while others are very sensitive.  Some people have higher thresholds of pain and therefore do not react the same to nerve points as others.  And if people are on drugs, they may have no reaction at all to force applied against these nerve points.   And those nerve points that are really dangerous and could cause death, from a practicality standpoint we don’t believe we cannot really practice them safely.


So, if you are trying to end an altercation quickly, you can not rely that a nerve point will be accomplish this goal.

So, if this is the case, why do we even bother discussing practicing nerve points?  For one, self-defense is more effective when you go after vulnerable parts of the body.  Therefore, I believe an understanding of anatomy, the human body and its vulnerable points (and nerve points can be vulnerable) is fundamental to a self-defense based martial art like Han Moo Kwan.  When we do practice nerve points, you will hear me say, I think of them as icing on the cake – if I strike a vulnerable point that is also a nerve point and the person has more of a reaction because it causes more pain or numbness in the muscles, etc. then it is just a bonus.

Regards,
Kelly



References:

1.      The Bible of Karate: Bubishi, by Patrick McCarthy (Translator)\
2.      by Patrick McCarthy Vital Point Strikes by Sang H. Kim


“It is not possible to become a great martial artist without an education.  The serious Karateka should study anatomy and physiology, grappling, swordsmanship, archery and strategic tactics, etc.  Cross training and study must balance your training in order to understand the way.”  ~ Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), founder of Shotokan Karate

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Training the Martial Artist's Four Mindsets - - Chief Instructor's Blog January 2020


In my last blog, I discussed four important martial artist mindsets: Shoshin, Fudoshin, Zanshin, and Mushin. I also stated you must consciously train these mindsets as well, just like consciously physically practicing a form or a technique.  Some of you may be wondering how you would go about training a mindset.  So, in this blog, I will describe some ways to train these mindsets.


Shoshin: Beginner’s Mind

I discuss some of the concepts of a beginner’s mind in my August 2018 blog, More Tips On Improving (http://hanmookwan-svl-chiefinstructor.blogspot.com/2018/08/).  In summary, if something does not make sense or you are uncertain,

1. Trust the instructor – it can sometimes take years to grasp a concept. 
2. Ask for clarification in class to ensure you understand the why of a concept or principle.


Remember, martial arts take a lifetime to learn- I have stated this in class and included it in several blogs, so keeping this in mind will also help keep your attitude/mind open– whether it is a new concept or some subtly.\

I also suggest that as you bow into the dojang and bow into class, you repeat some phrase or mantra to remind you to keep an open mind/attitude such as “I am open to all the new information I will receive today” or “I am excited for the new techniques/ information I will learn today”.  


Fudoshin: Immovable Mind

To train your Fudoshin mind you must work on keeping your focus on the task at hand and not be distracted.  I discuss focus and concentration in my August 2010 blog, Focus and Concentration (http://hanmookwan-svl-chiefinstructor.blogspot.com/2010/08/) and in my September 2017 blog, Training The Mind by Staying Focused (http://hanmookwan-svl-chiefinstructor.blogspot.com/2017/09/).   As a summary to those two blogs, some ways to practice this are:



1.      Keep one thought through basics/hyung.

Some examples are:  focus on your breathing and making it smooth, during the attack stance techniques focus on keeping back leg locked, focus on powerful penetrating techniques.  Notice if you become distracted and immediately get back to your focus item.


2.      Meditate


In addition to the above, in all you do you must remain positive and confident.  In Gichin Funakoshi’s, The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate [1], his fifth principle is “Mentality over Technique”.  Funakoshi states, “….in martial arts mental faculties are more important than technique.  The former must rise above the latter.”



So, if you start to doubt something or have a negative response, think of two positive experiences of where you performed a technique well or were successful to help overcome the negative thoughts. \


Zanshin: Remaining Mind

To train your Zanshin mind you must work on your intent and attitude while practicing.  I discuss this topic in my October 2017 blog, Training The Mind Through Attitude/Intent (http://hanmookwan-svl-chiefinstructor.blogspot.com/2017/10/).   In summary you must practice all your techniques, hyung, sparring and self-defense with an attitude that your life depends on it.  You must practice all your techniques with the intention to do damage. 



In addition, you need to practice being aware.  I discuss this in a couple blogs including my August 2009 blog, More Awareness  (http://hanmookwan-svl-chiefinstructor.blogspot.com/2009/08/) and my March 2014 blog, Awareness Revisited (http://hanmookwan-svl-chiefinstructor.blogspot.com/2014/03/).    For me, Gichin Funakoshi states it best in his 16th principle in The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate [1], when he states “Consequently we should adopt the attitude that when leaving our gate we are entering into the midst of many potential enemies and should stay mentally alert.”  


It also means listening to your instincts if you feel unsafe, paying attention to the people and the events around you,  expanding your awareness when you are in areas that are unfamiliar, and noticing areas/events where you are more at risk (and avoiding them if possible).


Mushin: No Mind

Mushin comes from practicing over and over and over again such that you react without thinking.  It means being grabbed hundreds of times and focusing on that one technique to escape until it becomes second nature and then moving to another technique, then another then another.  It means being so comfortable with your arsenal of techniques you flow from one to the other without hesitation. 


So, again to be proficient in these mindsets, you must train – train the body and train the mind.   


Regards,
Kelly


“Do not place hope in finding a secret technique. Polish the mind through ceaseless training; that is the key to effective techniques.” ~ Kyuzo Mifune (1883-1965), Judo Master (10th degree)


 References:

1.      The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate: The Spiritual Legacy of the Master by Gichin Funakoshi