Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Belt Colors and Their Meaning -- Chief Instructor's Blog December 2020


As mentioned in my June 2012 blog, History of Belts and Rankings”, the first martial art to introduce belts and ranking system was Jigero Kano, the founder of Judo in the late 1800s. Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan karate, who brought karate from Okinawa to Japan in the 1920s adopted the belt/ ranking system and a modified uniform from Judo. 

While colored belt system has been adopted by almost every martial art since then, they do not all use the same colors. However, the meaning of each belt color does appear to be a fairly universal meaning related to growth regardless of the martial art style or school within a specific style. 

While other martial arts may have additional colors beyond our Han Moo Kwan Club, in this blog I will focus on the belt colors we use in our club and their meaning. I selected several references to demonstrate the fact the meaning is fairly universal. 

White belts are given to beginner students of the martial arts. White is a symbol of birth and beginning, indicating that the student is just starting to gain knowledge [Ref. 1]. It signifies innocence or purity, and indicates a lack of knowledge for the mind to have true control over the body. [Ref. 2].

Green belts signify the growth of the seedling as it grows from the earth, reaching toward the sun and begins to transform into a recognizable plant [Ref. 1]. It represents the beginning growth of the seed as knowledge and skills begin to develop [Ref. 2].

Blue belts represent the sky and signifies continued growth. A student moves upward in his/her development, just as a plant reaches up into the blue sky as it grows [Ref. 1]. It represents the growth and maturing of the young plant and how it continues its skyward growth toward the heavens. This correlates to the student starting to solidify skills and knowledge as training progresses [Ref. 2]. And the student is beginning to understand the fruits of his/her hard work as a beginner [Ref. 3].

Brown belts represent the ripening of the seed, a maturing and harvesting process. [Ref. 3].The student will begin to see the benefits of his/her work, like a farmer reaping his crop at harvest [Ref. 1].

Black belts are the level of training where all of the previous belt colors merge into one color. A black belt signifies proficiency and maturity in taekwondo knowledge and skill [Ref. 2]. It is popularly said that ancient martial artists' white belts would become black with dirt over years of training, but this story is likely just that [Ref. 1]. Black signifies the darkness beyond the Sun. A black belt seeks new, more profound knowledge of the Art. As he/she begins to teach others, he/she plants new seeds and helps them grow and mature. His/her students, many whom will form roots deep into the Art, blossom and grow through the ranks in a never-ending process of self-growth, knowledge, and enlightenment [Ref. 3].

So, as mentioned in many previous blogs and in class, martial arts is a journey of learning and self-discovery and sharing that knowledge with others. In the end it is not about the belt color you wear but an indication of where you are at in the journey. 

Regards,
Kelly 

“Black belt is not something you get; it is something you become”. ~ Warrior Spirit 

References:
2. Taekwondo Belts (koreantaekwondo.com), retrieved 11/27/2020 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Oher Aspects of Balance -- Chief Instructor's Blog November 2020


As I stated in last month’s blog, balance is one of the key skills to master a martial art.  In that blog, I discussed the physical aspects of balance and ways to practice/improve.  In this blog. I will discuss the other aspects of balance besides being physical balance:  emotionally, mentally, energetically. 

Emotionally

As a martial artist, to be effective, you cannot let your emotions control you.  You cannot let anger, fear, pride, passion, anxiety result in how you react.  While emotions can help motivate or help move you to action, it cannot control your reaction.  If you are running high emotions, you cannot be in control of your techniques, you will not be precise, and you will not be effective.  In addition, if you react based on emotion (for example, if someone makes you angry and you react by striking them), this is not honorable and this is not what martial arts is for or about.   So, as a martial artist you need to understand what triggers you and practice controlling your emotion before responding, especially physically.   The best thing to ensure you are controlling your emotions is by controlling your breathing.  By practicing deep, smooth, and even breathing, it will decrease your heart rate and improve your ability to control your emotions, even when triggered or under high stress.  For more information Emotions in the Martial Arts, read my January 2015 blog, Emotions in the Martial Arts.    

Mentally

As a martial artist, being balanced mentally is also critical.  This includes being able to remain focused, disciplined, and have attention to detail not just during martial arts physical training but in other aspects of your life. By being able to maintain same mentality in all aspects of your life it will become who you are regardless of the situation.     

Being balanced mentally also means equally practicing and being proficient in the four mindsets and of a martial artist:  Shoshin, Fudoshin, Zanshin, and Mushin.   For more information on the four mindsets, suggest you read my December 2019 blog, Four Important Mindsets of a Martial Artist.

Energetically

For martial artists to be energetically balanced:

(1)   You should strive to be grounded at all times

(2)   Your energy not only matches your intent and the intent needs to be appropriate.  If in class, and with a partner, appropriate level and intensity of energy depending on your partner and drill, so not to harm your partner or yourself.   If defending your life from an attack on the street, energy and intent should be to do damage with each technique until you feel safe.

(3)   Your energy matches what your mechanics can handle (e.g., if you are flowing too much energy and you are not aligned or grounded physically, you will be pulled off-balance)

(4)   Your energy is constant and consistent.  If your energy level goes up and down as you move through forms or during sparring, every time it goes down, you leave yourself vulnerable. 

A key to maintaining consistent and even energy is to ensure consistent, constant breathing. 

In the end to be truly balanced your mind (focus), body (mechanics), and spirit (energy) must all be integrated and acting in unison.

Regards,

Kelly

“To gain mastery you must unite the qualities of spirit, strength, technique and the ability to take the initiative.” ~ Sadami Yamada (1924-2010), 6th Degree Balk k Belt in both Judo and Aikido, author of The Ancient Secrets Of Aikido and The Principles and Practice of Aikido

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Physical Balance -- Chief Instructor's Blog October 2020

Balance is one of the key skills you master as a martial artist.  When we discuss / practice balance in class most of the time we tend to think or focus on techniques like kicks or other one-legged stances.  This may be because these are the times we challenge our balance the most, so it may be why we think and practice balance more for these techniques.  Yet there is much more to balance than not toppling over during kicks or those one-legged stances.

- Being physically balanced consists of many things for martial artists:

- Even / physical equilibrium

·       - Equal distribution of weight

·       - Symmetry

·       - Stability

·       - Controlling one’s center of gravity

·       - Retaining one’s balance

Some things to think about when it comes to being physically balanced:

ALIGNMENT:

Alignment is at the core of being physically aligned.  By being physically aligned it ensure balanced use of muscles versus skeletal system as well as controlling one’s center of gravity.

STANCES:

In stances like attack stance and horse stance, you want equal distribution of weight on between your legs/feet and on top of the equal distribution/ equal pressure on your feet. 

For the one-legged stance such as when kicking or for cat stance, for the base leg, you want equal distribution of weight/pressure across the foot and not more weight or pressure in the inside or outside of the foot or heel versus ball of the foot. 

LEFT VS RIGHT:

We all tend to favor one side.  As a martial artist we should strive to be equal left versus right sides.   This includes physical force – that is throwing as much force on one side as the other. 

We also tend to be more flexible on one side versus the other.  As martial artists we strive to be flexible equally on both sides which may mean spending more time on one side to balance ourselves out.

This also includes movement and ensure we move equally well, transition from stance to stance in all directions equally well.

USING ENTIRE BODY:

For me, being physically balanced also means not overusing one part of the body and using the entire body.

Various ways to improve the different aspects of your physical balance in your martial arts practice includes:

No reciprocal practice.  When we use reciprocals, we can easily compensate with the stronger side of our body and not being aware of it.  By practicing just one side at a time we can easily tell if one side needs more work than the other. 

Practice all techniques on both sides.  Some techniques tend to get more practice than others because they are only performed on one side in a hyung (for example, extended spear hand). As mentioned in class a few times, this was never meant to indicate that technique is only good when thrown from one side.  Therefore, besides just practicing both sides, the practice of mirroring the Hyung is also a great way to practice techniques on both sides but also help you move equally well in all directions. 

Go slow.  Going slow will definitely help your stability and controlling your center of gravity.  Going slow can be much more challenging than going fast and by going slow your balance will improve.  For more on this, see my November 2018 blog, Go Slow to Go Fast.

Practice with your eyes closed.  We use our eyes to help with our physical balance, so with eyes closed you must really focus on alignment, use of center of gravity, using all your muscles, etc. to stay balanced versus your visual clues.  

Focus on feet/stances:   As practice, focus on your feet and your stances practicing that equal distribution of weight and equal distribution of weight/pressure along the feet.  This also includes using all your feet and leg muscles in your stances and not just dumping weight onto your joints.  For more information and recommendations on improving your stances, see my July 2018 blog, Stances Start With The Feet.

Focus on using all the muscles.  This is discussed above, but using all your muscles pertains to the techniques themselves as well.  It means when you through a punch for example your arms (biceps, triceps, forearms), shoulders (deltoids), back (trapezius, latissimus dorsi, scapulae, rhomboid), chest (Pectoralis), and stomach muscles (abdominal) are all engaged and working together. Practice focused on each muscles or groups of muscles to ensure they are all engaged.  Using the resistance bands are another way to get feedback or insights if using all your muscles together.

Improve your flexibility.  If one side is less flexible then the other, then focus on improving that side so even. This may mean more stretching on one side then the other or taking up practicing something like yoga.

Focus on alignment:  While practicing, focus on alignment (shoulders over hips, knees pointing straight ahead, etc.). You can find other information on alignment in my January 2017 blog, Alignment: Critical to Protecting the Muscular Skeletal Body and my January 2018 blog, Key Alignment & Motion Fundamentals.

There is so much to balance and ways to improve your physical balance.  What aspect of balance is your most challenging?  What aspect of balance do you find the most enjoyable to practice?  I encourage you to look at the various aspects of physical balance whether it’s challenging or not and practice each one. 

Regards,

Kelly

 

"Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up go home. Understand?" ~ Mr. Miyagi, fictional Okinawan karate in The Karate Kid saga.

 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Reciprocal -- Chief Instructor's Blog September 2020


As a self-defense martial art, Han Moo Kwan tactics are based on close contact self-defense when no other option such as avoidance is available to you. These tactics require that you ensure you are protected (especially vulnerable targets) at all times. If you watch MMA, boxing, etc., they never have one hand at their waist. Never. Yet, this reciprocal position at the waist (or around the ribs) is very commonly taught in Tae Kwon Do and Karate schools/clubs, including ours. So why would we practice and teach techniques that put one of our hands at our hip – where it is not protecting a vulnerable spot.

When we first teach the basics in our Club, the emphasis on the reciprocal is primarily to: 
• Learn proper motion of the technique (for example, can help keep shoulders square, if throwing equal force) 
• Learn some basic body coordination 
• Experience some sense force due to the reciprocal motion 

The Japanese term for the reciprocal is “hiki-te” (after some searching, I could not find the equivalent Korean term. In fact, in most books, video, etc. I have on tae kwon do, the discussion of the reciprocal is very limited or not discussed at all). “Hiki” translates to “to draw” or “to pull” and “te” translates to “hand”, so its direct translation is drawing hand or pulling hand. 

If pulling, then the intent is that hand is very active. So, at intermediates’ level, this hand should be just as active as the lead hand throwing the technique and be ready at all times to throw a technique (punch, block, etc.). When you start thinking of the reciprocal as an active part of your technique, you are now throwing a two-handed technique (for example: opening move to Pyung Ahn 2 or ending moves to Pyung Ahn 1, etc.). And thinking of the technique that way (as a two-handed technique), you will start becoming more effective in throwing all other techniques since both hands will be equally active and ready for anything. A simple application that can help in visually this is using the reciprocal to pull an opponent off-balance from a same side grab or cross hand grab. 

The other benefit of the reciprocal is consciously or unconsciously it helps keep our focus at our hips which is where our true power comes from. It trains us to start from and/or come back to our center. This is also a very important concept to use your center to draw the power as you progress in your mastery of the artform. 

 I said up above that the reciprocal gave a sense of force. This is important in the beginning to feel your techniques can be effective and the reciprocal can give one that perception of opposite force helps with leading hand force. At some point you learn or realize (usually advanced blue or brown belt), placing too much emphasis on a force going backwards is actually taking away from your power (or as I call it – splitting your power). So, as you advance, the focus while the arm is traveling backwards is to actually focus forward while remaining very active. 

In close combat, which is what this art form was designed for, both hands (regardless if one is in the lead and one trailing) must be ready at all times. So, if have not started, ensure at all times both hands are active and start having an intention of what both hands are doing during each and every technique.

Regards, 
Kelly 

"When facing an opponent in a combative posture it is important to know the lead hand can be used to deal with both offensive and defensive issues. The lead hand can be used for both protecting and attacking concurrently. The rear hand is used as a reserve if and when the front hand cannot accomplish the intended outcome. Then mefutode can be used for both offense and defense.” ~ Choki Motobu (1871–1944), Founder of Okinawan Tomari-te Karate

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Inner Mental Technique -- Chief Instructor's Blog August 2020

Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan karate is quoted as saying "Inner mental technique is more important than the physical one”. 

I have discussed in several blogs the importance of training the mind – specifically in the 2017 September blog “Training The Mind by Staying Focused “and the October 2017 blog “Training The Mind Through Attitude/Intent”.  In both of these blogs, training the mind is in reference to improving and/or ensuring your physical techniques are effective which could mean the difference from being killed or staying alive.

However, training the mind is as important in the first two self-defense principles.  As I have said in class and written in several blogs, Han Moo Kwan Tae Kwon Do is to be used only if options do not exist to avoid confrontation and conflict.

The first principle in self-defense is to be aware. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, and more aware at times where you are in places that have higher risk.  Unfortunately, over the last decade or two, those places we thought may have zero risk (schools, churches, etc.) are not completely risk free to experiencing violence.  Being aware means staying focused and not being distracted (such as by walking while reading your text messages or listening to loud music while running or walking).  Massad Ayoob, an American firearms and self-defense instructor, is quoted as saying ”To be safe you need first an awareness of the danger and a healthy level of common sense.”

The second principle in self-defense is avoidance.  Avoidance can occur through a variety of actions.  Avoidance could be not entering a dark alley because it does not feel right.  Avoidance can be seeing a mob to the left and deciding to go to the right and around the block to get where you need to go.  Avoidance could be not reacting to someone who is taunting you and escalating the confrontation to a physical one. Avoidance could mean hiding from an assailant, running away from danger, or playing dead.  Avoidance is handing over your wallet if someone asks for it while pointing a gun at you.  What you would do to avoid violence may be slightly different depending on the scenario (For example, if are on a plane that is in the air versus outside in an uncrowded place).  And what you may do to avoid a confrontation may be different if you are by yourself versus with your friends or family member.  There are hundreds of potential scenarios to consider.  I highly recommend that you take time and mentally go through various scenarios and have a plan.  Not that the plan can’t change, but by mentally thinking through scenarios, you will be better prepared to protect yourself and/or your friends/family though avoidance.  If you can’t think of scenarios, every time you see a violent encounter on You-Tube or the news, spend time to mentally go over how you would have avoided that scenario.

You can find additional information and references/resources on awareness and avoidance  in my August 2009 blog, “More Awareness” and my March 2014 blog “Awareness Revisited”. 

Given the current stay-at-home orders and our lives are a bit slower than they were six months ago, now is a great opportunity to take the time to be aware of our surroundings when we do go out and to go through various scenarios mentally and think through how we would avoid a confrontation.

Regards,

Kelly

"The secret principle of martial arts is not vanquishing the attacker, but resolving to avoid an encounter before its occurrence. To become an object of an attack is an indication that there was an opening in one's guard, and the important thing is to be on guard at all times."  ~ Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), founder of Shotokan Karate

 

 


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