I wrote a post a few days back on the politics that seem to surround the Martial Arts. A lot of the feedback and discussions as a result of the article seem to say that where people are involved, politics will be involved. I completely accept this, but still think that politics seems to be particularly prevalent within the martial arts. So in the immortal words of Martin Luther King “I have a dream”! I’ve been thinking about this for a while and it’s something that could become a reality in 2015 if all goes to plan, but I have a vision of a massive martial arts event, all styles welcome, all backgrounds welcome. The only condition to entry is that you are open minded, willing to learn and respectful of the martial arts on offer. These martial arts could be traditional, say Aikido, Taekwondo or Judo, could be Reality Based such as Defence Lab or Krav Maga, or sports based such as the GHOST system developed by Phil Norman (look out for an interview with him being posted in the next couple of days)! All combat arts would be on offer, instructors would become students of other instructors and learn a bit of their style before teaching their own to both students and other instructors. In short everyone, whether you’re a white belt or a black belt, would learn together.
It would be ego free, politics free and massive for the martial arts community. Sure seminars exist at the moment, you get some massive names doing tours all over the world. But how often do people from other styles go to those seminars? If there’s a Judo seminar with a massive international name, do many non-Judo guys go? I think not, even though as I’ve already theorised before, all martial arts come down to the same thing in the end so we can learn something from everyone regardless of rank, years spent doing martial arts, or style you train in!
This is my dream for the future! A politics free seminar, big names in martial arts, all styles working together to enhance learning, build networks and increase exposure for the martial arts. What do you guys think? Good idea in theory but never possible in practice? We shall see! Watch this space!!
Having a great training partner can make your training more efficient, effective and fun! However having a sloppy training partner can have the opposite effect and be a real drain both physically and mentally when you’re training. The need to be the best partner you can is needed regardless of whether you are practicing a traditional martial art, a sport martial art, or a reality based martial art, and so is a crucial stage in the development of your martial arts training. There’s a few little tricks and tips below that will make you a better training partner so give them a go and see if they work!
1) Communication in training!
Communication is absolute key when you’re training. Communication with your partner, communication with your instructor and communication with the people training around you. Poor communication can lead to really poor training as well as accidents on the mat. Having good communication with the people you’re training with can not only improve your technique but can also lead to a safer learning environment. So communicate!! Ask questions, asks how techniques feel, ask if you’re holding the pads at the right height or the right angle, see if you can do anything to improve your partners technique. This will not only improve your own technique but also the technique of your partner, leading to a step up in skill for the whole class!
2) Relax in training!
I’m sure we all know that there’s nothing worse than a partner who acts like a surfboard with arms. Sometimes it makes it easier to do the techniques as they’ve already locked themselves up, but it’s annoying and feels like you’re just partnering a brick! Relaxation is also key to preventing injuries. The injuries I’ve seen happen during martial arts training have been when someone has tensed up during a technique or panicked and locked themselves up, leading to tweeked or broken shoulders, wrists etc. So try and relax for your partner, it makes it easier for them to see where the technique goes when you’re working together and prevents you getting injured. If you’re going to resist, fight back or train in a more realistic scenario, make sure its agreed upon with your partner through the tip above….COMMUNICATION!
3) Improve your own technique
One of the best ways to be a good partner is to be a good martial artist in general and be able to do the punch, kick, throw, pin etc. competently yourself. If you yourself can do the technique, you know how it is meant to feel and so can receive the punch, kick, throw, pin etc better as well as giving tips and pointers for your partner through COMMUNICATION. If you know how the technique is meant to go, you can RELAX more as there’s no surprises and you know where you are going, leading to a better technique for your partner and less chance of injury for yourself.
Being a good partner is part and parcel of being a good martial artist. It can prevent injuries and through being a good partner you can also improve your own technique. So communicate more, relax when you’re working with your partner and make sure you yourself know the techniques and have a strong foundation of training!! If you enjoyed the article please, as always share, like, comment and subscribe 🙂
In the this series of instalments, Geoff Thompson talks to The Martial View about his career in martial arts, his concept of `The Fence, pressure testing within the martial arts, and self development! More information on Geoff can be found at www.geoffthompson.com as well as on Amazon where you can find his books and DVD’s.
Hi Geoff, really appreciate you taking the interview. I suppose we should start with your introduction into martial arts.
I started martial arts when I was about 11. I started in Aikido, a traditional style at the time when there was a huge Bruce Lee craze. There was no Karate or Kung Fu around that we knew of, but Aikido was a martial art and so was the closest we could get to it. I did Aikido for around two years. I was really good at it, had the rhythm for Tai sabaki, was good at break-falling and it suited my temperament, it was very natural for me. The teacher I had at the time however, groomed and sexually abused me. I didn’t know at the time I was being groomed, I idolised him. The abuse of course was devastating and shattered my confidence. I didn’t tell anyone, I was afraid to tell my parents, I feared that if I told them, they would go to the police or something, I just wasn’t strong enough to bear that kind of weight at the age of 11, it would have been all over the papers and I was afraid of exposing the guy. So I fell away from Aikido and then ended up going to Shotokan Karate shortly after. I did that to purple belt and fell away from that. I then did Kung Fu with a brilliant guy called Charles Chan. He was very good, great tai chi guy and I did that up to Dan grade level and I became the British weapons champion. There was a lot of politicking there at the time, the infrastructure wasn’t very strong. But the people were nice.
I went back to Shotokan and got my Dan grade, I stayed with that until I became a doorman some years later.
What led you into becoming a doorman?
I became a doorman because I was suffering on and off with depression, a fear of life, a fear of change, a fear of potential. After a particularly difficult depression I became a doorman in order to confront and overcome my fear. I wrote all fears down and confronted them systematically one by one and a fear of physical violence was one of those fears. Even though I was a 2nd Dan in karate by this point, I was a good martial artist, certainly a good club player, but even with my dan grade I was still afraid, perhaps more so, I still had fears of just living in the world really. These fears weren’t there all the time, I spent a lot of time being living happily enough; confident, even arrogant, then these depressions would sweep through me like fire and debilitate me for months on end. I was strong though, went to work, and turned up in my life every day, I resisted medication. I went towards it for a while because I was so depressed, but innately I felt that medication wasn’t right for me. So I got to the point where I thought I can’t live like this anymore, the depression was so unpredictable, when it came I had no answer to it but to succumb to it. At this point I had children and a family, and I felt like I couldn’t protect them even with my all skill sets; couldn’t even protect myself against my own feelings. So I decided to do draw a fear pyramid (see Geoff’s book Fear the friend of Exceptional People) write all my fears down, each fear on one step of the pyramid, least fear on the bottom step, worst fear on the top, then confront them one by one. Physical violence and confrontation was at the top of my pyramid. It was a very interesting period. As I wrote down all these mundane fears like the dentist and spiders, and as I started to confront them and develop what we call a second body, other fears started to present themselves, hidden fears that I did not even consciously know I had, so I wrote those down, and I started confronting those as well. When we have likes and dislikes, and we place ourselves in between them as a resisting element we create light or the second body. You can feel it palpably growing inside you, like another strength coming through. Working with the fear pyramid expanded my awareness and allowed me to see more; it showed me what else I was scared of, as I said, the things that had been invisible to me before. For instance I had very unhealthy habits that I was afraid to leave: pornography, food, drink etc. As I started to expand I realised my real fears were a lot closer to home than I’d realised. I was afraid of my wife, I was afraid of my mother; I was a people pleaser afraid of being disliked. Then as I went deeper and deeper and I realised I didn’t like myself I was afraid of myself because I didn’t really know myself, and I certainly didn’t trust myself. Eventually through writing and internal inquiry which is the budo end of martial arts I could trace it back to some fears that I had inherited, things that I was born with. And I could see that some of the fears were what I had been taught as a youth, things I had been weaned on; my mum was a depressive and she has lived a painful life due to this. She was also a true hypochondriac where if she thought she had throat cancer, she would get all the symptoms. My mums nearly 80 now and still can’t eat in front of people because of this, she can’t swallow if people watch her eat, that’s the power of the unconscious mind. And this is what I was taught, unconsciously of course, but it was my early schooling. So I learned a lot as a youth about how to be fearful in the world, then as a 12 year old I was sexually abused by my first martial arts teacher, who, through his greed and ignorance, implicitly taught me that people can’t be trusted and that I was worth nothing. I had no trust of anybody. The aftermath of the abuse was self-abuse. I had a very damaged cognition, my perception of the world was unhealthy. I found deep below all these mundane fears, the smoke-screens (and I had to really inquire internally before I uncovered this) that I didn’t really have a fear that I couldn’t trust the world, I was fearful because I couldn’t trust myself and that’s a very powerful perception hiding under layers and layers of defence mechanisms. So eventually I started to explore and challenge my belief. Subsequently though internal enquiry, martial arts, writing, etc I was able dissolve this fear and alter my reality.
Around the age of 28 I began to challenge all my beliefs and fears. It seems peripheral to the martial arts as we’re talking about that, but at the time I was practicing budo and didn’t even know it. I was doing the internal inquiry and challenging perceptions because my old beliefs were making my life very unhappy.
The fear that sat at the top of my pyramid was a fear of violence confrontation. To overcome this I became a bouncer (see Geoff’s book Watch My Back). Going on the doors was a revelation. It is such an acute and violent environment that it immediately demands you develop a powerful second body. I realised quickly as a doorman that all of the ostentation of martial arts – the techniques that I was sure would be effective – fell away and all the things you think will work fall away. It’s like an acid bath where everything except a very small nucleus of technique remains, and these are so potent, so powerful and so effective that you don’t want to use them, they are too damaging to people, too dangerous. It was a fantastic time of learning, but as a martial artist, I had to go back to my class and say ‘we have to change everything: what we are practicing isn’t right or honest; it won’t prepare you for what’s going on out there, the real world of violence is so explosive, so volatile. There’s no trapping and countering, no blocking and countering, none of the defence stuff works, it fall apart under pressure. There is only pre-emption. I learnt that very quickly and brought that into my class. I then realised we needed a support system for the pre-emption, we need grappling, we need close range work, we need to be able to use any part of the body as a weapon and we must understand how to control fear. I started to really explore the martial arts in-depth, then I started to explore myself.
I went from being scared of spiders to being involved in thousands of violent situations, hundreds of fights. And all of violence, what I later called the lesser struggle, had been projected from the greater struggle that was going on inside me. This need to protect myself and fight, all these situations that I found myself in all came from the projection of wrong belief and untrained imagination. I had created a colourful, vibrant, beautiful, horrific reality for myself with pubs, nightclubs, fights etc. I created this world of violence with belief and imagination, I recognised that I had created it and then dissolved it again using the same process (belief/imagination). As I dissolved the violent reality, I then created a different reality, a beautiful reality, the reality of books, writing, teaching which of course is budo. The high end of martial arts, where you teach people that by changing their story and beliefs and perceptions they too can change their reality. So a big part of my development and practice now is telling my story and spreading my story around the world.
So that’s kind of the history of my martial arts, but in-between that, I training in lots of different styles looking for what was useful regarding combat and what was useful for budo. Budo isn’t about bowing in and out of the room saying Osu, it’s about developing a gold body and living a virtuous life, teaching your students and serving the community. So at the higher level it’s really exciting but at the bottom end, the base, the martial element, the physical stuff has to be right too. Martial means designed for war, we perfect technique that can kill, the martial element demands that we develop control of the mind and body. We can only teach what we know. If we aren’t aligned ourselves, if we have no control of ourselves, how can we show others the way. If I can’t be neutral and centred I can’t teach people. My job is to be in front of people and ask how can I serve you? Martial arts at the highest level is everything, it should work in every element of your life, but it’s often just worked at a fundamental level where people are ego centred and are only concerned with what the best system is. It’s really not about the system, it is about you. It is about you looking at how you live in the world, how you conduct yourself in the world. We have to ask ourselves the difficult questions: Who am I? Am I honest? Am I virtuous? And I hiding from my vices? Am I really practicing budo, or am I just saying the words – ace on the outside, base on the inside. So the martial arts if done correctly should align you towards virtuous living so we can reach our fullest potential and be of service to the world.
The physical stuff, the techniques that work outside the chip-shop on a Friday night, the is really simple but people still spend a lot of time dedicating their life to practicing stuff that wouldn’t work in a million years. If you went into the marines there wouldn’t be any of that, there is no theory in warfare, it would be this is what works, we’re using live rounds and it’ll work on the battlefield and there are thousands of years of testing to prove it. In the martial arts people believe anything, they’ll use a grappling system as main artillery and it’s the worst thing to do. It’s a beautiful system and a powerful system, but for combat outside its very limited because the moment you go to the floor you’ve tied yourself to one opponent and even strangers will walk past and kick you in the face, jump on your head, stab you. It’s the wrong choice. People work on traditional defence, block and counter, it won’t work in a real situation, and it’ll get you into trouble. Reality is about pre-emption, look at Sun Tzu, Musashi etc. they only work on a variance of pre-emption, the do not wait to be attacked, the only chance of survival is to strike first and have a strong understanding of the judiciary, to back you if your actions lead to court of law.
It isn’t difficult to know what works, you just have to go to someone who has experienced it prolifically and teaches it honestly. You’ll know it right away if it is honest, honesty has a unique sent, it will speak to you. If you read `Watch my back` it speaks the truth, it in I say ‘I’m a senior martial artist and I’m scared; this is what work works when you are scared. It consistently works. I’m still scared but I use that as energy to help me survive a situation. So you need to find a system that works in a real environment, then when you have that tied off you can look at the arts and have fun, start looking at the beautiful arts out there and play. I went on the doors to face my fears and find out what worked under pressure, to find out who I was under pressure, and I realised it’s all about mental hardiness, and close range punches. I worked on that, I worked on that a lot, I developed the fence system, and then all the other stuff that I trained in (many many systems) was just for the pure fun of it! Then of course when you have the ability to kill and you understand the violent arena and you are able to park that, then you automatically start spilling into other areas such as physiology, psychology, sociology, spirituality etc. When you know the physical, you tie that off then look at the other stuff. It isn’t difficult to get the physical right, go to a good boxing club and you’ll tie if off very quickly, same with Judo, it gets real very quickly. Its honest training and the guys that were most effective on the door were always boxers. Its close range, they can take a blow and are trained to knock people out. They understand fear. The honest systems are there. Once we have an honest core system – something that will work outside the chip shop, outside the controlled arena, where I’m really afraid – then we can build everything else on top of that, it is an amazing foundation.
There’s a lot of denial in the martial arts. This is not a criticism I’m a huge advocate of the martial arts, but my job as a teacher is to equip people with the truth, then we can really start exploring the arts and looking at who you really are and developing to our full potential.
Look out next week for part 2 of the interview with Geoff Thompson where he discusses his concept of `The Fence` and pressure testing within the martial arts.
Relatively speaking, there is still relatively few who choose to dedicate their lives to studying martial arts and self defence. In terms of sports, many choose more mainstream past times such as football, rugby or cricket as supposed to Judo, Aikido or MMA and so what makes some people choose to study the martial arts? On top of this, do some people naturally have the killer instinct, technique, athleticism and timing needed to succeed in martial arts, or is this again something that can be taught over time? Can someone who has studied martial arts all of their life be superseded by someone naturally inclined to the martial arts in a relatively short period of time?
Many people fall into the martial arts by accident, seeing an advertisement for a class regardless of style in a local hall and deciding to either give it a go for themselves, or being made to go by their parents. I began Karate at aged 6 after my parents saw it advertised at a local hall. After a few years I moved on to Aikido and now continue to do this, having also studied MMA, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu and KFM for varying degrees of time. I feel that martial arts are a massive part of my life now and want to learn as much as possible from everyone that I can. I wonder however, what would have happened if I hadn’t gone to that first Karate class? Would I still be writing this and be as heavily involved in the martial arts as I am? Was I naturally more inclined to the martial arts than to sports such as football which I have very little interest in?
Me aged 9
Me aged 23
Martial arts – a lifelong pursuit
I believe that the traits of martial artists such as patience, courage and humility are natural and made better through the right instructors. Martial arts are a lifelong pursuit and one that is never perfected, and for many this is a difficult thing to comprehend. To play football, rugby or other such sports certainly takes skill and athleticism, yet a lifelong pursuit it is not. Many martial artists stop when they reach black belt, thinking that the goal has been reached, the illustrious black belt has been attained, yet for those committed to the martial arts, this is simply one step up a very long flight of stairs, one that you are unlikely to reach the top of.
Natural athleticism and timing certainly play a part in the martial arts as well. Those more naturally athletic will be able to copy and reproduce moves far quicker than those that are less fit or supple. As with everything in life, some people have to put very little work into something to be very good at it, while others have to work very hard to achieve half that skill level. This can be said of the martial arts in some respects and to learn martial arts is a personal journey, one that the instructor can only guide you on. An instructor can teach you the movements, forms or techniques used, but the individual has to take this teaching a step further, investigating movements for themselves, seeing what works for them and what doesn’t to make the martial art personal and effective for them. For many, this is too difficult a task and once the moves have been spoon fed in, no further study is thought to be needed, leading to one dimensional techniques that lack power, control or intelligence.
The martial arts are unique in the fact that they are a lifelong pursuit that you can constantly improve upon. Numerous 7th, 8th and 9th degree black belts I have spoken to over the years still say how they are learning and that every lesson they teach shows them something new. They admit they will never achieve perfection in the martial arts, and for some this makes the martial arts difficult to study. To others however, we see this as a challenge and wish to learn as much as we can, from everyone we can in order to be the best well rounded martial artist we can be, even though we know perfection will never be achieved. Some people are more driven into the martial arts due to their personality traits such as patience and humility, as well as natural ability, but these traits and abilities can also be developed and harnessed through the training of martial arts. Martial arts are a lifelong pursuit and one in which we never stop learning, and this for me is the best thing about training in the martial arts.
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Ukemi or breakfalling is arguably one of the most important skills to master in Aikido and the martial arts in general. From the very first time we enter an Aikido school and our very first class, we are working with a partner and so need to breakfall. This is different to some other martial arts where the first few classes are spent practising form or certain strikes. Aikido, day one you work with a partner and so the need to breakfall correctly is of paramount importance.
The back fall
Aikido at first looks at the back fall breakfall used in techniques such as shihonage where you are taken down in a certain way so as to end up on your back. Protecting the head and back is of critical importance here, and ukemi is built up slowly so that we can take progressively harder and harder falls without hurting ourselves. The neck is tucked in to prevent the head hitting and bouncing off the mat, and the knees are bent to ensure you land butt first, not back first which will just knock the wind out of you.
When we are comfortable with this breakfall, we step it up a notch and progress to the high backfall, mostly used during dynamic jiyu waza techniques such as irimi tsuki and irimi nage. Here the legs are kicked up to head level to take the high breakfall, and the impact is dissipated in the shoulders and arm you use to break the fall with. The key component in the high breakfall is controlling the legs. If the legs are controlled and together at the time of doing the fall, the rest of the body can be controlled, and so the impact is minimal. Conversely, if the legs are separated, it can be difficult to control the rest of the body and the impact may be taken on the back or even worse the neck. Below is a demonstration of high back falling at around 1 minute 40.
The forward roll
In terms of forward rolling, Aikido employs a kind of sideways forward breakfall whereby we roll up the arm to the shoulder, and from the shoulder to the opposite hip in a diagonal line down the back, avoiding the spine. This is different to traditional gymnastics rolls where the roll is taken over the head and down the spine. Due to the nature of Aikido it is possible to throw people very hard using the hips, and so taking ukemi over the spine is not recommended for impact. Progressing on from this we look at the flipfall, again used in jiyu waza or techniques such as kotegaeshi. The flipfall is in many ways an aerial forward roll with the impact being taken on the arm we use to break the fall.
The clip below illustrates the power in the throws and the need to be able to fall correctly, as well as demonstrating the backfall, high backfall and flipfall breakfall as used in Aikido techniques.
Protect the body, build the body
Break falling correctly can help us protect the body, but can also help us to build the body. While recently teaching Aikido at a secondary school I was amazed to find how many of the students of only 13 or 14 years old couldn’t complete a simple forward roll due to lack of strength and coordination. Rolling and break falling helps to build core muscles that protect the spine, as well as developing coordination, fitness and agility. Simple break falling practice can build the body in a number of ways as well as protecting it and so is crucial to the development of children in my opinion.
Falling correctly and making this second nature can help in everyday life. How often do we hear of people falling down the stairs and breaking and arm or leg? Could this have been prevented if someone had an idea of how to fall properly without injuring themselves? Also in terms of self defence, many fights end up on the ground and so if taken down we need to be able to protect the head, shoulders and limbs. In sport martial arts such as MMA or Judo, take downs are key component and so before being taught to take down and throw, practitioners are taught how to breakfall. This allows us to increase in confidence with our ability to fall properly. In everyday life, a flipfall or high back fall may not be useful, but the principles it teaches, and the way it allows us to comfortably take a breakfall, protecting the major areas may one day save us from serious injury. Due to this, I believe ukemi or breakfalling is key to any martial arts training, as well as just training in everyday life. Breakfalling must focus on a strong core and form to begin with, then gradually built up, introducing new falls from different angles, or faster falls that you perhaps weren’t expecting. When we can comfortably fall from a technique or throw where we don’t know where we are going, this is surely a good sign that our training has allowed us to process and absorb the form, and so if we ever need to break a fall in real life, our training may instinctively kick in.
Atemi can sometimes be forgotten about during our Aikido training. Aikido’s focus on throws, locks, pins and subduing the attacker without hurting them where possible does not often coincide with punching someone, yet the effectiveness of some techniques relies on the proper use of atemi. We don’t look for the knockout blow in Aikido, we strike as a distraction to allow us to perform our technique, or as a way of unbalancing the opponent in order to throw or apply a lock.
Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, said that in a real situation, atemi is 70% of the fight, with 30% being locks and pins. Shioda Gozo, founder of Yoshinkan Aikido, agreed with this analysis from his time spent in street fights during his youth. Shioda sensei argues that although overt punching and kicking training is not done in Aikido, such as through the use of punchbags or makiwara, training is still done. Every movement in Aikido comes from the hips, and every move aims to deliver hip power and movement. Is this not exactly what is needed for effective atemi? A poor punch comes from the arm, using the muscles there to employ power. A more effective punch however, comes from the hips with the arm relaxed until the very moment of impact when the full force of the hips and arms is combined. This allows for more efficient striking, allowing us to perform more strikes with more power.
Morihei Ueshiba applying a strike to the ribs of Gozo Shioda
If we look at the basic movements of Aikido or the kihon dosa, all focus on projecting the hips and developing hip power. Although we aren’t punching a bag for hours on end, we are still developing hip power, and therefore striking power and as said, this is still a crucial aspect of Aikido training. There are those that argue that we should not need to atemi in Aikido or in a real situation if our technique is correct, yet I would imagine that these people have never been in a real fight and are only used to training in the setting of a dojo. The principle of Aikido to not harm the attacker is good in theory, yet in my limited experience, unrealistic. If you are fighting with someone who really wants to hurt you, whether you hurt them or not is not a consideration, getting out of that situation however you can is the priority. O’Sensei was in his later years when developing Aikido, having been through hard rigorous training in his youth and being in more than one life and death situation. Shioda sensei was similar, training hard in his youth and looking for fights to test his skills and both state that atemi in Aikido has its place and is very important.
Striking is effective in terms of injuring opponents, but also in terms of breaking balance and developing hip power. Sometimes in training we do a technique and when done with added resistance, wonder why it doesn’t work. Sometimes the technique is done wrong, but other times, the role of atemi has been forgotten and with this added element, the technique can improve dramatically! Atemi is just one aspect of Aikido, but one I feel is sometimes neglected.
When people first come to study Aikido, Jiyu Waza, or freestyle movement is the first thing that impresses them about the art. When done correctly, it is fast, dynamic, athletic and skillful, making both people involved look like they know what they’re doing! What is the actual point in doing Jiyu Waza for the Aikido practitioner however? It is unrealistic practically and somewhat choreographed between those involved.
Jiyu Waza has many learning elements within it, both from the point of the Shite (doing the technique) and the Uke (receiving the technique). Aikido in general does not have competitions, and so in a way, jiyu waza is our form of competition between the shite and uke. Techniques are performed from a certain attack in a more dynamic way than regular basic training, allowing for improvement from both partners. The job of the uke is to receive the technique and then get up and attack again as soon as possible. The role of the shite is to perform the technique well and effectively, in a dynamic way, and to respond to the uke’s speed in order to avoid being hit. Jiyu Waza in this way then becomes a game of cat and mouse, where, although the partners are working together to improve technique, endurance and ukemi (falling), an element of competition can be introduced with who can perform the techniques faster, or get up and attack quicker.
Jiyu waza as already said should be kihon waza or basic techniques, but done more responsively and dynamically. This is not an easy task and there is a tendency to want to do jiyu waza quickly when training begins. This can lead to sloppy techniques as well as injury as a level of control is lost in relation to kihon waza. Having said this however, simple jiyu waza and free movement should be taught fairly early in my opinion as a way of improving ukemi. From my experience, people are comfortable doing a fall if given time to prepare for it, yet when they are asked to do the same fall within a technique, find it difficult as the control has been taken out of their hands. Jiyu waza can allow that control to be taken away, but at a slow pace to start with, allowing the uke to fall from different throws, different directions and different partners in a safe and controlled way. The pace can then be built up gradually, until eventually we see examples of near perfect jiyu waza with awesome ukemi from uke, and awesome technique from shite.
Jiyu waza is there to improve technique, endurance and falling as well as adding an element of pressure to regular training. It should be built up from a fairly early grade to improve ukemi and ensure that the aikido does not become too static or rigid.
Its been a much debated topic with numerous posts online being centered around the effectiveness of the traditional martial arts today, and what they can offer to society. As someone who has both trained and taught traditional martial arts for a number of years, it is an interesting topic for me to address and a number of factors need to be considered in terms of the `role` of martial arts today.
Combat effectiveness in the Martial Arts?
Firstly, and most obviously, there is the factor of combat effectiveness. The early UFC hoped to pit fighter against fighter, asking the age old question of which style was most effective when it came down to a `no holds barred` contest. Would the bigger man dominate over the quicker, more agile opponent? Was karate better than boxing? From the first UFC’s, and the dominance of Royce Gracie and his style of Brazilin Jiu-Jitsu, it was clear that a new type of fighter had emerged, one that was not only comfortable on the ground, but advantaged in this way. Martial arts then took on a whole new format in the following years, and the idea of mixed martial arts was born, focusing on arts like kickboxing and muay thai for standup game, wrestling for taking down the opponent, and BJJ for ground game. Many now think of MMA as being the pinnacle of combat effectiveness as it tests the fighter’s skill, and fitness against a non-compliant opponent, something that the traditional martial arts can lack. I contest this belief but on to that at a later date.
Martial Arts Principles
I have trained and taught Yoshinkan Aikido for many years now, and a constant criticism I find from people looking at aikido is that the techniques seem ineffective, unrealistic, and dependent on the compliance of the partner. It is true that in the beginning we rely on our partner working with us to help us understand the technique we are trying to do, but what people fail to grasp is the principles underlying the techniques learnt. Aikido looks a lot at wrist grabs due to its being based on samurai unarmed combat. Samurai armor was weak at the wrists and so it was common to attack here. A wrist grab attack in today’s world is unrealistic, yet the principles we learn from this simple attack helps us to build the foundations for more realistic attacks. Aikido looks at connecting with the partner/opponent and keeping this connection throughout the technique. An easy way for this principle to be understood is through the wrist, as the elbow and shoulder can then easily be controlled. If we looked straight at a hook punch, headbutt, or other such `realistic attacks`, this simple principle could be overlooked and so, in my opinion and in terms of aikido, simpler attacks are necessary until you understand the basics. All martial arts, regardless of style work on the principles of unbalancing the attacker while maintaining your balance, employing power through the hips and lower body, and neutralizing the attack, either through a block or movement. This can be seen in the boxer slipping the punch, unbalancing the opponent and allowing an opening to counter punch. It is often not the most powerful punches that cause the knockouts in these cases, but the punches timed perfectly where the opponent is off balance and left open. This principle in my opinion, is true of all martial arts, regardless of styles.
So in terms of combat effectiveness, I believe that all martial arts, traditional and new, have their place and these all teach the same fundamental principles, all be it with a sometimes different slant. What is crucial, is to remember what is being studied. A `Martial` art, martial meaning war. The effectiveness of the traditional martial arts still hold true today, in my opinion, but it is dependent on the patience of the individual learning, as well as the instructor teaching. There is a tendency in the traditional martial arts to sometimes forget the applicability of techniques, focusing too much on the `art` and not enough on the `martial` aspect and so to keep its role in terms of combat effectiveness in today’s society, traditional martial arts should address this.
Combat effectiveness is just one role the martial arts can play today, and in my opinion is not the most important. Next blog I will discuss the role it can have on the development of children through the instilling of respect, discipline, fitness and a don’t give up attitude.