Saturday, June 21, 2008

Rushing and Ego

I am always cautioned not to rush my techniques. Entirely different from pacing techniques too quickly, it is a correction for a lack of concentration or an ego defense mechanism. In either case, it leads to jerky muscling and rushed timing, meaning there is no kime. All movement must be smooth and accelerate into the kime with a flow. Unfortunately, when people aim for the kime timing and power, there is a tendency to tighten far too early, and I am no exception. The feeling of the muscles activating early makes a technique feel stronger, but at the same time, makes it weaker.

Instead, I should focus on breathing and ensure there is no pause between my inhale and exhale. This causes jerkiness because the working muscles must activate once more to accelerate, disrupting the flow and timing. Of course, I have been hammered for not concentrating on breathing and breathing rhythm… it is just starting to make more sense now.

Ego comes into play because it is easy to concentrate on the first part of a movement. The final execution and kime timing is the hard part. When the other parts are done more or less correctly but the timing is off, things will feel very weak (from what I hear, even proper timing feels weak to those not used to it... I suppose I'll find out one day...). The subconscious mind doesn’t like this and compensates through muscling.

Working on this timing really takes people out of their comfort zone. Just like hitting the bag, people avoid it because the feedback confirms their suspicions that their technique is weak. Many of those that do train on the bag muscle it, which is really just another term for self-delusion.

The only way forward is “muga” (無我), no ego, and "mushin" (無心), no-mind. Snaggy likes to talk about that a lot, and I am starting to see why. As he puts it, ego gets in the way of living in the moment, in the now. Without muga mushin, there can be no refinement because things like rushing will always get in the way. This is not abstract Zen philosophy, this is the difference between going through the motions and training to fight.



kamil said...

I've been reading your blog for about a year now and you seem to see karate through the same lens as me. I was wondering if you are familiar with Kenji Ushiro and his ippon kowashi/kokyu/ki focused style? His timing and understanding of distance is really hard to believe even when seen. His focus is on quieting the conscious mind so as to respond naturally and spontaneously to attack. Do you approach kumite in this way or do you come at it from a more athletic perspective - that is to say, good stance, relaxation, and anticipation?

Bujutsu Blogger said...

I have only seen a clip or two of Ushiro Sensei. I do not believe in ki in the sense that it is anything other than good body mechanics and timing. While I believe in ippon kowashi and breathing rhythm, it is easier said than done. He may have a different method of achieving these than the one I subscribe to, as his mechanics are different that those of Chibana Chosin.

As for quieting the conscious mind, there is a difference between a clear mind and an empty mind. A clear mind is focused and fully aware, an empty is just not concentrating on anything at all. I prefer to have a clear mind.

We prefer walking directly into the opponent and attacking him, not responding to him or waiting to counter attack. As Musashi says, you do not adjust to your opponent, you force your opponent to adjust to you. When he does, he will reveal his weakness, and that is when you strike him down.

This requires a domination of distance to enter into the opponent. When you are that close, there really is no timing or distance because you have dominated the distance and there is no way for him to evade you. Even if for some reason he attacks you first, you still move into him. Dominating distance means you know what he can use to attack you and when, which you can easily nullify or destroy if he does so. You can't do this if you are simply rushing in and out of range or bouncing around. Walking directly into him will force the opponent to react to you on your terms, changing the situation from one where you are expected to react naturally to one where you destroy him as he reacts.

I would be interested in seeing a clip of Ushiro Sensei in a situation other than one or two step self-defense/sparring if there is one out there. I've only seen a clip or two on Youtube and a few on some Japanese sites. I don't put too much stock in one or two step sparring/self-defense drills. Do you know of anywhere I could see some?

kamil said...

Thank you for your insights. You response suggests a thoughtfulness and seriousness of purpose that is quite refreshing. In kumite, I too tend to close the distance to force others to commit before attacking myself. I did have one more question for you if you don't mind. You mentioned in closing that you don't feel confident about the effectiveness of one or two step sparring/self-defense routines. In contrast, do you practice multiple step, more complex sparring/bunkai?

I ask this because I have all three of Ushiro Sensei's DVDs and he promotes the idea of practice towards the goal of completely controlling the opponent after the initial strike. After the first punch/kick is thrown, Ushiro is almost always standing in a position that makes a second attack difficult or allows for breaking uke's balance and easily throwing the opponent to the ground. Obviously this isn't always possible, but as a goal for guiding training, I've felt that it's done wonders for the quality of my karate. Additionally, I've generally pictured self-defense situations as often rather brief, what would you say is the hidden assumption, the flaw in one-two step training? What would you consider questionable in this approach?

Bujutsu Blogger said...

Sorry, meant to get back, but got real busy.

When we speak of ippon kowashi, we really mean it. There is no need to practice "complex" (I tend to think "unrealistic" when I hear that term) meanings for movements. Usually after the first attack is thrown (by me or my opponent), the fight should be over or on its way to be over. So rather than moving to an advantageous position after the first strike, you are dominating the entire time. If he reacts to you, destroy him. If not, even better; destroy him.

The flaw in one-two step training is that it promotes cooperation and makes the attacks unrealistic. As much as people talk about attacking "with intent" during these drills, I've rarely seen it done in practice. The attacker tends to put up a less than realistic attack and the defender develops crappy technique in response. The only advantage to one or two step self defense techniques is that they are better than three or more step self defense techniques.

matt said...

I just want to drop in for the first time and say "thank you" for such nice work. I am not sure where else to post this to you, so forgive me if this is out of place.
I have REALLY enjoyed reading your blog! Great stuff. My own teacher, Seikichi Iha (student of Gusukuma, then Miyahira and only occasionally trained with Chibana), has said that your teacher is very good when I brought him up the other day. (And you are totally right about the whole “who takes over for Chibana” issue that I stumbled upon here. Sensei Iha said what you wrote about the grandson and that Miyahira was the elder and so on.)

Anyhow, if you ever get to Okinawa again and want to get a fantastic history lesson/tour, look for Koichi Nakasone (8th dan, Shidokan Shorin ryu). He speaks English, is very friendly and is one of the better historians on the island and he knows nearly every karate family very well, so he has access to the stories and photos and locations that are otherwise inaccessible to westerners on the whole. And he is also quite the beast master when it comes to karate; the perfect combination of kukuchi and chinkuchi. You’d like him a great deal.

Keep up the great work. It is so nice to see someone archiving things so well.

Iha Dojo

Krista de Castella said...

What an excellent series of posts! I only recently stumbled on your blog and have been thoroughly enjoying your thought provoking entries.

On reflection, I wonder if muga and mushin are similar to the concept of zanshin in martial arts?

Also loved the previous post and the point about 'mistakes not correcting themselves'. I think there can be a tendency to get disappointed with constant criticism but in reality isn't the greater worry the instructor who watches you and says nothing… for no corrections can be an indication of apathy - perhaps they feel their advice would be wasted, or that there just too many things and they don’t know where to start.

Bujutsu Blogger said...

Thanks for your kind words.

I think muga and mushin are necessary to have zanshin.

I plan on writing another entry one day... when I'm less busy...