Monday, December 28, 2009

Closing Distance and Not Overextending: Musashi's "Body of a Shuko"

Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings speaks of “having the body of a shuko”, a shuko being a short-armed monkey. He writes that “… The shuko does not extend his arms… If you think o f extending your arms, your body will retract… it is easy to approach with your body in the same time it would take for your hand to reach out.”

In other words, close distance so that you do not execute any technique before you are within the proper range to do so. This is one of the largest compromisers of proper stance and posture because it causes leaning, throws off your center of balance, and prevents proper body weight transfer into the opponent. Simply put, your technique becomes incredibly weak and leaves you vulnerable. This applies to anything, whether it is a punch, block, kick, or grappling maneuver. While this seems like common sense, executing outside of proper range is extremely common and in the end ironically boils down to a fear of getting hit. This is easily observed in many fighters, regardless of their training background and experience. As such, many people are used to “stand-up fighting” well outside of the proper range and will prefer only to grapple within what we would consider to be proper striking distance. It requires extreme confidence to close distance with the body as a whole first before execution.

As Musashi would say, “study this well.”

This concept is of course tied in closely with what we call osae, the constant press forward into the opponent, which requires a post in and of itself. While Musashi does not use the term osae, he writes of the same concept in at least three separate passages. This will be discussed in another post.

As a footnote, I am currently using the William Scott Wilson translation of Musashi’s Book of Five Rings. After comparing it to the archaic Japanese used in the original work, Wilson’s translation is perhaps the best I have come across.


Monday, December 14, 2009

A Good Coach

My sensei Pat Nakata will sometimes remark that he does not teach in any of his classes, but everyone is welcome to train with him. Or, he might say something along the lines that he is not a karate teacher, but a coach. I always used to think these were odd things to say. Recently, Sensei has been emphasizing that we be proactive in correcting each other during our training, especially since we have some newer members training with us.

In a typical class, we will normally execute each kata about two or three times. If there are more than three of us, the students will usually rotate out one at a time. This isn’t meant to be a break; the student who is not performing kata is expected to make on-the-spot corrections verbally and/or physically. However, these corrections must be done succinctly and accurately so as not to disrupt the flow of the kata. Just like in a fight, there is no time to “think” and the correction must happen naturally. This requires as much engagement and concentration as performing the kata itself. There is no time for putting things gently or diplomatically, it just has to be done.

This rotation happens regardless of how long people have been training. At the bare minimum, it provides an opportunity to see how it is supposed to be done for those who are still learning the kata. Of course, if some of us are doing kata incorrectly, it can also show how NOT to do it.

I sometimes find myself seeing someone requiring correction, yet have difficulty making the correction quickly or adequately. This usually means I do not understand the technique or concept well enough myself. Then there are other times when I explain something and then Sensei will have to interject and correct some (or all) of what I just got done saying. Either way, it aids in identifying my own weaknesses as well.

With this class setup, not only must I constantly work on improving my own karate, but also the karate of others, which then theoretically should improve my own… and so on. If I “go easy” on others and just let their bad habits slide, I will not be doing anyone any favors. Correcting, watching the corrections of others, receiving corrections and correcting oneself are all necessary to become a good coach. Maybe it’s not that odd after all.