Thursday, May 6, 2010

Is Aikido training suitable for street fighting ?

5 stitches on the wrist, several slashes on the back and a near miss of a cracked skull. My classmate escaped the jaws of death.

I will narrate the infamous story of 1 vs 3 as first person account..
The attack happened in broad daylight. It was an unassuming morning when I was driving my truck along a busy road. Just as I was stepping up the gas to roll uphill, I noticed from my rear view mirror a car overtaking dangerously. A few more feet and the car would have met the road divider.

The car continue speeding and i decided to let it pass. Perhaps it was a car chase but there was no sign of it. Now that the car is in front, i can see clearly the car was occupied by 3 people and the back seat passenger kept turning his head and stared at me. I was perplexed, I gave no objections to their risky driving; but i could sense that they take strong interest in me or perhaps the goods i am carrying.

Sitting in the back of my truck are 100k worth of brand new laptops ready to hit the market. I have been ferrying this load for the past 5 years without any incident. After all, it is an unmarked vehicle to serve the purpose of anonymity.

My thoughts were disrupted by the screeching of brakes. I slammed on them hard; a natural reflex from the years of driving. Without even processing a thought, the leg seem to have a life of its own when the front vehicle shows red light.

The men got our of the car and took a swing at my truck, a loud thump and cracks appeared on the windscreen

I started to panic, for now I know that the chase was on me and my goods. I had no weapon in my truck except for the bokken (sword-wooden) and jo ( staff) at the back; along with the goods.

There is insufficient time to grab any of those. As my thoughts were still processing, my door was yanked opened and a furious axe landed on the seat, i got out from the other side and saw the other 2 attackers staring at me.

They had bloodshot red eyes and looked very menacing. It seemed like they are on some kind of bloodlust trance. The bigger guy ordered me to get into their vehicle. The smaller guy brandished a knife and pointed at me.

Within the split second, fleeting thoughts of training with tanto and threatening gestures flooded my brain. To fight or to flee, a decision need to be made. No procrastination. These guys mean business. A ride in their car will make story tomorrow- Missing truck driver found by campers in the wood.

My sensei has thought me to have inner peace, to stay calm in conflict. Be the eye of the storm.

The most important lesson I learnfrom Aikido is staying calm and assessing situation.
Do not strike or evade unless you know what you are doing or avoiding.

An incoming assault requires evasion and counter. Blocking an assault only delays the striking required.

I went forward to the knife guy and he proceeded with an irimi ( thrust). The luring worked.
As he was moving towards me i made a tenkan (pivotal turn), and disarmed him.

I pushed him away while the bigger guy rushed towards me with a huge stick. I moved towards his lateral side into his ushiro ( the back of body) and grabbed his shoulder. I wanted to do an irimi tenkan but i could not; for he was struggling.

I proceeded to a kubi shimi ( neck lock) with my inner left elbow and my right hand was holding his hand with the stick. It was a very natural move as practiced in dojo. While i was doing this, i did not pay attention to the assailant who who gave my cushion a makeover with his axe.

I felt a sharp pain on my back and I knew that it had to be him; the forgotten assailant.
The pain did not convince me to let go of my prey but it must have been odd because the guy whom i pinned with kubi shime was just remaining pinned. I did not bring him down or choke him.

When the second slash came down, i pulled my prey backwards and he fell. The confusion and the palpitation experienced was overwhelming. The axe guy came at me again and i side stepped but as i was almost completely evading the strike, my wrist got caught in the "end- swing" of the strike. Unperturbed and with adrenaline kicked in, i transmitted my aggression by kneeing him. The axe man fell.

The moment of victory was disrupted by the gushing of red liquid from my wrist. I looked down and it was strange to not feel pain; almost like an out of body experience.

The ruckus attracted passerby and produces many witnesses. The assailant got on their feet and made a bee line to their vehicle and mine.

As they left the scene leaving behind engine smoke, i sat on the the tarmac clutching my wrist. The pain was too much and i felt light headed.

After a vascular surgery to join my arteries and veins, i was relieved to be told by physicians that the wound would heal and nerve damage was not present even though i could hardly wiggle my fingers.

As for the truck, police found it in an abandoned area with everything that is removable; removed. Needless to say the bokken and jo which accompanied me faithfully for th past 5 years are now in the company of unworthy people.

3 vs 1; hardly a fair fight.

San nin gake ( 3 person attack- aikido) held in dojo and involved wooden weapons is hardly a fair fight too, but the training saved my life.

**********************narration ends*******************************

The story is a true account of an aikidoka who recently attained his first dan.

Is Aikido training suitable for street fighting ? I guess it is really a subjective question.

It will depend on the individual level of confidence to apply some aikido techniques and sometimes dojo practice may not reflect the through scenario.

Always remember that a dojo practice do not reflect the reaction faced in real life. A "subdued" uke is not so easily controlled in real life. Besides, your attackers move about a lot and will not wait for you to finish the technique.

Perhaps we should study Steven Seagal's moves in movies..what are his favourite moves? I will discuss this in further blog..stay tuned...
onegai shimasu

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

10 Things You Need To Know As A New Aikido Student

You have decided to start your class, what is expected of me and what should my expectations be ?

PART 1: Mental preparation
  1. Attend class with an open mind, there are many concepts that may contradict your belief( culturally, religiously or scientifically)
  2. Attend class with a clarity of mind; leave your worries behind so that you can be focused. Why ? ( read explanation 1 below)
  3. You need undivided attention. Pay attention to the whole movement, the steps taken, the shift in the center of gravity and the hands movement. A lot to digest but ..this is Aikido.
  4. Never interrupt and instructor when they are executing a technique.
  5. Do not sit or stay too near to the instructor and his uke {ou-kay} ( partner in the execution of technique). Give them space for the demo !
  6. Always be proactive, look for a more senior student to practice the technique. Go to them bow and say onegai shimasu{oh- nee-guy she-must} ( please may i )
  7. Never ever go to your instructor and ask him to be your uke. This is rude in Japanese culture as hierachy is practiced.
  8. Never resist a technique being applied. Many times, injuries arise from resistance and using too much force.
  9. Learn good ukemi {ou-kay-mee} ( falling technique), this avoid the pitfalls of injury preventing you from training Aikido.
  10. Patience is essential. You may not be able to understand the technique now, give yourself some time to digest it.
Stay tune for the next installment...

Explanation 1: Unlike other martial art, aikido is taught with a demonstration of the complete execution of technique but not in sections. It was reported that Osensei did not give specific instructions, instead he showed the technique repeatedly followed by exploration from his audience.

After a hiatus of a year and attaining my second Dan just recently, I thought that it is timely to write about a series of article that may help beginner students who wishes to understand this beautiful art. I have observed that student turn-over is tremendous as compared to other martial art. I started researching on this topic and even called up some of those who left, something like an exit interview if you may call it. From the feedback I gathered, most student lose patience in this art or it did not achieve their goal. Following that, I came up with an idea to write about expectaions.
What one should know and expect when they decide to embark on the path of learning Aikido.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

FLASHPOINT - Donnie Yen Mixed Martial Art

Bruce Lee brought kung fu to the Western world,
Jackie Chan expanded the use of kung fu in action comedy,
Jet Li kicked and showed that size does not matter while,
Sammo Hung proved that potbellied Chinese man can fight.

Donnie Yen.. created a new trend in portraying Chinese Kung Fu !

Donnie Yen has just added another notch in his belt with the recent release of a movie called FLASHPOINT ( 2007). The punches and kicks filmed in this movie felt so real; that at times, you may just want to shift in your seat to dodge the punch. Imagine watching this in IMAX !

I feel that this is the most interesting martial art film made to date because it uses a lot of unconventional camera angling with close up on fights instead of a side angle. The film also features realistic fight moves with realistic reactions ( i.e not flying through the air with just a punch). The fighters have a degree of separation in the beginning of the fight and as they inch closer, kicks were exchanged and as distance drew even closer, elbows and knees are engaged.

Realistic fights also engage some form of impact and in slow motion you can see the punch landing on the face. It was reported that the actors experience injuries due to the aim of minimal body double.

In FLASHPOINT, Donnie engages his enemy with some sharp kicks and good haymaker punches but the real crowd drawer would be utilising his leg sweeps to make a Jiu jitsu lock and put them to submission. His floor fights were also very impressive and is usually not seen in majority of Hong Kong martial art movies.

Check out the trailer :-

More about Donnie

Donnie entered the realm of film making with the debut of Xiao Tai Ji ( Drunken Taichi) in 1984 after being recognised by the renown Hong Kong martial art Director Yuen Wo Ping ( choreographed Matrix, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill and many more since 1978).
Raised in a martial arts environment by his mother a Tai Chi master -Bow Sim Mark, Donnie excelled in Wushu and was later accepted to study in the then prestigious school of The Beijing Wushu Team. Donnie Yen and Jet Li studied from the same master of this school and were coincidentally born in the same year. They were destined to meet and their paths are crossed later in the filming industry. Rumour has it that both of them can never see eye to eye and hence proving a well known Chinese saying: A mountain can never keep two tigers.

Beijing Wushu Team
This is the team where China's budding martial artist were selected, trained and squeezed to produce gold medal in the China's National Wushu Competition.Winning a gold was more than a family's honor because it guaranteed better financial prospects and opportunities for family members. Back in the late 70s' China was still in a communist state with a close door policy.

Donnie In Flicks

Holding a US citizenship, Donnie needed little struggle to work in Hong Kong and made more kung fu films in the 80s but with little success. His real breakthrough came with the film Once Upon A Hero II where he starred opposite Jet as an antagonist. From then onwards, he took on lead role in Iron Monkey but by the early 90s the market was jaded with kung fu films. He starred in many other films but never was the lead until recently.

Iron Monkey

From Left: Donnie

Donnie's Breakthrough

Since then he has acted in many movies including as cameo in Hollywood ones ( Blade II) but without lasting impression. Only in recent years, that his film i.e. SPL(2005) & Dragon Tiger Gate 2006 has made punching impact on the silver screen. The combination of Donnie's new fighting style and the Director's (Wilson Yip) uncanny ability to make a fight look REAL drew flocks of punters to the big screen and the thirst for this new genre of fighting gave birth to FLASHPOINT (2007)

Dragon Tiger Gate : Donnie in middle

SPL: Donnie Flying Kicks

The typical old school kung fu style of leg sweeps coupled with pugilistic styles have been ommitted by Donnie.
In this new film; FLASHPOINT you can find that his style is cutting edge fighting with no rules, almost no choreography, fast, impactful and mixed-martial-arts approach.

Defying The Norm

In most kung fu films especially those made in the 70s and 80s were typically very choreographed. This era of kung fu Ballroom dancing like routines are shattered with the innovation brought by Jackie Chan with the infusion of comedy and acrobats into fights hence creating his signature of fight engagement.

Back then, pure form of martial art was never shown to be mixed with another form because the pure form reflects the identity of the art and blending it was deemed blasphemous to the master who taught it. This was clearly reflected in Bruce Lee's film in which he created a new form of style which he later termed as Jeet Kune Do to differentiate from his roots of Wing Chun.

Now, Kung Fu or in a more encompassing terminology Wushu has taken a new twist. Never before on the big screen have we witnessed a bold act of defiance in breaking usual norms. Donnie Yen has certainly taken Hong Kong Wushu Film to a new level with the introduction of Mixed Martial Arts in a film which normally would depict the usual Chinese Wushu.

Read more about Donnie here

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Taking ukemi* from a master

The Aim

It has always been my wish to be able to make nice somersault- when taking ukemi. I can still recall the first time I attended a seminar, I used to day-dream that one day I would be able to instill the “oohs and the ahhs” amongst my fellow practitioners.

Why Ukemi?

My sensei always emphasized on good ukemi. Only through ukemi, can an uke ( attacker/ giver ) learn how a technique is applied effectively. Since Day 1 I have been learning the basic back / front fall and roll. We also have what our sensei like to refer it as banana skin fall. ( an effective evasion against fast inward bound attacks)

Non aikido practitioners are perplexed over the ukemi that we do. Questions like the purpose of the ukemi and comments that the whole process looks staged and coordinated are often heard.

Aikidoka execute an ukemi to prevent further damage from the nage during the execution a technique. It will also serve as an evasive purpose to prepare for counter attack. Rarely in other martial arts do you see this form of practice. This unique ukemi technique aims to prepare a student to embrace an aikido execution and at the same time improve the physique by enhancing the agility, speed and stamina.

Taking ukemi is energy sapping. Try this – stand straight then lie down , then get up and then down again..repeatedly for 10 times. In no time you will start to pant for breath. In ukemi taking, the aikidoka would need to be able to react to the nage and in split second movement take the fall to the front or back, depending on the direction of techniqe. Therefore as an early practitioner, ukemi practice is important so that it becomes second nature to them because in a demo, there really is no time to think. The body automatically reacts to a technique. It is this form of conditioning exercise that builds an aikidoka’s skill.

Repetitious ukemi can cause injury to body especially if the matt does not cushion the fall well or the aikidoka has a habit of falling hard instead of landing softly. The pain from aikido training is something an aikidoka develop tolerance towards. Some friends of mine have once commented that Aikidokas are masochist

The Opportunity

Wherever the Shihan ( grandmaster) stands to give a demo, there will be a tendency for Uke volunteers to gather near him. They consist of Yudanshas ( Dan 1-Black Belt holders) and other higher ranking sensei. This phenomenon is widely seen in seminars, classrooms etc. for a simple reason- Taking the Ukemi. Usually, the Shihan would have a preferred list of Uke (his direct students or high ranking aikidokas).Most volunteers will make their best flipping ukemi in order to do justice to the Shihan’s excellent technique and I was definitely one of them.

My long awaited ukemi calling finally became a reality. During the 8th Aikido Seminar by Sugano Shihan, I had the golden opportunity to be his ukemi. I was offered to strike him with a shomen uchi ( knife hand strike to the head).

Attack Shihan !

But I froze….
When the Shihan asked me to strike him, I was eager to raise my hand and charge at him, after all only a committed attack is respected. Instead of letting instincts take over, my mind actually froze – stopped. I was thinking, should I really be committed in the attack since Shihan is senior in age and has lost a leg. ( He is using a prosthetic). Thoughts of myself hitting too fast and hard which made the Shihan difficult to execute a technique ran across my mind. The question of should or should not kept me in the frozen position.

Now, I clearly understand why Shihan prefers selected individuals; because they have been there before and knew how much to go for.

Shihan looked directly into my eyes and then muttered shomen -uchi and at the same time put his hand on his head signifying that I should attack him. His words magically pulled me out of the conundrum.

I launched the attack with commitment because I had faith in him; after all 30 odd years of practicing Aikido is an achievement.

More than meets the eye

Shihan reacted with a quick intervention and then a shihon nage throw ( elbow lock throw). His grip was firm yet not painful; firm enough to execute different technique should the need arise if I react differently. His movement was fluid like a well- oiled machine despite the prejudice of a prosthetic leg that observers may impose.

The next thing I remembered after being held by his grip, I was on the mat. I recollected myself and stood on the mat getting ready for another assault.

Same grip, technique execution with flow and slam – I was on the mat again. It happened so fast I could hardly comprehend which technique he used; if not for his explanation post technique. I recalled doing a flip otherwise there is no way to escape but I was unsure because it happened so fast. Later, when I asked my classmates if I flipped, they replied that it was the best ukemi they see me performing.

I smiled secretly in my heart knowing that I have finally done it, after all these years…
Finally, a chance to prove my mettle- the execution of a flipping ukemi.

*Ukemi = Taking a fall by the “attacking” aikidoka ( Uke) towards the “defending” aikidoka (nage). The fall can be a front or back roll or made into a somersault ( flip) if the defender executes a fast and powerful technique.

Background Info: In Aikido, the uke is usually the learning student and the nage ( receiver/ defender) is the teacher. For all intents and purposes for illustrative purposes, the Attacker & Defender terminology is used in this article; HOWEVER it is not encouraged to be used as a reference in Aikido training since peace and harmony is the core of Aikido

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ki is in the air- I can feel it

Humidity hits an all time high, rain clouds are looming in the skyline hence trapping heat from escaping into the atmosphere.

Fans are switched on full blast and windows opened to the maximum, to much dismay provided little relief to the additional heat generated from 40 odd bodies packed into a dojo the size of 12 feet by 30 feet.

It was the special pre- seminar class for instructors and all black belt holders ( yudansha) who wished to have personal interaction with the Shihan; was already on the mat.

40 hakama ( Black samurai "skirt-pants") wearers sat seiza ( Japanese style sitting) in lines waiting patiently for Sugano Shihan to take on the mat. This is the time when Shihan is able to observe the techniques made by the aikidokas and perhaps make correction or improve the execution.

The beauty of aikido is, no matter how many times you perform the technique, you will find a variation in each situation; perhaps the uke ( attacker) are different or a new awareness of your own technique is created as you progress in this art.

Energised by Ki?
I find that each time after returning from a class by a Shihan, I feel different. I feel that I could understand the technique more clearly and weed out errors in the execution of a good technique.

Such findings have been confirmed with my fellow classmates and they too mentioned that attending classes or seminar by Shihan help to improve technique. My sensei encourages us to attend the seminar as he postulated that the sheer number of attendees usually creates a very positive atmosphere for learning. I never quite understood the reason for the relatively faster improvement after a seminar than in a regular class.

Perhaps in a seminar, one pay more attention than during a class since the room is packed with strangers and the ego to perform sets in. The psychological impact in the need to perform is created and thus makes one go the extra mile. This is commonly seen in competitive sports where fans do make a difference in the outcome of a game.

Or, perhaps it could be due to the Ki aura that is emitted by the mere presence of the Shihan or the power of the Ki released from the Shihan as he executes technique. After all, years of Aikido training has been associated with better Ki development. I am certain that Shihan's 30 plus years of practice has created an unfathomable amount of Ki accumulation waiting to be harnessed in a technique and hence the "high quality" Ki may be infused in the air.
Whatever the reason may be, Ki or psychological impact, I have never regretted going to any Aikido seminars or workshop conducted by a Shihan. Whether it is the Ki emission by Shihan that helps improve a technique or the additional attentiveness added to perform, I enjoy attending it since I do feel a difference.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Power beyond strength- Ki

Power beyond strength- Ki

Have you seen clips of bizarre feats performed by people with so called "extraordinary" powers.

For example; bending steel rods with the throat, standing on sharpened knife edges, walking on red hot coal pits, breaking a coke bottle with a mere tap of its bottom, hitting 4 inch nails through a plank with the palm, lying on a bed of nails with a man standing on the chest simultaneously trying to pierce a sword through the neck.

If you are curious or an extremely visual person you may like to check out the following clips.
Please do not try to enact them, these are trained/ gifted people..not sure if its nature or nurture but definetly too dangerous to follow.
Check out this link, Taiwanese hard Qi Gong being put to practice- an interview by a BBC reporter. Click here

After watching that clip- what are your thoughts?

Do you think those are just mere camera trick, or perhaps an unseen force do exist..

I believe that Qi or Ki ( in Japanese) do exist. Despite it being unseen and not measureable using our conventional scientific measuring tools, it does exist. Most Asians are very familiar with the Qi concept. It is widely referred to as a force in traditional healing as well as martial arts.

Qi - A Chinese Concept
According to Chinese medicine text, Qi is a type of life force that exist in all living things.
An imbalance in Qi will usually result with health problems. The main aim of chinese medicine in curing such individuals are correcting the yin and yang balance and hence affecting the overall Qi of the person.

The Qi is also widely believe to be a vital component in Chinese martial artist.
The strength or level of competency of the martial artist is determined by the level of Qi.
Those who can manipulate their Qi are able to use their Qi to defend or attack an opponent.
Based on many chinese wuxia ( martial arts) literature, the Qi component is widely mentioned as a force that is used by the practitioner to perform amazing feats i.e. deadly palm attacks, walking on blades of grass, destroying stone boulders with the Qi generated from their hands or swords, invincibility from strikes of sword or spears etc. Basically Qi can be used as a defensive or offensive force.

The Qi can also be destroyed by an opponent with stronger Qi. The Qi can also be "harmed" if the practitioner is unable to control it during its manifestation. Intensive training of Qi incorrectly can lead to a state called "possessed by demon" These people will usually display symptoms of dementia, lunacy or may even result to a violent death with blood coming out from 7 orifices.

Ki- The Japanese Version

In Japan, Qi or better known as Ki is also widely recognised as a force in martial art. Aikido practitioners are very familar with this concept. The word Ai- Ki- Do literally means art of conjoining Ki. If you are not familiar with Aikido, you can read more about the history and the practice of AIKIDO from this site.

How is Ki manifested in Aikido practitioners?
Can we walk on sharp knifes, break steel etc..?

I have yet to come across a practitioner or a master who is able to display such capabilities; however I have witnessed an amazing act.

Ki power demonstrated

Picture this..

2 plastic cups are filled with water and each placed on a separate table. A bamboo ( diameter about 1 inch) is placed on top of the cups acting as a bridge. The master then uses a wooden sword (bokken) that is rather blunt and with the speed of a single heart beat, he chopped the bamboo into 2 pieces WITHOUT SPILLING a single drop of water or breaking the cups.

Others have tried but failed miserably; either breaking the cups or the bamboo not broken into 2 pieces.
So, is Ki working behind this master's ability?

When asked, the master simply replied that it is the Ki generated from his arms and extended to the wooden sword. He also added to be able to perform what he just did require many years Aikido training to unleash the power within.

I have yet to achieve what has just been described, however; like most Aikido yudansha ( black belt equivalent) I would be able to perform the unbendable arm.
Unbendable Arm
The unbendable arm is a unique demonstration of Ki power in Aikido.
As the name implies, unbendable arm is an ability of the Aikido-ka ( practitioner) to resist a challenger from bending his arm. If the Aikidoka does not use the aikido way to react to the folding of the arm by the challenger, he will succumb to the force and will also experience stress & pain due to the bending force.
On the contrary, if the Aikido technique is applied to neutralise the bending, the aikidoka's arm will be free from pain and no matter how hard the challenger tries the arm will not bend. For the challenger, it feels like pushing against a wall.

To add perplexity to the feat, the Aikidoka's arm feels soft during the application of Aikido technique indicating that muscles are not flexed.
In fact, if the muscle are flexed and counter strength is used to prevent the bending, it will result in a tug of war. The stronger will then prevail but pain will be felt.
If the Aikidoka is physically weaker than the challenger, he will still be able to perform the unbendable arm if he uses the Aikido method instead of his strength.
It is fairly easy to learn this method but, to be able to resist the bending with the slightest effort can be difficult. Practice under a master is strongly recommended because one has to learn how to deviate the opponent's Ki in order to demonstrate this skill. I hope to film this demonstration and share with you in the next post.. till then.. I will end this blog with a clip of more Ki in ACTION.
The person demonstrating is Tohei Sensei, one of the founder's direct student but he has branched out to the pure Ki form of Aikido called shin shin toitsu

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The maiden blog

Greetings ...
O negai shimasu ( translation from Jap: Pleased to learn from you )

The Maiden Blog
As the title implies - this blog is written by myself, an Aikido practitioner who aims to divulge my thought processes in written blog. The topics that I will be blogging will be on daily life with an aspect of Aikido thrown in. I will try to blend the comments that are made with some Aikido principles, hopefully inciting interest in readers on finding out more about Aikido.