Wednesday 31 March 2010

My martial arts history to this point

Lau Gar: 2 years. All started in Ellesmere Port in October 93 under Brain Nelson. The training was hard with the focus on competitive semi contact point fighting. We had to do gradings every 3 months and this was the kung fu syllabus. I really enjoyed doing this but remember spending little time on it in class in terms of applications of the forms. Did a few competitions and enjoyed them immensely. Moving to London for University, Brian referred me to Curtis Page. He was a tall, lean fighter, great reflexes and incredible kicks. My most vivid memory of Curtis was watching him in a tournament do a rolling axe kick and score with it. Here I met my first mate down south, Damo. Over the next year or so we spent much time together training and hanging out. Training focus waned, the class became very small and the instructor was doing his best to keep it going but my motivation slipped. Outside of training I was an avid reader of martial arts mags and books, in retrospect, these filled my head with different ideas as well as building potential insecurities. Specifically fear of attack and needing to learn the ultimate martial art. Damo went to a demo of a wing chun school in Croydon. I had read about wing chun, the martial art that Bruce Lee sort of made famous. It has been known as scientific street fighting. So to an insecure young man, I needed to investigate.

Wing Chun: 18 moths Martin Workman. Martin at the time was 19 and to my eye a very gifted wing chun guy. The first session we did, he got me to hold a pad at my chest, he stood on one leg and hit the pad with a lateral elbow strike. I was instantly impressed with his power and technique. At the time, Martin was part of the National Wing Chun Association, who were a break away from the James Sinclair tribe. The twp top guys in the association had developed an interesting syllabus. Lots of footwork drills, basic shape drills, 1-2-3- drills, entry techniques, a great pad work syllabus. I really enjoyed training but kept reading outside and started to learn about the ancient fighting art of taichi. Reading fed my mind, I made my excuses and moved on.

Wudang Taichi Chuan:
6 months, Ray White. I read about a no nonsense guy called Dan Docherty teaching a style of taichi that was tournament tested and focused on developing a strong body and spirit through hard training. I really enjoyed the training, my best mate Jonny trained with me and we had a right old time. We trained in Stockwell, the dojo of Sid Hoare (a legendary Judo player). The simple end of this class was the dojo closed and no club near was available to train in. Instead of going back to Martin, I found an apparent fighting taichi style in Holland Park.

Old Yang style Taichi Chuan: 3 years, Paul Brecher. This was a great 3 years, I learned the old yang style long form and associated training methods and forms, lots of qigong, methods from Wudang (the predecessor to taichi) and dim mak knowledge. Perhaps the highlight was a week in the Spanish Hills at a retreat learning and training. Towards the end of my time with Paul, I lost my way as I started to question his teaching methods. This was my failing not Paul’s. He is a great guy whom I have total respect for and we still keep in touch to this day.

CQC: 1 year, Joe Hubbard. I hooked up with Jonny again and found Joe in Kingston teaching the methods of Hock Hockheim. This was a synthesis of Pacific rim systems. It is 5 different systems (Hand to hand, stick, knife, gun, etc) and very systematic in it’s syllabus. 10 levels for each module. It was good stuff but me and Jonny were not his favourites and unfortunately were treated without the same martial affection. Downer really, they were good times.

Warriors Escrima: 3 months, so I moved to a Filipino specific class, a student of Krishna Godhania. He was teaching some new material out of the States (Sayoc Kali), it was pure knife fighting, almost to an anal level. Got bored so tried some thing mental.

Harimau Pentjak Silat: 3 months, Scott McQuaid. This was a crazy time, training in a public park at tea time in Kingston. Hard, hard traditional training in a most demanding art. Scott was clearly a gifted guy in his chosen discipline. I binned it because I simply found the training too rigorous on the legs. Lots and lots and lots of low stance training.

Systema: 3 years, Greg Coveney, Darren Pickard. I did some research, and this new system was making an appearance in the mags. Now the internet was starting to develop and saw some vids. It looked both interesting and fake so thought about having a go. Simply put, loved it. I stopped after 3 years because 1 session was on fear and street fighting. So, Darren, Greg, Barry and me, donned the mma gloves an went at it. It scarred the shit out of me and mentally found this very hard to deal with. I left by making some inane excuse about money or my car or something. Instead of facing my fears with the guys who I am sure would have helped me through, I put my tail between my legs and left.

Wudang Taichi Chuan
: 6 months. Found a local class and popped along for a while, it was really great, but because my head as always was looking for something new I had not tried, I got attracted to BJJ as I love, love watching UFC.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: 2 and a half years years, Ricardo Da Silva. This is the most physically demanding system I have trained in. It made me fitter, stronger and less scarred than anything studied. Because of the honesty of the training (there is no room for paper tigers, they get found out very quickly) it was a great bunch of guys. Some of who were and still are successful pro MMA fighters. Lots of humility in that dojo. I used to go 3 times a week, Ben was born and I stepped down to 1. Found it hard to make progress and just tick over at once a week. A reduce in training meant sessions were harder to keep up with the rest. I would give them a jolly good fight as I became realised good cardio and the desire to keep fighting went along way. So I looked elsewhere for training that permitted me once a week.

Some action of me sparring...

Wing Tsun
: 3 months, Lee Heron. An interesting group, lots of skill differentiated, very thorough syllabus, no flexibility in methodology. Which led me to muse a return to Systema. Not bound by rules, syllabus, etc.

8 weeks. Back with the Maidenhead boys. Some faces are similar, others not, the group still energetic, fluid, fun and firm. I love the free experimentation in and out of class. At home, I started focusing on stick work and various strength training centred around the 4 core exercises and Russian yoga. But as usual my lack of focus and discipline to one style kicked in and I moved on.

Wudang tai chi chuan: 12 months. learning many thinks with Norman - variety of pushing hands, short form round, sabre form, handstands... Wont talk too much about the last 12 months as where I am now and why is detailed in my original blog post.

I have met and trained with some wonderful characters and am sorry if I have missed anyone out.

And to the final path, Wing Chun with Martin... The syllabus is concept not technique driven, he will fail you in a grading on your first mistake = Growth through hardship. How can I not grow?

Saturday 27 March 2010

The Background

What follows is a letter I recently wrote to a former instructor of mine who I trust, respect and value the opinion of. I have come to a cross roads in my training after 17 years (now aged 36), a martial mid life crisis if you will.

Hi Martin,

Hope all is well with you. Great to see you have got some vids on YouTube at last. Seeing your videos got me thinking, dangerous I know. I hope there is some cohesion to my ramblings. I guess I am after your advice as I respect your opinion and honesty.

I started martial arts for many reasons way back in 1993. Fitness, fear, Bruce Lee admiration, the mysticism and romance of the Eastern Arts.

Fear used to be my main reason for training, looking for ways to overcome it. Yet the more I tried, the more, in retrospect I failed. As soon as the contact and psychological pressure got heavy in training, I made excuses and went to look for the next system to make me capable in self defence. It is hard to admit but I think I was looking to get my hands dirty without really getting them dirty. 4 years ago I came back to your class for a couple of weeks and I was amazed at the subtle differences in the 10 year hiatus since I last walked through your doors. But my mind took my focus to grappling as you demoed some amazing transitions on the floor in one of your classes. In my head I thought ‘Thhis what I need to learn, I want to be this good on the floor’. This led me to investigate a tough and mainly enjoyable 3 years in BJJ. I learned essentially in BJJ about the pain and contact of grappling and would quite happily now go and wrestle with anyone as my fear in the sphere has been confronted and understood.

As you know I went along to Lee Heron’s wing chun class for a couple of months hoping to find answers from the stand up perspective. He has some interesting ideas and clearly a well thought out ‘progressive’ system but for me lacked the essence of what I experienced in your class. It is quite hard to put that essence into words, I just know that there was a difference. So I went back to BJJ but fell out of love due to feeling like I was not making progress. For a couple of years I was going 3 times a week, Steph had a baby so I had to trim it down to once a week. It soon became apparent felt like each week was just about maintaining my level and not moving forward as fast as the others.. I got quite good at having a tight defence, giving them a tough hard fight, but got frustrated as I felt I was not getting my blue belt when others were. People who I was dominating in sparring, or some lads were also doing the MMA training and I felt they got promoted as they were part of the Team. But who am I to judge?

I have always felt a great sense of excitement when I started investigating a new system then a sense of letting myself down for not sticking around in anything for more than 3 years. At the moment I am training in tai chi and have been since May last year. I do enjoy it, but feel like I am learning solely a martial art and not a functional martial art.

Over the past few months I have started subscribing to Geoff Thompson’s podcasts and find his words to be very inspirational. He talks about growth through hardship. I recognise that in my martial arts training history, when hardship (physical, psychological) creeps in, I pack it in and move on. On question is, do you think it is something I should think about overcoming at my soon to be middle age? I know in terms of stats, the chances of me being mugged or attacked are slim, and if jumped I would probably drag them to the floor as that is where I would feel safest and most competent. I guess in my path through life I am looking to always grow and learn and conquer my own fears and growing from this.

Then I noticed that you have developed a grading system. This also got me thinking about what have I achieved in 17 years in the martial arts. Well I have a few grading certificates from my first art; Lau Gar Kung Fu with Damo in the dark and distant past. However, I have read that if you train in Geoff Thompson’s art, the grading is earned and not given. I assume from reading your class blog, the same case is for your system. Part of me wants to feel a sense of achievement in my training from specific goals that have been set. Part of me wants to feel a sense of achievement in my training, that might be doing a grading as it is something that is measureable and tangible but also earned. Part of me is also an over analytical perfectionist who trembles with the fear of performing in front of others. Recently, my Head teacher asked me to do a short presentation to the rest of the staff. I found it very hard; sweaty, shaky voice, tunnel vision. Put in front of a room full of kids and not a problem at all. I was pleased that I did it afterwards as next time it will be easier, or more emotionally manageable. The first one will be my reference point. So, I know I am a contradiction: I want to stop being a contradiction. I want to grow from stepping out of my comfort zone but am scarred of stepping out of my comfort zone.

An example of this is the idea of coming back to your class. Part of me feels like a failure for not sticking with it all those years ago, I had such fun with you, Damo and the rest of the guys. Part of me feels like turning of the internal dialogue and just focussing on the now (taichi) and forgetting about growth and fear, but I do find it hard to do. Part of me is excited about the idea of stepping through your doors as I know the lessons I will learn will be hard, challenging and I will fail a lot but will grow from this.

Linked to the above points are some things you mentioned on your YouTube clips and about aggression and relaxation. I want to develop the ability to move with the fluidity, relaxation, confidence and aggression that you and your students demonstrated on the clips. I understand these concepts but am poor at applying them. I rarely was aggressive in BJJ, generally defensive. Used to fight a lot from half and full guard, not in a stifling way, always looking to submit but never have understood how to work aggressively with relaxation and confidence. Perhaps it is because I am scarred of aggression, my own interpretation of aggression is about pain (emotional and physical). Maybe I am confusing anger with aggression? Maybe it is angry aggression that I am scarred of?

After the rambling, I guess the questions are this? Would you think it suitable for me to come back to your class? If not, where do you think I could address and confront and understand my internal questions?

In using so many words I have also demonstrated a lack of understanding of the concept of economy of (typing) motion