Take a look at the Skills tab and you will see the different areas of a typical Shoto Budo practice, with pads, parrying, takedowns and wrestling all featuring. However, I've often wondered how to move from one skill to the next. Recently our practices have started to fill in those gaps.
Hugh has used a pummelling drill from amateur wrestling before as a warm up, but we have been concentrating on the movement within this. It's a physically tiring drill, particularly when your opponent is bigger and / or stronger than you.
From there, we added attempts at trips and distractions which could serve multiple purposes. It might result in an opponent being on the ground, it might create some space to apply a lock or it could break contact allowing either an escape or reset of distance.
The next addition was to add some light strikes, with us wearing grappling (or MMA style) gloves. We are not practising for a competitive fight so the strikes are not intended to cause damage but they serve as a distraction and another thing to be aware of when defending. When we started doing this a few weeks ago, I was very much getting caught up in the grappling element and got tagged almost constantly. It was something new and an element that previously we did not need to be aware of.
The next building block was to try and break the grapple and move to a distance where kicks or punches would be effective , leading to a short period of parrying before moving back in to the grappling distance. Again this been something new and in some ways goes against instinct to keep at a "safe" distance from an opponent. However, once that notion was overcome, I found myself getting more comfortable coming back into close quarters. It is helping me find ways past people who may be taller than me and thus can fire out kicks to keep me at bay.
Last week we added another stage of taking this movement to the ground to allow a short period of wrestling. That is still going to need some work to flow and indeed I found myself more on the receiving end of takedowns. However one thing that I did find myself doing was quickly getting into a "technical standup", a Brazilian jiu-jitsu move. This is a way of getting back on your feed whilst still being in a defensive position and without turning your back to an opponent.
This is all still a work in progress but the gaps slowly are starting to fill. There are a lot of things to be aware of. The grappling and potential locks. The strikes when close in, which could be hands, knees or feet. There are distractions that could lead to trips. There is balance. It is a physically and mentally tiring practice but after a few weeks, I definitely am seeing the benefits of the practice and how it all comes together.
"So", said Hugh as he turned to Emma and I, "I'd like you guys to start working towards Second Dan.
After that initial reaction, I realised that I am excited by that prospect. Who knows how long it will take. After all I started the blog after getting my brown belt to document my journey to black belt, not expecting it to be more than three years until it actually happened. Whilst I hope it won't be another three years, I'm not going to make any predictions because all sorts of things can happen.
Work, injuries, life, distractions.....SQUIRREL!
Where to start? Well, a part of my First Dan grading diary was to rate my skill levels in various areas so let's look at that. We can come back to that over the next few months to see how I am progressing. Here are my self assessed scores prior to my last grading, as taken from my diary.
Firstly I ranked my ability to perform all of the katas I know
Taikyoku Shodan - 3
Taikyoku Nidan - 3
Taikyoku Sandan - 3
Heian Shodan - 3
Heian Nidan - 3
Heian Sandan - 3
Heian Yodan - 3
Heian Godan -3
Tekki Shodan - 3
Tekki Nidan - 3
Tekki Sandan - 3
Tekki Den - 3
Bassai Dai - 3
Bassai Sho - 3
Hangetsu - 3
Hangetsu Den - 3
Kwanku Dai - 3
Kwanku Sho - 1 (I had only started learning this one at the time of my diary.)
As the recent course showed, "learning" kata is a lot more than just learning a sequence of moves. I think my form generally is improving as I try to pay more attention to the movement, how everything links together and what are the moves trying to achieve. If I were ranking my kata now based on knowledge from the course, I would score myself lower. I think these scores reflect me knowing the basic shape of the katas but the next area to develop is the finer understanding of these moves and what they are intended to accomplish.
Following on from kata, I ranked my ability in a variety of areas
Kicks - 2
My kicks still need a lot of work. Left leg kicks are not great, right leg kicks are better but need more snap.
Hand strikes - 4
I think my power, accuracy and variety is improving on punches, elbows, hand strikes etc.
Defences - 3
My leg parrying is getting better and finding I use that now in parrying practise. Still a tendency to try and grab attacks.
Locks - 4
Getting better here, particularly working with John on some of his quick attacks and locks. Maybe need some more variety.
Breakfalls - 3
Comfortable with my breakfall techniques but cardio is always a challenge on the breakfall kata.
Parrying - 2
I feel this is my weakest area. Defensively I feel ok but when trying to attack, I'm not picking targets well and have a tendency to charge in and leave myself too open.
Takedowns - 4
Sacrifice throw needs work but I think my other takedowns have really improved lately.
Grappling - 3
Tripping and unbalancing is getting better. Struggle a bit with a larger opponent to get enough movement to do anything useful with them.
Wrestling - 4
I think my movement on the ground has improved. Still need some work on finishing and sometimes leave arms in vulnerable positions for chokes
Parrying continues to need work but more recently I have found myself getting more confident in the practise. However, I am still very linear in my movement and need to improve that.
My wrestling also needs more work than the above score suggests, particularly avoiding being pinned down and thus having to expend a lot of energy to escape from bad positions. I have been wrestling with Ross and Eric recently, both of whom are highly skilled and in Ross's case, very strong.
Looking back, I scored myself in the context of being a brown belt but if I want to progress to second Dan, then my ability will need to improve across the board. That's not a bad thing but I believe it is important to recognise how the expectations change and where I need to develop.
To this extent, I have found myself recently asking many questions of Hugh and sharing observations with the class. Whilst I have always asked questions, the Springburn course has really awoken a desire to understand why things work and the wider picture of how everything fits together. Hopefully nobody minds the barrage of questions and brain dumps too much (sorry everyone!). Also with the Women's Self Defence Class now underway, both Emma and I need to be able to answer questions from the class. It is an interesting development and shows that the long held idea that getting a black belt means the real learning starts is a lot more than just a martial arts cliché.
So, with both skills and understanding to develop, the journey to Second Dan is well underway. Let's enjoy the ride.
Scott has been training in Shoto Budo since 2007 and is a 1st Dan Black Belt. He is working towards his 2nd Dan grading.