As the Coronavirus has tightened its grip on everyday life, BMAC ended classes in mid-March and a return date still feels like it is some way off.
Last time we mentioned that our black belts have been putting together a series of videos demonstrating ways to keep training and moving during the lockdown. After two weeks, these have already covered a variety of practices including balance, strikes, takedowns and ground movement, whilst keeping the focus on how to practise without a partner. These were posted on our Facebook members page but we wanted a more interactive way to discuss them.
So on Tuesday 7th April, in our regular training slot, we held our first video conference virtual lesson and 17 people attended. Pretty good going and relatively few technical hitches, other than the always comedic moments where someone forgets to mute their phone and starts a conversation with other people in their house.
For the first call Hugh, Emma and Ross spoke about their videos and what skills they were demonstrating before inviting questions from the group. Encouragingly there were plenty of questions that generated good conversation and ideas of how else we can practise during this period of self-isolation. We originally thought we might go about an hour but instead the call lasted almost two hours. Obviously, it doesn’t replace our normal training but just being able to practise some moves, talk martial arts and see the BMAC gang, feels like a small piece of normality in these abnormal times.
We’ll do another virtual lesson this coming week, with Martin and I providing the voiceovers for videos that we published over the weekend. It should be a good session. Smile for the camera, mute your phone and stay safe everyone.
This time the blog welcomes a guest writer. Iain achieved his brown belt at the national course in November 2019 and took the time to reflect on his martial arts journey so far...
Some of us are in the departure lounge for the care home. We won’t see 50 again and the attraction of the couch, TV sport and beer, particularly during the dark winter months, becomes progressively stronger. One Friday evening in November 2019 I drove to Largs to begin three days of intense Shoto Budo training. My planned companion was unable to come so the journey allowed for some reflection and contemplation, and more than a few phone calls from friends about the weekend ahead. “Why are you doing this?!?!” was the common refrain and I was able to devote some time during the journey to answer this oft repeated question.
At a previous national course the technical director of the Shoto Budo organisation challenged us to ask ourselves why we had attended and why we were continuing to pursue this martial art. Individual answers to the question were to be neither discussed nor publicised but he felt we would all benefit from a little introspection. Was it to avoid becoming a couch potato? He told us of a friend who every evening enjoyed sitting on the couch, drinking beer and watching television. In fact, so practised was his friend in this pursuit that he was becoming good at it and very soon he would need a larger couch!
My own superficial answer is that attending courses was to improve as a martial artist by learning from highly talented and skilled exponents of the art. The grading was important as a measure of the stage I had reached, but above all I wanted to learn and improve my knowledge and skills. There is, however, far more to it. . .
Friday evening introduced the course with the learning and application of the Meikyo kata. This was a new kata to some of us and my initial apprehension that was a little too advanced for me was soon dealt with by a reminder from one of the senior instructors that the learning is deliberately layered and progressive and there was no expectation that the kata would be fully mastered by the end of the evening’s practice. The learning involves repeated practice whereby a little more of the kata is picked up each time, such that by the end of the session even if the whole kata has not been mastered a significant number of the early moves and positions have been learned.
Saturday morning brought further kata practice and the application of Heian Nidan was taught intensively. The teaching method again used was to complete the kata and then move to its application before returning to the kata. Each phase of the practice was followed by a 10 to 15 second period of reflection to inwardly assess one’s performance and consider what could have been done better before moving on to the next stage. For me the lesson that “practice does not make perfect” but “perfect practice makes perfect” explained the constantly constructive tuition from the senior grades to improve techniques and application.
Saturday afternoon was an outdoor practice which allowed a fabulous opportunity to work on kata and its application in an outdoor setting. This brings its own challenges of adapting to difficult terrain and the presence of nature’s obstacles, while testing and developing the technique learned indoors. The experience of practising kata in a heavily wooded area brought an almost eerie element to the session.
Saturday evening’s practice brought a mindful and focused application of the kata with emphasis on detail and form. After a strenuous day the slightly reduced tempo was welcomed by all.
Sunday morning brought the formal grading. Whilst there is always some degree of nervousness before a grading, I had enjoyed the benefit of intense and committed one to one training from Hugh. I appreciate Hugh’s time, effort and patience and I reflected that I would not be put forward for grading unless he thought I was ready. I derived some comfort from the thought that the decision was one for him rather than me but there was far more to the weekend than the external validation of the grading.
The course closed late on the Sunday afternoon after a further session emphasising the importance of kata, and its application. On this occasion we worked in groups to apply a newly learned kata to situational reality and then demonstrate our application to the others. This was a thought-provoking exercise for me, particularly as the kata was advanced but with considerable help from the others in the group, I managed a reasonable application of the model.
I drove back from Largs late on the Sunday afternoon, tired but delighted to have satisfied the examiners to the standard of 1st kyu and reflected on why I had been there and whether I would attend again? One moment stuck in my mind. On Friday night, we finished the formal practice shortly before 10pm. Aspects of my kata needed serious attention before the grading and Hugh kindly agreed to give me some further help. Before long, four more BMAC members had joined and for the next 40 minutes my colleagues gave me the benefit of their expertise and encouragement. This short late evening session was of enormous assistance in giving me the necessary confidence to complete the grading. I felt both very humbled and very grateful that my clubmates would spend time late on a Friday evening to help me. It was well after 10pm when we finally finished.
So, the real answer to why I was spending my weekend in Largs is about being a part of something very special: membership of this club brings deep friendships and a lasting selfless commitment to helping others improve. Egos are non-existent whilst patience and good nature are omnipresent. As was said to me by a senior member of the organisation “these people are my brothers and sisters”.
I started practising Shoto Budo four years ago and one inspiration was a conversation with a work colleague. He had an encounter with another motorist who took exception to a manoeuvre, flashed his lights, used his horn and then walked towards my colleague in a display of rage. It seemed that the angry motorist might introduce a fist to the situation and then just as suddenly, he disappeared. The tension evaporated and my colleague continued his journey. When I asked why events had unfolded in this fashion, he told me that he had practised martial arts for many years and quite simply he was not phased by someone threatening to throw a punch in his direction. He was used to it and, after practising for many years, had every confidence that he would deal with the unfolding situation.
While the aspiration to have such confidence played a part in my original decision to join the club, my four years of practice have brought me to a deeper realisation: that it is for me to take responsibility for the protection of my body. I have learned to respond and not to react, that staying relaxed gives me speed, control and dexterity. I can respond instinctively without conscious thought, using applications learnt from kata. That learning has been entirely achieved with the dedicated tuition and guidance from my friends at the club.
If you still fancy being that couch potato, please don’t retain any of this as it will reduce valuable couch and beer time. If, however, you would like to be in the position of my work colleague you may find it beneficial to join a very special group of people and enhance a very special club.
Thanks Iain, some great insight into what inspired you to train and keeps you practising. And congratulations on the well deserved brown belt.
The last month has seen the world turned upside down by the Coronavirus, COVID-19, and BMAC has been no exception. March started with Martin joining the black belt ranks and ended with the club on-hold, much like the rest of the world.
For a group of people who enjoy training and physical activity, the suspension of club activities and guidance to stay home is starting to result in cabin fever. Just what can we do to keep us active, kept us sane and keep connected with the BMAC family?
Technology to the rescue! The black belt group got together on a video conference to discuss ides on what we could do whilst we can’t practise together.
We have been filming a series of short individual videos focusing on a number of different areas. So far these have included strikes, defending, bo work, kata and movement. These videos serve as a reference and a good opening for questions when you don’t have any training partners to work with. It also gets our grey matter working as we try to think how to demonstrate the skill, film and explain it.
It’s interesting to see what we all come up with, which has included a musical number (everybody was kung fu fighting…) and my attempts to simulate ground work with a chair. You just never know when you’ll need to defend yourself against furniture.
We’ve also used a survey to ask our members if there are any specific skills they would like to see demonstrated or questions they would like answered. It might not be ideal but if anyone has a burning question on our practise this is a good chance to get it answered (hopefully!).
These videos are available to all of our members. When you join BMAC you get access to a members section on this website and Facebook where we regularly upload videos on different practices.
All of this is to keep us moving whilst the Coronavirus impacts on everyday life. It’s not ideal but if everyone follows the advice from the NHS (https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/infections-and-poisoning/coronavirus-covid-19), we’ll hopefully be back practising together sooner rather than later.
Enjoy the videos, keep moving and stay safe everyone!
The BMAC blog began in 2013 to chart one member's journey to black belt.