Here we are on Thursday 21st May, a few days away from BMAC’s Virtual Lockdown Knockdown and things are going well so far. At this point, we have raised over £500 for our chosen charities which is pretty awesome. A huge thank you to everyone that has sponsored us so far.
On Tuesday we had another training session to familiarise everyone with the format of the event and to practise the different punching sequences we have in mind. This went pretty smoothly and even allowed us all to work up a bit of a sweat. Note to self: have a fan in the room when I’m doing the actual challenge.
So far, we have 24 club members signed up for the event. It’s really cool to see the BMAC family coming together like this for such a good cause. We haven’t been able to train together since mid-March but the club bond is still strong.
The big event itself takes place on Tuesday 26th May and there’s still time to sponsor us. We are raising funds for NHS charities together, the Trussell Trust and the Star Project and you can support us by visiting https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Team/BMAC
BMAC's Virtual Lockdown Knockdown
How is everyone doing during lockdown?
Unsurprisingly for a martial arts club, we are missing our regular training and the physical and mental boost that comes with it. After a few weeks of video conference training sessions, Emma and I had a chat about whether the club could do a charity something to help organisations that might need some funds at this difficult time. How about we try and do 50,000 punches between everyone in the club? Great idea, let us see if the others are up for it.
Hugh was up for it, so the next challenge was to ask if the rest of the club were in too. After a few “yeahs” and “I guess so” responses, which is often what passes for enthusiasm in BMAC, we had a team.
We laid out our idea and suggested charities and then things went a bit awry as many other opinions were offered. As the old saying goes, a camel is a horse designed by committee and we were in danger of designing a horse with four humps, a trunk, and skis for feet. I will admit to getting very grumpy about it on one video call which I could try and put down to cabin fever but…. mumble mumble.
Anyway, after some more brain storming including a trip to a virtual pub (with real beer), BMAC’s Virtual Lockdown Knockdown was born. On 26th May, the club will get together online to do as many punches as possible in 30 minutes. That might not sound like long but when you start punching 30 minutes can seem like an eternity. We are going to do it in blocks of 10 minutes with each of our black belts leading a block with a sequence of punches. 15 blocks in total will give us our 30 minutes.
How many punches in that time? Well we still think 50,000 is a realistic target. One week out from the event and we have 23 club members participating so that averages out at 2174 punches each, or 72 punches per minute. We had a short trial run at this and in doing two-minute blocks managed between 150 and 200 punches. Easy. I think.
At the end of the day, it is a bit of fun to keep us active and engaged as a club whilst hopefully raising some money for good causes. We have picked three charities to support. The NHS Charities Together was chosen as the NHS is providing so much care to the country’s population at present and their staff are very much in the front line. The Trussell Trust supports foodbanks across the UK, including here in East Dunbartonshire and aims to end hunger poverty. Finally, the Star Project in Paisley ins close to Emma’s heart and they are helping people by doing food and medicine deliveries and organising digital get-togethers to combat loneliness.
We hope you will agree that these are very worthwhile causes during these unprecedented times. If you would like to support our Virtual Lockdown Knockdown, please visit our Virgin Money Giving page at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Team/BMAC
Tune in next time as we prepare for the big event. Keeeeep punching!
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.
The Only Way is Largs
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.
We've got Cabin Fever
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!
At the end of September, we headed to Dumbarton for a course, once again taken by Hugh. A healthy attendance of 30 martial artists, including 14 from BMAC, descended on the Concord Centre for a course built on the previous outing in Newcastle, utilising close-in kata as a means of staying safe and creating space from an opponent.
The course began with several runs through the kata Heian Yodan which formed the basis of the weekend’s practice. We had quite a wide array of grades at the course so for some this a chance to learn a new kata before getting to the grips of practical application.
Hugh guided us through the stages of the kata and how they can be used to create space in a close in situation, for example the opening two moves leading to a nice shoulder lock. As the course progressed and we trained with different people it was good to see where the kata helped against bigger and stronger opponents. Throughout the afternoon, we came back to the kata to reinforce the moves and think how they would be applied. It was a very warm day, the training was intense, but the three hours passed in a flash.
On Sunday, we trained in t-shirts rather than our gi jackets and worked through similar moves of the kata as the day before. The t-shirts change the practice, no longer do you have a handy jacket to grab in order to control an opponent. I had a particularly good session with Liam from Dumbarton Shoto Budo in trying to get control and move. Liam is a 4th dan black belt, very skilled and strong so this was a good test of where I am.
Sunday morning also saw a grading, with eight people taking to the mats. We had four members of BMAC sitting their first grading, with Willie and Julian achieving red belt whilst Angela and Rachel jumped to yellow belt. Very well deserved as it was a hard grading for our former white belts, and they all performed tremendously. Congratulations all round.
So, another great course, building on the skills we have been working on over the last few months. There was a really good vibe throughout the weekend and clearly everyone at the course enjoyed it. Thanks Hugh and to Liam and Jimmy from Dumbarton Shoto Budo for organising. Next up for courses is the Adult National in November.
The club hit the road in May for a course hosted by our friends from Newcastle Shoto Budo. Nine of us made the trip for what turned out to be a very fun weekend of socialising and training.
After dinner and drinks on Friday night, we had a leisurely start on Saturday with training starting at 1pm. Well, technically it started at 1:15pm due to some horrendous traffic between our hotel and the course venue, caused by a driver running out of fuel. I won’t repeat some of more descriptive phrases used about said driver.
Hugh was leading the course, using some of the techniques we have been working on for a while around movement and staying safe. He built up from some our pummelling drill practice, into moving an opponent and then into some strikes. This was a good practice, with some good learning for me. At one point I was training with Adam from Newcastle, who’s a lot bigger than I am but I found ways that I could still move him and retain control. It’s good to have a lightbulb moment.
Come Sunday and we started in a similar vein, only this time wearing shorts and t-shirts rather than the traditional gi. This is always interesting as the control points on your opponent can change when you don’t have a handy white karate suit to cling onto. We moved to 2-on-1, with one opponent grappling and the other holding a pad that you need to try and strike. It’s always an interesting practice, to find a balance point to deliver a strike without opening yourself to be moved. One thing I learned is not to always try to “win” and go for the pad if it doesn’t present itself
We then added in hip throws, and then a shrimping movement as a means of staying safe when you land. This was followed by adding a tripod sweep, and after a few weeks in the club plus the course, this simple but effective take-down is really starting to flow.
Finally, Hugh called pairs of us to demonstrate everything put together. I was paired up with Michael and after some grappling and movement, he took me down with an excellent single leg. Admittedly not what we had been doing over the weekend, but it was very good!
Sunday morning also saw a grading for three adults, Andy and Hannah from Newcastle both did well, and our very own Morag moved up to green belt. She did an excellent job and I’m sure she’ll appreciate the photos of her looking exhausted by the end. Well done everyone on your richly deserved new belts.
So, an excellent weekend all round. On a personal note, I enjoyed it immensely and was delighted to be able to train for all six hours without any ill effects. The recovery continues! There was great training and information provided by Hugh and you could see how much everyone enjoyed the course by the laughter and big smiles throughout the weekend. Lots of thanks to Newcastle Shoto Budo for hosting the course and their hospitality and to Hugh for putting together the practices. Looking forward to the next one!
So a Funny Thing Happened...
It’s been a long time since my last blog entry, March 2018 to be precise. I reflected on a recent National course and being injured, with the last line being I would take time to recover and then “it will be time to get back on the horse”. It’s hard to believe that course was over a year ago and getting back on that horse turned out to be a much bigger challenge than I expected.
To cut a very long story short, after getting back to training I then had a stint in hospital over the summer and by December 2018, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. As someone whose main interests all involve physical activity, this felt like my worst nightmare and there have been many low mood moments over the months since then. I genuinely did not know if I would be able to return to training, running or hillwalking.
I started treatment in February and slowly, but surely, I’ve been feeling better. In May returned to the club and took some tentative steps back to running. A few months ago I thought this would never happen and it feels great!
My left leg is a bit wonky (a medical term) so I can’t run or kick as well as before, but my movement, balance and stamina are improving. I saw an MS specialist physiotherapist who tested my balance. When I explained that I trained in martial arts, the response was that this was more effective than any exercises she could give me. That gave me the motivation to continue!
Guidance from my excellent MS nurse is to continue training as much as possible, so that is what I intend to do. Things have been feeling good over the last three months or so, and whilst I don’t know what is around the corner with this unpredictable condition, I’m going to enjoy training whilst I can. As a result, I ventured to Newcastle with the club as part of a course hosted by Hugh which was a fantastic weekend. I’ll put a course report and some photos up here.
The wonderful members of BMAC have been a tremendous support to me through all of this, with many encouraging messages and visits as well as a very warm welcome back to training. I appreciate this support so very much. We often say we are a BMAC family, and it feels like that more than ever.
So, with normal-ish service resumed, I hope to get back to updating the blog with my progress. It might have a slightly different slant to it than before but getting back on the mats has been so huge in dealing with this new reality.
National Course - March 2018
The Shoto Budo organisation descended on the National Sports Centre in a chilly, snowy Largs over the weekend of 16th to 18th March for our latest national course. In contrast to November’s course, turnout was quite small with 35 martial artists in attendance, which allowed for some closer coaching from the senior grades.
Following on from February’s Springburn course, the theme was using kata to improve our sparring skills. Technical director, Billy Haggerty, referred to this as “kihon kumite”. These are two words common to many forms of karate with Kihon meaning “the basics” and Kumite being when training against an opponent, so this could be thought of as basic sparring.
Over the weekend we used Heian Nidan as the kata to build the practices around. Friday night began with us doing the kata several times and then over the course of the next two hours, practising the moves from it in a linear attack. We had been practising this in the club over the preceding weeks, so I felt this went reasonably well. However, some of my timing was a bit off and I did wear a few (fortunately controlled) shots.
Saturday morning continued with a similar practise, gradually adding in more movement and less linear attacks. It was one-on-one defence and attack, but Billy noted that it would move on to multiple attackers. In contrast with the previous night, I found myself struggling to get my upper and lower body moving at the same time, so I didn’t feel I was getting this right. I asked for some help, with Pauline giving me a good example of how maintaining some light contact could still pose a threat to an opponent.
During this session, everyone at the course was presented with a new Shoto Budo book, an encyclopaedia of knowledge compiled by Billy and Richard. Whilst the book itself has taken eight years to produce, the information contained has been accumulated over a lifetime of training. It feels like this will be a valuable resource over the coming months and years. I’ve only skimmed it so far and will write more about it here soon.
Back to training and onto the afternoon session which is usually outdoors. My back was a bit sore, so I stayed inside with a group of ten for an excellent indoor session, again lead by Pauline. This still focussed on Heian Nidan movement and added in defence against a wall and movement on the ground. This was a very interesting practice. At one point I was training with Adam from Newcastle who is much bigger and stronger than I am but in doing the wall defence, I was able to keep myself safe. It was very tiring but at the same time I felt a lot less threat than if I were grappling him in an open space.
The session ended with me getting a poke in the eye so my record of avoiding things was looking decidedly ropey at this point.
We have a sports massage therapist, Mark, at these events and I made use of his services before the evening session as my back was getting worse. After being twisted into a pretzel I joined the practice which was starting to free up the sparring movement a bit more. Despite the massage my back was really hurting, and I was struggling to get any movement going. I asked one opponent to slow things down, but I was still not getting my technique.
About an hour into the practice, Billy was reviewing what we had done when my back went into a spasm. It was agony. I thought I was going to be sick and made a quick beeline for the bathroom as the colour drained out of my face. I ended up going to my room to lie down and missed the rest of the session and, more shockingly, the evening in the bar.
As it would transpire, that was the end of my weekend. Sunday morning arrived, and I had to climb up myself to get out of bed. There would be no training for me. Fortunately, Mark had a free slot, so I got another treatment to try and loosen things off. It helped but it was well into the following week before I could move freely.
I stayed to watch the grading and it certainly looked to be a tough one. At that point, my back was killing me, so I headed home before the final session.
It was a disappointing end to the course. The weekend had been hard work but personally frustrating in places. I learned a great deal, but I really felt at the limit of my skills and that I was being stretched so I was well outside my comfort zone. It is good to be challenged but I will admit that not being able to do some of the techniques and getting injured has dented my confidence. The Easter holidays are coming up and the two weeks off is probably well timed to let me recover physically and mentally. And then it will be time to get back on the horse.
Springburn Course 2018
The first Shoto Budo course of 2018 was held in its traditional home of Springburn Academy over the weekend of 10th and 11th February. Usually the first course of the year is a busy one but for whatever reason this year, attendance was a bit sparse with 20 or so people on Saturday and only 15 on Sunday. Nevertheless, the six hours of training were excellent.
Technical Director Billy Haggerty opened proceedings by explaining the intention to use kata to improve our parrying and sparring skills and confidence. Asking for feedback, mine was that it sounded good. I don’t have a lot of confidence in my parrying and always feel that it is my weakest skill so something that helps me improve here can only be a good thing.
The weekend built on the first five katas and using the movers to defend the intended attacks. Billy said that whilst this may seem basic, sometimes it is necessary to go back to these basics in order to improve. There was reference to Sanbon Kumite (also known as three step sparring) – not something I have practised in my time training but is a way to practise defensive moves against three attacks and then strike back on the last one. (see here for example http://www.blackbeltwiki.com/shotokan-sanbon-kumite).
However, Billy emphasised that the intention here was not to teach three-step sparring so whilst we started defending by the third, this moved onto defending on the first, second, third or fourth attack. Over the weekend we built up the moves and direction of movement, initially back and forth in a line before freeing it up a bit.
I felt I struggled with some of the timing so occasionally asked my training partners to slow things down a bit. There were some light bulb moments where I realised my movement was taking me a distance from my partner that any kind of responsive strike was not possible. I thought some of my parrying techniques were improving to be less slappy, less of a block but some of the bruises on my arms would suggest otherwise.
We only had one person grading on the Sunday morning so the rest of us got involved. I paired up with Richard from Newcastle for some takedowns and wrestling and a few different partners for some parrying. Two things stood out: despite the theme of the weekend, my parrying is still poor and feels one dimensional with an over reliance on gedan barai as a tactic. Secondly my fitness level is horrible, with me gasping for air after a few rounds of parrying and grappling. Both areas need a lot of work.
We followed up the course at the club this week with similar exercises, mostly built around the Heian Nidan kata. Some elements from the weekend showed improvement although I still tend to grab an attacking arm or leg rather than just moving it. Nothing wrong with that in the overall scheme of things, but it is not the skill that we are trying to improve. I believe we will continue to work on this over the coming weeks.
So, a very good course then, certainly focussed on a weak area for me, and both my body and head were aching afterwards from all the information that was delivered. I still don’t feel comfortable parrying, but this is hopefully a first step to improving that. The next National Course is only a month away so perhaps we will follow up on this very valuable course when we land in Largs.
The BMAC blog began in 2013 to chart one member's journey to black belt.