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.
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.
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 best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley
This might be the first time I’ve quoted Robert Burns in the blog but with Burns night only a few days away, this line from To a Mouse is both timely and very appropriate.
In my New Year Resolutions, I spoke about getting good, regular training but I didn’t consider that Mother Nature could intervene. As you will have noticed, we’ve had a lot of snow, ice and low temperatures over the last week which resulted in both of our classes being cancelled this week. It absolutely was the right decision given the perils of driving in such conditions, but it did leave me climbing the walls, particularly on Tuesday night. I resorted to practising kata around the kitchen which kept me moving but may not qualify as a quality training.
As I write this on Saturday morning, it’s still a snowy landscape outside so my local Parkrun was also cancelled so the fitness drive will need to wait another few days to restart. The good news is that the forecast for the coming week looks better, with temperatures rising again so without wanting to jinx things, we should be back in action next week.
Just don’t make any plans with mice just yet.
Two weeks into January and it’s about time I thought of some New Year training resolutions.
1. this year I'm going to avoid injury (hopefully!). I’m sure I’ve made this resolution before, but it applies again for 2018. The second half of 2017 was frustrating with knee, neck and back injuries, all of which were just serious enough to stop any momentum in my training, resulting in a considerable loss of fitness. Everything seems to be back in working order again so I’m aiming for some good quality training.
2. I will visit other clubs this year, in addition to the two sessions each week at BMAC. It’s always good to visit other clubs to train with different people but it is something I haven’t done much of in recent times.
3. Similarly, I will attend more courses this year. In 2017, between injuries, work and life in general, I only made it to two courses, Springburn in February and November’s National Course in Largs. This year I’m already planning to attend the February Springburn course and the National in March, so I should match 2017’s course count by the end of the first quarter.
4. Perhaps a bit of a stretch but I will visit our Finnish friends for one of their courses. The next one is in April, but I think circumstances will stop me attending. However, it’s on the radar and if not April, there is usually another course a bit later in the year.
5. With my injuries behind me, I want to train well and develop my skills. I’m not going to make any bold predictions of getting my Second Dan in 2018 but at the very least I want to make good progress towards it.
6. Last, and probably least, I will keep the blog a up to date and, with at least half an eye on Second Dan, I will use it to keep you updated on my progress.
Happy new year everyone!
As we enter the last few days of 2017, let’s look back at the last year in BMAC.
It’s been a good year for people grading, starting with Scott getting orange belt at the first course of the year back in February. From there, Eric and Ross earned Fourth and Third Dan respectively at the spring National Course in Larbert. Into the autumn and we had three first time graders in Catherine, Morag and Duncan at the clubs September course in Bellahouston Sports Centre, all of whom jumped to yellow belt. Finally, we came to November’s National Course where Iain moved up to blue belt, Alistair earned his First Dan and Jamie his Second Dan. Congratulations to everyone of you and here’s to the next gradings in 2018.
2017 saw Emma and I launch our Women’s Self Defence Class in February which turned out to be a highlight of the year. We ran three blocks over the course of the year and it was fun to see it evolve from random ideas on bits of paper to an actual event that people turned up to. I remember us being nervous when publishing our first adverts, wondering if anyone would respond. As it turned out, we had 17 people for the first block (maybe too many), 10 for the second one (probably the right number) and eight for the third block. The course was so much fun to deliver, feedback was great, and we’ll be back with more in 2018.
Club numbers have been strong this year, with several new members, including two “graduates” from the self-defence class joining the club. Our Tuesday night class is particularly busy with anywhere between 25 and 35 people training and whilst things are a little quieter on a Wednesday, we still have 15 plus people on a regular basis. It’s not too many years ago when we had half that number! Our junior clubs are strong too with almost 60 kids training. It’s good to see some of our juniors make the step up to training with the adult class. It’s also amazing just how big and strong they get, sometimes over the course of the summer holidays!
The club’s growth was reflected when we hosted the Shoto Budo organisation for a course at Bellahouston Sports Centre and made up most of the numbers. On a lighter note, the club also took over the Ashoka in Bearsden for our Christmas night out, proving that we really are quite a friendly and sociable bunch.
There was another strong turnout for Shoto Budo’s 25th anniversary course in Largs which was a tremendous weekend of training and a particularly exhausting ceilidh. The next national course is on the horizon already, taking place in mid-March.
I’m hoping to be fit and ready for this one. I was really injury prone over 2017 with knee and back injuries hampering both my running and martial arts training over the second half of the year, which leads to a lout of general sulking on my part. With a bit of rest over the Christmas holidays, these finally have cleared up so hopefully I can up my training in the new year as I work towards Second Dan (whenever that may be!). On the bright side, whilst I didn’t do much sparring or grappling due to the injuries, it did allow me to work on my kata which always needs attention. They still do but at least the basic shape of some of the higher katas are starting to come together. Pleasing.
So that was 2017, a great year for club growth, members grading, growth of the self defence class and development of our coaching experience. 2018 is just around the corner, happy new year to everyone when it comes, and we’ll see you at training in January.
The latest Shoto Budo National Course saw clubs from far and wide descend upon the newly refurbished Inverclyde Sports Centre in Largs over the weekend of 10th to 12th November. In addition to training, the weekend represented a celebration as the Shoto Budo organisation reached a landmark 25th birthday. The stage was set for a good weekend.
Unfortunately, I injured my neck and back during the previous Wednesday’s club training and it was a last minute decision whether or not to attend. Fortunately I did, although with the expectation that my involvement could be limited. BMAC was also well represented with 14 of us making the journey. It really shows the strength of our club recently as not so long ago we were lucky if we had a three or four people attend these courses.
Friday night began with Billy asking if anyone aspired to run their own club and if so, they would get a chance to coach and receive guidance from the senior grades. A good number of us volunteered, including Emma, Jamie and I from BMAC. We were divided into three teams, and the group was split into kyu grades, brown belts and First Dans and senior Dan grades. We would get a chance to teach all of them.
My group started with the brown belt / First Dan group. We had only a couple of minutes to come up with something to teach, with us settling on using the Heian Nidan kata to stay safe. It was a bit disjointed, perhaps an example that democracy doesn’t work in a teaching scenario, as everyone wanted to chime in ideas. Overseeing our practise was Pauline Walmsley and she suggested that for the next group we would have a “chief” who would lead the session.
As we moved to the kyu grade group, Pauline nominated David (a second Dan from her club) as the chief. With a group ranging from white to blue belts, there would be quite the variety in kata knowledge, so we went for the first kata before extending that into movement, self defence and some parrying. The chief role helped focus the practise a little more, although with the limited preparation time, it was still a bit disjointed.
Finally, it was the senior Dan grade group and guess who was chief for that. Yep, me. Rather than the power going to my head, I initially found this quite intimidating. What could this first Dan teach the awaiting group of Third, Fourth and Fifth Dans and Meijin grades? Think Scott, think. I settled on a favourite practise of avoiding engagement in a grapple by moving to avoid attackers (see my previous article on this). I was cautious about demonstrating this because of my neck and therefore didn’t really articulate what I wanted, framing it as a “punch-kick-grab” practise. After a few minutes though, it took the form I was looking for. When one third Dan walked past and said, “I thought I was fit” it suggested the practise was getting at least closer to where I wanted!
Each of the coaching sessions flew by but were very rewarding as the spark of an idea evolved into a practice over a relatively short time. I dipped my toes into coaching earlier in the year with the women’s self-defence course, but this was a different challenge, to teach groups in quick succession where people know less, the same or much more than I do. Apart from anything else, you get very different questions.
In between each coaching session, three clubs performed demonstrations of skills. First up Graeme Muirhead’s club exhibited their skills using bo staffs, followed by Richard Price’s group showing their study of Bassai Sho. BMAC was up next to demonstrate how the moves of the breakfall kata could be used as both landings and escapes. Unfortunately, it was in preparing this that I injured my neck so unfortunately had to sit out. I thought everyone performed tremendously, particularly Ross and Jamie as they pulled off one of Hugh’s trademark moves, the flying armbar. Awesome job everyone!
Saturday morning was different, with Billy asking if anyone who had practised for more than five years was interested in a weapons session. I was up for that, and we had the chance to select from a bo staff, shinai bamboo sword or (fortunately plastic) knife, with me opting for the latter.
Our group then proceed to use first kata, Taikyoku Shodan whilst holding the knife with instruction to think how we would use it, how would it change our movement. Initially I found it quite awkward to do that kata whilst holding the knife but eventually found that with the knife in my left hand (weaker side) felt more natural, in the sense that I could use my stronger arm to defend or parry and then the knife would act as a follow up.
From there we practised in several different groups, using the kata moves to defend against other knife wielding attackers whilst using our own knives as part of that. Whilst that was hard I did get some excellent advice from David McDicken (First Meijin / Sixth Dan): slow down. In our group of four, we slowed down the attacks to concentrate on our defences, but I was still moving frantically to deal with them. I was tending to miss defence as a result. Excellent advice and whilst it proved difficult for me to put into practise, it is something I need to be aware of.
Saturday afternoon is the outdoor practise, but I felt it would be wise to sit out of this. Although my neck had not worsened, the damp conditions underfoot could have led to some bad landings so in the interest of sanity, I declined. Fortunately, there would be an indoor session for anyone who was injured, seven of us in total, led by Jani and Mari from Finland.
This turned out to be a fantastic session, looking at movement and strong posture. I feel I learned so much in the ensuing two hours that my head was buzzing. A particularly useful close punching / parrying practice really got the body moving and is something I want to work on. It’s the first time I’ve trained with both talented martial artists and already I’m looking forward to the next time,
Prior to Saturday evening’s session, we took a group photo wearing t-shirts to celebrate the 25th birthday. As you can see from the photo at the top of the page, with over 90 martial artists in attendance, we had an excellent turnout for the weekend.
Back into our gis and ready to train, this session was shorter than normal given the impending celebrations but Pauline Sharp and Graeme Muirhead lead a practice based around Heian Nidan and finding space when faced with multiple opponents. An interesting practise and I was in a group with two large and strong opponents in Gordon and Adam, along with four of our Finnish visitors. I’m not the biggest person in the world so I it’s good to train with guys like that as it very much tests what I can do and what works. I did feel my awareness and movement improve as the practise proceeded, although in trying to change directions to get space, sometimes the kata itself went to hell.
With it being Shoto Budo’s 25th Anniversary, a special ceilidh had been organised for Saturday night to celebrate. It was a hugely enjoyable evening and let’s just say we could incorporate Strip the Willow into our regular class and our fitness levels would improve dramatically!
Sunday morning sees the formal gradings, and in a change from the normal routine, the rest of the group was involved in the proceedings beyond just holding pads. We started with some pads but then the watching group demonstrated things like the breakfall kata and takedowns. I did the pad holding but again in protecting my neck, didn’t participate in the parrying and wrestling. As we moved onto the black belts, we had people going for all grades between First and Fifth Dan. A very physical session for all involved, particularly as the third, fourth and fifth Dan candidates had to defend against three, four and five opponents respectively. Wow. The guys then had to coach a group for 10 minutes or so and I was in with Kenny Anderson who was going for his Fourth Dan. Kenny used the first few moves from Heian Nidan for self-defence and much of this dovetailed nicely with Saturday afternoon’s practise with Jani and Mari. Nice job Kenny.
With the gradings over, we had the privilege of seeing two new Meijin demonstrations. Demonstrating for Second Meijin / Seventh Dan, Pauline Sharp lead a group through Nejushiho and its self-defence application. Some very impressive skills on display and I really liked how Pauline’s group incorporated grades from white belt up to Third Dan showing her excellent coaching skills. She concluded with some very emotional words and a bow to the other senior grades and left the mats with not a dry eye in the house.
Next up was Kimmo Niikkonen from Finland who demonstrated for his Fourth Meijin / Ninth Dan with a simply stunning display of Heian Nidan as kata and then in self-defence with Jani, Marko and Markus. I don’t think I was sitting facing the camera filming the action, but if I was you may see with my jaw hanging open in awe of the movement, skill and control on show. I had to shake Kimmo’s hand afterwards and thank him for the display!
The Sunday afternoon session can sometimes be a tough one, lacking the energy compared to the earlier ones as people begin to tire. I felt this time was much better, as Hugh lead us through the pad response practice that we have used at the club. This started one-on-one and built to group attackers, gradually introducing parrying of attacks in addition to the pad strikes. From there we move to more of a grappling situation and I bailed out at that point to give my neck and back a rest. It was interesting to watch the practise and chip in a little coaching based on our experience at the club.
Billy then took over and led a group practise of the Sanshin kata. This is a new one for me, having only tried it a few times at the club. It felt quite awkward initially given some of the leg movements but gradually improved. The practise started with Billy performing the kata, then being joined by the Meijin grades, then Fifth Dans, then Fourth Dans and so on until the entire group was on the mats. I found this to be such an intense practise, you could almost feel the group concentration at this point. We then split off into groups of three or four, with one person performing the kata and the others providing resistance which continued the intensity. I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so “in the zone” doing this kind of practise before.
Finally, we performed a meditation, lying on the ground whilst several the senior grades walked around the group speaking about the course. We’ve done this a few times now and each time I find it more useful, focussng on my contact with the floor, my own breathing, other sounds in the hall and being able to pick out the distinct voices of the instructors. Recently I have being trying some mediation via the Headspace website and I found the two complimented each other with a focus on awareness of self and surroundings.
The course wrapped up with Billy giving a speech and the presentation of the new grades. BMAC had something to celebrate as Jamie achieved Second Dan, Alistair got First Dan and Iain moved up to blue belt. Well done guys, a fine reward for all the hard work.
With that another excellent course was complete and after a few club photos we headed home. There was so much to learn from the weekend and I look forward to bringing that back to our regular training sessions.
Way back in the balmy summer month of August, I injured my knee whilst training for the Great North Run which has curtailed my participation in classes over the last three or so months. Rather frustratingly, I have no recollection of how I injured my knee and it has been a slow recovery process.
Whilst I have still been attending club nights, I have been doing a lot more coaching than actively practising. This is no bad thing as there is always an opportunity to learn something yourself whilst coaching others. I often spot things that I know I do myself but watching others training you can see what the effect of this is. The challenge will be to address or implement the things I’ve noticed as I return to full training.
During much of this recovery period, Hugh has been working on a series of takedowns and leglocks, all of which have looked really cool but not exactly the most suitable moves for an injured knee. Drat! However I did try applying a couple of the moves so that I could then help to coach my club mates through these new practises.
As I say, it’s been a slow recovery but as I’m fond of saying “you don’t get any extra grades by being stupid” so I’ve very much phased my return.
Initially I was doing hand techniques only on pads, a good opportunity to work on power and accuracy. Similarly, I was doing kata but without trying to get a low posture. Whilst not ideal, at least it allowed me to work on the basic moves of different katas, including some new higher ones.
After about five or six weeks of hobbling about, I started adding some kicks to pad work. At first, I was able to do the more “straight ahead” kicks such as mae-geri and axe kicks but those involving rotation such as a mawashi-geri would have to wait as the movement still strained my knee. I was able to start doing those kicks by mid-October although with limited power and height. Of course, they had limited height and power before my injury but who’s counting?
I’ve avoided practises where I am not in control of my movement. My knee still gets sore when doing lateral or rotational type moves rather than straight ahead ones. Therefore pads, kata and specific sequences have been fine, but I’ve avoided sparring and grappling where it may get jarred if I get moved in an unexpected direction. In the last week though I had my first parrying practise since August (!) and man, did I feel rusty.
In fact, it is the loss of fitness that has been the most frustrating thing about the injury. Without being able to train as much as I normally would, my stamina has declined considerably. Last Wednesday’s training saw me sucking for air after some breakfall katas and a takedown sequence. Running is much the same as three miles has been the furthest I have run since early August. All in all, I’m a long way off where I was before the injury.
However, the good news though is that the patience has paid off and I am getting back to training, both Shoto Budo and running, so my fitness should improve again. We have been preparing a demo for the upcoming National course that will serve as Shoto Budo’s 25th anniversary and thus far my knee has held up to the practise and the stamina is getting there…slowly.
Next time out, I’ll have my thoughts on the course, our demo and gradings.
With the start of our latest session at Bearsden Academy, I have now been a member of Bearsden Martial Arts Club for 10 years.
10 years. Wow. Where did that time go?
Looking back at 2007, I had thought about starting a martial art for some time. Other than a very brief flirtation with Judo when I was in primary school, I had not done anything like this before. Martial arts had an appeal, to help with both fitness as well as the obvious self-defence element. I also hoped to find a more sociable physical activity outside of the more solitary trips to the gym and running.
Prior to finding BMAC, I tried a taster session of Tai Chi but, whilst very relaxing, it didn’t really hit the mark. I was looking for something a bit more energetic. I would never consider myself “hard” or “tough” but I wanted something a bit more physical.
Shortly afterwards I moved to Bearsden and, as luck would have it, I saw an advert in the local paper for BMAC, who trained in Bearsden Academy. Not even the current one but the old one on Morven Road that is now occupied by the houses of Academy Grove. Given that it was two streets away from my house, there was no excuse about it being too far away and, after procrastinating for a while as is often my way, I plucked up the courage to phone the number.
I spoke to Jackie who suggested I come along and try it so when the Tuesday rolled around, I walked to the school, feeling nervous but with no idea of what to expect. Would the class be full of people missing teeth and sporting facial tattoos, who would torture this timid newcomer and send him on his way?
Fortunately, not. I met Hugh, Eric and John all hugely talented martial artists and then, as now, the main instructors of the club. Through the next 90 minutes they introduced me to Shoto Budo with what I now recognise as a typical practice. I remember some pads with John and Eric introducing me to this weird thing called “first kata”. I really enjoyed the session and on leaving, told Hugh I’d be back next Tuesday.
As would become a common occurrence where something would get in the way I wasn’t able to train on the Tuesday. I wonder if Hugh thought I was just one of many people who come along, try a few nights and then disappear never to be seen again. Fortunately, BMAC also trains on a Wednesday so I was able to go the following night and got to see the breakfall kata for the first time. That looked hard. 10 years later and I can confirm that it is as hard as it looks.
Very quickly I was training two nights a week. I genuinely was hooked. After a month or so, another monumental moment – I got my first gi. I think Blitz makes these out of cardboard and especially huge so that everyone looks ridiculous when they first wear one. Everyone goes through this but of course, a couple of washes later and the gi shrinks to a more normal size. Putting on the gi made me feel part of the club (where else has white pyjamas as a uniform?) and made me think this might be for me.
Looking back with 2017 eyes, it clearly has been for me. There have been interruptions along the way due to injuries (not all from martial arts training!), work and life in general so maybe I’ve actually been training for six or seven years. Regardless of that time frame, it has been a hugely enjoyable experience. I have learned a lot of skills and how to do things I never thought I’d be able to do and had a blast doing it.
The last year or so since getting my black belt has been so personally rewarding, from the improvements in my own fitness and ability to running the Women’s Self-defence Class and coaching newcomers to the club. Looking back and remembering how nervous I was when I started, I try to put newcomers at ease and introduce them to the skills we practise, just as so many people did with me back in 2007.
It was purely chance that lead me to this club – seeing the ad, the location being so close to home, but having found it I can’t imagine training with anyone else. A huge thank you goes to Hugh and all the members of BMAC for their friendship, training and encouragement over the last decade.
Here’s to the next 10 years!
“Are you a black belt?”
It is an accepted truth that this is always the first question anybody will ask upon finding out you practise martial arts. But what is the second question? I asked my clubmates to share their experiences.
If we refer to Shoto Budo as karate, then Kate being greeted with with “Oooh Ka-ra-te" and then a stereotypical “karate chop” will be familiar. Even worse is the startlingly unoriginal question of “do you do wax on wax off?”. According to Wikipedia, the Karate Kid was released way back in 1984 yet it seems to have cast a long shadow over karate in the public perception. I’ve no idea if any clubs or organisations subscribe to Mr Miyagi’s teaching methods but suffice it to say it’s not something we do.
Paul, Emma and I have all experienced this so how to change that view? Paul deals with this by explaining that whilst karate is the base, Shoto Budo is a wider study of many martial arts and that there is a desire for the skills to be practical in a real-world situation.
Furthering this, Emma finds that once she explains it's based on self-defence, most people ask to be taught something. Once people get past the whole wax on, wax off thing, they're genuinely interested in what we do.
Mentioning karate may evoke images of Joe Esposito belting out “You’re the Best Around” and I often avoid calling it karate, usually to avoid any wax based discussion. That brings up the next challenge of what to call it, with me sometimes saying “self-defence” and sometimes “mixed martial arts” but the latter has its own connotations of cage fighting. That in turn leads to explanations that we’re not involved in competitive fighting.
As Jamie comments, this can lead to “is it like Tae Kwon Do?”. Perhaps it is the recent Olympic exposure and Team GB success in the sport that has increased the awareness of this Korean art. It has become a frame of reference for the wider public. Indeed, I am often asked “are you still doing Tae Kwon Do?”.
Once the self-defence element is established, that leads into Jamie and Julie’s question, namely “could you defend yourself in a real fight?”, as opposed to in a fake fight I suppose. I wonder what people mean by this. Do they mean in a one-on-one confrontation? Any martial art skill should help if we are unfortunate enough to be in such a situation but of course there are limits. There are so many intangibles that whilst martial arts skill could win out, sometimes it would not, such as multiple attackers, surroundings or vast differences in size and strength between the participants.
If anything, the skill is to avoid the conflict in the first place and to be safe. If we had to engage in a physical confrontation, the aim is still to keep safe rather than demonstrating a series of technique or win a fight as if it were a UFC contest.
In a similar vein John gets asked “so what you do if I did this?” which is always a dangerous one. The temptation is to then demonstrate, or as Emma suggests, rise to their level. I will admit that I may have applied the occasional wristlock to colleagues at work when I’ve been asked this.
This may explain why, along with Susan and Emma, I get greeted with comments from colleagues like “I’d better not mess with you then”. Whilst it would be tempting to use this perception to my advantage in meetings, I’m not sure I would actually do anything. Having said that, in a previous job I had a manager who trained in Tae Kwon Do and I joined his class during a work trip which has since allowed me to say “you wouldn’t be the first boss I’ve punched”. That gets you some interesting looks…
Jamie plays on this and tells people “I have a saying that martial artists are the most likely pacifists, because they are aware of the destructive power that they wield.”
Emma argues that if she is feeling particularly self-righteous she will say something like I'd only use it to defend myself so unless you're planning on attacking me you have nothing to worry about…but only if she is in a bit of an arsey mood. Surely not!
So what conclusions can we draw from these questions? Karate maybe still has a bit of an image problem, partly stemming from the movies. It feels like there is still a mysticism around martial arts, as if training unlocks some magical powers. The nuances of different martial arts all merge into one so whilst the names Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Judo and so are known the skills are not. MMA conjures up a specific image about the UFC. Practitioners are considered perhaps to be “hard”. That’s a horrible word that again conjures up a specific image and if anyone in our club is not “hard”, it’s me.
Given so many pre-conceived notions, it will take some effort to get across the very real benefits of training. The fitness, the flexibility and yes, the self-defence skills make martial arts such a worthwhile endeavour and this is a message we all need to work to convey. By removing the mystic or hard perceptions, I believe more people can be encouraged to try martial arts and benefit from that training. It will be a long journey against stereotypes but our own experiences in BMAC with the women’s self-defence class shows that it can be done.
Now we just need to spread the word.
This movie has a lot to answer for!
Scott has been training in Shoto Budo since 2007 and is a 1st Dan Black Belt. He is working towards his 2nd Dan grading.