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!
I've said before that sparring and parrying feels like my weakest skill. It certainly is the area of training where I am least comfortable, despite regular practise. So the question is how to improve?
Well the last couple of weeks may have provided the answer. Ross and John have taken the class and we have looked at slowing the pace of the parrying down, keeping contact and restricting movement to a confined space, such as two or three mats. By slowing down, the focus can be on parrying an attack, moving to an attack of your own and dealing with being parried, rather than the somewhat frantic situation that can occur otherwise. A slappy fight, if you like.
I found this helpful. Initially training with John, firstly the slow pace of parrying helped with just the basic principle of staying safe. Not every parry was a majestic sweeping gedan barai but generally I was dealing with all of John's attacks.
Keeping as much contact with John as possible helped with an element of control. Whilst he was primarily attacking, keeing some contact allowed me to preempt some of his moves to get in some of my own.
Finally trying to remain in a smaller space started to address one of my weak spots - movement. In parrying I find I tend to move back and forth without much left and right movement, the upshot of which is I eventually run out of space or have to walk into an attack. In this scenario, I am force to adopt some side to side movement which again helps to avoid an attack and gain an advantegous position. I found myself getting more comfortable moving to the outside of John but when he started to counter this, forcing me to move in towards him, I was more open to attack. Still some work required.
However what was noticeable was how quickly the speed escalated whilst the parrying and movement still happened. The practice moved from being quite slow and deliberate to a pace that quite frankly surprised me. Interestingly when I then practised in a similar way with Iain, Scott and Emily, everyone found they were very quickly able to up the pace of their practice after starting slowly.
I am looking forward to further similar practices as this has made me feel an improvement in my parrying that I have not had in some time. It's still not my strongest skill but by starting slowly and deliberately, the light bulb has gone on about how to get better. Onwards and upwards!
A few weeks ago, I covered our first block of the Women's Self Defence Class. Due to the positive feedback, Emma and I ran a second block of six lessons which wrapped up on 31st May. So how did that go?
The plan remained the same - six weeks of simple moves that might be useful in a self defence situation. However, we did make some tweaks to the content based on both feedback and our own observations on how things went.
The first thing was timing. 45 minutes is not a long time to include warm up, a recap of the previous week and then the demonstration and practise of new skills. The amount of practise felt right most weeks, except for the wall defence so this time around each week would have three new skills. That seemed to work better, allowing for more practise time of each skill.
In terms of content change, in the first block the wall defence class included chokes. This time around we decided to drop the chokes from the class as, judging by the reactions of a few of our class, we felt it made a lot of the class uncomfortable. Whilst it is a very useful skill to learn and to defend, I think it would work better once people are more comfortable with contact and so we kept the focus on being pushed against a wall.
With this block extending into May, we took the wall defence lesson outside and practised against a fence in the car park of St Joe’s. As mentioned before, it’s always interesting to train outside as the surfaces are slightly different. I think this went reasonably well but let’s just say it was a bit colder and breezier than we were expecting before we started. And hopefully we didn’t do any damage to the fence!
Prior to the self-defence course, I would assist in teaching but did not put the actual lesson together so this has been a good learning experience for me. After two blocks, I’m happy that the lessons flowed from one week to the next. In the first block, we didn’t really know what to expect in terms of the class, fitness levels and how people would embrace it. With some experience behind us, I think we had a bit more confidence to deliver the course and did our best to keep it fun.
Our second block had 10 people rather than the 16 of the first one. Originally, we had 17 people sign up but there were a few no-shows and whilst that was disappointing, 10 worked out as a good number as it allowed Emma and I to give some more time to each group. This has been useful as we now know that 10 is a good number but equally that we can handle a bigger class.
It has been interesting to see the dynamic of the class. In our regular Shoto Budo practice, we change partners frequently so that we get to train with different people of varying shapes, sizes, ages and grades. In the self-defence class, we have tried this but people have generally stayed with the same partner. I wonder why this is. Perhaps it is a comfort element which I can understand as it is important to feel comfortable with your training partner. I must ask this when we do our next block of lessons.
As before, we wrapped up with a little demo of a typical Shoto Budo lesson which is fun. I did learn that trying to do some commentary to explain things whilst sparring and grappling with Emma is a bit of a challenge. Next time we need a narrator!
Feedback to the second block was very positive and there were some very nice comments about both the course and Emma and I as instructors. It is very flattering and regarding to receive feedback such as this. It is also cool that we have a couple of the class now joining us for the regular class and hopefully they will enjoy that. We will think about asking Hugh for commission!
With the school summer holidays upon us, we will run a less formal version of the self-defence course at the Allander Leisure Centre. This will be an eight-week period and each week, different black belts from the club will take the group. When we return to the schools we will run another block of the class – keep an eye on our Facebook page and the website for confirmation of dates.
With Bearsden Academy unavailable to us this past week, five of us took the opportunity to train outside at Lennox Park on a warm and sunny spring evening. Training outside is always fun. The wider space, different surfaces and obstacles all make for a different practice, requiring a different focus and increased awareness of surroundings.
We began with some pad work to warm up and loosen off. With the heat, warming up was quite easy but actually seeing some of the pads was quite difficult with the low sun. Obviously this is not a common problem in our training!
Our new 4th Dan Eric then led the practice, focussing on the kata Nijushiho and its practical application. I've practised this kata a few times but sometimes there are large gaps between the practices and eventually I forget the kata. This was one such occurrence so that first part of the training was just refamiliarising myself with the basic shapes.
From there Eric broke it down into chunks, with a few moves of the kata and the corresponding applications. Each of us then took a turn in the middle until by the end of the evening, we were getting quite comfortable with the moves.
We rounded out the evening with more kata, starting at number one, Taikyoku Shodan and finishing up at Kanku Sho (about as high through the katas as I know). By this point the sun was going down but more importantly, the midges were starting to find BMAC members a tasty supper so we called it night. It was an excellent session with some different terrains and circumstances and useful learning of Nijushiho.
The following night, with the sun still (mostly) shining, Emma and I decided to have our women's self defence class outside. I think this went quite well, with us using a fence in the St Joseph's Primary School car park to practise what is usually "wall defence". The car park surface is quite uneven which helps focus a little bit on balance. It's certainly different from a flat gym floor.
Perhaps the only downside was the sun went away a lot more quickly than the previous night so it wasn't exactly the warmest practice. Hopefully nobody got too cold! We'll be back indoors for the next self defence class this week.
During the school holidays we have one regular class per week at the Allander Leisure Centre but after this week, I hope we can have a few more outdoor sessions over what hopefully will be a long hot summer.
The BMAC blog began in 2013 to chart one member's journey to black belt.