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.
Scott has been training in Shoto Budo since 2007 and is a 1st Dan Black Belt. He is working towards his 2nd Dan grading.