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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

What does it mean to participate in martial arts ?

This is a very short review of an academic paper published in Journal of Sport Behavior; Mar'98, Vol. 21 Issue 1.

It is called 'Phenomenological meanings of martial arts participation.' by Rice and Columbus.

This means the focus of the paper is to understand what martial arts participation and practice means to the participants themselves. The researchers asked participants :

"Please describe in writing your experience of an everyday life situation in which you realized that training in a martial art is, or would be, a worthwhile activity." Also "Participants were further asked to make their descriptions as detailed as possible so that someone else could understand exactly what was experienced before, during, and after the event".

The study was small scale but had 10 male and 7 female martial art practitioners from a variety of arts including Tai Chi and Karate.The results were analyzed for patterns and 4 themes emerged:

Criminal Victimization, Growth and Discovery, Task Performance, and Life Transition.

[Criminal Victimization]

The first category involves the issue of protection. Participants either
experienced threats or 'near misses' and a 'what if' scenario emerged.
This prompted motivation to practice martial arts as it gives a plan of
action of participants. The fear experienced had created a sense of 'vulnerability and powerlessness". Victimization was described in scenarios where people felt' always' scared' for example - even if it was just a perception, such as fear of dark streets.

[Growth and Discovery]

This dimension differs from that above. The category above on victimization is about others who seek to cause harm with confrontations with them. Here this category is about confronting themselves and self-improvement through private challenges. The above category is physical, where this category on growth and discovery is mental, arguably, becuase of the improved 'awareness' mentally. There is however a body dimension where people became more linked to their own physical presence. The teacher and the class are important 'others' in meeting this need of learners. The class are seen as like-minded participants who share the same goal and the sense of co-operation between them was beneficial.

[Life Transition ]

This category I found interested personally. I can see the above 2 fitting in with peoples needs and wants list from a martial art practice and it is what is actively sought after. Here, in this category turmoil in life events causes an change on us: divorce, moving college, financial debts. Life beats us up ! Here martial arts are a way of seeking control and purpose in the overall life-course we are going though. A way of managing crisis.

[Task Performance ]

While reading this paper, I can see Karate Kid I's story fitting these dimensions (above) - (for what that is worth): New school / crisis in life / victimization and growth via Mr. Miyagi. Bruce Lee's scenario is not much different, if we believe the biography that is presented about him and his journey to Jeet Kune Do.
I don't know if this category, here, meets this 'popular culture' type of insight, I note. Maybe it does and I am not thinking enough - tell me in the comments! Here the motivation is intrinsic. It is solving goals - this could be grading, badges or belts. To achieve these needs mastering skills and overcoming uncertainties and worries associated with this from anxiety.


The big pattern throughout these categories is a 'compensatory' or
'emancipatory' theme. Martial arts practice makes up for something missing or deficient, in the former. Or, it allows a new freedom from self or environmental constraints. Therefore it is a lack vs a gain scenario. This, I find very succinct and insightful way of looking for the 'big idea' in these peoples accounts. So a compensatory use of martial arts is to obtain skills to defend oneself and counterbalance weakness such as being in debt via a lack of discipline even. The emancipation can be seen in overcoming mental obstacles in learning a new skill or finding a new way of looking at the world. On this latter point, and this is something you do not see covered in a psychology journal maybe, is that emancipation is sought in many arts where colonial rule is experienced. If you look at Capoera or Silat, these histories support stories of what the art mean to a collective of disadvantaged ethnic groups.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


A few years ago when returning from the West Country I was on the train from Reading and started to read a biography on Bruce Lee. It was written by Bruce Thomas, a bass guitarist for Elvis Costello and The Attractions.

Thomas writes in the book favorably of this teacher, Derek Jones, who taught him Wing Chun. What I find ironic is Thomas does not credit Elivs Costello himself for his stance ! I must confess, if you google images of Costello, you will see him in this stance quite often. THIS IS NOT DUE TO CHANCE.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Below is a dialogue from a comedy called Blackadder (1983), it is set in the Middle-Ages.

[In meeting room, Harry is holding a council with various lords].
Harry: My Lords of the Council, we face today the gravest crisis this country
       has known since the Roman invasion.
All: Hear hear!
        (an officer enters, carrying a helmet)
Harry: Therefore, I propose--
Officer: Your Highness, the King has stirred and calls for you.
Harry: Ah. (swallows nervously) Very well. (removes his hat; stands) Gentlemen,
       I must leave you. (takes the helmet from Officer and draws his sword,
       preparing to meet the deranged King) Prince Edmund is in charge!
        (Percy begins to bang on the table in approval, but all the lords
         mutter "Oh shame..." so he stops. Harry and Officer leave. Baldrick
         brings Harry's notes to Edmund.)
Edmund: Er, yes, right. Gentlemen, right... (reads from Harry's notes) As you
        know, today we face the gravest crisis this country has known since
        the Roman invasion.
        (They all make sounds of protest: "Nonsense!"; "Rubbish!"; etc.)
Lord 1: What about the Viking invasion?
Lord 2: ...and the Norman invasion?
Angus: ...and the Swiss invasion?
Edmund: Er, well, the greatest crisis for some time.
Lord 2: And we all know why!
Edmund: Why?
Angus: Because the King is possessed!
Edmund: What?!
Lord 2: True! True! The land is full of omens of bewitchment. Only last week
        in Cornwall, a man with four heads was seen taking tea on the beach;
        and two women in Windsor claimed to have been raped by a fish!
Lord 1: I, too, have heard such tales. In (Harrigate?),
it rained phlegm; and
        they do say that, in Edinburgh, the graves did open and the ghosts of
        our ancestors rose up and competed in athletic sports!
Percy: ...and a friend of mine had this awful pimple on the inside of his
Edmund: Percy, shut up, for God's sake.
        (There are mutters of "Witchcraft!")
Angus: ...and a farmer in (Rye?) heard a cow reciting Geoffrey Chaucer; and
       a young woman in Shropshire saw Geoffrey Chaucer in a field, mooing
       and suckling a young heifer!
Edmund: Gentlemen, gentlemen, surely we aren't the sort of people who believe
        in this sort of thing. I mean, next you'll be telling me is
        that washing your hair in bat's droppings stops you going bald.
Lord 2: But it's true! I couldn't find enough bats, and look what happened!
        (removes his hat to show his baldness)

I put this script in here (which can be seen on youtube, if you search about), as it shows the issue of authority really well.

Authority is where you can get people to behave in a certain way – even if they like it or not – and you don’t have to resort to force to get them to do that, as your right to do so is recognized and not contested.

In this example Edmund Blackadder has no authority – or rather it is not recognised, but his elder Brother's authority was. See how the group of Lords start to question the very same statement made, once Edmund takes over.

In martial art teaching the search for authoritative knowledge is a big battle. Who can we belive, what knowledge counts as ‘true’ or not is a big source of anguish for many. Some use tradition and brand names of teachers to derive the legitimacy of knowledge claims.

I remember when I did JKD. The teacher put me in charge of a newcomer to do hook-kicks. They the kicking shield and started the demonstration. When it was their turn to go, I started to ‘correct’ them, in the style of what our school did. The newcomer said ‘oh, no – this way is much better’ – and proceeded to do what they wanted to do.

I wondered what to do. They weren’t really listening to what I had said – or been shown myself as 'correct'. So I called over a trainee instructor, and thought if the newcomer does not believe me, then they will believe him. But then what happens is yet another way to ‘hook-kick’ is shown. And the newcomer adopts that way, as they recognised the authority of that insight over mine. THEN, the teacher comes over and says ‘ why are you not doing this kick the way I showed it, and was I [me] not doing as we were told’.

I was really annoyed at this, as this was in fornt of everyone. I tried to explain, but the teacher said I am in charge and it is down to me. I looked a the newcomer and wanted to slap him ! And I wanted to slap the trainee instructor for just hiding away there – as we had reverted to his method.

My point is, authority as a basis for learning and basing belief upon needs questioning all the time. Sometimes the boundaries of authority are like a parental figure an they need to be there to like a walled garden to stop people believing what they want to believe and do what they like. Sometimes authority does have to be questioned, (bats dropping for baldness ?). The grappling movement has been good at this, for provoking a rethink to approaches in traditional martial arts that do not question their premises and training methods.

My example was from a more micro-social example. If ‘I’ said I had seen a cow reciting Geoffrey Chaucer, no one would believe me. If the Bruce Lee had said that – I bet some would believe, due to his authority !

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Review Wing Chun Kung Fu: The Wooden Dummy. Rawcliffe.

Of books that are on the wooden dummy, this is 'up there', with Randy Williams' work. That means if you are interested in the 4th form of Wing Chun, you should own this book.

This book talks about the authors acquisition of knowledge about the dummy, his source of knowledge and examples of sketches and notes he made from his interaction with Ip Chun, (Yip Man's son). Insights gleaned for instance relate to the meaning of some moves, such as the upward slapping hands - tok sau - movement that separates the sections. The book reveals this could have been just a re-calibration move to make sure the arms are in place, before the next section.

What is more important, however, is the books delivery of the form. It achieves this well by it's attention to detail in the written comments. The sections are broken down and verbally explained well. I am focusing on the words - not the pictures alone - which are detailed and in colour, as well. The written description tells you where your force should be going and which direction. This is really vital and pictures alone could not deliver this information. No YouTube video can deliver that, either.

The book uses bullet points well to zero-in on core ideas and mistakes and this draws the readers attention well to the essentials. 2 novel aspects in this book, (which Rawcliffe also uses in his other book on Wing Chun), is to have 2 sections written by a physician, offering physiological insights into what the moves mean for the body, and how the body adapts itself. And, there is a section on learning and how drilling works - using the types of learning styles, (kinesthetic, visual, auditory etc.). This is novel - relative to other books - but again Rawcliffe does this too, in his other book, as he gets a teacher involved to write that section - good.

Problems with a book are the constraints of publishing - space. The pictures and the descriptions are not always on the same page and you will have to flip over, to co-ordinate them. Also the Chinese terms may not be the same terms you know / use for the shapes you have at your club / school, (remember to translate is interpretive). Yo umay have to put your own mental translation in. Finally, if there was space for foot-patterns then this book would be the best book ! Because Wing Chun is a positional art, in that you need optimal angles to maximize forces and achieve the claims this art makes for it's effectiveness. To do this, then, you need to know you are stood in the right space, the right angle etc.etc. Foot patterns would help here.

Finally, now in an internet age, the 116 moves are no longer a secret. You can use this book in conjunction with online video too, to see moving interpretations of this form. Some practitioners are hard, some are softer in their use of energy on the dummy - even within the same lineage. In fact, that is one area that needs to be noted. Interpretation. The dummy form has been interpreted and modified in Wing Chun_s < Plural intended. A comparison of these interpretations would be very useful.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Arts in Martial Arts II : Performance.

One extra aspect worth mentioning about the 'arts' in the Martial Arts, is the issue of performance. This does have an aesthetic aspect, that means, what you look like will be judged by an 'appreciative community'. That is there is a value or 'beauty' that is given to your moves, that others assess. This could be a brutal effective aesthetic, it does not have to be flowery and pretty and dainty - that is no the point. My point is that there is a social basis to judgment.

If you look at youtube posts, watch how comments ... and stars are given to judge the performances of people doing their moves. The formal arts have this too. There is a culture of critique and judgment of fine art or performance based art - such as ballet. Sports have this aspect of performance in too, this is where demarcation of sports / arts blurs. Look at ice-skating for this. But even talk about football games are judged for their quality of performance and 'entertainment' values enter into this, as well.

Modern 'combatives' is a genre of martial arts that is not exempt from this if we focus on performance and its social basis. It is by default judged on criteria by 'experts' and this is no different from other 'arts' (both broad an narrow meanings given to that).

So what ~?

This is useful in knowing why we do what we do, when 'doing martial arts'. Where is motivation and what powers it. There is a performance aspect to this that feeds into our behavior, if you like it or not. We use it to judge ourselves and our identity - how we see ourselves. But is also a resource, involved in how others see us. And this affects our status, too. We are motivated to improve our performances in training.

I am arguing that in conjunction to functionality there is also performance, too in here, that some may want to deny but it is in here. Don't confuse aesthetic and performance with kata and finesse. See performance as valued activity that is judged subjectively by others. The boundaries of the performance is policed by a community too. Go watch on forums how opinion forms to verify if this or that move is effective / valued ; or if this or that performer is doing it right. This social activity could easily be confused to these 'X' Factor type programs. Ok - one is entertainment driven and the other is self-defence but the root is performance. It is social in its basis. You meet the criteria of positive feedback from these appreciative communities and that buzz and self-worth increases just the same whatever domain you are in.

Friday, April 30, 2010

It really IS a beautiful spring time !!!!

Ah ha ! I was training today in the spring-like weather and realised what this is all about !

Have many tulips in the garden now and the colours are really vivid. All I need is a cherry blossom tree next to me and doing the 108 movments etc. etc. [OK.. I will stop this as it is getting a bit sickly].

Thursday, April 01, 2010

What do you see - what are you able to see

This is my favorite illusion as the 2 images are so opposite. You love one image, and hate the other. BUT they are the same thing.

This is the same effect looking and seeing forms & jurus have on me. When you look at the strange shapes in a form they look
  • silly
  • exotic
  • mystical ...
Take your pick. (I showed my mother once, the stance from Wing Chun's first form and she started laughing. Picture that stance and the fuk sau and you get the idea).
Then you make a breakthrough and you 'see' what you have been looking at. This is one way the illusion metaphore works. But this isn't the point of this blog entry.

The other aspect is interpretation of the martial arts by practitioners. One aspect of the 'arts' and I am thinking about high art - picasso and such like. See how that needs interpretation for some works. This is the 'art' side I am thinking of for the martial. I am thinking that half the work involved is not in following physical patterns and mimicking them but interpreting them.

In this next picture by Duchamp a work of art is created out of a urinal. He calls it 'the fountaine'. He is being cheeky but the point is interpretation gives this meaning.
"The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act."

My point is watching experts do their moves is not enough. You have to be active in its interpretation to give and extract meanings out of the martial art shapes. I watched and re-watched forms DVDs and struggled with their interpretation ... and like the pictures above, sometimes you get a snap and you seeeeeeeeeeeeee the idea hidden away in there. Sometimes you don't and you aren't taken in by 'la fountaine' like avant-guarde luvvies.

Sometimes the forms need a leap of faith to interpret and you need much effort like this picture .... 'Nude descending a staircase'. This picture and its type (as above), only makes meaning in relation to a theory. Once you have base ideas in place the picture has value and meaning. Otherwise it's
  • silly
  • exotic
  • mystical
This is why the same thing looks different to 2 different martial art practitioners. Culture also serves to affect what we see. it may not be possible for some practitioners from other traditions to see what you see. They don't share the theory that lets you see.

Here is Duchamps self-portrat. He gave up art for chess. The art side of that is in the interpretation of shapes on squares. He was on the same track if you ask me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tai Chi Pole Work - their dummy variant ?

This is a great demonstration of 'wooden' apparatus. This way of using the pole means he gets balance into his feedback from the pole. The way he does his push hands is like chi sau (a bit) and there is value there, as there is some resistance from gravity.
The way he recovers the pole once it has hit the floor is very good. Well worth looking at how he does that / inverts the pole / throws the pole and mimics headlock [?] / partial sweeps or leg trap. Foot work is intricate as he turns his back in a judo throw like way. His arm shapes are like tan to bong transitions.

You 'could' do this on the main pole of the wooden dummy for wing chun, if your design is a plug into base type. Take out the arms, but that would be one heavy pole. If your structure is correct your tan to bongs would work, but the throws on that, plus recovery from the ground would be like a sandbag drill.
I wonder ....

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Snow Stops Play

I went on the dummy for the first time for ages maybe since November last year. The snow had kept me off, as the ground was too mushy. The picture is proof. (I went to pak sau the dummy and palm the body of the dummy expecting the snow to fly off. Errr ... no ... nothing happened. What an anti-climax).

So it's March and I get going on the dummy and what do I do ? Punch a bit, then put the arms on and see what I can remember of the 108 moves. I can do the 1st part seamlessly, then the second part has this funny kick in it, while your arms are also blocking too, (Peng Nam, now not Yip man). My head thinks 'I have modified this and don't need to do it, like this', but also my heart says 'no' this is the real and authentic move. You must stay true'. I compromise and do the kick separate from the arm moves.

This got me thinking that to keep the whole form going in my memory and replay it and maintain it over time, is quite a tax. Is it worth it? I think Bruce Lee's idea of splitting up the form into segments and using the parts you want from it in various orders is better. It is a 'drill/form' then. Also put in elbows for punches in that form, knees for kicks, punches for palms and palms for punches is more likely to arouse the brain than just recall alone, as you are being creative. Doing the whole form in the first place does introduce you to the variety of moves that are out there, however and an honest attempt at them, is beneficial.

The ideas I was using on there intending for sparring went out of my head the next day too. Something I would like to do is to use the dummy in a social context. I.e. have more than one practitioner around. This could be to act as another set of eyes, to see my footing. It could be to offer up new ideas to drill with, it could even be to represent a 2 on 1 situation !? All I have been doing is solo dummy training, with the rare video seen by someone else for feedback. I have never compared notes with someone on the dummy, who is also a practitioner too, and argued through merits of using it this or that way. Have yet to use a wall mounted dummy either - but have used on mounted in a trellis that is supported. It can be chased left and right.

Can't think of direct dummy applications for ground work in guard or mount that are sensible. Maybe you could lye the dummy on the ground and aim for token arm bars ?! You could not have that dummy on you in guard ! (could you ? NO - stop it. Way too heavy).

Friday, January 01, 2010

Going against orthodoxy or tradition ?

If you go against the 'done way', 'tradition' or the 'orthodox' then expect to be confronted by someone like this man in this picture:Return of the Body Snatchers remade around 1978 is one of my favorite films. The idea that others are not as they seem, or just not 'aware', or others cannot see what you see is quite provocative. The film is almost an allegory.
I had a conversation the other day, with learned colleague who recalled a situation where he advised someone to punch with gloves to avoid a pain in their arm. Person with pain-in-arm related advice to Sensei. Sensei didn't agree. So no change in the scenario and .... pain got worse.
This is a martial arts application. It could apply to differences in 'the Yip-Man' 108 which is a sacred form for some people.
It could apply to your company or society, whatever. It can actually benefit you to be not part of a crowd and to step out or change company to get a new perspective. A new set of analogies. A new set of phrases to think with - whatever. This poor chap, above, in the film did at least try but he succumbed.
(Actually this picture was animated and had the man shaking his finger at you, like in the film, but its 'been lost in translation').