Sunday, July 31, 2011

Silat Suffian seminar - notes and random musings

I had a silat suffian seminar yesterday with Guru Maul Mornie and was once again deeply impressed by his skill, the depth of thought and care put into the seminar's content and by his art.

What follows are some of my impressions, observations and thoughts on the seminar.  I was only able to attend Saturday's class, which was primarily concerned with basic drills that were to form the foundation for a lot of Sunday's content.  While I would have loved to have gone to both days, I was really happy to have attended just the Saturday session.  If truth be told, I tend to get more out of days where I can focus on the fundamentals, as too many techniques in one sitting can make my poor head spin!

As usual, what follows is my interpretation/impression only and is subject to my general lack of memory, filters and incomprehensibility.

  • correct distancing is vital.  Too far away, the attacker can reset, too close, the attacker can overpower the technique.  For practice, it is vital as the correct energy/feeling cannot be there if the attack is too far away.
  • body positioning always takes into account what the other limb/s of the attacker are doing, or are capable of doing.
  • each movement of the body sets up next movement, and places me in a better position than previous movement
  • any time the hand passes through, it attacks or can attack
  • don't focus on the knife.  Attempting to stop the knife is too difficult, it moves faster than the eye.  Focus on and stop the shoulder (and humerus?) to control the knife.
  • respect the knife.  Don't fear it, as fear will cause freezing/hesitation
  • each shift/step can knee or kick
  • look for the in-betweens and half-beats
  • the bad guy is not always the one with the knife
  • If you can find the in-betweens, you can take the initiative.  If you find the half-beats you can stop your opponent finding the in-between
  • body structure is so important
  • in icepick grip, knife is with edge down (towards wrist).  This way it becomes a hooking knife, and when hooked, a slicing knife
  • knives are bloody dangerous
  • a technique can be done in different ways, provided the principles are adhered to
One thing that got me thinking about karate was the emphasis on the drills as learning tools, not as direct representations of reality.  The majority of the day was either spent in, or based on, a flowing, reciprocal two-person drill with cuts from 12, 3 and 9 o'clock.  The drill was to train the receiver in recognising intent and direction in the attacker and to provide a platform from which to train specific principles and techniques.  This got me thinking about what we have in karate that fulfills the same function.  Is it kata?  If it is, it is a very, very rare karate instructor that spells this out (and it was explicitly spelled out for us in the seminar by Maul, with ample examples of how they would translate to reality given to us) or is able to show/explain how the kata, in any particular place trains a certain response or principle and how it translates to reality.

I do not consider myself a student of Maul's and do not consider myself a practitioner of Silat Suffian Bela Diri.  But it is something that has become a regular and increasingly important aspect of my personal martial training, and a rich tradition that I hope to at least get a semi-competent grasp of.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Seienchin Part 3

This is now a multi-part series.  You can find
Part 1
Part 2
Part 4 here

Continuing on from Seienchin Part 2, where I had only made it part-way through the first three arm movements in the first step of the kata.

I originally learned as an application for this second movement of Section A, to deflect, grab and throw an incoming kick.  It is a good technique, but to my mind is definitely a more "henka" interpretation.  I must admit, I struggle to see this sweep down then up as a stand-alone technique divorced from the movements before and after it.  While it is done with both hands, it is a very similar feel to one of the basic wrist-escapes I learned years ago in aikiki aikido where the wrist is turned over and out, at the same time as the body turns and moves 180deg.  This is the same feeling that completing an elbow-press or elbow-wrap gives, and for me, this is currently the primary application I ascribe to that movement.

Having said that, as seen in Taira sensei's flowdrill for the kata, and similar to a drill we do attached to sepai, it functions in isolation as an escape and reversal of a wrist grab, where the hands escape, then grab underneath the attacker's forarms, leading into the next technique, where they are pulled down into a knee or a headbutt.  But again, the feeling in the body is the same as the elbow-press/wrap feel, and fits with my understanding of this section of the kata as being one of taking the initiative through disrupting balance.

The wedge-wrap around combination of the first and second movements can also be used to gain control of the head, subsequent to jamming/breaking the incoming attack.  A similar notion can be seen in sanseru in the section immediately after the four elbow-punches.

The terminus of the second movement is with both hands in front of the body in a "plate-carrying" position, palms up in front of and out from the face. This quickly leads into the third technique where both arms simultaneously perform a gedan barai "as though breaking a string", as my sensei says.  The traditional technique I was taught for this was against a strangle, grabbing the wrists and pulling the grip away (combined with shifting).  As was pointed out to me, this is essentially a strength-against-strength technique and should more properly be preceded by a softening-up or weakening of the opponent.  Funnily enough, the first technique, with minimal modifications can be used to wedge between the strangling arms and attack to the suprasternal notch (in other words, quite similar to the very end of the kata), before wrapping around and proceding in a similar manner to Taira sensei's flowdrill.

The plate-carry hand movement feels and fits in with an under-grip on limbs interpretation.  There is no pressing down/controlling feeling as with similar movements in tensho and seisan, and within the contexts of the prior and following movements it does not make sense that the back of the hands are pushing down at this particular point.  Where on the attacker's limbs they grab depends, I guess, on the preceding motion.  I do not see this terminal point as a stand-alone attack (although I am always willing to be convinced otherwise).  The double gedan barai in this context is then pulling the opponent offbalance into a knee, headbutt or shoulder, or throwing them to the ground.  In other words, not a gedan barai at all!

In isolation, this third movement could also effectively be used in taking the initiative to grab someone by the lapels or shoulders push-pulling them at an angle back off-balance, then stepping one leg behind them, take them down to the ground.  Similarly the first movement can be used in a pre-emptive fashion, rather than waiting on someone to attack.  Iain Abernethy mentioned the over-emphasis on reaction in a recent podcast and how many karateka don't train in a proactive or pre-emptive fashion.  I tend to agree with him, and look to how what I do can be adapted for use as an initiating move, rather than a reactive move.

Interestingly enough, all of the applications I have detailed in these posts on seienchin have so far been to the inside of an attack, rather than to the outside.  I guess that is because, from the angle of shifting and the direction of the gaze, applications feel more natural that way.  It is also because, as I mentioned in my first post on seienchin, the kata is primarily concerned with disrupting and offbalancing - going to the inside is an effective and immediate way of achieving this in Section A.

However, there is a variant way that the first three movements (wedge-scoop-gedan barais) can be used effectively to the outside without compromising the integrity of the movements or contradicting what I have identified as my primary focus of this section.  Against an attack (from the right hand side of the opponent, and preferably a grab for the wrist/body/throat), the 45 degree shift needs to have the lead leg go to the outside and behind the opponent's right leg (applying pressure to their knee joint on the way through) and the wedging action acts on the outside of their arm.  The sweep around of the arm entangles and bends their arm behind their body (the other arm can take their head/neck) and the gedan barais signify dumping them on the ground.  Additional shifting and spiralling needs to added to make this effective, but given that I consider that the angled shikodachi can be symbolic of angled movement to offbalance an opponent, rather than a 100% written in stone direction on footwork, that's not a problem.

In my next thrilling (!?!) installment, I will finish looking at Section A and start thinking my way through Section B.  As always, these musings are a way for me to explore how and why kata work they way they do and are not an exhaustive or authoritative word on the subject.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seienchin Part 2

This is now a multi-part series.  You can find
Part 1
Part 3
Part 4 here

So, finally, I have found some time to think some more about seienchin. As usual, my reason for doing these posts is to help myself make sense of what is happening in the kata and to explore different possibilities.  I am expecting to make mistakes and to pursue leads which go nowhere, but that's what happens when we learn.

I took a video of myself doing the kata, and have attached it here.  As is usual, I have noticed quite a few things wrong with it and have fixed them up somewhat as a result (after all, isn't that the whole point of video-taping yourself?), but haven't had a chance to tape myself again.  Some things to note are that my arms are pushing too far forward in the double triangle "block" in Section A, and my hands are meant to be sweeping across high and low, not along a single mid-line in the two backward steps in shikodachi at the start of Section C.

I will concentrate in this post on Section A of the kata

Section A:
Three angled forward steps in shikodachi - each single step has multiple hand techniques attached; then a composite portion with a short "head" involving rapid back/forward movement in natural/han-zenkutsudachi at the top of the spine.

Since writing my first post on seienchin I have attended a 2-day seminar with Masaaji Taira sensei of the Jundokan.  He is renowned for his development of flow drills for the goju kata and one of the ones we explored at the seminar was his flow drill for seienchin.  Section A in his flow drill is a defence and follow-up to both wrists being grabbed.  The Jundokan version of Seienchin (seiyunchin) kata is slightly different from the version I know.  The main two differences are in the very first movement of arms.  In the version I know and practice the forearms are angled out from the body, in the same plane as a chudan uke (but still turned in so that the arms form a triangle.  The feeling is a strong "out".  In the Jundokan version  the forearms still form a triangle, but they angle in towards the body, almost brushing the chest.  The feeling here is almost identical to the feeling from the Yoshinkan aikido  solo-training exercise, hiriki-no-yosei-ichi (but held lower and closer to the body)

The second main difference is in the nukite "strike".   In the version I know, the nukite comes out from the body, and in the Jundokan it goes across the body.

I like Taira sensei's entire flow drill.  I like it a lot and it has found a permanent place in my mental and actual practice of this kata.  Its technique sequence for Section A is logical, immediate and realistic in how it makes sense of an entire suite of movements for each of the shikodachi steps.  The one "weakness" (if I can call it that) is in the way the nukite is utilised, as a punch to the midriff.  While I have absolutely no problems with the concept of a nukite (or any other attack) being generally representative of any attack at the level it occurs, I do wonder why the kata would not just contain a punch there instead.

Having said that, the way I have learned (and continue to approach) the opening section of this kata is that each shikodachi step contains a series of separate techniques.  The opening shift to 45deg. indicates moving off the line of an attack but doing so towards the opponent (if that makes sense).  Each separate movement of the arms can be interpreted as a technique, or they can be combined together.  If we view them as separate movements, each movement can make use of the 45deg. shift, not just the very first triangle block.

The triangle "block" can be interpreted as a simultaneous block-and-strike of an incoming attack.  The rear hand intercepts the incoming strike (on its inside), while the lead hand attacks the throat/face/chest of the attacker.  I like this as a concept for a number of reasons;
firstly it works against pretty much any attack above the navel; and it works equally well against curved or straight attacks
secondly, it puts pressure on the attacker and gains the initiative
thirdly, it works against grabs (both single and double) to the chest or arms
fourthly, it works if they attack from a distance, or from a very close range.  From a close range, the angled shift can incorporate an attack to their lead leg (although this needs a crescent step or staying on the opponent's outside to work well)
fifthly, this as an attack can either be a finisher, but if things go wrong, it flows well into the next arm movement. (which can then be interpreted as a variant upward elbow wrap): 

In isolation, the second movement of section (from the triangle block position, sweep down, into the belly and up) doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.  It works well as a follow-on to the first movement, as mentioned above.  With the first movement used as a wedge to a strangle or double grab, the second can become a clearing motion of the attacker's arms.  Better, it can be used to trap the arms in an elbow-press, with subsequent throw/offbalancing of the attacker (leading into the third movement).

I will continue this train of thought in a subsequent post...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

more sanchin

I did some sanchin training with my instructor today - checking out stance, transitions and turns.  My body structure is improving, but needs a little more work on extending/lengthening my spine.  Stepping, I am bobbing a  bit much from the knees, and punching I am not extending enough, with a slight disconnect between my body and arm.

In fact, extension is the main thing I need to improve on at this stage.  I am getting the grounding OK, but extension is one of the major things sanchin is about (much like happoren).  As my sensei said, the three battles are "concentration, breathing and ex-tension".