Unchangingly Shifting Focus

I have been privileged to train with a martial arts instructor in Woodbridge, Virginia, who gave me the opportunity to travel down towards Richmond to train at Harrison park off of rt. 5. We were about to meet another group of martial artists who wanted to mingle with other styles to perhaps learn more about their own art. By working with various styles and modes of thought, I found out a great deal about my own lacking areas and new exercises to train with. A teacher from Richmond helped to facilitate our practice over the course of the day (06.21.08)

The group of men moved and fought in a small area marked off by four pvc pipes in concrete bases. They warmed up through an exercise called group sparring. The teacher from the Richmond-based school used it as a springboard for dealing with multiple opponents, taking away the habit of tunnel vision when fighting. Before beginning again, he mentioned reasons and methods for dealing with “adrenaline dumps” a main factor in tunnel vision, where the body goes into flight or fight mode and the disciple relinquishes full control of his body. In a match or street fight a person can go berserk, losing the entire art to devolve to mere brawling. The contemporary martial arts attach mental discipline to physical prowess. Full on wars involving hand-to-hand combat faded away, leaving in their wake a more philosophical approach to the art. One student expressed concern over his own incidents of "blacking out" and attacking without hesitation. There is something to be said of the rage that overcomes our own faculties.

Initially, the group sparring exercise struck me as awkward and wasteful. The movements in this group sparring exercise are done at a slow pace to prevent most accidents. Certain techniques, however, require a specific speed to perform. The exercise forced participants to move slowly in on one opponent while still being completely aware of his surroundings. One-on-one battles, in light of this, become an easy beast to tackle. As I came in for a take-down, another person slipped behind me and reversed my move, hurling me to the ground. Before being able to get up, I felt a foot tap my side and an elbow knock my hand. “The fight is not finished when you fall.” The closest thing connected to this would be Aikido's randori exercises . The main difference lies in how the group fights. Group sparring demands each individual fighter to attack each other without a singular target. Everyone stands alone. The sparring creates confusion, and fighting became more complicated by having everybody attacking each other. Randori, by comparison, has a group attacking one individual. The focus on one target leaves room for strategy but also can discourage multiple opponents from attacking. The opponents will create their own obstables as they attempt to rush the one; randori teaches the students to use this to their advantage.

We broke up into smaller groups of two with on group having three. I got placed in the odd number group. Again we took it at a slow pace to gently make use of tactics and techniques. Being able to focus on a smaller number allowed me to open up a bit more, but I struggled to use solid movements. As I got smacked around I learned about my own faults, even with only a few words of advice from senior practitioners. I found the smaller numbers helpful, but I now saw how the larger group exercise is necessary to having a heightened sense of awareness. I managed to finally put up a bit more of a fight. One of my partners performed a take-down on me. As I fell I swung my leg into his knee to buckle it. I failed at the buckle but at least tried to counterattack before finding a way to get back on the ground.

We moved on to ground fighting and locks (chin'na). The person could either be in the high or upright position, attempting to neutralize, lock, his partner on the ground. The ground fighter's sought to take the high down. My partner helped me to understand a few basics of ground fighting, but his stance interested me far more. He dropped to what is called a “low tiger”. The stance may appear vulnerable, but don't be fooled! I rushed in to knock him down from his stance. A leg shot out from nowhere, wrapped around me. In an instant, his entire body and the ground completely locked me as pain shot through various points in my body. My teacher raised an eyebrow at the stance, watching my failed attempts to neutralize him. He made a few attempts to attack the problem himself. Really the only method is to have him attack you. Incredible! The stance completely baffled me. His mastery of the movements furthered the strengths and advantages of the posture. I gained a bit of the theory, which perhaps sadly became overshadowed by such a unique move. Time to work on that flexibility!

The teacher started to pair us up for “push hands” training. For once, I found an exercise I had a fair amount of background. I got the pleasure of working with another young student from the Richmond school. His absolute calm and composed personality, matched well with his teachers lessons as he gave me pointers on what I thought I had down. The teen's ability to center and root surprised me. In reality, he worked in the martial art spheres long before I even became interested about five years ago. The exercise seek to demonstrate a knowledge of body mechanics in being able to root and also feel another person's movements through your own. Arms make contact at the wrist, beginning to move in circles with the intent of finding a moment of weakness in a stance. The weak point allows the individual to almost effortlessly lift his partner off of his feet and knock him backwards. I have to admit that I had trouble even attempting to make him budge. He demonstrated an interesting two-handed method. Both sets of hands sway, twist, and push. The weak points are difficult to find. The teenager had a helmet and boxing gloves thrown on him for 3 two minute rounds to get him accustomed to being attacked with more force than the slow sparring. I had the chance to spar with him in the small group session and could tell that, while good at rooting and push hands, the more vicious fighting presented unfamiliar waters. He did well as I watched on, cheering for him as if it were a prize match.

I felt the challenge to become stronger and smiled, literally beamed with joy at finding new ways to work. By treading unfamiliar waters filled with choppy water in the form of defeats and words of correction, I found myself growing. It is for this reason that simple things such as a work out, make it into the discussion of life and language. Without the trading of thoughts ideas, running the fear of failure, we can't grow.

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