Sunday, 21 June 2015

Martial Arts vs. Bodybuilding

The other day I was discussing bodybuilding with this personal trainer friend of mine and it got me thinking.  Many of the things he described directly relate to Martial Arts.  For this blog I thought I’d recap our discussion for you.

The conversation began in terms of how much weight could I bench press.  We’ll call the trainer Al for the purposes of this blog and to protect identities.  Al explained, no matter how much I thought I could bench press he personally guaranteed me that in reality I could only bench press half that.  Looking at him incredibly I asked him to explain why he felt that to be true.

Al explained to me, most of the guys pushing weights in gyms all had this idea of what pushing weights looked like.  He felt that on the face of it, it looked easy.  Barbell up, barbell down - easy.  Except Al felt it was anything but easy.  Al said to me, yeah, most of the guys in the gym looked big but looking inward you’d miss the context.  Al felt that the context was time.  These people had been training for so long, throwing anything and everything at themselves, that eventually some stuff stuck, but if you asked them what had contributed to their growth inevitably they wouldn't really know nor understand.  Al then made a bold prediction.  He proclaimed that if a person truly understood what they were doing they could get big and ripped in under two years.  How big I asked him, Schwarzenegger big he explained.  It was at this point that Al really caught my interest.

In my mind I started doing the math and relating it back to martial arts. It is true that over the years I have met many individuals who have trained for longer than I, but occasionally some were nowhere near my level.  On reflection this was often because anatomically I have a better idea of what was going on than they, and my own teacher taught me the principles and ideas behind what I was doing rather than the up - down mentality.

Back to the topic of how much weight could I bench press.  Al turned to me and said, 99% of the people in the gym don’t really understand the technique of bench pressing.  They all rock up at the gym expecting it to be easy.  In terms of the tempo they see guys on the internet going a million miles an hour and automatically assume that that’s how its done.  Again Al said, watching it in this way misses context.  In the first, those going fast who know what they’re doing have years and years of body conditioning behind them hence why they go at that speed.  In the second, there are those who truly don't know but feel they do know, and matching there technique and speed would be the blind leading the blind.

Sitting there I said to Al, is there really that much technique behind a bench press - surely its up, down - go home.  Al laughed and said, you’re as bad as the rest of them.  Al explained to me, that to do one repetition correctly the arms and chest had to be aligned just right.  With the bar balanced on the chest, weight applied against the muscle, feeling the correct tension in the fibre, you lowered the bar keeping the weight applied all the time.  Slowly the bar goes down, once the bar touches your chest, slowly push the bar back up, never allowing the muscle tension to slack or slip.  The speed you go down must match the speed coming up, whilst keeping arm and wrist alignment all in the same place.  Al said, doing a bench press like this, concentrating on all elements at once, your muscle will struggle.  To cope you’ll have to drop the weight, hence half what you can currently do.

Truly incredibly I sat there flabbergasted.  Al concluded, most come to the gym, do their number crunching and go home.  After a while they make no gains and get frustrated.  Shortly after they quit and never come back.  So there it is, to a do a bench press you have to concentrate on body alignment, correct balance and hand positioning, and the timing and speed at which you move.  All of that directly applies to martial arts also.  

Sitting there I connected the dots and conceded to Al’s point.  He was right.  Doing the math it made me think.  How often do people see jiyu-waza (free form), done at speed, either unarmed or with sword (tachiuchi), and think - ah thats how its done.  You see it at seminars.  You show a technique or a form and everyone rushes off to badly execute it over and over again in a zorro like fever.  As a teacher I often sit back shacking my head thinking, yes you’ve seen what I’ve done - just - but you lack the context.  I’ve been doing this for years hence my speed.  If you want to gain that speed, slow down, do it exactly, and concentrate on the exact technique.  Concentrate on your body positioning/posture, your balance and your timing as that is far more important than any speed you think you might have.  I knew this, I often lectured on it, and here I was hearing my own thoughts thrown back at me but in a different context - i.e. bodybuilding rather than martial arts.

For my part, these days when I train with others I often abandon the speed and concentrate solely on my form.  Is it exact?  Is it economical?  Could I improve my balance etc.?  By doing this my speed increases naturally, I don't aim for it, its a natural byproduct.  After all, speed masks a 1000 mistakes.  If you want speed don't rush what you’re doing - slow down.  Make your technique exact and speed will be a product of that economical body movement.

On reflection I often think that it is perhaps this method of training that has helped me advance rapidly given my relative time served.  Anyone training in the same way could achieve the same results.  Knowing this I had to stop and agree - this PT knew what he was talking about and probably could get you to Arnold like proportions within 2 years, providing you knew how to do all the techniques correctly.  In my mind it was easy to see how this directly correlated to martial arts.  I’m not sure I’d repeat the same bold claim but I do share the sentiment.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Creating a Milton Keynes dedicated dojo

To all my students.

As many of you may know, I began Shinkendo UK in 2008 with the express purpose of promoting and regulating Shinkendo and Aikibujutsu within the UK.  Since its formation the organisation has hosted Toshishiro Obata Kaiso twice and Nidai Soke Yukishiro Obata once.  Our local dojo has taught classes non-stop, uninterrupted for some 7 years without break.  Annual seminars and gradings have been run and organised - and overall everything has been run pretty smoothly.

In all this time a dream of mine has always been to one day open a full time dojo - a true UK honbu.  This dojo would be available to students 24/7 and provide an authentic feeling and a degree of thrill factor to students who train in it.  Take for example the superb looking dojo owned by Sensei War Lewis:

I must admit that every time I look at War’s dojo I feel envious.  

Learning Japanese Martial Arts is rewarding, but it is also my feeling that the environment in which you learn is equally important.  Over the years I have trained in halls that are filthy, where fire alarms have gone off non-stop and where the temperature has been sub-zero.  Where the mats are not owned by us, have on occasion been covered in blood and have been ripped up and ruined by others.  The upshot is that I have begun to feel that renting or using space owned by others begins to hinder the overall experience of learning, and thus reduces the student’s enjoyment and experience.  Who of you wouldn’t like to train in the dojo pictured above?

I have begun to research what is needed to create a venue of our very own, to call our home.  The costs are not terribly prohibitive and overall I feel that the proposition could be turned into a reality by Q1 2016.  However, as you may recall - the organisation runs non-profit for the purposes of promoting and regulating Shinkendo and Aikibujutsu only.  To this degree we would, as an organisation, have to fund raise in order to meet our initial outlay - and that is where you come in.

Currently we are taking steps to upgrade our website, which is long overdue.  It is expected that this will go live shortly.  Once done we will be launching a “kickstarter” type programme, which I hope and pray you will all be positive towards.  My plea is that you share this link with all your friends, family, enemies, pets and anyone who will listen - with the express plea of assisting us in raising the required startup fee.  This campaign has not yet been launched but nevertheless a preview can be seen below:

Please don't share this link yet until the campaign has officially been launched.

So why am I doing this?  Picture the benefits and ease of access to a dojo that is 24/7.  Greater frequency in when you train allows a wider breadth of chance/ability to train.  Next is the ease at organising weekend seminars, sessions with other teachers (e.g. I'd like to invite Sensei Joe Thambu over), ability to have private lessons and tameshigiri events.  Its all easy and cost effective when the venue belongs to you.  Another benefit is the thrill factor and the enjoyment factor students get from being able to train in such a dedicated environment.

So what are the draw backs?  Well, the likelihood is that our mat space would reduce.  Our existing hall is big and any venue I get would be smaller than what we currently have.  Also, the fees would need to go up to represent the new cost of the venue and to reflect the scheduled availability of training.  This would require your buy in.  If we raised the current fees in advance of our launch this would certainly help speed the process and reduce the startup outlay we need to raise in the initial.  This again would require your buy in and support.

Overall, the project itself will require a lot of work but I am confident and motivated to do it.  Its been a long term ambition of mine and seeing others make it a reality has given me the push to do it also.  The benefits out way the draw backs to me - and the increased availability should hopefully feel very positive to you, plus the improved training environment.  The purpose of this blog post is to keep you appraised of whats going on behind closed doors, to put you on notice of our intentions and to begin to secure your buy in.  To this degree I strongly encourage all of you (past, present or future students) to please provide feedback on this proposition at the earliest convenience.