Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Back To Basics

Every Thursday night for several years now, I've been inviting people in to our Dojo to learn the Yang long Tai Chi Chuan form. Tai Chi generally appeals to older people and people in that class are usually around fifty years-old. While some of them are learning a little push hands now, they are limited in the kind of thrashing they can take.
By comparison, our Monday-Wednesday group is composed of our old Kenpo school, and people from diverse martial backgrounds such as Jujitsu, Tae Kwon Do and Boxing. We're getting older, but we still hit hard and can take some abuse. As people have been busy with their lives and dealing with occasional injuries, we have had room to bring in a couple of new students. Last night was training day 1.
The new guys have been vetted to see if they were the kind of guys we are looking for. One is tall and muscular, and has a background in Escrima stick fighting. He loves the sticks, and is very competent with either sticks or blades.
The other guy is stocky and thick, with huge wrists, forearms and legs. He had been a good wrestler in school and has had a few brawls in the past. Perfect.
Here's the interesting part; neither one is comfortable with footwork, rooting, or evasive stepping. Phillipine stick fighting always starts with using the stick, then progresses to empty hand work. This guys movement is bouncy and top-heavy, but not too bad.
The wrestler is solid, but trips over his own feet. Both tend to do that multiple "chicken-step" tapdance to move into position instead of efficiant, liner or circular movement that martial arts require.
Niether one can maintain proper posture when attempting a standing arm bar, for instance. It's really easy to find their "dead angle", disrupt their stance and push them around. The stick fighter has something to bring to the game. The wrestler is tough, but I told him he has to go to the Tai Chi Chuan class on Thursdays if he wants to train with us on Mondays (He's been to one Thursday class already). Everyone needs a foundation on which to build, and Tai Chi will give the wrestler some yielding skills (his nature is to bull it out head-to-head), and a form to practice so his muscle-memory will slowly be trained. It's also good for us to work with big brawler-types that provide some resistance to our techniques, it keeps it real.
We started with a wing-chun drill aimed at controlling the position and distance with an opponent while moving around the room. Next, our Boxing coach Tom got us going on hitting the focus mitts in various patterns, which we do in three continuous one-minute rounds. Niether of the new guys could focus their hitting power, but they began to learn and pick it up. We finished with some standing grappling, wristlocks and armbars.
I came away from last nights practice with the new guys very satisfied. Both these guys would appear intimidating to an untrained fighter, but in reality, their weaknesses were very easy to identify. I realize again how days and years of training drills have made our positioning, structure, hitting, rooting and efficiant footwork an innate part of our being. Even though we are getting older, These qualities still give us an edge.
I think we gave the new guys enough to make them hungry for more, I hope they stick with it.


Hand2Hand said...

Great post DR!

I've returned to keeping a training blog on my myspace site on the advice of one of my sifus.

It's at www.myspace.com/pen_and_sword.

Are you finding that chronicling you practice sessions and classes helps to inspire you or keep you focused? Do your students, like the wrestler and the escrimador mind appearing in your blog?

That was interesting what you said about the escrimador's footwork. For me, I think the footwork training was one of the best things I got out of my training in Filipino arts.

Dojo Rat said...

Hi H2H:
Thanks for the link, I will check it out!
When I started up the Tai Chi Chuan class around two years ago, I started a class diary. It reminds me of dues paid,(for rent of our training space), who attended, what we did and any side thoughts. It's Just my notes but it filled a couple of small spiral notebooks. I don't keep any log of our other Dojo workouts, why leave a paper trail, ha!
As far as our new guys, I have not told them about this site, so my criticism is just between me and some 53,000 hits on the website.
I am really looking foward to training some workable guys.
People come and go, every instructor knows this, so we are more attentive to the type of student we get.
And our Escrima friend is very agile, but hasn't gotten a good rooted stance yet. He will soon.