Book Review: Principles and Concepts for Martial Arts

This book, by Sylvain Galibert, is aimed mainly at grapplers, but contains concepts useful to those who prefer punching too.

Principles are ideas which lead to success.

Principles and Concepts for Martial Arts, Sylvain Galibert

Galibert begins by defining what a principle is, and swiftly moves on to what is essentially a reference list of principles he’s noticed and how/why they are useful. He says himself in the foreword that if you’ve been around martial arts for any length of time you’re unlikely to find anything truly new or groundbreaking in the book.

That is true, but at the same time having them all clearly explained and laid out next to each other, with examples, does make it easier somehow.

I did find that, not being a judoka or BJJ practitioner, many of the examples were unfamiliar, but a quick youtube search usually solved that problem.

Principles and Concepts of Martial Arts can be found on Amazon, among other places.

This book isn’t one to sit and read all in one go, like you would a novel. It’s more of a thinking book. Read a section, and then spend some time thinking about how that principle applies to techniques that you know. Think about how applying this principle could work for you, with your particular body type and martial art.

We have plenty of time for thinking at the moment, with dojo training suspended due to Covid-19. Don’t waste the time!

“The Prisoner” as Zen

The Prisoner” was a 1967 TV show in which an unnamed man resigns from a non-specific job, and is immediately kidnapped and placed in “The Village”. Various people try to break his mind and extract information from him, while he tries to escape.

My thesis is that the entire thing is one huge Zen koan.

Firstly, we have the fact that the man is never named. Who is he? The search for self and non-self is one of the key themes of Zen practice.

The whole program is scattered with snippets of wisdom, such as this one:

Sign: Questions are a burden to others; answers a prison for oneself.

Zen themes flow throughout the show. Fear, honesty, the illusion of life.

Labour Exchange Manager: You’re afraid of death.
Number Six: I’m afraid of nothing.
Labour Exchange Manager: You’re afraid of yourself. You are aware of that? Good, you are honest. That is of use here.

“A”: What are you going to do with your freedom?
Number Six: Go fishing.
“A”: Perhaps you’re fishing now.

Number Six even makes a version of the Bodhisattva vow, to liberate all sentient beings.

Number Two: Do you still think you can escape, Number Six?
Number Six: I’m going to do better than that.
Number Two: Oh?
Number Six: Going to escape, come back.
Number Two: Come back?
Number Six: Escape, come back, wipe this place off the face of the Earth, obliterate it and you with it.

However, Number Six is constantly striving to escape. His striving is a form of attachment, he is attached to the idea of leaving the village. Perhaps this is why it takes him so long.

Indeed, does he ever truly escape?

My favourite quote, however, is the following:

Number Six: Who is Number One?
Number Two: You are Number Six.

I was reminded of it the other day when I came across this actual Zen koan:

A monk named Hui Ch’ao asked Fa Yen, “Hui Ch’ao asks the teacher, what is Buddha?”.

Fa Yen said, “You are Hui Ch’ao.”

Juho in the time of Covid

Juho is the part of Shorinji Kempo which is all about grabbing people. Covid, as we all know, is about not grabbing people. So is it possible to teach juho at the moment? Should we even try?

I believe we should try. Shorinji Kempo is a complete system, and it feels incomplete without all of the bits. After all, they’re there for a reason.

But how?

I can’t touch you, so I can’t demonstrate the grab, or the release, or the throw. Sure, we can do single form practice – ryuo ken dai ichi springs to mind – but that kata only makes sense if you already know what is going on. What if I have a complete beginner who wants to learn?

If it’s at all possible, encourage your new starters to come with someone from their family or bubble. They can touch each other, and with a certain amount of description and experimentation, they should be able to achieve understanding.

Videos can also be useful, to give an overview of what it’s supposed to look like with a partner.

Of course, that’s not always (or even often) possible. For single people, and in places with no video equipment, some kind of teaching aid is required.

I built myself a hand.

Not chopped off a real person, I promise.

With my hand, I can demonstrate how what I do changes the angle at which they are able to hold on, making them bend their wrist or loosen the grip.

Of course, the hands are only half the story in kote nuki. Body movement and foot movement are also important.

When you can’t be within 2 metres of each other, the range on the foot movement is hard to imagine.

Enter the severed feet!

Ok, by “severed feet” I meant “slippers”. But still!

Each of these elements on their own makes little sense, but if you can do them all, and combine them in your head, it’s possible to reach enlightenment.

What about you? If you’re a Shorinji Kempo kenshi, judoka, aikido practitioner, or anyone else who uses grabbing and grappling in their martial art, I want to hear your tips and suggestions for how to continue learning and teaching in the current time.

Film Review: Martial Arts of Shaolin

Martial Arts of Shaolin is a 1986 film about Zhi Ming, who is training at the Northern Shaolin Temple. One day, he discovers that the magistrate who killed his parents has come out of hiding…

Available on Amazon

I really enjoyed this film. It’s not heavy on plot, and the dubbing is atrocious, but the fight scenes are long, complex, and suitably entertaining. The choreography was beautiful.

Plus, the inevitable love interest was suitably violent, being a young lady whose parents were also killed by the magistrate, and who was also out for revenge. It was good to see a female who was not helpless.

Really, though, by the sounds of it the magistrate definitely had it coming!

Some highlights that I found particularly fun:

  • fighting over a paintbrush
  • “vegetable” buns served to monks
  • dressing as sheep
  • fighting on the Great Wall of China (it’s possible this is a requirement for any martial arts film set in China)
  • how to attack a beard

Plus, is feeding a bird a sin? We must preserve life, and the bird will die if we do not feed it. But the worm is also a living being…

Overall, I’d say this would be a fun film to watch with some martial-arts-inclined friends, as long as none of them were particularly fussy about historical accuracy.

Why is Shorinji Kempo like a plunger?

I know, it’s an odd question, but bear with me.

The humble sink plunger is in some ways the perfect metaphor for Shorinji Kempo.

You need to have one in the house, but you really hope you never have to use it.

Plumbing emergencies don’t usually come with a warning. When you need a plunger, you don’t want to have to go down to the shops to search one out. You want to be able to reach into the cupboard and pick one up.

Similarly, if you’re walking down the street and find yourself in a self defence situation, that is not the time to be thinking about finding a dojo and taking some lessons. You want to be able to reach into your brain and pull out the correct response, right now.

Of course, none of us want to encounter an emergency – either plumbing or self defence – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared.

It has a hard bit and a soft bit, and works best when both are present.

Have you ever had to use a plunger? Without the soft bit on the end, it’s just a stick. Without the stick, it’s hard to manipulate.

Shorinji Kempo is the same. We have goho and juho, but 99.9% of the techniques actually include elements of both, and work better when you use both principles.

Technique is more important than strength.

If you use a plunger wrong, nothing happens. Or worse, your plumbing problem deteriorates…

Similarly, plunging harder doesn’t make it work better. It only amplifies the technique you are using, whether that is good or bad.

Shorinji Kempo doesn’t rely on strength to overcome your opponent. Skill is more important. A small, “weak” girl can take down a large man using Shorinji Kempo techniques, if she knows what she is doing.

It takes practice.

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to need to use a plunger more than once, you probably found that the second time went much better than the first time. Maybe the first time you had to look up how to use one, and then you fiddled around for a while to get the angles right.

The second time, you remembered some of what you learnt before, and just got on with it.

We practice the basics of Kempo over and over again, building them into our muscle memory, so that when we need them they are there. No need to look things up or think too hard about the correct body motion to go with the block you want to do – it just happens.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you should go out, join a class, and practice using a plunger every week. Once or twice is probably enough for that. But I am suggesting that you should find a dojo and get some regular practice in Shorinji Kempo – before you need it to deal with a non-plumbing emergency!

Review: The Shaolin Kid

The Shaolin Kid (AKA A Boy in China) is a 2012 documentary about an American boy named Andre. As a young child he was diagnosed as being extremely hyperactive – the treatment prescribed was lots of exercise.

Credit: IMDB

After seeing a Jackie Chan film when he was three years old, he got interested in Kung Fu, and his parents enrolled him in classes. He thrived, and when he was eight he had the chance to go to China and study in Shaolin and later Beijing.

The documentary is about the challenges he faced on his journey.

To be honest, I found the whole thing quite disjointed and hard to follow. There were a lot of training montages interspersed with interviews with his parents and teachers, but there didn’t seem to be much in the way of structure. It just jumps in with the parents explaining how hard it was to be separated without explaining what was going on.

Another example; in Shaolin, Westerners are not usually allowed to stay in the dorms with the Chinese students and train with them – it was never explained why Andre was allowed to.

The confusion aside, the documentary has a lot of interesting points. I enjoyed the training montages, because they showed the wide range of things the children were learning – not just one style of wushu but several, and also strength, flexibility and stamina. They also spend time on academics as well as cleaning and other chores.

It was also clear that discipline was a strong driving force at the school. It looked hard work – and occasionally painful.

I was interested in the fundamental difference in attitude between Western parents and Chinese parents. In the West, parents often expect their children to be constantly progressing. In China, if you’re not good enough, you go back to the basics class; perfection is required before you can move on.

The documentary makers were at great pains to make sure we know that all this was the child’s choice – not being pushed on him by the parents, but fully supported by them.

That attitude seems to have paid off – Andre is now eighteen and still practicing various Chinese martial arts. He competes with the US National Team, and has over 200 gold medals.

You can see a recent interview with him on You Tube, which also contains some clips from the documentary. The full documentary is available on Amazon (to buy*, or free on Prime), and also to buy in various places around the internet.

*Affiliate link. If you buy it we’ll make a small commission.

Buying a dogi

You’ve been coming to class for a few weeks now.  You’re really enjoying yourself, but there’s one problem.  You feel so… underdressed.

Everyone around you has these snazzy white suits, with cool belts.  And there’s you, in your tracksuit bottoms and old t-shirt.

It’s time to level up!

So where can you get a dogi of your very own?

If you’re tight on cash, ask around at your dojo.  Perhaps someone has an older one that they’re looking to replace, and you could help them by “recycling” the old one.

If you’d rather have a new one, your choices are vast.

Most big cities have a martial arts shop or two. For example in Bristol we have Enso. This is a good choice if you want some advice, or to try on your dogi to make sure of the sizing.

Alternatively, you can buy online.

Recently I bought a dogi from Blitz, and the experience was generally a good one. Service was speedy (I ordered on a Friday, it was delivered on Monday). The dogi is a good quality, and reasonably priced for what I got, too. They have a wide variety of options, from a simple “good first dogi” to thick ones suitable for competitions and demonstrations.

My one issue is that the sizing is not great.  I’m 163cm tall, and I ordered the smallest adult size – which claims to fit people in the range 160-169cm.  When I tried it on… well, let’s just say I sent it back to be replaced with a child sized dogi.

On the one hand, this is annoying, but on the other hand it means I can report that their customer service respond quickly to questions (such as “how much should I expect this to shrink when washed?”, to which the answer is “not much” – although see below).

Also, the returns process is simple and as speedy as their sales process. You tell them you want to return it, they send you a pre-paid postage label. You send it, they refund you. Easy.

I now have two different dogi from Blitz; a “Zanshin” and a “Kokoro”. Both claim to fit 150-159cm. After shrinking in the wash, the Zanshin is on the large end of perfect fit, and the Kokoro is on the small end of perfect fit. Remember, I’m 163cm tall. The Kokoro definitely shrank more than the Zanshin, but I’m happy with both of them.

All in all, getting a dogi shouldn’t be a chore. You’ll really start to feel a part of the club once you’re dressed like the rest of us. Just good luck tying your belt!

Coming together for violence and friendship

Last weekend Shorinji Kempo kenshi from all over the UK came to Bristol to train together.

Here we are proving that no matter how many people you put in a room, somehow there is always a gap that nobody is in.

Sensei Rob Villiers (6th Dan) and Sensei Richard Jarman (5th Dan) taught sessions on topics including juho randori, dantai embu, and the ever popular kihon.

Dan grades and kyu grades trained together, and proved once again that white belts have as much to contribute to a class as black belts.

After finishing off the afternoon with some techniques from our own grades’ syllabuses, we moved on to an important post-training event: curry! Alas, I was having too much fun to remember to take a photo, so you’ll have to use your imagination for that one.

It was good to see so many people there. We’re already looking forward to the next opportunity to meet up again.