Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Improvisation in a martial arts class

It was, on the face of it, a simple sequence.  A straight punch was to be met by a bil sau (knife hand block in some other arts) to the outer gate, which would flow into a double lap sau (arm drag).  To keep us on our toes, our training partner would occasionally throw a hook, which would be met with the standard bil sau and punch on the inner gate.  All very simple.

I stopped the straight punches with a bil sau and performed a double lap sau, repeatedly.  My training partner then threw his hook punch, and I checked this with a pak sau (slapping/pinning block) and punch.  I realised that I had strayed from the drill and we started again.  I played the role of attacker, and my punches were met with a bil sau and double lap sau.  My hook punch was checked with a bil sau and punch, as planned.  Again, it was my turn to defend and counter, and again I checked the hook with a pak sau.  I happened again, and again, and again.

I managed to do the drill correctly, intermittently, but it took a lot of conscious effort.  I questioned why I was straying from the sequence, especially as it seems to be happening on a regular basis.

Reasonable adjustments

It's a great source of pride that the other students forget I am ill, or disabled, or whatever the politically correct term is right now.  I would say a large part of that, and a reason why I sometimes struggle to pick things up, is that I have been adapting what I learn to my specific needs.  The time I spend in solo practice, and the effect that training so much with weapons has had on my spacial awareness and coordination, have helped enormously with this.

Earlier in the class, we had a sequence where punches aimed at the head were punctuated with random blows to the abdomen.  I was happy about this, because my defence against low blows is not my strongest point.  The low gaan sau which was meant to stop the low blows was soon replaced with a jum sau.  This goes a long way towards confirming my suspicions, because a gaan sau performed with my left arm is structurally much weaker than one performed with my right.  The jum sau often requires a step back, though.

Abnormal reactions

It has been said that my reactions to an attack are not what would usually be expected.  When pulled by the double lap sau, I noticed that I was going into a semi squat, as used in some more traditional styles of kung fu.  I have no idea why I was doing this, because it meant that I was essentially in a bowed position when I had to follow up.  There must be some way I can use this to my advantage.  I don't know where it came from, but that's true of the other strange things I do sometimes.

Losing momentum

In the class, there is one other student with the same grade as I am.  There were three of us, but the third seems to have developed a preference for private tuition.  Between the two of us that remain, there is a consensus that this is the time when it is difficult to remain motivated.

I understand this.  Wing chun is not a competition sport, it is a method of unarmed combat.  The first issue is that you are developing skills which you hope will never be needed.  Furthermore, something which becomes clear, especially when training the third empty hand form, is that some of what you learn could not be regarded as reasonable force under any circumstances.

Given the restrictions of the law, at least in the UK, maybe boxing is the most realistic form of self protection for a civilian.  Away from the CCTV cameras, and potential witnesses, maybe it's a different story.  In the end, it is unlikely that the modern world is going to adapt to traditional martial arts, so the traditional martial arts must adapt to the modern world.  If you add in the fact that most of these arts come from cultures which are very different to the western world, you start to see that there are added difficulties.  The basic philosophy of Filipino martial arts, for example, is that weapons should be used, if available.  Any objects within the immediate environment, and the environment itself, is to be seen as a weapon.  From a legal standpoint, this is shaky ground, to say the least.

I don't want to fight

If I'm accused of spilling someone's pint, or looking at their date or significant other, my standard response is that I don't want to fight.  It's true.  Even as I am expecting that my words will not be taken on board by the knuckle dragger who feels he has something to prove, I'm hoping that the anger will dissipate and the situation will be resolved without bloodshed.  On one occasion, I explained my stance very clearly.  Pointing out that everyone's night would be ruined by one of us leaving in a police car, and the other in an ambulance, without saying which was more likely for either of us, it appeared that the potential consequences of his actions became apparent to him, and my would be adversary shook my hand and said that I was a good man.  Yes, I found it weird too.

On another occasion, a friend and I were joined by someone we both know vaguely.  He went into great detail about all the fights, real or imagined, in which he had been involved.  If his stories were true, then many people have been injured by a fist, a boot or a head butt from him.  I listened to his stories until he asked what I thought of him, whether I considered him to be a tough guy or a hooligan.  I replied that I prefer not to make such judgements about people, but that fighting should be avoided if there is any other way of avoiding a situation.

After a few more pints of fermented hops and barley, my friend had to drain some of the fluid from his system, so he staggered off to the toilets.  Hmm.  It's funny how you don't realise that you've had a little too much to drink until you stand.  Sorry, I went off on a tangent there.  Left alone with me, the young man who had been so eager to tell tales of his fighting ability said that he'd been thinking about what I had said, and he didn't like to fight but, for him, it seemed to be unavoidable.  He said that he supposed he just had one of those faces people like to punch.

I said nothing for a moment, aware that the situation could still turn.  I said to him that, if people have learned to expect you to throw rocks at them, they too will pick up rocks whenever they catch sight of you.  He nodded.  He understood.

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