Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Isle of Man Shodan Grading and Kobudo Course.

It goes without saying that gradings are an important step in a students martial arts path, many schools organise theirs in different manners and the gradings as we all know vary in difficulty from school to school and also on the grade being attempted. I have witnessed many gradings from all different arts but I was particularly looking forward to this grading I had been invited to, due to the discipline and respect in which this dojo displays.

Sensei Adrian and Rik Ward from the Shosha Dojo, Pontefract were to conduct a Shodan grading for Daniel Howard and Meghan Hodgson of the Shosha, Isle of Man dojo that is run by Sensei George Gawne at the Cronk-Y-Berry School in Douglas.

I travelled with both Adrian and Rik and arrived in Douglas by ferry to be met by George, we were then taken to our hotel for the night where we prepared for the grading the following morning.

Once arriving at the venue it was clear to see the clubs passion as all the members of the dojo had come to support and participate in the grading of the two candidates.

The room was then prepared (mats laid, tables and chairs prepared etc.) and the grading began with an introduction from all three sensei’s before a full ceremonial bow, warm up and then getting straight into fitness and stretching work.

This was followed by all the basic techniques from previous grades showing correct focus, balance and co-ordination, as basics should be performed with heart and finesse. This was then preformed onto pads to show the power of the techniques.

The grading moved onto pre-arranged sparring to show how the blocks and strikes could be used together in combat, the students have to arrange these themselves to show their knowledge of how these techniques work. Then we moved onto free sparring to show the fighting aspect of the art and their fitness, stamina and ability to adapt to differing sizes of opponent.

Two parts of the grading I personally found very interesting was a ‘special’ section in which the candidates were allowed to demonstrate something from which there art is special to them. Whether it be fighting, kata/forms, terminology, weaponry, history ect. This section is designed to let a person’s best attributes shine. Daniel started this section with free flowing pad work concentrating on kicking, as this was his favourite part of the art. Meghan choose some self defence techniques as she is planning on furthering her studies and has used her knowledge to adapt to ‘look after’ herself.

We then moved onto the gruelling ‘lineout’ section of the grading. These are continuous 30-second rounds of fighting designed to bring out the ‘inner self’ of a person. Every 30 seconds your opponent is changed for a fresh person. This not also tests personal fitness but your ability to control adrenaline rushes within the body and try to keep a calm mind. 1 vs. 1 and 2 vs. 1 scenario’s are used in the punishing tests. Both fighters did exceptionally well lasting over 15 rounds each (7min 30sec!) That does not sound a lot but when the students in the line up are fresh and really wanting to spar then it is quite physical especially when every so often there is a 2-man attack for 30 seconds!!

The last section of the grade was destruction, This is a part of gradings and martial arts that has gone into decline due to certain reasons but sensei Adrian Ward assures me this is still the true method of showing that power and technique are delivered properly. This section is always the last for obvious reasons

After the grading the panel went sent away to discuss how the candidates preformed and were both awarded with full passes to Shodan status. Adrian from the Shosha dojo added:

“As usual it was an honour to be involved in the Shodan grading of Sensei Gawne’s students, Meghan and Daniel. I never tire of visiting the Shosha dojo on the island; Sensei Gawne is an excellent ambassador for the art on the island and his students do him proud. This trip was special as master Dave Macintyre was in attendance and it was interesting to see his views from a different field off the arts. Sensei Macintyre commented on the destruction tests which I feel are not only a test of power and technique but in my mind an exercise in mental attitude, something which I feel is being lost in certain areas of the arts in the grading syllabus. The session on the Sunday with sensei Macintyre was as usual second to none it was a pleasure to stand in line with the rest and learn from the best.”

George also commented:

" Both Meghan and Daniel have trained hard over many years to reach the level they have now at and I am extremely proud of them both.

“On the morning of the grading I was equally as nervous as the students, as there was nothing more I could do to help them with what lay ahead during the grading.

“When Master Ward announced the students’ promotion to Black Belt, I felt an enormous sense of satisfaction and relief! Meghan and Daniels basic training was completed and now the true journey begins."

The evening was then concluded with all members of the club meeting for a social gathering and a meal, giving chance for all family members to meet and discuss with other members. It was great to see everyone’s camaraderie, working and sharing together as a close budo family.

Our ferry was due back to England on Sunday evening so it would have been a waste not to use the Sunday to train! I had organised a Kobudo session to give all members some training in a different art. We planned on teaching some Okinawan Jo and Filipino Eskrima but some members also wished to learn some Iai-do and nunchaku. We started the session with kion (basics) with the Jo before moving onto Ippon-Kumite (one-step sparring) and kata (forms).

The session was split into junior and senior members learning different kata. After a small break we continued with some Eskrima focussing on 4/6/8/10 point Sinawali partner work.

A few bruised and blooded knuckles later it was time to wrap up what has been a tiring but very enjoyable weekend’s training.

We plan to return again in August to do another weekends training on
Kobudo and Kenjutsu.

Anyone wanting details please feel free to contact any of the dojos direct or through myself.

Again thanks to everyone for making this, another special weekend with the arts.

David Macintyre

You can find out more about David's kobudo instruction by visiting:
E-mail David at:

Friday, 2 March 2012

In search of Chi

Another post from guest blogger Gary Morris...

Since commencing karate training at an early age I have continued to be intrigued by the degree to which we in the West are able to truly embrace the real essence of the martial arts. 

These come predominantly from the Far East - from a time and culture which remain distant from us and which are only glimpsed at in historical texts or films. It raises the question as to whether we can truly become ‘authentic’ martial artists or if it is something we are to some degree ‘just playing at’. We are after all extracting and focusing primarily upon the practice elements, a mere fragment of what the arts are all about.

In order to explore this theme we need to consider the contextual issues implicit within the development of many of the martial arts. These were created within feudal times, as a means of actively waging warfare or as a means of protection and defence. If we take for example the Japanese and Okinawan martial arts we can reflect upon a culture that has endured many centuries of almost perpetual civil war. The martial arts practised at this time can be regarded as distinctly different from the approach taken at the cessation of conflict where learning and development adopted more of an internal and spiritual pursuit. This approach forged a closer association between the martial arts and Zen Buddhism.

We can only speculate what it must have been like living in Japan through the centuries. This was a country torn apart through continued civil war, in a place known locally as “the land of tears” on account of the perpetual presence of suffering from battles, earthquakes and other natural disasters. The existential views and contextual perspective was very different from anything we can easily conceive. Life was regarded as transient and fleeting and a commonly accepted philosophy was that “I might die today”. This was regarded as Karma, something to be simply accepted.

It highlights the meditative and introspective quality which was sought as a means of coping with all the sadness and misery so often encountered. Here was an escape from the brutalities of life with appreciation and enjoyment of the beauty inherent within nature or artistic expression. This is where the sunrise, a Haiku reading, the blossoming trees or an exquisite piece of calligraphic writing could captivate the imagination and stimulate all of the senses. We can also consider the perfection sought within a Chado (tea ceremony) or the careful contemplation of Ikebana (flower arranging) as highlighting the extent to which inner enlightenment and spiritual development was sought.

Across all of these pursuits we can observe a fine attention to detail, a sense of careful reflection, a rich degree of expressiveness and the development of a sense of inner contemplation. These same elements can be viewed within Myamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings. In this text, the famed swordsman offers many philosophical lessons including the messages:

“If you practice diligently from morning till night, the way of strategy I teach, your mind will spontaneously broaden.”

“You should examine this point well.”

These extol the virtues of careful and tireless endeavour as a means of working towards self enlightenment. 

My attraction to the martial arts began way back in the 1970’s and included some of these wider aspects. Like most other kids of that era, I found the explosive and graceful power of Bruce Lee captivating. Enter the Dragon provided a role model that many of us could dream of emulating yet knowing instinctively that this would be an unrequited dream. For me though an even more appealing and engaging example came from the TV series Kung Fu starring David Carradine as a wandering Monk (a concept actually conceived by Bruce Lee). Watching this show today it can feel contrived and all a little implausible yet still containing some intriguing concepts. Here was something far deeper than a mere external process of showy techniques and hinted at the hard to discern and quantify element of chi.

Chi can be regarded as a number of concepts dependent upon which context or culture it is being viewed from and includes qualities such as inner strength, calmness, self-discipline and respect. In Japanese arts it can be encapsulated in Zanshin, a term which embraces various states of awareness.

A recent TV series Mind Body and Kick Ass Moves showcased some truly amazing and inspiring exponents. Watching these examples it is hard to know what is genuine and what isn’t. We are well used to magicians baffling us with their tricks yet aware on another level that these are just illusions. How are we therefore to understand and accept these Eastern “tricks” as authentic without really experiencing or understanding them? I have only had fleeting and brief experiences with some of these from various exponents on courses across the country but am convinced that it is worth exploring.

One of my longest and dearest ambitions is to one day visit Japan and start to gain a much wider appreciation for the arts I am involved with. This is borne out from conversations with other martial artists who have visited the countries their style comes from (i.e. Japan, China or Korea) and who report a deeper sense and feeling about their arts. I am sure that our learning and understanding cannot penetrate further than a surface level although maybe we can attain a deeper appreciation for what it is all about.

I remain committed to learning and teaching more about chi even though most students appear unconcerned about the inner qualities, instead more desirous of developing their practical techniques. Even simple aspects such as starting and finishing a class in Seiza with students given time for quiet meditative contemplation are important. This enables them to slow their thoughts down, control their breathing and detach themselves from some of that day’s issues. It offers one of the interpretations of Kara (“empty”) which when combined with Te gives the unarmed combat interpretation. Here though, another view is offered - “empty” of fear and aggression. It is only a start and something which could be taken to infinite lengths - yet is a journey I feel worth pursuing.

You can find out more about David's kobudo instruction by visiting:
E-mail David at: