Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Kung-fu fighting

It's been about 20 years since I took Tae Kwon Do with my family. I loved it. One of those things that I think I'd like to get back into, but there's the cost and the time . . . which I really wouldn't mind if I was taking it with Becky or some of the kids. Going just by myself, though, seemed kind of . . . like I was ditching my family to go play. On a regular schedule, a couple times a week. So I never got around to seriously looking at signing up for it.

Well, back in January, Becky decided "we" needed more exercise and signed us up to take a martial arts class through the rec department. After the first eight week session, though, Becky realized she didn't much like it and had me just sign myself up for the next eight.

It's an Okinawan form called Sui Ki Do that is kind of Karate based, borrowing from Hapkido, with a lot of emphasis on body mechanics and force vectors. It is fascinating to compare Sui Ki Do with what I learned in Tae Kwon Do. I think that, being as young as I was, I didn't really appreciate some of the nuances I pick up on now. For example, it never really struck me how defensive a martial art Tae Kwon Do is. I mean, you're kicking people in the face! With your foot! And it sure feels like there's a lot of power in the leg driving that foot, know what I mean?

But behind that kick there was a lot of set up. The stance was a defensive back stance, the blocking and initial set of attacks and feints, the footwork is designed to deflect an opponent, not just his attacks, but the opponent himself away from you. To create distance. In part, the distance is a pragmatic nod to how much room is required to execute a kick. I think it is not insignificant, however, that distance results in defensive positioning.

In Sui Ki Do, we are taught to fight in a front stance, in very close range. Bag work is emphasized both to practice striking with full force and, just importantly, to teach proper distancing. It was quite a shock, especially for someone coming from a Tae Kwon Do tradition, to realize how close you need to be for a good hook or uppercut. Such proximity necessitates that blocking not merely deflect your opponent, or at least not deflect him out of your striking range. Instead the idea is to smother attacks and throw an opponent off balance. Deflect his attacking vector while keeping him close for your own attacks.

I really don't think one style is necessarily superior to the other, despite how it might sound in lessons. We're taught in Sui Ki Do that front kicks are very weak, opportunistic strikes that we learn just in case the opportunity presents itself but don't count on it. And really, don't ever try to kick someone above the belt. You're aiming for the knee or inner thigh. I mean, totally oppposite what we learned in Tae Kwon Do. The thing to remember is that the lessons are taught within the context of this fighting style. And it is absolutely true that if the goal is a series of quick strikes to the head and body, then the range, positioning, timing is going to be all wrong for kicking someone in the face.

I am enjoying Sui Ki Do. The only drawback is the total emphasis on self defense. That may seem an odd criticism for a martial art, but again, I'm comparing it to my Tae Kwon Do experience. There was, of course, a self defense component to Tae Kwon Do, but it was also a sport. It was competitive, a real team spirit developed within schools. It was fun! I mean, Sui Ki Do is fun in a whole different way. In kind of a satisfying, cerebral, "I enjoy this" kind of way. But not in the social, I'm going to go play a sport with my friends kind of fun.

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