Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reminiscing About Gradings At Jan De Jong's House

I was just remembering some of the gradings at Jan de Jong's house.

The first time I was invited to his house was when doing my theory grading for shodan. I felt quite privileged. I arrived at the large wooden gate with its circular handle and proceeded to turn it to gain entry, only to find the circular handle in my hand sans wooden gate. I'd broken their gate. Ten minutes later, I'd replaced the handle and gained entry, leaving credibility outside.

De Jong invited me into the 'inner sanctum,' his study. It was lined on three sides, floor to ceiling, with martial arts books. Nirvana. I aced the grading, naturally. De Jong congratulated me and as I reached across to shake his outstretched hand, I managed to knock a clock off his desk onto the floor. I looked down, horrified, to see the clock in pieces on the floor. It was pathetic, my attempts to put the pieces back together while apologising profusely exuding embarrassment. De Jong laughed and invited me to join him and his wife for a beverage in the dining room.

The worst was over. Relief had arrived. I sat on a stool in the dining room ... and it disintegrated. Holding the pieces of the stool in my arms, I excused myself suggesting that further presence may reduce the house to rubble.

I did my sword grading (ken tai ichi no kata) with Darryl Cook at De Jong's house. In his back yard actually. The kata involves sword techniques and unarmed techniques that are suppose to show the relationship between the two types of techniques. The kata is very formal. As we advanced towards each other, wearing formal hakamas, swords drawn and pointing at each others throats, ... I stepped in dog poo. You never see that in a Kurosawa movie. Musashi does not cover that in The Book of Five Rings.

Australia has flies. Very annoying flys that fly up your nose. The Buddhist monks who sit under waterfalls to develop their meditative abilities are nothing compared to performing this kata with a fly trying to crawl up your nose. I'm not sure how intimidating I appeared to my opponent while trying to blow and snort this fly out of my nose.

One unarmed technique involved Darryl throwing me forward ... which as it turns out was into a collection of pot plants. I rolled dutifully to my knee, attempting to look dignified with dirt and plants falling of my gi and hakama, pot plants in disarray around me.

One of the sword techniques involved placing the sword above your head. Dramatically, I raise the sword in a threatening manner, only to feel a thud. My sword had pierced a lemon on the lemon tree above my head.

And then we come to the pressure point grading (kyusho jutsu) grading. You have to apply pressure to various pressure points by doing so on De Jong's body. I got over the reluctance to (a) touch De Jong physically, and (b) to deliberately inflict pain on him. He condescendingly confirmed my techniques on his trapezius muscles. He had 'traps' like a bull, and the only way kyusho jutsu would work on those is with a baseball bat. I knelt down on one knee to perform the techniques on his legs. While De Jong was very strong in the upper body, he had very thin legs (chicken legs). I applied the first technique and got it right because De Jong 'tapped off' ... on the back of my head with a focused strike. I fell forward thinking I'd just received concussion. The same thing happened again. I was thinking about requesting a helmet as safety equipment to complete the grading. Instead, showing no degree of courage, I completed the grading by cringing as far away as possible as I applied pressure to the remaining pressure points on the leg.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Sensei Greg Palmer Continues to Teach

Sensei Greg Palmer passed away a few years ago, but he continues to teach in a very real way.

A recording was made featuring Sensei Palmer of most of the shodan (black belt) practical grading for Sensei Graham Dunn, who unfortunately has also passed away. In fact, the recording was done at Shihan De Jong's home dojo, who has also passed away. The two remaining participants of that session are Adrian Dobson, the uke to Greg's tori, and Dunn's student filming the session. I do not hold out much hope for their longevity.

I've given a copy of the session to two students who are training shodan. Sensei Palmer is teaching them. I am the assistant teacher. It is an honour and the way it should be.

It is a wonderful thing that when I am unsure of something I can turn to my friend, mentor, and instructor, Sensei Palmer, to provide me with the answers. I wish there was more vision of him, and Shihan de Jong, teaching gradings and techniques.

Most instructors will not consider recording their teachings or gradings for a variety of reasons. Some will be too humble to consider their teachings should outlive them in a real sense rather than through transmission. Other's are so egotistical they consider they will never die. Students: ignore your teacher's inclinations and record their instruction. Even when they are alive it gives you an opportunity to study the techniques rather than just perform them.

One of the abovementioned shodan candidates does just this. He sits and studies the Palmer recording. This led him to an idea of how to perform certain techniques that had hitherto not been considered. He showed me something - understanding. I would have no hesitation in taking his ideas to Shihan de Jong (if he were alive) and I'm sure he'd have introduced those ideas to his instructors. This comes about through being able to study your instructors teachings via visual recordings.