Monday, October 12, 2015

Kobudo: Testing the Big Stick

I recently took my first test in my kobudo class, for "Green Belt".

We don't actually get belts, mind you, but it's the first rank after my lowly not-actually-wearing-a-white-belt-but-in-this-class-I-am-a-White-Belt rank.

Me in my white gi.

I've talked about my bo studies here and here and here and here and here before, and it was time to have the rubber meet the road, so to speak.  Spoiler alert - I passed.

Material covered included:
  • Our "Seven Step Drill" in the air and with partners, both left handed and right
  • Our organization's Bo Ichi
  • Our version of Shuji No Kon Sho (the "Japanese" version, not the Okinawan version)
  • Our form Shihon No Bo
  • Four one-step drills (both as the attacker and as the defender)
Sadly, my primary instructor, Sensei McNeil, missed the test, as she's on a martial arts study trip in Okinawa.  I'd have liked to have her there to get her feedback.  Ah, well, I understand she's having fun acquiring many bruises on her trip.

Everyone was pretty keyed up and nervous for the test.  I was pretty sanguine about it, until the time actually came for the test to start.  Its possible I was just responding to the general nerves of the room, because I did practice pretty hard and I was about as good as I was going to get at that moment.  But when it came time to get up and test, I admit I was a bundle of nerves.

There were eight women and twelve men testing, so we were divided into three main groups.  The women were one group, the men were in two groups.

The Women's Group with two of the female kobudo black belts (the ones without certifications)
We were brought up and tested in the following order: women first, men's group 1, then men's group 2.  So yay, lucky us, the women went first.

We did the seven step drill first, in the air and without partners.  We did it right handed, left handed, and right handed again.  I did fine on this, until the last one.  I got switched around in the the middle and started on the right and ended on the left!  I never do that versus an opponent, but I did here (and I did in in pretest too, darn it).  I just went with it as if I meant to do that, even though it was obviously wrong!

Next, we did Bo Ichi.  I made no mistakes on Bo Ichi. I used my hips to generate power, I kiai'd in the right places (and loudly), my targeting was good.  However, my feedback is that I was a little stiff and my grip was too tight, and I sometimes had my arms too far from my body (luckily, as the test progressed and I was able to relax a bit and these issues got better, so I'm going to chalk that up to nerves after that little screw up on the seven step drill).

Then we did Shuji No Kon Sho, which is my favorite form (we've picked bunkai out of it for that bo sumbrada that we play).  I rocked it. I rocked it hard, dudes.  Best part of my test, but hell, I could do that form 100 times.

Then we did Shihon No Bo.  I did fine on this one - there's a section I struggle with towards the end but I did it was well as I ever have.  We were asked to add in kiai at every "ski", or poking motion, and I was able to do that no problem.

Finally, we paired up and did the seven step drill and the one-steps.  My partner brain farted on the seven step drill once (happens to all of us -  I'm not upset about that at all), but overall, I think we did really well.

And that was that.  Nobody failed - I doubt they'd have let us get this far if there was a chance of that but generally speaking, everybody who tested was well prepared and did well (with the caveat is that we're all testing for green belt, the second rank - none of us looked like rock stars, even me).

My observations on this test:
  • You can tell when people are hitting stuff, and when they aren't.
  • You can tell when people are practicing with people striking with power and intent, and when they aren't.
  • Half the class on our fourth one step - which is a defense against a thrust - didn't actually do the thrust properly on the attack side of the equation.  Thus, the defender had trouble doing what he or she was supposed to do.  After the test, which went pretty quickly, we practiced solo the attack side and the defense side of the one-steps.
  • There are tons of people who do a great job on forms but struggle with application - and vice-versa.  This is why it's important to study and practice both.
  • Lots of variation between men and women (we've had different instructors) and you can tell what was emphasized by each, even when taking the differences in biology and upper body strength into account.  The guys did stuff that my teacher would have corrected in an instant (and I suspect the same for the women).  The women as a group didn't use their hips as much as they should have to generate power (I did, but my "home" teacher emphasizes that, as well as striking with intent).
After the test, I was chatting with a friend about how it went (he was on the testing board).  It turns out he's the one who ended up scoring me on my test!

His comments: "YOU SUCK!"
(just kidding)

He knows my background (I am the only person who is not highly ranked in a Korean or Japanese art), and noted that he thinks I'm having a little trouble with range and a long weapon, since I'm so used to the Arnis stick's size.  I agreed with that assessment, but I think mainly my issue with bo is that I rarely, if ever, have the two hands working in concert together.  The empty-hand people do this all the time, but it's not so much in Arnis.

I hate bo a lot less than I did, and overall, I feel confident that if asked to do so, I could fight with one, and that's really what counts, right?

I'll admit, though, I'm very happy we are moving on to tonfa next.  I still have to keep up my skills and practice bo, and I will, but tonfa (and later sai) are more in my comfort zone as an Arnis player.   I've actually been very interested in tonfa since the early days of my martial arts training, when I was still primarily studying PaSaRyu Tae Kwon Do.

Okay, okay,  I don't mind the white gi THAT much...
So tell me about a time when you had to test outside of your comfort zone (which the bo definitely is for me).  Or your experiences with the bo or other kobudo weapons (or others - I have interest in just about any weapons, really).  Or how you keep that gi pristine and white... let me know what you think!