Monday, July 11, 2016

Kobudo: Testing the Big Stick and Two Smaller Ones

Well, it's testing time again in Kobudo.

This time for my second rank, Brown "Belt" (again, we don't get belts, just certificates).  And here's some pictures in my dreaded white gi as a bonus!

Me lined up and ready to test (far right - the short pudgy old lady on the end)

We covered all of the material on my Green Belt test on the Bo (read about that stuff here), plus the new tonfa material:
  • 4 direction blocking drill
  • Single strike drill
  • Double Strike drill
  • Our basic tonfa kata, Tonfa Ichi
  • Our second tonfa kata, Namae No Ni (read my complaints about it here).
  • One-steps (kumite) - we have two
They divided us into groups of three.  Lucky me, I was in group one.

We did the Bo material first (except for the kumite).  Given I've been practicing the Bo pretty hard for a year and a half, I felt pretty confident with the material.  I didn't make any major mistakes or hesitate at all. I think I did really well on my stances and targeting, using my hips to strike as we've been instructed to do.

Me at the end of Shihon No Bo.
Each group of three got up and did the Bo material. Then we did the Tonfa material. 

I must say that I think I did the best on Tonfa than I ever have, in class or in practice.  For some reason it just clicked in my brain during this test.  Was I perfect?  No, but I didn't make any major mistakes and I was able to get past the evil parts of my least favorite kata ever without the usual hitches and fits.  It went about as well as it possibly could go!

KABOOM, Namae no ni.  KA-BOOM.

THEN, they threw the first curve ball.

We have a 7-step drill for each weapon. For Bo, we practiced it right handed and left handed.

When we learned the 7-step drill for tonfa, I asked my teacher if we needed to do it left handed too. He said he didn't think so.  Not once did we practice this 7-step drill from the left side in classes.  It was never mentioned.  Not once.

So of course it was on the test.  And once I got the first beat right, it was actually pretty simple to do the next six correctly on the "left" side of the drill.  I did not screw it up - even though it was the first time I'd ever even attempted it.

Well, THAT was fun.  Can I pass out now? No? Okay then.

Being in the first group, I got to rest and watch the other students in the class (except, of course, the other two people in my own group).  Almost all of us were really well prepared, for the most part, and there was only one dropped weapon.  I know the person who did it and how it happened; it's just one of those things that can happen when a person gets nervous and starts death-gripping the weapon.  Loosen it up to flip it around and... you get a flying tonfa!

After the drills and forms, we divided into three groups and we did our partnered 7-step drills and one-steps (kumite).

We did our Bo 7-step drills, right and left handed - those I've been doing for about a year and a half so there was only one minor issue (I badly timed my initial strike on a one-step - it wouldn't have injured me as I was off the line, but still).

Then we had to do the Tonfa vs. Bo 7 step drill - right and left side!

Tonfa vs Bo 7 Step Drill

I was okay doing it in the air, but in timing against an incoming Bo strike?  YIKES! BRAIN FART!  I had a single false start but then we started over and I got it!


Next was Bo one-steps, and I did fine.  They threw another curve ball - do it from the left side - and I actually made it through!  Then we did our Tonfa one-steps (again, me first!),  Right AND left handed.  Never did that before today, either, but I figured it out.

So yeah, there was a lot of improvising today on the kumite portion of the test, and for the most part, I survived.

While the board deliberated, my teacher took control of the group and we practiced one-steps with Bo and Tonfa again.  My partner was someone from my school (not only that, another Arnis student like me)... so we know each other well.  It was relatively easy to practice as we "cooled down" from the test.

Bo One-Step No. 2.  He's GOING DOWN.

So yep, I passed again.  I now hold a Brown Belt rank in the AKATO Kobudo program.

I think it was a stronger test for me than my Green Belt test was.  I practice a lot, of course, and that always helps.  But I also think that the notion of getting enough practice and experience making learning accelerate a bit was also at play.

Here's what I noticed this time around:
  • My teacher emphasizes hitting with power when we do kumite. I actually knocked the bo out of one partner's hand a couple of times on today's test.  On my post-test feedback form, that was noted as a strength of mine - using my hips properly and striking with power.  But you can see that some of our at-home teachers do not emphasize this when you watch others do kumite.  They might do it powerfully in the air, but as soon as they have to strike... not so much.  I believe this is partially due to being afraid of the weapon and not wanting to hurt a partner accidentally.
  • Most of us have to work a lot harder on blading up our stances.  Since everybody in the class but myself and one other person are full-time Karate or Tae Kwon Do people, they always revert to a classic hips-forward, squared front stance, which is a bad idea in weapons.  In Arnis,we actually blade up quite a bit, so it's easier for me than it is for my empty hand friends.
  • I felt overall the entire class was stronger on this test than on our Green Belt test.  A lot of people have dropped out since our first test, of course, but for the most part, I think the group has settled in to what we're being taught and are doing well.
  • However, you can definitely still tell who practices a lot, and who practices, well, not so much. It's really obvious. I don't practice as much as I want to, but I get around this by practicing empty hand whenever I get a few moments, or I even will practice visualizing in my mind, without moving at all.  That sort of practice isn't as good as actually swinging a Bo or a pair of Tonfa, but it's better than not practicing at all.
  • There is still variation between men and women, but this is partially because each group is being taught by different teachers.  There's bound to be a little variance and differences in what is emphasized, and it shows.  Good thing for us they make allowances for those variances.
It was nice to have my primary Kobudo instructor, Sensei McNeil, at the test this time.  I hope we made her proud!

Our next weapon is nunchaku, which we'll start in August.  In the mean time, my teacher has promised to show us some off-curriculum fun stuff to do with Bo and Tonfa until we start our new weapon, which I am definitely looking forward to - as well as work on some of the Bo and Tonfa sumbrada we've been playing with for a while.

Here's the entire new AKATO Brown Belt class, our instructors, and the Kobudo black belts (front row).  I'm proud of my classmates, and relieved I made it through relatively well.

Below is the Hidden Sword crew (from left to right):  My teacher +Mark Lynn, Kimberly, Tomas, and myself.  Tomas and I are Arnis students, and Kimberly is a Tae Kwon Do Black Belt. 

Tomas started in this program later than everybody else - in JANUARY! - and he's worked his butt off to catch up in Bo as well as learn Tonfa at the same pace we are - he practices like a mad-man!  He did great and I'm extra-special proud of him.  Kimberly is young but I doubt you'll find anybody who hits harder than she does with a Bo in that room.

I'm not looking forward to nunchaku, but it's my first flexible weapon.  If I claim to be a weapons-oriented martial artist (oh, let's call it what it is - I'm a weapons NERD), I can't very well ignore flexible weapons, even if they never become my favorite to use.

So I'll be forging ahead and doing my best to master those bad boys, avoiding hitting myself in the head and other sensitive areas while doing so.  I make no promises as to how successful I'll be in that regard, but rest assured, it will not be on video and put out there for inclusion into yet another "martial arts fail" video.

So tell me about a test when you did pretty well, better than you may have expected you'd do. Or when you did worse.  Or when they sprung a surprise on you and you had to figure it out on the fly.  I love to hear martial arts rank test stories, so put 'em in the comments!