One Size Does Not Always Fit All

One of the challenges I face when I am in a karate class participating in a kumite match is that my opponent will be much taller than me. Usually, the taller person has a larger range of motion and can keep me from reaching them. This leaves me having to find a way to get around their defense to get inside and attack. In karate the focus is on punching, kicking, and blocking.

As I got older and started practicing ju-jitsu I realized that I could even the playing field no matter the height of my opponent and their larger range of motion. Once they are in my reach whether they are trying to hold me back, I can take them to the ground. Both of us lying on the ground we are equal. I have just as many tools at my disposal as they do as long as I keep them on the ground.

Over there years I have meditated on all of my kumite and randori matches. While I enjoy practicing ju-jitsu as much as I enjoy practicing karate, I have realized there are advantages and disadvantages to each style. I practice both because each of them has tools that work for me. I am 3 feet tall and have limited mobility so I take techniques, elements, and the philosophies from each style. By doing this, it provides me with a broader range of tools and skills I might need in everyday life, or in a situation.

The one thing I really like about practicing ju-jitsu compared to karate is that ju-jitsu has relaxed rules on getting an opponent from point A to point B. On the other hand, karate isn’t as relaxed and the moves tend to not be modified as often. I was at a karate class one time and a senior instructor wanted to work on an armbar. The instructor punches, and I overhead block. From this point, I follow through with the motion of going up and taking his hand backward behind his shoulder. While at the same time grabbing his elbow to push up and back past his ear. This particular technique I am very familiar with from ju-jitsu and I have performed a modified version successfully. However, as I went to perform the modified version I was told that is wrong and it could only be done one way.  There is no altering the technique or modifying it. This is the same way they view kata’s. There is only one way to do a kata and there is only one way to do punches, blocks, and kicks. These are rules set forth by a federation (or an affiliated organization) that the dojo belongs too.

I am short and I have a limited range of mobility that one way is not always the answer. So far in Ju-jitsu, there are hundreds of ways to put someone in a wrist lock or an armbar. This is something I learned the very first day I stepped foot into my ju-jitsu class.

The instructor began modifying the techniques so I could execute them. I would get an explanation of the original move and how it works. The idea behind this is so I could teach it to my own students in the future. Then the instructor would take me as far as he could and then modify the move based on my range of motion. The Japanese word for “modify” is Kazure (kay-zu-ray). After I practiced the move a few times the instructor would provide me with a few scenarios to be prepared for in case my attacker/opponent would counter my attack.

977024_590211467676497_1299778677_o(1)Unfortunately, when it comes to ju-jitsu you almost always need a second person for practicing. Feedback, whether it is physical or verbal from an opponent, is important when practicing modified techniques. That is the only way to know if the move is going to be effective against an opponent. As for the opponent, this will provide them with knowledge of what they can do if the technique is being performed on them. There are ground dummies for practicing on your own. To me, that is not as fun. The practice dummy doesn’t fight back or yell “MATE!” (Ma – Te) wait or “YAME!” (Ya – Me) stop, when you are doing a juji gatame and almost separating its arm from its body. You have no way of knowing if the technique you are performing is effective.

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The upside to karate is that it can be good for practicing alone. It is mostly cardio driven. As I mentioned before I usually stand in the hallway at work practicing katas. Or when I am at home I’ll stand in the living room or out on the deck and do the PT1 or PT2 exercises. PT1 and PT2 exercises are the punches, blocks, and kicks that make up katas.  This is a good way to get the heart racing and work up a sweat. Also, these moves are not modified, so I do not need an opponent to tell me if it is effective.

What have I learned from my study of martial arts? There is no one size fits all to martial arts. Okinawan masters such as Chuto Kyan wanted a well-rounded system that worked for him. He went all over Okinawa learning one or two kata’s from one instructor and then a few more from another. Eventually, he put together all of the elements that worked specifically for him and then taught them to his students. A better known martial artist who also did this was Bruce Lee. He took elements of Wing Chun, Chinese Boxing, and a few other styles to create Jeet Kune Do.

Maybe I should follow the examples of my martial arts heroes and do the same. As a martial artist and as someone who has mobility issues there are some styles that have techniques that will work better for me than others. Jujitsu, Krav Maga, and Kali all have a strong focus on close quarters combat and can be beneficial for someone with short arms. Tae Kwon Do for example is good for someone who has better control and mobility with their legs. I do not. I will never kick you in the head unless you are lying on the ground and I use jujitsu to get you there and karate to kick you in the head.

For now, I am going to practice all of the styles I find interesting and pick the techniques that work for me. Once I find those techniques, I will practice them and master them to the best of my ability. I am on my own personal quest to figure out the custom fit for me.

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