Steve Hatfield wrote:
Is there any value to performing Uechi kata movements in this slow methodical smooth manner in a training regiment?
I'll cut to the chase and say yes. Now I'll chat about it.
Let's start with me mentioning that in the 1982-1983 period of time, I dedicated some hours to practicing Yang style short form. I had several friends who walked me through the form, and I took some trips up to the DC area where I got a chance to work with Robert Smith. Had that gang been any good at the martial applications of taiji, I'd probably still be practicing. But for the most part Mr. Smith seemed content on being the pied piper of granola heads and chisters. While I'm all for a magical mystery tour if that's your thing, it wasn't mine at the time. Then I had the opportunity to do Goju and aikido with a former Green Beret. Let's see now... Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
? At the time, getting real with martial arts was what scratched my itch. Whatever the hell that chi sheet was, I figured I wouldn't stumble on it with a group of people who never did push hands. Like a typical boy, I had to touch it, taste it, and feel it to make it real.
That said... my journey as both student and teacher took parallel and concurrent paths. All while I was trying to flesh out my core style, I was also trying to flesh out how I was going to turn my students into accomplished artists. And while I thought it was interesting to see what "the masters" were doing, the routine and monkey-see-monkey-do approach bored me to tears and left me wanting. My geographic isolation turned out to be a blessing. I got a chance to experiment.
Several things enlightened me to the "try it slowly" approach.
The first harks way back to 1974 when I needed a lateral menisectomy (removal of the shock-absorbing "O-ring" in the knee) to "fix" an old injury. I do regret that surgery as newer methods would have repaired rather than remove that vital part, but... Oh well. Water under the bridge. Understand this though. I went from running college track to martial arts. My right leg was my lethal weapon. I particularly enjoyed deploying a powerful, long-legged roundhouse upside someone's head in a sparring match. I enjoyed it because I could - as if I had been trained in Muay Thai. But now I had a post-surgical, perpetually swollen knee. And I needed to make that thing work.
I got back into the dojo immediately. After 4 days in the hospital, I was sitting in the windowsill of UVa's Memorial Gym doing the hojoundo on my backside. I slowly got to walking, and slowly began trying to reconstruct some semblance of martial competency with this recovering leg.
One thing I took to doing was a slow-motion yoko geri with my painful right leg. I did it because... it was something I could do. Nobody told me to do it. It just felt good doing something
martial with my leg. I would lift the knee high like a good crane, and send the leg out as slowly as possible. My knee tolerated the motion, and my stabilizer muscles agonized over the movement. It was different, it was fun, and most importantly it was something I could do.
A few months later several of us got to sparring. When I was a young lad, sparring was the raison d'etre
of my martial arts. I would foolishly take anyone on. It's hard to explain... It's being full of youth, of hormones, and loving the sponteneity of it all. So after several of the teachers in the school did some matches, I got up and decided I'd do my first partner exercise in months with a black belt in Hapkido.
What happened next is difficult to put in words. The frustrated tiger finally came out. I charged at him with a barrage of hand techniques. Then something magical happened. For lack of a better way of describing it, my right foot came off the floor without my permission, and executed the first decent yoko geri that I had ever done in a sparring match. It came fluidly, with speed, and with a power that took this Korean kicking specialist off his feet and sent him against the wall. We all stopped to savor a very strange moment. Something worked... and we didn't quite know what. But I had an idea...
Years later I began studying core muscle movement in earnest. There was a convergence of my old athletic self (from years playing baseball) and my newer martial self. I was finding parallels everywhere, and running into people who understood how to put the caffeine in the Uechi style. But then I had to practice it and - hardest of all - I had to teach it.
What I found myself doing is hours upon hours of tearing things down and building them back up again in my dojo. I was the mad scientist, and my students were my lab rats. I drilled them and drilled them and drilled them. I'd start with stupid-simple movements done slowly, and then put the pieces together. But I wasn't just having people do movements while standing still. I also was teaching them how to integrate the power of turning, shifting, and stepping into their hand movements. It had to be done slowly so they would get it. It had to start simple... and work to the complex. I'd layer the details on one at a time, and slowly bring the speed up. On a good day, people were doing techniques without any natural "beginning" or "ending" points. I was just having them do these circular ditties were we just kept moving. As the speed was increased, we'd feel how the non-robotic movement led to tremendous energy. I'd speed them up more and more and more until I'd lost all but maybe one student in the class. And then we'd drop it, and I'd pick it up again the next class.
And then one day it dawned on me. I had independently stumbled on the method to the madness in slow taiji practice. It's all about giving the individual a chance to savor the movement of the legs and core. Good movement is complex and nuanced. It takes careful study. But if you start to feel it, then you can turn up the volume.
And then you have Eddie Van Halen on steroids!