Gaijin Gunpla

Last month I realized that this site would be hitting its 1 year milestone on September 10th. Then I promptly forgot as I was focused on other things. Well, I do feel I should write a post about my first year and thank everyone for their support (No, really. Thank you!) instead I want to write about something else. I want to write about my real passion, which isn’t Gunpla, but instead is Japanese martial arts or Kobudo (古武道). It may seem odd to write about Japanese martial arts on a site dedicated to Gunpla but, in my life anyway, these two are related.

To give a brief rundown of my history with the martial arts I guess it started at about age 12 or 13 when I begged my parents to enroll me in Karate. While it was fun and I did well, it wasn’t enough to satisfy my interest and I gave it up within a year. I didn’t participate in martial arts again until my mid-twenties when I attended a Brazilian Jiu Jutsu grappling school combined with Escrima stick fighting and some Jeet Kun Do (created by Bruce Lee) concepts. But even this wasn’t enough for me. I wanted something with a lot of meat to it. A lot of history. I found myself studying in a Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu school (an amalgamation of 9 different old Japanese warrior arts schools). I loved it right from the start and pursued it with a passion, training as much as I could at the dojo and even more on my own while attending different seminars in different parts of the country. But even then, it wasn’t enough. I wanted the whole package. And for that I needed to be in Japan where the top people are. So I sold my possessions and hopped on a plane. And here I am.

Of course, life can sometimes get in the way or cause you to lose focus on certain things. I now have a four year old daughter who occupies a huge amount of my time and almost three years ago I started working for the company I am presently at, quitting the english teacher life that saw me working 25 hours a week. I also discovered Gunpla and that has done more than its fair share to interfere with time I should be spending training. That is why I am writing this post. To remind myself of what’s important and create some accountability.

Balance

Hichou no kamae (飛鳥之構)

Life is all about balance. Choosing where to allot your resources (time, money, etc) while not shortchanging one of the aspects in your life. Budo is also about balance. It’s unrealistic to think that you can be training 24 hours a day 7 days a week, but you can’t use that as an excuse not to do a sufficient amount of training. You may not be able to attend the dojo every day but you can definitely take some time yourself to work on the small things, the basics, the kihon (基本). If you have good basics then you’ll be in a good place when it comes time to train.

Basics

Juumonji no Kamae (十文字之構)

The basics are what we need to continue to live our lives. We need food and shelter, for that we need jobs, etc. In budo, the basics are things like footwork (ashi sabaki 足捌), structure (kamae 構), proper use of your skeleton, and understanding of distance (maai 間合). It also includes things like the ability to receive an attack or take a fall (ukemi 受け身). The basics are what make everything work and should be the focus of the majority of your training. A lot of people skip the basics because they want to do the ‘cool’ stuff like throwing someone or using weapons. Unfortunately, when pressed for time, basics are often passed over to work on other things. Personally, I feel I have a good understanding of the basics, but I need to refocus my attention on training them. I need to spend more time on them. Recommit in a way.

Conditioning

Conditioning the body is a huge part of training. You need to be strong enough and flexible enough to deliver a variety of strikes while at the same time being able to receive them. There is a range of stretches found in the teachings of the schools I train in that allow you to develop the required flexibility. Back when I was working 25 hours a week with no daughter I spent 30 minutes to an hour a day stretching. Of course, things change and I am not committing that time to stretching and, to be honest, I notice the difference in my body.


Tsuki (突き) a forward thrust/stab
Yes, this is me. Recently at the dojo we were discussing proper form when using tsuki. A tsuki isn’t a punch, it’s an attack driving the entirety of your body weight into your opponent via your hand. It’s used to take his balance or bring your entire body close enough to allow you to grab a hold of your opponent and start grappling, etc. It also is the same form you use when thrusting with a spear or knife.

My senpai (先輩 student senior to you) continually states that when practicing tsuki you should shift forward to the maximum your body allows. This way when it comes to using it in a real life altercation, you have a large range of motion your are comfortable using it in. For fun we got out our cameras and took pictures of each other practicing tsuki and then used the pictures to examine our form.

Looking at the picture, my form seems pretty good, however I myself know that I am not as flexible as I was only a couple years ago. I should be able to shift forward more. Flexibility in the lower legs is very important for the movement found in these martial arts.

The strike is also delivered with a partially open hand, and not a completely closed fist like you find in boxing for example. In order to effectively strike in this way you need to have strong hands. A good judge of whether you have the strength/form required for this is to do pushups with your hands in this position. A couple of years ago, I could do them. Now, without trying, I know the answer.

Amusingly, when I first started training back in Canada, I wanted to condition my hands for striking and so I taped a piece of cardboard to the cement wall in the corner of the warehouse where I worked. Each day during my break I would repeatedly hit that cardboard. At first it was bloody as my unconditioned hands weren’t prepared for the impact but over time my hands grew to be able to take it. When I first met my teacher in Japan, I asked him how he conditioned his hands. (His hands are truly terrifying. He plays guitar in a band so his fingers are very flexible, but when he hits you you know it.) He told me how, as a young man, he would hit a tree a few hundred times every day, or would strike the asphalt with his fingertips. It made me feel like a wimp in comparison.

Flexibility

A flexible body is essential and without one you’ll never be able to move correctly. A great many people adapt the movement of the martial arts to the condition of their body but it should be the other way around. You should condition your body to be able to perform the movement.


My level of flexibility is still above average for my age range and I can attribute that to my training and the lifestyle in Japan, however even I know that there are some areas I have let slip. While a good part of someone’s range of flexibility is determined by one’s body type you can’t really use that as an excuse. Get stretching.

One’s own journey

Seigan no Kamae (青眼之構)

Despite having a teacher and fellow students to practice with Budo is, in the end, a personal journey. It’s up to you to determine your level of training and your level of commitment. It’s up to you to grasp what is being shown by your teachers and practice it to make it your own. Nobody else will make you better.

There is old Japanese expression Musha Shugyou (武者修行) which means traveling about to gain skill in combat. Japan has a long history of combat and even after peace was found with the establishment of the Tokugawa regime, warriors would still travel the country testing their skills. This is an important part of a life involving martial arts and it’s an aspect I have been giving more and more thought to.

I am already aware that I should be training more than I have been these last couple of years and that I need to get back the flexibility and conditioning that I’ve lost but now I’m realizing more and more how training is a personal journey.

I’m lucky to be training where I do. I’m ahead of the majority of foreigners who train in this art. I have the best teacher in the world (and I say that in complete sincerity). But even having the best teacher won’t make me the best martial artist. I have to become that myself. Now that I am 37 years old and I’ve past my physical peak it becomes so much more important to have proper form and technique. To establish if my technique is correct it needs to be applied. It’s been something I’ve been contemplating for some time. The first part of training in a martial art is study and replication but you can’t do that forever. You eventually have to move onto application and integration. There’s a Japanese expression for this. Shu Ha Ri (守破離) The best explanation for this expression I have found is this:

“In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebearers created. We remain faithful to the forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws.”

I feel I am at the stage of my training where I can move away from the first stage and go on to the second stage. I am nowhere near the last stage but it should be the goal.

So there it is. Basically what I am writing here is a confession that I have been lax in my training and that I want to rededicate myself to it. Of course, this means that I won’t be building as much Gunpla, but I do plan on updating gaijin-gunpla.com frequently, just not every second day as before. I’ve actually got a lot of content ready to go that was done in the past so there will still be plenty to see here at gaijin-gunpla.com

Ihen no kamae (異変之構)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go stretch.

21 Responses so far.

  1. alex says:

    glad that u were able to figured out the things u wanted to do in life and do it

    “So I sold my possessions and hopped on a plane. And here I am.”

    This line totally stunned me. U r my role model.

  2. Tom says:

    Man, that’s dedication if you quit your old job and moved to a different country to continue the pursue of martial arts. If I had that same determination, I would still be practicing some forms that I learned from Aikido.

  3. Busterbeam says:

    i loved this post and cant get enough of it. i looked up some of the forms on youtube. 飛鳥之構 being my favourite of the ones mentioned here. the disciplines youve studied over the years sound quite interesting. i hope to get back into training myself someday. once i get my life sorted out a bit more. im glad you put the kanji in for some of us here who can actually read it and can understand the meaning. and the principles of form and execution are similar to the things i studied in aikido particularly with the 突き form as we did the same thing with our staff work. but the concept of 守破離 is a new one for me and one which i can embrace whole heatedly. So thank you for that. i also loved how you made the mg kamen rider mimic some of the poses! i do some of those stretches myself and yes to anyone who is reading this “STRETCHING is KEY!”. i dont know about punching concrete or asphalt though. id like to keep my soft hands. for ladies. you understand.

    i personally am very glad to see a post like this as an amateur martial artist myself you are combining a bunch of things i like and can resonate with simultaneously in this post. coming to japan, priorities, training, motivation, techniques, gundam and making time for our passions and hobbies. anyway happy anniversary, keep up the good work but yeah definitely make time for some more stretching and training. also… side note but if you dont want to post about this stuff here (which i personally want to see more of) you may want to consider making a martial arts blog as well. I’d read it. but yeah. time.

    i wish you success on your journey down the warriors road.

    • syd says:

      Hey Buster,

      As with everything on the net it is ‘buyer beware’. Most videos you find on youtube, while giving you a general idea of the movement, have plenty of mistakes in them. It seems like most people who know what they are talking about leave the video-making to other people. Now that I have posted on the site, and let the cat out of the bag somewhat, I’ll be posting more stuff here about martial arts and my life relating to them. I won’t be starting a martial arts blog anytime soon. I found that, when other people in similar situations as myself started blogs, those practitioners of the same art training further from the source often look to those blogs as a form of instruction or clarification. Having read others’ blogs one thing I realized is that none of them have helped me realize anything about martial arts. That has all come through my own training and interaction with my Sensei and sempai. I would not want to put myself out there as a source of knowledge.

  4. Static says:

    I agree on that part on the basics. It’s not that I do martial arts, although I would love to, but it applies to alot of things, like sports, playing music, etc. It’s like making a building. If the foundation is weak, then the building will crumble easily. If the foundation is strong, then the building will be strong.

  5. Dingo says:

    It is a very dedicated post you have here. I myself trained karate back in my teen age. I was passionate with the art (to the point that my parents forced me to quit at some point). However, I slacked off real bad when I started college, and then I stopped practice for good when I started going to work for an IT co. 44 hours of work a week, excluding overtime work (I’m living in a developing country), really takes a toll over my physical and mental health.

    Your post put my passion back to the game, and I guess I should meditate and think about this. Thank you for the reminder. 🙂

    On the side note, I got some problem with my split. Back in young age (10-ish), I tried very hard for 5 years, but I never able to do a split, so I had to adapt my movement based on my body’s limitation. As you said above, I need to condition myself to the movement, not the other way around. Can you give me some advice of how to train for the split (I had doubt that my joint structure got some problem, but I never know it would be the case, or I just made it up as an excuse)?

    • syd says:

      Hi Dingo,

      You’re a fellow ex-karateka, too? From what you wrote it sounds like you enjoyed it more than I did.

      About the splits, what it really comes down to is conditioning your body to perform the movements by repeatedly practicing those movements. For example in the post where I talked about Tsuki, I should have mentioned that the way I achieved the proper flexibility to do that movement is by repeatedly practicing it. If you are honest with yourself and practice the form correctly, without cutting corners, your body will become conditioned in due time. They say ‘practice makes perfect’ but in martial arts it should be ‘proper practice makes perfect.’ I cannot do the splits, either. I think that people are either born with that capacity or not. Though you can get close by stretching to your limits.

      • Dingo says:

        Thanks Syd for your reply.

        I trained in Taekwondo and Karate. I was a chicken when I was young, so my dad thought that training martial art would make me tougher a bit, turned out I’m a bit too tough and harden now (lol). Anyway, thank you for your info about the split. I was wondering for years that if it was my body or my method that prohibited me to achieve the perfect split (lots of my juniors could do it, while I didn’t, and I was the one who train them (instructor assistant back in the day). It was kinda embarrassing TToTT).

  6. Lawrence says:

    Another great post! Syd, I hope you can post more about your life! I know this is already a part of it, but maybe you can post more about your life in canada and japan! But really really great post right here. Made me think about my own wants in life.

    Last time, it was your passion with japan that you showed with your build. Now, you show us readers a story all of us can learn from. To purse your passions till the very end.

    I admire your work and passion! Keep it up!

  7. fury-s12 says:

    wow thats alot of dedication, alot of people dream and wish about up and leaving to pursue a lifestyle they want but never do it, you have done it, hats off to you mate.

    your interests in martial arts sound alot like mine were/are i like the depth and background and history of the art as well as the actual “physical” aspect, id do did karate as a young teen but grew bored quickly and quit, i havent gone back though…yet

  8. sonar says:

    I am pleased to hear you are recommitting to what ultimately brought you to Japan. I am personally struggling to strike the balance I want to achieve so to read this is motivating for me. Thank you for sharing something so personal about yourself. I enjoyed reading about it.

  9. Jack says:

    Very nice! I wish you the best in your journey!

  10. Mike says:

    Any experience with kenjutsu ?

    • syd says:

      Hi Mike,

      Yes, I have experience with Kenjutsu, but it is mostly kept to the sword techniques found in one of the schools I train in. Sword being somewhat difficult, and dangerous, it’s not often that we train kenjutsu because I think the teachers are worried about injuries with the many guests who come through. I have more experience with bojutsu then kenjutsu but they usually go hand in hand.

      • Mike says:

        I just started a couple of weeks ago with a branch of the Jinenkan school . I was honestly surprised to find a dojo in my area. I find it quite interesting.

        Do they not make you train with bokkens or does your school go directly to steel.

        How is bojutsu, my dojo leader offers classes during the summer and it has tickled my curiosity.

      • syd says:

        I train in the Bujinkan so we are practicing similar things. It’s a small world. We usually train with Bokken because a lot of kenjutsu work is also found in bojutsu kata and smacking a steel mogito with a bo is not always a good idea. But when there are only a couple of students in the dojo we will use steel just to get a sense of the reality of the movement as well as the danger involved in these techniques. I love bojutsu and because one of my sempai does as well I practice it probably more often than the average dojo. Understanding how to move with a long weapon will greatly enhance your ability to move without any weapons at all.

      • Mike says:

        Bokutsu sounds intriguing. I’ll have to look into it.

        Suffice to say the first classes reminded me of what you wrote here ; stretch !
        My flexibility has improved over the last couple of weeks, I just find the art as a whole incredible.

      • Mike says:

        Had my first class of bojutsu today. It’s definitly a more demanding workout and quite interesting.

      • syd says:

        It definitely magnifies the errors in your movement. If you want an accurate assessment of someone’s movement put a long weapon in their hands.

  11. ClayCannonII says:

    The Canadian Bruce Lee, you are not. However your dedication to your passion is inspiring

  12. Eben says:

    Howzit Syd

    Just came across this as I’m new to Gunpla. Just got my first kit and I’m pretty excited to get started!
    I take my hat off to you brother. I’m a student of Wing Chun or to be true to the lineage Wing Tsun.
    (GM Ip Man > GM Leung Ting (last closed door student of GM IP) > GM Keith Kernspecht > GM Emin Boztepe > Sifu Oliver Gross (some under GM Tommy Luke Boehlig) and now private training with si hing (Senior student) Lewis Heatlie in Scotland where I reside. I’m from South Africa btw 🙂 We have no training facilities as our school in the Scottish Borders closed doors. So the nearest school is Cologne, Germany. But we make do with a shed, wooden dummy and hessian cloth bags filled with rice. Pretty old school but it keeps us humble.
    I find it hard to fit in training and stretching in a busy schedule but I just about manage. It makes a massive difference in my life and my art. My wife even picks up on my mood if I’ve neglected training for a week. So you are spot on mate. It’s all about balance. Keep training. Good luck. Awesome blog!

Leave a Reply