Tuesday, March 10, 2009

IS Fundamentals (a) Sit Down Lesson Part 1/10 : Seiza

Sit Down Pracitice is a Real Stretch!

1. Seiza (正座)
There is no doubt about it; mention to Isaka Sensei that this lesson is like Yoga or get into some esoteric stuff about energy channels or ki energy and he will give you a pitying smile. After 40 years of this, I don't think IS gives a hoot about claims others make for his sit down lessons. But I can tell you from extensive experience that IS
sit down lessons have a semi-miraculous effect on the body and spirit. Many a fuggy Sunday morning have been cured by 40 minutes of IS training particularly when he stretches you.

That Special Feeling
He calls it that "special feeling."Veterans of IS classes will know the familiar refrain:

Isaka Sensei: "Paul-san: Do you have.... .... special feeling?"
Paul San: "Gmmpphhhffff."
Isaka Sensei (big smile on face): "Ah, yes!"

Kihon within Kihon
What I will do over the coming weeks is try to focus on the first ten "sit down lesson" positions as IS calls them. IS regards these as "Kihon within Kihon." Personally, I am not interested in Yoga this or mysticism that, and IS doesn't give a hoot about any of that, as I indicated. But these stretches are something that he has concluded are highly effective after 40 years researching human movement to add strength, speed, flexibility and fine tuning to his own body, and if they resemble fashionable things done by housewives on fancy stretch mats in expensive gyms, so be it ;-). No bandannas or incense candles at the KWF, I am afraid. (We used to have a beer machine though, fully stocked and ready for action 24/7. Unfortunately, that's gone.)

All I can say is that these deep, deep stretches and breathing do seem to calm you down and pep you up- calm you and energize all at the same time. Of course, some of this may well be psychosomatic rather than physical, but if you feel a lot better and emerge more relaxed and looser, it's got to be a result, right? The other thing is that doing these stretches do seem to really set up for moving more fluidly. I am not saying anything more than intelligent folks could consider adding parts or all of these movements to their stretch routines if they notice benefit.

So let's go to the first stretch: Seiza (正座)
For those of you don't know, but anyone familiar with budo culture must know this as sort of first lesson, (正座) seiza and (礼) rei, or bowing, are essential building blocks of Japanese culture. Actually, before I get on my high horse, it was Sensei Richard Amos who first taught me to bow properly. Bowing too much and saying "Ossu" to everything, what I would call "out-Japaneezing the Japanese" are two things enthusiastic foreigners sometimes do. All that is called for is respect and politeness and what I would call social intelligence (aka basic courtesy and common sense).

OK there is an entire culture surrounding the importance of the posture of seiza, and of course it's very important in Karate for a number of reasons, not least
a) the lineup (整列)
b) correct posture for mokuso (黙想)c) having your coccyx tucked up and leaning forward a fraction so you can kick maegeri or block without getting up (this was often shown as a kihon kick by Asai sensei)
d) knees together for women and slightly apart for men
e) hand position mid way up thighs... ...etc.
However, this is not about sitting up correctly, it's about using the stretch to loosen up some vital parts of the pelvic girdle, back, knees and shoulders.

The Seiza Stretch Itself:
When you sit in seiza, keep you back straight and lean forward. As your chin gets closer and closer to the floor remember to AVOID bending your back in the slightest. If you bend your back, this stretch's effectiveness is mainly voided. By keeping your back straight as possible, you will get a deep, deep stretch out of it. As you go down forward slowly, remember 吸って (sutte) (breath out). With your arms stretched out in front of you, palms down on the dojo, keep your head up and neck parallel with your back and continue to breath out and push/ pull yourself deeper. Keep on breathing and when you breathe out, stretch deeper and deeper.

You should take this seriously but not make a meal out of it; it's not going to take you to Nirvana, but with the other nine patterns we do in sit down lessons, they certainly do make you feel better.

Timing: Keep on doing this stretch for a good few minutes. Essential: Keep back straight as possible and bend from hip, keeping back straight, keep breathing fluid- failure to do any of these will heavily discount the effectiveness of the stretch of the lower back, shoulders and knees. Advanced: (a) Use hands to track left and right as far as 45 degrees- this really is useful for adding in flexibility for the hip joints (b) have a partner GENTLY push your lower back, timed with your breathing out.

Next Time: 交差座り (Kosa-zuwari) (Cross Legs Stretch)

Yoroshiku :-)


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