Monday, December 30, 2013

Kung Fu: Fujian White Crane: Montreal, QC

Background: I met Shifu* Lorne Bernard many years ago in Baltimore at the U.S. International Kuoshu Championship. If you asked him he probably couldn’t even reference our first meeting as his mind was preoccupied on getting a fighter ready to compete. Coupled with the fact I was acting like most tournament newbies, hanging quietly off my Sifu’s shoulder clutching the medals I have just won in forms and weapons, I was quite unmemorable. After a brief conversation between teachers, Shifu Bernard congratulated me on placing and walked his fighter to the ring. That year his fighter, Etienne, would finish 3rd in the full contact Lei Tai.

The reason I tell this story is that I met Shifu Bernard’s fighter, Etienne Métayer, a year later while preparing for the Lei Tai in Baltimore once more. Etienne came to the school I was training at in order to learn defenses against wrestlers and takedowns. I had started fighting in full contact tournaments and due to our size Etienne and I became sparring partners, each helping the other prepare for our own fights. From the lessons that he had learned for Shifu Bernard, Etienne brought a unique fighting style that forced me to adapt my strategies.

Etienne would go on to win gold in the Lei Tai and I would win all my matches that year. Before I ever formally learned a lesson from Shifu Bernard I had the lessons of Fujian White Crane transmitted to me through the fists of one of his fighters. The other reason I tell this story is because it demonstrates Shifu Bernard’s commitment to excellence and constant improvement that his students see. This drive to use Traditional Kung Fu coupled  with an impressive record makes Shifu Bernard a top instructor.
Shifu Lorne Bernard and his fighter Etienne after winning the Lei Tai.
Photo credit of Shifu Bernard's Facebook.

What did I learn: There are few instructors that will open a training session with “Do you like your sex life?” Puzzled I admitted it was rather important to me. No sooner then I finished Shifu Bernard’s foot was between my legs. You can believe that when he suggested I switch my stance to protect my groin I agreed and made some adjustments.

If you were to walk into the beginning of Shifu’s Class and didn't know what was going on you would bear witness to a seemingly ridiculous scene. Lines of people with their feet spaced apart, feet turned inward, crouching down and flicking their hands out to each side. When you dive into the movement you understand that the White Crane practitioners are building muscle in their legs while heightening their reflexes and hand speed. They develop wicked hand speed and striking reflexes via these drills. I can attest to this having been on the receiving end of those very fast strikes. 
A very grateful Travelling Ronin with Shifu Lorne Bernard.  

What was similar to my previous training: In order to have a better understanding of Fujian White Crane Shifu had me stand on a line and practice transitioning to one their basic stances. Once I was getting the hang of the movement Shifu explained that I was learning to “eat my opponent’s stance.” The footwork allowed a transition to a sweep that I use all the time. However, I had never thought to transition to the sweep in that manner. Shifu Bernard had me work on a seemingly beginner exercise only give me another entry into much more advanced techniques.

Later that night we worked on push body and push hands along with some striking drills. The White Crane system was coming full circle. The footwork and basic forms I had worked on led to striking. The striking speed was a by-product of the reflex drills we had begun class with. Once you got in close the basics of uprooting and unbalancing an opponent were applied to keep the initiative. The Fujian White Crane system might structure movements slightly differently yet the completeness reminded me much of my Sifu’s training.

Myself and three of Shifu Bernard's senior students. They took time from their training
to help me out. True Martial Artists and gentlemen.

Conclusion: People have asked me if I get bored of learning basics when I visit a school. The answer is no because it opens up new avenues for my advanced techniques. When viewed in isolation people might question the effectiveness of push hands or the reflex drills. After all no fight will ever look like push hands with the fluid rolling of the fighters. When looked at from a holistic view those individual drills are the building blocks of a very powerful system from the initial engagement to the conclusion of the fight.

Shifu Bernard’s emphasis on traditional techniques and his systems heritage is what makes him a great instructor. If you are looking for Chinese Martial Arts that are taught with a traditional focus yet with proven results he is a wealth of knowledge. 

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham

* You will see both Shifu and Sifu in this blog. Both are accepted and I have chosen to keep the spelling consistent to how each teacher writes their title. This leads to both spelling being used interchangeably

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

HEMA: Arte Dimicatoria: Montreal, QC

Background: Weapons have always been an interest of mine; however, I have lacked suitable practice partners in the past. The fault belongs to me for not adequately seeking them out and only dabbling in edged weapons. It was an easy excuse and I was talented enough to be one of the better fighters when we did practice them. However, it is easy to be among the best when you look no further than your own walls and this didn't satisfy me.

I first met Pascal and Katia in Ottawa at the Borealis Sword Symposium over the summer. Another friend of mine, Chris Ouellet, invited me to the tournament and I couldn't help myself. I registered to fight and had a marvellous introduction to the world of Historical European Martial Arts or HEMA for short. In talking with Pascal I found that they trained in Montreal and was invited to join them. Since I maintain a partial residence there this was a great match for me.

 Katia and I exchange with the nylon simulation swords. 
She is being nice since I lacked a gambeson and not using blunted steel.

Over the past three months I have trained with Arte Dimicatoria whenever I had the good fortune of being in Montreal. They are fantastic fencers and taught me a lot about how to handle a sword. I found myself immersed in a school that sends fighters to tournaments and are training to compete. My previous experience with weapons didn't hold a candle to the training these guys did.

What did I learn: The lessons I took from Arte Dimicatoria were many and varied. First, I learned that swinging a longsword or a sidesword is tough work. The swords themselves don’t weight much, only about 3 – 5 pounds and you wouldn’t think that they would be hard to swing. However, once the blade is in motion it can be quite taxing. By the end of an evening of training you will have had a great workout.
Pascal and I cross blades. It is like a deadly game of push hands.

Combat also happens much faster than it does in boxing or MMA. Normally you have the option to feel an opponent out and get a sense of their rhythm. This luxury is completely removed in sword fighting. You have to treat every attack as though it could end the fight. There are no little mistakes to brush aside since you have steel buried in you (Figuratively speaking of course). This makes the three minute rounds that we were fighting far more intense than hand sparring.

What was similar to my previous training: Many of the principles of keeping control of your centerline could be taken from the Northern Mantis Kung Fu I have trained in. Once you get the hang of that than the defenses become much easier execute. The idea of not letting yourself be drawn out and get over extended while defending blended perfectly with the striking that I have done.

Pascal reminds me that dropping my guard to attack his legs
can lead to a better slash across my face.

Arguably the strangest piece was the footwork as it was both the most similar and the most different to use. In many of the striking arts we turn our feet inwards to protect the groin. However, HEMA fighters will turn their knees out leaving the groin opened. When I asked about it the folks at Arte Dimicatoria showed me that with a knee pad when you turn the leg out it always presents armour to the sword. Suddenly that stance made much more sense. Protect the easiest to hit targets as a sword to the knee will end a fight as quickly as to the groin.

Once I got the basic stances down the footwork came reasonably naturally. Many of the steps were remarkably similar to the Northern Mantis foot work. Although, at 6’6 (2m) I had to be lighter on my feet than I normally am and move much faster. Some points reminded me of the dance lessons which I have taken and drove home why dancing used to be such an integral part of warrior culture.

The only thing can truly phase Arte Dimicatoria. 
A bright flash in a dark bar after a great night of training. 

Conclusion: In the end when I had to say goodbye I had met a great group of friends and learned enormously. Even with my spotty attendance I noted a marked increase in my skills with weapons and coordination which I believe will translate into better sparring all around. 

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rules for visiting new schools while travelling.

My name is Martin Fransham and I am a Martial Artist that trains out of Montreal, Quebec. I have been practising for nearly a decade and some time ago I came into a great job that has me travelling around North America. Originally I trained with Sifu John Hum out of Ottawa and can't recommend their club enough. The Kung Fu Brothers and Sisters I have made are some of the finest friends I have.

Wutan Canada after one of our sparring seminars.

However, I moved to Montreal and began the search for a new club or school to call home. I trained at a couple of places chiefly Club Kozak to develop my grappling and ground game. The training I got with Eugene Shewchuk allowed me to go compete in a variety of contests and competitions for which I will always be grateful.

My work had me travelling in increasingly frequent amounts and regular training at a school was very hard. Thus, when the travelling I decided to go see other clubs and schools across North America. With this the "Travelling Ronin" was born.

Going to train with other schools can be a lot of fun and very rewarding. But there are rules and if you are going to walk through the door and train you should follow them. None of these rules are cast in stone but consider them a code of conduct to follow.

Rule 1) You are in their house: Remember, you came to them and not the other way around. Keep your opinions to a polite minimum and train hard. If you aren't open-minded then why are you going to see new schools?

Rule 2) Wear a White Belt: This has two reasons. First, you are there to learn from them and a white belt means you are ready to learn. If you wear a black belt when you go into another school you are establishing yourself as an authority. Remember, rule 1? You are going to them not the other way around. Second, every new school will do exercises that you haven't tried. These new exercises will make you look uncoordinated and sloppy. A white belt lets you get away with it.
Training with Sensei Andre Boudreau of Chisaii Maru Aikido
located on the south shore of Montreal. 

Rule 3) Don't ask to spar: Every instructor fears the "Gunslinger." A Gunslinger is someone that comes out of the blue to fight. You don't know their skill level and they will either be hurt or hurt your students. If you come off as a Gunslinger you are never going to spar or you are going to get hurt. Chances are you will be asked to leave. Instead wait till they ask you to spar. Then, ask to watch a round to see their power. Here is a hint, everyone says they go "light" and everyone has a different definition of what that is.

Rule 4) Buy a shirt or leave a donation: Most schools have shirts for sale or will accept a donation. Consider it a nice thing to do. The instructor has taken time out of his day to train you and let you participate in a class. Be respectful of it.

Rule 5) Have Fun: Enjoy yourself and laugh as you learn new things.

If you are interested in learning more on being a Travelling Ronin check out my Facebook page and feel free to ask questions.

Best Regards,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham

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