Ken Osborne who led the Clinic, with our own Godan Randy McClure!
On May 17 and 18 a crowd of 56 people gathered at the Ohshima Dojo.SKA practitioners from as far away as Washington D.C. had arrived at the outskirts above Santa Barbara. They were drawn by the opportunity to practice the footsweep with its best known practitioner, Ken Osborne. He was to be assisted by Randy McClure. The Cal Tech Karate Club had organized the weekend event, which was to be held over two practices on Saturday and one on Sunday morning.
Ken began the proceedings with a renaming of the seminar from "Dynamic Footsweeps" to "Shock and Awe". Amid the enthusiastic murmuring that went on, Ken added a further amendment, calling it, "the know-how to get your opponent embedded in the floor." At that, participants began entering a world akin to "Now you see it, now you don't." Within the mix of illusional tricks, the footsweep is an example of the eye not keeping up with what is happening in front of it. Done correctly, Ken said, the opponent has no idea that he/she is about to be swept. That is why, Ken pointed out, the footsweep should be difficult to defend against. In the case of an experienced footsweeper, when the intent is to put the opponent down, down the opponent will go. The first session began with Ken pointing out how unstable we are as creatures that walk on two feet. Our bipedal habit leaves our balance vulnerable. That vulnerability can be exploited. To demonstrate this, Ken had the group stand on one leg and lean first to one side then the other. In each case, people stumbled. Ken changed the format, directing people to lean while standing on two feet. People continued to topple. By the time they had finished, everyone had leaned off a front stance, back stance, and a horse stance, all with the same results. As he addressed the elements of his specialty, Ken emphasized the four components that allow an opponent to leave his feet as easily as slipping on a banana peel. These were balance, angles, leverage, and gravity. This latter aspect Ken reiterated throughout the practices, as though if everything else failed to show up, gravity was always going to be present.
Once you kept in mind the basics, Ken told his audience, footsweeps were easy to learn. He extolled their use and said that a smaller person always evened a playing field with a larger opponent who had been upended on his back. That concept was demonstrated by Ken with selected members of the audience. When sweeping with a scissor style, he showed us, you come in hard with your hips. Your arm crosses your opponent's chest from the front and your leg sweeps behind your opponent's legs from behind. No wiggle room is provided for an opponent to escape except a horizontal landing. On several occasions, Ken emphasized knowing the type of fighter you faced. To control an opponent, you wanted to know how he would react to a feint. If he held his ground, keeping a front leg bent in front of you, your sweeping target became his front leg. If he stepped back, the sweep targeted his back leg. Each technique Ken demonstrated was effective. Whether he focused on the front leg or the back, the result was the same. An opponent ended on the floor. But it came with a set-up, which meant, Ken repeated, we had to know the style of fighter in front of us.
The time came when we faced our own opponents. These opponents with whom we would practice footsweeps did not hurry onto the floor. The group enlisted was made of plastic trash cans. Ken spoke warmly of practicing with his own plastic can, one on which he'd written, "My workout buddy". We formed lines of fledgling footsweepers ready to do our worst, and soon, a clamor of can- kicking resonated through the dojo. We kicked, we stumbled, we hopped, and we limped. And although the cans held up better than our feet and ankles sometimes did, we came away with a better understanding of the principles Ken had been explaining. For the second session, one held in the afternoon, we stayed with the format followed during the earlier practice. Trash cans were placed once more in front of our gauntlet. For a second time that day, a jamboree was underway. The air echoed with incessant "popping" as cans were repeatedly kicked. People pounded the plastic "opponents" with a force that would not have been possible on another person. But it was that kind of energy that allowed success at the level needed to footsweep a human opponent. The final day began with Ken speaking about the need to maintain a working distance between yourself and your opponent. Ken described the distance and connection as a bubble. It was imperative to stay within the outline of the bubble. Too close and the bubble collapses, eliminating realistic encounters. Too far and you step outside the bubble losing the realism needed to face an opponent.
The concept of the bubble was carried to the floor in our work with human opponents, the trash cans having been given Sunday off. In working with a person, Ken wanted an opening attack to the face followed by a drive in with the hips, a movement that forced a person upward and backward. As had been demonstrated previously, an attacker's leg sweep across from below while an arm crossed from above placing an opponent in the hands of gravity. During the practice, nobody was turned completely over to gravity's mercy. We worked on the techniques with the stipulation of not sending anyone crashing to the floor.
With participants flush from the excitement of working on the basics of footsweeping, the last session ended with a visit by Mr. Ohshima. Throughout the lessons, Ken had laced his instruction with humor. His warmest comments involved his relationship with Mr. Ohshima. With Mr. Ohshima listening alongside the rest of us, Ken told stories involving the two of them. One story was that after performing his kata, Ken was told by Mr. Ohshima, "Kenny, if that's not your favorite kata, you don't need to do it." Another involved Godan testing and how the night before grading Mr. Ohshima looked at him and said, "Ken, in your case, I wish you could grade for yodan and a half."
Seeing the warmth of their friendship was the right elixir on which to end the weekend. It had been a generous gathering of knowledge, humor, and camaraderie. The groundwork had been laid for a future seminar to build on what Ken introduced to us. We would be able to polish our initial glimpses into the art and magic of foot sweeping. And once more, the cacophony of pounding cans will emanate across the hills over Santa Barbara.
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