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Irimi Practice... Asian Style

by Pauline Walmsley

As I was browsing the Shoto Budo website, I had a read through some of the previous articles and remembered how I had been inspired by the article Graeme had written after his trip to America and his obvious delight at finally fulfilling a lifetime dream. Last year I was lucky enough to tick another trip off of my own “bucket list” and managed a return visit to Thailand and included a first time visit to Vietnam and Cambodia.

Like Graeme has said in his article, sometimes you just feel a need to practice and he has added some great pictures of himself performing kata at the Grand Canyon. I have to admit, while watching the sunrise over the magnificent Angor Wat in Cambodia, I did feel a “Meikyo Moment” coming on, but tiredness at being woken up at 3.30am to travel in time to see the sunrise, along with the hustle and bustle of hoards of other tourists meant the kata was performed in mind only on this occasion.

However, while browsing through some pictures of the trip recently, I slowly realised that I had been practicing many Shoto Budo skills throughout my travels and I’d like to share some interesting moments with you. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the story and that the pictures will help bring this to life for you. So let’s begin…..having spent a few days chilling out after arriving in Bangkok, Thailand, we headed to Vietnam and began our journey in Hanoi in the North of the country.

Irimi Practice by Pauline Walmsley

Typical street corner, Hanoi, Vietnam

Irimi Practice by Pauline Walmsley

The street that had to be crossed in order to reach my hotel, Hanoi, Vietnam

Irimi Practice by Pauline Walmsley

The train that goes through the street where my hotel was, Hanoi, Vietnam

Ok this is where the fun begins. You’ve seen the pictures, right? So the first day there, Kenny and I are standing at the edge of the road waiting for a break in the never ending sea of motor bikes, cars, bicycles, rickshaws (yes they actually do still have some) and all sorts of carts carrying an assortment of goods, including livestock. After waiting several minutes and realising there probably wasn’t going to be a break in the traffic, we began watching the locals cross the road with an interesting variety of movements. Luckily I had also remembered the advice our daughters Laura and Joanne had given us on their own method of safely negotiating traffic in Hanoi when they were there on a visit a few years ago. They figured out that there is actually a pattern to how the locals drive, on a main road it’s straight ahead and no stopping, at a junction or crossroads, it’s straight towards the direction you’re going and no stopping…..remember that and you’ll be fine…..simple! Now all we had to do was cross the road without getting ourselves injured or killed. Using a combination of skills, which, on reflection, included ongoing use of perceptual anticipation, pace & lead, side stepping, waving of arms, push hands (I kid you not!) and a few deft kicks here and there…..thankfully we managed to negotiate the never ending traffic and lived to tell the tale injury free.

As we sat eating dinner that night, I was busy commenting on how skilful drivers in Hanoi are, especially the motor cyclists and rickshaw drivers. I was full of praise for their perceptual skills and how they managed to bob and weave in and out of the other traffic and avoid hitting us too. The following day, I had a look around and realised that while Kenny and I were now crossing even the busiest of junctions like locals, most other tourists were struggling with many a bump or near miss happening all over the place, but you do sort of get used to all the horns blaring! So at that point, I began to wonder whether it was in fact the skills of the drivers or perhaps our own skills that were helping us traverse Hanoi safely.

So, having satisfied ourselves with the sights of Hanoi, we then headed south to the town of Hue, Mid Vietnam.

Irimi Practice by Pauline Walmsley

My first ever time on a motor bike, Hue, Vietnam

Much to my reluctance, this is where I encountered my first ever motor bike ride. Having seen how these are driven in Hanoi, I was, as you might imagine, just a little apprehensive. So how did I end up in this situation? Well, Hue is situated on the banks of the Perfume River and as we walked along on our way to dinner, we were accosted by several boat owners all keen to sign us up to a boat trip. Once again, we found ourselves bobbing and weaving our way through what seemed like a never ending throng of people, Vietnamese boat owners can be extremely persistent, especially if they’ve had a quiet day! It was from this experience that I began to consider the concept of parrying with the body outwith the dojo, very much in Irimi mode of thought as we avoided and evaded even the most aggressive hustling. Returning to our hotel after dinner, we were stopped again by another boat owner, this time a quietly spoken young woman, who offered us a trip the following day which would take in some of the temples we had hoped to visit. I think she had me totally sussed, no hard sell, no body barring on the pathway etc, and so we agreed we would take the boat trip the following day. I have to say, I was somewhat surprised on leaving our hotel after breakfast to find her sitting on the street outside waiting on us!

Irimi Practice by Pauline Walmsley

Dragon boat on Perfume River, Hue, Vietnam

Anyway, we had a pleasant trip down the river, stopping off at a number of temples and historic sites on the way and enjoying a very pleasant lunch, cooked especially to order on board the boat. The motor bike? Well that came a bit later in the day. We made our way further down river to visit another well known temple and as at previous stops, the boat moored in at the side of the river. Only this time we couldn’t see where the temple was. The young woman said she would take us in case we got lost. So off we trekked through what looked like a set of garden allotments, then over some rocky ground to the outskirts of a secluded village. She then proceeded to let out a loud whistle and out from behind the trees came 2 motor cycles, driven by a couple of grinning villagers who spoke no English. We don’t speak Vietnamese either except for a few words, so shouting out “ no way am I getting on that, can you get me a car instead” didn’t wash I’m afraid and that is how I came to be riding on the back of a motor bike in the middle of Vietnam, it was either their way or no way. Again, on reflection, Shoto Budo skills were evident, staying dynamically connected with the driver and the bike was essential as we hurtled our way up and down dirt track roads in the pouring rain to reach the temple, an added bonus for me was the ability to stay orientated with my eyes closed!

Still in one piece, we then headed a bit further south to the beautiful little riverside town of Hoi An. Now anyone who has ever been in Asia will know that it’s famous for tailors and you can have all kinds of designer clothes made to measure while you wait. Hoi An, so we were told, is the tailor capital of Vietnam and no visit would be complete without an outfit or two….. 2 dresses, 3 pairs of trousers, 4 blouses, 2 jackets and 2 pairs of hand made shoes somehow found their way into my travel bag! Maybe my skills of avoiding and evading street hustlers were starting to let me down!

Irimi Practice by Pauline Walmsley

Hoi An Harbour, Vietnam

Continuing to travel southwards, we reached Ho Ch Minh (Saigon) South Vietnam and the sun is shining at last. We visited the famous war museum and read up on some of the history, shed a few tears at the horrendous atrocities and loss of life and marvelled at the ingenious feat of engineering of the Chi Chi tunnels.

Irimi Practice by Pauline Walmsley

War museum, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

It was then on to souvenirs and sore legs…..Having decided that if I continued to buy clothes and shoes at the rate I was doing, I would probably not be able to close my case, so I decided for the rest of the trip I would only purchase some local souvenirs and even then, only if they were very small and light in weight. Try telling that to the shop keepers and stall holders of Ho Ch Minh. They were determined to trap every single tourist within striking distance. We had to continually use deft movements to avoid the hustlers that are the shopkeepers and market stall owners. They go this was and that way and just when you think you are safely through the throng of hustlers, all of a sudden there are several more of them, all apparently highly skilled in the art of blocking your path on all sides… the time we got back to the hotel that evening, I felt like I had I just returned from a national course at Largs!

Irimi Practice by Pauline Walmsley

Angor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

So after a few more days in Vietnam, we headed to Cambodia, I was really looking forward to seeing the historic sights I had heard Laura and Joanne talk about before, especially the temple ruins deep in the jungle around Siem Reap. Now it takes a lot to get me to agree to a trip in a Tuk Tuk at the best of times, but at 4.00am!…..all I can say is, if you ever get the chance, don’t hesitate, in the dark, you don’t notice the potholes (or is that remnants of landmine craters!). Seriously, I was amazed that the locals were able to guide so many tourists through some pretty dangerous territory, both in Tuk Tuks and on foot, with absolutely no mishaps whatsoever. This of course was only apparent when the sun came up and you could actually see where you were going on the return journey. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get any pictures of the crowds either side of me or behind me as we sat in awe of the sun rising over the magnificent sight of the Angor Wat.

Irimi Practice by Pauline Walmsley

Thom Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Sorry guys, I just couldn’t resist this one, helping the demolition team at the temple where Tomb Raiders was filmed. (Lara Croft eat your heart out!)

So as you can hopefully see, Shoto Budo is so embedded in my life that I can’t even go on holiday without practicing at least a few of the skills I’ve learned over the years. Interestingly, for my own continued learning, I’ve also considered which of the DBM models I could use to describe my adventures. For example, in Hanoi, many people appeared to be totally thrown by the never ending sea of traffic, however, I was able to relate the situation to Structure and Orientation. Namely, the structure of the traffic chaos was similar to moving around a confined space in the dojo with more than one attacker, therefore my orientation to the situation was less frightening and much more successful than that of most other tourists because I was able to utilise the transfer of these skills. This ability will have been developed through continual exposure to a range of new experiences allowing new insights and perspectives to form, this will then lead to the development of the skills which allow situational transfer to be made.

The same situation could also be described through Detail, Scope and Connection. This would involve setting a clear “scope” for action, which in this case, would be to cross the road safely, the “details” would be noting influencing factors such as the amount of traffic, the speed of the traffic, small gaps in the traffic etc, along with knowledge of my own body condition and physical ability, the “connections” would be the ability to relate the situation to previous experiences and then use this information to help carry out the action i.e. in this case, to cross the road safely.

Importantly, when looking at the Shoto Budo spiral, I recognised that this model developed by Billy contains many of the skills I utilised during my travels. Under the overarching principle of Self Defence I had to be extremely self aware on many occasions to protect my health and well being. Looking at the details of what I was doing revealed many processes being used such as patterns of timing, movement, direction or body awareness including flexibility, agility and posture, this was particularly evident when reflecting on the avoiding and evading of the many street hustlers that Asia is famous for.

So a few words of advice, if you’re ever in Asia, especially Vietnam, remember to practice Irimi on a daily basis and you’ll be just fine.



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