Sunday, July 23, 2017

Like Clockwork

A great afternoon seminar today with Guro Larry Mitchell from Toronto, Canada. Although only 4 hours long, he showed a lot of great material and is a down-to-Earth approachable guy despite more than 30 years of martial arts experience across several disciplines, including as a personal student of Nonoy Gallano.

Similar to the approach shown by Kuya Doug Marcaida during his seminar, and Shihan Kit Acenas of Kali Mundo when he came to Japan, we discussed techniques in terms of positions on a clock face.  This is a common and easy way to refer to Kali movements or even other sporting movements.

There are two key clock face planes to consider.

Vertical Plane
The vertical plane clock face is usually visualized with your opponent standing straight from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock along the center line of the dial.  This plane is effective when explaining striking/kicking movements by describing the path or arc of the weapon.  Thus, striking from head to toe would be 12-6.  Across the waistline would be 3-9 or 9-3.  Diagonals include 11-5 and 5-11, 7-1 and 1-7 and so on.  Most arts have at least 6 basic striking angles and some have 12 or more.  Since many styles use different numbering patters when they teach, referring to a clockface can be an easy way to get everyone on the same page quickly.

Horizontal Plane
The horizontal plane is generally understood as being beneath you when you move, assuming you and standing in the exact center of the dial and facing 12 o'clock when you begin to move.  This clock face is great for explaining footwork and relative position of your partner.  Straight forward and backward are, not unexpectedly, 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock respectively.  Diagonal steps (classic FMA triangular footwork) are described as stepping between 10 and 2.  Reverse triangle steps are between 5 and 7.  Some systems like PTK include stepping to the 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock lines as well.  Combinations include ideas like 7-2-9 which can then describe entering footwork followed by a foot trap or sweep, for example.

The clock face method is a great tool to help share the art with other schools and styles, and the FMA are all about fellowship and togetherness.
Remember, Sharing is Caring!

See you at class!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Sticking with it

(thanks for the inspiration MI)

It's time to get a new stick.  Good.

I know some people who have had the same pair of sticks for a year or more.  Nothing wrong with that of course, but I think if you are training right, from time to time you will break your sticks and need new ones.  Why?

All FMA derive from the blade, and in training, our baston is a proxy for it in many of the drills.  In this case it means that we use the stick as a flowing weapon and are principally concerned with precision.  However, for some students this is all they ever do.  Sadly, some students have never hit anything full power.

In addition to simulating a blade for training, the stick is a very effective fighting weapon in its own right, and as an impact weapon it may be one of the oldest weapons in human history.  Even our standard 28" rattan stick is fearsome. Generally, it will not kill except by accident (a heavy hit to the throat or unlucky hit to the temple, etc.) but delivers excruciating pain accompanied by a large bruising welt - more than enough to dissuade an attacker.  The combat sticks made of kamagong (Filipino Ironwood) or resin will easily kill on impact to the head and should be treated with no less caution and respect than a live blade.

At the first Peaceful Warrior Camp in Bali, when we were working 5 count sombrada drills Guro Claes and his students from Kali De Mano introduced the idea of training using "quality strikes", meaning that each hit should have power, focus and intention, and the result was broken sticks after the first few days of training. I discovered that this often happens when your training partner is a 2 meter tall, 120 kg viking...  Now, I always bring at least one spare pair ;-)

Power hitting is a very important part of stick training, since we need to learn how to have proper posture and body mechanics (arm extension, wrist/knee flexion, hip/spine rotation) to hit with full force.  This training also helps us remember to step off line, since blocking full power strikes is painful if we don't.  It helps us to get used to the impact force on our tendons and ligaments when we hit hard or block hard hits - both of which are important in a real fight.

Of course, during partner drills there is always some risk of being hit, which is why at lower levels we generally train this way only with the foam sticks or thin rattan rather than the heavier combat sticks.  However, at higher levels, training with combat sticks is a must as well.  When needed, MMA gloves (or even Lacrosse gloves - Thanks Kasama Joe) do a good job of protecting the fragile bones of the hands and wrist from impact and allow us to specifically train to target those areas when we attack.  It is also very interesting to blend the rattan/foam sticks into our pad work ("stickboxing") which is a very practical method for training corto into medio and vice versa and is useful in training professionals who may use a collapsible baton.

In summary, our kali sticks are a precious treasure as an important tool in our kali journey.  However, from time to time they need to be sacrificed so our skills can grow.  SWING AWAY!  You can (and should) buy another pair when needed.

See you at class.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Putting the Right Foot Forward

Great seminar last weekend with Guro Daniel Sullivan of Warrior Arts Alliance and head of OC Kickboxing and MMA in Orange County California.

He taught a 12 hour weekend course of Filipino "dirty boxing" involving the various techniques and skills he has developed after 32 years of study and fellowship with Guro Dan Inosanto.

His lessons were filled with hard-hitting (literally) practical tips for improving the stand up game including very practical self-defense applications based on combinations of high-percentages strikes, elbows, knees, claws, stomps and other effective "dirty tricks".  In addition to being a walking encyclopedia of the history of JKD/Jun-Fan and several styles of FMA and silat, he has a very effective teaching method to build muscle memory and fitness/cardio in the way that he drills.  Overall, a fantastic learning experience and I highly recommend anyone to attend his seminars or camps if possible, or to go directly to his facility in Irvine, California.

One of the points he brought up was about how all arts basically start with two things: stance and footwork.  From this we are able to understand what is important to a style and already get a firm grasp of its fighting principles.

We spent the weekend fighting in an orthodox stance, that is, left foot forward.
This can be a challenge for those of us who traditionally fight Southpaw (right foot forward).
Guro Daniel explained the theory of matched/unmatched stances, meaning when we are "matched" with both same side feet forward or "unmatched" when we have opposite feet forward.  He further explained that at least 85% of the opponents we would be likely to face (trained or untrained) will stand left foot forward in order to put their power hand (right hand) back.

In weapon-based arts we are generally taught that we want the dominant hand forward since it is most likely to be holding the weapon and we want the weapon in between the opponent and ourselves.  For us, it is sensible to not have to remember to switch stance from right forward to left forward depending on if we have an active weapon or not.  Thus, we maintain a right foot forward stance at all times.  I like many things about this style.  I like having my power punch in front and being able to load my jab with enough stopping power to pin the opponent for my cross.  I like how the southpaw stance confuses fighters who are used to an orthodox opponent.  I like being able to hitch and load my right leg for kicking.

At the same time I must confess that it gets confusing to translate lengthy, complex combinations into southpaw when I watch videos or attend seminars.  I also hate having to adjust to orthodox fighters, finding that it sometimes confuses me, too.  It also makes it hard to go and train at other gyms or in other styles since I am not as comfortable orthodox as I am southpaw.

Guro Daniel clearly advised that if we choose a Southpaw stance, we should invest plenty of time and energy dealing with orthodox opponents.  To do otherwise is an illusion, and we would be kidding ourselves to imagine we can safely defend ourselves when a majority of the population fight orthodox.  His words rang true.

Ultimately, we must become comfortable to fight at any range or distance, with any weapon, standing or on the ground, since we never know how an encounter will evolve and our survival may depend on adaptability.  For the stand up game this means spending time in both orthodox and southpaw, and working hard on the unmatched position if we choose to keep the integrity of our southpaw art.

The joy of seminars with such masters as Guro Daniel is not just the techniques and the fellowship.  It is the thought-provoking insights that keep me examining the art over and over again.  Heartfelt gratitude to Guro Daniel Sullivan, Guro Tony Davis and Sensei Eian and Shin Kali for arranging the excellent event.

Pugay!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Art of Being Lazy

This is me.

OK, I'm kidding.  It's a pug.
However, it is a very important pug (VIP).

This pug represents one of the most important elements of martial arts - laziness.

Let me explain.  Most people have got it all wrong.
People work very hard.  Too hard.

Even in the dojo, I see students trying so hard.  They push and pull and grunt and sweat.  It's such HARD WORK and they really struggle with it.  Not only is this wrong, it's dangerous.

Martial arts is about EFFICIENCY.  We study the human body to discover how it works.  We learn how all the muscles push and pull.  We study balance and weight shifting.  We explore the ranges of motion of the joints.  We learn about nerve systems and acupuncture points.  We exercise our minds.  WE THINK.  We do this so that we can pick the easiest (laziest?) and most efficient way to end any confrontation with the maximum chance of success and minimum chance of injury. Some simple principles we follow include:

  • apply hard weapons versus weak targets
  • use large muscles rather than small muscles
  • take opponent's balance; keep our own
  • attack the structure first
  • use the simplest possible technique

Martial arts is an ethical practice (at least it should be).  We should not injure others if it can be avoided.  The best way to do this is to take away their balance and structure.  Once this is done, the opponent can usually be controlled and subdued without (or with only minimal) injury.  If we cannot do this, we have no choice but to injure the opponent in order to avoid injury to ourselves or others.

In summary, if I can't control you, I have to injure you.

I don't want to injure ANYONE. Ever.
This inevitably leads to guilt and regret, neither of which are outcomes I want.

In the dojo, it is important to study every technique carefully to understand how the balance and structure of the opponent are affected.  Look for how to use the hips/backs/legs/footwork to achieve this.  Look for the most direct way to engage the opponent's center of gravity and disrupt it.  BE LAZY.  A typical sequence looks something like this:

  1. entering --- get in
  2. contacting --- distract with atemi
  3. connecting --- get a grip
  4. controlling --- move the balance/structure
  5. subduing --- incapacitate/submit
The best techniques have the shortest time through this cycle and often achieve it by combining several steps into one movement.


If you are working too hard, it is usually a sign that you are doing something wrong.  Brute force is almost always the tool of last resort --- both inside and outside the dojo.

Consider this carefully.

Clean Dojo, Clean Heart

(thanks for the inspiration GR)

I LOVE Filipino Martial Arts. A LOT.

Those that know me know that my martial arts journey changed that day I stepped into the rickety old shophouse on Yan Kit road in 2008 for a trial lesson with my teacher, Guro Fred Evrard and met my Kali family --- a journey that is still ongoing for me.

That said, most of my life I have been a traditional Japanese martial artist.  Apart from Kali Majapahit, which is the only art I teach now, my other teaching licenses comprise 25 years of study and are all in very traditional disciplines including Yoshinkan Aikido, Kiyama-Ryu Iaijutsu and Ninjutsu.  I started when I was 14 and have been involved in martial arts all of my adult life.  Without my training, I would not have achieved the success I achieved in my family and career.
This training was how I became who I am.  It is the most precious gift I have.

In a Japanese dojo, we clean.  A LOT.  We clean the dojo mats after every single class (see above) and we do monthly/quarterly big cleaning sessions on weekends where we systematically clean the whole dojo top to bottom.  All of these tasks are done together, teachers and students, regardless of rank.  None of us see this as a chore.  WHY??

At the core of the Japanese martial arts is RESPECT.  The hierarchy looks like this:

  • Respect for life
  • Respect for the art
  • Respect for the teacher
  • Respect for our training partners
  • Respect for self

Respect is the cornerstone of the training.  Without this, we cannot build our character.  Even if my house were messy, my dojo would be spotlessly clean.  My dojo is my HEART, my sacred place where I develop myself.  My temple where I celebrate my life journey with my Kali family.  I keep it clean like I keep myself clean.  I organize the dojo like I organize my Life.  Little things (like cleaning) lead to big things (like success).  I become someone who DOES rather than someone who merely talks about doing.

Yes, punctuality is also a sign of respect (all of the 5 "respects" above).  Life is made up of time - the art is developed over time, our teacher has invested his/her time, our training partners are on time ---> we develop discipline when we learn to be on time.

Every student must keep asking the question "Why am I training?".  Answers may vary, but "becoming a better person" should always be part of the response. Otherwise, if all we learn is how to move our bodies we could do this at a sports gym.  If it is only about punching and kicking we are missing the point.

MARTIAL ARTS IS LEARNING HOW TO MANAGE OUR LIVES TO ACHIEVE THE RESULTS WE WANT

It makes us BETTER PEOPLE.

This is such a powerful skill that it can change our lives forever.  It gives us the tools to help others change their lives too.  If you disagree with me, I suggest you sit down with any one of the Guros and discuss it.  Please do.

My brothers and sisters earned their black belts by understanding this.  Their rank recognizes their commitment not just to their own training and development, but to YOURS.  They have so much, which is why they can give so much (and they do).  This can be you, too.

The starting place is to learn how to suppress the Ego.  This establishes that we are all the same.  Thus, what one can do, anyone can do.  Regardless of social status, race, color or creed when we put on the uniform we are all THE SAME. What someone else can do, I can do (if I train).  This is absolute freedom.

A famous Japanese proverb writes, "The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step"...well, here it is.  Pick up your broom and start your journey.

Let's go TOGETHER.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Home Sweet Home

It feels so good to go home doesn't it?

Home is where you belong, where you can relax and feel comfortable.  Where you BE YOU.  In the absence of any other plan, home is where you would choose to be, together with your family.

For those of us who have frequently moved jobs, moved house, or even moved countries, "home" may not be easy to define.  In my case, as much as I love Yokohama the dojo equally feels like "home".  After a long week at work I am really looking forward to going to the dojo on Friday night to see my Kali family.  No matter what happens at work, my home is my refuge, my safe place where I can leave the outside world OUTSIDE and just have some "quality time" with my class.

Instead of collapsing on the couch in front of the TV, I choose to be on the mats sharing and learning while we train.  It is sometimes said that we make our living from 9-5 but we make our life from 5-9.  In my case, I prefer that 5-9 (7-9 actually) to be at the dojo whenever possible.  There are not too many other places I feel so comfortable.

My first dojo was a converted car garage in Bloomington Heights Illinois.  It felt like home.  Since then I have trained in dojos big and small all over the world.  Some famous and other you wouldn't recognize even if you stood right in front of them. Many of them felt more like home than where I slept at the time.  I fondly remember the KM dojo on Yan Kit Road (humble beginnings) and look forward to being back at the KM HQ in Singapore (one of the best dojo in the world).  Walking up the stairs feels nostalgic and I get a bit emotional every time I pass through the door there.  It feels like a place I BELONG.  The energy heals me.

KM Japan's dojo is a little rental studio in Roppongi near the subway station.
It can feel cramped with a full class, and it is not luxurious by any means, but when I am there I feel a great sense of contentment.  I hope it can be a refuge for us to think about our training and not about work or other worries.  I hope our students feel like part of our family and that they belong, too.

There is no secret formula in martial arts, no magic recipe or sacred scrolls.  There are no shortcuts.  There is only training.  Good, honest training and persistence which improves our skills over time.  Martial arts is the Great Equalizer, since regardless of body type if you have the will to train and invest the time, you will see the results.  The years teach much the days never know.

Of course, good teachers and good training partners matter.  A LOT.  They help you maximize your investment of time and energy and encourage you to remain motivated.  Some days energy is low and stress is high, and the Family is there to keep us focused and make sure we don't skip class if we could be there.

There's No Place Like Home.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trial By Fire

(thanks for the inspiration KJ)

Friday night training followed by a meal together with my students.  For me it doesn't get much better than this.  We talk about a lot of things.  Sometimes we joke, but sometimes we really explore some of the substantive elements of our lives.

This time one of my senior students confided, "I've never been in a fight.  Not a real one, anyway...except a bit of pushing and shoving on the playground.  Not a real fight, though.  How can I teach people about fighting if I've never had to fight?"  A legitimate question.  Rory Miller (career department of corrections officer and author of several excellent books on violent encounters) would suggest that if you haven't done it, you shouldn't be teaching it.  I am not sure I fully agree though.

My explanation was that it all really depends on what you are teaching and what you expect your students to learn.  In the case of Sgt. Miller, his goal was to prepare corrections officers to survive working daily in a hostile environment where they would be challenged by intimidating physicality, potentially multiple (and/or armed) attackers who would need to be made complaint and restrained if necessary.  To achieve this, a menu of practical and devastating self-defense reactions was necessary for the officers' safety.  He taught based on his decades of direct experience handling these encounters.  It works.

By contrast, one of my favorite teachers refused to train his own country's special forces, generally considered an extremely lucrative and prestigious contract.  His reason?  They were field operatives so he would have to teach them to kill, and he was not sure how they would use that knowledge or on whom.  Thus, he wasn't comfortable teaching them.  He said NO.

If you plan to teach soldiers who will be in combat, or officers in the field, or anyone else in harm's way I agree with Sgt. Miller and suggest you do so from your own direct experience. There are many outstanding FMA practitioners who are or have been active law enforcement or elite military.  That is what they offer.

At the same time, there are also many excellent teachers who aspire to something else. Their mission is to help students build their character and discipline and prepare them for the challenges they will face outside the dojo in school, at work, and at home.  They want to give their students the confidence they will need to excel in life and achieve their goals by becoming better people.

My brothers and sisters teaching the KM Kids classes in Singapore are testament to this with the magnificent leaders they help grow.  My role models in other schools like Sensei Ramlan of ShudokanMaster Krenz and Shihan Borkowski are testament to this with the thousands of excellent black belts they have taught that are changing the world for the better.  Of course, my own teachers, Guro Fred and Guro Lila of Kali Majapahit, have a lifelong mission of personal development, health and spirituality which continues to be a great influence on how I choose to live my life.

Martial arts is a vehicle for self-improvement, at least it is for me.

My personal goal is not to prepare my students to kill or maim other people, although the techniques we learn can easily do so if needed.  I have been in violent encounters before (although fortunately not for a very long time), and I continue to feel regret for the harm I caused.  It was not worth the risk of going to prison for aggravated assault.  Learning how I would react under stress was not worth the guilt I feel for having injured another person.   I would have preferred not to know if my skills really worked.

In the end, every teacher has to decide what he or she is teaching their students.
What they learn is as much from what and how we act as it is from what we explicitly teach.  If we exhibit the qualities we want from them, we will influence our students to follow our example and someday exceed us.  I think this is the dream of all good teachers.  It is certainly mine.

See you at class.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Under the Surface

This picture's function is to remind us that fundamentally we are the same.
From the picture, we cannot tell the race, religion or sexual orientation of those people.  It challenges us to look under the surface, past what we see with just our eyes.

I like this picture.  I like it a lot.

However, it is only the first step toward a much deeper awareness of who we are and why we are.

I'd like to take this further...
I'd like a picture where what we see is only what we really are --- our souls.

Who we really are is not the bag of meat and organs that contain us.
It is not even our skeletons (although that is a good start).
This human body is a temporary form for us to reside in during this chapter of our soul's story.  Nothing more, nothing less.

It is here as a vehicle to help us explore and discover, very useful to bring us closer to our potential.  We are all made of the stars, since at some point that is the scientific origin of our matter - all matter actually.  That is where we come from and to where our physical bodies must inevitably return.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  I wrote about this some years ago, using the analogy of cups (body) containing water (soul).

However, we are more than just our bodies.  We are beings of energy and it is precisely that energy, Life Energy, which connects us all - it always has and always will.  Our souls are timeless and our existence immortal.

I do not and will not accept any attempts by others, especially by governments and religious institutions, to promote division and separation of people based on arbitrary criteria like race, gender, sexual orientation, social status or religious beliefs.  I know in my heart we are all one; we are all connected.  Eternally.  I love and accept everyone who loves and accepts me and will never allow myself to be influenced otherwise.  I will allow my soul to shine brightly in the lives of others and light their way just as they light mine.  Together.

I hope for a future when this is the common understanding and we finally let go of what tears us apart so we can truly be connected.

WE
ARE
ONE