Thursday, October 27, 2016
To elaborate on planes of motion and centering, I attach the Da Vinci sketch at the left. If you observe the diagram carefully, you can see the center of the circle is not at the head or chest of the man. It is at the waistline. Specifically, in Japanese martial arts this point is called Tanden and represents the center of gravity --- a very important point in aikido, jujitsu and judo.
When I teach throws, I am always careful to emphasize how important it is not to just pull or push the opponent, but rather to concentrate on moving the line of their hips. This means that we should be trying to get their tanden to rise off the ground, at which point we can easily unbalance for a sweep or load the opponent onto our own hips for a throw. Likewise for defense, consciously keeping your hips low and away from your opponent is a central tenet of judo.
When fighters are mismatched, one being much taller than the other, there is often a tendency for the shorter to reach up to grab his or her opponent. Instead, I would suggest focusing on connecting the taller person to your hips/tanden and bringing them DOWN. Connecting them to your hips/center has a dual effect of making them easier to move, since you move them with your hips and body weight rather than just your arms, as well as compromising their balance by making their spine bend to meet your hip line. In good aikido it is very common to redirect Uke's arm to your belt line before using a control or a throw - good examples include kote gaeshi, shomen irimi nage and tenchi nage. Even for techniques which start on a higher line, such as Ikkajo, it is important to "row" the motion back to the hip line in order to get the maximum power. My teachers used to advise me to "put their hand in my front pocket" meaning to bring Uke's hand and arm down to my belt line before executing the throw. I have tried to remember this idea in my practice since.
The idea of the "dynamic sphere" is expressed in Oscar Ratti's excellent book "Aikido and The Dynamic Sphere" and clearly illustrates not only the principles of centering (connecting to the hips) but also of centrifugal force, which is the foundation principle for spinal rotation techniques (tenkan) in aikido, where we use the spinal axis rotation by pivoting to capture, control and project or guide uke to the ground. Spinal rotations driven by the hips also serve to disperse an attacker's aggressive energy by dissipating it in a circular flow around us rather than making us receive it directly into our own balance and structure. In Kali it is rarer to use such pivots, but the principle is the same when we pass using Suliwas or other parrying flows.
Of course, centering is an important metaphor outside the dojo as well. Every day there are many things which happen that could cause us to reach out and lose our balance instead of remaining centered. Breathing, posture and focused movement are just as important in our everyday lives as they are in our training.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Out of a full weekend of fantastic sharing and training it is hard to find any one activity that stands out --- it was jam packed full of awesomeness. For some it might have been karambit team-teaching, where each of the instructors showed a karambit technique for the group. That was crazy good. However, for me one drill by Guro Guillaume continues to resonate with me.
Guro Guillaume is a giant of a man. standing at over 190cm and 100kg he is truly intimidating. For his size, he moves deceptively fast and smooth, and his many years of Kali training (he was one of Guro Fred's first students in Singapore) have given him an instinctive and graceful way of flowing. Trust me, you'd never want him to be angry at you. At the same time, he is a loving husband and father, and a wonderful friend as well. His martial arts is deeply rooted in spiritualism and psychology and he has incredible insights into the human soul. He is a deep thinker and a perceptive student of people.
He gave us a very simple exercise --- stand directly in front of your partner and look deeply into his or her eyes. Say nothing. Just --- look. Allow yourself to meet their gaze and connect. Allow yourself to let go of your conscious feelings about who they are and just see them as a human being, as a soul, connected completely to yours. Without identity or classification, neither man nor woman, black or white --- just two perfect human beings. It sounds simple, but is actually more difficult than most people realize. Many people cannot stare into each others eyes at all without looking away or giggling nervously. The eyes are just too intense and we begin to feel uncomfortable. We have to keep breathing and focus on just looking deeply and letting go.
I was so lucky to have gotten the chance to do this exercise with my Kali brother and inspiration, Guro Vince. When we relaxed and I stared into his eyes I was instantly taken back to the old dojo on Yan Kit Road where he and I first met --- my very first night when I was hypnotized by how he moved so effortlessly and dreaming of being like that someday. When Guro Fred and the others were like magic and every moment was a wonder as new doors opened for me. Without realizing it, tears were flowing down my face. Tears of admiration for my dear friend and the amazing journey he has been on - this Kali journey we are on together. I was overwhelmed feeling how lucky we both are. I was so grateful to be standing there looking into the compassionate eyes of my brother. I had missed him so much, and seeing his face brought back so many precious memories. That exercise was a very special moment for me.
Later on, we all discussed it. The real goal of the exercise is not recognition. In fact, just the opposite. It is to break through any higher level thinking and just connect soul to soul. This means that it should be just as powerful with a total stranger as it would be with your closest friend. By this definition, it was not a success. However, I could not have been happier with what happened. There will be other times to practice this, with many other people. I am glad I got to try this with someone who means so much to me and who has been such an inspiration on my own journey.
The lesson is a simple one - connectedness. It is a practice in engaging each other without any kind of judgement - just as two perfect human beings. It is a powerful way of sharing and opening our hearts to each other, something I think this modern world desperately needs.
They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and I was reminded how true this is.
I encourage you to try this exercise for yourself and see the result.
You may find it as powerful as I did.
Look Inside. Connect. WE ARE ALL ONE.
Saturday, October 08, 2016
Recently I find myself repeating one phrase almost every day in a variety of circumstances - "Own the Outcome".
By this, I mean that we owe it to ourselves not to leave important things to random chance. Instead, we need to consider the outcomes we want and make deliberate steps toward them. We need to assert our will and control over the situations we can influence so that we can have the right results.
I know that not every situation is under our control, but I also find that we can all have far more influence over the outcomes in our lives than we probably realize. Martial Arts training is, at its core, a foundation to establish and reinforce goal setting and goal achievement. We start each new level (belt) with a set of techniques to master and by the end, to achieve our next belt, we show the teachers what we have learned. We prove to ourselves again and again that we can set new goals and, through hard work, focus and dedication, achieve these goals time after time. We demonstrate to ourselves that we are winners - that we are in control. We Own the Outcome.
Outside of class it is no different. Whether at work, at school or at home, we can always set and achieve goals. We can own the outcome of the things which are important to us by taking an active approach to engaging each task according to our plans. Plans change, and adjusting is part of owning the outcome. We do not affix blame; instead we accept causality and adjust accordingly. Accepting feedback is an important part of tracking progress, and we use this to keep control on each step of our journey.
Owning the Outcome includes owning bad outcomes, too. We must accept responsibility for our actions including mistakes we inevitably make. Owning the outcome means forgiving yourself so you can be free to continue to move forward; accepting responsibility but not dwelling in negativity.
As an instructor, we have many outcomes we own --- outcomes for ourselves as instructors; outcomes for each student in our care (hopefully aligned with their desired outcomes for their training) and overall outcomes for the school which we contribute to. We are part of a broader fabric and community, not just as individuals but collectively.
Unexpected developments are a part of daily life, but accidents rarely happen. Most of the time, if we are focused on owning the outcome, we can foresee potential problems early enough to take preventive measures and avoid them. When we can't, we need to adjust and be flexible without losing sight of the outcomes we want.
Fear, despair and depression are often the result of a (perceived) loss of control - the hopelessness of being unable to create change in our situation. Developing a habit and discipline of Owning the Outcome is a great way to stay positive and keep momentum. Empowerment is KEY.
I apologize in advance for those of you that see me regularly - expect to keep hearing this phrase since it applies so often.
Wednesday, October 05, 2016
Note the above. This is a clip from the final fight scene in the movie "The Revenant". If you have not seen it, please do. In my opinion this is A FIGHT. A realistic-looking fight between two people. There are weapons involved, there is blood EVERYWHERE, fingers and ears go missing...and finally one fatally wounded combatant, possibly two.
Yes, I know it's a movie. The point I am trying to make is that the definition of a "fight" can vary greatly from person to person. To some it is the pride-based "monkey dance". To others MMA or boxing or even Muay Thai are "fighting". Still to others, it is a life-or-death struggle to survive against potentially unfair odds. You don't know until you are in it, and to be sure you are the one to walk away you must be ready to go as far as is needed to end the situation with minimal harm to yourself.
Sometimes I hear people whisper "I could take him" under their breath when they see people in the dojo train or spar. Could you?? Are you sure??
How can you accurately predict what kind of fight that would be? How do you know without any doubt that person does not have a switch that takes them straight into pure survival mode where they will bite chunks out of your face, tear out your eyes, and stomp you without mercy until you are dead or crippled? Can you really be 100% sure?
After 35 years in and around martial arts, in my daily life I am rarely afraid. That said, I still avoid every single fight I can avoid. That's right. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Because fights are unpredictable and people are unpredictable I talk my way out, walk away or run away if I can every time. Given an alternative I simply won't fight. When I am given no alternative, my definition of a fight has no rules, no time limit, and no referee. It ends when I end the other person's will to continue or they end me. I will grab the nearest usable weapon I can find. I will use any and all unfair means to my fullest advantage. I fight DIRTY. I suggest you do, too.
Don't assume your definition of a fight is your opponent's. Don't assume the other guy will fight fair.
Never underestimate how savage a fight can be, or how quickly it can escalate into deadly use of force. When cornered, get on the offensive quickly and deliver the maximum violence in the minimum time. Don't stop until you are completely sure it is over. Then, get out of there as fast as you possibly can. Protect yourself at all times. Be the one who walks away.