Sunday, February 05, 2017

Greatest Hits

As many of you already know, the Kali Majapahit system is built on a rotating curriculum that changes every 3 months.  In each class we do at least 3 different subsystems including single/double sticks, empty hand/knife defense, boxing/kickboxing.  This variety allows us to stay fresh and current with a wide variety of material.

In this cycle we are working on knife defense as one of the sub-systems.  Knife defense is always a tricky subject since in reality the outcome can vary based on a lot of factors including the amount of time the fight itself lasts (longer is worse).  For background, I began to look at statistics compiled from actual knife attacks including those on the street and in prisons ("shankings").

Of about 1,000 recorded knife attacks, they have a lot in common, but rarely seem to follow the common angles of attack (angle 1 and angle 2) that are taught in most FMA styles - even less the kinds of attacks shown in other arts like Aikido/jujitsu/karate/hapkido and so on.  In  a majority of cases the attacks lasted less than 20 seconds and involved the attacker using their free hand to grab or hit while the weapon stabbed repeatedly at different angles like a sewing machine.  It was obvious that no one of any skill level could successfully block all the attacks since some assailants were able to deliver more than 50 stabs in a 20 second span. In many cases, attacks were delivered from the back or a blind angle and involved multiple attackers.  These are all very low percentage survival situations for the victim, regardless of training, strongly suggesting "unfair" fights where the odds are heavily in favor of the attacker(s).

Those victims that survived seemed to have a few things in common:
1) Determine early that a knife/weapon is involved (many did not even know they had been stabbed until afterward)
2) Secure the weapon hand
3) Protect the vital organs (limit stabs to the outside of extremeties)
4) Deliver successive attacks back to the assailant as quickly as possible

This got me thinking that a lot of the flowing styles of knife control/disarms are great for training but may be very hard to execute under pressure on the street, particularly if the knife is not seen beforehand.

In our R.E.D. training, we emphasize alertness/awareness and keeping a protective space around us at all times, which I believe is critical.  The most successful fight is the one you avoid.

Secondly, I am becoming a believer that the first hit tends to decide the fight, especially if the first hit is a decisive one (delivered with force and intent).  In short, the first best hit wins in a majority of cases - knife or not.

In other posts I have discussed the importance of atemi ("striking") in traditional Japanese arts I studied, and as time goes on I am further convinced of the need to develop very fast, hard-hitting striking as a key to surviving violent encounters.  In order to be the one who walks away, you must get to the opponent first - delivering maximum impact repeatedly until the situation is resolved, overwhelming the opponent until they can be controlled.

From an ethical standpoint, these strikes need not be injurious hits (a strong slap to the face can be disruptive as well) but they must necessarily be forceful enough to disrupt the attacker's concentration and switch them from offense to defense, where they can be kept until overwhelmed/subdued.

In "Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere", Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook's seminal study of Aikido, they write about the "Unified Power of Attack" or UPA as a combination of physical, mental and technical elements that form an attack.  It is this UPA which must be disrupted for us to survive an encounter.  The sooner we can do this, the better our chances.

To me, this means that effective training must involve lots of hitting practice.  That practice needs to be from positions of stability both stationary and in motion, and delivered with good body mechanics (engagement of the hips/core, rotation of the shoulders, arm extension, focus).  I think it is also good to spend a lot of time not just on reaction drilling, but also hitting the heavy bag and conditioning the arms and body to delivering impact.  I personally find the the more I hit, the harder I hit since I become accustomed to transferring my maximum energy into the bag every time.

For all encounters, a good rule is to "Get there First with the Most".

 

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Recipes



Please note the above.  Jacques Pepin is a master chef.  Like any master, his skill and insight transcends a single discipline to be universally true of any body of knowledge.

In the video above, he describes the process of making a recipe for carmelized pears, explaining clearly that the goal of a recipe is not to follow the set of instructions to the letter per se, but to recreate the "taste" of a dish.  Doing so requires adjustments due to each variable, condition and circumstance involved each time it is cooked.  This is ART.  All art, every art, involves a sender who shares an experience of the senses with the receiver(s) and can change based on context.

Martial art is no different from this.  At one end of the spectrum, aikido, the way of harmony, creates an experience of "connectedness" between shite and uke - a kind of physical dialogue or moving partner meditation.  As we become more "martial" and less "art", the experience changes to become less cooperative and harmonious.  Nonetheless, performing martial arts techniques creates a result on the receiver - usually involving them becoming unable or unwilling to continue the fight.

Teaching martial arts is not different from teaching cooking (or painting or any other art).  Instead of recipes we have sets of techniques, combinations and drills designed to highlight, illustrate and enhance certain skills of the student.  In reality, these techniques are all subject to changes based on the characteristics of the participants, the terrain, the lighting, the environment and a myriad of other factors. Every fighting encounter is different, just like every time making a dish is different.  Achieving the right outcome is mostly about reading the situation and making the necessary adjustments - that comes from lots of training and experience.  As Pepin explains, following the recipe exactly to the letter would be a disaster.  In retrospect it would be naive to think that following the instructions exactly could have a good result without regard for different conditions.  Yet, we all know many arts that seek total precision in the repetition and imagine that such control can exist outside the dojo.  While this can be an admirable goal for kata, it is not practical (nor possible) in a dynamic, unrehearsed situation.

Among all the martial arts I have seen, Kali is unique and individualized.  By design it allows for each kalista to make the techniques his/her own expression of FMA concepts and principles.  We are free to explore and discover, to create our own unique flow or "taste".  It really cannot be any other way.  The recipes are guidelines, nothing more.  Focus on the flavor and taste rather than the specific process.  Use these techniques as learning tools and examples rather than pre-programmed outcomes.

"One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own."  -  Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Strengths and Weaknesses

(thanks for the inspiration PM)

Great conversation with a dear friend over dinner the other night.
He reminded me of the power of strength and weakness in all of us.

Modern psychology tends to focus on improving our weaknesses.  It suggests that when we find areas of our skills which are weaker than others, we invest additional time and energy in training for balance, making those weak areas as good as the others.  We appreciate the balanced view rather than a focus on a few areas at the expense of others.  Even as fighters, we are taught to excel at all ranges; all distances; all styles; all weapons.  We are all taught to seek Universal Skill.  This, as my friend explains, is a dangerous paradox.

There is a negative spiral associated with our own weaknesses.  We are aware of our weak areas and so we avoid them.  We procrastinate because we know we are not good at them.  Eventually, when no other choice is available, reluctantly we try - knowing that we will not do as well as we would on something else.  Inevitably, this is true and the result is poor.  This fuels the cycle ("see, I knew I couldn't do it") and reinforces in us the fact that we are not good at a particular thing.  With focus, effort and willpower this can be overcome.  For example, I was a terrible swimmer.  I knew it, so I rarely swam.  Because I rarely swam, I never got better.  Each time I tried I gave up after a lap or two, shamefully reminded that I am bad at swimming.  Finally, I took swim lessons.  They were difficult and I made little progress, but eventually I improved.  I am still poor at swimming, but a little better than before.  Lots of effort for minimal gain.

My friend suggests instead investing time and energy in those things we are already good at, seeking instead to become the absolute best at them.  Since we know we have skill already, these tend to be things we enjoy more, which further adds to our motivation.  Ignore the weaknesses, focus on making the strengths invincible.

I considered his words deeply.  In my career, I have become known for having some specialist knowledge and skills which have set me apart and kept me in demand in the job market.  In other areas, I must admit I am weak.  Rather than expending effort to try to improve on these many weak areas, it is far more effective for me to acknowledge them and focus instead on making my strengths even stronger - and getting help or offloading the areas that I am weak at.  This is very productive and helps me use my time most effectively.  Leveraging my strong areas more gives me higher motivation and higher productivity as well.

In martial arts tool, focusing on our strengths is very important.  In FMA particularly, it is a highly individualized art.  We make our own Kali and our own flow, suited to the way we move and our mindset.  Of course, we hope to be well rounded and able to adapt to any changing situation, but it is inefficient to spend huge amounts of time in areas where we have low motivation and little potential skill.  The fact that any of us can do anything is indisputable.  However, time like other resources is finite, and focusing on getting the maximum output for our effort is worth consideration.

The key point here is to invest the time to know yourself deeply.  Understand who you are, what you enjoy and what motivates you.  Many times this is simple trial and error, but it is wise to remember the various activities and the feelings that went along with them.  At the beginning, trying as much as possible, and later selectively narrowing to the things that really matter.

In 2017, I want to highlight and reinforce my strengths both on and off the mats.  I want to be more "ME" and focus much less on what others expect of me.  I want to accentuate my strong areas and do my best to avoid or at least reduce, the time I spend using my weak areas.  I want to be efficient in how I use my time and energy, trying to make every day count and accomplish more with less.

What do you think?  

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Atemi and Irimi

(thanks for the inspiration PH)

A frequent comment by aikido practitioners is that it seems like aikido "doesn't really work".  Most believe that it can work some of the time, under certain circumstances, with an opponent who grabs or closes distance.  Many feel aikido is just not effective against attackers who kick and punch the way a boxer or MMA fighter would do.  This causes a dilemma, since self-defense is an expected goal of aikido training.  I have written about this before, but maybe it's time to expand a bit.


Background of Aikido - The Old Days
Aikido was derived from a handful of traditional Japanese martial arts that O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba studied during his formative years.  These arts were originally combat systems designed to incapacitate or kill enemies, and rounded out a traditional warrior curriculum that started with bow, then spear, and ended up centered around the ever-present long sword (katana). Ueshiba was highly proficient in spear and sword, as well as the empty hand expressions that derived from them.  Even today, most aikido schools spend time with bokken/jo and some even use real steel blades or cross-train in Iaijutsu/Kenjutsu or other battlefield styles.  These systems understood that one of the main objectives was to disarm and bring the enemy to the ground, where they could be controlled (and killed) more easily.  For this reason, traditional arts like Daito Ryu emphasized unbalancing and joint-locking/breaking in their systems.  For opponents who might be armored, a drop to the hard ground would effectively take them out of the fight.  Armor offered protection against strikes, but articulated joints were still vulnerable and helped to get an enemy off their feet.

Some Universal Principles
When dealing with an armed opponent, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Get Inside --- at range you will be unable to attack.  you need to get inside the weapon arc as fast as possible
  • Control the head/neck/spine --- taking the structure means taking the balance and strength
  • Bring them down --- on the ground, a lot of striking power is lost.  Adding impact via projection helps disrupt the attacking intention and energy

It is important to note that all of these principles still exist in modern aikido, just as they did in the foundation arts that aikido was born from.  This means that on balance, aikido is still (or can be) the devastating combat art that is its' heritage.

So, what changed??

Modern Aikido and O-Sensei's Vision
As a young man, Morihei Ueshiba was a ferocious warrior.  His body was very strong from years of hard training, and even in his mid-seventies he had the foundation of muscle from his youthful training.  After the war years, he became committed to peace and harmony, hence even choosing the name of Aikido (the Harmonizing Way).  Over the course of his life, he became further and further from the combat aspects of his lineage and closer to the spiritual nature of his religious beliefs as an Omote-Kyo priest, ultimately declaring that his power "came directly from God". Techniques were adapted and redesigned to be less violent, and ukemi (breakfalls) were added to make them easier to practice.  The original techniques do not have ukemi.  

Modern aikido's many stylistic variations are largely due to different disciples having trained with O-Sensei at different times during his life, where his philosophy and teaching methods would have naturally had different focus areas.  Teachers who were with him in the early days have aikido flavors which are more aggressive and self-defense oriented (Yoshinkan/Tomiki/Iwama). Others are more spiritual (Shinshintoitsu, Ki Society).  There is nothing wrong with any of these, of course, they merely represent different blends of "martial" and "art".

The Modern Urban Battlefield
If you are one of the people seeking to make your aikido as effective as possible as a fighting style, there are a few things that I recommend focusing on:

1) Atemi "striking" and Irimi "entering"
This is at the heart of fighting using aikido.  I have written about this before on my blog and my opinion is unchanged.  Rather, over the interim years I would highlight this even more.  To create opportunity to execute a control or projection, atemi is a must.  If the opponent had a helmet or other face protection, instead of striking the face, atemi would mean moving the chin backward or to either side.  This disrupts the balance and is the beginning of control.  Harder styles suggest the atemi should be a knockout quality chop or punch to the face and I tend to agree.  If not, moving the chin is a secondary option.  Weak atemi is useless and leads to a misguided belief in the effectiveness of techniques for self-defense.  Note this blog's caption photo, where atemi is disrupting uke's balance and structure.

To do atemi properly requires excellent timing.  It means closing distance "Irimi" to deliver this strike decisively on a different line from the one the attacker is using (or entering forcefully enough to take the line away).  One should imagine the concept as being TaiAtari (striking with the body), which means explosively driving hips and body forward into attacker's attack and this is how to get inside their attacking arc.

2) Footwork
Footwork is key.  To use atemi properly, footwork needs to get us out of the way and onto a line that will bring our hips and body inside the attacking arc and into position to deliver atemi.  This means rather than evasive footwork, it is important to train "entering footwork" which brings us into immediate contact with uke, just as we deliver atemi.

3) Reactivity
The timing for atemi is developed through practicing reactivity.  This means that at the exact instant of aggressive intent (being touched on the wrist/arm/body) or uke's shoulders moving to wind up a punch, we must explosively drive into them.  If grabbed, atemi is instantly delivered to the face without hesitation.  Training these split-second reactions is important to deny uke the time to block atemi early , and make sure their only option is to tilt their head back and lose balance, opening up the opportunity for control or projection.

4) Disruptive Energy
Because of ego, most aikido schools do not train atemi hard enough (or at all).  Students feel afraid when shite comes rocketing in explosively delivering atemi (chop or punch) to their faces.  They stop coming to class because it is intimidating and uncomfortable.  However, learning to feel this disruptive energy and remain relaxed is also very, very important.  In aikido, tension makes techniques hurt worse and increases the chance of injury to uke.

5) Pain versus Injury in Aikido
To effect control or lead to projection, causing pain is sometimes necessary. Expert atemi can get the same result without pain but this takes a while to master.  For the rest of us, disrupting uke's aggressive intent requires causing pain.  Done dynamically, most of the aikido controls hurt. This pain disrupts uke's concentration and sets up shite's next movement (pin or projection). Again, most schools don't train this was because of ego, but experiencing this as both shite and uke is very important, as I have written here.  Learning to give and get pain without panicking is part of our journey to overcoming fear, which should be an objective of any martial art.

Ueshiba's aikido is compassionate and we are strongly encouraged not to injure others.  That said, pain is a great teacher, and it is often necessary to persuade uke to stop being aggressive or violent.  I contentd that in a confrontation I either have to hurt you or injure you.  I prefer to hurt, since once I stop the pain goes away.  If I injure someone they will need medical care to recover.  From a karmic (as well as legal) perspective, this is to be avoided if at all possible.

In this clip you can see some atemi set ups, but also a lot of cases where pain is used to disrupt uke from resisting the handcuffs being applied.  Law enforcement are generally not let to use atemi for legal liability reasons, but the use of pain for compliance is well understood and routine (unfortunately due to lack of sufficient training, many officers injure suspects as well).

In Summary
It should come as no great surprise that in your aikido journey, you are the product of your practice.  In a fight, you will move like you train.  There are many ways to experience aikido, all of them valuable.  If your goal is self-defense, I encourage you to develop your training to hone the tools that help most for this --- specifically atemi and irimi.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Greatest Hits starring Kuya Doug

This weekend was one for the history books.
If you missed it I feel very sorry for you.

Thanks to great work from our dear friends at Shin Kali, we were lucky to attend a weekend seminar by a living legend of Filipino Martial Arts - Kuya Doug Marcaida of Marcaida Kali.

TLDR version --- TRAIN WITH HIM.

Many people would know him from his excellent television show, "Forged in Fire", but FMA people like me have been watching his Youtube Channel from the very beginning, always amazed by his flow and ideas, and hoping someday to learn "The Kali Way" how he understands it.  He is especially famous for his smooth, effortless flows involving the karambit.  He is also part of the Funker Tactical team which host many of his videos.

Rochester, New York, is very far from Tokyo, and Kuya Doug is often on the road doing seminars and teaching law enforcement/military and doing other events.  It's been 6 years since he visited Japan.  We hope he will make this an annual stop (hint hint).

Over the course of a two-day weekend seminar we covered karambit, tomahawk, single/double stick and empty hands applications.  As expected, Kuya Doug is at such a high level of skill and understanding that you will simply not find better - anywhere.  His teaching style is informal and relaxed (he is, too) but if you listen carefully, he gives the essence for how to train and improve.

Beyond technique, he is a great man, and gives a constant reinforcing message about the true purpose of our training - to make us better people.  Kuya Doug is a veteran, and also spent more than 20 years in the medical field as a respiratory therapist.  He gives back to the community and is dedicated to helping other warriors adjust to become functional in society again.  Every conversation with him will give you something to think about, and he is very approachable and always willing to share.  He is an honest example of what is possible if we train smart.  He is a true inspiration.

I will not give any specific techniques here (sorry) since you NEED to attend in person and feel his magic firsthand.  Go and train with Kuya Doug any way/anywhere you can.  SEEK HIM OUT and find out for yourself why he is so respected.  You will not be disappointed.

Some "greatest hits" from the seminar below:

YOU ARE THE WEAPON
The stick and blade are not dangerous in or of themselves.  The person is the weapon.  Fighting is a state of mind, being able to find calmness and relaxation in chaos.  Weapons work because they are functional and act as force multipliers.  In our lives we must aspire to be the same way - in our jobs, with our families and other social groups we should become functional and capable, and our presence should make everything better.  Every one of us can be a positive "force multiplier" in the world.

Drilling Down
For each drill, deeply explore its purpose and the practical benefits it can give to fighting in terms of improving our understanding of timing, distance, accuracy, control, power, speed.  Drills are a framework but it is very important not to be stuck in them, only to use them to develop skills and familiarity with weapons - NOT as fighting techniques in or of themselves.  One of the most important attributes is ACCURACY in targeting specific points such as eyes and throat, and it is worth investing a lot in training specifically for this.

Of Each Thing Ask "What is it, in and of itself?"
This famous quote from Marcus Aurelius reminds us that each tool of fighting has unique attributes, but there are common tools visible and invisible all around us.  Each tool is straight or curved, edged or impact, hard or soft and these give it certain characteristics which we must master.  Mastering one tool helps master all similar tools.  Thus, everything is a weapon.  Our bodies move like weapons also, forearms can function like sticks; elbows like daggers, arms like karambits. Shoulders and hips/knees and elbows/hands and wrists/fingers and toes are all the same body structures replicated on high and low lines and similar techniques work on both.

Tomahawk
Some weapons, like the tomahawk, are comprised of elements of some others (the handle is an impact weapon, the beard is a cutting/hooking weapon, the back spike is a stabbing weapon). However, taken as a set of disparate functions, even a complex weapon can be easily understood based on what we already learn in basic FMA.  This extends to anything else at hand.  Everything is a weapon.

Fight Like You Walk, Walk Like You Fight
Kuya Doug reminded us to stay natural in all our movements.  Be efficient and easy with our footwork.  No low stances or twisting of the body.  Balance is key and being able to move naturally at all times is the goal.

Doubling Up
Great training in double stick focusing on imagining double stick as sword and shield.  The sword and shield roles switch between the sticks (beauty of FMA) but blocking with one and hitting with the other is an important concept to remember when training.  Double sticks are a long range system, so keep distance.

KEEP MOVING
An army that cannot move cannot fight.  In FMA mobility is key and we want to keep moving all the time.  Even simple footwork drills can have great effect if they are fluent and used correctly. Good fighters use all lines (high/medium/low) and all ranges to their best effect, and good training methods divide the areas into "sectors" for ease of understanding.  The Clock Method is a great way to explain techniques and movements, especially to military.

Plan your work, work your plan
We need to have solid strategy and tactics to be effective fighters.  In life as well, it helps to have a plan with plenty of contingencies for the unexpected.  Drilling is a great way to develop sets of plans for various situations, since the dojo is the safest place for our training.  The key to executing fighting plans is to drill control of our nervous system, so that our body avoids habits and will respond just as our mind directs it. Our awareness should be looking not just for openings in our opponent but weapons nearby, exits and escape routes, other potential aggressors and the like.

DISARMING
Really only one way to actually do this in a fight --- hit the opponent! Hit the hands or head and then, only then, can you have a decent chance to disarm.

There was much, much more.  A weekend is far too short to spend with such an incredible martial artist, and I can't wait to get a chance to train with him again.

PUGAY!

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Fifty

So...this happened.  Now I'm FIFTY.

It's been a very relaxed and mellow birthday weekend, just as I would have wanted.  Plenty of family time, but also some time for reflection.

This morning, messages started flowing in via FB, SMS, mail, etc. from people around the world wishing me well.  I am grateful for everyone who has thought of me today.  Truly, deeply, grateful.

One of my closest friends calls me "the most successful man he knows".  I laughed at first. Later, thinking about it, I realized what he meant.  On a relative value basis, it would be hard for me to aspire to more than I have achieved.  Born to parents in a troubled, dissolving marriage, I was placed into foster care via Illinois Children's Home and Aid Society in Chicago at barely a year old.  I was born premature, underweight and had a non-functioning left eye.  My foster parents, Charles and Dorothy Leonard, already in their 40s, took mercy on me and brought me home to Villa Park, Illinois.  I grew up in idyllic, sleepy suburban Chicago, with long summer nights and longer, harsher winters.  I struggled hard growing up but my foster parents never gave up on me, even when I wanted to give up on myself.

Thinking back on how I started, I often wonder how I ever ended up here in Yokohama.  Kids like me didn't get many lucky breaks.  We didn't hit the lottery.  We didn't grow up to be doctors or lawyers or captains of industry.  Most of us ended up in prison or dead well before our time. Many of us were abused by our foster parents or shuffled from place to place, finally coming to rest in group homes until we would be pushed out at 18 with nowhere to go and no one to go there with. We'd end up... forgotten.  The sad truth is that foster kids just didn't really matter.

Not me.  I was the luckiest kid in the whole world.  My foster family loved me.  I had very few friends, but my friends were true and have been my friends all my life.  I was warm and safe and had clean clothes and enough food.  Other than my eyes, the rest of me worked pretty well.  We had birthday and Christmas and Thanksgiving and Halloween.  Most of the kids I met like me had it much, much worse, including my foster brother.  Through hard work and just plain goddamn stubbornness, I moved my life forward, inch by painful inch sometimes, but FORWARD somehow.
Dreams come true, and I finally made it to Japan - achieving a goal I worked on for more than 10 years.  That was 25 years ago and I've never looked back.  Now I've been in Japan for more than half my life.  No regrets at all.

Today, looking at all your messages, looking at all the people I have known and lives I've been a part of, I feel like my life has MATTERED.  I've been a part of so much.  I've had such a great adventure.  So many people have come into my life and guided me, helped me, and taught me. You've all helped me arrive here - in this moment - and I feel it's been worth the struggle.  I started my life with tears, but along the way you've helped me find laughter.  Thank you for sharing your lives with me.  Words aren't good enough (my words aren't anyway) to tell you all how grateful I am for your attention, your caring, your support.  You've made this life worth living. THANK YOU.

A very special thanks to my wife Sanae, who knows how to make broken things useful again - you taught me how to forgive myself for what happened.  Thanks for my family, especially my wonderful sons, who give me hope for the future.  Thanks to all my friends all around the world who make travelling so enjoyable - I always look forward to seeing you.  Thanks to my teachers for investing in me.  Thanks to my students for trusting and believing in me.  Thanks to my co-workers for supporting me.  Thanks for not giving up on me.

I hope the next phase of my life will be even more about giving back for all the good fortune that I have had.  I want to try to continue to make a difference in this World and never give up advocating for love, peace and understanding.  I want to stay active in the martial arts and continue to guide the next generation of teachers who will help make the world better.
I want to live my life fully until my very last breath.

Thanks again for being part of my story.  Please stick around until the end.
We've got plenty more to go.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Centering

Great class Tuesday night.  We really got into some good expressions of Sinawali 6 outside passing with our students and found some powerful connection points as well which we could use to control our partner.  I kept reminding everyone to control their partners using their centers.  What does it mean?

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.

Stay Centered.