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:

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.

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.

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.

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.


Sunday, November 06, 2016


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


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.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Eyes Have It

This year's Kali Majapahit Instructor Training Academy (ITA) in Singapore was fantastic in so many ways --- Guro Fred introduced us to his R.E.D. training program and the enhanced HIT elements of our new curriculum, I got to reconnect with my brothers and sisters for a weekend of training, my 14 year old son George flew down to join (and did an amazing job!!), and my veteran students Joe and Will tested and passed Kasama (assistant instructor).  Last but surely not least, Kasama Phil became Kadua Guro Phil (1st dan black belt), my very first student to train up to that level.  I couldn't be more proud of our KM Japan family and how much we have achieved together.

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

Own the Outcome (OTO)

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.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Myth of Silver

One of many interesting conversations I overheard around the time of the Rio Olympics.  I seem to recall the drama surrounding legendary Japanese wrestling Goddess Saori Yoshida, who was apologetic and in tears for having lost to Helen Maroulis in the final to win "only" a silver medal in the Olympic women's 53Kg wrestling this summer.

Genuinely sympathetic, some TV programs empathized with her tears.  Yoshida is truly a legend in women's wrestling, having already won gold in three prior Olympics and won gold in every major championship she attended since 2002.  She had been considered basically invincible.  "Settling" for merely a silver medal must have been humble pie indeed. Saori Yoshida surely wanted to go out undefeated but now will be thinking hard about whether she can still step on the mats in Tokyo in 2020 at 37 years old.

However, the psychology goes a bit deeper than that.  Helen Maroulis had her sights set on Yoshida for years, even choosing to wrestle at 53kg instead of her usual 55kg since that was where Yoshida competed.  She spent countless hours studying Yoshida's videos and training specifically to beat her, having previously lost to Yoshida in a mere 69 seconds during their first match.  Saori Yoshida has not been complacent by any means, but it is very hard to defeat someone whose entire being is focused on beating you.  Maroulis' laser focus, commitment and dedication are the very definition of what makes an Olympic athlete.

It is easy to celebrate a gold medalist.  Winning an Olympic gold medal is a testament to the many years of hard work and dedication in overcoming all the obstacles that separate truly incredible athletes from everyone else.  It must be the pinnacle of pride to stand on the podium in front of the World, celebrated for your prowess.  I can't imagine anything like that feeling.

At the same time, Bronze medals are laudable achievements.  We recognize that making the top 3 slots and ascending to the stage requires a burst of effort for the athlete that may not be a legend, but can surprise you with an unusually great performance.  The battles for bronze are often some of the most hotly contested among athletes that can be far easier for us to relate to. These are not storybook heroes but their struggle for the stage is no less glorious and we applaud them for being able to share the platform with the champions.

Sadly, the silver medal is neither of these.  It does not have the impact of winning a gold, nor does it have the merit of struggling to barely make it into the top 3.  For many, a silver medal is actually considered a sign of FAILURE, an "almost bronze"- a shameful reminder of someone who worked hard, but just not hard enough to win the gold.  An athlete who will be considered as never being quite good enough to take it all, or starting to show they are past their prime and fading away.  As if to say "Second Place is just First Loser".  Nothing but the best is good enough.

Our modern society is one of extremes, and little sympathy for those in the middle, left to obscurity.  We idolize the rich and shame the poor, and for those of us in the middle, a bronze medal is the best we could aspire to as our 15 minutes of fame.

In the martial arts world as well, we see the black belt as a basic symbol of achievement and dismiss the hard work that goes into every single step of the way.  We forget the pride of each belt we achieved along the way and the many lessons we learned with sweat and blood on the mats every week as we inched our way forward.  When people hear I do martial arts usually the first question they will ask is "Are you a black belt?" as if none of the others matter at all.  Of course, to those us who are serious in the art, a black belt is really just a beginning; a symbol that we are finally ready to start the deeper learning that comes next.  It's a lot like finally buying that plane ticket to an exotic destination.  It shows an investment that is in preparation for the next stage.

I hope we will remember that a Silver medal is no minor accomplishment and is still worthy of great praise.  I hope we will remember that the key to success in life is to do our very best at every opportunity and not obsess over how we will be "ranked" by others, to celebrate our victories however small.  I hope we will remember to be simple and humble, and to just DO GOOD WORK every day.  There is honor in that, silver medal or not.  Everyone wins if they have given their all.