Friday, November 06, 2015


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Well, today I am 49 years old, a stone's throw away from 50. What am I thinking about? How do I feel?
Every year that goes by I feel acutely aware of how little time we have in this life, on this Earth. Our lives truly go by in the blink of an eye, and the years teach much that the days will never know. All too soon we go back to the stardust we came from and the glow of our presence here will fade away. All we really have is what time remains, and how we choose to spend it.  Make every day count.
 Last November 6, we were moving to our new place, and entering into a year that has had some of the most difficult challenges we have ever faced as a family.  Looking back on it now, it seems a million miles away - we got through the worst of it one painful inch at a time, but we got through it. Life has stabilized and we can choose to remember the good times and let go of the bad, right? What a  roller coaster the past 12 months have been.  I get tired just thinking about it.
That said, I am so, so grateful for this wonderful life I have and I feel lucky beyond words, especially to be part of the lives of so many other people around the world.

I am grateful for my wonderful wife and my two boys, who continue to be my strength through every hardship.  Together, as a family, we will make it no matter what.  I am grateful for my beloved pugs, who show me what unconditional love is, and how important it is for me to live each moment fully.
I am grateful for Kali Majapahit, my guiding force and my passion.  I am grateful to my teachers, Guro Fred and Guro Lila, to all my fellow instructors, and especially to my students, who make me so incredibly proud.  Your journey inspires mine.
I am grateful for my friends, and getting greetings from so many of you across all the many ways that we know each other makes me very glad indeed - thanks to you all I feel part of a precious fabric --- something very special and important. We have changed each other in more ways (usually positive) than I can count.  Thank you, really, THANK YOU for being a part of my life and for sharing so much with me.  All of you make my life worth living.
Tonight we have Kali class, and I can't think of an anything else I'd rather do - see you at training. 

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Song of the Soul

(thanks for the inspiration Sanae)

"Are our lives predetermined?" she asked.

That's a tough question...  As a Buddhist the answer (for me, anyway) is both YES and NO.  Guro Fred often explains it as a train running down the tracks.  The destination is fixed, but we are free to decide how we ride the train (which seat, which car, aisle or window, facing front or back, etcetera).  I struggled to find a suitable metaphor to use.

One possibility is to use music.  Songs are a set of predetermined notes or sounds, but of course the same song can be played many different ways, using different arrangements, different instruments, different keys and so on.  Each of our lives is a song, but it is up to us to uncover the music and decide how we want to play it.  Some of us are rock and roll, some are jazz, some are classical.  All of us are beautiful.

Some of us will find the melody, the harmony, the tempo and play our song with energy and passion.  Others may struggle to find any pattern at all, and instead their life will seem to be a random collection of notes or sounds.  It can also be said that we are able to hear the songs of others, some of which have a rhythm and tempo which match our song especially well and which we find particularly appealing.  Maybe this is just another way of explaining what love is.  The more we hear the music of others, the clearer our song becomes, and the more we realize that all music is universal - we are all connected.  New songs bring us fresh new perspectives, and may even change how we think or feel once we hear them.

Our favorite songs can instantly bring us back to a time and a place - they link us to our memories and to many important events of our lives.  So, too, the song of our soul is the essence of who we are, and the songs of others who are important to us will play in our heads over and over again.

Listening carefully in meditation, we will find the harmony of our own song, and even know what notes are coming next.  We can add embellishments to our song and make it a song everyone will remember, a song they will sing forever.  We can play our song in a sad and melancholy way, or we can choose to let our song be an anthem of hope and joy.  Even though the notes are set when we are born, we have the freedom to express them as we wish.

What do you think?
As the Doobie Brothers said, "Listen to the Music"...  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Expect The Unexpected

Wow...what a weekend.
The Kali Majapahit Singapore ITA Masterclass 2015 is now over.

I came down here to attend with my students, and expected to observe/help with the testing of one of my senior students going for his Kasama rank (assistant instructor).

I didn't expect to get tested for my Madunong Guro (2nd dan) rank.
There were many lessons from this experience.  Here are my initial impressions.

I Wasn't Ready.
Honestly, if I had to wait until I was ready, maybe I never would be.  The thing is, LIFE doesn't happen when you are ready for it.  Waiting until you are ready is probably the biggest reason we miss out on so much.  Life happens when it does.  All you can do is GO WITH IT.  Fights, too, never happen when you are ready for them.  They happen when they do, and you need to be ready to do whatever it takes to be the one who walks away.  Any fight you walk away from is a victory to be celebrated.

Let It Go
It is the details which matter.  The details that you hold on to that become anchors around your neck.
We skipped lunch, we didn't have enough rest breaks or enough water, fresh partners keep rotating in but you never get to stop, the rounds are too long, etc. etc. etc.  Unconsciously, you start holding onto these things, and each one that gets lost or taken away sinks you deeper into despair --- IF YOU LET IT.  Instead, you can choose to BE HERE NOW and let go of everything except the fight you're in. Let your focus sharpen, take a deep breath, and deliver.  Right here, right now.  Once you let go, nothing can be taken from you.  You accept that you will pass out, get knocked out or walk away.  In the end  it doesn't really matter which one.  Just keep going until you can't.

Go Down Swinging
I got SO SICK of the boxing.  Round after round. Round after round.  I decided to go down swinging. If you stop, you drop, so I just kept swinging.  Life is often like this.  You need to make a decision to be fully engaged in your life, and not just let it go by.  GO DOWN SWINGING.  Even if you lose anyway, it just feels better.

Flipping The Switch
As Guro Rose says "Kali Mode ON!"  When the chips are down, you need to be able to flip the switch and go into your instinctive zone.  You let the body do what it knows, and you just keep going until the job is done.  Not everyone is the killer instinct it takes to survive a serious fight, but our training is designed to help us learn to manage stress and control ourselves to channel our fighting spirit.  Learning how to flip the switch (and flip it off again) is a very important part of the training.

Livin On The Edge
My adrenaline was high, I was in the zone, delivering with 100% intensity. Adrenalin, well channelled, can make all the difference between success and failure.  It did for me, since my energy was gone in the afternoon, I was in pain, and facing my 16th hour of training this weekend.  Later, the crash came.  It's a BITCH.  Shakes, pains, rapid breathing, dizziness.  Some people throw up. I didn't, but the recovery is always slow after an extended use of adrenalin.  Guro Fred knows just how to keep you on the edge between going on and crashing out, and how to make that moment last a long, long time.  Thank you for pushing me so hard, and for making this test so special.

You are not YOU
No, you're not.  You are a product of everyone that has invested in your success.  All your teachers, all your training partners, all your students, everyone around you.  They have invested in you because they believe in you - sometimes even when you don't believe in yourself.  It is important to be always grateful for the people who make you YOU.  You could not be YOU without them.

Thank you so much to everyone who walks with me on this journey.
A belt is just a belt but you are truly part of me.  I owe you so much.
Thank you for believing in me.

A very special thanks to my incredible wife Sanae, and to my exceptional sons  George and Ray, for whom I always try to be a superhero.  No matter what I do, YOU are the true superheroes to me. Thank you for your love, patience and support.  Thank you for understanding how important my Kali Majapahit is to me.

Lastly, Deep Congratulations to my brothers and sisters who tested with me today.  You honor and inspire me.  Let's keep going together!!

See you at class.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Lessons from the Pros - tactical baton

Have a look.  This video is from Lahnert Tactical and shows applications of the Bonowi EKA Camlock baton - a great piece of kit from a great maker.  All rights to the video are theirs. Check any and all related laws in your jurisdiction before choosing to carry a tactical baton or other weapon.

The principal in the video is a trainer for law enforcement and elite military in the use of the tactical baton.  There is obvious strong FMA flavor in his movements, and KM students should easily recognize some of the flow.  He applies concepts from Hubud, Sumbrada (5 count), and Doce Pares in his responses, and does so excellently.

Beyond this, some other things to note:

Look how he uses his footwork to create and keep distance, or to angle off the center line as needed.  Footwork is the cornerstone of effective technique and is just as important with baton/stick/cane as it is with any other weapon.  In the video, the principal either 1) closes to CQC range using the punyo or 2) opens to largo using the tip for striking.  Medium distance is only ever a transition point to 1) or 2).  Note how he uses the tip to push the attacker out into distance as needed.  This is a useful technique.

Note the use of the left hand for checking, parrying and control.  This "live hand" is a hallmark of good FMA.

The stick is a centrifugal force impact weapon, with the centerpoint at the user's shoulder.  Thus, maximum power is derived from impact using the absolute outside of the circle's radius - in this case the tip of the weapon.  This is where acceleration is maximized in the swing and where the most impact force can be generated.

For locking, he is careful to use the leverage of the weapon against joints (wrist, elbow and neck). After disrupting the structure, he moves immediately into a finishing technique.  The lock is not the end - it is a transition to the finish, used to disrupt the attacker's structure.  Locking is not attempted until at least one hit has been made to weaken the attacker.

In the baton vs baton flow, note how the Principal clears the weapon away.  He zones the opponent's baton offline which opens the center for his own response, while keeping the attacker from recovering.  The initial block is DEFINITIVE, stopping the attacker in place for the follow up.

When responding, he rarely targets the head or neck of his opponent.  Instead, he focuses attacks on the weapon arm and leg.  Except for a few knee hits, most of his responses are at the upper arm or thigh, where the attacker can be neutralized with only minimal possibility of lethal or permanent injury.  Even when the attacker has a knife, he does not resort to lethal force, which is commendable.  I highly recommend this muscle memory for everyone, law enforcement or not, for both ethical and legal reasons.

The idea of "one hit, one stop" sounds great on paper, but the best muscle memory is one that keeps us in motion and overwhelming the attacker until the situation is completely under control. Smoothly chaining together a flurry of strikes is a key component of what makes Kali the effective art it is, and drilling for this is very important.

The Principal uses his voice to ensure the situation is resolved.  Voice is a key part of the psychology of control, and the best timing for this is when the initial adrenaline rush has been disrupted.  Proper use of the "command voice" can minimize having to use additional force to neutralize an attacker and prevent an attacker from continuing after the initial attempt.

What else can you learn from this?
Let me know if you saw something I didn't.

See you at class,


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Here Am I

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
-Isaiah 6:8

Those of you who know me know I am not Christian.
However, I have read the Christian Bible more than once cover to cover, and it has a few passages I really like.  The above is one of them.

The last time I heard this verse was in the movie "Fury", where one of the characters reads it from his Bible before they engage in the final battle - a battle from which none of them expect to survive.  It is said in the context of soldiers who have a sacred duty.

I like this verse because it speaks to me about our mission in the martial arts - who and how we aspire to be.  It is not enough to be strong.  It is not enough to have fighting prowess and mastery of weapons and techniques.  As WARRIORS we are called to something more --- we are called to a sacred duty.

The burden falls on us to volunteer in times of need.  Our training develops our warrior spirit and courage so that we will not hesitate when the moment of Truth is upon us.  We will stand tall and face whatever may come; we will defend ourselves and those we love.  We will stand up for the weak and the victims of aggression.  We will face the Bullies.  We will be the ones to be sent.  This is our duty.  Serving others is the essence of compassion.  We must transcend the self in order to truly feel CONNECTED.

Very often, success in life is dependent on raising our hands and volunteering.
It is not enough to be passive and wait for success to happen to you.  It won't.
Love will not find you unless you volunteer to take a chance.  Tell that person how you feel about them.  Only by risking rejection can you aspire to acceptance.

The hardest jobs often deliver the greatest reward, and our leaders appreciate those employees who do not back away from the challenges, but instead seek them out.  Doing this is not about shameless self-promotion.  Instead, it is about the quiet confidence that comes from ability and ambition.  We all want to win, and it is the most fun to win a game that is a real challenge against a worthy adversary.  Sometimes this is a sporting contest.  Sometimes this is a negotiation.  At the end, we want to give 100% and feel respect for our counterpart.  It is because of them that we have had to raise our skills higher and step up to give our best effort.

Our Kali Majapahit training is not just about our body.
Use the training to forge your willpower and determination.
Learn to focus your intensity on achieving your goals.
Build your confidence so you can be the one to step forward.
Believe in yourself and what you can do.

Put up your hand and be picked.  Stand up and let yourself be chosen.  Open your heart and free yourself to be loved.  Become who you are meant to be.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


(thanks for the inspiration Jeremy)
Kali is a very special and unique art.  What we aim to achieve is quite different from that of other arts.

We often talk about "FLOW" and this was one of the first concepts Punong Guro Fred Evrard shared with me that intrigued me and helped me get hooked on Kali Majapahit in 2008 - and I am still hooked.

From the beginning, a KM class is unlike a "typical" martial arts class.  We cover at least three different sub-systems in every session, including single or double stick, empty hands and/or knife, boxing or kickboxing.  Adding in warm-ups and stretches, cardio and cool-down makes every class very busy.  Even our two-hour sessions in KM Tokyo just seem to fly by.  Students who come from different backgrounds are challenged by the different skills we train in every class and how fast we change from one to another.
It's not just fun but very exciting.

We drill concepts and example techniques, but there are no Kata (forms) in kali (at least not in Kali Majapahit).  I see a lot of value in form-based styles like karate and kung fu for building discipline and muscle memory, as well as deeping the spiritual connection to the movement - "active meditation".  For some people, the stability and consistency of Kata is especially helpful and precious.  Kata-based arts have been shown to help learning disabled and behaviorally challenged children and adults such as those with autism, Asperger's and ADD/ADHD to help focus and control their bodies.

That being said, FMA in general (and KM in particular) usually avoid static kata training in favor of drills and technical application.  This can be a difficult adjustment initially, but in the long run offers the opportunity to find a new way of expression - JAMMING.

I use the example of jazz music since it seems to best fit the idea of FLOW as we think about it in Kali Majapahit.  Rather than rely on a strict set of technical responses, we train to be fully in the moment and to respond smoothly and effortlessly to whatever intention or action our opponent gives.  Until the situation is resolved, we transition from one distance to another, from one line to another, from one style to another without stopping to think - WE FLOW.

In jazz music, jamming is the same concept.  There is a basic story or beat, above which the musician expresses his or her sound.  The jazz player FLOWS in, around, under and through the baseline, exploring and finding each unique musical moment until the end.  It sounds amazing, but how do you learn o do that??

Drills, drills, drills.  For musicians it is long hours playing the scales in different keys and other variations on this simple theme.  To play well, we need to have the muscle memory of the basic notes of the instrument, just as we must do with our arms and legs, our elbows, our sticks and blades in FMA.  We drill the basic angles and basic blocks again and again until they become second nature.  We drill our footwork until it is intuitive.  We drill to improve our dexterity and agility.  A good guitarist will have fingered the basic chords tens of thousands of times and need not look that his or her fingers or hands to find the right strings and frets. This is a painful and tedious process, but there is nothing more necessary to jamming than this.  Be patient. Love your callouses.

Combinations and Phrasing
Later, we begin to chain some techniques together.  We add more hits to the drills, or change hand positions. We start to develop some simple multi-hit combinations, but these are generally given to us by our instructor. We start to learn how the body moves and how to "lead" or put techniques where the opponent will be (rather than where they currently are), setting up a series of events that take away the balance and structure and end the encounter.  Our teachers use these combinations to help illustrate the correct concepts and principles of how to move.  We learn about the distances, lines, angles, and how to use our body efficiently in sequence.  We gain experience in the different sub-systems and begin to understand their uniqueness.
This is an intermediate step.

In music, we begin to start playing simple songs, simple melodies, and learning some simple riffs we can use.
We still need to stick to the written pages and focus on drills, but hopefully our fingers begin to move more smoothly, chaining notes together a few at a time with less frequent pauses in between.

Improvising techniques is where we start to really leverage the hard work of beginner and intermediate.
Here we can begin to really problem-solve and explore specific situations and puzzles through more advanced drills.  Rather than being given a technical answer, we can focus on asking the right questions "where can I move?", "what if I did this?", "How can I put the opponent here/there?", "what if I lost my weapon now?", and so on.  Solving these problems is where we branch off from more traditional kata-based arts into the discovery zone that makes Kali so magical.  We are seeking and finding SOLUTIONS.

Secondly, we begin the process of mixing-and-matching between sub-systems that adds uniqueness and color to our developing flow.  We may start using Kali, and then transition to Hakka Kuntao or boxing or Muay Thai, and finish using Dumog (Filipino grappling) or takedowns and throws based on Judo/Jujitsu or Aikido.  Weapon movements begin to feel more similar to each other and we can start to relate one weapon (umbrella) to another (single stick).  The knowledge is finally coming together.

In music, we further embellish songs we have learned, adding in our own riffs and notes, changing the chords and blending the songs together to create a sound we like.  We freely explore the instrument and what it can do without limitation, and start to really revel in the freedom that comes from being able to play without stopping to read each note - making music sound the way we want it to.  We start to write some of our own songs or arrangements of other songs we like.  We are comfortable with our instrument in any style or situation.

Flow and Style
Once we can improvise a bit, the next phase is exploring all the possible combinations and fusion we can find.  This can easily last us the rest of our lives.  Although our kali chessboard is finite, the possible combinations of what we have learned are endless.  Our training has given us sets of techniques, as well as a deep perspective on the human body, different ways of motion, psychology, nutrition and health, spirituality and awareness.  We can begin to respond without stopping to consider beforehand which techniques or sub-systems to use.  Responses start to just HAPPEN and to do so in a way that is consistent with our own individual natures.

The most beautiful jazz improvisation is an unstructured, free-flowing conversation between the musicians.
It's MAGIC.  You really see masters of the craft EXPRESSING themselves through their instruments - 100% here and now in each musical moment.  To me, it is the highest level of musicianship and the most worthy goal of any aspiring player.  It is truly FREE.

The End Result
I encourage all of our students to train with as many different Guros and Kasamas as possible.  Every one of us has gone through the above progression, and learned to leverage all that we know to develop our own flow.  Each instructor knows the same basics and the same techniques, but we all add our unique flavor to our FLOW and seeing us will help you find your own voice one day.  You may never have our flow, but you will definitely have your own, and it will be beautiful and unique to you.

Trust the Training.
Be patient.
Love your callouses.
Never give up.
JAM like a champion.

See you at class.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Flowing the Tree

(thanks for the inspiration Paul M)

It's not my fault.  Really.  My dear friend Paul asked me about Kali Majapahit.  Usually, the first few hours are my most animated explanations, but I could literally go on FOREVER talking about Kali Majapahit, how much I love it, and how unique it is.

To keep other people from falling asleep, I try to explain in a way that will resonate with each person, especially if they are not martial artists.

Paul is a physicist by background, so science/maths is a great medium to try to explain what we do.  Here goes...

When I walked into Kali Majapahit (at that time Ni Tien Martial Arts) in Singapore, I was AMAZED.
Guro Fred moved like no one I had ever seen (and still does).  He was (is) like a predatory jungle cat - graceful, powerful, lethal: 100% martial and 100% art.  However, it wasn't just how he moved, it was also how he spoke.

I remember it like yesterday...  Katulong Guro Vince (at that time not even a Kasama yet, now one of our best and most experienced instructors) punched.  Hard.  Guro Fred slipped outside effortlessly.  Guro Fred was looking at ME the whole time.  He wasn't even looking at the punch. He said "this time I will choose an outside solution."  He spoke not of "techniques" or "katas" but of "solutions".  I was intrigued.

Later, I would discover that we classify solutions by several categorizations.  One is by our position in space relative to our opponent: inside/outside/split.  Also, defining a solution as high line, medium line or low line.  Finally, through our distance: close (corto), medium (medio) or long (largo) distance.  We can also classify solutions by the subsystem we express (or the weapon type we use).  This includes Kali (panantukan/sikaran, dumog), Silat, JKD, Muay Thai, Hakka/kun tao and more.  Regarding weapon types we have single/double stick (impact weapons), edged weapons (long/short/karambit), axe/tomahawk, staff or spear (bankaw), flexible weapons such as sarongs and scarves, and many, many more.

Classifying our solutions creates a framework for learning, much like a chessboard, and so too the combination of solutions are infinite.  All of the above variations give us an endless array of options from which we can express ourselves.

So...what to do??

I added the binomial tree above as one idea to consider.  Each moment in time or action point represents a step in the binomial tree: action/reaction.  Each action opens the door to the next step in the sequence of events from left to right.  At the end, the opponent is incapacitated (hopefully without injury) and the fight is over.  Skill in fighting, using this example, can be defined as:

  • Flowing from left to right seamlessly without stopping, adjusting for each action/reaction by moving to the next stage of the binomial tree without hesitation
  • Choosing the highest percentage movements at each stage of the tree, so that our chance of success gets increasingly larger and our opponent's gets increasingly smaller at each step of the tree until the opponent can no longer continue
  • Limiting the opponent's response at each stage by "feeding" or "drawing" a conditioned and expected response from them which yields the result we want and can exploit

Of course, every fight is unpredictable and there are always unforeseeable elements.  The goal of the training is to develop and enhance the ability to KEEP MOVING, to FLOW with the changes as they happen and be neither constrained nor restricted in our responses.  When we express Kali Majapahit, it should be the truth of our own spirit which shines through --- relaxed; without fear, without panic, without anger - calm, confident. Completely in the moment until the encounter is over and we are safe.

I remain just as fascinated and intrigued by Kali Majapahit today as I was when I started 7 years ago.  I love the art and introducing people to it, because I know they will find a lifetime of exploration and adventure, just as I have.

See you at class.