Sunday, February 14, 2016

Victim? Or Victor?

(thanks for the inspiration JD and RM)

I recently posted about a brutal machete attack in the US, suggesting "don't be a victim- get trained". This led to some dialog on my post, which was important enough to explain here.

Two sides of this situation were presented - both valid.

One friend, a lifelong martial artist, suggested that while self-defense is a good by-product of dedicated training, we need to make our personal and spiritual development the primary objective.  I do not disagree.

At the same time, another friend, also a lifelong martial artist, suggested that practicality comes first, and that our training needs to provide protection for ourselves and our loved ones as a principal goal.  He does not discount personal or spiritual growth, but suggests it is secondary to self-defense.  Again, I do not disagree.

So --- which is more important, personal/spiritual development or self-defense?
This is a very difficult question, and one I suspect has a unique answer for everyone.

 I hope never to be in a violent confrontation again.  If so, then the need for practical self-defense would be secondary to my need for personal and spiritual growth.  However, if such a situation were to occur, platitudes and good intentions would likely get me (and maybe those I care about) hurt or killed.  That is a loss I could not bear.

Although the press would have us believe otherwise, I think the world is a far safer place than it has been at any other time in human history.  Generally, the rule of law abides everywhere, even if it is not always perfect (and sometimes way off the mark).  Most of us are at very little risk of violent attack in our daily lives, especially in Japan where I live.  So, why study martial arts, then?

For me, the answer lies in understanding what being a victim really means (and by extrapolation, what "self defense" really means).

In a violent encounter, a victim is someone who is the recipient of unsolicited aggression. He/she did nothing to warrant an attack, and was simply the target of violence.  Clearly, this is a case where self-defense is about protecting our physical self (and others) from harm by aggressors. However, good martial arts training does not just teach us to defend against attacks when they happen, it also teaches us to project a positive, confident demeanor, which often defuses potentially violent situations before they occur.  Does this work in all cases?  No.  Does it work much of the time?  Absolutely.  I have not had to use force on an aggressor in more than 20 years, and I believe much of this is due to the fact that I do not present myself as a victim.  I walk confidently, head up and shoulders high, watching my surroundings.  Of course, I tend to avoid very dangerous places and use common sense when I travel, too, which contributes to my safety.  That said, I still use my martial arts training EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Just not for fighting.

Not every attack is physical, and not every receiver of an attack needs to be a victim.

The victim mentality is one where we feel others are to blame for our situation, and we are thus helpless to effect any positive change.  In a mugging or rape, this may often be true.  However, there are many situations where we adopt a victim mentality because we do not take responsibility for our own outcomes.  Sometimes we are not cautious or careful in how we conduct ourselves or engage others.  We may project a weak or negative attitude, which is a signal to predators.  We may fail to be aware of our environment and thus be unable to prevent a bad situation from escalating.  Vigilance is import every day and is a cornerstone of our regular zen practice, which reminds us to "Be Here Now" remain mindful of everyday details.

I do not teach my students to be victims in any aspect of their lives.  This includes not being a victim our our own negativity, self- doubt, laziness, pride, anger, fear.  Rather, I expect my students and I to take responsibility for our own actions without blaming anyone else for any setbacks.  I expect all of us to do our best in every situation and not settle for less than the happiness and success we deserve.

I expect my students to be compassionate - peaceful when possible, decisive when not.
I would go so far as to say that without studying a combat art in a combat mindset, we do not fully reap the benefits of the training in learning how to cope with stress and pressure, remain calm, and deliver "right action in the right moment" - the essence of zen.

Hopefully, none of us will ever be involved in a violent encounter.  Then, I hope we will all continue to recognize the value of the training in our personal and professional lives.  It is our commitment to the Peaceful Warrior Way that gives us the confidence to be compassionate and not give in to our fears or negativity.

If we are in a conflict, I hope we are successful in walking away without injury.  I hope the situation is resolved without undue force and with minimal harm.  We all have the right to defend ourselves and our families, and we all have the responsibility to be trained to do so should such a need arise.

My friends are both absolutely right:  We must seek a higher purpose in what we do.  At the same time, what we do has to work if and when we need it.

See you at class.

Armor Plated

(thanks for the inspiration Master SK)

The picture is self-explanatory.  When you read it, you realize that some things you do cannot be undone with a simple apology.

This includes words and actions.

The hearts of those around us are beautiful, like this plate, but also fragile as well.  Some of the things we do can cause damage that never really heals.

In some cases, it is obvious.  The plate shatters, never to be repaired.  In others, the cracks are slight, harder to see, but there nonetheless.  They weaken the plate a little bit at a time, until finally, without warning, it snaps.

Of course, apologies are important.  A heartfelt apology shows remorse and regret, and these are important parts of healing to the hearer, and of growth and understanding for the giver.  Failing to apologize is a deep character flaw.

At the same time, an apology on its own is rarely enough. It is our actions that define us, and making amends is an important part of atonement. Words without deeds are empty and those around us deserve better.

Martial arts training does not just make us physically stronger, it makes us emotionally stronger too.
By working hard in the dojo, under positive stress and challenge, we forge our spirit together. This builds bonds between us and makes us part of a team with a common goal - improvement.  Our training makes us confident without being arrogant, far less likely to break under pressure.

Ultimately, the secret to being hard to break is not cold indifference to the words and actions of others. It is just the opposite. By focusing on our connectness; by using our compassionate heart we overcome other peoples' negativity and hurtful intentions.  This is the highest level of martial arts - where there is neither victory nor defeat - only connectedness.

Be careful of your words and deeds. Positive or negative they can last forever.
Make your spirit strong so it will not break easily.

Make your plate armor plated.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Questions and Answers

Everyone seems to be looking for answers.  We have the collection of human knowledge available at our fingertips anytime, anywhere via Wikipedia, something I consider one of mankind's greatest achievements.  In even the past 100 years, our understanding has grown exponentially. Still we look for answers.

Not only are we on a seemingly endless quest for answers, we are obsessed with having the RIGHT answers. We feel most comfortable with absolutes and dread uncertainty and the unknown.  We love nothing more than correcting each other for even the most minor inaccuracy.

However, there is another point of view - that of Zen Buddhism.
In Zen, the answer is rarely exact, rarely given and, ultimately, rarely important.

Rather, we are encouraged, actually forced, to ask questions.  To question EVERYTHING, especially our own understanding.  Zen is less concerned with the result than it is with the process of inquiry.

This process is what ignites our curiosity and attracts our interest.  Koans (Zen riddles) are used as a kind of "mental isometrics" to make us use our mind power to seek answers to puzzles which are, by design, impossible to answer.  Examples include:

  • what is the sound of one hand clapping?
  • what was your face before your mother and father were born?

Importantly, many koans are designed not only to lead to self-realization, but also to develop a dialog between teacher and student.  Thus, the answer is not relevant, except as an objective to yield awareness and deepen connection, both of which are materially important.

Furthermore, I would argue that this devotion to "answers" is wholly misguided.  An easy question yields and easy answer, which is of little value.  Once we think we know the answer, accepting it often makes our drive to question fade away. We feel satisfied without exploring deeper.  We give up and let go.  For hundreds of years people were content with the answer to "what does our world look like?" being that the Earth was flat and they had no great desire to seek another answer.

However, a perfect question yields a robust and meaningful answer, which relentlessly leads to other good questions.

It is the question, not the answer, that ultimately matters most.

For us, deliberately shifting our focus from seeking answers to asking the right questions empowers us in new and exciting ways.  The right questions allow us to reaffirm our beliefs and goals.  They allow us to increase our awareness and deepen our connections to others.  We need to question ourselves most of all.  Question our beliefs, our understanding, our motivation, our goals, our purpose, our value.  This is critical to developing a balanced sense of self, and identifying our own unique pathway to happiness.

In communication with others, we obsess over having the right answer to what the other person might say.  This is especially true in client meetings.  Rather, it is more important to be focused on asking good questions - questions which engage the other person, encourage them to share and be honest, and deepen our feelings of connectedness.  Asking the right question, not having the right answer, is the cornerstone of good communication and a foundation of good relationships.

Please ask good questions.
I can't promise you I have the answers, but that is not really important anyway.
If you ask the right questions, and right answers will always come in time.

"If my answers frighten you Vincent, then you should cease asking scary questions."
--- Julius Winfield, Pulp Fiction

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Empty Cup

(Thanks for the inspiration MA)

"Empty your cup" is an old Zen saying that occasionally pops up in the west.

A Zen scholar, who was full full of knowledge and opinions, came to see a Master and asked about Zen.

At one point the Master re-filled his guest's teacup, but did not stop pouring when the cup was full. Tea spilled out and ran over the table. "Stop! The cup is full!" he said.

"Exactly," said the Master. "You are like this cup; you are full of ideas. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can't put anything in. Before I can teach you, you'll have to empty your cup."

This story is often used to remind us to enter into new situations without preconception, what is called "Beginner's Mind", and that Zen, like most things, can be learned by the mind but must be experienced by the spirit to be truly understood.

However, there is another empty cup interpretation (and lesson) that I want to share from the picture above.

These days, many people I meet are tired.  VERY TIRED,  Exhausted, in fact.  I know.  Sometimes lately I feel that way, too.  The stress of our modern, fast-paced life wears us down.  Our jobs and our other commitments demand so much of us.  Our "connected" lifestyle means we are online and, sadly, on email and conference calls, at all hours of the day and night.  We don't sleep enough and our sleep is not good quality when we do.  Many of us have anxiety or panic attacks. We worry that we will not have enough time to do all the things people expect of us.

In relationships we are taught to give and give and give - and then give still more.
We give until our cup is empty, but it is not a happy giving.  This giving is a demanded, expected giving that leaves us feeling like we have lost something; like part of us has been taken away.
This leads us to despair.

Let me be perfectly clear:  IT IS OK TO BE SELFISH SOMETIMES.

We do not owe others everything we have.  It is OK to keep some for ourselves.  Giving is not giving when it is demanded or expected.  Giving is positive when it is given freely, without any expectation of return and not to offset the inferred guilt of selfishness.

We all need time to recharge ourselves.  Take it.
There is no shame in it.
Be selfish.  Take care of yourself first.

In fact, this is the only way to sustain ourselves over the long term, without being slowly worn down to nothing.  This is true not only of work, but of personal relationships as well.  Life is a marathon, not a dash.  We should move forward, but pace is more important than speed.

We live in a society that makes us feel ashamed to ask for help, ashamed to ask for support, ashamed to need anything from anyone.  I CALL BULLSHIT ON THAT.  Needing others is a natural, healthy process of involving people in our lives and sharing what matters to us.  It is an intimacy we cannot and should not deny the people we care about.  Not only do they want to be part of our story, we need them to be part of it for the story to have real meaning.  As scary as it may seem, without letting others into our hearts and trusting them with our feelings we will always be lonely, even in a stadium full of people.  None of us deserve that.  We surely don't deserve to do that to ourselves.

Take care of others, yes.
But take of yourself first, so you are strong enough to do so.

Take time to fill your cup.

Then, and only then, be sure to share it.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Treatment

(thanks for the inspiration BC)



Have a look at this story posted by one of my Kali sisters.

It tells of a man whose wife left him because he didn't put his dishes in the sink or dishwasher.  I know.  I thought the same thing --- MASSIVE OVERREACTION.  But, is it?

Even the author came to the understanding that it was not the act itself, which was trivial, it was the implication of the act that made her realize she was not treasured or valued; that she was considered subservient to him.  This is ultimately what made her decide to leave.

None of us are alone - we are surrounded by people who care for us and contribute to who we are and who we ultimately become.  If we choose well, we are surrounded by such people - friends, co-workers, family, partners, teachers who inspire us and who make us want to be better than who we are right now.

Largely as products of our environment, we depend on others for our sense of self.  Abusive relationships are typified by denying the victim their self-worth and identity as someone worthy of love and attention.  There is no sin more cruel.

As martial artists we know that what we do begins and ends with respect - for ourselves, for each other, for the sacred art we study.  Training together empowers us to live our lives fully, and our study of zen delivers to us the understanding of each precious detail of our lives and those who share it with us.

This story made me sad - Later, it filled me with hope.  I hope this can encourage everyone to appreciate the little things people do for us each day, to feel overflowing gratitude for everyone who shines a light into our loneliness, and to acknowledge that our being is connected completely to those around us.  It is not just those closest to us, but the people we encounter along the way.  As this story points out, even the smallest of actions can convey love, respect, acceptance, equality.

Recently one of my close relatives posted about losing a friend to suicide, and the emptiness and regret she felt after knowing he was gone and wishing she could have done something about it. We cannot turn back the hands of time, but we can always try our best to give those around us our attention - a human touch.  Sometimes that's all a person needs to feel better.  I have no doubt she is kind to everyone, including him, but I also have no doubt that each of us can try a little harder to make the world a better, kinder place.  The Way of the Peaceful Warrior is Compassion.

This story made me desperate to treat those people around me just a little bit better than before. This treatment can fix a lot of ills - illness in relationships with everyone around us. Your smile, your eyes, and your words can save more lives than you imagine.  Try to open your heart just a little more.  This treatment will not only help those around you, it will help you, too.

Let's start our treatment today. Together.





Sunday, February 07, 2016

2 Minute Drill


Have a look at this clip.  This is Tuhon Nonoy Garrucho demonstrating  expressions of some flows from his Visayan style.  Tuhon is a legendary senior member of the PTK, and close associate of Tuhon Rommel Tortal.  I liked this clip since it illustrates some very interesting extensions to flows we should recognize from Kali Majaphit.  Watch it again.  What did you see?

For me, several very interesting ideas emerged.  Apart from his fast, accurate guntings (which are ones we also use), pay attention to his entries.  His underarm flow had two pathways.  Following his overhand 4th elbow (00:45) his left arm is inside and he obtains a neck control.  This is an overarm neck control which he follows by breaking balance on the low line against the lead knee (00:47).  This is very interesting because breaking the foundation on the low line is a great way to continue an upper body control --- these flows are common in silat and less common in FMA, but very important concepts to explore.  My senior students are comfortable with sipa kicks on the low line, but leg controls are also extremely effective as shown here.

At 1:01, Tuhon Nonoy shows a similar neck control movement from underneath, which all KM students should be familiar.  This is generally used as a "neck lever takedown", but in this example he uses it as a standing control to set up the knees and ultimately an underarm wing on the far side arm.  I really like this flow and it is a great way to show that the same entry (underarm neck control) need not always end the same way (neck lever takedown).  Each movement needs to be fully explored to be understood, and our flow can leverage common denominator entries into extremely creative outcomes.

Next, watch the entry at 1:17.  To any Yoshinkan practioner this is the setup for Ude Garame (arm wrap).  My students in particular know that this is one of my all time favorite movements from aikido since it is fast, powerful and easily applied from the common outside high line entry we learn as a KM beginner.  However, Tuhon Nonoy keeps this is a standing lock and rolls into a brilliant choke series including knee control.  This is an amazing expression and something that has had me considering other applications since I first watched it.

Finally, at 1:26 he shows an expression of kote gaeshi, a classic aikido wrist control.  In aikido this is generally a projection/throw, but he combines it with a far side wrapping underhook that is phenomenal.  I love this flow because it combines two elements we use often separately:  wrist control and underhook.  In his flow, this ends with an elbow control/head control combination.  For me, the far side underhook would position me for a sweep of the back leg, but that's just me.

I have watched this clip 20 or 30 times since I first saw it, and I find something new each time.  His other videos are in my queue to study in the weeks to come.  I encourage you to do the same.

The clip was not quite two minutes long, but absolutely overflowing with great ideas if you can understand what you are looking at.  Inspiration is everywhere.  As I have written before, aikido is a great foundation body of knowledge for any martial artist.  Many of the flows here incorporate aikido concepts, which make them extremely effective at manipulating the opponent's body and taking away his balance.

Great thanks to Tuhon Nonoy Garrucho for posting such inspirational stuff.

Pugay.

    

    

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Training The Trainer

(thanks for the inspiration BC)

Martial Arts training is not easy.  For most of us, myself included, the movements are counter-intuitive and unnatural, and the drills are frustratingly difficult.  It is only after long hours of repetition, over weeks and months and years, that the body starts to adapt to what we want it to do.

When people see me on the mats, it looks easy - almost effortless.  The reality could not be further from the truth.  The years teach much the days never know.

When I look back on my own journey, the biggest differentiator in my training wasn't really in what or where I studied, or specifically who I studied under --- IT WAS WHO I TRAINED WITH DAY BY DAY.

Of course, the styles I learned, the dojos I made my home, and the teachers who invested their knowledge in me were a large part of my success.  I have been extremely lucky to have had truly incredible teachers, especially my current one.  However, I feel even luckier for the world-class training partners I have had.  Usually, the teachers showed us movements/techniques and gave us the frame of reference, but we rarely actually got to train with them.  They were always very busy watching the class and giving feedback to everyone.

The training partners, my brothers and sisters, were the ones that worked side by side with me.
They shared their blood, sweat and tears through every class with me.  THEY wanted to learn the skills and improve just as bad as I did.  THEY are the ones who kept me going, who motivated me, who encouraged me, and who made me want to give 100% every lesson.  THANK YOU.  I owe you so much.

Let me be crystal clear --- WE TRAIN EACH OTHER

That means that the quality of your training is dependent on the quality of your training partners, and theirs is dependent on YOU.

Drills are not for our own ego.  They are for training our partner, who in turn trains us.
That means it is critical to be IN THE MOMENT, focused, attentive, alert, engaged in every drill.
This is what we want from our partners, and so it is what we must demand from ourselves.

Feed your partner to his/her maximum ability, and slowly, relentlessly lead them further - just like you will want them to do for you.  Extend all your strikes and cuts to give them something to work on.  The goal is not to hit, cut or touch your partner.  The goal is to TRAIN YOUR PARTNER so their skills improve.  This is the only way you yourself will be trained and improve your own skills.

Lastly, the time we spend in class with our brothers and sisters gives us the knowledge and experience to be better teachers when our time comes (and it will).  The best partners make the best teachers, period.  NOBODY comes to a martial arts class to see how good the teachers are, they come to see how good they can become.

I feel the utmost gratitude in being able to guide all of you on your Kali journey.  You honor me.
Be sure to honor each other, too.  Train each other well, and the memories of those long hours in the dojo will last you a lifetime together.

See you on the mats.

John

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Why I Love Aikido

(thanks for the inspiration Paul H.)

I love Aikido.  I mean I REALLY love it.

Many of you who know me well know that it is a big part of my martial arts background.  I studied Aikikai in 1987, Takeda-Ryu Aiki-Jujitsu from 1994-1997 and Yoshinkan from 2005-2010 in both Tokyo and Singapore.  This blog started in 2005 and the first few years of posts are dedicated exclusively to Aikido topics.

With my current focus being the learning and teaching of Southeast Asian martial arts, specifically Kali Majapahit, it would be easy to think I had "moved on" from Aikido.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I recently spoke for hours with a close friend who started his Aikido journey and have recommended Aikido training to many people before, including my son, and would still do so.  The other day someone asked me WHY?  Given that the Southeast Asian martial arts I do and Aikido are so very different, why would I still be interested in Aikido?

Body Mechanics
Aikido works because of body mechanics.  Good Aikidoka are very concerned with control of the opponents' structure, and the techniques of Aikido operate on the structure and balance from touch points located on the wrist, arm, shoulder and head.  Without the principles of Aikido, I must resort to percussion to disrupt the attacker.  Aikido allows me to move the other person without (necessarily) striking them.  It is important to consider the detailed body mechanics of every technique in order to uncover the learning objective for each one.  Every technique offers a different scenario, a different relationship between the participants, and highlights a different principle.  The concepts of Aikido remain at the heart of everything I do.

Connection
Aikido begins and ends with connection.  From the initial entry (called IRIMI) to the final control (OSAE), we establish and maintain a connection to the other person.  "Connectedness" is one of the most important principles in Aikido and one I try to use every single day of my life.  As the level of skill increases, the immediacy of the connection increases, until we reach a state of constant connectedness with those around us.  Done well, you do not do Aikido TO someone, you do Aikido WITH someone.  This idea is worth thinking about.

Footwork
Footwork is essential in Aikido.  At the beginning, the steps are slow and clumsy.  later, after practice, we become able to move with grace and speed.  My current study of social dance is only possible due to my years of aikido training, and the movements of waltz, tango, etc. are far easier for me to absorb because of my Aikido training.

Hips, Elbows, Knees
The first half of power generation in Aikido comes from understanding the application of hips, elbows and knees to deliver body weight through the opponent.  My teacher would often refer to Aikido as "all your power, all your force, on a single point, at a single time."  Delivery of that power and force is done principally via the hips, elbows and knees.

Energy and Breathing
The other half of power generation in Aikido comes from energy and breathing.  Energy derives from proper posture and proper breathing, both of which are topics of study in good Aikido dojo.
I have often relied on the focus I get from good posture and breathing not just for martial arts techniques, but also for concentration, stress management and other situations.  For those who cannot sit Zazen, Aikido is a next-best option.

Ukemi
Ukemi, or breakfalls, are a part of nearly every Aikido class.  There is some controversy as to the effectiveness of slapping the mats (which Aikido people regularly do), but no doubt as to the usefulness of knowing how to fall without fear or injury.  Breakfalls should be taught to everyone, regardless of their martial arts preference, since these techniques can literally save your life.  I have used breakfalls when falling down on ice and even when tossed from a motorcycle.  In every case I have been able to protect my head and avoid serious injury.  This alone is worth studying Aikido.

Non-Lethal
Honestly, I do not consider Aikido as a fighting art.  This does not mean it can't be used in a fighting situation, or that it has no merit in self-defense.  Rather, I think the principles and concepts are some of the most valuable of any martial arts training.  I do suggest, however, that Aikido, especially as it is taught in modern times, is not mainly for fighting.

I like the fact that Aikido is a non-lethal art.  Many "tactical" fighting systems and MMA schools emphasize striking, kicking and choking, and this can often result in extreme injury or death to the victim.  This often results in excessive-force related legal problems for the martial artist.  The use of deadly force is no trivial matter in modern society, and it is often far better to err on the side of caution.  Most confrontations are not life-threatening, and can be diffused with a simple Aikido technique that disrupts the attackers' aggressive intent without causing permanent damage.  This is always the preferable outcome.

It is also the reason that I like Aikido for children.  No parent wants a call from school saying that their child has smashed another kid's face, broken their neck, or stabbed them in the eye socket with a pencil (thanks for the image, Frank!).  I spent several years reverse-engineering Aikido techniques to make them a bit more street-capable (which is how they look in my Kali flow), but it is still a very safe art for children to learn.

If I could live my life all over again, I would still be a martial artist.  I would still have studied Aikido, perhaps started earlier and trained longer.  To me, it is an essential body of knowledge for anyone that wants a well-rounded martial arts perspective.  I encourage everyone to study it. Please let me know if you need help finding a good school.

I am forever grateful to Sensei Rosen, Sensei Roland, Sensei Mike, Sensei Saori, Sensei Ramlan, Sensei Mark, Shihan Joe and all the others that have made the Aikido Way such a fantastic journey for me.  A large part of my martial way is thanks to your patient, careful instruction. Thank you for your inspiration.

OSU!!