Monday, December 29, 2008

Caterpillars and Butterflies

met·a·mor·pho·sis (mt-môrf-ss)n. pl. met·a·mor·pho·ses (-sz) A change in the form and often habits of an animal during normal development after the embryonic stage.

Over dinner the other day, this analogy emerged. In our time as martial artists and spiritual beings, we undergo various metamorphoses. This raises a subtle, but very important point which led to this analogy.

The discussion was about masters undergoing purification in order to achieve the next level of their spirituality, usually by fasting, meditiation, and other cleansing actions.

I would contend that if we transform our lifestyle or habits with a particular objective in mind, in the Zen sense, we have already failed to achieve it. That is, the very act of doing something for purposes of a desired outcome takes us away from the "Natural Law" and then causes us to have attachment, and inevitably, loss (or fear of loss).

Caterpillars become butterflies because it is the natural order of things that they do so. Being incapable of desire (as far as we can tell), they follow the natural order moment by moment, without regret and without rushing.

As martial artists and spiritual people, I believe we must learn to "let go" and give in to the natural law in order to become butterflies - wishing it would be so, or bemoaning the fact that we are caterpillars, or even worse comparing ourselves to other caterpillars who may be already in their cocoons transforming, belittles us and makes it much harder for transformation to take place. A true master will undergo purification simply because it is what must be done at that time, not with the express goal of progression. Zen tells us "When I am hungry, I eat; when tired, I sleep". This is to remind us to align ourselves with the Natural Law of things, and be accepting of ourselves in every moment, allowing things to happen when they must, not before.
This is not an excuse in favor of pre-determinism, other than to say that all human beings have an innate potential to progress and transform. it is still of critical importance that we give maximum effort to our lives in every day and every way, moment by moment.

The good news is that it is the basic nature for caterpillars to become butterflies.
The bad news is that far too many human "caterpillars" obsess over it.

Good training should help free us from these worries, and allow us to be "maximum caterpillar" until we enter our cocoons, and then "maximum butterfly" when we emerge.

Be careful we do not become moths instead.


We had a special Xmas Day training (before one of the most memorable Christmas dinners EVER). The focus task this time was to force ourselves to avoid the most common technique chains, and invent new solutions to each entry. It means forcing your body to go against what you have programmed, your "favorite" responses. A very challenging exercise.

This is critical.

We have discussed before how "intellectualizing" techniques causes limitations in speed and responsiveness, and how muscle memory is needed to fully take advantage of our body's natural ability to react. Also important is the active training to break those very links we have tried so hard to put in place. Sounds counter-productive, right?

In order to be a well-rounded fighter (and to free ourselves from limitation, in a more spiritual sense), we must break the muscle memory chains we forge. This forces us to expand our scope and range of responses, and keeps us from being limited to just those techniques and solutions we are most comfortable with. Failing to do this means that whole areas of technique will become stale and rusty, and we will never truly develop the kind of "intuitive creativity" needed to fully express ourselves. This free self-expression is at the heart of what Kali Majapahit and all good martial arts training strives to achieve - Freedom of movement (mentally and physically).

Metaphorical discussion aside, as fighters we are only as good as our least common denominator. That means that if we are good at kicking, we need to force ourselves to train our punching more. If we are good at striking, we must push ourselves harder in grappling. If we excel at physical technique, we must place emphasis on chi kung and internal energy.

Training the lowest common denominator should always be an integral part of our training, since it is that very weak spot that is our most vulnerable, and where a sensible opponent will aim their attack strategy.

The idea is counter-intuitive. It is much more fun to work the things we are best at in order to get even better at them. Training our weak areas means we must be honest about our poor technique and accept our lack of expertise. This is also an important part of overcoming our ego and finding the yin/yang balance within ourselves.

The best teachers will always push hardest on our weak areas.

Breakdown training is a real "brain-burner", but the benefits are undeniable. Work it and see for yourself.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Words have meaning. OK, you think you knew that already. I want you to think about it again.
Every word we say, especially about ourselves, becomes an integral part of our self-concept and how we perceive ourselves. This may differ greatly from the views of those around us (in both positive and negative ways).

No one can change us. Only we can choose to change ourselves. Change from who we think we are to who we want to become. The three important facets of this are: thoughts, words and actions.

We start by working on thinking positively. Taking a moment out every time we become aware of a negative thought about ourselves or our situation - and trying to "re-think it" in a positive way. Meditation helps a lot for this. We cannot change reality, but we can change our perception of reality, which is almost as good.

Our words become critical, as they are a more public and lasting communication than our thoughts. In this way, using words, we convey our thoughts to those around us, in effect "announcing" ourselves and our intentions out where others can be party to them. This strongly influences their perception of us, which in turn influences our perception of ourselves. It is important to make this a positive cycle.

Actions our the building blocks which turn our words into our reality. We must stay committed to positive change in our lives, which leads to positive change in those lives we influence. Action is the critical point when these changes manifest themselves through better habits and routines, which improve our quality of life.

The important point to remember is that this process starts with the self. It starts with us taking ownership for our lives and our circumstances. It means thinking in terms of "I ME MY MINE" and not blaming other people for what has happened. I am not suggesting giving in to the ego. That is being dishonest to yourself, and leads to a lot of other problems. What I am suggesting is avoiding the downward spiral of "negative ego", where we convince ourselves that we cannot improve or succeed.

I promise you a direct, immediate result in your work and personal life once you do.
Those results will last and increase as long as you continue to take ownership and make your thoughts, words, and actions in the first person.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Fight Club

Yesterday we started to do sparring as part of the Intermediate class at Ni Tien ( Some people like it; some people hate it - here's my view.

Sparring is a necessary part of any legitimate fighting art.

I have written before that martial arts must be understood by the body, not just the mind. The reactions we have in a fight are based on what we have programmed in muscle memory. Like any muscle, it needs to be flexed and worked out to stay strong and develop.

The key benefits are:
  • great cardio workout
  • improving focus and concentration
  • learning to deal with stress and overcome fear
  • lessening the "panic reaction"
  • conditioning the body to take a hit
  • developing instintive responses to threat
  • widening peripheral vision
  • practicing control of the distance between yourself and opponent
  • expirimenting and trying out different ideas to see if they actually work
Like it or not, the benefits far outweigh any potential risks, provided the sparring is focused and controlled. Some examples of targeted sparring sessions can be: all kicking, all hands, high line, medium line, low line, grappling only, target specific (hit chest or abs only), two-on-one, etcetera...the permutations are truly limitless. Above all, try to be safe and controlled, using the sparring to meet specific objectives.

This is the closest we can get to a real fight, and I think it should be emphasized in every school the way we do it in Kali Majapahit.

See you on the mat!

Friday, November 28, 2008

3 X 3 X 3

No, I am not hitting you with high school math stuff...(math and martial arts already discussed in previous post anyway)

Guro Fred started digging into what this current cycle is all about. As intermediate students, we are supposed to know the basics reasonably well, and start developing our flow and application of them. He mentioned the 3 X 3 X 3.

In Filipino Martial Arts, there are three distances. Largo, medio, and corto - long, medium, close. These distances determine the wide range of available responses, and controlling the distance, which to Filipinos means going toward corto in almost every case, destroying anything that comes to you as you get in. A broad definition of these distances by available weapon is:
  • largo - sikaran kicks, kampilan, tip of baston
  • medio - full baston, punches, panantukan kicks, daga/kris at extension, long arm throws
  • corto - punyo, elbows/knees/headbutts, daga/kris, sweeps, dumog
Silat, Wing Chun, and many other styles talk about a different three. Three height lines: high line, medium line, and low line. These lines can be defined as follows:
  • high line: above opponent's arms and targeting head or throat
  • mid-line: tip of the breastbone down to the knees
  • low-line: below opponent's arms and targeting ankles and feet
The final 3 refers to the fact that there are inside, outside and split entry solutions.

Like a chessboard, there are nearly an infinite set of solutions using the above definitions.
As we train and find our flow, we should spend time explore and expressing each of the permutations to become comfortable, especially moving between inside/outside/split, the 3 lines, and the 3 distances. Mixing it up, your training will never be boring, and you will be giving yourself the benefit of being able to flow in every situation.



"There is no such thing as a half-drawn sword" - Samurai Maxim

We have talked before about training - and we know the results are based on the input. This means GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT.

However, it is much more than that. When we bear in mind that the dojo is our laboratory for the real world, we discover that it is a training ground for practicing the skills that will bring us success outside the dojo as well as inside the dojo. In the real world too, GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT. This includes our diet, our relationships at home and at work, and our other hobbies. Excellence begets excellence. An unwavering commitment to excellence is the most important habit any of us can learn. Learning that habit starts in the dojo.

I come to the lesson ready to work hard. I am there on time. Most importantly, I am not "half" into my training. I give 100%, with all the passion and energy I have. I want to leave the dojo physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually exhausted. Then I recharge for next time. This not only gives my training partners the benefit of my full concentration and focus, it give ME the benefit of training those "intangible muscles" like concentration, focus, awareness, commitment, and that killer instict for fighting that can make all the difference between surviving and dying.

Once I train myself to give 100% inside the dojo, I can learn to give 100% outside the dojo. That means being able to apply the same skills of concentration, focus, awareness, commitment and yes, in a business sense, that killer instinct, in my professional and personal life. You can, too. In this sense, I don't mean "dying" as in "you will be killed if you don't give 100% in your personal and professional life". In fact, what I mean is far, far worse. Without passion and energy for life, we simply sleepwalk through it, half-awake, and our minds, our hearts, and our souls slowly wither away. Look around you and you will know what I mean. Armies of zombies on the subway; in the shopping mall; at the office. Lifeless faces reflecting lifeless existences.

"I see dead people...everywhere...they don't know they're dead..."

But living an "awakened life" is not a reward given to fence-sitters. The half-drawn sword is the one that gets you killed. Only by letting go of your fear and going all in can you break through to the other side. As for me, I am "ALL IN, ALL THE TIME" because I know this is the only real way to get the results I want.

Think about what you want.
Think about how you are going to get it.
Are you IN or OUT? There is no halfway.

See you at the table...oh, the big stack of chips in the middle? Those are MINE.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Integration Week

Whew! Test passed for both George (Phase 1) and I (Phase 3 - intermediate).
Very tired after that but satisfied with the result.

After each cycle, we have a week off of training at Ni Tien for "integration week". What is that all about?

Integration week is a one-week break during which we can:

  • rest and recover any micro-injuries we have had during the cycle
  • have time to think about the cycle and review what happened/what we learned
  • goalset for the upcoming cycle and clarify objectives/improvements
  • do a bit of background reading/research on martial arts
  • watch videos of martial arts on Youtube! or get DVDs
Physically, I think it is good to get the break and let the body heal.
However, "idle hands are the devil's playthings"...
Here are some things I suggest to keep busy during integration week:

Cardio - while I am against any weights during integration week, the heart is a muscle you can always work out...try to keep it low intensity, though
Yoga/stretching - always worthwhile, and a good way to remove lactic acid from the cycle and not get stiff
Fasting - a fast can help clean out your body and focus you for the next cycle. Do with care.
Tai chi Style - step through the movements (kabka, sinawali, angles 1-5, shadowboxing). All movements should be done AS SLOWLY AS POSSIBLE. Just for cementing muscle memory. This one is great done blindfolded or with eyes closed. GO SLOW.
Asymmetric exercizes - always worth doing. do them slow and workout your brain, not your body
Swim - great low-impact workout. Keep it slow and steady
DRINK WATER - that never stops. Make sure you are getting your 3 liters a day in.

There you go. Don't get bored, there is plenty to do even during integration week.
See you at Ni Tien from 17 Nov.

Friday, November 07, 2008

It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

This picture needs very little explanation. It's my 7 year old son George and I doing Kali together. When I look at this I think of my responsibility as a father to help provide experiences for my children that will bring us closer together, and that will help prepare them for the challenges that life brings.

George, I am so proud of you.

Train hard and have fun, son.

(thanks for the picture Guro Fred and Guro Lila)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Making the Grade

On Saturday, 14 November, I test for Phase 3 in Kali Majapahit.
If successful, I will move up to intermediate classes from late November.

At this level, what are my expectations? (Guro Fred may have very different views)

Be comfortable in the boxing stance/guard.
Have hip square to target at all times.
Be able to deliver solid, balanced basic punches (jab, cross, hook) while moving.

Be able to affect basic inside/outside/split entry solutions for jab/cross combos.
Deliver follow ups all the way to finish with at least 3 final shots to the opponent on the ground.
Know a few of the most common takedowns.
Be familiar with guntings and how to apply them to jab/cross/hook.
Begin to develop "flow" by having smooth, constant motion.

Double Baston/Single Baston
Be comfortable in Kabka 1-4.
Be comfortable in Sinawali 2-6.
Block basic angles 1-6 with solo baston using both hands.
Know snake disarm.
Have some concept of fighting distance (far, medium, close).

Be comfortable in the basic knife guard with protection for organs/arteries.
Be able to evade or block/parry all basic angles 1-6.
Be able to deliver clockwise disarm to angles 1 and 2.
Know normal and icepick grips.

Health and Body
Have some knowledge of human anatomy (major target areas).
Understand how joints work (elbows, knees, shoulders).
Understand the basics of breathing and posture.
Be aware of the importance of drinking water every day.
Understand the importance of walking properly and being aware of your feet.
Know the difference between acid and alkaline foods.
Begin asymmetric exercises to develop brain hemisphere independence.

Not bad for 6 months of is a lot to know and remember, but I think getting these right is the key to building a strong Kali foundation. I suspect that the intermediate level will have a lot to do with the application of the above skills.

I can hardly wait!


Well, here it is. I am 42 years old today. How do I feel?

Actually, pretty good. A lot has happened since the last time I had a birthday.

Moved to Singapore

That was a big one. I first arrived in Japan in December 1990 and, except for 8 months in 1992, lived in Japan until December 2007 - nearly 17 years. In Japan, all of my dreams came true, and until 2007 I fully expected to work my entire professional career there. I got married there, started a family there, made lifelong friends there; Everything I could have wished for and beyond. Japan truly exceeded my wildest expectations for how my life could become. I am truly grateful.

Am I sad about the move? No way. We all have to continue to challenge ourselves, and this was a great time to come here. It has been good for my family, and it has been good for me. I hope I can stay in Singapore at least 5 more years.

A part of me will always be in Japan, and a part of Japan will always be in me.

Started Kali Majapahit
I believe good luck (or just the unintended good benefits of good choices) happens when we do the right things. Finding Ni Tien soon after I arrived in Singapore was a great stroke of luck. I have always been fascinated by Filipino Martial Arts, and now I have a chance to train with some of the best in the world. Guro Fred is simply amazing; and his approach to delivering FMA is comprehensive and well-planned. I want to train here as much as possible for as long as I can.
Kali Majapahit is going to become the cornerstone of my life as a martial arts instructor. I test for Phase 3 (and move to Intermediate Level) on Saturday 8 November.

Achieved Shodan (first degree black belt) in Yoshinkan Aikido
After nearly 4 years of waking up at 4 AM to go to Yoshinkan aikido 5:45 AM class at RYA Dojo, I ended up testing for my shodan in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in August - at 41 years old. Loving Kali does not mean I love Yoshinkan any less - they are very different aspects of my personality. Being graded by Shihan Joe Thambu, the first non-Japanese to be recognized as shihan (master teacher) in Yoshinkan, was a rare honor. Having Sensei Ramlan Ahmed, my current master, grade me was a blessing. Having Sensei Farid Ambiah, my kindred spirit and inspiration, as my uke was an extra bonus. That was a great weekend. It has been about 20 years since I took a black belt test, and I am proud to have had the focus to pass. I hope I did not disappoint Sensei Michael Steumpel and Sensei Roland Thompson from RYA, and in my heart I will be "5:45 Forever".

Yoshinkan Aikido will be an important part of my curriculum as a martial arts instructor.

Decided to get my master's degree in Finance
I have not been a student for 16 years (graduate of North Central College in 1992). Can I do it again? A master's of science in finance is a tough and very focused degree, the only one of its kind offered in Singapore. I am hoping this will take my skills to the next level. After having worked in the high tech industry focusing on technology licensing, software project management, and system integration for the early part of my career, I became a broker in 2000 by joining CAI in Tokyo. Now, after a brief stint at Lehman Brothers, I am at JP Morgan, one of the biggest and best banks on Earth.

I decided I LOVE capital markets, and I want to be in this business for the rest of my career. A year from now I doubt I will be doing the same job I do now (let's hope not!) and may not even be in the same firm anymore (let's hope not!), but I will be somewhere - serving clients and trying to do this business the best I can. My degree officially starts on Friday, 14 November.

I am glad with the way things have gone for the past year. I have momentum and velocity in my life again - achieving things, and it feels great. I am stronger and happier than last year. I am excited about what my 42nd year on Earth will bring.

In the end, that's all that matters, right?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Math and Martial Arts

Tonight is "Math Night" at my son's first grade class.
Despite various posts I have made on the relationship of science to martial arts, few of us realize how close math and martial arts really are.

See if you agree:

The Right Teacher Makes all The Difference
I didn't have very good math teachers in school. I went to public school, and most of them just wrote things on the board and gave us homework. Then in college I met professor Andre for business calculus. He made math RELEVANT. The problems he gave us were real-world problems - you wanted to solve them. From then on I have loved math. Thanks Professor Andre. In martial arts, especially for children, the right teacher makes the difference between fun and boring - between a lifetime of learning and casual disinterest.

Developing Confidence
A good teacher, in math or martial arts, develops confidence in the students and takes them forward at a pace they can handle. There is some pressure from time to time, but the chance of failure should never really exist for students in either. Challenges are presented in order to build confidence and self-esteem. Most people, myself included, believed we were poor at math simply because we lacked confidence - not because we are stupid.

Good drills in math gradually help us develop instinctive understandings about how the numerical world works, just as good drills in martial arts help us to achieve mind/body control.
Both skills develop sound, powerful thinking power.

It is criminal to deny a student the chance to reach their potential in either by failing to help them develop their confidence.

Focus on Fundamentals
I love math becuase, like martial arts, it is built on fundamental rules.
We work the fundamentals a lot in both. They give us the tools to go forward and solve even complex problems by combining fundamentals.

In martial arts, our basic stances and movements become the foundation sones for more complicated and intricate techniques we learn later on.

Weak fundamentals - weak techniques. That applies to both.

Repetition and Drills
Repetition and drills are at the heart of practice - especially if we want to commit things to memory (physical or mental). This does not have to be boring, however. In martial arts and math, good teachers combine and invent new drills all the time to keep student interest and help make the student responses intuitive. All students love a fun challenge, and this can be done effectively by teachers of either.

Logic and Creativity
As we progress in martial arts, we develop both our logic and our creativity. We learn to attack the nearest effective "logical" target on our opponent, and to position our bodies in the most advantageous "logical" location relative to our opponent.

We develop creativity in our martial arts when we truly understand concepts, and learn to apply their logic in unique ways. Ni Tien calls this "flow" (

In math, the most elegant and beautiful solutions to problems come when we understand the rules and apply them in a unique way to find the answer. As in martial arts, there are often many ways to solve problems.

Broad Applicability
I have said before that I use my martial arts training every single day. It's true. What I learn is valuable far beyond the dojo. The points above have developed my educational concept throughout my life, and allowed me to find new perspectives that have kept me interested and passionate about life.

Math is the cornerstone of many other bodies of learning, including medicine, chemistry, physics, engineering, architecture, and business. Skill and confidence here can lead to a lot of options later on.

Martial arts training has been part of my life since I was 14, and been largely responsible for the diverse successes I have had in my life.

Lifetime Learning
I have been involved with martial arts for 27 years so far. I never cease to be amazed at new discoveries I uncover every day. math is also like that. Mathematican friends of mine continually find new ways to apply what they know, new problems to solve, and new puzzles to challenge them. Both fields of study are infinite, and worthy of lifelong dedication.

Don't be afraid to pick up a book and discover how smart you really are.
You may surprise yourself and awaken the "sleeping genius" within you.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Since Guro Fred mentioned it, I have been drinking an average of 3 liters of fresh water per day.

Over the last 4 months of doing this, here's what I have observed:

  • Sleeping better/better rested in the mornings
  • No joint pain
  • No headaches or hangovers
  • Generally better overall feeling of health - more energy
  • Drink much less sodas and coffee - more aware of what I drink/conciously choose water
It is easy to dismiss health advice as gimmick or hoax, but this is one that definitely has made a big difference in my life. I am proud of Kali Majapahit and Ni Tien, since it embraces longevity and health, and I believe that drinking plenty of fresh water daily is a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle. TRY IT!!


Sunday, October 26, 2008


I see it all the time. Usually after a month or two of training. The student starts ratcheting up the techniques, possibly hurting one of the other students. They start asking "why" all the time. You can see the frustration in their eyes when it is not as simple or as easy as they thought. The possibility that maybe they "just can't get it" begins to surface. They become overwhelmed. Some will give in to the stress and quit.

It doesn't have to be like that.

In a way, martial arts is all about trust. Trusting your teachers, trusting your fellow students, trusting yourself. Let me explain.

Trusting Your Teachers
Those of you who know me know I am all about doing very careful diligence before you start training somewhere. Know your teacher; know his/her pedigree; know how he/she thinks and believes. Take a few trial classes. Talk to other students. Check references. Read his/her book. Do your diligence as if your life depended on it (since your martial arts life actually might). But having done that and satisfied yourself, it is time to let him/her do their job.

Give them the tools to help you by showing up at class prepared and energized and participating fully in the lessons. It is good to not ask too much in the first few months, since you will need a frame of reference to ask intelligent questions (your framework is still developing during that initial time). In addition, the learning curve is steep at the beginning as the framework comes together - the answer is usually a lesson or two away anyway. Keep a journal or a blog to document your thoughts and feelings - and then concentrate on the class.

Your teachers have thought out what they are doing. There is rhyme and reason and pace involved in the lesson plan. Trust that they will take you forward at the rate you can handle.
"The years teach much the days do not know"

Trusting your fellow Students
You can see the look in each others' eyes as you pair up - "please don't hurt me"... We are all a little afraid at the beginning. Good fellow students help motivate you and bring out the best during the lessons. Because we are all different, we will be mentors to some and others will be mentors to us. The scope of the training allows for individual excellence as we all progress different skills at different speeds. The fellowship of schoolmates in martial arts can be a very powerful bond, not unlike soldiers in wartime. We trust our safety to each other when we train. We trust each other to be just who we are, and to give it all for the sake of our training. Trust your fellow students to show up and be motivated like you are; to carry you when you are weak, and to be carried by you when you are strong.

Trusting Yourself
You can do this. All things happen for a reason. You came to the school with your own objectives. Leave with them fulfilled. Become the person you want to be. I realize it can be frustrating to want too much too soon, but try to be patient with yourself. relax, and let the magic happen. Be diligent in your practice, and let the training do the rest.

Becoming a Black Belt
a student asked the master "how long until I can be a black belt?"
the master replied "at least 10 years".
"10 years? Too Long! what if I practice 4 hours a day?" asked the student.
"at least 20 years" replied the master.
The student was shocked. "I don't understand. what if that is all I do, night and day?"
"Then at least 30 years", said the master.


Relax and enjoy it!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Welcome to the Real World

(thanks to Rory for the topic)

Sometimes people ask me "Have you ever used your martial arts training?"
I answer truthfully "I use my training every day"...they look shocked...


In addition to the physical benefits of increased strength and cardio, and the practical aspects of learning self-defense, what other tangible benefits does martial arts training bring? How can it be helpful in the "real world"??

Reacting to Stress
Physical combat, where bodily injury is anticipated, is considered the most stressful situation we can face. We have involuntary responses to stress. Adrenalin pumps, pupils dilate, heart rate spikes, bloodflow moves from extremeties to core. We can often feel frozen in fear. Martial arts training pushes us via such activities as partner drills and sparring, to become more comfortable in the face of stress. We become aware of ourselves and our bodies, our reactions to stress - and we practice focusing and reacting while under that pressure. In the real world where we are usually not physically attacked on a dialy basis (but may be verbally/emotionally attacked), this is great for helping us cope.

Good martial arts training makes us multitask. In Kali Majapahit ( our stickwork, knifework, and empty hands is uniquely designed to help us achieve ambidexterity, often causing each hand to be doing something different at the same time (block and strike, trap and strike, strike two targets, etc.). The effect of this training is that we become more able to unify the two hemispheres of our brains and use them together. This opens up new perceptions and increases our mental abilities overall. The multitasking skill is especially useful when our job requires doing several things at once without confusion.

No martial art can be properly taught without including a study of breathing. Breathing controls our basic body functions (heart rate, blood pressure), and is responsible for helping us generate power in techniques. At the office, knowing how to breathe properly can be a key factor in stress management.

Constant training in achieving our goals (through the rank testing/grading process) has the result of conditioning our mindset of success outside the dojo as well. We cease to view ourselves as "victims" and begin to see ourselves as "victors". This confidence is reflected in our posture, our handshake, and our eye contact. By mastering ourselves, we are no longer intimidated or afraid of others - no longer intimidated or afraid of being who we can be.

Many martial arts (including Kali Majapahit) include learning of natural healing methods including massage and diet. Every good martial arts teaches these concepts in order to create a balanced harmony in the student between yin and yang (positive and negative). This learning helps us keep our bodies in overall better condition - which means getting enough sleep, eating proper foods, keeping hydrated, and in general focusing on our own health and longevity. This has a direct impact in fewer sick days and an overall more positive working environment for all employees.

The next step will be to get employers to view martial arts as having the same (actually more) benefit than practicing yoga or going to the gym. Martial Arts training is vital for success in life - personally and professionally.

Tony Robbins, motivational speaker (and martial artist)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Back to the Lab

I have alluded before to the martial arts dojo being like a laboratory, but it is really worth a short discussion on what that means.

In our "laboratory" we can (and should) experiment. Like all good scientists ("martial scientists" that is), we can apply scientific method to what we do. This is broadly defined as:

basic research - lacking any particular problem, but designed to become more fluent with the tools, relationships, and environments
applied research - research aimed at solving a specific problem with a specific scope

For example, basic research could include working the heavy bag to develop a greater awareness of the relationship our foot placement has to generating punching power. Applied research would include studying and testing several specific variations of footwork to determine the best foot placement (measured by pounds of impact force per sq cm on the heavy bag). Yes, applied research often follows basic research, but it need not necessarily be so.

Another key component of scientific method that we must consider is hypothesis. In science, we use hypotheisis to define certain ideas/relationships which we can then test/validate. For example, a hypothesis can be that pointing palms down (parallel to the ground) when doing a knife block on angles 1 and 2 offers the best possible protection to the vital arteries and veins of the arms. To prove this, we run a series of tests using a training knife with chalk on the blade. Using 100 trials in both palm up and palm down versions, we carefully check the chalk marks each time and note how many cases in each trial resulted in chalk on a vital area. Based on the data, high levels of certainty can lead us to consider some knowledge as theorem rather than simple hypothesis, supposition or subjective opinion.

All good scientists use collect and use data - and with good hypotheses it is not hard to identify meaningful test trials that can generate data which will help to prove or disprove the hypotheses.

Finally, every good scientist is willing to trust the method rather than his/her own subjective opinion. Problems must be studied in detail, and no solution is ever considered valid unless it has had extensive testing and yielded a high percentage repetition of the expected result. Many martial arts could benefit from such a rigorous approach rather than reference to some mystical scrolls.

Some golden rules of science to remember are:

  1. Safety First - for both yourself and your training partners
  2. Use both basic and applied research - Both are important
  3. Develop meaningful testing scenarios - Be Creative!
  4. Trust the data and collect plenty of it - repeition is your friend
  5. Draw conclusions based on the results - this can lead to more hypotheses and so on
  6. Have Fun - science is about exploration and discovery
  7. Question EVERYTHING - Be willing to drop even closely held beliefs if the data does not support them
In summary, the school is a place where under careful supervision from qualified teachers we can take a journey of discovery that will help us understand our bodies and those of our partners. This awareness will make us better fighters and better people.

Seek out "puzzles/problems" for yourself and do not be afraid to let science help you find answers. It has worked for mankind since we started. Watch "Mythbusters" if you need to get inspired...

And you probably thought science class was no fun... :-)

PS: this book may help get your mind working
Martial Mechanics: Maximum Results with Minimum Effort in the Practice of the Martial Arts, by Phillip Starr

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Law and You

Guro Fred often talks about making sure the response is appropriate to the attack. That is, if a drunken old bum gives you a halfhearted shove on a street corner, it does not justify you breaking every bone in his body and killing him.

WWWD - "What would Walker do"?

On the surface, you may think that this is just common sense ethics. You'd be right. However, more than that there are real concrete repercussions for such hasty actions.

The law in most countries does not allow the use of lethal (or even potentially lethal) force lightly. There are usually three major points that come into play in court:

  1. Assessment - did you take time to assess the level of threat? Were you aware of the danger level?
  2. Retreat - did you make every reasonable effort to remove yourself from harm?
  3. Appropriateness - did you cease use of force when the situation was over? Or did you continue?
Universally, the courts will want to establish whether or not you had reasonable justified cause to believe yourself or your loved ones were threatened with bodily harm (possessions don't count). Even if that is the case, the court will often consider whether or not you had means at your disposal to run away or otherwise escape from harm without resorting to violence. Finally, the court will deliberate on whether your use of force was suited to the matter at hand.

A negative judgment on any of the above points could land you in prison, subject you to a civil suit involving compensation, or both. Is it really worth it? REALLY?

Martial arts training not only helps us develop the skills to overcome an opponent in a fight, it also allows us to practice remaining calm in high-stress situations, which can give us the rational mindset to not overreact and use excessive force unnecessarily.

A good instructor helps to develop your responses across a spectrum of threat levels including low, medium, and high. It is important to be able to use the correct level of response and not be either under or over-reactive.

Be aware of the law in the place you live, and act within it. If you don't, even winning can make you a LOSER.

I actually WON the fight - see you in 10 years...


Friday, October 10, 2008

Bad Genes? or Bad Excuses?

Over the years I have heard probably every excuse known to man for why a prospective student is not able to join - "I have bad genes", "I have no sports skills/I am just not athletic", "I am just not good at this type of stuff", "I've always been weak/fat/skinny/whatever"...blah blah blah yada yada yada.

Let's face it. Very few of us were born with a perfect body designed to excel at martial arts.
We compare ourselves to those heroes we know of: Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, Steven Seagal, Jacky Chan, Jet Li, JC Van-Damme, etc. and we sigh "I could never be like them".
Truth is, these famous athletes have nothing special that you and I do not have.

I strongly suggest you to study the backgrounds of these famous people, and most other famous athletes you know. You will quickly discover that nearly every single one of them overcame significant physical limitations to become the larger-than-life stars they are. In many cases (Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzeneger, Sylvester Stallone), their frail physiques were the main reason for their involvement in bodybuilding.
REPEAT: These famous athletes had nothing special that you and I do not have.

The combination of good training with competent teachers, focus on diet and nutrition, and good old fashioned hard work is UNDENIABLE.

: "Did you think I was just born this way?? yeah, right"

So stop your moaning already - you do not need to be on the same level with those stars; but there is no reason why you cannot get off your ass and start taking control of your own life TODAY...RIGHT NOW. Lots of heroes did more with less. What the hell are you waiting for?

You ask: "Will I become a big, strong, healthy black belt if I start training?"
I answer: "I dunno. But I can promise you what you will get if you don't - NOTHING"

Think about it. See you in class.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Bit About Me

After nearly 80 posts, I think you know a good deal about me already; my point of view and what I am thinking about. You probably already know a lot about my philosophy toward training and personal development via the Martial Arts, but maybe I have been rude by not sharing much about my own background. I have always kept my blog focused on the here and now, and did not explain how I got here. For any of you that are interested, here is a bit of my own heritage:
  • 1974 Karate, Olympic Karate School, Villa Park, IL USA
  • 1981 Ninkage Ryu Ninjutsu (2nd Dan Black Belt 1988), Chicago, IL USA
  • 1988 Kiyama Ryu Iaijutsu (1st Dan Black Belt 1989), Portage, IN USA
  • 1989 Western Fencing, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL USA
  • 1989 Aikikai Aikido, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL USA
  • 1995 Takeda-Ryu Rosen-ha Aikijujitsu, Tokyo Japan
  • 2002 Western Boxing, Watanabe Boxing Gym, Tokyo, Japan
  • 2004 Yoshinkan Aikido (1st Dan Black Belt 2008), Tokyo, Japan RYA Dojo and Singapore Shudokan Dojo
  • 2008 Kali Majapahit, Ni Tien Martial Arts, Singapore
You can see that my heritage is largely in Japanese styles (until 2008), and that is why Kali Majapahit is of particular interest by contrast to what I have done before. I always wanted to explore Southeast Asian styles, but they were inaccessible in Chicago when I was growing up and were not taught in Osaka or Tokyo for the last 16 years that I was there.

There were several periods where I could not train consistently, notably 1991 - 1995 when I was first getting settled into Japan and learning the language had a much higher practical priority for me. Of course, I continued to look at the world through my martial artist's eyes, and still do so more than 25 years later. My start in 1974 was at Olympic Karate School in Villa Park, IL

This was short-lived, however, and my real first exposure came in training with Master Randy Moore at Ninkage Ryu Ninjitsu in Chicago from 1991 to 1998, where he developed my background in Japanese martial arts and weapons, including sword, staff, nunchaku, sai, kama, tanto, jo, manriki gusari, and a host of others. Master Moore sent me to train under Sensei Raye Cantrell in Indiana specifically in Japanese sword and aiki concepts in Kiyama Ryu, where I trained from 1987-1991 during my college years prior to going to Japan.

The next major training cycle for me was in Tokyo. I studied with Master Reuben Rosen in Takeda-ryu Aikijujutsu in Yotsuya, near Shinjuku, Tokyo until he closed the school, and began Yoshinkan aikido at Roppongi Yoshinkan Aikido under Roland Thompson and Michael Steumpel, eventually testing for black belt under Joe Thambu and Ramlan Ahmed of Shudokan. I am now helping to teach Sunday Aikido class at the new Shudokan Singapore school.

My current cycle is focused heavily on Kali Majapahit at Ni Tien Martial Arts under Guro Fred Evrard, and has been helping me to integrate all I have done into a cohesive package and adding important elements of Chinese and Filipino arts, as well as lifestyle/health consulting.

My path has been long, with many interesting vantages. I hope you will join me for the rest of the way!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Get the POINT

I always find it amazing that so many martial artists have so little knowledge (or even factually incorrect knowledge) about the human body. We often talk of martial arts as being precise and exact, and I do not think this is possible without knowing the weak points of the body. Guro Fred will contend, rightly so, that a lack of knowledge of the body not only keeps us from attaining our optimal state of health, but when fighting, ignorance makes a tough job even tougher.

Particularly for smaller artists or female artists, it is critical to master a few points that can be relied upon to bring an opponent down, especially when that opponent is likely to be bigger/stronger.

Although I post an acupuncture chart above, I do not think it is a requirement for every artist to know every point on every meridian. However, it is well worth knowing a few, and especially knowing the location and function of key organs of the body such as the liver, spleen, heart, and major arteries/veins and nerve clusters - this is useful to know where to attack, and also where to protect on your own body. Without such knowledge, martial arts becomes vulgar and coarse, based only on physical strength and lacking the grace of an "art" or the precision of a science.

Martial Arts can be summarized as "your strong points against your enemy's weak points".
That is not possible if you do not know where they are.

Take some time to study up on the basic target organs: liver, spleen, kidneys, heart. Also learn the difference between a choke (attacks the windpipe) and a strangle (attacks the carotid arteries). Work on understanding the key joints of the body: wrist, elbow, shoulder, ankle, knee, hip, neck. Be familiar with the spinal column and how it controls balance and power.

This knowledge will definitely take your training to the next level. See you in anatomy class!

Boxing 101

Just a few pointers for those of you who love to box (like me).

1. Gloves to cheeks - in a proper boxing guard, the second knuckle of your gloves should be resting against your cheekbone. Get in the habit of touching your face with your gloves EVERY TIME you execute a movement. Gloves against your cheek should be your home position where your gloves always return. Muhammad Ali could get away with having his gloves down - you can't.

2. Elbows in - one of the most common mistakes is to let your elbows come out. This is especially true when throwing hooks. Elbows should be perpendicular to the floor when in guard position, and parallel to the floor during hooks. Adam could spare a few ribs - you can't.

3. Kneed Help - BEND YOUR KNEES. Your knees are the way to control your height/level when you box, and also act as shock absorbers when you cover to take a punch.
Bending your knees also helps you coil your hips to generate power in all your punches. Standing straight up will get you laid straight out.

4. Leaning Tower - Keep your back straight and do not lean from side to side. To keep balance and generate power, it is critical that your spine remain straight and in alignment with your head. Leaning is an especially common mistake during bob and weave. Yes, that also means not turning your head from side to side. It is acceptable to lean slightly backward when doing a "pullback block", but in that case your gloves remain on your cheeks and get straight immediately afterward. Your head should be facing forward, toward your opponent, chin slightly tucked.

5. Keep Moving - Boxing is dynamic. That means you should always be moving and not give your opponent a stationary target. Weight should always be on the balls of the feet. Plant only for the split second when you are hitting - then get right back on the move. Stay in one place, die in one place.

6. Feet Up - Your feet should never both be flat on the floor. NEVER. Always have one foot up, and that is the foot of the side you are punching with. lead leg punches: jab, lead leg hook, lead let uppercut should bring the lead foot slightly higher (back foot is still on the ball of the foot). The opposite for back leg punches: cross, hook, uppercut. Flat feet will leave you flat on the canvas.

7. Hips in - Your hips should be facing into your opponent, never sideways. Feet should be just wider than your shoulders to give a strong power base while keeping mobility.

8. Go Through - When punching, your aim should be about 6 inches past your target. Be careful not to overextend, and return to guard (gloves on cheekbones) after every single punch.

9. Distance - Your knees control your height. Your feet control your distance. This means being able to float in and out of punching range. You want the wrong range for your opponent and the right range for you.

10. Breathe - Hard to believe, but many people forget this in the heat of the moment. You should have a strong exhale as you launch your punches, and DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH.

Make Mickey Proud - don't be a bum!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What you can learn from the Singapore GP

OK, I know what you're thinking...WTF does F1 racing have to do with my training?? After 75 posts you should have figured me out by now. EVERYTHING always has to do with martial arts training.

No, this is not a post about staying up late to watch the race. There are serious things we can learn from what happened. Here's a summary:

1. The race favorites were clearly team Ferrari, led by Kimi Raikonnen and Felipe Massa.
Despite being the odds favorites, they did not win the race.

2. Lewis Hamilton of McLaren (currently point leader) was also a popular choice and a crowd favorite, although he did not win in the time trials and did not win the race (he finished third).

3. The race was won by Felipe Alonso of team Renault. Why?

We ultimately discover some very important lessons. Alonso won not because he was faster, but because he made no crucial mistakes. During the race, both Massa and Raikonnen had problems. Massa left the pits with the fuel hose still in his car, finishing 18th, and Raikonnen hit a wall, failing to even finish the race.


1. Technique is better than speed. Always aim for proper technique first. Speed comes later. Be obsessive about working your basics, they are often the difference between winning and losing.

2. Don't worry about the crowd or the fans - pride goeth before a fall. Concentrate on the task at hand. Anyone can win or lose on any given day, and it ain't over till it's over.

3. Time trials are not races. The key to training is to have dependable skills when they really matter - do your best in practice, but remember it is not the real thing.

4. Winning is not always about being better - many times it is about making less mistakes than the other guy.

Speed Racer was also a martial artist

Like Martial Arts, racing requires constant training, focus, and a good coach.

See you in the pits,

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I hear a lot about different styles - and how different they are. In fact, it is almost an aikidoka's favorite pastime to praise his/her own style and trashtalk every other. Between Yoshinkan and Aikikai, if you didn't know better you would think it is an all-out war.

Let's be clear about a couple of things. First of all, there is only one source - Ueshiba Morihei.
Yes, many interpretations, but that is just what they are - INTERPRETATIONS. Aikido, like most martial arts, has grown and evolved since its creation, and even O-Sensei grew and evolved throughout his life, which means that those deshi who trained with him at different times would have had differences in the aikido they experienced from him. Does it make any style better than any other? I think not.

Rather, I think it is of critical importance to focus not on what makes us different, but on what makes us similar. Aikido, irrespective of style, has central principles and movements, even if they are called by slightly different names. I do believe that exposure to different styles strengthens our knowledge of our own style.

At the same time, I meet many people (actually I have the same experience) who have studied a wide variety of styles. This is not a bad thing, but I do think at some point you must commit to a style long enough to go deep and understand the more advanced portions that each style has to offer. It is a critical failing of many "concepts"-based systems that they teach generalities without giving students the proper foundations and background to be able to apply those concepts properly. be sure you train with someone whose knowledge and experience go beyond just "concepts".

I am a strong advocate of purity - meaning that study of any martial art should be done in such a way as to preserve its unique tradition and culture. When doing aikido, I do Yoshinkan - not because I believe Yoshinkan is inherently better than any other aikido style (sorry guys), but because that is what I have studied and I should make my best efforts when training to do it properly (at least when I am in a Yoshinkan school). If I visit another system, I have no problem doing the techniques the way they show me. Some people take great offense to their techniques being corrected or called "wrong" in another style. I think this is a problem of semantics. "Wrong" for a technique in a Yoshinkan school should simply mean "different" to an Aikikai practitioner, not "worse". An Aikikai technique in a Yoshinkan technique is "incorrect" not because it is flawed or does not work, but because Yoshinkan schools are for studying Yoshinkan. The fact is, in Yoshinkan schools, just as in Aikikai schools, great effort is made to preserve the purity of the style and its techniques.

I have lived my whole life believing that the martial arts are a powerful vehicle for personal development (hence this blog). I also think there is no one best path in the martial arts - all proper styles have merit for those who study them diligently. I support a global community of like-minded martial artists who can openly share with one another and not place ridicule or scorn on others. The blessing of the martial arts is the blessing of understanding.

See you soon at a dojo near you.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Man in the Mirror (Part 2)

Guro Fred never disappoints. His deep insight drawn from his lifetime of study in Chinese and Filipino arts manifests in some really unique ideas not just on fighting, but on health and personal development as well.
Last night he talked a lot about taking responsibility for your own health. That means that rather than blame other people or circumstances for our state of health, we examine ourselves, our habits, and our lifestyle, and create positive change to improve.
What I really enjoyed about Guro Fred's health lecture was that he was able to extrapolate the long-term effects of bad posture and bad habits into potential damage to bones, joints, and ligaments, which contribute to loss of mobility and functionality much later in life. Guro Fred explains that this is a concept which is central to Chinese/Asian TCM, and a foundation point of Ni Tien, the "two skies" of "martial arts and health" that he teaches.
It is critically important that we all take ownership of our bodies and our lives, and become responsible for our own longevity and happiness. I have alluded to this in other posts, but time to remind all of us (including me) to have a close look at the Man in the Mirror, and accept that the truth we see is the truth we created. It is never too late to have a healthy life. START NOW!

Monday, August 18, 2008


Ok, I lied...Ramlan-sensei mentioned a third very important point yesterday - Atemi (striking).

This opens almost all of the Yoshinkan arsenal and is an essential part of the technique.
Atemi, the opening strike, is designed to stop uke's forward motion and set their weight back on their heels (off of the balls of the feet). That means it must be done hard and fast, with full intent and full forward projection. Weak atemi is pointless.

A strong atemi should lock uke's blocking arm into place and drive through the arm into uke's hips and feet. Uke should be unable to withdraw the blocking arm. Shite's atemi should be right in uke's face leaving uke no time to do anything except block.

This cannot be done if shite has any backward motion at all from the beginning of the technique. The initial motion of shite should be explosively forward, along the line of power, and applying atemi with projection through uke's head. It is worth noting that for advanced students, this initial explosive motion is also DOWN, lowering the hips and drawing the connection to uke's center of balance onto them.

Sensei says O-Sensei maintained that aikido was 70% atemi. I believe this, given its purpose to disrupt uke's balance. Atemi is worthy of careful consideration and diligent practice.


Get Connected!

The second point that Ramlan-sensei mentioned yesterday was about getting (and staying) connected to uke at all times. This contact is critical to control uke. Sensei mentioned about the basic meaning of the aikido techniques:

  • Ikkajo - control of uke's body through the elbow and shoulder
  • Nikajo - control of uke's body through the wrist, elbow and shoulder
  • Sankajo - control of uke's body through the hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder
  • Yonkajo - control of uke's body through a small point on the lower arm (not using the joint)

Note the common element: Control of uke's body. Sensei explains that this control is only possible when we are in contact with uke's body. Thus, every motion of shite, through the line of power, should keep contact with uke and result in control of their body ultimately through the shoulder by means of one of the four principles above.

When training, be mindful of the control of uke's shoulder through the lines, and be certain to take uke's balance as early as possible within the technique. Failure to do so means failed technique. It simply cannot be correct without contact and control.


Walk the Line

Yesterday Ramlan-sensei came to Singapore to teach. He had two main points on our technique.
One was to always remember your line of power. The line of power is that line which starts at the tip of your finger in proper kamae and ends at the outside edge of your back foot. This line includes your wrist and elbow (both straight and flexed but relaxed) as well as your hips (weight slightly forward 60/40 distributed onto your front foot). This line of power should at all times project through uke and determine the direction of your movement. In essence, it can be thought of like the barrel of a gun.

When techniques are weak, it is often due to the fact that shite's (rather than uke's) line of power has been broken/disconnected. Many times this happens at the point of our elbows (when not tucked into our armpits) or at our hips (which come off the line). It is easy to see when Uke lags behind shite (they should always be in front - on the line). It is essential for strong technique to keep everything in line - the line of power.

Ultimately, this line of power is aimed at the uke's weak line. That is, our line aims at a point not of uke's strength (which would clash force on force), but at a point of uke's weakness. This makes strength less necessary for completion of a successful technique.

The automatic line of power can only be achieved through training in kihon dosa, the basic movements of Yoshinkan aikido. These must be done mindfully with intention to be centered on the line of power. Over time, this will become instinctive. Keep training.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008


This is an article about hinges (well...hinge joints, actually).

Last night we did application of Sinawali number 6 and ended up in kadena de mano (Filipino empty hands) redirecting some punches.
One important point that came out was to control the attacker's torso (and free arm) by using the elbow of the lead jab. Sounds simple, right?

I found that until Guro Fred specifically mentioned the elbow, I had been focused on my parry at the wrist/lower forearm. For the inside solution you become exposed to the attacker's free hand (usually the left cross if the atttacker is right-handed) when you close distance. The most convenient beginner way to avoid this trap is to use the attacker's right elbow to turn his/her body and take the outside line if the cross starts to come.

If you try this using the attacker's wrist - you are going to eat the left cross. You need the right elbow to control their body and take that power away.

Just a quick reminder that wrist controls elbow controls shoulder controls attacker.
The elbow is in a tactically excellent spot because it is accessible and closer to the shoulder than the wrist (thus more control over attacker) .

The same concept applies to the body's other main hinge joint: the knee. Pushkicks are often used at the knee for jamming kicks, and this is much more effective than trying to pushkick the foot/ankle.

I know these principles already from aikido, but a little reminder now and then is good too.

Elbows and Knees, knees and elbows

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Message

For the 4th of July weekend, Ni Tien had a promotional event at the US Navy base in Sembawang (Far North Singapore). I attended as the "token American" and also to help promote the school. Summer is a slow time when lots of people go on holidays but if we can get some new students, we can get the first floor of our current building, which is bigger and better than our current third floor space (which is also nice).

I spent a lot of time talking about the school, and martial arts in general, with passers-by and basically anyone I could grab. The key "pitches" I made were:

1) Health
Martial Arts is good for health. More interesting than running on the "hamster wheel" at the gym.
In Ni Tien we learn hilot (traditional healing) as well as diet and nutrition info as part of the training. Our drills are designed to teach us to use our bodies in an intuitive way.

2) Defense
Kali is very, very practical. The movements are intuitive and easy to learn, and the core elements/concepts are the same regardless of being done with hands, knife, or stick.
This makes them easy to remember and apply in any situation. The movements look familiar to each other.

3) Culture
Kali Majapahit is named for the Majapahit empire which had prominence across southeast Asia for several hundred years. Many common cultural influences manifest in Kali including silat, eskira/arnis, muay thai, kung fu, and kuntao to name a few. It is vastly different from anything Japanese or North Asian.
People who make a training commitment to Kali Majapahit get a unique insight into the culture not just of the Philippines, but of all of Southeast Asia.

4) Children
This training is safe and effective for children, helping them develop body awareness, sharper mental focus, confidence, and self-discipline. It is a great way for them to understand their bodies better and to build a platform for good health that can last them all their lives.

OK, all well and good. Nothing one would not expect to read in any slick marketing brochure.
But what has my training done for me? What is the motivational message I would give from my own experience?


My training, from the time I was 14, has helped me take control of myself, and thereby, take control of my life. I learned I could accomplish the things I set out to do - whether this was in the US, in Japan, or even now in Singapore. My Kali training reaffirms this for me with every lesson. I become mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually stronger. I become more and more of who I am, and I know I can become who I want to be. The martial arts is a platform for personal development. This was the objective for this blog when I started it. 3 years and 70 posts later - same as it ever was.

What more can I say.
You NEED this. You know you do. Turn off the TV, get off your ass, and get into your training.
Kali Majapahit is a great vehicle for this. If you are not here, find a good teacher where you are, and start taking control of your own life. You will thank me for it. I promise.

Monday, June 30, 2008


One of my teachers called the martial arts "a lonely path"...

I have been thinking about that a lot lately. The path of training calls us and we have to answer; it is who we are. To do less would deny being ourselves.

At the same time it can be hard to have a "normal" life (whatever that is) while our training seems to be the dominant activity. How does a person get/remain married, have kids, or for that matter even hold down a job? Can we really have the best of all worlds?

Marriage is in my view the single most important decision any of us ever make in our lives. It can determine your level of happiness, your level of success, even your basic motivation. It can have dramatic effects either way on your physical health, and even prolong your life or shorten it! People say that if you make the wrong decision you can always just get divorced. Every one that I know that has done so has suffered lifelong emotional/financial effects from it. Once children are involved, it reaches a new dimension with implications that affect the lives of far more than just you and your spouse.

It is rare to find someone who can understand our commitment to better ourselves. It is hard to find someone who understands that this commitment is not selfish vanity, but rather a desire to improve the whole world by improving our understanding of ourselves and our place in it. Many spouses can feel like "second best" and be jealous of our teachers, jealous of our fellow students, and even jealous or resentful of our training because they feel it takes time away from them.

Rejoice if you have found someone who understands your training for what it is: a necessary and undeniable part of you. Be thankful you have someone who knows that your training makes you a better person, and feel lucky when your spouse knows that your relentless search for the Truth helps you continually improve the quality of your personal relationships - especially the most important one: THEM.

I am grateful to be married to a wonderful wife who has her own competitive spirit, and who understands mine. I am lucky to have children who will respect my choice to never be satisfied with my life, and I hope they will learn from it and do the same.

If you have not found this yet, take heart. It can take a long time, but when you find the right person, your life will improve exponentially. In the meantime, don't compromise and don't settle for less.

This is one decision you have to get right.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Book Time!!

I am not Oprah Winfrey. However, I am an avid reader. I read lots and lots of books, and most smart people I know do also. I encourage everyone (martial artist or otherwise) to read with as much time as they can find. Not at the expense of training of course, but to fill in gaps on trains, buses, taxis, or other waiting periods. TURN OFF THE TV, and the iPod as well (if you are not at the gym). Here are my top ten (not in order of importance) from my bookshelf that I read again and again.

In case you think I know something you don't, it might have come from one of these.

1. A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson
a great overview of many various scientific disciplines for non-scientists. Very easy read.

2. The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
begins to unravel the stranglehold that religion has engineered on modern man. I agree.

3. God is not Great
- Christopher Hitchens
takes God Delusion to another level. Hard, but sound arguments for atheism. Think about it.

4. Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere
- Adele Westbrook and Oscar Ratti
great overview of aikido (yes, I know this is aikikai...). Dynamic sphere is a vital mental image.

5. The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions
- Huston Smith
non-sectarian overview of core beliefs of all the World's main religions. A must-read.

6. Monk or Warrior
- Fred Evrard
synthesis of Filipino Kali practicality and Chinese medical wisdom/philosophy. I believe this.

7. Time Travel and Other Mathematical Bewilderments
- Martin Gardner
starts some really great cocktail party conversations

Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond
one of the books that really made me think about things. Bryson's book, Smith's book, and this one make a set

Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space - Robert Masters and Jean Houston
tried these exercises in college and opened some new doors; you will too.

10. Sources of Power - Gary Klein
a great study on how we make decisions - very applicable to life and martial arts

The above are all non-fiction. Special mention goes to Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.
Fight Club opened my eyes to a lot of practical philosophy and the reality of how much sadness our modern materialistic world can really contain. I choose not to go down that route, but instead to believe in personal development (read Monk or Warrior by Fred Evrard). Palahniuk has some interesting points, though.

There ya go. Now, get off your wallet and go CHANGE YOUR LIFE.
Lemme know what you think about any of them. I'll even buy dinner.
Better yet, tell me I'm wrong and which other books should have made my top ten.
If you persuade me, I'll still buy dinner :-)

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Yesterday was my first test in Kali Majapahit.
I was in bad shape. I had to go to Sydney last week, and got sick mid-Afternoon Thursday. By test time I had eaten no food at all for about 2.5 days and already lost 7 pounds. I felt very weak to say the least.

Somehow I made it through the test and did OK. The most interesting thing, and the point of this post, is that during the empty hand application I got thrown down and somehow Frederick and I hit heads. I got smacked on the back of the head right where the head begins to curve up off of the spine. What happened?

To try and describe it, a bright flash of pain, and electrical shocks all the way down my arms and to the tips of my fingers. Wow. I haven't felt anything like that since I trained in the US nearly 20 years ago. I was stunned, and Guro Fred kindly checked me out to make sure I did not have a concussion or anything long-lasting. I was back up in 5 minutes or so.

I have written before in other posts about how the body is basically a hydro-electric system.
This is what I mean. Disruption (especially due to blunt force traumatic shock) causes electrical signals down the nervous system, in effect "shorting" the circuits. It hurts. This was not a massive shot, but it still would have been enough to put me out of a fight.

At the base of the spine, where it connects to the head, is an area of the brain called the medulla oblongata, which controls the basic motor functions like heartbeat, respiration, and so on. It also happens to be only thinly protected by the skull, especially relative to other parts of the brain.

This is an area where, if struck even mildly, the victim will almost certainly lose consciousness instantly. A direct, forceful blow usually causes coma or death. I missed hitting mine by about 3 inches, and I am very glad for that.

this is what a hard shot to the medulla oblongata feels like



The life you save could be your own.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Random thought I wanted to add after yesterday's training, and related to a prior post on knife fighting called "The Cutting Edge". Leaving your fingerprints on things is bad. In this context, when knife fighting, if we strip the knife from an attacker (which should always be a last-ditch response when we cannot run away or evade) there is a likelihood that we will get our own fingerprints on it. Use your feet to secure it, DO NOT PICK IT UP.

Guro Fred illustrates an example where, having taken a knife away and used it to immobilize an attacker, the police arrive guessed it...we get arrested and charged not just with the man we just used the knife on, but everyone else he may have used the knife on...since our fingerprints are the main ones the police discover. Can you imagine the sick irony of that?

In my post called "Broken", I explain that when we fight, under even the best of circumstances we stand a chance of being arrested and/or charged. This is worthy of serious consideration. The idea that we could get attacked, righteously defend ourselves or our loved ones, and STILL end up in prison or sued by the criminal or his/her family is insane. Insane though it may be, that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Especially in foreign countries where gaijin/gwailo/ang mo are suspect anyway, and police do not speak English as a first language, the chances that you can get unjustly blamed for something goes up exponentially.

CSI may not be there to help you...

Let your mind imagine a situation where you are wrongfully accused, denied by your embassy (who want no part of your problem), stuck in jail awaiting trial in a country where you may not speak the language and may not have an interpreter to help you, where you are likely not to have legal counsel to protect you...and you will get a sense of how these things can escalate.

Human rights do not exist equally everywhere. Be wise. For reference, read this.

It may sound cowardly to say this, but the truth is


Yeah, I know what you're thinking...

What's the point of studying martial arts for all those years if you just run away when confronted by danger?
  • Glib answer: "all the cardio training helps you run faster"
  • Philosophical answer: "only one who knows war can understand peace"
  • Practical answer: "I don't go to jail for NOBODY"
We all want to believe in justice, but as Guro Fred says "leave nothing to chance".

Use your head before you use your fist

oh yeah, and if you plan to pick up the knife you stripped from an attacker, be sure you are wearing gloves :-)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Key

Today after Saturday Kali class was ITP, Instructor Training Program.

This is a special series of seminars Guro Fred teaches for those of us planning to teach martial arts one day. Even though my Kali background is very limited so far, I was invited to attend and feel honored. Don't have ITP in your school? Most schools have nothing like this. Maybe they think good instructors will just magically appear; or that somehow higher belts will just figure it out for themselves. Guro Fred leaves nothing to chance. I was impressed by how much thought went into the real skill of teaching, and what being an assistant or an instructor at Ni Tien school really means.

The seminar helps us learn how to present material and lead various classes. I won't put any specifics on the blog, but it is well thought out and well presented. It makes me feel that I may even have what it takes to teach someday, which is encouraging. Guro Fred has very high standards. If I can meet those, I will be justifiably proud.

Teaching others is the highest level of what we can achieve as martial artists and people. It truly is "giving back". To me, this is the key to the training.