Sunday, March 30, 2008

Japan versus Philippines

Check out my new teachers!

One of the biggest differences I notice in the two types of training is the level of emphasis placed on the decisive ending "kime" in Japanese. For Japanese martial artists, the strategic idea is to draw out a committed attack from uke. That means an attack where uke really has their UPA (unified power of attack, read aikido and the dynamic sphere, thanks guys!) . Once this committed attack comes, it can be redirected and neutralized. This is achieved by taking/breaking uke's cranial and spinal balance, which leads to controls/projections and pins. Great emphasis is placed on centering your spirit and reaching zanshin, where techniques dynamically manifest. Done correctly, it is a one shot stop.

In FMA (Filipino Martial Arts), the concept of "chaining" together techniques in a flowing combination seems far more important. Once a weapon enters my sphere of control, I want to triangle into my attacker and remove it - having done so, next I want to enter and finish. A chain in FMA can be any number of techniques, but usually 5 or more. Great care is made to immobilize the opponent's weapons as they enter the sphere, and to adapt the chain as needed.

Perhaps this difference seems esoteric, but the change in attitude is enormous. For the Japanese stylist, lack of a committed attack can be problematic. Thus, fighting an opponent who likes to jab and kick low to the legs can frustrate a traditionalist, especially when the opponent has enough mobility to avoid shite driving in to secure the center of balance. For the Filipino stylist, this doesn't present the same problem. Jabs and low kicks are just weapons to be taken away, and many of the technique chains begin specifically with "attacking the attack" in order to damage uke's arms and legs before closing distance.

Plenty to think about as I explore the new surroundings at (


Integrate - love that word. Since about a week ago, I have made a commitment to train at another school here in Singapore - Ni Tien Martial Arts ( Have a look.

The senior instructor and his wife have nearly 60 years of combined experience in martial arts and teach mainly Filipino Martial Arts integrated (love that word!) with Tai Chi, western boxing, and a mashup of other stuff (even Iaijutsu!). They also teach traditional healing methods. I have found everyone to be of superior focus and attitude, and we are all really trying to FLOW. It is a great lesson to attend and I am inspired again.

One of the main differences seems to be the way the hips are used. Yoshinkan always wants the hips low and descending, putting shite's center of gravity under uke's (maybe more accurately moving uke's center of gravity onto shite's). In FPM (Filipino Martial Arts), capturing uke's center of gravity seems secondary to immobilizing uke's arms and legs. Most chains start with counters to basic attacks by controlling the center line and either going inside or outside uke. Once the attacking element (uke's arm or leg) is immobilized, uke is usualy "opened", that is to say that shite enters into close range. At that distance, knees, elbows, headbutts are used to disable uke and remove and further will to fight. The chain usually leads uke to the ground and applies a finish there. It is fast and furious and the teachers spend a lot of energy on drills to develop awareness and muscle memory.

Despite FPM's outwardly violent application (harder by far even than Krav Maga), they teach it as "a cultural vehicle for self-discovery" and maintain that the violence stays in the dojo and is really just about preserving the tradition of the arts the way they are taught in the Philippines.

I have always been fascinated by the practicality of the Filipino styles, and fortunate to have found a school that teaches them so well here. Life is full of surprises, and the good ones are better by far than the bad ones. I am hopeful that this school will not only enrich my time here in The Lion City, but also give me a chance to bring together a lifetime of my own study.

Integrate? Inte-GREAT!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Where Do I Go From Here?

We all go through peaks and valleys in our training. It could happen any time, for example after a big event such as a rank test or demo. It could even happen simply because it's been too long without a big event. We question our training, ourselves, and the point of it all. We want some validation or proof of progress, and without it we doubt our abilities. What to do about that?
Yoshinkan is especially hard to measure, since we have very rigid structure and lack of "points" or "rounds" or other methods which are easy to count. It is very different from boxing or Judo or other "sport" arts, and even from karate with its many kata and competition fighting.
Yoshinkan training is really about learning to control your own body. Of course, by exploring our bodies and learning what unbalances them, we learn to unbalance our attackers. By learning what makes us strong, we learn to take strength away from our attackers.
The Yoshinkan techniques are all specifically designed to introduce students to the core principles and help show examples of how to apply these principles in certain circumstances so we can master the body movements.
Specifically we have to learn balance, power, smoothness, focus, centering, sinking, extension, relaxation, contact, distance and breathing. These are universal and done in every single technique. Together, we study Ikkajo, Nikajo, Sankajo, Yonkajo, and the throws and Osae against all the common attacks and angles to program specific responses. We train these until we achieve muscle memory and can do them without thinking about them.
The goal is to learn to do the techniques correctly as easily and naturally as walking down the street. It is only then that we can stop thinking and free our minds to extend our energy outward. Properly done, Yoshinkan becomes a kind of "Moving Zen" when we remove outside distractions and no longer think about ourselves or our partners.
When we have reasonable success with this already difficult challenge, we must seek consistency - so that we keep a high energy level and relaxed state simultaneously whenever we are on the mats. That becomes a benefit we can take with us outside the dojo as well, which will help us live our lives vibrantly and cope with daily stress, as well as enriching our human relationships and promoting our overall mental and physical health.
There is so much to do and learn, I hope your training never gets boring. Training plateaus occur, as do peaks and valleys. Resist complacency. Take a deep breath, take your time, but keep moving forward. I promise you will get there. Let's go together.