Friday, May 30, 2008

The Magic Touch

Yesterday was Tai Chi Thursday. We do a variety of Chi kung exercises to strengthen the breathing and chi flows, and then segue into the regular lesson. Last night was deep breathing using the whole lungs (upper, lower, and back). But I digress. The Magic Touch appeared during a trapping drill. One of the finishes to the standard two step trap was a devastating strike.

It made me suspect that the "Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique" a la Kill Bill really exists. I am prohibited from posting any specifics (Guro Fred expressly told me: "this one does not go on your blog") . Suffice to say it was a heartstopper (literally).

I have heard tales of these things throughout my martial arts career. The true precedent in Chinese martial arts is Dim Mak, the "death touch". Basically, this is the antithesis of acupressure. Acupressure uses energy meridians to improve health and energy flow; Dim Mak uses the same points to disrupt energy flow and harm the victim.

George Dillman is notable for this but it seems to have a number of caveats that can make in ineffective. To me, it seems very much like what Televangelists do, since it works best on True Believers.

What do I think? The body is a hydroelectric system. Although resilient, it can be "shorted" like any other electrical system. This can be short term (knockout) or permanent (death). Mostly, this can be attributed to damage to the head/brain. However, it can be disrupted at the pump (heart) or a number of other key spots. I believe in Dim Mak. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

In any case, with great power comes great responsibility. That technique was intimidating to say the least. If you run into any of the techniques, BE VERY CAREFUL. You can permanently injure training partners or yourself if you do not have the right level of self-control. Make sure you have your instructor very close by when practicing anything even remotely related to Dim Mak.

Safety First!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Nice Guys Finish Last

Today was a good lesson at King George dojo. Most important advice that Ramlan-sensei gave me was on Zanshin. Zanshin is the moment of total concentration at the beginning and end of any martial arts technique. I was lacking a bit today and this was the biggest thing he corrected.

During Jiyuwaza, the zanshin has a very important part to play, since it is like the glue holding the techniques together and creating flow. Uke attacks; shite responds, ending in zanshin, which flows into kamae (and the next technique). Without zanshin, jiyuwaza becomes just a set of mechanical movements, without the grace that makes aikido so beautiful (and so powerful). As Ramlan-sensei says "without zanshin, you practice jiyuwaza for 20 years and progress very little."

so remember, nice guys finish last - with zanshin.


PS: looks like my test is 1 August, with Joe-sensei doing the grading...PANIC!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Cutting Edge

Did some good knife work last night...basic 5 angles cutting and block/parry combos.
Getting attacked with a knife by someone who knows how to use it is a scary situation.
Some key take-aways:

1) Keep your hands tight to your body
Don't let your arms wave around. It just makes it more likely that you will get cut or be out of place. Keep your arms close to your upper body forearms facing outward (protecting vital organs there) when not active.

2) Think SMALL
Keep all actions minimal. Fear will make your motions exaggerated. Success depends on precision.

3) Protect the Big Stuff; use the Outside
Blocking should be done with the outside of the arms, NEVER the inside of the arms.
The inside is where all the key arteries are, and this needs to stay protected. If you are cut on the outside of the arm it is less likely to result in a lethal wound.

4) Focus on the MAN, not the knife
There is a tendency to develop tunnel vision and stare at the knife - staring at it won't make it go away. Knife or not, the attacker is the target. Keep your attention trained on the shoulders so you can see attacking motion develop.

5) Watch your Lines
Make sure you move your whole body, not just your arms/upper body, out of the way of the knife. Stand in one place; die in one place.

6) Finish Up
Like every Kali situation, if you need to use it, you need to use it properly.
Finish your oppenent completely. A knife situation is potentially lethal.
No time to be nice or merciful. There are many cases of fatally wounded attackers still managing to kill their victim before they go out. Make sure the attacker GOES DOWN and STAYS DOWN.

7) Sink the Blade; Sink the Man
When you have the knife...many classic texts on knife fighting emphasize that while slashing/cutting can kill; stabbing is a a far higher percentage stop. The goal is to get a torso stab. In either case, putting the attacker on the ground (via takedown/sweep) is important since it greatly reduces the chance that the attacker will recover.

8) Practice Practice Practice
Train these responses a lot. They will help your empty hand work too.

This is the real deal. Focus. Make sure you are the one that walks away.

In the UK this is becoming a more serious issue:
Just because they don't allow guns doesn't make it safe.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Born Free

My Jiyuwaza sucked yesterday...

Jiyuwaza ("free flowing technique") is the closest Yoshinkan aikido gets to actual combat.
You get attacked by one or more opponents and you do techniques until they tell you to stop. The goal is to show flow, timing, distance, creativity, precision, and grace. Sounds pretty simple, right?
(Jörg is the guy in the link above - thanks mate!)

Sunday was all yokomenuchi (strike to the side of the head). I know bucket loads of responses to this attack, and even did it for my 1-kyu test. So what happened?

Not sure. Maybe I was distracted or something. But in the heat of the moment I drew a blank...and kept going back to the tried and true solutions...hijiatekokyunage and shihonage kuzushi. At least they work and I did not end up just standing there like a muppet. Bad news is when they grade you, they look for variety. In a perfect world you can apply any technique to any attack. Some of course fit better than others for particular situations.

Here are some pointers (which also make excellent drills). These should get put into muscle memory so you can fall back on them if for some reason you are not "flowing" when the time comes...

1) Inside/outside
Alternating inside the attack and outside the attack

2) Sequentials
Ikkajo, Nikajo, Sankajo, Yonkajo, Shihonage, Shomeniriminage, Sokumeniriminage, Kotegaeshi, Udegarame, Koshinage, and so on...sometimes you can lose your place, but it should at least help get you back on track.

3) Ichi/Ni
do a technique ichi and ni in sequence

4) Over/Under
capture of uke's hand from the top (nikajo, shomeniriminage, sankajo, udegarame) or the bottom (shihonage, hijiatekokyunage, sokumeniriminage)

Try them out and let me know if you get a little closer to being FREE


Sunday, May 18, 2008


Today I took my six-year old to see Iron Man. Good entertainment.

I don't want to spoil the story for you, but as the name implies, a guy makes an invulnerable suit of armor and beats up bad guys with it. Lots of cool SFX and a hero you can really identify with.

To me, we can all be heroes. We have the potential. We cannot make an invulnerable suit of armor, but we can have something almost as good. We can train.

Our training in martial arts is a great way to help us find that hero inside. It is a way of developing the willpower, discipline, and humility that allow us to help others in need; to become a giver rather than a taker.

The armor we make and wear is impossible to see. It is the armor of self-confidence. This armor is not bullet-proof, but it can protect you from a lot of other harm. It is armor that will will make you strong, and will protect you from being a victim of abuse, not just physical, but emotional and spiritual as well. It can make you a kind of "Iron Man".

Becoming a hero is not easy. In this movie, the main character had to overcome a lot of things and make some mistakes to realize his calling in life. We often have to do the same. Because not everyone can understand our choices, sometimes it even means leading a dual life, and keeping one of our identities secret from others - until they can understand who we really are.

I am not suggesting everyone run out and buy a cape and a pair of tights. Being a hero does not always mean saving the world. We can be heroes every day to the people around us. We can be heroes by being good examples of what is right and just, and by being a positive influence in the lives of others. This can and should start at home with our own families.

I encourage you to help make your world a better place by training hard and finding the hero I know is inside you. Rest assured I will be doing the same.

See you around Gotham City...

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Countdown Begins!

Yesterday I got hit with the news...

Ramlan-sensei says I am expected to test for shodan in Malasysia...

there is also a rumor that Joe-sensei might be doing the grading...

Insert PANIC here

I know I should not feel nervous, but I do nevertheless.

I tested for my first black belt in was a tough test. empty hand, weapons, history, philosophy - the whole 9 yards. Took weeks to recover from that one, and I was 21 years old.

The RYA 1-kyu Yoshinkan test was the toughest one in recent memory, and I honestly think without the 1 hour massage beforehand I would not have made it through. It was 45 minutes of constant motion and intensity, trying to will my body to do what it knows; trying to
trying to RELAX;
trying to

I would be nervous enough just having Farid-sensei and Ramlan-sensei grade me. However, hearing that Joe-sensei might be there adds another dimension to it. He is MAGIC, and by 10 years old he was better than I am now.

Sensei-Joe's "secret handshake" (aka kotegaeshi)

More than anything, I am the product of my training. I don't want to shame any of the teachers in RYA who spent so much time and energy to help me learn Yoshinkan. I don't want to embarrass Farid-sensei who travels a long way every week just to try and correct my techniques. I hope I can make them all proud to have been part of my journey to this new milestone. More to come. Plenty to do before August.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Above the Belt

Interesting conversation over the weekend on chakras. It came about as part of a discussion we were having about why many martial arts masters smoke, drink, and have mistresses (no, I am NOT jealous).

Guro Fred expressed that they are trapped in the lower 3 chakras. Interesting point...

Asian mysticism considers chakras to be centers or "channels" of human conciousness, and defines 7 of them. From lowest to highest:

1. lower body

2. reproductive organs

3. navel

4. heart

5. throat

6. forehead (between the eyes)

7. top of the head

Our spiritual journey, according to such writings, leads us through opening these chakra, which bring us to enlightenment. However, such is not a path to be undertaken lightly. The lower chakras focus on material things such as emotion, hunger, and sexual drive. These must be relinquished if one seeks a higher level of consciousness. Buddhists will tell you that desire causes attachment, attachment leads to fear of loss, and fear of loss leads to suffering. We must LET GO in order to be free of such distraction. Not an easy task.

My whole study has been focused on making my experience of life more full and vibrant, more passionate, more involved in the lives of those around me; not less. Could I actually lower the volatility of my ups and downs and be left with a constant state of higher awareness? Wouldn't that be "boring" (not sure what else to call a life without emotional attachment)? How does one just go be "free"?

These thoughts show me that I still have so much to learn and understand in order to move forward. For now, my life is not bad despite having an emotional roller coaster. I am living vibrantly, and not sure I would ever want that to change.

Going above the belt is a scary place, and maybe fear of losing what I now have is preventing me from venturing there.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Kid

We have all seen it, that 1984 classic, the Karate Kid.
When this movie came out, frankly I was skeptical. I had been training about 3 years under my teacher, and I thought I was a badass (doubtful I will ever think that again). The reality though, is that for all of its campy 1980s anti-style, The Karate Kid is one of the greatest martial arts movies of all time.

You loved it. You know you did. Be honest.

What do I like about it? Where do I start? This movie appeals to the Daniel-san in all of us, the underdog that wants to fit in, that wants to be accepted. At the same time, the Daniel-san who needs maturity and wisdom to reach the next level. With it come self-confidence, and a the respect of peers.

As well, we all must have our Mr. Miyagi. Someone who knows more than we do, and does not belittle us for it. One who sees our childlike selfishness as phases, and our boundless energy and enthusiasm as opportunities for development. Someone who sees the end goal for us, even when sometimes we cannot see it for ourselves. We need someone to make us start to walk, so that we can discover how important walking really is. We need a motivator. We need someone to show us how to "believe".

I love the fact that this movie presents the martial arts so positively. It includes the kind of zen dialog between Miyagi and Daniel that is so common with good teachers - that marvelous way of pointing you in the right direction and giving you enough to find the way on your own. Far too many movies emphasize the violence and lethality of martial arts; too few show the universal benefits it can bring as a way of keeping one humble and focused on personal development. Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies are entertaining, but miss the point for me, and cause youngsters watching to want to emulate exactly those things I would want them not to. The movies wane a bit after this first classic, but that's OK.

for a Tibetan Lama, he doesn't smile much

There will always be a romantic part of me that wants to paint fences and wax cars, knowing that it will help me win the championship at the end. That part of me still knows the crane kick can beat the five-point palm exploding heart technique. My personal Miyagis have been many, and they still have much to teach me.

Now, where's that paintbrush??

"Martial" or "Art"?

Over tea in between demonstrations yesterday, Guro Fred and I had a chat about the martial arts. It is very rare to find someone with his astounding background, which includes healing and fighting, Chinese and western styles, and a lifestyle steeped both in deep philosophy and practical application. When you visit Singapore, I suggest you empty your cup and come see for yourself. He will impress you. And he's also a really nice guy :-)

We can surely find a difference between arts that are purely combative and those which offer longevity. Boxing, Muay Thai, Krav Maga, BJJ all spring to mind as arts wich promote total combat effectiveness, at the expense of often failing to emphasize longevity or spiritual and philosophical framework. On the flip side, we consider such arts as Tai Chi or aikido as being "moving yoga", impractical in actual life-or-death confrontations. As is so often the case, BALANCE is the right approach.

In my view, Martial Arts are simply that. We must try hard to keep an equal amount of "martial" and "art" in what we do. Losing one or the other diminishes the value. Overemphasis on one or the other leaves us in danger.

Overemphasis on Martial - leads to violent tendency, short-term mentality, and damage to the body

he was never much for meditation

Overemphasis on Art
- leads to false sense of security and failure to develop practical life-saving skills

helpful for picking daisies, but...

Let me be very clear - The right combination is always the combination that suits the soul of the one doing the training. I think it is very important to find a master who has the right mix for you. Failure to do so can lead to disappointment later on. By way of example, a dear friend of mine is more skewed toward martial than art, and Yoshinkan fails to satisfy his need for practicality and combat effectiveness. At the same time, I have friends for whom the martial arts is a vehicle of self-discovery, deeply connected to their worldview. Boxing is considered by them to be an improper vehicle for spiritual development.

For what it is worth, my personal goal is optimization, and I think that is best found in balance the "martial" and the "art". My experience is that this blend offers the best of both, and satisfies in times where our spirit needs a bit of each to keep growing.

Turn your TV off, have a think about it, and let me know your viewpoint.


Being Grounded

I have read somewhere that about 70% of street fights end up on the ground (not sure how you get an accurate bit of research on that though). As well, watching IFC and many other popular MMA that abound together with the explosive popularity of BJJ these days, it is clear that for those competitions that allow groundfighting a lot of fights end up there. Why? Is it that the stand-up styles lack decisive power? Is it that the groundfighters have a game so good it is no longer possible to deliver a knockout counter before they can shoot in?

Many styles seem to forego particular Yoshinkan aikido (although Aikijujitsu styles such as Takeda ryu include it). Kali Majapahit is comprehensive and I see elements of groundfighting, while at the same time there is a strong emphasis on mobility. In that sense, the ground is used quickly, as an inescapable place where the opponent can no longer backup (ie. a "wall on the floor". It certainly is admirable to keep mobility, especially when faced with multiple attackers. But is such an approach really realistic?

two of my favorite reference materials here. If either of these guys ask for your wallet, give it to them quick. :-)

I have long admired groundfighting work by Gene Lebell and Mark Hatmaker both of whom I consider among the absolute best that can be found. While neither style seems to include deep philosophy (other than perhaps combat purism), technically and scientifically you have to respect the magic these guys have.

So where does that leave us? I suppose an Indian yogi would find little karmic value in the application of a good hammerlock for submission, I also find it hard to deny that groundfighting adds versatility to your fighting, the goal of which should be to feel comfortable in any environment and any condition.

I have more to study here, but in closing I think groundfighting skills remain practical and useful in our scope of training.

Stay Well Grounded!