Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hydrate!

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!!

Cheers!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Trust

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.

IT IS NOT A RACE. IT IS AN ADVENTURE.
IT IS NOT A DESTINATION. IT IS A JOURNEY.

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...

HOW?

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.


Multitasking
Good martial arts training makes us multitask. In Kali Majapahit (http://www.nitien.com/) 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.


Breathing
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.


Confidence
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.


Nutrition
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...




Osu!

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.




Dolph
: "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!