Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Drink the Kool Aid

Yesterday Guro suggested that some of us may be ready to take the next step in achieving our potential. We would be asked to try some lifestyle changes for a while, without faltering, and examine how we feel afterward. These changes could be giving up alcohol or tobacco, going vegetarian, drinking no less than 3L of water per day, 30 mins per day of deep breathingor similar.

What does this mean? Are we being brainwashed? Is this some kind of cult? Is it time to "drink the kool aid"?

I can't answer about those things. What I can say is that it is ALWAYS time to trend yourself toward a healthier lifestyle, and a great way to do this is to challenge yourself to change a habit and observe the benefit. This can be something you need to give up, like television, coffee, sugar, processed foods, fried foods, red meat or it can be something you need to add - get 8 hours or more of sleep per night, use multivitamins/fish oil, regular exercise, sunlight, fresh water.

These things should be viewed as experiments in being...thus, done with emotional attachment and without stress. The goal is to observe the changes in how you feel and how you look, and determine if the change should be made permanent. It has to be done of one's own volition, since being forced (and even forcing ourselves) causes undue stress which can actually offset the benefits of a lifestyle change.

That is to say, some people become so negative and angry/stressful from quitting smoking, that their health is very slow to recover. The benefit of increased lung capacity and healthier breathing is offset by liver/kidney troubles due to the stress of quitting. The net result is flat - no benefit. It is far better to choose to change, and revel in your new energy and attitude.

Guro is not brainwashing us to do something he wants us to do - rather he is suggesting that we should want it for ourselves, and get prepared to reach the next spiritual level in our lives. Let go of our fear to improve, give up our laziness. Spend the time, energy and money we need to ensure our own longevity and happiness.

If that is the kool aid, here's my cup. Make mine a double.

Monday, September 28, 2009


It needed to be done. It was time. I started thinking about it on Friday - what I wanted, where I wanted it. By Saturday morning, I knew it would happen. Saturday night, it did.

Why? The easy is answer is that it needed to happen.
The slightly more philosophical answer is that it became time to celebrate having made a commitment.

My body is not a temple - in fact, it is a bit more like an amusement park. That said, I already have a tattoo, and would not get a new one just for the sake of looking like a magazine classified ads page. There has to be some meaning there.

If it looks familiar, then you are perceptive. It is the kris from our Kali Majapahit logo. The alibata script (alibata is the traditional Filipino writing system) says "kali". OK, so what does it mean?

Nearly 2 years ago, I joined the Kali Majapahit school in Tanjong Pagar. That changed my life forever. I have seen and done and learned so much since I came to Singapore, and the pinnacle of that learning was done in the school, with Guro Fred, Guro Lila, and my other training partners. So many good times, and so much good training. Thanks to Kali Majapahit, I fell in love with martial arts again. I learned to be free. I learned to let go. I rediscovered how to take ownership of myself, my life, my health, my relationships. I found a new level of happiness.
I am moving forward.

My new tattoo is a constant reminder of what I did here, and to keep on moving forward no matter where, no matter what.

A tattoo is permanent. My training and my commitment are also permanent. My kali will be a part of me until I die, just like my tattoo. The kris is not just the traditional weapon of southeast Asia - it has a spiritual significance not unlike the Japanese katana, the embodiment of the warrior spirit. This is a constant reminder that the way of the warrior is a spiritual journey taken with every single step.

Martial arts is not a path taken lightly. To do so misses most of the important teaching.
It is a path best walked for the rest of your life, where the slow, subtle changes can work their magic over time. A simple glance at mountains should remind us that over time, even the fundamental landscape of the planet can be changed. So much more so the ladnscape of our own lives. Spending a year or two training in martial arts is simply not good enough. The training should be a constant companion in your life, right by your side to guide you and give you strength. This cannot happen unless you become committed to it. Train until you cannot imagine a life without it. make it a part of every fiber, every cell of your body, mind and spirit.
O-Sensei said "whenever I move, that is aikido"

I am not suggesting everyone run out and get inked, although you are certainly free to do so.
Rather, I am strongly suggesting that each of you make a lifelong commitment to something you love. Relentless pursue your passion. Do not expect someone else to give it to you - go and seek it yourself, and spare no resource to discover it. Once you do, your life will become the great adventure it was meant to be.

My kris and I are about to enter a new stage of life - a stage that will have even more good times and good training; a stage that will bring even greater happiness. I hope you will be with me. I hope you will find your own great adventure, whatever it may be.

See you on the mats.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Walk The Line

Great class last night. Lots of stick, knife, silat, and Jun Fan.

Reviewed our basic Jun Fan/Wing Chun trapping, and some important points came to light.

1) Trapping only occurs on a straight line
There are no circular traps. In every case, we stay in a very linear path along the centerline.
One hand will pin/trap both of the opponent's, and the free hand will seek the shortest distance contact point. This is always a straight line blast along the centerline aimed at the opponent's chest, throat, or head. Even trap 6, which uses a circular fake, only does so in order to draw the opponent off of the centerline so we can use it. The slap is fine if it connects, but it is not the real objective.

2) Going Forward
Trapping is a close-distance art. We will always be stepping forward with each hit, closing distance as we go. Just like a tennis player rushing the net for a smash, there is no stopping halfway. Once you have made the decision to trap, you must get in as directly as possible and finish the fight. Many traps include stepping on the opponent's foot to keep them from backing up.

3) Elbows and hips
Elbows stay pointed straight down, and punching power comes from the large muscles of the back, the triceps, and the hips/forward step.

4) Targets
The main trapping targets are the face/head, chest, and throat. Usually we will be punching or using the open palm, but the throat and eyes can be attacked with finger jabs.

5) Low Line
The trapping can be done on both high line and low line. For the low line, the opening attack is to strike the groin. For the high line, the opening attack is a finger jab to the eyes.

6) Ghost Kicks
Although trapping is mostly thought of as striking, low line kicks are often used to disrupt the opponent's balance, distract his/her attention, sweep legs, and attack knees and groin.

7) Timing
Trapping is done on one-count timing. That means the block and counter MUST EXECUTE SIMULTANEOUSLY.
There is no "block-strike" timing. Once the first trap/hit is on its way, the movements should continue in a chain until the opponent is on the ground and the fight is finished.

Finally, it is important to remember that the trapping drills should teach economy of motion.
Do not try to move too much; stay on the centerline, and go forward. GET IN. Trapping is like a chess match, and you want to be several moves ahead of your opponent, confident that you know what the most likely responses will be. This can only be done with a LOT of training.

That said, trapping is a great system to have in your arsenal, and very effective in close where it belongs. Do not disregard the importance of training your trapping skills.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Magic Formula

Human beings, for all our industrious nature and accomplishments, are inherently lazy.

We look for the easy way out. We hope there is a way to achieve our goals without having to work too hard at them. We hope, we pray, we beg...

The bad news is there is no secret formula.

Achieving our goals in life, martial arts or otherwise, always boils down to a question of willpower. How much willpower do we have? Can we stay the course through until the end?

How bad do we want it?
The same is true, of course, for changing our personal lives.

Many people cry and complain about being overweight, but refuse to apply their willpower to get the result, or take any action that would lead to achieving that goal (exercising more, drinking more water, etc.). They somehow think that there is a magic formula that they can follow that will give them the results without suffering and in record time. It is a neverending cycle of fasting and binging that actually is even worse than just maintaining the same eating habits.

Smoking is another one. Poeple try nicotine patches, nicotine gum, medicines, and hypnosis.

There is an addictive element to nicotine, I am not denying that. But this chemically addictive element is highly overplayed by smokers, who refuse to accept that application of willpower may be enough to break free. They say they are "trying to quit" for 30 years, until the problem is solved by lung cancer, heart attack, or other mortality.
Guro mentioned that if cigarettes killed you instantly no one would smoke.

The simple fact that it takes so long for you to die from smoking is why people forget how dangerous these "coffin nails" really are.
In our martial arts as well, we look for ways to cut corners.
We want to progress faster, to learn quicker, to promote and get our coveted black belt/black shirt/red sash/whatever.
To this, I can only say: HARD WORK IS THE ONLY WAY.

There is no subsititute for going to the school regularly and training.
There is no better way than integrating your training into your daily life.

The good news is, there is no magic formula.

That means that when you get better, it is always the result of your hard work. Be proud.

People who excel in martial arts demonstrate not only their physical skills, but also their willpower and commitment. They show the strength of their character and their courage to keep going on relentlessly. The years teach much the days never know.
Do not forget that even the term "Kung Fu" itself can be interpreted to mean "patient achievement" or "hard work". Thousands of years ago, the Chinese knew there was no shortcut or magic formula.
I am a firm believer in TRAINING SMART. That means using all the tools at our disposal to understand martial systems and apply what we learn in the most effective manner. This is efficiency and innovation at work - not a shortcut. I think seminars can be a great way to get tight focus on particular areas, but it is no substitute for regular training in the school.
It is the little actions we take that have the big effects in our lives.

Make sure your daily habits are good ones. Make little changes to improve them whenever and wherever you can.

By the way, Six Minute Abs, One Minute Manager, Learn French in one hour, etc. don't work. So don't bother. Save your money for the dojo and go as often as you can.

See you in class,

Friday, September 18, 2009

Break On Through

"break on through to the other side" - Jim Morrison

Today just somehow felt different.

In all respects it was a typical Friday. I got up, got dressed, and went to work. And yet it was not quite the same.

For the past 4 weeks or so, I have changed my diet. I no longer have coffee, sodas, chips or fast food. I don't use refined sugar or table salt. I eat more greens. I drink my water every day. I don't miss the things I used to eat. I am content and happy making better choices for myself.

I have lost weight, not sure how much. Not important.
I feel more and more alert, more and more alive. Very important.
Somehow, I just FEEL better. Most important.

Dr. Gibert would have said that I have too much Yang (acid) energy.
This causes restlessness, nervousness, trouble sleeping, mood swings, irritability.
It is made worse by taking even more yang foods such as fried foods, red meat, and sugar.

By changing my diet to more Yin (alkaline) foods (greens, yogurt, fruits, tofu, miso) I change my body chemistry from acid to alkaline. The changes are subtle, but after a month they add up.
Our bodies, our health, and even our state of mind, are affected by our chemistry. The Chinese elders knew this, and Yin/Yang food combining has been a part of their natural healing for thousands of years. In modern times, using science, we come to see that they were right, and their understanding of the human condition was profound.

Finally this morning, I feel really, really relaxed.
Not my usual stressed-out self. I feel thoughful, contemplative, and harmonious.
The tension in my shoulders is gone. I don't feel bothered or rushed by anyone or anything.
I want this feeling to stay. Forever, if possible.

At my breakfast meeting I was not nervous.
I felt calm and confident; sure of who I am and what I know. Comfortable and not intimidated by the other person. It felt GREAT. I was like a lake of still water. Relaxed and powerful.

Maybe this means I have broken through to a new awareness of how to be happier.
I feel in control of myself and my life. I am ready to accept this and ready to keep moving forward. The last time I felt this way was after my first 10 day fast in Thailand.
After that I met my future wife. My life has been better every day since.
Let's see how long this lasts.

We can make changes, even small changes in our life and our health that have far reaching consequence.
Our health (mental, physical, emotional/spiritual) is a key to our happiness and quality of life.

make a change. impress yourself.

Monday, September 14, 2009

About Aikido Training

It's time to clear up some misconceptions. There are plenty of people out there who consider aikido as a "fighting" martial art. I am not among them.

Before every aikidoka in Asia calls me out, let me be very clear what I mean. I find it very sad that so many people come to aikido with false expectations about what they will and will not learn, and that is what I want to address. First and foremost, for the record, loud and clear, I want to say that I firmly believe aikido training is very important for anyone, martial artist or not. What we learn in aikido is of great benefit to achieve our potential as martial artists and as human beings. However, I do not classify it as a fighting art per se.

Even something like kamae, has no real practical application in a fight. Fights are dynamic movement. There is no time to seek and hold a full kamae shape. However, kamae practice - especially moving from shizentai (natural standing) into kamae is important to develop the habit of keeping the arms in the right shape and connection to our body no matter where/how we move. This is essential in aikido, because if the kamae hand is not strong, we cannot connect and control.

I can read your mind. You are thinking "If it is not a fighting art, why study it?"

My response is simple. Aikido is designed to teach you very practical combat concepts.

In aikido, these are not the techniques themselves. It is really about the concepts the techniques demonstrate that make them useful training tools. And those concepts are VITAL in becoming a good fighter. Technique is the least important part.

Any martial artist with practial experience can see that the attacks used in aikido are simplified and exaggerated. NOBODY really punches like that. It is not very often someone in a fight will bother to grab your wrist, grab both wrists from behind, etc. It is very rare that any of us will have to fight from a seated or kneeling posture. It is very unlikely to consider any of us being attacked with a sword. Again I would say that if we only look at the combat practicality of each specific aikido technique, we will find ourselves disappointed, since aikido as it is commonly taught, is not a combat style. This is done purposefully. If it was not that way, we would only study the techniques (a la Krav Maga) and miss the chance to deeply understand the important concepts and principles that make ANY technique work. We would be distracted. Caught up in the minutea and missing the big picture. The big picture is what we must learn to see.

So...what are these important principles of which I speak? Let's take a look:

1) Body posture/weight shift/balance control
Almost all the techniques are designed to help us learn how to move forward confidently with balance and control, and to shift our weight from one foot to the other using the knees and hips. Great examples of this are tai no henko, hiriki no yosei, shumatsu dosa, ukemi, kamae.

2) Connection
For aikido to work as a fighting concept, we need to be connected to uke. In every technique, we are exploring how to stay connected to uke while we both move. We want to be glued together until the technique ends, so that uke can be controlled and put where we want them to be. When the connection is lost, we learn how to reconnect so control can be maintained.

3) Controlling
Based on the connection, we learn how to control uke's body (torso and head) by connecting to their wrist. Too often, aikidoka think only about the wrist and forget that the whole point is to control uke's body so that it can be moved off balance. Ikkajo, Nikkajo, Sankajo, Yonkajo all control uke's torso using different contact points and principles.

4) Leading
Many of the techniques have a leading element. This is not the same as pulling. When we lead, we actually have to match the speed of uke's attack. Practicing this is how we learn our timing. Having done so, we direct uke to a position where their balance can be taken.

5) Taking Balance
Every technique has as a principal feature the taking of uke's balance. Without doing so, uke cannot be thrown. It is important to look for the balance points and use our techniques to put uke into unbalance, from which they can be controlled.

6) The Line of Power
Posture is what gives us power. When we bend forward or lean sideways, or allow our structure to be compromised, none of our techniques will work. The training to visualize and create a single line of power for our technique is of paramount importance.

7) Avoiding Resistance
Aikido abhors force on force. Instead, we prefer to go around the resistance and take uke's balance away. It is worth looking not only for the connection to uke's body, but also for the places where uke resists, and learning how to go over/under/around that force. This is often a problem for people with strong bodies, who feel the temptation of ego to use strength rather than correct concept and proper technique.

8) Ethics
Aikido techniques are designed and taught in the way they are to develop an ethical framework for the students. The techniques are done specifically to avoid injury to either partner, and ensure safety in the training. Of course this means that "as-is" the basic techniques will not be very effective for fighting. The very fact that we offer "ukemi" to uke, something no one in a real fight would ever do, shows us that the techniques are made to teach the concepts safely. The concepts, however, will be very practical when adapted and applied to a real combat situation.

The Yoshinkan techniques are not specifically to be used in combat the way they are taught as basic techniques. Jiyuwaza comes closer to the real thing, but even that is a bit theatrical (but also useful to learn stress management, body control, and dynamic movement.).

The key is in viewing each technique as a lab to practice all of the above. In doing so, we are exploring the concepts and programming the body to respond correctly no matter what we actually do in a fight.

There is a magic moment where Danny Larusso, the Karate Kid, is frustrated with doing chores he thinks have no fighting application. Then, Miyagi shows him that through those simple chores, unconsciously, he has been learning karate. It is a revelation for him - and should be a revelation for us. True aikido is effortless and natural, and comes from years of training in the techniques, each of which is designed to help us safely learn the fundamental aspects of combat which can be applied to any combat art or combat situation using any technique, aikido or otherwise.

So, in summary, do not expect to be a "badass" through your study of aikido. Do expect to learn a lot about yourself and others, and to form a foundation for any other combat art you will ever study.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Close to You

Very interesting point raised by Guro last week about blocking.\
As beginners, we are taught the De Cuerdas style - hand behind the middle of the stick, triangle footwork away from the attack, stick used as primary shield/blocking.

Now as intermediates, we are into the advanced blocking series, which is leading us toward Serrada. What changed?

In the intermediate/advanced blocking, we are no longer shielding/hiding behind the stick. Instead, our primary block is on the attacker's hand or elbow. In addition, our triangle becomes very narrow, and our footwork almost, but not quite, straight in; jamming the attack. WE ARE CLOSE...VERY CLOSE.

Of course, this is logical when we need to use our hand to block. This alone means we need to be close enough to reach the attacking hand, which cannot be done at medio distance. We are no longer moving away from the strike. Instead, we take the force by jamming it right as the attacking movement begins.

The more advanced we become, the closer we get to our opponent. The more directly we intercept and get in. Guro Fred and Guro Guillaume use the phrase "get in" a lot, and now it is becoming clearer. The goal in kali is to get in as close as possible, and every move (even in Hakka/Jun Fan) is designed to close distance and get you into the opponent where you can end the fight quickly. You cannot employ the Serrada style blocking without getting in close.

I am just as fascinated by what I see as I was the first day. There is just so much to learn.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Fight Club Part 2

Tough go in Panantukan last night. At one point I ended up sparring with Max. He's about 25 years younger than me, strong, tall, lean, and well-trained. Max would be a challenging opponent even when I am at my very best. After two hours of boxing and into a 2:30 sparring session I was tired. I was sloppy. My guard dropped. Boom. I took a brilliant roundhouse kick right across the bridge of my nose.

A step back and shake of the head, and I expected a fountain of blood from a broken nose. Somehow, it held together. No break. A few lessons learned though.

1) Have A Strategy
I just went in there swinging, without a specific game plan. This is despite my post a few days ago on dealing with bigger/taller guys. Just wasn't thinking. Boom. I deserved it.

I dropped my guard and gave Max the perfect opening. He took it.

3) Know Yourself
Pay attention to when you are getting winded and becoming sloppy.
Recongnize what is happening and adjust for it.

4) Go to the Ground
If you are getting hammered standing up, go to the ground. Take the man down and check his ground game. Very few fighters are truly versatile.

5) Take a Shot
I have been knocked out, choked out, tapped out more times than I can count.
It is important to have felt these things (hopefully in the safety of the dojo) so you are not intimidated by them. In a fight, you can get hit. It happens. Get used to it.

Many times, victory is all down to who has more willpower. Make sure it is you.

I don't feel bad about getting kicked in the face. It has happened before and will happen again.
The most important thing is to try to learn from every situation so you can improve.

I guess my modelling career is over, though :-)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sarong He!

Oh My God...the new cycle is just the coolest ever! We have a lot to do before I go back to Japan, and it is stuff we have never done before...

The coolest part is our introduction into Pencak Silat, a martial art native to Indonesia, and a core element of the Kali Majapahit curriculum. As intermediates, we are now getting exposed to this fascinating art. I just love it because it is so completely different than anything else. Trapping, groundfighting, close knife work - Silat has it all, and all coming from seemingly impossible angles.

We also start learning the fighting sarong. The sarong is a traditional garment (see photo) worn around southeast Asia. It is a tubelike cloth wrapped around the waist, and of course, can be used for fighting. Initially, I thought this was interesting, but not very practical. After a lesson or two of using it, my mind has changed.

Training in the fighting sarong has application in combat with a variety of similar flexible items: rope, chain, cable, even a towel, t-shirt, or jacket. Flexible weapons wove in very special ways that cannot be understood by training just in stick, blade, or empty hands. The fighting sarong offers trapping, locking and pinning restraints, chokes/strangles, and ties that cannot be done using non-flexible weapons. It is a new dimension to explore. SO COOL.

Previosuly, I trained with nunchake (semi-flexible weapon) and Japanese Manriki-Gusari (weighted chain). There are elements of both that can be applied to fighting sarong.

Of course, study of the sarong, how to wear it, its patterns, and its integral part in the daily
lives of southeast Asian people is an important cultural study. We give respect by learning it well and dressing correctly.

Life in Kali Majapahit is never boring, and this new cycle exposes us to a brand new world of learning. This is a great cycle to end my time here.

See you there!!

PS: in case you were wondering about the title, Sarang He (사랑해) means "I love you" in Korean...I know it's lame, but at least I tried...