Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas for non-Christians

Well, it's that time of year again.  Christmas.  Lights, trees, carols, and....shopping.  As a non-Christian, this holiday has a very different meaning for me.

For many, Christmas is a disillusionment, being far more about presents than it is about the actual religious holiday.  In my case, we are modest about gift-giving, but the spirit of the season is an important one.  Let me explain.

I think there is sufficient historical evidence to conclude that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed (despite the fact that he probably would have looked very different from the depiction above).  This being the precedent, if we dismiss the idea that he was directly the son of God, his story is no less amazing, and no less inspiring.

He would have been born of modest means, but was well-studied in the traditional spiritual beliefs, being able at a young age to debate religious scholars at an equal level.  Being a young man, he set off on his path, passionate in his beliefs.  He was both student and teacher, eagerly sharing his ideals with everyone, regardless of their background.  He believed so deeply in his cause that he was willing to die for it.  In doing so, he set in motion a chain of events that would alter human history for the following 2,000 years and beyond.

What did he believe?  That all are equal regardless of race, background, or social status.
That all deserve mercy and compassion and above all else...love.  That we must follow our spiritual beliefs wholeheartedly, even when inconvenient - even unto death...without compromise.
That austerity and servitude to each other were keys to achieving happiness.

As a parent, I can want nothing more for my boys than that they accept other people unconditionally, without regard for color, race, or belief; that they carry with them a heart overflowing with compassion and love; that they are merciful to the weak and helpless; that they are at times both student and teacher in their lives; and that they follow their passion with total resolve, even when inconvenient and even if it means risking their lives.

Most importantly, that they fully understand that one need not be divine to change the world.

I cannot say whether or not Jesus was divine.  What I can say is that the legacy he left was an enduring one, and that at this time of year I am inspired by his example.

May you all have a happy holiday and see your dreams fulfilled.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Warrior Thoughts

The media is once again overwhelmed with coverage on the latest tragedy - a shooting at an elementary school in suburban Connecticut.  As a martial artist I feel I have to put forth my opinion about it.

While both the pro-gun NRA lobby and the anti-gun lobby are using this as a way to justify and strengthen their respective positions, I respectfully have to say --- it is not about you.  It is not even about some mentally disturbed angry little person seeking attention.  The cold, sad reality is that it is, and always has been, about children.  Children and heroes.  The poor children who are now gone, and the heroes who risked their lives trying to protect them.

As a martial artist, I honor the fact that it is the highest duty to give your life in service to others.  Even more, there is no greater or more noble cause than the protection of our children.  The fact that this is the moral and right thing to do does not in any way diminish the courage and bravery of these heroes.  Rather, it should serve to underscore the fact that, although we have surely lost our way as a society, our foundation still has a glimmer of hope for the future.  These brave people embodied right action in the right moment, and should remain as examples of what we as martial artists must aspire to be.

I grew up in Illinois, and was a registered and lawful gun owner.  Although I never owned any "assault" rifles or shotguns, I owned and fired many different types of handguns, and qualified on nearly every caliber and make of revolver and automatic at the time.  I felt a duty as a citizen to be well-trained in firearm use, and I was prepared to defend myself and my liberty if needed.  That said, I would gladly be the first one in line to give up my right to bear arms forever if it would save the life of even one child (or one hero who would die protecting him/her).  My rights are secondary to protecting the lives of innocent people.

Our Constitution and its Historical Setting
At the time our great country was founded, we were beset on all sides by potential enemies.  We had just very narrowly won our independence from England at a terrible cost, and were a very weak fledgling nation.  However, we still had France on our Western border (owning the Mississippi Delta all the way to Canada).
We had Spain to the south in Florida, and again in Mexico and far west in California.  There was every reason to believe we would be in need of a continental militia again very soon.  For those who would dispute this, bear in mind that we fought England again during the war of 1812, and English troops managed to burn the White House.  Our Constitution rightly allowed for citizens to bear arms in case we needed to raise a militia.  In modern times, we have both a standing professional military of 5 branches, as well as a State national guard, which is our citizens' militia.  By this rationale, it is no longer necessary for private citizens to bear arms.

The second major objective of the Constitution's second amendment is to allow private citizens to bear arms in case our government were to become as oppressive as the English one we fought to win independence from.  In such a case, we would be expected to overthrow it and start anew.  Whether or not we can argue this has already happened (DHS and TSA anyone?), the idea that private citizens could stand any chance against the standing military is ridiculous.  Even with the best weapons private citizens can buy, they stand no chance whatsoever against the might of the US military if martial law were declared.  If you doubt this, imagine what good your 12 gauge shotgun would be against an F22, a drone, or an M1 Abrams battle tank.
Our liberty is kept secure by the patriotism and level-headedness of our citizens serving in the military, NOT by the private sector.

I think it is very important to be clear on the context of how our Constitution came to be what it is, rather than allowing special-interest groups to twist the meaning in order to serve their own political agendas and corporate sponsors.  The life of even one child or hero is worth far more than someone's hobby, be it hunting or target shooting.

The Media
I agree with Morgan Freeman's comments that the media fuels the desire for unknown losers to want to be remembered, even if they are remembered only for the shocking horror of their crimes.  I agree it is necessary for the public to get access to unbiased reporting on important events, but not while glorifying the monster who is responsible for the incident.  Media and special interest groups represent the impending doom of our great nation if they cannot be held to rational, constructive guidelines.  When their freedom of speech results in the loss of life, especially the lives of children, they must be held fully accountable.  When special interest groups care more about their agendas than they do about the society that permits them, they must be disbanded.

Being a martial artist is about mastering the self to allow our natural courage to manifest.  Sometimes the most courageous thing to do is not to fight, but to be willing to lay down arms - forever.

It is time for all guns to be banned in America.  Period.
This can never be allowed to happen again.  Look into the eyes of any of those children, or any of the heroes who gave their lives protecting them, and I dare you to believe otherwise.




Monday, November 26, 2012

A Quick Dose of Reality


Have a look at the shocking video above.

The point I want to make here is that all the martial arts training in the world doesn't make a difference when you get attacked from behind by an attacker you didn't see coming.

In our modern world, violence we are likely to experience (outside of military service or terrorist attacks) takes two typical forms:  monkey Dance and Predatory assault.  In the Monkey Dance, violence is secondary to the emotional need to show dominance, status, offense, and the like.  It is a social behavior where the violence can usually be avoided by apologizing, conceding defeat or giving in to the social demands (saying "uncle" or whatever).  In the monkey dance, the other party is not really out to harm you; they are out to prove a point.  Sneak attacks are socially reprehensible, and the monkey dance includes unspoken rules about "fighting fair" for both sides.  lions establishing dominance in the pack is a version of the monkey dance, and lions generally are not killed or seriously inured by it.  one gives up and the "fight" is over.  Violence is not the main objective.

Predatory assault is what you see above.  It is generally an attack using surprise, superior numbers, and possibly weapons.  Lions hunting zebras is not a social exercise  and the objective for the lion is to kill and eat the zebra.  Violence is the main objective.

In the video above, the attacker doesn't seem to be after her money, her body, or anything else except violence for violence's sake.  Still, after a hit like that he could probably do whatever he wanted.  I hope this video leads to his capture and imprisonment.

This has also caused me to rethink whether or not I would wear headphones/earbuds while walking.
Hearing approaching footsteps is better than not hearing them, right?
  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

There is no way



There is no way to Peace
Peace is the Way;
There is no way to Happiness
Happiness is the Way;
There is no way to Love
Love is the Way.
- Dan Millman, Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior

I just finished a read of this excellent book by Dan Millman, and the above passage sticks with me as one of the most important in the whole read.  What does it mean??


I have maintained throughout this blog that "life is about learning to let go".  Usually, I present this as a first step, which is learning to let go of hatred, anger, negativity, guilt, sorrow, doubt - let go of everything that stands in the way of your own contentment.  One of my recent blog posts on "lifesculpting" suggests exactly that - beauty is created by taking away, not adding.  This is about revealing the True Self, hidden behind the veil of consciousness   given by the lower selves.  Exposing this True Self is the only way to achieve the higher levels of being that are essential to the grown of our humanity.


I bring the concept of "letting go" further by saying that we must let go of the ridiculous notion of duality.

"Peace", "Happiness" and "Love" are not states to be achieved.  They are simply allowing us to be in our most natural states of being, freed from base emotion, ego and logic.  Freed even from thoughts or words.  This is accepting the timeless "God-State", where we are instantly, eternally connected to the original life force.
It is not possible to fully express this concept of "oneness" in words.  It is only to give the years of meditation required to allow the single moment of transformation to origin.  Letting go of all else.

There is no way to Peace.

Stop trying to make Peace and BE PEACE;
There is no way to Happiness
Stop trying to make Happiness and BE HAPPINESS;
There is no way to Love
Stop trying to make love and BE LOVE.

The essential secret is to recognize that these are already innate aspects of your being and simply allow them the freedom to express through your every breath, every word, every action.  


The SACRED JOURNEY is no journey at all.

There is no need to travel.  The journey is simply.

Letting


Go

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Combat Aikido


Above please observe Sensei Gordon Muller performing some "combat aikido" including gun and knife disarms and handcuffing techniques.  He is excellent, and I love showing this kind of material to people who believe that "aikido doesn't work".  I surely would not want to be on the receiving end of any of the techniques he does above, especially if he were not specifically trying to avoid injuring his partner (as he is in the video).  I definitely would not want these applied on me when "excessive force" or other lawsuit risks did not apply (such as in a dark alley).

For aikido to work in a real life situation, against a determined, prepared (possibly armed) attacker, a few things need to happen:

1) YOU NEED TO BE FAST --- observe the blazing speed Sensei Muller uses and how he has no hesitation
2) YOU NEED TO BE PRECISE --- Sensei Muller is in exactly the right position, with the right grip at the right point
3) YOU NEED TO BE RELAXED --- tied to #1 above, there is no real speed without relaxation
4) YOU NEED TO BE COMMITTED --- Sensei follows through until the technique is over.  No pause.
5) YOU NEED TO USE PSYCHOLOGY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE --- Sensei uses non-threatening body posture, hands-up genstures, and other means to set up his attacks.
6) MANIPULATION OF THE FINGERS HURTS (AND HELPS SUBMISSION)
7) PAIN (not injury) CAN BE AN IMPORTANT AID IN SUBDUING AN ATTACKER

Surely there will be naysayers and "what-if" ers as I would expect in every case.  That said, I think Sensei Gordon Muller illustrates the kind of powerful, effective aikido that can be achieved with practice and strong intention.

Bravo!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Life Sculpting

"The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away such parts of the marble block as are not needed - it is a process of elimination"
 - Elbert Hubbard

This quote really made me think about sculpting; LIFE SCULPTING.

To turn my life into a beautiful statue what do I need to do?  I want my statue to be made of a strong material, with a strong core, so it will stand the test of time and last as long as possible.  To me this is our moral center and spiritual education and is very important.  Otherwise, our statue will crumble at the first gust of wind or drop of rain.

Large, vulgar strokes of hammer and chisel do not create beautiful statues.  The process is one of patience, and precision.  It is delicate work, and the tools are specific to the sculpting medium.  marble is not worked the same way as basalt; wood differs from granite.  Every medium is different, as we are all different.  Every piece has flaws, knots in the wood or pockets in the stone, that must be understood ad adjusted for.  Every one of us is unique in our possibilities and circumstances, every one of us must be handled carefully with deep understanding.  Every hammer stroke counts; small mistakes can be corrected, but large mistakes cannot.  A good artist strikes neither too hard nor too soft.  Our daily training in meditation and martial arts is the patient, precise work of the sculptor to remove the excess and leave the purity.

Of course, making a beautiful statue requires the artist, the soul, to have a vision of what can be made from the starting block of material.  We must surely recognize this potential in ourselves and in others, and realize that a central mission of our lives is to help draw that special potential out - to help ourselves and others to reach our potential as human beings and collectively as human society.

It is also important to remember that this sculpting process is contrary to how modern people think, but totally in accordance with zen beliefs.  Modern people always seem to want to add more to their lives - more possessions, more technology, more activities.  Sculpting, especially LIFE SCULPTING, is about taking away the unnecessary so that what remains is beautiful.

I want my statue to be an enduring symbol of who I am.
I want it to be a testament to me hard work, discipline and perseverance.
I want my statue to inspire all those who see it.  I want it to give people hope for what they, too, can achieve.
I want my statue to appeal to everyone regardless of color, race, or belief.
I do not want it to be perfect, since its flaws will help people know it is real and was made by an ordinary man.  My small mistakes will give it unique character.

This statue is my life, and I want it to personify the essence of what I believe.

What statue will you create for yourself?
Can you sculpt your own life?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Happy Birthday To Me

"The world is not to be put in order.  The world is order.  It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order." - Henry Miller

Well, that's it.  Another year in the bag.  I am now officially 46 years old.

As I usually do, let me take stock of where things sit as I turn another page in my book of adventures.  There have been many changes since last year, and yet many things remain unchanged.

I have a new job, which is interesting and exciting.  I also have a lot of new friends, colleagues, coworkers, clients as a result of this.  I am back working in Akasaka, near to where I was when I joined JP Morgan in July of 2005.  It has nostalgic memories for me, and I like how the area has changed.

All the birthday messages I received from around the world showed me that I have engaged in and interacted with a huge number of people all over.  Since I believe we are all connected, the greater the number of peoples' lives I touch, the happier I am.  This has been very rewarding and I feel truly blessed for knowing the diverse group of excellent people I know.

I started Crossfit this year, which is an awesome way to work out and think about fitness.  The coaches are smart, the workouts are savage, and it is a great community of professionals who really care about achieving their peak performance.  Crossfit motivates me to do my best.

Our Kali group has grown bigger, with many new faces.  Every Friday we have 10-12 people, which is much bigger than last year.  Our group is really a great little community of friends who train hard together and support each other.  My more experienced intermediates are well-regarded when they go to Singapore, and the new students are coming along quickly - we must be doing something right.  The KM Japan Study Group remains a cornerstone of my life and something I really look forward to every week.

George and Ray grow bigger, stronger, and more energetic year by year.  It goes so fast.  Their dialogues become more complex, but they are still at an age where we can spend time together and enjoy being a family.  I am blessed to have such happy, healthy kids.

We went from one pug to two, adding our Xie Xie as a companion to Butch.  Over the year she has settled down quite a bit and proven to be a great member of our family.  We watch "The Dog Whisperer" regularly, and I have to say we have a "good pack" at home.

I have been reading a lot, especially books about Austrian economics.  This has really turned me more toward a fundamentalist about the US Constitution and given me much more respect for the foresight our forefathers had when they imagined our government and what would be needed.  It is still every bit as relevant a document now as it was when it was written - and that says something very important.  Sadly, however, I am reminded how far from it we have come, and how my beloved country --- the Land of the Free and the Home of The Brave --- has become the Land of the Oppressed and the Home of the Apathetic.

Today we re-elected a man who will do his best to increase the size of government and our citizens' reliance on it, who at the same time will quietly take away our rights and liberties and replace them with a police state, and who will tax us all into debt slavery.  He is somehow still seen as "the better man", but ultimately our proud nation is doomed to be globally marginalized even further than we were.  This is truly heartbreaking.
I love what my country has stood for, and it is unbearably sad to see it sink into irrelevance.  We only have ourselves to blame for allowing this to happen to us.

Overall, it's been a good and productive year with a lot to be thankful for.
I am looking forward to a great 46th year on Earth and can't wait to share this journey with all of you.

John

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

willpower

"Having survival skills is important; having the will to survive is essential."
- U.S. Army Survival Guide

As I was reading the above on my way into work today, I reflected on what this might mean in the con text of martial arts training.

For many of us, especially those of us who come from the Japanese traditions, martial arts is a "do" 道 a way of life or life path.  Still others see this as a way of improving health/physical fitness, overcoming stress, or otherwise increasing the quality of their daily lives.

When it comes to survival/self defense, there are only a few things that really matter.  Probably first and foremost is your state of mind.  This may seem counter-intuitive to some, but good training without the right frame of mind will get you killed.  bad/no training with the right frame of mind will probably still save your life.

There are countless examples of people under attack that have survived because they had the right frame of mind.  Victims of rape, assault, attempted murder, multiple attackers/armed attackers, and other seemingly impossible odds have stayed alive by having the right frame of mind, not giving up, and having enough pure will to endure.

In a self-defense situation it means understanding the reality of the situation and your environment (including your attacker(s)).  It also means being savage and aggressive enough to take the initiative and keep it throughout the encounter.  It means staying focused on the goal - staying alive - to the exclusion of everything else including pain/injury, fear, squeamishness, doubt, shame, and other negative emotions.  It also means stacking the deck as heavily in your favor as possible, which is precisely what your attacker(s) will do to you.  Using the element of surprise/ambush, cover,  evasion, psychology, and environment at your disposal to increase your chances of surviving.

We spend a lot of time in the dojo learning techniques and their application and not enough time developing the mental toughness and willpower that drives success and survival under stress.  I recall helping to teach a rape prevention class many, many years ago on a college campus near Chicago where several attempted rapes had been reported.  We showed responses to common attacks including a bearhug from behind.  In this case, we showed slamming the back of the head into the attacker's face, pal-heeling the groin, stomping the foot, and then running away for help.  One co-ed saw the palm heel to the groin and squealed "I could NEVER do that!".  Really?  Then guess what darling, you're raped (or worse).

No amount of training or technical knowledge can take the place of having the right frame of mind, underpinned by an iron will to survive.  Here I am not talking about paranoia (a healthy amount of which is also important) or fear (a healthy amount of which is important).  I mean being able to apply focus to a bad situation and escape it by whatever means are necessary and available.

Good training in the dojo can help with this, but it is also up to each individual to cultivate this willpower for himself or herself.  It is a skill that goes well beyond what you would need in self-defense, and is a cornerstone of using the martial arts to make a positive difference in your life.

"without a desire to survive, acquired skills serve little purpose and invaluable knowledge goes to waste."

Be a survivor.    

Monday, October 22, 2012

In Style

It was a great day with perfect weather.

We were lucky to have my friend Guro Romeo Ballares back in Japan and I asked him to come and give a special seminar on Redondo Arnis.  Guro Romeo is an interesting guy - 5th dan in Yoshinkan Aikido, but also having done FMA since his childhood days including Illustrimo Kali, Modern Arnis, Balintawak, and some others.  He is a spicy combination of the best of all of them, and a wonderful, kind and genuine person as well.

For my KM Japan students, most of them have had no direct experience studying FMA before joining my class.  Several of them (thankfully) have visited our HQ school in Singapore, gone to the annual camp in Bali, and attended Guro Fred's seminars here in Japan and so they have an idea of how diverse the Kali Majapahit system is and its major influences.  That said I encourage them to explore the richness of FMA as it is reflected in other major styles.  Seeing the different approaches to the same concepts helps develop a well-rounded perspective, and different styles emphasize different aspects of the FMA, which can add depth to the students' understanding.

While on one hand I believe it is important to study a particular style deeply for long enough to feel really at ease with it (generally 10+ years of regular training), it can also be said that through diversity of experience we can more fully understand the core concepts and gather a wider variety of expressions.  A critical flaw in Bruce Lee's Wing Chun training, for example, was not being able to learn the full footwork underpinning Wing Chun, without which the whole system cannot fully come together.  At the same time, the awareness of this led Bruce to explore ways to fill that gap - which led to the emergence of Jun Fan/JKD, which has been a truly revolutionary discovery for martial arts that has had almost limitless influence on our training and philosophy.

As its name would suggest, Redondo Arnis uses a circular style as a foundation, and like modern Arnis, contains some overlap with Japanese systems, especially in some of the locking and disarming.  They do emphasize a "walking" stick and FLOW, by having a variety of continuous-motion drills that develop dexterity, fluidity, and timing.  KM, by contrast, is much more heavily influenced by southeast asian style (hakka kuntao, silat, muay thai/muay boran) and has almost no connection to the Japanese arts.

Despite having no direct experience in Redondo Arnis, I found many of the basics to be very similar to things I have seen elsewhere or have worked on in KM.  At the core was single sinawali, which Guro Claes presented in Bali last year, and which is a great container/structure to work applications of flow, especially in the medium range (bridging to close range).  This framework allowed us to explore both solo and doble patterns, as well as solo versus doble applications for working on our reactions and timing.

From this flow we were able to explore bridging from medium to close quarters via the puno, finding the entry point (and response to puno attacks) every time the sticks crossed.  I have seen this flow in modern arnis before and I like it a lot.  It offers a clear reason why controlling the hand (not just the stick) is so important when blocking.  This led us to tapi-tapi drills to work on connecting the live hand to our partners and keeping that contact through the drill.

In the solo variation, we were able to experience the live hand contact with our partners, and ultimately this led us into a variety of disarms/strips in medium distance which were interesting and useful.  Some were variations of other common disarms in medium range (vine disarm, snake disarm), while others were body strips using elbow or underarm which felt very practical and easy to apply under pressure.

I wonder how many of my students picked up that the single sinawali is basically a flow using the punch block series that we have been working on throughout this cycle...

The Balintawak influence was evident in some of the recoveries and blocks in closer ranges, where returning from the dunga (stab) rapidly was critical, and where we used a combination of stick on stick and hand trapping to control the centerline and open up abaniko or other fast responses exploding from the centerline.

We spent a final few minutes on daga and application, using what we had learned and finding a unique disarm that I liked a lot :-)

Overall, as a contrast to what our students see in KM, this was a great seminar by a very talented martial artist.  Subsequently, I am sure we would be able to dig deeper past these basics into the depths of Redondo Arnis without disappointment, finding it (especially as Guro Romeo shows it) to be rich and robust, with plenty to take away.

Thank you again Guro for a most enjoyable Sunday in the park!

Pugay!   

  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Poker Face

Back in 2006, I wrote a post comparing martial arts (in that case Yoshinkan Aikido) to a chessgame.  You can read that post here: http://martialartsdigest.blogspot.jp/2006/01/checkmate.html

However, the other day, I heard a quote from someone about a contract negotiation that went like this, "It's not a chess game, it's a poker game".  I have been thinking about that idea ever since.

Chess is a great game because it involves deep strategy - in particular, predicting your opponent's reaction to your moves.  In this sense it is a lot like fighting.  Chess also involves a finite space and defined rules that nonetheless have infinite possibilities and combinations.  That is also a lot like fighting.  There are only a certain numbers of discrete movements humans can perform, but there are infinite ways to combine the movements and solve for particular situations.

At the same time, fighting is, in reality, much more like poker than it is like chess.

Chess is a game of defined rules and restrictions on movement for the various pieces.
This makes it a game for understanding limitations.  Poker, on the other hand, is about understanding probabilities.  A good poker player knows what hands can be made from the shown cards and the probabilities of other players being able to make those hands.  One key to good poker is pressing bets on high probability hands and folding low probability hands.

In martial arts, this means using the highest probability techniques in every situation, and having a very good understanding of the opponent's highest probability responses/counters to them - and being prepared for them.  Good fighters are not only masters of strategy, but also masters of psychology, able to predict the probability of an opponent reacting in a particular way and being ready when they do.  Setting up and Attacking by Drawing use exactly this principle.

Another one of the most important skills in poker (and fighting) is bluffing.  Bluffing makes playing poker a very different experience from playing chess.  By bluffing, you must rely on being able to convince the other player that their potentially winning hands are actually potentially losing hands.  This causes them to react to fear/apprehension and fold hands sometimes when they could have actually won. In fighting, this can make all the difference. Just giving the enemy pause - causing the apprehension or fear response - can make him decide to back down from a fight he could have won.  By the same token, bluffing too much will cause the other side to challenge, which could result in the bluffer losing.  Bluffing is best used sparingly and in combination with both weak and strong hands so the others never really know if it is a bluff.  Important too is the bluffer's ability to mask the tell - or giveaway - by having a flat expression or "poker face".

Bluffing is evident time and again in the animal kingdom as well, where countless species have used the bluff as part of their mating, courtship, or dispute resolution strategies.  They fan their feathers, puff up their chests, shriek loudly, or otherwise present themselves as formidably as possible, making their bluff in the hopes that the other will back down and give up.

Calling the bluff carries a risk that the bluff is not really a bluff and you will lose.  Fear of loss is an unbelievably powerful motivator to people to resist temptation (think of husbands not cheating on their wives for fear of divorce).

It could be said that poker is a game of emotion where chess is a game of logic.
A smart fighter knows how to use both to full advantage.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Size Matters

(at left - the character DAI 大 "big" in fires on a Japanese mountainside)

Size matters.  You hear it all the time.  This is not wrong, but it needs some context.

I am a big proponent of efficiency rather than just sheer size, not just because I am only 5"7" tall.  It is also because I abhor wastefulness, and I find an elegance in scaling the solution to the need.  For me this applies in martial arts as it does in everything.


There are times, though, when size matters more than anything else.

One of those times is when you SET YOUR GOALS.

Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, wrote "argue for your limitations and they're yours."
I couldn't agree more.  While it is of critical importance that although your plans consist of smaller, more manageable steps to reduce the risk of failure, allow for contingencies, and reinforce achievement, the goals in your life - especially your long-term goals - should be BIG.  BIG enough to be meaningful for you.

To me, there is simply not much point in going after things which are already in reach - if they are too easy to achieve, there is no value in achieving them at all, and we never develop the unshakable confidence we need to make our real mark on the world around us.  If our narrow mind can imagine only something so small, it is far better to start over or wait than it is to pursue a goal which is not worthy of our continued best  efforts. Much of the time, the effort between small and big goals is not proportionately different, and the chance of success or failure not really so different either.  If you are going to fail something small, you might just as well fail at something big - something worth shooting for.

In my case, after I started martial arts training, my teacher used to talk about Japan and I became fascinated.  I set my mind on going to Japan one day to see for myself what was in all the books I read and stories he had told.

Ultimately, this goal took 10 years of my life to achieve, and I failed the first three attempts (the third time nearly breaking my will for good).  On the fourth attempt, my plan came together and I was able to realize my lifelong dream to visit Japan, arriving as an exchange student in Osaka in 1991.  That changed everything.  By January 2003 I was here for good, and except for some time in Singapore (at my company's request in 2008-2009) I have stayed in Japan the better part of 20 years.  Beyond even my wildest expectations I have built a life here --- A career, a home, a family... a treasure of experiences that has helped me truly understand that mankind knows no limitations other than what we impose on ourselves.

I wish you all the same sense of accomplishment I have had and I encourage you to plan small, but to DREAM BIG.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Focus

In Yoshinkan Aikido, my teacher used to tell me:

"all your power, all your force, at a single point, at a single time."

He said it so much it became like a mantra to me.  He meant that I always have to connect my contact point with my partner to my hips, and deliver (through hip rotation) my full body power into the contact point to control it and use the force to disrupt an attack.  This idea is at the core of Yoshinkan.  In Japanese, this focus is called "kime" 決 and is the subject of a lot of discussion both practical and philosophical.

My views on aikido have changed over the years, but I still think it offers some really important insights for training.

In Kali, our goal is to be in motion all the time, never static.
At the same time, we want to use our entire body all the time.

This may seem counter-intuitive to my prior post about relaxation, but it is not.
A central idea here is that we want to use the bigger muscle groups wherever possible.
This means not relying on our arms to do the work, but rather connecting through the hips and back.  We want to hit by driving from the balls of the feet up the line through the pelvis and hips, and deliver that power via the spine.  The feet are principally important not just for balance, but to deliver the explosive power of the coiling steps.

A second major concept is that we want to use our full bodyweight.  This means that I am actually dropping my weight into my strikes, as well as my stick.  It also means that I am letting gravity give additional force into what I am doing.  I do not want to lift my opponent.  Instead I want to drive down through the weak point of the structure and disrupt it.  When I throw someone I do not ever lift them.  Instead, I load them onto my hips and then use my bodyweight to drop or launch them.

The more efficiently and completely you can use your full body, the easier the motions will become.  Start by overemphasizing this motion.  Later on, you will remain tight but still be able to connect and drive.  The key is to focus your full body power at the same time on a single (weak) point of your opponent.

Filipino Martial Arts are very effective and easy to learn, but take a lifetime to do properly.
If you do not use your body efficiently, it may even take several lifetimes.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Wisdom from the Master

"The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be"
 - Bruce Lee

It was cold outside.  I could see my breath as I walked from the parking lot to the school.  When we got to the dojo the mats actually had frost on them.  We shivered as we changed into our uniforms and lined up for class, shifting our weight from one foot to another as if that would lessen the chill on the bottoms of our feet.  Our teacher stood in front; quiet, motionless - relaxed.
Class began.

Within the first few minutes of warms ups and stretching, the windows had condensation on them and we were dripping in sweat.  All thoughts of the cold disappeared.  We were working - hard...I can recall this night as if it were yesterday...

But Bruce should know best...right?  What does he mean??  Less effort???  Is he kidding????
My own training has been nothing but maximum effort all the time as far back as I can remember...

In the younger students I can always see the tension.  It is especially evident in their shoulders, but often throughout their whole bodies.  The movements are unfamiliar.  Their minds understand the concept, but they are fighting their own bodies to get themselves to perform the motions the way their minds imagine them - it is like a puppeteer pulling the strings to get his puppet to open a door.  Their muscles are so tense they cannot move smoothly or flow at all.  They are disconnected from each other; disconnected from themselves.  They have no responsiveness, no explosiveness.  They get tired easily, because their bodies are like a clenched fist - permanently clenched... I shake my head and sigh to myself.  "not yet...still much further to go...", I think.

Bruce means that to be good at martial arts - to be fast and powerful - you have to RELAX.  This is especially important for the shoulders, but it applies to the whole body.  The only time we should experience tension is at the instant of contact with a target, and then immediately release back to relaxation.  In boxing I often see students who are flexed throughout the drills, teeth clenched, fighting themselves more than the pads or their partner.

I suggest meditation or yoga to help learn that to move well we need to move in relaxation.  To be connected, which is ESSENTIAL, we need to be relaxed.  Beyond this, in class it is important to deliberately relax the body before drills, especially those drills where you want to FLOW.

Bruce also means that rather than complex techniques, we should master our relaxed motion to be in the right place at the right time (which is always the wrong place at wrong time for our opponent).  This means less effort to respond and end a confrontation.  It means thinking ahead; being prepared.  Having STRATEGY.  If we rely on brute strength to overcome an opponent, then defeat is simply a matter of facing someone stronger (or several people).  Less is definitely more when it comes to fighting.

This is not to suggest laziness in training.  Rather, it means training SMART, so that we get the maximum benefit of training for the minimum effort of study and practice.  We do not train things which are of no use, and we do not waste time in the dojo.  We plan the work and work the plan.  We learn and adapt and improve and EVOLVE the system so it becomes a living, growing expression of excellence.

But Bruce means more than this --- his words are also a metaphor for success in every aspect of our lives.
Some people you meet live their lives like a clenched fist - using the maximum effort for even the smallest step of progress in their jobs, their relationships, their careers.  They are always their own worst enemy, constantly making their lives harder than they need to be, and suffering and becoming exhausted as a result.

The less effort (you use to succeed in your life), the faster and more powerful you will be.

  1. Leverage the LAW OF ATTRACTION.  If you don't know about this, ask me.
  2. Make the most of HABIT, which can be your best friend or your worst enemy.
  3. Be Organized.  Have a plan for everything.  Write it down.
  4. BREATHE.  It is the essence of Life.
  5. Do not be afraid to ask for help.  We are all connected.
  6. BE PURPOSEFUL, ALWAYS.
  7. THINK!
  8. THINK! (it's worth saying twice)
  9. Learn to let go of negativity --- embrace the positive energy that surrounds you.  Let it fill you up.
  10. LOVE --- life is so much better when you do.
Work hard in the dojo, but work SMART, and master the concept that "less = more".

See you soon.







Monday, October 01, 2012

Martial Arts or Peaceful Arts?

Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.

~ His Holiness XIV Dalai Lama


The above quote should resonate with all true martial artists.  We devote ourselves to a study of conflict; a study of war; a study of the human body, human psychology and human weakness.  However, to maintain balance we must also dedicate ourselves to a study of compassion; an appreciation of the impermanence of life; a disicpline of self-mastery; an attitude of humility.

It is really only through understanding the chaos and brutality of man that we can fully appreciate man's ability to show mercy.  It is through recognizing man's frailty and weakness that we can understand man's strength and resolve.  It is by overcoming our fear that we are able to harness our courage.  It can be said then that by knowing the worst of us, we can become the best of us.

Violence can serve no long-term purpose as a means of resolving conflict.  Any true martial artist knows that it is his/her confidence, honed sharp through constant training, that allows acceptance of others and the unknown without fear.  Knowing our "enemy's mind", we become more in tune with our own.  Once we can fully appreciate an opposing point of view as part of the larger Balance, we are then free to accept our differences without lowering to the base ego and weakness of violence.  We know that destroying another can only mean destroying ourselves.
We are all connected.

We are not always given the choice to avoid violence.  However, we should use every means at our disposal - dialog, education, knowledge and humane ways, to defuse potentially violent situations whenever we can.

I know the world is not perfect, and neither are we.  Nature itself is not perfect, but in it's imperfection lies the ultimate beauty and truth - We need not be perfect, merely tending toward perfection.

His Holiness XIV Dalai Lama is an insipirational figure, and I highly recommend his books.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Thank You

Thank you.  After last Friday's class, a few of you made posts to FB mentioning that you had really enjoyed the lesson.  I am touched.  We had some new faces, too, and they seemed to feel at home in our group.

As an instructor, I put a lot of time and energy each week into coming up with good training drills and good examples for you.  I come every Friday with a lesson plan of activities (often rewritten a few times during the week) , a set of ideas for what I want to share, and an open mind to see how you absorb the curriculum.  I want to challenge you, but not break your spirit or take away your motivation.  I want to show you that you can do more and be more than you thought when you walked in.  I want to help you leave your job, your family, your worries, your troubles outside the door for a few hours and just focus on what we are doing on the mats - in the moment - right now.

I look forward to our weekly sessions as a time when we can do something for ourselves, without having to worry about making anyone else happy.  I look forward to sharing with all of you.  I look forward to our laboratory of martial arts where we can explore and challenge, find what works; discard what doesn't.  I look forward to the beginning of every cycle of new material when you feel uncertain and unsure, and the end of every cycle when you have worked it hard made it your own.  I look forward to the affirmation of our cycle tests and how you always seem to surprise me with how well you can focus and deliver what you know.  I look forward to feeling the fellowship and friendship of our group and how you support each other as good partners and welcome newcomers when they join.  I look forward to showing Guro Fred and Guro Lila how much you all have grown in-between their visits here.  You always make me proud.  I look forward to each of you expressing Kali Majapahit in your own unique FLOW, and becoming gifted instructors in your own right someday, sharing this wonderful experience with many, many more students of your own in the future.

During my time between jobs (18 months in fact) I tried my best to have a training routine with gym and martial arts training just on my own, but I realize it is much more fun to be training with others.  Your passion and energy inspire me, and the class really gives me something to think about all week long.  I promised myself I would stay committed to our training group no matter what happened in my career or personal life.
The class has been my anchor in rough waters, keeping me from drifting away, so to speak.

At the end of it all, our lesson is always about YOU.
It is about delivering the training experience YOU want.
What YOU need to grow as martial artists and as human beings.
It is about helping you continue your training until it becomes a habit - part of your lifestyle of mental and physical health and happiness for the rest of your lives.

There is a two-way promise inherent in this.
If you can promise to keep coming to class open-minded and ready to give 100%,
If you can promise to keep telling me what you want so we can keep improving,
I promise to give you everything I have, everything I have learned and done over all these years.
I promise to try my very best to make our lessons enjoyable, exciting, encouraging, and empowering.
I promise to be right there beside you on this journey, sharing your growth in martial arts and in life.

Thank you for making this experience so rewarding for me.
I am truly grateful.

Monday, August 27, 2012

How to be a good training partner

How to be a good training partner?

This is an important topic, since it is one people hardly think about, but which everyone secretly wishes they had.  We all want someone who will push us to do our best, make us look our best, inspire us, challenge us, support us.  However, we often spend very little time thinking about how WE OURSELVES could be that perfect training partner for the other students.

As you Give, So you Get
Being a good training partner involves real conscious effort.  It involves paying attention to your partner throughout the drills.  It is very important during boxing pad work, but just as important in sticks/blades/kadena de mano, and even stretching.  As you give, so you get.  The better partner you become, the better partners you will get.  This is one of the most important ways the Law of Attraction can work for you.

In Boxing
Our boxing/Panatukan segments are about technique, but also heavy cardio conditioning.  A good boxing partner knows how to hold the pads in position for the punching/kicking combinations, and applies some stress/pressure to their partner during the drills.  They stay a bit unpredictable, and make their partner work hard for the whole time.  A good partner watches his partner's form and checks to see that guard is maintained, balls of the feet drive the punches, there is coiling/compression into the techniques, and the arms and legs extend when hitting.  Good partners check for the right timing/pacing/rhythm of hits and combinations.  Proper boxing involves setting, hitting, and moving and a good partner watches and coaches, while at the same time not stopping the action.  The very best partner should make you work just to the edge of your comfort zone, making you earn every hit.  In my case, I like the padholder to be able to give me contact back (hitting my guard or head/body with the pads or gloves) since this helps me get used to being hit and still be able to keep my concentration while I attack.  Good boxing partners give compliments when they are deserved, corrections when required, and total focus in every moment of every drill.

Kadena De Mano
When we train in KDM using empty hands, sticks, or blades, we want a training experience that will help us understand how the human body will react to impacts.  While it is important not to become like overcooked spaghetti and go limp in our partner's arms (this is not an Argentine football match after all), at the same time if the partner resists and counters every single move, there is not real understanding, no muscle memory develops, and there is no chance for either partner to develop flow.  As we progress our training, we want a bit more resistance from our partner so we know how well our techniques work (especially locks/submissions/disarms), but in the beginner curriculum it is better to allow your partner to move you and feel the flow of the technique.

Billiards is a great analogy here.  In billiards, a skilled player is always playing several shots ahead of where the cue ball is at any moment.  Each shot lines up the next shot, and in such a way the player clears the table. Good players play one rack at a time, not one ball at a time.  In KDM, every move should set up the next move, keeping the opponent off balance and destroying the structure from the first step to the last.  This can only be understood if the partner gives a bit into the technique so we can see how the body is likely to react and set up the next move accordingly.

Of course, the danger here is that we over-cooperate, and the student never learns if it really works or not (a common criticism of modern aikido).  It is important to find the balance of movement for each student to he/she can grow and learn.

The Right Attitude
At the end of it all, being a good partner is about having the right attitude.  It's about looking and feeling like a martial artist and sharing that intensity with your partner to create the best possible training experience in every class.  We are all here to learn and grow, and having a partner committed to that makes the dojo a far better place.

What kind of training partner can you be?  The answer to this question will determine the quality of training you get back, so think carefully...



Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rising

(Thanks for the inspiration Julie!)
NOTE - SPOILER ALERT!!


If you have not seen the newest/latest/last Batman movie, than this post may not make much sense to you.  I assume you have.

The movie deals with a lot of complex emotional issues, but in this post I want to focus on a central message and a great takeaway from the film.


Assuming you saw it, you know that an ill-prepared Batman returns from seclusion and faces Bane, an opponent he cannot defeat through physical strength or fighting ability alone.  Bane tells Batman he will "break him" and does so literally, dropping him onto his knee in WWF fashion.

He casts Batman into the same prison he arose from, to force Batman to watch as he destroys Gotham City.
This prison is said to be inescapable, and batman has a dislocated vertebra in his back to boot - not a very optimistic situation.

I like the plot, since it sets up a very important lesson.
As Batman is bedridden in agony, facing a TV which shows the news of how Bane is tearing Gotham apart, he must face and overcome the first of his fears ---  the paralysis of inaction.
Bruce Wayne must overcome the inertia of inaction and refuse to give up.  He is crippled, and the chance of recovery is slim.  It would be far easier to accept his defeat and let go of any chance to save Gotham.
Instead, he summons up his courage and tries to stand and walk.  The other prisoners, recognizing his courage, fix his back.  He begins to train and redevelop his willpower to escape and make the climb out.

Bruce Wayne: I do fear death. I fear dying in here while my city burns.
Blind Prisoner: Then make the climb.
Bruce Wayne: How?
Blind Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again

What is important here is that Bruce accepts his fear but does not give in to it or be paralyzed by it.  He realizes there is still something he can do, even  if at that moment he does not know how to escape the prison.  All too often in our training (and in our life), we are confronted by difficulty and we retreat into the "pain cave", becoming overwhelmed into paralysis by our fear, our doubt, our pain.  We forget that there is always SOMETHING you can do, as long as you are still alive.  Do not succumb to the Pain Cave.

Bruce begins to try to climb the wall to freedom, and discovers the major obstacle is a big jump.  Again and again he tries the jump and fails, dangling from the safety rope around his waist.  In desperation, he tries again.

What is important here is that ultimately Bruce cannot succeed the jump until he climbs WITHOUT THE ROPE, just as the last person to scale the wall and escape did.  This is crucial.  Unless there is a risk of failure, there can be no chance of success.  Of course it is important to be careful and prudent in our lives.  At the same time, it is also important to let go of fear and go after something with our full ability - to commit to the result when there is no safety net below us.  People who cannot take risk deny themselves the truly great victories and are often resigned to small steps forward, rather than the quantum leaps of the bold.
Of course you could fall.  However, the other key lesson here is to trust your training and trust yourself.

Bruce knew he had the willpower.  He knew he had the training.  But to finally succeed, he had to let go of any possibility of failure.  This is a very important part of goalsetting.

Overall, it is an interesting movie, with high entertainment value, but there are some good lessons also to be learned from it.  Watch it again and see what you think.

RISE.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

On Aggressiveness

There is a lot to be said for aggressiveness in a self-defense situation.
As one wise man said "it is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog".  Experience tells us that in any self-defense situation, the victory goes to the one who displays the most aggressiveness quickest.

While we typically consider aggressiveness as an unconscious, automatic response of the body to real or imagined stress the "fight" part of "fight or flight response", in reality it is a reaction that can be harnessed to give us the full effect with only minimal downside.

Proper training is at the heart of the matter.  often I can see students in a drill shift their mental state into "attacker" or "defender" depending on their role in the drill.  Some do both parts like a zombie :-(, giving no energy at all for their partner to work with.  This is the worst.  Second worst is having a "defender" mentality.

In the "defender" mentality, you become a victim.  You wait for an attack and try to absorb, deflect or block it.  Many times this happens with the eyes closed or blinking, as if closing your eyes would somehow make the bad people disappear... it won't.

No.  It is important to always display AGGRESSIVENESS.  The level of violence should be proportionate to the threat involved, but with the maximum aggressiveness in every case.

In aikido, aggressiveness is demonstrated in three ways:
1) the kiai --- a loud yell at the attacker.  see here
2) the movement is always forward --- INTO THE ATTACKER
3) Atemi - the initial hit as we take control of the attacker's attack and redirect it

In Filipino Martial Arts as well, there is no defense.  There is only attacking the attacker and attacking the attack.

Attacking the attacker means proactively ending a situation when a threat is perceived.  There is no waiting for a punch to be thrown.  MOVE FIRST.  MOVE DECISIVELY.

Attacking the attack means Gunting.
When we gunting, we must imagine that we are ATTACKING THE ATTACK. Our goal is to disrupt the attacker, take the balance/structure away and end the situation in the most efficient manner possible.

In training it is very important to train aggressiveness as well as specific techniques and responses via drills.
That said, unless the teachers and students know it is a specific goal, often times it is not explicitly emphasized.  If so, students miss one of the most important tools in self-defense.

This can be trained by using drills.  One example is where the student faces increasing attack pressure (such as hits to the head with the pads).  The student should do their best to block/deflect/redirect these hits without panicking.  On command, the student should explode back at the attacker with a flurry of hits until told to "stop".  Another drill can have the student in a circle and being hit from all sides.  Similarly, the student should seek to evade/block/cover/deflect the hits.  On command, explode out of the circle to freedom, taking at attacker or two out along the way.  These types of drills should be repeated until the students can explode on command without any hesitation.

Again, the best defense is a good offense.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Book Report: Meditations on Violence

I recently read "Meditations on Violence" by Sgt. Rory Miller.

Overall, it was an excellent book which I highly recommend to anyone on the Warrior Path.

About Sgt. Rory Miller
Rory Miller is a 17 year veteran of the federal correctional system, a prison guard.  he is also a lifetime student of the martial arts including traditional Japanese Jujitsu.  He has years of real-life experiences under the chaos and stress of confrontations, and is acutely aware of the psychology and physiology of fighting.  He is an outstanding source of good information about the reality of self-defense.

About The Book
Rory Miller does not sugar coat what happens in a fight.  He is careful to explain the psychology of both attacker and victim, especially in the context of twp basic scenarios: 1) social fights (what he calls "The Monkey Dance") where our objectives are status, control, and emotion and when "rules" are followed and 2) predatory attacks, where the assailant attacks with surprise, often using weapons, or with multiple attackers, in order to avoid the risk of injury.  The objective is usually property or sexuality, which includes predators such as mass-murders where the objective is to fulfill some fantasy or delusion.  The situations could not be more different, and should be handled in totally different ways.

Sgt. Miller does not show specific techniques and the book has few pictures, only using them to provoke thought.  he discusses various training methods and their pros and cons relative to the reality of being attacked.  He has chapters devoted to the psychology of victim and attacker, as well as our human responses to the stress of a fight and what to expect (adrenalin rush, nausea, tunnel vision, etc.).  He includes plenty of practical advice for how to train to manage stress and what to do depending on the nature of the assault and the state of mind needed to be a survivor of such an encounter. he also includes a brief overview of the general legality of fighting and how to ensure you are within your right to self-defense by choosing an appropriate response to the situation.  He illustrates with many examples from his own career dealing with violent, often drug-fueled offenders as well as terrorists, gangstas, and other criminal types..

My Thoughts
Rory Miller is a practical man who has the survivor objective of getting home safely every night to his family. This is the objective all of us should have regardless of the situation we find ourselves in.  That said, Sgt. Miller does not give much credence to the spiritual aspects of the training, especially if they are not bundled together with real-life, dependable combat techniques.

He suggests that self-defense should not be taught by teachers without a lot of their own combat experience (not including MMA or tournament fighting).  I accept his point.  I am fortunate not to have been in too many fights, and all were either tournaments or "monkey dance" situations involving opponents with only limited training and limited conviction to hurting me.  I have not had to face knife attacks (and hope I never do) or other weapon attacks or multiple attackers.  At 45 years old, I do not expect to go out and cause trouble in order to validate this part of my skill set.  Instead, I will continue to promote the martial arts as a holistic way for us to improve ourselves - something I have had over 30 years doing.  My goal is surely to help my students realize their goals in self-defense, but also to gain discipline and confidence to take control over their
own lives, be responsible for their own choices, and create the future for themselves that they want - with healthy body, mind, and spirit.

I think it is the fact that I carry myself with confidence, rarely go to dangerous places, and think through risks before I do things, which has kept me from being in fights most of the time.  I am too small to be threatening to bigger guys, but too confident to be seen as weak by those same guys - it is a fortunate balance, and one I intend to keep.  I am glad Japan is such a safe country, and I hope it remains so.

Rory MIller is right that being a survivor requires a certain mindset.  It is about prevention, and about preparation (much of which is mental).  Fights are chaotic, unpredictable, and savage.  In the case of predatory attacks, they can be life-threatening and in order to survive, you must be willing to use whatever force necessary to escape.  This means gouging eyes, tearing throats, biting, or doing whatever else will cause the most damage to the weakest target in the shortest time.  Under the stress of real violence, the human body is amazingly fragile.  At the same time, we can actually take a lot more damage than people expect and keep on going, so it is important to never give up until you have escaped/neutralized the situation. As long as you are still alive, there is ALWAYS something you can do.

I hope none of you are ever made to fight, or even worse, become a victim of predation.  Just in case, better to read and think about Sgt. Miller's excellent book.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rock, Paper...

(thanks for the inspiration Tina)

The other day, one of my friends who is a Kyokushin karate instructor explained to me "when I had an injured wrist, I simply did pushups on my knuckles.  Stronger punches, you know..."  It got me to thinking.

Many arts, especially the Okinawans, promote punching as a principle method for attacking.  They train hard for it to develop the capacity to hit with fight-stopping force using the fist.  Often times these attacks are directed not just at soft tissues like the throat or plexus, but at hard bone mass targets like the head.  Without a lot of conditioning and very good punching technique (especially alignment of the wrist with the forearm bones), it is very easy to break the delicate bones of the hand.

As for me, I prefer to fight seriously using my open hands rather than fists for a variety of other reasons as well:

1) I may want to grab, parry, or misdirect the opponent's arms of legs.  This is much better done with the open hand.

2) I like to strike with the knife edge (tegatana in Japanese) or palm heel (shotei) since they do not involve any of the joints in the hand or wrist and thus are strong and stable for maximum impact without risk of injury.

3) As I enter, I like to get fingers up into the face/eyes/throat of the opponent whenever possible, and this is best done using the open hand rather than the fist.

4) Clenching a fist causes subconscious tension in the muscles (especially the arms) and increases stress/aggression.  Tension/stress usually equates to slowness in a fight.

5) In my background of Aikido/Jujitsu, the closed fist is hardly used due to our need to touch and grab the opponent for joint manipulation.

6) Closed fists in western law denote aggression (implying assault or the intention to assault).  Open hands do not.  Held in front they suggest compliance, but in reality are anything but submissive :-)

Of course I am well aware that most fights have the habit of punching.  For Westerners this is due to our history of boxing, which promotes fists and makes open hands illegal.  I think this is mostly possible due to the use of padded gloves to protect the fighters' hands.  Without these, I doubt any match would last 15 rounds of fighters punching each others' skulls.

Years of striking the makiwara pad (common in traditional karate) can develop the strength in the fists to contact the major bones structures without injury, much in the way muay thai fighters kick trees or posts to condition their shins.  However, I consider this trade-off of longevity/mobility for impact power to be a bad deal.  Many karateka I know have arthritis or other severe joint problems in their hands from the makiwara, and I have heard many retired muay thai fighters have greatly lessened mobility due to kicking trees when they were young.

Speaking to many traditional Okinawan masters, it seems that at much higher levels in karate/kenpo training the closed fist is rarely used and the movements become increasingly circular and fluid, resembling the original Chinese arts that first influenced them.  I suggest that the translation of karate can be "empty hand" but can also be "open hand" ie. not using the fist.

I still believe a principal goal of martial arts training should be longevity, and in particular not just from surviving an encounter but from having a full range of motion in the joints, improved circulation, greater flexibility/dexterity and proper breathing throughout our lives.  This is much more in line with the Chinese interpretation than the modern Japanese/Okinawan/Korean/Thai versions but far more valid for people outside the battlefield.

By all means, train hard as you wish.  But for me, the open hand is the deadly hand.  

Monday, July 02, 2012

Crossfit and Kali

So it's on.  This morning I completed my first group class at Chikara Crossfit near the office.
I started this because the gym is boring (right?) and I am very interested in actually learning something while training.  The Crossfit coaches really understand both physical and nutritional science, and that hooked me.
There are many similarities between my first class of Crossfit and my first class of Kali Majapahit.

The "WOW" Factor
When I first stepped into the KM dojo on Yan Kit Road and met Guro Fred, it was a magic moment for me.
Somehow I just KNEW my life would never be the same.  His passion for what he teaches is infectious.  At the same time, he moves like a predatory jungle cat - with power, grace, strength, confidence.  He moves the way I want to move.  I looked at the other Kasama assisting him (now all Kadua Guro in their own right):  Guillaume, Vincent, Ben.  They all had similar characteristics, so I knew Guro Fred could really get students to understand what he wanted them to learn.  I was blown away.  I still am.

In Crossfit, I met Michael Schaal.  He looks like a professional athlete (and has been a competitive wrestler and lacrosse player).  he looks like he is chiseled out of iron - or maybe liquid metal like the T1000 in Terminator 2.  He is passionate about the science behind what he does, and it is equally infectious.  I have seen his personal workouts on his blog and they are insane.  He is truly an athlete.  I also see the people who have been training there for a year or more and they look like Greek statues.  It feels the same way it did when I joined KM.  I feel close to some powerful energy, an energy I know will change my life.

The First Class
In my first KM class, all those years ago, I spent time working on the stance, the grip, the basic 6 angles blocking and striking in De Cuerdas.  Guro Vince helped me a lot.  He was fluid and powerful, and it felt like he could hit me at will and block anything I tried to do without any effort at all.  I remember wishing I could move the way he did.  I still do.  We finished the lesson with coconut crushers, which remain a favorite even today.  My legs were shaking and had to go throw up right after the lesson.  I couldn't even walk down the stairs to the street and had to take a cab back home.  My legs were sore and stiff for over a week.  I kept thinking what it would be like when my body adjusted to it.  Fast forward another 6 months and I was able to complete the classes and workouts and then walk home afterward.  In a year I could do classes back-to-back.  Now when I go down to Singapore or attend the awesome annual Bali Camp, I am on the mats 30 hours or more per week, and I still hold up pretty well for a guy in his mid-40s.

My first Crossfit workout was a benchmark of 500m row, 40 squats, 30 situps, 20 pushups, 10 pullups.  It took me over 10 minutes to complete the workout and afterward I was completely exhausted.  I threw up (sound familiar?) and had shakes and cold sweat.  I was dizzy and thought I would pass out.  It took more than an hour to recover enough to get home, and I was sore for more than a week.  Since then I have completed the on ramp to prepare for group classes and learned the basics of the major movements we do in Crossfit.  For today's workout, 2 minutes max reps of d/u jump rope, pullups, pushups, situps, squats I surely didn't make the leaderboard, but I survived and walked away.  To me, that means I am already on the way there.  I look forward to how hard I will be able to work a year from now.


It's About LIVING
Both KM and Crossfit share the philosophy that we must work constantly to increase our stamina, coordination, balance, endurance, flexibility, accuracy, timing, strength in order to have maximum functionality of our bodies over the course of our lives.  KM movements are straightfoward and efficient, and draw from a wide variety of martial arts across Southeast Asia.  Crossfit movements are practical and replicate the functional movements we use in everyday life such as standing up from a chair, moving weight
from the floor, lifting overhead, and so on.  A lot of Crossfit movements are bodyweight exercises.  A lot of KM involves moving the opponent's bodyweight as well.  Both are designed to give longevity to our structures, muscles, joints, tendons/ligaments, and cardiovascular systems.

POSITIVE WAVES
KM is a very encouraging and empowering martial art.  It helps build self-confidence and encourages students to take control and change their lives.  Crossfit is also focused on the positive, and very supportive of new athletes as they make their way into the training.  There is a lot of help from the coaches to get the movements correct and begin to ease into the routines.

Variety is the Spice of Life
KM revolves around a rotating 10-week cycle of material for the students to master.  Within each 10 weeks, a huge number of drills, games, and exercises are used to understand and challenge each cycle.  Since KM has so many sub-systems, there is an endless amount of technique, concept, and application to explore.

In Crossfit, there are a nearly endless number of WODs (workout of the day).  Many are posted online and blogged about and athletes share their times/scores globally.  You could attend Crossfit every day for the rest of your life and never be bored or feel it is just a routine.

The Community
KM Brothers and Sisters are truly like family to me.  In the many years we have been together, we have shared so much on the mats and off.  We have supported each other along our Warrior Journeys and given each other courage.  I always look forward to seeing them.

In Crossfit, times/scores are recorded and posted on the white board.  During the workout we are totally focused on ourselves, but afterward, you look in the sweat-soaked eyes of the athlete next to you, and you feel a kinship.  We all have movements to improve and more reps we can do.  It's encouraging to be in this together.

I made a promise to KM (permanently tattooed on me).  I made the same promise to Crossfit (not tattooed yet).  Both are vehicles for helping me change and become who I want to be.  They share a lot in common.  Now they share ME in common.


Train Hard,  John 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Diamonds


I liked the above so much I hung it at my desk.
Stress is indeed a topic on the minds of most people.  Our modern lifestyles bombard us with persuasive information that subtly suggests we are not living right.  We need to work harder, be slimmer, dress cooler, and have MORE.  We need more money, more friends, more sexual partners, more information...more, More, MORE!  The constant pressure to perform is incredibly stressful for us.

Stress causes difficulty sleeping, depression, high blood pressure, eating disorders (both anorexia and overeating can be linked to stress), heart disease, antisocial behavior/short temper, sexual dysfunction, memory loss, and the list goes on and on.  It is a silent killer that slowly eats away from us until it finally takes our lives away.  Most people are not even aware of the effects stress is having on them until it is too late.

To cope with stress, many people turn to a host of external sources to try to remove or avoid stress, not realizing that stress is an inevitable part of our lives.  We often go to great lengths to avoid stress, such as quitting our jobs, divorcing our partners, moving far away, and so on.  In the end, each of these choices merely exchanges one set of stressors for another (usually unanticipated) set of stressors.

As the above picture suggests, the difference between a flat piece of charcoal and a diamond is not avoiding stress, but rather learning to handle stress well.  So...what can you do to help handle stress?

1) RECOGNIZE IT
As intuitive as it may sound, the most important factor when coping with stress is simply being aware and recognizing that we have stress. By this I do not mean a general feeling of malaise that pressure brings, but a very specific awareness of when a stressful situation occurs.  We must also be aware that stress can be real or just imagined, and even imagined stress can have harmful effects.  By recognizing the early signs of our body's reaction to stress, we can begin to take steps to cope more effectively.  We see differences in acute stress (death of a pet, loss of a job) versus daily stress, and in fact it is the accumulation of daily stress which is far more harmful to us.  This means we must recognize it as a constant force in our life that must be adjusted for rather than ignored.

2) Eat Well
When we are under stress, what we eat has an even more profound effect on our body's chemistry.  Often times, our reaction to stress is to either under-eat or overeat (especially calorie junk foods high in salt and sugar).  In either case, this exacerbates the stress reaction by putting additional strain on our bodies.  Stress often causes gastrointestinal trouble, so the best foods are healthy and nutritious without being overly spicy, salty, or sweet.

3) Get Enough Sleep
We are all very busy, I know.  Still, when under stress it is important to try to get a proper rest every day.  That means at least 8 hours of continuous quality sleep.  The hours before midnight are especially important for healing the body, so it is far better to go to bed by 9pm and wake up early at 5am, rather than going to bed at midnight and waking up at 8am.  If you have trouble going to sleep/falling asleep make sure your bedroom is completely dark (no TV) and quiet (I said "No TV!").  Try to not watch TV, check email, browse internet or other bright visual activity for an hour or two before bed.  It is also a good idea to use your bed only for sleeping or sex, and not for lounging and watching TV, so you develop a subconscious habit of sleeping (or having sex) when you are in bed rather than staying awake.  Good sleep is not automatic or inherent, it requires practice and establishment of good habits.

4) Talk About It
Men especially like to lock their emotions inside, and stress is a very emotional thing.  However, it is cathartic to talk about stressful events, and this is true whether or not the listener proposes a solution to remove the stress.  In extreme case, stress of grief, disaster, or other tragedy, it is important to seek professional counseling immediately since we can slip into depression without even being aware of the changes.

5) Music = Mood
I would not suggest there is true scientific evidence that shows that what we listen to affects our moods.  That said, dark and sad music makes me feel dark and sad.  Blues music is cathartic by having singers relate their personal traumas, and by hearing them we sympathize and feel better.  However, I think it is helpful to try to listen to upbeat positive songs under times of stress.

6) Meditation
Meditation is a key factor in coping with stress. It is important to find at least 15 minutes a day (longer is better) to do a meditation.  This need not be a religious experience (although that is OK, too).  It is at least useful to deliberately control your posture, breath, and thoughts.  This yields overall health benefits, and is particularly good during stressful periods.  I do not suggest meditating during a shootout, shark attack, or other violent situation.  However, for people with high stress lifestyles, finding time very day for meditation is very important to maintaining balance. Since stress is often linked to feeling a loss of control, the controlled environment of meditation is very comforting.

7) Reward Yourself
As we go through stressful times, it is important to set little rewards for ourselves.  Take a moment out to congratulate yourself for the small successes that come in navigating rough waters.  Small, regular rewards help avoid binges as psychologically we seek some validation for coping with the matters at hand.  Knowing that this is a basic human need will help manage it more effectively.

8) Keep Moving
Lethargy is a component of depression, and often tied to our response to stress.  Exercise is also a key factor in helping us get good quality sleep.  Under stress it is important to not let our busy lifestyles discourage us for getting regular exercise.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond!

John

Sunday, June 03, 2012

I Can't...

Overheard between my vegan friend and another non-vegan friend at a restaurant dinner:

non-vegan friend (NVF):  Oh, so you can't eat meat
vegan friend (VF): No, I won't eat meat
NVF: but...you...CAN'T, right?
VF: No, of course I can, but I WON'T.
NVF: (puzzled)...I don't get it.

Many times I hear people's lifestyles (religion/diet/exercise) talked about in terms of what they "can" or "can't" do.  For example, people look at a vegetarian/vegan's lifestyle and say "Oh, you can't eat meat." They may even comment "I could never do that."  Even the Christian bible interprests the Ten Commandments as "thou shalt not", suggesting that properly practicing Christians "can't" do those things.

This type of determinism is often enforced through fear or guilt.  In the case of religion, particularly (but not limited to) Christianity, fear of Hell or the wrath of God or even social ostracism has served for thousands of years to reinforce the beliefs of things that Christians can't do.  For vegetarians/vegans, the idea is that eating meat or other animal products causes such health problems that practicioners "CAN'T" eat them for fear of risking their health.

I would argue that all belief systems that are grounded in neagtivity (fear/guilt) miss the real value of the beliefs --- the empowerment of the believer through his/her freedom of choice.

This manifests in two principal ways:
1) lack of guilt/punishment associated with the choices
2) lack of negative terminology associated with the choices

I personally think it is of critical importance that believers actively CHOOSE to follow the beliefs, rather than be manipulated into doing so through fear of repercussion or guilt and loss of self-esteem for not doing so.  To be empowered it is important that choices be framed in POSITIVE TERMS which express the benefits of making good choices, rather than the downside of making bad choices (or failing to make the expected good choices).  All of this should be underpinned by an emphasis on the will of the individual to be in control and determine his/her own path. In doing so, each person gets the benefit of developing their personal discipline and self-control.

For vegetarians, it is not that they can't eat animal products --- it is that they won't eat animal products.  They certainly could.  It's just that they make an active, concious, informed decision not to.  THEY are in control, not the belief system.  They could easily renounce their beliefs if they chose to do so.  It is through their willpower and commitment alone that they follow their chosen way and reap the benefits of it.

This extends to many many other things in life.  People say to a married man "you can't sleep with another woman".  Not true, he most certainly could.  However (we hope) he chooses not to out of love and respect for his wife and her feelings.  He gets the benefit of a fuller and deeper realtionship, as well as confidence in his own discipline and self-control.

If a belief system is rooted in negativity and focused on what followers "can't" do, the overwhelming tendency is for either punishment avoidance or escapism to creep in.  Punishment avoidance refers to behaviors where people act without commitment to the belief itself, instead simply out of fear of the punishment itself.  Once the punishment disappears, compliance also disappears.  This explains why many young people renounce religion as soon as they move out from home or otherwise are not at risk of being punished for not going to church.

Escapism refers to those rebellious behaviors which occur from a desire to express free will by doing the exact opposite of what the belief system practices.  This is often a reaction to strict discipline, especially when it is forced upon an unwilling believer.  The often-cited promiscuous preacher's daughter or the binge-drinking and partying of freshman college students who are newly living away from home and their parents' oversight.

If their belief systems were based on their own freedom of choice rather than fear or negativity imposed by others, then the urge to rebel would no longer exist.

Although the language difference between "I can't" and "I won't" seems merely semantic, the implication is very important.  "I can't" absolves us of any responsibility for the choices, ascribing responsibility to be due to some factor beyond our control.  For example "I can't lift a ten-story building" or "I can't breathe under water for ten minutes".  Most of the time, the "can't" part is conditional.  You could lift a 10-story building if you had the right equipment and training.  Likewise you could breathe under water for ten minutes if you had an air supply.

Most of our life is not about what we can or can't do.
It is about what we will or won't do.
We must take responsibility for our choices, good and bad.
Learn from our mistakes and celebrate our successes.
BE HONEST.

YOUR HOMEWORK:
Find 5 things you think you can't do.
Think about them.  Is it really that you CAN'T?  Or simply that you WON'T??
Think about how different those two states of mind are.