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.

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