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


(Thanks for the inspiration Julie!)

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.


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.