Thursday, November 06, 2014

Four Dozen

Wow.  Here I am.  48 years old today.

It's hard to believe that so much has happened since last year's birthday post...

This morning I woke up in our new place (surrounded by cardboard moving boxes and without TV or Internet), I walked a new route to the train station to go to my new job at work.  This year, for the first time (not the last) I became father to a teenager son.  This week I taught the first Kali Majapahit Japan class on a TUESDAY and our group continues to grow.  This year I also started social dance and am now on my way to being able to waltz (still badly).

In retrospect, this has been a year filled with new things - some good, some bad.  In many ways it feels like I am starting over again.  It feels exciting.

I try to be grateful for every day I am alive, and especially for all the people around me that make my life so rich and filled with energy.  This morning I had an inbox filled with birthday greetings from friends (new and old) all over the world.  Thank you all for taking a moment to think of me. I take a moment as I read each greeting, thinking about how and where we met, and how you all have inspired and influenced me. I hope I have been able to return the favor, and more importantly, to pay it forward to the other people I meet.  I have tried to imagine myself like a particle in motion, bouncing off others nearby and hopefully giving them a positive charge. Sometimes, it just feels like I am bouncing off the walls. :-)

Kids like me never had much of a chance.  I was a prematurely-born, hyperactive, runny-nosed little kid coming from a broken home and processed through the State of Illinois foster care program (Illinois Children's Home and Aid on Dearborn Street, Chicago). I was placed in long-term foster care in Villa Park and have been a thousand times luckier than most foster kids.  I had the same foster family for nearly 20 years and was not shuffled from house to house like so many others kids are.  I was not physically or emotionally abused as many foster kids are.  My foster parents suffered all my antics and loved me as completely as any parents ever could, even when I broke their hearts - again and again.
They never gave up on me, and maybe that's why I didn't give up on myself.

Most of us foster kids eventually give up.  We give up on trusting other people because our parents betrayed our trust. We give up on ourselves because we feel unloved and unwanted - unable to have a "normal life" like other kids around us have (or as we imagine they have).  We give up because we don't feel we deserve the same opportunities as other kids - believing that we are unworthy because we were cast aside. Sometimes we give up just because we become too tired to fight.  Most of us develop various emotional problems as a result of our experiences, and I am no exception.  I can be an extraordinarily difficult person to be around, with wild mood swings, a wicked temper, and a seemingly subconscious urge to self-destruct.
I can never ask forgiveness enough times from all the people I have hurt along the way, and instead can only keep trying to re-balance the scales every chance I get and pay it forward.  Thank you to everyone who manages to care about me when I sometimes hardly seem to care about myself.

In the end, what has mattered most is my own family - MY TRIBE.
Thanks to my loving and patient wife, Sanae, I have what I always wanted - a loving and supportive family of my own.  She has made all my dreams come true and brought me more happiness than I probably deserve. She is my hero and still the coolest chick I know.

Even before my first son was born, I promised I would never subject my children to what I went through - wondering why they had been born and why their parents didn't love them enough to keep them.  Although I can say I have made every conceivable mistake as a parent, my two fantastic boys never fail to amaze me with their happiness, energy, and confidence.  They are well-grounded and sensible (most of the time anyway).  This is credit to Sanae far more than me.  I wish I could be more like her.

I have fallen.  I fall all the time.  But I will keep getting up.
I will not give up.
I will keep going forward and making progress, sometimes only an inch at a time, but continuously and relentlessly.

Thank you all for believing in me.  It means more to me than you can imagine.

Monday, October 13, 2014

On Slavery

Just finished reading this book, "12 Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup, an autobiography written in 1853.  I got this book after having seen the riveting movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor.  I figured the book must contain much more detail than the movie, and I was not disappointed.

Slavery is a difficult subject, especially for Americans.  We want to believe that we have "risen above" such things, often citing that we fought a long and bloody war specifically for that purpose. None of this is entirely true, since even George Washington owned slaves, and emancipation was a convenient afterthought for President Lincoln, whose main objective was to keep the country united.  Slavery, however, became a lightning rod issue for the North, and galvanized our resolve to change the Southern way of life from plantation agriculture to our new industrialism.  Even today, some 150 years after the Civil War, vestiges of slavery remain across America, both explicit and implicit.  We have made a small start, but we still have so far to go.

In many other countries, slavery has a long history and in some of them, it still continues.
Slavery can take many forms, including what we typically think of as indentured servitude (conflict goods, forced conscription) but what must also include sexual slavery, child labor and even religious slavery.  At the far end of the spectrum, many Americans suffer debt slavery, unable to break free from their consumption-fueled lifestyles.  Slavery can be defined as a hopeless repetition of labor without chance of escape, and this is the 9-5 (maybe now more like 9-9) that many Americans must endure without hope of financial freedom or eventual retirement. Post the financial crisis, many Americans are doomed to work until they die or are replaced.

Here are some other takeaways of mine from the book:

Freedom has no Guarantees
Solomon Northup was born a free man in upstate New York, near Syracuse.  However, this did not prevent him from being kidnapped and sold into slavery into the Louisiana bayou for 12 long, hard years.  Kidnapping and human trafficking exist even today in many parts of the world.  The freedom we take for granted can be taken away by any number of means at any time.  We think of this as largely a problem in the underdeveloped corners of the World, but actions of our own government are no different, slowly eating away at our freedom until we become slaves of the State - in mind if not in body.  Freedom is preserved through vigilance, and lost through apathy.

We have it SO GOOD
Our modern abundance is truly mind-boggling.  Compared to life 100 years ago, the incredible amount of goods and services available to us is almost beyond comprehension.  For many of us, the biggest challenge of the day is simply deciding which size Starbucks we want (Grande or Vente).  We have products from all over the world available to us at our fingertips, and our ease of access to information on any topic, in any detail, is truly an incredible human achievement.

The ability of modern medicine to prolong and improve the quality of our lives is past imagination for people 100 years ago.  We have all but eradicated the major plagues of the past, and I actually believe it could be possible through concerted global effort to end global famine in our time.

I do not begrudge our advancements, and do not think we need to be ashamed of our good fortune.  However, I do believe that this should cause us to have even greater charity, mercy and compassion toward others.  We have far  more than we need - it is time to share.

We have become WEAK and we complain far too much
Transformation of our global society from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age to the Information Age has brought humanity incredible prosperity.  However, the trade offs have come at the cost of our strength, hardiness and resolve.  My children cry when they cannot get Wifi access (actually CRY), and we need to go to the gym to develop the strength that our ancestors had as a by-product of their regular daily lifestyle.  While many undeveloped regions lack basic sanitation, clean water, and enough food, most places in the world have far more than they could possibly need.  We complain at the slightest inconvenience.  I felt ashamed to read of the savage punishments inflicted on Simon Northup and his fellow slaves by their cruel plantation overseers and masters.  Could I have endured them so patiently in order to wait for my chance to escape? Could you?  He slept on a wooden board with a threadbare blanket and not even a cup or a bowl to call his own for 12 YEARS.  Could I do that?  Could you??

The Human Spirit is Truly UNBREAKABLE
I was inspired by this story.  His love for his family, and his ability to endure the seemingly unendurable for so long, just to have a chance to go home.  It would be unbelievable if I did not know the story was true.  All of us will face hardship and challenge, and all of us have the ability to keep our dignity and self-respect.  We can choose to be unbreakable.  Next up in my reading list is the story of Nelson Mandela of South Sfrica, and I expect there will be much in common on this point.

Music Matters
Solomon Northup was a violinist and this skill served him well in captivity, helping ease the suffering not just of himself but of those around him.  Music is a joyful thing, and life without music is a hell of its own.

Human Relationships Matter More
The life of a bayou slave was horrible beyond my imagination. Particularly for those consigned to labor on cotton plantations, who had to rise before dawn and toil until midnight 6 days a week nearly all year round.  In addition to his music, Solomon and the other slaves forged deep human relationships based on compassion and mutual support.  This social fabric helped them weather their trials and endure their hardships.  We all face difficulty, but it is far easier when we face it together.  Be CONNECTED.  Invest in human relationships.

Family is the CORNERSTONE
Even enduring regular torture and brutal treatment in Louisiana, Solomon never gave up hope of seeing his wife and children again.  He kept this fire burning and this must be a central reason why he ultimately regained his freedom.  Family is the most important thing.  Keep it sacred. Protect it above all else.

Justice Is Never Guaranteed
Despite overwhelming evidence of guilt, the fiends who kidnapped Solomon Northup and sold him into slavery were never brought to justice (except maybe in the Afterlife).  Especially as Americans, we believe in the fair and equitable rule of law, however I am not completely certain it exists - at least not equally for all.  Freedom is preserved by vigilance and lost by apathy. Recent events have shown some shocking examples of the cost when we assume the protection of the State or the goodwill of the Republic in our daily lives.  We still have so far to go.  

Poorly Run Companies Look and Feel a Bit Like Plantations
In a poorly run company, management care little for the workers except that they provide economic benefit.  Motivation is achieved through fear and co-workers are pitted against one another in unhealthy competition designed to foster mistrust, lack of cooperation, and general unease.  Solomon relates several different plantations some of which, despite being staffed by slave labor, treated the slaves with respect and kindness.  These plantations produced more output for longer than those that relied on the lash.  Despite reams of research that suggest a humanitarian management approach, most firms still employ a linear strategy of input and output, and fail to motivate and reward employees holistically.  It is worth examining the HR policies of the very best companies to see why employees choose them - money is merely one factor. Treatment of the employee as a trusted individual worthy of respect and investment yields the greatest benefit for both sides and is the cornerstone of loyalty and out performance.

In closing, the quote from this book that I will never forget.

"What difference is there in the color of the soul?"



Sunday, October 12, 2014

Steps in the Right Direction

Here is a photo of my dance teachers, Minato Kojima and Megumi Morita, taken today as they placed 3rd in the 34th Prince Mikasanomiya Cup national championships, dancing in front of a packed auditorium in Sendagaya.

They are AMAZING dancers, amazing teachers, and amazing people.  We are blessed to benefit from their skills, knowledge and experience.

I learned a lot from spending a day watching this competition.  Martial arts and dance share many lessons in common.

Dance, like martial arts, is about making and keeping a connection to someone else.
In martial arts, the connection is used to deadly effect.  In dance, it is used to graceful and elegant effect.  Moving in harmony with others is a skill we all need to master, and when we do it allows us to be truly beautiful.

Rhythm and Feeling
There is a timing and rhythm to dance, just as there is in martial arts.  To dance well, we must match the music and, in so doing, we create a precious moment with our partner that is beyond words.  It is very important to listen for the rhythm everywhere we can hear it in our lives, and to try to act in accord with it.  That is what grace is all about.

Being True to Your Training and Giving 100%
Dance training is hard - every bit as hard as martial arts training.  Minato and Megumi have been doing this every day since they were in preschool (they are now in college).  The long hours of training over so many years have given them incredible strength, precision and poise.  Eyes closed, their bodies know every step like they were born to it.  They still train for hours every day and give 100% on the floor, not just as competitors and champions, but also as teachers and coaches.  It is honest testament to their hard work and sacrifice that they should look and move the way they do.  Every training session matters and it is important to deliver 100% every single time.  You owe it to yourself to become the champion you are born to be.

Making It About The Other Person
Minato-sensei is a great dancer.  He is a great teacher.  He is a great man.  He is a true gentleman with or without the tuxedo.

I have come to love dance because it is such an elegant and graceful way to be, especially the way he does it.  In every movement I see what it means to be noble, and to be a gentleman.  He is sublimely understated in his actions, and the way he dances makes his partner, Megumi-sensei, look like an angel.  By doing so, he reminds me that being a true gentleman is about focusing on your partner rather than using your partner to showcase your own talent. Because he allows her the space to move freely, she can complement his own steps and together they create a beautiful harmony.  He doesn't ever hold her back, and in return she allows him to be more than he could ever be on his own.

This is common to martial arts training as well.  Make the focus on your partner rather than yourself, and your skills will improve far faster than you imagined.

Don't "do", "BE"
To look at Minato-sensei and Megumi-sensei when they dance, you would realize that nothing else in the world exists except that single moment in time and their connection.  They don't dance, they ARE dance - a perfect embodiment of what it means to live in that moment, and to express oneself completely through movement.

In Kali as well, we must seek to be in the perfect moment, in Zanshin, and to use Kali as a way of expressing who we are and how we feel.  For them, dance is an all-encompassing way of life.  I completely understand.

I was really proud to see my teachers shining so brightly in front of those huge, cheering crowds.
I am sure all those people saw the same magic I did.  I hope they were moved the way I was.

Thank you for everything you have taught me, Minato-sensei and Megumi-sensei about dance and about martial arts.  You help me to become better at both.

See you next week.

It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own.
Hagakure - the Way of the Samurai, by Tsunetomo Yamamoto

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Carrot and the Stick

(thanks for the inspiration MD)
Very interesting discussion last Friday after class.

We were talking about establishing training routines, and about how important it is to keep training regularly no matter what.

His comment was "I want to keep pushing myself harder and harder each time.  I want to end up exhausted."  I wanted to know why.

While I agree that a good, hard workout is one of life's great joys (and a necessary thing), I think there are a few subtle psychological tools that can help make the experience as positive as possible.  These are the same tools that are at the heart of our KALI MAJAPHIT pedagogy.

In Kali Majapahit, we use martial arts as a vehicle for personal development.  We understand and accept that it is our life mission to be happy, and that being happy requires being happy physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and that once we allow ourselves to be happy, we can then share this happiness with the many important people in our lives.

Fundamentally, martial arts training is about goal-setting and goal achievement.  This process has both micro-elements and macro-elements. The micro-element takes place during every class.  We set "micro-goals", for example, successfully completing a technique or a drill variation, or achieving an additional rep/set in an exercise portion.  Even better is to set a personal focus goal for each class (keep back/neck straight, don't look at your hands, extend the cross fully, etc.).  This "one point mantra" can improve performance during a single KM class, and by setting and achieving these "micro-goals" we are building an awareness and confidence that we can achieve results and progress through our focused effort.  The micro goal is a critical part of success because our human nature is geared toward short-term gratification - the micro goal feeds this need for immediate positive reinforcement of the good choices we make and of our discipline in implementing those good chocies.

The macro goals are driven by several rhythms, the most obvious being the 3-month training rotating curriculum of the training cycles.  As we achieve our micro-goals class by class, we are progressing toward achieving the bigger goal of skills development, certificate testing and getting new belts. Other macro goals are those we set for strength/weight improvement, flexibility, stress management and overall healthy lifestyle.

Eventually, our self-awareness as a successful achiever will extend to every area of our lives outside the dojo.  We become able to express confidence in our ability to set and achieve goals because we have done so under so many circumstances at the dojo for such a long period of time.  We are thus able to move from "faith-based confidence" (believing we can do something because we wish or imagine we could) to "experience-based confidence" (knowing we can do something because we have done many other things we have chosen to do).

Success and happiness in life have been shown to have direct relationship to our feelings of control.
Feelings of control can be generated and enhanced by setting and achieving goals the way we do in the dojo.
The best path is a combination of short-term and long-term goals (micro and macro) because it allows us to understand our ability to deliver results in a broad spectrum of circumstances and time frames, which leads to a stable feeling of well-being and satisfaction.  It is critically important to recognize and reward our own achievements in order to support a healthy and positive self-image.

By contrast, if we always move the goal further away at each attempt, we fail to give ourselves credit for our achievements and instead subconsciously reinforce that no amount of effort will ever be "good enough".  This is simply not true.  In fact, I believe our focused maximum effort is ALWAYS good enough.

My friend felt that if he allowed himself to feel a sense of achievement, he would lose motivation, suggesting that motivation is driven by the need to achieve.  I disagreed.  This sounds more like fear of failure. Motivation is driven by the understanding that we can achieve.  We lose motivation quickly if we know we can never reach the objective - it keeps moving further and further away.  If we never allow ourselves the satisfaction of experiencing achievement, like a carrot on a stick, we deny ourselves one of the most important tools for establishing and enhancing our self-image and developing confidence.  We owe it to ourselves to empower ourselves to complete the things we start.

I would argue that far better results can be gotten from investing in ourselves an awareness of our inherent ability to control our own outcomes, so that not only do we know what we are going for, we can be confident in our ability to attain it through our focused effort.  This is a far better and more positive motivator.

Like many things in life, results can be achieved through negative or positive means.  Negative means are generally motivated by fear and anger (often as a response to a real/perceived lack of control), which then causes stress and ultimately damage (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) to the individual and those around him/her.  Positive means involve the positive reinforcement life cycle of goal-setting, challenge/effort, achievement, reward and evaluation which lead to healthy growth and an abundance which can be shared with others.

Train hard, YES.
But also, recognize and celebrate your achievements.  Share your victories with the important people in your life.  Remind yourself EVERY DAY that you are a successful person that can achieve exceptional results through your own focused effort.  You can control your destiny.
Your life in the dojo can support this positive transformation.

It is OK to dangle a carrot, but sometimes you need to grab it and eat it.
Then go and get another one.  :-)

See you at class.      

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Great Investments

(thanks for the inspiration RA)

Had a quick chat with a friend about investing... he asked me about transferring JPY to GBP.  I recoiled in horror - JPY has been trending toward weakness for the past few months (especially USDJPY, which I watch) while GBP has just rallied due to the NO vote on Scottish Independence.  Not exactly an opportune moment for the conversion he mentions.  "why the hell would you want to do that?" I asked.  He replied "I have to.  I may need to send money back home".  I shook my head.

Investment is like many thinks in life - having options is key.

As I told him, anytime you are FORCED to take an action, it will end up costing you dearly.
Whenever you HAVE to buy or sell anything, you can guarantee that the market timing will be against you and you will lose out because you could not pick and choose the time that was best for you.  Thus, having a good distribution, some foresight, and a plan is of enormous benefit when dealing with the unpredictability of the markets.  One of my early mentors had a method - he would document each position he held and exactly what he would do if the position went up (a little or a lot), went down (a little or a lot), or stayed the same.  Every day he had a plan no matter what the markets did.  This way he was never surprised or caught without a strategy.  It was a discipline he kept all the years I saw him trade, and it served him (and I) very well.

Why am I telling you this?  This is supposed to be a martial arts blog, right?

Well, one of the other notably unpredictable situations is combat.  As I have written many times, fights are chaotic and messy, and it is not possible to know completely what will happen or the outcome.  Events occur in real time and we must adjust to them.  That being said, having some foresight and a plan is of enormous benefit when dealing with the unpredictability of a fight.

Just as in investing/trading, anytime you are forced to take an action it will cost you dearly.
Whenever you HAVE to do something, like break a lock or choke, step in a certain spot, breakfall, block a certain way, and so on, you can guarantee that you will lose out.

Thus fighting, like trading, depends on freedom and flexibility - having options.

Kali Majapahit is the excellent system it is not only because we emphasize FLOW - the ability to keep moving/hitting at all times until the situation is resolved, but also because we have it as our most basic strategy to take away the opponent's structure/posture and by so doing force him to try to recover it.  These are opposite sides of the same coin.

By FLOWING, we continue to move in/around/over/under/through any attempt to block our motion.  This means we ADAPT.  By taking the balance and structure, we remove the enemy's strength and force him to take specific (and predictable) actions. These actions can (and are) used by us to resolve conflicts in the most expedient manner, with the lowest risk of unintended injury, especially to ourselves.

Just like my trading friend, we spend a lot of time and energy exploring so we can have plans for any scenario.  We drill endlessly to develop core muscle memory and improve our flow.  We train standing up, lying down and everywhere in between involving striking, kicking, grappling, weapons and short, medium and long ranges, leveraging inside, outside and center line theories.  We combine, take apart and reassemble our techniques so that we have an endless library of possible options no matter what happens.  We challenge ourselves to master our environment so that we can use it to our best advantage.  We train by improvising weapons out of anything at hand, so we will never be unarmed if the need arises.  This is the true beauty of FMA, and in particular of Kali Majapahit.

"It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own."
 - Hagakure "Hidden Leaves" by Yamamoto Tsunetomo  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Real Deal

This post was inspired by an article on Cracked.  You can read it here

Saw an article on Cracked about fighting (yes, I read Cracked - and LOVE it!).  I felt I had to comment about what is really going on in a fight and how it relates to martial arts.

1) Chapter 1: Broken Hands
The article correctly calls out that the most common fighting injury is not a broken nose or split lip (hopefully on your opponent) - it is your own broken hands.  Punching properly takes a lot of practice.  In fact, if you have not spent enough time to have this as part of your muscle memory it is probably more dangerous for you to punch than it is to your opponent.  With proper alignment of the fingers/wrist/forearm and good conditioning of the wrist tendons it is possible to hit with damaging power.  Otherwise, you are far more likely to break your fingers, dislocate your joints or break your wrist.  None of these are any fun at all.

A lot of what we teach in Kali and Silat is open handed.  I especially prefer to hit with solid bone or muscle mass rather than joints.  This means striking primarily with elbows, palm, forearm/biceps, and headbutt.  On the low line I also like knees.

2) Up Close and Personal
Distance matters.  It may seem counter intuitive, but the safest place is right next to your opponent.  At arm's length you will get the full force of any punch thrown at you (even if they break their hand, it still hurts to be punched).  Up close, you can deliver the strikes I mention above easily and they are far more difficult for your opponent to block or evade.  In addition, for a smaller guy like me, being up close negates any difference in reach, allowing me to handle people far bigger than I am.  Of course, if you can hit someone, they can usually hit you too, which means...

3) The Need for SPEED
In an actual fight, the first hit can be the last hit.  Even if someone is not immediately knocked out, the first hit, especially to the head/neck, can disrupt the concentration/balance/posture/structure and yield a chance to press the attack.  "Blitzing" in this way, aggressively, can end an encounter before the other person has a chance to respond.  This is the preferred result if things look like they are going to get ugly.  Hit first and get it over with on YOUR terms.  The most successful fight is the one the other guy never knew started.

4) Getting Your Kicks
I am not a huge fan of kicks in actual fights.  I never kick above the waistline, and I generally prefer kicks as a setup to something I want to do with my hands (usually closing distance to blitz).  That said, good low kicking techniques can be powerful and hard to avoid.  Done well, these can cause horrific damage to the enemy's knees, ankles, thighs and legs and end the fight by themselves.  Of course, feet are like "hands on your legs" and contain even more little fragile bones which tend to break when kicking with the instep. Kicking well also involves a lot of practice, and it is key to develop the muscle memory to give full hip rotation and use the proper striking surface (base of the shin or heel) when kicking so maximum force can be delivered.  There will usually be only one good chance to deliver a kick before the opponent realizes it and takes countermeasures.  If you kick, it has to be a show-stopper.  Again, knees are a bit different and have great applicability up close.

5) Ground and Pound
Statistically, most fights end up on the ground.  Therefore, it is crucial to have some skills for getting out of a situation like that,e specially if you are facing more than one opponent and need to remain mobile.  One need not be a BJJ master (although it certainly helps), but knowing even a few ways to get someone off (thumb in the eye socket/tear the groin) can help.  One of my favorites in the grapple is a bite.  Not a loving, gentle nip, but a ferocious chomp and rip designed to tear a chunk of flesh out of the nearest available soft tissue (cheek, neck, bicep, etc.).  This can make an attacker no longer want to be in close physical contact with you, and is a technique nearly anyone can easily master.  It is very much a part of FMA close quarter/grappling technique.

6) Adrenaline
Adrenaline is a funny thing.  As part of our "fight or flight" response it protects us from pain and increases our physical abilities for a short burst of activity - but at a cost.  Sometimes adrenaline can cause us to freeze.  Not good.  Other times, the crash when it wears off can be extreme and involve nausea/vomiting, chills, shakes, headaches or even make us pass out.  Ironically, the aspect of adrenaline which suppresses our pain response can also cause us to overlook our own injuries, especially when knives are involved.  The study of the adrenaline response, and practice controlling it, is worthy of significant study by anyone likely to be in life-threatening situations.

7) The Right to Bear Arms
Real fights come in two categories:  ritualistic and predatory.  I have written about these before, in that ritualistic fights aka "the monkey dance" are for social reasons and have unwritten social rules (watch a John Wayne movie).  We are expect to "fight fair" in order to demonstrate our social dominance to the victim and observers.  Sorry.  IF I HAVE TO FIGHT I FIGHT DIRTY.  The other type are predatory (robbery, rape, murder, etc.).  These will usually involve multiple attackers, unfavorable environments (darkness, uneven terrain, limited mobility) and are highly likely to involve weapons.  The keys to survival in such situations are: awareness, aggressiveness, and improvisation (rapidly finding or acquiring a weapon).  The odds will always be bad here, and this is not to be taken lightly.

8) Under the Influence
It is often the case that one or more of the participants is under the influence of alcohol or drugs (hopefully not you).  This can change the dynamic from comical (see Youtube) to homicidal.  These substances dull the pain receptors, so some of the standard controls and pain compliance become ineffective.  This re-emphasizes the need to attack structure and balance rather than just deliver pain.  In Kali we want to disrupt the posture and structure immediately, and this can make it easier to have a range of non-lethal, non-permanent options to end a violent confrontation without excessive harm.

9) The Long Arm
Sadly, the law exists as much to protect criminals' rights as it does victims' rights - sometimes more so.
This means that even though you may consider your actions justified as self-defense, the courts may not believe you and serious criminal/civil suits can be levied against you.  KNOW THE LAW.  In predatory situations, be as aggressive as needed so you can walk away.  Luckily, predatory attacks rarely occur near crowds of bystanders, so it is more likely you can flee the scene easily once the matter is resolved.  In ritualistic encounters there is a high chance the police will end up involved so choose your actions wisely.

Do not underestimate how savage and unpredictable an actual fight can be.
It is SERIOUS business.
Be sure you are the one that walks away.

See you in class.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Giving Thanks

This is Xie Xie.
She is our second pug, who we got from a shelter just over a year ago.
I wrote before about Butch and the lessons I have learned from him, but Xie Xie's story is no less important.  Let me explain.

When we got her, she was tiny for a full-grown pug, barely half her current size.
You could feel her ribs jutting out through her fur.  She had been neglected, left with a pack where she did not belong, and had to fight for every meal with a surrounding group of Pomeranians that abused her.

At the shelter I could hold her in the palm of one hand.
My wife, Sanae, never imagined we would be chosen as her new family.  There were others who said they wanted her.  Right away I KNEW it would be us - it would be fate. Healing her would heal us.
As I held her she shook, her little heart racing.  She did not try to bite or snap.  She looked at me with her big, brown eyes and I could feel the spark of life in her, the love she still had - her hope for a new family and a new life as she sniffed me.  She looked pitiful; helpless.

With us she recovered.  She gained weight. She bonded with Butch, Sanae, myself and the boys.  She became completely attached to Sanae and fiercely loyal to her.  She learned how to love and to be loved in return - I felt sad imaging no one had ever even petted her before she met us.  She found her home with us in Yokohama.  Who she was before was forgotten - her past, her name, her suffering and torment.  Now she is just Xie Xie (謝謝).  Her name means "Thank You" in Chinese.  We felt it was gratitude from both she and we for the chance to be together as a new family - our pack.

If you saw her today, happily taking her daily walk, tail wagging, head high, you would never know what she had been through - dogs live fully in the moment - except at mealtime.  Because she had been starved, and had to fight for food, at mealtime she gets very excited.  She circles and barks, jumping at the counter to try to get her food and crying for attention so she will not be ignored or forgotten.  She never believes that she will get her food, despite over a year of getting her meals twice a day, every day, regular like clockwork. She always believes she will starve.  She can never have enough.

Xie Xie is very special to me for many reasons.  I came to realize she and I have so much in common.

We were both neglected as infants, both given away and rescued to new families for a second chance.
I was also tiny, underweight, weak - my constant crying so much  like her barking.  Like her, I kept my spark and had my hopes for a better life, not fully understanding what was going on as I went from home to shelter and finally to my foster family, Charles and Dorothy Leonard.

We both had to learn to love and be loved, both of us taking time to heal.
We both had to learn to put our trust in strangers we had never met before - that they would take care of us and not leave us alone.

Unlike Xie Xie, who I was could never be forgotten - even though I often wished I had.
As a foster child I kept my birth name and struggled to understand why my family's name (Leonard) was different from mine (Honeyman).  It was long years before I realized how lucky I had been.

From outward appearances, ours would have seemed to be like any other family.
However, under the surface I carried the pain and fear of loss over what had happened to me.
Where Xie Xie has trauma from food, I have trauma about love and attention - fear of abandonment.
For all of my life, I feared I would be ignored; forgotten.  I dreaded being cast aside or left behind.
I had trouble believing I was loved or could be loved. I had trouble loving others, or just accepting that my new life and family could be real or that I could deserve the good life I have had.

I am grateful for my life, just as I know Xie Xie is grateful for hers.
I am fiercely loyal and protective of my pack - just as I know she is.
I try to live in the moment, and Xie Xie is a constant reminder of how important this is.
I do not ask for pity any more than she does - just to be taken at face value and not judged for my past.   She and I both have scars from what we have been through, and maybe always will.
Maybe I will always be starved for love and attention.  Maybe, like Xie Xie, I can never have enough.

All any of us can do is try our best to live every day to the fullest, love those around us completely, and accept the good life we deserve.  If we keep the spark of love and hope, a bright future is possible for all of us - as long as we do not give up.

Xie Xie and I are thankful to you all for your constant support.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Taking a Break from your Break

(Thanks for the inspiration beautiful dork)

I know just how you feel.  Work is busy. Weekends you feel SO TIRED.  The routine is boring but inescapable.  Your energy level drops ~ you stop going to the gym.  Finally you stop going to the dojo for training... will you ever come back??

Day by day you feel your skills fading away. You wonder what the teacher or, worse yet, your fellow students, will think about your absence or what they would say if/when they see you again. Will they be ashamed of you??  Fearing the confrontation, you avoid it by not going back.  In your effort not to disappoint, you disappoint. Your despair grows...

The longer the break, the smaller the chance that you will will ever go back to the dojo.  The years go by and you experience the worst of emotions ~REGRET...

We all have peaks and valleys in our lives, and as we get jobs, develop life partners, and build families, martial arts training is not always priority #1.  That's OK.  The purpose of our training is to make us better people ~ more resilient physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  This should help us adjust to some short-term pressures without additional stress.

Martial arts is not a race.
There is no prize for finishing "first", since there is no finish line.  The only thing which matters is going forward, even inch by inch if that is all that we can do.  We have to keep moving forward.

Likewise it is not a competition with anyone other than the self.  This is important because mastery of the self must be the ultimate goal.  Competition degrades martial arts to a sporting contest.  Sports are noble endeavors to be sure, but martial arts training can be so much more than that.  Our training can be the key to having the life we want to have.  We should use it to transform ourselves and our lives.

Simply put, you should train whenever you can, as often as you can, without shame or guilt for times when you cannot.  When you train, be there 100% and focus on the task at hand.  You deserve it.  You need it.

Martial Arts would be easy if it were just about punching and kicking.  Believing that would be naive, shallow and, frankly,  wrong.  The training is for being better at every aspect of living.  As humans, we are overly concerned with our own mortality, and martial arts is relevant to us psychologically and philosophically because it is our human nature at its most primal - the struggle to survive.  To understand ourselves best, we explore this most base element of our existence and examine it until we can face this moment without fear.
Martial arts is about becoming unafraid of death, so that we can also be unafraid of LIFE.

My friend said that she practices "self-defense" by not letting others into her life or close to her.  As a result, she feels lonely.  I told her this is not self-defense, it is FEAR.  Self-defense is about CONFIDENCE.  It is about allowing others into our lives and to be close to us precisely because we are not afraid.  Martial arts training gives us the power to be ourselves and to open up to others and let ourselves be connected to them, because we are no longer scared of being hurt.

At the heart of this understanding in martial arts is the awareness of CONNECTION.  It is easy to understand in Aikido, since Aikido is the method of redirecting aggressive force through a single touchpoint/connection on the aggressor's wrist, arm, shoulder, head, etc.  It can be harder to see the connection in other arts, but I promise you it is there.  WE ARE ALL CONNECTED.  WE ARE ALL ONE.

There is no shame in taking a break.  That said, we owe it to ourselves to keep moving forward - in our training and in every other aspect of our lives.  To this, the ADD/Parkour words really hit home.

"we start together, we finish together".  LIVE CONNECTED.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Back to the Mothership

It's time to go back to the Mothership.

Next week I will be taking a few days off from work to attend the Instructor Training Academy (ITA) level 2 intensive course at Kali Majapahit headquarters in Singapore.

Details here:

I attended the level 1 intensive course last year and it was fantastic!
It was excellent to go back to see my brothers and sisters, fellow instructors, and so many new faces as well.  Here's what it looked like:

This time there will be a revised curriculum for level 2, as well as much more detail in how to make our classes the best for our students, which has been the goal of Punong Guro Fred Evrard and our teaching staff since day 1.  As I have told my own students many times "it is not about me, it is about YOU."  Kali Majapahit continues to grow and evolve, and I can't wait to experience the new discoveries and bring them back to use here in Tokyo.

I started training in Kali Majapahit at the school on Yan Kit Road, near Tanjong Pagar MRT, and it was a ramshackle 3 story traditional Singaporean shophouse building behind the wet market.  It was hot, and the paint was cracking, but it was HONEST.  We all trained very hard there and it was busy with many students coming and going.  While I was there, the school outgrew that location and plans were set in motion for the new location on Carpenter Street, a very short walk away from Clark Quay MRT.  A huge amount of work went into making the facility what it is now - a totally modern, fully-equipped, state of the art professional martial arts school.

When I walked into the new facility on opening night my jaw dropped.
It was simply the most beautiful dojo I had ever seen.
Hardly the largest or most expensive, it was tasteful and elegant, and immediately it felt like "home" - like where we belonged.  It was always a joy to walk up the stairs and into the expansive studio.  I miss it terribly.

Now it is home to over 200 students of all ages, races, and sexes, passionately training in Kali Majapahit, Tahitian Dance, Parkour/ADD and boxing.  Once could argue that it is the best such facility in Singapore.  It is definitely my favorite place to go and train.

In February at the legendary Bali Camp, KG Alison tested for her Kadua Guro and blew everyone away.  She showed everyone her courage and spirit and reminded us what a warrior's heart truly looks like.  I was proud to observe her test and can't wait to hear how she has done teaching class - bringing her explosive energy and mischievous smile to her students.

The other teachers have grown and changed too, and I am very excited to see their progress, and show them mine.  The bond we share is unbreakable, forged by our hard work and commitment.  I am humbled to be counted among them as a fellow instructor.  This time, I am attending with one of my senior students, Frank, and I can't tell you how proud I am for him to see a place so special for me, and to meet some of the many people who have changed my life.  It's going to be a great few days.

For all our students outside of Singapore, you owe it to yourself to get to Singapore to visit Kali Majapahit HQ and train there.  Once you go, you will experience the community we have built (that you are a part of) - a global network of people who want to be better than yesterday.  People committed to our Kali Majapahit and to each other.  The energy and magic are hard to describe.  You need to FEEL IT.  Plan ahead and get out there.  You deserve it.

For everyone else, I remind you that the power to take control of your life is always in your hands.  We have a great team of people to help show you the way, and an even better family to walk the path with you.  This journey could make all the difference in the rest of your life.
Give yourself a chance.

Time to go and pack my bags... see you there!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Mastery

(Thanks for the inspiration Paul)

An interesting conversation yesterday on the subject of mastery.  It was prompted by an FB post I shared of Guro Dan Inosanto with a caption that read "The goal of the Martial Arts is not for the destruction of an opponent, but rather for self-growth and self-perfection."  My friend called out that it is really only martial artists that are so vocal over the aspect of "non-violence" in their practice of something with to the general public looks designed specifically for violent applications.  He said "you don't see gymnasts or marathon runners or piano players touting about how their goals of self-growth and self-perfection are non-violent, do you?"  Point made.  He further asked "Can you acquire self-growth and self-perfection ( whatever that entails ... ) without hitting people ?"


One of the many things I love about Kali Majapahit is that we express our Southeast Asian martial arts through a very Chinese lens.  That is, our practice places strong emphasis on health and longevity.  We learn about the body, mind and spirit (through martial arts) with a desire to understand its inner workings, specifically with respect to our connection to other people.  The mastery of Kali Majapahit is a mastery of ourselves, and with it freedom from fear and limitation (physical, mental and spiritual).

This is completely consistent with the origins of martial arts as practiced by monks in India and China, where health was a principal goal of the training.  This was deeply connected to their spiritual practice and combined with yoga and meditation to create an integrated well-being.  Yes, acupuncture and other traditional healing arts are a core part of this.  In Kali Majapahit, it is our study of Hilot, traditional Filipino homeopathy, and practice of Kali Majapahit becomes very limited without this important aspect.

Could you achieve this self-growth and self-perfection only through meditation and yoga?  YES
However, this is not for everyone.  The spiritual path is formless, and there are no longer many teachers who can teach it properly.  It also requires a level of patience most modern people find difficult. The study is easier when it has context, and this is something martial arts can and should provide.

Using the context of martial arts as a vehicle for spiritual growth is not new at all.
The relationship between Japanese swordsmanship and Buddhism is a particularly deep spiritual connection - anchored on an understanding of the impermanence of this world and the importance of all living things.  For warriors whose life revolved around death, this insight and awareness was profound.  There are many practical lessons for us in these modern times as well.

Many books on sports fitness also emphasize the spiritual side of training.  They talk about "runner's high" or discuss breathing and its relevance to training.  For reference, meditation elevates the consciousness firstly through three factors: deep breathing, proper posture and muscle relaxation.  Most sports focus on these as well.

I would go even further to say that "The Way" can be anything we choose it to be.  The only prerequisite being that through the practice we are able to willfully elevate our awareness and understanding to connect to our SOUL and hear that "inner voice".  There is no single "Way" and martial arts is only one path to the Truth.

I quote "Hagakure" (hidden leaves) which is one of the most widely read texts on Bushido, wherein Tsunetomo Yamamoto writes:

"It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all Ways and be more and more in accord with his own."

This strongly suggests that what is important is a commitment to your own "Way" and the awareness to use other "ways" to improve your understanding of your own.  Of course, to Buddhists this makes perfect sense, since we are taught that duality does not exist and all things are connected.

In another post I wrote about the rule of 10,000, which suggests that 10,000 hours of practice is the basic requirement for mastery of any skill.  However, on further examination, this is not enough.  While practice can develop skill, practice alone does not automatically yield mastery in the sense that we seek in martial arts.  We must have a willful desire to use this training for its higher purpose - connection to the SOUL.  Otherwise, we simply learn to move the body without gaining the benefit of enlightenment.  In this example, a master piano player could be skillful at playing pieces they are given, but never achieve the freedom of just playing free-flow or writing their own music.  Connection to the soul yields spiritual freedom, and this is the ultimate goal of martial arts training when we say "self-growth and self-perfection".  We must learn to think beyond what we can see, the physical body, to the true self - The SOUL.  It is the soul which we must grow and perfect, not the physical body.

OK, this post has been a bit top-heavy on the spiritual side (especially for writing it at 7:43 am).
Don't despair.  Trust your training and keep moving forward every day, step-by-step.

I wish you every success, whatever Way you choose.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What Really Matters

What makes success?

I suppose everyone has his or her own answer.  Some would say "intelligence" or "luck" or "skill" or "confidence".  Yet others would say "environment" or "having good teachers/mentors".  Still others might think it is about "timing" or "talent".  What would YOU say?

I have no doubt all of those things are contributors to success in some way.

However, the more I read about people's success stories, and think about the successful people I know, the more I am convinced that success is really defined by a person's level of effort.

It is true that people come in all shapes and sizes, some having greater natural gifts than others. It is also true that we all know plenty of people we think should have been successful but for some reason or another just did not apply their natural talents to the relevant tasks at the right times.  Many of them waited, expecting someone else to make the effort on their behalf, and ended up shocked and disappointed to discover that doesn't happen.  Only you can do it.

In martial arts, as in every other aspect of life, what matters most is your own effort.

It is singularly important to direct your energies and devote your time to those things which yield the best contributions to your success.  For this to be possible, you first need to spend enough time and energy discovering what success means for you.  This makes it very important to go and do as wide a variety of things as possible during your formative years.

However, make no mistake, even once you identify the things you love and that matter to you, only your focused and concentrated maximum effort will make those dreams reality.  The bad news is that there will be no one else to blame for your failures.  The good news is that those failures are only temporary reminders to increase your effort until you succeed.  When you do, you will know in your heart it is because of your own hard work.

Over ten years in the fast-paced securities business had me surrounded with smart people. Most of them were far smarter and better educated than I was.  It was a dawn-to-dusk pressure cooker that took a high toll on all of us.  However, only very few put the effort into learning the business completely.  Most people were content to do only the bare minimum required to get their bonus, or their promotion, or their next job in another firm.  If I had any advantage, it was that I already knew I would have to work harder to achieve success because everyone around me was smarter and more qualified than I was.  The good news is that this work ethic has allowed me to move almost seamlessly from industry to industry over the course of my career through real estate, consumer electronics, office imaging, system integration, securities and financial IT, having achieved a reasonable outcome at all of them so far.

In martial arts as well, I was not gifted with great natural athleticism.  I was always smaller, weaker, slower than the other students.  My assorted injuries and health issues meant I had to work much harder to learn the basics, and was never able to do many of the things the others could.  Learning each technique was a battle against myself.  After more than 30 years of struggling, it has started to make sense, and I am now able to teach a class and make the material accessible to and enjoyable for my students, which is my definition of success as a teacher.  I continue to work and train very hard, never forgetting that is effort, and effort alone, that makes success.

I am most grateful not for the fact that I never gave up, but for the fact that others never gave up on me.  Their belief in me has allowed me to continue to believe in myself, even when many times I have felt overwhelmed and unable to continue.  This has been true of my students and friends, but also co-workers and bosses --- most importantly, it has been true of my family.

For me, the greatest success I have achieved in my life has been to rise above my broken home and fragmented childhood and to achieve a family of my own.  This has involved no small measure of luck, confidence, environment and other factors.  It has also involved effort.  There have been many times the ghosts of my past have haunted me and caused me to become my own worst enemy and try to destroy my good life.  Despite this, I have made every effort to remember what is important and stay focused on my success - both personal and professional. Despair waits around every corner, and it is a constant and vigilant effort that keeps my demons at bay.

Every one of us - EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US - has in us the capacity to define and achieve our own success.  It is the destiny of our souls to do so, and doing so brings us the happiness that will sustain us throughout our lives.  We are born to achieve. All obstacles can be overcome by effort.

Be inspired by the people around you.  Most importantly, be inspired by your own effort.
Work hard and earn your success.  Make yourself proud.  YOU DESERVE IT.
I hope I can be there to celebrate it with you.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Why I Teach

(Thanks again for the inspiration KN)

My dialog with my old friend and fellow martial artist KN continues and it is too important not to share.

His next question: "what made you choose to teach?"

Hmmm...a good one.  I know plenty of martial artists who choose not to teach.  They simply train for themselves or are "professional students" travelling from one style to the next in an endless journey, collecting ranks but never really satisfied; never really willing to share what they know.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it is not my way.  For me this always felt a bit empty.

When I was younger, I would have said my life was a challenge; a struggle.  Born into a broken family, placed into State care, raised in a foster family, bullied throughout school, consistently unpopular.  It seemed like every inch of progress required a battle.  Every step of my life felt like it was a test of my willpower to not just give up and accept my fate as a loser and an outcast.  Many times I wanted to, but I never did.  Martial arts came to me when I was 14 years old and began to show me a way I could excel.  It helped me create positive goals for a change and to recognize that my only real opponent would be myself; my only limitations would be the ones I chose to set.

Through my training I developed knowledge and confidence as well as skill.  For every hour I spent on the mats training, at least another hour of study was required.  My teachers forced me to read military history and strategy, philosophy and religion.  I was expected to do well in school if I was to remain a part of the dojo, which I did.  My training made me want to achieve, rather than just survive or endure.  Over the years, my teachers have appeared just when I needed them, always providing me the next set of keys to open the next set of doors in front of me.

From the discipline of my training, I began to set higher and higher goals.  I dreamed of one day going to Japan. Realizing this dream took me 10 years and I failed the first three attempts, falling into a life-threatening depression and despair after the third failure.  Somehow, I got back up and tried again and on the fourth attempt I made it.  I have never looked back.  Without martial arts I would have never been able to persevere.

In the end, Kali Majapahit and Punong Guro Fred Evrard are the reason I became a teacher.  I have 4 black belts including Kadua Guro rank in Kali Majapahit, but I have never formally taught the others and likely never will.  I encapsulate what I know into my expression of Kali Majapahit, and that is more than enough for me.  Guro Fred has an endless drive to discover new ways of delivering his message and content.  He is always evolving to find new methods of teaching, and looking for easier ways to help the students master the material.  This has been a huge influence on me.  Kali Majapahit helped me understand martial arts as a vehicle for personal development and as a platform for taking control of our lives and changing to become who we want to be.  This knowledge helped empower me to believe in myself.  I will always be grateful to Guro Fred, and to Guro Lila, for the chance to realize a dream I did not even know I would have.  Becoming a teacher has been one of the proudest achievements of my life.

I have been leading and teaching the Japan group of Kali Majapahit for more than 3 years.  In that time we have grown.  I have grown.  My students have helped sharpen me, and have given me a reason to keep training and keep teaching.  Their passion for Kali Majapahit validates what I do, and fuels my own fire.  In the times when I felt I had nothing to depend on, I could always depend on our Friday nights at class.  That rhythm kept me going. It still does.  Every new achievement makes me proud, and the fact that they love our class so much reminds me how valuable our training is.  Step by step they develop the confidence to challenge their own limits and change their lives for the better.  It is unbelievably inspiring and motivating.  I could not live without it.  

As a teacher, my fellowship with the other instructors has become a deep source of pride.  We have suffered together, we fought and trained together, making each other stronger, supporting each other. They all love teaching as much as I do.  We are truly brothers and sisters. Being part of such an elite group makes me feel very special indeed.  I try hard to remain worthy of such an honor.

I no longer view my life as a struggle.  I have come to understand my life for what it really is: A GIFT.

It is my privilege to be in this form in this time, and to have such a chance to share with others.
My life has never been easy, but my hardship can inspire other people who face similar challenges.
I can help them find the courage to fulfill their destiny as I have mine.  I never aspired to be a CEO or a movie star or anyone famous.  I have become exactly what I always hoped I would become:  a husband; a father; a friend; a teacher.  I have tried to be a positive catalyst in the lives of others so they can achieve their own definition of happiness just as I have found mine.  

Like all gifts, they should be given with love and received with gratitude.

I hope I answered your question.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Fighting Skills

* thanks for the inspiration HD *

Yesterday one of my friends asked me about boxing.  He has some ring experience, as do I, and he wanted to know if he should continue.  I asked him what the purpose was.  he said "fighting".  That got me thinking.  What skills would I really suggest developing for "fighting"??

First of all, I think some definition is in order.  There is fighting, and then there is Fighting.  But there is also FIGHTING.  What do I mean?

In my mind, boxing is not fighting.  To me, fighting represents self-defense.  It is a skill we need when our physical safety or that of our loved ones is threatened in a way that cannot be resolved except through violence.  Boxing does not qualify under this definition.  Neither do wrestling, fencing, muay thai, judo/sambo, BJJ or MMA for that matter.  This is not to say that these sports (and they are sports) cannot make you able to defend yourself or cause harm to an attacker.  Rather it is to say that self-defense is not their primary objective.  The primary objective is victory in controlled athletic competitions.  This is not self defense.

At the other end of the spectrum are true combat arts.  This is typified by those skills we teach our special forces and other elite military units.  These are taught for battlefield survival, involve killing/incapacitating an opponent as quickly as possible, and usually involve weapons.
This can be very effective for the military, and does constitute self-defense, but is unacceptable outside of actual battlefield combat, since the results are permanent for those involved. Society's rules deal with the use of potentially lethal force harshly and a battlefield victory in a shopping mall parking lot will more than likely end you up in prison, which is worse than just losing your wallet, getting a black eye or suffering a bruised ego.

To succeed in self-defense situations requires a specific frame of mind.  When there is no alternative to violence, we must be able to instantly harness our aggression and unleash it in the controlled bursts needed to explode into an attacker (or multiple attackers) and deliver enough damage to resolve the situation and escape with minimal harm.  This may require use of a weapon (even an attacker's weapon) and may result in serious, potentially permanent injury or even death to an attacker.  Mentally, we need to be prepared for what this means.  In self-defense, the first response needs to be the last response.  When we engage we must continue until the attacker(s) are out of the fight and we are out of danger.

When I talk about self-defense, I am not talking about the social "monkey dance" which happens when someone is simply expressing aggression, is drunk, or trying to define a social hierarchy.  In these cases, we are rarely justified in using real self-defense techniques, since the response is not consistent with the threat level.  These people usually do not truly want to harm us, they want to prove a point or express their emotion (usually fear).  Real self-defense situations occur when an attacker's principal objective is causing us injury or death.  This can often happen as part of a violent crime/assault rather than a social misunderstanding (although sometimes those can also escalate).

Real self-defense situations are spontaneous and chaotic. There are no rules or judges or points.
There is no sense of honor or fair play.  There is also no prize for second place.  Usually, we will be at extreme disadvantage since attackers will choose their terrain and environment, strength of numbers and weapons to favor their quick victory.  With the odds against us from the start, decisive, immediate action is our best chance for survival.  We must think fast and move fast to have any hope at all, and must be willing to use every means at our disposal to escape.  Again, this is highly likely to result in serious injury or death to those involved (hopefully not us).

Thus, since the results are always unpredictable, I would encourage every martial artist to have a strong moral compass and the courage needed to walk away from any confrontation that does not absolutely have to end in violence.  This is at the heart of what it means to be a "peaceful warrior".

In terms of specific skills, here's my opinion in order of usefulness in self-defense:

Weapons Training:  in a real self-defense situation, a weapon that can be easy/readily found and rapidly deployed can help even the odds considerably.  I will gladly hit anyone with anything rather than use my own hands (which can be injured).  Good training helps us recognize the every day objects around us that can be brought to bear when needed.  Yes, this is not fair. Yes, it is still the safest choice.  Yes, I would ALWAYS use a weapon if there is one available (and there almost always is).  In recent years, my preference is for impact weapons over edged weapons since whenever possible I want to avoid the risk of killing, and impact weapons have better optionality for submission than blades.

Kicking:  Strong, effective low kicking should be part of every good martial artist's arsenal.  The fact that we wear shoes (even women wearing heels) can add impact force to what we do and help resolve a conflict.  7-10 psi is all we need to disrupt the knee capsule, and this can be done very easily by most kicks.  While these on their own are unlikely to kill an attacker, they can disrupt the situation enough to give us other options.  Escape should always be a primary objective of any self-defense situation, and attackers with broken legs/feet ankles rarely give effective chase.  I also really like leg/foot sweeps as a way of breaking the attacker's structure and setting up a fast end to a situation.

Empty Hand Strikes:  I define this as being the use of non-fist striking to the opponent's body. It includes finger jabs to soft targets, elbows, palms, forearms, headbutts, knees and the like. These can be brutally effective in self-defense while offering little risk of damage when we deliver them correctly. The training emphasis should be on applying hard weapons versus soft targets and delivering the full body weight and shoulder/hip rotation wherever possible to add impact force.

The main downside here is the risk of very serious injury to the receiver.  This is acceptable in self-defense situations, but has definite moral/legal implication.  As with weapons, if you are not going to it deliver properly/fully, best not to use it at all.  These are still my preference over using my closed fist to hit something.

Groundwork: These can be formidable skills, and a good grappling repertoire is very important since many self defense situations end up on the ground.  Good skills here also help to immobilize attackers' weapon arms, which can add to our own safety.  For training it is important to develop quickly delivered, decisive finishing techniques which can resolve the conflict as fast as possible. I am a big fan of elbow/shoulder breaks and joint dislocations for ending confrontations. Chokes/strangles/neck cranks can be very effective as well but carry serious risk of permanent injury.  MMA is a sport, but we have seen how difficult it is to beat someone who has a good grappling background.  However, in self-defense this can be a serious disadvantage since it is not a good strategy versus multiple attackers, where upright mobility is the key to escape.

Under the right circumstances, throwing (including judo/aiki/jujitsu) can be very effective, but in a real self-defense situation we will be under extreme stress and probably unable to execute any intricate techniques/locks.  I am also not a fan of throws that project an attacker away from my area of direct control (unless they are being thrown down a flight of stairs or off a building, etc.).  I want to avoid the risk of someone getting back up with an awareness of my skills and training.  Also, given the time spent learning to breakfall, there is always the chance that an attacker has this training as well as we do.

Boxing: I am a huge fan of boxing conditioning and training, boxing footwork, and ring strategy.
Overall, boxers/muay thai/MMA fighters have some of the best physical/mental conditioning of any athletes, and better than most martial artists.

That being said, most boxers would not fare well in a self-defense situation.  Punching, even for trained professionals, has a serious risk of damaging the puncher's hands/wrists, and this risk yields a comparatively low percentage chance of incapacitating an attacker (compared to the other skills listed above).  Boxing is basically a sport of attrition, where well-conditioned athletes gradually wear each other down while scoring points, in order to discover fight-ending KO opportunities.  In a self-defense situation, time is always of the essence and points/rounds do not exist.

Given the dynamics of self-defense, I have an affinity for well-rounded systems that teach a combination of the above skills.  The goal is to develop abilities in a balanced way, and in self-defense adaptability is very important.  I prefer arts which have weapons training (especially improvised weapons) at their core, and which emphasize practicality throughout.

Let me be very clear in saying that I do not ever discourage students or athletes from passionately studying and training as they wish, in accordance with their beliefs and goals.
Rather, I am stating my personal opinion as a martial artist concerned with self-defense and ensuring my own safety and that of my loved ones.

"When two tigers fight, one is certain to be maimed, and one to die."
Master Gichin Funakoshi - founder of Shotokan


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Reason Why

(thanks for the inspiration KN!)

Today I got asked a question from an old friend and fellow student.
He wanted to know why I chose to be part of the Kali Majapahit family and to represent KM here in Japan.  It's a valid question, and given that my Kadua Guro black belt is my fourth black belt, did I really need another one?

To be clear, it was never about collecting belts.
Of course, I was proud to test when Guro Fred asked me, and even more proud to do so in front of my students.  The testing pushed me to the very edge of my endurance and skill - just like it should.  In the end, I stood exhausted before a room full of people I deeply respect, all of whom in one way or another have contributed to my success in Kali Majapahit and in life.  No victory could taste sweeter.  I was humbled and grateful.  I still am.

It was never about lineage or accreditation.  I consider myself to be focused on knowing others as individuals rather than titles or ranks.  I have been blessed with the chance to meet and train with some of the best martial artists in the world, and I am not done yet with that. However, now when I travel, I travel with the Kali Majapahit logo, and I carry the responsibility to represent us as a truly non-partisan seeker of truth.  I have love and respect for every martial artist that feels the same.  No politics, just training.  Who we are on the mat is who we are off the mat.

So why did I choose to be part of Kali Majapahit??
I chose to be part of Kali Majapahit because it stands for the things I stand for:  personal development, health, martial arts.  It is about freedom of expression, exploring inside and outside, and about taking responsibility for ourselves.  It is about making our lives what we want them to be and becoming who we can really become - reaching our fullest potential to be happy, constructive human beings.  It is about sharing and fellowship.

Kali Majapahit is about using the training as a vehicle to learn and develop awareness of the body/the self, the environment, and other people.  Kali Majapahit becomes a container I can use to encapsulate all other arts I have studied and a lens for viewing every new style, system or technique I see.  I love the fact that the curriculum grows and changes - Guro Fred spends an incredible amount of time obsessing over how to make the knowledge accessible and enjoyable for us - and this method is at the heart of how we understand and teach Southeast Asian Martial Arts.  I want to share this with everyone.  This is my religion.

I sometimes think all my other training was preparing me to meet Guro Fred and take this journey together.  The other teachers, my brothers and sisters, have inspired me and kept me firmly on the path.  They want the same things I want - from myself and from my students.  Our art is not about violence, it is about self-expression.  It is about confidence and developing ourselves to be more than we were before.  Honestly, any well-taught martial art could be a vehicle for personal development and growth, but Guro Fred has DELIBERATELY put Kali Majapahit together with this objective firmly in mind.  It is no accident. He planned it to be like this.  

I am proud to be a part of it.  See you in class.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Looking Out The Window

This picture was posted by Punong Guro Fred with the caption "Choose Your Seat".  The French means "look on the bright side of life".  Immediately this got me thinking.

Look at the picture.

Two people, one happy one sad.  One looking at the cold, dark, blank wall.  One enjoying a lovely view of the sunrise or sunset. They are on the same bus; on the same road.  Maybe even going to the same place.  However, they are travelling in very different ways.

There are plenty of seats, but the sad man stays right where he is and does not move to the side where he can enjoy a lovely view.  He chooses to stay on the dark side.  Why?

If I take this bus to symbolize our journey through life, the picture becomes even more insightful.

We are all going the same direction, toward the same destination - Death.  However, we are not all going there the same way.  We are not driving the bus most of the time.  Instead we are riding in the back.  More often than not, even if we cannot change the destination, we can choose where we sit in the bus.  We can choose to enjoy the view along the way.  If we have a bad view, we can at least choose to switch seats, we don't have to stay in the same place.

As martial artists, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard.
We must be brave enough to be happy; brave enough to change when we are not.
We must seek the light; the good; the sunshine.  We must not accept the cold, dark, and gray as unavoidable.  WE MUST NOT REMAIN FOCUSED ON OUR OWN TROUBLES.  We must look outward, not inward.  We are obliged to share our joy with those around us and make our lives an adventure, rather than just morosely going from point A to point B.

Life is about the journey, not just the destination.  ENJOY THE RIDE.  ENJOY THE VIEW.

See you in class.

Sunday, June 08, 2014


Those of you who know me know that I live a long way away from work --- A LONG way.  That gives me over an hour each way every weekday to commute.  It sucks.  However, like many things in life, it is what you make of it.  Every day I see the people around my trying to sleep, daydreaming, listening to music, checking their blackberry and so on.

As a martial artist and kalista, here are some ideas to help make your commute time more productive and worthwhile.

I spend a lot of time watching videos on youtube or ones I have downloaded.  While funny cat videos, fail army, music videos, anime and so are fine and dandy, I usually use my commute time to watch martial arts videos.  Youtube has plenty to find in the FMA space. My top pick (obviously) are KM videos featuring Punong Guro Fred Evrard, our founder.  You can find the online training here.

Watch them all.  Watch them again.  And again.  Seeing the best helps make you the best.  It has to do with visualization and all that.  Pay attention to every little detail.

For free, you can check out the KM Youtube channel here if this does not make you want to subscribe to the Online Academy, watch them all again until it does :-)

Some other folks that are always in my playlist include:
Maul Mornie of SSBD (his seminars are CRAZY GOOD - and he will have a joint seminar with Kali Majapahit founder Punong Guro Fred Evrard in Jan in Paris!!)
The Kali Society in Sweden --- these guys are AMAZING!!  Guro Claes is AWESOME!
Dakilang Guro Jeff Espinous and Kali Sikaran --- one of Guro Fred's teachers and an incredible martial artist!
Doug Marcaida --- Kuya Doug is unbelievably good!
Luke Holloway of RAW
Kit Acenas of PTK --- Mandala Kit is a fantastic martial artist!!
Tuhon Ray Dionaldo of FCS --- especially love his karambit and barong stuff!
Pintados Stickboxing --- love their videos!
Dan Inosanto --- you cannot go wrong with his stuff
Peter Weckauf --- love his Panantukan stuff
Mark Hatmaker --- his training DVDs are fantastic!

While obviously choreographed, there are some movies which do a good job of highlighting FMA/MMA/JKD/Hakka.  I suggest:

Bourne Series --- Matt Damon/Jeremy Renner
Taken Series --- Liam Neeson (especially collapsible baton sequence in Taken 2)
James Bond --- Daniel Craig (watch Casino Royal for footage of Yamakasi Parkour founder Sebastien Foucan!)
Raid Series --- Iko Uwais
Ip Man Series --- Donnie Yen
Ong Bak Series --- Tony Jaa
Blade Series --- yes, it's kali
Batman Begins --- The League of Shadows obviously do kali
Hannah --- great job of showing empty hand and blade work
The Hunted --- Tommy Lee Jones/Benecio Del Toro (cool Sayoc Kali bladework)
Warrior --- Tom Hardy
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon --- too beautiful to miss
Mission Impossible 3
Daredevil (if you can stand the rest of it)

Any Bruce Lee Movie (watch Dan Inosanto in Game of Death!)
Any Chuck Norris movie (I especially like The Octagon)
Steven Seagal (Above the Law was the his first and his best)

get a Kindle Paperwhite.  These things are great (and cheap).  I have tons of books on mine, the battery lasts a long time, and they are easy to read.  My favorites are books about martial arts/martial history and books on philosophy and personal development.  Ask me if you want some recommendations.

Always a great idea when you can get a seat.  I put the headphones on to help eliminate distraction.  Kitaro (especially Silk Road) is some of my favorite instrumental for this.  Try not to fall asleep (I know you're tired), and concentrate on your breathing --- try to breathe using your full lung capacity and match inhale/exhale duration.

I carry a squeeze ball and do consecutive right and left hand grip strength training (see how many sets of 50 squeezes you can do).

Just some thoughts.  Let me know yours.

See you at the station.