Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Don't THINK you are, KNOW you are

I was watching The Matrix again on my way into work this morning.  The dojo fight scene is one of my favorites, because Morpheus gives some very good advice to Neo.  Neo awakes from his uploading stating "I know kung fu", to which Morpheus says simply "show me".  They load the sparring program.

Neo starts off with the mistake of overconfidence.  Eager to show his new skills, he doesn't even consider that Morpheus may be better than he is.  Neo's style is aggressive, while Morpheus toys with him and looks for openings.  In reality, we never know who is better than we are.  Pride goes before a fall.  We see immediately that Neo is outmatched.

After being kicked, Neo ponders Morpheus' question "How did I beat you?"  "You are faster", Neo says.
"Do you think my muscles have anything to do with speed in this place?" Morpheus challenges.  "Do you think that's air you're breathing?...hmmm..."  The reality is that while the physical body is important, it is no excuse for poor technique.  Our goal as martial artists is to transcend our physical limits and improve our technique, not just our bodies.  Martial arts techniques use good physics, but are somehow more than that when we invest our energy (ki or chi) in them.

When they spar again, Morpheus pushes Neo harder.  "You're faster than this.  Don't think you are, know you are".  This is not pride, it is CONFIDENCE.  The two are very different.  To truly excel, we have to break past our own preconceived limitations.  We are capable of so much more.  In a sense, The Matrix itself is a movie about learning to ignore the limitations of our world and breaking through to "set your mind free" and embrace the truth with no illusions.  A very Buddhist interpretation, to be sure.

Lastly, to lead Neo to awareness, Morpheus scolds him in classic zen-master style. "stop trying to hit me and HIT ME!"  We spend a lot of time in the dojo trying to build muscle memory and natural reaction.  To reach this level, we have to go beyond "thinking" or "trying" to just "doing" and "being".  Initially, of course, we look at each technique and over-analyze it;  we break it down into discrete movements and patterns and try to remember where our feet, hands and body go.  We step through each technique again and again, like a baby trying to repeat new words.  Our minds are very busy and our bodies are not moving freely.

At some point, however, we must LET GO and FLOW.  This is the essence of Kali Majapahit specifically, of most FMA as well, and of every martial art generally.  This is also one of the central life lessons our training gives us.  We must learn to disconnect our rational mind and allow the body to MOVE with what it knows.  We must transcend technique to experience the ever-changing moments of CONNECTION with our partners.  This freedom is at the heart of good martial arts training and a great lesson on being in the moment.

Go ahead and enjoy The Matrix for what it is, a very entertaining classic Hollywood blockbuster.
However, if you look a bit below the surface, there is more.  We can learn from what we see.


Thursday, March 13, 2014


(thanks for the inspiration David)

Recently, a few of my friends have enrolled in Executive Fight Night/White Collar Boxing.  This is a charity event held in various locations and usually sponsored/attended by people in the broader financial services community.  This one is scheduled for May 23 in Tokyo, but I have seen events like this in Hong Kong and Singapore over the past several years.

Since most of the fighters are bankers and other office types and not professional fighters, the event serves to be a great opportunity to get in shape, learn some boxing basics, and "live the dream" of getting in the ring for a few rounds.  The rules appear to be standard boxing rules, with three 2-minute rounds.  All proper headgear is used and the chance of percussion/concussion injury to the fighters is relatively low.

The boxers will train at Club 360 in Tokyo several times per week to prepare for the fight and will have an experienced boxing coach, Jan Kaszuba, on hand to assist their preparation.  If it were up to me, how would I train for this event?  What advice could I give?

Cardio is KING
To fight at full activity for three 2-minute rounds requires the stamina to box 10-12 2-minute rounds (30 sec rest in between) continuously.  What many people don't realize is that round 1 has a huge adrenaline kick, which quickly wears off and leaves both fighters exhausted.  I see a big difference in the guards and activity levels in rounds 2 and 3.  Bright lights, deafening noise, cheering crowds all contribute to high stress and high adrenaline responses, which use up energy reserves quickly.  Thus, constant cardio training is key.

I have discussed this in other posts, but footwork makes the difference between success and failure.  Ali was not the hardest hitter, but he had great hand speed, and his footwork set him apart from every other boxer who has ever set foot in the ring.  In particular, the 45 degree Filipino footwork we use is very helpful in cutting angles on the opponent, adjusting range/distance, and driving the other guy into the ropes and corners.  Good footwork, as Mike Tyson proved, can take away the advantage of reach by a taller opponent, since the zig-zag entry helps a smaller fighter to get inside the guard to deliver the devastating hooks and uppercuts.  Good boxers spend endless hours on this, so should you.

Having a good guard is a basic skill that everyone should have before stepping into the ring.  This means having a strong stance, and the gloves well-anchored to the cheekbone or forehead.  The eyes should not be covered, but allow you to see between your gloves to find opportunities for fire back when you are being hit.
Gloves should always return to guard immediately after being thrown, and one glove must ALWAYS be back to protect the head.  "One glove out, one glove back" is the rule.

Reaction Timing
Usually, if you can touch the opponent, the opponent can touch you.  This means that anytime the opponent reaches for you, something must be open for you to hit.  A good drill is to work with the feeder so that every time you are touched you instantly respond with a jab or jab/cross of your own.  Shortening the response time in this drill will help you take advantage of counterpunching and not just stand and take hits.

Body Shots
Although most fighters will reach decent condition before the fight night, they are not professionals and do not have the professional fighter's core.  That means that body shots will be more effective than they would be in a fight between two pro boxers.  The liver and spleen both represent great body targets and can help get the gloves to drop.  One good way is to work these body shots in behind lead jabs.

The Importance of The Jab
You can never throw too many jabs.  During a fight, the jab should be out all the time, annoying the opponent, probing the guard and looking for opportunity.  The jab always stays in his face, obstructing vision and keeping him from getting settled.  If the jab touches something other than the glove, the cross should come immediately.  That is another good reaction drill to train.  In training, you should spend as much time as possible throwing jabs.

Footwork is never straight back or straight forward in boxing.  When we need to give ground we always work to the side angles either clockwise or counter-clockwise.  This helps avoid getting moved back onto the ropes or into a corner. In training, working around the heavy bag in both directions throwing punches is a key way to develop this skill.  Going forward, we advance on the 45 degree angles to close distance and start getting around the guard and into the body or head right away.

Move, Set, Fire, Move
This is the pace and rhythm.  Never punch while you are moving.  Move, set, punch, move.  You need to be stationary when punching to you can get hip rotation and power from your legs into your punches.  Muhammad Ali could fire with power while moving, you can't (don't feel bad - neither can I).  After punching (and of course immediate return to guard) your move will usually want to be 45 degrees angled away rather than straight back, as this makes it harder to get countered.

On the Ropes
When you get someone on the ropes, avoid simply hammering into their gloves/guard, which just makes you tired.  Ali used this in later years to wear down his opponents when he was on the ropes, before firing back and ending the fight.
Instead, take a short shuffle 45 degrees to either side, and you will find the body shots and head hook start to go around the gloves and contact the side of the head/ear or the liver/spleen.  When the opponent adjusts, use your other hand to go down the middle again.  Conversely, if you find yourself on the ropes, your goal is to pass the opponent's hand and get out forward away from the ropes, not along them (since you will end up in the corner).

It is incredibly brave to get into the ring and face your fear.  Much respect should be given to any man (or woman) for showing such courage, especially for charity.  That said, a few basic tips and boxing common sense can help to get a better outcome.

we buy things we don't need
with money we don't have
to impress people we don't like
-Tyler Durden

Waist Not, Want Not

As the next installment in looking at some of the mechanics of good technique, I want to discuss the importance of the waist line (especially as it relates to hip rotation).  Recent previous posts have looked at footwork and distancing, and the waistline is another key aspect of good technique.

In 2007, I wrote a post about the use of hips in Yoshinkan Aikido called "hippy hippy shake", In that short post I was interested in the way we connect our partner to our hip line and then use that connection to drive momentum via our hip motion.

In the past 7 years, I have come to understand this being a universal principle of martial arts, having now seen the same concept applied in Kali Majapahit, SSBD, Baguazhang, Kali De Mano, and a host of other styles.

Of course, we can focus on hip rotation as a broader concept, but this is well-known even to advanced karateka who emphasize it as part of their punching drills.

Instead, I want to look at a few aspects of the hip line as a destination for creating distance, taking balance, and exerting control over an opponent.

In Kali Majapahit, when we work knife disarms, I am often asked where to bring the opponent's hand as we take it clockwise.  There are two answers: one is a very small, very fast circle directly 45 degrees away from the lead knee.  This disarm works because it is smooth and fast. It also (usually) involves ballistic contact to the hand to ensure the disarm happens.  For this reason, I prefer to use this small circle to strip the knife (meaning I take it) rather than to disarm, especially in training, where I don't want to injure my partner.  The second and more powerful variation involves connecting the extended knife-arm to our waist line as we pass.  This is a bigger circle, and dynamically takes the balance as we move.  Note that there is no actual contact of the knife against our body (since we could be cut), but rather, the circle is large enough to extend from the line of the shoulder to the line of the waist, giving plenty of room to develop momentum.  Combined with the replacement footwork, this can be an extremely powerful movement and very hard for the other person to resist.

Likewise, in punyo sombrada, we destination for moving the opponent's stick when we pass it is our waist line.  All FMA seek to sink the body weight rather than to rise the body weight, and this is a great example of how anchoring the opponent's weapon to our waistline definitively takes it out of the fight.

In silat as well, when we pass the hands (as we would do in FMA's basic hubud lubud drills) there are two circles: a very small, very fast circle and a wider, more powerful circle which connects to the waistline.  Again, when combined with replacement footwork this movement creates distance, takes away the opponent's balance and generates powerful momentum.  Baguzhang uses the same principle when passing/controlling the arm for an elbow lock.  When combined with their spiraling footwork, the effect is devastating and it is effortless (at least when Sifu James does it).

From a body mechanic point of view, our goal is always to move and use our body efficiently. This means less focus on strength and more focus on good structure and use of larger muscle groups such as the back and hips.  Yoshinkan definitely teaches this, and as I mention above I have seen it shown in a lot of other arts.  We will be drilling this concept in class in the coming weeks - I suggest you to do so as well.  A good understanding of how to use the waistline to generate power and take balance will serve you well.

See you soon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Feet First

Going back to a talk that Guro Fred gave some years ago, I have been thinking about my feet these days, especially given my last post about distancing.

The feet are of critical importance to martial arts training.  If you have any doubts, go and step on a nail or a piece of broken glass.  You'll get the point (literally).  Feet contain a relatively large number of bones/joints/muscles/nerves compared to other parts of the body.  In addition, the foot contains all major meridians of Chinese medicine and is a dedicated focus in some schools of treatment in shiatsu and acupuncture. It stands to reason that taking good care of your feet is an important key to mobility, health and longevity.

One point Guro Fred raised is that the proper shape of the foot is an inverse triangle, where the three points represent the big toe, the little toe and the heel.  The broader the triangle, the stronger the base.  Accordingly, weight should be flexed from the broadest part of the base (across the ball of the foot between the big toe and little toe) with the toes gripping into the surface for traction.  When lifting heavy weights or resting for long periods of time, weight should be concentrated on the heel where there are fewer joints to carry stress.  This is why proper Olympic lifts all focus on driving from the heel rather than the ball of the foot, like fighters do.

When you look at your foot, you should be able to clearly see the outline of the triangle, and the toes should all face forward, with gaps in between them.  The joints of the toes should fully articulate and allow for mobility upward and downward as needed.

Here are some guidelines for foot care:

It starts with just being aware of the importance of your feet.  Take time to examine them and keep nails neatly trimmed.  Pay attention to how you walk and keep balance AT ALL TIMES.  Most people "fall forward" rather than "walk forward". It is important to push off with the back foot and step with the front, rather than shuffling or dropping weight on the heel.  Most of us have not been taught how to walk properly, so no shame in learning it now.  Your knees and back will ultimately thank you.

Skin Care
At Bali, the skin on my feet started to crack and split, especially between my toes.  Regular applications of aloe skin lotion did the trick, though.  Athletes feet and other viral/fungal conditions should be treated right away.

Toe Articulation
Mobilize your toes forward and backward every day, preferably twice a day ---morning and night.  I do this in the shower (AM) or bath (PM).

Shaking Hands with Your Feet
In this exercise, you interlock your fingers and toes and mobilize them.  This can help restore the proper spread between your toes, especially if your usual shoes are too tight.  In fact, have your feet checked by a pro.  I move up a half size after doing this.

Nothing is worse for your feet and ankles than heels/pumps.  Avoid them whenever possible (applies to guys and girls).

Foot Massage
Singapore is great because every shopping mall has a place that does this and it is usually cheap and effective.  I suggest getting this whenever you can, since it will also help stimulate the energy flow in your overall body.  You can use Japanese "health sandals" or a Chinese medicine stepping board to activate the points on the sole of the foot.  I prefer foot massage.

Go Barefoot
Try to go barefoot whenever possible.  If it is not, at least wear open-toed sandals which do not have a constricted toe box.  Be careful where you walk, but barefoot is best for walking.

Five Fingers
For runners, Vibram's Five Fingers shoes can be a blessing.  Apparently they take some getting used to, and are not cheap, but offer a much better health experience than traditional heel-centric running shoes (which can lead to a variety of knee problems).

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Long Distance Relationships

OK, before you suspect this is going to be a Skype commercial or a Hallmark Card advert, let me clarify.  I am talking about fighting distance.

Guro Claes raised some interesting points that I have been thinking about since the incredible Bali Camp 2014.  In fact, I have been thinking about them since Guro Maul of SSBD discussed them at one of his excellent seminars that I attended.

As we start a new cycle in Kali Majapahit, I want to raise a few points about distancing and its importance in training.

We spend time, especially with the beginners, it trying to help develop good footwork.  What this means for us in SE Asian martial arts is that we are able to use our triangle (male and female) and replacement footwork to have good position relative to the attacker.  The practice involves getting the hips and body to align so the spine is not twisted, and so that the hips face into the target (except angle 5, where we shift the body sideways).  We use triangles to create some distance and allow us to remain in contact with the opponent while at the same time moving away from the attacking power or the non-attacking hand.

There can be some confusion on how to define distance in FMA, so for purposes of clarity "largo" or long distance refers to a relationship where I can touch my opponents arm/wrist/hand/fingers with my weapon, but am out of striking range.  "Medio" or medium distance is where I can touch the opponent's arm/wrist/hand/fingers with my hand, and can reach the torso with my weapon (note this implies the opponent can reach me as well).  "Corto"  or close distance refers to when my punyo and hands can touch the opponent's torso directly.  Corto is often where disarms, sweeps and close range weapons (elbows/knees/headbutts) take place.  Corto is also the distance where we engage for Dumog (Filipino grappling).

Good footwork allows us to move from medio to largo when needed, or from medio to corto when needed.  The sad reality, as Guro Claes pointed out, is that we often drill from medio, which is probably the worst place to be in a fight.  In medio, we are in easy striking range of an opponent, being neither inside their strikes (corto) nor outside and attacking their arm/hand/wrist/fingers (largo).  As beginners, we spend some time in largo when we drill De Cuerdas, but after the beginner phase we should already understand that medio distance is really just a transition from either largo or corto, which are preferable.  Of the two, largo has advantages in that it can offer ease of escape, lower chance of being hit, and lower chance of the opponent being able to grapple.  Corto offers a lot more possibility, including ease of control of the opponent.  Thus, I usually suggest an emphasis on drilling movement from medio to largo for beginners, and from medio (or largo) to corto as skill improves.

Guro Claes rightly pointed out that even when fights start at corto, which can happen, we may want to withdraw to largo immediately to assess the situation, and good footwork will allow us to do this quickly and safely.  In training, I suggest a variety of drills to close in from largo to corto, and open out from corto to largo.  In every case, if we find ourselves in medio distance, we should move into corto or out to largo distance without hesitation.  Staying in medio is very dangerous and should be avoided.

To give a boxing example, largo is the distancing used to float away from the opponent while delivering jabs.  It is used for picking apart the guard and opening up opportunities to land a cross or overhand and hopefully end the fight while staying out of range of the opponent's similar punches.  Medio is the bad situation where boxers go "toe to toe" and surprise upsets can often occur.  There is no safety for either fighter in medio.  Corto happens when a boxer steps in and closes the distance, usually to deliver the devastating hooks or uppercuts that end so many matches.  Good boxers have good footwork.  There is a reason why they spend so much time training it.

Creating distance is very important, since we need room to work our techniques, and particularly as we internalize the fact that we need to use our weapons to their fullest potential.  This means receiving contact close to our hands (base of the stick) where we have good structural support, and striking near the tip of the stick to maximize centrifugal force.  This is especially important in circular movements like abanico or witik.

As our distance control improves, we can do more than just use our footwork to have mobility in and out around the opponent.  As we see in advanced applications of Hakka styles and Silat, the footwork evolves into foot trapping, misdirections, sweeps, siba, ghost kicks, and other ways of directly attacking the structure and balance of the opponent.  Even though we have activity on the higher lines, it is these low line steps that are the trademark of the master, and which often times decide the results before any punch or strike has even connected.  We saw this at the Bali Camp again and again, through the detailed instruction of Guro Fred, Guro Claes and Sifu James.

Learn to love these basic drills - they make everything else so much easier.
We will be spending a lot more time on these footwork drills in class - I suggest you do, too.

See you soon.  

Friday, March 07, 2014

Make a Difference

Watch the video above.

A few takeaways from me:

1) It's All Relative
$1,000 may be a lot for you - It may not be much at all.  To this man, it was EVERYTHING.
The money was not really the thing; it was the KINDNESS; the fact that a stranger went out of his way to share the hope of a better future, and was selfless in giving that hope to this man.  We never know how our actions can influence others.  It is important to make every effort to make those actions POSITIVE and to use our actions to INSPIRE others and create a positive difference.

2) The Power of Dignity
When we lose our self-confidence, we lose our ability to stand tall as a human being among others.  Our eyes look down and we can't make eye contact.  Our shoulders slump and our posture degrades.  You can feel the negative energy from people when they get this way.  ALL CREATURES DESERVE DIGNITY.
This is the single most powerful thing you can give back to everyone, and the precious treasure you should never, ever take away from any creature.  When the giver engages this man with respect, he empowers him to reclaim his dignity.  By doing so he allows this homeless man to open up and overcome his situation.  He makes a REAL connection and can make a REAL difference and allow others to make a REAL difference as well.

You can feel the power when those two men hug each other.  Guro Claes led us through a hugging exercise in the recent Bali Camp as part of our personal development.  It was energizing and created real connections between us.  Living creatures need contact - and hugging is a great way to engage the people we meet and those who are important in our lives.  We should not be afraid of our emotions, but rather be open and confident enough to use them to create deeper and better human connections.

Why is it that we can be kinder to a complete stranger than we can to a member of our own family?
Never forget to give your love and attention first to those closest to you - make sure they know how much you love them - tell them often, but show them even more often.  Don't worry, you will never run out of love for other creatures.  REMIND YOURSELF TO KEEP LOVING EVERY DAY.

This poor man must have been ignored by hundreds, perhaps thousands or people over the time he has been homeless.  All the best intentions didn't make any difference at all.  What it took was someone to DO SOMETHING.   

Every day, make sure that person is YOU; make sure that time is NOW.

See you soon.