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.  

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