Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Small Talk

We have been talking a lot about the guard and footwork in the current cycle.  Since we are doing knife work it seems especially appropriate.

One point I have been repeating again and again is the fact that we don't really have rising motions in FMA - in fact, just the opposite.  FMA is, in a certain sense, the art of being SMALL.  What do I mean?

In the guard, our main objective is to offer no unintended opening to an opponent.  This means that we want to hide as much of our body behind our weapon (empty hand, stick or blade) as possible.  To do so, we necessarily must make ourselves smaller in order to maximize the coverage of our weapon.  In a knife guard, this means rounding the shoulders and trying to keep as much of our the area between our four "gates"  (both shoulders and hips framing our torso) behind our forearms as possible.  With a stick/blade, it means keeping the weapon in front and our head/torso concealed behind it as much as possible.

In our footwork, this means that we never step with a rising feeling.  When we move in our triangles or replacement footwork, the goal is to make every step a coiling step, that is, to step to the ball of the foot and bend the knee, so that the weight transfer can load to the stepping leg and give us a prepared base to explode from.  Proper footwork means not needing any additional step/shift to go forward into the target.
If we had a rising feeling to our footwork, we would have to let our weight "settle" before moving - and that takes time we do not want to spend.

Even when we employ elastico, moving our hips away and back to protect the low line, this is not done with a rising feeling.  Instead, we try to keep the head and body low, and just shift from the waist down without giving up the position of the hips/pelvis close to the opponent.  This is an important way to create distance while staying close.

While it is very important to develop the skill to stay small and compressed when moving, I have to emphasize that this must be done without compromising the posture and structure.  It will simply not do to bend, lean or twist the body in order to achieve "smallness".  Smallness is achieved by keeping the knees bent, the weight on the balls of the feet, and the shoulders rounded.  This must be done while keeping the spine straight and the head in alignment (chin tilted slightly downward is OK).

Even the simplest and most basic of movements have lessons for us.  Sometimes you need to think small to see the big picture.

Thursday, April 03, 2014


In this cycle we are working on some hubud lubud drills and their variations.  Hubud Lubud or simply "hubud" as they are often called, refer to a series of predominantly empty hand drills found in most of the major FMA styles.  These drills are commonly taught as sensitivity drills, and considered as being similar to Wing Chun's famous chi sao or "sticky hands".

However, using that label sells these drills short of their true value.  There is a wealth of training locked in these drills, and they are worthy of focused effort and regular practice.

Hubud drills generally have a basic three-step sequence:

  • Receive
  • Redirect
  • Return

First, we receive an incoming movement.  This can be done with block or parry, but intermediate and advanced variations receive directly with a gunting.  Secondly, we redirect or move the attack off the center line and control it.  In the drills, we usually use just a small motion, but in reality, this redirection can already take the opponent's balance/structure and give us a vital moment to enter and resolve the situation decisively.  Some variations also involve trapping as an element of the redirection, also providing a split-second of opportunity that can be sued to strategic advantage.  Lastly, we return.  In the drill, this is feeding the partner back so he/she can also train, but in reality this can be any kind of strike or attack.  In hubud, we are able to express and practice both passa (going with the incoming force) and contradas (going against the incoming force) principles effectively.

In Kali Majapahit, we use hubud drills for a wide variety of training.  Here's some of the major skills you can learn from them:

by working hubud drills, particularly the intermediate and advanced variations, you can greatly improve your co-ordination and ambidexterity, which are essential traits of all good FMA practitioners.  We place a lot of emphasis on the "living hand" or non-dominant hand in Kali Majapahit, and the hubud patterns are a great way to keep both hands moving in and around each other smoothly.  The drills allow for switching sides as frequently as needed to develop both right and left equally.

The drills can be slowed down or sped up based on the partners' confidence and skill level, and once both are comfortable, speeding up the drill can be good training to improve the hand speed and decrease reaction time.  We use hubud to burn in muscle memory so that in a surprise situation our automatic response is to block or gunting, redirect, and return an attack of our own. Under stress, this patterned movement can be the difference between life and death.

Stress Management
Real fights cause a rush of adrenaline and create high levels of stress.  Hubud drills are an excellent way to gradually introduce some stress and pressure (by increasing speed, pushing a little harder, etc.) and allow us a chance to become used to contact and close proximity while consciously suppressing fearful or panicked responses.  In these drills we can slowly build our confidence until even full-speed drills do not cause us to become shaken.  This is extremely valuable in an actual encounter.  

Peripheral Vision
During the drills, it is important to keep the eyes focused on the upper chest of your partner, along the line of the collar bones.  Our peripheral vision is faster for the brain to process than our fixed gaze, and we want to develop the automated response of picking up any aggressive motion from the shoulder line, since shoulder rotation is the critical beginning of any movement.
The more we train in hubud, the better able we are to judge which arm will move and be ready when it does.

Hubud has a rhythm.  We use this rhythm to establish a connection with our partner - a connection we would break in a real encounter.  Although above I suggest that hubud drills would have a three-count rhythm, this is only for absolute beginners.  The reality is that there should be at most a two count timing involved (receive - redirect/return).  As you pass intermediate into advanced, everything is done on a single beat simultaneously.

Hubud drills are done at corto distance or close range (at least when done with empty hands).
The closeness of the drill gives us a great chance to train how to create some working distance in and around our partner, which in a live situation gives our opponent a feeling of being smothered and crowded, while we feel free to move with ease even in close quarters.  Variations on hubud can teach us to open outside and inside lines, as well as low lines inside the drills.

In Hubud it is very important to keep the shoulders relaxed and low, and to have a solid, balanced stance.  If you focus on receiving with the arms, they quickly tire out.  Instead, the drills should teach you to keep your arms relaxed at all times and use your feet and hip rotation to provide speed and power.  In some variations popular with our friends in Sweden doing Kali De Mano, hubud drills are done very strongly, which force us to keep good posture during the drills or be knocked off balance.  These variations also get us used to the type of arm contact likely to occur in a real fight, and make for excellent training.

These "scissors" attacks directed at the opponent's arm are one of the trademarks of kali and include strikes done with the knuckles or phoenix fist, as well as a variety of elbow strikes to the hands, forearms and biceps.  Some variations flow effortlessly into locking series as well.  Since all of these techniques are integral to good kali flow in kadena de mano (empty hand fighting) the more you practice hubud the better your kali will become.

FMA are all blade-base arts.  Thus, hubud patterns have their equivalents (usually almost exactly the same) using blades.  It is another hallmark of good kali training that all concepts are easily transferable between sub-systems meaning that skills gained in empty hands improve stick and blades, and vice versa.  It is especially easy to put knives or karambits into these flows.

Hubud drills are not fixed in stone the way katas or poomse or forms are in other martial arts. It is best to think of them as a framework or skeleton around which you can explore all of the above ideas and more.  Once we begin to randomize movements in hubud drills including many different types of attacks and angles, the drills become extremely advanced and very spontaneous - causing the receiver to adapt instantly to rapidly changing stimuli and offering endless variety to keep the training lively and engaging.

In summary, hubud drills contain a treasure trove of possibility for interesting training and skills development.  I consider them to be very...well..."handy".  So should you.

See you soon.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


What a great weekend.  Saturday the weather was warm and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom near our house in Yokohama.  We spent the day in the park having a picnic with kids and dogs and relaxing under the pink canopy that is Japan's annual ohanami, or cherry=blossom viewing season.

Monday morning it was bright and sunny, and I made my way to the train station ready to go back to work.  Some people had different plans, however.

Yesterday morning there were three different train suicides on three different train lines.  In Japanese, jinshinjiko 人身事故, suggests a "accident involving people", but it is generally no accident.  When this expression is used, it means that someone has committed suicide by jumping onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train.  I am sure this happens in many places around the world (my photo is actually a train in the UK), but for some reason this phenomenon strikes me as uniquely Japanese.  Japan already has one of the highest rates of suicide of any developed country, and suicide is the leading cause of death for males aged 20-44.  Japan is also first among G8 nations for female suicides.

People tend to do this during the morning rush hour commute (the Chuo Rapid Line in Tokyo is legendary for it), although it can happen at night as well.    In Japan, the train schedules are very precise, some say the most precise in the world.  Many commuters also make multiple connections to subways or other train lines and depend on everything running on time.  When this kind of accident happens, the stations nearby have to be stopped while police and company staff investigate.  Typical delays can be 1-2 hours, and sometimes over 100,000 people have their routes affected.  If it is done at night, some people have no other way to return home or end up getting home well after midnight because of the delays.

It seems odd to me that for a country that takes such care to be polite, train suicides represent the ultimate affront to other commuters.  Doing this in the rush hour may be because some people are unable to face their upcoming day at work or school or whatever, or it may be just a type of social outcry.  Top reasons are listed as work-related, financial-related, or other social pressures.  At the office, someone darkly joked that three in a single morning might be because Japan is raising its sales consumption tax from 5% to 8% from today.  I hope people don't get that upset about it.  Other studies suggest it may have a correlation with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or other weather events such as prolonged periods of cloudy/rainy weather.

I suppose when it happens, like yesterday, and we are all stuck on the trains for hours while officials sort everything out, all we can think about is our own inconvenience.  I was guilty of that as well.  In retrospect, I feel somewhat ashamed for not being focused on the victims and their families.  Japan is increasing spending on counseling for troubled people, including teens, but it is well behind other developed nations and still far from the social support network that is needed.
Especially in Tokyo, Japan can seem like a grim and foreboding place where it is not easy to make new friends or develop social connections.

No matter how bad things appear, there is ALWAYS a way forward; ALWAYS a way to find happiness.  The world can indeed be a harsh and cruel place, but there is a lot to be thankful for every single day, every single breath.  More and more, I learn that it is the simple things in life that give me the most joy - my family, my friends, my dogs.  I have been lucky to find my life passion in Kali Majapahit, and to be able to share this gift with the people close to me.

I pray for the souls of those who died yesterday and wish them peace.
More than that I wish there had been some way to sit down and talk it over before they made the fateful decision to do what they did.

It's another beautiful day out today, with a gentle breeze across the cherry trees.
I wish you could be here to see it.