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.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Let's Dance

Today I enjoyed my first lesson in social dance from two of the top ranked amateurs in Japan: Minato-sensei and Nao-sensei.  I have always wanted to do try social dance, and I am lucky to have a chance to attend a small group lesson coached by these outstanding competitors.

We learned the hold, prep and initial six-count step series of the basic waltz, which is the staple of social dance.  It was a lot of fun, and immediately got me thinking about how this relates to martial arts.

It is no secret that many professional sports teams in baseball, football and basketball have used dance/ballet training as a way of improving the performance of their athletes.  Dance develops strength in the legs, hips and back, and creates a strong core.  Since all sports involve movement and coordination, dance is an excellent addition to the usual weights and cardio training.

Given my own background in aikido/aikijujitsu and other similar Japanese arts, I found a lot of similarity, which made social dance easier to understand.
These concepts relate to any combat art.

Using The Large Muscles
Social dance is mainly done from the waist down, meaning that the driver and center of power is the hips.  The upper body is used to hold position, but the real strength is in the core.  For the waltz, it helps to imagine the partner connected to/resting on the hips, while kept in position by the arms.  For the movement to be efficient and to keep dancing for an extended period of time, the body's large muscle groups are bearing the loads and doing the work.  In fighting, it is exactly the same: we never use a small muscle for a task when we can use a large muscle - this usually means being aware of how to engage the legs, hips and back.

Posture and Structure
In dance, posture are structure are what make the dancers look elegant, and what allows them to move without falling or losing balance.  Many movements have a centrifugal force element to them, which will not work unless the posture is long and tall.  For kali, we avoid looking "tall" as such, however, the same principle of lengthening the spine and keeping the back straight always apply.

Social dance is done with with a partner.  We must be aware of their position relative to us, and yet move as if they are not there - in effect, taking their space once they leave it.  I step forward just as she steps backward, and vice versa.  At all times our hips remain connected at the same level so we look as if we are one unit moving in perfect harmony.  In combat there is also a rhythm and connection - we become aware of it so we can break it.  We consider the line of the hips so we can keep our center of gravity below the opponent's.  In aikido, there is no technique without connection.

It could be said that proper footwork is the essence of all martial arts.  Mastering the footwork, without ever looking down, is essential in both arts.  Our patterns allow us to effortless move in and around our partner, or our opponent, into the most effective physical relationship.  There are complex patterns in both, and both begin with learning strong fundamental steps.

Taking the Space
As I alluded to above, in dance our feet take the space given to us by our partner.  To do otherwise makes the movement awkward and clumsy.  A good dancer does not wait for the space, but instead takes the space and causes their partner to vacate it in order to continue.  In throwing techniques this is also exactly the case.  We are always in the center and moving the opponent around us, or taking their balance by taking the space their hips are in.  Both martial arts and social dance require decisiveness to become skillful.

In summary, I think a study of social dance will greatly improve my martial arts skill.
It may do for yours as well.

Shall We Dance?