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.