Monday, July 20, 2015

Flowing the Tree

(thanks for the inspiration Paul M)

It's not my fault.  Really.  My dear friend Paul asked me about Kali Majapahit.  Usually, the first few hours are my most animated explanations, but I could literally go on FOREVER talking about Kali Majapahit, how much I love it, and how unique it is.

To keep other people from falling asleep, I try to explain in a way that will resonate with each person, especially if they are not martial artists.

Paul is a physicist by background, so science/maths is a great medium to try to explain what we do.  Here goes...

When I walked into Kali Majapahit (at that time Ni Tien Martial Arts) in Singapore, I was AMAZED.
Guro Fred moved like no one I had ever seen (and still does).  He was (is) like a predatory jungle cat - graceful, powerful, lethal: 100% martial and 100% art.  However, it wasn't just how he moved, it was also how he spoke.

I remember it like yesterday...  Katulong Guro Vince (at that time not even a Kasama yet, now one of our best and most experienced instructors) punched.  Hard.  Guro Fred slipped outside effortlessly.  Guro Fred was looking at ME the whole time.  He wasn't even looking at the punch. He said "this time I will choose an outside solution."  He spoke not of "techniques" or "katas" but of "solutions".  I was intrigued.

Later, I would discover that we classify solutions by several categorizations.  One is by our position in space relative to our opponent: inside/outside/split.  Also, defining a solution as high line, medium line or low line.  Finally, through our distance: close (corto), medium (medio) or long (largo) distance.  We can also classify solutions by the subsystem we express (or the weapon type we use).  This includes Kali (panantukan/sikaran, dumog), Silat, JKD, Muay Thai, Hakka/kun tao and more.  Regarding weapon types we have single/double stick (impact weapons), edged weapons (long/short/karambit), axe/tomahawk, staff or spear (bankaw), flexible weapons such as sarongs and scarves, and many, many more.

Classifying our solutions creates a framework for learning, much like a chessboard, and so too the combination of solutions are infinite.  All of the above variations give us an endless array of options from which we can express ourselves.

So...what to do??

I added the binomial tree above as one idea to consider.  Each moment in time or action point represents a step in the binomial tree: action/reaction.  Each action opens the door to the next step in the sequence of events from left to right.  At the end, the opponent is incapacitated (hopefully without injury) and the fight is over.  Skill in fighting, using this example, can be defined as:

  • Flowing from left to right seamlessly without stopping, adjusting for each action/reaction by moving to the next stage of the binomial tree without hesitation
  • Choosing the highest percentage movements at each stage of the tree, so that our chance of success gets increasingly larger and our opponent's gets increasingly smaller at each step of the tree until the opponent can no longer continue
  • Limiting the opponent's response at each stage by "feeding" or "drawing" a conditioned and expected response from them which yields the result we want and can exploit

Of course, every fight is unpredictable and there are always unforeseeable elements.  The goal of the training is to develop and enhance the ability to KEEP MOVING, to FLOW with the changes as they happen and be neither constrained nor restricted in our responses.  When we express Kali Majapahit, it should be the truth of our own spirit which shines through --- relaxed; without fear, without panic, without anger - calm, confident. Completely in the moment until the encounter is over and we are safe.

I remain just as fascinated and intrigued by Kali Majapahit today as I was when I started 7 years ago.  I love the art and introducing people to it, because I know they will find a lifetime of exploration and adventure, just as I have.

See you at class.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dragons versus Unicorns

Dragons versus unicorns.

No, this is not some episode of Final Fantasy XVIII, Pokemon, Game of Thrones or other TV show/video game.

In this case, I am referring to a situation which often occurs when people begin to discuss religion/spirituality: namely, that each side begins to argue about hypotheses or pedantic minutiae which cannot actually be proved or disproved or which is in fact utterly irrelevant to deriving value from the basic ideas.  Thus, it is the equivalent of two people arguing over which would win a fight: dragon or unicorn, neither of which can actually be proven to even exist outside of the fantasy of imagination (nb: Komodo dragons are only called "dragons" because they are large lizards.  They do not breathe fire and cannot fly, which everybody knows all real dragons can do).

A common one is the Christian "one God versus 3 Gods" question.  In Christianity, God is usually thought of as a singular deity, but also as the Holy Trinity of God the Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost (Holy Spirit).  Heated arguments happen between various Christian groups about the nature of God in each of these three forms, and whole branches of Christian religions differ based on what specific ideas they espouse.  Sadly, none of these ideas can actually be proved or disproved (at least not by any living human beings that could credibly resolve the argument).

All religions have some symbolism inherent in them as part of their Gnostic traditions.  This includes the Christian cross, the Jewish Star, The Muslim Scimitar, The Buddhist lotus flower and so on.
These symbols are core to those belief systems and an integral part of their worship in sacred ceremonies.  At the same time, to the extent that these distract the believer from gaining the benefit of the belief, I think they are at best misguided and at worst deliberately false and incendiary.  Using the Christian cross as an example, in Catholicism, the cross is always shown as a crucifix with Jesus on it (I assume to emphasize that Jesus suffered and died for our sins). By contrast, in the Lutheran (reform) Christian tradition, the cross is NEVER shown with Jesus on it, presumably to emphasize his arising from the tomb and triumph over death.  Which is correct?  How can we ever know?  While I can accept that there is a certain philosophical merit in discussing these interpretations, is there any practical value to be gained in arguing over them?  Fighting over them?  Killing and dying over them??  I suppose it would be just as nonsensical for two people to come to blows over whether dragons or unicorns are more powerful than the other.

I have yet to find an organized religion that does not include social harmony as one of its core tenets - the responsibility of believers to get along with each other.  For nearly all of them, harming others is allowed only under very specific circumstances, and killing is generally frowned up except in cases where the tribe is under direct attack.  Not signalling out Christians here specifically, but "thou shalt not kill" is a simple 4 word command, pretty clearly spelled out, and not really open to much interpretation. There is no "except..." clause.  Nearly every other religion is the same.

Still, however, man manages to engineer seemingly endless reasons for killing each other, religion being history's greatest excuse to murder people.

Using my example above, it is my sincere hope that Dragon lovers and Unicorn lovers (and all other fantasy fans) can come together and appreciate each others' beliefs, each cheering for their own favorite mythical creature - but not at the expense of another's.  We are all equally entitled to believe in what we want to, so long as it does not harm others.  Respect is key.

Then again, maybe everyone has got more important things to do than argue about imaginary stuff, right?

Martial arts is rife with the same problem.  Many so-called "masters" talk about "Ki" or "Chi" as if it were some mystical magical genie power that makes otherwise superhuman feats possible. Their goal is to appear special and persuade students that they can achieve some voodoo magic through choosing them as a teacher, focusing on esoteric topics at the expense of good, practical training.  The reality is that martial arts training is the most natural training there is, explainable through science (mostly physics, math and some chemistry, with a sprinkle of psychology).  Listening to two masters talk about how many different aura colors there are (which neither one could see) was about as boring as watching paint dry.  Listening to two "grand masters" argue over whose 11th degree black better was more "legitimate" than the others was even worse.

It is time to focus on what brings us together rather than what keeps us apart.