(thanks for the inspiration Jeremy)
We often talk about "FLOW" and this was one of the first concepts Punong Guro Fred Evrard shared with me that intrigued me and helped me get hooked on Kali Majapahit in 2008 - and I am still hooked.
From the beginning, a KM class is unlike a "typical" martial arts class. We cover at least three different sub-systems in every session, including single or double stick, empty hands and/or knife, boxing or kickboxing. Adding in warm-ups and stretches, cardio and cool-down makes every class very busy. Even our two-hour sessions in KM Tokyo just seem to fly by. Students who come from different backgrounds are challenged by the different skills we train in every class and how fast we change from one to another.
It's not just fun but very exciting.
We drill concepts and example techniques, but there are no Kata (forms) in kali (at least not in Kali Majapahit). I see a lot of value in form-based styles like karate and kung fu for building discipline and muscle memory, as well as deeping the spiritual connection to the movement - "active meditation". For some people, the stability and consistency of Kata is especially helpful and precious. Kata-based arts have been shown to help learning disabled and behaviorally challenged children and adults such as those with autism, Asperger's and ADD/ADHD to help focus and control their bodies.
That being said, FMA in general (and KM in particular) usually avoid static kata training in favor of drills and technical application. This can be a difficult adjustment initially, but in the long run offers the opportunity to find a new way of expression - JAMMING.
I use the example of jazz music since it seems to best fit the idea of FLOW as we think about it in Kali Majapahit. Rather than rely on a strict set of technical responses, we train to be fully in the moment and to respond smoothly and effortlessly to whatever intention or action our opponent gives. Until the situation is resolved, we transition from one distance to another, from one line to another, from one style to another without stopping to think - WE FLOW.
In jazz music, jamming is the same concept. There is a basic story or beat, above which the musician expresses his or her sound. The jazz player FLOWS in, around, under and through the baseline, exploring and finding each unique musical moment until the end. It sounds amazing, but how do you learn o do that??
Drills, drills, drills. For musicians it is long hours playing the scales in different keys and other variations on this simple theme. To play well, we need to have the muscle memory of the basic notes of the instrument, just as we must do with our arms and legs, our elbows, our sticks and blades in FMA. We drill the basic angles and basic blocks again and again until they become second nature. We drill our footwork until it is intuitive. We drill to improve our dexterity and agility. A good guitarist will have fingered the basic chords tens of thousands of times and need not look that his or her fingers or hands to find the right strings and frets. This is a painful and tedious process, but there is nothing more necessary to jamming than this. Be patient. Love your callouses.
Combinations and Phrasing
Later, we begin to chain some techniques together. We add more hits to the drills, or change hand positions. We start to develop some simple multi-hit combinations, but these are generally given to us by our instructor. We start to learn how the body moves and how to "lead" or put techniques where the opponent will be (rather than where they currently are), setting up a series of events that take away the balance and structure and end the encounter. Our teachers use these combinations to help illustrate the correct concepts and principles of how to move. We learn about the distances, lines, angles, and how to use our body efficiently in sequence. We gain experience in the different sub-systems and begin to understand their uniqueness.
This is an intermediate step.
In music, we begin to start playing simple songs, simple melodies, and learning some simple riffs we can use.
We still need to stick to the written pages and focus on drills, but hopefully our fingers begin to move more smoothly, chaining notes together a few at a time with less frequent pauses in between.
Improvising techniques is where we start to really leverage the hard work of beginner and intermediate.
Here we can begin to really problem-solve and explore specific situations and puzzles through more advanced drills. Rather than being given a technical answer, we can focus on asking the right questions "where can I move?", "what if I did this?", "How can I put the opponent here/there?", "what if I lost my weapon now?", and so on. Solving these problems is where we branch off from more traditional kata-based arts into the discovery zone that makes Kali so magical. We are seeking and finding SOLUTIONS.
Secondly, we begin the process of mixing-and-matching between sub-systems that adds uniqueness and color to our developing flow. We may start using Kali, and then transition to Hakka Kuntao or boxing or Muay Thai, and finish using Dumog (Filipino grappling) or takedowns and throws based on Judo/Jujitsu or Aikido. Weapon movements begin to feel more similar to each other and we can start to relate one weapon (umbrella) to another (single stick). The knowledge is finally coming together.
In music, we further embellish songs we have learned, adding in our own riffs and notes, changing the chords and blending the songs together to create a sound we like. We freely explore the instrument and what it can do without limitation, and start to really revel in the freedom that comes from being able to play without stopping to read each note - making music sound the way we want it to. We start to write some of our own songs or arrangements of other songs we like. We are comfortable with our instrument in any style or situation.
Flow and Style
Once we can improvise a bit, the next phase is exploring all the possible combinations and fusion we can find. This can easily last us the rest of our lives. Although our kali chessboard is finite, the possible combinations of what we have learned are endless. Our training has given us sets of techniques, as well as a deep perspective on the human body, different ways of motion, psychology, nutrition and health, spirituality and awareness. We can begin to respond without stopping to consider beforehand which techniques or sub-systems to use. Responses start to just HAPPEN and to do so in a way that is consistent with our own individual natures.
The most beautiful jazz improvisation is an unstructured, free-flowing conversation between the musicians.
It's MAGIC. You really see masters of the craft EXPRESSING themselves through their instruments - 100% here and now in each musical moment. To me, it is the highest level of musicianship and the most worthy goal of any aspiring player. It is truly FREE.
The End Result
I encourage all of our students to train with as many different Guros and Kasamas as possible. Every one of us has gone through the above progression, and learned to leverage all that we know to develop our own flow. Each instructor knows the same basics and the same techniques, but we all add our unique flavor to our FLOW and seeing us will help you find your own voice one day. You may never have our flow, but you will definitely have your own, and it will be beautiful and unique to you.
Trust the Training.
Love your callouses.
Never give up.
JAM like a champion.
See you at class.