Saturday, August 27, 2016
In work, in sports, in relationships, sometimes we feel like things aren't moving - or aren't moving fast enough.
For me, the time between the ages of 20 and 30 had the greatest acceleration I have known. At 20 I was a forklift driver in a warehouse in suburban Chicago. I graduated high school with no money for college and my parents had already retired and moved away across the country to Reno, Nevada, essentially leaving me on my own. I knew how to work hard, since I started working almost full-time since I was 14. I had lived on my own since 18 and was basically happy going to work and doing my job. It just didn't feel like my future. Fast forward 10 years and I had two college degrees, spoke a foreign language and lived 10,000 miles away in Japan. It felt like I had literally reinvented my life from zero during those years. I look back on those long days and nights and wonder how I ever got through it, but somehow I did. That first year in Japan, 1991, I used to open my desk drawer, stare at my return ticket and imagine flying back to Chicago the next day - giving up on my dream of living in Japan because it was just too hard to move forward. The next morning when I woke up I would always close the drawer and get back to what I had to do. One day at a time.
This year I'll be 50 years old, having lived more than half my life here in Japan. The dreams I had when I landed in Japan at 24 have all come true beyond anything I could have ever wished for. I am lucky far beyond my expectations.
I started a new job this year that is a big challenge for me, and I often think back to when I was 20 and starting my professional life. I worry that things aren't moving fast enough...sometimes I even want to go back to my old job and my old life, telling myself it might be easier. Of course that isn't true. As Lincoln's quote above suggests, What's most important is just to keep walking forward, even slowly, and make sure not to go backward even a single inch.
In the martial arts as well, there are times when we feel stuck. New techniques, new skills, new awareness just isn't racing in like it used to as a new white belt. Sometimes we even feel like we have seen it all before, wishing we could go back to the wonder of those early training days. I think about being back in Singapore with my brothers and sisters at the place on Yan Kit Road where it all started, amazed by every new things Guro Fred or Guro Lila would show us. Back then, there weren't any other black belts except Fred and Lila. Now we are all teachers, too.
My Kali journey, like my Life journey, keeps moving forward. Sometimes slowly, but always forward. I am forever grateful for the experiences I have had, even more grateful for being able to share them with my students, who will be tremendous teachers in their own right and go on to grow teachers of their own - one black belt at a time.
Don't worry so much about SPEED, focus on DIRECTION.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Summed up, fighting is about mastering the Kill Zone.
I define The Kill Zone as the place where you are able to deliver your maximum effectiveness (greatest impact force/accuracy with least effort) into your target. Of course, it is also about insuring you stay outside the kill zone of your opponent.
First of all, to do both requires good footwork. Mobility is key in order to get into good position and stay out of your opponent's good position. In FMA, this footwork tends to be triangular in nature, moving us on unexpected/uncomfortable lines for our opponent and putting us closer to the target, which gives us more attacking options. Staying in motion also minimizes our opponent's chance to prepare a good attack by continuing to move us away from their kill zone and into our own. Generally speaking, good fighting footwork always seeks to gain the back of the opponent since this is usually the safest place for us to be when we attack. This is another key reason for our triangle footwork. Avoiding your opponent's kill zone is generally a function of seizing and keeping the initiative through sudden aggressiveness, since this pressure forces the opponent to react instead of initiate. As Guro Fred often points out "Fight on YOUR terms".
Second is ranging/distancing. This means that while moving we try to get in a favorable distance for us and stay in an unfavorable distance for our opponent. Our favorable distance is where we are able to generate striking power (greatest rotation of hips/shoulders/spine and extension of arm/leg) . We know that our body generates the greatest power when we are able to engage the large muscle groups of our lower back/core/hips and transfer that power through our shoulders into the arm or into the feet via the leg when kicking. As good examples, check a proper golf swing or baseball/rugby swing. For kicking, Muay Thai has excellent body mechanics, often using the shoulders and arms to counterbalance and generate additional power from torque.
Efficient techniques rely on the back/core/hips for power and use centrifugal force to increase power. Many techniques involving takedowns and follow ups on the ground also use gravity to increase force and lessen dissipation since an opponent cannot back away and dissipate impact force when lying prone. As well, throwing techniques and sweeps have similar body mechanics (rotation/extension) but use the environment (floors/walls) for impact.
I often observe students being too close when they try to hit, limiting their ability to generate power. Particularly in kickboxing/boxing when we have gloves and pads on, it is important to have proper range so that proper body mechanics can become part of the muscle memory through repetition. Thrown properly, any single hit should end the encounter. In FMA, we further increase the odds by throwing multiple hits in combination.
It goes without saying that different hits have different ranges (elbows versus roundhouse kicks, for example), as do various weapons of different lengths and configurations. However, the use of hip and shoulder rotation plus extension is universal and students should consider how this is done in every technique they learn. Of course, we all have different bodies and taller/shorter people with longer/shorter arms and legs must necessarily adjust distance and angle to yield the best application of personal force for each attack. Sometimes this involves actively moving the opponent to a different angle or range. In FMA we often do this using our checking hand to push/pull/redirect their energy, which also tends to disrupt their balance and structure.
As we gain more knowledge and experience, we see more options for each position/range the opponent is in. We can then look for the most efficient attack to deliver in each moment, with the least preparation/effort to deliver. Thus, a skilled fighter has more potential attacks that can be used at any range and angle than a beginner. In Kali Majapahit, we master a variety of different strikes and kicks at all angles and directions to give us the best chance of having a ready solution to any situation we encounter.
Lastly, as I have said to my students many times, we want to deliver the best weapon (usually the smallest hardest surface area) against the best target (usually the softest, weakest area) of our opponent. Likewise, we want to take away structure and balance at all times and keep our opponent from ever regaining them. We want to go around resistance rather than meet strength with strength, since this is the most efficient movement. Silat is especially good training for going around blocks, and for finding uncommon angles of attack and removing balance/disrupting structure. Done well, the opponent should always be off balance until the encounter is over.
One of the best ways to improve your martial arts skill is to actively consider the body mechanics of each technique.
- How do you engage your back/core/hips to generate power?
- What range gives you the ability to extend fully?
- What striking surface generates the most impact force?
- What targets are the best for each attack?
Asking these questions helps you identify the unique "kill zone" for every attack and increases their effectiveness. Each new technique should be considered this way.
Make physics your friend rather than your enemy.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
One of the most important things he talks about on the show is the importance of energy. He says "the dog is a reflection of your energy, your behavior. You have to ask "What am I doing?" That's the right question to ask." He clearly means that dogs understand and respond to the energy we give them - when we are calm and relaxed they are calm and relaxed. When we are nervous or excited they are nervous or excited. It should come as no great surprise that people are often the same.
Thinking about this, I discovered that the very same technique, projecting calm-assertive energy (being quietly, confidently in control), helped me to better manage my children. Ultimately, it even helped me at work with both coworkers and clients. I was far more successful when I would purposefully consider the kind of energy I was giving off, and try to keep it calm-assertive as much as possible. The lesson was clear --- it was not about changing others, it was about changing MYSELF. The energy you give becomes the energy you get.
Using this technique of calm-assertive energy has helped in so many ways. Avoiding the projection of excited, aggressive energy, especially when confronted by it from someone else, has helped prevent situations from escalating and allowed me to avoid injuring anyone. Cesar points out "It's important to note that aggression isn't the problem. It's the outcome of a problem." I believe this is very often the case with people, just as it is with dogs.
Calm-assertiveness has helped customers feel confident that I can and will help them achieve their business goals. It has helped other staff view me as a leader and trust me to make the right decisions for our group. It has improved my relationships at home by helping us establish and maintain harmony. Cesar says "Assertive does not mean angry or aggressive. Calm-assertive means always compassionate but quietly in control." I couldn't agree more. I try to make this my normal state of being.
Of course, I don't always remember to use this technique, but when I don't and I see things heating up or starting to go the wrong direction, I always ask myself "What am I doing? What kind of energy am I giving?" and this usually helps get things back on track quickly by changing my energy back to calm-assertive.
In martial arts we talk about energy all the time, usually in the context of our KI or life-force, which we apply in fighting and use for health. I believe the study of energy is a universal one, and of great importance when we consider the energy we give to others by our words, our expressions and our body language. As Cesar says "Dogs do know how comfortable you are with yourself, how happy you are, how fearful you are, and what's missing inside of you." I believe people instinctively know this, too.
Become The People Whisperer...
Sunday, August 07, 2016
Social dance has improved my martial arts tremendously, and both share a common skill on being aware of yourself and your partner's position in space without looking. Both emphasize good footwork and balance, and both require grace and FLOW.
Today, Kojima-Sensei gave us a new drill. I had to dance the ladies' part and Sanae had to dance my part. In dance, the man typically leads, and the lady must adjust/adapt/respond to his communication through posture, head position, and the pressure of his right hand on her shoulder blade. When reversed, we begin to understand the other's point of view, which in turn enhances our own understanding of how to move together to create the most efficient whole as a couple.
This was a great drill. In dancing her part, I understood much better how important my lead is in giving my partner the direction she needs to stay in sync. I felt how necessary it is to remain light or "floating" in my footwork in order to easily respond to my lead's guidance. When I danced the lead again afterward I was greatly improved, more relaxed and more confident.
In martial arts as well, it is very important to train both sides (shite and uke) of every technique. We must master the motion by doing (shite), but deep understanding is gained by receiving (uke) as well. When we become used to the feeling of techniques being put on us, even punches and kicks, we no longer feel any panic when we are under stress. By feeling when our balance is going, we better learn how to take it away from an opponent. By experiencing the locks we get insight into how to remove the slack and escape when we apply them to others. Thus, even when sparring, it is just as important to work on defense as it is to work on offense.
Of course, in dance the goal is to keep your partner moving freely and unimpeded in lockstep with you, while in martial arts it is diametrically opposite. My goal is to make each movement as difficult for my opponent as possible, taking away and keeping away their strength and balance completely from start to finish. That being said, the same drills can yield the same benefits in both dance and martial arts.
Utmost gratitude to my teachers for their patience and training.
"It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. 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." - Tsunetomo Yamamoto (Hagakure)