Monday, November 14, 2016

Greatest Hits starring Kuya Doug

This weekend was one for the history books.
If you missed it I feel very sorry for you.

Thanks to great work from our dear friends at Shin Kali, we were lucky to attend a weekend seminar by a living legend of Filipino Martial Arts - Kuya Doug Marcaida of Marcaida Kali.

TLDR version --- TRAIN WITH HIM.

Many people would know him from his excellent television show, "Forged in Fire", but FMA people like me have been watching his Youtube Channel from the very beginning, always amazed by his flow and ideas, and hoping someday to learn "The Kali Way" how he understands it.  He is especially famous for his smooth, effortless flows involving the karambit.  He is also part of the Funker Tactical team which host many of his videos.

Rochester, New York, is very far from Tokyo, and Kuya Doug is often on the road doing seminars and teaching law enforcement/military and doing other events.  It's been 6 years since he visited Japan.  We hope he will make this an annual stop (hint hint).

Over the course of a two-day weekend seminar we covered karambit, tomahawk, single/double stick and empty hands applications.  As expected, Kuya Doug is at such a high level of skill and understanding that you will simply not find better - anywhere.  His teaching style is informal and relaxed (he is, too) but if you listen carefully, he gives the essence for how to train and improve.

Beyond technique, he is a great man, and gives a constant reinforcing message about the true purpose of our training - to make us better people.  Kuya Doug is a veteran, and also spent more than 20 years in the medical field as a respiratory therapist.  He gives back to the community and is dedicated to helping other warriors adjust to become functional in society again.  Every conversation with him will give you something to think about, and he is very approachable and always willing to share.  He is an honest example of what is possible if we train smart.  He is a true inspiration.

I will not give any specific techniques here (sorry) since you NEED to attend in person and feel his magic firsthand.  Go and train with Kuya Doug any way/anywhere you can.  SEEK HIM OUT and find out for yourself why he is so respected.  You will not be disappointed.

Some "greatest hits" from the seminar below:

The stick and blade are not dangerous in or of themselves.  The person is the weapon.  Fighting is a state of mind, being able to find calmness and relaxation in chaos.  Weapons work because they are functional and act as force multipliers.  In our lives we must aspire to be the same way - in our jobs, with our families and other social groups we should become functional and capable, and our presence should make everything better.  Every one of us can be a positive "force multiplier" in the world.

Drilling Down
For each drill, deeply explore its purpose and the practical benefits it can give to fighting in terms of improving our understanding of timing, distance, accuracy, control, power, speed.  Drills are a framework but it is very important not to be stuck in them, only to use them to develop skills and familiarity with weapons - NOT as fighting techniques in or of themselves.  One of the most important attributes is ACCURACY in targeting specific points such as eyes and throat, and it is worth investing a lot in training specifically for this.

Of Each Thing Ask "What is it, in and of itself?"
This famous quote from Marcus Aurelius reminds us that each tool of fighting has unique attributes, but there are common tools visible and invisible all around us.  Each tool is straight or curved, edged or impact, hard or soft and these give it certain characteristics which we must master.  Mastering one tool helps master all similar tools.  Thus, everything is a weapon.  Our bodies move like weapons also, forearms can function like sticks; elbows like daggers, arms like karambits. Shoulders and hips/knees and elbows/hands and wrists/fingers and toes are all the same body structures replicated on high and low lines and similar techniques work on both.

Some weapons, like the tomahawk, are comprised of elements of some others (the handle is an impact weapon, the beard is a cutting/hooking weapon, the back spike is a stabbing weapon). However, taken as a set of disparate functions, even a complex weapon can be easily understood based on what we already learn in basic FMA.  This extends to anything else at hand.  Everything is a weapon.

Fight Like You Walk, Walk Like You Fight
Kuya Doug reminded us to stay natural in all our movements.  Be efficient and easy with our footwork.  No low stances or twisting of the body.  Balance is key and being able to move naturally at all times is the goal.

Doubling Up
Great training in double stick focusing on imagining double stick as sword and shield.  The sword and shield roles switch between the sticks (beauty of FMA) but blocking with one and hitting with the other is an important concept to remember when training.  Double sticks are a long range system, so keep distance.

An army that cannot move cannot fight.  In FMA mobility is key and we want to keep moving all the time.  Even simple footwork drills can have great effect if they are fluent and used correctly. Good fighters use all lines (high/medium/low) and all ranges to their best effect, and good training methods divide the areas into "sectors" for ease of understanding.  The Clock Method is a great way to explain techniques and movements, especially to military.

Plan your work, work your plan
We need to have solid strategy and tactics to be effective fighters.  In life as well, it helps to have a plan with plenty of contingencies for the unexpected.  Drilling is a great way to develop sets of plans for various situations, since the dojo is the safest place for our training.  The key to executing fighting plans is to drill control of our nervous system, so that our body avoids habits and will respond just as our mind directs it. Our awareness should be looking not just for openings in our opponent but weapons nearby, exits and escape routes, other potential aggressors and the like.

Really only one way to actually do this in a fight --- hit the opponent! Hit the hands or head and then, only then, can you have a decent chance to disarm.

There was much, much more.  A weekend is far too short to spend with such an incredible martial artist, and I can't wait to get a chance to train with him again.


Sunday, November 06, 2016


So...this happened.  Now I'm FIFTY.

It's been a very relaxed and mellow birthday weekend, just as I would have wanted.  Plenty of family time, but also some time for reflection.

This morning, messages started flowing in via FB, SMS, mail, etc. from people around the world wishing me well.  I am grateful for everyone who has thought of me today.  Truly, deeply, grateful.

One of my closest friends calls me "the most successful man he knows".  I laughed at first. Later, thinking about it, I realized what he meant.  On a relative value basis, it would be hard for me to aspire to more than I have achieved.  Born to parents in a troubled, dissolving marriage, I was placed into foster care via Illinois Children's Home and Aid Society in Chicago at barely a year old.  I was born premature, underweight and had a non-functioning left eye.  My foster parents, Charles and Dorothy Leonard, already in their 40s, took mercy on me and brought me home to Villa Park, Illinois.  I grew up in idyllic, sleepy suburban Chicago, with long summer nights and longer, harsher winters.  I struggled hard growing up but my foster parents never gave up on me, even when I wanted to give up on myself.

Thinking back on how I started, I often wonder how I ever ended up here in Yokohama.  Kids like me didn't get many lucky breaks.  We didn't hit the lottery.  We didn't grow up to be doctors or lawyers or captains of industry.  Most of us ended up in prison or dead well before our time. Many of us were abused by our foster parents or shuffled from place to place, finally coming to rest in group homes until we would be pushed out at 18 with nowhere to go and no one to go there with. We'd end up... forgotten.  The sad truth is that foster kids just didn't really matter.

Not me.  I was the luckiest kid in the whole world.  My foster family loved me.  I had very few friends, but my friends were true and have been my friends all my life.  I was warm and safe and had clean clothes and enough food.  Other than my eyes, the rest of me worked pretty well.  We had birthday and Christmas and Thanksgiving and Halloween.  Most of the kids I met like me had it much, much worse, including my foster brother.  Through hard work and just plain goddamn stubbornness, I moved my life forward, inch by painful inch sometimes, but FORWARD somehow.
Dreams come true, and I finally made it to Japan - achieving a goal I worked on for more than 10 years.  That was 25 years ago and I've never looked back.  Now I've been in Japan for more than half my life.  No regrets at all.

Today, looking at all your messages, looking at all the people I have known and lives I've been a part of, I feel like my life has MATTERED.  I've been a part of so much.  I've had such a great adventure.  So many people have come into my life and guided me, helped me, and taught me. You've all helped me arrive here - in this moment - and I feel it's been worth the struggle.  I started my life with tears, but along the way you've helped me find laughter.  Thank you for sharing your lives with me.  Words aren't good enough (my words aren't anyway) to tell you all how grateful I am for your attention, your caring, your support.  You've made this life worth living. THANK YOU.

A very special thanks to my wife Sanae, who knows how to make broken things useful again - you taught me how to forgive myself for what happened.  Thanks for my family, especially my wonderful sons, who give me hope for the future.  Thanks to all my friends all around the world who make travelling so enjoyable - I always look forward to seeing you.  Thanks to my teachers for investing in me.  Thanks to my students for trusting and believing in me.  Thanks to my co-workers for supporting me.  Thanks for not giving up on me.

I hope the next phase of my life will be even more about giving back for all the good fortune that I have had.  I want to try to continue to make a difference in this World and never give up advocating for love, peace and understanding.  I want to stay active in the martial arts and continue to guide the next generation of teachers who will help make the world better.
I want to live my life fully until my very last breath.

Thanks again for being part of my story.  Please stick around until the end.
We've got plenty more to go.