Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Art of Being Lazy

This is me.

OK, I'm kidding.  It's a pug.
However, it is a very important pug (VIP).

This pug represents one of the most important elements of martial arts - laziness.

Let me explain.  Most people have got it all wrong.
People work very hard.  Too hard.

Even in the dojo, I see students trying so hard.  They push and pull and grunt and sweat.  It's such HARD WORK and they really struggle with it.  Not only is this wrong, it's dangerous.

Martial arts is about EFFICIENCY.  We study the human body to discover how it works.  We learn how all the muscles push and pull.  We study balance and weight shifting.  We explore the ranges of motion of the joints.  We learn about nerve systems and acupuncture points.  We exercise our minds.  WE THINK.  We do this so that we can pick the easiest (laziest?) and most efficient way to end any confrontation with the maximum chance of success and minimum chance of injury. Some simple principles we follow include:

  • apply hard weapons versus weak targets
  • use large muscles rather than small muscles
  • take opponent's balance; keep our own
  • attack the structure first
  • use the simplest possible technique

Martial arts is an ethical practice (at least it should be).  We should not injure others if it can be avoided.  The best way to do this is to take away their balance and structure.  Once this is done, the opponent can usually be controlled and subdued without (or with only minimal) injury.  If we cannot do this, we have no choice but to injure the opponent in order to avoid injury to ourselves or others.

In summary, if I can't control you, I have to injure you.

I don't want to injure ANYONE. Ever.
This inevitably leads to guilt and regret, neither of which are outcomes I want.

In the dojo, it is important to study every technique carefully to understand how the balance and structure of the opponent are affected.  Look for how to use the hips/backs/legs/footwork to achieve this.  Look for the most direct way to engage the opponent's center of gravity and disrupt it.  BE LAZY.  A typical sequence looks something like this:

  1. entering --- get in
  2. contacting --- distract with atemi
  3. connecting --- get a grip
  4. controlling --- move the balance/structure
  5. subduing --- incapacitate/submit
The best techniques have the shortest time through this cycle and often achieve it by combining several steps into one movement.


If you are working too hard, it is usually a sign that you are doing something wrong.  Brute force is almost always the tool of last resort --- both inside and outside the dojo.

Consider this carefully.

Clean Dojo, Clean Heart

(thanks for the inspiration GR)

I LOVE Filipino Martial Arts. A LOT.

Those that know me know that my martial arts journey changed that day I stepped into the rickety old shophouse on Yan Kit road in 2008 for a trial lesson with my teacher, Guro Fred Evrard and met my Kali family --- a journey that is still ongoing for me.

That said, most of my life I have been a traditional Japanese martial artist.  Apart from Kali Majapahit, which is the only art I teach now, my other teaching licenses comprise 25 years of study and are all in very traditional disciplines including Yoshinkan Aikido, Kiyama-Ryu Iaijutsu and Ninjutsu.  I started when I was 14 and have been involved in martial arts all of my adult life.  Without my training, I would not have achieved the success I achieved in my family and career.
This training was how I became who I am.  It is the most precious gift I have.

In a Japanese dojo, we clean.  A LOT.  We clean the dojo mats after every single class (see above) and we do monthly/quarterly big cleaning sessions on weekends where we systematically clean the whole dojo top to bottom.  All of these tasks are done together, teachers and students, regardless of rank.  None of us see this as a chore.  WHY??

At the core of the Japanese martial arts is RESPECT.  The hierarchy looks like this:

  • Respect for life
  • Respect for the art
  • Respect for the teacher
  • Respect for our training partners
  • Respect for self

Respect is the cornerstone of the training.  Without this, we cannot build our character.  Even if my house were messy, my dojo would be spotlessly clean.  My dojo is my HEART, my sacred place where I develop myself.  My temple where I celebrate my life journey with my Kali family.  I keep it clean like I keep myself clean.  I organize the dojo like I organize my Life.  Little things (like cleaning) lead to big things (like success).  I become someone who DOES rather than someone who merely talks about doing.

Yes, punctuality is also a sign of respect (all of the 5 "respects" above).  Life is made up of time - the art is developed over time, our teacher has invested his/her time, our training partners are on time ---> we develop discipline when we learn to be on time.

Every student must keep asking the question "Why am I training?".  Answers may vary, but "becoming a better person" should always be part of the response. Otherwise, if all we learn is how to move our bodies we could do this at a sports gym.  If it is only about punching and kicking we are missing the point.

MARTIAL ARTS IS LEARNING HOW TO MANAGE OUR LIVES TO ACHIEVE THE RESULTS WE WANT

It makes us BETTER PEOPLE.

This is such a powerful skill that it can change our lives forever.  It gives us the tools to help others change their lives too.  If you disagree with me, I suggest you sit down with any one of the Guros and discuss it.  Please do.

My brothers and sisters earned their black belts by understanding this.  Their rank recognizes their commitment not just to their own training and development, but to YOURS.  They have so much, which is why they can give so much (and they do).  This can be you, too.

The starting place is to learn how to suppress the Ego.  This establishes that we are all the same.  Thus, what one can do, anyone can do.  Regardless of social status, race, color or creed when we put on the uniform we are all THE SAME. What someone else can do, I can do (if I train).  This is absolute freedom.

A famous Japanese proverb writes, "The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step"...well, here it is.  Pick up your broom and start your journey.

Let's go TOGETHER.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Home Sweet Home

It feels so good to go home doesn't it?

Home is where you belong, where you can relax and feel comfortable.  Where you BE YOU.  In the absence of any other plan, home is where you would choose to be, together with your family.

For those of us who have frequently moved jobs, moved house, or even moved countries, "home" may not be easy to define.  In my case, as much as I love Yokohama the dojo equally feels like "home".  After a long week at work I am really looking forward to going to the dojo on Friday night to see my Kali family.  No matter what happens at work, my home is my refuge, my safe place where I can leave the outside world OUTSIDE and just have some "quality time" with my class.

Instead of collapsing on the couch in front of the TV, I choose to be on the mats sharing and learning while we train.  It is sometimes said that we make our living from 9-5 but we make our life from 5-9.  In my case, I prefer that 5-9 (7-9 actually) to be at the dojo whenever possible.  There are not too many other places I feel so comfortable.

My first dojo was a converted car garage in Bloomington Heights Illinois.  It felt like home.  Since then I have trained in dojos big and small all over the world.  Some famous and other you wouldn't recognize even if you stood right in front of them. Many of them felt more like home than where I slept at the time.  I fondly remember the KM dojo on Yan Kit Road (humble beginnings) and look forward to being back at the KM HQ in Singapore (one of the best dojo in the world).  Walking up the stairs feels nostalgic and I get a bit emotional every time I pass through the door there.  It feels like a place I BELONG.  The energy heals me.

KM Japan's dojo is a little rental studio in Roppongi near the subway station.
It can feel cramped with a full class, and it is not luxurious by any means, but when I am there I feel a great sense of contentment.  I hope it can be a refuge for us to think about our training and not about work or other worries.  I hope our students feel like part of our family and that they belong, too.

There is no secret formula in martial arts, no magic recipe or sacred scrolls.  There are no shortcuts.  There is only training.  Good, honest training and persistence which improves our skills over time.  Martial arts is the Great Equalizer, since regardless of body type if you have the will to train and invest the time, you will see the results.  The years teach much the days never know.

Of course, good teachers and good training partners matter.  A LOT.  They help you maximize your investment of time and energy and encourage you to remain motivated.  Some days energy is low and stress is high, and the Family is there to keep us focused and make sure we don't skip class if we could be there.

There's No Place Like Home.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trial By Fire

(thanks for the inspiration KJ)

Friday night training followed by a meal together with my students.  For me it doesn't get much better than this.  We talk about a lot of things.  Sometimes we joke, but sometimes we really explore some of the substantive elements of our lives.

This time one of my senior students confided, "I've never been in a fight.  Not a real one, anyway...except a bit of pushing and shoving on the playground.  Not a real fight, though.  How can I teach people about fighting if I've never had to fight?"  A legitimate question.  Rory Miller (career department of corrections officer and author of several excellent books on violent encounters) would suggest that if you haven't done it, you shouldn't be teaching it.  I am not sure I fully agree though.

My explanation was that it all really depends on what you are teaching and what you expect your students to learn.  In the case of Sgt. Miller, his goal was to prepare corrections officers to survive working daily in a hostile environment where they would be challenged by intimidating physicality, potentially multiple (and/or armed) attackers who would need to be made complaint and restrained if necessary.  To achieve this, a menu of practical and devastating self-defense reactions was necessary for the officers' safety.  He taught based on his decades of direct experience handling these encounters.  It works.

By contrast, one of my favorite teachers refused to train his own country's special forces, generally considered an extremely lucrative and prestigious contract.  His reason?  They were field operatives so he would have to teach them to kill, and he was not sure how they would use that knowledge or on whom.  Thus, he wasn't comfortable teaching them.  He said NO.

If you plan to teach soldiers who will be in combat, or officers in the field, or anyone else in harm's way I agree with Sgt. Miller and suggest you do so from your own direct experience. There are many outstanding FMA practitioners who are or have been active law enforcement or elite military.  That is what they offer.

At the same time, there are also many excellent teachers who aspire to something else. Their mission is to help students build their character and discipline and prepare them for the challenges they will face outside the dojo in school, at work, and at home.  They want to give their students the confidence they will need to excel in life and achieve their goals by becoming better people.

My brothers and sisters teaching the KM Kids classes in Singapore are testament to this with the magnificent leaders they help grow.  My role models in other schools like Sensei Ramlan of ShudokanMaster Krenz and Shihan Borkowski are testament to this with the thousands of excellent black belts they have taught that are changing the world for the better.  Of course, my own teachers, Guro Fred and Guro Lila of Kali Majapahit, have a lifelong mission of personal development, health and spirituality which continues to be a great influence on how I choose to live my life.

Martial arts is a vehicle for self-improvement, at least it is for me.

My personal goal is not to prepare my students to kill or maim other people, although the techniques we learn can easily do so if needed.  I have been in violent encounters before (although fortunately not for a very long time), and I continue to feel regret for the harm I caused.  It was not worth the risk of going to prison for aggravated assault.  Learning how I would react under stress was not worth the guilt I feel for having injured another person.   I would have preferred not to know if my skills really worked.

In the end, every teacher has to decide what he or she is teaching their students.
What they learn is as much from what and how we act as it is from what we explicitly teach.  If we exhibit the qualities we want from them, we will influence our students to follow our example and someday exceed us.  I think this is the dream of all good teachers.  It is certainly mine.

See you at class.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Under the Surface

This picture's function is to remind us that fundamentally we are the same.
From the picture, we cannot tell the race, religion or sexual orientation of those people.  It challenges us to look under the surface, past what we see with just our eyes.

I like this picture.  I like it a lot.

However, it is only the first step toward a much deeper awareness of who we are and why we are.

I'd like to take this further...
I'd like a picture where what we see is only what we really are --- our souls.

Who we really are is not the bag of meat and organs that contain us.
It is not even our skeletons (although that is a good start).
This human body is a temporary form for us to reside in during this chapter of our soul's story.  Nothing more, nothing less.

It is here as a vehicle to help us explore and discover, very useful to bring us closer to our potential.  We are all made of the stars, since at some point that is the scientific origin of our matter - all matter actually.  That is where we come from and to where our physical bodies must inevitably return.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  I wrote about this some years ago, using the analogy of cups (body) containing water (soul).

However, we are more than just our bodies.  We are beings of energy and it is precisely that energy, Life Energy, which connects us all - it always has and always will.  Our souls are timeless and our existence immortal.

I do not and will not accept any attempts by others, especially by governments and religious institutions, to promote division and separation of people based on arbitrary criteria like race, gender, sexual orientation, social status or religious beliefs.  I know in my heart we are all one; we are all connected.  Eternally.  I love and accept everyone who loves and accepts me and will never allow myself to be influenced otherwise.  I will allow my soul to shine brightly in the lives of others and light their way just as they light mine.  Together.

I hope for a future when this is the common understanding and we finally let go of what tears us apart so we can truly be connected.

WE
ARE
ONE

Sunday, May 07, 2017

I Am One

(spoilers ahead)

"I am One with the Force and the Force is With Me".

Anyone who has seen the latest Star Wars movie "Rogue One" probably remembers this epic line said by blind martial arts master Chirrut Imwe (played by Donnie Yen).

He uses this line like a mantra, repeating it as he performs heroic feats of incredible bravery.  These scenes are some of the most powerful and moving in the entire film.

I both love and hate the idea of the Force in the Star Wars universe, loving it since it hits correctly on many important Buddhist teachings and at the same time hating it for often trivializing these truths by delivering them, for example, from the mouth of an animated puppet (Master Yoda) .

One of my favorite aspects is the way that Chirrut's martial arts beliefs EMPOWER him to go beyond his limitations, whether they are his blindness, or even a fear of death.  Through his training, he becomes more than he otherwise would be, able to achieve the right perfect action in the right perfect moment - a lofty goal to which all of us on the Path aspire.

There are many religious institutions which are grounded in negativity and guilt.
Their goal is to make you feel bad for what you have done, or maybe even for just thinking or feeling something they don't condone.  These ways of thinking restrict believers' ability to express themselves and leave them feeling desperate for praise and validation by some divine entity (or by its' Earthly agents).
  • I prefer a belief system which gives us comfort and enables us to rise above our circumstances, challenging our limitations and helping us to become greater than we were without.
  • I prefer a belief system that helps us overcome our fears, rather than using them to control and limit us.  
  • I prefer a belief system based on positive encouragement and reinforcement, where the individual is supported by a community of like-minded brothers and sisters who help each other achieve each new set of goals.
  • I prefer a belief system based on compassion and forgiveness rather than revenge, where we are encouraged to let go of our negative emotions rather than find justifications to act on them.
  • I prefer a belief system based on inclusion rather than exclusion, where we are allowed to celebrate the connections that help bring us together rather than dwelling on the differences that would keep us apart.
  • I prefer a belief system based on personal accountability, where we neither ascribe blame nor give recognition where it does not belong.  We do not pray for help - we start by helping ourselves and each other in the here and now.
  • I prefer a belief system that emphasizes LOVE over hate and that helps us understand and experience that this is the true power of change.
  • I prefer a belief system that reminds us that The Revolution starts with us, WITHIN US, and reinforces that we must be the agents of positive change in our own lives.
We choose to accept who we are --- or  we choose to make the necessary changes to become otherwise.  We share this sacred journey together, hand-in-hand, toward our own successes.

I found this belief system --- in Martial Arts.   You can, too.

BE ONE.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Whetstones

"The best kind of friend is like steel sharpening steel..."

This quote was told to me back in September 1987 by my good friend Rob.  It is even written in the inside cover of my treasured copy of "Aikido and The Dynamic Sphere".  I was doing Aikikai back then, and Rob and I met while we were both taking a course in western fencing at College of DuPage.

When I started Kali Majapahit in Singapore, most of the first year I felt nervous in class. Guro Fred ran the classes himself and I wanted to do my very best every time.  It never felt like I did.  The techniques were complex and different from anything I had ever done before, so I struggled to keep up.  Still, I kept going to class and slowly got better.

Some of the best times were before or after the classes, or on other days when no specific lessons were planned.  I'd meet up with some of the other students and get extra practice in or just explore some of the ideas and concepts from class. We'd meet in Fort Canning Park or at someone's condo and use the common room or the roofs/balconies/void decks...anywhere we could find.

There was no pressure to perform, since it was just us.
With each other we would look at every aspect of every technique, breaking it down and working on it for as long as we could.
This really helped me improve.

When I teach class now, almost 9 years later, I move through the material quickly.
The KM curriculum is rich and complete.  There's a lot to cover in each class and I always feel a bit in a rush to move on so I can get through it all.  I also want to share as many examples as I can of each principle, to give each technique plenty of context.

Therefore, I  expect students to do as I did - find time to meet and train together and explore deeply what they have seen in class.  KM is about developing your own flow, nothing more nothing less, and that requires an investment of time outside of class, especially when KM Japan only has 4 hours of mat time per week.

The bonds I forged with my brothers and sisters in those early days will last all my life.  Long hours spent training together in parks, on beaches, rooftops and everywhere else helped me become the martial artist I am today and I will always be grateful for their fellowship and support.

Sharpen Each Other.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Marooned

Perhaps you've heard that famous icebreaker question, "if you were stranded alone on a desert island and could have only 3 things what would they be?"

Answers vary from the practical (survival knife, water filter, distress signal) to the humorous (horny supermodel(s), iPhone, helicopter).  Sometimes the question includes parameters such as which three people, which three books/records, which three foods, and so on.

Interesting conversation starters, to be sure.  In my case, I like to think that if I had enough fresh potable water and edible food (bananas, coconuts, pineapples, fish, etc.) reasonable shelter and the ability to make fire that I might find a few sturdy branches to make into sticks and keep practicing Kali until I found a way off the island or got rescued.

You see, Kali is not something I do, it's something I AM.  It's as much a part of me as breathing, sleeping or eating.  I think about Kali all the time and I can't imagine my life without it.  I just couldn't be happy.  Luckily my close friends and family understand and accept this about me.  Sometimes I guess I get a bit carried away, but I just can't help it.

My martial arts journey has lasted more than 35 years so far and includes a lot of arts and styles I experienced along the way (karate, wrestling, boxing, ninjutsu, iaijutsu/kenjutsu, aikijujutsu, aikido).  Through Kali Majapahit I have been introduced to several FMA styles (Kali/Arnis/Escrima) as well as Hakka Kuntao, Muay Thai/Muay Boran, Silat and JKD.  I love them all, but finding Kali Majapahit in 2008 was the real life-changer.

Kali Majapahit gave me a frame of reference for everything else I had done, and everything else I will do.  It is my way of understanding movement and space, and helps me see all other arts and styles with a practical understanding.  Simply put, other arts fit into my KM framework, but KM cannot be fit into theirs.  Kali Majapahit gave me the freedom to explore how I could move and develop my own flow.  It will do the same for you if you let it.

After nearly 9 years of training, my KM journey has just begun.  Now, I am called on not only to train but also to share my discoveries with others as their teacher.
It's a heavy responsibility, but I am constantly amazed and filled with pride at how good my students and assistants are.  Their dedication truly motivates me to try harder.

What I want from my students is that they someday feel the way I do - that their Kali is a part of their life forever and not just a place they go on Tuesday and/or Fridays after work.  I hope they will find a sanctuary in martial arts training like I did; that it becomes a part of their life's rhythm without which they would feel something missing.  I hope it becomes a treasured investment of their time and energy that pays off in practical skills they can use and share with their loved ones.
I hope they become part of the global FMA family community with brothers and sisters around the world that love to train and share as much as we do.

I hope even if they were stranded alone on a deserted island, like me, their training would continue.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Art of The Extra-Ordinary


Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige's wall, there was this one: "Matters of great concern should be treated lightly." Master Ittei commented, "Matters of small concern should be treated seriously."

This week I was in Paris, France.  It's a fantastic city and in the springtime it truly has no equal.  The sunshine warms your face as you walk along the boulevards, and even the occasional spring shower just gives everything an extra shine.

I tried to understand the mystery of Paris' appeal and in doing so found an important lesson for my life.  Parisians have seemed to master what I call "The Art of Making the Extraordinary Ordinary".  What do I mean?

In Paris, everything is beautiful.  Everywhere you look there are sculptures and artwork.  Every building has an intricate facade and detailed columns.  Every street corner seems to have a museum on it and every cafe has a charming, inviting decor.  Even the local fruit and vegetable stand looks like a picture postcard.  You can feel the history of Western culture emanate from every inch.  Tourists like me snap photos constantly, hoping to capture the essence of what makes this city the way it is - and we fail.

All around us Parisians go about their daily business, driving through the Arc De Triumph, around the Eiffel Tower, down the Champs-Elysee.  They drink espresso and stroll along the Seine riverbank hardly taking notice of the majesty of their city - as if they have become numb to it.  The extraordinary (to us) has become ordinary to them.  It is perfectly and completely natural for them to live in such beautiful surroundings.  This casual disregard and aloofness is one of the most attractive and enduring features of what it means to be French.

There is a great lesson here: Expect Elegance
It seems as though the French expect elegance in their daily lives - they demand it.  Simple things are to be done with care and artistic presentation.  We should expect nothing less and never allow the daily routine to become trivial.  There is a simple elegance in a baguette and a coffee breakfast served the way it is done in Paris.  While the service may be aloof and frosty (although I found just the opposite) the attention to detail is undeniable.  The pride of workmanship is not unlike the Japanese craftsmanship that I love so much.

It reminded me to care a little more in the everyday aspects of my life, and to add artistic touches wherever possible.  The French way of life is about elevating yourself a little more than the ordinary, and that makes perfect sense to me.
As much as the French can make the extraordinary become ordinary, the reverse is also true.  That is, making the ordinary something extraordinary.

A day-long conference is brightened by a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower outside the office window.  A walk outside for lunch uncovers the magic of a small shop selling a great quality set meal.  An aromatic espresso sets the tone for the afternoon.  A quick chat with a friend in a cafe helps the day go by.  Even in a busy city like Paris, people find balance.  They eat well, exercise well and are not afraid to go home at the end of the day (or even a bit earlier).  Say whatever you will, I'm envious.  (note--- Parisians seem to enjoy smoking. A LOT.  I can live without that part)

Paris is a good reminder that our lives are what we make them - and that the details matter.  It is up to us to make the extraordinary a part of our everyday lives and to elevate ourselves to make the ordinary a little bit more.

It took me 50 years to get to Paris.  I am sure we'll meet again.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Hard Landings



Observe the above.  After I posted this on FB a week or so ago I got a lot of feedback on it.  You can see that in most of the cases, as soon as one guy gets slammed the fight is over.  In some, they are out on contact, in others they are out of position to a degree that the thrower can follow up however they want.

This is the kind of clip that I like to show to anyone who doubts Judo as a legitimate fighting art.  The throws in this video are done by AMATEURS.  Imagine what would happen if a well-trained Judoka did that.  The result would be critical injury or potentially death.

Some Take Aways:

1) Throwing Arts are extremely practical and worth some deep study
2) Strength training, especially deadlifts and squats, are keys to developing good throwing power
3) Breakfalls - better to know them than to get slammed and injured
4) Greater effectiveness is had from slamming to the ground vertically rather than projecting laterally
5) Many styles underestimate grabs as part of an attack, but these slams were all set up from initial grabs followed by closing distance.
6) Fights can get very serious very quickly.  In some of the above, I can imagine prison time (and lengthy hospital time for the victim) are involved.  Use with caution, especially off the mats.

Human beings are an enigma.  We are at once very strong (break bricks with strikes) and very weak (die just from falling to the ground).  I don't want to hurt anyone ever again, but I have serious respect for the effectiveness of throws/slams in real-life fighting situations.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Project Update --- Daily Dose Of Zen

The attached is a picture of an Omamori - a kind of lucky charm common in Japan. This particular Omamori is from the temple near my home in Yokohama.  I bought it on New Year's Eve for a particular purpose.  I am not superstitious and do not place faith in sacred artifacts or other items as a means to channel good fortune. Rather, I think good fortune and success are about hard work, keeping a positive frame of mind, having a plan, and preparing to take opportunity when it presents itself.

In this case, my objective with this Omamori is rooted in one of the basic tenets of Zen Buddhism, "mindfulness".  The Zen mind should be in the NOW, constantly aware of the details of each moment but clinging to none of them.  The Right Mind abhors subconscious habits in favor of deliberate choices about how we live.  We seek to anchor ourselves in the simple everyday moments and remain constantly perceptive of our connection to the living world around us.

This Omamori was meant to be in my pocket every day this year as a New Year's Resolution.  I was supposed to deliberately put it there each morning, and from time to time take it out, remind myself of the importance of awareness, and continue on.  It was to be a token of mindfulness, much in the way of the spinning top from the movie "Inception" (apologies for the reference if you didn't see it). That was the plan, anyway.

So...what happened?

I'd like to report on my supreme focus and laser-like determination.  That would be a lie.  The truth is a bit more disappointing.

Some days it was in my pocket, some days not.  It got lost for days and weeks, washed, dry cleaned, and finally rediscovered in my suit last Thursday after I had resigned myself to the fact that I had lost it for good.  Strangely, I found it in my pocket on a very busy day when I needed the focus.  What a pleasant surprise.

Having had a few days to think about it, the Omamori is a reflection of my own Zen mind since the beginning of the year.  I have been here and there, distracted, lost, found.  Moments of clarity amid weeks of confusion.  Frankly, as a student of Zen I have been a great example of what NOT to do.

(sigh)...no matter.

Just as my Omamori appeared in my pocket seemingly right when I needed it, so too my state of calm "centeredness" returns to me at just the right time.  I resolve to try a bit harder to remember the little things that keep me balanced.  I remind myself that the Way is without time and without hurry - it is NEVER too late to get back on track.  Failure is just another part of the journey.  The real value is in making the effort and continuing onward.

Even Buddha said he was not perfect, merely tending toward perfection.
For all of us, imperfect and impermanent as we are, there can be nothing more than this.

"Ici. Et Maintenant." - Sifu James  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Press Pause

(thanks for the inspiration Guro Rose)


Modern society expects so much from us.

We are always on the go, always connected...always tired.
Our attention spans get shorter and shorter as  we struggle to do more and more with the little time we have and feel guilty if we "do nothing".  Our schedules are already packed, and yet we try to do more...we are rushing constantly, and frequently late.  Many of us feel extreme stress and anxiety during the day, and end up feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted when we get home, unable to have relaxing times with our families and friends.  Weekends are spent sleeping, and then feeling guilty for not "doing something" or "getting out more".  It's a downward spiral that ultimately can lead to burnout and depression.

Sometimes we need to Press Pause.

Happiness may not be about doing more.
Maybe it's about doing less...but doing it "better".
Maybe it's about being fully in the moment rather than just "doing the best we can with the time we have" and settling for less than the full experience we deserve.  We need to pause in order to savor the moment.

Martial arts training is a great way to relieve stress by achieving a challenging physical workout.  Ultimately, though, it is about so much more than this.  It's about developing the confidence to go out and get the life you want - a balanced life - with time for the important things (and learning to remove the unimportant things).

Martial arts is about learning the importance of pausing.

Just like any good piece of music, the pauses are important - so important that we can say it isn't music without them.  Many of us wait for our annual leave to try to "recover" from work.  I would rather suggest that we need to manage our lives to have at least a few minutes daily to center ourselves and find peace in order to keep balanced.

At PWC, Sifu James gave us great, practical advice on meditation which I call "PBT".
P - Posture
B - Breathing
T - Thoughts

If we align these we can be meditating literally ANYTIME, ANYWHERE.
While I cannot condone levitating above the dining table in the company canteen (although it does sound like fun), I also think that we do not need a classical "meditation pose".  Thius means we could use time on the train or bus, or even sitting at our desks, to meditate for a few minutes a day in order to clear our minds and stay relaxed.  When the picture header for this article says "when you pause, pray", I think "when you pause, meditate".
To me they are the same.   

Martial arts training helps us be in the moment and focused, without our minds wandering to what we did earlier or what we are doing next.  We can stay focused on the drills and on our partners, training them just like they train us.

Martial arts training is about making small changes to how we move, how we engage, how we eat, how we feel which then result in big changes to how we live.  The dojo is a lab where we test these changes and make them ready for use outside the dojo in our everyday lives.

Martial arts training is about respect --- respect for others (teachers, brothers and sisters) and especially for OURSELVES.  We practice respecting our bodies by training safely, eating well, getting plenty of sleep, drinking lots of water.  We also respect our time and the time of others, since that is the hallmark of any professional.  We expect the best from ourselves, which helps us get the best from those around us.  Learning to pause helps us appreciate the value of time a little more, ours and theirs, and remember how precious it is.

I have seen this martial arts transformation firsthand so many times.
People who come to class weak, unsure, timid, lacking confidence, shy.  Victims.
Little by little they are transformed.  Their bodies and minds get stronger.  Their will gets stronger. They refuse to compromise on their goals and begin to achieve them - inside and outside the dojo.  They become confident in who they are and how they are and develop a vision for who they want to be.  Their lives CHANGE.  Maybe they find their life partner.  Maybe they get promoted or get a new job.  Maybe they finish their degree.  Maybe they develop better relationships with their family and friends.  Maybe they become a better parent or mentor.  People begin to see them as LEADERS and INFLUENCERS.  They stand out from the rest of the pack.

My fellow Kasamas and Guros were not all born so.  Their achievements are the result of years of hard work and dedication.  They are regular people who chose to become EXTRAORDINARY people.  I am proud to have them in my family.
However, it is important to remember that anyone, really anyone, could make the same choice.  The beauty of success is that anyone can do it if they focus and do the work.  Success really is for EVERYONE.

It starts with a pause...

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Don't Stop Believin'

(thanks for the inspiration Ray)

"Don't Stop Believin'. Hold on to that Feelin'" - Journey

We sat on the floor in the Big Villa, on cushions or yoga mats.  Tired from a hard days' training, wondering what Guro Fred, Sifu James, Guro Claes would have in store for us.  The days of Peaceful Warrior Camp were filled with training, starting at 0630 on the beach, and ending every night with a group conference on health, personal development or spirituality.  It was simply amazing.

Guro Fred talked about believing in ourselves and deliberately choosing happiness. He talked about letting go of everything except the desire to have the life we want. Most of us are already avid Tony Robbins followers, especially Guro Fred's inner circle of instructors, most of whom have read the books/listened to the audio, watched the Youtube videos, etc.  Still, the constant reminders to never let go of our dreams help us to refocus on what we really want from our lives; from ourselves.

Guro Fred asked me to tell my story.  He's heard it before.
There was a time in my life when I couldn't tell it at all - for years I was afraid that people would reject me if they knew the truth of what I went through.  I was ashamed of who I had been.  As I got older, wiser, stronger I realized the story might help others and I agreed to tell it.

Take a Deep Breath...Here goes...

After I was born at Norfolk Naval Hospital in Virginia, my birth parents moved to Chicago.  My dad had developed a severe drug problem in Vietnam and was prone to violent outbursts.  He came from an abusive home in New York City.  My mom knew it wasn't safe for me and that she couldn't raise me on her own.  Their marriage was dissolving rapidly.  Finally, they placed me into foster care at Illinois Children's Home and Aid just before I was a year old.  I still remember the corkboard walls and the big red VW beetle they let me play with while my foster family did their paperwork.

I grew up in the Illinois State foster care program, with a social caseworker and weekly therapy until I was in junior high school.  Small, but with a big mouth (still), I was bullied constantly, to the degree that I had to have a teacher nearby throughout the day to avoid being beaten by the other kids.

At 14, I started my martial arts journey, in a garage-turned-dojo in Bloomington Heights.  I got a part-time job just so I could pay for lessons.  My parents refused to drive me to class so my teacher would pick me up every day.  I kept on going, training daily until I was 21.  My teacher required me to get good grades, so I did. He required me to be respectful, so I was.  For every hour I spent training, he gave me another hour or more of lectures and books on Japanese history, military history, strategy, tactics.  The Book of Five Rings, The Art of War, I studied and read constantly. The more he told me about Japan the more I wanted to go.

It wasn't just about martial arts.  It was about breaking out of all the labels I had been given, having the freedom to choose my life and not being stopped by who I had been before or my being property of the state.  It was about deciding what I wanted and going out and getting it.  I made up my mind to get to Japan no matter what.  I had no idea it would ultimately take me 10 years.

The first plan for me to visit Japan was through my connections in the USKA.  I had been a competitor and judge for a while and was getting known in the Midwest circuit.  My teacher told me that Grandmaster Robert Trias, one of the first non-Asians to open a karate school in America (back in 1947 in Arizona), was assembling a team of delegates to travel Asia as ambassadors of martial arts in the US.  I was to be the youngest member.  It was like a dream come true.

Unfortunately, Grandmaster Trias was a heavy smoker and was diagnosed with lung cancer that year.  The trip was cancelled and he died the following year in 1989.  I was heartbroken.

The second time, in 1990, I was bartending at a club in Lombard called The Pacific Club, owned by legendary Chicago Bears football player Walter "Sweetness" Payton.  For some reason, the club had a sister club in Osaka, Japan.  I was excited.  I applied to be transferred.  Everything seemed to be going my way, and the summer flew by as I thought of nothing else but Japan.  At the end of the summer, the club fired me, saying that they were cutting back on staff.  I cried so hard I couldn't drive home and I sat for several hours in the parking lot in my car, alone.

The third time I was a junior in college at North Central College (go Cardinals!).  I had been studying Japanese for nearly a year already and hoping I might get another chance.  NCC had a fully funded sister program with Nagoya Gakuin in Nagoya - one place only for ten applicants. I knew I had to get it because I was destined for it.  This was MY TIME.  As a junior I wouldn't get another chance.  If I missed it, I'd graduate the next year, get a job and that would be that.  I put my heart and soul into the interview and waited confidently for a good result.

Sato-sensei, my Japanese professor, called me at work himself to tell me the news.
"I'm so sorry, John-san" he said.  In an instant the world went black.  I dropped the receiver, my hands shaking, tears streaming down my face in front of the dining room, the waiters and waitresses, the other bartenders.  Without a sound I took off my apron and walked out the front door...I was ready to die that night.
Three strikes and you're out.

Tommy King, my friend the waiter, saved my life.  He shoved me into his car and we drove downtown.  I don't remember much of the following desperate days other than vague recollections of me chugging pitchers of beer while standing on tables at Dick's Last Resort (we got thrown out of course) and possibly stealing a Pirelli off of a similar car in the early morning hours to fix Tommy's own flat tire. Thanks, Tommy, wherever you are.  I owe you my life.

When I got back to school Monday I had lost all motivation.  I had been a straight A student in Japanese and now I just didn't care. I would graduate in a year and forget Japanese just like I had forgotten the 6 years of French I aced in junior high school and high school.  Why bother?  Those were some of the darkest days of my life, marking time like a dead man walking, waiting for my coffin to close.

A week later Sato-Sensei called me in for a one-on-one.  He asked me to apply again.  I refused.  He begged me.  He told me he would write my recommendation letter himself.  He told me how much he believed in me, and how he could feel how much I loved Japan and wanted to go.  At his insistence, I applied to Kansai Gaidai in Osaka.  Sato-Sensei, if there is a heaven, you are in it.

Needless to say, it worked.  I was accepted.  I spent 1991 in Osaka and have never looked back since.  I am writing this post happily from Yokohama, surrounded by my wife, children and in-laws, having had the adventure of a lifetime here in Japan.  I've now been here for more than half my life, and I intend to stay.  Forever.

I will never forget touching down at Narita Airport that first time, 26 years ago.  I knelt down in the terminal and put my forehead to the floor.  After 10 years and 3 failed attempts --- I had finally made it.  My dream was my reality.  I knew, like I knew my own name, that I could achieve anything I ever really wanted to do.  In that moment, I became invincible.

Sometimes I still can't believe all this really happened to me.  I worry that I will wake up back in Chicago, back in an orphanage, back in foster care.  I won't.  I'm right where I'm supposed to be.

We all have dreams in our hearts.  I got mine for real.  You can get yours, too.
I know this. I've been there.  I've seen the deepest darkness when you are ready to give up, to let go.  I've also felt the incredible joy of achieving something everyone else told you you would never do, something you even doubted yourself about sometimes.  When I tell you your dreams can come true..Trust me.  I know.

DREAM BIG.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

From The Heart

There are camps and there are CAMPS.

There are camps where you work hard, train hard, hit hard, sleep little.  There are camps where you do endless drills - over and over again.  There are camps where you hardly experience the beautiful place you travelled so far to see - stuck in a gym or a conference room or a dojo.  There are camps which are highly commercial, with branded everything and gear for sale at every possible opportunity.  There are camps that promise you the impossible with pithy marketing slogans and cliche catchphrases.  There are camps where everyone keeps to themselves, taking whatever knowledge they can and giving nothing back.  There are "McCamps" which are basically roadshows of the same canned content done repeatedly city by city.

This ain't that.

Guro Claes said it this morning "I want to give you something from my heart".
Sifu James said it yesterday during the meditation "Smile from your heart".
Guro Fred said it during the Health conference "Don't worry so much".
Guro Lila is basically a great, big walking, talking SMILE.  Everything she says is pure sunshine.

There are so many camps in so many places all year round.
Why come to this one?

Simple, it's FROM THE HEART.
There is no ego on display, no hidden agenda, no ulterior motive.
Just sharing. From the heart.

In every single class, from every instructor, you can feel the commitment to sharing.
Guro Fred, Guro Lila, Guro Claes, Sifu James spend all year preparing material for this camp.
Guro Claes comes ready to take us deep into the heart of what he's learned from a lifetime of study with the very best in the world of FMA.  Guro Fred and Guro Lila spend all year researching and developing new training techniques and drills designed to take us higher than before.  Real cutting-edge stuff (pun intended).  Sifu James offers us a glimpse into who we could be if we had his dedication to the Tao - a beautiful intersection of martial, art and spirituality.

The guest instructors as well put heart and soul into the special classes, giving everything they have for us, sharing their passion for their arts and showing us their "secret sauce".  Every day we get to have great fellowship with people from around the world who love what we do, just like we do.

Guro Fred talked to us about the 100% and why it is so much better than 80%, 90% or even 95%.
This camp is proof of that.  IT'S 100%.

There are some good camps out there.  This ain't that.
This camp is ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC!

It's always over way too fast, so let's be grateful for this time together and appreciate all the energy that goes into it - the energy we give and the energy we get.  We are very lucky indeed.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

The Art of Surrender

The Peaceful Warrior Camp is amazing for so many reasons: the great, intensive training (with some of the world's best instructors), the high energy of the participants, the positivity, the deep dives into specific areas of study, the conferences on health, personal development and spirituality, the guest instructor slots, so much more.

One of the many things I look forward to each camp is the chance to reconnect with my global "Kali Family" who I don't get to see and train with as often as I'd like.  When we do get together, it's always great training, great fellowship and great conversations.  I learn so much.

Last night we got onto a very important theme at the dinner.  What do we really want our students to learn?  Techniques? Morality? Physiology? Health?  All of these things are surely very important for our personal growth.  However, said another way, it can all be the Art of Surrendering.

What does it mean?

We are FIGHTERS, Southeast Asian Martial artists who dedicate a lot of time and attention to becoming good at what we do.  We don't surrender right?  We train so that we don't have to, right?
TV and movies and coaches (and even our parents/friends) all encourage us to "Never Give Up", but is that really true?

The more we meditate, the more we do yoga, the more we practice our martial arts, the more we get in tune with ourselves.  We come to learn our skills and limitations (sometimes painfully).  We strip away the illusion; the ego so we can see into who we really are.  Without this, there is no growing.

As well we learn to live in the moment, to accept The Now for what it is, and to accept that we cannot change the world outside ourselves, we can only change what is within.  This profound wisdom is the cornerstone of living efficiently --- that is, spending our attention and energy on what we can influence or change and not wasting it worrying about the things we cannot control.

This is what it means to Surrender to The Moment.  We allow things to transpire as they must, and we don't try to fight the inevitable.  Instead, we look for the positives and try to align ourselves with the tide and "go with the flow".  Standing in the ocean here in beautiful Pranburi, Thailand, it is easy to test this theory.

We punch and kick the waves but they keep coming.
We swing our sticks at the waves but they keep coming.
We scream and yell at them but still they keep coming.
Eventually, we relax and let the waves gently push us ashore, rather than crashing into us.
We let go of the illusion of control and instead we enjoy the moment for what it is - our connection to the sea and to the planet and to each other.  We feel peace.

So much in life is just like this.

A famous zen monk said "the secret of fighting is that there is no victory. You can neither win nor be beaten."  What did he mean?  When we surrender to the moment, the outcome becomes irrelevant.  We do what we must and the result becomes what it must be.  In doing so, we no longer have a fear of losing control.  We accept we were never in control anyway.  We no longer fear death.  We are all dead eventually anyway.  We focus only on living fully, surrendering to each moment as it comes in order that we can understand it with a fresh perspective and no prejudgment, appreciating the beauty of it every single time.  We feel our life is precious precisely because we know it could end at any moment and the vulnerability of surrendering opens up new ways of being for us.

It is said that everything in life is about "Letting Go", which is also the art of surrendering.

Don't worry, everything will be just fine.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Advanced Techniques

(thanks for the inspiration Guro Claes)

So, here we are in Pranburi, Thailand, at a beautiful resort for the annual Peaceful Warrior Camp, a celebration of health, development, training and sharing with each other.

It's a big bucket of magic.

I arrived a few days early, and since Guro Claes and Team Viking were already here, we started training at 0630 on the beach.

Guro Claes started us out every day with single stick movement drills for the TDF ladies, who joined us for the first hour or so every morning.  After they left to do Tahitian Dance we continued.  Guro Claes built on the foundation movements that we introduced to them, solo sinawali/sinawali 6 variations, Karenza basics, hip rotations/irimi.

These may seem like simple movements.  They aren't.  We quickly switched from single to double stick drills, added redondo, hirada, circular stepping and other variations.  These patterns led us into the afternoon trainings in Espada Y Daga (sword and dagger) and intricate knife/knife drills, Numerado, all flowing from the same base. It's all connected.

This is not to say that the basics only exist to fuel subsequent, more complex patterns.
Even on their own, these basic drills continue to have merit as cornerstones of our FMA movement which we want to commit to muscle memory.  Although we may feel we have seen these movements before, we have to keep asking ourselves "Have we squeezed out every bit of understanding we can from each drill?"  If the answer feels like "yes", maybe we need to reconsider if we truly understand the movement or not.  Probably not.

As Guro Claes pointed out, entire systems could be built around applications of Sinawali 6 or Solo Sombrada, adjusting for different fighting distances, attacking/defending angles, weapon lengths and so on.  The key is to encourage and develop deep, deep understanding of each movement rather than just a superficial understanding of many.  As Bruce Lee famously said "Do not fear the man who has done 10,000 kicks.  Fear the man who has done one kick 10,000 times."

Every single drill has so much that can be extracted it's always possible to go back and find something new.  Once we start combining elements of different movements we create entirely new ways of drilling.  It's truly limitless.  The basics become advanced, and the advanced lead us back to the basics again.

I'm really looking forward to the rest of the week, and then to sharing with everyone the various concepts we worked on this week.  I'm sure you will find it just as rewarding as I have.

Pugay!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Atari!


(thanks for the inspiration Edwin and Sea)

Note the GIF video above.  It shows a basic sword-taking technique from aikido; part of a series called Tachidori (太刀取り).  These techniques (including Tantodori) are part of the black belt level curriculum in many Aikido styles.  As one of my friends pointed out "any reasonable swordsman would have cut the other down".  Very true.  As part of modern practice, the tachidori techniques help aikidoka learn proper fighting footwork as well how to enter, make contact, and remove the weapon - something which cannot be learned or understood just with empty hands.

At the same time, even done smoothly, as above, it doesn't look like it works with anything other than a very compliant sword-wielding partner.  Unfortunately, this is true of much of the aikido repertoire, for a variety of reasons.

When I look at this GIF, I see a very different series of movements "hidden" inside it.  I see a very ballistic Tai Atari (body to body strike) followed by a savage elbow combination as the turning entry is done (if the opponent is still standing).  At that point, the sword is relatively easy to remove.  With good timing, the entry is under the sword and directly into the ribcage.  Otherwise, it is hip to hip, with the elbows delivered into the centerline sternum or face.  Look at the GIF again. Can you see what I see?

Just as when watching traditional Balinese or Filipino dance, or Okinawan karate kata for that matter, there is a skill in being able to see the fighting technique behind the motion, the way that the movements can be used to disrupt the other's structure and balance.  Observing and interpreting movement is the basic for the animal styles found in many styles of Kung Fu, Silat, and other Asian martial arts.   Often times the original technique is not taught for safety reasons, or simply because the teachers themselves have never understood the deeper application.  While battlefield combat is (thankfully) not a likely event for most of us in modern times, the original techniques certainly did not assume a compliant adversary.

Tai Atari (体当たり) as shown above are some of my favorite aikido movements.  Striking with the body is a devastating way to move the opponent off position and off balance.  These techniques are usually applied with the hips, shoulders or side of the body, driven ballistically against the opponent's hips or chest, preferably by moving forward when the opponent closes distance causing a "car crash" effect.  The resulting impact is often enough to knock the opponent off their feet and/or to the ground, regularly winding them in the process.  In some cases, the impact and crash is enough to crack the pelvis/ribcage and cause severe internal injury.  It is difficult (and painful) to practice this.  Old schoolers used to do tai atari against a strong tree trunk, a training drill emulated by some Judoka.

In traditional swordsmanship Tai Atari was considered a killing move, and one which would not even grant the opponent the dignity of being cut down.  One which would be delivered almost with disdain.  Minamoto Musashi writes,

"The Body Strike means to approach the enemy through a gap in his guard. The spirit is to strike him with your body. Turn your face a little aside and strike the enemy's breast with your left shoulder thrust out. Approach with a spirit of bouncing the enemy away, striking as strongly as possible in time with your breathing. If you achieve this method of closing with the enemy, you will be able to knock him ten or twenty feet away. It is possible to  
strike the enemy until he is dead. Train well.

He was not wrong.  As he says "Train well."

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Greatest Hits

As many of you already know, the Kali Majapahit system is built on a rotating curriculum that changes every 3 months.  In each class we do at least 3 different subsystems including single/double sticks, empty hand/knife defense, boxing/kickboxing.  This variety allows us to stay fresh and current with a wide variety of material.

In this cycle we are working on knife defense as one of the sub-systems.  Knife defense is always a tricky subject since in reality the outcome can vary based on a lot of factors including the amount of time the fight itself lasts (longer is worse).  For background, I began to look at statistics compiled from actual knife attacks including those on the street and in prisons ("shankings").

Of about 1,000 recorded knife attacks, they have a lot in common, but rarely seem to follow the common angles of attack (angle 1 and angle 2) that are taught in most FMA styles - even less the kinds of attacks shown in other arts like Aikido/jujitsu/karate/hapkido and so on.  In  a majority of cases the attacks lasted less than 20 seconds and involved the attacker using their free hand to grab or hit while the weapon stabbed repeatedly at different angles like a sewing machine.  It was obvious that no one of any skill level could successfully block all the attacks since some assailants were able to deliver more than 50 stabs in a 20 second span. In many cases, attacks were delivered from the back or a blind angle and involved multiple attackers.  These are all very low percentage survival situations for the victim, regardless of training, strongly suggesting "unfair" fights where the odds are heavily in favor of the attacker(s).

Those victims that survived seemed to have a few things in common:
1) Determine early that a knife/weapon is involved (many did not even know they had been stabbed until afterward)
2) Secure the weapon hand
3) Protect the vital organs (limit stabs to the outside of extremeties)
4) Deliver successive attacks back to the assailant as quickly as possible

This got me thinking that a lot of the flowing styles of knife control/disarms are great for training but may be very hard to execute under pressure on the street, particularly if the knife is not seen beforehand.

In our R.E.D. training, we emphasize alertness/awareness and keeping a protective space around us at all times, which I believe is critical.  The most successful fight is the one you avoid.

Secondly, I am becoming a believer that the first hit tends to decide the fight, especially if the first hit is a decisive one (delivered with force and intent).  In short, the first best hit wins in a majority of cases - knife or not.

In other posts I have discussed the importance of atemi ("striking") in traditional Japanese arts I studied, and as time goes on I am further convinced of the need to develop very fast, hard-hitting striking as a key to surviving violent encounters.  In order to be the one who walks away, you must get to the opponent first - delivering maximum impact repeatedly until the situation is resolved, overwhelming the opponent until they can be controlled.

From an ethical standpoint, these strikes need not be injurious hits (a strong slap to the face can be disruptive as well) but they must necessarily be forceful enough to disrupt the attacker's concentration and switch them from offense to defense, where they can be kept until overwhelmed/subdued.

In "Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere", Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook's seminal study of Aikido, they write about the "Unified Power of Attack" or UPA as a combination of physical, mental and technical elements that form an attack.  It is this UPA which must be disrupted for us to survive an encounter.  The sooner we can do this, the better our chances.

To me, this means that effective training must involve lots of hitting practice.  That practice needs to be from positions of stability both stationary and in motion, and delivered with good body mechanics (engagement of the hips/core, rotation of the shoulders, arm extension, focus).  I think it is also good to spend a lot of time not just on reaction drilling, but also hitting the heavy bag and conditioning the arms and body to delivering impact.  I personally find the the more I hit, the harder I hit since I become accustomed to transferring my maximum energy into the bag every time.

For all encounters, a good rule is to "Get there First with the Most".

 

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Recipes



Please note the above.  Jacques Pepin is a master chef.  Like any master, his skill and insight transcends a single discipline to be universally true of any body of knowledge.

In the video above, he describes the process of making a recipe for carmelized pears, explaining clearly that the goal of a recipe is not to follow the set of instructions to the letter per se, but to recreate the "taste" of a dish.  Doing so requires adjustments due to each variable, condition and circumstance involved each time it is cooked.  This is ART.  All art, every art, involves a sender who shares an experience of the senses with the receiver(s) and can change based on context.

Martial art is no different from this.  At one end of the spectrum, aikido, the way of harmony, creates an experience of "connectedness" between shite and uke - a kind of physical dialogue or moving partner meditation.  As we become more "martial" and less "art", the experience changes to become less cooperative and harmonious.  Nonetheless, performing martial arts techniques creates a result on the receiver - usually involving them becoming unable or unwilling to continue the fight.

Teaching martial arts is not different from teaching cooking (or painting or any other art).  Instead of recipes we have sets of techniques, combinations and drills designed to highlight, illustrate and enhance certain skills of the student.  In reality, these techniques are all subject to changes based on the characteristics of the participants, the terrain, the lighting, the environment and a myriad of other factors. Every fighting encounter is different, just like every time making a dish is different.  Achieving the right outcome is mostly about reading the situation and making the necessary adjustments - that comes from lots of training and experience.  As Pepin explains, following the recipe exactly to the letter would be a disaster.  In retrospect it would be naive to think that following the instructions exactly could have a good result without regard for different conditions.  Yet, we all know many arts that seek total precision in the repetition and imagine that such control can exist outside the dojo.  While this can be an admirable goal for kata, it is not practical (nor possible) in a dynamic, unrehearsed situation.

Among all the martial arts I have seen, Kali is unique and individualized.  By design it allows for each kalista to make the techniques his/her own expression of FMA concepts and principles.  We are free to explore and discover, to create our own unique flow or "taste".  It really cannot be any other way.  The recipes are guidelines, nothing more.  Focus on the flavor and taste rather than the specific process.  Use these techniques as learning tools and examples rather than pre-programmed outcomes.

"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."  -  Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure