Monday, December 04, 2017

Home Improvements

This is my sword rack.  There are others like it but this one is mine.

It sits on my bookshelf just opposite the door of my home office (aka "man cave").  To many, it would seem like just an ordinary piece of furniture, although I doubt you can find one at IKEA (not even here in Japan).  The two drawers are functional and meant to hold items like sword-cleaning kits, obi and the like.  The pulls are little lions with sparkling stones for eyes.

In fact, this sword rack is very special, and extremely important to me.  I think, apart from my wedding ring it might be the most sentimental thing I own (followed very closely by my KM Barong, shown in the lower slot of the rack).

I got this sword rack as a Christmas present from a fellow student at the time, Mark Tome, back in 1985 or so.  Mark studied Ninjitsu with me in suburban Chicago.  He was everything I was not - tall, lithe, limber and quiet.  He had a background in Taekwondo and naturally took to the kicking elements of our art, just as he naturally felt at ease with the sword, almost like he had been born to it.
Other students came and went, but Mark was a constant part of our small inner circle at the school, rising steadily through the ranks.

Mark lived on the far south side of Chicago, near the Indiana border.  Many nights he would drive out to the West suburbs to pick me up so we could go to class together, dropping me off after before heading back home.  Long drives in his little car with no heater or air conditioning, with a lot of time to discuss Life, martial arts, and all our other hopes and dreams.

Mark learned woodworking from his father, and had great talent in other crafts as well.  One year he made these for each of us, some stained or varnished in brown, some in black lacquer and mine, the only one in blonde.  We were all simply stunned that he could make not just one of these beautiful pieces - but one for each of us.

For many years it was always directly at the head of my bed wherever I was, Daisho on it with handles in easy reach.  The third slot usually held a Jo.  When I left the US for Japan permanently in 1993 the stand was the only piece of furniture I kept.  I sold or donated everything else.

This stand has been with me from Chicago to Des Moines; to Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, Singapore, and now here in Yokohama.  For the past 30+ years it has gone with me through all my adventures, a constant companion and reminder of those training sessions in Chicago when we were all younger and I dreamed of what a life in Japan might be like.

I wonder where the other stands are and what happened to them.
Have they had adventures like mine?

Mark, if you're out there, I want you to know that your gift has never been forgotten.  It may have been ordinary to you, but it has always been precious to me.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Chronicles

It started in 2005 with a question.
 
We were training in Yoshinkan Aikido from 5:45 AM at the Roppongi dojo.  Chris and I had asked Mike, a former Senshusei participant and instructor at Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo, for a semi-private lesson.  He agreed to teach us, albeit with a few conditions:  1) class was from 5:45 - 6:45 AM on Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays.  note: the "regular" class was from from 7:00 - 8:00 AM and sometimes we ended up joining that one after as well.  2) No debate, no discussion. We do as instructed 3) we learned "the old way". Hard. No shortcuts, no complaints. 

Fine by us (or so we thought until we actually had to do it) .
Those were VERY EARLY MORNINGS, but filled with energy and good training.
I miss it.

One of the regular participants from 7:00 was a timid, shy Japanese girl, Saori.  She wondered why, arriving so early, we were already there and training.  She asked if she could join.  We told her the same conditions would apply.  She accepted.  I saw her test for 3rd degree black belt a few years ago --- well done Saori-sensei!  She may be many things, but timid and shy are no longer among them.  She is powerful, confident and a great martial artist.

But I digress... questions were asked during class.  Some of these were fundamental questions about the aikido principles and theory that are not easily answered without interrupting the training for lengthy discussion.  In our class we drilled.  Hard.  Constantly.  There was no time for lecture. Given my background in both Aikikai (1987 - 1989) and Takeda-Ryu Aikijujitsu (1995 - 1998)  I was by no means an expert in Yoshinkan, but with many years  combined of traditional Japanese martial arts including Iaijutsu, Kenjutsu, Ninjutsu as well as aforementioned aiki styles I was confident I could answer some basic questions about the principles and objectives - just not during class.

VOILA - this blog was born.

12 years later I have almost 450 posts and have had more than 72,000 page views.  My training focus has changed, but my blog remains the chronicle of my journey.  In it I have tried to detail what was important to me along the way, drawing inspiration from teachers, students, peers, friends and current events.
All of this through the lens of a martial artist.

It would be a lie to say I am not proud of it -  my blog represents everything of value I could document in which I have tried to tackle timely, relevant questions and observations from the past 12 years of my journey.  I started writing it for others, but ultimately I have written it really for myself - focused on the topics I wanted to cover.   I hope others have gotten value from it as well.

I strongly encourage every student to write their own martial arts blog.
It is a great way to document your reflections, learning, questions and growth through your journey.  It is a great way to push yourself to see the world through your "martial eyes" and find inspiration from every day happenings.  I often find myself reading old posts and remembering the training that inspired them, reflecting on my understanding at the time.  Have my opinions changed?  Of course they do, but it is interesting to be reminded of what I thought at the time.

The blog can be a great place to record your thoughts, post videos, write questions and comments and generally stay engaged with your training.  Mine has become a kind of "life work" and a treasure beyond my expectations.

Thank you for reading it.
 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Carenza - The Dance Of Life and Death


note --- above is Manong Cody Chilson of FCS, who visited Japan last year with Tuhon Ray Dionaldo.

Carenza - or blade dancing - is an important part of the Filipino Martial Arts.  It is often called "The Dance of Death", but can be a great way to improve our daily lives as well.

1) History and Culture
Carenza (also Karenza, Carrenza, etc) has its roots deep in the warrior movements practiced across the Philippines.  Until very recently, specific techniques were rarely written down and, unlike traditional Japanese/Chinese/Okinawan/Korean martial arts, kata (forms) have been eschewed in favor of drilling and sparring.  As well, since martial arts were forbidden under colonial rule of the Spanish, many training concepts were embedded/hidden in traditional Filipino dancing (Sayaw), just as they are in Indonesian/Malay traditional dances, Thai dances, Vietnamese dances and are even found across the globe in arts like Capoeira's Ginga. Even the well-known Tinikling, of bamboo dance, has important uses as part of training footwork patterns for fighting (note the high-stepping replacement footwork in the video).  Carenza is usually done to music and as a general rule they are unscripted, just like shadow boxing. 

There are also suggestions that Carenza was used before battle (tribal fights or individual duels), similar to the Maori Hakka, as a way of intimidating the enemy with a show of physical and martial prowess designed to strike fear into enemy ranks and bolster the defenders' courage.  These pre-fight displays are common in the animal kingdom as ways of establishing and maintaining social hierarchy and found in human culture across civilizations.

2) Training Uses and Benefits
Carenza is also often considered a form of FMA "Shadowboxing", and as such has many of the same benefits as western shadowboxing.  Namely, it improves the look and feel of our flows by adding to our fluency of motion, helping us chain together various movements in order to become smooth and connected.  I consider 3 levels of training/visualization in Carenza.  Also, akin to skipping rope, good Carenza provides cardio and, when using heavier sticks, strength training for the arms and core.  Inclusion of abanico/witik movements helps increase the range of motion of the wrists and adds to their flexibility.  Carenza is often done with single stock, but can be practiced with any/every weapon or combination such as Espada / Espada Y Daga, tomahawk, karambit and so on.

Carenza is often done solo, but can be performed with a partner, where both show their flow dance-off style to see which person exhibits the best combination of technical mastery, physicality and intensity. 

A) Practicing Basic Movements/Chaining
At its simplest, Carenza is a way to work on basic striking angles and connect them together.  Starting with 6 basic angles, adding to 10 angles, and creating random combinations to connect the attacks.  Hits can be practiced in broken and full lines with varying tempos.  Wrist rolls and changing hands are important parts of the Carenza as well. Other add-ins can then be included such as redondo, abanico, dunga, doble, Amara.  Footwork patterns are added as well including male/female triangles, replacements, pivots and the like.  We start to change from high line to low line (one or both knees down), which works the legs and reminds us to stay coiled and low when we move.  We practice our elastico footwork 1-step and 2-step, exploring how to open and close distance between corto/medio/largo.  The live hand can simulate checking/passing/grabbing/striking as part of the flow. 

B) Application and Visualization
Intermediate to advanced Carenza includes not only continuous flowing, but also fighting application and visualization.  Now, rather than just swinging the stick,  we imagine the attacking angles and how to respond to them.  We think about ranges (largo, medio, corto) and about principles (passa/contradas) and about positioning (point up/down) and this begins to affect how our body and weapons move.  We start to visualize attacking patterns and our responses and chain them together in meaningful combinations, burning these responses into our muscle memory.  In two-player Carenza, the goal is to flow off of the opponent's movements, in effect "countering" how they move and vice versa.  This is intended to convey to the opponent that "anything you try to do I am ready and can counter you".

C) Intensity and Focus
Carenza is also a good way to practice intensity and focus.  Rather than just moving body and weapon together, we can work on the gaze and projection of our aggressive intent.  As I have mentioned in other posts, training ourselves to be bold and assertive is not only essential for survival in combat, but for success in other aspects of our lives as well.

3) Closing
Like all of our training, what we put in is basically what we get out.  How we move and flow with our weapons and our bodies is in direct correlation to the quality and amount of time we practice.  Carenza is a great way to build our skills and should not be ignored as a training method.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Slap

(thanks for the inspiration KJ)

Q: What did the five fingers say to the face?
A: SLAP!

Lately, as we explore the various expressions of Sinawali 6 using our empty hands - specifically outside, inside and split entries, the topic of different strikes comes up in class.  Is it better to hit using a closed fist or open hand?

Open hand hitting has a lot of advantages versus striking with a closed fist.
As I have suggested in my blog before, I think that using the open hand can be a very viable and effective self-defense option.  In fact, I think many martial artists do not fully appreciate the devastating power of this striking tool.

The "Iron Palm" Tradition
Various internal martial arts focus on the palm as a striking tool and involve specific training in breathing and conditioning together with chi kung to increase the striking power and effectiveness.  Notable practitioners of this "Iron Palm" training include Brian Gray. Body hardening is found in many martial arts dating back to Indian yoga traditions even older than Shao Lin Kung Fu, as well as Okinawan Karate's Sanchin, Silat's Tarikan Tenaga, Muay Thai conditioning and others.  Some employ lotions or creams to strengthen the body (dit da jow, etc.) and some FMA even use holy talismans or other animist/spiritual magics to toughen the body or avoid injury.  That said, good, strong slapping can be done by amost anyone without additional conditioning.

The Striking Surface
For me, open hand slapping is best done across the palm surface (NOT the fingers).  I do not advocate striking with the fingers themselves, since the knuckles can flex/bend and cause hyper extension injury to the striking hand.  Instead, I advocate hitting with the pad of the palm all the way down to the palm heel, where the hand joins the wrist.  This surface is padded and yields strong impact force on contact.  In karate, palm heel strikes are well-known as among the most devastating hits.  The slap presents a broad surface area which often hits with palm heel and palm pad at the same time to two different areas (mastoid process and ear canal, for example).  It is likewise easy to transition strikes from palm heel to tegatana (knife edge) which are also delivered with an open hand and are devastating in their own right.

Key Targets
Palm heel hits in karate are often done as an option to the straight punch, aimed vertically under the nose/chin or horizontally at the ear.  Contrary to urban myth, it does not seem possible to palm heel nose cartilage into the brain via the nasal canal, although Hollywood seems to love this one.

I suggest that the open hand slap works very well against the side of the head including the ear, the temple, the mastoid process/jawline or even the orbital cavity.  Palm strikes to other soft tissues like the neck or groin are also effective, especially when using the palm heel.  I also like the slap or palm on the low line, particularly to turn the knee or change the direction of the hip line as a setup for other hits.

Opinions are divided on the use of the slap or palm against the rest of the torso including liver/spleen, sternum, plexus and the like.  I have heard some masters describe dim mak strikes delivered with the palm strike to the chest and designed to stop the heart, much like using a defibrillator on someone NOT having a heart attack.

The closest realistic variant of this is usually delivered with the knife edge strike and known as the brachial stun, applied to the brachial nerve line/auricular nerve line between the neck and the shoulder.

Training and Practice
Like all techniques, good training is done in several different ways.  I like to explore options during class, looking for places where the technique can fit into my flow.  Separately it's good to practice striking with power and intent on the heavy bag or with the focus mitts.  Make sure to keep your arm in from of your body when hitting, in order to avoid possible damage to shoulder and chest.  Slaps can usually fit in anywhere a hook punch would be used.  Be creative.

See you at class.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Area 51

Well, that's it.  I'm 51 today.

It's been an amazing year, over far too fast.  As always, I've met a great bunch of people and tried my best to make a difference while I am here. 
This year was truly a year of changes.

It was great to see messages from people all over the world wishing me well today.  It is both humbling and gratifying to think our lives are so connected.  Thank you for thinking of me, even for a moment.

Personally, my health is good and I find it hard to believe that a year or two ago I could hardly walk due to osteoarthritis in both knees.  Now I feel better than ever.  Ultimately I tried a series of injections into my knees, which at the time didn't seem to be working.  However, over a few months things improved and now they both feel good as new - without surgery.

Our Kali Family continues to strengthen, with several students preparing for their Kadua Guro tests next year.  They continue to impress me with their knowledge and dedication, each of them bringing new perspectives to what we do.  We have had some new joiners as well who are diving in with passion and energy.  Most importantly, we are using what we learn to make our daily lives better - to become who we want to be, conquering our fears and uncertainty and freeing ourselves to face new challenges.  Since last year I got chances to train with a lot of incredible martial artists, including a great training week at Peaceful Warrior Camp 2017.  See you in Phuket in March 2018!!  I can't wait!!

Professionally, the year ends with hope.  I resigned from my job and now have some time to carefully consider next steps.  Faced with being marginalized, I chose a higher path and sought better opportunity elsewhere.  This is what I advise my students to do, and I am glad that I could overcome my inertia and worries and do the right thing - look for a place where my background and experience could be more fully utilized to help our customers.  A new chapter will start for me in 2018 and I am very excited.  Salesforce was a strong beginning, and I will always be grateful to my Ohana for their encouragement and support.

Overall, despite the obstacles, this has been the best year EVER! Onward and Upward!!

There will be family time and travels before the New Year, both of which are treasures for me.  I'm looking forward to what 2018 can be. 
I'm looking forward to sharing this journey with you.

Thank you for your constant support and encouragement.

Osu!! 

Inayan System of Eskrima

On Halloween weekend we were given a very special treat.

Together with our friends at Shin Kali, we hosted the first Japan visit by Suro Jason Inay, Grandmaster of the Inayan System of Eskrima.  It was an amazing two days jam-packed with training drills, history, application and more.  I can't wait for the next one.

Kali-Majapahit stickwork is strongly influenced by Inayan Eskrima, including drilling of Cabca, Sinawali and Serrada, and it was a great opportunity to learn directly from the source.

About Suro Jason
Suro Jason is the son of legendary Eskrima master Mike Inay who, together with GM Angel Cabales, is widely recognized as one of the founding fathers of FMA in America having jointly established the West Coast Eskrima Society (WES) in the 1970s together with Max Sarmiento.  During the Pinoy Diaspora, many Filipino immigrants settled in places like Hawaii, but California was also an extremely popular destination, particularly the Bay area and around Stockton.  Suro Jason grew up training in Eskrima with his father and other famous masters, affectionately called "Uncles" - a veritable who's-who of FMA royalty in America.  The Stockton Tradition is characterized by low, powerful stances explosive striking and blinding speed, now hardly found even in the Philippines. Students of this tradition are easily recognizable when they move.

Having become familiar with many prominent styles, his grounding is firmly in the Inayan family system, to which he has added additional structure and pedagogy.  Suro Jason spent many years as a professional bouncer and currently works as a fugitive retrieval investigator/agent.  Despite this pedigree, he is humble and genuine and brings a direct, no-frills practical approach to the family tradition.  ISE includes a variety of sub-systems, each designed to cope with a different set of fighting circumstances.  These include Dequerdas, Sinawali, Kadena De Mano, Espada Y Daga, Largo Mano and Serrada among others.  While we touched a bit on all of them, we spent a majority of the seminar training specifically in Inayan Serrada.

Serrada Sticks
Although Serrada can be done with almost any length of stick (some masters use sticks over 35"), it is typically shown using a shorter, heavier stick between 22-24" in length.  The stick is unique to the individual and should reach from the armpit against the torso along the arm to the base of the wrist.  This stick allows for superior mobility at the extreme close range where Serrada is considered most effective.  Longer sticks can be used if hip rotation, footwork and shoulder positioning is good.

Stance and Footwork
Serrada stances are low and grounded, weight onto the balls of the feet.  Older pictures of GM Cabales show his knees almost touching the ground. This improves the geometry of the blocking by lowering the center of gravity and "coils" the legs for explosive counters.  Serrada is a forward-moving style, ideally suited to dueling in close quarters and does not rely on backward or sideways steps to evade.  Rapid replacement footwork delivers the full body weight on impact and positions the hips and bodyline for optimal striking and defense.  Done properly, Serrada can receive full power strikes in rapid succession while keeping very close to the opponent.

Transitions
Much of Serrada is practiced with the single stick, however double stick, double dagger, espada y daga are all based on the same responses, as well as empty hands, flexible weapons and even the bankaw.  The cornerstone movements (3 responses to each of the 5 basic attacking angles) have universal application regardless of weapon type.

Training
Apart from the many and varied training drills that ISE uses, they are renowned for the "lock and block" method.  In this drill, the receiver stands his/her ground while the feeder attacks with a set of random attacks that the receiver must block or evade.  No counter attacks are allowed, and the drill increases intensity in accordance with the receiver's ability, pushing just past the comfort zone into a high stress, high intensity session.  At higher levels, the attacks are full speed, full power and completely unscripted.  The feeder also trains to find openings in the guard and touch points on the body or head.  All of us had a chance to experience this drill one-on-one with Suro Jason and it is a humbling experience.  Some may liken this to the flow sparring of Balintawak, however in my experience the speed and power of the attacks are very different.  Lock and Block develops not only timing and reflex, but also the unique ability of Serrada to get ahead of the attacking chain and reposition proactively for the next strike.  Even at the basic level this drill is done with both stick and empty hands variations.

Summary
It would be easy to label Suro Jason as simply "GM Mike Inay's son".  This would do a disservice to the more than 40 years of training and research he has done to take ISE even further than it was.  He brings unique, practical insights to his family art and delivers extremely dense information in every moment of the seminar.

Friends in the Los Gatos area, I am insanely jealous of your chance to train regularly with Suro Jason.  He is the real deal and a warm and considerate teacher fully dedicated to making his students better.

Find him. Meet him. Train with him.  Be grateful.

Further Info
http://www.inayan-eskrima.biz/
http://www.jasoninay.com/
https://www.youtube.com/user/InayanEskrimador

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Two Little Words

Another long day...another long week...
A long, crowded commute to the office for another day filled with meetings - meetings with co-workers; meetings with customers; meetings with visitors from out of town; lunches; dinners; drinks.
A long commute home thinking about all the things I have to do the next day, the next week, the next quarter...

Many of us spend our time thinking about what we "have" to do and who we "have" to meet.  We fill our calendars and day planners with to-do lists of tasks and meetings that never seem to end.  We feel a loss of control and get lost in the ebb and flow of our lives, caught in a never-ending rat race. But are we??

What if I proposed that we change two little words?
We change "have" to into "get" to?  What happens??

"Have to" takes away our control.  It leaves us victimized by our circumstances, burdened by responsibilities we never chose to bear.  It makes other factors our oppressors.  "Get to" expresses our rights and privileges.  It allows us to feel empowered by choice.

Now, instead of all the people I HAVE to meet, I think about all the people I GET to meet.  People I am able to spend time with.  People who can benefit me in many different ways.  Co-workers I can build a relationship with, where we can trust each other to do the right thing for our customers and help each other when needed.  Relationships I can build which I may carry forward for many, many years.  I get to meet customers who can help me understand the right combination of products and services they need to succeed.  Customers who can help me hone my service mentality to razor sharpness.  Customers who push me to be better and deliver more value.  I get to meet managers and leaders of other departments who can help me learn more about our company and what we do, and how we can work together better.  I get to meet people who inspire me for new ideas and vision about the Art of the Possible.

Instead of all the tasks I HAVE to do, what about considering them as tasks I GET to do?  Tasks that will help me develop my knowledge and skills, tasks that will help me find opportunities to collaborate with others.  Tasks that will help me develop patience and perseverance (yes, sometimes that's the best outcome we can hope for).  Tasks that can help me uncover my weaknesses or explore and develop new strengths.  Tasks that show me I am needed by others in order for our common mission to succeed.  Tasks that remind me how good it feels to be a part of something worth doing.

Every meeting I join can teach me something.
Every person I meet can teach me something.

I need to avoid the traps of negativity, and stay focused on positive outcomes rather than complaining about how busy I am or how many people demand my time.

Maybe by just changing a word or two I can change my outlook and connect to my Gratitude Attitude.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

YOU ARE HERE

You are HERE, right where you belong.

It's easy to fall into the twin traps of victimization or unworthiness.  On one hand, many of us (myself included) have times where we think "why me?".  It's like the Universe itself is conspiring against us to destroy our carefully laid plans, rain on our parade, or keep us from getting what we think we deserve.

Likewise, when good things happen we find it hard to believe that something special could happen to "someone like us" as though we do not deserve to have positive outcomes or to achieve our goals since somehow, deep in our hearts, we do not consider ourselves "worthy" or "lucky".

The truth, neither good nor bad, is that we are always right where we are meant to be.  When good things happen, it is important not to attribute them to simple blind luck, but to consider (and more importantly, to acknowledge) the positive impact our efforts and the efforts our supporters have had on our achievements.  Failing to do so robs us of our recognition that effort matters, effort is directly linked to outcome, and that cooperation is of paramount importance in accomplishing the things we set out to do.  We are products of our hard work, and also of other peoples' work on our behalf.

The victimization/persecution side is far more difficult.  It is easy to start believing everything and everyone is "out to get us".  The truth is that as much as I am a product of my hard work and the support of others, I am also a result of overcoming the many challenges I have faced - some of which have not resulted the intended outcomes.  Without those experiences, I could not have developed confidence in my ability to achieve.  Neither could I have learned some of the most important lessons I have been taught, much of which came from careful study of what happened when I thought I failed.

I think we are consistently faced with challenges that offer us opportunity to excel.  In doing so, we can develop a platform of successful habits and skills that over time give us the flexibility to conquer the unknown and to do so confidently, secure that come what may, we can find a way (with help, of course).  In the tough times, instead of thinking "why me?" I try to ask myself "what am I meant to learn from this?" and focus myself on taking away something of value from every situation - especially the ones which ended badly for me.

I am grateful for my experiences, good and bad, which have brought me to this point almost 51 years later.  I'm still here - exactly where I am supposed to be.  I hope I still have a lot more life left in me, and with your guidance and support, I want to keep challenging myself to be better than before.

Come along.  A journey worth taking is worth taking TOGETHER.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Motivational Speaking

(thanks for the inspiration Grinder)

Today a good friend suggested I become a motivational speaker or a life coach.  My response?

"I am. We all are".

Not trying to be glib here (well, maybe just a little bit).  My point is a simple one.  Everyone, that's right EVERYONE, is in their own way a motivational speaker or life coach whether they realize it or not.  We are all made up of a set of experiences and insights that have made us who we are.  Sharing this has the power to help others.  It is truly one of the greatest gifts we have.  Awareness begins with understanding our innate ability to influence others. Awakening is our acceptance of this responsibility we have and using this knowledge to improve the lives of others.

Everyone has a perspective or experience of value, and we all have the capacity to improve one another's lives.  Of course, going to see Tony Robbins (pictured above) is a life changing experience.  He has used this same power to build a brand and achieve his definition of success - notably from having been a janitor and not even graduating college.  Those academic things don't matter as much as many people think they do.  What's important is knowing we have something we can share, clarifying that positive message, and then actually breaking through our fear in order to use our message to help other people.

We all need not be on stage inspiring millions like Tony does.  We have the power to help through a kind word or action at a bus stop or in line at the supermarket - anywhere, anytime.  As well, we have the power to grow from the experiences of others if we listen, truly listen, to what they are saying.  I have been motivated and coached by literally thousands of people over the course of my 50 year journey.  Many of them didn't even know they were doing so.  Some were on TV or via YouTube or other media.  Hearing about their journeys inspired my own.  Sharing my stories is one way I can give back for all I've received.  My journey is far from over and I remain fully committed to helping other people until my time here is done.

Certainly some people inspire us about what we don't want to do or become - this is no less valuable than the positive examples.  In fact, sometimes it is our commitment to not repeat the mistakes of others or learn from our own mistakes that drives us to the greatest changes and improvements.  Sometimes it is sharing our experiences that empowers us to rise above our circumstances with a much deeper perspective we can pass on.

Knowing that we all have this power within us - the power to motivate and coach others - is a great equalizer.  It causes me to try to treat everyone with dignity and respect, since I recognize that each person can be of benefit to my understanding.  In the end, all most of us really want is to be respected.  Giving respect, especially to those who may have lost it for themselves, is a key to connecting.  We discount the poor, the old, the sick, the homeless at our peril - their stories often have the most value and their lives often have the greatest examples of courage and strength.

Henry David Thoreau writes "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
To me, this is why we must do our very best to connect to each other - for their sake as much as our own.  By connecting, we share. By sharing, we grow. By growing, we achieve.  This cycle of virtue helps give our lives meaning and purpose, leaving us with a richer outcome at the end.

Especially now, governments are working hard to divide us - to keep us from sharing with other and acknowledging our common core.  Please join me in resisting these attempts to break society apart.  Embrace what makes us human --- Compassion.  Open your heart to listen.  Open your heart to share.
Motivate and be motivated. 
I promise you can make a difference to someone, just as they can for you.

Making a difference is why we are here, after all.   

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Big Fun Down Under

What a fantastic week.

Salesforce sent me to Melbourne, Australia for a week of training, and I was very lucky to get a chance to train with extended family at the Melbourne Budo Academy in Fitzroy, quite close to the CBD.

The Academy is run by Sensei Jon Marshall, a 6th dan in Yoshinkan Aikido and oriental medicine practitioner/teacher.  He is highly ranked in other styles as well and has been a martial artist since childhood.  The Academy teaches a variety of Japanese martial arts and there's something (many somethings) for everyone.
If you can go there, DO.  It a MUST destination in Melbourne.

In our brief 90 minutes session I chose to explore the links between Kali's empty hand movement (Kadena De Mano) and aikido, a topic I introduced at Peaceful Warrior Camp in Thailand earlier this year.  It is an area very dear to my heart since it is where I first began to connect my own Japanese martial arts lineage to Kali and build the basis for "my flow".

I was lucky to have a room full of very high-level aikidoka, and their deep commitment to what they do was immediately evident.  They move with power and conviction, and that is the hallmark of both great students and a great teacher.

We started with the basic pattern of hubud lubud, a common drill used in FMA to build hand speed and coordination. There are many, many versions of this drill. The one I showed is similar to the video in the link above (final elbow control using pak sao instead of c-grip as they do). In the FMA, this drill is done with a variety of empty hand attacks, with blades, sticks and just about anything else.  For simplicity we stayed on the right side.

From this framework, we drill to improve speed and smoothness until the flow is an endless cycle with an established timing and rhythm between the partners. Then, we can start to find openings and entries.  My use of this drill is based on the classic aikido drill 手の取り (te no tori or "taking hands") which is again closely related to Hakka/JKD's chi sao or "sticky hands".

Some of the flows we introduced included hijishime variations, Juji nage, ikkajo, ude garame, shiho nage, shomen iriminage.  While in Kali Majapahit we use hubud as a framework to explore a lot of different styles including not just Kali but also Silat and Hakka Kuntao, in this short seminar I wanted to really demonstrate the fact that this drill can include entries for many classical Yoshinkan techniques as well.

Since RYA closed over two years ago, it's been some time since I crossed hands with well-trained Yoshinkan artists. Here's what I found:

1) Big Movements, Big Power
We worked hubud lubud from Yokomen Uchi, a common aikido strike.  This kept us from having to explain FMA striking angles.  In Yoshinkan, this hit is a big one with a full step.  It comes in hard with all of shite's body weight behind it.  This is good flow practice for FMA people to experience passing that power from hand to hand in hubud.  Fighting is about finding the optimum balance between strength and speed so that we move quickly but also can contact with authority.

2) Squaring Up
In Hubud Lubud we tend to stand with our hips square to the opponent, which makes it easier to get all weapons (especially left side hand/knee/feet) quickly involved.  For us it is a corto (close range/CQB) drill.  In aikido, it is more common to turn and present the side of the body.  This certainly adds hip rotation, but sometimes at the expense of delivery speed.  Something to consider.

3) Everything is a Weapon
In FMA, we use nearly every part of the body.  Any striking surface can be leveraged to get a viable weapon onto the attacker as quickly as possible.  This includes elbows, knees, head, bicep, tricep, calf, shoulder and a host of others.  In aikido, the strikes are standardized to punches and sword hand (shuto) so there is some interesting study in how to use other body parts within the same techniques. In showing the classic FMA lever takedown, we did variations using both the hand and the leg to get the same result.  FMA "adds spices" throughout the techniques, and there is always a place for an elbow, knee, headbutt, forearm smash or other add-in to help uke remain compliant if needed.  Yoshinkan has powerful atemi as well, and I am a big advocate of their use.

4) On Playfulness
FMA are usually learned through two key steps - drills and playing.  In the drills we get the basics and see some examples.  In playing, we experience the technique from both sides and put it into a wide variety of situations to see how to adjust it for the many variables that exist in martial arts expression.  For us this is critical since fights can happen under a diverse set of circumstances, needing changes to distance, timing, power or footwork based on terrain, available weapons, number of opponents and so on.  The playing is where we own the technique and make it part of our natural movement.

5) Attacking the Structure
In my Kali (Guro Fred, my teacher, spends a lot of time on this as well) we are principally concerned with how to disrupt the structure of an attacker.  This means seeking control over the head/neck/spine at the earliest opportunity and using them to minimize an attacker's strength and balance.  For every aikido technique, there is a similar process of taking uke's balance.  It is important to study these points deeply and fully understand the objective of each technique in terms of learning about the human body and how to control it.  "We move from strength to strength, balance to balance and move our opponents in the opposite manner from weakness to weakness."

6) Explore and Discover
These were my magic words to the class, encouraging them to go deeper and find their own connections.  The martial arts world is rich and vast with plenty of opportunity to find fresh new ideas.  I also appreciate the consistency and dependability of Japanese martial arts training, but I like it best when balanced with a Beginner's Mind and fed plenty of new information to absorb and apply.

7) It's ALWAYS about the People
Such wonderful, friendly, people.  Although Sensei Jon and I had never actually met in person before, he was incredibly open, kind and accommodating.  His students are busy professionals, but also charming and kind.  They have built a lovely Budo community there and support each other's learning and growth.  The positive energy in the Academy permeates the space.  I felt warm and happy at all times.

Melbourne is a beautiful city with classical European architecture, great coffee, a love of outdoors/sport, and top-shelf martial arts.  It was a tremendous honor to be able to share my life's work with my family there.  We'll meet again for sure.

OSU!!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Change Before You Have To

As seen on a t-shirt in a random Tokyo store window.
This one really caught my attention.

Change is scary.  Change is hard.  Most of us hate to change.
We are truly creatures of habit, habits which can make or break us.

Habit is even the subject of one of my favorite poems:

Who Am I?
I am your constant companion.
I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.
I am completely at your command.
Half the things you do you might just as well turn over to me, and I will be able to do them quickly, correctly.
I am easily managed - you must merely be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done, and after a few lessons I will do it automatically.
I am the servant of all great people; and alas, of all failures as well. Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a human being.
You may run me for a profit or turn me for ruin - it makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet.
Be easy with me and I will destroy you.
Who am I?

I AM HABIT.

I like the t-shirt quote because it strongly suggests that Change is inevitable, which I believe.  We cannot resist Change, at best we only delay it for a time.  Often we may be reluctant to change until the pain of change is less than the pain of not changing.Because of this I think it is far better to be proactive and initiate Change on our own terms before ending up in a situation where it is thrust upon us.

Accepting change and initiating it on our own also helps us remain comfortable with the concept that the world is in flux, and to be less surprised when even unexpected changes occur.  Complacency is truly the enemy or progress.  For relationships, too, complacency is often the beginning of the end, leading to situations where one partner or another (sometimes even both) feel taken for granted or underappreciated - often a prelude to breakup.

In business, it is the same.  In a very tearful interview post their acquisition by Microsoft, Nokia CEO stated "We didn't do anything wrong, but somehow we lost."
In retrospect, the world was changing and they chose to wait.  Kodak, among others, is a great example.  The death of 35mm film business did not catch them by surprise, but complacency and an unwillingness to embrace change led to the firm's rapid decline.

As a long-term veteran of the markets, I can also attest that whenever you are FORCED to take action, forced either to buy or sell, the price will never be as good for you as when you can choose your timing.  This applies not just to stocks and other financial instruments, but to cars, homes and any other assets as well.

In Martial Arts, not unexpectedly, it is the same.  Success can be summarized by denying choice of action to your opponent and keeping it for yourself.

Change is the only constant.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

I Choose You

(thanks for the inspiration KY)

Life is filled with choices.  Every day we have to choose from a variety of options.  It can be hard to choose, especially when the choice is between two options that both seem equally good or equally bad.  However, choices must be made for us to continue. Indecision is the enemy of progress.

In a perfect world, we would have full transparency and foresight, making the best possible decisions based on true and complete facts every time.  However, in reality it is rarely the case.  We make decisions based on emotion, with incomplete information or unreliable sources, and often experience regret not just from what we chose but from what we did not.

Most of the time, bad choices can be undone but sometimes it's not easy and sometimes undoing mistakes can be harder than just accepting a bad result.  It takes a lot of courage to admit you were wrong, and even more to actually do something about it.  Sometimes there is no reset button, although we all have times we wish there were.

I find the band aid principle works best.  If I know the band aid has to come off, I would rather get it over quickly than prolong the pain.  Waiting for things to get better, especially in abusive relationships, tends to empower to the abuser who rarely sees the need to change.  Often, these people are not even aware that what they do or say is considered abusive to their partner - they think they are just being open and honest.  However, strong relationships are supportive and encouraging, empowering both people to achieve more, not less.  As I get older, I become more convinced that fear is the biggest motivator in the lives of most of us. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of what others will think, fear of letting go, fear of losing control, fear of not being loved (or loved enough), fear of being alone.  The list goes on and on.  Healthy relationships are powerful because they help us let go of fear.  This frees us to become happy, and positive relationships are a cornerstone of happiness for healthy people.

Relationships, like most things, involve choices.  In most modern cultures we choose who to date, who to become serious with, who to marry.  We choose partners not just for their physical appeal (I hope) but also for the strength of their character, their reliability and their commitment to a future together.  Despite the relatively high (and growing) instances of divorce worldwide, I don't think anyone ever gets married expecting to get divorced (except maybe in California).

It's hard to make a permanent commitment to someone when we cannot predict how they (or we) will change over time. What is absolutely certain is that there WILL be changes, both to our partners and to ourselves, and this is to be expected.  Personally, I don't believe we have much power (nor much right) to change others.  The best we can hope for is to change ourselves; to allow ourselves to be inspired by those around us, including our partners, and truly strive to become better people.  Hopefully our partners will do the same.  It is possible to lose our way, or for our partner to lose theirs.  This is why compassion, forgiveness and understanding are so important in healthy relationships.  People are complex and a lot can happen along the way.

Marriage certificate or not, couples make a deliberate choice to be together - or not - every single day.  I have found that the small kindnesses every day are the ones we build relationships on.  Holding hands, sharing what happened during the day, going for a walk, having a meal together.  The little everyday things that occur in between life's big events.  These are more treasured memories for me than big vacations to exotic places because  they show that my partner has given me the most important thing she has - her time and attention.

In my case, I try very hard not to argue over the mundane - where to eat dinner or what color tablecloth to buy.  I try not to argue about money or religion or politics - there is nothing to be gained there.  When we disagree I try not to make it personal nor to carry forward any grudge.  I am absolutely against any form of domestic abuse, verbal or otherwise, from either partner.  Those wounds go deep and sometimes don't heal at all.  Moreover, when children are involved abusive relationships establish a precedent that these behaviors are "normal" and influence them to repeat those behaviors in their own relationships.  Many abusive people I have met are simply acting out the scenarios they experienced growing up.

I think it is important not to take our partners for granted and remember every day that our time on Earth is short.  Treasure every moment and learn to let the little things go - in the end, they are all little things anyway.  The Gratitude Attitude wins every time.

I remind myself every day that, given the chance, I would choose my partner again, every time.  This helps me feel constantly grateful by realizing she has made the same decision in choosing me every day, and that I am profoundly lucky.
Relationships are not always easy, and I remain humbled that despite knowing me so well, my partner can accept me - many flaws and all.  I promise to do my best every day to remain worthy of her faith and trust.  I know I have to earn it every day.  Complacency is the enemy of love.  Be vigilant.

Choose.  and Be Chosen.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

LOVE THE GLOVE

(thanks for the inspiration KMJ Students!)

If you know me, you know:
@ I love teaching
@ I love KALI
@ I love Boxing (especially Filipino Boxing)

For the last 30-40 minutes of each 2-hour class we either box or do Panantukan (Filipino kickboxing).  It is one of my favorite parts of the class and one of the most important - why?

1) Cardio and Breathing
It's a great cardio activity.  There are gyms which just offer this kind of training, but you get a "mini-session" of it included for free in every KMJ class.  This is great for letting off some steam, developing focus, and burning up calories.  We sweat A LOT, and that's good.  We also focus on breathing, timing, distance, rhythm, all of which are very important inside and outside a fight.

2) Aggressiveness/Assertiveness Training
I have posted about this recently, and I am a strong believer that aggressiveness/assertiveness are key traits that we need to learn to be successful in life.  This does not mean to be violent to each other per se, but we need to be able to "flip the switch" and use our strong willpower and aggressiveness in a self-defense situation since this can mean the difference between walking away and being carried away.  The boxing session is a great way to develop this in a controlled, safe environment.  We can "let the lion out" as well as experiencing this from our partners, which helps us maintain composure when others display aggressiveness towards us.

3) Self-Defense Applications
I love aikido, too.  In fact a large number of posts on this blog is focused on it. That said, good boxing skills are hard to deny in a self-defense situation.  I will not concede the importance of strong low kicks, nor of good joint-locking and throwing (both part of our KM curriculum, too).  However, as a conditioned response, a strong punch is very effective as a default.  If your students do not develop strong punching skills, it is hard to say you are teaching them good self-defense basics.

In KM we fight from a southpaw stance, and this can take opponents by surprise since many trained fighters are used to opponents in orthodox stances.

In our drills, we have many times where the puncher is under pressure or being touched by the pad holder during the round.  This  is very important since in real fights you will be likely touched by your opponents and need to maintain your focus and composure to keep moving and fighting.  Untrained fighters may stop if they feel a hit, and that usually ends in disaster for them.

We need to be comfortable being hit and continuing to fight back.

4) Muscle Memory
They way we drill is highly efficient, meaning lots and lots of reps in a very concentrated period of time.  This helps build muscle memory especially for foundation power punch movements like the cross and hook.  Muscle memory matters in self-defense since we know that "we fight how we train".  For the pad holder, too, it is practice on distance, timing and rhythm, which are key attributes for any fighter.

We also get a lot of time to practice our guards and covers, which are critical responses in self-defense.  We work on our blocks, elbow covers and foundation movements like dodge/parry/bob and weave, which can be lifesavers when needed.  These should also be part of muscle memory.

Since we also hit the mitts full power, we teach ourselves to punch using the entire body.  Some martial artists have been training for years and have never hit anything full force (heavy bag, mitt, opponent).  Light contact kumite point fighters are often guilty of training to just "light touch" each other, which is the wrong muscle memory for self-defense applications.

I prefer that we be conditioned from the beginning to hit full power in order that when the time comes (hopefully never), we can hit with everything we've got without any feeling of discomfort or awkwardness.

I really hope you love the boxing at least as much as I do and agree its importance as part of our training regimen.

FINISH STRONG!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Us and Them

(thanks for the inspiration George)

This might be my favorite spiritual quote ever.  This picture attributes it to Ramana Maharshi, but I have also seen it ascribed to Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the most prolific Buddhist authors and a personal favorite.

This particular quote led to a very engaging conversation with my 15 year old son, George.

I explained that this quote is deliberately designed to shock the reader into rethinking - to release the idea that others are separate from ourselves.  In Buddhism, the idea of non-duality ("advaita") is at the heart of realizing the connection between the Self and the greater reality.  It is the essence of recognizing that We Are One.

In a more practical sense, it is disturbing that so many notable political and religious figures base their doctrines on divisiveness, emphasizing the differences between us as a way to incite mistrust, fear and hatred.  In particular our current President is as much a master of the technique of the "invisible enemy" as Adolf Hitler was.  Hitler came to power in 1930s Germany by naming Jews responsible for Germany's post WW1 woes.  This lead to persecution and wholesale slaughter of all minorities who were not what he considered the Chosen Race. Stalin also used this technique to keep control of the USSR and the Soviet Bloc for decades.  Ho Chi Minh used it in Vietnam.  Mao used it in China.  Pol Pot used it in Camobida.  It was used by the IRA in Northern Ireland.  In the 1950s in America, Joe McCarthy used this same technique successfully to target suspected Communists and destroy their careers and families.  It was used in Bosnia.  It was used in Africa.  Donald Trump uses Muslims and Mexicans today for this same sinister racist goal.  This is evil and must be stopped.

Buddhism teaches us that there is no difference between others and ourselves, and the picture quote simply and elegantly reaffirms this.

Done, right?  Wrong.

George inquires "how can we all be the same?  what place does individuality have? If we are all the same why aren't we just clones of each other?"  Great questions.

It is true that we are all individuals in Buddhism, meaning that we are unique souls on unique journeys of self-discovery.  Each of us has a path that we must find through meditation and follow diligently if we are to progress toward allowing our true nature of enlightenment to emerge.

However, a central understanding we need in order to progress is an acceptance of the divine connection between all things.  Even though we are individuals, our souls are inextricably linked to each other because their essence and origin is the same as ours. We are truly One Tribe and although we may look different on the outside we are the same on the inside, and the deeper we go (from flesh to soul) the more the same we are.  It is a shallowness to categorize each other based on appearance.  With so many messages to the contrary, we need constant reminders that we are all connected so we can stamp out the seeds of hatred before they take root at all.

These days Diversity and Inclusion are big topics in the workplace.  Most good companies champion this effort, and many have taken great steps forward in establishing and reviewing policies in the interest of "fairness" for all employees.  This is sensible for those companies who wish to attract and retain the most talented employees of every demographic.  Making very public the message that all people are welcomed is an important first step toward reducing apprehension and promoting the openness that is needed to erase fear and develop mutual understanding.  This is a never-ending mission that needs our support.
Hate can never be allowed to persevere among us.

As Buddhists this is easily summed up in the quote on the picture.

"There are no others"

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Lion Is Needed


I liked this video and its powerful message. "you've gotta practice being bold."
Sharath Jason Wilson doesn't using the words "anger" or "aggressiveness" or "violence".  He keeps saying "assertiveness" which is a key attribute we develop in good martial arts training.

Assertiveness is essential in being able to take control of our lives and own the outcomes of our own destinies.  It's essential to act with purpose and conviction and to be able to drive forward when the going inevitably gets tough.  All of us need to learn how to tap into and control those strong emotions when the time is needed.

As he says "it's OK to be angry". Sometimes it is.  "if you never bring (the lion) out you'll never know how to control it when it comes out".  So true.  Many of us have trouble managing our anger.  We cannot "bring the lion out" with control.  Like young Brayden, we cry and shake with emotion and forget that the lion, although scary, is an essential part of who we are and needs to come out sometimes.

In our classes we box or kickbox every lesson.  This is our time to let loose, to let the lion out.  We hit the pads/mitts full force with everything we've got.  In addition to some good cardio it represents an emotional release.  We do this in a controlled environment to avoid injury, but we also get to experience the process and learn how to flip the switch and engage our assertiveness when necessary. We practice transforming from lamb to lion.

I like that this exercise is done with hugging, since it takes away the idea that assertiveness equates to violence.  We must be equally comfortable with expressing other strong emotions, especially LOVE (the most important emotion of all).  Learning to hug each other fully helps us feel comfortable in who we are and accepting of others.  Hugging is one of the most powerful enablers of positivism and much more hugging is needed in this modern world.  I like that this teacher is developing skills like respect and assertiveness in these young men so early - they have great futures ahead of them with such a good role model to guide them.  Find out more about how they are helping young men in Detroit here.

"We are called to be as bold as the lion"

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Right to the Point




It can be fun to watch drunk people try to fight bouncers.  Somehow they always think they can win, despite the fact that 1) they are usually drunk (or worse) 2) bouncers have training and deal with this stuff all the time and 3) bouncers usually work in teams.  Still it doesn't seem to stop morons from having a go.

Observing the clip above there are some great insights on boxing to be studied. Watch it again carefully...

Stance --- bouncer has a very compact guard.  Arms in; chin covered; relaxed. He is using a modified Shell or low hand guard stance which suggests he has had some boxing training.  His opponent is wild and open.

Defense --- when his opponent throws a wild hook to his head, the bouncer uses a pull, slightly leaning back to avoid the arc.  He is also covered partially by a left shoulder roll cover due to the difference in height.  The shoulder roll is a very common defensive option from the Shell/low hand guard.  He stays relaxed, hands in guard and his feet are firm and solidly planted.  From the wild hook, his opponent is left out of position and exposed to the counter.

Counter --- Right to the Point --- bouncer returns a short right, bang on the point of the chin.  End of story.  The hit is compact and thrown from close to his body, and he delivers it vertically along a straight line, akin to how we hit in hakka kuntao.  His feet and hips add to the impact force as he rotates into his return. Landing it on the point of the chin pops his opponent's head straight back causing a whiplash effect -> instant knockout.  He follows up and stands over the fallen opponent to make sure the encounter is finished.

That's some nice boxing right there.  The other guy will wake up with much more than a hangover, to be sure.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

what do you really want?

(thanks for the inspiration AK and K)

When I joined my first real dojo I was only 14.

I had been picked on at school relentlessly for 8 years already, teased, pushed around and beaten up nearly every day.  It got to the point that my Mom would drop me off in the morning directly in front of the school main gate where a teacher would escort me to class.  At the end of the day, I was let go 15 minutes early so I could have a head start and get almost home before the other kids could catch me en-route.  During recess or at lunch I always sat in view of a teacher.  Still, the kids that really wanted to hurt me found opportunities.
 
On the first day at the dojo, my teacher asked me "What do you want from the training?"  I replied "I want to get back at the kids who hurt me".  He looked at me gravely and said "That's not what you want.  What do you REALLY want?"

This dialog continued one way or another for the next 5 years.  From time to time, without warning, my teacher would ask me the same question.  He would say "John, you can get anything you want from the training, but you have to know what you want.  What do you want?"  Each time I would come up with a different answer to try to satisfy him.  Sometimes I wanted to be tough, sometimes I wanted to master a new technique or weapon.  Sometimes I wanted to be "the best".  Each time he would give the same reply "That's not what you want.  What do you REALLY want?".

The last time I remember this conversation he had asked me again, surprising me because he hadn't asked for a long time.  Caught off-guard I think I answered that I wanted a girlfriend (I was 19).  He said, as usual, "that's not what you want. What do you REALLY want?"  I paused, looked at him and said "I want never to be afraid."

He smiled.  After a moment he nodded his head and said "we can do that."

This year I will be 51.  I realized that he helped me get what I really wanted; what really mattered to me.

I have traveled all over the world, done exciting work, met and married a wonderful partner, raised two exceptional boys and made countless friends. Throughout this journey I was not afraid.  I was not afraid to ask difficult questions, not just of others but of myself.  I was not afraid to take risks and challenge my goals.  I was not afraid to speak my opinion and defend what I believe in.  I was not afraid to open my heart to others or to be vulnerable.  I was not afraid to laugh and cry and sing and dance.  I was not afraid to fail.  I was not afraid of what other people might think.  I was not afraid to step forward and become who I was meant to become.  I was not afraid to leave the past behind.

Fear is not just fear of dying.  It can also be fear of living.
Fear is not just fear of failure, it can be fear of success.

Thank you, my teacher, wherever you are, for helping me get what I really wanted.  This has made all the difference and brought me a life filled with gratitude.

What do YOU really want??

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cha Ching

(thanks for the inspiration Tata)

Running a martial arts group is a labor of love.  I have yet to meet an instructor who decides to teach martial arts because they think it is a clever get rich quick strategy (there are far better ones out there).

For some teachers, it is a means to an end, and they are willing to forego material things in order to live the life they want.  For others, financial success is often achieved through having a "Day Job" or through a grueling schedule of seminars and private training courses for military/law enforcement, which means nights and weekends away from home and family (and the dojo).  For some, a combination of all of the above.

The relationships in a traditional dojo were simpler in many ways.  Casual students would come and go, and serious students ("disciples") would live with their teacher or at the dojo - helping out and training daily as part of the extended family.  The Senshusei course in Yoshinkan Aikido where all my teachers attended and taught is one example.

Nowadays, running a dojo is basically running a business.  Running a business means CUSTOMERS, since there is not a single sustainable business without them. Running a business means sales, profits, margins, marketing, customer service and all the other elements of every other type of business - increasingly including online presence, mobile apps and social media as well.  At the same time, a dojo is not a sports gym, right?  Or is it??

As teachers we are (supposed to be)  committed examples of the virtues of martial arts training.  Especially in Kali Majapahit, which is about the holy trinity of martial arts, wellness and personal development.  All of us care about our students as people, and are invested in success as their allies.  Many parents entrust our instructors to help them develop their children into strong, polite, capable young adults.  Kali Majapahit is one of the very best at this.

At the same time, at the heart of the relationship lies a terrible conflict.  Are they our students??  Our customers??  Both???

On one hand, students come to learn and grow together.  We guide them, we share our knowledge (and vice versa) and use our skills to help them across all three areas: mental, physical, emotional/spiritual.  For me, my students and fellow instructors are closer than family.  We have laughed, cried, sweated and bled together.  I would trust them with my life with no hesitation.  The fellowship is one of the things I love the most about our Kali Family.

On the other hand, some students feel more like customers than students.  To them it is a transactional relationship.  They pay money, they get training.  They expect this to be on their terms rather than the instructors' and they train at their own pace and rhythm, sometimes skipping class if they don't feel like going, or don't like the current cycle or instructor.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this, since it is the same in a boxing gym as well.

However, customers have expectations of service and performance.  In a commercial contract, you give payment for services rendered.  No service no payment.  No payment, no service.  If my plumber does not fix my sink, I am not legally obliged to pay.  If I do not pay, the plumber is not obliged to fix my sink. The courts have upheld this system of fairness for several thousand years and it seems to work pretty well.

However, what about a boxing gym?  I pay for training.  Is there an implicit guarantee that I will be a great boxer?  For some people, no matter how hard they train, they will never be able to be a champion boxer.  Does that imply a breach of contract??  Precedent tells us NO.  Hospitals are also places where we pay for professionals to provide assistance.  They have a legal "duty of care" and many go far beyond that.  However, no hospital can guarantee a positive medical outcome.

One answer to this conundrum is to draw a line between casual or commercial and committed students.  Casual students are treated well, with great customer service like they should be, but the relationship is understood by both parties to be purely commercial in nature.  Committed students decide to become (and are accepted as) part of the core dojo family.  Many of them do more (helping to clean, helping at events or offering their professional skills for free or at a discount) and in exchange they are able to join other "unofficial training" or seminars and in general treated in a more personal manner than others, especially outside of class.  Some students will move between those categories over the course of their time in a dojo.

Unfortunately, some students like to play with that line.  They want to be family when it suits them and customers when it suits them.  Sometimes this becomes a feeling of entitlement, where they believe they should be afforded special treatment like a rank or belt promotion simply because they have paid their dues and showed up.   In this extreme example, the school and instructors' integrity may be put at risk.  If they say NO, they risk losing a valued member of the school community.  If they say YES, they cheapen the meaning of the ranks for everyone and undermine the perception of fairness among the other students.

This is a very difficult position indeed and one no teacher ever wants to face.  If you are the instructor, I encourage you to stand your moral ground.  As much as it hurts, don:t bend your rules for the customer who wants special treatment simply because they think they are "owed" a rank or a belt.  If you are the student, shame on you for putting your instructor in such a situation and trying to guilt-trip them into giving you what you think you deserve.  That is your EGO talking and your ego has no place in the dojo.  It is far better to either play the long game and focus on skill/knowledge rather than rank or go and join an MMA gym or a transactional dojo.

Teaching truly is the hardest job you'll ever love.



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Like Clockwork

A great afternoon seminar today with Guro Larry Mitchell from Toronto, Canada. Although only 4 hours long, he showed a lot of great material and is a down-to-Earth approachable guy despite more than 30 years of martial arts experience across several disciplines, including as a personal student of Nonoy Gallano.

Similar to the approach shown by Kuya Doug Marcaida during his seminar, and Shihan Kit Acenas of Kali Mundo when he came to Japan, we discussed techniques in terms of positions on a clock face.  This is a common and easy way to refer to Kali movements or even other sporting movements.

There are two key clock face planes to consider.

Vertical Plane
The vertical plane clock face is usually visualized with your opponent standing straight from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock along the center line of the dial.  This plane is effective when explaining striking/kicking movements by describing the path or arc of the weapon.  Thus, striking from head to toe would be 12-6.  Across the waistline would be 3-9 or 9-3.  Diagonals include 11-5 and 5-11, 7-1 and 1-7 and so on.  Most arts have at least 6 basic striking angles and some have 12 or more.  Since many styles use different numbering patters when they teach, referring to a clockface can be an easy way to get everyone on the same page quickly.

Horizontal Plane
The horizontal plane is generally understood as being beneath you when you move, assuming you and standing in the exact center of the dial and facing 12 o'clock when you begin to move.  This clock face is great for explaining footwork and relative position of your partner.  Straight forward and backward are, not unexpectedly, 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock respectively.  Diagonal steps (classic FMA triangular footwork) are described as stepping between 10 and 2.  Reverse triangle steps are between 5 and 7.  Some systems like PTK include stepping to the 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock lines as well.  Combinations include ideas like 7-2-9 which can then describe entering footwork followed by a foot trap or sweep, for example.

The clock face method is a great tool to help share the art with other schools and styles, and the FMA are all about fellowship and togetherness.
Remember, Sharing is Caring!

See you at class!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Sticking with it

(thanks for the inspiration MI)

It's time to get a new stick.  Good.

I know some people who have had the same pair of sticks for a year or more.  Nothing wrong with that of course, but I think if you are training right, from time to time you will break your sticks and need new ones.  Why?

All FMA derive from the blade, and in training, our baston is a proxy for it in many of the drills.  In this case it means that we use the stick as a flowing weapon and are principally concerned with precision.  However, for some students this is all they ever do.  Sadly, some students have never hit anything full power.

In addition to simulating a blade for training, the stick is a very effective fighting weapon in its own right, and as an impact weapon it may be one of the oldest weapons in human history.  Even our standard 28" rattan stick is fearsome. Generally, it will not kill except by accident (a heavy hit to the throat or unlucky hit to the temple, etc.) but delivers excruciating pain accompanied by a large bruising welt - more than enough to dissuade an attacker.  The combat sticks made of kamagong (Filipino Ironwood) or resin will easily kill on impact to the head and should be treated with no less caution and respect than a live blade.

At the first Peaceful Warrior Camp in Bali, when we were working 5 count sombrada drills Guro Claes and his students from Kali De Mano introduced the idea of training using "quality strikes", meaning that each hit should have power, focus and intention, and the result was broken sticks after the first few days of training. I discovered that this often happens when your training partner is a 2 meter tall, 120 kg viking...  Now, I always bring at least one spare pair ;-)

Power hitting is a very important part of stick training, since we need to learn how to have proper posture and body mechanics (arm extension, wrist/knee flexion, hip/spine rotation) to hit with full force.  This training also helps us remember to step off line, since blocking full power strikes is painful if we don't.  It helps us to get used to the impact force on our tendons and ligaments when we hit hard or block hard hits - both of which are important in a real fight.

Of course, during partner drills there is always some risk of being hit, which is why at lower levels we generally train this way only with the foam sticks or thin rattan rather than the heavier combat sticks.  However, at higher levels, training with combat sticks is a must as well.  When needed, MMA gloves (or even Lacrosse gloves - Thanks Kasama Joe) do a good job of protecting the fragile bones of the hands and wrist from impact and allow us to specifically train to target those areas when we attack.  It is also very interesting to blend the rattan/foam sticks into our pad work ("stickboxing") which is a very practical method for training corto into medio and vice versa and is useful in training professionals who may use a collapsible baton.

In summary, our kali sticks are a precious treasure as an important tool in our kali journey.  However, from time to time they need to be sacrificed so our skills can grow.  SWING AWAY!  You can (and should) buy another pair when needed.

See you at class.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Putting the Right Foot Forward

Great seminar last weekend with Guro Daniel Sullivan of Warrior Arts Alliance and head of OC Kickboxing and MMA in Orange County California.

He taught a 12 hour weekend course of Filipino "dirty boxing" involving the various techniques and skills he has developed after 32 years of study and fellowship with Guro Dan Inosanto.

His lessons were filled with hard-hitting (literally) practical tips for improving the stand up game including very practical self-defense applications based on combinations of high-percentages strikes, elbows, knees, claws, stomps and other effective "dirty tricks".  In addition to being a walking encyclopedia of the history of JKD/Jun-Fan and several styles of FMA and silat, he has a very effective teaching method to build muscle memory and fitness/cardio in the way that he drills.  Overall, a fantastic learning experience and I highly recommend anyone to attend his seminars or camps if possible, or to go directly to his facility in Irvine, California.

One of the points he brought up was about how all arts basically start with two things: stance and footwork.  From this we are able to understand what is important to a style and already get a firm grasp of its fighting principles.

We spent the weekend fighting in an orthodox stance, that is, left foot forward.
This can be a challenge for those of us who traditionally fight Southpaw (right foot forward).
Guro Daniel explained the theory of matched/unmatched stances, meaning when we are "matched" with both same side feet forward or "unmatched" when we have opposite feet forward.  He further explained that at least 85% of the opponents we would be likely to face (trained or untrained) will stand left foot forward in order to put their power hand (right hand) back.

In weapon-based arts we are generally taught that we want the dominant hand forward since it is most likely to be holding the weapon and we want the weapon in between the opponent and ourselves.  For us, it is sensible to not have to remember to switch stance from right forward to left forward depending on if we have an active weapon or not.  Thus, we maintain a right foot forward stance at all times.  I like many things about this style.  I like having my power punch in front and being able to load my jab with enough stopping power to pin the opponent for my cross.  I like how the southpaw stance confuses fighters who are used to an orthodox opponent.  I like being able to hitch and load my right leg for kicking.

At the same time I must confess that it gets confusing to translate lengthy, complex combinations into southpaw when I watch videos or attend seminars.  I also hate having to adjust to orthodox fighters, finding that it sometimes confuses me, too.  It also makes it hard to go and train at other gyms or in other styles since I am not as comfortable orthodox as I am southpaw.

Guro Daniel clearly advised that if we choose a Southpaw stance, we should invest plenty of time and energy dealing with orthodox opponents.  To do otherwise is an illusion, and we would be kidding ourselves to imagine we can safely defend ourselves when a majority of the population fight orthodox.  His words rang true.

Ultimately, we must become comfortable to fight at any range or distance, with any weapon, standing or on the ground, since we never know how an encounter will evolve and our survival may depend on adaptability.  For the stand up game this means spending time in both orthodox and southpaw, and working hard on the unmatched position if we choose to keep the integrity of our southpaw art.

The joy of seminars with such masters as Guro Daniel is not just the techniques and the fellowship.  It is the thought-provoking insights that keep me examining the art over and over again.  Heartfelt gratitude to Guro Daniel Sullivan, Guro Tony Davis and Sensei Eian and Shin Kali for arranging the excellent event.

Pugay!

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.