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.


Thursday, February 23, 2017


(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".