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.