Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of a year, start of a year...

So, here it is again; another New Year's Eve day... a chance to reflect on what I've learned, what I failed to learn and what I should focus on learning this turn around.  Notice a pattern? Yes, I am keen on learning, for good or ill; knowledge is neither, it just is. Like Master Oogway tells Master Shifu : "Ah Shifu, there is just news. There is no good or bad".

What have I learned this year, then?  Many things, when I take the time to slow down and think about it... most important has undoubtedly been that I am not as healthy or able to abuse my body as I did when I was 20 than I can now at over 40.  Such an easy thing to forget amid the hustle of raising kids, working nights and sleeping little... a minor stroke made me aware that my Superman-wannabe days are over, and a new approach to, well, everything  was in order.  There has been some success, from quitting smoking, losing weight and reducing my medication dosages to better sleep patterns and more energy. These have in turn allowed me a chance to resume martial training, which I missed greatly.  It's so much more enjoyable and productive to work with others than doing solo practice; we all need to do this, but man it can be such a chore to get yourself up to doing it...

Other things I've learned is how having the right person beside you can make all the difference in the world... celebrating my first wedding anniversary with Amy (after seven years of living together) was a reminder of just how easier things can be in tough times (and there have been many of those) with a partner that understands and supports you.  Watching my oldest son grow and walk into adulthood with tentative steps while trying to be supportive and not judge his choices... realizing now my job is to tell him what I think, not what he should do.  My daughter soon to be a teenager, still sweet but getting some bite in her words sometimes. My youngest boys not so young anymore, glad to see them enjoy their martial arts training and smiling inwardly as their mom yells at them to stop playing video games for a while and get some fresh air (hard not to, avid gamer myself).
At the lighthouse in Cape May with Amy, Celeste and the boys

Chris and Patrick with their new heavy bag 
My son David ("Junior") and his Xmas present from my mom

What else? It is detrimental to one's health and happy outlook to dwell on the past, regardless of how bad or good things were. Rather we ought to learn what we can and fuel our efforts in the present to make ourselves a better future...  Not all things should be said or done, there is a time and place for everything (a lesson in timing)... thinking you are right almost all the time can make one callous and unkind.

Pragmatism is usually defined by perception.

Not a bad year, not at all!  Changes have been made and more to be made for sure, but glad to be here to still make them. In my martial arts practices physically I can get better, technically as well... but my mind is more prepared now IMO than it was even at the height of my physical skill (30 years old, no less than 20 hrs a week at the dojo).  Time is definitely elastic, and I feel I can make richer gains in my development as a martial practitioner now that I understand the nature of what I've learned so far a whole lot better.  I have time also to be a better father, husband, and friend... to slow down some and remind myself of Ferris Bueller's famous words :

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Happy New Year everyone!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

East Coast TFAF meet 2011

I had the great pleasure of having Ryan and Jeff, fellow martial arts aficionados, over at my home for some talk about the arts, bunkai play time, and black beans & rice.  I've met Ryan and Jeff at the Traditional Fighting Arts Forum run by our Aussie friend Dan Djurdjevic, check out the forum at this link:
We've had many online exchanges on everything related to the arts: self defense, traditional kata, techniques and tactics of modern and classical systems, history, videos, etc.

I had met Jeff once a couple years ago for coffee at a Starbucks in PA, and had a nice chat on an outside deck with a small lake for a view. We talked about Higaonna Sensei, how Jeff doesn't get aikido, knife defense training... also talked about our families, Filipino and Spanish culture similarities, and of his upcoming symposium held at Susquehanna University (which I've managed to miss twice already, hope to change that in 2012).  As for Ryan, this was our first face to face; last time we were supposed to meet I got awfully sick and had to call out my trip to Jeff's symposium.  His nom de plume on TFAF, Kumaken, is most apt; wonder if anyone on the forum got the Tekken reference to the bear...

We spent a long time talking while Jeff's kids had a fun time with my two boys; running around, playing Wii and arming themselves to the teeth with all sorts of weapons to play war out front and in the house. Boys... Between coffee and snickerdoodle cookies we shared views on Jesse's writing style (funny guy, so much great material intertwined with his humorous look at karate) and his book The Karate Code (getting e-book soon), and made fun of my vintage Ashida Kim publications Secrets of the Ninja and Ninja: Secrets of Invisibility (I have mastered the knowledge of the books already; hopefully next meet Jeff & Ryan will be ready to perform the deadly Hands of Death so we can make a video of it).  So funny the things we believe when we are young... We pumped Jeff for info on his upcoming book on Zen and Budo, Ryan talked about his experiences as counselor, groaned at mukashimantis diatribes on the forum and shared opinions on a martial artist's responsibilities when faced with a situation that might end up being volatile.

Afterward we recruited my wife Amy (thanks honey!) for some video recording of an idea for bunkai Jeff had on the opening move of seiunchin kata to share with forum members.  It was an awesome impromptu session: three guys, with a similar kata on their background studies as base, working something possibly new (and even if it isn't it was new to us).  Such "A-ha!!" moments are way better when shared with people who appreciate what they mean, both as a personal possibility of growth and a pathway to development of karate study as a whole.  Who would have thought I'd be part of showing the world a potential new kote gaeshi application (to be known from today forth as Jeff Mann kote gaeshi)? So cool...

Following the bunkai recording, I asked Ryan to show some chi sao drills; he is quite good at redirecting force while remaining stationary. I've had similar experience but always while being able to move in/out or around with circle stepping, a lot harder when you can't use movement to redirect incoming force or to get off a line of attack.  After we had a most satisfying lunch courtesy of my mother (Puerto Rican rice & beans with chicken is just the best!!), we took some time to work on some arnis sinawali and redonda as well as some single stick disarms for angles 1, 3, 5 and 7. While I am fairly practiced on solo baston technique from my cinco teros studies, only recently have I done any serious work with double stick drills; so Jeff and I tried our best to not bungle the drills too badly... Ryan has had minimal experience with Filipino arts so I showed him how to do a single sinawali drill with both empty hand motions as well as the sticks, and he got the hang of it after a short time. Jeff and I exchanged stick disarms variations, and I showed a couple that follow the disarm with an entry and knee push against the attacker's knee to collapse him rather than moving away from the opponent after the disarm.

I have to say, this was one the best times I've had on the day after Xmas. What better way to enjoy the holidays than doing something you love with friends who feel the same way?  Finding common ground over differences is the basic ingredient for harmony, and that is what Christmas is all about...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ask questions

This was quoted by Charles James on his blog (lots of good stuff, especially for Isshin ryu students):

"If you want to be a better believer, ask lots of questions. Be curious and don't settle for superficial facts. Look closer, dig deeper, and investigate the source.  Learn how to tell the difference between a personal opinion and actual data, and be open to modifying your beliefs.  Then ask more questions, for questions help to expand your perceptions of the world.  Approach your questioning with enthusiasm for finding truth rather than a desire to denigrate and tear down other people's beliefs.  Most important- keep in mind that we can never know for certain the accuracy of any beliefs, even those we hold most strongly."  - Dr. Andrew Newberg M.D.

This is the basis for personal growth.  Think deeply about it ...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Defending against the knife: the devil's in the details

My first experience in learning defenses against knife attacks came from ITF tae kwon do, in the form of individual sets of techniques practiced as static drills very similar to hapkido's.  You know the type: uke attacks with the knife from a set stance with an overhead ice pick grip/forward hammer grip lunge/backhand slash/take your pick... the defensive action to follow as stylized and choreographed as any dance performance.

Now don't get me wrong, the techniques I learned were not much different than those from aikido, jujutsu and those extrapolated from various kata as bunkai from karate.  Yet at the time something was missing from the training to make them useful out of the dojo and practical on the streets where the blades are not made of plastic and people don't get hurt when someone moves too fast or too late.

In the years that followed I learned many different techniques to defend against the knife, both armed and unarmed.  From trapping and stick disarms in Filipino arts, to wrist locks and throws in aikido and jujutsu, to strikes and sweeps in karate; defensive tactics used by professional bodyguards and bouncers...some work quite well for me, others do not but I study them and try to find ways they might correlate with and enhance other techniques I have learned.  It is this study that has given me an interesting insight which sounds obvious on the surface, yet it is forgotten often: the success or failure of any given technique is highly dependent on small details that can be easily overlooked during high stress situations.

Most martial arts and RBSD systems have definite lesson plans, patterns used to teach students the skills they deem will allow them to survive and prevail against a deadly surprise attack, armed or unarmed. Two man drills, sets or defense scenarios are practiced until the gross movements are ingrained, then faster execution follows to build reactive speed.  Nothing wrong with this method, it is used by almost all systems in some form or another because it works well at its purpose: basic reflexive skill development under progressively difficult and changing circumstances.  The problem is that sometimes such changing circumstances are not readily visible or identified and the end result is technique that works wonderfully one way but can be quite dangerous in others when the differences are not accounted for.

This becomes very important when knives are thrown in the mix, because of the unforgiving nature of such an attack.  Up close there is nothing IMO more dangerous than a short bladed knife: it's hard to see and follow, moves extremely fast, can be concealed until the very last minute by a semi skilled person, and very small motions can quickly cause major damage.  Techniques used against an empty hand attack can be used in many instances to defend against a knife wielding person, but the margin for error is infinitesimally smaller.  Furthermore, the way your attacker will react to your counter becomes important in some instances where their body will move in a way that becomes an unexpected problem.

Let us use for example a standard mugging scenario taught in many aikido and jujutsu dojo: uke is attacked from behind, tori grabbing the left arm at the wrist or upper arm while the right hand holding the knife either goes around the neck or to the side. We will use ikkyo (arm bar) or an arm lock to restrain uke. Now the basic technique calls for a pull down on the arm holding the knife with the left hand while the head is tucked in towards the arm, sliding under it and ending on uke's side ready to follow through with the restraint technique.  Things can be a bit more complicated if uke is holding on to tori's wrist rather than his upper arm, but not overly so.

Now let us examine some the things we might miss if we focus on the large gestures of the technique.  If uke were holding the knife to the left side of the neck and used his knee on tori's back knee to collapse him, how does that affect the knife's position in relation to tori's neck, and therefore how would the technique be affected? If the knife was to the right side of the neck with uke's arm laying over tori's shoulder and arm front rather than around the head, such a knee collapse would benefit tori more than uke, as it would drop his neck and head away from the blade and making an opening to slide out of uke's control. I give you another factor: where are uke's feet? Are they controlling tori making it hard to execute the turn into uke's arm needed to get on his side? What about the way uke is holding the blade? Which way tori turns is affected by uke's grip; if using a reverse grip with the arm around the neck things are more "exciting" than if he has a hammer grip on the weapon...

So many small things, yet they can profoundly influence the end result. The lethal capabilities of the knife present dynamics that are not as "final" if things go wrong as with empty hand techniques.  Now, I am not advocating you despair if ever confronted by a person with a knife. What I am suggesting is that in your training be aware both physically and mentally of details that can make or break a technique. Work with a partner through variations of grip, stance and foot position, leverage being used against body parts, placement or movement of the knife, etc. Use the basic form of any movement to expand the possibilities of its use, all the while keeping in mind that principles might not change but their application can be tailored to fulfill your needs.

  Honestly, if I were faced with a knife and had the chance to get away that would be my first option; of course, there might be the one time where there is no option but to engage and hope for the best. Be aware and meticulously study what has been passed on by your teachers and decide how to best implement it in a realistic way. It can open venues for growth and improvement that you might not have thought of before... because in a knife fight, every edge you can muster counts.

And remember: it is the man that makes the art, not the other way around... so whether you practice karate, aikijutsu, combatives or gung fu it is how you use what you've learned that decides if you go home safe or end up in a world of hurt.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Karate Santa- Merry Xmas everyone!!

In keeping up with the holiday spirit I share this funny video with you; enjoy!!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Balintawak and Amara Arkanis demos

I had the opportunity last year to attend the 6th East Coast Filipino Martial Arts gathering sponsored by the Sword Stick Society and my teacher at the time, Mataw Guro Lou Lledo of Amara Arkanis. One of the most impressive demonstrations was given by Mataw Guro Zach Taco of NY; watch him and his student Orlando go through some very fast impromptu stick work and disarms.

Mataw Guro Lou Lledo and some of my advanced classmates:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Aikido and jujutsu: a comparison

I have been training for the past five weeks with Sensei Bill Troy of the Pinelands Jujutsu Club at the Kissaki Kai USA headquarters in Marlton NJ. The course, an introduction to Small Circle jujutsu, focused on four techniques: ude osae (arm bar), kote gaeshi (wrist lock/throw), shiho nage (four corner throw) and hadaka jime (rear naked strangle). The techniques were applied from standing, seated, and on the ground position. Emphasis was placed on fluid transition between techniques, a hallmark of the small circle jujutsu system.

The techniques mentioned above are quite familiar to most martial arts practitioners in some shape or form; having studied aikido in the past just made them a bit easier to work with within the framework of jujutsu's different approach to their application. A bit easier, but not that easy...

You see, aikido and jujutsu may share many techniques in their repertoire. Yet I discovered that the spirit, the intent of the applications differed quite significantly between the arts. Aikido is at its heart a defensive art (not that it cannot be used offensively); in the beginning stages of training most techniques are practiced against a person being attacked. Jujutsu, by contrast, has no qualms against striking first before performing a throw, lock or sweep; being direct and going on the offense as defense is part of its curriculum.

Take for example an arm bar. In aikido, a tenkan variation of ude osae as defense against a rear grab/choke is more circular, less jarring against uke than the same technique in jujutsu. In jujutsu, the arm is more directly forced downward and forward, with less "walking" of uke; both variations bring uke down on his stomach with tori affecting side control of the body by locking the arm. Yet jujutsu accomplishes this in a "harder" way, more quickly bringing uke under control (as it should be during an actual altercation).

Most of the class, I had to be conscious of what I was supposed to be doing rather than what my past training said I should be doing... the parallels of the two disciplines are not lost on me but the guiding philosophies behind the arts are dissimilar enough in application that they gave me pause sometimes.  Jujutsu is probably more useful in the short term for self defense than aikido; the learning curve in aikido can be steep, and more skill is needed to subdue a person without harming them than when you don't care so much about their broken arm.

The way techniques are practiced in jujutsu is very much to my liking... aikido waza can be somewhat repetitive and static in early training which can become boring and rob a technique of that feeling of "aliveness" needed to make them useful as developmental aids.  Jujutsu goes a little farther IMO, working more on "what if" scenarios during the application of techniques, going for the flowing transition if something doesn't go according to the plan (which happens more often than not in real life). More important to me is the ground work that follows up after a standing technique has uke down, something I have very little meaningful training in (I do not want a fight to end up on the ground if I can help it, and if it did my main defense would be unrelenting elbows, knees, biting and head bashing).  Aikido goes for control of the opponent, and stops short of punishing an attacker.  I have a lot of respect for aikido, and a lot of its repertoire works quite well for me due to my size and reach, but the street applicability of some of its techniques as practiced in the dojo was a bit "suspect" to put it charitably...

Being a veritable neophyte is quite fulfilling as well as maddening sometimes; finding different ways to apply familiar training can be more difficult than learning new things to use without any prior comparisons or experience. But I take it in stride, new insights into old, entrenched "knowledge" can be very illuminating and exciting. Just keeping an open mind can bring unexpected benefits to a stale viewpoint...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Enter The Dojo Episode 6 LOL

If you haven't seen them yet, you have to check out Master Ken and his students at the Ameri-Do-Te dojo:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Karate de Okinawa

This was shared by the Budokyokai Karate Do FB page, highly recommended (even for you people that no habla espa~nol :-)  :

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Knife defense training on the Dragon's Orb blog

Some interesting knife defense work by Sensei Strange, very similar to the techniques I've been working on in small circle jujutsu for the last month:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Isshin ryu Seisan & Naihanchi kata, redux

I recorded these tonight after jujutsu class, been meaning to do so for some time now so as to gauge where I am in my performance of them. Eight years have passed since my dojo closed when my teacher Sensei Horowitz retired, and I've done my best to keep a modicum of competence and recollection of the forms in the midst of some very trying personal times that left me very little time to train (hell I had very little time to SLEEP, let alone practice while taking care of a newborn and a toddler between 12 hr shifts).

 End result? Well, I can say that going from four years of three-four hours of training a day, four to five times per week to solo training whenever I had an hour to spare a week (if I had the energy for it that is) does very detrimental things to both mind and body. Gained 50 lbs, developed high blood & cholesterol problems, even had a mini stroke (which left no lasting effect save a permanent numbness of the left side of my face, small price to pay). The TIA (transient ischemic attack) has been a severe, but needed wake up call. So now, six months later, I've got my high blood & cholesterol under control and hope to be off meds for good soon; lost 20 lbs (got 30 more to go, but slow and steady wins the race the turtle always says), and more importantly I have found time and energy to again pursue martial arts.

Remembering what we used to be can be the cruelest form of self punishment, or the springboard to achieve higher peaks than we ever thought possible. The trick is not to dwell on how bad we are compared to what we used to be, but how much better could we become if we could harness that fire, that drive that pushed us then to achieve and trudge on no matter how long, no matter how hard.  To be honest with ourselves, to see what we lost along the way and find ways to recapture the spirit to make new things happen, rather than blame circumstances. Obligations and responsibilities are a part of life, and it is so easy to put the burden of our failings on them. That is not, however, in accord with the Way. First and foremost, the Way is about being responsible for our own actions and their consequences, for good or ill.

I will post other forms as I film them, comments are welcome and please: be honest. I can say that watching these I find things I like, as well as some that make me cringe; but they are mine, and I will own them as they are. If I do not own up to them, how can I change them? For the only thing that one can ever truly change, is oneself.

Seisan kata:

Naihanchi kata:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Myth of "Pressure Testing" by Phil Elmore

Here is a link to one of the best summations I've read on the differences between sport and civilian self defense training:

A lengthy discussion ensued regarding the article on Dan Djurdjevic's forum TFAF, check it out below if interested:


Monday, December 5, 2011

Here's to the future...

My sons Patrick (center) and Chris (right), along with their friend Vito and Sifu Michelle Thompson after they passed their gold belt test at the East Coast Academy of Martial Arts. They performed Muay Thai and Jun Fan/JKD punching & kicking sets, Wing Chun pak sao & lop sao, Kali four & six count double stick combos and physical test. Very proud of them, they've had a more rounded exposure at their age than I did at 12!

I am glad to have found a place for my children to get a good martial education and I feel sad for so many parents who wish the best in training for their kids, but are ensnared by the plethora of McDojos out there because they just don't know any better...

Being able to see my kids develop their skills, assist them when they need help with some drill or explain to them why they should keep their wrist aligned while punching... these are things special and dear to me.

Rory Miller on humility

Rory Miller's blog, Chiron, is IMHO a must read for anyone even remotely serious about keeping their martial training "real" and relevant to self defense.  His last post clearly illustrates a lot of the misgivings I mentioned in my first blog post (eerie.. but cool).  Take the time to read it carefully: