Friday, December 28, 2012

Martial Wish list for 2013

     Now that the Mayan prophecy failed us (just like everyone else's apocalyptic news so far) it's time to saddle up and think about where I want to go next year... what things I've been postponing which I should get around to doing (not house chores, that crap just never ends and it will need a blog of its own).

     First on my list is to finally make it to my friend Jeffrey K. Mann's  Susquehanna University Martial Arts Symposium. I have been trying to attend for the last three years and every single time something prevented me from doing so... Jeff is a great guy and I hope to join him and others in this event that sure looks like a lot of fun. 

     Next is to get myself prepared physically for the Daddis camp's Tactical Urban Defense program; this is a good program for people who are not inclined to follow traditional martial arts programs and are looking for basic self defense skills. It was highly recommended by a police officer friend and it is close to home. Check out the video below, I am not sure I could finish it now at my age and physical condition, so it's back to serious endurance training :

     Third on my list is to get more aikido practice; it has been several years since I attended a dojo and not sure why but I want to earn that hakama... I can only attend once a week for an hour and a half class but one thing I've learned about the martial arts is that it pays to be patient, so I might be ready for testing by 2020. 

     Other things include getting more kata practice on Chinto and Kusanku, and spend more time on the heavy bag out back (I wish I could get one at the work gym, would make things much easier).  And reading, lots more reading and analyzing to improve my training curve (very curvy at the present).  

    Who knows? The zombie apocalypse might still become a reality, it pays to be prepared LOL. The training and experience will be great and we could all look forward to some fun in the upcoming year. Happy New Year everyone!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A lesson in humility...

   I heard something the other day in an old time radio show, "there is always time for manners!" We often get so caught up in the daily hustle that it's easy to forget how to interact properly with others. Everyone has feelings, desires, goals, aspirations, dreams... too many of them go unfulfilled but still it is no excuse to let that harden us or treat others as if they are not there. I had a reminder of this at a most unlikely place.

On my way to pick up the children from school I noticed the van was low on gas, so I headed to the hilltop gas station. I had just woken up (I love working nights, but leaves me but five hours of sleep a day if I'm lucky), and did not feel particularly cheerful or awake... as I pulled over to the gas pump I rolled my window down and waited for the attendant. The attendant, an older Indian fellow that used to live in the same apartment complex we did many years ago, came to the window and said "Hi, how are you?"

Honestly, I wasn't paying any attention to what he said, even who he was. I answered his polite inquiry with "twenty regular, cash." Most days that is probably the only words that pass between anyone and a gas attendant at a service station... no recognition of the person at the pump, of the individual that for all purposes we barely find worthy acknowledging.

The gas attendant retorted in a dignified tone "I asked, how are you? Not how much gas you want."

That reply made me feel quite ashamed... something so simple yet quite profound, and it took what most people might think of as a veritable "non-person". How am I any better than anyone to act so callous and uncaring? To forget the basic dignity of any person is an easy path to alienating ourselves from empathy towards others, and is the first step to the thought "us versus them". I apologized for my rudeness, and chatted with him while the gas was pumped about the people still in the complex, persons that had moved out, our families... I thanked him for his kindness, and went on my way.

You can learn from anyone; every one has things to teach, if we keep ourselves open to accepting the lessons with a humble heart. Something to think about next time you start becoming irate over someone working a register at a long shopping line, or start talking about what YOU want before hearing what another person is saying.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lessons from the train

     One sure thing about life: it's full of surprises.  I mean, we mostly go through our day expecting the same things to occur every time: wake up at the sound of the alarm, use the bathroom, have some breakfast while getting the kids ready for school, then head off to work... well in my case it's backwards since I work at night and sleep during the day but you get what I'm saying. People as a rule follow patterns in most everything they do, and whether they realize it or not fall in step with such patterns almost all the time. The illusory security folks feel while involved in their daily meanderings is a way for them to obscure the fact that at any time the normality of their day can be upset at different levels, from the mundane to the life-changing. I was reminded of this during a family weekend outing a couple weeks ago.

     The Battleship New Jersey on the Camden waterfront is a popular day trip location in NJ. It was a wonderful day outside, and decided to take the entire family on the River Line train as it is inexpensive and you don't have to worry about driving or parking (which is ridiculous as anyone who knows the area will tell you). Traveling during the day is reasonably safe as there are random police checks between stops and the conductor can contact the cops and have them waiting at any location. Seats are ok for the short trip and cars have AC/heat.  No problems at all, right?

The River Line stop at Roebling, NJ

     On our way to Camden our train suddenly stopped; the conductor informed us that another train would be along in 30 mins to get us to our destinations and apologized for the inconvenience. Not a big deal: the older kids (19, 13 & 12 yr olds) had their iPods and my 8 & 10 yr old each had their Nintendo 3DS, so boredom complaints were curtailed. We had moved to the front cab as I prefer being closer to the conductor in case there are any unforeseen incidents requiring the conductor to get involved. Good thing, as one person in the rear cab threw up from "the heat" (it wasn't that hot) and another older man decided to piss in the passageway between the cabs. Great start to the day right?  But we made it to the waterfront without any further issues.
The family having a snack break before going to the ship

     We had a great time at the Battleship; lots of great exhibits, kids loved the big guns and helicopter, it was awesome family time. We headed on back to the River Line stop for our return trip, and were on our way home within minutes. Everyone was a bit tired, but happy and looking forward to having dinner once we get off the train.

     We were about two stops from our destination when an unsavory looking fellow threw himself on the seat across the aisle facing me, took off his shoes (no socks on) and put his feet on the empty seat in front of him.  The passenger next to him stood up immediately and cursed at the man, threatening to have the conductor call the cops as he walked away to another seat. At this point I am the closest person to him (my wife and daughter to the right of me on the seats against the train wall, while my other kids were on the seats behind us with their older brother). 

The inside of a River Line train cabin; the guy was right where the guy with his legs crossed is sitting.

     The person in question was a black male, wiry, weight in the area of 180 and short of six feet in height. He was wearing cargo pants, a red t-shirt under a olive drab light safari style jacket. He had been wearing white and red lace up basketball shoes but was now barefoot. During the process of removing his shoes he dropped a rock of crack and makeshift bowl, which he collected hastily but not furtively and placed back in his jacket pockets, replacing them with a zippo lighter and a small roach between his index and middle fingers. After the other passenger moved away from him he leaned forward towards me and said in a low voice: "Do you need to be schooled?"

     So here I am, faced with the possibility of an incident with an individual who was very recently engaged in drug use (not an assumption as I had seen the paraphernalia and drugs) in a confined environment, somewhat  agitated, with all my family mere feet from him. Not a good tactical scenario any day; random attacks on trains are not unknown in the Philly/Trenton rail transit system. Check out the video below:

Man gets attacked with hammer on train, right in Philadelphia

     So I remained wary but non threatening, and said to the guy "No, thanks; I already went to school a long time ago." The man kinda thinks of my reply a second, then leaned back into his seat.  I followed suit and leaned back a bit to create some space and got my backpack on my lap to use as a shield if needed. My wife at this time decided to get my daughter and herself to a different seat, yelling at him for his behavior in front of children, while the man retorted with some barely intelligible apology. My wife told him to shut up, then sat down. I remained in my seat so I could block him from advancing past me if necessary, already planning to stomp on his bare foot while using the backpack to ram him into the seats if he got overtly aggressive towards my wife. But he just sat quietly for the remaining seven minutes until our train reached our stop. I stayed on my seat until my wife got the kids out of the train first, then I stepped out while keeping watch for the troubled passenger in case he made the same choice of train stop. We made it to our van without a fuss, and drove home shortly.

The After Action Report

     Just like in the past, my mind started going through the events of the day, looking for things I might have done differently, where I could have done better. Such evaluations are routine in law enforcement, military and security as the means to identify problems, suggest solutions and compile lessons acquired for further improvement to be applied to training, tactics, strategies and skill development. Usually such reports are analyzed by peers or superiors who then make recommendations and implement changes as needed; lacking other sounding boards, a person should be as honest as possible when examining any incident so as to gather relevant information and make useful changes or adaptations aimed at improving our odds during any similar incident in the future.

     So, what could I learn from this?

1- While I made a point of moving us to the first cab on the way to the waterfront, we got into the last one on the return trip because it was the first one we reached and we were trying to get the kids sitting down as they were a bit tired from the walk from the ship.  When you feel tired or have others to take care of and want to get them comfortable so you can rest yourself you might take shortcuts you usually wouldn't take. By being farther away from the conductor I would have had to rely on other passengers to alert him of any trouble, increasing the response time of assistance if needed.

2- When the man first dropped his drugs I should have made my wife and daughter move away to another part of the train cab rather than stay next to me; he would have to get past me to reach them but what if he had a handgun inside his coat? Could I have stopped him in time? I am pretty quick and I was less than three feet from him, but would I have been able to subdue him if he turned violent and turned on them or my other children (they were occupying the seat rows behind me and to the left)?

3- When the man spoke to me I made a point of answering his question politely and in a conversational tone. I have learned from past experience that this often tends to confuse a person who is angry, intoxicated or under the influence of drugs; they might expect an angry reply or being cursed at, but not an actual civil response. It mellows out some folks from a previously combative mood and it tends to defuse the situation, or gain me some seconds while his mind decides what to do next.

4- After my wife and daughter had moved to a safer location I could have changed seats myself. Why didn't I? Mainly I had analyzed the situation at hand best I could, and resolved that the man, while somewhat obnoxious and obviously impaired from using drugs, was no immediate threat. We would be at our stop in a few minutes, and from where I was I felt reasonably certain I could interdict his approach before he could step into the cab area where my children were sitting in. But feeling sure you can handle things does not always mean you will be able to handle things... I made a tactical choice that seemed acceptable at the time, but had he suddenly decided to go rampant on the train I had left myself no choice but to face him one on one to keep myself between him and my family.

5- Traveling on the train precludes having any serious weapons on you; NJ has very strict weapon laws and no concealed weapon permits. You better have a good reason for a 2" blade folding knife to be found in your possession. In such instances where travel is necessary one must think of improvised weapons and using the environment as a weapon. He might have had something concealed under his jacket (although I don't believe he had a handgun, he might have easily carried a blade) so I intended to use my backpack as a shield to smother an intended draw if it came to that. There were also metal railings, hard back seats and plexiglass windows to be used creatively.

6- Once it was time to exit the train, I made sure I remained where I was until my family was out before I moved from my seat. Even after gaining the platform I kept watch on the train exits as well as the platform itself; maybe the guy had friends joining him and while he had not called anyone I was still operating at high yellow alert and would be doing so until everyone was inside the van and we drove away.

7- There is a lot of information being collected in a very short time frame during an incident like the one I described, whether we realize it or not. Like a good interrogator who brings out details from witnesses that didn't know they possessed them, we can train our minds to sift through the feelings, thoughts and observations occurring in almost real time so they can be used in the moment, rather than be reflected upon later when they might not make any difference. For it is in the now that they have the most impact and are most useful.

     So, a lot to think about, all from an unexpected event in an otherwise very normal thing for a family to do on a Saturday summer day. It could have been worse, for sure, and I am glad that there was no need for violence or confrontation. But it is a good reminder that we must not become overly complacent and should remain vigilant and alert, even during our daily routines and travels. Because you just never know...

 Always have a Plan B

Friday, June 22, 2012

To bunkai or not to bunkai, that is the question...

     Been a while since I posted my thoughts here... life ebbs and flows with duties and distractions but some things stick to one's mind like flies to flypaper. Among these is the ongoing discussion on various forums regarding bunkai and its purpose, its usefulness and how some arts adhere to it while others forgo it entirely. Interesting topic indeed...

So, what is bunkai?? 
From Wikipedia:  Bunkai (分解), literally meaning "analysis" or "disassembly", is a term used in Japanese martial arts referring to the application of fighting techniques extracted from the moves of a "form" (kata).

 Some kata have another layer of application that is taught using an Oyo Bunkai, an "application of the kata in ways other than the standard bunkai." Different practitioners will learn or discover alternative applications, but the bunkai, like the kata, varies based on the style and the teacher.

     So bunkai could be interpreted as the study of how any move, or series of moves, within a kata could be used in a fight. Whether any of the moves extrapolated from the study of the form are to follow a specific order, direction, speed, or be guided by situational awareness of the interaction between the attacker and defender is not clearly defined historically, though. References to oyo bunkai as being non-standardized versions of "standard" bunkai should not distract us from the fact that almost all bunkai, even commonly accepted techniques, was not codified in any way or sanctioned by anyone other than individual organizations or ryu in an effort to provide some understanding of principles within kata and provide a template useful in analysis and interpretation for students to follow in their study of kata.

     There are several things I take into account when extrapolating bunkai from kata, which I mentioned in my friend Dan Djurdjevic's Traditional Fighting Arts Forum :

 1- What body weapons are being used, do they follow their natural motion and strike target areas appropriate to their makeup (right weapon against right target)?
2- Are the techniques efficient, do they provide maximum return for energy being expended?
3- Are they simple enough to be retained with a minimum of training time? Complicated maneuvers tend to go south when involved in high stress combat, so techniques or sequences should follow the KISS principle.
4- Do they offer varied levels of lethality, can they be used to maim/kill and/or subdue?
5- Can they be used against a stronger/faster/younger attacker effectively?
6- Does the technique offer predictable, repeatable results?

     These guidelines help streamline the process of sifting good, sensible techniques from questionable or outright dangerous applications that would not work outside the dojo (which is where it's at, if you get my drift). Not 100% fool proof, but if one takes the time to critically study a series of moves in a kata, whether as a series of paint-by-the-numbers steps or as principles of application within moves in no specific order, you can usually experiment and discover if it works, when it works, how it works and if you are lucky why it does. 

Is bunkai really necessary?
     The debate on the need for bunkai is one that flares up regularly in martial arts circles. Some folks on the MMA camp regard traditional forms training and bunkai as obsolete and out of touch with the realities of self defense... others believe that karate cannot be understood or applied in a civilian defense context without it.  Even within karate there are schools that have extensive bunkai collections while others have little to none, relying instead on codified self defense technique scenarios, kumite and one/three-step sparring to learn basic distancing, positioning, footwork, stances and timing in techniques.  Let me point out some interesting articles and discussions going on the Web at this time:

No bunkai in Wado Ryu karate? A great discussion on Ian Abernathy's site that could be applied to any style of karate.

The Sine Wave motion is not ever present in TKD Sanko writes about the sine wave motion as used in ITF TKD and comments on Shotokan karate's use of bunkai and ITF TKD's lack of it.

Forms: their core purpose by Dan Djurdjevic as a response to Sanko's article above makes a great case for the true purpose and utility of forms regardless of style practiced.

The Why of Bunkai Charles Goodin wrote this extensive article about bunkai for CFA magazine in 2006.

     As you can see, the question on whether bunkai is useful or not to karate practice depends on who you ask. If you explore bunkai as canned responses to unlikely attacks you will probably end up feeling someday that MMA training is more realistic and effective than some ancient technique series from a 100 year old kata... on the other hand, the traditional model of teaching martial arts, with or without bunkai, has been around for a long time and produced many fearsome fighters so it should not be discarded lightly either.

Grand Master Tatsuo Shimabuku showing bunkai, circa 1963 

     Isshin ryu karate was the first martial art I trained in with some bunkai studies. The origin of these technique interpretations from the various kata was never clear; my teacher did not really know and I would be willing to bet his instructor did not either. Yet he made it clear that as long as the applications worked against a serious attack he did not much care. In his line of work (corrections) he had no time for complicated techniques with dubious results, and his insight had a great influence on how I would approach bunkai studies in the future.  I'll admit that not all bunkai I've seen from various Isshin ryu sources makes sense; as with all things, personal interpretation plays a big role in how we understand things. Maybe whoever came up with some bunkai I find questionable knows something I don't... or maybe my own experiences do not resonate with what I was shown. This is the conundrum facing anyone trying to make sense of bunkai within kata.

Which is better?

     An example of bunkai from Naihanchi Shodan

Three step sparring as practiced by ITF TKD

Judo's Goshin jutsu kata

     What method builds better defensive skills? A subjective question to be sure, and one in which more than one prospective student of combative arts has become mired in... for the very ambiguity of bunkai interpretation sometimes works against proper understanding and application of kata.  Compared to three step sparring or self defense technique sets, which clearly show at its most basic forms useful defensive counters and responses, the bunkai techniques often can seem contrived and lacking in realistic application.  First time students can be impressed by a cool looking technique that drops an attacker in a couple of moves, and fail to grasp the subtlety of what kata and bunkai study can teach them...

     All the methods in the videos above are means to learn basic positioning, footwork, distance, balance, timing and technique in a controlled environment; while some might seem more dynamic or more applicable to real world situations than others the goal remains the same. The one thing in my opinion that makes a case for bunkai study is that at deeper levels the technique itself is not as important as the principles it embodies.  Moving away from static repetition of choreographed technique to actual free flowing use of any appropriate response in unscripted fashion is possible when the principles in kata bunkai are truly understood. There is no longer "if A happens do B which equals C"... the three step sparring and self defense technique sets are great confidence builders but should be viewed as building blocks to "liberate" ourselves from the "classical mess" as Bruce Lee was fond of saying.  If you have a love for the arts in more than a passing way kata and bunkai  can certainly provide a lifetime of study with the added benefit of an ever growing chest of possibilities for technique and skill development to enhance your karate.

     Some arts such as Krav Maga and Kali have no preset patterns of technique, but rather use flow drills and attributes training to instill combat capabilities both in empty hand and weapons use.  The goal is instinctive, unscripted response to any attack without pause or thought... their methods can provide a faster learning curve if street self defense is the main objective. Shorter path to the same mountaintop in my view...

Kali empty hand techniques are simple and effective

Different scripts, no wrong ending
     I have experienced all of the training methods discussed in this article, and with proper guidance any of them can be used to develop fighting skills needed in self defense.  The issue is that I don't see any of them being able to accomplish useful civilian defense training on its own; they are parts of an incomplete whole. Now, if your interest in martial arts is geared towards fitness, self improvement or as a means of physical meditation maybe repetitive kata practice or endless sambo matsogi with a partner will provide what you seek. However, to make martial arts have martial intent more than just moving around simulating karate movements is needed. A progression from basic skills development by sparring and kata practice to study of fighting applications in bunkai, coupled with flow drills and scenario training can go a long way to effectively prepare a person for civilian self defense.  Not all people will use all methods, usually concentrating in one type more in line with the training paradigm of their chosen system. If, however, karate is the path you've chosen then you owe it to yourself to delve deeper into bunkai analysis of your kata; your art will be richer and more effective for it. 

     "In primary freedom, one utilizes all ways and is bound by none, and likewise uses any techniques or means which serve one's end.  Efficiency is anything that scores."- Bruce Lee

     "The techniques should not be practiced simply so they can be performed in the kata. Since karate is a fighting art each technique and movement has its own meaning.  The karateka must consider their meaning, how and why they are effective, and practice accordingly"- Shigeru Egami





Friday, June 1, 2012

Blog post by Don Roley: This Art deserves better!

This article is referring to Bujinkan taijutsu specifically, but IMO it describes many martial artists and their curriculum... check the link below.

This Art deserves better!!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Goju ryu power training by Sensei Higaonna

This is just great stuff from a traditional karate legend!! The way old time karate masters learned how to develop and generate power for real fighting applications...

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 6

Part 7

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Secret Ninja Hiding Tool

Check out this video, not sure if he is being serious but if he isn't he has the most sincere look on his face as he explains the use of this little known ninja tool.

I think I would take it more seriously if he had taken the time to find the real tool rather than a futon...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rory Miller's Facing Violence DVD. Two words: GET IT!

This is my next DVD purchase; Sgt. Miller is the real deal when it comes to self defense training (not just martial arts, but the entire spectrum of what civilian defense really is).  Check out the videos below:

Absolutely essential stuff IMO!!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Forms: their core purpose by Dan Djurdjevic

This is a great article on forms and their core purpose across various martial disciplines. Read slowly and carefully, lots of great insights here.

The Way of Least Resistance- Forms: their core purpose

MMA is Bullshit-Master Ken speaks

This is hilarious, Master Ken does it again!!

Ameri-Do-Te's Master Ken: just awesome!! 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Girl vs Guy in Vale Tudo match

Check out this video link, the guy obviously underestimated his opposition because of her gender and look where it got him LOL!! For women and small men this is a great reminder: don't give up before the fight starts out of fear of being smaller or weaker. If you have heart, are ruthless and keep your head you can beat the odds and survive an attack.
Girl vs Guy in Vale Tudo fight

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Martial artist or martial arts practitioner?

     As we become older and experience and learning make their imprint on our self we tend to think deeper about things... ideas we held firmly in our twenty's can become quite blurry and not so black-and-white in our forty's. Introspective analysis of one's ego and what makes it tick is a bit easier once our lives have been simmered in time, hardships and achievement. Not too easy, mind you: the ego tends to fight very hard at asserting its dominance over our thoughts and feelings but with discipline, training and an open mind a person can unshackle itself from the worst of its chains.

     I have been spending quite a bit of time thinking of what the martial arts have meant to me over the years, the needs that drove me to pursue them in hopes of them turning me into something other than what I was.  More importantly, do the arts still fulfill those needs or have my needs changed so that their study is not as relevant as it once was? Have I become the martial artist I once aspired to be, or was I ever one? And what does that make me if I am not?

It is true I guess, but it's still hard to do...

     Take a look at this excerpt from an article on what it means to be a martial artist:

"A Martial Artist is not a title or rank or certification. A Martial Artist may not even be a black belt.
A Martial Artist is a WAY of being that lives in the soul of the person. There is no ego. There is no trying to be a Martial Artist. One just is.
The Martial Artist places the Art above himself/herself, wishing and needing no credit or reward for the work. It is a work of love, not labor.
To become a Martial Artist takes time and a maturity that can not be rushed. One grows and matures into a Martial Artist as a seed grows to become a Redwood over many years. While many seeds may be planted, few grow into a martial Artist. There is no trying, just living and doing. There is no talking about it, but rather a modest self awareness in the doing.
While others may refer to someone as a Martial Artist, a Martial Artist would not refer to themselves as a Martial Artist because that is ego. He/she is the essence or spirit of the Martial Art itself, living the art naturally, effortlessly and completely.
The tenets of the martial art are not written on the wall for others to read, but lived by the Martial Artist for others to see and emulate.
The Martial Artist embodies the best of the martial arts in everything he/she does."
Above By Master Edward Rugh
     Sounds deep, mystical and enlightened doesn't it? Master Po could have written this... I like the overall message of the article as I find myself at a point in my life where the actual use of empty hand skill is quite remote (I work with computers and machines, have a wife and four children that keep me quite busy, and don't get out much at night since that's the time I am at work). There were times in the past though that a job required the training necessary for not only defending myself but restraining others without causing excessive injury. But now? I spend my nights off trying to catch up on all the sleep I have missed during the week.

     When I was twelve years old I had my first lesson at an ITF dojang; it was a surprise from my parents for my birthday. While I would have preferred a ninjutsu school (ninja craze was in full swing in 1982), in Puerto Rico there were very few choices near me (and my dojang was quite a trip for me, I had to take a bus and walk a couple miles to get to it). Can you remember the first time you put on a pristine white gi and tied the obi around your waist, the giddy feeling you had of being just BETTER by virtue of such awesome uniform and all the magnificent possibilities it represented? Images of flying kicks, somersaulting over ten foot walls, grinding massive stones to powder with a punch... I wanted to become the best martial artist EVER!!

     Then, reality check.

     I trained hard, practiced at home for hours, kicked banana trees and struck sand buckets with nukite strikes... never was I able to somersault over anything though, and breaking was limited to boards (I did try to break concrete bricks with shuto, but soon gave that up).  Slowly it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe there was a lot of smoke and mirrors regarding martial arts (I didn't want to call it bullshit just yet, I was young and still had hopes).

No gliding on treetops during a sword fight for me, I should have trained harder!!

     As I grew older and saw the true abilities martial arts practice could develop, I pursued other systems in search of one that fit my ideas of what a martial artist should be. I still harbored the wish that I could learn the secrets of Five Venoms Toad style and be invulnerable to weapons; or that I could master the Hands of Death as Lo Lieh did. But I have had the opportunity to meet some great practitioners whose abilities border on the incredible, and their skills are real. My mindset moved slowly away from the fantastical and focused more on the practical uses of martial arts. The biggest change came when I started security work, and I learned from experience that a lot of what I thought would work most definitely sucked anywhere except a training hall. Being able to break stuff with your hands is pretty useless when you are supposed to restrain someone without hurting them, even if they are fully intending to do just that to you.  Legal ramifications of the job made me change my training focus and so I attended defensive tactics training and aikido to give me better skills at handling such threats.  I was not thinking much about the "do" aspects of what I was doing; only that whatever techniques I chose would protect me and others while keeping with force continuum policies of my employers. 

     Court defensible take down & restraint techniques are a main component of defensive tactics training

     In 2000 I discovered Isshin ryu karate, and my search for a core art was over.  This Okinawan martial art, with its simple yet sensible approach to fighting, became my field of study and I spent three to four hours a day, four times per week at the dojo either as assistant instructor for younger/beginner belts or as part of the yudansha class. I went to work, got out and went to the dojo and stayed there until closing. There was nowhere else I wanted to be; many of the other members were black belts in other systems (Kempo, Judo and other karate systems) and we spent hours debating over differences in training, techniques, bunkai and kata. If there was ever a time when I thought of myself as a martial artist, this was the time. 

     When our teacher retired and closed the school, I decided to train on my own for a while. After all, I had a wealth of material to digest and experiment with, and I wanted to combine what I had learned into an effective synergistic system (for my own study and application mind you, not to create the next Super Martial Art System).  Soon afterward my youngest son was born, and as anyone who has been a father can attest to  there was no time for, well, anything but him. 

     Fast forward eight years... finding myself with the opportunity and time to train again in a more structured form rather than sporadic sessions when I had the energy to do so, I nonetheless feel no particular rush to join anywhere or anything. I have checked out some places, yes, and even started training in jujutsu. However this has been more in learning a new set of skills for rounding out my knowledge than a particular need to know how to fight someone on the ground or getting ready for some MMA fight.  If I practice just for the sake of practice, does that make me a wannabe martial artist? I don't think of training as a vehicle to self development in the way some think of budo, a person can find many other ways to better themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. My mother has never had a martial arts class, but she is a devout Catholic and lives more in line with the spirit of budo than others who toil at their martial classes in search of enlightenment. 

     Maybe I don't need to be a martial artist to be a better person, but the path the arts follow is one I can identify with. Finding my own way with my training is but one way; it isn't a straight line, but there are lessons in the winding of the path. I have come to terms with the fact that I might not be living the ideal of a martial artist, but trying everyday to incorporate the precepts of being one in what I do is in itself something to strive for. After all, isn't the journey on the path itself more important than the destination? 

What do you consider yourself, a martial artist or a practitioner? Does it matter? Why does it matter?


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On combat strategy...

This is an article on strategy given to me by Sensei Horowitz, an Isshin ryu teacher who also worked as a corrections officer in Newark NJ. His fighting style was simple and tough, no fancy stuff; the lessons learned  are just as valid today as they were back then.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Amara Arkanis basic forms: 8-directions, Abakada & Abecedario

Below is a link to a video of Mataw Guro Lou Lledo and his students demonstrating the basic lessons of the Filipino martial system of Amara Arkanis. Mataw Guro Lledo is one of the most knowledgeable instructors I have ever met, versed in not only various FMA systems but Goju ryu karate, kyokushinkai and kung fu, as well as having served as a police & military defensive tactics instructor. Thanks to his student Christian Herrera for producing and sharing this excellent introduction to Mataw Guro's art.

FMA Basic Lessons: 8-Directions, Abakada & Abecedario

PS: video is unlisted so could not make Blogger insert the video; just click on the link above and enjoy!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ground fighting: do we really need it?

     For quite some time now there has been an ever growing trend in the martial arts to incorporate ground fighting techniques into training programs everywhere. From the UFC dominance by Brazilian jujutsu fighters in its early years, to the US Army modeling their latest Combatives system on BJJ, to the rise of MMA as the "hot" thing to do... martial arts practitioners everywhere hold many of these systems as the most "realistic" and "complete" self defense systems available. Many of these claim their superiority by the amount of fights won in a ring or match by their exponents, or how effective they have shown to be against one on one encounters. The effectiveness of "traditional" martial arts and their teaching methods are disregarded as ineffective, antiquated and time consuming. How are we to consider the claims made by both groups?

MMA knockouts of 2010

Brazilian jujutsu vs karate

From the Bubishi, note several grappling techniques

     My own martial experience has been primarily on stand up systems (TKD and Isshin ryu karate, gung fu,  aikido and defensive tactics) which rely on percussion techniques (strike/punch/kick) along with some joint locking and throws. Ground work consisted mainly on how to disengage as quickly as possible and stand up to continue the fight. Even during aikido training the emphasis was to use ukemi (falling and tumbling drills) to survive throws without incurring injury, even at fast speed.

     Yoshinkan aikido ukemi drills

     I have always known my ground fighting ability is very limited and unsophisticated by "modern" standards; elbows, knees, groin grabs and biting will not win any contest where rules are involved although they might save me on the street. Furthermore, my size and natural sense of balance has always made it hard for others to unbalance or throw me. Of course, that worked quite well against people not specifically trained to bring one down into the ground and take the offensive while there.  The couple times I tangled with someone skilled (a college level wrestler one time, a judo nidan on another) I was totally out of my element, and even though I could delay a takedown, it was only a matter of time before I was off my feet.

     The focus of my training for most of my life, especially during the years I worked corporate security, was to restrain and hold a person if necessary, or take them out if not.  Remaining mobile was paramount, what with the possibility of multiple attackers, weapons, having to protect another person, etc.  Going to ground was a big no-no in my strategic outlook, and it still is.  There is a big difference between knowing how to win a ground fight where it's only you and an opponent; on the street, where others might get involved, the ground could be littered with glass or debris and knives and sticks are being used I do not want to remain in one spot for any length of time. My #1 rule for the moment when your awareness has failed you and physical confrontation is imminent: mobility is LIFE. Whether to gain higher terrain, find an escape route or keep several guys to get a hold on you, you must be able to move, and unless you are very adept at chinese dog boxing (a specialized ground fighting style) being on the ground precludes all those options. 

     Gou Quan (Dog Boxing)

      That being said, my recent training in jujutsu has brought an appreciation for the usefulness of ground fighting skills, especially in one-on-one situations where a person might surprise you and manage to get you down to the floor.  I still prefer to do my fighting standing, but the chance of being thrown is always present whether you face an irate drunkard or a trained MMA practitioner. Jujutsu has many techniques for controlling and throwing a person, as well as locks and chokes to be applied while on the ground. I would recommend the Kodokan Judo Goshin Jutsu form as a staple of a short self defense program, along with some training to regain the initiative if thrown down so as to escape or control an attacker. For law enforcement officers ground techniques can allow control of a suspect without unduly injuring him/her while avoiding legal repercussions and excessive force accusations.  Same for anyone who has to deal with altercations of a one-on-one nature, whether in a hospital, a bar, or correctional facilities.  

    The problem is, how much do we need ground fighting skills? How do we determine what degree of proficiency is needed to accomplish our ends?  In my case, being that I do not work in an environment where I find my physical persona attacked on a regular basis, to invest a lot of time gaining superlative skill at fighting on the ground is not a necessity.  Rather, it is a sort of academic pursuit, learning for the sake of learning and improving current skills and adding new ones.  I might have learned new ways to defend myself on the ground, but I have not trained long enough to unseat behavior learned over several decades and if caught unawares I would most likely revert to rapid fire knees and elbows to get some damage in so I can regain a standing position. Being that I am no longer restrained by the necessity of controlling someone without causing excessive damage (not that it is ok to hurt someone if you are a civilian, but if you work in the protection or security field the liability issues add a new level of complexity to everything) the need for highly specialized knowledge of ground fighting is not as important as it might have once been.  

Jujutsu in the old days, keeping it simple

     What about civilian self defense?  So many statistics have been mentioned on just how many fights end up on the ground, it is hard to determine exactly what kind of fights were involved in these. Were they drunken brawls, robberies or assaults? Were there only two persons involved, or many? Putting the numbers aside, the requirements for civilian defense are very different than those of law enforcement or protective personnel.  A civilian is concerned with getting away unharmed, and all tactics, strategies and training should focus on this as the main goal.  Most people will not have the time or inclination to spend a lot of time learning (or retaining for that matter) any overly complicated techniques. What looks so awesome on the octagon can be utterly impossible for someone to do when taken by surprise... 

Krav Maga has the right idea IMO when it comes to ground fighting

     Simple and direct techniques, easily learned and retained with a modicum of training should be the core of civilian defense systems.  Ground fighting techniques that should be a part of such a system would include how to maintain a top mount position as well as getting to it from disadvantageous ones such as being on the bottom or with your back taken; elbow and knee strikes to create space to gain your footing and run; front and rear naked chokes (only if one opponent is involved, don't hang around someone's neck when others are coming for you); some  leg and arm lock techniques for controlling or disabling a person so they cannot follow you easily as you make your escape. Groin grabs, eye gouges,spitting and biting, all the dirty but goodies... weapons like knives being part of the mix. Always thinking of the worst possible scenario... because that is just what you might get.  

     Jujutsu has immensely improved my defensive skills, not so much in a technical sense (too short a time training to be any good) but in the way I see how throws, locks and submissions both standing and on the ground should be incorporated with my self defense training and needs.  By being more cognizant of proper use of ground fighting within a street self defense scenario I can concentrate on what works best, rather than spend my training time on things more suited for a ring or the mat.  No matter what martial discipline you choose to study, cross training can only help improve your abilities and chances at survival; it is critical however that whatever you incorporate to your bag of tricks doesn't end up playing tricks on you... and leave you on the ground in a world of hurt. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thoughts on perception

From Wikipedia:

"Perception (from the Latin perceptio, percipio) is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of the environment by organizing and interpreting sensory information. All perception involves signals in the nervous system, which in turn result from physical stimulation of the sense organs. Perception is not the passive receipt of these signals, but can be shaped by learning, memory and expectation. Perception involves these "top-down" effects as well as the "bottom-up" process of processing sensory input. Perception depends on complex functions of the nervous system, but subjectively seems mostly effortless because this processing happens outside conscious awareness."

     It is interesting that the biggest hurdle in changing our perception of things lies in the fact that we are often unaware of what influences it in the first place.  As explained above,  perception occurs outside conscious thought yet it can be changed through training and experience. Our perception is the product of years of development in the physical, mental and emotional levels of our being; it is affected by our environment, both physical and social; the people who we interact with; our schooling and religion or lack thereof.  Some of these things we might have some actual knowledge of their origin; some have deep relations with our childhood that we have forgotten yet a sole memory surfaces ever slightly, making us wonder where it came from and why does it make us feel in such a way.

     If we are not cognizant of what makes the nuts and bolts of our perception, how can we change it to our benefit? This is a tough endeavor, especially since many of the things that make our view of what the world is and what happens in it are rooted in our ego (never mind Star Trek, the ego is the final frontier and the toughest one to overcome).  As such, we might think we want them changed, while inside we scream to be left alone.  No scarier thing to face than the death of the self... But back to the problem at hand, recognizing gaps in our perception and how to bridge them somehow.

     Ronald B. Adler on his book Looking Out, Looking In states there are four steps used in matching meaning with our experiences: selection, organization, interpretation and negotiation. Selection deals with what stimuli we choose to pay attention to or ignore; organization entails  arranging these in some way we can use; interpretation of our perceptions to make use of the stimuli received; and negotiation which involves our interactions with others and their own perceptions.  Many variables can have profound influence on any of these.

     Applied to the study of martial arts, now that we have compartmentalized  the makings of our perception it might be easier to identify areas where our previous knowledge and experience is lacking. For example, let's look at selection: how do we discern a true attack from a feint, which techniques work for us personally, etc.  What about interpretation? Understanding and properly recognizing precursors of violence are largely based on our training and experience (or lack thereof).  Many steps of the development of perception correlate and fluidly evolve and change, like being kicked in the face in sparring (stimuli) can make someone ignore previous training (selection) therefore breaking down previously thought of and practiced responses (organization) and alter how that person continues the fight (negotiation). The process of effecting changes to our perception can be a result of long study and life experience, or something sudden and unexpected.

   Awareness in battle

  My friend Dan Djurdjevic wrote a great article on Legend and the martial arts  that describes the type of influence perception can have in our understanding of what we are learning or hope to learn.  The stories of past masters and their incredible feats notwithstanding, the real abilities displayed by some teachers can be perceived as "magic" or "supernatural" due to our lack of knowledge regarding what is really happening.  A person who trains 30 + years at doing one thing will be able to do it so effortlessly that it might seem almost impossible to someone who has no idea what it took to achieve such skill.  As Michelangelo said once, "If people only knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all."

 Breaking concrete is one of those "magical" karate skills

     The martial arts in Japan have several methods to achieve clarity of perception, rooted in such terms as zanshin (combat awareness), mushin (no self mind) and fudoshin (immovable mind). All the methods to augment our capacities of perception and find these lofty states of being we sometimes try to emulate from our instructors, but without having put in the time to develop the experience and understanding necessary to really make them a part of us we end up with an incomplete picture, or worse still deluding ourselves into believing we have gained an understanding. Even teachers can be guilty of this, which does not bode well for the students who might follow...

 Zanshin, "remaining mind"

      During training as well as in everyday life it is important to maintain awareness (zanshin), and let any situation at hand develop while keeping an objective mind so as to best perceive as many factors involved as possible. Hard to do with all the things that threaten to disrupt our mental and emotional balance each day; but practice and study can go a long way to filter the stimuli we receive into a more cohesive and useful pattern of perception to aid rather than hamper us.

     Perception... it is all pervasive yet we go through life mostly oblivious to its grip on what we do, think and feel.  Let us not forget that during our waking moments anything could bring about a momentous change in how we perceive ourselves, others and the world around us, be it through providence or our own efforts.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Starting the year with a "gasp!" On chokes...

     One of the techniques we have been working on in jujutsu class is hadaka jime, or naked strangle (the naked designation used because it does not require the gi or uniform to apply it as other techniques do).  It is an ancient technique for sure, used in early Greece's pankration (competition combining boxing and wrestling, MMA of the classical times).  It is a staple of jujutsu and judo, made its appearance in WWI and WWII combatives manuals, and a modified version is taught in almost all law enforcement restraint systems as the Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint as a court defensible technique to subdue resisting suspects.


Early grappling & striking techniques of Judo

Pankration techniques

 Standing hadaka jime in Judo

Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint used by police officers

     What makes this hold so universally practiced?  Well, I would say that first and foremost, it works quite well when properly applied, causing unconsciousness in as little as 3-5 seconds when the carotid arteries are sealed, and a bit longer when the windpipe is compressed.  The carotid choke is especially useful against larger opponents, as it requires less strength to apply, although somewhat more refined skill to pull it off.  It can be used from the rear or front; standing, kneeling or on the ground.

Some variations of the naked strangle

     My own experience with the technique prior to jujutsu was as part of self defense technique sets in tae kwon do, and later on as a component of defensive tactics training.  After all, if something works so well it makes sense that others would assimilate it to their own ends.  Yet I can honestly state that until now I had not experienced the strangle as it was meant to be applied.
     So, what's different you ask? For starters, I always thought that if someone tried to apply the strangle to me I would have time to respond appropriately.  Guess what? While there is usually time to do something about the choke before it is completed, the time is definitely less than you might think... a lot less. What this means is that a lot of the preconceived notions you might have about what you can do are gravely mistaken. The entire sequence of grabbing the attacker's arm and throwing him/her over your shoulder might not work out so well if you are still gagging from their forearm striking your Adam's apple, quickly followed by blinking lights...

     A skilled person can have you cold in no time, even when you know the strangle is coming. How can this be? I've experienced this as a subtle manipulation of my incoming attack, where a firm pull on a limb, a nudge against the side of my hip, or some other seemingly unrelated body twist/push/pinch/etc. gets me moving inexorably towards the completion of the strangle by the instructor without him having to work too hard at getting there. Such sensitivity skill can only be acquired through close body contact work, much like chi sao and push hands.  Martial arts like tae kwon do and hard styles of karate do not spend a lot of time on this, as their strategic framework does not require them to do so (their main tactic to forcefully break down incoming attack structure followed by percussive blows to end a threat). Grappling systems, on the other hand, cannot accomplish their goal otherwise.  

     Another thing I learned: it is somewhat easier for a person with a slimmer or smaller build to effect a strangle (especially a carotid strangle) than a larger one.  One of my partners in class is a small frame woman about my age, 5'5" or so and maybe 100 lbs.  You'd be surprised how fast you can start fading out once those slim arms are in the right position around your neck!  A larger person might react forcibly against someone their size or larger if they feel the choke coming, but a smaller person's arm somewhat snakes along so quickly it might take a second or two to make the connection... a second or two is too long a time space when it comes to a choke IMO.  

     I definitely have a better understanding of the dangers of the strangle now, and thankfully have not soiled myself in the process of learning about it (although the void did come close a few times so far).  I would not say it's one of my favorite techniques (although I've had used it successfully twice on the street), and definitely would not recommend it in most self defense situations (where tying yourself around another person might not be advisable if there might be more than one attacker). Still, it is a common attack (if somewhat improperly executed most times) and what better way to defend against it than knowing how to apply it?