Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Odd places to train

Writing about “Dojo Hopping” and training at other schools go me to thinking about some places I’ve trained.  Now I know that some occupations train in different environments, police officers, fire fighters, military etc. etc. come to mind.  But often times in the martial arts we think of training only in the confines of the four walls of the dojo.  However one of the things that impressed me about the Filipino martial arts was the emphasis on environmental training which has led to some fun training in some different places.

Of course my favorite place to train was at my sensei’s dojo which was at his house where he converted his garage into the dojo   When I trained there, there was no heat except for venting the dryer into it during the winter, no AC in the summer except for a box fan.  In the   Over the years it has changed with plywood being put up on the walls instead of sheet rock.  I think a small Heat/AC vent has been added, and of course the old cabinets were removed to give students a little more room.  But it was here that I learn to fight and not run away because frankly there is no place to hide, his students still learn that lesson today in the same small space.
old days there were holes in the walls where we got kicked or thrown up against and the mat area was smaller than a standard sparring ring.

In the late 80’s-early 90’s we had kobudo practice in two buildings in downtown Dallas.  One of the instructors knew someone who leased office space for the buildings and since the rooms were available we got to use them.  One of them the Rotunda, was a round class building on street level across from a church.  As we practiced in full uniform practicing boken, jo, nunchaku, kama and sai we got plenty of strange looks from the passerby and the wedding parties at the church.

In 1998 GM Ernesto Presas and Jon Jon (his son) came to Dallas and Hock had a seminar for him at some place like the Dallas Gun Club.  It wasn’t in a used part of the building rather it was in an unfinished space.  What I remember most about the place was the AC unit filter was all clogged with junk like you see on a TV shows such as Bones.  I can see Hoddgins now exclaiming how he found particulates on the filter that caused the person to have lung cancer or something.  But I digress.  It was gross; we finally took the filter out so the AC would cool the room down.  The same layer of dust and particulates that was on the AC filter coated everything; the floor, you as you rolled on the floor, your sweat stained clothes as you got up from the hard cement floor, etc. etc.  Hands down the dirtiest place I have ever trained, it made you want to get a shower for two days afterwards.  I found this picture yesterday and it still made me feeling grimy 15 years later.

In 1999 I went to a Master’s seminar in Stockton CA to train with the Bahalana club, the Serrada Escrima club and the Descreudas Escrima club in their systems of the Filipino martial arts.  My first stop was at GM Leo Giron’s school that was at his house.  There his students trained in the backyard and under the house.  I remember walking into the backyard and seeing all of these students of his and thinking I’m going to die.  Seriously I was stepping out of my element by traveling to California and training with people I had no clue about, but I really had a blast.  The guys who put on the seminar (the hosts) were great, even having a big pig roast in a park for us.  Overall they were extremely warm and welcoming.

Vincent Cabales’s school was held I believe in a Rec. center and in a small store front which is where we trained.  The room wasn’t much bigger than where I currently teach at the Roanoke Recreation Center, it was pretty tight with no mats.

In 2000 I went to the Garimot Escrima summer camp where we trained in a 5 star hotel ballroom.  Gat Puno Abon “Garimot” Baet  (the host instructor) worked at the hotel so we trained in this huge room.  However the fun part was training outdoors on the back terraces where we did knife defense on the back steps, although we were part of the way through the training session when we had to stop because we were disturbing the concentration of the golfers below us.  On the last full training day we went to the beach were we sparred and wrestled in the sand and then practiced stick drills in the ocean.  As I remember it we were up to our waists in water getting pushed around by the waves as we did drills similar to high box sumbrada.

Occasionally at seminars there is so much participation you have to move outside and train.  Once at a Raffy Pauban seminar at Guro John Bain’s school in Plano we did double baston training in the parking lot.  But the most fun was at one of Hock’s camps where we did disarming and combative type drills outside in the parking lock because we needed room inside. 

Hotel and dorms rooms were always a favorite place to train after hours at seminars.  As were training outside at camps or in neighborhood parks such as this past New Year’s Eve (when I had drive bys by Roanoke’s police checking me out).  I’ve even worked with people in training rooms at work on our lunch breaks.  You can always find a place to train if you want to, even when your dojo is closed.

Dojo Hopping

Recently after Kobudo class I was having dinner with my sensei and a student of mine when my sensei told us some stories of his training.  I always enjoy hearing and reading about other martial artists training experiences because it helps me look at things in a different perspective.  I hadn’t heard of the term “dojo hopping”, although I had heard of “dojo wars” and  “checking my technique” but dojo hopping wasn’t something I was familiar with.

Basically “dojo hopping”, or asking “for a lesson”, or even “to check my technique” is a method of training where a person asks for permission to attend a class and train.  Where today you might redeem a coupon for two free lessons to try out a school, in the past this was not so.  If you were an experienced martial artist and you went without a letter of introduction and asked to join the class, or for special instruction then it was generally considered a challenge.  As my sensei related you would be expected to fight the lower ranked students and work your way up to the advanced students and if you got past them then you might actually get to fight the sensei depending upon their skill and confidence level.  As he said sometimes I won and sometimes I got beat, but this was a method of testing yourself against others.

This practice had its roots in Japan and to be honest probably in every society in one form or another there where (are still) people want to test their skill levels.  In the later Tokugawa period and then during the Meiji reform period wondering swordsmen (samurai/ronin) would approach a school and ask for a lesson thereby challenging the school to a series of duels which often led to people getting seriously hurt, maimed or death.  Since dueling with live steel was abolished, they might not fight with live steal but they would fight with boken (hard wooden swords used in training) which would not cleave a person in two but could smash, pulverize and break bone thereby crippling or killing a person.

Not only was this practice in Japan but also in the Philippines as well.  One time as GM Remy Presas, Arlie (my training partner) and I were eating dinner after a seminar, I asked him about his training in the Philippines.  He told me that after he left the Balintawak school he’d travel to other areas and seek out various instructors (by asking around who the local escrima players were) and approach the instructors and ask them to “check his stick”.  Now he had a sneaky way of doing this, in that he would approach them on the side and (having first found out their enemies) possibly tell them he wanted to challenge this other person and would the master please check his stick to see if he could win?  Then by fighting them in private if he won, he saved them from embarrassment and he “owned them”, which he meant he owned their technique or the essence of their style.  Because he did this in private they didn’t lose stature, students, or income, so they were in a sense indebted to him, he then would train with them (if he could learn from them) before he moved on to find another instructor.  This was one of the ways he collected styles and techniques to formulate Modern Arnis.

Dojo Wars or Dojo Storming, was a term(s) I actually heard from several sources in different parts of the U.S. This was where (especially back in the 1960s-70s) students from one school/dojo would show up at another school to train.  I met one gentleman at a Home Depot of all places, who told me about his training with a local instructor in the DFW area and how they use to do this when other schools opened in the area to challenge the other students and the instructor to fight to prove them worthy of staying open. 

Nowadays the whole challenging the instructor is pretty much over.  If you want to go dojo storming with your dojo buddies you are probably going to face legal trouble if you are trying to shut someone down, or are deliberately trying to hurt other students.  However you can still have some great training experiences by going to different schools to train and I’ll share my experiences in the next blog.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

Recently a new friend and fellow instructor in the martial arts came to visit our classes at the Roanoke Recreation Center.  Since early November I have gotten to know sensei Oliver and although I have known about him for a couple of years now, I didn't really know him as a friend.  Now I consider him a friend and a good resource and workout partner.  So I felt honored that he was in our area and he asked if he could visit our classes.

Sensei Oliver has studied Okinawa based karate and Kobudo for 30+ years now, primarily under one sensei.  Watching him graciously demonstrate katas for my classes, I was once again taken back to an question I have participated in on different discussion forums on the internet.  That is “Is it better to study one style or many?”  Or is it better being a “Jack of all Trades and Master of None” or a “Master of One”? 

I have basically classified myself as being a “Jack of All Trades”.  Very early in my instruction in the martial arts with my sensei’s blessing I sought out other martial systems.  Which led to me explore and seek out the Filipino martial arts and then Jeet Kune Do Concepts, Wa Do ryu, Thai Boxing, Kobudo, etc. etc. while at the same time keeping Tae Kwon Do as a base or root system.  At sensei Proctor’s dojo I was trained to fight, so bringing in outside techniques or concepts was encouraged.  While kata and basics (kihon) practice was important it was really regulated to my training at the karate classes at SMU or the other commercial dojos, but at sensei Proctor’s private dojo it was primarily about the fight and developing the fighting spirit.

Naturally I gravitated then in my later years towards the combative side of the martial arts continuing my studies with Hock Hochheim and finally settling on Modern Arnis and Kombatan Arnis.  For anyone who has ever seen the Professor Remy Presas in his DVDs or live in person he was all about application with form (or exactness) of technique being secondary.  Even the performance of his anyos (katas) was left open, to the practitioner’s interpretation of the moves.  I really struggled with this aspect of training in his art.  Even today as I teach Modern Arnis or what I call Presas Arnis which is a blend of Modern Arnis and Kombatan Arnis, I’m not a purest because that wasn’t my upbringing.

 Contrast this with sensei Oliver who has studied one primary style under primarily one instructor.  First off sensei Oliver does true karate, not the hybrid XMA gymnastic routines that is prevalent in tournaments today.  I think his katas generally had one or two kicks in them that came up to chest level, contrast this with the roundhouse kicks performed as the student turns in a circle while standing on one foot that is common in today’s competitive torunaments.  Where I tend to flow in my katas, especially my Modern Arnis anyos; sensei Oliver had a sharpness, a crispness, to his kata and yet there is still a noticeable flow to it.  Sensei Oliver had a presence about him as he was doing the kata that made the students see what was happening in the kata even though he was doing forms that they had never seen.  They could visualize what was happening and this was so apparent that when asked what they noticed was different they (my intermediate students) answered how he “engaged a person to the front and then moved back (disengagement)”, about how he “was in the center (“like in a circle”) and moved to engage this person and then turned and faced off another person as he moved around” “your stances are shorter and more upright” and these comments were from 8 and 9 year olds. 

Effortlessly sensei Oliver shifted from doing Pinan Sodan and Godan (Shuri style kata to demonstrate where our katas come from) to katas from Na Ha (Goju ryu style) to show the differences between the types of katas.  Sensei Oliver also then demonstrated sia, kama, and bo kata for our students; although he confided to me he hadn’t done one of the katas for two and half years.  As one of my adult arnis students who also took Okinawan Karate exclaimed to me “That the best Pinan Shodan I have ever seen.”  No one could tell he was pulling a kata from memory to educate our students.

As sensei Oliver finished demonstrating katas for the advanced class he taught our students some simple bunkai from Pinan Goddan, and then he gave a brief but detailed explanation about sinking your center while in Horse (riding) stance and it’s use.  Believe me I was learning as much from the lesson (more so really) as our students.

During the advanced class I explained to my students the difference between sensei Oliver and I, how I strived for effectiveness and application and had earned multiple degrees of black belt rank in different systems and sensei Oliver was a purist and a master of one.  Truly there is no comparison it is like apples and oranges.   Because I am not a purist my students won’t be purists in the sense like sensei Oliver is.  However I stressed to my students the importance of the commitment to excellence of practice and of study.  Even being a “Jack of All Trades” you still can be a master if you strive towards excellence.