Friday, April 26, 2013

Quick Update

Last night I had the senior belts all practice on what they were going to do for the demo (all of those in attendance last night were there Wednesday night as well).  Bryce and I figured out where some mistakes were made in Kwan Gae, Hunter and Isaiah worked on the nunchaku form and one steps, Kate and Leilani worked on their one steps.  I was very pleased with their progress.

I spoke to all of the students last night about having fire in their katas, thinking about it this morning driving in my car perhaps a better way of describing it is the word passion.  For those of us who remember the Rocky movies in the 80’s it the old Survivor song “Eye of the Tiger”.  In Rocky III, Rocky suffers some hardships and just loses his way, and the movie is all about him being guided back to discovering his way back to being the Boxing Heavy Weight Champion.   He needed to make the fight real, he needed to care about it.

When practicing kata I want the students to have passion in them, I want them to do it like it is real, not like they are coasting on a bicycle.  I am pleased to say that all of the students who I talked to about this (our intermediate belts got the same talk but in regards to practicing self defense), picked up the pace and improved.  The seniors last night showed a marked difference from the night before.  Isaiah made the nunchaku whip through the air and although he is the least experienced in the class I even called upon him to demonstrate what I mean by “Fire” in their kata when we were practicing empty hand katas.

Hunter showed a big improvement when doing Nunchaku Ni, last night.  He had good concentration he too was making the nunchaku sing  as they whipped about through the air.  Bryce showed a big improvement in Kwan Gye, as his punching and his kicks made his gi (uniform) pop with his movements.  Kate and Leilani were thinking and putting together some good one steps which I then helped them to fine tune.

All in all it was a good extra workout for them on their demo material, since they were the only ones in class.

Demo Practice on 4/24/13

Last night we had our second demo practice and it was far better than our first for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the number of students who decided to participate in the upcoming demo.  For that I need to thank both the students and their parents for carving out more time out of their schedules to practice and to parents for driving the students to practices.

We have been asked to participate in an event called “Rockin At The Ranch!” on Sunday May 5th located at the Bedford Boy’s Ranch, which starts at 10am and runs till 6:00pm.  Now our school’s part in this event is admittedly small we are one small part of the entertainment for the crowd and our part is only from 12:30-1:00pm.  “Rockin at the Ranch” is a fund raiser for Third Tradition Charities a non profit 501c3 organization benefiting multiple charities; so when I was asked to have our school do a demo to help out I readily agreed.

However to be truthful as much as I wanted to help out it was not without some hesitation because to do a demo I needed to have students and parents step up and want to take part and we didn’t have a “DEMO TEAM” of students who were all ready practiced and ready to go.  Plus I’m not the flashy demo kind of a teacher and I don’t really teach the flashy demo stuff.  However; last night’s practice had me feeling excited that we are putting together a small demonstration to help out at this event.  It also made me believe that we can and hopefully will do future demos at other events.

Our first practice we had three students show up, while it was a good start and I was thankful for their courage to step up, last night at our second practice we had nine plus Kevin, Jackie and I.  While it was still hectic I believe the practice went well.  After asking who wanted to do what for the demo, I then sectioned them off to the other room to work under Jackie and Kevin’s supervision and I stayed in the our regular room to work with our students doing Kobudo and the higher kata.

When I was asking who wanted to do what, two students asked to do things that aren’t in their normal Tae Kwon Do program, but are in my Modern Arnis program.  I have encouraged cross training between programs and I sometimes blend in some self defense from the Modern Arnis over to the Tae Kwon Do, but I hadn’t expected Matthew to announce he wanted to do a double stick drill (that he had only be shown or worked on a couple of times in class).   His type of enthusiasm is what we look for so I handed him off to Jackie to work double sticks.  Brooke who has become our resident kata/anyo (encyclopedia) wanted to do two empty hand Green belt katas, one from Tae Kwon Do and the other from Modern Arnis.  Brooke’s ability to absorb and perform kata is very special, she not only knows her Tae Kwon Do forms up through Purple belt, but also the first two Modern Arnis forms and her Nunchaku kata, she keeps all of this sorted out in her head, even though she’ll be testing for her Blue belt the weekend following the demo.

Two students wanted to do the Nunchaku so Isaiah is doing the kata Nunchaku Ni (or the Nunchaku #2 kata) and Hunter is going to do one steps with the Nunchaku against the Bo, which I’ll probably be doing with him.  Isaiah has fire when he does the kata, when he is on, he does it like it is real to him.  Hunter being one of my senior students has the technique and control needed to do the one steps without hurting the feeder. 

The twins Rod and Z are going to do Yul Gok kata synchronized, which I’m glad to see since both are good dedicated students and good technicians.  These two students come four classes per week, sometimes even doubling up on class in order to help out, they are great Blue belts.  Leilani is going to do Hwa Rang kata and be Kate’s partner for one steps.  Kate has chosen to do one steps and self defense.  Bryce stepped up and is going to do Kwan Gae kata which in our system is a 2nd Dan (2nd degree black belt) form.  I picked Bryce to learn this kata; even though he is still a 3rd brown because of his kicking skills and last night we worked on this form together for the first time in months.  He remembered it better than I did but he (we) were (are) still rusty on the kata.  After classes last night, I stayed late to run over the kata again and again so I could get back into the swing of things with it.

Kevin had the great idea of the crowd drill, so if you heard a bunch of chaos (loud noise) coming from room it was actually part of practice.  The crowd drill is designed to make the student focus on the task at hand instead of getting sucked into the distraction of the crowd.  So the crowd which is all of the student who aren’t performing make crowd noise when the student is demonstrating their kata, one steps or what have you.  Now I thought the students and the adults might talk amongst themselves while the student was doing their part of the demo to make crowd noise, but was I wrong.  The first student got up there and all of the sudden I hear “POP CORN, PEANUTS,” “Hey can I have a Coke with that!!!”,  sticks banging on the floor like drums, clapping, yelling, and basically LOUD crowd noise.  WOW what a difference that made!  The kids really got into it and it was distracting, I know it first hand because it was hard for me to stay focused when feeding Hunter the Bo strikes for his one steps.  Kevin was pleased that Brooke finally cracked a smile doing her kata because as he said she was like a machine when only a couple of the students were the crowd, which validated to him that the drill was working.

I can’t express how proud I was of the students as they got up and performed their skills during the crowd drill.  Special mention goes to Jackie and Matthew, because Matthew not only did Single Sinawali, but he also did Single Sinawali Advanced and Advanced 2 with foot work changes.  Under Jackie’s guidance they put together a really nice little part of the demo that show cases his and her skills in a quick 30 minute work out, and during the crowd drill he stayed focused and to the normal observer he never missed a beat.  This is worth special mention because he had never learned these drills with footwork and only worked on the hand motions of Single Sinawali (the basic drill) once or twice in class, also he had never worked with another adult; pretty good for a 9 year old blue belt.

After the kids were done at 7:30pm Kevin Jackie and I worked on the Modern Arnis portion of the demo.  Kevin and I went over and worked out a single stick drill that is choreographed by putting together different pieces of drills, but seems like a stick sparring match.  Jackie and Kevin will be doing a double stick flow drill that is an enhanced version of what Jackie worked with Matthew on.  Then I think Jackie and I will be doing empty hand flow drills.  After all of this I stayed later and worked some on Kwan Gye, so I would ready for Bryce tonight.

It was a very productive night and our next two Demo work outs will be next Monday and Wednesday nights at 6:30 -7:30pm as we get ready for the demo next week end.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why we bow

At the start of each class when a student comes to the room they do a short little bow to the room.  One of the first lessons a student learns from me is that they bow to the room when they enter and when they leave, it is not because we worship the room or the room deserves special recognition, it is simply because we are acknowledging that we have come to train and in the room we are learning the martial arts and outside of the room we go about our lives.

One of the dangers of allowing games or activities in the dojo that are based on fun is that you can get such a lax attitude that the students believe they can play and it is acceptable.  Games; such as Capture the Flag, Spider, relay races, Cat and Mouse, etc. etc. are all fun and have some sort of martial value beyond just a warm up drill.  Capture the Flag, Spider, Cat and Mouse all teach dodging and evasion skills.  Relay races can teach working together skills (such as Wheel Barrow races) or performing under pressure with the Smart Shield drills for the younger students.  Having warm up games helps generate enthusiasm for class, gets the blood pumping and the muscles warm. However if the student forgets why we bow when we enter and leave the classroom the fun becomes the focus of the class and it all becomes a game. 

Entering the classroom is like entering a darkened room, you flip on the light switch and the room is illuminated, things that were darkened now are lit up.  As we bow we should mentally switch on the light switch that we are now prepared to train.  We should see that while we have fun and play warm up games they are not the reason we are studying the martial arts.  Once we are in the class room our minds should be turned on to learning; to helping out the instructor, or to helping others, or to ask others for help in understanding.  We should not be focused on our own needs or own desires to talk, squeal with laughter or carrying on since these can be distracting to the students on the mat already training.

We also bow at the beginning and ending of class; like bowing to the room this is to frame our minds for learning.  At the beginning of class this too should mentally flip the switch that we are here to learn karate (or whatever martial art you are studying), however this is also paying respect to your teacher.  Often times in class if I have had a higher ranked student help me in class, I will have them stand up next to me as we bow out of class.  I do this because I believe that any student that helps deserves recognition from the other students for their help and for their input.  This also helps foster the school spirit that we need to be thankful for help and that we should give help freely and that sometimes there is reward for it (in this case recognition).

We also bow when we are doing drills with a partner.  When we are engaged in mutual combative or learning drills we bow to our partner out of mutual respect as peers, as training partners.  Bowing to each other lets both parties know that we are ready to train, we are engaged in the learning process and that I will respect you and you are to respect me.  Not out of fear for my (or your) abilities, or rank, but rather out of mutual respect as another training partner; a person who is going to help me become better at what I enjoy doing by sharing their time, skill, and expertise to help me be a better martial artist.  If both parties have that attitude then both students benefit from the experience even if it is only a 2 minute sparring match, or even a quick one time self defense drill scenario.

Here at Hidden Sword Martial Arts bowing is not an act or sign of worship to the room, a shrine, pictures of the founders of the art etc. etc.  (I am not saying there is anything wrong with arts that bow, or pay respect to their founders.  It’s just that we don’t.) Rather it is a sign of respect, a way of acknowledging that we are here to train in the martial arts, and a way of acknowledging those who are helping us grow in the martial arts.

Sad Words

“I’m better off fighting empty hand”
For me there are probably no sadder words for a black belt to utter, however I believe for the vast majority of martial artists this is true.  Often times this comes during a discussion where the scenario is posed that the person is faced with an attacker, the threat is real and dangerous and they have a weapon available such as an edged or impact weapon, excluding a gun of course.  I have talked with and seen instructors who will demonstrate dropping the weapon and assuming a sparring type stance when given this scenario.  Now this isn’t about a higher moral code that they must do karate and karate is an empty hand system; rather it is because they feel most confident in their empty hand skills and they feel unconfident with a weapon.

However if they were allowed a gun, even if they weren’t familiar with a gun they would take the gun because of its vast superiority of empty hand defense.  This is so backwards thinking.  In a stressful situation they believe they would be able to draw their gun, get the safety off, chamber a round, point and shoot with no or minimal training.  Consider that it has been proven that an assailant can generally get to a person (even trained to use a gun) in 20 feet or less before they can deploy their gun for their defense.

I believe this stems from an over trained mindset that gives martial artists the idea that everything happens as it does in the dojo.  When it comes to using a stick or a knife in a defensive situation generally martial artists think of in terms of a stick or knife fight a duel so to speak.  Generally speaking when we (martial artists) practice one steps (application drills) in our (as in most public ) dojo, it is with our partner getting into a stance and then attacking as we defend against one or two strikes as if it were a duel. This is for safety sake so the person doesn’t attack when their partner isn’t ready and an accident happens.  But attacks on the streets don’t follow those rules like in a dojo, we aren’t allowed to stretch, to warm up, to square off with the attacker and give him the permission to attack when we are good and ready etc. etc.  Like wise because the gun is a projectile weapon that is generally not taught in martial art dojos; we don’t think of having to deploy the gun as in terms of a gun battle; with shots possibly going on around us, or a person with a knife charging at us etc. etc.

The simple fact is when faced with an attack we’re not dueling, we are fighting to protect our lives.  The impact weapon or the edged weapon used in a self defense situation is generally a tool; a common item from the picked up from the surrounding environment, not a fighting weapon carried on the person.  We (martial artists) should train to use weapons that are on us, or in our surrounding areas.  For instance the weapons of the pioneers, or mountain men of old were single shot firearms and what tools they had on them at the time.  For instance some pioneers carried hatchets and knives on them that helped them cut wood, skin and eat their meat, and basically help them to survive in a harsh world.  If faced with an adversary who is charging towards them, they wouldn’t, if they missed with the single shot bullet, throw down their knives and hatchets to try and face them with nothing because they were considered just tools.  Instead if they missed with the first shot they might use the gun to try and club them, or perhaps toss the gun to the ground to draw the knife and the hatchet to fight them off.  They knew that to survive when their life depended upon it they used whatever was available to help them win.  They knew this, they accepted this, their lives depended upon this mindset, it was plain common sense.

From 1988-90 there was a show on TV that stared Samo Hung where he played a LEO from China called Martial Law.   One of the great things about this show was the fight scenes, Samo Hung would use any and everything to fight the villain with.  If they were in the kitchen he used pots, pans, kitchen utensils you name it he used it, if in a room they used lamps, chairs etc. etc.  This is the mentality we as martial artists should have.  Use what is available and what gets the job done, again this is common sense.  

Today though with all of our training in the martial arts, sometimes we don’t have the settler’s mindset, sometimes we don’t have even common sense.  Rather we have a false sense of security in our training in the dojo that we can defeat anyone or stand a better chance at survival if I disregard any items that might help me survive and face down a potential threat empty handed because I take karate or Tae Kwon Do or Kung Fu.

Instructors need to consider this as well; think about what example you are setting for your students.  You are in effect saying that your empty hand skills are superior (and in a sense telling them by proxy that their empty hand skills will be too) so you don’t need to rely on anything but your empty hands.  When in fact what you should be teaching them is; to use whatever is available, to use whatever stacks the deck in their favor so they can come home to their families and their loved ones.

This type of thinking, this type of mind set, forces us out of our comfort zone.  In the dojo you are in control of the perfect world.  You know exactly the right steps to take to off balance the attacker, you are stepping on the comfortable mat that provides you the sure footing, you have the attacker that is only going to attack you with a prearranged attack when you say so and so on.  In the dojo life is good, we always win and the opponent never fights back.  If as an instructor you feel more confident facing down an armed adversary with knife, empty handed, instead of say; grabbing a back pack, using a trash can lid, grabbing a tire iron, a mop or a broom, a pan of hot water off of the stove etc. etc. I believe that you need some more self defense scenario based training.      

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"It's all the same"

“It’s all the same”
I was sitting there watching GM Remy Presas instruct at the first summer camp I went to with him back in 1995 when I kept hearing him tell us these words “It’s all the same.”  While I heard those words and thought I understood them or his meaning behind them at the time; it’s now almost 20 years later and still those words, that concept that he was teaching us that day (and many days thereafter), continues to help shape my martial arts training.  I have trained with several instructors (at camps and seminars) that have been centered around teaching the Filipino martial arts (FMAs for short) that have really influenced the focus of my teaching methods in both the FMAs and my karate and Kobudo training.

Thirty years ago I went to a Dan Inosanto seminar on the FMAs and it changed my thinking and my course of martial arts study forever.  I learned more about self defense in that 6-8 hour seminar than I had in the year or so I had been studying Tae Kwon Do.  Guro Dan was the first instructor whom I saw that showed the concept of translating techniques and drills from empty hand to weapon applications.   Although Guro Inosanto showed more of how different martial arts and different martial systems blended together, I still took what he showed and applied it to self defense applications.  Self defense has always been a main driver for my practice of the martial arts.  Over time I have of course shifted my focus from just self defense study to other areas in the martial arts but….. I still tend to filter techniques, applications, strategies, my core instruction etc. etc. based on the application of self defense.

One of the things I really grabbed onto with the FMAs was the teaching concept that techniques can be applied from one weapon group to another, granted there are some adjustments but the training in the FMAs help bring about those adjustments in a quicker manner.  In combining the systems of GM Remy Presas’s Modern Arnis and GM Ernesto Presas’s Kombatan system into one system which I called Presas Arnis or Modern Arnis our curriculum is based more on self defense instruction than say a stick fighter’s system.  Both GM Remy and GM Ernesto stressed this concept in their instruction, however it was W. Hock Hochheim who really influenced me by giving me the vision and the instruction to help change my thinking.

GM Remy would during his instruction (demos) at his camps make statements while showing different stick techniques like “you are there already!  This is a cut” “This is a throw!” and this might have been his way of making the point that with a blade this strike with the empty hand would be a cut, or with a stick this technique could be a choke and with the empty hand it could be a throw etc. etc.  He was great at demonstrating and this is how he got his points across, but his verbal instruction methods lacked some making it  a hard way to learn this concept.  Granted we could see how to apply drills like Empty Hand Sinawali and make the translations to the Single Sinawali (double stick) drill, or how the thrust in that drill could translate to the punch etc. etc. but really this is just the tip of the ice berg, there was so much more. GM Ernesto was a bit different, his system and the way it was set up showed these concepts and the way he taught could lead you to these concepts but…… it was still kind of out there.  He could demonstrate it, and demonstrate he did.  GM Ernesto would do things like using a water bottle vs. a stick while doing his freestyle drill pattern (showing how you can use anything).   Or, like he did at a seminar I helped host for him in 2002;  at the end of the seminar he took ideas from the attendees, such as disarming with a bo, sai, tonfa a towel etc. etc. showing us how these all related to what we had learned during his seminar.  However where both of them stressed this in regards to learning their martial art systems, Hock stressed it in regards to self defense and took it to a different level for me.

Hock helped me to frame most everything through self defense and he took things to the extreme like practicing Hubud empty hand against a knife then quick drawing a rubber band gun and shooting the person in center mass, or wrestling with one person going for submissions while the other goes for getting to the eyes or throat.  He’d add things to the drills to up the frustration or stress levels making you adapt.  Hock would take the feeding patterns and add kicks, punches, different techniques, or even different weapon combinations breaking down the barriers we would form in our minds, all of the while teaching us that this is what is going on.

This was such a different concept for me at the time because prior to this I was use to thinking that using a sai, a tonfa, and a rattan stick were all vastly different.  On top of this I was being told that my empty hand techniques were similar to my techniques with weapons?   WHAT!!!!!?

However this is what helped set me straight, this is what helped me to see that the weapon is an extension of the hand; that I didn’t need to learn a bunch of katas for each type of weapon.  (Don’t get me wrong I enjoy learning and practicing katas, I believe that with katas  there also needs to be application of the techniques found within the kata.) That a flashlight could be used like a stick, that a two handed grip on a backpack or a brief case is similar to a two handed grip on a stick, that this hand hold release could also be used to release a hand that is trying desperately to keep me from drawing my weapon or keeping me from getting to my assailant with it.  That I could apply a wrist lock with my hand, a stick, a knife, a sai, a tonfa, even a water bottle and that in many ways as GM Remy use to say “It’s all the same”.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Grow or Die

I’m sure we all have seen signs of this in nature and in life, for me one of the most vivid visual representations of this is when I see a tree or a plant trying to survive in an extreme situation.  One of the extreme situations that I remember was when years ago a friend of mine bought several junked cars.  One of them a Packard, was sitting outdoors and in between the back bumper and the car body a tree had grown up.  This tree grew up from the grown and was about 6 inches in diameter below the bumper and above it but narrowed to an inch or so in between the bumper and the body and then flared back out again.  Another time I was taking pictures for a photography class when I happened upon a tree that was on a fence row and it had grown around the barbed wire so that the barbed wire looked like it was absorbed by the tree.

If the trees had the tendencies of humans it could have come across the obstacle and just decided it wasn’t worth the struggle and given up.  In the first example the tree ran into a car and all it had was a narrow place to grow towards the life saving light that it need to grow.  I’m sure if the tree had feelings it could have felt bad for itself, it could have whined and complained to the other trees, it might have even filed a lawsuit claiming it was disadvantaged and it needed the car moved so it could grow unimpeded.  But the tree didn’t have human tendencies, it didn’t think it just did what it needed to survive and it grew being squeezed in between the bumper and the car and then expanded to form a functioning tree and having a healthier life.

Likewise in the second example the when the tree ran into the barbed wire; the tree if it was human, I’m sure would have been tempted to give up.  Life and dealt it an unfair deal, something was holding it back, something strong and painful; there was a barrier that it couldn’t break through.  Now it too could have given up but…. Being a tree it didn’t have that choice, it didn’t have those thoughts it couldn’t analyze the situation it did what any tree would do it continue to grow.  So much so that it ended up ultimately absorbing the barbed wire and it ultimately outlasted the fence row, because when I took the photograph the fence was gone but the tree with the barbed wire still in it was still there.

So why did I entitled this blog post Grow or Die, and what does these stories of trees have to do with the martial arts?  I believe that in the martial arts as in life we either grow or we die.  I don’t mean a physical death, although that could happen.  I don’t mean a mental or spiritual death, although that too could happen.  Rather I mean a death in your study of the martial arts.

Like a tree when we first get started in the martial arts we grow, we shoot towards the light.  However many times as in the first example something in our life takes place that all of the sudden we are squeezed; a job change, a life style change, or a life event such as a marriage or a child being born.  Times get tough and unlike the tree we give up, we give into the pressures of life and we die.  We take out the stake place it on our chest and grab the mallet with the other hand and beat it into our chest.

Other times in life we run into barriers, sometimes these barriers are very real and they do hold us back, however we can still grow if we don’t give in.  A very real barrier is the mental one that comes with the feeling that I’ve learn all I can from this art or this teacher.  “Oh well I’m done, I’ll go onto something else.”  Another barrier could be an instructor, or classmates that for whatever reason has determined that you should be held back, that you are unworthy to progress.  Other barriers could be ones we imposed on ourselves such as “I will train until I reach black belt (or insert rank here ___________)”. 

I venture to say that anyone who has ever been in the martial arts for any length of time has run into barriers in their practice of the martial arts.  Those that have stayed with the martial arts are the ones who have persevered in their study of the martial arts; who even though life is squeezing them, continues to grow, even though they run into barriers and obstacles they learn to grow around them even to the point of absorbing them.  For those of us who have been in the martial arts for a long time, barriers and life events can be painful and there are struggles but like the trees we just continue to grow through them it is just the natural order of things.