Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Guest instructor

This weekend our class enjoyed guest instruction by Ms. Johnaleen Castro, an accomplished martial artist and a skilled fighter (not always a synonymous blend) who became a 2004/2005 WEKAF champion in the Philippines. She covered progressive sparring with emphasis on mobility and evasion from two perspectives, stick and knife.

Once again, feedback from students lets me see what they are getting and need in their training, and so I've thought a bit about the questions I've got so far. It was good to see how guys were showing their training, even in unfamiliar drills. This should raise lots of interesting questions, and maybe answer a few for them as well.

Most FMA systems integrate different types of weapons, but some really differentiate between them. Single stick, double stick, espada y daga, empty hands, knife, all are related but had their own nuances. Serrada's focus on the short stick distinguishes it from the majority of escrima styles, and because it emphasizes small-circle movement, the transition to a blade is very natural, working similar range and area. In many systems they have to tighten up movement patterns to work with the knife. In Serrada, Angel emphasized doing the same things and not opening up wider with the blade to slice and dice, saying we already had enough movement to cut. He taught us not to lose our compactness of motion. Our stick, knife and empty hand patterns are the same, keeping things in front of us, and all technique is based from those patterns. In a fight technique may get lost, but training takes over. The better disciplined you are in your fundamentals, the more likely you are to do something appropriate. Many old-timers taught integrated movement because consistency trains out miscellaneous errors. Serrada may have a strong core philosophy, but it works because this is grounded in natural spontaneous movement to which the body can readily accept refinement.

Footwork: FMA is focused on footwork, not stance, the idea being to emphasize the aliveness of movement. It's good to know stances so as to understand points of balance, but motion is a dynamic flow of unbalancing and rebalancing. Angel taught a basic, simple pattern (papeet) because it takes consistent repetition to ingrain neuromuscular memory, but he also said that we already know how to move because we are alive, and so we could just step as we need to because we already know how. Footwork is like our lock-and-block position, something to come back to as a reference to keep us focused and aligned, but don't get so caught up in theory as to misjudge the moment. Use it more a guideline than a rule. Rules are made to be broken, but having that place of knowledge gives us a base to explore the unknown. the leverage with which to pry loose greater understanding. If you don't know to begin with, how can you tell the difference?

I recently watched parts of the 1987 White Tiger seminar, and Angel uses footwork in places that varies from the lessons he emphasized. On a pass he steps back and then in again, reversing the papeet he taught me to use there. In feeding strikes he does a fade-away cross-step, something he only mentioned in passing because he wanted us to avoid cross-steps. What Angel emphasized was controlling the range, and whatever steps successfully accomplish that are valid. Obviously the preference is good simple basics, but then whatever comes along is an add-on, not your basic move. The basic range of Serrada is right in front of your opponent's weapon hand. Establish that, and you can move in or out smoothly and in control depending on choices you are making.

Footwork for papeet 1) front leg maintains in-place stepping; 2) half step forward, half-step back; 3) step forward; 4) step back. Each of these has nuances, which basically come from the waist, so one can twist, turn, lean, crouch; do whatever is natural and efficient to avoid or deliver a blow. Think of the legs as a large increment scale for range control, and your upper body as the fine-increment control. We have the "three bridges": the legs, body and the arms (which are important positional microtuners). Each of the three bridges is a reduction, like going from meters to centimeters to millimeters, with the arms the last part of the balancing equation. Use them as an extension of lower body energy for power. This allows us to use all three of Ed Parker's elements of power: linear, torsion, and gravity.

It seems I'm emphasizing footwork a lot, but you cannot separate it from the rest of the technique, and nothing else can be trained with precision if footwork is not properly integrated. It's one of the hardest things to change, because we take our feet for granted, but it is essential to good martial arts, as the basis for range, timing, speed and power. The basics obviously are not the whole package, but moving on without good basics will come back to haunt you later when you struggle to figure out why you are having a problem. It is probably a poor habit established early. It's a paradox that you have to take the time to try to understand things at the time (beginning) when you are most impatient to progress.


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