Friday, February 18, 2005

Snap! (part 2)

Snap! (part 2)
I'm starting this blog with a quote that my friend Tom Meadows wrote in the guest book after the previous posting: "Jeff, I always thought your abanico's looked quite strange, and now I know why. Since I consider most people's abanicos utterly useless due to their using solely wrist movement, yours being quiet strange is a good thing, and now I know how you generate power with it. Similar to how I do it, but I think we may use our hip/shoulder linkage differently during the process. I copied mine from GM Cacoy. We'll have to compare when we get together next. Your Blog made me realize that what Cacoy does with the baton is use it just as if it were another jointed bone of the body, thus it never fights the natural linkage, always complements it, and it is so hard to fight because you are not used to dealing with someone with two forearms below his elbow."

I had to think about this, because for one, it's hard to see myself as others do, and not being a camera hound, I don't have a lot of self-referential film to study. Tom mostly saw my fighting in the Philippines in 1989, and back then I don't think I had nearly the insight into the mechanics of Serrada that I do now. I understood the techniques on the macro level, but now we're putting them under a microscope for higher magnification.

*Side note - this is, once again, why repetitive practice is necessary to achieve results. I learned from racecar builders that 95% of the effort is in the last 5% of the results. That's another way of saying the learning curve is steep at the beginning, but it's a lot harder finally refining a finished product.

Back to Tom's comment, there are different ways to throw abanicos; sometimes a fan is more than just a fan ... and for clarity, the movement to which I’ll be referring through this piece is horizontal abanico combination striking, such as to the head. If one uses a stick as a stick, simple wrist rotation works because you have a 360-degree surface with which to hit. On the other hand, if you use the stick as a metaphor for blade training (or use an actual blade) then you have to account for different surfaces and what your intention is in choosing with which one to strike (hint - it isn't always the cutting edge).

This is actually an important distinction between styles in FMA, and as it reflects the personal bias of a practitioner, can shape the evolution of a particular system. For instance, you could always see the blade orientation in Angel's strikes, from the tip of his toes to the end of his stick. Some (if not many) of his students, having trained almost exclusively with the stick, modified their movement either consciously or (more likely) unconsciously so it is tuned more precisely for that weapon but loses some of the inherent versatility of an edged perspective. Back when I was learning a little about Japanese edged weapons I was taught that the design of blades maximized the inherent flow of power through the hand. I've basically accepted this premise, but for argument's sake I'll say that power and speed are not synonymous or necessarily desirable, and so the "flat" wrist-turning abanico with a stick suits a certain purpose.

The most common abanico headshots are, of course, a simple wrist rotation, seen in FMA training around the world. It’s fast and flashy – POP! POP! POP! and you are done. How then did Angel, using more powerful edged-position strikes, move so quickly he could make his stick blur and disappear? Ah, Grasshopper, that is the question, and one I am unraveling to this day. I can reveal what I can see; what I can actually do is another matter.

Since this thread is about snapping strikes, we have an obvious clue, and a secret known to many advanced martial artists. In order to snap a strike, you have to get out faster than you go in! As James Mitose wrote in What Is Self Defense? : “If your punching speed is about 10, be sure your returning speed is 13.” His reasoning was to avoid a jiu-jitsu grab, but it makes as much sense in avoiding an escrima counterstrike. This speed factor also focuses the strike like a hypodermic injection of energy at the point of contact. It also keeps the arm loose and fluid so your energy projects out to the tip of the weapon like a whip (centrifugal force).

It’s common in many martial art schools to see students pose their punches, a habit learned by lining students up and having them lock out punches on command. This may be good for seeing the focus of the strike, but it also creates a habit to stop, which in a fighting situation is a really, really bad idea. Returning a punch keeps the flow going and resets for the next move. With a stick, it moves our target (the hand) away from a counter while maximizing power, and yes, keeps us from stopping to admire our work.

An important key in the snap is whole body movement. Everything moves as one in an integrated fashion. Even if we isolate a movement, we have to consider the dynamic tensions that hold the rest of the body in place to support the part that moves. Consider Newton’s third law, that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If we throw our abanicos with just the wrist, we are reversing the momentum of the stick with the small leverage of our wrist, and all the shock and impact are felt in that relatively small area. If we utilize the whole body, we gain power through multiple levers, from the feet, legs, torso and arms. Some of Angel’s strikes looked delicately balanced, his whole body counterbalancing the point of impact. This spreads the stress of achieving our angle of impact over a wider area, allowing for more finite adjustments, and similarly absorbs the rebound. By angulating the body to position the arm, it relieves stress closest to the point of impact, minimizing potential for injury and allowing more fluidity in recovering the rebound of the strike. As I wrote previously, that rebound is with the tendons, minimizing the workload of the muscles.

Not every blow in a rapid sequence will achieve maximum potential, but then a lot of Asian martial arts are based on setting up the opponent for a final blow. If one throws two abanicos to the head, if the first is an inward rotation, in front of one’s body or overhead, pronating the hand (palm down) and then follows with an outward strike (supinated or palm up), the first might accentuate speed and the second power. This wouldn’t mean a weak first strike or a slow second one, but that the first strike would be setting up the second, and the latter would carry more focused intent. Make that a three-strike pattern and again the last would (or should) be the most emphatic. All might create speed through the snap, using the bicep for the return of the forearm rather than just wrist twists, but if you are doing combination strikes, they should be explosively pre-planned. Once you complete the sequence, it’s time to move on. Either get to a ready position for whatever comes next, or flow into another defense or counter.

As Tom wrote, having a stick gives us an extra joint. I tell students we have two elbows in our arm. Use this flexibility as an extension, starting from the ground up and coming from the waist. Tai Chi books talk about this kind of energy a lot. I never understood it from the books, but through practice it is becoming clearer all the time.

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