Sunday, January 16, 2005

Post stepping

In Serrada we have footwork taught formally, like the papeet (replacement step), then there are moves that didn’t really have names, like the step to the outside (female triangle), the rollback move against a #3 strike, or the leg lift for the punch block against the same angle. The Chinese would refer to such a move as a hanging horse or a crane stance.

In yesterday’s class we worked on one such move, which I refer to as a post step or posting up, a term familiar to Tai Chi practitioners. I will contrast this first with triangle stepping to show the difference, then go into the application we were doing for the outside block.

In triangle stepping, if one has both feet shoulder separated, marking two points of the triangle, a step would be directly from one of those points to the third one. In posting up, however, one would bring the feet together on a single point and then step to the third point with the foot that had just moved. In other words, when you step, you step through the position of the stationary foot. Generally there is a touch or a pause as the feet come together, though the moving foot remains unweighted. This is a control to allow change of direction or shift of weight as needed.

This step can be applied to the outside block as follows:

In our basic technique against a #1 strike (or #6, 7, 10, 12) we step forward to the left at approximately a 45ยบ angle, or just enough to slide outside of the attack. We’re stepping with the left foot, combined with a parry with the left hand then a strike or check with the right hand or weapon. Next we redirect our rear right foot back behind us (clockwise rotation) as we check with our left hand. If we originally were facing towards 12 o’clock (imagining ourselves at the center of a clock dial), our left check is now at 1 o’clock and the rear foot at 7 o’clock.

With the post step, we begin with the same left outward step and parry combination. However, rather than leaving the rear foot in its original position, we allow our momentum to pull it along so that our weight is centered more directly underneath us. The motion is essentially a step/drag, the rear foot dragging up alongside the lead foot. It is a bit like a cat stance, just touching with the ball of the foot, but whereas a cat stance is forward facing, this is a “side cat” in that our rear foot touches next to the heel of the front one so we are still sideways to the attacker. We wind up in a knock-kneed position, our thighs pressed together and our stance triangulated just from the knee down.

The purpose of this variation is to get the rear leg out of the line of an attack. If an attacker has a heavy weapon, particularly something with a sharp edge to it, and attacks with commitment to his strike, having the leg extended behind leaves it in the path of the strike. In essence, we are pulling it in to avoid the blow. This is a more advanced variation of the basic step, one that Angel taught after the basic concept was mastered, and what he called “more for combat.” Another similar look he’d use was dropping low and pulling the thighs together, leaving the rear foot more extended. There wasn’t as much emphasis on these steps as learning the basics, but by the time Angel showed these, it was more a process of refining what we’d already learned well.

Along with the post step, the upper body is generally a bit more rounded than the basic step. In all variations, the right arm hangs down across the front of the body so the weapon is hanging in front of the left knee, ensuring it is outside of the attackers arm for the abanico follow-up. For me at least, the wider basic step leaves the body more upright, while the post-up step drops the weight and keeps the head down more for protection.

The last part of the step is moving out of the post position. Here, as we step back with the right foot, we are checking with the left hand. As we step back, the right hip pulls back, rotating the waist clockwise and projecting the left shoulder and check hand forward. This goes back to the coil/uncoil concept. We coil ourselves with the compression of the first step, uncoil or unwind with the step back and check. This then cocks the rear hand for the “kill” strike, with an open stance (rear heel is rotated clockwise, like a “reverse cat stance” turned away from the opponent). We then rebound back counterclockwise with the upper body using the abdominal muscles and the torsion of the hips, reversing the rear foot on the ball so the knee once again points forward and dropping our weight into the strike.

I’m sure we could micro-detail this and come up with further nuances and variables, but this is to give an idea of using this footwork. Again, the basic goal is not to get hit, so we avoid the strike then deliver our own response. There are ways to make things happen more simultaneously, but as Angel used to point out, one has to have superior timing over the opponent to have high expectation of success that way. We start with self-preservation; in nature, even fearsome predators use caution, because an injury could be deadly (like starving to death with a broken jaw from a kick by the intended prey). Once we have created our optimized position (avoid the attack, clear angle to counter) then we move on with the next phase of our technique.

Saturday, January 15, 2005


Not all testing is like taking a test. Perhaps sometimes it's more like crossing a creek, or a snowy field, and just making sure the footing is firm before shifting the weight. If it isn't, one adjusts a new foothold. As martial artists, we are the tester and the tested all the time. I believe it was Bruce Lee who described a punch as a test, to see if the recipient can handle it. Whoever it was who said it made an astute observation. We train to have the answers to the questions posed by life's stressful encounters. Some of the answers we learn are overt, such as "Yes, I can parry and counterpunch." Others are more subtle, such as "Having developed skill in martial arts, can I apply this to other areas of my life that require discipline, or patience, or courage?" In essence, the ability to respond is a sign of life, a measurement of vitality.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Amazing account of tsunami survival

This is where you can read the most incredible first-hand account I've seen anywhere by a survivor of the tsunami. This isn't from some dignitary coming in and expressing amazement at the devastation, this is a blow-by-blow account of being swept through the debris, written by a dive-shop worker in Thailand who's a friend of one of my students. Al was himself supposed to go to Khao Lak on Christmas to start a dive vacation; his wife's decision to stay an extra day in Bangkok before flying home probably saved his life.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Rainy day thoughts

Rainy days are good for working at the computer. I think I get as much material to write about through email correspondence as I do working out these days. Someone responded to my earlier blog about simplicity, so here's a brief reprise on that subject.

I really don't think its as important to learn new techniques as it is to master what you've got. It's like having one car that you keep clean and running really great, versus having a driveway full of junkers you don't have time or money to maintain. We had WAY more material and techniques in Kenpo, but most of us couldn't use them worth a #$%! There was so much, we never had the time to practice everything, and so whatever we did, we had to recall from memory as opposed to it flowing naturally.

Almost as soon as I began training in Serrada, within a couple of months, I began holding my own against the top fighters in the dojo, guys who'd been kicking my butt for years. They were shocked and wanted to know what I was doing. Simple repetition of basic techniques with a live partner dialed in timing and range, and my growing confidence in using the live hand allowed me to stay in closer to smother my opponents' techniques. I preferred that range because it took away some of the explosiveness of the great long range fighters around me.

Ever hear of I Chuan? All those guys seem to do is standing post meditation. People used to make fun of them, but top fighters from other schools said "No, they're for real. Don't mess with them!" There's a great book about Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido, called "Invincible Warrior". He used to say that anyone in reasonable health could learn to wave their hands around as techniques, but the real ability to perform them came from within. He was a deeply spiritual man, and this is why Aikido spends so much time doing meditation.

Think of it this way. If you drive your car on the freeway, you don't see many details of the landscape as you pass by. When you slow down and walk, you notice much more. Fighting is a bit like that too. It isn't a race. Try to do too much, you get so caught up in your own stuff you don't notice as clearly what the other guy is about to do to you.

One of the best beat-downs I ever saw was when my Kenpo teacher was sparring a visiting young TKD brown belt. The guy charged in and Al simply pulled back into a crane stance (front knee lifted to block) with his hands out in front. The kid ran into Al like a wave crashing against rocks on the shore. As his groin ran aground on Al's knee, his upper body pitched forward, impaling his throat and eyes on Al's fingertips. Al never moved, just stood there, while the kid bounced back, hit the floor, and proceeded to roll around groaning for minutes. He was done.

It was about a year later that I picked myself up off the mat after yet another thrashing by Al, and I said "Someday I'll be as fast as you." His answer is something I'll never forget. "You're already faster than me. That's your problem!" His thing was timing, and it was impeccable. Similarly, a Silat teacher whom I greatly respect used to say "a martial artist should neither be too early or too late, but always on time."

When Ed Parker talked about how Kenpo moves were developed, he'd point out that you had to account for your opponent's reaction to being hit. If you strike the groin, the head moves forward. The problem many people had, as he saw it, was that by trying to go fast all the time, they'd miss the opening created because their opponent wouldn't be in position as fast as they threw the follow-up strike.

This is part of the key to "monitoring," a key phrase in Serrada. We're supposed to watch the opponent to see what attacks may be imminent. Sometimes we have to slow down to do this, and to be able to respond if necessary. If we're going full blast it's difficult to change direction in response to a new threat or targeting opportunity. There's a moment I have on video of Angel demonstrating a technique with Marc Sabin, back at the White Tiger seminar in early 1986. Angel is doing the Inside Block with abanicos to the head. As he comes back down to strike underneath Marc's weapon arm, you can clearly see Angel slow down to look at Marc's other hand. It wasn't accidental; it's clearly a trained reaction. Watching the tape in slow motion, it almost looks like a pause, but in real time, it's so brief as to be barely perceptible.

Here we have one of the keys for speed. It isn't trying to go fast; sometimes being relaxed accomplishes that better than pushing hard. Genetically we're hardwired with certain potential, and that's that. What we can gain is efficiency, so by training the same movement over and over - polishing, as they say in Tai Chi - we become more efficient. We go from target to target with less wasted effort to overcome. When we pause or change direction, we do it with minimum disruption to our flow, as opposed to beginners who come to a complete stop, think a moment about what to do next, and then have to initiate their momentum all over again.

About 4 years ago I was into autocross racing, which is running a car against the clock around a course laid out with orange cones. I was one of three guys (out of maybe 300) driving a street Maxima, the biggest sedan on the course. These are cool cars, typically running in the middle of the pack overall, but very competitive in sedan class. I did well enough to take second in rookie class and spent half the season co-driving in the #1 sponsored Maxima in the country. One day the national autocross champion showed up at our event. A friend of my driving partner, he borrowed the Maxima to race that day. In an event where shaving hundredths of a second is a competitive breakthrough, he knocked four full seconds off our best times. In fact, he ran the fastest laps of the day, beating Corvettes, Porsches, stripped-down trailered-in autocross race cars, everything! To say it was mind-blowing is putting it mildly - a medium powered street sedan blowing away high-performance race cars, some driven by highly experienced competitors. How did he do it? Sloooowly. He didn't try to extract every inch of each straightaway, he let the cars ease into the turns, made his moves smoothly, then got the best acceleration possible into the next straight.

About 14 years ago I tested for the Berkeley Police department. They had an agility course set up in a gym and we did four laps for time, one person at a time against the clock, just like autocross. I was already 36, probably the oldest person of the 120 applicants. As I watched those in front of me take their turns, I could see the glitches in their movement. They'd run up to a barrier, stop, clamber over, then pause on the other side to see where to go next. They did not use forward vision. Now I ran cross-country competitively for 5 years when I was younger and I'd done a little competitive skiing, so I knew how to run a course. As I ran to the barrier, I was timing my jump. Before I got to each corner I adjusted my footwork so I could plant my outside foot and push into the turn. I did this for the entire course. When I finished, the testing officers looked at me funny, then one came over to show me his stopwatch. I had the third fastest time of the day, though most of the young guys were in better physical shape.

Like the old saying goes, "Work smarter, not harder."

Secrecy or what?

Some Filipino systems have codes of secrecy. Then there are those that advertise on the web, writing:

"An invitation to join the training group is a unique and exciting opportunity. However, membership in the group is not for everyone. Join the group, and for life - You are bound by the Warrior's code: Honor, Loyalty, and Silence. We firmly enforce the social responsibility that accompanies the awesome destructive power of this skill and art. For this reason, Group members must swear an oath to never reveal our practices outside the group. This preserves the combative integrity of the group."

What got me about this is that they have pictures of what they are doing, and they sell videos for $20 for each belt rank! How secret can they be if they're peddling their art online like that?!! Just having belt rank is a tilt towards commercialization of the art. Posting your school and pictures online is the antithesis of secrecy. Selling tapes for rank ... not secret at all! At that point, if they have secrets, it's that they are holding back on the good stuff and not really teaching with full integrity. IMHO, anyway.

Right up front they state that they are not a new method or style of FMA, they've simply categorized all the drills they have found in all the systems they've researched and systemetized them. If they've taken knowledge given freely, how is it they put it back into the dark? Maybe they're recruiting mercenaries from the ranks. I don't know or care to find out. That's their business.

Some systems don't require loyalty oaths until certain levels are reached. Others have incremental steps, such as "don't show or tell" for beginners, a blood oath for the hardcore elite.

Me, I believe in freedom in martial arts, and every day I thank my teachers for allowing me to have the freedom to explore and grow on my own. Most people don't undertake the rigors of training to become pliant and controllable drones, they want to become strong people in their own right. Martial arts were about resisting oppression, taking responsibility for one's own destiny, insofar as one might. There are times and places where secrecy has been necessary, such as guerrilla warfare where the lives of you and your associates are in danger. In a free and open society, however, secrecy is a way to brand loyalty, a brainwashing tool that demands obedience to a hierarchy. It is a large part of what defines cults.

In the end, people may choose to leave anyway, engendering hard feelings between those leaving and those left, and what can be done to prevent someone from going? They could get a court to issue a gag order against the wayward member, or resort to intimidation and violence. At that point they've pretty much destroyed the integrity of the art that drew people to it in the first place.

Think and choose wisely, because much that is purportedly hidden in such groups is freely distributed elsewhere, and if it is truly secret, it surely isn't advertised!

Life is pretty much defined by two primitive impulses: attraction and fear. Psychologists from Wilhelm Reich to B.F. Skinner studied these. Training animals (and people) nowadays owes much to understanding this. Obtaining willing behavior is generally faster and more reliable than coercion. Try punishing an 8,000 lb. orca at Marine World and your trainer has just become bait, but with rewards and encouragement, that animal can learn all its tricks and routines in 9 months, plus many behaviors required for care and maintenance. Offer a kid candy for trying to answer a math problem. Give more candy if the answer is correct. How would this affect behavior compared to yelling and belittling? The old saying was "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

Blood oaths and secrecy are about power and control, the dark side of the art. What is it that is so greatly feared that such strictures are imposed? Is it fear of the outside world, or a lack of trust of those brought into the clique? Looks like the latter to me.


OK, I don't plan to beat this to death, but for the record ... It's annoying being slammed for selling "knock-off" knives, so I just did a tour of several big and well-known martial arts online suppliers. No surprise: what I found were lots of cheap knives (and a few good ones sprinkled in, same as my site). Gee, could those be imports from China or Pakistan? All I know is if it costs less to import and sell retail than to get made over here, that's a yes. You don't find many custom production knives for under $100, let alone $30, so it seems I'm in good company offering tools for the common man. I decided a year ago to try selling some because it is such a common item, at hardware stores, convenience stores, martial art stores, etc. If a normal business practice makes me a bad guy that some folks won't do business with, I guess they don't spend money at the grocery store either! After all, they might be offended that you could buy imitation Ho Ho's instead of the name brand.

Also on these same sites, I've found knock-offs of my sticks for nearly four times what I charge! Example: One size and material of synthetic stick for $56 each! I sell a pair of identical ones for $50! (those are my 28" x 1" Panther II sticks). I also offer an complete range in this material, from 6" tabaks to 4" staffs, customized for each order and not just one size like the "other guys". I also use a variety of choices in materials and diameters to tailor weight and appearance.

Anyway, those are pretty hefty sticks they sell and wouldn't be my first choice for most people. I bet a lot of folks would be turned off to synthetics after trying them, saying "synthetics are too heavy" when it's just the lack of imagination or creativity that limits the selection on these sites (though many do offer a wide array of ... cheap imported knives!) Expensive blades are a specialty item and there are plenty of sites for those who prefer them. Hey, not everybody can afford to drive a Lexus either, and that's why Honda created separate showrooms.

Since I pioneered these types of sticks, I guess all the big guys are ripping off my creative concept, but I don't see too many complaints aired about them doing so. It's funny in a way because when I first tried to market my sticks wholesale, I was told by several large mail-order companies that they weren't interested because it would hurt their recurring sales of breakable rattan. Let's hear it for integrity!

For those who don't know my sticks, they can be found at

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Keeping It Simple Serrada

Back to basics, the reason for this blog …. This is the essential theme of what I teach, and why I place such a premium on understanding why we do what we do in Serrada right from the start. I should make up a checklist of rules for learning, and right at the top this would be the first:

“If you understand the basics, you understand the system.”

If you question the importance of this fundamental point, try reversing the statement. How can you possibly understand the system if you don’t know and understand the basic principles on which it is built?

I don’t care if you are a rocket scientist; violate the tenets of your discipline and you’ve got nothing. UC Berkeley has more Nobel laureates than perhaps any other university in the world (certainly any other public one) and one explanation for this phenomenon is that even tenured professors there are required to teach bonehead classes to underclassmen. What this means is they are always reimmersing themselves in the fundamentals of their field of study, continually deepening the core of their craft.

My Kenpo teacher, Al Thomas, was one of the most awesome martial artists I’ve had the privilege to know. He started in the arts at age 5; by 12 he’d reached black belt level in Shotokan, Taekwondo and Judo, and by age 17 added black belts in two completely different systems of Kenpo. He was indomitable, the kind of fighter who would and could continue to ramp up his performance beyond any opponent I ever saw him face, and he regularly sparred some of the best in the country. When he was about 30, he walked into his school one day and announced that he felt he’d finally mastered his basics! That was scary but also awesome, because it gave us perspective on what basics meant to the art. As beginners we always wanted to grow beyond basics, but if you read Bruce Lee’s statement about “a punch is just a punch” that is exactly what it means, that basics are everything and without them you cannot expect great success.

As Al explained to us often, there are no advanced techniques in martial arts, just basics done increasingly better. No matter how complex a technique looks, it all breaks down into using the footwork, stances and strikes that one learned in the beginning. You can create longer sequences, you can do them faster, but always they are rooted in simple moves. Kenpo grandmaster Ed Parker explained this by creating his “alphabet of motion,” which used the analogy of learning letters, then creating words, then sentences. From those components one can write a masterpiece.

As a teacher of Serrada, I see certain common flaws in students, both my own and many who come through from other younger generation teachers. The most common one is uncertainty in response to some particular situation. People then begin to improvise and make up moves. Now I have no problem with creativity per se, as long as it is effective. Angel himself said that “When it comes to ‘for real’ forget about the name of a technique or the number of the angle, just react.” Still, one must recognize he said this from the perspective of great mastery over his basics. He could rely on always knowing where he was and where he wanted to go. The art provides a template; learn the rules before you break them, then if you need to go beyond the structure, at least you can justify your reasoning. Serrada is an art that is simple on the surface, but takes real discipline to do well. That’s because simple structures don’t hide many flaws, and the elegance of good performance is in clean, smooth execution. This is true in any performance art.

In martial arts, or music, or whatever, timing is essential. If you have to expend too much energy thinking about what you are going to do, you lose that rhythm. If, on the other hand, you innately understand how to go about executing the basic patterns, those establish a template within which one can flow effortlessly, and the art emerges from being able to weave those elements together in various combinations. The complexity emerges through sophisticated manipulation of the key elements. Getting lost in one’s own thought process is rarely a better option, and certainly not when working with split second decisions. The purpose of practice is to eliminate those hitches and hesitations that destroy continuity and flow.

I have seen students in other arts go into their technique and then at some point lose focus. They get vague, wave their hands a bit and say things like “and then you could do this or that …” I knew a top Silat teacher who used to criticize Filipino martial arts as being too wishy-washy, and it was this observed behavior to which he referred. After he saw Serrada, he made an exception, because we always knew where we were and where we were going. Finish a technique, end in the “lock” position. This gave us certainty, a place from which to execute all our moves, a beginning and an ending. All of Angel’s first generation students knew this. Now, however, I’m seeing 3rd and 4th generation students who don’t understand this. Their techniques start strong and smooth but then degenerate into some sort of “anything goes” free-for-all that loses touch with essential patterns of movement that define Serrada. Getting lost happens, but one can always find a familiar place to reconnect with the known. Physical repetition in practice burns in neurological pathways, allowing faster, more spontaneous sequential firing of neuromuscular activity. Those patterns will always be more efficient than consciously trying to direct new and unestablished ones.

Serrada is a system where everything is tightly and logically interlocked, from the length of the stick to the coordinated patterns of hands and feet that maximize its potential. Deviate too far from the norm and you lose the cohesiveness of the system. That’s a truth that applies to many things, whether aerodynamics or architecture, and really, if you examine design, usually the most beautiful ones are those that express simple elegance.

If I could (and I do) stress knowing the basics, what are those things I see getting lost or watered down in the art?

One, as I’ve already mentioned, is the “lock position.” Anytime we finish a technique, this is where we should go. It allows us to move quickly in any direction, and knowing where we are, we can be efficient in so responding to any new input. In basic techniques and in lock-and-block, this is where we should always finish. It has to be a habit!

The next thing is using papeet, our replacement step. This allows us to hold our ground against an attack, utilizing the male triangle to cut the opponent’s centerline. This gives us the footwork to follow the fight in whatever direction it goes, supporting us as we pass the opponent’s attacks or respond to alternate side strikes. It allows us to correct our balance at any point, and to generate “shock” power in an instant. It closes the low line (below the waist); this is a common mistake, turning from one side to the other while leaving the feet static, thus opening up our stance to a quick groin kick. Stepping too wide does the same thing, and often reflects a habit of using largo footwork from other styles in our closer range. Nothing wrong with largo, but everything in its appropriate place! We have our female triangle stepping offline in Serrada too, but always we should adjust our footwork back to that alignment on the centerline of the opponent.

How does this look? In Kenpo we taught heel/toe alignment in a side horse stance. This means that a line from the heel of our rear foot to the toe of our front foot should be aligned with our opponent’s centerline. This allowed direct kicks from the rear without the front leg blocking the path, while slightly triangulating the footwork for greater stability. In Serrada, we use a forward stance, front foot pointed in the direction we face, allowing both hands equal reach for checking parrying, etc. However, we STILL have that same heel/toe alignment to target the opponent’s centerline and for stability!

Here’s a simple test. Pretend you are doing Western fencing and simply lift the front foot and step straight forward, allowing yourself to drop into a lunge. If your feet are aligned correctly, your step will close the gap toward your opponent. If your footwork is wide, you will be lunging off towards the side. Now there are lateral attacks that can work off that tangent, but those are not the core concept of Serrada footwork.

I always say to learn one thing, then when you compare it to something else, you will understand the difference. First, though, you have to know something, have a place to start. People who throw different concepts together from various arts without understanding the integral timing of each wind up with what Angel called “spaghetti Escrima.”

The final point I’ll make here is one of the more advanced concepts in the system, but one integrated right into the basics, and that is “reversal.” Any time you encounter strong resistance, go the other way to get around it. John Wong, my Tai Chi teacher, explained this by saying that humans can only do one thing at a time, so if someone is resisting to the right, they cannot also be resisting to the left. Sure they can change, but that’s still only doing one thing at a time. In Serrada, we understand and utilize this principle in various ways. We can spill an attack by using a cross block or shoulder block, allowing our opponent to go the direction he wishes while using circularity to flow into our counterstrike. When we attack and meet resistance we change direction to go around the opponent’s defense. It’s simple, really, but takes sensitivity to feel and apply in real time.

What are some of the fundamental components to reversal? Use papeet to follow the direction of the fight, and finish up our technique by returning to the lock position while monitoring the opponent for further threat. See, it’s really simple stuff. Remember the acronym KISS? It means “Keep It Simple Serrada” and it works! Adhere to the basics and you will stay out of a lot of trouble. Even better, as you practice with certainty in your movement, you gain mastery over yourself and your timing in the moment, and that is a path to successfully using the art.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

My "expensive" escrima training blade Posted by Hello


Well, I said I’d keep politics out of here, and as far as Serrada goes, I’m still holding that line. On the other hand, there is so much in martial arts, it’s hard to ignore when it is pointed straight at oneself, so here’s a little rant ….

I found a discussion on a website, from about a year ago, where someone said they’d never buy anything from me because I sell “knockoffs.” I presume he was referring to the inexpensive knives I found and put on my website ( , knives you can get at any hardware store, online, etc. I didn’t know at the time that one or two of the designs were apparently copies of some very expensive blades, since I don’t frequent websites where people compare the merits of their $200+ folders. I’ve never carried a knife that costs that much; I remember when Spyderco Enduras were $35 and considered expensive! Anyway, I use my knives daily for utility work, cutting tape, boxes, etc., so my concern is that they keep an edge and I don’t feel a great sense of loss when I misplace one.

Oh, and I've carried some genuine Gil Hibben knives at a good price for nearly 2 years. Never sold one!

The irony in this is that the point of this discussion was people trying to figure out what materials I used and where I got them so they could copy my sticks! I guess it’s alright for them to borrow my ideas, but not for other people to do anything similar. Every bowie knife maker should be paying royalties to the descendents of Sam B., and how many balisong makers in the USA send money to the Philippines? They were also talking about synthetic sticks available from other makers. Since I was the first person to market synthetic sticks for the martial arts, I guess other folks’ knockoffs are ok. I have seen very few sticks out there that I didn’t come up with first, and most are more expensive than mine. The one thing I admit is true is that I am slow getting orders out, being a one-person operation, but then I offer more variety of sticks and custom cut them to order in any length. Most companies don’t do that.

What really peeved me reading that thread was that for years I had some really cool plastic training blades I designed myself, and people complained they were too expensive ($35-50, and cost $25 to make), but then they’d go buy $100+ exotic wood knives that couldn’t handle nearly the abuse mine do (I’ve never seen one break after 15 years) and yet not destroy sticks like aluminum blades. So, I'm either too expensive or too cheap. I guess you can’t count on pleasing everyone!

Irony #2 is that I bought a box of folders from China that are almost identical to the original shape of the knife in the picture above. That one had "pagoda" hand guards, and the only one I ever made that way was given as a gift to Dan Inosanto by Mike Krivka. Did someone see my design and like it enough to rip me off? I don't know for sure, but it was cheaper to buy a pile of those than to get one made here (a lot simpler and quicker too!)

The last layer of irony I’ll mention is that in martial arts (just like in rock‘n roll) everybody copies everyone else. In the Filipino arts, the most common expression when people compare their styles is “We have that too.” Sure there are differences in details, but even within a school you see that between practitioners. My tai chi chuan teacher used to say every martial art did the same stuff - up, down, in, out - and he was right. So these same guys were talking about getting short sticks to put in briefcases, and modifying their training to handle one. They were referring to a popular self-defense instructor who has a short stick course, but what complete system is more dedicated to or famous for the short stick than Serrada? I’ve heard the instructor in question has a bit of exposure to Serrada in his background (I don’t know for sure) but once again, the question is “What is original?”

In the end it comes down to the famous maxim of the JKD crowd, who proclaim “Absorb what is useful.” If a teacher has something you want to know, go learn it, and if a knife can do what you need, use it. Yes, I do own some premium blades and I appreciate the craftsmanship and quality that went into making them, but I’m darned if I’m going to trash my Sam Cox bowie doing routine stuff, and it isn’t a practical piece to take into town. I’ll live with my choices, and I don’t plan to start condemning others for theirs. It’d be nice if they could do the same.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

In with the new

OK, maybe this isn't new but recycled. Last night I watched a DVD about the making of "The Last Samurai." It listed the seven principles which comprised the samurai code of conduct. These were:
1) Duty and Loyalty (chu)
2) Justice and Morality (gi)
3) Complete Sincerity (makoto)
4) Polite Courtesy (rei)
5) Compassion (jin)
6) Heroic Courage (yu)
7) Honor (meiyo)

Not a bad list of attributes. Each one is worth examining and integrating. Each could, and probably has, filled volumes of books. The goal, of course, is to live up to our highest sense of self and purpose.

I do not know if this list is formally in this order, but it does make some sense. Duty and loyalty are about going beyond yourself, being an integral part of society. Justice and morality are also broad terms, but less concrete, so they support the first premise. Complete sincerity likewise is necessary for the first two, and it is the first principle that refers to the individual self. Polite courtesy is both a social lubricant and a personal challenge. It moderates the previous point, recognizing that truth can be used destructively. This leads to compassion, a deeper understanding of this from the heart. It takes heroic courage to act on these principles, and it brings honor to do so. Notice that honor comes last. As this usually refers to one's personal set of values, it says a lot that it is the last on this list, placing the ego beneath a higher sense of social order.

I was going to write about what I'd like to see for the coming year for my students and myself, but when this list popped up, it seemed like a better direction to go. We can talk about improving our technique, rededicating ourselves to personal achievement, etc., but sometimes it's better to have a higher context as reference for what we do. Martial arts is supposed to make us stronger, not just physically or even mentally, but morally as well. With strength comes responsibility to use it wisely. This is especially true of escrima; in this day and age, using a weapon to defend yourself could get one in trouble, even if necessary or justified. Remember the old karate bow, where the open hand (sheath) covers the fist (weapon). The meaning of that is knowledge surrounding our actions.

So, here's to the best 2005 we can make it. Set goals, work hard, enjoy success!

Out with the old

With everything going on in the world right now (tsunami) 2005 started auspiciously with a rainbow. I was out in my yard at 7am doing stretches when I saw it. In the story of Noah and the Flood, God sends a rainbow at the end as a symbol of hope and rebirth. Let us hope.

There has been a lot of death around this past year. I lost a handful of pets; three cats (one old, two young) and a pair of snakes. A couple of my oldest fish died. I told my daughter she was getting practice for the big ones, and last week it was her grandfather. I'm grateful we had the preparation, because it's hard to say goodbye, even if one believes in life eternal.

A friend emailed from Thailand that he is ok. He was supposed to leave on a diving trip but postponed it a day because his wife was visiting in Bangkok and decided to come home a day later. That decision probably saved his life. Meanwhile, an email shows up from a former teacher of mine, with a picture of a beautiful young couple in their mid-20's; her son and his girlfriend. They were last traced to a beachfront hotel at Khao Lak and there has been no word since. Slowly the hope for word from them is extinguished ....

The past few days it feels like someone or something has been trying to communicate. There was a POP of energy in the middle of a hallway, at least 8 feet from any electrical outlet. I wasn't sure I'd really seen it, but then the dog and cat sitting next to me were staring. I walked over to the spot, came back; they looked at me and then went back to watching that spot. Today I saw a pair of pants fall on the floor - from the middle of my bed! Maybe someone's sending a message from the other side. I hope it's just hello.

Anyway, like the Zuni Indians say, "There are no truths, only stories."