Sunday, November 19, 2006

Missing The Boat

Are you serious about your training in the Filipino martial arts? If you are reading this blog, then I’m presupposing you have more than a passing interest in the subject, in which case, here’s my challenge:

Are you really doing everything you can to expand your knowledge and skills? If you are like the majority of folks out there, I would have to say “probably not,” and the reason, as I see it, is insularity. Most of us become comfortable training in our own little bubble, content what is easy, unwilling to look beyond what is convenient.

In the old days the FMA were highly secretive, passed down within families or secret societies. The reason for this was survival. Partly this was due to the oppression of the Spanish colonial era, but at a more fundamental level it can also be attributed to the complexities of Filipino culture, which is one of the world’s most ethnically and linguistically diverse. Rivalry and competition for survival was (and still is) fierce down to the basic structure of society, and so fighting skills were closely guarded secrets in order to preserve the split second advantages that could mean the difference between life and death.

Nowadays, however, we live in a golden age for FMA training. Migration and travel have spread practitioners around the globe while modern media has spread the word. The advent of the internet created a broader forum and recognition for the FMA, stimulating growth by providing contact and access to any seeking these skills.

While the FMA expanded worldwide, however, it also exported some of the baggage associated with old cultural values. I’m specifically referring to the rivalries, often fueled by machismo that helped push the arts underground in the first place. Even while Filipinos banded together for survival in new and unfamiliar places, it still was not uncommon to hear various manongs (old masters) talk derisively about their compatriots. They may have presented a common front to outsiders, but within their own communities old divisions continued, delineated by lineage, language and regional origin.

Early FMA in the U.S. followed tradition, staying within closed doors. This began to change when Angel Cabales opened the first public FMA academy in Stockton in 1966, but as others followed this example, stylistic rivalries were perpetuated. Sad to say, people who had grown up together became separated simply because they went to train in different schools, and much of the responsibility for this lies with their teachers.

While the attribute of fierce dedication to one’s training developed fierce warriors, it also limited the ability of the FMA to propagate in a more open society. Most people come to martial arts seeking a path to personal freedom, the ability to defend themselves and feel safe. The “us versus them” mindset didn’t translate well into a more egalitarian society and so the FMA remained largely the purview of those personally loyal to a single teacher or style.

It is perhaps in the last fifteen years or so that these self-imposed limitations have begun to fade. Just as Moses could lead the Israelites out of Egypt, it has taken a new generation of leadership to move forward into a new land, unshackled by the prejudices of a different time and place. Organizations like WEKAF and the new USFMAF have created forums that cross stylistic boundaries, opening heightened visibility for the Filipino arts, yet there is still much further to go.

When I first encountered the FMA in 1979, there were only a handful of teachers on either coast. If you wanted to train, it took dedication and commitment. Showing up was often a pilgrimage; one frequently had to travel far or relocate to attend classes, and so loyalty to a school was built in, since there were few options and only the most dedicated persevered.

Nearly a decade later, some small progress had been made. There were a few more established schools, but the FMA community was still small enough that in most areas, local practitioners knew who else was involved, even if in different programs. The seminar circuit was just starting up, mostly through Remy Presas and Dan Inosanto.

I was naïve enough back then to assume others were as hungry to expand their knowledge as was I, so I was astounded in 1987 when I approached one practitioner, a junior instructor in another martial art who also dabbled in FMA, with an invitation to a rare Bay Area seminar by grandmaster Angel Cabales. Though the opportunity was presented to experience a legendary teacher right in this person’s own neighborhood, the offer was declined with the comment that “I only train with so-and-so, who comes by once or twice a year, and he’ll be back in about six months.”

Now back then I trained daily on my own and with partners, and took weekly lessons with each of my teachers in FMA, Kenpo and Tai Chi Chuan, so I was astonished that someone who perhaps got a seminar twice a year would not even consider getting in some extra training, especially of such caliber. Experience is cumulative and is the basis for skill and, perhaps, wisdom. It’s one thing to be loyal to a teacher or school, but it’s another to ignore what others are doing in the same field of endeavor, whatever that might be.

Since one is more likely, as a martial artist, to encounter those who have NOT trained in your school or style, it would seem common sense that learning what others might do would be an advantage. As the saying goes, “Know your enemy.” Remember the earlier points about preserving secrecy to prevent rivals from figuring out how to beat you; now that the knowledge was practically being given away, such a gift was ignored! I can imagine reaction of many an old warrior to that one.

Fast-forward twenty years to the present. There are many more FMA schools across the land and as the marketplace has grown, prospective students have more choices where to go. Teachers have trained teachers who are now themselves trainers of teachers, perpetuating both old styles and spinning off new variants, so the arts are not so rare or hard to find. Though classes are still generally fairly small, the overall number of practitioners has grown in proportion. For the most part teachers and students in local communities know of each other, and most contact is respectful or even cordial, yet that same sense of insularity remains. Too often there is still that attitude that everything we need to know is contained in one place alone.

I’d like to challenge that belief, and I’ll use a simple example. Virtually every martial art teaches the armbar. It is arguably the most basic joint lock because it is simple and effective. Between styles one might find variations on applying this technique based on entries and leverage, and within any given style there will be subtle nuances based on size, strength, sensitivity, skill, experience and understanding. The more one learns about applying this one lock, the deeper one’s own practice becomes. Each new bit of information that is assimilated expands our own ability, not only to apply this technique but also to see and avoid the setups that might be applied against us.

There’s a joke that the most common phrase in the FMA is “Oh, we have that too,” but if this were true, there would only be one style encompassing the whole art. We clearly see that there are differences, based on pragmatic things such as weaponry and footwork, yet all too often fleeting chances to explore new possibilities are allowed to pass, and who knows when such might come again? Many are those who have “intended” for year after year to train with a master, only to see that teacher, and the opportunity, pass away.

A couple of recent “we have that too” examples come to mind. In the first one, I spoke with a teacher whom I respect about sending a couple of his top students to check out the Visayan doblecada seminar that was recently held in Oakland (there’s another coming Dec. 3rd). I got the “we have that too” response. I don’t know what double stick training takes place at this particular academy, but as his art is predominantly based on single stick, I doubt the time and energy has been spent developing the sophistication behind Sonny Umpad’s methods. To whatever degree double sticks are emphasized, I think it’s a fair assumption that the details will be different. Each art has an area of focus and specialization, and by cross-training, we can go straight to the heart of the matter without having to reinvent the wheel for every aspect we encounter.

Despite lack of interest from this one source, at least the doblecada seminar was reasonably well attended. A more poignant example of lack of support took place this past weekend, however, when grandmaster Crispulo Atillo’s Balintawok seminar here in the Bay Area was cancelled due to lack of interest. Many of us here have not seen Balintawok, a Cebuano art related to Doce Pares, Serrada and Visayan Corto Kadena, among others, and so this was a chance to fill in some blanks. From my own point of view, I’ve found each variant of the similar themes among these arts adds to my understanding of the overall qualities characteristic to the central Philippines. Is this so uncommon a view?

How long can we expect old grandmasters to be available to help us develop our skills? At what point will promoters stop trying to give us opportunities to meet these men? It costs money bring people from far away. Arrangements have to be made. In a situation like this, where there is no apparent interest in the seminar, the choice is between cutting one’s losses or incurring greater ones. Worse, it forces the promoter to reconsider similar offerings in the future. After all, why should he throw money away? It isn’t a question of making money from the event, but at least feeling the community is willing to share the burden in order to gain the benefit of shared experience. The money lost in this particular venture could have been spent more productively if the promoter had simply traveled on his own to attend a seminar elsewhere. While this would have been personally rewarding, he took the chance instead to offer something special for the rest of us, and for this he got burned.

The Bay Area is considered a hotbed of Filipino martial arts. It’s a seminal location for numerous styles in the U.S. Perhaps we are spoiled by the plethora of choices available nowadays, but this is an illusion if we don’t avail ourselves of the opportunities that arise. After all, the choices we ignore become meaningless. One direction adds to our level of experience, the other means we stand pat. As I’ve heard many times, we either move forward or we are moving backwards; to remain in place is to let the world pass us by.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Finally a new post!

My apologies for not posting any writings for the past six weeks, with the exception of the doblecada seminar written by Josh Newman. I think it’s fair to say I was experiencing a bit of burnout after all the activity surrounding the passing of the late great Sonny Umpad.

With articles promised for the FMA Digest and the US FMA Federation (still pending) I had a lot on my plate just with writing. I actually wrote three entries during this time but the words weren’t flowing. It felt like I had to drag each one out, and I wasn’t satisfied with the results. I felt the need to lay low to refresh the batteries.

It didn’t help that I started getting repetitive stress syndrome in my hands from so much typing. What was particularly painful was clicking the mouse. It got to where I just didn’t want to touch it. On the other hand, this motivated me to fix a broken laptop, which uses a touchpad. Sometimes changing patterns is a necessity, a metaphor if I’ve ever penned one.

It’s not as though nothing interesting was happening these past couple of months. In fact, the problem was the exact opposite. There was an explosion of energy that was hard to put down in words. On a social level a lot of people were coming together, amplifying the resonance of remembering, sharing and practicing, and this was reflected personally as well. It’s been a period of intense growth for everyone involved at any level. Such times of accelerated consciousness are rare but leave a mark long after the buzz fades to memory. Through time those results will speak for themselves.

For the first month or so I was going to as many workouts as would fit my schedule. Maija started her sword class, which was an amazing opportunity to flow and to remember the gist of Sonny’s footwork. George Yore, Chris Suboreau and Mike Braten were preparing for the doblecada seminar and I was able to visit some of their sessions, revisiting that material as well.

For what it’s worth, the swordwork integrated easily with Serrada. Angel taught the stick as basic for blade, and Sonny understood the principles of Serrada. This isn’t to say I don’t have a lot to learn through the nuances of actually practicing with edged weapons; it’s experience that builds awareness and skill. I may understand the overall movement, but there are many subtleties to the art, which Maija Soderholm has demonstrated to me quite effectively in her classes.

The doblecada, on the other hand, presented me with an even more formidable challenge. I realized I’d never really worked on double sticks for any intensive or extended interval. I check well with my live hand, and that is a key to espada y daga. Using two long sticks, however, changes the dynamic of leverage and timing with that left hand. It now mirrors the movement of the right rather than complementing it by filling gaps.

I’d long heard that the main benefit of practicing double sticks was to develop power on the opposite side, as much to have it available if the right side is injured as for actual practical use of double weapons. Most of the manongs I’ve met have described single weapon training as the heart of the art, for the fact that one is most likely to have one available at any given time rather than a matched pair, and the timing of the live hand goes with it.

Generally what I’ve seen of double sticks is based on generic six-counts, with variations on the positions found within that pattern. Many schools teach this more as exercise rather than applied tactics. It’s been something to know, but never felt interesting enough for me to pursue in depth. It’s important to understand such basics since they are common, but memorizing preset steps for longer sequences felt arbitrary to me. This is what my late Tai Chi instructor John Wong called “dead art,” referring to the level of practitioner, not the material itself. It reminded me of the katas I practiced many years ago, which at the time I could not translate into fighting skill.

The difference I’m experiencing with Sonny’s material comes from the inside roll and leverage, which are unfamiliar to most folks, and how shifting body angles exploits the power and accuracy in those moves. At first some of the angling felt awkward. New information often feels that way until it’s properly filed. After awhile the movement started to mesh with what I already know, settling into niches that expand on what is familiar, a bit like a glove covering a hand. For instance, there is a high guard position across the chest that is similar to the Serrada “lock” position, a realization that has enhanced my understanding of both the “lock” and the inside roll. I’m also finding the levers are better as extensions rather than primary sources of power, and that the core source still comes from movement of one’s center.

For the past two months now I’ve been focused almost exclusively on this material. I’ve mostly worked the doblecada, until my left hand is starting to feel what the right already knows. In the process I’m learning that each side has its strengths and weaknesses, which I’m striving to balance out. I’ve also been playing with Serrada techniques, breaking them down into basic combinations that make sense with two longer weapons.

My training change-up has been to the blade, mostly with 18-24” but sometimes longer or shorter. Focusing with the tip enhances the stick as well, but blades add aspects that sticks do somewhat differently. Examples might be certain slices or rakes, using different parts of the blade according to range and whether defensive or offensive in nature.

None of this is too different from what I already do, but the specific practices add new wrinkles to my art. I always imagine what the tip of my weapon sees, since it has a perspective different than my eyes (and the same applies to empty hands, kicks etc). This new work is expanding that field of vision, which is basically what Sonny taught, to see rather than just to do techniques. I’ve long preached being “target oriented” – see the target, hit it – which comes a bit from what I read of Zen archery as a kid. How you accomplish your task is subordinate to the will to act itself; the purpose of training is to be ready for the opportunity in the best way possible.

In the previous paragraph I used the term “my art” which I realize might not agree with everyone. For instance, many people say they do their teacher’s art. On some level, yes, we do what we are taught, as did our teachers, and so we give credit where it is due. On the other hand, who ultimately created or owned that knowledge? Do we not each embark on our own voyage of discovery?

For the moment I’ll say it like this: When the art owns us, it is political. When we own the art, it is personal. In other words, we go from an external frame of reference to an internal one.

Serrada is still my base. Nothing I’ve seen has yet made it obsolete, as it lays out a highly efficient roadmap of options. It is a great technical foundation by itself, but all systems are training aids to induce understanding and which indoctrinate certain principles.

Form follows function, meaning that your concept will create the means of achieving the goal. True artists know the rules of their craft, but will break those rules when applicable, whether consciously or not. When one flows freely, that is the “live art” John Wong described. Our only boundaries are the limits and implementation of our vision.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Doblecada seminar review by Joshua

This is an excellent write-up sent by Joshua, one of my students who attended yesterday's seminar. With his permission, I'm posting it here. - Jeff


I wish more of us could have attended the Visayan Corto Kadena doblecada seminar yesterday; an amazing amount of information was presented in just those few hours -- enough to fill my practice hours for months, I would guess -- and presented in a way that was easy to understand (and I hope will be easy to retain).

The personal attention each person received from the instructors made the class a very efficient one (it seemed as if there was always someone close by watching and helping us adjust what we were doing, so it was possible to quickly "catch" the movements and techniques presented, and that let the class move quickly through the material), and the other students were a pleasure to work with.

The instructors stressed safety and precision, which seem to be trademarks of Sonny Umpad's guros just as they are with our classes, and they were very much hands-on, giving individual attention, adjusting posture or stance, explaining and demonstrating fine points of technique, and frequently working one-on-one, throughout the four hours.

The material they presented ranged from Maestro Sonny's inside roll through a series of techniques that build speed and power through leverage and spring-loading. From my perspective (as someone very new to this style), the Visayan double-stick techniques seem to stress extreme economy of motion, especially hand motion (which naturally brings speed), the development of power through spring-loading and leverage using one's own body and sticks as fulcrums (and also the opponent's body and sticks), and what I'll call "deceptiveness" -- in which body angling and footwork combine with line of attack and the economy of motion and the spring-loading that are built into the hand and stickwork, so as to make it very difficult to read the attacks; they seem to come out of nowhere. Although we worked with sticks, the instructors stressed blade orientation throughout and the seminar ended with a stunning espada y daga demonstration (using the sequence of techniques we had been working for the previous hour) that showed clearly why it is of such importance.

(I was fortunate in being able to practice this same sequence, using blades, with one of the instructors, Chris Suboreau, at the end of the class; he demonstrated some of the finer points and sharpened my understanding.)

There was also training gear available for purchase. One of Maestro Sonny's longtime friends, Kenny Gee, brought padded practice sticks and a piece of training gear whose name I don't know (I'll call it a quiet target and describe it in a minute), and one of the Visayan students brought high-quality aluminum training knives and swords.

The quiet target training device (I bought one and will bring it to our next Wednesday practice if anyone is interested in seeing it) is a 6' length of heavy canvas (I think) tubing about 3" wide, grommeted at both ends so that it can be hung from a hook or beam and held steady with a weight at the bottom. Inside it is what feels like heavy chain (see "comment" for correction of this). It allows for precise targeting and full-power strikes, and it's portable enough that it really could be hung almost anywhere. It looks like it can take the impact of "real" sticks just fine, but together with the padded practice sticks it's QUIET ... if you live alone in a wilderness this is probably not important to you, but if there are others nearby who might be affected by the repeated impact of a hard stick on, let's say, a 2x4 upright, the value of a relatively quiet target increases.

Overall, anyone who went would have taken away enough to practice and think about for a long time, and of course this barely scratched the surface. I hope that the Visayan Corto Kadena instructors will keep doing seminars! If anyone gets a chance to attend one in future -- I'd say, "Just Do It."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Visayan Corto Kadena Doblecada Seminar

I highly recommend this seminar on Sunday October 15! Sonny Umpad's techniques for double sticks are the most evolved I've ever seen. They are very tight and use advanced application of leverage to generate tremendous speed and power in short range. These principles will not only change the way you view double sticks but will also add depth to any other single or double weaponry.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Be a light unto yourself

My favorite philosopher is Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1996), who communicated with extraordinarily lucid clarity. Discovered at age 14 by the Theosophists, who proclaimed him the Second Coming of Christ, by age 34 he rejected all their claims and worldly wealth, believing that “To progress from being a sinner to being a saint is to progress from one illusion to another.”

The quote below is from a bookmark I've had for years, given to me by someone who was a member of the foundation created to preserve his teachings. The message is universal, but to martial artists they seem particularly appropriate directions for integration of the body and mind.

- Jeff


"To be aware is to watch your bodily activity, the way you walk, the way you sit, the movements of your hands; it is to hear the words you use, to observe all your thoughts, all your emotions, all your reactions. It includes awareness of the unconscious, with its traditions, its instinctual knowledge, and the immense sorrow it has accumulated – not only personal sorrow, but the sorrow of man. You have to be aware of all that; and you cannot be aware of it if you are merely judging, evaluating, saying, “This is good and that is bad, this I will keep and that I will reject,” all of which only makes the mind dull, insensitive.

From awareness comes attention. Attention flows from awareness when in that awareness there is no choice, no personal choosing, no experiencing … but merely observing. And to observe you must have in the mind a great deal of space. A mind that is caught in ambition, greed, envy, in the pursuit of pleasure and self-fulfillment, with its inevitable sorrow, pain, despair, anguish, such a mind has no space in which to observe, to attend. It is crowded with its own desires, going round and round in its own backwaters of reaction. You cannot attend if your mind is not highly sensitive, sharp, reasonable, logical, sane, healthy, without the slightest shadow of neuroticism. The mind has to explore every corner of itself, leaving no spot uncovered, because if there is a single dark corner of one’s mind which one is afraid to explore, from that springs illusion …

It is only in the state of attention that you can be a light unto yourself, and then every action of your daily life springs from that light – every action – whether you are doing your job, cooking, going for a walk, mending clothes, or what you will. This whole process is meditation …"

J. Krishnamurti

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Relaxed Power

Things have been settling down after the activity around Sonny's passing. There will be more on his teachings, to be sure, but in the meantime other ideas come up. The following is a response I wrote to a student who sent a Systema video. I thought it might be of interest to others.

- Jeff

* * * * * * *

Systema is controversial in some circles, and I'm not sure about some of their techniques, but in general I like their theories, which are similar to concepts I've learned through other arts (Aikido, Escrima, Tai Chi). Like Chinese Drunken Boxing, effective strikes are hidden within natural movements.

There are ways to develop the kind of relaxed hitting power they talk about through other arts too. You can develop this with the escrima stick, letting power flow from the ground, through the body, and out to the point of impact. Think of a chop hitting with dead-weight into a target, or slashing through as though nothing blocked its path. Power has to extend all the way to the end of your weapon to fully release into the target.

Another good exercise for heavy hands is hitting a sandbag with relaxed power, just learning a "dead hit". Keeping the hand relaxed and just dropping the strike, do these: punch, chop (blade of hand), palm slaps, back hand slaps. Start with 5/day of each strike, each hand. If you get tingling, stop for the day. Don't build energy too fast; it's not healthy. Be patient, be consistent. Increase slowly as you feel comfortable. You can add other strikes later such as fingertips, elbows, etc.

Once you can hit relaxed, then you can focus it deeper, lighter, etc. When I did Kenpo, we learned in sparring to just hit to the surface of our partner, letting the hand relax on contact, and we'd practice that on the bag too. Deepening a blow came naturally from learning to focus the energy at the end of the hit. It goes back to that old idea of "a rock on the end of a rope." Karate visualizes the strike 1-3 inches inside the body so the energy of the blow is focused internally. With a stick, you can do a fast, powerful move and touch lightly to train, but it's the same movement and dynamics as when you finish the blow for real. It's just a matter of intention in adjusting those last few inches.

Don't think about a lot of different areas when first hitting the bag, just be consistent and accurate to one spot at a time. Doing that will make specific targetting much more effective later, because any blow can have an effect when focused at the right time and place. First get the mind/body connection to work smoothly, then refine objectives.

The problem a lot of people have is they tighten up, which literally pulls the energy up, where it often gets stuck in the shoulders rather than released through the rest of the strike delivery. The point is, and the Systema video says this, is that you have to hit things in training. A heavy bag is good because it absorbs energy similar to a body. The power is both felt and heard.

The video talks of dynamic tension, which is good, as they said, for strengthening connective tissue. That means tendons, ligaments, joint cartilege, fascia. Static positions should isolate power at the end of a blow while movement integrates the body along lines of force. It's important to be able to move between soft and hard, using what is best at different times for speed vs. power.

Stepping into you blows can develop the foot/hand timing and balance. It doesn't have to be a big step; in fact, a tiny shuffle will be less upsetting to the balance. Again, the important thing is balance and alignment at point of impact and knowing how to get all that to work optimally. Eventually it can be a subtle movement or shift, and feeling it is the source of power in your movement.

All this in a single word - control.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Weekend Calendar - Sept. 9-10

A reminder that I've posted an FMA events calendar on the right sidebar, with links to event information.

This weekend has three listings. On Saturday there is a Serrada seminar in Buena Park in Southern California and an Arnis Balite Seminar in Pleasanton, Ca. Sunday there is a USFMAF referee clinic in Stockton, Ca.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Events Calendar Added To Sidebar

Recently there's been an increase in notices for upcoming FMA events, so I've added a calendar to the Links section (on the right) for convenience. Events listed there can take you directly to the announcements. Check regularly for updates!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sonny's Carvings

Most people have never had the chance to see Sonny's amazing carvings, so I linked some images through this webpage. The level of detail is astounding, and this is typical of the thousands of pieces he did, each one unique.

* I updated this entry the day after Sonny's memorial to include pictures of knives on display there.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Arrangements for Sonny

Thanks to all who have expressed condolences at the passing of master Sonny Umpad.

Here are the arrangements for Sonny's memorial service, as per the the wishes of his childred Jackie and Brian:

Friday, September 1, 2006. Services will begin at 7:00 pm.
Wedgewood Banquet Center at Metropolitan Golf Links
10051 Doolittle Drive
Oakland, CA 94603
(510) 569-5556

An obituary has been placed in the Oakland Tribune Thursday, August 31st. There is a guestbook there so people can leave their thoughts and comments. This will be available through the end of September (unless a 1 year or permanent entry is purchased). I have also put a copy of the obituary here.

This evening Sonny's daughter Jackie informed me a short obituary notice did appear in the SF Chronicle. The guest book is the same one used by the Tribune, for those who wish to sign it.

An Homage to Sonny Umpad

Here are some thoughts about Sonny now, while they’re still fresh, kind of like a signpost to mark where we are at his passing. In ten years, I hope we can look back and see how his influence has spread in the FMA community.

Yesterday I called Sonny a giant, though few actually met him. He was a very private man, and for years rarely took his art outside of his home, preferring to let those whom he trusted come to him. Thus his legacy will someday be better known through those who propagate his teachings rather than directly by his hand.

Some of those are folks who trained with Bruce and James Yimm Lee, such as Jesse Glover in Seattle and Gary Cagaanan in Oakland. Others are younger notables in the martial arts such as Kelly Worden in Tacoma and Alfred Plath in Germany. Most, however, are a new generation of martial artists just coming of age now, entering their prime years blessed with the deep knowledge of a master teacher.

Sonny was a bridge across generations in the arts. Growing up in the Philippines, he experienced first-hand the art in its native setting. He was a witness to history, crossing paths with some of the greats most of us only know from reading about them, but perhaps the greatest aspect of his legacy was his knowledge gained from the streets. Sonny knew more about what he called “the dark side” of the arts than just about anyone I’ve known, but to his credit he lived a life in the light, focusing on laughter and the beauty in the art. Before he emerged in the martial community, he was, like Bruce Lee, a champion cha-cha dancer, and he brought those skills into the Corto Cadena style he created.

Sonny’s genius was that he took disparate elements of the Filipino arts and re-integrated them into a comprehensive whole. More than just that, however, he synthesized those elements to create something uniquely his. His earliest influences seemed to be Balintawok, which was prominent where he grew up in Cebu. Some of his early formal training was with Cacoy Canete and later with Raymond Tobosa in Hawaii (as I recall). In California he rubbed shoulders with legends like Angel Cabales. He took something from each but wasn’t limited to merely imitating. He examined each element of his art critically, ensuring it had value towards his goal.

When I first met him back in 1986, through a seminar at Joe Olivarez’ U.S. Karate in Hayward, Sonny was unveiling perhaps the first of his unique innovations, the centerline roll for double sticks, based on Wing Chun’s circular punching. Unlike most double stick, which is taught by learning numerous patterns and pairing them up, this was genius in its simplicity. By merely mastering this single technique, one could match up against any strike using either hand in a continuous barrage. Still, as easy as it looks and sounds, few could do it with the speed and precision Sonny applied to his art, and his understanding of leverage generated power that belied his slight physique.

I spent perhaps the most time with Sonny in the early 1990’s, after Angel Cabales passed away. He and Angel met only infrequently but had a warm relationship, sharing roots in the same locales and slipping back into the old dialects of their youths. As the younger man, Sonny affectionately called Angel “Doh,” uncle. Angel used to say many people stole his ideas, though many wouldn’t acknowledge it. Sonny was upfront, giving me his famous line that “if you’re going to steal, do it from the best.” His affinity for Angel’s material is not surprising, given the Cebuano roots of both their arts.

Around this time Sonny was working on his sikaran, the low kicking art developed to work in conjunction with weapons, as opposed to the high flashy kicks common to many popular modern arts. Sonny would test his ideas out on me and I’d share my variations on these themes from my years in Kenpo. Even then, however, it was apparent that Sonny was working from a very different source, drawing inspiration for his low body movement and turned-out stepping from Moro-Moro sayaw. With great natural flexibility and dancer's fluidity, Sonny had an ability to come from unusual angles. It was in the sikaran that I began to see the functionality of his pendulum movement, which allowed him to strike while seemingly out of range.

It was this confluence of the Moro and Cebuano arts that marked the emergence of the next phase of Sonny’s body of work, and that was his knowledge of the blade. As with all other aspects of his work, this was something nurtured from careful analysis. The blade is enmeshed with Filipino culture, and so having been raised there, Sonny had insights that lent themselves to appreciation of edged weapons without the romanticism with which less experienced folk often hold them.

Sonny’s creative genius went beyond just movement, extending also to the artifacts he created in conjunction with his art. Anyone who ever visited him had to be impressed by the array of weaponry adorning the walls of his home, all crafted by his hand. From elaborately carved rattan sticks to beautifully designed traditional weapons in wood and metal, Sonny was a master artisan. He was also prolific, and eventually every bit of his home was filled with his work, making it a veritable museum of Filipino martial culture. In every corner one could find unusual devices, like his impenetrable armor vest for “breaking in” students on the knife, the racks of fiberglass training fencing foils, or his swinging pendulum and various sparring targets.

This was a man who lived life fully. I’ve always had a hard time imagining how he fit so much into the moments of each day. I marvel at how it seemed that every visit to his home revealed a new facet of his personality, such as his passion for playing and writing music on the keyboard and recording it on his four-track. I was amazed by his rebuilt acoustic guitar with the tuning head moved into the body, which I’d never seen in 35 years as a player.

It is my everlasting regret that I didn’t spend more time with Sonny. Part of it was reluctance to take advantage of his generosity. There wasn’t a time I visited that he didn’t want to show me what he was working on. I realized that he shared much more with me than I could offer back, but when I suggested I start taking lessons as his student, he smiled and said we were contemporaries. In that he was overly generous, and in my embarassment I stopped coming by so often. Still, I found other ways to try to repay him, such as helping market his innovative padded training sticks or helping hook up prospective students.

Some of those are my seniors in Serrada, such as masters Wade Williams and Carlito Bonjoc, and many others are faces and names I am only now starting to put together. It is through the imprint of Sonny’s movement and knowledge that I see his art living on, and hopefully through them I will finally take the time for more of those lessons I missed along the way. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, for there were so many facets and phases along the arc of Sonny’s career that many of us only got what was currently his passion, and so it is important that we share.

Those who came later were fortunate to reap the benefit of all that had gone on before. Sonny wasn’t merely a caretaker but a builder, and those who absorbed even a part of his spirit have come away with something uniquely different. His is not a cookie cutter style of stick fighting, but something that transformed people to the core of their being, and just as Sonny was a generous soul, so I see this shining from the faces of those who were attracted to him.

We are fortunate that Sonny left such a huge legacy in the form of his recordings. There was always videotape rolling, whether recording students’ lessons or playing them back on the tv. Sonny was someone with great affinity for modern technology and he used it more than anyone else I know. Perhaps someday some of his vast library of recordings can be made available for study. It is an invaluable resource, and one that should be both preserved and shared for posterity.

In the meantime, the art is a living thing, passed from hand to hand, and so it is up to this next generation to move forward in their own personal development and as teachers. What I see in them is kindred to Sonny, a humbleness of spirit combined with skill, intelligence and determination.

I recall the words of Gilbert Tenio following the funeral for his old contemporary Angel Cabales, that the art was not meant to compete with each other, but to ensure mutual survival. It is a bond of brotherhood, and the words of this manong were meant to guide us to appreciate what we share in common. The love we have for our teachers, and above that our passion for what we do, is something greater than differences of opinion or ego. This is something Sonny understood, and he always saw the best in people. As long as this principle is at the forefront, the art will flourish and be strong, keeping the chain alive.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sonny Umpad Gone

It is with heavy heart that I'm announcing the passing of master Sonny Umpad this morning. He was a giant in our community and he will be greatly missed.

Sonny at his 58th birthday with family and friends

Doing what he loved, moving with a stick

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Old School FMA Video

Here's some very authentic old-school style demo footage. They train hard in the Philippines! I don't know who this is; at the end it says "agent Christopher Lo" and that's who posted it on Grouper. If anyone knows, I'll update this post.

Tip on saving posts

If you read a post you'd like to find easily later, you can bookmark the specific archived copy without having to search my whole blog.

At the bottom of each blog entry it says "Posted by Stickman" and then the time, which is hyperlinked. That will take you directly to that blog, and you can then bookmark the entry by itself.

Click comments if you have feedback on the post. That makes this a two-way medium!

Three New West Coast Seminars

On September 2, Master Roger Agbulos will be doing a Lameco seminar in Vancouver, Canada. Roger is a first generation student of the last grandmaster Edgar Sulite, as well as Bakbakan Kali Ilustrisimo grandmasters Rey Galang and Christopher Ricketts.

Then on September 16 he will be co-hosting the Tipunan Sa Los Angeles (Gathering in Los Angeles)along with Jay de Leon and guest master instructors Christopher and Bruce Ricketts, Ramon Rubia, and Willie Laureano & Victor Gendrano.

Finally, Master Agbulos will be doing a Lameco seminar at Alex France's school in Pleasanton, California on October 7.

These all look like great events. I hope folks take advantage of the opportunities!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Photos from Carlito's Seminar

Carlito Bonjoc in action with a bolo. Photos can't show the power in his technique, but everyone there could hear it!

Jojo Soriben, another old protegé of grandmaster Angel Cabales, showing classic Serrada technique

Group Photo. Guro Bob Manalo and some IESA members dropped by earlier to pay respects, and Master Wade Williams was also there part of the afternoon.

Instructors: Jojo Soriben on the far left, Serrada Master Ron Saturno on the far right; sponsor Professor James Hundon standing to the right of Carlito. Two of Carlito's talented students, standing behind him and on his right side next to Jojo.

Drumming and Martial Arts

Sound has always been held sacred. The bible says that in the beginning was the word, the eminance of creation. The Hindus believe “OM” to be that primal sound of the universe. Starting in the late 1950’s, Dr. Hans Jenny conducted a series of experiments that became the science of cymatics. Using an oscillator, resonator plate and materials such as sand or metal filings, he demonstrated how various frequencies would vibrate the materials into semblances of organic forms, sometimes even creating pulsating three-dimensional figures.

The implication is that life follows vibrational patterns of resonance, and is responsive to the sound waves of the environment. We know that music can affect the emotions, from elevating the spirit to creating sadness. Exposure to loud or chaotic sound can weaken the body and lower resistance of the immune system. Amplified music is used to break prisoners’ wills, and by the military to psychologically assault fortified positions. New experiments are being done with focused sound waves as weapons, much as the laser uses focused, amplified light.

Shamanic traditions from around the world have used drumming to alter states of consciousness, drawing inspiration from natural sources such as thunder, water or wind. The feeling of a rhythmic beat can affect our physiology from trance-like states to exhilleration and action. Studies on the effects of drumming and changing have led to what are now known as binary beats. This refers to a subtle vibration between two frequencies that are close together, usually about 10hz. apart. These align the left and right hemispheres of the brain to duplicate meditative states at different levels of consciousness, ranging from alpha brain waves down to theta.

Martial arts and sound have an association that go back to earliest times. From the war cry to drumming, sound has been a way to focus energy of the mind and body as one. Drumming has a particular resonance that carries across distance and vibrates the body, with the unique ability to connect many as one. The source of the sound can be secondary, such as the cadence of feet marching in unison, or as portentious as the thunder of galloping hoofbeats. More deliberately, drums have been used to unify the will and fortify the courage of one’s own troops while intimidating the enemy with implied power.

On a specific level, drumming is about timing and focus, which should be of interest to martial artists. Because it involves striking, it has implications that go beyond that of any other instrument except the breath. I learned long ago not to slap box with conga players, whose hands are trained to strike endlessly with focus and power.

A friend related a story to me many years ago about something he witnessed at a classical Indian music concert. The legendary tabla master Allarakha Khan was annoyed by a microphone stand too close to his drums. Without missing a beat he tapped it back, but the focus of the hit was so precise that the metal stand snapped in half rather than pushing away. This is a feat that any iron palm master would do well to replicate.

The great Japanese swordsman Musashi was also a renowned painter. He claimed the sword gave his brush a bold stroke, while the brush gave him control to the tip of his weapon. For those of us who train with weapons, learning to play a drum kit would be a similar logical extension of our martial art. One learns to hit endlessly with relaxed power, and controlling the small tip of a drumstick can only enhance accuracy with larger weaponry.

Furthermore, it is aerobic exercise. Drumming involves the whole body, training hands and feet to move in precise relationship, and like martial arts, basic stepping with the feet supports hands that move quickly in multiple directions to accurately strike targets for specific intended effects.

Like martial arts, the essence of drumming is flow. At first there is a learning curve as one discovers the many simple details that must be mastered. Once the unconscious mind overcomes inhibitions and can handle those functions autonomically, then one can begin to think creatively, using those skills as tools for self-expression. Once again, a punch becomes just a punch.

I believe it was Goju master Cat Yamaguchi who said he wouldn’t teach a student who couldn’t dance, because the inner sense of rhythm is so important. Some martial arts practice to drumming or other instruments. In Capoeira, for instance, the music determines the rhythm of the fight, and the Capoerista learns to sit behind the drum as well as dance in front of it.

Of course one needn’t invest in a drum set to begin drumming. Tables, chairs, even one’s own body can provide resonance and resistance, all one really needs. Ordinary objects have been used as instruments around the world, from the clapping and table drumming of flamenco to spoons and washboards of early American music.

Meanwhile, listen to the sounds of the world around you, the source of much musical inspiration from tribal whistles to modern jazz. Hear the rhythms in martial arts, from breathing to footsteps, blocks and strikes, even the rustling of clothes and the sounds of spectators or other players. As martial artists we develop sensitivity to our environment through sensory perception. We learn to see and to feel, but how many of us learn to listen? Drumming can be a doorway to that world.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Sword Dances of India

I just saw this sword dance from India on Mushtaq Ali's blog. You might find it interesting, as is the rest of his blog, The Traceless Warrior (the link is on the column to the right).

I'd also suggest going to YouTube and doing search on gatka, a Sikh art from northern India. There's some good stuff there, like this tribute to Ustaad Bhai Charnjeet Singh.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Modern Arnis Seminar in Burbank 9/17

Toma's Modern Arnis © presents a seminar with 8TH Dan Professor Danny Anderson, senior master instructor and founder, MA-80 System Of Modern Arnis, on Sunday September 17, 2006. Professor Anderson is also the author of a number of books and videos on Modern Arnis and Karate.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Upcoming Seminars

Master Wade Williams and Guro Carlito Bonjoc Jr. are two of the top proponents of Serrada Escrima, demonstrating and teaching this art at the highest levels. They will be presenting a two-day seminar in Antioch on September 23rd and 24th from noon-5pm.

Here's a reminder that Carlito will be doing a seminar in Oakland this coming Saturday, August 19th.

If you are interested in this compact, explosive art, I highly suggest you make it to these workshops!


Also this Saturday, from 9am to about noon, the U.S. Filipino Martial Arts Federation will be conducting a free seminar for tournament judges and referees at 4460 Hacienda Drive in Pleasanton, Ca.
(Map here)
(Directions here)
Those certified will be eligible to officiate in local and regional qualifying tournaments leading up to the national championships at the huge Disney World Martial Arts Festival The following links includes FMA contact info and the schedule for their Anaheim event Feb. 3&4, 2007.
This is open to all FMA styles.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Benefit For Sonny

2006 has been a year of historic proportions for gatherings of the clans here in Northern California. This weekend marked another milestone as students and friends of ailing escrima master Sonny Umpad came together for the first time in a group for a benefit seminar on his behalf.

There were over 70 participants filling Nash’s Northern Tiger Kempo in San Francisco, a tribute to the esteem in which Sonny is held within the martial arts community. People came from all corners of the Bay Area and from a wide range of different arts (FMA, Wing Chun, Kempo, Hwarang-do) in order to show their support for one of the most innovative martial art teachers of our generation.

Attendees were rewarded with a strong showing by more than half a dozen of Sonny’s senior instructors. Their demonstrations of his Visayan Corto Cadena system covered a range from empty hands to sikaran (kicking), sticks, knives, bolos and swords. It was as thorough an exposition of Filipino martial arts as one might ever see, reflecting Sonny’s versatility in integrating so many facets within FMA.

Detailed attention was paid to Sonny’s “pendulum,” which uses dynamic Moro-based footwork to counter and evade. This is the basis for the sophisticated movement required for close quarter combat with the blade, representing a very high level of understanding timing and range.

Participants got a taste of some of these concepts in their workouts, and there were plenty of Sonny’s senior and advanced students to assist those who were more novice.

This was a warm and friendly crowd, all there to show support. Egos were checked at the door. I was particularly impressed with how the instructors got along, working together as a team and supporting each other. This too is a reflection of their maestro, for Sonny is a genuine and humble man who shares great talent freely with those around him.

If there was an off-note to the day, it was that Sonny himself was not feeling well enough to attend, spending the day at home with family and old friends, and his absence was the elephant in the room. In truth, this has been one of the hardest blogs for me to write. Most of the people there know and love Sonny, and all our prayers go towards his health.

Here are some of Sonny’s students who were there, listed simply by alphabetical order, not by seniority. My apologies to any whom I might have missed:
Chris Suboreau, Cisco Spano, Craig Merchant, Eric Momburg, George Yore, Gregory Manalo, Jason Santucci, Jay Pugao, Ken Ingram, Kevin and Felicia Baptiste, Maija Soderholm, Manny Piojo, Mike Braten, Phillip (Professor Pitt) Colas, Renato Alphonso, Steve Seto, Steve Van Manen.

Group photo at the end of the day


One of the devastating low kicking techniques of Sikaran

Passing the low slash of a knife (the basic counter for angle #4 in Serrada)

Targeting the knee with a low counter off an outside parry

Fast work - getting in close with the long blades ...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Spirituality in FMA

Someone posted the following quote on a martial art digest. Below is my response:

“People confuse filipino fighting arts with chinese and japanese arts. we are not founded by priests. we do not try to "make students better character", or "good people", that is what churches and mosques are for. FMA has one goal, to make good and effective fighters, to hurt people. you cannot do this in your mind or even at the drawing board. FMA has too many people with too many theories, not enough hands on.”

Yes and no. I certainly don't dispute the pragmatic goal of strong fighting skills as the raison d'etre for FMA training. As Master Han says in "Return of the Dragon", who knows how many treasures have been lost to the world because of the lack of the will to defend them. That statement, however, defines fighting skill as an outer level, whose purpose is as a shield to protect the inner. However, inner and outer are not separate but rather are part of each other by definition. A person empowered by their thoughts and beliefs will be stronger than one who is unsure or conflicted.

The power of the spirit was certainly known to Filipinos, the basis for practices like oracion and anting-anting. Before angles were known by numbers, they were taught by name association. Angle #1 was often called San Miguel because Saint Michael is depicted with an upraised sword of truth and justice, depicting that strike. Similarly, the Moros were feared not just for their fighting techniques, because Cebuanos and others proved equal in battle, but because it was the strength of their convictions that made them such formidable adversaries.

We may not think of murder and mayhem as spiritual, but even societies engaged in such practices have empowering belief systems. Viking beserkers were a terror across Europe, but they believed in Valhalla and an afterlife, which helped them conquer their fear of death.

It is said that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. Is taking up arms spiritual? Depends which side of that equation you are on. Does it make you a better person? Anything that engages us completely is a transformative experience, which is why the samurai took so readily to Zen, understanding the power of having "one mind." Most modern FMA is taught in a niche of "practicality" but anyone who undertakes a process of change experiences it inwardly as well. The old manongs would sometimes hold their hand over the head of a prospective student to see if they were too "hot-headed" to be trusted with deadly knowledge. They were concerned with the character of their students just as many of us are today.

Esoteric knowledge of the inner self has always been secretive, not just as a way to control power but because the masses were not deemed awakened enough to understand. It takes time to develop someone to a level of understanding, and the repression of Filipino culture under the Spanish diminished this part as well. Martial arts typically in times of war are less concerned with niceties of personal development, and so the FMA became noted for straightforward practicality. Now we live in an era in which knowledge is much more open through literacy and mass communication.

I see no reason not to include deeper awareness through self-examination as part of a curriculum. It may not suit every student, and it isn't the first thing taught, but in my experience such self-understanding enables people to progress further than if they are dependent on others to give them knowledge. Mind-body integration happens regardless of intentionality, but awareness is more powerful than ignorance. The discipline to train the body comes from the mind, and this process develops the spirit and will to succeed. These are not separate things.

Now not every instructor will delve into this. Many may not have the ability to communicate what they themselves feel internally, and so it is only through the training that they lead others towards mastery. Make no mistake, though. Mastery is not just of the techniques, but of the self; polish the spirit and the results will be evident.

This connection is more prominent in many styles of Silat than FMA these days, but the similarity of the arts and cultural connections are a clue such awareness can be found in both. In the end, spirituality is the essence of each of us, not just something to be controlled by religious organizations. When we dedicate ourselves through effort, we elevate ourselves regardless of what it is we choose to do.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Kajukenbo Ohana Seminar this Saturday!

Prof. Greg Lagera (Kajukenbo 8th Dan) is having an all-day seminar (which includes lunch) from 9-6 on Saturday in Newark, in the East Bay between Hayward and San Jose. This 8-Hour workout will include Kajukenbo Self-Defense, Filipino Martial Arts, Jeet Kune Do, Kickboxing, Submission Grappling, and Live Sparring.
(Open to all ages and skill levels.)

Some of the best martial arts instructors anywhere will be attending, such as grandmasters Al Novak, Ted Sotelo, Emil Bautista and more. I've known Greg Lagera since he and my Kenpo teacher were top competitors at tournaments in the 1980's. Cost is $45 at the door, but for an event of this caliber (and lunch) it's a steal!

For those who are not familiar with Kajukenbo, it is a highly effective street-fighting system incorporating a number of different root systems, including escrima, so you might find it an effective transition from weapons to empty hands.

Take 880 and exit at Thorton Ave. going west (towards the Bay, away from the hills). Turn right on Mayhews Landing (about 1/2 mile; 2 lights), which will curve left, and then right on Cherry. The event is in the park at Cherry and Montcalm.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tales from Hurricane Katrina

My first college roommate lived in Bay St. Louis, a paradise that was ground zero for Hurricane Katrina. He just sent me a link to these gripping tales, written by a town survivor, detailing the horrors of the hurricane and its aftermath there and in New Orleans. Absolutely riveting ... and a cautionary tale for anyone expecting help to arrive. As one policeman told a woman there, she "might be standing on American soil, but it wasn’t America any more."

Here's a blog about battling insurers and bureaucrats to rebuild. As the author writes, ten months after the hurricane "some relief workers who had been working on the December 2004 Asian Tsunami relief effort toured New Orleans and were shocked that so little had been done. They concluded that in Third World countries such as Indonesia, the people weren't hindered by government agencies and the insurance industry." It's sad how things are run here nowadays. And scary.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sonny Umpad Benefit Seminar This Sunday!

On the thirteenth of this month, students of Master Sonny Umpad
will be holding a seminar/ benefit on his behalf.

Senior students from every generation will be represented, teaching
the unique aspects of Visayan Eskrima. There will be many teachers
on hand to help further your understanding of this art.

This is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity as the students of
Master Umpad , come together to share his style of eskrima.


John Nash, Northern Tiger Kempo
1319, 20th ave (at Irving)
SF, CA 94122 When:

August, 13 2006 from noon to four $50 dollars at the door (cash only)

You must supply your own training weapons.


Everyone here is probably familiar with triangle stepping and angles. I constantly remind students that the FMA logo (triangle in circle) is not just symbolic, but also a more literal roadmap.

This is always shown with the "male triangle" which points up or forward. Forward usually means towards the opponent's centerline, but it can also mean facing the strongest point of his attack. Situations vary. Rotated, of course, into the female position, the points demonstrate angles of evasion.

Points are strong, being reinforced. Lines are strong in direction of movement from point to point. They are vulnerable, however, across their width. Think of a pencil; strong one way, weak the other.

Inside the triangle's lines lies our safe zone. Outside the triangle increases exposure. An example is doing a cross-block (a downward pointing defense on our check-hand side) but leaving our rear elbow or shoulder exposed wide, outside the angle of protection afforded by the defense.

The closer we get to the point, the tighter the lines and smaller the area we have to move to stay within them, yet the angles themselves are the same degrees of arc at any range.

This is a key essence of Serrada. We want to find the smallest, tightest range at which we can function. It represents our last line of defense, what is closest to us.

Functionality is, of course, the key. Too much compression could be immobilizing or collapse. Some might think it lacks power because there is less room to accelerate. Understanding fulcrums and balance, however, gives us full measure. In every technique I seek to apply GM Ed Parker's three maxims for power: linear, rotational, gravity.

Al Thomas, my original Kenpo teacher, used to remind us of the magnifying effect of adrenaline. His point was if we train like a golf ball, we'll fight like a baseball; train like a baseball, fight like a basketball; train like a basketball, we'll fight like a beachball. In other words, we open ourselves up under stress. By training more tightly, that habit tends to remain more effective when it's most needed.

A basketball isn't a bad area of protection for the body, but a beachball is excessive movement. It it too much volume of space to protect and takes too long to finish a movement. Even largo mano (long range) techniques tend to hit pretty directly to the target. No matter what style you do, nothing matters until "point of impact" (POI) anyway, and so we want to maximize our effectiveness there, whether we hit and run or jam and control.

Range is a basic tactical choice, but efficiency is even more fundamental. It allows us more time to observe our opponent and to engage less telegraphically.

Like a sine wave, greater ranges involve more momentum whereas closer ranges increase frequency though the energy can remain a constant (how a whip accelerates and cracks, for instance). Top speed is traded for speed of reversal, and to a certain extent power might be traded for accuracy (though expert proponents can demonstrate otherwise).

Closer ranges have different risks. There are fewer weapons to monitor at longer ranges. As one moves in, the opposing hand can strike, then grab, then envelop or encircle. One needs to be as aware of one's own vulnerable targets as is attention to the opponent.

Once again we have our "threat triangle" to monitor, and this has been a reminder to keep everything protected within it, both front and rear sides of your body. Pay attention, as you move your guard towards or or away from your opponent, how it will open and close different areas relative to your opponent's weapon and centerline.

In this diagram we stand in the center of our circle/triangle, which is the point to which our opponent reaches. The back half is our largo range where we move our vital targets out of reach.

This might be redundant to many, and others may not want to dig through the archives anyway. Regardless, it's always good practice to review fundamental concepts, refreshing the touchstone from which we measure our understanding and progress.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Edge Weapons workshop in New Hampshire

Date: 8/13/06 (Sunday)
Location: Freedman's Ketsugo Bu-Jutsu Kai, Weare NH.
Time: 12:00 / 2:00PM
Cost: $40.00 (Cash Only) no checks
Contact info: Weare NH. Dojo (603)529-3564
Web Sight:
Instructor: Peter Freedman Sensei / Guro

Please bring:

Loosely fitting cloths
Rubber training knife (we have some here for sale $10.00)
Eye protection
Lightly padded gloves
Water & Snack
Note Book
A friend to pair off with
Dues $40.00 cash
Questions - as many as possible

No experience required, we will teach you from the beginning & up.
People who already have skill, we will build upon your skill level.

Workshop details:

type of knives used for (self protection) folders - verses fixed blade
grips (holding skills - hand switching skills etc.)
foot work & body angles (attack & evasion skills)
angles of cutting & thrusting (nine basic angles)
hand evasion skills & techniques (offense & defense)
eye exercises (distance control)
breathing technique (fear control / heart beat)
basic first aid (for cuts or wounds)
And much more !

We hope you can come & attend this workshop with a friend to pair off with.
This workshop is open to Men & woman.
No Children, please.
Teenagers 15/16 & up ok, as long as accompanied by a parent.
Law enforcement / Military welcomed - (no discounts at this time)
No group discounts at this time.

Respectfully yours

Freedman Sensei / Guro

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Carlito Bonjoc's Oakland Seminar - August 19th

Carlito Bonjoc will be doing a seminar in Oakland on Saturday, August 19, from noon till 5pm. Carlito is one of the outstanding proponents of Serrada as well as inheritor of his family's system of escrima. I encourage anyone who can make it to attend, as he always shares a wealth of information. I learn a lot from Carlito, and I'm sure you will too!

Lock Position #2 - The Threat Triangle

The “Threat Triangle” is a term I’ve coined to describe the tactical use of the lock position. Again, it is not a static position but an active and responsive tracking method. We want our “guns” facing the main threat, and there are nuances to this orientation as we move relative to an opponent.

The most fundamental is footwork, using the male triangle to face the opponent’s centerline. We lead with either foot, using papeet (replacement step) to orient towards either the left or right sides. If we control the center of the encounter, there are advantages of leverage and shorter lines of movement with the shorter stick.

Our basic consideration is the centerline, which is the most inside line. Our footwork and weapon should maintain directness.

There is also an outside line, which is the widest angle from which we need to guard against the most likely threat presented at that moment.

If we just lock facing forward and the tip of our opponent’s weapon can thrust around our guard, we are vulnerable; think of a rapier or dagger.

Too many people just finish a technique, give a cursory lock, and they’re done, or they just step straight up the center as though that threat had been neutralized. The purpose of the lock is to defend against the next attack. Why assume it will not be with the same weapon, from its previous position? Angel Cabales was a master of the quick thrust, and the lock has to be able to intercept that. For this, angle is critical.

If our opponent is beyond contact distance, the angle between his centerline and outside line is very slight. As we approach, that angle gets wider, and the longer the weapon, the deeper he can reach around us. Visualize his attack as anywhere on an arc, with you in the center of the circle.

At a longer distance, or closer but all weapons forward, our lock can be straight in front. If my opponent’s weapon is off towards my right, that is the side I most likely need to defend, and if he moves the other way, I should be shadowing that direction.

The idea is simple. If I am already in a position that cuts off a surprise attack simply, without resorting to a long or complicated maneuver, my defense will be quicker and more likely to succeed. I don’t want to have to think about a sudden threat when it’s time to react, so if I’m already pre-positioned to intercept that move, I get better use of trained subconscious reflexes.

I can’t always just rotate my body or move my weapon over to cover an angle because I might expose another, more vital one. If the threat you track is a fake, you may have played into your opponent’s strategy.

A good way to solve this is to angle my weapon, using the male triangle principle. For instance, if I am in a right lead, my opponent might be showing a low thrust to my left abdomen. If my weapon is just forward, I’ve left him that gap. If I angle the tip of my weapon back toward the left, my right hand covers the centerline. Both inside and outside angles have proximate coverage.

If my opponent sweeps his weapon to the other side, I would papeet into a left lead. Now the tip of my weapon covers the centerline while my right weapon hand is tracking the opposing weapon. At all times some part of my weapon accounts for every angle his weapon’s got.

In this diagram, the attacker is in red, the defender is black. The light dotted lines represent movement; the heavier black dotted lines represent the position of Black's stick (and his hand) as he thrusts inward from an outside position.

Notice the entry path available from the end of Red's stick using an arcing strike. There is also a line showing how moving Red's hand over across the body allows even deeper access toward the front of our body. This is particularly important against witiks (snapping blows), especially if sharpened by reverse tapping our own arm to accelerate the effect.

The defender also has a similar angle to counter-attack in this diagram. Black shows a thrust on a direct line from the tip as his hand moves over to compensate. The Threat Triangle is thus the separation by degree of incoming angles we have to monitor, from the weapon hand to the the end of that weapon, as these lines converge on target. In other words, an attack can come from either end of the weapon! We can see this triangle clearly in Black's diagram, using the lines of sight and thrust.

My old Kenpo teacher used to have us imagine having an eye on the toe of our foot. We'd actually place our head on the ground to see what openings that our foot could "see." I do the same thing with my stick, because what is apparent from the tip is different from what I see where my head is located.

Here I'm facing forward once again, but I'm guarding against an attack from my right, closing off the low line off attack from the tip of an opponent's weapon. Compare the stick position to that in the picture on the previous post. There my opponent's weapon is directly in front and so my angle is more direct.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Lock Position #1

For those unfamiliar with Serrada, the “lock position” is a signature of the system, an on-guard where our weapon is held in a neutral position more or less horizontally in front of our bodies. It isn’t exclusive to Serrada; grandmaster Navales from Panay teaches it in his system too. However, it is uncommon to most FMA styles and is often misunderstood even by Serrada students.

Here’s how I teach the basic mechanics: I have my students hold their stick out in front around solar plexus level, using both hands pronate (palms downward) to grasp the ends. Simply open the left hand and let that end drop. With a moderate grip, the left end will fall to maybe a 30º angle so the stick is at a diagonal. The left hand stays level with the right hand.

Defenses are typically diagonal - think of kick blocks in empty-hand arts – since low attacks are often horizontal. A vertical triangle like this covers more of your body. The lock position also keeps the weapon in front of you, central to any direction very quickly. If you carry the weapon too vertical, for instance, you have little power to go further in that direction and a longer way down to protect low lines.

Relax your wrist, elbow and shoulder, without going limp. This lets your upper arm cover the ribs better, and you’ll be faster using whipping energy than muscles alone. This lock position might not feel natural at first, but it will. Don’t just push a strike; the strengths of a stick are extension and leverage, which create speed and power. Eventually we want our whole body integrated in each motion, taking advantage of mechanical torque and gravity as power multipliers.

Also consider how much you reach with your hands. A common mistake is to extend outward too far. Remember that your hand is a target, and the farther it reaches, the longer it takes to retrieve. Since the stick is faster than the hand, you’re more likely to get hit if caught reaching. As a general rule I teach our on-guard is from the elbow out. In other words, unless otherwise required, I let my upper arms drop to cover my ribs. I may hold them slightly towards the front of my body rather than more fully relaxed.

Now that we have a basic angle, height and reach, we need movement. The lock position is not static. It’s relational, a way to track and intercept incoming attacks. As Angel taught it, one hand is always moving towards the opponent while the other returns. To get the feel of this, jog in place while holding the stick in the right hand across your body. Notice how the hands naturally fall into a back-and-forth rhythm. This is similar to what you want. However, the movement is not exactly symmetrical, because the weapon should always protect the empty hand and so stays towards the front.

A common error is to reach more with the left hand than with the weapon. This exposes the hand unnecessarily and can possibly interfere with your own weapon being deployed. Keep that left hand behind your primary weapon unless it is being used tactically. After all, our bodies feel pain, our sticks do not, and it’s easier to replace the latter than fix a broken bone. Think of your stick as also being a shield, or perhaps as the bumper on your car, there to take impacts before you do.

I finally got blogger to upload a picture of the lock position facing forward

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Insight Delight

It’s a surprise when something one has done for years suddenly flashes fresh insight. The experience can be both pleasant and disconcerting, the former for obvious reasons of discovery, the latter more a sense of “what took so long?” followed by “What else am I missing here?”

Some things need to percolate and evolve, often waiting for that moment the right question is asked, the key that unlocks the door. We have an “Aha!” moment, but it’s really been there awhile for us to see. It isn’t called “insight” for nothing!

This is also a benefit of teaching, since one is always going over basic information, the raw material feeding our creative unconscious mind. It’s been said (and I’m repeating myself) that UC Berkeley has so many Nobel winners because tenured professors are forced to endure giving those horrid undergraduate courses. This allegedly keeps them grounded in the fundamentals of their disciplines. Same thing here.

So yesterday I had an unexpected insight on “the pass” for angle #3, also known as “the two-step”. Serrada’s angle #3 is thrown as right-handed horizontal forehand slash across the mid-section; the defender sees it coming in left to right. This does what the name implies; it passes the attack through to the other side. In essence, it is an outside parry for a low attack on the left, analogous to the outside block on angle #1. “Inside” refers to being between an attacker’s hands (in front) vs. “outside” which is to the outside of one arm or the other, angled away from the opposite arm.

There has been some controversy within the Serrada community about how this technique is properly done. The majority of people I know do it the way I learned it, which is how Angel Cabales taught the move throughout the 1980’s. The move begins by cocking the left hand and foot, then doing a papeet (replacement step or quick step) with the right leg back. Vincent teaches this as a papeet with the left leg back.

This isn’t insignificant, because it changes the balance, angles and range of the counter-strikes all the way through to the end. Furthermore, there are things in the later version that appear inconsistent with basic Serrada theories, like always facing the attack. Vincent’s method is clearer on that regard. He told me that his way is authentic, and that his father changed the move while training Jimmy Tacosa because Jimmy did it that way.

This never made sense to me, because Angel didn’t do things arbitrarily like that. In fact, I often heard him reply to questions about why certain students would do things differently, by saying “He wants to do it that way and doesn’t listen, so I let him.” In other words, the student might change things, but Angel didn’t follow their lead.

There was a mystery here, a deeper truth to uncover. I’ve always felt I had a piece of this puzzle, because Angel also showed me – once - the footwork pattern Vincent uses, only Angel referred to this as Serrada’s version of a largo mano technique (largo mano is the range where your head is out of your opponent’s reach but his attacking hand is within your reach). Like Vincent, Angel moved back slightly on the first move, then surged in on the counterstrike. (It’s a bit like Sonny Umpad’s “pendulum” this way.)

Since I had seen both versions from Angel, I didn’t think of them as incompatible but rather as complementary. The way I was taught kept things a hair closer, relying more on the check hand to suppress the incoming attack, thereby altering its range. By keeping these as separate and discrete, I didn’t get confused. I spent some time trying Vincent’s version as the “only” way, but it just messed my timing up with either pattern. Once I realized it matched Angel’s “largo” I could keep it safely categorized as an alternative move.

This, however, was an old perspective from 15 years ago. I still had not fully deciphered the reason Angel allegedly changed the footwork so radically. In particular his later method seemed to leave the last strike off-balance and at an awkward angle. This strike is a right downward chop with the right leg forward. While our basic #1 strike steps in like this, here we are stepping back with the left leg, so we do not get the benefit of dropping our weight forward fully into the strike. This actually tends to pull energy away from the blow, which seems odd. I often tried to explain discrepancies as the move setting up for the reverse backhand strike (angle #4) to follow, but that also presented some technical inconsistencies which then had to be explained away.

Then last night as I was teaching this technique to someone new, I heard myself say something I’d never heard or thought before. This was regarding that finishing strike. I’d been thinking for some time that the power comes from torquing the upper body counterclockwise, which was somehow at odds with a vertical right forehand finishing blow. What I heard myself say was “you can chop diagonally to your opponent’s inside, towards the centerline, to take the upper arm.”

This tied together several other pieces of information. I’ve often told the story, related to me by a Modern Arnis teacher who had worked as a doctor in the Philippines, that after knife or sword fights, corpses frequently had cuts to the upper sword arm, but survivors almost never had such a wound. The implication was clear that such a cut incapacitated the loser’s ability to further defend, a good example of “killing the fang.”

What triggered this association was recognizing that if an attacker throws a powerful #3 strike and misses, it will likely carry his arm all the way across his body, removing the forearm as a target, at least until he comes back with the reverse #4 strike. With the forearm out of range, the logical target changes, and the closest and most effective is the upper arm.

This is consistent with defender’s direction of power in that hard torso twist to the left. Using a short chop, followed by a quick abanico to the “lock” position (weapon held across the body in an on-guard position) put one’s focus right on the opponent’s centerline. Previously I’d been targeting back to the forearm, which meant either striking towards my own outside line off the hip (as opposed to keeping power in towards my own center, which is more fundamental to our theories) or stepping wider across my opponent to orient power but exposing my low line to greater extent.

I’m sure others have had this insight too, but I’ve never heard it. There has always been vagueness as to why this technique looked different from so many others. By analyzing the power structure and alignment of both attacker and defender, an odd technique suddenly feels technically sound.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Kelly Worden's Blog

I'd like to welcome Kelly Worden to the world of blogging. His first piece is an article he wrote about growing up in his hometown. Kelly brings a critical honesty to martial arts writing that is both refreshing and bold. You can use this link to get there, or the one I've posted permanently on my sidebar. Congratulations, Kelly!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

FMA's Ship Finally Pulling In?!!

I’ve been actively involved in Filipino martial arts now for over 25 years, and for much of that time I’ve heard that it is about to become “the next big thing” in martial arts.

Judo, Karate, Taekwondo, Kung-Fu, Kenpo, Ninjutsu, JKD, Aikido, Brazilian Jujitsu; the list seems endless for all the arts that have had their moment in the media’s spotlight as the featured flavor. For the most part, the FMA have remained the worst kept secret in martial arts, an insider’s connection that was often hidden in plain view by those who incorporated elements of the training into other styles.

Since the late 1980’s there has been significant growth within the FMA community as there have been more teachers to bring the art forward, promoting various legacies in their own right. Tournaments have evolved to provide opportunities for newcomers to test their courage and skills and to promote visibility to the general public. There have been various full-contact and point rules for both live and padded sticks. Some tournaments have been all-FMA, others have been divisions within other martial art tournaments, but few if any have had access to mass exposure through public media.


For the past half-dozen years Disney World has promoted the Disney Martial Arts Festival, a monumental event that has grown to include over 1000 athletes in 16 different disciplines ranging from traditional to modern expressions of punching, kicking and grappling arts from around the world. What have been conspicuously absent until now are the Filipino martial arts.

Every competition within the Festival is affiliated with a national organization that creates the formats and rules for their particular art, and which bring competitors together for this event. Disney becomes the sponsor, providing everything necessary to run the tournament, from mats, tables and chairs all the way to medals.

But wait! There’s more! (as they say on infomercials).


That’s right folks. We’re talking martial arts with major corporate sponsorship and national television exposure! This is a world-class event, as close to “Wide World of Sports” or the Olympics as most martial arts will ever get. (Then again, some participating organizations are IOC affiliates …)

Anyway, here is your chance to shine and let your friends and family see you on TV, and for those who are ambitious, you could even try combining different competitions, such as FMA and BJJ, Kajukenbo, TKD, Karate or even Tai Chi or Savate!

Oh, and if you thought one tournament was good, there are two! Disney holds events on each coast; there will be an FMA demonstration at the one this fall in Orlando, then competition will commence in Anaheim in February.

To meet Disney’s protocols and promote FMA participation, a group has been created, the “U.S. Filipino Martial Arts Federation” (USFMAF), whose role is to promote a high quality FMA tournament at this and other sanctioned events.

Over the past couple of weeks a group of volunteers from across the country have met via meetings and conference calls, forming a board of governors that has selected an executive board to take on responsibility for making this tournament a success.

Members of the executive board are:

Elrick Jundis, Executive Director; FMA teacher, promoter and organizer, a strong consensus builder;
Darren Tibon, President; a highly motivated and effective teacher, tournament coach and organizer;
Alex France, Vice President; Secretary General of Ernesto Presas’ IPMAF, FMA teacher, another strong consensus builder;
Darlene Tibon, Secretary General; a key member of Darren’s organization;
Anthony Wade, Treasurer.

I’ve known most of these people for years; they are hard-working, with a love and dedication to the art that is second to none. While this group is all from northern California, that was decided by consensus on a national conference call to facilitate launching an organization on a tight deadline. Moreover, this is a group with depth of experience in promoting tournaments, seminars and other public events. I have no qualms about the quality of this board; it is a first-rate list, and one I am sure will make this event an outstanding showcase competition for Filipino martial arts.

In addition there is one other special mention. Eugene Tibon is Technical Advisor to the USFMAF, and really its godfather. Gene has a list of credentials that would take all day to type, but to be brief, he is our contact to Disney, someone with the credentials to present a new federation to their board of directors and a guide through the ins-and-outs of joining forces with an organization of this magnitude.

More in depth, besides running one of the more successful martial arts chain of schools I know, also Gene holds positions as: President, USANKF of Northern California, Inc.; Regional Sports Organization for Karate; Executive Vice President, USA National Karate-do Federation; Member of the USA Olympic Committee; President, Goju Ryu Uchiage Kai, Western United States; Executive Board Member, City of Stockton Sports Commission. In fact, the list seems to update constantly, as today he said he now has additional roles with Disney’s organization. In other words, he’s been there, done that, knows how national organizations work, and is willing to share his expertise to make the FMA an integral part of this Festival. Already his input has given invaluable insight into what needs to be done to get up and running on short notice.

Now for the best part – everyone is invited!

The USFMAF needs people to work on committees for a variety of things, including: non-profit incorporation and legal issues; a technical committee for rules and regulations; judging and refereeing committee to establish training and standards; equipment (oh yeah – there’s a major martial arts manufacturer that is interested in making whatever gear we need!); medical supervision; organizing committee; etc.

If you think you, your school, your teacher, or anybody else you know in FMA, ought to know more about this tournament, here is a chance to have some input on the ground floor of what could become a major ongoing event. The goal is to be INCLUSIVE, not based on or biased towards one style or organization. Input is both welcome and vital!

Once all these things are done, we get to enjoy a world-class tournament on a national stage! I can say from personal experience, as a participant in world championship tournaments in the Philippines and here in the U.S., that an event like this will long be remembered and be a highlight for a lifetime for those who participate.

This tournament currently proposes a number of formats for competitors. Divisions include both forms and self-defense techniques. Sparring will be both padded and live stick (point fighting); padded single stick (continuous fighting); and live double stick (continuous fighting). There are ideas to expand other areas in the future, but right now the need is to prepare for that first competition.

You can join this group online through Google or go there to contact people. You can also mail me if you need help reaching someone on the executive board.