Saturday, June 10, 2006

Coining Acronyms

I like making up nicknames and acronyms for my martial art teaching. It’s a fun way to help students remember key concepts, to say nothing of my retentive skills. Here, then, are a few samples. (Feel free to add any of your own in “Comments”)


TAOMA – The Art Of Making Adjustments: This is my overall perspective on martial arts. Regardless of what system, style, strategy or concept to which you may subscribe, good martial artists are usually adaptive. (The corollary to that might be “predictability can get you killed.”).

I’m not the biggest, fastest, tallest, strongest or youngest. I’m a pretty average athlete with some good training. Consequently I value strategy to deal with people who are superior in those attributes. I’m not likely to overpower someone stronger or outrun someone faster; it’s a matter of finding a counter-strategy that negates such advantages, and the key to this is a mind that can adjust quickly.

Combat moves quickly, so this isn’t about deep cogitation on the issues at hand. It’s about having guiding principles to help one stay in focus. One of the core concepts in Serrada is reversal. When you encounter resistance, flow around it rather than oppose it. This is consistent with my Tai Chi training too. The mind can only do one thing at a time, a precept of “chi follows yi” (energy follows the mind), so if an opponent is strong in one direction, he must be ignoring (and therefore weaker) in another. Thus, “go where he ain’t.” That keeps you from getting stuck attempting to force an ineffective technique and forces your opponent to deal with the changes you instigate.

I particularly apply this concept when working with joint locks or pressure points. For most of us, these don’t always work reliably. For instance, pressure points are what I call “80%” techniques. They may work 80% of the time, but 10% of people you try them on might feel these and resist the pain, and 10% won’t feel or respond at all. What are the odds your neighborhood psycho or druggie will be in that 20% range? If something isn’t working, move on to something else.

SIFNIS – Somewhere In Front, Nowhere In Sight: It’s a corollary to HIPS (Hidden In Plain Sight, which is like looking for the car keys that are right out on the countertop) but a bit more focused. SIFNIS means you can be looking in the appropriate direction but you still cannot spot what you seek.

In Escrima, you may know what strike is coming, but you will generally learn more from watching the body than the stick, since the latter can move too quickly to see. We know where it is, but by the time we see it has moved, the stick already can be somewhere else. Counters are really based on educated guesses, schemas (mental constructs) that anticipate reality. The advantage is a good schema can bias the odds in your favor. The disadvantage can be a time lag in adjusting when reality differs from assumptions.

Ultimately, of course, we’d like to match perception and reality so that we flow responsively. This is the goal of Zen, to empty the mind and just be present in the moment. This is how animals seem to experience life, being fully engaged through their senses in the Now. Chinese martial arts talk of “animal flavor” as a high form of expression. Learning to embody an animal style is really a metaphor for learning to immerse oneself fully in the experience of doing, so that it become integrated with the complete expression of who you are. Sense of separation of Self from the moment disappears.

Being self-realized isn’t about emulating anything; it is about allowing one’s inner potential or Spirit to become the guiding force for one’s actions. There is a sense of joyous freedom when that takes over. People often describe the experience in wonder, as though being a spectator to their own actions, which transcend usual boundaries or self-perceived limitations.

This is also the essence of TAOMA. To make adjustments in the moment is to become free of limitation and to experience that flow of energy. The Tao is the creative source of energy, the “mother” (ma) to the world of existence and karma. In Chinese “ma” also means “horse”, and so we ride the wave of energy, feeling ourselves a part of it. In some African and Caribbean based religions, those who invoke ecstatic rapture are described as the “horse” who is mounted by Spirit. Whether one drops into unconscious trance or is elevated to heightened sense of awareness (hyperempiria), there is an opening to a greater sense of connection than our everyday egoic separation and isolation from the world around us.

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