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.