Monday, February 27, 2006

Quick Update on Sonny

I just heard a short while ago that Sonny was out of a coma and conscious, so I tried reaching him at the hospital in case he could answer the phone. I didn't get an answer but I did speak to the nursing station on his floor and they say he's doing well. Thanks for all those who are thinking of him. I'll keep posting his progress here.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Khalid’s Seminar

This weekend Khalid Khan did a seminar in Oakland at Kenny Pitt’s school on Lakeshore Blvd., sponsored through the auspices of Professor James Hundon who teaches an innovative program there which combines Escrima with Wally Jay’s Small Circle Jujitsu and other arts.

In some ways this event reminded me of the White Tiger seminar Angel Cabales did in Oakland back in 1967. Both events were well attended by students from the school, lending an air of friendly camaraderie to the proceedings. Also reminiscent was attendance by some of the more senior instructors in this art, bringing together several generations of practitioners.

I was invited by Master Khan to assist in his class, and as it opened there were also half a dozen second generation instructors under Khalid. The treat for me was when early into the program two of our seniors from Stockton showed up.

Ronnie Saturno and Carlito Bonjoc are two of my role models in Serrada. I’ve known Carlito since my earliest training in this art back in 1985, and his skills and knowledge never cease to amaze me. Ronnie is someone I’ve had the privilege to meet far too infrequently, and his style and movement impressed me once again, reminding me how explosive and deadly this art can be. Both these men are articulate, intelligent teachers, and I got to feel like a beginner in the art once more as I let myself soak in what they have to offer.

What amazed me after I got home was realizing the cumulative experience there was of Angel’s students in that room today. Ronnie has at least 27 years in Serrada, Carlito about 25. I have 20 years myself with Khalid just a couple of years behind. All together we represented nearly 90 years of training in Serrada. Time spent like this matures the basic skills, nurturing each person through experience.

It was just as nice to see the younger generation of instructors starting to step up and show what they can do; Khalid’s top assistants have some nice skills. There is a lot of talent in this art, and it’s good to see it spreading. Today there was no politics, just the art itself, enjoyed for its own sake. I could feel Angel smiling in that room.

Prayers for Sonny

Sonny Umpad has always been one of my favorite people in the martial arts. He’s always been generous with his knowledge, and as one of the most creative people I’ve ever known, he’s expanded the skill set for many of us with his innovative tactics. In particular his centerline roll for double sticks has had an impact, not just by combining concepts from Wing Chun and Escrima but expanding the effective elements within both arts by integrating FMA stick work with simple dynamics from Wing Chun’s punching.

This past Wednesday Sonny had a stroke. A student got him to the hospital, where doctors found a tumor in his brain. To save his life they performed surgery. He’s not out of the woods yet, with other complications still to be addressed, so right now he can use all the prayers and best wishes we can send him.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Buddha and the Tiger

One day the Buddha was sitting under his favorite tree, teaching to those assembled as was his wont, when a tiger entered the park. People began fleeing.

One monk looked over at the person running alongside him and was astonished to see it was the Buddha himself. He asked "Why are you running like the rest of us, when you teach that reality is an illusion?"

Replied the Buddha "Sometimes you must treat a tiger as a tiger."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Perception and Reality

So, back to Consciousness 101. Whoa! You thought this was supposed to be an Escrima blog! Y’know, how many ways to do an inside block with a high pass to the outside then a takedown with a pizza. Oops, make that pizzazz.

Yup. At some point I’ll be doing that writing, but if you look at lots of my previous posts, I think understanding our mental processes is the key to fine tuning our physical ones.

A tip of the hat here to Portascat’s blog, which talks about Dick Cheney’s shooting incident in relation to gun safety practices. Real world events demonstrate points about the mind/body connection, so it’s all the Veep’s fault that you’re reading this! ;)


When the Indian monk Ta Mo began incorporating physical movement into the Shaolin monastery, it was from understanding how the mind and body interact. Discipline in movement allows discipline in stillness, controlled motion the flip side of the non-movement of sitting in meditation. Integration means the inner and outer focus become melded into a single unified expression of one’s self. The conscious mind pays attention to the unconscious mind, together performing more effectively when not struggling for control.

Currently I’m reading “Animals In Translation” by Temple Grandin, a highly regarded professor and consultant on animal behavior. She’s also autistic, and her research into how autistic people see the world has led her to insights about how both people and animals perceive the world. Animals tend to live through their senses. They see, hear, smell. People create schemas, which are thoughts about how the world should be, and so we frequently operate through assumptions. These can be valuable shortcuts created through heuristic learning processes in which we build expectations based on previous experience.

A classic example of a schema is a pencil dropped 99 times will be expected to also fall to the floor when dropped the 100th time. However, there are flaws when we get trapped in seeing the big picture without identifying the details.

In her work Grandin refers to the book “Inattentional Blindness”, the premise of which is that people do not consciously see something unless they are actively paying attention to it. She cites a NASA study where commercial airline pilots were asked to practice routine landings on a simulator. At some point another jetliner is placed across the landing runway, and 25% of the pilots failed to see it! Untrained people of course saw the plane, but the professionals were flying on autopilot, so to speak, even though they were in manual control of the plane, in touch with the control tower, etc.

In the real world, this has consequences, which returns us to the news. Cheney is an experienced hunter, but perhaps he got too complacent about reviewing basic rules. He neglected to get a bird stamp, which in itself is a small discrepancy but perhaps symptomatic of those sort of breeches of consciousness that allow error to seep in. It’s worse if it was a deliberate act of omission because that could invite further relaxation of attentiveness and oversight.

As a kid I read (and reread many times) “Fate Is The Hunter” about early aviation. Plane crashes attributable to pilot error usually don’t just happen randomly. There are often a series of errors accumulating to a tipping point. Responsibility asks a lot of us; hence the title of the book. Entropy can be defined as an “inevitable and steady deterioration of a system.” It takes energy to overcome entropy, the opposite of complacency. As my old Kenpo teacher used to say, “Things always change and so there is no standing still. You are either moving forward or slipping back.”

W.B. Yeats expressed this well in The Second Coming with the lines “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

Martial arts are about mastering chaos. We control others from our own center. How can we shape an external reality except by ownership of what is inherently within our purview? If we do not control ourselves, then we are out of control, or within the control of another. Either way, it is not our best option.

As training expands our options, it deepens our perception into them. Simply put, we can see more. Too much information can cause paralysis – one attempts to make sense of an overwhelming amount of data. Heuristic learning organizes our material, but we need to constantly monitor data against the template of expectations. That way, at least we can see when there is a deviation, allowing us to kick into greater focus so that we can modify our response appropriately.

Like the saying says, “The difference between theory and practice is, in theory there is no difference.” Think about it.

I call Escrima “the art of making adjustments” because done well it flows relationally. Through sensitivity we can discern changes to basic patterns of movement, thereby adapting fresh responses. Going pattern to pattern is a lattice through which we weave, a template to engage our opponent, not rigid rules that constrain us.

An attack is a question: “Can you deal with this?” Our reaction is both an answer and a counter-question. Movement becomes dialog. Talking in clichés can be boring and repetitive, but when conversation flows, it can become illuminative, enlightening and entertaining. It is in the nature of unpredictability that we discover what is new, hence interesting. We can use common words (or movements) to create our expression.

So where do we find the balance between control and freedom, and how can it be possible for dialog, whether verbal or martial arts, to resolve this polarity? Like the old adage, one must know the rules to be able to break them. If you don’t know them, it is just anarchy. How can you take credit for doing what you don’t know? On the other hand, progress is rarely achieved without stepping into the unknown. Knowledge is just our base, what we’ve already covered and examined. It is the platform from which to jump into a sea of possibilities, and there to support us when we need to find our bearings again.

Examining this stuff is like layers of an onion, always something to peel off. It is not easy keeping the mind engaged on the bigger picture, which puts us in situations where things happen. When Cheney shot Whittington he didn’t see the forest for the trees, being so locked in on his sight picture that he lost track of the environment. Tunnel vision like this is also common under stress such as in a self-defense situation. In both cases it’s too much attention to the wrong thing, focus being placed on success in a single frame, forgetting the larger context.

Temple Grandin points out that it is our animal nature which perceives things as they are, directly through the senses. Use your mind to direct your actions well, but let the actions flow from that sense of awareness.

Sigh … and this was going to be a short post!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Mastering Mastery

I once read a quote by Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba which said in essence that anyone who is reasonably competent can learn to wave their hands around in the air, but the true nature of the art was to be found in meditation.

I later read an interview by Kenpo grandmaster Ed Parker, in which he stated the main purpose of training was to learn to keep one’s hands out of each others’ way so they wouldn’t hit each other by accident; after all, that could be as injurious as being hit by an opponent. When then asked if he’d ever used his art for self-defense, he said that he’d experienced three attempted muggings in Los Angeles, and each time he’d simply hit the person before he could think, dropping them immediately. Each time his subsequent reaction was “Darn! I could have done something fancy!”

I’ve often quipped that for all my years in martial arts, the best examples of how they’ve saved my life have been knowing how to fall, or in one case crossing an icy parking lot while carrying skis, how not to fall by using a strong stance. Other times I’ve used awareness to avoid trouble, sensing something subliminally and only recognizing the nature of the danger after it had been avoided. I’ve had very few fights. Most of those have been coming to the aid of others, and the actual skirmishes (a word related in origins to Escrima) were very brief within the context of each incident.

Finally, I-Chuan practitioners were reputed to be devastating fighters, yet their main focus of training was standing in universal post.

So what is going on here? Why do we train endless hours in countless techniques? Certainly we gain skill in waving our hands in the air, learning not to hit ourselves, but then we’ve also trained alongside others who practice diligently and are technically competent but who are not particularly effective in using what they know.

It’s that inner game.

My two previous posts about dog incidents were to illustrate presence of mind under duress, which I believe are key attributes to cultivate through martial art training. Those incidents had nothing to do with the external art, but everything to do with the essence of being present and aware within the moment.

GM Anthony Davis once did an article back in the 80’s about mastering Escrima. Some folks took offense that he was claiming to be a master, when in fact he was still training under Angel Cabales in the 12 angles at that time. Anthony pointed out that he had never claimed in that piece to be a master of the art, but that “mastering” is a process of working towards mastery. At the time I thought his explanation a bit disingenuous, but in fact he hit the nail on the head.

Mastery can be defined as “possession of consummate skill” or as “full command of a subject of study.” Yes, there is also the meaning of “status of master or ruler,” which is based on social roles, but the first two definitions are based solely on competency within the individual. One can have status as a leader without having self-mastery, and so we are free to examine the actual process of inner development separate from issues of hierarchy.

Within Anthony Davis’ use of the term, we spend our whole lives mastering skills, something GM Angel Cabales exemplified. As skillful and accomplished as he was, he was continually refining his art and himself, a process that I believe one can see in the lineage of his students. Those who trained with him earlier have a robust aggressiveness, reflecting Angel’s energy at that time. Later students show a more refined approach to the art. This is not to say earlier trainees lack understanding or that later ones are not as strong, but rather that as students take on qualities from their teacher, this shows how Angel’s approach to teaching his art evolved over time from a more direct experiential method to one that became more analytic in attention to fine details.

I really saw this process of inner development the last time I worked out with Angel in 1991. I took a group of students to meet him; Angel was already very ill at this time. He sat in a chair, looking tired, but as we went through angles for him he became more and more animated, finally insisting we help him to his feet. He turned to one guy, a burly Filipino who was ex-military, with high skills in Kenpo and Wing Chun, and told the guy to punch him. Mack looked at me questioningly, and knowing Angel, I said “Do what he says.” Mack threw a punch and Angel did a takedown.

Now here was a guy (Angel) who could barely stand - we’d had to help him out is his chair – dropping a guy half his age and twice his size, using a technique I’d seen countless times in a way I’d never seen before. Generally in the past he would step into his opponent, ducking under their arm and pinning their centerline with his outstretched arm while trapping their knee with his. In doing this, he would often visibly adjust his own balance to catch their weight. This time he couldn’t move that much. He couldn’t make adjustments when merely standing was so difficult. Instead, he simply did the technique with perfect alignment, and with a light touch sent Mack crashing to the ground.

Angel proceeded to demonstrate this technique on each of us (six in all) and the power he manifested was undeniable. He reminded me that day of a candle whose flame may flare brighter just before going out. I knew in that moment that we were witnessing the culmination of his art. He had perfected it, and his life’s work was done. He died 22 days later.

If a legendary fighter and teacher can constantly investigate the nature of his art, continually refining it to ever-higher levels, that is the best example we can take for our own development within the art. It is not about rank, because that is a social construct. It is something awarded to us by others as a form of recognition, and it can be taken away or disputed, all part of the politics of the arts. On the other hand, our knowledge is something we own, a part of ourselves. It is in taking ownership of our own self that we become powerful. External mastery is only the shell, but it is up to us to embody the meaning.

I recently heard from a former student who called to discuss a rank he’d been awarded in another system. He didn’t feel he was ready for it. If he cannot feel it, then there is still work to be done. I pointed out that it is not a lack of knowledge that holds him back, because he’s trained a long time with competent teachers, but it is a lack of belief that keeps him from accepting his own competency.

I reminded him of something I was told long ago by John Wong, my late Tai Chi teacher. Some people don’t want to accept responsibility for their own growth, and so remain students forever. Sometimes they become dojo gypsies, traveling from school to school in search of that elusive missing “something.” This has nothing to do with technical ability, because sometimes these people can be very good, though it seems the longer they search for answers outside themselves, the less competent they become as self-doubt drives down their confidence.

The most common phrase in the Filipino martial arts (FMA) is “we have that too,” and really that can be extended to almost all the arts. There are only so many basic techniques, though many ways of expressing them. One can learn how to do an arm bar, for example, from many teachers, and each might add a flavor or nuance to the technique, but until you are able to do an arm bar that expresses who you are, you have not internalized the experience and made it your own.

That is mastery. Work on mastering it!

Sunday, February 12, 2006


The last story of my dog’s near fatal moment brings back another experience from my past. This took place almost 25 years ago, but there are some parallels.

Back then I had two Alaskan Malamutes, big strong sled dogs from my sister’s kennels. Like now, I had one old dog and a young one. It’s a good thing to have an old dog help socialize a pup, both to being a dog and how to relate to us as humans. As much as we may try to be alpha and dominate the pack, dogs still recognize our innate difference. They may accept their place as subordinate to us, but we still speak different languages at a superficial level through different bodies and minds.

There's another precognition in this parallel, that I’ve recently caught myself calling my young dog by the name of the young one back then. I suppose it’s that I see a similar bright and independent spirit in their behaviors. My name-calling preceded the choking incident and I noted it as unusual when it happened. I’m only now seeing how a pattern in my life is repeating itself, and wondering how it might be that we relive even seemingly random accidental events because we manifest a need for learning through experience. Down the rabbit hole ….

Anyway, back then my dogs had regular collars for their tags, and choke chains for being on leash. I left the chains on because I didn’t see any reason to take them off. Wrong.

First I came home one day and my old Malamute was lying on the rear porch. When I called the dogs into the house, he struggled but didn’t get up. I started to freak out, ran to see what was wrong with him. It turns out the loop on the end of the chain had fallen into the gap between two of the boards of the deck and gotten stuck. The dog simply was being held down. It was an easy fix, but a warning these were not safe. I may have started removing the chains in between walks, but eventually I got lazy and forgot about it.

Some time thereafter, I had a stray young Husky stay with us briefly until we found the owner. She and my young male Malamute were good play companions and loved to wrestle. Well, one day they were wrestling in my living room, and fortunately I was present because my Malamute somehow slipped a paw through the choke chain of the Husky as she stood over him. When she turned her body around, however, the chain wrapped a loop around his paw. The Malamute screamed in pain and began fighting to get loose.

The Husky panicked and began trying to get away. When she couldn’t pull loose, she turned again, the same direction as before, tightening the loop even further. Plus, she was now starting to choke herself.

They began fighting ferociously.

I tried to control them to untangle the trap but they were too desperate so I simply grabbed both their heads and pinned them to the floor, just totally taking control of them. I couldn’t let go of one to loosen the chain because it would simply resume attacking the other. There I was, pinning the heads of two dogs weighing a cumulative 150 lbs, their bared teeth inches apart.

Fortunately I had a friend visiting that afternoon, and I yelled at her to get the bolt cutters from the shed in the back. Now here was a miracle in itself, because 1) she didn’t know the layout of my house; 2) the shed was hidden behind another building in the rear of the property; and 3) she didn’t even know what bolt cutters were.

She was back with them in about 30 seconds! Since I couldn’t let go, I told her what to do. Two seconds and the chain was cut. The best part was she didn’t even know how she had found the cutters or what she had done with them. It all felt to her as though she had been in a trance. In fact, both of us acted completely from a sense of “doing” in the moment, driven by necessity beyond hesitation.

Those two dogs never played together again. In fact, they had to be kept separate from that point forward until the Husky was reunited with her owners. My dog limped badly for a while, and it never really went away for the rest of his short life. Since then I’ve never left a chain on a dog when I wasn’t using it on leash.

As for premonitions, here’s a quick count:

There was the thought about chains being unsafe after the first incident. Though I noted it, it didn’t make enough impression to change my actions.

In the second incident, there was the thought of the rawhide being unsafe for my old dog, but somehow it wasn’t quite enough to change my actions.

In both cases the second incident not only reinforced the earlier perception but also accelerated the consequences to a dramatic level. Somewhere my unconscious mind caught the parallel and began trying to bring it forward to consciousness, such as calling my young dog by my previous one’s name.

The mind works symbolically, using representational models. Everything that arises is a product of consciousness at some level. We employ filters to make sense of our information stream, and we call that reality. The trick is to open our filters enough to make sense of data, whether from internal or external sources; it is all perception.

How well we recognize things is the consequence of sensitivity and awareness. Filters need to be selective enough to turn down the volume of data, else we become overwhelmed, but also permeable enough to allow through sufficient bandwidth to enable us to function effectively. At the threshold between unconscious and conscious is a filter we call intuition. Everyone has it, but not everyone knows how to separate the signal from the background noise, and so things get overlooked.

In these incidents I can see the messages popping through, not as a special psychic sense but as an innate awareness available to us all. My subconscious simply rolled combinations of data based on my own patterns of behavior and resources to come up with plausible future scenarios. Whether the picture already existed in my head and I perceived it or whether thinking it created the picture that I then enacted, but in each case warnings ignored portended outcomes that could have been avoided.

But then, I wouldn’t be able to share these things with you. Such is experience.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Tuning in to another premonition

Premonitions are quirky things. Often we miss them completely, then after something happens we think “Ya know …” Skeptics could chalk that up to coincidence, though I prefer Jung’s synchronicity which sees relationship in seemingly coincidental events. Other times, however, we actually feel a vague sense of something impending. While I’d prefer to get those sort of messages about dating fabulous women, my own experiences more commonly signal more mundane things, like death and dying. I had one of those this week, and it wasn’t much fun.

Saturday night I went to see some old friends play a gig at a small British-style pub in Kensington (California). These guys have been professional rockers for decades, and for fun they put together an occasional power trio called “The Hoo”, a tribute to the famous British band “The Who.” I’ve still got my old vinyl records, but this is as close as I’ve ever been to their live shows. It was loud, true to the original music, lots of fun. They started with really old stuff and worked their way up.

The next to last song they did was the hit “Behind Blue Eyes” which includes the line “and if I swallow anything evil, put your fingers down my throat.” Now I’d been grinning and singing along with lots of the music (hey, it’s “my generation”) but when they did that line, I got a really funny feeling. I started singing along with it and stopped, and yes, I noted it at the time.

Fast forward to Monday afternoon. An old friend called to take me to lunch. I put my dogs out in the back yard and I cut a large rawhide chewie in half to keep them occupied while I was gone. Now one of my dogs is young and loves to chew, so she’s good to work the thing for days. My other dog, however, is an old food hound (15 years, but still with her teeth) and I had a bit of an intuitive flashback to the song. I wasn’t sure about giving her a piece of rolled rawhide, though she’d been chomping on them for years, so I gave her a slightly smaller piece, something about the size of half my forearm.

When I got home the young dog came running to show off the progress she’d made on her chew toy. The older dog didn’t come and I got an uneasy feeling. I went in the yard, and she was ok, still chewing on the rawhide and so didn’t want to come. I thought of taking it from her at that point, but knowing her obsession with food, I figured I needed a bribe to get her to let it go.

I went in the house, and a minute later she came running in, but she was making a really ugly choking, gasping sound. I immediately realized she must have either tried swallowing too big a piece of the stuff, or inhaled it by accident coming up the stairs. I ran into the living room after her and saw her trying hard to cough up the obstruction. It took me about half a second to realize she wasn’t having any luck, and in fact things were quickly accelerating out of control as she was starting to foam at the mouth from the exertion.

I ran over and stuck my hand in her mouth to see if I could pull the rawhide out. I could touch it, but unfortunately it was well chewed, so it was soft and slimy, plus now it was getting coated with the foam and phlegm from her efforts to cough it up. I simply couldn’t get a grip. I ran to a toolbox and grabbed some hemostats, but those didn’t work either, and the rawhide seemed lodged further back in her throat now, where I couldn’t see it, even holding her jaw open. By now she was getting desperate and starting to thrash a bit, so I was now attempting to immobilize a 60 pound dog while holding open her jaws and reaching down her throat.

A couple of times I managed to get my hands out of the way just in time as she bit down, either in desperation or to try to swallow to clear the phlegm building up in her throat. She finally chomped down on my left thumb, at which point I grabbed a tennis ball and put in her teeth to save myself. It as about this point I realized I was bleeding from numerous cuts to both hands.

Up to this point was phase one, but now we entered phase two as she collapsed on her side. The sound of her desperate attempts to gasp air was horrible. I realized how badly things were going when her bowels let go; that was when I started to really fear I was going to lose her. The sounds of her breathing were getting weaker and the object seemed lodged even deeper. I tried Heimlich on her, but it didn’t work either. I tried the hemostats again, but I just couldn’t feel where I was going. At this point I actually had to reach deep into her throat and press the rawhide down on her tongue several times just to clear enough room for any air to get in at all. Her eyes started to glaze and her tongue became flaccid and started looking purple. She’d been struggling almost 10 minutes by then, and I realized I had only a minute or so left before she’d be dead.

Perhaps it was because her muscles were relaxing as she started checking out, but at this point I began massaging her throat, trying to push the rawhide up, and darned if it didn’t work. Suddenly I could see enough of it to grasp with my fingertips, and pinching with all my strength and a prayer, I pulled the slimy rawhide tube out!

The poor dog was so exhausted she just lay there. I cleaned up her mess and washed my bloody, slimed hands, then brought her some water. She couldn’t even drink at that point so I just wet my fingers and put some water on her lips. Finally she rolled over onto her belly and began drinking, which was the point where I began to hope she was ok.

The upshot is she was able to eat dinner that night, though she was too weak to get up stairs without being carried. Today she was up and about as though nothing had happened, managing a good walk. The scratches on my right hand are already healing nicely, but the lacerations on my left thumb are deeper and will take more time. I’m grateful I had the knowledge of how to control her jaws enough to even attempt the rescue, and that I had the fortitude to stay with it. There have been many occasions in my life where I had to dig down to persevere through a difficult time, and I credit martial arts to helping me stay focused. I also appreciate my teachers (especially John Wong, my Tai Chi teacher) for introducing me to the healing side of the arts. Without that, there is no balance, and at times like yesterday, there would be a tragic ending.

As for the rawhide, I’m throwing the rest of the package away.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Inner Game

People always have their own internalized reasons for anything they do, and this is as true of martial arts as anything else. There are some broad categories of interest in the arts, such as health, sports or self-defense that attract people to different styles, but there is usually an underlying theme of self-image. Whether someone wants to lose weight, win trophies or feel more secure, there is a desire for positive change and to take more control over one’s life.

Self-esteem is how we value ourselves. If it is low, we may seek out experiences that validate a negative self-image, perhaps resorting to self-sabotage or destructive behaviors. It is often difficult to identify these patterns in ourselves, even if we can see them in others. Self-reflection is important, taking the time to assess our own inner thoughts and feelings. There are various tools for this, including meditation, counseling, even dialog with trusted associates. Ultimately, though, change comes from within. No one can fix us except ourselves.

An example of a negative self-image cycle might be someone who gets into martial arts because they were bullied as a kid. Learning self-defense makes them feel stronger, but does it really change their way of looking at the world? Similarly, someone might become a tournament champion because it makes them feel better than other people, but if it is a way of compensating externally for an inner lack of self-worth, then all the trophies in the world ultimately won’t fill that void.

These are not uncommon scenarios, by the way. I’m sure that many of us (since I assume this is being read mostly by members of the martial art community) have encountered others who seem to be overcompensating. For instance, some fighters like to win by intimidation. Part of their strategy is to psyche out their opponent pre-emptively. Their vulnerability is if their opponent simply doesn’t respond to intimidation, or is simply better at that game. This turns the table, exposing their attitude as bravado, a band-aid for their psyche. Now they may be a great fighter and get away with this for a long time, but without inner growth, it is simply a dead-end, because they haven’t developed deeper inner resources to cope with adversity.

Another type of individual may be a hero-worshipper. Such a person may put their teacher on a pedestal and engage in excessive adulation. It’s one thing to admire someone for qualities they possess, and to model behaviors as a way to learn and integrate these qualities. If one gets stuck in a mode of feeling inferior or incapable of reaching such a state, then it is a negative behavior pattern.

Some teachers or schools feed on such energy, creating cults around personality or a mystique of being unique and special. Notice at the end of the first paragraph I spoke of taking control of one’s life. I believe that people approach martial arts with the goal of feeling free, free from whatever fear or oppression they perceive in their life. Martial arts hold out the premise of building strong individuals. If, however, a person falls under the sway of someone controlling, they subsume their original desires to the purposes of yet another manipulator. A grouping of people who are strong individuals is an association based on equality. Create a heirarchy based on feeding into the needs of those seeking truth and it is emotional vampirism. Cults and gangs are based on absorbing the individual into such channels; the group becomes strong by promising what the individual feels they cannot achieve on their own.

So how does one go about changing internal states? Some of it happens naturally through life experiences, but that can be random, and of course one can be stuck repeating the past. Training in a discipline such as martial arts should encourage positive values, strengthening determination, fortitude and goal-setting through positive achievement. One encounters obstacles and plateaus, but learns to persevere and overcome them.

In its broadest sense, martial arts are touted to give one greater self-esteem through accomplishment. This is often advertising aimed at parents for their kids, and in truth such benefits might be well received by a young and impressionable audience. Older individuals, however, usually have more fixed personalities, having had more life experience to set a pattern. This group might do well to look beyond just the training to understand and analyze areas where they could stand improvement.

I’m going to shift gears here now and point away from martial arts to another area, which are interpersonal relationships. You might have noticed an advertisement asking “Think You’ve Got Game?” with a picture of a pretty girl on the sidebar of this blog. A few months ago a book came out called “The Game” by Neil Strauss, a writer for Rolling Stone magazine. He went on assignment to cover the internet sub-culture of seducers and became one of the stars in that world. His book is a first-person exposé of that lifestyle, including some of the negative aspects of inflated egos and manipulation. He himself, however, becomes transformed in positive ways that should resonate with many men in our society. After reading this book, I began looking at online material by the gurus he mentioned in this field, to see what messages they have to offer.

While many in “the game” seem young and have adolescent attitudes towards sex and women, there is a deeper truth that some such as Neil seem to have found, which is discovering their own inner confidence and ability to create their own reality on a higher functioning level. Just as martial arts uses physical training to inculcate mental and even spiritual qualities, the ability to overcome interpersonal inhibitions ultimately resolves around changing inner patterns of negativity and self-doubt. I have that advertisement there because, quite frankly, I have met many martial artists who feel insecure or unfulfilled in important parts of their lives. The fact that some prominent teachers have gone to prison over the years for sexual abuse within their schools only highlights the ways in which their psychological development has not kept pace with other aspects of their lives. If their martial training has not created inner balance, then clearly other approaches need to be considered.

What these “seduction gurus” have done is researched many fields of psychological study, from NLP (neurolinguistic programming) to hypnotherapy to kinesthetics (body language) and more. One can study these things individually (as I have for years) and yet the information might remain abstract and intellectual. Since the goal of this community is to take action (meeting women) all of this has been fine-tuned to translating thought into action. Just as in martial arts, many of those who enter this realm are focused on the external results, resulting in what Neil Strauss referred to at one point as armies of clones mimicking behavior. Ultimately, though, if one pays attention to the message, it is about becoming real, being able to express oneself freely and without the inhibition of negative self-talk. Taken in that way, this is no different than the lessons I was learning in my graduate studies in transpersonal psychology, or the kind of social experimentations of gestalt therapy or in the liberation teachings of Rajneesh.

The “Mystery Method” is one of the best known schools of seduction, but a bit formulaic to my taste. Another proponent of the “inner game” is David DeAngelo, who teaches a playful “cocky and funny” attitude; there are others out there as well, with varying levels of sophistication and awareness. While some may be put off by the “seduction” label, the lessons these guys have applies not just to meeting women but to keeping relationships alive and vital, and also expands into other areas of life by providing inner tools for relating to people in general. I see the value in the information these guys provide as a synthesis that cuts directly to the application of theory. Sure their websites are written in the ubiquitous hype of internet marketing, but you can sign up for their free newsletters and get a good idea of the material right there. What you’ll learn is that money, looks, age, and even fame are unimportant. Though such things can be assets, confidence and positive belief in the inner self are ultimately the tools that help create the life we would choose for ourselves.

Just my $.02 …