Monday, January 29, 2007

"Intentity" - a new word

I would like to propose a new word: Intentity.

This word just popped out during a recent escrima sparring class while I was trying to express a combination of “intensity + intention.” Intentity describes a relationship between the two, and upon reflection I realized this fills in a neat gap. I’ve since added it to my collection of “Jeffisms” or personal sayings.

Intensity is defined as “exceptionally great concentration, power or force.” (

Intent means “something that is intended; an aim or purpose. Also, “the state of one’s mind at the time one carries out an action.” (

One can be intense without having clear purpose. Strong emotions such as road rage or lust can lead to impulsive actions that are not in our best interest. We’ve all probably had the experience of telling ourselves “If I’d thought about it, I would have done something different.”

On the other hand, intensity can be a marvelous tool that motivates us to action. The power of concentration focuses our mind on an outcome, enabling us to maximize our efforts towards that goal with few distractions.

Having intent means we apply consciousness to directing the details of this process. The ancient Hawaiian religion of Huna (“the Secret”; Kahunas were priests, “keepers of the Secret”) teaches correlation between energetic levels of the mind. The energy level of our subconscious is “mana,” that of our conscious mind is “mana-mana,” which literally means “twice as strong mana.”

Our subconscious (unihipili) is that vast repertory of thoughts and processes of which we are generally unaware. The conscious mind (uhane) is like a magnifying glass that can focus on a specific thing. When intention of the conscious mind marshals the resources of the subconscious, it raises emotional intensity to fuel the process.

Conversely, emotions that arise from the subconscious direct our attention and form the basis for beliefs. The power of the subconscious is it is always on, maintaining the machinery of our bodies as long as we live, constantly processing feedback to maintain homeostasis. We experience this as sensation and emotion, which sometimes rise to the level of conscious thought where they receive attention.

It takes practice to get good at paying attention, to being mindful of what is happening in the moment. No matter what you are experiencing, it is always happening NOW. The past cannot change; only our perception of it, how we let it affect us, can change, and that is our present experience.

The future has not happened yet, but where we have leverage to effect outcome is, again, right here and now. Each moment builds the next. Some processes take a long time, like a car, a house, a career. Others are more spontaneous, like sparring in martial arts.

When we experience intentity we are mindfully directing strong emotional energy, an integrative process. It is the state of alignment through which we fully express the spirit of who we are in what we do. It is the doorway to mushin, or “no mind”, the Zen state “into which very highly trained martial artists are said to go” ( In mushin, “a fighter feels no anger, fear or ego during combat. There is an absence of discursive thought and so the fighter is able to act and react towards and opponent without hesitation. At this point, a person relies not on what they think should be the next move, but what is felt intuitively.”

In FMA and other arts, this is summarized as “flow,” which can be categorized as a natural state of grace. It is tension between thought and action that creates gaps through which error strikes.

Integration is more powerful than the disjunctive approach of dualism, which postulates a false dichotomy between mind and matter. It is better, I believe, to think of ourselves as a continuous spectrum of interrelated, interacting and mutually reflective energies, from the most base to most refined. We are thus able to respond appropriately at any level to all nuances of perception.

Some of these subtle influences are higher consciousness processes, refined beyond our level of perception, preceding conscious thought to direct our inner sense of right or wrong. I do not mean society’s morals, but our own inner compass that directs personal choices. What we perceive as mistakes are lessons to learn; success too merely leads to further choices; everything is an outcome. Judgment is subjective; getting eaten by a shark is bad for a person, but to the shark it is simply a meal.

The world is our projection, a reflective mirror of filtering beliefs and self-perceptions. When we align our mind and body, we step past mere personal identity, opening ourselves to a more expansive sense relationship in the moment. Intentity builds that point of balance where we have leverage in the field of possibility, creating the opportunity to more strongly affect our future outcome. What that outcome may be depends on how well we align with the flow, whether in sparring or in life. Intentity is therefore a tactic, our higher purpose the broader strategy we hope to advance.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The 48 Laws Of Excellence

I recently came across a piece of writing that I found quite inspirational. It’s called “The 48 Laws Of Excellence” by Dr. Henry Jekyll. I may serialize this and post one law at a time, but for anyone interested in the whole piece, I’ve posted it on my website in its entirety as it’s too long for the format of this blog. Here is the first law:

Law 1
Never Learn From Someone Threatened By Excellence

Never limit yourself to accommodate the insecurities of others. Your goal is your own personal excellence – and as such do not curtail the development of your skills, self-confidence or courage for anyone. If you are working for someone who is threatened by excellence, you are working for the wrong person. If you are learning from someone who is threatened by excellence, you are learning the wrong lessons. If you are learning from a man who is scared of being eclipsed, you have already eclipsed him.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Lately I’ve been putting some of my students through what I call floorwork, which is based upon movement while close to the ground, such as kneeling or sitting. I use this term to distinguish it from groundwork, which to me encompasses grappling arts such as Gracie Jujitsu. Floorwork generally is less engaged in submission, more focused on evasion, hitting and escape. The purpose of training this is two-fold.

My original motivation was tactical, how to defend myself while sitting on the ground. Modalities include use of kicks, leg traps and takedowns, how to drop to the ground either in attack or defensive modes, use of the hands to defend while moving on the ground, and how to get up with or without aid of hands.

The goal is having a three-dimensional vertical perspective of personal combat space. What we see from our eyes is not what we would see if we look up from the ground. To learn to kick effectively, my Kenpo teacher actually had us place our heads where our feet had been, to see from below the holes in the defense of an opponent who appears well protected. The same logic applies, btw, to the perspective as seen from the tip of our weapon.

The secondary aspect is conditioning and proprioceptive awareness. What I’ve discovered is how difficult low movement seems to many, whether physically or imaginatively. There are three “bridges” taught in kung-fu: arms, legs and torso. Working on the ground helps develop a stronger commitment of core body strength while changing our understanding of leg work.

Perhaps it is easy for me because I am comfortable sitting on the ground, and have done so regularly for years while reading, watching tv, playing with animals, stretching, meditating, etc. It helps that long ago I was exposed to techniques from cultures where sitting on the ground is customary. For reference, I draw my inspiration (roughly in order) from Chinese Kenpo (particularly Fukien-style groundfighting), Aikido’s suwari waza (movement from kneeling) and various techniques from Silat, especially Harimau, a Sumatran tiger style.

As in so many other areas of life, the ability to outperform others is advantageous. Many arts teach us to defend “the box,” a target zone which is essentially our torso and head. Leg defenses are more esoteric; arts such as Western boxing don’t account for this at all. By dropping low we are able to defend our own box, albeit mostly in the high zone, but our opponents are forced to work “below the radar.” If they can drop too, we again have a relatively equal relationship, but if they cannot go low, it presents them with unusual problems.

There’s a good example of this in the next-to-last episode of the HBO series “Rome,” where one of the heroes takes on a huge gladiator to save his friend, and by going to his knees is able to sever the lower leg of the giant, who falls, whereupon the hero rises to finish off his protagonist.

It’s common in FMA to talk of three ranges of combat as long (largo mano), medium (medio) and close (corto). I’d like to propose a triad of categories for the vertical plane, which would be standing (high), kneeling (middle) and sitting or prone (low).

This isn’t particularly new, but a re-synthesis of existing ideas. For instance, many FMA systems start with or include a five-angle pattern, known as “cinco teros.” This generally targets high and low torso strikes. Some styles break down their numbering systems according to left or right sides, and high, medium or low, to include the legs. The degree to which the practitioner drops towards the ground vs. only striking towards that direction is another variable, which my proposal of vertical ranges would address.

Here are some of the exercises I’m using to develop these attributes. Caution is advised if you have problems with your knees.

Standing to kneeling: This is based on Japanese suwari waza, techniques done while sitting seiza, which is kneeling and sitting back on one’s heels. Like many non-Western cultures, the Japanese are familiar with sitting on the floor, particularly in formal or traditional venues. This is good for developing and maintaining strong and flexible legs (the old “use it or lose it” principle of functionality).

The idea of this first exercise is to be able to go from standing position to seiza and to be able to rise back up onto one’s feet. These actions should be accomplished without putting one’s hands on the floor, and are to be done smoothly and with economy of motion.

A key tip, taught in Aikido, is to “think forward.” One cannot rise if thinking about the direction “up.” Those who cannot get up without use of hands can usually correct this with a simple mind trick. By thinking “forward” your body rolls its center of mass from the feet forward over the knees. From there it is simple to step to one’s feet.

Standing to sitting: This is pretty similar. Go down to one or both knees (half or full kneeling), then sit back into whatever cross-legged position is comfortable (I generally use a half-lotus). To rise, again think “forward.” This is such a key concept in martial arts, it can be applied to just about anything.

What is typically done is for folks to throw their hands and a lead leg forward to generate momentum, using this to come upright. An easier method is to first roll forward with both legs still folded. This essentially brings one to seiza sitting position, from whence one can simply rise on the knees and then step up. This simple method is helpful if, for instance, your hands are tied behind your back. Clasp them there and try to get up without rolling forward. It’s amazing how many people feel completely stuck, or struggle to get their feet underneath first and wind up falling forward on their faces.

The concepts of these preceding techniques are essentially elements found in basic front and back rolls.

Spiral to sitting: This is a move demonstrated by the late Silat master Herman Suwanda. Stand with feet a bit wider than shoulder width. A horse stance will work. Turn 180ยบ and sit down; the feet can pivot, but don’t move from their relative spots. Come back up by reversing, then go down the other way. Come up and change directions again; repeat!

The legs will cross in a manner more familiar to many women than to most men. Turning left (counterclockwise) will tuck the right leg underneath horizontally, the left leg crossing the right thigh above the knee in an upright (vertical) position. Both knees will basically be lined up in front of my centerline. If your legs are flexible enough, this can be a comfortable sitting position. If not, breathe into it as a stretch if possible.


To address this in simplest manner, practice your self-defense techniques in sitting position. I like to do this with empty hand versions of my FMA techniques. In any technique, I consider three things: weapon hand, live hand, and body angle. If you are simply sitting, those relationships and how they affect balance become readily apparent. By eliminating the legs as our fundamental support system, we become much more aware of the dynamic stability within the inner core of our torso.

Regardless of weaponry (or lack thereof) in either hand, I think of my right hand as “weapon” and the left as “live”or “check” hand. This coordinates timing across the widest range of possibilities.

Techniques should test range of motion for parries, blocks and strikes while maintaining sitting. They can also incorporate joint locks, takedowns and even kicks.


This is from Harimau: From a seated position, practice falling to either side. If going to the right, catch yourself on the right forearm and left hand. Use of that right forearm and elbow will be stronger, more stable and lower than using both hands. Your left leg will be in an upright position. To come upright, use both hands to push off the ground. Reverse and repeat on the opposite side.

If you need to roll even further downward, bend your groundward arm so your hand supports the head, and twist the body, landing on the back of your shoulder and lats (similar to shuai jiao falls). To get up from here, you may need to kick out with your upper leg for momentum and balance shift.

This down position is a deceptively good defense, since it appears open but you are guarding with shins and elbow. It also supports strong low kicks, in particular horizontal front roundhouses, heel hooks and thrusts. You can ankle hook with the low leg while attacking the knee with the upper leg, creating leg locks and takedowns.

Rolling over quickly onto the opposite knee brings one up into position for higher kicks towards the underbelly. Both hands are used for support, bracing against the kick.

Serrada footwork has the “papeet” or “replacement step”, where one foot is in front the other behind, similar to fencing alignment. The feet come together at the forward point and then the opposite foot goes back. Actually, at the point of feet together, it is neutral and either foot can go back, but for drills we practice switching. The papeet can also be done on one’s knees!

Start from an upright kneeling position (over the knees, not seated). Stay on the toes instead of the feet flat as in seiza. Rotate one knee to the side so that foot is flat on the ground. This leg should now be perpendicular to the direction it was facing when the knee was down. Now drop that knee, and catching the momentum, swing the other one up. Congratulations! You should now be able to switch sides while in a kneeling position. You can extend the “up” leg for increased stability and greater reach with your hands (the wider your base, the further you can project yourself). I generally find that leg extends backwards at a diagonal angle.

Tactically I’ve seen guys sparring on their knees, simply sitting upright and immobile. By having an “outrigger” for support, one can utilize much greater angles to attack, evade and even kick. One can have the lead leg up in front (half kneeling) and by swinging it away to the side, effectively retreat and switch lead sides.

Knee walking: This is another Japanese practice, known as shikka, done from sitting seiza. From kneeling position, raise one knee. As that foot comes forward, the “down” foot swings forward as well so the feet stay close together (sometimes beginners use their gi belt to tie the feet in proximity). Weight is on the balls of the feet and the rear knee. Walking is accomplished by putting down the lead knee and swinging the other leg forward, continuing to keep the feet together.


This can go either direction; I’ll only describe it counterclockwise. Again, be careful with your knees if you have issues. It shouldn’t be too difficult for most people, however.

From a seated cross-legged position, raise your left knee so you can reverse your left leg, swinging it to the outside and tucked alongside your buttocks. Your weight is basically on your right side. Come up on your knees just long enough to swing both feet across underneath to the opposite side and drop back down onto your left buttock. Raise the right knee and bring that foot back to the front into a cross-legged position. When you get comfortable, this can be done continuously in either direction.

Why, you might ask, would I want to do this? Imagine working on something like a car while seated. You drop a socket that rolls just out of reach to the right. Extend the left leg, lean right to get it (basic Tai Chi principle). From there come up into kneeling to get better leverage on the bolt you’re working on. Sit back afterwards to put the tools back in their box.

In all my techniques I try to find the most natural way of doing things. The best techniques are not necessarily the ones that are most unusual, but the ones most integrated with normal movements done unconsciously in daily life. Sometimes things seem awkward and different when we first try them, when what is really new is our perception and not the reality. At some point we may realize “Oh, that’s what it is!” Once we see a movement within an ordinary context, it suddenly falls into place and is no longer some esoteric thing. It is often difficult only because we think it so. None of the above exercises take any great skills of coordination or strength. It is lack of familiarity that makes us shy away in fear from the effort, when in fact the result will be increased flexibility and confidence.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

January 2007 Updates

This is a reminder to check the FMA calendar for upcoming events. The Filipino arts will be inaugurated at the huge Disney Martial Arts Festival in Anaheim the first weekend in February! There will be a prior regional qualifier and training event in mid-January in Portland, Or. for those in the Pacific Northwest. In mid-February, AMOK will host its first Bay Area seminar in Menlo Park. All these are currently posted.

I've uploaded an article by Guro Peter Freedman that echoes some of the things in my last post about keeping an open mind and supporting each other in the arts. Here's a video clip of Guro Freedman showing defenses against the gun.

For those who don't yet know about or get the FMA Digest, this is another great resource for articles and upcoming events. There's a lot of positive energy in the community these days, and everybody is important in keeping that going!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Year 2007

As we head into the New Year, it’s traditional to reflect back on the previous year and make resolutions for the new one. I’ve never been one to stand too firmly on formalities, but sometimes the shoe fits, so here’s my personal snapshot through the lens of FMA.

The one constant in our universe is change, which is always flowing. We perceive this as time, but it isn’t always a constant. Ancient Greeks divided time into chronos and kairos, regular and sacred time. The former is the physical measure; the latter is metaphysical perception, defined more by the internal meaning of events. We experience this in a myriad of ways. Sometimes the current is slow, as in periods of recovery or rebuilding strength. Other times it seems to rush by, sweeping us unpredictably, while still other times we sense a measured pace towards a firmly held purpose.

This past year held significant events, the seeds of which are just starting to germinate. These relate to the ascension of a new generation of masters in the arts and the energy that they bring.

There were two losses that touched me in particular, George Brewster back in Massachusetts and Sonny Umpad out here in California. Mr. Brewster I only knew by email and phone, but he struck me as a gentleman of the old school: polite, knowledgeable, and experienced. The same can be said of Sonny. These men contributed not just skill but style, as in how they lived their lives. Both left successors who, by the very nature of attraction, exhibit many of the qualities of the men they chose as teachers.

Change often begets confusion, even under good circumstances. It is said that wise people learn from the mistakes of others, so perhaps here is a chance for some of us to learn from each other, both the new from the old, and the old from the new.

2006 marked the 15th year since the passing of grandmaster Angel Cabales, and the 5th year since that of grandmaster Remy Presas. There often seem to be patterns that follow the death of an influential or charismatic leader, and this is true of social groups from sewing clubs to nations. Serrada feels like it has found some equilibrium, while Modern Arnis is perhaps still earlier in the process.

Unless there are clear instructions for successorship, which are supported by a strong consensus, those close to the old source of power vie in competition to fill the vacuum at the top. Like the blind men describing different parts of an elephant, this can be perceived variously.

There are those who lay claim to the old power structure, and there are those who break away or innovate to validate their own creative impulses. Much has been said about the merits or demerits of either proposition, but Angel Cabales said it often and well with the words “The people will decide!” He recognized that there would always be competition to be “the best” and success or recognition would ultimately go to those who proved their value within their community.

When groups splinter, there is usually a strong emotional charge as people choose sides. Sometimes this creates rivalries that last for generations, but this isn’t necessary. New wounds are felt the strongest, but then there is healing as time (chronos) reinstates the illusion of stability. Young masters mature through life experience and come to value different perspectives.

Perhaps it is because we live in a time of interconnected worldwide transportation and communication that we might be more able to evolve past limited perspectives. We are aware of so much going on the world, we can see how small our own niches are compared to the whole, and how much potential there is for growth if we focus on resources we haven’t tapped, rather than fighting over the scraps that we have.

2006 was a year of coming together, particularly here in NorCal. Serrada had its most significant gathering since Angel died, and Sonny’s students came together to support him and begin carrying forth that art. Thanks to Alex France, those of us here in the Bay Area were treated to a rare series of seminars by visiting masters and grandmasters. Finally and significantly, a major new venue for showcasing the FMA opened up through the USFMA Federation, which was organized as the sponsor to incorporate Filipino martial arts into the annual Disney World Festival of Martial arts.

All of these events show the positive energy that is created when people come together. If we want to see the FMA grow in popularity, and to see schools and teachers doing well, we have to continue to put in energy and support the arts. After all, we, the participants, ARE the art. It only exists through us, so here is what I’d like to see people do: Support FMA events!

Attend seminars! This doesn’t mean you necessarily want to learn a whole new system or that you are being disloyal to your teacher. It’s a chance to see how others do similar things, and what is different. If I get one good idea at a seminar, it’s good for a lifetime. Diamond hunters don’t expect a rare gem every day and knowledge can be like that too. Even if I don’t add new techniques, I can add understanding of what others do and how they train, and of course there could be other people attending the seminar with whom to connect as well.

Now, I’ve been to seminars where only a few others came, which is their loss, not mine. Some seminars have even been cancelled. This is a shame, reflecting more on the community than on those offering the event. It is as though the arts are held in such low regard that there isn’t enough interest to even see what is offered. If people don’t support seminars, they won’t get them, and then the alternatives are either to travel ourselves to distant schools or to insulate ourselves in our own groups.

Tournaments! Now I know not everyone likes these, but there are many reasons to attend even if you don’t compete. First, where else are you going to find as many people who share your passion for these arts? I remember men like Angel Cabales, Sonny Umpad and others standing together, talking and watching, back in San Jose in 1988. The founders of the Dog Brothers began to germinate their ideas that day. In 1989 WEKAF was founded, first bringing together many styles from different countries. If you go to major events, you get to see, meet and interact with folks you might never otherwise encounter. Those opportunities are rare and valuable! I can’t stress that enough.

For those who do compete, there are other reasons. Competition is a chance to test yourself, to see what you’ve learned and what still needs further polish. The element of stress changes things, whether fear or excitement. Fighting new opponents without the safety net of predictability is as close to real fighting as many will experience. Win or lose in the judge’s eyes, the chance to learn something is always a win-win opportunity.

For more than 20 years I’ve heard the FMA called “the next big thing.” Now we have the chance to show that we have grown, and only we can show that it’s truly our time to be recognized in our own right as a powerful force within the martial art community. If you’ve never been to a tournament, the time is now, and if you have, your continued support is urged. The first major USFMAF event is the national qualifier Feb. 3-4 in Anaheim, Ca., with seminars on Saturday and competition on Sunday.

ESPN2 covers these events. I watched the demonstrations posted online from the Disney national championships in Florida this past October. Darren Tibon took a demo squad to give a preview of FMA for the next tournament. Their performance (about 1hr 21 minutes into the show), following a number of demonstrations by various champions, was stunning in its intensity. The announcers clearly were impressed, suddenly re-energized towards the end of a long day and evening. The authenticity of our arts is what first attracted me, and that was the impression I saw in the faces of those announcers. It is what we, as a whole, have a chance to bring and showcase to the world. The benefits down the road come to all of us if through our efforts and enthusiasm we attract more people to train seriously in our arts.

The USFMAF is not about any one style; all are welcome and encouraged to participate. It is not competing against other organizations; there are WEKAF members who are proudly supporting this new effort to promote the arts. Show up. Bring friends and classmates. Learn, have fun, make friends. You will grow in the art, and the art will grow in you, and through you.

Most folks reading this are avid FMA’ers, but whatever you do, I’d encourage you to find and follow your passion this year, to make it one of personal growth. Through our efforts we become the change we wish to see. This is true of us as individuals, and it is multiplied through the power of working together. Remember that beyond our style, our lineage, our allegiances, we are connected through common goals, and beyond that, our humanity.