Sunday, April 29, 2007

MAMBA articles

Those who read this blog know I am interested in the mental and spiritual aspects of martial arts. My M.A. in holistic health education explored healing, somatic psychology and spirituality through the relational perspective of quantum physics. Hypnotherapy, in which I’m certified, has furthered my belief that the mind and body are not separate but rather different frequencies of energy expressing self-reflective qualities.

In a sense I see physical reality as the manifestation of many vortices, little energy black holes defining specific points of energy in the matrix of the universe. We record the experiences we attract through our minds, encoding the memory within the physical structures of our bodies.

Physical training in martial arts gives us skills, but how far we go in pursuit of those skills and how we choose to use them or integrate them into our lives are personal choices, which underlie the activity itself. Furthermore we make these choices constantly throughout our daily lives. We think of ourselves as single entities when in fact we are complex organisms constantly adapting to our environment through evolving physical and emotional states, of which our conscious awareness is itself a final product.

From time immemorial, warriors have strengthened themselves through rituals which strengthen beliefs, attitudes and convictions, allowing them to become role models in their societies and to deal with the consequences of their actions. There are those who argue that the FMA are only about practical and efficient methods of physical combat, ignoring the rich tradition of anting-anting and oracion.

In fact, a warrior mindset is invaluable for maximizing physical attributes. As the saying goes, “it’s the size of the fight in the dog, not the size of the dog in the fight.” Without desire and focus, what will be achieved? With it, what cannot be? Whether we acknowledge it or not, training affects us on a multiplicity of levels. If we do acknowledge it, we may gain insight faster because we align our attention consciously with deeper values.

A recent link submitted to the yahoo group “csemt-serrada_escrima” revealed a treasure trove of articles on shamanism, hypnosis and martial arts by James Overton Sr. whose website is at MAMBA stands for “Mastering the Art of Mind and Body in Action”. Nice acronym for a very well developed version of what I’m aiming towards through my “Self Empowerment Practice And Theory” (SEPAT) © .

SEPAT coincidentally spells “TAPES” backwards, a nice metaphor for hypnotherapy as a way to “unwind” or deprogram limiting beliefs. In Tagalog “sepat” refers to a “wild child”, another nice metaphor for letting loose our innate curiosity and sense of freedom.

As martial artists, our best attribute is to reach freedom in movement, to be responsive to the flow of energy. The paradox is we gain control by giving up control, just letting things happen. We can still be aware and making decisions, but they are natural and constrained, like a car driving along a road. We can think about what we are doing, but we needn’t think about how we are doing it.

Our bodies are responsive to our minds. The more our minds are free, the less inhibition on the resources the body can utilize. It is easy to see with beginners how their “stuckness” in movement is the same in their mind. Peeling away resistance allows one to see more possibility. Fear is a limiting factor; recognizing it is empowering if used as a way to control the energy of the emotion.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Roundabout – It’s A Riot!

Sometimes a twist on an old drill yields interesting results. This drill is something I came up with recently in a class. Originally dubbed “the riot drill” or the “barroom brawl”, we now mostly use the term “roundabout” to describe the process itself.

Often when people drill techniques, they pair up and take turns feeding strikes to each other. If there is an odd person out, as happens in class, this can turn into a threesome, feeding strikes to each other in a circle.

Sometimes we turn this into a game where we might feed back randomly to either partner. This gets closer to the “roundabout” but we are still dynamically locked in one-to-one with a partner and giving ourselves time to complete techniques. In most drills the pattern is to automatically engage the person who just attacked us, but the attack you just neutralized might not be your most immediate priority if another is coming in. In a brawl or riot one might have multiple opponents swinging away freely from any direction.

One solution, commonly seen in Aikido randori, is to direct the first opponent into the path of any successive attackers, solving two problems at once (finishing the first while engaging the second).

Back in the 70’s the BKF had a drill where everyone in the room would fight everyone else at random, a training exercise specifically for surviving such a melee. I’ve been in riot situations where everything was chaos. Who is nearby can change by the second as the surging mass of a crowd moves individuals in its current.

This drew my attention to the idea of how to train for randomness. The roundabout drill seems a way to introduce this factor into training by manipulating the variables of speed and direction. Getting to the details, the new idea works like this –

In a three person circle:

Person A feeds a strike to Person B.
Person B gets a single block/parry/deflection …..
But instead of counter-striking back at A, he throws that strike at Person C!
Person C then takes that incoming blow and counter-strikes towards A, etc.

It’s a bit like playing “telephone” where a message goes around a circle. More people can be added but too many will slow the drill, negating much of its value. If there are more than five participants, I suggest breaking up into smaller groups.

It sounds easy, but here’s the nitty-gritty. When we trade techniques such as in lock-and-block or numerado, the timing is several beats or moves in the counter, then maybe even a timing break to reset before a strike is returned; we have time to see the pattern creating the next incoming attack.

In counter-for-counter sparring or sumbrada, it’s pretty much one-for-one continuous rhythm. Either a counterattack is a logical outcome of a defensive position or it is not. In either case we can learn to either anticipate or follow the intentions of our opponent.

In the roundabout, the strike you just fed is coming back on the third beat, which is faster than what we experience in most normal technique exchange, and much less predictable than the rhythm of counter-for-counter. Coming from a different direction, however, and off an angle unrelated to the strike you threw just a second ago, you must quickly reorient and adapt from one person to the other.

This can accelerate going around a circle, and the speed it acquires plus the redirection of attention raise the difficulty factor significantly. Doing this in a continuous direction creates different challenges from a typical two-on-one type of drill, because each person has to maintain the same kind of focus and attention.

Giving a single counter to our attacker before turning to hit the next person can slow the pace of the drill, but the biggest challenge is to defend, turn and strike. If nothing else, this forces us to break and reexamine our ingrained responses in a new way.

Finally, changing directions is important because it reverses our left-right feeds and receives. As the drill emphasizes immediate responses, we tend to receive an attack with the side closest that person, and attack on our opposite side. This affects where our movement is open and how we reach across our body.

Drills can get hypnotic, which is good for building neuromuscular memory, but sometimes when people go into flow trance their conscious mind tends to check out. Redirecting attention rapidly from one opponent to the next helps break tunnel vision and broadens the scope of our potential reactions. If we stop trying to control everything and just watch and monitor the direction things unfold, we have a better chance of keeping a clear mind. That “one mind” is important because mental conflicts cause glitches that break our flow.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Back Online

Sorry I haven't posted for a couple of weeks but I had a computer problem; it was crashing intermittantly, causing me to lose data, emails etc. I suspected a hardware problem and code indicated memory or motherboard but none of the diagnostics showed anything, so I started uninstalling recent software updates. I finally found a program that reads the SMART (self-monitoring and reporting technology) software on my hard disks. It turns out my backup disk, an old one, was about to crash from causes that had nothing to do with the data or disk surface itself (why diskcheck and Spinrite didn't help). There went a week of long hours and late nights, leaving me to play catch-up during tax time. If anyone tried to contact me and didn't get a reply, this is why.

A reminder of the tournament in Stockton this Sunday , which includes demonstrations of Filipino dance and martial art styles.

Next Saturday is an opening in Oakland for the IESA and UMA organizations. Check the calendar for this and other updates.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Starting from the bottom

How aware are you of your feet? Experienced martial artists always recognize the importance of footwork, because it is the foundation of everything you are doing above it. Balance, stability, positioning, power, all rely on this.

Here are some thoughts I had yesterday about walking. It’s the most common daily exercise, even if it’s just getting up in the morning and going about your business.

When you walk, do you just put your foot on the ground, or do you pay attention to how and where you place it? Do you slap it down flat, or do you roll forward from heel to toe? Does your foot roll from one side to the other as you shift your weight? Do you distribute your weight evenly on both feet or are you weighted more towards one side of your body? If you are not sure of these questions, look at the bottom of an old pair of shoes. How they are worn will tell you a lot about your habitual patterns of stepping.

What are some things to do to enhance our awareness of our feet? One is to spend some time applying TLC (tender loving care) to your feet. After all, they deserve some attention after the daily grind of getting you where you go.

Massage your feet, paying attention to areas that are sore. According to reflexology, we have 72,000 nerve endings in our feet that happen to map out our internal organs. Massage will not only make your feet feel better but is also a way to affect organic imbalances elsewhere in the body by getting energy to flow better.

Since body parts are interconnected by tendons and ligaments, feel free to work from the toes upward, releasing tension as you go. Besides the toes, areas that often create problems are the arch and ankle.

Bend and flex your toes. You can do this while massaging the feet, and also while standing barefoot and rolling one foot at a time on the balls and knuckles. I frequently do this before putting on shoes, so my feet are de-stressed and ready to go. This is also good for warming up the ankle joint and calf muscles.

Speaking of shoes, they should be fit properly and be comfortable. Poorly fit shoes can bind and restrict movement of the bones and muscles in the feet and cause permanent distortion and damage.

Walk barefoot (or in socks) a bit each day, allowing the feet to stretch and spread naturally. If you notice pain or soreness in part of your step, that’s a clue to work out whatever tension is in that area. Letting something like that slide can become chronic, and eventually you’ll wonder why walking has become so painful.

As you walk, pay attention to how you center your weight, letting yourself roll forward with each step. For brisk walking, reach with your stride, and as you push off with the toes at the end of the step, allow yourself to feel the stretch in the front of the hip and thigh to complete the movement. Opening up this joint is important for athletic performance.

As for the knees, we tend to lock them when standing or walking slowly. When you walk more quickly, let them relax slightly, keeping a bit of flex. A lot of people experience knee pain, especially as they get older, and this is another area where a little attention can have strong benefits.

So this was a simple prescription for walking – push off with the ball and toes of the foot, relax the knees, stretch the front of the hips. See if it doesn’t improve balance and mobility in your martial arts movement as well.