Saturday, October 24, 2009

Autumn Leaves

It’s a warm and sunny late October afternoon. The elm trees are starting to drop their leaves; I’m raking the back yard in preparation for a class. I breathe deeply and take in the fresh air and suddenly what began as a necessary settles into a timeless meditative rhythm, connecting me to every martial art student who has ever swept a dojo floor. The scratching of the rake as it creates little piles of the fallen leaves puts me in a reflective state, bringing to mind an awareness of mortality, a reality that once again has encroached on the ego’s illusion of stability in an ever-changing world.

In early August Kajukenbo’s Professor Charles Gaylord passed away. Though I only met him a couple of times at Sifu Mark Gerry’s home, our conversations were both casual and intimate, sharing a love of martial arts. I wish I'd known him better.

Then this past week I heard that Art Gitlin had just died. Art was the founder of the Haak Lung school, originally located in Alameda, and was the former editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine. I lost track of Art when he moved the school to Lafayette. A few months ago I ran into his wife Sue Thomas, herself one of the highest ranking women in Kajukenbo, and learned that Art was ailing. I said I’d come by to visit, but I never made it by, to my regret. Again, though I only met Art a couple of times, he was someone who left an impression not easily fogotten.

It’s funny how our perception of time’s passage can be elastic. Boredom or nervous anticipation can stretch on endlessly while good times are over oh-so-quickly. A split second can be enough time to notice a myriad of small details in sparring, or in an accident. Aging itself alters and distorts our awareness of time’s passage. When I was little, my grandfather explained it in a way I’ve never forgotten. The time between one’s 6th and 7th birthday represents 1/7th of your life, so waiting for your birthday seems like forever. At age 80, however, that year only represents 1/80th of your life, and as a much smaller percentage, it seems to pass so much more quickly.

So here it is, nearly the end of October. I barely remember the start of the month; in fact, mentally I still feel stuck somewhere back in July. Though I can easily recall logically where I’ve been and when over the past several months, emotionally things move at a different pace.

The ancient Greeks had different concepts for time. Kronos is clock time, how we keep track of daily events. Kairos is spiritual time, in which events unfold organically, such as seasons or phases of life. I think martial art training partakes a bit of both. We need kronos to get us to classes and workouts, but actual training is timeless; all we have in that moment is presence in the Now, and while we can hope for advancement and promotions according to plans or schedules, true progress is not linear.

I’ve often thought of growth like building a dam in stages. After the dam is built, it takes time for water to fill in the reservoir behind it. Once it’s full, the dam can be raised, and again it takes time for the water to reach the top. Only when our skills and knowledge have reached the level of our container are we ready and able to raise the bar, setting a new goal to fulfill.

The leaves are raked; I’m waiting for my students to arrive. As these thoughts have crossed my mind, I thank those who have contributed to my being here today, doing what I love, recognizing in return that the knowledge they’ve shared is now my obligation to pass on to others. We are just links in a chain, and if we don’t complete the ccycle, all that has been gained from previous generations down to ours will disappear as though it had never been …

Upcoming Bay Area November Events

Saturday November 7th, GM Rob Castro is having a grand opening of his new Eskabo Daan headquarters in San Francisco at 1920 Polk Street (cross street Pacific) from 10:30am to about 4:30pm. Donations will be collected for Philippine relief aid for the recent typhoons, to be delivered to the Philippine consulate.
For those who wish to make donations outside of government channels (there are many complaints of poor distribution or corruption, which I am not in a position to verify) the following link with alternate resources was left in response to my earlier blog about the typhoon floods:

The following Saturday, November 14, GM Ted Sotelo will be hosting an escrima clinic at the BITW, 2661 Alvarado St, San Leandro. This is geared primarily towards preparing Kajukenbo practitioners for stick fighting competition. For information regarding times and directions, the phone number is (510) 347-2939‎.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Great Rattan Shortage of 2009

I've been quite surprised at the shortage of rattan over the past 2 months. I've checked my usual sources and they have no idea when they'll be able to restock! I've got orders I can't fill and I've been turning away other customers looking for rattan. One possibility is that the Society For Creative Anachronisms (SCA) has adapted many of their weapons to rattan, and with their upcoming Fall tournaments, perhaps there has been a run on sources.

I'll say this for the SCA, from a small backyard Berkeley event they've grown into a huge international community, and the quality of armor and weaponry they use for tourney sparring is far beyond what we settle for in the FMA, which has had very little innovation in these areas. I know there is some cross-over between the SCA and FMA practitioners, but I doubt we'll see many half-garbed "natives" taking on armored SCA fighters. Lapu-Lapu and his men defeated Magellan with superior numbers and tactical position, but I don't think the SCA will offer similar odds.

Typhoons wracking the Philippines.

Last week northern parts of the Philippines were hit hard by typhoon Ketsana (called "Ondoy" there - Photos). As I write this, the country is bracing for a second assault by incoming typhoon Parma (also, apparently known there as "Pepeng"), which is expected to have a tsunami-like storm surge.

It's been a tough week on the far side of the Pacific Rim, with earthquakes in Indonesia and Tonga, the latter creating devastating tsunamis in Samoa. I've been reading about organized efforts by the local Samoan community to send aid overseas, and there are similar efforts directed to the Philippines being organized in the upstate NY area. The following is one of the messages I've received:

"As most of you may already know, the Philippine islands have been hit by Tsunami Ondoy. The effects of this tsunami were so severe that over a quarter of a million people have been displaced from their homes. In an attempt to help these people in their time of need, we will be collecting donations at the Buffalo Martial Arts and Fitness Expo. Seeing that the Can-Am Filipino Martial Arts Summit is taking place at the Expo, we felt that it would be appropriate to set up a station for those who wished to donate. We will be accepting cash, money orders and PayPal donations. This money will then be sent to the Filipino Red Cross. For those who are planning sizeable donations, we recommend sending the funds directly to the Filipino Red Cross. If you need help making your donation through PayPal, please do not hesitate to contact us.

In case you have not received information on the Buffalo Martial Arts & Fitness Expo or the Can-Am Filipino Martial Arts Summit, we are attaching all the pertinent information.

Datu Tim Hartman
World Modern Arnis Alliance
Buffalo Martial Arts & Fitness Expo
Horizon Martial Arts

So far I'm quite surprised at the lack of similar outreach by the FMA community here in California (and apologies if I'm simply uninformed). I've been in several mostly Filipino places in the past few days (restaurant, community center) and have yet to see any kind of local response, including any emails from the usual sources.
Once again it’s taken me a long time to get back to blogging. A lot has happened, and I hate to catch up, or maybe I should call this ketchup, because it will have about 57 ingredients, like Heinz.

I’ll start where I meant to jump back in, with Cacoy Canete’s seminar at Ron Lew’s “Tiger Eye Claw Center” in San Jose, Ca. back in July. First, last, and just about everything in-between, Cacoy was amazing. There he was, about a month shy of his 90th birthday, actively demonstrating to a packed house ( and I’ll bet that kind of energy keeps him going!) What was astonishing to me was that he looked so much better than when I saw him about two years ago (and perhaps he was just tired that day).

Poor Junior Cautiveria, a senior master in his own right, got to play uke this time. I say poor, because so many of us were struggling to figure out the nuances of Cacoy’s techniques, he finally begged us (half in jest) to hurry up and get it so he wouldn’t have to take too many more of Cacoy’s demonstrations!

Lots of interesting people show up at Cacoy’s events. Tom Meadows made it up from the coastal hinterlands. We met in 1989 as teammates in the Philippines, where we attended Cacoy’s 70th birthday in Cebu, so this had a bit of a reunion feeling to it.

I had a great time working out for awhile with a tough looking guy with the physique and intensity of a pro linebacker. Joe, as he introduced himself simply, was one of the Kajukenbo guys there from Benicia, so I correctly surmised he trained with grandmaster Emil Bautista. Well “Joe”, as it turns out, is Professor Joseph Bautista, a legendary competitor, 8th dan in Kajukenbo and Emil Bautista’s kid! There I was, handing out pointers; sometimes it’s better NOT to know who your partner is …!

My other big summer trip (it kinda feels like pulling out the slideshow here – LOL) was a four day swing down to southern California for the Long Beach Internationals. I was there to help officiate as a judge for the USFMAF. Interestingly, WEKAF had the adjacent ring, so there was a lot of FMA action all weekend in the corner of the auditorium nearest the entrance.

While fighting was separate for the two organizations, forms were combined because there were only about a dozen competitors in those divisions. Some of us on the judges’ panel have been active in both organizations, and basically most of us have gotten to know each other over the years, so it was nice to see how smoothly this went off.

Now here’s two things I’ve observed about these competitions. First, there are 10 year old kids from karate schools who can run rings around most FMA players when it comes to forms, and second, very few non-FMA forms competitors will get in the ring to fight with weapons.

Both of these are the result of training priorities. Most martial arts forms competitors go through their routines hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Many are fast and flashy, opting to demonstrate with things like shiny ultralight aluminum staffs that can’t take a blow. Those are not the attributes for which most FMA’ers train. There certainly are formidable weapons experts out there in many disciplines, but just like the FMA, how many of the top people actually compete in fighting?

The other thing is publicity. The USFMAF has the right idea with the “Cultural Challenge”, opening up the ring to anyone from any style, using a variety of padded weapons representing sticks, swords, staffs, spear, naginata and shield. As this was created in conjunction with the Chanbara association, I was expecting a deluge of Japanese and other stylists to try it out. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, and so a handful of FMA players got to have fun amongst themselves.

The fact seems, however, that most people attending a major competition are doing so under the particular auspices of a home federation and are unlikely to spend time or money once there to step outside of that sanctuary to try something so unfamiliar. This is nothing new, as even Narrie Babao’s legendary precedent had only three competitors!

Participation within larger martial arts competitions is a key to recruitment. It’s how I found my way into the art, meeting GM Angel Cabales at a Max Pallen tournament. To a certain extent, the FMA remain an exclusive “insiders art”, and so I’ve seen some organizations sponsor events in direct competition with each other on the same dates. This is unfortunate because it dilutes participation at both venues, having a threefold effect.:

* First, it promotes division rather than camaraderie between FMA schools and organizations.
* Second, it reduces quantity and quality of competition and officiating.
* Third, smaller turnouts make it harder for small promoters to stay in the game, or to get larger promoters to make room at their venues.

Aside from all that, the fun part of the tournament was seeing some great performances and meeting old and new friends, most memorably Kalimaya Herrera and Eric Lee among the former, and Jose Rogers among the latter.

On the way back from Long Beach I stopped overnight to visit Anthony and Mary Delongis at their ranch up in canyon country. I’ve known Anthony through Tom Meadows’ Latigo y Daga Association but this was the first time I’ve actually met him. Anthony is a professional martial arts coach and actor, having trained Hollywood stars such as Harrison Ford and Halle Berry, plus his cameo appearance as the swordsman facing Jet Lee in the opening fight in Fearless. He’s also been featured on tv programs such as Extreme Marksmen, so a visit to his ranch was quite a treat.

Now I’ve managed to collect a few weapons over the years, which I like to hang on the walls for display, but there are a few places that make me drool with envy. Sid Campbell’s dojo was one such place. Anthony’s is another. It’s funny how one can feel so comfortable when everyone is within reach of something potentially nasty. As Robert Heinlein famously said, “an armed society is a polite society”.

My last lasting impression of this trip was how much I dislike and distrust so many other drivers. The Friday drive to SoCal wasn’t too bad, but the Monday drive heading back north was nightmarish. Why is it, with traffic doing 90 mph and packed like sardines, literally at parallel parking distances, people think they have the right (or sanity) to simply squeeze into places that don’t exist?

There are consequences (I’m surprised there are not more). I got out to stretch my legs and sit down in the fast lane of I-5 at 2 PM, while the CHP blocked the road about 50 yards up so a helicopter could land to take away victims of an ugly wreck. It was 104°; I had to tell the two blonde cougars in front of me to put up the top of their convertible before they roasted from rare to well-done. By the time the freeway opened half an hour later, I’d gone through all the water in the car, clearly both a planning and tactical error to get caught short. When the road re-opened, I was near the front; fast driving, little congestion. Behind me the freeway was stacked for miles. The simple act of pulling off to get more fluids resulted in the nightmare derby for the next five hour marathon drive. I’ve been up and down the state many times before, but without a doubt, this drive was the worst.

Finally, I got some interesting feedbacks through the grapevine about this blog. Twice in the past couple of months I’ve had near-strangers, top martial artists both, tell me Ted Sotelo wanted to thank me for something I wrote on here. Ted, if you get this, thank you in return, and you are most welcome. For the record, I’ve never met Ted. I only hear him spoken of in the highest regard by folks like Tom Meadows. GM Ron Lew laughed when he said Ted turns him into a pretzel (we were discussing Cacoy’s Eskrido) while I simply gulped because that’s what Ron does to me. Clearly these guys are well above my pay grade!

On the serious side, though, the point of resonance is human mortality. In the past 3-4 years I’ve attended more funerals than my entire life prior till then. We say goodbye to those who raised us, even as we start saying goodbye to those with whom we were raised. Generally speaking, most young people have experienced little such loss , but as we get older we are reminded more and more often of the brief time we have here.