Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cordon y Cordas

In this morning’s workout I thought of Sonny Umpad’s “cordon y cordas” or “give and take,” a very Taoist-like yin/yang approach to things. For instance, a strike has energy when it moves out and also when it moves back; find and use both. I began looking anew at how this could be integrated in the context of the “box pattern.”

This is a counter-for-counter sparring drill that teaches directness of motion. For instance, a vertical angle #1 (right downward forehand) becomes, in a continuous motion, a downward punch-block deflection against your opponent’s horizontal angle #4 (right backhand, mid-body). Meanwhile, his inside block (tip up, high centerline) against your initial #1 strike whips down and across into that #4 (like a Tai Chi single whip, including check hand) you now must block.

Often in Serrada we use a forward stance, aggressively holding our ground. In a drill like this, though we are supposed to strike to the target it often becomes a battle for that middle space in between, because to attack oblivious to the defense is to get hit. As Angel would say, “you have to account for the weapon.”

“Cordon y cordas” means attack gives, defenses take back in, natural rhythms of expansion and contraction, paired to optimize the flow of movement. Applying that to the box pattern evolves a very different feeling, more fluid back and forth. Bending or turning the waist is certainly not new to Serrada. This is just a way to work that aspect in a bit deeper, adding to our repertoire.

I saw a lot of this lastico (elastic) movement with Sonny’s students last Saturday, stalking the opponent by moving in and out various ways to establish range. A couple of advantages to drilling this are that it enhances balance and shifting center of mass, uses torque to strengthen abdominals, controls the pace of the drill and encourages completion of attacks.

I look at every technique for three basic things: weapon, secret weapon (empty hand) and body angle (feet, hips, shoulders). Lastico particularly expands that last category, increasing our potential range of movement within techniques.

Hard, soft; direct, evasive; long, short; etc. are but ways to express what should best be alive in the moment. There may be preset patterns of movement, but what happens NOW is the only thing that you can really change through the mediums of timing and space. Anticipation and action are interrelated, the former pre-energizing the latter, useful so long as it is not overwhelming. Somewhere I’ve heard it said that “knowing what to do is the easy part, but knowing when to do it, that is the trick.”

Anything can be elevated to art when one can play freely with common elements, allowing intuitive expression within the form. It is transcending form that is formlessness, but first there is always consciousness, where function is the vessel that creates the form expressing the need. Form changes, always, expressing response to those needs. To be formless is not to lack form, but to have choices so that form becomes transparent, merely a means to an end rather than a goal of itself.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hot Weather Tip #2

This is something I first heard from Angel Cabales, which I’ve since confirmed in conversations with several doctors.

If it is a very hot day and you have been exerting yourself, especially if you’ve been exercising outdoors in the sun, DO NOT drink an icy cold drink; the shock to your system can be fatal!

If you think about it, your stomach is right next to your heart. The temperature difference of an ice-cold drink next to your heart, which is working hard to cool your body through circulation, can cause a heart attack.

Angel personally witnessed this several times, when a cooler of ice water would be brought to farm workers laboring in the hot summer sun.

Back around 1990 I was the last person to speak with local TV sportscaster Mark Gibson, moments before he dropped dead of a heart attack. On a hot day, he went directly from a long hard workout to get a big drink from an icy water fountain in the gym. He collapsed just moments later. As I helped paramedics wheel him to the ambulance they said that certainly could have been a contributing cause.

Some things seem counter-intuitive but make sense later. On a cold day, take a hot shower but finish it cold. That closes the pores of the skin to seal in the heat. On hot days, you might cool down with a cold shower, but if you finish with hot water it can help the body cool down faster by bringing more circulation to the surface.

If you drink a lot of water, you need to supplement minerals. Dr. Batamanghelidj came up with the protocol to divide your weight in half and drink that many ounces of water per day. He recommended taking about 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt (which contains trace minerals and is naturally produced, unlike table salt that is processed and baked at 1200º) to keep up magnesium and other vital trace elements. One method is to make solé, which is a salt solution. Fill a jar with water and add sea salt until it is so saturated that some crystals remain unabsorbed on the bottom. Each morning add about 1 tablespoon to a glass of water (you probably won’t even taste it). This should supply sufficient minerals to balance drinking so much water.

Dr. Batamanghelidj’s theories are not without controversy (mostly, it seems, because water isn't a money-maker), but they make a lot of sense. When I was in graduate school, I kept reading articles about different illnesses that were caused by some “unidentified underlying cause of inflammation.” As he points out, we put water on fire to put it out! He believed that most people are chronically dehydrated, especially if they only drink coffee, tea, sodas or alcohol, all of which are diuretics.

One hundred years ago, a French doctor argued that there are many symptoms of dehydration. On the other hand, a British doctor said only thirst was a valid indicator. Since England was the dominant world power at the time, that became the predominant view of physicians. It now appears the French doctor was correct.

Dr. Batamanghelidj wrote that there are two oceans of water in our bodies, what is in the cells and what is outside the cells. High blood pressure, for instance, was in his opinion created by the body trying to force more water into chronically dehydrated cells. Without proper hydration, cells cannot expel toxins, which in turn lead to degenerative illnesses. Dr. Batamanghelidj claimed to have helped people cure a wide range of illnesses just with his water protocol, from allergies and asthma to lupus, fibromyalgia and even cancer.

It’s interesting that MSM, a popular supplement, is credited by many people with a similar range of effects. While MSM does not of itself cure anything, it aids transport across cell membranes. Could this be similar to the benefit of drinking sufficient water? I know the water cure has been a big help to me in fighting asthma.

Both Western and Oriental doctors with whom I’ve spoken about these theories agree that drinking water is good cheap medicine and unlikely to cause harm (again, the caveat is to keep up with minerals, particularly magnesium, a component of salt; too little can cause a heart attack!)

As with any health protocols, if you are under a doctor’s supervision, discuss any changes first!

Hot Weather Tip #1

I grew up in Sacramento, where summertime temperatures can often go over 100º. While air conditioning is common there, my mother came from a frugal depression-era background and so she wouldn’t use electricity for that unless absolutely necessary.

Now I live in the SF Bay Area, where few homes have air conditioning because of the naturally temperate climate. Consequently her tricks on how to keep a house cool have proven very useful for those spells where the temperature climbs uncomfortably high.

The basic idea is this: get up early in the morning and open all the doors and windows to let as much heat escape as possible. It’s best to do this while it is still dark outside. When possible, allow the house to ventilate through the night, without creating security risks like leaving the door to the street unsecured.

Buildings are good at trapping heat. Not only does the structure get warm, but also the insulation tends to keep internal temperatures steady. It takes some energy to move the mass of hot air out during the cooler hours of the night.

My house is two stories; since heat rises, this means leaving upper windows open. I’ll also crack the garage door (not enough for someone to crawl under) to draw cool air from near the ground, and I’ll also open the trapdoor to the attic. This creates a chimney effect so more heat flows out through the attic vents while cooler air is sucked in from the bottom of the house. Opening the chimney vent is another avenue for heat to escape.

I’ll also run fans to push air out open windows, and the ceiling fan to circulate air in the largest room of the house. Sometimes I’ll reverse that fan to disperse the hot air nearest the ceiling, as opposed to blowing down where only cooler air is moving. If there is a fan for central heating, I’ll run that all night to assist distributing cooler air from downstairs through the house, allowing hotter air to escape. This will also store more cool air in the vents for later in the day. If it’s really warm, I’ll use a plant spray bottle in front of the fans to cool the air with mist; this is not unlike the value of courtyard fountains in hot dry climates.

While I’m up in the dawn hours, I’ll open all doors and windows, including screens if possible, to ensure the greatest flow of air (to keep the dog from getting out on the street, I use a portable child gate to block the front door). The dog gets a special view while providing security at that entrance.

As soon as the sun hits the house, close everything up – doors, windows, and drapes! Even if the air hasn’t really warmed much yet, that direct sunlight will quickly have an effect. Turn off the central fan, or set the temperature high (like 85º) so it won’t come on until sometime in the afternoon when that cooler night air will really be appreciated. By closing curtains, the house will stay dark, the interior shaded. This helps, and the heavier the curtains the better (we use pull-down blackout shades – light weight, reflect lots of heat).

With the house dark and shaded, I make an effort to not disturb the cool air I’ve trapped. If I take the car out during the day, I’ll open and close the garage door as quickly as possible, and once the car is hot, I’ll leave it outside rather than put it back in the garage. Parking a hot car back inside can raise the whole house temperature noticeably.

I keep a lawn sprinkler on the roof of the house, one of those ones with a bar with holes that goes back and forth putting a wide spray into the air. A few times during day as it starts to warm up inside, I’ll run the water for 5-10 minutes, usually until I hear water running through the rain spouts. This is like a swamp cooler, using evaporation to draw heat from the roof and cool the attic air space.

Once temperatures start to fall in the late afternoon or early evening there is usually a breeze, at which point I’ll start to selectively open windows to get some ventilation. That’s also a good time to hose off the roof and exterior walls of the house, and especially the yard and driveway, reducing the air temperature around the building itself.

Using these methods, I can keep my house at or below the mid-80’s even if the temperature is much hotter outside. It’ll get warm, but not unbearably hot. If I forget to do these things, or miss the first day of a heat wave, I can certainly tell the difference!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Arnis Balite seminar in New Hampshire

The Boston Arnis Club is hosting an Arnis Balite seminar with punong guro Steven K. Dowd on July 5 in Weare, New Hampshire. You can view the flier here for more information.

Photos - Sonny's event

Sonny Umpad

Joe Olivarez

Sonny and Joe with staffs ...

... and with knives

Joe introduces a student to the ground

Students with blades

Sonny's youngest student

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sonny's birthday promotion ceremony

Yesterday there was an event for Sonny Umpad at US Karate in Hayward, owned by Joe Olivarez, one of his longtime students and associates. This was both a certification ceremony for some of Sonny’s students in his Visayan Corto Cadena system, and also a 58th birthday party for him. As those of you who read here know, Sonny is dealing with cancer, and this was an opportunity to present some of the legacy of his style.

The list of guests in attendance was a tribute to Sonny’s presence in the martial arts community, with strong representations in particular from Kajukenbo, Jun Fan/JKD, Small Circle Jujitsu and FMA affiliations. A few of those present included grandmaster Felix Macias Sr., Gary Cagaanan, Greglon Lee, Greg Lagera, Robert Hodge, Wade Williams, Carlito Bonjoc, Ben Pagtanac, hosts Joe Olivarez and Crystal Suan-Olivarez, noted author Sid Campbell, and many others whom I’ve missed (my apologies!)

Things began with a short form by his youngest pupil. Next some of his students took turns in pairs, sparring with either barongs or sticks and demonstrating the flowing footwork that is a trademark of Sonny’s system. This was highlighted by a similar demonstration by Sonny Umpad and Joe Olivarez.

After the demos, students received certificates of rank denoting proficiency in his system. This was followed by an excellent buffet and chance for everyone to socialize. This is a region rich in martial arts heritage, with many practitioners from the 1960’s and 70’s, whose roots go back to the founding legends of martial arts in this country. It’s always an honor and a privilege to be around people like this.

Ours is a culture that places so much premium on newness and youth, but the martial arts continue to be a place where experience is a valued asset. An important part of this is the sense of community and brotherhood that is bonded over time through common interests and shared histories. Many who are new in martial arts see only the technical side, but it is in the cultivation of spirit that the art transforms its practitioners, deepening them as humans. We get to see not just how the man does the art, but how the art has grown the man.

Yip Man talked to his students about the “kung-fu life,” bringing them along to the teahouses to meet his contemporaries. To some this might be boring, hearing old men talk, but often in these exchanges are nuggets of wisdom to be learned. Knowing the history of the arts, how they evolved though various practitioners, creates roots by giving depth to what seems new and unique to each individual who comes to this path. It is those who stay and listen who grow to carry on the art to the next generation.

Simply being there is an opportunity to experience and learn. Once those moments are gone, they become a part of history, a bond for those who were there and something that can never be as complete an experience for those who were not. To those who make the martial arts a part of their life, the meaning of such connections becomes clearer with time. We are not alone in our learning; we do not progress solely on our own. As Silat teacher Roberto Torres used (and perhaps still does) in his online signature, this Sufi saying: “As iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens man.”

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A similar martial blog

I just added a link to another martial arts blog, Martial Views. I'd like to thank John Vesia for leaving a comment on my previous post, leading me to his site. For those of you who enjoy my writing, you'll find his a similar mix of philosophy, history and practical insight. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Coining Acronyms

I like making up nicknames and acronyms for my martial art teaching. It’s a fun way to help students remember key concepts, to say nothing of my retentive skills. Here, then, are a few samples. (Feel free to add any of your own in “Comments”)


TAOMA – The Art Of Making Adjustments: This is my overall perspective on martial arts. Regardless of what system, style, strategy or concept to which you may subscribe, good martial artists are usually adaptive. (The corollary to that might be “predictability can get you killed.”).

I’m not the biggest, fastest, tallest, strongest or youngest. I’m a pretty average athlete with some good training. Consequently I value strategy to deal with people who are superior in those attributes. I’m not likely to overpower someone stronger or outrun someone faster; it’s a matter of finding a counter-strategy that negates such advantages, and the key to this is a mind that can adjust quickly.

Combat moves quickly, so this isn’t about deep cogitation on the issues at hand. It’s about having guiding principles to help one stay in focus. One of the core concepts in Serrada is reversal. When you encounter resistance, flow around it rather than oppose it. This is consistent with my Tai Chi training too. The mind can only do one thing at a time, a precept of “chi follows yi” (energy follows the mind), so if an opponent is strong in one direction, he must be ignoring (and therefore weaker) in another. Thus, “go where he ain’t.” That keeps you from getting stuck attempting to force an ineffective technique and forces your opponent to deal with the changes you instigate.

I particularly apply this concept when working with joint locks or pressure points. For most of us, these don’t always work reliably. For instance, pressure points are what I call “80%” techniques. They may work 80% of the time, but 10% of people you try them on might feel these and resist the pain, and 10% won’t feel or respond at all. What are the odds your neighborhood psycho or druggie will be in that 20% range? If something isn’t working, move on to something else.

SIFNIS – Somewhere In Front, Nowhere In Sight: It’s a corollary to HIPS (Hidden In Plain Sight, which is like looking for the car keys that are right out on the countertop) but a bit more focused. SIFNIS means you can be looking in the appropriate direction but you still cannot spot what you seek.

In Escrima, you may know what strike is coming, but you will generally learn more from watching the body than the stick, since the latter can move too quickly to see. We know where it is, but by the time we see it has moved, the stick already can be somewhere else. Counters are really based on educated guesses, schemas (mental constructs) that anticipate reality. The advantage is a good schema can bias the odds in your favor. The disadvantage can be a time lag in adjusting when reality differs from assumptions.

Ultimately, of course, we’d like to match perception and reality so that we flow responsively. This is the goal of Zen, to empty the mind and just be present in the moment. This is how animals seem to experience life, being fully engaged through their senses in the Now. Chinese martial arts talk of “animal flavor” as a high form of expression. Learning to embody an animal style is really a metaphor for learning to immerse oneself fully in the experience of doing, so that it become integrated with the complete expression of who you are. Sense of separation of Self from the moment disappears.

Being self-realized isn’t about emulating anything; it is about allowing one’s inner potential or Spirit to become the guiding force for one’s actions. There is a sense of joyous freedom when that takes over. People often describe the experience in wonder, as though being a spectator to their own actions, which transcend usual boundaries or self-perceived limitations.

This is also the essence of TAOMA. To make adjustments in the moment is to become free of limitation and to experience that flow of energy. The Tao is the creative source of energy, the “mother” (ma) to the world of existence and karma. In Chinese “ma” also means “horse”, and so we ride the wave of energy, feeling ourselves a part of it. In some African and Caribbean based religions, those who invoke ecstatic rapture are described as the “horse” who is mounted by Spirit. Whether one drops into unconscious trance or is elevated to heightened sense of awareness (hyperempiria), there is an opening to a greater sense of connection than our everyday egoic separation and isolation from the world around us.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

PayPal, Politics and Martial Arts

Recently PayPal decided that my products for Filipino martial arts training are illicit. Or not. Only PayPal can determine what their policy means, and they aren't explaining.

My first inkling thatPayPal had an issue with the kind of training products I've sold through my website for years came recently in an email at 1am. It kindly noted that my account was being "limited" for violation of the "accepted use policies" (AUP) regarding firearms, blades and batons.

"Limitation" is Paypal's euphemism for freezing an account. I could not conduct any transactions whatsoever, including withdrawing funds that I had allowed to accumulate there. Since my business selling sticks involves buying industrial supplies to make sticks, freezing my account in effect meant I could not pay for supplies ordered until this was resolved.

Paypal's process is simple. You are directed to a webpage that basically says you have to comply with all their policies, and there is a box to click to say you are now in compliance. There is no room to discuss or dispute their opinion. It's their way or the highway.

Since the section of their "accepted use policy" is so vague and all-encompassing, it effectively meant that everything I sell, from Escrima sticks to pocket knives and tabaks, are illicit if they say so.

In order to comply with their definitions and restrictions, I was instructed to remove all references to Paypal from my website. I then posted a notice there for customers that I was no longer able to take payments through this service.

This satisfied Paypal and they unfroze (er, "unlimited") my account, saying I was now in compliance and free to use Paypal. In other words, I could use them if I didn't use them, but if I use them, then I cannot use them. Go figure.

At that point I wrote to them, pointing out that 1) I do not, and never have, sold firearms or firearms related materials; 2) I do not, and never have, sold switchblade knives; and 3) that Escrima sticks are sold commonly on the internet including through Paypal and Ebay.

This led to an interesting correspondence. I got one email stating that "Escrima sticks are exempt" followed by several others saying I was clearly in violation of their policies, specifically: "Your website has throwing knives, batons and switchblade knives available for sale. It is against PayPal's Acceptable Use Policy to accept payments for such items via the PayPal payment platform."

Now my website clearly and explicitly says "Escrima sticks" and points out that these are for "training purposes only" in the Filipino martial arts. Nowhere on my website does it say "baton", and my sticks do not meet the specifications for police or security batons, at least according to California codes. When I wrote to point this out, I got back emails directing me, once again, to the "accepted use policy" on firearms, switchblades and batons (the AUP says vendors must meet laws "everywhere").

At this point they also began mentioning that I sell switchblades (I emphatically do not!) and throwing knives (I advertise some but have never sold any), and throwing knives are not even mentioned in their AUP! If they had an issue with any particular product listed on my site, they could have just contacted me to inform me of this. Instead it's a heavy-handed approach of economic sanctions and control.

When I pointed out that Ebay allows sale of Escrima sticks and throwing knives, the reply was that Ebay has its own rules, and (once again) I'm selling batons! I then wrote to say that whether or not Ebay has its own policy, vendors were using Paypal "buy now" buttons and other Paypal tools to sell these goods. I included links to pages showing 38 auctions for Escrima sticks and 143 auctions for throwing knives, all using Paypal. The response to that was if I had a complaint against another vendor, I should forward their website link to Paypal. In other words, they weren't going to investigate themselves, in effect making me responsible for them to enforce their own policies.

I'm not their employee, nor am I interested in doing their work for them or causing problems for other sellers. My final point to them was that their policy is completely arbitrary and discriminatory. It is also clear, from the tone of various emails received over a day or so, that I was dealing with multiple people at Paypal. However, they never identify themselves so there is no accountability or any means of following up with someone already familiar with my case or complaint, or to ask for a supervisory opinion. If you look at their website, there is no phone number to call. Paypal is as anonymous as they come.

The best part is, by defining themselves as a "transaction facilitator" they avoid banking regulations, even though they take credit cards and pay interest on balances. Somehow they have positioned themselves outside laws of fiduciary responsibility. I've heard horror stories of Paypal freezing accounts for months with no recourse; I was lucky to get my money out as quickly as I did. Do I trust them to do business at this point? No, and until they can give me assurances that I am cleared to do business, I will not use them again.

Now how much of this ties into Homeland Security, and how much is it about the stranglehold of insurance company liability policies on activities in this country? The national anthem says we are the "land of the free and home of the brave" but we are increasingly swaddled in regulations that restrict our actions "for our own good."

A recent article on talks of the police raid and legal tribulations of a couple running a respected online chemistry supply company, one which actually has Homeland Security as a client! Common supplies that can be gleaned from other products are now forbidden under the pretext of clamping down on illegal fireworks and methamphetamine manufacturing, and the article points out how insurance and legal constraints are barring students in schools from conducting the kind of experiments that were commonplace in high schools two decades ago.

Another article in the SF Chronicle described how a high school physics teacher in Mill Valley is in trouble for a demonstration he's done, with administration approval, for the past 15 years, because it "could traumatize the children". According to the article in Wired, the U.S. has slipped in the last 30 years worldwide in number of engineering and science degrees issued from #3 to #17 currently. We're intentionally dumbing down our educational system in the name of safety and security.

Now in my opinion all this is a smokescreen. Insurance liability and security concerns are excuses. PayPal can banish a small business like mine from using their services (and I'm not alone) but the fact that they allow free access to Ebay vendors tells me that, as usual, money is the bottom line. Sellers on Ebay give a cut to the site to list there, and Paypal takes a percentage of any transaction that goes through them. In other words, it's a double-dip. It seems probable to me that this is a way to limit outside vendors like myself, driving more business through their process to maximize profit. It's the American Way.

Am I cynical? Sure. I can find a work-around by getting a credit card account, but that is much more expensive. For business on the tiny scale I operate, it's probably worth the risk, but a handicap nonetheless. In the end, I simply feel like another piece of entrepreneurial roadkill on the highway of corporate greed.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Seminar with Guro Carlito Bonjoc Jr.

Bee Safe Martial Arts Presents:
A Seminar with Guro Carlito Bonjoc Jr.
(click link for full PDF flier for this event).

Guro Carlito Bonjoc Jr. is considered by many as a leading
authority in the Filipino martial arts. With his easy to follow instruction method you will learn the advanced combative applications of Serrada Escrima.

When: July 15th 2006, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

BeeSafe Martial Arts
120 Church St.
Roseville, CA 95678

(916) 628-9885 (contact Sensei Bee Landrum to register)

or email