Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Strengths and Weaknesses

Fluidity in combat is based on understanding yin and yang, which express the direction in which energy is flowing. We move through positions of strength and weakness. What we want is to maximize our strengths and minimize exposure to our weaknesses, while exploiting weaknesses and neutralizing the strengths of our opponent.

Musashi wrote that to one who understands strategy, a battle with thousands is the same as a one-to-one duel. In what ways might this be valid?

An army occupying a secure position might have to move out to engage the enemy on other ground. To minimize vulnerability, it may employ advance scouts, strengthen the flanks, and move under the cover of darkness or weather.

A fighter might use footwork or feints to draw his opponent’s response, keeping elbows in tight to the body and utilizing environmental factors to evade or hinder the opponent.

The goal is always the same – to defeat the enemy. How that is accomplished is completely variable, determined only by one’s strategic and tactical skills. This is true whether negotiating a contract, playing a sport or running a war. The terms of engagement may differ, but the desired outcome is essentially similar.

This is where careful analysis of one’s technique is helpful, as I opined in the last post. We move from position of strength to position of strength, passing through areas that may be weaker due to unalterable physiological causes.

Some martial arts may focus on those strong positions. Think of katas that emphasize locking punches or deep stances with a loud kiai. On the other hand we need efficient movement between those positions. Motion and focused point of concentrated energy are two sides of the same dynamic and are mutually complementary. One without the other is incomplete.

Can we identify our powerful positions? How can we tweak them for maximum performance? How does raising the peak broaden the base of our capabilities? For example, developing a powerful punch as a strength deletes weak punching from the liability side of the equation.

Just as in a yin/yang symbol, weakness and strength contain their opposites within them. Weakness can be a lure to draw an opponent; strength can create rigid overconfidence. For instance, a punch at full power is the point where balance might be most easily compromised or the joints most effectively attacked.

Weaker positions are generally those we gloss over on the way to more advantageous ones. For instance, we sidestep a punch; the step weak moves us from a vulnerable position to a less vulnerable one. We need to have a strong position for our counter to be effective, whether a block or strike. How many of us only concentrate on the end result of the punch while ignoring the dynamics that set it up?

This isn’t to say a soft parry can’t be effective while we transit our opponent’s line of attack. That is, in fact, the counterpart to the more powerful example preceding it. The fact is, soft and hard can both be utilized. There are no perfect positions, just appropriate options at the right time.

At a certain level, it doesn’t matter what attack comes, it’s all just timing and angles. Everything else is simply descriptive detail. This is the genius of the Filipino martial arts, that they study angles of attack and perfect timing through live practice with partners.

How can we test strength or weakness? Generally this is through partner practice. Wing Chun has chi sao, Tai Chi has push hands, FMA has hubud hubud. One must be able to feel emptiness in one’s own technique as well as read it in another’s, allowing one to absorb and redirect attacks. This is where slow practice is valuable. It allows one to stop and examine the dynamic exchange of energy at any point, and even, if both people are paying attention, to back up and re-examine positions already passed.

Sometimes one can realign a weak position to make it stronger. For instance, a block that extends the arm might rely on just the shoulder muscles, which are relatively weak, but that block might be accomplished by keeping the arm in stronger alignment closer to the centerline while turning the waist to achieve the same or better result. In general the closer we stay to our own centerline, the stronger we are because we draw more stability from the core muscles of the body.

Techniques of muscle testing from Applied Kinesiology or other healing modalities can be applied to understanding strength or weakness of internal alignments. The better we get at “reading” our opponent through touch, the less time and energy it takes to understand intention behind movement.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tight defenses, old offenses

It’s winter. When it’s cold, energy sinks to the roots. Time to focus inward, do things that take a slower pace. Core work. Conditioning. Fundamentals.

Today I worked on the latter in front of a mirror. I want to see what an opponent sees. I want to know what I’d think if I had to fight myself. This was a breakdown of movement, looking for that one-inch gap, subtle shifts from one position to another.

I recently saw a reality show on aspiring MMA fighters. One talked about learning to “protect his home”, meaning his belly. In close quarters the key is keeping forearms tight, elbows straight down and touching the body.

You can see this in Muay Thai. At longer range the elbows are out from the body, hands high. As the action gets closer, the defense closes up to protect the ribs and belly. All an attacker sees is bony forearms and elbows.

Lifting the knee to defend against kicks extends that bony armor to cover the body from top to bottom, especially when the knee and elbow reinforce each other seamlessly. This is why mirror practice is valuable, because what feels secure may reveal a gap through which an opponent can wedge an attack.

There are also ways to psychologically exploit those gaps. Throwing a kick directly at a protected area that you wish to hit, like the floating ribs, may cause an opponent to react by moving to cover an area he feels is exposed, effectively unlocking the vault for you. In other words, the tendency is to strengthen less defended areas, thereby weakening the secured ones, which are probably the more high-value targets.

Another example of this is watching a boxer pound away at the liver or solar plexus. Like water eroding a rock, each blow weakens resistance. If nothing else, it spreads the defense by forcing coverage of that area at possible expense elsewhere.

I’ve been watching some MMA lately. I like so much of what they do, but there seems to be a consistent paradigm in this style of fighting. It’s different than martial art fighting in the 70’s or 80’s. MMA has its advantages, one of them being “combat tested” all the time, and the strength of the ground game. At the same time, there is a self-reflective quality that they are all working the same material.

Is there room to look outside of that? I feel like I’ve stepped out of a time machine, because I look at the stand-up sparring and see opportunities for attacks that are not thrown. Mostly these are straight-line moves. I rarely see aggressive jabbing, for instance. I almost never see straight kicks, either front or side, that were bread and butter at one time. My Kenpo teacher used to “teach us to fly” with those kicks L

I’m not saying my old style is better than MMA, just that from these eyes I’m seeing things nobody is using. While I have no doubt there are effective counters in their repertoire, a lot of fighting is about seeing opportunities. You can’t exploit what you don’t perceive, and conversely you may not defend what isn’t thrown. A move that’s been long retired can seem new and innovative when revived. After all, isn’t that what the Gracies did by repopularizing grapping in the arts?

These techniques are not some secret sure-fire way to beat another style, though a good side kick to the brisket can be a spine-altering experience, but different ways to put pressure on an opponent. Any time you force an opponent to react to your lead is an advantage. Think of fights where fighters circle each other, pawing the air. If one steps up and applies pressure, it can create opportunities that aren’t to be found in dead space.

This is where a good short punching game is a strength, as is a robust defense. Elbows often feature prominently in both aspects, and arts like Wing Chun or some FMA are able to attack and defend at the same time by angle of elbows while punching.

Pressure up top can create openings below, so it’s useful to integrate some techniques utilizing both hands and feet to strike, just as punching combinations coordinate left and right hands. Arnis has four-corner patterns of high/low left and right, as do Kenpo and probably many other styles. While these offer sound defenses, on a deeper level they’re counters that probe for openings through which to strike.

Low kicks can be a high percentage move if used judiciously in the right situations. If you can get an opponent to react or look upwards, the kick comes in under the radar. For instance, against the speed of a stick one might feed a high strike that is countered by an umbrella. As the opponent’s hands move up, you kick underneath.

This is why the mirror work is important, to spot your own gaps and tendencies when moving. You need to see the possibilities both defensively and offensively.

Understand Principles of Energy

Understand principles of energy. This is the most important thing.

There is only one principle, motion, which has two phases, yin and yang. These define the direction in which energy is moving. Yin energy decreases. Yang energy increases. This is all you need to know.

Do not waste time thinking in terms of duality. Direction is the key.

Apply this to fighting, your opponent cannot fool you. His intentions are clear to see.

Apply this to life and who knows what can be achieved!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Serrada Footwork Revisited

The focus of Serrada footwork is the male triangle, staying on the centerline. Though Spanish influence on FMA is often credited, this seems more akin to Italian fencing, which learned to use linear footwork to eventually counter the circular Spanish style. We do have evasion to the outside, but that is secondary to controlling centerline, so orientation will return to the most direct line of offense/defense as soon as possible.

As we work centerline, we face the direction of attack. If it comes from our left, we face left, from the right, we face that direction. In our basics, we work this with the concept of front hand, front foot, so facing left leads with the right and vice versa. Footwork alignment is like modern sport fencing, front foot/knee pointing towards the opponent, heel of the rear foot, which is perpendicular, on the same line. If you were to close your eyes and lift the front foot, your drop should be straight towards the opponent. This alignment allows us to cut the lines of an opponent's attack. It also protects the low line by keeping the angle of the legs closed against groin kicks. If you face the "wrong" way, ie. facing right with right lead, that target tends to be wide open, which isn't so bad at longer ranges but a tempting target at medium or close range.

Our foot switch is called "papeet" which Angel Cabales defined as "chicken step" (what dialect, I don't know). Many folks nowadays refer to it as the "replacement step". The point (literally) of this step is to hold the ground on which we stand, controlling the apex of the male triangle. Thus we step up with the rear foot, feet together, then back with the opposite foot (or the same one in a "false replacement", which allows rapid readjustment for alignment or balance, or to confuse an opponent as to our intentions). This is different from the chicken step I've seen in other styles, which maintains balance on the rear foot and looks, to me, more like how a chicken steps.

This isn't to say we don't move off a spot. Angel used to say we know how to move already, since we weren't born where we are now, but the goal of holding our ground is to defend a doorway, hallway, etc. where there is little room to move or strategically we cannot allow an opponent to pass. Also, at more advanced levels the front hand/front foot alignment is not absolute, allowing us to throw a right forehand with a left lead, for instance. However, we tend to stay close to the basics as they are fundamentally sound for our system.

Holding our ground means we force the opponent to come to us, allowing us to use his range and timing without showing ours first. A common error new students make in learning papeet is holding ground with the rear foot, stepping in and out with the lead, the "other" chicken step. This changes our range according to lead, and if an opponent advances as we step back, we lose ground we cannot necessarily recover. An advantage of forward replacement is it develops centripetal force to generate momentum for power in a very short space.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Fencing Terminology and FMA

This is an assignment, homework for any aspiring (or inspiring) escrimador.

Here is a list of modern fencing terms. Read it. Don't just skim, but think about each category and item. Parts of weapons have names and functions; footwork, timing and other aspects are defined. Terms may differ, but everything listed can be found within the FMA.

Think of examples in your own training. Some techniques may be formally taught, others show up by instinct. Studying a list like this reminds me others have had similar insights; it isn't necessary to reinvent the wheel when the road is so well-trod.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Flyswatters and Plyometric Escrima

Recently some flies showed up at my house and I didn’t have a flyswatter. I had a plastic one for awhile which was ok until it came apart in chunks. Still, it was better than the old wire mesh swatters that bent at every opportunity.

I’d eyeballed the Wimbledon-sized electronic zappers at Harbor Freight but couldn’t really envision myself swinging like Igor Ledochowski in my kitchen. Bang goes the coffee maker; crack goes the microwave! Besides, it’s really too decadent and takes the sporting aspect out of it. At least a tennis raquet has legitimate other uses. Or so they say.

Besides, I’m an escrimador, for goodness sake; I should be able to take out a few flies, right? Flying critters are a challenge, that’s for sure. I’ve heard old-time boxers used to practice catching flies in garbage cans. Ick. The problem is if you succeed! I prefer the finger-flick line drive myself.

These, however, were small flies, hard to see with my middle-aged eyes, and I didn’t really have time to play with them. I looked around for an improvised implement. Towel? T-shirt? I knew from experience that neither was a proven fly-killer. Pushing too much air simply buffets the flies away.

Then my eyes alit on the perfect implement. Hanging on my wall was an African flywhisk! Make that a pair, actually. Now at the upper end, these can have ceremonial value. One of mine is older and has that air of authority. The other is one you might find at a flea market or some place like Cost Plus Imports. It’s sturdier and more functional, basically a decorative stick with a horsehair whisk on the end.

The figurine-carved l6-inch handle and skinny shaft together are 22 inches long, about as thin and rigid as holding a golf club. The lower part of the shaft is wire wrapped but the last 12 inches are wrapped tightly in horsehair, which then extends another 12 inches as a horse-like tail.

Now here’s a paradox. This whisk is indeed a great flyswatter. It’s fast, sturdy and the end is sufficiently large to get the flies yet not so aerodynamically resistant as to brush them aside. This combination makes it very accurate, and a few sweeps cleared my room of the unwanted visitors.

What really caught my attention though was the way in which the air resistance of the whisk slowed down the movement of the stick. While it is sufficiently quick for fly swatting, particularly with the whipping of the tail hairs, it doesn’t move anywhere as quickly as an escrima stick. It feels like the difference between running on dry land and running in waist-deep water.

That’s when inspiration hit me. What if someone could come up with a safe way to make an escrima stick that moved like this? It’s a challenge I’m throwing out there because I see benefits to both training and competition.

The qualifications would be rigid, light, comfortable grip and balance, with enough air resistance to significantly slow movement of the striking end of the stick.

So far I’ve seen few sticks that really satisfy the first four requirements well, let alone the fifth of resistance. There are some that do the latter at the expense of weight, balance or grip.

Imagine being able to spar with the intensity of competition, yet the speed of a controlled moderate flow! Spectators and judges would be able to see techniques more clearly, as would competitors, who would have more incentive to use defense. Surviving combat is a traditional value of the art, something represented poorly in no-defense slugfests.

In training students would be able to practice with as much speed as possible, with the form of their techniques more easily seen, felt and corrected. Ultimately one needs to develop the timing for full-speed, but there are differences between training for speed or for flow. The former implies beating the opponent; the latter is practice at reading intention. They are certainly not mutually exclusive, of course, but when people forget about flow for the sake of speed, most lose touch with the sensitivity that allows responsiveness to the opponent, important attributes for combative reflexes.

It takes little skill to whack someone on the head three times in a row. I’m sure many murders have been accomplished that way, but what if you are the one getting whacked, or if the other guy is simultaneously gutting you with a knife as you’re trying to render him unconscious?

Escrima is built on natural reflexes, but training them to an effective autonomous level of response takes time and effort. I tell my students to notice what works best for them and to get comfortable with those things first. When they have the security of a bread-and-butter core of material, then they can begin working other options into their repertoire.

That is the value of flow training; the constant repetitive cycle creates a hypnotic state of trance that programs the bodymind to respond automatically. Like rocks being polished in a tumbler, rough edges get smoothed away. Finer movement evolves from less resistance. As less effort is expended in reaction, more time is available for response. We see more clearly and move without thinking, moving directly through awareness.

With experience we grow in skill. Fewer things surprise us, and we can even come to appreciate those that do because they help further push our boundaries. Awareness, as I stress over and over, is a key to making things work. That is why so many teachers tell their students to slow down, so things are not happening too fast for the conscious mind to keep up. Eventually the student becomes aware of patterns and can digest bigger “chunks” at a time. Getting there takes patience.

This is where something like a good air resistance trainer would make sense. Like a limiter on a car engine, it could slow down the consequences of our need for speed. I recall a review of an early Toyota Corolla SR-5 that called it a “secret racer”. You could put your foot to the floor and shift furiously, emulating and honing all the skills of a real sports car driver, but you weren’t going fast enough to threaten other drivers or collect tickets. Best of all, according to the article, was no one else would suspect you were having so much fun!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Controlling Our Emotional Reactions

The only thing we really control is ourselves, and every time we get angry, we've allowed someone else to manipulate us by pushing our hot buttons. When we feel emotions rising, we might want to ask ourselves how we are playing into someone else's game. Are we really that easy? If we allow ourselves to act unconsciously, then yes, we are.

One of the benefits of meditation is creating space within ourselves to be able to observe how our own thoughts and emotions arise. When we learn to separate ourselves from such phenomena, we gain greater control over our ability to choose our own direction for ourselves.

Think of difficult people as challenges to our own self-control. There are many who will test us simply because their own lives are uncontrolled. Their sense of self-worth is validated externally, so by provoking us they feel as though they exist and have importance, forcing the world to acknowledge them. Calmness may fluster them because they don't understand it. They don't feel at peace within themselves. If they can get others to match their own internal state, then they feel a sense of recognition; they live within their own world of stormy emotions and so invite us to join them there.

Conversely, if we remain calm and weather their outbursts, we may be able to plant a seed of calmness within them, creating an anchorage against the pain of being tossed by what they themselves cannot control. At the least it may allow their own rage to expend itself, until they are too tired or bored to continue their assaults against ourselves. Think of advice given for dealing with aggressive animals. If a dog or even a bear charges and we run, we become a moving target to be taken down. On the other hand, if we stand in place (dogs) or curl up in a ball (bears) we have a much better chance of surviving.

Cats that run from dogs will be chased and killed if they cannot escape. On the other hand, those that sit immobile may still attract initial attention, but after nosing around, a dog will generally get bored and leave. I've witnessed both. Why do deer freeze when caught in headlights? It's because that is their defense against drawing predators into the chase.

Aggressive humans are also predators. Think of them as emotional vampires who feed off the response of their victims. They may seem strong, but in reality their weakness is their need to feed off of others. If they do not get the reaction they seek, they are lost.

I've been in dangerous situations where remaining calm defused assault, and I know women who have avoided rape in the same manner. Even if we have to fight, it is better to do it with a clear head than one clouded by fear. Fear has its place as a warning, motivating a response, but do we want others to be able to use it to pull us into their trap? If we consciously note rising emotions, we can deal with them before we hit crisis mode, and that generally is the better response.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Illness in the family

My mother went into the hospital on Friday for shortness of breath from congestive heart failure. Saturday afternoon she had a major stroke. She's already beaten the odds and surprised everybody by recovering significant motor function in the affected arm and leg. She lost speech, but within a day was able to say a few things we can understand and is very expressive in letting us know that she can hear us, either in person or when the phone is held for her. She's certainly very aware of her circumstances, remarkable in itself for someone 96 years old.

It's certainly hard to see her struggle, but she's one of the toughest and most resilient people I know. She's gone through dental work and other procedures without wanting or taking pain medication, things that make most of us cringe at just the thought, using her powers of visualization to revisit old memories, imagining herself far away in beautiful places like Hawaii. She also taught singing for several decades so she knows how to use breathing effectively. She's taught me a lot about the power of the mind to control the body.

I may be away from my computer more than usual, but I'll get back to posting some pieces I've started when I'm able to get them done.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sport Science - debunking myths?

I just caught part of a Discovery Channel's "Sports Science" ( episode #70), on debunking sport myths. One myth was whether "the shout" (kiai) actually makes a difference, and another was whether sex before events hurts an athlete's performance.

The kiai test used a world champion break artist. With a shout he generated about 2000 lbs. of force to shatter a stack of bricks. Without the shout, he only produced about 1500 lbs. and the bottom brick didn't break, rebounding the energy back up into him. I thought that single test, dramatic as it was, cannot be definitive because it was only a single sample. It did seem to substantiate the fact that a kiai helps release adrenaline as well as focus the mind. The martial artist clearly felt inhibited trying to match his previous break while holding back on part of his technique.

For comparison they should have also tested someone who felt confident breaking without a kiai, then having that person add a shout. What I'd really like to know is whether a focused exhalation without a kiai would be equal to using one. Again, I think that would require multiple repetitions and multiple test subjects to get reasonably objective data. Anecdotally throughout history, though, the grunt or shout has been understood as a byproduct of maximum exertion, so I think there is merit to the process. Withholding it may well inhibit performance, but does emphasizing it increase performance or is it a distraction?

The sex myth involved testing a world champion boxer in several categories, including leg strength, lower and upper body cardio endurance and blood testosterone, both before and after a night of sex with his wife. In the follow-up he tested higher in almost every category (cardio results were equivalent) including testosterone levels in his blood, the one result he couldn't fake. The concensus on this was the myth against sex was in fact without merit and quite possibly exactly wrong.

Something I remember from a documentary on Babe Ruth wasn't that sex itself tired out the athlete, but rather the effort in chasing women and carousing beforehand that did the damage. In other words, for guys in a steady relationship, it shouldn't be an issue. The only rationale I can see might be to make a man ornery, or as Eddie Murphy put it in "48 Hours" (and quoting Richard Pryor, perchance): "Lack of p***y makes a man brave!"

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Here's the first piece I said I'd get done in the post from earlier today. It's about a deep self-healing process I've gone through this week. - JF


Yoga means “to yoke”, meaning integration of mind and body to a higher spiritual consciousness. For most people, however, it is a form of exercise, and that is what I’ll address here.

One problem I see in learning something like yoga or martial arts is that people learn it as an external form, something they do according to precepts they’ve memorized without internalizing it and making it their own. This is why I chose to call this “self-yoga”, because it is something that should be unique to each individual according to their needs. It is important to understand principles of stretching and using the breath, but the actual use of these principles should vary according to one’s own innate wisdom.

The principles are pretty simple: First, come out of a stretch by reversing the way you went into it. When we stretch we lengthen muscle fibers. I see people go into a stretch one way and then jump out of it without thought, in a completely different movement pattern. This can cause fibers to cross and bind, creating more problems than were there before. Old-time kahunas in Hawaii used this principle to punish troublemakers, twisting joints to cause crippling pain. The only one who could unlock the damage was the person who created it in the first place, being the only one who knew the direction in which the movements had been chained together.

The second principle is using the breath. Most folk think they know how to breathe because obviously they’ve been doing so since birth, or else they wouldn’t be alive. Yoga has made a science of using the breath, however, which goes beyond merely inhaling and exhaling. While those are the two directions of airflow, the effect of breath on the body can be profound. Through the interconnectivity of muscles, tendons and ligaments, it is possible to direct the force of the breath to any part of the body. By focusing our attention where we desire an effect, we can direct the pressure of inhalation to stretch or open up areas of tension, and use the exhale to release the tension. Using different postures or positions (asanas) is a way to direct this effect to specific areas. If we hold a stretch, the relaxation on exhale lets us take up the slack which is created during the tension part of the cycle. The next inhalation can then deepen the stretch. Exhale to move into a stretch, and use the inhalation to move back out of it. Inhaling is like filling a balloon with air; imagine yourself as one of those big parade balloons rising as it fills up. Let the breath create the movement and pay attention to the quality of your stretch, both going in and coming out. You’re working on your body to heal it, so don’t rush; mindfulness is significant!

The third principle is to not use force. Often when we try to do something that is not comfortable, the body will tense up and create resistance to protect itself. If we consciously remind ourselves to relax, this allows the body to trust what the mind is telling it to do. It may take a moment, it may take many sessions to learn, but once the trick of letting go has been learned, one can feel tension melting away as the breath opens up the area of focus in the stretch.

There are some exceptions to non-force. One is dynamic tension. This is a process of tensing parts of the body for brief moments, and can be done either through internal resistance, such as tightening a muscle internally, or by pressing or pulling to create the resistance against other parts. This has several effects. On the one hand it increases blood flow to the muscle, and uses what Eastern arts refer to as “local chi”, energizing that specific body part. At the same time it tends to fatigue the muscle, which by using up excess energy allows it to reset to a more relaxed state.

Some teachers advocate holding the breath for 8-10 seconds while tensing, others say to allow it to release slowly. I tend to use whatever feels appropriate to the moment. If I’m just exercising I usually release the breath, but if I’m trying to unlock a difficult to reach area of tension in my body, I may hold the breath to force it deeper into the spot that I’m squeezing tightly. Generally I’d say that the slow and gentle method will get the job done, but once in awhile I’ll use this method when I can’t seem to reach an area that has become chronically locked up.

This past week I had a very dramatic example of self-healing using these methods. About two weeks ago I got a kink in my back, right between the shoulder blades at mid-sternum level. Most of us think of the sternum as a single plate, but this is a spot known to more knowledgeable chiropractors as a hidden joint of the body. I’ve had seven whiplashes, the result over the years of being hit multiple times from behind while stopped at red lights in my car. Consequently this area has been tight, the result of my body holding the tension from fear of further injury to a spot previously hurt. I’ve been to a number of chiropractors who have had limited and varying success in releasing this. I’ve been told that at best it is something I’ll probably have to live with, that the best they can do is relieve the worst of the symptoms.

Now the only real difference between something like chiropractic treatment and yoga is whether the activating energy is external, internal, or a combination as in acupuncture. Just think of any of these as ways to move energy. By this past weekend, the pain in my back was pretty severe, affecting my breathing and posture, to say nothing of my mood. I began waking up in the middle of the night from the pain, rolling on the floor and stretching to try to release the spot where the tension was held. Finally on Tuesday I awoke around 4am and decided I’d had enough; without expectation that I would get help from anyone else, I realized that I would have to use what resources I knew on my own to get in and try to fix things.

I was beyond using preset patterns of stretches; this was writhing to get to the source, which is where intuition came to my rescue. There are two processes I used to get results. One was rocking, the other stretching.

The rocking process is one I came up with on my own. I’ve studied a variety of massage methods since 1977, and the closest I’ve seen to this is Breema. As my spine seemed misaligned from mid-upper back to the base of the neck, I began by laying on my back, interlocking my fingers and cradling the back of my head in my hands, flexing alternate wrists to rock my head side to side. At times I pushed the heels of my hands closer together, raising the head up, and pressing with the heel of the hand to change the angle and range of movement. As my neck began to release I changed position to standing. This allowed me to move my head forward or back with the rocking, hitting tension at different angles.

After awhile I felt the need to work lower, so I unlocked my hands and dropped them onto my upper chest, rocking my upper torso side to side. By anchoring my hands this way, my shoulders and chest moved as a single unit, as opposed to letting the hands swing separately; it is a different effect. I stopped a few times to use dynamic tension, pulling my shoulders back to try to isolate and break up the tension, then returning to the rocking motions.

As I felt things grinding and loosening up, I then went into an upward stretch, locking my fingers together except for the index fingers, which I pointed upwards to direct and extend the stretch. As I filled with breath, I would stretch upward, then hold the position in the exhale; classic yogic breathing. With the next breath I’d continue to stretch. It felt like the breath was climbing inside me, each one progressing upward a few centimeters at a time.

Several years ago during a bout of bronchitis I learned to breath into the left or right side of my chest separately, and to cough the same, in order to clear the lower part of the lungs. Now with this I was discovering how to breathe into, and clear, the upper parts of my lungs, and consequently found myself clearing large and unexpected amounts of phlegm. Nasty, but that’s how it works; tension accumulates in a variety of ways. In this process one learns to be aware of the internal architecture of the body in unexpected ways.

Finally, as pressure from the breath focused into my neck, I instinctively began bending backwards. Over the next 8-10 breaths, as I found myself in a deep back bend, feet firmly anchored, I then began to use the breath to lift the chest upward while remaining in the back bend. I found it curious that I felt so stable in this posture, but being focused on the process, I felt secure and in control. I could feel my shoulders opening up and releasing tension, until there was a tiny “crack” from the center of my pain, and it was gone.

At that point I stopped stretching (after about 2-1/2 hours total time) and began doing some morning chores. About an hour later for some reason I reached over my shoulder and touched my back, and my hand came away wet! I thought it might be blood but it looked clear, so I went to a mirror to take a look. There, in the center of my back where it had hurt the worst, a patch of skin about the size of a silver dollar had split and peeled away, looking like a bad sunburn!

As I examined this in the mirror, I began rolling my shoulders and was surprised at the fluid range of motion, and the complete lack of pain. I then did another quick upward stretch and realized my arms were behind my ears, when for many years they had been alongside or even slightly forward!

The result of this experience is that my range of motion is vastly increased from what I’ve had in a long time, both in my back and my right shoulder, which has been impaired since a motorcycle accident in 1982. Both shoulders now move about the same, and pain-free. Whatever spot was locked up in my back all these years, has now been broken up.

For those familiar with the concept of kundalini, I feel like I’ve been raising and releasing this energy for the past few months. One possible reason is I’m in a relationship with a new girlfriend. We have a deep connection, and that has brought new energy into my life in many ways. I believe that when we are healthy and happy we don’t compartmentalize ourselves. Conversely, we create blockages when things aren’t going as well. By entering a new state energy was freed up, but the old block at the heart chakra had not yet been released. When energy hits a block, something has to happen. As long as the block was there, the energy built up until it manifested as pain, and continued to do so until I was able to dissolve the block.

Does this mean the process is complete? Of course not, because being alive is itself a process. I can feel that most of that backed-up energy has moved upward, just like heat from a flame.

As the neck and tailbone tend to reflect each other, I later did some stretches in deep horse stance to open the hips. These consisted of resting my hands on my knees to support my body weight so I could swing my hips freely. This resulted in a powerful release in my right hip that went right down to my knee, unlocking a block I hadn’t even fully recognized. I then wondered if I could extend the release into my foot, and with a couple of weight shifts I was able to release the pain I’d had in my right ankle since dislocating it nearly 2 years ago! This went all the way to the big toe, eliminating a hot pain I’d been carrying in the instep of my foot. Didn’t I say everything was interconnected? I haven’t felt this good or connected in years!

Now I have to monitor these results to see what comes next. Old patterns don’t just disappear, so though I’ve felt incredibly good the past 48 hours, I recognize that tension can again accumulate in a habitual manner. It’s so easy to forget how hard it was to get to this point and just return to business as usual, when in fact a breakthrough like this should be the start of a new phase and not just the end of the old.

As I said at the beginning, this is about trusting one’s own inner wisdom, letting intuition be the guide rather than being a slave to technique. Though rooted in established principles, the actual methods I used were unique and unorthodox, but allowed me to achieve exactly the results I needed so badly. I’ve outlined the process and results as guidelines only. I know that many people carry aches and pains on a daily basis, the result of living in a body. If we depend on others to fix us, we will never be as free as when we are able to find our own solutions and follow through to reach the goals we set.

Quick Update 11-15

Hard to believe I haven’t posted in awhile, but it’s been a busy time. I’ve started several posts but gotten sidetracked with shop projects and yet another birthday.

I’ve been learning new skills for making my training blades as I’ve incorporated several new pieces of equipment into the shop. The main goal is to work safer. One of my students wanted a kerambit, and it was too dangerous to make that on the router because of the small size and the multiple curves. I now have ways to do these on the new machines, and I’ve sold every one I’ve made except the one I absolutely had to keep for myself.

A byproduct of the new gear is that they’ve allowed me to create new techniques that add to the repertoire of cuts and grinds. These create distinctive appearances to the pieces I make. I now have three ways I like to finish handles: straight grain, patterned grain, and pattern stamped.

Last Sunday a friend, a former world karate champion, picked up a kris to take back to Hawaii. While at her friend’s house, the husband insisted he’d seen the “wood” I used, even after I said it was plastic. He went into another room and came back with an elaborately carved letter opener from Madagascar. We examined it side-by-side with several of my pieces and even photographed them together. They were virtually indistinguishable. I did some research online and found that Madagascar is famous for rosewood. I then pulled out a couple of guitars with rosewood fretboards and yes, that is the match!

I’ll see about finishing some of my other articles. One is about corner fighting, another is about a method of self-massage and stretching I just developed. My back hurt pretty badly for about two weeks leading up to my birthday and nothing was helping, so I decided to follow my own intuitive yoga. Not only did I fix the kink in my back, I released tension that has been held there for decades! The results have not only been local but global, releasing several old and deeply held injuries! This is something special, so I need to think about how to explain what I did so others can resolve their own aches and pains.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Assassination Tango

Back in June Alex Castro blogged about the film “Assassination Tango” and the relationship he found in this dance style to the martial arts. I finally followed up on his recommendation this weekend and rented the movie. As Alex actually has some experience in tango, I suggest you read his post here.

I watched the dance during the closing credits, paying attention to the footwork of the man (after prying my attention away from the gorgeous female dancer) and I’d say I’ve probably used every step I saw there somewhere in my escrima. On the other hand, to do this so smoothly in tandem with another person … recognizing the movement and performing like that are two entirely different things. I can understand Alex’s investigation of this as a way to improve his FMA footwork (to say nothing of his social life), just as I’ve watched flamenco for similar reasons (just the FMA, folks!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

What is the sound of one hand clapping? The answer to this old Zen koan is “nothing”, or “there is no answer,” which is just a wordier explanation. However, if we ask this from the literalist position of a martial artist, the question leads to experimentation in the real world of practical application.

There are, of course, many variations of clapping, ranging from polite tapping of fingertips against the palm, to every-fiber-of-your-being hand-against-hand Sumo slams, but all presupposing a result stemming from the tympanic resonance of one object against another. Even one-handed claps strike against walls, tables, etc.

But what if air is the object against which we strike? We are always told that, like a fish in water, we do not perceive the medium in which we move because it is taken for granted, but is this true? We feel wind, sense temperature, all qualities of this medium. We know it is there; can we use it?

An ordinary person attempting to clap one-handed will probably wave that hand vaguely in the air and then ponder at the nothingness of the result, oblivious perhaps to the precept that the result speaks for itself, as does the experiment that produced it.

As martial artists, we train ourselves to move precisely. A highly developed proprioceptive sense helps us slice time by defining aspects of any motion from start to finish, so we start by looking at our original clap.

Where are the hands at the start of a clap? This isn’t a random thing; we all have deeply ingrained habitual patterns and clapping is pretty automatic. Where are your hands when they meet? Are they even or is one on top? If the latter, what does it feel like if you reverse them? Do the hands bounce? How much?

Since martial artists are concerned with things like speed and power, let’s focus on vigorous clapping for our model. Your hands might start face height, about shoulder width, and come together evenly at chest or throat level.

Now do the same motion with just one hand. You have a designated start point. You have (or should have) a designated end point. How do you move between them?

Efficiency suggests the shortest distance is a straight line, and the simplest way to achieve this is with relaxation. Inertia says an object in motion will tend to remain in motion unless worked upon by an outside force. Tension is a force that acts against acceleration through increased stress in components of a system.

Rather than a stiff movement that pushes, use a sudden pulse of acceleration to start, and use a “pop” at the end, with some rebound. This is a short, explosive motion, and the sound of your one hand should be a “whoosh.” It may take some practice to consistently create a sound (although some of us older guys may hear extra creaking in the joints).

What this gives you is a powerful inward strike, whether a slap, chop, parry or block. Develop both hands by alternately “clapping” in this way. Another thing to practice is a single-handed double slap. Interestingly, you may find the second slap to be both shorter and louder than the first.

Other techniques to hear the sound of one hand: Upward outward parry (flick it); downward outward parry. I like to combine the two. In a fighting stance, flick upward with the lead hand then slap downward with it. The elbow stays fairly fixed in position and angle; rotation is from the shoulder. Keep the fingers open. The rear hand may do the opposite to cover, ie. flick downward and then up.

Some nights when I’m on, I’ll just shadowbox to the sound of my hands. I can feel the energy flowing through the fingertips and I’ll feel energized at the end of the workout.

This is powerful stuff. Sifu Al Thomas, my old Kenpo teacher, was a master at hard style blocks (courtesy, perhaps, of his Shotokan roots). We got punished for being slow or obvious. As we got better, though, movement became quicker and lighter, but the only reason parries were not so bone-jarringly painful was perhaps our own understanding of the consequences of getting caught. One day Al put speed and power in perspective. Hard blocks were for simple situations, such as overzealous students. When sparring skilled fighters, he parried to stay in tempo. If, however, it were a serious fight on the street, he would be flicking with his fingertips.

Maximum distance, maximum velocity. Applied to vital targets such as eyes and throat, these do not require great strength, though conditioning is an asset. Being relaxed can increase stress on joints because of greater velocities. Tension is actually a way to apply the brakes. Pay attention to your body and work your way into this. You don’t want to injure ligaments or tendons by over-stressing them.

The more skilled one becomes at this, the shorter the distance to achieve a powerful result. Bruce Lee had the six, three and one-inch punches, in increasing order of skill. Listen to your hands in the air and you can measure your success.

Strike with the padded parts of the palm. The whole palm is a powerful slap, striking more nerve endings on the surface than any other blow. Using the heel of the hand at the end adds focus to penetrate more deeply. The palm side of the knuckles is a hard bony surface, good for parries against punches. Practice hitting with these rather than the whole palm for more effective parries. It will also help avoid parrying too high and getting fingertips bent backwards.

For those who use the Filipino c-hand check, which keeps the thumb open to catch or as a sensor, focus the parry specifically with the knuckle of the index finger. This is the “fist within the palm” that focuses the maximum energy of a palm strike. Practicing flicking this knuckle can make it an effective nerve strike against the wrist, and will also help overcome the danger of snagging one’s thumb during the parry.

So, some tips from the Stickman on using air to hear the sound of one hand clapping. Of course that means you are listening with your ears, but then if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it (and earthquake sensors picking up the fall of a giant redwood are just extensions of our hearing), does that mean it really made a sound?

Ah, those wacky Zen masters! But if there is only nothing, then there is nothing to oppose, either. No need to try, just do. When we let go we can have it all, and so we see the appeal of the empty mind to the art of fighting; indeed, to the art of living. When we do not resist, the path become simple. Not always the shortest, but the most direct path has fewest detours.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Building Better Trainers

Yesterday I got a surprise phone call from Bill Bednarick, a student of Mushtaq Ali, who is also a maker of training blades for Filipino martial arts. He was calling to compliment me on the design and appearance of the knives and swords I now make. His comments reflected what I’ve been hearing ever since I started making these, that they don’t look anything like plastic. That’s because I’m not just machining simple lines but I’m hand finishing my pieces just as any woodworker using exotic hardwoods. So far the results speak for themselves.

We spent perhaps an hour on the phone, trading tips and comparing techniques. It’s a pleasure to deal with someone who is open and up-front like this. Similarly, some years past someone who wanted to use my rattan hardening techniques to start their own business contacted me. As I’d freely published this information online, I gave him my blessing and as far as I know the guy has done well.

On the other hand, there are people who have copied my synthetic sticks as though it’s been their original idea. Since I pioneered the concept 18 years ago, I’ve seen a few of these guys come and go. Usually they fail by trying to undercut the price of my products. This isn’t a big profit business, so for most it hasn’t been worth the effort, and no one has ever offered the variety of products I offer.

At least with blade makers there is a greater degree of creativity. One must envision the final result. Products may compete but they are not “knock-offs” in the sense of being identical. For this market, we’re all doing personalized hand-made copies of traditional Filipino designs anyway.

There has long been a spirit of cooperation among knife makers, who have guilds and organizations that bring them together in comraderie at knife shows. There is nothing similar for those of us making trainers, a specialized purpose, though some real knife makers might have a few “faux” items available on their table at a show.

Since I've been involved in FMA (25+ years) a lot of creative people have brought new tools to the training market. When I started there were only cheap floppy rubber knives from the martial art stores, useless for training against a stick or doing disarms. The late great Al Mar created a stir with his semi-rigid rubber copy of the Gerber Mk II commando knife. Since then there have been many products introduced, ranging from rubber imitation knives to beautifully exotic hardwoods.

There are many aluminum trainers on the market but many are simple two-dimensional cutouts. As I found out with my own designs, aluminum is hard enough to be damaging to sticks, unlike plastic, which is very similar to wood. Metal is also problematic for swordplay as the edges quickly become rough and sharp-toothed, requiring repair for safety.

Once again I believe I’m cutting new territory with the products I’m designing, both in the material, chosen for toughness, and the level of detail, such as bevelled edges to lighten and balance the blades. My goal in making training blades is to create functional artwork, blades that look as good hanging on the wall as they are useful for training. In doing so, I also figure these will be unique (which is why I’m numbering each individual piece), something that the knock-off artists won’t be able to simply imitate and claim as their own.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hammers, Screwdrivers and Pliers

This morning I was teaching a lesson that focused on empty hands, my goal being to show applications based on Serrada’s weapon techniques. Midway through the class the student expressed frustration at learning a lot of things, saying he preferred to get just one. Now I don’t disagree with this, since one good move is better than a lot of poorly executed ones, but the guy was confusing himself by trying to make everything a memorized pattern to fit specific situations, which is rather contrary to how I see the art or teach it.

This fellow is an old-school karate guy in the true sense of the meaning. He’s about a dozen years older than me and was probably churning out kicks and punches when I was still a toddler. On the other hand he probably hasn’t trained since about the time I began getting serious about this stuff, which would be, oh, around 35 years ago (yikes!) On the one hand I give him credit for knowing a fair amount, but then I see his sticking points, where half-remembered techniques of yesteryear freeze him up in the moment. He’s a physically powerful guy; the challenge is to keep him focused in the moment.

Anyway, we were analyzing the cross block, which is where we deflect an attack to our left side, right side forward, with our weapon or lead hand angled downward and the check hand crossed underneath. From there, as the check hand controls the opponent’s arm we were doing a raking downward backfist (or chop) to the bicep (as opposed to the neck) and then a short straight punch to the solar plexus. One variation of a finish from there was to close in and trap the head with the left while delivering a smash with the right elbow. It’s a nice, short explosive combination but he was over-thinking it and freezing up. I was trying to get him to relax and see how the moves flow from one position to the next logical available target.

It was at this point that I came up with a new analogy. I asked if the guy did home repair and if he had a toolbox, to both of which he answered affirmatively, so I surmised that he probably knows the difference between a hammer, screwdriver and pliers. Again hearing confirmation, I then said that he probably would not be confused as to which he’d need for any particular task, to which he also agreed. Here I drew the analogy, calling the bicep strike a hammer, the short punch a screwdriver, and the head smash pliers. He immediately got the message.

I then asked if philips head screwdrivers were better than slot head screwdrivers, making the point that neither is better, but each is the proper tool for a particular job. So it is with punches. A twist punch is neither better nor worse than a straight punch; each has suitable applications though there can be overlap in choice.

Since he got this too, I then described the technique as a work project, where different tools might be needed along various stages of the process. Rather than pre-determining what tools he might need at any moment, I suggested that he dip into the toolbox at any point to get the one needed right then.

Sometimes martial arts seem such a mysterious and confusing whirlwind. Usually that’s because the vision is too tightly focused and cannot see the forest for the trees. I had already described applications of several punches, each of which basically used the elbow to create a defense against a counter while attacking. You may recognize this as the JKD principle of an intercepting fist. By seeing them as similar, not unlike a slot or philips screwdriver, it becomes easier to focus on the main idea of hitting the target while simply integrating the angle of the arm for protection.

In this case using the toolbox analogy brought some clarity to seeing options. With the three basic tools of hammer, screwdriver and pliers we are either smashing, drilling or squishing a target. The most important thing is to see the “what” while being flexible and adaptive about the “how.” I constantly reinforce the mindset of being “target oriented” - see the target, hit the target. How you do it is a variable, and training should teach us how to use our tools and why they fit certain situations. Correctly understood, this should lead to efficiency because one learns to strike quickly with any opportunity rather than wasting time and motion trying to find some position that might distant or unavailable. Again using JKD philosophy, it’s using the most direct weapon to the closest target.

It is said that speed cannot be coached. However there is raw linear speed and then there is adaptive speed, which includes the mental triggers that initiate timing and control motion. Watch a world-class sprinter sometime. Everything propels him forward towards his goal. The arms pump straight ahead and back; rocking them side-to-side is less efficient and unbalanced and will cost the runner time in races that are measured to 1/1000 of a second.

It is the same with fighters. A good fighter may see someone draw back an elbow to throw a haymaker, and respond by shooting a jab straight forward. It isn’t necessary that the fighter be faster than his opponent, though it may appear that way to onlookers. Simply by being more efficient at identifying the threat and responding, he is quicker to the target though not necessarily moving at greater physical speed. When we know how to use our tools, we don’t spend as much time thinking about those choices. When we know how to use a greater variety of tools, that opens our creativity.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Knowledge, Skill and Ability

Today I began thinking of various elements of training and these three words – knowledge, skill and ability – stayed with me. This is another use of the triangle as a concept, keeping in mind that it is still a single integrated structure and why it is commonly shown within the circle to denote wholeness. So why did I choose these three words? They are a reflection of certain memories that surfaced, and so are representative of key concepts.

It is said that knowledge is power, but I think it would be more correct to say that knowledge is a key to power. One can know something without grasping its value or understanding the implications. It takes action to apply knowledge for effect. Nevertheless, knowledge is the foundation, the means from which understanding can grow. Great thinkers like Archimedes and Descartes understood that having a single certain truth enabled them to establish valid and logical principles.

Serrada founder Angel Cabales understood the value of knowing the principle of one. He taught to hold the ground on which you stand because we already know how to move; being immovable is much harder. By not moving, we are the leverage with which to move others. This doesn’t mean we lack mobility, but that we can ground ourselves where and when we need, and this is a great generator of power. Similarly, our defenses use a single point of contact to create a powerful fulcrum. Two points are inherently unstable because balance tends to shift back and forth, but one point simply controls the balance, as it has nowhere else to go.

Skill is application of knowledge. How many of us have trained with people who can explain the how and why of techniques in intricate detail but cannot demonstrate them well enough make the application work? I specifically remember one guy back in my Kenpo days who was an orange belt (the first promotion) back when I was a white belt. By the time he got his next promotion I was already several belts past him, and over a decade that was it for him. Now this guy was a walking encyclopedia of details from the day I met him, a veritable engineering whiz at blueprinting every move in our system. He was also built like a warrior dwarf from “Lord of the Rings” and was one tough punching bag, emulating his hero boxer Tex Cobb, who was known for relying on an iron head to survive his fights. Unfortunately Kenpo is designed for speed, accuracy and mobility, all of which my friend was lacking. Perhaps it was a bad match of body type and the art (he’d have made a good MMA guy) but all his knowledge of this system seemed of little practical value.

The third level is ability, a term I’m using as a catchall to describe a level encompassing and surpassing the previous two. It is how well we exhibit our knowledge and skill, as having those things does not intrinsically qualify our performance. On the one hand we each have natural potential, greater for some than others, but which can be enhanced for any through proper physical conditioning. On the other hand, ability goes beyond the physical to include our willpower. Training can build physical and emotional toughness, but then sometimes athletes leave their game in the locker room. Certain things cannot be coached beyond narrow limits, such as size, speed and desire. Heart is something that is revealed only when it is tested, though it can be nurtured through the learning process as steps are mastered.

Physical strength is always an asset, though perhaps not as vital in weaponry as in other arts such as grappling. Still, one needs to be strong enough to handle pressure and have the endurance to finish a fight. A problem I have in teaching is that I see most students only once a week for a couple of hours. Escrima can be very technical and requires focused attention. When training time is constrained, it is imperative to work on skill, leaving conditioning for the student to pursue elsewhere. Leaving conditioning to chance is a mistake, because hard, grueling practice can reveal character. To excel takes hard work, and as they say in motorsports, the last 10% of performance is 90% of the expense. The mountain is always steepest at the top.

I miss the old days at the Kenpo school because we had access 24/7, and classes ran several hours every day. With that much time, conditioning was well-integrated into training, as opposed to haphazardly hoping students will take it on themselves to get sufficient work in on their own. We had a basic conditioning cycle we used to do, consisting of 100 jumping jacks, 25 pushups, 50 situps (or crunches, done in pairs with our feet interlocked and slapping hands with each other when we came up to add torsion), and then 25 more pushups. We would typically open class with 2-5 cycles, done quickly to get warmed up before bagwork, kick trading or sparring; we always worked up a good sweat quickly.

Another component is stretching, which again is less significant in Escrima than in an art that emphasizes kicking. Current recommendations are to stretch when fully warmed up, better at the end of a vigorous workout because muscles are more pliable when hot. Not only do we not spend time on this in short classes, we rarely get that hot in Escrima, even when sparring hard. Back in the 70’s when I did a little Tai Chi with Master Chiang at the Wen Wu School, I was taught that flexible legs were a key to longevity. In my 20’s this was a distant concern, but now I can feel what a difference it makes. In the last 8 years I’ve gone through graduate school and endured a period of difficult health. During those times my conditioning was neglected, and I can attest that it doesn’t come back as easily as when I was younger.

Many of us take up martial arts to defend ourselves or for sport, health being the third reason people often give. As we get older and our skills become honed, we come to rely on efficiency rather than strength. This is all well and good, but to maintain our health we need to still make room for the less glamorous side of training. As the saying goes, what we do now will show up in our health in 10 years. The work we do today pays off in the future.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

New webpage on making training blades

Once again my blogging has been on a backburner because of other projects. I'm now filming classes so I can provide DVD's to my students so they can review what we covered. I find it useful as a teacher, enabling me to monitor their progress and also evaluate my own teaching methodology. New technology isn't always simpler than the old. Whereas before one would make a videotape and then copy it, now I have to transcode the file through two different processes to finally get it on disk. It's awkward, and it requires a lot of computer resources for hours. Each transcoding takes about as long as the actual running time of the viewing material.

Additionally I've been focused on making my training blades. At this stage I've probably worked as hard getting my shop set up for this as actually making blades. I've had to integrate new equipment, which includes a dust collection system along with the tools, so I've reorganized my small space a couple of times to get everything to fit together as comfortably as possible.

I've also updated my website, as I posted previously, and yesterday I added a new page describing the process of making my training blades. I'll add photos at some point, when I have someone available to take pictures while I'm working in the shop.

Friday, September 14, 2007

New training weapons production

I'll keep this brief, since I don't want to rewrite what I've put on my website.

Due to the closure of many machine shops and the exporting of so much production overseas, it was not longer economical to get training knives made here, as costs are now as much as I've been selling them at retail.

The upside is that I've invested in equipment to make my own blades, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities since I'm no longer locked into single designs for production runs, and no longer at the mercy of programmers and machine codes reinterpreting my designs.

I've added a section on my custom training blades, which, like my sticks, are designed to handle contact sparring. There are samples of work I've done on there, and more designs are already on the way by request, most notably barongs and kerambits. Check it out!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Native Filipino Bikers!

These guys are from a mountain tribe called the Ifugaos. Aside from the incongruity of native dress and ersatz "motorcycles", the ingenuity and craftsmanship of their bikes is as cool as their clothing is colorful. Photos courtesy of guro Peter Freedman.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sonny’s Anniversary

This past Friday was the first anniversary of the passing of Sonny Umpad. I didn’t make the last-minute gathering in Alameda that afternoon, but on Sunday a group of about 20 met for dinner at the New Gold Medal Restaurant, one of Sonny’s favorite eateries in Oakland’s Chinatown.

This was a very informal affair, just friends and students sharing food and catching up on lives, but Sonny’s presence was strong in the room. That’s hard to ignore when that many people come together for no other reason than a connection they share through one source who remains an inspiration for continued personal growth and that of a community. A year ago I wrote about how Sonny’s energy went out into the community when he died, and it’s good to see that this energy has become focused rather than dissipated. That is a special feat in itself.

We didn’t lift a toast Sunday evening, and I’m sure if we’d done so when Sonny was around, he’d have been embarrassed, but not quite speechless. It’s too bad we didn’t meet like this when he was alive, but I can’t say “when he was still with us” because he is.

Late note: As a follow-up to the dinner, there is now a write-up for Sonny on Wikipedia.

Mabuhay ang Sonny Umpad!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sifu Larry Hartsell passes away

The martial arts community has lost another giant with the passing of JKD grappling legend Larry Hartsell. Though I never met him myself, I know the high regard in which he is held by so many excellent martial artists. Sifu Hartsell was an early catalyst for the revival of grappling within the martial arts community. My condolances to his family, friends, students and the JKD community in general for his loss.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Progress in Training

Progress in martial arts training is rarely a linear progression as growth comes in spurts. The fastest and steepest learning curve is at the beginning, when all seems new. Even then, everyone has their own rate of learning. Some absorb information like a sponge while others struggle to squeeze in each drop.

Ironically, it’s the latter who most often seem to rise to excellence. Knowledge that is hard fought to acquire has value. Those with great talent sadly seem rarely destined to achieve their potential. Taking their abilities for granted, it’s “easy come, easy go.” What is learned without effort seems of little value, another way of interpreting the phrase “you get what you pay for.”

I sometimes compare learning to building a dam on a river. As the dam rises, the water fills in the reservoir behind it. That filling in takes longer than building the dam. So it is with learning. Acquiring information is one thing; having the knowledge of how to use it is another. The dam represents the structure of your learning; the water is your experience.

The water level rises as it fills in behind the dam, quickly at first where the reservoir is narrowest at the bottom, more slowly as the surface area increases along with depth. When the reservoir has filled, one can then raise the dam, and once again it will take time to fill the volume behind that interface. Thus a new dam may need to be fairly tall, but successive levels might go up in smaller increments.

Similarly, with experience it becomes harder to learn new things because so much is already understood. Eventually any new nugget of information is like a precious jewel, adding some glow to what is already polished.

Our unconscious mind operates like water. We are only aware of what floats or is reflected on the surface, though we may intimate the ripple of currents below or surmise the contours of the bottom.

Knowing how to learn is its own skill set, related to but separate from the actual subject at hand. One’s internal perspective can either help or hinder the learning process. Meditation is helpful because it turns down the volume of self-talk, the dialog we carry on with ourselves. As we learn to tune out distractions, we gain clarity, which helps us become better focused on what is important.

How many people beat themselves up mentally and emotionally when they make a mistake? What a huge waste of energy that is! Such a person is stuck in the past, which cannot change. A feedback loop of negative self-talk is called “stinking thinking.” It’s better to stay focused on the positive. Simply acknowledge the error, recognize what needs to be fixed, and correct it.

One form of negative belief is that it will take a long time to learn something. If that’s what you believe, then that’s what you will get. We program our experience through such internal structures. I use a Huna technique, which is to program new patterns in three repetitions. It works like this:

The first time you do something new, your unconscious mind ignores it. It’s busy thinking about someone on whom you have a crush while digesting lunch, maintaining heart rate and metabolic temperature and balancing a tall vertical structure on the narrow platform of your feet.

You then repeat the behavior (thought or action) immediately and EXACTLY. Not similar, but as close to duplication as possible. Your subconscious mind still hasn’t paid attention to the content of your new behavior, but because it is a repetitive pattern, it rises to a higher level of significance. Your mind is geared towards noticing things like patterns.

Now you repeat the behavior for a third time; your subconscious has been primed to pay attention to the message itself. Add to this the fact that your conscious mind is focused on this exercise, which will increase its attraction to the unconscious.

Programming the basic behavior can be that quick, but without reinforcement it will be forgotten. Each subsequent repetition over time will deepen the channel. We build our neuro-networks to find and access our information. This is why it’s important to learn something correctly the first time, because it is harder to change established patterns of behavior than it is to create new ones.

Some teachers will let students flounder for a long time without correction. Perhaps this is to allow the chance for self-discovery, but then isn’t the function of the teacher to point the right direction? There is plenty of self-discovery to take place even when looking in the right direction. That is why I take pains to establish the foundation with beginners, because then they can go much further on their own. At least this way, if they don’t stay in the art, at least they will understand basic principles, which will be of more benefit in the long run than merely trying to remember sequences of movements.

As martial artists, one of our skills is to become fighters. Even in arts like Tai Chi, to raise energy and focus there should be a sense of an enemy standing before oneself. In arts like FMA, this goal is explicit. Some people are born with a fighting spirit, or acquire it early from their environment. Others have to learn it later, and perhaps more by choice than necessity.

There is a difference between “knowing” and “not knowing” that is irrespective of intellectual content. As Sijo Adriano Emperado has said, “one must turn on the light; once it is turned on, it cannot be turned off.” One obstacle to overcome is equating anger with intensity. Think of the scene early in “Enter the Dragon” when Bruce Lee gives a lesson to his young disciple. Anger clouds judgment; intensity focuses it like a laser.

It is the natural fighter who seems to learn quickly. One of my recent students was an experienced martial artist who learned six angles of escrima in three months and was able to use them fairly proficiently. At the other extreme I have a student who has been with me for half a dozen years, and it took much of that time for him to become actualized, someone in whom the art lives as opposed to “just doing it.”

The first guy is tough, already knows how to fight. Escrima added a new skill set, filling in knowledge not yet acquired. What he learned serves him well as he is proficient with those basics. The question is whether he will deepen that skill or whether he will set aside his training as he goes on to other things. The only way to really become good is, just like tennis or many other sports, to continue to test oneself against better opponents and thus elevate one’s game. As I wrote at the beginning, it is rarely the fastest learner who excels. Hmm, like the tale of the tortoise and the hare.

The second guy is a professional who likes to spend his free time outdoors. Escrima was just an add-on activity, something he found interesting. For a long time he seemed to be sleepwalking through training; my challenge was to find a way to awaken him. The trigger finally turned out to be switching from stick to blade, sparring with the swords I’m now making. That one change injected a higher perception of risk that propelled his skills to a significant level, and suddenly he has become very hard to hit.

To see the light come on is the moment I wait for as a teacher, because I know that now the art lives in this person. When it takes a long time, as it sometimes does, the struggle itself has meaning for it is what gave birth to a new reality.

What difference does this make? For one who has “seen the light” the answers come from within. In practical terms it means this person will perceive and counter attacks even faster than he consciously realizes them. When I spar such a person I can simply attack, knowing that it will take all my skill to find an opening I can exploit. Against someone who is merely proficient, I not only must protect myself against their attacks, but must also take responsibility for protecting them against my own!

At one level, one trains a student to spar by giving them opportunities to succeed; there is a danger that they will see this as ultimate success. It seems particularly true in fencing arts that it is easier to attack than defend, lending credence to “the best defense is a good offense.” Perhaps, though, it is simply harder to learn good defense, as that involves reading the opponent’s intentions accurately rather than leading them, or worse, ignoring those signals. Boxers may be willing to trade blow for blow, but with weapons that is rarely a wise course of action. Those that strike without concern for safety risk getting set up in the worst way.

To quote another saying, “There are bold pilots and there are old pilots, but there are no old bold pilots.”

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sonny Umpad online clips and interview

Pierre Hartmann has a video tribute to Sonny Umpad up on his website. These are highlights from Sonny's seminars in Geneva, Switzerland. Click this link and then click on "Medias" near the top of the page.

Check out the other clips also. One is of Mr. Hartmann and the other is of Uwe Muller, his teacher, from 1985. I was rather impressed with these, particularly the latter. Mr. Muller has the look of someone who's had a lot of practical experience; fast entries, strong finishes.

There is also an interview Pierre did with Sonny. Anyone interested in FMA should find these insights valuable, both what Sonny had to say and Pierre's impressions of him.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Blocks, Parries, Passes and Checks

Blocks, parries and passes describe a continuum of defensive options based on redirection of an opponent’s attack.

Though employing different energies, each method is a means to an end, which is to avoid injury and create an opening to counterattack or escape. In any martial technique, there are two essential phases: entering or opening your opponent, and what you choose to do after that.

Blocks are kind of the workhorse of the trio. They are powerful sweeping strikes, the kind usually taught to beginners in martial arts to give them structured form and develop muscle control. Advanced practitioners don’t need the big wind-up, though. Their movement is direct and efficient, integrating the whole body in explosive movement. Power comes from focus at the point of impact.

The lower part of the forearm, from the midpoint down to the elbow, should be used for blocking. This is the strongest part of the bone, well supported by muscle, and doesn’t exert a lot of leverage against one’s elbow and shoulder. Some arts, like Isshin-ryu karate, strike with the muscle on inward or outward sweeps to protect the bone from injury, but most arts use the hard edge of the bone as the weapon.

While sometimes disparaged as slow or basic, as used by an expert these are dynamic and powerful limb destruction techniques. Muay Thai is famous for elbow strikes, and some empty-hand styles of Filipino martial arts employ a variety of hard joint-breaking techniques as well.

While hard blocks can be devastating if successful, the risk is leaving oneself in a vulnerable position as a consequence of committing too much power. This is as true of a fencer being open to a riposte as it is of a driver losing control of a speeding vehicle in a corner. Control of balance allows options.

Parries might be thought of as lighter blocks, redirecting an opponent with less force, a way to bypass an opponent’s attack with minimal energy. Parries can range from soft touches to forceful pops, slaps and whipping motions that attack joints and pressure points. These can be done with the upper forearm or various parts of the hand, which, because of the extension and leverage of the arm, move faster than the elbow. Being speed based, the whole body dynamic is generally lighter and more mobile for parries than blocks, though both methods seek to focus against an opponent’s weaknesses while avoiding their power.

Both blocks and parries intercept and deflect the trajectory of an attack. A stop-hit is a form of defense that uses aggressive timing and angles to beat an opponent to the punch. A vigorous parry performs a stop-check type of hit, generally grabbing or sticking to the opponent’s limb for control rather than knocking it askew.

Filipino arts often utilize 1-2-3 timing in sequences like parry-check-hit. Some classical arts teach 1-2 block-and-strike timing while other arts may teach simultaneous block-and-counter moves. The 1-2 timing is a natural rhythm that often winds up with trading blows, whereas the 1-2-3 timing interjects a limb immobilization through checking that disrupts an opponent’s natural instincts.

Simultaneous timing works best either by surprise or if there is a clear technical superiority against an opponent. In other words, there is a higher risk/reward factor here, less opportunity to get out of trouble. 1-2-3 timing helps establish control over potentially dangerous counterattacks, and practicing this form of continuous checking develops one’s sensitivity and quickens the reflexes for both defense and offense.

Sometimes the best option is to pass, essentially a longer parry or block that sweeps the opponent’s attack along using momentum and knowledge of leverage to gain a tactical position of advantage. Whereas I think of blocks and parries as mostly linear deflections, passes tend to be more 3-dimensional and use misdirection as well as redirection of energy to overextend or exaggerate an opponent's movement.

The general intent of a pass is to reposition oneself either from the inside to outside of the opponent, away from the opposing hand, or vice versa to attack vital centerline targets, all the while keeping him unbalanced while moving purposefully oneself.

Passes can be categorized as high or low, and to the inside or outside. These are the four key components. Beyond that, they can be smooth redirects, such as a single parry that sweeps an attack away harmlessly, or can utilize a disruptive check/hit as a setup for the pass. Here again we see the 1-2-3 timing as parry-check-pass, which should be the lead-in to a follow up finishing sequence such as strikes or holds.

Passes cross our centerline, a vulnerability of the tactic. Control your opponent’s reach without changing your own range by extending the vertical angle of the opponent’s limb. In other words, if passing a low slash, suppressing it downward as it crosses your midsection is equivalent to taking inches from his reach while pointing the weapon further away from its target. A straight pass alone may only hasten or lead the opponent in to his target. If doing an overhead pass, give it some lift to upset an opponent’s balance and limit his options.

Passes, as well as blocks and parries, are not executed by one part of your body but by the whole. The three key elements I first identify in techniques are right hand, left hand, and body alignment. From these I should be able to identify balance, footwork and movement.

To make any technique work, body language must be congruent. This means top and bottom, left and right, front and back, inside and out. To block hard, feel strong. To parry elusively, be quick. To pass effectively, take charge and be directive. You are controlling not just your own timing but your opponent’s as well, dictating where he goes and predicting his responses. Done well and he has as much free choice as a mark on the street playing Three Card Monty.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

It's A Riot!

Just found this, a video from Cebu, Philippines, of 1600 inmates in orange jump suits at the prison there doing a choreographed dance routine to Michael Jackson's "Thriller". Kinda bizarre but definitely has some good moments. According to the article, dance choreography was instituted to replace calisthenics, which many (no surprise) found boring, and to instill discipline in a hard-core crowd.

Speaking of hard core, I just got a look at a sampler DVD entitled "Secrets Of The UK's Best Self-Defense Instructors". Two thoughts - this stuff looks very effective, and these guys have a lot of experience doing these things. Each instructor has his own flavor, so there's material that resembles Kenpo, Systema, FMA, etc. with some nice practical details.

An article you may find interesting by Tai Chi instructor Harve Kurland, Man of the Tao vs Martial Art Hucksters about ethics in teaching. He has some old footage of Gichin Funakoshi there, whom he holds up as an example of someone who taught the art from love and dedication as opposed to ego. Harve also has several video links of old-time Tai Chi masters here. Wu Tu Nan is perhaps 104 in the film (he lived to 107); quite impressive.

Back to Cebu, the site of most of tonight's "Human Weapon" program. The show wasn't bad, but already it seems to be settling into a format that is heavier on travelogue and less on training. Also because there is a competition at the end, coverage seemed heavily skewed towards Doce Pares.

On the other hand, I'm probably being overly critical since that was mostly doing stuff that's pretty familiar to me. I would have liked to see more variety of training, particularly the rural training methods of Leo Gaje such as the caribao wrestling. Might that be a part of Buno training?

All in all, though, a cool program; glad they started with some lesser known arts like FMA.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Human Weapon

This past Friday evening the History Channel on cable tv launched a new program, Human Weapon. The series is based on two Americans who travel through Asia exploring martial arts. One is a mixed martial artist, the other a wrestler and former NFL player, and the hook for each episode is a competition between one of them and a local champion in the indigenous art being studied. The conclusion isn't really in doubt, since they come across as enthusiasts taking on professionals, but the real interest isn't in the result so much as the exploration of martial culture.

The first episode was on Muay Thai, a promising start because the series immediately began with a lesser known art, compared to karate or taekwondo. The show did a decent job showing different schools and philosophies of training, ranging from modern sport to military to traditional combatives. It was the latter which for me provided the most interesting bit, as it showed the depth of the art as it is still practiced for survival in remote and self-reliant locales.

Even more intriguing were the trailers for next Friday's episode, which will highlight Filipino martial arts in the Philippines. Such coverage is unusual here in the U.S. and this looks to show rare glimpses into the hard-core traditional training that few Americans appreciate.

The Human Weapon airs at 10pm Pacific time and, if consistent with the first episode, will repeat again at 11pm.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Force vs. Flow

The best classes are those where insight is gained towards resolving blocks to improving our skills. Often we have the information all along but in pieces; insight is making the integrative connections resulting in new perspectives that deepen our understanding.

Recently I had one of those days where I felt particularly attuned in class, able to analyze vividly what both my student and I were doing in sparring. Teaching is like uncovering a mystery, peeling back layers to get to deeper truths in oneself and in others. To share insight one must find the key to another’s understanding. A good teacher has many tools, but as any mechanic knows, it’s having the right tool at the right time that makes a job go smoothly. Being in the flow leads us to our solutions by allowing the unconscious to produce insights.

During sparring I was consistently finding openings to my student’s centerline with a variety of tactics, but always with the strategy of what I call “falling in the gopher hole”. This is based on Bruce Lee’s theories of slight forward pressure to create springy energy. When the opponent creates an opening, we are already there at the threshold; the pressure is released and we automatically fill the gap without time consuming thought. Pressing the opponent’s centerline while guarding ours keeps this energy direct and balanced.

Our conscious awareness being much slower than the unconscious mind, we perceive through our senses what is already done. If we think first how to act, it is two stages, thought then action, the latter most likely inhibited by the weight of processing the former.

Awareness without thought: Our minds should be aware of the dynamics of the fight without excessive micromanagement over movement. Our strategy is our goal; tactics need be executed with instinctive reactions. We do this every day in ordinary life while walking, driving or feeding ourselves. The more stress we can handle in this ordinary manner, the greater the internal resources available for other purposes.

Sometimes we go unconscious in action, our conscious mind simply unable to keep up with the flow of action. At such times we may perform things seemingly beyond our abilities, but evidently not beyond our capacity to imagine. Our unconscious mind of course remembers every detail of the experience, and through methods such as NLP, hypnosis, meditation etc. we can later recall much of this information through accessing our multiple sensory memories. All states of awareness are constructs, hence hypnotic, since we build these on more subtle beliefs that direct our thought. What we cannot rationalize is expressed through emotion, the domain of the unconscious, and revealed in the gross and subtle actions of our physical bodies.

Here’s an example of the mind going unconscious in action. Three decades ago I knew an acquaintance of my older brother, a bear of a man with Aikido and Kendo training. This man fought his way to the kingship of the Society for Creative Anachronisms several times in their rough-and-tumble early days. In his most memorable fight, he felt he had been fouled grievously towards the end of a round and was extremely angry. During the break he centered himself and when he came out for the next and decisive round he knocked out his opponent. All he remembered was how blue the sky was that day, which he described as a Zen-like state of bliss which enabled him to bypass his judgmental conscious mind, giving him complete freedom of action.

Verbal expression is a way to hone in and clarify our thoughts; to get from theory to practice, I needed to communicate my own intuitive impressions. An axiom in hypnotherapy is that in order to create a state within a client, one must access it first within oneself so as to lead another person there. In martial arts, as in NLP, we can do this through mirroring and matching. I was using this on him; my goal was to transmit this skill too, leveling our playing field.

To begin with I could see my student’s movements were too wide and blocky, creating openings and losing timing. He was swinging from the shoulder, using muscular energy rather than finding a more natural internal rhythm. This was isolating the dynamics of his arm motion from the rest of his body, resulting in discordant footwork and poor body alignment. Correcting this one thing would unblock an entire cascade of improvements to his overall technique.

My first step was to get him to pay attention to how he was handling his weapon, changing his technique to make it tighter and smoother. A supple wrist is important to be able to control balance of the weapon. Every weapon has its balance point. We can try to impose our desired movement regardless of this, or we can let the weapon follow its natural trajectory. This lets us guide it by controlling its center of balance, a much more fluid relationship.

Identifying a physical point of resistance was the leverage to understanding its effect in our sparring dynamic, which is where we both were able to see a deeper picture. By using his arm in a muscular way he was relying on force, which by its nature, using the concept of equal and opposite reaction, creates the resistance that it encounters. Most of us have had experiences of struggling to make something happen and getting nowhere, only to stop fighting and suddenly achieve a breakthrough.

In terms of our sparring, his desire to force the action made him stiff because he was overthinking each move, which in turn telegraphed his intention. As long as he projected an attachment to a particular outcome, I could easily see what he was trying to do before he did it, a clear example of how the body responds to the conditions of the mind. Escrima is an art with a lot of deception. It takes fluidity and adaptability to hide one’s intentions.

Connecting his sense of power to the need to force an outcome exposed a rigid dynamic between thought and action. Changing his physical rhythm created a new mental pattern as well, allowing him to experience the process itself rather than the need to focus on a specific tactical goal.

Let me restate that. If force is required for a particular result, then flow is allowing the process to find its own path. This could be the path of least resistance, or it could be the path of greatest understanding, but either way it should give us what we need.

The effect on his sparring was immediate and dramatic, raising it to a level I’d never seen in him before. As soon as he began to flow, the old familiar gaps in his technique were gone. For the first time I felt him nullifying my attacks effortlessly.

I’ll finish with a brief story that illustrates a difference between force and flow. In 1189 King Richard I (Lionheart) met Saladin during the Third Crusade. To demonstrate the strength of his sword and sword arm, he hacked through a bar of iron. Saladin then demonstrated the keenness of his sword by dropping a piece of silk across the edge, slicing the fabric in half by its own weight. Both ways can achieve results, but one requires great effort and the other almost none.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sicko - a review

I saw "Sicko" last night and my old Kaiser line about "paying money to be uninsured" no longer seems funny or an abberation. As one who has been on both sides of the insured/uninsured issue, suddenly our country seems not just woefully unenlightened, but a so-called democracy in the grips of oligarchs. This goes beyond just a condemnation of our health care system, to an indictment of the care with which those entrusted with our governance have sold out our trust. After seeing this, I read about Massachussetts' experiment with mandatory health insurance, and the complexities of that so-called remedy seem woefully antiquated and unnecessary, just a further dip into the murky waters of profiteering at the expense of public health. For the first time in my life I truly have to question the premise that this country is "the greatest". Michael Moore may not be without the baggage of his agenda, and there may be some errors of omission in this work, but without a doubt he raises important debates, and this is one that should hit home in every household in America.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Another great blog from Alex!

I'm going to be lazy and once again refer readers to Alex Castro's blog. Alex is a sharp writer and has benefitted from training with various guros in his travels and relocations. These days he's putting out cutting edge information on Serrada (pun intended), while I've been concentrating lately on retooling my shop for making my blades and improving my skills in that endeavor.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Some quick notes

Darren Tibon's production company has a really nice presentation of the demonstrations of various martial arts from the 2007 Disney Qualifier in Anaheim, including, of course, excellent Serrada (especially lock-and-block by Chez Tibon and Gelmar Cabales).

I also highly recommend reading Alex Castro's current blog on "Assassination Tango" (he's also linked on my right-hand column). Great information on dance and martial arts!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Training with new training blades

It’s always special to see something come together that’s been a long time coming. Sometimes a small change makes a big difference, breaking up what is routine and opening new possibilities.

My inspiration comes from the late great Sonny Umpad. Last weekend was a gathering of the Visayan clan. I was already thinking of how to get copies of a magnificent 12" training blade Sonny made for me many years ago. It was so nice I never wanted to use it or risk losing it (which I did for about 2 years, another story). With the cost of manufacturing so high around here, I decided to make my own copy by hand.

The first one took me hours. I traced the original, scanned it into the computer, then resized it to fit a piece of paper and printed it out. I cut that out and taped it to a solid billet of plastic and then went through various stages of cutting, grinding, filing, sanding and polishing. When I was done, I had a really cool training knife!

The next day I decided to make another, which went faster. Now I was more confident in the techniques I needed to make these. I had one last odd shaped piece of material left, which I turned into two 19” krisses.

Here’s where the fun began, because now my students and I got to start playing with the new toys to see how well they hold up in use. The plastics I use are much tougher than almost any wood yet gentler against other sticks than metal. The way I finish these makes them look like wood. Sometimes I have a hard time convincing folks it isn’t what they think.

What surprised me was the sudden increase in accuracy my students showed with the krisses compared to regular sticks. While the techniques themselves required some adjustments to really align the blades, it was the basic strikes that caught my attention. Whereas I’ve critiqued students at times for holding back and not throwing strikes to the target, with the krisses their attacks were as close and precise as I could wish. There was something about the mass and shape of the weapon that focused their mind and body into the strike in a new way.

The krisses, at 19”, are heavier than most sticks but feel secure because of the grip. The triangular blade shape seems to draw attention towards the tip, which has a slight downward hook. One student called it a “hawk’s beak”, saying he felt as though it wanted to bite into the target. Whatever the reasons, drills and sparring this week hit a new high, and those are moments a teacher savors and will remember.

Of the two large blades, the first has a thinner handle because my material was oddly shaped, missing a rectangle I’d cut out years ago for the prototype of my commando blade. It lacks the mass of the lower guard in front of the knuckles at the bottom of the blade, which helps balance the tip, so I made the blade thinner and lighter (except for the tip, which I’m leaving blunt). I always say the weapon will tell you how it likes to move; this one has a light feeling, responding like an extension of the fingers with quick reversals. The balance is almost like an Indonesian kris.

The second kris feels bigger, with a slightly broader handle and blade and a straighter alignment. This is more similar to my heavy Moro kalis seka and is more suited to powerful slashes, with control coming from the wrist.

My smaller knives follow a similar pattern, with the first slimmer in the hand and the second one more robust but with more defined grind lines.

After 2 hours of heavy use yesterday, they don’t look quite as shiny and new, but that’s ok, these are supposed to be training weapons, not show pieces. I love having these in my stick bag, but I’m sure they won’t stay there much when it’s time to play!

I’ve already had several people ask if I’m going to sell these. The answer is probably yes. These are labor intensive, but if I make them by hand I can sell them retail for what machine shops would charge me just for cutting the basic form, which I still have to finish by hand. I won’t have large quantities in stock, and each one will be a little different, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I just need to keep honing my skills so I can refine various grips and blade balances towards specific goals.

Note: Last night, after writing this, I went to a party at grandmaster Mark Gerry’s house, a fantastic gathering of masters and grandmasters attending Wally Jay’s 90th birthday weekend events. The first, lighter kris really caught the attention of everyone who played with these.