Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Sometimes the universe has a funny way of validating things.

Last night as I was laying in bed ready to go to sleep, I began having visions of a carjacking, and thinking about ways of foiling it so that the perp was badly hurt, like deliberately crashing the car. I haven't had thoughts about carjackings in perhaps a dozen years.

This afternoon there were helicopters over my house for well over an hour, and when I called the sheriff's dept. about something else, they said they were a bit busy at the moment. It turns out some guy tried a carjacking at a gas station right around the corner from where I live. When the cops arrived ( and they hang out at the Starbucks across the street, which is probably why they were right on top of this) the guy refused to put down the two knives he was waving, so they shot him once.

He's expected to survive.

The point of yesterday's blog is that everything is interconnected, and on deep levels that we rarely acknowledge we have access to connection. Based on a few emails I got back this morning, it's hard for some people to acknowledge on any level, even though this is within the conceptual realm of quantum physics.

As martial artists, we strive for attributes to elevate our skills. Some are innate, like genetic predispositions such as height. Others can be manipulated, like physical conditioning. We can develop the physical senses, such as touch, but things like mental sensitivity develop on levels that are even less readily apparent. Psychics (the real ones) are no different from the rest of us, just more attuned to subtle vibrations. Think Yoda feeling a disturbance in The Force. Warriors have had mystical experiences since time immemorial.

When we listen, our vocal cords resonate with the words we hear; we essentially speak back the message we are hearing. Even deeper, there are mirror neurons in the brain that fire sympathetically with those of other people. As science pushes back the boundaries of knowledge, the mysteries deepen.

Angel Cabales used to say that a high escrima skill was like reading your opponent's mind. He may have been more accurate than we knew.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Yesterday I watched my dog watching a gopher push dirt from a hole.
This morning I watched my cat eat a rat he had killed.
This afternoon I had a vision …

As I was playing with my dog, I thought of her watching the gopher.
I thought of the gopher pushing out dirt, excavating tunnels and rooms.
I thought of why gophers need a lot of tunnels, and suddenly I envisioned a snake;
Not the whole snake, just the head poking through a hole underground.
Tough nose, nasal slits, hungry eyes, darting tongue; death.
I realized I had became the gopher in a moment of life or death,
Fighting against an overwhelming foe
If cornered
Or perhaps to save the young …

And then I became the snake, hungry yet patient, willing to wait to strike, willing the prey into fatigue and resignation, knowing the outcome in advance.

I became the gopher again, living through dying, surrendering into the belly of the snake and joining the life force there, just energy ever changing and permutating to take on aspects of new forms. Gopher becomes snake; snake is gopher.

Snake dies, snatched by an eagle to fly away to be eaten. Remains fall to the ground, some now digested, the eagle playing a part. The nutrients and essence enrich the soil, and now gopher/snake/eagle waves upright in the breeze as tall grass.

Cows come by, eat the grass; we humans eat the cows.

Each of these I saw in progression, time rushing forward like seconds on a clock. Each one felt real, not separate but the same, the energy rushing through each connected to all which preceded, back into infinity.

Every molecule, every atom, has a history that we do not know! There are vibrations imprinted that are part of what makes us who we are, and everything we see, feel and touch.

I always interpret, and martial arts is my metaphor, so this is how I want my martial art to be: crafty, like the gopher, who survives by creating back doors to escape; patiently relentless like the snake; swift and sure like the eagle; resilient like grass; strong and life-giving like the cow; sensitive as a human, seeking wisdom of awareness through the pinpoint of consciousness.

Imagine martial arts as not about fighting but as a way of being aware of life. Not awareness itself, which is deeper, but a way of knowing it is there. If we seek completeness in our art, it must exist in our mind. To exist in our mind, we must feel it in our spirit. To feel it in our spirit, we must be aware. To be aware is to understand there are those truths beyond our limits and trust our intuition.

Flow is not flow when we think about flowing, though it can point the way. It is flow when we have access to all, when we become aware of being more than who we are when we think of who we are. It is more because it uses things that exist where our minds do not go, except by letting go.

Anything can have flow; nothing can “have” flow.
It comes but it cannot be taken.
Flow is what takes you with it, not what you contain.
You ride it by letting it show you what it wants to reveal; if you try to force it, it will show you only what you already know.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Swap meet/Seminar cancelled

Just a quick note that this upcoming weekend's last minute seminar and swap meet has been cancelled because too few people pre-registered to cover basic costs. Too bad, folks. WE are the FMA community, and we lose when this happens.

I would like to point out that there was no shortage of instructors willing and ready to teach. That leads me to wonder: where are their students?!!

The value of something like this is a chance to grow by learning what OTHERS are doing in the art. As GM Angel Cabales used to say about Serrada, it isn't designed for fighting other Serrada folk (which would be silly, as it is such a relatively small group) but to face other fighters from other systems, and that takes experience.

Those teaching should be encouraging their students to participate, learn and grow. If not, is it to protect their own "rice bowl" or to protect their ego from fear students will like something else better?

On the other hand, times are tough. Bridge tolls went up 33% in January. Gas rose $.45/gallon this past month. Within minutes of four gasoline refineries, I'm seeing the highest gas prices in the country. This winter's fuel bill was double that of last year. I don't care what the government says about inflation being low, I know discretionary incomes are evaporating; I hear the lament from students who quit because they no longer can afford training at the 1985 prices I charge.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Meeting Mushtaq Ali

The martial arts world can be a curious place. In its most elemental state it is about the quest for personal power. One can say that about politics or business, for that matter, but martial arts distill this down at the primal level, dealing with physical ownership of one’s personal space on physical and emotional levels.

Whatever the reasons people come to train, the arts act as a filter that reveal our personalities. Some come to validate themselves by testing their courage. Many earn recognition through hard work and dedication, which might be rewarded by titles or rank, though some aggrandize themselves with the illusion of such achievement.

At its best, martial arts strip away pretense. We learn success through failure, enduring challenges of pain and frustration to refine ennobling characteristics of perseverance and fortitude. There is a saying that “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down,” referring to the process by which the ego is put in place by the reality of experience. So it is that those who rise authentically to positions of leadership are often very genuine in their dealings, demonstrating humility that reflects accumulated wisdom of direct experience.

This weekend I finally got to meet Mushtaq Ali, the “Traceless Warrior,” who embodies those qualities I admire most in anyone, not just martial artists. It is said of angels that “they can fly because they take themselves lightly,” and so it was refreshingly delightful to experience the unpretentiousness with which he shares his broad skills and knowledge. I’ve always been picky about those with whom I train, and so though I’ve known Mushtaq for a few years online and by reputation, it was more than a little gratifying to feel my expectations were not misplaced.

The orientation of this seminar was interesting as it was not geared towards those already immersed in S.E. Asian martial arts. The majority of participants are involved in Scott Sonnen’s Circular Strength Training (CST), as is Mushtaq, and this seminar was sponsored by D. Cody Fielding, a certified trainer in this system. This brought an interesting dynamic to the weekend.

First, the participants overall had a very deep sense of kinesthetic awareness in body movement. Mushtaq joked a couple of times about the California mentality, but in truth this was an unusual group even for here, which included body workers and energy healers. At times it felt more like a gathering of somatic psychologists in the ways in which the participants were able to tap into and articulate subtleties of their class experience.

Second, because of the nature of this group, Mushtaq proposed to do an experiment, which was to teach a complete martial system in one day. Now before some of you get huffy or indignant, let me point out that a martial system is not the same thing as a complete and detailed art. By focusing on fundamental principles, the goal was to impart a framework that can be filled out through later experience.

The first day did not even touch on martial arts, but was oriented to ways in which we learn, and how the body and mind interact. Skill is based on sensitivity to a changing environment, and so the first session was devoted to visualization and movement exercises designed to promote integration of left/right coordination in order to accelerate the physical learning curve. Most people are unconscious of their own movement, creating habituated and often limiting gaps in both mental and physical responsiveness. Deepening self-awareness increases one’s potential by accessing those hitherto neglected resources. This is a key to Mushtaq’s concept of “splitting time,” which is a significant aspect to controlling centerline as well as the larger kinosphere (the space around us which we can fill with our movement).

Day Two was devoted to principles of movement in martial arts. Keys around which drills were practiced included the three dimensions of physical movement, nodes of rotation and integrated body movement. Weapon orientation was addressed in terms of point up, forward or down, and outward, center and inward. Exercises were done first with sticks, progressing later to blades. It was fun to watch the progression in skills of participants over such a short period of time.

Many martial art systems overcomplicate these natural tools with formalities that feel counter-intuitive until thoroughly mastered, a process which can be artificially elongated. Yes, there is the necessity of time to develop physical conditioning and responsive techniques, but if one can build on natural movement, the whole process becomes easier.

I’ve long been a believer that self-defense skills are innate. We all know how to shoo a fly away, or wipe a cobweb from our face, building blocks for more powerful applications. I’ve taught core movements in as little as a single session, even taking raw beginners to a high level of sensitivity to empty hand flow in an hour or so, but in general I teach Serrada inductively, using the specific techniques to derive the general principles.

My Tai Chi teacher, the late John K. Wong, was a master at going straight to the underlying principles as a way to create and develop technique. He showed us how to improvise on the fly through sensitivity according to basic precepts, and Mushtaq is the first person I’ve seen in many years to use this methodology.

This seminar was a bold yet crafty way to maximize the limited time available in a weekend workshop. Too often people are taught a bunch of fancy techniques which are quickly forgotten. By presenting simple and easily remembered techniques within a logically memorable framework, Mushtaq gave participants enough clues for years of development. Though this does not negate the value of further guidance and instruction, it was a gift of great value. There are far too many in the martial arts who can parrot movement mindlessly, without that sense of “aliveness” that is so apparent in truly competent practitioners. As one instructor watching another, I truly admire Mushtaq Ali for the skills to impart such a lesson.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Traceless Warrior Visits the Bay Area

This coming weekend the San Francisco Bay Area is fortunate to have a rare visit from Silat master teacher Mushtaq Ali. Some of you may be familiar with his Traceless Warrior Blog which is listed on the right side of this page. Others may know of him through comments in various forums by folks like Steve Van Harn, a top tournament competitor from the Midwest. The point is this - if you know of Mushtaq, you will probably be excited at this opportunity to absorb his teaching, and if you don't know about him already, then it's time to see what the buzz is about. I myself have never met him, but we've corresponded about technique and philosophy over the years and he's been high on my list of people in the martial arts I'd like to meet. I'll be there, and if any readers make the seminar, I hope you say hello. Be sure to check the FMA calendar for details!