Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Dog tricks

Just yesterday at the beach an adolescent male ridgeback stole my dog's ball and wouldn't let it go. He kept running farther away while chewing on it vigorously. That kind of ruins my game with my dog,to say nothing of how fast some animals can ruin a good ball. Then too dogs sometimes get into a scrap over something like stealing a toy. I figured these two dogs combined weighed about 130 lbs. and my bitch was shadowing him pretty closely, so forestalling any escalation seemed a good idea.

When I finally got close enough to the ridgeback to be able to make a move, I yelled "DROP IT!" which worked, slightly to my surprise. Of course he went right for it again, which is why I wear stout boots for dog walks. I stepped on the ball and said "LEAVE IT!" and "OFF!" while crowding him off the spot.

Mind you this can be risky; I've stepped away from a dog or two if they seemed especially determined. I don't relish my toes as a chew toy. I'd never met this dog before, and particularly being young and rambunctious, I couldn't be not entirely sure he knew or would respond to common commands. By the same token I didn't think he'd be overly dominant yet.

I believe that a dominant tone of voice is really the key to grabbing control anyway. In most circumstances, when immediate attention is required, from either man or beast, a strongly projected"YO!" seems to be universally effective in establishing one's presence.

What reminded me of yesterday's experience was an email that arrived this morning with a similar theme (a nice synchronicity!) In it was a story about a man who was attacked by a dog. He retreated behind a car and shouted "SIT", which worked! Just about every dog knows that word, unless it's been taught in German or Spanish or Vietnamese, etc., but even then it's a word they might very well have heard and recognize.

The point is, use of a common command in a strong voice can be a valuable trick. Pitching a hand up high over a dog's head (or towards one further away) reinforces this with body language; as a dog's nose goes up, the other end tends to go down.

There are similar psychological tricks in fighting. For instance, grapplers learn to release holds when their training partner taps out. On the street, this could aid an escape. The better response, from the grappler's point of view, would be to stop increasing pressure or ease back a bit, but not to relinquish control unconsciously.

The idea is to control direction of attention. NLP is useful because it teaches modalities of consciousness. Applied Kinesiology or similar body therapies are good for learning pressure and release points. Lead the mind, the body follows. Lead the body, the mind pays attention.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Serrada and Wing Chun

Alex Castro has written an interesting post comparing Serrada and Wing Chun. He was one of a number of people who trained with me who also trained under Wing Chun grandmaster Chris Chan.

Nice to be able to reference writings of someone with whom I've worked in the past, especially one with such a solid and varied background ....

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Alex Castro's Serrada Blog

There's a new escrima blog by Alex Castro which I've linked in my sidebar. Alex trained with me for a couple of years when he started escrima. Since then he has lived mostly down in Texas, with some time spent briefly back here in California. Though he is writing from a Serrada perspective, Alex offers insights from a much broader perspective. He is a talented martial artist who was deeply involved in Shuai Jiao when I met him. He's often left thoughtful comments on my posts, so I'm happy to see him writing his own.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Wally Jay's 90th Birthday Dinner and Seminars

If you want to catch the action, make your dinner reservations for Friday June 15 now! This is the date of Wally Jay's 90th birthday banquet at the Hong Kong East Ocean Restaurant in Emeryville, one of the Bay Area's finest and most scenic Cantonese restaurants.

An event for Wally Jay attracts the very best the martial arts world has to offer, with exhibitions and seminars on Saturday and more. Here is a flier for the event.

PS - If anyone is interested in going in on a table, let me know ....

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Snap/Cut (slight update)

Normally I practice with a natural flow, keeping tight but exploring how things like footwork, body angle and alignment, weight distribution, etc. all are components that contribute to the outcome of any specific phase of an encounter. In other words, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

I decided this morning to break my movement down to the lowest common denominator, stripping techniques down to the absolute minimum. I used two tools in this exercise. First was a blade; specifically one made for me by Sonny Umpad. It was playing with this that got me into a creative space, feeling the balance, hearing the “swoosh” through the air.

The second tool was a mirror. Live time feedback, how we did it before video. Great for checking alignment, seeing what others would see. Just don’t fall in love with your own image …

Here’s the exercise: stand in front of the mirror; fine-tune your best alignment with that “opponent”. Do each movement of a technique extremely mechanistically, as tight and minimalist as possible. Don’t worry about speed; that always comes with familiarity. This is about precision, identifying start and stop points, how to get from one to the other as efficiently as possible.

Kung-fu practitioners talk about tendon strength as being more important than muscles. That's because their elasticity can generate a powerful pop in striking, but puts great stress on these connective tissues. Muscles grow and increase strength faster, making one look and feel strong, buta danger is if one part of the system overwhelms another. A possible sign of steroid use is when bulked up athletes constantly tweak tendons and joints, which have not yet caught up in development. It takes time to handle as much power as one can generate, so don't rush and risking injury.

Make each movement a “snap”; just go from touch at one point - SNAP – to touch at the next point. Don’t worry yet about trying to string it together, just feel each snap. The whole body should move together as one, every part doing what it should do, going where it needs to be. It’s a bit choppy at first, but it defines your tightest options within the technique.

Example: On a Serrada inside block there are essentially five moves: parry, counterstrike, hit under the arm, hit over the arm, lock (en garde) position. Each of these movements has an apex in time, where the energy of that move completes itself and begins turning into the next. This is the moment of impact where a blow discharges energy. Too many people think past that to the follow through, but that is relative, depending on many factors including the design of your technique.

I’ll postulate a theorum here: The least amount of movement necessary at the end of the chain has the most control. Everything preceding the strike – root, foundation, trunk, branches and stems – has done everything to maximize the potential at the end, so there is less final adjustment and therefore a finer degree of tuning. More like a bullet than a boomerang ;)

Back to the exercise …. So I’m practicing using the target in the mirror and I start picking up a distinct rhythm as I’m linking together the snaps in a technique (specifically an inside block for angle #1, a tip-up defense common to most systems). The first move snaps hard and rebounds to the next position, which cuts with a slower tempo. An inside block would start as a parry/counter in snap/cut timing. In Serrada our next moves would be to cut under and then over the arm, so that’s the next snap/cut pair. It’s important, especially on this one, not to skimp past the first impact point (snapping upward into the arm) just to get to the next. It isn’t a race, it’s about being effective, so each move gets dialed in.

Why is this important? Well, besides making each strike potent in its own right, it also allows us the versatility to respond more effectively to unexpected changes. Having a good base means having resources available. If your base is weak, you are fighting yourself as well as an opponent.

To continue the exercise, there are now two phases, to which we’ll add a third. The first phase is snapping to each move individually to dial it in. The second phase is snap/cut in pairs. The third phase is turning the in-between transition points into snap-cut combos. In our inside block, we would now look at the counterstrike/upward cut as the snap/cut, and then the downward chop and lock position as the next snap/cut.

Each sub-pattern within the larger framework becomes more focused, utilizing more sudden “shock power.” Now with a sense of continuity between each of these points, begin doing triplets. This would be parry/counter/upward cut, then the forward spin cut/abanico/turn-and-check (the last 3 – abanico, turn, check) are all components of returning to our lock (en garde) position.

Can we just snap each and every hit? Probably, but will it be targetted well enough to be effective or just a flurry of motion? Eventually our patterns become so ingrained they are natural and unconscious, and that kind of tight, focused speed comes from an inward sense of touch and balance; proprioceptive qualities.

A whole technique should be strong in all components. What you don’t see (or know or understand) CAN hurt you, which is why every detail in techniques is important. These are the elements that comprise the polishing process. If we want to have longevity in the arts, eliminating mindless errors minimizes careless injuries. The best techniques don't just strike an enemy, they protect us internally as well. Deepening our self-understanding elevates our process on multiple levels. We may never use everything we practice in a real situation, but the better our attributes, the more we improve our chances.

Kali Means To Scrape

Recently there were some online forum discussions on disarms. Some folks feel they are impractical, usually, I think, because people put too much emphasis on the technique by itself. I personally think they are good to know as finishing moves, but don’t ignore other things that take precedence (like striking or otherwise gaining control). My argument was two-fold, that 1) its better to know and not need than to need and not know, and 2) if we don’t practice the hard things, it’s certain we’ll never gain those skills.

Recently I had a chance to view Nick Papadakis’ video “Kali Means To Scrape.” One old grandmaster, manong Legaspi, had had his arm shattered (and permanently crippled) at the outset of a fight, yet still managed single-handedly to drive away multiple opponents after disarming one and taking his knife.

His story gives me new appreciation for Angel Cabales’ teachings that take control of an opponent's weapon rather than just discarding it, or worse, thinking it cannot be taken at all. Angel’s reasoning was so we could use it and nobody else could pick it up. Legaspi’s story exemplifies this possibility. After all, it saved his life!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Sonny Umpad DVD from Dog Brothers released

Yesterday a student gave me his copy of the new Dog Brothers DVD "The Grandfathers Speak: Maestro Sonny Umpad." I have to admit it was bittersweet watching this, appreciating the value of preserving his legacy, missing the man. The interview parts are sometimes difficult to understand because Sonny had a strong Visayan accent and was close to his untimely death from cancer at the time. On the other hand, the archival footage of Sonny in his prime is simply amazing, even if the old 8mm film stock was less than stellar. The breadth of his teaching can be seen in the footage of students working out with sticks, staffs, knives and swords; be sure to check the "Extras" for more of that.

Wednesday Evening Class Update

My Wednesday evening class is moving to a new location in Pleasant Hill, the Gracie Sports Center at 150 Longbrook Way #D, Pleasant Hill, Ca. 94523. Class time is 7:30-9:30pm starting next week; fees are $75/month.

This is exciting because for the first time in many years we will be working out in a well-equipped martial arts gym which includes mats, heavy bags and even a boxing ring. Cesar Gracie is a world class fighter and trainer to other top competitors, and I hope access to his facility will inspire those of us who use it toward greater levels of achievement as well.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Out In The Cold

On the last Tuesday of April I found out that the weekly class I’d been teaching Wednesday nights for the past two years was getting cancelled at the end of the month. In other words, the next day was my last class there. I’d had a feeling this was coming through a series of increasingly clear hints, but still, that was abrupt. Heck, even the husband of the site’s owner didn’t know this was coming, and he’s been taking my class.

It isn’t easy finding a new location. I jumped on the internet last week, spending a couple of days looking up schools and community centers, making calls and leaving messages. Out of perhaps a dozen places where I left messages (sometimes more than one) I got two return calls. One place is pretty far from where we’ve been training, an inconvenience for my steady students though possibly better for one or two occasional ones. The other guy expressed a lukewarm interest and hasn’t returned any subsequent attempts to contact him.

Considering the high cost of renting a place here in the Bay Area, I’d think there’d be more interest in utilizing down time for facilities. Then again, prime times are limited. A few places I reached were happy to let me use Saturday afternoons, but how many people are willing to commit the heart of their weekend to taking classes? The failure of so many quality seminars gives me that answer. As for bigger community centers, I don’t know why they don’t answer messages, unless it’s the “We already have Tai Chi” mentality that I’ve encountered a few times at those places.

It’s difficult enough to sustain a class even with a stable environment. I figured at least we’re heading into nice spring weather following a dry winter, but lo and behold, this first Wednesday of May is supposed to rain. Some people would perhaps shrug this off as minor adversity, but I’m just not excited about holding class outdoors when it’s cold, wet and dark. Until this gets resolved, I guess I’ll be trying to get by just my private lessons and we’ll see who’s still around when a new group location becomes available.