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.


Friday, June 01, 2007

June updates

A reminder that tomorrow is the Mata Sa Bagyo potluck picnic in Pittsburg, Ca. This is open to the FMA community in general and the Serrada community in particular. I'm hoping people will attend what is becoming an annual gathering, which bring me to ....

... something I've discussed here before, which is the lack of support for so many events happening here in the NorCal FMA community. Last weekend there was a Balintawak seminar in Pleasanton, a town conveniently located between the East Bay, San Jose and central valley communities such as Stockton and Modesto. Once again there was an astonishing (to me) lack of turnout. There were about a dozen members of the Tabimina Balintawak club that sponsored the event, and there was me.

Sorry if I'm preaching from a soapbox here, but for years I bemoaned the lack of events such as this in our region, a chance to see top instructors from related arts sharing their knowledge with the rest of us. Over the past year or so there have been many opportunities to attend events like this, but participation has been so sparse that the promoters are now shying away from the effort involved to make these happen. Besides posting on my blog calendar, I also directly emailed nearly 50 people about this event, letting them know there was a steep discount if they mentioned my blog. Of those, exactly NONE showed up. For $50 they could have had 5 hours with grandmaster "Nene" Gaabucayan of Teovel Balinatawak Arnis; for $10, the cost of a movie, they could have watched.

This was an excellent seminar with a top instructor. I often say an event like this is a success for me if I learn one thing new. By that definition, last Saturday was more than just a success because I picked up a few good ideas. It's too bad nobody else has the time or desire to do the same.

For those who live in S.F. or on the peninsula, a reminder that there is a two day Richard Bustillo seminar this weekend. If anyone from here attends, let me know. I'd like to hear about it, and maybe it will relieve some of this sense of futility about such events.

Dog tricks pt. 2

I knew my dog was quick, but now I have proof.

Normally my dog trots, about my jogging speed, or lopes along at what is my running speed. About once a month she hits another gear. I'll look up and there she is at the park or beach, flying impressively ahead of a pack of dogs. Still, she prefers to stop and sniff; she'll stand for half an hour over a gopher hole if I let her. Sometimes she'll catch them, other times she's just fascinated to watch. One day I even saw the gopher touch her nose twice without consequence!

On Memorial Day we were near the end of a long walk when I stopped to talk to two ladies who were helping look for a lost dog. I turned a minute later to call my dog but she wasn't there. I called and called for perhaps 2-3 minutes when I spied her over 100 yards away. She was running and I saw what I thought was a small dog. "Oh good! She's playing." Then I realized she was chasing a jack rabbit, the first I'd ever seen at the Albany Bulb (a wild landfill being slowly strangled by the park bureaucracy).

I started running toward the action while calling my dog when suddenly the rabbit headed straight towards me. Perhaps it understood that by doing so, I'd have a chance to grab the dog. The rabbit actually changed directions a couple of times right in front of me but my attempts to snag the dog's collar were futile.

I could see with every cut the rabbit made that my dog was closing the gap, a few inches at a time. While she was perhaps 6-7 feet back when I first spotted them, as they made the last cut in front of me the distance was less than half that. At this point I took off running after them, understanding what the outcome was going to be.

About 50 yards into the weeds the rabbit tried one last cut and the dog cut it off and pounced, coming up with a limp rabbit in her mouth. I was about four running strides behind, yelling "DROP IT!" My dog started to run off and then thought better of it and did as told, turning towards me in submission. I grabbed the collar and snapped on the leash and led her a few feet away from her prey. I looked back and the rabbit was watching, panting hard from under a clump of dry weeds. I didn't see any blood on either animal so we quickly left, hoping the rabbit could recover without being found by another dog.

Meanwhile my gal was panting heavily with her tongue out, which I'd never seen her do before. She kept that up for 15 minutes and slept quite well when we got home. I guess I can't sing Elvis' "Hound Dog" any more, since she HAS caught a rabbit. I've never seen a solo dog run one down before, though I've seen two dogs team up to do it. I've certainly never before had a dog with this combination of speed, agility and endurance. I was quite impressed and she seems to have a new sense of her prowess as well, which means I've had to go Alpha on her once or twice to let her know she's still #2 in my house.

We went back the next day to make sure there was no sign of a dead rabbit; the field was clear. I guess jack made it home ok. The birds (mostly red-wing blackbirds) made a big racket while we were out there though. It was as though they recognized my dog as the "almost" killer and were putting out the word.

What was so impressive was the drive and determination to complete her task once she was in motion. As martial artists, we could learn a lot from that.