Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Most Miserable City In America?

California’s Central Valley city of Stockton recently earned the dubious distinction as #1 on Forbes magazine’s list of worst cities in America, based on demographic statistics like crime, the housing bust, unemployment, etc. Nearby Modesto was #5. Then again, this isn’t really news to people familiar with the area.

Back in the 1980’s when I was training with Angel Cabales in Stockton, I would sometimes bring training partners along to observe and participate in classes. Steve Van Manen, who later trained extensively with Sonny Umpad, was a frequent passenger on my early trips. As one who had worked on river boats and ridden the rails around the country, he had a keen eye for his environment, and I’ve never forgotten the first words he said on seeing Stockton: “This is a hard place to make a living.” The main source of economic activity in the area is agriculture, which means lots of intensive farm labor, along with the deep-sea port which ships produce around the country.

Now it isn’t like there is no upside to Stockton. There are many lovely tree-shaded parks, the University of the Pacific, and the north area is quite affluent, home to wealthy folk like Art Spanos, who owns the San Diego Chargers football team. On the other hand, the downtown area has long been depressed. The old Manilatown, the center of Filipino culture in the city, was largely demolished for renovation, turning what was once a vibrant neighborhood, albeit low income, into a largely soulless cluster of daytime office buildings.

On the other hand, Stockton remains a stronghold of FMA culture outside of the Philippines. There are probably more clubs in the area, relative to population, than anywhere else in the U.S.A., including the surrounding locales such as Lodi and Modesto, among them the Cabales Serrada Academy, Angel’s Disciples, Bahalana, Mata Sa Bagyo and other smaller, more private groups that train in back yards and parks.

Given the relatively low income of many residents and the high proportion of Filipinos and Hispanics, martial arts are deeply ingrained in local culture. Unlike many places where this is just another fitness option, in Stockton martial arts are central to many cultural activities and events, and participation is ingrained, passing from generation to generation within extended family lines. Further, with the inroads of gangs and drugs into poor working class neighborhoods, practice in martial arts isn’t just relegated to dojos or academies. It's about survival, with plenty of opportunity for those so inclined to accumulate “war stories” on the streets.

While the major martial art magazines may focus on what happens further south in the media center of Los Angeles, for those interested in some of the most realistic training outside of the Philippines, Stockton remains a cultural mecca. After all, the FMA evolved in tough environments, and so those early manongs who settled in this area for work were already acclimated to survival under duress. The art may have continued to migrate as the Filipino population spread out into major metropolitan areas, but out there in the hinterlands it remains close to its roots.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Tommy Gilbert, RIP

Feb. 10 - I just got back from an overflow capacity funeral for Pastor Tommy Gilbert. I've updated this post based on information provided during the services.

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A sobering part of growing older in the martial arts is seeing one's seniors pass away. The past six months have had a devastating toll on the Bay Area martial arts community, first with the passing of Hanshi Sid Campbell from cancer at age 65, then a month later the unexpected death of Master Luther Secrease from a heart attack at age 58. Last week marked the passage of another notable when Tommy Gilbert died of a massive heart attack at only age 55, just one year older than me.

As a colored belt years ago, I didn’t really get to know Tommy, but as one of the toughest fighters around, he was an old friend of my Kenpo instructor Sifu Al Thomas. A 6th Dan in Kajukenbo and former world champion point fighter, Tommy was founder of Best In The West, a school noted for turning out top fighters (eight world champions) who are just as tough on the street as in the ring; his son Damon Gilbert recently retired from the ring as a fourteen-time world champion, and is also an Oakland police officer. Damon, who is recovering from neck surgery, recounted how he successfully fought his retirement title defense only able to use one arm due to spinal injuries!

The final eulogy was delivered by grandmaster Ted Sotelo, who stated that Tommy was to have been his successor when he retires. Though I've yet to meet GM Sotelo, two of the best escrimadors I know, Ron Lew and Tom Meadows, consider him one of their mentors. In the world of martial arts, we are all connected ....


Tribute Service:
Monday, February 9, 2009
Time: 6:00-8:00 P.M.
2661 Alvarado Street #7
San Leandro, Ca.

Home Going Celebration
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Time: 10:00 A.M.
Where: Parks Chapel AME Church
476-34th Street
Oakland, Ca.

Peter Freedman on Training Slowly

This is from an email sent out by my friend Peter Freedman in response to a question from one of his students. Having taken a high performance driving course at the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School and done autocross racing, I think Peter is right on the mark with his analogy about driving, which is why this is posted here. - JF

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"Great hearing back from you again and thank you for your question. Well this is a really great question you asked here. It is also an extremely important question and I will try my best to shed some light on why most combative martial arts like Ketsugo Jujutsu and other systems train in slow speed.

First let's look at driving a car. Let's say you never drove a car before but you happen to watch and be a huge fan of Nascar. Now you want to learn how to drive and have high hopes and dreams of some day racing cars. So you sign up to a driving school to learn how to drive a car so you can first get your drivers license. When the time comes to actually drive the car, your mind is racing and you can't wait to go Fast & Furious.

Now when you enter the car you must first adjust your seat to the right distance. Put your seat-belt on. Adjust your mirrors. Start the car, and at this point in time your heart is starting to race and pump and speed up. You step on the brake pedal and put on your blinker. You shift the shifter into drive and you look over your shoulder and start to ease off the brake and out onto the empty road. You step off the brake and step slowly onto the gas peddle. Hand over hand, you turn the wheel as the car pulls out onto the road. Now when you are out on the road what do you do? Do you step down on the gas pedal and go as fast as the car can move or do you first get to know the car and feel the road underneath your tires?

You will need to learn to adjust your steering skills along with your braking and gas coordination skills. As you slowly get used to the car and the road you can gradually speed up the car. But at first your mind will be all over the place - watch out for other cars - watch out for people or kids - watch out for small animals. Your mind will be jumping around - brake - gas - steering, a little to the right, now a little to the left to get the car to straighten out. You are looking for red lights, yellow lights etc... Stop signs pop out at you. Now you must switch lanes - oh boy, how you going to do this, you ask yourself? But over time all these little things that you strain your brain to memorize to do become normal to the point where it is now automatic and now you can spend time on strategy of driving and less time worrying about every thing about how the car works or operates.

Did you know when you go to a school for car or motorcycle racing that they first sit you down and it will be mostly class room time and lecture before you ever get a chance to drive out onto the track or sit in one the cars? When you are ready to drive out onto the track, they will have you first walk it on foot so they can talk and explain to you where it would be the best time to start downshifting and clutching into the turn and when and where to step on the gas coming out of the turn.

They would walk you around to certain points on the track to show you where you would have the best chance of passing another car and where would be the worst places to pass another car. Once this is over they would have you go back into the class room and discuss what you just saw and felt. By now because you went (SLOW)and first WALKED around the track, you got a chance to see every bump and dip on that track.

They want to see what is going on in your brain and how you think long before you are allowed to get behind a wheel to actually drive a race car, and never mind about racing, you won't be ready for a while to race a car.

Just like wanting to learn advance techniques before you are able to actually do them, or get your black belt before you really deserve one but because your friends from another school got their bb in two months and you feel you deserve one as well, my question here for your friends is this: Can your friends drive?

The next step is they put you into a car and they have you drive around the track in slow motion, talking to you all the while you are driving. They give you commands and a set of instructions: when to down shift and when you should brake and when to step on the gas, when to speed up and when not to speed up.

In the martial arts this would be known as the martial science.

You go around this track hundreds of times slowly until you can learn their safety methods and proper racing techniques so you won't become a danger to yourself and other drivers(follow the rules of racing). These rules in Jujutsu would be considered the concepts and principles of why things work and when they would work.

Now once this accomplished they bring other cars out onto track with you and your instructor communicates to these other cars by way of two way radio. They set up fake scenarios like you are actually racing but only done in very slow motion. They talk you through each maneuver you do until it becomes ingrained into your being and you can actually see and understand what they mean. Once they feel this has occurred you are allowed to have a mock (fake) race and they practice giving you instructions through a radio in your helmet while you are racing to see how you follow their directions under stress and how well you listen to them.

Jujutsu is a lot like racing a car. First we must understand that we are dealing with the human anatomy here and we don't want to (Crash & Burn!) hurt our training partners or ourselves. Always safety first should be in the forefront of your mind's eye.

Most of the techniques we taught to you and we share with you are extremely dangerous and are designed for crippling and killing. With this being said each student must first learn to go very slowly (to walk the race track) and learn all the proper methods and techniques first, so that your brain and body can learn to move in the proper way.

Most of the techniques we practice here in our jujutsu school, you just can't do fast with out first learning the proper technique of how each technique really works first. As you start to feel comfortable with the flow of the series of movements and timing and angles etc then you can speed it up a little bit providing your workout partner knows how to go along with the types of techniques you are applying to him/her, and this is for safety reasons.

Just by going slow can really help you to be able to see more options (creative techniques) or (openings - holes - gaps & weakness) in your opponent's defense, so that in future events if you should happen to get into a real bad situation with another person who has the same kind or set of special skills that you now possess, you will have a better chance to counter their attacks and go around their defense and win (stay alive).

When you first learn jujutsu you are learning things that go against the joints which if you go to fast can really over extend that joint or even worse break that joint and really hurt your workout partner.

There are three speeds we teach to all students here:

Slow speed for learning;

Medium speed for practice;

Fast speed for fighting.

If you train fast all the time you are actually slowing down your ability to learn fast and that is counterproductive. Also by going fast you are promoting fear in yourself and in your training partners. By going fast you lose the ability of understanding what you are doing. By rushing through your techniques you can't see the cool counter techniques that you can see when going slow. By going fast you concentrate too much on the end of the technique and miss the important things, like the beginning and the middle of what you are practicing.

Health wise, training fast is not to good for longevity. It raises your blood pressure and it hurts your joints. Also it taxes your nervous system. Yes, you will be fast but over long periods of time with age creeping up on you, joints will start to wear out, your nerves will cause you to shake. Your Ki or Chi or Prana will go in different directions. From a healing point of view, which seems to be the path way I am now on, I have learned to go very slow and take your time and this will produce better and safer results. Going slow teaches us which way to go under pressure. By training fast we lose our sensitivity.

I love what Bruce Lee, the founder of Jeet Kune Do, said in his movie Enter The Dragon back in the 1973: "It's like a finger pointing to the moon," then he goes on to slap the young man to whom he was giving the private lesson who was staring at his finger, saying "Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory!"

That pretty much says it all right there, but I feel it actually went right over everyones' head. You see everyone seems to concentrate on the finger (speed - lots of techniques) and they are missing the rest of the big picture, - All That Heavenly Glory. A real shame.

The Tai Chi people have it right. They know the importance of slow training. So do the special operation groups in the military or law enforcement. They train really slow. When I first got an opportunity to watch them train one of the instructors came over to me and said "We train very slowly here so that we may learn more." I smiled and nodded in agreement with him and after I was finished training them they liked my methods of hand to hand. Not one person got injured and every one learned really effective techniques and had fun learning with my crew that I brought with me to help teach.

Well I hope this helps out ..."