Monday, August 17, 2015


Some months ago, we were training a KJKB technique at a seminar. I think it's the one against baton for brown. If this was jujutsu, it'd be a rather classical technique, locking the attacking arm and performing Nage waza. It is not. Done our way, the trick is finding the moment the attacker has the most forward momentum but the least adherence and then strike his head backwards. He flips.

I find it extremely difficult, done that way. And you need to practice it with a certain intent, or there's not enough forward momentum to work with. Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks that way. At the seminar, a regional instructor suggested me to, basically, perform Ippon seoi. No, I told him. I already know how to do that. I'm here for learning (then, obviously, I tried Ippon seoi... and failed).

But it got me thinking... And it's mixing up with Rory's ideas against joint locks and with old school paradigms. Very old school.

Old schools say there's a 'front' of you attacker and a 'back' (omote and ura). Front is the short distance between your attacker's arms, back is the long one along his shoulderblades. That includes things we would call sides and such, yes.

Rory sort of advocates that it's more effective to get to his back and attack from there, but also that it goes against the grain, that our monkey wants to go up front.

Then, there are martial arts that are pretty good defending against frontal attack. Boxing and fencing, for instance, or Wing Chun; or Ittô ryû, in classical Japanese fencing. They control the centre, good luck using it. However, their very effectiveness come from having a very narrow 'front' that no one in his right mind wants to face. It's much more intuitive to try something else against them, say along the sides, than it is against, for example, a Tae Kwon Do competitor; or even a Muay Thai practitioner.

Competition Tae Kwon Do has much wider front. Even Muay Thai's is wider than Western boxing's. This also means that it takes a longer trip to get 'in their back'; it's a tradeoff (not that I'd like to go "straight up the middle" against a Muay guy).

Too long for background, I'm afraid. My point is that, besides the obvious differences, their classical principles, the difference in that earlier technique between the jujutsu approach and the KJKB one is in the front/back exploitation of vulnerabilities. The attack usually seen in demos, the lunge with a bat of the angry hooligan, has a rather large front, mostly open. It's rather 'easy' to get in there and act. The technique from KJKB opens the barrier between front and back, slides there into the back and uses it for the takedown.

Both are looking for a hole. The standard judo move exploits a circle in Omote it widens as it proceeds. The technique in Kajukenbo "erases" one of the limits between Omote and Ura and, doing so, leaks the bigger "Ura" hole into Omote. The wide hoolingan arch does the same itself. Advanced Wing Chun travels slightly into Ura while tightening the opponent's hole. Kajukenbo does something equivalent, although not exactly the same. Aikido travels wider into Ura for most Irimi (technique is a weird mix, from where I stand; while Tori is clearly rooted in Ura, the force travels straight from Omote). A slap into Uke's nape is as Ura as you can get.

But all of these are looking for holes. Wing Chun and Ittô ryû know perfectly well that you need a hole, and are masters creating it right into Uke's guard. The rest of us look for easier ways. The more artistic variants of Aikido illustrate the holes from where to create joint locks. Still, all of those are holes.With practice, you can create holes in tighter situations, and use smaller ones. But you need a hole.

Now, get this idea ad watch most martial artists discard it.

Take care.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The martial tax

Wing Chun 12" circle, cane. 25$, plus shipping.

Embroidery 12" circle, wood. 7€, shipping included.

I have seen similar discrepancies in other sports, but they're usually Spain-specific. You need, for example, quite a budget to sail in Spain. It's a luxury sport, "and so it should be, damnit!" Or kendo, where a local shop asked routinely for about twice what it asked practitioners. Not even long-term practitioners. And twice the price of a bogu or a sword is quite a price indeed.

It's silly, and it conditions us. It sets us apart and it kills our critical mindset.

And our traditions. It's as if karate needed special oars for its eku techniques. Or specific stones for its chi-ishi. Or special footwear, or...

It makes used, basically, to be scammed, to turn our training into a social construct instead of turning to the easiest, most effective method. And most effective is not that with the best result, but that with the best investment-result ratio.

If we fail seeing that in such basic, easy things, how are we supposed to realize that warmup is punishing our bones, that one contracting our spine and that other group is turning into a cult? Because there's not so much difference between 'this rattan circle is more authentic and using that is not Wing Chun' and 'our master's own tools are special and the rest are not properly done'.

From tools to mindset. Shouldn't it be the other way?

Take care.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mistranslations... still there

We've known for a while, those who wanted to hear, that a lot of problems with "traditional" Western understanding of martial arts (very specially karate, but also kendo, Chinese systems...) was a matter of translation, of trying to explain very intimate sensations to people with a different language paradigm. As long as this has been known, it's annoying that it's still there.

For example, Jesse Enkamp's article on the Pinan kata. Or the translation of the 20 precepts of Shotokan. Check both versions.

We've had people fluent in Chinese in most of the West for decades. And yet, no "traditional" karateka thought of digging into that source? Respect to tradition, my ass! Then we have the Nijû kun... My fight with that meaning of sente's been boiling for a while. As a recap, there are two mistakes: one, that sente is no "first strike" but more similar to initiative; the other that if you never have the initiative in an assault, you die. No ifs, no buts. And the way it's become almost a religious mantra (you'll find woodcarvings of that precept far more often than any of the others) is disgusting and dangerous.

But it's not the only one. "Do not think you have to win. Think that you do not have to lose." Bullshit. Wiki translates the second part as "Think, rather, of not losing", which is completely different. The difference between "I will NOT lose!" [ie, I'll reach home safe and sound] and "No one's asking me to lose, after all".

The list of precepts is not wrong. The translations are. The interpretations are a damn disgrace. The blind obedience to that all is sickening.

We have people labelling themselves as "warriors", "fighters", and yet they get all huffy when you point to them that, well, they're demostrably wrong and, even more, wrong in such a way that it cripples them.

We should do skeet shooting with photographs of several scores of MA pioneers.

Take care.

Good ol' trusty monkey dance... and cults

Saw a couple of MDs [*] some days ago; nice examples, each on their own. Once of them was, basically, an extremely tired parent who was physically hurt by his also tired child and burst. Reigned it very fast, but there was certainly a point of "status" fight in the answer. And that person loves the kid dearly, but being tired robs us of empathy... and lots other things. The more tired you are, the less person; do you take that into account when training for night troubles?

The other was on a website. An industry with a lot of freelancing got shown the main points of a 10-year contract. It escalated quickly. And, besides the escalation itself, it was interesting to watch the behaviour of both sides. In Spain, right wing is usually more boisterous, way more, when "defending" from "attack", while the left tends to go "whatever" and go its own way. That "whatever" IS still an MD: you're dismissing your opponent. For some reason, it looks like the opposite is true in the States. The "left" is more boisterous and the (classic) right [+] tends to retreat back to its own values and stay there.

While reading it, however, something else came out. The Bitch Patrol. Suddenly, it appeared like any discussion about the contract was insulting the freelancer, who'd been dissing the discussion... on twitter. Words stopped having their standard meaning and had context-specific meanings. Points were selected and dissected without logical standards... Appeals to authority, ad hominem attacks... You name it.

But, no. Oh, no! they were not doing it. Perish the thought.

Thing is, the way the original freelancer is behaving is right out of Marc's standards above. I personally think he's falling into a trap of his own unwilling creation, a blowback, surrounding himself by way too many yes-sayers. Still... The example remains.

Take care.

[*] monkey dance, not medicine doctor

[+] I do differentiate between "classic" right (religious, conservative) and "right" (zealots, neo-cons, and such), the same way I differentiate between left (soup kitchen volunteers, grass-roots unions...) and "left" (tenured union "workers" and their mafias, and the equivalent at "social issues" university departments... or parties).

Teenage-level socialization monkeys

I think I've written before about my friends with kid. Watching him grow, I've sort of realized (some more) how basic some... social interactions are. Tantrums, negotiation... Then, something else happened.

You see, that couple was in contact with a team of nurses (registered nurses; early training in Spain and specialization in the UK) to supplement some treatment they were not comfortable with the level the government provided. New tests indicated a glitch in normality (not, according to the MDs, a problem; just something unusual that, not so long ago, wouldn't have been noticed). The whole team of RNs freaked out, lashed away to distance from their customers and cut all ties after a cursory internet search (in two hours they did all that, plus a meeting and dinner). One of the parents is a teacher; if one of her pupils did that kind of research for a high school job, he'd spend the whole semester making up for it.

But they were adult pros. The don't fall into such elementary mistakes, do they?

The other was at a training group. The instructor couldn't come for a couple of days. So the 3rd senpai decided to push for a roll call in social media. No queries, no questions. Roll call, military style. Not even asking if any of his senpai was coming or if it was the right way to do things. I knew he was rigid, this way is the True Way [TM], but I didn't know he rolled this way. Live and learn.

Neither event is any more complex than a kindergarten brawl. Adults or no, professionals or no. But it does look that "adulthood" sort of blinds people to the fact that they can fall in this kind of behaviour, too. Which reinforces Rory's assertions about how often (very little) the human rational part is in charge.

Now, imagine all that under violence.

Take care.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


External martial arts (because I don't know squat about internal) are all about geometry. No matter if it's karate (Goju-ryû, or Kyokushinkai), or savate, or... Deflection is geometry, footwork is geometry, even punching.

Which is why a lot of discussions on martial arts are plain dumb. Part of it is in the explanation. Martial arts are full of sentences that make no sense. "Do that without any strength, at all" At all? How can I stand upright, then? Yes, yes, obvious... until the example is not quite as clear. "Do X in a straight line" But... er... it's an arch.

And then it starts. And you get people who don't SEE anything beyond the name. People who don't see arches or circles, who watch you warily when you mention those, as if you were trying to mislead them.

Now, granted, some geometries are very small, subtle, difficult to perceive. Others are pretty large. And they could be taught. but teaching geometry goes against the grain of martial artists. Unless they go to structured extremes, where shapes are just this wide and just that size. Which is not, can't be, real: shapes will ultimately depend on the situation, opponent, your own body type and your mechanics. But the commonalities will be there. You'll have an arch, or a triangle. And the arch will be wider or shorter, the triangle will be squat or longish. But the mechanics of an arch don't deliver properly is you use a triangle instead. And counterwise.

And teaching that way would be more universal, less prone to sects and cliques, and...

Which is another reason it's not done, of course.

Take care.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Martial arts are social

They've been for several decades, with some very specific exceptions. This means that they're subject to the same constrains and bumps as other social interactions. Three examples:

The current economical crisis has led several in our group to work in foreign lands. So far, they're going home, but I think that's mostly anecdotic. And you'd have to add a couple of local changes of location that, nonetheless, put people well outside the practical distance to attend training regularly. While it's been sad, the first one to go is now second "in command" of a pretty established dojo. Another is looking for a training gym to start a group. One of the more local ones is also on that path... And so a system grows.

And yesterday, at the end of semester dinner, we were looking at the way quite a bunch of people had left our organization. Specially the last bunch, but in general; those last 40 years. And there were two constants: full time instructors and shelving the past. People who'll not acknowledge who they learned the style with, and will later try to obscure the issue. It's almost as if they were scared people would point at them because of it and, by denying, they manage to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And, related to that last, cliquism. Being sure of your own training is good. Disregarding anything else, even nuances... I mentioned it last year in a post that's gone dark, people dissing an instructor and his kali when he'd been invited by the guy doing the seminar AND was better at both styles than those making the fuss. The head instructor wanted them to learn that, but they decided they were above those games. This extends from small things (this way of punching vs. that one, both within the same style) and to bigger ones (the resistance of some people to getting acquainted with Keysi, the local --not as hormonal-- branch, is almost funny).

But learning is social. Teaching is also social. How do you deal with martial arts long term unless you deal with the social part?

Take care.