Saturday, January 31, 2015

Cutting the circle

I've been thinking around our blocks, about ways to train them basically. Think kung-fu film routines. Or Karate Kid, either Hawai'i or Beijing. Then I recalled a couple of our syllabus techniques against a baton strike, the one for our fifth coloured belt.

I think, and take that with a salt mine, that the difference between the circles in Kajukenbo and those in Aikido is that Aikido follows the circle and the wave to their conclusion, even when it shortens it, when it compacts the radius for a quicker end. Kajukenbo interrupts the circle. A circle it has created itself. The mindset for this is, in a way, as anti-ju (or anti-aiki) as you might imagine.

And yet... Imagine a throw in that most known of ju styles, Kodokan judo. Say, the very basic O-soto gari. You are creating a circle... and trusting the ground to end it. It does that, mind you. And the ways some schools use it is the difference between "do" (I want to keep playing with my partner on my way to satori) and "jutsu" (I want to break the son of a bitch so that I'm alive to reach satori).

Kajukenbo, in a way, shortcuts that. It sets artificial "floors" so that your opponent finds itself bouncing from a force into another, getting hit twice as hard with a minimum extra of force. He is not allowed to "shed". Of course, like a good judo entrance, you cannot click the damn thing, it has to be fluid. And there lies the problem. Striking fluidly seems to be harder that throwing, which already is hard enough.

So, Kajukenbo, the bouncing art?

Take care.

It's lonely

I started MA in the mid 80s, in a weird gym with delusions of church premise. They kicked kids out when they reached their teens, but I'm not aware that anyone I met there practices any longer. Including the gym itself.

Then I went into a small gym, that hopped places a couple of times, in two... "seasons". Of the guys I met my first time there, kids, only two were still there when I went back. They left, junior black belts, and didn't come back. Pity, they had potential. Those who were at the smaller of the places we hopped into, some remain. They were already black when I met them. None of the others. My instructor apparently left teaching. One of the guys I respected has set up a weird association with, in those cases I can judge, suboptimal instructors. And gained over twice the dan he used to have.

Of those who left, one introduced me to Kajukenbo. He also did TKD. Left, at least, Ju Jutsu and Kaju sometime later. He'd wanted to be an MA teacher. Of the group I met in Kajukenbo those days, 10 years later only two instructors remained (Ángel Garcia and Jesús Juní). And myself, after those 10 years off. Of those instructors Ángel mentored, most have left MA, many have left his teachings.

The shop I bought my gis during my teenage years closed a year and a half ago. It had a name, a history, quality (although the old gis are way better), and yet it closed, its business down because of "The Crisis" [TM].

As I started Kajukenbo about seven years ago, I had a small bunch of higher belts. One remains (a tad off, since he just had twins), one is now my equal. The rest are gone. Of those "behind" me, many have left. And, since we are an unknown school, we have better retention than most. Still...

All that above? If you do MA for social reasons, be prepared for this or take another path. MA are lonely. People leave for a thousand reasons. They get tired of being hit, their jobs no longer allow for it (timetables, trips...), they grow a family that doesn't permit them the time, they get injured... And, years later, you find yourself talking about lost mates with people who managed to meet them briefly. Yes, at the higher belts, attrition is not as high, but when it's felt, it hits harder. All this assuming your mindset, your training routine, matches with your group.

Don't despair, that's not my thrust, but be ready. Take care.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Re-set the classics

There's a nice interview out there to Iain Abernethy, a great karate practitioner. He's a great worker of kata, and I don't mean a performer. And his works on the interpretation and on bunkai are important.

And yet...

I still think we're doing it wrong. Yes, that includes Iain and me. And, yes, he's much better.

In the second part of the interview, his interviewer, Jesse Enkamp, says:

And unless people are on this same level of understanding about Karate, it’s hard to even discuss kata! Here’s another dilemma: In ye olde days, people learned “bunkai” first, and then proceeded to practice the solo pattern (kata) by themselves, just as a memory aid. Today, it’s the complete opposite: We learn the kata first, and then grope in the dark for an understanding of the moves (bunkai). How can we reverse this process? Should we even?

Iain's answer is, by the way, "sort of". Read it.

I'm going to go further.

If we don't understand the kata, and if our styles have been severely influenced by the upheavals of the XXth century, and if technique (or bunkai, if you prefer) came before kata, should we still practice these same kata? Should we, instead, create new ones?

Ah... I just felt a great disturbance in the Chi, as if millions of couch shihans suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

How dare I!?

Well, I dare because kata are a language. And if we've lost the meaning, the ways to properly interpret it, we have about the same problem Jews had when they tried to resurrect Hebrew, but worse. As far as I understand it, they did have some people who still spoke the old version; we may not. We do have excellent teachers, but the chain of transmission for, say, Naihanchi is lost.

Now, these kata were not created by some sort of angel. Satori, in those cases were it is claimed, is not something out of this world. These kata were created by people who knew their style well, who needed a way to remember, and practice, moves. Who were, often, good enough teachers to have passed the information down to a next generation [*].

So... These days we have great practitioners, great instructors, people with good medical knowledge (at least by XVIth-XIXth century standards)... People like Abernethy himself, like the new batch of Western practitioners, like some Eastern ones. People who've "cross trained" in other styles, been influenced by them... like the masters of old. If karate was influenced by the Chinese (duh!), maybe even Siam / Thailand... why can't it be influenced, these days, by the constellation of styles? Back then, "influence" meant a stranded traveller, a lesson in secret, spying... These days, a trip to a seminar.

Where is the Sanchin, or the Naihanchi, that includes lessons from Muay Thai, from BJJ, from Western boxing, from Judo? Back again from White Crane? From Xing Yi? Silat? Were is the kata that condenses a whole modern system? If Naihanchi was the "book" for a whole style, why can't we create our books? Why do we need so and so many kata for black belt? Were is OUR kata? Have we become soldered onto kata we just realized we no longer understand? Why weren't they changed in the last... 50+ years or so? Tournament standards? Fear of insulting tradition? The old masters created and modified kata, but we're afraid of it? Or maybe too proud to recognize we need to change those kata if we have to use them, to profit from them?

Take care.

[*] Not enough of it, or we wouldn't have this problem. So, either they didn't think it was important enough or they weren't good enough teachers. Or maybe one led to the other. Man, isn't that another can of worms...!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Oh, damn it...!

I'm about to get into trouble.

Considering my opinions, and (other people's) expert opinion, I should avoid trouble. That's what it's there for. That's what that sinking feeling is there to tell me. "Run away", it says.

So, then, should I leave MA?

You see, my problem is with the classics.

I've said it scores of times. My mind is "classical". I deal better with kata, and structured teaching, than I do with that half-on, often-off "method" and structure in our usual class. Because I'm apparently an idiot, I'm looking for some extra information outside my standard school. As good as I believe it is, it certainly doesn't have every answer since the invention of the wheel. Because I am who I am, I was looking for "classic" themed information. The basic karate strikes, for example. Naihanchi kata. I was ready to find some quirky bunkai. Some exercises that wouldn't fit my mindset, or whose medical consequences were not thought thoroughly enough according to today's medical expertise.

Oh, Hell. Twice over.

What I'm finding are scripted bunkai that make no sense at all. Yes, sure, that's a known fact. Many bunkai don't make any sense. But I thought those were the Western ramblings of people who hand't learned enough about their own style. Or others. What I certainly didn't expect is certain amounts of crap delivered in a DVD by one of the last living pupils of the wave of Japanese karate pioneers early last century.

And it hasn't been the only one. I've been seeing clips for styles and meetings and schools and associations all over Okinawa and Japan. Considering how extended some of those associations are worldwide, some of them should be under trial for lèse humanité. What they're doing is not healthy. It's an insult to that "Do" suffix they insist on attaching at the end of "Karate", if "only" physically [*].

I think it was at Karate by Jesse --a site I only recently discovered-- that I recently saw an article where a Chinese master complained of how karate had lost its understanding of movements, even in Okinawa, while the culture itself was very aware of them (and he used the example of the samurai koryu). I don't know enough of Chinese MA to judge if they're much better than that (standard commercial schools aren't, for sure), or Okinawan-proper karate, either. But I see what he means.

And if the source is that diluted, that crammed with things that make no sense... how can the Western schools be any better? And, please, spare me "you only say that because you don't understand". I may not understand karate well enough, true. I do understand basic anatomy, thank you so very much. We no longer live in the XIXth century. Knowing that your hands will break up before you die of old age but that you'll kill your assaulter was okay back then, it's not so much there days. Among other things, current medicine is better at patching people than at healing arthritis. Remember Emperado.

On the plus side, watching that just helped me see one of the "lost elements", something that didn't make sense. And the "lost element" is not in the movement... it's in the timing! It opens a world.

Still... Oh, Hell.

Take care.

[*] No one insists on calling shiatsu, "Shiatsu-Do". And it's as much a "way" as karate, with possibly (likely) better health benefits. Why? Are we trying to convince ourselves?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bits and pieces

Now two pieces, one each for the last couple of posts.

That simplification I posted just now? The guys who have more trouble with it when I explain it, the ones who have more of a martial arts background.

And, the other: those adaptations in Naihanchi? Mostly a mater of little twists and angles. Some of them aren't worth much for Kajukenbo... but they reflect what I've seen of other, more classic, Karate styles. Lost elements.

Take care.


Following the previous post, and the reason for it before I got sidetracked, I've been browsing through the KJKB syllabus.

I haven't been able to see more than 3 kinds of blocks. I could see less. With upper and lower variants, plus angle variations. A slight recap, maybe...

The basics

  • Pyramidal block. That's how we call a block where the front hand parries some of the punch while the back hand comes from the underside, just past the centerline, followed by the elbow. Between both, they set a wedge and a shield that pushes the attack away. both hands are ready for the next move, so much so that usually one of them is already out before the block ends.

    Variations: That hand coming up can come in so many angles to punish the triceps, do a slight circle back to the aggressor's head, forego the hand and work with the elbow...
  • Parallel block. Name's mine, I'm afraid. I needed a way to talk about this. In this case, the rear hand parries and absorbs the strike, while the front hand goes forward and strikes.

    Variations: The front hand can go for the head, the shoulder joint, the biceps... The read hand can absorb in so many ways, elbow down or up... The hands are not as "bouncy" as before, not as coiled.
  • Scissor: Half of each. The front hand parries like in the pyramidal block, while the rear hand strikes like the front one in the parallel block. You still have a parry and a strike, you still have the bounce (in one of the hands), you still have some wariations.
Ideally, all of these should be made in full frontal stance, natural. Now, we've done "variations", let's do...


What happens if the strike is down under? A rising broken bottle, a shank, a kick... We still have the same mechanics, but the hands go down (and the hip becomes critical, but that's another issue). The front hand becomes secondary

But you'll start to notice something. That the difference between the pyramidal and the parallel blocks fades away. It's still kind of there, but you have to squint a bit.

The mother of them all

Which is when you look at the first blocks again... Now, we'd already established that the scissor is sort of a merge of the other two. But... the ones giving us trouble in the lower body where, precisely, those two... What's happening?


Put you hands in front of you. Imagine they're holding the pedals of a bicycle, but with both hands facing inward (open or close, your comfort). Now, "pedal". Keep pedalling, but chose a stance. Now comes a strike. If the hand that first catches the strike is the front hand, you have a pyramidal block.

Guess which one is the other.

Take care.


Since things are going to get erased, a reminder: Kajukenbo's 6th Palama kata is, basically, karate's Naihanchi. Now, I haven't been able to find a nice comparison of karate's many Naihanchi variants, certainly nothing similar to Sanchin, but it is known that there are several variants of it.

To my knowledge, none of them have the particular enbusen of KJKB's, which is NOT linear.

Now, Kajukenbo was started post WWII, not the best moment for karate. Martial arts had become set, scripted. Rows of people doing big moves. While Kajukenbo challenged some of this, and has some claim to that "the original MMA/RBSD" meme popular in the States, it was still a child of its times.

Those times went on, and Kajukenbo turned its back on kata, made them superfluous, barely apt for competition, like many other karate systems. Then, the Spanish branch started changing its understanding of the techniques, of teaching, of fluidity... Yet we kept our kata.

Meanwhile, karate realized what it had lost, and started rebuilding its kata, little by little. Interviewing old, retired masters. Looking at their kata with new eyes. People in the West started recycling their half-assed knowledge, brought from people who, while pioneers, had mostly not been properly immersed in the system.

What I want to get is a Naihanchi that reflects what Kajukenbo does. Not what it did, but what we use now. Our emphases, our patterns. They're there, but they aren't. And I see some things clearly, while others are... proving reluctant to embed themselves in an existing kata.

We'll see. Take care.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Kajukenbo, the uncomitting art?

This is going to sound weird, if it doesn't already. But... I've said before (the link's about to get offed, so I won't re-link it here) that my understanding of the division between internal and external martial arts is a tad... particular. That said...

Current karate inherited, from Itto ryu, the "one punch, one kill" mindset. As a mindset, I don't have anything against it. As a belief... it should be shot dead and thrown to the sharks. Thing is...

Thing is, I was thinking, which is usually dangerous somewhere along the line. And I realized that our punches, the way we punch (and counterattack, and...) doesn't leave much room for "one-shot kills". We do have a couple of syllabus techniques that do allow for that "2 moves, three of them lethal" mindset of the really old schools [*].

What I see in those techniques, and styles, is that there are not "holes". Sure, the very best artists will always find a hole in your guard, no matter how good you are. Beyond that, my problem with committing attacks, as they're usually seen, is that they over-reach, they leave you wide open. If it gets the perp, great. If it doesn't...

So, (our) Kajukenbo [+] doesn't come striking from the back beyond, one sure punch to down them all. It doesn't even do that, not really, from nearby. While it does use some hard "here I come" punches, they're more like "finishing moves", not structurally different from the rest. Just, maybe, different in intent, but nothing you cannot change to a more flowing motion you could build on.

Which means it has more in common with softer styles, or with certain modern interpretations of karate not glued to the pre-post wartime Japanese instruction. Which might mean why I can train comfortably with it.

Thought food. Take care.

[*] There's a technique, in Tatsumi ryu's "jujutsu" syllabus, from seiza, with two moves and three hits, all of which can potentially shut the brain down (or over). Then, you control him. There's a technique in the KJKB syllabus with two moves. While only two are potentially lethal, three of them break something. Both techniques start from relatively soft attacks (as always, context is everything). I sense a pattern.

[+] No reason why the old techniques shouldn't have that. However, those practitioners I've seen seem congealed in a Jo-Shu level or a Ri-Kyu mess (Shu-ha-ri and Jo-ha-kyu; set practice-experimentation-transcendence and Soft slow-compact flow-emergency discard, respectively, but you have to be wary of jumping levels)

Challenging the master

Maybe this is another "kill the Buda" thing, but...

We trained something more dynamic, today. Gloves and mitts, mostly. While I'm not a fan of most such work, since I don't see the link to our mechanics, some of it was rather interesting.

And then, I cheated. If you know me, this shouldn't surprise you that much. I cheat, it's what I do. Think about the scorpion and the turtle. It takes an effort for me not to find holes in rules and exploit them, whether they are game rules or social rules. Usually in a rather tame way, but still...

Thing is, we had a 2-vs-1 drill were the opponents had a receiving and an attacking role. The idea is that whoever was doing the exercise would try to avoid the puncher while beating against the mitts of the other one. Annoyingly tiring.

And then, I got to hold the gloves while my instructor tried to avoid the punches of an old friend.

So I cheated. I did follow the rules to the letter, mind you. But I went into offensive mindsets and collaborative work, trying to box him so that his buddy could punch him properly. Evading him when he managed something. And so on, keeping him, usually, at the tip of a wide 'V', pushing him.

We exhausted him.

Now, if he had been anyone else, I wouldn't have been as aggressive. If he had been only slightly my senior, most gyms would have found that OK.

He's 6 dan my senior. I can feel the disturbance in the Force as my challenge to the mid-high dan status quo ripples over the establishment.

And yet, that's my duty. He is six dan my senior. I have to give the most. And he doesn't have people six dan his senior to challenge him, to teach him, so the only way he has to get better, day to day (this is, excepting high level seminars or private classes), is through his pupils. We don't want him at the same level (or, likely, worse) ten years from now because he had no way to progress, to reach beyond. And, hey, watching him cope is a lesson. So, there.

Still, I can't help but feel this is not a common mindset. More's the pity.

Take care.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Cleaning the slate

For 1001 reasons (dead links, outdated info...), I'll be cleaning up the slate sometime later this month. I'll erase things either starting back from my BB test or from December 31st.

Grab this if you want it.

Take care.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Enshrining the Pooh-Bah

Why do people insist in the worship of idols? Even in associations where the headmaster is as down to earth as you could ask for, you get people who eat the "my martial art is the best thing since sliced bread" meme and apply it to their art and their head instructor. Against his wishes.

I've known Ángel since early autumn, 1994. That's over 20 years, guys. Some of the current black belt practitioners weren't even born. A big share of them were learning to walk. And the, in a discussion about the origins of the Spanish branch, and about its influences and trajectory, one of the guys inserts the statements of someone from EPAK, of all things, to justify his interpretation, his very much restrictive interpretation, of Ángel's style. Against his words and behaviour these last 20 years.

People have given up hope on humankind for less.

Why is it that people insist on the mechanics, skim them, crank the strength on them... and then conveniently forget, because it runs against what they just did, whatever else the instructor actually, you know, said?

And if this happens with someone who's been trying to avoid it for decades...

Annoyed. 36+ hours later, and I'm still pissed. That's no way to honour someone's teachings.

Take care.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Kajukenbo revolution

The Spanish branch of KSDI used to have a couple of... mantra. One was around bullfights and such. The other was something called "evolution", to try to explain why and how our training method differed from the classic one. As I see it, it's more a difference of training focus than a difference in mechanics, but... well, MA and its societies and breaking up and...

What just pinged me is that some points regarding "pure" KJKB are evidently false. Misguided, at best.

I practice Japanese martial arts. Not "I trained a couple of months in Japan and I came back with a new system", but 500-yo martial arts (as in, there's documents about it). And a thing old Japanese systems have is that... they've changed. They get that kata in for such reason, they leave that kata only for high level instructors and people who really show a specific interest because no one needs it any longer... Even the teaching emphasis changes, and it has in the last 20 years. The principles are the same, the techniques... sort of, sort of not. And the execution and teaching changes from instructor to instructor.

Karate had that, and it's recovering it after the disaster that was the military build-up and the war.

Kajukenbo? Often, I can't see it. All I see is "pit" stress training, macho reps, shitty mechanics done faster. Sometimes even here. Why? Tradition? Gimme a break! It doesn't work like that. If you want to respect tradition, respect the substance, not the barest of forms. Substance can give you any form in your style. Bad form will never get you substance.

Sigh. Take care.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Function follows form

While this is not exactly true in human action[*] (we can, after all, (re)design from scratch once we know what we want), it often becomes true. Meaning, we can't really scrap everything and restart. If you inherit a house, you probably don't have the resources to tear it down and build it up again. If you got a blade from your sensei or your daimyo, you had to adapt to it. And so on. Unless, of course, you could have your weapon made to your own designs[+].

So, again with the knife I got last week... I did some... flow, I guess, against a pole, and some Sombrada-3, and... I don't know if it is my recent understanding of those flows or what, but I find my movement changes with that knife. Also, if you check that photo in the link earlier this paragraph you'll see that the handle is a tad... worn. Mind you, good enough for going through sturdy fishbones, but not something you can parry with. Not reliably. Also, the blade is quite thin (a tad above a milimeter, I think).

So, in some ways, quite like a poor peasant's knife. A blade that does its job... which is not going against armour, or swords, or even sticks. A wide blade, for a purpose, that makes you move in certain ways if you want to use that edge. Your use, your own form, has to follow its form. And then, if I were a successful fighter and developed a style, some time later I'd want a sturdier blade, a blade I could trust... and I would use that one for a pattern, since it would be what I already knew. And I'd leave that blade to someone when I retired... and the shape and its movements would live on.

Take care.

[*] For those who are curious, in biology "form follows function" is a Creationist perspective, while "function follows form" is an expression of Darwinian evolution.

[+] And assuming the design was a good one.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


What was the hair colour of the last person you met today before coming home? Don't look. What shoes is your partner wearing?

People go around without looking. Now, looking for certain things is a trained skill. If you travel with a biologist, he won't see the same things while trekking than a geologist, or a car mechanic, or an amateur astronomer.

That's a part of it. The other is that we really, in Western urban societies, don't look. For example, someone was trying to get a gift these last Christmas. I was going through the old quarters, and I passed by a fabrics shop. They had, right on the window, several children's wicker chairs, painted and with a simple fabric design tied to the back rest. Basically, one of the things they were looking for. So I called them, and told them where it was. I had to give the full address, since the approximate place (so and so square, East side) wasn't enough.

It's the only such shop there. A shop where they had bought things before and they'd been very pleased with.

My qualm is not that they didn't realize the shop had children's chairs. You see these things when you look for them. My qualm is that they hadn't realized it was the only such shop there.

It's a small thing, but it adds up. How many exits are there from that square? Basically, five; the rest are variations (several of them; it's one of those small old places). How many trouble spots? How many safe spots? Which ones are open?

Because things are not clear cut. You perimeter can't be the same at rush hour than at 3 am. Among other things, your reaction is probably slower at that time and visibility. To react, you need time, and looking well saves you that time. "He's too near" is different if he just hopped off the bus than if he's been closing in for the last 10 yards, hand hidden in his pocket. [*]

But you have to look. And if you do, if you shed that "anything between work and home aint' my business", you'll find other things. Useful shops, cute girls, nice unknown buildings or parks. And so on. And also exit venues, weapons... and you'll have a vibe that will already make a lot of muggers avoid you [+].

Take care.

[*] I don't believe much in spotting hidden weapons. Frankly, if I did roam those places, I might, and then I'd use misdirection. I do believe much more in available weapons. Chairs, bottles, poll balls and cues, shoes, ashtrays... But it's much easier to avoid those (or grab them) if you are aware of them, if you look.

[+] A lot of muggers. Beware of the ones that still close in. They're either clueless (and dangerous) or they know what they're getting into. And, for God's sake, don't use that awareness and those people avoiding you, to get all macho. You'll be climbing the ladder in the violence system... and there will still be people above you.

Professional weapons

I'm going to do one of those tricks I do with definitions from time to time.

Professionals are people who study their trade and practice it, who do something more than weekend seminars and twice-a-week training. They know their tools. In MA, SaBunNim Smith is probably in the professional-amateur level regarding violence (he might be a highly professional teacher, or lawyer, or accountant... all of those required abilities if you have your own dojo), while a caporal or a bouncer is probably a professional (there are exceptions).

Thing is, some skills might be innate or not. The capacity for violence is mostly universal (some people might be an exception). That doesn't mean everybody deals with violence, but almost anybody can be violent. We choose not to. And it's great.

But that means the professional has to learn more about other details. About mechanics, about psychology, about weapons...

But, again, who is a professional weapons user? Someone who studies and practices the use of weapons, yes? There's a place, about 150 yards from home, with over a hundred professional weapons users. The kind of knife that could well cut me in half, not pocket knives. Knives like the one in the previous post.

Sometimes, when dealing with self defence, we get certain sceptics, specially around certain systems. And then people go into adrenalized mugging responses.

The mugger is not my worry. I can give him most of what I carry. His knife is visible, mostly static.

The ambusher is another critter, but I can probably avoid that (lifestyle choices, awareness, prudence...).

A good deal of incidents are monkey dances gone south. Way south. I have seen people rant and complain and verbally abuse someone with a 12 inch blade in their hands. Usually, nothing happens. If it does... you have someone with a 12 inch knife, expert user and angry, coming at you.

And yet, martial arts and SD still train either the classic old school defences against long blades and Japanese knives gone rote or weird ideas against the switchblade. And then someone pops up and uses a butcher knife like he means business...

Again, there's a story in one of Lawrence Kane's books about a guy attacking him with a baseball bat. He used an old school defence against a sword. It was the right distance, the right mechanics... until the perp let the wood go and made it a shuriken.

The guy knew his tool. If I get a fishmonger or a butcher to attack me, it's pretty likely one of us is going to end dead (I really don't want to find out which). Instead, we get hung up on punks with blades, on old techniques hung to dry under the sun and cracking down.

Take care.