Sunday, February 22, 2015

Train like a small guy

Somehow, the small ones tend to know what they're getting into (unless they fall in the grips of a cult, this is). I recall Rory, some time ago, introducing us to a bouncer, almost thrice my weight, to the tune of "for those of you who're SD instructors, this is the strength differential women face WRT the standard jock". The silence was uncomfortable.

But the thing is, many MA/SD guys are don't really understand that there really are big guys out there. Guys with the arms of Schwarzenegger.

Or guys who can pick him up like a rag doll.

There's always someone bigger.

Take care.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Get a refill... Of principles

I should go through the old Ju Jutsu syllabus again, if I can find it. I just had a glimpse of the first three techniques for yellow belt... And all sorts of warning lights lit on.

Not exactly about the techniques themselves, although a bit, but... You see, it's not as much that the techniques were bad, or that they were badly taught (although this last part is true). It's that they lacked principles. MacYoung strikes again.

I'm sort of gonna pass off the first one, a downwards block against a front grab that tried to mimic a guillotine instead of the proper hack from, say, a karate block. Much easier to slash through both arms with a single one if you actually, you know, don't face them together at their best.

But I was thinking a lot more on the 2nd or 3rd one, not sure of the order, which had a punch to the stomach, a grab of the elbow and then applied a philcrum pressure towards the ground. Every single item of that technique works.

The technique, as taught, didn't. Besides the minor point of how the elbow was grabbed (unnecessarily complicated and weak), or the precision of the stomach punch... There are lost levels, lost concepts. Pressure, synchronization, levers.

Imagine, if you would, after such a close grab, your left hand raises so that your left wrist checks that grab and your palm controls the centreline, ready to protect from a head-butt. You right delivers a hit, your choice, against his lower ribs or available viscera. Now, instead of going halfway to Finisterre and back, that punching hand raises and grabs the elbow from the inside and pulls, attaching it to your main body; remember that arm was sort of controlled by your left. Your right elbow can sense his other arm, raise for protection. At the same time, however, your centreline hand goes against his jaw (or the philcrum, if you insist), and your arm extends out and down.

You better hope uke is a good faller.

It's annoying. The technique is there, if you apply the principles. When you don't, it's very bad Wu Xia.

Take care.

PS: For those curious:

Movedefence positionattack positiondefend damagedeliver damage
Gut punch1111
Left side control1010
Arm grab11+10


Movedefence positionattack positiondefend damagedeliver damage
Gut punch221+2
Left side control2+220
Arm grab2+2+21

That's 16+ vs 28++++; say, 16.5 vs. 30. About twice the effectiveness, almost the exact same moves.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Zanshin Morris

There's a local tradition, here, of something pretty similar to a Morris dance, the version with sticks (and always with sticks, here; short, two, maybe three hand-spans). Today we had the chance to watch three troupes perform their versions. One was from the "state" capital, the other from an old fortress town, the third from a local hub farther beyond.

The first ones were a demo show. Nice satins, ribbons... Cutey.

The second ones... I'll get back to those.

The third ones were happy, unashamedly asking for contributions, laughing and dancing. Getting with their own routines when the first ones faltered because they lost partners along the route (clothing mishap; no, not that kind).

The second ones? Those I was to get back to? They were the ones that better recalled what those things were. If the last ones were performing group kata at a tournament, the second ones were warming up for training. They had the only performer I saw (and I wasn't able to check as thoroughly as I would have liked) who didn't need to look at the sticks. He did see them, and watch them, he simply didn't turn his eyes or his head towards them. A boy in his mid-teens. That was the group that broke a stick while I watched and swapped it without stopping the dance.

Zanshin. And, BTW, they did NOT move from the heel.

So, why do we train?

Take care.

Friday, February 6, 2015

We need a modern Jutsu

I was viewing Naihanchi versions, trying to understand something, and I came by a version performed by one of the great, son of one of those Great artists of the early XXth century, the ones who made Karate flourish. He still practices the old karate. The karate of Hojo Undo, of Chi-Ishi, of iron Geta. Of hitting the legs with baseball bats and stones with your hand.

His hands are hypersized, chronically swollen. A CT scan would probably reveal a life of abuse, of micro (and not so micro) fractures, and I wouldn't like to bet on the state of his joints, veins and bones.

Why? This is the Way of Karate. Pain is the path to enlightenment.


This is not World War II. This is not Sengoku. This isn't even the 80s. I've said it time and again. Adriano Emperado trained like a devil... and spent his last decades being pushed around in a wheelchair.

We should know better. And yet, we have cults of strength doing seminars for young jocks, uncaring of strains, of bad muscle development, in the name of reality and self defense, oblivious to the price they'll pay a couple of decades later, when you won't find the original instructor to sue and new fads will have taken the place.

And we have old systems, with great ideas (which is why they have survived) attached uncritically to old methods that might have been the best there was back then, but are no longer sane. Risking a wheelchair into your 60s when people in your neighbourhood only lived so much if they were lucky was a decent investment. Risking that when the likelihood of violence is as low as it is right now, when hospitals and prisons abound... is risking your health for nothing.

We need a new Jutsu. A new interpretation of arts like karate (or Wushu, but I know that case much less) that allows for current medical practice, for current training methods, for current physical development. People today may reach martial arts after playing baseball, or soccer, or... where they reached them after loading heavy bales and logs and carcasses and kids. Yet the training, the mechanics, stay.

And I don't have the foggiest idea how to reach that.

Take care.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


I've been thinking on that last post. Then the one on the quality of Japanese kata. Then the one on modern bunkai instructors.

When people do more than a martial art, they may hear often that quote about emptying one's cup before refilling. Like many other Eastern proverbs, it gets taken out of context. If you do, say, ZNKR Seitei iai and a koryu (an old school; in this context, a swordwork one), those two are similar enough that skills will want to cross the barrier, sometimes for the worse. Always? NO! If you get used to the handling of a sword, you can use that sword. And koryu and Seitei use the same design, share some of the moves. You do have to separate the practice of each, understand what each one is trying to tell you. Check.

However, you can get into a practice with some bad habits. Those should be discarded, but I can tell you from personal experience that some are hard to forego. What can you do, then? Do you discard the pot? You can't, not really. The pot is you, and you can't discard yourself. If you could, you wouldn't have trouble to start with (and some people can, true). But you try to break the pot, and join it again with a better filling. Then do it again. And again... until the result is better than the beginning. Until, sometimes, the result is better than a gold vase or a pure porcelain one.

This goes for MA as well. I'm trying to understand some things of the Kajukenbo variant of Naihanchi. See what has been lost in transmission, what was added back then, why. I wouldn't even dream of trying this with Kuk Sool forms. I might, some day, just for the fun. But even if the forms had some core, once upon, the way that art teaches them has polluted them way beyond any reasonable cost-benefit ratio. Note that I'm comparing them with Kaju, a MA that doesn't really value its forms.

Can you retrain someone coming from massive college karate classes? Probably. If he comes, he's already making an effort. If he stays, he's probably worth yours (and you have to try anyhow, that's why you're a teacher). Can you retrain someone coming from a strength or an old wise men cult? Yes. Can you train someone who's actually good in another martial art and wants a different POV? Yes.

It's not going to be easy, though. And pretending you start from zero is only going to frustrate both of you. But starting anywhere else means you have to check where he comes from, understand his strengths and weaknesses. In a way, understand at BB level an art you haven't practised yourself.

What? You thought MA were easy?

Take care.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

It's for real men

My ass.

Back when I did Ju Jutsu, one of the few real practitioners we had was a small woman, older than any of us, instructor included, who'd came from abroad. Her technique could only be second to her fighting spirit.

I've found similar things here and there. But, as it happens, I was just watching a karate training video, filmed in a dojo in mainland Japan. High school students. From where I stand, it's a pretty weird video. You have those ideas of Japan, you see some small training halls, visiting instructors to Europe bring their pupils... and you get ideas.

Most of them can't kick. Mind you, I can't do a proper "karate kick" myself, I know that. Apparently, they don't. It's been said that shodan, the black belt, is taken more lightly in Japan; some people go so far as to say that you can get it more easily. I know a Japanese iai instructor who expressed surprise when I failed my nidan, and it didn't feel feigned. Apparently, in many places (I won't even dream of saying it's general), it really is easier to "start" the black belt path.

Again, it's weird. It's one of those schools with two belts: black or white. That's it. Traditional. But it looks weird to find black belts who can't sit in seiza, whose rei shiki is a bad hasty routine. And some kids have an impressive precision... when doing prescribed forms. Their sparring looks like cockfighting. Healthy young men bashing against each other, shining in sweat.

And then, you start to see the commonalities of the ones that somehow look better. More focused, more intent. They're the smallish kids, the girls...

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." Does it apply to karate? Myths insist, every generation, on the story of the sickly kid who goes into martial arts an becomes a beacon, an example, a master. I know a couple of real life examples myself. And, for what it's worth, the concentration of nebulizers around our mat is impressive. But, when it comes to us, we still look for the healthy guy, the kicking champ. Tall, muscled, healthy. And it can give you some impressive artists. But it's the tiny guy who's finally found something that makes him feel whole, that gives him the hope of having a chance (both socially and physically), of proving himself.

And, yet, we often manage to forget them.

Take care.

EDIT: They're not a high school. They're a private university!

Sharply forward

There are two kanji (and a zen proverb) I'm falling in love in MA. The proverb is that in my "avatar", 'gen mata gen'. Mystery beyond (the) mystery. There's a longer version, and it comes originally from China, at least. It reflects the idea that every time you think you've solved something in life, there's another mystery behind it.

The other two are more "mechanic". Mukō (first kanji on the right) is a kanji I met through Tatsumi-ryū. In the school, it means forwardness, and it's applied a to a go no sen technique, a technique where you're reacting and where you must push forward, avoid getting into defensive mode. It's a mindset that applies beautifully to Kajukenbo, even its associated mechanics.

And the last one... the last one goes the other way. If Mukō is something I first understood in Tatsumi and brought to Kajukenbo, Hazumu is something I've learned in Kajukenbo and I'm learning to apply to Tatsumi. Meaning? Bouncy, bullet, snap, flip, lively... Do not stop your technique at every hit. Bounce back. Use his energy and snap back into him.

I'm liking it, but I realize you need a certain kind of head.

Take care.


Rory differentiates between strategies, tactics, principles... Regarding Kajukenbo [*], we have a single strategy: Jam his head. This can be pretty literal, or not so much. The idea is that you confuse him by alternating sources of pain (heights of strikes, whatever), robbing field of vision, messing with is balance (occupying space, these last two)... Everything's set up for jamming his OODA. And when he's got enough to catch up to, you ask for payment in full.

But that's the strategy. As we train, it's not taught separately. In a way, somehow like we're not taught to breathe [+] beyond some pointers here and there when we go somewhere real cold, or we start Phys-Ed classes. We probably put more importance in the particular tools. Some of them:
  • The centerline Angel put some Wing Chun in our Kajukenbo. Not specific moves (we don't have Chun Choi, for example), but the mindset. We're a tad more circular that what I've seen of WC, but some ideas are there.
  • The push We kind of roll over through our opponent, little by little, using the extension of our punches. We don't strike to push, but we do, indeed, push some after the strike. Its a tad hard to explain. I've seen similar ideas in iaido, in that tiny moment just after impact, but you have to train under people who actually mean to cut.
  • The bounce When we don't quite push, early on the technique, we use the meeting of forces to cut the deployment time of our next hit. Possibly one of the reasons we tend to use both hands to block. One stays, the other bounces back and strikes before the block is finished. when it merges with the centerline, you get something pretty similar to some ideas of Ittō-ryū kenjutsu.
  • Cutting the circle See last post. This merges quite well with the bounce, to the point that, as we use them, they often feel like the same.
Then we have some extras: position (positio, position, position!), control, offlining... But the way we reach that is through these tools. Now, let's see if I can find a way to emphasize it.

Take care.

[*] KSDI-Spain, under Ángel García-Soldado. We are considered more or less heretics.

[+] Well, I was. Asthma has that. And meditation practitioners. Most people aren't, though.