Friday, March 27, 2015


Soemtimes you have one of those glimpses that makes you see things much more clearly... and realize you've been a fool until then.

I've said for a while (though I admit that I took most of those posts offline a couple of months ago) that I'm surprised about the relationships between Tatsumi-ryu (early XVIth century ryuha, Japan) and Kajukenbo (sort of Chinese ancestry, 1950s, Hawai'i). Both are very forward, frontal, arts... until they're not. Both require a weird fluidity, a transition between strength and bounce, a pressure...

And both share the same basic deflection.

I'd seen it, sort of, before. The idea was the same, but instead of using the arm, you were using a 3-feet blade.

Except it's more than that. Kajukenbo deflects with the weak arm while the strong one comes from below and shields. In an emergency, you can simply put your strong hand over its ear and your other hand reinforces the arm. It's a rather strong shield that can move around more than you'd expect (and has a pointy end).

Tatsumi ryu has mukou. The strong hand grips the sword while the weak one... grips both sword and arm and reinforces it. Not only the "energy" is the same (both physical and "psychological" [*])... the actual physical structure of your own body is almost a copy.

I'm an idiot. A practised idiot.

Take care.

[*] Willpower, intent... call it as you wish.

Monday, March 23, 2015


He’d never had any patience with those sagas wherein the hero found, was given, or created a famous blade with a name of its own. Ridiculous! These things were just pieces of steel, not something sentient. And when you focused too much on "my famous blade, Gazornenplatz,” you were apt to forget that it was a tool, to be used and as readily left behind if need be. Aksel had felt the same, and when he’d caught cadets naming their blades and refusing to use any other, he often took the weapons in question to the forge himself and had them melted down, if they happened to have come out of the common arsenal. There wasn’t a great deal he could do about heirloom blades or gifts, other than to ban them from the salle, but that’s exactly what he had done.

Mercedes Lackey, Exile's Honor
Maija mentions she's been playing with Western swords, and about the differences in mindset due to different kinds of design. Personally, what I'd likely find annoying of a good deal of Western swords is the lack of guard to the sides of the cutting plane in the classic medieval "cross" design (Oakeshott).

But what I've found so far is that there's a kind of "feel" of blades. And considering how hard it was for me to switch practice swords and how natural some moves seem with completely unknown blades... And I mean going from katana-like designs to one handed sabres, or knives. I have the feeling that a lot of the problem with swords is not what you don't know.

It's what you DO know. To use the previous example: it was knowing the weight of my previous practice swords that made it difficult to me to adapt to the new ones. But when I tried a talwar some time ago, there were some movements that just "were" in the blade, movements that didn't come from my martial arts, but my body. Something similar happened with a sabre built to Japanese WWII requirements, and with an old knife with filipino delusions.

And I'm not sure it doesn't tie to those ideas from Rory. That we learn playing, not cramming ideas. That we know how to move and that, if we're not careful, MA learning ends up putting way to many restrictions and destroying the knowledge we already had of our own body.


Take care.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Being good

We're taught not to be good. Not to dare thinking of ourselves as good. At many levels. It's self-serving, prideful... You name it.

Except it's self defeating. Something called the Dunning-Kruger effect, best summarized as

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wise people so full of doubts.

Betrand Russell
In MA, we end up with rather good people saying "Oh, no, I'm just learning!" (which is true) and absolute morons utterly convinced they're Susano-o reincarnated.

And then you have the morals of it. Complete jerks absolutely convinced they're "one of the good guys" no matter how many people they trample in the name of their pet cause, and people who've been through the Dark also convinced they're NOT good people, that they only sort of manage because of other people (kids or wife, as far as I've seen). They're convinced they're "faking it".

And I'm always this close to telling them "prove it". Which wouldn't be fair. I would be punishing them, testing their self-control, just to make my point. But it's also true. There's lots of people who prove every day that they're not to be considered "good", no matter their own opinion. And these guys prove, just by being, that they're not one of those.

But we're taught otherwise. We're taught absolutes. Shining white knights of Good. It's been accepted, kind of, that being "brave" is not being fearless, but working through fear. But, somehow, the equivalent in Goodness is lost.

Makes you wonder.

Take care.

Friday, March 13, 2015


Rory just published a thought, on his blog, that seems to have been bugging him for a while. Thought #1, in that post.

Personally, I don't know enough of Lord Acton's life to judge if he was being sincere. He wouldn't be the first powerful politician to go against "his own". Engels and Kropotkin, for instance.


Yagyū Munenori, of iaijutsu treatise fame (and starring several manga, and...), had the luxury of writing those treatises... because he was a courtier, absent from battle, worried by duels but not armies. Meanwhile, his brothers were invading natives' lands. Do we know what Cortez's family wrote regarding military matters? Or Custer's?

Miyamoto Musashi was a rural orphan "samurai" who left home at 16, deserted his lord in death (good idea, I would think, but quite improper for a worthy samurai) and became a brawler, one of those ronin who gave the name a bad rep. And, yes, he won a lot of duels. So, self-defence expert? Maybe. Great painter? Sure, much later on, tamed. The ultimate authority in strategy and budo? Hardly.

Morihei Ueshiba [*] hung himself from tree branches, loaded with weights, so that he could join the army... in time of a war of aggression (Russo-Japanese War). Not a particular "Do" moment, much less pacifist.

In the West, Machiavelli keeps saying that fear is more powerful than love... and then tries to bootlick his place into a court instead of joining the Inquisition. Adriano Emperado, "train until someone bleeds to be strong", had the luxury of remaining a civilian during the Korean war... and yet his training might have something to do with 20 years in a wheelchair.

And on and on...

No, I don't think this invalidates their stories, their narrative. BUT. Be aware, don't eat the narrative uncritically, hook, line and sinker. A narrative, BTW, probably heavily shaded by transmission. At the very least, those experiences shaped their teachings. Maybe, being aware will actually help you understand their teachings, be a better aikidoka (and, man, could I give you examples!). And beware of "interpretation cults".

Take care. Be aware.

[*] Recall: restoration onwards, names start being transcribed in a Western order.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


In MA, there are different kinds of success. Also in real life, of course, so I'm going to go there for a moment.

When Rory talked about the issues in agencies, he used to talk about the conflict between process and goal-people. And how there was a point of healthy feedback between both and a point of de-estabilization. If you check certain critiques of peacetime and wartime armies, you'll find the same in other words.

Thing is, we're all kind of both. The point of enjoying tea is often not the (probably degraded, anyhow) caffeine, but the making of it, sitting and drinking it relaxed. Smoking pipe tobacco is about the same. Hiking. Having a chat with your loved ones. The process IS the goal.

In the same way, in martial arts, you have process, goals, success... What very few arts and artists allow for is uncertainty. You don't really know what the attack is going to be, the angle it's coming from, the time, the height or weight of the attacker. You do at the gym, of course. And if the gym is all you need (and I have some issues with that when it relates to martial arts [*]), then that's it. Now, however, anything else...

Martial arts are the way of breaking people. There's no way around that. And people object to being broken. They're greedy that way. However, people at the gym don't object to being thrown around, played with. And people want to play, like cubs do.

But animals, while they know they're playing, have a single instinct: survival. Our survival has two elements: physical survival (strength, food...) and social survival (safety, food...). And here is where we fuck up. Since our physical survival is mostly not an issue (illness and traffic accidents are not the kind of things that trigger our physical-danger awareness... until the very last moment), we focus in the social. And it leaks into MA.

How many times have you seen people uncomfortable (and that's mild) when analysing their techniques under a SD view? Why is it so? Some things should not even be taught twice in a group. The very first time someone should raise her hand and say "er... this wouldn't work". But no one does.

So... now let me link "process people", and something Kris Rusch, writer, calls "get by people". Those are the people that, in MA, will "tick the boxes", if that. The people who're surprised when they realize, for example, how it takes about a year, in our gym, to go through 7 measly techniques, and how little time we give to those techniques. Why? They're the syllabus! Yes. But. You're not really evaluating "the technique", but the components of it. Sadly, in many associations, the people who value "the technique" end up being instructors. And then, they grade their own belts. If they only require "the technique", they're going to get black belts faster. And attract people who prefer the simpler "learn this move" syllabus to the "learn those ideas" mindset.

Which is how you get whole MA associations filled with fit, technically adept people who wouldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag. They have every single "tick" in their boxes, they don't have the intangibles, they don't teach them, they pay no attention.

And, specially, they don't train for failure.

There's that idea, even in SD circles, that you don't teach failure. That's nice and well... until it becomes and absolute. If your technique is set, it's going to fail sooner or later. In fact, if you think on self protection terms, the moment you're attacked, your technique's already failed. Your perimeter's broken, your awareness's failed... whatever. And adrenaline's going to mess it further. So, any time your technique is this-then-than-then-success, you're training for falure through success.

It's kinda circular, is it not?

Take care.

[*] It's both difficult to really grok you're simply doing a sport, when you take that way. Grok and keep that understanding. And, also, you're training reflexes. It's not a good idea to perform a badly trained reflex, or one for the wrong context, in real life. You might end up pissing off the burglar. In that sense, I used to say pickpocket, but we had a real life event recently, here, were a security guard tackled and controlled a burglar... without checking he had 2 friends by the door. Threats of rape didn't materialize, but...

Friday, March 6, 2015

Bad mechanics

I was exchanging ideas with Rory earlier this week, and he mentioned something about a seminar he'd been with one of those "reality" styled MA, and he mentioned a technique that was trying to do too much of an effort, at a weird angle, to try something that was supposed to be time-critical to save your life.

A tad abstract, I know.

Now, imagine that technique I spoke of earlier [*]. That's the original source, undiluted. And yet...

Uke's right hand? It's there for a reason. And while it may stay put and keep trying for a lapel grab and a headbutt, it could as easily go behind the neck (ask any judo or Muay Thai competitor), or up your ear. Specially once it feels some opposition. In the original version of the technique, there's nothing preventing that. Or an elbow sidestriking your head. No, that arm there doesn't have the structure to deal with an incoming elbow, sorry.

Now, personally, I'd always pictured "bad mechanics" to refer to stances, structures... And I'd have classified things like that in the mental category. Bad tactics, kind of. Using Rory's definition makes sense, though. You have, as almost always with him, to expand your definition, give it an extra layer of abstraction. "Bad mechanics" becomes not only the lack of physical properties but also the lack of understanding of the use of them. A proper forward stance is useless against an attack from the back [+]. So, developing such a stance in the bad situation is "bad mechanics". It is, the moment you consider the understanding of those mechanics part of them itself.

Which opens a whole new can of worms. Because if the understanding of the proper mechanics, the right moment to use them, is what makes for shitty mechanics, then most of us have those.

Take care.

[*] If the link works weird, try the technique that starts at about 2:03. Check two posts back if you don't know when I spoke of it.

[+] A tad sidewise, maybe. Many classical stances lean a tad to the side of your opponent. There are some advantages to that, but also dangers. The most warning I've heard about those is the omote/ura classification in koryu. The most is, yes, a classification.