Sunday, March 6, 2022


 Yes, still alive. Sorry to anyone who actually follows this.

I've been to five dojo this past forthnight. The old and the new sites of one of the city's classics, another city classic I'd never been to myself, my normal practice dojo and one for a seminar.

The first "city classic" was a small four story building, with useful roof and basement, which is going to be turned into apartments. Once one of the almost pilgrimage like sites of the city, for martial artists, together with a sister site in a different neighbourhood, it's been significantly dwindling. But once upon it was a main center for Judo, Karate, Aikido, emergency services... They've kept Karate (Shotokan), but I don't think anything else is remotely "classic", and they've moved to a former florist, with two rooms and a half; the first one full of two rows brand new static bikes and weights, in full view of a McFit. The tatami is uneven, oversoft, and full of holes, inherited from the Olympics back when. The changing area is the size of a single bed.

The other classic is an attic, of sorts, in an old office building. A single room, full of old canvas lined tatami, properly matched, the wall full of mementos of the main focus of the school (Shito ryû karate), with some others peppered around. There's a lack if distractions in the ambience, a certain tinge of sweat and mat and wood, that helps.

My usual dojo is a repurposed garage, with cheap fake wood floor, a changing area the size of a yoga mat, some Okinawan mementos in the kamiza... The floor is kinda hard, but it works.

And the last one... the last one I visited yesterday, for a seminar in the suburbs. The most even tatami I've walked on, in a place the size of a living room (column included), smallish changing area (but still bigger than the two above, and likely the bigger share of the whole). Its walls filled with training pads, light and heavy, and assorted aids. No flags, no symbols of style... only the belt of a member who died suddenly a couple years ago.

The most "classic" art they practice in that room is Brazilian JJ. The rest... Kajukenbo, Krav Maga, Muay Thai... You get the idea. It's a place that you'd think is full of testosteroned idiots, training hard, laughing high.

The one that changed places is being "turned into more of a dojo", but the owner won't even greet you on the very last/first day of her place. The old schoolers have been progressively turned away.

If they want a dojo, there are places to learn how to run one. Meanwhile, they've swapped the inheritance for a serving of lentils... and they're not even keeping any seeds.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Form follows function

No, not biology. That's not even a debate, where I'm from. But human enterprises, if they are functional, make their form adapt to their goals. Trying to hammer a nail down with a typewriter is doable, but...

So... How does function affect form in martial arts? Well... Remember MacYoung's focuses? If your martial arts are for health, they'll work different that if they're trying to assassinate sentries. Even in the same branch. Tai chi, for example, is very different depending on how you use it. Karate for grade school physical fitness is very different from classical Okinawan karate. There are variations in kendo techniques that will help you win a championship but mess with you martial understanding of it and, also, your health (wrist hyperextension, for one). I do recall an olympic competitor in judo who had his elbow relocated thrice in the Olympics in 1992. Do you think he still practices? A local sub-21 champion had quit judo because his shoulder got dislocated if you shook hands with him. He didn't seem to mind, back then.

So... What is your focus? What is you instructor's focus? And your branch's? What are they not transmitting? What are they changing? Or negelcting. Or...

Take care.

[Actually written Sept 14th, 2018]

Still alive... after a thousand years

Not me. I'm alive, obviously, or you wouldn't be reading this. These last years have been... sort of interesting. I've managed to hold to some of my MA practice by the tips of my nails, though.

But... Okay, some background first. There are games that've been with humankind for, literally, thousands of years. Board games. Such games were not played as we understand the word today. The same way martial arts were not a kindergarden, games were something else. Something that was expected to be useful; a good game IS, but they were expected to be.

So... Westerners have Chess. And it's become a certain badge of intellect, and comfortably shelved away once the kid is boeyond that stage. Next to a dusty guitar. But if you look into the history of the variants of Chess, you'll find some interesting ideas. Check Shogi and prisoners, and think... "Hmm... Mercenaries?" Or the wider board ones. Or...

Then check Go, find how it's shaped the history of Asia, of artificial intelligence. The same AI that helps (or doesn't) your packets reach you. Or your internet search. Or...

There's another game, about as old as the oldest of chess variants. But cultivated by a people who had not much use for writing. Some, just not quite as much. Vikings.

It's an interesting game because you don't need six different kinds of elaborately carved pieces. Two colors of pebbles will do, a single on of those pebbles slightly larger, or redder, or with some peculiar shape.


And it's interesting for another reason. It's assymetrical. The attacher has twice your pieces. And you have to protect a single one of them, have it run away. It's, actually, a self-defense scenario. You can think of several scenes where, whichever player you are, the parallels with real life are downright chilling. And the advantage of the abstract nature of it is that you can make your brain work without having it go into denial: "this would never happen", "there's no way I can flee that!"... and so on and so forth.

Game on. Take care.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

What's a samurai like?

This is going to be a tad unmartial, but it relates. It's just that I'm going to send to different people from different subsets of mailing lists and I don't want to neither repeat myself too much nor presume I can share their mails with each other.

What's your first image of a samurai? The sober man standing guard near his lords's castle? That lord paying a "courtesy" compulsory visit to the shogun? That same lord at his state? Their attire, their swords, are not going to be the same.

And yet, they are but a small, specific subset, of samurai history. Edo's shogunate. A government system set up by an upstart minor samurai of humble origins that destroyed the martial prowess of the samurai. Yes, I'm serious. The next time the samurai are at war they loose to peasant conscripts, hugely. And he does it willingly, to subdue a threat.

And that's the samurai we know. Martial artists put on a hakama, because it's "traditional", not really knowing when that tradition starts, or what was worn before. The katana becomes "THE" sword of the samurai... never mind that katana had different standards in time, different mountings, different... But the 2+ shaku katana of the Edo period, in compulsory (that word, again) black becomes the one and only. Maybe, if you're lucky, the daimyo's heritage mounting when he wants to impress a visitor.

O... kay. Let's check the Edo period. The urbanization of Japan, the pax Tokugawa, leads to an increased emphasis on what we would call police work. And one of the tools, that dubs as a badge of office, is the jutte. The following pics are from Don Cunningham's Samurai Weapons (Tools of the Warrior), at Tuttle. There are more pics, but I don't want to spoil the book.

See how the complexity of the manufacture increases? Simple iron sticks with wrapped rough fibers become samegawa wrapped hilts with some bronzework and tsuba to end up as gilded precious metal status symbols. There are several engraved ones in that book. I'd prefer, in the heat of the moment, a bare iron jutte to an engraved shakudo one, but that's just me being attached to my arm... and wanting to keep it that way.

However, when we study martial arts or Japanese culture in a more general form, we often kind of see one of the last two sets of examples, maybe two, and we forget the rest as if it was never there. And we're not even aware that Musashi's father was already a renowed expert in this very same weapon several decades before the Edo period even started.

My original point with this, and I've veered way of what I intended, is that Japanese MA practitioners talk about their katana, comission their practice blades. And most of those blades are, basically, the equivalent to the second set of pictures. Sometimes, they veer into the third one. But they never leave Edo. Their saya are predictable. Their sageo, almost always single colored. If not, there are basically two variants, always muted. From what I've seen, I suspect that kendoka have something similar going on. And when you talk about real armors, people visualize the great bif colorful ones, in lacquers and embroidery and nifty braids.

I've tried my hands at Japanese braid making. It's a slow process, and it needs many meters of yarn, and "looms". The basic samurai had neither, and yet you can bet his cords broke. Because of a sowrd thrust or a nasty fall, because it rotted, because it w¡had been used to carry a bundle of wood for the campfire... You name it.

This is a rope for tying up criminals, quickly (yes, I've tried similar designs) braided by hand. Wanna bet most swords used something similar? And armors, and pouches, and... A contraption that requires a whole mat to set up and work in it, plus hundreds of meters of silk for a single sageo, or this, done by the campfire?

Take care.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Shadow does!

I saw someone's shadow tonight, approaching, and it helped avoiding some injury...

No, no night attack. Someone was approaching a street corner without looking where she went. Light as I am, I still think the impact would have toppled her, and she might have gotten hurt. But I saw her shadow approaching.

Some meters earlier, a discarded flexible steel pipe had pinged my attention ("That could hurt"), sometime later, a bo st... sorry, a discarded broom staff next to a container (and they say training with bo is not useful!), and they I reached a hood that collects discarded furniture on Tuesdays...

And yet you'll find those who tell you awareness is paranoid, or weapons defense useless, or...

Well, awareness did save someone from injury (either her or me... or both; doesn't matter). Awareness means I didn't step unto the pipe and sprained my ankle. Maybe someday being wary of rubbish will save me a headache. I don't know.

But it's basic. And it's the kind of skill that can lead to many smiles. The grateful parent when you ask if the teary kid is okay, the bank note someone dropped without noticing, the person you help with the trash because you realize she's overwelmed and the blasted container won't open properly...

But no, let's stick our noses into our mobiles and text everyone how paranoid those people into self defense are. Never mind the approaching truck.

Take care.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Knowing yourself

In theory, MAs are a path to self knowledge. I seriously doubt it, very seriously.

I fact, I don't much believe the "Do" part in most martial arts. CAN it be used for such? Oh, sure. But if you think that someone who's raced the Dakkar doesn't know himself, hasn't reached a maturity in "Do" that many martial artists only imagine, then you're seriously off track. Marathon runners have more Zen than most high level dans. Solo mountain climbers risk their lives with samurai abandon. And so on. In non physical endeavors, painters, tea masters... And most of those don't add a "Do" to their name and end up with something useful after several hours of practice. Martial artists don't.

Many (both of those espousing "reality training" and those following the "Do") can't even defend themselves from a wet paper bag.

So , neither spiritual neither practical. What's missing?

That self-knowledge, maybe?

I just saw a video of a Kaju instructor. And I kept thinking... "Well, not quite. She doesn't quite decide what principle of movement she wants to use and keeps wandering around... Moves too much... Well, if she polishes that, then she could be..." And then I found an interview. 6th dan, director of two branches in a federation.

She's not going to get better. Not if she's reached all that at that level of practice and shows, smiling and satisfied, in the interview.

Now, she's an easy target, obvious. But... How many times do martial artists fall into that? A senpai commented to me some years ago that some character flaws were easier in the veryest of "Do" schools, because you wouldn't be hit back. In boxing, however, being a cretin had consequences. For starters, most instructors wouldn't risk you.

So, are MA good for self knowledge? Only as good as you allow them to be. As you invest on them to be. It doesn't come for free.

And, sadly, possibly the majority of those who approach the MA want a free lunch. No such thing, guys.

Which is, of course, why most of those go away. Still many remain. And they reach a teaching certificate.

Sigh... You can only guess at the quality of their instruction, and what loops their pupils will have to go through if they want to surpass the master (and they'll better).

Take care.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Circular drills

I was watching a documentary yester night (The Bladed Hand). While the opinions in the doc have some strong pitfalls, it's a worthy one, interesting. Would NOT train under some of these people if they paid me for it, but the rest...? Man, they're good.

Now, I think the teaching value of survival is mostly forgotten, and might help explain why the previous generations is so damn good. And I still think that the teaching proficiency itself of many (some of them legendary) teachers needs some work, but there's one thing FMA have that other arts don't emphasize as much.

The doc, at one point, basically says "FMA training has taken over cinema; if you've seen a fight, it's 90% sure it's FMA". Then it sort of extrapolates from there to MA training. I disagree. If anything's taken over MA it's boxing. But...

But the fact is that FMA have some interesting things in them. People get really attached to FMA drills, for example. You'll find people in every corner doing hubud or sombrada. Sometimes with no sense at all, no matter how you measure it. I think that's often a mistake.

The idea of drills isn't. In fact, a lot of arts have them. I can only speak for Japanese arts, but there are such drills there. Unending, partnered, fluid drills... that most instructors forget as soon as they grab the plane back to the West.

And I've been wondering, of late (since before this particular video), how to use the idea of circular, neverending drills in Kaju. Call it sombrada on techniques or hubud on our own "blocks", the idea is there, and it's really accessible. Why isn't it used? Why is most dynamic training I'm seeing a toeing into Boxing waters or some weird ideas on barroom brawls instead of a way to dynamize what you are already training.

Take care.