Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hitting is Just Timing ...

This is a baseball thing. I'm not into baseball, but like the knuckleball post, this is a great dip into the tactical thinking of high level players. Sword players try to prevail against an opponent whilst trying to not get hit, pitchers pitch against hitters, trying to get them to miss.

Jamie Moyer was a pitcher, and not a particularly fast one at that. Apparently, at some point during his career he got some advice from a sports psychologist that took his game into the 'mental' realm. A couple years back he became the oldest pitcher ever to record a win in the majors at the age of 49 years, 150 days.

Baseball and sword play may be two very different pursuits, but the commonality is that there are still people involved, and often it's you against them. It's actually amazing how closely Mr Moyer's tactics apply to dueling.

“If you know the way broadly you will see it in everything.”
Miyamoto Musashi

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What I Do

A friend asked me to write a quick description of what I teach so he could get a better idea of how what I do compares to other martial arts stuff. So here is what I wrote:

In essence I teach the Art of Deception: why you need it, how to get it, and how to use it.

If you are uncomfortable with the word 'deception', feel free to insert 'tactics and tactical thinking' instead. :-)

All martial arts are born of deception - Upping your own odds as much as you can whilst minimizing those of your opponent. Gaining advantage (in time/space), hiding your true intent, causing your opponent to commit an error, etc etc. Sadly most in the modern day have forgotten how important this used to be for those engaged in combat. Today there really are no consequences to 'losing', no persistent threat of death, maiming or potential for a slow, painful, decline. Now only points for win or lose, or a referee stopping the fight to prevent serious injury.

The techniques more likely to cause serious injury that form parts of traditional systems - those that could be lethal, break bones, dislocate joints etc - were long since taken out of full contact practice and sport.

Throws in Judo that would break arms, or rip knee tendons were taken out. Neck and spine breaks caused as a result of throw angles have been adjusted to contain an escape. We don't allow strikes to the brain stem area because we don't like to kill our training partners or fellow competitors nowadays. We also tend to avoid 'cheating' - eye gouges, nut grabs etc

This is all cool, but systems that purport to be 'functional' outside of a sport setting have to work against someone actually trying to kill or maim you, or at least against someone who does not care if they do.

Swordplay is one way to bring these historically ever present 'consequences' back, and provide an arena in which to explore these ideas. There is no real incentive to do this empty hand as hits are rarely lethal. Cover, and use of muscle power make it less of a problem to cause damage even if you have to take some to prevail. Both take a few hits? No problem.

Adding edged weapons takes power out of the equation, and the in built lethality makes everything matter much more. The smallest mistake can cause maiming or death, so the incentive to NOT make a mistake is very high. (And before you ask, no, I don't train with live weapons, much, but all trainers should be handled and respected as the real thing otherwise the training is meaningless).

My teacher said "To kill is easy, especially if you do not care for your own health. To die is even easier. But to live ...? This is where the 'art' is".

This is also where the deception is.

Deception buys time, and time is space. You need enough of it to dispatch your adversary AND get back out of range (If you can reach them, they can reach you - No one 'dies' instantaneously), which is tricky when they are trying their best to do the same to you.

There are a few different types of deception:

Spatial deception - Basically sleight of hand, playing with geometry and relative positioning,

Temporal deception - Playing with the perception of time by varying speed, and related to spatial deception

Psychological deception - Possibly the most interesting, and combining elements of both spatial and temporal deception by using faking, baiting, and causing freezing and looping, or other errors, in the opponent.

That's what I teach, and I use the blade work of the Visayan Style Eskrima of Sonny Umpad as the way to do it. This just means using short, single edged, single handed swords, with no hand guards, made of crappy steel whilst wearing no armor. Basically the shittiest options available whilst still carrying, and facing, a lethal weapon.

The combination of the sharp but fragile sword and the lack of protection, make the necessity of engaging the frontal lobe before moving essential to one's well being.

Previous knowledge of some kind of sword art is a bonus though it is actually not a prerequisite to learning to think this way.

What is a prerequisite, is an interest in strategy and tactical thinking, and a maturity of thought that understands that the goal is to get away as unscathed as possible, not to fight until both parties are dead because you 'got them too'.

I teach these concepts (a.k.a. getting away) through a series of drills and partner practices that students can take away and refine on their own. What I don't teach is technique, knife fighting, how to go to jail, or the '154 deadly disarms of doom'.

The material works best in small groups - Up to 6, 8 at most.

3hrs just scratches the surface. A day gets you a bit further, but either will hopefully expand peoples' imaginations enough to start them thinking smarter.

In effect I am using weapons work as a tool to understanding something much bigger: That in any one on one interaction, whether it be adversarial or not, there is always an 'other'. You cannot necessarily control them, but you can control yourself, and you can control the relationship.

This plays in a little to Rory's plastic mind exercises, and also into his Concom material, because much of that control rests on your ability to recognize who your opponent is, what they want, what they see, and use that information to get what you want. The drills I teach help you to do that, with or without a sword in your hand.

As a bonus for sword practitioners, if it is of interest, I also teach how edged weapons work. I talk about the sword and the different parts that make up it's design - The cutting edge, the tip, the flat, the back edge, the shape of the blade, the handle and the ways to grip it. How it moves and how to use all the parts, and how the shape and design of each blade dictates how it is used. I like to compare different swords from different cultures, though really enjoy the myriad swords of the Philippines and Malay peninsula. I have studied Toyama Ryu Battodo and western style foil and sabre fencing and believe that the design of the blade and the way that it is used are inextricably linked.

Swords are cool in and of themselves, but they are even cooler in the effects carrying one, and facing one, brings out in you, and other people.

Friday, August 8, 2014


One of the hardest things about being a teacher is that often you have forgotten how you learned things. You might remember some stuff, or the order in which things were taught, but it's often hard to pin point the moments when the light bulbs went off and why they did.
At that particular moment.
Not before.
But then.

There is no curriculum in Sonny's system, and though there kinda is for the Bagua I teach, there are no belts or levels to fall back on. No lists of 'Do 1 through 12 of these, 5 of those and 14 variations of this with a partner' for a pass or fail.

There are alignment principles and qualities of movement I am looking for. Integration, calmness of mind, and ability to control power. Some memorization of choreography, and an appreciation of range, angles, and timing in partner practice.

In Eskrima, there's also the ability to control and manipulate the weapon, maintain correct range, see openings, and above all else not to get hit!

Getting people to improve their proprioception and be able to do all these things takes time. I find myself thinking - 'How long did it take me this long to learn this'? But I can't remember, and perhaps in the end it is unimportant. Still I can't help but wonder if I am teaching in the best way I can for the student in front of me.

That was actually Sonny's game with himself - How to make people 'get it' as easily and quickly as possible, to get them to actually, truly 'see'.

Thing is, we all learn differently. We start from different places, with different skills, and glitches. We see movement, and move our bodies in different ways, and hear words in different ways too. So as a teacher I need to have a range of strategies to pass information and ideas to another brain, and the ability to see when the light bulbs DO go off. I think I have a fair range of these, though I do have a tendency to talk too much and overload people with too much information on occasion.

Sometimes, however, I have to accept the possibility that I am not the right person to be teaching a particular student. That because of who they are they can't hear what I am saying, that the dynamic is wrong somehow.

When this is the case, I have found it is best to have them train elsewhere for a while and see if this 'hearing impediment' improves when listening to a different voice.

What I have yet to ascertain is whether this impasse is actually a 'teaching impediment' that lies is me, or whether it is, actually, them.

Me, I can change, Them I most often cannot.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What is the Speed of Dark?

If you are wondering what this has to do with martial arts you'll have to watch till the end.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


Bernard Hopkins won a title fight at 48 and in the interview clip below he rails against the idea that it's because he's a freak, or as he puts it, an 'alien'. He suggests that pay per view ratings demand spectacle and that in the eyes of the promoters this means fighters taking hits and hitting back with no concern for their health or their longevity in the game. It's a shame. They call boxing the 'sweet science' - Science, not the Spectacle. Where did that get lost?

Here's Steve Morris talking about the same thing:

"Fighting is about hitting without being hit whilst training is about learning how to be able to realistically do that without suffering long term brain or physical damage . The trouble is a lot of the professional fighters i was once associated with were all too willing to take a beating in the ring , arena or during sparring in order to give one. Like i said seriously dumb ....."

And :

"None of the professional mma fighters ive taught over the past ten years on a casual basis (maximum once a month) were ever interested in that mind set, attributes, skills or those concepts and principles that would allow them to increase their chances of taking someone out on the feet or the ground whilst reducing the chances of being taken out in turn. The only thing they were ever interested in was taking the other guy out. The trouble is with such a primitive approach to the fight and training many of them were losing more fights than they were winning they just couldnt seem to be able to get past the oversimplified strategic and tactical objectives and formulated skilled patterns their more regular trainers were spoon feeding them on daily basis. Theres far more to the art and science of fighting than the daily repetition of some prescribed movement pattern or trying to beat each others brains out during sparring ..."

It's not a view you hear that often, but recently seems to be being said out loud more often. It's close to my heart because it is also what Sonny thought and taught. It is also what my book is about. I have written about it here many times and perhaps the zeitgeist is coming right for it to finally, actually be heard.

If I was to guess why most do not train the 'not getting hit' part, it's because they don't know how to do it. 

Well, I'm telling you, there are ways to, you just have to have better skills and be motivated to learn them.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Ladies and gentlemen, may I present a fabulous compilation of the boxing skills, particularly the defense, baiting, evasion, and footwork, of Guillermo Rigondeaux
His control of the tempo of the fight: throwing jabs to play with the rhythm, alongside his evasive footwork, his exits, his balance and ability to exploit open targets, is really a pleasure to watch.


Especially note the commentary at 2 mins 20ish, 4 mins 30ish and 4 mins 50ish.

EDIT:  I found out from a fellow student of Sonny's who follows boxing that they won't put this guy's fights on TV because he is 'too boring'. Anyone who watches this and finds it boring clearly needs to be hit in the head a few more times so they can appreciate how good he really is. ;-)

Saturday, July 5, 2014


Political and martial discussions on the internet often follow a predictable pattern, usually ending with snide remarks, and with either one party leaving the conversation, or with the argument raging on and on with no purpose.

The common thread through most of these interactions seems to be a refusal to accept the concept of uncertainty. Both parties believe, truly believe, they are right. They are certain of it. Just as they are certain the opposing view is contemptible/idiotic/misguided etc etc.

And whilst I understand that certainty is a necessity in particular situations: When you have committed to a course of action, you go. No dithering. When the fight's on - Fight. But conversation is not a fight!!

You are not fighting when you are training or debating, you should be learning (also known as finding stuff out you don't know yet).

If you are always certain, there exists no place for experimentation or imagination. No place for acceptance of error or that there might be a world outside of the box you are familiar with. No space for the unknown.

(As a side note, this box becomes particularly fixed when you only spends time with people that agree with you, a.k.a. your own system/friends.)

In fact I equate interacting with someone who is certain, to sparring with someone who needs to win. They are doing their thing, and often even if they 'lose' they fabricate excuses why they actually did not. (Their opponent cheated. They were just not trying. Their equipment was not performing etc etc).

Certainty to me implies fear. Fear of losing. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change.

How are any of us meant to improve ourselves if this is the place we start from?

Conversation and debate are the same as training. They are practice for making the best decisions you can when it comes time to do so for real.

By all means test the robustness of your argument with vigor and clarity, but also try to draw out what you might have missed, what you may not have thought of, from the other person. That's what they are there for.

You'll never learn anything if you don't listen, and conversely, if you actively listen, you'll learn much, much more.

And remember, we cannot see our own blind spots, that's why they are called 'blind spots', and like Sonny said: "It's the one that you don't see coming that will hit you, so best see as much as possible in training".

Will it work? I don't know. Let's see.