Thursday, February 26, 2015


Everything is reactive and nothing is guaranteed to work. There, I said it.

Just to clarify - You are always reacting, even if you 'go first'. What I mean is, you might do a preemptive strike because you sensed something coming, but you still reacted to the behavior of your opponent.

Martial arts teaches us all kinds of techniques - If they do this, you do that, whether it's something specific to do with stepping off line and executing some series of moves, or more vague like 'if they close' step in, keep hitting until you overcome them'.

But would you still do it if you knew it might not work?

How about if it only had a 50/50 chance of working?

Having only one single option in hand with no room for adjusting to changing circumstances means you are always going to be behind the timing. Convince yourself that your first entry is going to work no matter what means that your mind will be stuck in 'ACT' phase of the OODA loop with no time to OBSERVE or ORIENT to a change in circumstance.

Remember, even if you think you are acting preemptively, sometimes your opponent is just waiting for you to come into range so they can connect and control your movement. Nothing is guaranteed.

Most martial systems understand this and have a part of their training specifically dealing with change, usually from contact - Push Hands, Chi Sao, San Shou, or what Sonny called Second Flow.

In Yizong Bagua, this is where Line 3 comes in - That moment where contact is made but your initial idea needs to be altered.

The initial entry may be a good one, so you cannot act like it is definitely going to fail, but you still need some more 'ideas' some options, that you can potentially use if it does.

In Bagua we talk about 'half' - I do half, my opponent does half. We also talk 'testing', 'saying hello', about 'keeping a good situation'. In Eskrima we talk about 'not running out of angle'.

What we are doing is forcing a reaction from our opponent that we can use to our own benefit.

This means there has to be both a precision of relative position between you and the opponent so you have the structure and power to do the next thing you want at any moment, but also a fluidity to smoothly segue into that next thing, whatever it may be. All whilst preventing yourself from taking damage.

This requires good alignment (in yourself and between you and your opponent), an understanding of the strong and weak angles of the body, and the sensitivity to know where one option to continue is better than another.

Last but not least, an understanding of the concept of 'half', where 'half' is.

Friday, February 20, 2015


One of the best things about sharing ideas, is that people ask questions or comment, thus giving an opportunity for a reply, and the possibility of moving the conversation forward.

Today's interaction made me realize how important 'waiting' is. It seems obvious that faking and baiting only work if the other person falls for the ploy AND you wait for them to fall for it.

It does not work if you don't wait to see what effect it has had.  Don't wait, and it's the equivalent of throwing one half-assed strike, opening that line, and then striking again right into their defense.

Now that would be stupid.

But how to 'wait' without getting behind the timing? Everyone knows that waiting gives the opponent the advantage ....

Well, technically you are only waiting if you have not predicted what will happen next and thus are not ready to take advantage of what does happen. A truly successful faker and baiter actually does not care if you fall for the lie. They are obviously ready for the success of their stratagem, but they are also ready to turn the original half-assed strike into a full-assed one AND to return to a defensive line or to evade if needs be.

4 things, all from one moment in time and from one relative position.

To have all these options in the bag, you need balance, fast movement off line, defensive skills, an ability not to panic, and last but not least, the ability to wait only long enough to notice when the opponent has gone past the point of no return on their reaction ... which means you need to understand the centerline, recycle possibilities from each position, and neutral points ...

Who knew that waiting was such an active pursuit? Or indeed that there was so much to practice in it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Guy Throws a #1 Re-Up

I wrote a post back in June 2011.

I keep mentioning it of late, or reciting something similar in content, so here it is for those that missed it.

It explains a few things about why I'm annoyed by preset techniques and patterns, how I think about what I learned from Sonny, and why the most interesting, yet most ignored, part of the fight (in my opinion) happens before what Sonny called 'just technical'.

So, the guy throws a #1 ....
... Why did he throw it?
Because he thought he had a shot.
...Which means my left upper quadrant was open somewhere and in range I guess
... Where was my defense? I mean the guy is only going to throw if the target is open, so it means my defense line is open.
Maybe you missed a shot and over committed?
.... So ... I take a shot at him because there is a target I think I can reach that is in range but I miss. I guess he evades?
Yeah, he evades.
.... That means he either must have the angle on me or he fades out of range?
I suppose.
... And my weapon must be off the center line and probably tip low as well then to leave my upper left undefended enough to make him try for it?
... And he must be to the left of my center, because the only target for a #1 on the other side would be my weapon arm which is not in range.
So he comes in and you block.
... How did that happen ...? If he already had the angle on me and my weapon was so far off the center line, there's no way I'd make it.
Your weapon was not that far off the center.
... Well that means that I was not really open, so why did he throw the strike?
He's not that smart
... So this is a defense against a stupid person ...?
OK, He faded back so had to step in which gave you time to cover
... So he's stepping in throwing a #1 and I have enough time to recover and block the strike. Why didn't I just step in and hit him, or evade, instead of wasting my weapon on a block?
You block. That's what happens next.
So if I can block a strike that was aimed at my head, it means we are both well in range .... Is he following up? I mean he's close, and he still has his left hand free.
No, you check his weapon hand with your live hand, pass it and cut behind it.
.... Well if I was him, I'd drop to jam the strike, pivot and spiral in, either way we both have hold of each other and we're both carrying swords, what happens now .....?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jan 31st 2015

If you are in the Bay Area ...
This Saturday, 4 - 6pm ish.
Book reading/discussion/Q and A on 'The Liar the Cheat and the Thief' + play, at Soja Martial Arts in Oakland's lovely uptown. Snacks after.
Check in the 'Events' section :-)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Money Corrupts ....?

Friend Andy just shared this clip:

I have seen this too and thought the same, but here's a couple added subtleties that I think need adding to the equation.

An old teacher of mine once said you should only study martial arts from a teacher who does not have a side job. What I think he meant was that you want someone to teach you who is serious and has put the time and effort needed into their practice to indeed be worthy as a teacher.

But here's the thing. I have found, and this is not limited to martial arts but many other artistic fields also, that if your livelihood is purely dependent on this income, on some level you lose your independence when you attach money to art. At the harshest level, you are prostituting yourself to the whims and wants of your clientele so you can keep them coming back and paying you.

An artist friend of mine told me once that if she wanted to earn more money, she'd just paint cats and dogs, because they are a guaranteed sale. To paint what she really wants, she has to make a conscious decision to risk NOT making that money.

You might say, well why not paint what people want? But I suspect you know that this road leads only to generic reproduction with no room for confrontational or innovative art. Substitute 'Martial Artist' for 'Fine Artist' and you might also be able to see how corrosive this path might be - Teachers only teaching 'feel good' material, and stringing their students along as far as possible with promises of the 'secret stuff' to come.

I believe this is why those that say connecting money to art is a bad thing.

BUT .......

They are missing what is probably the biggest point in this whole thing:


I'll say it again


If I have spent years and years of time and effort to understand what I know and I'm good at it, why should I give it to you?

What is YOUR part in all this? What is the student's role?

See, the student also has a responsibility. Just as I feel I have a responsibility to pass on what I know, the student has a responsibility to value the teacher. To be happy to help them financially, as well as put in their own time and effort to gain the knowledge they are being given.

Really it is the student's job to OFFER to pay for the teacher's time, no? Not the teacher's job to ask for it. Where did that get lost?

It is also the student's responsibility to value the knowledge, separate from valuing the teacher. This knowledge may well be arcane, and it will not help with fixing the leak in your bathroom, but it is part of the human experience, a very old and deep aspect of it. It should have it's place beside all the other skills and fields of study that help us connect with being alive on this planet.

So think on this, and remember, respect and responsibility go both ways. If that's not clear, just ask yourself - Why would this teacher spend they valuable time teaching me? Why would they want to give me what they spent so many years of effort to learn?

And, no, the answer is not just 'money', but it's also not just 'because they should', or 'because I'm a nice person'.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Feet on the Ground

Was playing some Sikaran (footsie) flow with R the other morning.

R is very good. One thing that he's really good at doing is being able to move on the balls of his feet. What this gives him is the ability to do more things than if his foot was flat on the floor, a really cool one being he can change the angle of the heel to evade and/or counter a foot trap/leg 'bar'. His pivot and drop at the moment of contact is very effective.

Basically he SHEARS the angle (using the same point of contact but utilizing a direction that favors him) with this new angle, he can put his heel down and take your balance instead of you taking his.

Of course on can also use the heel as a pivot and connect the knee to either as a one-two hit depending on if the range opens or closes. Sonny played mostly on the balls of his feet but used both pivots.

What articulating the ball/heel and foot/knee gives you is leverage. You come to see the arcs as well as the straight lines (both away from you and towards you) which you can use for power generation and the ability to string multiple hits together.

I think I already wrote about how Sonny vary rarely used his first contact as the final hit ... I mean if a single attack line was there, sure, he'd use it, but usually he was fighting out of his weight range and needed to off balance before striking for the greatest effect.

Not being flat footed takes training because we all have a tendency to plant ourselves when we fight. I'm sure this is partly to do with a freeze response, it also feels more powerful. However, it is not so good for evasion, countering, drawing, or reversing attacks which are all great skills for smaller people, and if you are around swords.

Here's a good way to start getting light on your feet (If you are not interested in what you should wear to look good during your practice, start at 3mins 15):