Saturday, April 30, 2011

Life Touch

Talking with Mac and Rory over coffee last weekend, the conversation meandered around many facets of martial training and life. I actually don't remember how we got talking about 'secret death touches' ... but Mac, without missing a beat said something like "I'm not interested in the death touch, I'm interested in the life touch".
I think he just defined for me what being a teacher should be about.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stasis and Stuckness

Stasis can happen in space or time. Those moments/places of equilibrium can be empty or full. If they are empty they are yours to exploit, if they are full but balanced you can wait - change is inevitable - and anything dynamic has by it's nature spaces within it where opportunity and possibility live.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Getting Your Learn On

Along with the physical training, I had the pleasure of drinking coffee on Sunday morning with Rory and Mac. We must have sat there for about 3 hours and I have to say, what a privilege it was to listen in to 2 guys working at the level of awareness they do.
In the same way that the afternoon brawling session feels like soup ... no, perhaps better, a rich stew in my body, this conversation sits in my mind in the same way.
It's an elusive thing when you start to try to pin down what you talked about or what you learned, in the same way that intuition is lighter and stronger before you stare at it too hard.
I absorbed a great deal from the company of these 2 men, talking, listening, watching.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Learning with Rory Miller

Trying to formulate in words about training this weekend with RM, and I mean 'training' in the broadest sense - encompassing talking, watching, listening, feeling, flowing, forgetting, owning, reacting, losing, creating, and most of all playing. Definitely playing.
There was nothing to complete or accomplish, and I'm not sure if I could label what we did or what I learned, but I know it changed things. I had glimpses of possibilities and got to experience a different, more visceral kind of chaos than I had spent time in before.
Flying home brought to mind leaving Sonny's house after a training session, sitting in my car and feeling like I'd had my fingers shoved in an electrical socket - I felt disoriented, shifted somehow, and imagined that an observer would notice that my hair was somehow standing straight out from my head. Back then I often did not remember how I drove home.
This was kinda like that too, except now I know exactly where my ribs, neck and jaw are, I have tape around both my big toes, and I seem to have some random grazes that I don't think were there before.
What a gift to play with such a highly skilled, big cat that doesn't want to kill you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Quantum Donut

Poem from Mac -

"Stability is chaos;
Chaos is the gift;
Nothing, the goal."

Mac's blog -

Monday, April 18, 2011

Your Own Personal Tree

A couple new guys started training and we've been working on the basics. We started with footwork first of course, and worked upwards through shoulder knee alignments to learning some basic cuts and blocks/parries.
I found myself saying again - 'Remember, the weapon is an extension of your body'- a phrase that has been repeated through countless generations. And it most certainly is, it has to be, because it is the only thing that stands between you and your opponent's blade.
Pardon me for being so graphic, but humans are squishy - that's why edged weapons have been so effective through much of human history as killing implements. We leak when we get cut and become dysfunctional when too much does, or something gets cut off.
Nowadays we just get to play at dueling instead of actually putting our lives on the line of course, but it is still worth remembering what the sword can do. It is sensible to avoid having your opponent's blade tip or edge touch you if at all possible, and if your sword is the only thing standing between you are your opponent's weapon, it makes sense that it should be wielded relative to it in a way that protects as much of you as possible, as much of the time as possible.

Remember back to playing tag as kids in the garden or the park, and how if you managed to get a tree between you and the tagger, you could stay on one side of it and keep them away on the other by moving round with them. That's the concept you need to do this.
In dueling, your sword is the tree, and in the same way that you have to move around the tree to keep your opponent on the opposite side, so you have to orient your body around your sword and move your feet to keep your self protected as your opponent moves (from above too... unless your sword is tree height).

The weapon is an extension of your body - not just your arm. The blade angle, cut angle, body angle, foot orientation are all connected.
As Luo Laoshi says about bagua practice: "Make the body One".
I would add for Eskrima - make the body and sword, 'One' too.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Steve Morris on Knife

I like how Steve Morris thinks and though he does not write on his blog so much any more, concentrating more on his forum, there's still good stuff to be found there.
The man loves to fight, has been doing it all his life - getting into scraps as an Army brat around the world, then through studying/teaching martial arts and all that involved back in the 70s and 80s, and on through to the present day - he's in his late 60s now.
He is constantly researching, physiology and kinesiology in particular, to find ways to generate more power and speed in his own body, and looking at how to pass that info on to others to make them better fighters whether in the ring or on the street. He is tireless in his search for improvement, and looks and moves like a man 20 years his junior. He is a true Force of Nature.

I had the pleasure of spending a weekend with him a couple years back, taking his 3hr 'Primal' class, and then a 3 hour private the next day. I was out of my depth in the class, so much of it being ground work and geared towards MMA fighting, but the private was excellent, focusing on striking, power, rhythm and recycling.
I knew he had researched many weapon arts including FMA, so when I heard he was going to release a DVD on Knife Principles and Drills, I was curious to see what his ideas around it would be.
I finally got a chance to watch it this last week.
Steve and Sonny both agree that learning to deal with blade will up your game whatever your primary focus of training, and working with a blade sharpens (LOL) your accuracy in hand eye co-ordination and targeting, your ability to judge range and you appreciation of timing.
My favorite idea from the DVD was when Steve said you have to fight like you are 'writing and screaming' at the same time .... akin to Rory Miller's Lizard brain conversing with Human brain.
I enjoyed it, and it was cool to see the same concepts that I learned from Sonny from a different point of view and explained with new terminology. I also really liked his drill for transitioning from flow to fight and back again as an effective way to test the ability to explode off a hair trigger with meaningful and consistent power - that's a keeper for sure.

Here is the description:
"When you are dealing with someone armed with a knife, no two situations are ever going to be the same.  The possible variations are so numerous that it would be impossible to devise a universal approach to dealing with a knife attack.  But one thing is certain: whatever strategy and tactics you might employ, there’s a strong possibility that you will end up seriously injured or even dead.  Choice-wise, you are between a rock and a hard place. 
No matter how many options you have, none of them can guarantee a good outcome, but a sure way to have a bad outcome is to have few options (or only one) available to you.  To prevail against a knife, you need to be able to adapt to whatever action possibilities the situation affords with regards to gaining control of the knife and incapacitating your attacker in some way. 
The knife is dangerous, but how dangerous it is depends on the person who is using it.  The greater their intent to injure or kill, the more dangerous they—and the knife—become.  Their skill level with the knife is not as important as their mindset, which means that effectively anyone who is highly aroused can use a knife to deadly effect.  As dangerous as the knife is, you also have to address the attacker who is wielding it, and you must do this at the same time as you address the knife itself.  If you go for one and not the other, you are taking an enormous risk, possibly a fatal one.  Being able to change goals and multitask is a valuable ability to have in any fight, but in the reduced space and time of a knife attack it isn’t an option—it’s a necessity.  And the better you get at it, the better your chances of survival. 
Multitasking has more than one meaning.  You may be simultaneously performing two or more tasks, or you may be switching back and forth between tasks rapidly.  You may be performing a series of different tasks one after the other, either to accommodate your original goal or because your goal is changing on the fly.  So in addition to being able to do two things at once, you have to be able to ‘switch off’ the rules for performing one task and rapidly ‘switch on’ the rules for a different task.  For example, you may be controlling the limb while hitting to the head one moment, and switching off the rules you use to control the limb while switching on the rules needed to instead attack the limb in the next moment as your tactics shift.  It’s a very fast game, and a diverse one in terms of skill.
A knife can inflict serious or fatal injury in a reduced space, time and motion.  And it is within the constraints of this limited space, time and motion that you have to be able to work.  You must be able to read the situation, the opponent, the environment, and those visual, tactile and even auditory cues that your opponent provides.  In this reduced space, time and motion you must set goals, switch goals, and carry them out through multitasking appropriate to the goal you’ve set. 
This is why, as a martial artist, knife in many ways presents you with a supreme challenge.  It challenges abilities and faculties at all levels because it requires you to do everything in a narrow time frame and under tremendous pressure, demanding among other things economy of movement, generation of short-range rapid/repetitive power, and extreme mental focus.  It teaches you to instantly read and act upon your attacker’s visual/tactile cues despite the danger at every moment.  At times, the left hand is simultaneously doing something completely different to the right—an ability that few people possess.   Even if you were to ignore the street value of knife training, you would find that it yields tremendous dividends to your overall performance as an athlete and a fighter.
When knife defence is taught, it is typically with a one-option-at-a-time approach, or even just with a single paradigm intended to govern everything you do.  I liken this approach to being a bus driver who is required to drive a given route and sticks to it at all times.  It works well enough when there’s not too much traffic on the road, but when the congestion builds up or a given route is blocked, the bus is immobilised.  A knife fight has a lot of traffic and unexpected diversions—openings appear and disappear unpredictably and in a flash.  In a knife fight, you need to be more like a London taxi driver who has multiple choices of route stored in his head, so that if one way is blocked, he can switch to another route and still reach his destination in good time.  He can even change destinations on the fly.  With the bus, once you’re on it you’re stuck to a prearranged route.
The knowledge and experience required to be like a taxi driver and not a bus driver doesn’t come easy.  It’s an ability that is acquired through doing.  And once you have the ability to deal with multiple options and the fast, changing game, the knowledge provided by your prior experience doesn’t weigh you down.  On the contrary—it speeds you up.  Some people are afraid of cluttering up their head with too much information, because they fear they’ll freeze with indecision in the crunch.  But this is only likely to happen if your training is all based on theory, demonstration, and drills that are one-dimensional; i.e., ‘if he does this, I’ll do that’.  The way I teach knife is completely different, and it’s designed to impart skills and faculties straight into your neuromusculoskeletal system without you having to do a whole lot of thinking about it.
I have been working with knife on and off over the course of many years, but much of the material on this DVD comes from the past few years, through a process of teaching and experimentation with complete beginners outside of the martial arts.  I have been developing, testing and refining these methods with a private group in London, and in early February 2011 I introduced the approach to the Gloucester martial art group you see on the movie (recorded 2 February 2011 at Murray Bruton’s training facility).  Some of the participants on the DVD have had a lesson or two involving knife prior to filming; others have had no preparation or experience at all.  There is no difference in my approach for beginners. 
The DVD consists of a training session at Murray Bruton’s place, followed by an extended PS recorded at my home where I go over some details and finer points of what was covered in the class.  Finally, there is another chunk of footage with some improved drills to round everything off.  This is a substantial recording, a significant evolution from the old 1998 Stick and Knife DVD, and it contains a large amount of information.  You can use this material to supplement your fight training whether or not weapons are normally a part of what you do.  For those who have been following my ideas over the years, you will find that this DVD really pulls together the critical concepts and encapsulates the essence of what fight training needs to be."


"Art is not the 'what' it is the 'how'" - David Mitchell

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

RHD 3 - Discord

Once you can feel an opponent's rhythm, and have a range of your own to play with, you can use it to your advantage. You can jam them, bait them and generally screw with their timing. You can tempt them with openings and take them away, you can overwhelm them with a sudden change in rhythm, or force mistakes or rash moves.
Sonny has been called a 'ghost' on many occasions because he had an uncanny ability to appear to be in one place and then not, or suddenly close the range seemingly out of nowhere. He could also dissuade his opponent from attacking by timing their intent, or lead them into freezing or panicking by doing something unexpected.
The best analogy I have is a musical one - he could bend notes, or subtly extend or shorten them to tweek the tempo and steal range or force his opponent commit. He could syncopate, change tempo suddenly or slowly, turn up the volume or become barely audible.
He never explained what he was doing with musical terminology, but as he was a musician and composer, and also a dancer, it seems fitting. Music was a very important part of his training sessions - we rarely flowed without something playing in the background, and I know for sure that he was very precise about the pieces of music that he chose to play during flow, choosing them as subliminal indicators of the tempo he was trying to get us to feel.
Of course I did not realize this for many years - only after I started to notice the part that rhythm played in dueling.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

RHD 2 - Harmony

Dueling involves 2 people ... usually ... let's say at least 2 people.
The reason this is important is that what you do has to be relative to the other person in the equation - their personality, fighting style, physical size etc. You do what you do because it is that particular person facing you. If it was another person in front of you, you change your game to fight them.
An easy example would be noting the difference in tactics between fighting someone 6'5" (One of Sonny's students was this tall) vs someone left handed vs a Serrada player vs a high skilled VCKE player.
You are also part of the equation of course, with your own strengths and weaknesses, so again, relative to your opponent, you make choices regarding the best strategy to use (obviously the more options the better).
It's the same as dancing (or conversing*) with someone, the person standing in front of you is why you dance like you do - there are 2 people involved in the interaction, at least there should be (it's called playing with yourself otherwise), and dancing to your own beat with no regard for the other will get you 'killed' dueling if your opponent can read your game.
It's always a good idea to know who you are fighting, and in flow training, a way to find out who they are, to understand their rhythm, their personality, is to get out of your own head and body and into theirs.
What is their natural rhythm, cadence, tempo? Is there only one? More?
Can you find them?
BE them?
What does this tell you about who they are, how they fight?
Can you put their rhythm into your repertoire to fight others?
Sonny called this 'Mirroring' (FYI: there are many different types of Mirroring, not just regarding rhythm) and it is a very important skill in our system.

* - (For those that are interested, the article I wrote a while back (jeez it can't be 7 years ago already ...) about flow: The Art of Conversation is here: )

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rhythm, Harmony and Discord Part 1

Sonny videoed all his classes. He kept one copy, and he had 2 recorders hooked up so at least 2 people could get copies of each session to take home. I'm pretty sure some never spent much time watching their tapes, but most did, and I certainly spent a few hours every week reviewing the workouts.
Video is a hugely useful tool for gaining insight into your gaps and tendencies, teachers can point out personal glitches that you yourself can't feel, but seeing them in glorious technicolor gives you a whole new level of certainty that you cannot deny.
Watching yourself 'in action' can be somewhat cringe worthy at first, but getting used to watching your own movement, objectively, is great training for separating ego from skill, and as a start point for troubleshooting what needs fixing.
One of my great insights occurred when I started to notice how I had a personal rhythm, a way of moving when I flowed. The more I watched the more I could see the pattern of my movement, it predicted when I entered and dictated my (weak) attempts at faking. No wonder I was easy to read! It pervaded all I did and once I'd noticed it it became almost embarrassing to watch.
Once I got over that ... ahem ...... I noticed that everybody 'suffered' from the same issue - a personal, and unconscious way of moving that was predictable. So I started to pay attention more to peoples' innate rhythms, and tried to notice what separated the higher skilled players from the beginners.
Sonny was a chameleon, so was a great person to learn from by watching, and what I noticed was this - We all move like ourselves - Sonny Umpad's movement is totally recognizable as his, so is Floyd Mayweather's, Bruce Lee's etc ..... but, all these guys, though each has a distinctive way of fighting, also has many rhythms and tempos within them, as well as a whole spectrum of break beats at their disposal.
That is what separated them from the beginners that generally have only one game to play.

Finding new or different rhythms and ways of moving is actually fairly tricky because by their nature they feel ... unnatural.
Until you can make them yours they will be stilted and self conscious, like the physical equivalent of bad acting. They will also take a great deal of concentration to do, which means you are a much easier target during training, and in essence become a beginner again. Your ego may have a problem with this - not only the losing part, but the part that links who you are with how you move ......
But, it is a worthwhile endeavor and will up your game considerably if you practice. You'll still be you, but just more so.

Part 2 will look at the relationship between what you do and who you play with.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Don't Get Hit Part 2

I shamelessly stole these video clips from a friend's blog.
Evasion is hugely important in Filipino style dueling, blocking too ... you really really don't want to take hits with an edged weapon if you can avoid it.
Your footwork, 'ma-ai' and defensive structure must all work together. Defense and offense should essentially be the same thing - focusing solely on evading is not a plan. Defense sets up the position for the offense ... after all 'not getting hit' can also be achieved by keeping your opponent busy defending themselves 
Here's some nice boxing and MMA examples - (Note: the music and editing in the first clip are obnoxious ... but you can always press the mute button :-)

Anderson Silva:

Original post on Jon Law's Blog:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Back in 1764 ......

 From Kenjutsu no Fushikihen (On Ignorance in Swordsmanship), written by Kimura Kyuhou in 1764.

The author's teacher traveled incognito and visited various schools of swordsmanship to compare systems. He said this:

"All of them employed paired kata and there were none who had achieved outstanding skill. Among those who showed little understanding were those orthodox teachers who created and taught choreographed patterns. Although it is said this makes it easy to understand and refine the principles of the style, the results should bear this out. They are unable to lead anyone to realization of the principle."

(I have yet to read the book. Quote was found on the blog:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Drills Book from Rory Miller

This came out a few weeks ago now and I have no idea why I didn't recommend it earlier. It's a very good book, not just physical drills, but some great 'plastic mind' exercises and some even bigger stuff to play with.
This is what someone else said about it: 
"Rory, The title vastly undersells what you put together this time. It's not so much a drill book as a guide to re-engineering oneself.. One thing that surprised me (albeit only slightly) was the number of invitations for readers to come out and swim in deep, dark waters. Tremendous growth potential for folks who take those invitations seriously. Here's hoping they like, or at least can accept, what they find."

Like I said, it's very good.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


 In answer to CTK's question as to how to apply/practice from the 'Options not Opposites' post

You need to understand the 'point of no return' and become aware of it. Then you have to try to feel it ABOUT to happen - i.e. when you still have options. Then you have to learn to DO something about it - that means not freezing and not looping, but CHANGING something.
What can you change? Well that's why you need to have your weight distributed and feet placed so they can move. Your body angled so it can move, your weapon placed so it can move, and the ability to see where is safe and where is not.

There's a bunch of tactical stuff here as to how not to get into this position in the first place (and a bunch on how to use it as a bait), but if you do find yourself losing options, but have not reached the point of no return, the list I gave is things that will help get you out, or perhaps turn the tide in your favor.

So to your question: How to apply/practice ..?

For the DO list -
For footwork - Out of context I would have to say soccer, basketball, salsa dancing, fell running, hackisack.
You can also practice hopping, skipping, stutter step. Opening and closing doors and picking things up with your feet. Creeping/stalking etc etc
You can have someone throw a ball at you whilst you stand in front of a wall and evade (see video clip from epicmartialarts blog coming up soon). Sonny would throw knives and balls at us to evade.
The weapon stuff is just a question of practicing with it in tight spaces and at close quarters.

For the 'SEE' list -
You are right, flow is how you put it all in context - you need some one who can set you up, or at least point it out from the side lines as it is happening, so you can see it, and engage your conscious mind into changing before it gets too late. So you can practice noticing where the point of no return is, and trying to change the game before it happens.
This is the best way, because it's really hard to pretend to get cornered and have to react spontaneously if you don't have to. It's also hard to pretend the angles of attack with a sword you are going to have to deal with ... without a sword.