Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Intra-Brain Communication

Mac posted a piece about how the emotions play a key part in linking information to 'knowing' in the context of teaching/learning.
'Knowing' is my word for an ingrained understanding of something.
In an example I have experienced - After training for a while with Sonny I started to actively FEEL when I was open, physically perceiving those unprotected areas that are constantly being created by motion and striking. I swear I started to feel the breeze coming through them, like a window opened to let fresh air in, alongside the slight whistling sound of empty space. (Interesting - Not sight, but touch and sound ....)
This only came about of course because I spent many years getting hit. Not only getting hit, but trying not to get hit, i.e. failing.
The crucial part of the 'knowing' however came from linking the feeling/emotion of getting hit with searching for it's CAUSE.
Start to consciously try to feel the cause, and you can start to fix the problem.
So the Kadena in this case is - Don't get hit, it sucks to get hit, how do I not get hit?
Lizard, monkey, human ...... where perhaps the monkey acts as the bridge so human and lizard can 'converse' and actually effect useful change?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cut and Thrust

Sonny impressed on us very heavily the notion that you can never take anything for granted, and that being within range of your opponent was always dangerous. Always. Even after what might seem a 'kill' strike, never ever let down your guard or stay in range.
Also, from the other perspective, just because you got hit does not mean you cannot strike back if your opponent is having their brief moment of glory and forgetting momentarily where they are ..... If they are in range, strike them. (Which reminds me of Rory Miller's admonition (paraphrasing here) - Don't die just because you think you ought to, keep going until you are actually dead!)
It has been said that the only real 'stopping' strike guaranteed to end a duel immediately is a decapitation, so best to always be sure of range and keep fighting whether it's you that gets the first hit in or your opponent.
Below is a link to a great article looking at accounts of historic duels, targeting, and the centuries (more?) debate about the relative efficacy of cutting/slashing vs thrusting.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Wax On Wax Off

Martial Arts are a great passion of mine, so when I am forced to take a break from training it feels very strange. Thankfully this break is not forced by injury but is job related, and as a painter I actually have the perfect job to compliment sword play - I get to practice dexterity, changing grip and manipulating the brush and other tools, I get to play with rolling poles and broom handles - no explanation needed as to how that is useful, hand eye coordination painting free hand lines, balance running up and down ladders - I try not to use my hands, pivoting and dropping using the Moro footwork for painting low area or picking things up, moving things with my feet only, painting left and right handed and switching hands seamlessly.
Additionally I can practice awareness and use of peripheral vision moving around other people, and whatever else might come into my mind during the day.
There's pretty much always an opportunity to train if you see the world as your playground.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Harmenberg's 'Shape'

Thinking more on the'shapes' of things, I remembered this book called: 'Epee 2.0': http://shop.fencing.net/product_p/fb-e20.htm about a Swedish fencer, Johan Harmenberg, who was physically shorter and slower than his opponents, but who conceived of a strategy that worked to his strengths and against his opponents'. He became Olympic champion and revolutionized epee fencing ... some say to the worse, but his thought process is a fascinating read.
He understood who he was, how his opponents' fenced, and thus how to reach his goal.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Givens and Reasons

Often my friend Tennis invites me to join him for the private sword class he takes with Sensei Mike Esmialzadeh. We practice the partner exercises from the system and I get to be 'the opponent' so Sensei Mike E can troubleshoot. Class is 6.15a.m. and without doubt is one of the funnest ways to start the day.
Sensei Mike E is high ranking in many Japanese systems, but has also trained various Chinese Arts, and Eskrima under Mike Inay. He is hugely knowledgeable, well read and highly skilled, and with this varied background can see behind the Arts to the principles that lie beneath - he can explain them, and he can do them.
Like I said - big fun.

Last class we were working attacks from the draw - counter ambush type stuff from the Toyama Ryu Battodo system, and that led to a discussion of the various ways that swords have been carried in different cultures and over time.
Mike pointed out that pre 1570 Katanas were generally carried edge down (as is the norm for sword carry in many cultures), but after 1570 though this was still true on the battle field, on the street the blade started to be carried edge up.

The 16th century had seen constant civil war in Japan which was to continue into the early 1600s, but after 1570 the climate quietened down, and the result was a country filled with warriors who had known nothing but war for generations, all carrying swords into an era of peace.
As one could also imagine, old feuds from the war era bled over into these times, and the integration of past enemies into peaceful neighbors was not a smooth process. This resulted in constant confrontations, street brawls, ambushes and assassinations. An attack could come at any time, from any direction, front, behind, round a corner, and could be a cut from above, the side, a poke, a disarm, and there could be more than one of them.
It became important to have counter ambush skills and a quick draw.

So why did this influence the way the sword was carried?

Carrying edge down gives you one good angle to draw and cut from (#3 in TRB), but makes it harder to draw the blade upwards or horizontally as you have to twist in and up on the scabbard to change the angle, and your wrist does not have so much range of motion in this direction - remember the sword is curved and so is the scabbard. But keeping the edge up means it is much easier to angle the body or twist the scabbard out and down (a much more natural movement) to change it's orientation, giving 5 good, quick draw directions, enough to (potentially) take care of any attack angle, from any direction when combined with movement.

So even in the most traditional systems, "why?" questions have answers rooted in pragmatism, historical or otherwise ... or should do.  
Everything should have a good reason behind it, and asking "Why?" and discovering these reasons is a crucial part of understanding.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Morning Bagua will be on hiatus from May 12th through 26th. We will start back June 2nd.


Rory Miller often talks about 'gifts' - things that your opponent does that you can use to your benefit. Here is a great clip of a 220lb Sumo wrestler taking on an opponent much larger than him.
He never meets the force straight on, but either in wave, a curve or in shear, and uses his greater mobility to his advantage.  Sadly he gets injured at the end of the clip when the big guy lands on his knee, but fun to watch up until then.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Bridge

This week we worked on 2nd Flow, which basically means that part of a duel after contact with the opponent's weapon.
We worked on Palakau, our version of close range practice using the cut, check, cut, check rhythm. It's kinda like what other systems call Hubad, but not really. In Sonny's system Hubad Lubag means 'tying and untying' and is a random locking flow done empty hand (and foot).
Palakau is done with weapons, and this time we worked the 'Hiwa' version or slicing, which entail the use of swords at a close range, cutting with the belly of the sword and making sure that the tip always crosses the center line on each cut.
At that range, the live hand must also come into play so is also part of the flow. The last important part is that it is done with a random set of strikes, limited to #s 1,2,3,4, but in no particular order.

'Tippy Tappy' drills have a great deal of bad press because often the reason for them is lost, perhaps in the attachment to set patterns or maybe just the joy of 'banging sticks'.
Tactically of course you do not want to spend anything but the shortest amount of time at this range, both parties are able to cut to the body from here and this makes it a very dangerous place to hang around.
It is a transitional phase only, but IMHO material has to be trained here as so many variables exist at this point - tactile sensitivity and the use of pressure and 'drop offs', when and how to use the live hand, how to manipulate a sword at close range, flush blocking, use of body angle to change strike angle, importance of the space between the cuts, rhythm and breaking it, not forgetting the added bonus of getting the eyes used to blades moving fast and close.
As with all things though, there needs to be a progression to the drills that may start with inaccurate targeting and inappropriate insertion of the live hand, but through the drill point out these errors, seek solutions, and promote more realistic behavior.
When I watch my old training videos with Sonny, after we would work on some particular skills within the Palakau and switched to an 'all targets are fair game' duel - the flow basically turned into enter, close, turn, cut, protect yourself as much as possible and exit ... much more realistic. As it should be.
One of Sonny's add ups was the 'Samurai on the Bridge' exercise (he watched alot of Samurai movies, Zatoichi was his favorite) where you and your partner start from opposite corners of the room and walk past each other as if on a narrow bridge. The goal of the exercise is to get to the other side in one piece .... Note the emphasis on 'one piece' as opposed to 'both dead'.
Have fun - it's not so easy as it sounds ..... :-)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Multi Dimensional Geometry

So .... inspired by Mac's idea about drawing flows and from his blog post "Lifeshape": http://quantumdonuts.blogspot.com/2011/04/lifeshape.html, I started thinking more about the basic 'shapes' of dueling strategy. They all ended up needing to be 4 dimensional and looking like tangled balls of wool with the occasional knitting needle sticking out of them, or else abstract impressionist planes of red with a singular black dot in a far corner .....

Anyway, the basic strategy laid out in the last series of posts, using this idea of relative options is -
Narrow the opponents' options to one (or zero), whilst you remain with as many as possible until you have prevailed.
I guess in some way this is true for other types of combative encounters too, the main difference is that in ambushing, say, your opponent(s) starts with having none/one option if you are doing it right, dueling they may start with as many as you do, and your task is to take away theirs whilst keeping yours.

So shape wise, if you think about 3 dimensional space, you are physically cornering your opponent into 'running out of angle' i.e. options. Time wise (the 4th dimension) you either take it away from them completely, or you gain on them temporally so they are following. You can also 'corner' or freeze your opponent's emotional state by using psychology, their intent too, physically and psychologically. And of course you can use the environment to your advantage if you see it as yours to use.
So ultimately the shape is a corner, or a dead end (LOL) ... but it's a multidimensional corner, and I have no idea how to draw that ....

Finally it seems fitting to look at the view out from this corner, and this brings to mind Rory's comments about luck and chaos - luck being one of the 4 elements present in all interactions (the others being you, them, and the environment).
If you are winning, it's best to lessen the options, lessen the chaos and narrow the potential for lady luck to swing the other way, but,if you are losing ..... it behooves you to increase the chaos as luck is fickle, and if your options are tending towards one/zero you might as well create as much chaos as possible to shake up the many dimensions in which options exist. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


In theory you or your opponent strikes when you think you can hit the other  (if one of you is just striking without targeting, the game is probably one sided anyway).
These opportunities happen because an opening presents itself either through loss of the defensive line, or because striking by it's nature creates openings.

There are 3 'timings' for striking - before an attack, during, and after.
If your opponent has any gaps in their intent, before they have collected themselves,  or when you sense they are about to go, that is your moment to go 'before'.
'During' is letting your opponent strike and adjusting so you are not exactly where they thought you were, but still protected and the weapon untangled enough to be able to strike back.
'After' is similar but utilizing the space behind a cut.

All involve either creating or waiting for a commitment of either intent or movement, and taking advantage of it, and if, as has been pointed out, waiting is dangerous ... then creating is the safest path - Sonny called this 'writing'.

The classics say - "My opponent moves but I get there before him".
This is often misread as waiting, but this is not so if options 1 and 2 from the previous post are not opposites. If 1 and 2 can happen simultaneously then you have room to play.
In this case, 'don't wait', means lead but don't commit. 'Don't commit first', means commit only after they do.
In easy English it means set them up, or make them an offer they cannot refuse.
As Sonny would say, the 2 most worthy dueling skills are 'Don't get hit' and 'Tell a lie'.

NOTE: Committing to an attack or strike has by it's nature narrowed your options to '1'. You had better be sure that you haven't wasted it by trying for a hit that's going to fail, or taking a hit yourself.
Keep moving/testing/leading but don't commit to one path until you have the time and space to get away with it.

BIG CAVEAT - This process is time dependent, you do not have infinite time to make this happen - Remember, the longer the status quo, the more dangerous it gets.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Carrying on somewhat on the theme of Options vs Opposites:

2 Big reasons why you get nailed -

1) You are a beat behind (following), and your opponent leads you into making a defensive error and hits you.

2) You enter and your opponent is laying in wait for you, takes advantage of the opening your strike creates, and hits you.

Hang on a minute .....
1) says my opponent leads and I get hit because I am behind, but
2) says if I go first and they are waiting, I get hit ....??

I wait, I get hit, I go, I get hit ... Hmmmmm .....