Thursday, March 31, 2011

Seeing Options not Opposites

Following on from a post about imagination a while back, and connected to a sword flow with Rory Miller, and a conversation about 'changing scripts' from the Thug Whisperer paradigm -
It seems our minds often have the tendency to see opposites instead of options - 'either this or that', left/right, go/stop, offense/defense, win/lose.
This tendency creates limitations of course, especially in the dynamic and chaotic environment of dueling. There are really too many variables to consciously think about, and often the reason why you get stuck in a corner is because you failed to hold in your imagination (and body) all the alternatives available in the previous moments and now face their inevitable diminution towards zero .....

All the variables at any one time hold within them alternatives, it's a question of being able to imagine/feel as many variables that are in your power to change, at that one moment, to increase your options, and thus the chances to prevail.
Sonny called it "Not running out of angle".  The implication being that there is always somewhere to 'go next'.

Keeping all the options in your conscious mind is just too complex to filter in real time, but luckily you have a body that is very smart and that remembers and can hold these alternatives in it's muscle memory.

Here's a few physical principles that you can practice to up your odds -
- 100% weight shift, and the ability to understand the 'neutral positions' where you can change your mind.
- 'Flush blocking' and the ability to pull to your center.
- The ability to pivot and generate movement off line from turning or 'throwing' any part of the body.
- The ability to focus and see the space between the cuts.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Structure and Smoothness

When you are listening to someone speaking and they change their mind mid sentence as to what word they are going to use next, it is often easy to know what they were going to say but chose not to.
This is because when we converse we are already formulating the next word before the previous one is completely finished. We have the whole thought or sentence in our heads which means the mind is slightly ahead of the mouth and this causes the individual word sounds to run together.
Of course, before having the ability to converse naturally, we have to learn the individual words, if the words are not precise enough the sentence is incomprehensible.
When kids learn to talk, they learn the individual words for things, but often when they start making sentences the pronunciation becomes blurry and is unintelligible to all but the parents. Later as the words are practiced, the sentences become clearer.

A few years back Luo laoshi taught a contained walking practice which he said was a good way to practice important attributes in a limited space and with limited time. (These attributes are consistent for the practice of all the form work.)
The practice was to walk circle, but with 3 different intents -
1) No intent. Calm the emotions, quiet the mind.
2) Structure + Single point focus
3) Smoothness + Continuity

1) No intent is completely natural with no conscious attention.
2) Structure is akin to pronouncing words individually, separately and clearly.
3) Smoothness is akin to eloquent conversational speech.

The goal of this Bagua circle walking practice is to focus on each part separately until it is possible to tie all 3 parts together to get the 'chewy' feeling of movement found in the 'swimming dragon' style of the Yizong system with a calm and still mind.
The analogy would be to have a precision of annunciation and pronunciation of every word part, whilst still keeping the whole thought in mind and beyond, to keep the meaning clear ...... oh, and the ability to change seamlessly in mid sentence.
Reciting Shakespeare comes to mind with some improv added for good measure :-)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

You Know It Makes Sense ....

"The exercising of weapons putteth away aches, griefs, and diseases, it increaseth strength and sharpeneth the wits, it giveth a perfect judgment, it expelleth melancholy, choleric, and evil conceits, it keepeth a man in breath, in perfect healthe, and long life." – George Silver (1599)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Watch This Space

The concept of "The Center Line' comes up alot in dueling (and in martial arts in general of course).
Generally it's considered a good idea to either have control of it, or get off of it.
The center line could be thought of as the line dividing the left side from the right side. It can also be thought of as one of the most dangerous places to be, because being on it or crossing it is the easiest place for your opponent to hit you.
It's a strange, dynamic entity however, this 'Center Line', and is constantly shifting between you and your opponent depending on your relative orientation. YOU have a center line, and so does your opponent so who is on who's center line is continuously changing.
An added complication is that your weapon can be on the center line, and bear little relation to your own center, or your opponent's and still cut.
So what and where is it? And more importantly how do you learn to defend it/control it and not be caught on it undefended?

In general during training we practice avoiding taking hits, which is as it should be, but if you want to understand the center line, I recommend actually taking hits as an occasional practice.
If this was an empty hand game, to do this you'd be eating alot of shots. Luckily in a weapon art you can use the hand instead - a legitimate target in it's own right - and practice learning to 'see' without the hazard of micro concussions.
FYI - Short weapons are easier than long ones (points if you know why) and obviously padded are better unless you have VERY good control.
Practice striking at your opponents body - cutting/slicing works better than poking. Have your partner tag your hand whenever it comes into range, either before the strike or after (with control) whenever they think they can hit it (they can practice accuracy and reading range).
First do it standing still, then moving around. Remember one ONLY goes for the body, the other ONLY goes for the hand.

Please note - if you, as the 'body striker', are trying to avoid being hand tagged you won't learn anything. If you, as the hand tagger are avoiding getting hit or covering too much, the striker will have no targets to go for that make sense, so the exercise again loses meaning.
Start easy .... there's plenty of time to get tricky later ... and yes, there are add ups ....

So ... Where/when does the hand get hit? What are the parameters of this space? How is your opponent's center aligned to it? How is yours? Where is their weapon relative to them/you at the moment of contact?
Try it. It's a very useful thing to know.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Training a la Mick Coup

 This is a piece by Mick Coup explaining how he uses pads in training. You can see how from the get go he employs uncertainty and movement in his method to closer mimic the reality of a dynamic and chaotic interaction.
Taken from a thread on his forum

 PAD DRILLS - By Mick Coup

"In the training that I offer there are a great deal of drills involving focus-pads - in fact to a degree these can appear to be the mainstay in some regards, and occasionally I do seem to attract some criticism based upon this.

To clarify my position concerning such a heavy reliance on such training means, I've reworked an older post that was 'lost' during a recent tantrum thrown by a big baby elsewhere...

Consider that generally speaking most - if not all - of the early phase training that someone might receive from me is based upon impactive methods of managing personal combat in a self-protection context...even cops who absolutely have a role-requirement to grab and grapple with subjects, are more than likely to first be exposed to purely impactive methods that can provide an emergency higher-force fallback-option should they lose control of a situation and need to simply survive as a priority.

As far as I'm concerned, if you are teaching impact, then 'stuff' needs to get hit...pure and simple. You cannot, in my opinion, adequately cover such skills in a 'non' or even 'semi' contact format, since all kinds of dynamics and realities get corrupted if you try to. Could you teach grappling without having a person to get hold of? Of course not, but striking is different it seems - just 'play act' it and assure yourself it'll be fine when you need it to be...

If you go through the motions of hitting someone, as part of some sequence of action or response, then you lose any real sense of what you need in order to actually produce an effect worth having - your bodyweight is going to be all wrong for starters, as is your timeframe perception - going 'tap-tap' can be real fast indeed, but going 'bang-bang' is a lot different, and you get no idea of what kind of effect you can actually generate. This leads to extremely unlikely material rising to the fore in my experience, the 'party trick' jabs and chops that would in truth be ignored by the majority of real adversaries...and probably have the same effect as slapping a tiger on the nose...

Obviously you really cannot just hit training partners - in force-on-force practice this is necessary, but such training isn't conducted to hone technique or develop power as such, but to test the tactical application of such technique and power, amongst other things.

I've long advocated the practice of slowly placing shots onto a live 'body' to get a feel for the exact target-anatomy, and to take into account the structural obstructions, and angular restrictions, that some targets might have - this in itself can make some of the 'classic' strikes that get delivered against a flat pad or heavy bag completely redundant, when the practiced delivery path would actually conflict with an elbow, or shoulder, etc. This practice of 'person-placement' should be used sparingly in my opinion, as an 'overlapping' enhancement to the 'pad-power' training, so that the best can be gained from the latter. I compare this, to a degree, to the 'dry-training' done with firearms, that adds a significant level of skill progression, and maintainence, to other, louder methods.

This leaves either the use of inert equipment to practice hitting - or to simply pretend, pulling fast-ish shots against a training partner. I'm actually extremely envious of those that teach the latter method, for two main reasons...firstly, they get to turn up at their seminars and workshops with little more than a spare t-shirt and a packed-lunch - whilst I have to lug bags, and bags, of pads and protective gear around, paying baggage excess charges routinely, not to mention having to buy the stuff in the first place! Secondly, they never have to suffer the fragile-egos, and desperate need for validation, of certain individuals that despite claiming to have 'advanced' skill and ability levels prior to the pads coming out, actually cannot deliver the goods anywhere near adequate levels...that is apparently my fault somehow when they obviously cannot perform as promised!

The methods I employ regarding using focus pads may supeficially resemble how everyone else uses them - so maybe people tend to think 'focus what?' but in actual fact I seek to get a lot more mileage out of such practice than with more 'classic' utilisation. Far from being a replacement for any form of 'alive' training, I use the pads to fulfil that all-important link to progress the individual far more accurately in the right direction. I try to make the usage as relevant as possible within the limitations that obviously exist, adhering to all the tactical doctrine expected to be used, rather than a distinctly separate activity that only ticks a few boxes...and that might actually serve to 'untick' more than a few in the process.

To this end, I employ a wealth of subtle, and not-so subtle differences - from the overall methodology and related why protocols, to more specific realisations concerning the what, when, and how issues...

One area that really needs some attention in my opinion is the initiation of such practice. I really do not think it is an especially effective method of supposedly training people to react, or act, in a realistic fashion by beginning in a completely 'I'm ready' fashion. I far prefer to factor in a likely circumstance, such as an 'engaged start' where rather than having a guy looking at the padman, who then produces a pad to be hit (which actually conditions the hitter to engage the hands of a person) the pad man points the pads at himself and crowds in on the hitter who controls the hands/arms, preventing them from touching his head and/or body briefly - a little like sticking/pushing hands in some ways, but far more fleeting and with more relevant purpose - to simulate the general manhandling of arms, people etc in a fairly abstract fashion, then suddenly a pad is turned 'target-out' and a continuous series of targets ensues, all spontaneous, all dynamic.

A preferred method of initiating a multitude of drills is the 'passive unprepared' trigger - working from a feet together, hands down, eyes-closed position, heavy impactive force is applied to a 'safe' part of the torso that physically and psychologically disturbs the individual's position, creating a 'shock' effect that serves to undo a great deal of the mental and physical 'rehersal' and preparation that generally preceeds any drill. This briefly 'spikes' the senses, and the flash overload effectively creates a feeling of very relevant surprise...the ideal state to practice overcoming - transitioning from a passive, to reactive and then active physical and mental posture. If you are never surprised in training, then you will never have any experience in dealing with surprise - no matter how 'tactical' your lifestyle, you will be surprised at some point, get used to this idea, and get used to dealing with it so you are not a novice when it happens...

Moving around with someone wearing pads, who occasionally presents them for a pre-warned strike combination, is a poor version of actual fight training in my opinion, and far from being a spontaneous realistic exercise, is actually highly prepared and formatted - and if the pads are facing the hitter the whole time, and only become targets when the hitter decides, why isn't there a barrage of blows directed at them?

In my drills, when you see a target you hit it, no decision, you don't choose when it is and isn't a target - as this doesn't exactly develop the ability to spontaneously engage fleeting opportunities does it? In reality, when you strip away the attempted bells and whistles, many demonstrated drills are little more than a very basic vehicle to fire off a round kick or overhand right against a stationary target...hardly innovative as often presented.

The stop point of any drill should not be to simply lower the pads and leave the hitter staring at the pad holder, waiting for the next opportunity - I don't teach people to stand still and wait in fights, because I know that the other guy won't be doing this unlike the mutually agreed 'give and take' that often exists in more 'symmetrical' combat. This sort of training leads to the on/off sparring model that doesn't appear in a real fight, so must not be trained if you are supposed to be training for a real fight!

I base my training - and therefore teaching - on what I need for fighting, avoiding the trap of trying to base my fighting on what I want, or am simply prepared, to do in training.

To stop any such hitting drill, I prefer that once the hitter has engaged the targets as presented - no pre-set combinations but random, though realistic, transitions instead - the pads are brought in and placed 'target-in' on the body, signifying no further target is available and the hitter immediately responds by checking his 360, starting with the 180 position, and when he again looks forward there is another target waiting, not a man wearing a set of pads that are yet to be produced, or possibly another holder would have been in waiting with an available target out of line of sight...and off the hitters goes... This conditions the hitter not to stare fixated at the adversary he just KO'd, and also gives the holder a chance to 'reset' mentally - for he truly has the hardest role, since he's making all the decisions, the hitter is just concerned with actions.

As a general protocol, I want to avoid the hitter paying any attention to the holder - he's just the piece of wood holding the target on the shooting range, but this takes a lot of effort on the holder's part to keep the targets coming on a constant basis - for only if he can maintain this pressure will the hitter pay him little attention. As I mentioned before, if the pad holder is paid attention to, and 'ranged-off' against as if sparring with him, when the pads are produced the hitter is hardly getting a relevant target and is indeed being conditioned to engage the hands and not the head.

I teach 'constant offensive pressure' as the base combative strategy, and to achieve this there must be a 'constant offensive opportunity' or else it becomes 'occasional offensive pressure' and this doesn't get you very far in a fight! Bear in mind that if I'm wearing two pads I can all too easily create a completely artificial situation where no target is available - this simply cannot happen when facing a person, there will always be something 'on offer' to hit and if I don't consider this simple realisation then I can easily create a subtle but profound 'training effect' that will definitely impact upon the desired 'fighting effect' in a negative fashion.

To assist in the 'holder doesn't exist' concept I make sure that the pads are held forward from the holder's body - this helps the hitter detach them mentally from the hitter, plus very importantly it gives the holder some real structure to present very solid targets - rather than is seen by holding them next to the head with a vertical forearm that ruins the elbow and provides little resistance. Importantly it gives the holder a significant bonus in the form of an excellent 'sub-agenda' of sorts, because they have to not only practice good positioning and movement, situational awareness, plus decision making under pressure, but a very tangible physical skill - keeping the hands out front and up, away from the body...where they should be in the middle of a fight...aside from bouncing vigorously of an adversary's head of course...

By having constant and continual targets available - only one at any one time - the person holding is effectively ignored and focus is correctly directed toward programming the optimum target-tool selection, delivered at the optimal angle. There is no waiting in a 'guard' position, no 'in and out' working in short bursts only, and definitely no calling out which shots to fire off! There is instead the required constant offensive pressure, no down-time, no decision-making, just action-taking. The targets are presented in a very specific fashion, so much so that they can only be correctly engaged with one tool, at one angle, not however the hitter decides - the tool is the answer, the target is the question, and the question comes first. The target picks the tool, you don't just fire off your favourite shot from your dominant side regardless, this might make you feel better in training - but who wants to get good at training? The idea is that the training makes you good...

This is the basic format for what I refer to as being an 'active drill' and there are many other layers to apply as required. A common one is the 'crash' element, where the pad holder, mid-engagement, simply withdraws the target and bodily crashes into the hitter, to fully displace him, who should cage/sprawl off and resume hitting a newly, immediately, produced target. Add the 'dash' element somewhere, where all of a sudden the holder just bolts and produces a target that must be hit on the move. At any time the pad that was being hit can be covered by the other pad, to represent some barrier such as the adversary's arm covering under the barrage of blows, or even a third party getting in the way, forcing the hitter to clear and control the obstruction with the support hand/arm, and keep the 'music playing' with the other.

When two holders are working together, the second holder is often at the other side of the room waiting, so when the 'no target' signal is given by the current holder, and the hitter scans 360 degrees, he identifies the next threat and has to literally sprint to engage a target that might run at him, run away, or suddenly change just as he closes in. Alternatively as the hitter begins to scan for other threats, the second holder can be real close, presenting targets at extreme close quarters that need gouging and headbutting to create opportunities for full-power primary tool striking. This is often done in rooms with obstacles, on stairs, through doorways, wearing heavily darkened eyewear to put only the active participant in darkness (therefore not compromising the safety/control staff) and all manner of spoilers such as nuisance third parties that obstruct and hinder but present no threat, and so should not be engaged.

Some 'revolutionary' training that alludes to being realistic, may certainly appear to present fleeting targets, but they are still stationary when hit, and generally the person hitting seems not to be in much of a rush to do so - personally I've never seen a stationary head in a fight - maybe before the fight but that's a different story - so it always puzzles me as to why the vast majority, including pros, only ever hit static ones? Even when they do engage movers, it's usually in a pseudo fashion where they certainly do move, but then stop long enough to be hit. Any drill you get good at is immediately too easy - like the weight that you can lift will never make you stronger.

Unfortunately most see training as being the destination, and want to get good at it, rather than the vehicle, that gets you to the destination...the fight."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

More Than A Sum Of It's Parts

The Philippines has a wonderfully diverse collection of sword designs - the Pinute, Barong, Kampilan, Tenegre, Kris, and on and on.
Each has a personality all it's own, the blade shape, handle design and weight distribution dictating how it moves in space and the way it should be used.
The primary weapon of our system, and by that I mean the first one students train with, is the Visayan Pinute (also spelled Pinuti) - Sonny's family sword that makes an appearance in the Dog Brothers' documentary is a Pinute - and it comes in both 'long' and 'short' varieties.
Here is a picture of one of Sonny's hand made training versions of a short Pinute:

The use of the tip and the butt end of a sword are similar in a way to the use of a stick, but what really separates a sword from other weapons is it's edge. Edged weapons can slice.
So to use a Pinute, say, to it's potential, one should not think of it as a single unit - it really has 3 distinct parts.
Actually - The flat of the blade can be used too, not just for blocking but also for slapping something out of the way or to recycle. It can also be useful when you want your opponent to see your blade. (Flashing shiny metal in the peripheral vision has a marvelous effect on the unsuspecting.)
And how about the back edge? - The back edge is sharp near the tip, so can be used flicking backwards to gouge. The back edge near the base is not sharp, so can be gripped and pushed on for leverage and scraping.
Oh yeah, and then there are the specific designs in the blade shape itself that play a part in how you use each section - where you trap you opponents weapon with a twist, or turn the edge to let a strike divert off line or around your fingers. Which part you use for 'picking' and which for deep, power strikes.

Some posts back I waxed lyrical about the versatility of a plain, 3ft stick, but the subtleties in blade design could be a lifetime of study.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cha Cha Cha

In his earlier days Sonny spent many of his nights at dance clubs around the Bay Area where sometimes there would be competitions for money. Sonny won often. His specialty was The Hustle. He was a natural dancer and women loved to have him as a partner because he was so fluid and light on his feet and his skill at leading made anyone look good on the dance floor.
One evening a girlfriend was showing him how to Cha Cha at his house, and as she tells it he suddenly had an inspiration, becoming fascinated with the idea of using the interplay between dance partners as a way to teach his Visayan style dueling.
Why not? There was range, angle, timing, leading, following, sensitivity, and rhythm already built in, but to add swords, striking and evasion to the mix? Now that's genius.

Points if you can see the pendulum step and half body pendulums here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Yizong Bagua

I made a New Year's resolution to write more about my experiences teaching and training, and though I teach both Bagua (and to a lesser extent the whole Yizong family of arts including Chen Pan Ling Tai Ji and Hsing-I) and Eskrima, I tend to write about the VCKE of Sonny Umpad.
Bagua has a teaching method that is very organized, and has a huge repertoire of forms, drills and fighting applications to work on. It also has a strong lineage and a history of over 150 years (Some would say 1000s of years).
As a counterpoint ... as I may have mentioned once or twice .... the Maestro left no 'system' as such (though there is plenty of history and tradition behind it) and was adamant that he was not teaching us, he was showing us what he did. He said that it was then up to us to take what we had learned, make it ours, and pass that on, and I guess this means that I have much more thinking about what I do in Eskrima, than in the structured setting of Bagua, and hence find more to write about.

For those who do not know much about Bagua, it is a beautiful art with a great understanding of human anatomy and physiology, relative movement, and physics, and it trains control of both mind and the body with as much focus on staying healthy as on breaking people.
I do Bagua because the movement and the core concept of continual change makes sense to me, Eskrima too. I feel good after I workout, both physically and mentally, and perhaps that is why I have gravitated to these 2 arts in particular. An added bonus is that I now have 2 most different learning/teaching methods to compare and contrast.
There is no conflict in the material which makes it easier - The circle walking forms and weird angles of Bagua help with the natural circling and evasion that occur in dueling, and the sword work in Eskrima has helped me see weapons applications within the forms of Bagua. Bagua footwork and twisting/spiraling concepts have helped me understand the matrix of angles in Eskrima, and Eskrima has helped me understand tactically what was going on in Bagua.
Both Arts say they can be added on to any background and improve what is already there. Luo De Xiu calls Bagua a 'machine' that you put raw material in which comes out the other end better. VCKE is like that too.
2 totally different methods with the same purpose. Interesting.

This is my teacher's website:

Friday, March 11, 2011


The focus of training yesterday was practicing creating openings from weapon to weapon contact.

If the weapons are in contact both players are in range, so to avoid a Mexican standoff one option is to make your opponent feel compelled to defend themselves, and hence too busy to hit you. The opponent must perceive a real THREAT that they feel they must deal with otherwise it doesn't work, but if it does, there is the added bonus that this creates an opening that you can then take advantage of.

So 2 things are needed - the feeling of threat, and being in the correct place to take advantage of the opening that is created. (And of course some sword manipulation skills to actually do so)

The first requires the ability to 'express' an intent with the body and weapon - i.e. something believable.
The second requires an understanding of the center line, how to hold it, and the footwork to move when needed in any direction depending on what the opponent does.

Soccer and Basketball players do both all the time, it's called 'juking', though in these games the player's job is to protect the ball and score. The importance of the center line and the concept of the fake are the same, but of course in dueling the goal is different.
So a few more factors to deal with - you have a sword and the added hazard of your opponent trying to strike you, but at least you don't have a ball to worry about ....

Plenty great ones here. A nice clear example starts at 42ish secs:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Like He Said ....

Albert Einstein
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them"