Monday, October 29, 2012

3 Hours

It has occurred to me over the years that there is much in common between learning dueling and learning life drawing (drawing from a live model). Many people say they 'can't draw', but that's only because they have not learned how to see what's there. Perhaps they have tried to learn by tracing other people's pictures, but once confronted by a real model they are totally intimidated. The whole process can seem a mystery, and some might start to believe that only artists with innate talent can do it ..... Of course, this is not true.

When you first look, you may not think that the hand, or foot, or ear can possibly be that big in relation to the rest of the body, or be able to perceive how one piece can seamlessly join to the next, but once you understand that the geometry does not lie and how to be part of it, your drawings start to look like real people.

First step is learning how to see what is actually there ... as opposed to what you THINK is there.
Of course there are many pieces to this 'seeing', and many things to be seen, but it is not infinite, and the first step is to learn HOW to do it, because it is a skill that needs training like any muscle in the body.

And what of individual style and artistic flair?
This is the alchemy that happens once the 'seeing', and the mechanical calculations are absorbed by the practitioner and are expressed through the drawing implement, and that is singular and not really teachable. What IS teachable is this seeing from which all else comes, and I'd much rather do that than handing out a color by numbers book and a box of crayons.

I only have 3 hours next weekend to introduce my view of sword dueling to a new group of folks. These are not necessarily people interested in learning my style or training for any length of time in the sword arts, but are mostly curious about the flavor of Filipino dueling and learning some more about edged weapons in general.
Generally my goal in these short introductory workshops is to open up imaginations and perhaps inspire a few to take up the engaging pursuit of working with swords, but perhaps more importantly,  to start delving into the fascinating world of tactics so they can troubleshoot themselves.

So, 3 hours .... not a great deal of time to learn or practice, in fact only enough to skim the surface and dip into a few of the concepts and play a little.

Here's what I think we will do:

Spend some time looking at how edged weapons differ from others, how they move, how they cut, and the different ways they can be used. Then talk a little about context, and narrow down the way the Visayan Style of sword use dictates the tactics and the flow.

Spend time with recognizing range, looking at the line between safety and danger, and playing with the margin. Also practice seeing planes and angles, and working with weight shift and body angle to gain advantage. Then move on to how to use this information to see the empty spaces, and use this to steal range and thus the timing.

We'll definitely look at hand targeting and avoidance, and the tactics this engenders.

From there, probably a deeper look at the space between the players, how to calculate the geometry, define center line, left right, and forward, back, look at the meaning of 'neutral' and start some basic flow with the pendulum stepping.

Play some 2nd flow within the pendulum stepping and half body pendulum and look at the 3 main openings possible + exits.

So basically we will be comparing pencils with charcoal and pen, and looking at their relative qualities, learning how to frame a composition, divide up the paper and understand how to use the body to measure the space we are drawing in, and the object we are drawing.

Perhaps even make some art ..... :-)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tough Sell?

I was talking with a painting client today, a psychotherapist, and she asked me about my view of martial arts.
We talked about why people train, what I have personally gotten out of it, and how I pass the gift I feel I got from my teachers forward.
I think at some point I said something about how odd it is to have discovered so much cool 'life stuff' from practicing an out-of-context, esoteric, dueling art, and being the good listener and questioner she is, she managed to pin me down to a simple observation about why this practice is not more popular in the general community, seeing as my experience was so illuminating.
There are many reasons of course, but it basically boils down to this -

- It is hard to sell the goal of being comfortable in chaos and the ability to surf uncertainty when most people are looking for definitive answers and absolute certainty.

The gift I got, and how I teach now, is not a method that ends with the presentation of an ornate box of wisdom, with fear squashed into a tiny space beneath, it is a trip to a never ending masquerade ball where fear and ego are the dance partners ....

And there are swords ... lots of them ....

See, that sounds like fun to me .... but apparently this is not a view shared by the many ..

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Trust Your Gear

There are many pastimes that involve safety gear - rock climbing for instance. Rock climbing is absolutely possible without gear, it's just you better not make any mistakes, because the gear is what will save your arse if you do.
Every climber I know checks their gear carefully and thoroughly, keeping tally of how many falls a rope has taken, checking the webbing and stitching on their harness, the clips on their carabiners, and of course checking knots at belays.
Skydivers make sure their parachute is in good shape and packed correctly, and that their altimeter is working, divers check their regulators, tanks and watches.

Once it's time to lean back to rapel down the cliff face, jump out of the plane, or hit the water however, you go. At that point all the checking is done, and if it's all good, it's time to trust your gear.

Sword defense is similar. Instead of gear, you now have skills you have trained, patterns you can recognize, an appreciation of the link between space and time, a knowledge of human tendencies, an overall view of a situation. This is your safety gear, this is what will keep you 'alive'.
Now it's time to jump .... and trust it. There is too much going on, too little time to waste on worrying about it once it kicks off. Focus on the target, the win, let the defense take care of itself.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sword Workshop - 3rd Nov 2012

Soja Martial Arts is hosting an afternoon sword workshop on November 3rd 2012.
We'll be looking at how weapon design influences tactics and movement, work on some blade manipulation and evasion, and run through some random flow drills that explore range, timing, and deception .... which is alot for 3hrs .. but it will give a taste, and Peter says we can run over ... :-)
More info - here

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I Want Never Gets ....?

In the same way that you can target fixate and get tunnel vision on real things in space, so you can with ideas and goals.
Nothing wrong with single point focus, pure intent, clear purpose. Very useful and effective ...... Unless the very fact of 'wanting' creates a bridge for your opponent - Want something too much, and you leave a hook dangling out in space for them to exploit.

Baits only look tempting to those waiting (hoping?) for errors, because that is what will appear.
Openings seem inviting if you really want them to be there.
It's a fine line between looking a gift horse in the mouth and seeing something that is too good to be true.
The only true way to understand the difference is to watch, experience, and learn to differentiate.
To keep with the theme .... There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but some are definitely more expensive than others.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Be Yourself

Good martial arts training should put information and skills straight into your physical body without having to pass through the cognitive functions of the brain.

I'm not saying you can't, or shouldn't think when you train - to improve your proprioception, or enhance skills by consciously modifying them - but what you really HAVE, what you really OWN, is what comes out when you do not think.
It follows therefore that this is where the skills should live - in the highly adaptable, reactive, part of your being, not the part that has to think about it.
This does not negate the need to strategize or rationalize, but this can happen AT THE SAME TIME as you are using your physical skills, and does not need to conflict.

This ability to truly 'surf' the moment separates the great from the mediocre, and is observable from the outside. Most would probably agree that it is quite easy to see a qualitative difference in a person that has authentic skills compared to someone trying to be skilled, because the actor is recreating a picture of the real thing, whereas the person that really knows .... is just DOING THE THING, not looking like the picture of it.

It's actually quite hard to 'just do', but it is a worthwhile practice, and seems to be trained most efficiently in a random play context (this is, I believe, why Sonny's method was so effective), often at a speed too fast for the cognitive functions to intervene and screw things up (though not so fast that the nervous system freezes).
Once you can trust your body to get on with it, it becomes easier and easier to leave it alone ... but you'll never trust it if you don't get to experience the feeling, and most of us have a really hard time letting go.

There are reasons of course why this is hard to do and cannot be 'willed', because all the parts of you that hold a self image, and words like 'should', 'perhaps', 'must', and 'technique', will try to prevent you from just letting go, even prevent you from acting all together.
Call it performance anxiety, or a desire for success, or a fear of failure if you like, but the part of your brain that lives there will screw up the physical part of you that is perfectly capable of acting without it, if you let it intervene. And trust me, it WILL intervene if it can, even if you think you are flowing in the moment and all is spontaneous .... and it will almost certainly happen when you are losing ... or any other time your ego/monkey gets to put an oar in.

So next time your brain editor tries to manage your actions, try to let it go, and if you need to trick yourself by rationalizing that this is a good idea, tell yourself to trust your body, because what is truly known WILL come out, and if worse comes to the worst, and nothing comes out, you are many steps closer to attaining true competence than if you continually avoid ever finding out what's actually living in there.

Thanks again to Rory Miller for a great weekend of conversation, of both the physical and non physical varieties.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


I wrote a post a while back called The Art of Living .... idea being that in dueling, there is little art in killing and less in dying, so ultimately the 'Art' in 'Martial Art' in concerned with getting away ....

The other day I was working out with a friend, and we started doing a cooperative flow drill, and after a few minutes when it seemed like we both were moving pretty well, I started to talk tactics and how doing what we were doing could evolve into part of an adversarial duel.
My friend said ... 'But I'm just interested in the 'art', seemingly implying he wanted to keep doing the drill and not get into the messy section about competitiveness, winning and losing.
We started a discussion, and I said that I considered all the pieces of the system that are considered 'art' inextricably connected to the ability to prevail, that you cannot practice the artistry without keeping the goal in mind. In fact the art is not art if it does not work.

I know there does not have to be any 'art' for something to be deemed 'martial', but there is a certain elegance, effortlessness and precision that can give some solutions to conflict a sense of being more, better ..... beautiful, even.
The artistry can be creative, inspired or unexpected, though of course it can be destructive too ... a thing of darkness, it can also be breathtakingly cold, stark and amoral. But regardless of which part of the spectrum the artistry falls, it still has to work.
The art really is not separate from the deed, you can't gain one without the other ... and oddly enough, it only really becomes true art once it has an audience, even if the audience is your opponent, and they have no idea of what just happened.