Thursday, August 30, 2012

Playing Footsie

The feet can be used directly for attacking - for kicking and throwing/tripping. They are also attached to the rest of the body to promote efficient power generation, leverage and strike angles, for whatever weapon(s) happen to be at the other end. They are also great for getting out of the way.

Unless you have already won, things are changing rapidly either to your advantage, or against. In other words, there is some motion in the system, either from you, or from your opponent, (it does not matter which) but seeing as your opponent's plan probably involves you staying where you are, or moving predictably ... best not do those.

So the goal becomes .... move towards your advantage.

Which in turn means -
- Moving off the line of attack.
- Moving to gain time/cut time.
- Moving to where your hands and body need to be to do something useful.

3 ways to move -
Turn/twist body or pivot
Shift weight/drop/raise weight
Move feet
Either individually, or in combination.

Here is a particularly wonderful Judo training clip, and a couple others, showing the beauty of footwork in different contexts. Enjoy.

Here's the random, footwork training drill from Judo with thanks to Erik The Strange for the find

Here's Jay working with a tennis ball hung from the ceiling  - fun and tremendously useful solo training if you have the imagination to play. 

Here's a nice Capoeira flow ... another partner practice, though in this case the line between footwork and handwork is a bit blurry :-)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Position Before ......

Apparently there are some out there that find footwork boring ...
Surely this is not so!
I can understand how, to some, patterns of movement out of context might seem staid and unnecessary to spend time on - Sonny certainly evolved from teaching preset patterns - but if you are learning a weapon art, especially one using edged weapons, you had better learn to move efficiently and surefootedly. If not, not only will you be eating hits, you will be unable to persuade the person doing the hitting, that they would be better served defending themselves than attacking you.
Of course there is always the option to run around like a rabbit with no purpose, or stand there like a deer caught in the headlights, or bullishly plant the feet to hold ground .... but none of these tend to work out very well.

I will admit to not being a fan of complicated footwork patterns and diagrams for gaining dueling skills, because without an opponent giving you a REASON to move, it all gets lost when things get exciting. I really think you have to learn with another person, within the context of the play, to make it accessible at all times.

However ......  I do think you need to isolate some important stuff, because without the ability to 100% weight shift, understand neutral points/moments within a step (where it is easy to change direction), and without the ability to pivot, switch feet, and use toe and heel pointing to gain balance and accelerate motion off the line (to mention a few), much of what you do with your sword is moot .... because you will more than likely be 'dead'.
The pointy metal object held in the hand might be considered to be the 'business end' in many peoples' eyes ... but it's really just the delivery tool. What lies behind it, all the way from the inner workings of the mind down through to the feet, plays a vastly greater role in ultimate success or failure. (At the very highest levels - more mind, less feet.)

If you do not have the accuracy and precision to put your body where it needs to be, and have multiple options on where it can go next ... it's all a bit pointless.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Luo DeXiu Bay Area Seminars 2012

Rather last notice, though I'm sure the usual suspects will have signed up already, having anticipated Luo laoshi's yearly visit ....

Here is the schedule for anyone else that might be interested:

Weeknight seminars -  7pm to 10pm ($65 or $85 after Aug 31st)
Weekend - Sat: 12.30 - 7.30pm  Sun: 10.30 - 6.30pm ($235 or $285 after Aug 31st)

Mon Sept 3rd - Tai Ji Push Hands
Tues Sept 4th - Hsing-Yi 5 Elements, San Ti and 2 Man Drills
Wed Sept 5th - Ba Gua Zhang Ji Ben Shou Fa
Thurs Sept 6th - Hsing-Yi 12 Phoenix Fists

Sat/Sun Sept 8th/9th - Hsing-Yi 12 Animal Forms and Application

Mon Sept 10th - San Shou (By Invitation Only)
Tues Sept 11th - Ba Gua Zhang 8 Big Openings
Wed Sept 12th - Tai Ji Da Lu

Call 510 527 7760 to register and arrange payment.

As always you can find videos of Luo's movement and method on Youtube. He is a great exponent of the fighting aspect of the Internal Arts - I have seen few with his level of understanding, and ability to teach what he knows - he is very hands on. My best description of crossing hands with him is like playing with an Anaconda in a blender ... or perhaps an electrically charged Tiger .... it's quite exhilarating.
He's also a really nice man, and is apparently getting younger every year.
Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Carenza Rant

A Carenza is a display, a flow of strikes and moves strung together to showcase ability and skills ... Originally, I'm sure, to put the fear of the gods into an adversary, and perhaps save having to fight them at all.
Just search on youtube and you'll see a whole bunch of them .... most of which, sadly, fail to put any kind of fear in me.
There are a few, a very few, which have the desired effect, that seem to come from a different place, a mind and body that can imagine a real adversary that they are trying to impress. There's a different will, a different intent, and it comes out in the movement in stark contrast to the rest. (And yes, it's usually in footage of 'the old men').
So how do they differ? Well, obviously real experience will change your intent and will manifest in the movement ... but what is there to see that makes it physically more believable?

Many people mistake speed and fast movement for skill, twirling and swishing the weapon really fast in endless combination as though that is intimidating ..... What they lack is the understanding that there is a natural rhythm to the thing - power strikes take longer that twirls used to distract, offensive and defensive moves occur at different distances from the body. Fakes, baits and inserts also have a rhythm all their own including enough time for them to work, or not, and sword edge placement, and cut mechanics, are important for each, and every, cut.
These changes in cadence, the body mechanics of power, and the difference in range and intent from offense to defense need to come out in a Carenza for it to be believable - it means you understand what you are doing and are not twirling your weapon round as fast as possible with no idea how it works or where the opponent is.
Oh yeah, and don't look at the floor or randomly into space whilst you concentrate on how good you look .... look at THEM, use your eyes to lead their attention to where you want it to go - Engage!
After all, a Carenza should not be for you, it is a message to someone else.
Make them believe it.
And to do that ...? Yes, sorry, you do actually have to understand, at least somewhat, the game you are about to play. Not only that, you have to understand yourself and your role in this theater.
My Carenza will look totally different from someone of a different size, gender and personality. It needs to make ME look like a threat, and it needs to make me look like a threat to THEM.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


I was lucky to have about the same size hands as Sonny, so any handle he made/redesigned for a weapon fit me too.
They are pieces of art ... not just because they look cool, but more importantly because of the way they feel in the hand.
Here are a few pieces of his work .... and remember, this was a man with no workshop, just a dremel and a grinder, and materials from the 99 cent store.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

3rd Flow

My teacher was very fond of the number three - The Trinidad he called it, and threes certainly appear as a consistent feature, not just in martial arts but in the whole human experience - waltzing, triangles, gua (trigrams), ba-DUM-cha ...... and on.

Sonny broke training down into 3 main flows -

1st flow - mostly out of range and picking targets by momentarily jumping into range and out again - the target is mostly hand and arm.

2nd flow - all about bridges, fighting from contact, either from an offensive or defensive move. Target is now more body (and head), but arm and hand too, as secondary.

3rd flow - considered the highest level, and only possible to understand after working through the first two. The main target is the body (and head), but there is no blade to blade contact, in fact the blade is held purposefully out of play, either down, or back, never tip out between the players. The entry/opening is created purely from body movement and blade manipulation in space, and the blade purely used to cut. (There is sometimes blade to blade contact on the exit, but not necessarily.)

3rd flow, as an idea, makes a great deal of sense when you understand the poor quality of the materials used in some of the original Filipino weapons, though all swords, even of the highest quality, tend to eschew edge to edge contact to preserve the brittle cutting edge. It is, however, hard to achieve, and feels incredibly counter intuitive.
(Just FYI - Some FMA systems train using the flat or the back edge to parry or block. Sonny used them too, but often preferred the angle of the edge bevel. He also always 'rode' the power of the strike to lessen the impact, even force to force.)

I was thinking about this yestarday at Sabre class - a classic 1st and 2nd flow system - with the blade always held tip forwards, guarding the space between the players. I asked my teacher if the 3rd flow game makes an appearance at all in this context, and he said not really - not that it's impossible to hit with no contact, but that it rarely happens.

So .... what are the parameters of the 3rd flow game? What dictates if it is an option, if it makes sense or not?

Size of weapon? Space? Weapon design? Context?

It does not makes sense in a point sparring sport where double hits don't count or right of way wins out, and it has to involve weapons with an edge, not purely stabbing/poking weapons ... and there must be 360 degree possibility of movement ...

I've seen it in samurai movies of course, and the single clean cut seems to be held as a central aesthetic of Japanese swordsmanship ... and I was taught it as the highest level of the Visayan Corto Kadena game ..... so ...... between the Japanese and the Filipino systems we have single handed - single edge - short swords, and double handed - single edge - long swords, both possible, also in battlefield and duel. Cane seems to fit the bill, and perhaps shorter stick too .....

Outside the parameters I have tip only weapons and double weapon ... maybe.

What else?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Feed Me

One of the hardest transitions in training is taking the step from feeding, to something tactically more sensible.
I have noticed that this piece is rarely separated as a particular phase of training, there's usually feeding, perhaps multiple feeds (and working techniques off feeds of course)... and sparring, nothing in between.
I've been playing with this interim piece because it seems to make a more efficient segue to pure sparring because if you don't have an understanding of why and when something might work, there can be a tendency to 'trust to luck', and the competitive nature of sparring can make it difficult to keep focus and learn how to see this.

If 2 people are flowing, working on some aspect of the game, it obviously helps in the early stages of any new concept, for one to feed opportunities for their partner to work with. At first, just the very uncertainty of which side and what height a strike is coming from next, is enough to deal with.
After a while this becomes too simple ... so adding layers of uncertainty, through playing with timing and faking is a good next step - the 'when' and the 'what' if you like.
THEN ... and that's where the tricky part comes, the feeder needs to actually start to choose strikes, use the timing and fakes to create opportunities, real openings to actually go for
- NOT going for the side that is easy to defend,
- NOT cutting when the opponent can block easily, and
- ONLY cutting when they think they can reach the target ... thus adding the 'why', along with the 'when' and the 'what'.

That's the tricky transition, but super helpful if worked on consciously.
In effect what has happened is that the feeder is being fed a defensive line to breach. This is how it should be seen, and the better the defense, the harder the attacker will have to work. Even if the defender is a beginner and leaves obvious opportunities, the attacker should start consciously noticing them, both helping their own 'seeing' skills and the defender's. The defender still gets to defend, or practice other concepts ... just the feeder is now feeding more realistic 'questions' to answer.

It seems if there is not a transition at some point in the training to tactically 'sensible' behavior, both parties are at risk of wasting much time practicing entries that will not work, and defenses against things that are not true threats. The clanging and clashing may be fun and interactive, but it's not really helping build dueling skills.
Of course, the ability to lead and tactically choose is not a problem if you are the teacher, but this piece will help two people both learning how to see stuff when they are working together.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Here Be Dragons

We are in an era of 'Reality Based' martial arts, a necessary reaction perhaps to the fantasy version prevalent for so long - All those neat outfits, mysterious wise men, unbelievable feats, and unassuming, virtuous heroes with magical skills and mythic weapons .....
Romantic, exciting ... and ... fiction.

Now, however we are all about 'reality' ... right alongside the endless debate about what 'the real deal' actually is, and who it is that has it.

You would have thought that a good dose of reality would be a breath of fresh air after all that fantasy. That it would imbue confidence in people ...... real skills, real martial arts, real world application .... useful, pragmatic, realistic ....

But here's the trap - there is no absolute reality.

All knowledge is by it's nature limited. In the case of martial arts, this limit is set mostly by the person who experienced it as real.
Something they experienced may be absolutely, unarguably true in a certain situation ... but change the circumstances, the environment, the time, the people involved, and throw in luck ... and perhaps the truth is not so absolute anymore ...
Add personalities and psychologies to a situation and absolute truths becomes even more furry, and if reality is subjective ... where does that leave truth and certainty?
If you think about it, really, all we have ever had are probabilities, not certainties .... and that knowledge can be an unsettling thing.

So, if truth/reality is limited by experience, I would suggest that EVERYTHING outside our personal experience is, to a greater or lesser extent, a fiction from our point of view.
Fiction contains our imagination, and the experiences and imaginations of others ... all the way out into a larger space which we have not imagined yet, so large that we can never even be sure where the boundaries are. And that's where everything 'we don't know what we don't know' lives.
We can embrace this fiction, this unknown, or 'yet-to-be-true' space, either as a giant, exciting, playground to be explored, or a scary place to be avoided, even within the mind.

Truth and fiction are NOT separate before we ACTUALLY experience them ..... all we have is trust (of others/teachers) and probability (corroboration/evidence).
Those seeking certainty and answers will have little luck finding them through others' truths, if they too are relative and limited.
And if they became interested in martial arts in search of answers .. well I don't see this new found 'reality' as being much more helpful to their general well being than the fantasy crapola that's out there. Because it's the fear of the unknown that we are trying to calm .... and very very few reality or fantasy training methods address this at all. Both lean towards promoting certainty, and that seems to be a bad thing, as all certainty is fantasy in another context.

As far as martial arts are concerned, I would propose that along with physical skillsets, learning how to be comfortable with uncertainty, and learning skills that make us physically and mentally adaptable and agile, alongside learning how to really SEE our environment and those that inhabit it, would be far better goal than merely being possessors of a box of someone else's solutions to someone else's problems.

To be comfortable with the unknown is to make peace with the fact that all cannot be known, not everything can be predicted, and not everything is safe (though thankfully nature at least seems impartial).
Of course there are laws of physics, and some noticeable patterns both in the larger universe, and in the human condition, and happily, as we are part of this universe and it's mystery, not separate from it we can infer much.

Fixate too much on finding 'reality' however, and it too will become corrupted, as fiction has been, into meaninglessness. My worry is that this earnest new search will become a neurosis, narrow and downward looking, rejecting creativity, exploration, and critical thinking.
The inspiration will be gone, the urge to explore too, and perhaps the fear of what we don't know we don't know will drive us to put our faith even more in others, to seek even greater insularity and separation from life as it is ....

Confidence and balance come from looking into the void and admitting that we have no certainty what's going to happen next ..... and being OK with that.

It's worth remembering of course, that chance also favors the prepared mind ...

Friday, August 3, 2012


High level motorcycle racers ride not only to their own limits, but also to those of the bike they are riding.
At the edges, things can get squirly really fast. A bike can spit you off, under or over, with the slightest mistake or twitch, and the riders of these machines are pretty much holding on for dear life whilst at the same time physically forcing these high strung machines round the track as fast as is humanly possible. As you might imagine, it is very exciting to watch.

Interesting thought this from the races last weekend.

A guy who rides in AMA Superbike - the highest national class, on a bike that is a basically a (highly) modified road bike, got a chance to ride a MotoGP bike - the highest international class, basically a prototype bike, a one off, made to be the fastest machine that is possible to make.
There are limitations to what is allowed of course, but mostly regarding the extent of electronic and computer intervention in the traction controls for instance, but basically these prototypes go faster, brake harder, hold the ground better, turn quicker, and accelerate faster than any other motorcycle in existence.
These bikes are quite different in feel and response, and require a whole new level of skill to ride.

So the AMA guy rides around the track on the fancier bike, and of course at first he is working on getting a feel for it, and he certainly does not want to wreck this brand new machine worth millions (yes, millions) of dollars. He rides around the track in a free practice session, probably 20, 30 times, and his time round the track is just about exactly what it would be on his Superbike (from the lower class).
Never really changed over the hour, despite the fact that the new bike had way more potential.
His speed was so consistent, I got to wondering whether his nervous system had some kind of memory, some sensory input speed that felt comfortable ... or at least defined for him his perceived limits .....

This was reinforced the next day when he was on track with more riders on their prototype bikes. By himself, same thing, times as before, but then he got behind a rider he could follow, right up close, following his cadence, the lines he chose, the braking points etc ... and suddenly his times got measurably faster.

I've always been a proponent of practicing with people 'above your pay grade' and here was a perfect example of why.
Yes, you can learn from anyone, and yes, you can improve skills with less skilled people ... and yes, you should be able to use teaching as learning ... but .... gotta say, you can really jump levels by crossing hands/swords/whatever with the highly skilled. Just the experience of what is possible, and the kinesthetic feeling you gain from moving with someone really good, is priceless.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


OK ... Sabre fencing is TOTALLY cool ... there are some odd things about it that go completely against my natural instincts (possibly from the sportification of how and when to hit), but hopefully I'll get to see the 'why' behind them soon as I get to spar more ... but it's definitely fun as hell.

See, I really wanted to be Errol Flynn (Captain Blood or Robin Hood*) when I was young ... and now, many years later, here I find myself parrying and cutting, retreating and chasing the evil Basil Rathbone down the stairs and over the rocks.... OK it's not Basil, he's not evil, and there are no stairs or rocks, but that's not important - we're dueling with sabres ha HA!!

Swords are fun, they just are, and after watching the hours and hours of VHS tapes I have of my training sessions, I have come to notice that though there are moments where I am obviously concentrating really hard, or am confused, or disheartened, mostly you'll see me grinning away like a mental patient ..... it's rather odd really if you think about it, but I will say that I have observed this effect in others too.
When new students start to duel, it's actually fairly easy to tell which ones are going to stick with it ... it's the ones that have this ear to ear grin on their faces as soon as you put sword in their hand. The overly serious, the super timid and the squeamish tend to be the ones that drop out .... but the grinners .... they're pretty much hooked.

Where does that come from ....?

Check it out .... Errol and Basil are grinning too: 

* - Yes, I know Rathbone was the better fencer, but I was 7 and Flynn played the hero. And yes, there are better sword fights in the movies .... but like I said, I was 7.