Thursday, August 29, 2013

Again ....?

Luo DeXiu seminars start Friday. He comes to visit once a year and stays about a week or so. It's an intense time, tiring and fun.

I've been attending his seminars since 1997 .. or was it 1998 ...?
Anyway I asked one of my students whether they were going to attend anything this year.
... "Maybe the Push Hands"
"Ah, you came to that last year too right?"
"Oh, well, I guess I won't do that again then ....."

I have to say I was taken aback, and it actually took me a few hours to nail down why I thought it was so weird.

The best I came up with was accepting that there are people who 'collect' forms and techniques, and that perhaps some think that they have everything they need from one visit, and need not attend again ..... ?
Or ... Perhaps they see a seminar as a chance to GET stuff to take home, something akin to going shopping, or perhaps it's to get an experience, like watching a movie or riding a rollercoaster.....?

I realized that I think of seminars as something completely different - As the opportunity to play with new people, and be in the same room as a highly skilled teacher, do your thing in front of them, and get corrections. Of course there is stuff to 'take home' too, but it's the personal attention, the trouble shooting, the "is this OK?", "Do I understand this". "I can't make this work. Why"?.... that makes it valuable to me.

Of course this demands a teacher that actually gives corrections and wants you to understand ... but that's why I choose to train with the people that I do ....

So - First free piece of advice
- Do stuff in front of them, right in front of them ... most teachers cannot bear to see things done wrong so will be compelled to correct you.

Second free piece of advice
- Just because you paid money, don't just demand answers and wait to be spoon fed without putting anything into the system.

As Luo laoshi said one year -

"I spent a lifetime researching and practicing to understand as I do. Why should I just give it to you? Show me what you have and we can work from there".

Friday, August 23, 2013

Kasushi Sakuraba

I don't have TV of any sort, and have not done so for many years. Any fights I watch are all on the internet after the fact. Consequently my knowledge of who is who is pretty weak .... I have my favorites, but am no expert, and certainly not up with the times.

Just thought I'd post this clip a friend of a friend posted from a documentary on Kasushi Sakuraba. I thought it was great. I remember seeing rise of the Gracies in the early early UFCs, and how they took out so many fighters of different sizes and types. Here, Kasushi owns them.

His switch from backpeddling from an aggressive forward blast into a take down at the 2 min mark is awesome, as is his calm use of range and game to conserve energy against Royce Gracie, and his deft use of slight changes in curvature during a grapple to gain the advantages in the finishing locks.

Truly a fighter that can see the gaps and the gifts.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hsing-ing some Yi

Luo De Xiu is coming to town again, August 30th through September 9th.

He's very good ... though of course I would say so as he is my teacher :-)

Looks like the menu for this year is heavy on the Hsing-Yi again. I'm guessing he really wants to pass that forward to keep it alive as part of the total Yizong School curriculum.

I'm definitely liking the Hsing-Yi .... can't say it surpasses the Bagua yet, but the subtlety of the shear angles and power lines is really quite interesting, and I've been experimenting with using the Pangamot (Eskrima hand work) pendulum flow as an entry system to try out the inserts and positionings ...

I will probably burn in TMA hell for mixing systems ... but the 'touching points' exercise (Hand, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, foot, alongside the off line footwork which can be seen the vid in the previous post behind the sickle flow) works great as a way to understand the inserts in a dynamic partner interaction.

As an aside, last class, we worked an entry and throw from the 'Snake' form and had fun looking at the possible reversals, and points of no return ..... It's awesome to have a very high level Jiu Jutsu and Aikido practitioner in class to brainstorm with ....

Oh no .... more cross pollination ... I'm done for .....

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Play Date

An old time student of Sonny's was back in the country for a short stay, so we got together a flow night with some of the crew.

It's hard to just 'flow' with familiar people, especially if they have a high level game. After all we all learned our skills from the same teacher and spent quite some time flowing together, so can read each other pretty well. This means that when we play together we need to come up with new ways to pinpoint areas that need improvement, and so play at different flows with different weapons to bring these aspects out.

For instance, G and I played fighting from the draw, keeping the blade 'sheathed', and drawing and cutting from the hip in one motion only when an opening had been created, with no blocking, and only footwork and body angle to evade. We also played holding the sheath in the left hand and using it to block, but then drawing and cutting only using the right hand. Very fun, and brought out some interesting stuff.

Then J and I playing sickle.

The key attribute of sickle, or Sangot, is that you can't pull back/retract if you are hooked (the sharp edge is along the inside), so it is the king of disengagement and moving around, not out.
It's ability to change the cut angle by 90 degrees just by changing the grip is also an added hazard, as is it's ability to snake a climb up from arm to body or leg.
The flow involves the idea that you have to give to get, so putting yourself in danger, basically using your arm as bait, is a key part of the play. It's all about learning the importance of still points and exits - where they are and how to move to safety whilst maintaining or improving one's position.

Here's some of the flow itself:
Please note that this is a random flow drill, it is not sparring. From about halfway through the clip you can also see R and G behind us doing an empty hand flow 'touching points' - practicing accuracy on the insert, looking for advantage and finding exits.

All the ideas found in this training then get inserted into a more tactically 'smart' format (non compliant, more real speed) to see what could be useful and what makes no sense, and so on. The ideas can also be transferred to different weapons to see what happens, say, when curved blade ideas are used with a straight weapon.

The point is that none of us know the answers, so we experiment, and use the times when we lose, or fail, or get stuck/backed into a corner as inspiration ... Even in this flow, we get stuck, a few times we break, but the moments created problems that was worth looking at, so we took it from just before the point of impasse to see what options might exist and worked from there. Perhaps if we can feel the set up next time, because we have felt it before, we can avoid getting stuck in that particular corner again .... I hope so .... that would mean we'd learned something smart :-)

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Came across the following article which might explain why movement is so connected to our self image, and perhaps why it is so hard to move/dance differently from what feels 'natural' to us. 

I don't think there is any debate that our emotional state changes how we move ... at least for the vast majority of people - it's pretty obvious when someone is sad, angry, frightened or happy .... but if motion and emotion are connected, perhaps how we present ourselves to the outside world, as in our self image, is also connected to how we move? And perhaps why it's hard to 'act' in a way that is separate from what one thinks of as self.

Changing how we move - both rhythm and manner - is a great way to change the game in sword play, and a great way to avoid being predictable. And if, as the study suggests, music is deeply ingrained at that same emotional level where personal movement resides ... perhaps music is a also a way (along with mirroring others) to expand one's repertoire ..... ?

Here's some of the study:

Why Music Moves Us
Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer

'Universal emotions like anger, sadness and happiness are expressed nearly the same in both music and movement across cultures, according to new research.

The researchers found that when Dartmouth undergraduates and members of a remote Cambodian hill tribe were asked to use sliding bars to adjust traits such as the speed, pitch, or regularity of music, they used the same types of characteristics to express primal emotions. What's more, the same types of patterns were used to express the same emotions in animations of movement in both cultures.

"The kinds of dynamics you find in movement, you find also in music and they're used in the same way to provide the same kind of meaning," said study co-author Thalia Wheatley, a neuroscientist at Dartmouth University.

The findings suggest music's intense power may lie in the fact it is processed by ancient brain circuitry used to read emotion in our movement.

"The study suggests why music is so fundamental and engaging for us," said Jonathan Schooler, a professor of brain and psychological sciences at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the study. "It takes advantage of some very, very basic and, in some sense, primitive systems that understand how motion relates to emotion."

Universal emotions

Why people love music has been an enduring mystery. Scientists have found that animals like different music than humans and that brain regions stimulated by food, sex and love also light up when we listen to music. Musicians even read emotions better than nonmusicians.

Past studies showed that the same brain areas were activated when people read emotion in both music and movement. That made Wheatley wonder how the two were connected.

To find out, Wheatley and her colleagues asked 50 Dartmouth undergraduates to manipulate five slider bars to change characteristics of an animated bouncy ball to make it look happy, sad, angry, peaceful or scared.

"We just say 'Make Mr. Ball look angry or make Mr. Ball look happy,'" she told LiveScience. [See Videos of the Sad and Happy Bouncy Ball]

To create different emotions in "Mr. Ball," the students could use the slider bars to affect how often the ball bounced, how often it made big bounces, whether it went up or down more often and how smoothly it moved.

Another 50 students could use similar slider bars to adjust the pitch trajectory, tempo, consonance (repetition), musical jumps and jitteriness of music to capture those same emotions.

The students tended to put the slider bars in roughly the same positions whether they were creating angry music or angry moving balls.

To see if these trends held across cultures, Wheatley's team traveled to the remote highlands of Cambodia and asked about 85 members of the Kreung tribe to perform the same task. Kreung music sounds radically different from Western music, with gongs and an instrument called a mem that sounds a bit like an insect buzzing, Wheatley said. None of the tribes' people had any exposure to Western music or media, she added.

Interestingly, the Kreung tended to put the slider bars in roughly the same positions as Americans did to capture different emotions, and the position of the sliders was very similar for both music and emotions.

The findings suggest that music taps into the brain networks and regions that we use to understand emotion in people's movements. That may explain why music has such power to move us — it's activating deep-seated brain regions that are used to process emotion, Wheatley said.

"Emotion is the same thing no matter whether it's coming in through our eyes or ears," she said.'

The study is detailed today (Dec. 17) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Eyes Outside

Had the opportunity the other day to hang out with one of the coaches from the gym where I work out, who also happens to be an international basketball coach and player.
We got to talking about the use of video to teach rhythm and patterns of movement and he told me about his training arc. Apparently his coach also used video to train his students, and after a few years put together a montage of clips of him playing as his training progressed. He said his first games showed he was doing pretty much one move, over and over - it was a move that worked, but obviously showed limited repertoire. A bit later, he could see maybe 3 or 4 moves more, and by the last game in the series of video clips, he did not repeat a move once during a whole game.

He said a big part of him expanding his 'toolbox' came from watching himself as part of his training, and recognizing how repetitive he was .... This then gave him the incentive to learn to move differently.

Same with training with Sonny - I only saw how predictable I was from watching video of myself - and similarly, comparing videos from early on compared with my later training sessions, I can say I had the same arc of development - much more varied movement and rhythm later on.

All in all, a fascinating discussion, especially with someone so talented and observant of body mechanics (an interest which apparently started from having to deal with his own sports related injuries), and we parted with him asking me why I was limping! And I truthfully said I did not know I was.

Spent the rest of the day trying to catch myself doing so when I wasn't paying attention, and walking super evenly when I was ......

Sometimes it takes an external eye to see things you can't - whether it is a great coach or a video - but both are hugely valuable and highly recommended.

As an aside: Having played dodgeball against him, I can say that his faking skills are the best I've ever come across outside of high level sword play. His throwing accuracy and power coupled with his ability to always throw at targets he is NOT looking at is phenomenal. That was a valuable lesson from the receiving end ..... As a potential target, there really is nothing to be gained from standing still.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Thing before the Thing ... And Other Things

This was on NPR this evening. if you can't afford the 45 minutes, just listen to the first past about baseball hitters.

I've talked before about how important it is to understand the moments before something happens so you can anticipate what's going to happen next, in other words be ahead in the loop ..... This is why random flow training, or training in uncertainty, is better than technique based training where you only get to practice the thing that's actually happening,  but never get to see 'the moment before' that made the thing possible.

Other good stuff too about training and aptitude.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Letting Go

Playing double weapons is a tricky business, and a well played single weapon is better than 2 poorly played. This is because it is much easier to get trapped or tied up with 2 weapons - You have to pay attention to which is over and which is under when you strike, and which options are better and worse from each position (some responses are very difficult to do if the side that needs to react is blocked by the other weapon).

Also, it is far easier to injure yourself with 2 weapons than one, it is harder to keep track of 2 edges, and the pretzeling problem makes the possibility of cutting yourself much greater.

That said, 2 weapons wielded well are easily superior to one. However .... to be superior they need to work in concert ... not doing the same thing, but doing complimentary things - For instance one opening a line and the other striking in the same moment, one faking whilst the other cuts, or one recycling/blocking whilst the other strikes.

These different 'jobs' that occur at the same time, turn out to be difficult to pull off due to our in-built physiology which leads to a tendency to keep a grip with the dominant hand even when the non dominant is being used as the primary. When one gets excited, it turns out that relaxing the grip on only one hand is very hard to do, especially if one gets caught off guard in some way, or if the 'emotional content' ramps up.

Most commonly if this happens, both weapons start to do exactly the same, rigid, thing, or the non dominant hand becomes completely inactive, usually gripped close to the body, or held in a single position, whilst the other moves as though the second does not exist.

This is particularly a problem with 2 handed weapons like the staff or cane, where the hands need to switch, and move along the length of the weapon, shortening and lengthening range, utilizing both ends for hitting, switching the power vector from down to up, inserting pokes between the strikes etc.

I know I learned to paint with my left hand by engaging the right hand in the same movement as the left, which seemed to make it easier as now the non dominant was following the dominant ... but I never thought about the reverse - NOT doing the same thing but learning how to do different things with both hand at the same time. 

Consciously alternating relaxing the hands, keeping both in my mind at the same time, was one of the most challenging parts of 2 handed weapons practice, and is still hard to maintain when things get exciting. 

Here is an article about unintended discharges from firearms which is related.

PS: I would add that in single handed sword use, the 'live' hand, or hand not holding the weapon, has a tendency to suffer from inaction, so double weapon is the place to learn how to resurrect the live hand and it's tendency to forget it has a life of it's own.