Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Opportunity and Means

I've been trying to write a blog post for while and it just gets messier and messier. Language is not the friend of physical description ... Anyway, I realized I already sort of wrote it: http://swordandcircle.blogspot.com/2013/09/this-is-for-you.htm

But perhaps it does need more ..

Within swordplay, as in all martial arts, you have a 'what', a 'how', and a 'when' and a 'why' that you need to learn.

An example of 'what' could be - A cut to the hand with a flicking back cut utilizing the back edge of the sword near the tip.

'How' would then be - Pull the tip back, either using the bending of the wrist, or moving of the arm/body to create a cutting action across the target.

'When' might be - A good time is when your blade is in a low position and the opponent's hand comes into range

And lastly 'Why' - Because their hand came into range and I was in a position to cut it, and hand cuts are very useful as targets.

The vast majority of martial arts answer these what/how/when/why pretty well, in fact most of their training methods are focused there.

But there are other, bigger, 'Whys', like

Why did this moment come about?
Why did the opponent let their hand come into range so you could cut it?
Why were you and your weapon in the right position to do it?
Why did you decide you could get away with it, as in, not get cut yourself in the process?

Should you care about these? Perhaps it's enough for you that the moment happens and you just take advantage of it?

Well, my opinion is that you should, because you are leaving things to chance very late in the game when you could be shifting the balance in your favor way earlier.

And how can that be a bad thing?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Twirling with Purpose

Some comments came up recently regarding the utility of flourishing and moving the blade around. In FMA it's called Carenza, or 'shadow boxing with weapons'.

What's it for? Isn't it kinda useless? Where's the application in it? 

Well, here's my take, and obviously highly influenced by my time training with Sonny, whose Carenza was indeed a thing of beauty.

Firstly, as a personal practice it is an awesome way of gaining skills manipulating the weapon, learning how it moves, and making it flow as part of the body.

It can also be a way of familiarizing oneself with a particular blade design, where it's power lines are, how it recycles between strikes, how it thrusts and slices.

But are there uses past that? Can there skills be of use with an opponent present? Isn't it just fancy and unnecessary? Perhaps even a dangerous waste of time?

First off, here is a quote from Lt Col W E Fairburn, of Fairburn Sykes fame:
"I believe that a knife should be bright and highly polished for the reason that 20% of the fight is lost by not striking awe in the mind of the victim that a flashing knife gives."

The psychological effect of an edged weapon is part of it's character, and thus should not be dismissed in training. One of Sonny's questions to me when we worked was: "Do you want your opponent to see your blade? Or not see it?" Truly, both are important parts of the whole.

Sometimes not being seen is crucial, but then so is being seen when they can already see you and are waiting for you to act. Non telegraphic and fully committed motion definitely has a place here, but if you are not fast enough, or are behind the curve to start with, then visual and psychological deception are your friend.

Sonny avoided altercations on more than one occasion by flourishing his blade and having his opponents think better of engaging. He also used his Carenza to confuse and disorient his opponents, thus creating time in the OODA loop to do what he needed to do. Remember time and space are interchangeable, and thus movement is key to this being successful. 

This lack of movement, or using the Carenza in the wrong context (like standing still at long range against a gun) gives this deceptive element a bad rep.


But used in the correct place, as a way to close distance and open up a guarded line, it is very useful indeed. In fact I would say that it is the best way, combined with footwork to move off line and change angle, to get away from the glorious double death outcome so often seen.

I think one major reason why people don't respect the utility of this part of training edged weapons is the multitude of 'twirling' videos on youtube that have given it a bad name. I've actually written about this subject before if you are interested: http://swordandcircle.blogspot.com/2012/08/carenza-rant.html

One last thing - perhaps the context of the usage can be widened to think about any situation where escape and evasion are paramount. Think of juking and the Malicia of Capoeira as examples without weapons?

Obviously the utility also holds true for knives in the 'real world'. 

Here is Mark Human of Multi Dimensional Warriors in South Africa talking about his perspective:

"We make a point of ensuring that we stay up to date with how violence transpires/ particularly related to edged weapons attacks and confrontations. Research includes interviews with victims, practically working in the field, reading accounts and watching footage of fights and stabbings. There are knife ambushes and attacks and yes there are such things as knife fights and even ambushes that evolve into knife fights that resemble duels. Interactions include hard and fast attacks, fast and flowing attacks, committed and non committed lunges, fakes and picks, unimaginative single strikes or complex combinations and really any combination of anything the human mind can imagine. Don't box yourself into finite presumptions of how someone will attack- to improve your chance of victory become a navigator of chaos by understanding the framework of chaos."

Remember, like Sonny said (paraphrasing here), there is no art in killing, and none in dying, but living ... that's where the art is ...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

SoMiCo Knives

I've been rather lax on posting lately. I have to admit that my creative attention has been turned elsewhere for the last few months.
Earlier this year, my good friend Toby Cowern at http://treadlightlysurvival.com/ came up with a design project, a collaboration between me, Rory Miller http://chirontraining.com/Site/Home.html , and himself to design a knife.

As it turned out, we decided the best way to do this was to each take a lead on a blade, with the others adding comment/critique as necessary.

And finally our first creation is finished and it ended up being my lead.

Despite being incredibly opinionated about blades, something for which I blame fully on having handled Sonny's designs and modifications, I did not realize how immersed I would get into designing something myself.

I realized I wanted something that would feel in the hand like it wanted to move and work, in the same way that anything Sonny made moved and worked.

I wanted the balance to be right, and because of the importance of feel, we decided to work with Will Capron, a fabricator of hand made knives in Minnesota. You can find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/willcapronknives/?fref=ts

Will was willing to work with me to get the balance and feel exactly how I wanted, and we ended up spending some days together refining, grinding, troubleshooting, and working on the handle and sheath designs.

As an artisan myself, I am a huge supporter of high quality, hand made, products, and will do anything I can to support those who care about their work and make cool stuff.

And this is 'cool stuff'.

Here's our website: www.somico-knives.com

Check it out if you would be so kind. You will see this first knife 'in action', with all the inspiration and design elements that form this blade explained.

I can't wait to do the next one ... :-) 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Long is Short

A few thoughts came up for me teaching Xing-Yi this week -

I wanted to correct a student who has a tendency to extend their arms out too far, so, I gave them a long staff to practice with. Long weapons are heavy and difficult to balance if held away from the body. Feeling this, the student started quite naturally to keep the hands in better positions, and also use their back hand as the 'power' hand more than they had been.


Empty hand, Xing-Yi is known for it's short power generation, which perhaps seems weird for a system trying to extend it's power through a spear or similar, but it makes complete sense. Long and heavy weapons dictate the hands and elbows do not extend too much, and that it's the body that follows that creates the power. The hands and arms are just the delivery device. You have to use the body (and movement), not the arms, to strike with.

So with short, as with long.

The weapon dictates the movement, dictates the power, dictates the usage.

Interestingly enough, I was also trying to correct a student who has a tendency to step too narrow, almost crossing their feet as they move. Xing-Yi, demands a stance that is a little wider to accommodate the weight and length of pole arms from which it was developed, so again I tried adding the weapon to see if the footwork would appear.

No change in footwork. Hunh.

So I added me, as the opponent, holding the center line. To move, the student had to take my weapon off the line so that they could create an opening and strike. (They can do this using timing and evasion of course, but best not to rely on always having this.)

Bingo! You can't use a narrow stance against the pressure of an opponent holding the center with a pole arm, you have no stability .. feeling this, the footwork shown in the form appeared with no correction.

I talk about it all the time in Eskrima. Each sword or weapon has a characteristic way it moves and needs to be wielded. Put that weapon in the hands of the student, and give them a 'problem' to solve,  and all the reasons for why the footwork, the hand positions, and the body alignment have to be as they are, become instantly much clearer. Take the context away however, and now you are fixing things in foot placement and alignment that are abstract and imaginary.

Of course you can do this empty hand through applying pressure that the student must move around or deal with, but I have to say, using a weapon seems more immediate and efficient.  Everything is more obvious and harder to fake when a long weapon is in play. Using structure with alignment is the only way.

It's funny that we teach unarmed before weapons in so many systems. If we did it the other way around, perhaps people would learn much faster ....?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Throws, Bullets, and Swords

Had a fascinating weekend cross training with some very high level folks from different genres and backgrounds.

Ostensibly I was in town to work on a design project with a custom knife maker (more info to follow), and whilst there, took the opportunity to get some training time in with some hugely talented people. Kasey Keckeisen (http://practicalbudo.blogspot.com) and Dillon Beyer both come from a perspective of the traditional Japanese Arts, Kasey is also a veteran police officer and SWAT sniper and trainer. And if this was not enough, I also got to get a day in training tactical shooting with one of the best firearms teachers in the area, Cabot Welchlin. Cabot taught Kasey and still trains the SWAT guys in the area.

These guys are all gentlemen and scholars alongside being highly efficient and effective fighters, and it was a true pleasure to get taken out of my comfort zone into some new worlds.

What was most fascinating to me, and the huge benefit of spending time with smart people, is seeing the connections and principles consistent between skill sets … and also how transferring them does not necessarily come naturally!! An enormous amount of the stuff I know about alignment and movement principles with sword can transfer directly to moving and shooting, as was pointed out to me by my betters as I apparently forgot all I knew on the range.

The center line/aiming connection is there, as are the 'cusps' of movement in the pendulum, when moving in and out of cover.

Switching the weapon from right to left hand, grip, and positive feel - same ideas.

Draw and aim, and most of all the idea that movement and cadence are the keys to 'Don't get hit'.

Movement really is the key. To everything. Movement means change, and all power, positioning, opportunity, evasion, alongside areas of danger and safety depend on the relative movement between you and your opponent. This is of course why the pendulum is such a powerful training tool as it sets up all the options of closing, opening, turning, stepping, and weight shift..

This whole experience has made me want to set up a 'Skills through Movement' clinic …. Shooting, Swordplay, Striking, Throwing, to see how they combine ...

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Timing and Distance

Here's a great clip breaking down how great boxers use space and time to their advantage.
The parallels to the ideas within the pendulum step paradigm are easy to see.

Apologies to those trying to find this clip earlier, I thought I had already posted it.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Decisions Decisions ...

A friend (thanks D!) was contemplating drills and said:

"I kinda think that the success of drills isn't really in "muscle memory" (or whatever you'd like to call it) but in the idea that remembering the drill gives the mind something to do to get it out of the way while the body learns how it feels when effective and efficient principles are manifested."

He also said:
"... I just wonder if the process is working for the reasons we assume it is working. Not remembering the drill happens after a fair bit of proficiency in the drill, and I'm wondering where that proficiency is coming from. And what part of you is doing the "remembering." I've been doing a lot of play with learning drills and copying movement while attempting to engage the parts of my brain that think in words as little as possible, and it has been interesting."


I love it when people engage in training whilst playing with different aspects of mind, thought, etc. Actively engaging in your training can only help you to get better, faster, especially when there's a spirit of exploration and adventure into the 'unknown'. 

I also think that a smart student can pretty much 'get anywhere from here'*, for however circuitous the road, they will get where they need to go.

But ... and you knew there was going to be one - Though repetitive drills may be well and good for training smooth techniques, working on alignment, and transitions in space, the piece that never gets trained in these type of drills is the decision whether to do it or not in the first place. 

And it's this decision - whether it's the good one to make in that moment - that really requires the 'timelessness' training that 'remembering' never gives you. 

Sorry, that probably made no sense .... try again..

If all the decisions are removed from a drill, you are never practicing seeing the action for what it is, and what might make sense to do in the geometry of the moment. You do the drill, you do the drill, you do the drill amazingly well ... but WHEN do you do it? If you can never find that moment, it will never happen.

This is why uncertainty HAS to be included as an element, especially for that non linear, thoughtless, stuff that is so important in owning a skill. 

Free sparring does this, but often it's hard to find moments, or pull anything off when the field is so open. Therefore I like to start off with only 2 options, I've talked about it before. Left or right is an easy one, so is high or low? A bit harder is, now or not now? Create a situation where both are on the table, and take it from there. 

Have your partner set the scene by moving in such a way as to create one or other option. If they do A, do X. if the do B, do Y. They don't tell you which one will happen, or when, but that's the game - to see the correct precursor to the smart idea. (From there you can get sneakier, lie, bait, set up and reverse ... but first make it a simple either/or).

I'll add a caveat. This is all a little easier from contact as most of the decisions happen because of tactile feedback from the opponent, though in general, the higher their skill level, the further ahead you have to play in the game of chess. But from a distance, like with swords, and before contact .... where possibly the MOST important decision needs to be made, you just can't trust to luck, you have to read or create the situation by your positioning and your body language.

You up your odds by controlling your opponent's options with footwork, and unpredictability (the ability to avoid being 'read'), but still, it is the moments when opportunity manifests that need to be seen and acted upon WITHOUT the conscious mind intervening, because by the time you have said "Oh, look, there's an opening"! It's already past. THIS is the moment that needs practicing, so the pattern slots neatly into the subconscious for use at a later time.

Train techniques repetitively by all means, get good at them, but if you are training ma-ai, insert the need for a decision to be made. You'll get to understand it all the more that way.

*From a funny story about asking for directions in rural Ireland, and the local saying "Oh, so your trying to get to Galway? Well you wouldn't want to be starting from here".

Sunday, July 5, 2015


Rob asked -

1)As someone with what seems to be a very good 'student' mindset and experience teaching, do you prefer (as either student or teacher) the direct approach of taking a specific problem and 'solving' it? Or do you like to "go down the back alleys".? Does this 'faith' based approach have more potential to ingrain concepts that can be applied to a range of situations?

First off, I don't really think of the long game, as I call it, as 'faith based', though I guess on some level the student has to have 'faith' that the path is actually going somewhere useful for them.

I do think that some problems need to be faced, looked in the eye and taken on. Seeing one's own faults in an example. You have to admit to yourself that you have a gap in your practice, or something that does not work, and only then can you work on getting rid of it. Where this approach falls down is when you really don't believe you need to change. And remember, belief is an emotional response and not a rational one, however much we try to rationalize it into being logical. Examples of this would be "Well I hit you too (even though I am dead)", or, "I expect to be cut (but I got you too)", or, "Why would I need to practice this dance-y stuff (just because I got cut)"?

"Well I hit you too" really means - I do not need to change.
"I expect to be cut" really means - I'm good enough as I am.
"Why would I need to practice this dance-y stuff"? really means - My imagination is too small.

So how do you show someone a reason to change? How do you create the space in their brains to entertain the idea of change? And how do you get them to actually change?

My thought is that the body knows if something is useful or if it is not, to a much greater degree than the brain. So you have to bypass the resistance by speaking to the body directly, and somehow keeping the brain distracted or busy so it cannot resist.

None of this stuff is instantaneous, so you need to entertain/keep busy the resisting part of the brain for enough time for the material to sink into the body and become useful. The body can then tell the mind to switch tracks.

As everyone is different, this involves some experimentation and calibration by the teacher, and must engage the student to inspire them to continue.

The alternative approach is to say - Do as I say. No questions. No thinking. Absolute obedience. This can work, but it shuts down the brain in a way that I don't think is optimal. The way I learned, and try to teach may be more difficult, and more subtle, but the engagement of the mind in confusion and uncertainty is in itself a far more useful state in which to learn to adapt, because if you think about it, you are actually learning about engaging in a chaotic environment which is what dueling, or fighting, is! It's inbuilt, unlike the rigid way, which is absolutely controlled and thus non transferable.

So yes to the last part of your question too. If training this way can show you chaos, uncertainty, and how to keep a calm focus and less ego ... it absolutely spills over into all areas of human interaction and life in general.

2)As someone that has been training and playing for quite a while, had meaningful teaching relationships with at least two different people and has a wide/eclectic experience within martial arts, how exactly have/do you identify people you want to learn from? How do you analyse and judge what they do? After all there are plenty of people that can move in ways that you can't but I'm guessing you don't necessarily want to be able to move like all of them. On a practical level are there any games or exercises you use for baseline testing when exchanging with someone?

'Identifying teachers' happens differently depending on your skill level.

In the beginning you don't know what you are looking for, or at. There's no real way to gauge what is 'good' or appropriate for you until you try. For me it was a case of seeing stuff and thinking 'that looks cool. I want to do that'. So, I started fencing because I watched Errol Flynn movies.

It can also happen because someone you know says 'you should try this'. So, I started doing Tai Ji because the guy I worked out with at the gym said it improved his lifting form (and I had watched Kung Fu the TV series when I was a kid).

Conversely, I never took up Judo because my first class gave me such a headache from learning how to fall and roll, I never went back.

Later when you start to see levels of skill you had not seen before, you might feel something is missing from what you are doing and start to experiment with going to workshops and seminars and dabbling in stuff that comes your way. Perhaps you read more, or watch videos or other stuff. I started watching Samurai movies and took a year of 6am classes in Aikido Jo because you got to wear a Hakama and I'd always wanted to wear one.

Note that I still did not KNOW what I was looking for, but just by doing, I found (in my opinion), better and better teachers - for me. Or at least I found stuff to do that I thought was totally fun and kept leading me onwards.

I knew I wanted to train with Sonny when I saw him video footage of him. I probably would not have understood his movement had I not already played with both western and eastern sword styles and studied Bagua footwork. However, I saw it and knew. I mean I KNEW that is what I needed to do next. The fact that he was difficult to find and he did not take on many students made it extra fun and exciting to try.

So what guiding forces do we have so far?  
Following someone I thought was cool.  
Elitism coupled with super badass coolness.

Not exactly a role model of rational sense and virtue am I?

So ARE there any guidelines? No, not really. It's a very organic process which will probably have a fair few dead ends as part of the path. But that's OK, and as it should be. Often we need negatives to point out the positives and I really don't think they are anything to avoid or worry about.
If anything, the only red flags to watch out for are systems that are rigidly closed, secret, and obsessively cultish, and ones that do not 'allow' you train elsewhere. Also best to avoid teachers that are self titled, or who abuse their status, and especially ones who you never get to actually touch or move with.  Another good tell is if the senior students are assholes. If they are, all you will learn there is how to be one too.

In a nutshell, if you let go of the idea that there is only one 'best and only truth' you'll never make a 'wrong' choice.  Just keep an open mind but believe nothing. Do, but do not take too seriously.

Be an explorer not a consumer. But whatever you do keep going. It's all intel the system can use to improve if you engage with it that way. The only certainty is that if you do not practice, you will never get anything.

As to the very last part of your question. Can you give me some more detail about what you mean by 'baseline' and what you are trying to find?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Snickets, Ginnels, and Wynds

I can tell you in words why something is useful, or good, or is worth doing, but your resistance to doing it will be in direct proportion to your resistance to the idea that you have a gap that needs fixing.

If there is no space for something to change, you won't change, however much I try to convince you it's a good idea.

Sometimes pointing out the problem to you physically helps. For instance, if I can make you notice that you can't find a clean exit after your entry, it will hopefully become obvious that you do indeed have a gap in your strategy, and thus opens your mind to the idea of change.

Thing is, sometimes taking a problem head on makes it worse. The mind gets in the way. It comes up with reasons and rationales to stay as it is, or stay within the bounds of it's imagination.
Sometimes problems need to be sidled up to, casual like, and worked on, without looking them directly in the eye.
Not for everything. Not all the time. But sometimes, especially when the existing program is hard wired, you need to take the more circuitous route to avoid heavy resistance.

But the circuitous route, almost ignoring the original problem, can bring up resistance too. For instance, I might know that doing seemingly unrelated X is the best way to help with problem Y. X might seem counter intuitive to your brain and it will start wondering why you are doing it, but remember, I'm teaching your body, not your mind.

I know that if you keep at it, your body will find a use for X without you thinking about it.  It's like an after market part that bolts right into the system and improves the running profile. The body is smart. It learns stuff and stashes it away. Then it reappears all over the place as the connections in the brain rewire, and if I'm right, suddenly your gap that needs fixing, will start to go away.

But you have to put the work in. And that's the hard part. Do you trust that this material really is good, even though it seems unrelated? Do you try it? How long for? Does the teacher know something you don't? Or do you know more than them? Are they selling you snake oil? Or might it actually be gold?

Everyone has to take responsibility for their own decisions. The way I do it is to ask myself if I want what they have, and by 'have', I mean how they move? If I can't do what they do, I want to learn how.

That's all. I'm happy to follow instruction until I find a dead end.

I will add one thing more.

Sonny asked me a long time ago if I was a 'good student' or a 'bad student'? What he meant I think was if I was capable of putting the work in, but also of thinking critically about everything that he taught me to do. He wanted us all to test the ideas. Are you better? Did it help?

Do the work, but obviously be careful who you follow down the back alleys. They are often the fastest route even though you can't see where they are going, but still, you need a guide who knows where they are going.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Time Machine

The previous Puzzler post shows that you can beat speed and power with timing. More importantly perhaps is that if you have less speed and power than your opponent, then timing is your best physical skill outside of deception. You will also need accuracy and targeting of course - you have to do something useful with this time that you have created.

So, timing. What does that mean?

To me it means being in tune with the action and playing between the beats. This can mean before, during, or after something that your opponent is doing. And because time and space are essentially the same thing (It takes this long to move that far), you are also working in the empty spaces around the action.

Whether you look at time as a linear function or as a spatial phenomenon (or even just a single morphing affordance) is of no matter.

In some ways I prefer looking at the space, because space allows, or limits, movement depending on the relative positioning of the players. It's also easier to understand angles, and thus where the danger is, and is not.

Actually, what is even more important than where danger IS ... are it's precursors. If you are only seeing danger once it's happening, how can you use the act to your advantage? You will be reacting only to the moment at hand, and thus are at the OO stage, whilst your opponent is having a blast at the OODA stage.

If you could know what they were going to do next, whether by reading their movement or intent, or by forcing them into an action, you could also see the empty space, the safety if you like, around them. Not where it is now, but where it will be.

For that's where you need to move to, and act from, to gain advantage.

And this is why it pays to play within an unscripted flow, so the precursors, 'the bits before,' actually exist to be seen.

How else can you learn what they look like or how to use them?

Sparring is obviously one way, but sometimes it's hard to pay attention and learn efficiently when winning and losing are such great barriers to focus.

Random Flow Training is another way, limited by parameters but basically just one long stream of real life precursors.

Want to learn how to look back (or is it ahead?) in time, and perhaps to deflect it's course a little? Get out of your dead drills, and embrace the wonderful world of Physics - Cause and Effect.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Puzzler

For all those of you that are fans of Car Talk. Here's a Puzzler for you


I was sitting at the traffic lights today next to a young guy in a car with way better acceleration than mine. It's obvious that he wants to be first off the lights. But I beat him. Easy. (Of course he then passes me a few yards further up as he keeps on accelerating, but whatever.)

He was not on the phone or texting. In fact he was watching the light. I didn't run the light, it was green when I went, and because he was revving a bit, I'm assuming that he had a manual (stick shift) transmission like me and we were both in gear and feathering the clutch.

Is my reaction time way better than his? Probably not, seeing as he looked alot younger than me.

So how did I beat him?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Risky Business

They say you should imagine the scariest opponent you can think of, and that your training is valid if only if it works against them.

I get this - Certainly if your training only works against an inexperienced, clumsy, compliant, half wit you are indeed doomed to failure. But is the opposite true for the other end of the scale?

Who would you most fear to cross swords with? Not in a sport context, but in an imaginary lethal encounter?

My personal nightmare is a bigger, faster, stronger, insane person. (Let's not go into multiples/ambush/unarmed vs armed etc. Just keep it simple, to a one on one see 'em coming both equally armed context). And for me, the 'insane' part is the part that makes them the most scary. If someone is insane and does not care if they live, what options do you have? Not many. There is no potential harm you can threaten them with. They cannot be reasoned with, and the height/weight advantage means they outmatch you once contact is made.

When the odds get this bad, you have to risk everything to stand even a small chance of prevailing. Your options narrow down to the smallest of windows of opportunity, where the risk of injury or death is almost a certainty, and your only option is to 'go'. Once. Win or Lose.

You could argue that this is the most important place to train because it matters the most. But it is also extremely rare. Many people might outweigh or outreach you, and there are certainly people out there who are more highly skilled, but insane? Not so much. For someone to care less if they 'die' just for the pleasure of taking you out? This takes a very particular type of individual with a very, very, personal grudge.

Why does any of this matter?

Because this is the opponent most people seem to fight, all the time.

Is this 'wrong'?

There is a logic that says that if you have the answer to the most difficult problem, you also have the answer to all the easier problems, because the only thing that is changing in the equation is the threat level the opponent presents. As the threat level goes down, so the winning should become easier and easier. Right?

Well, kinda ... yes, the technique might be very effective, but no, because the risk to self is left extremely high.

Remember, in training smart, we are looking for maximum gain for minimum risk. When you have no time or space, you have to judge everything, from range, to timing, to angle, perfectly. Even if there is only half an opening, you hope for some luck to add to your slight chance of surprise and you take it. Because you have to. And if nothing else, it never hurts to increase the chaos if you are losing.

But what of mere mortal opponents? I would argue that here, you actually do have the luxury of space, time, and especially rationality, to play with. You have choices, and those choices actually increase as the RELATIVE level of the threat decreases.

Rory once said something to the effect that time is a commodity, and one of the differences between a veteran and a rookie is knowing when you have it, and when you do not. If you do have it, it is far better to spend it gaining intel, rather than rushing straight into an unknown chaos without understanding what you might be facing.

Same can be said for sword play. If they are not insane, gain some intel first. Don't risk yourself unnecessarily. You do have the time and the space. Use them. Make a smart decision.

I found the quote below on the internet. I have no idea if it is a real Native American saying, but I thought it was quite good. It speaks both to the difference in attitude whilst training versus in 'reality', but perhaps it also applies in a dueling situation, to the one who controls the game versus the one who does not?
"The huntsman can make many mistakes, the hunted, only one".

Be the hunter.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Friends /Enemies

I'm taking requests about what to write about.

So today, the question: From a strategic viewpoint, how would you make a friend out of an enemy?

My immediate response to this was to say - Well, that's easy, you don't care that they are an enemy. Friend or enemy is all the same, if you know where someone stands in relationship to you, you can use the relationship to your benefit.

So was that a cop out? Did I answer the question?

Answer these - 
Why do you want them to be your friend?
What does 'friend' or 'enemy' mean?

You could get a bit more complex and ask - Are there definitions in between friend and enemy that are acceptable? Honorable enemy? Distant respect? Polite disdain? Not dangerous? Completely unimportant?

And, if you really needed their 'friendship'. What for? And what time scale are we looking at to achieve this goal?

We are all defined by relationship and are nothing without 'other'. Not just person to person, but us with gravity, time, air. It's why we do what we do and are how we are.

And relationship just 'is'. Everything has a place if we choose to see the relationship, and not just ourselves. Enemies are not afraid to criticize, or show us our weaknesses. Nasty, mean, people show us who we don't want to be, and perhaps point out our hypocrisies. Cool people encourage us to go further and expand our imaginations, smart people teach us, students teach us too. Family (blood or chosen) keep us safe and feed our souls.

Don't be afraid of enemies unless they are threats. (Threats and enemies are not the same. Threats require action, enemies probably don't ... not for most of us at least.)

Embrace adversarial interaction, be it with sword or words, not so you can prove your perfection to yourself, but to find out who you truly are.

Like Sonny said- Don't keep them away, they are coming anyway. Let them in but choose how you open the door.

Next question ...?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Before last month, I had not done much plastering, barely any really, but it's a skill set related to other skill sets I have. It turned into a big part of the scenic job that I was working on and there was nothing else for it but to get good at it. Fast.
The main difference was that it requires specific tools new to me, and that the consistency and behavior of the material is different from stuff I've worked with before.

The first job is to be able to apply the material to vertical surfaces, smoothly and in even thickness, leaving no thin spots. You try to have as few build ups, blobs, or hard lines (where the blade edge moves across the wall) as possible. At this point the plaster is the consistency of yoghurt, slowly becoming like thick custard as the minutes pass. You have to get it all on the wall in one go so it will all harden at the same time. It's a fast paced job that can't be stopped once started, and at first the biggest skill for me to learn was how not to get half of it in my shoes.

The hardening happens as a chemical reaction, not through water evaporating off. This hardening time is known as the 'workable' time, it is variable and dependent on temperature, humidity, and the original composition of the mix. Something else to learn.

Once it is 'just so', you have to work it again, after its just dry enough that it doesn't pull right off the wall when you touch it, but not hard enough that it's set solid. Then, you have to 'press it' with a different tool, pulling up the remaining moisture into a slurry and moving the surface around to bring out the beautiful, alabaster like, quality of the plaster. The skill here is to keep the surface smooth, and use the movement of your tool to make random and dynamic sweeps to create a homogeneous whole with no repeating patterns.

I know, fascinating eh? And what on earth has this to do with martial arts?

Well, the way you learn how to do this can only be done ... by doing it.

My learning curve was basically - Here's the tool. Watch me. Make it look like this. Go.

Skill comes from understanding the material, from the kinesthetic feedback you get about the material through the tool and learning how to play with it. How heavy is it? When is it too wet? How does it move? What do problems look like? What is fixable? When is it perfect? When is it 'done'?

And the tool itself has a personality. It can be used in different ways, with the flat, with the edge, hard, light, with water, without, tapping it gently to add material, scraping off, scraping on, using different grips, easing off, easing on ...

But none of this means anything in the written word, or in verbal instruction alone. It's a completely touch sensitive art. Words only come into their own when you are in process - "Feel this? This is how it should be".

They say a potter needs to throw 100 pots on the wheel before trying to make a finished product. Throw, and throw it away. Over and over. Losing the sense of having to succeed. Just do. Fail. Fail again. Try new things. Do it again. Try. Fail. Do.

If you take this practice to heart and really do it, the material will start to 'speak' to you. IT will teach YOU ... you will learn how to ask it questions and then learn how to listen for answers.

Not so different really from swordplay or martial arts.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Two To The Power of ?

I wrote this post a while back.
I thought about it the other day in a context outside of training and martial arts, but it made me want to write about it again here.

Bagua Zhang has a very simple view of movement -
What you can do going forward you can do in reverse, closing or opening, clockwise or anti clockwise, big and small.

You get the picture. It's all about an idea and then it's opposites.

The fun part is when you realize that any human movement holds within it many different 'opposites'.
Take for example a simple shuffle step forward off a left lead in San-ti (left hand high, right low).

The opposite could be a shuffle step back to where you started. It could also be a right lead San-ti shuffle step forward ... or back. It could be a left lead shuffle step with right hand high and left low, or same reversed hands with right lead, or backwards with same.

And that's just one, single, moving part - pushing off the back leg and resetting.

Why is this useful? Because if you can only see in binary, your affordances are very limited.

The obvious 'opposite' is not always the most useful one to use in reaction to a stimulus, though by default this tends to be what we do - Push directly back against an opposing force.

It should be remembered that the more parts that are involved in the original frame (right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot etc), the more parts can become 'others' in the one labeled 'opposite'.

In even more complex systems, like people, where opposites can be physical, but also situational, psychological, and time related (now/not now).

Confrontation. Conversation. Conflict. Reverse. Inverse. Adverse. It's all relationship. What's the opposite? What's the opposition?

Precision of understanding the situation at hand is key, but just as important is a generous space left un-named for those 'opposites' that may in fact not be opposites at all.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Big To Do

Teaching basic cuts the other day I fell into one of the teaching traps I try so hard to avoid - I taught a fixed step set of strike angles. It's part of Sonny's older system from before he transitioned into flow teaching and he had left it far behind by the time I started. I learned it from other students mostly because it was an interesting part of his history, and we ended up doing it the other day because we were talking about solo practice and striking ideas. It's an engaging little set with many parts to it, and indeed is a great way to put sword, body and feet together .... Well, sort of ....

As a rule, I don't like teaching 'perfection' or taking actions out of flow. In fact, I much prefer having the skills come from giving people problems to solve than doing them as stand alone, repetitive, exercises. It means that there is nothing 'intellectual' being added, just the simple process of seeing a target and reaching out to touch it. Something even babies know how to do.

Of course, strikes need to cut, not just touch, so you need good targeting, accuracy of cut angle and blade angle, along with correct range. Of these, I would say that range is probably the most important, because if you miss, nothing else matters.

But how do you teach the dynamic quality of range from standing still?

Well, generally what happens is because you understand the range issues and thus footwork that the student can't, you start talking and fixing things for them. And before you know it, you have a student trying to keep their hands, their foot placement, their grip, their blade angle, their hip turn, all coordinated in their brains. And if that's too hard, you break it down even more to help students 'remember' all the parts that need to fit together.

*face palm*

How much easier would it be to invite the student to dance, and just say "Can you cut me from there? OK let's move around and only cut when you can reach me". "Oh, you just scratched me - too far away'. "Where were you aiming?" "Try the belly cut". "Ah, you plowed the blade into the target instead of cut it. Feel that"?

Doing the cuts in context makes all the parts that need 'remembering' unnecessary to remember! If you can do a good, clean, cut (blade angle and cut angle the same) from the right place (reach the target and use as much of the cutting edge as possible) and recover the blade easily. You are doing all the bits of blade manipulation, grip, hip movement, stepping, foot placement, and weight shift you need to!

Flowing DOES feel more hectic though, more difficult than the piece by piece version, and it's hard to feel so clumsy and uncertain, or deal with a the high failure rate that is inevitable when learning in real time trial and error.

But we know that it's far more productive to physically 'DO' than loop through 'THINK and DO' when actually in the fight, so if you can leave out the 'think' part in training, surely it can only be a good thing?

I think Sonny thought so, and this is why he changed how he taught. All the same cuts are still there, he just cut out the meaningless step of doing them without connection to purpose.

Flow training may cut out the certainty and the feeling of achievement that doing fixed step or patterns gives you, but that's a bonus too. There are no downsides to becoming familiar with uncertainty, or learning to keep a calm mind in the midst of the chaos of swordplay.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tactical not Technical

I was asked a question about how to transfer good footwork to sparring.

Most people have had the experience of learning stepping patterns in class, in solo forms, or as part of applications, but when things heat up ... It's all but lost. Start sparring, and all technique wooshes out of peoples brains as fast as you can say 'Monkey Dance'. 

But how to fix it?

The classic sparring scenario, which I have written about more than once, is two people facing off in protective gear. They might twirl their weapons, bounce up and down a bit, shuffle in and out on a line, get nervous - And then, one makes a break for it, entering with a quick strike, thus creating an opening which their opponent goes for, and both die either in a clash or on the retraction in a scrum.

There's plenty of examples of this dynamic on line, and as I only like posting good stuff from other people, I will leave you to find them for yourself.

Here however is a clip I do like, and for a very specific reason - It shows something important that needs to be noticed when considering the meaning of 'training for dueling'. And addresses what sparring should be more like.


This is what I see.

I know the guy in the suit is at the top of his system, and though I don't know the reasons for why these two guys are playing, I can tell that black-shirt guy is good too, but perhaps slightly lower skill level. There is of course the possibility that he does not want to embarrass suit guy by showing him up and winning, but let's assume that is not the case.

Suit guy is comfortable and confident, and though black-shirt guy obviously knows the style quite well, and is trying all kinds of stuff, he is not getting many hits (I think he tags an arm twice). Thing is, he's avoiding plenty too. There are very very few double deaths or examples of him entering recklessly to his doom. Each takes their time to assess openings and really spends time watching and looking for gaps.

Black-shirt guy tries to keep range and he plays as though he has an enormous respect for the lethality of the weapon in play. At this point suit guy changes things up by taking his jacket off to change the dynamic.

What I find interesting is that many people find this clip less satisfying than the clashing and the pokey stabby double death interactions you generally see. They say ... It's so slow. Nothing is happening. Boring. Why isn't there more attacking? It's not how it would be if it was real ....

So, sure, that's debatable, and obviously ... if you are outmatched and going to die anyway, then yes, take them with you. But what are you training for if all your test sparring is ending here?  We should not be training to die just to take someone out, and we should not be training to pick fights with the highly skilled.

You know what would have been a win here? Not picking the fight in the first place. That would have been the 'real' smart move. But not dying was smart too. Both were going to 'die' in this encounter, both knew it, and neither was willing to do so. That right there is what good training should give you.

But, but, but, you say, you should fight better people than you, to learn stuff. You have to put yourself in danger. Try things. Push yourself.

Yup you do.

And black shirt guy in this clip learned a bunch of stuff he can work on - He knows that his ability to create openings with suit guy is lacking, so he can work on ways to do that. He has to learn to move in different rhythms and with many qualities of movement. About being even more accurate about the edge of range .. and also that maybe he should wear a jacket too ...

Compare this to the double death brigade. Generally their whole game plan revolves around trusting to luck and speed, so what do they learn in comparison?

In all honesty? That they were not fast enough or lucky enough to win.

Add the weirdness of always sparring with apparent psychos with no concern for their own mortality, and the whole point of the training is ... what? Psychos may be 'real' in a self defense scenario, but in my experience, people that handle knives, and who face them, tend to be far more leery about getting cut than most students of the bladed arts I see on youtube.

It may seem more exciting to don the mask and throw yourself into the fray. More intense feels more real, right? But if you think about what you are learning from the experience, perhaps the 'less satisfying', slower, more mannered, clip, is in fact a far more useful training tool for upping skills?

Maybe you should stop looking for technical solutions to fix your problem, perhaps thinking tactically is better?

It will also help your footwork :-)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Ukes and Intel

You have to present the right question to understand what a good answer is.

The tennis coach feeds the student shots that they have to return. They vary the shots to train different aspects of the game, and as the student gets better, these problems, or 'questions' that need answering get chained together to become more and more complex and thus create the whole. Each of the questions requires different body mechanics, movement options, balance requirements, alongside power and accuracy. Full body/sense training, and very straightforward - get the ball back over the net in the marked area, and prevent your opponent from returning it.

This is how technique based martial arts training is meant to work too - I throw a #1 strike, or a right cross, or whatever, and you respond. The difference, however, is that in martial arts the answer is given to you ahead of time, and it's your training partner's job to throw out the right question for this particular answer.

Perhaps you can see the potential problem here?

If your training partner gets sucked into the Monkey Dance game, whether they want to dominate you, or feel uncomfortable doing anything other than submitting, the question is in danger of turning into the wrong one. And keep on answering silly questions with inappropriate answers, and what are you really learning in the end?

What most don't understand is that this is as a 'wrong question' problem, not just an asshole/ineptitude problem. So you either try to force techniques or speed up to make them work. Or conversely do something totally half-assed and have your partner cave anyways. Basically you do something that teaches you nothing about the thing you are meant to be learning, just puts you smack into the middle of a fantasy monkey dance.

So how do you create the RIGHT questions?

Uke training.

People think it's easy to be the uke (the 'bad guy'), also known as the 'loser'. But losing by it's very nature is hard to do, especially when your have to calibrate the ease with which you lose to the skill level of your partner.

It demands an understanding of what is happening, what off balance means, what the strong and weak lines of structure are, timing, time, natural reactions to threat, range, targeting, and I'll say it again because it's so important - time.

I've started a conversation with some folks in other arts about coming up with a set of 'warm up' partner exercises to practice learning these things. How to calibrate to your partner. How to be appropriately difficult, yet not too difficult to move. How to listen to your partner. How to communicate with them.

Many grappling/throwing arts have these already, though some have been lost over the years ... but how about weapon and striking arts? How do you teach people who don't understand what they are really doing to throw out appropriate questions?

I think there's a way, and that way is to start learning how to listen, observe, and notice.

I think of it as 'gaining intel'. When you gain intel you let the other person speak ... in fact you let them ramble on to their heart's content. Your job is to stay present, connected, and throw out enough questions and interest to keep them talking whilst keeping yourself safe.

That's really what a good training partner does. And in the end, being able to gain intel is awesome for fighting too. I'm betting that 'asking questions' will up your skills faster than just learning to 'answer' them all the time ... And the beauty of thinking of it this way is that it should keep you out of your monkey brain, and that right there would be a massive leap in the right direction.

What do you think? Possible? Ideas?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Non Binary

I lost another teacher a couple days ago. He will be mourned and missed in the same way that Sonny was and is.

These two guys were very different from each other in character and life experience, but what they did share was a certain fearlessness alongside a willingness to risk loss and failure to learn to understand the universe in which we live.

They both seemed happiest discovering new things, being surprised, and most of all being able to pass on that wonder to the next generation. They also both hated hero worship or being put on a pedestal by their students.

There really is only relationship that defines us as human beings, between each other, and with that which surrounds us. Students may be less far along the path, but the teacher does not sit above. They are not there to merely 'feed' the student, the student brings food too, for both to eat.

The circle of giving and taking goes both ways - We 'do' because we understand. We understand because we 'do'. And 'doing' takes many forms. It makes mistakes, it misjudges, it can be crazy lucky, and very occasionally it can be true and good and perfect.

I have written before about Sonny, about his darkness, his temper, his mistrust. About how I believe it is because of these elements of his personality that are considered 'negatives' by many, that he was the truly remarkable man that he was. How these struggles made him more insightful, about people, and about himself. Not in an angst-y adolescent way, or with any great fanfare of overcoming trial and tribulation to a final happy ending, but as an adult. Accepting one's limitations and the consequences of one's choices is the best way to truly have compassion for others.

Liu Ming was far from perfect. He had within him a power and temper that belied his humble and cultured nature. He was indeed generous, funny, kind, and giving, alongside being considered what I would call 'enlightened' (you can tell people that are because of the mirth they radiate). He was precise, an aesthete, and learned in the arts and wisdom sciences of ancient history. He was also willing to voice his anger, piss people off, put himself in danger, get thrown out of school, and even get officially cursed (at least that's how the story goes).

So make no mistake, the earth from which the 'good' qualities grew had some dark depths. The pendulum does not only swing one way, and neither should it do so.

I hope all the hagiographers out there are taking note.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Edges of Safety

There's a whole science that is solely concerned with surfaces - between water and air for instance, or solid objects and the space around them. There also happens to be a bunch of really interesting mathematics associated with these surfaces, with limits, and the edges of things but that's not important.

In dueling, the most interesting and important edge to understand is the edge between safety and threat, and how this changes over time. This edge appears in the space in which you are playing, and is also related to the geometry and design of the sword you are carrying .... Because safety is not just about being out of range, but can also be anywhere off the cut line of the weapon.
I had the pleasure of playing a little with German long swords recently with a couple of friends from Valkyrie WMAA. It was just a mere dabble, but what came home to me from the few techniques we played with was how different the geometry of 'safety' is, just by adding a sturdy cross piece in front of the hilt of the weapon.

I am used to fighting with no hand guard, mostly because my art comes from a culture where daily carry blades used for work did not have them. Hand protection is much more common on weapons designed specifically for fighting because opponents often target the hand, but machetes, Goloks, Bolos etc generally do not have hand guards, because sugar cane, undergrowth, and coconuts, do not.

It's a whole new world out there with this one, small, added piece of steel. A parry or block that using a Pinuti would take your head off, is now safe (relatively), and traps and redirects take on a whole different meaning.

Any sword you use should become part of you, and through that, so should the experience of the space you 'own'. This takes time, work, and familiarity, and if you don't play enough near the edge, you'll never truly understand it's limits.

I would love to get to the stage where the mere feel of a certain sword in my hand would translate into the geometry of space, but because of the sheer variety of swords designs in the world, that sadly seems unattainable. Even getting to grips with the swords of the Philippines would be a lifetime of work.

However, this does not mean one cannot infer usage from design, and learn from different designs about the space you move in and the changing options each gives.

Sonny thought of every weapon as a tool that taught you something specific, and when we flowed we went form one to another to see how the concepts and attributes crossed over .. or did not.

The better you get at understanding this of course, the greater your movement options become, or the perhaps better said, the finer your angles get to become ... and in sword fighting that can mean the difference between a graze and being run through.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Crafty Observations

Below is an essay from Marc Denny from The Dog Brothers. It is one in his 'Rambling Ruminations' series.

In the last post I talked about how information is meaningless until you own it and make it yours. How secrets are nothing if you do not put in the work, and how time and effort are required to know the answers to the questions - Does it work? And more importantly, does it work for you?

This, in the end, is the reason that a martial art is 'martial', and is not just about dancing by yourself. There is always an 'other', a thinking, moving, adversarial, other, who's only motivation is to take you out ... and this must not be forgotten.

Thing is, we all have a different 'dance' and adapt and move in different ways, so do our opponents ... So where does that leave any 'system' of material? And how does it move through people and time when people and time change all the time?

Sonny said - I don't teach you, I show you what I do. It's up to you to take it and make it yours.

His emphasis on understanding self and connecting that to the job at hand instead of copying the past ad infinitum, was key to keeping his art alive, at least in my opinion, and should go for other arts too.

Of course he taught the principles that underpin technique - about spatial geometry, timing, physiology, movement, human nature, the things that are constants, but he really did want all of us to be ourselves, not try to be carbon copies of him ... which would be impossible. If we could internalize all this information and use it out of our own eyes and bodies, then we could be said to 'own' it. And owning it looks very different from one person to the next.

And that's OK. His Art carries on because of this, not despite this.

Here is Crafty Dog's take on it -

Who is your teacher?
by Guro Crafty
(c) DBI

Woof All:
As is well known to all, my teacher, Guro Dan Inosanto, is an extraordinary martial artist. Over the years he has developed many people in many different arts who can replicate his curriculum in the art in question with grace and style.
I am not one of them!
Indeed I was always one of the somewhat awkward ones who had a hard time remembering things.
Still, I persisted and worked on expressing myself honestly and one day Guro I. asked me to cover for his Kali class. Of course I said yes, it would be my honor, but inside I was shocked. Who? Me? My self-image had a hard time imagining clumsy, awkward me teaching his class.
Came the day in question and rather than be a poor imitation of the real thing I decided to offer to the class how what I had learned from him expressed for me and for other people I teach Real Contact Stickfighting so the class could see how the Art expressed in the hands of real people in real time— so they could see that the Art worked. After all, this is what it says on my Guro certificate from Guro I.—that I may change the Art as I see fit.
People seemed to enjoy the class and Guro continued to use me for his Kali class when he was on the road during the week for a time. After one such class a visiting student came up to me and complimented me and the material I had taught. I thanked him and then he asked me “Who is your teacher?”
I was stunned. Was it not obvious?
“Guro Inosanto” I replied.
Obviously not-- he too was stunned.
On the drive home I took the route home that goes along the ocean behind the airport. Because of the airport there are no homes, only open space. There is a small road that cuts through this that has an ideal spot to park and look out over the ocean and this is what I did. As I sat there I wondered how someone could not see that what I do, what I teach, is not Inosanto Blend. I mean, just because I move differently, teach differently, , , what does that have to do with it? Ha!
Bruce Lee spoke of the whole idea being a matter of “honestly expressing oneself” and that is what Guro I. had always taught me. When he asked me to cover for his class, he had to know that that is what I would have to do—be myself. Similarly that is why my certificate from him says I may change the Art as I see fit—the Art is not a “style”, it is free and open.
As Time has gone by, this is what I have done in my teaching. It is what I expect of the people whom I certify as Guro in Dog Brothers Martial Arts.
Certainly this is not the only way of doing things. Certainly there are good reasons for a teacher to require that someone certified in a system teach the system as it was taught to him. Certainly for the student there is value in knowing what he will be able to learn when he comes to someone flying the flag of that particular system!
Even though I do differently, I respect this.
That said, know this: If and when you approach someone certified in DBMA assume nothing. This is not a franchise wherein no matter you go, the product or the service is the same. All of our people are individuals. Talk with him and get a sense of what it is that he does with the system. His interest may be in Real Contact Stickfighting; it may be in Kali Tudo; it may be in “Die Less Often”; or it may be in any combination of the three.
Are there risks to this approach? Of course! Just as the uniformity approach runs the risk of stagnation, so too the free approach runs the risk of entropy.
As Konrad Lorenz has written:
BEGIN" The culture preserving and, consequently, life sustaining function of this mechanism has, however, as a necessary precondition, something similar to a state of equilibrium between the immutability of old traditions and the capacity for adaptability through which throwing overboard certain parts of the traditional inheritance cannot be avoided. A preponderance of that which is conservative causes exactly the same result in the biological development of species as in the development of cultures-- the formation of "living fossils"; an overabundance of variability, on the other hand, causes in both the formation of abnormalities. Examples of such mal-developments in social behavior can be cited the emergence of such phenomena as terrorism and the current popularity of quite inept religious sects. , , , (However) , , , It is an error to believe that after the form and content of an old culture are thrown overboard a new and better, a ready-made one will quite naturally be brought into being to take its place instantaneously. We must seriously confront the sobering fact that there is no purpose oriented pre-determinism of what happens in our world to protect our culture. We must be clearly aware that we humans, ourselves, bear the burden of responsibility for preserving our culture both from erroneous developments and from rigidity." -END
In conclusion, when I certify someone I am simply saying that they have trained with me in depth, and that I trust them to act with humility and a basis in the research of their own experiences to absorb what is useful, to reject what is useless, and to add what is specifically their own. If they do that, they are Dog Brothers Martial Arts.
The Adventure continues,
Guro Crafty

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Assassins, Secrets, and Time

Those who teach 'real world' techniques, self defense/self protection, hope that their students don't hurt someone outside by accident. They train them to make good decisions, to be good guys and to avoid going to jail ... At least they should.
They also don't want their students to wind up in hospital through some error in the teaching.

It's a huge responsibility.

I live a less stressful life as I teach an 'Art', not self defense, not knife fighting, or combat skills.

Don't get me wrong, I still want the material to be 'real', useful, pragmatic, but have less to worry about as the context I am teaching - dueling with swords - is arcane and not something the bag guys of today feel the need to learn.

It's weird really, I AM on some level teaching people to make sushi out of each other (what was it Rory Miller said of martial arts? That it is 'the manufacture of cripples and corpses'), but the path to flying monkey assassin or down home mugger from 'duelist', is just too big a leap for wannabe gangstas to handle.  I occasionally deal with the delusional or the assaholic ... but they tend not to survive the 'request for information' stage.


So where's this going?

Back in the day ... when people really had to deal with bandits, disbanded armies roving the countryside, and political assassinations, numerous 'schools' or security services competed for business, and reputation was everything. Then it was indeed important to ration information until you were certain of the loyalty of your student. 

You needed to know that they were not going to steal your secrets and run to your competitors, and you had to trust that they were not spies or informants who could sell you out to an enemy, or perhaps even challenge you and take your students for their own.

Nowadays it is somewhat different. I don't live in a world where I fear that a student will come back later and use the skills I taught them to kill me. My personal livelihood does not depend on them keeping my secrets or only training with me, and I actively encourage playing and sharing with others to avoid students only learning how to beat people who they know.

The time for withholding information and keeping secrets is gone, and has been for a long long time ..... Why would anyone hold back the meaning behind things any more? After all, there is no 'thing that will make everything work'. No 'secret deadly technique that cannot be blocked'. No magic bullet. These things don't, and never did, exist. And there's no material that can only be taught behind closed doors. Youtube put paid to that.

Really there is only 'Does it work'? "Does it not work'? ..... FOR ME ... And to know that, you need to own what you are doing.

I bet I could show you everything I know. Say it out loud, in words, and demonstrate in slow motion ... and you won't get it unless you, yourself, put in the time. You might think you get it, but how about I video you and show you what you looked like a bit later. Tell me then how well you think you got it.

If you don't put in the time, you will also never gain the accuracy, the balance, the connectedness and fluidity, that is required to make things work, and your nervous system will not be able to process the rate of data that is being thrown at it when things ramp up to full speed. Your eyes won't see enough to understand what's going on, and your body will be guessing and copying what it should do, not doing what it should do, at the appropriate time.

Right now what I do is mine. I am not afraid to share, because though you may bring new things to the table for me to play with, only time and effort will make what I DO,  yours.

I am reminded of that old martial arts joke about the student who is told that when they reach a certain level of black belt, the teacher will come and whisper 'the secret to the system' in their ear. One day, having finally reached that rank, they ask the teacher what the secret is, and the teacher leans in close and whispers ..."Practice" .....

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Everything is reactive and nothing is guaranteed to work. There, I said it.

Just to clarify - You are always reacting, even if you 'go first'. What I mean is, you might do a preemptive strike because you sensed something coming, but you still reacted to the behavior of your opponent.

Martial arts teaches us all kinds of techniques - If they do this, you do that, whether it's something specific to do with stepping off line and executing some series of moves, or more vague like 'if they close' step in, keep hitting until you overcome them'.

But would you still do it if you knew it might not work?

How about if it only had a 50/50 chance of working?

Having only one single option in hand with no room for adjusting to changing circumstances means you are always going to be behind the timing. Convince yourself that your first entry is going to work no matter what means that your mind will be stuck in 'ACT' phase of the OODA loop with no time to OBSERVE or ORIENT to a change in circumstance.

Remember, even if you think you are acting preemptively, sometimes your opponent is just waiting for you to come into range so they can connect and control your movement. Nothing is guaranteed.

Most martial systems understand this and have a part of their training specifically dealing with change, usually from contact - Push Hands, Chi Sao, San Shou, or what Sonny called Second Flow.

In Yizong Bagua, this is where Line 3 comes in - That moment where contact is made but your initial idea needs to be altered.

The initial entry may be a good one, so you cannot act like it is definitely going to fail, but you still need some more 'ideas' some options, that you can potentially use if it does.

In Bagua we talk about 'half' - I do half, my opponent does half. We also talk 'testing', 'saying hello', about 'keeping a good situation'. In Eskrima we talk about 'not running out of angle'.

What we are doing is forcing a reaction from our opponent that we can use to our own benefit.

This means there has to be both a precision of relative position between you and the opponent so you have the structure and power to do the next thing you want at any moment, but also a fluidity to smoothly segue into that next thing, whatever it may be. All whilst preventing yourself from taking damage.

This requires good alignment (in yourself and between you and your opponent), an understanding of the strong and weak angles of the body, and the sensitivity to know where one option to continue is better than another.

Last but not least, an understanding of the concept of 'half', where 'half' is.