Friday, October 28, 2011

Sticky Blade

This week we worked on some 'defensive' stuff in class .. I hesitate to say 'defensive' as defense and offense can often be indistinguishable, but defensive in the sense of staying protected whilst looking for or creating openings.
We call these flows '2nd flow' because they start from blade contact with the checking hand coming into play if necessary because of the closer range.
We worked with the emphasis on slicing (rather than cutting/chopping or poking) and looking at the opportunities such contact gives. The most obvious one of course is indexing, because the moment you make contact with your opponent's blade, you know where the rest of their body is.

One particular 2nd flow is called 'Sticky Blade'. This flow builds in sensitivity to heavy contact, (to disengage) and lost contact/drop offs, (that open the center line) and works on positioning and relative angles depending on which side of the center line you want to play. It also works on extending to insert, and receiving, to 'flush block' against your body, as baits and draws.
The focus is on adding this 'blade pendulum' to the weight shift and stepping without losing contact with the opponent's blade.
With practice you can keep this contact whilst your opponent tries to open the center line by causing an error, drops off, or disengages for the hit.

What you are start to feel after a while is a 3 dimensional defensive ball - the picture I get in my head is of a rattan Sipa ball - which you are inside of, rather than a 2 dimensional wall. An arc meeting a straight line has a very different effect than 2 straight lines meeting - Bagua is based on this idea. Works very well with swords too.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Use Your Powers For Good

Teaching is a veritable Monkeyland minefield .....
There you are, self appointed head monkey, teaching volunteer junior monkeys to dance.
The whole thing is a set up for potential stupidity, and the worst part is that you are IN Monkeyland, with all it's rules and scripts, and because you are in it, it's hard to see them.

Here are the ones I've at least noticed, and this is from the teacher end, not the student end -

Status is a tricky thing - get some as a teacher and some part of you wants to keep it, or get more. It'll make you want to stay in your comfort zone, never risk losing - to anyone, and always create the impression that you know all the answers. It'll have the tendency to make you stop experimenting or putting yourself in situations where you can screw up ... i.e. it will make you avoid risk and chaos as much as possible. And it will make you occasionally tyrannical if you think that status is being challenged.
Status will also make you want to pander to your 'followers' - Make them like you, re-affirm your status, enjoy the time they spend with you, find you entertaining, be comfortable, succeed, get their egos stroked ... so they keep coming back. Make it easy, non confrontational, nice.

On the other hand, this same status can give you the attention of those open to learning new things. Status can give you the opportunity to lead by example, open peoples' minds and imaginations, teach how to enjoy problem solving and critical thinking, how to be present, mindful, aware, alive.
As a teacher you can create environments to show alternative ways to be, encourage excellence, reward growth, be ethical and upstanding in decision making and choices, and refuse to get drawn in to all the monkey games that the in built hierarchy of a martial arts class can tempt you with.

I don't think it's easy, I personally have to keep watch on myself on a regular basis to make sure I'm not getting trapped, but if I remember what I'm here for, what the point of what I'm doing IS ... then it's easier.
I don't want to create carbon copies of me, or loyal fans that think I'm great. I want to create students that can beat me at my own game. Once they can do that they should move on as I can't teach them anything more.
And that would be just fine with me.

If, at the same time, I can pass on the same joy I get from playing Eskrima, that would be awesome too.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Many people, especially women have a tendency to apologize if they make a mistake - does not matter if the opponent gets hit or not, if it's an error in a drill or in sparring.
I do it, but nowadays only if I ding someone accidentally hard through an error on my part. I don't apologize if it's their error, or it's what I intended, but martially even this is a bad habit, I know that, but decades of polite upbringing are hard to break.

Today at workout it came up during a Palakaw exercise - One of the students - 'Oops'. 'Sorry. Oops. Oops. Hell. Sorry. Oops'!
Gotta stop saying Oops

Sensei MikeE has a solution to this problem. I think it's inspired so I thought I would share for all those afflicted with this same politeness virus.
His advice - "When you f*#k up, don't say 'Oops', say 'I will haunt you'!
How cool is that?

Thanks to Liat for passing that on.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Watch Yourself

Got the chance to sword spar recently with someone with great skills. A friend videoed the fun and I got to see the footage yesterday and it was really interesting.
As I've mentioned before, Sonny video taped all his classes and we all got to go home with a VHS tape and review the workout, but since his passing I have rarely taken footage of spar time, so it's been quite a few years since I have been able to watch what I do free style as an observer.

Here's what I noticed:
- Sparring is basically a form of Monkey Dancing which is fun, and when you are having fun the game is absolutely playing you and it's hard to remember to get off the carousel.
- Fun is seductive - it makes you forget.
- Having fun makes you think you are doing better than you are ... and as such gives you no reason to change your tactics.
- All the stuff I practice to gain advantage over an opponent when I'm training, or at least much of it, is subsumed by the fun I am having being danced by the monkey.

Now, there's nothing wrong with having fun. I am a huge fan of play as a vehicle for learning .... But here's the thing, I don't recall any specifics of our sparring time, and I know if I could, there would be stuff I could learn from, I just can't put my finger on it from memory alone.
(Aside: The post I wrote on Ego, Death and Progress comes exactly from this forgetting, and 'being danced'. )

But there is a secret weapon - I watch the VIDEO.

... Ahhhh .... Wow, look at all the stuff I forgot to do. Look at all those opportunities to try something different. Look at the strange loops, decisions and errors ....
Why did I keep trying that same combo? Didn't work the last 2 times I tried it ... Why didn't I ....? Or ...?

Actually it's inaccurate to say I don't recall anything, I do remember contemplating trying some tactics and plays that did not manifest physically, but dismissed them as unworthy.
For instance, I didn't think I could fake or bait this opponent - they're pretty good at reading, and the marginal advantage between something that looks real to a seasoned player and is not, is very risky to try .... But was that a correct read on my part, or no? I think I should have investigated more, not just assumed.

To reach a higher level of skill you have to become more open, be willing to lose, invite your opponent in more and start thinking a bit further out of the box ... the monkey box ... and make yourself DO IT during the dance to test what works.
Through the power of video and the third party point of view it bestows,  I have visual confirmation that I did not try a large part of a repertoire I have at my disposal (in theory), and so the next time I play I'll have a place to start and to seek improvement, to practice again remembering to play AND think.
And who knows what will and will not work .....?  I actually have no clue, but if you believe you can get better you must expand your imagination and try it out.

And that, ladies and gentlemen is why I highly recommend you video yourself too.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Workout Oct 13

Looked at how to practice accuracy of cut and blade angle - tabletop, tuning fork.
Hiwa cuts - curves and arcs.
Recycling and neutral points - Increasing the options from each point.
Connecting the sword to the body so the whole moves as one.
Gunting open and close, connection of live hand, and cut angle to center line.
Worked all these concepts into Palakaw - fixed step to make the hips work.
Added Hiwa defense as offense + added all the concepts + repetitions and doubles.
Ended with a short 2nd flow a.k.a. Sticky Blade and introduced the timing of the 3 main openings.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Getting Your Learn On

 What I learned -

There are sometimes no good answers ... or perhaps better ... sometimes no answers that satisfy. Apparently our tendency as humans is to reframe the question to create more answers until we find one we like.

Sometimes you just don't know and there's nothing you can do about it.

Things happen for reasons.

Luck is real.

We all have blind spots and because we are in them, we can't see them, and can't even hear directions on how to get out.

Smart (my definition) people are good readers and writers (Sonny's terms). They can listen and they can lead.

We are all who we are - we are obvious. It takes skills to hide these things.

I know I have blind spots because I don't know how to connect what I learned to change what I do.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Chinese/Filipino Sword Afternoon

Had a blast yesterday comparing elements from a Northern Shaolin 'Five Tigers' Sabre form with Filipino Barong and Kampilan usage.

The 3 swords we compared are shown below, each is different in some respect from the others -

The Chinese Dao is a curved, single edged, single handed (hand and a half) sword, about 30 inches long.

The Barong is a leaf shaped, single handed blade about 20 inches long.

The Kampilan a long, straightish, 2 handed sword up to 40 inches long.

What they have in common however is that they are all heavy, slashing and chopping weapons, weighted towards the front, with a sharp tip that can be used to thrust or gouge. The Kampilan is probably the only one specifically designed for battlefield use, though all three have been used as battle and skirmishes weapons.
Because of these similarities some of the ways of using them overlap.

I've seen very little Chinese style sword work up close, especially done by someone willing to free flow some ideas, so it was a very cool to have Scott (Phillips) perform the 'Five Tigers' form, I'd comment on certain parts that looked familiar to my Eskrima and we'd compare the body mechanics, observing also the subtle changes that would occur due to the difference in weapon design and cultural flavor. Scott would give insights from his research, and his teachers' comments about it, to add to the mix.

It was also interesting to take out parts that did not look familiar at all, and try to work out how they might be used, or why they looked like they did.

Of course knowing which direction the bad guy is attacking from is part of the puzzle, or if there are multiple opponents.
Wide open space, or narrow street?
If the move is a passing move, a closing move, making distance, targeting hand or body/head, or an 'oh sh*t' last line of defense.

Of course it's all speculation in the end, but great fun never the less.