Thursday, December 29, 2011

Touching Points

If my hand is touching your hand, my elbow can touch your elbow.
If my elbow touches your elbow, my hand can reach your shoulder.
If my foot is touching your foot, my knee can touch your knee.
If my knee can touch your knee, my hand can reach your head.

This goes for most folks unless they are unusually tall or very short.

So if my right foot is in contact with your right foot, and my left hand has your right elbow, what points can I reach with my right hand?

Consider that each contact point has weak angles you can effect to break the structure or cause rotation, and the real game begins.
And yes, you do have to move your feet.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Jamaica and Trinidad

Started workout last Thursday inspired by Chiron's post talking about smooth vs non smooth motion. One of my students pointed out that predators key on to prey through motion, and many types of prey do have jerky motion, especially when spoooked - think mice, sheep, antelope. Predators on the other hand tend to move smoothly so they can get in range to pounce - think big cats and wolves. Perhaps there is something primal in the way our eyes perceive motion that is clued in to this, both as prey and predator?
Anyway, what we ended up playing with was smooth vs not, being seen vs not being seen.
Fakes have to be seen - see the Buying and Selling post, and this is often achieved through a change in tempo (juke) to create a reaction, and therefore an opening you can take advantage of. A sudden motion is often key to making something happen.
OTOH a subtle tweak in tempo or smooth adjustment of angle can often be overlooked completely, and is most useful to take advantage of openings unseen by your opponent.
It is important not to confuse the 2, be smooth when you do not want to be seen, but be jerky when you do. Practice this. Sometimes you think you are moving in a certain way whereas your opponent can't see it at all.
Another point about fakes - Don't wiggle and juke more than twice, you are in danger of being caught if your opponent can read you. It's a binary system - the go, they do not. High/low. Left/right. And there's something about 'waltzing' that is innately human, so be very very careful if you can't pull something off within that timing.
Strike. Fake - strike/Fake - exit. Fake fake strike/Fake fake get the hell out of range. :-)
Happy Solstice.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Direct Transmission - Eskrima

I learned Eskrima from Sonny Umpad. Sonny was, and is, a huge influence on how I teach.
More than a couple of his students have called Sonny's style or training method their Rosetta Stone. I had the same experience. Training with him made many concepts and ideas fall into place, in Eskrima and in other martial arts. Many hypothetical 'what ifs', become 'ah, I see'.
But still, he died too young, the training left hanging as though there was so much more to do and see. We'll never know if there was a 'complete picture' or just an endless series of progressions and refinements, but that's OK, fitting even, as a legacy of how he was as a man.
I personally think he sits in the genius category with a mind perfectly suited to his obsession, which was to study the arts of his homeland. Don't get me wrong, the man was no saint, and he was certainly no role model for health and happiness, but he was a singular human being, hugely talented, humble, generous to a fault, massively creative, smart, focused and patient - Wow was he patient! Not having any Eskrima friends to play with, he started to teach so as to make some for himself! He wanted to create skilled practitioners that could push him so he too could keep his skills up. What a fabulous motivation.
So what made him a superior teacher?
Well apart from just being a very interesting person, he was highly skilled, obviously, and moved with an uncommon grace highly unusual in the field - this quality in particular drew people to want what he could do.
He was also eternally fascinated by the art of teaching itself - How will the student get this concept? Does this work? How about this? Ah, that worked ... but will it work on the others ..?
He understood the psychology of fighting really well, he saw patterns of behavior and individual traits he could use to put points across depending on the personality of the student, and encouraged students to play with each other as much as possible to see what the combination of personalities brought out.
In the Transmission post, the comments section brought out some commonalities other folks have found in great teachers. Apart from the emotional connections mentioned before, great teachers tend to push their students to perform at the edge of their abilities, great teachers do not spoon feed but encourage independent thinking, inquiry. They critique and expect high levels of performance. They also have a passion for what they do, and gain satisfaction in seeing their students improve.
Sonny had all of these, though perhaps his greatest insight, and most useful in terms of learning to fight/duel was the constant feeling he created in his students (and certainly in me) of constantly standing on the edge of chaos, of uncertainty, and the looming abyss of failure .... OK, that might be a bit dramatic, but I think that this emotional aspect of the training was a key component of why it was so effective.
Life is uncertain after all, decisions may or may not be 'correct'- I hate to say right or wrong, perhaps 'easier path' and 'more difficult path' would be better descriptors, so training in that same emotional space is very valuable as that is where 'stuff' is going to happen.
He understood this, perhaps not in so many words, but came to realize that it created a most efficient way to teach Eskrima.

Playing/teaching in the chaos, close to the edge, but not over it, is a skill in itself. It involves personal, one on one time, understanding the student and being able to read how they are faring. Sonny was great at frying your nervous system one day, but keeping you encouraged enough to keep going, giving you glimpses of the possibilities, but keeping you from becoming too obnoxious when you thought you had something.
He wanted you to see through his eyes, through mirroring his movement, flowing with him, defending yourself against him, watching him play others, trying what you'd learned whilst he watched.
It's very old school. Like I said, one on one, a systemless, troubleshooting approach with the individual as the focus.
In my opinion it's a highly effective, and possibly the most efficient way to learn, like an apprenticeship, not sure if it's for everyone though. Sonny has some really good students, some not very good ones, and many drop outs. The lack of structure, and the constant uncertainty was too difficult for some to handle, though of course others thrived in it, and the ones that spent the most time in it, are the ones that got the most out of it.

Just as a side note, from the teaching end of things, I've always said that I thought Sonny connected fighting to teaching through his interest in learning how to figure people out. His ability to disappear, blend, lead and trap was truly phenomenal. All these he could do so well because he was a superlative study of people, and he used these skills both dueling and teaching. I think he saw them as sides of the same coin - one constructive, and one destructive, and as a natural fighter, this is what kept him so engaged and creative in his thought, and teaching, process.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Transmission II

Arguably, human beings have been so successful as a species because of their ability to pass on important information, skills and learning, to their offspring and to others.
Still, many thousands of years later, we are still working out how to do this most efficiently.
Whether it's learning something from scratch, or upping performance of something already practiced, it usually takes an objective 'other' to teach you new stuff, or perhaps better, show you how to improve yourself. Of course, the other important half of the equation is that you yourself must want to learn, or think there is something unknown out there in the universe that you want.

Big thing is, you don't know what you don't know. You may know THAT you don't know ... but you probably have no idea what that knowing will feel like until you actually experience it, so on some level you have to trust that the teacher you have chosen will take you in the direction you expected, or at least towards something worthy, however unexpected the journey might be.

As a child you go to school and have little choice in who your teachers are, as an adult, however, you can choose for yourself, and change teachers if you do not connect with them, or what you are learning at the time.
Part of this connection is to do with your personality and how it connects with the teacher's method, or to the teacher's own personality.
Part of the connection will be to the material, the style and the context the learning takes place in.
Part of it is also timing - You can meet the best, most highly skilled and qualified teacher, with the best reputation, but if your paths connect at an inappropriate time in your training, you may be so out of your depth, afraid, embarrassed, closed minded, or not know what you are looking at, that you never get anything out of the encounter.

There is a saying that it takes 3 years for a student to find a teacher, and 10 years for a teacher to find a student. Whether this is numerically accurate is debatable, but the basic feeling behind the saying does ring true, and again goes back to a searching for connection - personal, material, timing.

But if passing on knowledge is so dependent of these things, are there some absolutes that hold true regardless? 
Do certain teaching paradigms create similar problems in students? Or do those problems vary based on the individual?
Are there highly efficient ways of teaching that only a few can grasp? Can those that fail/drop out learn the same material another way? Or are they just not cut out to perform in this field?
Are all people 'teachable'? Should they be? Should the method vary enough to encompass as many folks as possible? Or should the method focus on excellence in the few, regardless of failure rate?
ARE there commonalities to all good teaching? Teachers? Methods?
Should the method be as 'fast' as possible? Or should it be a 'lifetime study'?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Started to write a post about the best teachers I have known, and the best teaching methods I have experienced, trying to see similarities, connections, differences. But I thought I'd put a question out there first.
Who were(are) your best teachers?
Do you think it was just them? Or a combination of you and them, that worked so well?
And the kicker - Looking back, do you think you learned what the teacher was trying to teach you? Something related? Or something absolutely unrelated?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kendo vs Miao Dao

Here's a great sparring clip between some Kendo practitioners and some Miao Dao folks. It points out some interesting things. (Wait through the animated, winged, fantasy warriors for the actual sparring bouts)

First I like how the participants are going pretty full on - decisive entries and engagements, some good power strikes and opportunities taken. (Don't go low, if your opponent can take high, folks! :-))
There's even blocking, tangles and body checking - Nice!

Now of course much of this is possible because the participants are wearing armor.
Fair to say that the Katana and the Miao Dao were both battlefield weapons where armor was employed, so tactically taking glancing blows in a historical context is absolutely valid, however, this sparring scenario is set up more as a one on one duel, circling instead of forward pressure, and square stances instead of shoulder first stances, more common to armored systems where the armor itself is used for defense and offense.
So here, the armor has both benefits and drawbacks.

The benefits I listed at the beginning - Armor allows for committed entries, greater risk taking and heavier, safe contact.
The drawbacks - Greater risk taking, and more 'double deaths'.
Note that as many strikes connect on exit as entry, probably more, and how disengaging is a tricky business. Both Kendo and Miao Dao guys are aware of this, succeeding some of the time, but not at others.

Getting out is a big part of the puzzle, and should not be forgotten about. Building in a loss of focus, or a feeling of everything being over, in range, is never desirable during training. Practice entries of course, but never forget you have to exit too.

Monday, December 5, 2011


There's an art to criticism, just like there is an art to conversation, and flow training, and 2 main reasons to participate. (There may be more, please let me know)
One is to interact, understand, learn something new perhaps, or make the other look to improve their work. It is entered into with an open mind without preconceptions about the outcome (I know this part is hard, but say as few preconceptions as possible) and is hopefully a learning experience for both parties to increase excellence on both sides.
The other is purely to put something down, close it off, with a mind already made up, seeing evidence that only supports a presupposed theory, and none that negates it.
The first is about 'not knowing yet', the second is about taking comfort in the sound of your own voice. The first about trying to understand what you don't know, or to try to change the mind of the other, the second does not care about effecting any change, just about stopping the other. The first is interactive and involves 2 people, the second needs no second viewpoint.

As an aside, one of my pet peeves is having a so called conversation with someone that does not believe the listener is a participant too. My rule is that if I could replace myself with anybody else, or a cardboard cut out with no effect on the words being said, then it's not worth wasting my time with. Similarly in flow training. Flow training is about LEARNING. It is a very different animal than fighting where the object is to win.

When winning is the objective, then screw the 'other' - there's be no back and forth, or generous creations of openings, pauses, politeness or trying to understand ... there would be ranting with no chance of a counter, no care about learning something new or helping the 'enemy' improve their game.

So, conversation, criticism and training, and 2 ways to go about it - the learners who play/flow/converse, and the fighters who want to consolidate their positions and only see enemies, not allies.

Personally I don't think I'm done with learning yet, I know there's alot I don't know, so am willing to try to understand opposite views. I suspect there are many others who are the same as me in this respect, but there are also plenty of folks 'fighting' to shore up their positions in any way necessary, who have no intention of letting other thoughts and ideas threaten them. They see all interaction as combat, with winning as the objective. Not sure yet how to talk with these folks .... not sure if it's possible, or desirable, but occasionally I've found it interesting to be 'the enemy', and very useful for understanding the difference between fighting and playing, even though it is only with words.