Friday, February 24, 2012

Weaving Threads

There's a set of Chinese health exercises called the '8 Brocades', or more accurately, 'The 8 Pieces of the Brocade'. 8 of course, is a most auspicious number, and the basic idea is that the weaving together of these 8 exercises creates a whole - the piece of brocade in question.
I'm not sure whether the attributes that come together to make a skilled duelist are going to tie together so tidily, but here are the 'fields of inquiry' that I've organized in my mind when I teach.
Weave the parts together, and perhaps you'll have something worth wearing :-)

Accuracy - Targeting and technique (Both weapon dependent)

Understanding Space - Geometry, range (many), safety, danger, opportunity.

Understanding Rhythm - Natural rhythms, blending, breaking, lengthening, shortening, smooth and sudden.

Understanding Physiology - Possibilities, agility, power of weight/gravity, torque and structure.

Understanding Psychology - Human tendencies, freezing, aggression, taunting, baiting, weakness, strength.

Lying and Acting - Deception, illusions, gifts, set ups and traps.

Understanding Weapons' Design - Movement through space, recycle, qualities, features and flaws.

Understanding Relationship - Following, leading, reading and 'writing', time/space.

Understanding Asymmetries - size, height, angle, personality, skills, weapon(s), numbers.

The simple act of blocking, say, can contain many, if not all, of these elements, whereas a totally random flow can be a vehicle for focusing in on only one.
Ultimately everything is interrelated to form the whole, and my job as a teacher is to create meaningful ways to see them all.
Feel free to add if I missed something

Monday, February 20, 2012

Europe Spring 2012

I will be in Sion in Switzerland teaching a seminar series March 29/30/31 (Thurs thru Sat).
There is a small group there that followed Sonny for the years when he traveled to do seminars in Europe, and this will be my second visit to teach them also.
Christophe, my host, has agreed that though this is not an open seminar as such, and not open to beginners, if there is anyone interested in attending with experience in Eskrima, or any edged weapon arts, to get in touch with me here, and I will pass on their info to him for venue details etc.
I will also be in the UK for the week of March 22 to 28, and possibly available for training around the London area.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sign Writing

The other day in fencing class I was asking my teacher about what kind of solo practice would be beneficial between sessions, and we talked about using one's reflection in the mirror as one type of visual aid to practice lines, transitions, guards and parries.
I then asked about practicing targeting on a wall or dummy and he said something really interesting that matches perfectly with what I learned in Eskrima.
He said absolutely, but far more valuable than picking a target and trying to hit it, rather align your body with the weapon from different guard positions, thrust, and observe where the point hits. That way you are learning from the core to the periphery, and the hand eye coordination come from the feedback loop of body alignment manifesting in a hit, not an external target pulling the intent and hoping that the body will follow ....
Your whole body will learn by what it actually does, not just by what you want it to do, and achieving your aim by using what you actually do, turns out to be much more efficient in the long term than hoping for an outcome and trying to find a way to make it happen ... I guess it's like the Zen archer folks 'losing attachment' to outcome - focusing their training purely on the process, so when all is in tune, the arrow naturally hits the target.

On a physiological level, this focus away from the periphery makes sense too when seeking to improve accuracy.
I've been painting for a long time, and have done a little sign writing too. Not sure if anyone out there has done any, or ever seen anyone else do it in the old style, (Have a look here if you are interested: but for freehanding accurate lines, sign writers usually use an arm rest to help align the brush before the brush is put to the surface, during it's use, and when it is pulled off the surface. Both sides of the body are in use, sometimes even weight shifting and turning the waist.
In house painting, you do the same thing when you make a freehand line with a brush, you either support the arm on your body or with your other arm and move the hand, or keep the whole arm in a fixed position and move the rest of the body (walking or dropping down) to create the line. Basically you are aiming with your whole body, your hand being an extension of it, and thus the brush also.

Works well for brushes, but also for tip only, and edged weapons, and has the added benefit of conserving balance and power, and enabling efficient recycle to the next move with no loss of either.
As a point of interest, Sonny said he would 'sight' with his knees, i.e. if his lower body was in the correct alignment relative to is opponent he knew he could hit them without even having to look.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Now What?

As nowadays there is no real, single, point to martial arts training, this musing is going to be somewhat odd ... but it's still a question that bugs me, so there you go.

Why is it that many higher level martial artists plateau and don't seem to want to explore more?

This came up because of a conversation regarding why I am so open about sharing the material I know.
My answer was this -
Because I'm quite good at what I do, in the small unfashionable corner of the martial world I inhabit, with few folks at my level or higher, and this means I'm stuck. I need to get challenged to get better, which in turn means I have to get people that are willing to play with me and push me ... which means I need to share.

This is also why I've looked outside my style to challenge myself in other fields, as there are plenty great practitioners out there who play with different weapons and different rules that can certainly help me learn.
All I need are folks that can flow and duel, and that are willing to play with me. Of course it's also nice if they are skilled enough to not injure me and have an open mind and a good sense of humor ... but those are secondary.
Doesn't sound too hard, right?

But .... I've found it over and over again, very few are interested at all.
From a womens' black belt group that invited me to join them for monthly workouts ... I thought they wanted to investigate, improve, troubleshoot, to get better ... but as it was they just wanted to get their heart rates up and socialize ..... To conversations I've had with like minded folks, all scratching our heads at why it seems our peers have no interest in mixing it up, cross training, or giving themselves challenges any more .... I mean they say they do ... but nothing ever comes of it .....

I understand that life or injury can take you away from practice, but that is not what I'm talking about, this is about folks still active in the martial arts, quite happy to sit on their 'box' of skills with no thought about actively engaging in what that box means, what it's for, if it's complete, if it needs changing etc etc.

It's easy to improve at your chosen art for quite a while, there's often systematic grading or at least some kind of indication that you are getting better at what you practice, but what then, when you start reaching the limits of where the art can take you?
Say you have completed the 'box' of material that is your system, refined it, and perhaps started teaching it even ... what then?
Can you get better?
What is it that you are getting better at?
Do you want to?
And if not, why not?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cross Training

I think everyone should cross train, getting perspective on what you do is a hugely valuable thing.
It has it's down side of course, which is why you have to pay attention of how the new things you are doing effect what you already know. It can be a positive effect, or a negative one, as some martial arts are more complimentary to others, whilst others have a whole different methodology and ruling concept that drives them. This is where understanding context comes in, and understanding what concepts cross over and are applicable to both arts, and what are only applicable to one or the other.
Sonny was always very adept at telling if a student, who had perhaps been absent for a couple months and returned, had been training in another art. "Ah, you've been training Wing Chun/Silat/Shaolin I see".
Spend time training an art that emphasizes forward pressure, closing distance, taking angles, or focuses intent on the center line for instance, and you'll get a corresponding reaction with a pinuti in your hand.
Spend time with a different sword design, say a thin, narrow, point weapon, and what you need to do to prevail with that, might come out when using a heavy, short, edged weapon ..... and vice versa .... often not good in my experience. However, to defend AGAINST an unmatched weapon you have to understand this.
All systems of thought, and weapon designs should have a logic behind why you do what you do, with what you have in your hand - they work because A, B, C .... so to defend against, you'll need X, Y, Z

All this stuff comes out in random flow or sparring, and that is why these practices are invaluable for understanding what pieces fit to what context.
Nothing shows up flaws like trying to hit someone whilst they are trying to hit you, using the same system/weapon, or with something completely different.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Heel Toe

Trying my hand at a few new disciplines.
Been working out with Scott to learn about Shaolin sword. Still continuing Toyama Ryu with Sensei MikeE, and now am 4 lessons into foil fencing again after a break of over 30 years ....
My foil teacher is a very elegant gentleman with graying temples and of indeterminate age. He has been fencing for almost as long as I've been alive.
Luckily for me he teaches privates, so it's just me and him for about 45 mins every week ... the lessons are meant to be half and hour but I always arrive early and it's easy to get him to talk about fencing methodology, foil design, the changes he's seen over the years etc, which is really interesting.
It very fun and quite difficult. The delicate finger and wrist manipulations required of foil are hard to regain, but the way the stepping is done, classically, is absolutely counter intuitive to me now.
Foil fencers are taught to roll off the front heel when retreating for instance, and apparently do not slide their feet going forwards or back, 2 things that are deeply ingrained in my body from my other arts.
The stance is also pretty square and quite upright - I am used to leaning, and interestingly the reason for the upright position and the heel roll is exactly the same as the reason that in my style of Eskrima you keep the weight on the ball of the foot and use the upper body lean ..... so you can disguise range and open up distance quickly.

Part of me really wants to add some context to this new and different information, so I can get some empirical evidence of why one way may be better than another ... but I guess I'm going to have to be patient and not be too obnoxious about it .... yet. But the question remains, without evidence, how hard do I work at changing something I know works quite well in other contexts?
Thing is, I understand that the context is different. After all, it's a tip only weapon, with only the upper body as target, straight line only, sport.
I can see that all these factors play into why the blade is manipulated as it is, and the positioning of the sword makes complete sense too ..... But the stepping and body positioning? Can't say I can see the reasoning yet, and probably won't until I get hit alot and find out by myself the reason why it is taught that way.

Sometimes trying to keep a balance between politeness and a questioning mind is a hard thing .....