Saturday, February 23, 2013

Esoteric Post

'Imperfect moments linked together to a less imperfect flow. Thats the nature of flow - it makes us a bit better'. - Ido Portal

Most people have heard of the Chinese concepts of Yin and Yang, and how the only constant in life is change ....
These 2 ideas are bound together as change requires motion, and motion requires imbalance, and imbalance requires 'other'.
If this was not so, there would be perfection, and if there is perfect balance, nothing moves, there is nowhere for anything to go .... And anything that does not move, if you think about it, is dead.

Create an imbalance, however, and suddenly you have created space, a possibility for motion, for change.
There now exists dynamic potential, momentum, shapes, cusps and arcs. It frees up the 3 dimensions of space and the 4th of time. It opens up a field in which to try to gain this perfect balance that we are apparently drawn to find, but which keeps on moving through time, as a continuous series of 'imperfect moments'.

Martial arts practice should be like this too, and perhaps the best solo practices to be found to work these ideas are in Bagua, and of course Capoeira ..... but only if the sense of losing balance, regaining it, letting it flow from one idea to the next, is maintained.

Many partner practices in throwing and grappling arts contain these imbalances with no effort whatsoever, but Bagua is interesting in that it has this sense of momentum and imbalance within it's solo forms, and I highly recommend to those that practice to start playing here a little more.
One of the biggest plateaus I see Internal Martial Arts practitioners is the continuous focus on evenness, constant speed, slow, deliberate motion, and very little time spent throwing balance, catching it, redirecting momentum, spinning, spiraling, twisting, accelerating and decelerating past the points of comfort and playing with putting too much energy into the system to see what happens.

This will involve taking the head away from vertical, using it, along with the core, and the limbs to generate force, and most importantly having a willingness to be wrong and screw up.

The same body mechanics occur dueling too, but without thinking of the body so much, one can play with this concept just by making mistakes and seeing what you can do to turn them to your advantage, perhaps to buy time, or to mitigate loss.

Here is a video of Ido Portal just moving, a.k.a. Flowing or 'losing balance' continuously. -  "Flo(a)o"

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hand Fighting 

This is a fascinating clip of 2 very high level grapplers vying for position. Neither seems to be able to gain advantage, engaging and breaking for about 14 minutes of this 21 minute clip.
It's a real chess match, and obviously both fighters have a high degree of understanding as to what real opportunity looks like from the very periphery of contact, the hands alone, sometimes the head and neck.
Neither is going to commit to something the other can take advantage of, yet are constantly trying to create opportunities, or time to enter and take the dominant position.
Dueling can be contain similar tactical play, and this can happen at the far edge of range, or from contact. 
However, I have often heard it called, disparagingly, 'knife dancing', where 2 players circle but neither is willing to enter. 
Circling with no purpose, sure, that's a little pointless (though still better than standing still), but the chess of gaining tactical advantage, that's just smart.
It's a fine line between waiting and creating, defending and setting someone up, and to see it done well is a real pleasure.

(As with many interesting video clips regarding boxing, grappling, or sports in general, I have to thank Steve Morris for the find)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Physical Dialogue

I don't think you can truly understand physical stuff through reading words .... too fuzzy, and you can't really appreciate what you have not felt to be 'true' ... unless you have the had the physical feedback to make it so. (Hah! Even describing this piece of the whole is difficult ...)

Anyway ... Good discussion with Jay, another of Sonny's students, yesterday at a seminar I was invited to teach at. During a break we were discussing where what we do fits in, how to frame it if you like. Who it might appeal to, if we should make instructional videos, and how to put it out there as a 'thing' worth spending time with.
We both feel that it is an 'experience' and that it is not really possible to learn it without doing it ... where 'doing it' means not playing by yourself in isolation, but learning how to see your gaps with someone that can point them out to you ....
That's the whole point - Doing what you do, unselfconsciously, and see where it falls down. And .... in addition, working out solutions that can be found within the context of uncertainty.

I suspect you can already see the problem with this - Many people are hugely resistant to even thinking they have gaps. or problems that need solving. That would mean that they are not as secure as they thought they were. Add to this the issue that the 'open mind' post brought up, that 'acquiring' knowledge is more important to some people than thinking that there is more for them to learn .. and selling this experience is not the easiest of things to do.

That's OK, but the pressure to put out videos of Sonny's material has again brought this issue up for discussion.
What ARE we teaching? What does someone that 'gets it' look like? How can others 'get it'?

The discussion yesterday ended with this idea of Random Flow as central to the learning - both using it as a tool to troubleshoot gaps in those that want to know .. and as a skill to teach others to take away and use for the same purpose.

It is this part, this skill of the 'physical dialogue' if you like, that Sonny gave us, and that we feel is the most important part to pass on. Not the warm up exercises, accuracy drills, or the technical information ... People already have so much of the 'what' ... It's the 'when' and 'how' and 'why' that needs to get added .....

Friday, February 15, 2013

Teach the Open Mind

 What I found fascinating about this video is not the fact that some students are open minded and some are not ... but that for some this open mindedness is not even in their imagination as a possibility.
I am intrigued that you can teach it pretty much by pointing it out and adding some skills on how to do it. I think it's something that good teachers do anyway, but perhaps 'How to learn' should be a bigger part of the curriculum than it is ....?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

No Substitute

“To use wooden Rappiere (remember, Rappier in 18th- to 19th-century Germany means a practice weapon) to practice cut fencing—which usually are made of stout hazel sticks on which are affixed, instead of a guard (Stichblatt), two crossed wooden rods braided with willow, as well as a willow-braided knuckle guard—is not advisable for several reasons.
“Because of the complete protection of the fist, the fencer habituates himself to sloppy parries against cuts against the hand; he does not acquire the arm strength necessary required by the direction of the cut, and never learns to cut sharp. This is the reason why fencers used to wooden weapons usually hit flat with the proper Hieber, and open themselves up to dangerous time cuts of the opponent who notices this.” (Venturini, 152.)

(Thanks for the quote.)

If you are not used to knowing where the edge of the blade is because you only train with sticks, you can get into real trouble once a sword is put in your hand in it's stead.
Stick fighting is a thing unto itself, and cannot be used to fully understand the sword.
The two are related ... but not the same.

Training only sword, and then fighting with a stick in your hand will get you into trouble also, different trouble than the other way around, but trouble all the same.

Conceptual ideas may stay constant through a variety of weapons - but what you can get away with against a stick is not the same as what you need to do against a sword.
Tip impact hits may work for both edged and impact weapons, but slicing with a round stick or the flat of a sword blade will definitely not have the same effect as slicing with a sharp edge, and you better understand that before stepping into range and delivering a tummy rub instead of the coup de grace :-)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Context and Design

Sword design and fighting style* are absolutely connected to the environment that spawned them.

Environment, as in, landscape, terrain, waterways, shoreline and seascape, natural resources, geographic placement, weather etc .... all play into the style of an art.

Environment dictates:
 - What kinds of weapons are available - Locally made (with naturally occurring metal ores and techniques), or only imported, and whether they are common or rare.
- What type of protective gear is worn - Climate dependent (hot/cold) and on materials availability.
- Where fighting happens, and thus what weapons are appropriate - Open terrain/jungle/rice paddies/forest/city streets.

The enemy also plays it's part
- Who are they and why do they fight?
Is it about
- Resources?  (Piracy/Bandits)
- Cultural Differences/Status/Politics?
- Are the enemy locals? Outsiders? Foreigners?
- Physically bigger/smaller/stronger? Technologically more advanced?
- How many have come in relation to you?

Cultural aspects ...
- Is this a blade carrying culture?
- Is there a strong tradition of Honor? Personal/Family/Tribe?
- Are there class restrictions about who is allowed to own and carry certain weapons?
- Taboos and rituals associated with fighting?

Tactical knowledge
- Previous enemies?
- Recurring threat?
- Separate fighting elite, or everyone pitching in.
- Group fighting strategies, or individuals for themselves?
- Guerrilla style/Raid/Battlefield

Everything plays a part, down to whether or not people had horses or wore sandals.

Of course not having actually been part of a culture, or alive in history, means that extrapolating from a sword design or way of moving to understand an art, is always guessing ... and obviously nothing is ever truly certain. But remembering that pragmatic folks with real problems to solve, and crises to overcome, designed the tools, and lived in the societies and the environments that they fought in, means you can make some good guesses about the parameters of reasonableness within a style, and gives you some great insights in why things are as they are, and thus how one style looks in relation to another.

There is usually a rational chain of thought that can be traced back through knowledge .... and this rationality is the clue how things ended up as they did. Conversely, losing the rationality for something, leads to the greater and greater potential for errors.

In the end it is no big surprise that there are commonalities between sword fighting systems from around the world (Human brain, 2 arms 2 legs, squishy bits and bony bits etc), but it is also no surprise how each is different from the others, and has a particular flavor because of the context, the environment, that it grew up in.

Understand the context, and all becomes much simpler to unravel .....

(* - Note: we are talking style and design here .... not the method of passing knowledge forward.)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Throwing Questions

I have never had the power, size, or ferocity to rely on it to overpower or overcome a much larger adversary .... I mean I know the ways to increase my power efficiency, and I'm not really saying that the ferocity or tenacity to defeat a larger opponent are not possible to manifest given the right motivation, but in training, in dueling, playing martial arts, it has always felt as though I start from a disadvantage.
Part of this is an unwillingness to take damage - I know I can probably take more damage than I think I can .. but I also know that it is wise to avoid getting hit by someone much more powerful, as they can much easier wreck you, than you them.

With this in mind, I'm sure I was drawn to learning from Sonny because I probably outweighed him by about 40lbs ... I think he was slightly taller than me ... though it's actually hard to tell. He looks like he is in the videos of us flowing, and he certainly did from my point of view standing in front of him, but I have also seen him out of his environment, in strange surroundings, and I swear he could shrink up to 4 or 5 inches ... Anyway ... he was not a big man, let's leave it at that, and I reckoned, whatever works for him, should work for me.

So how did he win despite his size?
Was it because he was just better, and faster? Well, partly .... His speed and power were exponentially increased because of how set up his opponent, his accuracy at targeting certainly helped, but his ability to create OPPORTUNITIES was what really upped his odds. He put his opponent exactly where he wanted them, making it safer for him, and easy for him to hit them.
Many martial arts talk about this, of 'using your opponent's movement', momentum and angle, to your own advantage, but many lack a way of practicing HOW to set this up.
The grappling arts seem pretty good at it, as are a few striking arts, at least at the higher levels, but how about weapons?

Often these set ups are taught as a step by step program - Do this, then when they do that, change, and hit them. But this method is hard to find in real time sparring because your opponent is often uncooperative, and the fleeting moments when the technique is possible, pass before you can take advantage of it. So most folks end up relying on power, speed and technique, because they can't make their set ups work ... and to some extent end up leaving it all to luck.

The piece that is missing, at least in my opinion, is that individuals fight differently. Each has a personality and a way of fighting that requires a particular approach. Which approach will work, is often only found by trial and error, by testing and prodding at their personality and at their movement. This is hard to notice in a real time adversarial duel, but you can train it when you are flowing/playing until you can do it full speed.
There is a method, a way to look, and reactions and 'tells' that will give you insight into who is in front of you. But to practice you have to make brain space for paying attention to these things and learn how to throw out temping hooks and false threats. In a way you have to be a good actor, throwing out lines for your partner to improv, and seeing what they say, but not be attached to any particular outcome. This means there is danger and you must have good defenses and an ability to 'surf' the action, and also a way to understand why things might not work so you make smart decisions.