Friday, June 28, 2013


Humans are adaptable creatures. We are constantly changing how and what we do, dependent on changing circumstances. But the circumstances need to be changing for any adaptability to be necessary ....

This is what Random Flow training is for ... Though perhaps it should be renamed Constant Adaptability Training seeing as 'Flow' is so open to misinterpretation? (Not really sure about the re-naming yet ... CAT brings to mind images of ferociously pouncing black Panther emblems with 'Eye of the Tiger' playing in the background .... so perhaps this needs a bit of work ..)

Anyway, the point is, that both parties in the interaction are actively trying to find things to adapt TO ... and what better than moments when they are stuck, or when it's too late to escape?

Here, finally are questions worthy of answers - How to either avoid being there in the first place, or for changing the stuck place into an opportunity to prevail.

So .... first you have to get stuck, which means that you have to be in a vulnerable position, or open to attack. It also means that your opponent will have seen the opportunity and taken advantage of it.

Once you are stuck, it may already be too late, so you can rewind a little and play from there, or better, move around again and notice when the same set up happens again ... only notice it sooner (This is where an experienced player can help, and create the same combination of elements again).

Whatever you choose to do to negate the possibility of getting stuck again will now have created a new place to play from - are you now controlling the situation? Yes? No? Now what?

If you countered, your opponent will be dealing with your attack .... They will now have to adapt to this new piece in the game, which again will give you something to work with ... and so it goes.

You will either adapt successfully, or not. And I bet if it was unsuccessful, next time you will try something else.

And there you have it Random Flow a.k.a. Constant Adaptability Training ....

Thursday, June 20, 2013

I Say Potato .....

I admit it, I talk too much. The pictures and concepts I see in my head want a way out. They want describing, refining, sharing and altering, and words seem to be one of the most accessible ways to do this with others ..... But really, how useful are they when teaching a physical skill set?

Language can explain and inspire, yet it can also confuse and misdirect, it is a true double edged sword - our savior and our downfall

Precision can be hard to convey, especially when personal experience differs to the extent that words mean different things to the speaker and the listener .... and this is assuming that the speaker is explaining clearly, and that the listener is even listening!

Say the word 'threat' for instance, and some will not even have a concept of what that might be, let alone have a reference for what a threat from a sword might feel like past some abstract notion.

Some will feel a threat from merely holding a sword in their own hands, some will feel uncomfortable in the same room as a sword, others only accept something as threat when it is within striking range and they have made a defensive error.
Yet others will not acknowledge threat unless the steel is sharp, and even have an issue with accepting trainers as threatening substitutes.

Also, words have different meanings, and sometimes more than one meaning will make sense in a  context, and both parties will think they understand what the other means when really they are talking about different things.

Flow is one of these words. Many think of it as meaning moving smoothly and without stopping - (be water my friend ;-) ), or perhaps a choreographed set piece between 2 people that seamlessly chains a series of counters together.

When I say 'Hey, let's flow', what I mean is 'Let's do some Random Flow Training', a method that is more akin to a conversation, that has nothing preset about it, yet is not sparring. My definition of 'Flow' comes from the ideas of Sonny Umpad and it has a very specific meaning - It is about expression, and about learning to 'see', and though there is continuous movement, it is a learned skill that is much more than the word implies

But wait a minute ...What does 'seeing' mean?

Hmmm ... 'Seeing' - an 'experience of understanding', a real time view of the geometry and the interplay between players, of time and space and possibility .....

Getting into dodgier ground now .... and we haven't even gotten into describing movement, sensations, or the qualities of things.

Like Sonny's descriptor - 'Repelling' - The feeling of two magnets when you try to put two, like, poles together. He used this to describe what it was like to expect contact, but to slip around at the last moment ......

Helpful, or no? I can say that once I felt it, it actually describes the sensation quite accurately when the timing is perfect ... but this is naming something after the fact. Knowing the word did not help me get the feeling, just recognize it afterwards. (As an aside - some people misunderstood his accent and thought he was saying 'rappelling' ... and who knows how they rationalized that with what he was doing .... )

Concepts can also be hard. If I told you - "You have to learn to sell the truth before you can sell a lie", you would probably agree .... but what would that be in terms of sword play? Would knowing this help find the physical manifestation of the idea?

I suspect that words, and thus descriptions and meaning exist to be found after the physical experience, and cannot be used necessarily to create understanding before they are felt. Physical, or movement learning, seems centered in a different place in the body than where words are deciphered.

What words might be useful for, are as motivational stories to lead the student on their path. Also to refine concepts, tweak movement and expand the imagination. Though one has to be careful ...too far into fiction and stories, and the human tendency to rationalize things to fit preconceptions can lead many astray ...

But what's the alternative? No words ..... ? That seems highly inefficient. I think we are far too conversant a species to get away from words, so perhaps then it becomes a game, a long con if you like, using words to sustain the practice, until the student has put in the time to find them to be true.

There is nothing like actual experience, and having experience match the description, especially when the experience comes from the student, and it matches the words of the teacher, is the best way to know that what you do is what you say, and that what you say is real .... well ... real-ish .....

Monday, June 17, 2013

Stochastic Resonance

Intriguing idea that adding the equivalent of white noise ... or randomness of some kind, will accentuate the hidden signal that is being searched for, and make it easier to find.

What might that hidden signal be? The patterns and parameters of human behavior in sword play perhaps ....

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Material for June 16th Workshop

These are some of the things we will work on tomorrow:

- Intro to random Flow concept, what it is, and how it is different from sparring.

Then on to some physical skills ....

- 4 basic strike angles

- Understanding the difference in weapon manipulation and physical range when slicing, hacking and chopping.

- Practicing making the cut angle and blade angle the same, and checking accuracy all the way through the target.

- Discussion of the center line, weapon type, and targeting.

- Differentiating which directions are open to move, dependent on strike angle.

- Defensive blocks, in front of the force, and behind the force for each strike angle. Body angulation and weapon positioning.

- Hand targeting

- Use of front and back of blade, flicking, slicing and chopping cuts.

- Hand movement and hand evasion.

- Baiting with the hand.

- Pendulum

- Basic stepping concept with a partner.

- Range, calibration, hip and shoulder movement.

- Weight shift vs stepping

- Largo Mano Flow

- Empty space

- Movement

- Striking from tip down

- Pendulum timing

- 'Gypsy Knife Drill'

- Movement

- Pendulum timing

- Holding the box

- Cut/block pendulum

- Retraction flow 

- Connect & enter drill

- The exit

I think we'll certainly get this far, and perhaps in some 2nd flow, which we did last time, but these are the basics for some play time.

I'm hoping that we will spend the last couple hours just flowing. There will be ample opportunity to play with all the guys from the system who are coming, and with each other.

I'll also rope some guys in for some demo time. There is a great deal to learn by watching, and part of the day will be learning to see from the outside what we have been learning to do ourselves. It is a great way to understand what is going on tactically, and also see tendencies and glitches and how we can take advantage of them.

Hopefully a good time will be had by all :-)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

New to Me

A friend who used to train with Sonny has moved on to other things, and just gave me the training blade that he got from him.
I have one like it, but because each one was designed and fabricated separately, each is unique in it's own way. (Here is a pic)
The blade shapes of all his Short Pinuti are very similar, but this one has a hooked handle. It also has a wooden end piece, where mine is just reinforced leather.
The hooked shape and the wooden pommel serve a particular function, the grip on the weapon can be completely lost, yet opening the hand assures that the sword stays in the holder's possession.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Zone

You read about 'The Zone' when sports people talk about superlative performance - Everything flowing supremely smoothly, nothing is done in error, effortless and efficient. Total focus, total integration of parts ..... poetry in motion.

This is not the zone I am talking about. There is another zone - another perfect zone, but this one for learning.

It feels very, very, different from poetry .... more like falling, or sliding. definitely out of control.

It sits right there, bounded by the joy and the excitement of discovery on one side, and a complete failure to comprehend what the hell is going on, on the other.

It's an odd place to work, because one part of your mind has to have enough confidence in it's own abilities to think it will comprehend what IS going on at some point, and the other must be happy with it's current inability to do so.

A little inner voice must be there to remind you - "Just keep going .... It will come" ...... Or ... "You learn the most when you suck".

This zone is a potent area of 'unknowing', and good teachers will keep you there for as long as you can stand, and not let you waiver too far to either side ... Either into the smugness of attainment, or the complete depression of failure ..... Too much one way and you can become complacent ... or worse, an asshole. At the other end, you may just stop coming altogether.

If you stick with it, beware the plateaus when you think you 'have it' .... ideally they should just be way stations, or momentary places of rest for your sense of worth.

In between these plateaus lie the stretches where you are really learning. And hopefully, here, it will be exhilarating and confusing yet not suck-y enough to give up.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mandatory Failure

My Japanese sword teacher put it most succinctly (though I'm probably paraphrasing) -

"Techniques only happen because your primary attack failed"

 ..... After all, decapitate them, or run them through on the first cut .... and there is very little else left to do ... Perhaps extract yourself and avoid the blood. That's all.

Of course there is a whole game played before contact, which is much more important with edged weapons - sizing up your opponent, creating your moment etc ... but once it gets to the physical skills themselves, either your first move is decisive ..... or, you screwed up, and all the other stuff, the technical stuff, happens so you can prevail, AND extricate yourself from the contact.

Bagua organizes part of it's system (It's straight line forms) around this idea.

1) Engage - either as a committed attack ... but more often, as a test, to tie up the primary weapons - empty hand this would be the arms - legs would be taken care of by positioning achieved through the entry.

2) Put power into the system. This either finishes it .... or it does not work.

3) If it does not work - you change something - dependent on how your opponent reacted to the original engagement (grabbed you/stepped out/turned/countered/blocked/etc)

4) The reaction gives you the momentum to finish it, but now from closer range ... remembering our system is fond making people fall over. Bagua thinking works fine for weapons and striking, but is possibly happiest tripping, sweeping, and face planting people into the ground.

The whole sequence should be seamless, and the solo forms are there to assist in practicing this ability to able to flow from anyplace, to anyplace else, without thought. It matters not what your opponent does - every possible reaction has a finish that you control. They choose - And you use what ever they choose, to beat them.

They shift their weight back? Follow the weight and trip them on a weak angle. They block? You now control both hands. They resist? You follow the power in the same direction and add to it, or use them as an anchor to sling shot power around.

Your job, is to keep good, dynamic, alignment, be able to move each and every direction as needed, understand the weak angles in each position, and be sensitive to the opponent's choice to be able to use what they give you .... oh, and keep yourself safe in the process.

These are the skills that the system should give you.

So, from an engagement (One of the 8 big openings for instance), the opponent negates the initial attack, either by blocking the strike, stepping, or countering, and this then is the gateway to the actual finishing move -
They block your strike? Good! They flinch back? Excellent!! They resist from the first point of contact? Yippee!! ... this is where the stuff happens ... BECAUSE of the resistance .... not because there was none.

Everyone has seen countless techniques, taught as a 1,2,3,4 (sometimes 5,6,7) series of moves, whilst the other stands there like an automaton ..... Some of them are nice flows of ideas but lack one BIG element ... the natural reaction of the opponent to each part.

The ideas aren't all bad ... they have just lost their reason 'why'. Add the natural reactions that doing part 1) instill ... and often these are a path to parts 3) and 4).

If you want to understand what the designers of the system thought was important, put the reactive flow back into the techniques - Only 3 or 4 beats are needed - And troubleshoot possible exits (For ideas, look to the form work) ..... just make sure that part 3 exists because of an opponent induced failure of the initial attack ....

No failure .... no necessity for anything more.