Saturday, June 28, 2014

Everything and Nothing

Just SAY ... All the technique taught in traditional systems work.

And, SAY ... we accept that pretty much anything CAN work given the right circumstances - My sword teacher escaped once from a multiple attacker situation with a blade made from the foil in his cigarette packet.

And SAY ... that pretty much anything WILL fail at the wrong moment, at the wrong range, in the wrong circumstances - For instance any strike thrown from too far away, or lock put on badly etc etc.

And SAY ... we accept that anatomy, physiology, and the laws of physics exist.

Instead of arguing eternally about what technique 'would work', perhaps the more interesting question to ask is - In what circumstances is this technique worthy?

Is it only if you have the luxury of numbers and surprise? Is it if they rush you with their sword held overhead? If you have a wall behind you? If they are much taller than you? If they grab you above the elbows? If they try to sweep you from the left? Why?

When WOULD it work? Is it dependent on relative size? Amount of space? Teamwork? Relative geometry?

Perhaps the key lies in examining the principles behind the techniques? Perhaps it's worth looking at WHY things work instead of IF they work, and how often those perfect circumstances come about in the field in which you choose to play.

I would contend that every successful technique happens because of a gift. Either one handed to you, or from an offer YOU made that cannot be refused.

AND when you happen to be in just the right place and at just the right time to take advantage of it. Sometimes effortlessly and in one move. Sometimes not, and with a bit more adaption required as the situation changes.

My teacher got away because it was dark and he fooled his attackers into thinking he had a blade, something they were not expecting. The hesitation he caused gave him enough time to get to his car and escape, but would this work in different circumstances?

Is it worth teaching as a technique to actually practice? Probably not.

And how about a nice palm heel to an open chin? It has a high probability of doing damage, perhaps causing a K.O. But only if you can actually land the shot.

Is it worth teaching? Absolutely. But how about as part of a sword curriculum where there are more immediate options at hand using the weapon you are carrying?

How do you choose what is worthy in your own, personal, context and what is not?

Turns out, that to say that 'everything works' is pretty much as true as saying 'nothing works'.

WHY? and WHEN? Possibly the two most useful questions to ask when sorting the worthy from the not so much.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Guaranteed Success

I made the mistake of watching a video clip today that I kinda knew was going to make me crazy even before I pressed play.

I lasted through to the second time the student actually managed to unbalance the teacher by mistake and got yelled at for 'moving when I didn't tell you to move'. (The first time the teacher covered up by saying he had been afraid to throw the student in case he damaged some furniture, and then grabbed the students arms and reset him into the appropriate attacking stance again.)

But moving past the fact that the teacher is an ass ....

"Throw a strike at me. Anything you like"
Student throws a strike which the teacher intercepts and applies a technique.
Again, effortlessly intercepts or evades and applies another technique.
Over and over.

Audience is mesmerized by the skill and ease with which the attacker is dispatched, again and again.

Of course, the teacher knows when the strike will come, that part is arranged by the command. They also know what strike will be thrown, because they have gesticulated to a target or 2 as they say the words - subliminally influencing the student.

Then, they take a stance that usually negates some of the potential options, say by standing right lead at a certain angle and range from the student.

The student does not want to screw up in front of their teacher so the attack comes at a predictable and steady speed (even if it is faster, or done with power) when and where the teacher knows it will come.

Pretty much the perfect set up, no?

I honestly can't bear to watch these displays. They have little to do with learning or teaching someone how to fight in my opinion, and are mainly just photo opportunities for those that want to keep their status above that of their students.

Please don't misunderstand me, it's often not that their techniques are 'wrong' or bad, or that their understanding of geometry and physiology is poor. These folks are mostly well practiced and smooth, it's just that the whole thing is wrong.

"IF they do this, I can do that"

OF COURSE you can!!

IF they do this .... And IF they do it when you see it coming, and IF you are ready for it. Sure!

It's incredibly easy to avoid being hit by a ball someone is throwing at your head if you know when they are going to throw it, but playing Dodgeball is another thing altogether. Play with skilled people, and suddenly you know how hard it can be to avoid taking hits.

What's the difference? One is knowing what is going to happen next and when. The other is not knowing what is going to happen next, or when ... or if.

Technical body manipulation, control, and target acquisition are of course part and parcel of the whole, but they are truly meaningless if you never have an opportunity to use them.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Good Manners

 ''...think not yourself invincible, but consider that often a very wretch has killed a tall man, but he that has humanity, the more skillful he is in this noble science, the more humble, modest and virtuous he should show himself both in speech and action, no liar, no vaunter nor quarreller, for these are the causes of wounds, dishonor and death.'' - George Silver, Brief Instructions Upon My Paradoxes of Defence

"The real rebels to me always had manners. Elvis, you know, and Roy (Orbison), Roy was a true gentleman. And that's a scary thing in a man, do you know what I mean? A man that's so sure in himself that he can be polite."- Bono

"I thoroughly disapprove of duels. I consider them unwise and I know they are dangerous. Also, sinful. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet retired spot and kill him."
- Autobiography of Mark Twain

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Apples and Oranges

People sometimes send me videos of what they think I do. Often described as: 'Check it out! Some nice flow here!'

Hmmm .... Flow, maybe. But not in the way I mean it. Not even close.

It's weird to me because I thought I had described 'my' flow pretty clearly by this point. Apparently not. People will hear what they want to hear over wondering whether something else might exist that they have not thought of.

The video clips I get sent generally fall into 2 categories: A choreographed pattern or series of techniques moving from one set piece to the next in continuous motion; Or a single entry attack which is intercepted and the attacker either gets 'hit' until they are on the ground, or ran around like a puppet on a string through a series of joint locks until the instructor is tired or bored or something.

Now flow is flow. I do not have proprietary rights over the word or it's meaning, and am quite happy to admit it can mean many things.

It's just not what I mean when I say it.

The smoothness of applying a series of joint locks to force an opponent to move where you want them to is certainly a flow. So are Tippy Tappy drills, with every stick and hand contact pointing towards the success of throwing one angle followed by another in a flowing manner with a partner.

So to reiterate - Flow, when I talk about it. Is none of these.

I am going to use the metaphor of conversation once again because I think it's a good one.

The puppeteer interaction would be akin to one person asking a prearranged question and the other pulling out a list from their back pocket and reading the answers/objections out loud (prepared earlier). The original questioner is not allowed to change the question beforehand or surprise the other with an unexpected question, or insert a rebuttal.

The Tippy Tappy would be akin to singing a well known song together alternating who sings the lines.

My version would be more like a real, actual, conversation.

It would have one person throw out an idea for discussion - "What do you think of XXX?"

The listener does not know what 'XXX' will be before it is said. It might be something familiar, or it might be something completely novel.
Their job is to listen, formulate a response and throw it back - "I don't know, tell me more" or "Really? You think that's a good idea?" or "Wow, never thought of that. Does YYY play into it?"

Neither party has a preconceived idea about where the conversation will go. Ideally it should be stimulating for both, with disagreement, debate, and perhaps even some elegant solutions as a result.

Both parties are independent thinkers and both have entered into the conversation because they are interested in what the other has to say. They are also engaged enough to notice any misunderstandings; they check if the other really gets what they are trying to convey, and try to converse at a level and in a language the other can understand.

Remember, flow is not fighting. There is no 'winning' in flow (as there should not be in truly good conversation). But there is space to experiment. Play, learn new things, and find out more about your fellow human beings through a common medium of communication.

Flow is not training to sing in a chorus or read the script of a play. It is training to solve that which puzzles us, to ask 'why'? and find out what we do not know.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Losing Grip

B pointed out the other day that traditional FMA teaches very specific ways to grip the weapon, and that what I learned from Sonny runs completely counter to these methods much of the time.
Who knew?
Now I never learned edged weapon fighting from anyone else, so I actually had no idea that the accepted ways to grip were so fixed. Well, that's not strictly true, as I have had people comment that they were taught differently, but still it seems so natural to me that I could not see it as anything unusual.
So it is with many things that have a logic behind them "Of course you do X, otherwise you couldn't do Y or Z, right?"

Well, apparently not. So let me clarify a little (You'll be able to see more in the book/video project I'm working on).

Now I have no problem with utilizing a firm grip when using sticks, where it is very important not to lose them at impact, blocking, deflecting and striking with power.

Swords however are a completely different kettle of fish, particularly those that created the system I practice: In my case the single edged, single handed, swords of the Visayas.

Anyone who has seen the real articles will understand why the systems originating here have the minimum of blade to blade clanging and why the cuts are generally pokes, gouges, and slices as opposed to chops or hacks - The steel is not great quality and the tangs and handle fitments are often rather suspect to say the least. Last thing you want is for the blade to crack or snap during a fight.

What this means is that the blade only connects with something during a cut, and if possible, avoids all other contact. It is however used as the prime tool for deception, and as such need to move, be able to cut unusual curving angles, accelerate at the tip unexpectedly, reach an extra couple of inches where needed, appear and disappear, threaten and hypnotize.

There's just no way you can do this with a tight or fixed grip. The sword has to have life. The Pinuti is not a blunt instrument and should not be confused as such.