Sunday, March 22, 2015

Edges of Safety

There's a whole science that is solely concerned with surfaces - between water and air for instance, or solid objects and the space around them. There also happens to be a bunch of really interesting mathematics associated with these surfaces, with limits, and the edges of things but that's not important.

In dueling, the most interesting and important edge to understand is the edge between safety and threat, and how this changes over time. This edge appears in the space in which you are playing, and is also related to the geometry and design of the sword you are carrying .... Because safety is not just about being out of range, but can also be anywhere off the cut line of the weapon.
I had the pleasure of playing a little with German long swords recently with a couple of friends from Valkyrie WMAA. It was just a mere dabble, but what came home to me from the few techniques we played with was how different the geometry of 'safety' is, just by adding a sturdy cross piece in front of the hilt of the weapon.

I am used to fighting with no hand guard, mostly because my art comes from a culture where daily carry blades used for work did not have them. Hand protection is much more common on weapons designed specifically for fighting because opponents often target the hand, but machetes, Goloks, Bolos etc generally do not have hand guards, because sugar cane, undergrowth, and coconuts, do not.

It's a whole new world out there with this one, small, added piece of steel. A parry or block that using a Pinuti would take your head off, is now safe (relatively), and traps and redirects take on a whole different meaning.

Any sword you use should become part of you, and through that, so should the experience of the space you 'own'. This takes time, work, and familiarity, and if you don't play enough near the edge, you'll never truly understand it's limits.

I would love to get to the stage where the mere feel of a certain sword in my hand would translate into the geometry of space, but because of the sheer variety of swords designs in the world, that sadly seems unattainable. Even getting to grips with the swords of the Philippines would be a lifetime of work.

However, this does not mean one cannot infer usage from design, and learn from different designs about the space you move in and the changing options each gives.

Sonny thought of every weapon as a tool that taught you something specific, and when we flowed we went form one to another to see how the concepts and attributes crossed over .. or did not.

The better you get at understanding this of course, the greater your movement options become, or the perhaps better said, the finer your angles get to become ... and in sword fighting that can mean the difference between a graze and being run through.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Crafty Observations

Below is an essay from Marc Denny from The Dog Brothers. It is one in his 'Rambling Ruminations' series.

In the last post I talked about how information is meaningless until you own it and make it yours. How secrets are nothing if you do not put in the work, and how time and effort are required to know the answers to the questions - Does it work? And more importantly, does it work for you?

This, in the end, is the reason that a martial art is 'martial', and is not just about dancing by yourself. There is always an 'other', a thinking, moving, adversarial, other, who's only motivation is to take you out ... and this must not be forgotten.

Thing is, we all have a different 'dance' and adapt and move in different ways, so do our opponents ... So where does that leave any 'system' of material? And how does it move through people and time when people and time change all the time?

Sonny said - I don't teach you, I show you what I do. It's up to you to take it and make it yours.

His emphasis on understanding self and connecting that to the job at hand instead of copying the past ad infinitum, was key to keeping his art alive, at least in my opinion, and should go for other arts too.

Of course he taught the principles that underpin technique - about spatial geometry, timing, physiology, movement, human nature, the things that are constants, but he really did want all of us to be ourselves, not try to be carbon copies of him ... which would be impossible. If we could internalize all this information and use it out of our own eyes and bodies, then we could be said to 'own' it. And owning it looks very different from one person to the next.

And that's OK. His Art carries on because of this, not despite this.

Here is Crafty Dog's take on it -

Who is your teacher?
by Guro Crafty
(c) DBI

Woof All:
As is well known to all, my teacher, Guro Dan Inosanto, is an extraordinary martial artist. Over the years he has developed many people in many different arts who can replicate his curriculum in the art in question with grace and style.
I am not one of them!
Indeed I was always one of the somewhat awkward ones who had a hard time remembering things.
Still, I persisted and worked on expressing myself honestly and one day Guro I. asked me to cover for his Kali class. Of course I said yes, it would be my honor, but inside I was shocked. Who? Me? My self-image had a hard time imagining clumsy, awkward me teaching his class.
Came the day in question and rather than be a poor imitation of the real thing I decided to offer to the class how what I had learned from him expressed for me and for other people I teach Real Contact Stickfighting so the class could see how the Art expressed in the hands of real people in real time— so they could see that the Art worked. After all, this is what it says on my Guro certificate from Guro I.—that I may change the Art as I see fit.
People seemed to enjoy the class and Guro continued to use me for his Kali class when he was on the road during the week for a time. After one such class a visiting student came up to me and complimented me and the material I had taught. I thanked him and then he asked me “Who is your teacher?”
I was stunned. Was it not obvious?
“Guro Inosanto” I replied.
Obviously not-- he too was stunned.
On the drive home I took the route home that goes along the ocean behind the airport. Because of the airport there are no homes, only open space. There is a small road that cuts through this that has an ideal spot to park and look out over the ocean and this is what I did. As I sat there I wondered how someone could not see that what I do, what I teach, is not Inosanto Blend. I mean, just because I move differently, teach differently, , , what does that have to do with it? Ha!
Bruce Lee spoke of the whole idea being a matter of “honestly expressing oneself” and that is what Guro I. had always taught me. When he asked me to cover for his class, he had to know that that is what I would have to do—be myself. Similarly that is why my certificate from him says I may change the Art as I see fit—the Art is not a “style”, it is free and open.
As Time has gone by, this is what I have done in my teaching. It is what I expect of the people whom I certify as Guro in Dog Brothers Martial Arts.
Certainly this is not the only way of doing things. Certainly there are good reasons for a teacher to require that someone certified in a system teach the system as it was taught to him. Certainly for the student there is value in knowing what he will be able to learn when he comes to someone flying the flag of that particular system!
Even though I do differently, I respect this.
That said, know this: If and when you approach someone certified in DBMA assume nothing. This is not a franchise wherein no matter you go, the product or the service is the same. All of our people are individuals. Talk with him and get a sense of what it is that he does with the system. His interest may be in Real Contact Stickfighting; it may be in Kali Tudo; it may be in “Die Less Often”; or it may be in any combination of the three.
Are there risks to this approach? Of course! Just as the uniformity approach runs the risk of stagnation, so too the free approach runs the risk of entropy.
As Konrad Lorenz has written:
BEGIN" The culture preserving and, consequently, life sustaining function of this mechanism has, however, as a necessary precondition, something similar to a state of equilibrium between the immutability of old traditions and the capacity for adaptability through which throwing overboard certain parts of the traditional inheritance cannot be avoided. A preponderance of that which is conservative causes exactly the same result in the biological development of species as in the development of cultures-- the formation of "living fossils"; an overabundance of variability, on the other hand, causes in both the formation of abnormalities. Examples of such mal-developments in social behavior can be cited the emergence of such phenomena as terrorism and the current popularity of quite inept religious sects. , , , (However) , , , It is an error to believe that after the form and content of an old culture are thrown overboard a new and better, a ready-made one will quite naturally be brought into being to take its place instantaneously. We must seriously confront the sobering fact that there is no purpose oriented pre-determinism of what happens in our world to protect our culture. We must be clearly aware that we humans, ourselves, bear the burden of responsibility for preserving our culture both from erroneous developments and from rigidity." -END
In conclusion, when I certify someone I am simply saying that they have trained with me in depth, and that I trust them to act with humility and a basis in the research of their own experiences to absorb what is useful, to reject what is useless, and to add what is specifically their own. If they do that, they are Dog Brothers Martial Arts.
The Adventure continues,
Guro Crafty

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Assassins, Secrets, and Time

Those who teach 'real world' techniques, self defense/self protection, hope that their students don't hurt someone outside by accident. They train them to make good decisions, to be good guys and to avoid going to jail ... At least they should.
They also don't want their students to wind up in hospital through some error in the teaching.

It's a huge responsibility.

I live a less stressful life as I teach an 'Art', not self defense, not knife fighting, or combat skills.

Don't get me wrong, I still want the material to be 'real', useful, pragmatic, but have less to worry about as the context I am teaching - dueling with swords - is arcane and not something the bag guys of today feel the need to learn.

It's weird really, I AM on some level teaching people to make sushi out of each other (what was it Rory Miller said of martial arts? That it is 'the manufacture of cripples and corpses'), but the path to flying monkey assassin or down home mugger from 'duelist', is just too big a leap for wannabe gangstas to handle.  I occasionally deal with the delusional or the assaholic ... but they tend not to survive the 'request for information' stage.


So where's this going?

Back in the day ... when people really had to deal with bandits, disbanded armies roving the countryside, and political assassinations, numerous 'schools' or security services competed for business, and reputation was everything. Then it was indeed important to ration information until you were certain of the loyalty of your student. 

You needed to know that they were not going to steal your secrets and run to your competitors, and you had to trust that they were not spies or informants who could sell you out to an enemy, or perhaps even challenge you and take your students for their own.

Nowadays it is somewhat different. I don't live in a world where I fear that a student will come back later and use the skills I taught them to kill me. My personal livelihood does not depend on them keeping my secrets or only training with me, and I actively encourage playing and sharing with others to avoid students only learning how to beat people who they know.

The time for withholding information and keeping secrets is gone, and has been for a long long time ..... Why would anyone hold back the meaning behind things any more? After all, there is no 'thing that will make everything work'. No 'secret deadly technique that cannot be blocked'. No magic bullet. These things don't, and never did, exist. And there's no material that can only be taught behind closed doors. Youtube put paid to that.

Really there is only 'Does it work'? "Does it not work'? ..... FOR ME ... And to know that, you need to own what you are doing.

I bet I could show you everything I know. Say it out loud, in words, and demonstrate in slow motion ... and you won't get it unless you, yourself, put in the time. You might think you get it, but how about I video you and show you what you looked like a bit later. Tell me then how well you think you got it.

If you don't put in the time, you will also never gain the accuracy, the balance, the connectedness and fluidity, that is required to make things work, and your nervous system will not be able to process the rate of data that is being thrown at it when things ramp up to full speed. Your eyes won't see enough to understand what's going on, and your body will be guessing and copying what it should do, not doing what it should do, at the appropriate time.

Right now what I do is mine. I am not afraid to share, because though you may bring new things to the table for me to play with, only time and effort will make what I DO,  yours.

I am reminded of that old martial arts joke about the student who is told that when they reach a certain level of black belt, the teacher will come and whisper 'the secret to the system' in their ear. One day, having finally reached that rank, they ask the teacher what the secret is, and the teacher leans in close and whispers ..."Practice" .....