Monday, June 27, 2016

Rank Hath No Privilege

It's testing time lately.

Not only for myself - I'm preparing to test for my next rank in Kobudo in a few weeks - but also in my teacher's Arnis school as well as our own.

I've been thinking about rank progression and testing as a result.

I wrote about different ways that students can be promoted a while ago (here).  As my teacher says, though, rank is earned in class, not at rank tests.  The only way to "fail" to be promoted is to give up and quit.

I agree with this whole-heartedly, but I know other arts, systems and schools see things differently.

At our school, general rank testing is done in a relatively informal way, during a normal class session.  For people below black belt rank level, it's just the normal instructors on the "board".  We don't cover every single bit of material that the student is expected to know for his or her next rank (although the student doesn't know which topics we'll go over on the test).

The big exception is generally for the first black belt rank.  In my case, Mr. Chick and I were secretly tested and surprise promoted.  For our Brown Belts moving up to Black under my teacher some time next year, they know when their test is, and we are working to have a pretty formal test with some very high-ranking Arnis players sitting on the board.

So the Black Belt test is a little more special,  As far as I can tell, that's pretty normal in most martial arts that have any kind of testing process.

I believe, though, that many of us in the martial arts world put way, way more emphasis on rank testing than we do in my branch of my art.

Part of this is because I think rank is more of a BIG IMPORTANT THING in other arts and styles than ours.  While of course we have rank (and arguments over it, and who's more legit than whom, and so on), given that our art is propagated mostly by seminars and camps versus formal progression in martial arts schools, we aren't as conscious of rank.

Keep telling yourself that, buddy.

Rank - or lack thereof - doesn't prevent you from being invited to learn some pretty advanced material when a teacher comes through town.   Nobody will insist that you're too low a rank to try to learn it - in fact, you'll be encouraged to try to learn it the best you can.

Additionally, it is not uncommon at many seminars I've attended for the only people to be wearing any indicator of rank at all are the people teaching the seminar.  The rest of us were all "equal" in the room, regardless of what rank we hold.

It's really cool when a very experienced, highly ranked person pairs up with you in a seminar.  You end up learning extra, just by having this person work with you.  I love it when that happens to me!

We also don't have any tradition - again, just in my branch of the art and what I've been exposed to - that confers any special ritual of deference to higher ranked people.  There is no special spot to enter the mat.  No special dressing room.  No exclusive rights that other students don't generally have.  Our lower level students defer to our experience in practice, but that's about it.  They are encouraged to ask questions and even challenge something that doesn't seem to make sense to them on occasion.

As Dayang Isa (Female 1st Black), I may have a lot more responsibility but definitely not any special privileges!

Except the privilege to be a complete dork sometimes.  Which is good for me.

That why, I think, that tests are a relatively laid-back affair for us.  Rank literally does't mean anything more than a measure of progress for a student, so it's really not something that dominates our thinking the way that it seems to dominate other martial arts schools, styles and systems.

As a relatively egalitarian person, that suits me very well.

So tell me about how rank has privileges, if any, in your style, if any.  What extra responsibilities do higher ranking people have? Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

My Week in Stick Chicktivity - 06/25/16

Here's how my week of training, writing, teaching, and miscellaneous Filipino Martial Arts-y goodness went.

What have you been up to this week?


Saturday:  Arnis in the morning at Hidden Sword.  I helped cover the beginning TKD class, then I attended kobudo class in the afternoon.  Nice "normal" day.
Sunday:  We drove about an hour and a half out to TNT Self Defense in Stephenville for the first of our monthly gatherings to work on Modern Arnis.  The idea is that we are working on prepping our Brown belts to test for Black some time next spring.  We worked on the differences between our Anyos (forms) and bunkai for the forms, our Defensive Responses 1-5, and the guys at TNT reminded us of the classical disarms of Modern Arnis.  It was a very productive day that went longer than we'd planned, so our next gathering in July will probably be planned for four hours.
Monday:  My day off.
Tuesday:   Taught at Mid-Cities Arnis.  Worked on  Anyo Isa.
Wednesday:   My car broke down on the way to work - engine just DIED.  Since we only had one car, by the time we got everything arranged in the late afternoon, we decided to stay home - long, tiring, and extremely frustrating day, and a VERY EXPENSIVE WEEK.
Thursday:  Taught at Mid-Cities Arnis.  Worked on sinawali and Hubad-Lubad,
Friday: Got a TON of practice on kobudo then worked on disarms in a special topics class at Mid-Cities Arnis.

The Hidden Sword/TNT Self Defense Modern Arnis crew.


I posted these posts of original content this week:
Monday:   Risk Management
Wednesday:  Seeing New Sights on Well Traveled Roads

I re-shared these posts:
Tuesday:   True to Form
Thursday:  Why I'm Against Online Dojos
Friday: FACE-OFF FRIDAY: Martial Arts Videos on the Internet - Good or Bad Idea?

(If you have a good idea for a Face-Off Friday topic, let me know!)


"Traditional Martial Arts won't work on the street".  Well, they do on the Metrolink in St. Louis:  (Note: if you're not in the US, you might not be able to see this - long story short, dude stopped a criminal on the local commuter train with what they are calling a "stick", but is actually a bokken)

This is a an insurance commercial - but it speaks to the power of martial arts.

Now THAT is a disarm, y'all.  Wow!

If I missed a neat video or article or other martial arts related thing of note, let me know in the comments!  I'm still looking for guest bloggers - if you want to try your hand at writing an article for the Stick Chick Blog, hit me up, thanks!


Today we're testing our students at Hidden Sword - some MCA students may attend to watch, as we have a different testing schedule and process and we would like them to see how our "mother" school does things.

With our car problems, I won't be able to stay for kobudo practice, and that kinda sucks, because my test is only a couple of weeks away.  So not only do I get to spend thousands of dollars on repair, it's interrupting my training time (as it did on Wednesday) and THAT is the problem, y'all!

Is it just me, or is this year FLYING by?  I can't believe we are already half way through the year!

So what did YOU do this week?  What did you train? What did you teach?  Did you see any really cool martial arts stuff online?  Let me know!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Seeing New Sights on Well Traveled Roads

More Modern Arnis nerdity ahead, y'all.

I'm working with new students in class the other night.  We're working on a fundamental technique in Modern Arnis -  Brush, Grab Strike.

The motion of brush grab strike. Even 6 year olds can learn it.  Well, she's *my* 6 year old, but still.
There are little "cues" to the proper execution of this technique - especially for new students - that I've either been taught explicitly, or that I have stumbled on over time.  These include such concepts as the "alternating hand" principle and the foot that's forward is the hand that brushes and strikes.

Well, working with this new student gave me two more that I didn't know before.

The first one was based on a question she asked me:  "What is the purpose of the 'brush' in Brush, Grab, Strike?"

Well, brush grab strike fundamentally is a blending technique, so the brushing hand helps with that blending.  That's what I've been taught, and it has proven true to me.

BUT... it occurred to me in that moment, for the first time, that the brushing hand's real job is to "tell" the grabbing hand where the arm is that you're grabbing with that second hand.

This works based on the idea that your hand always "knows" where the other one is.  You don't have to think about clapping your hands together, you just do it.  You can do it in the dark, you can do it behind your back... it just happens.

So, by "brushing", my "grabbing" hand "knows" exactly where the target to grab is without my having to think about it at all.  Once I master the core technique, it just happens - the grab is easy.  If I blocked it hard out of the way, I'd have to work to get the "grab".

Before this student asked this question, I had no idea that this was... a thing. And it's been sitting in front of me all this time.

Yeah, I'm not always the sharpest knife in the gear bag.

But there's another cue I stumbled upon in the same session.

How do students know which "way" to brush grab strike?

To me, it's obvious and has been since day one. I simply copied what I saw everybody else doing it and now I do it that way too.

But everybody doesn't learn it that way.

The new "cue" is sort of based on an old one - that is, generally speaking and for beginners, we teach them that the foot that's forward is the hand that's doing the "work", typically, the hand that's striking.

Weapon Foot Forward.

There are PLENTY of times we "break" this rule in certain situations, but for newbies, it's a pretty solid and standard principle.  But how does the student know which "side" in a drill he or she is supposed to be oriented to when doing brush-grab-strike? 

Simple - the "brushing" hand is always moving across your body (versus brushing or blocking on the same side of the attack.   If it doesn't, you'll actually try to brush/grab to your side or even sort of behind you, which is a bad place to be and is very off-balance.  See the picture of me with a stick above - if I try to brush with my right and grab with my left.., I'd fall over - I am by nature clumsy as all get-out - but most people would be off balance and vulnerable, never mind the range issues of the grabbing hand.

Brush Grab Strike is a cross-body technique.

I'm sure lots of Modern Arnis players out there (and others who use similar techniques) know this already, but I didn't.  Or rather, I didn't know I knew it until this student needed me to explain it in this specific way, so she could orient herself correctly - and fix it when she was wrong (when she was trying to brush on the same side of the strike). 

I'd simply never thought of it in this specific way before.

You and me both, dude.

I may have stumbled across these ideas eventually, who knows?  But it's yet another time where working with a new student - moving along well traveled roads in the basics of my art - has taught me something new or interesting about something I thought I knew well.

This is why, no matter how experienced I get, I'll always want to work with newbies.  Because newbies teach you new things about the stuff you always thought you really knew, in ways you can't ever anticipate.

Tell me about a time where you learned new things about something you thought you understood very well.  Was it teaching a newbie?  Cross training?  Let us know in the comments!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Risk Management

One fundamental principle of Modern Arnis, at least in the later levels once you move past the very basics - is the concept of countering techniques, and learning to counter those counters.

There is no 100% guaranteed winner technique. Everything has a flaw, and everything has a counter.

What you spend most of the rest of your life studying in Modern Arnis are the counters, and the counters to the counters, and the counters to the counters to the counters...

And so on, and so on, and so on...
It means that there is unending and incredible depth to the art, one in which we are encouraged to explore.  

It also means that you spend a lot of your time in mitigating and managing risk.

Sometimes you put yourself in a position where an opponent who's paying attention and sees the weakness can exploit it.  This could be intentional, as a bait or a feint of some sort.

Thus, you put yourself in that position - risky as it may be - because you will take advantage of his exploitation of that hole with some planned counter to HIS counter.

Maybe whatever the opponent is going to do is less of a problem for you than what you're planning to do to him.or example, leaving open a hole on the low line - hips or knees - where I get an easy shot to the head. I'll take that trade any day of the week.

For example, let's take a foundation drill that teaches the basics of this concept: block-check-counter.

Here's a short video of Bruce Chiu of Arnis International explaining a ton of variations on block check counter - how your "counter" here can change based upon how and where you check the hand.  Note he is doing this with the stick in his left hand, but the core principles don't change if you're right on right, or right on left (it just changes your options for the "counter" part).

As you can see, he always checks that hand of the opponent in some way - either on the hand itself or on the stick.  This is the "check" portion of this drill (and the 2nd beat in the "alternating hands" principle using three beats that I wrote about here).

The basic rationale behind this is that it prevents the bad buy from using the butt end of his stick against you, typically as a punyo (butt end) punch or stroke.  Indeed, in later drills, including introductory tapi-tapi, this is exactly what the "driver" does as a planned entry (a punyo stroke to the head).  We do punyo entries all the time, so for us, it's a very real risk.

But what would happen if we don't check that hand or stick?

Well, that all depends.

Let's say I'm using a classical supported block instead of the block+check above.  This means my hand is on my stick to support my block vs. on the opponent's hand as a check (which is, after all, another form of a supported block).

Basic supported block in a back stance.
Yes, this an OLD pic of me.

Easy hole for dude to punyo strike me right in the face, right?

Yes.  But I know this.

So I can mitigate that risk by, say, good positioning and range, to make that attack slow enough so I can get behind it and pass it, maybe.  Or, perhaps I am setting him up so that strike comes so I can do something else.

In any case, I might go ahead and take the risk, and be prepared to mitigate it. Let's say I want to grab the opponent's stick by its tip, on the outside of my stick. I can't do that very quickly if my empty hand is checking.  So I accept the risk of the punyo strike, hoping I can get my technique done quickly enough before the bad guy realizes that I left that hand unchecked (and if I'm unlucky and the dude is really good and comes in, I have to be prepared to move and counter his counter).  That's the basic way to do this - there are lots of others, of course, many I myself haven't considered yet!

The point is, here are lots and lots of holes like this in our techniques.  Often the solution is a simple change in footwork, but even then, the hole is still there, and you have to be prepared to cope with it somehow.

And that's what I'm spending a lot of the rest of my life in Modern Arnis doing.

So tell me - how do you manage the risk of failures or counters to what you do in your art?  Tell us all about it!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

My Week in Stick Chicktivity - 06/18/16

Here's how my week of training, writing, teaching, and miscellaneous Filipino Martial Arts-y goodness went.

What have you been up to this week?


Saturday:  Arnis at Hidden Sword in the morning, then my Dallas Kobudo class in the afternoon. This was our last formal class before our next test in July.  I think it as a pretty productive class and I left feeling pretty good.  Well, I left feeling good mentally - some time during the class I strained my ankle, but I didn't realize it until I left and I was walking to my car!
Sunday:  Decided to keep off the ankle.
Monday:  My "night off" due to the ankle.
Tuesday:   Taught at Mid-Cities Arnis. Worked on hubad-lubad and brush-grab-strike.  I love these drills, especially when students get good at hubad-lubad and they start seeing the places to insert strikes or other combative responses.  Ankle was still sort but a lot better.
Wednesday:   Attended Arnis class at Hidden Sword.  We were working drills and patterns off of Baston Anyo Isa, our stick form one.  It was fun!
Thursday:  Taught class at Mid-Cities Arnis.  Worked on hubad-lubad and brush grab strike more,
Friday:  Light attendance at MCA (lots of people are out of town again) - so I got in a lot of kobudo practice. Yay!

Demonstrating an application of single sinawali


I posted these posts of original content this week:
Monday:   3 Annoying Realities of Being a Martial Artist
Wednesday:  A Plea to the Martial Arts Community About Active Shooter Training
Friday: FACE-OFF FRIDAY: Are Martial Arts Tournaments Important?

I re-shared these posts:
Tuesday:   Style Wars
Thursday:  The Myth of Realism

(If you have a good idea for a Face-Off Friday topic, let me know!)


Nice interview our friend +Way Of Ninja did with +Joelle White.  Worth your time to read HERE.

This right here is badassery.

This sums it up for me - it's one of the reasons we train.

If I missed a neat video or article or other martial arts related thing of note, let me know in the comments!  I'm still looking for guest bloggers - if you want to try your hand at writing an article for the Stick Chick Blog, hit me up, thanks!


Today is a "normal" day for me - Arnis in the morning, our local kobudo class in the afternoon. Hubby will be training with +Hock Hochheim today on the knife course.

Tomorrow we will do our first "gathering" of the Mid-Cities Arnis, Hidden Sword, and TNT Self Defense to work on getting our Brown Belts ready to test for black belt next year.  We'll be going out to Stephenville, and I think we will have other folks that are not testing come and play, too (which is what we want - we are encouraging all of our students of all ranks to come out and attend).  We'll be doing this once a month until the test date.  Gonna be FUN!

So what did YOU do this week?  What did you train? What did you teach?  Did you see any really cool martial arts stuff online?  Let me know!