Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Self Defense: Defense Against the Indefensible

There's a lot of advice out there about self defense and which arts are good for self defense, and which ones aren't.

In training, many, if not most scenarios that are practiced involve having some sort of warning that a bad guy is intending to do you some sort of harm.

You know what I mean: it's usually a scenario of "drunk guy in a bar" or  "gang of kids picking a fight" or "getting robbed"  or "man attempts to sexually assault woman" sort of situations.  There's some warning.

Real life isn't always like that.

Check out this video.  I hope, like me, you find it incredibly sobering.

Click here if you can't see the video.

The attackers (Michael Lynch, Timmy Sullivan, and Michael Onokah) look like average young men out and about after a night of fun at the club. Three lads, out on the town.

The victims? The same.

The three lads come up on Andrew Griffiths (white shirt) and Daniel Pollen (green shirt), and Andrew gets sucker punched out of nowhere by Timmy Sullivan.  He didn't even turn his head - he never saw it coming.

There was no "monkey dance", no words, no lining up to fight, no warning of any kind.  No demand for money, no robbery.

I've watched this video many times, and I try to spot how the victims might have seen this coming before the sucker punch happens, and I honestly don't see anything.  The perps are casually walking and  laughing -  normal people who look like they wouldn't hurt anybody.

Sure, the victims could have stood up in some sort of ready pose expecting trouble, I suppose.  Can everyone, at every moment, live as if we are going to get jumped?  I don't think think we can, as much as some folks want to claim it.  We cannot be eternally vigilant 100% of the time, walking around with our hands up and ready to fight.  You can argue in this situation, given the time of night, the victims should have been on guard, but I think this could have easily happened at 2:00 in the afternoon or nine in the morning.

Note that Sullivan disengages after he gets his one well-placed hit in on the kid in the white shirt. 

In a kinder world, Andrew would have been recovering from a broken jaw the sucker punch and Sullivan would have done a bit of time for assault (the other two were not involved at that point).

This is not always a kind world, and the assault turns into murder.  Onokah, the perp in the jacket, continues the beatings, attacking Pollen and breaking his jaw, and Lynch, the perp in the black shirt, pulls a knife and starts stabbing.

Now, let's discuss the knife. Did you spot when he pulls it out?  It's about 1:17 in the video.  Watch closely.

It's not abundantly clear, but I think Daniel Pollen sees the knife when Lynch comes after him, and he holds up his hands in the classic submission gesture.  If trained, I think this boy, who ends up getting fatally stabbed in the heart, might have survived if he knew how to deflect an incoming blow like we (almost) see the perp do.

However, given his jaw was just broken by Onokah before Lynch approaches him with the knife, I think it was hard for Pollen to think clearly and put up a defense even if he were trained.

Lynch then stabs Pollen in the heart fatally with a single blow, although Pollen ambulatory for some time after.

Andrew is still being assaulted and controlled by Onokah..  Lunch comes over and repeatedly stabs him.for no reason - he just does it because he can.

Knife is in the red circle above
It goes to show you that our training scenarios for self defense aren't always in line with what can and does happen in real life.

To conclude the story, the perps were all caught and were jailed: Teenager Jailed for Life for "Senseless Murder". Sullivan the sucker-puncher got out of jail in 2013 and was yet again wanted by the police (but I don't know if they caught him).

I'd love your thoughts on this.  How could Griffiths and Pollen survived this attack?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

11 Quick Tips About Modern Arnis For Newbies

Modern Arnis is somewhat well known, but it's not ubiquitous like, say, Tae Kwon Do, all the various forms of Karate, BJJ and MMA, boxing, and so on.  But if you're considering picking up the art, here's a few tips you might find helpful.

  1. Don't bother to get fancy carved or burned rattan sticks at a premium price.  Get the basic rattan ones that are relatively straight and aren't horribly warped. Warping can be (somewhat) repaired, but don't bother. If you like them burned with a pattern - you can do it yourself in your garage.  Your sticks will eventually be taped up and broken, so don't waste your money. Plus, the carved sticks can cut your palms if you hold them on that end.
  2. Avoid the shaved sticks, because they're generally too light and they get broken far more quickly than rattan with the skin still on.
    Another fallen soldier.
  3.  For Pete's sake, don't use hard woods like Iron Wood or Bahi-Bahi in regular practice vs. rattan. You'll shred their sticks and if you hit your training partner, it could be the difference between a bruise and a break. White waxwood is fine as long as everyone else is using them - but note, they are VERY noisy.
  4. When possible, I like to train in mat shoes.  I personally witnessed a disarm that shot a stick at blistering speed downward and broke someone's toe.  I just use some inexpensive athletic shoes I got at Payless for 10 bucks that I only wear on the training mat.  It's saved me from toe and foot injury more than once.
  5. Keep electrical tape in your training bag to quickly patch up sticks that are cracking.  I like electrical over duct tape because it's not as gummy and it's lighter in weight, but duct tape is fine also.
  6. Paper medical tape is awesome to help combat blisters on your thumbs - just tape 'em up before practice.
  7. Nearly everyone starts Arnis wanting to hit as hard as they can.  This makes newbies somewhat slow and stiff.  This is normal.  You'll get over it.
  8. It's very easy to hyperextend your elbows. Don't. It hurts. A lot.
  9. Try to use your whole arm, not just your wrists and forearms. If your wrists are tired or painful (and not from locks or strikes to the wrist) - you're probably not using your whole arm.
  10. Keep your elbows in.  It hurts a lot when you hit the Medial Epicondyle of the Humerus, which is that knot of bone on the outside of your elbow.
  11. The fear of getting hit in the knuckles or on the back of the hand is worse than actually getting hit.  And you will get hit.  Welcome to the Purple Knuckles Club!
Yep, that's mine.
Hope these help!

Did I flub up any tips? Does this information make it easier for you to look into taking up Modern Arnis?  I'd love to know!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Kombatan: Lessons from Great Grandmaster Ernesto Presas

While most of what I study some directly from Professor Remy Presas' Modern Arnis, there are also a lot of techniques that come from his brother Ernesto Presas' Kombatan.

GM Ernesto engaging
in badassery, as was his wont.
Here's a great video showing some techniques we practice in our classes at Hidden Sword Martial Arts. It's not the best quality video, but really I enjoy what he's doing here.

Nice use of  abanico strikes in there, huh?

Check this one out, which is a basic overview of the art of Kombatan.  You can tell when it was filmed, as it was around the time of the death of GM Ernesto's brother, Professor Remy Presas.

In the double stick demo, this is exactly the material we teach our white and yellow belts.  I have found this blocking pattern to be very helpful when translated to the empty hand, as it's very applicable in self defense situations.

Finally, here's another video, which is showing his famous "blindfolded" drill.  The truth is that this is all a pattern - he knew which strikes were coming where - but it looks awfully impressive, doesn't it?

There's so much more from him - and I'll make sure to share more in the future with his son Jon-Jon, as I think he's pretty good, too.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Myth of Wasted (Martial Arts) Time

There's lots of debate in the martial arts world about which martial arts are, and are not, "worthy" of study.  There's ample debate on any martial arts forum you care to name, and blog postings of about a jillion words at last count (and believe me, it took me oodles of time to count all those words - whew!).

You're wasting your time, losers.
The claim is sometimes made that by studying at anything less than "optimal" (whatever that means) is an utter waste of time.  That if you aren't studying (art the person making the claim is studying) or studying an art with a ground game or alive training or (insert your preferred skill or training methodology here) you might as well be playing soccer or taking dance lessons.

I don't think that's true.

Look, sometimes, it's not always possible to study an "optimal" martial art or one you'd like to study.

  • You live in a place with limited local options for study (this is the usual problem for most of us)
  • You don't have the money
  • You don't have the time (weird work schedules and such)
Does that mean you shouldn't study the martial arts at all?

As long as the school has the following criteria, I think it's fine to start studying any art that has these basic characteristics, especially in the case of children:
  1. Physical activity - stretching, calisthenics, anything that gets a sweat going on a regular basis
  2. Balance and smooth movement - Learning to move around without stumbling
  3. Physical coordination - learning to do more than one thing at one time and chaining together movements, preferably using both hands and feet in concert
  4. Personal discipline - following directions, keeping school etiquette
  5. Respect - respecting ones self and others
If those elements are there, they will serve you well, even as you end up in another martial art when you can afford it or you can find someone or somewhere to train in whatever art you're convinced is the best for you.

So, yes, training at the local McDojo is better than not training at all.

Training at the local community center program is better than not training at all.

Training with a couple of people in someone's back yard or garage is better than not training at all.

And yes, I think that training with ninjas is better than not training at all.

Trick or Treating as a ninja does NOT count.
I bet, if you look, you'll find a place nearby that teaches boxing or even kickboxing.  Those are, after all, martial arts too.  Don't ignore the possibility of fencing training as well - you may find a good program at your local community center or YMCA.  Also try to do a search for various martial arts on Meetup - that's how I found a tai chi teacher in Las Vegas (and it was free, too)...

One caveat - distance training via video/DVD is something I think is very suspect, and should be avoided unless you live in the Alaskan Bush or Antarctica or something - where there's literally no other way to train at all.  Even then, your time is probably better put to general physical fitness versus video study.  I like video study as a supplement - I have found it useful - but not as a main training methodology.

For 99% of us, there's some way to study the martial arts, even if it's not the "best" one.  It's not a waste of time.

Do you have any ideas for how to keep training when the situation is less than ideal? I'd love to know!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Kiaaa-HA! Enter the Dojo (and why it's awesome)

If this is new to you, and you're a martial artist, you gotta be living under a rock. Please, make sure your offline martial arts friends have seen this (yes, we are NOT the most wired community, are we?) because they will thank you.

Developed by independent filmmaker and actor (and martial artist) Matt Page of Albequerque, NM, "Enter the Dojo" is a web series about Master Ken and his art of Ameri-do-te.

Art Motto: "Best of all, worst of none."

Here's the first episode:

But here is my favorite one thus far:

Oh, ninjas... I love you so.

Plus, there's all sorts of extra content!  Like this one:


And this one, which was issued just after Anderson Silva broke his leg in UFC 168 in a particularly brutal fashion:

You can watch all of "Enter the Dojo" here: "Enter the Dojo"

Page also offers live shows and seminars, so it's very possible you could see him do this LIVE in your area soon.  To learn more, go to Master Ken Live.

Here's the genius of what Page has done:

By making up Ameri-Do-Te, he is able to poke fun at every single other art that really exists, versus what happens in, say, "The Foot-Fist Way" with its skewering of certain kinds of Tae Kwon Do (I enjoy that movie but I know lots of TKD folks who hate it - and the director is a 3rd Dan Black Belt in TKD, so he does know the subject and the culture).

We're all fair game, because we all, in our hearts, believe just as Master Ken does - that every other art but ours is bullshit.

Thus, there is an endless array of things to skewer, and all of us are in on the joke (except for the humorless weirdos that think that "Dojo" is real - read some of the comments on the videos for some great examples).

Page knows us, loves us, and is one of us, and that's why the comedy resonates, versus just being a skewering parody by an outsider.

So, look, you, pay attention to this show, share it with your friends, and when they run a Kickstarter to fund the show, pony up.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for me to practice my Kill Face.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Joy of Newbies

It's a new year, and we have new students starting in our Modern Arnis program.

In our school, we have instituted what we call "The Zero Belt" level.  This is where you learn a few basics before we slap a white belt on you and start whinging sticks at your head.
We've found that people get a little turned off when we ask them to perform even basic single sinawali - all of a sudden sticks are coming at them and they're scared and feel awkward holding a stick and moving arms and legs.

Imagine being asked to do this day one:

It is a little scary, especially if you haven't done martial arts before (which is not uncommon in our new students).  I,  myself, was initially introduced into the art when I was taught how to do single sinawali by my first instructor.

So, the "Zero" level is to indoctrinate them into the school and teach them the basics, such as how to hold a stick, stances, moving around, and the 14-count double-stick strikes, 12-count single stick strikes, and a basic 6-count blocking drill (not getting hit yet, just... where to step and position the stick for blocking).

Depending on the student, it can take two-four classes for a student to complete "Zero" level and "earn" a white belt.  By the time they wear a white belt, we know that they understand the basic language of our art, how to hold sticks, and the basics - very basics - on how to move.

More often than not, I work with the newbies.  I do enjoy it as I like to make sure I'm reinforcing my basics - nothing makes you really think about what you do as well as having to explain it to somebody else and circumstances right now mean I'm doing it again.

Take stances.  With a new student, not only do you have to demonstrate, you must explain the nuances.

Let's describe the back stance.

74.672% of your weight in on your back foot.  Precisely.
You have to describe a back stance - where to position the toes, where your center of gravity should be, how much of your weight should be distributed across your feet.  Then you have to explain how to move around and reset into that stance.

I've been doing back stances for years.  I assure you they are far better now because of this process of helping brand new students learn how to do it.

It's that way with everything you do with newbies - having to think it out, and explain, teach, and correct the technique as they learn - is a process that not only informs the student, it informs you as well.

I'm of the opinion that if you get the basics - the very basics - down as well as humanly possible, and keep it as good as it can be via the process of teaching newbies, that always makes you a better martial artist.  I might be able to do tapi-tapi for an hour and not miss a beat, but if I don't also spend time making sure my strikes go when I wish them to go at the force I intend to deliver every time, that I block well and that I know how and when to use which stance to adjust distance while moving... I'm not that good. am I?  All those things are reinforced in the basics.

You may be familiar with the statement that you should practice something 10,000 hours in order to become an expert?  What better way to get there than by teaching newbies?

To be fair, I've known some folks that aren't as into teaching the newbies as I am.  They didn't have the patience (I think they forgot what it's like to be new) or they think that their time is too valuable to be spent doing such things. Or, honestly, they aren't very good teachers - not everyone is a good teacher and can work well with the new students.

What's your favorite part of working with new students?  Is it something you love or loathe?  I'd love to know!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Injury: The Nature of the Beast

This is a picture of when I didn't block a strike properly one day, and I got a rattan stick poke in the eye.

It tickled, I swear. *sob*
The truth is, I got lucky.  Very lucky, indeed, as it hit me on the ridge of bone just below my eye, so all I ended up with was a black eye versus a far more serious injury.

Martial artists, like athletes in general, risk injury every time we set foot on a mat.  It can be even more dangerous when you work with weapons, like I do, and you forget a basic 101 thing, like blocking the stick that is coming very fast at your face.

This is not the first - nor my worst - injury I've suffered doing the martial arts. The worst was when I was doing a very simple drill - a sumbrada, the most basic "3-8-12" version - and I stepped forward to deliver an overhand #12 strike to the top of my partner's head after defending against a low #8 strike to my knee. (To see a short video on what the strike numbering system we use so that last sentence makes more sense, click here.)

As I stepped off my back right foot, I had a calf muscle spasm and I tore the muscle, just like that.  I yelled a very bad word, fell down, and I ended up on crutches and awesome painkillers for six weeks.  It was one of the most painful things I've experienced, right up there with childbirth and a ruptured appendix. As far as injuries go, I do not recommend a muscle tear.

I've been hit on the knuckles - the occupational hazard of a practitioner of a Filipino Martial Art - about a jillion times at last count, and yes, having very swollen blue and purple knuckles is something I'm quite familiar with.   Here's what my arms looked like after the last seminar I attended:

You can tell how much fun I had
by counting the bruises I acquired.
It's not just me getting hurt in the family.  My husband nearly separated a shoulder doing a very simple shoulder roll and landed on his clavicle and it took a very long time to heal. My daughter once got hooked like a fish when she was hit in the face with a demo kama - luckily it did not result in any permanent harm.

New martial artists - or people considering the martial arts - are justifiably afraid that they're going to get hurt.  We tend to downplay the risk a bit, because we don't want to scare off the newbies, but the truth is, it will happen, eventually.  It is the rare martial artist that escapes very long without some injury, even if it's a simple strain of the hamstrings or Achilles tendons, or a good deep bruise from a hit when sparring.

I think the fear of the injury is actually worse than the injury itself, like any fear of the unknown. So here's what I'm wondering - what can we do to help the newbies overcome their fear of getting hurt?

We've thought of doing things like the first time a newbie gets hit on the knuckle hard enough to bruise, they get "initiated" into a special club to acknowledge they are now a real arnisador ("the purple knuckles club").

So what tips and tricks do you have?

Because they will get hurt - it is, after all, the nature of the beast.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Modern Arnis: Backhand Traps and Locks

I first began my study under a student of Bruce Chiu, and then I got instruction directly from him at various seminars.  He's an amazing martial artist and a great teacher.

DON'T GRAB HIS HAND!  Just... don't. 
Here he is, demonstrating Modern Arnis backhand traps and locks.