Wednesday, April 30, 2014

SHENANIGANS! Brian Carlisle's Escrima and Sword Training

There's a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions about Filipino Martial Arts out there.  People see FMA players online, or they go to a seminar, and think, "Hey, that's not so hard."  So they buy some rattan sticks and go to town, whirling the sticks all around willy-nilly, and call it "escrima".

This is similar to people who watch movies and television weapons work, and think, by copying what they see there, that they now know weapons.

This, my friends, is shenanigans.

Let's check out YouTuber Brian Carlisle, who looks like he's made both the mistakes I've mentioned above.
Brian twirls.
Brian advertises himself as follows on his web site at
"Brian is proficient with numerous combat art styles: Kung Fu, Jiu Jitsu, Chin Na, Dragon fighting, Muay Tai, Boxing, Kali, Karate and Kalaripayattu and Escrima. He is also proficient with numerous weapons in his training regiments."
So he knows "Kali", "Escrima" and is proficient with numerous weapons. He's posted a lot of stuff on YouTube channel that are martial arts related, but I'm going to stay focused on his "escrima" and weapons videos.  You have a clip of one of his videos above, but here's his longest and most extensive "escrima and weapons training" video.

Brian, Brian, Brian.
  1. Grip:  You do not twirl with the stick basically held in your hand with your index finger and thumb, whipping it around with your wrists like that.  It's not very powerful, it's a pretty easy disarm (you drop the stick without even getting hit using this grip in this video and others) and, when I tried doing this myself, it hurt my hand right below the metacarpophalangeal joint on my index finger and my wrists.  Proper twirling doesn't hurt at all.  Here's some good twirling that's related to what I think you're trying to do:
  2. What is the point of the move behind your shoulder where you catch it underneath your armpit?  It sort of looks like a wing block - we in the FMA's do that block, just not like that, and for a specific purpose and reason.  It looks to me like you're doing it because you've seen it done with nunchaku (in fact, your twirling looks like basic nunchaku twirling with a stick), not doing it because it's something done in escrima.
  3. FMA's are generally smooth and flowing. Power is generated with technique and speed.  You are muscling the sticks in order to get speed and power, and thus you are clumsy, slow, and off balance. This is another reason - other than the extremely poor grip - that you drop and fumble your sticks.
  4. Twirling two sticks in one hand.  NO.  Pointless.  Stop it.
In short, you're clumsy and your grip is atrocious.  It looks like you're trying to do basic nunchaku twirling with sticks.  I don't know if you've noticed, but they're actually very, very different weapons.
Not the same thing.
Now, in the second part of that video, Brian does some sword work.  I do not study Japanese sword, but as an FMA player, I do somewhat understand blades.  I think Brian leaves critical parts of his body out to get cut off (mainly his elbows when he posed in guard - and he is posing, without purpose), his targeting is poor, his grip - surprise! - is very poor, he twirls the sword (this is not a movie, sir, and you are not Conan the Barbarian), he lacks awareness and control of the point.  He moves the sword as if he's chopping wood...


Hey, Brian, here's the right weapon to do what you're doing in that video:
Chop wood, arms, heads off... it's versatile.
It's awesome. it's the right tool for the job you're doing in that video, and you can buy the one pictured above here.  Please, stop chopping wood with your katana.  It's not what it's for, you'll dull (and possibly break) it.  Here's someone doing it right:
If I were half as good as her, I'd jump with joy too.
See how precise, fluid and controlled she is? Try to be like her.  So, to be clear:
I sense a theme developing.
Okay, so,  here's Brian and a buddy doing what looks like sinawali.

This is the one video I'd show people on how not to do sinawali.  They're rooted, they aren't targeting each other and they're chasing the stick.  Brian, read this post of mine and try again.

One more, because I enjoy his escrima so very, very much.  Here he is showing empty hand applications.
Yep.   He posted this for us to watch and enjoy as empty-hand escrima techniques he's learned from... somewhere.  He has no idea how to do the throw he attempts to do for the first half of the video, and his knife defense - he bends over and places his head in a great place to get hit.

Okay, I said one more, but here's another one I just can't pass up sharing.  Here's what he calls an "escrima and balance drill".
I have no words.

Please, Brian, get with a real FMA teacher, and get corrected on this stuff.  I admire your passion - you obviously do practice - but you are not qualified to teach any variant of the FMA's based upon this evidence.
Yes, just... stop.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Lessons from Block Check Counter

Today's post is pretty nerdy and Modern Arnis specific, but I bet some of what we do has analogues in your art (assuming you're not a Modern Arnis player like myself).

Oho, he's in for a surprise.
This week we've been working on what we call "Block Check Counter" with our students.

This is a key concept in Modern Arnis. Understand that parts of this would only be done with a blunt weapon, not a blade.  We introduce the concept using a single stick, but there is, of course, an empty-hand version of this drill.

Here's a demo from Professor Remy Presas, working with Master Ken Smith, of Block Check Counter.

We work with our students in a progression to learn each part of this drill.
  1. BLOCK:  Learn to block incoming strikes.  After all, if your block is poor, counter-striking is out of the question.  We learn the supported block, and a little later, unsupported and deflection blocks.  We introduce the idea of counter attack at this point, as we teach our students to position themselves for counter attack when they block.
  2. BLOCK+CHECK: Learn to block and then either snag the stick or cover the hand.  This concept allows one to set up the next move and "shut down" certain moves that the attacker might plan to  make.
  3. BLOCK+CHECK+COUNTER STRIKE: We introduce the counterattack, which is always done at a longer range with a strike to the head at this point (for safety's sake).  Here the student learns to take the easiest strike available based upon where her hands happen to be post-block.  Sometimes, depending on which block and check they use, this will change.
  4. BLOCK+CHECK+COUNTER PUNYO STRIKE: We introduce the counter strike at close range, which is with the punyo (at close range the tip of the stick doesn't move fast enough for an effective strike with a blunt weapon, so we use the butt end - the punyo - instead).   This teaches the student how to change range in the counter attack.
  5. BLOCK+CHECK+COUNTER PUNYO STRIKE+COUNTER CHECK: The attacker "checks" the incoming punyo strike from the defender one of three ways - open hand block, "c" clamp block, and "locking on".  The reason we practice all three of these is that it's important to be able to "feel" each, as the next response is different based upon which block you get.
  6. BLOCK+CHECK+COUNTER PUNYO STRIKE+COUNTER CHECK+COUNTER-COUNTER: The final part of this particular progression.  Once the person blocks the incoming punyo strike, you counter that - with a slap-off and counter strike to start, then other reactions.  Which counter you do depends on how the punyo was blocked in step 5 above.
So, we teach what you see in the video above step-by-step, where the student masters each step of the skill before moving on to the next step, with a lot of reps so they can understand each piece of this puzzle.

It seems like the simplest drill in the world, but there's a lot we learn from it, including how to use your footwork to range properly for counter attacking, how your counter attack changes based on where you are and how your attacker responds to your block... it's a subject we spend a lot of time and effort on, but it's a key concept.

As I was working with a student this week - he's on step 4 and 5 above - it occurred to me how useful this fundamental drill really is.
  • RANGE:  I believe range is one of the hardest things to learn in the martial arts overall.  How to position oneself - without thinking about it - to make the defense and be in proper position for counter strike is not easy.  By practicing this repeatedly - and from different ranges and angles as we do - we build in this skill early in our students.
Gotta get close enough first, dude.
  • COUNTER TO THE COUNTER:  I've noticed this with some of our students with prior martial arts experience, and it's really a matter of strategy vs. skill.  Many martial arts train with a "one and done" strategy - that the counter attack is supposed to be a knock out or incapacitating blow.  In our art, we don't believe a single counter strike will do the job, so we train to expect the attacker to survive and maybe even block our counter attack, so we have to keep in the fight a while longer.  Block Check Counter trains this mentality.
  • ACTION VS. REACTION:  I think a person truly becomes skilled in my art when they go from merely reacting to what's happening, to being the actor.  It goes from "he does this, I do that" to "he does this, I do this in order for him to do this so I can do that".  Thinking ahead in the progression of the fight is a key skill, and you learn how to do that in Block Check Counter first.
  • SMALL THINGS MAY MEAN BIG CHANGES: In Step 5 above, I told you we practice blocking the punyo with three different types of blocks.  Your options change dramatically based upon which block you receive.  Additionally, which angle a strike comes in (for example - a  basic #1 strike, or a forehand strike to the head,  can come in at a variety of angles) will dramatically change blocking, checking, and counter attacking options.  Placing your foot at a different angle can change your options.  Being a step closer, or further away, can change your options.  That's what you can really learn if you take your time to practice each step in Block Check Counter.
So, all in all, this week I gained a renewed appreciation for Block Check Counter and how useful it is as a drill.

I'll end this with a video from Bruce Chiu showing some variants on the drill.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kiaaa-HA! Miami Connection

You must take the time to seek out and watch a movie called Miami Connection.

This film is an action-packed story set in the mean streets of Orlando, Florida.  A group of male, often-shirtless orphan roommates attend the University of Central Florida, practice Tae Kwon Do by day and are the hottest band (called "Dragon Sound") in the hottest club in Orlando by night.  Circumstances surrounding a new female singer and her gangster brother force them to cross paths with a gang of drug dealers by day/ninjas by night from Miami (hence, the "Miami Connection").

Hijinks ensue.

The entire movie is just a load of fun to watch:  read a great review of it here (warning, bad words so it might not be safe for work) and 230+ things to love about the movie here.  You know how you hear about movies so bad they're good, and usually, they're just bad?  NOT MIAMI CONNECTION!  It's awesome.

It's the musical numbers I want to share here.  Listen to them, and let them enter your rotation of ear worms, because they are pretty darn catchy.

You might call it a new dimension in rock n' roll.

First up - "Friends" by Dragon Sound:

Click here if you can't see the video.

Yes, they are wearing gi pants, TKD belts, and no shirts. The Asian dude who is pretending to play the guitar? That's Y.K. Kim, co-writer, co-director and star of the film (and a motivational speaker and author today).

Lyric sample:
Friends through eternity, 
Loyalty, honesty, 
We'll stay together, 
Through thick or thin. 
Friends forever, 
We'll be together, 
We're on top, 
Cause we play to win.
Top that, Katy Perry.

Next up, and possibly the single best song about anything martial arts related ever:  "Against the Ninja".

Click here if you can't see the video.

I haven't been able to find a full transcript of the lyrics, and honestly, it's a little hard to make them out, but it sounds to me like they're describing about being in an evil war with senseless killing against the ninja, who are dirty evil liars.  Or something.


(The participants are good natured about the whole thing - check out the Dragon Sound Reunion)

Enjoy, and remember:

Only through the elimination of violence can we achieve world peace.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

How Not To Suck with the Sticks - FMA basics for non-FMA people

My art, Modern Arnis, is generally taught in the United States as "the art within your art".  That is, it's taught as an "add-on" to what you already know (that's how the Professor popularized what we do).  I think this is true for many versions of the Filipino Martial Arts, as I see people with lots of experience in other martial arts attending seminars and incorporating what they learn there into their training.

I think this is a great thing, and I totally support people learning some of our principles, training methodologies, and techniques and incorporating them into what they do as martial artists.

But the down side to this is that there is an awful lot of poorly understood and poorly performed FMA techniques out there.

Aw, c'mon, it's more complicated than that, Master Ken.  See
his whole take on "stick fighting" here.
So here's some tips to help you make sure that the stick work you do in your dojo, dojang or training studio isn't bullshit.  This is all basic, entry-level stuff in general that seems to be relatively universal (but not totally - there are as many variants of the Filipino Martial Arts as there are islands and languages and families in the Philippines).


Do not use hard woods like bahi or ironwood (kamagong) or oak.  Rattan is cheaper and is far less likely to cause permanent damage when you get hit - and you will get hit.  DO NOT, under any circumstances, use dowels you get at the home improvement store.  They will throw off splinters when they break - heck, you could get splinters in your hand just by handling one!  White waxwood is not as bad as other hard woods, but I find them to be pretty noisy. Best to stick to rattan.

Burning rattan smell is the additional bonus.
Every FMA player reading this just smiled and nodded.


There's a little variation within the FMA's, but generally speaking, hold the stick like so:

This is the hand that will deliver the beatings.
FMA style vary in terms of how close they tend to get (long, medium, and/or short range).  How and where you grip the stick is related to the range.  If you're close or medium range, you want to hold the stick a so that you have some space at the end of a stick.  Some arts it's a full hand, others, it's two fingers width. If you're a long-range player, you don't want much butt end (or "punyo" - we probably should spell it "puño" as the word is from Spanish, but nobody ever does), in order to have as much reach as possible.  Make sure you know which strategy you're using.

Two things to avoid in your grip:

Pictured left: No.  Pictured right:  Hells to the No.
Avoid sticking your thumb out because it seriously weakens your grip on the weapon (easy disarm, that), because that thumb makes a very attractive target, and because you can get grabbed and put into a painful thumb lock (or even get it broken).  Avoid sticking your index finger out because the target and lock/break problem applies there, too.

Your grip should be firm, but you shouldn't hold on to the stick with so much force you end up with white knuckles (it's not necessary to death grip it).  And for Pete's sake, don't twirl it around like a drummer - you should always keep your stick in a relatively firm grip.  If you look like this very talented man in this video, you might have a future in a rock band, but not as a stick fighter.


It's a common belief that the stick is ALWAYS a stand-in for a blade, but that's not exactly true. In fact, the way I play is far more "blunt" than blade (and thus you'll see me do things that makes other FMA people cringe as they envision cutting themselves).  Know which type of weapon you're studying, and why.

Key differences:
  • Blunt weapons require a lot of force, as they inflict damage by crushing whatever's being hit.  Slashing motions will do little to no damage with a blunt weapon.
  • Blades separate matter, so it's better to prolong contact with the edge so that it can separate as much matter as possible.  You do not need a lot of force to make a blade work - that's why they're sharp. You aren't chopping wood. 
  • Blunt weapons allow you to do stick exchanges hand-to-hand with any part of the weapon.
  • Blades, if you switch hands, must be only on the hilt of the blade. I'll admit, I don't know if the blade-ier FMA's ever do an exchange, but if I were to do so with a bolo, that'd be my advice.
  • Blunt weapons can be used to trap and lock.
  • Blades - you wouldn't trap or lock with one, you'd cut stuff off instead.
  • Blunt weapons do not require you to have "edge awareness" - bladed weapons require that you know where the edge/point is at all times.
  • Vital points are different!  I wouldn't mind getting hit in the crook of my arm at the elbow with a blunt (it won't tickle, but that's not a critical hit).  With a blade, I could lose my entire forearm and bleed out quickly.
It's okay to study both approaches, but don't make the mistake of starting a technique as one and ending as the other (your weapon will not magically transform from blade to blunt in the middle of the technique).

If this were a blade, I'd have cut my fingers off.

People from "hard" empty hand arts - karate and tae kwon do for example - tend to tense up and hit very stiffly when doing FMA techniques.  This is their habit when they do kata and such, as that's how they "have power", so it's understandable that people would think that this is the way to generate power with the sticks.

The power of the stick comes from speed and technique, not pure muscle (our strategy is not typically "one hit and you're out").  You cannot be fast if your muscles are tensed up.  Relax and do your techniques slowly at first.  Over time, you'll speed up naturally, and your strikes will have more power.  As the saying goes, "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast".  Tense muscles tend move in a choppy way, and FMA players flow, moving smoothly.

The exact opposite of this guy.

Sinawali, or "weaving" drills, seems to be the most common thing people learn from the FMA's. It doesn't matter which pattern you learn - there are literally hundreds - or whether you learn with one stick or two, the point of sinawali is to learn distancing, targeting, chambering, moving your feet, flow, stick control, training both hands simultaneously, and to get a lot of reps in while you learn those things.

Here's ways to make sure your practice of sinawali is serving its intended purpose:
  • Don't chase the stick.  People are doing sinawali as if it's just patty-cake with sticks.  They are being careful to make sure that they hit their partner's stick.  This is not the point of the drill.  You need place your strikes as if you were hitting your partner. If your partner does the same, you'll meet in the middle (like an "x").
  • Aim for targets.  So, if you aren't chasing the stick, you need to be sure where you should be striking.  For example, in the sinawali shown below, the actual targets are to the head, and to the knees.  When doing the drill, aim there!  People tend to aim high on high strikes (head shots) because they are afraid of hurting their partner.  If you have enough space between you, this is not a problem, and you do not want to get in the habit of feeding high strikes too high.
  • Don't stand still, rooted.  Standing still in a locked stance is just not what FMA people do.  We move around, we step from side to side, playing with and using angles.  You should play with this idea when doing sinawali.  You will see videos of experienced people staying in one place sometimes - it's usually because they are isolating something else at that moment temporarily, or the camera can't be moved when they recorded the video.  It's not the way they actually play sinawali for real.
  • Chamber.  Do you train to punch or spar with your hands hanging loose in front of you?  Probably not - you chamber them into a ready position of some sort.  We do the same thing, with sticks.  Don't let your hands stay out in space in between you and your partner.  Chamber them so they are ready for the next strike.  Don't drop your sticks down to your sides - this is a VERY common mistake - and remove your guard from around your head.
  • Use Medium Range.  What this means is that if your partner stood still, you should be able to hit them with the tip of your stick. What a lot of people do is use long range, and so you end up not actually having to defend against your partner (when the sticks meet in the middle, after all, is your "defense" as well as your "strike"). Part of what you're trying to learn is force-to-force blocking, so if you're too far away, this skill never develops.
  • Go Slow.  Newbies make the mistake of trying to go as fast as possible when doing sinawali.  That's not the point here - slow down, chamber, move around, be smooth and target.  Speed will, in time, come naturally.  Don't force it!
Basically, avoid looking like this.  Ninja gear optional.
I hope these tips help you integrate your FMA-derived techniques into your normal training routine easier.  If I can be of help (or if you want to be referred to experts who know a jillion times more than I do), let me know!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Self Defense: Why Firearms Aren't Enough

I will state up front: I am very much in favor of individuals owning firearms.  No, I don't care to debate it if you disagree.

I know a lot of folks who have concealed carry licenses for firearms.  When the discussion turns to self defense, it is not unusual for someone to claim that his or her firearm is all they need.

A Good Start.
Let's skip, for the moment, the idea that the only response you want to have in your arsenal versus a bad guy is a lethal response.  I think this is a bad strategy for a variety of reasons, but I won't go into that now.

I submit that a firearm is not always the best tool in self defense situations. Especially if the other person is armed with a weapon like a knife.

Point one: Watch this clip from Dan Inosanto.

Police officers train with their guns far, far more often than most regular folks and each officer was repeatedly "killed" by Inosanto in seconds.  Their firearms training did not help them and they "died".

Point two:  just the other day my instructor was telling us the story of a friend of his (we'll call him Joe) who got into a road rage situation recently.  Long story short, Joe was in his car (and stayed there) and the other person got so angry, he was able to punch the driver's side window so hard that it broke and he was able to get to Joe in the driver's seat.  Joe did not want to kill the guy with his gun (he did have it on him) but he didn't have any other good, relatively non-lethal way to protect himself in that small space.  He got very lucky that the attacker came to his senses and left . (Note: I don't know if Joe could drive away or what, as that isn't clear in the story as it was told to me.)

So, due to a lot of considerations, if you are serious about self defense, I think you need more than a gun.

I'm admittedly weapons-biased, as I think it's usually better to defend yourself with a tool than with meat if at all possible. You've got far more weapons available to you than you think, see my post Why Study Weapons.  Also, being a middle-aged female, I think a tool will help me "equalize" my chances against a bigger or stronger attacker.  Thus, I believe that it's wise to train in weapons - firearms and others - for self defense.

But, we can't always use a tool. You always can't walk around with your weapon ready for action for practical and legal considerations, so yes, unarmed training  for self defense is critical also.

Chad is a little confused about
the term "concealed carry"
One thing that's awesome about the Filipino Martial Arts is that 99% of the time you start your training with weapons, and then move to the empty handed applications.  Or rather, the relationship between weapon and unarmed action - that you are training both - is very direct and clear, and you don't have to change a lot for either application.  So, of course, I'd recommend checking out a local FMA trainer or club near you to help supplement your self defense training (but all y'all know I'm biased in that regard).

I think your "self defense" toolbox, to be complete, should include: firearms, other weapons (including knife), empty hand striking, kicking, some locks and throws, and ground defense/grappling.  I don't think you need a billion different techniques - just a few will do in each as long as they are practiced often.

But even if you can't cover all that ground (my grappling and firearms training is pretty weak at the moment), you can't train only firearms and be prepared to defend yourself.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

SHENANIGANS! Your Martial Art - and Mine (pt. 2)

Part 1 here.  If you didn't read it, my premise is that ALL of our martial arts contains elements of nonsense.  Yes, yours too.

Definitely yours.
So, why does this happen?  How are we allowing nonsense into our arts?

I think this is a complex problem - if it were simple, there wouldn't be any of it to worry about.  But here's some speculation on how it happens:

1) Shifting Context

Martial arts are generally developed for specific conditions, situations, and cultures. When removed from that context, it can be very difficult to understand the practicality of what's being taught. Thus, to modern eyes or different cultures, it becomes nonsense.

2) Boredom

When you do an art for decades, you start to become removed from the pure practicality of the art, because the practical, lower-level stuff is boring after all that time.  So things get made up that may be more of a physical and intellectual exercise vs. a practical technique.  And then people who aren't at that high level with decades of experience see and learn the technique, not understanding it for what it is, and start thinking it's supposed to be more than a simple exercise, and it becomes nonsense.

Yeah, been there.
3) The Telephone Game (or "Chinese Whispers")

We have "lineage" in the martial arts, generally. We learn from our teacher, who learned from hers, who learned from his, and so on, to the originator of the art. Some lineages are longer than others.  We know that in this method of conveying information, key pieces will get lost, such as a foot placement, or a changed target, or a different range... and it only takes something like that to turn a technique from useful to nonsense.  Check out a great example of how this happens here.

I think this also happens when techniques that require a higher level of understanding are taught to people not quite ready to understand the information.  The understanding never comes (as it's been shortcut and lacks context), so key features of the technique gets lost or garbled as it's passed on.

4) Sport and Performance Arts Feature Creep

I've defended both sport and performance martial arts in this blog.  However, "creep" of their techniques and tools are a huge problem for nonsense getting incorporated into our arts.  Things that look cool or work when you wear safety equipment or are allowed/disallowed by rules don't translate as well to serious self defense. In my opinion, it's especially bad with weapons.  See my teacher +Mark Lynn's discussion of the problem here and here.

This is a DEMO. It is only a DEMO.
5) Lack of Pressure Testing

It's one thing to do it in air or against a dummy or stationary opponent.  It's a completely different thing to do it against an alive, resisting, moving opponent. Without pressure testing - against both experienced and inexperienced people (so you can see how different people react), you might be propagating nonsense and not even know it.

6) Safety

In modern times, we can't just beat the heck out of each other as a general rule, and we definitely can't beat the daylights out of kids (and those are the majority in our classes, generally). So we do things for safety reasons (such as not going full speed, or pulling a punch, or striking way out of range).  We have to make sure we get to the point where those safety constraints are removed, otherwise, the technique becomes nonsense.

7) Hero Worship and Loyalty

We want to believe our teachers are above reproach.  We especially want to believe that the founders of our arts are perfect.  So, when we are taught or shown something that doesn't seem to make sense, we insist that somehow the fault is with us - it can't be with the technique, because the teacher would never make a mistake.  And sometimes that is absolutely true.  And sometimes... what you're being taught is nonsense.

Additionally, questioning the teacher can at times be interpreted as disloyal and rude. Given that we do not often build in a time and a place to respectfully question what we are being taught, it's no surprise that we end up discouraging any questions at all.

8) Misunderstanding Teaching Methodology

My teacher explained this to me, and it makes a lot of sense.  This comes from the huge influence Japanese martial arts has on the overall community.  In the West, we want our teachers to provide answers. But  in Japan, the teacher shows the path, and it's up to the student to provide the answers herself.  Thus, we misinterpret the teacher's showing of the path for the answer itself - and we propagate nonsense as a result of this misunderstanding.

I'm sure there are more reasons, but all of these reasons applies to each one of us in some degree.

What can we, as a community do about it? I think some of this is easily solved - pressure test what you do to verify it makes sense. If it doesn't make sense, what change can you make to make it work (i.e., is there a small adjustment that would make it work?  Is it a matter of  range, target, stepping off the line...?

I think, however, we have some cultural problems - hero worship, loyalty, obedience - that are much harder to address in order to remove the nonsense from our arts.  I honestly don't know how to solve that one.

Thoughts?  I'd love your perspective!

Friday, April 11, 2014

SHENANGIANS! Your Martial Art - and Mine (pt. 1)

Note: When I first wrote this, I repeatedly used an expletive in place of "shenanigans" and "nonsense", but I decided to PG-rate this up a bit, so you can substitute the word I used - and you know what it is - in your mind as you read these posts.

The topic of shenanigans in the martial arts has very much been on my mind lately, stemming from a lengthy conversation my teacher and I had regarding weapons arts (specifically an issue in jo training, but it lead to a larger observation).  He's been struggling with this issue for a few years now, and I think he's finally trained my husband and I up far enough where we can see what he's seeing.

And now I'm seeing it.  And I'm seeing it everywhere. Including my own art.

And I don't get any cool sunglasses, either.
We all know there's some spectacularly awful martial arts and martial artists out there. It's not hard to find it out there.  But in this case, I don't mean these obvious frauds and fakes.

I mean the real deal, honest-to-goodness, serious martial artists - you and me.

Shenanigans and nonsense in the martial arts is an endless and popular topic in our larger community. There's web sites, forums, numerous blogs and blog posts, discussion groups on social media of all kinds, podcasts, magazines... there's no shortage of conversation about this stuff and it's been going on as long as there have been martial arts, I'm sure.

But the truth is, the more you look at your own art with the same critical eye you cast towards other arts... you're going to see shenanigans there, too.

I know, I know, your art is perfect, and your teacher is infallible, and the founder of your art was an unbeatable genius that could do no wrong.  I completely disagree because that's true about MY art and teachers, but humor me for a minute.

Pretend you come from a completely different martial art and are evaluating how to defeat you in a fight - look at it with an open mind.  Be honest - try to find the weakness, the counters, the flaws in assumption and execution.

Assume your teacher is not perfect. Assume your founder is not perfect.  Because they aren't and weren't. They're people, like you and me, and not some magical super beings.

We are all, at heart, this guy.
You're going to find some nonsense there.

Does that mean your whole art is nonsense?  Does it mean your teacher and your founders and martial arts ancestors are frauds and idiots and unworthy of your loyalty?


But it doesn't mean you can ignore or excuse the manure in your own yard because their yards are all piled man-high with the stuff.  This is not an "either/or" proposition.  You can do both.

For example, do you have some techniques or drills that...
... require a lot of things to go right in order to make it work?
... have REALLY easy and obvious counters?
... assume that the attacker will always respond in a specific, proscribed way?
... block a weapon (not the weapon arm, the weapon) with an unprotected body part?
... require a very compliant uke in order for it to work?
... can't be explained to do anything reasonable other than "it looks cool" (and don't stretch it... be honest)

I'm not talking about gaps in training (such as no ground work for a striking art), or strategic choices (like certain types of baiting or choosing speed over power)... I'm talking about "If you do this technique exactly the way it's taught, can it actually work against a resisting opponent?" If it requires the intervention of a higher power or an extraordinary amount of luck for something to work... my friend, it's nonsense.

In part two tomorrow, I'll talk about how and why nonsense creeps in, and what we might do about it.

I know this is going to be a pretty controversial topic. Fire away!

Not you too, Helen Mirren!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Shenanigans! Lu Ling Sao

This video, on first blush, looks pretty amazing, huh?

It does... until you understand it's just a yet another variation on something thoroughly debunked over a generation ago.  This video is longer but well worth your time to watch:

Look, what we do as martial artists is pretty awesome in itself.  It doesn't require magic powers.  Lu Ling Sao is a con. I'm calling Shenanigans.

Is this his brown belt test?
I have no idea if Soke Bruce Calkins is a good martial artist or not.  He may be awesome.  Let's say that he IS awesome.  If so, he doesn't need this parlor trick nonsense, so I hope he comes to his senses and drops it, because it makes the rest of us look silly.


 Cut it out, seriously.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

In Defense of Performance Martial Arts

Take a deep breath, and bear with me on this one.

Okay, I've admitted to snobbery and being a self-defense oriented martial artist.  I've defended sport martial arts, and now I'm going to make the case for martial arts as performance - and why that is not a bad thing for those of us who study for self-defense purposes only.

This is Jennifer Espina, doing a competition Bo form.

And this is Jason Statham in an awesome fight scene from "Expendables 2":

And here is a Tae Kwon Do Demo team strutting their stuff:

And here is a Kung Fu dance:

And here is a warrior dance from India.

These are all really, really entertaining to watch.  And they are all chock full of nonsense and shenanigans, and techniques that would never, ever work in an actual violent confrontation.

And that's okay. Because it isn't their job to be realistic.  It's their job to entertain, educate, and inspire.

You can't tell me that your younger self wasn't at any time inspired to take up your first martial art at least in part by what you saw Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris or on the Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Movie Theater (everybody watched that when I was growing up in St. Louis) - or by "The Matrix" films, maybe?

Man, I *wish* it were that easy.
Martial arts as entertainment is pervasive in most cultures that have any sort of a martial art tradition.  Choreographed fights are not a modern invention for cinema.  There are sword fights in Shakespeares' plays, and martial arts scenes in Chinese Opera.  Tales of warriors and battles have always been popular, so choreographed fight scenes automatically come with the territory when those tales are told as performance.

Martial arts performance can also have a very serious side, acting as a way to preserve an art that is actively being suppressed.

Take my art, Arnis.  "Arnis" is derived from the Spanish word arnes, meaning armor.  Legend says that my art was preserved after being banned by the Spanish during their occupation of the Phillipines in "moro-moro" stage plays that had choreographed stick fights.  Capioera has a similar claim to being "hidden" in dance (and certainly looks like it), and many African and Polynesian martial traditions remain alive long after they were no longer in use due to dance.

Ultimately, here's why I think martial arts performance is good for the rest of us:
  1. It's inspirational. It's exciting and fun to watch, and it is the rare martial artist who wasn't inspired to take up serious martial arts as a result of seeing a martial arts performance that captured their imagination.  It touches the emotions, not the intellect, and that's very, very powerful.
  2. It uplifts the martial arts into the broader culture.  The beauty of a sword dance from Scotland, the majesty of huge Chinese wushu performances, and an epic block buster movie like "Kill Bill" or "The Karate Kid" - all of these give visibility of the martial arts community to the wider culture, enshrine aspects of what we do, and helps keep us from being an invisible, marginalized subculture.
  3. It's fun.  I like the martial arts - doing it, and watching it - and frankly, when we're not being constrained by reality, seriousness, or the mere confines of physics (hello, wire-fu!), it's just plain cool.  I'd rather watch a film or tv show with martial arts in it, more often than not, even if I end up watching it and cursing at all the unrealistic stuff that's being presented.  I suspect if I were nutty for, say, model trains or drag racing, I'd feel the same way about performances and art that features those.
For me - and probably for you, if you get as irritated as I do when I see things like toothpick bo flippy-spinny stuff like the first video above - the danger is when these performances are presented as anything other than performances.  This stuff is dance and gymnastics and acting; it's not actual fighting technique.  It's incredibly easy to merge the two, and that's where the danger lies, and we end up with idiots sword fighting like ninjas in their back yards and getting hurt because of what they see in movies.

One last thing - I promised a defense of the WWE (and its ilk, i.e., professional wrestling) in my post defending sport martial arts, and here it is:

Professional wrestling is as much of a performance martial art as martial arts movies, demos, and the like.  It uses classic themes of good vs. evil to tell stories and create drama and humor, it uses splashy, crazy-looking feats of physical prowess, and it is (somewhat) choreographed and scripted.  It's just a live-action martial arts movie, executed with great skill and with very real physical risk to the participants.  You may not enjoy it yourself, but you have to give them their due.

Dude.  Respect.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Modern Arnis: Datu Dieter Knüttel

My teacher, +Mark Lynn at Hidden Sword Martial Arts introduced me to the work of Datu Dieter Knüttel.

Mark Lynn and Datu Dieter Knüttel.
Datu Dieter is a founder of Deutscher Arnis Verband, (DAV), the German Modern Arnis association.  He teaches all through Europe, has come here to the US, and trains regularly in the Philippines.

Datu Dieter actually started learning arnis through the lineage of Ernesto Presas, but moved into Remy Presas' Modern Arnis.  My teacher Mark regularly cites Datu Dieter in class, especially when talking about combative applications of some of the higher-level skill sets, and when we talk about curriculum and training methodology.

I think Datu Dieter does a very good job in bringing a sense of showmanship to our art.  For example, here's a demo they did some years back:

Flashy?  Yes.  Is this how we train most of the time?  Nope.  But I bet somebody in that audience that day said, "Wow, I gotta check this art out."

So let's see something a little more practical.  This is a trailer for one of his training videos:

One more video, this one is a general advertisement for the DAV.

If you get a chance, check out Datu Dieter Knüttel's work.  If you're in Europe, definitely check out the DAV.  It's one of my goals in life to train there at least once.  I hope they go easy on me!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Coming Clean

Okay, it's time to come clean.

I don't know diddly squat about the martial arts.

In fact, I'm a sixty-three year old man from Boring, OR.  You might notice on some of my online profiles that my "birthday" is August 9.

Well, that's because that's Boring & Dull day in Oregon.  Get it?

I don't have any family, or friends.  I don't train, I watch martial arts movies on Netflix.

Anyway, this is the real me.  It'll take me a few days to change all my pictures.  Sorry for tricking everybody.