Saturday, April 30, 2016

My Week in Stick Chicktivity - 04/30/16

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:  Ooh, two weekends in a row, two "normal" Saturdays in a row!  Arnis in the morning at Hidden Sword and then Kobudo practice in the afternoon.  I am finally willing to say I think I have this tonfa thing under control, including the dreaded form that's been giving me fits.
Sunday:  Niahanchi, not so much.  Spent the day practicing that a bit, then reviewing rank requirements under my teacher in Memphis.
Monday:  Went to class at Hidden Sword Martial Arts. Played tapi-tapi with our junior brown belt, then we worked on fine details of abanico corto.
Tuesday:   Taught class at Mid-Cities Arnis.  We covered footwork and I showed them some of the ideas we'd worked on at Hidden Sword the night before with Abanico Corto (relating to the footwork drills we were doing).
Wednesday:  We hosted an info booth up at NRH Centre to get more visibility for our martial arts school.   Video playing on our laptop?  Check. VIP Passes? Check.  Banner stands?  Check.  Sticks and bag gloves if you sign up today?  Oh yeah.  Bob 2.0?  YOU BETCHA!
Thursday:  Due to storms on Tuesday changing schedules, I ended up taking Kidlet to a school event - she joined the Art Honor Society at her school.
Friday: Drove to Memphis to spend a weekend training with my teacher.  I saw a WHOLE LOT of Arkansas and drove many hours in the pouring rain.  Spent the evening working with my teacher to review all of the stuff I've forgotten over the last few years - turns out, I've forgotten a lot, and what I do know kinda sucks.  As to be expected, I suppose, after having moved away six years ago now...

No pictures of me training this week. In honor of being back in my original martial arts "home turf", here's a picture of me and my teacher David Jones from WAAAAAY back in the day.


I posted these posts of original content this week:
Monday:   Martial Arts Growth Is Not Linear
Wednesday:   Corrosion of  Conformity
Friday:  FACE-OFF FRIDAY: When to Cross-Train?

I re-shared these posts:
Tuesday:  Why We Should Be Glad Rumblr Was a Hoax
Thursday:  Thanks to the Martial Arts Widow(er)


My friend Peter Boylan wrote a really nice article on his blog The Budo Bum you should give a read:  Demonstration Budo Vs. Training Budo Vs. Doing Budo

I know it's not new, but it's new to me:

Want to write about the martial arts but don't want to go to the trouble of maintaining a blog or using social media to share what you write? Guest posting for this blog might be for you!  Ping me privately on G+ or make a comment below and I'll reach out to you (you can also reach me via Twitter, here).

If I missed a neat video or article or other martial arts related thing of note, let me know in the comments!


I'm posting this from the Memphis, TN area today, as I am here training with my original teachers (and meeting +James Bullard in person, so I understand), resuming my progress in Ryukyu Kempo. I expect to acquire many bruises for fun, and to learn lots to practice when I get back to Fort Worth.  I'll be very out of pocket until I return, so y'all be good (I know, I know, who am I kidding?)

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!

Friday, April 29, 2016

FACE-OFF FRIDAY: When to Cross-Train?


I'm interested in your thoughts on cross-training.

Not if you should cross-train or not - I already asked that here - but if cross-training happens, WHEN in a martial arts student's journey it should take place.

Some folks cross-train from the start.  They will study, say, tae-kwon-do AND a grappling art like jiu-jitsu in order to cover all of their bases, all at the same time.

Others will get to a certain point in the study of a single art, then add in cross-training later.  The idea here is to have a "base art" where you develop a lot of skills, then add in other martial arts to address gaps in that base art (like adding weapons training to an empty hand art, or striking for a grappler, etc.)

So I want to know what you think:

When is the "right" time to start cross training?  From the beginning, or after you are competent in a "base" art?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Corrosion of Comformity

A notable thing about Modern Arnis (and its closely related "cousin" arts) is that it is a martial art that conforms itself to the individual.  That is, it's flexible enough that it does not require a person to abandon things learned in other arts, nor does it require for proficiency that person solve problems in the same way as all other students in the art.

Lots of other arts are the other way around.  They require the individual to conform itself to the art.  This is how you can see a group of, say, tae kwon do or karate stylists doing a form and they all move exactly the same way.  There is nothing wrong or bad about this.  In fact, this can be really impressive:

Thus, if you've come into a dojo from another art, you end up needing to "forget" that art in order to do your new one well.  Through instruction and repetition, over time, a group of people in these arts will all look and move in nearly identical ways.

Modern Arnis doesn't require this.  Sure, we have certain concepts that may conflict with some prior training, such as keeping your weapon hand - usually your strong hand - in front, versus the rear in an orthodox fighting stance (keep your weapon between you and the bad guy is a basic principle).

When we do forms - our anyos - you're going to see a lot of variation in how they are done.  You'll see people with karate backgrounds doing them differently than people with kung fu backgrounds, and this is actually okay.  We don't have to abandon that stuff do do arnis, or to do our forms well.  Some variation is expected!

Other arts require this conformity for very good reasons.  You want a karateka to move like a karateka.  You need to be sure that all students understand and can execute the core strategy of the style.  And honestly, a lot of these arts come from somewhat conformist societies to begin with and that comes through in the culture of their martial arts.

Yep, some styles are kinda like this.
This can mean that it can be very difficult for some individuals to succeed in that style.  The person can't get the "ideal" way to do some thing down.  This is especially true for arts that concentrate on going for the single most powerful shot they can make - the 'kill shot" attitude many arts have.

In Arnis, we instead train to take what we can get that is the simplest and fastest thing for us to execute.  This can be different for each of us, and sometimes we just can't get that knock-out blow, so we have to keep hitting them until they stop wiggling.

There are some things we do that work really, really well for a short middle aged dumpy woman like myself.  There are other things that simply don't, especially given I am rarely up against someone my own size.  Not that I shouldn't and don't learn those non-ideal things - I have and I can teach them - its just not my go-to move on a personal level.

I appreciate this lack of conformity because I think it allows for people with various disabilities and strengths to take what they need for our art and make it useful for them.   People can "flavor" their Modern Arnis with prior training (karate folks tend to do Arnis very differently than, say, people with kung fu backgrounds).

My art is known as "the art within your art" in the West, so this nonconformity is sort of built-in to how Modern Arnis works on a fundamental level.  It benefits people with backgrounds in other martial arts, and people like myself, who are basically "stick natives" and have Arnis as our primary art.

For someone who is also a bit of a nonconformist and anti-authoritarian in other parts of her life - it's doubly suitable for me!

Does your art conform itself to you, or the other way around?  What do you like or dislike about that?  I'd love to know what you think!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Martial Arts Growth is Not Linear

There is a saying I learned while I was in weight loss groups that has stuck with me:

"Weight Loss is Not Linear"

It refers to the fact that we gain or lose weight in spurts, and that it's unreasonable to expect, when losing weight, that it will consistently decrease on a daily basis.

Having lost and maintained about 40 pounds myself, I can testify that this is absolutely true. There were days I went up a little bit, long periods where nothing changed, and then boom, a few pounds would permanently go away.

This fact is also true in just about any path to growth or success.  It's especially true in the martial arts.

Image found here.
Recently I made what I would call a "leap forward" in my understanding of Arnis.  That is, I understand and execute some things I couldn't before.  I has a long period where I didn't think I was growing at all in Arnis, then suddenly - BOOM!

I don't think this is due to any one single thing.  In fact, I didn't quite realize it was going on.  Just all of a sudden, I understood some stuff I'd been taught or shown over the prior year in a way I hadn't before.  I can "see" things in a way that is deeper than it was not too long ago.

It's interesting, because I've been struggling so hard in my study of tonfa, and now I'm actively studying Ryukyu Kempo too (right now, just working on forms).   My brain has been in that part of my study.

So how or why did my Arnis suddenly seem to take off?

I suspect a few factors are at play.

Long hours of repetition absolutely played a part.  Sometimes becoming good at something is just a simple slog of doing stuff over and over and over again.  What happens at some point is that your brain and body can finally execute it to the point where you don't have to think too hard at it, so now you can see... other stuff.

So yes, I do agree with the idea that if you want to see progress, you gotta carve out the time to practice over and over and over.  The more time you can devote to this, the faster you will progress.

And on and on and on...

Teaching others played a part.  Our program will be a year old come this summer, and I've been teaching at my teacher's school for several years now.  Teaching other people definitely makes you think hard about what you do, and why you do it, and come up with creative ways to teach a variety of people the material.

I've had a pretty intense year or so of seminars.  Part of the "leap forward" recently hearkens back to a lot of the things I've learned at all those seminars.  It just took time for some of that stuff to sink in and become integrated into what I do, and I suspect some of the things that hasn't sunk in yet will, eventually.

I've also noticed that as I'm working in Kobudo and Ryukyu Kempo, I'm seeing all sorts of Arnis-y stuff there.  Not that I'm claiming a relationship - there isn't - I'm just saying that the things I'm studying there is reinforcing what I already know well in Arnis, and sometimes, helps me understand it a little bit better than I did before.

Still, sometimes... there is no reason, it just is the way it is.  Growth is not linear.

It isn't something that is a slow and steady progress.  It comes in leaps and spurts and sometimes a step back becomes three steps forward.

It's frustrating for us, as we want to continually improve - to be better today than we were yesterday, and to know that tomorrow we'll be better.

There are some periods where you get bored and you think, "Why am I bothering? I'm not going to learn more."

Been here, done this.

That's when a lot of us quit or move on to something else and abandon what we're doing.  Obviously, I believe that's a huge mistake.

If I'd abandoned Arnis during these plateaus, these new insights would never have happened.  When you get them,  it's almost like you fall back in love with what you are doing.  The long period of boredom is forgotten because you're excited about it all over again.

This is how you get guys quitting their art and going on to create their own art way before they've mastered their original, as they don't have the patience to get through these plateaus to growth.

Patience, y'all.  Keep at it.  Martial arts growth is not linear.

How do you weather your martial arts growth plateaus?  Tell us about a time you made one of those great leaps forward... let us know in the comments!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

My Week in Stick Chicktivity 04/23/16

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:  A "normal" day!  Arnis in the morning at Hidden Sword (where we played sinawali with kobudo weapons - bo and tonfa - FUN!) and afternoon Kobudo.  I think I finally got my tonfa form-from-hell under control.
Sunday:  Naihanchi status - still sucks.
Monday:  Covered classes at Hidden Sword Martial Arts.  For the kids' class, pushups and planks, Anyo Isa, and then half and hour of hitting the bags hard.  For the adult class, we played with the five Combative Responses, with double stick, empty hand, and knife, in different ways. Very fun day!
Tuesday:   Helped cover Hidden Sword classes w/my older daughter while Mr. Chick taught at MCA.  I did get a run of that tonfa form that's been my bugaboo and I'm much better at it now.
Wednesday:  My day off.
Thursday:  Taught at Mid-Cities Arnis.  Anyo fine-tuning.
Friday: Taught at Mid-Cities Arnis.  Taught Baston Anyo Dalawa and stick sparred.


I posted these posts of original content this week (via my guest poster, +Michael Mahaffey ):

Monday:   Kicking RA's Ass Part 1:Enter A Martial Arts Junkie
Tuesday:  Kicking RA's Ass Part 2:  Rheumatoid Arthritis - What it is, and why it it SUCKS
Wednesday:   Kicking RA's Ass Part 3: Rolling Right Over RA

I re-shared these posts:
Thursday: A Team of One
Friday: FACE-OFF FRIDAY: Handling Rank When Changing Schools


Happy birthday to Mr. Chick!

+Hock Hochheim's program was "Cracked"!  I assure you, it takes more than a week to learn knife fighting (because Mr. Chick is in this program now - and boy howdy, he comes home tired!).  Read it here: 6 Shockingly Hardcore Skills You Can Learn In Under A Week

Want to write about the martial arts but don't want to go to the trouble of maintaining a blog or using social media to share what you write? Guest posting for this blog might be for you!  Ping me privately on G+ or make a comment below and I'll reach out to you (you can also reach me via Twitter, here).

If I missed a neat video or article or other martial arts related thing of note, let me know in the comments!


Today is a "normal" day - but I'm going to start buckling down and working on tons of forms that I sorta know in preparation for training with my teacher in the Memphis area next weekend. 

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, April 20, 2016

Kicking RA's Ass Part 3: Rolling Right Over RA

Today's post is part 3 of a 3 part series by guest poster Mike Mahaffey - about his journey as a BJJ competitor struggling with a chronic and sometimes debilitating disease, rheumatoid arthritis.

Part 1 can be read here and Part 2 can be read here.

I started training with the tournament in mind just after the first of the year.

All BJJ tournament matches start on the feet, rather than on the knees as one might in training, so I started working with the judo coach at our gym on a takedown I could use that would be least likely to hurt my damaged knee.

A competitor can win a match by scoring points for particular positions, so I started to up the intensity of my rolling, and started keeping track of “points” in my training matches.

Some people see the martial arts in everything. - the Stick Chick
A match can also be won by submitting your opponent, making them “tap” to a joint lock or choke. At the brown belt level, there are a great variety of submissions available to use, many more than at the blue belt level when I competed last. Leg locks in particular are allowed starting at brown belt.

So I started to work these into my game, as well as the defenses to them. I added at least one day of training to my regimen, at 6:00 AM, since my wife’s evening work schedule meant I had to be home alone with our kids on certain nights. I slowly felt more and more ready to compete, and my skillset was noticeably growing. 

But my RA still limited me more than I would have liked. I was training BJJ about 5 days per week, but it would have been beneficial to add some cardio workouts into the mix as well in order to ensure that I would have enough gas in the tank for the intensity of competition.

Unfortunately, I just didn’t have the energy for this due to RA pain and fatigue, so on my non-BJJ days I prioritized rest and recuperation.

In January I contracted a sinus infection that lasted over a month and took two rounds of antibiotics to get rid of. Due to this, I had to miss a Remicade infusion, which I normally get every six weeks to help keep the inflammation of RA under control (Remicade can make respiratory infections much more severe, and is dangerous to take while on antibiotics). Thus my symptoms were uncontrolled for a large portion of my training camp, making training more painful, and true rest difficult to achieve. But I was determined to do the best I could, and as tournament day approached I put my head down and pushed forward…

IBJJF Chicago Open Arena

I walked into the nearly empty arena at Chicago State University with my coach and teammates at about 8AM on April 2, 2016. The black and beige mats were laid out in a 2x5 grid pattern, making 10 rings, for 10 pairs of competitors to face off at one time.

My hands and feet ached, as usual in the mornings, but I didn’t care. I was in Chicago, looking at these empty mats, with the blue and gold IBJJF banner hung above them at the far end of the arena, grinning from ear to ear.

Today was my day. Win or lose, I was about to step onto those mats and give it my all. I had prepared for this day for 16 weeks, and I was as ready as I was going to be.

My division (brown belt, heavy weight males, ages 40-45) was not scheduled to start until 2:20 PM. We had arrived early because one of our teammates was scheduled to compete at 9:30 AM. Although the tournament was designed as a single-elimination event, I knew I had at least three matches ahead of me for the day. There were only three of us in my division, meaning we would compete against each other in a round-robin fashion, guaranteeing two matches each. This would put all three of us on the podium, win or lose. Those who made the podium are able to register for the open-weight division, which started for me at 6:00 PM. I had every intention of registering for this, as I wanted to have as many matches at this tournament as I could.

As I wandered around the arena with my teammates prior to the start of the event, I looked for the warm-up mats that I had assumed would be there. There were none – other than the matted area for competition, the rest of the venue had concrete flooring. This meant that when I wasn’t in the stands watching my teammates, I would be standing on concrete floors in my flip-flops, trying to keep my muscles warm and limber for competition. I was sure this would guarantee extra joint pain for me, and I was not wrong. 

The day dragged on, and I tried to stay loose and get my body ready for the competition to come. The Chicago Open brings competitors from all over the globe, and the level of competition was high. I was not sure who I was going to face, and what their skill level was like, but I was determined to do my best.

My division was called to the bullpen at around 1:30 PM. I filed into the gated area and milled around with dozens of other competitors of all ranks, weights, and ages. In the course of waiting I ended up meeting the two other competitors in my division. They were both friendly, and we chatted a little prior to our matches. Unlike me, they were both experienced competitors – one had even won silver at the IBJJF Pan-American Championships in California two weeks prior. I’d be lying if I said this didn’t make me a little nervous. But anything can happen on the competition mats, and I tried to focus as our division started and we were led by an official onto the competition floor.

I was up first, against the competitor who had won silver in California. We shook the referee’s hand, shook each other’s hand, and on the referee’s command, started our match.

Mike in the blue gi.
As I had practiced for weeks, I assumed a low stance, keeping my elbows close to my body, and began grip fighting. In seconds I had secured the grip I wanted – right hand on his lapel, left on his opposite sleeve. I immediately stepped closer to him and hooked my right foot onto his left inner thigh, initiating the sacrifice throw that was to start my game plan. Unfortunately, I didn’t step close enough to his hips, and as I dropped back onto the mat, he gripped my pants and almost immediately passed my legs and secured his cross body position on top of me.

He as strong, fast, and technical. I did my best to keep my arms close and protect my neck, but in less than a minute he had gripped both my lapels near my neck and was applying a collar choke while he secured my hips and kept me from escaping. I held out for as long as I could, hoping I could defend and his grip would weaken and he would transition to something else. But as I felt the blood supply to my brain diminishing, I had to tap so I didn’t pass out. 

I had lost my first match, but to me it didn’t matter. I had one more in my division, and I had already met my goal – I had competed in an international IBJJF tournament. I found myself not upset that I had lost (although winning would have been nicer), but feeling relieved that the first match was done. I now knew what competing in the IBJJF felt like, so I could focus on doing even better in my subsequent matches.

My other matches (four total – two in my division, and two in the open weight division), were a variation on my first.

All of the athletes I competed against were top-notch, with tournament experience from all over the United States. I never quite hit the sacrifice throw I had trained, although each time I tweaked my technique to make it better.

The more matches I had, despite losing, the calmer I felt.

I was able to escape several submission attempts before being finished each match, and was able to improve my position in subsequent matches in ways I did not in my first. By the time I competed in the open weight division at 6PM, my head was fully in the game, even if my skill and experience did not match that of my opponents. And given that there were only three competitors in each of my divisions, I was able to experience the podium with them as a third place medalist, something I would not have been able to do in a larger division.

Overall, my experience was wonderful. I did what I set out to do, even if I did not win. I made new friends of my fellow competitors, and have connected on Facebook with each of the gentlemen I faced on the mats that day. They were all supportive and kind, and were all gracious winners.

I disclosed to them that this was my first competition in five years, disclosed that RA is the reason I have been away from competition for so long, and thanked them for being part of my experience. One of them trains at a famous gym in Chicago, as an instructor of a close friend of mine who had moved to the city in the past few years. I already have plans to visit my friend and train with my previous opponent later this Spring.

Despite how much fun I had, and how wonderful it felt to get my competitive juices flowing again, there were some hard lessons for me to learn about doing this level of competition while facing a chronic illness.

The day after the tournament, my wife and I took our children to the Museum of Science and Industry. After standing on concrete all day, my body was not ready for that much walking. Adrenaline had gotten me through the event, but I had slept fitfully due to pain that night, and being on my feet at the museum was agony. I was exhausted and in pain from an RA flare, and I had not scheduled adequate recovery time after the competition

My wife encouraged me to use a wheelchair, as I could not be on my feet for more than a few minutes at a time, but I was too stubborn, and missed out on some of the museum while my family wandered around without me. Next time (and there WILL be a next time), I will need to dedicate the whole next day to rest and recuperation, and stay an extra night in Chicago for fun with my family after I have recovered.

Overall, this experience was well worth it. I proved to myself that I could do it, and stay relatively healthy and uninjured. I proved to myself that I can still push past my preconceived limits, and that RA will not define me as a competitor. But I also learned to respect my body, and that despite what I want, my body has its breaking point and needs more care than it did prior to RA. I’ve been flaring for the past week since the event, and I am sure it was precipitated by the exertion and standing on concrete for hours.

Either way, until I am too crippled to train, there WILL be more tournaments for me in the future. Win or lose, I am not letting RA take this from me without a fight.

Missed earlier installments of this series?  Read part one here and part two here.

Mike Mahaffey is a 43 year old married father of two from Lansing, MI. He has been training martial arts since he was a teenager, and holds a first degree black belt in TaeKwonDo ChungDoKwan, a 6th degree black belt in Pukang Tang Soo Do, and a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He currently trains and teaches at Magic Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Martial Arts Center in East Lansing, MI.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Kicking RA's Ass Part 2: Rheumatoid Arthritis - What it is, and why it it SUCKS

Today's post is part 2 of a 3 part series by guest poster Mike Mahaffey - about his journey as a BJJ competitor struggling with a chronic and sometimes debilitating disease, rheumatoid arthritis.

Part 1 can be read here.

Some weeks later, Teresa had taken a picture of my swollen knuckles with her iPhone, and showed this picture to a physician she worked with at the local hospital (where she is a social worker). This physician also happened to have Rheumatoid Arthritis.

She noticed the tell-tale redness and swelling in my hands, and after asking Teresa about some of my symptoms, suggested that maybe it was best that I see my own doctor for an examination.

Sure enough, after a consult with my primary care physician, followed by a referral to a rheumatologist, I was diagnosed with RA. I had all sorts of questions, and in turn realized that I didn’t know a thing about this disease.

This is “not your grandmother’s arthritis”, in the sense that it is not limited to the elderly and infirm. Being an autoimmune disease, anyone of any age, even very young children, can be diagnosed with it. Despite the word “arthritis” being in the name, joint pain and damage is only one symptom of this disease.

Fatigue, fevers, and other organ damage can, and frequently do, happen due to the inflammation that RA causes. There is increased chance of secondary infections due to the immunosuppressant effect of RA treatments, as well as an increased chance of mortality over time due to the disease and inflammation processes themselves.

Once I started to learn more about what my body was doing to itself, I became more and more anxious about my future, wondering if I could continue to train in the martial arts the way I wanted to train. Unfortunately, that anxiety was not completely unfounded. 

Over the next several years, I tried dozens of treatments under the supervision of my rheumatologist. None of them, to this day, have given me the level of pain relief and mobility that I have been seeking. I have taken methotrexate (a drug, in higher doses, used to treat cancer) pills, methotrexate injections, given myself biologic injections at home, and now am receiving chemotherapy infusions every six weeks in order to “calm down” my immune response and avoid further joint and organ damage.

I eliminated gluten from my diet once I discovered that gluten has been contributing to “flares”, or increases in pain and disease activity. I have tried hot compresses, cold compresses, over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, hot tubs, and foam rolling in an attempt to gain temporary pain relief.

I have had two knee surgeries due to cartilage damage, likely related to RA inflammation. I had a severe staph infection that needed surgical intervention, likely due to my suppressed immune system. I have glaucoma, a co-occurring condition caused by inflammation in the eye that can damage the optic nerve and cause blindness. I use a cane on many days, due to painful inflammation in my feet, knees and hips. I wear braces on my wrists at night, due to wrist pain that often wakes me up. And in mid-April, I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, which often co-occurs with RA.

Mike's new Shock-Tek gloves for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

I have been in a continual period of adjustment to what RA has thrown at me for almost the past five years. As a result, although I have continued to train BJJ (physical activity, when tolerable, is actually really good for people with RA – “move it or lose it” is very much the truth), I have had to modify, assess, and re-modify how I train. And, until the end of 2015, I didn’t feel that the risk of injuring already tender joints in a BJJ tournament was worth it.

On December 15, 2015, just weeks shy of nine years of continuous training, I was awarded my brown belt in BJJ. This was a huge accomplishment for me. Rank is notoriously hard to come by in BJJ, with the rank of black belt (the rank after brown) taking an average of 8-12 years to attain.

BJJ is an art that puts performance on a pedestal – high ranking practitioners do not have to be the “toughest people in the gym”, but those with high rank are expected to be able to demonstrate their skills in “rolling”, or free sparring on the mat.

I was excited, overwhelmed, and happy about this promotion. I also felt a great sense of responsibility – I was one of the highest ranking students at MAGIC BJJ (a close friend of mine was promoted with me to brown belt, but other than us there are only lower ranked students at our school), and I felt the need to lead by example.

Many students at MAGIC participate in BJJ competitions. In BJJ competing, although not necessary, is often seen as a good way to test the effectiveness of your Jiu-Jitsu. I had been thinking about competing again, and since I wasn’t getting any younger or healthier, I decided now was the time. I wanted to at least do one big tournament before I eventually (hopefully) earned my black belt. So I set my sights on the 2016 IBJJF Chicago Spring International Open.

Mike's training and results for the IBJJF Open in Part 3.

Mike Mahaffey is a 43 year old married father of two from Lansing, MI. He has been training martial arts since he was a teenager, and holds a first degree black belt in TaeKwonDo ChungDoKwan, a 6th degree black belt in Pukang Tang Soo Do, and a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He currently trains and teaches at Magic Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Martial Arts Center in East Lansing, MI.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Kicking RA's Ass Part 1:Enter A Martial Arts Junkie

Today's post is part 1 of a 3 part series by guest poster Mike Mahaffey - about his journey as a BJJ competitor struggling with a chronic and sometimes debilitating disease, rheumatoid arthritis.

My headlights swept over the asphalt, bathing the empty parking lot in their halogen glow. The windows of the empty gym reflected their harsh glare back at me as I pulled the car into a parking spot, making me squint. I put the car into park and took a moment to take another swig of my coffee, grimacing at the dashboard clock as it’s display mocked my fatigue: 5:45AM.

My joints ached, my hands and feet were swollen, and my right knee (the one that has had two surgeries) didn’t want to fully bend or straighten. Why the hell did I agree to train so darn early?

I chastised myself. I sat in the car, letting the hot air blowing from the vents warm my cold fingers. I didn’t want to step out into the mid-March Michigan cold.

But the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) Spring Chicago Open was only two and a half weeks away, and I needed all the mat time I could get before the competition. 

And I had training partners counting on me to open up the gym so we could get our training in before work. And I had parts of my game I needed to tighten up before competing, for the first time in over five years. And, to be honest, I love this stuff. So, with a grunt as I straightened my bum knee, I got out of the car, dug the gym keys out of my pocket, and limped toward the door and the mats beyond…

Hi, my name is Mike Mahaffey, I am 43 years old, and I am a martial arts junkie. 

Mike in the middle, wisely picking up a stick like all good people eventually do. - the Stick Chick

I am a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and have black belts in other traditional martial arts. I also have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease that can cause pain, joint damage, disability, and even death.

I’m often fatigued, usually in pain, sometimes walk with a cane, and many days don’t know how the hell I keep moving.   But, we’ll get to that in a minute.

I started training martial arts at the age of 14, in a Korean striking art called TaeKwonDo Chung Do Kwan.  I was not terribly athletic prior to this, and like many young men, found my way to the martial arts as an antidote to bullies in my life (my eight years as a tap dancer didn’t help matters in the bullying department).

Martial arts taught me that physical skills could be learned, if one persevered (versus something you had to be born with). That idea was enticing and empowering to me. It changed my perception of myself from that of hopelessly vulnerable victim to that of a confident athlete.

I received my TaeKwonDo black belt at the age of 18. After high school I attended Michigan State University, and started training under the late Bruce Henderson at the MSU Karate Club, in another Korean striking style named Pukang Tang Soo Do.

I continued to teach, train, and compete in karate tournaments with the MSU Karate Club until my early 30s. Then, just over nine years ago, I attended a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) class in southern California (while visiting my wife’s family) taught by Professor Craig Husband. Craig is a black belt in BJJ under Rickson Gracie – one of the most famous practitioners of the art, and generally considered one of the best.

After my chance-meeting of Craig Husband, and training with him, I decided it was time to find a school back in Michigan and start training BJJ when we got home.  I found a small school in north Lansing, MI run by a then-purple belt (and my best choice at the time for training in Central Michigan). Here I met a bunch of great people and training partners, including my good friend (and now coach) Matt Linsemier. Eventually Matt opened up our current school, Magic Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (, and became the first black belt in the Lansing area.

Like many practitioners of BJJ, my journey was full of ups and downs. I got injured some, as most do in any combat sport, but it never quashed my passion for continuing to learn and train. I did a couple of BJJ competitions early on in my career as a blue belt, and although tournaments were never my main focus, I had definitely planned on doing more.

In September, 2011, I had competed in the Michigan Open, a local BJJ tournament that drew competitors from all over the state. It was only my second BJJ tournament, and the first one I had medaled in.

I took third place, cementing my spot on the podium by submitting my opponent with a cross-collar choke (a technique where you choke your opponent with the lapels of their gi, or training uniform). I was 39 years old, and finally starting to feel like this BJJ stuff was making sense. My recent tournament performance had reawakened the competitor in me.

But I had a problem. The day after the tournament my fingers were swollen and painful, the knuckles puffed up and difficult to bend. I attributed it to the effort of competition – there is a lot of gripping in BJJ, after all. As time went on I had other symptoms as well – I ached in the morning, often until well after noon, as if I had been beaten up in my sleep. My sleep was interrupted by all sorts of aches and pains, and I was often fatigued throughout the day

My wife, Teresa, encouraged me to go to the doctor, but being a typical male, I brushed it off. I was almost 40, and very active. I figured this was just how middle-aged martial artists felt.

Mike's diagnosis - and the ramifications - in part 2.

Mike Mahaffey is a 43 year old married father of two from Lansing, MI. He has been training martial arts since he was a teenager, and holds a first degree black belt in TaeKwonDo ChungDoKwan, a 6th degree black belt in Pukang Tang Soo Do, and a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He currently trains and teaches at Magic Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Martial Arts Center in East Lansing, MI.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

My Week in Stick Chicktivity 04/16/16

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:  Morning class in Arnis at Hidden Sword Martial Arts.  I got to evaluate a kid for his readiness for a martial arts program (not all kids are ready for or will do well in a traditional group class setting, even if martial arts training is something that they'd benefit from).  Later that day was my one-a-month Kobudo class with AKATO.  Productive and somewhat frustrating class (oh, that form, that form will drive nuts!).
Sunday:  Oh man, my Naihanchi sucks.  In other news, we taught our four-hour "ADE Women's Self Defense course" and as usual, really enjoyed it.  I think we need to revamp the curriculum soon - removing some things, mostly, in favor of more repetitions.
Monday:  My "day off", Hubby went to Arnis class.
Tuesday:  Taught at Mid-Cities Arnis.  Worked on Baston Anyo Dalawa (including the 90 degree translation) and ended with playing sinawali.  We have a new adult student - the parent of one of our kids - and Hubby worked with getting him integrated into class (aka our "Zero level" material).
Wednesday:  Attended class at Hidden Sword Martial Arts.  Our senior adult brown belt student worked with our white belt adult student on sinawali, while my teacher and I spent some time talking about kobudo.
Thursday:  Taught class at Mid-Cities Arnis.  12 Angles of Attack (elbows), then we played hubad-lubad.
Friday:  Quick review of anyos and then stick sparring!  Hidden Sword's senior brown belt came by to join in the fun, and it was very helpful to have him there.

No good pictures of me this week.  This picture is from our trip to Japan in October 1998.  Taken at the amusement park "Fuji-Q Highland".  Yes, we rode Fujiyama when it was the tallest roller coaster in the world (then).

I posted these posts of original content this week:

Monday:    Form Follies
Wednesday:   The Alternating Hand
Friday:  Face-Off Friday: Organization, or Independent?

I re-shared these posts:
Tuesday:  A Secret of the 12 Angles of Attack Revealed (to me)
Thursday:  Aging and the Martial Arts


In case you missed it...the fine folks behind "The Karate Rap" "Sister Sensei" (and that post I made a couple of weeks back  "Kiaaa-HA! Martian Arts with Sensei Dave")... have fired up this new series, "Tallman" - it's really interesting and different and there's two episodes thus far. The first one is below.  Thanks for the head's up, +Holly Seeger!!  I have subscribed and can't wait to see more!

This image was posted on FB on the "Mcdojolife" page and I still can't stop giggling. It's genius.

Brian Van Cise's post about weekend instructorships struck a chord with me.  What do you think? Read it here.

Want to write about the martial arts but don't want to go to the trouble of maintaining a blog or using social media to share what you write? Guest posting for this blog might be for you!  Ping me privately on G+ or make a comment below and I'll reach out to you (you can also reach me via Twitter, here).

If I missed a neat video or article or other martial arts related thing of note, let me know in the comments!


Today is a * gasp * relatively normal Saturday.  Morning Arnis, watching Younger Daughter in TKD class, and then afternoon Kobudo with my teacher +Mark Lynn.  I'll even get in some Naihanchi practice this weekend (yay)!  I am going to see my instructor in the Memphis area in a few weeks, so I really need to practice. so my Naihanchi will suck less.  Oy.  I also will be working hard on that bugaboo Tonfa form that is kicking my butt.

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!

Friday, April 15, 2016

FACE-OFF FRIDAY: Organization, or Independent?


Let's talk about martial arts organizations.

I'm particularly interested in how this applies not to individuals, but to schools.

Some schools are members of larger organizations.  They pay a membership fee, and for that fee they get a sanctioning body for their ranks, a curriculum which they must follow, and often, permission to participate in organization-only events and awards.  It's not unusual for organizations to require member schools to teach a specific way and to offer a specific curriculum, and to require a specific fee schedule for rank testing.

Other schools are independent - they pay no fee to an organization, can have whatever curriculum they want, market however they want, and charge what they want for rankings.

There are pros and cons to each - a huge advantage of an organization is a larger sanctioning body "certifying" ranks (specifically black belts and rank advancement higher than black), relatively consistent curriculum (and quality control), and often, tournament participation. But the downside is the loss of freedom of the individual school, the expense (usually passed down to students), and often, organizations can be awfully political - which is why so many schools end up as independents.

So I want to know what you think.  What would you prefer, if you are (or want) to have your own school - or as a student?


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Alternating Hand

Let's discuss what I've been calling the Alternating Hand principle.

Now, I have no idea if anybody is teaching this the way I've been thinking about this lately. Surely someone is, as it seems to me (now) to be a pretty obvious concept.

The idea of strike with one hand, then the other is fundamental to most martial arts. I've seen boxers do it, karate and TKD people do it, we do it in Kobudo, and of course, it's found in the Filipino Martial Arts.

Think of the basic combo in boxing (and other striking arts): jab+cross, and jab+cross+hook.

Muay Thai combo using alternating hands. Image found here.

I called this "the alternating hand" but of course I mean the feet as well, for those of you big into kicking.

This is related to what I wrote in "Three is a Magic Number".  The alternating hand principle is found in our core drills of Brush-Grab-Strike, Block-Check-Counter, Hubad-Lubad, and of course, Double Sinawali - all of these are lead hand, rear hand, lead hand.  It's found in other places, too.  For example, our Combative Response #4 is rear hand block, front hand block, rear hand strike - again, alternating hands.

Of course, you can do this with two (or four or whatever) strikes as well as three.  We use three a lot in Arnis (as I've noted) but it's not the only way to do this.

The reason it's been on my mind is because we've been working on these in classes at Mid-Cities Arnis and I don't know that in my training over time that I've ever thought of this quite this way before.  I certainly don't remember it being taught to me this specific way.  It's only occurred to me recently that this is actually a thing.

Alternating hands in brush-grab-strike in Modern Arnis.

There are downsides to relying on alternating hands alone, as it's a pattern that can be easily anticipated and countered by someone who is trained.  That's why you see boxers and other live sparrers also engage in what I think of as a broken "pattern" - they might only alternate hands now and then in a way that is designed to be difficult to anticipate.  Really good ones engage in a pattern and then break it once their opponent notices and anticipates the pattern on purpose.

Even with its downsides, the alternating hands principle is still something that's fundamental to what I do - to what many of us do.  I think this is true because it seems so natural - one hand, then the other, something that I've seen my children do when they are very little.  We're building on something that we do without training at all.

I've started talking about this idea with our students, as a way for them to approach and categorize things they are learning, and I think it helps them think about what we're asking them to do.

I'd like to know - how do you use alternating hands (or feet) in your art?  What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of alternating hands?  Let us know in the comments!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Form Follies

I am not a huge fan of forms (kata, poomsae, anyo, whatever word your art uses).

Oh, I understand the value of forms.  No argument there - they are useful, especially if your organization does a good job in explaining what's going on in the form (aka, the bunkai).  I'm not saying that they aren't a good thing.  I actually enjoy watching people who are really good at forms do them, especially really good weapons forms.

I just don't enjoy doing them, versus other stuff in the martial arts I could be doing.

Right now I'm struggling hard with two forms.

One is Naihanchi Shodan, which I'm studying as part of my Ryukyu Kempo study.

My Naihanchi form is going very slow and choppy, as I work on each move in the form and perfect it.  The person who is helping me study here in DFW, Sensei Oliver, is the one who is teaching this form to me.  If you saw him do it, you'd be impressed by how well he does this form - strong and smooth and so well done.  If you saw me do it, well...

I look like a video of a very clumsy person that's been very badly edited.

Like this, but with punching.
The other is a form our Kobudo organization created (called "Namae No Ni"), which is a tonfa form that is derived from one of their tae kwon do forms, I've been told.  I don't do tae kwon do myself, and while I do know a few TKD forms, I don't know the one this one is apparently based on, so it does't help me learn the form.

For some reason, this is the most difficult form I've had to cope with in kobudo so far.  Maybe it's because I don't have the TKD background, so I don't have the empty hand form to relate to as I learn the tonfa version. Nothing in kobudo study has stymied me more than this particular form.  It's just so... annoying... especially when the other stuff we're doing is coming to me relatively easily enough.  Ask me to hit stuff? I'm all over it.  Namae No Ni?  I'm all over the place and flustered.

Compounding the amount of forms I seem to be doing lately, at both Hidden Sword and at our school, Mid-Cities Arnis, we've been working on Baston Anyo Isa, Baston Anyo Dalawa, and empty hand Anyo Isa.  I've been working with a lot of students on these forms lately.

So I've been spending a lot of time in my least favorite martial arts activity.

Sure, it's good for me, I guess. 

But I don't have to like it!

And a "nyah" for good measure.
One of my original teachers, Darrell Kellner, taught me these two tricks to help me work on my forms.  One of them has been particularly helpful and the other I can't do yet as I don't have either form I'm working on "down" all the way through.

One of them is to do the form footwork only.  Just work through it moving your feet and hips, and think about what's going on without worry about your hands.  Since footwork is pretty much the key to everything in the martial arts, this focus does make the form work a lot better.  My students learning anyos have been using this technique with great results.

The second is to do it backwards.  This is the one I can't get to yet but I am looking forward to trying it once I can get through all of Naihanchi or Nami Noni without cursing and starting over.

Here's where I want your tips.

For those of you who do forms - what are YOUR tips to do them better?  What helps you learn them? What are your "best practice" when learning or practicing forms?  I want to know the tricks of your trade - maybe one of your ideas will help me suck less at Naihanchi!

Let us know in the comments, please!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

My Week in Stick Chicktivity 04/09/16

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:  Huge day in Arnis.  First I attended a seminar by Hanshi Raymond Montoya.  He taught some principles riffing off of sinawali, including some disarms I hadn't seen before, and then translated that to empty hand vs blade with takedowns, and then using empty hand boxing concepts against kicks (again, taking people down).  Very fun and interesting seminar, and it was a real pleasure to meet Hanshi Montoya, another "First Generation" student of Remy Presas.  After a delicious lunch (brisket RULES, people), I then got to sit on a Modern Arnis black belt testing board for the first time.   I was the lowest ranked black belt there - most of the rest of the board were First Generation and highly, highly ranked direct students of Professor - yikes!  It was a really great test and I saw and learned a few things that I've been playing with in my mind all week.
Sunday:  Got a little Naihanchi practice in, and a bit of tonfa, but it was a busy day as we played catch-up from being gone all day the previous day. Hey, I have to do laundry and chores at least ONCE a week.
Monday:  My "day off", Hubby went to Arnis class.
Tuesday:  Taught at Mid-Cities Arnis. We covered our combative responses (same side block and strike, cross body block and strike, and double block and strike) and taught Baston Anyo Dalawa (Stick Form 2).  Dalawa is a very easy and very short form, so they got it all down in one class.
Wednesday:  Attended class at Hidden Sword Martial Arts.  Worked with our white belt adult on his Baston Anyo Isa (Stick Form One) and then we worked interrupts off of single stick single sinawali - grabbing the stick and punyo inserts.  I worked on a "tip down" supported block entry I hadn't tried before that has all sorts of possibilities and I've been thinking about ever since.
Thursday:  Taught class at Mid-Cities Arnis.  We worked on single sinawali (double sticks) as a warm-up, and then we worked hard on kicks - front kicks and the variants of front kicks - all class long.  Fun class, hard work.
Friday:  We worked on Anyo Isa at Mid-Cities Arnis.

Our new Dayang in Modern Arnis, Karen Clarke (middle in red shirt).


I posted these posts of original content this week:

Monday:    KIAAA-HA! Martian Arts with Sensei Dave
Wednesday:  I am The Passenger (and the Navigator too)

I re-shared these posts:
Tuesday:  The Value of Slow
Thursday:  Same Language, Different Accent
Friday:  FACE-OFF FRIDAY: Are Rec Center Programs Less Legit?


Ran across this really wise article at Richmond Balintawak's blog that applies to all of us: The Ocean of Balintawak

Ever since I wrote Wednesday's blog post, this song has been running through my head.  The Iggy Pop version is good, but I like this one better.

An excerpt of a movie that I need to take time to watch in full.  Two minutes in is the part that literally make me laugh out loud.

+Joelle White is now Green Belt (we all know how important that belt rank seems to be)... here's her post about it: Among Friends

If I missed a neat video or article or other martial arts related thing of note, let me know in the comments!


Today is Kobudo day, and I think I'm going to have a rough class.  I'm really, really struggling with the second form we're supposed to know.  But we'll see how I do when I get there.

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, April 6, 2016

I Am The Passenger (and Navigator, too)

In Modern Arnis, we have a drill most of us refer to as "tapi-tapi".

It means "counter for counter" and it works as a semi-scripted stick fighting flow drill.  As I am not really a stick fighter, per se, I actually like to work this drill for other aspects.  These include working on thinking ahead a few moves in order to try to get an opponent where I want him, to be able to spot openings and opportunities and take advantage of them (inserting combative moves, locks, and disarms), and to play with range and interpretations of what I'm doing in order to do... other stuff.

Professor Remy Presas with Master Chuck Gauss. An example of one of the tapi-tapi drills

There's a lot there to play with and explore.  That's why it's one of my goals this year, to play it better so I can grow in Arnis.

In this drill, typically, you have a driver, and a passenger.  The driver is the one who "leads" the drill - deciding what's going to happen and when.  The passenger typically just reacts to what's going on.  Obviously, driving is the harder role - that's the "thinking ahead" part I mentioned above.  The driver has to decide which of the "pre-set" patterns to play, and what she wants to do when she wants to do it.  Passengers just respond to the stimuli the driver gives them, and doesn't have to think ahead at all.

So, the first "great leap forward" in playing tapi-tapi is being able to be a driver.

I've been working lately with our brown belts at Hidden Sword a lot on tapi-tapi and related concepts - lucky for me, given my goal for the year.  This means I have spent a lot of time in the "passenger" role.  My job is to let the driver lead me along into what he wants to do in the drill.

But... I can't just "ride" as the passenger, as part of my role is to help these brown belts learn how to drive.

In this case, I'm not just the passenger - I'm really more of a navigator.

I keep all this stuff tucked in my belt.

Part of my job working with these brown belts is to give them hints of where they can go.

Often, when they get into a rut - just doing the set patterns, not seeing where to change it up, insert, lock, disrupt,etc., I'll slow down my responses to make the hole bigger and more obvious to spot.

I'll ask them what would happen if I didn't respond the way the normal "pattern" of a drill goes, and we'll work on that for a while.

We'll talk about different ways to get me to react so that they can do the move they've planned.

We'll work on it out of sinawali, out of block-check-counter, even out of sumbrada (the "6 count drill" or "3-8-12"), and work out different ways to get to specific responses.

To continue with this metaphor I have going on here... we will try all sorts of different roads on the map to get to our destination.

There's some badass disarms around Dortmund, so I hear.
As tempting as it is sometimes to try to take over the drive - that's something I should be able to do, but I'm not great at it yet, to be honest - I have to keep focused on my job when working this drill with these students.

I am the passenger.  I have to let the driver... drive.

How do you help training partners "drive" in what you do?  I want to know in the comments!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Kiaaa-HA! Martian Arts with Sensei Dave

Here's an amusing little video from Dave Seeger.  You remember him, don't you?  He's the man who rhymed the words "ninja" and "car" without any sense of shame whatsoever.

Yep, it's the guy from from The Karate Rap.

I know Samurai Studios made a movie - Sister Sensei - which can be rented online.  I was thinking, though, if "Kung Fury" can go on Netflix (and yes, I've watched it more than once now on Netflix), why can't "Sister Sensei"?  Get on it, Seegers! 

Anyway, here's a short video I stumbled across of something incredibly silly.  Look, it made me laugh out loud once or twice, ok?

I'd love to see more martial arts oriented stuff from the Seegers, wouldn't you?

Any man who can put out material where he flying side kicks a martian with nunchucks is MY KIND OF GUY.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

My Week in Stick Chicktivity - 04/02/16

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:  A rare "normal" day of training at Hidden Sword Martial Arts.  Arnis in the morning, kobudo in the afternoon.
Sunday:  Naihanchi and tonfa practice.
Monday: Entire family was sick except for me! My house was fun.
Tuesday:  Taught class at Mid-Cities Arnis.  We covered brush grab strike (with empty hand and sticks), played some hubad-lubad, and worked on wrist releases.
Wednesday:  Class at Hidden Sword.
Thursday: Taught at Mid-Cities Arnis.  We covered Anyo Isa and worked on some various wrist releases.
Friday:  Mid-Cities Arnis (in concert with Hidden Sword Martial Arts) hosted +Datu Hartman!  It was a Panantuken seminar, covering Filipino boxing concepts.  It was two and a half hours of awesomeness, something I could study all day long if I got the chance!

The Kidlet and I work a drill together at the Datu Tim Hartman seminar Friday night.


I posted these posts of original content this week:

Monday:    Conquering Doubts (With Weapons)
Wednesday:  Three is a Magic Number
Friday: Top Five Martial Arts OF ALL TIME!

I re-shared these posts:
Tuesday:  Ranks, Loyalty Programs, Marketing, and You
Thursday: I'm a LARPer (and I'm Okay)


It being April Fool's week, there were lots of cool April Fools jokes going on out there (and some lame ones too).  +Jesse Enkamp wrote a post a few years ago for April Fool's that he re-shared this week - and some folks on Google Plus and on Facebook didn't quite get the joke.  If you missed it, here it is:   Why I'm Quitting Traditional Karate

Speaking of +Datu Hartman, we're starting to get video from the 8th Annual FMA Gathering that was held about a week ago.  Here's his demo from that gathering.

If I missed a neat video or article or other martial arts related thing of note, let me know in the comments!


Today I'm going to this seminar, and then helping out on a Modern Arnis black belt test for my friend Karen.  She's going to ROCK IT, I know it!  This is the first time I've had the opportunity to do this sort of thing since my teacher +Mark Lynn promoted us almost three years ago.  VERY EXCITING!

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!