Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Habits and Choices

Recently I attended a seminar of a different (but related) Filipino martial arts system, Balintawak.

It was awesome, and it really got me thinking a lot about what I do and why I do what I do.

This is actually sort of my default mode, soooooo...

One thing I really liked about how they do things is where they position their empty hand when they have a single stick.  This is called the "live hand" and its job is to monitor, to trap, to grab, to pass... it does a lot of work.

When I saw how they hold their live hand ready for deployment, I really liked it, and it got me thinking that it's something I'd like to adopt.

The problem is that it means I have to work hard on breaking a habit I've developed over the last nine years of playing Arnis.

This is a not a trivial problem. Sure, it can be done - and I plan to - but it won't be easy and it will take me some time to override my current habit.  Right now, I don't have to think much about my live hand.  To develop the new position, I have to give it more attention than usual.

This is what we do in the martial arts (and really, in any other skill we develop).  We create habits so that we don't have to think about them.  They become what we call "muscle memory" because we've done them so much.

For example, most of you reading this do some sort of a front stance in your style.  If I were to tell you to get up and drop into your front stance right now, you wouldn't have to think about all the things that go into your style's front stance. You don't have to think about foot placement or which way your hips should be pointing or where your hands go or how your knees should be positioned.

You just do it, because you've done it so often you don't have to actively, consciously think about it at all.

Habits are helpful and necessary, but sometimes, they force us into certain positions that limit our options.  Take that front stance.

We use a "front" stance (sorta) in kobudo.  But it's not the squared up version most of my taekwondo and karate friends use.  It's what I call a bladed stance (I'm sure it has a Japanese name but heck if I know what it is - tell me if you know it, thanks!).

This stance is like a front stance but with the feet nearly lined up and the hips turned at a 45 degree angle.  We use it for a lot of reasons, but primarily it makes the body a smaller target and it helps longer weapons clear the hips.

See the hips and back foot position? That's not a "front stance". Buy the video here.

It's tough for my friends in my kobudo class, because their habit is the classic empty hand front stance (hips and shoulders squared to the front), which is not helpful for them in kobudo.  They have to learn to choose which version of the front stance to use.

This is not a huge difference, in the scheme of things.  I think that's why it's so difficult to make the change.  It's similar to the struggles people have when they already have skill in one art and then study a different one - the best practice of the new art is similar, but often just different enough, that it's harder to conform to the new standard than it is for untrained newbies.

The new live hand position is only a matter of a few inches and a slight change in hand position. It's similar, but different.  And yes, it's not easy, even when I'm thinking really hard about it!

So why am I adopting this new position with my live hand?

It's not like my old position is bad or wrong or dangerous or uncommon.  I'm not even studying Balintawak or trying to learn to fight they way they do - I'm happy being a Presas Arnis player and I like what I do already.  So what's the point of this (kinda difficult) change?

I'm going to change because the new position gives me more options to choose what to do next. I won't be trapped into specific responses because my live hand can't get there to do what I want to do next.

Of course, the new habit involves some risks I didn't have before, and I have to be aware of those problems. But I think the expansion of responses is worth the risk.

Time to make my live hand... more alive.

Tell us about a time you had to override an old habit to create a new one. Any tips for helping the process move along? Were you ever unable to create a new habit?  Let us know in the comments!