Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hara/Tanden Training.

Early morning training is not as intense today, but definitely allows for some deeper reflection on certain aspects.
It is not about doing as much as can be done in the amount of time you have given yourself to do it, but to do what you can with a certain quality and attention to detail, no matter how small, and not even as many times as you can do a specific thing, but focusing on those select things across the board.

Practiced some Sanchin after doing some Taiso Daruma and focused on bringing alignment from the ground up rather than focusing tension to the ground, as seems to be the case when many approach the practice of Sanchin.
This focus should be evident in the way the center moves, Hara/Tanden/Dan Tien is not static, it does not remain on a plain except with those movements that require it to do so.

Sanchin Kata appears, on the surface, to be the simplest of Karate Kata, but when punching, when stepping, how is your center moving? How is your body aligning? In which directions? How is Muchimi working into things? Chinkuchi?
Taking this a step further, when you kick, how are the mechanics working? Are you just swinging your hips and throwing your kick out there with the only real attention being placed on making sure the toes are curled back and you are kicking with the ball of your foot?
How about focusing it more as a step and focusing more on aligning from, and driving from, that anchored/posted leg? THIS principle alone changes the whole game, especially when you place your focus through the movement of the Hara/Tanden (Part of Gamaku principle).

What about Mawashi Uke/Tora Guchi? This involves the hands moving in opposite directions and the same time, while also moving in the same direction at the same time.
A lot of Karateka simple go through the motions on this one and do not pay attention to the actual principles NOR their Hara/Tanden as they seem to be preoccupied with the final placement of the hands/arms themselves and not the whole body necessarily (which is okay because that is part of the learning process, but you have to move to the next level at some point).
When moving in this do you draw in and down? Do you move your Hara/Tanden up and back as you draw in and circle? Do you move through your Hara/Tanden simultaneously out and down/out and up as you push out (one hand moving towards the ground, the other out and up towards the sky)? Is the movement originating more in your midsection or is it originating from the ground and moving THROUGH your Hara/Tanden?

My Sensei once came to Spokane and taught me Kata Shisochin, this was more than a few years ago, and he said to pretend you did not have an arm, to pretend your fists were attached directly to your Hara/Tanden and to punch from there with your whole body.
I would take this further and say to pretend the whole Earth is your root and your Hara/Tanden is the conduit to which your fists,feet,spine, and head are attached as alignment points/appendages.
It is very hard to put into words, but those who know will know and strive to apply these and may even be able to convey them with better words than I can.

I was once watching a program called 'Aikido-The Real Truth' where an experienced Champion Fighter in Kyokushin Karate basically scoffed at the art of Aikido as new-age mumbo-jumbo and went so far as to say it would not work on him.
He sent his two most senior Students to an experienced Aikidoka to test it out and when they came back saying they had basically gotten their asses kicked he had to go and experience this for himself.
His experience was no different from theirs and he could not believe it himself... When he brought in some scientists to basically capture the movements of the Aikido Sensei on stop-motion it showed that he moved with his center VERY efficiently and NOT JUST on a single plain, but utilized full range of motion whereas the Karateka did not, it was all very flat, the center only moved forwards and back and the body rotated around it in a very rigid manner.

I am also an Aikidoka, for a very long time I have studied that art and worked to understand those principles and how they worked.
My Aikido Sensei is not the conventional Aikido Sensei; we would go out into the woods and train, one day we spent thirteen hours on a single movement, a single throw/projection, in the woods, taking falls on sticks and rocks, focusing on the footwork, focusing on alignment, focusing on the center, focusing on movement through the center.
These are not just meant to be confined to one art, Aikido is more than an art, it is a set of principles and these should be understood in order to see how they apply to each person.

Some food for thought.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Alignment and Tactical Principles - Effective One Inch Punch.

There is some speculation regarding the 'One Inch Punch' that was made famous by Bruce Lee in a demonstration at a tournament.
There is quite a lot of mysticism surrounding much of the arts and, unfortunately, that may be because of the language barrier, someone does not know how to explain something, or someone simply does not know how to do something properly.

There is a difference between hitting and hitting hard, the difference lay in mechanics. Tyson is not just a hard hitter, he maintains perfect alignment in each punch in order to hit effectively and, thus, really really friggin' hard.
In Okinawan systems we call this Atifa or alignment and the final transference happens at the end with a quick tension which, in Okinawan systems, is called Chinkuchi.
Another part of this is focused in, not just the hips, but the entire core, which can be termed Gamaku, although Gamaku refers primarily to the hips, or Koshi/Tanden.

The head must be up, chin tucked, spine straight and aligned with the legs, through the feet, into the ground, the solar plexus must be closed, hips tilted slighter forward/upward.
Power is generated from the ground up into the opponent and punches are supposed to generate hydro-static shock that plays on the fact that the Human Body is primarily made of water, thus a punch is not just a push, it has a purpose, it has an exact function.
Some refer to this as Fa Jing, but to many that term has quite a bit of mysticism surrounding it, basically all it means is hydrostatic shock off of techniques that are meant to work in such a way... A different type of Jing applies to smashing techniques, like elbow strikes.

Once a person peels away all the fluff of techniques names and starts looking at the bigger picture from the perspective of 'Principles' then they no longer see a whole slew of hundreds of different techniques, but variations on things like 'Hydrostatic Shock' and 'Smashing' and 'Pushing' and 'Pulling,' ect.
From there they can see the various ways in which to align for effective power generation.

Sensei once talked about the old saying that 'a punch is just a punch until it is no longer a punch and then it is a punch again,' it rings true, but in a different way than expected.
This is why we spend hours upon hours doing Sanchin and applying the principles learned from Sanchin to the rest of our Kata, at least in Goju Ryu.

Seeing Through Makkyo.

When a person enters the Dojo they usually do so with something in mind, some preconceived notion shaped by outer stimuli such as movies, cartoons, television shows, even books and games.
The public has this idea that because someone has a 'black belt' they are somehow a phenom fighter and also have some mystical wisdom and calm they are expected to wear about them at all times.

Sensei used to tell me to leave my preconceived notions at the door and that it was his job to shatter those notions along with the person that had brought them - to make the person go away.
It was a constant test of worthiness where you were given part of the puzzle and expected to present the rest thus jamming your foot in the proverbial door before the Teacher could close it in your face and laugh at you from the other side.

So we carry these notions with us when we come to training and carry some idea of ourselves with us when we go about our day.
What sort of notions we carry with us are to be considered as Makkyo, illusory, without substance, just a mirage, an image in the clouds, a distraction without purpose causing us to forget the real purpose of what we are doing, whether it be training or something else.

Collecting Techniques is a form of Makkyo, just as attaching importance to one 'style' or 'school' or 'lineage' as opposed to another, distracting from the true underlying essence... The practice itself.
Most come to training thinking it will, in some way, make them a badass, that they will learn a bazillion techniques and be able to flip someone and kill them with their pinkey finger.
What is the point of that? If such a thing were actually possible, what would be the point of that? Power? Ego?
The fact is that hurting is easy and a person really only needs about five 'techniques' in order to be very effective at it (in point of fact there are only variations on maybe five or six principle movements in the Martial Arts).
The hard part is in taking practice a little deeper and making yourself a little better as a person at the end of the day, for the sake of helping people.

Even then, maybe that is nothing more than another notion that could use some breaking down as it can also serve as a distraction.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Force Fed Citizen Patrols.

A few years ago I attended a seminar with some of the greatest Martial Arts and Self Defense Instructors in the world, including Rory Miller, Marc MacYoung, Al Peasland and Iain Abernethy, called Crossing the Pond Martial XPO, put on by Kris Wilder Sensei and West Seattle Karate.
Marc MacYoung can be found on an Episode of Pen and Teller's 'Bullshit' where they covered Martial Arts, a great Episode and some great insights into the fact that most of the ideas and notions we get from our training are, just that, pure Bullshit.
Rory Miller is an expert on Violence in a way that most cannot even fathom and he often echoes this sentiment when he talks about the stories we tell ourselves, stories that are often shattered in the aftermath of real Violence and the fact that most people do not have to put their stories to the test by facing said Violence, but when they do it can be devastating.

There are many other experts in the world that one can look up and gain some sort of second hand insight if one seeks to prepare oneself.
Most simply ignore the ugly truth of Violence, they fail to see exactly where their training is lacking and the fact that all training is, ultimately, flawed... Why? Because it can never be anything more than training, with safeties to guarantee no one is injured.
Experience is not training and training does not yield much in the way of experience and a person needs to understand and acknowledge this difference if their training to be of any benefit at all.

There is a group of people that volunteer to perform patrols late at night throughout the city, commendable and admirable, I agree with it to a certain extent, but certainly have my concerns, especially when I found out one such group (on their first patrol ever) sought to interrupt some suspicious activity right across the street from my bedroom window.
Did they know what was going on? Did they have inside information and foreknowledge as to whether or not these people had guns or any type of weapon for that matter? NO!!!
Are any of these people trained Police? Do they have Police Tactics training? The 'Commander' of this particular Patrol is a young guy who teaches Wing Chun farther up the road, but that is hardly Police training and hardly qualifies anyone to initiate such actions.
I may be reading into this, maybe they did not initiate anything, maybe they just sat and watched, but I was informed these groups do not just sit and watch, and they do not run... THAT is scary.

My concerns are that my young daughter sleeps in that room and, while thick, the walls of these apartments, and many apartments and houses for that matter, are not solid, they do not stop stray bullets, and some guy who is overt, does not just sit and watch, and does not run, comes up on some drug dealer in the late night or wee hours of the morning, seems a bit sketchy.
The fact that this group is lead by a guy who seems to think he is trained for this sort of thing because of his Martial Arts background and whatever else he may have is not comforting in the least and may actually do more harm than good if the guy sees something and does not back down, with a lack of experience, getting himself and other people hurt or killed in the process.

I have been in situations where I have had to stand my ground because other people have counted on me and the aftermath was never pretty, never anything to brag about, I almost quit training because I wanted NOTHING to do with violence or the promotion of violence... I still do not think it is wise to play with fire if you have never been burned, and even then, you gain a quick respect for the flame.
What is even more frightening is that, when inquiring as to this person's experience with such things, I was told, basically, that it was none of my business and, by others, to shut my mouth regarding my concerns... And these people are patrolling the area without consent of the area itself.

When asked to respect the area and the people that live here by giving for-warning and seeking out some contact within the area itself, my reason being that having more witnesses is better and having backup that lives in the area is best, I was basically told this did not have to be respected.
I am pretty sure one of them drives a huge truck and made a point to park by the Park and rev their engine in order to make a point, sitting there for a few minutes before driving off, but that could just be me.
One of them has reached out and seems to be pretty respectful, but there seems to be a bit of animosity of some sort among others with the concerns I have raised.
At one point I had even asked to just leave the neighborhood watch up to those that lived in the neighborhood, but was told they did not have to do this either, so basically there is no choice in the matter for the people here.

I would love to get involved with neighborhood and community safety on a wider scale, but this is ridiculous, and what is more they had been operating under the assumption that Washington is a Stand Your Ground State, which it is not, it is a Castle Law and Necessary Force State.
Some of these people did not even know what that meant and thought they could just go out and get involved in Crime Stopping Violence if need be, without consequences.

I was invited out on a Patrol tonight, but had to decline because the Fiance is not feeling well and we have our small daughter, plus I do not know these people yet.
This is why, if you are teaching a Martial Art or Self Defense of ANY KIND, it is a good idea to include more than just physical techniques. 
The Wing Chun Instructor in question is also now offering discounts to all members of this Citizen Patrol Volunteer Program and is passing it off as 'Self Defense' like most, more of a commercial opportunity in that regard and, perhaps, well-meaning, but more commercial.

I guess what bothered me the most is A) if someone is patrolling the area where my family lives I would like to know who that person is and B) if that person is properly trained, not Kung Fu trained, I need to know they are not going to do something extremely stupid.
They need to know the difference between training and reality and they need to respect the area in which they are operating so that the area (ie, its' people) can respect them and back them up, otherwise it is not going to work.
They also need to have some set boundaries and procedures, they cannot just say 'We don't run' because that qualifies as doing something extremely stupid. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Mind, Body, Spirit, Rhythm.

Many discuss and teach techniques and get down on this person or that person for not doing a technique 'as the founder taught' when, in fact, the founder may have taught them in that way because that is the way they needed to be taught in order to learn it for themselves.
In the end it is more about mechanics that absolutes, and most times the mechanics themselves have become flawed due to laziness, human error, ect.

I remember learning the fine points of Kata from my Sensei, spending an entire class on a single movement just to get everything correct, right down to the timing and rhythm within the movement itself.
If it were only about learning a technique in a textbook of techniques then this would not be necessary, only learning the mechanics would matter, so even the idea of it being about mechanics is not entirely true.
I would go through and feel as though it were correct only to have to go through the sequence again, 'No,' he would say, 'like this!'
There is a reason for everything.

It is not about learning a bazillion techniques to counter a bazillion attacks, which is impossible, more about learning what lay beneath... Physically, mentally, emotionally, and rhythmically.
It is more about the idea, the concept, than some concrete thing.
Certainly one can escape from a headlock in a hundred different ways, but there is one way that works extremely well for you, why bother with the rest?? Maybe two more, just for variation on the one, but it still goes back to that one.
In Kata there is Shuto, but the mechanics are no different than a Gedan Barai to the side, just sweeping downward with a closed fist rather than an open hand, really does not matter, the principles, the mechanics, the rhythm, it is all the same.
An Art is really nothing more than a Strategy with Tactics built around that Strategy in such a way as to allow for many ways to a single end, but utilizing the most direct means, which are nothing more than variations off of maybe six tactics (movements segments rather than individual techniques).

In Goju Ryu we have a core of twelve Kata, two of which are for training internal principles, including body mechanics, the rest are simply applying these principles and are actually variations on, again, maybe six actual movement segments.
When things become down and dirty and all bets are off the stylistic nature of the training is left behind and the principles/concepts themselves take over in a more fluid and direct manner, the true nature of the beast is revealed.
People tend to forget this when they speak of usefulness and uselessness because they have not looked deeper into things, they only see the superficial.

Sensei once said that the journey was like driving in the dark with no headlights, but trusting... For what that is worth, it has been a long journey, and continues to confuse and confound.

Fine Points of Awareness.

Notice the bite of the bitter cold sink in as you step onto the curb, a reminder, awaken to the world around you, before you, even behind you, above you, and beneath you.
How often is anyone aware of what goes on around them? Truly aware of the person watching them, studying them from across the room, across the street, across the complex, or from the front of the city bus??
Do they notice the guy afar with constant traffic, exchanging words and gestures for a few seconds before one set of people leave and another arrives, constantly checking his six, eyes darting here and there?? Obviously THAT guy is aware, but how many others even take notice?
How long does it take you to notice a person has just walked up and stood next to you?? How many exits do you count in a building? How many avenues of escape do you have?? Did you even take notice??

How many Dojo include drills on this?? Little games to test this sort of 'situational awareness' in order to hone in on subtle and not-so-subtle behaviors, patterns, and breaches in patterns (anomalies)??
It has been an ongoing practice of mine to be aware of everything around me, to know who is in my vicinity and who is going to be in my vicinity within the next few seconds, or who has exited my vicinity.
What I have gathered from this day to day practice is that most are unaware of anything that goes on around them because they are buried in their cell phones, chatting with their friends, completely oblivious to everything and everyone around them until they suddenly, and quite surprisingly to them, find it in their direct line of sight.

This is a major problem, especially when these figures include members of the Martial Arts Community, members of the Security Patrol meant to keep an eye on property and people, even members of Law Enforcement as they go about their business, but less so in this area.
The things you notice when you start to pay attention, truly pay attention, will astound you. For one, people that you notice are aware tend to become aware of you and tend to avoid you, eye contact is broken as they sweep their gaze somewhere else because you are, like them, aware... This means you are no longer an easy mark, if that was their intention, and more often than not that was exactly their intention.

Not only do you become more aware, you begin to project more, you hold your head up, you feel bigger and, therefor, you look bigger, you ARE bigger.
With this comes a sense of groundedness, you no longer need to seek to constantly move from your center because you are already centered, you move AS your center and this, too, projects outward... The experienced feel this much in the same way animals feel the presence of an Alpha... Exactly the same way.

Can you establish a baseline in any given area in order to become aware of patterns that surround you and, thus, pick out the anomalies in order to gain early insight into what is going on??
A person might act interested in something, but which way are their feet and their mannerisms pointing?? Are they just feigning interest in one thing in an attempt to hide their true intentions and their true target?? Their body language cannot conceal their intent for very long.

These are things to think about the next time you think you are a killer-kung-fu-hero as you train in the Dojo, Dojang, Kwoon or whatever it is you like to call that special place.
This is not to get down on anyone for training, quite the contrary, it is meant to bring awareness to an extra layer that can further enrich said training and bring it closer to operational status.

In the old days Sensei would have those of us who were Seniors remain vigilant for teaching opportunities, we called them openings, and taking an opening to teach a lesson was called a 'cut.'
It was a game for us, but it taught us to remain on guard, to never do anything half-assed, to always follow through and, when an opening was discovered and we received a cut, to improve upon ourselves by never allowing ourselves to present such an opening in the future.
Outside the Dojo we can all be friends, but on the Dojo Floor we are training, we are seeking openings and seeking to eliminate our own openings, on all levels, so that we have none left when we are out on our own facing down the cold on the curb and the person studying us from across the street.