Sunday, September 30, 2007

More Seminar notes

"He Who Shall Not Be Named" (HWSNBN) used one of his trademark sayings while illustrating a point at his recent seminar at our dojo. HWSNBN said, for the umpteenth time in my memory, "If your hands are touching the opponent, they should be causing pain."

The first time I heard him provide this advice, HWSNBN was talking about kyusho, or pressure points. This, of course, made a good deal of common sense. Unfortunately, this context limited my understanding of what he was saying for many years.

This time around, HWSNBN used it under unusual circumstances, so let me set the scene...

HWSNBN was working through the shoden scroll of Kukishinden Ryu. He had just finished saying that the important part was the "bit at the end" where the Tori "kills" Uke by dropping the poor victim using the power of the legs. Everything else was "not important," at least until he saw us screwing up the introductory exchange of strikes and counterstrikes. HWSNBN stopped the class and suddenly the initial counterstrikes by Tori became very mportant. As he hit Uke's arms, he uttered his famous, "If your hands are touching the opponent, they should be causing pain."

When advanced martial artists teach, they don't always mean exactly what they say -- that is, they mean each word they use, but they often mean much more than they are letting on.

In this case, HWSNBN chose those words as a reflection of his attitude and experience regarding fighting. As I've said before, this is a warrior art. That means we do not fight for fun or sport; when we fight, it is combat and lives are on the line. (Well, let's say 99 time out of 100, there is always the chance we need to escort freaky Uncle Charlie out of the Family Reunion after having a few too many.) Under those circumstances, we should be seeking to cause pain, or really damage, every time we touch the opponent. So yes, HWSNBN meant what he said.

With the counterstrikes, HWSNBN wanted us to understand that each strike as intended to be potentially decisive in and of itself. We are not just tapping the Uke to go through the motions. We are not throwing up less-than-optimal blocks that do nothing to dissuade our attacker. Each counterstrike must be landed with the precision and power to hurt the Uke and convince him to bother somebody else.

But here is the part where he meant more... A few minutes later, a Kukishinden kata was initiated with a lapel grab. Tori's initial response is to cover the grabbing hand. (As an aside, my training partner raised some questions about the historical method of covering the grab in Kukishinden Ryu. Mmmm, interesting esoterica...) This cover does not really appear to hurt Uke, yet our hand is touching our opponent.

Certainly, there are options to inflict a little pain with the cover. But there are other reasons not to do so. The kata finishes by turning the cover into an omote gyaky outside wrist throw. If we were to inflict pain too early, Uke might retract his hand and restart the fight with a new technique and we would have to counter all over again. No, better to ride the technique we've got.

So was HWSNBN wrong? No. What I think he is really trying to say is that whenever we move in relation to the opponent, it should cause some effect. In the vast majority of circumstances we will want to be causing damage and pain to the opponent when we move, but no matter what, we want to be doing something to the opponent, not wasting movement.

So, just what is covering the hand really doing to the opponent who grabs my lapel? Quite a lot actually. First, I'm preventing his ability to punch into my shoulder with that hand. Second, I'm trapping his hand against my body, which does at least three things: it sets the distance between us and allows me to dictate the distance for the next beat or two, and it starts the outside wrist throw mechanics. The simple cover may not look like much, but it causes an Effect on the opponent.

What we're really talking about is efficient movement. "If you move in relation to the opponent, you should be affecting him in some way" = "If you hands are touching the opponent, they should be causing pain." This might seem like common sense in martial arts, but I've seen (and perpetrated) many instances of wasted movement.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More Megaforce Video

BBC recently released this awesome footage of the UK contribution to the Global International Joint Operating Entity known as Megaforce.

Undercover Megaforce.

More footage as it becomes available...

Too true.

"America is not at war. The United States Marine Corps is at war; America is at the mall."

Sunday, September 23, 2007


A what?
A Baneblade. This is a tank from the fictional Warhammer 40K Universe. Man does not live on martial arts alone. In case you forgot, I spend some downtime building models and painting them up. While a hardcore, hard charging type would argue this steals valuable training time, I say that even Musashi carved statues of Kwannon, Goddess of Mercy, and painted. I find this activity relaxes and centers me, and acts almost like meditation.

Anyway, the big news in the 40K world is "Apocalypse," a rules supplement allowing for games that would literally take up your living room floor. Hundreds, if not thousands of little toy soldiers on each side are the norm in these games. In this scale game, super-heavy armor comes into play. The Baneblade is the standard super-heavy in the game, and they are releasing an official, plastic model

Shown here are various previous incarnations of the Baneblade.

These are big models.

Megan Fox

How Long to Mastery?

I had the opportunity yesterday to train at a seminar taught by my instructor's teacher, He Who Shall Remain Nameless (HWSRN).

I have a few new readers here since the last time I mentioned HWSRN. Let me assure you that HWSRN is a well-known Bujinkan shihan who has appeared in all the right mainstream martial arts magazines. My posts are suppossed to be about training, not who I do or do not know, and I do not measure my progress simply by who I have or have not trained with.

Anyway, this promised to be a good class as I had the second good fortune to run into one of my old instructors (Let's call him "Rock'n'roll" for his former haircut...) who was willing to work with me for the afternoon.

It didn't take too long working with Rock'n'roll to be reminded of an old martial arts story...
In the story, a young man comes to a new teacher and says that he wants to begin training in martial arts right away. "Certainly," replies the teacher. "How long will it take to master your art?" asks the young man. "Master? Oh, probably ten years," said the teacher.
"Ten years? That's way too long. What if I promise to work twice as hard?" said the young man.
"Oh. If you're willing to work twice as hard than you should master it in twenty years," said the teacher.
And that was my problem. I was trying way too hard. And before you know it, Rock'n'roll was critiquing the same weaknesses in my skill that he critiqued the last time I saw him, three years ago. My angling was off, my kamae was weak, my breathing was bad... It got so bad, I was having trouble executing basic locks and throws.

I'd be lying to say it didn't piss me off. But I can only be made at myself, not Rock'n'roll. Besides, this is why I wanted to train with him -- to test myself and see how I'd progressed.
I left having mixed feelings about my afternoon of training. I've felt like I have put together many pieces of the puzzle in my training this year. I've felt real progress. But I spent last night at home nursing a mildly bruised ego and carefully evaluating my progress, not just in light of one stressful afternoon, but other recent tests.
But that's ok; this is what real training is about. I'll be in class on Monday night.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fellow blogger

My research, particularly on knife work, has recently turned to Filipino Martial Arts. I ran across this blog, which seems to have some very interesting information. I wanted to bring it to my reader's attention.

Training for Life

One of my fellow students cornered me recently with the question, "How much outside training do you do?" From his reaction to my standard response, "That depends on what you define as 'training'," I could tell he was - as usual for him - not interested in a "BS" response. He meant physical TRAINING!

As I've mentioned recently here, my core training routine is three classes a week, roughly 3-4 hours of mat time. I run three days a week. I try to get in roughly 50 push-ups and sit-ups a day (but I admit to being inconsistent on this). I park far from my office and mark a point of walking the half-mile or so into the building and up the stairs to my office. I also try to stay hydrated.
For the most part my "outside" training is focused on fitness maintenance. I'm not really a weight-lifting guy. And one constant weak spot is stretching. While it's easy to pump-out push-ups and sit-ups inside 15 minutes (and throw some other exercises in for variety and to hit other muscle groups), stretching requires a commitment of time I have real trouoble finding. Finding the time for running required the sacrifice of sleep as it was.
I have been lucky, at certain times, to have various people in my life who were also martial artistss interested in cross-training. So there have been times when I did supplement dojo time with outside training in actual techniques. There have also been times when I was learning particular new skills when I devoted significant outside time to drilling the actions. The big example I recall was learning the Sanshin no Kata. Later, when I had a lightbulb moment that lead me to another, deeper level of understanding of the sanshin, I spent more time training the kata.

This is not meant to contradict the sage -- and correct -- advice provided by many a Bujinkan teacher to practice your techniques everyday and focus on Sanshin no kata and Kihon Happo. I'm just a realist about time management. If I'm going to do justice to all my responsibilities, I simply can't do everything. Even when I know I should.
Besides, there's more to my fellow student's question than the no-nonsense answer he thought he wanted. Physical training on a schedule is only part of the equation of "outside" training...

I take the attitude that I'm always training.
Some of that training is, in fact, physical, just not the kind of physical training people generally recognize.

Take, for example, my point about walking to the office... I'm not just walking to get my heart rate up. I'm trying to smooth out my motion. I'm conscious of walking with proper taijutsu. Yes, there is a proper way to walk. I do not want to waste motion bobbing up and down as I move forward. I try to put my foot down correctly to shift my weight forward properly, not fall forward like so many people do. I try to move as if a string attached to my center was pulling me forward. How successful am I? Well, I'm still training my walk -- and I still feel this training is important. On the other hand, my four cats -- who like to lounge around under foot, in the dark -- are very glad I do not just stomp around the house.

I try to be conscious of my movements even in the little things to keep me safe from the kinds of little bumps and bruises that most of us encounter in everyday life. This too is taijutsu.
Take, for example, a public rest room. These have "blind doors" with no window to warn you someone is on the other side. People frequently burst open the door -- deep within their own thoughts, and careless that someone else might be on the other side.

This too provides a moment to practice. Don't be careless yourself. First, see if you can sense, or feel, someone on the other side of the door. Don't open the door yourself in a way that could hurt another person. Make sure you approach the door in a manner that keeps you safe from being struck by wildly swung door. As you reach out for the door, are your fingers safe from being jammed by a sudden burst of the door?

If you can do all these things -- in everyday life -- then you are practicing taijutsu outside the dojo. And if you can make your safe approach to the public rest room appear completely natural, then you are practicing ninjutsu.
And, of course, there is training in a non-physical -- but still vitally important -- sense.
Ever been suddenly called in to brief the boss on a project and gotten nervous? Calming yourself down is training. Ever get really angry in traffic? Regaining your mental center is also training. You must learn to maintain control over yourself in any situation, especially stressful ones. Musashi said that we should maintain the same mental outlook whether we are involved in a duel to the death, or painting a a sumi-e picture.
Reading -- research -- is also very important to progress. I have a huge martial arts library. Now, you can't learn a martial art from a book, but you can still learn a lot about martial arts context. You can learn philosophy, you can glimpse similarities between arts, you can learn about the lives of famous martial artists and warriors, history, weapons, and equipment. Having this kind of knowledge can immensly inform your training.

The same goes for watching. I also have a number of martial arts DVDs and Tapes. And we are now seeing an explosion of martial arts on TV, both on reality shows and in dramas. Yes, watching evem a choreographed fight in a movie can be training.
This, however, is not a call to grab a six-pack and cheetos bag to settle into a long marathon of UFC reruns. You have to be actively engaged in reading or watching. then you have to be willing to take your insight onto the mat dring your regular practice to test what you have learned.

If you're getting the sense that "training" is more than perfecting a stepping straight punch, heel stomp kick, or hip throw: you're right.

Everything is training.


Thank goodness the Cold War is over and the Russians are our friends now.

What's that? The news? No, I haven't really been watching the international news why? I'm sorry, did you say "the Father of All Bombs?"

It's not the Russian bombs that worry me... It's the commandos...

Now, I'm no expert on the modern Russian military, but I know enough to provide an overview of this interesting bunch. "Spetsnaz" is an inclusive term tha is a Russian acronym of two words roughly translating as "Special Purpose." An equivalent term for us in the West might be "SWAT." Many different units in the Russian military, law enforcement, and intelligence organizations carry the designator "Spetsnaz." There is no single "Spetsnaz" unit. Some Spetsnaz units are covert, black ops types like our own Delta or SEALs. Others are assault formations like our Rangers. Others are police teams with paramilitary roles. These aren't just SWAT teams, but whole battalions of civil troops deployed as border patrols or riot police, or anti-terror squads.

What they all share is an ability to blow stuff up and the lack of subtlty that is a Russian hallmark. Most Spetsnaz feel a sledgehammer will do, even if a scalpel might be ideal.

From deep in the Cold War emerges a tradition of presenting Spetsnaz as bezerk supermen and brutal thugs with extensive training. As with any legend there is some truth to some stories... but how much truth, and which stories?

Reportedly, the Spetsnaz are all issued a very solid entrenching tool and are taught to use this mini-shovel for all kinds of survival purposes. Graduation in this educational block comes when the Spetsnaz soldier is dumped into a pit with wild dogs with only his e-tool for defense. Either the man or the dogs leave the pit.

Spetsnaz are said to be martial arts masters of secret traditional Russian techniques of unarmed combat: Sambo, and a little something known today as "Systema." Plenty of propaganda photos of high-kicking Russiand, and board-breaking stunts exist. Since the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, a slew of Russian Emigres have opened martial arts schools in the West claiming to share these once secret techniques.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007