Friday, December 24, 2010

the budo of santa

judo (thanks sensei strange)....

sumo....... samurai.....

kung fu.....

Thursday, December 23, 2010

the central mountain

"The Centre where the many became one... could be found everywhere and in everything..."
--Secrets of the Samurai, Ratti/Westbrook

"Black Elk said, 'At one moment in my dream I saw myself in the central mountain of the world, and the central mountain of the world was Harney Peak in South Dakota.' And then he added immediately, 'But the central mountain is everywhere.' " -- Joseph Campbell, mythologist

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Visual Approach

In general, I spend a lot of time in my own head.

Like all things, there are pros and cons to this nature, but one of the aspects that I try to embrace to its fullest is my strong connection to visualization.

In fact, I get obsessed.

For example, every technique I do in the dojo--physically--I do a minimum of two hundred times in my mind when i'm not on the mats. Even kata, which at times I don't enjoy, plays through my head like an old TV rerun before bed or walking down the sidewalk.

Attackers, I picture endlessly; sparring matches, the same.

I even throw strikes at the heavy bag.... as i sit idly daydreaming at work.

Maybe I'm nuts. Or maybe just borderline.

Perhaps, for me, it's how my nature works.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Winter Wonderland (kind of...)

Winter is here.
It's a good reminder that you cannot take training time for granted. In the past two weeks I've missed two classes from being sick; one because a family member was sick; and one due to snow and wind that was even too much for my Canadian driving sensibilities.
I guess, as always, the outer reflects the inner.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Wheel -- Part Two

While still thinking about the cycles of learning and understanding, I came upon a good Zen saying while flipping through the Tao of Physics, a classic book by Fritjof Capra that has been around for a few decades now. To me, the saying has its parallel in the stages of technical development.

Before you study Zen, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers; while you are studying Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers; but once you have had enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and rivers again rivers.

Basically, we are all using the intellect in order to arrive at a point where it is no longer used or needed. All of our technical knowledge can be broken down this way: we see a technique being done by others, easily and effectively, all as one movement; while learning, we break the movements down into various parts such as, angles, speed, force; and then, after much practice, we come to a state of mind where there is no longer thought involved in execution.

Once again, rivers are rivers.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Wheel

More circles.

Often, our technique consists a large circle (the arch of a shoulder throw), and often, or almost always in the case of my art, it has a smaller one as well (the tight wrist lock that finishes the technique).

I see the whole experience in this way.

When we initially come to train we start recognizing patterns, and learn by returning to a technique again and again over a course of months and years. It's a big cycle of learning, where, at every level we realize that we are just at the start of a new one. It's a constant spiral of understanding that seems to never end.

And then there are the small aspects. Returning to a wrist throw and honing the way it's applied ever more sharply. Ever more carefully. This is the small circle of one's education that insists on perfecting the simplist techniques in order to perfect the larger whole of one's abilities.

It seems that it's only when both circles move in unison that we advance further our journey.

Monday, November 29, 2010


There is no winning or losing. Period.
I have heard this said many times. And it's true.
When we relinquish our competative view of the world we begin to succeed. For any one thing taken, another thing is lost.
In the end, your enemy is yourself and your own ego.
How does this fit into our studies? How does this make us more refined at our craft?
When we know we'll never beat another we know that we can never lose.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Discarding the Rules

Paying attention to rules--then discarding them--could be the key to basic self-defense.

For example, look closely at the rules of boxing, wrestling, tournament sparring, MMA, judo, and grappling. Some of these have a lot of rules, some have less. But the crucial aspect is that they all have guidelines in order to protect those involved in the match.

When I watch MMA, for example, I like to imagine how I would get free of someone's ground attack if I were truly pinned. So I look at the rules. No eye-gouging, no groin attacks, no finger breaks or wind pipe strikes. Why? Because they work--too well.

I am not saying a good triangle choke wouldn't be effective if an attacker held you on the ground, however, it might be the more difficult technique to attempt and it would take more practice, knowledge, and appropriate conditions to accomplish.

You want to get out of the situation--fast--and not leave yourself to vulnerable to an attack from any of the current assailant's friends.

Same thing goes for judo. I like judo, a lot. But there is a reason why a competition throw isn't executed after a strike to the solar plexus--it causes damage, and judo is a sport, after all.

Again, each sport has it's real world value--for sure--but often the simple and dirty stuff is just easier to teach and quicker to execute.

But then, an attacker obeys no rules either.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Balance - Mind Barriers part two

In Japanese systems such as judo, jiujitsu, and aikido, a great deal of focus is directed upon breaking the balance of an opponent. This can be done different ways, but the overall theory is similar to knocking over a large fridge, it can be easily done if the appliance is resting on just one corner of its base, rather than all four.

But I think the theory extends to the mental game as well. If an opponent's thoughts can be disrupted and put off balance, the physical struggle will be minimized. Journeyman spoke about a similar topic when confronted by an attacker--acting crazy or unpredictably--thereby confusing the assailant. But the concept is integral in other situations as well, whether it be sparring, boxing, or even grappling. In this way, breaking the balance can mean changing the focus of an opponent (feint, softening strike, disceptive telegraphing); it could mean intimidation or confidence; it could mean drawing the opponent into a vulnerable position by showing him/her an opening in your guard.
In judo, for example, it is common to push forward as if looking for a throw, and when the opponent resists and pushes back in response to this force, landing the sought after move through a pulling motion instead.
This becomes a merging of mental and physical balance breaking.
And momentum is crucial to both.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Mind Barrier

We need to get out of our own way.
This is a quick summary of philosopher Alan Watts’ discourse on the Tao Te Ching.
He compares this concept to the sense of hearing. When one hears well, he suggests, the listener does not notice a ringing inside his/her ears. When one is aware of such a sound, however, the ears themselves have impacted the individual’s ability to hear.
The mind, too, can be a barrier to itself.
He adds:
“On the deepest level, a person as a whole can get in the way of his own existence by becoming too aware of himself.”
The Tao Te Ching, he claims, can be used as a manual to fix this. He explains to his audience the concept of No-Mind, a recurring characteristic of ancient Eastern Thought and, of course, traditional martial arts.
“Being somehow vacant was the secret of the thing. The highest kind of knowledge is not Know-How, but No-How… It means that (one’s) psychic centre doesn’t get in its own way… it operates as if it wasn’t there.”
Again, a prevalent concept in martial training.
Age-old wisdom says that if we have to look for the right technique, we don’t have it. Mind-chatter is equal to hesitation.
Says the oft-quoted Morihei Ueshiba:
“Ultimately, you must forget about technique. The further you progress, the fewer teachings there are. The Great Path is really No Path.”

Friday, November 5, 2010

Training Through The Slump

Journeyman recently discussed the importance of being able to take a hit while training. It happens, unintentionally, and makes you a better student in many ways (I can safely say I know what the following attacks feel like: an elbow to the hip bone, a front kick to the lower abdomen, a spinning backfist to the nose, and a choke that makes you gag and almost pass out from dizziness.)
Anyway, read his post for more.
This concept made me think of a class I recently had where I felt a bit down on my progress. This happens in life, so I guess it makes sense it happens in the dojo as well. We get worn down, sore, sloppy, confused, impatient.
But taking a hit is important. Right?
I suppose these moments give one much to think about, and lead to a better student in the end. I was taking a hit, mentally, and it can suck just as much as a bloody nose.
Sometimes more.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I just finished Jake Adelstein's book, Tokyo Vice.
The pages are filled with the author's memories of being a crime reporter in Japan. Elaborating on his many sources within the country's police and criminal establishments, he delves deeply into Yakuza business and the underground economy of Tokyo.
I will not elaborate on the content of the book. Suffice it to say the pages serve to illustrate the highs and lows of a journalist (I was briefly in the media business and the memoir at first made me want to rush back into this field as the author invokes the wondrous rush of sourcing a good story. By the end of the book, however, I took the opposite view, and couldn't help but feel sympathy as Adelstein had in many ways let his job eclipse the importance of family and friends).
A compelling aspect of the book, however, is the author's interpretation of a culture he is immersed in, but will never be fully a part of. It is a interesting intepretation of big city Japan by an American writer, who gets in very deep over his head.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Moon in the Water

"Attain stillness while moving..."

Ah, Bruce, what sweet words you use (Bruce Lee, not Springsteen).

Anyway, this is a statement from Lee's writings, specifically a chapter on combat mobility. He goes on to use the analogy of the moon's reflection in water, still and quiet despite the rolling and breaking waves. It's good, sound, Taoist stuff, which Lee used in many of his martial analyses. He broke down technique endlessly, all the while acknowledging the crucial--yet intangible--mental elements of training that serve to elevate the skill of a martial practionioner.

I think stillness while moving transcends combat.

One who is aware of his/her surroundings while walking along a busy downtown sidewalk is Still While Moving. One who considers what repercussions his/her actions will have amongst others is Still While Moving. One who stays true to his/her honour while out working and exploring in the world is Still While Moving. And one who trains in a combative art for the sake of self-betterment and with non-aggressive goals is Still While Moving.

The moon in the river is Mind. It is the steadfastness of Spirit despite the ever-changing backdrop of the world we live in.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

the finished work....

My art instructor used to tell us that we should get used to the fact that one's original idea and the way a finished piece will actually look will always be different.
After years of toil I can now say she was right.
And my journey in martial arts is now echoing this sentiment.
There was the original inspiration, followed by a presumed idea, of what my style and knowledge should be after a certain length of time. However, reality is such that each lesson, triumph, error, and analysis have led me to the spot where I stand right now: With a much different outlook and understanding than I could have imagined prior.
Now, the finished work is far off, but the nature of my progress indicates that this pattern will persist. In this process, it seems, one is influenced by those around them as much as one's personal goals. We may get pushed in areas we wouldn't want to be pushed; counters to our favourite techniques emerge; we may work with someone who is physically larger or smaller than average. You may spar with a boxer or a goju student, leading you to adapt your style. You may have beginners that help you re-evaluate finer details as you do your part to assist them in their journey. It goes on and on.
But mainly, it's the philosophical aspects that are different. These, too, are countless. But suffice it to say, the finished piece is going to look much different than the initial concept.

Friday, October 22, 2010

really...? it's gone....?

I just worked on a post for a good deal of time and then lost it.
I am not ready to re-write it.
It was about No-Mind becoming All-Mind.
Now I have Annoyed-Mind; Lack-of-Faith-in-Technology-Mind.
Soon I will have That’s-OK-Mind, followed by Lesson-In-Patience-Mind.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

side effects: programmed reactions

I notice many quirky things I do on a day-to-day basis because of my training. Here are some of the highlights:

- I turn to look at things in cat stance (eg. if i turn in a grocery store to look at the shelf behind me i rotate in this high defensive stance)

- I often answer "Hai" instead of "Yes" when people ask me questions

- I have to stop myself from bowing when I enter or leave a room

- If i am carrying a butter knife from the drawer to my plate of toast I conceal the blade alongside my forearm (boy, is the bread surprised!)

- When i reach out to do something, say open a curtain or whatever, I automatically tuck my thumbs in or alongside my index finger so neither one is in danger of being grabbed or broken

- When I am in pain from a non-martial arts scenario, like a dentist's needle, I tap to make the discomfort stop

And I am sure there are many more. One just hopes the practical aspects of the art are as successfully programmed....

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Weapons and Empty Hands

It is often taught that a weapon can be used as an extension of empty hand technique. I think this is very true, and it often helps to think of it as such. However, I also like to think of training with a weapon as a means to give further insight into empty hand technique.
I have noticed, for example, the more I train with a yawara (small stick), the more I transfer these same techniques to my weaponless defenses (for nerve point attacks I often use a knuckle in place of the stick). It works as well with longer weapons such as a Bo staff where leg kicks can be substituted for many of the sweeps/attacks.

The bottom line is that we are always training to hit the same joints and vulnerable areas of the body regardless of what we have or do not have in our hand.

This is not to say a weapon will not be more devastating if it connects (a bullet's speed beats a straight punch any day--and a knife is sharper than a ridge hand strike), but in the end, we can use our hands and feet to emulate such attacks.

And vice vera, of course.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

the MMA Conscription....

Anyone who has watched even a scrap of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) coverage in the past year-or-so will have noticed the active recruitment drive and ad campaign being funded by the United States Marine Corps. It must be a lucrative sponsorship deal for the MMA outfit, as well as a good return on investment for the Corps, who like to keep the forces topped up at about 203 thousand active marines (40 thousand reserve -as of Oct. 2009).
There is no hiding the fact the ads are propaganda. But then, so are Bud Light commercials.
I choose to suspend moral judgment on this partnership, however, suffice it to say that I turn the channel when the UFC airs its special segments where it sends fighters from its stables to go and train with the soldiers. Personally, I find the UFC spreading its substance thin as it is, watering down fight cards while increasing its number of Pay-Per-View events. That’s my feeling, anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I likely have more in common with the marine training than the UFC, given how the style of jiu-jitsu I study overlaps greatly with special forces technique.
Anyway, here’s a snippet from an article written by Amy McCullough at Marine Corps
“The goal, Marine officials say, is to engage the UFC’s rapidly growing fan base of 17- to 24-year-olds by highlighting the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and the parallel ‘sense of shared brotherhood’ exhibited by Marines and pro fighters alike.”
This coincides with the fact the U.S.A. is experiencing immense unemployment within its borders while fighting military campaigns overseas.
“Neither small nor large organizations seem immune to the economic downturn,” says Jacquelyn S. Porth of “…With one exception: the federal government. And within the government, the U.S. armed forces, in particular, are enjoying a hiring surge.”
I guess what strikes me is how the ads link and compare the rush of organized sport to the reality of armed combat. There is, in fact, a huge difference between fighting an opponent with rules and safeguards versus killing. This concept is summed up in one of the UFC/Marine promo videos (see Our Marines Channel on when one of the military guys puts things into perspective by suggesting the UFC fighters train to fight for five rounds while the marines train to finish an enemy within five seconds.
And while the marketing campaign is aimed at that same adrenaline junkie as the UFC fan, my impression is that the professional fighters, when they trained with the soldiers, realized and respected the big difference between the two organizations.
“People always tell me how cool it is, what we do and everything else, but there’s nothing cooler than being a U.S. Marine,” says UFC prez Dana White.
Again, I won’t judge the campaign, the Marine Corps, or the UFC. The ads are just blatantly obvious, that’s all.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

finding your way...

I wouldn't study under a teacher based on mere ranking. See journeyman's post on belts/instructors here.
For me, the reason I know I'm with the right instructor is by actually experiencing his/her technique. For example, any black belt in the class may do a joint lock to me, and it's good; it's strong. But whenever my Sensei does the same lock I think to myself: "Oh yeah, that's why he's teaching... this kills..."
The black belt may have done wrist throw 100,000 times and be quite good at it. But Sensei has done it one million.
That said, I have often thought about different styles of martial arts and wondered which ones would complement my current one. But as I look at other styles I realize how much my level of interest in an art is due to the manner in which it is taught rather than solely what art it is. I've had classes in other styles but been reluctant to pursue them, not because of the art, but because of the teachers.
Likewise, I would be open to studying a style very different from my own if I felt that the instructor would translate it in a complementary way.
For now, though, I am happy. But my mind will remain open to good instruction wherever it is found.

Monday, October 4, 2010

attacking the lead arm...

There is a basic attack in fencing (epee) I was taught over a decade ago, and it is a technique we utilize in sparring quite often in the dojo.
The move is an attack whereby the defender's weapon is attacked first--cleared aside--creating an opening in which to strike (this is all done with the foil or epee in a single motion, much like a stop hit). In jiu-jitsu, we attack the opponent's lead arm the same way, clearing it to the side or down, leaving an open target for the back hand that has already moved to strike. I've been nailed by Sensei this way more than once--in the chest--and when done fast the attack is virtually unstoppable as it removes the defender's blocking hand from the equation.
Although I know little about Bruce Lee compared to his many fans, I have read on several occassions that he gave careful study to fencing tactics (JKD, like fencing, uses a strong-side-forward stance. Since my brief foray in this sport I have found I cannot get away from this).
Also in fencing, like many martial arts, one turns his/her body to the side to narrow themselves as a target (the feet are in a type of backstance). The myth goes Lee passed this along to the boxer Muhammed Ali.
Anyway, I think Lee's JKD definately shows some fencing components, and there a few of which I would encourage any student of budo to understand.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

avoiding burn-out

Monday night was an intense class of kata, stance work, and knife defenses. Last night was white belt basics, due to a new member in attendance.
And I loved both.
The change of tempo suited me well last evening, especially as I've had kata coming out the gi lately, and a chance to step back and reacquaint myself with the fundamentals of jui-jitsu was perfect. I worry when the simple aspects get lost in too much advanced technique and I am always happy to return to the basics to make sure these foundations are still intact. Or at least close to it.
As I've alluded to before, rust can form quickly, and bad habits may easily return.
I also feel intensity is a great aspect of training--going hard after what you want can be amazing--but burn-out is never far behind without a pendulum shift. I think last week, this burn-out was getting close.
But today I feel ready for more.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thoughts Along the Way

"Fill a cup to its brim and it is easily spilled...."

This is phrase from the Tao, and of course it can be applied to many things. In martial arts, I see this as learning too much at once (and retaining little). Or, memorizing many techniques but not understanding the basics. Three strong basic movements can be much more valuable to a student than 100 misunderstood ones.

"Temper a sword to its hardest and it is easily broken..."

This line goes with the previous one. To me, in budo, this would include over-training to the point of exhaustion/injury. It could also mirror the previous statement in that so many finely detailed techniques could be easily toppled by a strong foundation.

"Gravity is the source of lightness, Calm, the master of haste..."

Again, a stable base allows for flow and fluidity. This can reflect physical balance, too, in stance-work and execution. And of course, when the mind is settled, one's movements, thoughtlessly, will arrive faster and more effectively.

"To reduce someone's influence, first expand it..."

This concept may be thought of as a tool in the defensive arts such as allowing an attacker to build confidence--throw an attack--and allowing them to leave him/herself vulnerable to a counter move. Giving the opponent room in order to take it back on your own terms.

"The river carves out the valley by flowing beneath it. Thereby the river is the master of the valley..."

This one reminds me of two things. One, is when I've watched my Sensei spar against taller opponents--he bends himself even lower until the opponent is unknowingly bending as well--then Sensei quickly stands upright, now equal in height to the taller opponent, and then nails them. The other thought, of course, is the intrinsic value of letting go of ego in budo.

This last one needs no comments:

"Compassion is the finest weapon and best defence. If you would establish harmony, Compassion must surround you like a fortress. Therefore, a good soldier does not inspire fear; A good fighter does not display aggression; A good conqueror does not engage in battle; A good leader does not exercise authority. This is the value of unimportance; This is how to win the cooperation of others; This to how to build the same harmony that is in nature."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

depth perception...

A conversation was sparked maybe a week or so ago by Journeyman at Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. The subject was training while blindfolded and it brought to mind an article I read a few months ago in a martial arts magazine (which one, I don't know). Anyway, the instructor was suggesting doing technique and even light sparring with one eye closed/covered, as it really throws off one's depth perception. The idea is to simulate an injury to an eye, or more likely, a cut near it that is impairing the vision. He suggests it becomes a much different game, using one eye, and could be a useful drill to hone balance and perhaps save your butt if the situation ever arose (he's likely referring more to ring and cage fighters, although I would think it could also have defensive implications).
If you try just to close one eye and do stuff around the house you'll see what I mean. You will adapt, but it takes getting used to (and adapting fast is good defense).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hello, kata my old friend....

The summer hiatus is over.
My brief time contemplating what aspects of training I hope to focus on next in my studies was redirected this week--almost instantly--to the contemplation of sore muscles from hard training.
And I'm glad.
But it's funny, really, as I have recently thought so much about what I feel I should be working on next, that I stepped back into the dojo and was quickly reminded of the fact that it is largely Sensei who determines what I should be doing (I can surely think for myself, don't get me wrong, and I can ask questions and suggest things, but he has his opinion, too. And I value it.).

So, however reluctantly, I spent two hours of intense kata when I had in mind many other ideas of what my first class back might be like (Kata is a double-edged sword to me... I feel it's benefits but also resist it on all occasions...).
But what I decided long ago is that I am handing my trust over to my teacher. I trust him to hone what skills he thinks i need to, and also keep in mind that I am sharing his wisdom with other students that may need different areas of focus than myself. However, the message I recieved from such an intense kata class was that Sensei decided we needed a good humbling and to cast off the rust that so quicly accumulates from time off.

And believe me, in all my soreness, message recieved....

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Still Point

Meditation is an art that can be taught to a certain point, but then must be honed and personalized by the practitioner just as any hard style martial arts. While the goal for many is to find the Still Point--the realm where external senses recede and the Mind can simply be--the interpretation of the methods to attain this state remain subjective. For example, I use some basic breathing patterns and visualization techniques each time I meditate. They are old concepts likely passed down for countless generations. Yet, how I perceive these methods, especially how I personally visualize them, has become very much my own. Like budo, we adapt techniques for our own needs, yet we must remain true to the overall process involved.

An example might be a simple straight punch. One student may picture a bullet spiraling out of a rifle, generating power and momentum as it travels. Another may imagine his/her hand like Bruce Lee's idea of an iron ball attached to a flexible chain. However, while both analogies may help the student develop form and energy, the point remains that the fist, rotating, travels from point A to point B in the straightest manner possible.

The variance is imagery.

After all, the practitioner of meditation, whether following the tenants of Indian Kundalini or Chinese Tai Chi, are both attempting to reach the same pinnacle of clarity and/or illumination. Just as the Hapkido student and that of Karate are both training in a differing manner but for a similar purpose.

And within these schools, too, each individual finds his/her own way.

Monday, September 6, 2010

stealing the technique: response

I was recently teaching my son how to use a swing in our backyard and it related, in my mind, to Journeyman's post, Stealing the Technique.

In this post, which you should read, he discusses the teacher's willingness to show his/her students all the nuances of a technique, or whether to show most of it, thereby forcing the student to eventually understand the full details by close observation.

Back to the swing.

I was trying to verbally explain to my son how to build momentum by straightening his legs, and pulling back with his hands on the chains to gain speed. After a bit, it began to work, but still needs a lot of work. He's still pretty little.

What I realized by this process--the same as teaching him to ride his trike or anything similar--is that part of his understanding is going to happen by feel. His muscles will have to experience the proper form, and he will make adjustments as he learns to go higher and higher on the swing. For example, you can explain to someone how to ice skate all day long, but until the person tries to balance him/herself on the blades, it will remain an intellectual exercise. You learn balance by falling.

This is why I always want to feel a martial arts technique as an uke, first. If I can feel the result of the application, I can better copy it as tori.

A Sensei, as any teacher, can only take you so far before letting you learn from trial and error.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

nothing's new...

I was browsing through a book on ancient Greek wrestling and noticed how so little has changed in basic combat techniques. i saw many wrestling moves, judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and kick boxing. I guess while weapons may change, the human body is still proportionately the same today as it was over 2,000 years ago.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ali: The Unexpected....

I had a great conversation about Muhammad Ali's fight against George Foreman recently. If you aren't old enough to know about the Rumble in the Jungle, I recommend watching the documentary When We Were Kings by Leon Gast. Anyone interested in martial strategies should see this film.

Anyway, Foreman was the favourite, after beating the legendary Joe Frazier by knocking him down six times in two rounds. Foreman was a giant with big power. Ali was long-in-the-tooth and had recently been suspended from boxing for three years for not participating in the Vietnam conflict.

Although many fight historians focus on the strategy of Ali to let Foreman punch himself into fatigue (rope-a-dope), what I was fascinated by in the documentary was Ali's very deliberate decision to utilize a right cross as his engaging strike, instead of the boxer's higher percentage and usual first strike, the jab.

It was dangerous, as the back hand must travel farther to reach the target, and can leave you open for a counter. A jab, with its speed and accuracy, is usually used to wear down an opponent and set up for the more lethal right.

But Ali, despite being told this strategy was highly dangerous and could backfire, stuck to his guns and when he wore down poor George by pretending to be a punching bag for several rounds, he took Foreman by surprise with such an unpredictable attack. It was one of these right crosses, I believe, that initially buckled Foreman's knees and led to Ali's victory in Africa that night.


One part confidence and one part sheer unpredictability.

A lesson for anyone interested in the psychology of combat.

Oh yeah, for the record, I was only two-weeks-old when the fight took place ;)

Friday, August 27, 2010

rat armor is quite good...

OK, Sensei Strange was right, rat armor is wonderful! I also found a helmet for another dog (neverending story luck dragon?) and a cat.... oh dear..... time well spent.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

size vs skill

Two Montreal boys--UFC's Georges St.Pierre and former National Hockey League enforcer Georges Laroque settle a friendly score in a grappling match. More interesting than the footage itself is the comments made by each athlete during and after the match. St. Pierre is about 5'10" and 170 lbs. while Laroque is about 6'3" and 245 lbs.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rust Never Sleeps

Ok, i'm now twenty-some-odd days into my training hiatus. My body-pains feel the best they have in a year; i've explored some concepts of martial arts outside the dojo; and am still learning despite my break.

That said, I feel like I'm slowly rusting away.

This morning I went downstairs to smash the heavy bag a bit. I haven't done this in awhile, and just wanted to throw a few kicks and practice a few lead punches. But whoa! The bag felt twice as full as it did a month ago. My speed was fine. Technique felt good. But everything was just a touch more difficult than I remembered. Anyway, I managed to get into it, with some work, and could nearly see bits of rust landing snow-like on the basement floor by my feet.

Another 10 days left. I think I'll go back downstairs to work-out again tomorrow.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Boxer

I was given some pointers from a retired military boxer recently.

We went over stances, guards, strikes, etc. He told me his theories on fighting in the ring versus self-defense on the street, and we then went over some good martial arts strategies for facing a boxer. Namely, don't let him break my ribs and take minimal damage while I moved inside his striking range. However, the full details of these points I will not go into right now. Rather, I want to point out one of the most important things I learned from him before even a friendly sparring punch was thrown. Namely, that I knew his power and intent were there before we even took a step towards each other. His guard was tight, his face was mean, and he showed an inherent awareness of why I travelled so lightly on my front foot. He narrowed my options and had no problem with forcing the action. He was more interested in striking my ribs first than my face, claiming if "I can't breathe, well... I can't fight." And believe me, while qi studies may not be a usual component of boxing, the qi was definitely there.

A good post that ties into this is at Be Not Defeated By the Rain, here. Another, at Physics of Aiki, is here.

Anyway, I valued this former fighter's insights very much and love when I get a chance to learn new knowledge whether in my own style or not. In fact, often learning from someone outside of one's own style can be the most eye-opening.
In this instance this was certainly the case.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Reaction to Reaction Post

Today I was going to write a bit about reaction time and it looks like ol' Journeyman and i were thinking the same thing. So read his post here first.

I was actually thinking about this because Journeyman and I discuss this point a lot, and I consider him my teacher in many ways. He's a modest chap, but he has experienced much in his field of work, and I value his opinion on "real life" situations as much as anyone I've ever met. And although we break techniques down, discuss options and what not, Journeyman has always said one thing regardless of a person's level in martial arts: Do Something! Do anything! Just make sure you react.

A good example is from a punch. The attack comes, the uke blocks the strike, then fails to control the attacker. Of course control is very important, but at least you stopped the attack. You are not hurt, and have bought some time to default into plan B. Or you are asked by an instructor to do hip throw from a hook punch and you freeze up and execute body drop--it still worked, and you didn't end up a deer in the headlights. And hurt.

So, for this reason, we always execute some form of technique from an attack, even if it's not even close to what we were asked to perform. Then we laugh, the uke reloads, and we try it the way it is supposed to go.

Monday, August 9, 2010

learning cycles

Breathing is a majorly significant aspect of martial arts: both external and internal.
But it represents something more than just air intake and focus... it is a metaphor for training as a whole.

Expansion: The taking in of air. This is the time where we devote ourselves to countless hours of taking in diverse techniques, information, trials, and experiments. It is the state of mind where we devour concepts and open our beings to new insights and styles. It is the feeding of the martial body and mind, just as breath invigorates our blood and tissue.
Contraction: The exhalation. This is the moment where we clear our minds and focus our attention on all the things we've taken in, discard what is not to our liking, and fine-tune the lessons we have learned during our cycle of learning/expansion. It is the realignment, where knowledge is turned into understanding. Just as air is cleansed and filtered through our lungs, then given as oxygen molecules to fuel our system.

In yogic tradition, all things are accomplished in cycles of breath, namely the universe itself. It is considered to be in a constant state of increase and decrease, comparable to breathing. All the worlds and stars are created in this process, just as when one meditates, worlds of thought and energy emerge in our minds.

To the martial artist it is all a part of the spiral of learning.

Friday, August 6, 2010

stepping back

Just like that.... an entire month without training. No injuries, no travel plans. Just no training.
At first, when the dojo closed, this seemed like an opportunity to explore some other styles and take in some different venues to sharpen my budo senses. Then, it became a welcome hiatus in which i would attempt to heal my body's various pains and discomforts. But my plan, now, is to use the month for one main thing: To think.
This month, for me, without the physical application of jiujitsu will be a great opportunity to step back from the whirlwind of classes and focus on what I, myself, would like to improve over the next few months. What are my weaknesses right now? How can I build on strengths and become more adaptable? Is there something my body and/or mind is trying to tell me but I am moving too fast to consider?

Anyway, maybe i'm just attempting to make an undesirable situation seem better in my mind. That's fine. But I shall think hard nonetheless.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


“Any coward can fight a battle when he's sure of winning, but give me the man who has pluck to fight when he's sure of losing. That's my way, sir; and there are many victories worse than a defeat.”
—George Eliot

Friday, July 30, 2010

small circle theory

I was looking through a book I bought in a used book store a couple of years ago, The Art of Holding, by Marc Tedeschi. It’s a good book for joint locks and contains many, many images and defense sequences. Tedeschi has a hapkido background, although the book would be a good fit in any martial artist’s library, especially anyone interested in jujitsu. What I like about Tedeschi’s technique, at first glance, is his use of the small circle. It immediately made me think of the legendary Professor Wally Jay, a man who is now in his 90s, who has impacted the world of budo as much or more than any other teacher in the past century. He developed the Small Circle Jujitsu style, which is known for its simplicity and excruciating pain. Bruce Lee is one of many who took notes from Professor Wally Jay.
Anyway, it was with these thoughts that I found something in Tedeschi’s book that I had never before noticed. It was a dedication, at the beginning of the book, to none other than Professor Wally Jay, praising him as “a generous and innovative teacher who helped me perceive the common threads that run through all martial arts.”
Apparently, my thoughts weren’t far from the mark.
Here’s a bit more about Small Circle theory from Professor Leon Jay, Wally’s son, and second grandmaster of the style:
“Small Circle has been brought to kung fu, karate, martial arts of all styles and people with no martial arts background. We’re not just stuck in one place – Judo, or Ju-jitsu. It works across the board; there’s Aikido and Savate and Silat – it transcends stylistic differences.
“One of the key elements is about not having to use massive amounts of power to control people – we control them with as little effort and, therefore damage to them, as possible.
“Students take on board the 10 principles that Dad drew up and apply them to their own systems. There’s balance, avoiding head on collision of forces, mobility and stability, mental resistance to an attack, concentrating the maximum force to the smallest point, energy transfer, the two-way action of the fulcrum and lever and making a base, sticking to your opponent and feeling what he’s doing, rotational movement, and transitional flow – where you can flow from one technique into another effortlessly.” (from an interview at

Monday, July 26, 2010


“Self-delusion can take many forms… Many go on doing the techniques wrong rather than face their own delusions… This self-delusion arises because change requires effort. Many students fall into the mindset that a technique is correct because it feels comfortable.... Many go on doing the techniques wrong rather than face their own weaknesses. ” –N. Suino

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

'Lazy' Internal Arts

The concept of Hard-Soft enters many a conversation regarding martial arts technique. I’m sure I need not elaborate too much on this point—most of us understand the notion—that yin/yang enters into training in the form of rigid force and flexible movement. This, in theory, makes for well rounded budo.
But taken a step further, the concept of hard and soft can be embraced and benefited from at an even higher level: the balance between the physical and the mental. It is not by chance that many experienced external artists at some point in their journey begin to explore the path of the internal arts such as meditation, qi gong, or tai chi. I think at some point, after proficiency is achieved both technically and physically, the external art is complemented by an understanding of the inner workings.
Here is a good summary of the idea:
“‘….Some years ago, (A Sensei) chose two students who were as evenly endowed with natural talents as possible. One he trained purely on calisthenics and work-outs, taught him all the tricks. The other he gave less physical training, but made him do zazen religious meditation every day for half an hour when he awoke and again before his evening work-outs, squatting like Buddha, forcing all his internal organs into proper alignment, breathing “right down to his toes” and clearing his mind. After six months, both came up for their black belt test and he matched them.… The thinker made mincemeat of the muscle boy.’ (Jay Gluck, Zen Combat)
“The same point of view was expressed by a high-ranking instructor of (aikido)…when he warned against qualifying as “lazy” those students who devote a greater proportion of their time on the mat to sitting or standing in evident concentration, as compared to those who are busily engaged in techniques, physical exercises, and so forth. This instructor had also realized that the former could often perform better under stress than the latter because they had been working to develop those inner factors of stability, control, and power which are considered to be the necessary foundation for correct outer technique.”
–(Secrets of the Samurai, Ratti/Westbrook)

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Soldier's Journey

Claude Anshin Thomas was a young hapikdo and zen student when he was sent to fight for his country in the jungles of Vietnam.
A few years ago I stumbled upon his book, At Hell's Gate: A Soldier's Journey from War to Peace, and I still cannot get it out of my head. To sum it up, the work is a compilation of Thomas' memoirs of the pain of battle, the trauma of returning home, and his difficult search for peace in post-Vietnam America.
Explains Zen at Warrior author Brian Victoria:
"Thomas was deeply moved when (Zen master) Thich Nhat Hanh (said): 'You veterans are the light at the tip of the candle. You burn hot and bright. You understand deeply the true nature of suffering'. He also informed them that the only way to heal, to transform their suffering, was to stand face-to-face with suffering, to realise the intimate details of suffering and how their life in the present is affected by it. By doing this, the Vietnamese master explained, the veterans had the potential to become a powerful force for healing in the world." --
Since 1994, Thomas has walked over 19,000 miles as part of "peace pilgramages" and is the founder of the Web site, "A spiritually based foundation committed to ending violence by encouraging and establishing socially engaged projects in schools, communities, organizations, and families, with an emphasis on the most important ingredient, the individual." --
Anyway, the book just sticks with you in a haunting yet positive way. It gives real insight into the hardships of a modern-era warrior monk. A monk who realizes the value of peace over violence.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Struggle

"....I seek strength not to be superior to my brothers; but
to be able to fight my greatest enemy – myself....."

Chief Yellow Lark - Lakota

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Moon in Water

Technique must be unconcious.
The following quote from an ancient writer (as borrowed by Daisetz Suzuki in Zen and Japanese Culture) explains a teaching used in an old school for swordsmen.
"...The main idea is to grasp the way the moon reflects itself whenever there is a body of water... Again, it is like one moon reflecting itself in hundreds of streams: (However) the moonlight is not divided into so many shadows, but the water is there to reflect them; the moonlight remains ever the same even when there are no waters to hold its reflections."
The Zen goal of swordsmanship was to not to become entangled in the illusory conflict between two forces. Rather, it was the playing out of a unified force of nature. There existed no difference between the two combatants, their swords, or the earth itself. No warrior won and neither could lose. They became as the moon, not its reflections. The reflections were merely the technical aspects: the steps, the blocks, and strikes.
Reflects Suzuki:
"When this is not realized.... instead of flowing, as (Takuan) says, from one object to another, the mind halts and reflects on what it is going to do..... (these thoughts) must be given up so that they will not interfere with the fluidity of mentation and the lightning rapidity of action."

*Takuan Sōhō (1573–1645) was a major figure in the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. -- wiki

Sunday, July 11, 2010

the seven-iron of enlightenment

It is said that a good golfer should be able to shoot par on nearly any course using only his seven-iron and a putter. A pitcher usually sticks to a few strong pitches to retire most batters, albeit playing with the unpredictability of combinations. Likewise, many professional fighters claim to know countless techniques but prefer four or five—again in varying sequences.
So here’s the thought: which techniques are my seven-iron and putter? Which are my fastball and overhand curve?
....I get this ridiculous image in my mind of testing these options out by doing free-practice in a fairway bunker or on a lush tee box.
My training partner yelling “fore” as I go hurling through the air.

Friday, July 9, 2010

the Saloon Blues

I helped de-escalate a potential fight at a small pub recently.
I didn’t know the two people, nor was I in an irrational state from alcohol consumption. It was just about enjoying a nice evening on the patio when some inebriated twenty-year-old took offense to some another guy. It ended up being nothing, as myself and an acquaintance quickly intervened and talked the pair down. We were merely passing along the first concept of self-defense: avoid physical entanglement.
Because of this no one was injured and I don't recall seeing either one of them again.
Anyway, the evening returned to a pleasant tone and everyone went home none-the-worse except for a few hangovers that seemed to be inevitable by some of the patrons--Oh well.
I guess I write about this with no real reason except to reflect upon how much nicer the evening was without a violent eruption casting a shadow on everyone’s mood. As for my training, it was nice to see that I reacted quickly and without thought--and in the proper manner--to keep the peace.
No heroism, maybe just a selfish desire for a quiet pint of beer.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Belt and the Third Chakra

While researching ancient martial arts I came across some information about Egypt and with it some noteworthy theories and images. While the pictures speak for themselves, depicting organized systems of unarmed combat (likely for sport), the following research intrigued me despite its difficulty in varification:

The earliest representation of any kind of belt associated with the martial arts are found in Kemet (Egypt) along the banks of the Nile in tombs belonging to Prince Khety, and Prince Baquet III of the 11th and 12th dynasties (circa 2,800 B.C.). In both tombs there are two pairs of warriors facing each other. In the example from Prince Khety's tomb (left) the warrior stands with his left foot and outstretched left arm forward. From his left hand, a belt in the form of a rope dangles to the floor. This rope does not fall naturally into two strands as it normally would. The belt is interwoven. It is not simply a rope. It is the symbol "shen" which is a "coiled rope" used to represent intertwining bio-electrical, magnetic and spiritual polarities, or opposites. The opponent facing him is tying the belt around his waist… In ancient Kemet, the study of the human mind, body, and soul gave rise to the knowledge of seven energy centers located along the spinal column that rose from the base of the spine and terminated on the top of the skull. These energy centers are linked to the awakening of one's spiritual powers. These power centers in India are known as "chakras".... Starting from the base of the spine, the first three (lower) chakras) represent one's animal nature while the remaining four (higher chakras) represent one's higher spiritual nature... The tying of the belt at the third chakra was a symbolic act meant to remind the student that training was for the purpose of developing the kundalini, or spiritual life force, from it's lower to its highest point along the spine. In ancient Kemet, belts had nothing to do with rank and achievement in the outward sense. The true meaning of the belt is lost today among practitioners of the so-called martial arts who have actually reversed the original intent, and use the belt to focus on the lower nature of ego instead of a higher nature which leads to enlightenment.”
This is from The African Origin and Meaning of the Belt in Martial Arts by Nijel BPG, author of Nuba Wrestling--The Original Art. To me, the concept is consistent with the Asian schools of Chi cultivation and the non-duality theory of Zen.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

samurai poets

famous centuries-old verse by the samurai Masahide:

Barn's burnt down --

now I can see the moon!