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.