Friday, March 25, 2011

the door

Here's something that caught my attention.
I was recently in a store and noticed a mother and her teenage daughter entering through the front door.
The teenager carelessly let the heavy door fling back and bump her mother's shoulder, who in turn sighed irritably.
Said the mother:
"Don't you know that you should never just let go of a door? Come on. My hands were in my pockets. I taught you better than that..."
The daughter, embarrassed, apologized and I heard the mom grumbling as they walked away.
And I thought to myself, it's true, the daughter should have been more aware. More considerate.
But really, the mother was unaware of the true lesson of this event: that she was actually teaching her daughter that it's okay to follow people through doors with your hands in your pockets.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bang a (Qi) Gong....

art by alex grey

Beginning the next chapter can be overwhelming.

But it's what we strive to do on the Path.

For me, personally, the next stage was not one I chose, but one that chose me. That makes it more important, as the Universe is in on the game.

The next phase of my training will manifest itself as an increased focus on Qi Gong, an internal art from China that aims to cultivate Qi energy within the body. As I've mentioned before, my sensei has routinely incorporated this art into our training, but has now decided to formalize our studies. This means a curriculum, memorization, meditation, and patience.

"You will be frustrated," he said. "It will take a long time to achieve results."

I've studied with him for over three years now, and I trust his methods of teaching. I know if he feels that an increased attention to Qi Gong will boost our abilities then the lessons will be invaluable. I know from our previous exercises in breathing--utilizing Qi Gong methods--that my meditation skills were undoubtedly elevated. Also, a great deal of the nerve points used in the art are ones we already use to increase the pain level of our techniques. However, now we will use them to heal and not hurt.

I think returning to a beginner's mind is an extremely important thing to do as a student of this life. It's humbling, but also generates new focus and expanded understanding.

And that has to be good.... right?

*** Here is the main elemental chart for Qi Gong. It is quite interesting and will take much time to fully take in.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

the Stubborn Warrior

Before Yoda there was author Carlos Castaneda and his Yaqui sage Don Juan Matus.

In the books, the old shaman is constantly trying to teach the younger man to expand his mind and break away from the social conditioning of his past in order to gain true insight into the world.
But the student is stubborn, and keeps finding excuses to hinder his own progress. He likens himself, and his resulting sorrow, to that of a leaf being blown by the wind.
And so he is chastised.
"The hardest thing in the world is to assume the mood of a warrior," (Don Juan) said. "It is of no use to be sad and complain and feel justified in doing so, believing that someone is always doing something to us. Nobody is doing anything to anybody, much less a warrior.
"You are here, with me, because you want to be here. You should have assumed full responsibility by now, so the idea that you are at the mercy of the wind should be inadmissible."
Castaneda gained a big New Age following with these stories that continues today. I think part of the reason for the popularity is the author's subtle parallels of wisdom between the indigenous cultures of both east and west (it provides an almost zen-like tradition based in the Arizona desert). For me, the whole student and teacher theme, explored in many a legend and parable, is more than just a literal description of knowledge being passed between the old and the young. To me, it reflects the concept of the Higher Self communicating with the intellectual self.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

review: Laura Scandiffio

This is a nice little history book, aimed at kids 11+, but worthy of any martial arts library. In fact, in my mind, often editions like this give a much more concise overview than many an academic publication .
By Canadian author Laura Scandiffio, The Martial Arts Book is published by Annick Press Ltd.
It covers the "many branches of one tree," which includes the combat styles from China, Korea and Japan. It also includes healing arts, modern practice and eastern spiritual history.
The illustrations, which were what grabbed me originally, are by Nicolas Debon. They fit perfectly with the writing, and again, are intriguing for any age.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dragon Slayers

"There is no greater curse than discontent."

Once again, the words of Lao Tsu as written in the Tao Te Ching.

I bet any one of us can relate to this idea. It emerges during the periodic frustration due to our striving for results.

Such discontent is entwined with our ego's need to recognize it's own achievement. I am reminded of mythologist Joseph Campbell, who equated the many tales of slaying dragons as an act of overcoming our own ego-self. However, we need not slay or suppress such a beast, rather just acknowledge that it exists and is merely an aspect of ourselves that need not oppress us or be feared.
I don't view defeating one's ego as eliminating individual identity--merging into a mass military mindset--but instead, permitting a balance to exist within one's mind while on the path of bettering oneself (as a martial artist or a person). In other words, understanding that some struggle is needed in order to grow, but not becoming a slave to, or rushing towards any specifically desired outcome.
For while the Tao of Heaven does not strive, Lao Tsu insists that it still overcomes.
Take this concept back to practical martial application. To strive intellectually for results usually leads to sub-par form, and therefore frustration. When effortless reaction is used, based in repetitive practice, a harmonious feeling is achieved.
A proper balance.
And therein can be found the skills to defeat the dragon.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Breaking it down....

Having reviewed and discussed the recent seminar material at my home dojo, it is always amazing to me how much impact tiny adjustments can make.
"It's what he doesn't show you that really makes the technique," my sensei said regarding the material. I knew we were to steal some of the secrets on our own, but how subtle the changes can be is, as I said, surprising.
For example, a quarter-inch adjustment on the grip of a figure-four wrist lock can change a fairly painful control technique into one of huge pain in a hurry. A subtle move into to a sanchin stance can be the powerful anchor required for a choke that felt a bit off-balance at first.
It's all enlightening, yet, it serves to remind me of how much analysis is needed of every technique we learn. And how much more always seems to lay under the surface of the art in general.
It also makes me wonder how long it would take for me to steal the technique if my sensei weren't so liberal when it comes to sharing his knowledge. It could be months or years, rather than hours. However, he believes we should get all the information from the start, rather than fixing bad habits later on in our journey. I appreciate this approach.
That said, I know he only gradually adds his Qi Gong experience to our jui-jitsu knowledge-base, leaving us a good but mysterious trail of bread crumbs to follow. But I guess internal arts must be self-realized, after all.
I remember when I started as his student over three years ago. He said it will take a student two years to even understand how to strike properly. And sure enough, despite a basic grasp of the proper method of striking the entire time, after two years something just clicked-in and my power and efficiency dramatically increased.
No doubt it was all an evolution of very subtle and minor changes to both my application and internal energy.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

confidence is a game of inches.....

Confidence evolves slowly.

Just as becoming more flexible physically takes time and effort, trust in your technique grows in similar, often imperceptible degrees. Recently, I attended a seminar and found that while half of the material came naturally, the other half took time and I had many questions (any of us who try new things in the MA world know our ego is best left off the mats in order to truly learn--and after all, if you knew the stuff already, why would you be there in the first place?). And while, in the end, I managed to understand the teachings, I would still hesitate to use some of them in any stressful situation.

However, I plan to take the lessons home and think about them and practice them many times. I know from experience that some of the most reliable techniques in my arsenal felt this way at first--unnatural. I know this is how our mind's tend to expand--gradually--in order to really have the lessons sink in.

If I look back, even previous to my formal training, I can pick out things I learned from grade three judo class or grade nine wrestling that are imprinted in my mind. Techniques I would still likely revert to in stress, as I worked them into confidence over the years.

And by degrees, I have added more and more.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An Officer and a Budo Man

Having both frequently trained and discussed defensive tactics with law enforcement officers, I have come to realize a few things about my own training that I have directly learned and adopted from these individuals, and aspects in which my approach is quite different than theirs.

The differences are simple, really. Firstly, unlike an officer, I am free to run away, or use a defensive technique and then do so. I don't have to arrest anybody, which means I don't have to subdue an attacker if I feel there is another option available like hoofing it or breaking an arm and then fleeing. In the same way, I would have far less need--or none at all-- for come-alongs or setting up specific cuffing techniques (this could mean a different ground technique if it did come to pinning an attacker, such as keeping the attacker on his back if need be). Nor would I have a weapon--or many pounds of gear/protective vest--to consider (to be used by or against me).

All this said, what I have learned can definately be applied to my own skill set. Especially in situations where I could confidently use less violence to de-escalate a situation, or even more mental aspects such as taking control of a situation and learning what does work and what doesn't work under pressure (hit my link on japanese jiu-jitsu for more on this). Most officers are also well-versed in saftey issues and knowing what to do when injury does occur.

But I'd say that one of the most valuable things about training/talking with law enforcement guys and gals on a regular basis is listening to the descriptions and characteristics of the mindset common to the criminal on the street. Although there are always exceptions, there are certian traits that repeat themselves and behavior that can picked up on. And police study these--closely. And many of these bits of information can go a long way when it comes to avoiding a situation before it takes place, or handling it successfully if it does happen.