Monday, April 27, 2009

Active Self-Defense - Learning to fall

Last week, we went over some of our previous techniques, but I had a little surprise in store for the class. I brought out our tumbling mat and when it came time to learn our new technique, we practiced falling. It's quite a sight to see a child at play, fall. They can run, fall, use the momentum and get up and keep running as if nothing happened. As we get older we have a tendency to forget some of the things that are natural to us as children. Falling is something children can do with style. If you have ever seen a child unleash a temper tantrum you know what I mean. The interesting part is that they can fling themselves to the ground, but not hurt themselves. When it comes to the realm of self defense, it's important to know how to fall without hurting yourself, should you ever need to go to the ground or are taken to the ground. Intially we are rigid, but after some practice everyone in the class was getting the concept of "rolling to the floor". The idea is to think of yourself as a sphere and rather than fall back flat on your back, roll yourself to the ground letting the shock and impact "roll through you" rather than your body absorbing the impact.

The other ability children seem to have inherently is making themselves "heavy". We have all experienced this. A child is busy having fun and it's time to cut the fun short. The child is not having it, he wants to continue having fun! You go to pick up your child and find that instead of weighing twenty pounds, he has discovered the secret of super gravity and now weighs one hundred pounds! We all have this ability and many times its essential in defending yourself to displace your weight in such a way that you are "heavier" than you may seem. If someone wants to grab you and lift you from the ground, from any angle of attack, you can displace your weight so that you are heavier.

As adults there are many things we have to "relearn", but with enough practice we will find that these things, like falling and being heavy are part of us waiting to be rediscovered.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando

The Bowl vs. The Pot - The Art of Flexibilty

I was sitting at my computer, when my wife asked me if I could clean a bowl for dinner. In my mind I wondered why would she want a bowl cleaned for dinner if she was going to start cooking? Wouldn't it be better to clean the pot she needed instead? Now let's look at this from a different point of view: my wife is in the kitchen cleaning some vegetables and meat for dinner when she asks me to clean a pot for dinner. I answer "which bowl?" The ensuing discussion became somewhat heated as we both felt that the other had said bowl and not pot. She claims I said bowl, I claim she said bowl. After a few minutes of this we both laughed (not before the temperature was raised as well as our voices) and we both realized how silly this argument had become.

After giving it some thought, I realized that many times we are inflexible. We stick to our ideas, not budging, not open to dialogue or discourse. We are so certain that we are right that we don't entertain for a second that the other person feels that exact same way. When we are rigid, we lose sight of the many opportunities that life presents to us. When we fail to bend, we have a tendency to break and shatter. In life, as in martial arts we must learn to adapt to new situations. Approaching each circumstance with an open mind and heart as to what the possibilities may be. When we do this and become flexible, no matter what storms life may bring us, we can weather them.

As for the bowl vs. the pot, well to this day it still remains a mystery, I'm going to settle on "powl".

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Active Self Defense - The EWW Factor

When I describe certain techniques in our self defense class I invariably get what I call the EWW factor. What I call the EWW factor is the expression I get every time I instruct someone in the group to shatter a knee or break a finger.
First the idea crosses the person's mind, then the actuality sinks in, "I should do what?" Then the reaction of denial, "I can't possibly do that to another person, after all I'm civilized" Here is where the mistake is being made. We somehow think that the person who wants to commit bodily harm is actually thinking of our well being . We default to our "nice" way of being because it's all we know and practice often. I want to dispel that myth for you right now. Someone who is attacking you and wants to harm you or your loved ones deserves no kind of consideration. There are no rules when it comes to your defense.What you need to do is devastate that person immediately without hesitation. I can assure that you are being viewed as a resource: either you have money, valuables, or even your person is the target of the attacker. The person attacking you has stripped you of any vestige of humanity and views you as less than what you are. It is your job to correct that impression and to do so with the utmost ferocity.

When I say grab a finger and break it, or take an elbow and smash it into a face. What I am saying to you is that you need to do whatever it takes so you go home safe, sound and alive. If I emphasize a technique that shatters a knee, it's so that person can no longer follow you to harm you.

Each Wednesday evening, we break through the "EWW" Factor as I demonstrate techniques and then have them done on me, not delicately, but hard and with intention. It's great to see the realization dawn on a person's face when they realize they can do a technique that doesn't require strength, just a knowledge of bio-mechanics. If we do them often enough, the conditioning of "niceness" that we have can be overridden. We can be devastating and explosive if and when the need arises. Self Defense is 90% awareness and 10% technique. That being said, the 10% needs to be effective, powerful, and practical.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando

Is MMA the natural evolution of Martial Arts?

Every time I hear that martial arts are going to disappear and MMA is going to take over I chuckle. I'm not denying that MMA is prevalent now (I even saw a very popular school change its name to include MMA). It's not that I am a purist. I think anyone who studies a martial art should cross train in another art that complements the art they are studying. For example if you study a standing and striking art, then you should complement it with a ground, grappling style.

What many don't seem to understand is that martial arts are meant to be encompassing.

No one style has everything you need. Before the splintering of schools, the sharing of knowledge was a common thing. Even now I interact with fellow students of different styles; jujitsu, aikido, muy thai, and karate that get together to share knowledge of techniques and what we can apply where. I think this is essential if martial arts are to move forward with the times. Many of the opponents to this kind of cross style interaction feel that something will get lost in the translation. Speaking from the history of Karate, I know that many of the old masters used to do just that. They would get together to share and find out what worked and discard what didn't.

I think that today this is necessary, and that we as martial artists should embrace the diversity that exists under the umbrella of "Martial arts". We need to share, learn from each other and support one another in our respective endeavors.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando

Martial Arts - Business vs. Tradition

More and more frequently, I come across young children who receive black belts. Adults and children both, have been attaining the rank of black belt after only a couple of years of training. So I took a moment and began to form the usual questions in my head (e.g. Did they have prior experience?) Then I stopped myself and thought "A 7-year old girl with a black belt?" What possible prior experience could she have?

Here is why I take issue with this situation. I am not saying that it's impossible to attain a black belt in a few years. I'm sure many have done it especially if they had prior experience. What disturbs me about giving a young child a black belt, is that a black belt denotes a certain level or proficiency. In essence a shodan (first degree black belt) says that you are now ready to begin serious training. It also implies a certain level of maturity and the ability to impart, at least on a basic level, the techniques that you, as a black belt have learned. When you attain the rank of black belt you are also viewed as a senior in the class, in which the ranks before you look to you and at you for instruction and some guidance.

By awarding a black belt to such a young child, all of the above is pretty much null and void. As an adult studying a martial art I have a hard time grasping the concept of a 7 year old being effective as my senior. I question the ability of ayoung child to have enough of a grasp of language to instruct and teach others the techniques that exist in most martial arts. As far as maturity goes, while I have seen some very mature children, I have not seen any at that age to be mature enough to understand the responsibilities that go along with the rank of black belt.

The real question is why does this happen? I'm sure this is not some isolated incident. My opinion is that the black belt is now more of a marketing ploy than anything else. There is a prestige associated with being a black belt. The marketing ploy ensures that the child (and his parent) stay at the school. Schools have twenty or so ranks (belts). Let me elaborate. When I first started training as a teenager the school I first went to had three ranks: White, Brown, Black belts. I understand now that school was very outdated and that instructor was adhering to a very old way of ranking. I didn't realize it wasn't the norm until I took up training much later at another school.

Then I found out about the schools that use promotions as method to increase revenue. These are the schools that have four ranks for white belt (white belt , white belt one stripe, white belt two stripes etc.), and four or five ranks for each subsequent belt. When it gets to this level it becomes silly and pretty meaningless. Each promotion requires the parents' monetary investment.

Are martial arts schools a business? Absolutely. The key is that they should be run with integrity and honesty.

I feel you can do both. Have a school that adheres to a fair ranking system while covering your overhead as a business. When the balance is tipped to either side (business vs. tradition) the students, instructor and the style can suffer.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando

Active Self Defense - Why it should be simple

Last week we had quite an interesting class and it drove home an essential point of self defense. What happens if I ever have to use what I know ? What happens to my brain and my body? More importantly will I be able to use what I know or have learned ?

One of the reasons why I make the techniques simple and using gross motor movements is that when the body is in a stressed state (i.e. being attacked) it starts to release adrenaline. In small doses, adrenaline is great for your body and when it feels threatened, the body releases this chemical as a defense mechanism, in preparation for the "fight or flight" response. One of the major effects that I am concerned with regarding this adrenaline dump is the loss of fine motor skills. I think we have all seen movies and I have even been to some schools that teach intricate, five step self defense moves that require pinpoint accuracy and the precise use of angles. I'm not bashing these techniques, but in a real life fight for your life situation, you would be very lucky to remember past steps one and two. It's just not going to happen. So what is the answer?

Make the techniques reflexive actions whenever possible. If someone is choking you from behind, your first action is to grab that arm and stop the choking, not drop into deep meditation and use your chi to explode your attacker away from you. I'm kidding, but you get the idea.
The counter to a headlock should include the reflexive action of grabbing the attacker's arm and using it to your advantage. This is how it should be whenever possible.

I'm all for intricate techniques and they have their time and place. That place is not on the street when your life, or the lives of your loved ones are on the line.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando