Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What are you willing to defend?

My wife recently shared a video with me. What occurs in the video disturbed me.

She suggested that I post my thoughts on it and here I am. The video isn't very long and I suggest you watch it for a clearer frame of reference. You can find it here:

In this video we see a young boy (8 years old) retrieve his mothers wallet from a thief who is making away with her bag. What the little boy did was quite admirable especially at his age. However I feel it was wrong. There were so many things that could have gone wrong, that thankfully did not. The thief could have struck the boy. The boy was also in danger of being run over as he chases the truck. The worst case scenario would have been if the the thief abducted the child. A very possible outcome.

There are deeper lessons here as well. What are we teaching our children when we see a boy risk his life to get his moms bag back? Are we sending an unspoken message that things are very important-more important than our well-being?

I have a saying that I say to my wife constantly. She says its my mantra, and she is right. The saying is: "Don't leave anything in the car that you aren't willing to lose." What does this mean? It means you don't leave items that you value or that have intrinsic value sitting in the car. I learned this the hard way after leaving my wallet in the car once and remembering I did so ten minutes later, only to discover a broken window and no wallet.

The incident in the video would never have occurred if the mother had taken the bag with her AND locked her doors. I'll take it a step further, beyond things. I never leave my children alone in the car-EVER. Doesn't matter if its gas or a bagel in the morning. Weather is not a factor either. If its too inconvenient to take the kids, its too inconvenient and will have to wait until I'm alone.

This mother was very fortunate her son wasn't hurt or worse. She had the right response if you see her reaction to the incident. She needs to go further and take the steps necessary to prevent things like this from happening in the first place. By leaving the bag in the car she was the catalyst for the event, since it was a crime of opportunity. I can't help but feel that as a new yorker it amazed me that she left her bag in the car to begin with. This is an action that does not occur in big cities, we just don't do that.

So its possible her behavior is influenced by environment, but ultimately it goes back to awareness or the lack thereof. (See my post on awareness here: for more on that subject)

 What does this mean for us? Well I have a conversation with my kids periodically, it goes something like this:

Me: " Why don't we cross the street at the wrong time? "(This is a reference for any behavior that could be dangerous to their well being, but crossing the street is familiar to them)

Them: "Because we can get hurt by a car!" ( Very proud of their answer as they both chime in)

Me: "Exactly and in the whole universe how many of you are there?" (They are silent for a few moments)

Them: "Only one."

Me: That means that you are special, unique and important to Mom and Dad.

They both nod in agreement clearly pleased at having the right answers and realizing that  in the ENTIRE UNIVERSE there is only one of them and that their safety is important to me and their mom. Its a lesson that needs to be repeated often.

This not only goes for the children it goes for you as well. The question in the heading  "What are you willing to defend?" comes from our self defense course and is always asked by our instructor Senpai Elena. The second part to that question is : "How are you willing to defend it?"

 We have had people who may shy away from defending themselves for a multitude of reasons. Once they are asked-What if your children are in danger? It shifts immediately to ferociousness and devastation. Why not be aware and defend themselves all the time so that they can be around for those they hold most dear? When presented that way, you can almost see the light-bulb go on.

If you learn to be aware, take the appropriate steps, and acquire the skills-you can diminish the danger to yourself and your loved ones. Don't let it take a close call or worse to begin this. Start today.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Practical Application

One of the great facets of training is that it forces you to think. Let me clarify. You may be studying an art that is ancient, but you still have to make it work for you. It has to work for your body type, your height your reach and other physical compositions. One of the places this is expressed is in kata. Kata is not dance, its not an imaginary fight against a series of would be attackers. What kata is, is a mnemonic device recording movements to use in close quarter combat. One of the best ways to understand this is through the use of bunkai.

First what is bunkai?  Bunkai is the deconstruction and practical application of techniques found in kata. In other words it means you analyze and apply the technique you are using in your kata. Many schools do not engage in this or feel kata are outdated and unnecessary. It is a shame many feel this way, since the study of bunkai adds a dimension to training that is not replicated by anything else. Through bunkai you can get to the heart of the style you are studying. Bunkai will take you through the history of your art into the minds of those who created the techniques.  Bunkai forces you to think. This bears repeating. In order to learn and apply bunkai you must think. What is this technique doing? Which way does this technique achieve the intended goal of stopping an altercation? It makes you look at kata as a device for the practical application of every technique.

So let me shock you a bit here. There are no blocks, or kicks or punches or anything else we have given names to. There are simply the movements a body can execute.  For example you will hear this often in our self defense class " All arms bend the same way, bodies are built the same way."  This is a simplification of course, but what it means is that we are all bio-mechanically the same. So in kata when I execute an upper block as we call it, if I take that same movement and smash it into an opponents throat as I grab the back of their head, it ceases to be an upper block and becomes a fatal blow. Same exact technique.

This freedom of expression in your art is what you must endeavor to discover. Is a lower parry actually parrying a lower kick or is it a hammer fist into the knee or thigh? Is it a sweep? Or all of the above?

The other mindset that seems to be circulating is that bunkai must hold the okuden or secret techniques of a style. Therefore it can only be shown to the most senior students. This must be conducted in a veil of secrecy and those students must never reveal the bunkai to their juniors. This sounds so outlandish I have a hard time believing it, but I have experienced it firsthand. Suffice to say I disagree with this point of view. Bunkai should be shared early and often, it gets students to think. When you stop a kata and ask "What technique are you doing there? " Most students will just give you the name of the technique they have always done. If you go a little deeper and ask " Well show me how that would work."  At what range and from what angle?  What is your off hand doing? Is it really an offhand or is it holding something?
Why are you standing that way, is that the way you would really stand? What if you modified that a bit would it still work?

When you start asking these questions and more importantly when the students start asking these questions, it deepens the practice of the art and makes the kata come alive. These are the questions we need to be asking. These are the exercises we need to teach our students.  We need to spur them to dig deeper and make their practice profound.

If you wish to go further into the study of bunkai, or its not offered where you train I suggest you visit Iain Abernathy's site.  You can find it here:
this is a good place to start. Iain is well known for his practical application of basic moves. His site is full of useful information and is a great resource for learning. He is also accessible and a friendly individual, willing to share of his time and expertise if you reach out to him.

A little quiz:  The photo in this blog is one of the bunkai of the last move of which Pinan / Heian kata?  Let me know what your answer is.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando Sanchez

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Importance of Awareness

An article was recently brought to my attention:

In the article it describes:
Recently released footage from a Muni security camera allegedly shows that on Sept. 23, Nikhom Thephakayson pulled out a .45-caliber pistol, raised it, pointed it across the aisle, put it down and continued to pull it out multiple times, even wiping his nose with the handgun. Absorbed in their phones, not one of the dozens of passengers reacted until he fired a bullet into the back of Justin Valdez, 20, a sophomore at San Francisco State University.

Before you make any snap judgments about the people on the train lets examine ourselves for a moment.

How often do you check your phone while walking in the street, on the check out line or just waiting? 

When sitting/standing in the train or any other mass transit vehicle are you aware of the people around you or are you immersed in your phone ( or any other technological gadget) oblivious to who gets on or off? 

Do you text while you drive?

How often do you wear headphones (ear-buds) while outside, effectively cutting off your sense of hearing, which is in essence an early warning system?

After reading this article I took an informal survey as I rode the train in New York City. On one random subway car alone more than half the people in the car were immersed in some sort of device completely oblivious to those around them. Another large group were dozing or had their eyes closed.

As I walked down Broadway, I counted on one block ten people with ear-buds or headphones who would not have heard me if they were in danger and I needed to call out for their safety ( I tested this by just saying "Excuse me." while behind or beside them. Only two people registered that they heard me.) The others couldn't hear me because the music was audible from where I stood, about 3-4 feet away. Three people had to stop short at intersections before crossing the street because they were crossing against the flow of traffic and didn't notice, they were all texting or reading their phones.

As I proceeded  on Broadway I attempted to get close enough to invade personal space, from the side, rear and front. I used ploys like asking for time and directions or just acted creepy and tried to get  real close. Yes it was a busy afternoon, but I really wanted to see what the level of awareness was. These exercises didn't take more than an hour. Out of the twenty people I approached in a five block radius (I was on Broadway and 79th street), sixteen of them allowed me into their personal space. After I closed the distance I informed them that they each could have been a victim, some laughed it off and most dismissed it, it was the middle of the day after all and  no one gets attacked in broad daylight, right?

Its this awareness that we stress so much in self defense classes. Awareness or situational awareness as it is sometimes called is the act of not walking around in a fog.  You will often hear when people are attacked or when incidents occur that it just happened " out of the blue" or "I never saw it coming". In the case of blindside, ambush attacks or spontaneous acts, this may be possible, the other times however you just weren't aware.

If you drive you need to be even more aware. I wont go into the amount of people I have seen driving and looking down at phones or just not focusing on whats in front of them. Considering that even a small vehicle can weigh a few tons its in our best interest to focus and be aware while driving what is essentially a large battering ram capable of wreaking devastating damage.

This lack of awareness is becoming more and more prevalent. Not only because of technology. I think the technology just facilitates it, but rather we need to shift our attitude of " I'm not going to get involved, or " It has nothing to do with me". When we choose to be this way we are passively saying-I don't care.

I invite you to try some of the exercises I did. See how close you can get to other people in normal settings
 ( please don't get yourself arrested) without them noticing. Understand that those who would victimize others are doing the exact same thing.

Make the choice to be aware, look around on the bus, train and the street you walk down. Unplug the headphones / ear-buds and engage all of your senses. Cultivate a  radar of who and what is around you, this does not mean you walk around paranoid all of the time, but aware. One of the first things we teach in our self defense classes is awareness and its importance. It doesn't matter how skilled or trained you are if you are walking around in a fog, oblivious to your surroundings.

Keep your eyes and ears open.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando

Friday, October 11, 2013

Instructor Interview-Sempai Orlando

This week I will post our first instructor interview. Each month I will interview one of our instructors so that you can have a glimpse into some of the inner workings of our school and the people that teach and train there.

This weeks interview will be Sempai Orlando. In addition to being an instructor in our school, he is also the off site director for our after school programs which is currently taking place in two New York City public schools. On average between the two schools he is teaching karate to 30 children every week.

EH: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, I know you have a busy schedule between teaching and being a full time college student and trying to have a social life.

SO: Thank you for letting me be part of the blog. I read it often and really like it. Most of the times its a continuation of the conversations I have with the sensei.

EH: OK so lets begin. Lets start with your age. How old are you ?

SO: I'm 18 years old.

EH: What are your goals in college?

SO: Well this is my first year so its been a big change for me. My goals are to be a physical therapist ( I enjoy working with people) and also to learn stage and film combat. I have choreographed a few fight scenes and did one for a short film my older brother filmed.

EH: Do you have any specific challenges training at your age?

SO: I think the biggest challenge right now is balancing my school work and my training and teaching. I usually have to wake up very early to do my own personal training, then I have to get ready for school. I have a heavier load of school work now so it means I have to be very conscious of how I manage my time.

EH:  How early do you start your day and what does your training consist of ?

SO: On the days I can train in the morning I'm up at 4 am. My training consists of a lot of conditioning ( I punch and kick trees to toughen certain areas), I also work a kettle-bell routine and then I finish with body weight training-what we do in our classes: push ups, sit ups, squats.

EH: How long have you been training?

SO: I have been training for 13 years. My first dojo was our garage, when I was real young. The class size was pretty small since it was just me, after a while my younger brother joined us.

EH: Why did you start training?

SO: I started training because I saw my dad always training and I wanted to be just like my dad.

EH: Was your dad your first instructor?

SO: Yes, I started when I was five so he was my first teacher. I have also trained with Sensei Orhan from a Kyokushin school in Queens. I'm still beginning so I haven't had that many teachers.

EH: Why do you continue to train?

SO: I continue to train because it has become my passion.

EH: Have you ever wanted to stop training?

SO: When I was younger I wanted to. I felt that it was too hard and that I wasn't very good at it.

EH: Why did you continue?

SO: Honestly? My dad. He just kept telling me I would get better. That it would take time and that if I didn't give up he wouldn't give up. Also if I gave up, he still wouldn't give up. After a while I did get better and I started to like it.

EH: What part of training do you enjoy the most ?

SO: I enjoy the energy I feel in a class filled with people that are willing to push themselves past their limits. It pushes me to try harder and to push myself as well. It reminds me of one of the characters (kanji) we have on our main wall, ren ma-it means keep polishing. Training like that is part of the polishing. I also enjoy kata, except when I have to do it in front of the sensei, it always feels like I just learned it when I do it with him.

EH: What part of training do you least enjoy?

SO: The pain my body feels when I do certain exercises, even though I'm used to them. Getting hit when I fight the sensei. I definitely enjoy that the least.

EH: Why did you take on teaching?

SO: I teach so I can share my knowledge and experience with others. Also I love working with other people.

EH: You have competed in several tournaments and done well. You have also expressed that you will no longer compete in tournaments can you tell us why?

SO: I think tournaments are good for what they are-contests with rules. For me my practice is about being a warrior.When we fight we punch to the head, we also grapple, kick to the thigh, use joint locks, submissions and do ground work. I was disqualified from one tournament because I tapped my opponent on the nose and he bled a bit. It wasn't right or wrong, those were the rules, but it was not the way I learned to fight so it was difficult for me to adapt.

I train differently than most people I know my age. I don't think tournaments are bad, but they aren't for me and they don't reflect what I have been taught. I usually see a lot of pride and egos at tournaments, which to me is the opposite of what training should be. Also I have seen some kata tournaments and it doesn't look like kata at all, its more like dance moves and back flips choreographed to music with kiais that last about two minutes. I would never be a part of something like that.

EH: Any advice for someone just starting on their martial path?

SO: If you feel that a martial art is something you want to pursue, begin and don't stop. You're going to face a lot of challenges along the way but the payoff is worth it. Keep on training, ask questions learn as much as you can inside and outside the dojo. Sensei is always giving me a book to read, its usually related to martial arts but sometimes its not. Always try to better yourself, its never a competition with other people.

EH: Thank you again for giving me the time to interview you.

SO: You're welcome and thank you for letting me be part of the blog.

Sempai Orlando comes across as a very reserved (and older than his years) young man. In the dojo he is known for his affable manner and tough classes. I hope with this interview you have gotten some more insight into one of our instructors.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando

For questions or suggestions on future topics contact:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Together on an individual path

There are no mirrors in our dojo.

There are several reasons for this:
For us its not practical, the wall space is being used by other items ( for example, weapons).
Its dangerous. We have, what one senior calls a " functional dojo". The weapons on the wall are all real and available when fighting occurs (provided you know how to and have been trained in using the weapon). With the exception of the ceremonial (yet very real and sharp) katana which are out of the way of the curious children's hands, every other weapon is at an accessible height.  In our school, when we fight, being kicked  into a wall or thrown into the wall as part of a self defense scenario is a very real possibility.The two craters we have caused (I was involved in both and they have since been patched)  in our wall attest to this. Getting thrown into a mirror usually ends up with a visit to the hospital E.R. and presents a hazardous situation to other students.

The main reason we don't have mirrors however is that it allows you to remain focused.
I have studied in dojos with mirrors and I am aware that the only ;person I need to be looking at in the mirror is myself. Usually that is how the class will start out. I will be focusing on myself and then one of my classmates will execute a technique that's higher than mine or faster and I will find myself inadvertently comparing my techniques to theirs. Its not a conscious act, this is all happening on a subtle level that requires constant vigilance. If left unchecked it becomes a full blown expression of ego in a place where ego is not welcome. This has the potential to occur in any dojo. What I have found and what has been my experience is that when there are no mirrors, it limits the distractions and allows for greater focus.

I always tell the students, when you are training don't look left or right focus on what you need to do. Don't compare yourself to others, especially in the dojo, because there is always going to be someone stronger, faster, more naturally gifted, or more proficient. If you look around you can always find an excuse not to try harder, not to give it your all. That is not the purpose of the dojo. When you enter on the floor the only person you need to be thinking about is that person you were the last time you stepped on the floor. Were you able to do ten push ups last time, well aim for fifteen this time or twenty. Maybe last time your body wasn't at 100% and today you feel much better, then you push yourself harder today.  The inverse may also be true and you may need to scale back the training today to take into account that your body may feeling sub par.
So here is the other side to that situation.  Since we are travelling together on this individual path, it is my obligation as someone who may be along further on the path to help out those who have just begun. This is the essence of the Sempai / Kohai relationship. Those who are seniors help those who are juniors. The juniors will look to the seniors to see how things are done. In a very real way the seniors are the mirrors for the juniors. This has been driven home recently by our two young green belts who have taken on assisting as part of becoming green belts. To reach green belt in our school means that on average you have been training for 3-4 years. They are not in the strict sense, beginners. Yet when these green belts were placed in front of white belts  to teach them basic techniques, I could see the nervousness and the excitement. It has added a dimension to their path that they were not aware of and now they are realizing that you do not truly learn until you have to teach another.

In our lives we would do well to adopt this attitude of focusing on ourselves and yet not forgetting those who come after us. I know it has served me well in my martial path as well as my writing ( where I am the novice). We have to stop worrying so much about what others are doing and pursue our lives, our passions and those things that bring us joy and excitement. The key is not stopping there, but encourage others, through your example, your words, and actions to do the same. When they need help offer it.  Sometimes its a gentle nudge, sometimes it needs to be gentle shove, but if you do it from a place of truly seeing others grow and have their lives transform for the better, then its worth it.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando

Next week: I will begin the instructor interview series and feature one of our instructors in the post. If you have any questions you would like to ask an instructor please email them to me at