Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Power generation

There are many ways to affect the world around you or, since this is a martial arts blog, your opponent. In this blog entry, I want to talk about the most basic source of power and how this power can be applied to something or someone.

Gravity pulls you down toward the ground and you can always push against it to get power. When you walk forward, the momentum you have comes from the ground. When you turn at the waist, the power comes from the torque from the ground. When you bend over to push your friends car cause he ran out of gas, you are using the ground. You can easily see how this is the case when you consider how much power you would generate in a weightless environment.

So the first principle of generating power is to always feel the ground and how your are pressing against it to get power.

There are of course many ways to contort the body or move the legs to get said power from the ground. Lets leave all that for another time for now (it's late).

Instead, lets consider how we apply the power we get from the ground into something else. This is where people have the most trouble.

First, the point of contact with an object or opponent must lead the overall movement. That means if you grab my wrist and you want to move me in some way, the point where I am touching you, the wrist, must lead the movement that you do for maximum transference of energy. If you pull the wrist with your elbow or shoulder, less power will affect me.

Second, your body cannot be locked up at any point or that will interrupt the transfer of power. If you lock your elbow and shoulder when you push someone, you won't be able to use as much power from the ground as possible. You will instead mostly be pushing them with your arm.

I will talk some more later about how how to contort the body to generate power and why it is better to do it while staying in balance vs. contorting in a way that goes away from the connection to the ground.

I realize what I am saying here might seem overly simple or hard to understand depending on how you look at it so let me put it another way.

The best way to have power is to be powerful rather than do powerful moves. Relax and keep your attention outward and surrender to gravity. You use the legs to move this relaxed and sunken "base" around. Then when you want to use your arms to interact, you let them lead a move away from you. Don't push them out or "go with them". This takes you off your base and makes the arms weak. You can of course move your base in the direction you punch to get more power.

I don't know if this is helpful. I will read it again tomorrow and see if I can do a better job of explaining what I mean.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Self defense basics

I don't teach self-defense, because i am not sure it makes sense as a concept. There aren't any easy techniques that will make much of a difference if you are attacked. Violence doesn't really work that way. I have always hated "self-defense" techniques in the martial arts because they don't work and can give people false confidence. When I did karate, we were once taught a knife defense technique that involved putting your hands on your hips and swiveling to intercept the knife with your elbow. Say what now? Were I to teach self defense, I wouldn't teach martial arts techniques, but would instead concentrate on awareness.

The most important single thing you can do to keep from getting mugged or attacked or run over by a car is to pay attention. That means paying attention to the world around you using all your senses.

If you walk around without paying attention, you will probably be clumsy. If you do it long enough, you may find yourself in an unhappy surprising physical confrontation.

When you walk around you should know where you are and who is around you and you should be paying attention to them. You should definitely be aware when someone is paying attention to you. That doesn't mean that you need to walk around suspiciously eying people down. It means that, in general, you should have your attention focused outward when you are out in the world. The more dangerous the place, the more you should pay attention. Do you hear people walking up behind you? How many and who are they? Do you look at the window reflections around you? What are the people around you paying attention to?

I got mugged when I lived in a bad neighborhood in DC. You know what fighting style I used to defend myself? None, I used Dumbass-not-paying-attention-to-what-was-going-on-around-him-while-waiting-for-the-bus style.  

If I hadn't been sitting there in a daze, I would have easily seen it coming. If you are in a bar and a fight breaks out and you didn't feel it coming, you probably are not paying enough attention.

If something happens, the first thing to do is stay relaxed, say the unexpected and don't participate in any fight or mugging rituals. If someone wants to fight, don't act weak, but say or ask something incongruous. If you are about to be mugged, negotiate. "C'mon man, I got mugged 5 times this week."

My brother is a master at this. He used to skate on the edge of conflict just for fun. He was talking to my friend at a bar one time and said, "Dude, people take reflect your attitude if you lead them. Watch this." My brother is not a big guy, nor much of a fighter. This huge football player is walking by and he says, "What the hell do you think you are doing? You just walking around like you own the place. You want some?"

The football player is furious and yells, "What did you say, you little punk?"

My brother just breaks out a big smile and laughs, saying, "Ha! I'm just kidding, man, you're awesome! Gimme five! You want a beer?" They walk off to the bar like good buddies.

When people want to hurt you, you sometimes have a chance to "put them in your movie." Lead the situation. When I would walk around my neighborhood in DC, if I saw a group of young men sizing me up, I would walk right up to them and ask them a question. "You guys seen Tom around?" Tom was a badass dude who lived in the neighborhood so it would make them second-guess themselves.

Anyway this stuff isn't easy to do I'll admit, but it's easier than learning to fight a huge dude or ten people, or someone with a gun.

Also, always trust your gut (your body) and don't feel like you have to engage people on the street. Most of the time if someone is going to harm you, they use an opening to get close to you that makes you feel like you have to respond or you not being nice.

So then if all this doesn't work and you end up getting attacked by someone that can hurt you, you have to run. Run like the wind.

If you can't run, attack, attack and attack again until you can run.

Never go with a person because they have a gun or a knife, take the chance of getting hurt on the spot.

Also, last but not least. You would think I wouldn't have to say this one, but it seems to occur so often that I guess I will say it. Don't get drunk alone in a dangerous bar or club (unless it is "your" bar) or walk around alone and drunk in a dangerous city.

These are just a few basic principles that come way before martial arts, pepper spray or carrying a weapon.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Why fighting?

Every once in a while, someone will ask me what my classes are about. I sometimes say that they are about learning to move naturally, the principles of interaction or something similar but usually I am honest. It's all about fighting. When I say that, I can sometimes see the person get a disappointed look on their face as they imagine a bunch of homoerotic tussling jocks or that I am somehow glorifying violence.

Also, anyone that has seen the kind of things we do in my beginning classes is probably laughing at the idea that fighting is the end goal. I will get to that. But why fighting?

Shouldn't a grown man have better things to do besides learning archaic hand to hand fighting? What about music, curing cancer...hell, just about anything? Here is why I learn and teach about fighting.

First, you have to pick something to strive for in terms of skill. Aiming for being in shape, feeling good, and confidence won't really take you anywhere. There has to be a demonstrable skill that forces you to change as a person and grow. Your goal could be to move people with your words or to build the tallest building, but something has to focus your attention. It's best to go with something you are passionate about to sustain you through all the years it takes to get anywhere.

My focus on fighting has led me to learn how to move, dance, be confident and happy, and lots of other things. I get these things as side effects because I concentrate on the main goal and don't get distracted. You have to go deep rather than wide in a skill in my opinion to get to the interesting part.

There are other reasons. Fighting encompasses so many aspects of life. Attitude, movement, competition, fear, confidence, interaction, speed, power, size, psychology, intent and many other things have to be addressed to fight well. In some ways fighting is a convenient category title for all these skills.

As a human and animal, fighting is a part of life. It is just under the surface of everything we do. Every young boy knows how fighting or willingness to fight plays a big part in social status. The same is true for men, but it is much better hidden. When communication breaks down between two males and a serious argument breaks out, people have to break it up to prevent a fight. The same can happen with women as well.

When young males angle for the attention of females, status fights can easily break out. Bucks ram their antlers together, people push each other in bars or smash bottles over each others' heads.

If a people need resources or territory, they go to war to get it. That is essentially a tribal fight.

Many people use violence to get possessions or have to protect their families and possessions.

The original sport was fighting and fighting in the form of boxing or MMA continue to be hugely popular. Most sports are essentially means to deconstruct fighting into less dangerous forms. But if the rules break down, fights happen.

In some sense, all animals kill and fight just to live. We are animals and are in the same situation. Of course we have constructed a society that helps keep us from these realities. The more advanced the society, the more fighting seems silly. Ask someone who lives in abject poverty or in jail or who lives where there are limited resources if fighting is silly.

So fighting, killing and defending yourself are always there just under the surface. It's terrifying and yet it's what we are to some degree. That to me is very interesting.

So I look at the whole phenomenon. Why do people get in fights? How do they happen? What should you do? How do you move? What state of mind do you have to be in to move that way? How do you get in that state of mind? How does that state of mind affect the body?

After years of asking these questions and actually training fighting, principles start to emerge. Eventually, I found that to fight well, you have to really change as a person. You have to be passionate, feel, be vulnerable, move in a relaxed way, and grow up (as well as know how to punch, kick, clench, wrassle and all that kind of thing). All these things I should of learned to do anyway, but fighting helped me actually do it.

So if you see my classes and we are doing some kind of walking exercise or something that looks like two idiots slow dancing, we are getting our fight on. And if you are currently a student of mine and wondering if we are spending too much time on all this relaxed movement stuff. Don't worry, the hard stuff comes sooner than you would probably like.

In the interest of full disclosure, I love practicing and training to fight, but the actual stuff can be nasty. I feel terrible if I am too big an oaf to avoid a fight in a bar or something. And if I loved actually fighting so much I would probably be doing mma fights every weekend. I AM thinking about doing an mma fight in the near future, but getting injured would really suck. Do I have enough testosterone to even give a damn? Maybe. I will keep you informed. I asked my girlfriend what she thought about me doing some mma fights (thinking she would say, "don't do that, you idiot." Instead she said, "Cool!") Damn, now i am getting scared. Can I take back what I said about fighting being totally awesome?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Understanding vs. Skill

Everyone wants to learn and knowledge about just about anything is pretty easy to come by. You just hear or read something and you know it. Spend some time on wikipedia and you know more.

But learning to do things is a little more complicated. Usually this is because it involves the actual doing of something which requires the senses and the body.

Knowledge about skills trails behind the actual development of skills. It is like a culture for the skill to reside in. First there was Jazz music in the form of players pushing the boundaries of what sounded good and "what worked". Later Jazz chord and scale theory emerged to explain what was happening. You can learn everything about how Jazz is played but it doesn't mean you can play it.

To play it would require integrating your instrument with your body learning how to listen and feel and developing a sense for harmonies and rhythm and a whole host of other things.

I have taught my share of English in Taiwan and I was often faced with the dilemma of teaching the skill of speaking English vs. teaching the students to be able to test well. The tests are often testing their knowledge of English rather than their ability to use it. You can memorize the dictionary and every rule of grammar but that doesn't mean you can communicate your emotions and ideas, tell a joke, convey how to do something or feel a poem.

One thing that is problematic is that when these "knowledge cultures" arise sometimes the skill gets forgotten. When I was involved with salsa, there were thousands of "moves" that people would teach each other. If you memorize enough moves, you were good. After a while, you might start teaching those moves. Meanwhile, almost no one developed the skill to actually feel music, interpret it and interact with a partner on a deep level that was fun to do and inspiring to watch. Sure, a couple of people eventually get some kind of skill, but they are the exceptions.

Martial arts as an activity is one of the worst about this. Go in and learn 50 forms and then the names of a bunch of techniques and your lineage and PRESTO, you're a martial artist. That's bullshit. You can't fight unless you develop the skill of fighting. End of story. This is why martial arts such as Muay Thai, wrestling, bjj, boxing, and judo tend to have better fighting skills. They emphasize skills over knowledge of techniques. It doesn't mean the other arts are inferior, just that they may be lost in the learning of knowledge penumbra.
If you are doing a martial art, what skills are you getting better at daily?

The worst thing about gaining knowledge without skill is that even that knowledge is often wrong or not completely right. Tell a musician that you can't play a certain note and he will probably show you a way to do it. If you tell me that you can't lean and do wing chun, I will show you how you can.

Get the skills. They are the only reason the knowledge culture exists. Skills open up your world, but knowing things doesn't change anything.