Saturday, December 17, 2016

What Your Sensei May Have Not Taught You About Deep Stances (Simbur)

Maybe you've practiced karate for 30 years and teach your own classes, maybe you are an intermediate student already comfortable with low stances like kiba dachi from where you throw countless chudan tsuki. If you are only doing deep and low stances because they challenge your quadriceps, or because they "look" like proper karate, this will challenge your notion of karate. If you are content with your karate situation, click to another blog or watch one of those cute "crazy things that cats do" videos because what follows may disturb your equipoise.

Your balance and low and deep stances mean next to nothing unless your feet are deep into your opponent's personal space. Hold the foot fetish imagery for a second and consider the "why." Surely there must have been a reason for emphasizing deep stances and footwork, even if the old karate masters could not explain why?

In the attached video, chief SSBD instructor Maul Mornie demonstrates a thigh sweep, which might trigger an "a-ha!" moment. In order to perform this technique correctly you must step through your opponent side-on. As you do, your thigh, close to the inguinal crease, clips your opponent's leg and throws him off balance. Like anything, it takes practice.

Maul performs this throw (Simbur) effortlessly, which comes from walking through countless opponents. You cannot develop this skill with thousands of repetitions against your reflection in a mirror. As you watch the video, you might notice that the technique looks a bit like kiba dachi, and at other times, like zenkutsu dachi or kokotsu dachi. That's okay. Naming something is an act of taking possession, but if you do not understand what you are taking hold of, the name hardly matters. Forget the names for a moment and just do.

When you train with Maul, as I do, naturally you become more adept in the art of SSBD, as a side bonus for karateka, it makes your karate better.

Putar Kepala: A better osae uke/mawashi uke

Putar Kepala means to swivel or turn the head. In Silat, it refers a family of takedowns by turning your opponent's head. Representations of this technique can be found in karate (osae uke and mawashi uke). Now there are several versions of osae uke and mawashi uke floating around out there, so be forewarned. The two we are concerned with accomplish the same thing: to apply torsion to the spine of your opponent in order to breakdown his structure. The principle of the technique, like many others, is to bend and twist. In karate you will recognize the technique as up and down pressing blocks (osae uke), or the mawashi uke (with artfully curved pinky and ring fingers and ostentatious ibuki).

"Wait a minute, these are two totally different technique," you are thinking. Think again. With this application of Putar Kepala your opponent's head is down (torso bent at the waist) and one of his arms is up in the air. The curved little fingers of mawashi uke are a clue that you are grasping your opponent in some fashion. In fact, you are grasping him behind the neck and by the elbow. Using the principle of the force couple (equal and opposing forces on a parallel path) you cause your opponent to twist and thereby lose his balance. Osae uke is representative of the force couple principle. Mawashi uke is a descriptive representation of what is going on (rotation).

Take a look at Lorenzo Bagnai putting Putar Kepala in action. Notice the use of forearm strikes to the neck, elbow strikes to the face, and knee kicks to the body to get the opponent into position. By advancing, retreating, or moving to one side or the other, he is able to direct his opponent in a variety of directions.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Uchi Uke/ Gedan Barai and Mnemonics: How can you remember what you haven't learned

You've heard before that kata is the lesson plan, not the lesson (that was from me), and that the movements are incomplete; they point to principles that your instructor must elucidate. Of course, having learned the lesson, the movements in kata become mnemonics for the student, aids to make the lesson stick. What happens when your instructor never learned the lesson? In this instance you get the kind of karate instruction that says after 10,000 repetitions you will know (or not). Today's post is on uchi uke gedan barai.

Perhaps you've been told that this compound "block" found in kata and featured in ido geiko represent simultaneous backfists to groin and face. Do we really need a memory aid for this application?

Here's the lesson. Pay attention at 1:58 as Maul Mornie (SSBD) applies an arm-bar. It flies by so don't miss it. This application of uchi uke gedan barai uses the principle of leverage to flip the opponent behind you. An important part of the lesson is understanding how to get close enough to your opponent to damage him. Adversaries do not normally offer up their limbs for destruction. Notice that the scenario involves a face to face confrontation.

And now for the mnemonic. At around 20 seconds into this video, karateka will charge each other. Notice the karateka running with his hands held in the uchi uke gedan barai pose. Whenever you see karateka running at each other with their arms held low and high, remember Maul Mornie's arm-bar throw. Also, refer back to my article on force couples and artful poses with hidden meaning.

For more information on SSBD:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Understanding Kata: Couples and Collisions

For some, Karate is principally about striking.  Mechanically, we would be talking about collisions. It is kicking and punching, and also managing the kicks and punches. Kata, the dance so misunderstood, would then be a catalogue of such technique. The footwork and body mechanics, from this perspective, is oriented towards facilitating collisions between fist and nose, foot and ribs. This, however, is a limited perspective. Karate is not only about collisions, but also about couples: force couples (a system of equal and opposite forces on parallel paths).

"GTFO," you say. Hang on. The force couple is the foundation of many martial arts. You will recognize it in the Yin-Yang symbol- the circle with swirls of black and white. When you combine equal and opposite forces on parallel paths you get rotation. You will also see force couples in kata if you know what you are looking for. Here are some clues: simultaneous pulling and pushing actions; pivoting and turning (obviously); certain actions and poses to which no application can be attributed other than "chambering."

In this excellent demonstration by Maul Mornie (SSBD), we see a force couple in action at the 1:16 mark. There are several names in karate for this move, gedan bari and manji uke, come to mind. Traditionally, gedan bari, although a compound move, is thought of as a downward sweeping block, and little consideration given to what the other arm is doing besides simply chambering. Similarly there is a kata move most interpret as a violent removal of the male genitalia- again hardly a thought to what the other arm is doing. What Maul Mornie demonstrates by the simultaneous pulling and pushing is a force couple which rotates his opponent around the horizontal axis.

Force couples abound. Not only can they be applied to torsos as in the previous example, but also to limbs. Here, Lorenzo Bagnai (Isam Firenze) demonstrates an arm-bar. Lorenzo once said to me, "Se non c'è coppia di forze non c'è nessuna tecnica." (no force couple, no technique) To which I replied,"Huh?. . .you mean like gunting in FMA (scissors)?" "Esatto!"

Speaking of scissors ("hasami" in Japanese) there is the infamous crab claw takedown (kani "basami") of Judo. This just to illustrate how pervasive the principle of the force couple is. Look for it in your kata and you will have a better karate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Save the Dancing for Later : Tekpi/Sai Applications

I've said it before, but it bears repeating, if you don't know the martial applications of your kata (jurus) you are just dancing.  This is doubly true for traditional weapons kata (jurus), but I guess instead of dancing let's call it rhythmic gymnastics or baton twirling.  Don't be that guy manipulating the weapon without a clue to its use.  People in the know, know that the only thing threatening about you is the war face you put on.  Instead, learn about weapons like the tekpi from someone like Maul Mornie (SSBD).  Be an authentic martial artist.

After watching the above video, watch it again.  During the second viewing, pay attention to Maul's body position and structure.  Notice his foot placement (the receiver almost tripped).  Pay attention to the fight tactics (uppercut to set-up the collar bone break).  Watch it a third time, I did and I was there, because it's so cool.  And remember what I said before, even though you may never carry a tekpi for protection, the training will pay off and you will have a better karate.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Tekpi (Sai) The Sword Breaker of SSBD

I just spent a weekend in Desenzano, Italy learning how to use tekpi directly from  Maul Mornie (SSBD).  The weekend consisted of instruction on gripping the weapon, grip changes, striking, blocking, and quite interestingly, joint locking.  Totally accessible and friendly, Maul is open to all questions.  Here he is in action.

The tekpi of Brunei and the sai of Okinawa bear strong family resemblances.  They are both three-pronged forks having a long, thick central tine between two shorter and less substantial ones.  The tekpi is primarily an impact weapon, dubbed the Sword Breaker, it can be used to beat bladed weapons away, and of course to beat your opponent purple.  There is no catching of blades with the tekpi, neither between the tines nor with crossed central tines.  That's crazy.  If you understand a little bit about mechanical advantage, two long levers (the sword and the central tine) against your wrists is a recipe for decapitation or "you're not going to believe this but" cocktail conversation.  Note- since you will not be catching swords between the tines, it it perfectly ok to have your thumbs or other digits gripping the tekpi between the tines or indeed wielding the tekpi from the "wrong end."

You might think all this fuss about sword breaking is a bit anachronistic and that tekpi have no use for the modern-day, unarmed fighting guy or gal, but you would be wrong.  According to Maul, the use of the instruments improves the practitioner's structure, mechanics, manual dexterity, and strength.  And why should they not?  Tekpi are steel rods.  You don't whip them about the air without deriving some noticeable benefits, like heavy, penetrating hand strikes and a vice like pinch grip.  When you strike with tekpi, you strike as if wielding a hammer, downwards usually (there are also sidestrikes and uppercuts).  Because these instruments are heavy, you must use your entire body (legs and core) to swing them properly.

Proper use of the tekpi makes the weak arm stronger.  Traditionally, the tekpi was held in the left hand (for right handed warriors), while the right hand wielded the killing weapon, typically a blade of some sort.  This is not unique.  In the West, there is a traditional combination of sword and dagger, then of course there are the Samurai.  Over the course of time, practice with the tekpi actually makes the weak hand the stronger hand, which is not an unwanted development.  According to Maul, the weak hand is actually the more dangerous hand because it is the one used to control the opponent's body and put him into vulnerable positions.  Since close quarters, unarmed fighting is very much about controlling the opponent's body to finish the fight, tekpi training is a perfect complement to Silat and a better karate.

Any errors or misinterpretations are my own.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Silat Buka Lingkaran for Karateka

First, I am sorry for not updating this blog in such a long time.  For my handful of readers, it is not that I have forgotten you.  Moving to Italy presents some distractions.   Just know that I have been training regularly in Silat Cidepok under the instruction of my pal Lorenzo Bagnai, and also attending seminars in Silat Suffian Bela Diri and Silat Buka Lingkaran, given by Maul Mornie and Alvin Guinanao, respectively.  Who knew Italy is the Silat capital of Europe?  Recently, Lorenzo and I had the pleasure of traveling to Gorgonzola (just outside Milan) to learn Silat from Alvin.

Wow!  As a rank beginner in Silat, you might conclude that I am easily impressed by the novel, maybe.  I like to think that a lifetime in the martial arts would enable me to discern the good stuff from fluff.  Lorenzo, who has been teaching Silat Cidepok for ten years, was mightily impressed by Alvin's technique, just as he is impressed by Maul's.  I hold these gentlemen in high regard.  Each has something to teach all karateka.  Here's a vid of Alvin's seminar in Gorgonzola.

Now there are a number of things that can be gleaned from Silat that will make kata more intelligible to karateka.  Among them are flow and gelek ( the notion of turning, often with the limbs of your opponent intertwined with your own).  The notion of flow seems to be stunted in karate.  It is as if the primacy of the "ikken  hissatsu" ideal, where the karateka strives to deliver the one deciding strike, reduces everything to choppy, staccato like movements ending in a punch or a kick.  In contrast Alvin uses strikes to set up opportunities.  One technique flows to the next, twisting, turning, striking, rolling.  He attacks low, then high, whatever it takes to keep the opponent off balance.  Mix it up with Alvin, and you will be off kilter quickly, and then on your face.  In much of what I have learned in Silat, the job is not done until the opponent lays broken on the ground.

I have said before that the numerous turns that you find in kata do not represent opportunities to face a new opponent, rather they represent a takedown or joint destruction.  In the above video, you can see the potential for these devastating technique.  Note that the turns apply as well on the ground.  Some karateka might be familiar with kata that involve falling to the ground, and kicking from one side to the other, without realizing that the turn on the ground itself is the destructive application, the power of gelek.  Falling may also be turned to one's advantage, especially if you are falling on top of your adversary's extended knee or elbow joint.  No movement is wasted.

When you are practicing your kata, ask yourself if any movement seems wasteful.  Does it seem more art than martial?  Cross training in Silat with someone like Alvin, Maul or Lorenzo as your guide will help you make sense of it.  Besides teaching me Silat, they have made my karate better.