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.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Where is the threat?

If you have been assiduously practicing your kata, you might be under the impression that the greatest threat came from the left hand side, particularly when four toughs block your path.  Yeesh!  In my previous blog, I ranted about the insanity of the multi person attack scenario.  Now, I ask you to prove it to yourself.  How would you fight four attackers?

While you are cogitating on that, let me say that apart from avoiding dark places where four baddies can sneak up on you, you can really only deal with one person at a time.  So, either find a way to line up the four assailants that you might take them on sequentially, or prepare to take a beating.  You see, it doesn't work.  While your mind is fixated on fighting four men, you miss out on the important kata lesson of dealing with the most dangerous threat, and that is the single attacker in front of you.

The right and left hand symmetry of  kata is not to emphasize multiple attackers, rather it is to demonstrate that the man in front of you may present you with an attack from either side.  Your responses, then, is to move off-line to a side which is advantageous to you.

If you dispense with the multi-person attack scenario, and think of only one attacker, it will be easier to see how a combination of moves set-up complex technique.  You will see that kata is intricate and at the same time conservatively simple.  If the strike to the face does not immediately have the desired effect, follow-up by wrapping your arm around the back of his head, and turn whilst simultaneously dropping your center of gravity.  Which kata did this application appear in?  (Hint, it is the one where you were told to elbow the guy in front of you in the chin at the same time as you elbow the guy behind you in the gut.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

That's crazy. Me, Tarzan.

Happy New Year!  Sorry for the scarcity in posts.  Between natural disasters and personal upheavals there was no time to ponder the deep meaning of Karate.   With a little time to breathe and since I am out of practice, allow me to rant  about the shallow stuff.  In a chat with fellow karate geeks, one of the pillars of a system I am fond of  was quoted (I'll paraphrase for you), "kata is not only a fight with multiple opponents but it teaches you the main technique of karate."  I would like to take this moment to argue that no kata ever demonstrated how to effectively deal with a group of attackers.  If fighting multiple attackers is the premise of all kata, karate ought to be dismissed as outright foolishness.

Think about the Heian/Pinan series of kata for example.  If you were surrounded on four sides, you are seconds from getting pounded into a grease stain, so forget about turning to the left.  It is hard enough fighting one attacker, if you want to take on four you had better have a firearm and standoff distance, so let just deal with one attacker m'kay.  Let's place that attacker squarely in front of you, what would you do?  I would step off line, maybe to the left, maybe to the right, to get a better angle on my opponent.  Maybe I would stay in place, occupy his center.  It would depend on what attack I am countering, but it would always be against the person directly in front of me.

"But, but, but," you start to object, "what about all those turns?"  Oh, you mean the embusen, the pattern of lines your feet trace on the floor as you purportedly meet attackers who ambush you in the capital letter "I" formation, or something similar to the Nazca drawings.  Recognize that patterns exist in kata, just as they exist in poetry and song.  They exist to make the message memorable, but they are not the message.  I don't know how many times I read, ". . .his armor clanged upon him, as darkness clouded his eyes," every time a soldier died in one of Homer's epic poems.  Mnemonics.

The embusen, helps you remember a theme, elbow joint destruction at the bottom of the "I" and punches in the vertical part.  Also, kata have complicated embusen so as to accomodate turns, not for the purpose of meeting multiple opponents.  The turns are the  most important part of the kata as they contain the most destructive technique.  Grab hold of the guy you are tussling with, turn suddenly and drop your center of gravity.  Depending on what part of your opponent you grabbed, you either snapped a limb or threw him to the floor.  Kata is that simple and that complex.  But fighting multiple opponents? That's crazy.  It is not that fighting a gang of toughs is impossible, it is simply not the primary, not even the tertiary lesson.

On kata teaching the main karate technique, yeah, sorry, not really.  Teachers teach karate.  If you are ever told to repeat kata many times until you understand, then your teacher, and his teacher before him failed.  This kind of karate frustrates me to no end.  It is the same as expecting the illiterate to learn to read by tracing words from a book.  I know of one illiterate autodidact who taught himself to read.  His name is Tarzan, a fictional character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs.