Saturday, July 31, 2010

Small Circle Theory and Keeping a Open Mind.

I was reading an interesting post over at Bujutsu: The Path.  Read it here.

The post discusses, amongst other things, Wally Jay and the art of Small Circle Jiu Jitsu.  The style of Jiu Jitsu that I study is heavily influenced by the small circle theory.  My Sensei is always telling me to make the circle smaller, to be more efficient in my technique, not to 'muscle it' etc.

The point that jumped out at my from J.C.'s discussion is that no matter what art we study, there are concepts and ideas that can easily cross over from art to art.  Each system out there has differences and similarities.  We are drawn to those arts that focus on certain areas or theories that make sense to us.

Over generalizations might be that Bralizian Jiu Jitsu is only a ground fighting system, Tae Kwon Do is all kicks and Judo is just throws.  Even if you agree with this, it is silly to say that these arts don't contain other aspects of combat.

The point to take from all this is that we must always keep an open mind to other arts and artists.  Wally Jay's small circle theory has ten points, but he never felt they belonged only to Jui Jitsu.  I suspect this is why it is a theory of combat that he meant to share, not to say it only belonged to one style, teacher or artist.

The following quote is copied right from J.C's post:

“One of the key elements is about not having to use massive amounts of power to control people – we control them with as little effort and, therefore damage to them, as possible.
“Students take on board the 10 principles that Dad drew up and apply them to their own systems. There’s balance, avoiding head on collision of forces, mobility and stability, mental resistance to an attack, concentrating the maximum force to the smallest point, energy transfer, the two-way action of the fulcrum and lever and making a base, sticking to your opponent and feeling what he’s doing, rotational movement, and transitional flow – where you can flow from one technique into another effortlessly.” (from an interview at

What art couldn't benefit from some of these concepts?  None that I know.

The salient point?  No one owns any technique or series of techniques.  If we strive to keep and open mind and learn from everyone, we become more well rounded martial artists.  I may never wish to take a particular martial art, but I sure can learn from it and the people who study it. 

If we can maintain a spirit of openness, both in mind and heart, we will all benefit.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Steven Seagal is the Sh__!!!

I've always thought the Steven Seagal is the real deal.  I'm the first to admit that his movies have gotten worse and worse over the years and yes, he's gained weight and aged.  It's easy to forget that 'Above the Law' came out in 1988.

I encourage people to research Seagal.  Like him or hate him, I think you'll find that a whole bunch of people agree that he is an incredibly talented martial artist.

This has been on the Internet and YouTube for a while now, but check out this clip of Seagal training Anderson Silva from the UFC.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Loyalty vs. Obligation (Giri)

Giri, or obligation, is a concept often associated to the Japanese martial arts.  It stems from a time when an aspiring martial artist essentially pledged themselves to a martial arts master, in return for their knowledge and instruction.  The student would never dream of leaving his/her master or studying with another.  They felt an obligation, often a burden of obligation, sacrificing their own wants for the happiness of their master.  This is a gross oversimplification of the concept of Giri, of course, but it leads into this discussion.

Modern day warriors often talk about obligation to their teacher.  They regard their understanding of it as a positive thing.  I believe the concepts of loyalty and obligation are often confused.  When most people talk about Giri, I think they are really talking about loyalty (at least here in the West).

I do not feel a sense of obligation to my Sensei but I do feel a powerful sense of loyalty to him.

Interestingly, I am likely more loyal to him because he has always encouraged me to experiment with other martial arts and artists.  He has never once said that Jiu Jitsu is the only martial art I should study or that he is the only one I should learn from.  He knows what he knows, and he knows it well.  If it works for me, he'll provide instruction to me.  If it's not for me, no hard feelings.

Have I shown my loyalty?  From a distance, it might not look like it, but my sense of loyalty runs very deeply.

My Sensei started me on my journey many years ago.  He awoke my love of martial arts which has lasted since then.  I learned from him for several years before I stopped training with him.  This was due to moving, starting a career etc.  Geographically it became impossible for a time.  I trained with several other schools and teachers, often earning several belts.  I enjoyed and benefited from all these experiences.  I've also taught work related self defense to my co-workers.

No matter where I went, the lessons I learned originally always stuck.  My original Jiu Jitsu training always bubbled up to the surface.  This showed me just how deeply the lessons I received had an effect on me, and how an effective teacher could really reach a student.

So how did I show my loyalty?

I always remained true to the lessons I learned.
I never pretended to be an expert or know more than I did.
I strove to find techniques that worked for others, not just for me.
I always insisted the techniques would work in the 'real world'.
I encouraged others to learn all they can from whoever they can.
I kept an open mind.
I respected others.
I learned from everyone.
I tried to be a positive example of a martial artist.
I tried to avoid unnecessary conflict.

Ultimately, I returned to my Sensei and started over.  I like to think this is how I've been loyal to him.

For those years I wasn't training under him?  A friend of mine once joked that I was like a Ronin, a masterless Samurai combing the countryside, searching for a teacher.

In truth, it turns out I was just trying to find my way back home.

I feel no obligation, but I am loyal to the core.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why do you want to learn to hurt people?

This question was asked of a friend of mine a while back.  The person who asked could not understand why anyone other than military, law enforcement or security personnel would want to take martial arts unless their goal was to harm others.  

It would be tempting to task this person with researching Aikido and Zen and Budo and Bushido and the philosophy of the arts to provide answers, but that's may be unrealistic.

There are a myriad of reasons to study martial arts, but the two that most quickly come to my mind as an answer to this question (other than job related) are:

1.  To protect your family and loved ones.
2.  To  avoid confrontation.

Number one is pretty easy to understand, it's number two that's tricky.

I've discussed related issues in previous posts, see here here and here.

J.C. has an interesting quote over at Bujutsu: The Path 

So, removing any work related reasons, how would you answer that question if someone asked you?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The power of the spoken word and the art of being a good teacher

My last post discussed dedication and talked about what it takes to be a Sensei.  I have been lucky enough to have trained under some great teachers during my journey.  I have not only become a better martial artist, but a better person for having met them.

Being a Sensei, or a teacher, is an enormous responsibility.  I was recently directed to a post by Sensei Strange at Kyu Ryu Aiki Budo about conflict resolution in teaching.

The part that caught my eye was his telling of a Sensei that lost his temper at him over a miscommunication of some sort.  The Sensei yelled at him in front of the class. This soured him for some time on his chosen art.

This post made me think the power of the spoken word.  From my own experience, I once left a martial arts club and never returned after the teacher made some negative remarks.  Not constructive criticism of a technique, but a negative personalized comment.  I was made to feel like crap and I never went back.  Normally I'm a pretty confident person and comments roll off my back, but in this case, just a sentence or two turned me off training there.

This is the type of power and influence a Sensei has.  It takes months or years to build up a relationship of trust and mutual respect between teacher and student.  All this work, and the special bond it creates, can also me destroyed in a matter of seconds.

Sensei Strange talks about how 15 years after the fact he still remembers his situation vividly.  So do I.  I remember the exact words and how I felt at the time.  Mostly I felt a sense of disappointment and having been betrayed.  It was an uncharacteristically powerful emotional response on my part, but it showed me just how much influence a Sensei can have on you and your sense of self within the arts.

The relationship between Sensei and student is a unique and powerful one.  It should never be taken lightly.

Thanks to all the great teachers out there.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dedication - showing up and what it takes to be a Sensei

I've talked previously about the importance of showing up for training. I've discussed the frustrations of missing classes and how the real world can often intrude in our training, be it work, injuries, or familial obligations.

Michelle had an interesting post over at Just a Thought asking readers if they've ever considered quitting the martial arts. There were some interesting comments made on her blog.

This got me to thinking of what an awesome commitment it is to be a Sensei (or Sifu or any teacher of the martial arts).

My Sensei, and many others I've known, always show up. Rain or shine, every class, they are there. Injuries, illness and fatigue are no excuses for them (save for medical emergencies).
Students can be fickle at times, showing up from time to time, but one thing they know is that the teacher will always be there. There have been occasions where no students show up at all, due to weather, vacations or any other host of reasons. The teacher still shows up. Every time.

I remind myself of this level of dedication each time I don't really feel like going to a class. Rarely have I ever heard a Sensei discuss his/her dedication or complain about the time commitment. It is no small undertaking to take the position of Sensei or teacher.

This illustrates the strength of character that our good teachers have. It also demonstrates their true dedication to their teachers, their art and their students. We should learn from their example.

We should all be thankful for the time and effort our teachers put in.

I doubt you'll ever have a class where your Sensei tries to teach you how to be dedicated to your art and your fellow students. It just won't happen.

Often the most powerful lessons taught are the ones not discussed.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Practice make perfect, so practice perfectly

In previous posts, I've discussed the importance of being 'in the moment'. Never just go through the motions of a technique.

Well, recently, I had to say those words to myself. Being in my line of work, I often find myself in the position of handcuffing someone who is on the ground. I have repeatedly practiced a technique for turning someone over from being on their back to their front. It involves controlling the hand, stepping around the head and ending up in a position where you can either handcuff, apply a shoulder lock (I call it the gas pedal) or any other number of techniques with you opponent on his/her stomach.

The technique itself doesn't really matter. The point is that, as I actually applied it to a uncooperative person, it didn't work quite as well as I'd hoped. I set myself up for it but didn't really apply it with proper focus. I ended up using strength instead of skill and struggled in its execution. It still worked, which is a good thing, but I still had to 'power it' to make it work.

Examining what happened, I realized that for that particular technique, I had started to go through the motions without even realizing it.

In class, we often work on ground techniques, often starting from your opponent on their back, from a throw or takedown. I realized that in my zeal for the next technique, I didn't really pay attention to the technique that got my opponent over on their stomach. I went through the motions, and so did my training partner. Then I applied the requested technique. This is a dangerous trap to fall in. It would have been better to skip the first part of the technique altogether than to just go through the motions.

No matter how many advanced techniques you learn, none of them are any good if you can't get your opponent into a position to apply it.

Always practice your set up technique or your distraction technique with the same seriousness that you practice your main technique. You can't get to number two if you don't do number one correctly.

There are no techniques that should be skipped over to get to the next one. In the real world, if you miss the first part, you'll never get to part two.

It's easy to get lazy in your set up techniques. They are your foundations. Without them, it's impossible to move on to something more advanced. Once again, 'Advanced techniques are the basics done better.'

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Humility and glimpses of greatness

For any readers out there, thanks for your patience. I'm back on line.

I was reading one of J.C's posts over at Bujutsu: the Path. He titled a post Weakness. In it, he discussed his frustration when he didn't pick up a technique as quickly as he'd like or when he discovered a bad habit in a technique he thought he knew well. He went on to say humility is the key, accepting a weakness in order to improve or fix it.

J.C.'s post got me to thinking about my own meandering journey. When I started over with my Sensei, I was pretty confident in a whole bunch of techniques. I didn't think I was a master by any means, but I knew what I knew. Well, I thought I knew what I knew. I didn't. Sensei picked my techniques apart. He dissected them and showed me areas to improve. This process continues today.

Perhaps one of my own epiphanies was realizing that I would never truly master any technique. I could get real good at them, but there will always be room for improvement. Always. And that's a good thing.

Reading the post made me realize that I am always looking for feedback to improve. In fact, if I do a technique and my Sensei says nothing, I now begin to dissect my own techniques for ways to improve. I used to get frustrated when I didn't execute a technique flawlessly, now it never even occurs to me that I could do it that way. I believe this to be progress. Does this mean I have discovered a degree of humility? I hope so.

So if we never master something, how do we know we are improving? I remember being in class with J.C. and he was receiving some feedback from Sensei on a well worn technique. After class, J.C. was sharing his frustration at the fact that he'd been doing the technique for a long time and Sensei still found a bunch of areas to work on.

Having worked with J.C. for quite some time, I knew he was getting better with each passing week. What made me chuckle was that fact that he was so frustrated with himself, but he didn't realize that Sensei was now nit picking. When Sensei does this, it means you have essentially become proficient in the execution of the technique. Being picky about the small things mean you've graduated from learning the basics of it to getting really good at it. When the corrections get smaller and we delve into the nuances of a technique, I know we've improved.

There are also times now when Sensei says nothing. I know I've done something correctly, but it still doesn't feel right. And there are times I do something, and it feels effortless and it works perfectly. It is in these moments that I suspect that there is something beyond just the mechanics of a technique. It is in these moments that I get glimpses of greatness, not in myself, but in my art and the energy around me.

Never be satisfied. Always strive to improve and enjoy the journey.