Hitting People with Sticks
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May
11

Last night’s class was both awesome and exhausting, coupled with the nervous excitement of doing new things.

Espada y daga is exactly what the Spanish words translate to – sword and dagger.  It’s a combination in feel of serrada and combat siniwallis – using two weapons, but one is still shorter than the other.  It’s a very different sensation than serrada, especially during lock & block.  Both feeder and receiver have to move a lot more, and it’s a more equal playing field than serrada, where only the feeder uses two weapons.

I was working with Maxwell, who was fantastically patient with my enthusiasm.  Not that he didn’t respond in kind – he nearly took me to the floor a few times and only stopped when his point had been made – but he put up with my excitement until I calmed down and started to focus.

We also did a lot of serrada l&b, and I’m feeling far more confident than I used to.  It’s fantastic to see and feel progress.

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May
04

Martial arts is a balancing act between “martial” and “arts”.  Any given system can focus too much on one aspect or the other.  The system I train in aims to balance them.

Lately, we’ve been catching up on the form and precision of the art to balance out the application of the martial, and I think it’s well-timed.  The students all have a good intellectual grasp of why we do things in a certain way, and ask well-thought-out questions to prove it.  Now we’re working on drilling the knowledge into muscle memory, both in calm practice situations and under the stress of lock and block.

One of the things I lack as a serious practitioner of eskrima is a training partner.  There’s only so much I can do on my own.  This means that these drill sessions in class are invaluable to me, and presumably to others in the class as well.

In fact, now that it’s nice outside again, I should attempt to set up weekend practice like we’ve had in the past.  Serrada and lock&block Sundays, perhaps.

Apr
28

While mashing buttons and killing pixels are all well and good, they aren’t the type I like to play.

I like puzzle games.

Yes, I love Bejeweled, and I won’t feel shame.  I play mah-jhong solitaire and often see the tiles on my eyelids as I’m trying to fall asleep.

This particular insight (and yes, it’s related to martial arts, I swear) occurred while playing that old Windows standby, Minesweeper.

Not Minecraft, the one all the cool kids are playing.  The “click squares and hope you don’t die” one.

And how on earth did this turn into an insight on martial arts?  Easy.   Speed is a failing for the sophomore.

I only started playing the game recently, and in the first few times, I was glacially slow.  I felt tentative about clicking on those potential mines, because I didn’t see any patterns.  Then, once I started seeing patterns, I got cocky.  I got faster, and also … did worse.

Starting to see my insight?

In eskrima, I tend to learn things at low, low speed at first, because there’s no muscle understanding of the movement.  My body is jerky as I try to get it to follow a new pattern.  Then, as I start to get the hang of it (in school terms, graduate from freshman to sophomore), I try to look cool.  I increase my speed, thinking I know a lot more than I do.  My learning suffers as a result – form goes down the toilet, and I fail and become frustrated.

So.  My new goal is to relish the slow pace of the beginner.  Get comfortable with this thing I’m forcing my body to learn, and really really extremely comfortable, before I try speed.

Also, stop trying to look cool.  Cause that’s where the mines are.

Apr
27

Last night’s class was a lot of brain work.

Serrada is a very formal version of FMA, and as such, it has very specific rules and goals.  A bit like a very angry, precise dance.

Except, of course, for the angry part.

The more amped up I get while doing serrada, the more problems I have.  My footwork gets all prancy, I start breathing hard, and I put far too much effort into not being efficient.  I work too hard, because I get excited and nervous.

So – lots to work on there.

On the plus side, I did get to do a bit of teaching of the basic serrada counters to some of the lower-ranked students, and I really enjoyed it.  As I’ve noted before, teaching is one of the best ways to cement your own knowledge, so I take these opportunities as gold.

Apr
25

It’s been quite a while since I updated this blog regularly, and I’ve decided to have another go at it.

Coming fresh off a seminar in Madison with our Inayan family in the IS3, the class has been working on a lot of serrada and lock & block.

Serrada is a form of FMA created by Angel Cabalas, a small man who could break bones seemingly without moving much at all. In Spanish, serrada means “to close”. It’s a very tight form of the art, with the arms and legs kept close to the body, using a small footprint to increase efficiency.

Last night was Fun. We did a good hard warm-up, worked on the short, hard strike that comes from the core rather than the shoulder by hitting the bags for a while, then settled into a good hour of rehearsing the basic counters for each angle. We concentrated on form and muscle memory, and Jill and I got to angle four before we broke to move on, which tell you how much minutiae we had to work with.

For the last half hour of class, we worked on lock & block, both feeding and receiving. L&B builds awareness, speed, and muscle memory by giving the feeder two weapons (a sword and a knife) and limiting the receiver to defensive actions. By the end of the night, everyone was sweaty, and everyone was improving.

It’s fantastic to see so much progress!

Dec
08

Last night’s class was fantastic – a big upper after feeling stupid about getting yet another black eye last week.

We’ve moved to KDM (kadena de mano or “chained hands”).  The link is to a YouTube video of Inayan practitioners demoing the basic techniques.  Last night was some basic joint locks, and the first few moves of lock flow #1.

There’s a lot in this material that reminds me of aikido, with one exception – we’re learning escapes from the locks as well as the locks themselves.  The movements are smooth and fast, and really require very little strength to apply.  It’s all about body position and taking you’re opponent’s balance.

Instructor McWethy mentioned that doing lock flows when you’re really good at them can be heady, almost addictive.  The moves are smooth and powerful, and there’s a great sense of satisfaction to be derived from doing the techniques correctly and responding well.

I seriously can’t wait for Thursday.

Additionally, I’ve acquired an edged weapon (a modified machete) to practice with at home, and I’m finding having a real edged weapon to be doing wonders for my swing form.  It’s even easier to maintain to continuous flow of moves, if only because the blade is a bit tip-heavy and doesn’t stop easily.

Good times!

Sep
23

I know that sounds a bit like a line from a video game, but hang in with me for a bit.

We worked on siniwallis one-for-one on Tuesday, and as usual, I feel like I’m both working on problems I found before, but also finding new ones.  At least I can fix them once they’re pointed out to me, but –  😛

Anyway, the revelation of the evening was how to make the block-redirect-hit technique work.  The basic building block is moving into your opponent’s space and controlling his perception of his swing, and also physically controlling his stick at the base, right down near where the crossguard would be.

As with most things, it’s a simple matter of physics.  At a distance, I can only block with the tip of my stick.  It’s playing with speed, and it’s dangerous as a tactic.  I can miss easily, and I don’t have a lot of strength in that position.  On the other hand, if I dive in closer, I can get him tight (corps a corps is the fencing term I’m thinking of, though it’s far less of a butting heads feel) and have the leverage and control I need to redirect his weapon and come around with my own, either as a cut, a strike, or even a tight tap with the butt of the weapon.

This is not just a defensive technique.  Your opponent’s action is giving you an opportunity to strike.  Say thank you, and take it.

Sep
23

Tuesday’s aikido class was a return to randori, both for me personally and the class in general.  It was also a serious workout.

The purpose of randori, at least as I see it in my current level, is to start stepping the prepared, rational, controlled techniques we learn one at a time from that controlled environment to one more realistic.  It ratchets up my tension and anxiety to have two people coming after me at once – not because I fear they’ll hurt me (I can’t imagine any of these people doing that on purpose), it’s more complicated than that.  There’s the performance element of it, knowing people are watching.  There’s the improvisational nature, where you don’t have a prescribed technique to put into practice.  There’s the simple animal reaction of “OMG MUST DEFEND SELF”.

The biggest thing I need to work on is still relaxation.  Sensei pointed out at one point that I was in this very aggressive stance when playing nage – I got the feeling that he was both amused, pleased, and concerned by the behavior.  It’s good to be prepared and even eager for the exercise, but getting lost in that energy leads nowhere good.

I’m getting better at it with practice, as with most things.  I suspect it’s going to be a sticking point for me for a while, though.

Sep
17

Nick knocked us around for warm-ups last night, and I’ve got the barked knuckles to show for it.  I think we did about 70 push-ups altogether, in 10 push-up increments.  Not counting the 40 a couple of folks had to do to atone for not wearing the proper uniform (ie still not sewing the patch onto a pair of pants).  I’m bringing a needle and thread to class next week, just in case.

We had a larger class, which is always a challenge when working with siniwallis techniques.  The four white-shirt students stuck to the back of the class and worked on pattern drills, while the blue and green shirt students reviewed one-for-one techniques and worked on weaving redirects into that game.

The tips/rules pretty much remain the same for anything resembling combat siniwallis – defocus, letting your peripheral vision direct your action; relax, since this aids in the defocusing and helps you move faster and with more efficiency; and always rechamber your weapon after a strike so you don’t get tangled up or unable to defend yourself.

I’m beginning to feel confident enough with these techniques that I’m moving from the “what should I be doing right now oh crap that was wrong” mindset to the “this is freaking fun” mindset.  It’s a unique way of training particular to FMA, this ambidextrous attack and defend process.  I can’t wait to see how this helps out my serrada and KDM techniques – I imagine more than I would expect.

Sep
15

I had to take a funds-forced break from aikido for a few months, but thankfully, I can go back now!  Last night was my first class back.

It was a randoori night, so we focused more on techniques that aren’t so stylized – always a fun thing for me.  We started extremely close to our partners, bellies nearly touching.  That’s the most dangerous range, and also very true to life, from what I understand.  Angry, belligerent people tend to encroach on their victims’ personal space as an intimidation tactic before throwing the first punch, usually a hook or haymaker.

The techniques were simple and not flashy at all, but very effective.  Most involved getting arms up to protect the head and collapsing into your assailant, to negate the effectiveness of further attacks.  Then, we could swim under the opponent’s raised arm and get him in a choke hold before throwing him to the ground.

The nastiest one was a true triangle choke, and that one could probably knock someone out easily within a few seconds.  Having blood flow cut off on both sides of your neck at once is pretty serious – we didn’t do much of that one.

Great class, and I’m glad to be back.