Saturday, 25 March 2017

Finding stillness in movement- dealing with the dynamics or work and life

So, this week has been really busy with surprises at work popping up around every corner.

This is the 8th month that I am working for myself without any staff.

Before this month I have been able to plan my day and see the planning through. Recently, though, I saw that I needed to accommodate urgent matters that have come up and had to try my best to squeeze in some extra work not planned for and reschedule some of the work I already had planned.

 In this tumultuous week I have found that I started feeling frustrated, because I am used to seeing the end of the day ahead, the end of the days work quota and the point at which I could just put tools down and relax.

It is often at that time when I feel ready to call it a day when new work comes to surprise me.

In fighting I have found that the stressful part of it all is where you can't see the end of it.

That part where I can drop my guard and celebrate is not anywhere in sight while my opponent and I are engaged in championship sparring match or during a sparring exercise.   

The thing is- if you experience this as well I can assure you that it is nothing new.
The Taoists have known about this long before these hurried times in which we find ourselves.

As a follower of Taoist and Zen philosophy I really value the times in which I can quietly meditate and renew my spirit. The calm at those times serve a purpose. There is another sort of calm- or "stillness", though which is more valuable to us as martial artists.

Bruce Lee referred to this stillness as "the stillness in movement". He was not the first to speak of it, though.

Those of you that have been out at sea on a fishing boat (I doubt that these modern ships can still make anyone seasick) might know very well that people who have their "sea legs" are not better off by being motionless at sea, but by being in harmony with the movement of the sea.

We also know that surfers and skateboarders stay on their boards while they are in motion because they have developed the ability to move with the board instead of trying to remain in one place.

Work and business have dynamic environments. You can't stay on top of these environments by keeping still or by trying to stop the dynamics within these environments.

Some people in management positions may know of the acronym "MBWA" that means "Managing By Walking Around". This particular practice is a means by which managers maintain control over their areas of responsibility not by sitting in an office and eating doughnuts, but by being in the environment and meeting occurrences as they arise.

To cultivate stillness within movement you need to learn to let go of certain preferences. Yes- we prefer our safe rourtines, we prefer to knock off at the same time every day and we prefer that everything goes as planned, but relying on these assumptions is what open us up to disaster.

I am not a fan of crisis management and I will never tell anyone to go through his day without planning. What I will say, however, is this-

Our plans are most often based on experience and acquired knowledge. That comes from the past. Planning can give you a set of guidelines to follow and give you a structure within which to work, but it will never cover every eventuality. The only way you can meet the uncertainty of the future is by being flexible and adaptable.

Karate people have free sparring of course to teach them these things.

I love Wing Chun's sticking hands, though. It uses fewer parts of the body than karate sparring, but is still an excellent exercise. I found this video on Youtube in which the teacher seems to combine Taiji's pushing hands with Wing Chun's sticking hands. It is an excellent demonstration of this principle...

I hope everyone has a really good weekend and a really good week ahead. 

Saturday, 18 March 2017

My message to my fellow Afrikaners in South Africa- regain your warrior spirit!

It is a story which Afrikaners my age know all too well.

A nation of people subjugated by war with the British and oppressed slowly rising and managing to establish a republic at the Southernmost end of Africa. The story of how these people have  regained their ethnic pride and what they have accomplished with their unity has filled our history books.

Then- with no more English soldiers to humiliate, subjugate or kill them, these people, the Afrikaners secured their hold on this country and made sure that no one else rises up to take it from them. That meant that the Black people, who actually made up the majority of this country's people and who regarded themselves as the indigenous people of this country before us- had to be kept in check.

Now we can allow some of the most hypocritical among us to come and say that it was for their own good and so forth, but that does not change the situation in which we find ourselves now.

In 1994 the tables got turned with a simple election. The once powerful minority that held sway got replaced by a majority that was as eager to rule as they are incapable. Well- at least by my standards they are. To their minds and and to the minds of their misguided followers the ANC is doing a great job running this country!

Sure! Water has become unsuitable for drinking, electricity supply has become unreliable and crime, corruption and unemployment has never been higher, but hey- the Whites are no longer in charge so who is complaining?

Now what is the point to my politically charged introduction? Well- as the video at the top of this post shows. People like me who speak Afrikaans as a first language and whose skins are white are now a minority group targeted by a majority group for extermination.

Whether the Government supports it I don't care. Fact is- the Government and this country's police is doing nothing to protect us. It is up to ourselves to ensure our own safety.

Now- foreign readers may not find anything to take home from this point in the post, but as a martial artist I want to tell my people this:

Ever wondered how we have become so weak and such easy targets? It has nothing to do with a president or whoever you feel has sold us out. As a person who has been at the bottom of every social structure or corporate ladder that I have encountered in my life I can assure you- you will always have people appointed above you who make crappy decisions without any regard for your wellbeing. You will always be negatively affected by those decisions.

Hell! I am working for myself now and still cannot prevent myself from bearing the consequences of other people's lack of foresight or inability to plan!

Blaming these people will get you nowhere in life.

Back when our people were nothing more than farmers, postal workers or railway workers they had lots of people in charge of them who made some really bad decisions about their lives.

Hell! Many of their mothers and grandmothers have died in British concentration camps before the Anglo-Boer War had come to its anticlimactic end!

What a lot of people from that generation will tell you about that time is that there was a prevailing collective pride in the hearts of the Afrikaner as a nation. What I will tell you is that times were tougher then...

Back then these people were not rich. Their lives were not nice and comfortable enough for them to say: "Let sleeping dogs lie."

No! Their lives sucked! They hated it. They wanted to change it and were desperate enough to get off their arses to do it! 

What some historians will tell you is that the decision of Generals like Smuts to surrender to the English was purely for reasons of preserving the Boer nation. They were simply not strong enough in numbers to hold off the English and would have been wiped out. Many Boers from that time would tell you, though, that they were ready to die and would have wanted to fight on for much longer.

This indifference to death is very important to a warrior. Without it he cannot be of any use in battle.

The people we see being killed now are not warriors. They are scared of death and they die with fear in their hearts. As long as we are like this these killers will regard us as soft targets.

The old rules of giving a robber your phone/ car etc no longer apply. These people want your life!
Your backs are now against the wall and your only chance of survival shall now be to fight to the very death! Yours or theirs! Begging for your life is not going to cut it, though.

Living in fear will get us nowhere.

You know you live in a violent country. If you do not yet know how to protect yourself or defend yourself that is your choice of which you have to bear the consequences. As a martial artist I have long since decided that I shall stay in this country and not live here in fear. I know I have a pride that may very well kill me one day, but I refuse to live being regarded as a coward or an easy target for wrongdoers.

Comic book fans say Batman's lack of superpowers is compensated for by prep time and resources.
Many of you have lots of both! Whether you use it or not is up to you!
If you want to learn self defense techniques you don't have to look very far.

Below are links to tutorial videos I have found in under 15 minutes!

If you don't feel like taking the trouble to equip yourself to fight back I guess that your circumstances are just not bad enough yet...

Many of you might say that it is impossible to get a firearm licence nowadays.

This is nothing new. I suspect that the Goverment is using the police to disarm us as far as possible. Whether this suspicion is correct or not is of little concern. Not so long ago (during the 1920's) the Ryukyu Islands got occupied by Japanese forces. The inhabitants were not allowed to carry weapons or practice any martial arts. Nonetheless- any Karate enthusiast can tel you that these people found ways to overcome this obstacle in order to protect themselves and their art.

Damn! Even Kungfu has survived a ban by the Communist Government of 1945 and the 1950's. Taking a leaf from the book of these warriors would be a really good idea.

This is in all probability the gloomiest post I have ever typed...

Fact is, however, that many of us get dealt a hand in life that we cannot refuse. We have to play that hand. We as a people may choose to play this hand as a bunch of self-pitying victims or we can find the courage of our ancestors within ourselves and come out to meet this challenge head on!

'n Boer maak 'n plan!  

Saturday, 11 March 2017

In defense of semi-contact sparring.

Ever watched the glorious sport of Rugby?

Well- I'm sure American readers will have an idea of what it is by now. It is Football without those sissy helmets and shoulder-pads! :D

Something tells me that that remark has bought me a couple of people waiting for me with pumping fists in the comment section after this post... :D

Seriously, though- football fans also know that sports like Football and Rugby are really brutal and the kind of injuries sustained by players often exceed those sustained by MMA fighters. Yes- there are worse things than being punched in the face... Trust me.

I don't know much about American Football, but did you know that Rugby has a full-contact and a virtually no-contact (or very light contact) version?

No- it is not Sarcastaball... :D (Damn! I'm not going to finish this post if I continue laughing at myself like this...)

It is called Touch- Rugby. Now- jokes aside- my point is this:

In normal Rugby- teams consider being tackled and knocked over as part of the game and even have strategies like "crash ball running" where a player is sacrificed to create openings in the other team's defense. In Rugby we also have "rucks" and "mauls" that are in essence regulated ways of wrestling for control over the ball.

Now- in Touch Rugby a ball carrier's strength and weight is completely irrelevant. The "tackler" in this case only has to touch him, like in a game of Tag, to make him stop and pass the ball to a teammate. Easy, right? Well- have you considered how fast a guy has to run to avoid getting tagged or worse- surrounded and cut off from his teammates?

Suddenly Touch-Rugby becomes a lot harder and we find a lot of Rugby players preferring the normal game so that they can keep running until they really get immobilised.

Wenhsiuquan contains a lot of close quarter techniques. It was made for grappling and close fighting as much as it is equipped for long-range fighting like Taekwondo and Sports karate.

Sparring at an advanced level is full contact. It is not a sport and no competition sparring exists for it.

I am quite happy with my short game as I have evolved from someone who backpedaled a lot into someone who defends with minimal movement while staying close enough to counterattack. Sanda and Muay Thai people would find that I can actually hold my own against them, because of the way I train.

Well- I did not feel as competent against my opponents in the karate competitions that I have attended thus far...

The thing is- nobody wants to stand still and mix it up in these bouts. They MOVE! Opponents who I had to block- evade, immobilise and hit with multiple attacks got replaced with opponents that I had to catch before they are no longer within reach and opponents who could close a gap with blinding speeda and re-open such a gap with equal speed.  

One of the things I also found is that my kicks are actually much shorter than they could be. I got taught to improve my reach.

... and I have to work on my speed...

Bruce Lee himself said that he did not like no-contact sparring as it was important to develop the feeling of exploding through a target. I understand why he said that and respect that view, but here are some bad habits cultivated by full-contact sparring:

1. Reliance on strength: Strength is but one pillar on which martial arts are built. Beating a sparring partner that is weaker than you will not help your development as a fighter/ martial artist at all.

2. Becoming slow: Ever felt like King Kong trying to catch some annoying aeroplanes that are zooming around his head? Well- being in the habit of staying in place as you go toe to toe will have you feeling like that when you meet someone who can literally run rings around you. Having to avoid even a single punch or kick touching you forces you to MOVE! You become much faster that way.
Also- having to hit an opponent who does not stand still is a lot harder and forces you to make your attacks faster with a lot less unnecessary movement.

If your dojo does light sparring or even no-contact sparring students will find that even a smaller sparring partner can present a challenge. And yes- dojos are supposed to be full of challenges!

Lastly I want to say that I know that timing beats speed. I just want to say that you do NOT want to be the slowest one on the floor either...

Train well, everyone! Have a great week!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Qi- myths and reality

My first exposure to Qi-Gong came from an article in the Taekwondo Times in 1994. In the article a teacher by the name of James Lacey gave readers some standing meditation postures. As with all martial arts practices the thing was not about the postures or the photos- it lay in the breathing.

I started practicing while being 16 at the time. I had hopes of being able to shoot a fireball from my palms like the Hadouken or Kamehameha one day... That never happened of course.

It took me many years to understand the place of Qi in the martial arts of today.

In this post I will share some of my experiences and then give some guidelines of how qi manifests itself so that you can tell when someone in a video is bluffing or not.

The first thing I experienced was a tingly, needles and pins sensation in my hands. The literature said that I would feel warmth, but that was not the first thing I felt. In fact- I only feel a very mild warmth when my hands are close to each other while channeling qi during meditation or qigong exercise.

Back when I was in my teens I had no idea of how to channel qi into my attacks and never pursued it. What I did manage to do on my own, however, was during a black belt grading when I was 18. When I had to spar with another canditate I did the whole thing where I kept my stomach muscles tightened to protect the odd blow that might find its way there. My shoulders was relaxed and keeping my arms relaxed- I let the sensation of them filling up with qi grow intense enough to make my hands float in the air in front of me. They were relaxed and light. During the sparring bout I found myself able to block quite well. Attacking, tough, had nothing special.

Although qi is mostly associated with Taijiquan, my first guidance on how to put qi into an attack came from Shaolin Kungfu. With exercises like One Finger Shooting Zen I learnt how to focus qi into my fingertips to make it strike harder. The hands are usually the easiest weapons from which to channel qi in attacks. In Taiji and Shaolin forms Qi is channeled through the feet in stomping movements. I have successfully transferred this type of channeling into front, side and back kicks at mid-riff level.

The first serious accounts of qi being projected into people and objects without physical contact came from a book by a certain Kostas Danaos in which he described his teacher, John Chang's extraordinary abilities. He never mentioned the no-touch knock-out, but pyrokinesis was part of the story.

Using the theories of "Song Sal Lee Ki" (making the fingers alive with ki) from Hapkido and the "Iron Shirt" technique from Chinese martial arts I have used the sensation of hardening parts of my body with qi to withstand blows and being grabbed in bear hugs and wrist grabs.

Because it was said that qi is in fact sexual energy that gets converted into semen during sex I once did an experiment (don't ask how or when) by keeping my chi focussed in my hara/ tan tien during sex. Three hours later I have come to the conclusion that I have found the ultimate cure for premature ejaculation. True story. You can chalk that up as a very good reason to take up qigong.

These stories of qi healing and no-touch knock-outs had led me to do another experiment. In Taiji the palm of the hand is kept in a slight concave shape when doing palm strikes or thrusts. It is said that qi gathers in that hollow part of the palm. So- after concentrating on putting as much qi into the palm of my left hand I held the tip of my right hand's index finger about 2 centimetres away from it. My finger ended up feeling tingly and started throbbing.

I gave the experiment a try in a Taiji class that I taught at the time by projecting qi onto my student's extended fingertips. The results were awesome.

The white spots on the palm of my hand in the photos above is an occurrence during these experiments.

The first other person whose qi I have ever felt was that of our local Tang Soo Do instructor Xander Davis. The sudden heaviness in my limbs and feeling that I was going to faint at any time is something that I will never forget. Xander never warned me about what he was doing and all this happened while he was quietly having his beer in the restaurant where I worked at the time!

From that time on I have been very aware of not only the energy within me, but also that of my environment.

Now lets look at the popular abilities that are said to come with Qigong training:

1. Healing- Although it can't cure cancer Qigong and meditation helps a lot with recovery from a sickbed. It does not replace medicine, though. Changing a person's qi flow can also relieve headaches. I have not tried it yet, but I think that an asthma sufferer can actually be cured of his condition if he knows how to control his qi.

2. Stress management- Qi is your vital energy. Where it goes determines how you feel and think and ultimately what you do. Shaolin as well as Wudang martial arts teach "sinking the qi" as the cornerstones to their techniques. One of the benefits of this technique is that it keeps one calm when under pressure.

3. Bigger tolerance for pain- Seizing hold of your qi flow is also seizing control over your responses to external stimuli like pain.

4. No- touch knockouts: The use of such techniques have not been documented in history as far as I know and from what I have seen and experienced I can say that unless your opponent is a cripple out of his wheelchair nobody is going to keep still for this technique to work in combat. In fact- I don't even regard it as a fighting technique, but rather a demonstration of how far a person can project his qi.

5. Resilience- I don't know of any fighters who do not want to be able to take blows without getting injured. The Iron Shirt technique is not mastered in a day. At the level I am there are still a lot of people out there whose attacks I do not wish to just passively receive. After a year or so of dedicated practice you will note a difference, though.

6. Powerful punches and strikes. Whether some unseen energy really gets channeled when I punch or not- the sensation of that happening makes a huge difference.

7. Quicker attacks: This is a bit difficult to learn, but one of the signs of mastery that no one can deny. An untrained novice not in control of his qi has a lot of telegraphing movements when he attacks. This is especially true when someone like that gets angry and wants to hit you really hard. You can see the shoulders moving etc.

A trained master can shoot destructive power through a quick movement that is felt rather than seen.

8. Pyrokinesis. Forget it. The best you can hope for is really warm hands. I have seen a documentary about killer hornets in Japan. Entomologists are keeping the population of these deadly insects in check with special killer bees imported from South America. These bees have the ability to collectively raise their body temperatures above that in which the hornet can survive, literally cooking the hornet to death. Now- not even that temperature is enough to make anything burst out in flames. In any event- I always wonder why the people giving these demonstrations don't have any burn marks on their hands. According to theory this ability requires a lot of Yang Qi acquired over many years. Something like this is not the kind of thing to which most people want to devote their time to find out whether it works. I am one of those people.

9. Telekinesis.  Projected qi is said to bend metal objects such as spoons and make ripples on still water. Now- I believe that qi can be projected to affect the environment around us, but the amount of energy needed to make such huge manifestations is much more than what we can exert during qigong practice. Reiki practitioners and Neigong adepts can use their own qi to affect the qi flow of others, though. That I have experienced.

10. Cannonating opponents. Hell yes! Part of the trick is getting your opponent's qi raised so that he can be uprooted and then you just need to give a quick push. :D

11. Ouija boards and automatic writing: These two practices have nothing to do with martial arts. I have noted that both practices rely on movement of the body guided by what is regarded as an external influence. The sensation is very much like the flow of qi during qigong exercises, though. The "messages", though, are likely from the subconscious mind of the user...

12. Divining rods. Water and metal are said to be Yin elements. Now I don't know whether you have heard the story of two L shaped metal rods that cross when the user finds an underground source of water. Funny thing- Hold a couple of those divining rods if you can make them (wire from a coat hanger will do fine) and send your qi into your hands as you hold them, That is one experiment I have done often.

Whether we believe in qi or not it has shaped Asian martial arts technique. One just needs to look at the difference between a boxing punch and a traditional karate punch to see what I mean. Besides the external look of techniques it also played a large part in determining the state of mind in which these techniques are to be applied.

The reason why I make a point of defending teachings about qi is that I want to see schools that teach proper technique through these teachings preserved. To a large extent the modern martial arts trends here in the West are putting us at risk of seeing a large number of punch-drunk palookas going around calling themselves martial artists. There is no art in charging into a fight with brute force.

Well- that was the post as promised! I hope we all have a great week ahead of us.