Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Knowledge that sticks, in 1...2...3...

The issue of weapons training can be contentious issue from various aspects, be it the choice of tools (firearms circles seem to be ridiculous with constant bickering over the best caliber, makes, models etc.), or relevance of some of those tools nowadays (like, does it make sense practicing fencing). As always, my approach is contextual – the legislation here is very prohibitive of firearms, so I focus on the “weapons” that require the least legal hassle, in terms of owning and carry, and most carryover in terms of training being applicable to various improvised weapons. So, in the end, it means impact and edged weapons.

It is a widespread belief that some of the best methods of use of such implements can be found among the exponents of Filipino martial arts (FMA). While I have found out that there are other approaches that are just as valid, while of different geographical origins, it is definitely true that some of the arnis and eskrima systems (oh, all right…and kali, too) have a lot to offer in this regard. That said, although I have trained in various methodologies, my foundation for weapons handling is the Astig Lameco system of eskrima.

If you run even a cursory research on Lameco, you will find that it is formulated on the founder Edgar Sulite’s background in several traditional Filipino systems, five of them being main influences. Through my own training in the system, two of those have had most appeal to me, one for the blade training – Kalis Ilustrisimo; the other for its impact weaponry training – Eskrima De Campo 1-2-3 Original. It is the latter that is the subject of this article.

Eskrima De Campo 1-2-3 Original was founded by the legendary eskrimador Jose Caballero, and the system is renowned for its highly functional, hard-hitting approach to stick fighting, with no fancy maneuvers, but rather well organized training method of proven and effective techniques and tactics, honed through diligent practice. If you belong to the category of practitioners who seek a highly functional set of tools that you can confidently apply (naturally, after having invested proper effort and hours in training – no magic bullets here), you will feel right at home with this approach.

Due to Caballero’s reluctance to teach his art openly, the system never got the recognition it deserves, and only started slowly spreading in the West over the last decade or so. I was among those that felt frustrated with the lack of relevant sources of instruction, because the bits and pieces I was able to get from my Lameco instructors were very enticing. However, the advent of modern technologies has finally come to the rescue!

Today, the head of the school is Jose Caballero’s grandson Jomalin, who lives and teaches out of Ibo, Toledo City in the Philippines, i.e. the same home where his grandfather taught his handful of students. Owing to the great enthusiasm and tech-savvy of one of the modern day students, guro Paolo Pagaling, maestro Caballero has filmed the entire curriculum as the series of well-produced lessons, which is now available through the website decampo123.org

The technical material is demonstrated by maestro Caballero himself, while guro Pagaling does the narration additional explanations as needed, while the drills and applications are then shown by both instructors. The lessons are filmed against the backdrop of Caballero’s own backyard, which gives additional impression of authenticity, and to me makes the videos more pleasant to watch than if having been recorded in some studio. In other words, this is as close to the private lesson as possible, having in mind the format of the material. You can get free sample lessons on the website, to see for yourself how it is laid out.

Now, at the first glimpse, the program might look a bit pricey. However, if you keep in mind that we are not talking about some sort of the “best of”, “selected techniques”, “peek into the system” etc., but actually FULL curriculum and proven training progression, as well as the fact that the authors are willing to respond to potential questions and help you get most out of the material, maybe even potential certification, I would say it is a fairly good deal. Just check their Facebook page to find out more.

In conclusion, what the authors did with this program is essentially the exact thing that in the 1990’s I used to hope would be the main advantage of the Internet – finding true information from true sources, while dispelling myths and not wasting time on digging through the fluff and artificial mystique that has been surrounding all kinds of human endeavors for a long time. Well, we all know how it turned out with the spreading of internet forums and the ability for every wannabe and delusional self-appointed expert to say whatever they want from the anonymity of their homes and behind their screen avatars. The efforts and results such as the subject of this review are the high points in the presentation and preservation of some traditional martial arts that are out there and in dire need of being properly displayed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Old School

It was my birthday a couple of days ago, and with “life experience” some things become painfully obvious…or just painful! I guess that if you are even remotely a regular reader of my blog, we agree that physical conditioning is a very important part of one’s training process. Well, as so many other things, that part gets to be increasingly harder to achieve and maintain after certain age. In order to make it, there are some guidelines that may come in handy, as they have proven to be quite effective in my case. With that in mind, do not take these suggestions as any kind of recipe or program, but rather a framework to work with.

First, the main challenge that “advanced experience” presents in view of conditioning (besides the hectic life stuff, with job and family) is the need for more recovery. In simple terms, you just cannot train as much and as often when 40+ as you could in your teens of twenties. Therefore, you need to be picky about what you do and when. Essentially, I strive to have two days off between workout days, which means that I will do dedicated conditioning session two or sometimes three days in a week (if it fits Monday, Thursday and Sunday). Personally, I then focus on strength at those workouts, while using my martial art training sessions for conditioning purposes, i.e. harder drilling to that end.

Basically, this kind of approach is detailed in a very good book “Ageless Athlete”, by Jim Madden. He does include roadwork, i.e. specific conditioning sessions, but in my experience it can be replaced by more skill/drill training slots. Also, I normally conduct strength training in the form of so-called “lazy circuits”, and that that supports the conditioning aspect as well, if done adequately.

Still, there will be stretches of time when the above approach is not viable, so what do you do then? In these circumstances the method known as greasing the groove, made popular by Pavel Tsatsouline’s “Naked Warrior”. Basically, picking two or three essential exercises to be done in single sets dispersed a few times during the day (one arm pushup and one leg squats in my case), enables you to do it even at work or at home…or wherever; so, with good exercise choice and a little commitment it is possible to achieve solid results this way. In addition, I subscribe to the idea of using stairs instead of elevator, walking or running instead of driving whenever possible, doing some vigorous, playful movement daily etc, because cumulative effects can be surprisingly pleasant. 

Finally, it bears mentioning that I do some sort of mobility training every morning, before commencing other obligations that await me. Similarly, before going to bed in the evening, I do a short sequence of static stretching, in order to relieve my mind and body of stress and tightness that might be left from the day, thus maximizing the chances for successful recovery, and subsequently optimizing the further training process.

In conclusion, ageing brings poses new challenges and obstacles, and the chief hindrance in tackling them could be the memory of our younger selves and trying to do things the same way as 10 or 15 year ago. Embracing the new circumstances will allow you to learn more about yourself and your training, and possibly make you even better in what you do owing to this new perspective.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Pinto Power Points

Every now and then any discussion, whatever the topic may be at the moment, might easily slip into some kind of lament over how “the Internet has ruined human life” and everything now is make-believe etc. Well, it is true that when people did not have as much access to information available they used to spend more time in training and less surfing the ‘Net. However, it is also true that back then you were more or less “sentenced” to training only the things you were aware of. The Internet helped put people in contact much more easily, and open our possibilities when it comes to choosing the right place and instructor.

I somehow ran across Nelson Pinto via Facebook, and he immediately struck a chord with me, due to being extremely enthusiastic about martial arts, both as an instructor and as a student-for-life. It would be insincere to say that I did not see a bit of myself in his attitude, hence the positive predisposition. Pinto’s resume is diverse and can be seen on his website, which is also where you can order the DVD’s reviewed here.

Now, you know how all instructional videos start with a disclaimer of liability and state something along the lines of “not instructional, but for informational purposes only?”  Well, the Pinto Blade and Impact Tactics Empty Hand curriculum, with Level 1 being presented here, is actually the closes I have ever seen to such description. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. You see, Pinto’s material shown is obviously aimed at members of his organization and/or advanced practitioners and instructors looking to introduce new or different stuff in their training sessions.

That said, he runs through the material fairly quickly, without going into much detail (again, see the disclaimer notice), but it enables him to cover a lot of ground within the confines of two DVDs. On top of that, Pinto is a very lively and energetic presenter, and it makes the whole watching experience more interesting. I especially liked that he opens the presentation with a subject that is often neglected, i.e. creating opportunities for attack. That is a conceptual subject that can be put to use via several approaches, such as stops, fakes, traps, distractions (VERY good treatise on some aspects here, i.e. how to throw the distracting objects for optimum effect), and footwork, as particularly noteworthy.

Next, the presentation covers 30 basic strikes of BIT curriculum, followed by how to work them on focus-mitts, again with some great insights here. From there, Pinto goes into kicks, partner drills and combinations, with more relevant pointers along the way.
The second DVD moves to the segment about the counters to opponent’s attacks, and later includes more kicks, basic joint manipulations and overall tactical concepts applicable across different physical tools.

It bears mentioning here that one of the high points of these videos is seeing the instructor demonstrates the curriculum against a much larger partner, thus giving more credibility to the material offered.

Nelson Pinto
With all of the above positive features in mind, the possible downsides might be the “home-made” vibe to the production, although both picture and sound quality are just fine, but it is not the professional studio and lighting setting. Personally, I like that the democratization of video instruction has provided the insight into so many people’s ways of work, but some may object, depending on their expectations. The same goes for another trait – Pinto often talks without facing the camera, but he is clearly heard and easy to understand nonetheless.

In conclusion, this is a very good set with good stuff on it, especially if you are looking for a fresh view and approach to some tried and proven material, so that working on it may be done with a new spark of interest. And that in my experience, is always a good thing. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

More limits

This is sort of a continuation of the train of thought discussed in the previous post on constraints and affordances. Over there I talked most of all about various physical constraints in training, which should, hopefully, make us develop some desired skills and abilities that otherwise would be left underdeveloped.

Another approach to the same tool would be the selection of technical or/and tactical tools to be "banned" in drills or sparring sessions, so that the only desired responses would be elicited in trainees' performance. In this regard there are no limits to how you limit your options (yes, I wrote that deliberately), depending on what you are trying to achieve. Say, in a boxing session allow the use of hooks only (technical limitation), or just lateral footwork (tactical). In a grappling session allow only sweeps from guard (technical), or award points only for getting the opponents back (tactical).

Of course, the ideas and approaches from this and previous post can be combined according to needs and training goals, but you may include other insights as well, if that fits your purpose. The bottom line is - be aware and perceptive of the needs and possible shortcomings in your training, be selective with your criteria for adding one training method or another to your coaching toolbox, see if you can accomplish more by doing less in training, either by limiting stimuli or responses. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Through constraints to freedom

This may seem as a bit of a blast from the past, if you have been following this blog for a while. Namely, some years ago I addressed the issue of adaptability being one of the most important attributes of a good fighter, and what it meant, but this time I would like to address some of the more specific ways to approach this subject in your training. Now, what I am to offer may seem counter intuitive at the first glance, but it is a method of training that has been widely use for a long time and with good results, so bear with me.

If you read the linked article, you will see that I believe in a strong foundational skill set and then incessantly working on developing the ability to respond to the new challenges through exposure to specific situations and circumstances. In doing just that I have noted a natural tendency among the trainees, which in the long-term could hamper their progress in trying to accomplish this goal. What emerges as a typical reaction to such drills is the attempt to extract yourself from the challenging conditions and find the way, as soon as possible, to put your best game to use. An example would be working heavily on your positional escapes on the ground, so you can immediately get back on your feet and start striking the opponent. However, in the transition process you might miss on a number of opportunities to inflict some damage, either by blows or joint locks or whatever, somewhere between those basic situations, i.e. lying down and standing up.

So, how do we learn to recognize opportunities in this "grey area" ? In the coaching science there is a method termed constraints and affordances and it entails limiting the options that trainees have on disposal in dealing with the demands of the drill/situation. That way, they are forced to use other tools, specifically those that previously had not been fully developed and adopted. Here is how the above "transition" scenario is typically addressed in silat classes.

The constraints-led method, however, is not the exclusive domain of traditional/exotic martial arts. Here is the insight into how it could be applied in boxing, to improve the in-fighting prowess among the boxers who typically rely on their footwork and/or longer reach in regular sparring bouts or matches.

In grappling this approach is exemplified in starting all your rolling session from a certain position, the one that is your weak link, maybe spending entire training period doing that; in RBSD/combatives it may be working out of the cornered position; armed systems would stress the use of the "other" hand and so on.

The main challenge in this kind of work is having to face the inner voices that come from one's ego when being forced to step out of the comfort zone. Therefore, make sure to resist the urge to rationalize the weak performances and seek excuses for going back to your feel-good practices. The only way to make breakthroughs in your performance is to "embrace the suck" and keep your eyes on the prize. After all, it is better to suck and be frustrated in training than to suffer in an actual arena of combat, be it urban streets, military battlefield or sport tournament. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Facing revelations

It is often said that to train martial arts is to walk a path. I agree. Also, if you keep walking it long enough, it inevitably leads to self-discovery, and I agree with that one, too. One question does arise, though – will you like what you discover? No, really, not all self-discoveries are nice. The next question then, and a decisive one, is how will you deal with those unlikable findings you may stumble upon?

What will yours hide?
OK, let’s take a step back. In one of my earlier articles here I discussed authentic motives for practicing some form of combative disciplines. It is my belief, based on experience, that in such cases, even if one has to face certain less-than-favorable aspects of own personality, those situations are mostly perceived as opportunities to learn and better understand how to proceed.
But, what about those who are in it for all the wrong reasons? Are there even wrong reasons in the first place? Again, my experience is that the grand majority of people who are looking for a quick-fix, magic potion, ultra secrets that would yield invincibility, tend to fall off rather quickly and end up being rather harmless, unless…we’ll get there shortly.

There also folks who start in a martial art out of curiosity, and exhibit some perseverance, and find out along the way that they enjoy the visible awards (belts, certificates), status (titles and ranks) and/or financial rewards (as unlikely as it may be). Now, I have no problem with any of those side effects if the said trainees don’t:
a)      do any teaching anyhow;
b)      compromise the quality of their instruction just to indulge their liking of the above “benefits”.

I have met a fair number of former cases, but the latter…not so many. To reiterate, those who do not teach also so not cause any harm, and often just stop training sooner, rather than later, after accomplishing one of those goals. However, if one embarks on the teaching adventure, I am inclined to apply tougher criteria (not that my opinion matters, though). The bottom line is, it is absolutely fine to earn money from teaching, wear a fancy uniform and what not, as long as you are “producing” competent and able exponents of the chosen system. It just happens that these examples are very few and far between.

Finally, we come to the shady parts of the woods. The people who start out of curiosity or with unclear motives and then somewhere down the line they get all enamored with the decorum, tall tales, ego trips and what not. When that happens, the actual contents and quality of training take the back seat and the iconography takes precedence. The main problem is that such types will see as their chief priority in life to open and run a school (maybe even a chain of school, God forbid), in order to fully enjoy their pathology. 
...and the dark side takes over.

The danger in having these characters at large is that in their diploma-mill schools the aforementioned seekers of secrets and invincibility will be led astray, taken advantage of, hurt, and possibly the worst of all – grown into spreaders of their instructors’ training models. These are also the kinds of personalities who dominate the arenas of internet trolling and keyboard warriors with no better things to do than to trash other people’s efforts and work, getting boggled in gossip, slandering and other vile practices.

Yeah, the path of martial arts will reveal those people in our midst, and the threat is not that they will dislike and deny what is obvious, but rather that they will like it and let that newly found menace take reins. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Turning points

The majority of commercial martial art schools utilize some sort of visible external decorum to mark their trainees progress, i.e. the colored belt system. Essentially, the belts and entailing testing are primarily the tool to maintain motivation among the students, and, of course, to extract more profit. However, I have never met anybody who had spent years in training and who had fond memories of their yellow or blue belt test. Some, myself included, do remember their black belt test, especially if it was a demanding one, but even that usually does not rank among the top 10 moments on their martial art journey. And the way I see it, for those whose time in training was marked by that particular event, it wasn't much of a journey anyway.

Naturally, the meaning and significance of certain occurrences in one's practice of martial arts is individual, from person to person, depending of their goals and initiative motives to embark on such a trip anyway. In retrospect, I can basically identify three fundamental types of landmarks that have left a lasting impression on me.

One is the initial step out of the comfort zone, which means trying something new, specifically a completely new system of combat and training. Sometimes it was via seminars, sometimes simply joining a new class, as long as those lead to new insights or even paradigm shifts.

Second is whenever my command of the technical and tactical methods within a system were put to the test for the first time, which, for the most part, meant competing for the first time within the framework of that discipline, or under a very different set of rules (my first competitive experience was in taekwondo, later sanda added clinch to the equation, followed by MMA, and finally weaponry in an arnis competition).

And last, but not least (not even by a long shot!) is when my understanding of a system was challenged by being asked to teach it. Honestly, for the first 15-ish years of my involvement with fighting arts it always emerged as a suggestion from my instructor(s) and each time came as a surprise. However, after a while, this role would appear in more of an organic way, when I would feel a desire to share my specific view of how to approach training.

Again, these are merely my own experiences and ruminations on the subject, but I am always interested in hearing how others see their path in the chosen domain.