Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Q&A About FMA

I was recently interviewed by writer Caitlin Basilio for an article about Filipino Martial Arts that appeared in a local newspaper. (You can see the article here.) As is often the case, only a small portion of the interview was included in the finished article. For those who might be interested, the text of the full interview is below. Enjoy!

What are the philosophies behind Filipino Martial Arts?
FMA is all about practicality and flexibility. Methods and techniques are not written in stone. It’s very open ended. You personalize the art and do what works to defend yourself. Adaptability is key. A big part of FMA philosophy is learning to see things as potential weapons. For example, people wonder why bother learning to fight with sticks. Look around you; the world is filled with sticks and stick-like items: car antennas, longneck bottles, rolled-up newspapers, etc.

It’s important to remember that FMA has its roots in warfare. The Philippines consists of over 7,000 islands with countless tribal and ethnic groups who were often in conflict with each other. If the village a few miles away periodically sends war parties to raid your village, you develop some effective, easy-to-learn combat techniques.

When did you begin practicing? What drew you to it and what keeps you interested? 
Ii started training with Burton Richardson about 15 years ago. Even before taking up FMA, I was interested in the art based on what I’d read. The integration of both weapon-based and empty-hand techniques fascinated me. And I’ve always been interested in hand-to-hand armed combat. It goes way back. My father was a fencer, and his dad was a U.S. Marine Corps saber champion who learned machete techniques from Filipino guerrillas while island-hopping across the Pacific during World War II. I was playing around with real fencing foils and quarterstaves from when I was a kid. 

There are all sorts of practical reasons I’ve stayed with FMA over the years, but to be honest a big motivator is the simple fact it’s fun. From swinging a stick solo to going through drills with a partner to putting on helmets and gloves and sparring, I just really enjoy it.

Is there a large community of people who practice here on Oahu? When did you become an instructor? 
There is a decent-size community of FMA practitioners on Oahu. They aren’t as visible as, say, the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu community, but they are there. There are even a few competitions held each year.

I became an instructor in both Kali and Jeet Kune Do in 2010. I am also a purple belt in BJJ.

You mentioned the three main ranges of combat (kickboxing, clinch and ground). Are all three of these used in FMA? 
Yes. Clinch and ground work especially get really interesting when sticks are involved, and really scary when you introduce knives.

Much of the clinch work I do and teach originates from Silat, a martial art that originated in Southeast Asia and is practiced in parts of the southern Philippines. Silat takedowns are particularly brutal, and pair nicely with BJJ groundfighting.

What are some physical and mental benefits to FMA? 
FMA is great for improving coordination and reflexes. Some of the drills require fairly complex footwork and your hands are often moving very fast. There is so much going on your mind has to be fully engaged. The hand-eye coordination and fancy footwork you learn in FMA carries over quite well to other fighting arts, especially boxing.

Who would you recommend it to? 
Anyone interested in practical self-defense should do some training in FMA. If you don’t know how to deal with the presence of a weapon—especially a knife—you have a serious gap in your self-defense skills. Even serious practitioners of other arts can benefit from a bit of FMA.

People who might perceive themselves to be smaller or weaker than others can benefit from FMA because the art relies more on trickiness and “playing dirty’ than brute strength. Antonio "Tatang" Ilustrisimo, Grandmaster of Kalis Ilustrisimo, was sparring with young guys into his 80s and more than holding his own.

What advice would you offer to first-timers?
As with any martial art, be patient and open-minded. Some drills and techniques may seem odd or counterintuitive at first, but eventually they will click and make sense. Equally important is having fun. Learning to fight and defend yourself is serious business, but that doesn’t mean we have to be super-serious all the time. A sense of play will make the process much more enjoyable.

Photos courtesy of Anthony Consillio of Consillio Photography.

Thanks to Albert Cloutier and Kathryn Xian for taking part in the photo shoot!

Me! In a Newspaper! Talking About Filipino Martial Arts!

Yours truly was interviewed for an article about Filipino Martial Arts that appeared in Marine Star, a local newspaper. The PDF is available here. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Thought of the Day, April 21, 2016: Advice on Living from the Living Dead

"If there's no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. Because that's all there is. What we do. Now. Today…. I want to help because I don't think people should suffer as they do. Because, if there's no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world."
—Angel (David Boreanaz), from the episode 'Epiphany'

Nothing like my life philosophy succinctly summed up by a TV vampire with a soul!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Thought of the Day, March 10, 2016: Glenn Morris on Gender and the Warrior Path

"Gender-based behavior is largely socialized behavior and has little to do with biological sex, but a lot to do with how we think those of our own gender should act. It is the first part of the social self learned, and at a time when our judgment is least critical, making such behavioral choices a stable part of your personality by as early as the third year. Gender identification is learned personality and part of the structure of the social self and ego. It's part of what gets killed on the warrior path."
—Dr. Glenn J. Morris, PhD., ScD., Kudan (9th dan) Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Rokudan (6th dan) Nihon Karate Jujutsu. Author of Path Notes of an American Ninja Masterone of my favorite books read in 2015.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Don't Be a Hero: The Risks of Employees Resisting Robberies

I won't bother recapping the story, as it's pretty short and you can quickly read it yourself. 

Not surprisingly, lots of people are all bent out of shape about this, rallying behind the fired veteran. I'm not usually one to play apologist for large corporations, but there are valid reasons employees are told not to resist robbery attempts.

* According to the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, "When faced with an employee who chooses to actively resist and is in a face-to-face confrontation, robbers may resort to injuring the worker to avoid apprehension. Higher injury rates are consistently found to be correlated with measures employees take during the robbery."

* A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that, "Resisting the perpetrator of the crime was consistently related to increased risk for injury for both employees and customers, and the risk was higher for robberies than for all violent crimes combined." The study also found that customers are especially at risk when an employee resists a robbery.

*A 2015 study published in the Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine concluded, "Customers had higher injury risk when employees resisted the perpetrator, compared with robberies where employees did not resist. Employee resistance against a perpetrator during a robbery increased customer injury risk. Businesses can train employees to not resist during a robbery, providing benefits for both customers and the business itself."

I'll conclude with some wisdom from self-defense expert Marc 'Animal' MacYoung at No Nonsense Self-Defense... 
The—and we use this term loosely—good news is that robbers tend to be more 'job oriented.' They want what they want and and if they get it, then they are done. In many ways this makes them safer to deal with—if you cooperate. 
That is to say their motives are based on financial gain rather than  gaining the more subjective and fluid 'props'  common among the younger, less experienced and dysfunctional criminals. As far as robbers are concerned they are offering you a choice, cooperate and give them what they want or be hurt. If you cooperate there is no reason to hurt you. In fact, if the target is the business money you may be no more involved than being ordered to the floor while the cash is collected. 
This is why—unless you are ordered to a secondary location—it is advisable to cooperate with a mugger/robber who has gotten the drop on you. This gives your best chance of not being hurt.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Thought of the Day, February 29, 2016: Atticus Kodiak on Knives

"Knives suck, and fighting someone who has one sucks even worse, because there's no way to survive without getting cut, and I already had one to show for it. For some reason, people think of knives as somehow less dangerous, less lethal than firearms, and it's a bullshit and very dangerous assumption, because, like guns, knives are lethal weapons. Knife fights are something that happen between the Sharks and the Jets, that's it.... Everywhere else, it's not a fight, it's just someone trying to goddamn kill you."

Atticus Kodiak in Greg Rucka's novel Walking Dead

Thursday, February 11, 2016

More on Meditation: Three Ways Meditating Has Improved My Life

A little over a year ago I wrote a post about Self-Hypnosis and Zen Breathing which touched on meditation.

Since then, I've become way more disciplined in my meditation practice. While I'm still not super hardcore about it, pretty much every morning I meditate for 10 minutes and go through 10 minutes of yoga poses before moving on to make workout. If pressed for time, I'll skip the workout but not the mediation and yoga. Those 20 minutes just have such a profoundly positive impact on the rest of my day.

My way of meditating is pretty basic. I sit cross-legged on a couple of my cushions on the floor, relax, rest my hands on my knees, and close my eyes. My spine is straight, and my tongue is lightly touching the area behind my two front teeth. While I used to use a  simple "one-two" method for my breathing—Inhale ("one"), exhale ("two"), repeat—I now tend to favor the method advocated by Robert Aitken (1917 - 2010), founder of the Diamond Sangha, a Zen Buddhist society he founded in Honolulu. He advocated the counting of breaths to people who were new to sesshin, or intense Zen meditation:
If you are counting your breaths, then count "one" for the inhalation, "two" for the exhalation and so on but let the count do the counting.  In other words, let that point one count one, let that point two count two, let that point three count three and so on up to ten and then repeat.
Inspired by Thích Nhất Hạnh's book Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, I've started making an effort to smile with every exhalation. As he writes,
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment!
I won't go into all the potential benefits of meditating. There are plenty of books and articles about that. Instead, I want to share three of the benefits I've noticed personally.

1. Better sleep. Ever have those nights where your body is tired but your brain isn't? For whatever reason, you just can't stop thinking or, even worse, worrying. This rarely happens to me anymore, and I credit meditation. Meditating has helped me calm the notorious "monkey mind," so when I lay down to sleep at night, my brain slows down just as much as the rest of my body. With essentially no random thoughts or worries keeping me awake, I drift off to sleep in a matter of minutes.

2. Moments of bliss. I tend to have a somewhat melancholic, at times nihilistic nature. (Probably explains my love for The Cure and The Crow...) This tendency towards melancholy doesn't mean I spend all my time sulking about, but I'm not always exactly a bundle of joy either. However, since I began meditating, I've found I occasionally get these strange, passing feelings of what I can only describe as bliss. I'll be going about the mundane business of the day when I will suddenly feel this strange feeling of peace and contentment. It's as if my soul was suddenly being swaddled in a warm, soft blanket. These feelings are very brief, usually not even a minute. To be honest, at first it was a little disconcerting. However, now I have come to welcome my brief moments of bliss.

3. Responding, not reacting. What do I mean by this? Reactions just happen with little thinking or deliberation, while responses are more thoughtful and deliberate. As Leo Baubata writes in his excellent Zen Habits website, "The truth is, we often react without thinking. It’s a gut reaction, often based on fear and insecurities, and it’s not the most rational or appropriate way to act. Responding, on the other hand, is taking the situation in, and deciding the best course of action based on values such as reason, compassion, cooperation, etc." For many of us—myself included—learning to respond instead of react takes discipline and effort. I have found that meditation is a great help in this area. With my mind more naturally at ease, I don't find it as necessary to simply react to things right away. You know how some live TV shows will have a seven-second broadcast delay so that if someone swears of does something else deemed naughty they can bleep it? My brain, more or less, is starting to have the same sort of thing thanks to meditation. (It doesn't always work, though.)

A quick word of advice to those thinking of experimenting with meditation: It isn't for everyone. There is some evidence that meditation can be risky for people with mental health issues, such as depression. If you have any mental health issues, consult a healthcare professional first.

Also, meditation can be difficult, and people can have a hard time dealing with the thoughts and feelings they might experience. Do some research. Go to the library and check out a bunch of books on mediating so you have some idea of what to expect. Remember, meditation is really a form of exercise. Take your time, do your research, don't force anything, and don't be afraid to seek help.