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Thursday, December 12, 2013

How to punch with impact. No, no, not with your fist...

Today at one of my satellite classes, the students actually wanted a lecture....can you believe that....they wanted one! What teenager actually asks for lectures? Hahaha! But they playfully call it "story time", because,  as a few of the teens put it, "They love learning from the stories".

So here's what I told them today.....

As a martial arts instructor,  I've taught many people how to form a good fist and how to punch. I've have seen all sorts of fist variations from beginner students...... thumbs inside the fist,  fingers sticking out, wrists bent in cockeyed fashions,  etc.

If there's one thing that students find out while they're learning to punch, it is that the fist has to be tight, especially when striking a target. I tell my little kids class "all your fingers want to ball up tightly together,  to work together to make a punch strong" .  How many of you have I reminded to keep that fist tight? Yes, I'm aware that some people dont have all 5 fingers and will have to modify their punch technique. But I'm not talking about the technique itself. Instead I'd like to discuss the intention of a punch....I'd like to use the punch as a metaphor.

What is the purpose of a punch? That's right,  Pretty hit something. But if we dont pay attention to the elements of punching (such as proper fist formation and body mechanics), I won't matter how hard we want to make impact with the target...missing an element of punch execution will result in a poor strike.

Okay, so let's compare a punch impact with life impact.....

As I mentioned,  we want all fingers to work together tightly to make good impact with the target. Imagine punching a punching bag as hard as you can with your pinky sticking out or your thumb tucked inside your fist.....sounds sort of painful, doesn't it? In those examples, a single finger prevents proper striking. Now lets apply that thought by giving each of those fingers a "quality"....let's say, that each of our fingers represent:

- Persistence: Keep plugging along no matter what.
- Upbeat attitude: "Upbeat" does not necessarily mean to act happy all the time. It also means carrying the ability to see the positive even when you're not feeling so jolly.
- Nurturing quality: Too often we associate this word with "motherly", but we want to think about the quality of the nurturing intention. It is to care for the development and well being of other people or things. Nurture your self development,  nurture your learning.
- Confidence: Pretty self explanatory....
- Honest: Not only to others, but most importantly to yourself as well. Know what your goal is, and don't lessen your expectations just to meet your lack of action.  Honesty with oneself includes being able to recognize when we're making excuses, and admitting them without fear.

These qualities should work together in concert to make a tight "fist". When one of these qualities doesn't work at the same level as the others, then it becomes like a sole finger sticking out ofnthe prevents the rest of the fist from making an impact.

P ersistent
U pbeat
N urturing
C onfident
H onest

To make a good impact, punch strong. Uncommitted punches don't hit well. Remember that making an impact doesnt always mean hitting hard, it means to also hit the right put anothwr way, making an impact doesn't necessarily mean getting rich, being famous, or reaching thousands of people.  If you reach just one person or reach even just one of your goals, you've made an impact.

Of course,  I made some points on the importance of staying in school, etc....and I hope they understood what i was trying to say.

Even if I reach just one teen.......

Friday, April 12, 2013

My first attempt at knife making

One of my Tai Chi students set up a private class with a local knife maker, David Lisch. "What a great opportunity..." I thought. "...To learn how patience and hard work forge into something sharp".  A full two day workshop, we were excited, and a bit nervous.

David's school, "Studio 4" (which ironically is in room #3 in the building) was in an old metalworks building in industrial Seattle. Drafty and cold, we soon forgot the chill as we got down to business. David had already laser cut knife blanks for us, and we had a choice of style.....skinner, hunter, or Santoku style kitchen knife. I chose the hunter.
I looked at this hunk of steel and thought...."Now how am I supposed to get this blank looking anything like a real knife?" I was actually questioning my ability to make it happen. But David assured that if we paid attention and "didn't try thinking about shortcuts", we'd go home with a beautiful knife by the time the weekend was over. We chose our handle wood....I chose a beautiful purple analine dyed multiplex.

David took the time to explain geometry, steel characteristics, Metallurgy of carbon steel, safety precautions, etc. Then, down to work. Our first duty was to establish our plunge line and initial bevel, as well as rough shaping the handle. Standing at the grinder I was pretty happy to have a bracket that established the exact grinding angle for the plunge line . I would've freaked out if I was told to do it "by eye". hahahaha!

Luckily, establishing the plunge line and grinding out the rough shape of our handle wasn't as hard as I thought. But I knew it was going to get more challenging. Next, we drilled our pin holes and we rough shaped our wood.
The fun part....heat treat! We watched as our teacher explained using a forge, and we had a choice of using the forge or the salt pot (which was much more consistent and suggested for first timers). No brainer....we chose the salt pot. We had to pre-treat our blanks with a torch to drive out extra moisture. When he reminded us that the blanks still carried a bit of moisture, we all shuddered..."Single drop of cold water in a pot of high temp molten stuff....that's an explosion!!". Needless to say, we all made sure to have Dave check our blanks to be sure they were good to go before we dropped them in the pot! Two treatments in the salt pot and oil quenched, we were good to go for that first class. Dave would put the blanks in the oven to temper, and by the next morning, we'd be set to for the real grinding and polishing.

David explains and demonstrates at the furnace

Knife held in the salt pot

Day Two:  The polishing begins. After the tempering, we each had stations where we stood with sanding sticks, starting with 400 grit sandpaper and gradually going to 1200. Funny, just as I thought the steel was beginning to polish up, scratches that weren't there before, revealed themselves. I thought I was going to be sanding and polishing for hours.....which was pretty much the case. Two hours of patient polishing, and I had a shiny blade in comparison to the dull salt pot/oven tempered color that I started out with.

Where the heck did those scratches come from?

Almost there!

After the polish, which evened out the harsh bevel, it was time to epoxy the scales to the handle. Dave mixed the epoxy for each of us, as "two part epoxy was a tricky thing....if you don't mix it right, it will screw everything up and you'll need to clean off all the gunk and start over". Well, no one wanted that, so we welcomed the fact that he was willing to mix the epoxy for us.

Ready for epoxying to tang....
Then...the fun but mind bendingly exhausting part......grinding and shaping the scales to the tang. I was doing fine until I messed up the underside of the handle (the area that sits above your fingers when holding in a standard grip). I had inadvertently put a bit too much pressure on on side, and completely lopsided that area. But Dave said "No worries...." and helped me fix it without changing the profile too much. I did my best to learn as he shouted over my grinder, and voila....all fixed.

This underside part was all lopsided until Dave helped me fix it....

After things were all even, I opted for a slight palm swell. Dave gave great tips on how to use not only the belt part of the grinder but the platens as well. A final deep polish on the handles, and it turned out to be a beautiful blade.

After a final profiling of the blade, we all had Dave put the final sharpening on each blade. We all watched intently, and I tried to take mental pictures of how he did it....even down to how he took his stance in relation to the grinder and blade. Each of our blades were sharp.....mine not "crazy sharp" as Dave noted that since I wanted a utilitarian knife, he left enough "tooth" so as to cut through rope and twine, whittle wood, etc. Now my students who made Santoku style kitchen knives.....those knives were crazy sharp. Like "cut paper thin slices of tomato" sharp.

The youngest of our group, a 14 year old kung fu student of mine, turned out a beautiful hunting knife. Dave was there with Isaac all the way, guiding him through the power tools. I was so proud of this young man making his own knife, with the scary power tools! His mom, the Tai Chi student who initially set up this workshop, was a proud mama hen too.

The finished product!

All and all....a wonderful weekend. It felt great to know that a little bit of "me" was in this blade...and no amount of money will buy this blade from me. save up my $$ for more classes. The "great grinding" class sure sounds like fun......

Book Review: "When the Fight Goes To The Ground", by Lori O'Connell

This book can be purchased here: When the Fight Goes To The Ground, at

Being a Kajukenbo practitioner, I looked forward to reading this book mainly because of the expectation of seeing a mix of striking, kicking, and ground work. I wasn't disappointed. Now, before I go on, I just want to say that although I've learned very basic groundwork through Kajukenbo, I'm in no way skilled enough to even so much as compare myself to Brazilian Jujitsu or MMA. *This is why I read this book*!!

The Book:
First off, I'd like to say that I've already read a few reviews of the book. What I've noticed in one review that was a bit less than favorable, is that it was written from a *established grappler/BJJ* point of view. I think that some others who reviewed the book, were looking at it from a competitor's point of view, and I'll bet, flipping through the pages to see if the triangles were done correctly or if Kimuras were locked in tight enough. Ms. O'Connell clearly states that she is not a BJJ black belt, so I find it unnecessary that people review the *techniques*. Its so easy to read into things and get a bit critical as an "expert" rather than look at this book from a "martial artist's point of view" or a "teacher's point of view", I'm going to get right into it as a "practitioner's" point of view....a view stemming from several decades of martial arts but not as much groundwork, and also look at the book from a woman's point of view.

It is refreshing to see a book that gets to the point right away, without leaving a reader guessing as to whether or not the book was a "win in the ring" or an "introduction to grappling". The author, Lori O'Connell, has been a practitioner of Can-Ryu, a "modern/traditional" system of sorts....and being a woman, she mentions "What I lack in size, I make up with tenacity". This drew me to the book because 1) In the case of women using ground skills for self defense, its one thing to get a  man teaching a woman how to handle herself on the ground if she's ever put in that situation....its another when you get a woman teaching a woman. Women who are skilled at the ground game already know what tools they have at their disposal, and what limitations they have to consider. Guys....well....have to guess at those. Even if men are smaller in stature, the upper body strength factor is still something that won't allow men to really understand how women roll. No pun intended.

Ms. O'Connell adds well researched information on the percentages of fights going to the gound. These percentages aren't educated guesses.....she took the time to research legitimate sources to attain the statistics, and the statistics would make anyone consider learning even basic ground skills if they didn't have it already.

Before the book even gets into techniques, Ms. O'Connell makes a clear delineation between the ground "game" in the competition situation, and the ground skills for actual self defense. She makes it clear from the get go that the street has no rules, and that no announcer is going to preface your self defense situation with "Let's get ready to Rumblllllllllllle!".  When the book does get to techniques, it covers the primary tools...understanding the ground, how to stay safe on the ground, understanding size differences, training options, vital targets for striking and kicking (not just grappling, but yes, striking and kicking),  and other "need to know" (or "need to be reminded") items. This was a good thing to see, in that I've seen many books that cover history, then shoot right to techniques.

The Techniques:
Ms. O'Connell starts off with "weapons of opportunity". Let's face it, we're probably not going to be wearing our sponsor-patched keikogi and obi out on the street, so it makes sense that she introduces the use of found objects, the environment,or things in our pockets as equalizers to the fight.  I liked the reminder that there are no soft mats to roll on in the street, and  introduction of how to fall on concrete.

The photos in the book are very clear....great choice of contrasting shirt colors to make it easier to follow the photos. Techniques against standing attackers and mounted attackers led the segment. All of the techniques were photographed well, and each photograph is accompanied by steps on performing the technique, and things to watch out for.

What I found interesting, was defenses against side controls and bottom controls. One might think "If I were to be using ground skills in a real self defense scenario, why would I need to worry about being put in a side control, bottom control, or even neck restraints and submissions like in the ring?". Well, a good point made was that you never know if a grappler will be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or even just showing off to friends and don't know their own strength or have proper control. I also see that many split second moments in time during a fight, will have physical reference points with which these techniques against side controls, bottom controls and neck restraints will apply.

For the most part, the techniques are easy to follow, although there were just a few places where I couldn't quite get the gist of a movement. But....that's what the DVD is for.

The DVD!
Okay... a DVD was included with the book! Good call, Sensei O'Connell. One can actually see the techniques depicted in the book, done in real time. All you have to do is rewind a bit to catch a technique over and over. Well filmed. Kudos to Sensei O'Connell's Ukes for taking the brunt of the techniques!


Final Words:
In short, the book is an excellent source of reference for students of grappling arts, a great introduction to using basic ground skills for those with little or no grappling or martial arts experience, and a good reference for established grapplers to look at the art from a self protection or woman's point of view. By all means, this book is not meant to teach a complete art or system in 192 pages. If you get this book, which I do recommend, use it as a reference for tactics and all means, if you want to get more in depth, seek the tutelage of a qualified instructor. This book will be a good supplement to your training.


Interview w/ Sensei Lori O'Connell

Humorous "Making of" video

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The importance of "tradition" in modern martial arts: What say you?

As some of you may know, I host a radio podcast called "Dynamic Dojo Radio", and we talk about subjects ranging from fitness, training methods, running a school, guest interviews, etc. This past weekend we briefly touched on the subject of "tradition in modern martial arts training", and I will be featuring this subject in an upcoming episode....probably in March.

However, I want to hear from you, the reader. For those of who train in martial arts, there are those that train in traditional, sport, or modern arts. How important is "traditional ettiquette" and "cultural martial traditions" in today's martial arts training venues?

I'm aware that there are many things to consider....such as "are you in a traditional Dojo?", "are you doing MMA?" and "what does you teacher/coach prefer?"  Granted, simple courtesy is number one....regardless of  martial style, regardless or whether or not your gym uses the language of the country the art us from, I would venture to guess that we all would value common courtesy...."Please", and "Thank you" and good sportsmanship to name a few.

Are you a modern arts practitioner that observes the traditional "salute" at the beginning or end of class? How important is it at your gym to address teachers by given titles? Do you find value in learning the terminology of the techniques you practice? (i.e. "Kiba dachi" for horse stance, or "chuan" for fist, etc). I'd like to hear your views....and maybe....have you on our upcoming radio episode discussing this very subject.

Sound off!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sharing an article....

Great article....just wanted to share this:
"Is thinking you're better than anyone else holding you back?"

As Mr. Rogers (of "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" series) always pointed out, we're all unique and special.....and that advice helped pull me out of a painfully shy childhood. Anyone that knows me now would probably say "What? You were shy?" Yes I was. Very much so. There are still pictures of me hiding behind my father, or tucking myself under my Mom's coat. School pictures didn't have smiles because I was too shy to show a smile. I would hide in my room when the doorbell rang. Needless to say, I had great friends growing up that helped my out of my shell, as well as Mr. Rogers. :)

However for some, knowing that we're all unique can sometimes give way to big Egos....the type where some may obviously (or even secretly) believe they are better than others and they're not afraid to toot their horn about it.

Sadly, sometimes I see this in the Martial Arts world. One style thinks they're better than another. A practitioner assumes that since they've had more "real world" experience that they are automatically better fighters that anyone else. Rivalries spring up, and schools compete like the Hatfields and McCoys. Many organizations go the way of "competition" with each other instead of "community".

I see this also in areas other than martial arts. Everyone wants to have their own niche in their industry, thinking their style or method is the best, all the while looking for faults in other people in the same industry just because others aren't doing it *their* way (which, is merely a *perception" of what "best" is). Those people forget that there are indeed people that are better, more experienced and more popular (and most likely don't go around with a big head).  But heaven-forbid that someone tell you that there are other ways and views. After all, you think you "created" your way.....the best way...."I'm the best", you think.

If there's anything all my teachers have taught....its "There's nothing new.....only different expressions.".

Just my two cents.