Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A concept I learned from Don Modesto

The Concept of 'No'

    I recently learned of a friend, whom I knew through martial arts, had died.  His name was Don Modesto.  I hadn't seen him in over a year, but I would think of him, or of training with him every once and a while.  Through mutual friends we would keep in contact with each other, "Tell Don I said Hi" type of things.  If anybody asked I would describe Don as someone who had humble reserve.  You could tell there was a lot there, but he always kept it in.  He was a very literate guy who was always willing to have a discussion on any book I happened to be reading at the time.  He was also an amazing aikidoist (or aikidoka if that is your preference).
    Today, I'm going to talk about a concept that Don showed me.  It is nothing new, but sometime, just showing it in a new way can turn on the light bulb.  In Japanese language, they don't have letters the way we think of them in English.  Their writing is made with a combination of characters called "kanji" and other writings which designate syllables called hiragana or katakana depending on which is being used.  In Japanese the hiragana character for the syllable 'no' looks like the picture at the top of the post.  What Don showed me was the movement for connecting to someone's center was in the shape of 'no.'  When someone grabs your wrist, move your own wrist (by moving your center) in the pattern used to write/draw the character.  You can "write" no horizontally, vertically, or some combination.  It can be stretched, flipped around, but the direction of movement is still there.
   This is one of those things that has to be practiced to feel it, but try it out.  Anytime someone makes contact, try to control their center using the concept of 'no.'  I've continuously seen this concept applied in many different planes of action.  Have someone grab and perform a kokyu ho (or kokyu nage if you prefer) and watch the path of contact.  It makes a 'no' shape.  Irimi nage, nikyu, koshi nage.  These are some of the more obvious applications of the 'no' concept.  If you do try it, leave a comment on how it worked for you, or where you saw the application as a way to say thanks to Don Modesto for his indirect teaching. 

  If you find a technique where it is used, write it as a comment, and share with the rest of the world.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Part II of the interview with author Rory Miller

Today we’re are going to continue our interview with Rory Miller, author of such books as Meditations on Violence, Force Decisions: A Citizen’s Guide to Understanding How Police Determine Appropriate Use of Force, and most recently Campfire Tales from Hell: Musings on Martial Arts, Survival, Bouncing, and General Thug Stuff.  He has also co-authored other books on the same subject of realistic violence.  Click Here for the first part of the interview.

Jaredd Wilson: Why did you find the need to write your books on realistic applications on violence?

Rory Miller: It was sort of an accident.  Sort of not.  I met Kris Wilder at a Jon Bluming seminar.  I'd just had a high-end use of force that I expected to get spectacularly political and here I was in a room full of martial artists who all looked like shiny-eyed kids fantasizing about doing something that I was wishing I could have avoided.  Anyway, Kris noticed something wrong and got me talking.  A few months later he asked me to present at a seminar, Martial University.  It was multiple instructors and multiple sessions, and I did a few.  What blew me away was that these martial
artists (and some of them were very high-end) didn't have a vocabulary for the things I was talking about.  they thought that fighting was the same as sparring and didn't understand the difference between a fight or an assault.  They didn't know that self-defense was a legal concept.  they didn't know about freezing or adrenaline effects.  These are becoming common knowledge now, but at that time only a few martial artists and a handful of police trainers were applying the knowledge.

So at first I wanted to write a little pamphlet, kind of a glossary of stuff that martial artists would need to know if things became real.
Then a few more things happened that year.  It wasn't processing well and
I wasn't getting the comfort from jujutsu.  Comfort sounds stupid but JJ was the one place where I could go and forget the world, sweat, bleed a little and on the mat everything made sense.  And jujutsu wasn't cleaning my brain out like it always had.  So I started to write.  I wanted the stuff out of my head so I could poke at it on paper.  When it was done, I figured it would be something I would pass on to students when I promoted them.  When I was done I sent it to Kris.  He is the one who sent it to his publisher.

JW: When it was first published, did you find any resistance, or were most
people willing to listen with open ears?

RM: Not a lot of resistance.  A few people were miffed evidently because I didn't mention their special snowflake style.  There was some resistance from people who felt compelled to say that they already knew all that stuff, but when people asked if that was so why didn't they teach it, that calmed down.

The other thing, everybody did already know almost everything I've written.  We all knew the Monkey Dance was predictable and had steps, but it needed a name and the steps needed to be pointed out.  Everyone who has been in a car accident and tried to dial a phone afterwards knew about adrenaline effects.  For that matter, every shy kid who asked someone out on a date for
the first time knows what adrenaline does to your skills.  Our parents told us that practice became habits became personality, we just somehow forgot it would also apply to pulling punches.

Violence is scary.  Everyone has issues with how they would do in a real fight.  Want to hear something scary?  I don't think I've ever really been tested.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 uses of force, riots, ambushes, PCP freaks and the voice in my head says that because I'm still alive, none of that was the real deal. None of it was a real test.  And the people who have been to far worse places than me? They still have the voice in their heads, too.  It's one of the reasons we get together around the campfire every so often.

But the people who haven't been tested not only have doubts, but find themselves comparing.  Martial arts, in my opinion, used to be taught in a violent world.  It was giving a kid who would be going into war or who could count on his village to be raided by bandits some kind of chance. He would face his fear in battle and then he would know.  Without impending battle, the training has somehow morphed into an amulet.  If I have a blackbelt I can fight.  If I have a blackbelt I won't be scared.  Much of martial arts has morphed into an amulet factory, selling confidence because it is easier than instilling confidence..

And the students are buying answers so that they can avoid looking at the questions.  Does that make sense?

JW: Yeah, I understand.  It's actually why I got your book in the first place.  After I got my Shodan, I didn't feel like I knew enough to accurately defend myself, or God forbid my wife or someone else, because I hadn't been tested enough to know if it worked.  But at least I recognized the fact.
RM: Recognizing is huge.  The trouble with blindspots is that you can't see your own.  And, since you brought it up, many people talk about defending a third party, but how many practice it?

JW: I see your doing seminars under the name of Chiron.  If my Classics serve me, that was the name of the centaur that taught some of the Greek heroes right?  Could you explain a little about what Chiron is and what it does?

RM: There was an incident, I wrote about it here:

We had put together a new training paradigm for the Sheriff's Office.  It was effective, injuries dropped by about 30% with no increase in inmate/arrestee injuries or excessive force complaints.  We were happy with it. One day, one of our guys was attacked. Close range shanking.  One of the real low percentage situations.  And Roger handled it spectacularly.  The training can't take credit for that.  No matter what training you give, it is always used by a person and the person is the one who makes it work.  With or without training, Roger would have made it.  

There had always been this vague feeling that something here was special, and Roger's incident let me put it into words.  We weren't training people.  We were training heroes.  We were training men and women who, every day, rushed in to help strangers because they had called 911 and asked for help or alone and unarmed, let themselves be locked into a dayroom with 75 violent criminals to keep order and keep the other inmates safe.  We weren't training people who might or might not need it, we weren't trying to make people feel better about themselves.  We were training heroes.  People who would rush in, people who would need and use and depend on the skills.  The responsibility was staggering, and it drove everything we taught and how we taught it.

When I went independent, I needed to keep that ethic.  The only figure that really resonated with that was Chiron.  And Chiron is more of a goal than a symbol.

JW: For anyone interested in Chiron, please click on the link.

Part I of an interview with author Rory Miller

Interview with Violence Author Rory Miller
By Jaredd Wilson

There is a saying that says “When the student is ready, a master will appear.”  What that means is when you start looking for answers, there’s usually someone who can help mentor you through your questions.  This happened with a book for me.  The book was Rory Miller’s Meditations on Violence.  And today it is my pleasure to present part 1 of an interview with Rory Miller, author of several books that have influenced my thinking on martial arts, and martial training.  Along with writing his own book, he has co-authored Facing Violence: Prepared for the Unexpected, and Scaling Force: Decision Making Under the Treat of Violence.  They all deal with experienced and realistic approaches to dealing with violence and violent situations.

Jaredd Wilson of Atemicast: Thank you spending some time discussing your ideas and books with us.  First off, for those who are unfamiliar with you or your works, could you please tell us of your professional qualifications?

Rory Miller: I've been involved in martial arts since 1981; spent seventeen years in Corrections dealing with a lot of criminals; a little over a year in Iraq as a contractor working with the Iraqi Corrections Service; and have been teaching professionally since I got home from Kurdistan.  I doubt your readers want to waste a day on a resume.  There's an out-of-date CV here

JW: Reading the CV, I can see you have an extensive list of professional credentials.  As for your martial arts background, you say you started in 1981.  Why did you start taking martial arts and what systems or styles have your studied?

RM: Long story.  When I was eleven-- not sure how many of you are old enough to remember the seventies, but the world was supposed to end (nuclear war, overpopulation, emerging diseases, economic collapse, ice name it) anyway, when I was eleven, my parents moved us out to the desert.  It was halfway between homesteading and a survivalist compound.  Upshot was that I was raised without electricity, so no TV.  I think everything I knew about martial arts when I went to college can be summed up by "I saw one trailer for a Bruce Lee move and caught one episode of 'Kung Fu' while I was over at a friend's house."  But it was fascinating, and during the late seventies and early eighties, martial arts was considered THE way to become a complete human being, whatever that is.
So, when I finally got to university, and a town that had more than 200 people, I was looking for MA.  I lucked into judo at the University club.  I like judo.  There's no mysticism, there's no bullshit, just physics and conditioning.  Information isn't held back-- within a year or so you will know everything the black belts know, they're just better at it.  The instructors set a high bar as well-- Wolfgang had been on the West German national team and Mike had been a junior nationals champ before college.  They set the standard for what I expect from an instructor.
I dabbled in almost everything the area had to offer-- a couple of flavors of karate and Korean stuff, little Chinese, but my real loves, next to judo, were European weapons.  I played in the SCA and got a varsity letter in fencing.
First exposure to jujitsu was in Reno.  I was looking for a judo school and found an offshoot of Danzan-ryu.  The system was good, but the instructor spent more time trying to convince the students he was a "true master" (whatever that is) than he did teaching.  I got bored and left.  I continued to play in other stuff but centered in judo until we moved to Portland and I found Dave Sumner teaching Sosuishitsu-ryu jujutsu.  That became my home.  I still dabble in other stuff.  Less interested in styles and systems now, I just play with the best people I can find.  Amazing what you learn when you play.

JW: You know, I never thought of Judo that way, but I like that interpretation of it.  What was it about Sosuishitsu-ryu that made you feel "at home" there?  Was it the mood, the theory, the techniques?

RM: Sosuishitsu was the most brutal art I'd ever seen. It wasn't a sparring system, it wasn't a dueling system.  It was centered around the fastest way to kill a skilled, armed and armored man from a position of disadvantage.  I'd had a fair exposure to violence by then and more than any other training I'd seen, Sosuishitsu paid respect to the way things actually happened.  Which in a way is weird, because some of it centered on medieval Japanese battlefields, which sounds very different.  But the essential assumptions were that the enemy would attack when you weren't ready or had some other disadvantage; that the attack would be full speed, full power, untelegraphed and with every intent to do you arm.  And your responses had to be simple, gross-motor, fast and finishing.  Despite the age and the seeming alien environment of the system, the fundamental assumptions were dead-on for serious assaults.

The other things that made me feel at home were, first of all, Dave.  Fantastic fighter and teacher who had built a lot of good fighters.  They played hard.  The other-- this might sound weird, but there are two things that make a training space feel like home.  One is the smell of lots of sweat, and some of it adrenaline sweat.  The other is a canvas heavy bag with lots of little brown dots.  If I get those two things I know I'll be happy.

JW: I think its interesting that you ended up at a traditional jujutsu school, as I got the impression from your writings that you see most martial arts, as you put it, "purposely flawed" in their training.  Do you believe this is something that can be overcome within in traditional systems, in terms of self-defense? 

RM:  You're making a leap there, Jaredd.  This isn't a traditional/RBSD thing.  It's the nature of training for anything you can't actually do.  You can pretty it up as much as you need to sleep at night, but martial arts is _about_ hurting people.  Creating cripples and corpses.  Until and unless the casualty rate in training is the same as it is in real life, there is something built into the training to keep it safe.  there has to be, it's not a problem, until the safety flaws become unconscious.  Then it can be a very big problem and you get people who are more skilled at n ot hurting people than they are at hurting people.

JW: As a follow up, what about more modern budo systems, such as karate-do or aikido?

RM: I have my own opinion and it usually turns into a long rant.  Ueshiba was a bad ass.  he trained in a tough system under a sadistic teacher and then he went to Manchuria where he was killing people and people were trying to kill him.  I think, and this is personal opinion on my part, a large part of aikido, particularly the philosophy was driven by his need to come to terms with his past.  But in practice you have tools that were tested to the edge of death, but people latch on to the later part of his life.  Martially, Ueshiba became Ueshiba in Manchuria, not in meditation.  People can't do what he did because they are imitating the part of his life when he was trying to muzzle his own fangs.
As for karate, the early guys, the pioneers were tough, skilled, canny fighters.  The change came when instead of teaching fighters, people found out there was more money in teaching the timid and children.  The first generation tried and there are still people who are more than effective with the karate-do systems, but for every fighter that was promoted to teaching ranks there were ten or a hundred non-fighters.  And naive consumers can't tell the difference.  After a few generations of that, the systems have shifted because the non-fighters don't even know that they can't fight, and they promote more (because their standards tend to be easier) than the fighting instructors will.

JW: You mentioned judo in your past, do you see that as self-defense applicable?

RM: Well, now that I've offended everybody... Everything is self defense applicable.  But unless you study assault patterns you won't know where it fits.  Judo is awesome.  One of the primary skills in any fight is the ability to move a body.  Grapplers excel at that.  The problem is that grappling is so easy to fall in love with.  Some of the stupidest mistakes I ever made-- I'd catch myself reverting to tournament judo if a threat managed to take me down.  I loved grappling and I was good at it, but sport grappling goes for pins and submissions and has a completely different view of time than being in an environment where sooner or later the bad guy's friends will work up the nerve to get involved.  I had to break my sports assumptions to adapt to my real environment. 

This can be a deep subject.  There are some things that are complicated in training or sparring that are dead simple in real life and some things in real life that we don't even think of in sparring.  Example, one of the hardest parts of judo randori is spinning into a hip or shoulder throw.  It's a chess match of manipulation, sensitivity and ruthless speed at the right moment.  In real life, people jump on your back and hand you the hardest part.  Or take a submission system-- a guy attacks you, you take him down, put him in a lock...and now what?  You've already shown superior skill and in this position he's not an immediate threat.  Can you legally justify breaking the arm?  So how do you leave without the threat re-engaging?  Or how do you maintain control while you transition from this lock to a handcuffing position?  I had to look for answers to that in Small Circle Jujitsu.  It wasn't in my sport or my koryu training. An example for most striking systems: self-defense frequently starts after taking a hit from behind.  It's not as simple as just turning around to use your skills.  Do you train for that?  So applicability--You need to know how to move a body.  Any grappling art will give you a grounding in that.  I lean toward judo, but that's probably just prejudice on my part.--You need to know how to get kinetic energy into the other body.  You need to know how to hit, in other words.  But it's more than that.  You need to be able to hit hard, preferably targeted, to targets that are unsafe to train (my top three are the ears, base of the skull and the throat) on a moving target while you yourself are moving.  And if you are training self-defense you have to be able to do it with compromised structure at a bad distance and likely direction.  Any good striking art will give you this, but be careful.  If you never impact on strikes you won't know how to hit without hurting yourself.  Same if you rely on tape and gloves.  there's a fracture named after boxers because of this.

Getting into self-defense there's a bunch more.  I have a list in my head of things I think every fighter should be competent in and another list of what's important in self-defense.  Some cross-overs, but they aren't the same list.

JW: I tend to agree with you.  I come from aikido/jujutsu and I think the early aikido is very different from the later aikido.  I also think some of the changes were political after WWII.  From my understanding, Japanese were prohibited from any military/martial gathering including martial arts.  But, if you were promoting peace and understanding...well that was acceptable.
Next week we’ll get to see part II of the interview

Question Everything: What is a gi?

Originally posted on on 4/26/2013

Question Everything?
By Jaredd Wilson

“What is a gi?”

Jigoro Kano sensei in orignal keikogi
            If you’ve done martial arts for more than a week you probably think you know the answer to this question.  However the origin of this garment may surprise you.  For example, did you know that the word gi is actually a shortened form of the word keikogi?  Keikogi means something like “practice clothes.”  An alternate name is dogi.  Where –do refers to the way, as in aikido or judo.  There are two parts to the gi, the upper jacket part is called the uwagi, and the lower, pants part is called the shitabaki, which is Japanese for pants.  In many budo they insert the art’s name into the name of the clothing.  Aikidogi, kendogi, karategi, etc.  They are slightly different, in the weight and/or color of the cloth.  For example, judogi are generally heavier, as a way to stand up to the repeated lapel grabs. 
            In the olden days, before the 1900’s, martial artists would practice in everyday clothes.  There is the martial legends that state that the gi was originally developed from what was essentially underwear.  They started wearing the gi so as not to damage their real clothes.  Early gi definitely had shorter sleaves and pants legs, but I cannot confirm this origin.  Another probably more reliable story states the Kano Jigoro sensei  modified clothing worn by firefighters to create the idea of the gi.  Funikoshi then adopted a similar, but lighter weave clothing for use by karateka.  Ueshiba took a the judogi and adopted it for aikido, and so on.  All gi are then held closed using an obi, or belt.  Again going back to the originals, Kano sensei was the first to institute a colored belt system, and this was originally done to show levels for competition.  It was only after that that there was a colorful rainbow explosion of belts.
            Like most things of Japanese origin, there is a right way and a wrong way to care for them as well.  Most martial artist, especially the one’s I’ve seen tend to just crumple them into a gym bag at the end of class.  If you look at the picture, there is traditional folding pattern to the keikogi.  Your gi should be considered part of your equipment, and like all a warrior’s equipment, it should be cared for.  So it brings up the question “How well did you know your gi?”

Question Everything: What is Shuhari?

Originally posted on on 4/19/2013

Question Everything?
Jaredd Wilson

What is Shuhari?

    Shuhari (sometimes pronounced suhari) is a Japanese concept relating to the path to mastery.  I've heard of the description before, but not the actual term, so I decided to share it with you.  The idea was originally presented in Tea Mastery, extended to Noh Dance, and then eventually martial arts, specifically aikido and shorinji kempo.  It is a word that is broken down into its component parts.

    This is related to the initial period of study.  This time period involves direct imitation of your instructor.  This is where you copy his/her movements as closely as possible.  In martial arts, this should last through shodan level.

    This is the second period of study.  This is where self-application is performed.  Your movements will now be adapted to your body type, and abilities.  You start to make the movements your own, and no longer mimic your instructor.  This is where you should be as a shodan.  I like to think of this as an experimental period.

  This is, for lack of a better term, mastery.  Your movements are spontaneous and natural, because they are completely your own.  This is where most, if not all, martial artists aim to be.  This is the level of O-Sensei, Kano Sensei, and others.  This is where most of those great martial arts myths come from.

So how are you doing?  What level of practice are you in?

Question Everything: How do you keep a beginner's mind?

This was originally posted on Atemicast on April 8th

Question everything?
by Jaredd Wilson

“How do you keep a beginning mind?”

            My wife started driving.  After having a learner’s permit for 20 years, she just got her license.  I am personally grateful for this, and scared at the same time.  We got her a car, and now she’s driving to work, and driving our child all over the place. 
Now, let me explain South Florida’s roads.  First, like most of the US, half the people are on their cell phones playing Angry Birds as they drive.  Or, they are talking to someone, who I’m sure is in a life or death situation, otherwise they wouldn’t be that distracted, right?  Second, because of the extreme example of the melting pot that is South Florida, everyone drives by their home set of rules.  New Yorkers drive like New Yorkers, Jamaicans drive like Jamaicans, and all little old ladies drive like little old ladies.  By themselves, in their own set of accepted driving rules, their fine.  It’s when everyone is thrust into one place, where they have different sets of rules that all the “accidents” occur.  And this is where my newly licensed wife is driving.
Almost everyday, she comes home and tells me her stories of driving woes and the idiocy that she sees on the roads.  I’ve been driving for so long, I’m not impressed by it anymore, so I half-hearted listen to her, which invariably gets her angry at me, and I’m in trouble.  Then one day it hit me.  Because it was new her, driving was a living, visceral, mindful experience.  She had a beginner’s mind.
The beginner’s mind (Shoshin) is a Zen Buddhism expression.  It is that state of observation, where something that is new is exciting, and you want to pay attention to every detail, you want to excel, and you want to learn everything there is about the subject.  It represents the zeal of looking at something you haven’t experienced before.  After a while with any activity, people become jaded.  Because they’ve seen it before, they deem it not important.  They become board with it.  The penny seems less shiny.
Like many other Zen ideas, it has worked its way into Japanese martial arts.  The idea is presented as “keep a beginner’s mind.”  It is easy to start at a dojo and be really interested in all the cool strikes, the people throwing each other around, and all the new language and behaviors.  After doing martial arts for a couple of years or more, you start to see repeated action.  You’ve done the drills, you’ve performed the kata, and you’ve seen the self-defense.  Sometimes this is when you hit a plateau.  This is also when most people stop coming to the dojo. It is critical to your long-term perseverance and success as a martial artist that you continue to look at the same things you’ve seen before.  Look with new eyes, experienced eyes, but new eyes, none the less.  If it is something you’ve seen before, or done before, look for the subtle nuances.  See exactly how sensei is stepping, watch how their hips are shifting.  Notice the subtle changes in weight distribution.  Make it a point to ask questions, if that is acceptable in your dojo.  It will help you look at the same thing in a new way, and by looking at it new, you can keep a beginner’s mind.  And don’t you want to keep that zeal for martial arts that you started with?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My first post

Hello anyone who's reading,

    I've started this blog to share my martial arts thoughts.  In order to give myself some credit, I'll give you some of my martial history.  I started my martial journey in 1995 during my first year at the University of Florida.  My initial goal was to learn how to use the Japanese sword.  Like most inexperienced people, I was interested from a pop culture point of view.  In my head I wanted to be a Jedi, or the Highlander, or something like that.  I found a system with Jason Backlund Sensei, who taught, what he called at the time Yamagata ryu bujutsu.  It was a system in the old sense of containing a couple of different arts put together.  I worked on unarmed and sword.  I studied with Backlund Sensei for two years, earning a couple of ranks.  Because of school I was forced to stop for a couple of years.

    In 2002 I started with Philip Chenique Sensei, who taught Chendokan Aikido and Sogetsu ryu Kenjutsu as part of the Atemi ryu system, and have been there ever since.  In that time frame, I have earned a shodan rank, and will hopefully earn my nidan sometime soon.

    Over the course of my training I've always loved reading and studying the historical aspect of martial arts.  It has lead me to think a lot about martial arts.  I have my own ideas about martial arts, and this blog will simply be a place to exsponge those thoughts.  My area of study has been concentrated on the Japanese arts of Jujutsu and Aikido, but any pieces of information that I come across on other martial arts I will share as well.  I will also conduct interviews with martial artists, and others connected to the martial arts, as well as reviews of books, movies, or products that I come across.

My goal is to put up a blog every Wednesday with new information, but if I find out something in between I'll be sure to share it.  So if you want updated information, please subscribe to the blog. 

Jaredd A. Wilson