Monday, September 15, 2014

IAOMAS Conference 2014

Last weekend I had the privilege and honour of being one of the featured instructors at the 2014 IAOMAS conference.

I have to hand it to my long-time friend and colleague, Colin Wee of Joong Do Kwan, the IAOMAS Coordinator: everything ran like clockwork.

Colin also managed to assemble a very diverse, yet mutually compatible and reinforcing, group of instructors and managed to attract a participant group that was especially open-minded, friendly and well-skilled.  The net result was a very enjoyable and informative experience.

Proceedings opened with Dr Nigel Farrier of Martial Arts Education Centre whose topic was: "Using your body more effectively for weight transference and generating speed.

I followed with my topic: "Fighting in the ‘melee’ range; understanding the significance of ‘toe to toe’ fighting in civilian defence, distinguishing it from sport fighting, learning to dominate it and avoid collapsing into the clinching/grappling range".

We then broke for a light lunch which Colin organised (and his student Niall cooked!) - a sausage sizzle!

After lunch there was a presentation on Tabata Exercise by Dr Farrier and a presentation on Nutritional Supplementation by Dragan Malesic of Shinobi Bujinkan Perth.

A video showing some highlights of the IAOMAS conference

Andrew Hickey of Inner Circle Combatives Australia then restarted the sessions with "full-force, full-aggression" demonstrations of his system, then followed with sample drills to illustrate his topic: "Do No Harm/Do Extreme Harm concept and how it applies to the continuum of force and legal application of force method".

The very skilled Debbie Clarke of Southern Cross Bujutsu took the session after that.  Her topic was: "Yawarra stick (Kubotan) and its versatility and manipulation, its use in joint locks, and its value in self defence".

Finally, Nigel May of KOMA led the last session: "Sepac Hapkido’s joint locks" which focused on gap closing/entries and a combative approach to the use of joint locking.

The talented Ashley Johnson closed proceedings with an iaido (sword drawing) demonstration.

I'm very pleased to have had the opportunity to meet so many fine martial artists and share in the atmosphere of the IAOMAS experience.

Well done to Colin, the instructors and all the participants!

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Saber - weapon of war

In my article "My unlikely relationship with the jian - sword of civilian defence" I opined that the jian was a weapon of civilian defence.  Aside from the Roman and Greek swords and the longsword, true battle swords tended to be curved, single-edged weapons that were used for cutting - ie. sabers.

Here is an extract of my article:

Unlike the Chinese dao (single-handed saber) and dadao (two-handed saber) (both used by the Chinese military) or the Japanese equivalent, the katana (also a military weapon), the jian is straightand double-edged. This means it is not optimized for cutting, but for thrusting. Optimization for cutting requires a curve. And a curve often (though not always) leads to single-edged weapons...
It should come as no surprise that on the battlefield, melee range weapons are best employed in terms of the former, ie. cutting/slashing with an edge. Being able to thrust with the point is, at best, an adjunct use...
[O]nce you are dealing with swords of sufficient length and mass for battlefield use, thrusts/stabs will necessarily apply much less force and have far less injury potential than cuts. This is exacerbated if your opponent has any kind of protective gear (never mind armour)...
In this context, one can see how the dao/dadao/katana with its curved, single edge became the preferred military sword in China. The straight sword wasn’t effective enough. If you wanted to stab or thrust, you would use a longer range straight weapon - ie. the spear. Or you might use arrows (another “straight” weapon). In battle, these longer range weapons (ie. spears and arrows) are straight; melee weapons are curved for cutting...
Accordingly, for soldiers (who are expected to focus on attack and who are individually largely expendable) the use of a sword that yields maximum force and damage in the melee is going to be preferred. 

Recently I came across the article "The use of the sword in the Great War: Faded glory or deadly efficiency?".  I think it supports my thesis above.  Here is an extract:

The saber is solely a weapon of offense and is used in conjunction with the other offensive weapon, the horse, In all the training, the idea of speed must be conserved. No direct parries are taught, because at the completion of a parry the enemy is already beyond reach of an attack. The surest parry is a disabled opponent. In the charge and in the melee, the trooper must remember that on the speed of his horse in attack, and on his own offensive spirit, rest nine-tenths of his chances of success.

What do you think?

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Too "deadly" for MMA?

I've previously mentioned that I once interviewed a "reality based self defence expert" on my radio show.  The subject came around to fighting in the ring/cage and he opined that he didn't spar because his techniques were "too deadly".  Then he added that if he ever got into the ring/cage he didn't know what would happen. "I'd most probably kill someone," he said.

I had to hand it to my other guest, Sifu Vincent (a man who has considerable ring experience).  He was so diplomatic and self-effacing in the way that he dealt with this (absurd) statement.  (I remember he said something like: "Really?  Oh my!  You see, unlike yourself, I really don't know how I would fare in a real confrontation!")

Of course, the RBSD "expert" was full of it.  Sparring isn't fighting, that's clearly true.  But if you never spar (at least in some fashion), you never get past the starting block in terms of judging what you might or might not do in an unscripted environment.  You never find out whether you might make your techniques work.

At this point I usually get at least a few traditionalists and MMA practitioners alike crying foul:
"Aren't you always arguing in favour of traditional martial arts and against combat sport?"  
No actually, I'm not.

Yes, I draw distinctions between civilian defence and combat sport objectives.  I make observations about technical differences and pedagogies resulting from these objectives.  But I am under no illusions as to the fighting ability of MMA practitioners - or the lack thereof of most non-professional, part-time martial artists like myself.

So it is with some surprise that I see some of the latter implying that the reason they don't enter MMA is because they are "too deadly".  Consider this video that made it's way to my Facebook feed via my friend Noah Legel:

It's an echo of that RBSD "expert".

Lest I sound too harsh/critical of this school, let me make something abundantly clear: I think their activity (which appears to be mostly jujutsu) is perfectly fine.  Indeed, I think they show a high level of skill in what they do.  Potentially the techniques are quite useful - especially if applied in the correct context (and they aren't always in the above video; that's another quibble which I won't get into).

But I hold it to be self-evident that to be truly useful (whether in civilian defence, combat sport or any other form of fighting), such techniques need to be practised in a dynamic and ultimately (at least partially) resistant environment.

You can't go around imagining your techniques will work in the ring/cage or, for that matter, the street when you haven't even tried (never mind succeeded) in applying them (or at least set them up) in an unscripted environment. And that's before we even start talking about resistance (which ramps up the difficulty in application).

In fact, without free sparring application of some sort, I think you have no good reason to believe you'll be able to make your techniques work.  Because if you can't set up your technique - even "sort of" - against someone who is just play fighting with you, what hope do you have of making it work when the pressure is really on; when your attacker is not only really resisting your own efforts but is simultaneously determined to beat the stuffing out of you?

The answer is, of course, none.

That's because you've never actually tried to apply your technique.  All you've applied is some highly scripted, controlled and artificial precursor to it.  You've applied an artificial exercise used to begin learning the technique - not the technique itself.  It's as if you've practised your golf or tennis swing but never with a ball.

Then there's the speed, commitment and intention inherent in a realistic attack (which I suspect the above practitioners have never faced)...

Now I can't be sure that the above school doesn't apply its techniques in a free-sparring environment.  Perhaps it does.  But I would be surprised if they did (at least regularly).  Certainly their videos give no clue of that they do any such thing.  And, in my experience, such schools generally don't engage in free sparring.  If they did, they might not be so cavalier about what might or might not happen in an MMA cage...

So if I were to venture an educated guess, it would be that the above school bases its pedagogy almost entirely on "standing start drills".  I might be wrong, but I'd be genuinely surprised if I were.

As commendable as their level of skill might be in doing what they do, I do not see "standing start" based systems as arts of fighting: rather, I think they comprise a form of traditional choreography.

I do not mean this in a pejorative sense.  Nor do I wish to imply that such an art is incapable of being practised/applied in a more martial way, should one choose to do so.  Rather, all I mean to say is that, essentially, the traditional pedagogy involves choreographed sequences: movements by a "defender" that follow a standard cue from an "attacker" - typically, a step-through lunge punch.

Such a "punch" should not be confused with a realistic "attack".  Without more, it is merely a cue; a whisper from backstage to initiate your own sequence.

If you consider this judgement too harsh, remember that I'm not saying the "standing start" drill doesn't have a role in martial arts learning.  Rather I'm saying that it is, in itself, insufficient to form the basis of a practical system.  If you want to be a fighter, you must fight.  Choreographed drills of this sort do not comprise fighting.

If you would take issue with this, ignore for a moment the "standing start" drills (and I've previously acknowledged that they play an important role in any martial pedagogy).  Focus instead on whether you think the attack is in any sense "martial".

Watch the above video again.  Look at the attack.  What do you see?  First, it is totally without realistic intent.

Moreover, it is actually out of range.  As you can see from the adjacent images, the defender steps into range as part of the drill.

And I suspect that the practitioners of the school in question are, at least subliminally, aware of this limitation.  Consider the following footage from the same people.  What do you notice about the attacks?  Many have been edited out!  I guess half-hearted zombie attacks don't make for an impressive marketing video.

I hold it to be self-evident that if your attacker in practice is only ever a zombie, you won't learn to apply your technique. Ever.  Judging by the techniques portrayed in the first video above, that's probably a good thing too; I've noted more than once the ethical problems with an Enter the Dojo style "overkill" that such schools typically market as suitable for "reality based self defence".

Leaving tactical and technical disagreements aside, in the end, I have all the time in the world for a school like this to do its thing in terms of practising set techniques.  Maybe they're doing an art form for art's sake. I'm more than fine with that.  Personally, I no longer practise martial arts with a view to anything other than perfecting my form.  I train for "gong fu" - achieving a skill through effort.  I don't practise martial arts to "fight".  Nor do I think I should have to justify my practice on such a basis.

But if you're like me, you shouldn't try to predict what you'd do in the ring/cage.  You shouldn't assume the street-effectiveness of techniques you've never even tried to translate from a scripted environment to an unscripted (never mind resistant) one.  To do so would be pointless - as well as embarrassing.

The practitioners of the above school seem to feel they are somewhat unique in that they practise techniques "banned" from MMA by rules.  They aren't.  Practically every martial arts school, traditional or otherwise, teaches "illegal" moves in its "street defence" classes.  So in the end their point of distinction is left sounding hollow; a rather unconvincing marketing exercise that only serves to detract from both their image and that of traditional martial arts generally.

There are many good reasons why this particular school is not represented in MMA.  And they know as well as the rest of us that "being too deadly" isn't one of them.

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Secrets? What secrets?

A while ago I wrote a lengthy treatise on timing your foot to land with your punch.  I called it a "secret".  And given the private mail I got on the subject arguing vehemently with me, it looks like for many it was a "secret" - or at least something totally unknown.

But looking around I see the same technique used commonly in boxing/MMA.  So, surprise: another traditional technique turns out to be nothing more than common sense.  And common knowledge amongst people who actually bother to engage in some form of contact (and not against Michelin Man suited zombies).

Consider this guy's video.  Note his punch (standard kizami zuki, ie. karate "lunge punch".  Note his stance (standard zenkutsu dachi) which is only transitional.  Note his follow up step (straight yori ashi).  Note his finishing stance (straight out of arnis).

And note the timing of his foot - straight out of traditional martial arts as I previously discussed.

Once you get over the "differences" you see the similarities.  And that there are no "secrets" at all: just people who would rather put their heads under a rock.

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sick of the ice bucket challenge?

So you're sick of the ice bucket challenge eh?

I mean, you've already heard the stats: so few people get ALS - so why are we raising a disproportionate amount of money on this illness when there are far more "worthy" ones - at least in terms of human suffering.

Heck - clean water supply is a bigger issue isn't it?

Yet here are people wasting clean water - wasting it - on some stupid challenge to raise money for some piddling little condition that almost no one suffers.

I mean, you heard it on TV right?

And now we hear that ALSA is trying to claim intellectual property over the whole ice bucket thingy - despite having nothing to do with it initially.  What gall!

And now you hear about fraud - that's right fraud in ALSA.  Some 73% of the money isn't going towards researching this condition!

Except that these arguments have more holes than a colander through which you can pour iced water...

First, there is no fraud.  I'll let you do the research, but here is a start.  The report was from a satirical site that some people believe is an actual news one.

In any event, almost every single charity on the planet has operating costs.  Not every cent can go towards "research".

Then there's the whole business about number of deaths vs how much we should raise.  Yes it's true: very few people die of ALS every year.  But is that really an issue?  What is the issue?  The issue here is whether ALS, as a cause, deserves to have this amount of attention - this "moment in the sun".

First consider this: so little money has been raised for ALS in the past that the $31.5 million raised during the ice bucket craze is still tiny by comparison to most fundraising for AIDS, heart disease, breast cancer, etc.  And, most importantly, the current "fad" eclipses any previous attempt to raise money or even awareness of ALS by a factor of at least 1,000 or or even 10,000.

I mean, had you ever heard of ALS before?

Then there's the benefit of all this attention:

Here's the deal: I studied "Lou Gehrig's Disease" back at university in 1985.  I knew it kept your brain alive but slowly killed your motor neurons until you couldn't walk, talk, swallow or - eventually - breathe.  I knew it involved a sentence of death in 3 years from the time of onset/diagnosis (unlike other motor neuron conditions where life can be prolonged).

But I had some idea that Lou Gehrig's Disease was really one of the huge number of such diseases being studied and slowly addressed.

What have I found out in 2014?  I have found out that we've gone almost nowhere in finding a treatment - never mind a cure.  I have found that almost no one I speak to has even heard of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - even after the ice bucket challenge.

And I have found out that ALS barely warrants attention from drug companies; it seems too few people suffer from this condition to make research worth their while.

I have also found out how mean-spirited people can be: how "irritated" they can get because some blasted craze of dumping icy water on people's heads keeps interrupting the "lolkatz" on their Facebook feed; how they can be so lacking in humour and compassion as to deny the ALS sufferers their own "symbol" or "gimmick" that promotes their particular issue (which is like getting annoyed at the Cancer Foundation's yellow daffodil, or breast cancer's pink ribbon, etc.); how they can begrudge those trying to raise money and awareness of this terrible (albeit relatively rare disease) their "moment in the sun" in terms of public awareness.

Well, finally, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has the public's attention.  Yes this attention will be brief.  Don't worry - your lolkatz will return to their usual programming soon.  In the meantime I hope ALS sufferers get all the attention they can get.  I hope their principal association - ALSA - gets to put its stamp on the ice bucket challenge as its own "gimmick" - so that it can repeat the show every now and again when people forget.  God knows, ALS needs such a gimmick.  And ALSA is probably best placed to protect that gimmick from copycats.

So while I know of no one who suffers from ALS, nor have I even thought of it in 30 something years, I'm happy to take part in it and raise a bit of money.  That I could use the occasion to do some martial arts (sanchin kata) was a bonus.  That I could do so while answering a critic?  Even more so.

Late in in on the craze?  This is a case of better late than never.

At least I got to show Tom Cruise how to stop being a wussy (he needs some sanchin lessons, I think - check out his histrionic reaction to a bit of cold water).

And, for the benefit of that fairly heartless reporter from Queensland, Lincoln Humphries: waste of water and ice?  Really?  Give me a break.  I bet you don't bat an eyelid as you flush your faeces down the toilet every day using fresh, clean drinking water.  And lots of it.  Shame on you.

This water (about 4 L plus a small bag of ice) was worth it, if nothing else than because it raises awareness of a condition that is barely known.

And as for the ice being "better used for cooling beers"... talk about a first world problem!

Sometimes the cost of something is worth the price - even if that price includes annoying a few irritable, mean-spirited people.

Lincoln: deal with it.

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic