Martial and Tactical Muse : Concept vs Technique

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It’s strange how the sound of silence of the wee hours of the morning awaken the thought processes. Well, when I say silence, I mean that in my side of the world everyone is asleep. But I’m here typing while listening to a 2 hour mix of Celtic music.

To be honest I have been wanting to write this for some time but never got around to it due to me running up and down with the daily demands of life. But finally I decided to sit my butt down and write it before heading to bed.

Lately I’ve come across a Youtube channel for Izzo Tactical Martial Arts. The person in question is a man called Dominick Izzo who trains in Wing Chun in the Chicago area.

I got to know him via Paul Ingram of RFA Martial Academy. Paul spoke of Izzo and therefore I decided to check the latter out.

Now just so you know, I’ve never met these two gentlemen in-person. All I’ve done so far is watch their videos. But I have to give them the credit for putting up videos that help guide me. Anyone who is in the area who is interested in the arts they are practicing, do check them out.

Now Paul is a martial artist that I respect. As a person who’s practicing the system he is practicing (and teaching) as well, I see that he is one who adheres to the system. His forms and footwork are done and practiced properly. I therefore watch his videos for references – be it from footwork to weapon manipulation to sparring and combat applications.

Now Izzo is another remarkable individual. What drew me to his videos was the fact that he has an attention to detail. He questions his training and as he puts it, “pressure tests” them. He has the eye to see what is missing, and above all, is a humble person and is willing to share his knowledge and keep an open mind to further develop his skills as a Wing Chun practitioner.

Perhaps it was his history and experiences in law enforcement that gave him his insight of true combat. I’ve no idea. But the one thing I admire is that he has come to a point where I believe all martial artists should aspire to be.

And this is what I’m sitting up here typing about. It isn’t about learning techniques, but about learning concepts behind the techniques. That hidden nuance, those hidden truths that hides beneath the obvious. The abstract, the conceptual.

I have been practicing my craft for 3 years and still encounting (well there were periods of gaps in between here and there, but I do what I can). I have a great instructor who has taught me well.

As mentioned, it isn’t so much as techniques that I have been taught as it is about how he has taught me to have an open eye. To observe and to find the details in the drills I practice. He has taught me to question that which I practice and ask why is it that we do what we do.

These 3 years of not only physical and technical, but also mental and philosophical training have brought me to the point I am today.

As a martial artist, I am now in a state where I do not see just technique alone anymore. I have acquired a kind of sense, or heightened awareness, however you want to call it. When a drill is being practiced, regardless if it’s the same drill that I’ve done countless times, I now approach that drill from a whole new perspective.

I question my forms, my footwork. Why am I doing this? How come I can’t bridge into the opponent? Is it due to my angles? Or my footwork and ranging?

How come I do not have the power in my strike? Is it due to my form and posture? My center of gravity? Am I missing that twist of the hips that transfers that power from my core?

Do I trap on the elbow? Or the forearm? Do I tap or check at the wrist? Do I strike at the pivot point which is the shoulder to cancel out an incoming strike?

Do I bridge in to control timing? Do I step in or side step? If I tilt my weapon, is it a wrist action or elbow joint action?

It’s all down to these details that I suddenly gain an awareness and sensitivity too. And watching Izzo’s videos further solidified my resolve to go on in the direction I’m now heading to.

I start to dissect my drills and its sequences. Every single thing is scrutinised. And then it goes beyond that. I then ask why are we practicing the drill this way with an emphasis of the details? Why this manner?

This is when one as a martial artist starts to bridge that gap to cross over to the land and state of concept.

We step in with our body while striking because we want to put our body weight into our strike, making it act as a force multiplier. We bridge in because we want to govern timing and range. We step in such an angle because it is the safest possible direction to go in the split moment of attack and transition from the opponent. We hold our weapon this way because it forces us to use a different muscle group because it is much more sustainable in a real combat situation in terms of stamina conservation when you have to go against multiple opponents while being very worn out by combat stress and after effects of adrenaline rushes.

Everything is connected to one another. If there is one thing I learnt as a martial artist now, is that technique isn’t the way to learn the martial art. It isn’t about following a string of drill movements or kata or forms and taking that as the way to defeat the opponent.

They serve as a bridge for us to cross to the concept and idea behind their execution. To be able to grasp that abstract knowledge. Techniques serve as a tool for us to reach out to concept because they materialise and make tangible the hidden knowledge. And the best way to make it all work is to observe the technique, internalise it.

Why is this done this way?
And in a real combat situation, does it work?
What happens if it doesn’t work? (This is a key and very important question to be mindful of).

Of course, above all else, a student must make sure that his / her teacher is teaching the art / craft / system correctly. That in itself is another story and bag of snakes best left for another post.

Now, when a teacher is teaching his / her student, said student might realise that some drills or forms don’t work in a real combat situation. That is a good sign. He or she is picking up something with their questioning of what is being taught.

Why are we learning something that doesn’t work?

Now here comes another thing a student must also do that is important. Stick around the class and learn more.

Because sure, an ‘advance’ technique might prove to be better than an earlier technique taught that doesn’t seem to work. But that earlier technique might actually be something that is needed to be learnt and practiced because it serves as a foundation and stepping stone as well as the start of a path to develop the advance technique.

Or, it is something you have to practice so that when the advance comes, you can fully appreciate its efficacy and use. Or, one may realise that what lies beneath the so called ‘advance’ are actually elements of the basic technique that you learnt before it.

If you look at the whole thing conceptually, you realise that the earlier technique serves a purpose. But to catch the hidden concepts, one has to have eyes open and observe and question. Curiosity is key and an element never to be left out.

This applies not only to martial arts but to other arts and practices as well.

You learn to paint with a brush on canvas before using a Wacom tablet because you need to know about traditional media and how it reacts to various materials. You need to see interactions of paint on paper before you can replicate it digitally to make it look authentic.

You need to study and grasp the concept of image processing before going into film processes.

You need to learn how to walk before you can learn to run. You learn the concept of movement before mixing it up to further bring it to another level.

That’s why there’s a saying that everything that is done well is all down to good foundations and basics. Basics basics basics. Because everything else that comes after is built upon it.

As my instructor said :

“There is no advance. Advance is just a combination of basics. So basics are very important.”

The level of awareness is key. The more aware a student is to the tiny details and the concepts behind the techniques or drill, the better the student can go deeper. And when such knowledge is uncovered, it leaves a very profound and lasting impression. That is the power and joy of discovery. Retention of knowledge is best done via self discovery.

I am currently at a state where I’m still practicing my basics, making sure my forms and especially footwork is correct. With every movement made, I observe as much as I can and take notice / heed of all the tiny things. I feel every muscle pull, every tension point, observe body mechanics and how they work and why. Trying to gel and connect all the physical aspects of my actions to its conceptual counterpart.

It is actually a beauty of design. Design is art with a function and reason.

Everything has a reason for it to be done the way it is supposed to be done.

Why do TKD and Chinese MA students do horse stance. Why boxers keep their hands up the way they do instead of others positions. Why practice footwork, moving in specific ways. I can go on and on.

Another thing that Izzo did that opened my eyes was him putting up videos of Wing Chun vs *insert MA style*.
Now, these segments aren’t just your typical “do this to defeat this person”. What is important is to see the idea and concept.

Being a Wing Chun person that he is, he has stated many times not to do this or that for reasons that I found was an eye opener. Because all those reason’s lead to a singular concept that is all-encompassing to the art itself.

“You do not play the game of your opponent”

That blew my mind and made me realise that everything that I was taught in my system was done the way it was supposed to be because it adhered to the concept behind it.

For instance, my system does not have as detailed empty hand moves and techniques as many other arts / systems out there. But why? That’s because at the bottom line of it all, our concept is about “mobility and blade fighting”.

Our emphasis is in footwork and ranging in and out. If I am out of range, the enemy can’t hit me. And no, I do not want to be hit as I train in a blade mentality because blades and flesh do not complement each other well. It’s a marriage disaster that will leave one hurt badly.

Do I want to learn 20 empty hand techniques and use them against a blade? No. Because the blade suddenly changes the playing field and you realise there are a lot of things that cannot be done.

And as mentioned why are the techniques simple and not as detailed? Because it is a combative. It is kept as simple as possible because it has to be functional in a real combat situation. We have to remember that in the midst of chaos during combat, adrenaline pumping through our system riddles the brain unable to remember a lot of techniques. More often than not we fall back to basics which are the most simplest and straight forward of movements. There is of course mental training and conditioning that can make you focus, but you realise that strings of techniques don’t work very often because every attacker attacks differently.

The idea isn’t to take the whole string of techniques as the actual way to beat the fight, but rather, to break down its individual elements and realise that each piece of the puzzle becomes a viable option instead to be used when the opening presents itself. The idea of breaking down the long complex string of techniques or drill into its basic elements is a concept in itself that a student should grasp.

The drill and technique taught teaches the student that, “hey, you can move your body in such a way”. Then it is further supplemented with the understanding that “at a point in time, you can take this punch from this drill to be used in this situation”. Or “this sidestep when you see such an attack coming”.

Izzo too has that eye for concept. He mentioned in a couple of his videos about a simple concept that went like this :

Wing Chun is a striking art. So we have to go in and strike. If we try to trap a person where trapping is their game (like say a wrestler or grappler), we are going to be in trouble. We don’t want to play the opponent’s game but force the opponent to play our game.

And his emphasis on questioning what was taught to him further garners respect from me for he sees the art not from a technique point of view but instead the idea and concept behind what is supposed to be taught. You then realise that all the techniques learnt has their purposes.

It’s like learning the alphabet. The alphabet series in itself is meaningless but each individual alphabet or element in that series must be put together in the right arrangement and time to form the right sentences and words. But you can’t use words and sentences without learning the alphabet first. See the picture?

It brings me to this state of wonderment as I connect the seeking of knowledge to how our living world works. You realise how much knowledge there is and how complex we as human beings are, what we are capable of doing.

It suddenly becomes a yin and yang thing. Where in complexity lies simplicity. Simplicity begets complexity as many simple elements combine together. The best way to solve complexity is to use simplicity as much as possible which in reality, simplicity is actually complexity turned ‘lite’ due to the ‘trimming’ of the unnecessary and taking what is needed which is basically simplifying that which is complex.

Cheeky wordplay I know, but it is amazing to see this dance that is a part of the human condition and its interactions with the living world around it.

Philosophical Muse : Travel Muse Part 2 – A Return To A New Familiarity

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And thus I return back to my home, having finished attending a training course.

It has been quite a journey, however short it may have been.
Every journey changes you, moulds you and transforms you to be the person that you will ultimately be to date.

It isn’t about going to distant foreign grounds (which in itself has its own charm of the thrill of the unknown) but rather, meeting with new people and seeing things that are different.

And once you return home, the journey has transformed you in such a way that home isn’t the same home that you left upon the embarkation of the journey.
It feels different, and somewhat foreign (not as foreign of course as the stranger land from which you’ve returned from but different).
And yet melded into this mix is the sense of familiarity and tinges of nostalgia as well.

Because home was where you planted yourself. The roots of connection stem from your soul into the very floor you walk upon under your roof. And over time your soul sprout leaves and branches of comfort.
But when you’ve gone to distance places and return, you bring back with you new seeds to be planted to add on to your little forest world, making it all the more vibrant.

There was a saying in one of the Hong Kong Ip Man films that mentioned something along the lines of “men should venture out to foreign lands during their lives”.

It’s kind of true. To open one’s mind and see the world from a different perspective.

Just like knowledge, your perception of the world around you is only as good as the amount of input you put into yourself. You read ABC books as a child, and as you grew older, you supplement that with different varieties of reading material. Every new knowledge paints a new colour to your world and occasionally, dot it with questions and curiosities that may further push you to explore for more answers.

I guess that’s how our forefathers progressed the human race. Exploration to the unknown, breaking pass the barriers that held them.

If it weren’t for new experiences, we might be living in a world today that we deem as flat instead of round. We might not realise that there are many other humans out there of different colour, race, creed, beliefs and practices.

But not only is it a teacher in the ways of mind expansion. But it is also a humbler of the soul and controller of the ego.
It becomes a humbling experience when you think you’ve been a master of your homelands, only to find out that out there are those with greater talents and skills than yourself.

The magic isn’t to be intimidated by these strangers but to learn from them. And share your knowledge and experiences with them as well. Make the world filled with variety.

I think humans were made to reunite after being separated. We scatter throughout the face of this earth to explore and later reunite and share and expand humanity’s knowledge base.

I used to live in a small shell of a world. But the more I was given a chance to explore out, the more I saw and realised and opened so many more doors. Dead-ends got broken down and new paths revealed. What seemed a hopeless turn turned out to be an avenue and path to more possibilites.

Exploration changes the world you perceive. Yes, it’s a cliche notion that has been said time and again probably not just on my blog alone, but in many other blogs as well mediums of information sharing.

But it is regardless always a good reminder to any readers passing by. That the world is indeed an oyster of experiences waiting to be discovered. And that the world we all know is just a tip of the iceberg.

And once you travel out, explore, and return you always feel the place you once knew has changed somewhat.

Oh, the world you once knew is not gone…just all the more colourful and vibrant.

As always I quote T.S Eliot :

” We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. “

Martial and Tactical Muse : Reality vs Perception, Combat Realities Talk

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Occasionally, I give in to the little voice in my head telling me to pick up the kitchen knives and start practicing.

Now for those who don’t know me, panic not. I’m an FMA (Philipino Martial Arts) practitioner and anybody who practices FMAs in their many styles, forms and systems know that blades are as much in our veins as the blood that courses through them. It becomes second nature to us and we look at blades almost like toys / tools for us to manipulate.

So please put the phone down. No need for the cops… ^_^”

I have had thoughts in regards to live combat situations these few days (actually, make that most of the time). But it was not until I practiced my angles, slashes and thrusts with the kitchen knives today that it got the ball running for me to type it out.

Having a live blade in hand (well two actually, I was practicing dual blades) I realised how slow I went. I realised how careful I became, how nervous I was. My hairs were on end. I kind of realised that kitchen knives are ginormous.

Care has to be observed while attempting blade manipulations, executing your perfect angels so as not to cut yourself while creating a hard-to-penetrate shield of cutty-cutty, slashy-slashy and thrusty-thrusty.


 

 

“When we train, we are not training with sticks. We are training with real blades in mind. The sticks represent machetes. That’s why your form and angles must be perfect.”

“We are training for blade fighting, not stick fighting. But we train with sticks because if we used live blades now when you are just starting you’ll be missing limbs and fingers by the end of the day.”

– my instructor –


 

 

As I went on practicing with live blades it got me thinking about the realities of combat in general.

I think for many who are uninitiated in the martial ways, one’s only base of reference for combat are online videos, video games and movies. It’s easy to see how people get amazed by the moves shown.

Mind you, online videos performed by martial artists may serve as references, but remember that there are nuances within the videos that those who don’t have training can’t see. And those small details of body mechanics, positioning, angles, techniques, footwork and such are the important things that a student must be able to catch. And that requires a dedicated teacher and mentor to guide them with and point out. So please attend your classes so that an instructor / master can teach you what you need to know most. 😀

In regards to movies, the characters with his / her flashy moves tells the untrained that when a real fight happens their moves work.

Well, there’s a basis for those moves. Yes, they were choreographed by martial artists. But one must know that these moves are made more flashy so that in camera language terms, they look more attractive on the cinema screen. More often than not, flashy moves serve very poorly in real-life combat. But people (those who aren’t trained) tend to actually take such moves as properly executed moves. And above all, the most dangerous of all, most of said people go into the mindset that they become invincible if they did those moves.

Reality is very different and it bites…really hard.

Human beings are the one of the most vulnerable designs in nature. We are such fragile bags of meat and bone. Many don’t know the magnitude of damage that can be inflicted upon the body.

I was approached by a friend who was curious about the system I practiced. And it shocked me at the level of ignorance she had to just how much damage can be inflicted to the human body, at how much danger is truly present in a real altercation.

I worry for women who aren’t trained, especially my sister. There’s a very real danger to the possibility of freezing when they are first struck or assaulted. The panic overwhelming renders them unable to think or react – an open window for the barrage of follow-up strikes.

The ability to not freeze is something that must be trained. Training in the martial way isn’t only about the physical but also the mental. Believe me, even I froze when I first started training and had my first sparring session.

The thing is, you’re only as good as your training is. The more realistic your training, the more you grasp the huge magnitude of the realities of combat.

I train in conditions where I wear no protective gear. Sticks and training knives flying around, all that keeps me from getting hit is footwork. I’ve got hit in many places when I first started. But the hurt is good. No I’m no sadist, but it’s a reminder of where my mistakes are in terms of displacing myself from harm, and of how much damage can be done. Take note that I get bruises from strikes going at 20-30% power from a rattan stick. That is damage right there.


 

 

“Before you learn to hurt others, you must learn to get hurt first. That way you will know restraint as you are aware just how much damage you can do.”

– famous martial arts saying –


 

 

I have been fortunate to not have sustained serious injuries during my training. Mainly because the mantra of the FMA system I practice is to employ footwork and avoid getting hit. The whole idea is that you want to be mobile, not a standing meat shield available to be struck, especially by a weapon. You may take hits from fists and kicks, but you sure as hell can’t take hits from blades.

I’ve also come across moments when someone talks about executing locks and chokes and the like. As in, just going into doing the locks alone. But really though, the reality on the other hand is different. Attempting to lock an arm or disarming an opponent who is actually resisting is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Let’s not even go to the territory where the opponent is skilled and trained.


 

 

“Imagine yourself at the ATM and suddenly someone attacks you. This lock is something you do when the situation is right. Or if by some chance, the stars are all aligned, and the hand is there for you to grab and execute. This is something that is good for you to know, but can only be done when the opening is there. More often than not you have to create that opening first.”

– a senior in my class, referring to a lock technique he showed me –


 

 

Locks are something that you add on to your arsenal. But you don’t train locks and execute them the way you do in drills and the step-by-step.

Oh no, it’s not to say that it’s impossible. But you have to add in several more tactical steps before that. The concept is called ‘resetting’.

There are many ‘reset’ tactics, which I won’t go into detail. Basically resetting involves moves that take the mind and focus of the opponent off their point of focus and redirect it somewhere else.

So to execute an arm lock to a arm that is resisting, ask why is there resistance?

It’s because the person resisting has focus on the arm to stop you from having your way with it. So redirect that focus elsewhere via a reset. A simple example is striking the head. The pain or state of being stun from the strike resets the focus. If it doesn’t work, do it a couple more times.

Or…you could execute locks to a resistant target using other tactics as well like riding the energy instead of resisting it. There are also feints and baiting / feeding.

Regardless of the method used, the basic concept lies that in reality, a person will be resisting your advances. It’s not so easy and straight forward as movies or video games tend to depict it.

Reality is very different from an untrained / inexperienced perception.

I’m not saying that I’m highly skilled. Far from it. I’m still a grasshopper in this path of metamorphosis to a skilled master. But training conditions and sparring that is as realistic a simulation as possible helps me realise just how reality is.

And that is good. It helps my skill as a practitioner and warrior improve but more than anything, above everything else…

It’s a humbling experience…

It proves just how real is one’s mortality. And how easy it is to lose your life in the fray of chaos that happens during combat. A weapon’s presence is no joke. Even empty hands employed correctly is lethal.

There’s another example of false perception – that a weapon is something not to be taken seriously. Movies portray a weapon not being something serious. That the hero / heroine can take a hit or so from a bullet or strike from an edged / impact weapon with very little damage. Or that it is easy to actually take the weapon from the wielder.

I was hearing a story the other day from a fellow martial artist who has an uncle in law enforcement. Thus the uncle has a firearm with him. During the time of this story told, this martial artist was a wee young kid, about 8 years of age.

The uncle had placed the firearm on the table for a short while to go to the kitchen. At that time, martial art kid came in and saw the firearm, and out of ignorance held it and was pointing it around. When the uncle came back, he saw the kid with firearm and within a split second had the kid’s arm pinned on his back, held down and disarmed. The kid was so shocked. It happened so fast he didn’t even know what had happened.

That’s just how serious the situation was, the risk involved could mean life or death. So trained are these enforcers that upon sight of any weapon they go into auto mode and instinctively go into control and disarming techniques without even stopping to think.

One can’t fathom enough just how much thought goes into the training for law enforcers especially in urban areas. Not only do they have to disarm the weapon and disable it with techniques that ensure their safety, but they also have to do so as effectively to reduce collateral damage. A stray bullet does not discriminate between age or gender. Anybody can get hit by a stray bullet. Imagine then, being a cop, having to protect your own life and others. You got to hand it to the men and women out there in the field who put their lives to protect us.

A weapon is like a calling card that has “I want your life” printed on it. After all, the human body can only inflict so much damage. The weapon acts as a force multiplier. The increase in damage potential and reach is nothing to be taken lightly or for granted.

With the realities of combat being so gritty, I could never really understand the bravado and egos flying around people who learn the martial ways and think they are invincible and great. That having said knowledge allows them to step over others who aren’t educated as them.

I think more than anything, and paradoxically enough, learning these techniques taught me to value life even more. I know how much power I have in my hands with such knowledge and with it, the responsibility to use it appropriately and only when needed. I learn the ways to improve my health, protect my life and those around me whom I care and love.

Although frankly speaking, and this is reality being a bitch again, if I were walking with someone untrained and we were suddenly accosted by a group of people, I would be at a disadvantage. Because now not only do I have to worry about my safety, but I have to employ my knowledge to protect another who has no knowledge or training. I suddenly have extra baggage to worry about.

How do I solve this problem then? There are two ways to go about it. One easy and one hard.

The hard way is to execute preemptive strikes and tactics. Quick first strikes. Jabs. Make-shift body shields using the opponent created by positioning. Some very crafty footwork definitely. Any weapon at hand to even out the playing field will be used.

It isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Try sparring in 3-on-1 situations and you’ll just see how hard it gets. It’s hard enough if you’re unarmed against multiple unarmed opponents. It gets worse if they are armed and you’re not. A weapon makes a very big difference. Basically, you’re in for a rough time.

And what about the easy way?

Oh simple.

RUN! Run like there’s no tomorrow! (well there won’t be a tomorrow if the worst case scenario happens right? >_<)


 

 

“Sifu. I would like to ask you, how do you fight against 10 people?”

“Fight against 10 people? Simple! You run!”

– Ip Man answering a student’s question in one of the movies depicting him –


 

 

 

“What happens if you’re sitting in the park on a bench, and suddenly you see a person approaching you with a machete. How do you protect yourself against him when you have no weapons?”

“If you’re sitting on a bench and you see a person coming towards you with a machete, then you deserve to die.”

– an FMA instructor –

P.S. :
For those who don’t get this one, the basic message is that if you can see the threat approaching, you shouldn’t be there at all.


 

 

 

Understanding reality is key. Avoid terrible situations knowing that consequences are nasty if one takes them lightly.

Train em’ legs! Learn to run! 😀
Fight only if you have to. There’s no prize for winning a fight that involves your life and the life of those you love. Stay safe everyone.