Kapatiran Suntukan Martial Arts


Thursday, June 13, 2013


Due to my health situation and inability to put 100% into the physical nature of our art, I am resigning my title of Co-director and will be an advisor to the Director, Terry Trahan.

I have full faith in Terry’s skill, not only as a martial tactician, but as a leader. I expect KSMA to be enriched by Terry’s flavors and look forward to seeing where the group grows.

Be well.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Importance of Flow

I will fail at explaining this. Ultimately, I have to – there has never really been a successful literary definition of "flow" for the martial arts, and definitions change with perspective and ability. I stand with a long line of distinguished attempts, though: Dan Inosanto, Herman Suwanda, Bob Orlando, Cacoy Canete…in this respect, I'm in good company.
  I'm going to attempt to make dozens of points about flow, but nothing is going to nail it down completely because flow can really only be described through feel, not through description. Anyone who knows how to flow knows this. Anyone who doesn't will likely scoff at it.

I used to think "Fluidity" meant "Speed". When I first began training, the typical approach to fluidity was that the faster you could do something, the more fluid you actually were. That the rate of speed you could reach dictated the level of flow you had. And if I couldn't make it faster, I made the technique higher - so a kick to the chest would become a kick to the head. A foot sweep would become a thigh kick. I have no idea why I did this, maybe I was going for flash if I couldn't reach flow.

As laughably misguided as this was, there was no way for me to discover how far off course I actually was (largely through youth and natural dexterity). I was getting good results across the board, because it was rehearsed to the nth degree. I could do my forms extremely fast and precise, because I trained them into my bones. However, I had no plan for adaptation, and no ability to recover if I slipped, made an error or just plain forgot where I was (which happens to everyone, at some time).

Speed comes with fluidity, but not vice versa. You can't force the fit. Flow can fit into any martial art, but it can't be contained or corralled by any. If you have flow, you don't actually need a martial art. You can "become" any of them. Martial arts don't normally "shrink down" to fit practitioners, or expand to accommodate growth.

Flow does both of these, without force or stagnating, restrictive conventions.

There are several definitions of flow, with regards to the martial arts. I'm going to address a few, but my chief point is completely random flow; constant and unrehearsed.

The first problem is acceptance: "Flow" seems to be the goal of almost every martial art in the world, but obstacles and pitfalls are set in the path of the practitioner that frequently lead them to believe otherwise. Ideas such as lineage, dozens of forms, drills without end and a crispy white uniform are attractive distractions from real knowledge. Further, the logical thought process that fits with learning choreography as an answer to every combative situation.

You'll see this in many traditional martial arts, the need to define and propagate balance and rooted stability over flow. The thought process is linear, first you stand, then you walk, etc.

In my opinion, this is a kind of ham-fisted attempt at re-inventing the stand-walk-run process. Fluidity will save you where rooting cannot, in a combative scenario fluidity can open lines of attack and evasion, where rooting and stillness tend to encourage the practitioner into a "stand there and take it" mentality.

If you are training martial arts, chances are pretty good you have already mastered balance in motion. The simple walking or running that you did in school taught you everything you needed to know about propulsion, balance, maintaining and the loss of balance, as well as intermittent timing. This simplicity doesn't change with combat; the only difference is in the variations that occur in application. In other words, now you have to stay on your feet when the punches and kicks come flying in!

That sounds odd, but when you look at the kinds of people who manipulate both flow and balance in rhythm – dancers, for instance – you see that it's naturally self-validating and completely adaptive to sudden changes in tempo and terrain.

That's not to overlook the one critical difference between dancing and combat: In dance, no one is trying to kill you, there's usually no opposing force. Just as the 2% difference in DNA between primates and humans makes all the difference between having bananas or an omelet for breakfast, that simple fact of violence certainly is the deciding factor between the kind of balance in stillness you find in forms, and the fluidity of balance in motion you find in actual combat.

Flow will save you where strength, technique or speed cannot. Flow cannot be cheated, it can't be faked. If you understand flow and the use of it, you will more easily understand underlying principles that most classical martial arts are built on, without having to train every step in the process of that art. The ability to flow is a martial art unto itself, although it can - and should - be applied in all martial arts.

Flow overrides curriculum – you can teach curriculum out of flow, but not vice versa. Everything considered in the martial realm as a "flow drill", whilst absolutely useful as a primer to those who are just learning to relax and move at high rates of speed, will eventually come to a place where it loses its conduciveness to flow. I would go so far as to say that a flow drill MIMICS flow, under a set of predetermined circumstances. In the end, it's still a hell of a leap between "Flow drill", and flow itself.

Flow accepts any scenario - unlike forms. A much more complimentary and productive tool to have in your chest than 200 Jurus (or Kata, or Kuen) is the ability to flow within technique. A person who knows his art by form and stance cannot compare with an adept who bases his art on motion and adaptation. The former will always be looking to predetermined motions for answers, the latter will allow them to come to him in whatever form they take, unbiased. Flow is also imperative to understanding the application of forms, for those times when you aren't being "fed an attack", you get a feel for true interaction with violent intent at high rates of speed that's unpredictable because it's unrehearsed. You learn how to compensate for size and strength, how to recover from mistakes and exploit those your opponent makes without having to stop and examine your feet, your hand placement, etc.

Choreography Vs. Flow

"It's All In Your Forms"

That saying cannot possibly be true. I hear it preached to the unwashed masses at every opportunity, and see it proven wrong even more often. Nothing explains everything, no mater how hard you try to prove otherwise.

Forms differ from one end of the spectrum to the other; they are viewed as everything from mystical to impractical. Depending on your style or system, they have hidden meanings, or blatantly open interpretations. 
Some seem to be an attempt at creating a "technique catalog", others are nothing more than basic motions that act as placemarkers for more complex actions and technique...but require pointing out by a knowledgeable instructor when taught. And if the form survives but the interpretation does not, the practitioners are left in the cold to try and discover the actual meaning hidden in the now-incomprehensible action.

Still other forms are combinations of principles and techniques, played out from attack to conclusion in a solo exercise, usually leading the practitioner to believe that this is not only how an attack CAN go down, but more than likely WILL. A dangerous gamble at best.

The best forms, in my opinion, work the underlying principles of technique, usually as reflected by the style the come from. I've never seen anyone who was completely fluid and adept at their art who got their answers from forms. Don't get me wrong, most of them say that's where they get it from, but I see them working technique and applying principles that can't be found anywhere in their systems, let alone the Kata of said system.

I feel this is another ingrained response in the style of "It's all in your forms".

The practitioner who is constantly running to a form for answers in a fluid environment will be looking for new recipes in an old book their entire lives. Flow allows you to invent your own answers, without the need for rote memorization of choreography that probably doesn't conform to your body type, speed or strength. There is a confidence in the practitioner who can flow, knowing that they don't need to have a secret book of form interpretation because they can adapt to whatever comes their way.

No, I'm Not Trying To Say Everyone Else Sucks

I used to hold fast to the belief that the linear progression of study – such as they way many of us learn a martial art - was the only game in town. In fact, after learning to completely relax and move in combative flow, I knew it was what I had been missing out on all these years, but I still considered it something to be dispensed like an award, given judiciously after years of hard work in class. This is hereditary in many martial art schools – that's how the teacher learned it, and if it was good enough for him, etc.

About six years ago I began to meet people who not only had flow, but taught it from the beginning, skipping over years of in-the-trenches grunt work. This immediately dismayed me, because I felt thought that only through meticulous understanding of the intrinsic calculations of each stance, motion and technique could the art be truly understood…and I dismissed it as a fad.

I learned how wrong I was later, seeing the results the students of these people, and their abilities. What they lacked in finesse, they more than made up for in abundance of technique…and these were people who had only been training a few years, five at most. It was difficult to accept, even with the evidence staring me in the face, but I eventually came around to the concept of flow as the centerpiece to an art that conforms to the practitioner, and never loses relevance no matter the speed or scenario.

The conventions that work against discovering and evolving flow in martial arts are overwhelming, and the chances of just happening to stumble on it are largely against the average practitioner.

This method isn't for everyone. That's not to say everyone couldn't benefit from it, but – not everyone will embrace it. Many practitioners find a kind of comfort in the safe choreography of forms, knowing they are part of a tradition that has been handed down the same way for generations.

For the most part, I firmly believe you need a guide who is experienced in flow to begin with – someone who can control the tempo when it threatens to get out of hand, to make corrections and give constant reminders when the practitioner is reverting to some of the ingrained habits that the sink-and-root process instills. Fluid action looks fast, even when done slowly, and the inexperienced practitioner will fall into a tendency to run to the safety of what they know: Bringing density to their bodies to root in a stance, holding their breath and grabbing their partners in an attempt to "slow down" the action.

A common knee-jerk response to fear is body density. We clench up when startled, or threatened. We restrict and throttle our natural abilities, and sabotage our defense system by letting the lizard run free in our minds.

The natural antidote for this is flow, but it's not a cure you can consume overnight.
 - Bobbe Edmonds

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Making it your own

"One aspect of the arts of the Philippines that sticks out was described by Mark Wiley in his book, Arnis, Reflections on the History and Development of the Filipino Martial Arts: “...Filipino martial arts are more concerned with individualism and application than lineage and the establishment of a system’s name.” Aneh Palu is just a name and the information and skills one learns should be integrated into who they are. It becomes their art."

The above is a quote from the Aneh Palu Kali-Silat page, and I wanted to take a look at this aspect of KSMA philosophy. One of things you will notice if you attend a KSMA event is that Jay and I do not move or fight the same way, nor do we teach the same way, but we call this thing we do the same name. Why is this? First and foremost, we both have the idea that the art fits the person, not the other way around. A lot of people pay lip service to this, but if you watch, everyone in their school performs the same. If you are a beginner, you need the structure of drills or jurus, but after you start moving and learning, those should be personal notebooks for reference, not a limiting factor in what you feel in the moment. In the KSMA we strive for individualism in movement, personal flow, if you will. Jay and I are different people, with different life experiences and physicality. So we teach the same principles, in the way we have made them our own. The principles and concepts, the truth of Aneh Palu are a map to get you into flow, not an unbending set of techniques you must parrot back in order to advance.

Remember, our main goal is effective self defense and discovering who you are. Neither of these are accomplished by mimicking the teacher. Admittedly both Jay and I were strongly influenced by Bruce Lee and his cadre of instructors, and I think this is the biggest lesson we absorbed through the JKD journey inspired by these teachers we had. Another reason we are so random is due to the reality of an attack in a self defense situation. When it really happens, the techniques the attacker uses never follow the same script, timing, energy or pace of a drill or jurus. But, unsurprisingly, they do fall into one of the 12 basic angles, and they follow the laws of physics and physiology that we apply to our movements, allowing us to improvise in order to survive the contact. So, to be honest, we must structure our teachings to the truth we espouse and allow personal freedom, not just in our students, but in ourselves. It is a constant work, both physically and mentally to be honest and open with yourself in regards to growth, but it is the only way to truly live, and develop in a fighting art.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

New Instructor

On February 6th, 2013, Jacob Thompson was awarded the rank of Full Instructor in Aneh Palu Kali-Silat.

Jake has been training with me for over a decade and has taken in the information, made it part of his daily life and turned into his own. He has a great way of teaching and while the material can be complicated at times, he makes it comprehendible.

I am honored to have known him and even more so to call him a dear friend and wish him the best. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Is it December already?

Greetings from KSMA-land. This year was somewhat quiet with the exception of the wickedly fun Summer Jam. The next one should be a blast and once we know when and where and what not, we will let you know. Health issues seem to be the name of the game of late. We anxiously await news from Bobbe and what the recovery will be like. I have colon cancer and the chemotherapy limits my training to essentially non-contact stuff as bruises won't go away quickly now. Because of the cancer, the KSMA Des Moines school is going to close when the lease is up. Hats off to Jake for stepping up to cover a couple of classes per week to keep it alive before we go back underground. Surprisingly, we have had some new people show up. Guess I should have said I was closing earlier. My prognosis is fairly good in the sense that I will be around for a while (relative term), but it is stage 4 and fairly significant. I am approaching every day on its own. Be safe and make the most of the holiday hoopla.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer Jam 2012

The Kapatiran Suntukan Martial Arts 2012 Summer Jam was a success! Terry Trahan, co-director of KSMA and leader of KSMA Denver made the trek with two of his students, along with several of my students as well as a couple others who heard about us attended also.
The first day started off with Terry discussing and having us spend time in his Pikal methodology. This was good to participate in as it ties and blends in well with what we do locally as there are similar roots. The fundamentals help reduce telegraphing movement and encourage closing in. It’s the subtile movements that can be difficult to learn, but Terry has a way of loosening up those learning from him to get them to understand.
My first session was a drill we call Nick’s Stick which is a modified medio sumbrada using two sticks which I took back to largo range. This is one of a few drills we use to help understand how to use each hand independently of the other. Aside from being tools of blunt force trauma, the movements of the sticks translate to other tools or empty hands and we also could see the way they integrate well with the Pikal Terry showed just before this session.
After lunch, we kept the fun rolling with a session with hubud with switches and their applications within that. It was a good exploration in taking things outside the drill. An aside - if you have a number of drill-like components in your system, you really should look at busting out of that in ways that break the rhythm and allow you to move in on control the situation. Once the cognitive aspects of the principle movements are established, time to see what else you can do with it. Try it, you’ll grow.
Terry then led us through some flow sparring. This is always an eye-opener for some and a workout for all. The biggest hurdle most have to overcome is actually going slow. It is a great way to feel and understand how you move and how your opponent moves. We were all pretty spent. Johnny head-butted me in the nose...still hurts to blow it. Nice one, Johnny.
That evening we had the hanging out time that has become such a regular feature of these gatherings we can’t think of not having it. Food, a little libation and good times all around. 
Sunday morning (usually a struggle but not this time - guess we are mellowing some) Terry and I began what became pretty much an all day lecture. Terry and I touched on the legal term, “self defense,” preclusion along with Means, Opportunity and Intent, your responsibilities, the OODA loop, E&E, and the realities of an attack. All of those were fleshed out pretty well through the day along with some medical things and the “check yourself jurus.” As a break from all that, a few guys from another school in the area came by and show us a small bit of what they do in the samurai arts (thanks for walking all over us, guys! If you were there, you’d know what I mean).
Sunday evening was mediocre cajun food and then hanging out watching Metal Evolution episodes from VH1 Classic - a really good series by and by. Took Terry down memory lanes with that - always a good time.

Who is in for the next one?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

KSMA Summer Jam 2012

KSMA has had a long standing commitment to coming together to share what we know with others in tandem with learning from whom we are able. In that tradition, we are having the first KSMA Summer Jam in Des Moines, IA, on June 23 and 24 of 2012.
This is a chance to train with a variety of people, see old friends and make new ones.
A major part focus for this event is for instructors to share aspects of their arts with those outside their normal circle. We welcome any who wish to participate. We will be following a format similar to past successful events. There will be a series of sessions throughout the weekend from the various instructors. While we encourage you to attend all sessions to get a full appreciation of the event, it is not required. Please contact us if you have an interest in sharing what you know, and we can establish a time for you to do so during the Summer Jam.
Co-directors Terry Trahan and Jay Carstensen will be teaching elements of Aneh Palu Kali-Silat. Others will be announced as they come on board.
Saturday evening will consist of a hang out session/potluck dinner as breaking bread and sharing water is an essential aspect of our community. This is a time for us to swap stories of high adventure and just kick back and build relationships.

Cost will be $50. Contact Jay about lodging options.

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