Monday’s Martial Madness: Ninjas in a Winter Wonderland

That horrid white stuff known affectionately to some as “snow” fell here in the Mid-Atlantic yesterday. ALL. DAY. LONG. Which brought to mind ninjas, because ninjas are awesome and it’s Monday. Those are the only two reasons I need for a song parody. I do need to give a shoutout to my child, Bumpkin Bee, for helping me come up with this idea. Go check out his Youtube channel, it’s full of silliness.

Here we go… Ninjas in a Winter Wonderland

Ninja blades, how they glisten
You're afraid, so you stiffen
The ninja nearby are hiding tonight
Ninja in a winter wonderland

In the snow, they'll be hiding
And their time, they'll be biding
To take out their blade and go on their raid
Ninja in a winter wonderland

In the meadow you won't see the ninja
They'll pretend that they're one with the snow
They'll be watching your every move man
But you won't know how close they are, you better go

Later on, they'll conspire
They'll eat frogs and admire
The plans they'll make to disrupt your day
Ninjas in a winter wonderland

The silence screams, are you listening?
Ninja slink, the snow is glistening
They're out of sight, they're ready to strike
Ninja in a winter wonderland

As they whisper out the password
They'll be stalking till the last word
That you'll ever say, cuz they found their prey
Ninja in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow you can't see the ninja
They've been watching your every move
They are ready to snatch your head now
But you will never see them coming

Later on, they'll retire
As they sit by their fire
In their ninja cave, and you in your grave
Ninja in a winter wonderland
Ninja in a winter wonderland.

Here’s a few ninja memes to make your day better:

Lineage and Legitimacy, The Imposing Twin Peaks of Martial Arts.

In my short three years as a ninpoka (In Japanese, “ka” as a suffix means practitioner) , I’ve seen, and read a lot of thoughts on lineage and legitimacy. I’ll take a moment and explain these terms in relation to the martial arts. Lineage refers to the succession of teachers who taught any given art from its inception to you, the practitioner. Legitimacy refers whether, or not, a style is inherently able to teach a person actual self-defense skills. In other words, would this person walk away from a fight intact?

As far as I understand it, lineage matters to some people because the purity of the martial art is sustained and passed from person to person intact. Ancient scrolls are only passed to those who deserve it most, secrets are told to only those who show the ability to teach the art as it is to the next generation. Lineage is essential to legitimacy in many ways. Proof that someone’s teacher is who they say are provides faith in an instructor, faith that they are passing on the direct knowledge of the progenitor of their style. If you claim to be teaching authentic American Kenpo, your lineage better trace back to Ed Parker. Otherwise you’re seen as a poser, or worse a charlatan. Some say that lineage doesn’t matter if the style doesn’t legitimately protect someone during a fight.

So what happens when someone creates their own style in this modern day? Does legitimacy and lineage matter that much? I’d say, it depends. If you live in such a way that you are physically fighting people frequently, then yeah, actual fight training is needed. There’s a huge difference between martial arts training and fight training. For example, two different martial arts from the same origin have very different approaches to the their art. Aikijutsu and Aikido both come the same origin: Daitō Ryū (Great Eastern School) founded over 900 years ago. Generally speaking Aikijutsu tends to use combat ready techniques that are powerful and devastating. Aikido, founded by Morihei Uyeshiba, is more of a spiritual practice by design. It’s movements, like aikijutsu, are circular and fluid, but the circles are larger and thereby safer for the aikidoka. Although the techniques come from the same place, the focus of each is different.

This difference changes what the teachers are focused on in class. Are they faithfully transmitting the pure art form from its roots? Or are they teaching you how to fight? Are they doing both? I’d say that what a martial artist wants to get out of the style they are studying matters more than anything else. If you want to learn an ancient way of living, take a traditional martial art, if you want to strictly learn how to survive a street fight, take something like Krav Maga. Because the human body has a limited number of movements available, I find a lot crossover as I cross train in other styles. Ukemi (falling techniques) in Ninpo is very similar to ukemi in Krav Maga.

Joelle White, of A Beginner’s Journey, and I recently discussed lineage and legitimacy. Ninpo is kinda obscure in the martial arts, let alone in the general public knowledge. Because some foolish people making crazy claims about their “ninja” skills and 80’s ninja movies, ninpo, or ninjutsu, often gets a bad rap. Lots of people have lots of opinions on whether one can be a “ninja” in this day and age, or whether it’s an effective style. This gets to me once in while, and I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. During our discussion, she asked me if I was growing as a person, learning and being challenged, if I had to work for my next belt in each test and pointed out that lineage doesn’t matter a whole lot. That helped me set aside negative feelings I had at the moment and readjust my thinking on the matter.

All of this comes down to a very important point, before my ego gets away from me and behaves destructively towards other budoka (Way of War Practitioner) by ridiculing another style, or approach to self-defense, or philosophy I better be sure I understand the point of that style. Educating one’s self on other styles gives a more balanced approach to understanding what I am looking at and appreciating the beauty of the art itself. I highly recommend using one’s own critical thinking skills, and good information to make better judgements in general, but especially for marital artists.

For more on this topic I suggest you go over to the Stick Chick’s Blog and read her blog post Hammer World.

Monday’s Martial Madness: New Year’s Resolutions for the Martial Artist

AAAaaaaand I’m BACK! I took a bit of a hiatus because Christmas snuck up on me like merrily clad ninja then it was GO! GO! GO! for like 2.5 weeks. That’s all over now. So, it’s back to Monday’s Martial Madness for me, and you.

Today I’m offering a very unequivocally punctilious (ha ha, made you look up words!) list of New Year’s Resolutions that every martial artist should make. This list will insure that you are the best martial artist you can be for the coming year.

Do it all RIGHT NOW: I think it’s important to get your black belt as soon as possible. That means you have to spend every moment obsessing over every exhaustive trifle of your martial style. When you’re that awesome, who needs sleep?

The Hurticane is the only technique you need.

Punch and kick at ANYONE and ANYTHING: They say practice makes perfect, right? Well, how can the quintessential martial artist be the BEST if he doesn’t throw strikes whenever possible? Truly, one must use his skills on every unsuspecting street light, tree, and grandma on the street.

Or in this case, every unsuspecting Bob.

Start a YouTube Channel about your martial art style: Why NOT use the best platform for telling all the people why your martial art is the BEST and every other kind SUCKS? Surely everyone deserves to know as frequently as possible, right?

Because everything else is bullshit.

Tell EVERYONE you care about how deadly you are: Your loved ones need to come into alignment with the TRUTH. How else you could they know if you don’t tell them? Make sure you how you’re going to KILL the next person that messes with you, frequently and loudly so they don’t miss a word.

I dye my clothes in the blood of my enemies.

I hope you feel more inspired to get out there and be as insufferable as possible!

Happy New Year.

Monday’s Martial Madness: The 12 Days of Martial Arts 🎄

Dear Reader, You are about to embark on a non-sensical journey of wonder.  You’re probably gonna wonder about this little ditty.  Why in the world would anyone do this on PURPOSE.  While it is possible to get injured practicing a martial art, it doesn’t happen this fast or intensely.  Rather, this is an imaginative a retelling of many injuries collected by many martial artists over the past century condensed into 12 days. Because Christmas, and madness.  

🎄On the first day of martial arts my tori gave to me, a groin strike that put me on my knees.

🎄 On the second day of martial arts my tori gave to me, two scraped up knuckles, and a groin strike that put me on my knees.

🎄 On the third day of martial arts my tori gave to me, three pulled muscles, two scraped up knuckles, and a groin strike that put me on my knees.

🎄 On the fourth day of martial arts my tori gave to me, four stomped on toes, three pulled muscles, two scraped up knuckles, and a groin strike that put me on my knees.

🎄 On the fifth day of martial arts my tori gave to me, five more injuries! Four stomped on toes, three pulled muscles, two scraped up knuckles, and a groin strike that put me on my knees.

🎄 On the sixth day of martial arts my tori gave to me, six dozen bruises.  Five more injuries! Four stomped on toes, three pulled muscles, two scraped up knuckles, and a groin strike that put me on my knees.

🎄 On the seventh day of martial arts my tori gave to me, seven hammer blows.  Six dozen bruises.  Five more injuries! Four stomped on toes, three pulled muscles, two scraped up knuckles, and a groin strike that put me on my knees.

🎄 On the eighth day of martial arts my tori gave to me, eight side step knee strikes. Seven hammer blows.  Six dozen bruises.  Five more injuries! Four stomped on toes, three pulled muscles, two scraped up knuckles, and a groin strike that put me on my knees.

🎄 On the ninth day of martial arts my tori gave to me, nine shoulder throws. Eight side step knee strikes. Seven hammer blows.  Six dozen bruises.  Five more injuries! Four stomped on toes, three pulled muscles, two scraped up knuckles, and a groin strike that put me on my knees.

🎄 On the tenth day of martial arts my tori gave to me, ten more bloody noses. Nine shoulder throws. Eight side step knee strikes. Seven hammer blows.  Six dozen bruises.  Five more injuries! Four stomped on toes, three pulled muscles, two scraped up knuckles, and a groin strike that put me on my knees.

🎄 On the eleventh day of martial arts my tori gave to me, eleven knife hand strikes.  Ten more bloody noses. Nine shoulder throws. Eight knee strikes. Seven hammer blows.  Six dozen bruises.  Five more injuries! Four stomped on toes, three pulled muscles, two scraped up knuckles, and a groin strike that put me on my knees.

🎄 On the twelfth day of martial arts my tori gave to me, twelve pulsing head doinks. Eleven knife hand strikes.  Ten more bloody noses. Nine shoulder throws. Eight knee strikes. Seven hammer blows.  Six dozen bruises.  Five more injuries! Four stomped on toes, three pulled muscles, two scraped up knuckles, and a groin strike that put me on my knees.

Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Calm Aggression: A Paradoxical Reality of the Martial Arts

I was working with a young girl who I knew struggled with being aggressive in her sparring.  It was just her and me for that particular class so I could slow things down and explain some concepts that she had not intuited yet in her training.  I mean, she’s pretty young, so this concept wouldn’t have occurred to her anyway.  Whenever she sparred with the other students she would get overwhelmed, particularly if one young boy was her partner and freeze in response. We talked about what it means to be aggressive, she gave me a list of definitions that were most centered on being physically aggressive, I added really going after something and a couple of other ideas to the list.  Then we talked about remaining calm while sparring and what that looked like.  I told her that she could be both calm, and aggressive, at the same time.  She was skeptical of that idea. Through a series of exercises I proved that it was possible, and apparently that was a game changer for her according to her dad.

At this point in my training, certain things have become instinctual so I barely think about them until I’m faced with a higher level of danger or commitment.  Being calm, but aggressive is one of those things. It dawned on me after class that being calm AND aggressive at the same time in the face of danger is a bit of a paradox.  The terms seem mutually exclusive and opposites.  How can one remain calm, yet be also aggressive during a fight, or sparring, or during testing?  

I explained it to the student like this: Calmness happens in the mind.  It comes from what we’re thinking about, and paying attention to during sparring.  If someone is wailing on us with blow after blow, it’s easy to get distracted and worried about what’s happening.  That fear response starts to kick in and panic takes over and the human response to fear is either fight, flight, or freeze.  Learning how to shortcut that system, or work with it, is essential to developing as a fighter or martial artist.  Calmness occurs when we learn to see what’s happening and not give into the urges that comes with the fear response.  Some call this bravery or courage, we’ve heard it quoted several times as “I’ve learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear” ~ Nelson Mandela.  When faced with someone who intends to mow us down, the trained faces that challenge with bravery and calm.  Calmness feels like peacefulness, relaxation, and steadiness.  A calm person seems very tranquil and at ease.  

Being female, aggression isn’t something that comes naturally.  When I first stepped onto the mats, I was not the teensiest aggressive, or calm for that matter, for quite some time.  A couple of years into it, I learned about aggression during a grappling lesson.  I liked the person I was grappling with so I didn’t really want to hurt him.  I wasn’t angry, or afraid, but was tasked with prevailing, or least not tapping out.  I learned how to think “What a minute!! You can’t do that to ME!!” while I was twisted in a pretzel to find enough verve to fight back.  Mostly that energy resided in my gut, or hara.  As a side note, I’m currently studying kiai and kototama to understand what I missed in my last test (I got dinged a few points for my kiai being messy with the feedback that I need to own my kiai).  According to what I’ve read so far one’s kiai comes from the hara.  Aggression feels like pulsating energy that comes from my center out to my limbs.  My body feels wound up, my limbs tight and ready to explode with power at whatever I’m hitting. Just like kiai is an explosion of sound, aggression is an explosion of power and coming from the same place, they work in tandem.

Given the competing nature of calmness and aggression, how does one take both concepts and apply them simultaneously? I believe, mostly by experience, that calm aggression happens when the mind is clear and free of distraction and fear, but the hara is energized and ready to explode.  In the mind of the trained, the aggression stays where it is until called upon through the transfer of energy from hara to the rest of the body. In other words, the aggression is channeled and targeted.  It is a kind of finesse that one can find in training of this nature.  I find it difficult to kiai properly, and use aggression if my mind is all over the place.  I must trust myself, my training, and my instinct if I am going to be calmly aggressive.

Have you found yourself battling with either concept in training? How have you found a way to remain calm but use aggression?

Let me know in the comments below!

Monday’s Martial Madness: How to Make a Martial Art Out of ANYTHING

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, Gurg learned that he could stop his neighbor, Brob, from taking his portion of mammoth by hitting him with a stick just below the eyes.  Somewhere else, some other prehistoric dude found poking Zur in the eyeball helped him impress the local prehistoric babes.  Since then, humans have found numerous ways to hit, kick, maim and otherwise kill each other.  Some have organized their techniques into whole systems.  Some of these you may know: kung fu, karate, tae kwan do, and that barbaric sport pigeon-do.  Never heard of pigeon-do? It’s by far the deadliest martial art known to man, even worse than krav maga.

Pigeon-do is proof that anything you can imagine can become a deadly martial art style. As shown in the video below following your opponent around and mimicking their movements will render yourself invisible before you deploy your deadly beak strike.

The bird in the front has NO CLUE he’s about to die.

To make a martial out of anything all one needs is inspiration from life, a ranking system, and a bank account.  The master that developed pigeon-do had the sagacity to realize that the movements and behaviors of the common pigeon can be used to disable and disarm any opponent.  In this system students are ranked according to how much time they spent among the pigeons.  The more time spent under the auspices of their exalted martial models, the more pigeon poop they’d get on their gis.  Obviously, only the one’s with strongest stomach, or no sense of smell become masters.  Unsurprisingly, the creator of Pigeon-do lives in a closet somewhere in New York City.

Local hoodlums flexing their flight feathers.

Let’s say, as a child, you dreamed of joining the Bolshoi Ballet.  You studied and studied for the entry tests only to be rejected because you lacked that certain je ne sais quoi.  I mean your pirouettes and step-ball-chain just didn’t have moxie.  You’re disappointed, perhaps enraged, that you wasted so much time in positions one AND two only have your dreams dashed by some hoity toity God-like smarty pants.  Who do they think THEY ARE??

In your woebegone state, and after much pondering, you decide you’ll show THEM by inventing your own martial art based on those sick dance moves you learned, why let all that hard work die at the hands of evil judges?  No, you decide to cash it all in and go for broke.  After a few YouTube tutorials on how to make YouTube tutorials, you slap a webcam on the wall and Voila! You are now a master martial artist in your own style.  

Take that you fake, Russian Simon Cowell!

This system use the elastic in their dance pants to identify rank.  The more slack in the pants, the higher the rank.  Reportedly, know one knows exactly how many people pay to learn this style, but that doesn’t matter, with a half-baked ballet skills, and a dream this could go far.

In my final example I turn to that mid-1970’s quintessential pop song, “Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas.  Only, someone forgot to turn on their hearing aid while scoping out the local libraries collection of classics and heard “everybunny.” This lead to a secret underground movement of devotees that burrow into their master’s teaching every week.  Local legend has it that the children’s game Patty Cake has become so deadly among the students the town council issued an ordinance to limit the fur-driven rage of Bunny Fu.

And there you go folks! What kinds of obscure martial arts have you heard of? Let me know in the comments below!

Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast: The Learning Curve

Lately I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with a new white belt during class.  We are working through his first kyu (belt) level so he can complete his first test. Last night we were working on his punching and kicking techniques when Sensei came over to help my fellow student smooth out some parts of his punching technique.  He said to the student, “Slow is smooth.  Smooth is fast.”  Our instructor often says he would rather us take our time learning the technique and do it correctly than be fast and hard but doing the technique incorrectly.  Incorrect movement leads to injury, or being defeated.

Earlier this year, I was able to attend a seminar by Roy Goldberg Sensei, 7th Dan in Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu.  He was teaching us how to move in a way that was almost like not moving that produced an amazing finish.  It was like watching the tiniest atom bomb produce a world-ending explosion.  As I watched Goldberg Sensei demonstrate the technique and explain what he was doing with his body I was amazed at how smooth and barely perceptible his  movements were to my eyes.  I, of course, was clunky and using too much strength in my attempts to match his silkiness.  What he wanted us to accomplish seemed to be an awareness of our body movements and how to coordinate everything from the top of our head to the soles of our feet.  That felt like an impossible task at the time and I knew I would have to continue to train in this style if I wanted to achieve even the tiniest sliver of the kind of control he had.  Compared to his mastery I felt like a new born giraffe attempting to stand: all legs and no balance.  Goldberg Sensei is in his 70’s and has been practicing his art for many decades.  Smooth is fast was in play before my eyes.

I’ve been training in Ninpo Bugei for almost 3 years now.  I remember watching the black belts at the beginning of my training and feeling amazed at the effectiveness of their movement.  The end result of a throw seemed grander than the actual technique because the movements were so smooth. I am by no means a master of this art, but I have mastered some very basic things.  I find some of my movements are instinctual and habitual.  Some things are smoother than they were at my newborn giraffe stage of training.

Everything in life worth doing has a learning curve.  The above graphs show what the learning curve is like.  My experiences are probably more like the top graph, but feel like the second one. Whenever we start to learn a new thing, the initial attempts are bumbling and slow.  There’s no coordination, balance, or precision.  This is as it should be and where “slow is smooth” becomes a thing in training.  If I take the time to connect with my body via my thoughts, and really think about what I’m doing eventually the neural connections I need form between my body and brain.  I am creating coordination by practicing until the neural connections solidify and the synapses fire faster and faster. 

This is the learning curve.  Coordination, balance, and precision become second nature which results in smoothness.  I no longer have to think so hard about what I’m doing, it just happens and now “smooth is fast.”  Which leads to me to today’s encouragement:

Anyone can follow this principle no matter what they are learning.  Frustration tends to occur during the slow beginning for many people.  “This is taking too long,” “I’m so stupid,” “This is so HARD” enter our thoughts at this stage, and is where the greatest amount of mental gymnastics becomes essential.  Giving up too soon on the learning curve ensures failure.  Humans are super adaptable beings with an amazing ability to learn.  If we want to attain anything we must push into and work with slow is smooth until smooth is fast.  We must stay on and climb that learning curve until we reach mastery. 

Be patient with yourself and keep going, you’ll get there eventually.