Sunday, June 22, 2014

Realistic Training VS Choreographed Movements

Lately there has been a stream of videos popping up on the internet showing realistic violent events,  warning against choreographed martial arts movements. These videos are certainly eye opening for those who have never been in a real altercation, but at the same time they are possibly misleading to how effective martial arts actually is in a real combat situation. Being a person who is an experienced martial artist and has used it in life threatening situations dozens of times throughout the course of my life, I felt it necessary to say a word or two on this topic that might help people understand how to use and train their martial arts effectively.

First let me remind you that the generations before us were not idiots. They lived in a time of continual war against countless odds, which lead to the development of martial arts. Because they were in a warring period, there are many obvious factors that they didn't need to explain, that people today may not be aware of. All of the movements that were passed along basically represent a simple alphabet that we can learn in order to become more literate in a scenario of violence. So all of the movements from every style have proven to be effective or they would not exist today. Whether you are worried about knife counters, spear counters or gun disarms, these movements have all been successful at one point.

Let's use the alphabet as a cross reference for these choreographed movements to develop a better understanding of how to train. If you want to be able to write, the first thing you have to do is memorize the 26 different letters that make up the English language. Do you remember writing over and over again when you were in kindergarten? You did it so many times, that you don't even remember doing it anymore, but it was a crucial part of even being able to read this article. That is the first step to combat. Memorize how to disarm, disable or distract the opponent in the ways that have been proven effective.

But memorizing these letters won't teach you how to write. The next step is you must learn how to form words. In training this means you must make scenarios that practice the movements from different angles, multiple opponents, surprise attacks etc. Then you must utilize grammar which is also a rhythmic pattern that shows you how to move between the moves. The most important part of martial arts is not the movement, but the movement before and after the movement. After you have learned grammar you can go into basic essays, articles, books etc. The whole idea is to teach you how to move freely with the movements that are proven to work. If you attempt to strip letters out of the alphabet, you are not making it more effective, but more ineffective. Of course I will use a different vocabulary than my friends because I have words I am more comfortable with, but all energy uses the same alphabet.

Now let me use another example that may help you put things in perspective. Imagine if you memorized all of the moves on a chessboard. Let's say you memorize every move that Bobby Fisher has done. With the power of the internet, access to these moves are easier than finding good martial arts information. If you memorize all of the great chess moves will you be a chess master? Of course not. If you lose does that mean these moves are ineffective? Also not true. Even by having these proven movements as your aid, you will be crushed by even an amateur chess player.

You can see the problem is not in the movement itself, but in your relationship to the movement. If you play against an opponent, he will not want you to succeed. So you will have to wait and set up the best opportunity to make those moves effective. You can't choose when to use what move. The moment chooses the movement and you need to be paying attention. The more of a vocabulary you have, the more opportunities you will be able to see how to diffuse an attack. This is becoming combat literate. Most people lose fights not because they are untrained, but because they either over or underestimate their opponent.

In the end everything comes down to one human vs. another human. You may have different cars, but it really comes down to the ability of the driver. There are many great martial artist that don't understand the nature or energy of a fight and so they will lose. There are also many great fighters who don't have the patience to learn martial arts and they will not be defeated physically, but mentally.

I could go on and give thousands of examples on this issue, but the truth is actually very simple. You only need effective practice and time. Effective practice means that you have a partner who is continually trying to hit you in a weak point. It doesn't have to be fast at first, but it does have to really try to touch you. The first step is preventing someone from actually contacting you. Then as the movement becomes better you can increase speed, aggressiveness etc. Yet you do not have to go as fast or as hard as you think you do in order to be effective if you have done the movements hundreds of times. If you become injured during practice, you will ultimately become even less effective. You don't always have to drive a car at full speed to know how to drive.

The mind recognizes patterns, just the same way you can recognize what I am writing at the moment. You don't need the alphabet anymore because you can see whole worlds. When you practice a movement, the body saves it in your muscle memory and it will happen automatically as long as you stay alert and relaxed. Claiming a memorized movement doesn't work is like saying the shapes of a letter won't teach you to read.

In Bagua we have two-person patterns that we practice all the time and honestly I wasn't a big fan of them. I have always liked to break the movements up for the realist fights with people of different styles or weapons. However through the years for demonstration purposes and passing it along to the next generation, I've become quiet fluent in these memorized patterns. One day when I was attacked at a night club. I was drinking and it was dark, but as soon as it happened, I parried just like I had done a thousand times with my master. I was just as surprised as the attacker as I knock him unconscious.

Then I came to realize what I had already known, that the mind has a tendency to over analyze situations through the accumulation of fear. If someone is trying to punch you in the face and you continue to block it for 2 hours a day then it will become second nature. The brain doesn't understand the difference between practice and fighting. So make sure that your practice is alive. If you day dream for a minute your partner should jab you in the nose. It doesn't have to be hard, but it has to be there.

Of course the more complex a movement is the longer it has to be done before you can use it effectively. Here is the part that you may not want to hear, but it must be said. How good was your English when you were 5 years old? I'm sure you could say some ideas and express yourself pretty well, but if it was a conversation about politics you would be left clueless. When you were ten years old, you could say and write much more. But the truth is that most people learn their native language for 15 years before they become fluent.  That is 15 years of using your language for most hours of the day. How good do you think your language ability would be if you only spoke 2 hours a day for 3 days a week?

So even if your teacher has 30 years experience and has been in hundreds of fights he will only be able to pass along the seeds of what he has learned. The memorized motions of what helped him avoid danger. Those seeds at first will seem fruitless because they have lacked the experience and nutrients that they need to flourish. It's not that the movement doesn't work. It's that you don't work. Or you haven't learned how to work yet. We live in a society that wants results right away. But it took you years of language to even learn how to complain about the martial arts. Why would you assume that five years of training would make you effective for all situations? Some teachers are better than others and there are many different programs that will enhance your abilities quicker, but nothing and no one can put in the time for you. It is like downloading a program that will change your software after at least a decade of commitment.

So I would suggest that first you make sure your training is like the X-men. If you only know one move, you should be able to do it even if you are hanging upside from a tree. Get comfortable enough that you won't be able to freak out. But your training also has to be fun in order to practice it long enough to be effective. If your goal is to practice martial arts for 50 years because you "might" get in a fight, you will never make it to the next year. Fighting is a very small piece of the pie of endless deliciousness that I call kung fu.

Also if you are ever faced with danger, please go with option number one and run. If you have time to see it coming, you generally have time to flee. But if you don't see it coming, then the only tool you got is muscle memory anyway. Lastly, always be aware of the most important factor among all of these tiny factors. Only God decides life or death. No matter what you know how to do or not do, God is calling all the shots. So always stay prayed up before you go anywhere. Samson killed 1000 people with the jawbone of an ass cause it still wasn't his time. But he was killed from the result of being deceived by a beautiful woman because it was his time. You could spend every day practicing for the ultimate fight  and slip on a banana peel and break your neck. That's just life. So don't go out living with any kind of fear in your heart. Know that you are empowered by the One who created power. Now just enjoy watering all of the fruit in your life. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Racism: The Invisible Sword

I remember being in a classroom with my peers in the early years of my youth. I would sit and try to understand the lesson the teacher was showing me when I suddenly would find a note on my desk saying,

"Were going to kill you after class nigger."

Fortunately due to the grace of God and my martial arts training, they were never successful. The environment that I grew up in was the best teacher for learning how to fight against seemingly impossible odds at times. It may seem like a harsh way to grow up, but I am grateful for the tactics that I was able to learn without taking any real severe physical damage.

However even in such a racially imbalanced environment, I had lots of good friends who were not minorities. In fact over the course of my life, I have had literally hundreds of white friends and many who I would call brothers. So throughout my life I have maintained healthy relationships with people of all races. The truth is we are people and we basically all desire the same things.

Still my classmates were completely unaware of the dangers that I was faced with on the regular basis. Even though they were my friends, they couldn't  be around me 24 hours a day. Trouble usually seeks people out when they are alone and vulnerable. When my grades began to suffer from the distractions my teacher would say,

"You need to focus more. You could be top of the class like Gary if you put more effort into it."

"But Gary doesn't have to fight every day after school." I responded.

"Don't exaggerate. This is America. Racism is a thing of the past." My teacher often reminded me.

As I grew, I began to realize that the racial issues that I was faced with were just as unseen and misunderstood as the martial arts I was practicing. I lost family members to violent crimes related to drugs or police brutality and many unfortunate incidents. All of the incidents were claimed to be accidental or not racially related.

Of course being a martial artist, I learned that my identity is created from overcoming the challenges presented. Therefore it is only a distraction for me to dwell on the pain of racism, but at the same time it is foolishness to deny its existence. I have always had to be very aware of racial climate for the sake of my survival.

When we moved to a better area there were still some physical confrontations with the Aryan Nation that most people didn't believe existed anymore. But as I became older physical threats became quite easy to avoid. I learned how to you use words to disable my opponents before the option of physical confrontation was even presented. By adapting and understanding the behavior that most people were comfortable with, I was not only able to avoid conflict, but excel in different areas in my life. Racial camouflage is a color that all minorities in America must learn in order to be "successful."

Still the most brutal parts of racism were never physical. In fact it pales in comparison to the mental and spiritual damage taken over the years. When I go to a comic convention, there is no one that I can dress up as. All of the cool heroes don't look anything like me. My text books don't have anyone I can relate to. I don't want to watch a movie that attempts to console me with "token" characters. Hip hop was high jacked in front of my eyes and now there are thousands of dance movies with barely any black actors.

If I mention any of this, people tell me that I am thinking too much or that I shouldn't be so negative. It is exactly the same feeling that I had growing up in the classroom. I have lots of friends, but when it's time to fight, I'm always on my own. This is the frustration that builds in every minority throughout the years unless he successfully learns how to reject himself. Most children who see movies with heroes that don't look like them, decide that they are not from a heroic background. People of color are taught at an early age to be equal, but don't be yourself.

My hope is that I can use a kung fu method or an angle to explain to people why they may not feel the effects of racism if they are not a minority. Often times my good white friends will come to the defense of America when they see racial injustice take place. It's as if they all somehow feel responsible for the actions of another individual. There is always a way to explain injustice in a way that feels more acceptable, which is only hindering the progress of society.

So let's pretend that only 4 percent of the people in America are racist. Even a number as small as 4 percent means that for every 100 students, 4 of them are going to want to have conflict with me. So in a school of a 1000 students, I am basically going to have to deal with 40 students that cause problems with me regularly. Maybe they call me names, maybe they fight with me or even just give me a dirty look. Whatever it is they decide to do, you must understand that hateful actions are aggressive. Even though it is aggressive, every smart racist knows that it's also unacceptable behavior. So they will usually avoid doing anything in a place with lots of witnesses.

This means minorities may run into a racial issue once a month or once every few months. Just imagine that someone calls you a name once a month for the next 10 years of your life. That slowly begins to create a feeling that something is wrong. You will make the decision that something is flawed in that person, in yourself or in society. You can't explain it to anyone, but you know that something is off. Just imagine when all of these children grow up. They may become bosses, lawyers, police officers, doctors...who knows. The point is that there is a chance that your life will be in the hands of someone who only harbors negative feelings for your person. That small 4 percent can become quite dangerous over time.

Now lets look at the other 96 percent of the good people who are not of color. Maybe you have lots of friends who are minorities and you voted for president Obama. This percent has no obvious dislike for any minority and the mere mention of racism is offensive.

Yet if he has a good thought about someone of color he generally will keep it to himself. Isn't it racist to say, "Hey you are so handsome cause you are black."

So someone who feels positive about another race is unable to express it. This means that racism is aggressive, but non-racism is passive. Even if you are thinking good things about black people in your mind, you can't voice it out loud. So the only thing that minorities would hear about their race is generally going to be from a loudmouth aggressor. So when minorities are picked on or counted out, there is no one to come to our defense except us. The 96 percent are not responsible for the damage that is being done, but they are also not helping. In fact they usually come to the defense of the 4 percent because they feel that just because they themselves are not racist, no one is racist.

This is the invisible sword we are dealing with on the regular bases. One side is a victim to a flaw in the machine and the other side claims that the machine is functioning properly. Like I said before, I myself don't want to be identified by my race, but I also don't want the real dangers of the world to be overlooked for the sake of my children. The truth is the percentage for racism in America is much higher than 4 percent. There are plenty of people who haven't even taken the time to identify the racism within themselves, how could they then identify it in society? Many times people will just feel uncomfortable with other traits that are directly related to race. "I don't like that kind of sense of humor," "He talks too loud," "Those clothes aren't appropriate" etc. I myself had to leave my own country in order to get a full understanding of what racism is.

When I came to Asia the police embraced me because I knew martial arts. If there was an incident of some sort, they would run to my aid to see if I needed assistance. I could suddenly mention a business idea to someone and it would immediately be picked up. I also saw the other side of people being mistreated because they were of a different culture or background. There is no place that has conquered racism because there is no place really willing to address it. But if one day this issue was to ever be addressed, it's not as difficult as it sounds. It would just take a little bit of kung fu from everybody on all sides.

The first step is we need to learn how to accept people unselfishly. In every situation we first think, "What's in it for me?" Because of this mentality we are able to easily overlook and ignore the big picture of our connection. If you could learn to hear and feel someone's pain without pointing out your own pain, you might be able to genuinely get to the root of the problem. Mostly we cast shadows of our own experience on every situation and contaminate the event with our own identity. If you could first hear what someone is saying and not assume it is related to something you have experienced, then at least you are capable of sympathizing with the problem.

The next step is don't try to solve a problem by pointing out another problem. This is the most barbaric and childish way to deal with an issue, but also the most common. If someone has an issue related to race, it should not be immediately compared to a gay issue or a female rights issue and visa versa. Though our experiences can guide us to different answers, pointing out problems of different genres is basically the same as saying, "What's in it for me?" or "Everyone has problems." Just like martial arts, you can only work on one movement at a time. Otherwise we just end up arguing over the different issues and dismissing them altogether.

Finally the most important step is to trust each other. Trust that what this person is saying to you is real. It is real, it's not in his imagination, it's not something that is taken out of context. Once we have disregarded someone's genuine feelings, we have already given up on trying to help. We don't want to help, we want him to just be quiet. We need to stop assuming that everyone in the world aside from ourselves is mislead, misguided, or lying. The reason why we are all so easily manipulated is because we don't trust anyone's opinion more than our own. It doesn't matter if it's about rights, race or martial arts, if we don't trust each other we basically become our own world. As it is, we are billions of people on the planet living completely in isolation.