Saturday, February 16, 2013

Filipino Martial Arts - Choosing a Martial Arts Series

This is a repost of an article I wrote 3 years ago but since they're disappearing from the web, I thought I'd post it here.

Originally published on Chicago Tribune and LA Times around 1/2010.

Choosing a Martial Art – Filipino Martial Arts

If you’ve seen any of the Jason Bourne movies, you’ve seen the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) in action. FMA is a generic term referring to several different Filipino arts including Arnis, Kali and Escrima. These variations stem from different regions of the Philippines however, at their foundation, they are very similar and many times the terms are used interchangeably. The most differentiating characteristic of FMA from other arts is that training starts with weapons. While Filipino martial arts are lesser known amongst the populace compared to Kung Fu or Karate, their simplicity and effectiveness have made them a integral part of training for martial arts practitioners as well as many armed forces.

Background: The first written record of the Philippine systems date back to the 1500’s as documented by the Spanish conquistadors. However, these arts are generally assumed to be significantly older. After the colonization of the Philippines by the Spanish, indigenous arts were banned and most FMA were taught in secret, being passed down family lines. It was during the 20th century that Filipino arts began to gain more visibility, first in the Philippines and then eventually internationally as skilled practitioners left the islands to spread FMA throughout the world. One of these practitioners was Remy Amador Presas who founded Modern Arnis. This is the art I have been studying for the past fifteen years.

Self Defense: The FMA are an extremely effective and complete self defense systems. Training starts with weapons techniques that evolve into empty hand techniques. Students generally learn techniques using a single stick (baston), double stick, dagger (daga) and stick and dagger. Weapons training can also translate to almost any object. Students learn weapon against weapon, weapon against empty-hand, and empty-hand against empty-hand. Additionally, depending on the exactly style of FMA, training can include joint locks, throws and grappling (dumog). Because of the variety of techniques taught and translated to use with or without weapons FMA can appeal to a wide range of individuals and body types. Additionally, because of the various fighting ranges incorporated in the art, FMA is well suited for those who want to keep their distance from their opponents as well as those who want to close in on an attacker.

Physical aspects: Because FMA are technique focused, most technique can be executed regardless of strength and flexibility, if done properly. Many schools, however, incorporate exercises to develop strength, agility and flexibility that can be an asset in more advanced training. Due to the significant focus on the use of sticks, the average practitioner will quickly develop arm and shoulder strength through the repetition of drills. Additionally, training with sticks that can move at significant speed also helps rapidly develop hand/eye coordination.

Typical Class: My typical class is approximately an hour and fifteen minutes long. When I have new students I will do a formal stretching and warm-up session for about ten minutes. Typically most of my students will stretch on their own prior to the start of class. The class itself consists of about twenty minutes of basic drills to develop speed, strength and muscle memory, followed by about twenty minutes of practicing previously acquired techniques. The latter half of class usually consists of building on previous techniques or learning new ones. If time permits, we also practice reality based situation analysis (i.e., how would you defend yourself in a certain situation).

Classroom atmosphere: Class atmospheres can vary depending on the instructor, but they generally tend to be more relaxed and less regimented than traditional martial arts. My classes generally bow in at the beginning of the class and bow out at the end, however, the rest of class is fairly casual. Uniform requirements can also vary and most school will required some sort of uniform, whereas individual instructors may just require sweats and a t-shirt.

Overall: The Filipino martial arts are an effective system of self-defense and one of the best training for weapons techniques. Due to the simplicity and effectiveness of the system, it can be adapted to many different situations and individuals. It is ideal for those who want to be able to quickly learn skills to defend themselves and expand their martial knowledge.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Choosing a Martial Art (repost)

This is a repost of an article I wrote 2 years ago but since they're disappearing from the web, I thought I'd post it here.

Originally published on Chicago Tribune and LA Times on 10/2009.,0,1811106.story

Choosing a Martial Art
Important steps to take before you decide which move to make.

Mukesh Pitroda

October 30, 2009

The success of the various Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) organizations has increased interest in martial arts and self-defense systems. With so many different arts and styles now available, choosing the right martial arts for you can be a daunting task.

Here are a few things to consider:

Interest: First, it is important to understand why you want to take martial arts. While the most obvious reasons include self-defense, fitness and confidence, there are plenty of other incentives such as stress relief, meeting new people, cultural interests and personal growth. Make a list of your top five reasons, this will help determine which art is best for you.

Self-defense: This is a given, however it is important to consider what type of situation you are preparing for. While boxing may not be a formal martial art, it is very well suited for a confrontation where two opponents are squaring off. Or, you may want to be prepared to defend yourself should you ever be physically threatened. Reality based martial arts that focus on techniques are more likely to prepare you for self defense situations more quickly than a traditional martial art. Likewise, someone more concerned with being pinned on the ground may find wrestling or Brazilian jujitsu best suited for their training.

Physical limits: Some bodies are better suited for some martial arts than others. That is not to say that physical aspects cannot be overcome. In fact, martial arts are a great way to conquer physical limitations. Generally, if your stature is small and wide, you may more naturally take to Judo or jujutsu, given a lower center of gravity whereas a thinner person may find more comfort in being able to kick rather than end up in a clinch or on the ground. Additionally, if you're barely able to touch your knees, Tai Chi may compliment you more than arts that use high, fancy kicks and acrobatic techniques like Tae Kwon Do or Capoeira .

Learning style: How instructors teach can greatly impact how effective a school and art is for you. Think about how you best learn. Are you a better learner when the curriculum is more rigid and formal, or when things are more flexible? Do you see yourself in a uniform when you train or sweats and a t-shirt? Will you gain more from an instructor who you consider a teacher or a friend? Generally, Asian based arts tend to be more formal given the deep history and tradition they bring with them. Newer arts such as Krav Maga, tend to be less formal, focusing more on techniques.

Consider this: What you get out of a system will depend on many factors besides the art itself. Some of these factors will be internal, such as your physical abilities and your dedication. Others will be external like the style of the instructor. Use the information above to help narrow the list down several different arts and then choose a school you feel will be a good fit. Be sure to visit a class for each of these. Talk to the instructors and the students (those who have been training there for awhile, and those who just started).

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My New Sub-Freezing Weather Routines

The cold months are a great time to build up incorporate some strength training (I know I should be doing this all year around--it's just easier staying indoors when it's cold) and indoor aerobic exercise. 

Here is the routine I started this week

Strenght training (Su, T, Th)
1 Dips to failure + 3 negatives
2 Pullups till failure + 3 negatives
3 Dumbell Bench Presses
4 Lat Pull-downs
5 Dumbell Flyes
6 Inverted rows
7 Hanging leg lifts
8 Hanging on bar till failure

Indoor aerobic (M, W, F)
1 Kettlebell swings (5, 10, 20, 10, 5)
2 Kettlebell squats (5, 10, 20, 10, 5)
3 Elliptical 20 - 35 mins
4 Kettlebell swings (50)
5 kettlebell somethings (10 each hand)

Feedback?  What do you do during the winter months?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Fighting stance - The Weapons Mindset

Different martial arts approach the fighting stance from different angles.  Some are meant to keep the opponents at a distance, some are meant to allow for quick defense.  All incorporate some level of the following things into the stance to allow for quick defense either from footwork, angling, of parries and/or blocks with the hands.   A lot of these stances are, however, meant for hand to hand combat.  When you bring weapons into the equation, especially bladed weapons, these stances have several weaknesses, especially when you move away from the traditional weapons practice of thrust and defend.  On the street, you may not even be aware that your opponent has a weapon.  Take for example, the follow stance. 
While this stance may be perfectly effective in defending against a punch or a kick, the first thing I think of when I see this stance is that:

1.      If I had a weapon, a knife or even a pen, my primary focus would be to take out the right hand.  It is right there, waiting to be stabbed.  

2.     Another option would be punch with my left to get my opponent to defend using their left side to open up that side and them come in with a weapon from my right. 

3.     Finally and perhaps the most important is that this position leaves the two very vitals spots velnerable:  the eyes and the throat.   One may be able to take a not so perfect hit to the face or the throat, but if a blade ever made penetrating contact with either one of those areas, that could be a deciding move. 
The Filipino Martial arts having their foundation in weapons training, take a very different approach.  I will state my disclaimer here that this may not be the case for all practitioners, especially since for most people, the FMA didn’t start out as their primary art.    However the following is the ready stance as I’ve practiced it.  A few things to note here:

1.  the elbows are in providing protection to the vital organs from the front such as the heart, lungs and liver. 

2. the fists are facing inward and protecting the neck and face. 
Any confrontation with a bladed weapon is going to be quick, complex and messy.  No stance is going to ensure that I don’t get hurt.  Footwork and parrying will help, but as I’ve heard many times--if a blade is involved, you’re going to get cut.  However, at least here there is a fighting chance of ensuring that the first strike is not one that damages a vital organ.

As always, given the opportunity, walk away… run away if required.  I would rather that I never have to use my martial arts and live, then try to prove how skilled I am, especially against a blade.

Friday, January 11, 2013

New Year - New Defanging the Snake

After almost 2 years since my last post, I'm starting this blog again.  But I'm changing the format and purpose.  Initially the blog was just about Modern Arnis and martial arts, but there's more to all of us than just one facet and rather than try to keep multiple identities online, I've decided just to move forward with this one.

However, I am keeping the title of the blog the same, because the concept of defending the snake is applicable to many things in life.  In martial arts, it refers to either debilitating an appendage or an appendage with a weapon.  It's the removal of something that is a threat, yet it is not the complete destruction of it.  You can take out a hand with a knife so they can't hurt you, but you're not taking someone's life. 

That concept can be used in other things in life as well to refer to things that are a threat to what we want to achieve whether it is motivation, fear, time, support, etc.

On this blog I plan on writing about many of the things I'm involved in besides martial arts, like writing and the million ideas that I'm working on but only getting 51% of the way to success (hence 51% entrepreneur), and running, etc. 

I hope that this will lead to two-way conversations, feedback and hopefully new ideas and new friends!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stages of Learning a Form

First, this is part of my New Year's resolution--to have a blog entry at least once a month this year. So January, check...

This is more an observation on the steps in learning a form.… distinct steps that I never consciously recognized when I was learning forms, but ones that are quite obvious now that I’m observing other learn. I classify the learning process into the following steps:

1. Motion
2. Action
3. Sequence
4. Memory
5. Elaboration

The first step is learning the motion. Here the student learns the general movements. It may be, let’s say, a simple block and kick. Initially these items aren’t performed with any specific target or focus. They’re just following the motion of the form.

The second step is learning the moves. Here the block and kick become distinct actions for specific purpose. The block and kick become blocking a punch to the face and kicking to the inner thigh. This continues for each set of moves within the form until the student, either through explicit instructions or through their own understanding , begins to associate each set of movements with some purpose and action. At this time, the student will have a set of movements, pause or hesitate between each sets of movements, but will eventually get through the form.

The third step is sequence. This is adding of the smoothness to the second step. This is almost transitional between Action and Muscle Memory. Here the student has learned a significant portion of the form and can do it without pausing. I generally find some students do pause once in a while, but it seems many times this is that they’re gaining some insight that they’re thinking about (at least that’s what I prefer to believe).

The fourth step is memory. This is where the form has been ingrained in the students mind and they can do it without thinking about the basic movement. Here is where I find that the most progress is made on the subtleties of the form. The proper emphasis, the proper hip movement, etc.

The final step is elaboration. This is taking what they have learning and being able to apply it to different situations. Here the block and kick can also become a push and a trip. The students are able to explore the form and find the hidden applications… truly making what they have learned their own.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Economy of Movement with Weapons

The concept of economy of movement isn't new to any martial artist. Many new student come in with the concept that longer the distance, the more power and hence they start off with exaggerated punches, kicks, etc. At some point in their training, however, most people will come across the concept of efficient and effective movements to defend as well as to attack an opponent.

This impact of efficiency in movement becomes much more apparent with weapons mostly because when dealing with sticks and especially knives, the consequences of exposing yourself to an attack are obviously much more material than getting punched.

When training with knives, one of the things I've tried to emphasize to my students has been, first no one who know what they're doing with a knife, especially someone with bad intentions, is going to bring a knife out and flash it around. Most likely the knife with be hidden in a pocket or something until the opportune moment. If you're not able to efficiently counter a knife in that situation because your hands are flailing all over the place... game over.

Same thing even if both parties have a blade out, if the opponent is a few inches closer, odds are, unless you're lightning quick, you're going to get cut first.

As much as I like to reserve teaching knife skills until students are move advanced, after about six month, I generally try to expose them to some knives because it teaches them the principles of the economy of movement. After using this as an example, I generally focus more on leg, hip and shoulder movements to help the body generate power rather than using just distance alone.