Saturday, October 18, 2008

Grappling by John Owen Ong

(Note: This article is reprinted with the permission from the author, John Owen Ong, a family man, martial artist and a businessman.) Oct 8, '08 10:33 PM

A lot of people were scrambling to learn Jiujitsu, Brazilian, Japanese or otherwise, because of the UFC. they saw how smaller people can beat bigger guys using this style. They thought that this must be the ultimate style. There is no best style for everyone. The best style for me may not be best for you and vice versa. Styles evolved due to cultural and environmental factors, to name a couple. For example, in China there are Northern and Southern kung fu. Generally speaking, the Northern styles emphasize long range fighting, kicks being favored. This was because the Northerners were taller and the place they lived in was more open. The Southern styles focused more on strong stances and close quarters fighting. This was due to their shorter stature and tighter spaces. They were also fishermen, that relied on strong solid stances while working on boats. Not all of them were fishermen, but it was part of their daily lives.

Back to grappling. A lot of people think that Jiujitsu is dragging someone to the ground and submitting them. It's more than that. Jiujitsu is a comprehensive art with strikes, throws, chokes and breaking. The choking and breaking part became submissions for competition. Don't tap and something gets broken. There are even Jiujitsu schools that have extensive weapons training. By weapons, I mean traditional Japanese weapons. This is not an in depth essay on jiujitsu, but just a reminder of what it is. So, when people say that Jiujitsu is just groundwork and submissions, they are not entirely correct. Many have placed a lot of value on the shooting takedowns shown on tv. This is dangerous in real life. In competition, there are rules and the rules favor the shootist as it limits the opponent's viable target areas. In real life, the back of the head is a good target. Knees to the head are also common. Shooting for a takedown is okay in competition, but not very wise outside. In certain conditions, it's okay. Would you grapple if there are more than one attacker on the street? I would not. In the street, the objective is to get away with the least harm. Running is a very good option. Throwing yourself on the ground on purpose is not.

Recently, an episode of Fight Quest featured Krav Maga. That really highlighted the weakness UFC takedowns and submissions. I use UFC as an example because it is the most popular where I am. One of the hosts of the show tried to submit a Krav Maga student. While he focused on the ankle, the other guy rained kicks and punches on his face and body. Result? He got beat and tired himself out without getting the submission. Granted he wasn't a master Jiujitsu practitioner, but even masters get hit trying to submit. The difference is they get their lock. Another instance showed him shooting for a single leg takedown. It might have been a double leg, but he ended up with one. He was not successful. The scenario was fighting multiple attackers. While he held on to the leg of one, the rest of the attackers pummeled him. The instructor told him to stay on his feet because once you go down, you are dead. It was a very graphic example of grappling against multiple attackers. If you can take someone down and choke/break them and get back to your feet in a second then go for it, otherwise keep your mobility in the face of multiple attackers.

Cross training is the key here. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Grappling, whatever style, is not the best style. There is no one best style for everyone. This is true for striking and grappling. Train in what you like, but be aware of your limitations. Knowing one's self is half the battle.

Basics: Mastery and Bluster by John Owen Ong

(Note: This article is reprinted with the permission from the author, John Owen Ong, a family man, a martial artist and a businessman.) Oct 1, '08 11:33 PM

Know the basics. Sometimes we forget this. We get caught up in the race and neglect the basics. Then when we stop and evaluate, we have nothing. We are forced to go back to the basics. This is true for everything in life.

We learn to walk before we can run. We learn the four basic math operations(+,-,*,/) before we can do complex calculations. Why? Because everything can be broken down to the basics. Life is made up of atoms. The variations occur with the infinite combinations of the atoms.

In martial arts, we learn basic techniques. Once these are mastered, we learn combinations and complex sets. These combinations or advanced techniques are just basic moves done in sequence. After learning all the sets, we begin to understand the particular art. Why things are done a certain way. This goes beyond just memorizing the moves. Then we begin to feel the flow. This is hard to explain. It's everything put together. The techniques, philosophy, your body, the opponent's body, timing. The list goes on, but I'll stop here.

I see some people talking about being a master of a particular art or style after a few months of study. One can learn to punch in a minute, but to punch effectively takes longer. To claim mastery of one move after a few months is possible, but master of a style? Legends in their own mind. A basic technique done a certain way becomes more effective. There are different angles and variation on a technique. This can be learned through trial and error or through a credible teacher.

One can learn to fight in a few months, but are you effective? There are those who have never trained and are great fighters. Either they are gifted or they learned through experience by fighting a lot. Natural talent can only get you so far. Hard work gets you farther. Talent and hard work can be incredible.

Some people take a seminar and claim to be masters afterwards. I think this is wrong. If you go in a fight thinking this, you could get killed. The poor souls you've deluded as your students could get hurt. There is no shortcut to mastery. One must practice and learn from a credible master.

There are people who criticize an art they've been studying for a few months as not very practical. Or only good for this or that. What these people don't realize is that they've only seen the tip of the iceberg. Without total comprehension of a particular art, there are always holes. A credible teacher really helps here. Only when one has truly mastered an art can one pass judgement. So studying an art for a few months and saying that it's lacking this or that and moving on to another art that has this or that only gives short term benefits and a chop suey knowledge. Then these people say that they've invented their own style after one or two years of jumping around. There is no cohesion to their invented art.

I will state an example from my own experience. Aikido's ikkyo, first form, is a basic technique taught to all beginners . The basic form is effective enough, but as one advances, there are refinements that make it more effective. At advance levels, it looks like a different technique altogether.

Stick with an art, maybe even a few. Just remember that the martial arts is a lifelong pursuit. enjoy it. If you just want to fight, go out and pick one.

Judo: Hayward Nishioka Sensei by John Owen Ong

(Note: This article is reprinted with the permission from the author, John Owen Ong, a family man, martial artist and a businessman. Oct 1, '08 9:14 PM)

I had the privilege of learning Judo under the instruction of Hayward Nishioka Sensei. It was in the mid 80's, 84-85. I took it as a Physical Education class at the Los Angeles City College. Nishioka Sensei was patient and articulate. He took time to explain the details of the techniques and showed his love of the art. I thought Judo was going to be easy. It is after all the Gentle Way. I was wrong. It was hard work. It worked everything. At the end of the one hour class, I was completely wiped out. Then I had to tackle Chemistry. The class was 3 units and met for one hour three times a week.

The classroom was the dojo. It had pads on the walls in addition to the floor. The throwing techniques were not too strenuous, but the groundwork was killer. The stand up worked the lower body mostly and the groundwork the upper body. Nishioka Sensei taught in a technical way, which appealed to me. Techniques were broken down into steps. Placement of the feet, body relationship between uke and tori, grip etc. were clearly shown. This made the techniques easy to learn for me. The hard part was timing and feeling. I used to supplement my training by going to the park and practice on the trees. I took my belt and wrapped it around a good sized pine tree, trunk size was about my body width. This served as uke's arms or lapel, depending on the technique being practiced. Then I would do one technique twenty times. Slow at first, feeling my base and trying to lift or trip the tree. I built up speed gradually. This really helped me a lot.

One day Sensei used me as a dummy to demonstrate a technique. I was reluctant because I thought I would miss the details of the technique. How can I learn if I can't see, right? It turned out I was wrong. Being the uke gave me a different perspective on the technique. It allowed me to feel the technique as executed by a master. I felt how he entered all the way to the follow through. It was actually very enriching. this allowed me to kind of reverse engineer the technique. It worked better than I thought. Being thrown, pinned or choked by Sensei became enjoyable. With pain came knowledge.

I left Sensei after I transferred to University and relocated. It was a very memorable time of my life.


(Note: This article is reprinted with the permission from the author, John Owen Ong, a family man, martial artist and a businessman.) Sep 30, '08 12:06 AM

All the thoughts expressed here are my own. If it offends anyone, feel free to leave. Comments are welcome, but flaming is not.

Blade based means that the stick is used to train as a safer alternative to the live blade. We must train as we fight.

A lot of the stickfighting schools state that their style is blade based, but their practice do not reflect this. What do I mean?

I. They train to use their off-hand arm to block a strike. This is something you should not do. Why?
1. You can lose that arm after one or two blocks with a blade.
2. When you lose your arm, the blade goes through and hits it's intended target.
3. It hurts.

II. They train to grab the opponent's stick. Another no no.
1. Your hand can get cut and if tendons are severed, then a permanent loss of function can result.
2. It hurts.

III. They grab the blade end of their stick as part of their technique; ie, switching hands to strike. This is like grabbing the sharp end of your blade and hitting the opponent with the handle. Don't do this.

1. It doesn't show a good understanding of your weapon.
2. It hurts you and maybe your opponent if you hit him.
3. It looks stupid.
4. It hurts.

The above are just some of the more blatant examples of stupid techniques from so called blade based schools. Getting hit hurts already, why hurt yourself? Let the other guy do that. Some proposed that it is just a stick and the techniques are acceptable. When they hold a blade, then they'll just adapt and not do the above techniques.

That is just so much manure. We fight as we train. In the heat of combat, you do as your body is programmed in practice. If you practice blocking with your free arm, then you'll do it in a fight. Period. If you have to think about it, you're going to get hit. You have just nullified all those hours of practice. The purpose of training is to condition your body so the movements become instinctive.

If you see someone claiming to be from a blade based style doing the above techniques, walk away. The above techniques are perfectly alright in a purely stickfighting style. They are also acceptable as a lifesaving, last resort technique against a blade. To train them as regular techniques and claim to be blade based is a disservice to the art.

The three secrets to mastery are practice, practice and practice. There, just had to get it out.


(Note: This article is reprinted here with the permission from the Author, John Owen Ong, a family man, martial artist and a businessman.) Sep 28, '08 10:51 PM

I've never really paid much attention to it, but lately the pot's gone to boil. I can't ignore it anymore. I have to ramble yet again.

There are people that pass themselves off as masters of a style. They give it history and in the process make themselves off as the keeper of a very ancient and secret art. Well, the only thing ancient is the age of the poop they're shoveling and the only secret is their actual qualification. Some are actually skilled practitioners and a very few can even teach. Most are very capable sales agents. I don't mind them selling themselves or their product, but when they try to force it on everyone else, I draw the line. I don't like it when they try to get everyone to agree with them. Some of the old guys got drawn in by false promises. I'm specifically talking about the stickfighting community in Negros, Philippines. The kali movement is trying to get the oldtimers to go along with them by using the term. Here, stickfighting has always been called arnis or escrima and sometimes baston. Granted these are not as "cool" sounding as kali, but that's what it is.

The kali side has proposed that kali means to scrape. Supposedly taken from the Tagalog word kaliskis. This can mean fish scales or the act of descaling a fish. Kali is the shortened termed. Then there is the proposal that it came from India. Presumably from the goddess Kali, the Dark Mother.

I personally don't care what or where they get their name from, as long as they don't force it on me. If one were to ask the oldtimers here, they would tell you that kali, in this island, means to dig. Specifically, to dig for root crops like sweet potato, yams or cassava. Stickfighters are called arnisadors, escrimadors or bastoneros. There are no kalidors, or whatever they want to be called. It is a recent addition to the stickfighting vocabulary in this island where almost everyone knows about stickfighting. The sad thing is that one of the loudest proponent of kali is from this island. He is a skilled practitioner, but lacking roots, he made one up. People outside the island accept his "product" as he is also a skilled salesman. This is his primary skill. Again, I don't mind this as long as people don't insist in front of me that what he's selling is the genuine article. It's not. I'm basing my opinion on my intimate knowledge of the language, history and culture of the island.

Does it really matter? I've said before that names of styles or schools will not stop an attack but a good technique will. If your particular style offers you that, then go with it. Just don't place too much importance on the history, as this can become distorted through numerous retellings and fading memories.


(Note: this article is posted with the permission from the Author, Mr. John Owen Ong, a martial artist , a family man and a businessman)

In the Filipino Martial Arts community, there is an ongoing discussion about the different styles, schools and the terminology used. Kali, escrima, arnis are at the forefront of the heated debate. I personally don't understand what all the fuss is about. They all swing a stick or two and most claim to be blade based. There are distinct differences in their techniques, but there are more similarities than there are differences. They are fighting over words, which to me is a waste of time. This is not unique to the FMA community.

My thoughts are my own and this is what I think. The martial arts can be likened to an Egyptian pyramid. To a beginner, there are a lot of choices. It is like the base of the pyramid that covers a lot of area. Then as one deepens his understanding and practice, he moves up the pyramid. He keeps moving up until he realizes that the top is a point. The differences have disappeared and everything is the same. No matter which point at the base you started from, you get to the same point at the top. Presuming of course, that you kept going until you got to the top. Some get stuck at the base, trying different sides and everything in between. Some climb a bit then go back down to try a different approach.

In a simplistic way, the martial arts teaches one to hurt and to avoid getting hurt. No matter which path you take, this is what is taught. Pick a style, stick with it and discover the wonderful things it has to offer. Try not to put down other styles as this only leads to conflict. It's not the style but the man using the style that matters. Try not to be a collector of techniques, but instead refine and master what techniques you already have. You'll find that even one technique can answer a lot attacks. The same technique, once mastered, can also present a lot of opportunities to exploit a weakness in a defense. I think it is better to be a master of a handful of techniques than have a thousand techniques and not be a master of any of them. Don't fight over names and words, just work your techniques. Names won't help you in a fight, but a good technique can save your hide. Find a good teacher and stick with him.

Enough of my rambling. Just had to get that off my chest.