A Brief Analysis of Heaven Six

Gun folk might know Michael Janich from his co-hosting of The Best Defense TV show. He’s also an accomplished martial artist with a background in escrima. Here’s a video with him explaining “Heaven Six”, a foundational drill in Filipino martial arts such as escrima, arnis, and kali.

What I like about this video is it shows how the basic “Heaven Six” movement goes beyond the sticks. Janich demonstrates a lot of empty hand application, from strikes, to blocks, to joint locks. Certainly he’s just touching the surface, but it does point out all that you can do with just that simple movement.

I haven’t regretted my decision to study kali. This sort of power in simplicity is awesome.

Satisfying ego or satisfying results?

I just finished reading this letter over at Tony Blauer’s website. To be fair, the letter reads like a mix of a testimonial and an ad/promotion for Blauer’s approach. That said, the article still brings up an important point.

The letter recounts Tom Arcuri’s journey in studying and ultimately teaching martial arts. As Mr. Arcuri developed his own style, he recognized why students come to him: not necessarily to learn some style of art, but to learn how to fight or defend themselves. Recognizing a need to satisfy this goal, he set out to meet it. Unfortunately and admittedly he chose the wrong measuring stick for progress: variety. In class situations he could see all sorts of variety and teach it, but once the students got into pressure situations, the variety went out the door. Why?

The answer came to Mr. Arcuri one summer. He came to learn that when one gets into pressure situations, one reverts to gross concepts and skills. Thus variety for the sake of variety goes out the door. Consequently, he changed how he evaluates from “variety” to “results”. I think that’s a good change. Does it necessarily matter how you defend yourself so long as you defend yourself successfully?

Mr. Arcuri writes:

As a group we tend to be control freaks, ego centric, and a bit insecure regarding our skills. This is ironic since we emphasize self-confidence and constant devotion to self-improvement to our students. We spend an inordinate amount of time arguing to be right even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Knowing forty or four hundred techniques gives us control and feeds our egos, but does it enhance our student’s survivability in a “real street fight”? Remember, it’s women and children that are more likely to have to defend themselves in our society.

I touched on this recently. Some arts make a big deal out of how much they have in their curriculum and how much they can teach you. The reality? Not so much. Kuk Sool may tout 3608 techniques, but I’ve long wondered just how they arrive at that total. If you look at what Kuk Sool terms “techniques” (the joint locks, throws, sweeps, etc… Ki Bohn Soo, Sohn Mohk Soo, etc.), then to earn 1st degree black belt you must learn 226 techniques; to earn 2nd degree, 143 techniques (369 total); to earn 3rd degree, 40 techniques (409 total); to earn 4th, 25 techniques (434 total); to earn 5th, 30 techniques (464 total). Now this isn’t to say the official Kuk Sool curriculum doesn’t have other things involved, but the point is that by the time you become a “Master rank” in Kuk Sool, you’ve been taught 464 techniques: only about 13% of the claimed knowledge in the system. Wow. So where are all those other techniques? Super-secret for only the blessed and privileged to know, I guess. Or maybe creative counting; I’ve wondered if by 3608 techniques they mean just the strictly defined techniques or if they also count kicks (front kick, 1; low front kick, 2; middle front kick, 3; high front kick, 4; etc.), punches, and every other little thing, since I know in other arts they will label that sort of stuff “techniques”. But however things are labeled and counted, the point still remains the same: aiming to collect a big number of stuff.

Aside: after a while you’ll find the techniques you’re learning are the same or almost the same. The body only bends so many ways, so if you claim thousands of ways to bend the body, eventually you’re going to repeat yourself in some fashion. Certainly I saw a lot of such repetition in the Kuk Sool curriculum. That’s not all bad because it helps to demonstrate different entries and approaches. But make sure you take those numbers for what they are.

So what’s the point of all of this? IMHO, ego satisfaction. You can strut around qualitatively stating “look at all that I know.” Then it’s easy to get into dick-measuring contests (e.g. Hwa Rang Do, a Kuk Sool contemporary, one-ups with their 4000+ techniques; see my previous article). But will a big ego keep you from getting your ass kicked? Maybe, but I doubt it.

As I’ve often said, what ultimately matters are the personal goals that you have for yourself. If your personal goal is to just acquire a large library of knowledge, then that’s fine. If your personal goal is to inflate your ego, that’s fine too. I know it sounds like I’m down on that, and I personally am because it’s not my goal and I don’t see much true point in that goal. But truly if that’s what you want and you feel it makes your life better, who am I to tell you no? I do hope you have perspective on that goal, but otherwise go for it. Me, my goal these days is combat effectiveness. I’d rather have one technique that I could execute solidly and well and that could truly save my life, than a thousand techniques that I half-assed know and don’t practically do much for me. This is why Filipino martial arts hold so much appeal for me.

As an engineer (with an engineer’s mindset) and given how much Taoism resonates with me, that’s likely why Bruce Lee’s philosophies resonate with me. He speaks of emptying your cup so it can be filled, of keeping what is useful and discarding the rest, of achieving a true simplicity in combat. Note that for these things to happen, first you must acquire. While learning nothing vs. learning something then discarding it, might appear in the end to achieve the same results, they really don’t. Antoine de Saint Exupéry wrote:

Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n’y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n’y a plus rien à retrancher.

(It would seem that perfection is attained not when no more can be added, but when no more can be removed.)

To strive for perfection, strive for simplicity. If it is not useful, discard it; but that does imply you must first have acquired it so you could determine if it was useful or not. How to determine if it’s useful? Does it help you satisfy your goals? If your goal is to satisfy your ego, then fine. If your goal is to get satisfying results, well… to me, satisfying results satisfies ego. 🙂

The simplicity of the crossada

In my Kali class tonight, we spent most of the time working on a technique called “crossada”. Basically “X”… “crossing”. There are many interpretations and approaches to it, and here are some videos that illustrate the concept. Note that what’s in these videos isn’t exactly what we were doing in class, just using the videos to illustrate the basic concept.

The key thing is to note the crossing motions done with the hands and/or weapons.

Note as well the variance of weapons: maybe two sticks, maybe one stick and empty hand, maybe sword and dagger, maybe stick and dagger. Whatever you actually see in their hands, imagine something else or nothing at all. In the end, the motions are basically the same. Consider the motions of the first video using just sticks. Now watch again but mentally put a knife in place of the stick and consider how that changes the impact of the exact same motions.

This is what I am loving about Kali: the simplicity. True simplicity. Your body gets trained to a single set of motions. If your hands are empty, the motions work. If you have a knife in one hand and nothing in the other, the same motions work. If you have one stick in one hand, or one stick in each hand, or a stick in one and knife in the other, the same motions work. You aren’t learning one thing for this weapon, then another thing for this weapon, then this other thing for empty hands, and so on. This allows you to not only get up to speed quickly, but it also gives you a broader spectrum to draw from. When I talked about cross-training, maybe you’d have to learn one thing for empty hands, then learn sword, then learn staff. That’s got the “bricks wide, bricks tall” problem I spoke of. But here with Kali (or Escrima or Arnis), you can just stack your bricks tall and you’ll get width for free (so to speak).

Granted I’m simplifying and I’m still a n00b at Kali. But I can see the simplicity and appreciate it, and it reinforces my decision to make the switch and study Kali. Good, good stuff.

To cross-train, or not

The big thing in martial arts these days (and many other places, but I’m talking martial arts) is to cross-train. I would say this has become prominent due to the rise of mixed-martial arts (MMA) which is all about cross-training.

The intent it this: you study one art, you may be limited in what you can do, thus you ought to train in another art to ensure you don’t have any weak areas or holes in your game. For instance, these days the classic MMA formula is: muay thai for striking, wrestling for takedowns (or maybe judo), and Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) for groundwork. The intent is that say, muay thai only covers striking (limited view I know, but go with me) but it’s really good at striking, so if you want to get your striking game you study that. But if that’s all you studied, what would happen if the fight ended up on the ground? Thus, you need to study BJJ to cover that aspect. The end result is you end up being a well-rounded fighter.

Then you get some arts, such as Kuk Sool, that claim to not need cross-training because they are a complete art. Speaking on Kuk Sool, I can say it is fairly complete but does lack in some areas. I know some Kuk Sool folk that have thrown down with BJJ guys and get p0wned; while concepts and principles are there, Kuk Sool’s curriculum just doesn’t emphasize the depth of what BJJ does on the ground. A Kuk Sool person may have enough ground skill to deal with a street fight or self-defense situation, but full-on ground fighting competition? Won’t happen.

But whatever the approach, be it a single art that claims comprehensiveness or you take multiple arts to gain the same broad spectrum of study, the end result and goal is the same of covering all the bases.

While this sounds great, is it always the best and right thing to do? I’d argue it depends upon your training goals.

Let’s say you have a pile of bricks with which to build your house. You can build in one of two directions: you can build up or out. You can stack all your bricks on top of each other. That would be like studying a single-focused art. You would get very good in that one aspect very quickly, but your house isn’t very wide and you would lack in those other areas. You could stack your bricks side by side. That would be like cross-training or studying a broad-focus/comprehensive art. You’d gain a lot of breadth of knowledge, but it’s not going to be very deep. Over time, you end up stacking your bricks in the other direction: if you stacked up, eventually you’ll stack out and build those stacks upwards as well; if you stacked out, you’ll add height to those stacks as time goes on. In the long run, the theory is that you’ll wind up at the same place, with a wide and tall stack of bricks. So the question then becomes: what do you want now? And are you willing to invest the time and effort to get to that same place way down the line? Again, it all depends upon your goals.

Furthermore, what is your learning style like? Do you need focus? Or can you deal with a lot of different concepts and techniques coming at you at once? Do you feel you can practice all of those well-enough, or might you be better just working on a few things at a time? Everyone varies on this. Know yourself and your learning style.

For me, Kuk Sool was a comprehensive approach. I like the art for that reason, because I do see the merits in being well-rounded. However, you have to mind that your training will allow you to build those wide stacks into tall stacks. Often the training at my dojang didn’t go that way: you’d have a 60 minute class with 15 minutes of warm-up, 15 minutes on forms, 15 minutes on breakfalls, then 15 minutes on techniques (or some breakdown like that). Sometimes you might have 45 minutes focused on something. But it would vary, especially depending upon the composition of the class in terms of students and their grade level. I often felt that I didn’t quite get the depth of study that I desired.

I left Kuk Sool and am now studying Kali, Silat, Jun Fan arts, Muay Thai, and western boxing. That still seems like a lot, but in many respects it’s all “stand-up” work. At my current school I could also study BJJ, but I opted against that because I want to focus a bit more on my stand-up. For you see, my cross-training isn’t just in empty-hand arts, but defensive firearms (especially handgunning) is a martial art for me as well. My cross-training blends firearms and empty-hand arts, and for me wanting to focus on my hand work is currently where my goals lie. Eventually I’ll dive into BJJ, but for now digesting the “stand-up” curriculum at my new school is certainly enough. I want to get up to speed with the stand-up stuff quickly. I’d like to build my new stack a little higher before I start building out.

To cross-train or not? That’s a personal matter. Don’t just cross-train because it’s trendy, but choose what approach you take based upon the goals that you have for yourself. Remember that martial arts are a personal journey, so make sure you’re on the journey that you want to take.

12 Basic Strikes of Modern Arnis

Here’s a video of Bruce Chiu discussing the 12 basic strikes of Modern Arnis

Good depth in this video, introducing the basic strikes, variations on the striking methods, footwork, blocking, drills, putting it together.

Filipino Martial Arts – Compare and Contrast

I’ve been studying Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) for about a month now. Between my classes and the reading I’m doing on FMA, I’m noticing some interesting differences between it and my past experiences studying a traditional Korean martial art. This is by no means any sort of a complete analysis, just some initial observations based upon my own experiences.

The approach to weapons study

In Kuk Sool, weapons study was saved for later. In terms of formal curriculum, there’s no real weapon study done until black belt. At the brown-black level there is a defense against knife technique set, but you’re not learning how to use the knife. As well, the WKSA tournaments allow brown belts to perform staff spinning techniques. Nevertheless, any actual “fighting” techniques with weapons is pretty much reserved until black belt level. Why? Reasons can vary, but I recall the reason I was given when I first started my study was that you needed to learn discipline with your hands. That if you’re moving a sword around, you need to learn where to put your hands both the hand holding the sword and the free hand; allows you to wield the sword effectively but also keep your free hand from getting cut off! There’s some sense to that and certainly I know after years of practice my hands have gained some good default positions to keep them in “proper places” when moving. Nevertheless, traditional arts like Kuk Sool have designs to first teach empty hand then weaponry.

On the other hand, Filipino arts teach weapons first and empty hand comes later. The reasoning is that they’re teaching people for combat. While it’s nice to be able to fight with your fists, weapons give you greater advantages. You can hit harder, have more reach, be more effective in combat and increase your chances of success, even if all you’re fighting with is a stick. This lies in stark contrast to Kuk Sool, not just because they have opposite locations for weapons teaching in their curriculum, but also the reasoning for it. Kuk Sool says you need discipline first; FMA says you need to be combat effective. I guess which you deem more valuable depends upon what your goals are. I tend to agree with the FMA approach, but only because my goals these days are to be more combat effective.

Open vs. Closed

Kuk Sool, at least as promoted by the World Kuk Sool Association, is very closed. They don’t want you to cross train. They don’t want to look at new ideas or different approaches to things. It’s their way, period. Kuk Sool is perfect as-is and never needs to change, adapt, or grow. If someone leaves the association, the association tries to prohibit you from any further ties with those that left. It’s very close-minded, very controlling.

FMA seems to be very open and encouraging of cross-training. Reading some history of the “recent” (within the last 100 years) FMA evolution, it seems to have willingly adopted useful techniques from other groups such as aikido, jujutsu, karate, kendo. Various FMA groups will even train with each other. There’s an openness towards finding what works and what can make you a more effective fighter.

Mindset

The Kuk Sool mindset (apart from the financial drive) seemed to be well… hard to define. Was it about preserving Korean martial heritage? Was it about physical development? Was it about internal development (e.g. “ki/chi”)? Was it about mental development (e.g. discipline, loyalty). Or was it actually about learning how to fight? I don’t think it was much about the latter. It tried to, but there just wasn’t enough being done to make that so.

The FMA mindset seems to speak a lot about actual self-defense. “Haging laging handa” or “always be prepared”. It’s not about paranoia, just being aware and keeping sharp. To be prepared for the unexpected. “Huwag kang magpapauna” or “don’t let the opponent get the jump on you”. “Pagmamasdan mo ang kamay” or “watch the opponent’s hands”. These are actual principles, tactical maxims towards helping you succeed. I saw no such things in Kuk Sool. If anything I saw there it’d be about being loyal, or how to practice hyung. You Won Hwa was perhaps the closest thing I saw towards actual fighting principles.

Body Mechanics

One strong point of similarity is the body mechanics. But I would say this has less to do with any sort of style vs. style trappings and more just with how the body works. The elbow only bends one way, so an arm bar is an arm bar is an arm bar regardless of what style you learn it in. Vital points at which to target strikes (e.g. eyes, throat, side of jaw, downward clavicle, floating ribs, etc.), all the same.

The nice part here is whatever existing knowledge I have, it all flows and continues to be useful. That is one strength of Kuk Sool is their “soo” emphasis; all the joint locking, throwing, and sweeping techniques. It’s a strong part of what makes up Kuk Sool. I just wish they would do more practical work with it. Nevertheless, the textbook knowledge gained from it is quite good.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t to disparage Kuk Sool. It’s just to point out the differences that I’m seeing between my old study and my new study. Certainly I am biased, but only because I have particular goals; Kuk Sool no longer served towards meeting my goals, and FMA appears to be serving those goals quite well. If your goals are different, you may find that FMA isn’t what you want and Kuk Sool is perfect. That’s the thing about martial arts: it’s a personal journey.

ShivWorks

I believe I first heard of “SouthNarc” and ShivWorks through KR Training. SouthNarc runs a lot of seminars on his own, but my angle in was via “full-spectrum” courses offered in conjunction with Tom Givens’ Rangemaster. Specifically, in September 2009 I’ll be taking a “combined skills” course with Givens and SouthNarc via KR Training. I’m looking forward to it, as both Tom Givens and SouthNarc are well regarded trainers. It should be a humbling but educational experience.

I’ve also become interested in checking out all I can from SouthNarc because he has a background in Filipino martial arts, which I’ve just started studying. As I tend to do when I get involved in new things, I like to devour all the knowledge I can on the topic, so I’ll seek out books, videos, websites, people, forums and obtain all the information I can. I’ve read numerous things online from and about SouthNarc, and watched some videos on YouTube. So the next step? ShivWorks has produced 4 DVD’s:

I purchased them through MD Tactical, who were very quick with order turnaround. I just received them in the mail and have started watching. I’m sure I’ll post some reviews as I complete each DVD.

Updated: added link to my review of PUC v1

A New Journey – Part 3: Moving Forward

This is part 3 of my story of my new martial arts journey. If you have not yet read “Part 1: Getting Started” or “Part 2: Things Fall Apart“, you should go back and read them before continuing. Once you’ve gotten caught up, please continue reading on how I’m now moving forward.

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Old Inosanto videos

Ah, the joys of YouTube. Found 3 parts of an old Dan Inosanto video giving an introduction to Filipino martial arts drills.