Wednesday, July 30, 2014

This conversation totally happened last night...

On Tuesday nights, our normal instructor allows us to learn from his instructor, Gat-Kuya Peña (who has his own dojo, Street Smart Self-Defence Systems). I don't think could explain in one post how awesome he is—he's patient, funny, and wicked talented in the Garimot Arnis system. 

Gat-Kuya Peña is losing his voice, so it fell to me to take most of the instruction—at least as far as the talking was concerned. We have a lot of new people in our dojo at the moment, so I was tasked with going over the basic strikes (there are five), calling out the names of the strikes in Tagalog as we went along. After we felt the students were comfortable with the  strikes, we paired up the kids so that the advanced belts were partnered with the new kids. 

During this time, both Gat-Kuya and I walk around and help the kids with corrections to their stances, or their strikes, hand positions, etc. One of the stances following the first overhead involves holding the stick outside your left arm, similarly to the way you would mimic holding a baby--like a cradle.  As we walk around, he notices that some of the kids are putting the their sticks under their arms, and stops the class.

Gat-Kuya: ok, the name of this stance [shows stance] is calon. what does that mean
various students : cradle
Gat-Kuya: exactly, it's like you're holding a baby. You don't hold a baby like this [puts stick under his arm], right?
various students: no!
Gat-Kuya: ok. let's try it again

(at this point most of the kids go back to partner work, with the exception of my oldest son, who's working with one of our newer teens)

Son: SIFU! 
Gat-Kuya: what's up?
Son: my mom held me like that when I was a baby; under her arm.
Gat-Kuya: (trying not to laugh) did she really?
Son: oh yeah, I was really small, so she could totally hold me like that!
Me: dude, shut it.
Son: um, I'm supposed to be not talking as much. I'm going to go back to teaching.

As we walked away, I explain to my instructor that I did indeed hold him that way, when he was a toddler, not a baby but he just laughed and went back to working with the other kids.

which is all to say: if you hold your babies under your arm like a football, it may come back to haunt you someday--and in the middle of a stick fighting class.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"This isn't BALLET."

This past week I was working as the assistant instructor for the teen/adult class, as is pretty normal. We had a mixed bag of teens this week, with about 1/2 as many females as males in the class. I opted to do some balancing poses for the stretching portion so we could work on their balance as well as build up some core muscle. Since we had a lot of new kids, I opted for tree pose. It's a good pose for beginners to advanced kids, because there are various levels you can take the pose. You can place your non-standing foot from just above your ankle all the way to the top of your thigh (or even move into standing lotus).  
As we were moving into the pose, I instructed the kids to find their balance on their standing leg, and use their other foot for support (which looks similar to effacé or à la seconde--see picture at left). This prompted one of the newer students to say (rather loundly),
are we doing karate, or ballet?
I don't normally answer smart-ass kids in class, that said, I wasn't going to let this go. So I turned to him and said in my most even tone, "look kid. When have the physique and endurance of a ballerina, you can question my warm-ups. In the meantime, get your leg up and stop talking back." He complied, and class went on. But it brought back some uncomfortable memories...

I once had a martial-arts instructor who, when trying to motivate the young adult class, would yell at us, "come on! this isn't ballet!" I let it go the first time. After a couple of additional times, however, I finally decided that someone had to say something. I walked up to the instructor, and said, "look, I don't know what you think you are doing by yelling, 'this isn't ballet,' or 'the dance studio is down the street,' but I have to tell you, I studied dance for the majority of my adolescent life, and these guys (motioning to the guys in the class) wouldn't last through the warm-up of a ballet class."  The instructor told me that it was a joke, and that it was meant as a motivation. To which I just shook my head and walked away.

The class—at the time—was almost exclusively male. I was one of two females in the class. So while I accepted that the instructor "didn't mean anything by it," the actual message of "this isn't ballet," was that the guys in the class were being "girly," and therefore "weak." 

Here's the thing. There are not a lot of females in martial arts, girls are pushed towards activities like dance and cheerleading. These are also highly athletic activities, and can be great for team building and bonding. There are not a lot of guys in dance and cheer-leading (at least not in the United States), so these sports are considered to be "girly." And girly means weak, or lesser. This is highly prevalent in America as evidenced in this article, and this video

In other countries (even those with a high level of "machismo" culture) male ballet dancers are considered "rockstars." Think of Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Vaslav Nijinsky (or if you want more contemporary references to power and grace, think: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Gregory Hines, or even Michael Jackson), and you think of power. Look at the image on the right -- does that look powerful, or weak? I know I can't do that, and I do a LOT of yoga. 

Or watch this....

But for my part, I feel that the more alienating aspect of this comment is in how it diminishes the females in the class. What if this hadn't been a young adult class? A comment like that in a class of adolescents could potentially alienate many young girls in the class. The insult is two-fold: 
  1. it makes the case that "girly" things are not as worthy and insults females in general,
  2. any females in the class that have previous dance experience are being directly insulted.
We need to keep our girls invested in our martial-arts classes. We can't expect to keep doing that if we make comments that, on the surface, seem innocuous but are actually quite damaging to a burgeoning female ego. Equating doing something "like a girl," with doing something weakly is to undo all the good we are doing by teaching them they can use their body to protect THEIR BODY.  I fight #likeagirl -- try to keep up.

Incidentally, if you want to try a barre workout (which is frighteningly close to ballet warm-ups), try this or this). Don't blame me if you get sore.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Less IS more

I'm probably part of a minority of people who read Black Belt magazine—particularly for the tips and tricks that apply specifically to women. When I saw this article, I ws particularly intrigued: The Art of Teaching Women's Self-Defense: Less is Best.

When you've been taking classes for a while, you forget how hard it was to learn those first few punches and kicks. Hopefully you've been practicing long enough that you don't have ot think about the position of your body when you're throwing a punch, or how to counterbalance correctly for a kick. It's like trying to remember what it was like to learn to walk. You don't think about it anymore, you just walk! And that's a problem.

Here's a practical example:
When my dad came back from Vietnam, he was gravely wounded with a lot of damage to his lower body. He had to undergo a lot of physical therapy, part of which was re-learning how to walk. He told me that it was probably the hardest thing he had to do, becaue you take for granted that you understand the whole walking process. But now it's different because you have to consciously control your muscles. If you don't believe me, try playing QWOP. Here's an image of someone who got further than I did:

It's a difficulty. When you've taken a lot of classes and know a lot of techniques you want to show people all kinds of neat tricks. There are so many ways you can kick and punch, and so many places to choose from! But attendees to a seminar are (usually) not seasoned martial-arts practitioners, and as anxious as you are to show everyone a whole bunch of cool stuff--you have to take it easy. 

Hopefully I'll remember that Sunday after next!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

well, looks like my dad was right about THAT....

When I was small(er), my dad set about trying to teach me with the basics of fighting. As I was a year younger than everyone else in my class, and small for my age, I was pretty consistently getting picked on.
His advice was short, sweet, and to the point (I have only two of those three qualities, myself):

  1. if you're going to punch, go for the face: eyes, nose or throat.
  2. if they're too tall for that, punch or kick in the crotch (boy or girl, it will hurt)
  3. follow up by knocking them down before you:
  4. run away.
This is actually VERY good advice. There are lots of strike points on the human body--and some of them are especially good. Just look at this:

I mean, there are some fun spots you can use to mess someone up, right? And that's not just "vital points," in that image, either, you've got some nice "nerve points," too. That seems like a LOT to choose from... almost too many, really.

But here's the thing, a good many of those points don't work all the time.
I, myself, don't respond to pressure on my Median Nerve. If someone has good muscle control, or a nice layer of fat, or maybe even a fairly thick sweater or coat, you won't get the same effect on body strikes to the ribs, diaphragm or kidneys.  Boots or shoes can prevent damage to the instep or Achilles tendon.

So what does that leave? Well, there's always the face. And here's the thing about hitting someone in the cranial area: your brain does NOT like that. A hit to the eyes will make them water, so will a good hit to the nose. Strikes to the temple or throat can possibly kill someone. They are vunerable areas, and can (and should) be exploited if your life is on the line.

But what if they're too tall? Yes, this can happen. I've sparred with people that I would literally have to stand on a stool in order to hit in the nose, and trying to hit them in the nose just looks stupid and wastes a lot of my energy. So I don't try to hit them in the nose... at first. First I find a way to bring them to me... say... a kick to the groin (or knee... or even a good roundhouse to the abdomen). Then I go for the face.

And usually that accomplishes step 3 -- knocking them down. The goal here is to get to step 4. If you can knock someone down, you can make it harder for them to chase after you, because you do NOT want to have a sustained fight with someone outside of the sparring ring. A well placed kick to the groin or knee will certainly help here. But often so will a good elbow strike to the jaw, the throat or the temple. 

The point is, don't make this too complicated. It's not about mastering the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique... it's about doing something simple and effective that can get you out of immediate danger. And in that respect--dad had some pretty good advice.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Well, hello there!

Oooooh. It's all coming together.

I'll be teaching a self-defense seminar at Kyle United Methodist Church (where you can find me most Sundays) on August 10th!  I'm thrilled that this is finally coming to fruition. I'm already working on putting together the curriculum, as well as some handy hand-outs and (of course) waiver forms.

You guys, this is a really big deal for me. I've taken quite a few self-defense seminars in my day. They've run the gamut from "here's how to slap someone with your purse and blow a whistle" to "here's how you disarm someone who has a knife to your neck." Heck, I've learned techniques on disarming someone with a gun to my back. I love those kinds of seminars--they are great fun. There are few things in this world I enjoy more than throwing people twice my size around (white chocolate macadamia nut cookies... maybe).

But what I've noticed more and more amongst my peers (and my peers' kids) is that people who have not attended a seminar or ever got in a fight at all, can't do things I consider fundamental like:
  • throw a punch without breaking their hand
  • kick without breaking their toes
  • know where to hit someone so they can run away
  • know how to get their wrist out of someone's grip
I don't think everyone should know how to toss some scumbag (who thinks you need an up-close and personal throat hug) across the room--I think they should know how to punch said scumbag before they get that close. Or where to kick them so they can't follow you. Groin kicks are great, don't get me wrong, but they don't always work. So I want to make sure that as many people as possible have some basic skills to get out of dangerous situations. 

I'll keep you updated as I get closer to the date.... this is going to be awesome!

PS. If you don't believe me about how awesome a groin shot can be... you should watch this: