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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Where You Start

Rory, I think, once wrote something about how the art you start with will determine a lot about how you think (if it wasn't Rory, I don't remember who it was).

That thought returned to me recently for some reason.

The first three things I studied with any reasonable seriousness were boxing, Aikido, and Fencing (specifically the SCA variety). Of those, Aikido and Fencing were the more serious, or at least, the more in-depth in my initial exposure (my initial boxing training was mostly confined to bag work, pad work, and conditioning, with no sparring). I'm at a point where I no longer practice any of those arts, but the lessons I learned from them really informed how I think about martial arts and fighting.

Lesson One: Fighting is Athletic

Boxing and Fencing both taught me that when you start fighting, it's very much a physical activity. Technique and all that matter, but great technique and a shitty set of lungs makes a harder fight. I know that may seem like no great revelation, but if you listen to some people pontificate about fight theory, you'd think that martial arts are about academic debate. Sometimes, you just have to let things fly. Be prepared.

Lesson Two: Hit. Don't Get Hit.

Fencing teaches you something very important--you cannot trade shots when you are fighting with three-foot pieces of steel. If you get hit, there is a very good chance that you will die (in the particular formula I was training under, a single hit could "kill" you). Aikido draws upon a tradition with a similar focus on the dangers of live weaponry, although it mostly brings it into the empty handed realm.

Boxing, of course, does not deal with weapons, but the importance of not getting hit is still taught (at least, in some places). I once overheard a coach of mine say to someone (I'm paraphrasing for brevity) "If you don't mind getting hit, you'd make a lousy boxer. I hate getting hit...I try really hard to avoid it."

This lesson is one of the reasons I'm so fanatical about the importance of footwork. If you can control where you are, you can control how hard it is for other people to hit you.

Lesson Three: Less Is More

I learned five punches from my boxing coach (six if you want to count both uppercuts): jab, cross/straight, hook, uppercut, and an overhand right (which I think he only taught me because I'm relatively short).

Fencing taught me four parries, a lunge, and a couple of cuts. There were some other tricks I picked up along the way, and I eventually learned how to fight with two rapiers, but the core was pretty small.

Aikido's empty handed syllabus is ridiculously compact (I never got far into the weaponry, but even there, it's not super extensive). A reasonably athletic person could probably learn the whole thing in a day (not be GOOD at it, mind you, but learn it).

I learned very early on that pursuing newer, shinier techniques wasn't the key to victory. The key to victory was getting better at the basics than the other person. Again, if you wonder why I hammer the basics, this is why. The basics work. That's why they're the basics. The way I learned, if you can't make the basics work, it's not because you need a new technique, it's because you don't know the basics well enough.

Lesson Four: Make It Work For You

No two boxers fight the same. Nor do the same two fencers. A buddy of mine and I who trained together, mostly under the same teacher, developed radically different games. We had different psychologies, and different physical attributes. Even in Aikido, I learned that there were some things that worked great for me, and some that were really tough for me to apply. I still had to learn it all, but I knew which things I liked, and which things I didn't.

Those lessons have pretty much informed the rest of my martial arts career and training. I can think of worse ones to build a foundation on.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in Review

It's the time of year for this sort of thing, I suppose.  I'm not much for New Year's resolutions or goals at this point, but it doesn't hurt.

2015 has been quite a year. People often talk about having a work/life balance, with the assumption that work is out of balance to life. For me, this year, I think it's been the other way around.

The year started with the birth of our daughter, which quickly lead to a realization that four people and one dog simply do not fit comfortably inside a two bedroom apartment. This lead to a long, long moving process, partly because the decision about where to move was a pretty complex one. I'm more comfortable talking about this now that it is done, but there was some pretty serious talk about moving out of state completely. That process ended about a month ago, when we moved into our new house, which we are now still setting up.

The net result of all of that was that I didn't have much time to devote to business or training. I maintained my clients and classes, and squeezed in a few workshops, but overall, it was a slow year on that front. Likewise, my writing, here and elsewhere, got shoved onto the back burner. I re-certed my SFG, but my hopes of much deeper into the S&C thing were kept on hold.

And that's all okay. My family came first, and everything we did was important. We are now in a much, much better place on so many fronts, that I have no cause for complaint.

That said, my personal practice is improving. I've been getting back onto the mat for some BJJ practice. I've started learning some Bagua, which is scratching that Chinese Internal bug I've had in my head for a while. That leaves some other bugs unscratched, but one thing at a time.

As a coach, I've been getting into a better spot. There were some shake ups around my training environment that made the whole thing much, much better. I'm being deliberately vague here, but suffice it to say that changing the people you're around can make a huge difference in how you feel about coaching and training. I'm way, way, happier coaching now than I was at the beginning of the year. And that's nice.

I got to connect with some cool people over the year. Saw Coach Blauer in person, and was reminded that you can learn a lot over a beer. Got to do some fun stuff with Rory. Met a bunch of cool people as a result.

I feel like I'm reconnecting with a bunch of things that I had forgotten or left behind. It feels pretty good.

I'd like to pick up things more in the new year, but we'll see how it all shakes out. As noted, I don't really like New Year's goals, so I'll see what I can manage in the coming months. I know I need to re-cert my SFL this year. Outside of that, we'll see what I can make happen.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015


I don't think I've ever written about this, but it keeps coming up lately.

I wear glasses, and have since the third grade. I'm nearsighted, which means that the further away things are, the more out of focus they are. My own hand gets blurry around the edges (it's still clearly a hand, people, it's just a little out of focus) at full extension. I don't know my exact prescription off the top of my head.

I tried contacts briefly in high school, and hated them. Too much effort, too little reward. When wearing glasses has been part of your identity for most of your life, saying "you don't have to wear glasses" doesn't really click. At least, it didn't for me.

The upshot of this is is that I never wear my glasses when I train. Maybe if I was doing solo kata, or learning a lift where I wasn't putting out a lot of effort, but any serious effort or training, and the glasses come off.

For some reason, this seems to blow people's minds. I have no idea why.

Look, it's a fight, not a reading contest. I don't have to be able to read the fine print. I have to be able to see your head, hands,'s all big enough stuff that I don't need to worry about fine details. (Especially since I'm trying to let my peripheral vision do a lot of the work anyway).

That's just at striking ranges. Grappling? I can see just fine, thanks. Sometimes, I can see more than I want to (tighten up that gi, partner).

I've fenced, boxed, kickboxing, grappled, done scenario work (including work in High Gear), all without my glasses on. Never once has my "poor vision" actually inhibited me. I guess if I take up shooting, it could be an issue, but that's about it.

There is, admittedly, a partly tactical consideration to this (or there was when I started). Swatting off my glasses was a favored tactic of middle school bullies, and I figured that in a real fight, that'd be the first thing a lot of people would do. So I learned to deal with it. Now, I don't even think about it.

Anyway: if you wear glasses or contacts, try going without them sometime. It might not be as bad as you think.

If you don't wear glasses: people, glasses don't equal blindness. I'm not crippled, nor am I fucking Daredevil. Get over it.