The Heart of the Matter

It was a great 10 days training with Liu sifu. The weekend seminar went well, and the private and evening class trainings were also good- plenty of sweat, new (and old) things to work on, and of course getting to spend some time with a friend and teacher. As usual everyone helped make the visit go off well. Thank you to everyone who turned out to train with us, and to everyone who helped make the event go so well. Special thanks to Corey Tedrow and Jim Baab for helping make Sifu’s stay comfortable, to Mirakian sensei for hosting the seminar in his dojo, and of course to Liu sifu for coming this far to work with us. It has been good as always to see him and I’ll miss him between now and his next visit (or mine there, depending on which happens first) but I am glad he is headed home to spend some much needed time with his family after a long trip.


But while the visit was great and it is always good to see a friend and teacher I am really looking forward to a very special event tonight. Tonight is….. regular training at our dojo! Special events and visits like this are a wonderful part of what comes with pursuit of an art like ours. They help us correct our practice, give us things to work on, and can both introduce new ideas and give a different perspective on what we are already doing. They also give us a chance to spend some time with friends from far away- from Taiwan for sifu, but from a variety of places for our other kung’fu brothers and sisters. This too is a wonderful benefit of martial practice. But while the special events are great, and time with one’s teachers absolutely necessary for improvement in any martial art, the meat of it, the day in and day out sweat, pain, and joy of practice, happens here at home. In the dojo or in the backyard, basement, or park, this is where it happens. I am really looking forward to seeing dojo mates and students and just practicing. That’s the real stuff!

A Successful Seminar

We had another great weekend training Feeding Crane with Liu sifu. Interesting material, excellent instruction, and a great group of people to share it with. We had folks from as far away as Colorado join us, as well as people from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and around Massachusetts, including Belchertown and Rockport as well as folks from closer in to Boston. One fun thing about these seminars is that we also get a real mix of styles here- people who train in Uechi Ryu, Goju Ryu, and a couple of different Chinese arts were here, among others. Some have a good deal of background in Feeding Crane, some none, but everyone worked hard, and brought what they already knew to the table (in a good way!). It was especially nice to see some new faces and introduce them to the system. We always have a group of committed people at these weekends, and this was no different- the energy and focus in the room was great to be a part of.

Feeding Crane Seminar, Watertown, MA November 2014

Feeding Crane Seminar, Watertown, MA November 2014

Thank you again to Liu sifu for his instruction, and to all the folks who came out for their effort and energy. I am already looking forward to the next time!

Feeding Crane in Boston

Hello all,

just a reminder that it is 2 weeks until Liu sifu is here! If you have not gotten me your sign-up paperwork, or at least let me know you are definitely coming, please do! It is going to be a great weekend, and I am looking forward to seeing and training with everyone, and to Liu sifu’s instruction!

Good People Make For Good Budo

We just had a really fun weekend with the OKDR folks. The training was excellent and I always look forward to seeing everyone when we get together. Neil Stolsmark sensei does a fantastic job leading the group, and the rest of the group is just plain good people- fun to train with and fun to hang out with afterwards. (Just don’t ask about the cow joke.)

Weekends like this also remind me what a great group we have here in Boston. I’m lucky, and honored, to have such great students; their hard work speaks for itself. I am even more lucky to have such good friends and training partners.

Looking forward to the next get-together, and especially to training here tomorrow night!

Feeding Crane Seminar, November 8&9 2014

Hello all,

Liu sifu’s seminar here in Boston is just a month away! As usual, it will be a great weekend of training- good people to work with, interesting and challenging information, and of course excellent instruction from Liu sifu. The seminar is open to both experienced Feeding Crane practitioners and first-time participants- there is plenty in the power generation (ji bei gong) and sensitivity training alone for all levels to work on, and the seminar will also be covering other material, including application, reaction training, and forms.

Ka tsen application

Ka tsen application

If you have not signed up yet there is still space. If you have friends or training partners that are interested please feel free to pass the seminar information (it is here) on to them. The seminar is limited to 35 people, so if you have not signed up yet please do!

Looking forward to seeing everyone for a great weekend of training in November!

So Far Away From Me….

Take a look at this video, posted by a close friend of mine:

It is in general excellent Okinawan martial arts. Powerful. Precise. Fast. Displaying the mechanics and tactical choices of the system. I like it. But I do have one small problem with it, the distance between the participants. On the first attack of each set the attacker has to take a full step in. Then, if you watch closely, you will see that many of the attacks at their full extension fall short. (The counters are then set at proper range- they can penetrate.) This is an excellent range for demonstrating, which is what is happening here. It is a good range for seeing what is coming, and for working prescribed counters. It is a good, or at least common, starting range for various types of sport fighting, for dueling. It is a good range for practicing entering and for maintaining distance. It is not, in my opinion a good range for practicing self defense.

Why? At this range I have a better solution for dealing with the incoming attacks: run away. There is time and space for it. Yes, I am aware you can create a scenario where that is not possible. But at this range there are a lot of movement options open. For self defense, these should be the first options. To me, this looks like mutually agreed-upon combat. A duel or a fight. In other words, unnecessary.

Physical self defense is a last resort. You didn’t see the set-up, you were not able to evade the situation, you were not able to escape the attacker. You were forced to fight. If you are both agreeing to fight it is not self defense, it is just fighting. This, I believe, runs contrary to the principals of Okinawan karate. Our art is a civilian self defense system, geared towards dealing with close range personal assault. To practice for close-range defense I believe most drills like this should start inside striking range, and stay there. By this I mean two things: start attacks close enough to hit and make sure attacks can penetrate.

How can you make sure you are doing this? When doing paired work of any type, before starting have the attacker just reach out and place a palm on the defender’s chest to test range. If they have to move their feet, turn, or lean in to touch, they are too far away. Starting this close runs contrary to a lot of martial arts training. It certainly is very different from any type of sport sparring or fighting. But it does a number of important things:

First, it gets you close. If you do not train this close, at first it may feel uncomfortable. This is good. It is actually teaching you something. It is teaching you what someone’s effective striking range feels like, and teaching you to feel comfortable being at that distance with another person.

Second, you have to pay attention differently. You can’t rely on direct vision, you have to use your peripheral vision and your sense of touch. You have to pay attention to your opponent’s entire body. Since any attack can land right from the start you can’t relax mentally. If you are going hard you also have to deal with the nervousness or fear that comes with potentially being hit right from the get-go.

Third, you have to move differently. You can’t do wide blocks or big movements fast enough. Speed in defense will come in large part from technique and position. You can’t effectively retreat in a straight line, you have to angle or enter to defuse attacks. You also quickly realize you have to prevent follow-up attacks with your first defense.

Fourth, your techniques will actually be different. You may start to see where elements of the system that seem more stylistic come into play. Things like controlling the center line, keeping your elbows in, how you use your hands in tandem, not bouncing when you move, shifting quickly to angles, all make more sense at this range.

At the same time, applying counters is very different when attacks can penetrate. You wind up with more energy to work with and in essence more options. For example, it is pretty hard to do an effective throw or joint lock when your attacker is at arm’s length, unless they just let you do it. (You might also find that certain techniques will not work…)

Finally, you should stay in range throughout. Otherwise the attacks and blocks are really more of a dance. Practicing with attacks and defenses making contact outside hitting range is a common occurrence, especially in weapon work. But if your attacks can’t reach they are not attacks, no matter how fast and powerful they are just waving a weapon, or your arms and legs, around. And your defense, no matter how quick and clean is only a defense if it is protecting you from something that might get in. With weapons, if you are not trying to hit the weapon to disarm or create an opening the target is the person. With empty hands it is always the person. If attacks cannot reach the target, there is no need to block or otherwise pay any attention to them. They are not really attacks.

This does not mean hit with every attack you can. You don’t want to be smacking sticks into each others’ heads. It means to practice so attacks are in range and able to hit, and then decide when and how hard to actually make contact. That way you are doing martial arts, not dancing.

So try practicing at close range. Practicing to defend against attacks that come from out of range and cannot hit is actually less productive than not practicing at all. It gives the illusion of martial practice without any of the intent.