Thursday, December 16, 2010

Free Self Defense Seminars

I offer free self defense seminars to schools, businesses, churches and other organizations throughout the mid-Michigan area. The purpose of these seminars is to educate the public in the basics of safety and awareness. 

Topics include:
  • General Guidelines for Safety and Awareness
  • Defense Postures
  • Evasive Maneuvers
  • Immobilization Management (Preventing/Escaping Grabs)
  • Recommendations of Local Training Facilities for Further Education
These seminars last about an hour and are completely free of charge. I only ask that:
  • At least 8 people be in attendance
  • Any attendees under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian
  • The seminar be located in or around the following Michigan cities:

Ann Arbor Brighton Chelsea
Dearborne Detroit DeWitt Dexter East Lansing
Eaton Rapids Farminton Hills Haslett Holt Jackson
Lansing Livonia Plymouth Mason Northville
Novi Okemos Saline Waverly Ypsilanti

To schedule a free seminar, please contact me, Dan Holland
If you are seeking in-depth instruction, please follow this link

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Ahh, the good old days. I have been teaching and training the marital arts six to seven days a week since the late 1990s, inspired by the focus and practicality of the Traditional Japanese Martial arts — Judo, Iaido, Nihon Jujutsu, and Aiki-jujutsu — and intrigued by the creative and powerful movements of the Internal Chinese Martial Arts — Tai Chi Chuan, Ba Gua Chang, and Hsing-I Chuan. 

I have also accumulated a bunch of odd and amusing experiences. Here are some that come to mind: 

• Once in the midst of a practice session, a scruffy, red-eyed, boozed-up man in a torn scarf and dirty coat emerged from our basement door. For a good moment he was entirely oblivious to his surroundings, but he froze in his tracks when he realized he was the center of attention in a room full of scrappers dressed in white pajamas and variegated belts. His solution was to apologetically raise his hands and quietly back out the way he came. 

Turned out he'd found his way in through an old Thai restaurant that shared our suite, but had been out of business for the last year. He never bothered us again, so apart from securing the basement door, we never bothered him either. 

• We suffered two thefts. First, in the middle of the day: Someone snuck in and lifted a pair of sneakers from the shoe rack; second, in the middle of the night: A window was busted open, and despite an expensive array of shinken, the culprit ran off with a pair nunchucks and some throwing stars. 

• I got Pepper Sprayed along with a buddy of mine. It was his idea. 

• Late one Judo night, after a satisfying romp of randori, I ended class. Just after bow out, a buddy of mine said, "We gotta go one more time!" Sounded fine to me. I ended up with the upper hand — I forget the actual throw, but when he went down his head bounced off the mat, and I lost my balance somewhere in the interim. As his head ricocheted up, mine descended, and we sealed the deal with a nasty headbutt that opened the skin beneath his eyebrow but amazingly left me unscathed. With a great sense of humor, he riposted all inquiries about his forehead by saying, "That's just what happens when you tell your sensei you want one more round!"

• To promote the dojo, I cooked up a bunch of flyers to post around the area. I also left a stack by the door in case anyone wanted to pass them along. Our dojo's name, the Institute of Traditional Asian Martial Arts, was printed in big block letters in the header of the flyer. After perhaps a year of circulation, someone pointed to the title and said, "Hey. Doesn't this say "Traditional Asian Marital Arts?" Whoops.  

• When we rented a suite in a strip mall, a night club moved in next door, and had a habit of raging death metal during Iaido practice.

• Long long ago, we teamed up with a local comedy group in East Lansing who filmed a scene of their movie in our dojo. I'm the guy in the white undershirt who gets face-planted and kicked. It was painful. 

• Perhaps against better judgement, I opened the doors one Friday night a few hours after close. At this point in history, the dojo was located just North of Grand River Ave in East Lansing, which is directly across Michigan State University campus. For those uninformed, Michigan State University has skillfully expended a gargantuan quantum of time, funds and effort to produce a student body that can booze like Olympic lumberjacks.

It led to a very interesting night. I have never distributed more business cards in my life. Unfortunately no one ever called back. 

• In my early days as an Eishin Ryu Iaido instructor, I was asked to prepare a swordsmanship demonstration for our dojo's anniversary. I made it as elaborate as I could, with eight people including myself performing a selection of kata simultaneously in different directions. While practicing a few days before the event, I swung my sword and gawked in horror as the blade went cartwheeling into the tight cluster of demonstrators. 

My most junior student, young and nimble like a bunny, hopped to safety as the blade impaled the matspace previously supporting his foot. My first thought was, "How the #%@ did I let go of my sword?!" My second was, "Wait a minute. I didn't." The tuska was still in my hands. The blade, full tang, had actually broken longways from ha to mune just above the seppa!

• And perhaps the very best:

One afternoon two guys strolled into the dojo. They said they were from Gaylord and introduced themselves as ninjas. Really. Following such an introduction, they naturally laid down a credit card and jacked its balance with some badass ninja gear, including, of course, a pair of proper ninja suits. 

So Sensei mentioned offhand he had a booth at a Gun And Knife show in Detroit that every ninja should be sure to visit, because it would be equipped with a plethora of ninjtastic equipment and gadgetry. Several hours later, this happened.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Small Things Matter

In the Hagakure, by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, there is a passage that reads: 
Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige’s wall there was this one: “Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.” Master Ittei commented, “Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.” 
 This is interesting, because we tend to behave the opposite. 

For the martial artist, the dojo is the setting to pursue this wisdom. Let the dojo be a place of meticulous focus where every breath and footstep bear heavy significance, where every motion and intention dominate the mind. Our time is so limited in the confines of the training hall, restricted by countless obligations of the modern economic climate, that we must aspire to make the best of every moment we have. It is a difficult task to be continuously present, without lapse of attention or admittance of distraction, and it can only be achieved with determination. 

Begin with the fundamentals: Formalities and repetitions should never be mindless. Too habitually they are! It is easy to stare off into space or pick at the nails during stretches and warmups — not out of disrespect, but ennui. Begin by destroying that stultified detachment. Begin by occupying the body with the mind.

When stretching, seek comfort in flexibility. When striking or standing for uchikomi, be stentorian in count. During ukemi, focus on posture before, during and after the fall, and when uke, remember that the ability to receive technique is equally as crucial as the ability to effect it. During demonstration be attentive, when bowing, be sincere, and when instructed, yell “Hai!” or “Yes, Sir!” and take the lesson to heart. Everything — every little thing — should be considered with serious regard.

Envision the outcome were this always the case on the dojo floor — 100% engagement 100% of the time. Improvement would be continually notable. Skill level would skyrocket. And this of course is the the obvious reason for such conduct. It is the reason it became a maxim on a daimyo’s wall. 

Now envision the outcome were this always the case, period. To propagate principle analyzed in the dojo to everyday life is perhaps the most valuable element of martial arts training. If we can muster the mental and physical fortitude to be wholly engaged in the interval between bow in and bow out, and expand that awareness to the interval between waking and sleep, we can tap into one of the most powerful techniques for character development and personal growth. 

This is the way to treat matters of great concern lightly. What is the big but a concentrated buildup of the small? The big can be overwhelming with a backlog of minutiae trailing unattended in its wake, but when the small things are mastered, the big loses gravity. To analogize, a test is no problem when its material has been personalized through diligent study; a physical confrontation loses its edge when the mind and body are integrated through methodical practice. Most importantly, the daily challenges we face in life become surprisingly manageable when we eliminate clutter and execute matters of small concern with full attention and ambition. 

Unfortunately the effort to lead a life of happiness and success is monumental in nature. But it is easy to fix the small things one at a time. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The 2nd Southern Michigan Martial Arts Summit

Once again, Master Dan Vigil hosted the Southern Michigan Martial Arts Summit at his Tae kwon do dojang in Northville, Michigan. The Summit is a useful resource for martial arts students in the mid michigan area interested in practical self defense education. Segregated into four hour and a half sessions and priced at only $89 (for the whole day!!), here are the bios of the instructors who ran the show!

Judo, Nihon Jujutsu, Karate, Aikido, Kung-fu

Born in 1960, Suino-Sensei began training in judo at the Ann Arbor YMCA in 1968.  Beginning in 1979, he studied karate, aikido, and kung-fu at the Asian Martial Arts Studio, an Ann Arbor dojo where he was a member of the instructor’s training program and taught for a total of 10 years.

After earning his BA and MFA at the University of Michigan, Suino lived in Yokohama, Japan, between 1988 and 1992, where he studied judo, jujutsu (jujitsu), iaido (swordsmanship), and kyudo (archery).  He studied iaido at the home dojo of the late Yamaguchi-Katsuo, one of the greatest of the WWII generation swordsmen. In 1989, he was appointed secretary to the Foreign Department of the International Martial Arts Federation, Tokyo HQ. He was four-time All-Tokyo forms champion in iaido at his rank level between 1989 and 1992, and represented the Kanto region in the All-Japan tournament in Kyoto in 1992.  He continues to visit Japan regularly, visiting and training with some of the world's most respected instructors of aikido, iaido, judo, jujitsu, karate, and koryu bujutsu.

He is widely published in the martial arts, having sold over 50,000 copies of his books, including The Art of Japanese Swordsmanship, Practice Drills for Japanese Swordsmanship, Arts of Strength, Arts of Serenity, and its revised version, Budo Mind and Body, and Strategy in Japanese Swordsmanship. He is President of the Shudokan Martial Arts Association and a Michigan Regional Director for the US branch of the International Martial Arts Federation (IMAF-Americas). He was director of ITAMA Dojo in East Lansing, Michigan, from 1993 until 2003. In 2006, he returned to Ann Arbor to open the Japanese Martial Arts Center, a traditional dojo offering classes in Jujutsu (jujitsu), judo, iaido (swordsmanship), and kendo.

Suino Sensei has been called "one of North America's foremost martial arts teachers." His personal mission is to master the most profound aspects of Japanese heritage martial arts and pass them on to his students. He believes deeply that the principles of the martial arts can have a profound effect on the lives of those who train in them.

Taekwondo, Kenpo Karate, Hapkido

Master Vigil is a veteran of the martial arts with over 20 years of continuous training. He has earned over 80 gold medals world-wide in Taekwondo competition, including two Junior Olympics, a Collegiate National championship and nine state championships. Master Vigil is known for the exceptional power of his strikes, with many of his wins coming by knock out. He has also seen action as a security professional in high risk environments. This practical experience has given him an understanding of hand to hand combat that only comes through application.

Master Vigil began his training in 1988 in Kenpo Karate under the expert tutelage of Shihan Douglas Macdonald from Hudson, Massachusetts. There Master Vigil earned a first degree black belt. In 1994 he began his Taekwondo career under future U.S Olympic Team Head Coach, Master Han Won Lee. His training continued under 7 time Korean National Champion Jae Young Kim, World Champion Joo Hwan Kim, and two time World Champion Yung Suk Jung. He currently holds a 4th degree black belt in Taekwondo. Master Vigil has traveled extensively to train with various teachers in the martial arts and security fields. Presently he is the founder and operator of “Dan Vigil’s Academy of Taekwondo” in Northville, Michigan, which is the largest United States Taekwondo Association club in Michigan.

If you are looking for a stern, authoritarian martial arts instructor, you will not find it in Master Vigil’s classroom. He is easy going, patient, and often tries to be funny.

Jujutsu, Wrestling, Brazilian Jiujitsu, Kung-Fu

Holland-Senseis martial arts career began in 1988. He started training in Eishin-Ryu Iaido in January of 1998 under Nicklaus Suino Sensei, where he continues today. His interests in the Traditional martial arts have taken him to Aiki-Jujutsu (taught by the late Jeff Friedlis Sensei), Kodokan Judo and Nihon Jujutsu. In May of 2004, he began training in Nei Jia, the Internal Family of Chinese Martial Arts.

From 2004 to 2009, Dan Holland was the owner and instructor of the Institute of Traditional Asian Martial Arts in East Lansing, MI, where he taught Muso Jikiden Eishin-Ryu Iaido, Nihon Jujutsu, and Kodokan Judo. Currently, he teaches these arts at the Japanese Martial Arts Center in Ann Arbor, Mi, and is co-instructor of the Mixed Martial Arts Program at Dan Vigil's Academy of Taekwondo. He is also a member of the Shudokan Martial Arts Association and the International Martial Arts Federation.

Current Rankings:

3rd Dan: Muso Jikiden Eishin-Ryu Iaido
2nd Dan: Kodokan Judo
2nd Dan: Nihon Jujutsu

November 2009 - Present
Instructor, Japanese Martial Arts Center

November 2009 - Present
Instructor, Dan Vigil's Academy of Taekwondo

May 2004 - November 2009
Owner, Institute of Traditional Asian Martial Arts - East Lansing, MI

May 2004 to present
Nei Jia -- Internal Family of Chinese Martial Arts under Sifu Douglas Lawrence

2001 - March 2004
Aiki-goshin Jujutsu under the late Jeff Friedlis Sensei

1998 to present
Eishin-Ryu Iaido under Nicklaus Suino Sensei

1995 - 2003: Mid Michigan Academy of Martial Arts
2nd Degree Black belt under Instructor Steve Williams

1994 - 1999: Waverly Wrestling Team   
• 1998 Team Captain and Most Valuable Player
• 1997 Team Captain and Most Valuable Player
• 1998 CAC Wrestling  Champion
• 1996 Most Valuable Freshman       

1988 - 1992 Children's Tae Kwon Do under Gary Voss and Pat Flotka

Goju Ryu, Taekwondo, Krav Maga, Shorin Ryu, Wing Chun

Sam Larioza's martial arts training started in 1992 when he was lucky enough to start as a white belt in Morio Higaonna Sensei's karate dojo in San Diego. At the time he never knew that had stumbled upon one of the top karate teachers in the world. While supplementing his traditional karate training with other martial arts he appreciates being able to concentrate his karate studies under this one teacher.  Larioza Sensei earned his Shodan (first degree black belt) in Okinawa in 1998 and was awarded his Sandan (third degree) in Goju Ryu Karate by Higaonna Sensei in 2005.

Larioza Sensei's travels have allowed him to also train in Chinese Wushu, Japanese Shotokan Karate, Korean Tae Kwon Do (earning a second degree black belt), Israeli Krav Maga (Phase 2 Instructor)  and Okinawan Shorin Ryu with Seikichi Iha Sensei.

He opened his dojo in Fowlerville Michigan called "Ohana Karate" in 2003 and now has the largest and most successful martial arts school in Livingston County with over 325 students.  He is very active in the local schools and in the community serving on the Board of Director of the Fowlerville Business Association, as a Trustee on the Fowlerville Community School Board of Education and recruiting as a "Blue and Gold Officer" for the United States Naval Academy.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Randori: Free Practice, Competition, and Combat

Randori means "chaos taking" in Japanese, and may refer to any martial instance that involves two or more parties vying for a specific goal. As discussed in a previous post, the purpose of randori is to perpetuate chaos upon the opposition in order to perplex, deceive, overcome or overwhelm, so that victory may be taken decisively. Randori itself may be trisected into three distinct genre relevant to a respective setting: free practice in the dojo, competition in martial sport, and combat in battle. Every martial artist should keep in mind that these three genre are entirely different in character and impertinent outside their respective setting. 

Free Practice in the Dojo
In time of practice, without distraction,

Light in heart and light in limb,

Let us endeavor with full attention,

To concentrate our mind within.
-- Excerpt from "The Song of Judo" by Mifune Kyuzo

The  characters that compose the word dojo literally mean "the place for finding the way." So despite its militaristic influence, the martial arts dojo, dojang, or kwoon is above all an educational institution. The motivation for training the martial arts is different for every person, but essentially, the entire dojo population — both student and sensei — are there to learn. 

This holds predominately true in the practice of randori. Never forget it! Though every person in the dojo should participate in free practice with the intention of winning, they must do so under the pretext of study. Dojo randori is a time to explore safely in the company of trustworthy peers. Because taking a fall or a hit in the dojo is no ruinous defeat, one should make good use of the opportunity to test and chart unfamiliar territory. Clinging to a habitual technique merely narrows the perspective and encourages tunnel vision in the training process: Instead, one should experiment with alternative tactics, play outside the comfort zone, and remain unperturbed if a ploy is unsuccessful. The Tai Chi Chuan adage, "Invest in loss," rules high here, and correlates with the Western anecdote of Thomas Edison whose lightbulb failed 1000 times before it functioned properly. 

Most importantly, the martial arts student should follow Mifune's advice, and engage in practice "light in heart and light in limb." The Dojo is not the place to rage balls out to show dominance over fellow students. It is not the place lose the temper. This by no means implies slow, low energy practice, but only a clear mind and a relaxed body will maximize the potential to learn.

Competition in Sport
You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.
--Albert Einstein

In recent years, the fusion of sports and the martial arts have hugely popularized numerous traditional disciplines. Judo, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, Boxing and Wrestling are probably most prevalent martial sports worldwide, and of course those and many others are hashed together in an amalgam of excitement in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

In the Japanese martial arts, sport competition is known as shiai. In shai, conditioning, coaching, and fluency of the game are the fastest routes to victory. Unlike in the dojo, the competitor's ring is not the place to explore. Instead, methods that are tried and true the surest way to go. Though they certainly have backups, many champions triumph through one or two skillful techniques that can be executed swiftly and seemingly from nowhere, because in the heat of competition, experimentation becomes a risk — it could result in loss or even injury — so rules are imposed and upheld by a referee or some other authority to protect the competitors.

Rules also oblige fair play and ensure the game runs smoothly and excitingly. They are restrictions, but they are necessary ones. Competitors who learn to best play within those bounds will most likely take the prize. 

Combat in Battle
Though a warrior may be called a dog or a beast, what is basic for him is to win.
--Asakura Soteki

Combat, to be sure, is an entirely different animal, where the safety of the opposite party is entirely ignored, and it is truly a skirmish of severe consequences. Never forget that free practice and competition are not combat — they are combat simulations for study or sport, and this distinction cannot be dismissed. In battle there is no referee to enforce the rules, and there is no agreement to sustain mutual welfare. This point is obvious, but sometimes easy to forget, after an accumulation of trophies or consistent victories in the dojo. 

One must always remember that study in the dojo and competition in martial sport are not meant to turn a person into a truly effective soldier. If that is the desire, then a modern military, composed of men and women who have actually put their lives on the line and employed the most technologically advanced weapons, is the only place to go.  

In any case, the mindset for sport, study, and combat must always be appropriate to the setting! On the battlefield Soteki's dictum makes perfect sense; when the whistle blows, follow Einstein's advice; and in the dojo, we should always sing Mifune's song. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kata and Randori

It is very important to make the distinction that ulterior motive of the martial exchange is victory; else the exchange may be classified as education or dance, but it cannot be called martial. It is also important to note that victory does not necessarily equate to destruction or even domination — it simply means that one party's intention is brought to fruition despite an opposing party's resolve, and may even appear submissive, manifesting as escape or evasion, provided it works for future advantage. To fulfill this objective, the martial arts are often studied in dichotomy: On the one hand, they are explicated through the orderly rehearsal of systematic technique, and on the other, they are implemented through the chaotic progression of contest. Both approaches fuel each other like a pair of churning gears, and without either a martial system may be classified as a discipline or skill, but it cannot be labeled as art.

In the Japanese martial arts, ordered practice is called kata, which literally means "form." It's Chinese equivalent is taolu, and it's Korean equivalent is poomsae. Essentially, form is the manipulation of a body in order to achieve a specific goal. These manipulations define the manner in which the martial art may move, transition, and generate power, and are often practiced solo in martial arts like karate, tae kwon do and tai chi chuan, or practiced with a partner in martial arts like judo and jujutsu

Kata emphasizes perfection and principle and adheres to strict guidelines that should not be blurred. It is designed to simulate a martial exchange between two or more individuals, and to provide examples of solutions to common martial problems — such as a response to a strike, grab, or some other potential threat. Buried within these solutions is the essence of the martial art. Though dedicated study and familiarization of form, the martial artist learns to function within the framework established by the kata. The goal, then, is not to accumulate a mass of specific solutions to ply against specific attacks, but pursue victory within the boundaries described by the form. In other words, it is about techniquenot, about techniques.

On the reciprocal, free practice in the Japanese martial arts is called randori, which literally means "chaos taking." Randori emphasizes spontaneous change and development, the solution of puzzles on the fly, and the complication of an opposing party disputing every move. In English we would call it sparring, but I think randori is a better word because of the meaning it semantically implies. During randori, it is the martial artist's objective to perpetuate chaos upon the opposition in order to perplex, deceive, overcome or overwhelm, so that victory may be taken decisively. 

But paradoxically, victory cannot be taken decisively during randori without an understanding of technique, and technique cannot be understood without the interaction of randori. Thus over time, these apparently opposite studies begin to meld together and lose their distinction as opposites. During an exchange, victory may manifest as a legitimate technique not because the martial artist intended to do that technique, but rather because the martial artist moved, transitioned, or generated power in a manner prescribed by the form. So even though kata and randori approach of the martial arts from opposite angles, they study components that exist in unison during the actual exchange. The martial artist whose randori looks like kata and whose kata looks like randori has truly realized this distinction: That the heart of the exchange in the martial arts is the maintenance of order in the self — via the framework of kata — and the instillation of chaos in the opposition — via the interaction of randori.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Kuzushi — Off-Balancing and Upsetting

Sun Tsu wrote, "The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable." There is certainty in the fact that it is complicated and risky to besiege an opponent who is poised and prepared for conflict. In such a case, a direct attack would ultimately lead to a struggle of speed and strength, and that is only efficient when one's own martial faculties substantially outclass the rival's. Thus it stands that in order to mount an intelligent offensive against a coordinated adversary, one must fist aggravate the opposing position in order to generate a vulnerability. 

This general strategy may be factored down from large-scale military operations to one-on-one contests and adapted to dojo settings for study. In an open area uncluttered by environmental elements or other structural impediments, we can further simplify the strategy by referring to one's position as one's posture. 

In the martial arts, a formidable posture is one that is relaxed, mobile, and adaptable to capricious circumstance. It's fundamental prerequisite is that the body's center of balance is maintained and focally coordinated by the hips and waist.  

In the Japanese martial arts, affecting the opponent's posture is known as kuzushi — literally, it is upsetting or disturbing balance. A skillful implementation of kuzushi is the gateway to clean and successful technique, especially in grappling and throwing martial arts like judo, jujutsu and aikido. The idea is to displace the opponent's physical center away from the hips and waist to instigate a moment of postural discordance that frustrates the opponent's ability to competently respond. It is within this interval of weakness that the martial artist may effectually attack.

The interval is usually small, and a skillful opponent will reorganize swiftly. For this reason, countless opportunities presented by kuzushi are lost in practice, especially when both parties are intent on maintaing proper form. An intricate exchange in judo or jujutsu randori may even seem dull to onlookers when neither contestant is attempting to submit or throw — but this is because the adroit martial artist knows that a burst of effort without the advantage of kuzushi will likely result in energy spent on failure. But when kuzushi is fully realized and plied, a match can end abruptly in an exciting moment of decision.  

So kuzushi is often a ploy used to lure the opponent to his own demise. It is called hando no kuzushi when engineered as a consequence of an overreaction or a miscalculated response. A typical grappling example would be if I push, then pull suddenly to upset my opponent as he pushes back. In striking martial arts like karate, tae kwon do, and boxing, hando no kuzushi tends to manifest as a feint — ie, I sham a powerful blow to entice the opponent to block, then pull the attack before contact. The opponent, expecting considerable impact, overreacts and stumbles into an interval of vulnerability. 

One final and important note is that kuzushi is not strictly confined to the physical domain. The most devious and potent application of off-balancing occurs within the opponent's mind. To truly disorient, baffle, or mislead the opposition is the shortest route to victory. Sun Tzu also writes, "All warfare is based on deception."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Independent and Environmental Training

There are two indispensable educational requirements for the serious student's lifelong investigation of the martial arts: The first is consistent, hands-on direction from a qualified and experienced instructor, and the second is reliable access to space appropriate to the study at hand. There is absolutely no substitute for these two components, and if either is lacking, potential declines. Unsafe and unsanitary surroundings can only speckle development with unpredictable periods of downtime, and even a dedicated and effortful plunge into the world of instructional video and martial literature will fail to raise aptitude beyond mediocrity, no matter how perspicuous or comprehensive the material, because martial skill is functionally transmitted via human interaction. That being said, significant insight may be gleaned when the serious student supplements his or her education outside the norm of structured class with independent experimentation and/or training in alternate environments. 

The advantage of independent training lies the absence of distraction. It is immersion into a setting where one can explore the sequential or random permutations of form without the preoccupation of external interference. Solo, this is accomplished within a mental construct — ideas and gambits shape the mind in response to imaginary opponents or obstacles, and consequently, the body changes to adapt. It is a kind of mental-physical brainstorming that is no different than dance regulated by martial principles. The goal, then, is to test these ideas later during human interaction and study how they work. Those that do not should be tossed to the wind; those that do should be explored and refined, in order to personalize the martial art and make it one's own.  

Such an exercise is obviously ideal for Internal Chinese Martial Arts like Tai Chi Chuan and Ba Gua Chang, or external striking martial arts like Karate-do or Tae Kwon Do, but it is no less useful for grappling martial arts like Judo and Jujutsu provided the practitioner keeps in mind the exercise is a study of form. Form is essentially the intentional manipulation of a body to achieve a specific goal. While it is probably impossible to learn a technique such as seoi nage without actually throwing another human being, it is not so difficult to shadow the form and speculate how the exchange might transform based on an opponent's measures to struggle or evade.

The advantage of environmental training is that it introduces external complications normally absent within the traditional martial arts school. At the dojang, Tae Kwon do students are fortunate to train on flat and even flooring; at the dojo, judoka are fortunate to grapple on soft mats devoid of gravel and asphalt. It is a fact that the game evolves dramatically when beset with precarious footing and other physical obstruction. It is not so easy for iadioka or kenjutsuka to swing a sword when ceilings are low, and students of Hsing-I Chuan may find rooting significantly less manageable upon icy roads or dry sand. One's capacity to operate in the heat and the cold are further factors to consider, in conjunction with the fact that clothing and attire will adjust to match the temperature. 

Such environmental complexities should be explored, because they amplify deficiencies in the martial artist's freedom to efficiently adapt his or her form -- and that is essentially the heart of the martial arts, whether one's primary focus is self defense or self improvement. As Miyamoto Mushashi often said, "You must investigate this throughly."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Go Buy Some Pepper Spray

Apart from teaching traditional martial arts at the Japanese Martial Arts Center in Ann Arbor, and a Mixed Martial Arts class at Dan Vigil's Academy of Tae Kwon Do in Northville, I periodically travel around the state of Michigan to offer private seminars in self defense. At all of these, the first thing I do is recommend Pepper Spray.

The stuff is good. It is very easy to use, inexpensive, and especially effective. This I can vouch from personal experience.

See, back in the day, I trained at a dojo in East Lansing, Michigan. My sensei at the time sold martial arts equipment out of the school: dogi, katana, various Okinawan Kobudo weapons (like tonfa, nunchacku, bo, that sort of thing), along with other such neat martial arts gear. Among the paraphernalia was pepper spray. 

So there was this guy, who we'll call, I dunno, let's say "Dave." One day, Dave said something along the lines of, "Hey Sensei, I'd like to be pepper sprayed." And he said this right next me, right in front of Sensei. In retrospect, I am certain this masochistic interest spawned from genuine youthful stupidity, but at the time it seemed a blatant declaration of manliness, and there was no way in hell I was going to let him revel in all the glory. So I put him in his place by saying something like, "Oh yeah? Well, I want to be pepper sprayed, too."

Sensei had no problem with this. In fact, I got the feeling he thought it was a good idea. We met some time later at his house in the country, and bunch of fellow judo and aiki jujutsu students tagged along to enjoy the show. 

It goes down like this: 

I try to insist that I'm going first, but Dave is like, no way man, this was my idea, back off. All right, fine. 

So Sensei gives him a long, satisfying blast. Dave goes down clawing his eyes in a flurry of waffling howls, and is none too happy, let me tell you. Meanwhile, the sounds emanating from the spectating ring of martial artists and dojo people are not those of concern, but hilarity. This is the point where my manliness retrogrades to preadolescence, and I start scoping the landscape for imminent camouflage. Unfortunately, we're in an open field, and Dave is calling attention to my person by paradoxically yelling, "Don't do it! Don't do it!" and "Now it's your turn!" 

Indeed it was. 

I must report: Pepper Spray ƒµ©%|π§ hurts. A lot. Your eyes feel like they've been fraternized with a handful of rusty caltrops, and for the first few minutes, you can't even open them. You can pry back your eyelids with your fingers if you want, but all you're going to see is pain, and pain is remarkably blurry. To make matters worse, this ridiculous ordeal transpired during the relentless heat of summer, and us clever young boys, in an effort to forestall an extra load of laundry, abandoned our shirts to receive the spray. Thus the tenacious liquid voyaged from our faces, down our necks, and on to our chests and bellies, leaving mean red splotches of irritated skin that burned like beestings in the sunlight. And it took a long time to stop hurting. 

In conclusion: If you want a safe, legal, effective, inexpensive, and easy means to defend yourself, go buy some pepper spray. It will be worth it. 

And if you happen to see Dave strolling along the sidewalk, spike him squarely in the eyes with a thick stream of spray as punishment for making me challenge his call. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Breathing, Standing, and Walking

Think “Martial Arts.” 

What comes to mind? Dojo and dogi? Punches, kicks, joint-locks and throws? Ripped Asian dudes duking it out in a bloody fusillade of fisticuffs and meteoric death blows? Yeah, that’s certainly the fun stuff, but I am going to speculate it is not the heart of the matter. I would argue, in fact, that the combative abilities and amazing feats of the true, mastered martial artists ramify from a simple, underlying source.

Recently at the Japanese Martial Arts Center, Nicklaus Suino Sensei ended a Nihon Jujutsu session with a reminder that the martial arts are all about the fundamentals. He made reference to this military maxim: There are no advanced techniques; only advanced applications of the basics. There is so much wisdom in this, and his explanation reminded me of my kung fu teacher, Sifu Douglas Lawrence of the Internal Arts Association of Michigan, who often remarks with some levity that he is really just showing us how to breathe, stand and walk. Sifu Lawrence’s new students tend to chortle agreeably at the apparent joke: because everyone knows how to breathe, stand and walk. Right? That may be. But I’m going to be a killjoy here and point out that most people not very good at it. 

Visit the local supermarket, gas station, laundromat; note the population of slouched and inverted postures; compare with those that are upright and relaxed; frown disappointedly at the ratio. I hate to broach the genre, but visit the local martial arts school, and admit it: In many cases, the ratios correlate. 

The breath and the posture are the two aspects of the martial arts that, regardless of style, should always be kept in mind. How much more so when we are moving! Bad posture promotes bad breathing. Bad breathing ruins stamina. How can one even begin to implement the boundless techniques and gambits of the martial arts when these two components are lacking? 

The neat thing is that the breath and posture can always be practiced, wherever you are, whatever you are doing. In The Book of Five Rings, Miymoto Musashi, a famous swordsman of medieval Japan, declares that the martial artist should make the martial body and the everyday body the same. As a martial artist, this is something I endeavor to do. As I type right now, I try to straighten my spine, relax my shoulders, and breathe from my lower abdomen. When I forget my posture, and it caves — like it does when I stumble with words and go crying to the thesaurus — I repair it as soon as I realize it is broken. 

To those of you who follow suit: Just don’t get too carried away and do silly stuff like drop into a twist-stance while you’re waiting in line at Meijer. Take my word for it. People will look at you funny, and parents will move their children elsewhere. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Intensive Hsing-I Ch’uan Seminar in East Lansing, Michigan

The Internal Arts Association of Michigan will be holding a "Hsing I Ch'uan Intensive" Seminar on Saturday, August 28th. This will be an all-day event from Noon to 6:30pm.

Please see for more information!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ettiquette; Rei; the Bow

Traditional martial arts, particularly those of Japanese origin, are structured within a framework of foreign ceremony and intricate formality that is open to the charge of being outdated and upheld by the pedantic. Such modes of conduct are certainly archaic, but they are an inherent characteristic of the martial discipline, and are as important to the field as body mechanics and tactical know-how. 

Why? The easy answer is tradition, but it is not a very good one. To simply mimic the actions of those who came before us without import is perhaps a waste of time. Were tradition the only reason to adhere to dojo protocol, I'd be arguing on the other side of the fence. Etiquette develops necessarily, not aimlessly. The evolution of culture and ritual is a symbiosis. 

The most prolific gesture throughout the Asian martial arts is of course the bow. Our Western counterpart is the handshake, but the bow and the handshake engender slightly different connotations. A handshake implies mutual balance and position — both parties stand upright and converge eye-to-eye. A proper bow bends from the waist, displacing the balance forward and lowering the line of vision. This gesture implies deference, which is critical in the martial setting. 

The bow cannot be neglected. It must always be sincere. Great care and fastidious effort must be poured into its refinement, because the bare-bones, primordial implementation of physical martial technique is fierce: We hit each other, we choke each other, we toss each other to the ground; we swing sticks, brandish swords and exchange a gamut of sophisticated bodily punishment. Without an honest and sincere demonstration of respect before and after an exchange, before and after class, we risk the creation of a contentious environment that promotes brawling and discourages mutual benefit. In a dojo, that environment makes no sense. In a military, that environment enkindles mutiny. 

This concept is not too difficult to grasp, and most martial artists get it. But what about bowing to inanimate objects? Bowing to the shomen or to our weapons seems to suggest a religious or even cultish connotation to those viewing from the outside in, and indeed I have assuaged skeptical newcomers and concerned parents re the topic. Amusingly, the word "heathen" once surfaced during a discussion with an unhappy mother. 

The word dojo is composed of two Chinese characters: do, which means "road," "path" or "way;" and jo, which means "place." Dojo, then, literally means "the place for finding the way." We do not bow to the shomen and those who came before in order to idolize it or them — our bow is an acknowledgement of the setting we are in, and an expression of thanks for what was left to us. It's like hitting a reset button on the brain that clears our memory banks of excess flotsam: Deferential focus at the beginning of the task, deferential thanks at the end. 

So why do we bow to our weapons? Why do we bow, for instance, to the sword? I have heard much propaganda that the sword was considered the soul of the samurai, that his life depended on it's maintenance, and therefore it was critical to his profession. This information seems accurate enough, but it is no longer the case today. The likelihood that my fate or your fate is going to be determined by a a clash of polished razor blades three feet in length is no more than goofy at best. Today we bow to the sword because it is essential to our training. Without the sword, or whatever weapon we practice, we could not study the art. This is true even for art forms wherein one's body mechanics persist regardless of armament — such as Kali or Arnis — because the weapon teaches the empty-hand techniques just as much as the empty-hand techniques teach the weapon. The weapon must therefore be cared for, kept up, and handled with respect, just like those warriors who employed it in the past. 

And in every case, the study begins and ends with deference. What better way to engage in the praxis of learning? 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Japanese Martial Arts Center's 4th Anniversary!

On June 26th, 2010, the Japanese Martial Arts Center of Ann Arbor, Michigan celebrated its 4th Anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, there were three martial arts demonstrations: First was a free-form bokken fencing bout featuring techniques inspired by Muso Jikiden Eishin-Ryu Iaido; next was a display of Nihon Jujutsu randori, wherein multiple attackers were repelled by means of throws and joint locks; and finally was a Judo demonstration of Nage ura no Kata, a systematized form of counter-throws originally developed by the renown Mifune Kyuzo
Following the demonstrations, JMAC students who tested the previous week participated in rank graduations. Quite a few were awarded black belt ranks, including Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt), Nidan (2nd Degree Black Belt), and even two Yondan (4th Degree Black Belt)! 

The day ended with a delicious Potluck Dinner, with a plethora of tasty contributions! Congratulations to the Japanese Martial Arts Center and to all those who tested!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Some Humble Advice for Martial Artists Who Wear Contacts

I wear contacts, and the most annoying feature of such a crutch is that they tend pop out during martial arts classes. This is a regular enough occurrence that, as long as I’ve had my coffee in the morning, I am typically able to snatch the recalcitrant deserter before it finds the ground. Of course, if my reflexes are poor, then I have to scour the mat like a cyclopic woodland creature until I find the damn thing. It’s no big deal when this happens during informal practice — I just excuse myself and take care of the problem. But I hate to excuse myself during free practice. There is something present in the confines of my brain, most likely influenced by testosterone and the pride I take in the image of my own manliness, that impedes my ability to display such weakness at fight time. 

Do you suffer from the same affliction? Well, let me advise you: If you manage to snatch the contact from the air before it hits the ground, okay, fine, put it back in if you’re in the moment and don’t want to look like you’re wussing out. It’ll be uncomfortable. Deal with it. But allow me to share a bit of accumulated wisdom that could potentially steer all you contacting-wearing martial artists from a great deal of trouble and/or death: If the contact does, in fact, contact the ground, don’t just pick it up and put back in. Go clean it off first. 

“What do you know,” you might ask? Well, here’s a good story:

I’m doing Push Hands in my Internal Kung Fu class, and my training partner hits me in the eye. My contact bails and I’m not swift enough to catch it. The good news is that I note exactly where it lands. Certainly by now there has been enough foreshadowing for you to guess that it goes back in my eye without hesitation. I do this as if to say to my partner “See? I get hit in the eye all the time. Doesn’t bother me at all.”

We continue to push, and a few moments later my nose starts running. That’s irritating, but not debilitating. Then my throat starts hurting, but whatever, I can get a pack of cough drops across the street for a buck. Then my eye swells shut. 

At this point I do excuse myself and wash the contact, which is difficult because the eye is quite puffy and the swelling has migrated to my throat, making it difficult to breathe. Someone tells me I need to go to the hospital. I respond that I need to do more push hands — and I try, but as most martial artists know, one suffers a distinct, competitive disadvantage when one can’t breathe, so I go to the hospital. 

The doctor sees me right away, despite a busy emergency room packed with people complaining they’d been waiting for hours. In my case this is favorable, because by now my face is a balloon and my throat is essentially closed. As she pumps me full of steroids, benadryl, and other magical fluids via IV, the doctor explains that I’ve suffered a severe allergic reaction to whatever had been on my contact, and in a polite, maternal voice points out that its reinsertion sans proper cleaning had been life-threateningly stupid. I concur, and enjoy a full recovery thirty minutes later. 

So, what’s the moral of the story? I don’t know. Get laser eye surgery, I guess. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Mid-Michigan Martial Arts Summit

The first Mid-Michigan Martial Arts Summit was a resounding success! Thirty-six students from three different schools attended this exciting seminar on self defense. 

Session 1

The event was hosted by Master Dan Vigil on May 23rd at his dojang, Dan Vigil's Academy of Taewkondo, in Northville, Michigan. Master Vigil instructed the first session of the Summit, which focused on kicking. I must say I was very impressed with Taekwondo-style kicks, specifically the front kick, the side kick, and the back kick. The speed and power that result from the mechanics of the technique are incredible.

What is most interesting, and admittedly difficult to coordinate, is that the heel of the base leg has to point at the target. This means that when kicking, the base leg has to pivot via a rotation of the hips. The other requirement is that the knee of the base leg has to fully extend upon impact, maximizing the extension of the kick. I was very fortunate to attend this session, because I never would have thought to throw a kick this way — and without seeing it done, would never have understood why it was technically sound. 

Session 2

The second section of the summit was instructed by Sam Larioza Sensei, whose heads Ohana Karate in Fowlerville, Michigan. Larioza Sensei is a practitioner of Goju-Ryu Karate and Krav Maga. His session covered Krav Maga defenses against a choke from the side, an attack from a wide swing with a stick or knife, and when held at gunpoint from behind. 

Despite my many years of training, I have never participated in Krav Maga. It is quite direct, although this should not be surprising due to the fact that it is a modern military combative system. We practiced techniques that involved "grabbing the head like a bowling ball," as Larioza Sensei put it — the thumb is shoved beneath the chin, and the fingers dig into the opponent's eyes. I personally find bowling uninteresting, but I got in this. It was really great instruction, and the session ended like so: We stood with our eyes closed while the instructors moved around the room making loud noises. At one point they even turned off the lights! Then someone would launch a random attack with little warning, and based on the lesson, we had to respond accordingly.  

Session 3

After breaking for lunch, we returned to training with Nicklaus Suino Sensei of the Japanese Martial Arts Center located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Sunio Sensei demonstrated the methods of executing and preventing throws and takedowns in a very intuitive way. The gist of the session was understanding the Strong Line and the Weak Line. 

The Strong Line is a basically an imaginary line you can envision running from one foot to the other. It is strong because you can send and absorb a reasonable amount of force in the direction of the line. The Weak Line can be envisioned by running an imaginary line between your feet. It is weak because you can send and absorb very little force along the line. 

So, in order to effect an efficient throw or takedown, the general goal is to place your Strong into your opponent's Weak Line. The idea is the same to thwart the opponent's attack. The advantage of thinking this way is that you can take this very simple concept immediately into application. Sunio Sensei's session ended with a bit of randori — free practice — and everyone, even those not used to throwing and takedowns, did really well!

Session 4

I taught the final session of the day. My lesson focused on ground grappling. In such a situation, the first necessity is to establish position. Only after your position has been secured can you work for a submission. 

We covered two very common holds — the mount (tate-shiho-gatame) and the side control (yoko-gatame). Following Suino Sensei's lesson in throws and takedowns, these two pins were natural progressions. 

From the mount we worked the Arm Triangle and transitioned it into kata-gatame, the Shoulder Hold. What better time to work a choke when you've been training and sweating all day! From the side control we moved on to a top-side and bottom-side ude-garami, also known as the Kimura and the Americana in Brazillian Jujutsu. We ended the day with ude-hishigi-ude-gatame — the Straight Arm Bar.  

All in all, it was a really great day. We trained from 10am to almost 5:30pm with a half-hour lunch break in the middle. The cost of the seminar was only $89 per person — which is a steal. I look eagerly forward to the next Mid Michigan Martial Arts Summit!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Royce Gracie Seminar

On Saturday, May 8th, I had the opportunity to travel to London, Ontario with a group from the Japanese Martial Arts Center and attend a Brazilian Jujutsu seminar instructed by Royce Gracie, who is one of the most widely-known BJJ practitioners due to his undisputed dominance in the first four Ultimate Fighting Championships. It was a funny coincidence that the UFC 113 went down later that night, and it was a great experience to train with the original champion. 

I have to say that I really enjoyed the seminar, and I was impressed by Mr. Gracie's unambiguous teaching style. He was readily available to answer questions, and he vigilantly circled the area to ensure techniques were being applied correctly. Regardless of his fighting background, he was very straightforward and systematic, and in fact stressed the point that excessive speed, strength and roughness were not appropriate in the training environment.

The focus of the seminar was to maintain a consistent offense toward the opponent. It began with a takedown that secured the mounted position, and from there, flowed sequentially like a kata: Launch an attack, and if the opponent defends, launch an attack to take advantage of his defense. 

We spent a good amount of time on each technique, and at the end of the lesson we went all the way though, from the initial takedown to the final submission. 

The day ended with a bit of free sparring among the participating students. While I am normally pretty passive in competition and free practice, Mr. Gracie made it a point to let him know the victor of the exchange, so the testosterone in me demanded an accumulation of taps. After winning four exchanges, Mr. Gracie told three of us from our group — Suino Sensei, Joe and I — to "Put on a Blue Belt."

Though it may be difficult to understand without having attended the seminar, here are some notes I took: 
1) From the Mount:
-> Arm Triangle (like tate-shiho-gatame in Judo)
2) If the opponent is able to defend:
-> Switch your arms around the opponent's neck and grab the wrist of the arm stuck across his face. Pull it taught and roll him face downward.
-> Lift his forehead and apply a Rear Naked Choke (hadaka-jime)
3) If the opponent successfully prevents you from rolling him over:
-> Change to Side-Mount
-> Create space between the arm and the opponent's neck so that you can grab it with your other hand
-> Lean forward will all your weight on the the opponent's arm
-> Bring your opposite leg over the opponent's head and apply a Straight Arm Bar ( ude-hishigi-ude-gatame )
4) If the opponent grabs his wrist to defend the Arm Bar from the Side Mount:
-> Create space between the arm and the opponent's neck so that you can feed an arm through to open his collar
-> With your other hand, release the opponent's wrist and grab deeply into the opened collar
-> Sliding Collar Choke ( okuri-eri-jime)
5) If the opponent defends by pulling his elbows in tightly, thus making it difficult to create space for the choke from the Side Mount:
-> Grab the wrist around his neck with both hands
-> Lean forward, and bring the leg behind him tight to his body
-> Lean backward, and roll the opponent onto his opposite side
-> Take the opponent's back, and position him directly on top of you
-> Lift his forehead and apply a Rear Naked Choke (hadaka-jime)
6) If the opponent leans forward, so that you can't reach to choke him from his back:
-> Place one leg around his waist, the other on his thigh
-> Place an arm at the side of his head
-> Roll toward that side and swing the leg on his thigh over his head
-> Apply a Straight Arm Bar ( ude-hishigi-ude-gatame )
7) If the opponent grabs the arm you are attacking with his other hand and hugs it to his chest, making it difficult to reverse his elbow:
-> Place the leg not over his head onto his hand
-> Place your arm that is under his elbow on your thigh
-> Break the grip by pushing your leg on his hand and levering your arm against your thigh
-> Apply a Straight Arm Bar ( ude-hishigi-ude-gatame )
8) If the opponent grabs the arm you are attacking with his other hand but does not keep them close to his chest:
-> Weave the leg not over his head between the arms
-> Lift his head and pinch it tightly between your hand and knee
-> Roll back and apply a Triangle Choke ( sankaku-jime)