Peace Means Having A Bigger Stick

Sure, the title is a quote from Robert Downey Jr. as he played Tony Stark. But wisdom often comes from the most unlikely sources. Today, I’d like to touch on a martial art style known as Kali.

Depending on your course, this style of martial art may be referred to as Escrima or Arnis. I have come to know it as Kali because of it’s attachment to Kempo karate, which is the style I currently study and train with.

Because RIOKK has roots in Hawaii (RIOKK means Regina Institute of Kempo Karate, by the way), there is a significant Filipino influence on the style. As such, the school tends to train with the Kali sticks a great deal.

Kali is extremely versatile and offers a number of variations unlike most weapons I’ve seen in the martial arts. It can apply to the sticks, machetes, blades and even empty hands. Just to be clear, my main focus over the past three decades has been empty-hand combat. I’ve had very little experience in weaponry with the exception of the samurai sword, which I have trained with in depth.

But since training with the RIOKK school, I’ve started training extensively with Kali sticks. It’s a whole different ball game when you start fighting with a stick in your hands as opposed to empty-handed. How much more basic can you get than fighting with a stick? Since the times of our ancient ancestors, using a stick to fight has been an expected tactic. Spears, lances and similar weapons that have evolved from the use of a basic stick all demonstrate that Kali can and should be considered as an effective weapon.

Some background information can be read through Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnis

An example of wooden rattan kali sticks

Listen, I’m still an empty-hand guy, no doubt. But if I HAVE to use a weapon, it may as well be a weapon that can be accessed anywhere, right? Any old stick will do with this fighting art. Sometimes the simplest methods are the best. ☯

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How Buddha Got His Groove Back

Well, Labour Day weekend has come and gone in Canada. Kids are back in school and with the start of school comes the re-opening of the karate dojo I train with here, in Regina. We usually close for the summer as the school gymnasium we rent isn’t available during the summer break. Last night was my return to class after a couple of months without training.

For those of you who read my posts religiously (I’m assuming everyone does!), I wrote a post a week ago about how in recent months, I seem to have fallen off the rails, fitness-wise. There are a number of reasons behind this, but needless to say I’ve been hammering out a few workouts at home since I wrote that post in an effort to try and get myself back on track.

Last night’s opening adult class was the icing on the cake. The reason I specify that it was the adult class is because the other black belts had the advantage of having trained at the kids’ class last Saturday. So they were full of piss and proverbial vinegar, ready to go. Meanwhile, I suffered just a BIT more. Let’s see if my vocabulary is eloquent enough to describe the experience…

I was the second one there, preceded only by Master Harding. He was setting everything up and we chatted for a few moments about our respective summers. It was good to be back and I was anxious to see how many of the students would actually show up.

I started with some casual stretches and experienced a sound akin to several hundred mousetraps going off at once! I felt muscles pull and realized that despite the workouts I’ve performed at home recently, last night’s class would put me through the paces.

The class was small but energetic. There were two other black belts besides Master Harding and myself. We spent almost forty minutes stretching, warming up and practicing techniques as a class. I recognized how out of shape I truly was.

By the end of the class, my movements were so sloppy that it almost looked as though I was performing some sort of dance that seemed to be a combination of an Irish jig, square dancing and twerking! By the time we closed and everyone bowed out, I was spent.

Needless to say, I’m in a reasonable amount of pain this morning. But it’s a good pain. It felt good to get back at it and practice the martial arts in a class environment. Next class is Thursday and I’m looking forward, despite moaning and groaning. ☯

How Not To Get Your A$$ Kicked…

I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve been doing martial arts for more years than I haven’t. In those decades, I’ve seen some pretty incredible things and have used martial arts to help deal with a number of situations. And most of those situations weren’t fighting.

Most people consider the martial arts to be a fighting art. Although this may true on some respects, this isn’t the reason why they were originally created.

Depending on who you speak to, and what their sources are, the martial arts are believed to be several thousands of years old. Their origins are believed to be rooted in China or India, although there is some debate on which of these two cultures developed it first.

Ultimately, the Shaolin monks in China originally created what is known as their version of the martial arts as a means of staying fit and in shape. It was also considered a means of defending the monasteries if it became necessary. My style of karate is a descendent of this Chinese style.

These days, thanks to mainstream cinema and other forms of media, the martial arts is often viewed strictly as a fighting art. It would be remiss of me not to mention that the concept of the Mixed Martial Arts has unfortunately deepened this view.

“Discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm” – Joe Clark

But it is true that traditional martial arts has a deeper purpose than simply being able to clear a room of enemies in epic empty-hand battles. The martial arts has shown to improve circulation, maintain proper health and body weight and increase confidence and personal discipline.

Certainly, over the past thirty years I’ve enjoyed the increased benefits of karate in regards to my health and Diabetes. Training hard and consistently has allowed me to be the exception to the Diabetic rule. Unlike most people afflicted with Type 1 for as long as I have, I still have a clean nervous system, clean cardiovascular and renal function. My circulatory system is also clean and clear and I don’t usually have the foot and extremity problems that most type 1 Diabetics have.

Karate has certainly been good to me over the past thirty years and has provided a wide variety of benefits, health-wise and even professionally. And if I were to recount the instances where I used it for actual fighting, I can probably count the number of physical fights on one hand. I’ve come to find that once you’ve trained long enough, the need to fight actually becomes less and less.

No matter what your reasons are for being in the martial arts, make sure that those reasons are for you and and for the betterment of yourself and those around you. If one’s only desire is to fight, there are sports in which one can indulge those desires. Martial arts is not the place for it. ☯

Respect Is The Foundation Of The Martial Arts

Lyndon B. Johnson once wrote, “Yesterday is not ours to recover. but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” People often point out that it’s important to remember where we came from, to remember our past. Sometimes that past is not a clear, especially depending on the source.

The martial arts are incredibly old; several thousand years old, in fact. This is taking into consideration some of the paintings and artifacts that demonstrate striking and fighting that originate anywhere between 2000 to 4000 years ago. But some studies have shown some to be even older, originating in China.

Trying to enumerate the number of martial arts styles as they exist today is almost impossible. Many people try to provide a composite list, but the reality is there will always be an offshoot of a mainstream style or an independent master who creates a style all their own. This makes it reasonably impossible to know EXACTLY how many different forms of martial arts there are.

That being said, every style has a story. For example, the origins of my karate style date back to the late 1890’s when the originator of my style fled Japan to escape the mandatory military conscription. He didn’t travel to Japan for the noble purpose of learning the martial arts or studying a mystic art; he fled from conscription.

There are little details like that one present in almost every style. Although not inherently good or bad, some of the details behind the history can lend a unique perspective into where the style will take you. But like an old fashioned game of “hot potato”, the same story can have different details after decades of being passed on through different sources.

Given that the average person has the world’s information at their fingertips via the internet, everyone is an armchair historian. Many students of the martial arts will read a background on something and think nah, that isn’t true… I’ve been guilty of that myself, on occasion.

It’s important to remember that some origins and backgrounds have been passed on through spoken word. And history has often shown that this is an ineffective means of accurately passing on information. After all, the next person may omit certain key details that are important, or only pass on that which they FEEL is important.

Even with today’s use of mainstream media and internet presence, many believe that their version of history becomes “the right one”, simply because they’ve published the book on it. But ultimately, what we learn is what we learn. Although I may be wrong regarding a detail about the style you’ve spent your life studying, it doesn’t mean that respect should immediately be cast aside.

There’s nothing wrong with teaching someone why their information is incorrect or what may be false about it; especially if you’ve studied it yourself. But it becomes wrong if you choose to be confrontational and refuse to have a rational discussion about it. After all, it’s really hard to know if you have the right information unless you were there. And I can almost guarantee there is no one left who was. ☯

“Grab” On To Some Facts 🥋

I know I tend to post a lot about medical issues, problems in society and how to improve your life. This is mostly because, well… That’s the blog! It’s often hard to cover off topics about Diabetes, medical and physical health and the suffering of humanity without touching on some negative aspects.

As such, I’ve decided to keep it short, sweet and light today. I found this photo on another blogging site and it made me smile. I figured any practitioners of the martial arts who are reading may get a kick out of it as well:

I think this is pretty funny, and quite accurate. But just to touch on the actual art of Jiu-Jitsu for a moment, here are five facts about the popular martial art that most people may not know or possibly get wrong:

  1. Jiu-Jitsu is not Brazilian. Despite its popularization through organizations like the UFC, Jiu-Jitsu (or Jujutsu) traces its roots back to Japan. When you hear the term “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu”, this refers to an adaptation of an older form of Judo;
  2. Jiu-Jitsu is not only a grappling style. Most forms of the martial art also use weapons and strikes. The idea behind the style was to be able to engage an enemy who may be attacking with a short range weapon, such as a short sword or stick. Traditional Jiu-Jitsu incorporates a number of stand-up techniques and it isn’t all about rolling on the mats;
  3. The name “Jiu-Jitsu” is a romanization spelling of the correct spelling, which is “Jujutsu”. And this term didn’t come into being until the early 1800’s. The term was used to encompass a number of grappling styles, empty-handed or not. In fact, one of the systems it covered was “the way of softness”, or Judo. This was almost two hundred years before Judo’s creation by Kano Jigoro;
  4. Jiu-Jitsu is at least partly responsible for the creation and development of multiple other martial arts styles, such as Aikido, Judo and Sambo. During its early existence, Jiu-Jitsu is credited with the creation of more than 2000 offshoots of the art. Some of these retained connections with Jiu-Jitsu while others have modified their techniques and differed their styles enough to no longer considering themselves a style of Jiu-Jitsu;
  5. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is descendant from Judo. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of the most popular forms of the art, given how much exposure it has received in mainstream media and the propagation of its teachings. Although an extremely effective art, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was developed after Judo was introduced in 1914.

Sure, maybe points #1 and #5 sort of touch on the same thing, but whatevs… It’s all good information, right? I’ve been doing the martial arts for long enough to know that there’s always something new to learn, and roots always go back further than what we assume is the beginning. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and find yourself a little something to help make you smile today. ☯

Hit Yourself But Don’t Wreck Yourself!

Martial arts is often steeped with mystery, and the methods used in traditional training can often look unorthodox and sometimes even dangerous, to the untrained eye. A good example of this is 1984’s The Karate Kid, where we see the wise, old karate teacher instructing the young protagonist the many techniques required to properly learn martial arts before competing in a karate tournament.

Although I’m a big fan of this classic piece of cinema, some of the techniques demonstrated in the movie seem a little, shall we say… off the wall? The thought of repetitively waxing a vehicle or sanding a wooden deck in order to properly learn how to block, falls a bit on the side of the ludicrous to a trained martial artist.

Or does it? Does anyone else believe this? I’m sure that lots of kids in the early 80’s suddenly agreed to wash and wax their dad’s car, in the hopes that it would help them learn karate (Light knows I offered to scrub the tile floors for my mother often enough after I saw this movie for the first time!)

My point is,… and believe me, I have one despite rambling on as I often do, some ACTUAL training techniques do look as ludicrous as the ones depicted by cinema. And the specific training tool I’m referring to in this post, is something referred to as body conditioning.

Body conditioning refers to the practice observed in Okinawa karate, of rubbing or striking the major muscle groups in order to harden and/or strengthen them. And even though this may sound ridiculous, 30 years of practicing Okinawan karate tells me that it is quite genuine, as I have lived it. And I still use body conditioning to this day.

Let’s think about it for a moment; when you perform intensive muscular exertion, such as weight lifting, you cause damage to the muscles. The repair of those muscles requires fibre and hormones that end up causing the muscles to be grown larger and stronger to prevent that same damage. The human body is pretty smart, in that regard.

Before I go any further, I’m going to reiterate that I have no formal medical training, and that you should consult a trained professional before starting any kind of fitness regiment. That being said, body conditioning, or “body pounding” as it has been referred to in some circles, follows very much the same principle as the effect of weight lifting.

By rubbing or pounding the major muscle groups on the outside of the arms, kegs and the abdominals and key target areas, you cause light damage to the muscle tissue requiring the same type of repair as weight lifting. The trick is to cause light muscular damage without bruising. Since Okinawan karate usually requires body conditioning to be done with a partner, the resistance adds a strength aspect to the training tool.

And no, before everyone gets excited, body conditioning won’t help you get ripped the same way as heavy weight lifting or hypertrophy workouts would. But it allows for the hardening of those muscle groups to create a natural “armour” that helps you properly and safely execute blocks against and receive strikes from an opponent.

Another good example of this, is rooted in the Japanese karate system of Kyokushinkai, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyokushin) that observes the practice of full-contact sparring as a general rule, in order to harden the muscles and overcome the fear of being struck.

Ultimately, the lesson I’m trying to impart tonight is that strange and unfamiliar methods of training can be genuine ones, and can lead to wonderful results. One needs only to be careful and never overreach. Train based on your abilities and always allow your body some time to heal.

After all, as general Choi Hong Hi once said, “Pain is the best instructor, but no one wants to go to his class.”

Hurts So Good…

What does it mean to be in pain? Well, from a strictly medical perspective, pain is when our sensory receptors send a signal through our nerve fibres , all the way up to our brains. Then the brain interprets the signal as pain. The human body uses this signal as an avoidance reflex, meaning it’s telling you that whatever you’re doing is harming your body and should be stopped. (Although not everyone is quick enough to stop hurting themselves, sometimes)

From a Diabetes standpoint, we experience a wide variety of pain. Neuropathy, open wounds that are extremely slow to heal and pain prior to numbness from lack of circulation are simply a few. And certainly not the worst.

It’s not always bad. From a fitness standpoint, pain can be a positive thing. SOME pain is necessary in order to help the body sculpt and grow. The idea here is to know when enough is enough and to stop before serious damage can occur.

But there’s one form of pain that is largely ignored in most circumstances. I’m talking about emotional pain. When something affects us in a negative way, we feel a sort of pain that is often very hard to describe. For some, it’s an increased feeling of fatigue. For others, it can manifest itself in any number of nasty ways including but not limited to, becoming ill, nausea, depression, problems with the digestive tract and even alcoholism or substance abuse. The expression “this breaks my heart” stems from the fact that one usually feels some discomfort in the pit of their abdomen during emotional distress.

The important thing to remember is that what hurts in your heart can also affect your body. Although that sounds a bit cheesy, it’s quite accurate. Sometimes we need to look at the big picture and acknowledge that the pain is going to happen, and take steps to help deal with it as opposed to ignoring it.

Ultimately, pain helps us grow. In any way, shape or form, it allows us to learn an develop. After all, imagine if as an infant you put your hands on a hot stove and it didn’t hurt… You’d likely leave your hand there and keep playing and critically damage your tissues. But by feeling the pain, you learn that “Oops! It hurts to touch the stove. Better stay away!” Most forms of pain will teach you something.

So ask yourself, what is my emotional pain teaching me? Am I doing something wrong, or something I disagree with? Or is it simply a case of doing the right thing? That can also be painful sometimes. Just remember that in grand scheme of things, nothing lasts forever; not even pain. ☯