Monday, November 19, 2007

Pimping a friend's artwork

Brian Snoddy is a friend of some of us in the TNBBC, and he's a very talented artist as well.
Check out some of his work at his webpage.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

You don't call, you don't write, you don't send flowers

I got a couple emails asking me to post more info, a summary technical how to really, about my workshop experience with Akuzawa and Rob John, his senior student.

My first response mentally was "Who cares what you want?" My second response mentally was "I don’t care what you want!" This is not just because I’m not a nice guy, it’s because it’s not meaningful to try and do that.

To start a discussion (or have any relevance in a post for my blog) there has to be a common ground. Once that common ground is there, meaning those involved understand: A) the terms as used by the instructor. B) The intent of what the instructor is trying to do is communicated. Then you can then start a discussion that has meaning using terminology in proper context. Sure, you can have a discussion with skilled or semi skilled people who have never met or touched hands, but there has to be a clear agreed upon understanding of the terminology as used by those in the discussion.

All too often, since the meaning of terms is so varied in how it is used in different groups, a discussion without that common ground will just turn into a steaming pile of crap. It gets pretty tedious to have an arrogant jerk continually saying "You don’t get it" and lashing out at others because others don’t use terms with the same exact narrow definition as said arrogant jerk.

So, start with a hands on session, then you can discuss what you did at the hands on meeting with more productive results using terminology as used by the group or the instructor being discussed. But that initial "hands on" is the starting point in general.

BTW, this applies for martial arts as well as team sports, where the skills are taught in a group but are developed via personal efforts. By personal effort, I mean each person’s native intelligence, work ethic, innate talent, and physical capabilities.

To truly function as a team, each team member has to understand the context each other team member brings to the party. For a dojo, each dojo member has to work to fit with the sensei’s social dynamic for the group and contribute their own in constructive ways. When this is done right, everyone benefits.

Back to our topic, I’ve had some passing experience with "internal arts" via Andy Dale, Harvey Kurland, Dave Harris. The approach they take is different from Ark’s but closely related as well. The problem comes about with those differences in approach and intent. Subtle but important differences can make a huge difference in how material is understood or misunderstood. So, you should try to absorb the instructors meaning and intent, not just overlay your own right away. Insert your favorite Asian metaphor here if you like.

As one example of what I mean, we did a workshop with Andy this last summer, I had enough familiarity with Andy to get his context in an exercise and why it was being done without much explanation. But a few others didn’t get the exercise since they were unfamiliar with Andy’s approach. They later told me they had the thought "This is bullshit" until they got a few minutes of hands on time and one on one explanation. Then, the thought became, "Oh, I get it, I should be doing…" and could understand the essential basics, maybe not the advanced ideas, of what the exercise was seeking to develop.

So, that’s another reason why I’m not responding to the requests. I’m sure don’t think I’m qualified to try and sum up Ark’s methods. I get much of the basic reasoning and intent, but not well enough to be talking about it all over the internet and email without misinterpretation, either on my side, or on yours. With more personal effort, I’ll hopefully develop a better understanding.

Training is always a work in process, and it’s important to frame the experience that goes with the explanation properly. So, if I were to have a discussion with one of the TNBBC dojo members, we try to preface explanations with qualifications. Such as "What I got from Andy was…" or "Here’s what I got from that drill we did with Ark…" or "From the Icho point of view, it’s like this…".

I’ve also had people ask me about Bernie Lau, Don Angier, and Jon Bluming. I’ve also glossed over those requests for any technical information with people I don’t know. If I know the person asking well enough to be sure they won’t take things out of context, it’s not a problem.

But for you who asked me for more details, this is why I didn’t respond. Online, it tends to bring out the stupid and arrogance in some people. Don’t believe me, go read aikiweb and some of the foolishness that can crop up there. Likewise, in emails, it’s easy to not get the proper context. Rather than have someone blab that "Neil said that…" without understanding a damn thing that was written in the proper context. So I just tend to ignore most requests.

Without understanding why I don’t respond to such requests, you would sure think I’m a major league conceited ass, wouldn’t you? Now that I have explained why you didn’t get a response, I may still be a major league conceited ass, but a major league conceited ass with a good rational reason for not responding.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Raiders of the not so lost Ark

Actually, it’s Akuzawa Minoru, who goes by the nickname Ark.

Just spent the weekend at the Akuzawa seminar and ‘twas oh so much painful fun for all. It’s nice to once again be a slightly below average intelligence guy in the mix of people on the mat instead of trying to teach when you have so much you want to work on for your own progress. The seminar once again conclusively proves "I suck" and I am only teaching because I suck a little bit less than the guys I teach in the TNBBC do.

While some of the material overlaps things I’ve been taught and try to practice, the approach Ark teaches is different enough to make me get tunnel vision in trying to piece his teachings together in my own head and body. That is, I focus too much on getting on one part, while screwing up the rest, thereby screwing up the whole exercise. I should know better but obviously still screw up a lot. I don’t really mind that happening since that’s how we learn. But I’ll still bitch about it. The goal is just to screw up less as you go.

For anyone who has debated going to see Akuzawa, I highly recommend you do. First, Ark is a nice guy, and Rob John, who is his senior student, is a nice guy and great translator too. There is no status game with them. They present the exercises and training methods of the Aunkai and you can try to absorb what you can physically and mentally to your own benefit or you can leave it on the mat and go back to what you do. There is a bit of evangelical "Spread the word", but this time the word has value and depth and is worth the listen.

Second, the skill in what they do is very apparent once you touch hands. Ark’s approach streamlines the body connection work. When I say streamlines, I mean it leaves out the foo-foo and woo-woo that infects too many so-called internal martial art approaches to the detriment of students and teachers. This doesn’t mean there are any shortcuts to the work process, it is still a very demanding effort on the part of the person learning.

Out of those who I have met, had first hand contact with, and consider having real skill, Ark is one of them. Many people with out feeling it have slammed Ark’s approach. I was one of those who looked at some of the videos and thought, "I know that and have seen it done." I wasn’t wrong on that. But I was wrong on how good Ark is and how well he presents it. This is a large jump above many "masters" I’ve encountered. Combine that with being a nice guy, it’s worth the time and cost to go see him if you can.

I am not saying the Aunkai method is all things to all people. There is no long pedigree of history for those who are interested in that aspect. It’s just Ark and the methods he developed from his study of Chinese arts and Japanese arts. There is no newaza, but the things Ark teaches can help a grappler understand body connections for better power and balance, just as it does for standing and striking arts. That of course, is up to each student to figure out by practice.

I’ve met numerous "good" martial artists, who in reality, were not "good" but simply at the top of a pyramid organization having little pickles thrown at them by worshipping students. Others I’ve met may be good, but they are so arrogant, vain, and major league asses, they destroy their own message and wonder why they have no students and think they are unappreciated, while never considering their own faults.

Of course, I realize many people would be happier living in denial that there is something missing in their approach. Part of me would be too; I’d sleep better at night. But I’m more interested in actually learning so I try and put aside my position as head fluffy bunny of Icho Ryu and try to relearn what I do know, what I think I know, and understand the intent and goals of the instruction and teacher. Then it is up to me to understand how to implement that in my own practice and teaching. Along the way, I make lots of mistakes and try to learn from them. I wish the same for all reading this since good instruction is valuable, but personal experience, failure, and learning from that failure make the best teachers. Read my blog on Gawande.

You notice I’m leaving any mention of what was done at the seminar out. That’s intentional. Go and see for yourself. Will Ark be back? Hopefully, and maybe I’ll see you there.