June 18, 2015

REMINDER: Los Angeles Workshop, June 26th & 27th

Makko Ho's Position One
Just a reminder about next week's workshop Tomoko and I will have, hosted by our good friends at the Los Angeles Shingitai-Ichi Dojo. 

On Friday, June 26th, Tomoko and I will make our way to LA and join Shidoshi Michael Govier (SGTI Dojo LA) for a two-day Makko Ho and Taijutsu seminar - a rare trip for us to teach in sunny California.

I've long considered Makko Ho to be the flipside of training in which we learn to use Taijutsu to heal and keep ourselves and others healthy. It's a remarkable method, complex in its simplicity, much like Taijutsu. Hatsumi sensei even studied Makko Ho at one point and the Bujinkan knows its basic movements as the Ryutai Undo

Tomoko happens to be one of only two licensed Makko Ho instructors here in the United States. On Friday evening she'll take everyone through this esoteric Japanese stretching art, including the Hodo Taiso - partner bodywork that teaches practitioners to use positioning and alignment for healing purposes. Check out the interview I did with her: To Look Straight Forward.

Then on Saturday, June 27th, I'll engage everyone with my perspective on Taijutsu and conflict ethics, specifically the "protector ethic." 

We'll be in two separate, but close, locations: a city park and the same studio from the night before - the outdoor/indoor difference should be highly informative. We'll be covering unarmed movement, specifically how to make the tactical "viable," or capable of sustaining and protecting life, and any and all weapons available and the overlapping universality of their use. 

Makko Ho Workshop with Tomoko Morganelli
Friday, June 26th

DanceGarden LA in Atwater Village
3191 Casitas Ave, Suite 112
Los Angeles, CA 90039
A large, free parking lot is available

Taijutsu Workshop with James Morganelli
Saturday, June 27th

2 Locations:

Part I: 12-3pm 
Griffith Park
4730 Crystal Springs Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Merry-Go-Round parking lot 
Training will be behind the tennis courts 

Part II: 3-6pm
DanceGarden LA in Atwater Village
3191 Casitas Ave, Suite 112, 
Los Angeles, 90039

$25 for Tomoko's Workshop  
$60 for James' Workshop

Join us on our Facebook page and show your support! 

Questions? Contact Shidoshi Govier at: 

We look forward to meeting new folks and sharing some great training!

Tomoko and James

June 11, 2015

Taijutsu Truth: Tactical to Viable

This word "tactical" gets thrown around in martial arts nowadays. I've seen "tactical combat," "tactical martial arts" even "tactical name-your-art" - it’s overused and for the wrong reasons because it doesn't describe what folks are actually trying to say.

“Tactical” is an adjective that describes “tactics, especially military” and is “characterized by adroit procedure” and related to “a maneuver or plan of action designed as an expedient toward gaining a desired end or temporary advantage.”

By this definition everything in martial arts or combatives is already “tactical”: every strategy, tactic, technique ever devised has been refined toward its aim of “expedient” (read "efficient") utilization through “adroit procedure.”

Thus saying your martial art is “tactical” is like saying you’re drinking “wet” water. “Wetness” is an inherent feature of the water, just like “tactical” is of any martial art. And even though buzzwords can better marketing, it still puts us back at our beginnings because “when everything is tactical, nothing is,” and we still have not articulated what we’re really trying to say. So what are we trying to say?

This may actually be true.
“Tactical” describes a thing’s functionality, i.e. a tactical vehicle, or tactical maneuver, indicating a thing’s purposeful adroit proceduring or tactical-ness. It seems we could ascribe nearly any thing or action as tactical merely by purposing its inherent procedure adroitly. One dictionary example: “They gained a tactical advantage by joining with one of their competitors” – pretty broad usage. And this still doesn't indicate, especially for training, what we’re actually searching for: how best to keep from dying.

Too often, martial technique is devised, understood, or trained outside of conditional use. A technique may look efficient, since it has no rough edges, but when trained against an honest partner trying to keep us honest, is ineffective because we've not accounted for it. So, if we think being tactical will keep us from dying, guess again, it’s only the first act of a three act play - the second and third acts involve identifying openings and closing them off.

Mmm, tactical bacon ...
Seriously, where can I get this? 
“How ought I train to habituate protecting life?” This is the optimal question for training because it relates to the shaping of actual use. It goes beyond mere procedure to ask for “manner,” “degree,” and to what end or “outcome” it is to be used for - important stuff, in fact, the most important for training.

And so I stopped saying tactical to mean “life protecting,” since something done tactically may simply be the most efficient way to gain one’s end, even at the expense of one’s life.

Out of frustration for clarity, I turned to the word "viable" to mean "in a way that protects life." “Via” comes from the Latin “vita” meaning “life” and describes that which is “life-enabling” (I like "life-able" myself). I now use “viable” to describe just how to apply our manner of usage, degree of that usage, and contextual outcome in training under various conditions, to perceive how best to protect life – our own, others’, and even the enemy’s - as we employ whatever tactic or technique we deem necessary.

Since there is no such thing as a technique that “works” in and of itself (they must all be applied), sharpening our instincts and perception of how best to protect life is the furthest we can reach or even hope for in training. At its core, effective training is about better decision making, so the finer our instincts regarding viability, the better chances we give ourselves.

That being said I can think of least five aspects regarding the "how" of viability, presented hierarchically. And since these are to be considered the parameters or restrictions of how we ought to habituate ourselves physically under conditions, they are chronicled in the negative, but explained in the affirmative.
1. Do not be a danger to oneself.
Know self-awareness. Be a protector of yourself from threats or danger you might impose through actions and behavior. Listen to common sense when it speaks and heed its message. 
2. Do not endanger those who need protection.
Be a protector of others, including the enemy, if possible. Calibrate what one ought to do by context. 
3. Do not allow conditions to prevent viability.
Know initiative. Be ahead and lead according to context. 
4. Do not allow the opponent to be a danger.  
Know positioning, leverage, and proportionality to outwit and outmaneuver. 
5. Do not allow the opponent to prevent their own endangerment.
Deny vulnerabilities to those who would use them against us.
How we might apply the "tactical" to make it “viable” is for me the dividing line that separates knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is the minutiae of martial arts and its information comes in the form of strategy, tactics, and techniques. But what’s far more important is the wise (read prudent or judicious) application of whatever knowledge one does have.

Ultimately, all martial arts are thousands of years of refined physicality in order to embody our visceral sense of "ought" - the mental, willful, emotional drive that compels personal obligation. So this concept of viability, while reaching toward the physical, as it is trained and carried out that way, is rooted in our ethical bearing, since "action to protect life," whether our own, others’, or the enemy’s, is an inherently moral consideration.

June 9, 2015

To Capture the Spirit

A good video piece on training is hard to come by. It's like any bit of writing that aims to make a solid point and inspire others by message - they're out there, but can be hard to find. Capturing the spirit of something, especially a something like martial arts is tricky. But this piece does it well.    

When I was first contacted by Brenda Mak, a young student journalist here in Chicago, I was skeptical that anything of long-term merit would be produced. So I resolved to simply help her out by granting her the access she needed.

She would focus her attention on my student Amaris, a smart, lovely young lady, who's been training with me nearly a year. Please bear in mind, nothing Amaris says was scripted or coached. Her thoughts are her own and I could not be more pleased. My thanks to Brenda - she can look forward to a bright future.

There was a great deal of footage captured in the two days Brenda spent with us, all of it spontaneous and unscripted, a lot like our training sessions. Moving forward, perhaps we'll roll more of that footage out.

June 4, 2015

Taijutsu Truth: Train the Metaphysical with the Physical

This actually came out of a question from a young student of mine saying she stunk at using weapons. Now, I had no problem with her actual ability – she’s relatively new - but I did take issue with her decision to identify herself as “stinky.” It’s an easy trap to find oneself in because we’re just calling reality as we see it. But we must learn to see these kinds of things a little clearer.  

This piece is not about “believing in yourself” – read Charlotte’s Web or something for that. No, this is about the metaphysics we engage in whenever we train and how we ought not take them for granted. Believing you stink may be reflective of actuality - maybe you do stink – but it is a metaphysic to believe so. As well, believing you don't stink is also a metaphysic.

Metaphysics are outside of objective reality, and includes our beliefs and values, even our emotions and feelings. Morality, ethics, our sense of justice and human rights, even numbers, are all metaphysical. This goes to show two things: one, metaphysics are really, really important. And two, we totally take them for granted. Here's how.

There’s a saying, “You will fight the way you train.” And it's true. If our training relies on intense, high stress, fear-inducing conflict, if we don’t look forward to training - maybe we’re even nauseated by its idea - and afterward we are emotionally spent and physically relieved, then we are most probably training ourselves to re-enact all of these same experiences during an actual confrontation. We may think we’re arming ourselves by engaging with these experiences regularly to "inoculate" us to their impact, when in actuality they might just be blunting our effectiveness.  

Training does not have to be some perpetual roller coaster of stress inoculation. Learning to become a good defensive driver does not entail constantly smashing into other cars to inoculate us to “take an accident." It means habituating one’s driving habits and awareness so as to have the time and space to respond effectively to emergency changes regardless of the conditions. This is not a perfect analogy, but I think it a far tastier recipe than brutalizing ourselves and others in regular training just to gain what we think is some modicum of advantage.

For dangerous jobs, like serving LE warrants and military operations, consistent, high-stress training can be beneficial for those specific high-stress moments because it trains known operational tactics reflexively, so they can become second nature. But in those cases, those moments of conflict are generally well known in advance to operators as well as who their enemy is. And success in those operations is most often shaped by operators' pro-activeness.    

But civilians do not have the luxury of prescient intel to know what kind of spontaneous conflict and/or violence they may face in the daily course of their lives, let alone from exactly who. Most folks train martial arts simply because they like it. And maybe they want to learn how to make a better way in their little part of the world and deal with life's difficulties and confrontations, which may – God forbid - include life or death struggle.

Thus training does not require us to rely on exposure to the X-men's “danger room” or put ourselves though the gauntlet of Sakura's ninja Octagon. (I say “rely” here because some “danger rooming” and “Octagoning” is a good idea and often a lot of fun in context.) 

Look, life is difficult, stressful, and scary enough on its own to provide us with all the itinerant changes and variable conditions that we can possibly handle. These conditions will be such that we’ll be forced to deal with them in ways that’ll make our responses far more difficult than we could possibly imagine or anticipate in any regular training sessions.

And this is why I often say there is no such thing as "realistic" training. Only real is real. Training is a educated fiction we produce for ourselves in order to account for the fundamental aspects that are always present in reality - change and its variables. There is no training scenario that anyone could ever craft to account for reality, there are simply too many impossibly strange variables and conditions to account for. Oh sure, some try by incorporating more variables, or raising the stress level, or crafting re-enactments of true-life situations. But this can only ever be a high-stress production; a tactical play put on by willing performers. Only real is real: no one tries to kill you in training, and if they did, it would not be training, it would be real and training ideals like learning to habituate new and better tactics, applications, awareness, and overall behavior, would not apply. 

And with this in mind, we must choose: how would we wish to respond ideally to conflict? With pent up anxiety and stress? Or cool and collected? I'm not saying that just by believing ourselves to be calm and cool we will be, under conditions. It isn't that simple – we have to train and habituate ourselves physically and metaphysically until we actually are. This is a far better idea than marinating ourselves in invented stress, anxiety, and fear that will only multiply with actual conditions.

Whenever we train or pick up a weapon we should have the confidence our common sense is telling us to have: mentally place ourselves in any kind of violent scenario. Would we want a weapon? Of course we would. A weapon means advantage in a way we might not have on our own. So we should be confident that we are in a better position, more capable, stronger, better prepared, than without the weapon or the training. The only reason one might feel less capable or empowered is because we are instead seeing it through a bias (another metaphysic), as in waiting for the instructor to teach us the "proper" way. And a little advice here: don't wait for permission to get better.

There is nothing to suggest that a “well-rounded training” ideal and the “highly competent martialist” ideal are mutually exclusive. In my world they are not, in fact, the more competent and higher ability one has, the more they can gain the confidence to reach goals regarding character and virtue. We should train ourselves to fight the way we wish to fight – calm and collected. That means enjoying training, laughing, having a good time, protecting your partners, telling a joke. Be inspired and look forward to training. And when finished, we should feel better (and better in ability) for having done it.

Simply learning to fight or defend yourself on its own are selfish, immature perspectives in the long run. The better way is to see training as a conduit to becoming the kind of person we wish ourselves to be - a protector, teacher, leader - the kind of person who is in control and command when there is conflict, even violence.

Training isn't just about learning to use martial arts more effectively. It's also about recognizing that we are more effective through training. It is this thought that must come first. For if it does not, then waiting to be instructed is all about training to "become" good at some point in the future, instead of "being" good today, at one's respective level - an entirely metaphysical difference.