My thoughts about MAF-UK 2009

banner-maf-ukI recently coordinated and performed in three demonstrations at the Martial Arts Festival UK organized in Leicester by Kwoklyn Wan, a well known martial artist and Jeet Kune Do instructor who runs a number of schools based in and around the same town.

Choreographing a demonstration always requires some level of preparation while I personally prefer avoiding a complete rehearsal of the whole thing. Punching, kicking and blocking, attacking and defending is something we do in every lesson so my basic strategy is always to have a script about what will be done but leaving the interpretation to the individuals in order to ensure the performance to be more realistic. Ultimately a fight cannot be rehearsed.

I believe that the main objectives of a demonstration are:

  • To give a basic idea of the main techniques in terms of kicks, punches, stances and guards for your particular school or style;
  • To be interesting for the person from the general public that doesn’t have even a basic idea about martial arts as well as gaining respect from fellow martial artists;
  • To show the level of skill of your school or club;
  • To be catchy enough to inspire passers by to stop and watch.

Given the final results and the video we managed to produce I am very happy of the overall experience: all CARISMA members that were there truly enjoyed it themselves.

A point I always try to make in my demonstrations is that we must remember that martial arts are about fighting, personal development, controlled actions and well harmonised attacks and defence. Movements should look smoothly and effortlessly performed, otherwise we risk to be looking too much like street fighters. On the other hand the demonstration should be and look realistic: for may taste a bit too many schools were running shows that appeared too much like dancing rather that expressions of fighting arts.

I was highly impressed by the organization of the show itself and I congratulated several times with Kwoklyn about location, quality of staff and their competence, the great variety of martial arts being showed and the workshops run. I firmly hope I will be invited again to be part of the second edition of MAF-UK next year.

Some Kali drills

I bumped into these videos and I decided to create this post for a few simple reasons:

  • The drills are well explained starting from the correct posture and stance all the way to their complete execution;
  • The performer continuously refers to boxing techniques and shows how the weapon attack can always be adapted to the bare hand strikes;
  • Using Eskrima/Kali sticks is a great workout even if you are practicing other martial arts.

The only little problem is the low quality of the audio and the interference from various vehicles passing by.


How strongly do you wish to succeed in martial arts?

When you see a person who is active and among the top performers within your school or club have you ever asked your self what took that person to be what she is now?  We surely cannot assume that anybody was born capable of punching, kicking or performing any other martial art move in a seamlessly fashion: these are acquired, learnt skills.

I tend to think that many qualities all have an input to the final performance of a martial artist but I am willing to develop and discuss in this post the top ones:

  • Talent
  • Physical fitness that can be split essentially in:
    • Agility
    • Strength
    • Speed
    • Flexibility
    • Coordination
  • Observation skills
  • Mental flexibility
  • Wish to succeed

Let me now see these and briefly expand on them:


I define somebody talented when she walks into the training room for the first time and she naturally performs anything shown in a relatively easy and natural way.  Talent can be natural or built on previous experiences, non necessarily in martial arts: e.g. dancers and gymnast can naturally perform many martial arts moves.  Talent opens up doors and a number of possibilities to the performer.  Doing things is easy for her so she tend to quickly get to a decent level and often moving on to the next challenge without seeking excellence in its current shape or form.  While I am not stating that talented people do not stick around, in my experience they get easily bored and need continuous new challenges.  I have seen a relatively high number of talented people to get to some level of proficiency in martial arts but a much greater number dropping off within a few years.

Physical fitness

Regardless the martial art you practice there will be some physical fitness involved and being fit or developing a certain level of fitness will help your performance.  In my experience most people will develop over time the level of fitness for their required or expected performance, regardless of their initial fitness level (exceptions do apply).  This is to say that people naturally or initially fit will have an edge or a small advantage over the less fit ones but this will not affect most people in the long run.

Observation skills

I define observation skills when somebody can see a technique performed by another person and she can quickly understand and replicate it without need of deep explanation of the single movements involved.  I consider observation skills a great tool for the martial artist to improve her own performance and gradually absorb other people skills without constant assistance of an instructor or coach.  In my experience the person good in observation skills will be careful in how different people perform the same technique and find her own way to master it.

Mental flexibility

I define mental flexibility the skill of being adaptable in your approach to learn and perform a technique or a combination.  In general there are physical, mechanical and safety rules about performing techniques but often there isn’t a right or wrong about using that or the other technique.  While physical flexibility can be a great skill for certain martial arts, mental flexibility is great for all of them because it allows adapting to what works and what doesn’t.

Wish to succeed

A person with a strong wish to succeed will fuel her enthusiasm to perform.  The wish to succeed will ensure this person will:

  • train regularly and often: this will have the most immediate effect of increasing the number of hours of training per month or year; her mind will get more and more involved with the training becoming a second nature.  Let’s try to remember that the mind and the subconscious are what we mostly train when learning and performing a martial art: muscles and bones simply move in the direction and with the speed and intensity that the mind dictates.  The secondary effect of this is that instructors and senior students will see this person around more than others and default to her more and more of their attention.  This will help this person to get slightly better than other and keep an advantage over other, less committed people.
  • train with the most challenging people in the room trying to be as good or better then them
  • Participate to seminars and other external activities organized by her school or club – visit events organized by others

I will conclude this post by simply stating the following: at whatever point your martial training started or will start your wish to succeed will be the most valuable component and likely the quality that will be pivotal in your success in martial arts.  Other qualities, even the ones I did not mention here will all matter but just as long as your wish to succeed is there.

Meet Benno Westra

I was recently guest at a Wing Chun seminar run by sifu Benno Westra organized by my friends at Cambridge Kung Fu.  Wing Chun is a martial art originated in the South of China and it’s predominantly an bare handed based system that was initially defined by a woman: advanced forms use butterfly knives and long pole but the majority of applications and demonstration are done empty handed.  Wing Chun is a martial arts that to my knowledge has no sport application and it is taught primarily as a simple, direct and no frills self defence system.

Wing Chun is in reality a family of different styles and I personally trained many different ones: it is intriguing to see how each of them is similar more or less to the others while it interprets various aspects in a totally different way.  In general emphasis on one or the other technique is due to the lineage, the master or grand master that defined the style and his/her personal taste for one or the other aspect.

The first impression of seeing and meeting Benno Westra is warm, friendly and encouraging: a big step forward compared to many high ranked people in the Wing Chun arena that like to look down to the common mortals and use intimidation and nearly mystification to justify their position.  His practical approach to Wing Chun is meant to enable any practitioner to have a good structure and a no non-sense preparation to situations that can happen on the street.

Given my exposure and years of training in other styles of Wing Chun I was some times performing instinctively in a way that was substantially different from what being practiced.  When he corrected some of my techniques he was explaining and justifying why in his style things work that way.  I appreciated hearing a number of times how there isn’t a right or wrong approach to one or the other situations: that leaves a great level of freedom to analyse and appreciate what works and what doesn’t for yourself.

Starting from a simple drill that was deflecting punches to the face we built in a number different variations of lat sau, using wu sau as a central, main technique for the day.

It’s difficult to measure results out of a 4 hours seminar, because it depends very much on what you expect to get out of it.  My approach is usually to go with the flow, experience and see what comes out, trying to be totally unbiased, objective and to learn something: I was happy to exceed my expectations in this occasion.

I liked Sifu Benno’s style of teaching: he uses many interesting metaphors and humorous stories and jokes while presenting top quality techniques and offering comparison to many other martial arts of which he has practical experience himself.  I am looking forward to the possibility of participating to another seminar.