Another great lesson from Bill Wallace

The combination of Bill Wallace’s words together with some of the scenes makes this video from 1991 a great lesson about martial arts, its phylosophy of training and how we can improve even after many years of training.  I agree completely with these concepts and that’s why I am still training with the same, sometimes more, passion than when I started.  Enjoy and comment please:

Understanting Strong Posture

Different martial arts teach and instill different postures that have been designed to offer the ideal position(s) to best use attack and defend actions for that specific style.  Although what works for Aikido is so substantially different from Kickboxing or Wing Chun they all make sense when you apply the techniques from their particular repertoire.

This post addresses basic concepts about what a strong posture is and how it can be better understood and improved.

Some basic attributes of a strong posture

  1. well balanced: attacks can come from different directions and your posture should be able to cope with it;
  2. well rooted: you should feel in control of your balance and how to shift it back, forth and sideways;
  3. relaxed: the posture should not involve any unnecessary muscle;
  4. with a proper guard: a strong posture for martial arts will always have to reflect the most adequate guard for that style;
  5. ready to action: you should be always ready to react to an attack so your posture should reflect that; do spend some time analysing “what if” situation and try to be realistic with your own level of fitness and proficiency in your style.

Developing a strong posture

A strong element of self awareness is essential to well perform martial arts techniques and moves: good news is that the actual training helps developing the self  awareness that helps its own improvement.  Following the teaching of an expert teacher you can surely have a feeling of what is suggested and required by the style you are practicing.

The next step, once you are fully comfortable with the basics is experimenting and see what works for you, your body shape and level of fitness: what is ideal for an Olympic champion of tae kwon do will not equally work for a software engineer practicing Ju Jitsu.

Understand and improve your strong posture

In my opinion the best training for your posture is to increase your level of awareness about it.  Be aware of your position feel it with your eyes closed.  Then try moving forward and back, then side to side and then in circle: stop in between, literally freeze in position and check.

A mirror is also a great tool: if you see your image and can balance all elements associated to it you are likely to store them into your unconscious memory when automatic reactions are originated.

The final and next step is asking a friend or training partner to test your posture by pushing, pulling or simply testing where weak points can be found.

Regular training to avoid injuries

There are lots of people out there that play the occasional football or tennis match or spend a week per year skiing.  Most martial arts require a different approach and cannot be practiced occasionally if you want to enjoy the benefits that they can bring and avoid injuries.  While I adopted a regular, quasi religious training regime since I was a teen ager I see many of my students or other fellow martial artists having a very irregular training regime: I believe this can be the strongest cause of injuries and loss of motivation.

When you are at the beginning of your training you have a steady increase of performance in terms of speed, power, flexibility and, progressively, technique.  Your mind, as well as your muscles, get trained and they learn the subtle intricacies of how and when firing the right muscles in the appropriate time and order.  You can consider that some of the muscles used in certain techniques are not used much in our normal daily activities.  For the same reason these muscles have a stronger tendency to loose their performance when not used.

While in regular training you enjoy progresses in your training and this enjoyment is released in the form of endorphins that make you feel good.  If, for any reason, you stop training for a few days or weeks your muscles tend to loose some of their fitness.  When you try a technique that was nice and easy last time you did it you find yourself suddenly struggling with it or, if that happens in a self defence situation, risk your life in the process.

A regular practice for amateurs should be considered when training 2-3 sessions per week, possibly practicing all year round: each training session should be between 1 and 2 hours long.

Regular training to avoid injuries

Meet Maul Mornie

After having seen the numerous videos that Maul has on his You Tube channel I was convinced I had to meet him and try out his style. I was initially discouraged by the fact that he is always travelling to different places delivering seminars and that he is usually booked for a good part of a year in advance but, nearly by mistake I found out he was in touch with a local teacher of Silat that runs classes in Cambridge University, Lee Wilson, and so I caught the opportunity and turn up at a seminar held in Darwin College in early March.

Silat Suffian Bela Diri is a martial art that originates in Brunei and I believe it is somehow related to other Silat styles that are practiced in Indonesia and Malaysia: Maul himself admits to have little knowledge of those other styles and that what he practices and teaches is a direct lineage from his family.

The first impression of meeting Maul is warm and friendly: he appeared in the training hall greeting in a very friendly way people he met in previous occasions and welcoming in a equally warm way myself and others he was meeting for the first time.  His smile and facial expression is very reassuring and encouraging as well as his teaching style that is involving from the very first second.

Silat, similarly to other martial arts of South East Asia, is a martial art based on weapons, particularly knife: the training is usually starting by learning how to handle and defend against a weapon and moving onto bare hand fighting at a later stage.  As the seminar was open to all levels and there were people that, like me, had very little weapon experience he decided to start with the very basic drills that included the three basic knife strikes (cutting down vertically to the head, cutting across slashing the throat and stabbing horizontally toward the stomach).  Within minutes we were all practicing these basic drills and developed amazing ways of dealing with these kinds of attacks that would potentially be deadly if applied by an opponent with a live blade (all training is practiced with training knife blunt blades and edges).

The most amazing thing was seeing how Maul could handle these attacks with amazing precision and all counter attacks where at the same time conceptually simple and amazingly effective within a broad range of situations and circumstances.  The other hard to believe feature is his skill of moving incredibly slowly to demonstrate a technique that could potentially harm the opponent but then accelerating at an unexpected (even for a trained, expert martial artist) speed when showing how a techniques should be delivered in real life.

I was really amazed and totally impressed by Maul as a top martial artist and teacher as well as by his great personality and friendly manners: if you have a chance attending one of his seminars just go and try his style, technique and his unique teaching skills.

The Martial Artist of the 21st century

Martial arts were developed to help people fighting, being it for attacking people in battle or for defensive purposes.  If we consider China and Japan, two countries that gave birth to some of the most famous martial arts in the world, they have profound differences in the way martial arts developed over time.  In China martial arts initially developed from the Shaolin temple and from Taoists masters that were teaching martial arts among other things, being also experts of medicine, science, calligraphy and philosophy.  In Japan the martial arts tradition was more based around the training of Samurais and the more military orientation of Japanese martial arts is still very visible when practicing traditional martial arts from this country.

Practicing martial arts in those ancient times was very much a way of life and it often started in very young age, during childhood, continuing for the whole life of the individual that would eventually start his/her own school and move on, maintaining the so called lineage. Fast forward to the 21st century (and good part of the late 20th) and things have taken a completely different perspective, particularly when the same martial arts are now taught in countries where the culture and tradition on which they were originally based is simply not there.  Many styles have somehow evolved while new others have been defined to adapt to the culture or habits of the people where these are practiced.

Being a martial artist today in the western world is challenging because of all interferences caused by our modern and stressful lives.  Most of us need jobs to live and maintain an expected standard of living and although there are a number of “professional”, full time, martial artist I would assume that the majority of martial artist have a full time job and practice martial arts for self defence, fitness, health, fun, self improvement or any other suitable reason in their spare time.

I would like to define here my concept of an ideal profile for a person intending to practice martial arts and what he/she should aim to become in the long term.  A martial artist is a person that should be:

  • training regularly: often this requires to organize your own life around training rather than the other way round.  Regular training helps absorbing even the smallest subtleties of the style and master them appropriately;
  • performing all techniques pertinent to his/her style in a variety of different ways. E.g. demonstrating a strike or a throw at a very slow speed to help a beginner to understand all its subtleties or at maximum speed to show its full, devastating, potential;
  • understanding why each technique in his/her style are performed in a certain way and the bio-mechanical and physiological implications for it;
  • comparing and sharing his/her knowledge with people of the same style or from different styles in order to always enriching his/her personal knowledge of martial arts;
  • having a knowledge of what other martial arts do and what are their weapons and having an objective view of their pros and cons;
  • knowing at least the basic steps of development and history of his/her martial art;

In short a martial artist should be actively collecting and learning techniques and combinations of a given style and applying his/her own interpretation of them.  The knowledge of the background of other styles may well influence the final result.