Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thanks to/for Senaman Tua

Senaman Tua Practice at the Detroit Gelanggang

I just got this nice email from one of the students:

Hey Guru,

I just want to send you a big Thank You for teaching Senaman Tua to me.

When you asked me how my knee was doing this week you almost caught me by surprise because I hadn't thought of my knee in many weeks. This is the exact same knee that I was sure was going to need surgery and the many months of rehab that go with surgery earlier this summer. The reason I no longer had my knee problems at the forefront of my mind is that it was 100% back to normal. I can only attribute this to the Senaman Tua exercises you showed me.

I am a bit ashamed to admit this now, but when I originally called you weeks ago to let you know I was going to have to quit training for awhile due to me hobbling around on a very painful knee that I had injured, and you told me to come in anyway because 'you just might be able to help my knee', sad to say but I was extremely skeptical.

I had no doubts about your abilities to cause people injuries, but I had never heard you mention any ability to heal people, and besides, I had already visited a Doctor who just gave me pain pills and told me to make an appointment with a Orthopedic Surgeon for my knee. But since it would be almost three weeks before I was able to get an appointment with the Surgeon, I figured I had nothing to lose by seeing whatever it was you were going to show me.

When I saw the exercises you suggested I do, I thought they were a combination of some crazy yoga mixed in with some not quite right Physical Therapy exercises, definitely nothing I had ever seen before. I took your suggestion and started doing these exercises every other day, and to my surprise, after the first week my knee was much improved.

I appreciate that our classes for the next couple of weeks were Senaman Tua classes and not Pekiti, because the combo of practicing on my own and coming in for the classes eliminated any limping completely by the third week, and after the seventh week, any trace of the knee problem was completely eliminated. Had I gone through with the surgery, the seven week point would have probably just been the transition from crutches to a cane.

So thanks again for the gift of these exercises that I have continued to do a couple of times a week for prevention of joint injuries.

your grateful student,

Mabuhay Larry!

Thank you for the note. I'm glad you're back to 100%. And I don't even mind that you doubted me...or that you thought the exercises were "crazy" and "not quite right" - we can discuss that later. The important thing is that you're better now and the Orthopedic surgeon will have to find another way to make his Ferrari payment this month.

See you in class!


Saturday, September 19, 2009

August Adventure #2: Laging-Una !

Guro Jun says: "You guys really suck!"

Kuya 'Mel teaches body mechanics

The "Presenters"

Our second adventure for the month of August took us across the border into Canada (Toronto to be exact) and it was like stepping into another Universe. Not because of the strange looking Canadian currency; or their use of weird phrases like “G’day eh?” or stuff like that. No. I say it was like stepping into another Universe because for a solid weekend in a remote part of Toronto, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the fascinating World of Kali De Leon.

At long last, we finally made the guest list and were invited to participate in the annual summer camp sponsored by Guro Jun De Leon. It was utterly unforgettable and difficult to put into words – but some of my reflections are below.

My Impression of Guro Jun De Leon Then and Now

I’ve written about Guro Jun in earlier posts so I won’t rehash the history of how we came to know him. The point is that today, I have a different opinion from back then when I wrote those entries. I have a feeling that Guro will read this piece and I hope I won’t get into trouble for saying this…but here it goes.

First of all, in the total picture I am actually less impressed by Guro as a “martial artist” as I was back then. Why? Because first of all, it is impossible for me to be any more impressed. If you study Kali for 100 years you would be very lucky to meet 4 or 5 people that are on Guro Jun’s level as far as skill is concerned. He is just north of phenomenal in every aspect of his practice. It’s intimidating to merely watch him move (even on video), but if he is “working” on you personally, you can feel firsthand what one of my students describes as “Precision Fury.”

With this being said, it would be far too easy to just acknowledge Guro Jun as the caliber of Master that comes around once in a generation, and be awed by his prowess. That however, is only part of the picture. On this particular weekend, we got a far more in-depth look at the theories and principles that power KDL

The Difference

Too many times, especially in the Filipino martial arts, there is one very talented and charismatic guy at the top whose senior students (even a whole generation of seniors) couldn’t even carry the Master’s baston. It’s common. The best practitioners are not always the best teachers. There are many, many subtleties in Kali that are nearly impossible to teach in an explicit way: timing, sensitivity, body-mechanics, flow, etc. Sometimes it is just easier for a student to imitate his teacher in various respects and not dig deeper into understanding the principles and mechanics.

What was so remarkable about this camp is that Guro Jun himself did very little teaching. Instead, he called upon his crew of seniors to take the group through blocks of instruction that included single and double baston, knife, sword and dagger, and empty hands. It soon became abundantly clear to me that all these guys – to a man – were very highly developed in their understanding of those subtle aspects I referenced earlier. Guro Jun hadn’t just developed a cadre of imitators…he’d produced a solid crop of high-level practitioners with in-depth knowledge of the theories and principles of a rich and complex system. Furthermore, each instructor clearly brought his own personal interpretation(s) to the core material. It felt to me like a seminar of high-level jazz musicians teaching variations on a common theme. All with an underlying sense of honor and respect for their Grand Master.

The Bottom Line

The KDL summer camp was one of best training experiences we’ve had to date. My respect for Guro Jun the Martial Artist was actually over-shadowed by my respect for him as a Teacher and Leader. Indeed, KDL is bigger than one man, and in my humble opinion will pass fully intact to the next capable generation when Guro decides to “rest” his bastons – Hopefully not for a long, long time!

It was an honor Guro – Salamat po.

Kuya Doug teaches Dean about the Kerambit

Captured on film for posterity

The Group

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

August Adventure #1: Coming Full Circle to Texas

In April of 2005, I was blessed to be among the first group of ‘Cikgu Muda’ to complete the first two levels of Silat Kuntau Tekpi during an intensive training camp hosted by Cikgu Omar Hakim in Austin, Texas. It was literally a breathtaking experience, learning the basics of footwork, parrying, locking, throwing, striking, theory, and application of this venerable, no-nonsense Silat system from Malaysia. Away from home and with few distractions, it was almost like a vacation – except for the fact that I was battered, twisted, and exhausted at the end of each day.

Equal in value to any of techniques I learned were the friendships that grew from that experience. Two of my senior classmates in that training group made a tremendous impression on me: Robert Slomkowski and Ricky Rillera. These two gentlemen have a lot in common, beyond the fact that they follow similar paths in the martial arts. You will not find a more perfect example of what the Silat masters call Ilmu Padi – The Way of the Rice Plant – than these gentlemen. The Way of the Rice Plant is thus: when it is young, it stands straight and proud – almost with arrogance. However, the older and more full (wiser), and developed it becomes, it humbly lowers its profile. That’s Robert and Ricky.

After a grueling day of Silat practice, we would eat dinner close to the training facility, and then somewhat informally practice Kali at night. I’m sure it was nothing special to them, but these guys blew my mind. Ricky is a legend in Pekiti-Tirsia circles. Facing him with a baston even doing a simple exercise felt like standing in front of an exploding pipe bomb. More importantly, behind the technique is a calculating, strategic mind that controls the fight like a chess master runs the board.

Robert is much the same way, although his personal style is somewhat different than Ricky’s. I distinctly remember thinking – as he blasted me with three solid kill-shots before I could get off one angle – that my best hope would be to get knocked out by the first crack and be spared the pain of the following volley. At one point, Robert was kind enough to show me a grappling drill that he developed, which made me feel as if my spine was made of rubber. Ah memories!

Although I was certainly the low man on the totem pole, and knew next to nothing compared to these guys, both of them taught me with patience and generosity as if I was their own student. As I flew home at the end of the training camp, I made two resolutions:

1. I resolved that one day my own students would have the honor of meeting and training with them; and

2. I prayed that one day, I could share something with them that was in some small way comparable to what they had taught me.

A few weeks ago I seemed to have achieved both objectives. After much planning, I came out to San Antonio with a small contingent from our Detroit group for 3 days of training with the newest members of The Brotherhood of the Blade. It was great to see my old friends again, and also to make some new ones. It was a proud moment for me to be sharing Pekiti-Tirsia, Silat Melayu, and Batangas knife fighting with the young lions of San Antonio, while at the same time on the other side of the gym, Ricky and Robert terrorized my own students. It was heartwarming.

I’m really looking forward to the next time we see these guys. I have a feeling that they will be doing our stuff better than we do it!

Kevin, Ricky, Me, and Robert

"Stop Pointing that Ginunting at Me, Doug"

The Detroit Crew with Kuya Rick