This is a shout-out to all martial artists and would-be martial artists in the western Philadelphia exurbs, especially: Phoenixville, Spring City, Collegeville, Mont Clare, Upper Providence, Lower Schuylkill, Valley Forge, Charlestown/Malvern, Kimberton, Audubon, and Lower Perkiomen.
I train under Sifu Dale Yeager at the Kuntao Martial Arts Club in Phoenxville, and my school has a weird problem. It’s having trouble keeping students, and near as I can figure the trouble is that the school is too good!
The last couple of weeks have been my vacation, and full of incident.This explains the absence of blogging.
First, World Boardgaming Championships. I did respectably, making quarter- and semi-finals in a couple of events, but failed in my goal to make the Power Grid finals again this year and place higher than fifth.
I did very well in Conflict of Heroes, though; my final game – with the tournament organizer – was a an epic slugfest that attracted the attention of Uwe Eickert (the game’s designer) who watched the last half enthralled. I lost by only 1 point and was told I’d be put on the Wall of Honor. I like my chances at the finals next year.
Then Summer Weapons Retreat. Huge fun as usual; I spent most of the week working on Florentine (two-sword) technique. with some excursions into polearm and hand-and-a-half sword. I’ve posted a few pictures on my G+ feed.
First full day I was home, a thunderstorm blew out the router in my basement. Yes I had it on a UPS, but ground surges (though rare) do happen; this one toasted the Ethernet switch. Diagnosing, replacing, and dealing with the second-order effects of that ate most of yesterday.
Now life is back to relatively normal, though it will take a few days for the muscle aches from a week of hard training to entirely subside. Blogging will resume.
I should have known it. I really should have expected what happened.
So it’s about week 7 at kuntao training, the tasty exotic mix of south Chinese kung fu and Philippine weapons techniques my wife and I are now studying, and we’re doing fine. The drills are challenging, but we’re up to the challenge. Our one episode of sparring so far went very well, with Cathy and I both defeating our opponents decisively in knife duels. The other students and the instructors have accepted us and show a gratifying degree of confidence in our abilities. Our first test approaches and we are confident of passing.
The only fly in the ointment, the one silly damn thing I’ve had persistent trouble with, is spinning my escrima sticks. Last night I found out why…
My regulars will be aware that, since the Mixed Martial Arts program we were in folded up, my wife Cathy and I have been having an interesting learning adventure checking out various schools in our area as possibilities for our next style. We’ve had some more adventures since.
A few days ago I posted “A martial-arts trilemma” about Cathy’s and my search for a new school to train with following the demise of our MMA program. We’ve since gotten one nice surprise and struck two alternatives off our list. And thereby hangs a tale.
The responses to my progress report on searching for a new martial-arts school made it clear that many people are interested in advice on this topic. The problem is especially difficult for new students choosing a first school, as they have yet to develop the kind of trained eye that can evaluate technique.
I have been training in empty-hand combat and contact weapons since 1982; more or less continuously since 1990. I have studied shotokan, tae kwon do, aikido, wing chun kung fu, and Mixed Martial Arts at five different schools and trained in sword-centered Western Martial Arts at two more. Along the way I’ve picked up bits and pieces of iaido, kenjutsu, escrima stick fighting, penjak silat, shaolin kung fu, Greco-Roman wrestling, Okinawan karate, naginata-do, and lua. I hold a black belt in tae kwon do and have been an instructor in multiple styles. I report these things to establish that my experience of styles and schools is very broad, equipping me to give useful advice on how to choose one.
This how-to will be aimed mainly at people new to the martial arts trying to choose a first school, but the questions I suggest can usefully be asked even if you are a much more experienced student.
So, nine days ago the Mixed Martial Arts program my wife and I had been training in was canceled, and we’ve been shopping for a new school in our area. We’re serious students, twenty years deep in empty-hand and weapons, so the general run of strip-mall karate and TKD joints just isn’t going to do it for us. We require a school with high-quality instruction that can teach us stuff we haven’t seen before.
Fortunately, the area where we live (Chester County in southeastern Pennsylvania) an affluent section of the Boswash metroplex and thus probably nearly as good as it gets in the U.S. for choice. Internet searches turned up two strong possibilities, in addition to the third which is to stick with our current dojo and switch to Tang Soo Do.
We’ve now been to do evaluation classes at both. This is an after-action report likely to be of interest to martial artists of any description, and I’m hoping that the process of writing will help me clarify my thoughts about an interesting trilemma.
For some months now my wife Cathy and myself had been the only regulars showing up for the MMA classes at our local dojo, Iron Circle. While this meant we got a lot of quality instructor time, I did wonder how the school could afford to run classes fotr two students.
Well, it turns out they can’t. Two days ago, Master Maybroda emailed us to tell us the MMA program was being canceled. Too many people, it seems, show up expecting it to be like what they see on UFC and bail when it isn’t. “You two outlasted all the wannabes” he wrote.
This leaves us with a problem. Where and how shall we train? We wouldn’t even consider just stopping. We’re martial artists – and, though my wife denies that this has become part of her self-identification in the way it is for me, she is no readier to give it up than I am.
Looking over the local Yelp listings for martial arts, and discarding schools we’ve trained at before but left for various reasons, we seem to be down to three alternatives…
It’s always one of the high points of my year when I get to go to Michigan and play with the sword geeks. This year my wife and I went out for Summer Weapons Retreat 3, run by our friends at the Polaris Fellowship of Weapons Study, with an unstructured several days afterwards for extra hang time. Some of you may have seen my Google+ microbursts about this trip, but I only posted them to circles distribution; here’s the rest of the story, or as much of it as I think is interesting anyway.
There’s been some discussion in response to my post on A natural contemplates game on the meaning of the term “alpha male” as it applies to humans. In comments, I had this to say as a definition:
As I use “alpha”, it simply means someone who is equipped for leadership roles by psychology and temperament. You can tell you are one if your experience of life frequently includes being sucked into leadership vacuums. It’s not about having some sort of dark desire to dominate people, though of course there’s a subset of alphas that has that.
In the PUA context, “alpha” has the additional overlapping meaning of someone who has high hypergamic value to women. These two traits tend to be correlated and to reinforce each other.
I also noted this:
I don’t really know what makes alphas; I wasn’t always one myself, formerly having been what another commenter describes as a sigma [strong loner type, resistant to being in hierarchies]. In fact, for personal values reasons I denied to myself that I was an alpha until long after a third-party observer would have said so, facing the reality only when my pattern of constantly being sucked into leadership vacuums became undeniable.
I will further note that alphaness is not altogether a happy trait to have. The getting more sex part is nice, but the constant “somebody has to do it” presented by the leadership vacuums around you can be a serious pain in the ass. Especially if, like me, you have values conflicts about being an authority figure.
..there was never a lot of “reaching out” involved on my part. The damn leadership roles reached out and grabbed me. Once I realized I was stuck with them, I just tried to handle the job as competently as I could.
I’m not sure what else to tell you, except that I still think people who crave leadership roles are not to be trusted. The reason I denied I was an alpha for a long time is that I had some confusion in my head between the sort of person who wants to run things and the kind of person who can’t help doing it.
Now I will tell a story about one of the incidents that forced me to face my inner alpha.
This year I will once again be going to Michigan for summer sword training. I wrote about this back in 2008 in a series of posts beginning with “And So, It Begins…”. Should you make the opportunity for it, this is an amazing summer adventure vacation that will teach you much and probably leave you with lifelong friendships. I’m posting a heads-up because I think many of my regulars would find it interesting.
There’s a classic Warner Brothers cartoon from
1951 1948 in which Bugs Bunny takes on a huge, evil bruiser of a fighter called the Crusher. One of the funniest bits is a scene where Bugs is grunting and straining in an attempt to shift one of the Crusher’s legs. The viewpoint pans back and we se the Crusher completely ignoring this feeble effort, playing solitaire on the wrestling mat.
The final day of Sword Camp. We spent our morning learning advanced field medical techniques, up to and including learning how to suture a wound by stitching together a slash through the skin of a banana with actual surgical sutures. We also learned how to use a trach tube for clearing an airway in cases of anaphylactic shock or gasoline inhalation or whatever.
Live Steel Day arrived, and we spent the first half of the morning attacking a couch.
This is a much less trivial exercise than it sounds. Couches are tough, full of padding and wood and springs and more difficult to cut than flesh. We had a tablefull of weapons — machetes, a parang, a couple of swords, a tire iron, a crowbar, miscellaneous stabbing and slicing knives, and a couple of axes. The objective: destroy. It was hard work, even for eight sword students who knew a lot about exerting force with a weapon.
The first word of the Zombie Apocalypse reached us at approximately 10:30 this morning. Sal calls those of us who had driven to the site that morning into his office and informs us that the radio news is carrying reports of heavy rioting in Flint, spreading to northern Detroit. US123 and I75 are closed, I69 has been designated as an evacuation route. A news crew has been attacked and taken down by the mob; last footage to go out shows a boot coming at the camera. In the background: The Foo Fighters’ “No One Here Gets Out Alive” and White Zombie’s “Dracula”
Tuesday was Tactics Day. It opened with a class on ground analysis; how to match your tactics to the ground you have to fight on. We analyzed a particular area of the site for access and escape routes, cover, concealment, impediments to movement, and the way all these affect possibilities for attack and defense.
Monday was the day things went bang. Firearms, basic and advanced. We began with safety instruction and refresher by the lovely Lynda, emphasizing three basic rules: (1) Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, (2) Finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot, and (3) keep ammunition separated from weapons until you are at the firing line with the range hot. We were instructed in how to check and clear weapons.
Tuesday was designated MacGyver Day — all about cleverness, improvisation, and thinking outside the box. This sounded like fun, right enough, but what I was really looking forward to was…holmgang.
Saturday was designated Skills Day. The plan had been for the Basics — the beginner-level class — to be taken in hand and run through a compressed version of the first six months of training while the rest of us — Intermediate and Advanced students — got to choose from a casual smorgasbord of specials skills topics offered by the instructors.
OK, so imagine you could go on vacation with a bunch of your best friends, all of whom are either (a) science fiction fans, (b) software geeks, (c) advanced martial artists, or (d) usually, some combination of the above. Now imagine that you get to spend a solid week with these people learning stuff like how to fight with a sword, military tactical hand signals, pistolcraft, stealthy movement in wooded country, emergency field medicine, and how to improvise an incendiary mortar with soda cans and gasoline-soaked tennis balls.