Another step on the martial path

Cathy and I passed our Level 6 test in kuntao last night.

That’s the hybrid martial art we study, part traditional wing chun and part Philippine kali. The empty hand stuff is mostly wing chun, a South Chinese close-fighting style which … OK, if you don’t know much about martial arts just imagine the fights in The Matrix without the high kicks. The weapons stuff is mostly kali, knife and stick and (relatively short) sword.

We’re unequivocally senior students now. Wing chun is a fast-takeoff style, not one of the temple forms like shaolin where it takes eight to ten years to get any good. We’ve been at it for a bit over two years, training intensively, and we’re getting respectably skilled. We can tell this by the challenges thrown at us by sifu and the guest instructor he has in monthly to teach advanced wing chun. While we still do forms and basics the percentage of time we spend on sparring and combat applications is going up a lot.

Our sifu is rather clearly grooming us to become assistant instructors, which I’m happy about but Cathy would prefer to avoid. I like teaching and have been an assistant instructor in other styles; Cathy dislikes the always-on conscious awareness of technique required to teach and has mostly avoided having to do it so far.

Unfortunately, Cathy also recognizes that sifu doesn’t have much choice but to draft us. The school is only three years old and sifu has only had time to train one instructor to the point where he can run a class without sifu looking over his shoulder. That’s Doug, a bright geeky sort who is not coincidentally my best buddy there. We push each other hard in drills and sparring, often playing at force levels that most of the students couldn’t handle and liking it. He’s still much better than me but we’re both working hard at bringing me up to his level.

There are about five or six students besides Doug higher-ranked than us (as opposed now, to 18 to 20 below us) but only one of them – Chris – is a regular enough attendee to be a reliable instructor. His wife Bonnie would be too but she’s in slow recovery from a wrist-tendon injury and hors de combat. One of the ways I know I’m making good progress is that my fighting skill is now roughly equal with Chris’s – with long blades usually better, empty hand not quite as good.

(My wife and I are both unusually able with blades by school standards – comes of our Western sword training elsewhere from years before we started kuntao. Sifu sometimes expresses respect for our skills in this area in front of the class, which is nice given that he can be pretty snarky at other times.)

I’m really looking forward to the next major range of techniques that’s opening up to us now. It’s called “chin na”, joint locking, and there are early indications that it’s going to be a big win for me. The time or two we’ve touched on it I found I could do the basics instantly and effectively after having seen them just once. I think this is an area where having lots of upper-body strength is an advantage, allowing me to do them with power slowly rather than having to speed up and possibly fluff the technique.

Cathy continues to respond to the training in one unexpected way; she’s turning into a what I can only describe as a slab of muscle, as if she’d been bodybuilding with free weights. It’s a startling development to observe in a woman who’s about 5’2″ in her stocking feet and well into middle age. Not that you’d know that to look at her; she’s always looked young for her calendar years and being really fit has increased that effect. She grumbles about having to buy new clothes, but she’s clearly enjoying the increased strength and the fact that when she’s not tired or stressed she can look like 40 hasn’t mugged her yet.

(There are other less obvious physiological and psychological effects. Guys, trust me on this, get your wife to the dojo; among other things, it’ll be good for your sex life.)

It goes well. I still have challenges due to palsy-related range-of-motion issues, but sifu and Doug and the other assistant instructors are doing a sensitive and excellent job of helping me find workarounds. Everybody expects that Cathy and I will both make it to 1st level guro (master, or “black sash”) and I don’t think we’ll disappoint them.

39 thoughts on “Another step on the martial path

  1. Congrats! :)

    >My wife and I are both unusually able with blades by school standards – comes of our Western sword training elsewhere from years before we started kuntao.

    Out of curiosity, what kind of fencing did you practice: the modern sport, or a reconstruction of some more traditional style?
    (BTW, this post has given me an idea for a crazy suggestion; so crazy, in fact, that I’ll only make it if you’re OK with that. ;P)

  2. >Out of curiosity, what kind of fencing did you practice: the modern sport, or a reconstruction of some more traditional style?

    Western historical fencing from mainly Italian sources, base year around 1500. Differs from modern sport fencing in a lot of ways; it’s done in the round rather than on a linear piste, and the blades are designed for slashing as well as thrusting. Also, it integrates off-hand strikes, kicking, and grappling. It’s a military style, not a court or sport one.

    The person who first taught it to us asserted it was his family’s house style blended with modern empty hand and some SpecOps techniques, so…not exactly or completely a reconstruction, if he was telling the truth. The qualification is required because he also described himself as a high-functioning sociopath. The elements of his story that can be checked seem to be true.

    >(BTW, this post has given me an idea for a crazy suggestion; so crazy, in fact, that I’ll only make it if you’re OK with that. ;P)

    Well, how will I know that until you voice it?

  3. I made a commitment to overcome my aversion to doing anything social and start learn boxing in January. Why exactly boxing? I am not sure, I just like the idea of everybody wearing shoes and nut putting their smelly feet under each others nose, also not having that kind of borderline homoerotic body contact MMA fighters have on the floor, and generally being a sport that was made for upper-class Britons who probably had similar ridiculously picky reservations as I do. I also think it is a fairly early-sparring sport (although not as early as TKD or grappling types), and combines well with historical fencing. Also after having spent 36 years doing nothing else with my body but typing on keyboards and lifting some weights, it is probably unwise to start with something that involves complicated movements like kicking. I am perfectly capable of tripping over in my own leg even without that. I also like that boxing is almost becoming counter-cultural. The high-T guys go for MMA, the geeks go for exotic Asian arts, boxing has a nice retro flavor these days.

    I was seriously considering Wing Chun but most reasonable, non-cultish teachers around here learned i from this guy and somehow this kind of stuff, although very impressive, is not really what I would like learning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i17D-rO1UyA

  4. Cool. BTW, Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte has written a mystery novel called The Fencing Master, set in the 19th century, which you might enjoy. I only read a couple of chapters, but it looked promising. Dunno how factual it is about fencing, though. (And then there’s the series of adventure novels starring his Captain Alatriste, a 16th-century swordsman-for-hire; so far, I read the first three).

    >Well, how will I know that until you voice it?

    Heh. Well, here it is: I’ve seen your wife’s blog on costuming. Since she’s into that hobby, she could sew a small kuntao suit for Zola; you could then make a picture of all three of you, as if Zola were a martial artist too. How ’bout that? =)

  5. Western historical fencing from mainly Italian sources, base year around 1500. … the blades are designed for slashing as well as thrusting. Also, it integrates off-hand strikes, kicking, and grappling. It’s a military style, not a court or sport one.

    Interesting.
    I’d love to know the original master. The Italian styles that tend to get talked about are the more courtly rapier based ones which are all focused around the point. If i had to throw a guess out there i’d say something of the Bolognese, Manciolino or Marozzo or similar.

    I’ll always have a fondness for Hutton sabre, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to assimilate every style I can.

  6. >you could then make a picture of all three of you, as if Zola were a martial artist too.

    I don’t think Zola would take well to an attempt to clothe him.

  7. >I’ll always have a fondness for Hutton sabre

    There’s some similarity, but our style is much less influenced by French high-line.

  8. >Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte

    That name seems familiar.

    /me googles.

    Ah, yes. I have read The Club Dumas and one other of his novels, not sure which but possibly The Flanders Panel. He’s good; he writes very intelligently but without pretension. I shall have to look for some of these you mention.

  9. @ Shenpen
    Don’t worry, you’re not alone in having those reservations. I kinda have them myself.

    I understand Bruce Lee liked boxing and fencing because of their fluid stances, and that such fluidity was an influence on his Jeet Kune Do. That’s another virtue of boxing.

    @ ESR
    I see you expanded your reply to my first comment while I was writing my second one. The part about fighting “in the round” sounds especially interesting; I bet it feels more authentic, as duels go.

    >I don’t think Zola would take well to an attempt to clothe him.

    Oh. Bummer. :( My experience with cats is very limited–albeit positive–; that shows, doesn’t it? :P (So does my weakness for cute animals, I guess.) Well, at least I’ll get to see that cute little fellow in the Great Beast documentary.

    >Ah, yes. I have read The Club Dumas

    I bought that one a few years ago and still haven’t read it. :$ Time to change that, I guess–especially since you recommend it.
    The Seville Communion looks good as well. He misuses the term “hacker”, but can we really blame him, or single him out, for that?

    >I shall have to look for some of these you mention.

    Glad to have helped. ‘Twas about time, since it’s usually the other way around. ;-)

  10. Eric, I’m glad that you found your “flow” in martial arts. Everyone would benefit from an avocation that incorporates physicality, habit, mental control, and creativity. Our evolution has built us to overcome hardship of many sorts; however, our affluent world limits to opportunity to utilize those talents. You have found a way to restore the challenges of the ancient ancestral environment and continue to push the species forward.

    In my neck of the woods, we ride mountain bikes for our bliss and benefit. No one on this planet should exit without having run the Poison Spider trail in Moab.

  11. > Everyone would benefit from an avocation that incorporates
    > physicality, habit, mental control, and creativity.

    Singing and playing music does that for me.

  12. @ esr

    Congratulations.

    We’re unequivocally senior students now. Wing chun is a fast-takeoff style … We’ve been at it for a bit over two years, training intensively, and we’re getting respectably skilled.

    Wing Chun is wonderful that way. Even a single year will make a person much more able to defend themselves.

  13. I studied a style called ‘Cuong Nhu’, which was based in Vovinam (a Vietnamese style) and various other things such as Wing Chun, Aikido, Judo, Jujitsu and Shotokan. Since my knees were pretty beaten up by the time I was 20, I was allowed to follow what was called ‘Soft Style’ that concentrated on the grappling arts and was amazed at the amount of control and concentration required. I was only able to study for about 3 years, but daily practice made it seem like a much longer time. I learned one very, very important lesson about the grappling arts; you can’t use strength as you would in a striking style, because the technique won’t work. Ideally, a correctly performed technique takes no strength at all, but a good amount of chi, correctly focused. You should work out with someone of your approximate size and strength (or stronger) who is strong enough to resist you without causing damage to either nage or uke. When you do your technique correctly, it should work on anyone of any size or strength.
    I used to practice my throws on a 3rd Dan Shotokan instructor who practiced with us. He was about 6″ shorter than I am, but about 150 lbs. heavier, and, I swear to god, he had the shortest legs of any man his size I’ve ever seen. When I did my techniques correctly, I could throw him. When I didn’t I couldn’t budge him. He was the best sparring partner I ever had.

  14. Level 6. How high is that? I practice Aikido myself, and while I still technically don’t have a rank yet, I’ve managed to learn plenty of things with two years of on-and-off training, which is mainly due to various personal events, a surgery here and there, and money issues. I have practice with weapons, but in eastern styles. More specifically a Japanese style, though the knife-fighting could be applied to almost any weapon. The katana style would be more difficult to apply to a weapon with two edges like many European weapons, though. At least, that’s what I think. I haven’t actually gone and tried to learn a European style, and if I did, I’d want to learn something made for combat rather than sport. Playing Assassin’s Creed has proven to not be enough.

  15. >Level 6. How high is that?

    Level 10 is 1st level Guro, roughly equivalent to first degree black belt in a Japanese system.

  16. Since I’m usually quick to point out other people’s typos, it’s only fair that I should point out my own typos:

    >Captain Alatriste, a 16th-century swordsman-for-hire

    I meant “17th-century”. In fact, one of the hero’s friends is none other than the illustrious poet Francisco de Quevedo. :-)

    >you could then make a picture of all three of you, as if Zola were a martial artist too.

    I meant: “…all three of you in your kuntao suits, as if Zola…”. But you probably got that despite my mistake; and the idea turned out to be non-viable anyway. Not to worry: I’ll do my best to concoct some other wacky idea. Bwahahahaha!

  17. Congratulations.

    My daughter just barely passed her “orange belt” test in Krav Maga (adults don’t have “belts”, but they have them for kids). She got the defensive stuff ok, but her focus was horrible and her combatives needed work. However she’s seven, hopefully she’s got time to improve.

    My wife has been doing Krav for the last year, and we both got our first belt in Doce Pares when we were in Australia.

  18. esr on 2014-12-12 at 08:22:47 said:
    > I don’t think Zola would take well to an attempt to clothe him.

    If you tried you’d find out how good his Kat-fu is.

  19. >If you tried you’d find out how good his Kat-fu is.

    Must post about Zola’s continuing adjustment to life here.

  20. esr on 2014-12-13 at 22:27:12 said:
    > Must post about Zola’s continuing adjustment to life here.

    You commented on it in the post about the Great Beast.

    But mostly I was joking.

  21. @ William O. B’Livion
    >>Must post about Zola’s continuing adjustment to life here.
    >You commented on it in the post about the Great Beast.

    That’s true, but a post-long treatment would be richer. I, for one, look forward to it.

    @ ESR
    That sentence about “Zola’s continuing adjustment” triggered that new crazy idea I was looking for: maybe one day you could also blog about your continuing adjustment to… the i3 window manager. After all, it’s been a long time since you wrote “Out on the tiles”, and I love it when you blog about matters of UI; in my book, “Tetris, Torture, and the Gorilla-Arm Problem” and “Ubuntu and GNOME jump the shark” are A&D classics.

  22. >maybe one day you could also blog about your continuing adjustment to… the i3 window manager

    Not much to say really, except (1) I’m a happy i3 user on my desktop, and (2) I find it doesn’t make me happy on my laptop’s smaller screen. I’ve reverted to XFCE for that.

  23. >I find [i3] doesn’t make me happy on my laptop’s smaller screen. I’ve reverted to XFCE for that.

    Why not use the tabbed layout, as Jeff Read suggested?

    And back on topic (lest I get in trouble), got any video(s) of you and/or Mrs. Raymond sparring in the dojo? That would be interesting.

  24. >Why not use the tabbed layout

    Because multiple on-screen windows – usually a terminal, Emacs, and browser – are important to my usual workflow. If there isn’t enough space to tile all of them, I need them to stack while all remaining mostly visible.

    >And back on topic (lest I get in trouble), got any video(s) of you and/or Mrs. Raymond sparring in the dojo? That would be interesting.

    I don’t think such video exists. But I can ask.

  25. The Western Martial Arts {or Historical European Medieval Arts} have something for nearly everyone. The two most common longsword arts {German and Fiore} are based on grappling, and are pretty common today.

    Back when I was an active swordmaker, rapier was more common, as a lot of people wanted to work with steel, and the rapier simulators were pretty well developed. Longsword simulators at that time, were usually either blunted longswords or really heavy stage combat sword shaped crowbars.

    I personally liked Bolognes, as it seemed to be most similar in style to the Tai Chi I learned in the 90’s.

    Sorry, but it’s really nice seeing more writers with a sword background……… {I do get carried away sometimes}

  26. …I’ve reverted to XFCE for that.

    I just installed a very recent version and discovered that I can no longer move windows around on the task bar (Panel # 1.) I’m very unhappy with the current trend in Linux UI, which seems to be that the more simple-minded the UI’s behavior the better. I can’t even change the order of windows on the taskbar by rebooting an application and ordering windows by the order in which they were open. It seems to auto-arrange windows in alphabetical order. :)

    On the subject of cats, I’m sure my kitty would love to spar with me. Unfortunately, he’d kick my ass!

  27. I misread the headline as “the marital path”, and then I read the article to find that…yeah, that’s just about right, actually.

  28. Re: Arturo Pérez-Reverte, I’ve read The Seville Communion / La piel del tambor. Since Chesterton’s Pater Brown this is the first priest character I found interesting and likeable. And I find it kinda cool to draw parallels between the Vatican and intelligence services employing secret agents and spies. Highly recommended.

  29. @Angus Tim I personally absolutely like the idea of HEMA, but due to both time constraints and laziness I get to stand up from the desk so little that it is more efficient to use that time for something that has large pay-offs in physical and mental fitness, used to be weights, now boxing. Unfortunately a typical Liechtenauer lesson is tons of fun but only fun, does not do very much for physical or mental fitness.

    But the idea is superb, it is not not surprising to find many people liking it in the geek community, the community that likes both rationality and fantasy, it is getting to be one step closer to being Aragorn (fantasy) while also doing it as a serious, honest combat sport (rationality).

  30. >[Western martial arts] is getting to be one step closer to being Aragorn (fantasy) while also doing it as a serious, honest combat sport (rationality).

    I think this is a sound insight about the recent popularity of these styles.

  31. I wouldn’t consider either Aragorn or the SCA as a martial art. Maybe martial sport, but not a martial art.

    I’m actually talking martial art, with the kind of discipline you see in the eastern disciplines. Having done some mixed weapons training and sparring, I can tell you that folks who have studied and practiced a western art judicially for years can easily stand with the best of the east.

    The only real problem with the western arts is that initially folks were working with manuals. Like Lichtenauer, several hundred years old. Fiore is about 1400AD, but also is more longsword than the other weapons.

    Since the western arts have really exploded since ’99, when the internet cast its web internationally, there have been several interpretations, and several revisions of the interpretations.

    And there’s been some frog DNA. There is more than a passing similarity between JSA styles, and the two predominant longsword styles for instance, so there’s been some footwork improvements by paying attention to what a “living” style still has going for it.

    But I’m speaking in generalities. As I found out before ’07, each group has its own regimen, and each group has its own equipment needs. There very well may be some local groups that are more play than work. The ones I’m familiar with locally {Seattle area} are more work than otherwise.

  32. esr, re. the high-functioning sociopath thing, beware: I encountered someone like that a few years ago in MA circles in NZ:

    https://github.com/duncan-bayne/duncan-bayne.github.com/wiki/Taken-In-By-A-Con-Man

    That guy is still doing the rounds – last I heard he’d impregnated several woman after claiming to have been sterilised in a MA accident, and was trying to worm his way into the New Zealand Airsoft scene. Gives me the shivers to think about it …

    Anyways, I can’t speak for the cost-benefit analyses of other people, but as for me, I’ll never have anything to do with such types again, regardless of the possible benefits (which, in this case, were zero).

  33. >Anyways, I can’t speak for the cost-benefit analyses of other people, but as for me, I’ll never have anything to do with such types again, regardless of the possible benefits

    I was sufficiently careful, and avoided direct harm from this specimen; sadly, some friends of mine who trusted him too much were not and suffered for it. He lacked a conscience – and consequently, the ability to keep long-term commitments that it would have been better for his own happiness he not breach – but in a strange and rather damaged way he tried to be trustworthy (e.g. by warning people he wasn’t). Eventually he failed in a way that blew up his own life and those of other people close to him.

    As a curious sidelight on the matter, I believe he liked me in part precisely because he couldn’t manipulate me. He was reaching for ethical normality, but turned out to lack the capability. Not that he was completely unreliable, either; I would still trust him with my life in a clutch situation, though not necessarily in any lesser matter.

  34. Bruce Lee studied Wing Chun, I believe it was his favorite martial art. So in this respect u stand on the shoulder of giants.

  35. I would still trust him with my life in a clutch situation, though not necessarily in any lesser matter.

    As the Marines say (well, some do) “I’d trust you with my life, but not my money or my wife”.

  36. >As the Marines say (well, some do) “I’d trust you with my life, but not my money or my wife”.

    My wife respected the man’s abilities but was always rather wary of him personally. Even when he and I were closest I never tried to persuade her she shouldn’t be. I knew what I was dealing with, and understood that it might be unwise to recommend that anyone more vulnerable than I am should trust him.

  37. Pingback: Putting Forward Energy Into Your Wrist – Wing Chun Training | Larry Rivera's Space On The Web

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