Grading Up: Ranks Without Ranking

By Njoli Brown

This present continuous practice is nothing other than just that, just committing oneself to continuous practice for no other reason than to practice continuously.”

Dogen in “Continuous Practice” –
(Translation by Francis Dojun Cook in the book “How To Raise an Ox”)

Most recently MSMB had the opportunity to promote students through the Pekiti Tirsia Kali ranking curriculum in association with PTK Elite.  It has been a pleasure to see their growth as students and to see them undertake and overcome increasing challenges both in training and in life.  Through this process, it had me truly reflecting on the value of rank testing and the importance of doing it well, justly and academically.

24313066_1815938585083611_5796395572561629866_oNow, truth be told, I do hold a lot of more seemingly abstruse elements to be equally as important in the progression of studentship — empathy, mindfulness, dedication, compassion, fortitude, humility, etc.  But here, I’d like to talk about the importance of the skills element of the pedagogy.

This year there was a decision among Elite Family instructors to really drill down and go layer by layer through the rank requirements, specific skills, language, historical knowledge, deemed essential both by our teachers and by us, collectively.  In making these determinations we were looking to do a better job of making sure that , not only were we developing skilled practitioners or doing our part to protect the legacy of our predecessors but that we were giving our students access to mater24302166_10155929671212520_5244908863842982036_oial which, perhaps, none of us have fully deciphered.  Material which could then truly be theirs to explore and investigate.  In the martial practice everyone brings their own personhood and thus unlocks elements only accessible to them, elements revealed through work and diligence.  These are all the spaces between wherein students often teach their instructors.

By utilizing a clear platform for ranking, it also calls on me to continually develop myself and work on my own weaknesses.  It requires me to regularly test myself and delve deeper.  In part because of my own curiosity but, as well, because It would be my greatest fault to leave a student short-changed because of my own incapacity to reconcile with challenges I face in my own study.

Ranking is a funny thing.  It is both objective and subjective simultaneously.  The more esoteric aspects of a teacher’s pedagogy, I’ve put aside for the sake of this exploration but they are easily as essential, particularly if your institution is also concerned with developing teachers, leaders, comrades.  People age, the body becomes ravaged, illness, injuries, we know them all.  But, in this world of martial craft, nothing sabotages the weight of a leader’s presence in the field more then demonstrative ignorance of his/her craft, and nothing empowers a student more than to have strong foundations from which to build investigative inquiry into self and the world.

Questions:

  • How can I judge someone else’s journey?
  • As an instructor, what is the honest status of my “student mind?” 
  • Am I clear about my expectations as an instructor and/or as a student?
  • Do I ask discerning questions for the sake of learning or for proving?
  • How do I evaluate the connection between my internal and external practice?

Earn Your Keep (the follow up…)

By Njoli Brown

Every summer I spend about a month and a half out in the Northwest.  I’m getting my hiking in, connecting with family and friends, yeah, hard life.  But I also consider this the time where I earn my keep.  I hit my boxing training a bit harder, I work my silat, try to make the rodas and capoeira classes I can and I double up my gym time when I’m not in the mountains.

Back in NYC I have a fantastic group of students and colleagues who’ve been generous over the past few years to work with me as I develop and to dedicate their time to learning what I have to teach.  Now, I’m lucky in having some fantastic teachers who’ve spent years giving me the tools and the kind of support it takes to let me feel confident imparting their gifts.  But all this being said, the worst thing an instructor can possibly do, is rest on his/her laurels.  How many of us have seen the result? Too many.

Now this is obviously taking into account those with debilitating injuries, mental or physical conditions (ie age, disease), etc.  Even so, I recall an event where my capoeira teacher taught his workshop from crutches.  I also know a student who spent her year of physical recovery translating articles and interviews of old mestres from Portuguese to English.  I figure, the least I can do is model the kind of consistent growth I ask of my students.

So, what does that look like.  No, it doesn’t have to mean an extra 4 days a week at the gym or a complete overhaul of your training regimen.  But what it does mean, is taking a good look at the holes in your game and exhibiting the kind of diligence it means to clean them up. Conditioning slipping? Perhaps show up that 20 minutes before class to jump rope (low impact on the knees and high return on the effort).  Be okay with showing your students what it looks like to work before you work.  Feel like you’re losing those fast hand mechanics?  Get yourself to a boxing gym and ask folks who know the science to help you clean up your technique.  Speed is as much muscle elasticity as it is strength. When was the last yoga class you hit.  Local community center… free.  Maybe I’m hurt and out to the physical game for a while but am I innovating in ways to train my mind?And maybe, just maybe, you need a reminder of what it’s like to not be good at something.

Push yourself, find the time and earn your keep.
*Thoughts? Suggestions? Definitely kick them down.

A Sister in Brotherhood Spaces

By JL Umipig

It’s been 2 years now since I arrived to Central Park on a spring evening and was welcomed by Guro Njoli and two of my brothers of Pekiti Tirsia Kali (PTK) Vin and Chris. And I recall so distinctly why I returned after that first moment- it was the feeling of being held in a process of betterment and strengthening through comraderie. From day one, my brothers of MSMB and PTK held me to a caliber of that encouragement to better and strengthen my being.

I a20161126_105810m one of the few Womxn who consistently trains with the brothers of PTK Elite and MSMBNYC. In two years I have watched sisters come through and I emphasize to them why I continue to train which consists of the reasons that most people do, to have consistent physical regiment for my fitness and health, to be able to defend myself when the time comes, and to strengthen my body and confidence. But also I continue and commit to PTK and MSMB because of what I felt in that initial moment that I began learning with this circle: the camaraderie and mutual betterment of self as a practitioner that I feel growing with my brothers. There is a real pride we have for the betterment of one another, the push to excel as a family unit, detached from competition amongst those in our crew. They push me to go hard, to be able to hold my own amongst anyone, no matter their size or their strength level.  There is a belief that I feel from the respect my brothers hold for me, that when we train, our genders have nothing to do with our ability to train hard, and be able to step up to the challenges of body, mind and spirit that our practice teaches us to stand up to.

Our guros hold us all to our strengths, and also hold us to strengthening our weaknesses. I see how each of them in their teachings see the value of each individual in the group, and I watch the camaraderie between them that is model to us all. It roots our circle, the way they are able to respect and hold one another in collaboration and in unique styles of giving knowledge to our training. And as the little sister in the crew they rarely mention my gender, only with the recognition of how to apply their teachings to the very real degradation and violence Womxn face on the daily and how to use the learnings for my protection and ability to be prepared should I be confronted with the realities of misogyny and gender violence in this world. They teach me to use my size to my advantage, and help me understand my power to survive.

When we talk about Kali, we orient the learnings around the ability of Pilipino ancestors to fight and survive in battle with their colonizers, who were often larger and more equipped than them. These teachings of Pilipino Ancestral practices and traditions is the other reason I stay. My guros value this and respect the roots of the a20160625_114602rt, they help us understand the context and it brings me closer to my ancestors in a new way of understanding. I feel them in my movements. I feel their spirit of survival and resistance. And they and my brothers make room for me to share my learnings and cultural practices and values as a healer, activist and artist in connection to our training- another way they welcome what I have to contribute to our circle of my strengths.

“Respect everyone, Fear no one” our MSMB mantra is core to the way we train, is core to the way we learn, is core to the way we build camaraderie. Every time I come to train, I feel valued, respected and cared for as a member to this circle of warriors. I believe that is how my ancestors intended this practice to be upheld. So I bring myself fully to every training and every gathering, ready to step into my power. Sure, every now and then the testosterone is real, the frustrations of having to deal with my femininity being sometimes a hindrance because I can’t hide I am a Womxn physically and there are instances of societal stereotypes that surface (that’s real), and the moments of having to step it up extra notches to have new members that are men see me the way my brothers who I’ve trained with from the beginning is real as well. But what outweighs all of that is that my brothers will always remind me I am valued, that I am seen and I am held and so the humanization is real, the honoring is real and the love that makes me feel Family in this circle of brothers is real.

 

Jana Lynne (JL) Umipig is the creator of “The Journey of a Brown Girl” www.thejourneyofabrowngirl.com  Director, Producer, Actress, Educator and Organizer she currently resides in NYC. JL image5has worked with different community organizations developing curriculum and programs that integrate theatre and visual arts with activism and leadership development, working with schools, community organizations, detention facilities, and rehabilitation and support group centers. She believes in the power of the arts to activate and move the human spirit for individual toward community empowerment and transformation.  She creates with the intention to connect human experience and spirit between all communities.

Teaching to Learn, Learning to Teach

By Njoli Brown

Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to conduct a variety of workshops and community programs in the area.  The current social climate has given people a new perspective on the importance of developing a self defense practice.  This being the case, we’ve been provided a great opportunity for our academy students to step into their leadership.

DSCF3579Over the years, with each of my teachers, I very particularly recall the time when I began to be invited to “assist” during their workshops/events.  It wasn’t because I was the most advanced student but, I think, because my teachers recognized that these experiences would be lessons in accountability.  Acting as a representative of my group and my teacher, I had a responsibility to model our values, to act rightly, to be smart in appearance, to be practiced and adroit.   But equally important, it was an exercise in humility because these classes acted as a reminder of my own journey as a beginner and my ongoing attempts to process the concepts into a language that was discernible for myself and in transmission.

“Teach to learn, learn to teach.”  I’ve been hearing that a lot in recent years.  What I’ve come to realize is that, this doesn’t mean that every person in the room needs to become a focal point.  Not everyone has the desire, the wherewithal, or the temperament to teach, per se.  But everyone does need to become a facilitator. “Ut facile,” to make easy. This does not mean that we should generate passivity in the learning environment, heat (tension) can be a catalyst for energy. But, as a student we can endeavor to grow to a point of simultaneously developing our own practices while propagating a learning environment which is conducive to the growth of others.

Through this”learning to teach” becomes a state of being rather than an acquisition of status.

Tools for learners/teachers:20160625_115022

  • Comport yourself with grace.
  • Ask questions to learn, not for self-aggrandizement.
  • Model focused and diligent training.
  • Err on the side of politeness to your teachers and comrades.
  • Avoid boastfulness.
  • Find lessons everywhere.
  • Prioritize fundamentals.
  • Do your best work.
  • Treat yourself and your comrades with care.

 

Martial Arts, Veganism and Performance

Article by Christophe Verdot

Well respected in the martial arts community, our brother, Christophe, has chosen to speak about his personal journey with healing and veganism.  These opinions are particularly his own and based on his path and experiences.  Hopefully it gives us all some inspiration to ask questions, do research and work toward a practice of self-care.  Thanks for letting us host you here on OnBlast!

Martial artist and vegan still sounds counter-intuitive for many people in 2016, seeing martial artists as strong men who practice  violent fighting arts and vegans as weak, skinny, long hairs who worship flowers and birds. But this is far from a full reality.  My reality is quite the opposite. I’m just a simple person like anyone else but I make sure to understand what I do and why.

I started martial arts around 8 years ago, as I arrived in the Philippines where I still live today, at that time I wasn’t vegan, in fact, I was a junk food lover and a meal without meat wasn’t a meal to me. Like many, I was like that because society formatted me that way.

After several years my body started to fall apart… I was focusing on working out and martial art training (on Pekiti-Tirsia only at that time) but wasn’t giving any particular attention to my body and how I was fueling hit. I ended up with 4 bulging disks, a misaligned cervical column, narrow vertebra disk space etc.  At that point I started to think differently.  After seeing many different specialist (Osteopath, Chiropractor, Physiotherapist, Surgeon etc.), after countless cracked bones and PT sessions with no, or only short terms results, I decided to take a different path. If no one was really going to be able to help me and most of them giving me the same advice (from “do more work out” to “stop everything”, “put ice!”, “no! ice is for the dead, put warm!” etc.) then I would study my case myself!

books
A few of my references…

I started with lot of books and research on anatomy and back problems. This lead me to see the body as a whole and treat it as an entire chain as opposed to what most were doing, trying to simply remove the pain on the specific tender area. I understood that flexibility, mobility and motor skills were the key point and all work together!

After meeting my friend Nico, a strength and conditioning coach in Philippines, I started to follow the work of Tim Anderson called “Original Strength.” It was very interesting in that it focused on basic motor skills.  As he explains, babies start crawling then move to quadrupedal to end up standing.  All of these steps are very important as they build the necessary strength from one to another! Going back to these kind of exercises was definitely helping me along with following Pete Egoscue’s work “Pain Free Living.”

I worked for almost a year on motor skills with my fricv animal flowend, Yut, who was an Olympic athlete in Japan.  II started from zero, relearning the proper mechanics of walking, skipping, running etc. It wasn’t easy at first and I felt really stupid not even walking correctly!  But finally I found what was, for me, the perfect way to combine all that in a very fun way, Animal Flow.  It mixes mobility, motor skills, flexibility with quadrupedal exercises as a main base! I went deep into it, traveling to Switzerland to practice and learn it.  Recently I became the first Animal Flow instructor in Philippines. Animal Flow is also perfect to develop strong stabilizer and postural muscle; a must do in your weekly routine.

All this is to say that learning to understand, why and how, is the best way to progress, either in martial arts or other parts of our lives.  Some doctor had gotten to the point of saying I should stop everything, never carry more than 10% of my body weight, no more contact sports, etc. I’m glad I listened to myself and did my own research. This all, additionally, improved my martial arts practice like nothing else had.  Good body mechanics are always the best whether you swing a stick or throw a punch / kick.  It all depends on good mechanics.

What about veganism? Well… that was part of my healing and progression… I’ve now been vegan for 2 years.  After my dad passed away from heart attack at age of 65, knowing that his dad also passed away from heart attack at age 55, and that this can be hereditary, I naturally started research how to lower the risk and I was very surprised to find that meat consumption was one of the main causes, especially red or process meats! I realized how other associated products were bad for human too, such as milk, which is definitely not suitable for human consumption… and from all the research I came across (ie animal cruelty, meat industry conditions and exploitation) I didn’t want be part of all that anymore.  We now know and have scientific proof, along with tons of examples (athletes etc.) that we don’t needs meat to live and perform at the highest level, so why should we continue?

When you you first become a vegan, you might be extremely affected by your new awareness of the violence and suffering caused by animal exploitation.  You tend to think the entire world should be vegan tomorrow.  I’ve been there too, then, with some distancing my mind changed a bit.  I still believe the world, one day, will be mostly vegan as it is the only way to preserve our planet and unsustainable to feed everyone on meat.  But now I fight a different fight to stop the stop spread of false information.  No, we don’t need meat to live well.  No, vegans don’t lack vital nutrients and aren’t weak, etc. because of this nutritional choice.  I also advocate for the availability of more vegan options in restaurants, groceries and so on.  We should at least have the possibility to choose! When you truly go vegan and start reading the ingredients of everything you buy you realize that many industries are putting animal products everywhere, from bread to the french fries in MacDo for example. This is absolutely unnecessary.

The vegan diet made me feel a lot better inside, mentally and physically.  I eat mostly raw and it is incredible the amount of energy I get from it and how my performance has increased. I’m now 37 years old and have never been this physically active and this fit in my entire life.  I now teach Pekiti Tirsia Kali 3 to 4 times a week but also go to boxing and BJJ classes along with learning Filipino Silat and even beginning to work on Zhan Zhuang postures.  Not a single day without practicing and all this is powered only by plants !  It has now been almost a year since my back was last messed up.  Previously it was a regular occurrence about every 2 months.

My take away advice is to research and try to understand if you want really move forward or fix a problem, applying martial arts philosophy to diet (protect the weak, don’t harm or kill if not necessary) and to my health (do your own research, study and take care of yourself at all time) .  With all this,  a martial artist’s journey is very personal and each one should do what is right for her or himself.

_________________________________________________________________

Guro Christophe Verdot is originally from Bordeaux, France and has made a home in the Philippines since 2009 to train in and teach the Filipino Martial Art of Pekiti Tirsia Kali. He established Pekiti Tirsia Kali Global City after receiving his Guro rank from Tuhon Rommel Tortal on May 06 2012. He is now Guro Dalawa under Tuhon Bill McGrath and Pekiti-Tirsia Global City is an official Pekiti-Tirsia International School.11337053_10152944970283553_2473717587599288883_o

Contact and infos : http://pekiti-global-city.com/

 

Building Community in the Martial Design

By Njoli Brown

It’d be simple enough if it was just about stepping in, training and stepping out. But recently had a conversation with students about the importance of fraternizing. Spoke about how some of the most valuable things I’ve learned in my time both in capoeira and kali were learned outside of class on my mestre’s stoop or over breakfast or building instruments, at my mandala’s favorite hangout or on the beach. Taking the time to connect with your teachers and your comrades reminds them of your investment and of the value you place in their investment in you. It’s where life talk happens and context for all the training gets explored. http://ow.ly/xz2J300ome9 http://ow.ly/i/jwNgS

PTK Language Lab

I just recently spent another couple of weeks in the Philippines and was re-inspired.  I’m sure that most of my friends and family had their excitement for me based on some imaginings of days in the sun while the rest of the east coast remained buried in springtime snow.  Truth be told, there was a minimal amount of beach lounging and, instead, it was a brain-sizzling crash course on structure and repetition and diligence.  It was my PTK language lab.  I wanted to use this post as an opportunity to reflect on the virtues of exploring structure and examination in the context of creative arts.

“Arts.”  The fact is, there must be something scientific in the application of any martial art.  It requires a distinctive understanding of body mechanics, anatomy, psychology and simultaneously there is the creative ingenuity to realize all of these concepts in a 3 dimensional and changing laboratory.  The ground is uneven, stamina is wavering, it is early in the morning or late in the evening, there is an opponent which is exploring a completely different array of questions, etc. etc. It’s been of interest to me to look at some of the foundational elements of the styles I’ve been practicing and to examine them using a more scientific methodology.

Scientific_Method_3Particularly in the context of kali, which is predominately weapons based, there is not a lot of space for a reliance on techniques that have only been through the anecdotal fire. Sure, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel but we’d better make sure the wheel is well suited to the terrain we’re driving on.  So we need to “road test.”  That means taking each technique into a sparring scenario and hashing through its application.  It also means developing the vocabulary and grammar to see the opportunity for the technique’s execution by developing, through practice, the capacity to discharge the element with proper form, angle, energy and intent.

not really scientific method

 

Anyway, I’ll be following up on this as the weeks and months go by and hopefully I’ll be able to provide some worthwhile questions to add into the pool.

5 Questions: Art and Learning with Damon Abraham – Kali, Silat and Martial Mindfulness

It is truly a pleasure to be able to include Damon in this edition of NoPaper.  He has a been a mentor to me in many ways without even realizing it and has wonderful insights to share which can be applied to all of our artistic and cultural practices.

Damon Abraham of Kapatiran Mandirigma  talks back to 5 Questions from Njoli Brown at NoPaper

I first encountered the Southeast Asian martial arts between my Freshman and Sophomore years of college.  I was home for the summer when a friend of mine was telling me all about this “Kali” art that he was studying.  At the time, I had never even heard the term Kali or Arnis / Escrima for that matter.  In any case, I had been interested in martial arts for as long as I could remember and had practiced a couple of different arts by this time.  Like most American kids in my generation, inspired by Ralph Macchio I studied at a “Karate” school which was really Tae Kwon Do.  Later I ended up taking some Hapkido.  But I was certainly interested in something more.  Anyway, through this friend I was introduced to an Indonesian martial artist named Paul Prijatna.  His primary art was Kali, but growing up he had learned Pencak Silat from his uncle.  I was impressed by Paul.  He was very unlike the Westernized artists I had met so far and he embodied more of the internal and spiritual aspects of the art that I was looking for.  We had many conversations about energy (i.e. chi), meditation, and the proper conduct for a martial artist.  There was no ego or machismo that I’ve later come to associate with sport fighting etc.  Paul only charged me $50 for several weeks of training and at our last meeting before I returned to school he pulled out my check and ripped it up.  “I just wanted to make sure you were serious”, he said as he handed me the pieces of ripped paper.  While my training with Paul was very short, he put me on the path towards FMA and Silat that I still follow today.

1000183_570661332956646_1574242949_n

 …

One thing that I believe to be a personal weakness is not knowing enough about the customs and cultural heritage of the styles that I study.  I am not particularly well-versed in the language and histories of the Philippines and Indonesia, for example.  However, I have visited both countries to study and learn.  And although I have perhaps fallen short in some areas, I have tried to make a sincere effort to know about my teachers, their philosophies, why they move the way that they move, and especially their perspectives on the spiritual aspects of the arts.558465_10201776423876516_283526343_n

For me personally, I feel the best way that I can reflect the art is through embodying it as a personal expression.  Many people try to preserve an art by memorizing techniques and drills and chiseling them into stone, so to speak, as if they were some sort of dogma to follow. To me this makes the art seem dead.  Kind of like Latin, an arguably complete language and yet it is immutable.  It does not live because it is not spoken.  The living art is in constant flux and each practitioner contributes their unique perspective and individualized expression.  Hence, it is through the internalization
of the art that it really remains alive.  And of course, the manner in which the art is transmitted is crucial here as well.  It is my ambition, therefore, to be both a reflection of my teachers and an individualized expression.  At the end of the day, none of us are a source of anything… we are merely channels of that thing.  Training builds that channel within the student, and each student is different.

 …

Lately, with respect to Pencak Silat and FMA, I’ve been contemplating a metaphor of a squirrel trying to climb two trees.  It is, of course, impossible to climb both at the same time.  In the beginning of our practice we tend to see each trunk independently as well as its differences from the other. And yet at the level of the branches, the trees come together and the practitioner can seamlessly traverse between them.  So it becomes a question of how far apart are the trees and how great is their breadth in the understanding of the practitioner. My personal experience in the way that I’ve learned them, Pencak Silat and Arnis/Kali/Escrima are kind of like complimentary opposites.  The movements and the core physical training, to me, do not seem to conflict.  Likewise, many of the principles are common between them. Hence, I would say that these two trees are close together. However, there can be considerable variation in how the information is conceptualized by the teacher and imparted to the student. This can be true even amongst teachers within a single system.  And I have found that when observing the gross movements between different styles, for example, while they may appear to be very similar, when actualizing the movement with the intent and mindset of the respective style they are very different. Hence, for me it has become less of a matter of “how does art A perform movement XYZ?” and more about “how do I move with this art?” I will say that each art has given me an augmented view of the other as I can take a somewhat out-of-the-box perspective by analyzing a technique etc from the vantage point of another style.  I am sure this must be true of anyone who has learned more than one art.  However, we must be cautious.  It is one thing to be able to shift perspectives and it is another to try and interpret one art through the lens of another.  I’ve seen many students who have slowed their progress through this fallacy. You’ll often hear people say things like “Oh yes, we have that in JKD too.” or “In my art we would do it like this.” As an example, 4 years ago I began learning Kalis Ilustrisimo under Kuya Raul Marquez. At that time, I was already a Lakan and senior student in two other styles of FMA (Kombatan Arnis and Kuntaw Kali Kruzada).  And yet, in my first lesson I had to come to terms with the fact that I really didn’t know anything. Raul’s teaching method was completely unlike anything I had experienced.
Nothing was broken down into simple steps.  There was no rote memorization but rather it was fistfuls of 155271_586912464671838_1492586766_ninformation that I had no hope to process… I just had to swallow as much as I could and try to keep up. The movements appeared familiar, and yet I couldn’t apply them in context. My timing was off, my footwork was backwards, and all of my instincts seemed wrong.  After each lesson, I’d ride the subway for an hour from Queens back to Brooklyn and my head would literally ache.  If you were to ask me, “what did you learn today?” I wouldn’t even be able to tell you and yet I could see myself improving. Hence, I was faced with a choice… I could accept returning to the status of a “beginner” or I could let my ego get the better of me.  Fortunately I chose the former. By putting aside my pride and approaching the lessons with the beginner’s mentality, I feel I was not only able to learn the movements much faster, but to understand the underlying principles and philosophy at a deeper level. Ultimately, this experience proved beneficial to my progress in every style that I practice. I think that most arts run much deeper than we tend to recognize.  Although it is not always overtly expressed, my teachers all seem to embody this appreciation.  Despite their accomplishments and recognition, they are still students of their art.  To me, that is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from them.  If we view ourselves as a rank (black belt, lakan etc), we find ourselves repeatedly disappointed.  We can never really live up to our own expectations of what that rank entails.  However, when we recognize ourselves as beginners, we can only improve. This disposition has not only helped me progress as an artist, but ultimately has allowed me to reap more enjoyment from the arts.

Regarding their differences, perhaps the greatest contrast that I’ve noticed between the style of Silat that I study (Inti Ombak Pencak Silat – IOPS) and the styles of FMA that I practice (Kombatan, Kuntaw Kali Kruzada, and Kalis Ilustrisimo) is that the FMA is very martial focused whereas I would say that IOPS is more holistic.  I mean this in the sense that IOPS is not only external (i.e. martial) but also emphasizes internal aspects (breathing / meditation) as well as spiritual.  Case in point, the Lakutama organization, of which IOPS is a part, has branches dedicated entirely to spiritual and healing practices. I believe that these aspects are still embedded within the FMA, but perhaps due to colonialism are more buried under the surface.  282730_10150246807707161_980330_nYou don’t regularly come across FMA practitioners with a heavy emphasis on internal training, for example, unless they have learned other arts.  Of course, that is a generalization.  For instance, I know practitioners from Mindanao who are very spiritual and have a very holistic approach to their art.  But generally speaking, as it is practiced I feel that IOPS has a more overt emphasis on the entirety of the person going beyond physical and martial applications. I’ve seen IOPS have a profound and lasting positive impact on more people (not only students) than any other art that I’ve encountered. Ironically, while I regret to have had less opportunity to study directly under Guru Daniel Prasetya as I have with my other teachers, I would say that he has had a greater influence over me at a personal level (beyond martial) than almost anyone I’ve ever known. I think that it is unfortunate that more arts don’t incorporate these aspects.

 

A personal challenge for me has been in the realization that life’s time constraints do not allow me to practice nearly as much as I feel like I should.  This is exasperated when learning more than one style.  And the ego can become particularly threatened when seeing oneself surpassed by your peers.  Time spent “advancing” in one art is time sacrificed in another. But as I’ve matured as an artist, I’ve come to worry less and less about the recognition of certificates, rank, title, or the successes of my peers.  I only strive to be a better artist today than I was yesterday.  And when we are at the level of the tree’s branches, it is not about how many drills we know etc… simply, how well can we connect to the roots of the tree?  Is the root of the style inside of you?

In the years that I’ve been studying Arnis, there has definitely been an upsurge in the popularity of the Filipino Arts.  Several action movies have begun using FMA inspired choreography, new schools and styles are popping up everywhere, and there is a ton of videos, Facebook groups, websites, and equipment suppliers that have popped up.  In general, I see this as a positive change but it certainly has its drawbacks as well.  For instance, I’m happy to see people from all over the world making pilgrimages to the Philippines to pay homage and learn from the originators of the arts. Likewise, with how much Western culture tends to be idolized and idealized in parts of Asia, I think that for Filipinos to see Westerners visiting their homeland to learn their native arts hopefully gives a sense of cultural pride.  It is a shame to think about how many Filipinos (and Indonesians) forego their native arts to pursue TKD or Karate etc due to either a lack of awareness or lack of respect for their indigenous art.  On the other hand, the manner in which FMA tends to be embodied in the US is often less than optimal.  There is a lot of ego and insecurity wrapped up in the arts and veiled behind catch phrases like “combat effective” or “battle tested”.  Not to say that the arts are not incredibly effective, because they are.  However, many practitioners seem to study the arts more for the protection of the ego than protection of the person.  As to the competition between groups and styles, in terms of self-defense, our mindset should not be how does one style defeat another.  I’m not training to fight another style. I’m training to defend my person and to defend others.  Therefore, to me all of the saber rattling that goes with “style-pride” is wasted breath.  It is also easy for us to get caught up in pitfalls involving recognition.  This comes in the form of belts, certificates, logos on T-shirts, and even our posed pictures with the masters.  The only proof of your practice comes in the expression of your art.  Is it part of you?  Any other artifice that represents that, to me, is BS. And it upsets me when I see people visit the masters, paying them a trifle then demanding a lesson and a photo opportunity.  How many masters die poor while the styles of their own creation thrive abroad?  Essentially, the real art is an intangible thing.  It lives in us and is ever changing.  But that is hard for us to accept and we cling to the token instead.  That is also why we are more concerned with the number of techniques we carry in our suitcases rather than how well we understand the principles.  I count myself extremely fortunate for the teachers I have had who have instilled this sense into me.

 …

I think that the most exciting project for me has been my ongoing involvement with the Kapatiran Mandirigma organization which was set up to be a celebration of Indonesian and Filipino martial arts.  We’ve sought to foster a community of sharing amongst styles and artists and have done our best to put a sense of family over politics. This group was created by my teacher, Grandmaster Shelley Millspaugh (Kombatan Arnis), who most certainly has been one of my greatest martial influences.  Shelley believes that as artists we have so much to share and learn from one another, and so this organization serves as a vehicle for us to meet other groups, cross-train between styles, and congregate as a family at our annual camp in Estes Park. I have been extremely fortunate to have fallen under so many teachers with this mentality. Prior to the formation of Kapatiran Mandirigma, I moved to NYC and began learning from Datu Richie Acosta (Kuntaw Kali Kruzada).  To this day I have yet to meet a practitioner with as much uncanny speed, power, and precision as him.  But more importantly, I have yet to meet a more humble person.  Soon after beginning my study of Kuntaw Kali, Shelley to visit NYC and teach a seminar.  Datu also assisted me in hosting Guru Daniel on more than one occasion.  Consequently, Datu became one of the first members we invited to the Kapatiran Mandirigma organization.  I mention this merely because it gives me both a sense of pride about FMA and Silat in the US as well as hope for the future when I see so many artists with various backgrounds come together to foster an environment of mutual respect.  This posture of openness not only serves to minimize conflict, but gives the students an invaluable opportunity to see their own art from many perspectives and to broaden their horizons.  The best teachers are the ones who are forever students.  They are the ones who do not view themselves as “the source” of the teaching, but merely a guidepost for the student. And since the inception of Kapatiran Mandirigma, I’ve seen my teachers grow as much as we have as students. And now the responsibility for hosting the 2015 Kapatiran Mandirigma camp has fallen to me and the other senior members of our organization.  For me, this is an exciting opportunity to bring all of my teachers together in one place.  We hold our camp annually in Estes Park around late June.  The camp is essentially open to anyone, provided they have the right disposition and a willingness to learn.

 


Damon Abraham 988527_570493692973410_1047714983_n

Damon has studied martial arts since childhood but has been learning various styles of Silat and Arnis since 2000.  His formal study began in 2002 when he met Grandmaster Shelley Millspaugh in Kansas City, MO.  GM Shelley is a direct student of Great Grandmaster Ernesto Presas, the founder of Kombatan Arnis, as well as a student of Kuntaw Silat under Bapak Willem deThouars.  Through GM Shelley’s encouragement, Damon has branched out and learned from several other instructors. In 2004 at a seminar in Arkansas, Damon met Guru Daniel Prasetya and shortly after began his study of Inti Ombak Pencak Silat.  While he had some previous experience with Kuntaw Silat through GM Shelley, this was his first introduction into a formalized internal practice inclusive of breathing and meditation disciplines.  In late 2005, Damon and his family moved to New York City where they lived for 8 years.  Soon after he began learning Kuntaw Kali Kruzada from Datu Richie Acosta.  At GM Shelley’s request, Damon also sought out Kuya Raul Marquez of Kalis Ilustrisimo and has been a student of KI since 2010.  Other notable teachers and influences include Paul Prijatna who first introduced him to Southeast Asian martial arts, Guru Michael Leininger (Init Ombak Pencak Silat) who first introduced him to the internal side of the arts, Mas Sigit (Inti Ombak Pencak Silat) the spiritual leader of IOPS, Master Kurt Graham (Kombatan Arnis), Grandmaster Steve Todd (founder of 5 Way Method), Grandmaster Jeff Sprawls (founder of Maju Bela Diri Pentjak Silat), and Master Style Allah (Combate Eskrima Orehenal) who first introduced Damon to the art of the blade.  In 2009, Damon joined the Kapatiran Mandirigma (KM) organization and is currently a senior member & master instructor of KM.  He is proud to represent the KM organization which serves to support many artists and teachers from various backgrounds and styles.   Damon currently resides in Denver, Colorado.

 

Titles and Ranks:

Kapatiran Mandirigma – Master Instructor

Kombatan Arnis – Lakan Tatlo (3rd Degree)

Modern Arnis / Kombat-an (MAK) – Full Instructor

Kadena Kruzada Eskrima – Instructor

Kuntaw Kali Kruzada – Associate Instructor

5 Way Method – (1st Degree)

Inti Ombak Pencak Silat – Guru Muda (4th Degree)

 

This is No Kick-Flick: The Responsibilities of an Instructor Teaching Martial Arts to Youths

By Njoli Brown

First of all I want to start this by stating that I’ll be speaking from the perspective of someone who, when instructing youths, primarily works with young people in the middle to high school age range.  As much as I think it is a wonderful exposure for younger students, I also realize this kind of instruction as a distinctive skill set and would say that Picturemy experience has been nominal and insufficient to give any expansive and well founded opinions. That being said, there are many people who see the instruction of youths as a part of the culture of martial arts.  As in many cultural practices, young people hold the key to maintaining the legacy of oral wisdom passed from teacher to student.  But are you ready for the challenge?

So, I’m going to break this down into 3 guiding principles.  I’m sure there are many more which could be relevant to the work you intend but I’m going to focus on clarity, design & outcomes as the reference points to keep your program effective and satisfying both for teacher and student.

Clarity

Before beginning you need some time to reflect on your intentions. This may seem like a given but it’s assuredly worth stating.  Young people have a tremendous aptitude for recognizing your excitement, your enthusiasm and your dissatisfaction.  It’s up to you to create a project that has the space to evolve unexpectedly and also brings you joy.

Is your vision to create a fitness program? Recent statistics have the rate of childhood obesity skyrocketing.  Current count is something like 2:3 people are at weight related health risk in the Bronx and these numbers can be applied to communities all around the country.  If this is your goal, kudos to you.

Are you looking at this martial arts club as an occasion to connect youths to a new kind of cultural engagement?  Completely worthwhile.  Every time we expose our students to new ways of thinking we allow them the opportunity to debate, to reconcile and to measure their own beliefs.  By doing this they go through the practice of forming opinions and strategies which they can use in an ever more diverse and global landscape.

Is it real world self-defense? If you’re willing and able, I can’t imagine a better forum for talking about resolving conflict and facilitating conversations about violence in our communities. In addition, a self-defense class recognizes a very pragmatic desire on the part of kids and parents to look at the issues which threaten our safety and to think about how the incidents taking place in schools throughout the country are affecting the consciousness of students in the day-to-day.

Whatever your purpose might be.  Think about how you are reflecting this in the framing of your sessions. Are you making time to process and allowing your students to voice their opinions?  You are creating a community so that also means that at the same time that you guide it’s development, you are also taking it’s temperature and finding innovative ways of integrating the vision of its participants.  Making time for conversation, both on a group and individual basis, is key to understanding the players and for gaining their trust as they come to also understand the things that you find important.

Design

I am an advocate of the concept of flexible structure when it comes to planning.  For your sake, the sake of your students and the sake of the institution with which you are working creating some short and long term goals for your project gives structure to your vision. These goals may change, perhaps because of the nature or number of students or for a variety of other reasons, but recognizing the necessity of a plan causes you to invest a certain level of commitment to every engagement you have with your group. It also allows you to find ways to weave deeper context into your sessions.  Maybe you can introduce some supporting text.  Is there some video footage?  Are you planning a field trip at a time and place that is relevant to the stage you’ve reached?

In addition to all of this, I believe that my work with youths should be mutually supportive of parents and schools.  Through deliberate design you can have clear conversations with parents about your process and can ask pointed questions regarding the hopes these parents have for their child’s participation in your project.  You can also reflect on ways in which your work might inspire and highlight academic successes as well.  Have you taken some time to investigate the social and academic issues your school system is navigating? You might be surprised to find the ways in which your work is reinforcing (or negating) the educational objectives of your wards.  Learning the language and inquiring about the hurdles, obstacles and achievements of your local school system gives you an increased insight into the pressures that young people are encountering.Picture

Designing a first rate program requires not only content.  It
requires context.

Outcomes

So where is this all going?

Some of your students will decide to stay with you for years to come.  Some of them will be with you for a semester.  Many of them will be with you for any and all the increments in between. Depending on the type of project you are developing, your planning should account for each student’s sense of closure or completion.

Even if this means only the completion of a phase within their development, involving and partnering with your group members in the creation and survey of your design gives a realization of the landscape of their growth.  Performances are great, ceremonies are grand and most young people will carry fond memories of occasions when they have been publicly acknowledged in front of family and friends.  But even if  a large public event isn’t possible, an instructor should realize the import and gravitas which rites of passage hold.   A dinner, a special workshop, the presentation of an annual photo journal, recognize growth and change and young people will often dedicate themselves to its continuance.

Outcomes?  In many ways they are unpredictable.  But of all things I think there is a common sense that we, as instructors, are trying to help in the development of good people who recognize their own value and their roles in the societies in which they live.  This is no “kick flick,” no JCVD film where all the difficulties get sewn up in the end.  Instructing youths in the martial arts is the responsibility of mentors, friends, brothers and sisters who recognize that rocky trails lead to beautiful mountains… and more beautifully rocky trails.


I’ve included the short bio below, solely for the purpose of providing a sense of my reference point and the mediums which I use for this type of instruction.

Njoli Brown

10014694_301877176628584_502611539_nDirector of Martial Science Macto Bicallis, Head of Kali MaBi, Co-Lead of FICA New York

Pekiti Tirsia Kali / Capoeira Angola

http://www.martialsciencemb.com

Njoli Brown began his study of Capoeira in Denmark (1997). After two years of intensive study with group Quilombo do Norte came the decision to study the Angola style of capoeira with a master (mestre) of the art form. In 1999 came a move to Seattle to train with Mestre Jurandir Nascimento who, at the time, had recently moved to the northwest from southern Brazil to start a chapter of the International Capoeira Angola Foundation.

After spending some years in the northeast of Brazil to continue his study, Njoli moved home to New York City and began his work to collaboratively establish a FICA group, along with Treinel Michael”Ligerinho” Kranz, dedicated to training this beautiful art form throughout the 5 boroughs. Alongside this he spends his efforts developing and facilitating a multiplicity of youth and community programs, both domestically and internationally, centering around the use of Capoeira Angola as a tool for inspiring community action and social justice.

Njoli Brown’s practice in the Filipino martial arts began in the Philippines in 2009 with a focus on Lightning Scientific Kali, under the mentorship of Grandmaster Vic Sanchez (Kali Arnis International), and ( beginning in 2010) Pekiti Tirsia Kali, under the guidance of Mandala Kit Acenas (Kali Makati).  Over the years he has balanced his stateside practice between study with Brooklyn – PTK Elite and Kuntaw Kali Kruzada of NYC.  Njoli has the great fortune to spend extensive time, annually in the Philippines for work and study and this has provided the opportunity to connect with the art in dynamic ways, physically, emotionally and culturally.  In 2014 Njoli officially started Kali MaBi at the behest of his teacher Mandala Kit Acenas and works to spread the legacy of Pekiti Tirsia through classes and workshops in the tri-state area and the pacific northwest.

Awarded the title of Lakan (black belt) by Grand Master Vicente Sanchez of KAI in the summer of 2012.

Awarded the title of Lakan Guro by Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje of Pekiti Tirsia Kali in the spring of 2014

Awarded the Yondan (4th Dan) in Bujinkan Ninjutsu in the summer of 2000

Teaching Without Teachers

Sometimes I think the only way to be a teacher is to have no personal need for students, not the financial need, the egotistical need.  There only needs to be a desire for learning in order for teaching to occur.

…having the capacity to speak plainly and to be… plainly.

…teaching without teaching

…a dialogue between mutually respected peers in humanity

without dilution or fear

without the intention to incite

…letting go of the floors and ceilings