It’s been such an honor to have Guru Robert as a teacher, facilitating my silat journey. His patience, humility and deep understanding have been as engaging as his skill and I figured it’d be a pleasure to get his take on just 5 Questions about his ideas on teaching his student journey.
Robert Hilliard of Kuno Silat talks back to 5 Questions from Njoli Brown at NoPaper.
I’ve been around martial artists my entire life. I had two brothers that studied Okinawan karate. They where basically my first teachers. When they would see me and my friends imitating martial arts moves, they would came and make corrections. Occasionally they would let us spar with them. This would typically end with me and my friends on our backs, or a bit bruised up. The younger of my two brothers, who was actually a black belt, had a friend who was opening a Kung-Fu school in a local community center. My brother thought that would be good training for me, so he enrolled me and another of my siblings at the school. I trained there until I finished high school. After college, I ran into a friend that was studying Wing Chun. I loved the efficiency of that system and trained for over ten years. After that, I was introduced to silat by a neighborhood friend. I was instantly drawn to it’s effectiveness and completeness.
My experiences have been varied. I try hard not to look at them through the lens of good or bad, but as learning opportunities. I’ve had some teachers that were, what some would consider heavy handed, while others were nurturing and accommodated. Early on, some of my teachers pushed so hard that I got injured during training. When this happened, they would frankly state that it was not the training methods that caused the injuring, but my lack of conditioning, etc. Those were unpleasant experiences, but they taught me to listen to my body. It also taught me that good teachers don’t push their students beyond their physical limitations. I should note that those experiences happened while I was studying others systems. The vast majority of my experience with silat have been incredibly positive.
As an instructor, I try to create a warm and welcoming environment where people can come to class, work hard, and enjoying their progress. I teach my students that success in martial arts, or life for that matter, is not a straight line. It’s okay to struggle and fail as long as you are “failing forward.” As far as my student’s aspirations go, I want everyone to be ambassadors of the art and have confidence in their ability to execute what they’ve learned with confidence in class or in the street, if need be.
I manage my personal practice by making sure that I carve out time during the day to train all aspects of the art. I learned that it’s easier for me to train early in the morning (around 5:00 am). Of course, you can’t train everything in the system in one day, so I focus on certain aspects throughout the week. The jurus (forms), I train everyday. I also try to make sure that my general fitness is good. I’ve also learned to listen to my body, so I don’t train when I’m sick or injured. Instead, I give my body time to heal.
To make things relevant in my daily life, I use the two basic principles of silat: adat and hormat. Adat is how you conduct yourself. Hormat is respect for all around you. As a instructor, I believe that I should be a mirror for my students outside of class as well as inside.
Robert Hilliard is a student of Senior Guru Tim Anderson and a long time promoter of this Indo-Dutch system of silat as Head Instructor of Kuno NYC. He additionally has an extensive background in Wing Chun. Robert brings his classes alive by consistently imbuing them with a community feel while committing his students to a highly technical and detail oriented practice.
Semangat Baru is the name of our specific style of Pukulan Pentjak Silat. It translates to “New Spirit” and reflects our new way of viewing and teaching the ancient art of Silat. We operate free from any kind of “secrets” or “martial politics” that can become attached to coveted knowledge. The style itself focuses overwhelming an opponent with strikes, while finding leverage points to take their balance and ultimately subdue them.
Silat is a collective word used to describe martial arts originating from South East Asia, such as Malaysia and in our case Indonesia. Pukulan is a word that means striking. In this case denoting a silat system that places a heavy emphasis on hitting. Pentjak is generally considered to refer to the movements and performance of forms where “Silat” is an expression of those motions for use in combat. So “Pukulan Pentjak Silat” could be seen to mean something like “Striking form based Indonesian Martial Art”.
*Special “thank you” to Jelena Antanasijevic for the photos.
By Njoli Brown
One of the most powerful things we can give to our youth is the realization that they have an actual capacity to effect change. In my autumn projects in Brooklyn and the Bronx I decided to utilize concepts from civil engineering to develop
a sense of the importance of design in the nature and timbre of a community. But even more importantly, the objective was to mature the capacity to critically evaluate our environment to recognize ways in which it could be changed and/or supported.
The process was collaborative and grounded in the work of establishing leadership skills, common values and collective empathy. Through discussion, writing, movement and art we dove deep into the most difficult work of putting language to our ideas, debating and, at times, compromising.
We concluded the project by creating an interactive public gallery wherein participants could post questions as a pathway to research and activism.
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 am 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 art, 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 has 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.
By Njoli Brown
One of the stand out features of the MSMB practice is its dedication to teaching the advantages of a comprehensive training regiment. But what does that mean?
There are a huge number of mixed martial arts schools popping up around the country. Perhaps there are even more academies which house various arts without determining any points of connectivity between them. But for us, there is a distinct importance in being able to put together a practice that is enriching and profound, physically, intellectually and emotionally.
I think, at this point, the physical benefits of martial arts training have been fairly widely accepted. Increased muscle gain, developed reflexes and reaction time, flexibility, mobility, etc. All of these are resultant from intelligent training and continually evolving theories on how best to serve a student’s growth.
The importance of a martial practice as an intellectual study is often understated. Educating practitioners on the cultures from which their arts have been born is at times considered an arbitrary aside. But in truth, the cultural and intellectual development is what helps to provide some moral foundation for how we choose to use the often dangerous practice we engage in. In the most pressured moments we don’t have time to debate with ourselves about our beliefs on violence or conflict resolution. Instead, one would hope that we’ve spent peaceable moments discussing with our comrades so that in other times we are able to act efficaciously. Culture and history provide context for these discussions so that we have the opportunity to take advantage of historical precedents. The culture of an art reminds us that it is based in humanity. Because of this it is evolving and affected by all the historical boons and faults of the people who carried its legacy along the way. With a critical mind we can learn from this and apply those lessons when using our art as a foundation for our daily living.
Here we are empowering, but how do we make sure we’re not doing as much harm as help? It’s easy enough to hand out the tools but making sure that they’re utilized conscientiously… that’s another story. A lot of instructors talk about “emotional equilibrium, controlling your anger” and so on and so on. But aside from the rhetoric, how many are providing the training for that kind of capacity? As an instructor, investing in your own development as an emotional being is as important (if not more) as any attempts to integrate these ideas into your classes. Students need to see that dealing with relationships at home, at work, in the world, affect us all and our decisions on how to reconcile our emotions with the situations we encounter are as much a part of our martial practice as the work we do in the academy.
Being mindful of the fact that all of these elements play an integral part in our MSMB training philosophy allows us to create an environment where people develop their complete selves and explore new pathways to growth and wellness.
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!
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 friend, 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.
Contact and infos : http://pekiti-global-city.com/
By Njoli Brown
I was graciously invited by FICA Seattle to facilitate a conversation on how cultural orgs can effectively engage in social action. In Seattle there are a large number of groups which participate in the ethnic/cultural arts of Latin america, Africa, central – SE Asia and so on. But, aside from the artistic endeavor, how many make the determination to actively and positively effect, in profound and long term ways, the communities within which these arts were sustained through centuries of struggle and an infusion of intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy?
The first thing that came to mind for me was a discussion on the spate of ongoing disturbing events throughout our communities, but it seemed that the first step needed to be a deep dive into “identity.” One of the most common falsely held presumptions in groups is that, “if we’re all here then we’re all ‘down.’ ” But before getting to the “what” we’re doing, there’s a lot of figuring that has to go into the “why” so that when it becomes difficult and laborious there’s a foundation that we’re working from in common. I give FICA a lot of credit for often trying to provide opportunities for critical evaluations of itself by its members.
How does this collection of people see itself? Does the collective mission align with each individual’s personal mission? Are we willing to lose members if we determine the mission is of tantamount importance? From where are we garnering vital information and through what lens are we evaluating it? Do the actions we hope to take stay true to the missions we’ve established for ourselves? Etc, etc. There is a lot to be said for a group which decides to wrestle with itself and deal with the discomfort of recognizing the failings, doubts.. the humanity of all its members.
There is a long history of misdirected actions which can often times do more damage than help. Often times these are a result of not establishing all the predetermination that will provide you with the fortitude to stay in the process for the long haul. Simultaneously, there are advocates who have, at times, been discarded without a dedication to the difficult conversations which provide soil for effective growth and leadership. I hope to hear more from the participants of this recent forum, to hear if they found worthwhile takeaways, if there are plans for next steps, suggestions. I also hope that other groups will make use of the currently aroused energy to figure out how they can utilize their organizations as nuclei for positive change.
*Gratitute to co-facilitator, Jabali Stewart, and to Mestre Silvinho (FICA Seattle), Leika Suzumura and Chelsea Rae for getting the ball rolling.
By Njoli Brown
Today during our LEAD session we talked about the role that vision can play in transforming things that we do for ourselves into tools we can use to support our communities. Such an important thing to remind our young people that service isn’t always a grandiose thing out of reach in our everyday. Look for ways to use their passions and interests as the vehicle for engaging their generosity and empathy. http://ow.ly/i/lyefa
By Njoli Brown
I was recently having a conversation with some other martial arts instructors of various styles. One of the things that came up was the fact that, for the most part, along with the physical stimulus that training provides, one of the things that’d kept us involved for so long was feeling a sense of richness through involvement with the people and ideas of another culture. Now, I don’t want to say that this is or must be an interest for all students. But for us, in common, it’s been an integral part of our practice and, as such a priority in our instruction.
So how do we convey that to our students? As importantly, how do we convey that in a way that doesn’t diminish the reasons that each individual has for investing their time and energy into an activity that often has no reward other than that which the participant gleans?
Is it timely? Sometimes a moment presents itself. Perhaps a situation occurs, a movement or idea reveals itself and, in this time a historical or cultural reference is the perfect framing feature. It might give context for a way of doing things or for the evolution of a concept. It might, as well, give some insight into the mindset of those figures who had, at times, practical reasons for the design of their craft.
Is it enriching? For many students, having a deeper knowledge of the practice to which they have dedicated themselves gives them a greater sense of purpose. They come to see themselves as guardians of ideas and, in the most fortunate of instances, as researchers who dispel myths and contribute to the archive of developmental resources.
Is it relevant? Class isn’t the time to bloviate about all of your past accomplishments, about the awards you’ve won or the opponents you’ve beaten. Check yourself and, if it isn’t in service of the practice maybe keep it til you’re out having a drink with your buddies. Remember that your stories and the ideas they convey become part of the culture of your school as well.
Integrating history and culture into the practice of your students takes a real sense of scope and a strong concept of what you hope for your community to embody. You are shaping values in subtle ways. It can be tremendously enriching or it can be the “turn-off” that pushes hard training students out the door. Done well, it turns your students into teachers and re-creates the story as a living thing.
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