Mistakes in the Microcosm

By Njoli Brown

One of the most commonly expressed analogies in capoeira is that it exists as a microcosm of all our experiences and interactions in the larger world.  I’m sure this kind of language is present in other arts and communal environments and I’ve been thinking about this lots over the years, often times a little dubious about where the rhetoric and the actuality intersect.

I think that humans are, as a general rule, social creatures.  Often times they are willing to make huge compromises in order to maintain a sense of connectivity.  Even in those instances where they choose to isolate, I imagine that, many times there is some past or present trauma attached to that decision.   That isolation might be a process for healing or for hiding but it seems to have a very intentional value and purpose.

In order to maintain a  sense of place and value within a community  there  can feel a necessity to do or to be.  I use these terms to indicate the drive toward doing more in order to become more and thus, somehow, elevating the value of the community as a whole.  But with all of this action there have to come missteps, some large and some small, so I think it’s important to discuss the important place that mistakes hold in both the micro and macrocosm. As an experiment, instead of looking at the small and working outward though, as is often the methodology, I’m going to take some lessons from the broader world and apply them inward.

e438892cd491af9c823ec137e759ed16The broad range of research would say that mistakes have inherent value.  They provide new pathways for exploration, generate unexpected and sometimes useful results, act as reference points or catalysts for change and, generally, imply motion of some sort.  In my experiences as an educator in NYC public schools, one of the sentiments I recognize in many of the students I work with is a fear of educational or behavioral “failure.” This fear is often born out of the the resultant reprimands, harsh exclusion, disproportionate disciplinary reactions which occur after mistakes or missteps that are part of the evolutionary journey.  Simultaneously, I know it is a major part of the conversation among educators to determine new and effective ways to address positive discipline while creating a safe holding container for  personal growth.  Saying that a space is safe for mistakes does not make it so.  But if the true investment in that idea is there, then intentional discussions on how to create actionable plans can be had.

Capoeira Angola is particularly interesting to me because it seems to attract social activists, teachers, community organizers and people with an, at least spoken, desire to affect societal change in positive ways.  It truly is a microcosm of a very particular aspect of the world.  It rests itself fairly firmly in liberal thinking in regards to social, environmental and overall political issues.  Even with variations, this holds itself commonly true in most groups of this style throughout the world and, as such, should provide an in common language and platform for discussions on acceptance , forgiveness and change on a very personal level.

I remember a while back, being in a discussion about concepts on friendship.  For my part, I recall saying something to the point of friendship having a relationship to a person seeing you when you have not been your best self and being able to recognize the goodness in you nonetheless.   Now, I’m an optimist.  I do mostly believe that people have some innate childlike purity continually existing within them, no matter how obscured.  I am also a realist.  I understand that mistakes can be painful, to the perpetrator and to the peripheral participants.  An actual supportive and forward thinking community has the difficult dual purpose of safeguarding itself while nurturing its individuals.  But like riding a moving sidewalk in the wrong direction, if a community is not actively problem solving it may as well be actively working toward the perpetuity of broken systems.

Sometimes, language is a dangerous thing.  Perhaps, better said, a powerful thing both, Image result for martial arts philosophy
in its inability to encapsulate all the layers of individual and collective emotional complexity and in its capacity to direct the mind towards concretizing thoughts into actionable aspects. It requires a careful measure when determining the language which codifies a living philosophy and, as a living and organic thing, perhaps the language and the community must continually take opportunities to evaluate whether they are in alignment and, if not, whether compromise or divergence is the most relevant path for evolved being.

It must determine if it places equal value in its ideals as to its practice.  If so, it must work as diligently toward evolving its capacity to make living its philosophies as it does toward physicalizing its corporeal aspects.  It must pursue the resources to make these ideas intelligible and applicable when students misstep and choose alternatively.  They must host forums in which students can realize their connection to these values and in which actions which prove themselves destructive can be processed to restore balance in the community.  Otherwise, the practice should dissociate itself and allow the philosophy to exist parallel if not integrated.

 “Lots of soccer players are Catholic.  But if asked if soccer is a Catholic sport, well I’d say ‘hell no.'” – Anonymous –

Capoeira, in truth martial arts in general, can become so wrapped up in rhetoric that they search and find ways to justify the connection between things even as they actively operate in dichotomy.  In this way, perhaps they are truly microcosms of the world we live in. The art is truly itself, the idea is truly itself and, in fact, it is the instructor or some hierarchical construct which determines that a philosophical foundation, whether historical or contemporary, is a grounding factor for the students’ development and so imbues his/her teachings with said ideology.  Without the critical process of determining alignment, compromise or divergence a martial art school generates a chaotic environment for a finding equilibrium.

 

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.

 

Training: Why “Comprehensive” and Not “Mixed?”

 

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.

img_20161220_122654The 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 par20161126_105810t 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.

Curiosity Thrives on Oxygen

By Njoli Brown

I wanted to start out by sending huge gratitude to PTK Makilas, run by Agalon Rich Howe, for answering the call of a lot of Filipino martial arts practitioners to do a deep dive into the dumog (stand up and ground grappling) aspect of our craft.  What better way to do that then to enlist one of the progenitors of our line to share his tremendous knowledge on the subject.  It was an amazing opportunity marked by early mornings, attendees from around the country, rough training and more then a fair share of laughs from the always entertaining NYC Elite crew.  Atop all of that, our mentor, Tuhon Rommel Tortal, broke down the wide array of concepts and took a very personal tack in checking our progress.

Truly though, what set this workshop apart for me, was the openness to questions.  It may seem like a given, but when tuhon said repeatedly “I love questions.  Questions tell me that the student is curious and wanting to learn,” I saw him really setting himself up to have to model how to effectively receive questions and make them a part of his lesson.

Whether in martial arts or in any field of study, I’m sure many of us have encountered the “all knowing” instructor, the master who feels like questions are an attack on his/her capacity.  This instructor tends to lash out.  In order to prove their point they attempt to dominate or domineer.  They extol their experience and forget the humanity and lived experiences of their students.  Anecdotally:

I recall an occasion at a grappling event some time ago where a student inquired in some way regarding knife attacks as they pertain to ground fighting situations.  The master in attendance started out by mockingly reminding him that knife attacks weren’t a relevant issue in the context of a grappling scenario.  Following this, he diminished the importance of the question by relating stories of the ways in which he had defeated knife attacks in a variety of demonstration events “before ever needing to go to the ground.”  Never did it seem that he considered the importance of his answer to this particular student who had joined his training center with hopes of regaining his confidence and developing capacity after having been a victim of a violent knife encounter.

I came to this most recent Makilas dumog event with a healthy stack of questions in mind. I wanted to understand kali concepts in relation to some other martial practices I’d encountered.  It was a hugely liberating thing to have the confidence that my curiosity was going to be received with “oxygen,” with a receptive mind that also had its own motivation to problem solve.

So, is your instructor willing to take the risk of not knowing in exchange for their
student’s development?  Also, does your 14711100_10202361375673239_7122633050647378817_oinstructor truly invest in the rhetoric that all masters are still students?  Educational philosophies are wide and varied.  But, in common should be a level of respect and appreciation for the students without whom there would be no class to teach.  In many regards, teaching is about questions since it is such a rarity to find any answer which can prove itself absolute.

Not all martial artists are teachers, nor are they meant to be.  But as a general rule, we all want to excel at our craft.  A vital part of any martial practice is understanding, and acquiring that understanding by listening, listening in a comprehensive way, comprehending so that we can make informed decisions.  Because at times decisions those can be life changing.

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/

 

Forum for Community Action at FICA Seattle

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.

http://www.papernopaper.wordpress.com

Training, Well Rounded

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.

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

Viva, Treinel Yehnana!!

A lot of the new heads in Capoeira Angola might not know her name but a lot of the legacy of powerful black women making strides in the game is due to her. I had the good fortune to share space with her during this trip to New Orleans and it came rushing back, the memory of her as a figure who refused to give up her personhood for the sake of hierarchical structures and who represented a powerful womanhood in a game that required an often confusing mixture of boldness and humility. In many ways she embodied and continues to embody the canonical elements of struggle and perseverance that our capoeira songs espouse.

I hope that our young and old angoleiros will come to recognize we don’t have to look so far back to find heroic figures and will look to our peers, at times, to find leadership, guidance and mentoring. For an array of life reasons some of these people are no longer in the roda but they’re always in the “roda.” Viva Yehnana! http://ow.ly/i/jO8j1