Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Conversations with a silat student

This is a conversation that I recently had with a student who trains in pencak silat with me. He is not local so we only get together approximately two times a year. The rest is via email, video, my books, and anything else we think will help.

I thought this was valuable enough that I asked him if I could reprint it on the blog.

So, I just read your post and I total get what you're saying. I'm not sure if you know this, but my martial arts career has been all about moving around and learning a real thin layer of a lot of different things.

ME: Learning a "thin" layer of a bunch of different things is one way of going about it. It's the spoon fed method. The idea is that if the system you are studying seems to have shortcomings or doesn't apparently answer your questions; you move to another system that does. Problem is, you can easily end up with no "connective tissue" in the end, no system or idea that holds it together, just a bunch of random elements that may or may not tie together or operate with each other.

Unfortunately, it doesn't develop YOUR understanding of how you CAN make the art YOURS by learning how to address unaddressed things or things you think aren't addressed. In my own experience, i have seen this art, PSP, continue to address things I never even knew it addressed. How? By sitting here and looking at a problem and looking and looking and then 6 months down the road learning how something that I didn't even consider actually addressed it. The advantage is, in the end, you have an understanding of something that goes way beyond techniques and into principles AND you learn to be adaptable in your understanding of the system. The principles can be used and adapted to a situation on the fly. Something you may never have done before -- seen before -- (because you truly understand movement principles, leverage principles, autonomics, etc.) becomes spontaneous and relational. Meaning = it just happens and it works.

FYI - A LOT is addressed in the jurus-jurus beyond the obvious elements of the system that are broken out.

STUDENT: Like you, I had some teachers who just amazed me with their skill and they had thing about them that was different and just stood out. About three years ago I started to have a mentality change because I started thinking about what those teachers had in common. And what I found was that they had very deep roots in a core art that they had studied for years. It's not that they weren't open to new things, but their roots were the very core of what they learned and they had a natural tendency to adapt new ideas and situations based on that strong core. I realized that while I'm a decent martial artist, I didn't have any roots that went very deep.

ME: The roots themselves aren't all that important IMO. However, the skills to look at a thing, way beyond when it's interesting, beyond when it's boring, and keep coming back and studying it, grow something else in you. Deep rooted understanding. When I was in college I had two different teachers do this to me. For one semester in my photo class, everyone in the room was required to take photos of the same street corner. We had to shoot and develop 3 rolls of film a week plus photos for the critique. It was a long semester but in the end, most people had gotten their best work, out of years of shooting, from that one simple assignment.

You went through stages,
first it was exciting,
then it was challenging,
then it was boring/tired,
then you hated it,
then you got angry,
then you gave in,
then it got interesting/learning,
then it got good.
I had exactly the same type of thing done for an assignment to paint a single 5x7 postcard for an entire semester. One post card, over and over until you got it right.

Both of those pieces I still like. They aren't earth shattering to anyone else, but they moved me SOOOO far down the development chain in one semester that I love them just because of what I learned while doing them.

I used to do a Spirit Test that was based on this concept for people that I didn't think REALLY understood what martial arts was about. It was essentially me beating up on a person for as long as necessary to get to them to the end of that list I just went through. Some of the aspects on the list were a bit different. They never got bored per se, but they did get tired. Could take 2 or 3 hours. Most people were about 1.5 hours.

Even now, for me, I cycle back through this list pretty regularly. That is the learning cycle.

STUDENT: Even though I'm a black belt, I feel that what I do falls into the category you described in your post, ever-changing. Unfortunately, my teacher fell into the "traditional teaching is evil" scam. I decided that I wanted to find one art and pursue it regardless of how I "felt" about certain things. No art covers it all, and there are always issues that crop up that just feel weird.

ME: To be honest, there are things about PSP that I'm not thrilled about. Things I don't particularly like. BUT over the years, I've seen confirmation after confirmation that some of the things I don't like, are necessary and or useful. Even for those things that I don't think are jaw dropping, there are other people who have appreciated them or benefitted from them. The point of a system isn't just for me, it's for everyone to find something useful in. I may not ever fully use PSP in combat, but that doesn't mean someone else won't, AND more IMPORTANTLY, that it's not teaching me something of bigger value by developing an attribute or a principle. PSP was never meant to be techniques based. We have them of course because you have to have some way to start the conversation, but it's ALWAYS been about developing our own personal attributes. Nothing else. For instance, I sometimes do movements that are similar to the way we do the Ales in class, during fighting, but they may not look exactly like them.

STUDENT: From just the limited exposure of Silat that I had, I knew that I wanted Silat to be my core art. This is where PSP comes in. Honestly, the biggest draw, at first, was that I could play around with PSP with little commitment and see what it was about. But, in all seriousness, I totally fell in love with PSP. I don't always feel like doing it, and their are times when I really need to put more into it, but my goal is to keep at it and explore it for life. I'm aiming for roots, and I also realize that I don't want to be concerned about how long it takes me. As you said, it's about the pursuit. I've already been down the road of taking the easy stuff and moving on when I hit a point where I didn't want to be bothered to troubleshoot an issue.

ME: Yeah, exactly what I was getting at. Unfortunately, if you don't learn to troubleshoot, you'll never be able to really fight. It's a lot like web programming. You can't just do what the book says when you first learn it because there are always unique problems that you'll only encounter once you're in the middle of a real dev project. The classes, books, lessons, DVD's, etc. that you took for learning web dev. are only teaching you about the tools, principles and attributes of good programming. Real life troubleshooting is where you become an expert, someone who people look to for solving real issues. A system of martial arts is similar. It's not about having a cure all, guarantee for safety, it's about giving you the tools and principles and helping you develop the attributes of real-time problem solving.

STUDENT: Ok, that's a long point, but just wanted you to understand where I'm coming from. So, as for finding the material much more applicable, what I meant was that up until the level 6 materials I felt like I was still learning the basics. I knew all of the individual moves but I felt very much like everything I was doing was a one-step. But, when I started doing my actual test I realized that I was starting to put things together. I wasn't just moving around with Dan but I started to see my Gerakan and welcoming postures come into play because it felt right, like it belonged there. I think that was more because I needed to put the time in with real flesh and blood people which I need to put more effort into finding, no doubt.

ME: There is no substitute for training with people. There is no substitute for training with people. There is no substitute for training with people. It's like the location, location, location of starting a small business principle. In combative training, it's relationship, relationship, relationship.

It's not just practice like some say. That is why so much of PSP is based off a simple one-count attacker type drilling. Additionally, I have further thoughts on it. For instance, you should not be sparring. You can work up to sparring, but high pressure drilling is a better use of your time. The drilling allows you to develop higher level skills with the proper mechanics and having someone add more and more pressure, shows you where things break. Then you back off of them again until they are workable BUT just at the edge of your skill. You can do this by adding more and more into the mix or by changing the variables but staying within the confines of a drill so you really get a lot of reps, with high pressure, and adaptable variability.

Here's the thing about everything being one-step. That is a principle of the system. A lot of people don't like that or understand it BUT in fighting what do you think happens? In the fights I've been in, the situations (relationships) are changing constantly. The only thing that is sure is NOW. The next spot, next technique, next position may not be what you expect or may be gone altogether. You just don't know. You have to be able to complete a thing within a one or two beat time period.

That's why I'm always harping on it being about relationship and a one to one ratio (one of their movements/positions/attacks to one of mine). That's the only thing you can be sure of.

That's why I spend so much time developing the primary positions. Over the years, people have told me that they didn't understand or feel comfortable in any of the positions we have. They don't get it. It's not about jumping into a Masukan Kaki 3 or 4 or whatever. It's about recognizing it when it shows up - AND IT WILL. Look at any MA magazine photo series and you'll see all kinds of people unaware of their positions in relationship to the attacker (especially as a whole body from head to toe) BUT you can look at those same photos and see relationships or potential relationship from head to toe. BECAUSE of those RELATIONSHIPS you'll see many, many, potential techniques in just a quick look and that will grow for you as time goes on.

**Did you know that Pertempuran means Combat with Many? It's translated as Combat but it really means Combat with Many. Why then don't we spend more time doing multiple attack drills and all that? Because the premise of fighting MANY is the same as the premise of fighting ONE. Yes, there are a few tricks and ideas that you can implement and that we do practice here in FL but in a weekend you can learn those and have the rest of your life to perfect :)

If I have to put my finger on what was making me hesitant, though, I'd have to say that using the ales/masukan kaki as bridging devices really had me stumped. In combat, people move pretty fast. Many guys aren’t super committed with punches, but more quick jabs and kicks. So, how do I bridge the gap with someone who never commits with the big haymaker? Well, the level 6 elbow/hand berpasangan drills helped me to see how to limit the attackers targets. This means I have less to cover and frees up mental resources to handle those areas that I do need to cover. Which means I have a better chance of intercepting and bridging. I never saw that before this level because I didn't have that drill. I know it was there in the welcoming postures, but seeing it in the drill with some contact made all the difference for me.

A lot of people don't make big haymakers in the martial arts. Most martial artists are afraid to get hit. In fact, the majority don't commit to their attacks. So what are you afraid of? :) Anyway, that's not my experience in the street so much.

Personally I rarely use the material on Level 6. It's more about stick and knife from my perspective. I'm going to give you some methods below that may work for you. They work for me.

Before I start though, as I read this, it sounds like your playing the part of a victim. PSP is THE ART of attacking the attacker. What if you commit to attack him instead? As he does his uncommitted attack, why don't you attack him? I'm only guessing here, but what I am reading between the lines is this (I've seen this problem A LOT), if he is an uncommitted attacker and you are having a problem with him, it's likely because YOU are uncommitted/afraid and you aren't using your ales - at least not correctly. My guess is that you are probably backing up and trying to use Ales. For an aggressive attacker, that can work well, but for someone who is uncommitted you have to either stand your ground or move forward. Attack the attacker. It's relational so if they aren't coming to you, you have to go to them.

Here are some ideas. This all assumes you are using Sliwa.
Option #1
Against someone who wants to dance around. First, cut off their angles using your gerakan. Second, leave them obvious targets using Sikap Pasang -- that's the point of them. Once they start to get confident in their safety (this doesn't mean letting them hit you, but letting them TRY to hit you and you NOT hitting back - just about three times is enough) counter it by attacking when they move in. Do it like you mean it and finish it. It's not a dance class. Don't plan to do this the same way if you fail the first time because they will be much wiser :)

Option #2
Make them commit. You can't actually make them commit. It's no different than any other relationship, BUT you can encourage them to either stay away, or commit. Just like an old boyfriend or girlfriend who wouldn't make a decision. You first start this process by making them stay away. Low stop kicks are a great starting method. Land a few of those on the same leg (I mean REALLY land them) and they will be hesitant to come in, and when they do, they'll try to do it faster and harder than the last time typically. At least that's been my experience. Everyone thinks it's about trying harder or being faster. If he doesn't come in, you'll have won the fight without fighting. If the girlfriend stayed away - then you knew. Same.

Option #3
Similarly, you can't make them commit, but instead of convincing them to stay away, you can stay away. Run away from them a bit until the get confident that they are safe in chasing you. Then go back to attacking the attacker.

**Over the course of sparring you may have to move in and out of these three options, but these are just options. I suggest you try them.

***MOSTLY, I suggest that you don't do too much sparring. Most sparring is light contact and it's about as far from real fighting as you can imagine. The difference between a good contact punch and the light touch, is at least a few inches of range, and if someone is fast or has longer arms, or whatever, you're going to find that it's going to mess with your confidence and your trust of the system but IT's NOT REAL.

****Additionally, if you go from basic drills to sparring, you're missing several key steps to the training process, along the way. Sparring is fine once you've got some of the basics of that type of fighting hammered out but it's NOT fighting.

STUDENT: Lastly, I do still have an issue with kicks. The stop kicks help, but I still can't quite see how to apply the all of this against lower body attacks.

ME: Aaahhh!!! I'm about to release an e-book (hopefully this weekend) that will have some insight into this for you. You have to remember the principles of the things being taught. I know it's hard to do that - especially when you don't drill these things but think about this. What is the purpose of the Ales that you've learned already? When someone attacks your stomach what do you do? (move it out of the way.) When someone attacks your head what do you? (Yep, move it out of the way.) What should the principle be then? Moving the target, without changing the range. If I wanted to defend against lower body attacks, how would I do that then? It's a bit easier from the knees down. Think about it - then when I get it done, get the e-book and see what I show in it and compare it to what you were just asking.

**Look it's not possible for me to answer every conceivable question situation or issue that could come up in a curriculum. It would just get crazy. This one is already big - even though primarily it was about reduction and removal of stuff. So, the only way is for it to be principle, and attribute based. These are things that can very easily be added on to your understanding but I need to know what questions you have. I wish I could just do a download in a matter of a day but it's not possible.

***Someone recently had similar issues and concerns but he handled them wrong. He based his decisions on what he knew of the system, of what was on the DVD's. That's my mistake as a teacher. If he had asked me these types of things, I would have been able to help, but instead he kept them to himself and came up with his own answers by looking outside of PSP. From my perspective he failed me as a student because it was not his responsibility to answer the tough questions. It's mine. He was not a teacher but acted like one by feeling like he should have all the answers. That was his mistake. I hope you won't make the some one.

****In the end, I hope to have a symposium of instructors who can get together from time to time to discuss areas of the system and see where it can be improved. I'm sure there are pieces out there that need improvement but I haven't seen better pieces to take their place yet - that also fit with the rest of the system or the big idea of PSP.

STUDENT: Sorry this is so long, but hopefully this helps you see where coming from, at, and going.

ME: I appreciate you taking the time to write and read this. I hope in the future you will feel more free to ask.


What you said about me "playing the victim" is true. That sort of summed up the general feeling. I think what I'm learning in PSP is a different mentality about fighting. Your stress on relationships has stuck and it's changing the way I'm thinking. And I do understand about sparring, and it's noted. I'm not afraid to take a hit, and I do know the difference between someone tagging me with a point and someone laying into me. I tend to ignore the taggers and my sparring is often me sparring with me and another person just happens to be there to interject some chaos. But, your advice is sound and I do understand what you mean.

I've been reading the 3rd book you wrote (totally excellent, btw) and you often relate things in life with things in martial arts because their are many parallels. I find myself (spiritually, and martial arts-wise) in a situation where I'm looking for someone who can help me learn and grow. People who are mature/experienced who are willing to share some time/experience and grow a real relationship bent on learning and growing together. But, what I've found is that people that I'm meeting along the way keep looking at me like I'm the one who they want to be the leader/teacher/elder/mature/experienced person. Here I am thinking, "What the hell do I know?" Don't get me wrong, I'm confident that I know some stuff, but again, I feel I'm somewhat playing the victim in that I'm sitting back thinking that when I find someone who at least knows as much (hopefully more) comes along—then I'll start. But, what I'm finding is that I need to not sit back and wait for someone to make the first move, but I need to make the first move and make my own entrance.

I've been "waiting" to get far enough in PSP to get the OK to teach from you because I have it in my head that until I reach that level I'm not really ready to bring someone in and bring them up to the point where they can help me, which, when I think about it now, doesn't make a lot of sense. No matter who I train PSP with, they are going to be behind me and I'm going to be the teacher (so to speak) for a time, to get them up to the point where they can push me in PSP to the breaking point.

If I have questions, I'll bring them to you. And I don't expect you to have all the answers all the time either. At this point, I need to work harder at digging out the questions so I know what they are. That's something I'm working at in more than just my martial arts life.

Oh, and by the way, the format of the level 7 material on the DVD seems to have coincided with my mind shift. It feels more like a DVD that promotes exploration by the practitioner. I like it. My wife is gonna have a sore neck though.


ME: Hope this was helpful to you all.

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