Monday, May 21, 2007

no tap and no pads

I attended a martial arts camp this past weekend, just to check out the different styles. The direction Tuhan has taken this kali is a vastly different path from most of the Filipino martial arts out there, who tend to be more oriented towards sport fighting.

I had to learn to tap out. The tap out is common in martial arts as the uke (?, pronounced oo-kay), the person getting the technique done to them, taps themselves or the other person when the pain is too great. We don't tap out. When we do a technique we do tell the person whether they found it, whether they should be careful, when they can stop. It's much more informative than a tap out. Sure it hurts, but how much does it hurt, did I press to much, or was it just enough? In that way, we are required to learn to feel what our technique is doing to our opponent and the uke learns how much is too much. (We don't use the term uke either. I believe it's a Japanese term.) So if you're doing the technique then you should know when to stop, giving is not a one-way street.

Some people were surprised that for a weapon art we don't really use pads, we don't hit sticks, and we touch when we're sparring. It took a while to explain that we are required to have a fine control. The ability to feel the strike we are delivering. Pads don't really do that. You can always hit harder with pads and never really know how hard you are hitting or how hard you have been hit. So, when you actually do feel a strike, most are overwhelmed and stop. But the body has different levels in which it can receive a hit. The body can take strikes harder in some places than with others. And I'm not sure they believed me when I said, when you go without pads, the fighting gets even better. You can take more risks, go even harder, faster, stronger because you can also stop on a dime. You save yourself from the strike before any pad can.

One guy I talked to replied and said, that means you're always on. Well, yes, because if you're off then someone is going to really get hurt. The person striking or executing the technique is the one responsible for the other person's safety. The uke is simply entrusting their body to you. And I guess this is a difficult concept because it seems that always being on takes alot of energy, and it does initially, but once it becomes engrained you don't even think about it anymore. Your body knows what it's doing even though your brain can't comprehend the speed. And in the end, it's a very relaxing thing to do.

I had to learn to tap out when the pain was too great. Though, I can take quite a bit of pain, and sometimes the technique didn't work, so I'd tap out just to be polite. And well, some of the more dangerous techniques I would tap out early if I didn't think the other person had any control with it. After all, I didn't want to get seriously hurt.

In going to the camp, I came to understand a bit of the martial arts world better as well as come to understand the directions that my teacher has taken his style and school. I only took a couple semesters of judo other than the 12 years of kali, so it's nice to get some perspective.

I would force my body to do the technique they showed at least a few times. But often found my body changing the technique to work with my body. I have to admit there were a couple of techniques taught over the weekend that required a defense move that in my head I kept thinking, no way, I do this, I'm going to die! But did the technique in their proper fashion because though it doesn't work for me, I had to feel how the technique might possibly work for someone else and figure out who that someone else might be.

It was also an interesting perspective on Filipino martial arts as a whole and listening to how people view it. In comparison to the other Asian styles, FMA is very free for all, use what works, by any means. But I think there's a fallacy in that, yes, you do what works and when you practice over and over, and it's not as regimentedly perfect as say Japanese katas, but it's not complete chaos. There is a method to the madness. There is a logic to why techniques are done a certain way and how one improves their chances of getting a good strike in. And fortunately or unfortunately, because there isn't a regiment, few teachers can explain why they strike in a certain way, though some schools have tried to write them down, how do you write down the existence of an infinite number of strikes? And I think in one sense, there's a Filipino logic and sensibility that is missing in the way some people practice FMA. It's like getting Filipino food recipes, you don't ever get all the ingredients nor the methods, in the end you just have to try it out yourself and figure out what else you need.

But many non-weapon stylists add FMA to their repetoire to round them out. Yet there is a disconnect at times, certain leaps that are not made to truly make the cross-over. The irony really is, that as open and generous the Filipino people are in terms of inviting you into our homes and sharing food, in the end Filipinos have a tendancy to keep secrets or maybe provide an incomplete truth. It's this incompleteness that seems to protect us from being so open. We will hurt you with what we have not told you.

The question often is, where is the Filipino if we as Filipinos like becoming everyone else. But the transference of culture is always incomplete especially down to a micro level. And this ability to negotiate the disconnect can be our greatest weakness and yet our greatest strength. And in watching Filipino Martial Arts pass to the states and learning how people comprehend their understanding of this Filipino form and of Filipinos, I've come to understand that perhaps there is a deeper level that we are not getting. As mixed up and crazy as we seem there is a method in the madness that we just don't know how to vocalize. Or perhaps Filipinos are just always doing something slightly different from what they say they're doing. And maybe it's a language thing, there is no word in English to be able to meander multiple realms. But this weekend I saw it and it's so clear in my mind. This Filipino mindset, yeah, I can do what you do, speak what you speak, nothing is foreign. I can become anyone, but I am always me.

But in a world that requires compartmentalization and numbering and collection, these ideas have no basis to make any sense. Perhaps that's the feeling I've often gotten when relating to other martial arts and other martial artists, though as I go along it's gotten easier, that because I've been over here going in these directions with a different mindset, coming back to where everyone else is feels like a foreign language, but like learning a Romance language where I can hear where you're coming from, and I can kind of get the gist of what you're saying, but I have no idea what you're really talking about.

And I better stop here for now, because the mind is starting to take this conversation onto other things.

1 comment:

Okir said...

Some very provocative thoughts, Michelle. Worth discussing in more depth -- I do have a sense that what I refer to never exactly fits what I'm saying out loud, or doing. I don't know if this has anything to do with an ability or need to meander through multiple realms. Perhaps it's more a kind of built-in, strategic cautiousness (not shyness), which allows me to observe things, and to reserve my energies. But isn't this a kind of compartmentalization, too? Drawing boundaries on the surface, while one meanders or explores what's happening under the surface.