Kick & Sticks

It’s really hard to add advanced kicks in flow while doing Kali, and probably impractical.  The sticks or blades wiz by a lot faster than your legs can.  I’ve sparred with someone who wanted to add high kicks and you end up whacking their legs.  So if I have two sticks in hand I probably won’t bother high kicking.  But I like the challenge of seeing where and when they can come in, and adds dimension to the carrenza.

Tribute to Instructors – Feyo in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico circa 1966.

I hear that there’s a Karate group meeting in the “Alcaldia” basement, that’s the city hall.  I’m around 11 years old and I get a friend to come with me to check it out.  Wow.  It’s true.  The teacher had a blue gi with a yellow belt, the 6 or 7 other students had white gi’s with white belts.  I was told I could watch but my parents had to be there to sign me up.  I was aware of martial arts since I’d seen a storefront school in New York years earlier, but this was an opportunity to really start and learn.

This was in Manati, Puerto Rico.

PRThe Instructor’s name was “Feyo”  a nickname for Raphael.  He was a Kyokushinkai practitioner from “La Universidad” probably in San Juan.  I ran home, begged, cried, and cajoled my  grandfather to sign me up.  He gave in and went with me next time to sign me up, it was $5 a month, and I couldn’t wait.  This was the start of my martial arts training.

I was the only pre-teen in the group, I think a couple of the older kids didn’t like it, but I was in.  I was taught a few calisthenics, then breakfalls. It’s 50 years later but I do remember breakfalls: back falls, front falls, side falls, front rolls.  This is before learning to punch or anything else I thought was Karate.  Then basic stances, punching, blocking, some self defense combinations, then the Pinan Katas.  I don’t remember how long that lasted but Feyo was patient and a good instructor.  One day I did sparring with one of the older kids near my size, I popped him in the forehead with a weird uppercut backfist that shocked him and especially me.  We trained in the Alcaldia, and even in “Mar Chiquita,” Manati’s beach.

It would be several years before I did any other training under a real instructor, but Feyo set a good foundation.  I knew stances, I knew the basic punches and blocks, I knew Pinan 1, 2, and maybe even the others.  I especially know breakfalls, which was seldom taught in karate, especially at the beginning.

I have no clue what Feyo’s full name was, but he taught me well.  The next time I trained under an Instructor was years later in the Marines, and the instructor promoted me to green belt within a month, because I knew the stuff and knew it well enough.  If Feyo was 20 at the time today he’d be 70.

I’d like him to know that that kid he accepted appreciates him, stuck with it for a lifetime, and never forgot him.

Gracias Sensei Feyo.


Tribute To Instructors – Greg Alland

Going to publish a few tributes to past Martial Arts Instructors who’ve influenced who and how I am in Martial Arts.

Some I’ve trained with for many years, some on and off, some for only a short while.  With all the ones I mention I’ve learned something.  Sometimes only one thing!  But these are powerful lessons and lasting techniques, truths and ideals, that transformed me as a martial artist and even as a person.

Today, MasGuro Greg Alland.  MasGuro Greg Alland, RIck Vargas

MasGuro Greg taught me a Filipino Martial Arts System he developed called SinaTirsiaWali Kali Silat.  A man of wide ranging skills and an open and inviting personality, some call him a character, and he is that too.  He is from the group of early students of Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje in Pekiti Tirsia.  Some of his early classmates have quarrels with him, I don’t know the full stories but a little of it sounds political.  However it is undeniable that he was a great influence early  in promoting Filipino Martial Arts through the TV Program he produced in the 70’s, the video documentation he provided at events, and his own promotion of the arts.

Thanks MasGuro Greg Alland.



Why are you speaking to me in Spanish?

Why are you speaking to me in Spanish?

I live in the United States of America.  I’m born and raised here.  I’m naturally bilingual and have studied and spoken other languages as well.

But, I’m living in Florida.  Sometimes it’s like living in a third world Latin American country.  I go into a lot of stores or businesses and I’m greeted or approached in Spanish.  Why?

Yes, I look somewhat Hispanic and have no shame or embarrassment about my ethnicity.  But I do feel insulted when at first sight the presumption is that I probably don’t speak the language of the U.S.,  or that I haven’t learned it yet. They, other Hispanics, look at you, and figure that since your’re probably a Hispanic you’re also probably uneducated, unlike them of course, who work a great $7.00 an hour job at the quickie mart.

Not too long ago I was t the mall.  As I passed by the Japanese Teriyaki joint in the food court one of the Asian dudes looks at my wife and I and goes “Pollo, Pollo, delicioso!”  I stop, look at him and say “Sumimasen, Nihongoga deskimaska?”  He looked perplexed, I could tell he probably wasn’t Japanese but Korean.  But I say again, “Ano, Nihongo ga wakarimaska? at which his faced changed to embarrassment  cause he probably doesn’t speak any Asian language.  He fell silent looking around and away, then I said to him “Why are you Speaking to me in Spanish?  Dude you work for a Japanese joint and you don’t speak Japanese, and you presume I don’t speak English here in America, that’s weird!”  Several people in line smiled at the whole interaction.

If you address someone in English, and then they signal that they don’t understand, and you speak their language then ok, switch languages to help or complete the transaction.  But don’t profile anyone as being less intelligent than you by being condescending.

I don’t like it.  It’s not like it’s done in love.  It reduces the relationship of merchant/customer to one of familiarity.  So they don’t have to deal with you respectfully and professionally, after all, you’re a Hispanic!  We’re like “familia!”

I resent not being given the professional and respectful courtesy given to a White person, a Black person, or to an Asian or Middle Eastern individual.  We’re not “familia.”  I didn’t see white people at the mall being yelled to “Pollo, Pollo…”  Why, because it would be insulting.

In a Spanish country it’d be OK to presume everyone around spoke Spanish.

English: Flag of the Hispanicity Español: Band...

English: Flag of the Hispanicity Español: Bandera de la Hispanidad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, it is ignorant to presume it here, and that act of ignorance perpetuates the reason to address potential Hispanics in Spanish, as if they are also ignorant and might not know the language.

Why is this happening?  Have Floridian Hispanics demonstrated they can’t learn to speak English so much for so long that they have invoked this condescension?  Is their expectation of each other so low that they won’t chance blowing up each other’s little Latino brain with English?

Floridian Hispanics, it’s your fault.

I’m an American.  I wasn’t born and raised  in Puerto Rico, or Peru, or the Dominican Republic.  My English and Spanish are exceptionally fluent and I’m more literate than most.  My Japanese language skill is middling but I’ve even been complimented on that.  My French is passable, and my American Sign Language has helped out often.

I may take up Portuguese this week!  Hmm, I do look a little Portuguese too…


Mentoring Mentor and Mentee

The school year is just about over, one more week to go.

I’ve fulfilled my mentoring commitment for now.  I look forward to continuing it again.

I didn’t get enough of it!  I would have liked more hours a couple of times a week.  Maybe next time I’ll have a better understanding of the program and can exploit it more on behalf of my mentee.

There’s an initial awkwardness to overcome for both parties.  They know they’re the “kid” and you’re the “MENTOR” but the meaning of that term is unclear for the kid, so you’re probably another grownup authority figure meddling in their  life.

From what I’ve heard, my mentee is different.  Sixth grader, 12 years old, male.  But, he got a star student award recently, is well spoken, well mannered, vibrant, generally well behaved.  I think most us mentors expect to get a “troubled youth” and some do, but I didn’t.  Sure, his grades in a couple of subjects need improvement, but with his character and consciousness, that will come.  He does not have a “thug” mindset.  I’m sure his home life contributes to his genteel attitude.  Right on Mom and Dad!

So, I looked to establish that as the “MENTOR” I was not going to bust his chops about schoolwork.  His time with me should be a welcome break from the rote of the average school day.  I would also not push empty platitudes on him.  We’d meet, have lunch together, speak a little about ourselves, share interests and questions, and he’d go back to class nourished and refreshed.  As that got settled and we established some trust, we sometimes got to quizzing each other on math. “Oh yeah, whats four times eight minus ten?” and you have to answer fast.  He was pretty good, and gonna get better.  I shared that at  my house we read a lot. I shamelessly encouraged him not just to read but to develop good reading skills and habits.  I told him “if you read, can remember what you read, and add it to something else you read, you can then teach yourself anything you want, any time you want!”

We started to learn to juggle.  He hasn’t kept up his  practice but we’ll revisit that.  We managed to do some Kali eye hand coordination training; he can do a Redonda, a single stick single Sinawali, and we started a six count entry drill that grown ups have a hard time with, and he got the gist of it in one short session!

We started to play chess and he’s picked that up fast too.

IMG_2199 He got this dog tag from a Red Tails exhibit at his school.  I told him that this is “self talk,” something people do to keep in their minds principals that are important to them.

I especially focused on “use your brain” and “never quit.”

Another aspect of our relationship is that we speak bilingually, though I encourage  mastering English because “that’s the language of where you are.”   However, we have  dabbled in a few Japanese phrases.

I can’t wait to continue with my mentee.  I read a quote recently that said “Education is when the mind expands, not when the mind memorizes.”  School requires a lot of memorization, I told him that, and that he has to memorize formulas, numbers, names, dates, etc.,  not to consider that the hard part. Using your mind to put those together for a purpose that’s where others fall short

If he’ll have me, we’ll expand our minds, and my chess will get better too!

A Dime A Dozen

Martial arts instructors are a dime a dozen.

There are people who will teach you kicking, punching, throwing, and choking all over the place. They’re looking to train fighters, warriors, champions, masters, and build dynasties around their name or style.  Some will develop a chain of schools to further their name.  They design logos and patches that look fearsome.  They are often 6 feet plus tall and 350lbs of badass, and propose to teach 5 foot 1, 90lb ladies, to defend themselves, just like he would, never mind the disparity in size and strength.

Hmmm, maybe I’m not a martial arts instructor?

For me the  old days are the 60’s and 70’s.  That’s when I was a child and young man in the martial arts.  The first thing you were taught then was restraint, what not to do.  Don’t wear your uniform in public, in fact, roll it up and hide it.  Don’t play around doing techniques with non students, and not in public.  Don’t brag.  Don’t make a move in class that the teacher didn’t say to.  Don’t speak unnecessarily.  Don’t have a conceited, angry, jealous, or self pitying attitude.

These days it’s not uncommon to see someone wearing their white, black trim, TKD uniform with “Master Lee Fighting Tigers” name and phone number logo in bright colors shopping in the mall.  I’ve seen a whole family like that: mom, dad, and 2 toddlers!  Obviously they weren’t told about restraint.  Teenagers horse around in the park doing unrefined beginner round kicks and trying to body slam each other to show who’s kung fu is better.

I notice there is seldom any real conversation between Instructors and students.  They come to the dojo, bow in, start doing the 1-2-3’s of whatever movements, 45 minutes later teacher and students go home.  I can remember classes where there was discussion, during class, sitting on the dojo floor.  Discussions about human nature, fear, and survival, not just abut the next tournament or belt testing.

Don’t bother asking these sorts of people about their martial art.  They know the location of their school, but no background of the art.  They don’t know anything about their particular lineage, or even the authenticity of their instructor.  They don’t even know the distinguishing characteristics of their art.  “Uh, its Chinese.”  “Master Joe is a master.”  “I’m 15 years old, got my 4th degree black belt in 2 years.”

This of course relates to the quality of most of the  martial arts students out there.  They’re throwing punches and kicks and each other around, terribly!  The lack of restraint they start with leads to lack of control.  They have no balance, in the  most basic sense of the word, like being able to stand on one foot without wobbling.  Unless you have a serious handicap, a black belt should be able to balance on one leg.  Higher skill?  Execute that round kick broken up into 4 parts holding each for 5 seconds with poise and balance.  What about precision?  Movements should be executed with optimally defined mechanics.   But if you start with an out of balance wobble, that wobble only get bigger each step of the way.

You look sloppy.

That is the instructor’s fault.  For letting you get away with it for the recurring income sake.  For not teaching restraint, humility, and perseverance. Qualities which transcend mere martial arts training.  They especially leave out love and compassion.

But those are the qualities I look for  in a student.  Those are the qualities I want to impart in a student.  The kick throw punch stuff should build on that.  As a martial artist I’m looking to help make the world a better place, not fill it with super power assholes.

A few years ago one of my instructors; a long time quality practitioner and well regarded master instructor, decided we would eschew the titles of Master, Sensei, Shihan, etc. and just be called “Coach.”  I like that.  The Asian titles lack the same significance in our culture versus theirs.  We can be respectful without being reverential.  “Coach” implies that we are working together for an improvement, potentially in each other, whereas the other titles imply a distance, a separation; “I have achieved and need do no more, you must try to be like me.”  A coach personalizes for you. A coach  cares about you as a full package; body, mind and spirit.

Me, I am a “Coach!”  I’m still working for improvement  on a lot of the same stuff.  Also, and this is not too fine a point; A coach is looking to make you better at something, even better than he  might be himself!

Want an example, look at the boxing world, the fighters who make tens and hundreds of millions of dollars per fight, who are their coaches?  Older guys with Parkinsons, arthritis, slow and stiff, overweight.  Most of them CAN’T fight well.  What makes them the guys who “coach” the young, agile, prime of their life athletes?  That they are capable and skilled at improving their prospects to excellence.

So.  I wont be one of the “dime a dozen” martial art instructors.  I’m a Martial Arts Coach.