KARATE!

Doing some Karate Style movement in a gi.

I don’t move like this much anymore and it made different parts of my body sore.  At my best, I combine some Karate, Kickboxing, Kali & Silat movement in my carrenza or kembangan, or call it freeform kata!  It doesn’t often look like the classical or indigenous manner of movement.  After a flowery motion I might jump spin crescent kick into a 1-2/round kick combo, then into a lankha/juru.

Yep, it’s a westernization of eastern concepts, but the east can take that and reclaim it back.  After all, some of the martial art boxes are artificial and more nationalist that humanist, therefore they can be expanded.

Hitting.

Sometimes (often) my training and workout is not a fancy, gi clad, fine motor skill, super balanced exercise.  Sometimes it’s just about getting in some hitting.  Being non violent I don’t want to hit people unnecessarily, but it you’re a martial artist you must hit.  I don’t do kickboxing for sport much but I do like the bag work involved in the training.

Ok. Can’t resist this one about home self defense.

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.

PRKK

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.

 

 

 

Personal keeping’ on!

High’s and low’s, we all have them.  Getting up from a down is necessary for a long and full life.

I’m looking to accelerate my fitness and conditioning and trying a new thing: a weighted fitness vest!  It’s a total of 20 lbs.  It feels heavier in the hands than on the body.  But I do martial arts with much, much younger people so, not that I’m trying to match individuals 30 and 40 years my juniors, I’m trying to be above average of my own age group.

Shees! Eight rounds is my standard workout:  shadow boxing, heavy bag, stationary bag.   I’m tired and hungry!

All Around Fighting

For several years now I’ve been training an eclectic mix of martial arts for myself.  In a single session I often train Kickboxing, Reality Based Self Defense, Kali , Jiu Jitsu, Silat, and Karate.  That’s why my training sessions have to be about 2 hours long, after a warm up.

I’ve trained these exclusively at times, meaning all I did was Kickboxing or Kali or Systema  to the exclusion of the  others, for weeks, months, or years.  Now, after almost 50 years in the martial arts, I am comfortable mixing all of them to my joy and delight.

I’m not a professional competitor, I don’t own a chain of schools, I don’t pay dues to masters above me, I’m not locked in to any particular style, and I’m not adoringly worshiping of any instructor.  Some will view this as disloyalty to my “masters” and consider this standing as “not traditional.”  Well, if you’ve read any of my other stuff you’d know I don’t value tradition as much as some.  I think that often along the way students and teachers of the martial arts miss the point that, to paraphrase something else “The martial arts were made for man, not man for the martial arts.”376063_289617814408826_327184943_n10176159_744530215584248_2897955722894680788_n

Sure, it’s good to have a solid foundation in any one of them, realizing the benefits of the style or training, and recognizing the liabilities of each.  Training a particular martial art’s skills sets make for solid skills that those who try to do it all at the beginning lack in. Look at MMA’ers who have done nothing but MMA.  Yes they kick and punch and throw and choke.  But so often their kicks look amateurish, clumsy, unbalanced.  Their punches look like schoolyard haymakers and nothing else.  They look for volume and brute force, not precision.

Then look at someone like Cung Le or Geroge St Pierre.  Cung Le has one of the best looking and most effective lead leg side kicks in the business, and George all round demonstrates abilities that only come from exclusive Karate training.

But these are professional athletes who will do whatever it takes to win in a competition.  They are also subject to protocols us civilians are not, like starting face to face in a ready stance, having a referee who will restrict them to the rules, having a particular space to fight in.  We need to recognize some subtle differences between training martial arts for fight sports, and training martial arts for self defense.  1044576_529145147122757_405149113_n

 

 

 

 

I’ve had my fun training for competition, won and lost.  I’ve had a couple of real life encounters, won and lost.  Losing a real life encounter is a lot different than losing in a tournament.  Hell, the entrance to each is a lot different.  In real life there will probably NOT be a get ready face to face start.  Your real life opponent may be a better boxer than you.  You, a good stand up boxer may find yourself on the ground in a flash at the start.  You, a good Judo/Jiu Jitsu person may be attacked by multiple attackers.  In a multiple opponent scenario “pulling guard” on one person can be suicide.

Random violence is chaotic.  I’ve learned that much.  I’d hate to be the instructor who spent lots of time on an upward block against a stiff armed front punch from a static training partner, so that it “looks good,” then the student out in the world easily gets sucker punched and “Philly dumped.”

Instructors need to think and choose what they want to teach and train.  So I train a variety of skill sets. Each with its own progressions, but in no particular order. 529515_398388640198409_789226797_n

In any training session with me you may do some boxing, knife tapping, take downs, ground work, self-defense scenarios.  Does that sound chaotic? When you step outside the dojo, I don’t know what you may encounter, if anything, and hopefully never.  When you step outside the dojo, even on the first day with me, I want you to be at least familiarized with more than one of the many chaotic possibilities you may encounter.  We can’t cover them all every time, but we can certainly go over more than just a rising block against an uninspired front punch.

For those who’ve asked; No I don’t teach Shorin Ryu Karate. I don’t teach Tae Kwon Do.  I don’t teach an exclusive brand of Filipino Martial Arts, I don’t teach American Kickboxing, etc.  I teach skill sets from these and other martial arts that I’ve trained along the way, and I’m still learning.

If you’re looking for a black belt in something or other, a certificate as a guru, I don’t offer those, you can buy them or make them up for yourself like many have done.  If you’re looking to train all around fighting and random self-defense skill sets for your own personal edification; then I may be the one to call!

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RICK VARGAS

Kali Silat & Self Defense Training Group

(386) 320-3075