Prof. Rick Clark Seminar Review

I just returned from taking Prof. Clark to the airport, and I thought I would write down some thoughts about this weekend’s seminar.

Saturday July 28th 2007

Saturday’s seminar was held in San Francisco, with fifteen attendees. Since the class was largely composed of people familiar with Mr. Clark and what he teaches, Mr. Clark bypassed his normal introduction and proceeded right to the techniques.

These techniques ranged from striking specific points to several forms of joint locks. However, they all shared one thing in common; they were all painful.

The most notable one–which will require a lot of practice to become proficient in–was a method of locking up the thumb. While difficult to do, this technique is clearly utilized in several Aiki and Jujutsu techniques. However, while this method is most likely widely applied to some degree or another, I don’t think many practitioners who utilize it are even aware of the fact.

Another interesting technique Prof. Clark taught was a specific point located on the back of the hand. Not only was it painful, but when properly done one’s opponent can not make a fist. Or, if one’s opponent is holding a weapon, this point can be struck to make them release it.

Now I realize that anyone reading this will say there is nothing really interesting or ground breaking about striking or pressing a point on the back of the hand, but chances are this point isn’t the one most martial art practitioners are familiar with. Even Prof. Clark stated this was something new he was investigating.

Overall, I think those that attended this seminar had a good time, and left with several new concepts and techniques to mull over–not to mention a few bruises to recover from.

I know I had a good time on Saturday. Not only because I enjoy learning new things, but also because several old friends I haven’t see in a long time were in attendance.

I also want to thank my student Chad for allowing us to use his office to host this seminar. I know a couple of people had a little problem finding the place, but it worked out really well.

Sunday July 29th 2007

On Sunday we traveled to Dixon, California where Jim Ernest, the owner of Ramtown Karate, hosted the seminar. Fourteen people attended this seminar that focused on various applications found within karate kata (forms).

I don’t practice karate, so I rarely have a clue when Prof. Clark discusses various katas karate practitioners do. But I enjoy watching and learning his interpretations of the various kata movements.

The most interesting thing I’ve observed is how similar many of the movements in kata are to those movements practiced in Aiki and Jujutsu arts. For me, the more similarities I see within different martial arts, the more I really believe that in some point in our training, we all end up doing the same things. Only the approach, and the specialty a particular style focus on initially is different.

What I really like about seeing Prof. Clark’s interpretations of kata movements is that he makes sense of some movements I’ve often questioned, such as double upper blocks. I for one have never believed the most common explanation, which often says the movement is designed to block two attackers who simultaneously paunch to your head. My main reason is that the chances of such an attack occurring would be so extremely rare.

Certainly, there would be karate practitioners who would debate Prof. Clark’s interpretation; however, the technique he showed for that particular movement makes a lot more sense. If nothing else, it shows a deeper examination of a commonly practiced movement.

I think Prof Clark’s approach of “thinking outside of the box” to explain commonly done techniques is why I continue to invite him to the San Francisco.

Another element that was interesting during this seminar was that there was attendee who didn’t feel or react to any stimulus intended to cause pain. I mean nothing worked on him at all

I have always taught my students that pain is never a goal of martial art techniques, just a pleasant by product when and if it happens. That no one should wait for a person to react to a painful stimulus, since they may be very disappointed when it doesn’t happen, and worst yet by waiting put their safety in jeopardy.

Prof. Clark agrees with this theory, and makes it clear that the techniques he teaches are a supplement to all ready viable techniques. He makes it clear no one should rely on these techniques alone. This is unlike some other instructors who teach seminars such as these.

I think Sunday was another successful day, and that everyone in attendance left with a lot of information to process and play with.

I want to thank Sensei Ernest for co-hosting Prof. Clark, and for allowing us to use his school. He has a great school, and his students were a pleasure to meet and work with.

The Second Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei – #5 Push When Pulled/ Pull When Pushed, Enter When Pulled/ Turn When Pushed

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Last year I spent several months writing about the “Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei.” Now it is time to cover the next ten most important principles. Of course, one must keep in mind that while these principles are officially less important than first ten, in actuality they are just as important. The truth is that in many cases understanding and executing them properly is essential in order to make the “top ten” fully effective. In other words, they are just another piece of a very complex puzzle illustrating how sceintific martial techniques really are.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

Push When Pulled/ Pull When Pushed, Enter When Pulled/ Turn When Pushed

“Softness triumphs over hardness, feebleness over strength. What is more malleable is always superior over that which is immoveable. This is the principle of controlling things by going along with them, of mastery through adaptation.”

Laozi (Lao-tzu) Taoist Philosopher

Clearly, these four principles are not unique to the Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei system. In fact these four principles are utilized in numerous martial art systems, and they form the foundation of the techniques utilized in the arts of Judo and Aikido.

The same can be said for the system I teach, though these principles are often only associated to methods of projecting one’s opponent. When it comes to striking, or the use of weaponry, we often do the opposite. For example, when an attacker punches or cuts at us with a sword (a forward push like motion), we will enter. Of course, this is done for specific strategic reasons I wont go into here.

For the most part though, we utilize these four principles in the same manner as the other styles listed above, simply because they are the best method to instill and teach practitioners the proper way to react to specific forces that can occur when one is attacked.

Basically, these four principles teach the concept of embracing and accepting an attacker’s energy to use it against them. Instead of opposing the attacker’s force (their “flow of energy”), one increases it by entering, or extends it by pulling away. By doing so, the attacker’s balance and focus is disrupted making follow-up attacks almost impossible to achieve.

Many years ago during a seminar with Don Angier, he made the statement that “every fight is a contest to control the centerline.” At first, this statement didn’t completely resonate in my brain, but with further explanation on his part, and some introspection I believe I have a better grasp on what he meant. (Although putting it into actual application is another thing.)

Furthermore, I’ve come to discover that when I employ any of the above four principles, I am in fact controlling the centerline. By moving with the force of my opponent, I prevent him from placing himself where he intended to be. This makes it hard for him to properly step and/or maintain his equilibrium. I have taken him off the centerline; and because I have accomplished that, he is in a weakened state. He is in a state where I can now launch my counter attack with relative safety

Since there is so much information on these four principles on the Internet I don’t feel the necessity to explain them any further. Furthermore, the principles themselves are pretty self-descriptive.

All one has to remember is that these four principles are intended to teach a martial arts practitioner how to react and move when facing force. Instead of moving in the opposite direction–the ways our bodies are hardwired to behave–one must allow themselves to flow with it.

The Second Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei – #4 Giving An Out

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Last year I spent several months writing about the “Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei.” Now it is time to cover the next ten most important principles. Of course, one must keep in mind that while these principles are officially less important than first ten, in actuality they are just as important. The truth is that in many cases understanding and executing them properly is essential in order to make the “top ten” fully effective. In other words, they are just another piece of a very complex puzzle illustrating how sceintific martial techniques really are.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

GIVING AN OUT

“Giving an Out,” is another one of those multifaceted principles, used in a variety of forms. Basically, “Giving an Out,” refers to a method where the practitioner creates an artificial route of escape/retreat for the aggressor when applying a technique.

I call it an “artificial route” since the route is pre-determined and dictated by the practitioner. It’s a route intended to place the aggressor in a specific place, or state, so follow-up techniques can be easily employed.

These “outs” are based on science, especially the knowledge of physiology. For the most part they are based on innate reactions to specific stimuli and utilize the subconscious, hardwired, reactions of the nervous system.

Many of the best examples for clearly illustrating the principle of “Giving an Out,” are pain compliance techniques. A pain compliance technique is normally executed by applying a specific painful stimulus to a particular point on the body. This stimulus invokes an innate response via the reflex arch, and the body reacts is a predictable repeatable manner.

The technique is predictable and repeatable because it capitalizes on the innate physiology of the human body. Since it is predictable and repeatable, it’s an example of the principle of “Giving an Out;” If one knows how the reflex arch operates, and what stimulus invokes what reactions, one can use these reflexes to their advantage and direct an opponent’s body in specific directions.

While I have already written in detail about the reflex arch in my essay titled, “Pain and Pain Withdrawal Reflexes” and “The Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei – #3 Reflex Action,” I think it’s important enough to once again explain in order to fully understand the principle of “Giving an Out.”

Example

A common technique used in numerous martial art systems, which utilizes the reflex arch, and the principle of “Giving an Out,” is Gokyu (5th Immobilization). This technique is nothing more than an arm bar, which is accomplished by applying pressure directly above the elbow, at a point where numerous receptors are located; one in particular is called the Golgi tendon organ.

This technique works because when muscles contract, they produce tension at the point where the muscle is connected to the tendon. The Golgi tendon organ is located at such a point. The function of Golgi tendon organ is to register changes in tension, and the rate of these changes. When properly stimulated, such as by downward pressure that exceeds a certain threshold, the Golgi tendon organ sends signals to the spine, which triggers the stretch reflex (lengthening reaction). This inhibits the muscles from contracting, causing them to relax.

However, because of the position of the arm in the technique, the arm cannot relax fully; the only way the body can neutralize the threat is by falling forward or downward–the direction away from the point of the threatening stimulus. That’s the “Out.”

Because the basic function of the Golgi tendon organ is to help protect the muscles, tendons, and ligaments from injury, and because the reaction is innate, Gokyu and other similar techniques are highly repeatable.

Done properly, these techniques can work every time, even if one’s uke is aware of what is about to happen and tries to counter the technique. The important factor is that the stimulus has to be applied properly so that the body’s (spinal cord’s) command to fall will override their conscious will (brain) not to fall.

The Reflex Arch

If you read the above example carefully you will notice I said the Golgi tendon sends signals to the spinal cord, and not the brain. In actuality, signals are sent to both, but the spinal cord is responsible for the response.

With this in mind let’s break down the above technique and see what is actually occurring.
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Initially, the attacker felt a stimulus of pain in his arm that was intended to make them believe their tendons were in danger of ripping/tearing. Reacting to the stimulus in the arm, messages were transmitted to the brain and spinal column. Milliseconds before this information ever reached the brain, the spinal column respond and caused two reactions; the arm went limp, and the person fell to his knees.

Milliseconds later, the brain received the same information as the spinal cord. This information was analyzed, and appropriate responses were signaled back to the source of the stimulus. Of course, by this time, the perceived threat was over.

It is important to fully understand that the initial responses occurred prior to the brain processing the information. Even though both processes take place within milliseconds of each other, if the body had waited for the brain to signal a response it could have been too late, and the arm could have been damaged.

This fact is important because the body [spinal cord] reacts without “consciously” processing what is really occurring. This allows the defender to use their opponent’s innate body responses against himself. The defender causes a reaction their opponent can’t control, and in many cases isn’t even aware they are making. By the time their brain realizes what is going on it’s too late.

When applying a technique such as Gokyu, the defender’s goal is to create an artificial stimulus that the tendons are about to be severely damaged. In actuality, the arm is never in such extreme danger of being injured. If the brain had been responsible for providing a response it would have realized no real danger existed, and there would be no reason that the at the arm would have to go limp, or the person should collapse to their knees.

This change in responses would definitely have major consequences. Since the brain is aware that no real danger exists, it would allow the attacker to react differently, possibly affording him a chance to escape and/or counter attack.

Other Ways

Of course pain compliance techniques are just one example of the principle of “Giving an Out.” Other methods are more subtle, and are often used to project an opponent. This is a little harder to explain in writing, but suffice it to say that most systems which teach projection (throwing) techniques utilize this method to one degree or another.

However, the group I’ve found that utilizes a lot of the principle of “Giving an Out”–without most likely even realizing that they are–are practitioners of Judo and Wrestling. Grapplers, who have the ability to direct their opponent’s actions, will create intentional gaps of attack or escape, or will pretend to attack one limb while actually focusing on another. In this way, they fully utilize this principle.

Clearly, the principle of “Giving an Out,” is a method to subconsciously manipulate the actions of one’s opponent. In many instances, this action is direct cause and effect (reflex arch), while in others the action is almost imperceptible and psychological.

In either case, this principle is extremely effective, and those that learn to utilize the various methods to apply it will discover a new dimension to what they already do.

Fifteenth School Anniversary – July 14th 2007

Saturday July 14th turned out to be one of those days in San Francisco where the weather was just right. Cool in the morning, with some fog, but bright and sunny by noon. Even the wind, an ever-present force with a severe chill factor in this city, decided to take a break.

Festivities, at least for me, the chef, started at about 9:30 AM when sauce production went into full effect. Numerous onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, mangos, pineapples, and enough garlic to ward of an army of Vampires, had to be diced, sliced and mixed with various other ingredients until three distinct barbecues sauces passed my careful scrutiny. Not an easy task, since I tend to be extremely fussy when I cook.

The preparation of these sauces was just a follow-up to a two day production where almost 120 pounds of chicken, pork, and beef were carefully covered in homemade marinades. These ran the gamut from the traditional to a pineapple/mango rum combination.

Yes, I do tend to overdo things, and when it comes to barbecuing I barbecue enough meat to feed an army. I guess you can thank my Louisiana relatives for instilling that within me. Boy could my aunt make great barbecue!

Grilling started around 11:15 and by 2:30, when the first guest started to arrive; I was barely done with the initial searing of most of the meat. Fortunately for me, these initial guests weren’t in any hurry, and within an hour I was finally up to speed.

As anyone knows you can rush certain things, but fortunately by 4:00 people were contently stuffing their face with a fine assortment of meats and other treats various people brought. Clearly, there was no lack of food, and the Russian pastries/cakes one student and his family brought were a real treat.

This barbecue was held in celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of the school, and invitations were sent to all of my students past and present, as well as those individuals who have supported the school in various ways over the years. To be honest I really had no idea who would show up.

Obviously, I expected most of my current students would come, but I didn’t expect past students to show up at all, since I’ve lost contact with most of them. However, it was a nice surprise when one of my original adult students did. Hard to believe it’s been six years since he last set foot in the dojo though. Time sure flies.

Of course it’s also hard to believe I’ve been teaching for 15 years now. That is something I could never even have imagined when I decided to teach those first group of teens one summer.

Our group today was small, but I think everyone who attended the barbecue had a good time, and definitely left a few pounds heavier than they arrived. I know I enjoyed myself, even though it was a lot of work.

Naturally I enjoyed all the food, and demonstrating my culinary skills to people who appreciated the effort. However what I enjoyed most of all, and what meant the most to me, was the camaraderie. It’s the camaraderie that I vale the most, and why I continue to teach.

Thanks to everyone who shared this special day.

The Second Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei – #3 Angle of Efficiency

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Last year I spent several months writing about the “Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei.” Now it is time to cover the next ten most important principles. Of course, one must keep in mind that while these principles are officially less important than first ten, in actuality they are just as important. The truth is that in many cases understanding and executing them properly is essential in order to make the “top ten” fully effective. In other words, they are just another piece of a very complex puzzle illustrating how sceintific martial techniques really are.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

ANGLE OF EFFICIENCY

This principle is pretty much self-descriptive. Employing “Angle of Efficiency” is literally learning to use the proper angles in order to be more efficient, in both offense and defense. This principle basically refers to utilizing the old maxim that, “less is more.”

The American Kenpo dictionary defines “Angle of Efficiency,” as:

“Refers to (1) the positioning of your feet and/or body whereby the alternatives in terms of weapon availability are increased proportionately; (2) the positioning of one’s body to make a particular attack more operative or effective.”

This is a good definition, but it’s too limited. The principle as employed in the art I teach encompasses a lot more. The main difference being that we don’t restrict the principle to just striking or blocking.

In the art I teach, the principle of “Angle of Efficiency” is applied to all aspects of combat. This means knowing everything from the proper angles to attack joints, to the proper angles that will align a body to set up projections (throws).

However, all applications of this principle share one thing in common. These angles of efficiency are all based on the fact that martial art techniques are founded on specific mathematical formulas and geometry. Such formulas that can be diagramed and calculated to show specific body geometry, anatomical strengths and weaknesses, torques, points of balance, and stress points that help a martial artist be energy efficient (in terms of useful work per quantity of effort).

Unfortunately, attempting to describe every angle of efficiency possible, in every combat situation possible, would take too long. That would be something worthy of a book. It is also something one has to experience first-hand in order to fully comprehend and appreciate the nuisances.

My best advice for people, who wish to really learn to be more efficient in their fighting forms, is:

  1. Study anatomy, physics, and physiology. This means more than just a cursory glance at the material.
  2. Trial and error practice. Play around with techniques you know and see if changing an angle makes things work better or not.
  3. Ask your instructor specific questions relating to the application of techniques. (Note: some instructors are more open to such questions than others.) However, never settle for an answer that doesn’t make sense.
  4. If you’re learning a technique and you scratch your head in disbelief, or mutter the phrase you would never do that in “real life,” examine the technique in greater detail. Maybe a small change in angles will make the technique more effective, or at least justify the time it takes to learn it.
  5. Search out and read texts that are well researched–texts where the author has really studied the material they are discussing, and in which they display a very good understanding of the actual sciences that make them work. (Keep in mind that just because someone is labeled an expert or a master doesn’t mean they know a lot or have the ability to articulate what they do know.)
    For starters I recommend:
  6. The most important factor of all…. Practice, practice, practice!

The Second Top Ten Principles Of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei – #2 Angle of Cancellation

Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.

Last year I spent several months writing about the “Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei.” Now it is time to cover the next ten most important principles. Of course, one must keep in mind that while these principles are officially less important than first ten, in actuality they are just as important. The truth is that in many cases understanding and executing them properly is essential in order to make the “top ten” fully effective. In other words, they are just another piece of a very complex puzzle illustrating how sceintific martial techniques really are.

Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.

Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.

ANGLE OF CANCELLATION

The simple definition of this principle is: a “controlled” angle that places one’s opponent in a position that minimizes or even nullifies their ability to attack with weapons (hands, feet, etc.), use force, or launch a counter attack.

This “controlled” angle can be created in various ways. One can directly meet the force head-on, collide with the force at a point away from the apex, intercept/deflect the force, ride the force, elongate the force, or any combination of the above.

In a broader definition, “Angle of Cancellation” can also relate to kuzushi (breaking balance). In this case, “Angle of Cancellation” refers to the geometric angle one needs to apply in order to disrupt the opponent’s equilibrium and place them in a state where they cannot maintain or regain their stability/balance.

Basically, the principle of “Angle of Cancellation” is geometry combined with laws of physics. It is based on the presumption that all martial art techniques can be diagramed on graph paper and mathematically calculated.

Fortunately for those of us who lack mathematical skills to figure these calculations on their own, these formulas have been tried and tested throughout the ages via trail and error–trial and error that can’t be duplicated in the modern age.