Hit, Repeat

I bought the book “Unstoppable: My Life So Far” by Maria Sharapova when it came out in 2017.

It has been sitting on my bookshelf since. Last night I finally got around to reading it after finishing Cultish and pondering whether to read these series of books on Koryo or perhaps the biography of Dyson.

Anyway, I managed to clear 100 pages by this afternoon. It is a fun read, a book that I would want to read non-stop.

In Chapter 8 Sharapova wrote about her training with Robert Lansdorp.

The following would resonate with anyone who is training or has trained with Tuhon Apolo in iKali :-

Robert’s practices were pretty much the same every time. That was the point of them. He believed in repetition. Doing the same thing again and again and again. Do it till it’s second nature.

Lansdorp was not a sadist. There was a point to all that torture. Everything was done in the service of a philosophy; every drill had a reason, was taking the player somewhere. When I asked him to explain that philosophy, he laughed. “Well, you know me, Maria, ” he said, smiling. “I just hate spin on a tennis ball. That’s what most modern players use. They hit the ball hard, then put a lot of spin on it to keep it in court. It drops, like a sinker ball. I hate it. What I want is a good, hard, flat stroke. That’s what all repetition is teaching. A flat stroke doesn’t have a lot of top-spin. Flat strokes were big in the 1970s and 1980s, into the early 1990s, then a new, terrible style came in. I think it had to do with the new rackets and new grips. It changed everything. With the new grips, it’s easy to put a lot of spin on a ball. Too easy. The spin gets on there even when you don’t want it to. The kids who thrive on that can be hard to beat, but when they get to be fifteen or sixteen they hit a wall, because now they have to hit the ball harder and suddenly they can’t control the spin. You have to learn to hit flat when you’re young because you need to be fearless to do it, and the older you get, the more fear gets into your game. That’s why we did it again and again. You were learning to hit that hard, flat stroke.

Once I’d acquired what Robert considered a suitably hard, flat stroke – it was all about getting into a nirvana-like hitting groove – we began to work on my accuracy, my court placement. There was nothing high-tech or modern about his method. There were no video cameras, or lasers, or algorithms. Robert simply taped empty tennis-ball cans a few inches above the net on either side of the court and told us to hit those “target” as many times as we could. It was like trying to drive a tennis ball through a keyhole.

From Day 1 Tuhon Apolo kept urging us to go for at least 10,000 repetitions. As in the game of tennis, so it is in iKali.

The most basic technique we learn, the Broken Strike, looks simple but to do it naturally, accurately, being able to whisk it out threateningly to feint or to actually strike takes a lot of practice.

The companion technique is the Fluid Strike, the big stroke that slices the opponent from one side to the other. The big stroke that should drop the opponent if you connect. Hence, the repetitions required to make you hit accurately, consistently, with speed and power.

Broken and Fluid Strikes are found in the set of 8 drills that beginners learn. In techniques such as Entry 4 we initially do the first strike as a Broken Strike. As we go on we change this to a Fluid Strike.

However, depending on how we apply Entry 4 there is no black and white guidelines in so far as the use of Broken Strike or Fluid Strike is concerned. For example, the first thing we learn is to do a feint with the Broken Strike and follow up with a hit to the knee with the second strike.

Alternatively, we could be delivering a Fluid Strike, missing the opponent because he stepped back and quickly follow up with a strike to his leading knee.

This could also morph into a third scenario of going out first with a Broken Strike to get the opponent to return fire and making him miss. Then we deliver the Fluid Strike when he gives the opening. If we miss then we can quickly do a follow up with a strike to his knee (or even arm).

Doing the most basic technique such as Entry 4 many times, over a period of time can give a new appreciation, deeper insight into how such a simple looking technique can be versatile. And we haven’t even add in the footwork yet.

Connect The Dots


Thought provoking process.

Connect the dots.

It is my opinion that training in iKali can help one to learn Tai Chi better particularly if you don’t quite know what you have learned in your Tai Chi class.

For example, in iKali the first thing we learn is how to step along the sides of an open triangle. Now if you have been practicing your Tai Chi and wondering how to use it the moment you learn about he open triangle stepping you should experience an Eureka! moment.

This Eureka! moment is what Tuhon Apolo calls the thought provoking process. My Tai Chi teachers would call this insight.

The open triangle postulates a range relationship between you and the opponent. The first range we learn is the long range. As we go on we also touch on the mid range and short range. Proper use of footwork allows you to control the range.

Now what has this to do with Tai Chi?

Firstly, seeing the open triangle should trigger your mind to connect it to the technique of Brush Knee, Twist Step which is the most obvious example of the use of open triangle stepping.

However, the use of open triangle stepping in Tai Chi actually occurs in Grasp Sparrow’s Tail, which is the first technique you learn in the long form.

Tuhon Apolo said that combat is nothing but appreciation of distance. Master Leong is one of the rare Tai Chi masters who use the long range in push hands so most of the time he would get you before you can even close in.

If you do not know how to control the range or unable to do so you would soon find you opponent up close and personal at the close range. At the close range if you are quartered by the opponent then you will find yourself out of options to respond and be opened to attacks. This is why learning, understanding and mastering the open triangle is important.

Secondly, when a beginner starts off his learning of strikes we break down the entire technique into segments. So instead of saying “step forward and strike diagonally” we would break this into “step forward”, “chamber the stick” and “strike diagonally”.

The first instruction calls for the strike to happen as you are stepping forward. The second instruction calls for you to step forward, pause, prepare to strike by chambeing, pause, then do the strike.

If you have learned martial arts before particularly weapons you might find the second instruction laborious. I mean who would want to do it this way which is more for those who have never learned before. However, do not underestimate this way of learning. Why?

You may have learned how to move a weapon and have no problem carrying out a simple instruction such as step forward nad strike diagonally. However, if you are looking to further improve your skills and mastery of attributes you would do yourself a great service by examining how you actually move closely.

Most of us can see how we move. But can you see how you actually move from the perspective of good and proper biomechanics that allows you to execute a movement at optimal speed, power, efficiency and economical motion? Experts call this ability to see problem areas as having a quiet eye. You can acquire this ability by making a lot of learning mistakes, analyzing where and why you made the mistakes and learning to correct them.

In learning to step forward and executing the diagonal strike one movement at a time we are learning to fix the body position first before we move the arm to do the strike. In the beginning you will feel that the strike is not powerful because you are only moving the arm after your body has come to rest. You will only feel the power when you move the arm and body together. Or so it seems.

In terms of practicality we would move the arm and body at the same time. However, in learning there’s value in moving the body first, stop, then move the arm. The reason is quite simple – unless you have a high degree of awareness of how you actually move chances are your body and arm is moving out of coordination with each other.

Stepping first, stop, then move the arm is one way to fix the coordination problem. You do it a few times to learn how to “see” (see by using your eyes and sensing) how you actually move. Then you try to do it by moving arm and body together to see if you can achieve the same alignment. If you can’t then you correct the way you move until you can do it. And you keep doing it until it becomes second nature.

In Tai Chi practice most practitioners would move arm and body together, thus perpetuating the arm-body coordination problem. The smarter practitioner would look for a way to fix this problem.

When I teach Tai Chi to beginners I would teach it one sub-movement by one sub-movement. This is a time consuming way to teach but it checks that the arm and body is aligned properly each and every time. Then after this process is understood we can move on to learning the sub-movements as a flow.

If you do not get the alignment of arm and body correct chances are when you play push hands you will find your opponent constantly invading your defensive space. This is because the absence of proper alignment is akin to leaving your gates opened (or partially opened), inviting the opponent to enter.

This is not an easy way to learn Tai Chi in the beginning but it will make your learning of push hands a lot easier down the road.

What we learn in the form is how we will apply it in push hands. It is common for practitioners to learn a few forms but unable to apply even a single technique freely in push hands. When we learn push hands we learn to apply the techniques one at a time. In this way we have a more indepth understanding of how a technique can work.

The other way of learning is to approach push hands as a game of chess. In this way of doing push hands we have a series of positions from which certain techniques can be used as examples to understand what we can do in those positions. This is not something new but a method employed in some styles to teach application of techniques.

Learning something different is always challenging. It is normal for us to try to see something new from the perspective of something that we are familiar with. This enables us to pick up the information faster. However, we may also miss seeing certain things as we assume that what we know has already enabled us to see everything.

The generation of insights come from seeing broadly and indepth. So always keep an open mind. As the saying goes you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

The Internal Principles of Abakada

In my previous post I wrote about Abakada.

What I left out is that Abakada is a good exercise for learning and discovering the physics that we commonly think of as associated with the internal arts.

Here is how I look at it – whether you want to classify your art as internal or external is irrelevant to the question of optimizing body motion for the purpose of speed, power and change in the application of techniques.

It is because different practitioners have different beliefs, viewpoints and understanding that we end up with different models. But if you cast aside the whole style / system argument and just examine the question as one of how to move then you will probably find more consensus than disagreements.

For this reason I prefer to look at books on physics, biomechanics and anatomy cause they are martial arts style free. What matters is that they talk about the body in motion rather than the “my style is better than your style” argument.

What do you find in internal arts that you will also find in Abakada?

Hand leads the body, body leads the hand is a common internal arts principle. In Chen style Tai Chi they say that the first routine is body leads hand and in the second routine the hand leads the body. In Yang style we do both separately at first. Once your practice reach a certain level of skill you will find that you can do both within the same technique.

In Abakada strike number 10 is an example of stick (or sword) leads the body at first then body takes over and lead the stick. Why is it this way?

To move fast the hand (or stick or sword) must lead the body which is what happens at the beginning of the movement. However, to generate power one must use the waist / hip / legs. So towards the end of strike number 10 the body takes over and does a gravitional drop to generate power for the downward slashing motion.

In Chen style Tai Chi this is normally done as a stomping motion. In Yang style our stomping motion is very subtle which is why you can’t really see it. In many versions of Abakada this is performed as a body drop via a squatting motion.

Since I practice stomping in my Yang style I do this as a stomping motion, however, I do not stomp the ground hard. Instead, I use what looks like a stomping action to create an accelerated downward motion. Depending on how I manage the time lag between the movement of the waist, upper body and arm it can either be like a chopping movement or a whipping motion.

The other motion that is used a lot in Abakada is opening and closing of the body. When we do Abakada we have a motion of the hand holding the stick and a motion of the other empty hand. If I practice Abakada at a much slower pace then this opening and closing will be obvious particularly in strike number 7 and 9.

A lesser motion is that of the spiral which is quite obvious in strike number 8. If you take away the stick strike number 8 would resemble Xingyi’s Heng Quan.

Strike number 11 and 12 highlights the use of momentum by massing the body, moving the different parts and stopping the body at the same time. To make the movement stronger for strike number 11 we add a sudden acceleration towards the end of the movement.

Alphabet for the Broadsword

I like this exercise called Abakada in iKali. Abakada means ABC, that is the beginning of words in the Filipino alphabet.

Sometimes Abakada is also called Abecedario by other PTK teachers. I understand that Grand Tuhon taught different versions of Abakada at various times.

A version I always see is this one below :-

When I first saw it I was surprised that it didn’t resemble what I had learned. Then I looked again and realized that the strikes are the same. Its the body structure and footwork that is different.

This popular version looks very smooth. I can understand why it makes for a good introduction to basic strikes.

The version we do in iKali is more dynamic, more aggressive in feel especially when I do it fast.

I find the iKali version a good companion study form for the Tai Chi broadsword. This is what I like about the Abakada exercise :-

a) Good exercise for basic thrusting and slashing attacks

b) Teaches the role of the empty hand in helping to defend, attack and counterattack

c) Rapid stepping and body angling for defence and getting into range to deliver the strikes

d) Smooth transition between strikes even when the strikes are performed with power

e) Good exercise for learning how to use the body and footwork to generate power in the strikes

Do Till You See

Can you see what you are doing?

Sometimes we can, many times we can’t.

There’s a counter movement called Pawitik in this iKali exercise called Sabayan which calls for a flick and a cut in quick succession.

I can see what I am doing when I do it. However, there is a problem related to time lag. The problem goes this way – I do the witik movement and then I do the slash. Seems simple enough.

The problem with this simple 2-step movement is this – the witik is easy to do. Its a quick flick of the stick using a quick turn of the wrist. The stick flicks out, comes back and then I do the slash.

The problem is that there is always a time lag between the ending of the flick and the beginning of the slash. I think of this as the braking effect.

The braking effect problem is this – you drive fast from point A to point B, then you turn and drive back. The faster you drive, the harder you have to apply the brake when you get to point B, then only you can turn back.

If you drive slower you will not have to brake as hard. But then you won’t be able to get from point A to point B as fast.

In combat if you hit the opponent’s wrist with the flick and then you take the time to do the slash chances are by that time his wrist would have been gone.

So you need to do the flick fast and the slash just as fast. And you need to do it in a way that there is power otherwise it would not hurt like a bitch.

Scientifically speaking, every action has a reaction, a consequence. A quick flick of the wrist to flick the stick out and back will place a lot of stress and strain suddenly on your wrist (whether from the braking or twisting of the wrist) during the transition from flick to slash.

If you have injured your wrist previously then you will feel pain when you do witik. If you don’t have pain to begin with then train the movement carefully. If you go too fast, too strongly you could end up with pain.

To solve this problem one way is to study the movement carefully by doing it slowly. I did many times but still the same flick, lag, slash would occur. I did a lot of this series of movements in an exercise called B-24. In explaining how to do the witik in free flow Tuhon Apolo mentioned something.

As it turns out this thing he mentioned is the solution to doing the flick and slash quickly without the time lag. Once I could do it I can see the movement path in my mind. It basically comes back to solving the problem of how to drive fast from point A to point B, brake less hard, and turn back quickly. Now it is possible to do a flick and slash with minimal stress but without sacrificing the power.

Why Learn E4?

Entry 4 (E4) is a basic technique in iKali. Tuhon Apolo said that techniques like E4 are the bread and butter techniques.

One unusual aspect of iKali is that the more advanced techniques are taught first rather than later. The reason is advanced techniques require a longer period of learning and immersion so nothing better to learn it from the beginning rather than later so that we can chalk up the number of practice repetitions.

If Tuhon Apolo had not said it I might have dismissed E4 as a simple basic technique. I mean what could be advanced about a straightforward strike to the temple followed by a strike to the knee. But as they say the devil is in the details and this will only be revealed as we travel along the path.

I should know that E4 is important because the next technique is Entry 6 (E6) which is basically E4 plus two more strikes. This is followed by what we call Tap for short and is the E4 strike with a tapping movement inserted in between.

In iKali Tuhon Apolo wants everyone to get functional fast so we do E4 as a straightforward series of strikes, first to the temple, chamber back to the hip, strike to the knee, then bring back to shoulder.

What makes E4 a useful technique is not immediately obvious at this stage. But after a number of repetitions which Tuhon Apolo defined as 10,000 repetitions as the minimum then we move beyond the functional stage to the technical stage. This is when we pay more attention to developing the details. These details are the keys to developing the ability to apply E4.

I like to say the opponent is not stupid. So if we try to strike the opponent in the temple using the first strike in E4 it will fail cause opponent is not going to stand there. He will block, deflect, evade, move away, whatever it takes not to get hit and try to hit you back.

Once we understand this point then we know what just trying to hit someone without a plan is pretty much a recipe for failure. We need a strategy if we want to score hits. In the famous 36 strategems it is said “Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west” and this is exactly the first application of E4 in that we feint to the temple and strike to the knee.

If the opponent moves his knee then we follow up with a strike to the arm or temple, whichever target is nearer and this is what E6 is about. If opponent intercepts our first strike to his temple and then attempts to hit our low body instead, then we can tap the stick downwards to deflect his attack and counter with our strike to his knee – this is one possible application of Tap. Another possible application is that the Tap is used as a timing disruptor to cause the opponent to freeze for a split second by attacking his front foot. Then before the opponent can react we quickly go for his knee.

These are examples of how E4 can be used. Once we add in some of the other strikes the possibilities are immense. So never underestimate a simple basic technique. The lessons learned from E4 can also be applied in Tai Chi push hands.

Sinawali Training for Open-Close

Opening and closing is a biomechanical motion used in the internal arts for giving power to movements and issuing power.

I taught a number of arm swinging exercises in SKD which works the opening and closing motion. Some of these drills are embedded in SKD Training Sequence No. 1.

Another way we can enhance the training of opening and closing is via the Sinawali exercise taught in iKali. Why I said iKali rather than FMA is because the thrust and slash motions are taught in a very specific manner in iKali.

As Tuhon Apolo pointed out in the online disussion below iKali is not “my” (as in “I”, that is “me”) Kali but indigenous Kali.

The phrase indigenous Kali is in reference to the flavor of how old masters of FMA would move. This flavor is largely missing in today’s FMA and Tuhon Apolo wants to keep this alive. If you go to this page you can see photos of famous FMA masters and their postures when applying their respective art.

In Chinese martial arts what distinguishes one Tai Chi style from another is not the name or the arrangement of the form but the flavor of the movements.

So when you look at Chen style you would never mistaken it for Yang style because of the low stances and spiral movements. On the other hand, Wu (Hao) style would differ from the other Tai Chi styles in the unique upright body structure, minimalist arm movements.

Why the differences exist is due to how the techniques are applied and the power generation method. At times, the environment in which the art is used also plays a part.

iKali is configured to train us to acquire this unique flavor of moving. The Sinawali exercise is one way of learning to do this.

The basic Sinawali exercise which is performed with all high strikes can work the body to learn how to move with correct biomechanics in place.

From my practice I conclude that :-

a) 1st movement is both sides of the body open and then close, and vice versa

b) 2nd movement is one side close, one side open

c) 3rd movement is like the 1st movement in opening and closing both sides

When you add in the indigenous body structure flavor you can feel the body opening and closing even better.

I don’t like to try to turn Kali into a Tai Chi-like exercise. I prefer to do it as I learned it. The reason is because currently many in the Wing Chun community are adding Tai Chi to their styles but refusing to acknowledge it, instead trying to give all sorts of excuses of how their style is internal. Anyone who has seen the photos of Wing Chun practitioners in the 60s and 70s would no doubt notice a disparity in the flavor of the postures then and now.

Training Kali as is puts you outside the box and presents you with a different perspective of how a biomechanical motion can be learned. In solving the question of how to do Sinawali fast, with power, efficiency, timing, flow, etc you will go through a learning curve.

Some of the things you learn here are similar to what other styles regardless of nationality would also do. In Tai Chi we can find opening and closing in Yang style but its is not easy to learn.

Wu (Hao) style would be a better choice for learning how to do opening and closing but you have to minimize and delete a lot of unnecessary outer movements in order to isolate the opening and closing motion, feel it better and then be able to refine it. It can be quite a tall order for beginners. An alternative is to explore how to learn this useful mechanic via Sinawali. It may be easier or it may not be. I suspect it will probably be easier.

Another Tragedy

A tragic attack occurred this week. A student was murdered by another with an axe in school. Details at present are scarce.

We can never be vigilant enough in today’s climate. However, being vigilant is not enough. We have to be able to respond to the situation if we are forced to do so.

In Kali we are taught that the attack that we don’t see is the attack that gets you. As such, if you didn’t see the attack coming then no matter how skillful you are there’s nothing you can do.

But if you do see the attack coming then the question is how much time do you have to react. Can you run? Or do you have to fight? And there’s not a lot of time to think about it. This is why we train, to learn how to decide, to know how confident we are if we have to act.

We don’t train a lot of techniques because it is self defeating if you don’t have enough time to be proficient in all of them. We train enough techniques, that limited they may be, they enable us to mix and match to come up with more. The more you train the same technique the better you will be, and the more confident you are to use it.

The most common attack whether using an axe, a machete, a box cutter would be the Angle 1 slashing strike. Some people refer to this as the caveman strike because even people who never trained martial arts will instinctively use it. I see ladies use the Angle 1 slap naturally in fights. They would grab and pull the hair to pull the head down and slap away.

Knowing how the Angle 1 strike works, knowing how to use it ourselves whether when using a stick, a sword or knife is part and parcel of learning how to deal with it. We learn to not just disarm the training partner of the weapon. Instead, we learn to take it away from them so that we know have a weapon if we don’t have one already.

Having a weapon gives you an advantage. How you use this advantage whether to stop with minimal damage, or inflict punishing strikes or even life taking techniques is something you have to decide. This is what Japanese samurai mean by the blade that takes life is also the blade that gives life.

Again, if there is a situation we would like to call the police but this is not always an option. When an attack is upon you suddenly and you instinctively reach for your phone then you are reacting to the situation. If you drop your phone or suddenly realize that the weapon is about to strike you and you change your reaction it will be too late. We don’t like it but in such situations sometimes your life is really in your own hands depending on your reaction and the attacker’s reaction to your response

Decoding SKD Training Sequence No. 1 – Part 7

The seventh part of the Training Sequence is the last part. When the fifth and sixth part is considered together with this part you can notice an overall strategy of control if you have been practicing consistently.

A series of mid range techniques is introduced while moving linearly forward. The last part teaches the twist and step method for changing your position quickly.

In addition, this part serves as an introduction to how we integrate iKali with SKD. The empty hand techniques here can be used with a weapon such as a knife, tactical flashlight or tactical pen.

For this purpose we just need to teach how to access the weapon from the place that we are carrying it.

We will also have to point out the change in targets to be struck with the weapon. There are non-lethal and lethal targets to be considered.

Most of the information mentioned in these series of posts can be found in the 2020 and 2021 Zoom lessons posted in the Slack group. The only information not covered is how to use the weapon in the seventh part.