Learning Sinawali

Paul’s first time learning Sinawali yesterday. Working on learning the basic steps.

Teach to Learn is one of the benefits of learning and teaching iKali. As I was teaching Paul I took the opportunity to learn by varying how I performed Sinawali.

Now its Paul’s turn to learn as part of Learn to Teach. He did the leading and I the following. Instead of doing Sinawali with the normal grip I opted to do it with reverse grip instead.

Once the basic movement is grasped I took the opportunity to extend the learning by going into the next part of our Sinawali sequence.

Instead, of learning the whole sequence I just introduced one additional movement and turned it into a cyclical drill.

I then introduced Paul to a learning objective – what it looks like to perform the sequence fast. The purpose of an objective is to present learning challenges to improve his performance, speed and power as he progresses.

The second drill we worked on was Sagang Labo. This is a well known drill in FMA though some FMA styles might call it by another name.

As I practiced Sagang Labo some of the things that Tuhon Apolo said came to mind. One of them is the ability to move about. I took this opportunity to showcase this point to Paul.

One of the limitations of online learning is the absence of feel. Having a partner in front makes for the best learning.

However, when we can’t have a partner we use a combination of words to describe what is happening, imagining and transposing the feel of the movement acting on us, and role playing it out.

Today I thought I would try to make the feeling more real by moving near to the camera to give the feeling of closing in to attack.

If you live in Singapore and interested to learn the iKali branch of Pekiti-Tirsia System of Kali let me know. We focus on working the basics of double sticks, single stick, blade and empty hand.

No Manual

I like what Shinzaburo said about not telling his own people how to make a bag exactly in this video on craftsmanship.

He further said that an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) manual means bags can be made without error and they may need if they go for the mass market.

But having a manual also means they can’t go beyond that which I think he means cannot go beyond a certain standard because the positive point of having an SOP also leads to a negative point of holding a person back if what he does is not within the procedures laid out in the SOP.

In many ways, the practice of martial arts is similar to this. A teacher guides us, gives some instruction and then we are expected to put in the practice. A teacher who wants to really teach you won’t feed you all the answers.

Instead, he teaches you enough to get you going and then you practice to find your own answers. Unfortunately, this can lead to two negative outcomes :-

a) The teacher who is not as knowledgeable can hide his ignorance and lack of knowledge by saying that he cannot show or explain the advanced material until you get there. The irony is that you can’t get there because following this teacher is like following the mother crab which wants to teach you (the baby crab) how to walk properly

b) The student who lacks initiative will not be able to go beyond what has been laid in front of him. He falls back into the argument that we must follow SOP or be considered an outcast. You might think that in today’s information rich internet such an attitude would not survive but all you have to do is take a look at the Wing Chun cults out there and you’ll see many a prime example of this type of mentality

The teacher shows you the way, imparts the SOP to you and you put in the practice. There is a minimal time for everyone to put in before they get it. Some may take minutes, some days, some months and some years. We all learn at a different pace. Some must practice a lot to get it, some need to analyze it before they see it and some need to do both. There is a formula to suit everyone. The thing is not to get bogged down by rules and conventions unless by not following the rules you may end up harming yourself.

What you need to see to make progress is that how you move today is different from how you moved yesterday and how you will move tomorrow. If after a period of practice you still do things the same way then you are stuck in a rut, you may not made any progress. Some weeks I keep practicing at a certain time daily and I don’t seem to make a lot of progress. Then I would sit back, analyze what I have been doing, ask what if questions, test them out (you know the whole point of failing fast many times in order to find the right path, right?) quickly, analyze again, and then I will put it to the grind, go slow, then faster, then even faster to see if it will fall apart under the pressure of speed, making adjustments along the way, or even throwing out the entire approach and relooking again at the process.

Here is an example of how to solve a problem – the first time I saw Tuhon perform what we call the Reverse Series I was like and wondered if I could ever do it. Seeing Tuhon move made me see stars. Later I saw Tuhon taught it in an instructor weekend video. The movements seemed more doable now that Tuhon broke it down into steps. The first thing I tried was this simple step about how to change from a forward grip to reverse grip. And I left it at that until I got to learning it some time later.

This time around Tuhon taught the basics of how to get it and it wasn’t that bad, actually after I did it a few times I could grasp it. The one problem area was the switching. I found that as long as I moved at a certain speed it wasn’t as difficult to switch as I thought. However, if I slowed down to a certain speed and below switching became difficult. And what if I waited too long and had moved towards the end of the movement, yes this made switching slightly more difficult too. Another problem was if I did the other three Series before the Reverse series my fingers might be a bit stiff by the time I came around to doing switching and that affected the speed of the movements. So now I have a few problems to solve :-

a) How to do the Reverse Series at the same quick pace as the other series?

b) How to switch whether the speed of movement is faster or slower?

c) How to switch if my fingers are stiffer from doing the entire double sticks series a few times in a row?

d) What to do if in the process of switching my fingers gripped too slow or wrongly? How to continue the flow and minimize the interuption to the pace of the flow as if there was no mistake?

e) Do I always have to switch behind? Yes, the logic why we do so makes sense. But what if I don’t have the space behind to turn, like when I practice on the balcony and I can’t turn more. How do I adhere to the logic of protecting my hand from being attacked while its in the midst of swtiching?

f) Should I always have to move faster rather than slower to make it easier to do the flow? What if I move slower because I can’t move at the usual faster speed? This actually happened when I practiced on the balcony. In working on solving this question I found that I could turn my body slightly differently to accomodate the smaller and tighter space in which I have to move

There is no one way of learning that works for everybody. Find the way that works for you. The above is the way that works for me. I guess this is because this is how I was taught to learn Wing Chun and Tai Chi. To me its a case of if it works then let’s continue using it. If it doesn’t then find out what would work and learn that, adapt it to my learning and make it work.

Knife Basic Practice

The is the first knife drill I learned in Kali. Its practice really works my speed, strength and stamina.

Last year we had a class challenge to do 10,000 repetitions of this drill. I pushed myself to complete the challenge over a few days for both left side and right side.

The drill below teaches the basics of blade cutting and thrusting as shown below :-

Yesterday, I had some time to practice in the morning so I went through a few drills.

I am looking into starting a group to practice Kali basics on a Friday evening. If interested please contact me.

Stick Flow

It was a cold day yesterday as is today.

I stood on the balcony, going through moves from the single stick and double sticks. Somehow the swings got faster and faster, and before I knew it I was taking moves from here and there and just making up the sequences as I went along.

Tuhon said that the basics for flowing freely resides in drills such as the angles of attack, the loading positions, the single stick vs double sticks drills, etc. This is why we are urged to drill them by the thousands.

I don’t really know how many times I have practiced the drills. I just practice them.

Kali Progress Check

Today I took my iKali progress check with two fellow students on Zoom. Reflections of my experience :-

a) Just because its through Zoom doesn’t make it any less easy

b) You can never prepare enough. With this in mind I prepared for L1M1 and L1M2 flows. Better to over prepare than under prepare but even then be prepared to be surprised.

For example, I learned the L1M2 flow one way then later a slightly different version was presented. So I focused on the 2nd version as that was the one that was covered in the live Zoom progress check.

Today we did the 1st version. Fortunately, I had done the 1st version before. The difference was that in the 1st version the EH part came first but in the 2nd version the Blade X-factor came first. It was good that we didn’t do it as a continuous flow so it wasn’t much of a problem.

c) Watch the feeder!!! This is a very important part for doing progress check. In the Zoom class our flow always started by stepping to the right then left. For some reason when it came to DS X-factor we started with high X-factor on the left then on the right. Later this version was changed to right high X-factor then left X-factor which made it consistent with the other drills.

Because I watched the videos for the Zoom classes so I did two versions and settled on the 2nd version. Today out of habit I did the 2nd version when the feed was for the 1st version. In retrospect it didn’t really matter because the DS X-factor can work whether I stepped to the right or left. Only thing is when the 2nd high strike came I wouldn’t need to step.

All I had to do was slow down, listen, watched and respond accordingly. Because I didn’t slow down enough when we went through the SS counters the timing threw me off at first. I normally would practice as each counter do once. The first sequence we did today called for 2 reps each time.

Yes, watch the feeder, watch the feeder. You react the way you train. If today’s progress check had been a live situation instead of a test I might have been hit more than necessary because I didn’t always react as I should by watching the feeder.

d) One thing I have never really prepared for was to train with sweat on the sticks. Normally I would wipe the sweat off. Today I was momentarily caught with sweat on the sticks and the flow started so I had to carry on with the possibility of the sticks flying off my slippery hands. I adapted by slowing a bit and not hitting too hard but I still had to follow the feeder’s pace.

This is what I like about the iKali class. Nothing is dumbed down. We are held to a high standard even though its virtual learning. The content could have been lesser to make it easier but no, we have a good balance of content, quite a lot actually as Master Ace pointed out at one time, but it makes for a good push to make us learn better.

The Zoom classes for L1M3 begins next week and I will join in. Fortunately, Eastern Standard time is 13 hours behind so the class will only begin at 6.30 am.

iKali Training

Training in iKali : Art of Blade

I am offering to share my knowledge of iKali free to anyone who is interested to pick it up. The learning will be focused on gaining functionality via mutual beneficial (spirit of bayanihan) training to elevate each other’s skill. iKali training is especially suitable for kids and mature adults.

In general four areas will be covered :-

a) Double sticks
b) Single stick
c) Blade
d) Empty Hand

Training duration 1.5 hours in the south west area (near Yew Tee MRT) every Friday night 7 to 8.30 pm.

Requirement – bring a pair of rattan sticks (contact me for info on where to buy), water, wear a mask and comfortable clothing.

As per COIVD-19 Phase III requirements not more than 8 participants will be allowed. A physical distancing of 2m (i.e. 2 arms-length) between individuals should be maintained at all times.

If interested contact me via PM or leave a comment here.

Not Thinking 2

Another interesting info from “The Power of Not Thinking” :-….. imagining an action without executing it activates the same neural pathways.

Simply put, thinking of performing an action shows up in the brain as if the action had actually been performed.

I first read about this in a book, I think it was called Mind Gym. This explains why sometimes a good way to train arts such as Tai Chi is by sitting there and going through the movements mentally.

By constraining your outer physical movements you are forced to feel your inner physical movements. For example, the concept of Jing Yuen (劲源) is not easy to understand mentally but by stilling your body and using your imagination to do the movement process you can easily feel the Jing Yuen move and voila! suddenly a few more insights will come to mind.

I carefully observed Tuhon when I first learned iKali because certain things are different from what I had learned in CMA. I could ask questions but it would be more interesting not to ask and tried to learn by observing.

This book validated this learning approach in the story of how apprentices learn to build a minaret in Yemen without formal instructions or allowed to ask questions freely. One anthropologist called this “stealing knowledge with their eyes”. Tuhon Apolo said something similar about his learning from Grand-Tuhon.

Less is More

The FMA Bayanihan Sabayan Taho was held over Zoom on 12 Dec 2020. The seminar presented tons of information, so much so it was enough to drown me mentally 100 times over.

Thankfully, the video of the seminar will be posted up for viewing and learning. Instead of the raw video Master Ace will present the recorded video in a series of shorter digestible clips.

And what a great job he has done from the looks of the clips that have already been put up. For once I am grateful that the clips are slowly being put up as this will give me the time to look, see, remember, digest and retain something.

I dived in and had a look at the first clip of Tuhon Apolo teaching the basics of what Grand-Tuhon Leo T. Gaje, Jr had presented earlier.

Barely five minutes in I stopped watching. OK, that’s a lot of information. Let me stop and digest it before I come back for more. Less is more.

Dealing with the Unexpected

Peace is good. Violence is bad. But when sudden, out of the blue, unexpected violence such as this (click here for article) hits what do we do?


Dive for cover?

Fight back?

Call police?

Whip out the phone and start shooting video?

We can give all sorts of answers as to what we can do and want to do. However, the reality is until violence visits us and stares us in the face we can’t say for sure what we will actually do.

To paraphrase Tuhon Apolo Ladra, my teacher in iKali, it is what you don’t see that gets you. For example, you may be fighting with someone and chain punching him into oblivion until his buddy comes from behind and hits you in the head. Then your imminent victory becomes sudden defeat.

We can never be sure what violence and when it will come down on us, if ever. The only thing we can be in control of is our training, what we train, how we train, what is our skill level like, how is our reaction, and so on.

If you are attacked by a knife wielding person tomorrow what would you do assuming you can see it coming? Run? Can you? What if you can’t? What then? Fight without knowing how but at least you die fighting, right? Or fight with some idea as to what to do?

Just because I know Tai Chi does not mean I can handle a knife attack. That’s a fact. Fajing ability does not equal knife handling skill.

Tuhon Apolo said something else that makes sense – you can’t handle a knife attack if you do not know what a knife attacker can be capable of. I know some knife disarms before I learned Kali and I have seen videos of masters teaching how to fight against a knife attack.

After learning Kali knife method and strategies I would advise to run when you see a knife attacker and if you can’t then you better have a good plan that you have trained for when this day would come. I know I don’t which is why I must train.

I have seen videos where the person playing the attacker would do an attack and then wait for the master to counter. Is this realistic? My advice is learn how people in Kali use the blade and then assess for yourself if such counters would work. You don’t even have to learn advanced and fancy knife skills, just the basic skills would.

Your life is basically in your hands. Its not in mine and it is not in your teacher’s nor the police. When something like a knife attack comes you can either run or you have to handle and pray that what you know works. My prayer is simple – that I never have to use what I know. Until then I would follow Tuhon Apolo’s advice to hit 10,000 repetitions to ingrain the muscle memory and develop further from there.