Thursday, June 25, 2015

DVD Review -- Infighting, YMAA Publication Center, 79 minutes,

Infighting, YMAA Publication Center, 79 minutes, $29.95  

This is another fine DVD from Rory Miller. Miller is an experienced martial artist, experienced corrections officer, an experienced trainer, and an analytical thinker with a degree in psychology. His books and DVDs tend to be very well done and interesting on many levels. This one is no exception.
In “In-fighting,” Miller is up to his usual high standards and focuses on an important and interesting topic. The cover claims that this DVD will “develop your close-range combat reflexes” and the DVD focuses on exactly that. Miller describes the focus as “martial arts,” and not “self-defense.” The intent is to focus on improving fighting when the fighters are at “clinch range” which he also describes as “torso to torso” or “halitosis range.”
Miller is an experienced trainer and a master teacher. He begins by discussing how to learn the techniques and principles taught in the DVD. “Play,” he says, more than once, and he emphasizes repeatedly that to learn the materials on the DVD one must go out and practice. The format of the DVD is like Miller’s other DVDs. There are a group of people in a place, Miller teaches, explains, and demonstrates, then the students practice as Miller comments and clarifies. Personally, I’ve seen all five of Miller’s DVDs and felt this format fits four of the five (there was one, Scaling Force, that I thought would have been done better with a different format), and it fits this one, as well.
For an hour and 18 minutes, the group practices and Miller explains and clarifieds. Subjects covered include not just techniques like throws, sweeps, chokes, and strikes, as well as ways to destroy the opponent’s structure and the use of leverage and leverage points, but also training methodology and some of the building blocks required to develop the skills that the video is designed to impart. These building blocks include an introduction to how to move people’s bodies, locks, and takedowns. It’s all well done and well explained and well demonstrated.
In conclusion this is well done DVD. A martial arts teacher or class could easily use it as the basis for many drills and useful skill building practice. The concepts are interesting, the techniques clearly explained, this is a good addition to most martial arts libraries.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book Review -- Chanpuru –Reflections and Lessons from the Dojo, by Garry Parker

Chanpuru –Reflections and Lessons from the Dojo, by Garry Parker. 2015. Tambuli Publishing, Spring House PA

Following a stint in the US Air Force, where he found himself stationed in Okinaw, Garry Parker  stayed and began the study of Okinawan Karate.  Later, after he returned home to the USA and was unable to find training in this art that fit him, on the urging of his sensei in Okinawa he opened his own small school and became a sensei himself. In this book Garry Parker tells that journey and shares some of the lessons that he learned from it.

This book is a quick read, being only about 163 pages. At times, it seemed a bit superficial and I would have liked more depth and detail, but I suspect a large part of this is that I do not study Okinawan karate.

It’s divided into sections. In the first section, Parker tells of how he enlisted in the air force, arrived in Okinawa and joined a dojo. He speaks of how, despite throwing himself into the art, he tells of how his sensei occasionally wondered about his discipline and intent.
He describes what it was like training in an Okinawan dojo, and the constant use of the makiwara board and hand conditioning techniques. He tells of training with such intensity, and constant signs of wear and tear on his hands, that he was identified as a beginner by an elderly Okinawan lady in the supermarket who easily recognized the marks of a zealous neophyte.  

Later when he returned to the USA, he tried to follow the same traditions and practices.  Unable to find a dojo that fit him in his hometown of Columbus, Georgia, his sensei in Okinawa encouraged him to start training on his own. Despite hesitation, he set out to do this. After training in his house for several months, he began constructing a wooden dojo in his backyard. When he felt his progress stagnate, again on the urging of his sensei in Okinawa, he began teaching students. Beginning with his wife and children, he’d soon recruited several students and began teaching them not just the physical skills but also the moral lessons that he felt were an important part of Okinawan Karate.

In the second half of the book, he shares some of the lessons he has learned as a teacher. These include the importance of regular training, the importance of not judging students before really understanding them or knowing the facts about their behaviors, and the importance of “giri” or obligation among students and how it not only helps the dojo but also helps the students themselves.

In part three, the author writes of the importance of legacy and honoring one’s teachers.  

Personally, as stated, I do not study Okinawan Karate but  expect that this book will resonate among people who do. Although I often wished that Parker would have included more detail and depth in his stories, he is clearly sharing something important to him, and it’s clear that this is what he also does when teaching karate. I think Chanpuru will be a welcome addition to libraries of books about martial arts teachers and what their art means to them.  

Friday, June 19, 2015

Media Review: Scaling Force --Dynamic Decision-making under threat of violence

Scaling Force --Dynamic Decision-making under threat of violence. YMAA, 120 minutes.  

Roy Miller has created five DVDs, all of which I’ve seen, and written several books, of which I’ve read four. I’ve been very impressed with all his work so far, and even went so far as to attend two of his seminars. I was also quite pleased and impressed with both him and the material presented. Having said that of all his DVDs this is the only one I would not give five stars. Is it bad? No, it’s well worth watching. I think anyone who watches it will get something from it. But is it great, as great as his other materials? I don’t think so. As for Lawrence Kane, I’ve read two books him as well and thought they were good too and look forward to reading others. Both men are good writers and martial artists with a firm grounding in self-defense and an ability to analyze and communicate well.
However, like another reviewer at Amazon, I strongly recommend that someone interested in the subject should first read Miller and Kane’s book “Scaling Force” before watching this video. That’s where most of the real factual content can be learned. But having said that, I don’t wish to condemn this DVD entirely. It does supplement the book and provides new examples and perspectives on the lessons taught, although I question if a person could get a good, well rounded grasp on the material by watching this DVD alone.  To a large extent, I felt that in this DVD they got away from the focus of the book, and  taught about a wide variety of self defense, crime avoidance, and awareness related subjects instead.
The basic presentation style, in my opinion, was not chosen to fit the content of the book and the lessons the authors wanted to teach, but instead they went with the approach Miller used in his four other DVDs. Miller is in a room with several other people. In this room with these people, he lectures, tells stories, discusses, demonstrates, and answers questions. Periodically, this is interrupted by Lawrence Kane, who was not able to be present giving lectures and telling stories on his own to give his own spin on the materials. Now anyone who’s met Rory Miller probably believes like I do that if he were to talk about grocery shopping on a school bus, just to give an absurd example, you’d learn a great deal of valuable stuff.  So it’s not like this is devoid of content. On the other hand, it would have been nice if they had supplemented this with charts, diagrams, computer graphics, and other sorts of visuals to illustrate the lessons and clarify points.  
The basic idea of the book and DVD is that when one is faced with violence or the threat of violence one needs to respond in an appropriate way with an appropriate degree of force. In the book and DVD, Kane and Miller divide potential responses into six different levels.
The first of these is “presence.” Often a situation can be defused or avoided merely by one’s presence, particularly if the potential assailant is being observed.  Miller gives an example of someone who caused a suspicious car to leave the neighborhood simply by photographing its license plate and letting the person inside see that this was being done.
The second level of response is “voice.’ Many situations can, indeed, by defused through talking. Talking of course, does not include just negotiation but also talking down emotional distraught people, letting potential assailants know you’re aware of their intent, or even tricking people.
It was this part where I was most disappointed in the DVD, largely because this section of the book is so amazingly good. I would recommend without hesitation that any EMT or emergency responder interested in improving their emergency communication and crisis intervention skills read this section of the book. Unfortunately, I do not think they would get the same benefits from this DVD. One reason for this is, ironically, Miller’s professionalism and desire to produce quality materials. He states in the DVD that although he and others of the people present are skilled and experienced in talking emotionally distraught people down, they chose not to demonstrate this in detail in the DVD because they are not good actors and would not show it well.
The third level is touch. In many cases, a situation can be defused when the right person places a hand on someone in the right way. Examples are shown.
The fourth level is the use of restraining and other hand to hand techniques.  This is, of course, the point where  most martial arts and self defense training begins.
Although the book speaks of level five,  less lethal force, and six, lethal force, as separate entities in the DVD they are combined.  It is explained that the reason for combining the two is because in a real conflict situation a person will react automatically with a mixture of instinct and training and not be able to distinguish clearly between the two levels of force.
This is just one more example of the differences between the book and the DVD.  In the DVD, there is an assumption that the audience is ordinary people, “citizens” who do not normally respond to violence, and not people who face it regularly such as emergency service personnel or large event security people. It also one example of how the DVD is much less organized than the book. (Some will respond that violence is inherently disorganized. One of the things that I love about Miller’s work, however, is that he is able to see the patterns in it.)   

In conclusion, there’s much in the DVD that’s worth paying attention to. There’s a lot of good material on how to avoid violence and increase one’s awareness of dangerous situations. Miller and Kane know their stuff. On the other hand, for those expecting a video organization that tightly follows the format of the book, they are likely to find this disappointing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review -Balintawak Eskrima, by Sam L. Buot.

Balintawak Eskrima, by Sam L. Buot, Sr. (2015) Tambuli Media, Spring House, PA. 262 pages, 7 by 10 inches, paperback. • ISBN-10: 0692312994

 Balintawak is one of several styles of Filipino martial arts .* Like most, it is a comprehensive martial art that begins training uses a stick but also incorporates knife and empty hand techniques. Unlike many Filipino martial arts (FMA), however, in this art, practitioners practice with a single stick instead of a pair of double sticks. Aside from that, the art appears to be fairly typical. This is a good 240 page book in which Sam L Buot, Sr, explains a great deal about Balintawak. It is divided into different sections. Each section is done well.

 The first section covers history and masters of Balintawak Eskrima. Although much of this is both fascinating and informative, in my opinion, it goes on longer than a typical reader would appreciate. My guess is that the author not only wished to show his appreciation for all who had taught him or taught those who taught him, but that he also wished to ensure that no one would feel slighted or be left out. Still a great deal of valuable information was presented on the social niche and transmission of this and other arts in the Philipines. The next section is 13 pages long and discusses the foundation of the art, a system of 12 strikes.

 The next three sections, called The Defensive Stage, The Offensive Stage, and a section entitled “Balintawak Interpreted: Application of Balintawak,” total 142 pages and cover a variety of techniques and applications of the art. The bulk of the book is demonstrations of techniques. These are demonstrated well with clear text explanations and a reader and a training partner should be able to reproduce them reasonably well assuming they have enough grounding in the Filipino martial arts to see the basic principles on which they are built.

In conclusion, although there are portions of the book, that stretch on longer than most readers might wish, this is nevertheless a fine book that would make a welcome supplement to any Filipino martial arts practitioner’s library.

 • Although the exact terminology is quite controversial these arts are often known as kali, arnis, or escrima, a term Mark Wiley prefers to spell as eskrima, with a K. Therefore, Balintawak could be said to be a sub-style of esrkima (escrima). The author, Sam L. Buot, Sr., makes it clear that he prefers to avoid the term kali, saying it is almost unknown in the Philipines.