This weekend Tiel and I travelled to Grand Rapids for the third annual San Yun Do camp. We haven't gone to many seminars in the last few years, Guru Cliff Stewart's, the annual AWSDA convention, and our own teacher's first training for all of his students. We almost didn't go. If it hadn't been for a last minute deal on travelocity we couldn't have afforded the airfare. We're very glad we went. This was everything a martial arts seminar should be.
The most important ingredient in events like this is the people. If the mix is wrong, nobody will learn. If the teachers can't connect with the students or a few too many assholes show up it just isn't going to work. None of that happened. The instructors all had well organized blocks of instruction and presented them well. The participants all worked very hard. It was very collegial, very friendly.
Chuck and Jeannie were wonderful hosts, warm, generous friendly. We felt like we had known them our whole lives after a few minutes. The dojo is a converted boathouse just a few feet from their home. There's something special about a training hall that's part of the teachers' and students' everyday life, something that makes (as Musashi said) "your fighting stance your everyday stance and your everyday stance your fighting stance".
Friday was a day for stories, toys and meeting. People came in and out of our hosts' house until early in the morning showing off knives, swords, sticks, WEKAF armor and other implements of destruction and mayhem, talking story, eating and getting to know one another. It made a difference. I'm increasingly convinced that you can't train at your best with strangers. There's always that bit of reserve and not exactly mistrust but lack of trust that makes it difficult to really let go. The afternoon and evening before helped break the ice marvellously.
It also gave us a chance to see the latest blades that Chuck and Mushtaq are working on. The knife world is full of the SpecOpMilTHX-1138 Eviscerator and its companion the 14 inch CQCBabyKilling Anatomic Deficiency Compensator. These are nothing like that. They're small, light, and wonderfully ergononomic. You could certainly defend yourself with them, but they're primarily working knives that you can fight with, not fighting knives that you can work with. The prices are very reasonable. The work is entirely by hand. The blades are very comfortable in the hand.
As Mushtaq says "Even poor folks deserve custom knives".
Saturday was martial arts.
The day started off with Steve Van Harn teaching Eskrima. Steve is a WEKAF champion who is slowly being seduced over to the Dark Side (Silat). He's a hell of a fighter and an even better human being. Steve covered some advanced footwork and upper body/lower body coordination. It was enlightening. We've mostly done short range footwork patterns so far.
Phil Lewis, a long time Kenpo, Wing Chun and Arnis instructor, did a very pleasant unit on partner training drills. It really took me back to my JKD and Eskrima days. It's obvious that Phil has been teaching for quite a while and has that air of casual competence that good sifus develop.
Mushtaq did a long unit on Piper, a type of knife work practiced by South African criminals. It has nothing to do with self defense or martial arts. It's something thugs use to do crime. His aim, which I heartily endorse, is that good people need to know about this stuff so they won't be defenseless against it. As more people from that part of the world end up in the West some criminals will come along. Law Enforcement and private citizens need to know what they might encounter and have enough familiarity to counter it.
Piper reminded me a lot of Capoeira, not that there was any jumping, cartwheeling or kicking. It had the same relaxed, rhythmic quality and used similar odd off-beat timing. Honestly, that's the most important difference between it and other things I've seen. The movements are similar all over the world, but different cultures have different ways of carrying themselves. Americans are much tighter and inhibited in the way they move. I'm afraid the jokes about white guys dancing have a lot of truth to them. Rhythm, timing and relaxation can be deadly tools.
Chuck and his assistants Sterling Heibeck and Don Young rounded out the day with an excellent unit on kicking. He's come up with some very innovative and efficient ways of using kicks. I only wish I were a good enough kicker to have really taken advantage of what he had to offer.
Sterling also led an excellent short course on weapons retention at extremely close range.
Sunday was dedicated to healing arts. Mushtaq did a remarkable short course on how to breathe, how to walk, how to use equipment like weighted balls and clubs and other ways of undoing the damage that training causes. We learned a bit about how Chi Kung really works - not the mystical ethereal airy fairy stuff, but solid stuff about breath and physical movement. There was an introduction to Apache running and a few other bits and pieces.
Afterwards we had a special presentation of Maharlika Kuntaw. Bill Anderson and Buzz Smith were very, very impressive. They had that combination of analysis and intuitive understanding that separates the merely good teacher from the really exceptional one. It was principle based, progressive and extremely effective. If you have a chance to learn from either of these gentlemen please take advantage of it.
Innovative Martial Arts/San Yun Do tries to have seminars like this twice a year. It's well worth the trip.