Warrior Athlete Philosopher

World-Class Martial Arts with Joseph Simonet and Addy Hernandez.

Month: March 2016

Warriors Among Us

sifu black and white
Well, I guess I didn’t get the memo. It seems all I hear these days is that the only “real” martial art is mixed martial arts (MMA). From every corner of the martial arts media landscape, it’s MMA this and MMA that. According to so-called contemporary experts, the only functional martial arts are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), Muay Thai, and Wrestling. Factor into the mix a little Greco-Roman wrestling, judo, and so-called ground and pound, and there you have it – a complete encyclopedia of an “Ultimate Fighting Curriculum” (UFC). Considering the phenomenal global success of the UFC franchise, as well as other MMA fighting organizations, you just might have to agree that only true Martial Arts are indeed being showcased within the hollowed Octagon.
On the other hand, isn’t it difficult to argue against hundreds if not thousands of years of martial arts history from the world’s greatest fighting cultures? What about the warring arts from Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Indonesian, and African warriors, as well as European Knights and Gladiators, Indian wrestlers, and a myriad of lesser-known practitioners of the fighting arts? Is it time to disregard the proud histories of valiant warriors who faced death in the heat of battle without the safety net of rules, regulations, and the predictable tap-out submission? How about Native American braves who faced humiliation, starvation, death, even extinction if defeated? Should their ways of living a warrior’s life be dismissed by today’s slick media marketing and merchandising? One might argue that a romantic historical view of ancient warriors is fine for Books and the History Channel, but what about the state of war arts right now? Are the strip-mall dojos that litter cities across America today representative of warrior traditions of ancient cultures, or are they most likely filled with wannabes sporting bloated stomachs, unearned ranks, and inflated egos? We’ve all seen the martial arts “studios” with their plastic, dusty trophies representing silly fight-less tournaments and mindless preprogrammed katas. Oh, let’s not forget the Reality-Based martial arts. Are their practitioners the truly gallant men and women from the Military and Law Enforcement communities who fight to protect our nation? Or do they represent the gun-toting, camo-wearing, paintball-playing weekend warriors who sleep all day and guard empty malls on the midnight shift.
Regardless of one’s profession, the world is full of frauds, fakes, and of course the real deal. The world of Martial Arts is no different. I believe there are true Fighting Champions, Traditional Masters, and Real War Heroes. Unfortunately, it’s very challenging to separate the wheat from the chaff. And so I go about my business of training hard with effective sustained effort. I am certainly not a fighting champion, master, or war hero. What I am is a dedicated man who believes I have to work hard, work smart and maintain an objective point of view to what is real. When in doubt, train.
When I watch the UFC, I realize that those fighters represent World-Class conditioned athletes who are truly dedicated to their craft. Do I accept the notion that BJJ, Wrestling, Muay Thai and Boxing are the ultimate fighting methods? No, but I do believe that mixing martial arts is Essential in creating the Ultimate Fighting System for me. The infamous Bruce Lee said, absorb what is useful. My perspective is Extract what is Essential. My personal mixed martial arts are a combination of Kenpo Karate, Wing Chun, FMA, Pentjak Silat, and Tai Chi. I also Box and Wrestle, and have been training in Gracie jiu-jitsu on and off for several years. What is interesting to me is that BJJ is logically built. When a Martial Art is logical, it can be predictable. For me, when an art is predictable it can become defeat able. I have also built several systems such as the Slam Set, Argument of Movement, American Wing Chun Silat and many other systems of which X-Dtac™ (extreme defensive tactics) is my ultimate expression of who I have become. So, yes, I do MMA. I am following Bruce Lee’s model of finding what works for me.
I respect the Traditional Martial arts practitioners who chooses to learn and master a specific art. I have often heard from my gun-enthusiast friends the old adage, “Beware the man who owns one gun, for he truly knows how to use it.” So I suspect that adage would also work for practicing just one martial art. I don’t have a problem with that notion if that is your choice. However, I train with several guns, each representing different functions at different ranges. Guns are quite similar to martial arts in the way: each art – or gun – has different functions at different ranges. I use the model of MMA when pursuing my firearm knowledge. Is there one perfect martial art? I believe the perfect approach to becoming proficient in martial arts is the combination that works for you. Is there one perfect firearm? Again, it’s the combination that works for your needs.
As I mentioned, UFC fighters are world-class athletes. I have little doubt if you choose to talk trash about their craft they would be more than happy to accommodate you in the Octagon. That being said, it doesn’t take a world-class athlete to shred your neck with a blade or to put a little red dot on the back of your head and squeeze the trigger. The point is, let’s all Respect each other’s arts and training methods. Whether an MMA fighter, a Traditionalist, or a Reality-Based Martial Artist, we all have our secured place in the fighting arts environment.

Knowing Tai Chi

addytc_WEB
In late fall 1994, I arrived early for my kung fu training lesson with Sifu Joseph. Walking up the winding 1,000-foot driveway to his earth-berm house, I gazed out into the grassy meadow and witnessed something that would change the direction of my life forever. Surrounded by the majestic backdrop of the Cascade Mountains and the shimmering aura of Lake Chelan, I was hypnotized by the melodic flow as Sifu Joseph moved effortlessly through what I would later learn was the Yang-style long form of tai chi.
I had never seen this side of Joseph before. Granted, I was a fairly new student and hadn’t known him very long, but this was a radical shift from what I had experienced when training with him thus far. It was common for us to start a training session with 1000 straight punches or perhaps endless repetitions of Filipino Sinawali, leaving my hands blistered or my knuckles bleeding from contact with the sticks. Training with Joseph was often a volatile collection of intensive rants, exhaustion, and spontaneity. So let’s just say that watching this powerful mass of energy being harnessed and focused into an angelic conductor was truly a new perspective.
I was walking over to greet Joseph and asked him about his tai chi. With this seemingly simple question began one of the most thought-provoking lessons I had ever had with him. For the next couple of hours, Joseph and I hiked together as he introduced me to tai chi.
“How long have you known tai chi?” I asked
“I will never ‘know’ it”, Joseph replied and then explained that tai chi mirrored life itself, that tai chi was about the experience, not the knowing.
He could tell that I was puzzled, as this was a completely new perspective to me, so he continued.
“Does the knowing have anything to do with the experience?” he asked and then proceeded to answer his own question. The knowing and the understanding come before and after the experience in such forms as expectations and reflections. Only the experience is real; everything else is perspective.
Continuing with his dissertation, Joseph said that, yes, we learn about intent, posture, chi, yielding, relaxation, and so on. We are told stories of the great and wise Chinese masters, such as Yan, Chen, Wu, and Hao. We learn the names of such positions as single whip, snake creeps down, and cloudy hands, but only the experience of doing tai chi has true meaning.
Joseph’s analogy between life and tai chi continued. “As in life, we have a past, present, and future; but it’s always the ‘now’ that we are experiencing. One doesn’t practice living; one simply lives. I don’t practice tai chi – I do tai chi. How else can it be?” Joseph professed.
After listening to his lecture, still confused, I finally exclaimed, “I would like to learn tai chi, but how can I learn it when you say that I can never know it?”
Joseph told me that he could teach me the tai chi form, but it was only in the doing of it that true knowing and understanding would come into play.
Even more confused and somewhat irritated by all of Joseph’s contradictions, I proclaimed, “With all due respect, you just said you would never know it! Now, you’re saying that experiencing tai chi is to really know tai chi? How can you say both ‘never’ and ‘always’ about the knowing?”
Seeing my obvious bewilderment and frustration, Joseph patiently replied, “Enough discussion; let’s train.”
We then spent the next hour or so going over a sequence called “cloudy hands.” Joseph was very detailed and patient as he walked me through the mechanics of the movement. I was surprised at the amount of detail he taught me, including maintaining correct posture, breathing, and calmness. I was thinking that for a person who claimed not to “know” tai chi, Joseph seemed to be vastly knowledgeable about it.
At first, the movement seemed a bit tedious and awkward, but after a while they felt more natural. We repeated cloudy hands several times and then we walked again, enjoying the last moments of sunlight and shadows. When we reached the top of Pine Hill, overlooking Lake Chelan, Joseph requested that I stay there alone and repeat the cloudy hands movement. Then we’d meet back up at the house when I had finished.
There I stood, with the last moments of the day’s sunlight warming my face, my body relaxed and supple as if moving within a gentle breeze. My breath emptied and filled, deeply inhaling and exhaling. As my body flowed through cloudy hands, I was overwhelmed with a sensation of joy, pure and complete. I was truly lost in the moment, as if time stood still.
It has been twenty plus years since my first experience of tai chi. Now I too realize that I will never “know” tai chi but I will experience if for the rest of my life.

Effective Sustained Effort

sifu lifting (2)
Recently, after a vigorous training session at my martial arts gym, a young student of mine (early 20s) asked to talk to me in private. “Well of course,” I replied, “what’s on your mind”?
“How do you do it”? He asked.
“Do what?”
“How do you stay so positive, so upbeat and energetic? Here you are twice my age, and you’re fitter, stronger and seemingly happier than me. Oftentimes, I feel like I’m at the end of my rope and you’re always talking about how it’s just the beginning. I feel like I need direction, motivation, hope, something I can hold on to. What’s your secret?”
“Well” I replied, “The simple answer is ‘effective sustained effort’ and ‘when in doubt, train.’ Through life’s ups and downs, in these uncertain times, training my mind and body has been an enormous foundation that I can stand upon with certainty.”
“No offense Sifu, but aren’t you a little old to still be training so hard? I mean seriously, you’re older than my dad and he doesn’t even work out, not like you anyway.”
“No offense taken,” I answered.
I proceeded to explain to the young man that self-doubt has destroyed many people’s lives. Many unfulfilled dreams have been a result of self-doubt and a lack of motivation and discipline. Most martial artists in their 50’s and 60’s are either broke, broken, obese, or medicating themselves with pot, drugs, or alcohol. Or perhaps they are cynical and are teaching antiquated martial arts systems. I am now in my 60’s and I don’t aspire to be any of these. “Keep training,” I said, “no matter how challenging or difficult life seems sometimes.”
Later that evening, I thought about my student and what we had talked about. I was about 20 years old when some old guy (about my age now) explained to me how “it’s such a shame we have to waste our youth on the young.” How ironic. I am now the “old guy” and here I am, caught in a full circle chain of events.
Looking back at my life, I realize I have had to endure several heartaches and trials to get to this point. I fell in love, got married, then divorced, then remarried. I raised my children into fine adults and now have a six-year-old. I buried my grandparents, buried my father and buried my brother. I became addicted. I got sober. I made money. I lost money. I had moments of triumph and also got my teeth knocked out. I achieved black belt status only to get thrown out of systems by teachers I revered. I have been sued and slandered. I have read books and have authored books. I have traveled the world and back again, and so on.
I have lived over a half-century, only to realize I am just starting to figure things out. Yes, it is only the beginning, and through it all, I have never stopped training my martial arts. Whenever life’s challenges got me down, or dealt me a blow, when joy turned into sadness and doubt, my training kept me on task. I have survived several course corrections, but never have I abandoned ship.
I have been very fortunate to have had many great martial arts teachers and students in my life. Several times in my career I have studied multiple systems at the same time. For instance, in 1976 I was studying Goju and Hung Gar as I was teaching Kenpo karate. Sound confusing? I suppose it was, but I was 22 years old and had an insatiable desire to learn. It was the learning, needing to understand, training and discipline that fueled my motivation that kept my life on track. In 1992, I was training Pentjak Silat, Yang-style tai chi, boxing, and working out with a high school wrestling team all while furthering my development of the “Slam Set – The Art and Science of Mook Jong.” Once again, the common thread was effective sustained effort.
Cross-training with weightlifting has also been a powerful and essential ingredient not only to my martial prowess, but also to my positive state of mind. I started lifting seriously when I was 15 years old. By the age of 16, I could bench press 310 pounds. I was obsessed with lifting. In my mid-twenties I weighed 195 lbs. and I could bench press 390 lbs. doubling my body weight. I sustained a 300 lbs. plus bench press for 44 years in a row. Looking back at my obsession, I now realize that no matter what negativity was coming at me – alcoholic parents, peer pressure, social upheaval (i.e., Vietnam, civil unrest) – weightlifting gave me a sense of control and empowerment. As my poundage increased, so did my confidence and self-worth.
My advice to anyone reading this blog is to start training, stay training and encourage others to do the same. Oftentimes, in martial arts as well as life itself, we get bogged down by injury, politics, dissenting opinions and self-doubt. The reason I call this blog “Effective Sustained Effort” is because mere “sustained effort” is not enough to realize success. For example, how much effort is involved in sustaining alcoholism, acrimonious relationships, guilt about the past, anger and yo-yo dieting? Although these behaviors involve a great deal of energy and are often enduring in one’s life, they can hardly be called “effective”.
To live a great life and realize your unique values, you must train diligently; sharpen your skills, open your mind and embrace the struggle. As a Chinese master once told me, “There are a thousand doors to the same room.” I suggest that hard work, discipline, rigorous martial arts practice, supplemented with cross-training with a lifelong commitment to effective sustained effort is the key to unlocking your door.

Immersion

On August 16, 1987, the Harmonic Convergence, one of the first globally synchronized human gatherings, occurred on Mt. Shasta–coinciding with the alignment of celestial bodies and the Mayan calendar. Although I was unaware of this event, on that day I got in my car heading home to Seattle, WA out of Coos Bay, OR, on the West Coast of the United States, bordering the Pacific Ocean. I found myself driving a hundred miles in the opposite direction–instead of heading north to Seattle, I was heading south toward Mt. Shasta, which is in Northern California. When I realized the mistake, I pulled over to gather my thoughts. It later occurred to me that my inexplicable change in course was due to the force of energy in these gathering people. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds when you consider the role that electrons play in our experience of consciousness. Electrons synchronize with each other, eventually spinning in the same direction, even if separated by several feet of steel. Human consciousness is affected heavily by the spinning of electrons. For instance, when a person is under the effects of anesthesia, the only physical change is that the electrons in the brain stop spinning.
In my experience, humans demonstrate a very real tendency and drive to synchronize with one another. Carl Jung was the first to write about the phenomenon of mutuality in meaning, saying, “Synchronicity is an ever-present reality for those who have eyes to see.” We seek a convergence in our physical, intellectual and emotional wavelengths, which results in what I call “immersion”. This immersion is the birthplace of the truly productive, fulfilling and creative outcomes that are borne out of our interpersonal collaboration. You experience this when you are understood and attuned with someone you love. You feel this when training with a particularly good partner, almost as if they can anticipate your needs and respond in kind, and you them. Good teachers feel this with their students. Synchronicity forms the foundation of self and mind created between parent and child.
Children seem to synchronize better than adults do. I believe this is because children are more naturally able to be present in the moment. This fact became very apparent to me while I was teaching a Filipino martial arts seminar at a park in Eugene, OR, during the same weekend of the Harmonic Convergence. As it was ending, I was poignantly cognizant that I needed to depart for my grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary. I did not wear a watch, so I began asking people at the park if they had the time.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” I asked a woman pushing a stroller, “Do you have the time?”
“No, I’m sorry I don’t have a watch,” she shrugged.
I waved down another man who was running. Without a pause in his gait, he shook his head that he, too, could not give me the time. By this point, I was becoming almost frantic. Then I heard the rushing of small feet behind me. It was a group of three seven or eight-year old boys, weaving a course of grace and havoc (borrowing from Joni Mitchell) across the lawn. They were immersed completely in their sprint while spinning hula-hoops like wheels on the grass, laughing and running through the park in the carefree and joyful way they do at that age. One boy, without even breaking his stride or looking up, with heaving chest and out of breath, yelled, “Hey mister, don’t ya know what time it is? It’s now!”
I was dumbstruck, stunned with an epiphany that would forever change my life. This child had, in the most carefree and exuberant way, startled me out of the tasking, stressed and completely misaligned coma that I had been creating in that moment. The contrast between his synchronized vitality and my strained distraction was overwhelming. Most adults would have simply dismissed his comment as foolishness, but out of the mouths of babes come some of the greatest wisdom. This boy showed me what it meant to be in the moment, to be present. His happiness and the thrill of his play was his whole world in that slice of time. He was truly alive in his immersion.
For me this was not only a lesson on how to be mindful, it was also a lesson on attentiveness. Encounters, events and interactions should not be ignored automatically and passed over without consideration. Some of the most important insights of my life have come from unexpected sources because I pay attention. I realized that life is the moment, nothing more and nothing less. It is not your plans, your past, your future, your schedule or your worries that makes you alive. Those are the impediments to living that so consume the most precious commodity we have–time. We are governed by schedules, which, by definition, prevent momentary presence. Our lives today are riddled with constant intrusions and derailments, keeping us continuously thinking about anything but what is right in front of us. So many of us squander the moment because we are not present, and find ourselves bemoaning the transience of our existence. We cry for the lack of fulfillment and meaning that results from an inattentive and unintentional lifestyle. We cannot synchronize within ourselves, we cannot synchronize with others and we wonder why we feel stripped of meaning, robbed of fulfillment and cut short of the time needed to live with satisfaction.
In order to live the moment, you must search for and eliminate those things that rob you from it. Do you give your presence over to resistance with others, resentment and grief about the past, fixation on achievements and schedules, preoccupation with dynamics out of your control? None of us has any dictation over how much time we are afforded, but we can actualize the quality of that time through seeking mindfulness and synchronicity. Ultimately these are the elements that make being human an extraordinary condition indeed.