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This past Sunday marked the beginning of the Year of the Snake, one of the 12-year cycle of animals appearing in the Chinese zodiac.  According to HanBan.com, “People born in the Year of the Snake are reputed to be thoughtful and wise and to approach problems rationally and logically, seldom instinctively.”  
 

These are also characteristics found during the effective use of the “Snake” series of disarms (although we’d also like them to become instinctive).  There are some that refer to the live/empty hand application as “snake” disarms and when using the weapon a “vine” disarm.  For our purposes, we will refer to them both as a form of “Snake” disarm, since they follow a common principle – the weaving or intertwining/wrapping of your limb around your opponents limb/weapon in order to effect a disarm or immobilization.   These can be applied empty hand to empty hand (for example versus a wrist grab), empty hand
vs. weapon, or weapon vs. weapon. 

Scenario 1 - Hand vs. Hand
If the attacker grabs my R. wrist with his L. hand, I have 2 primary options.  I can start to circle my hand either Clockwise or Counterclockwise.   If I circle CW, usually I get a release or I end up in an outer wrist lock/throw position (kotegaeashi).  If I circle CCW, I either release or position myself for an inner wrist lock position.  Students ask –  Which way should I circle?  It really doesn’t matter.  If you get flustered or confused, just start circling.  At some point they won’t be able to maintain their grip and you should achieve a release.  What if they are significantly stronger, bigger, taller, etc.?  First, don’t let them grab your wrist and clamp down (Duh).  But, assuming they have grabbed you, then you might have to take their mind off of the grip by applying some form of“diminishment”.   Any strike to the face/nose/eyes, a kick to the knee or groin, either of which may accomplish the release without any further snaking. Lacking that release, it may give enough time or distraction to allow you to work on a snake release.  As a wise trainer once
said: “All jiu-jitsu/locks/holds/throws work after you break someone’s nose.”

Scenario 2 - Empty hand vs. Weapon
If an attacker strikes with his R. hand using a stick/club towards the L. side of my head (Angle 1 strike) and I am unarmed (and assuming I have to stay to defend and can’t pull a Sir Robin and “Run away!”), then I should jam or block his swinging arm with both of my palms.  I can then use my L. hand to perform a CCW snake around his wrist, then making a “hitchhiking” motion with my arm.  This should leave the stick either trapped under my arm or ejected.  
 
Scenario 3 - “Weapon” vs. Empty hand
Using the setup from #1, if someone is grabbing my R. wrist with their L. hand (or R. hand, it doesn’t matter) and I happen to be holding a Tactical pen in that hand (in this case a Timberline Lightfoot Tactical LCP, although I also really like the Schrade Tactical), I can use the same CW or CCW snaking motions and use the pen for added leverage or pain compliance.  If it’s especially pointy you get the added benefit of sticking it in their arm (Hey, they grabbed you, remember?).   This same approach can be used if you are holding a knife (as a weapon, although I suppose someone could attack you while you’re chopping onions for dinner) and they grab your wrist.  The length and the edge of the knife now give you added leverage and pain compliance tools at your disposal.  Circle the tip of the knife either direction while sawing and levering down on their wrist. Chances are they’ll let go.  
 
Scenario 4 – Weapon vs. Weapon
If we’re both armed with sticks and they attack with an Angle 2 (high backhand) towards the right side of my head, I can block it with my stick, tip pointing up.  As I start to snake the tip of the stick CW around their stick hand, I feed the end of their stick into my Left hand, trapping it.  As I continue the stick snake, I will reach a point where I can push on
the back of their hand with the stick, while pulling on their stick with my hand, accomplishing the disarm.  (It’s easier to do than describe).

Those are just 4 basic scenarios that demonstrate the versatility of the “Snake” disarms.   With a “rational and logical” approach to your practice of these techniques, you too will appear “wise” in the ways of the Snake.  
  
{Note – the Rattlesnake picture was taken during a hike last October near Bear Meadows Natural Area, Rothrock State Forest, CentralPennsylvania}


 
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As I was listening to Penn State’s Baroque Ensemble play Heinrich Biber’s “Battalia a 10” last weekend, it made me think about karate.  Strange?  Perhaps, but let me explain.

The Ensemble focuses on music from the Baroque period and often uses the style of equipment (ex. Bows) common to that period, rather than modern equivalents.  They feel that it’s truer to the sound as it was intended to be heard.  The Director explained that many of the themes and elements within the piece would have been familiar to audiences in the 17th Century and meant to evoke specific events or happenings (ex. Battles, death, resurrection).  While listening, it made me think about how great it is as musician, or even a listener, to have
this form of music available and how it provides a connection to musical history.  Playing this music transports you back over 300 years, and it’s easy to imagine a similar Ensemble in Salzburg creating the same sounds, evoking the same emotions.  

Which led me to Bunkai.  By practicing the traditional kata and associated Bunkai, we retain a connection with our Karate forefathers.  When I practice Seisan or Kusanku, it links me in some small way to Pechin Takahara (1683-1760) or Tode Sakugawa (1733-1815) and the various forms they may have passed down that ended up as foundational elements of Okinawan Karate.  I think it’s pretty cool that what I’m practicing here in the hills of Central PA is linked to what was practiced 300 years ago in China and Okinawa.

 
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Been recently spending some time banging on my version of the Hillbilly Mook Jong.   I built it a couple years ago out of 1 ½” PVC.   Yeah, I know that you can’t apply a lot of force to it, but that’s not why I built it. 
I wanted to use it to work on form, not power.  I had dabbled a little bit with Ip Man’s Wooden Dummy form, but never learned the whole thing.  I finally decided to drill the individual sections and have it complete by the end of the year.  At this point I’m thru 4 of 7 “sections”.  

Some may ask, why bother with a wooden dummy form? 
As Samuel Kwok states: “The Jong’s purpose is to reinforce correct structures and angles, to foster the development of flow and to allow the correct, full expression of Fa Jing (last moment energy) which we can never use on a live training partner without the risk of seriously injuring them.”  I find that without always
having a live training partner, it’s a useful way to practice pak sao, tan sao, bong sao, lop sao etc. and flow between the techniques.  It’s also an interesting way to explore insights into the application of various hand positions, traps and guards from some of the traditional Okinawan katas.  

If you’re looking for resources, there are a couple of videos of Ip Man on YouTube doing the form. Some of them are of decent quality. The best book I’ve seen is “Traditional
Wooden Dummy” by Samuel Kwok& Tony Massengill
.  If you can afford to drop $500 - $1,000 on a true Wooden dummy, and have a place to put it, good for you, go for it.  If not, there are plenty of plans out there to make one out of PVC, whether it’s 1.5” or up to 8”pipe.  In an afternoon with $20 in pipe, a hacksaw and some PVC cement, you can
rig something and be ready to play in no time.  Have fun!


 
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Do you like casserole?  All your favorite things mixed up and baked into wholesome goodness?  Easy to make, easy to eat, and easy to clean-up.  What’s not to like?

 
So at last night’s workout, we had a little casserole of chaos.   Several of my favorite drills all stirred up and strung together into some martial arts fun.

 

Ingredients:
12-Step Solo Focus Mitt drill
Burpees
Padded impact weapons
Heavy Bag
Partners

Step 1) Partner A stands on far side of room with single Focus Mitt.  On command, performs 12 Step Solo focus mitt drill (based on a Stinger workout by my friend Pete Kautz).  If you don’t know that specific drill, make up your own consisting of assorted palm strikes, punches, elbows, knees & kicks on a focus mitt that you are holding.

Step 2) When finished with the 12-step, drop focus mitt, sprint to other side of the  room in front of the heavy bag and do a burpee.

Step 3) When you get up (or while you’re getting up) Partner B tries to hit or stab
you with their padded weapon*.  

Step 4) Partner A evades/blocks/defends against semi-sneaky attack and counter
attacks with any kick to the heavy bag.

Step 5) Partner A performs another burpee while avoiding getting hit in the face/head
with the now swinging heavy bag.

Step 6) repeat sneak attack, evade, kick sequence.

Step 7) Return to other side of the room, pick up Focus mitt, repeat entire sequence
as desired.

This little bundle of chaos accomplishes multiple things.  The focus mitt section forces you to get comfortable in applying force to something at the end of your arm – after all, that’s the ideal distance because that’s where the opponent ought to be, right at the end of your arm.  It trains cardio/conditioning.  It forces you to change planes, and trains getting down and up off the ground under stress.  The padded weapon forces you to react and then respond with a counterattack, often before you’re ready, and without having perfectly “set” stances.  Being aware of the swinging heavy bag forces you to be aware (duh), and also often creates an isometric hold position in the pushup position, further fatiguing the muscles and making a more realistic feel when having to block, evade, or counter strike.  

All in all, a nice little drill that trains a bunch of different elements and breaks up the monotony of standing in a static position in front of a pad/bag and just working on an individual technique.   Was it always pretty or form perfect?  Of course not.  It was mostly messy, like a good casserole, but it was very filling.   Why not give it a try?

*Note - padded weapons can easily be made using ½’” PVC pipe covered in pipe
insulation wrapped in duct tape.  Make different lengths, for example I have ones that simulate the length of a 1903 Springfield .30-06 with a bayonet attached (sorry President Obama, I didn’t know that bayonets were no longer in use/fashion.  I guess our “Commander in Chief” forgot to check with the Marines), a Louisville Slugger, escrima sticks of assorted lengths, and knives of assorted lengths.  This forces you to react in different ways to the different reach involved.  I’ll do a separate post about the padded weapons with pix.
  



 
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Having a strong grip is essential for the martial arts, as well
as carrying over into everyday life. It’s hard to be manly when you can’t even open the pickle jar. Holding onto your opponent if
you’re a judo or jiu-jitsu player, holding on to your weapon (Bo, Sai, Stick, Bokken, Katana, Epee, Sabre, Foil, Tonfa, Nunchaku), Football tackling, golf clubs (although I really don’t count golf as a sport, it’s more of an activity), Tennis rackets, etc.  – All of these things need muscular strength and endurance in the hands and
forearms.  
Researchers studying national level judo players at the University of Granada, Spain, found that “the fatigue resulting from 4 successive bouts affects the maximal gripping strength that each hand can generate differently, with the dominant hand being more resistant and
recovering better than the dominant one……….The gripping techniques in judo are very important tactical aspects, which often determine the result of the bout.” {J Strength Cond Res 26(7):1863-1871, 2012} 
 
So, your grip can effect whether you win or lose, and your non-dominant hand recovers differently than your dominant hand.  What to do?

Conditioning within the Martial Ropes programs all contain elements of grip strength. 
The dynamic motion of swinging the ropes, whether it’s the 1 ½” or 2”, requires strength and endurance in a broad range of motions. I especially like the grip impact when using the 2” rope with a partner.  If you are holding the  end of the 2” and trying to send a burst down the 50’ rope (which weighs 50 lbs.), it can be a struggle if you’re not used to it. 
And if you’re the partner trying to control the other end – you get a grip workout too!

Add some sandbag exercises for a different kind of burn.  I prefer sandbags without pre-fixed handles.  Although handles are convenient, I think that I get a better and more realistic gripping effect by having to bunch up the fabric in a random fashion.  This closely mimics grabbing a gi or coat and having to still hang on.  
 
Kettlebells are also outstanding for your grip.  Thicker handles, having to deal with acceleration/deceleration, and passing the KB from hand-to-hand all force the grip to adapt and grow.  By using a towel wrapped thru the handle, you can also do curls, swings,
throws, or carries.  Again, this more closely simulates grabbing clothing or a non-firm
surface.

So, the next time you’re training, don’t forget to incorporate some grip specific work, especially your non-dominant side.


 
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In a recent study {J Strength Cond Res 26(7) S15-S22, 2012}, the
most frequently cited perceived exercise barrier in 3 groups of non-athletes was “lack of time”.  Considering that time is one of the few things that everyone receives in the same allocation,
unlike genetics, financial support, ecosystem/environment, social/family structure etc., I tend to agree with the authors when they say that it’s “…a simple, straightforward and socially acceptable answer, it is likely that many nonathletes have no sound rationalization for their inactivity.”  In less scientific terms: it’s a lame-ass excuse.  
 
I think back to a discussion with an executive team where I floated an idea about an employee wellness initiative.  One of the team members told me that not everyone may be as motivated to participate as I was, because “exercise is easy for you.”  Really?   It was easy for me to make the time to exercise consistently while I was running the company, actively participating in at least 2 other local or regional Board of Directors, coaching Little League or Soccer 3-5 nights a week, traveling 30-60 days per year both domestic and international, volunteering as a Youth Leader,  while being available as a husband and father?   Yeah, that’s easy, you chowderhead.  More likely I did what every other person that has accomplished anything (exercise, school, work, family) or met a goal has done – I decided that it was important and then I did something about it.  I invested my time and energy into it.   And that’s something that anyone and everyone can do, starting from where they are.   
 
So don’t give me this “lack of time” BS.  Get off the couch, turn off American Idol, and take a walk, do some pushups, ride your bike, punch something, kick something, play some jiu-jitsu.  MOVE!  You can do it IF you decide that you want to and it’s important to
you.  But it’s not because you don’t have time.


(An interesting sub-note in their study - the authors mention that the data clearly showed “that the largest difference between athletes and nonathletes emerged enquiring the attitude and activity of the parents.”  Another study shows “subjects who perceived low social support from their families and personal environment were more than twice as likely to be physically inactive compared with those reporting a high degree of support.”  So if you have kids, make sure you’re setting a good example – encouraging them to be active while being active yourself!)


 
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“Becoming new” is a thing you can do any time you realize you and your adversary have got into the feeling of just scraping along – you should immediately change your spirit, and employ a totally different tactic to win.”
–Miyamoto Musashi, Go Rin No Sho, from the “Fire” scroll

So who’s your adversary? Unlike Musashi, it’s probably not an adversary bent on your imminent destruction.  But is it a feeling
of boredom or stagnation with your training routine?  Reluctance to embark on a better nutritional plan?  Feeling tired with the current 8-5?  All of these things can be considered an adversary, or at least adversarial.

In most of these cases, it is a matter of “spirit” or even “will”.  You have to want to  continue, to make a change, to train even if you don’t feel like it.  I’ve been training on a regular and serious basis for over 30 years.  Needless to say, I love to train!  But there are days where I have to drag my lazy tush off the couch and talk myself into getting something done.  It happens. One of the reasons I research and try different training techniques is to keep it fresh and interesting, to keep from “just scraping along.”  My philosophy is that if you keep things fun, interesting, maybe add a little element of danger or craziness, you’re more likely to want to train, and likely to train more frequently and for longer.   And that’s a good thing.  Because all the reps count, and they all add up.  Training is supposed to be a lifelong endeavor, and it’s supposed to be fun, not a chore.  
 
So follow Musashi’s advice – change your spirit.  Employ something totally different, become new, become energized, and train.


 
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I was excited to come home from work to find a package waiting for me.  Inside was the latest addition to my weapons collection – a 6’ snake whip (pic, Center) from Leon Samadi.  Growing up watching Westerns, and of course playing Cowboys & Indians, it was always cool to see the guy that used the bullwhip.  I got my first “whip” in 1969 during a family summer vacation to the Southwest (Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Pikes Peak etc.) in a non-air-conditioned car with vinyl seats (but that’s another story).  I played with that whip for years, never really knowing its full potential as a kid, until I ultimately dug it out of a box and passed it on to my son a few years back (pic, Left).  

The snake whip I ordered from Leon is the real deal and can be used in a variety of combative applications. The whip has a long history in many cultures, both Eastern and Western, as both a tool and a weapon.  There are definitely some idiosyncrasies in the practice and application, so it’s best to pursue some decent instruction.   I recommend “The Filipino Fighting Whip” by Tom Meadows along with resources from the Latigo y Daga
Filipino Whip Association.  James Keating also has a valuable “Combative Whip” DVD.  Learning the whip is not only fun, but provides excellent development of line familiarity which can be translated into the stick, knife, and empty hand.

On a smaller scale, this can also take the form of a “neck whip” (pic, Right).  These are typically smaller than traditional whips, both in length and diameter, but can also be used for offensive and defensive techniques. They are great as a backup when traveling in non-permissive environments and can easily be worn without detection. I’ve traveled many times by plane, both domestic and international, while wearing a 44” leather “necklace” and never encountered any issues with our friendly TSA reps.  The best resource I know (both
instruction and as a craftsman of whips) is Scott Homschek.  His DVD “Improvised Flexible Weapons” is available thru Paladin Press.  
 
Last but not least, is the trusty standby, the Bandana.  Besides being something that should be part of your everyday carry for a variety of reasons (clean your glasses, blow your nose, bandage, tourniquet, sling, etc.), the bandana can also be used as an improvised flexible weapon.   Am I going to break someone’s bones by flicking them with a handkerchief?  Of course not.  But it can be used for blocking, parrying, trapping, and wrapping an opponent approaching you with bad intent.  And when properly “loaded”, it can be used to deliver devastating blows that can break or bruise delicate bones in the hands or face.  I like the 23” version I picked up at Duluth Trading Co. (pic, Lower).  A variety of bandana training resources can be found at either James Keating’s site or a quick start guide on Pete Kautz’s Modern Knives #9.  
 
Finally, you may be asking yourself “Why bother? I’m never going to use any of that stuff and it’s not really practical or functional anyway.”  Maybe.  But consider the words of someone that whipped a lot more butts than all the rest of us combined:

Third, regarding the warrior of the samurai class, he must prepare an assortment of weapons and understand the specific virtues of each.  This is the Way of the Warrior.  Without handling the weapons and becoming accustomed to them, it is impossible to realize their individual advantages, and this would make the refinements of the warrior clans somewhat shallow, wouldn’t it?” 

(Miyamoto Musashi, The Five Rings, from  “Ground”)


 
Quick link to a post by Mr. Keating about counterfeit Stingers from China.  As usual, quality counts, and it can cost more.  I sometimes buy inexpensive training tools so that I can experiment with them (especially when I know that they're going to be abused or destroyed in the process).  But I'm not afraid to spend on my carry gear, whether it's flashlights, batons, knives, holsters, or firearms.  What's your health, safety, & well-being worth?
 
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I’ve been playing with some Karambit techniques for the past year or two.  I finally picked up an inexpensive model from United Cutlery to practice with after talking to guy at one of Pete Kautz’s “Seeking the Path” events a few years ago.  Since I just wanted to dabble and I wasn’t planning on carrying it, it’s hard to beat for $12. 
 
Then I made a wooden trainer so I could practice with a partner without fear of laceration.  The wood’s not as forgiving as a high-density foam trainer, but I’ve used wooden trainers for years with great success. A little sanding and shaping, maybe a little duct tape to prevent splinters and you’re good to go.  
 
My most recent purchase was the Boker Plus “Batman”. For years I have been keeping my eyes open for a reasonably priced Spyderco Civilian, but gave up hope and dropped $30 instead on something that I could easily pocket carry, but still use for Karambit-type techniques.  The only two drawbacks I see with the Batman are that it’s fairly bulky and the clip attaches low on the handle.  This means that it’s fairly obvious and sticks out of the pocket more than I prefer.  
 
Now I use each of the devices to practice a 35-step kata that covers a range of blocks, strikes, slashes, punches, and hooks.  Both left and right hand, as well as holding the knife in a forward or reverse grip. It’s interesting to see how the application of the technique changes slightly depending on the blade orientation, but using the kata as a conceptual starting point, the movements can be used with not only these hooked-blade
devices, but with straight blades or even empty handed.  As with most katas, there are a lot of things to discover under the hood, if you only take the time and broaden your
perspective.

If you haven’t considered any of these kinds of curved implements before, pick one
up and give it a try.  Not only is it fun, it can also broaden your martial horizons.