Sunday, August 1, 2010

Advance onward!

Back when I was younger and scouting for a silat group to join, I've come across a wide range of philosophy. Some will fight with a spacing of 1 papan (or one plank width). Some fight standing up, some crouching down. There was once silat that say, they never retreat only go forwards. At the time, we just laughed it off as a boast. I mean, come on... no retreat? Only going forwards, surely you'll get hit a lot doing that.

Sensei is fond of saying that in Bushido one must always advance. Not search for danger, but not retreat from it either. The true purpose of a budoka is to protect, protect others, a higher goal or aspiration, protect oneself. Even if one is afraid, sink center and move forward. The moment you retreat, hope will be lost.

One of his stories told of a coastline border guard (from the army in Indonesia). Back when the tsunami first came to strike, he called his HQ and told them about the incoming storm. HQ ordered him to stay and report the progress further. As it loomed closer, he called them again, but HQ didn't rescind the order and that they will evacuate him as able. So he called his family and hometown and told them to evacuate. His family pleaded him to leave his post, but he refused. This is his job and duty, to do as he is told for the greater good. In the end, HQ did not send anyone to pick him up and he was one of thousands who perished in the disaster. Some may call it stupidity and many would rationalise that it wasn't fair to be left to die without rhyme or reason. Some who adhere to different principles call it bravery of a different level.

Sensei teaches many soldiers including the elite presidential guard in his early years. He often ask them about fighting and war. Generally the answer is always the same, they pray that there would be no war and no fighting. They are happy to just lounge around and be with their family. Then what if say a superpower were to come and attack the country, would they avoid war then? No... they will fight to the death. Even if the superpower had stealth bombers and nuclear bombs, and you only have machineguns and grenades? They say, they will fight however they have to, and they will die if they have to. Its not because the enemy is a bunch of kids that they are brave, even if the enemy is invincible and powerful, they will fight and be brave.

So in the last 2 training sessions I've been concentrating on kamae. Kamae as a focus for extending ki. To train in extending ki, one needs to enforce a certain spirit. A spirit of advancing, a spirit of cutting, a spirit of inviting. Extending ki does not mean rigidity or physical strength. Just the mind.

In kamae, you can sense openings. You can advance without fear or anger. In kamae your whole being is a weapon and it isn't. We have to continuously train with this spirit in mind. A sure test is to shomenuchi each other. With proper extension of ki and spirit, your strikes will cut through a lesser person; one who blocks or tries to strike the hand instead or who tries to retreat. Even if you strike 'later' than uke, your strike will dominate his.

In kamae uke will grab your hand, but if the extension is there and the body is relaxed, a technique will unfold immediately. Guided by the opponents ki, you will lead him to a natural resolution. In kihon, one applies the extension of ki and immediately directs uke's ki into the technique that is practised. But in ki no nagare, one just extends ki and be relaxed and soft.

In striking your opponent you must be brave. You must extend your ki and spirit into the strike. To find an opening if you can, but to cut through if you can't. Being brave can be because of 2 reasons. One, you're stupid. Two, you have understood. Being brave but stupid leads to a punch in the face or a kick down there. Be brave, but understand your strikes and understand your opponent.

It makes sense now, the silat that refuses to retreat. It is not retreating in a physical sense that is the problem. It is the retreat of spirit and ki. Even as you move back, you have to advance your spirit. Even as you extend your ki, you are in fact inviting your opponents ki.

The funny part through it all was no one expected kicks from me. What? Aikidoka's are legless skirt crossdressing hippies now? If you can extend ki through your hands, why can't you extend ki with your feet? This too is an important skill later when we learn to do ashi no awase. Without being able to cut uke's center from your leg movement it'll be a difficult endeavour.

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