Capoeira Mata Um!

Salve Capoeira!

I know I haven’t posted on this blog in a loonnnnnnggg timeeee. That’s one of the reasons I’m back today. However, it’s not the only one…

The true reason I’m here again is because I’ve discovered a wonderful thing that I feel the need to share with you because I feel that you (and everyone else on earth) can benefit from it. One word:

Capoeira.

For those of you who don’t know, Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art. Some prefer not to call it a martial art because it is practiced today as a dance, but I find this a little misguided (to avoid using the word ignorant).

Capoeira is “played” by two (or sometimes more) people who come out of a circle of friends that play music and sing together using traditional instruments. The two Capoeiristas engage in gameplay by using a series of attacks, floreios (acrobatic moves usually performed with the intent of confusing the opponent), and defenses (often called esquivas). When the music gets faster, the players play faster. When it slows down, they play more slowly. While I’m not aware of specific victory conditions, the player who gets more taps in on the opponent without loosing his balance or his cool is usually considered the victor.

Unlike in other martial arts, Capoeira has very little focus on form or combative application (though it definitely has practical application, in my opinion); it is designed to teach the Capoeirista to move with maximal proficiency and be able to adapt and make the most out of any situation.

Anyone who comes from an Eastern martial art like mine will immediately see the differences between Capoeira and their practice. Eastern martial arts often use forms and sequences to define essentially all their material, and emphasize endless repetition of these movements, ingraining the patterns until the practitioner executes them flawlessly. The emphasis is on memory, control, and resolute perseverance. Deception is rarely employed, and only in small measure. Finally, the one thing I have yet to see is any excessive movement at all.

Capoeira, on the other hand, is the opposite. It is constantly moving. You never stop moving during a game, and you are never locked into a particular pattern. You have to adapt to each situation as it comes and roll with the punches (and kicks) as they come at you. You have to find openings using timing and bodily balance and coordination. The “excessive” movement that Capoeira displays is also perfect for deceiving an opponent. In Eastern martial arts, I’ve always had trouble not telegraphing my own moves; while I could certainly improve with practice, Capoeira does a much better job of this naturally. Its attacks can come from virtually any position at any time, at the Capoeirista often moves a great amount when using them.

A great example of this is the Meia Lua de Compasso kick. You begin essentially bent over on the ground, or you can even start in a position like Resistencia. Although your kicking leg starts on the floor, it travels high enough to strike your opponent in the face (depending on their height), and moves with a lot of force because the movement comes from the body spinning. This move could easily be a knockout.

Anyway, to cease rambling, the point of this post is this: Capoeira is a complete package that I absolutely love. It gives you music, spirit, bodily strength, coordination, flexibility, and even fight application if you train it correctly.

I encourage you to find a tutorial on some basic moves and follow it. Practice to some music (I recommend Mestre Barrão) and put together your own sequences. Practice every day and really move. The more you practice, the more your movements will flow. As you become more advanced, teach yourself new movements and incorporate them. Eventually, you’ll be cartwheeling and kicking all over the place and feel like you’re light as air.

 

Adeus Adeus (Boa Viagem)!

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Why Lineage is Peripheral in the Martial Arts

“Traditional Shaolin Kung Fu.”

“The original Eight Brocades of Chi Gong.”

“My grandmaster, who can trace his lineage to [insert traditional master’s name].”

Lineage is one of the foremost pillars in a martial artist’s sense of self, and possibly the largest factor in the legitimacy of a martial arts school. The statements above are about as common as snow in Alaska, and accentuate this fact.

I feel that martial lineage is, in all honesty, overvalued.

Martial arts were developed for multiple purposes across the span of human history; sometimes for health, discipline, sport, even enlightenment; and, most commonly, for battle.

Traditionally, an art’s value and the value of an art’s practitioners would have been measured by its efficacy — not by its lineage or how true to a previous form it was. Lineage didn’t matter — survival and victory were paramount.

Over the years, it seems to have become custom to validate oneself or one’s art by its age, or by the legendary skill of previous practitioners. Thus, with even moderate competency, a martial artist can attain status by being a student of an “ancient” art or master. More and more, martial artists of all categories are tending towards this idea: “I practice traditional X, whose grandmaster is a martial artist of unrivaled power.”

Honestly — that’s bullshido.

The ultimate question, to me as a growing martial artist is: “what does my art actually do?”

Do I feel better?

Am I calmer? Am I stronger? Am I making progress? Can I apply this in a fight?

The truly original martial arts were developed with a hands-on attitude any way I figure it. Their creators didn’t take the time to wonder if something was right or what origins it had, they created it to serve a purpose.

Martial arts that remain static thus defy this foundational principle: “does it work?”

Does your martial art serve its purpose(s)? If so, I would say it’s valid no matter what.

If it doesn’t, I would say it’s a McDojo no matter what lineage it may possess. I mean this with the utmost respect, but it’s true.
Amituofo.

Humility and Acceptance

Humility.

To most people, it isn’t a very appealing word. It implies that we are being passive, just letting other people push us around and not taking life by the reigns. This, however, is not what it means to me.

Before I dive into humility and how it relates to acceptance and other virtues, I would like to preface this with a particular idea.

There is a force that moves through you, using you as a focal point through which it expresses itself, that is not “yours,” whose manifestations are beautiful and excellent.

Some people call it God or the Holy Spirit; others call it Prana or, in the Chinese tradition, Qi. Still others call it the Archetypal Self, the Higher Power, the Creative, or the True Self.

I feel that these are all valid descriptions. I am not fit to judge which are right and wrong and I do not claim to fully understand this energy fully — far from it, my knowledge of it is just beginning. For the purposes of this article, I will call it “the Higher Power,” because that simply resonates with me.

The really important thing to realize about it is this: it is not you, but it expresses itself through you when you open yourself up to it by letting go of your ego.

The ego, to my mind, is not a bad thing. However, it has a tendency to grow out of proportion when we don’t monitor it.

When inflated, the ego strives excessively. The ego wants. The ego fusses. The ego attempts to impose itself upon the world. It attempts to order everything to its liking and cares a lot about “me” or “I” — the self. This blocks the Higher Power from expressing itself through us. The ego, in its quest to control, locks us down and cuts us off from the Higher Power.

I’ve found that this is actually punished by that same Higher Power with increasing degrees of intensity, because the Higher Power wants to express itself through us. It isn’t malevolent or angry, but it wants to connect with us. And, much like a good friend or mentor reacts when we arrogantly cut ourselves off from them, the Higher Power will let you know that what you’re doing doesn’t sit well with it.

So, be humble. Realize that your greatness isn’t yours. It is the Higher Power expressing itself through you. This realization helped me so much. As soon as you let go of the need to impose yourself upon everything, you open yourself up and the Higher Power expresses itself through you. This humility will open you up as a focal point for that great Energy. Move with decisiveness and work hard, yes, but let it work through you. It is the reason for your greatness, not you.

So, with that explained, we can begin.

Humility is deeply connected with another virtue, which is acceptance. The person who is full of himself can’t even see his true weaknesses objectively — he can’t accept them and therefore improve upon them. And, furthermore, if someone can’t accept their circumstances, it means that they waste a lot of energy on hating them; this naturally detracts from actually getting out of the unresourceful circumstances.

Acceptance is a necessary quality for excellence and for inner peace. Accepting your circumstances doesn’t always mean that you won’t try to change them — it can — and it doesn’t mean not doing your best. I’ve found that, when I have work to do, I can stress about it and worry and then do it sort of halfway because I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on my emotions, or I can simply do the following, which I would invite you to try as well:

  1. Realize that entertaining  emotions detracts from your ability to focus on work and other meaningful things.
  2. Calm and center yourself. Do not repress your feelings, but let them go. Letting go is very difficult (at least, it was for me), so don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen immediately.
  3. Accept your situation, no matter what it may be, and proceed with humility, peacefulness, and attention to detail. Focus on what you actually have to do, not on how you feel about it.
  4. Do not rush yourself — remember, just because you don’t rush doesn’t mean you don’t move quickly. You can move at the speed of light and yet not be hasty.

Haste is a funny thing. We feel that by rushing, we will somehow get something done in a faster way. Although I can’t quite fully explain why, I’ve found this to be untrue.

When we hurry, two things happen:

  1. We generate emotions like stress and anxiety, which distract us from the thing we’re actually doing.
  2. We focus on time pressure, which also distracts us from the thing we’re actually doing.

When these things enter our minds, we are no longer able to devote ourselves fully to our task. With complete attention payed to something, it will get done more quickly, for a few simple reasons:

  1. We are focusing on the thing itself, meaning it gets our full attention and we aren’t distracted every two seconds by another little thing.
  2. A part of our mind that would normally be managing stress is working on the task instead.
  3. We don’t have to go back to correct as many mistakes because we don’t make as many (again, because we’re really focused).

In order and peace, there is a straight path free of obstacles. In chaos and turmoil, a long, windy one laden with thorn bushes and potholes.

The best way I’ve found to describe this phenomenon is with the following saying:

“Through peaceful waters, a boat traveling slowly may arrive soon, while a ship traveling full tilt through a storm will take long to arrive and likely stray.”

Make the waters of your mind peaceful through acceptance. Accept your circumstances, calming your troubled mind and your violent emotions. Accept pain. Accept tasks. Accept hardship. Move forward.

Allow the Higher Power to express itself through you through humility. Let go of your ego. Focus not on your emotions and your striving and wants and desires. Focus on the task before you. Realize that your greatness is not your own, but an expression of the Higher Power working through you.

 

If there is anything I want you to get out of this, it is inner peace and excellence in all you do. This, to my mind, is the way of Martial Zen.

Amituofo.

Enlightenment (悟)

Enlightenment is one of those words that no one really seems to be able to define concretely. Kind of like energy, it has an intangible nature, which is what makes us humans so curious about it, as we are curious about anything we can’t have.

I don’t claim to know what enlightenment is — I’m not a Buddhist and certainly not a wise man of any sort — but there is one simple thing I have noticed.

Enlightenment, to my mind, is exactly what it sounds like — the lightening of something.

It is a dropping of burdens. Particularly, “earthly” and emotional burdens.

I came to the realization that I was, in many areas of my life, standing in my own way. When I was training, I was holding on to a need for comfort. When I was anticipating something, I would get nervous because I would somehow think it would make me more prepared to deal with it. When I was getting up in the morning, I was holding on to my desire to sleep in.

Simply put, let go of these things, and just see what happens. Calm your mind by allowing your turbulent emotions to subside.

If you’re anything like me, it worked beautifully. Getting up is effortless. Although I felt like I was doing everything slowly and more deliberately my kung fu training, I finished up with plenty of time to get home and prepare for other things.

Letting go of emotion allows you to focus on what you are actually trying to do. When I’m squatting, the squats are physically harder when I’m jacked-up and emotional because just feeling those emotions distracts me and expends energy. When my mind is tranquil, I can completely focus on the lift, and it works.

Instead of forcing an emotion or a need down, just let it subside. Drop the burden. Trust me, you’ll be more productive and more at peace.

This, to my mind, is one of the great discoveries that the monks made at the Shaolin temple. I’ve noticed that, the more tranquil and focused one is mentally, the better one’s kung fu is. Kung fu is both and indicator of and an exercise in enlightenment.

If you have trouble doing this, do some Chi Gong. In particular, I recommend the 8 Brocades. Meditate using belly breathing, also. Belly breathing is essentially never a bad thing.

 

Amituofo.

What do Kung Fu and Computer Programming have in Common?

Kung Fu and Computer Programming.

Those are two things that are normally not juxtaposed. However, there are more similarities between them than initially meet the eye, and I believe that these commonalities are the reasons I am drawn to both.

I hope that you find my analysis of these two interesting and informative! Let’s dive in, shall we?

Point #1 — They are both Functional

Kung fu and computer programming both have their roots in the need for application, to accomplish a practical task. In the case of kung fu, it was combat, particularly self-defense. In the case of computer programming, it was having the computer accomplish a particular task for us that would normally take much longer to perform were we to attempt it without the help of a machine.

Both grew out of a need or a desire to move to the next level. Kung fu developed from a need for self-defense, and computer science out of a need for greater computational power. This, naturally, fascinates me because I love the idea of improvement and advancement and both of these things place strong emphasis on them.

Point #2 — They are both Scientific

This is where you may be having your doubts about kung fu? Isn’t it a martial art, not a martial science? While it is very true that kung fu is an art form, it doesn’t take much looking into the complex maps of pressure points that the Shaolin monks detailed and their systematic approach to combat and overcoming an enemy in the most intelligent way to see that kung fu, in many ways, is a science.

In the case of computer programming, this is a little more obvious — after all, if you take a class on it in college, it’ll be classified under the field computer science. Computer science is one of the most logical fields of study in all of academia, and as such it has be systematized to absolutely no end. From flow patterns to inheritance trees, computer science is, in essence, one big system.

The most scientific aspect that both kung fu and computer science share is the focus on the completion of a task in the most efficient manner. Even the hardest, most external styles of kung fu don’t just batter an opponent with senseless blows — everything strike has a purpose, or details a particular way of going about defeating an opponent that is usually far more efficient that just slugging it out until both combatants are bloodied. Similarly, in computer science, the aim is to usually to accomplish a task in the most efficient way possible in terms of speed and resources. For example, if we want to create a two-dimensional tile map, we’re not going to create a separate variable for each tile; we’re going to create a two-dimensional array or a list, depending on which language we’re working in.

Point #3 — They are both Artistic

This is probably the part thing that draws me most strongly to both kung fu and computer programming — they are both art forms.

Kung fu is extremely artistic. The forms themselves are like moving art, expressions of the intent of the form, the master who created it, and, often, the animal aspect behind it. In kung fu, the aim is not simply to be functional and efficient, but also graceful. Everything should be controlled, intentional, and clean. Futhermore, each form differs slightly when a different martial artist performs it, and the form is imbued with his unique spirit, intent, and interpretation when he performs it. This, to me, is what makes kung fu so beautiful and interesting.

Computer programming is also an art form, although it may not initially seem to be. While most people see computer programming as just taking a series of logical steps to accomplish a task with no variety or creativity, this is plainly wrong. Even when you have a very specific goal set before you as a developer, you always have room to find a solution of your own to a particular problem or go develop your own new, unique method of doing something that may be much better tailored to your particular needs than a traditional method. And, when you are able to set your own goals before you, the creative possibilities are endless.

Conclusion

I hope that you found this article insightful and I hope it got you thinking. What fields that share subtle similarities do you find interesting, and why? Tell me below.

 

Amituofo.

Mental Anchoring

Today I’d like to share something with you that I found absolutely revolutionary and that immediately changed my life.

Mental Anchoring.

Mental anchoring is a technique by which we essentially associate an event, a state of mind, a visualization, etc., with an action that we perform. It could be shouting, jumping, etc.

I stumbled across this in a video by Elliott Hulse on Friday — yesterday, I used it and I got closer to acing my balance training than I ever have before (just FYI, my balance training consists of throwing kicks from one leg while standing on a pedestal); in fact, I missed it by only 1 rep.

Today, I finally got it.

What’s more, the forms that I practiced I executed better than usual.

I was more decisive than I usually am and I got more done.

And, my butterfly kicks looked better than they ever have before!

As a consequence of all of this, I felt like a winner. Certainly not every training session can be like this one, but it’s nice when one is.

Here’s what I did to achieve this:

  1. I visualized myself succeeding at something — in particular, I visualized the moment where I completed something after having done it perfectly.
  2. When the image “clicked” in my mind and I saw it clearly, I performed a single, short physical action.
  3. Whenever I needed the success, I performed that physical action with spirit.

Tell me if it works for you as well as it worked for me — the next time you’re getting ready to run a sprint, practice a form, or do anything you don’t feel so confident about, perform the action you’ve associated with your success or a successful state of mind and see how it goes.

In case you’re interested, here is a link to Elliott’s video; as a disclaimer, I am in no way affiliated with him, nor do I claim credit for any of his work.

 

May Success be with You!

Amituofo

What Works is What is Good — Why Martial Arts Lineage is Overrated

Heritage is a very important part of martial traditions, and rightfully so — having a line of distinguished masters that go back at least a few generations is what gives people pride in their art and security in knowing that their style is tried and true.

However, something I see increasingly and detest more and more is when lineage is valued over purpose, and why you may too. Allow me to explain.

If you look up martial arts videos on a given site — say, YouTube, you will quickly encounter comments by people screaming about how someone’s style is a fraud and why they aren’t a real martial artist and why their own personal style is the only way.

This is wrong.

Think for a second, what is the purpose of a martial art? Is it to bolster ego? No. Is it to be able to prance around and talk down on other people? No. Is it to give us an excuse to feel like we’re special just because we practice a particular style? No.

Martial arts have many purposes, but these are not among them.

Longevity is a virtue that the martial arts help us attain.

Discipline is a virtue that the martial arts help us attain.

Aptitude in Combat is an ability that the martial arts help us attain, and the origin of the martial arts, to my mind.

If something works, it is good. If it helps you to achieve what you are after without detriment to others or yourself, then it is, by any measure I can imagine, good.

And yet, people rant online about how their style is the “true” style. How theirs is the genuine article and what somebody else has is an imitation or a fraud.

This is not only plainly childish, it is dishonorable.

Assuming a martial art is a complete ripoff, it is still true and good if it works. Period.

Bruce Lee once said: “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

If it is useful and resourceful to you, use it. If not, drop it.

 

Be Forever Genuine, Especially with Yourself — Never Parade Like Those Haters Do!

Amituofo