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The ‘Empty Force’ Of Tai Chi

 

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‘Empty force’ sounds nebulous and difficult to understand, but it isn’t. The body is a spring, when the posture is correct and the joints unlocked, when the soft tissue carries no unnecessary tension – the compression and release of a combination of the joints, including the spine, bodycore and soft tissue is a skill that can be trained in a multitude of ways.

The first level of skill is to unlock the body and keep it unlocked, start with good posture and then unlock the ankles, knees, hips, back and chest with the mantra ‘soften and connect’ when you can drop your bodyweight into the arches of your feet and feel them spread to the floor with the weight you’re ready to pump.

If you were to then jump in the air you would bend the joints and spring upwards, making the body ‘float’ upwards with an emptiness – and that’s what we’re looking for. Then try it without leaving the ground making the arms raise and float upwards with the Tai Chi technique at the beginning of the form called ‘raise hands’ although the hands float up they should still be connected to the feet so it they contacted the opponent at any point, the power would still come directly from the feet.

Then practice a series of exercises, (the Yang Family qigong is specifically designed for this purpose) making each part of the body float in every range of movement with that ’empty but connected to the feet’ sensation constantly unlocking and springing through the joints and soft tissue.

The next stage is the Tai Chi form with every technique practised in the same way so that you ‘float’ through the form with that characteristic soft, smooth, spiralling but still powerfully connected manner where at any point you can repel an opponent and also send an additional pulse in the same manner of a dynamic ‘pinball’ of energy into an opponent without overextending into them or collapsing from their pressure or your own technical failure.

This can then be applied to push hands and application work in a variety of skillsets.

The idea is simple. The action takes considerable training, but the skill is layered in at each stage. The purpose of this blog is to give you the vision of where to go and be able to recognise the training plan to get you there.

In Karate you may recognise the same process as ‘sink, swallow, float and spit’.

It’s an old internal skill that is rapidly getting lost as martial artists move from principles to technique only and a gym style of muscular development, throwing the baby out with the bathwater as they do so.

It wasn’t called ‘Soft Cotton Boxing’ and ‘Deceptive Boxing’ for nothing!

 

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DENNIS JONES 5th Dan

 

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Written in January 2004…..

It was a year ago that we last interviewed Dennis – and in Bob Sykes words “2003 has been the Dennis Jones year”.  Writing the “Samurai on the Door” columns and working on a book with him has helped me to understand what makes him tick a little bit better.  I think the most surprising quality about Dennis is his quiet manner.  You only get to know anything about him in bits and pieces over a period of time and need a lot of perseverance and patience to get the whole picture.

 

Dennis is well qualified with a Batchelor of Science degree; an ONC and HNC in Building, a Fellow of the Institute of Carpenters and is a College Lecturer in Building and Civil Engineering.  He is very well read in many subjects, including Philosophy and History, particularly appertaining to Martial Arts.  He has an incredible knowledge of guns and shooting and with both his Father and brother having been in the SAS, a good working knowledge of Military strategies and fighting methods.

 

His first love however, is the Martial Arts and the development of the Human Being through their study.  His deep historical study of the Martial Arts and practical experience on nightclub doors over 23 years, makes him a unique person with a highly unusual perspective.

 

I hope you get the opportunity to meet and train with Dennis in the forthcoming year and that you get the chance to delve into the rich tapestry that makes up his experience in life.  Meanwhile I shall continue to work with him on the “Samurai on the Door” column and the book and offer you this interview for the MAI Yearbook…..

 

SR  Talking to Bob Sykes the other day, he told me that the “Samurai on the Door”  column is the most popular in the magazine!  What do you think of that?

 

DJ  Surprised in some respects and not in others Steve, I’ve studied and trained in the Martial Arts for nearly 30 years and “pressure tested” everything on the doors throughout that period of time.  Many Instructors can only pass on their fighting knowledge second, third or fourth hand, or they may have competed or had a couple of street fights against non entities.  I’ve used my techniques against all manner of fighters continuously over all those years, in all manner of situations and feel like I have a lot to say.

 

My driving passion has always been the Martial Arts and I’ve trained and thought about it every day without fail, often training in the dark and in the most inhospitable and unusual places….. knowing that extra repetition and mental affirmation could be the one that saves my life.

 

SR  You’re a dark horse, we know you obtained your first Black Belt grade in Kyokushin  all those years ago and that you obtained a teaching certificate in Wu style Tai Chi from Katherine Allen, but you’ve actually cross trained quite a lot over the years haven’t you?

 

DJ  Probably the first person in my generation to talk about cross training was Bruce Lee, like most people training at that time, he was my hero, so I took his ideas on board.  Working on the doors meant that I was looking to see what worked and styles and Martial Arts never really came into it, but yes, I trained in any club and with anybody that I thought might have something to offer.

 

I would like to make the point though, that the Traditional Martial Arts do have a lot to offer, they were formulated by people that had to fight to the death to survive, if they are passed down accurately all the strategies and techniques that I use are in there.  The problem with many modern Martial Arts is that Instructors choose a technique because it looks good or sounds logical, but… test it in reality and it fails….

 

Take it from me; the very first time that you face a real opponent in the street, it will be like nothing you’ve ever encountered in the Dojo…  unless you have a mentor that has that kind of experience teaching in your Dojo.

 

SR  You’re also one of the most well read Martial Artists that I’ve met….

 

DJ  (Laughs) I’ve read everything I could lay my hands on to do with the Martial Arts from about 1973 onwards, including all the obscure items, like the Times article on Mas Oyama’s first demonstration in 1960 in Madison Square Gardens, the first full contact championships when fighters like Aaron Banks were competing, when the legendary boxer Rocky Marciano trained in the Martial Arts and so on.  I’m an avid collector of all Martial Arts documentation.  I love to read all the old books containing pictures and documents referring to the old Chinese Boxers or in fact, anything to do with the Martial Arts.

 

SR  You’ve read a lot of philosophy as well….

 

DJ  Yeah….  Everything from the Upanishads, to the Bible….  I’m what you might call a “man watcher”, because that’s what I have to do on the door, nasty people are deceitful by nature and I have to be able interpret all the subtle signs of them trying to “get into my head” for my own safety.

 

SR  You also have the longest list of letters after your name I’ve ever seen!

 

DJ  I have taken the trouble to obtain qualifications because I’ve had to earn a living to be able to continue and finance my study of the Martial Arts.  When I was younger I was told that I was stupid and felt that I had to prove that I wasn’t.  I simply put the same work ethics that I learned in the Martial Arts into regular study.

 

I have a Batchelor of Science degree; an ONC and HNC in Building, a Fellow of the Institute of Carpenters and eventually became a College Lecturer in Building and Civil Engineering.  This gave me a reasonable and honourable living and enough spare time to enable me to continue with my Martial Arts studies.

 

SR  I think that it shows that you have the ability to develop yourself holistically and utilise your Martial Arts skills in all other areas of your life.  Would you say that writing these articles has been cathartic for you?

 

DJ  It has been extremely good for me.  23 years of conflict taught me a lot, if you can imagine all that Martial Arts study and I still felt doubt and fear, looking around at all the Instructors, Sensei and so called “Masters”, I couldn’t find anyone to really help.  Bruce Lee said that a Master was a Martial Artists who had no “vague notions”, many of them sounded confident but I knew when put under pressure they would be Paper Tigers.

 

Working on the magazine and our forthcoming book has helped me to frame what I’ve learned and experienced and will inevitably help others.  Martial Arts practitioners usually have opinions on what will and won’t work in a street confrontation and I choose not to comment on that… what I will tell the readers is what REALLY happens from my own direct experience…..  the truth….. as it is…. what I’ve seen – and what I’ve felt.

 

What I can also say is that I can identify many common denominators in the old Martial Arts texts that I can relate to.  The writers had to fight to survive and had the knowledge we still require; much of it was unfortunately lost enroute to us.  I was awestruck watching old footage of people like Kano, Ueshiba and Oyama because you can see the capability in their movement and the determination and resolve in their eyes.

 

SR  The book that we’re working on, doesn’t fit in to the “Hard Bastards” genre, it’s more about the alchemy that takes place in a human being who studies Martial Arts in the same way that we do.  It’s more a Martial Arts or “Lifestyle” type book and contains a structured way of approaching the internal alchemy that takes place, irrespective of whether the reader trains in a Martial Art….

 

DJ  That’s right.  The stories that we use, such as those in our column, are designed to illustrate a point from practical experience and make learning a more pleasurable and memorable experience because of the illustrations that we use.

 

SR  Violence seems to permeate throughout society and today, wherever you look, the can see the effect it has on our lives.  What would you say is the difference between a violent person and a Martial Artist?

 

Violence is easy; it’s used by criminals all the time.  Most are not even particularly good at it; they just make sure that the odds are in their favour.  There’s no human development in learning violence.  I’m interested in courage, bravery and a developed human being.  Peace is earned.  We have to earn the right to live in peace by keeping violent criminals at bay.  We don’t have to become like them.  That’s what the articles and book are all about and I think that most Martial Artists would agree with me.

 

Criminals will get into a victim’s head first, then they’ll isolate that person from support by using money, wealth and especially influence.  Then they will use violence on the victim, three or four handed, maybe knee capping him with a baseball bat, using a weapon on his face, breaking his arms, or perhaps even murdering him.  Often it’s just business and there’s nothing brave in that. Remember, being a criminal is a way of life; it’s not the “way” of Martial Arts.  A Martial Artist will always have the “righteous objective” that we’ve discussed in previous articles and would never start the violence.

 

Our path is not to become unevenly yoked to them.

 

SR  What do you mean by “unevenly yoked”?

 

DJ  What I mean is, they control you by getting you to do things for them, I mentioned in the December article that if you were the manager of a nightclub you could be targeted by the dealers and if you were a weak person they would seduce you into getting a drug habit so that they had a hold over you and you would be “unevenly yoked”  to them.  You become dependent on them and they are able to make decisions that could affect you in a negative way.  I can say that I’m not “unevenly yoked” to anyone.  I’m not involved in any type of drugs or criminality.

 

SR  Bob Sykes mentioned that 2003 was the “Dennis Jones Year” and apart from the magazine articles, you’ve taught and lectured to the Shi Kon Dan grades, taught on the Medway International Summer Course to a host of International Martial Artists and you’re coming with me to the Czech Republic to teach Presidential Bodyguards, Special Services and Police Self Defence Instructors.  Bob has asked you to teach on his Super Seminar and you’re working with me on the book.  You’ve also opened a club in Maidstone Kent.  A busy year to say the least!

 

DJ  That’s right!  I’m not used to being high profile.  In my trade it pays to be the opposite.  I’m grateful for the help that both you and Bob have given me and I’ve had to work hard to find words to express what I’ve done naturally over all these years!  With my close circle of friends and students, I’ve generally used what we call the “vernacular” to explain the principles.  Techniques were developed and refined through the encounters that I had, I didn’t need to explain them in Martial Art terms.  With the Shi Kon method of analysis and principles, that which I found difficult to explain previously fits in perfectly!

 

SR  I think one of the reasons that we got on so well instantly, was the fact that we could both recognise the principles behind what each other was doing.

 

DJ  That’s right.  In my club I’m teaching the Shi Kon syllabus because it’s efficient and works well.  When I first met you, from your reputation I thought that you were a traditional Japanese style Martial Artist.  What amazed me was, when we started talking I realised that you had a system that fused Japanese and Chinese Martial Arts into a practical set of principles.  Although you teach traditional Wado Ryu and Yang Family Tai Chi, the underlying principles are still the same.

 

I was also amazed by the fact that you had no ego towards me and that we could talk openly and freely about Martial Arts, self defence and philosophy without either of us becoming defensive.

 

SR  In our photo shoot you look perfectly at home with a Katana and Jo staff…

 

DJ  Yeah I have a natural affinity to the Samurai and their weapons  I know that you have trained in both for decades yourself – I find the Samurai ideals very zenic and noble.  Even though I’m half Chinese my mind rests very comfortably with their principles.

 

SR  With the huge response we’ve had to the articles and courses the readers are continually asking about the book and future courses, what are your plans for 2004?

 

DJ  To continue with the articles, complete the book, continue with the courses and grow my club.  Most important for me is to tell it like it really is, no embellishments and no compromises.

 

SR Thank you Dennis.

 

DJ  Thank you Steve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Giri

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Steve Rowe talks with Doorman and Martial Artist Dennis Jones…

 

Giri:  a debt of gratitude, duty, justice, obligation, a sense of honour

 

SR  Dennis, we were discussing the concept of “Giri”  within the book  “Hagakure” by Yanamoto Tsunetomo and the following story…..

 

“Among Takeda Shingen’s retainers there were men of matchless courage, but when Katsuyori was killed in the fight at Tenmokuzan, they all fled.  Tsuchiya Sozo, a warrior who had been in disfavour for many years , came out alone, however, and said, “I wonder where all the men are who spoke so bravely every day?  I shall return the master’s favours to me”  And he fell alone in battle.”

 

And you were relating it to Giri amongst Doorman, can you explain this to the readers?

 

DJ  Well Steve, I’ve worked with many Doormen in my time, some of them were high grade Martial Artists, others Body Builders and so on, and in the “quiet time” on the door most talked a great fight.  To listen to them you would assume that when “push came to shove” on the door, they’d be right there with you backing you up, or in front dealing with the problem.

 

But I found, as you’d expect, the best talkers just seem to disappear at the time that you need them most.  But I’d like to talk about a guy we’ll call Robert, he was neither a Martial Artist or Body Builder, in fact he didn’t train at all, but he did say to me “Dennis I can’t fight like you but I’ll tell you one thing…”  he put his hand on his heart…  “I give you my word that when it “goes off’ and you’re surrounded, I may not be able to fight like you, but I’ll always watch your back and at least take one of them out, and if you’re getting a kicking; I’ll be on the floor tasting the leather boots with you.”

 

I looked in his eyes and could see that he was sincere.  Many of the other Doormen would put him down and call him useless, but they were also the ones that talked a good fight and were not there when it really counted.

 

Well, one night it’s “gone off” with what seemed like everyone in the Nightclub fighting, bottles, and glasses being used as weapons and glass ashtrays (why do nightclubs still persist in using them when they are used so viciously as weapons?) and women screaming everywhere.  I’m right in the middle of this melee, god knows where the other doormen had disappeared to and I’ve looked down to my right and there was Robert being true to his word.

 

He’d leaped on this guy from behind and dragged him down to the floor using a technique I call “the octopus” with both his legs wrapped around an attackers waist and his arms around his throat and he was choking him and biting his face!  Bless him, he was true to his word – bound to me by obligation –  he had taken one opponent out of the equation!  The other Doormen with all the talk had run away….

 

When I read that story in Hagakure I think of Robert.

 

SR  I can remember someone saying to me that when you choose your friends, imagine yourself in the trenches of the first world war and about to “go over the top” and think would I like this person next to me?  When I was in the Fire Brigade many years ago your life did depend on the guys you were teamed up with and the trust and camaraderie was an important part of the job.  The security world is very similar….

 

DJ  You’re right!  It’s important on the door, but you often just end up with people that someone else has employed and you never really know how someone’s going to react until it actually “goes off” bad.

 

SR  “Giri” is an interesting Japanese term as in feudal Japan a Samurai owed his life to his Master and “obligation” meant something quite different.  The term has been quoted many times to me asking for blind loyalty to a Japanese Sensei and yet I feel that it’s meaning for us in the Martial Arts that respect has to be earned in both directions between Instructor and student.

 

DJ  Another passage from Hagakure reads:

 

“Lord Naoshige once said “There is nothing felt quite so deeply as giri.  There are times when someone like a cousin dies and it is not a matter of shedding tears.  But we may hear of someone who lived fifty or a hundred years ago, of whom we know nothing and who has no family ties with us whatsoever, and yet from a sense of giri shed tears.”

 

Funakoshi talks about taking his children to meet his Sensei Azato and Itosu and how they bought his children sweets that he couldn’t afford, and how: “… the two generations of us, have all benefited enormously from the teachings of these two Masters.  Where shall I find the words to express my gratitude?” That story strangely bought a tear to my eye because I could understand that it’s more than just a Martial concept.  You can even have “Giri” towards a respected enemy, the Chinese say that “if two tigers meet, one will surely be maimed and the other killed”.  Often seasoned warriors have mutual respect for the effort they know each other have had to put in to develop their skill and character.

 

I felt “Giri” and respect for Robert because of his actions and eight years after this event I found out that he had died all by himself in a flat of a heroin overdose and when I looked back, he had given me his word and when faced with a really bad violent situation that made most of the other doormen “lose it” and run away, he did exactly what he had promised to do.

 

I don’t know why or how he got into drugs, but when I think of him dying on his own in that flat I feel sad and empathic towards him, because in his own way he was a real man.  You remember in our first column when we talked about the guy who stole my pen at school dying of a drugs overdose and I felt nothing towards him?  Strange isn’t it that the death of Robert can bring a tear to my eye…..  I think in my world that is “Giri”….

 

SR  One of my reasons for writing the EKGB column is a sense of Giri toward the people who started Karate in England.  I feel that we never give credit to the people who were there from the start and put in so much work.  New generations of Martial Artists are coming through and might never know the history and names of their Founding Fathers.  In the Medway area it was people like yourself, Mick Gooch, Norman King, Roger Wilkes, Pauline Bindra and so on who made the Martial Arts known to the general public.  There are so many people with extravagant claims around nowadays that are benefiting from all the work put in by others and not giving credit where it’s due.

 

DJ  I’ve known Roger for 26 years – and yet I’ve probably only spoken to him 6 or 7 times, yet I have respect and “Giri” toward him because of what he is and for what he has done.  Our paths have been linked all the way through that period of time.

 

SR  Nothing gave me more pleasure than to get you all together teaching at my Medway Summer Course this year!

 

DJ  I’d like to end this month’s column with a little poem that epitomises “Giri” to me.  When I was a child my Father was in the S.A.S and he would come to me before going out on special operations and would give me a kiss and say “I’ll see you”…  of course we both knew that maybe he wouldn’t…  as luck would have it, he did, but some of his friends didn’t come back and I’d like to also dedicate this poem to them and Robert.

 

“The sound of the bell of Gionshoja echoes the impermanence of all things.  The hue of the flowers of the teak tree declares that they that flourish must be brought low.  Yea, the proud ones are but for a moment, like an evening dream in the springtime.  The mighty are destroyed at the last, they are but as the dust before the wind.”

 

From The Samurai  by S R Turnbull

 

 

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Back To Front Martial Arts

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I think I live in an alternate universe.

Or everyone else in the Martial Arts does.

I see Instructors putting together their training/grading syllabus…

“Erm, for red belt we’ll do this… for yellow this…. for orange this….”

They do one set of techniques for basics, different moves in a form that don’t relate to the basics and then different pairs work that doesn’t relate to either basics or form.

And I’m like…..”That’s not only back to front – it doesn’t make sense!”

I ask, “what’s the end result you’re looking for at black belt and above?”

And guess what…. I get a blank look because they haven’t thought about it!

“Erm… good basics?……”

“Is that it?”  I certainly wouldn’t want to train in a club where even the coach doesn’t know where we’re all going!

So how did I do mine for Shi Kon?

I started with the end product.  What kind of student and Instructor do I want to produce?

I want my students to develop emotional intelligence, compassion, patience and tolerance, along with courage, resolve and determination.  to have good health, mental and physical.

I want them to be competent ‘peacekeepers’ to be able to defend themselves and others. To be able to neutralise anything an opponent throws at them, to competently punch, strike, kick, lock, throw, choke and strangle.

How am I going to train that?  They need progressive meditation and neigong for the mind, posture and breathing, then qigong  to prepare the body by softening and connecting the myofascia, opening the joints and learning how the body gets connected power.

I put the 8 principles in place that MUST be within every technique to make it work and mnemonically brought each principle into one word. Put the 13 strategies in from the Yang Family system that dynamically flow through combat and respond to whatever an opponent does these too mnemonically into one word for each one.

The major forms from brown to black had to contain those qualities, Sanchin for the internal system manipulating spine and core with breathing and connection, Tensho to add the core work powering the 5 Animal Boxing and Naihanchi for the fajin  and different ways to power the techniques.

Then I continued to work backwards listing all the techniques that can express these principles and strategies and grouped them into a principle for each grade.  Then each grade would have the techniques as basics, that had to be demonstrated against a range of attackers as pairs work, strung together for combinations and all put together for a mnemonic short form for them to remember what they have to do.  That’s obvious synergy!

I used allusion, mnemonics and application, right from the start they are learning towards a goal at higher grade without realising it, they had an easy way to remember everything and the grading was the ability to make it work!

A white belt is already training to be a black belt, everything has to be practical towards that end and used without any ‘fluff’ or ‘padding’, all training is synergistic with a specific goal in mind and everyone knows where they are going, why they are doing it, what they are doing and how it relates to the end product and what that end product is!

It makes me a genius in the martial arts world but normal everywhere else, if you wanted to be a top athlete you would be taught this way, or a musician, or dancer, or taking a university degree and so on….

So it ain’t me that lives in that alternate universe!

 

 

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Rules To Live By…

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Some of Steve Rowe’s Rules Of Life –

1. Don’t make friends easily.
2. ALWAYS work on your mind and perspective 24/7.
3. Always pay your way and live within your means.
4. If you help somebody, do it because it’s right not to make them indebted to you.
5. People you’ve helped will often stab you in the back, don’t let it become your problem.
6. People you’ve taught will often never give you credit – mostly that’s a good thing because that kind of student rarely gets it right.
7. Judge everyone by their actions not their words.
8. Always get money out the way first so everybody clearly understands and there’s no confusion.
9. Never trust anyone that’s vague about money.
10. So many people with so much enthusiasm and the inability to see it through.
11. Never be distracted by shiny objects.
12. Never let anyone occupy your time with a lot of talk and no action.
13. Never drop you standards for anyone – ever.
14. Always read the small print.
15. If you want to do it right – don’t do it wrong.
16. Work at a speed that means you can do it right.
17. Always light a room up when you enter and not when you leave.

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The Softest Touch

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I am a ghost, a wraith;
Passing through life with the softest touch.
I own nothing and no-one;
Anything bought belongs to the Earth;
And any person loved is completely free.

I am only here to learn;
I stand on the line between life and death;
Free to love, cherish and enjoy;
To embrace pain and suffering;
To understand how one creates the other.

By not blundering, not ‘forcing’;
But stepping back and yielding;
Only using the softest guiding hand;
To bring imbalance back to the Tao.

Stiffness, clumsiness and ego;
Trying to prevent or force intention;
Only bring pain and suffering;
Better to use wisdom and softness;
Understand and gently guide.

By not owning or possessing;
But giving and gently blending and guiding;
We harmonise with life;
And bring peace to ourselves;
To those around us and the world.

By Steve Rowe

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Fighting Yourself

steve pad

 

In the Martial Arts we often talk about how ‘the biggest opponent we have to fight is the one inside of ourselves’ and that ‘when performing solo moves we must have an opponent in mind’ although I think the statements are self evident  I would like to put the two together and give it a bit of perspective.

We are most likely to die of ill health. A good part of our health is our sanity and happiness, so emotional intelligence is an essential part or our daily training routine. We know how to do this through meditation and mindwork and I’ve already written a lot on the subject. But what about ‘fighting the opponent inside of us’?

When I’m practicing kata or form of any kind, including weapons I envisage the opponent being present and on the end of my techniques, but who is the opponent?  Who do I see?  Do I see someone I don’t like? That wouldn’t be mentally or emotionally healthy. Do I see myself? That would definitely be self destructive.  So who or what do we see or visualise?  Who or what should we recommend to our students to obliterate with their deadly moves?

I see my demons. I see FEAR, I see APATHY, I see ANGER and I destroy them. I give them shape, I make them ugly, I make them people and demons and I defeat them with skill.  I use my mental awareness, focus, sensitivity and intensity, I use my martial strategy, weapons, posture, internal connection, core and spine power to break their structure and take them apart. I kill them. I disembowel them. I cut their heads off.  I smash them to smithereens. I am merciless.  They are my demons and I will not tolerate their presence.

In a sense I am fighting myself but also they are not who I am. They are invaders that will creep in to a mind that is either distracted or unaware, so each training session enables me to root them out and defeat them with a strong, aware, focused, sensitive and intense mind.  We are our habits and need to develop a daily routine that reminds us of how we should and shouldn’t be and a method of defeating those sneaky demons that we might let in when leaving our mind unattended.

So now you know who to fight!

 

 

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