Friday, April 07, 2056

Seminar note links

Image by Bluefluke

John Will

7 Oct 2018 - Advanced Crucifix
7 Apr 2018 - Butterfly Guard
4 Mar 2018 - Turtle Defence
11 Nov 2017 - Pirate Grip, Russian Tie
15 Oct 2017 - Half Guard, the Seed
5 Mar 2017 - Ashi Garami 2.0, Honey Hole and Heel Hook
9 Oct 2016 - Ashi Garami, straight footlock
John Will Seminar 16 April 2016- Legbars
21 Feb 2016 - collar grip guard, single leg X guard
30 Aug 2015 - post clinch takedown strategy, Z guard, kneeride
22 Feb 2015 - Snatch Single, Vale Tudo Guard, Darce/Anaconda
24 August 2014 - a Spider Guard Plan
23 Feb 2014 - Advanced Spider Guard
29th September 2013 - Crucifix Control
24 March 2013 - X Guard
21 Oct 2012 - ankle picks, Z guard
21 April 2012 - Z guard
25 Mar 2012 - Guard Passing
2 Oct 2011 - takedown strategy, 2 on 1
20 Aug 2011 - D'arce choke, Deep Half Guard
3 July 2011 Side control escapes and counters
John Will Seminar 16 Apr 2011 - attacking from the turtle
20 Mar 2011 - Hooks and hooking sweeps
24 Oct 2010 - Anaconda, D'arce, Peruvian Necktie, Shackle
15 Aug 2010 - Back Control
14 Mar 2010 - Kata Gatame
18 Oct 2009 - Getting the back, back attacks
1 August 2009 breaking out of the clinch, roundhouse kicks and takedowns
4th April 2009 - hooking sweeps, S Mount armbar
1 Nov 2008 - open guard, side control escapes
5 April 2008 - Shell, Omoplata
20 Oct 2007 - X guard
Jul 28, 2007 - MMA defence from bottom, darce
31 MAR 2007 Shell in depth and takedowns
29 October 2006 - Triangles,knees in guard. passing half guard, visor
29 July 2006 - handstand sweep, side back escapes
8 Apr 2006 - turtle escapes, pillow escape
9 Jul 2005 - half guard bottom
9 Apr 2005 - better choke and armbar from mount
23 Oct 2004 - hooks-in and side back techs
10 Jul 2004 armdrag from guard, crossface
6 Mar 2004 - sweeps, legbar against open guard, passing
18 Oct 2003 - basic takedowns, legbars

Interested in going to a seminar with John Will? Check his seminar schedule and sign up.

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell's Jiu Jitsu for a Lifetime seminar - 3 Feb 2018
Steve Maxwell's Jiu Jitsu for a Lifetime Seminar 4 Feb 2017
Steve Maxwell's Integrated Breathing Seminar 11th February 2017
Steve Maxwell - Gracie Jiu Jitsu Core Concepts - 11 Feb 2017
Steve Maxwell's Jiu Jitsu for a lifetime /Mobility Conditioning for Jiu Jitsu and MMA seminar 6th February 2016
Steve Maxwell's Jiu Jitsu for Life seminar - 14 March 2015

Carlos Machado

Carlos Machado Seminar - 7th May 2018
Carlos Machado Seminar - 7th May 2015
Carlos Machado seminar - 8th May 2014
Carlos Machado seminar 16 May 2013
Carlos Machado seminar 10 May 2012

Rigan Machado

The Gathering 2017
Rigan Machado 17 Sep 2016
Rigan Machado Seminar 15 Sep 2007
Rigan Machado Seminar 21 Aug 2004

Jean Jacques Machado

Jean Jacques Machado seminar 28 July 2012

Richard Norton

Richard Norton seminar 21 November 2015

Gui Mendes

"Secret Session" at Langes MMA with Gui Mendes

Dave Camarillo

Dave Camarillo 21 Sep 2018 - Pinning and the Tackle Pass
Dave Camarillo 16 Sep 2017 - offside grip, King's chair, SAP
Dave Camarillo seminar 3 Sep 2016 - Kimura grip, armbar

Pedro Sauer

Pedro Sauer 27 Oct 2018
Pedro Sauer 24 Oct 2016

Stanley Tam

Stanley Tam Qigong Seminar 25 Feb 2017

Rodney King

Crazy Monkey Defense System 10th June 2018

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Machado NSW Brown and Black Belt Day 3 Feb 2019

The day was hosted by Machado Jiu Jitsu NSW State Head, Anthony Lange and his wife Nikki, at Lange's MMA, North Manly.

Anthony unveiled his plans for a new competition format which should not require the same cost overheads and logistical activities that IBJJF format competitions with six simultaneous mats running do. Anthony's format should allow lower entry fees, three mats instead of six which makes finding and hiring venues easier, and not requiring 200+ competitors to break even.

The rules should be similar, but without the complexities of advantages and penalties, and with some leeway for warnings, without the requirement for automatic disqualifications, that occurs with IBJJF rules. There will be two referees and a less formal decision structure, which should allow a shallower entry level for prospective referees, than do the complex and occasionally self-contradictory IBJJF rules.

And ... all leglocks for purple belt and above!

The organisers will strongly encourage parents and coaches to be respectful of the referees and their decisions, and of all of the competitors..

There will be fewer weight and age divisions, and  way more certificates than medals or trophies.

The format should allow every competitor to get multiple matches on the day for a lower entry fee, if they so wish. The eventual winners will almost certainly need to sign up for multiple matches to accumulate a winning point score.

The three mats all have different scoring methodologies, and these, if I remember correctly, will differ between adults and kids. To be honest I did not understand the details of this, though the coining of the term "Submission Magician" gives an indication that one mat, at least, will have its scoring heavily weighted toward submissions.

I don't pretend to have grasped the full details of Anthony's proposal, but if it meets its goals, which I imagine to be a competition format that is comparatively low cost and transferable to many more venues, plus the development of students, referees and instructors, and greater cohesion and unity within the Machado organisation, then it deserves support. Undoubtedly there will be much to learn from the first few competitions run this way, and hopefully the format will improve in an evolutionary fashion to help meet the goals of all involved.

Anthony Lange and Elvis Sinosic, both black belt fourth degrees, demonstrated some back takes and attacks, which we all drilled avidly.

Anthony - a Bow and Arrow Choke Variation

Anthony's preferred grip for gi chokes from the back is two hands on the one collar.

If you are on his back with your L hand around his neck (John Danaher's "strangle hand") and R hand under his R armpit, you grasp his R collar with both hands, The L hand up near his R ear, the R hand below it under his R arm.  With hooks in, you can choke him from behind, similarly to the old style sliding collar choke, from here. Or you can take your L hook out, use that foot to move your hips slightly to the R, turn to your L and take your R foot over to the L hip and hook it. Dave Camarillo calls this the "belt line hook", and it is a Danaher mainstay as well.

From here, you can take your L foot over his L shoulder, controlling the shoulder with the hook of your knee, so he cannot turn into you. You can either hook your L foot under his L arm, or cross your feet like you were doing closed guard (L foot on top is probably more difficult to break. John Danaher calls this position the "Reverse Top Lock." From here you can do the bow and arrow choke with the grips you have, or by transferring your R hand to grab his pants or grab under his R leg.

If he manages to start countering the bow and arrow attempt by sitting or lying on your L leg, trapping it under him so you can't hook it over his shoulder, instead put your R hook behind his R knee, and kick him off your L leg and onto his L side. Your legs are now free. Come up to a "combat base" position behind him on your R knee and L foot, with your L shin/ankle right behind his neck. You can now choke him using the L hand and the L shin.

It should be apparent that you can jump straight from side control to this position if you can get the correct grips.

Bow and Arrow Choke Variations by Anthony Lange

This use of the shin for the bow and arrow choke can also work perfectly well while you are sitting up or on your back and the opponent is successfully preventing you hooking your leg over his far shoulder for the standard bow and arrow. If you are bow and arrow choking him on his R with the L hand in his collar, and he is successfully preventing you from getting that L leg over his L shoulder, just hip escape back on that R hip and put your L knee and shin between his R ear and shoulder. Choke. 

Most Lange's students will have found themselves on the wrong end of that submission while rolling with their head instructor, perhaps multiple times.

Anthony also highlighted the importance of staying chest to back to retain back control as your opponent moves.

Follow the opponent as he moves

We drilled this, did a couple of six minute rolling rounds for a mental if not physical  break, then Elvis took the instructional talking stick.

Elvis - Two on One Grip to Take the Back

You have your partner in side control, you on his R, he is facing away from you. You have an R underhook on his R arm, and your L arm is under his head. The kimura grip is popular here, and is useful for a number of other finishes, but is less useful for the RNC (RNS) because you will have to change grips to do the "punch and reach" with the strangle hand for the neck.

Instead we get a two on one grip on his R arm, like an augmented gift wrap. We push into him, using our R elbow behind his ribs to ensure he can't roll away from us. We drive our L knee up behind his shoulders, and align our left shin with his torso so we can easily roll him over it later.We drive into and over his legs with our R knee, pushing off our R toes. If we can hook his R leg with ours from her or step over we should. We can then roll him over our L shin, and into back control. We may want to get hooks for points, but for control we want him on his R side with our R foot hooked over his L hip and our L foot pressing down on his L hip.

We can use our L foot to push him down or ourselves up if necessary to achieve better positioning for our legwork, specifically hooking his L arm with our L leg.

We may be able to immediately secure our strangle hand around his neck with a "punch and reach". If not, we are now in a handfighting situation. His L hand is free and he should be using it to counteract our L strangle hand by grabbing it. We counter grip his L hand with our L using the thumb to get inside his grip. grasping his little finger knuckle with our L hand. We can now push his L hand down toward his hip and hook it with our L leg, hooking our shoelaces behind his L hip to secure the arm. We may need to use our L foot on his hip to move him to a position where our L leg is sufficiently mobile to hook his L arm. Wit the "deficit problem" now solved, we can continue handfighting to secure his R hand with ours, and apply an uncontested rear naked choke/strangle.

Elvis - taking the back from a 2 on 1 grip from side control

Elvis also demonstrated he uses a twisting motion or wristlock pressure to distract the opponent and reduce the effectiveness of his resistance. He demonstrated this both in how he sets up triangle chokes from the closed guard (Omote Sankaku?) and while handfighting from the back.

Elvis - grip and twist

To be honest, I am finding handfighting a difficult subject to fully comprehend and articulate in the immediate present, due to concurrent immersion in John Danaher's Back Attack videos. Some of you may have noticed a tendency for me to write the way he talks in this blog. Right or wrong, I am a human sponge for such things.

Elvis - S Mount Style back take from side control

We have a short base side control on our opponent's R, and once again we are pressuring him onto his L side facing away from us. We grip his R upper arm with an underhand grip, using the grip and our R elbow behind his rib cage to stop him rolling either way. Our L hand grips his L wrist, pulling it close to his face so as to apply American lock / Americana type pressure on his L arm.

We could also set this up by going for the Americana, and getting our R underhand grip when he turns toward his L wrist in an attempt to counter by grabbing it with his R hand.

Once our grips are secured, we move our weight onto our R knee, so our L leg is free to move. We swing our L foot around his head, landing with it over the top of his L arm, this leaving us in a position similar to an S mount with our L leg having already trapped his L arm. We change our grips to a seatbelt with our L arm around his neck and R arm under his R armpit, or similar. We are now in a great position to get our R hook across his belt line to the L hip, and begin positioning ourselves to move him around with our L foot, and begin the handfight for the uncontested rear naked strangle, with his L arm already taken out of the game by our L leg, thus solving the deficit problem.

A couple of different angles on the S Mount style back take by Elvis

As Anthony Lange pointed out, the starting positions for either the two on one back take, or the S mount style back take, both lend themselves to an opportunity to slip your L thumb into his collar, jump up on you L foot so the shin/ankle are directly behind his neck, and apply Anthony's modified bow and arrow choke. Perhaps surprising your opponent who may be motorset for one of the other techniques.

Hip Bump Sweep and Back Take Combo from Half Guard

Bigger or stronger opponents may like to attack your half guard by getting a far side underhook and near side crossface.

So, if you have half guard on your opponent's right leg, he may get an underhook on your L arm with his R, and crossface you with his R arm. He may join his hands and push your L arm away from your body, as a prelude to attacking it, by flaring out his R elbow, which also gives him a better base. This is usually a pretty string position for the top player.

Bring your L leg out and up so you can grip the inside of your L thigh with your L thigh. By pressing your L leg downwards and in, and squeezing with your L elbow, you can pinch his R elbow back towards your rib cage, and removing his base at that corner. By bridging on your feet and lifting up and to the L with your R underhook, you may be able to roll him to your L with a type of hip bump sweep.

This may not work on the same opponent more than once or twice. He may post our with his R foot to prevent the sweep. This gives us space to pummel our L leg under his R to get a butterfly hook. Our R foot goes over his R ankle to hold his R leg in place.

We now want to encourage him to relinquish the crossface, shifting his L elbow to the L side of our head, perhaps baiting him with our L arm. If we can grab and control his R elbow with our L hand, that will keep our L arm fairly safe from kimuras, etc.

He will want to square up to us and bring his R knee up towards our shoulders for better base. We make this difficult by grabbing his pants behind his R knee and stiff arming it down toward our feet, even pushing it back under him. We want to encourage him to turn more sideways onto his L hip.

This will be our signal to elevate him using our L butterfly hook and R hand, sliding our hips out behind and to our R, and dropping him in front of us into a back control. We should immediately get good controls with our arms and work toward an uncontested rear naked strangle.

Two angles of Elvis demonstrating his half guard hip bump sweep and butterfly half guard back take

The Primacy of the Collar Grip for Back Control in the Gi

Anthony discussed his belief that the thumb inside grip with the strangle hand on the collar was the better choking option than the rear naked strangle in the gi. The RNC and handfighting is still his go to for no gi.

Anthony extols the virtues of the Collar Grip in the gi.

A Great Day

This was an interesting and very enjoyable day. Many thanks to Anthony and Elvis for sharing their deep knowledge, and to the Langes for providing the venue. Nice to meet some new people and catch up with those I hadn't seen for a while.

Monday, February 04, 2019

MMA and BJJ and ... "Streetfights"

I spend too much time on social media. One of my most onerous wastes of time is arguing on Wing Chun Kung Fu forums.

Wing Chun is a style of Kung Fu, which I have practised pretty diligently since 1988. Following my Wing Chun instructor, Rick Spain's, example, I also started practising Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in 1998, the majority of which has been at a gym which also trains successful MMA fighters.

Many of the early adopters of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA, outside of Brazil itself, were already experienced instructors of traditional martial arts before they encountered BJJ and MMA.

I believe that with the right attitudes and training methodologies, nearly all martial arts styles can increase your chances of surviving a self defence situation.

Less enlightened practitioners of both traditional and sports style martial arts seem to find it necessary to drag the other side down.

In particular, for this article at least, some Wing Chun guys insist that they train solely for life and death self defence situations, and that those who practice sports martial arts, participate in ring fights, compete in Jiu Jitsu, etc. etc. are doomed to fail in such situations because they will unconsciously adapt to the rules of their sport while defending themselves. Supposedly, the mental straitjacket the combat sport rules impose will prevent them from defending attacks with illegal and supposedly far more effective and damaging techniques like eye, throat, groin attacks, kicks that shatter the knee, etc.

I'm not out to argue about this. Merely to provide examples of MMA, BJJ and other sport fighters who prevailed, and did so quite well, in self-defence situations. The evidence is in.

But first, to give the Devil his due, an example of what happens when you bring Jiu Jitsu to a gunfight. Viewer discretion advised.

That out of the way. Here's UFC Hall of Famer Matt Serra dealing with a drunk in a restaurant, who was making threats of violence towards him.

Triangles chokes and armbars are suicide in "da street"? Woman foils potential rapist with triangle choke - Gracie Breakdown

Jiu Jitsu champ and MMA fighter Ryan Hall subdues belligerent guy in pizza joint

MMA techniques defeat 2 guys, one armed with a baseball bat

70 (I think actually 72) year old BJJ coral belt subdues a would-be robber.

This is a live document with more examples to be added as they come to my attention.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Into an Alternate Universe with Rex King^

How it felt on a bad day

I first met the man I will call Rex King^ in, probably, 1979. He had a high profile in Kung Fu circles in Sydney back then. He had definite skills - plus a stocky, muscular physique with very powerful kicks. Great hair.

I saw him break untreated weathered house bricks, taken from a nearby building site, with his knife hand - "karate chop" - on several occasions.

One of his ex-wives told me how he had been challenged by the head of a karate school, after they both appeared at an event. Rex tried very hard to convince the guy to back out of it, but when all peaceful options were exhausted, Rex ducked under the guy's first punch and put him on the floor, gasping in agony, with a punch to the groin, not dissimilar to a move performed by JCVD in "Wrong Bet."

He had studied both Kung Fu and Traditional Chinese Medicine in both Hong Kong and Taiwan and had excellent credentials from those he studied with. He was a consulting acupuncturist and definitely knew his TCM theory very well.

I took a three week trip through Asia with him and perhaps twenty other people. He certainly had contacts everywhere. I was involved in a friendly contest of Taiji push hands on a Taipei rooftop one night in a visit to a Kung Fu school there, and managed to hold my own with Rex coaching me from the sideline, much the same as a BJJ instructor might coach a student during a tournament match.

I made some good friends there.

That Rex had real skill was not to be denied.

The Name Game

Rex King was not his real name. But it carries the same aura of charisma and "born-to-ruleness" as the "real" changed name he gave himself. Not the name his parents gave him.

There are legitimate reasons for changing one's name. A guy I trained with before I met Rex was Michael Coxhead. Married and with a child on the way, he changed his name to Michael Quinn to spare his kids the totally predictable nicknames with which they would be branded all through school, and possibly beyond.

There was nothing wrong with Rex's original name, other than it lacked the gravitas with which Rex wanted others to view him, and presumably with which he viewed himself. Something more befitting a natural scholar and leader.

So he became Rex King.


I had started Kung Fu in Canberra in 1977 with the excellent Dan Croft*, a teacher of Kung Fu. He had excellent skills, a deep well of knowledge, and was extremely generous to me with his instruction.

I did not enjoy my life in Canberra as a public servant, my first job out of university. I found it a cold and unfriendly place. I despaired at my own apparent inability to make new friends. After a holiday in the South Coast of New South Wales, during which I made many new friends and even scored a sweet holiday romance, I concluded that my social isolation had been the result of Canberra, not me. I worked hard to pay off my debts, built up some savings, and moved back to Sydney.

I had given up on Canberra, but not on martial arts. I knew I would miss Dan and his excellent tutelage and example, but didn’t realise how difficult finding another competent instructor in Sydney would prove.

In the days before the internet, one had books, magazines, and the Yellow Pages. Finding information about martial arts schools relied on these sources exclusively, unless you were privy to some word of mouth. Dan gave me a few suggestions, but for one reason or another I found these unsuitable.

My First Time

I became interested in Rex's academy, which was advertised frequently in magazines and had a prominent advertisement in the Yellow Pages. I fronted up one day and spoke to one of his senior students. During that conversation, I noticed, behind him, sitting at the desk in the little admin space at the school entrance, an attractive girl with long dark hair, dressed in a black uniform, repeatedly rolling a 64 sided die made of red plastic, and consulting the Yijing / I Ching about the result after every roll.

Imagine this, made from red plastic

The I Ching, or as I’ll call it from here on in, the Ching, is an ancient Chinese philosophical and divinatory text, dating back to before the time of Confucius. It's highly revered and taken very seriously by its adherents, which included the seminal psychologist Carl Gustav Jung.

A flippant use of the Ching, especially rejecting the initial reading and trying again in the hope of a more auspicious outcome, might often result in Hexagram 4, “Youthful Folly”, basically the Ching saying to you, “Take me seriously, idiot."

I have been but an occasional and sceptical consultant of the Ching. I ran into “Youthful Folly” on occasion. I may have deserved it.

Shortening the thing's name from I Ching / Yijing to Ching, as I just did. might earn such a slap in the face. I’d imagine using a 64 sided die of red plastic, because more traditional methods of consultation  took too long, might you one as well. But, here she was, rolling the dice. I could have asked her about it, but doubted she would have deigned to talk to a mere prospect off the street such as myself.

These days, I might have asked her why she was wasting her time with that, and not hitting a bag or wrestling.

Training at Rex's

The training was intense from an exercise perspective. We would do a warm up and some stretches, then a truckload of calisthenics, pushups, situps, leg raises, squats, squat jumps, etc. etc. Then, dressed in black kung fu pyjamas, coloured sashes, and feet bare, we would run “three times around the figure eight”,around and between two odd shaped city blocks, concrete and bitumen, along heavily trafficked streets, cars and pedestrians. Occasionally people in cars would give us the finger, or insinuate we looked like dicks. Imagine!

We’d line up outside the school and await a senior student’s order to ascend the staircase. I remember once a non-running senior student, Chris*, known for his “old school” attitude, stuck his head out of a window on the second story where the academy was and berated us at the top of his voice for our indiscipline, talking amongst ourselves while awaiting the call. Not like we were making a whole lot of noise. I had always thought that Chris was wound a little too tight.

So eventually we'd go back upstairs, and into the training hall. We’d all line up, and after a suitable period of suspense, Rex King would stroll into the class, black uniformed, hands clasped behind his back, a leonine full head of blond hair, a look of inscrutability on his face, and an aura of mystery around him.

He would take us through basic XingyiQuan techniques. In the order of the Sheng, nourishing cycle of the Wu Xing, the five elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine. A complex business it is, but essentially each element leads into, or checks (via the Ko, or checking cycle), one of the other elements. Similar in intent, though much more complex philosophically, to the various angles of attack and defense, in the Filipino martial arts. Not that complexity is necessarily the same as superiority, where martial technique is concerned.

The concepts, theory, and philosophies of Traditional Internal Martial Arts are precisely ordered, at the same time simple and profound. One can marvel at their brilliance and symmetry.

Actual fighting however, is chaotic, and ugly.

We would occasionally practice the twelve more advanced animal forms of Xingyichuan, the circle walking and palm changes of BaguaZhang, or the twenty four movement Short Yang form of TaijiQuan.

I got to learn a great deal about traditional Chinese medical theory, through Xingyi practice, and as part of a inhouse course on acupressure massage lasting several months, led by Rex's offsider, Rob, a friendly chap with a sense of humour that made learning the fairly dry conceptual material a lot more entertaining than it would otherwise have been.

We also studied the Yijing and its eight trigrams for Baguazhang, and the use of various herbs, elixirs and the like, intensively, if not all that deeply. Also dived into Taoism, Buddhism and other Chinese cultural practices.

The eight trigrams - Rex's first academy had a large multicoloured version of this diagram painted on the floor

How to deal with a prospective attacker lining you up for the “interview”, pre-fight strategies like the “fence”, the legal ramifications of self defence, how to really hit hard, effective combinations and the like, were not so often discussed.

Consumer Affairs

A fair number of the student body could be described as hippies. There were several Orange People, followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known as Osho, amongst the atudent body.

Hippies or not, a few senior students decided that Rex was jamming their capitalist sensibilities by withholding information, and was not teaching them fast enough. Arguably, correct.

The logical next step, apparently, was to report him to Consumer Affairs (now called the Department of Fair Trading).

Did this work? Amazingly, no!

The ingrates were all immediately and unceremoniously shown the door. We were told they had “resigned”, not a particularly applicable description, really. “Cast into Outer Darkness”, perhaps.

Word had it that they subsequently took up with a more senior disenchanted former student of Rex – and there was an impressively long list of those - who at that time billed himself as a “Master of Oriental Exercise”.

Forget all that fighting malarkey. That’s not what the internal martial arts are about at all.

Into the Bizarro Dimension

Things occasionally took a more savage detour into the Bizarro dimension.

Rex enlisted the more senior members of the group into a special program. We were to undertake a strict diet - no meat, dairy, or gluten (bread, wheat products, etc.). No black tea or coffee. No alcohol.

Ever try buying lunch in the city under those conditions? I was pretty lean to begin with and looked like a concentration camp survivor at the end. And - I cheated. The guilt was crippling. Well, a little bit.

I almost forgot - no sex. My then girlfriend and I were having challenging times. mostly due to my association with Rex, who she had hated at first sight. This particular edict went over, as Keith Moon said to Jimmy Page about his new band, "not like a lead balloon but like a Lad Zeppelin."

No self relief, either.

This regimen went on for about a month, though it seemed like a year. Rex then counselled the male and female participants in separate groups.

My fellow male students and I were each given a medicine bottle of brown glass, and told to produce a specimen of the particular male bodily fluid to do with reproduction therein. The bottle was to be labelled with our name, kept in the freezer at home until it could be transferred, with all possible haste, to the communal freezer in an ancient refrigerator at Rex's academy.

Fill 'er up

We were not informed as to what the ultimate purpose of the exercise, or even the next step, would be at the time.

Female students had something different to do. Obviously. Not one would tell me what it was. The most subtle and oblique questioning immediately crashed into a wall of secrecy and suspicion.

The bottles sat in the fridge, completely undisturbed, for months, becoming progressively encrusted with ice. There were a couple of power outages, and all the labels came off the bottles, so one could no longer tell which bottle belonged to whom.

The subject of the bottles and their purpose was not raised or discussed again. Ever. No one wanted to out Rex as forgetful, and by association make themselves look stupid or ungrateful.

Eventually, the school moved premises, and the entire fridge, with the bottles, disappeared  en route, as if into a wormhole.

The Refrigerator of Perplexity

I still have no idea what this was all about. Had Rex read an article in a magazine about sperm banks and decided to diversify his business, then gone off, or forgotten the idea, after having enlisted others to it, because some other brainwave or academy crisis took precedence? Not an unusual business strategy, where Rex was concerned.

Who really knows? I'm not even sure Rex knew what the ultimate purpose of this incredibly strange endeavour was.

Was I gullible? Totally. Embarrassed? A bit, but on balance it still makes for a great story more than thirty years later.

Friction and Disappointment

I had kept up a friendship with my excellent first instructor in Canberra, the aforementioned Dan Croft*. Dan ran an annual camp, for decades, to which he had invited martial artists of all styles from all over. Karate, Hapkido, various styles of Kung Fu, etc. I attended a number of times, and students of Will Mason*, head instructor of another popular  Kung Fu school at the time, and personal friend of Dan, were also regular attendees.

One year, I took along a few of Rex’s guys, and all went well.

Dan and some of the others being amused by the primitive version of crop circles, we left in the frost around a group of trees, performing Bagua circle walking practice early one morning.

I performed a demonstration of Xingyi’s cycles of attack and defence, with another Rex student on the Saturday night, which seemed to go over well enough.

I was all set to take a second group the next year, and put in some effort to set this up, informing Dan of likely numbers, to allow for catering, etc.

In the meantime, Will Mason had been arrested, and spent some time in jail for offences not publicly discussed. I would be breaking a confidence to give details, suffice to say they were of a political rather than straight criminal nature, and may have even been seen by heroic actions by some, one man’s terrorist being another’s freedom fighter, etc.

Will Mason lost few of his former friends in martial arts as a result, and went on to head at least two prominent overarching Australasian martial arts and Kung Fu organisations. He continued his associations and friendships with many high profile local and overseas martial artists. Those in the know definitely did not see his conviction as reason to discontinue their associations and friendships with him.

Rex had a different attitude.

He seized on my casual mention that some of Will Mason’s students would be at the camp, with a "gotcha!" twinkle in his eye.

He explained that he and his students could not possibly be seen to be associated with any taint of criminality. our going to Dan’s camp was out of the question! The other former prospective attendees all nodded sagely at me, backing Rex. We couldn’t be seen to be associating with the wrong element.

Support a brother martial artist going through hard times? No, we had too much class for that.

“When I was down, you just stood there grinning” 

I had to let Dan know, and I paid his expenses for our late withdrawal from the camp from my own pocket. Not a huge amount of money, but this was probably the beginning of the end for me. The hypocrisy had become personal.

I did not mention to Dan the reasons why at the time, but he was still understandably pissed off. 

He was a lot more pissed off, but not with me, when I later told him the real reasons for our cancellation, after I had ceased my association with Rex.

I was starting to fall into a spiral of disenchantment. A spiral into which one fell progressively faster as one came closer to the centre.

Linear Bagua: Now You See It, Now You Don't

Baguazhang is best known for its circular stepping and practice walking a circle. We would begin sparring matches by walking around the shared centre of a circle, coming closer and closer like two black holes about ot collide in interstellar space.

There is also a linear form of Baguazhang, which Rex claimed he had never taught to anyone before. After a few lessons, one of the senior students, who was either being gradually pushed out by Rex, or slowly coming to the decision to leave himself, asked a question that Rex took exception to. Rex then told us that he had misjudged our readiness to receive this information, and he would let us "season" for an indeterminate while longer, until we were possibly experienced enough to be properly ready. Everyone stared daggers at the hapless questioner, but it wasn't his fault.

Relationships, Toxic and Otherwise

Rex seemed to view the relationships of his students with their significant others as a challenge to his authority. He certainly seemd to find many pretexts to drag me away from home on dubious errands. I can remember at least two marriages broken up during my time there, though ot be fair one was where one partner ran off with another student. And also to be fair, one or two breakups might be on the cards statistically. But being part of Rex's academy certainly didn't make for easier times at home.

He had two ex-wives and four kids, two from each marriage, when I met him.

When the school moved and the fridge with the bottles disappeared, Rex had hooked up with a Jaapanese Jiu Jitsu black belt, Wayne*, and the arrangement was that they would both run classes there and apportion the rent accordingly.

Wayne was a nice man with his heart in the right place. I took a few of his classes and talked to him a fair bit.

Wayne also had a smoking hot blonde girlfriend who I'll call Janice*. Rex also ran his acupuncture practice out if the new premises, and hired Janice to be his receptionist and admin person.

Fast forward a couple of months. Rex has stolen Janice away from Wayne, his business partner. I heard later that he eventually married her. Wayne, the poor bastard, never knew what hit him. He was a dead man walking for weeks, until they dissolved the partnership, and I never saw him again.

Awkward. Really, REALLY awkward.

The End of the Line

Rex had obviously read or studied the "work" of some dodgy sales “gurus”, because he got the student body together one night and encouraged each of us to pledge to signing up a specific number of new students in the next month. This was written down, presumably as a means of either increasing the cash flow and number of new innocent minds file for indoctrination, or as yet another example of our frequent failures to live up to Rex’s standards … standards which he finagled us into setting for ourselves.

I said I’d commit to two new students, with my fingers crossed behind my back.

Tough luck, Buster! I had my fingers crossed all the time!

I had already decided I would be gone by the time the ledger was tallied.

Commitments made, there was then the option of kicking on at the school, by paying two dollars to watch a video which Rex had got a lackey to hire from the local Blockbuster, and shown in violation of copyright law.

I went home instead, and never went back.

Rex called me at work, about seven in the evening, a few months later. I was working late, taking steps to succeed in a career that had until then been barely puttering, because most of my energy was being sucked away by Rex, like that of a hapless binary star into its partner black hole.

He asked for Dan Croft’s phone number. I gave it to him. We made no small talk. I think my voice would have sounded so icy, his phone hand would have been getting frostbite.

All this finished for me over thirty years ago.

Closing Thoughts

I married my Led Zeppelin girl, and remain with her today, after nearly thirty four years of marriage. I absolutely made the right choice there. Because that's what it would have become, a choice - real life or Rex.

Rex promoted dependence, not self-actualisation. His whole shtick was that I’d have to wait, invest in loss, prove my worth, train hard, and put up with whatever he decided was necessary or appropriate, no matter how preposterous, for as long as he decided it would take. If you were a good enough student/supplicant, you could eventually become a disciple.

Good instructors will feed you all the knowledge you can handle. They will not try to blur useful distinctions between training and the rest of your life. They want you to become a thoughtful and creative adult, who can learn to teach themselves and their own students, eventually. Not a disciple subject to an instructor's grace, direction and whims.

Rex had the possibility of becoming a cult leader, but his lack of organisation, and his train wreck of a personal life, would have been too distracting for him to really follow through. There's plenty of precursors there, though  - the promise and withholding of information as a carrot and a stick, the treatment of the student body as a pack of lovable but intellectually challenged children, hinting at new levels of performance and understanding that we were never quite ready for, etc.

I can't really go as far as to say Rex King was evil. Weighed down with some significant issues? 100%. Would I talk to him if I ran into him in the street? Probably ... unless he's read this blog.

Had I remained his disciple, would I have eventually broken through to the other side, received the sacred teachings, finally mastered the power of chi, achieved enlightenment?

No. I’d still be waiting.

* - names changed to protect the innocent
^ - name changed to protect the guilty

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

True Story #15 - the Dragon Pole

I practice Wing Chun Kung Fu under the tutelage of Sifu Rick Spain.

Wing Chun is a pretty minimalist Kung Fu system. Its standard curriculum consists of three empty hand forms, then a set of techniques to be practised on a specialised wooden dummy, though they can also be done without it - "Air Dummy", like "Air Guitar", and finally, weapons forms.

There are two traditional Wing Chun weapons. One is a pair of knives, of length slightly shorter than your forearm with hooks on the handles, sometimes called Butterfly Swords. They allow for intricate twirling, slashing, stabbing, and blocking movements.

The other is a long, tapered pole with a brass ferrule at the business end, named the Dragon Pole. It can range from five to approximately thirteen feet in length. It is significantly heavier than the Japanese bo, or staff, and is generally held with both hands at one end, the stance and body acting as a counterbalance. It is used more like a spear, rather than the double ended Japanese weapon. Manipulating a pole of considerable weight is also seen as a good exercise for building the particular type of strength Wing Chun Kung Fu requires. I'll pass discussion of the veracity of that statement to those better educated in exercise science than I.

Rick Spain practising Dragon Pole techniques with the Dragon Mettle, a high tech metal staff, stick and pole training tool, developed by Sensei Russell de Lacy

Some Wing Chun systems have additional traditional weapons, such as throwing darts. But the swords and pole are the ones universally cited.

Neither is particularly practical as is, in twenty-first century Australia.

Carrying knives for self defence is illegal where I live, and pairs of blades around forty centimetres in length aren't exactly easy to conceal.

Unless you are very highly skilled, sharp butterfly swords are as much a danger to yourself as to anyone else, and most practice is done with unsharpened metal weapons, or those made of wood or hardened plastic.

Many of the techniques, if performed with sharp weapons, could result in you losing a hand, if you are not fully cognisant of what you are doing, and well practised. I know one highly skilled trainee who accidentally cut a finger tendon with sharpened butterfly swords and was unable to make a proper fist for the next twelve months.

A thirteen foot long pole isn't exactly easy to carry around either, especially if your commute  involves public transport, a bike, or a small car without roof racks.

The reason for this choice of weapons is that their techniques can be easily adapted to readily available improvised weaponry. In essence, short or long sticks. You might have a rolling pin and spatula in your kitchen drawer to defend yourself with using butterfly sword techniques. Or you can pick up a broom, mop or umbrella, and use dragon pole techniques against an attacker.

Several martial arts practitioners I know keep sticks and cudgels concealed in easy to access places in every room of their residences, in case of home invasions. One man's paranoia is another man's preparation, I guess. I will neither confirm nor deny.

A good length for a practice dragon pole is often stated as being from the ground to your outstretched finger tips, when you stand with one arm stretched vertically overhead. This is a practical length which allows for a pole of reasonable weight, and still allows you to practice with it in spaces smaller than aircraft hangars and sports stadiums.

Still, one needs to be careful. As I found out one day.

I came in about an hour before class to practice the Dragon Pole. It takes up a fair bit of room, and other students gave me plenty of that, once I started swinging that sucker around.

I went through quite a number of repetitions of the form, the entire sequence, and in bits and pieces. I felt I was slowly becoming one with the weapon, my movements, smooth, economical and precise.

Well ... only up to a point.

Just before class was due to start, I decide on one final run through, full power. One of the sequences involves the bon dao, a diagonal deflection used against an overhead strike, after which I swing the pole around on a large overhead circle, then striking directly down on my hapless imaginary opponent with what might be called a number twelve strike in Filipino martial arts.. 

I had performed this action several dozen times in the session without incident, and proceeded confidently through it this time, doing my best to add a little extra oomph! to my technique.

My overhead strike takes out a fluorescent tube. Shattered glass and powder go everywhere. Of course, I am barefoot. Everybody gasps.. 

Some buds help me as I rush around with broom, dustpan and brush, and newspaper, to clean up my mess in the final seconds before class start time. Clock's ticking, dude! We finish, line up, and bow on with not a second to spare. 

Sifu, Rick Spain, laughs. He asks me to take the warm up, still chuckling. I do so, reflecting on the virtue of humility.