Friday, January 24, 2020

手動 療法 Shudo Ryoho (Manual Therapy)

手動 療法  Shudo Ryoho
(Hand Change Heal Law- Manual Therapy)

Many of us were reared on the image of a warrior-sage, as adept at patching-up injuries as causing them, employing archaic knowledge that bordered on the arcane.  For generations, one of the hoariest of old chestnuts has claimed that the path to becoming an exemplary practitioner of combative arts must include studying medicine as well- usually, some form of manual therapy.    On the one hand, many people, myself included*, have experienced direct benefits to their ‘martial‘ practice from the inclusion of healing; on the other, the overall timbre of these discussions tend to hinge on just such anecdotes- making for a far less compelling argument. What then are some (at least slightly less) subjective reasons to study this stuff? 

First, just to define terms, manual therapy comprises things like massage, bone-setting, structural integration, etc., treatment modalities which, when correctly applied, can prove beneficial for many types of soft-tissue, fascial, and osseous problems.  It is not uncommon for combative arts to contain some component(s) of manual therapy as part of their transmission**.  One major disclaimer:  manual therapy does many things well but it is not a cure-all (and should never replace the advice of a medical professional.)

Okay, so with that out of the way, the first element of usefulness to training is a ‘no-brainer’- minor injury mitigation.  Sore limbs, swollen joints, and the like can be improved, often dramatically, on-site.  Particularly after tough sessions (grappling or being thrown- hard- for hours can take its toll, no matter how good your ukemi [receiving body, minimizing risk through rolling, falling, softening, etc.] is, same for striking/being struck, or, dealing with the vibrating shock of tool use*** for significant amounts of time) taking 20 or 30 minutes to trade bodywork with a training-partner can mean the difference between a next day of misery and one of mild discomfort****.

Another advantage is learning how body-structures are aligned, move, and interact.  Knowing the range of motion for a joint in the abstract is quite different than having the practical experience of how far one can comfortably go (as well as how other joints can affect base ranges, and, the signs of moving to the end of/exceeding those ranges.)  Also, working with bodies in a therapeutic setting can ameliorate some of the discomfort that results from being at close grappling/striking distance (where things can/do go most wrong, most easily).

The next feature of manual therapy for combatives are the diagnostic methods. While specifics vary from art to art and culture to culture, in general, they tend to include some iterations of analysis:  visually (gait, morphology, posture, etc.), by asking questions (pointed or oblique), observing the sounds/smells of the body, and, through touch.  Individually, these yonshin (four assessments) are great tools; in conjunction with genuine ‘martial’ training, can lead to Ninso (person reading).  Ninso is sometimes thought of as a high-level skill, rather akin to magic; of course, it’s not. It is simply picking-up on mood and physical comportment to measure others through observation (no hocus-pocus needed).  This perspective provided by the yonshin allows for (a subtle and eventually, almost subconscious) study of carriage and movement that evolves naturally as an outgrowth of the hands-on practice of bodywork, enhancing similar development from combative arts.

A few more traits to be gleaned by the person doing the work:  increased sensitivity (to body structures and tension within our own bodies), integration of kihon (fundamentals), breath-control, improving the efficiency of contact (employing less overt strength/being better connected to one’s whole frame) through relaxation of opposing muscle groups, changing ‘quality of touch’*****, working with (rather than against) the other person, maintaining ideal ma-ai (interval, relative distance) and angles to effectively, touch, transfer power, etc. but what about for uke (the recipient)?  Well, of course, getting bodywork regularly, especially stuff designed to supplement training goes back to the first point about limiting injuries, but there is a good deal more to it.  As with any time one ‘receives’ a technique or form, it is not an excuse to stop paying attention, in fact, it should be very much the opposite.  Being uke for treatment is an opportunity to practice being ‘present’ in one’s entire body- rather than ignoring (or narrowing focus to) the places that hurt.  It allows us to provide invaluable feedback to one’s partner, both verbally (more crucially) through contact, It does bear mention that many of the list above can easily apply to uke as well, especially breath control, selective/full relaxation, learning to share space and resisting antagonism with a partner.
A final reason that might pique some interest could equally serve as a deterrent- immersion in alternate ‘mental models’ of the body.  In the modern West, we have access to all sorts of imaging data that perfectly shows each major body structure; because of this, it is easy to dismiss pre-modern modes of thought across the board without investigation.  While not suggesting, at all, that anyone discard modern medicine in favor of older models, there are aspects of pain management and overall flexibility, whole body/integrated power, and mobility that are demonstrably present in many of these models.  It can also be extremely useful for those of us who practice traditional arts to gain a sense of the context which previous generations viewed their physical structures and how that may have informed body interaction.  This context means that a bunch of words that might sound nonsensical or ‘woo’, like “fill the heart with qi/chi/ki” offers a very clear image (a spiral expansion of the ulnar aspect of the arm) and suggests what ought not happen (use of the bicep).

It is not hyperbole to say that the list of benefits to practice enumerated here is cursory.  Despite boasting an embarrassment of potential upsides, for some, healing arts will never hold appeal.  This is totally as it ought to be- junin to iro (ten people, ten colors- everyone has a viewpoint), as the expression goes.  The goal of this piece is not to sway but to detail a few of the direct impacts that one can experience from undertaking practice of this sort.  And, as with any other aspect of training, it is far richer when we can move beyond myth, fable and anecdotes.

Yours in aspiring to health,

Jigme Chobang Daniels, instructor
Aoi Koyamakan Dojo

*In my case, first by attending Shiatsu (finger pressure, Japanese acupressure massage) school, then, through exposure to the kenkojutsu (strength ease tactics, healing and measures to deal with emergencies) that is part of the tradition to which I belong.

**As seen in wrestling, fistic, and fencing/stick-fighting systems in much of Eurasia (from the British Isles to Mongolia), the Indian subcontinent, the Mediterranean, Africa, southern Pacific Islands from Hawai’i to Fiji, North, South and Central Americas, etc.

***This, thankfully, ceases to be troublesome as one diminishes reliance on external musculature and develops consistently useable structures (first through kamae [postures], then through the kihon and kata).  At early stages of training though, transitioning from ‘fairly light contact’ (used to provide reaction to receptions and strikes/cuts) to ‘some power’ can leave one feeling as though someone handed us a jackhammer that’s already in motion... it is singularly awful.

****And, as with any skill meant to function, if it can’t or doesn’t, there’s a problem.

*****Another (potentially) hippy-dippy sounding descriptor.  In this case, my main shiatsu instructor, an older Japanese woman, told us early on that no matter what we learn or know, how people feel when we touch them is as significant as any technique or method we might try to apply.  She was quite resolute about this, reminding us frequently; it has, of course, proven helpful in seemingly unrelated contexts as well (with young or non-verbal children, frightened animals, unruly/intoxicated adults, etc.).

Friday, December 20, 2019

自己啓発 Jiko Keihatsu (Self-development)

自己啓 Jiko Keihatsu (Self-Development)

  A teenaged student of an old-fashioned Jujutsu system, after reading about Aikido sought clarification during his next class.
Sensei, what about self-development in (the Jujutsu system that he was learning)?
 (Japanese) Teacher: (without pause, in English)
You kill him.  So that you can live... and develop...

That teacher's (only partly) tongue-in-cheek response to his young student*'s question changed the framework of the dialogue.  That level of bluntness stands in stark contrast to all the noise made about the (near-magical) properties imparted through participation in combative arts from Asia (far fewer make these claims about western wrestling, fencing or boxing, although a strong case should be made for them as well) the term 'self-development' remains ambiguous.  Certainly, one can observe physical changes from regular training (improved strength, flexibility, endurance, etc.), but the implication seems to be that these changes run deeper; that the alterations happen on a 'transpersonal' level.

So, how does it follow that learning to maim or kill by striking, grappling, or using weapons more effectively makes us better humans?  And, if it really did work as simply as that, why are there so many creeps, weirdos and wannabes in the 'martial' arts world?

Let’s step away from that for a moment.  Imagine, for a moment, being invited to eat at the home of someone who posts amazing photographs of the food that they prepare, on their social media.  You anticipate the evening knowing that, whatever else happens, you will be presented with carefully prepared, well-seasoned, and properly cooked food.  After you arrive, things take a turn.

Though the food on the table maintains the level of visual appeal, your host serves gritty/sandy greens, dressings that lack any discernable flavor and proteins that are either too dry and tough or unsafely undercooked.  Even if the plating is beautiful, that’s not enough to offset the lack of edibility.  Okay, so that stinks, but at least you survive, (hopefully without food poisoning.)  As you prepare to leave, as if in anticipation of negative feedback, your host tops off the assault on your palate and stomach, with the justification, “I cook for self-development; it’s not about whether or not it’s edible, it’s about how I feel while I’m making it and how it looks on the plate.”  Dollars to doughnuts, you’d think that person is a loony and (maybe not so) politely decline future invitations to dine at their home.

Just because a thing ‘looks’ alright from the outside doesn’t make it sound. It is only through not just the ‘practice’ of cooking, but checking each ingredient to ensure quality and probing the process (to determine what worked well, what failed, if tasting happened at each step, etc.)  It is much the same for any other art, craft, or way.  Each thing that we study has a(n ideal) context in which it ought to operate well. If it can't or doesn't, there are problems.

Pursuits that offer many facets (as do the bugei- ‘martial’ arts) are powerful tools.  As practitioners, we experience regular exposure to extremes of discomfort and fear; allowing us to not only see our innate reactions to stressors but to reshape those responses to be more beneficial.  Using the example of cooking, it is in this way that we take the ingredients (of body/mind) and through the application of technique and heat (pressure) create change. 

So, to go back to the quote from the beginning, we who study combatives (historical or modern), must each at some point make peace (pun intended) with the notion that full expressions of violence are horrific.  Through practice, kihon (basics) and kata (forms) become so ingrained that we don’t have to give them much conscious thought, and therein lies the danger.  Possessing the skills to maim or kill without empathy and an ethical framework creates monsters; moralizing, absent capability to harm, is sophistry.  Only when the extent of how bad things can get (and how quickly they can get there) is a known quantity, does one possess a real choice to pursue 'non-violent' resolution.  Failing to acknowledge the possibilities of mayhem and death (for all involved, especially when weapons are involved), keeps the stakes low and encourages a kind of casual foolhardiness.  Having a clear sense of our art(s) working in their contexts (by first knowing what and where that is), all of the strategy, techniques and conditioning in the world won't render better people, only ones with unjustified confidence who, by dint of poor training, will crumble at the slightest whiff of an unscripted circumstance.  And that’s not development, it’s a delusion.

Happy holidays and best wishes for the new year,

Jigme Chobang Daniels, instructor
Aoi Koyamakan Dojo

*Full disclosure, that student was my teacher whose instructor, an older Japanese fellow, who was given to rather terse responses, particularly when responding in English.

Friday, November 22, 2019

遠近 Enkin (Distance/Perspective)

遠近 Enkin (Far Near)

Part 1

(Chicago Tribune, Monday, 4 January 2019)

Homeless Artist, Former Gang Member, Found Dead

Born in Marseilles, Illinois in June of 1958 and orphaned at age 9, Marshall Marseilles, rose to prominence as a member of Chicago’s notorious Clear River Gang from age 13 until he joined the Army at 17, and then again after discharge.  Following his service, Mr. Marseilles did not maintain a fixed address and appears to have spent much of his time living nomadically.  His body was found at the camp near Bullfrog Lake/Palos Preserves where he'd made his home for the last few years since retiring to semi-seclusion.  He was 60.

Marseilles, who took up writing and various art media later in life, received acclaim for his autobiographical prose and essays on surviving violence while his sketches, paintings and sculptures are prized by collectors.

Although never prosecuted, Marseilles (by his own estimates) injured or killed more than 60 individuals in violent conflicts, starting at the age of 13 when he fatally bludgeoned a man as part of a gang initiation.

Mr. Marseilles’ two sons have scheduled a private memorial service and request that donations are made to Veterans' causes in lieu of flowers.

Does the (fictitious) obituary above describe a person who suffered from untreated brain-chemistry issues (and probably PTSD)?  Was it someone who managed to shape a role for himself in a culture of pervasive violence… or, maybe, it’s the heartwarming story about the redemptive power of art?  It is, to some degree, a combination of (and far more complicated/nuanced than any single one) of these answers.   Historically, you may recognize similarities to the Kensei (sword saint), Miyamoto Musashi*, author of the Go Rin No Sho (the Book of Five Rings/Spheres) and founder of Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu, often (wrongly) credited with pioneering ryoto (both swords) or nito (two swords- wielding the long and short swords in tandem).

The obituary helps to illustrate the (often extreme) dichotomy that most of us experience between how we see people, based on their proximity to us (physically or temporally), and our perceived differences or similarities to the person or group.  It also points to how critically narratives affect the way that we view historical figures- for example, who would you rather find yourself seated next to on a crowded train or bus, a giant** homeless veteran (with hygiene issues and a history of violence/mayhem/murder) or a wise master of swordsmanship noted for his keen insight, tactical skill, and physical prowess?  It is complicated to acknowledge that they are, at least potentially, the same person.  Which brings up some questions about that split in thinking:   

1)     Is it fair to apply modern standards (of conduct, mental health, etc.) to people from antiquity?

2)     Would we accept the same level of 'eccentricities' seen in many historical figures in modern ones?  If so, what is a 'bridge too far' and if not, why?

3)     Can we find aspects of these figures admirable despite vehemently disagreeing with them on certain, key, issues?

A. If so, does it mean that we ought to disregard sections of their works that espouse beliefs that don't align with our own (or those of our culture)?

4)     Finally, and possibly most importantly, who is the arbiter in these matters- does it fall within the orthodox structure of our art(s) or is it the duty of individual practitioners, to decide for ourselves?

Investigating our arts (and their history) ought not to be an exercise to find universal answers.  Let’s instead use the process to discover what we actually think about things (rather than parroting/regurgitating what we’ve heard or been told).  This pairs with physical training to develop a working epistemology, one capable of removing the separation of time and distance.  Relying on myths that have persisted for generations do us no favors and can dissuade future students from finding useful tools to interact with the world as we find it.

Yours in seeking perspective,

Jigme Chobang Daniels, instructor
Aoi Koyamakan Dojo

* Please note:  I draw these parallels not to diminish or impugn his impact and legacy, but because of how widely known his biographical details are, even among those who aren't terribly familiar with the period.

** The historical Musashi is said to have stood over 6 shaku (6 feet/nearly 2 meters), far taller than average for the time; his hygiene issues, if true, may have been due to eczema.