Friday, May 16, 2008

contemplating the possibilities

For Acrobats only

The other day, I joked that I was considering joining the circus. Unless my phone interview goes poorly, that's probably not in the cards, but doing so would probably vastly improve my martial arts skills.

You read that correctly.

My training as of late has largely revolved around the staff. Over the years, I've developed a method of training the staff and I've been studying and practicing the best ways to transmit that knowledge. For many students, the staff just isn't that interesting in contrast to a sword, nunchaku, chain whip or any other flashy weapon. Heck, just putting a spear head on the end makes it considerably more interesting.

The problem with this, I feel, is that a lot of good lessons are being overlooked and the staff is one of the safest training weapons for developing a variety of attributes which will help you learn to manipulate that broadsword, 3 section staff, rope dart, whatever. These students never learn to connect the dots between moving the weapon and moving their body, and the result is an awkward, disconnected mess. They may be able to drop into a REALLY low stance and kihap until they start coughing blood, but these are just poses. When I judge weapon forms, I pretty much ignore the poses because I want to see how the person got from point A to point B.

How does the circus come into play? My key study of the staff is exploring the lanes of motion around the body and how to interact with the staff to keep it in constant motion. I require my black belts to be comfortable with approximately 10 different skills. In addition to these skills, they need to be able to smoothly transition from one to another. Now go to the circus and watch the jugglers. They have always been in touch with these lanes, and by not having to worry about the constraints of tradition and practicality, they have opened in these lanes in ways that would make a "pretty good" student of the staff drop their jaw.

Lately, I've felt my staff techniques, while solid, were getting a little stale. Then I saw this:

This method of staff manipulation is referred to as "contact staff." A lot of it is basically tricks and juggling and has hardly any martial value on the surface. It would be extremely popular in a circus, especially if you lit the ends on fire.

Some of these tricks have worked their way into the open tournament scene. Jennifer Espina pops up in my head immediately.

Here's another inspirational clip:

I've been watching the playpoi clips for the last few years and have gained a lot from his method of explanation. Watching this clip was rather eerie for me for many reasons:

1. Our school has always emphasized using a long rope to develop staff skills. Learning to smoothly play the rope really improves your understanding of patterns and lanes.

2. Nick uses a lot of the same language and examples that I use when I teach.

3. Nick is much, much better with the meteor than I am. :)

So for all of your serious martial artists out there, go to the circus and watch the jugglers. After you're done puffing out your chest and talking about how they are just playing, reflect on how they've probably practiced more in the last week than you have all year. That should release the air quite nicely.

You might find that we have more in common with the "trickers" than you think: a dedication to hard work, practice, perfection and sharing our art with others.
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