Saturday, August 3, 2013

Silat Master O'ong and Silat generally

I wrote in a previous post that this blog was fast becoming an obituary column. Unfortunately I am reporting the passing of a Pencak Silat master, O'ong Maryono. He was one of the few consummate martial artists, as was Shihan Jan de Jong. Martial arts was not a hobby or recreation for them. It was a serious activity to pursue for their life.

How is O'ong related to De Jong? He was part of the De Jong story in that he along with other Indonesian martial artists were guests of De Jong in the late 1970s or early 1980s. And he was dedicated to the martial arts as De Jong was.

O'ong was also an academic of pencak silat, as I am of the martial arts generally. His website with his articles is very interesting. 'The Militarisation of Pencak Silat during the Japanese Occupation and the Era of Revolution' is particularly interesting.

In the above article, O'ong writes about a homogenous training package of pencak silat. When I was living in London I came to train Perisai Deri (PD). PD was developed from different indigenous styles of pencak silat. In my mind, it follows the Tae Kwon Do model of developing a generic martial art from the indigenous martial arts to be taught en masse, such as the military.

PD didn't have the pencak silat feel that I'd come to love. I'd trained pencak silat at De Jong's school, in Indonesia and Holland, and PD was far too rigid. I went and trained with an Indonesian teaching a style from Sulawesi. Loved it. After a few training sessions he told me I had to continue training PD with the other instructor for six months and then if I wanted to I could continue training with him. This is in London in the 1990s!

I was not keen on training PD. It didn't have the pencak silat feel. So I started training with Richard De Bordes. Hardest training I've ever done. They knew who I was (an instructor of Jan de Jong) so I got 'special' attention. Also, I was the only Caucasian in the class, which made me stand out somewhat. Fantastic experience though.

I've advised others to train with O'ong in Bangkok. Sadly this is no longer an option.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Jan de Jong The Innovator

To the best of my knowledge, I am the only person who has studied Shihan Jan de Jong OAM 9th Dan's history and his grading system. Five have completed the technical requirements of the grading system, including myself, and others have completed up to various grades, but I am the only one who has studied the system itself. And do you know what arises from that study? A far greater respect for Shihan de Jong as an innovator.

Shihan de Jong is not given enough respect for being an innovator. Sadly, for many, his work has to be the product of the Tsutsumi Hozan ryu which was transmitted through the Saitos (his instructors) to him. If that is the case, he was merely a librarian. But my study of his history and his system tells me he was much, much more than a librarian. He was an innovator.

De Jong adopted the most Japanese of traits. He didn't just adopt from others, he adopted and adapted. Tempura was adopted by the Japanese from the Portuguese and then adapted to become uniquely Japanese. As was Buddhism, but not from the Portuguese.

I know for a fact that De Jong developed the mon and dan gradings. These gradings have more in common with each other than the kyu gradings, which tend to not quite fit with the mon and dan grades. The kyu grades came first, and were based on his Saito experience and exposure to judo and jujutsu in WWII Europe. The mon and dan grades came after his training with Minoru Mochizuki and when Yoshiaki Unno trained with him in Perth, and they reflect that experience.

The mon grades reflect a graduated approach to learning skills. Inherent in the mon grades is an analytical approach to teaching and learning skills. It involves breaking defences down into phases. De Jong said he developed the mon grades based on his experience developing a close combat system for the Australian Army. How do the army teach skills? They break skills down into phases. De Jong found this increased the knowledge and skill acquisition of his students.

This analytical method was not fully appreciated by De Jong and his instructors. It is a powerful tool, not just for learning his methods but for understanding and studying the methods of any martial art. An explicit understanding of this analytical method means it can be used deliberately rather than casually or accidentally.

One senior instructor has dropped the mon system from his grading system. Why? He suggested to return to the 'traditional' Tsutsumi system. That is very short sighted and possibly based on a need to be associated with a centuries old tradition originating in Japan. The dan grades have far more in common with the mon grades than the kyu grades, so does he drop the dan grades as well? You lose the analytical method by dropping the mon grades. Does this analytical method now form part of the 'secrets' of the system which only dan grades are privy too (if they are even understood)?

De Jong's dan grades are designed to produce instructors, and De Jong was justified in being proud of his instructors. They are world class. But they can be better if they understand the lessons the dan (and mon) grades teach.

I'll go out on a limb and say he developed the entire grading system. He adopted elements from other systems (particularly Yoseikan), but he made sure they fit within the overall structure of his school of thought. He adopted a systems approach, and everything he adopted had to fit within that system. It was a good first attempt, but it has to be remembered it was a first attempt. It should not be considered written in stone.

To be true to De Jong's legacy, we should likewise aspire to be innovators. We should adopt a kaizen mind set, continuous improvement. We should look outside our school and not just inside it. But we should adopt or change with a clear understanding of what we are trying to achieve, and that should be for the betterment of our students.

One instructor has dropped the sword grading developed by Sensei Greg Palmer to prepare the students for the dan sword gradings. This grading taught and tested their ability to use a sword which prepares them for sword kata with an opponent in the dan grades. It's a logical, graduated process. Why drop it? If the answer is to reduce the onerous requirements of the grading system on students (it is one of the most comprehensive I have ever seen), then why did he introduce 10 new sword kata?

There are improvements that can be made to De Jong's grading system. We are living up to De Jong's legacy if we make those improvements. If we don't make those improvements, we are not following in his footsteps. But first we have to study the grading system, understand it, and understand what we are trying to achieve.

I am a huge fan of Isaac Newton's quote: if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. My aim is to see further than Shihan Jan de Jong. Far from being arrogant, this is following in the tradition set by De Jong. If any instructor is not aspiring to be better than de Jong, in practice or understanding, they are doing him a disservice.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Theory Grades

Shihan Jan de Jong OAM 9th Dan appears to agree with Gracie and Gracie in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu: Theory and Practice when they suggest that a black belt denotes a depth of knowledge and skill that makes the yudansha (black belt holder)a fully qualified teacher. That in addition to knowing how to perform the techniques, yudansha should also know why a given technique works.

De Jong included theory grades in the dan grades of his jujutsu system. A typical question was, what are the forces involved in a tai gatame ude kujuki (body set arm breaking)? The grading candidates were required to verbally explain rather than physically demonstrate the answer.

De Jong had an intuitive understanding that forces explains the why of techniques, however, he nor the grading candidates did not have an understanding of forces. This meant that the answers to the question were often convoluted and included irrelevant details.

Forces cause the change in motion or shape of all things in the environment. A change in motion, which forces cause, refers to something starting, stopping, speeding up, slowing down, or changing direction. A change in shape, which forces cause, refers to deformation. Deformation of bodily tissues can cause pain or injury. All the techniques taught by all martial arts involve forces - forces are what makes them work.

The beauty of it all is that forces are easy for the layperson to understand and apply.

How would you go about answering the above question?

1. Identify all points of contact between the two parties. This is were forces can be applied.

2. Forces are a push or a pull. That is it! Determine at each point of contact whether the force being applied is a push or a pull.

3. Determine the direction of the push or pull.

4. Determine the relative magnitude of the push or pull.

5. Determine the objective of the combined forces - pushes and pulls. Are they designed to cause a change in motion or a change in shape?

That is how easy it is to explain every technique taught in any martial art.

With respect to #5 above, different objectives of a technique require forces to be applied in different directions and maybe with different magnitudes even though they have the same points of contact.

For example, kansetsu waza (joint techniques) are used for multiple purposes. The can be used to restrain, inflict pain, incapacitate, as a takedown or a throw. They have the same points of contact but the forces at those points of contact are applied in different directions to achieve different objectives.

Congratulations. You have just nailed your theory grading (even if your examiner is not up to speed on the concept of forces).

Friday, May 24, 2013

Was Jan de Jong a Leader?

I've had cause to consider the concept of leadership given I'm applying for jobs that require applicants to possess and be able to demonstrate their leadership abilities. This resulted in my researching, consulting and contemplating the issue, with the end result being an article that is being published in various publications.

Was Shihan Jan de Jong OAM 9th Dan a leader?

The first question to ask is, what is a leader or leadership?

Leadership is many things, but its most striking quality is that it is an ambiguous concept. To paraphrase the father of stress research, Hans Selye, everybody knows what leadership, is but nobody really knows.

Leadership is often associated with inspiring other people. The question becomes, what is inspiration? To inspire is to fill another with the urge to do or feel something? Did De Jong fill us with the urge to do or feel something?

In an organisational setting, inspire is defined in the context of getting the job done. Leaders inspire their personnel to get the job done. In my article, I argue that the necessity for a leader to inspire their personnel to get the job done reflects poorly on the people, systems and structures of the organisation to get the job done.

Did De Jong inspire me to be better at my jujutsu? To progress in the grading system? To be a better teacher? No. I was self-motivated. Did he inspire my contemporaries or even my instructors? Probably not. They were also self-motivated.

Business guru Peter Drucker said that it is easy to identify leaders, they are the ones with followers. Did De Jong have followers? What are followers?

Followers are an adherent or devotee of a particular person, cause, or activity. De Jong definitely had followers. Many people, including myself, were devoted to the man. He definitely inspired loyalty.
Based on leaders being defined by followers, De Jong was a leader. We now need to reflect on those implications. Would we have continued with jujutsu with or without De Jong's leadership? I suspect we would have for a variety of reasons.
Did De Jong lead? De Jong did what he did because he enjoyed what he was doing. He had no vision, and vision is another attribute that is often used to define a leader. When De Jong passed away, all of the senior instructors went their own way to form their own schools. There was a devotion to him personally, not to the school nor to any vision.
This then leads to the interesting debate concerning creating followers for the sake of creating followers. Mahatma Ghandi created followers to liberate India. Creating followers with no vision ...?
This post is no condemnation of the man I was devoted to. Rather, it is a meditation on the concept of leadership and what it means to lead.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Commemorating Greg Palmer

I'm writing a post commemorating Greg Palmer five years after his passing because I am writing a 'Memorial' page to add to my blog and I want a reference that tells the reader a little about Sensei Greg Palmer.

Greg started training with Jan de Jong in 1968. Of the instructors listed in Jan de Jong: The man, his school and his ju jitsu system, Greg is the fifth longest serving student of Jan de Jong. Greg passed away in November 2008, but not before leaving a significant legacy.

Greg loved jujutsu; he loved Jan de Jong; he loved the Jan de Jong Self Defence School; he loved his students; and he loved teaching jujutsu. His love was unconditional, but it was not always reciprocated. This is, however, a lesson that Greg continues to share with his students and friends (both of which merged into one as time passed) today. Love is not dependent upon reciprocation.

Greg was one of the best, if not the best, teachers in the school. That should come as no surprise because he was the only teacher in the school with professional teaching qualifications.

I've written before (in this and my Kojutsukan blog) about culture being the 'telling of stories around campfires' and how a strong culture retains and attracts members. Greg was culture personified. Greg was the school's principal story-teller. The stories were told during class, after class, at the pub after class, or at his home when he cooked Indonesian meals for those fortunate enough to share his company. I only know about the generation of instructors before my generation of instructors because Greg told me stories about them (e.g. Tony Chiffings, Peter Canavan, Rodney Miller, et al). This gave me a sense of belonging to something greater than the instruction being provided in the class that day or night.

I wrote in the previous post how I described Greg as being the school's Mr Miyagi from the movie, The Karate Kid. That was not a trite analogy. Greg had all the attributes of Mr Miyagi. He was technically experienced, knowledgeable and proficient. Greg did not possess an athlete physique, but he surprised many with his performance when executing his fighting skills. Greg didn't buy into the martial arts 'mystique' but he did live its realities. Greg was a true teacher. He cared. He cared about his students, about his fellow instructors, and about his Sensei. He was genuinely humble and appreciative. He was the best mentor at the school bar none, taking numerous 'lost souls' under his wing.

There is a grading in the Jan de Jong jujutsu shodan grads involving the use of the katana (Japanese samurai sword). Greg, being the professional teacher he was, lobbied to have an introductory grading inserted into the grading system to introduce the student to the use of the katana before they actually had to use it. He developed this grading and De Jong saw the logic and obvious teaching and developmental potential of such a grading and included it within his grading system. It is disappointing to hear that some who have succeeded Jan de Jong have since excised it from their grading systems.

I became involved with Greg when he invited me to be part of his team for his demonstration grading for nidan. It was the making (and possibly the undoing) of me. Jan de Jong always said, proudly, that Greg's demonstration was the best that any of his instructors had produced.

Sensei Greg Palmer, mentor and friend, is remembered by many to this day, and he continues to influence lives. As I proposed the toast on the night of Jan de Jong's commemoration: gone but not forgotten - ever.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Commemorating Jan de Jong

Commemoration is a ceremony or event in which a person or event is remembered.

On Saturday, 13 April 2013, Jan de Jong was commemorated. It is 10 years since he passed away. He was commemorated in a dinner organised by his son's (Hans) students (Craig Ma'har and Heidi Romundt). However, Saturday night was more than simply remembering an individual.

There is more to a commemoration than meets the eye. This, like so many other commemorations, was a cultural event.

Culture binds individuals. Culture binds individuals in a tribe, in a family, and in an organisation. A strong culture provides strong bonds. A weak culture provides weak bonds. Culture nurtures and guides individuals. Culture keeps individuals connected.

What is culture? CULTURE IS TELLING STORIES AROUND A CAMPFIRE. And that was what we did on Friday night. Craig started the official proceedings with certain formalities before he turned to stories of Jan de Jong. He passed over to me for the 'in memorial' section of the evening where I told stories of those who were a part of the Jan de Jong story but were no longer with us (Greg Palmer, Ian Lloyd, and Paul Seaman). Hans told stories of his father and his growing up with his father. Craig then, intuitively but unwittingly, invited anyone and everyone to tell stories about Jan de Jong. And we did.

One thing has struck me in terms of culture. It's not about technical expertise. All of the veterans of the Jan de Jong Self Defence School do not talk about the technical expertise of Jan de Jong. They talk about the experiences they shared with him or what they experienced in his school. You can be as technically proficient as you like and you will not build a strong culture. Jan de Jong was technically proficient, but it was the 'other' that built the strong culture. And it was the telling of stories that strengthens that culture.

Who were the foundations of the Jan de Jong culture. Jan de Jong was a story teller par excellence. He loved telling stories and he always told stories. Greg Palmer arranged drinks or meals after training where he told stories to attendees. Rob Hymus would tell stories to students after class in the car park. Even though these individuals technical and teaching abilities cannot be distinguished from other instructors or senior members of the Jan de Jong organisation, they can be distinguished in terms of supporting and strengthen the culture of the Jan de Jong family/tribe.

The Jan de Jong organisation was on the point of closing in the mid 1990s. While doing my MBA fulltime I was working fulltime within the Jan de Jong organisation. Upon being informed they were about to 'close the doors' on the school due to financial stress, I developed a strategy based on a cultural focus. That strategy reversed every KPI (key performance indicator) because culture strengthens, retains and grows an entity, whether that entity be a family, tribe or organisation.

There were notable absences on the night. People who were senior in the Jan De Jong organisation prior to his death. Is their absence an indication of a weak culture? That is a question I pondered.

When I was writing my speech honouring those who were a part of Jan de Jong's story and who are no longer with us, I wanted to refer to the 'Jan de Jong family' but I was reluctant to do so. I was reluctant because some senior members of that supposed 'family' declined to attend. What sort of family is that? Then I thought, that is what a real family is like. There are members who do not buy into the culture of the family. They make a choice not to be included. But that does not take anything away from those who choose to buy into the family; to buy into the culture.

There were notable absentees. There were notable inclusions who have no relationship with Hans' school other than they were a part of Jan de Jong's family way back when. They are a part of and embrace the culture that Jan de Jong developed. By attending these functions and sharing their stories they strengthen the Jan de Jong culture and the bonds that bind.

There were members of Hans' school who never experienced Jan de Jong's school. On Friday night they were exposed to a greater tradition than that of Hans' school. They saw they were part of a greater whole. There were others who no longer train or no longer train jujutsu, but their bonds with each other were strengthened through nostalgia. The tribe, the family, strengthens and grows.

While this post informs on a night where Jan de Jong was commemorated, it also informs on a larger issue that all should consciously consider - culture. Jan de Jong did not just develop a jujutsu system, he developed a culture.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reminiscing About Gradings At Jan De Jong's House

I was just remembering some of the gradings at Jan de Jong's house.

The first time I was invited to his house was when doing my theory grading for shodan. I felt quite privileged. I arrived at the large wooden gate with its circular handle and proceeded to turn it to gain entry, only to find the circular handle in my hand sans wooden gate. I'd broken their gate. Ten minutes later, I'd replaced the handle and gained entry, leaving credibility outside.

De Jong invited me into the 'inner sanctum,' his study. It was lined on three sides, floor to ceiling, with martial arts books. Nirvana. I aced the grading, naturally. De Jong congratulated me and as I reached across to shake his outstretched hand, I managed to knock a clock off his desk onto the floor. I looked down, horrified, to see the clock in pieces on the floor. It was pathetic, my attempts to put the pieces back together while apologising profusely exuding embarrassment. De Jong laughed and invited me to join him and his wife for a beverage in the dining room.

The worst was over. Relief had arrived. I sat on a stool in the dining room ... and it disintegrated. Holding the pieces of the stool in my arms, I excused myself suggesting that further presence may reduce the house to rubble.

I did my sword grading (ken tai ichi no kata) with Darryl Cook at De Jong's house. In his back yard actually. The kata involves sword techniques and unarmed techniques that are suppose to show the relationship between the two types of techniques. The kata is very formal. As we advanced towards each other, wearing formal hakamas, swords drawn and pointing at each others throats, ... I stepped in dog poo. You never see that in a Kurosawa movie. Musashi does not cover that in The Book of Five Rings.

Australia has flies. Very annoying flys that fly up your nose. The Buddhist monks who sit under waterfalls to develop their meditative abilities are nothing compared to performing this kata with a fly trying to crawl up your nose. I'm not sure how intimidating I appeared to my opponent while trying to blow and snort this fly out of my nose.

One unarmed technique involved Darryl throwing me forward ... which as it turns out was into a collection of pot plants. I rolled dutifully to my knee, attempting to look dignified with dirt and plants falling of my gi and hakama, pot plants in disarray around me.

One of the sword techniques involved placing the sword above your head. Dramatically, I raise the sword in a threatening manner, only to feel a thud. My sword had pierced a lemon on the lemon tree above my head.

And then we come to the pressure point grading (kyusho jutsu) grading. You have to apply pressure to various pressure points by doing so on De Jong's body. I got over the reluctance to (a) touch De Jong physically, and (b) to deliberately inflict pain on him. He condescendingly confirmed my techniques on his trapezius muscles. He had 'traps' like a bull, and the only way kyusho jutsu would work on those is with a baseball bat. I knelt down on one knee to perform the techniques on his legs. While De Jong was very strong in the upper body, he had very thin legs (chicken legs). I applied the first technique and got it right because De Jong 'tapped off' ... on the back of my head with a focused strike. I fell forward thinking I'd just received concussion. The same thing happened again. I was thinking about requesting a helmet as safety equipment to complete the grading. Instead, showing no degree of courage, I completed the grading by cringing as far away as possible as I applied pressure to the remaining pressure points on the leg.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Sensei Greg Palmer Continues to Teach

Sensei Greg Palmer passed away a few years ago, but he continues to teach in a very real way.

A recording was made featuring Sensei Palmer of most of the shodan (black belt) practical grading for Sensei Graham Dunn, who unfortunately has also passed away. In fact, the recording was done at Shihan De Jong's home dojo, who has also passed away. The two remaining participants of that session are Adrian Dobson, the uke to Greg's tori, and Dunn's student filming the session. I do not hold out much hope for their longevity.

I've given a copy of the session to two students who are training shodan. Sensei Palmer is teaching them. I am the assistant teacher. It is an honour and the way it should be.

It is a wonderful thing that when I am unsure of something I can turn to my friend, mentor, and instructor, Sensei Palmer, to provide me with the answers. I wish there was more vision of him, and Shihan de Jong, teaching gradings and techniques.

Most instructors will not consider recording their teachings or gradings for a variety of reasons. Some will be too humble to consider their teachings should outlive them in a real sense rather than through transmission. Other's are so egotistical they consider they will never die. Students: ignore your teacher's inclinations and record their instruction. Even when they are alive it gives you an opportunity to study the techniques rather than just perform them.

One of the abovementioned shodan candidates does just this. He sits and studies the Palmer recording. This led him to an idea of how to perform certain techniques that had hitherto not been considered. He showed me something - understanding. I would have no hesitation in taking his ideas to Shihan de Jong (if he were alive) and I'm sure he'd have introduced those ideas to his instructors. This comes about through being able to study your instructors teachings via visual recordings.