It’s been a good year so far, with local and not so local events and a lot, I mean a lot of writing. I’ve been working on curriculum, video offerings and generally all the stuff that really needs to be published at this point in my Martial Arts career. I’ve also been training a tonne this year, a lot of it outside the dojo, at rock gyms, or outside actually on the rock faces, under the sun and in the rain. This has been one of those times where everything has to be shaken and reordered before it’s right for, ‘now’.
The first thing that happened this year was the annual visit from Guro Inosanto. I was so very proud of the way that weekend happened for a number of reasons. Firstly I had fourteen of my people out for both days (a record for my Academy), and a few more who dropped in for one day or the other. Secondly, I was asked to sign the instructors’ log for the first time in 15 years. The seminar was what I have come to expect from Guro, he is an excellent speaker and teacher. He captivates with his descriptions of the history of martial arts, both ancient, and that which he was present for while the students do their best to soak up the techniques. Training in an air of context and regard for the evolution of the arts as seen through Guro Dan Inosanto’s eyes over the past 75 years. Most importantly, we get a chance to observe an example of an impressively successful martial artist, who, in his every word and action demonstrates humility and dedication to his studies. In my experience, it is rare to find such a person in any field.
The first Canadian Dog Brothers Gathering of the Pack was held this year in Toronto. It was a big event, organized largely by Rene Cocolo and Tyler Morin, and made Possible by decades of effort on the part of Philip Gelinas, who is for every Dog Brother I know of north of the border, the leader of the Canadian pack. We had some 60 fighters show up from across Canada and the US. I fought well in 4 real contact fights, one with aluminum trainer and another 3 with single stick. On the down side, I fought angry. It served me well in terms of avoiding injury, I walked away from the day with one serious bruise on my upper thigh, thanks to Pete Juska, and a bit of a sore jaw, same guy. On the other hand I learned something about myself. I did not feel good about my fights. I didn’t feel good about the amount of risk I put my opponents at, and I didn’t feel great about my performance. I imagine that, because anger is a very self-centered, fear based feeling, it was all about me, my safety and that left myself outside the context of DBMA. The first rule; “Be friends at the end of the day”. As you will see, things got better from there, with the support of my friends in DBMA and lots more training.
A little later in the spring, Rene, Tyler and Philip hosted another legendary teacher for a seminar in Toronto. Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje delivered portions his thoroughly proven combat system, Pikiti Tersia to a small group of instructors and their students. There is no substitute for training with a military trainer of this caliber. It isn’t the moves, it’s the mentality behind the training and the fighting. Everything in this system is meant to end a life or death struggle right now. There are no games, no preamble. There is only the destruction of the threat. While we only practiced a few series of moves with Grand Tuhon, his influence on how we practice at the Zirger Academy is a powerful one we will repeat.
I’m going to tell you a bit about my climbing experiences now…I needed to get out of my comfort zone, out of my circle of influence and I needed to get off the ground. Those who have known me a long time will know that every five years or so I take on a new activity in a huge way. It’s my way of keeping life fresh. The last time I did this it was singing, dance and aerial circus performance. At that time, the learning and training had me at an all-time high level of performance and as I recall, it brought my fighting skills to a whole new level. I returned to my regular training in martial arts and general fitness. Eventually I felt I needed to get back off the ground, because, you just aren’t getting the best workout if you’re not defying gravity. Rock climbing has been the thing, grip strength, core strength, flexibility, endurance, and will power all boom when you are climbing. The whole nature of climbing is goal setting and pursuit. I’ve been getting consistently better, and I’ve been getting certified, and have been training and sometimes helping out with Oneaxe Persuits. I am very grateful to Fred, my instructor for the opportunities he has given me, and I look forward to times where I will take my students out to the cliffs and mountains for an outdoor adventure / martial arts training experience that will blow their minds.
This year has also seen the reinvention and invigoration of the Toronto Throwdown Group. This group was established 6 years ago through the efforts of my apprentice, Simon Walder and myself. The purpose of the event is to give any martial artist an opportunity to fight outside their own gym, against people and styles they don’t know. In the past, these events were free to the participants and spectators, and attendance grew to a point where it attracted up to 40+ fighters and a room full of spectators. Sadly my focus on the Throwdowns dwindled over the past two years as the expenses and liabilities increased, and my own fight training focused on Dog Brother events. Well now the event is held on the second Friday of every other month and we charge $10.00. The group is growing again and the energy on the mats and in the stands is exactly what we were looking for. It is an excellent venue to grow and test your skills and get a sense of what you’re up for when thinking about entering the world of tournaments and prize fighting.
Most recently I have been in preparation for fighting at a Dog Brothers Gathering in Bern Switzerland. I get pretty edgy as I build toward one of these events, and this time I was doing it with injuries in the way. A groin strain from a Throwdown event four months ago, a 13 year old, non-healing wound on the sole of my foot that has become a painful obstruction to most kinds of cardio and which I assume has contributed to another painful limitation, plantar fasciitis. Still I continued on, doing my best to get my conditioning in whatever forms I could. The week before the fights I had the opportunity to attend the Legends of Stick Fighting camp in Hockley Valley, at the Ecology, retreat. This was an excellent opportunity for me to come together with my friends, coaches and training partners, and to work with them on the material being handed down to us by DBMA legends. I got so much support from my peers and from my teachers that by the end of the weekend I actually felt calm and ready for the Gathering in Europe. Just to make sure to give credit, the weekend featured three seminars a day from Philip Gelinas, Eric Knaus, and Arlan Sanford. Each of them had their own unique offerings, all of them fundamental to good stick fighting. We also had the benefit of seeing some video the three of them shared with us, of them fighting in the Inosanto Academy in the early 80’s. I just love how everything awesome in the martial arts seems to emanate from that wellspring.
Bern, Switzerland is a magical place…there is a culture around the river in that city that immediately captured my heart. At the end of the workday, in the summer, it seems that the whole city jumps on the Tram and heads up river, throws there stuff in a water bag, and jumps in. Thousands of people float down that river every hour on the weekends, and the glass green water and all the trees and laughter makes in an amazing escape. This is the environment Benjamin ‘Lonely Dog’ Rittner, hosts the Dog Brothers European, Gathering of the Pack. For a week before the fights we camp beside a beautiful riverside park, train together, swim and repeat. I very much enjoyed Benjamin’s mentality and teaching style, in fact I would like to train with him a lot more. (Maybe in the future we will see him here in Toronto, sharing his fighting strategies and very well informed athletic development approach to fighting.) The feeling among the trainees and fighters there in Bern was certainly brotherly, a day or two of training and I felt that I had some new lifetime friends. I also had some real quality time with Guro Mark ‘Crafty Dog’ Denny, who gave me some excellent advice about my upcoming publications, some very interesting and thought provoking political perspectives and of course his own brand of teaching and fight tactics … my students have been doing a lot of running drills of late.
The Gathering, as it approached was alternately a non-issue and a terror! A few nights out and I didn’t have any fights set up, but when Friday arrived so did the Dogs…and there were a lot of really focused men and women. It’s interesting; I had because of air miles requirements, arrived first. A lot of the first people to arrive were just there to camp and train, but on the Friday and Saturday, the folks who just came to fight were starting to get my attention. Introductions were made, fights set up and there was more than a bit of nervous laughing from those in the know as I agreed to fight certain folks. Kind of intimidating, actually. The day before the fights I had to cut short my training and wander around, float in the river and vid chat home for support.
The day of the fights, I headed in on my own, early and set up an alter of my gear and stretched as best I could, I felt terrible. The fights, were amazing, from the first knife fight that made me forget about how I felt, to the last stick fight that finally released me from my fear, because it was the last…they were amazing. Many went into overtime, because Crafty was amused, but all of them were challenging, and each taught me something more about fighting skilled opponents. The closing ceremonies were a beautiful thing to behold, we sang happy birthday more than once, I imagine that it is very special having 70 exhausted and bloodied combatants smiling and singing to you on your birthday. Many people were promoted and congratulated and I was one of them. I am now Wandering Dog, of the Dog Brothers. I didn’t fight angry this time, I fought scared and respectful and it felt great.
I can’t explain how great it felt to be accepted by that group of men and women in Europe, or how it felt to see the rest of the Dog Brothers tribe congratulate me online. I think, that when you get to the point in your training, that you think you may have become a fighter, that you should consider the Dog Brothers experience, hazard yourself to the challenge and know that feeling for yourself.