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Mastering The Art of Flow
By MAA James A. Keating

(Note from Pete: This article is taken from a phone-call recorded by Lily Gold when speaking with MAA Keating last year about how to advance her training.  This is just the first of many questions she asked JAK during their conversation!  In future Training Tips perhaps we'll cover more...)

Q: What are the most important physical skills to have for open hand, knife and stick and what drills are the best for getting these?

A: I’m a conceptualist with everything, and a lot of times people have said to me that I answer things in kind of a roundabout fashion, which I suppose might be true, but it’s because concept as you know is kind of hard to pin down.  Technique you pin down right away, but with concepts it’s a case of “I don’t know; what are we dealing with?”

I look at everything from that lens ninety percent of the time, so like that I would say for me the components of long and short range striking are important because your body mechanics are completely different between reaching out like a boxer with a long range jab popping someone versus you’re right in close and have to work to hit him, so first understand the basics of long and short range empty hand fighting and all the different tools.

The main thing once you have that is developing your adaptability and then spontaneity.  So when we seek these things, we have to give our bodies the chance to become spontaneous.  That happens through the drills that develop those attributes and also that spontaneity.

So when people say flow drills, it is really a prearranged flow exercise, because real flow has no form.  You can’t say by going and doing this 6 count, 5 count, this artificial flow that you are in flow.  That is there designed to teach you flow.  It is a flow example, but it is not “Flow”.

Just because people go clicky-clanky and there goes sumbrada – there it is – they think they have flow, but no!  They have no flow; they just have a prearranged flow drill.  What you need to extract out of that is not technique, not that level of thought.  You need to extract what flow is.

And flow is like timing, like rhythm, they’re all invisible.  It’s not like a big ol’ set of biceps – “god look at that guys arms” – or a big bowie knife – “look at that knife” – but how do you see these invisible things such as timing, rhythm, intent?  So like that, flow is invisible.  It is something that must be experienced.

Flow is flow regardless whether empty hand, knife, stick, or whatever.  What I’m saying is once you get your empty hand, knife stick all in accord, working in their parameters, etc.  Well then you use any of these drills – Sumbrada, Puno Sumbrada, Knife Drill, Cover and Slash, some of the Wing Chung exercises – you can blend them or whatever, you know what I mean?   And then use it; use it just for that.  You just seek flow!

Yes you’ll learn technique, but as we will see by training in these areas, technique comes and goes.  The stick is a slightly different technique than the knife and both are slightly different than the empty hand.  There are modifications even doing them directly to the empty hand.  So by learning to adapt, learning what flow is about, having that awareness set of skills then you can capitalize when the opportunity comes to enter a flow pattern. Wow, that’s where it’s really at!

So for me then, whatever background you have is OK - it doesn’t matter.  Karate punching, Boxing punching, Kick Boxing, whether you learned Arnis knife, Kali knife, Military style knife, whether your stick was from Bata, Craig in Australia (Savate) or whether it was Filipino – any way you have it your technique background means little because punching, cutting or whacking somebody with a stick is always going to be similar no matter what continent your art comes from.

But notice that regardless of art the concept of being able to flow at such a high level is a skill that is always talked about but is rarely present.  It’s like a ghost!  Many talk about ghosts, but few have seen them or had experiences with them.  Flow is like that, too.   Flow is a ghost…

So, you have to actually make it into something like a substance.  Make it work for you!  That’s what I think comprises the bulk of all combat is a quick eye, a quick hand, sharp attributes, control over the different levels of speed, understanding, having a highly evolved base of motion and then seeing the world conceptually and being able to enter then into flow.

And flow could be well that you get socked in the mouth and knocked on your ass and now this guys sitting on your chest – well now there’s your flow; what are you gonna’ do about it?  Or are you just going to lie there and let him keep hitting?

SO the Flow is about going with the bad as well as going with the good and being able to some how redirect it all in that sense where you can extract the good and avoid the bad, and keep going your way unimpeded.  That’s pretty cool!  That’s what flow offers you.

So, these kinds of elements to me make up a huge chunk of what makes combat more so than the technical things.  Plus of course fighting spirit and shit like that (laughs).  Overall I’ve found you need a generic level of line familiarity, good attributes, a certain level of athletic performance (stamina / fitness) and then whatever technique or art that you use - just use it wisely!  But like I said the hidden attributes like flow and timing are the core and the technique are really the least thing that we need to consider, oddly enough.

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