Thursday, July 26 2012, began the Seventh Annual Pittsburgh Filipino Martial Arts Camp at the Ryer Martial Arts Academy. The camp ran for four days with one evening full of Cacoy Doce Pares and Counterpoint Tactical System testing and three sessions of instruction in Counterpoint Tactical Systems. All sessions were led by Master Zach Whitson assisted by Josh Ryer. I attended all four sessions of the camp with my instructor Evan Ringle. Participants from Wichita, Atlanta, Dayton, Philadelphia and Indiana made the trip as well to learn from Master Whitson.
Thursday (July 26th) was devoted to rank testing. The first portion of the belt examination was conducted for new ranks in Cacoy Doce Pares, also known as CDP. Previously, I had not possessed a rank in the CDP system. My experience with CDP is from the red belt portion of the Counterpoint Tactical System (CTS). Cacoy Doce Pares is a close range stick fighting system based on curving stick strikes with an emphasis on trapping, locking and disarms. In the higher ranks of CDP, Eskrido, the art of locking and throwing with the stick, is incorporated with the striking and disarming aspect of the martial art. By close range, I mean that the two fighters are close enough to touch each other’s body with both hands. The system is known for its quick, snapping strikes and its emphasis on sparring.
I tested for green belt, which is the first rank under Master Whitson. The test began with drills and built to a round of sparring at the end. The drills are designed so as to lead directly into sparring with an opponent. Sparring in CDP is unarmored with controlled striking and disarms; I, personally, associate sparring more with play where I attempt to put into action the lessons I have learned. Control and precision placement of the strikes is paramount in sparring; to the left is the picture of the participants in the test, and it is easy to see that we are all in one piece with no injuries. I passed my green belt test thanks to the many hours of preparation that I’d done with my teacher and training partners. For me, the interesting part was seeing how the advanced belts tested and that everything learned on the first belt feeds directly into the higher belts. In total, three white belts (including me) passed to green belt; two brown belts graduated to first black belt and two first black belts graduated to second black. It was a fun and enlightening experience.
The second round of the belt examination was dedicated to the Counterpoint Tactical System promotions. On Thursday night, every belt level in the system, except Brown 3 and Black belts, were represented. It was also the first round of teens being promoted into the adult CTS curriculum at the Ryer Martial Arts Academy. My instructor, Evan Ringle – kneeling in the lower, left hand corner of the picture to the left – tested for Brown Belt 1, which is the final belt preceding Black belt. I was not testing for a new CTS rank, and, with my test finished, I was able to observe and help with the test, acting as Evan’s training partner for a portion of his test. What I noticed was a number of individuals displaying hours of training in a variety of martial arts areas – close quarter stickfighting, long and medium range stickfighting, double stick conditioning, empty hand vs. knife, empty hand vs. stick and empty hand vs. empty hand with elements of stand-up grappling in various portions. The test was amazing to watch; so many martial artists demonstrated proficiency in diverse ways.
Watching all of the various levels helped me see how various skills from different levels fit together as a whole in the CTS system. I have a long way to go in understanding the organizational structure and Master Whitson’s philosophy for placing certain information where he did, but I feel like I started to see it a little better when I watched it from the outside. The integration of the lower belt techniques into the more sophisticated belt levels is a puzzle I will be working on as I continue to train CTS.
Friday night (July 27th), Master Whitson taught an advanced class. A red belt in CTS was the minimum rank required to participate. We learned Pekiti Tirsia Knife vs. Knife level 3, which I believe is in the Black Belt 3 curriculum – i.e. way ahead of where I am at Brown level 3. As with all new material that I have learned in CTS, this was more of a mental exercise than a physical one. This advanced material clearly showed why it is important to have a solid foundation built out of the color belt curriculum. Learning this new material opened up new areas of training and new ways of viewing my current training. There is so much to learn in my future at CTS – mentally as well as physically, and what could be more motivating than that?
All day Saturday (July 28th), Master Whitson taught the updated ground fighting curriculum. During my visit at the beginning of July, Master Whitson covered the updates he’s made to the ground fighting curriculum. This portion of the seminar was a nice refresher of them; we did not cover all of the changes at the camp, though. The seminar participants did get a very good workout while learning the new material. With the updates, Master Whitson has included more solo drills that are good cardiovascular workouts as well as practical when wrestling. I tested in May on the original ground fighting material, and now, I’ve learned the updates from Master Whitson. For me, it is motivating to be a part of a martial arts system that is continually evolving and improving. Master Whitson’s example of continual improvement and refinement is a lesson in and of itself.
On the final day, Sunday (July 29th), the seminar moved from Ryer Martial Arts Academy to Schenley Park in Pittsburgh. We covered larger stick sizes – walking stick (measures from your hip to the ground), battering ram (measures from your sternum to the ground) and staff (measures as your height). This was also very advanced material – post-Black Belt 1 curriculum. As with the advanced knife, it was easy to see how the larger sticks have a foundation in the lower level material. As part of this training, Master Whitson showed us how staff work connected to the very first level – Blue Belt Curriculum – and to the second level – Green Belt Curriculum – and also how it connected to the Brown 2 curriculum. With the longer stick sizes, the hand placement changes and the center of mass of the weapon changes. For me, this resulted in a shoulder workout. At the end of the session, my shoulders were tight from having to work in ways they were not normally used. I really hadn’t noticed how much of a workout I was getting because my mind was spinning with the new concepts and connections being made. We ended the day with long staff partner drills.
Immediately after saying goodbye on Sunday, we headed back to St. Louis. What you see above is only half of what CTS means to me. I have reported on the technical portions of CTS training and left out the social aspect. In my time training with CTS, I have met a number of new friends. When I explain to someone about the CTS seminars, I describe them as akin to family reunions. The camaraderie is an important reason why I continue to stick with this system. After every training session (and probably on Sunday, as well, though I wasn’t there), participants went out together for dinner. One night we even went to a CTS member’s home for dinner. By participating in CTS, I’ve not only learned a martial art, but I’ve made friends – some very important. If need be, there are people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Florida and Georgia that I could call up to train with or just to go get a beer. While attending this seminar, I met more people and got know others a little better. CTS is a social martial art, and I’m proud to be a part of it. I cannot wait to see everyone again at the Iron Mountain Instructor Camp.
Attribution Note: All photographs were taken from the Ryer Martial Arts Facebook page. Go visit and like them.