This past Saturday at Springfield FMA, Master Zach Whitson taught a seminar on advanced Counterpoint Tactical System topics hosted by head instructor Mike Miller. The one day seminar explored the topics of segang lebo and Pekiti knife level one. Both are derived from Master Whitson’s background in Pekiti Tirsia Kali. At the end of the day, a student from Wichita, KS successfully tested for a red belt in CTS and a green belt in Cacoy Doce Pares. A training session with Master Whitson is always filled with information, and this seminar review is me thinking through as much info as I can remember.
The morning session was devoted to segang lebo from Panantukan level three, which is from the fourth degree black belt curriculum. Segang lebo is called hubud lubud in other systems. Master Whitson acknowledges his roots by keeping the name that he learned from his Pekiti instructors. Unfortunately, I was so engrossed in what we were learning that I completely forgot to take pictures. At this year’s Iron Mountain camp, Master Whitson has an afternoon dedicated to segang lebo; so, there will be pictures eventually. My mind was active during this whole three hour session. I learned enough that I’m devoting an entire essay to our segang lebo class. It was three hours filled with techniques, concepts, tactics, and philosophy that I am still learning two days later.
We began learning the drill off of a straight punch on the right hand side. When the group had a grasp on the basic pattern, Zach showed us how to attach our footwork to the pattern. We worked reverse and forward triangle. I learned a new footwork pattern that was triangular with crescent steps. This new footwork will show up in a future footwork Friday post. Then we worked the pattern from the left side. The students, who could perform the basic pattern on both left and right sides, were encouraged to work the pattern from inside or outside the punch on both left and right sides with the footwork. This increased the complexity to four possible options: outside right punch, inside right punch, inside left punch, and outside left punch.
Mike and I played around with all four options, and this drill moves fast. I learned that my body positioning after strikes needs work. I wanted to work all options, and a few times, my choice wasn’t optimal. But that’s the best part of training with good people, you can experiment without getting hurt when making a mistake. We acknowledged that there was a better option and continued training. I could have spent a lot more time working just the base drill. The subtleties of body positioning are equated, in my mind, to leaving shots in pool. For the game of pool, the highest skill level is not only making the shot but also leaving the cue ball lined up for the next shot. I feel like the way segang lebo is drilled could teach students about positioning for the next strike without compromising defense. I will be exploring this drill for years to come.
Master Whitson also taught us how to increase the complexity of our practice. He didn’t alter the drill or add finishes. We worked the same drill, but he began to add strikes with the parries. To put it another way, he introduced the simultaneous counter. On paper, this sounds like a minor change, but in reality it was difficult to maintain the rhythm of the drill adding in the variation. We had established a pattern, and changing the pattern took a few repetitions. But soon we became comfortable parrying and countering at the same time. When I was the one parrying an attack and simultaneously countering, it was easy. However, when I was attacking and trying to counter the counter, I had trouble. Even though I knew it was coming, the counter got there faster than I expected.
We also worked on intercepting the first attack. Master Whitson has a ricochet punch as part of the empty hand curriculum. This is a vertical fist punch that comes over the top of your opponents punch using the structure of your arm to deflect your opponent’s punch away. Master Whitson also calls this an intersecting punch because your arm intersects with your attackers. Wing chun practitioners would immediately recognize this technique. The ricochet is another form of the simultaneous counter, but it leaves out the parry. Master Whitson demonstrated this strike with a side step, and the twisting of the hips made it powerful. Thank goodness he has excellent control. I’ve seen this punch before in other parts of the system, and before Saturday, I couldn’t picture myself using it. Due to my personal attributes, I struggle to make this technique useful. Others in CTS are able to execute it during play; so, I knew it was effective. Since we all have different levels of fitness, reaction timing, speed, etc., we have to fit the techniques to us. Where someone faster than me can pull this technique off, I may not be able to execute it. As part of STL Counterpoint, I teach the technique with the disclaimer that I am not good at it. Now, that disclaimer can be dropped. Working it as part of this drill allowed me to find where my attributes made the technique useful. I absolutely love these moments as a martial artist. When you are finally able to do something that you suspect works but can’t quite figure out how, there is no greater feeling of accomplishment. All the hard work that we as martial artists put into our art is rewarded when we can actually perform what we’ve learned.
Before I move on, I’m going to take a small digression here. On Saturday, Master Whitson talked a bit about the art portion of Counterpoint Tactical System. I enjoyed hearing what is expected of CTS students. We train a brutal self defense art that can dramatically injure another a human being. Master Z discussed how CTS wasn’t only about tactics, techniques, and countering, that there is an art in the underlying structure. That art is one of self discovery. Mike Miller is one of my training partners despite the three hour drive between us. We train as often as we can get together. Mike has more years in the system with Master Whitson. He has better skills than me due to more time in the system’s training model. We both study and teach the system differently because that is part of the art. I believe that the study of martial arts is a journey. In CTS, we have set destinations, but how we get to each one is up to the individual and his/her instructor. This is where the art comes into it. In CTS, I’m not learning specific techniques to master a system; the specific techniques are examples of concepts that teach the underlying reasons why. The system specifies the destination; the art is how I, Eric Primm, get there. While my system is the same as Master Whitson’s, my art is different because we took different journeys to get to similar destinations. CTS – the system – is the study of motion and of counters; CTS – the art – is the study of how YOU learn and understand the martial arts.
After the ricochet, Master Whitson taught a bit of trapping off an elbow destruction as part of the drill. Advanced CTS students would recognize the sequence from Panantukan level two. He transitioned the trap into a straight arm bar from stand up grappling level one. This was a demonstration of the art discussion that he’d given us. He was pulling from different curriculum blocks to add into the drill. Mike and I began to play in a similar fashion. Over the course of our play, Mike and I pulled from panantukan level one and two, Kenpo Counterpoint level one and two, and standup grappling level one. Our performance wasn’t perfect, but it was a hell of a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to seeing how Mike and I work this drill in five years. It’s going to be very different.
Before we broke for lunch, Master Whitson showed us the twelve movements for the first part of the drill that he uses when practicing. We started with four options for the first part of the drill. Zach showed us the twelve, but we didn’t practice all of them. We got some of them in but not all. I meant to ask him to show the twelve once more slowly so that I could write the movements down. I forgot. Hopefully he will cover this at Iron Mountain so that I record them down for future study. At the moment, remembering the base drill is the most important part. The twelve movements will eventually be part of the curriculum that I’m studying.
As written earlier, this drill resembles hubud lubud. I’ve worked hubud before, but I’ve never seen it trained like this. That is not to bash other systems; I know I’ve not seen everything. What Master Whitson taught was a different view on a drill that I’ve worked with other systems. This shift in perspective increased my enthusiasm. It opened up a whole new area of training in a drill that I’d seen before. The morning session was filled with how to turn that drill into one that fits with my CTS background. I love it when something I’ve learned in a different setting is part of Master Whitson’s curriculum. I then get two different perspectives on a concept or drill or technique or whatever. It develops my ability to be mentally flexible as a martial artist. As I said, I’ve never seen hubud trained the way that Master Whitson showed us how to train segang lebo.
Part Two preview: The afternoon session was Pekiti knife level 01, which is sak-sak knife versus sak-sak knife. Master Whitson shared how to adapt knife tapping to whatever tool is in your hand. The photo below shows Master Whitson executing a tertiary knife tap with a third hand strike. Note that the weapon used in the strike is a set of handcuffs. Part two is coming soon!