Iron Mountain serves two official purposes. The first is a weekend long seminar that transmits Counterpoint Tactical System (CTS) curriculum to a diverse skill set. From beginners to the highest student, each of us train for five half day sessions across three days. The second official purpose is an opportunity to test our progress during the belt exam portion of the camp. Lower belt levels – white through first brown belt – can test at any of Master Zach Whitson’s seminars around the country. But the black belt ranks all test at Iron Mountain camp. The unofficial purpose of camp is to create and strengthen the CTS family. In order to do camp justice and keep it in digestible essays, I’ve broken my review down into four major sections: Day One, Day Two, Day Three, and Testing. Let’s dig right in to Day One.
Master Zach Whitson usually keeps the Iron Mountain camps focused on the CTS curriculum. This year, though, Master Whitson decided to include the curriculum needed to test for a first degree black belt in Cacoy Doce Pares (CDP) with him. If a CTS student has successfully passed the red belt exam, that student meets approximately ninety percent of those requirements. Many CTS students attain additional rank in Cacoy Doce Pares under Zach because it fits so closely with the CTS training model. I earned a CDP brown belt under Master Whitson. Day one was dedicated to delivering the other ten percent of the CDP first degree black belt requirements.
The morning session was dedicated to the Cacoy Doce Pares double stick conditioning set, called pengke-pengke. For the black belt requirements, there are two starting positions in CDP’s double stick. The first is open chamber which means that the stick in the right hand is on the right shoulder, and the stick in the left hand is on the left shoulder. The second starting position is called crossed with the right stick on the left shoulder and left on right. This is so named because your arms are crossed in front of you. Each set has both high and low strikes that mix as the set progresses. Both have nine combinations that start with a four count and add one strike all the way up to a twelve count striking pattern.
The first set that we learn in Cacoy Doce Pares is the open chamber. If you’re familiar with Filipino martial arts, then the four count will look like a sinawali pattern. It’s four strikes that weave back and forth. The first strike is a forehand diagonal; the second is the other forehand diagonal; then backhand diagonal, and the final backhand diagonal. In terms of the CTS striking angles, the four count mixes right and left angles one and two. It’s important to work this drill by starting on both sides. You can and should alternate sides when the four count ends.
Master Whitson led us from the first four count all the way up through the open twelve count. After the twelve count, we switched to the crossed set, which again progresses from a four count up to a twelve count. Before we started, though, Master Whitson broke down the four count into each movement. Because of the nature of the crossed setup, your arms can cause a slower motion when switching between left and right starts. Master Z broke the whole set down to show where the slower motion comes from and how to avoid that. It was a small change that sped up the pattern significantly. Based on past discussions, I knew how much dissection Master Whitson has done of the movements that he’s studied. It’s still fantastic to hear him lay it out so neatly. I now pay attention to how strikes are set up when training pengke-pengke.
For the afternoon session, Zach listed parts of the curriculum and polled the crowd for who knew what. We eventually settled on the seven count pre-arranged sparring drill. This drill involves each partner trading strikes in a pre-set pattern based on the Cacoy Doce Pares striking angles. I will start with an angle seven strike which my partner blocks. Then my partner strikes on angle two and I block. That is just the first two of the seven count pattern. This and the three count pre-arranged set are not in the CTS red belt curriculum, but they are fun to do. They teach you to keep moving from left to right for the three count set and left to right, high to low for the seven count. These sets also teach a defend and attack mindset. The attack immediately follows the defense but the defense also immediately follows the attack. It reminds us to be all around fighters.
In the past, when I’ve trained these drills with Master Whitson, I’ve had to think about each and every angle. But he has done them enough that they turn into a meditative state. This was the first year that I was able to achieve a similar result. I was working with a 2nd degree CDP black belt Adam Furlough out of Gem City Martial Arts. He knew the drills much better than I did, but I had enough experience that I could relax and just follow the pattern. I made a few mistakes, but it was mostly smooth. Thanks to Adam, I got better as the day progressed.
We also worked some striking patterns. The four count striking patterns on angles one, two, and three are a nice set to play with striking variation. There are four strikes on each angle, and the strikes are made of two linear and two curving (witik or abanico) strikes. These patterns come in handy during sparring. You can strike all along one side or you can strike through to attack the other side.
We also worked on the trapping drills – Jennifer one and two. The second trapping drill actually is placed the curriculum above first degree black belt, but Master Whitson still taught it. These drills teach you how to clear lines of attack, and they work on your defense. The attacks are really fast, and you learn how to get your defense up just as fast. These drills pair well together forming a sophisticated trapping skill set.
After a few rounds, it was obvious that Adam and I both had a lot of experience working the two trapping drills. We just transitioned it into sparring. Cacoy Doce Pares sparring is fun. It is a bit different than what most people think of sparring. The only protective equipment is eye protection. We use thin sticks but practice control so as not to injure our partner. The goal is to remain relaxed. Flow with your opponent rather than fight head on is what I’ve been taught. So, Adam and I played sparring. I learned so much during these sessions. Adam got the better of me time and again, but I could tell that I had progressed quite a bit. This type of sparring isn’t about winning or losing. So much of it is back and forth that it’d be hard to determine who wins. Instead, we look for application of the techniques during exchanges. The biggest leap in skill that I’ve had with this sparring was when I stopped trying to win and stopped trying to show off. Adam is either right about my skill level or was playing at right above. Either way, working with someone more skilled than me forced me to improve to just keep up.
Before we ended for the day, Master Whitson called Joel Daugherty of Ryer Martial Arts Academy up and demonstrated drill sparring. This is sparring that stays within the bounds of the drills that we have learned. It wasn’t free sparring yet. All of the single stick drills that make up the first black belt requirements are played during this type of sparring. It doesn’t have all of the freedom of free sparring, but it is an essential step to free sparring. By doing this, you work on applying what you’ve learned against a resisting opponent. It looks like free sparring until you notice the repetition of certain elements again and again. I highly recommend this type of sparring with all techniques/drills. Pick a few that you would like to work on, and then spar them and them alone.
By teaching CDP at this year’s camp, Master Whitson has enabled those who have the material to test for CDP black belt. I asked if he was offering CDP testing at the 2016 Iron Mountain camp. He said no. Iron Mountain will still focus on Counterpoint Tactical System curriculum testing. So, those who are ready can test for black belt in CDP during Master Whitson’s seminar circuit. I plan on testing for first degree black belt in Cacoy Doce Pares in 2016. Day one allowed me to gauge whether I am ready, and I am. It was helpful for me to work with new training partners in this material. Working with the same training partners can lead to set patterns and an overestimation of skill because you get to know each other so well. It’s important to work with others so that you can see if your skills are universal or limited to your group. Iron Mountain’s best lessons for me come from this concept. When I first went to camp, I was the least skilled one there. But this didn’t deter anyone from working with me. Over the years as I’ve progressed, I’ve now moved to the middle of the pack where I get to work with both more and less skilled practitioners. This is essential to my growth as a martial artist, and it’s important to work with both sets. Iron Mountain provides the opportunity for me to learn if my skill set is generalized or specific to my training partners. This lesson is as valuable as any other, and now I understand my progress in Cacoy Doce Pares. At camp, I got to see how far I’ve come and how far I have to go. For me, the martial arts is a journey without end. You progress for as long as you continue to train. Seeing how far I’ve come along that journey makes me proud; seeing what lies ahead inspires me.