Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 2015 Brotherhood of Veteran Warriors Gasshuku. The BOVW is an organization that was founded by US Military veterans with decades of martial arts experience, for the purpose of providing settings where martial artists from different backgrounds could come together to share and learn. They do not have any sort of curriculum, they do not give or confirm any ranks, and they do not have a Hall of Fame. The organization’s goal is to preserve and develop the martial arts, and foster the growth of the martial arts community–among military veterans in particular. I am not a military veteran, myself, although I know many, so I was especially honored to be allowed to attend.
The first day started outdoors–luckily, it was overcast for most of that time, because the Phoenix sun is unpleasantly warm this time of year. We circled up and introduced ourselves, before going around the circle to lead warm-ups. Each person in the circle led us through two to four exercises, stretches, or preparatory movements. Some of the warm-ups were things I had never done before, or hadn’t done in a long time, so I was able to get some ideas for my own training and teaching. I especially liked a junbi-undo (preparatory exercise) set that incorporated strong breathing, expanding and contracting, and rising and sinking.
After that, it was time for a lecture with Chuck Merriman Sensei, who holds the title of Hanshi and is ranked as a Kudan (9th Degree Black Belt) at the Jundokan on Okinawa, and was recently awarded Judan (10th Degree Black Belt) by a panel of senior karateka in Canada. He is truly a master of karate, as well as being a kind man with a great sense of humor. His lecture covered a variety of topics, including his time coaching the US karate team, but focused mainly on the principles and concepts of Goju-Ryu. As he was talking, he would occasionally hold a hand out toward me to demonstrate a point, as I was sitting closest to him. In those moments, I was very thankful for my Sensei’s teachings, and for my own research, because I was able to do what Merriman Sensei wanted without him having to stop his lecture to tell me what to do.
After a break for lunch, we went indoors for a session on standing chokes with Mike Harriman Sensei. All of the chokes were ones that I had learned before, but with different entries, or subtle differences in the way they were applied. We started off with kata-gatame (shoulder hold), also known as an arm triangle choke, which my Sensei and I just posted a video on last week. The entry was different, coming from the outside of the attack, and the angle of application was a bit different, as well. After that, we went over a Guillotine choke, which was very similar to how we do it, but with a harder-style block to a haymaker, and a Goju-Ryu approach to pulling the opponent down into the choke. Then, we worked a throat grab after wrapping the arm of our opponent, who is grabbing us. That isn’t something we work too much in our dojo, although it does come up occasionally. Finally, we worked a modified palm-to-palm rear naked choke, which came from an entry that is very much like an application for manji-gamae, where you trap the arm and twist the neck.
The last session of the first day was a lesson on gun disarms from Ron Gaeta Sensei, who is a retired New Jersey police officer, in addition to being a military veteran. He began by going over some statistics about gun violence, and the chances of being shot and different distances, as well as when you should and shouldn’t attempt a disarm. The first technique he taught was very similar to one my Sensei teaches, which he learned from a retired New York City police officer. The only difference was the angle used to strip the gun from the opponent’s grip. The second disarm was a technique that we use quite a bit, but not often against a gun–pulling the opponent’s extended arm into waki-gatame. The third disarm we worked was done moving to the inside of the gun, and was done differently than my Sensei teaches, but both approaches seem to work quite well.
Due to some car trouble, I was late to the second day of the Gasshuku, and arrived in the middle of Miguel Jurna Sensei’s session on standing joint locks. He was teaching a lock flow drill, using lop sau as a platform drill to start from. The first lock was an upward elbow lock, which you then rolled over into a downward elbow lock, followed by stepping in and using ashi-waza to break their structure while striking their head with a backfist or hammerfist. After that, you slide back to a straight-arm wrist lock, and then pull the elbow and punch the hand under to transition into a goose-neck “come-along” type of lock. These are all locks that we use in our dojo, but not necessarily in the same sequence that Jurna Sensei taught, so the transitions were interesting.
After lunch, we attended a rather long session on practical self defense, with an emphasis on simplicity for students without martial arts training, from Michael Zang Sensei and Duke Ali Sharif-Bey Sensei. It began with Zang Sensei explaining some of the concepts he uses when teaching self defense courses, and the biomechanical structures he teaches. After that, we worked on crashing into an attack with a simultaneous block and strike, following with a takedown. We worked quite a bit with that entry after that, using different footwork and different follow-up techniques. After that, Duke Ali Sharif-Bey Sensei had us work on knife defense and handgun retention techniques in groups. Rather than just teaching, he had everyone in the group share methods they knew, and he provided advice on things that could be improved.
The last session of the day was on Krav Maga escapes from ground situations with Harry Waller Sensei. We started off drilling how to stand up from the ground, which is a fairly common technique, and most everyone seemed pretty comfortable with it. From there, we worked on escaping from a variety of different situations. We worked on breaking free from someone’s guard to stand back up, rolling someone who has mounted you, escaping from an arm triangle choke, and disengaging from side mount to stand back up. All of these were methods I had done before, but with variations and Krav Maga flavor.
Personally, I believe that these types of events, where knowledge is exchanged openly between practitioners of different arts, are great! Not only are they an enjoyable experience, but they are also vital to the preservation of methods that might otherwise be lost, and vital to the development of peoples’ individual approaches to martial arts. Even if you don’t learn a single new technique, you are bound to learn subtle details and differences by seeing how other people and other systems do things, and these can inform your own personal style.
These types of events are also a fantastic social experience, where you have an opportunity to learn more than just what is being taught on the floor. I spent a great deal of time between sessions and during lunch just listening and talking to the other attendees and the instructors at this event. I was the youngest person in attendance, and the only one without some sort of military or law enforcement background, so I was able to hear all kinds of interesting stories that I otherwise might never have heard. My interactions with these people are treasures that I will remember for the rest of my life.