Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association East Coast Retreat 2013

June 12, 2013

It’s been a little over a week since I attended the 2013 Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association East Coast Retreat in Boca Raton Florida. It was a four day martial arts seminar that consisted of Special Ops Kali, Military JKD, Collapsible Baton, Pepper Spray, and Simunation Reality Based Handgun instruction. An amazing learning opportunity, this program was without a doubt one of the best and most comprehensive martial arts training seminars I have ever attended. In this post I want to describe and recap my experience for the benefit of those who couldn’t attend, but to also reabsorb the wealth of information and knowledge I received during those few short (albeit very intense) days. Here goes…

The retreat officially began on Friday morning at 8:00 am. I had unfortunately not been able to attend Sifu Singh’s Tia Chi class the evening before, nonetheless, I was excited to begin training with my fellow members of the Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association. I had been on a hiatus from my JKD training for the last few years, but after attending the Action Strength certification in October of 2012, I realized just how much I had been missing my JKD roots and was eager to jump back into training. That morning we hit the ground running with Sgt. John Riddle, a 28 year veteran police officer with the West Palm Beach Police Department and Instructor at Progressive Self Defense Systems. John’s program consisted of instruction in use of both the Collapsible Baton and Pepper Spray. The majority of the day was spent working with the baton – types of batons, how to carry, deploy, strike and defend; striking targets, and baton retention. Drilling through multiple carry positions, opening techniques and strikes, we laid down the neuromuscular pathways that would help us to use the baton under pressure. I think we all had our eyes opened to the unmistakable effectiveness of this powerful impact weapon. It’s small, concealable, easy to deploy, highly functional, and a great tool to add to any self defense tool bag.

After dinner we returned to learn about all the subtleties and applications of pepper spray as a self defense option. The discussion covered all the details of pepper spray usage: the active ingredient (oleoresin capsicum), the physical and psychological effects of use, different delivery systems, spray patterns and carry positions. We also explored the Tactical “L” as a pattern of movement to integrate during the deployment of the spray. We were then able to drill our deployment using training canisters against John’s BOB training dummies, ensuring accurate targeting and spray patterns. Finally, to close out the night, John gave us the option of experiencing the effects of pepper spray firsthand. As I had no backup driver back to my hotel and the effects could take 45 minutes to an hour to wear off, I had to pass on this opportunity. However, one member of our group chose to get sprayed (thanks JB, for taking one for the team). In the end, I came away with a deep appreciation for the simple and direct effectiveness of this tool. As a force multiplier, pepper spray is a highly beneficial weapon that can be carried by women and men alike and is not to be underestimated.

Through all this, I can’t speak highly enough of John’s instruction. The thoroughness of these two courses, the detail of the information, plus his years of experience made for a very educational and entertaining learning experience. Not only did we get the technical knowledge, but we also received a unique perspective into situational awareness, the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act), law enforcement, and the legal implications of using either of these tools to defend ourselves. John was the consummate professional who could both instruct from a theoretical perspective and demonstrate his skill forged through real life experience. I felt as if no stone was left unturned as his knowledge as a teacher was largely unparalleled to any instruction I have received in the past. I’m sure that my fellow classmates would agree that no one could have been more deserving of Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame’s Instructor of the Year award. Thanks John, for setting the bar so high.

With one day and two courses down, we returned Saturday morning to dig into the meat of Special Ops Kali with Sifu Singh. We began with a few Action Strength ground flows to warm us up and center our breathing. Singh then began to detail out the theoretical framework for our JKD weapons curriculum. Building from the ground up, Singh broke out the self-preservation strategy (defang the snake), elaborated on the self-perfection training drills used to hone our attributes, and listed out the specific aspects of the weapons game such as footwork, zoning, weapons ranges, and striking angles. Once the theory was laid down, it was time to drill; Largo Mano, Numerada, Sumbrada, and light sparring – we trained through each drill and slowly began to merge them together one by one into a flow. By the time our lunch break rolled around, we were all ready for a breather, but it didn’t last long, for as soon as we returned it was back to training, but this time with the blade. Hubud and the U Drill were integrated into the matrix; meeting the force, passing the force, riding the force; all were drilled repeatedly until we were able to merge the knife and stick together. As Saturday afternoon wound to a close, Singh called out the drills while we transitioned from one partner to the next, sampling the energy of our fellow students. I found this to be an amazing exercise as 1) I had to manage my breathing during what turned out to be a 30-40 minute round of continuous drilling and sparring, and 2) with so much external activity and the drills being called out, it provided a unique opportunity for some profound mental stillness. I realized that there was not time for the ego to take over when a stick or knife was coming at me, I had to just BE in the moment. It was all great stuff and my mind was reeling…but there were still two more days to go.

Sunday morning began with more Action Strength but Singh wasted no time in moving us into the Military JKD applications. The theoretical map of the art continued to grow as we were introduced to the fundamental JKD concepts of primary and secondary attacks, the 5 ways of attack, the 3 phases of a fight; interception and destructions, the straight blast, and JKD trapping. Each principle was integrated out of a moving platform of footwork, the straight lead and Pak Sao; continually moving us closer to sparring with each drill. Returning to the theory once again, Singh explained the various possible reactions to the blast and how to counter each one. More drills, more experience, more sweat.

Sifu Singh also explored the emotional dimension of the fight in great detail, looping back to the importance of breath control and how through a deeper understanding of the emotional and mental aspects of a fight we can learn to use our minds rather than be used by them, resulting in panic and defeat. Wrapping up the theory, Singh elaborated on the arts we could draw from for finishing/follow up arts and techniques. Broken down into three levels, each group of techniques offered us multiple options along a practical use of force continuum.

Not one to let us get stuck in our heads for too long however, Singh ordered us to suit up with our gear and prepare for one last round of drills and sparring. This final round was the culmination of all we had worked on: Single Stick, Knife, Espada Y Daga, Eye Jabs, Jeet Teks, Straight Blasts, Trapping and more. Weaving drills together with sparring, we switched partners and ran through it once again. When it was all over, soaked in sweat, Singh guided us through a breathing exercise to help slow down our mental activity after the high level of training intensity we had experienced.

By the end of the day I was exhausted, but more than satisfied with everything I had learned. I was especially fascinated by the map Sifu Singh had used to develop a sound theoretical framework for understanding JKD. As many of us know, while Jeet Kune Do is an incredible art that’s both highly effective and great fun to train in, the intellectual understanding of the art is not without its challenges. Singh’s background allows him to look at Bruce Lee’s theories and art through the eyes of a computer programmer and translate the ‘program’ into a tangible and workable outline for training and evolution in the martial arts. Coupled with his skill as an athlete and martial artist, Singh’s teaching ability places him firmly on the cutting edge of the martial arts frontier. He led an amazing program that was evenly paced, highly informative, fun and physically demanding. I look forward to my next opportunity to train with him and his highly skilled senior instructors, all of whom treated each of us like family throughout the entire weekend.

For most of us, the retreat ended Sunday evening after we received our certificates of completion along with a few well earned promotions for some of the JKDAA Instructors. But for four of us, we still had one more day of training to go…

Despite the fatigue I felt throughout my body I was still highly anticipating the final day of the retreat with John, who would lead us through a Simunation Reality Based Handgun Training Course. Far more than firing at paper targets in a shooting range, the Simunation program involved active combat shooting drills and situational training to prepare the student for an actual high-stress handgun scenario. The Simunation system utilizes paint marking cartridges fired at 430 feet per second which, when coupled with appropriate body protection allows trainees to fire at living, moving targets in realistic situations.

The Simunation classes are small, so the four of us received some incredibly personal instruction from John in handgun basics, drawing, clearing misfires, and active shooting drills. With each exercise we integrated the previous skill until we were able to fire on command, move, reload, and resume firing under various conditions. We were then introduced to the steps for clearing and searching rooms and buildings. John’s school features a ‘shoot house’ – a fabricated set of rooms, hallways, and functioning doors that allowed us to practice our movements and techniques in the most realistic setting possible. Each of us had the opportunity to make our way through individual rooms and doorways, buttonhook around tight turns, and crisscross an entry while working with a partner. The training was both insightful and practical, giving us real world tools and techniques that are used by law enforcement agencies under actual life or death situations.

The culmination of our training was live scenario training in which each of us, suited up in protective gear and armed with fully loaded Simunation handguns had to defend ourselves against potentially armed and dangerous attackers. We each experienced two scenarios, one solo, the other as a team. In both cases adrenaline was running high as we tried to anticipate where an attack might come from and how best to respond, both tactically, legally, and ethically. To make matters worse, prior to the team scenario, John had us sprint roughly 100 feet to further amp up our emotional content. For those of us waiting outside to participate, the sounds of gunshots and yelling added yet another level of realism to the experience.

When it was all over, we were each debriefed on the scenarios and the choices we made. We also heard from the attackers and John who offered additional insights into our performance. Overall, it was an incredible experience, one that I won’t soon forget. In fact, I’m looking forward to taking the next level of Simunation training with John in the future, as I’m convinced this type of training provides the knowledge and practical experience that can save your life or that of your loved ones under pressure.

So there you have it. At the end of this long and action packed retreat, I can say without hesitation, that the 2013 JKD Athletic Association East Coast retreat was an amazing martial arts training opportunity. From the quality of instruction to the specific curriculum, to the camaraderie of everyone participating, the entirety of the event was truly outstanding. For those of you who might be interested in expanding your training, or those who might be looking to test the waters of the martial arts in a reality-based training program, I can’t recommend this course and those offered by the JKD Athletic Association highly enough. I also can’t express my gratitude enough to all those who assisted me with my training – John, Singh, Brian, Gavin, Clay, Bev, JB, Kyle, Darrell, Vicki, Leigh, Kirk, Liz, Cat, Francisco and Anshu. You guys are the best. See you soon!

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