Through the Looking Glass - 3

 

Odds and Ends

 

We ve talked previously about Master Archibeque being a master scrounger. You ve heard the expression pack rat used to describe people who are forever accumulating incidentals and pieces of scrap, unable to throw anything out. Archibeque would have to be regarded as a pack elephant . By his measure, everything had a useful purpose. As one useful product life came to an end, another was taking birth within his consciousness. We said elsewhere, Gun Fu is a philosophy driven art, nothing is wasted, everything is respected for its inherent value, and inherent worth is always an outgrowth of the quest of discovery.



 

The first photograph was taken shortly after Archibeque excitedly arrived with a box full of old chains. For him, this was hitting the jackpot. He immediately filled a sandbag with rocks, and suspended it from one of our outdoor horizontal beams, where it can be seen in the photograph as a free floating striking target. Now you ve hit punching dummies, perhaps even punching bags, or even sandbags. There s nothing that matches the impact of a hand strike or kick into a bag filled with rocks.
 

To the left in the same photograph is David Wightman, one of Archie s original iron hand students. On this occasion, he's caught the fever from Master Archibeque, set some chain to a horizontal bar, suspended it from the beam, and you can see the results.
 

Here we have an asphalt raker. As I understand, street workers use the raker to evenly spread asphalt over a new street surface being laid. This particular raker had fulfilled its final purpose with the road crew, and Archibeque excitedly brought it to class, contemplating its value in strength conditioning.
 

In the photo we have Rusty Dorris (in his early teens at the time, now one of the Masters of the system) demonstrating how the implement found new life at our camp. The exercise goes something like this. The student starts with both legs spread behind, upper body extending forward toward the raker, hands grasping the handle as high as physically possible. The student then slowly lowers his entire body weight, descending down to the ground, at which point the direction is reversed, and returned to starting point.
 

This particular exercise, involving forward lordosis (Forward lordosis is a descriptive phrase only. Imagine yourself hanging downward from a lateral bar, facing down, with your feet touching the ground to the rear. As your stomach droops, your lower back curves to the front (groundward), stimulating full range of motion and stretch under the conditions of the exercise), appears regularly in many manifestations over my years with Master Archibeque. Without doubt, this singular exercise, more than any other, explains the enormous strength, and leverage, characteristic of students in Gun Fu.
 

I call his next photograph, Bill what you think of this?
 

Archie, as my teacher, mentor, and friend, would forever be pulling new ideas and inventions out of his creative vault, asking for my input. I rarely had camera on person when these instances occurred.
 

Fortunately, on this one occasion, I did.
 

Here, he has explained about having found a box of old keys. Not wanting to throw them away, he matched them up according to size, and groups of four, filed down the ends to sharp points, punched a hole, then bolted them together. The four keys, once joined, folded quite conveniently into the shape of a single key, but readily opened into the deadly shape of a four-pointed shuriken. We took a few minutes to test the devices against a wooden target and to my surprise, found they were better balanced, and struck with significantly more penetration than any product commercially available at the time.

 

 

I m not sure what these next items are called. Per Archie, he had hired someone to lay carpet, and the installer was wearing one of these contraptions on a finger, using them to trim pad at time of installation. Curious, Archie questioned the installer about the devices, and the installer was happy to share a few with Archie for purposes of experimentation. Of course, Archie was ecstatic. These were nothing less than the nails of a tiger , which he proudly demonstrated that next class, in no small measure. We left that day, with shredded T-shirts and missing locks of hair. I still have my own tiger nails , which Archie gifted (Archie frequently gifted his toys to students at the close of a session) to me at the close of that particular afternoon.
 

This next tool was another roadside find. In a prior life, it might have been an ankle weight. Archie immediately recognized its potential as an embracing support for assisting leg lifts under stress. The picture tells the story.

 

Partner Drills
 

 

As we discussed previously, Archie has always favored using one s own body weight, and position, to develop extraordinary strength, and balance, while toughening the ligaments. We worked outdoors over the course of years, exposing ourselves to all environmental conditions, and allowing for the deep seasoning only nature can provide. Nonetheless, there would occasionally be days where the weather was so harsh we had no recourse but to spend time indoors. That usually meant the living room of the Archibeque family residence. Of course, years later, I have come to recognize the tolerance and support of Mrs. Lois Archibeque, who patiently tolerated our idiosyncrasies over the years, even to the point of graciously surrendering her living space.
 

There exist only a few photographs of these amazing workouts, enough to give you an idea of what occurred, but not enough to share with you the scope and intensity of the training.
 

For example, in this first photograph, Master Archibeque is on the ground with student Tony Archibeque (his son). They are inverted, feet raised, and they are connected via contact tension at the hands and feet. Applying force to the points of contact, they are struggling, one pressuring, while the other resists, balances, and tries to hold position. I note these exercises were not competitions. Rather, they were cooperative endeavors between training partners and unfolded as a partnership effort, with each attempting to take the other to the redline within the context of the drill.
 

 

 

While training, we used weapons of every genre. Arnis sticks were always on hand. Because they were always within reach, they became, over time, a major focus of Archie s exercise philosophy.

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Again, we have the three man exercise. Class participants would split into groups of three, the middle person would be working the exercise (think of him as the star ), supported by the side persons (supporting actors ), with all three actually receiving a portion of benefit from the consolidated dynamic. In photograph one, the student is attempting to hold two sticks together with wrist grip, while the others are pulling the sticks apart. Again, this is not competition. The objective is to take the middle person to the redline then rotate to the next person.
 

Photograph number two is Master Archibeque demonstrating an iron hand variation of this training. While attempting to separate the two sticks, he is managing tension being created by his partners, who are tightening (pinching) the sticks over his hands.
 

 

 

The message of these photographs is clear. The lower person is supporting the body weight of the top person. The bottom person then extends the supporting Arnis sticks rear words over his head into a full open position, while continuing to bear the weight of his partner. The top person is doing opposite, extending forward and out, face down. After full extension, the process is reversed. Need more be said?
 

Here, I am working with two partners and practicing bow and arrow.
 

 Bow and arrow is a fundamental concept in virtually all underlying Gun Fu movement. Per Archibeque, splitting forces in opposing directions is ultimately the catalyst for power in all martial movement. We work the concept incessantly. In this instance, my partners are holding the Arnis sticks against my strength as I grip to separate and open them wide apart. Once they are apart, the process reverses, and I attempt to close them together to original position, while my partners continue resisting. These photographs aren t choreographed. You can see the sweat pouring from our bodies, and the strain in our expressions!
 

Not wanting to be outdone, Archibeque revisits one of the earlier exercises, only this time, the person on top is literally suspended, in the air, over the support of Archibeque s legs and lower body.

 

 

 

 

These final photographs provide a glimpse into the ultimate versatility of partner training. Here, Archibeque and I are using partner stressed positions to develop strength of stance, and also to increase leg strength for sweeping maneuvers. I believe the photos tell the story. You can practice any foot position imaginable, any sweep set up, inside, outside, going in, or going away. In fact, we did just that. These photographs provide only a glimpse.
 

Power Training
 

Though power Training would unfold in many formats, it was Archibeque s preference, over time, to develop power using exercises where partners worked with and cooperatively opposed one another. Again, it must be emphasized, the partner approach to exercise and strength development was ultimately one of cooperation, and not competition.
 

There are some very strong people in a typical Gun Fu class. After years of training, some brown belts and black belts possessed physical strength and stamina that was nothing less than supernatural. As I m dictating this, I can recall at least one student who could take your arm in a single hand, and break it by simply gripping firmly and twisting his wrist. There is also the time, when Archie, on a challenge, strapped a refrigerator to his back, and walked up three flights of stairs.
 

 

 

You can see in the photographs, none of these people look like the strongmen you see on TV today. In the 1960s, Steve Reeves (Yes...the one who played Hercules) was idolized for his amazing physique. That was before the days of steroids and chemically induced physical growth (all of which are anathema in Gun Fu). The fact that his 18 1/2 inch bicep, considered massive at the time, can be matched by many modern high school bodybuilders should raise everyone s concern about the emphasis on unnatural bulk, ignoring the obvious ethical considerations regarding overall impact on the physical health over time.
 

Reeves appears never to have lost the natural approach to physique and good health, and his later years as a cowboy rancher stand as a testament to the concept of right living which is also a cornerstone of Gun Fu.
 

Regarding muscle bulk , none less than Bruce Lee understood the careful balance between power, speed, and intelligent training. Like Archibeque, Lee emphasized muscle length in his training, rather than bulk. Archibeque adheres to this completely, and virtually every exercise session focused on lengthening muscles, while developing the underlying supporting ligamentous structure.

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From Archie s perspective, two-man cooperative exercise was the ticket. With that principle as a foundation, Archie would work creatively to establish situations where the two-man approach was taken to its limit. In single person exercises, he would continue the same philosophy by creating the most challenging body weight and balance exercises imaginable. Gravity, when used properly to challenge balance and stamina, was like having a second, invisible partner always at hand and ready to assist with every lesson.
 

 

 

A classic combination of both approaches, presented one day when Archie arrived excitedly at class, proudly proclaiming his latest find. This time, the treasure appeared to be the cadaver of what had once been a portable table. In effect, all that remained was the underlying metal frame. This particular frame, for whatever reason, appeared to have been a very sturdy metal, with solid construction. It was easily able to hold the weight of two persons, and almost immediately, Archibeque hopped aboard with a second student, cross gripped (actually using  panther hand), then very slowly, both descended rearward, as though entering a sitting position. As the photo shows, each used the other s counter balance to offset the downward falling propensity of gravity.
 

 

 

Next, Archie had student Dave Wightman go to one end of the frame, and after testing its stability, had Wightman do full ascents, then full-body descents, using the end legs of the table as supports for the hands.
 

 

 

At this point, not to be outdone, Archie mounted the frame in a four-point upward position then executed full body dips, supporting his entire body weight on the four corners of the frame, dropping low to the ground, then re-ascending.
 

Once we were able to match the performance, Archie decided to take his comeuppance in a final exercise for Dave, supporting his entire body weight on the four corners, upside down, in a head low position.
 

Springs
 

Archie never met a spring, he did not like! His junk pile was typically a trove of discarded garage door, car springs, storm door springs, virtually anything that would stretch, create some tension, and return to its initial shape.

 

 

This particular sampling shows Archie, working with a garage door spring mounted firmly to a vertical wooden post. The first two photographs have him working his legs and abdomen, the next photograph has him about to execute a reverse lordosis stretch of the spring, under load, in effect working his entire upper body above the waist.
 

Looking for yet more challenges, Master Archibeque closes the sequence combining the garage door spring with a water main washer in a grueling combination taxing his upper and lower body.

Staffs
 

Staffs were another favorite of Master Archibeque s. Of course, our staffs were made of the heartiest of hardwoods, and were able to take the punishment without self destructing.
 

Most of the times, anyway.
 

Here is a three-person combination exercise, with one person walking the staff, while the two partners provide the underlying support. This is tough all the way around, and typically, partners arms feel about 6 inches longer at the conclusion of two or three cycles of this drill.
 

Archie particularly liked the Bo because it could easily be set against the corner of a wall (for support), and allowed many options for complex body weight and gravity resistance exercises. In photograph number two, the student starts in a near standing position, leaning toward the Bo, hands gripping at the top, then slowly hand walks down to the ground, as far down as physically possible, then returns to the starting position.

 

 

Photograph three is a variation of this exercise, where Archie demonstrates by allowing the wall to support his body weight and balance, while he hand climbs down the vertical pole, then returns to starting position (If you guessed Monkey , you are correct).
 

Sticks
 

Archie was fan of Arnis, though most of his students would cringe in anticipated pain whenever Sifu reached for those blasted 28 inch sticks.
 

Just as Arnis sticks make for excellent weapons, they are equally versatile on the dojo floor when the focus becomes exercises that challenge the body to its limits.

 

 

Here, Dave Wightman is precariously balanced on two Arnis sticks, positioned vertically, anchored in the palms of his hands. There s no trick here. Dave has sturdy hands (He was one of the few who mastered the Iron Hand ). Dave then descends slowly, in a full forward lordosis position to the ground, before returning to the upright starting position. In all fairness, only Brown Belts or higher are physically capable of performing this very demanding exercise.
 

 

 

Those who refer to Archie as Master of the Iron Hand, sometimes do an injustice to the rest of his body (Which is perpetually clad in an invisible Iron Shirt ). Those who worked with him regularly were in awe of his physical toughness. His corporeal body felt substantially like rock almost anywhere you made contact.
 

Archie often referred to his body as his computer. Though he was not computer literate, he meant it in the same sense a programmer might when discussing an actual working computer.
 

Archie understood that everything he did or thought, somehow translated to commands, which his entire anatomical system was compelled to obey. To that end, he was very careful and selective in the commands he issued. Before he would undertake any endeavor, he considered its full import, and all the consequences. Once satisfied of a net benefit, he would move forward. Here we have three photographs, with something that would be quite dangerous and risky for an ordinary person, but which demonstrate the intensity of Archie s approach in developing his  Iron Shirt.
 

In these three photographs, Archie adopts various postures, each based on the principle of his full body weight, balancing on vertically freestanding Arnis sticks, with the fulcrum in and around his abdominal cavity.
 

This is very serious stuff! There is no margin for error! It should only be undertaken after years of practice, and even then, only under the scrutiny of a Master instructor.
 

By now, you probably expected the omnipresent forward lordosis exercise. You re right! Here it is, except with a subtle variation. The student s feet, as in the photograph (Archie demonstrating), are positioned on freestanding Arnis sticks. The added instability of balance, while in the forward lordosis position, bring a whole new dimension to the exercise. Again, Archie is never too timid to first undertake himself anything he asks of others.
 

 

 

 

 

These four photographs have Archie demonstrating how to employ Arnis sticks in two person challenge exercises. In the first view, Archibeque and his partner (Scott) are pulling hard together, while resisting (In a very real way incorporating Bow and Arrow into the drill), and exerting opposing forces in opposite directions, with their abdominal walls.

 

 

Next, they are working on developing their neck tension (A requisite skill in resisting chokes), again by mounting a stick between and then amping up the force.
 

To the right, we have another abdominal wall exercise, under full load.
 

This final view prevents a very challenging two person pushup variation. The trick here is to carefully balance the pushup, so no unexpected sliding occurs during the descent, particularly as any loss of balance ends up in a very compromised position between the partners.
 

The few times I ve shown these photographs of stick drills, I have been asked which, in my opinion, was the most difficult drill. Regrettably, the most rigorous of the exercises were never photographed since they usually involved only myself and Master Archibeque, and when I was not photographing, there is no record.
 

There is a particular exercise, which in retrospect seems more like a dream then something I actually did. One day, Archie excitedly told me his computer had been working, and he had a new exercise for us. He took out two rattan sticks, set one vertical on the floor, then balanced the second precariously above the first, perpendicular, into a figure T position. I was stunned when Archie then took hold of the ends of the top bar, and stepped back, fully supporting his body weight above the T , with his face staring directly down (above the vertically standing support). I told him I didn t think the exercise was a good idea, since, if he lost balance, he might not have time to react before his face (read that to mean his eye) impacted the vertical standing pole. He shushed me, Bill you re breaking my concentration !
 

After finishing his cycle, he handed the sticks to me.
 

I wanted no part of the exercise!
 

Of course, it was a matter of personal honor, and pride. Against my better judgment, I took the sticks, then repeated the exercise. As I did so, time virtually stopped, and every breath, every move, every twitch of the muscle was clearly reflected in the roll of the top stick over the freestanding vertical stick (an area about half the size of a postage stamp). Somehow, I pulled it off, even managing several repetitions. Amazingly, as I did so, my mental clarity and physical stamina were so acutely under my control that at no moment did I feel personally at risk. Even though the sticks could have popped apart at any instant, I knew the entire situation remained under my direct control. They would fail only if I failed myself.
 

Amazingly, at the final moment, Archibeque stepped behind me, and lifted my feet from the ground.
 

Always, the next challenge!
 

When we finished, I expressed to Master Archibeque I was not happy he had chosen to expose me to a very considerable risk, particularly at the end, when he raised my legs from the ground.


 

Surprised at my displeasure, he responded, "Hey Brother, if I wasn t sure you could do it, I would never have let you tried".
 

In the matter of exercise, Sensei s judgment was impeccable. In all the years, there was never an injury in one of our exercise sessions.

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