Through the Looking Glass - I


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Balance was always at the core of Archibeque s teachings . There were many Black Belt visitors to camp in the old days. One of the special experiences was enjoying their reactions as they physically interfaced with Archie .



It s not easy to relate Master Archibeque’s concept of balance. For one thing, it had very little to do with how a lay person, or even a typical Black Belt would view balance. For example, most people describing balance will associate it with stability, centeredness, good posture, equilibrium, and ability to initiate new movement at will. To Archibeque, the essence of balance was an ability within yourself to take root. Taking root was nothing less than driving a spike of energy from within yourself, connecting to the center of the earth below, then extending that line, to the heavens above. Almost like the string on a bow, taut, flexible, resonating with power and potential, fully supported by the surrounding environment. The first time I tested Master Archibeque’s balance, I felt like I was trying to move a tree. He was a wall! I’ve never been able to say that about another human being. Once he established his root, moving him was like trying to push a car sideways.

All the arts have their respective techniques for nurturing balance within movement. All techniques have relative value. Some are slow in producing benefit, and, require years of dedicated repetition. Others are a bit more direct. Archie wanted results! Fast! When he devised a scheme for practice, he expected to see results within several weeks. To that end, he felt balance training should always address the relationship of the inner ear to one’s instinctive awareness of balance during the course of movement. Virtually all of Archibeque’s balance training, challenged the inner ear, as well as the underlying need for extraordinary strength to support extraordinary balance, particularly as balance was ultimately the springboard for instantaneous movement.

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One day, as we arrived for class, Archie was ecstatic over having found an abandoned ladder from a closed construction site (Typically, we worked outdoors in all weather. Major training sessions took place on weekends, starting first thing in the morning and not infrequently running the entire day, ending with sun set.).

I should take just a moment to explain. With no disrespect intended, Master Archibeque is one of the great pack rats. He forever pulls things out of dumpsters, open fields, trash day castoff piles, garage sales, swap meets, roadside debris, you name it, anything remotely of value to training in the martial arts ultimately found its way back to our camp.

So on this particular day, we arrived to find what appeared to be a fabricated construction ladder, consisting essentially of 2" x 4" lumber steps nailed to side poles, which appeared originally to have been fence posts. The whole fabrication was rickety at best, and its stability did anything but inspire confidence. That of course is why Master Archibeque was so jubilant over the find.

Something this unstable, but still as sturdy, could not easily be fabricated. He found this jewel laying abandoned.

Archie had nothing against the training machines and devices populating modern gymnasiums. He understood modern training for what it was, a safe and reliable method for undertaking isolated targeting of muscle groups.

However, Master Archibeque wanted for each training station to not only challenge the body, but also the mind and spirit of the student. For his purposes, if the tool did not take you to the limit of your capacity, you were doing casual exercise, and not martial arts training.

On this particular day, Master Archibeque opens class boasting of his find, then immediately positions it in the pasture and starts ascending to the top.

Having witnessed this behavior many times before, we looked forward to another interesting day.

During the first hour, all were required to ascend and descend the free standing ladder. In time, enough of us were doing it with adequate regularity that Archibeque began looking for more challenges.

While we continued with the ladder, Archie snuck briefly away, then returned with two empty 5 gallon buckets. He challenged, Now try this! .

He turned the buckets upside down, and set the end steps of the ladder onto the tops of the buckets. Mind you, the buckets were sitting on an uneven cow pasture. The end steps of the ladder were balanced under weight of gravity on top of the overturned buckets. The surface on top of the buckets was hard plastic, with no friction against the end steps of the ladder. In other words, the configuration did not inspire confidence. A comment emanated from someone in the rear, That’s impossible .

We all knew what that meant!

Somehow, without toppling the array, Master Archibeque ascends one of the buckets, carefully places one foot on each side rail, then begins to inch forward, looking almost like a Blues Brother stiff walking on stage, as he crossed the entire length of the ladder. This was no easy task, and our group struggled with the challenge for several hours before Sifu felt we learned enough to move on. In retrospect, I can’t remember how well I did with the challenge. I can remember upsetting the configuration, and falling multiple times. Yes, Archibeque factors the possibility of falling into his training approach. He would say There’s no better way to learn falling than to fall unexpectedly .

Of course, several hours training like this, worked our bodies to their maximum capacities. The saving grace was we would rotate in our attempts taking turns resting among the group. This allowed brief moments to recover before next exertion.

Unfortunately, Archie, wanting to play some more, took the ladder, turned it completely on its side, balanced under its own weight, then ascended, and started walking from one end to the next.

At one point, to inspire us, he adopted a crane position, in effect issuing his challenge . Our work was cut out for us.

Sharing this with you in the present, I actually have fond memories of what we did. At the time, I believe we were all vexed and very frustrated, some even annoyed. On occasion, some students would walk. This frustration too, was always part of Archibeque’s training approach. He felt that frustration was inherent in all self-defense endeavors, particularly in actual combat, and he undertook to make sure each of us became intimately familiar with frustration, learning how to deal with it, manage it, and overcome it.

Later that afternoon, Master Archibeque returned to the ladder with yet another spin on balance training. He began placing us in unusual, physically stressed starting positions, then had us move about slowly and under physical stress, consolidating body weight, gravity, and instability of the ladder, to develop internal strength adequate to maneuver, while maintaining balance.






Bike Bar

For want of a better descriptive we’ll refer to the next item as the bicycle bar .

On this particular day, Archibeque was eager to share another new discovery, which he described as a bicycle handlebar he found alongside the road (Master Archibeque spent most of his adult life as an asphalt layer on a road crew. He frequently mined for gems alongside the roads as he worked). My impression of the device was it had originally been the handlebar mechanism of a child’s tricycle. Most likely, it was a very young child s tricycle, perhaps even a toy scooter, as the bar was very narrow in its with.

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For the first challenge, Master Archibeque installed the stem of the unit into some hollow PVC tubing, which he had driven into the ground. Archie was a great fan of PVC tubing and used it for many training purposes. Wherever he could find it, alongside the road, in trash heaps, for sale in bulk, he was careful to pick it up. I should add the PVC tubing which was driven into the ground was not anchored in any particular way. Archie preferred to have some natural oscillation in the tubing as the exercise was underway. He felt slight instability in the exercise apparatus nurtured the students instinctive ability to execute balance adjustments under duress, which though subtle, were quite profound in their overall impact on encouraging the instinct for stability.



The first exercise might be considered the warmup, for it was easiest. That s not to say it wanted for difficulty. Archie leaned his body directly over the handlebar, then using controlled strength, lowered his entire body forward, until his nose touched the ground. He then slowly returnd to the starting position. He then did this any number of times, finally turned to me and said “Bill, you try.” As my body tilted forward, I could feel threads of heat radiating from my body center, along my back, to my shoulder, along the underside of my arms, to my gripping hands. I was at my physical limit, executing a single a repetition. Of course, Archibeque had me continue until he felt I had been challenged amply. I believe Archibeque is about 50 years old in these particular photographs. This of course was before the advent of steroids and the current emphasis on youthful appearance emphasizing grotesque muscular bulk. Archie was not into bulking muscles. Like Bruce Lee, he felt 1 inch of length was easily the equivalent of 5 inches bulk, and all of his training was directed toward increasing length of muscles, while bolstering the supporting ligamentous structure to facilitate the enormous transfer of power characteristic of Gun Fu.



Once the first exercise was completed, Archie turned us onto our backs, then led us into a reverse maneuver, lifting from the ground upward to the bicycle bar. Again, much harder than it looks. The narrow width of the bicycle bar required enormous leverage and strength on lifting the body from the ground.

Now all who know him, recognize Master Archibeque as one of the classic characters in life’s marvelous journey. Among his graces, is his inclination to let you know there is always more where that came from .

Whatever the exercise situation, Master Archibeque wanted you to have a glimpse at Mount Everest before stopping. No matter how stressed you felt, or how close you had come to supra-human limits, a typical session would end with Archie proving you haven’t seen nothing yet . That’s what we mean by Mount Everest. Anytime he took something to the limit, it was referred to as Mount Everest .



After we struggled with the bicycle bar for several hours, Archie came over and said something to the effect, “See if you guys can do this.” He then put a milk carrier under his feet, grabbed the bicycle bar from this elevated position, then started slowly doing full body tilts to the ground, in an impossibly stressed posture. We ended the session back at square number one! Humble!

Body Weight

Archie was a man of limited means for most of his life. He wasn’t extravagant, and was not likely to invest in any equipment, especially if he felt that with creativity, and some pieces of scrap, he could come up with something much more interesting.

A common thread in all of his experiments was using body weight, and shifts of body weight as the challenge to be addressed within the exercise. You will witness that common thread throughout these several articles, but let’s take a brief moment to see how it plays out.

Here Archie is having the student drop forward, after energizing his body with Chi. The challenge is that as the student descends, increasing pressure centers on the upper back particularly at the neck. The exercise requires great discretion! As the load increases on the neck, there is an inclination on the part of the student to take it a bit further . That would be a mistake! There is a very thin margin for error in many of these exercises, they must be monitored at all times by a certified Black Belt instructor.

A variation of the photographed exercise would be the student standing with his back to Master Archibeque, then letting himself drop backwards to the ground while Master Archibeque cradles the neck from the rear. The sensation for the student might be characterized as being like a hose, filling with water. You can picture a fire hose, filled with water, laying before the path of a vehicle in the street. The car passes over the hose with a bump. The hose, once soft and supple, is now solid and firm. In the exercise, the student’s entire body, energized by Chi, is supported in straightened form all the way to the ground.

There are many variations to this. One would be for the student to start out lying on the ground (on his back), then be lifted like a log and set between two chairs (feet on one end, head/neck on the other). Even then, the ante can be raised, as another sits on the midsection of the suspended student.

On several occasions, we lifted students from the ground in their energized posture, and had two other students support them head and foot, in mock log carrying races across the pasture. When students got comfortable with that, we would then run relays. You get the picture!

As you can see in this next photo (taken in Master Archibeque’s living room on one particularly harsh winter morning), there’s no end of where you can take these drills. Here, the student starts out being held feet and hands by two other students, hanging limply. The student then begins to energize his body and arches it upward, then holds the position for as long as possible. Like all of the three person drills, this actually works all three participants, and is an excellent group exercise with each of the three rotating to the next respective position in the cycle. In this instance, the man in the middle is Tony Archibeque, Master Archibeque’s son. The expression on Tony’s face speaks volumes.


Elsewhere in our web site, we discuss the art of breaking in some detail. Here, I’d like to take a few moments to review some of our photographs showing Archibeque practicing breaking, and a few of the exercise stations he had set up to accommodate that purpose.

Again, elsewhere, we talk about how to nurture the art of breaking. Archibeque used just about every technique you can think of including synthetic striking boards and makiwaras. He continually experimented with the various iron hand potions, and had a few formulas of his own which he used intermittently.

For Archibeque, breaking almost always meant breaking rocks. He reasoned if a person could consistently break rocks, he would easily be able to break bricks, blocks, boards, and when necessary, bone. A typical student would work over the course of several years through various modalities, starting with makiwara, advancing to board breaking, working with multiple synthetic boards, advancing to fabricated bricks, blocks, patio blocks, then cinder blocks, and culminating with river rocks. In the early stages of training, the student might be instructed to strike containers of sand, rice, pebbles, gravel, or some other like medium, usually piled high into 5 gallon buckets. Five gallon buckets were a favorite, because they were easily available, sturdy, and held an adequate depth of material, allowing for multiple unimpeded strikes into the core of the medium. The five gallon bucket could be positioned at various heights, depending on the workstation. A convenient base might be a tree stump, or section. In the Pacific Northwest, tree stumps, and/or tree sections are universally available.

Speaking of bases, Archibeque required a base which could handle the load, without reflecting energy back into the strike (something others pay very little attention to). Once someone ventures down the breaking path, nothing can be left to chance. Even a few particles of dust have been known to foil a cinder block break in the middle of a demonstration (there is no greater embarrassment). If you review the videos of Archibeque doing his breaks, you ll note that before he even postures to strike, he carefully inspects the stand, wipes it clean with his hand, inspects again, then closely inspects the rock, brick, or board he is about the break. Nothing is left to chance. Master Russ Kauffroath would frequently recount the story of another local Master, who was invited to do a breaking demonstration, but could not split a brick, a feat easily within the master’s proven ability. After multiple failed strikes, Sifu Russ volunteered from the audience to assist the break. He was invited forward, whereupon he immediately removed the breaking apparatus from a small carpet placed underneath it (to prevent the floor from soiling during the demonstration). It was clear to Master Kauffroath, the carpet was acting as a shock absorber preventing full transmission of power through the target. That solved the problem!



For his own breaking, Archie used two custom-built automobile lifts. These were actually quite substantial, and were nothing like anything commercially available. Though hefty, they were portable, and could easily be transported to any demonstration. Because of their configuration, they allowed for a good solid hit, at optimal standing height. Archie also favored tree stumps as bases, since they were transportable, and generally allowed for maximum transmission of power through a target. One local teacher used a 100 pound anvil over a tree section, and that worked quite well (even receiving Archibeque’s admiring approval), while also being visually impressive at demonstrations. Once, on one of his many scavenging runs, Archie returned ecstatic he had found a 4 foot section of train rail, which had been discarded alongside a railroad crossing. He mounted the rail to a tree section, and believed he had found the ultimate practice station for impact breaking. That device ultimately became the center of our breaking workstation.




When working iron hand techniques, we spent virtually all our time at either the train rail or the automobile lifts. In time, many of us fabricated our own breaking stations for use at home. At first I used an anvil (125 pounds). One day I found a construction site (shades of Master Archibeque), where workers were discarding end cuts of metal framing used to construct an exterior walkway roof. These segments were about 1 foot long, in the form of 6 x 8 rectangular tubes, and were high quality steel of considerable density and weight. With the construction crew’s permission, I took one of these home and experimented, and it turned out to be a terrific striking base, while being eminently portable. On another occasion, Archibeque provided me with a small segment of industrial I-beam which also proved to be a terrific and transportable striking surface.

Rock breaking remains one of the ultimate challenges in martial arts. Practically speaking, a strike which can break a rock will break bones. If you re consistently breaking rocks, you have a fighting tool, which is lethal when unleashed. Rock breaking is not for the timid. Typically, it takes students several months before they’re able to break their first rock, and some students have been known to strike rocks for months, working through injury and bruising, carrying the unbroken rock in their pocket, even sleeping with it, determined to greet the day when the rock would split. Amazingly, when that day arrived, the second, third, forth, and fifth rocks almost always broke in quick succession. Once you acquire the skill, it s simply there, a testament that 90% of rock breaking technique is having done the mental work.

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