One of the purposes of this site is to act as an information resource with regards to Piper concepts and techniques. The articles featured will cover a fairly broad spectrum of topics within this brief, ranging from “opinion” pieces on topics that might be controversial to purely technical articles on topics such as Piper’s “ripping” techniques, footwork, Knife swapping and suchlike.
I hope you find the articles entertaining and/or informative. Please remember that my opinion is just that, an opinion. As someone said, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. If you agree with mine, that’s great. If you disagree, that’s great also. It does not really matter either way, as long as you are stimulated to think.
Piper and the Internet Warriors
(I wrote this article a week before the marketing article and only edited it slightly before putting it on the site. So yes, I know that I am repeating a few things). I’m not much of a forum kind of guy. When I first got onto the Internet, about ten or more years ago, I made the mistake of getting into an argument with some schoolboy on the Underground Forum on a question of martial arts history. Although I had every English language book ever printed on the topic to back me up and had spoken to masters in the Far East about the issue when I had trained over there, I was told that I was an ignorant fool and that his teacher had said I did not know what I was talking about.
That was the end of that, as far as I was concerned. I prefer to discuss things with people who are physically present. The two times I have had to listen to fellow Chinese Martial Arts instructors telling me how their art could beat Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the discussion ended a few minutes later with them tapping out (not that I am trying to claim any authority in BJJ, but even a blue belt BJJ combined with a lot of attitude works wonders against doubtful traditionalists).
Before you get the wrong idea here, i.e. that I am trying to come across as Mr. Tough Guy, that’s not the point. The point is that unfortunately my time is limited, I have two beautiful kids who take precedence in my heart over everything else, I massage, teach classes, train, write, spend time with family and friends, I sadly do not have the time for discussions or long individual explanations.
My expression of Piper works for me. I enjoy training it and, when the time comes to use it, I trust it will work. The last time I got into a situation in which it might have worked, I was unfortunately shot and fell down before I managed to get into knife range. This happened several years ago, in an attempted car-hijacking. Three shots fired, two missed, one got me in the leg. Lesson learnt: Its iffy charging in from six or seven meters against a gun-man. As for just giving them what they want, that does not necessarily work either, at least not down here. A sixty five year old massage client of mine was robbed by three men some time ago. He did not resist, gave them everything and they still stabbed him twice, partially collapsing his lung.
I see on the various forums that my friend Lloyd has pointed me to that there is a lot of discussion as to whether Piper is or is not more deadly than Escrima, Silat, Systema or Mongolian Goat Herding. That’s why I said I don’t want to get into any discussions here, I mean, come on, guys. Sure, if I was doing my TRS imitation a la Chris “The Gladiator” Clugston, whose videos I reviewed for MAVR, the correct marketing answer would be: OF COURSE. Used by criminals to kill thousands of other criminals plus the more than occasional mugging victim, how could it not be?
But then again, that could also be said for some of the original Philippino arts, before the guys who aren’t using them for survival but instead are making a living by teaching nice middle class white folk, changed them to include five thousand ways of artistically stripping the enemy’s knife out of his hand and training sarong techniques.
Let’s get real, though. As a Zen master might say, show me this “Piper”. Where is it? Where is Piper as a separate, individual entity that could be compared to a similar, separate entity that is representative of some other system? Let’s fast forward twenty years into the future. Let’s say some nice, mild mannered twenty-five year old from a nice, safe place, say Kopenhagen, who has practiced a large variety of Piper techniques with fellow enthusiasts visits Cape Town and gets into a situation where he finds himself, knife in hand, facing some seventeen year old street thug who knows only three or four Piper techniques but has used these to kill a few people. I know, it’s a very labored and unlikely scenario, but whom would you bet on? Yup, me too. But then, if intent and viciousness is what really matters, why bother at all?
Well, for starters, in the above scenario, if it were really to happen, the criminal would more likely than not back down, so in that sense your Piper would actually beat him. Criminals want easy pickings, not victims who resist. I know this from personal experience. In my first bouncing job, at age 18, I interfered with what was clearly a gang member/ criminal (clothing, hairstyle, posture, language) who was throwing darts at passers-by outside the club I was working. He immediately pulled out his Okapi but at the same time I brought out my hand from behind my back, in which I was holding a mini-baseballbat-like baton.
He laughed, put away his knife and left. He came back the next week, we talked and, in response to my asking, he showed me how he was able to open the okapi so quickly.
So is Piper more deadly than method X? Yes it is and no it is not, the question is fairly meaningless when you look at it more closely. With all my Piper, my other arts, my bullet hole scars and knife scars and everything, I would not have wanted to tangle with old Master Illustrissimo. Does this mean I think his method, to continue with this example, is dangerous when practiced by someone who has never been in a fight, practices it as an art form and does not even spar much….no, not necessarily. As a guideline, the closer a weapons art is, historically, to people who used it to kill armed, resisting opponents, the more likely it is that its techniques are useful in a similar situation.
Right, the next issue. From seeing what limited footage is available folks are jumping to conclusions that all of Piper is really contained within the sinawali drills of art X or the whatever of art Y. The implication then being, of course, since it is a subset of their own art, they can now stop thinking about whether there might be anything worth learning in it. Well, as has been pointed out by both Nigel and Lloyd, you have only seen a fraction of what there is. Having said this, where is it written that you need to know every possible technique or strategy of every art out there? As someone much wiser than I once said, you do not need to know every technique but you do need to know how to defend yourself against every technique (or at least against every technique that might be used against you).
Having said all that and having been oh-so-logical, I still prefer Piper to every other weapon art I have come across. I like Piper because I like stuff that works, stuff that is clearly hard-core and viciously effective. I have had that same feeling a few times in my life: when I first saw the clinch work and low kicks of Muay Thai in Thailand. When I saw BJJ used in the early UFC’s. When I saw an old black man using a folded umbrella and a knopkierrie to beat the crap out of several street thugs outside the Cape Town Central Train Station. And when I first saw Nigel demonstrating Piper. It’s not an intellectual thing. It works at gut level, at least for me it does, I see it, my eyes widen, my heart beats a little faster and I get a wolfish grin on my face. I think: “I want some of that!” Kind of similar to when a sexy woman in a mini-skirt smiles at me. OK, well, maybe not quite the same, but maybe you know what I mean?
By comparison, I sometimes meet teachers who impress me as being hard cases who can definitely handle themselves, but their art does not give me this feeling at all. Abner Pasa giving a seminar here in Cape Town many years ago is a case in point. So, to summarize: here we have Piper. There we have you. How you react to Piper is your choice. Whether you get anything of value from it is your choice. But it’s here, it’s functional and has been pressure tested and refined for the last century or two and it’s not about to go away. And the handful of techniques you may learn from it may one day save your life. Your call.
The ethics of teaching knife techniques
I have just finished reading up on the Internet with regards to the “Umali” case, in which a bouncer was criminally stabbed in the femoral artery by a knife combat student and died. In reading about this I also read James Keating’s thought provoking article, in which he criticizes those teachers that teach their art with a slant or orientation towards stabbing first and worrying about legal consequences later.
He raises many interesting and important points. How can you make sure that your students or even the people who learn your method from a book or DVD, do not misuse it in a moment of drunken stupidity? Well, as illustrated by Umali, and in a couple of similar incidents, it seems that you can’t.
Keating suggests a training methodology which is probably appropriate to day-to-day life in the USA and Europe, at least from a legal perspective. Then again, what happens when a confrontation it’s not just a drunken disagreement? What happens when some drug addict pushes a gun in your face or holds a blade against your neck? Are you supposed to think of anything other than eliminating the threat?
If an instructor of knife combatives teaches a female student Piper as it is used by the criminals down here and some moron tries to rape her and she defends herself and in so doing kills him, tough shit. Personally I feel that to be a fitting ending to rapists, paedophiles and suchlike. If, however, she uses it on a boyfriend in a heated argument, then it would obviously have been better not to have taught her at all.
What if it’s a date rape, what if a young man from a respectable family, with no criminal record, no witnesses present, decides to take what is not on offer? Now that would be a legal nightmare. Rape is a horrifically prevalent crime in South Africa. A BBC survey a few years ago found that ONE IN FOUR men admitted to having raped a woman and every second one of those, i.e. one in eight, admitted to having done so several times (google it, if you find it hard to believe). Charlize Theron did an advert for television a few years ago which offended the fragile egos of many South African men and caused a great deal of controversy: “Real men don’t rape…(pause)..A pity that there are so few real men in South Africa.” (What a woman !)
Should one then perhaps be teaching techniques that do not work immediately or that have less than an immediate and possibly fatal impact? Techniques which may fail at just the crucial moment, leaving the instructor’s student with a last thought: “Guro/sensei/ teacher, why did the stuff you taught me not work?”
Not a chance. As for getting her to think first, yes, obviously there should be a mental “Go/ Don’t Go” switch, but too much thinking in a life or death situation can be bad for your health.
All in all this is a terrible and very real dilemma. With crime and terrorism as prevalent as they are, I would have to go with teaching as effective techniques as possible, though. As for Mr. Keating’s comments on the unacceptability of using a knife on an unarmed attacker, I would certainly not be in favor of that. Unless we have a situation of a hundred kilo rapist lying on top of a fifty kilo woman, or if a little old man is being severely beaten up by several unarmed criminals. So, in the end, there are unfortunately no easy answers and all we can hope to do is to instill in our students a sense of morality, which will probably not take unless it is congruent with the morality they absorbed in their youth from their family, peers and community and hope that when it comes to the crunch, they do what is right.
In Cape Town this is not quite as big a dilemma as it appears to be in civilized First-World countries, as we are unfortunately fighting a losing battle against crime. So, as teachers of Piper we need to choose: What we teach may save our students’ lives or it may be misused. As things stand down here the former is far more likely to happen than the latter.
Piper Ripping Technique- “Inner-door secrets revealed”
Well, there you go. I am practising my marketing technique, learnt from the infamous and dastardly Matt Furey so that I can become the first-ever Piper millionaire. This should happen round about the same time as Charlize Theron deciding to run off with me to an island paradise (my website, my fantasy, my friend).
Seriously now, though, there are a few key elements to understanding why Piper is so effective. One of these lies in the way in which the basic techniques of “shimmering” blade and “twirling” blade are used to rip flesh.
One of the advantages of Piper is that you do not really need a proper “knife” at all in using its techniques. A star screwdriver works superbly and even a sturdy metal ball-point pen could do the trick at a push, which obviously comes in useful in terms of what is possible on an airplane, for example.
I cannot claim to have seen every knife combat system out there, but those that I have seen have all used a fairly high degree of “whole body dynamics” to generate power in a stab or a cut. This is most easily apparent when it comes to a sword art, as for instance in the use of a samurai sword. If you wish to deliver a crippling or deadly blow with a sword, you had better be sure that your bodyweight and your body dynamics act synergistically to produce the maximum amount of possible force. It also comes across in several Filipino systems I have had the privilege of seeing or studying in a seminar context. The body dynamics owe a lot to either work with the machete/bolo or to boxing or both. What this means is that, if you cannot set your body up in such a way as to be able to generate power like this, your technique ends up being weak and ineffective.
The ripping techniques of piper are not just part of its very specific flavor, but also happen to be the only techniques that I know of that can be executed with some power FROM THE WRIST ALONE!
All other techniques, whether you are using the reverse or the saber grip, require you to use a fair amount of “whole-body” dynamics.
This power from the wrist comes from the intention to rip. Yes, there are Piper techniques which can be executed as “linear stabs”, especially after the enemy has been ripped in a few places and is disoriented and bleeding and you are looking to terminate the situation. If you have a quality knife with a sharp blade you might even go for a cut, but the “bread-and-butter” technique of Piper is a ripping action, designed to tear skin, tendons, arteries and muscle tissue.
This ripping action presupposes two elements, both of which are trained for systematically. First of these is flexibility around the wrist joint, i.e. the ability to create as “big” a movement as possible and secondly there is the ability to move the knife powerfully and explosively from the wrist. Both of these are trained by the endless repetition of “shimmering blade” and “twirling blade”, done to the point of exhaustion and leading to that horrible nagging ache in the wrist that every Piper practitioner has learned to loathe but live with.
After this basic practice comes one of Nigel’s favorite drills, working these two basics against an old tire. The tire is held by one of your training partners or tied securely to a tree or post, you take any old blade you are not too attached to and you start ripping away at the tire. After a few months of this you will be amazed how much power you can generate from the wrist. You will also be amazed how it is possible to generate nearly all of this power when your body is out of alignment or moving in some other direction. This ability to move the whole body in one direction whilst generating power in a completely different direction is also a part of why the Piper exponents movements sometimes seem strange or unpredictable.
Finally, what is also pretty much of an eye-opener is how multi-directional this wrist movement can truly be. On seeing Piper, some critics have mentioned that, in their opinion, you have only one or two angles of attack and how limiting this is, but experience shows this to not be the case at all. I can rip in a circle (“twirling blade”) or I can execute a straight-line rip (“shimmering blade”) in any of the eight angles of attack or any angle of the 360 degrees of the compass, for that matter. Which is also, by the way, one of the reasons why it is generally considered inadvisable to grab the arm or wrist of a Piper exponent.
Give it a try, play with it a little. Use what I have just written in conjunction with what you can see on the Piper clips on YouTube and see what you can come up with.
Which brings me to an issue I have been meaning to raise: We, as Piper practitioners and teachers, are not and never have been on some kind of crusade or missionary adventure to convert Israeli Krav Maga experts, Russian Systema exponents and the countless tens of thousands of satisfied and proficient Filipino martial arts practitioners to the Piper system.
Why should we? We know our stuff works and works superbly but we also understand that you believe just as strongly that your stuff works. Good for you! However, just as we are open to constantly learning and refining our own personal practice so as to improve our abilities, so do we believe in your right (and if you think you will ever have to use your knowledge to survive, it might be a necessity, not just a right) to improve your abilities as best you are able to.
If you practice any kind of reverse grip knife techniques at all, it might not be such a bad idea to add a little bit of Piper flavoring to what you know. It might turn out to be a matter of life and death. Yours.
Rhythm-The good the bad and the ugly
Rhythm: “Movement or variation characterized by the regular recurrence or alteration of different quantities or conditions”.
Rhythm. So much has been made of the rhythmical nature of Piper and of other African martial arts.
Maybe I’m picking this as a topic of discussion because, when it comes to music and dancing, I seem to have so little of it. “Rhythm-envy”, as Freud might call it!
Be that as it may, I feel that is a topic that can do with some discussion.
There seem to be those, especially overseas, that believe that if you do not have the ability to move in a very rhythmical manner, your Piper will always be second rate and in some way unauthentic.
Rhythm, to me, may be seen as having the same purpose as the training wheels on a child’s bicycle. First you learn the basic movement pattern, then, by getting into a repetitive and rhythmical way of moving the body, you achieve a certain sense of flow. Such movement is very pleasing to the eye, as the repetitive pattern has the same “entraining” effect as a metronome, one gets into sync with it.
There are different views on the whole rhythm question. There are those people gifted with a sense of musical rhythm, to whom it is merely a matter of fitting their movement in with what they are hearing or with the pattern of the flow as it unfolds.
Those, who like me, are “rhythmically challenged” would be well served by using the teachings of my friend and coach Ludwig Strydom as a starting point. When it comes to being in the bottom position in grappling for example, Ludwig maintains that as long as you can breathe, you can escape. How this works is as follows : As long as you are breathing, you are able to move your spine, however minute this movement might be. As long as you can move your spine, you can initiate a rhythmical movement with your spine and your hips. As long as you can create this, you will eventually be able to scoot your way out.
Or to put it another way: You can see rhythm as something that comes from outside of yourself; from music for instance. The degree to which you have rhythm is then shown by how much you can physically get into perfect synchronization with the music you’re hearing.
Another way of seeing rhythm is as a pulse coming up from out of yourself, unique to your breathing pattern, postural alignment and movement paths. Finding this rhythm is possible for anyone, it is a matter of becoming aware of your inner self and experimenting with it. Although this may seem like a slow and tedious way of exploring rhythm and pulse, it is progressive and fairly fail-safe, as anyone can do it.
It becomes clear that the word “rhythm” means different things to different people. What all the definitions of rhythm have in common though is a repetitive movement or pulse. The one thing which one would never want in combat, be it sport or street, is the setting up of a clear, repetitive and ultimately predictable movement pattern. “Predictable” is bad in Poker, deadly in combat.
Rhythm is thus subservient to awareness and intention. Your awareness gives you a clear three-dimensional feeling of the ebb and flow of your body and your intent takes this flow and changes the pattern in accordance with the demands of the situation and so as to make sure that your enemy cannot predict your flow, but that your flow is still strong and congruent within yourself.
The Logo: An explanation
I have chosen the scorpion as a logo for a number of reasons:
Only once did I kill one, when I was teaching a private class on the veranda of a house in Camps Bay, at the foot of Table Mountain.
I was wearing shoes, but my barefooted student was about to step on a scorpion which had wandered onto the veranda. I got there a split second before her foot landed.
Other than that, I have always preferred to just admire these fascinating and dangerous creatures.
The scorpion asks the frog for a ride on his back. The frog says: “You must be joking. You will sting me!” The scorpion answers: “No, I won’t, that would be silly, we would both die”.
The frog considers the logic of this (always go with your instinct, logic is overrated) and says: “Fair enough, climb on.” After a couple of meters, the scorpion’s tail whips forward. With his dying breath the frog says: “Why did you do that? Now we’ll both die! The scorpion answers: “I can’t help myself. I’m a scorpion. It’s in my nature. That’s what we do.”
To me this exemplifies the deadly nature and intent of Piper and its original practitioners.