What is Aliveness?

Aliveness is timing, energy and motion.

What do you mean by timing, energy and motion?

For something to be truly Alive in what we do then it has have three key elements: movement, timing and energy (resistance). If you are missing any one of these then it is not Alive.

Movement means real footwork, not contrived, not in a pattern; on the ground it means exactly that also, movement. If the person is just laying there, not moving as you apply your lock or move, that is not Alive. In the clinch it’s the same: pushing, pulling, moving.

Timing is of course just that. If it’s in a predictable rhythm, a pattern, a repeatable series of sets, then you are not acquiring or developing timing, just motion speed.

And of course energy. Swing the stick like someone would really swing it. Don’t stop at centerline. Punch with the energy of someone who wants to hit you, not locking your arm out so your partner can look good doing the destruction, trap, silat sweep, etc.

You must move, have a sense of timing and use progressive resistance

Why do you place so much emphasis on this point as opposed to others?

Aliveness is everything. If a person grasps the principle and truly understands what is mean by it then they can never be bullshitted again. That’s why I emphasize it so much. I am also constantly being asked “What’s better? This or that? This style or that style? Why don’t you do this drill anymore? Why do you say this doesn’t work?” The answer to all those questions is Aliveness. Once they grasp what that means then about one thousand and one of their questions are answered for them. It’s everything.

However, if someone wants to collect a certificate from a well known sifu or look cool doing two person forms, then they will not care or pay attention to the concept of Aliveness.

Why do people then find the Aliveness concept so difficult to accept?

I think that is because when some people start to train Alive and expose their students to Alive training, they often have to throw out a major portion of the curriculum they learned before. This is because it is shown to not work when applied against a resisting opponent. And Aliveness gauges that very quickly.

All of the sudden the premium is placed on performance, and arts that perform well (boxing, wrestling, Judo, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and others) become the base.

What is the distinction between “delivery systems” and personal “style”?

“Style” is always very individual. Each fighter has their own “style”. And it’s acquired only through sparring and Alive training. In that action against a resisting opponent the athlete discovers how to make the delivery system work for them. That is their “style”.

However, delivery systems always remain fairly constant, regardless of the individual body.

In other words, there is a proper way to put on a rear naked choke. And as long as humans have the same design to their bodies, that “technique” will remain the same. That choke is an example of a “delivery system”.

That is why the typical Jeet Kune Do Concepts method of a buffet approach, picking and choosing from many arts regardless of the delivery system, is such a poor idea. Without solid skill in the basics of the delivery systems of stand up, clinch and ground, you will not be able to fight or apply any of the information. Sticking to the simple basics, drilling Alive and sparring is the only way we have found to acquire real functional skill.

Delivery systems can be tested, and it’s obvious what works and what does not. Mixed martial arts has shown the boxing, wrestling and BJJ delivery systems to be of great value. So the delivery systems fighters choose tend to all be the same. Someone trained in say Silat, without that background in the functional delivery systems mentioned above, would be unable to compete in MMA. They cannot defend themselves against such opponents.

However, each fighter naturally develops their own style as they practice, drill, spar and fight. No two BJJ fighters are the same, yet they all use the same delivery system. No two boxers are the same, yet they all use the same delivery systems.

It’s all very simple and clear.

But isn’t ALL just up to the individual. There are no superior delivery systems are there?

There is a proper way to perform a rear naked choke that will allow you to achieve the desired results as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is simply a reality. Likewise, we there is a proper way to throw a right cross. There may be many variations of “how” it is thrown; this is “style” and every boxer will have his own. But the fundamental body mechanics, such as rotation of the hips, are based on the laws of gravity and motion, and this is the delivery system.

Whether people choose to acknowledge that reality does not change the truism.

As an example, everyone who teaches functional ground fighting these days is incorporating the guard, mount, etc. They may call it submission wrestling, but it’s the same delivery system.

Since the Brazilians brought that delivery system to prominence I feel it’s important for me to give them credit. But ultimately, the name of the style is not important. The reality that the delivery system is backed by principles of leverage and timing and works against resisting opponents is what is important.

Can you give me a better example of what you mean when you say “delivery system”?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu could be called a “style”. Shooto could be called a “style”. But, if you took a close look at two of the top players, then you would see that they are using the same delivery system. As an example I will say Rumino Sato of Shooto and Renzo Gracie of BJJ. They both train the same positions (guard, mount, cross sides, head and arm, etc.), the same submissions (armbars, leg locks, chokes, etc.), and the same types of drills (passing the guard, drilling leg locks, etc.) So they essentially train in the same delivery system. So the Shooto/BJJ name becomes moot at that point.

Without that delivery system neither one would be as good of a fighter on the ground. That is just a fact. Imagine if Sato didn’t know what the guard was or could never hold that position, or if Renzo didn’t train his escapes from mount.

So a delivery system is just that: a system of body mechanics or movements.

Here is another example. Both Jean-Jacques Machado and Rigan Machado teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. If you asked them to teach you a shoulder lock from mount position I am sure they would both teach you the same method of delivery, i.e. how to set your weight, hold position, crank the joint, etc. That is because there is a best known way to do this. That may not be the politically correct thing to say, but it is the truth.

Now as far as “style” goes, both have a totally different style. Rigan is slow and crushing, and works an amazing top game that makes you feel like a crushed bug. Jean-Jacques has a fast, machine gun-like, attacking game from the guard. Jean-Jacques puts the word “active” into his guard game in a whole new way. So they both have very different styles, but the same delivery system.

Then to clarify, by your definition what is a “style”?

Good question. A style is an individual’s personal method of application of a delivery system.

It is worth knowing that you cannot develop a personal style unless you train Alive, or at the very least spar.

So how do you develop your own “style”?

It is not a matter of taking different pieces from different arts (the JKD Concepts method) or learning and imitating someone else’s style (the original method).

Rather, it is a matter of learning the basic delivery systems and then training Alive. That process is JKD. And not everyone gets that.

Can there be real JKD without Aliveness?

No, without Alive training you cannot really develop your own game, your own “style”. And not reaching a level where you have your own style equals not doing JKD.

JKD is not a matter of tracing your lineage back to a certain person. And it’s not a matter of having some ink printed on a piece of paper from Kinkos. Nor is it a matter of accumulating a mass of dead pattern drills or chi sau skill. Doing JKD is a matter of reaching a point in fighting where you begin to develop your own personal “style” in all ranges of combat. That can ONLY be done through Aliveness. That is just the reality of things, and it’s a lack of understanding about this point that has lead to all the confusion.

Why do you think there are a lot of instructors that are still not teaching with Aliveness?

Two reasons. One is they don’t know how yet. They honestly just don’t know exactly what Aliveness is. Two is fear. They are smart enough to know what Aliveness is, but the curriculum that such a principle would demand is something they are scared to get into 100% of the time. They have too much they would need to throw away or stop teaching. They have a position or reputation that they have spent years developing, and they feel like they have come too far to step back and admit that perhaps they where wrong in the past and that there is a better way. That’s too bad, because that attitude prevents growth and produces fear. Fear leads to anger, and that anger comes out as a defensive reaction. You have to be willing to let go.

So there is such a thing as superior delivery systems?

Let me give you another example, let’s use a hip throw. You can find the hip throw in Freestyle wrestling, Greco Wrestling, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Sambo, Mongolian Wrestling, Icelandic wrestling, Swedish wrestling, and Chinese wrestling, just to name a few. But the delivery system for the hip throw or “hip toss” always remains the same. The mechanics of the move are essentially always the same: a back step, level change, hip bump, and toss. Why? Because there is a proper way to do it. And every art that trains Alive in throwing has found it.

I could go on and on with examples, but hopefully you see the point. Without the delivery system you cannot become familiar with the range, and thus you cannot effectively realize the goal of JKD which is to become effective at all ranges.

Whether you choose to call that delivery system Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Shooto or Wolverine Style is redundant, not because it’s been posted before, but because it is a semantic and not a real difference.

Yes, but not everyone can be a good fighter? What about those that say you can be a good technician without necessarily being a good fighter.

Think about it. How can you be a good technician if you can’t fight? It doesn’t make any sense. You don’t say, “Hey, that guy is a good boxing technician, but when he spars he just gets mauled every time.” Or “That wrestler is a good technician, but his takedowns suck.” Or “That Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu guy is a good technician, but he can’t fight on the ground at all.” If you said that you would sound insane. But people say that in JKD all the time. It’s another in a long line of myths.

You can be a tough fighter without being technical due to aggression, size, explosiveness, strength, etc. But you cannot be a good technician without being able to fight — it’s impossible.

It’s similar to when people tell me they think I have taken the art out of martial arts, that it’s all about fighting only with us. I reply, art of what?

The art is in the performance, the doing. Art is in the performance, sharing, and experience of the training itself.

Also, anyone can be a fighter. A good coach can show anyone of even moderate to low athletic ability and intelligence what it takes to become a good fighter. Now, not everyone may then want, or need, to make the sacrifices necessary to get to that level of performance.

If all you train are basics, then won’t you be training only for the short term objective of “performance”?

There is no such thing as “advanced” techniques in fighting.

The same armbar Rickson Gracie uses is the same armbar a white belt with one month in uses. The same triangle choke, the same elbow escape, etc. The difference between the “advanced” technique and the “beginner” technique is simply the timing, tightness and efficiency of the movement.

The same holds true for wrestling. The same double leg six-years-olds are taught in pee-wee wrestling class is the same double leg the Olympic level “experts” use.

In Judo, experts of the art spend lifetimes perfecting two or three of the “basic” throws. Yes, the exact same throws taught to all beginners.

Lennox Lewis doesn’t throw an “advanced” left hook.

Same basics, same basics, same basics. Fundamentals, that is what ALL functional fighting arts offer.

Fundamentals done really well, those are advanced techniques.

If all you have are basics, what can you offer others?

The answer is “everything”.

But I don’t believe in throwing a new person in over their head and having them spar in the first few months of training.

Yes, we don’t usually suggest throwing a new person into sparring. There are far better methods.

Is such and such art functional?

My message and that of the Gym is Aliveness.

If you understand that message and what Aliveness means then you can look at any art and see right away if the training methods they use will be at all functional. As such, there is no need for any of us to single out specific arts or instructors, nor is that the point.

First things first.

My instructor says kata training is useful. Do you see use in kata, forms or djurus?

None. In fact it’s most likely to be counter-productive.

Well, since boxers hit bags, and football players run tires, don’t you believe you need a mixture of both Alive and dead training?

What you are describing is not what we would call a “dead” drill, but rather a set of conditioning exercises.

Yes, you can lift weights and then train with Aliveness and be highly skilled. You can also run tires, jump rope, do wind sprints, practice Yoga (I am a big believer in that) and a host of assorted other conditioning drills, and if combined with a combat sport, yes, you can be highly skilled.

But if you are going to train an activity specific movement designed for “fighting”, then you need to train movements that are functional and will work against aggressive, resisting attackers. And when training those movements with another human being, you need to make that training Alive (see I Method). Otherwise your training will not translate under pressure.

But people lift weights, run tires, etc., to develop attributes, so why not do sombradra, hubud, kata or two person forms for that reason?

Lifting weights is a conditioning drill. It will enhance you fighting skill because it makes you stronger and in better shape. It will not teach you how to do an armbar better. That requires an Alive opponent. That is what “isolation dilling” is for. In order to develop functional fighting skill you have to invest in thousands of hours Alive drilling against a resisting opponent. That is why it is important to separate conditioning drills from sports specific training. Athletes don’t become confused since they know the distinction, but martial artists often do. There in exists the problem.

Sombrada as an example is not taught as a “conditioning drill”, but as a sports specific drill. It has been alleged by those that teach it that it is the first stage used to teach people to fight with a stick. It is not sports-specific because it does not apply directly when you spar the way an armbar does in BJJ. You don’t teach an “armbar flow drill” to enhance attributes, and then when it comes time to spar the armbar say, “Okay, now we have to make these changes to make the armbar work.” Again, that would be counter-productive. That is one of the many reasons why sombrada, as it is often taught, is not and Alive or sport specific drill.

You could attempt to make the argument that it can be used to “enhance other attributes” which many people attempt to do, but why learn something the wrong way in order to enhance attributes? It is not rational.

How would you teach someone with zero experience how to stick fight then? As an example, how to enter and counter off a forehand or backhand swing?

1. Demonstrate a move that I feel will get them there. As an example, a cover and crash.
2. Have both people gear up in as little gear as possible. Have one party swing a forehand at the other, starting slowly, but pulling through with the strike. Again, progressive resistance.

As this is done the other person attempts to perform the skill you are trying to coach, in this case, cover and crash without eating the blow. As they get better we increase the resistance and add a back hand. Within 5-10 minutes this should lead to one side feeding a random forehand or backhand while the other side attempts to cover and crash.

After about 15-20 minutes we would probably just finish with some sparring if this is where the participants want to go with it. The level of intensity and type of equipment used there would depend on the level the Athlete was comfortable with.

This is how we coach armbars, jabs, kicks, double leg takedowns, sprawls and stick fighting.

It’s the first stage of drilling, and we refer to it as the:

I Method

  • Introduce (Should only take a few minutes, if not it is probably too complicated for the participants)
  • Isolate (Isolation sparring in an Alive way)
  • Incorporate (Add into your total game)

Nobody needs to gets hurt, there are no memorized patterns, no contrived footwork and it’s all random and real. When they move to the sparring “stage”, nothing needs to be “tweaked” or modified because they where trained correctly from day one. There is nothing to fix. There is no box pattern. It’s fun, and students like it.

As an experiment, or just for a change of pace, try this:

Teach one group of students using sombrada/hubud progressions, and then work them through all the different “stages” you have to sparring. And, at the same time have another group that just drills completely Alive, as I described above. No patterns, no hubud, no BS, just sparring drills against progressive resistance. Then have them spar each other. The results should interest you, and more than anything else make my point.

But not everyone will respond to I method drilling right away, will they? Don’t some people need to be walked through dead patterns first?

If you are making the assumption that “drills” must be done in a pattern, please look at that assumption. They do not. Furthermore, you gain little value from the drill in terms of any attributes, beyond introducing a movement, when you are operating within a pattern. To actually “drill” correctly there must not be a contrived pattern, and there is no reason to start with one beyond ignorance born out of “tradition”.

(Note: By contrived pattern, I am speaking specifically of a two person form. I do this, you respond with that, etc. Sometimes good combinations are linked, but when we “drill” we want to work those combos against a resisting opponent. Otherwise there is no timing, and we are still at the Introduction stage of the game.)

You are not developing sensitivity until you throw away the pattern. In other words, you cannot get and increased sense of “timing” from hitting a wooden dummy or a stuffed bag. You can get “sports-specific” repetitions in on the stuffed bag. And that will help you build the heart and muscles which propel the tool, and help you remember combinations. But it will never give you any type of “timing” because it is not Alive.

Sensitivity is nothing but “timing” applied to “tactile sense”. Again, you need another human for this. You cannot get sensitivity from a wooden dummy or heavy bag anymore than you can can get “timing” from a wooden dummy and heavy bag.

There are a hundred thousand ways to gain true sensitivity from day one, without getting hurt, with sports specific moves that do not involve patterns, that can be taught to anyone and that are Alive.

All you have to do is let go and create some.

But people like the goofy stuff.

I disagree.

Let me give you a concrete example. Often I hear from instructors that state that some students “want” that “stuff”. I have taught seminars before where the host begged me to show some “trapping” because the students would love it, and I was told that the group that I was teaching to (as non-athletic a group as you could find) would not respond to my approach. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t compromise on this, ever. So I showed no hand trapping or one and two step sparring. I taught as I always teach, and the students loved it. They said to the instructor “Why didn’t you show us this approach before?”

That has been my experience all over the world.

But would I have had the muscle memory or coordination with/without the drill?

What would you say if I threw a right cross in sparring after being taught reverse punches and karate blocks? And then when it was pointed out to me that my cross didn’t look anything like my reverse punches and karate blocks I stated:

“True, but would I have had the muscle memory or coordination without the drill? Personally, I don’t think so.”

It just makes no sense.

Why do so many JKD/kali instructors still teach drills like sombrada and hubud then?

My gods honest guess is that most instructors simply don’t know how else to do it. Since they don’t understand how to drill they fear they will lose students by teaching Alive. They believe that students “want” or need these drills. Or that to stay in business they have to do it this way.

Again, that is a fallacy. There are much better ways to teach. Just as safe, just as easy to learn, just as fun, and far more functional.

What is the de-chau analogy?

It was an analogy that explained why it is important to always teach “principles” for fighting with activity specific drills.

So for example, I would talk about the mysterious “dropping” energy. I could then invent a two person form to “demonstrate” that principle. Perhaps a little dance where we stomp our feet a few times, like the chicken steps in kali. Or perhaps a two person patty cake form where we can play a game and try and slap each others hip before we perform the “drop”.

There would quickly be de-chau experts, who were undefeatable at the game of de-chau, and who could show you lots of cool switches and variations of the de-chau drill.

When questioned as to why the de-chau drill looked nothing like a real fight, they would explain that de-chau is just meant to teach you principles of “dropping energy” and impart a few techniques. That’s why!

Or I could just teach an athlete to sprawl.

The sprawl teaches the “dropping energy”, but if you where to ask a wrestler what they where doing they would tell you they where learning to stop a takedown. Not learning “dropping energy”. And the concept of learning the sprawling energy, without a sprawl, would seem absurd. That is just a common sense approach.

When you begin teaching forms and two person drills which are not activity-specific and simply meant to demonstrate a “principle”, and athletes begin practicing as such, things get goofy and the functional art is lost rather quickly.

Isn’t it ignorant to claim as some have that chi ciao is ineffective?

No, that is inside out. Ignorance comes from the root words which imply something you “ignore”. In this case it would be the lack of any measured evidence for functional use.

Unfortunately the martial arts school I attend does not always use Aliveness as it’s guiding principal. People will often defend training methods were Aliveness is not a factor. During a discussion about training methods someone said to me “What about boxers hitting the heavy bag and speed bag? There is no Aliveness there, so hitting the bags is a waste of time, huh? Hitting the speed bag doesn’t look anything like fighting so that must be a waste of time too, huh?” I replied that the heavy bag was good for things like body mechanics and could be a great work out in itself. The only response was “Well, if there’s no Aliveness, how can it be any good, huh?” Anyway, just wondering if you had ever fielded a comment like this.

You are correct. People will defend their beliefs because they are feeling defensive. This usually has to do with personal identification with the method. And so the best thing you can do there is simply speak your truth (never be afraid to do that!), smile and walk on.

In regards a heavy bag, you can make heavy bag training more realistic by moving around and not using repeated patterns like a robot. However, there are many things we may do that improve are bodies that are not “Alive”. It’s just that all of those things fall under the category of conditioning and exercise. Lifting weights is not Alive, but it will have a direct impact on your body.

Aliveness comes in when you include a partner. BJJ is a great example. You could roll around with a stuffed dummy on the mat and practice knee ride, punches, etc. This would be very similar to a boxer hitting the heavy bag. However, if you never or rarely wrestle “live” against a resisting opponent, you will never be able to compete or reach the performance level of even a beginner blue belt.

You must have Aliveness. It’s as simple as that. That’s where timing and ability come from. As it is in BJJ, it is in stand up and clinch.

But you can’t teach beginners that way. How can you teach a whole seminar full of people that way? It would look chaotic!

Simply not true. I teach seminars all over the world without the aid of dead patterns. I teach stick, ground, clinch, stand up, whatever, without ever busting into a pattern. All the while people learn quickly, have fun, laugh and stay injury free.

What about the idea that these dead pattern drills are for self perfection?

That is usually the last excuse for poor training methods that gets put out there. The thing to ask here is what is meant by the term “self perfection”? If that term is left undescribed, then the idea itself is absolutely meaningless. So it is important to ask for a description on this.

Once a description is given, ask yourself if an Alive training method would serve that description just as well, or in reality, much better. You will find this is always the case.

Remember, for something to be used for “self improvement” it must first be true, real and authentic.

If you are looking for real methods of “self perfection” then you will find them in Alive training and in athletics. As the late, great Joseph Campbell stated, “The only peak experiences I have realized have come as a result of athletics.”

But don’t they thrown all the “self perfection” or “spiritual side” away when they train only Alive?

This is backwards and in reality the opposite is true. And there is much writing regarding how functional athletic training can have serve as a deep and meaningful vehicle for self actualization and realization.

How do you train Alive as you age?

Great question, three things:

  1. Stay in shape. You should do this anyway, as I assume you care about your body.
  2. Train smart. That is, do not over-train.
  3. Use progressive resistance. There is no need to go balls out very often. In fact, there is a false idea out there that effective training needs to be rough and brutal, and like so many ideas that too is backwards.

That is also why I love Jits. It can be done slow and gentle and still be highly effective. What a beautiful art.

Remember, if you can’t pull off Tai Chi, Silat, Aikido, etc, now, as a younger, strong man, what good will it do you when you are older and less athletic? (This is why it amazes me when I hear people talking about saving those arts for when they are old. What sense does that make?) You need to use the same moves, you just have to be wiser and smarter about how you apply them and how you train.

Aliveness is for everybody!

Isn’t there are as many ways as there are faces on the planet?

So true, when left that vague. Add the words “to execute a rear naked choke” and we begin to see that all people share similar bodies, and as such the body mechanics and laws of physics applied to that motion will be similar in nature.

Here is a favorite Krishnamurti joke regarding that exact topic:

The devil and a friend were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend asked the devil, “What did that man pick up?” “He picked up a piece of the truth,” said the devil. “That is very bad business for you, then” said his friend. “Oh, not at all,” the devil replied, “I am going to help him organize it!.”

Truth of the truth:

Aliveness is about the freedom to use whatever works in the moment. Right action at right time, which is another name for true compassion. A freedom that is only fully felt when one is completely immersed in the present moment of now, and free of the burden of beliefs, which manifest as thoughts. A clear mind fully aware of reality as it is now and operating with absolute synchronicity within time and space, that is the real beginning of Aliveness.

It is about Love.