Friday, August 24, 2012

Ancient North American Animal Styles

Oki All… Thought I’d give an update, since I hadn’t in a few days. I’d really like to hear more from other todai, by the way, what you’re working on, progressions and such, even the seemingly minor achievements. Feels a bit awkward posting so frequently here, when few others are doing so, and I hope it’s not getting tedious. But I find reporting in the blog to be a good tool for maintaining momentum and connection, and the dialogs that sometimes come from it as inspirational in ways that aren’t always predictable. Perhaps this is especially a benefit for an online member of the kwoon. I’d probably be less motivated to post if I was working with the Chicago group physically

Anyway… My parents drove up to visit from Oregon a few days ago. Haven’t seen them in over a year, so I took a few days leave from work to spend time with them. Today, we traveled to Nanton, Alberta, which is well-known for its many antique stores. My mom, wife, and daughter went shopping. Meanwhile, I brought my dad and son-in-law out to climb sandstone cliffs in a nearby canyon, and show them some very old pictographs hidden under a couple of the more sheltered outcrops. I wanted to post an image of one of these panels here. What you are seeing in this image are very ancient depictions of Blackfoot warriors. The round bodies are what we call 'ssokowo'taan' (heavy-shields), the pre-horse style shield that went from shoulder to knee and were made from the thickest hide of the buffalo hump. What I want to point out here is that each warrior depicted has a shield design and headdress symbolizing the animal that gave them their fighting power. From right to left there is elk, grizzly, eagle, bison, and rattlesnake. This is not the extent of animal-influence fighting styles that have been known to Blackfoot people, by far. Part of what I am interested in renewing, in my lifetime, and at least with myself (though hopefully influencing others), are martial approaches and techniques learned from local animals. There is an extensive lore about this, which I don’t really have the time at the moment to write in-depth upon here. But I will say that many of the remnants remain still today, in ceremony, song, dance, and medicine. Even some of the core body training is still well-remembered, like running every morning down to the river (even in winter), dunking oneself, then running back up the coulee carrying a heavy rock. It is the martial applications themselves that have been… not really forgotten, but… too long neglected. A lot of the core stuff, I've been told by elders, consists of wrestling techniques. But at this point, I'm not confident that the martial component could be renewed in its old form. The animals are still here though, and I’m certain they could reacquaint me from scratch


  1. Hey that's very interesting. I'm really fond of native american culture. Post some more info if you get a chance, I'll be most grateful

  2. Dear Ryan, it's always good to read your posts. I've been on Holidays for the last 12 days but I will be writing and posting articles very soon too.
    For any Martial Art practicionner, There has to be an interesting thing about animals, which have inspired so many masters of Kung Fu. Still the relationship between combat and animals has been very mystified, to the point where it is turned ridiculous and caricatured in movies. It can become really interesting though, when a master analyzes your body strength and weakness, in order to make you as efficient as possible and recommends to study a particular style. It is pretty much as Zodiac signs, but for combat techniques. I was personnally advised to study mantis style which is mainly defensive and uses elbows a lot.
    I see that you, Ryan, inspires directly from your close relationship to nature, I don't think there is anything better to do :)

  3. Thanks, guys. I will definitely continue to post more about this when I get the chance. For me, it's fairly important that the martial arts I practice/ develop synchronize holistically with other facets of my life, including my marriage, my work as an educator of indigenous knowledge, my spiritual life in the Blackfoot tradition, and my love and fascination for engaging with nature. I am very excited about the approach Sifu is taking with FMK, because it is an invitation to pursue an expression that is uniquely my own, as it would need to be in order to truly blend well with the rest of my life


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