When is a style really a style? What makes a fighter a martial artist? And what do we call a style that is founded entirely on ideas? The answer to these and other intriguing questions are attracting more and more people to a fairly new, but traditionally taught form of martial arts called, The Five Bird System.
“What attracted me to the Five Bird System is the way that I was taught,” says Karl Goldschmidt, three year student of Gordon Richiusa’s Five Bird System, an electric martial art with a very specific focus: training martial arts.
To accomplish this elusive task, The Five Bird System focuses on the student’s individual needs, boils almost everything down to its five component parts and emphasizes a simplified teaching method it calls Concept Training. This form of training acknowledges
the unusual Mind, Body and Spirit triangle of most martial arts. But, the mind and the body are considered separate entities that can be taught separately and even progress at different rates. Here the student can be grilled in the reasons wH)f they are learning a technique, long before they actually know what the technique IS.
“I like the way that students are constantly challenging themselves to answer questions. It’s like being a part of the experiment, but you already have the solution. The questions you ask and the answers that you get are often given to us out of order. For instance, adds Karl,” we’re usually asked ‘how many’ of this or how many parts are there of that. We’re told in our very first lesson that the answer is almost always five. So, we start off just giving the answer like robots. Eventually we’re forced to think about the questions and understand the meaning of what we’re saying.”
Gordon Richiusa, director and founder of the Five Bird System admits that his method of teaching is as old as Socrates, in that it continuously draws the correct response from the student, both physically and mentally by creating an inner dialogue. “That is the traditional part of what I do. I’m not afraid to admit that I rely heavily on what truly great thinkers and martial artists have said before me. That’s why my techniques don’t look, merely like the traditional Goju-ryu that is the karate foundation of what I teach. A Jujitsu person will see what we do and, maybe, call it jujitsu. A kung fu person sees similarities with their art, while I’ve also heard comparisons from people originally in Hap Ki Do, Kempo, Isshinryu and even Tai Chi.”
There’s a reason for this phenomenon. Five Birds Concepts are based upon the central idea that all styles have similarities and that the similarities are all that we should be concerned with. It’s not that all styles are all really the same. Many of Gordon’s students, in fact, have earned rank, and come to him from other styles. some have gone on to other forms AFTER studying with Gordon. “Each style emphasizes some specific aspect or concept, but all are really trying to accomplish the same objectives, be it self defense, self discipline, self awareness or a combination of those. “Our goal , ” explains Wes Cotton, 15 year student of the Five Bird System and senior instructor, “As teachers of martial arts, is to present ideas and situations in the most memorable and exciting ways. I came to Gordon with experience in kenpo. He never held that against me, but emphasized it as an advantage. So, now, as a teacher, if I have to sway from Goju and revert to an explanation that I heard in a kenpo class to make my points, it’s o.K. Gordon did the same thing to me! ”
The Five Bird System uses the traditional okinawan karate style of Goju Kai as a foundation, but also teaches a number of weapons including Kyudo (archery), bo and jo-do (long and short staff technique), escrima, shaken and shuriken throwing (including tomahawks), and kenjutsu (swordsmanship), as well as a number of survival-arts (climbing, edible plant identification, tracking) . The Five Bird System has been around for 25 years, but, it is only recently that Gordon has begun to put labels on his techniques and teaching methods. “Gordon has studied, earned rank at and taught for many different studios and styles, ” explains Brian Wallace, a friend and student of Gordon’s for the past thirteen years. “He’s been in the martial arts for 36 years, but, he’s always considered his methods, just as a way of teaching, rather than a style of its own.”
As more and more people began devoting their time to learning what Gordon had to teach, the Five Bird System began to take shape.
From the beginning of my training, I was introduced to various other teachers who all had specialties if their own that they wanted to share. None of the specialties ever seemed to have much to do with karate, but all held fast to similar convictions. More importantly, each of the teachers who I held in high regard all had other authorities, myths and legends that they quoted and submitted to. After a while, the legends and stories started to become my teachers, which was the whole point, I believe. I was told how this or that master had observed nature and deduced scientific principles. I was told to observe nature in the same way as the masters did. By following this example, I became part of a larger picture, long before I could actually perform at a level of efficiency. Eventually, a transformation came about without me really knowing it. All I had to do was trust my teachers and submit to the belief that the training would eventually make everything clear.”
“In The Five Bird System,” explains Gordon, “we understand that a student must be led along, almost tricked into learning, since the bottom line is that learning to internalize technique requires years of hard work. Almost no one would begin such a journey if you told them that you couldn’t explain what it was they were really going to learn and that the training would never really end. So, to trick the body, the mind is kept active with catchy phrases, advice, stories, puzzles and questions. This occupies it just long enough for the body to catch up to it. Then, we make sure that what we believe to be true IS true, by examining the results against what countless others who have called themselves martial artists have believed before us. When something checks out, then it is repeated again and again. We even use the same words over and over, until they can be recited and even elaborated upon.”
The whole process, according to Gordon is nothing more than anyone should expect from a good student-teacher relationship.
That is why the Five Bird System calls itself the first Student Oriented Style, and also why it borrows liberally from just about every other art and science.
“To be a good teacher you should know your subject, of course,” explains Gordon. “But you also need to find ways to make the lessons interesting and memorable. I can get anyone to throw a perfect kick… one time. The trick is getting their minds and their bodies to remember how to do it later and for the rest of their lives. Then, I let them in on the secret, that what I really want to get them to see is that punching and kicking are very limited skills, in the end. If that’s all we end up learning in a martial arts class, then we’ve really wasted out time.”
Five is an essential number in many martial arts forms ( five senses, five animals, five powers, five strategies of Sun Tsu and the five positions of Miyamoto Musashi) and it is the number to remember in the Five Bird System. The five birds (eagle, owl, hawk, vulture, raven) represent not only individual characteristics, strategies and goals, but are each, essential parts of the whole. And, there is more.
Like the different types of fighting, the Five Birds all have very different ways of surviving. However they all have one primary thing in common. They all fly! They are all successful even within their limitations, they all have strengths and weaknesses. The Eagle is a metaphor for grappling technique, Spirit and the ability to use our sight. The Hawk represents speed and triangulation and has great Courage. The Owl is a very basic bird. It’s survival is based upon simple Skill. It sits in a tree and waits for dinner to come to it! One swift, silent move is all it needs. Therefore, it also teaches us about camouflage and the sense of hearing. From the Vulture we learn a warrior’s humility or Honor, how to use multiple weapons and the sense of smell. The Raven represents Adaptability, a willingness to throw out technique. It’s a bird that brings together all the others strategies but never quite masters any of them. It’s also the only bird which performs its real maneuvers purely for the fun of it. It’s a lot like people.”
The Way to What?
So, since every fighting style can have weaknesses, a knowledge of the weaknesses can be invaluable. . But, what of the similarities? A long these lines, one of the first lessons Five Bird students are given is an explanation of the word Dojo. As with every aspect of Five Bird Concept Training, all information is of equal importance and all arts are treated with equal respect. However, behind every small bit of training, there is an underlying, larger, concept that is trying to reach the student. Sometimes, event the teacher doesn’t know what the larger concept is. As long as the student approaches the training with an open mind, body and spirit, then the framework for enlightenment is already built and in place. The lessons are all around us. All we have to do is unravel their meaning. It can be a problem to get too hungry on definitions though,” says Gordon.” I have been in numerous heated conversations about whether I studied GojuRyu or Goju Kai. Teachers can get really hung up on technicalities. To me, what difference does it make?”
One of the most important concepts in Five Bird System is anything is better than nothing. To demonstrate the application of this principle Gordon uses a number of methods, but one of the more colorful and memorable is when he ties up a new student and then directs them to escape. Usually, he says, a student will just freeze and say that they can’t because they’ve never been taught HOW to escape from a tangle of ropes. Gordon, or one of the other Five Birds teachers will then direct the student to “Think about this for a moment” and teach them how to get out of their bindings, while leading them through the process that they will need to perfect in the rest of the training. Phrases they might hear during this process will include:
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- There are strengths and weaknesses in our opponent and ourselves.
- If the rope is your opponent, what are the holes in the opposition?
- And, don’t forget, anything is better than nothing.
“All of our lessons are geared toward making a point. In the case of tying people up, the point comes as we direct them on what to do next. Because, really, the small points or concepts are what all martial arts are about. In the case of the ropes, we can see precisely what we are trying to do is to get the ropes off. The opposition is simple, in a sense. No matter how tangled the ropes might appear they really only do one thing. The ropes are kind of a physical metaphor for those styles that think they have the secret. With the ropes, there are holes every place that they make contact with you. When you’re tied up with a long rope, all you have to do is loosen one spot. When you do this, the rest of the rope also loosens. But, if you do nothing at all, then the ropes remain tight. You don’t really have to know HOW to fight the ropes. Any movement will eventually loosen them. Anything, in this case, is better than nothing. Time after time, we show how this kind of attitude will make the difference between success and failure.”
The Brain is the Best Weapon
This, another vital Five Birds concept, has two main aspects. To illustrate the first, Gordon entertains the students with a story that deals with him when he was just entering high school. “Gordon went to a really rough school, racially mixed and, unfortunately, very volatile. Everyone was looking for trouble. And, this was at a time, when gangs and groups were becoming necessary to survive.” on the first day of school, a large group of older kids who Gordon describes of about thirty in number surrounded each new, unfortunate kid as they walked into school. ‘or was one of those unfortunate kids, and I suddenly found myself surrounded by thirty opponents asking for my lunch money and threatening me with physical harm. I had been training in karate for several years and I thought I was pretty good. But, instead of fighting, luckily, I had a moment of true wisdom and a totally different kind of strategy came to mind. I began reciting Shakespeare! I did a scene from Romeo and Juliet which rambles on about love and ends with the line, ‘what is it else? A madness most discreet, a choking gull, preserving sweet, farewell my Cos.” And, I used that opportunity to walk right through the middle of them and get away. No body moved, they were spellbound and baffled by my performance.
The story continues in that, the next day, he saw the crowd gathering again, ready to surround him, but instead of asking for money, somebody called out. “Hey, it’s the crazy guy! Do some of that Shakespeare stuff for us.
“I had to learn a lot of scenes from different plays, but I never lost my lunch money to robbers. Eventually, I was an honorary member of several different clubs. It was kind of like being a mascot, like being the village idiot. It was taboo to bother me, because I was just too weird.” What did Gordon get from all this? “Be willing to abandon technique! Creativity is its own reward. ” Later this kind of thinking translated into one of the five basic strategies for overcoming an opponent: Change The Game. This also relates to a common mistake in many styles which Gordon calls being Weapon Stupid. We all learn to accept the premise that knowledge is power. In a direct, one-on-one confrontation, the truth in this statement can take on immediate and tangible meaning, even something as simple as making a fist. l’ve heard people trash Tae Kwon Do fighters as ineffective, but |’ve known some very effective fighters from that style. I’ve also seen people dazzled with kicks that could easily be defended against, IF the defender had only seen such a kick before.”
In other words, people often forget exactly what they are trying to accomplish and concentrate their attentions in the wrong area. T his is true when the hands are empty or when they are holding something, but the principle is the same. Don’t rely on any one weapon and don’t try to play the other guys game. In the middle of the fight is not a good time to be impressed with your opponents kicking height, or the fact the he has a knife and you don’t. concentrate on fighting the person and be willing to “let go of your sword, as Musashi put it. If you have a favorite weapon and it is rendered useless, you need a back-up plan. Realize that an attacker who brandishes his weapons against you is trying to use a threat factor and your ignorance in his favor. Many times, if you can knock a weapon away from a person, or simply take control of it, the person will concentrate all of his or her efforts on restoring the weapon! That’s being weapon stupid. The weapon cannot hurt you. If you are a attacked, use your best weapon and fight the person, with whatever weapons you have available.”
So, what should the end result of martial arts training be, according to the Five Bird System? “When people ask, the Way to What? The Five Bird System has a modern, ready made answers… Defense Awareness is part of a Successful life Strategy.
“Defense Awareness is a concept based in the understanding that every style, just as every individual, has strengths as well as weaknesses. Therefore, the only conflict that a person can guarantee they will come away from victorious is one that they never have to fight. It also deals with the difference between paranoia and Applied Awareness, one of the basic principles of Chi “.
Discovering your Successful Life Strategies based upon the belief, first of all, that one exists. It also emphasizes that success means something MORE than just getting more than the other guy. To find the answer in our own lives about what is success, we look at what it is that all people are really trying to obtain. The answer is Happiness. No matter what people may be trying to accomplish, it all boils down to simple happiness.., says Gordon. ” And, there is a difference between happiness and pleasure. Happiness is a simple, basic human goal that sustains us throughout a lifetime. Pleasure is brief and shallow. That doesn’t mean that happiness can’t have moments of pleasure. But, if we strive for pleasure, then we will on achieve that shallow goal. A successful life strategy is a plan that is easy to follow, that No one has to suffer for.”
Every style also has something else in common, and that is strengths and weaknesses. No style is any better, or worse than the practitioner’s dedication to perfection or his ability to carry out his strategies. The Five Bird System emphasizes the interrelationship of things, natural laws and geometry.
For instance, when a Five Birds teacher when a Five Birds teacher shows you a technique, they never stop there. They also show you alternatives and variations, as well as the weaknesses and strengths of the technique. “After all, someone may use the technique on you someday. Then what?”
There are at least two perspectives from which to view every conflict. Not only do you need to know your own possible options in a situation, but to make an educated decision on choosing a strategy, you should also take into account what your opponent is capable of. “Knowledge becomes power at every turn,” says Gordon. ” If I know that my opponents fist is not tight enough to hurt me and will actually cause him damage, then, instead of blocking, I might prefer to let his fist land. Knowledge of a good fist over a bad one, can be the advantage in this type of encounter”.
What the Five Bird System tries to do is boil things down to their essence, make an impact with the teaching and the techniques by always allowing the individual room to experiment and grow. In this way, the Five Birds System is merely a way of teaching the larger principle of martial arts, in general. The focus, then is taken away from the techniques and is centered on helping the student become the best person they can be in every conceivable situation.
Five Parts of A SeIf-Defense Technique
No matter what technique you do, there are always five parts that must be accomplished. First, you must Defend yourself, often this is a block. Second, you must Lower your center of gravity. Third, you do a Break Up. Fourth, you Take control. And, finally, you finish. Even in a basic block and counter technique, explains Gordon.” If you are going to be successful and do it right, you must defend yourself. your center of gravity is lowered every ii-. you go into a good stance, and EVEN falling correctly IS a self defense technique, because there is active participation. You must also reverse the role of victirn /attacker. That is what we call a break-up.
This could be as simple as grabbing the other guy back, back, yelling loudly or striking. It changes the complexion of an attacker, regardless. Many times, these first three parts come at exactly the same moment. Then, a point comes when you’ve got control, either a hold, you’ve outrun the other guy or your initial strike has been effective. Now, YOU decide how to end the attack, or a new situation emerges, such as a second punch, the whole process begins again.”
The ancient martial artists and strategists did not invent their styles and ideas randomly. They observed nature and a human’s place in the scheme of things. The skills they learned proved effective in some way. They did what they did, and said what they said, because of the conditions that presented themselves at the time of the training. Some people make fun of traditional technique, but, no matter how much different we try to believe we’ve become, we are basically, still the same human beings.
Our hands and feet still only move in the same ways and our universe is made up of only two geometric shapes…straight lines and curved ones. I believe that the laws of Newton and Einstein would make sense to the ancients if we could have explained these to them. Einstein’s theory of energy conversion from mass and speed is true now just as it was BEFORE we knew what it meant. The amount of energy a thing, a weapon, a fist, a foot can generate is based upon speed and mass. Move something very small, but fast enough, you can generate great energy. The ancient masters words, to me, are like the books in a large oral library. Books don’t get into a library because they are worthless. And, the masters did not teach, or learn, worthless technique. If we look at all individual perspectives and techniques on this larger scale, then there is something valuable to be learned from every person willing to tell you what they think! This is especially true, if they tell us WHY they think it.”
Article By Rick Burgin