Thursday, May 11, 2017

The True Spirit of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Monday night I took part in the Gracie Combatives class at One Spirit Martial Arts, where Master Pedro Sauer is the head instructor. The class went well, and I felt good enough to stay for the next session. It was an open rank class taught by the Professor himself. He concentrated on techniques for escaping the mount, then split the class into white belts and colored belts for positional sparring.

The goal of the white belts was to keep mount and submit the higher belt. The goal of the higher belts was to sweep or submit the white belts. As the drill progressed Master Sauer took some Facebook Live footage to share with the world.

This was the first time I had tried a drill like this. It was cool, but I had a small problem. I did not really know how to execute any submissions from mount. Because I've spent most of my short time in Combatives, I've only practiced a Kimura from guard thus far. I've worked on the rear naked choke as well, but that isn't helpful from mount either! This is not the fault of the Combatives program. Rather, it's a result of my attendance schedule and the classes I've been able to attend over the last few months, when I started training BJJ.

As a result, I ended up playing more of a defensive game, just trying to keep mount. That was plenty, but I will still missing out regarding the drill. Even with this limitation, my training partners were all cool. Seeing my white belt with no stripes, they offered me suggestions and explained how they were able to sweep me or submit me. In the photo above, a purple belt named Bo is giving me tips on home to better position myself.

The really surprising part of the session occurred when I partnered with one of Master Sauer's black belts -- Dave Porter. You may have seen him politely destroy opponents in gi and no gi tournaments.

When I took the mount, he asked "do you know any submissions?"

"Not really," I replied.

"Let's learn some!" Dave said.

He then taught me a cross choke and an Americana!

I was so impressed by this. He could have just ruined me in less than two seconds. Rather, he realized I was totally new, totally without skill, and probably interested in learning something. Dave gave me a chance to try the two techniques while we rolled a bit.

To me, this is the true spirit of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu -- everybody learns. Thanks to Master Sauer, Dave Porter, and all the other training partners for making this a positive experience for me.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Martial Proposition

In late March 2017, Iain Abernethy released another edition of his excellent podcast, titled Reinventing Violence. From 25:35-26:05 he makes the following statements:

"We need to understand what criminal violence truly is, and then seek the best solution for that. So, what all arts should do, when it comes to the self defense side of things, is to objectively look at the problem, and from there seek the optimum solution. 

Now what this will mean in practice is that the self-defense aspect of all the martial arts will end up being pretty much the same, because the problem will define the solution."

Iain's idea of the problem defining the solution, rather than the solution defining the problem, is the key to this podcast. His overall concern is that too many martial artists do not understand the true nature of violence. Because they lack this experience or knowledge, Iain says, they claim that their system is, or at least can be, the solution to the problem of violence.

I interpreted Iain's comments in this manner:

If martial artists understand and agree upon the true problem of criminal violence, then the self defense aspect of all martial arts will converge on a single solution, or set of solutions.

This if-then construct is a testable scenario. There is an input (criminal violence) and an output (self-defense). Therefore, we need inputs to begin testing Iain's proposition.

How does one define criminal violence?

In my day job I work in the cyber security sector. Almost everyone has heard of antivirus (AV) software. While these programs do not remotely represent the best way to defend computers from threat actors, the way reviewers test AV software provides a starting point for our criminal violence question.

Thugs assault ice cream truck worker. Source: YouTube.
Some testing shops use a corpus of normal, suspicious, and malicious files as inputs for AV software tests. By asking AV software from different vendors to test against this corpus of files, "consumer reports" shops can try to assess the effectiveness of AV software.

I am not proposing that one can really test the effectiveness of self defense aspects of martial arts in the same way one can try to test AV software. For one thing, testing AV software is a hotly debated subject. However, perhaps we can borrow one part of the idea: the corpus of files, or "problems."

Imagine if a set of martial artists, or even members of the martial arts community voting online, selected real-life videos of self defense situations, and added them to a corpus of "criminal violence problems." Martial artists could then review these videos and analyze how their system addresses each problem.

While this process and idea has many inherent challenges, I am intrigued by the thought of defining "criminal violence" by a selection of real-life videos.

Personally I do not think much would change in the martial arts, for a variety of reasons. I therefore, at this point, disagree with Iain's statement that "the self-defense aspect of all the martial arts will end up being pretty much the same, because the problem will define the solution."

What do you think of Iain's claim, and what do you think of my video collection idea?

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Friday, April 28, 2017

How to Win Wearing a Gracie "Boyd Belt"

A month or so ago I began listening to the Gracie Jiu Jitsu Rocks podcast, produced by Marty Josey. All of the podcasts are excellent, but I really enjoyed episodes 32 and 33 which offered advice for older practitioners like myself. One of those episodes included an excerpt from a Gracie Breakdown titled Jiu-Jitsu Over 40 (5 Rules to Roll Till 95).

The first rule was "know your Boyd Belts," named for a former Gracie Jiu Jitsu black belt instructor who began practicing in his 40s and continued until his passing in his 60s. His name was John Boyd, but he is not the same John Boyd who invented the OODA loop. In the video, Rener explained how one day John was disappointed that he could not beat a blue belt with whom he had just rolled. Rener learned that the blue belt was 40 years younger (mid-20s vs mid-60s) and 60 pounds heavier (220 lbs vs 160 lbs) than John.

Rener and Ryron analyzed this situation and devised the "Boyd Belt" framework. Simply stated:

Every 20 pounds equals a belt.
Every 10 years equals a belt.

Imagine that John was rolling against a person of similar age, but the opponent weighs 60 pounds more. If the opponent is a blue belt, his Boyd Belt equivalent versus John is a black belt: Blue to Purple [1st 20 lbs] to Brown [2nd 20 lbs] to Black [3rd 20 lbs].

In other words, due to the weight advantage alone, 160 pound John was rolling with an equivalently skilled opponent because he weighed 220 pounds.

Now alter the situation to include an opponent who is not only 60 pounds heavier, but also 40 years younger: Black to 2nd dan [1st 10 years] to 3rd dan [2nd 10 years] to 4th dan [3rd 10 years] to 5th dan [4th 10 years]. Due to the weight and age advantage, John is now rolling with the equivalent of a 5th degree black belt opponent.

In this context, John could reframe his experience and be thankful for whatever success he may have had rolling with the much heavier, much younger opponent!

For another example, Rener and Ryron mentioned the UFC 4 fight between their uncle Royce and Dan "the Beast" Severn. Dan was 8 years older but at least 80 pounds heavier than Royce. (Rener says 100 pounds in the video.) Royce was a 4th degree black belt at the time, and Dan was a world-class wrestler who had almost made the 1984 and 1988 US Olympic wrestling teams. It took Royce over 15 minutes to submit Dan, due to the weight disparity.

I think the Boyd Belt is particularly useful for older practitioners like me, who are just starting their BJJ journeys.

Imagine I roll with another white belt who is 25 years old and 155 pounds. Because I am 45 years old but the same weight, my opponent is wearing a Boyd Belt equivalent of a purple belt.

Another way to look at it: I may only be at par with a 25 year old, 155 pounds white belt when I am a purple belt.

Imagine this scenario: I will roll against a 45 year old white belt practitioner, but he weighs 195 pounds. Because we are the same age, but he is 40 pounds heavier, my opponent is again wearing a Boyd Belt equivalent of a purple belt.

So, I may only be at par with a 45 year old, 195 pound white belt when I am a purple belt.

I did not factor the time needed for me to reach purple belt into this discussion, but I think you get the point!

I'll finish by addressing a concern you might have -- one that was mentioned in the video. You might say "I thought BJJ works against opponents of all sizes!" That is a valid concern. Flip it upside down: isn't it amazing that there is a martial art that can help an older, smaller person survive against a younger, heavier opponent?

BJJ isn't magic. A few classes will not help someone like me, at 45 years old and 155 pounds, to defeat a 25 year old, 195 pound opponent. However, the journey to a rank like purple belt (possibly five-six years of training?) could give me a fighting chance to survive against a younger, heavier opponent.

Readers probably know I also practice Krav Maga, so I've got that going for me, which is nice. I don't want to end up on the ground in a self-defense scenario. However, if the situation demands it, I am training to better handle ground engagements. Now that I understand the Gracie concept of Boyd belts, I can better assess my progress and capabilities against training partners of different ages and sizes.

What do you think of the Boyd Belt concept?

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Five Reasons Why the Gracie Combatives Methodology Works

Rener is a giant.
Late last month I was fortunate to attend a seminar at The Basics Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Leesburg, VA. Rener Gracie taught a class on passing the guard. You can see some video from the event here courtesy of school owner  Marco Moreno.

I'm a big fan of Rener because of the teaching methodology he and brother Ryron Gracie created for their Gracie Combatives program. At this stage in my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu development I primarily attend GC classes at Prof Pedro Sauer's academy in Herndon, VA. In this post I will explain why the methodology works for me.

1. Self defense first. Gracie Combatives is first and foremost a self defense system. Rener and Ryron wanted to ensure that blue belt candidates could handle a core set of self defense problems. They selected techniques which addressed those problems and arranged them into a logical progression. Because I am primarily interested in self defense, this focus matched my goals perfectly.

Gracie Combatives Progression
2. Problem-Solution. The Gracie Combatives approach is a problem-solution methodology. The student is given a discrete self-defense problem. After seeing the problem, the instructor demonstrates a solution. This is not a free-flowing scenario, at least not at this point in the training system. For beginners like me, however, the problem-solution system allows me to understand the point of the exercises. Later in my progression I hope to be able to "flow" more easily. For now, problem-solution works!

3. Slices and variations. Each problem-solution package is called a "slice." The first slice shows the core problem and solution. Additional slices explain how to handle variations on the initial problem. For example, Monday night we practiced escapes from low side headlocks on the ground. The first slice involved the attacker not establishing a proper base, which allowed the defender to roll him in order to escape. The second slice required the attacker to establish a proper base, which made it difficult for the defender to roll him. We needed a new escape, which the second slice provided. The third slice introduced a punch defense variable, and a counter. Generally these packages involve two or three slices, which keeps the number of variations within the comprehension of beginners like me. Because each slice is a variation of the core technique, it is easier to understand the material.

23 Lessons
4. Defined teaching structure. The structure to present a slice appears to include the following.

1) The instructor explains the problem, with the instructor as defender and a student as the attacker.
2) The instructor demonstrates the counter at fairly normal speed.
3) The instructor explains the counter several times at slower speeds. He or she presents different viewing angles for students.
4) The instructor mentions checkpoints and safety tips.
5) The instructor changes places with the student in order to show how to perform as the attacker.
6) The instructor performs the counter as a "dry drill," without the student attacker, in order to explain body mechanics.
7) The instructor asks for questions, and then releases the students to drill for several minutes before repeating the process for the next slice. During the drilling the instructor provides feedback.

This structure is highly effective for a person like me. I enjoy the orderly progression as well as seeing the moves multiple times and in various modes (fast, slow, swapped, alone).

5. Predictability. The Gracie Combatives system is composed of 23 lessons covering 36 techniques. I can look at a calendar and predict what I will practice on any given night, so long as I account for special events that might interrupt the regular Combatives class. I can also see what I miss when I cannot attend any given night. We track attendance in the classes using a computer and a card, and the goal is to attend each of the 23 classes at least three times. I have many months (probably years) to go before I meet that goal, but it is helpful to have a concrete way to track attendance, and hopefully progress.

Rener signs my copy of the Gracie Master Text
You might be wondering if Rener followed a Gracie Combatives-style methodology during his seminar. The answer is yes. He presented a series of problems and solutions, using an A-B-C or 1-2-3 approach. As a newbie I was able to keep up pretty well. Having a blue belt partner was a big plus! Rener even helped me out with the first exercise, where placement of the arms for bicep control made a big difference.

I plan to continue focusing on the Gracie Combatives classes because they help me get used to operating on the ground, rather than moving on my feet (as with Krav Maga and Kali). I feel that once I am more comfortable with basic movements and techniques from the Combatives curriculum, I will be better prepared for regular BJJ classes. I am more easily able to attend Combatives on Monday and Friday evenings anyway, with the middle of the week presenting more conflicts.

Thank you to Rener Gracie for traveling all the way to the east coast for the Basics seminar. I look forward to his next event in May in Maryland. Thank you also Rener for signing my copy of the Gracie Master Text!

What do you think of the Gracie Combatives approach?

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Why Being Punched in the Face Is a Good Idea

Last night, Shane Fazen Tweeted the following:

I genuinely believe that every single person in the world should be punched in the face, at least once, before the age of 18. #BeHumble

When asked "why?" Shane responded:

It's humbling. Knowing that your actions could lead to, say, a broken nose, I think people would be a lot less selfish.

This is a good example of another person having a completely different perspective. I never considered that I might act in a way that would prompt someone else to want to punch me in the face. Now, I am not a paragon of virtue, but it's unlikely that I would put myself in such a situation. I would also not consistently associate with people who try to solve problems by hitting others!

I tend to agree with Shane for a completely different reason, however. When I was 18 I enrolled at the US Air Force Academy. All male freshman cadets were required to take boxing. (All female cadets were required to take a self-defense class, which male cadets also later took.) As of last fall, USAFA, West Point, and Annapolis all require women to take boxing as well, due to new DoD combat rules.

I was not a spectacular boxer, but I have two notable memories. First, in the regular boxing class, I remember doing fairly well against an equally unskilled opponent of the same general weight class. The coach said "you did pretty well, let's pair you against someone bigger." I don't understand why that happened, because that is not how boxing at any level works. Nevertheless, I proceeded to get pounded for the next bout. I think the other guy knocked me down four or five times. The coaches videotaped every fight, so during the review I was able to "enjoy" the experience from the perspective of an onlooker. I finished the round, getting up after every knockdown, which I remember to this day.

Second, as a sophomore I was forced to box for my squadron team. These teams were essentially canon fodder for the Academy team that would fight other schools. Back then my street weight ranged from 145 to 150 lbs, at 5'9. (Today I yell at the scale when it reads 155 lbs.) During my summer Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training I lost about 20 pounds. My health was also complicated by an illness that inflamed my spleen. As I was trying to recover from the weight loss and illness, the senior cadet running our squadron boxing team assigned me to fight at a ridiculously low weight -- either 125 or 132 lbs. I can't remember which, but I had no choice in the matter. I made weight,  fought, and was knocked out in the second round by a right hook to my left temple delivered by a Golden Gloves champ prepping for more serious competition. Onlookers said I flew through the air at a 45 degree angle, and when I woke up two new fighters were already in the ring!

After the fight a doctor checked me and said "you really need to gain some weight!" He put me on a mandatory weight gain program. The insanity of the Academy intramural boxing program required fighters to stay in one weight class for the duration of the season. Because I had already fought at a specific weight class, I would have to make that weight all season. When the time came for the weigh-in, I registered in the high 130's. I ended up "failing" my sophomore intramural season, and was put on athletic probation, because I was assigned to a doctor-required weight gain program. There was no way out of this dilemma until the season passed and I was assigned to another intramural sport for the winter.

Despite this misery, the reason why being punched in the face was a good idea is simple: I lived to tell these tales. Today, I enjoy sparring in my martial arts classes. I do not like being punched in the face, but I know I can survive and learn from the experience. This is the reason service academies require cadets to take boxing. They do not want young officers to experience their first physical adversity on the battlefield. Better to be hit in the gym first than in a trench.

Could there be a better way? Periodically we read articles like this arguing that the concussion risk outweighs the training value. Could cadets experience simulated combat stress through a non-striking art like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Clearly one can experience stress in BJJ, especially if one is a smaller person underneath a larger, smothering opponent. I am not aware of the role of BJJ or other grappling at service academies, although BJJ plays a huge role in the Combatives programs required of enlisted troops. Does anyone know about this topic?

Thanks to Shane for his great work and for prompting this post!

What do you think? Is there a good reason to be punched in the face?

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Five Reasons to Consider GIC1

Have you thought about becoming a certified Krav Maga instructor?

On Sunday I completed part one of the KMG General Instructor Course. I took the course at First Defense Krav Maga in Herndon, VA with five other students. Our instructor was Nick Masi.

GIC1 is the first of a multi-part process for becoming a fully certified KMG instructor. In the United States, we divide the curriculum into three parts. GIC1 is 5 days while GIC2 and 3 are each 9 days. In some parts of the world, like Australia, the GIC is divided into two 12-day courses. Elsewhere, GIC1 and 2 are each 9 days, while GIC3 is 5 days. In any event, the material taught within a given country is the same as other countries, and the entirety of the training is 23 days.

In this post I will provide five reasons that KMG students may consider taking the 5-day GIC1 in the US.

1. Concentrated training. A five-day class is a commitment to training, and the chance to improve your skills on a daily basis is tough to beat. Our instructors had mentioned this phenomenon before, and I felt it in action during the course. While it is possible to begin feeling overwhelmed by the details, overall familiarity with the material prior to the class will help you benefit from the opportunity.

Nick demonstrating the effect of foot rotation on striking
2. Curriculum review. Our class focused on P-level techniques, as well as some G-level techniques for knife defense. Reviewing this material within weeks of your next grading is priceless. If you are a Practitioner level, you are getting additional repetitions of your core techniques. If you are a Graduate level, you are practicing material you may not have performed for months or perhaps longer. In either case, covering so much of the curriculum in a relatively short period of time was extremely valuable.

3. Learning the system. When you learn KMG through weekly classes, you can lose sight of the forest due to the trees. It can be tough to recognize that you are learning a system, not a collection of isolated techniques. During the curriculum review, you work the material in clusters according to the problem at hand or the principle at work. Suddenly all of the choke releases or other techniques seem to make more sense because you recognize how they are related.

4. Introduction to teaching. Our GIC1 offered several opportunities to learn how to teach a KMG class. We started by taking turns leading various elements of the warm-up process, such as elevating the heart rate, beginning mobility, stretching, and power drills. Next we took turns teaching a mini-class of 10-20 minutes. On the last day we each taught a complete but short class of 20-30 minutes. This process encouraged us to deliver clear information, to follow the KMG teaching process, and to be creative so as not to bore our fellow students. I really enjoyed this part of the class!

I still need to work on multiple aspects of striking!
5. Finding and fixing problems. Because we had five days of training, and a small group of six students, we had many opportunities to find and fix problems in our technique. For example, my training partner took videos of me striking the bag. Nick had already told me of several problems, but it was much easier to recognize them when seen on video. For example, I need to work on keeping contact with my right foot, to keep my right hand raised when jabbing with the left, and to recoil the right faster. Collectively these problems weaken my striking technique. Thanks to GIC1 I will be able to work on them, as well as dozens of other items!

Have you taken or considering taking GIC1? What was your experience? Let me know here or via Twitter!

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Monday, February 27, 2017

2017 Martial Arts Goals

In my 2016 Martial Arts Year in Review post I mentioned having martial arts goals for 2017. I realized today that I had not documented these explicitly, so here they are.

My first set of goals involves Krav Maga, my primary art. I plan to attend and pass the KMG General Instructor Course Part 1. If possible I would like to attend and pass Part 2 this year as well, but that depends on the location and timing of the class. I also plan to attend and pass the KMG Kids Instructor Course. My school First Defense Krav Maga is offering both GIC1 and KIC shortly, so I am fortunate to have those opportunities on my schedule. Joining the ranks of KMG instructors is my number one priority for 2017 and 2018.

Also for Krav Maga, I plan to take the Practitioner 3 test in March. If that does not go well, I have an opportunity to re-test at our Spring Camp in May. Assuming I pass P3, I plan to take the P4 test in the fall, either at a regional grading event or at the Fall Camp in November.

My second set of goals involves Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, my secondary art. I already achieved the first goal, which was to begin training regularly with team Pedro Sauer at One Spirit Martial Arts. I would like to complete all three cycles of the Gracie Combatives program. Later in the year I plan to transition to more BJJ fundamentals classes and integrate open classes where possible. Either late this year or early next year I'm considering competing at least once in a BJJ master's division event as a white belt.

My third set of goals involves my tertiary arts, those which lack regular formal instruction. For Filipino martial arts (FMA) like Kali, I plan to attend one formal FMA seminar, most likely this two day Kali seminar in Pittsburgh, and also continue solo practice. For Kung Fu, I need to re-learn all of the Wah Lum 1 form and Straight Form, and hopefully spend a week with my Kung Fu sifus in Massachusetts. I already accomplished my goal for Kendo, which was to complete an eight course introduction to the art at Capital Area Budokai. I do not plan to return to Kendo anytime soon, although I practice movements on my own for fun.

My fourth set of goals involves supporting arts, those which are related to fitness or tangential to martial arts. For Jungshin Fitness, I already led a class and thereby achieved Level 1 certification. I plan to improve my standing through another seminar in March, as well as continuing solo practice. For Ground Force Method, I will watch for other seminars, but realistically I will simply continue solo practice. I use parts of the GFE to warm up for BJJ. For StrongFirst, I will continue to perform the swing and elements of the get-up, and plan that my shoulder and knee rehabilitation will enable full execution of Pavel's Simple and Sinister exercise regime later in the year. For firearms training, I will continue to take advantage of seminars and courses as they meet my budget and schedule. I will likely apply for my CCW permit shortly although I do not plan to purchase a firearm. For weight lifting, I plan to exercise twice a week, as well as continue breathing and pull-up routines.

On the non-physical side, I plan to continue reading martial arts material five times per week. I do not have page or book targets. I make progress by opening the Kindle or a book five times per week. That makes the process less stressful and more enjoyable. I do the same with martial arts videos. I continue to listen to multiple podcasts, and I will update my subscription list in a future blog post! Finally, I will continue to blog at least once per week, sharing my thoughts as I collect them, hopefully for your benefit as well as mine!

What are your martial arts goals for 2017?

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