Monday, January 8, 2018

Professor Sauer on Jiu-Jitsu TV

A year ago I started learning Jiu-Jitsu at Professor Pedro Sauer's school, One Spirit Martial Arts, in Herndon, VA. I don't take the quality of instruction for granted. Having access to so many talented instructors is a blessing. It's particularly special when I can attend a class taught by Prof Sauer himself.

I find myself in a catch-22 situation when Professor teaches. If I'm on the mat, I can try the techniques and concepts he is teaching that night, but I can't really record what he's sharing. If I'm off the mats, usually staying for a few extra minutes before heading home, I can record what he says. However, I'm not in the class, so I don't get to try the lesson.

Thanks to a new set of video instructionals, I have found a way to have recorded access to Professor's wisdom and concepts.

Last month Jiu-Jitsu TV began offering a set of 81 video lessons from Professor's 2017 seminar series in Australia and Singapore. I decided to take advantage of a Christmas special and purchase access to the lessons.

They are so interesting that I decided to write this blog post, after only watching the first two. The "intercepting attacks from the bottom" lesson captured one of the tenets of Professor's approach to Jiu-Jitsu, that I often hear in class but haven't had a chance to capture. Thanks to the video, I can share it here, in his own words:

Don't fight moves against you. Fight moves that are starting against you. 

Let your opponent start, but don't let him finish. 

You don't fight what's been done. You fight what's just starting. 

Don't let him lock a move, and then resist. You intercept it. 

This is a very powerful concept. In a later video that has also been posted on YouTube, Professor explains this idea as setting a mousetrap.

This is one of the secrets of Professor's Jiu-Jitsu. He seals off your attacks, but then opens something. You, as the attacker, think he is making a mistake, so you take what you think he is giving you. However, he is just setting a mousetrap. When you move to exploit the supposed vulnerability, Professor intercepts your attack, and leverages it to finish you.

If you want to learn more about Professor's approach to Jiu-Jitsu, check out his new video series on Jiu-Jitsu TV.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 Martial Arts Year in Review

2017 was my second full year practicing martial arts, since my return in January 2016. About a year ago I posted my 2016 Martial Arts Year in Review, reporting some statistics on my training and how I spent that time.

Because I have no official training scheduled today or Sunday, it's time for me to analyze how I practiced in 2017.

For comparison's sake, in 2016 I spent approximately 300 hours in formal training. About two thirds involved Krav Maga. Less than one sixth involved other martial arts, such as Kali, combatives (including my first serious ground work), and Kung Fu. The remainder involved fitness (Jungshin and Ground Force Method) and firearms.

Krav Maga

In 2017 I began my second year of training at First Defense Krav Maga in Herndon, VA. I started the year as a P-2.

Prior to my P-3 test in March, I participated in 50 formal Krav Maga classes. (I had trained 94 hours since my P-2 test.)

Between my P-3 test and my P-4 test in September, I participated in 50 Krav Maga classes.

After my P-4 test and through the end of December, I participated in 30 Krav Maga classes.

That is a total of roughly 130 hours of regular Krav Maga classes, down from 144 in 2016.

In addition to regular classes, I participated in several seminars and camps.

In March I completed the five day, 40 hour General Instructor Course One (GIC1).

In April I completed the five day, 40 hour Kids Instructor Course (KIC).

In May I attended 7 hours of the spring KMG camp.

I September I spent over 3 hours in an instructor seminar.

In October I spent 3 hours in a sparring seminar taught by GM Jeff Smith.

That is a total of roughly 93 hours of special events, up from 73 in 2016. Combined with my formal classes, I spent 223 hours training Krav Maga in 2017, up from 217 in 2016.

In 2017 I spent time as an assistant or as a primary instructor for youth and adult classes. For kids, I spent 61 hours teaching (outside of the classes that overlapped with the KIC.) For adults, I spent 27 hours teaching (outside of the classes that overlapped with the GIC.)

That is a total of roughly 87 hours of instructing, up from 0 in 2016. Combined with my personal training, I spent 310 hours as a Krav Maga student or instructor in 2017.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

I began studying Jiu-Jitsu on January 30th. My last post, Reflections on 100 Hours of Jiu-Jitsu, explains my experiences as of December 16th. Since that post I added 4 more classes, and adding my trial class, I spent 105 hours in formal classes at Professor Pedro Sauer's school in 2017.

I also trained outside of formal classes.

In March I spent 2 hours with Rener Gracie at his seminar in Leesburg, VA.

May was busy: I spent 2 more hours with Rener at his seminar in Baltimore, MD, 2 hours with Royce Gracie in Takoma Park, MD, and 6 hours at Prof Sauer's spring camp. 

In September I spent 3 hours with Rickson Gracie at his seminar in Albany, NY.

In November I spent 6 hours with Henry Akins at his seminar in Atlanta, GA.

Adding these 15 hours to my 105 formal class hours, I spent 120 hours as a student in Jiu-Jitsu in 2017.

Other Martial Arts

I trained in several other venues in 2017. In January I completed an 8 session, approximately 12 hour introductory course on Kendo.

In February and August I participated in two Shuai Jiao seminars taught by Nick Masi, for a total of approximately 4 hours.

These martial arts totaled 16 hours.

Other Training

In February I spent 3 hours with other Krav Maga instructor candidates learning urban defense tactics at Silver Eagle Group.

In September I began practicing Yoga at East Meets West Yoga Center. As of this writing I've practiced 13 hours, but I plan to add a class on Sunday the 31st to end 2017 with 14 hours of Yoga.

This other training totaled 17 hours.


Adding up all of the time I spent in formal training or teaching in 2017, the total was approximately 463 hours, up from 300 hours in 2016.

Removing hours spent instructing, the total is 376 hours, up from 300 hours in 2016.

Only looking at training hours, about 60% involved Krav Maga and 32% involved Jiu-Jitsu. The last 8% involved other martial arts or training.

Looking Forward

As noted earlier this month, I decided to no longer pursue instructor status in Krav Maga. Although I am interested in Jiu-Jitsu instructor opportunities, I do not expect much progress in 2018 due to my low rank. I therefore do not expect to be logging instructor hours in 2018.

I expect a shift towards more equal training time in 2018. For several months I have attended Jiu-Jitsu classes 3 to 4 nights per week, and Krav Maga classes 3 days per week. When possible I try to attend one night Krav Maga class as well. I will probably still train 3 to 4 hours per week in Jiu-Jitsu and 3 to 4 hours per week in Krav Maga. Therefore, the two activities will be more balanced in 2018.

For Krav Maga, I hope to test for my P-5 rank in the spring and G-1 in the fall. For Jiu-Jitsu, I would like to test for my blue belt some time in 2018, although I am not in any rush to do so! 2019 would be fine as well.

How did you spend your training time in 2017? Let me know here on on Twitter!

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Reflections on 100 Hours of Jiu-Jitsu

On Wednesday night I logged my 100th hour of training at One Spirit Martial Arts, the home academy of Prof Pedro Sauer. We sign into a computer every time we visit the school, so I have a record of my "official" training time there.

My trial class happened Monday January 30th, and my first official class happened January 31st, 2017. At the time of writing, I have a little over 10 months of time at the school. As of Wednesday, I spent 52 hours in Gracie Combatives, 34 hours in Pedro Sauer Fundamentals, 11 hours in open rank classes, and 1 hour each in a Gracie Reflex Development class, a morning open rank class, and an evening "lab" class.

In terms of actual training time, I've spent more than 100 hours doing Jiu-Jitsu in 2017 -- but not much more.  My trial class was an hour. In March I spent two hours with Rener Gracie at his seminar in Leesburg, VA. May was busy: I spent two more hours with Rener at his seminar in Baltimore, MD, two hours with Royce Gracie in Takoma Park, MD, and six hours at Prof Sauer's spring camp.  In September I spent three hours with Rickson Gracie at his seminar in Albany, NY. In November I spent six hours with Henry Akins at his seminar in Atlanta, GA. That's only 16 additional hours.

Realistically I only expect to train 5-7 more hours in 2017, based on the dates Professor's school plans to close. I will end 2017 with roughly 120 hours of Jiu-Jitsu instruction.

Where am I on this path? I'm a white belt, as I expect to remain for a while. In the Pedro Sauer system, we receive up to four white stripes on the black bar. Next, we receive a blue tape bar applied to the other end of the white belt. We can  earn four more white stripes, applied over the blue bar. At that point, we are eligible to be invited to test for blue belt. Because I have my blue tape bar, you might say I'm halfway through this process.

How do I feel physically? I'm still 5'9 (thankfully), but I've lost at least 10 pounds. I weighed a little over 158 at the beginning of the year, and these days I float between 146 and 148 lbs. A cleaner diet is responsible for most of this weight loss, but I do feel heavier on days without Jiu-Jitsu. My muscles and joints feel good, and I'm progressing on my path to stop taking medication for rheumatoid arthritis. I just turned 46 years old, and I feel as good as I ever have. I still need to work on strength, and I have a goal of adding pull-ups to my training program in 2018.

How do I feel about my capabilities? I don't feel completely helpless when rolling, but it depends on the opponent. If I roll with a new white belt, I can be very relaxed while he or she is more likely to be tense and obsessed with strength. Against more experienced opponents, or larger opponents, I'm still in deep trouble. I've recognized that anyone who weighs 20 pounds or more than me is going to be difficult. Guys in their 30s are a challenge, and those in their 20s are killers. I completely agree with the Gracie "Boyd Belt" concept!

I feel like I'm getting the hang of moving my hips. I can recognize more dangerous positions. I can usually identify the point at which I'm going to tap out in a few seconds. I'm much more comfortable just being on the ground! I need a lot of work practicing techniques but I can follow along with lessons much easier than when I started the year.

I'm a much bigger fan of Jiu-Jitsu now than when I started. My favorite aspect of the art is the ability to test everything against resisting opponents. I really like being able to immediately feel that a technique or approach is working or not working. If it's not working, I like being about to make adjustments until it is working. I really like that the system is not predicated on strength, or speed, or explosiveness. I can see myself doing Jiu-Jitsu from now until I am very old.

At the very end of the year I will do another year in review post, as I did for 2016.

Can you remember what it was like to have 100 hours of training under your belt? Let me know here on on Twitter!

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Monday, December 4, 2017

"Let's See If That's True!"

Last week Professor Sauer taught the mixed level Jiu-Jitsu class Monday night at his school in Herndon, VA. I took the Fundamentals class at 6 pm and decided to stay for Professor's session. We spent time addressing a position Professor had been asked about during his recent seminar tour.

The position isn't that important for this post, but it involved escaping a foe on your back. He has hooks in, ready to apply a rear naked choke. To make matters worse the opponent traps one of your arms, using his leg. We practiced escaping when the opponent traps your right arm.

Professor showed how to escape the situation. Basically, fall to your left side to avoid getting your right arm caught under your opponent. Use your right leg against his right arm to help free your trapped arm. Finish with a variation of the normal curriculum escape to eventually achieve side control or mount.

The end of the instruction had the most impact on me, however. As he has done many times during class, Professor ended by saying "Let's see if that's true!" In other words, go practice the escape. Collaborate with your partner until he learns the motions. Then, start adding resistance. Perhaps you will find that you cannot use the escape, for whatever reason. The point is that Jiu-Jitsu is not performance art. You eventually have to be able to use it against a fully resisting opponent.

We got a chance to do that in the next phase of training. Professor separated the white and blue belts from the other belts. The higher belts took the floor, and Professor told the white and blue belts to take the high belts' backs, trap an arm, and try to choke them. The high belts had to use the new technique to escape the situation.

You could argue that the high belts should have tried their escape against an equivalent belt. I don't necessarily think that's required to make the point. The important element of this experience is that both sides could test the effectiveness of Jiu-Jitsu against resisting adversaries. Each could make adjustments to try to improve their performance.

This ability to work within a "Jiu-Jitsu laboratory," as Professor sometimes says, is one of my favorite aspects of this style of martial arts.

Have you experienced this phenomenon in practice? Let me know here on on Twitter!

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Making Decisions

Life is a series of choices. Like the philosophers in Rush said, "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." Last month I decided to leave the path towards becoming a Krav Maga instructor. Instead I will focus on progress towards Practitioner 5, and then Graduate 1. At this point I am not sure what I will do after that, assuming I can continue training in Krav Maga and pass the promotion tests for both ranks in 2018. Accordingly I will not open a Krav Maga school in 2018.

Now I'm looking more closely at the path to becoming a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor. I hope to test for blue belt some time in 2018, and perhaps begin the Gracie Instructor Certification program later that year. My home school, One Spirit Martial Arts lead by Professor Pedro Sauer, also offers an instructor certification within the Pedro Sauer Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Association. I do not plan to open a Jiu-Jitsu school any time in the near- to mid-term. It takes at least ten years to earn a BJJ black belt, and I would be happy teaching at Professor's school if he needs the help.

Making these decisions required a lot of reflection and weighing of costs and benefits. One of the factors which encouraged me to change was the opportunity to assist a Federal agency with their cyber security challenges. I've been consulting since leaving my day job with FireEye in March. Through a friend in Krav Maga, I've connected with an amazing company who needs my cyber security expertise. This could be the biggest project I've ever worked, which is why I'm interested!

I encourage you to scrutinize why you train martial arts, how you train, and how you are treated by the people with whom you interact. I think new years are a wonderful opportunity to evaluate where you are on your martial journey, and to make decisions that are consistent with your values and interests.

What are your plans for the new year? Let me know here on on Twitter!

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Principles Before Techniques

Last weekend I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to attend Jiu-Jitsu seminars on Saturday and Sunday. The instructor was Henry Akins, a Rickson Gracie black belt known for his concept of hidden Jiu-Jitsu. Ryan Ford, host of the Grappling Central podcast, organized the event.

Day one lasted for three hours and covered passing the guard. Henry assumed that an opponent in closed guard has already had his guard opened. We started with one person on the ground and the guard passer standing up.

The goal of guard passing is to close distance with the opponent and eventually make chest-to-chest contact. Henry built his guard passing approach on something Rickson told him: "Guard passing is weight distribution and angles." It took Henry a long time to figure out exactly what Rickson meant, and he ended up in a lot of people's closed guards trying to practice this approach. However, having experienced Henry's method, I believe it makes a lot of sense.

When an opponent uses his legs to keep distance, it is not efficient for me to try to beat him with my arms. The arms are smaller and weaker than the legs. If I use my body versus his legs, I am more likely to win. "Weight is free," and I can apply "pressure without strength."

The first drill demonstrated this principle. Your partner lies on his back. You take mount. Your partner uses both arms, straight out, to support your weight as you lean forward. You then tripod forward, on your toes, and apply as much of your weight downward as possible. Your partner cannot bench press you forever. You then twist your upper body to the left or right. The change in angle will cause your partner to drop you, either to his chest or to his elbow. If he partially catches you, twist again, eventually reaching his chest.

This is a simple drill but it captures the concepts underlying Henry's guard passing method. It teaches the person on top to feel the weakness in the partner's structure, and then change the angle to exploit that weakness. If your first angle doesn't attack the weakness, keep changing until you find an angle that works.

Henry said you should "attack where your opponent is weak." That is a key aspect of efficiency. Efficiency also depends on conserving energy and not wasting movement.

One of my favorite lines from the seminar was "there is no right or wrong, only 'did it work?' If it worked, could it be done more efficiently?" I love this because it allows you to customize Jiu-Jitsu to your body type, age, personality, and other characteristics. In my opinion a martial art should be personal, with the main criterion for success being "did it work," not matching another person's definition of success.

The next drill involved passing the guard of an opponent on the ground with a knee shield in place and one hand in my collar. The opponent is using the knee shield to prevent a guard pass straight through the middle.

Henry emphasized "soaking up space" and always making forward progress when passing the guard. He doesn't want the opponent to move back. He doesn't care about breaking grips. It is ok to move your weight backward in order to find the right angle to attack, but don't disengage and then re-engage. Retreat allows the opponent to recover.

To move your opponent, create connection.. To stop your opponent from moving you, kill connection. Touch does not equal connection. Henry showed this principle by repeating the first drill. The partner on the bottom pushing upwards can lose connection when you change the angle. The opponent is touching you but not having any practical effect.

We next drilled some guard passing to the partner's back and front, with the partner applying the knee shield. You have to keep your elbows, knees, and hips off the mat. When you put your elbows, knees, or hips on the floor, you're losing free weight into the ground. The goal is to collapse your partner's frame by applying weight and changing angles, then pass the obstructing limbs.

Our next drill involved the partner using his feet to keep us at bay, like the Gracie Combatives punch block series position four. Your partner applies pressure with his feet. You change your angle to collapse toward your partner. Henry said that if your partner tries to grab you from the ground, and possibly pull you, that assists your guard pass.

I saw Henry drill this with Ryan Ford. Henry held Ryan back with his feet. Ryan changed the angle and dropped such that Henry was blocking with his knee shield. Ryan changed the angle again and Ryan dropped such that Henry was framing with his hands. Ryan changed the angle a third time and got chest to chest contact.

This exercise demonstrated the feet - knee - hands progression that constituted the core ideas of the seminar. Identify the main block, change the angle, and collapse toward the opponent. We tried variations against spider guard, a leg lasso, and butterfly guard. Henry stressed that you shouldn't learn a thousand passing techniques to pass a thousand guard variations created by placing the hands, knee, or other body parts in different locations. Instead, go forward, change angles, and apply weight.

The second day of the seminar covered sweeps. Henry started with the scissor sweep from the guard. He emphasized that some approaches teach pulling your opponent forward onto you as preparation for the sweep.

This is contrary to Henry's method. He wants to keep as much distance as possible because he is concerned the partner in the guard could be throwing punches. Henry likes using a knee shield in these situations in an open guard posture. Distance enables protection from punches. It is a form of "passive defense." When your opponent is close, in punching range, you have to perform "active defense."

Henry's scissor sweep starts with the partner in closed guard, postured fully back, with knees open. This is supposed to be a very safe position for the person in the guard.

You start the sweep by opening your closed guard, raising your hips, and swinging your shoulder to the ground. Place a knee shield across the partner's waist, hooking one foot and putting your knee slightly lower, pointing downwards. The other leg bites alongside the partner's knee, on the ground. Now, instead of using that leg to "chop" the partner's knee, extend your knee shield leg while keeping pressure with the hooking foot. You're essentially using the large muscles of your leg to push the partner over your trapping floor leg. I was amazed how well this worked! The slightly downward pointed knee helps channel your energy in the proper direction -- downward, where you want your partner to fall, not upwards.

If you had control of your opponent's arm, that helps you achieve mount position. If you did not have arm control, Henry showed how to use your body and weight to make it difficult for the opponent to recover. Go belly down with both hands on the mat, and work your way to mount.

We next drilled a hook sweep and a reverse hook sweep. Henry emphasized that we should never fall backwards doing these sweeps. We should fall to our sides, on our shoulders. We should also not try to throw our partner off, which results in a scramble we could lose.

The last drill involved the double ankle sweep. Henry showed that we must not let ourselves be stacked under our opponent, laying on our necks. Instead, push against the partner's ankles to stay on our upper back. Open your guard and drop your hips to the floor. Keep your hips on the floor! Even if your partner has a good base, with grips on your gi, you can sweep him by applying pressure to his hips. If your partner is very far forward, it makes more sense to roll him over you after you trap his hands.

Overall this was an amazing experience. Professor Akins was on my instructor "bucket list," so I was thrilled to have the chance to train with him. I liked his approach and his teaching was top notch. I highly recommend training with him and I would attend another seminar without hesitation. He was approachable for pictures and spoke with us before and after the official seminar hours.

I'd like to thank Ryan Ford and his wife for organizing the seminars. It was well-run and everyone was friendly. I also enjoyed meeting other students in the Pedro Sauer association. My final thanks goes to my training partners who were kind enough to work with a white belt!

Have you attended a seminar with Professor Akins? Let me know here on on Twitter!

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Tales from Three Noon Classes

This week I was on the official instructor roster at First Defense Krav Maga for three noon classes. I wrote last week about how I was managing my nerves in preparation for the classes. I'm happy to say all three classes went well!

I taught the first class with a ground focus, the second had a kicking focus, and the third involved striking and striking defenses. I designed the classes to meet requests from students I expected to attend the sessions. I was pleased to hear that they appreciated the coverage for their topics.

I took three lessons away from teaching these classes. First, it pays to prepare solid class plans. I spent a lot of time preparing my lesson plans for each class. I estimated the time for each activity and added options in case we ran through it faster than expected. I also imagined how to cut material in case we progressed slower than I expected. A combination of each situation occurred during the course of the week, but I was ready for each case.

Second, it is important to by friendly and confident when working with students. One of my classes included a student who is several ranks higher than me, and her striking is excellent. Another student had much better kicking than me. In each case I used them as examples when showing students sound technique. I also tried to learn from their demonstrations.

Third, I learned that I am capable of running multiple classes during a week. When I taught the one noon class the previous week, I wondered if anyone would have returned if they knew I were teaching multiple days. It turns out that I had repeat students this week! That helped me recognize that I could succeed in this field.

What lessons have you learned from teaching martial arts classes? Let me know here on on Twitter!

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.