Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Protecting U2 and Their Fans

Last night Mrs B and I were fortunate to attend the U2 concert at FedEx Field in Landover, MD. Between the opening act and U2's first set, I enjoyed observing the physical security arrangements and seeing them in action.

Shortly before taking the photograph at left, I saw a probably intoxicated fan run towards the mass of general admission attendees in the center of the photograph. He was pursued by a yellow-shirted member of the CSC Event Staff. The man either fell or was pushed to the ground by the CSC staffer.

Shortly afterwards a few of the orange-shirted "Apex Security Group" approached the scene. The CSC and Apex crew removed the fan from the field, one person on each side, slightly behind the fan, each holding one arm behind the fan, at the wrist. A few minutes after the fan was escorted from the field, a few Prince George's County uniformed police officers spoke with other CSC staffers, then followed the path taken by the man escorted from the field. They were probably going to arrest the fan or at least remove him from the stadium.

This episode gave me a chance to reflect on the tiered security infrastructure at plan at the U2 concert. The lowest and most numerous tier consists of CSC Event Staff. There are likely hundreds of them in the stadium, but they have the least training and the lowest ability to handle a security incident. However, they can get eyes on a problem and intercede with the hope of slowing down any intruder or troublemaker.

The commotion caused by a conflict between a fan and the CSC Event Staff will attract the attention of the Apex Security Group workers. There are far fewer of them in the stadium. I counted no more than a dozen, working in pairs. If CSC can't handle a problem, then Apex is the next escalation point. Neither CSC nor Apex carries firearms.

The highest escalation level consists of PG county police. I saw a handful of them onsite, but there were many police officers performing road safety and control duties outside. They are armed and can bring deadly force to play if needed to protect U2 or fans. Beyond the uniformed police, Mrs B and I noticed a likely police helicopter circling the stadium, and two officers dressed in tactical gear walking the stadium perimeter.

I am happy to report that I did not notice any other physical incidents after the one I reported. Of course, it was very dark and very loud, but I believe everyone enjoyed the concert!

What have you learned from observing physical security forces at work?

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Longevity in the Martial Arts

How long can we train in the martial arts?

As a 45-year-old who returned to practice in January 2016, I've been pondering this question for the past few weeks, in three separate ways.

First, in episode 161 of the Whistlekick podcast, a practitioner of the Chinese martial arts said that as a younger man he focused on the so-called "hard" or "external" styles, and as he aged he transitioned to the "soft" or "internal" styles. For example, you might begin learning Wing Chun or Kung Fu, then migrate to Tai Chi, or spend more time on Kung Fu forms instead of sparring. I have done some Wing Chun and Tai Chi, but the majority of my Chinese practice involves Kung Fu forms.

Second, I participated in Professor Pedro Sauer's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu spring camp in Herndon, VA. Professor is in his late 50s and he talked about the importance of learning technique rather than relying on strength. He said it is good to have strength, but you should "keep it in your back pocket." When you learn Jiu-Jitsu with technique and leverage, you can continue practicing Jiu-Jitsu your whole life. Professor spoke in front a picture of Grandmaster Helio Gracie, who was still on the mats in his 90s. During the camp I couldn't help but notice the number of older people practicing BJJ, mixed in with the younger students. The camp consisted of a three hour Friday session, two three hour Saturday sessions (with a two hour break), and a three hour Sunday session.

Third, I participated in a Krav Maga Global camp at NovaMMA in Arlington, VA. I was only able to attend four hours on Friday and four hours on Sunday. (Saturday evening I visited Evolve Academy in Gaithersburg, MD to train at a Rener Gracie seminar.) Although there were some older practitioners there, it seemed that most of the participants were a decade or two younger than me. The physical intensity level of the camp was fairly high. One of the outstanding young students from my home Krav Maga school said the Saturday session left him completely exhausted. This young man is 17 years old, and we often joke that a two hour session is just a warm-up for him! The camp consisted of two full days of training (Friday and Saturday, 9 am - 5:30 pm), an extra three hour seminar Saturday night (6-9 pm), and training or testing on Sunday that started at 9 am and ended between noon and 2 pm, depending on the grade being tested. The grading ended with an exhausting "ladder" drill: 1 combat sprawl, 2 punches; 2 combat sprawls, 4 punches, and so on, up to 10 combat sprawls, 20 punches, then back down to 1 combat sprawl, 2 punches.

Comparing these experiences, I wondered about my ability to continue practicing each style.

For Kung Fu, I believe I can continue practicing forms as long as I can walk. My Kung Fu Sifu is in his late 50s and his Sifu, Master Chan Pui, is 80. Master Chan is an extraordinary individual, and I have never been able to move like him, at any age! However, practitioners can modify Kung Fu forms to suit their athletic capabilities. Forms can be a life-long mental and athletic pursuit, albeit one with little combat application (in my opinion).

For Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I believe I can continue rolling for almost as long as I can do Kung Fu. The older the practitioner, the more of a focus on defense and survival. The longer you practice, the more technique you develop. I believe the Boyd Belt is one way to keep a realistic outlook as you age. However, I think it is possible to fully participate in Jiu-Jitsu with practitioners of all ages as I get older.

For Krav Maga, I am less certain of my ability to maintain a lifetime practice. Some readers might point to the amazing story of Ton Maas, the 84 year old who just earned his KMG graduate 2 rank. I have also seen some practitioners older than me succeed in their training and grading. However, the structure and pace of the Krav Maga world seems more physically demanding than what the average older practitioner can sustain.

For example, in March I completed the five day General Instructor Course Part 1. My body held up pretty well, but five full days of training is a lot for a 45-year-old. To become a full instructor, I have to complete parts 2 and 3, each of which are nine days long. This process does not seem to consider the physical recovery challenges of someone not in their 20s or 30s!

Some readers may think it's my fault for not pursuing instructor certification 10 or 20 years ago, and that is a fair criticism. Perhaps Krav Maga is ultimately a younger person's art. However, that means the pool of instructors will not be as large as it could be, simply because the training and certification process is designed for younger participants. That in turn leads to fewer people with the life experience to match potential older students.

The same physical endurance dynamic is at play in Krav Maga gradings. My first test lasted 1 1/2 hours. My second test lasted 3 hours and 20 minutes. My third test lasted over 4 hours. I have seen tests for higher grades last 8-9 hours, with no lunch break. I have heard of tests taking two full days! The factor driving these tests is the requirement to demonstrate all material, from all ranks, during the test. Beyond techniques, candidates engage in a variety of sparring matches (standing, ground, mixed, etc.) and cap off the sessions with the ladder drill. I have thoughts on why KMG leadership believes the physicality and comprehensive nature of the tests are required, but I will save that for a future post.

In brief, I see myself active in Kung Fu forms for as long as possible. I hope to continue rolling in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as long as I avoid major injuries. For Krav Maga, I expect to physically top out at some point, so long as the non-routine events (instructor training and grading) expect the physical performance of those in their 20s and 30s.

What are your thoughts on longevity in the martial arts?

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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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