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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Managing Nerves

Last week I taught the noon Krav Maga class at First Defense Krav Maga. Our head instructor was out, so rather than cancel he asked if I would like to lead.

I decided to focus on the ground techniques in the Krav P2 curriculum, and add in some "white belt Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu" flair. I added the Gracie punch block series (from guard). I also taught how to transition from mount to an S-mount as the opponent tries to roll under you. If the opponent continues to roll, you can let them and then take their back.

The students liked the class. As a result, I think, I am teaching again next week. Our head instructor is flying to Las Vegas for nine days of national training and meetings, so I'm teaching all three noon classes next week.

I'm nervous, but as I told a friend, feeling nervous confirms three facts: 1) I'm alive; 2) I'm growing; and 3) I care. I could give a talk to an audience about my cybersecurity  methods with little to no preparation, but I've been thinking about these three classes for days now.

For one of the three days, I'm going to return to the ground. One day I'm going to cover using the stick as a weapon, drawing on my Kali interests. One day I will focus on a more traditional Krav Maga theme, probably striking and movement.

Whatever happens, I will report back how the classes went. I hope to see some of my readers in class next week!

How do you prepare to teach? Let me know here on on Twitter!

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Avoiding Smash Mouth

Who needs a hobby, or even a lifestyle, that requires getting punched in the mouth? We do! We martial artists are likely to be intentionally or unintentionally smacked in the face many times over the years. We owe it to ourselves to protect the investment our parents made in our braces and trips to the dentist! If you managed to avoid the orthodontist, you have an ever higher duty to protect what your creator gave you!

Throughout my martial arts career, I've worn the same mouth gear. When I entered basic training at the Air Force Academy, military dentists took a cast of my teeth and made a form-fitting guard. It sat on my front teeth and helped me avoid injuries during the basic assault course, boxing, and combatives. I was not smart enough to wear it playing pick-up ice hockey (or a helmet, for that matter), resulting in some damage that is a story for another day. (I gave the other guy a scar, too.)

Last month I decided to upgrade my protective gear. My old mouth guard was serviceable but uncomfortable. I contacted Impact Mouthguards and ordered a kit for their MMA model. I ordered a clear guard, trimmed, with the standard six mouth impression retention. Looking back, I might have ordered the three year impression retention, although I do not really expect to order another guard in the next three years.

I received a kit in the mail a few days later. I watched the instructional video before doing anything. The key to creating the mouth guard is realizing that Impact provides dentist-quality clay to take the impression. You, the customer, have to pick the right-sized tray from the three that Impact ships in its kit, combine and roll the compounds, fill the tray properly, and put the resulting product in your mouth for the right amount of time. It's more involved than a "boil and bite" version, but the finished product is so much better!

I followed the process and first created the mold that you see on the right. You may notice that I am missing some molars! I had six removed during my senior year in high school, during cross country season. That was unpleasant but apparently necessary.

If you look closely at the image, you will see that the lower right side of the mold is essentially non-existent. This worried me, because I doubted that Impact would be able to create a model of my teeth with this deficiency. Fortunately Impact ships two sets of modelling compounds in every kit, because many people have trouble creating a good impression on their own.

Beyond relying on my visual inspection, I was able to email the photo shown here to an Impact representative. He or she confirmed that I should take a second impression. Their advice was to put more compound on the lower right side, and to be very careful with placing my teeth. I blamed my orthodontist and the palette spreader he gave me, and then took another impression.

The mold at the left shows the second attempt. It has barely enough compound on the lower right side, but it did the trick. The Impact rep confirmed that it was ready to ship, so I packed it in the appropriate box mailed it to them on September 25th.

On October 19th I received the equipment shown at the very top of this page. It looks similar to my military guard, but the fit is perfect. Impact guarantees that their products will fit perfectly, and they lived up to that promise!

I have not yet used the new mouth guard sparring, but it is now in my Krav Maga gear bag. I am very impressed by what seems like a "vacuum seal" created by the exceptional fit of this new gear. It just does not budge, and it takes a concerted effort to remove it.

If you are in the market for a new mouth guard, I recommend Impact. In no way did they sponsor this process. I just did some research, bought their gear, and reported my findings.

What do you use to protect your teeth? Let me know here on on Twitter!

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Make Them Miss, Make Them Pay

Saturday afternoon First Defense Krav Maga hosted GM Jeff Smith, a karate and TKD practitioner from the "blood and guts" era of full contact kickboxing. Krav practitioners spar, but not competitively. Our head instructor Nick Masi brought Mr Smith to the school to share his knowledge of movement, striking, and tactics. Here I will try to capture some of his drills and key themes.

Mr Smith began the seminar by explaining his key principles: footwork, distance, accuracy, timing, and speed. We worked movement drills and relaxed our shoulders to avoid wasting energy and losing speed.

Mr Smith said skipping rope was a great way to practice relaxing shoulders while developing endurance. If you constantly trip on the rope, get rid of it! Just work the movements. You generate the most striking power in a stance, not while moving. Therefore, we drilled moving, striking, and moving again.

Mr Smith led us through a series of attack sequences. From a left foot forward fighting stance, these included:

  • Lead (left) jab, lead (left) front kick, right cross.
  • Jab, lead side kick, cross.
  • Jab, plant left foot, spinning side kick with right leg, left strike.
  • Jab, lead (left) round kick to opponent lead thigh or body, cross, left upperhook.
  • Jab, lead outside crescent kick (strikes with outside of foot), cross.
The counter-attack sequences included stepping offline and blocking the jab with the near (left) hand, then striking with the rear (right, or cross) hand. 

Versus the lead round kick, Mr Smith showed the importance of the defender stepping to his or her 7:30 (diagonally left and back) to take away some of the kick's power. Stepping to the 1:30 (diagonally right and front) would put the defender closer to the kicker. Mr Smith taught us the "universal block," a two-armed motion that drops the defender's right arm low and the left arm high to protect the head. The defender can try to trap the attacker's leg with the low arm and then throw the attacker. 

When executing this block, the defender should turn the right shoulder towards the attacker. The high left hand should face palm out. One of our senior instructors, Chris, served as demonstration dummy by having Mr Smith whack Chris' left hand, with palm out and palm in. Palm out engages stronger arm and shoulder muscles, while palm in collapses such that Chris hit himself in the face while Mr Smith struck his arm.

Versus the front and side kicks, the defender should step to the 1:30 and deflect the kick to his or her left side before striking.

Beyond specific techniques, Mr Smith described how a combination of technique and application makes a good fighter. He said to practice in stages: first 1/2 speed, then 3/4 speed, and only later full speed. Always practice drills involving head contact while wearing a mouth guard! 

Movement-wise, you "bounce" to set distance or get to the outside, and walk when advancing towards, or what I thought of as "stalking" the opponent. Mr Smith said one of the keys to his success was to "make them miss, make them pay," hence the combination of defense and counter-attack skills.

When meeting an opponent at the center of the ring, don't touch two gloves to the opponent's glove or gloves. Always touch one glove, and use the moment to gauge the correct striking distance. Clever!

Mr Smith noted that he turns 70 next month, and afterwards my fellow students were amazed. We thought he was in his 50s given how well he moved. Of course we hadn't done the math concerning his fighting in the 1960's and 1970s, so we were all surprised. I felt he was a great role model for staying incredibly active while others his age might barely play golf!

After class I asked Mr Smith to share his toughest fight, and what made it difficult. He said fighting on the undercard at the "Thrilla in Manila" was the toughest, because millions of people watched and he as a light heavyweight fought a heavyweight. You can see the fight online here, with part 1 being the introductions and part 2 beginning the first round. 

I hope Mr Smith returns for the next level of his seminar. If you have a chance to invite him to teach at your school, I am sure you will enjoy the experience. Thank you GM Jeff Smith for sharing your knowledge with a Krav school!

What did I miss? Let me know here on on Twitter!

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