Friday, October 21, 2016

Three Complements to Martial Arts Training

Are you a martial artist who pushes his or her limits? Do you look for ways to extend your experiences outside the martial arena?

Over the last few months I've tried a few new exercise programs to complement my martial arts training. I describe them here and share why I think they could help you as well!

1. Jungshin Fitness. In August I attended an instructor workshop for Jungshin Fitness. Jungshin is a Korean term meaning “straight spirit” or “awakened mind.” I learned about Jungshin via this Fox News Health TV segment. Annika Kahn, a fourth degree Kuk Sool Won black belt, developed Jungshin as a physical and mental conditioning program.

Jungshin workouts are unique in that they use either one 40" wooden sword or two 21" wooden swords as levers to enhance the exercise experience. Classes integrate strength, breathing, balance, precision, aerobic conditioning, and meditation. Participants execute a variety of sword cuts, footwork drills, stance transitions, fingertip push-ups, jumps and kicks, and choreographed two-person exercises similar to controlled sparring.

During the all-day certification seminar, I participated in two full classes plus dozens of individual movement exercises. Ten minutes into the first class, I looked at the clock and thought "I've only done ten minutes?!" The combination of the overhead sword striking and the continuous movement made the workout much tougher than I expected. I'm sure my shoulder mobility issues were not helping the situation, but I tried to think of the exercise as "extreme therapy!"

I recommend checking out a Jungshin class if you are looking for a new type of workout that incorporates a lever, i.e., the single or double wooden swords. This is a very innovative approach to mental and physical fitness. You can learn more here.

2. StrongFirst. In September I attended a full-day introduction to StrongFirst, or SFG, which stands for StrongFirst Girya. (Girya is kettlebell in Russian.) Although one of my sisters had become a kettlebell instructor several years ago, I had never tried them. I first learned about SFG when I noticed one of the highest ranking Krav Maga Global (KMG) instructors, Tommy Blom, was also highly ranked in SFG.

Soon I discovered Pavel Tsatsouline and how his SFG organization helped people improve fitness through a strength-first approach. The kettlebell is the most prominent, but it is not the only method. Because of my shoulder issues, I knew I could not even think about trying to become certified as a SFG instructor. Instead, I looked for a class which would introduce proper kettlebell form and practices.

Through the SFG Web site I found Brian Wright, a local personal trainer. He offered a one day introduction to four core kettlebell exercises: the swing, the get up, the goblet squat, and the military press. I really enjoyed the experience. Brian helped me modify some of the exercises so I could manage them despite my shoulder issues. I highly recommend working with a trainer like Brian and taking a course before you try to swing kettlebells on your own. I also suggest reading Pavel's latest book, Simple and Sinister. It has the core information you need to begin a kettlebell program.

3. Ground Force Method. This month (October), my Krav Maga school advertised that they were offering a two-day certification course in Ground Force Method (GFM). GFM was previously called "Primal Move," and it is a body-weight-centric exercise program invented by Peter Lakatos. Peter is also a KMG instructor and is SFG-certified like Tommy Blom. Incidentally, Tommy is also a GFM instructor! As you might have sensed, there is a partnership among KMG, SFG, and GFM to promote fitness and healthy lifestyles for all practitioners.

Andrea U-Shi Chang from Kettlebility flew all the way from Seattle to teach our GFM class. I'm a seminar junkie, so when I saw the GFM opportunity at my school, I signed up. We had already been doing some GFM exercises in class to improve our strength, coordination, and flexibility. Essentially, GFM uses a person's body weight and positioning, usually on the ground, as the core workout method. It's much tougher than it sounds or looks. Within a few seconds of crawling on the ground, you're likely to feel your core and shoulders asking for relief!

The GFM class was awesome, but early on the second day I pushed one of my shoulders too far. I had to gut-check my way through the rest of the day, including the certification test. I was able to modify some of the exercises prior to the test so I could continue participating, and I pushed through the certification successfully. I plan to re-engage with GFM soon, after my shoulder can handle the movements again.

Summary. I'm still working on integrating all three fitness modalities into my regular regimen. Some weeks are better than others! Next week I'm seeing an orthopedic specialist to determine what steps I can take to improve shoulder mobility. If I can restore flexibility in my right shoulder, especially, it will permit me to exercise better form in Jungshin, SFG, and GFM exercises. I will also be able to use those programs to continue to strength and rehabilitate my shoulders. I may even feel confident enough to spend more time on the mats doing ground-centric martial arts. I also need to complete the Jungshin level 1 certification process, so I'm trying to figure out how best to accomplish that goal. An SFG instructor qualification could be a much more distant goal, but I'm not going to worry about that today!

Finally, if you have a chance to train with Annika, Brian, or Andrea at any time, I recommend it! All three are professional, highly skilled, knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful.

Have you tried any of these programs? What did you think?

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Never Try This at Home, or Anywhere

Has your martial arts trainer ever crossed the line? I recently watched a YouTube video that, in my opinion, went too far to supposedly demonstrate a martial arts technique.

I subscribe to the Funker Tactical YouTube feed because I like seeing Doug Marcaida's Filipino Martial Arts. On September 12, 2016 they published a video titled VIP Knife Defence | INSANE LIVE BLADE DEMO by Fred Mastro!!! The link starts at the 5:15 mark, with the screen capture at left 12 seconds later.

In the video, Fred Mastro instructs his demonstrator to hold a real knife to Doug Marcaida's throat. Fred then strikes the knife holder in the leg to disarm him, without harming Doug.

My read of Doug's body language and facial expressions is that he did not think this was a good idea. However, he trusted Fred and the demonstrator enough to not expect his throat to be cut.

There is absolutely no reason to use a live weapon in a demonstration like this, for three reasons:

1. It's more dangerous than necessary. Iain Abernethy has said the following many times on his podcast, and I agree: it makes no sense to introduce live weapons in training, because that makes the training environment the most dangerous place the student will likely ever visit.

The dojo might already be the most dangerous location a student visits, due to sparring, physical exertion, and the risk of an accident. However, live weapons introduce an entirely new level of risk of bodily harm.

It defeats the purpose of self defense training to expose students to situations that are unnecessarily dangerous, in order to teach them to handle danger.

Of course it makes sense to ramp up the danger when the stakes are higher. For example, military personnel sometimes train for more dangerous conditions (battlefields) with live rounds, but they employ rules of engagement to introduce acceptable levels of risk.

2. Costs greatly exceed benefits. There is almost nothing to be gained with a live weapon, in a civilian setting, that could not be adequately simulated with a safer alternative. For example, Fred could have demonstrated the effectiveness of his disarm technique using a marker or a Shocknife.

One could argue that the person threatened by the knife would not feel the same stress or fear when a marker or Shocknife is held to his throat. That is true, but irrelevant here. The point of this video exercise was not to simulate that situation; it was testing a disarm. The potential costs of this demonstration -- cutting Doug's throat -- do not exceed the benefits.

3. It proves nothing. Using a live blade proves absolutely nothing. The demonstrator would never intentionally try to cut Doug's throat.

If Fred had failed to disarm the demonstrator, he would not have said "you lose!" and made Doug pay with his life!

The only dimension that live blade introduced was the possibility of a catastrophic accident.

Let me finish with a clear statement: I am not questioning anyone's skill. I'm simply saying they don't need to hold a live blade to Doug's throat in order to demonstrate it.

Have you encountered similar risks in training? What did you do?

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