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!

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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.

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.

Update: I've worn my new guard during several sparring sessions and it's been awesome. It fits well, doesn't bother me, and protects my teeth!

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!

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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

What Does the Student Need

I've been enjoying the Jiu-Jitsu Brotherhood podcast, hosted by Nic Gregoriades. Nic brings a deep philosophical approach to his jiu-jitsu, and his podcast reflects that thinking. In episode 10 he interviewed Matt Thornton, the famous coach known for his concept of "aliveness" in training.

Nic asked Matt for advice on how to be a better martial arts coach. Paraphrasing Matt, his response was the following:

When teaching, ask yourself "what does the student need from me, right now, to succeed?"

Matt's question really resonated with me. In jiu-jitsu I'm a student, but in Krav Maga I'm a student and a member of our instructor development program. I help teach kids and adult fundamentals classes, and I'm available for private instruction.

Matt added that instructors should worry less about "looking good" in front of students, or demonstrating the latest and greatest flashy technique. Instructors should concentrate on getting through to the student and connecting with them, such that the student makes progress.

Nic has also said that jiu-jitsu (or really most martial arts) are the only athletic endeavor where there is an expectation that the coach is "the best player on the team." He said:

Imagine if people expected the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers (currently Tyronn Lue) to be better than LeBron James. Does that make any sense? We do this in jiu-jitsu though.

It's probably a function of rank, given the instructor is likely the senior person in the room. I agree that it does not make sense. In some cases it is true, but only in certain applications. When I see Prof Pedro Sauer demonstrate his technique, it's clear he operates at a level beyond anyone I've seen personally. Probably Rickson Gracie is the only person I've witnessed with technique at our beyond Prof Sauer's level. However, Prof Sauer, at age 59, can't roll the way he did 20 or 30 years ago. Does this mean he needs to be replaced? Of course not!

Keeping "what does the student need" at the forefront of teaching led me down this path: the student needs the type of instructor that connects with him or her, helping the student to make progress. Some students may need a sparring partner who can push him or her physically, as is the case with competitive athletes. Even in that situation, it may be better for the instructor to coach from the sidelines as the student engages with a comparable competitive sparring partner. Others may need a more technical approach. Still others may need help in areas we haven't considered yet.

I also subscribe to the philosophy that the teacher should always try to develop students who surpass his or her capabilities. Nic called this "creating the weapons of your own destruction!" Jeremy Lesniak from Whistlekick makes a similar point. The alternative to constant improvement -- stagnation, or worse, degradation -- is unacceptable to me. We should all want our arts to improve, and that manifests through students who surpass their teachers.

How do you answer "what does the student need?" Let me know here on on Twitter!

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

Friday, September 29, 2017

Bouncing Back During the P4 Test

Last weekend I tested for Krav Maga Global Practitioner 4 ("P4") rank. I had last tested in March, for P3. This test taught me a lesson about resiliency and keeping calm in the face of adversity.

To grade those of us testing for P4 and above, my head instructor flew in a former student now living in Austin, TX. Will is an Expert 1 known for being a serious grader. We heard he had failed 5 of the last 7 people he tested for Graduate rank. I had trained for a while with Will before he moved from northern VA to TX, so I knew he was tough but fair.

The first hour and a half went well and soon it was time for me to demonstrate "stop kicks." You have probably seen these in Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do -- using the lead or rear leg to intercept and block an opponent's low kick. I had just worked on these with our kids classes that morning, so I felt ready to go.

It was not meant to be! I couldn't stop a single kick my partner threw at me. Will even swapped out my original partner for another, in case I was worried about hurting my partner. No difference! Will walked away and I knew he gave me zero points for that section.

I was so angry! I do not have a temper, but you could not tell it last Saturday afternoon. I was near the half-wall separating the training floor and the waiting area, and I hammer-fisted the horizontal wall surface. I'm sure a few bystanders suspected something was wrong, because they had never likely seen me so angry.

I had 2/3 of the test left, but I was upset. What could I do about it? I  remembered a situation at the Rickson Gracie Cup jiu-jitsu tournament a couple weeks prior. One of my team members from Prof Pedro Sauer's school was not happy with her competition performance. I remembered hearing Professor tell her that it was water under the bridge, that she could not do anything about it, and it was better to focus on the next challenge.

I decided that I was experiencing the same problem, and I would adopt the same solution. I made a sincere effort to let go of my frustration and concentrate on the next portion of the test.

We moved on to self-defense techniques. Will told my partner to execute a series of attacks until he said stop. I would have to deal with each in turn. My partner started throwing attack after attack, and in between each I took about one second to concentrate on shaking off the stress, relaxing my body, and preparing for the next challenge. During this portion of the test I probably felt the most "flow" of the whole 4 1/2 hour event. It was quite a change from my feelings only a few minutes earlier!

I successfully completed the test, and I realized it could have gone south pretty easily. I was thankful that I was able to turn it around.

Have you experienced a setback like this, and if so, how did you respond? Let me know here on on Twitter!

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Krav Maga Global Training for Jiu-Jitsu Practitioners

I've been a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner since the very end of January 2017. I listen to several BJJ podcasts, and I sometimes hear participants critique Krav Maga. Some of the popular comments include the following:

  1. Krav Maga is mainly groin kicks, eye gouges, and palm strikes. 
  2. You don't need a long time to learn Krav Maga. In fact, you could learn the system in a week.
  3. If you practice authentic, self-defense Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, you don't need to learn a so-called "reality-based self-defense system" like Krav Maga. 
  4. Krav Maga students say their techniques are too deadly to train against live, resisting opponents. Yet, "aliveness" is the key to training. Therefore, Krav Maga is of little use in real confrontations.
I've been training in the Krav Maga Global system since January 2016. I'm a "practitioner 3" who has completed the first five days of our 24 day General Instructor Course. I'm no expert but I'd like to offer my reaction to these critiques.

First, if you've seen something called "Krav Maga," it's possible it indeed was nothing more than groin kicks, eye gouges, and palm strikes! "Krav Maga" means "contact combat" in Hebrew, so anyone can brand their "fighting system" as "Krav Maga." In fact, Krav Maga as a term has become a popular marketing mechanism. Plenty of teachers offer one- or two-day "certifications" to become "Krav Maga instructors."

My experience is solely with Krav Maga Global (KMG), the system codified by Eyal Yanilov. KMG is primarily a striking system. We do not try to overcome opponents using joint manipulation or chokes as we do in BJJ. KMG's curriculum includes hundreds of techniques to address a variety of armed and unarmed confrontations. The techniques are based on a handful of natural reaction principles, similar to core tenets of BJJ like leverage, pressure, and so on.

Second, Krav Maga is often advertised as a "simple system." This is based on the natural reaction principles and the relentless desire for efficient and effective solutions. As with BJJ, "knowing" a technique does not mean you can apply it when challenged. 

For example, in my 2016 Martial Arts Year in Review post, I documented that I trained Krav Maga for over 200 hours last year. Only this month (August 2017), did I start to believe I am moving in the right direction with my striking, footwork, and overall movement! It takes hundreds of hours to even begin feeling like you are making real progress.

Third, KMG is without a doubt focused on self-defense. There is no internal debate as we find in the BJJ world between the competition people and the defense people. One of the reasons I feel comfortable training at Master Pedro Sauer's school is that his school and system are very self-defense focused. He cultivates incredible competitive talents like David Porter, but the school's focus is self-defense. Nevertheless, I feel that there is room for collaboration among my KMG and BJJ communities. Some KMG solutions to problems seem more effective to me, and some BJJ solutions to other problems seem more effective to me.

Fourth, although we KMG students are concerned with safety, we do not rely on "deadly" techniques. We pressure test our techniques in a variety of formats, trying to simulate the stress and conditions of real confrontations. We also spar at different intensities and in many forms. Sometimes we only spar with hands, or only feet, or everything but the ground, or everything including the ground, or nothing but the ground! 

Our ground games are nothing like BJJ, however, because we do not train submissions -- our goal is generally to disengage and get back to our feet when possible. This is an area where I think KMG could learn from BJJ. BJJ, in turn, could learn by sparring with a striking-focused KMG student. Still, I agree that there's nothing like that resistance you get from a rolling partner in BJJ -- which is one of the reasons I love jiu-jitsu!

Do you train both systems, or are you in a similar situation? Let me know here or respond to me on Twitter!

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Quit Playing Games with My Heart

Have you seen this chart, or have you heard about the topic it describes?

(Scroll to the very bottom of the post for TL;DR if you like!)

From "On Combat", as rendered by Not for commercial use.
In brief, as I have heard it taught and as this chart explains, the higher your heart rate, the worse your physical performance. This idea has implications for anyone in a physical confrontation, where an increased heart rate seems to mean an inability to perform self defense actions.

When I first encountered this concept, it did not make sense to me. In my teens I was a high school cross country and track runner, and I frequently elevated my heart rate over 200 bpm. I did not encounter these symptoms. In my twenties and thirties I played men's league ice hockey and managed to perform complex motor skills such as skating, puck handling, and shooting, all while my heart was racing. 

Now, encountering this chart and its ideas as a martial artist, I'm learning that I should be experiencing tunnel vision and racing to the bathroom when my heart rate is high. Could there be more to this phenomenon?

The chart appears in On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace by Lt. Col. David Grossman and Loren Christensen, published in 2004, but it derives from a 1997 article Grossman wrote with Bruce K. Siddle titled Psychological Effects of Combat, for the Academic Press Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace, and Conflict. 

In On Combat, the authors write:

"There is a zone that exists, generally between 115 and 145 beats per minute (bpm), where you are at your optimal survival and combat performance level... Starting at about 115 bpm, your fine-motor skills begin to deteriorate."

The authors caveat these statements:

"We should be cautious about fixing specific heart rate numbers (or any other precise measures of physiological arousal) on Condition Yellow, Red, or Black. The impact of these Conditions can vary greatly depending upon training, physical fitness, and other factors. Also, it must be understood that these heart rates apply only to survival stress or fear induced heart rate increases. You can so a set of wind sprints and get your hear rate to 200 bpm, but the effect of this exercise induced heart rate increase will not be the same as when fear or survival stress causes the increase." (emphasis added)

You can download a .pdf version of the chart with similar caveats added to the bottom.

Apparently my earlier examples involved exercise without survival stress or fear, so I did not experience the negative effects inherent in the chart. But what is the source of these statements?

The authors state later in the book: 

"The linking of specific heart rate with task performance was pioneered by Bruce K. Siddle, author of the excellent book Sharpening the Warrior's Edge, and one of the great pioneers in the field of 'Warrior Science (TM).'"

I happen to be reading Siddle's book now. On pages 48-49 he writes:

"Levitt and Gutin (1971) studied the performance of a five-choice reaction time task and found that the ideal resting heart rate performance is at the rate of 115 heart beats per minute... After the heart rate increased above 115 bpm, the subject's performance began to deteriorate, with the worst performance at 175 bpm. 

Similarly, Levitt (1972) examined the affects (sic) of various stress levels induced by exercise, on tasks varying information-processing demands... He found a clear Inverted-U effect, with optimal performance at the heart rate of 115 to 145 bpm. His students' performances were clearly less effective at heart beats of 80 and 175 bpm."

Siddle repeats these findings using different wording on page 79.

I find three flaws with the heart rate theory at this point.

First, as far as I can tell, Siddle did no research on his own, as he has no training or expertise in this area. Despite this problem, Grossman and Christensen refer to "Bruce Siddle's research" as if Siddle conducted original work. Siddle's "research" consists of citing two papers by Levitt, one of which had a co-author, Gutin. That's it. Siddle built his whole theory around two studies, and Grossman and Christensen then built then theory on top of Siddle.

Second, Grossman and Christensen's caveats noted "these heart rates apply only to survival stress or fear induced heart rate increases." I believe they added these caveats to address criticism such as those I listed earlier. However, the caveats are inconsistent with the research Siddle cites to support his heart rate theory.  Levitt's 1972 research involved subjects on treadmills, not fighters in stressful situations. According to the caveats, this exercise-induced heart rate elevation should not have caused degraded performance. However, Levitt's research did cause degraded performance. Which is it?

Third, more recent research shows that conclusions by Siddle, Grossman,Christensen are no longer tenable. For example, a 2007 paper by police officer Kathleen Vonk titled Police Performance Under Stress (pdf) stated:

"Although the Inverted-U theory is well-known within the police training arena, many essential components have unfortunately been omitted or forgotten over the years. Siddle included these components in his book Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge, however much of the information has been left behind. For example, even in basic psychology text books both task complexity characteristics and personality characteristics are mentioned as affecting one’s performance, relating these characteristics to an individualized Inverted-U. Rarely, if ever, are these mitigating factors even mentioned in defensive tactics programs...

Since human beings are so different and complex, attempting to categorize or generalize an optimal performance zone to one specific heart rate range would be virtually impossible. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, the police profession may be better off looking to the athletic profession in terms of improving physical and mental skills under elevated stress levels." (emphasis added)

Vonk (who has a BS in exercise science) then describes the results of six years of research where her consulting firm collected heart rate data of police officers in a variety of situations, from training to field operations. I recommend reading her paper to better understand her suggested approach, one that abandons heart rates as factors causing stress responses.

My take-away from investigating the Siddle-Grossman-Christensen heart rate theory is that you cannot make any predictions about individual performance based on heart beats per minute. Martial arts instructors should be very careful how they approach this topic with students.

Unfortunately, we cannot seem to excise this theory from popular or martial culture. For example, consider this 2013 Art of Manliness article: Managing Stress Arousal for Optimal Performance: A Guide to the Warrior Color Code. The authors of that article are also confused about Jeff Cooper's color codes, but that's a topic for another post!

If you would like to read a lengthy criticism of the heart rate theory and chart, see this blog post by police officer and trainer W. Hock Hochheim titled Death to the Heart Rate Chart. Stu Marshall, an anaesthetist (a doctor that administers anaesthesia) calls Siddle's work an urban myth

TL;DR: There is little to no science behind the theory that increased heart rates degrade performance. Multiple other factors appear to be responsible, i.e., read Vonk's paper.

What do you think of the heart rate theory? Is it bogus, benign, or beneficial? Let me know here or respond to me on Twitter!

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Five Exercises to Relieve Martial Arts Wrist and Finger Pain

Do sore wrists and fingers interfere with your martial arts training?

I stopped training martial arts training in 2001 after I broke my wrist in American Kenpo class. I didn't know I had broken it until several weeks later, when a doctor took an X-ray and saw the wrist was healing. I had "protected" it using the sort of wrist brace you use for carpal tunnel syndrome. The doctor said "that's going to hurt again in 10 or 15 years."

Here we are in 2017, and I don't want this old injury to hold me back! My family also has a history of developing arthritis in the fingers, so I am doing what I can to avoid that situation as well.

Earlier this year I felt wrist pain when doing Krav Maga striking drills, and finger pain doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I decided to fight back with a multi-pronged approach. Let me share the drills I do to relieve martial arts wrist and finger pain!

1. Wrist strength. I was inspired by my StrongFirst training to focus first on wrist strength. When the muscles are weak, all that the body has left are the joints. Joints aren't meant to carry the loads intended for the muscles, so joint pain can be a sign that muscles needed to be strengthened.

To address the likelihood that the muscles supporting my wrist were weak, I bought a Sportneer Wrist and Strength Exerciser. The first two images below show how I position my arm to flex my wrist upwards, while the next two show how to flex downwards. It's important to work both directions under load. I do 10 contraction or extension reps per set, with 2 or 3 sets each day.

To work side-to-side motion, I use a light weight (5 pounds or less) and rotate the wrist back and forth in the other plane of motion.

2. Grip strength. I felt pain in the pinkie fingers after rolling in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so I took the strength first approach to deal with that problem too. I'm using two devices, a Kootek Hand Grip Strengthener and a Gripmaster Hand Exerciser. I like the Kootek gripper because it is adjustable. The Gripmaster is only 5 lbs per finger, so I need to buy a new unit to increase the tension. However, I like the Gripmaster because I can isolate weak fingers, such as my pinkie. 

Like the wrist drills, it's important to do "opening" drills, not just "closing" drills. I plan to add some finger expansion exercises to my routine using rubber bands. This will balance the closing strength that I am building.

I do 10 contraction or extension reps per set, with 2 or 3 sets each day. 

3. Wrist protection. I still use wrist wraps when striking, as I described last year. I wear them 9 out of every 10 workouts or so. When I am striking but not wearing wraps, I pay extra attention to wrist position when making contact with the pads. I recommend this video by Shane Fazen with his tips for hitting the bag and avoiding wrist pain.

4. Wrist stretching. Students in today's Krav Maga Foundations seminar probably saw me sitting in a squat when drills were being introduced, holding my hands together in one of the two postures shown below. These are my go-to stretches. There are also a ton of great stretches in this Global Bodyweight Training video. I do these stretches whenever I think of them, throughout they day. 

I also do some wrist twirling sequences, forwards and backwards, that I remember from Wing Chun class. 

5. Kali drills. I need strong wrists and fingers for more than Krav striking or BJJ grips. Kali is both a driver and a solution. I use a single rattan stick in each hand. My main wrist drill involves rotating stick circles forwards and backwards, while keeping a fairly tight grip on the sticks. I am not simply touching my index finger to my thumb and twirling the stick in that space. I try to keep a full grip and rotate forwards and backwards. My right side (being my dominant hand) is much better than my left, but I'm making progress. 

I recommend two videos for Kali drills. The first is more warm-up-oriented and features Shawn Kitzman. Start with Shawn's drills, then add examples such as these by Paul Ingram. Start slow! If you try to twirl as fast as Paul, you will hurt yourself.

Bonus 1. If there is one lesson I learned through months of physical training (PT) for my shoulder, it is to avoid exercising through pain. However, as you develop strength and flexibility, you can add an exercise that works the wrists: the Ground Force Method (GFM) Ground Force Exploration (GFE) sequence. Andrea U-Shi Chang taught me the GFE last year. I use this series as a BJJ warm-up because it takes place on the ground, and it incorporates strength and flexibility motions.

Bonus 2. My second bonus is simple: experiment with different finger and hand techniques when doing push-ups. For years, traditional flat-palm push-ups were tough for me, because of wrist pain. By default I did knuckle push-ups. Recently I've tried adding fingertip push-ups, which I learned from Annika Kahn from Jungshin Fitness

Bonus 3. Finally, especially on the ground, protect your fingers. At BJJ class the other night, one of the instructors recommended using a closed fist when making contact with the mat. You should also be careful when sweeping, because you can end up with a wrist injury if you don't think of how it might move.

What sorts of exercises do you do to relieve wrist and finger pain?

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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Sportification of Martial Arts

I'm reading Kendo: Culture of the Sword by Alexander C. Bennett. I started reading it to better understand the history of Kendo, which I've mentioned a bit here. As you might imagine, Kendo started as a battlefield practice. It was one manifestation of the combat art employed by sword-wielding Japanese warriors.

Over time, as the leaders of Japan sought to reduce bloodshed, sword combat became less common. Swords were used in warfare, but as Japan became more peaceful, the numbers of "sword battle veterans" diminished. Various parties sough to continue to infuse the spirit of sword fighting in certain elements of the citizenry, leading to the development of Kendo and its sport elements.

I'm currently reading the part of the book that deals with the re-militarization of Kendo, due to the wars Japan fought in the first half of the twentieth century. This is a fascinating phenomenon which I have not encountered (yet) with other martial arts. Following World War II, however, Kendo (as I will soon read), was "sportified" again, as the population swerved away from militarism.

I find "sportification" to be a fascinating topic because those of us who practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are witnessing similar transitions. BJJ grew out of a sport art, judo, then became "streetified" via the Gracie street brawls and challenge matches. For the last few decades, some BJJ schools have focused on the sport aspects, rather than the self defense elements. Leaders like Rickson Gracie and Pedro Sauer and many others are trying to preserve and promote the self defense characteristics of BJJ, fearing that sportification will deny a key element of BJJ to current and future practitioners.

A similar dynamic seems to be happening in my other main art, Krav Maga. Krav Maga was also born out of combat, in the fight against fascism in Europe in the 1930s-1940s. Krav Maga then became the Israeli Defense Force's hand-to-hand system in the 1950s and beyond. There are no Krav Maga "competitions" that garner any attention, as far as I know. However, the system has effectively adopted a more civilian flavor due to the nature of its demographics -- civilians in mainly industrialized countries. Certainly plenty of soldiers (the IDF of course) and police train Krav Maga, but the majority do not expect to use their training on a regular basis in conflict zones.

Last, I think there are lessons to be learned from arts with longer histories, such as Karate and Kung Fu. I hope to find other books which address how these arts transformed from their origins into the versions we see today.

How do you see the sportification of martial arts?

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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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