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!

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

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.