Monday, December 31, 2018

Notes on Self-Publishing a Book

In this post I would like to share a few thoughts on self-publishing a book, in case anyone is considering that option.

As I mentioned in my post on burnout, one of my goals was to publish a book on a subject other than cyber security. A friend from my Krav Maga school, Anna Wonsley, learned that I had published several books, and asked if we might collaborate on a book about stretching. The timing was right, so I agreed.

I published my first book with Pearson and Addison-Wesley in 2004, and my last with No Starch in 2013. 14 years is an eternity in the publishing world, and even in the last 5 years the economics and structure of book publishing have changed quite a bit.

To better understand the changes, I had dinner with one of the finest technical authors around, Michael W. Lucas. We met prior to my interest in this book, because I had wondered about publishing books on my own. MWL started in traditional publishing like me, but has since become a full-time author and independent publisher. He explained the pros and cons of going it alone, which I carefully considered.

By the end of 2017, Anna and I were ready to begin work on the book. I believe our first "commits" occurred in December 2017.

For this stretching book project, I knew my strengths included organization, project management, writing to express another person's message, editing, and access to a skilled lead photographer. I learned that my co-author's strengths included subject matter expertise, a willingness to be photographed for the book's many pictures, and friends who would also be willing to be photographed.

None of us was very familiar with the process of transforming a raw manuscript and photos into a finished product. When I had published with Pearson and No Starch, they took care of that process, as well as copy-editing.

Beyond turning manuscript and photos into a book, I also had to identify a publication platform. Early on we decided to self-publish using one of the many newer companies offering that service. We wanted a company that could get our book into Amazon, and possibly physical book stores as well. We did not want to try working with a traditional publisher, as we felt that we could manage most aspects of the publishing process ourselves, and augment with specialized help where needed.

After a lot of research we chose Blurb. One of the most attractive aspects of Blurb was their expert ecosystem. We decided that we would hire one of these experts to handle the interior layout process. We contacted Jennifer Linney, who happened to be local and had experience publishing books to Amazon. We met in person, discussed the project, and agreed to move forward together.

I designed the structure of the book. As a former Air Force officer, I was comfortable with the "rule of threes," and brought some recent writing experience from my abandoned PhD thesis.

I designed the book to have an introduction, the main content, and a conclusion. Within the main content, the book featured an introduction and physical assessment, three main sections, and a conclusion. The three main sections consisted of a fundamental stretching routine, an advanced stretching routine, and a performance enhancement section -- something with Indian clubs, or kettle bells, or another supplement to stretching.

Anna designed all of the stretching routines and provided the vast majority of the content. She decided to focus on three physical problem areas -- tight hips, shoulders/back, and hamstrings. We encouraged the reader to "reach three goals" -- open your hips, expand your shoulders, and touch your toes. Anna designed exercises that worked in a progression through the body, incorporating her expertise as a certified trainer and professional martial arts instructor.

Initially we tried a process whereby she would write section drafts, and I would edit them, all using Google Docs. This did not work as well as we had hoped, and we spent a lot of time stalled in virtual collaboration.

By the spring of 2018 we decided to try meeting in person on a regular basis. Anna would explain her desired content for a section, and we would take draft photographs using iPhones to serve as placeholders and to test the feasibility of real content. We made a lot more progress using these methods, although we stalled again mid-year due to schedule conflicts.

By October our text was ready enough to try taking book-ready photographs. We bought photography lights from Amazon and used my renovated basement game room as a studio. We took pictures over three sessions, with Anna and her friend Josh as subjects. I spent several days editing the photos to prepare for publication, then handed the bundled manuscript and photographs to Jennifer for a light copy-edit and layout during November.

Our goal was to have the book published before the end of the year, and we met that goal. We decided to offer two versions. The first is a "collector's edition" featuring all color photographs, available exclusively via Blurb as Reach Your Goal: Collector's Edition. The second will be available at Amazon in January, and will feature black and white photographs.

While we were able to set the price of the book directly via Blurb, we could basically only suggest a price to Ingram and hence to Amazon. Ingram is the distributor that feeds Amazon and physical book stores. I am curious to see how the book will appear in those retail locations, and how much it will cost readers. We tried to price it competitively with older stretching books of similar size. (Ours is 176 pages with over 200 photographs.)

Without revealing too much of the economic structure, I can say that it's much cheaper to sell directly from Blurb. Their cost structure allows us to price the full color edition competitively. However, one of our goals was to provide our book through Amazon, and to keep the price reasonable we had to sell the black and white edition outside of Blurb.

Overall I am very pleased with the writing process, and exceptionally happy with the book itself. The color edition is gorgeous and the black and white version is awesome too.

The only change I would have made to the writing process would have been to start the in-person collaboration from the beginning. Working together in person accelerated the transfer of ideas to paper and played to our individual strengths of Anna as subject matter expert and me as a writer.

In general, I would not recommend self-publishing if you are not a strong writer. If writing is not your forte, then I highly suggest you work with a traditional publisher, or contract with an editor. I have seen too many self-published books that read terribly. This usually happens when the author is a subject matter expert, but has trouble expressing ideas in written form.

The bottom line is that it's never been easier to make your dream of writing a book come true. There are options for everyone, and you can leverage them to create wonderful products that scale with demand and can really help your audience reach their goals!

If you want to start the new year with better flexibility and fitness, consider taking a look at our book on Blurb! When the Amazon edition is available I will update this post with a link.

Update: Here is the Amazon listing.

Cross-posted from TaoSecurity Blog.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Thoughts on my Krav Maga Global G1 Test

Sunday I successfully passed my Graduate 1 ("G1") test within the Krav Maga Global system.

I last tested for P5 in March 2018.

I wanted to share a few thoughts on how the test went. If you review the krav maga topic link on this blog you will find many posts about my training and philosophy.

I started training in the Krav Maga Global system at First Defense Krav Maga in January 2016.

My 2016 year in review and 2017 year in review posts document my Krav Maga training journey. As we near the end of 2018, however, I can note that as of this post I trained exactly 120 class hours at First Defense (29 prior to the P5 test and 91 prior to the G1 test), plus 3 hours during the summer in a seminar with master Eyal Yanilov.

Thus far I am 6-for-6 with passing scores, having tested roughly every 6 months since starting at the school. The first exception was my P1 test, which occurred in April 2016, 4 months after I began training. The second exception was this G1 test. I had planned to test in September 2018, but I suffered a back injury at a seminar the day before the test and had to postpone it until yesterday.

I'd like to share three main thoughts from this test.

First, I'm very glad that I passed. I was ready to go in September, but I pushed myself too far. I didn't want to miss a seminar with Rory Miller the day before my originally scheduled test. However, the seminar was not what I expected. A younger, bigger, stronger training partner at the host school threw me around like a rag doll, and that was it for my lower back.

To avoid that scenario this time, I planned my activities very carefully for the two weeks prior to yesterday's test. I tested my cardio with a couple back-to-back classes, but I didn't push it other days when I felt that I could jeopardize my health. I didn't train on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday before the test, and on the Saturday prior I made sure the class was largely a review and not an intense workout. The morning of the test I skipped yoga as well.

Second, our grader and instructor, Nick Masi (far right in the above photo), did a great job administering the test. He kept us moving the whole time. He had to juggle testing P3, P4, P5, and G1 candidates, totalling 7 people. There were a few times when the P testers took an extended break while Josh and I worked specific G curriculum, like throws and a few ground escapes. Otherwise, Nick grouped techniques to make us keep progressing. For example, he would ask individual levels to demonstrate all the techniques they knew for striking, or kicking defenses, or choke defenses, so we each kept moving while he evaluated us in turn.

Third, it really helped me to focus on KMG curriculum alone in preparation for the test. Aside from a few seminars, I stopped training jiu-jitsu in April, for multiple reasons.

First, I returned to a normal W-2 job in May, which added two complications: fewer opportunities for noon training, and with a headquarters on the west coast, more duties late in the day. KMG classes tended to start later, making it easier for me to attend.

Second, I was having a difficult time balancing training for both arts. I could not keep multiple ways to escape from a headlock, for example, straight in my head. My limited jiu-jitsu training definitely helped me in ground situations in KMG, but it was too stressful to be studying two large sets of curricula.

Third, my body couldn't handle the training in both arts, at least at the pace I was trying to maintain. I got tired of feeling broken all the time, especially with my knees. I have a degenerative immune system disorder (RA) that eats my joints, and my knees and shoulders tend to manifest the condition in the most painful ways. I was able to manage my health and protect myself best in KMG, so I decided to concentrate on that.

I haven't thought out my plan for KMG going forward. I expect to continue training, but I am not particularly intent on G2 or higher. I no longer plan to be a KMG instructor, and as I understand, one cannot test for Expert 1 (E1) unless one is a certified KMG instructor. I could still continue training and testing through G5, but at this point I'm mostly interested in the fitness, camaraderie, and mental stimulation I get from training.

Finishing my third year of KMG training, I'm happy that I accomplished this goal. Thank you to my instructors and fellow students who made it all possible, and to my family, for understanding my interest in an activity that yields too many bumps and bruises to count.

Finally -- I apologize for not posting here in months! With my new job I've returned to covering cybersecurity issues at TaoSecurity Blog. I plan to say more here as well as at Martial Journal.

How are your testing experiences? Let me know here or on Twitter!

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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Eyal Yanilov Seminar Thoughts

Tuesday I was happy to attend another Krav Maga Global seminar by KMG lead instructor Eyal Yanilov. Master Eyal was visiting my hometown KMG school First Defense, which hosted him for their grand opening at their beautiful new location.

I first trained with Eyal at the Martial Arts Supershow in 2016. Eyal was my instructor for the Combat Mindset and Mental Conditioning Class later that year. I also trained with him at the fall 2016 KMG camp and in the spring of 2017. When I heard Eyal was going to teach a three hour seminar on countering active shooters, I knew it was a must-attend event.

Eyal started the seminar with his perspective on KMG and active shooters. He talked about the inherent conflict between the three KMG missions -- self defense, protecting others, and combat fighting. In self defense, running away may be the best option. When protecting others, sacrificing yourself may be necessary. When fighting in combat, your goal may be to kill the enemy. Knowing the mission and acting appropriately are critical. This discussion grounded KMG in its history as a system used by the Israeli Defense Force when countering terrorists or enemy forces.

After the discussion we did a warmup. Eyal included exercises from Ground Force Method and yoga, many of which were challenging. I was able to do some of them. I think I've developed a better sense of coordination and balance over the last few years, now that I incorporate Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and yoga in my practice.

Eyal reviewed the three main tactics for countering an active shooter: run, hide and barricade, and fight. We worked on the first and third tactics. Eyal ran us through some drills designed to make us move as soon as a presumed shooter appeared. We tried to minimize our silhouette and move efficiently, using available objects to change direction.

To fight, we concentrated on approaching the shooter from behind. Eyal favors elbows to the back of the neck, driving the shooter to the ground, and then seizing his weapon. We also tried double-leg takedowns from the rear. Eyal added a hostage scenario to the training, where a shooter uses a hostage as a human shield while pointing a firearm. In that case, the human shield takes control of the gun arm and attacks the attacker.

The seminar lasted over three hours. It was a great combination of exercise, training, discussion, and Eyal's expertise. Thank you Master Eyal for flying all the way from Israel to visit us in northern Virginia!

Have you attended an Eyal Yanilov seminar? Let me know here or on Twitter!

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

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Ryron Gracie Seminar Thoughts

Today I attended a Jiu-Jitsu seminar by Professor Ryron Gracie, hosted by Professor Marco Moreno of The Basics Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. I want to share a few thoughts on the seminar for anyone who wants to attend one in the future.

I always enjoy visiting Marco's school. I was last there in February for a seminar by Grandmaster Relson Gracie. Today I was happy to see several of my teammates from Professor Pedro Sauer's school in Herndon.

Ryron offered three sessions for attendees. The first lasted 9-11 am, and focused on self defense. The second last noon - 2 pm and focused on cross chokes. Students who attended both sessions could attend a third session from 2-3 pm, where Ryron would roll with attendees.

I decided to only attend the first session, which cost $70. I believe about 40 people participated. Ryron brought one of his purple belts, Jordan, to assist, although Ryron demonstrated techniques with a wide variety of people. I was surprised early in the seminar when he called me to the front to demonstrate a standing headlock defense! He had just shown how to perform this technique, and it was similar to the technique we practice at my home school with Professor Sauer. I was able to move without embarrassing myself!

Ryron's main theme was "stopping progress." He built on the concepts from his recent video Survival or Submission - What Is the Objective? By stopping progress, Ryron is referring to preventing an adversary's next move. For example, imagine an adversary has you in his guard and manages to secure one grip for a cross choke. Rather than trying to remove that arm, the concept of stopping progress means ensuring the adversary fails to secure a second grip to complete the choke.

Ryron led us through a series of drills demonstrating stopping progress. We started standing up, and dealt with a headlock. We went to the ground, and had an opponent mount us. We used a "heavy head" to prevent the opponent from headlocking us on the ground, and then leveraged the chance of him getting a headlock as an opportunity for a trap and roll sweep.

We then conducted a series of drills designed to frustrate an opponent even further. We worked on hand fighting to prevent being cross-choked when in an adversary's guard. We also worked counters to a triangle choke and an arm bar. The idea was to deny the opponent these techniques, such that he decides to try something different and perhaps becomes tired and frustrated.

Ryron offered an interesting opinion on using these techniques. He said the first set were mainly useful against untrained opponents. The second set were mainly useful against trained opponents. However, consider the case of trying to avoid a triangle choke. An untrained adversary is not likely to try a triangle choke. We as defenders are more likely to try it. An untrained adversary may blunder into a counter to the triangle when thrashing about. Therefore, it is helpful for us to know what those counters look like, because we want to recognize or anticipate how an untrained opponent might frustrate our techniques.

Prior to the seminar Ryron was kind enough to add his signature to my copy of his grandfather's jiu-jitsu book. I know have Relson, Rickson, Royce, Rener, and Ryron.

I very much enjoyed this seminar. Ryron kept a good pace and structure to his class. He was constantly on the move to provide assistance and answer questions. He was respectful and informative. I would attend another seminar with him, without question. I was so glad he was only a few miles away in Leesburg!

Thank you Prof Ryron for visiting northern VA and to Prof Marco for opening his school to visitors!

Have you attended a Ryron Gracie seminar? Let me know here or on Twitter!

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

Saturday, May 19, 2018

It's Been a Rough Few Months!

It's been a rough few months! My last post talked about how I worked through a back injury and managed to pass my Krav Maga Global P5 test. I planned to get back on track in April, but I ran into more obstacles.

More specifically, an obstacle landed on me. While on a business trip, I dropped a table on my left foot. How does such a thing happen? Take a weird retro table with three legs on wheels, what looked like a concrete top, and a thick carpet, and try to move it away from you. You quickly learn that such a contraption isn't stable, when it lands on your foot!

I lost about 3 weeks of training time due to this accident. I returned to Krav Maga before trying Jiu-jitsu, because I could protect my feet with my wrestling shoes. My big toe still isn't healed, but it's manageable. I've been back to Jiu-Jitsu a few times, including 1 1/2 hours at Professor Sauer's spring camp last night.

I'm glad I had decided prior to the injury to not try testing for my Jiu-Jitsu blue belt during the spring camp. I didn't feel like I would be ready in time, and I felt I was in no rush.

This was a big decision for me. Since starting Krav Maga in January 2016, I've tried to stay on schedule for every testing opportunity. I thought I would try a similar approach to Jiu-Jitsu.

This May was the first time I was considered eligible to test for blue belt since starting in January 2017. However, I decided I would wait until this fall, or possibly longer. My goal is to be knowledgeable about the curriculum and confident in the techniques. I am racing no one, not even myself.

This approach has been much less stressful and I'm happy I'm taking this road. On Monday I start a new job, so martial arts will be a supporting activity rather than a primary activity in the coming months. Overall I'm pleased with where I am.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Coping with Sickness and Injury

Since returning to the martial arts in January 2016, I haven't suffered any serious breaks in training -- until this month. I wanted to share what has happened and how I've been coping with it.

During the month of March (thus far, with only one week to go) I've only attended one regular Jiu-Jitsu class and one regular Krav Maga class. I usually attend 3-4 classes of each art per week.

What happened?

The first half of the month, I was managing a back injury. I suffered some strained muscles performing an awkward throw in Jiu-Jitsu with a partner who weighed at least 40 lbs more than me. I felt it the next day and I realized it would be a problem.

The back injury caused me to evaluate how I would spend my time preparing for my Krav Maga Global P5 test. I attended one Krav Maga class 5 days prior to the test, but did no other exercise. The day before the test I had planned to participate in another 3-4 hour Jiu-Jitsu blue belt preparation class. However, I only watched and took notes that day. I also skipped yoga the morning of the KMG test.

My strategy paid off. I was sufficiently healthy to pass the 5 hour P5 event.

I felt pretty good Sunday evening. The next day I felt a little worse, and I decided to not train that night in any art. By Tuesday I was feeling aches and pains in various places, and took Tuesday off. I felt drained all of the week following the test, and I began to wonder if I was fighting off the bug that had affected the rest of my family.

I didn't train the week after the test, except for a final 3 1/2 hours of Jiu-Jitsu blue belt test preparation. I attended because I thought I had turned the corner and was ready to train after five days of rest.

I started this week ready to resume by normal training. Sunday morning I participated in yoga, but felt sore doing standard positions. By Monday I felt like I had been hit by a truck. On Wednesday I experience multiple weird fever-induced dreams, and by Thursday the fever had broken. Yesterday, Friday, I started recovering, and today, Saturday, I know I'm getting better and will not be a risk to others from here on out.

I hope to return to normal training next week, starting again with yoga on Sunday morning.

Looking back, I'm thankful my health cooperated to permit me to successfully test for P5 on March 11th. When you can only test twice a year, it's critical to make those opportunities count.

I recognized that the time I would spend preparing physically was very small compared to the six months I had already practices. Therefore, it was key to be as healthy as possible, so I minimized training and only participated in the critical events -- the P5 test and two blue belt preparation classes.

I'm also glad I minimized exposure to training partners. With close contact activities like Jiu-Jitsu, I do not want to be responsible for getting other people sick.

I'm thankful my family and I are feeling better. I wrestle with a compromised immune system due to my rheumatoid arthritis. I don't take it for granted that I'm getting better. I would ask those of you who train while sick to remember that some of us have problems you can't see, and knowingly exposing us to your sickness is not cool.

I'd also like to thank my family for helping me this month. My wife and I were lucky to not be equally as sick at the same time. We were able to hand off taking care of the kids and taking them to school or the doctor as necessary. Thanks Mrs B!

If you made it this far, you may be wondering about the knee taping picture. I can thank the Stretching Consultant for helping me with that. It's a chronic issue but the taping helps when I need it most!

Update: Oddly enough, within a few weeks of this post I dropped a table on my left foot and ruined two of my toes! That and work travel has kept me off the mats for over a week now. I plan to return by the second week in May however.

How do you cope with injury and illness? Let me know here or on Twitter!

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Thoughts on my Krav Maga Global P5 Test

Sunday I successfully passed my Practitioner 5 ("P5") test within the Krav Maga Global system.

I last tested for P4 in September 2017.

I wanted to share a few thoughts on how the test went. If you review the krav maga topic link on this blog you will find many posts about my training and philosophy.

I started training in the Krav Maga Global system at First Defense Krav Maga in January 2016.

My 2016 year in review and 2017 year in review posts document my Krav Maga training journey.

Thus far I am 5-for-5 with passing scores, having tested roughly every 6 months since starting at the school. The one exception was my P1 test, which occurred in April 2016, 4 months after I began training.

There were 5 people testing for P5, and we were the senior students. No one tested for Graduate ("G") ranks that day. As you can see in the picture below, we had a great turnout for ranks P1-P5.

My partner was Josh, in the short-sleeved shirt in the top photo. Josh was the MVP for the test, in my opinion. His formal rank is P3, but he is far more skilled than that patch says. He is either 17 or he just turned 18, and he plans to test for P4 in April at the KMG spring camp. 

Josh offered to test on Sunday for "practice." I think he also noticed that we had an odd number of P5 testers, so he partnered with me. We often train in class so I very much appreciated his participation, as well as the advice he gave me during our preparation class last Tuesday.

If I owned the school, I would have given Josh a P5 patch on the spot and told him to not worry about testing at the spring camp! I have no doubt that Josh will achieve Expert rank if he decides to continue studying and testing.

Three aspects of this test made an impression on me. 

First, the raters, Sam and Paul (on either side of Josh and me in the top photo), ran the test very well. They kept the tempo high but did not waste any time. I can recall periods of inactivity during other tests, in excess of several minutes. We had several 60-120 second breaks, but never longer. 

As a tester you may think you want longer breaks. In my experience, the longer the break, the more likely the body will start to complain. By working continuously, I avoided the "downtime trap." 

Incidentally, Paul and Sam also tested the P4s with the P5s. They added P5 material as the P4s were testing, so extra kudos to them for managing two groups. I believe 7 people tested for P4.

Second, the raters were clear about what they wanted us to do. In my last test, the rater had a tendency to tell us to demonstrate all our hand techniques, or all our kick techniques. This meant we had to remember all of the curriculum we were supposed to know. 

Now, of course we knew the curriculum. However, under testing conditions, I will know the "outside scooping high elbow low palm" technique but not remember to demonstrate it. If asked to show it, I will show it. 

If Krav Maga testing involved me selecting techniques to defend against a variety of attacks, I would have no problem with a more open-ended test. If the rater tells my partner to attack me with strikes or kicks, I will reach into my tool box and use what I prefer. I'm only going to choose one of the more obscure variations if asked.

This proliferation of variations is one of my problems with Krav Maga Global as a system, but that's a topic for another post. 

Third, the test was long. My P4 test was 4 1/2 hours. This test was 5 hours. I might be able to run a marathon in 5 hours! My strategy to survive was to be smart about expending energy. I didn't go crazy at the beginning, but some exercises were unavoidably taxing.

The big-muscle movements were the worst -- kicking, basically, especially heavy kicks. My cardio was good though. All of my endurance came from Krav Maga and Jiu-Jitsu classes, which total 7-9 hours per week. 

I also drank three bottles of water and ate one power bar during the test. Two hours prior to the test I ate my favorite salad with chicken strips and drank a lot of water.

My raters Sam and Paul gave us lots of group and individual feedback, so I have plenty of work to do before attempting to test for G1. 

Thanks again to my raters, my partner Josh, and my fellow students for a great testing experience on Sunday!

My immediate future involves preparing for a Jiu-Jitsu blue belt test (at Prof Pedro Sauer's school). I'm not sure when it will happen, but I believe it will be sooner than G1.

How are your testing experiences? Let me know here or on Twitter!

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

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Relson Gracie Seminar Thoughts

Thursday I attended a Jiu-Jitsu seminar by Grandmaster Relson Gracie, hosted by Professor Marco Moreno of The Basics Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. I want to share a few thoughts on the seminar for anyone who wants to attend one in the future.

Marco runs a great academy. It isn't huge but he has what appears to the plush green Gracie mats installed.

I trained there once before, when Marco hosted a Rener Gracie seminar. Everyone was friendly and approachable.

The cost was a bit higher than other seminars I've attended recently. It was $100 for two hours. I figured it was worth it to spend some time with a Jiu-Jitsu red belt who lives in Hawaii. I only had to drive about an hour to participate, which is cheaper and easier than a flight across the country and the Pacific!

Relson taught a kid's class before my seminar. I did not see the class but I saw him interacting with the kids afterwards. It is clear he loves teaching Jiu-Jitsu and interacting with young people.

We had about 50 attendees, including the instructors. Relson brought several other black and brown belt school owners or instructors from his association with him. They were happy to help the white belt newbies like me.

As you might expect, Relson focused on self defense. He described a twelve page "book" that contains everything he thinks you need to know about Jiu-Jitsu for self defense. I don't know if such a book exists, but it was still a useful metaphor for organizing his material.

Relson taught three stand-up techniques and three ground techniques. He called each one a "page" in his book. The teaching method was to demonstrate the technique, then give students time to drill each one.

The first technique was a passive defensive stance when facing a potential threat approaching from the side. He recommended standing with the hand closest to the threat over your face, fingers covering your nose. Keep your elbow against your ribs. With your far hand, wrap around your midsection and cover the area below your near elbow. It is deceptively simple and looks very "weak," but it is an intriguing way to be prepared to defend oneself. From that position you can use the high hand to block a punch, and then clinch.

The second technique was a defensive hand posture plus what I've heard Prof Sauer called the "pissau." It's the same kick you saw Royce Gracie use in the UFC. The hand position reminded me of a yoga eagle pose -- hands up, elbows down and crossed to shield the face and body. Relson also tucked his chin behind his lead shoulder. From the kick you can shoot for the clinch.

The third technique was blocking an opponent's attempt to shoot for the double-leg takedown. It's a standard brace against the opponent's shoulders followed by a knee and clinch.

The next three "pages" covered ground techniques.

You use the fourth technique when on the ground, in an opponent's guard. Look for an opening to control the opponent's biceps, similar to a Gracie Combatives approach. After gaining arm control, smash the opponent's face with head butts. Relson showed how he could squirm forward if his opponent tried to push him back with his legs.

You use the fifth technique when on the ground, and you have the opponent in your guard. You gain control similar to Gracie Combatives punch block position one, except you put your left foot on the opponent's hip, and reach behind your leg while trapping his right arm. You control his left arm using the Gracie Combatives punch block position two. Relson showed how he had complete control over Marco (his demo partner), slapping him every which way. Marco was a good sport!

You use the sixth technique when on the ground, and the opponent has you in side control. Relson keeps one knee up for connection. Relson worries about the top person dropping elbows on his face, so he used both arms to shoot upward, then control the opponent's northern shoulder with both of his arms. If his opponent switches hips to face Relson, he chokes him after moving one arm. If his opponent switches his hips in the other direction, Relson reaches over and immobilizes his top arm and rolls him into a side mount.

After the six techniques, Relson talked about the Roger Gracie - Buchecha match. He said Buchecha didn't know how to defend the RNC and Buchecha could have submitted Roger when Roger crossed his feet.

The seminar finished with Relson and Marco promoting students with stripes and belts as appropriate. Relson was kind enough to sign my copy of the Gracie master text. I now have Relson, Rickson, Royce, and Rener.

Overall I was glad I attended the seminar. I had no problem with the self defense focus, because we have a similar approach at Prof Sauer's academy.

Relson was very engaging and kept everyone entertained. He answered questions and was very friendly. I liked when he said "now you kick the butts" after gaining control over an opponent. He told us to not pass the guard or use a triangle in the street. The former would result in bloody knees and the latter would result in your foe slamming you to the asphalt.

Thank you GM Relson for visiting northern VA and to Prof Marco for opening his school to visitors!

Have you attended a Relson Gracie seminar? Let me know here or on Twitter!

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

New Fundamentals Videos on

This post is mainly for those with access to

If you're a student at a school that is an affiliate of Professor Pedro Sauer's association, you may also have access. I don't know how it works with affiliate schools, so I apologize if this post is for a very narrow audience!

By chance I heard Prof Mike Horihan mention that he had loaded new fundamentals videos into the site. I remembered seeing Professor Sauer and Prof Jeff Curran posting to Instagram about recording these videos. Professor Sauer said one night in class that about 20 years had passed since he and Jeff had recorded the original fundamentals instructionals!

I wanted to offer a few comments on what I found in the new videos.

First, the easiest way to access the new videos is to select the "Fundamentals" check box in the "Programs" part of the web site, as shown in the first screen capture. Uncheck "Video Pool," "White to Blue," and "Blue to Purple."

You will find 73 new videos. They are easy to recognize thanks to the bright yellow floor and black walls. Mike Horihan recorded these videos at the HQ in Herndon, VA, during the day, using professional lighting and camera equipment.

For comparison, at the left is a screen capture of the original T-position to Hip Throw video. On the right is a screen capture of the new corresponding video.

The new videos play in 720 x 1280 HD format on my laptop. The sound is great as well.

The videos are in the same basic format as the originals. They are only a few minutes long at most. They address a specific element of the curriculum.

One concern I have with the new videos is that it is not straightforward, in some cases, to match them with the 88 techniques of the white to blue curriculum. For example, there are 87 original videos. (Forward and backward rolling are combined into one video.) Each video is named to match the item on the curriculum and has a number to match.

The new videos do not share this convention. While I plan to watch all of the videos, it would be easier for newbies like me to have an index like a technique number or exactly matching language. In some cases this is true for both video sets -- "Mata Leao," "Squeeze the Bread," and so on are exactly the same in the new and the old. In other cases, there are differences.

(I might create a mapping of video name to old technique name and number as I watch each video.)

The content is as excellent as ever. You can tell Professor is much more comfortable speaking English compared to the original recordings. He mentioned having trouble expressing himself back when he recorded the original videos.

The old videos are more direct, explaining the technique with little deviation. The new videos feature more variety. Professor offers more context, more details, and more energy. He tells you why you might need to apply a certain technique and how to adjust if necessary.

If you are new to Professor's curriculum, I recommend starting with the original videos, and add the new ones to your practice.

I'm very happy to find these on the web site, and I hope all of you can access them as part of your membership in Professor's association.

What do you think of the videos? Let me know here or on Twitter!

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Rigan Machado Seminar Thoughts

Saturday I attended a Jiu-Jitsu seminar by Rigan Machado, hosted by Patrick Tray of Trident Martial Arts. I want to share a few thoughts on the seminar for anyone who wants to attend one in the future.

The location was top notch. Trident is in Woodbridge, VA, and features two huge training areas. They are meticulous about mat hygiene.

I've trained at Mr. Tray's school before, about 1 1/2 years ago for a great series on ground, striking, and weapons scenarios.

The cost was very reasonable -- $79 for early registration and three hours. Saturday was a gi session and Sunday was a no-gi session. I could only attend Saturday.

If I had paid at the door, it would have cost me $99. If I had registered early for both sessions, the cost would have been $149.

In addition to Master Rigan, Master Marcos Santos from Texas was present and helped teach material.

Mr Tray and several of his black belts (like Mikey Custodio) participated and helped teach. Ben Gilbert, who is a full instructor for all of Mr. Tray's programs, also helped. All of the instructors and students I worked with were friendly.

We had about 50 attendees, including the professors.

Rigan began the seminar with a short discussion on his strategy. He emphasized tightness and pressure. He wants to make his opponent feel uncomfortable and make him tap using pressure. He really likes operating from side control, so we spent most of the seminar working from that position.

He divided the seminar into three parts. The first two parts involved teaching 3-4 techniques each. I do not remember the exact numbering but I will share what I can.

The first technique was a transition from side control into controlling both of the opponent's arms and his head. The second involved lifting him off the mat, tightening control, and then flattening him out. The third involved a leg entanglement that resulted in twisting the opponent into a submission.

After drilling each of these techniques for a while, we had a few minutes for a water break. The opening discussion and first part last about 90 minutes.

In the second part we worked four more techniques. The first was an arm-in choke that required switching side control from one side of the opponent to the other. The second was a transition from north-south into side control. The third was a transition from side control into an arm bar or triangle choke. I do not remember the fourth!

That second part lasted about 60 minutes, after which we had another water break. Rigan then had us perform "quick drills." In this part all students ran around the mats in a circle. Rigan called out a technique number. We grabbed the nearest partner, dropped to the mat, and took turns drilling the techniques. Then we stood up and resumed running.

These were more tiring than I expected. We dropped every 20 seconds or so. The session last about 20 minutes, so we probably did about 60 techniques during that time.

The last 10 minutes of the session included positional rolling. I happened to be odd man out when it started because I asked Rigan about his work on the John Wick movies. We ended up talking about his movie work during the rolling time, which was fine by me. He showed me pictures from attending the premier of Clint Eastwood's new movie, and we discussed Jiu-jitsu training for Air Force basic trainees.

After the seminar, Rigan and everyone took the time to get pictures with anyone who wanted one. He also talked about starting a black belt club for RCJ black belts.

Overall the seminar was great. We did a lot of technique drilling and my partners and I were able to get help when we needed it. Thank you to Mr. Tray for hosting Masters Rigan and Marcos and to my training partners for an awesome experience.

Have you attended a Rigan Machado or Machado brothers seminar? Let me know here or on Twitter!

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

Update: Thanks AW for the typo fix!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Gracie Punch Block Series In Action

I had a chance to apply Jiu-Jitsu in a striking class recently, and I wanted to share the results with you!

One year ago this week I started practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at Prof Pedro Sauer's school in Herndon, VA. Right away I started with the Gracie Combatives program, and mid-year I began regularly attending the Pedro Sauer fundamentals curriculum classes.

Two years ago this month I began practicing Krav Maga at Nick Masi's school in Herndon, VA. Last week ground combat was the focus of the classes. I participated in the Thursday night "fight" class, which is several notches above the intensity of the Wednesday sparring class.

Once in a while we go to the ground in a Krav session, but we tend to avoid extended ground contact or pressure. I had only done this sort of dedicated ground striking session once before, and that was in 2016 before I started Jiu-Jitsu. I did not perform very well. I'm 46, 5'9, and less than 145 lbs. If I have to depend on speed, power, aggression, or conditioning, I'm in trouble.

Incidentally, these traits appear fundamental to Krav Maga. A Krav Maga Twitter account that I follower recently posted this:

I replied "technique"!

Back to the ground fighting. In the pre-Jiu-Jitsu ground striking session in 2016, I remember pulling guard and being pounded from above. One opponent even stood up to get a better platform to rain punches down. I didn't know how to handle that problem, and I didn't have the kinesthetic conditioning to properly protect myself.

How did I fare last week, when we put on MMA gloves and did ground sparring with strikes? I am happy to report I did much better. I used my guard properly and broke down my opponent's posture, but the key was the Gracie Combatives punch block series

I remember one engagement very clearly. My training partner was younger, taller (almost a foot), heavier, and stronger. I pulled guard and put him in punch block series phase 1. He was surprised and struggled, but I was able to maintain control without expending much energy. 

He pulled an arm free and tried to punch. I put him in stage 1.5. When he ripped his other arm out, I put him in stage 2. I thought to myself "I'm actually doing this!" 

Next he tried to get on his knees, so I put him in stage 3. Throughout the engagement I stayed calm and managed my breathing and energy expenditure. 

Before he could stand up, I accepted his forward pressure and put him back in stage 1. It could have been a scene in the Gracie Combatives video!

He eventually switched to driving his elbow into my jaw. I started to set up for a sweep, but we both heard something pop in my jaw. My partner relieved the pressure, took off his gloves, and checked my jaw for damage! I didn't know at the time that he was a dentist, so it was weird holding him in my guard while he was showing concern for a possibly injured jaw. I was ok, and then time expired.

The bottom line is that the Gracie Combatives punch block series worked for me in an aggressive striking training scenario. My performance in 2018 was far better than 2016, and I credit the Gracie Combatives technique and the Pedro Sauer rolling experience. My very limited experience as a white belt with one year of Jiu-Jitsu was enough to help me engage with training partners who have better physical attributes but less ground experience. 

Thank you to both my Jiu-Jitsu and Krav Maga schools and training partners for making this story possible!

What do you think of the punch block series? Let me know here on on Twitter!

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

Monday, January 22, 2018

Keep Rolling Rolling Rolling

Since starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu last year at Professor Pedro Sauer's school, I've had to regularly do forward and backward shoulder rolls. Both are part of the KMG curriculum we follow at my Krav Maga school, but we don't practice as often.

I've been trying to improve my backward rolls because they are part of the regular Jiu-Jitsu warmup drills. The instructors and many students can do them slowly, without building momentum. This was my goal, to smoothly roll backward over either shoulder.

Recently I watched a video by Stephan Kesting titled 3 Most Common Backwards Shoulder Roll Mistakes. I paid close attention to his technique and took a series of screen captures. Something clicked when I watched him roll backwards towards the camera.

The breakthrough for me was watching how Stephan twists his whole upper body off the centerline, and then swings his legs along the centerline. For whatever reason, that clicked with me. I tried focusing on those two elements and suddenly I could roll a lot smoother, over either shoulder!

Thank you Stephan for this great video and expert instruction!

How are your backward rolls? Let me know here or on Twitter!

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

Monday, January 8, 2018

Professor Sauer on Jiu-Jitsu TV

A year ago I started learning Jiu-Jitsu at Professor Pedro Sauer's school, One Spirit Martial Arts, in Herndon, VA. I don't take the quality of instruction for granted. Having access to so many talented instructors is a blessing. It's particularly special when I can attend a class taught by Prof Sauer himself.

I find myself in a catch-22 situation when Professor teaches. If I'm on the mat, I can try the techniques and concepts he is teaching that night, but I can't really record what he's sharing. If I'm off the mats, usually staying for a few extra minutes before heading home, I can record what he says. However, I'm not in the class, so I don't get to try the lesson.

Thanks to a new set of video instructionals, I have found a way to have recorded access to Professor's wisdom and concepts.

Last month Jiu-Jitsu TV began offering a set of 81 video lessons from Professor's 2017 seminar series in Australia and Singapore. I decided to take advantage of a Christmas special and purchase access to the lessons.

They are so interesting that I decided to write this blog post, after only watching the first two. The "intercepting attacks from the bottom" lesson captured one of the tenets of Professor's approach to Jiu-Jitsu, that I often hear in class but haven't had a chance to capture. Thanks to the video, I can share it here, in his own words:

Don't fight moves against you. Fight moves that are starting against you. 

Let your opponent start, but don't let him finish. 

You don't fight what's been done. You fight what's just starting. 

Don't let him lock a move, and then resist. You intercept it. 

This is a very powerful concept. In a later video that has also been posted on YouTube, Professor explains this idea as setting a mousetrap.

This is one of the secrets of Professor's Jiu-Jitsu. He seals off your attacks, but then opens something. You, as the attacker, think he is making a mistake, so you take what you think he is giving you. However, he is just setting a mousetrap. When you move to exploit the supposed vulnerability, Professor intercepts your attack, and leverages it to finish you.

If you want to learn more about Professor's approach to Jiu-Jitsu, check out his new video series on Jiu-Jitsu TV.