Thursday, September 27, 2007

Training… Just for Kicks

Kicking can be a very useful skill when sparring or defending against an attacker. Even though punching is easier to learn and apply, kicks should not be ignored. There are many benefits to kicking, including: being able to maintain your guard while still attacking, making up for differences in reach, not to mention you can generate more power when attacking the body.

The problem many students face with kicking is that they find it harder to become proficient at them. They become discouraged and, as a result, focus more on their punches. Admittedly, kicks do take longer to learn because you have to improve your balance and coordination to do them, but it’s a worthwhile endeavour.

If you want to improve your ability to kick, my advice is always the same. First of all, do your best to train your kicking technique with correct form. Use a mirror or have your instructor critique you regularly to ensure you’re getting it right. After all, practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect, as my Sensei always used to say.

The second thing is to practice your kicks regularly. In Jiu-jitsu, we don’t use a lot of fancy kicks, but what we do use our students are expected to learn well. But even kicks like side kick and roundhouse kick can take a long time to become proficient enough to make them fast enough and powerful enough for them to be useful in a sparring or self-defense situation. Students should train their kicks as regularly as possible to help ingrain it in their muscle memory. Doing some extra kicks at home or before class, with or without a kicking shield, will go a long way.

Once you get the basic form of your kicks down, you’ll also find that the balance and coordination you acquired to be able to kick proficiently will help become better at your other Jiu-jitsu or martial arts skills.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Meditation, Martial Arts and... Scooters?

I recently taught a seminar the Jiu-jitsu BC Society's annual intensive training camp. The theme of the camp was the mental and spiritual aspects of Jiu-jitsu. Most of the training in Jiu-jitsu is focused on practical application, but I find that even still the art has does have a mental and spiritual undertone that is picked up by students the longer they train. We don't usually discuss it directly in class however. I took this teaching opportunity as a challenge, to directly address an aspect of mental and spiritual focus that has direct applications in Jiu-jitsu. The seminar topic I chose was 'Meditation Posture and Breathing as Applied to Jiu-jitsu Techniques.'

The straight-backed posture and deep breathing of meditation improves Jiu-jitsu technique application in a variety of ways. I've discussed these on my Jiu-jitsu website's September newsletter. The biggest problem I find in teaching people to develop this posture for Jiu-jitsu is that people in general have very poor posture. Even if they do try their best to maintain posture while training, the habits they develop while sitting at work, driving in their car, eating meals, watching TV, etc. will always creep in.

I try to encourage students to try meditating for 20 minutes a day (I practice the Zen style). This is a good start because it is a time when you can focus entirely on developing that posture, in addition to achieving various health benefits.

Trying to use meditation posture while driving, is trickier since modern vehicles are designed to allow you to relax back while you drive, making it easier to stay in a slouched position. A great alternative to the car for this is the scooter. I bought a scooter several months ago and I found that while riding my scooter, it's very easy to maintain meditation posture. Additionally, because I am much more vulnerable in an accident on a scooter, I develop my awareness of surroundings every time I ride. Meditation breathing helps with this. It also helps prevent road rage when drivers cut me off!

There are many ways you can apply meditation posture and breathing in your day to day life. The more you do it, the less you have to THINK about applying it to your Jiu-jitsu because you make it your natural state. This is the perfect remedy for people who say they find they don't have to train, since it allows to improve your Jiu-jitsu no matter what you're doing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ground Grappling at a Size Disadvantage

Last night I led an interesting class. Fall has officially made its mark. With the change in temperature came the onslaught of illness, causing many people to miss class. That and the Smashing Pumpkins concert. As a result of the various environmental and social factors, I only had one student, Dave, show up for class.

What you need to know about Dave is that he's about 240 lbs, over 110 lbs. heavier than me. This was my chance to get some serious grappling training in that would really push my limits.

After we did some light sparring for the cardio component to our Jiu-jitsu work-out for the evening, we moved on to resistance training: ground grappling. I can't think of any better resistance training in the martial arts than to grapple someone who is nearly double my weight.
The first round seemed to go rather quickly. Dave remarked at the end of it that he was finding it hard to get past my open guard as opposed to the closed guard, which most beginners tend to favour.

The closed guard (i.e. me on my back with my opponent wrapped between my legs which are locked behind his back) is pretty much useless against a guy as big as Dave. Dave has quite a lot of girth to him, and though my legs are quite strong, they are still pretty short, making it easy for someone of his size to just expand his chest then pry his way through my grip.

The open guard (i.e. me on my back with my opponent between my open legs), on the other hand, is far more versatile and therefore more useful for someone of my size against someone of Dave's size. I am more easily able to spider my feet and legs across and around his limbs, keeping him from gaining a position from which he can use his size and weight to more to his advantage. I was able to transition into a butterfly guard, which I also found useful for keeping Dave at bay.

At the end of four 3-minute rounds, Dave was huffing and puffing. I was tired too, but I had used my nimbleness on the ground to tire him out more than he was used to. He was just having a bitch of time trying to submit me. But then by the fifth round, I could feel my agility failing me. Tiredness was leeching my speed and my ability to react. Toward the end of the round Dave managed to get the mount position (fully sitting on my chest while I'm on my back), the one position from which he knows well how to apply an arm bar. As I felt his weight shift, and roll to the side onto his back and into the devasting position, I knew instantly and very urgently it was over.

So what does this tell me? That it's not worth it to grapple someone much bigger than me and vice versa. Hardly. With a developed base understanding of grappling fundamentals, someone of his size should be able to easily gain a dominant position and submit someone of my size. What we learned from this exchange is that even someone of Dave's size should learn proper leverage and technique application so as to not tire himself so that he can best make use of his size advantage. While on the other hand, someone of my size had better learn to use their legs deftly in order to prevent a significantly larger attacker from gaining a strong position while simultaneously preventing themselves from tiring quickly.

But let us not forget the most important rule of ground fighting against someone who has a significant size advantage: Stay the hell off the ground! The ground is a bad place to be when there is a drastic size difference. The longer you stay there, the more likely it is that you'll eventually tire out and leave an opening that the larger person can easily exploit.

And if you do get taken to the ground against your will in a street defense situation, no matter what size you are, do what you have to do, even fight dirty (hair pulling, eye gouging, groin grabbing, pinching, etc.), to get back to your feet as soon as possible. On the ground, you are vulnerable to debris that may be on the ground, concealed weapons that your attacker may be carrying, communicable diseases, not to mention the possibility of your attacker's friends kicking you in the head while you're tied up with the one attacker. And the number one cause of death in a street fight is a kick to the head.

Freestyle or competition grappling has its place in skill development, but you have to remember that there are no rules self-defense in a street situation, only results.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Getting Out of the Strike Zone

I teach my Jiu-jitsu classes out of a mixed martial arts school and one of the instructors has offered to give me extra training outside my classes. This is great for me since I don't always get to push myself very hard when I'm focused on teaching my students. We've started out my training with some boxing.

In my style of Jiu-jtsu (Can-ryu), we incorporate boxing punches, stances and blocks to some degree in our training, so boxing is not unfamiliar to me. My instructor, a former professional boxer, knows this and is working on my already well-established base.

In my private class on Sunday, we did some general sparring then focused on getting out of the strike zone after doing an attack. I've always taught this in my classes, but my instructor showed me that, against a trained boxer like himself, I need to get even further out of reach if I'm going straight back, or I should exit more on an angle. Otherwise, he can use his reach or his speed to immediately launch a counter-attack. We did drills whereby I would enter the strike zone, do a combination of punches, then back out of the strike zone quickly, usually departing with a jab. We also did another variation of this theory that had me exiting while circling behind my opponent.

This exercise is also useful in self-defense, my main interest in martial arts training. After doing these boxing drills, I incorporated the theory into one of my Jiu-jitsu classes. In our style of Jiu-jitsu we focus on aggressively attacking the attacker, making sure he or she is immobilized, then getting away, while ensuring there are no other threats. So the next time we did striking exercises (both boxing and open-handed strikes) on the heavy bags in my class, I had the students focus on doing a combination of strikes, ending with a jab or similar parting shot as they exit the strike zone back and on an angle. The only change I added, was to have my students look over their shoulders while exiting to, in theory, ensure there are no other attackers. Though if I noticed someone wasn't really looking while they backed out, I went and attacked them with a striking pad from behind to make my point. In competition boxing, of course, you wouldn't want to do this since you'd be taking your focus off your opponent.