Monday, January 28, 2008

My First Black Eye from MMA Training

I fully expected to get a few bumps and bruises on the road toward becoming a pro MMA fighter. Yesterday I received one such bruise, but not the way I would have expected.

I was training with Tasia, the girl I competed against in December’s Submission Series tournament. In the last couple of weeks we’ve started to meet up on the weekends to train together for our mutual benefit.

At the end of each session, we roll with each other for awhile, trying out moves, etc. We had been grappling for about 10-15 minutes yesterday without stopping and neither of us had managed to get the other to tap out. Then, at one point, Tasia attempted a roll-over from guard. I had her wrist in my grip but she tried to thrust through it. But, because we were both slick with sweat, her wrist slipped out of the grip much faster than expected, launching her bony wrist straight into my eye.

I felt it thud into my eye brow bone then stopped. With all the adrenaline running through me, it didn’t seem all that painful but it started to tear up and swell immediately. Tasia became a flood of apologies and inquiries about my condition.

“I better get some ice for this,” I said, matter-of-factly as I got up and walked into the other room where Mark, my MMA coach, and Jeff, one of the other coaches at the school were training.

Mark sat me down and thrust his thumb into my eye socket where it was swelling. I hissed a little at the pain that resulted, which was much worse than when I actually received the blow.

“Yeah, I know. This is gonna hurt a bit,” he said as he pushed down on the swelling and rolled it out away from my eye. He then followed up by pushing down on it with an ice pack.

“By pushing the swelling away like that, it will keep it away from the eye and usually stop it from getting completely blackened,” Jeff explained to Tasia who nodded understanding.

Mark glanced up as he began to deliver a second painful thumb jab to my eye. “I don’t know why it works, but it does.” I felt a little like a science experiment as everyone around me theorized as to the reasons for its effectiveness. I certainly never learned this in my first aid/ Heartsaver “C” training course, but then that curriculum wasn’t exactly sport-specific.

Whatever the medical explanation is, it seemed to have been effective. This morning I inspected my eye in the mirror. It was still swollen and a little bruised, but the bruising was relegated to the edge of my eye rather than the eye itself.

I thought it was a little strange that the first black eye I received since starting MMA training was as a result of no-strike grappling. Mark and Jeff informed me, however, that it’s actually more common to receive bruises this way.

“When you’re expecting strikes, you’re more prepared to defend against them,” Jeff explained. “But when you’re just grappling, knees, elbows, and other limbs fly out when you’re not expecting, so you’re bound to get hit every once in a while.

Duly noted.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mixing Martial Arts in Movie Fights

A student of mine sent me this video saying it was an awesome fight sequence that incorporated Jiu-jitsu. Needless to say, I was keen to give it a watch.

At first I thought, "This isn't Jiu-jitsu," as the actors threw Kungfu-style hand strikes and high spinning kicks. Then the fight went to the ground showcasing a number of submissions and manoeuvres that have been popularized by Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. The reason why I don't say that they are simply BJJ techniques is that most of these are also taught in Judo, Sambo and some styles of traditional Jiu-jitsu.

The two actors demonstrate the use of side mount, closed and open guard, arm bar, triangle choke, a knee lock that is applied by twisting the ankle, and rear naked choke. They also do a few neat throws including shoulder throw ("ippon seionage" in Japanese) and stomach throw ("tomoenage" in Japanese). Outside of Jiu-jitsu and Kungfu, you can also see some wrestling elements in there with their use of the sprawl as well as a couple of wrestling-style takedowns.

This fight sequence is pretty cool in the way that it draws from so many different disciplines anyway and easily appreciable by any martial artist. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Martial Arts: A Healthy Addiction

Most people when they’re going through problems in life, they ball up and surround themselves in that which makes them comfortable. For some people, it’s comfort foods like chocolate or ice cream. For others, it’s mind-altering substances like drugs and alcohol that dull their thinking and therefore their ability to think about their problems.

As for me, I throw myself into training.

It works on so many levels. It tires out the body, making it easy to sleep. It takes your mind off your troubles; you can’t afford to be distracted when you’re trying to master a tricky technique or when you have punches coming at your face. When you’ve been doing martial arts as long as I have, training becomes a comfort zone.

Thankfully, using martial arts training as a distraction in this way has been pretty productive for me, helping me achieve my goals. On Sunday, I spent 3.5 hours on the mats. Last night... over 4 hours. Today... I think I need a little break for recovery.

While the last couple of days have been very productive for me, I’ve known people to use their martial arts training as a way of taking out aggression that has built up over their problems. You should treat martial arts training like driving. Don’t train angry, particularly when it involves a partner. You may end up ignoring warning signs, leading you to injure yourself or others. If you want to practice solo patterns or just whack a punching bag around, that’s ok, just be careful not to wail away with too much strength and not enough technique as this can also cause injury.

Train safe and good luck building your healthy addictions!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Why Grappling is More Effective in the Ring Than in Reality

Since the introduction of Ultimate Fighting, the grappling craze has taken the martial arts community by storm. The Gracie family and their style of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has earned world-wide acclaim for the effectiveness of their grappling system in one-on-one, no holds barred competition.

The rules of UFC and MMA in general have since changed in order to get the ban imposed by various local authorities lifted. “Dirty” techniques, like groin strikes, hair pulling, striking the spine or the back of the head, etc. were thus removed and timed rounds and referee intervention were added.

The UFC ring, in either format, however, is still a controlled environment. Opponents don’t wear shoes or any kind of clothes that can be used to help or hinder him. And in the spirit of the competition, no one genuinely wants to seriously hurt or kill their opponents, as can be the case on the street.

Additionally, it doesn’t take into account various tactical disadvantages that come up in ground fighting in real self-defense situations.

This is not to say that ground defense skills aren't useful - they are. It's important to know what to do should you ever get taken to the ground against your will. Arts like Judo and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu can teach you a great deal about how to use technique and weight distribution to your advantage.

That being said, sound knowledge of ground tactics doesn't mean that you would necessarily want to be on the ground in a real defensive situation.

Here are the six main tactical disadvantages of fighting on the ground:

1. Size Advantage. If your attacker outweighs you, he can use his extra weight to a greater advantage. Given two people of equal technique, the person who is bigger and stronger usually dominates. Moreover, size difference by a large margin diminishes the effectiveness of good technique even more so on the round than it does in a standing position.

2. Environmental Dangers. Debris strewn on the ground like broken glass, a board with a nailing sticking out, etc. can injure you as you fight.

3. Exposure to Disease. Grappling requires you to be in very close quarters for it to be effective, making you vulnerable to biting attacks and potentially puts you in contact with any open wounds your attacker may have. This increases your risk of exposure to communicable diseases.

4. Multiple Attackers. If your attacker has any friends nearby, they can easily deliver potentially fatal kicks to the most vulnerable parts of your body, particularly your head. This is a very common cause of death in street fights.

5. Edged Weapons.
By putting yourself in close quarters, you are more vulnerable to any edged weapon attacks, like knives, which may be concealed on his person.

6. Inability to use physical barriers.
When on the ground, you lose the ability to take advantage of any physical barriers the environment may offer, things you could put between you and your attacker, like chairs, cars, trash cans, etc., to help you get away.

On top of all the tactical disadvantages of fighting on the ground, the relevance of the widely touted statistic that 80-90% of fights end up on the ground is being called to question. Many people who work in security, police officers, bouncers, etc., say they’re never taken to the ground against their will.

Since the people who dispute this traditional statistic are all trained in combative arts to one degree or another, it may be more accurate to say that 80-90% of untrained fights end up on the ground and that someone with training is better able to stay on his or her feet.

Whatever about the ongoing dispute over that statistic, even if 90% of fights end up on the ground, 100% of them (or close to it) still start from a standing position.

(*The 6 tactical disadvantages of ground defense here were paraphrased from George Sylvain’s book Can-Ryu Jiu-Jitsu 2000.)

How a Blindfold Can Help Solidify Your Jiu-jitsu Technique

A former student of mine drifted in and out of town recently, finding his way back on to my mats for a couple of weeks. Because he is a brown belt in another style of Jiu-jitsu, I took the opportunity to dust off some more advanced training methods to help keep my skills sharp. One of these involved the use of a blindfold.

The way we typically use a blindfold is by wearing it while being subjected to random grabbing attacks (i.e. bear hugs, wrist grabs, lapel grabs, hair grabs, etc.), ideally by students with a variety of body types. The person wearing the blindfold must try to defend himself purely by sense of touch.

This training method is a bit advanced for lower belt levels as it really requires very solidly grounded technique and improvisational abilities, which usually come from years of training. But for people who have that kind of background, the blindfold forces them to “feel” their way through techniques. Honing this “feel” has the effect of improving overall technique application – locks snap on quicker, throws slam down harder. This is because your sense of touch communicates with your brain much faster than your sense of sight. I re-confirmed this in my mind as I heard Chris (my training partner) slam into the ground with the echoing smack of a hard breakfall after a solid neck throw.

I bought my blind fold for $1.35 at my local dollar store. Pretty good value for something that provides so much opportunity for development.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Going Off the Beaten Track of Curriculum Training

I am a firm believer in having a set curriculum to guide students through their development in a martial art. A good curriculum is well-rounded and strategically builds a student’s skills in the long run, providing a strong foundation on which each new layer of skills is built. The curriculum is the straightest, fastest, easiest road to take to get to the destination of martial arts excellence.

That being said, there are times when an instructor will, without warning, pull her students off the straight road of the curriculum and take a more scenic route. On this route, she’ll give the students a glimpse of sights that are off the beaten track, visiting little towns that have a timeless beauty because they are so isolated from the efficiency and fast-paced lifestyle of urban centres (or standard curriculum). The instructor shows her students maneovres and techniques that follow different principles or are harder to master, sometimes a lot harder. If the instructor doesn’t revisit these little towns every so often, she may forget the complicated directions to get there.

It is unlikely that the students will be able to become competent in these techniques in such a short time. The students usually quickly forget the circuitous route to get to these little towns, but at least they’ll know of their existence. Then, one day, they’ll stumble upon one of these towns when they least expect it. And because of a side trip their Sensei took them on many moons before, they’ll better recognize and appreciate its rare beauty.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

4 Pet Peeves I Have with MMA/ BJJ Schools

As many of you know, my martial arts background largely constitutes training at more traditional schools. It was only in recent years that I started investigating the value of the training offered at Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts schools. Over time I identified a number of issues that irritate me about the these types of schools, issues that hinder the development of its students and/ or turn people off from training at them.

1) Body Odor. I personally don't understand why people set foot on the mat without wearing deodorant or wearing clothes that stink of the sweat from prior training sessions, yet it happens with frightening regularity. And when you have to grapple and be in close physical contact during training, it is cruel and unusual punishment for the partners of the perpetrators.

2) Swearing. I want to be clear here that I'm not morally opposed to swearing, but there is a time and place for everything. Swearing on the mat can get people's hackles up and cause the training environment to be more macho as a result. It also reinforces the public perception that MMA and BJJ students are little more than thugs. I can understand when people accidentally swear as an expletive due to an injury, but I think that swearing and macho smack talk should be left off the mat to keep the atmosphere professional and respectful.

3) Overuse of Strength.
Being a woman in a male-dominated training arena, this pet peeve comes into play quite often. I want to become skilled at the technical aspects of MMA and BJJ, but if I'm grappling with a guy that is much heavier than me and he's using strength to dominate me, neither of us learn anything. Not only that, if the guy is powering through a move recklessly, there is a much greater chance he could injure me before I have time to tap out. This can go the other way too. Last night I was training with someone 60 lbs. heavier than me and he was passing my guard much more forcefully than was necessary. As a result he slammed his face into my elbow causing him to get a nasty black eye.

4) Macho Attitudes. This issue has a role in all the other points here, but I think it's worth mentioning on its own. Macho attitudes more often than not hinder a student's development. For example, if the class is told to do 20 push-ups and a student isn't strong enough to complete this number with proper form, the student will likely cheat on his form in order to finish. If the macho attitude were removed, however, the student wouldn't feel ashamed to go to his knees in order to do them with proper form, ensuring that he gets the full muscle development that is intended with the exercise. This is just one example, but really, macho attitudes permeate every aspect of training because people are afraid to show weakness. But if a student isn't able to admit to his or her weaknesses, how are they supposed to get past them?

The lack of formality at MMA and BJJ schools has helped these newer breeds of martial arts to develop their effectiveness at what they do at an exponential rate. This is largely because it encourages a certain amount of open-mindedness and flexibility towards training. If it works, use it. If it doesn't, scrap it. That being said, the lack of formality also allows students to descend into a brawler's mentality toward training. The lines of respect become blurry and macho posturing can take hold, hindering personal development and pushing people away from the martial arts, the ones who stand to gain the most from its benefits.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Fighting Fatigued

This picture represents my point of view while sparring my students last night. Never had I been punched so many times in the face by them. Five times I took hits in the face. This is completely unheard of for me. This is the result of fighting fatigued.

Last night, I conducted an impromptu experiment. I completely tired myself out before teaching my class (1.5 hours training with my MMA coach, followed by 30 minutes of sparring with a skilled sparring partner that outweighs me by 40 lbs). I then sparred with each one of my students after their warm-up.

I had very little energy left by the time I started sparring my students. I was amazed to see how much this affected my ability to fight. My hands kept dipping in my guard. My attacks were clumsier. My accuracy and precision were inexistent. As a result, my students kept clocking me. I felt powerless against people I usually out-manoeuvre or at least hold my own against. My students were having a field day with me.

This serves as further reminder of the importance of conditioning. No matter how good your technique is, if you get tired, it all goes to pot.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Skipping and Ass Whipping

After my last posting, "Skipping: the Ultimate Cardio Workout" I went and found footage of Floyd Mayweather Jr. doing his jump rope routine. Holy crap! You can't even see the rope, he moves so fast!

After seeing this vid, I wanted to try some of his moves and I learned that skipping can actually teach you how to give an ass whipping... literally. In doing one of the trickier transitions, I somehow managed to whip my own ass really hard. I've got a pretty nasty bruise back there, I'm embarrassed to say. Ah, well! If that's the worst thing to happen to me this year, I'll be doing pretty well for myself. :)

Skip safe, everyone!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Skipping: the Ultimate Cardio Work-out

I've always used skipping as my main form of cardio training. Not only does it develop your coordination in addition to your cardio (especially if you do it like this guy does), but it's just more fun than running or other more repetitive forms of cardio training. It is one of the most effective cardio work-outs there is. There is a reason it has traditionally been included in the standard boxing conditioning program.

As part of my training for MMA, 3-4 times a week, I do a skipping work-out. I do three 5-minute sets with a 1-minute break in between. This is the standard time of rounds in pro MMA. I try to vary my footwork and and practice a variety of skipping skills for the first 4 minutes and 20 seconds of each round. Then for the last 40 seconds I do double jumps (rope rotates twice around per jump) while jack-knifing my legs. This simulates an intense burst, providing extra anaerobic conditioning.