Friday, February 29, 2008

Laid Off but Not Laid Up

Yesterday, ten minutes before the end of my work day, I was called into my boss's office and informed that it was my last day. I was being laid off. It was sudden and painful. I was assured that it had nothing to do with the quality of my work and that I would receive a glowing reference letter and severance pay.

Once the shock had died down a bit (it still hasn't fully died down...), I started to think that this might actually be a good thing for my life. As much as I loved the people I worked with, my day job split my focus away from the things I'm really passionate about in life, martial arts and writing.

Since I won't be working, I can focus on developing my professional MMA career. My coach says that it won't be long until I do my first pro fight (likely early spring) and once I do, I'll be getting sponsorships. So while I'm on severance pay, I can train and work with my coach/ fight manager to get more sponsorships.

Time to roll up my sleeves...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Anti-Bully Day

Today the morning news informed me that it's anti-bully day and that we're to all wear pink to show that we're against bullying. I don't normally go for these "wear-a-colour-to-show-support" things, yet I pulled out one of the few pink shirts in my wardrobe.

A little known fact about me is that I was bullied when I was young. It's such a nasty thing, being both physically and psychologically abused by your peers. There is something very animal about it, a pack mentality to put down those who are perceived as different. I was seen as different for making a variety of weird, random jokes that children around me never seemed to understand.

My parents never believed the bullying was as bad as I claimed, coping with the situation by downplaying it and telling me I was over-reacting. The loneliness I felt at that time affected me very fundamentally. I don't think it's any coincidence that I discovered a passion/ obsession for martial arts and the strength and confidence it gave me.

So if you're a parent and you have kids that tell you about them or their friends being bullied, take it seriously. I was lucky. I managed to find an inner strength, never quite believing I was as worthless as the bullies said I was. Not every child does and the psychological damage that results can last for a lifetime.

Either that or they'll end up obsession for the martial arts... :P.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Judo/ Jiu-jitsu on "The Human Weapon"

I’ve been enjoying watching the TV series, “The Human Weapon.” The basic gist is that two Americans with a martial arts background, one is a smaller, sprier fellow who is an ex-pro MMA fighter, the other an ex-pro football player and wrestler, go to different countries learning martial arts styles. Then at the end of each episode, one of them takes on someone who is considered to be one of the top fighters of the style.

At first, the very forced narrative of the series bugged me, but once I got over it, it was interesting to watch these two guys take on some of the world’s top fighters.

The clip featured here is one of my favourite episodes. They discuss Judo as well as its ancestral art, Jiu-jitsu. And the Judo master the American fights puts on an amazing display of skill. I especially loved the Tai Otoshi (body drop throw) toward the end. It goes to show that 20 years of devoted training counts for something.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Defending Yourself When Your Hands are Tied

Having learned a few funky moves from the Shorinjikan guys over the past couple of weeks, last night I was feeling experimental and decided to do a class entirely devoted to defending yourself when your hands are tied up.

The above video shows a few of the defensive techniques I taught as well as rolling breakfalls with your hands bound. I also included some of the highlights from our hands bound Jiu-jitsu circle.

Being able to defend yourself with your hands tied is not exactly what I would call a "required self-defense skill", but it's good to throw obscure limitations like that at yourself to really challenge your technique and your ability to adapt. I only showed my students a few simple strikes and throws, but they really impressed me with their ability to improvise defensive manoeuvres against random attacks in the circle.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Thoughts on Curriculum

Back when I was a colour belt going through the ranks, it used to frustrate me when the curriculum was changed. It would be set in my mind what I needed to learn then all of a sudden things change and I had to learn new things and adopt a new mindset.

Now that I’m running my own dojo, I’m faced with the same conundrum of having to change the curriculum to add new skills and concepts that will benefit my students.

While I was away I had been considering my dojo's curriculum. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been learning new things and incorporating new ideas into my teaching. Consequently, I wanted to include them in my curriculum. But then as I sat down to do so, I found myself questioning the order in which my students were learning various things. In the end, I made some rather significant changes to the curriculum for green belt and up.

I had found that there were already too many things on the green belt requirements and there seemed to be too much on the blue belt requirements to add new things there. As a result, I decided to add a new belt level, purple belt, between green and blue.

In making the changes, I’ve held to the philosophy of keeping the curriculum up to green belt devoted to learning the most useful skills and technical principles for self-defense. Then from purple belt onwards, students are introduced more and more esoteric skills that improve their overall body awareness and improvisational abilities.

For those of you who are students getting ready to test for green, fear not. Any changes that introduce new curriculum for your green belt will only be asked for on your test if you feel comfortable enough with them. Plus, there’s the added bonus that you’ll be farther along in your learning of the purple belt curriculum. :)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Funky Shorinjikan Jiu-jitsu Breakfalls

After having started to get the hang of some of Shorinjikan breakfalls, last night they showed me a few more funky ones, including the ones in the above video.

I was able to do the second one, having done it before long ago, but nowhere near as well as this guy did it. He gets some serious air time. The behind the back belt grab breakfall I was able to do on my right side fine. My left side was another story. You're really not supposed to let go of the belt under while attempting this breakfall. Holding the belt is what saves you if you screw up. But somehow I was going over in a weird way and I accidentally let go, slamming myself face down into the mat. Other than a bruised knee and pride, I was okay.

It may seem weird that this style of Jiu-jitsu has so many varieties of breakfalls, but one of the Senseis explained to me that when you mess with your head and change up your breakfalls in so many different ways, you're better able to adapt to any situation that results in your being thrown to the ground.

I'm convinced that the man who said this could be flipped from a moving truck and come out of it unscathed. Wait a minute, I think that might be a breakfall they're gonna introduce to me at their Sunday "psycho" training session coming up this weekend. :P

Now I know a few of my students may be reading this blog. You guys up for trying a few of these new breakfalls out?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Memoirs of a Travelling Sensei

I normally post every other day, so you might have been wondering where I've been. I've actually been on a bit of a training holiday in Ottawa, my home town. In addition to visiting my family, I've been visiting two Jiu-jitsu dojos frequented by Chris, one of my former students who is a brown belt in the style of Shorinjikan Jiu-jitsu in addition to having trained in my style.

Even though I'm a black belt in a style of Jiu-jitsu, this does not mean it isn't a humbling experience to walk into a dojo of another style. There are always differences to learn from. In Shorinjikan, for example, they do a wider variety of throws and subsequently a wider variety of breakfalls.

The first class I went to I was thrown in with all the students to do their regular breakfalls with the caveat that I can opt out of any of the falls if they look unfamiliar. There was this one very simple-looking roll they do that they call a judo roll. It looks very similar to the roll that we do except one leg is kept straight during the roll. This one difference makes the roll very different. Of course, instead of opting out of the rotation to learn the technique of it first, I just threw myself in there. The yellow belts were doing it and I couldn't help but be affected by foolish pride. As a result, I completed the roll, slamming my heel into the mat causing a nasty bruise.

The next class, I requested to be taught the fall off to the side as I ought to have done the first day. I'm happy to report that I'm now starting to get the hang of it.

When you get to a higher rank as I have, it is easy to expect more of yourself than is reasonable. As a result, some people in my position will tend to dismiss techniques or training methods that prove difficult at the onset. It's important to keep an open mind and learn something new fully before making any kind of judgment. This is true whether you're a white belt or a high-ranking Dan. But, in a lot of ways, the more years of training under your belt, the harder it is to do.

Thankfully, the dojo heads have not judged me harshly for my lack of ability with their breakfalls as I have been invited to teach at one of their classes this evening. :)

Friday, February 8, 2008

My Grocery List of Injuries from MMA Training

In the last week and a half, I’ve gone through a number of injuries. Far more than I ever had in such a short period in my entire martial arts career. Here is the grocery list:

2 black eyes (yes, I managed to get smoked again on the other eye while grappling though not as bad), tweaked MCL in my right knee, sprained big toe and a wide forehead cut (this one happened to my sparring partner).

I complained about this recent onslaught of injuries to Mark, my MMA coach, as I iced my big toe. “I don’t know what’s going on here. Is this all just bad luck?” We had just finished the MMA sparring practice session during which I had sprained my big toe by jamming it on the mat then rolling on it.

“Lori, I can tell you exactly what’s going on here,” he explained. “You’ve improved a lot in a relatively short period of time. Your level has gone up to a higher level and you’re just not used to it yet. You’re moving faster and with more power than you ever have before and both you and your partners haven’t adjusted to it yet.”

“Does this mean that I’ll eventually get used to it and stop injuring myself?” I asked hopefully.

“Yes and no. You’ll get injured less as you get used to it, but not much less.” He paused noticing my furrowed eyebrows. “Think of it this way. People rarely get injured when they’re playing pick-up basketball. But at the pro level, they get injuries all the time. When you move that much faster and with that much more power, you’re just naturally going to get hurt more. It’s the nature of the game.”

I sighed to myself. “I better get more ice packs…”

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Learning Open Guard... from a Kitten!

This video is not just a cute video posted for a laugh. Shaolin monks developed an entire system of fighting based on the way animals fight. This one-minute fight between a bunny and a kitten can also teach us something.

If you're down on the ground and defending against a standing attacker, defensively you're much better off trying to keep your feet pointed at your attacker keeping your head pointed away from them. The kitten utilizes this tactic.

The kitten also has a fairly strong open guard. It keeps its legs out and alive, shifting and adapting to the bunny's movements, presenting a big challenge for the bunny to get around it.

When the bunny does manage to get around to the kitten's head, the kitten takes control of its head. As I always say, if you control the head, you control the body. The kitten even manages to get to its feet while controlling the rabbit's head, effectively taking a Muay Thai clinch.

As far as fighting style goes, I think the kitten is clearly of a proponent of the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu approach to fighting. This is to say the kitten actively takes the fight to the ground, where it expects to dominate the fight.

Good thing the bunny wasn't wearing steel-toed boots... :P.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Yoga DVDs I Use to Balance Out My Martial Arts Training

As discussed in a previous post, Yoga and the Martial Arts, yoga is a great tool for enhancing one's martial arts training. But people often ask me how I find the motivation to wake up at 6:25 to do 20 minutes of meditation followed by 20 minutes of yoga. The secret is consistency... and having a few yoga DVDs to follow so you don't have to think.

The meditation part is easy. It's really only one step up from sleeping, though you don't want to fall asleep during your meditation. It kinda defeats the purpose.

As for the yoga, sometimes I'll pick out specific moves from The Martial Artist's Book of Yoga that work muscle groups I need to stretch out. But more often than not I'm not quite awake enough to think so much so I'll rely on DVD workouts. Sara Ivanhoe's 5-workout set Yoga Makeover: Gift Boxed Set is great because each of the 5 workouts are exactly 20 minutes long, making them easy to fit into my morning routine. Plus each workout has a different purpose or works a different muscle set. Rodney Yee's Abs Yoga for Beginners - DVD is also a good 20 minute workout. It gives a solid ab workout, which simultaneously relaxes you.

I also have a few other DVDs with longer workouts that work into my weekend rotation. Baron Baptiste's Core Power-Power Vinyasa Yoga is closer to 30 minutes long and gives a good all-over stretch in addition to a series of lower back and ab strengthening exercises. Sara Ivanhoe's Crunch: Candlelight Yoga (Full Screen) is a great 40-minute workout for beginners and people who just want a relaxing stretch-out to help recover from a heavy training day at the dojo. There is also a 15-minute energizer work-out that I use in the mornings when I accidentally sleep in an extra 5 minutes :P. Hemalaya Behl's Yoga For Urban Living has 3 nice workouts, a 30-minute AM workout, a 1-hour full-body workout, and my favourite, the 25-minute evening bath workout. The evening bath one is very soothing and leaves you feeling like an ice cube melting in hot water. One last one that I sometimes use is Ali MacGraw: Yoga--Mind & Body. This 40-minute workout is actually a little difficult for beginners, but if you're up for a more challenging workout and you can get past the very new-age feel of the production, it's a great all-over stretching and strengthening workout.

If you really want to use yoga to help improve your martial arts training, you should try to do it regularly. You can work in a few stretches while you watch TV or sneak in a quick 20-minute workout every other day. By doing it regularly your body will get used to the movements and you'll be better able to develop your strength and flexibility in the long run.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Another MMA-Related Injury

This last week has been a bad one for injuries. A typical astrology-following Vancouverite might say it was due to Mars being in retrograde or something. But really, every so often, shit just happens. And thanks to my student Ray, I have a little photo record of the most recent "happening."

My MMA coach was sick with the stomach flu so a couple of my students stayed behind after class to spar with me and give me a bit of a workout. I was doing MMA-style sparring and grappling with Julian who is about 30 lbs. heavier than me.

At one point, I was rolling Julian over from the bottom of guard position and I rolled him over into a fitness ball. This on its own wouldn't have been bad. However, because his upper body was propped up by the ball, my forehead smashed into his eyebrow forcefully as I rolled on top of him, splitting open the skin (shown below after having been cleaned off).

Of course, we didn't realize what had happened so we kept rolling. Ten seconds later I got him flat on his stomach and stetched him out, finishing him with a rear naked choke. As he got up and turned to face me, it was then that I saw that his face was covered in blood, much like Joe Stevenson's was during the BJ Penn fight in the most recent UFC.

I quickly broke out my first aid kit and cleaned the cut off. Unfortunately, there were no butterfly enclosures in the sport first aid kit that I had, so the best I could do was staunch the bleeding and suggest he see a doctor for stitches. It's really amazing how little it takes to open up the skin so much on the forehead area as well as how much blood those suckers can pump out.

It was too late for Julian to get stitches by the time he went to see the doctor the next day, but he assured me that it's healing over and that I need not worry. It was an accident and these things happen in the martial arts. It was much the same as I had said to Tasia last week when she was a flood of apologies for the black eye she had given me (also a faultless accident).

Nonetheless, I can't help but hope that his eyebrow hairs will at least grow over any resulting scar.