Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Self-Defense 101: Have a Sense of Humour

It's amazing to see the kind of homemade martial arts/ self-defense instructional videos that get sold on the net. This funny video does a great piss-take on them. Enjoy!

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Importance of Breathing in the Martial Arts

Over a year ago, I had an argument with Slan, a guy I used to work with who had once been a Kempo instructor. The argument was about when to breathe when striking or being struck.

I had argued that you should breathe out when you strike and at the point of impact when you're being struck. He had argued that you're at your weakest during your out-breath and should therefore avoid breathing out when being hit.

In reality, we were both right.

According to my MMA coach, you should breathe out when you strike so as not to tire over the course of a fight, whether it's boxing, MMA, or any other ring-style fight form. He did, however, add the caveat that you should not breathe out on every single strike but once every three strikes. The reason for this is that you are most vulnerable at the very end of your out-breath. If you breathe out on every strike, a smart opponent will see the pattern and hit you just as you finish breathing out, causing a very strong winding effect. But, if you breathe every three strikes, your opponent will not be able to track the pattern in the hectic environment of a fight.

My co-worker had not gone into this much detail, but if he had, I'm would have agreed with him. I do remember times when I was hit at the end of an out-breath and found the hit affected me more than at other points of my breath cycle.

As for being hit, if you start your out-breath at the point of impact, you're better able to steel yourself for the hit. Anyone who has done the standing abdominal drop exercise with a medicine ball will know exactly what I'm taking about. It must be timed exactly right though because, as my coach said, if you take that hit as you finish your breath, it has quite the opposite effect.

Outside of the ring-fighting arena, most martial arts teach you to breathe out while you strike, not only because it helps keep you from tiring, but also because it helps harness your power and focus your energy (ki or chi, if you want it in traditional terms). A kiai, the shout often used in martial arts training, is an extension of this logic, with more powerful effects.

Having been laid off a couple of months back, I no longer see Slan on a regular basis. I have to say, I truly miss our regular martial arts discussions, whether they were diplomatic or argumentative in nature. :P

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Martial Arts Training While Mute

Today, I did an interesting little experiment with my class. When we came to practice our hold escapes, I told everyone that for tonight's class, talking would not be allowed amongst the students. If students were caught talking, there were to do 10 push-ups.

Because I keep my class sizes fairly small, my students are very friendly with each other. They try to help each other in whatever way they can. What they don't realize, however, is that sometimes this willingness to help hinders their fellow students' development somewhat. Sometimes, students go into lengthy explanations about things that need to be fixed. And while I appreciate the cooperative gesture, sometimes it's better to just let the student try to work on it for themselves.

The two main things I felt everyone was able to learn from this exercise were as follows:

1. Less talking means more training. By having less discussion about the techniques the students were working on, the students were able to devote more time to practice. Much of the time, students are able to work out their own problems simply by practicing. If more explanation was required, however, they were allowed to ask the instructor for assistance. And instructors tend to be better at explaining things in a succinct, effective way.

2. Most things that need explaining could be done through gesture alone.
While sometimes it is necessary to use analogies to help students who are really struggling, 90% of the time students can be helped with minor gestures and physical corrections that require little to no explanation.

At the end of the class when I explained theses ideas to my students, I saw a lot of nodding heads. There really is no replacement for practice.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Beware of Patterned Bobbing and Weaving

I was recently told to move my head more while I spar. I've always taught ducking and slipping specifically to get the head out of the line of fire of a strike. That being said, by bobbing and weaving more as you move, not just when being attacked, it makes it harder for my opponent to target the head. One of my sparring partners was applying this theory against me on the weekend with unfortunate results.

My partner was a man about 20-30 lbs. heavier than me. He mentioned that his ground game was much stronger than his stand-up game, so I suggested we do some stand-up sparring without takedowns or grappling so he could work on it.

Due to a minor leg injury I sustained recently, I had been taking it easy on the grappling, focusing more on stand-up, particularly on boxing/ stand-up skills. It quickly became clear that this intense focus had paid off.

My partner was trying to keep his head moving in an attempt to make it harder for me to strike his head. The problem was, he was moving his head in predictable patterns that I was able to pick up on, though I tried not to exploit this overly. At one point, I was targeting his ribs with a roundhouse kick as he slipped to his side, essentially moving into my kick (He had a tendency to flare his elbows out too much in his guard, making it easy for me to target his ribs.) Unfortunately, he decided to add a ducking movement to his slip that time causing him to thrust his face directly into my incoming kick.

My kick landed square on the nose with force. His tear ducts immediately emptied. We stopped the round to wait until the pain subsided and to make sure it wasn't going to develop into a nose bleed. It was at this time that I suggested he randomize his movements more.

So the morale of the story is keeping your head moving while sparring is a good thing, just make sure you don't do it in predictable patterns. And definitely don't bob or weave straight into a strike. :P

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Shabby, Old Black Belt vs. Shiny, New Stripey Belt

On my post entitled The Hakama Debate: Traditional vs. Practical, one of my students commented that he would like me to wear my formal sandan belt when making belt presentations. It's funny because until he mentioned it, it never occurred to me.

When I was promoted to sandan (3rd degree black belt) back in the summer of 2006, I was given the shiny, new stripey belt you see on the right in the above photo. I wear it for formal Jiu-jitsu BC events and that's about it.

For my day-to-day dojo duties, I wear the shabby, old black belt you see on the left. It may not be glamourous, or even clean for that matter, but I love that belt. There's a lot of history in it. I've been wearing it for 14 years. The wear and tear of all those years show in its stitches (or lack thereof).

I suppose to add to the formality of my dojos belt presentations I could wear my shiny, new stripey belt, but my heart will always be in the belt that has been weathered away by nearly a decade and a half of training, teaching, living and learning.

Friday, April 4, 2008

MMA Gloves for Sparring

When students are first introduced to sparring, we have them use 16-oz boxing gloves. These gloves are more protective and, because they're bigger, punches are easier see coming plus there is more surface area with which to block. As students get better, however, they are introduced to 6-oz MMA gloves.

Because they're smaller, MMA gloves create more defensive challenges. When blows land, they tend to hurt more because there's less padding. Because striking to the head and face is allowed in my dojo, mouth guards are always worn no matter what kind of gloves the student is wearing. They help prevent mouth injuries, but more importantly, they reduce the shock to the head, helping to prevent concussions.

MMA gloves also allow students to use their hands for throws, takedowns and ground grappling if necessary. We do, however, try to encourage students to use ground grappling skills only as a means of getting back to their feet. Our dojo uses sparring as one way of helping develop self-defense skills and the ground is a bad place to be on the street, as per my article Why Grappling is More Effective in the Ring than in Reality.

While I think it's better to use the 16-oz boxing gloves at first to help students get used to sparring, MMA gloves are better for developing a wider range of skills and are excellent for use with more advanced students. We use the Primetime Level 4 gloves pictured in the above photo. These are the best gloves I've found out there as they have an ideal amount protective padding in the knuckles without being too bulky.