Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Lesson to Be Learned from YouTube

This is a video that was made famous on YouTube. It cracks me up every time I watch it. Supposedly, these guys are all auditioning for some sort of martial arts film. Here's my tip if you want to get involved in the stunt/ action acting industry: Be realistic about your skills.

I was involved in the stunt industry briefly having done some non-descript stunt work for Scary Movie 4. I also helped block out a sword fight for Smallville. I stopped submitting myself for stunt work for a period of a couple of years due to certain limitation in my life, but now that I'm no longer working a full-time job, I'm going to try and start it up again.

Anyway, one common mistake people make when getting involved in the stunt industry is that they embellish what they're capable of on their resumes. If you are ever considered for a stunt role and you're not able to pull off what you claim, it's a massive strike against you ever getting work again. It's best to be honest and train up so that you can truthfully tell stunt coordinators that you can do a 540 jumping, spinning hook kick while on fire.

Monday, May 26, 2008

L.O.C.K.U.P: A Self-Protection System Based on Simplicity

This past Saturday, I went to a training seminar put on by Lt. Kevin Dillon and Sergeant Geoffrey Anderson (shown here) of L.O.C.K.U.P (Law Officers Combat Kinetics for Ultimate Protection), an organization that teaches the most practical manoeuvres for law enforcement officers. Because of the simplicity of their system, the moves are equally useful for people who only have a limited amount of time to put into self-defense training. I'd like to impart some of what I learned.

Like in my style of Jiu-jitsu, this system focuses on protective manoeuveres that use only gross motor skills. Skills that require fine motor skills take much longer to learn, sometimes years, in order to be proficient enough at them for them to be useful in a high stress combat situation. That's fine for people who want to devote lots of time to martial arts training, but for people who only get so many hours to learn usable skills, simplicity is key.

The L.O.C.K.U.P system draws from a wide variety of martial arts, taking the most efficient, gross motor skill reliant techniques. One of the moves that was shown comes from Aikido. Because of its simplicity and dynamic nature, it can be used in a variety of situations. In the video below, I demonstrate its use against several shirt grabs that we practiced at the seminar.

One of the main principles of the L.O.C.K.U.P system is to react to the aggressor before they get their hold on as you can see in the video (unless they manage to surprise you from behind). As our instructors emphasized, it's easier to defend against a hold before the hold is fully applied. I wholeheartedly agree.

There was so much more imparted at the seminar about their training concepts that I can't cover it all in a simple blog post, but I can say that my students quite enjoyed the new material. I highly recommend the L.O.C.K.U.P. training courses to any martial arts groups and law enforcement organizations. I also bought their DVDs which I will watch soon and review here on my website.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Listen to Your Body: The Importance of Injury Recovery

People who are into the martial arts hardcore find it hard to do what is necessary to recover from an injury if it means skipping training or holding back during training. I count myself among them. That being said, I've learned how important it is to listen to your body when it tells you it's hurt.

Yesterday, I had two people in my class who didn't want to listen to their body. One of them hurt their toe while doing cone hops. He thought he had just bruised it until I called out to the class, "Ok everybody, stop what you're doing... Who's bleeding?" There were a couple of pools of blood on the mats that had me worried. The student who had though he had just "bruised" himself came forward. I took him into the washroom to administer first aid and discovered that he had a very deep, wide cut across the webbing of his baby toe. He had managed to cut his toe on part of the plastic where there was a design cut into the cone (*never using THOSE cones again...).

"This is going to need stitches," I told him. He resisted somewhat saying he wanted to just wrap it up and keep training. For further credibility, I had the student in my class who is a doctor have a look and confirm my diagnosis. I wrapped the student's foot in gauze and sent him off to go get stitched. The student was more frustrated about missing class than he was about the actual injury. While I appreciate the sentiment, my students' well-being comes first. If he had tried to let that cut heal on its own, there was a chance it could have gotten infected. Ultimately, this might have caused him to miss more than the one class.

Another example of this mentality came from the same class. I had a new student who was very keen about training with us. He was just coming back to training in the martial arts after having suffered a back injury. I told him to do whatever he was comfortable with in the class and that there was no pressure to do everything. I wanted to make sure he didn't do anything that might hurt his back.

During the class, he did everything I showed and didn't take it easy at all. Though it looked like he was fine, he later confessed that the breakfalls were a little hard on his back. He explained that he wanted to test his back to see if he'd be able to go the distance. Upon hearing this, I warned him not to rush it, to go easy for the first period while he learns the technique of the breakfalls and to let his body gradually build strength for the new type of exercise. If this student were to continue on pushing himself too hard, too quickly, he might re-injure his back. Then he'd have to start the whole recovery process all over again.

As much as we martial artists like to push ourselves to our physical limits, we still do have limits and when the body cries out, it's best not to ignore it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Over a Year of Stubborn Perseverance Pays Off

Today, I was very impressed with one of my students. I had noticed over the past couple of months that this student had really come into her own since earning her orange belt. She has a new confidence that exudes from every technique she performs. But today she went even further.

We were working on a variety of wristlock takedowns that were all new to her. And every one I showed her seemed to be magically clicking for her. She was eating them up and was eager for more. In fact, she was finding the newer, more technical takedowns easier than ones she was more familiar with that utilized movements that are typically easier to learn.

It's really not magic at all. She has endured over a year of training, a year of me being picky about her technique, a year of taking shots and doling out a few of her own, a year of stubborn perseverance in learning the wonderful art of Jiu-jitsu. And now it's starting to come together.

Now that this student has this foundation of technique and confidence, new things will take less time to learn and come to her more naturally. If she keeps riding the wave, her learning will accelerate at a rate that may surprise her. As a teacher, this is an accomplishment that gives me true satisfaction. It means that the student is starting to see what I love so much about the martial arts. I couldn't be more pleased.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Leaning into Punches to Increase Reach

I did some boxing training today. I've been avoiding grappling and ground work to let my injured hip flexor heal. The boxer that was training me is a shorter fellow, only 5'6", but he's pretty well built and therefore heavier. As a result, he fights in the super middle weight category. This means he often ends up fighting people significantly taller than himself. With this in mind, he has been helping me increase my range, which would be useful for minimizing the reach advantage taller people have, as well as giving myself a reach advantage over people my own height.

The trick is, when you're doing jabs and crosses, to lean in slightly at the hips, while simultaneously taking a slight shuffle forward with the front foot. The lean creates extra reach and the footwork keeps my balanced centred. It's a little hard to describe, but it works.

At first, it seemed unnatural, but once I got the hang of it, I found it gave me a significant increase in reach. I'm actually quite looking forward to sparring with it and trying it out.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Boot to the Head: A Look at Taekwondo

Yesterday, I discussed What You Learn from a Punch to the Face. It reminded me of the following video I stumbled across on Digg a few months back, featuring Taekwondo's best knock-outs.

The knock-outs featured in this video are all from kicks. In WTF Taekwondo, you're not allowed to punch to the face. As a result, people tend to use lower guards in tournaments. Of course, some TKD-ers are capable of blindingly fast kicks to the heads as you'll have witnessed in the video.

My old friend and student that I mentioned in yesterday's blog post always warned me that kicking to the head is not all that practical in a real street situation, however. He said you can do it maybe once in a fight, preferably at the beginning, when they're not expecting it, and as a result it could potentially a fight-ending blow. But if it doesn't end the fight, you had best not try it a second time because once they know to expect it, it's not all that hard to defend against.

To all my Canadian readers, have a great long weekend!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Running is Better than No Running

Yesterday, I bought an expensive new pair of running shoes. My MMA coach had told me that I would need to add running to my regular workout pattern and that he would eventually want me to run with a wearing a weight vest. This thought didn't thrill me (I can't stand running), but I listen to my coach.

When I showed up for training and told him about my groin pull he had a look at my range of motion then shook his head, telling me I would need to take it easy on my lower body for the next couple of weeks. He said running would be too much impact so it would have to wait.

I hate "taking it easy" when I'm trying to accomplish something so I asked my student who is a doctor what I can do safely. She said I can start with biking and swimming and perhaps some careful squats. She is of the modern opinion that gentle exercise that doesn't strain the injured area helps with recovery by increasing blood flow to the area. She also told me that it wasn't actually my groin that was pulled, that it was my hip flexor. Whatever. Either way, I have to hold back. No grappling, throwing or kicking for a couple of weeks. Blech.

Monday, May 12, 2008

'Redbelt' Movie Review

Ok, so I went to see this movie with a few of my students last night thinking it might be pretty cool since David Mamet, an award-winning writer and director that I like, wrote and directed it. I would never have expected that he was capable of writing such cliche-ridden crap.

This movie is one martial arts cliche after another with terrible lines like "I don't teach students to win, I teach them to prevail." The cliches were so stupid that I found myself laughing out loud more than I do for comedies. I'm not sure the other people in the audience got why I was laughing, but my students all shared a chuckle.

The movie's hero owns a self-defense focused school that is apparently a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu school. I'm sure I don't have to tell all the traditional Jiu-jitsu practitioners out there that BJJ is really unsuited for street defense because it goes to the ground so much. If you don't already know this, check out my post, "Why Grappling is More Effective in the Ring than in Reality." Then when you actually see the guy fight, he pretty much keeps it off the ground and uses stuff that is more similar to traditional Jiu-jitsu.

The whole premise behind the movie is pretty weak and it portrays the world of MMA in a highly unrealistic, very negative way, implying that some official fight organizations fix their fights. Oh and the ending is just mind-blowingly awful.

Anyway, I could go into more rants about this suck-ass movie, but really the bottom line is this: This movie wasted one hour and forty minutes of my life and I want it back! Stay away from it despite the fact that the critics seem to like it. They clearly know nothing about the world of martial arts.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Practicing the Spiderweb with Eddie Bravo

Yesterday's seminar was great fun. Tasia, one of my MMA training partners, and I drove out to Victoria to train for 4 hours under Jiu-jitsu legend, Eddie Bravo. I had always considered him the "rock star" of the Jiu-jitsu world. My experience with Eddie yesterday confirmed that much more than I would have anticipated.

Eddie Bravo, the man who beat Royler Gracie at his own game, using an innovative style of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu of his own creation, does not actually consider Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to be his main passion. Rock music takes that position. He has trained in BJJ for over 20 years as a "hobby", the fame from which he uses to help promote his music label.

Eddie also lives the lifestyle of a rock star with no real ties to anything other than to a lifestyle of sex, drugs (pot specifically) and rock 'n roll, with a generous dash of Jiu-jitsu, of course. After the seminar, he invited Tasia and I to party with him and his entourage. I can say from experience, that though he's going on 38 but parties like he's 18.

At the seminar itself, he covered the use of a position called the spiderweb. He showed some pretty cool stuff that would be fairly useful in MMA, though it does change a bit when you're wearing MMA gloves, I found. Here is a video clip of him introducing a few entrances into the spiderweb:

I managed to re-injure my groin muscle, the same one I overstretched the other day. Regrettably, it happened right at the beginning of the seminar when Tasia was doing a turn-over on me. To my embarrassment, I yelped loud enough for the entire class to hear. Eddie asked Tasia if she had another training partner to which I replied, "No, no. I'm fine. I'll keep going." I was pretty much in pain for the rest of the 4 hour class, but it was worth it. I wasn't about to miss the opportunity to train with Eddie. Of course it meant I couldn't operate at the capacity I would have liked, but at least I got to train.

When I said good night to Eddie last night, he was kind enough to give me a copy of his new training DVD set. I was so pleased, since I had already bought the accompanying book, Mastering The Rubber Guard. A perfect end to a perfect day of training. I look forward to exploring his funky style further. :)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Tip: Don't Overstretch Before a Seminar

Tomorrow, I'm heading to Victoria to attend a 4-hour seminar with Eddie Bravo. In preparation for this event, I did some extra stretching yesterday, focusing on my groin. Some of Eddie's classic moves require a good deal of flexibility, like the rubber guard for example.

I'm already pretty flexible, but I figured it couldn't hurt to do a little extra. Apparently, it can. While I was doing some yoga stretching, I seem to have overextended myself and pulled a groin muscle. It has been tweaking me all day today! I'm just hoping it'll be okay for tomorrow.

So my tip of the day is don't overstretch or over-train in the day or two leading up to an important seminar or competitive event!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Picky, Picky: My Approach to Teaching Novice Students

When I get new students, I pay very close attention to their form and technique for the first few months. I constantly make corrections to the point where it can be frustrating for them. There are a few ways in which I try to minimize this frustration, however.

Strategic Corrections. I don't correct every single mistake they make or offer as many suggestions for improvement as I can think of. This would be overwhelming, making the learning process appear insurmountable to the novice. Instead, I focus on the most important form points first. When teaching boxing punches, for example, I focus on punching with a straight wrist in order to prevent wrist injury, keeping hands up in guard, etc. Then, once they've mastered the initial points, I focus on new form points like proper footwork, use of hip to increase power, breathing, etc. Then after students have been training with me awhile and have mastered all the basic form points, I'll focus on higher level form points like how twist into punches to further increase power, etc. By taking things one step at a time, students learn more effectively and therefore get less frustrated.

Credit Where Credit is Due. Just because I'm picky about form, does not mean that I don't offer praise when it is deserved. Proper encouragement and reinforcement is a vital part of teaching. It helps students stay motivated with a positive outlook towards their learning.

Being picky with my novices' form always pays off in the long run. When they have a strong foundation of basics, everything else they learn later on is easier and takes less time for them to learn.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Even Monkeys Fall Out of Trees

The title of this post is an old Japanese saying that I refer to from time to time when I teach. I had cause to refer to it last night in class to explain my current black eye.

Last Thursday, I had been practicing defenses against bottle attacks with one of my senior students. He was coming at me hard and fast with a serious of random attacks. At one point, I had an unfortunate lapse in focus and I zigged when I should have zagged, resulting in me colliding headlong into his bottle-wielding hand as he attacked, slamming hard into my cheekbone below the eye. I had hoped the blow was far enough away from the eye that it wouldn't blacken, but I was not so lucky.

By the time last night's class rolled around my eye was in that lovely stage of healing that combines all the colours of a Himalayan sunset in a sickly hue. My students naturally asked about it and I told them honestly how it happened and that it had been entirely my own fault. When students give me a look of surprise that I should make a mistake my usual response is, "Hey, even monkeys fall out of trees."

Some martial arts students see a Sensei's mistakes as a sign of weakness. This mentality of deifying instructors is silly and when Senseis start to believe it, they stop learning and improving. All martial artists from the newest novices to the highest ranking instructors with decades of experience make mistakes. Mistakes are what teach us. As martial artists, we all strive for perfection with the idea at the backs of our heads that we will never achieve it. This keeps us pushing forward and advancing our arts as far as we can take them.

For more interesting Japanese proverbs, check out Even Monkeys Fall Out of Trees.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

'Red Belt' - A New Movie about Jiu-Jitsu

I got wind of a new movie about a self-defense oriented Jiu-jitsu instructor who gets involved in the world of mixed martial arts. It's a film written and directed by David Mamet, the man that brought us such great films as 'Wag the Dog' and 'Glengarry Glen Ross.' It was released last week in LA and NYC and is getting great reviews.

Here is the preview:

I will definitely be checking this one out. I think I'll see if any of my students will want to go too. It should make a fun dojo outing. :)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Capping Off My Dojo Membership

Well, it's official. My dojo is now reaching capacity. I have one last new student coming in for trial lessons next week and if she signs up, I'll stop accepting new students. I'll have a total of 16 students enrolled in my dojo. My official cap-off is 15, but two of my students are moving away in the near future.

Some people wonder why I would cap off membership when I'm still receiving inquiries from people interested in my class. I have my reasons.

I run my dojo for pleasure, not for profit. That's not to say that I don't make any money, I do turn a small profit, but it's not enough to live off of. My goal in running my dojo is to give to others what martial arts has given to me. If I make profit a primary motivator, it will inhibit my ability to achieve this.

I'm much more able to help my students get the most of their martial arts training by having less students on which to focus. The more people I bring into my class, the more my attention is split as an instructor. And while I am now getting my first green belts, and they are able to help me to some degree, I don't have a consistent assistant instructor. So if I let classes get to big, I won't be able to give my best to all my students. Some will inevitably get lost in the crowd.

Another thing I like about keeping my class small is the friendly atmosphere it creates. One of my students recently commented that the thing he likes best about my class is the feeling of family when he walks into the dojo, like Norm when he walks into to cheers, as well as the mutual support and encouragement the students provide. Everyone who stays with my dojo more than a few months shares in this dojo camaraderie.

For the record, I'm not saying that camaraderie doesn't exist in larger clubs, it's just different. They aren't typically places where everyone necessarily "knows your name." Or if they are, it takes more time and active efforts to create. And the larger clubs that do manage to do it have my utmost respect.