Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An Invitation to Train with Robert Mustard Sensei

As many of you know, I like to learn what I can from a variety of martial arts, not just my primary style. When I can, I like to expose my students to instructors of other styles of Jiu-jitsu or other martial arts altogether. Since I had a little extra time on my hands, having been recently laid off, I decided to look into bringing in one such instructor. And that man is Robert Mustard Sensei, 7th Dan in Aikido.

I first heard about Robert Mustard Sensei from reading the book, Angry White Pyjamas. This narrative non-fiction tells one man's story of how he trained with the Tokyo riot police in an intensive Aikido training course that ran 5 days a week, 5 hours a day, for 11 months. Robert Mustard Sensei was one of the instructors. I won't go into too much detail about what the book said about him. I highly recommend it by the way, so if you can get a copy, give it a read. It reads more like a novel than a biography and it's highly entertaining. What I will say, is that Robert Mustard Sensei comes across as a tough nut, one who earned the respect of high ranking Aikido instructors the hard way, through innumerable tosses, cranks and slams. Check out this YouTube video of him doing a demo:

Ever since I moved to the Vancouver area, I wanted to go visit his dojo and meet the man, but I didn't feel comfortable just calling and asking if I could drop in, especially since I could never be a regular student. His dojo was on the other side of town from me and for a long time, I didn't even have a vehicle. But I recently discovered that he is willing to teach seminars at other martial arts dojos, and of course, I now have a dojo.

When I talked to him on the phone, he was very friendly and affable, and much like I imagined despite the tough picture that was painted of him in Angry White Pyjamas. He was very receptive to the idea of teaching at my dojo and welcomed me and my other instructor to come out to his dojo to take part in a class and meet him so we would know what to expect from him and his teachings. I set a date and am now looking forward to what I expect will be an interesting and enjoyable training experience. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

To Kickbox or Not to Kickbox...

Louis Sargeant, my new manager, called me yesterday asking me if I would be interested in kickboxing as well as pro MMA. He told me that some of the promoters he talked to put it out there that there are more fight opportunities for women in kickboxing so if I'm interested he should let them know.

I had to really think about this. On the one hand, doing some kickboxing could help sharpen up my stand-up game, as Louis pointed out. On the other hand, it's not Muay Thai, so it wouldn't allow me to apply all the skills of stand-up MMA. Moves like elbow and knee strikes are not allowed.

When I originally decided it was worth my while to try MMA, even though competition isn't a focal point in my art, it was because MMA competition is the closest thing to real fighting that legitimate competition can offer. It combines most of the aspects that come up in a fight, standing up and on the ground.

So even though kickboxing would offer me more opportunities for exposure as a fighter, I think I'd prefer to focus on MMA.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Under New Management: Louis Sargeant

Ok, I have good news and bad news regarding my pro-MMA career status. Bad news first.

I won't be fighting this Friday or on Nov. 29th. Mark, my manager and trainer, came to me straight and told me that he just doesn't have the time to put into properly managing my career and as a result the two upcoming fights won't be happening. He still wants to be one of my trainers, he's just too busy to manage me. He felt bad about letting me down, but he did, however, make other arrangements for me.

Good news now. Mark spoke to pro-boxer Louis Sargeant, the guy who recently started training me for my striking game, and Louis is happy to be my new manager. I think this new arrangement will work out a lot better. I could see over the past few months that Mark was having trouble balancing too many responsibilities and I could see that it was hurting his ability to get me into the ring. And with this new arrangement, I'll still get to train under Mark as well as Louis.

Louis has always managed his own boxing career, quite successfully too. He's in the top 100 boxers internationally in his weight class and is regularly in contact with promoters. He is now formulating the game plan for my fight career. So hopefully I'll be getting in the ring or cage some time in the near future. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Essence of Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu

Appropriately enough, the following comic was published on my birthday. Be sure to click the image to get the last segment of the comic.

Pearls Before Swine

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me: Looking Ahead at My 33rd Year

Yesterday I watched the UFC fights with my all my coaches and a couple of my students and for the first time as I watched, I felt nervous. As each pair of competitors entered the ring, I had a felt it at the pit of my stomach. Midway through the fights, I realized why.

I was recently told that I would likely be doing my first professional MMA fight within the next couple of weeks. There are two events that are on the table, one on Nov. 21 in Red Deer, Alberta and one at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Washington on Nov. 29. So as I watched the fighters, I was imagining stepping into the ring myself. It is finally going to happen and it's starting to sink in. I'm no longer going to be separated from the violent competition I've been watching on TV over the past year, I'm going be in it, taking the hits and dishing them out while another woman does the same.

I would have mentioned it on here sooner, but I wanted to wait until closer to the event in case it didn't work out. There have been a lot of false starts this year that never materialized. That just how it goes. In fact, there is still a chance that things could get cancelled at the last minute, so until my flight to Red Deer gets booked, don't go and buy a ticket in hopes of seeing me fight.

I turned 32 this past Thursday. In taking stock of the last year, I realized it had been a long one. There had been a lot of ups and downs. I was laid off from my job at the end of February. And though I didn't end up starting my pro MMA career in the spring, I did managed to get a flexible job that allowed me to continue my training. Then when I just got comfortable in that new job, I was laid off again, just this past Tuesday. It was essentially a 2-person marketing consultancy and the bad economy hit the company hard.

So now I'm back where I was in February, though I'm not as thrown by it this time. With 2 fights on the horizon, I definitely have something to focus on and look forward to. But outside of training, I've also amassed a lot of useful portfolio pieces over the last 6 months so I'm confident it won't take me long to find work. If I had my way, I'd get a few sponsorships for my pro-MMA career, then I could just do freelance work on the side.

Hey, you never know.

While the last year of my life has had it downs, it has also had its ups. My dojo is thriving and I was able to develop a second instructor, allowing me to expand my classes. I even found someone who will worry about me as I step into the ring while watching through his fingers.

Like Randy Couture, I don't feel like age is catching up on me. While the results of his match against Brock Lesnar were disappointing (don't get me started on Lesnar... he so didn't deserve to be the one to defeat Randy... it should have been Fedor Emelianenko... sorry, I digress...), he is truly making the most of his life, still competently entering the octagon at the age of 45.

I feel lucky and excited to start off my 33rd year with a bang. I plan to make the best of it. And if you can make it to one of my fights, come by and say hi afterwards. :)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Problem with Limiting Student Numbers

As many of you know, I made a conscious decision to limit the number of students in my Vancouver Jiu-jitsu dojo. I did this in the interest of developing higher quality students by having a lower teacher to student ratio, rather than cramming in anyone and everyone who shows interest just to make more money. But, to my frustration, this sometimes bites me in the ass.

Sometimes when students are up for renewal, they don't show up for a few weeks. This is usually for legitimate reasons (i.e. injuries, busy work schedule, etc.), but because of my decision to limit my student numbers, it can make my finances hard to plan as a dojo owner. You see, if I'm close to being full and several students haven't got their memberships up to date, I don't know whether or not to allow new students to join to fill the gap or to just wait, knowing that they'll come back.

I always hold back from inviting new students in since I would much prefer to develop students into whom I've already put in time teaching. But then when they don't come back for awhile I lose out. And if they don't come back at all, I sometimes lose the opportunity to take in more students because I waited too long before inviting potentials in for trial lessons.

I know there is really nothing I can do to remedy this situation without running my school more like a McDojo. I would rather take the chance and wait it out until MIA students come back. And I don't feel comfortable asking students to pay for time they were away. I think though, it would make me feel better if students just kept in touch and let me know around when I can expect them back so at least I can plan my finances around their absence.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Intensity Skipping Instead of Sprints

In the last month or so, I started doing hard interval running and sprints as conditioning for a potential upcoming fight. Unfortunately, I started to develop some minor pain in my left achilles tendon so, upon advice from my trusty doctor Jenny, I switched over to intensity and interval skipping to replace the running.

To simulate an MMA fight, I always do three 5-minute rounds with a 1-minute rest in between. When doing intensity skipping, I do three 30-second rounds of double skipping within each 5-minute round. This gives me a solid anaerobic work-out that very much simulates the way a fight goes. Jenny told me however that I should only do this type of work-out once a week as it is hard on the body. On other days, I simply do three 5- minute rounds of regular skipping, practicing various technical patterns, with a single 30-second round of double skipping at the end of each 5-minute round. Check out my post, Increasing Your Cardio When Skipping for a video demo of double skipping.

The skipping work-outs seem to put less stress on my joints. And with skipping, I get to work out my upper body more than I do with running, particularly when I'm doing the double skipping portion of the workout. Skipping is almost always the way I warm up as well.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Mastery Revisted

I wrote a blog post last year, Banzo's Sword and the Road to Mastery, that discussed the concept of mastery in the context of martial arts. This concept, which can be applied to the learning of any art of discipline, is what distinguishes us as martial artists rather than self-defense practitioners or fighters.

Anyway, I watched an excellent National Geographic documentary on Kendo and what it takes to achieve the elusive 8th Dan. Kendo, also known as Japanese fencing, is considered both a sport and a martial art. That being said, you are not considered a master simply by winning a gold medal at the Olympics. The 8th degree black belt test has a less than 1% pass rate, the testing of which is not based on how many points the applicants score during the testing, but rather the mental and spiritual commitment of their strikes. They must demonstrate the ability to be fully and completely in the moment, free of all attachments, during their performance.

I know many fighters and self-defense practitioners scoff at the importance of this concept, believing that winning fights or being able to successfully defend one's self is the highest goal. But those who apply the concept of mastery to their training usually end up being better at those other goals.

Here is the video below. It's about 45 minutes long, so brew yourself a cup of tea. Oh and if the Korean subtitles are preventing you from reading the English ones, be ready to pause the video with your mouse. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Developing the Lock Sense

Joint locks are incredibly useful in self-defense. In Jiu jitsu specifically, they epitomize the very ideology of the art - the least amount of force needed to subdue an attacker.

Locks are very scalable; you can use a wrist lock to get rid of an overly friendly drunk at a wedding or club without causing any permanent damage or escalating the situation. You can use the very same lock to disarm a weapon wielding attacker in defense of your life on the street.

The downside to joint locks, and wrist locks in particular, is that while you can learn the techniques rather quickly in the dojo, it can take years to develop and master what I call the lock sense.

The lock sense is the ability you get once you've mastered joint manipulation and you can apply locks by feel alone without having to rely on particular technique. Even in the dojo, the same joint lock doesn't work exactly the same way on everyone, and since locks are so incredibly technical, requiring very fine motor skills, people learning locks are not able to successfully apply them every time. Since acquiring the lock sense can take years, I take a very structured approach to foster its development.

When first teaching locks, I like to skip the big easy joints. Causing pain with an arm lock is quite simple, the elbow only bends one way. However, getting into a position to use an arm lock is quite challenging. Since I'm trying to develop that sense for locks, I'd rather go with a smaller, more flexible joint - the wrist. Getting someone's wrist is pretty easy, since many attacks begin with someone grabbing you. Maneuvering your way into an arm lock can be very challenging. And since the wrist bends in every direction to a limited degree, it gives students more opportunity to sense different tension levels.

I start by teaching three wrist locks which all focus on applying pressure in different directions, causing pain in different ways. The three locks, kote-gaeshi (wrist turn), ura-kote (reverse wrist) and kote-gatame (wrist lock also known as z-lock in many styles), require very simple movements of feet and hips and mostly rely on correct hand positioning.

When introducing locks I have students work very slowly for two reasons: one, locks can come on quickly, easily causing damage when rushed. Safety is always the primary concern in the dojo. Number two, you can get a better sense of resistance of the muscles and tendons in the wrist of your training partner when you apply it slowly.

Finally, in an effort to truly grasp the locks, I make sure all the students feel the pain of a properly applied lock. When you know how it feels in your own wrist, you can begin to visualize how the lock should be applied.

Locks are very easy to demonstrate, but incredibly challenging to teach. There is no way to convey the idea of lock sense to a student, you can only point them on the right path, and correct the technical aspects until that moment of realization.

From a self defense standpoint, locks are an exceptional way to control aggressors and defuse a situation quickly. In actual practice, the fine motor skills and minute adjustments necessary to apply a lock successfully in a high stress situation make them unreliable for the majority of jitsuka until they've truly mastered the lock sense.

And on a final note - you always need a distraction when defending yourself, something to disrupt your attackers movements and thought process to give you that chance to take control. If a slap works, I'm all for it :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Cold Shower VS. A Slap in the Face

Tonight, I experienced 2 things that phased me; a cold shower and a slap in the face. You can probably guess which one phased me more... yep, it was the cold shower.

It was my dojo's other instructor's turn to teach tonight. In case you don't know, Chris, one of my students is a brown belt in another style of Jiu-jitsu, Shorinji-kan. After recently promoting him to purple belt, I decided to have him teach 2 classes a week. He's already an experienced instructor since in his style brown belts are considered full instructors, some even running their own clubs. This arrangement has been working out well, allowing me to train with my students on the nights he teaches.

Anyway, tonight Chris taught a class on joint locks. He was teaching an off-curriculum class showing slightly different variations to familiar locks. I had recently chided him that he didn't hit me hard enough when he was using me as his demonstration uke. As a result, he decided to go harder on me. Unfortunately, it was in a way that I didn't expect. For his distraction, he decided to slap me solidly across the face.

"Well you told me to go harder on you!" Chris defended in response to my glare as I touched my hand to my stinging cheek in front of our watching students.

"Yeah, kick me in the groin, punch me in the gut, elbow me in the brachial plexus origin... you just slapped me in the face!" I responded, struggling not to react to the angry shock that comes from being hit that way. The students all shared a laugh at the unusual exchange.

Well as much as the slap in the face surprised me, it didn't bother me anywhere near as much as the ice cold shower I took after I got home. I recently discussed various ways of dealing with muscle soreness on my blog. I even provided information on how to do an ice bath, a method of preventing delayed muscle soreness from working out as recommended to me by Jenny, one of my students who is a doctor. Having told her that I couldn't bring myself to do an ice bath for the perscribed 15-20 minutes, she suggested a cold shower, starting with it on warm, then reducing the temperature.

I figured it was worth a try tonight since I did 2 hours of boxing and strength training with an interval run scheduled for the next morning. As I reduced the temperature to purely cold water, I bellowed loudly and constantly for the full minute or so that I was able to stand it before I wussed out and turned the water off. I can't tell you if this procedure helped. I suspect I didn't do it long enough to get the benefits. Bah!

Anyway, given the choice of being slapped in the face and taking a really cold shower, I would definitely choose the slap. The slap doesn't last as long. :P

Btw, I've recently invited Chris to post on my blog occasionally so expect to see his thoughts on Jiu-jitsu Sensei in the near future.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How to Do Shadow Boxing Effectively

My MMA coach was away on holiday last week, so I met up with my Vancouver personal trainer friend Louis Sargeant (also a professional boxer and martial artist) a few times to keep my training up. We worked exclusively on my striking form and strategy. We did pad work mostly, but he also had me doing shadow boxing as part of my workouts.

Shadow boxing is more than just a warm-up drill, though it is an effective, sport-specific way of warming-up the muscles. It also helps you develop and apply your striking skills. If you shadow box in front of a mirror, you can watch your form and technique to ensure you're striking properly.

Shadow boxing without a mirror is just as important, if not more so. All the best fighters, practice visualizing their opponent when they do shadow boxing. They throw punches and kicks, imagining the reaction of an invisible opponent, then react accordingly themselves. The best shadow boxers look like they're actually fighting someone. Check out Fedor Emelianenko as he does a shadow boxing workout:

Louis tells me that he does a lot of shadow boxing when preparing for a fight. He loves doing it and often does it for as much as 30 minutes. He tells me that if he or my coach isn't available to hold pads for me, that's what I should be doing to practice. I'll definitely be taking that advice on board.