Posts Tagged ‘Sport’

The colored belt ranking system is a commonplace feature of modern martial arts. It’s even a part of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), with colors like tan, grey, brown, green, and the ever-present black. Most other martial arts still use what have become the usual colors, with white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, red, and black. I’ve even earned a camouflage belt in Taekwondo once. Every organization has their own order for the colors, as well as their own meaning. Some systems even assign meanings to the colors themselves (white means a blank slate, purity, and so on). What is clear is that, whatever you think of the current trend in belt ranks, it will probably be a feature of martial arts training for a long time.

As for Jiu-jitsu, I stumbled upon a nifty explanation for it’s belt system. The visual metaphor is effective and makes use of the popular martial arts visual of seeing techniques as tools. Read and tell me what you think…

A nifty visual for understanding the Jiu-jitsu belt system...

A nifty visual for understanding the Jiu-jitsu belt system…

How do you define your art’s belt system?

I’m a firm believer in the idea that it’s the most basic skills you learn that prove to be the most effective. This is especially true in the martial arts. Often, the most basic, low-level, white belt techniques are the ones with the highest success rates and the greatest efficiency of strength and stamina. Though every martial art is different in their approach to the basics, and some instructional systems take longer to teach them than others or perhaps don’t teach them quite so well, this is almost a universal constant in well-developed, mature fighting styles.

As a matter of fact, I have been taking this idea to heart over the past year. I am a sort of hoarder of martial arts instructional materials. Books, videos, magazines, and web sites. I love it all. I used to pour over anything labeled “black belt techniques”. But about a year ago, I competed at the NAGA tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah. I finished in second place in both gi and no-gi, and I knew it was my proficiency with the most basic techniques (or lack thereof), not the intermediate or advanced, that determined my performance. It was, of course, my first time competing, and so my performance could also be explained by nerves, inefficient energy usage, and immature strategies. But my need to revisit the most basic techniques was the lesson that most stood out to me.

So for the past year that’s exactly what I did. I drilled only the most basic techniques. Of course I did whatever my instructor told me to, but when I was doing my own private training, and when I rolled with my training partners, I tried to make the basics work best for me. And several things happened. I saw a dramatic improvement in my performance against all belt ranks. The basics, it appears, do not just work on the white belts. I also started to develop my own personal style. I discovered my game (turns out, I favor heavy stacking passes, scarf hold, and s-mount), which is totally different than I’d imagined myself having. Last of all my I grew in my confidence in my own fighting ability.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a white belt still struggling to earn your first stripe, or a black belt looking to elevate yourself to the highest levels of competition. I highly recommend mastering your basic techniques and strategies until you can do them without thinking. Below is a video showing one of my most favored techniques, the Trap and Roll, the most basic escape from the mount position. I’ve practiced this one until I could pull it off on almost every other student in my class, and I’ve discovered another thing: much of your success with this technique depends on your timing, often early, just as your opponent passes into the mount and before he bases out.

What basic techniques should every martial artist know?

One of the great martial arts discussions of our generation is that of sport-oriented martial arts training vs. self-defense or “street” oriented training. Many people feel strongly one way or the other and have developed some compelling arguments for both. Since this is a big thing for Jiu-jitsu practitioners as well, I decided to share this video from the Gracies on the subject.

I found this a thoughtful video, especially the idea that self-defense is a collection of principles more than simply a list of techniques. As for my take on things, I believe martial arts sports competitions act as a laboratory, experimenting on and discovering new combat principles in a controlled environment that can be further applied in real combat. Competition is also a powerful motivator for training and constant improvement. The root purpose of martial arts training, however, is combat survival. A competition that does not imitate some conditions of real combat, at least in part, are probably less helpful. One example might be point sparring matches, where the fighting is interrupted to award points to competitors for landing strikes. While fun and athletic challenging, I have found the rules to be too limiting to encourage applicable martial skills. I think the sports should mimic real fighting, though I am not opposed to rules for safety.

Self-defense training, on the other hand, sometimes runs the risk of not being competitive enough. I’ve attended plenty of self-defense classes where the students were told not to spar since they were taught to fight dirty. As a result, many of these students lacked the muscle memory and the instinct to conduct themselves in a confrontation that extends beyond the initial exchange of blows. The ability to switch on the instinctual, combative “auto-pilot” can only be developed in actual fights or unscripted sparring sessions, which cannot reasonably be conducted without safety rules.

In short, I believe martial artists need a mixture of both sport and self-defense training to remain combat proficient. The proportions of that mixture, I believe, should be based on individual need and preference.

Which do you prefer, sports training or self-defense training?

The only thing harder than becoming a good fighter, in my opinion, is making a good fighter. Training other people takes a higher amount of artistry and understanding of the art than being taught. I think this is the defining characteristic of the martial arts. Martial arts is not so much about fighting as it is about teaching someone how to fight. This is where we get creative little labels for stances, techniques, and positions, such as horse stance, leopard’s  paw, tiger claw, and so on. It’s about seeing significant patterns in how a fight is conducted and won and explaining that pattern to others. It’s also about finding new solutions to complex problems. Fighting is, after all, a form of problem solving.

So that brings us to today’s challenge. I want you to watch a video. It’s not inspirational, professional, funny (or not meant to be, anyway), or even all that interesting. It’s footage of an amateur MMA match in Canada, and the fighters are, shall we say, inexperienced? For those of you who’ve taught martial arts before, it might just make you cringe. Here it is:


Now that you’ve seen it, here’s my question: what would you have taught either one of these fighters to win this fight? Assume you had only a little time to train them, say a month or two. What do you think would have benefited them most in this particular match? Be specific, and try not to use blanket terms like “how to fight”.

I will say without apology that the skill levels represented in this video are horrendous, but I still have respect for the two young men who stepped into that cage. It’s more than I’ve done, and it takes courage to face someone on such an equal playing field like they did.

My personal answer: this was a match between two very inadequate strikers. I would have taught either one of them the most basic ground fighting strategies. Close the distance, body fold takedown, pass the guard, mount, ground and pound. Submissions would be hard with those gloves on, so I would simply drill some heavy-handed punches from the top of the mount, side mount, and rear mount. I would keep the list of techniques short and drill them over and over and over again against live, resisting opponents. I think that kind of training would have given either fighter an immediate advantage in this fight.

How would you have prepared either fighter for this fight?

There are some parts of martial arts culture that I will sometimes criticize, but naming your style after an animal will never be among them. I sometimes get jealous of the Kung fu guys that get to say they use crane or tiger or monkey technique (I would hate to fight monkey style, because chimpanzees scare me). Being a Gracie Jiu-jitsu practitioner, I kinda miss out on the whole animal mascot thing, but maybe it’s not too late to change. So that gets me thinking, which creature of the animal kingdom best represents Jiu-jitsu as I know it?

Snakes are okay, or maybe even great. They strike. They constrict. They’re definitely grapplers with potent striking power. But snakes have been done to death (thanks a lot, Kobra Kai Dojo). So what is another animal with a reputation for constricting and grappling with its prey?

This is what I want my opponents to see when I settle into side mount...

This is what I want my opponents to see when I settle into side mount…

Behold the mighty octopus! Seriously, I don’t think this real-life Krakken gets enough face time on martial arts tee shirts or academy logos. And if you think about it, this is an animal totally dedicated to grappling, and has a famous reputation for its stealth and intelligence. Though the Muay Thai guys might be miffed that I’m claiming a truly eight-limbed animal, I lay my claim to the wise, mighty octopus as the mascot of my Jiu-jitsu style!

What animal best represents your martial art?

You will likely have no idea what your opponent is capable of...

You will likely have no idea what your opponent is capable of…

I think a pattern is emerging on this blog, one in which I find something to disagree with and aggressively attack it with words. Hopefully it’s entertaining to read, but I also hope I can move on to other subjects soon. As a matter of fact, I was planning on writing something about the physical, mental, social, and spiritual benefits of martial arts training, but then I read this in Black Belt Magazine. It’s an article titled “Strengths and Weaknesses of 5 Popular Grappling Arts” by Tony Salzano. It’s an article about how to defeat various types of grappling practitioners in a fight. Here’s an excerpt:

The basic strategy of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylist is to mount or submit his opponent — by outlasting him, if necessary. He’s almost always superbly conditioned aerobically (to endure a long fight) and muscularly (to prevent the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles when clinching for eternity). He generally is very patient, slim and smart, and often described as “unbelievable on the ground.”

His weaknesses include the fact that he usually trains and fights while wearing a uniform. Without it, he has no extra “handles” on his opponent and loses the ability to execute many chokes. His standing techniques, including takedowns and striking, are often weak.

Secret: Overpower him in the first moments of a fight. Don’t stay in his guard. Use techniques that are illegal in his type of competition: low strikes, groin attacks, etc. Whatever you do, don’t try to beat him at his own game, for then you will be the underdog.

On one hand, this is full of compliments. I can never scoff at a nod to my superbly conditioned, muscularly body. On the other hand, I have quite a few problems with this, and so I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Salzano. I don’t even want to argue much with this articles assertions of what a Jiu-jitsu practitioner can and cannot do well. I want to talk about the reasons why this article is unhelpful to a martial artist preparing for real-world violent encounters.

Reason #1: This article assumes you know your opponent is a Jiu-jitsu practitioner before the fight begins. How do you know? Did you ask him before you started fighting him? Mr. Salzano presents an unlikely scenario in which you are beginning a fight out of grappling range and with previous knowledge of your opponent’s training history. Such conditions are usually only present in combat sporting events, like MMA matches. If it’s a classic self defense scenario, let’s call it a bar fight, you’re likely not going to know he is a BJJ stylist until he’s successfully closed the distance, taken you to the ground, and asserted some sort of dominant position on you. By then it’s a little late to prevent takedowns. However, it could be a fight resulting from an argument over martial arts, in which case he might have told you exactly what his discipline was. I guess it is plausible, right?

Reason #2:  This article assumes all practitioners of a single martial art will fight in the same way. Being a Jiu-jitsu practitioner doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to use Jiu-jitsu in the fight. Many Jiu-jitsu practitioners have backgrounds in different martial arts, and may default to strategies other than grappling in a fight. Even if they do use Jiu-jitsu strategies in the fight, which Jiu-jitsu strategies? Standing submissions? Escape and evasion? Clinching? It will depend on each individual fighter. Though the image of a fighter immediately pulling guard and going for the armbar is a popular sign of Jiu-jitsu training, it’s not what every practitioner of the art is trained to do. So even if you did know the guy was a grappler, you’d still be taking a big risk assuming you could predict his every intention. He’s trying to win the fight, too. Regardless of training, he’ll do what he has to in order to win. Even things not strictly considered Jiu-jitsu.

Reason #3: This article leads you to believe that dirty fighting is a reliable solution to the problem. Can a groin shot or an eye gouge or a finger break end a fight? Maybe. Just remember, he might use those tactics, too. But anyone who’s used dirty fighting in more than a few fights can tell you right away that kicking someone in the groin doesn’t always work. And even if it did, is it justified? Believe it or not, law enforcement will eventually become involved if you get into a brawl in a bar or on the street, and if they do you will be accountable for everything you did. Was this Jiu-jitsu guy’s assault so threatening to your well being that you could lawfully gouge an eye or break a finger? If not, how do you deal with him, since dirty fighting tactics tend to be so brutal they’re usually only justifiable when you’re at risk of serious injury? I tell you this, punching someone in the throat over a simple shoving match is ethically wrong and can land you in hot water with the law. So without dirty tactics, how do you defeat him?

There are more reasons why this is probably an unreliable strategy against Jiu-jitsu fighters, and any Jiu-jitsu instructor could probably tell you what they are. These three reasons, however, are the ones I believe are most important to people learning to defend themselves. So how do you fight against a Jiu-jitsu practitioner? It all starts with your training. Train yourself to adapt to various violent situations, and spar against live opponents. Be well rounded. Learn to adapt to the situation at hand, and it will matter little what style your opponent is using. That means, of course, that there are no magical answers for defeating an opponent of a specific type. The better prepared, better trained, more adaptable fighter will have the advantage in any exchange, regardless of the martial arts history of his opponent. Only luck will change that, and that is something you have no control over. So keep training, keep adapting, and try to get into as few unregulated fights as possible.

If you wish to read the rest of Mr. Salzano’s article, you can find it here.

How do you prepare to fight against martial artists of different backgrounds?

 

Allow me a moment to rant about one of my pet peeves: when people refer to “the street” when talking about martial arts training. I know this is a term used by many legitimate, tough, intelligent martial artists to describe the conditions of combat outside the training center or competition, but I still hate it. It’s a generalization, an ill-fitting blanket term, for the infinitely complex problem of interpersonal violence, but paints it like a scene from a bad movie.

I mean, who doesn’t imagine a mugger wearing a ski mask or some sort of brawl between one martial artist and a bunch of bad guys wearing leather jackets when they hear that term? I’ve been in a handful of violent confrontations in my life, but usually my assailants were just stupid kids, not the inhuman skinheads featured in much of self-defense literature. In my humble opinion, “the street” is a term that paints a very limiting picture of who we might have to defend ourselves against.

This is what people think of when they talk about "the street"...

This is what people think of when they talk about “the street”…

I also feel like this term can limit our training. Many martial artists categorize techniques into “street techniques” and about everything else. What is the definition of a street technique? Usually, one that’s so effective, you can’t actually use it in training against a fully resistant training partner for fear of maiming or killing him. Pardon my raised eyebrow. A technique you can’t actually practice? So how do you know you can actually do it? I heavily disagree with martial arts trainers and instructors who shy away from controlled sparring in class because of this philosophy. Often, these martial artists criticize MMA competitors and other combat sport practitioners for training with too many rules to be effective. Because of the “street” philosophy, many martial artists are missing out on opportunities to develop their most basic and critical fighting instincts.

And as for those rule-based martial artists, I’m not actually all that worried about their “street” worthiness. I’ve actually read several news articles in recent months with headlines like “MMA Fighter Stops Bank Robbery”, and “Man Attempts to Carjack Cage Fighter, Ends Up in Hospital”. Google them if you like, they’re very interesting. In these stories, you’ll find the good guys used very basic, well practiced techniques like the Rear Naked Choke or Rear Mount Control to subdue their attackers. No groin kicks, no eye gouges, no throat ripping. It goes to show, most basic techniques that you can pull off against a fully resistant opponent in a competition might actually work quite well against real-life combatants, especially since they tend to be less trained than competitive martial artists and lack rules to protect them, just like you.

Lastly, I would like to point out that martial arts training is not so neatly separated into “street” training and everything else. Be more open minded with your training. If you want to categorize your training, use things like “law enforcement”, “non assaultive”, or “battlefield”. Fighting is, after all, a form of problem solving that can be applied to a wide variety of problems, and not just for muggings, home invasions, or random street brawling. All fight scenarios have rules of some kind. I do not believe in true combat situations where an accountable fighter is free of any rules of engagement. I would recommend training the strategies and tactics that allow you to accomplish a wide variety of goals in a fight, such as escape, incapacitate, control, and survive. You will be more likely to adapt to most violent encounters in which you may find yourself.

What kind of training do you think best prepares people for real fights?