Posts Tagged ‘training’

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?


Martial arts culture is full of rivalries and dichotomies: traditional training vs. sport training, eastern arts vs. western arts, hard vs. soft. The list goes on. One rivalry, however, is one I’d eventually like to see put to rest. I’m talking about strikers vs. grapplers. In my mind, striking techniques and grappling techniques are but tools for achieving an objective. I began my martial arts training in the striking arts: Kenpo, Karate, and Taekwondo. Now I train Gracie Jiu-jitsu. Very seldom did these two different strategies meet for me in class, but now I see a little of one in the other can make a good fighter great.
Since I usually talk about the many virtues of Jiu-jitsu, I want to point out the incredible usefulness and versatility of strikes. I do agree that grappling is more appropriate for all levels of violence, since grappling techniques can be as gentle as they are effective. Strikes, however, are useful tools for opening opportunities, disrupting your opponent’s movements, and causing some quick, obvious damage. This is assuming, of course, that your opponent has become assaultive, and you are legally justified in hitting him.
Striking has so many great uses besides simply knocking someone out. One is to simply cause your opponent to move. Throwing jabs and crosses at your opponent’s face, for example, can cause him to cover his face with his hands and even change his posture, thus making him easier to approach and grapple. Mounting your opponent and striking him from above can, besides causing him to surrender, force him to raise his arms in defense, opening the way for an armbar or a shoulder lock.
Strikes can also cause your opponent to hesitate, stumble, or otherwise abandon their intended movement. Is he rushing towards you with his fist raised, ready to strike? A simple push kick to his leg or hip can stop his movement dead in its tracks, or even cause him to stumble and fall. Is he trying to grab your groin when you’ve mounted him (don’t laugh, we’re all adults here!)? A simple elbow to his face, even if it doesn’t connect, can convince him that such an exchange would not be in his favor.
I like how many things you can achieve through a little blunt force trauma. I’ve never been confident in knockout strategies. Knockouts are harder to get than most people think. As a grappler, however, I highly value any tactic that can help me close the distance with my opponent or illicit a predictable reaction from them. Though Gracie Jiu-jitsu takes up the bulk of my training, I sometimes pull out the target mitts and drill a few combos and my footwork.
Grapplers: how do you incorporate striking into your training?
Strikers: how do you incorporate grappling into your training?


I wish my training journal looked like this...

I wish my training journal looked like this…

Here’s a subject I would appreciate your feedback on, especially if you’ve ever kept a martial arts training journal. I’m currently brainstorming ideas for developing journals dedicated to martial artists for recording the details of their training sessions. The first, of course, will be geared towards Jiu-jitsu practitioners. Instead of simply having writing space, I thought of including some of the following:

  • Dedicated spaces for recording the techniques you covered and the people you trained with.
  • A list of symbols and shorthand script for common Jiu-jitsu terms (mount, guard, trap, sweep, ect.).
  • Monthly and weekly goals.
  • Competition dates and results.
  • Space for recording warm up exercises and fitness training.

I’m still in the concept phase of this project, but my ultimate goal is to mass produce these and make them available to martial artists everywhere. This is the sort of thing I think can be helpful to a lot of people, especially since some martial arts require such detail-rich instruction many people forget much of the material the next day. This will probably be one of those things I’ll work on every once in a while over the next year.

After that, I’ll be sure to publish them in scroll form, complete with ninja spells to guard your most forbidden techniques from the eyes of the uninitiated (patent pending).

What do you write in your training journal?


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?

The whole purpose of starting this blog was to get people to talk about martial arts. I kinda felt like the more common forums for martial arts discussion were unfocused, narrow, and hostile. Case and point: YouTube. Look up any martial arts video on YouTube and proceed to the comments section below. What you’ll inevitably find is a cacophony of NSFW language and vulgar arguments (and strangely, harsh grammar corrections) all aimed at a answering a single question: Which martial art is best?

But this argument isn’t just limited to YouTube. It seems to be part of our martial culture. Take UFC for example. It started in 1993 as a tournament between practitioners of different martial arts to see which martial art would prevail in a no-holds-barred competition. Though UFC has moved on from that question, martial artists all over the world are still trying to answer it. Which, of all the countless styles and variations of mankind’s fighting systems, is best?

UFC 1 was all about answering questions like "Can a Jiu-jitsu fighter beat a boxer?"

UFC 1 was all about answering questions like “Can a Jiu-jitsu fighter beat a boxer?”

But define best. For that matter, define martial art. What you might find, if you’ve spent any time visiting various martial arts training centers, is that the definition of Karate or Jiu-jitsu or Taekwondo largely depends upon the people running that individual training center. When I was fifteen years old, I started training ATA Taekwondo. I loved my instructor, I loved the forms, I loved the training. I swore I would study ATA Taekwondo my whole life. When that school shut down, I found another ATA place and tried a few classes there. Big difference. In fact, I haven’t gone back to ATA since. So what changed? The instructors…

That brings me (finally) to the main point of this article. A martial art, in the sense of a system of fighting that can be rated against others in a contest, is defined by its dojo. It’s not the techniques or the philosophies or the forms or even the organizations that create good fighters. It’s the instructors, trainers, coaches, and other assorted staff that make up the dojo.  A  martial art is defined by its sensei.

Want a great example? Let’s go back to the UFC. In its early years, who was the undisputed man to beat? Royce Gracie, of Gracie Jiu-jitsu, of course. And what was the defining characteristic of Gracie Jiu-jitsu that Royce apart from every other fighter in those competitions? It wasn’t his ground fighting. Ken Shamrock was also a grappler and submission artist. So were Kimo, Dan Severn, and that Judo practitioner (I forget his name). Royce won because he was better trained. Remember the Gracie Train? The Gracie family, the UFC’s first fight team, was a unified collection of Jiu-jitsu masters and trainers that honed the skills of one of their smallest, weakest members until he was able to beat the best the world had to offer at the time. That’s a dojo.

The Gracie family walks out to the cage as a single, unified group...

The Gracie family walks out to the cage as a single, unified group…

I think I’ve made my point. But I still feel like there’s a question to answer here. Which martial art (and by martial art, I mean dojo, training center, or academy) is best? I will try to find out by posting my own video reviews of local martial arts training centers.  Unlike many forums that give a simplistic scale of awarding stars or a number between one and five, I plan on dissecting the center’s instructors, training style, facilities, and other attributes that affect its ability to turn out good fighters, competitors, and practitioners. I hope it will facilitate some interesting discussions in the comments section. And, of course, the reviews will be done with all due respect to these trainers and instructors. I expect the comments will be the same. We don’t want this blog to become an extension of those foul YouTube keyboard warrior sparring sessions…

After my previous post on the responsible use of force, I decided to show this clip from Enter the Dojo. It features my favorite fictional martial artist, Master Ken, teaching his students his own unique style of martial arts, Ameri-do-te. During the lesson, he teaches an extremely violent defense against when someone points their finger at you (don’t you hate it when they do that?). Listen to Master Ken’s justification for the incredibly inappropriate force response and behold the perfect example of what not to do.

Please excuse the NSFW language.

What is the most overkill martial arts technique you’ve ever learned?