Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Too much of...too much

We live in an era when everything is quantified and the only thing considered good enough is constant growth, because somehow it has become taken for granted that more is necessarily better. Obviously there is a threshold of effort invested below which one cannot accomplish much or anything, in training as in other domains of life. I have said it myself, there has to be some challenge and frustration in training, if you are looking to improve. However, we have to be smart about it, too.

Naturally, certain things only fall into place at certain times. I remember first reading Burton Richardson's book Jeet Kune Do Unlimited almost 20 years ago, and there was one thing in specific that stood out as unexpected. Namely, in his discussion on the desired attributes for a good fighter, his first one was health. As obvious as it may seem, at certain age we all take that one for granted, and so I only got to fully understand it once it became painfully obvious that nowadays it takes much longer to heal injuries, recover from a tough workout and get rid of soreness. Of course, there are some advantages of being in one's mid-40's over early 20's, but being able to train hard all the time is not one of them.

It seems to me that the chief enemy of the more mature (I cringe at the word "older", although it may be the exact one) practitioners is the memory of themselves training 20 or 30 years ago. It is easy to succumb to the emotions, especially if challenged by the young bucks, and go at it "like in the good ole days", but at the risk of having quite a few bad new days afterwards...or worse. The ego is rarely the best adviser and/or training partner, because it can hamper your progress in so many ways. Without even going into the whole mental and spiritual field, suffice it to say that training in ego-driven circumstances can lead to almost crippling results.

And being crippled tends to have adverse effect on everybody's training capacity and combative effectiveness. Just ask yourself: "Is it worth doing this at all cost today, and then having to skip training for the next several weeks?"

OK, that's all nice and clever, but how do we know where is the borderline between training hard and smart one the one hand, and being reckless and foolish on the other? Well, sorry to disappoint, but there is no ready made answer to that. You will need to learn how to listen and understand what is your body telling you, and the sooner you develop that ability, the better. In order to see if we are just feeling like slacking or being actually fatigued, I usually recommend to do the warm up portion of the session in earnest, and then take an honest look at how it feels afterwards - if you are all of a sudden all cheered up and stoked about the activity, you are ready to go; however, if you still feel slow and heavy, it might be better to take it easy for the rest of the day, or skip the workout altogether.

By now it is the common knowledge in martial arts that it is about the journey not the destination, or that showing up is the secret to success. As corny and cliched as it sounds, it is largely true, but in order to show up you need to be able to. There are times when one needs to go all int, balls to the wall, but such events are few and far between, and almost never in training. That sort of attitude is better left for the actual performance, whether it be in the ring or the battlefield. In training, it is better to err on the side of cautiousness. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Training yardstick

This week I have had to act as a gym coach of sorts for a bunch of kids, and that experience brought up an issue that is rather spread out throughout the martial art world. Now, I like to to implement experiences and methods of other training disciplines and modalities in my combat-related training, including those from weightlifting and other athletic fields, but some of those, in my view, are doing more harm than benefits when  plugged into fighting domain.

Probably the one that rubs me in the wrong way the most is the obsession with reps. Typically, the instructor will show/tell the technical exercise that is supposed to be worked on, and say something along the lines of "...do it for XYZ repetitions", and very often they will even proceed to count those reps out loud. This is especially widespread in traditional schools, and particularly with beginner classes. The problem with such angle in coaching is that the grand majority of trainees will be focused almost solely on numbers, while neglecting the quality of move/technique...as if cranking those numbers is the magic formula to mastery.

Too much of enough?

Some instructors say that if they do not count the repetitions, some people will do them faster and will then be idle while the rest of the class is completing their work. Well, guess what? There is a very simple solution for that - use the timer/stopwatch! Doing your work for timed rounds instead of mere repetitions is a time honored method in rel-time fighting activities such as boxing and wrestling, and consequently in MMA, too. I have heard attempts to justify the avoidance of that tool as being more suited for individual training than groups, but it just doesn't hold up. I have run most my martial art and fitness classes using this template for years, and the results were excellent. Indeed, some people will squeeze in more repetitions than others that way, but there is much less deterioration in the technical quality of movement with everybody.

That approach is also in accord with the fact that humans live their lives in time and space, and have only become obsessed with counting over the last hundred years or so. speaking of time and space, thee is another model of training I use, but this one is definitely more suited for individual sessions. Namely, sometimes I will go for certain distance, thus completely discarding the need for any counting whatsoever, including the time. For example, instruct the students/athletes to perform a technique or a combo while moving from "here to there" (whatever your reference points are), and then stress the intensity/quality balance as you deem necessary.

...inch by inch, it's a cinch! 

All that said, there are times, of course, when you will need a more strict quantitative layout in your training, and that is absolutely fine. My aim here was simply to point out that it is easy to get lost in the magic of numbers and the quasi-scientific aura it provides for one's training, while other approaches could be more valuable in those situations.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Practice of exercising

I got a question the other day, which made me elaborate a bit on something that was clear in my head but nobody had ever asked before for an explanation. Since lately a major portion of my solo training is in the form of physical conditioning (the topic that has been addressed several times already), the discussion first touched upon the aspects of what is the contents of my sessions, but then, more importantly, on how does it affect my martial training.

Now, in the strength & conditioning circles the debate on the adequacy of the distinction between general and specific exercises and workouts is seemingly endless, but my approach is somewhat different. Namely, what I will be briefly presenting here is not aimed at the same goal as the concrete conditioning plan, but rather as something of an auxiliary-type work to be done alongside one’s main, discipline-specific training. However, it is not to say that I don’t use the same kind of exercises or methods, but their implementation might differ, depending of the desired outcome.
But potentially handy 
When including any exercise in my training, it will be treated either as developmental or preparatory. In short, the former type of exercise strives to develop certain attribute(s) that will hopefully positively affect the trainees’ performance, especially in the long-term. As such, it is done over periods of time, possibly following some sort of progression. The latter type is primarily meant to prepare a practitioner for the demands of any particular training session, or maybe the series of sessions. In consequence, they are implemented on a shorter term basis.

It also stems from the above explanation that the developmental exercises could be done both as part of regular training sessions (for example, during the warm-up section) and on their own, in separate sessions. On the other hand, the preparatory work only makes sense if done immediately prior to the main portion of the discipline-focused session. In that regard, we could say that the developmental work loosely relates to the standard idea of general conditioning, and the preparatory to the specific. Yet, there is big difference in the intensity, load and other aspects of programming. Therefore, neither side of my dichotomy is really the replacement for the proper S&C program, should you need one.

Another point to ponder is that many exercises and movements could belong to the either category, depending on how and when they are included in one’s training. Take one of the typical groin stretching exercises as an example:

In many martial disciplines it would be a good developmental exercise in an attempt to facilitate the better form when doing the horse stance.
Developmental goal

But, in BJJ/grappling it could be the main preparatory exercises when working on the so-called rubber guard technique and its aspects. 
Preparatory goal
Following the same logic, the overhead press might be perceived differently when done explosively with a light load (ballistic manner) and slowly with a heavy load (grinding manner). Which of those would be developmental or preparatory from the perspective of a striking combat system? How about a grappling method?

I hope this short article has provided some useful insights that may help you take different and applicable look at your training, but ultimately, it is simply my way of thinking about particular aspects of my training, so it is most certainly not an attempt to offer the new be all end all paradigm. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Reinventing the wheel...oh yeah!

A friend of mine from Russia has recently mentioned on Facebook that it took him quite a bit of time and effort in training to formulate his fighting algorithm (as he called it), and then a few people commented that if he had found the right teacher with the right training syllabus right away he would have found it sooner. This is not the first time I was involved, one way or another, into the debate on which school and/or instructor is better, while the participants in the debate are not clear on what they are talking about in the first place.

Do you really need your own?
 Some of the relevant elements here have been tackled sporadically in various posts on this blog, but this is a good time to systematize those issues. So, all discussion on “better” this or that is relative in direct function of reasons for training. However, there are certain foundational distinctions need to be understood (for the purpose of my exposition):
·         System is a set of principles and guidelines that all practitioners of that “lineage” need to adhere to in order to be recognized as such. This is commonly and widely meant under the terms art and style.
·         School is exactly that – a group of people training under the same instructor of a system.
·         Style is the personal expression of an individual’s understanding and command over the material taught in a school.

With that in mind I would agree that in broad strokes certain systems may be better suited for certain goals than others. Yet, particular schools within the same system can and often do differ in this regard, depending the instructor’s priorities and affinities. Also, it is in schools that training methodology comes into play.

However, even when all of the above conditions are in line, it is still the individual practitioner that will embody the principles and tenets of the system as taught by a school. And they will do it in line with their personal understanding, as well as personal mental and physical attributes. Essentially, it means that although possibly understood intellectually, a lot of those principles will have to be “(re)discovered” through hands on training if they are to truly become an integral part of one’s genuine style of work when put before pertinent demands.

Why is it important? Well, if nothing else, my experience shows that the principles you have been shown by someone else take some time and plenty of work in order to become ingrained to the degree necessary for acting in the dynamics of combat. On the other hand, those that came from within, as a result of self-discovery, have the tendency to merge faster and require less maintenance. Of course, the downside with the latter is that sometimes you can wander around for a long time before making such a discovery, especially if there is no proper training method and progression in place.

Jerome Bruner's depiction 
 So then, what could be the solution to the above conundrum? The question lies in the didactic approach called guided discovery. Without delving too deep into the rationale behind it, this teaching angle puts the trainees in the situations (scenarios, drills, games etc.) that make them experience and understand the problem, and then presents the series of steps to expose the practitioners to the tools and tactics in solving it. Such a line of work can prove to be confusing and taxing on the students, as they are asked questions by the instructor much more than the other way around. For this reason, it is of paramount importance that the instructor be a good communicator and able to provide the guidance part on the trainee’s path to discovery.

With all those ingredients in place, the personal algorithm should be solid and functional, enabling the stylist to do what needs to be done the way it should be done. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Bottom line

This was a very good year for me on a personal plane. Training-wise, I had to take a step back from the teaching post in the second half of 2017, but I was able to get back more to the student role...and it was good!

A few days back I was asked what was the key factor to becoming good in martial/combative field. It would be too easy to start pondering on the key technical, tactical or physical attribute and then have a debate on the topic. However, there seems to be a common thread - perseverance.

Basically, it is fundamental in any learning endeavor, and essentially boils down to keep on keeping on. In face of all challenges and difficulties, distractions and temptations, keep coming back. Take a step away from your training occasionally, if necessary, just make sure to get back to it as soon as possible.

I am not a fan of New Year resolutions or similar things, so, to end this post and this year - I'll keep writing and you keep reading!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Quick like

We all know that nowadays no matter what you do, main aspect of the work is the emphasis on marketing, for better or for worse. Since we live in the era when image is everything and packaging worth more than contents, it is refreshing to stumble over no-frills, lo-tech source of solid info. In my post on Roger Agbulos I mentioned the similarities in methodology between boxing and his approach to eskrima.

Well, evidently there are others who work along the similar lines (which is no wonder in this particular case, but let's keep it short and quick)... Without further ado, I would like to recommend the interesting Youtube channel of Mr. Billy Bosson. So, if you are so inclined, take a look at what he has to offer at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9YGJkPYuKdhzw7E_KmM2

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Working the shiv!

Like promised earlier, here is the second installment in my series of reviews on the instructional video material related to the use of reverse edge knife grip. This time we’re dealing with a DVD put together by one of my favorite fighting/combative instructors out there, even though (unfortunately) I have not had the opportunity to be exposed to his teaching in person…yet. The man at issue is Craig Douglas, also known under his former professional nickname of Southnarc, and the video at hand is his Shivworks Reverse Edge Method.

Actually, and this is an interesting case, Douglas published two DVDs dealing with the same subject, and while titled as volumes 1 and 2, I don’t think they are not necessarily meant to be used in the sequential order. Now, it is entirely possible to get a lot of useful information (and there is some overlap between the two) from getting either one of those, they do work best in conjunction.

The first DVD focuses mostly on the technical aspects of the combative use of knives with the inverted edge hold (both forward and reverse grip), and particularly in the extreme close quarters situations, as those tend to be prevailing sort of situation in the real life. In that regard, Southnarc addresses the carry options and deployment of the weapon as critical considerations if one decides to actually settle on a knife as their weapon choice for the everyday carry option. Once deployed, the knife can be employed, and this is where the author discusses the advantages of using the knife in the suggested manner, in either of the two grips. He also demonstrates a number of situations that could emerge and demand the deployment in the first place. Especially valuable is the fact that he spends most time in the clinch situation, in order to show just how close and dirty is the entire knife fighting affair. Douglas does not go into a whole bunch of technical maneuvers, but opts instead to focus on a couple of fundamental and most effective techniques, but then goes into detail about the mechanical and tactical aspects of those. What he accomplishes in doing this, the way I see it, is stressing the importance of some serious hands-on drilling and training, instead of trying things for a few times just for the fun of it.

The second volume is my favorite of the two because it addresses one of my favorite aspects of any work – the context. While he does revisit the material from volume one, and adds some more insight, the main quality of this DVD is the emphasis and thorough analysis of the criminal mindset and the conflict situation from the initial contact, through the interview phase, to actual assault. He does it in a brilliant manner and brings the point(s) across clearly and convincingly. Directly related to that context is the author’s stress on the need to develop some empty handed defensive skills and their integration with your knife tactics.

Clinch Pick - edge is on the concave side

The only possible downside of the presentation is that everything is shown/demonstrated with fixed blade knives. Douglas had developed two designs to optimize the application of the taught material – Clinch Pick and Disciple – as well as the training facsimiles, in order to optimize the training as well. However, probably understanding that the dominant inclination for civilian EDC knives is the folder option, he later also designed the P’kal model with Spyderco.

P'kal folder
As a former LEO with years of undercover work (hence the Southnarc moniker), Douglas has developed great insights in the dynamics of interpersonal conflict situations, as well as the ways of dealing with them all across the continuum. It is this deep understanding of the wider and deeper context of violence and personal protection/preservation that ranks him among the top echelon of instructors I aim to train with as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Should you be interested to learn more about Craig Douglas and his work, make sure to check out his company’s website.