Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Training apps

Today I am going to talk about the great new training app...not. This is, actually, about non applications.

See, so many times you hear students/practitioners in martial art schools ask the instructors how certain things they are working on are applied. Well, on the level of individual techniques and/or combos it is pretty obvious. When it comes to forms of various types, things are a little different, but I won't be dealing with those here.

It is the application of training drills I am concerned with. Yeah, they come in all kinds of shapes and forms, as do the unfortunate attemps of many misguided instructors to explain it, but there is an almost universal answer to the question of how to apply them - you don't! The point of drills is to better instill particular skill(s) and/or attributes, and to gain better understanding of those. But ultimately, you will be applying those skills and putting to use those attributes, NOT the drills as such.

In that regard, training drills are not unlike the conditioning aspect of one's training... And you don't ask how to apply pushups or rope skipping in fighting, do you? Instead, strive to gain deeper understanding of why certain tools (drills, exercises, procedures) are done in training. It might help you use your training time more effectively, go broader or deeper into the material, depending on your needs.

And then you will understand the application aspect, too.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

When pressed - do less to achieve more

It’s the end of the year, so accordingly, many people do some sort of “accounting”, i.e. trying to figure out and calculate what they have accomplished in the past one year, and where to move on next. This “next” phase can be then planned in the form of New Year’s resolutions, goal setting etc. Now, this post isn’t exactly about that, but could be related, just bear with me.

The single biggest thing that happened in my life this year (actually, a month ago) and presents the major challenge to my training is that I have become daddy again! All those who are parents can testify to the unique sense of pleasure that parenthood provides, but the unique amount of time consummation it means as well. Naturally, there are other periodical, or constant, challenges that people have to face and conquer if they want to train. Depending on your situation, it need not necessarily bring any particular changes to your training regimen, but more often than not it does. So, how do we deal with it? One option is to quit training altogether for a while and come back to it later (or not). We will not be considering that avenue here, though. 

Efficiency is the key here
Another approach, and the one I go for, is spend less time training in a group setting (be it a commercial gym, club, an informal garage group, or whatever), and attempt to maintain the solo training volume (working on your physical fitness is a perennial favorite here). However, with such constellation we need to make sure our focus is on the absolute fundamental necessities, in order to maintain the level of technical fluency and related applicability as much as possible. Therefore, do you best to identify the underlying foundations, pillars of your fighting system, which makes everything else possible, and then ensure that this segment of your training is addressed properly. Everything else can be relegated to the “if I get the time” category. Those fundamentals must be worked on whenever you have time, and however much or little of it is available.

To be (vaguely) specific, in standup and weapon combative systems it would mean topics such as footwork, distance control, mechanics of basic techniques; in BJJ and similar styles it would mean position control, escapes, ground movements, mechanics of basic submissions…you get the idea. 

Advanced techniques are the fundamentals done well!
The legendary wrestler Dan Gable has been quoted saying “If it’s important - do it every day, if it’s not – don’t do it at all”. It is a fairly straightforward and simple guideline, and if your involvement with martial arts has some notion of career span as pertinent, Gable’s advice is as good as it gets. On the other hand, if you see yourself as a “lifer” in this endeavor, then you may need some kind of relief periodically, to avoid repetitive injuries, burnout etc.

Of course, the above takes precedence if your motives for training martial arts have to do with actual functional fighting ability. But if you are into it for fun, recreational purposes, cultural study, aesthetics or else – then you should probably choose and emphasize the aspects of training that help you stay with your training through the challenging period, whatever the obstacles may be.

In the end, or going back to the beginning of today’s babbling session, should you manage to identify and choose your training focus right, it will be somewhat easier to keep at it. As the result, the goals you had set are more probable to be achieved and resolutions to be realized. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Step by step toward progress

There is a trend I have noticed in the circles that train in some of those modern, eclectic, informal martial arts and combative systems. I mean, a negative one, which interestingly enough, is stemming from a positive one. Let's go in reverse - the positive trend is to include some form of sparring early on in one's training path. I am also a firm believer that alive practice against resisting partner/opponent should be introduced as early as possible. However, this striving needs to be realized very gradually and incrementally. And that is where the negative trend pops out...

In a lot of schools there is a tendency to go too far too quickly. This something that has been long present in some boxing gyms, where the raw beginners are put to spar full speed and power with more experienced trainees. Quite often it is "explained" as a rite of passage, testing one's heart/clout/guts or whatever you call that intangible quality. There are BJJ gyms that, unfortunately, do the same thing, looking for gameness in their trainees. Some will say "heart can't be taught".

And they are wrong! Obviously, there are people who have a very string inner drive from the get go, and they are persistent (or stubborn) enough to to push through those early stages in order to actually learn something later. That said, those who give up entirely or seek other place to train are usually not cowards, but simply do not want to waste their time and money when they wish to learn something. Those instructors that like to "test the will" of their students forget that Daniel in the Karate Kid was not paying for his lessons.

Besides, they are doing their system a disservice. Namely, when you teach a beginner some technique or maneuver, and then pit them too early against a much more experienced opponent, or too complex situation, a few things happen: 1. the student cannot make the moves work in those circumstances, and thus 2. comes to the conclusion that the technique itself is useless, or 3. they themselves are useless, or 4. the entire system is useless.

Like I said, facing resistance in training is a key component if you are looking to actually use your training for fighting, but the principal factor here is progressive resistance. There just has to be some sort of step by step approach in introducing the elements that will make the training more demanding and challenging, but to the right point, not going to far. 

Essentially, the instructors have to be aware of where their trainees are when it comes to how much you can pressure them. And then set the drills and sparring practices accordingly. It can mean adding speed, allowing more techniques to work with/against, introducing bigger and stronger partners etc. 
In any case, the fundamental thing is to it in a sequential manner, one at the time, in order to allow the trainee some degree of success in applying their hitherto acquired knowledge and/or skill. 

We could liken this whole process to climbing a mountain. when facing a cliff some people will go for it with everything they've got until they get to the top (or die trying). But, on the other hand, it does not mean that those looking for an easier way, or decide to carve the stairs in the mountain, are to be considered failures or lacking heart.

It is therefore completely fine to expect to find a ready path to the top, if the mountain had been climbed before, as long as you are aware that you still need to do the legwork. And if so, getting to the top will still be a worthy endeavor.

If you are looking for a lift though...that's another story altogether. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Good news!

Hey! I know things have been a little slow here lately, but there was good reason for it. Namely, as you may have noticed, one of the articles I had done earlier (see Move that body) was removed. Well, it has been slightly brushed up but also accompanied with a much better video illustration of the subject covered.
However, the best part is that as part of my new/official association of the excellent portal complementarytraining.net, run by my friend and brilliant coach Mladen Jovanovic, that article is now available at

While over there, make sure to check out their other stuff, since there is plenty of very interesting material to see. And of course, hopefully, there should be more of my contributions in the future. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Coaching polyglot

How many languages do you speak as a coach/instructor? Seriously, are you able to approach your trainees in more than one way when it comes to conveying some information or trying to teach them something?

If you are still confused about my question, let me put it in another way, not necessarily related to martial arts. Have you ever been frustrated by someone who attempted to explain something to you, but if you didn't get it they kept repeating the exact same (unclear) thing they had been saying, only maybe louder or slower? There you have it...so, don't allow yourself to be that person.

After all, no teaching ever, regardless of the subject, should be some sort of mechanical process. The art of teaching is not the same thing as packaging some product, even if it is intangible in nature, such as information or knowledge (even those two are not the same).

As instructors, we must be aware that different people learn in different manners, having different cognitive setups, learning habits, attention spans, motivation levels etc.Therefore, if we are sincere in our desire to really instill something valuable in them, having more than one tool on your disposal comes in handy. Essentially, it boils down to your teaching methodology and philosophy. Having a well defined curriculum is one thing, but being able to pass it on is another.

Without going too much in depth (there are whole tomes dedicated to the matter at hand), make sure to understand that in learning a physical skill some trainees have better odds of accomplishing better results when seeing it demonstrated. Others may learn better by feel, maybe being used as a demo dummy (myself included). There are those who need a lot of verbal explanation. Some need to be touched, i.e. literally put into positions and guided through motions in a hands on manner. I have met students who respond better to stick, while others really craved the carrot... Not to mention that all those may change within a same person from one session to another.

The tip of the iceberg

Good coaches should be aware of and handy with the cuing methods, constraints and affordances, adding or removing pressure etc. To me, it equals to talking many different languages, i.e. being a good communicator, more than just having a huge toolbox. Why do I say that? Because being a good interpreter means really talking a language, not just a few phrases. On the other hand, you can have a shed full of equipment and be clueless about how to use it. strive to know what to say (and what NOT to say), how to say it and when. Those are all relevant aspects of the craft of teaching and coaching, along with so much more.

So, how do we achieve that competence? The answer is simple even if not easy - always be a student yourself! Study the "meta" level of your art, how to teach it. Being an insatiable reader is always a plus, curiosity for the field is a must, passion for what you do an essential prerequisite. And just accept the fact that it never ends :-) 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

What's your type?

Since the previous post I have had some interesting learning opportunities and one of the best was a few days spent in training Skobar (more on skobar itself at a later date) with Dima Khakimov from St. Petersburg in Russia. While it was not my first time attending Dima’s seminars, this particular was organized differently so we had much more time to discuss all things martial and other subjects. One of those conversations touched upon a certain video, and that in turn raised a question within me.

How do you prevent good models of thinking and training from yielding bad results? It dovetails with something I wrote about before, but I would say on more of a meta-level of sorts. Namely, Dima mentioned an episode of a TV show he watched back home, in which one of the hosts is an experienced Thai and kickboxing coach asked to spar a bit with an instructor of a traditional style, white crane karate more specifically. Instead of telling about it, take a look for yourself, starting at 16:58, and see how it ends.

Again, the question that came up was how do we deal with stereotypes in martial arts? It is easy (and often correct) criticizing many of the traditional schools and systems for being dogmatic and hermetic in what they do, thus failing to grow with and adapt to the times. Yet, it is not an inclination endemic to the traditional styles. Do you remember the time when high kicks were deemed undoable and downright harmful for the kicker in MMA? And them Maurice Smith appeared… How about spinning backfists before Shonie Carter? Or spinning back kicks before GSP…you get the point.

While this certainly is not the case of dogmatic blindness, it certainly qualifies as stereotype. My readers know that to me the training methodology is more important than individual techniques practiced within a school, but it is possible that sometimes we don’t even consider putting certain techniques through whatever the adopted methodology, due to our stereotypical views of what will or won’t work in a fight. I guess it is the occurrence of semantic shift from “low percentage” to “impossible”. Yet, those two are not the same, are they? Plus, as good as the training methodology of most MMA schools is, some techniques are never practiced simply because they are banned in an MMA fight by the rules of such encounters.

Granted, there is a lot of moves and techniques in the traditional systems that cannot work against a resisting opponent THE WAY they are done in those schools – but, take those same techniques and train them THE WAY it is done in MMA and you might be surprised with the outcome. I experienced it first hand, too. Once I grappled an advanced aikido practitioner and basically toyed with him, so he gave me the rant about eye gouging and biting etc. We then went through another round, but with all those allowed for him. Again, the result was pretty much the same, as he had neither the attributes nor the understanding of fight dynamics (positioning, distance and so on) to apply those tools. On the other hand, in sparring other guys, experienced in modern sport training methods, there was more than one instance when I was able to take them by surprise because I used some of those “dirty” or “street” tactics.

So, where does it put us? I guess some moves will never be “high percentage”, but could come in handy in some of the more specific situations. Just like in the daily life, hammer and screwdriver are used frequently, but sometimes you just have to use the soldiering iron. This why the Pareto principle talks about 80/20 and not 100% solutions. Take those most reliable tactics and work on them most of the time, but do allocate some of the training time and effort to at least get acquainted with those “other” tools…

Who knows when they may come in handy? 

Saturday, July 30, 2016


We live in the information age, for better or for worse. Those of us born and raised before the whole Internet thing still remember how seeking any information related to martial arts pretty much boiled down to magazines and books, while some of the claims presented in those were pretty much impossible to verify. Most of us dreamed about the universe where the information would be at your fingertips…

And it arrived! And very little has changed! It took me a couple of years to figure out – how is it possible that same old myths and misconceptions are still perpetuated to this day…we are only aware of even more of them. First, the world wide web is loaded with misinformation just as much as it is with good information; but second, even more important, it is now evident more than ever that information is not the same thing as knowledge.

On the most basic level, the information is intellectual, while the knowledge is experiential; the former gained by reading, listening, watching…the latter by doing. These two domains are not exclusive, but not necessarily inclusive either. And there is certain hierarchy here, in the sense that knowledge takes precedence over mere information.

Why? Well, because having true, deep knowledge of something means you already have the necessary information about it, and it has been fully integrated, processed and filtered. In fighting, it means you fully understand the value of certain techniques, tactics, concepts etc, and you can apply them with confidence when called for.

Now, while knowledge entails having information as well, the other way around is not necessarily true. How many times have you met a guy who could be spitting the technical specs about sport cars all days long, and yet utterly unable of driving one? Or, to be “closer to home” here, a fellow harping on who are the best boxers/MMA fighters of the day, without having ever spared for even a minute? Granted, they will gladly support their argument with a lot of information and facts, but we all know it is irrelevant in the end. Ask yourself – would you rather be someone who knows five methods and can use them in a fight, or know about fifty methods but can’t use any? Want to be an artist or an art collector?

Finally, knowledge provides the essential filters and criteria for taking a pool of new information and then separating wheat from the chaff, distinguishing the valuable information from junk, thus further expanding the knowledge. This is why we have the widespread phenomenon of keyboard warriors engaged in the heated debates over nonsense…because they don’t know any better. It is also why the experienced people will keep out of such debates, because they know better.

In the end, it is possible that two persons be experienced, have actual knowledge, and yet be in disagreement. However, there’s a world of difference between disagreeing and missing the boat altogether, i.e. learning from a debate or wasting time on senseless arguments. Be sure to know where things are heading at times…