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

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.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Teaching roles

Arguably the most important goal any instructor has in their classes is to make sure that the material being taught is presented to the students as best as possible. In order to accomplish that, the person doing the teaching has to take quite a few variable into account (students’ motivation, predisposition for the subject at hand, group dynamics etc.), but first and foremost they manner in which they conduct the classes, simply because that happens to be the aspect they have the most control of. I have already discussed the need to be able of speaking to various people in their “own language”, in terms of how do you formulate your message. This time, let’s take a step further and see how the said message is packed to be sent.

It should be more or less known by now that the properly chosen material to be worked in a training session should be challenging but doable. It is the approach one uses to get their student to do it, despite being challenging, that sets the tone here. There seem to be three main styles of talking to the trainees, and I will use arbitrary monikers here to label them:

·         Caring supporter;
·         Gambler/challenger;

·         Drill sergeant.
Helping, caring hand
In essence, the first one mentioned is the type that encourages their students by using affirmative language and actions, in order to help them achieve the desired result. For example, the caring supporter will be saying things like “come on, I know you can do it! You’re almost there, just one more step/rep/second...!” They will also commonly be giving the students applause, patting their backs and doing other things of that sort if they succeed, or even if they don’t, but in the latter case the emphasis will be on commending the spirit and effort demonstrated during the attempt. This fashion of coaching is especially suited for beginners and/or very young students.

The gambler/challenger plays the card of people often wanting to prove others wrong when daring them to do or not do something, i.e. expressing doubt in their ability to accomplish something. Typically, such trainers and training partners will utter stuff like “I bet you can’t _____ that, even if your life depended on it”, or “if you do _____ I’ll eat my socks!” You get the idea… In my experience, this sort of tainting is mostly prevalent among the people who are basically peers – equal training partners or in the cases when the instructor-student relationship is relaxed and not very formal.

"You dirty, rotten, fitlhy..."
Finally, when the training session is bordering abuse (or at least looking like it), you’re having the drill sergeant at work. Such situations will offer plenty of foul language, insults and dismissal of the trainee’s effort, sometimes even if they do achieve the task. “You pussy! Why am I wasting my time with you, you worthless peace of shit!? Is that the best you can do, you big sissy?”… I guess that even by reading this you can rather vividly imagine the tone of voice and facial expressions that go with it. Typically, this is the approach associated with boot camps of all sorts, hence the chosen designation for these instructors.

Now, some may ask, which of the above teaching tactics is the best? Well, from the last sentence of each of those paragraphs, it should be clear that each has their place, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes, more than one of those can be used even with the same student or within the same training session, again, depending on the situation. Ideally, an instructor should be able to take the shape of any of the above and speak as a different person when it is called for, but… I think it is counterproductive to force yourself to be one of those “personifications” if it really goes against your grain or moral fiber. The reason is, if you are unable to be authentic in a given role, the outcome will also be less than ideal. 

Finally, keep in mind that the described tactics are not necessarily clear cut and sharply distinctive among themselves. As always, they are more of the streamlined fragments of a continuum and should be taken and utilized as such. The bottom line is – assume the personality that will suit your students’ needs best, and not just because you are in that kind of mood that day. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Ripping it, the Libre way!

Been awhile since I last tackled any of the topics that would refer to the “edge” part of this blogs title. One of the reasons is that I have never intended to go into any particular detail regarding the HOW TOs of knife use in combat. Another is that I was entertaining the thought of an epic parallel review of the shootout type to include several instructional DVDs on the subject, but as it seems there will never be enough time to do it properly, I have finally decided to do an individual review of each of those I had in mind. Now, on to the subject matter…

Some of you may remember a post I did earlier (in case you had read it in the first place), which discussed my favorable view of a particular knife grip and how it is used. Over the course of my research into the theme, there have been a few exponents whose work resounded with me and thus has affected my own interpretation(s). Today, I will discuss one of those… (NOTE: after pondering for a while about the order of these reviews, I finally opted to do it in line with the alphabetical order of authors’ last name).

Libre logo and motto...all the rights belonging to Scott Babb
So, the video portrayed today is the Street Edge 4 – Reaper Method, authored by Scott Babb. Mr. Babb is by now fairly well known as the founder of Libre Fighting, the system of combat that has gained some recognition around the world, particularly in relation to the use of knives in close quarters conflicts. It bears saying right away that the DVD is discontinued, as Babb offers a newer representation of his system in the later date set of videos, but the original may still be available, so you could contact Libre or check out Ebay and similar places.

One of the main points that I immediately likes about this video is that the author starts with saying what is the intent behind the approach taught, and does not hesitate to explain both the advantages and disadvantages of the reverse grip with edge in (scythe grip in his nomenclature) in comparison with the straightforward grip. Also, he notes that the material on the DVD is the civilian version of what he had originally designed to be a system aimed at various professional services in the military/law enforcement field.

After the introductory discussion of the grip itself and rationale behind the method, several modes of attacking with the knife are shown and explained. Some of those are obvious, but there are a few that are rather interesting and unique, at least from what I have seen so far. Since at issue is admittedly and offensive system, Babb starts the “force on force” segment of instruction with the four pack method of dealing with the opponent’s attempts to defend the initial attack. What we have at hand here is the practical use of trapping hands that some people may have encountered in various other fighting arts and systems.

Babb, going at it

Next in line is the string of several attacking methods (I told you it was all about attacking!), devised in order to solve problems and overcome obstacles that Libre practitioners have met in their training practice, but also during the real world applications of the material. Speaking training, it is great to see a methodology that espouses sparring as a regular part of their work, but does not end up looking like the mutual game of tags or the proverbial scene from the West Side Story.

Finally, the video offers the insights from a few other practitioners other than Babb, and being of differing builds and attributes (petite female, big and strong guys, smaller and more agile guys), it is also interesting to watch and hear what they have to say.

 The production of the DVD is excellent, and I especially liked that some of the footage was taken outdoors, in the environment that looks like some of the places where one might be forced to use the material learned. Also, when performed outside, the techniques have a different feel to those practiced only indoors, and it is nice to see such manner of training promoted.

Scott Babb is well articulated, goes into enough detail to make the viewer understand the material, but without going into excessive talking that would boggle the understanding and digress in such a way to make you reach for the fast forward button. That way, it is easier to reap the benefits of the instruction (I just couldn’t help it).

Finally, as the title suggests, this DVD used to be part of a series, so some of the topics are not discussed in detail (such as the carry options or the choice of knife), but the overall presentation is very honest and down to earth, hence providing a good insight into how they do it.