Thursday, September 28, 2017

Hold your ground...and dig in!

In some of the previous posts I was discussing the importance of having a good progression in place when teaching/training in any combative activity. Of course, from the perspective of efficient learning experience and skill acquisition it is easy to grasp. Here, my goal is to expound a little bit on our understanding of any particular stage on the progression line.

It seems to be common understanding that one’s aim is to get across and get to the end destination (whatever that may be) as quickly as possible, right? You know, get to that black belt, certificate of completion, instructorship… Well, I beg to differ! I mean, if the said piece of memorabilia is what brought you to training into first place and the actual thing that that will bring you some sense of fulfillment, then yeah. By the way, if so, this blog may not have too much to offer in that case. 

On the other hand, if your thing is to gain some considerable level of skill/expertise, i.e. the true ability to perform in the real time in their chosen field, you might want to take it slow. You see, another common attitude is to admire the people with great breadth in their knowledge. Sure, every once in a while you’ll notice that in some areas that knowledge is somewhat think or shallow, but hey, they know so much! In the modern day and age, with the wealth of information available at your fingertips, there is just no more real appreciation for depth in any domain of human experience.
The way I see it, the right question is not “how do I finish this level as quickly as possible?”, but rather “how do I stay at this level as long as possible and get something useful out of it?” Again, if this sounds counter intuitive, the key words in the previous paragraph are ability to perform in the real time!

So, let’s take a look at it this way… If you were asked to name one combative activity, be it sport of not, where you consistently see the practitioners able to put their skill on the line and test it against the resisting opponent, which one would it be? I guess many of my readers would be inclined to point to MMA or similar activities, maybe krav maga and similar “reality based” methods (although those are disputable in this regard, but it’s another subject for another time). However, if we simply look for the longest continual output, we basically come down to two such approaches – boxing and wrestling. Both have been around for hundred(s) of years in the format that requires the participants to incessantly perform in the real time in the given field.

And what is the common denominator for both of those? To start with, they do not boast the breadth of the technical base as the foundation of their effectiveness. And consequently, their practitioners spend all the effort on going into minute details of the techniques they have on disposal. Thus, every single exponent usually demonstrates much deeper understanding and better command over the tools they work with. 

...or a punch, for that matter
With all of the above in mind, it should not be strange that these two disciplines form integral part of the modern MMA, along with a couple other methods that pretty much follow the same guidelines of depth over breadth – BJJ and Thai boxing.

To wrap up, regardless of the martial art or system you are involved with, don’t be in a hurry to get to the next thing/belt/rank or to amass new techniques for the sake of “knowing” more of them. Instead, focus on getting the best possible grip of the material you are working on right now, because it will give you the upper hand later, whether you’re going to learn new techniques of not. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

...once you get on the right foot.

If you read my previous post, you should have figured out what may be the single most decisive factor in attaining higher degrees of command in the skill related activities. However, before one gets to the point where they have to deal with motivation to stay on the course of doing something, they first have to get on the course in the first place and see it as a path that leads somewhere. There are various motives that instigate people to try martial/combative training, and those have been discussed elsewhere on this blog, but the question is: what can we do as coaches/instructors to help them make those critical early steps? not the same as easy
The first thing, in my opinion, is to pay attention to the new trainee early on and acknowledge them as persons – make sure to remember their name, ask them why they joined your group and what do they expect from it. Their answer(s) may not be too coherent and precise, but the point here is not to fully understand your students in one hour. It is rather about them pondering the issue, since it would, hopefully, make them more attentive and appreciative about the experience of training. If your club or training group has a nice atmosphere where people don’t feel like number or plain sources of income, it will help with developing the sense of belonging and thus make it easier to want to come back regularly.

Next in line is the more specific matter of contents of your training sessions. Some instructors seem to have the approach that strives to take advantage of the whole instant gratification aspect of the modern society, so they will start with easily achievable goals and lots of praise and “positive talk”. Now, it probably helps the novice candidates to not be discouraged with possibly overwhelming experience of doing something new, or to see it as entirely out of reach.

However, I think it does not lead to the favorable perception of the training process as a path, journey worth undertaking. A lot of people tend to scuff at such early experiences as “I’m already good at it”, and consequently their recurring appearances will hang exclusively on the thread of extrinsic motivation and rewards. Unless your idea as an instructor is to run a diploma mill with belt exams every couple of months etc, this is obviously not a satisfactory manner of conducting your training.

Instead, my experience shows that trainees (at least the type I like to work with) prefer being challenged in a way that makes them work on accomplishing set goals. There are two stipulations here, however: 1. they need to see that goal as desirable/worthy of effort; 2. They need to see it as achievable after all.

Now, in order for the coach to be able to set proper goals and set adequate demands from their trainees, they need to develop a level or rapport with those trainees and get to know their driving forces, which in turn takes us back to treating them as persons and asking for their feedback. And not just asking, but actually listening to their comments and ruminations. In combination with interesting material, god training methodology and desirable training environment, you will be on the right course to have people joining you for the journey. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Staying the course...

Whenever someone starts a new learning, and thus training endeavor too, they want to know how will it take to "get there", whatever "there" might be in their particular case. This sort of result-oriented curiosity is natural, which is why there are so many training programs out there that advertise themselves with the lines such as 4-week abs, 8-weeks to a full split, 30-day diet etc. Do you see the common denominator here? Those are all short-term goals, and usually pertaining to the accomplishments that do not entail any particular skill-set, let alone some level of mastery over that set.

Now, when it comes to training a martial art or combative system there are simply way to many factors and "ingredients" involved to seriously consider achieving anything remarkable over such a short period. Sorry to disappoint you, but even those 4-week self defense courses, as well programmed as they may be, are barely enough to show you what to work on, maybe even how to do it, but there is still more work to do...much more usually.

So, what's the solution then? Well, keep training for long time. Naturally, the notion of "long" will vary among different people and depending on other aspects. like training or five years four times a week is better than 10 years once a week etc, you get the idea. Still, in short, consistency is the main priority here. Of course, with proper training methods and priorities, influenced by your motivation.

That's all nice and fine, but how do we maintain the drive for training, stoke the fire, in a manner of speaking? In some systems and schools there is the instituted progression of ranks, often supported by external tokens such as colored belts, certificates etc. That definitely helps, especially with younger trainees, as it helps in setting goals and gives a fairly concrete sense of accomplishment. True, in a lot of schools the belt system has been so bastardized and made meaningless, but in and of itself doesn't have to be a bad thing. Hopefully, if the training is good and instructor(s) knowledgeable, some of the trainees will develop an intrinsic urge to keep on training, thus exceeding the whole grading scheme.

In the schools and systems that do not boast such models of awarding their students' persistence and dedication, there are other approaches that could prove helpful in keeping people motivated. Depending of what makes some people tick, the coaches and training partners could use some means of praise (be it verbal "good job", or non verbal gestures, such as thumbs up, clapping etc.) or dare/teasing ("is that the best you can do?"). Of course, you can use both interchangeably, when situation calls for it.

I like to make periodical video recordings of trainees performance (myself included) and then an occasional review. It can help put things in perspective, as many people do not easily see the progress they have made over time, since it happens incrementally. But seeing your how you moved a few months of year earlier and comparing to the present level can really boost one's confidence and motivation.

And yet, there will be times you will go through burnout phases, hit plateaus and/or feel fatigued, no matter what. Do not panic, it's normal and natural and happens to everybody. It's fine to take a break of a few weeks, maybe couple of months. Do something else instead (or do nothing if that is the right thing, especially if you can find some complementary activity that will make you feel refreshed, while still being beneficial for your overall training. If you have a genuine passion for what you do, if you have come to the point where journey IS the destination, the itch for training will come back and bring you on the right path again. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cross domain teaching of understanding

As practitioners of martial arts, or combative disciplines if you prefer to call it that way, we strive to achieve the best possible command of the technical tools we use in such endeavors. Saying the full mastery of techniques could be somewhat presumptuous, but that would be the goal to aim for. But, how do we know when our technical understanding is on a satisfactory level? Don’t’ you love it when answers come from unexpected places?

I guess we all seek to find the right criteria and diagnostic approaches to find an answer to that question, especially so if we’re instructors and wish to monitor the progress among our trainees. Well, after years of building some resemblance of a coherent set of criteria, I got an excellent, almost ready-made measurement “filter” from my music teacher Anthony Wellington. Ant is a superb instructor with solid curriculum and great pedagogy when working with his students. So, he told me that a person learning some piece of music needs to have four dimensions of understanding in place, in order to attain the full command of what they’re working on: intellectual, visual, aural and tactile. 
From this...
What he said immediately struck a chord with me, as it only took a slight modification to apply the same reasoning to one’s training in any kind of fight training. this!
Since the aural grasp is not so much pertinent for our purposes here, the domains we need to get a grip of are the following:
-          Intellectual;
-          Visual;
-          Tactile-outgoing;
-          Tactile-incoming.

Intellectual understanding, basically, means the ability to explain (verbally) what is required of a practitioner who is performing an action. The less you need to resort to the physical demonstration, the better. Also, it entails being able to explain why the thing are done the way they are done.

Visual understanding, as you probably presume, means being capable of understanding what is going on when you see a technical maneuver in action. For example, if you’re watching a boxing or grappling match and have no “what has just happened?” moments. The lack in this domain is typically why the grand majority of lay persons find BJJ or other grappling types of fights confusing and boring.

Tactile-outgoing sphere is developing the feel for the right technique. When it is accomplished, you don’t even need anybody to watch and comment your performance, or analyzing the video footage, to tell you that some details of your technique are flawed, or what needs to be worked on. Also, such tactile awareness helps you adapt to the actions of your opponent/training partner. However, even if well developed, this field of tactile insight is still just one side of the coin, hence the need for…

Tactile-incoming perception, which is how I call the ability to figure out what is going on and how it is done, while you are on the receiving end of a maneuver. This is especially important for some of the more intricate holds and tactics, especially in clinching, grappling and similar situations. I love being the demo dummy (or uke for the more traditionally oriented people out there) during seminars and regular training sessions[1], for this exact reason.

Four-pronged approach to understanding
Naturally, the best learning situations are those in which a few or all of those aspects are accessible. Let’s take the example of a seminar. Ideally, the instructor conducting the session would be highly eloquent (but not a logorrhea-suffering type) and well-articulated with his explanations, as well as able to answer the questions accurately and succinctly. Also, his demonstration of whatever technical actions would be clear and well executed, while the participants would have a good an unobstructed view of the action, maybe even from more than one angle. Next, the said participants would then have ample time and opportunity to practice executing the techniques on more than one partner, but also to feel those techniques being applied on them.

Over time, the four domains of understand start melting together, thus enabling a more holistic understanding. I mentioned before my inclination to serve as the dummy for technical demonstrations. At this stage I have developed enough kinesthetic and proprioceptive perception to make it possible for me to see the action being done with my “inner eye”, while having it executed on me. On the other hand, seeing it done with someone else (or maybe on video) often elicits certain physical sensations in the parts of the body that would be affected by the hold in question. Sometimes the same goes while hearing a good explanation from a good instructor. You get the picture….

Hopefully, this article will help other practitioners and instructors in doing more efficient analysis of their training and spend less time trying to figure out what is going on and how to proceed with it. Have in mind that developing this level of understanding takes time and the process needs to be engaged again many times, when encountering new and unfamiliar type of moves and techniques.

[1] Of course, if the instructor at hand is not of a sadistic predisposition and/or prone to inflicting injuries and hurting people just to stroke his ego or prove something.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Virtually as good as it gets

NOTICE: I am in no way affiliated with Rodney King and his organisation. The below review is my personal opinion and attitude, presented in full honest, without any compensation whatsoever from any of the parties mentioned. 

In this day and age of virtual reality and online existence, it is no wonder that there is now a number of martial art instructors, teachers and coaches offering their services through the digital avenues. Just as with the “in the flesh” reality, some of those virtual schools are better than the others… Here, I would like to say a few words about one of those I like the most.[1]

The portal I am writing about is and it is run by, who would have thought, Rodney King. I have discussed his stuff in this blog before, so you know I had already liked the man’s work. In the meantime we had some conversations on several topics related to training and life in martial arts, which means I knew that he had been preparing the online program, and I was looking forward to checking it out.

King in his court
Well, he sure delivered! On the portal, Rodney offers a few courses, depending on your interest, and those include his Crazy Monkey Defense / CMD material (standup game), the Monkey Jits (BJJ portion) and Combat Intelligent Athlete (self-preservation aspect). Naturally, the underlying principles and training methodology between those has some overlaps, but the programs are done separately. It means, there is no shoving down your throat the material you have no interest in, or something you feel you already have a good grasp of.
The presentation is excellent. All the technical material and its tactical applications are presented in a progressive manner, with superb explanations – there is enough attention to detail to make sure you got it, but not so much to become the victim of the “analysis paralysis” syndrome. 

I have taken his CMD courses, one for the white glove level, and the one for the Blue Glove. Let me stress here one of my favorite features of the program – it is truly ongoing and evolving. Rodney is adding to the material and shooting new videos whenever he finds it fitting, which means your “library” is growing with time. It is probably the greatest advantage over buying one of those complete package DVD/download packs.

He usually begins a new section with some discussion on the theoretical and methodological framework and philosophy behind it (VERY important in this case!), thus putting things into context and making it that much clearer. Next, he will go into the technical details, and then proceed to the drills to functionalize the skills you are hoping to develop. Finally, King introduces you to sparring and the proper way to do it, both for the functionality and sustainability purposes.

And then, there is more! Once enrolled, you have the access to the study groups that involve some of Rodney’s certified instructors and great coaches on their own, as well as the “Ask-a-Question” feature that enables you to get specific answers to the specific questions you may have in the process of training. All in all, remarkable support from the coaching staff! 

To wrap it up, if you would like to overcome the adversity of not having a qualified instructor around to train with, while being concerned about the quality of the available online options, you can join the without fear, as it is probably one of the best avenues you can follow with the aim of learning useful fighting skills properly, and with the right mindset.
Thumbs up!!!

[1] Naturally, I haven’t tried them all, so please don’t take this as being the ultimate, supreme best in the whole wide world. 

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.