Friday, September 2, 2022

True aim of AMOK!

 If you have been around this blog for any length of time, you have probably noticed that most reviews of educational materials have related to the books and instructional DVD/video formats. Today, however, I’d like to step into the 21st century and point to an excellent online source of brilliant combative instruction.

For the readers who share my affinity for the functional skill and sound training methodology, over the flashy maneuvers and technique-collecting approach, the work of Tom Sotis ought to be among the go-to references. Simply put, he spent 30+ years of dedicated training with unwavering focus on providing to his trainees/clients the best and most reliable information and skill to be developed. That said, the more I learn about the man and his work, the more I am impressed with his sheer honesty about the process of training and utmost disregard for the whole noise of peripheral phenomena of martial arts, such as ranking, titles, power over organizations and people etc. As the matter of fact, that is probably exactly what enabled him to put so much effort and thought into the development of his excellent methods.

The results are formulated under the banner of AMOK! And available to the interested parties on Tom’s website Amok! Global. For what is possibly the most affordable fee anywhere, you get access to the main body of the knowledge that Sotis has distilled into two categories:

-          Core skills;

-          Methodology.

That way, not only do you learn what the people that he has taught in more than 30 countries over the course of more than 30 years have learned (what he teaches), but also how did they develop it into a working set of skills (how he teaches). In approaching training from these angles, an encompassing and thorough understanding is obtained with regards to the technical performance and tactical decision making, but also the proper focus on all the right components that will accelerate your progress on the functional path. Attacks, counters, grabs, disarms; training, practicing, sparring methods and configurations…it’s all there!

Although the core skills and methodology are conceived in a manner that integrates the instruction of all necessary elements of combative capability, for those who want to go into more detail and depth regarding some of those elements, there are specific focus courses available on the topics of Footwork, Handling, Faking, Striking, Countering and so on.

The common feature of all his instruction is the presentation in the bite-sized video clips, shown in appropriate order. Sotis uses whiteboard presentations where applicable, speaks clearly and informatively, without fluff and unnecessary ornamentation. Some of the clips are actually under two minutes of length, and I find it great for a couple of reasons. One, it forces the instructor to be as clear and efficient as possible in conveying his message; two, it makes it easier for the viewers to rewind and dial in the exact part they need to see/hear; three, it keeps tracking of the material you have covered much simpler; four, finding the exact topic you want is effortless.

It bears saying that in AMOK! they use knife as the central tool of instruction, for the reasons very well explained and argued for in the course, but the material is easily adapted to (m)any other tools you may use, or to the empty-handed application as well.

Ultimately, even if you have no interest of becoming and adept of AMOK! or even adopting the methodology into your training, it will still offer an excellent lens for filtering your own training approaches, thus helping you stay on the right path, as long as the desired destination is truth in combat. 


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

TV time to timing

 Have you ever spent some time in front of TV or Youtube and later reprimanded yourself for not having spent that time training? Yeah, sounds familiar... But let's see if that time itself could be made into training. As the matter of fact, one of the tougher aspects of fighting to develop on your own, through solo training is timing, i.e. faster reaction. 

Well, the next time you are in front of the screen, try using it as the "feeder"! Prior to starting this session, pick at least two elements you will be working on - different types of footwork, different combos, maybe just two different individual techniques/maneuvers, or work on the same thing but switch sides...whatever needs to be addressed in terms of reaction time. Once that is set, things are simple - just do the switch every time there is a new shot in the video! For those unfamiliar with film work terms, every time the lens of the camera closes, it is the end of the shot. In other words, every single time you see a new view on the screen, that is it. If you are more of a comic-book type, see what is the parallel with a new picture/frame in the story. 

If you really want to go for intensity, music clips and various ads are excellent, because they are rather quickly paced. As an example, there is 40+ shot changes in the first one minute of this video:

Naturally, if you don't dig this kind of music (shame on you!), just pick your favorite type. Ads also lend themselves really nice for the same purpose. Say, the first one in the following compilation has 8 different shots in the 30 seconds that it lasts...and it is not the busiest one of them!

So, next time, turn the guilty pleasures into satisfying pleasures, or start looking at the commercials as the most useful portion of your time in front of the screen, instead of the most annoying. 

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Jumping ship?


No one has all the answers, right? After all, this is why we cross train. And, nowadays cross-training has become accepted so much that is almost kind of a norm. Although some thirty years ago it was seen by many as the expression of humanity’s lowest impulses, MMA has become possibly the most popular combat sport of our time, especially in terms of the mainstream media exposure. It may even be fair to say that the success of MMA has brought more attention back to the traditional Olympic fighting events such as judo, boxing and wrestling.

So, the revolution that Bruce Lee was preaching almost six decades ago is now a common state of affairs…or is it?

There is a segment of training in martial arts and related disciplines that exhibits much more conservative attitude, and no, I do not have ultra-traditional arts and systems in mind. As much as training in several different methods is widely accepted, there is still a lot of frowning upon the attempt to train simultaneously in two (or more) different schools of the same system or style. For some reason, if a person wanted to train in two different BJJ or karate schools, and just the same for two schools of the same kung fu system, or even two boxing clubs, they are deemed disloyal, back-stabbing, untrustworthy kind of character.

While I might understand the sentiment if at issue is a competitor jumping ship, it doesn’t make sense when talking about a serious enthusiast who may not be focused on competition. What is wrong if someone wants to see how different instructors and coaches treat the same situations? On top of it, for the most part it is completely OK to attend seminars of instructors from other lineages, but training regularly in different schools is a no-no.

Granted, at lower, beginning levels of training such practice may be counterproductive, as the trainee could focus on collecting techniques and tricks instead of focusing on developing strong fundamental principles, but after a few years? As a thought experiment, let’s say you have 8+ years in BJJ, with a lot of money and time at disposal. And you happen to be equally close to the schools run by Marcelo Garcia, John Danaher and Mario Sperry, who all have classes on different days and times. What is wrong by visiting each (or two of them) two or three times a week, as opposed to staying with just one four times a week?

Or, being a boxer of 10 years, and having both Teddy Atlas and Freddy Roach within reach, with a similar set of circumstances as above. Would you tap the knowledge source of both, or chose one to follow?

It bears saying that sometimes two instructors will have approaches that really do not fit, or even contradict each other, and in such case it is definitely better to opt for one. However, if one is looking to get as well rounder view of a discipline as possible, it only makes sense to learn from more than one source. Especially so if you are, or strive to be, an instructor yourself at some point.

Or maybe the whole “problem” is endemic to the place(s) that I have been frequenting, while entirely non-existent elsewhere?

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Thinking in the...Black Box


You ever find that some things in your life and doings are inexplicable, almost mysterious? I sure do. One of such conundrums is the fact that I have been a real fan of work and instructional material of one Mark Hatmaker for almost 25 years now, and despite his prolific output to my liking, I don’t have any of it reviewed here. How did it happen is beyond me… Although, I once did a thorough review of his Outer Limits Drills video for the Raven Calling magazine, it is about time to rectify the situation on this blog.

To that end, instead of tackling a single product, I would like to point your attention to his Black Box Project. If you’d prefer reading what the author himself has to say about it, check out the overview at his website. But, here is my summary:

Back Box is a series of DVDs from his RAW library, issued monthly, that addresses the grey area of combat methods – the approach that relies as much on the athletic physical attributes required in modern sports as it does on the “old school” technical work that is both ring/mat proven and street savvy. In broad strokes, the material presented belongs to the categories of standup striking, upright and ground grappling, weaponry work (what Hatmaker call frontier tools, i.e. tomahawk and trade knives), and physical preparation.

The interesting part is, however, that he did a huge amount of research to find, test, filter and apply predominantly the training methods used by the yesteryear generations of folks who had to use it in real life, and did not have access to the facilities and gear that modern professional fighters do. In other words, what you will find is the stuff that will work for common people like you and I, who have daily jobs and limited financial resources to invest in enhancing your fight game. On top of that, he focuses on the type of training that minimizes the risk of injury typically caused by following professional regimes without the professional support of coaches, massage therapists, nutritional supplementation etc. Plus, there is a cool addition of written outline of contents in each DVD, along with suggestions on how to conduct the training, delivered either in hardcopy or electronic format with each volume.

Now, as you could see, the production style is of the homemade tradition, which might seem lo-fi to some viewers, but I actually like it for its authentic feel. The sheer quality of the material is further enhanced by Hatmaker’s excellent presentation. In line with the values of the old-timers, Hatmaker is a rather eloquent gentleman, well read and able to articulate his thoughts and advice very nicely. To get a taste of his worth in this domain, I wholeheartedly recommend that you pay a visit (or several) to either his audio podcast or written blog (or both) according to your preferences.

After several months into his material, I can honestly attest that Hatmaker’s Black Box stuff is excellent! The combative techniques and tactics presented make a lot of sense, and with a little work can be integrated in any existing program that you may be partaking in. And while that portion is top notch, to me the physical training (culture) material contained in the Unleaded sub-system of the Black Box has been a real blessing! It has enabled me to get rid of some nagging injuries and discomforts that had been hindering my daily training for a while, while also boosting my performance ability in other areas.

As if all of the above was not enough, Mark happens to be a true gentleman and enjoyable fellow to converse with, and inspires people to do good work and live good life in the best way possible – leading by example. All in all, digging into his offerings might turn out to be one of the best investments (time, money and effort) you could possibly make.

Monday, February 28, 2022

Look from the side

 As the time goes on and technology keeps progressing and developing, we are often tempted to look for the latest piece of training gear, gadget or app that could propel our training further and faster. In that search for new and more it is easy to lose sight of the fact that often the improvement can be achieved quicker by working on the old. Specifically, on mercilessly identifying and removing the mistakes we make in practice, and with this insight working on enhancing our performance through the elimination of own weakness(es). 

Of course, this identification process is best achieved in the presence of a good instructor/coach. But what to do when left to one's own devices? Exactly that - use the device we all normally use on the daily basis! While martial arts have been around for much longer than video recording technology, I am dumbfounded that there is still so many people who fail to recognize the valuable aspects of regularly taking footage of their training. 

Not all cameras are spying on us

If you are on a true, incessant pursuit of improvement in training, video recording is priceless help. Even if you do have a coach, they are only able to see and process so many things at once, but when analyzing footage, it is possible to rewind, slow down, isolate and really focus deeply on any little minutia of the practitioner's work. Even more so when forced to work on your own. And it works both ways - finding out good solutions that have emerged spontaneously in some situation, and then trying to work them in one's regular game; also, recognizing the recurring mistakes and omissions that need to be eliminated. 

Cameras can be very useful in a group setting, too. As an example, when the whole class is involved in an activity, some people may be more successful in doing it, and the video footage may later be used to better explain to other trainees how to approach it more effectively. 

Finally, if you are an instructor in a system that does not rely on ranks/belts as the means of tracking the student's progress (or even if it does), as I have witnessed in the RMA circles, you will be regularly met with students' periods of doubt and resignation with their progress. Naturally, it may lead to their sub-optimal effort, or even giving up on training altogether. In such  situations, letting them compare their performance, captured on video in the span of a few moths can offer a great boost to their confidence and motivation to carry on with the work. 

A word of warning - depending on you age, pulling out a phone for its camera capacity may tempt you to make the training session into a posing session for Instagram or TicToc or whatever... Make sure that other participants in training also understand that at issue is not a demo, but the regular workout, so that you would have authentic material input to work with it for the benefits down the line. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Basically rewinding

 I started this year with a big step back. But not a drawback by any means. The idea is to boil the big chunk of my practice time down to the bare basics and work on it in earnest, in a fully deliberate manner for a while. How long will that while last...remains to be seen. Yeah, there is still ongoing work on the new material as part of the already undertaken studies, but at the moment there will be no new systems or arts introduced. 

So, what are the basics at hand? In terms of empty handed work it means a handful of ground maneuvers/exercises that are applicable to grappling (front, back and sideways rolls, shrimping, getting off the ground and engaging it); jab and cross; front knee kick and oblique stomp kick. When it comes to weapons work, just the forehand and backhand diagonal and horizontal strikes with stick; three thrusting and three cutting angles with a knife. 

That is it. When working on them in a solo regime, I'm using a "pyramidal" approach - a set of very slow and deliberate reps, a set of semi-fast reps, a set of max-speed reps, a set of mid-speed, another set of very slow and deliberate ones. Then do the whole thing 2-4 times. 

Is it tedious? Sure. But, what I do in order to combat the possible boredom and maintain focus is pick a visual target (or a physical one) and stay on it, because it provides feedback about the trajectory of hte technique, distance, structure etc. 

It takes commitment and discipline to do it, but it is worthwhile. Namely, I have noted certain wrinkles in my performance that have crept up over time, and now they are being ironed out. If you are like me and subscribe to the "advanced techniques are basics done really well" school of thought, then it is not hard to understand the satisfaction of improving those fundamentals, for the greater benefit down the line. Not to mention that sometimes KISS-ing is just so refreshing.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Changing views

 There is this thing of viewing, i.e. quantifying, one's training from one of two main vantage points - in term of hours spent, or years invested. It probably obvious that those two outlooks are nor really mutually exclusive, but rather complementary. Especially since both require certain level of commitment from the practitioner... Quite recently, the good folks from the FMA Discussion community had a very nice debate on the topic of hours vs. years, and it yielded an excellent episode of their podcast. 

All three participants in the talk were able to really nicely present their points of view and arguments relating to the subject, with a lot of excellent insights. I especially liked how they underlined that when things take their natural course, the hours will eventually turn into years. It really resonated with me, because it immediately reminded of how my path with Alex Kostic unfolded. Namely, when he first started teaching Systema as a guest instructor in the club/group where I was a member, it was only natural that my tendency was to squeeze in as many hours as possible with Alex whenever he was around (he was still based in Canada back then). Those hours contributed to our building a great relationship and ultimately into years spent training and researching together. 

Be as it may, at one point during the above program, the host asked the question that I had sent, whether if we take the look at the training time through the lens of hours, does it matter how far apart those hours are? While the answers were good, I may not have formulated the question adequately. Although, Mr. Steve Grody had already brought up what seems to me to be the central point - consistency.

So, here is my attempt to be a bit more specific. Let's say a person has 50 hours per year available for training. Would it be more effective then to train for one hour every week, or attend five seminars of 10 hours each throughout that year (thus, 10-12 weeks between training sessions)? Essentially, if there is absolutely no other training done outside those hours, it only makes sense that weekly hour-long sessions would be preferable, primarily for the sake of regular feedback regarding one's performance. Regardless of what kind of performance we're talking about here - forms, techniques, drills, sparring - consistent shorter sessions will take the cake over occasional longer ones.

 On the other hand, if we talk about 50 hours of INSTRUCTION, not all training, then the seminars with regular practice sessions between them may be the right way to go, particularly of otherwise we have limited access to the qualified instructors. After all, this how many arts and systems were able to spread around the world. Still, if regular instruction is available, weekly learning slots with reinforcing practice sessions on other days of the week would win, for the reasons mentioned above. 

It bear saying, nonetheless, that certain situations will naturally gravitate to one of the two vantage points. Say, a fight camp 6-8 weeks prior to a competition clearly goes towards the emphasis on hours spent over the period. Alternatively, in some systems require age limits for certain ranks, so the hours on those years may not be decisive. 

The bottom line is that it is how learning works - effort over time. The intensity and regularity are the fundamental factors here, and if those an be balanced, it is really an optimal situation. And again, if the commitment and discipline are there - the hours will definitely turn into years.