Monday, January 28, 2019

Pinto Power Points

Every now and then any discussion, whatever the topic may be at the moment, might easily slip into some kind of lament over how “the Internet has ruined human life” and everything now is make-believe etc. Well, it is true that when people did not have as much access to information available they used to spend more time in training and less surfing the ‘Net. However, it is also true that back then you were more or less “sentenced” to training only the things you were aware of. The Internet helped put people in contact much more easily, and open our possibilities when it comes to choosing the right place and instructor.

I somehow ran across Nelson Pinto via Facebook, and he immediately struck a chord with me, due to being extremely enthusiastic about martial arts, both as an instructor and as a student-for-life. It would be insincere to say that I did not see a bit of myself in his attitude, hence the positive predisposition. Pinto’s resume is diverse and can be seen on his website, which is also where you can order the DVD’s reviewed here.

Now, you know how all instructional videos start with a disclaimer of liability and state something along the lines of “not instructional, but for informational purposes only?”  Well, the Pinto Blade and Impact Tactics Empty Hand curriculum, with Level 1 being presented here, is actually the closes I have ever seen to such description. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. You see, Pinto’s material shown is obviously aimed at members of his organization and/or advanced practitioners and instructors looking to introduce new or different stuff in their training sessions.

That said, he runs through the material fairly quickly, without going into much detail (again, see the disclaimer notice), but it enables him to cover a lot of ground within the confines of two DVDs. On top of that, Pinto is a very lively and energetic presenter, and it makes the whole watching experience more interesting. I especially liked that he opens the presentation with a subject that is often neglected, i.e. creating opportunities for attack. That is a conceptual subject that can be put to use via several approaches, such as stops, fakes, traps, distractions (VERY good treatise on some aspects here, i.e. how to throw the distracting objects for optimum effect), and footwork, as particularly noteworthy.

Next, the presentation covers 30 basic strikes of BIT curriculum, followed by how to work them on focus-mitts, again with some great insights here. From there, Pinto goes into kicks, partner drills and combinations, with more relevant pointers along the way.
The second DVD moves to the segment about the counters to opponent’s attacks, and later includes more kicks, basic joint manipulations and overall tactical concepts applicable across different physical tools.

It bears mentioning here that one of the high points of these videos is seeing the instructor demonstrates the curriculum against a much larger partner, thus giving more credibility to the material offered.

Nelson Pinto
With all of the above positive features in mind, the possible downsides might be the “home-made” vibe to the production, although both picture and sound quality are just fine, but it is not the professional studio and lighting setting. Personally, I like that the democratization of video instruction has provided the insight into so many people’s ways of work, but some may object, depending on their expectations. The same goes for another trait – Pinto often talks without facing the camera, but he is clearly heard and easy to understand nonetheless.

In conclusion, this is a very good set with good stuff on it, especially if you are looking for a fresh view and approach to some tried and proven material, so that working on it may be done with a new spark of interest. And that in my experience, is always a good thing. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

More limits

This is sort of a continuation of the train of thought discussed in the previous post on constraints and affordances. Over there I talked most of all about various physical constraints in training, which should, hopefully, make us develop some desired skills and abilities that otherwise would be left underdeveloped.

Another approach to the same tool would be the selection of technical or/and tactical tools to be "banned" in drills or sparring sessions, so that the only desired responses would be elicited in trainees' performance. In this regard there are no limits to how you limit your options (yes, I wrote that deliberately), depending on what you are trying to achieve. Say, in a boxing session allow the use of hooks only (technical limitation), or just lateral footwork (tactical). In a grappling session allow only sweeps from guard (technical), or award points only for getting the opponents back (tactical).

Of course, the ideas and approaches from this and previous post can be combined according to needs and training goals, but you may include other insights as well, if that fits your purpose. The bottom line is - be aware and perceptive of the needs and possible shortcomings in your training, be selective with your criteria for adding one training method or another to your coaching toolbox, see if you can accomplish more by doing less in training, either by limiting stimuli or responses. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Through constraints to freedom

This may seem as a bit of a blast from the past, if you have been following this blog for a while. Namely, some years ago I addressed the issue of adaptability being one of the most important attributes of a good fighter, and what it meant, but this time I would like to address some of the more specific ways to approach this subject in your training. Now, what I am to offer may seem counter intuitive at the first glance, but it is a method of training that has been widely use for a long time and with good results, so bear with me.

If you read the linked article, you will see that I believe in a strong foundational skill set and then incessantly working on developing the ability to respond to the new challenges through exposure to specific situations and circumstances. In doing just that I have noted a natural tendency among the trainees, which in the long-term could hamper their progress in trying to accomplish this goal. What emerges as a typical reaction to such drills is the attempt to extract yourself from the challenging conditions and find the way, as soon as possible, to put your best game to use. An example would be working heavily on your positional escapes on the ground, so you can immediately get back on your feet and start striking the opponent. However, in the transition process you might miss on a number of opportunities to inflict some damage, either by blows or joint locks or whatever, somewhere between those basic situations, i.e. lying down and standing up.

So, how do we learn to recognize opportunities in this "grey area" ? In the coaching science there is a method termed constraints and affordances and it entails limiting the options that trainees have on disposal in dealing with the demands of the drill/situation. That way, they are forced to use other tools, specifically those that previously had not been fully developed and adopted. Here is how the above "transition" scenario is typically addressed in silat classes.

The constraints-led method, however, is not the exclusive domain of traditional/exotic martial arts. Here is the insight into how it could be applied in boxing, to improve the in-fighting prowess among the boxers who typically rely on their footwork and/or longer reach in regular sparring bouts or matches.

In grappling this approach is exemplified in starting all your rolling session from a certain position, the one that is your weak link, maybe spending entire training period doing that; in RBSD/combatives it may be working out of the cornered position; armed systems would stress the use of the "other" hand and so on.

The main challenge in this kind of work is having to face the inner voices that come from one's ego when being forced to step out of the comfort zone. Therefore, make sure to resist the urge to rationalize the weak performances and seek excuses for going back to your feel-good practices. The only way to make breakthroughs in your performance is to "embrace the suck" and keep your eyes on the prize. After all, it is better to suck and be frustrated in training than to suffer in an actual arena of combat, be it urban streets, military battlefield or sport tournament. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Facing revelations

It is often said that to train martial arts is to walk a path. I agree. Also, if you keep walking it long enough, it inevitably leads to self-discovery, and I agree with that one, too. One question does arise, though – will you like what you discover? No, really, not all self-discoveries are nice. The next question then, and a decisive one, is how will you deal with those unlikable findings you may stumble upon?

What will yours hide?
OK, let’s take a step back. In one of my earlier articles here I discussed authentic motives for practicing some form of combative disciplines. It is my belief, based on experience, that in such cases, even if one has to face certain less-than-favorable aspects of own personality, those situations are mostly perceived as opportunities to learn and better understand how to proceed.
But, what about those who are in it for all the wrong reasons? Are there even wrong reasons in the first place? Again, my experience is that the grand majority of people who are looking for a quick-fix, magic potion, ultra secrets that would yield invincibility, tend to fall off rather quickly and end up being rather harmless, unless…we’ll get there shortly.

There also folks who start in a martial art out of curiosity, and exhibit some perseverance, and find out along the way that they enjoy the visible awards (belts, certificates), status (titles and ranks) and/or financial rewards (as unlikely as it may be). Now, I have no problem with any of those side effects if the said trainees don’t:
a)      do any teaching anyhow;
b)      compromise the quality of their instruction just to indulge their liking of the above “benefits”.

I have met a fair number of former cases, but the latter…not so many. To reiterate, those who do not teach also so not cause any harm, and often just stop training sooner, rather than later, after accomplishing one of those goals. However, if one embarks on the teaching adventure, I am inclined to apply tougher criteria (not that my opinion matters, though). The bottom line is, it is absolutely fine to earn money from teaching, wear a fancy uniform and what not, as long as you are “producing” competent and able exponents of the chosen system. It just happens that these examples are very few and far between.

Finally, we come to the shady parts of the woods. The people who start out of curiosity or with unclear motives and then somewhere down the line they get all enamored with the decorum, tall tales, ego trips and what not. When that happens, the actual contents and quality of training take the back seat and the iconography takes precedence. The main problem is that such types will see as their chief priority in life to open and run a school (maybe even a chain of school, God forbid), in order to fully enjoy their pathology. 
...and the dark side takes over.

The danger in having these characters at large is that in their diploma-mill schools the aforementioned seekers of secrets and invincibility will be led astray, taken advantage of, hurt, and possibly the worst of all – grown into spreaders of their instructors’ training models. These are also the kinds of personalities who dominate the arenas of internet trolling and keyboard warriors with no better things to do than to trash other people’s efforts and work, getting boggled in gossip, slandering and other vile practices.

Yeah, the path of martial arts will reveal those people in our midst, and the threat is not that they will dislike and deny what is obvious, but rather that they will like it and let that newly found menace take reins. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Turning points

The majority of commercial martial art schools utilize some sort of visible external decorum to mark their trainees progress, i.e. the colored belt system. Essentially, the belts and entailing testing are primarily the tool to maintain motivation among the students, and, of course, to extract more profit. However, I have never met anybody who had spent years in training and who had fond memories of their yellow or blue belt test. Some, myself included, do remember their black belt test, especially if it was a demanding one, but even that usually does not rank among the top 10 moments on their martial art journey. And the way I see it, for those whose time in training was marked by that particular event, it wasn't much of a journey anyway.

Naturally, the meaning and significance of certain occurrences in one's practice of martial arts is individual, from person to person, depending of their goals and initiative motives to embark on such a trip anyway. In retrospect, I can basically identify three fundamental types of landmarks that have left a lasting impression on me.

One is the initial step out of the comfort zone, which means trying something new, specifically a completely new system of combat and training. Sometimes it was via seminars, sometimes simply joining a new class, as long as those lead to new insights or even paradigm shifts.

Second is whenever my command of the technical and tactical methods within a system were put to the test for the first time, which, for the most part, meant competing for the first time within the framework of that discipline, or under a very different set of rules (my first competitive experience was in taekwondo, later sanda added clinch to the equation, followed by MMA, and finally weaponry in an arnis competition).

And last, but not least (not even by a long shot!) is when my understanding of a system was challenged by being asked to teach it. Honestly, for the first 15-ish years of my involvement with fighting arts it always emerged as a suggestion from my instructor(s) and each time came as a surprise. However, after a while, this role would appear in more of an organic way, when I would feel a desire to share my specific view of how to approach training.

Again, these are merely my own experiences and ruminations on the subject, but I am always interested in hearing how others see their path in the chosen domain.

Friday, July 27, 2018

With violence in mind

I will take a wild guess here and say that most of my readers have a least a small library of books in the field of martial arts and related subjects. As a kid I particularly liked those that featured many techniques and forms in detailed pictures, as well as those with cool pseudo-historical anecdotes about the origins of the styles presented. Later, as I was growing up and (hopefully) maturing on my path, my focus shifted to training methods and principles behind training systems.

Today’s post is review of a superb work that highlights the foundational meta-principles behind any combative training approach aimed at developing the real world civilian fighting prowess. And what a piece of work it is! I had stumbled into the name of author Varg Freeborn quite recently, through the Conflict Research Group’s page, and one of his interviews hit a chord with me, so I then took a closer look at his own website, and finally ordered the book.

The author...
Well, the book “Violence of Mind” belongs to the category of paradigm shifting, game changing pieces (or packages) of information you occasionally run into. The author has a rather unique biography that provides him with some “privileged” insights, and I am certainly glad he chose to share those with the general public. Freeborn’s intimate knowledge of violence lead him to formulating a robust method of preparation for those life events we all (well, the sane ones) hope to never have to deal with.

From the very start it is clear that the book fills some of the large gaps that most other instructors either neglect or are even ignorant about. I got my money’s worth just from either of the chapters on Mission, Orientation or Conditioning, and there are still few others that will make you take a deep and honest look at your training and reassess how it is conducted. For example, how often and how in depth do you consider legalities of the possible application of the material you work on during your training sessions? Or, how about the standards and validation of what is done in those sessions?

...and his legacy.
Although his writing comes predominantly from the perspective of firearms training and use, the principles are readily applied to any other domain of practical preparation for self-preservation. Another aspect that I liked immensely is that although the goal of the book is to be critical of the current widespread self-preservation training practices, the author manages at the same time to clearly exude the good-meaning attitude behind it, i.e. it is obvious that his intent is to help the readers adjust their training to the demands of reality, and not self-aggrandizing through mockery of others.

In conclusion, if your involvement in martial arts and general fighting stuff is in any way inclined towards the real world management, beyond recreational practice and sportive applications, you owe it to yourself to get this book and read it…repeatedly!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fit for seminar frenzy, part 2

In the previous post we touched upon some of the broad categories of martial art seminars you may consider attending during the summer. Regardless of which of those types you may end up partaking in, ultimately the value of the event will heavily hinge on one fundamental factor – the instructor(s) conducting it. Sometimes, of course, you will know much, if anything, about the person in charge of your training there; sometimes you will be more or less familiar with their background and qualification/biography, but without any real insight into how they teach; and there are also those you feel very familiar with, due to having “tasted” their approach through videos, books etc. As you may have concluded by now, we are talking about seeing someone for the first time, and the impressions there will decide whether a trainee will repeatedly attend seminars by the same instructor.

There are many qualities a good instructors should have, some more important than others, depending on the circumstances. Since we’re talking seminars here, not regular classes, I will focus on some of the factors I look for. Obviously, but should not be taken for granted, the instructor ought to be highly skilled, with thorough understanding of what makes his or her skill good, and how to develop it; next, there should be some sort of teaching curriculum in place, so that the material would be presented in a logical and understandable manner; then, the teacher should be able to effectively communicate with the trainees; and finally, there is the need for a keen eye to notice the possible difficulties among the students, especially if there are common ones.

Philippe Choisy
Personally, what I expect from a good seminar is to get at least a glimpse of the teaching/training methodology, and hopefully even a solid insight, should the instructor be so inclined to discuss it. Namely, if I like the material enough there is the natural tendency to include some or all of it in my own training and teaching, in which case it is good to know what is the most efficient sequence and progression in doing it.

Now, depending of your interest and priorities in training, there may be some people out there whose programs are especially attractive and enticing. It is therefore normal that they would be heading your list of people to check out this summer, if possible…just make sure that your curiosity is not entirely based on Youtube demo highlights or similar sources, but rather that there is some specific reason behind it. My list of Top-something instructors to learn from has emerged spontaneously over the years, and might be, conditionally, split in two categories: armed and unarmed. So, just for fun, here are some of them, listed in alphabetical order:

Unarmed:        Philippe Choisy                       Armed:            Scott Babb
Rich Dimitri                                                    Craig Douglas
                        Antonio Faeda                                                 Nigel February
                        Chris Haueter                                                  Varg Freeborn
                        Rodney King                                                   Maija Soderholm
                        Rory Miller                                                     Tom Sotis

Varg Freeborn
Evidently, some of them have already been mentioned on this blog, some not (yet). Now, this list may also seem a bit all over the place, but in my mind there is a common thread that makes them all pieces that could fit the same puzzle, but to which degree…it remains to be seen. Naturally, this list is fluctuating, the names are changing occasionally (after all, a dozen was a random number in the first place…I would need to add Hock Hochheim, Mikhail Ryazanov, Robert Paturel and many others), and it also does not mean I won’t attend any other seminars that pop up until these are “ticked” as done.

In conclusion, stay hungry for new knowledge, go learn new stuff from interesting people, but try to make informed choices and decisions in order to make the experience as fulfilling as possible.