Friday, April 20, 2012

DVD review - Greg Mihovich training instructionals

My previous post/rant was about doing some complementary fitness training along with your martial art activity. However, in order to avoid becoming a muscle-bound brute, you need a good training regimen, and in the following review I would like to present an excellent option.

Let me say from the start – I have absolutely nothing about training with standard weights (barbells and/or dumbbells) and doing it within the environment of a standard gym, as long as you know what you are doing. However, for some reason (actually, quite a few of them) I have always gravitated to other forms of conditioning and physical training, bodyweight being my preferred mode of operation here. (Nevertheless, revisit my post about the Torqueblade Torsion Training to see some other things I enjoy in this regard).

I do not remember exactly how and when did I first hear of coach Greg Mihovich, but at one point his name started popping out rather frequently in my inquiries about various functional training methods for martial arts, so I looked for a bit more info on his background. To cut the story short, the following article pretty much convinced me to contact him and try some of his stuff:

Greg Mihovich
The two of us sort of hit it off immediately (may have something to do with our Slavic ethnic background), his approach made a lot of sense, and I decided to invest some time in following his training guidelines. To that end, I ordered three of his products, which are reviewed here.

Primal Conditioning 1

While I thought for a moment that the description reading “Definitive guide to complete body mastery” was on a cheesy side of things, even after the first “run through” overview of the package had me in different mood. Actually, in the context of strength training, the only thing that could get you closer to that goal would be joining the nearest gymnastics club… Still, if you’re not in your early teens (like I most certainly am not), even that might not be the right answer.
Anyway, the first thing that really resounded with me immediately, when it comes to Greg’s Compound Conditioning is his emphasis on movement, over the isolation of body parts/muscles. If your are looking to improve the level or performance in your chosen activity, instead of going for the esthetic appearance, this certainly makes a lot of sense.

In order to cover as much ground as possible, Mihovich differentiates between several basic human movements: squatting, pushing, pulling, bending, extending, rotating; and when it comes to treating the core of the body, he works it both its stabilizing and movement initiator roles.

So in this 2-DVD set, we get to see eight categories of exercises: squatting, pressing, bridging, pulling, flexing, rotational, plank and what he calls the upside-down group. Demonstrated in each group are several exercises and their variations of different degrees of difficulty. Coach Mihovich gives some very good pointers regarding the proper technique in doing each exercises, and some of that advice has improved my performance almost immediately. That said, I really like the balance of his verbal explanations – not so verbose to bore you, yet detailed enough to cover all the important aspects.

Now, we come to another feature of Greg’s instructional training products. The DVDs themselves are used to offer a sort of thesaurus-like format. It means there is a chapter dedicated to each of the exercise (sub)groups, so you can find them easily. His explanation of basic program making and exercise selection, along with sample workouts is offered in the accompanying booklet/manual. It is by no means extensive, but covers all the bases you need, including the sample routines for the basic, intermediate and advanced level. The rationale behind those is touched upon as well, thus making it pretty well-rounded.

There is enough material here to keep you working for a long time, especially if you also do some “scull sweating” and use the presented exercises and training principles to compose your own programs after going through all the samples offered in the brochure.

The only question I was left with is how come more people are not using this format in their instructional packages? 

Iron Beast Conditioning

This one deals with the use of kettlebells in physical fitness training. Just like the “Primal Conditioning, it comes as a package of videos (3 DVDs!) and a manual (at 25 pages of information, pretty good one too). 

In line with the nature of the beast, coach Mihovich divides the entire material into two big categories – grinds and ballistics, and then has them further subdivided into basic movement or skill groups (yes, you’re wielding an external object/force here, so there is some skill involved in doing it properly).

Being a good and responsible coach that he is, Greg opens up with a chapter on preliminary skills and exercises and safety tips. Try not to skip those if you are not already a veteran kettlebell swinger (just could not resist that one:-))

The manual starts with a list and comments on some universal training principles and guidelines one should consider if they are training for performance. Now, this is neither exhaustive in the number of principles mentioned, nor in-depth in the coverage of those that are, but will point you in the right direction to research.

Without the detailed overview, the exercise categories demonstrated are:
I. Grinds: - squatting
            - pressing
            - rotational
            - bending
            - pulling
            - flexing
            - mixed group

II. Ballistics: - pulls (swing, clean…)
-         presses

III. Combination lifts

The booklet also outlines the sample training programs for the novice, intermediate and advanced, and the latter two include full and abbreviated options. However, there is also the program for those who would like to get more specific and try the kettelbell sport program, and that one is three phases (four weeks each); and finally the fat loss program if that is what you’re after.

Again, a brilliant package.

Amazing Mobility

Of course, if you only focus on strength and over-emphasize that aspect of the fitness training, you may risk becoming bit stiff. In order to prevent that you should take up some mobility and stretching regimen, so this DVD covers that for you.

The exercises in this one are not revolutionary, but they are presented in a nice manner and in the order that makes much more sense for your body that simply jumping all over the place in a random fashion. Greg treats all the joints and body parts with care, making sure that there are no holes in your overall plan.

That said, we all do have different problematic areas, and you should be honest with yourself here. Unlike the case of strength programs, which are more easy to quantify (via the number of sets and reps), the mobility is concerned with the quality and range of your motion. In practice it means you should focus on and do more of the things that are difficult and uncomfortable, instead of dwelling on the exercises that are easy, comfortable and make you look good.

In this video (and a booklet of course) we are shown mostly the set of exercises done in the standing position (although there is a bonus chapter on the DVD with some more “grounded” exercises), and the brochure discusses how you can use it as part of your warm up before other training, as means of active recovery or as part of what is called the morning recharge routine.

Through my communication with coach Mihovich, I found that he also has a program of ground mobility exercises. What’s even more important, I had the privilege of seeing it and hope that one will also find its way to the general public in another excellent training package like the ones reviewed here.

Finally, you can contact Greg and order these products through his website:

Monday, April 16, 2012

The curse of strength

Every once in a while, I get reminded that what once may consider to be “common sense” is not all that common after all. Nowadays I am not any more surprised when finding out that not everybody shares my pint of view on things, but in certain aspect it still leaves me scratching my head and wondering how come.

One issue that repeats itself in this regard is the aspect of physical preparation and conditioning in martial arts training. It only seems normal (to me at least) that in the age of info dissemination we have today, the importance of having some solid foundation in physical training is certainly helpful and desirable, as it can only help your “specific” training, or in this case the chosen system of martial arts.

This domain in training is usually known as “attributes training” and covers a wide array of physical, physiological and psychological qualities, ranging from very general to very specific for a particular activity. For some reason, some of those attributes tend to be unanimously welcomed in any of the fighting methods (eg. speed, endurance, sense of timing), while some are even frowned upon in certain schools. One of those, for reasons beyond me is strength.

OK, this is not the goal
Granted, raw strength should never be used (in training that is) to compensate for the lack of proper technical skill and training, but I would really like to know why in some martial systems having a good foundation in strength is almost equal to cheating? I’d say it is childish to assume that somebody is a “muscle-head” just for being strong, and it usually means stronger than the one “calling names”. Sure, we’ve all met a mindless brute in our years of training, the archetypal guy who only comes to a class to bully other people and then say he doesn’t even need martial arts. Those types usually get their ego busted sooner or later, commonly by someone much smaller and physically weaker (again, I had the pleasure of being the “message courier” on a couple of occasions), but such people are not the subject of my rant here.

In some of the so-called gentle arts, and I include BJJ here, during practice (meaning live rolling and sparring, not drilling a predetermined technique) one side will sometimes manage to pull a technique that should normally end up in “100% sure” submission…but the other partner resists and even breaks out of the bad position. While some people will take it as part of the game, others will cry “foul!” and accuse the partner of muscling his way out of it.

First, in my experience, if a person is able to get out of your submission attempts it most frequently means the technique was not performed just right. However, even if the other guy was actually so strong to resist your armbar, leglock…hmmm, isn’t that something worth considering and including in your own training? Especially of that other guy is just as good as you technically, or even better. After all, everybody wants their sports car to be both good looking and powerful.

Best of both worlds :-)
The way I look at it, strength and speed are just as much elements of proper technique as any of its mechanical details, so they should be trained accordingly. After all, the old JKD saying “attributes are fuel for your techniques” rings as true as ever. Not to mention all the “side effects” of good physical preparation, like injury prevention, faster recovery, ability to train more and with higher intensity etc.

In the end, there might be a lesson to learn from gymnasts. On any decent level of gymnastic competition, it is pretty much unimaginable to see an athlete who is not at the same time an impeccable technician and as freakishly strong, as part of the same package.

The way to go
So, if you are practicing some martial style, even in the arts such as aikido, wing chun or any of the weapon based arts, do yourself a favor and include some solid physical exercising regimen into your overall training. Or at least, do the favor to those of us who do and stop complaining about your own failure to do so. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Challenges in training - focus

To set things straight right away, this post will not be dealing with the focus in the sense of being fully present, “right here, right now” during each and every one of your training sessions. As hard as it is sometimes to maintain, I take that one as understood. Instead, I will touch upon the question of one’s focus in view of the entirety of their training. The big picture if you want.

We have two basic widespread problems here, of course, on the opposite sides of the spectrum. One is characteristic of beginners and young practitioners, who are so concerned about covering as much ground in the shortest time possible (running through the belts, or whatever grading system is used, if it is implemented in their chosen school). In the process, they lose sight of the fundamental principles and teachings, so while they may end up having a fairly complete idea about the system they are studying, they also have a fairly shallow understanding of any of its parts, let alone the whole of it. That reminds me of people who run through a museum to see as many things as possible for the price of a single ticket, but in the end do not really remember anything they had seen.

The other problem occurs when a practitioner (either beginner or advanced) stumbles upon a portion of the system that they really, really like. Now, in this case, liking means feeling very comfortable with the execution of the moves (favorite drill, technique, exercises), so just for the sake of enjoying it, the trainee loses from the horizon the place of that segment within the entire system, i.e. the purpose it is meant to achieve. In extreme cases, this will even lead to the skewed view of the system itself. 

Distance? Structure? Power?
Probably most frequent appearance of this is the notion of “flow drills” and “sensitivity/softness in training”. The former is quite spread in the Filipino martial arts, Indonesian silat, pushing hands in some Chinese boxing styles etc. namely, in order to make those drills really flow as water, the exponents will often disregard some fundamental principles like mechanics of delivery, posture, footwork and so on. And of course, when they engage in sparring of other drills with resistance, they wonder how come none of their hubud and/or siniwali never seem to appear in those. The analogy I have for this one is a person who reads a book and stumbles upon an illustration they really like, but then only thinks of that particular illustration through the rest of the book, while losing the track of the plot .

Mechanics? Power? Balance?
The overemphasis on softness is traditionally characteristic of aikido, but seems to be spreading throughout the world of Russian systema as well. What was meant to be the exercise developing the evasive ability on defense and swift changing of targets/attacks on offense, has turned into the totally non-resisting performance that hinders the development of both competent defense and offense. So much so, that even the people who offer even the slightest resistance, as in the case of simply waiting for the technique to just start actually working on them, are frowned upon as “brutes and muscle-heads”. 

Posture? Intent? Balance? Power?
While there might be such thing as the guiding idea or overarching principle in any martial art system as such, keep in mind that there is no single best training method to attain it, especially not to a degree that would allow and justify completely neglecting everything else. Can you imagine a student of physics who becomes so mesmerized with learning Newton’s second law for example, that he or she then never moves on to any other laws and principles of physics?

Naturally, it is absolutely necessary to have some teaching/learning progression in place when embarking on the study of a martial art. However, none of those steps in the progression is be all end all, otherwise all those other steps would not be there, would they?

Of course, there is always the matter of different people training for different motives and aims, but even they would benefit from keeping things in perspective, as that would help them keep track of how to best enjoy the aspects they like.