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.