Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sticky hands and the art of trapping - related point of interest

Shortly after posting my article on sticky hands (here) and the art of trapping, I read an interesting post from Sue over at My Journey to Black Belt.  Read her post here.  I feel it's noteworthy because it discusses principles over specific techniques, and it also talks about trapping and discovering the many interconnected applications of your art.

I sometimes feel we're all trying to get to the same place, we're just taking different routes to get there.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sticky hands and the art of trapping

I was discussing the concept of trapping and sticky hands over at Physics of Aiki.  See the post here.

Trapping is a very important part of many martial arts.  Too often we see techniques being demonstrated from various grabs and attacks that lack the essential component of trapping, or grabbing the delivery system.  It irks me to see a person grab the wrist of their training partner and hold on for dear life even as they receive a strike, kick, lock or throw.  The body's natural reaction to this type of stimuli is to let go, to pull away.

The style of Jiu Jitsu that I study has a lot of trapping techniques. We often practice trapping the hand or arm of the attacker so we can respond to their attack.  To use the grab as the easiest example, be it a wrist grab, lapel or even a choke, we practice grabbing the hand and simultaneously doing some form of a distraction technique, strike or attack.

From my perspective, this accomplishes several things:

1.  It removes one of your attackers weapons.

2.  It confuses your attacker, their attention becomes split between their hand and the simultaneous attack elsewhere (which then distracts them from the next part).  This confusion reduces their reaction time and makes it possible to apply a technique with little resistance.

3.  It allows you to get a sense of what your attacker is about to do next and react appropriately.

4.  At any point during this process you can disengage and re-evaluate.

So how to you train to trap, to use sticky hands and to sense your attackers next move?

I should also mention that I've been lucky enough to have studied with some very talented Kali/Escrima people.  I was drawn to them by the way they redirect their attacker's energy and rarely lose contact with them.  They constantly make contact with their opponent's hands, or specifically their wrists to manipulate their arms and or their weapons away.

For anyone interested in sticky hands and grabbing and trapping, here are a couple of  suggestions and methods I have used to work on this skill set.

First, practice a fairly traditional method of sticky hand work.  Hold one of your arms out and have your partner do the same.  Make contact with their arm.  Practice going back and forth, one person pressing forward, up and down in an attempt to grab the other. Practice not losing contact and pushing back against them.  Reverse the technique.  Try to 'feel' or sense your partners energy.  Once you get this back and forth rhythm, you can use both hands or arms. Then close your eyes and do it.

Over time, you can break the contact initially but keep the arms/hands close.  Start with slow striking or grab attempts from a short distance, but intercept your partners attack with the same concept.  Really concentrate on the concept of yourself becoming very sticky.  Visualize your partner not being able to get their hand or arm away from you unless they retreat from their attack.  Work on increasing speed and distance in the initial stages.

Another more dynamic exercise is to have the attacker don some sort of protective gloves (to avoid potential injury to you)  Have them back you up against the wall.  The purpose of this drill is for your partner to throw rapid strikes and combos, high and low at you.  Your job is to block as many of these as you can.  When you increase the speed of the attacks, you may find yourself amazed by how few attacks get through.  The ultimate purpose of this is to overwhelm your senses, the only way to react/defend is to feel or sense your opponents next attack.  It's sort of like forcing yourself into a state of Mushin, or no mind.  There is simply just not enough time to anticipate and formulate a specific response to dozens of rapid fire attacks.  You can only react.

After a while, you can come off the wall and add back and forth movement to the mix.

These are two strategies I've used with success.  There is also something difficult to describe but intrinsically part of any type of this work.  Every time I've accepted my opponents energy and 'willed' myself to be 'sticky', it's worked far more effectively.  Is it Aiki?  The force?  Ki?  I don't know.  But there's definitely something there.  One of my "glimpses of greatness", however fleeting.

Not every martial art incorporates this type of work, but I feel some of the concepts can be helpful to any martial artist.

Good luck.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quality blog link

I've been spending a bit of time over at Physics of Aiki.  The author teaches Aikido and is really examining his art to determine it's relevance in today's world.  I have stated that most traditional martial arts contain realistic and effective techniques.  It is the people and the manner in which they are taught that can be lacking.

This blog in quite interesting.  The author respects tradition and clearly love his art but he wants to make sure it is still combat effective and realistic.  He is putting his technique to the test against the real world, which I respect.

Take a look.  I think many of his thoughts apply to serious martial artists of any style.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Learning to roll

I've been thinking a lot lately about rolling.  In Jiu Jitsu we spend quite a bit of time learning how to break-fall and learning how to roll.  Both are an art in and of themselves.

Many arts do not practice how to do either.  I think this is a mistake. Rolling is a skill that every martial artist should learn, regardless of style.  I think everyone should learn at least the basics of break-falling as well, but that's a topic for another day.

Any time you involve yourself in an encounter, the possibility exists that someone will get a hold of you.  In my style, many techniques are practiced from this in close range.  Trips, take downs, throws and body drops are all skills we learn in addition to locks, breaks, kicks, strikes etc.  What I have noticed is that often when you add the component of your opponent resisting or really trying to execute an attack on you, they have a tendency to hold on.  If you aren't properly balanced, when you take them down, they may pull you over with them.  I have actually used this technique and gone with a throw just so I could pull my partner over with me, rolling them over and ending up on top of them.

If you find yourself in this position, knowing how to roll is invaluable. It is less injurious to you than a break-fall on a hard surface, it is quick and it creates both time and distance.  You end up back on your feet before your opponent knows what's going on.  It also looks cool.

It is for these reasons that I recommend anyone to at least learn the basics of rolling.  Go slow and learn how to roll safely.  Once you've got it down, you can do it pretty safely on concrete with minimal discomfort.  Even if you've only got the basics, you're more likely to emerge with only bumps and bruises vs. broken bones.  Training with resisting opponents has shown me that this scenario presents itself more often than I would have theorized.

Food for thought.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Is Aikido too pretty to work?

I like Aikido.  Always have. Readers may remember what a significant part Aikido played in my journey (even though I've never taken it.)  Many techniques are shared between Jiu Jitsu and Aikido. In many ways, Aikido was born from Jiu Jitsu.

One criticism I often hear from people watching Aikido videos is that it's too pretty.  They say it's not real since the receiver of the technique (the uke) 'throws' him/herself into the technique.  They point out that a resisting opponent wouldn't go with the technique, being thrown or rolling out of it etc.  And they're right.

What some viewers may fail to realize is that the uke throws themselves into the technique to avoid injury.  Real fighting is ugly.  If the uke resisted being thrown, more often than not one of their bones would break and they would sort of just crumple to the ground.  It is this throwing of oneself into the technique that prevents this injury.  In order to practice Aikido techniques realistically, it is absolutely necessary for practitioners to learn how to break fall and go with them.  If not, you'd only get to practice a technique once.  

In Aikido, as with any art, there are fakers out there, but it is important to separate those people who are acting from those who are trying to avoid serious injury.  There's often more than meets the eye.

It's always important to keep an open mind and to research things that are questionable before discarding them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Challenge what you know

Anyone practicing martial arts for a period of time needs to examine their chosen art.  They need to decide what they want to get out of their training.

I've stated before that I believe that most traditional martial arts are effective systems of self defense and combat, the only thing lacking in them are the mindset of the student and the quality and manner of teaching.

I study Japanese Jiu Jitsu as a reality based martial art.  I look at it as such, my Sensei teaches it as such and I am lucky that my fellow students are like minded.

I look at each technique with a critical eye.  I try to determine how effective it would be in the real world and we make sure we try it against resisting partners.  I test everything I learn against the real world.  Will it work on a big person, a drunk person, a drugged out person?

Recently,  J.C. over at Bujutsu: the Path pointed me towards a post on another blog.  This blog is written by an experienced Aikido practitioner and one post really grabbed my attention.  The central theme of the blog seems to be that the author is testing his art against reality type combat situations.  It tied in nicely to  J.C.'s post on  The Boxer.

Take a look at the following post and the video clips.  I think they're valuable to anyone, regardless of their art.  It shows a method of challenging your knowledge against a more dynamic situation.

Check out the blog post at Physics of Aiki.  It doesn't really matter if you take Aikido or not, but I respected the way they approached their training.  It's not always pretty, but I feel they came away with some valuable lessons.  And they pulled off some nice technique in the process...

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Stare...Where to look?

I've been thinking about the stare down lately.  J.C. had an interesting post on his recent meeting with a military boxer.  See that post here.  It got me thinking about different ideas on where to look when you're involved in conflict.

I'm undecided on the topic.  The big three options I see are:

1.  Look your opponent in the eyes.
2.  Unfocused gaze, settling in the chest area, but looking through or beyond.
3.  Watch the hands.

All three have their advantages and disadvantages.

1.  Looking your opponent in the eyes - 

Advantages - This can be intimidating if you have a good mean look.  It can also show a lack of any fear (ideal state in my mind) which can shake your opponents confidence.  It is often possible to sense an attack before it's thrown.

Disadvantages - You could get intimidated by your opponent.  You may be slower to recognize an incoming attack from an outer limb.  Your opponent may be able to sense your intended attack.

2.  Unfocused gaze, focus on chest area, but looking through or beyond -

Advantages - You get the whole picture of your opponents body, you can detect movement more quickly from this unfocused state.  It can be unsettling to your opponent if they can't get a 'read' on you.

Disadvantages - May be interpreted as a sign of weakness.  Can't read your opponents intent.

3.  Watch the hands - 

Advantages - The hands are the delivery system for most attacks, especially weapon related.  Watch the hands and most times, you'll see the start of any attack.  You won't get 'stared down' if you aren't looking.

Disadvantages - Can't read your opponents intent.  Can't 'psyche' them out.  You might miss a head-but coming in or be slower to detect a kick.

If I look someone in the eyes, it's to show that if necessary, I will prevail.  I 'will' them to know that I am prepared to do what it takes.  A calm confident gaze is what I try to use.

If I use an unfocused gaze, it's usually in anticipation of a physical altercation that I couldn't avoid.  I can then see my opponents body as a whole and can usually see anything coming a tiny bit sooner.

If I watch the hands, it's because I'm not sure if my opponent has a weapon of some sort tucked away.  If he/she is going to pull something, I can't be involved in a stare down at the time.

This is not to say that all these approaches can't be used in any given situation.  My gaze may shift back and forth depending on the surroundings and my own threat assessment.  

I'd love to hear what others think on this topic and why.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Being choked - a realistic approach to a dangerous attack

I was surfing around YouTube the other day, watching clips of various martial arts and artists in actions.  I stumbled across some choke defenses being demonstrated.  It struck me how silly some of the techniques being taught are, and how poorly they were being taught.

I was watching one clip of a teacher showing a student what to do if they were on the receiving end of a choke, from the front.  In this particular clip, it was a large man choking a petite woman.  The defense she was demonstrating was to put her index and middle finger together, reach up over the attacker's arms, turn her hand upside down (like an upside down gun) and then to push the two fingers into the attackers throat.  He immediately let go, stumbling backwards as her fingers found their mark in that lovely little niche at the bottom of the throat.

They were smiling.  She laughed, I expected high fives all around.  He said something along the lines of "See how easy it is?"

Well, it's not really that easy.

Chokes are serious business.  If someone is choking you, they are trying to hurt you.  They may be trying to kill you, or rape you.  Chokes also come on quick and a talented person can put you unconscious in a matter of seconds.

Any defense techniques being taught need to be realistic, effective and fast.  The technique being taught in the video can work, but in order for it to do so, you must not be off balance, you must have some finger strength, it must be done properly, (in and down to the throat) and the attacker must not be tensed up or have put their chin down.  That's a lot to ask or figure out when you may have only a second or two to react, if that.

The most important thing to do is teach yourself to react instantly and instinctively the second someones hands go on your throat.  The only real advantage we have here is that someone choking you is not something that's ever o.k. (outside the dojo). You don't need to try to figure out what your attacker's motives are.  It's not something like a bump or a slap on the back or a grab that might not actually be threatening or too serious given the circumstances.  A choke means bad intentions.

There are lots of good techniques out there but the two key points in my mind are to:

1.  React instantly.  Do something.  Anything.  And do it hard.
2.  Tuck your chin (it'll buy you a second or two before you go unconscious)

These aren't really two separate steps as both need to be done at the same time.

The point of this post is not to evaluate what techniques will and won't work.  It's purpose is to point out the necessity to train realistically for one of the most dangerous attacks there are.  Gross motor skills are probably the way to go as being choked is a high stress traumatic event.  Degradation of fine motor skills is rapid with the loss of blood and oxygen to the brain.  Don't be timid, you may only get one chance.  Lights out = Game over.  So train as if your life depends on it, because if you're being choked, it just might.

Still have fun in your training, of course, but be aware of the need to really consider what it is you're practicing defending against when you train.

Be safe.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Looks good on paper...

Every art, every style, and every teacher looks at fighting and combat in somewhat different ways.  There are subtle, or sometimes not so subtle, differences in approach, technique and range.  Each has strengths and weaknesses and I always enjoy learning about the reasons behind these approaches.

What I have learned is that many of these concepts are tough to argue with, they make so much sense that to argue would almost be silly...providing you know you are in a fight.

A whole bunch of years ago I had a conversation with a Tae Kwon Do black belt.  This person was tough, fast and good.  That is not the point of this post.

One of the things this black belt was telling me about was his theory on combat range.  He held his hands out in a circle in front of him, showing an imaginary zone or area that no opponent could get to.  His theory, and it had some merit, was that in combat, he would destroy anything that entered this 'personal zone'.  In playful sparring, he demonstrated this quite effectively, striking any part of my body that came close to him.  He was also big on kicks, since the legs are longer and stronger than other body parts.

I couldn't, and still can't, fault his logic completely.  His ideas were sound, providing you know you are in a fight.

Now, many years later, I'm reminded of this conversation.  Interestingly, the chat started when we were in a busy bar.  Looking back, I find it somewhat humorous that many of the people around us at the time were within this 'personal zone'.

Some arts practice a lot of in-close techniques, mine included.  We have many defenses and responses to grabs, chokes, pushes, punches etc.  Lots start from the position of another person having grabbed you or grabbing for you.  I would love to think that one day I could keep any opponent from getting that close.

Reality suggests this isn't always possible, even when you are paying attention to your surroundings.  Look around you and your day to day activities.  How often are you standing in a line, on public transit, in a bar, a movie theater, a store of any kind etc?  Modern life tends to pack us together.

If you train in the martial arts with a reality based mindset, it's important to train for the most likely type of attack.  I love the theory that my black belt friend talked about but feel it may be unrealistic to respond to an unprovoked or unanticipated attack.  Once you know you are in a fight and have enough space to move then yes, he's right.  Is that the way most attacks occur?  Absolutely not.  It sure looked good on paper, though.

We can't prepare for every eventuality, but we must make sure we train realistically and focus on the most likely type of conflict we might encounter.

Be safe.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Knife fighting and defense

Knives fascinate and scare me.  Most good guys I know carry a knife of some sort.  Most bad guys also carry a knife.  There's out there.  And they're dangerous.

I've touched upon knife defense in the past.  I have serious concerns with how knife defense is being taught in some martial arts.  Often, the techniques are unrealistic, or the students don't take them seriously enough or both.  Knife attacks aren't static events, knives are retracted, slashes are repeated etc.  We also don't always know that a knife in involved until we've already been cut.

Two exercises I highly recommend as either a reality check or to test your skills and techniques to make sure you are on the right track are:

1.  Wear a white t-shirt, give your opponent a red marker simulating a blade and get them to attack you.  See how many red marks you end up with.

2.  Train with a live blade.  Obviously, care must be taken, but it sure shows you how seriously you were taking the wooden blade you were training with (or whatever you use).

I came across the following video from Paul Vunak on YouTube on knife philosophy.  I feel it contains a lot of good points.  One item of particular note for me is the idea of attacking the attackers hands as part of your defense.  It's something I've been working on for some time and can be translated to a variety of different weapons.  If they can't hold it, they can't use it.

Here's the video:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Circles - Learning and Teaching.

The new student starts training. 
The new student is paired with a senior student to work on technique.  
The new student struggles.  
The senior student guides, suggests and helps.
The new student apologizes for not getting it.
The senior student smiles to themselves and guides, suggests and helps.
The new student apologizes for holding the senior student back from their training.
The senior student smiles to themselves and guides, suggests and helps.
The new student feels they've wasted the senior students time.
The senior student knows that they've gotten more from this practice than the new student, so they smile to themselves and continue to guide, suggest and help.

The new student won't understand this until they are a senior student.

We often talk of circles, be it technique or concepts or life itself.  The above example, to me, is a great example of the circle that is learning and teaching.

Teaching others is one of the greatest ways to improve your own skills.  You get to re-discover the techniques, you break them down again.  Each time you do this, you have the potential to unlock more of the secrets contained in any given technique.  

There are some people who can apply techniques so effortlessly and effectively that they seem nearly magical or mystical in their execution.  You try to do it and it may work, but not nearly as well.  What makes the difference?  Essentially you are doing the same movement, using the same tools, but the result isn't the same.  

'Advanced techniques are just the basics done better'.  

Other than with teaching, rarely do we have the opportunity or take the time to go back to the start, to question and re-examine what we already know and do with little thought or effort.  Doing so may be one of the keys to truly improve and move on to the next level of skill and knowledge.   And moving on to this next level makes us better teachers.  And being a better teacher improves our skills and knowledge.  

And so the circle repeats...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Making a living in the martial arts

I'm not sure who wrote that if you can 'find something you love, you'll never work another day in your life'.  (or words to that effect)

Is it o.k. to make a living from teaching the martial arts?

I've rarely trained under anyone who has made any money at the martial arts game.  Sure, some teachers ran clubs that turned enough profit to cover rent for the dojo and the odd piece of equipment, but it's always been their secondary job.  It's been a labour of love for most of them.

This type of dedication is admirable.  I was making a comment over at  Jiu-Jitsu Sensei about the types of places I've trained in.  I've trained in everything from a barn and a backyard to a state of the art martial arts center.

Mainly it's been small scale dojos in rented units, often falling prey to floods, power outages and a distinct lack of air conditioning.

There has always seemed to be a certain pride in the fact that these smaller training spaces and clubs didn't have to sacrifice their art in the name of business and attracting lots of students.  

So, is it possible to run a large enough club to make a living without compromising the quality of instruction?  We often hear about McDojo's popping up here and there, purely to make a profit.  Most close up shop quickly enough.  Black belt packages, mandatory up front year long membership costs, hidden fees, mandatory accessory purchases and that sort of thing give these places a bad name.  And rightly so in most cases.

Assuming you care about your art and the quality of instruction, is it possible to grow large enough to make teaching martial arts a full time endeavor and your primary source of income?  Is it wrong to do so?  Does trying to make a living water down your martial art?  Do you compromise yourself and your art when making money is one of your concerns?

I've only seen a few dojos that have made money and stayed in business for a long time.  Typically, I have steered clear of large commercial type dojos, often assuming that they only want my money.  I've even been in one that wouldn't let you watch or take a class without paying 3 months up front.  

Can you have the best of both worlds?