Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ukemi -To fall or not to fall...

Ukemi, or break-falling, is an important part of many martial arts.  Learning to fall properly is integral to safe training.  Learning to relax when being thrown drastically reduces the chance of injury.  Many martial artists in stand up styles are now incorporating some throws and break-falls into their curriculum.  This is great.

Now I break-fall all the time.  My style has many throws and takedowns, so its necessary to know how to fall safely.  Like so many things, though, there are pros and cons to the traditional 'slap the mat' break-fall.

The traditional break-fall is less effective outside the dojo depending on the terrain.  Concrete is not nearly as forgiving as dojo mats.  If you were to do a full break-fall on uneven pavement, there is a reasonably good chance that you might injure yourself, be it your arm, side, leg etc.  There may be a time when this is necessary to avoid a more severe impact or injury, but it is worth mentioning that you may experience pain or shock on impact.  Not being surprised will help you carry on in a combat situation.  You also might not slap the ground with as much force on an unknown surface.  Sure, it helps to dissipate the impact, but losing the use of an arm in a real fight can have dire consequences.  Also, exhaling on impact is extremely important, especially on a hard surface.  If you don't, you might find yourself winded or knocked out. And always, always, tuck your chin.  For those beginning to learn to break-fall, trust me.  For those who've got some experience, you know exactly what I mean.

So, are there any options?  If you find yourself being thrown or taken down, what can you do?

Consider rolling.  I was lucky enough to train under a high ranking black belt in Ninjutsu for a period of time.  It was his opinion, that whenever possible, rolling was superior.  He had me rolling around all the time, as a response to a throw or takedown, or, in some cases, as a counter to an attack.  There are many times when you can just as easily roll as break-fall.  If you learn to roll effortlessly, it can be a valuable addition to your arsenal.  Rolling can prevent injury, create time and distance, surprise your attacker and allow you to move to cover, if needed.  Interestingly, he was so skilled, that I wasn't even always convinced he made contact with the ground.  It was almost a flip an inch above the ground right back to standing.  You can imagine how unnerving it would be for an attacker, throwing an individual and having them barely hit the ground and popping up a half heart beat later out of range.

There are issues with rolling as well.  You need some space, objects can get in the way, and in some cases, especially with skilled throwers, you just can't roll out of it.  With less skilled throwers, it's often possible to combine schools of thought, doing a modified break-fall but then rolling with it.  I've used this with a fair amount of success.  I fall and roll, holding on to the thrower.  If they don't have their balance or were sloppy, I simply pull them over, rolling up on top of them.

Clearly, both the traditional break-fall and rolling techniques have their advantages and limitations.  I feel strongly that you should experiment with both to figure out which works for you, and when.  As with all break-falling or rolling practice, start slow and be under the watchful eye of a good teacher. The more relaxed and confident you are, the easier and safer it will be.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Knife Survival Series - Part I

For some time, I've been troubled with the techniques being taught for dealing with edged weapon attacks. I've decided to do a series of posts on this topic, interspersed with other ideas that pop into my head.

From my experience, most techniques being taught are unrealistic, overly complex and without a logical and sensible conclusion.  Even some of the most talented knife fighters are teaching unrealistic responses.  I will concede that expert knife fighters are good at what they do and would likely carve most of us to pieces, but the fact remains that you are unlikely to face such an adversary.  And if you do, run away. Actually, running away should always be the preferred option.

For those times when running away is not possible, a realistic set of skills needs to be taught.  While I'm all for having fun during training, it's important to remember that knives are serious business.  Lethal business. And they're out there, everywhere.

As for taking your training seriously and respecting the blade, I suggest introducing live blades into your training.  Be very, very, careful, of course, but you may be surprised how you no longer just 'go through the motions' in training when you might get cut.  It's a telling exercise that lets you know how confident you really are with your knife defense techniques.

I no longer refer to techniques as being knife defenses.  You don't strive and train to defend against a knife attack, you train to survive a knife attack.  This distinction is very important, and one I'll discuss in greater depth in future posts in this series.

Train safely.

Another sad day for law enforcement.

On Thursday January 20th, two Miami police officers were shot and killed while executing a first degree murder warrant for the arrest of a 22 year old male.

Roger Castillo and Amanda Haworth both lost their lives doing their duty.  
Another sad day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Warrior's Path...

Last Wednesday morning, a Toronto Police Sergeant was killed in the line of duty.

A male stole a snow plow equipped truck, went on a rampage on the streets of downtown Toronto and when the Sergeant tried to stop him, he was run down and killed in an act of cold calculated murder.

I attended the Sergeant's funeral, as did nearly 14 thousand officers, from all over the world.  It was a somber and impressive occasion.  Ryan Russell left behind a wife and 2 year old son.  He made the ultimate sacrifice.  I felt both great sadness and great pride.  It was quite a mix of emotions.

Take a moment to cherish what and who is dear to you and take a moment to contemplate what it means to consider giving your life in the service of others, no matter who you are or what you do.

'This is what it means to be on the warrior's path.'  

Be safe.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cross training - one last thought

It seems that having a main or 'core' style of martial arts is crucial to making cross training beneficial.  Some styles incorporate cross training right from the start, which is great, as long as it's done properly and doesn't conflict with the core teachings.

J.C. made a great point over at Bujutsu: The Path, entitled Cross thinking.

The point that really hit home was that the very act of blogging, reading, and researching martial arts, we are, in fact, doing a form of cross training.  By having an open mind, we are opening ourselves up to potential improvements in our training.

I've made comments on other people's blogs, I've agreed and disagreed with points, and readers have done the same on mine.  I've enjoyed the different perspectives, and sometimes, I've changed or adjusted my opinions on matters.  Looking at things from a different viewpoint has helped me in my own training.

So bravo to J.C. for pointing out that Cross thinking is actually a form of Cross training.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Cross training - Good idea or bad?

Part I

Sue C over at My journey to black belt asked this question in a post found here.  I recommend you read the post and the comments as I'll be referencing some of the material.

I've gone back and forth on issues related to this question for quite some time.

First off, I have cross trained in other arts.  I have done this both out of necessity and by choice.  My experiences, for the most part, have been positive, but not all of them have been.

Sue talks about some of the potential advantages and disadvantages of cross training for kyu belts.  She cross trains and has had positive outcomes.  She is also grading for black belt this year and has been a serious student of Karate for several years.  See her blog for more information.

Sue lists the following as advantages to cross training:

1.  Core principles.  Sue notes that after dedicated study, you recognize similarities between different arts and their principles.

I cannot agree more.  The longer I study and the more people I meet in the martial arts, the more I realize the similarities.  As Sue mentions, it is most often a matter of what area of the art is emphasized more.  Core principles of movement, reaction, body mechanics etc. have tons of overlap.  If you train with a mind that can identify similar principles, then you can open your mind to different perspectives on those very same things.  A different point of view can change your opinion, alter your technique or strengthen your belief in what you've already learned.

2.  Talks about attention to detail.  Sue take Karate as her main discipline but supplements it with Kobudo and some Jiu Jitsu.  The arts all contain many of the same techniques, for example, strikes, but each spends differing amounts of time on this type of technique.  In her training, little time is spent on the mechanical breakdown of strikes in her Jiu Jitsu, but much more time is spent on it in Karate.

Different prioritization on techniques is definitely out there.  Where as I might argue that repetitive striking is less important than something else, a dedicated Karate practitioner could counter that one proper strike could easily end a confrontation.  Sue mentions an advantage of her cross training is that she has learned to throw, be thrown and break fall with far more confidence than she had before.  Tough to argue that.

3.  Sue expands on differing perspectives.  She talks about 'hard' vs. 'soft' styles and what that means in application.

As many discover, 'hard' vs. 'soft' is a bit of a misnomer.  The assigning of a hard style, such as Karate, or a soft style such as Jiu Jitsu can be misleading. The techniques can be very similar.  To over simplify it, it refers less to the application of the techniques, but more to the approach or entry to it.  Karate is more of a 'force meeting force' type of style where as Jiu Jitsu is more of a 'yield to the initial force and redirect' style of martial art.  While this holds true, anyone who's spent time in either art realizes that there's lots of overlap.

4.  Enhanced understanding of certain principles.  Sue discovered that some of her core techniques from her main art improved while studying weapons and weapons defenses.

This is also important.  If we're not careful, we can often go through the motions on certain techniques, especially if we've done them for a long time. Sometimes shaking things up cause us to re-examine what and how we're doing things to ensure what we are doing is effective and correct.

Sue touches upon disadvantages to cross training as well.  The main issue raised is the differences between technique, whether it be stances, break falls, movement etc.  These can conflict if your styles have different perspectives on things.

Part II

The subject of cross training is a tricky one.  In Sue's articles, there are quite a few comments on whether or not kyu belts should cross train in different arts. They range nearly from fully supporting the idea from day one to feeling it shouldn't occur until at least black belt.  Actually, each camp had good points.

My feelings are mixed.  As with so many topics, it depends on the student, the teacher and the martial art itself.

In my opinion, one of the most important points Sue made was that she had a 'core' or a 'main' art.  For her, it's Karate.  To her, she gains benefit from cross training mainly because it improves her Karate.  That's not to say she isn't or will not excel in the other arts, it just means her focus is mainly on her chosen art.

This is very important to gain benefits from cross training.  If your main focus is not on one or the other, both tend to suffer.

If you are undecided, it will forever be a battle of which style is superior, correct or more sound in theory.  This conflict is not a good idea at lower levels of study.  Flitting from one style to another doesn't help either.  If you leave one art before you really understand it's core concepts, you do yourself and the art a disservice.

Find an art that works for you, makes sense and has a good teacher and students.  Once you've done and committed to that, see what else can help you.

I think your motivation for cross training is a key point in this debate.

I'm lucky enough to have a Sensei who encourages cross training.  He's always interested to hear what else is being taught, how and by who.  Of course, he is comfortable in the knowledge that my main study is with him. Having said that, he has also encouraged all his students to cross train and has supported anyone who chose to leave for another style.  Such is his comfort level with himself and his style.

In my style of Jiu Jitsu, my Sensei and the founder of the style have always supported cross training and always have an open mind to new ideas or techniques.  I've taken seminars and it's always great fun to come back with my new knowledge to explore it further with my Sensei.  Sometimes he incorporates the material if it works well, and sometimes he doesn't, but it's always after an open minded investigation of it's effectiveness.  Some teachers are threatened by new or differing ideas.

I'm also lucky that my Sensei never wants there to be carbon copies of him as black belts and beyond.  In fact, after a few years of serious study, students are encouraged, or even required, to make the style and techniques work for them.  Every person is different and must find what works for their body style, age, weight, height, strength, speed etc.  This open minded approach encourages learning outside the dojo.

The trouble in cross training lies mainly with the inexperienced.  For a time, stances, footwork, strikes, blocks, break falls etc. are either done correctly or incorrectly.  If I adjust my style now to suit my personal style and abilities, that's a good thing.  For a new artist, varying from what is shown or taught is incorrect.  Like I've mentioned in previous posts, you must learn and understand something before you can determine if it should be discarded from your repertoire.

Some say you should train in a complimentary style.  Not a bad idea but it can be limiting too.  After all, if it's more of the same, what benefit are you gaining? (other than additional training time).  The flip-side is that if the styles differ too much, you just get confused.

I am very interested in knife defense.  I have supplemented my Jiu Jitsu training with Kali and Escrima to improve my skills and understanding in this area.  I've enjoyed and benefited immensely from this training.  At one point, I tried to move beyond supplementing my Jiu Jitsu to becoming a full time student of both arts.  I ended up struggling with this balance.  Specifically due to distance to my opponent, stances, offensive versus defensive etc.  At that point my Jiu Jitsu was so ingrained that some aspects of my movement and reactions could not easily be changed.  Nor was it advantageous to do so, for me.  I ended up fighting my training so much that I was spending more time trying not to do what I'd trained myself to do for years that I wasn't benefiting from the new knowledge.  And it was affecting my Jiu Jitsu.

As a result of this, I stopped training as a new student.  I still train with Guro to improve my knife technique but now he and I tailor it to my needs and my body and training.  He's so talented that this is easy and he and I both understood that to try to unlearn what already works well for me was counter productive.  I mention this as I still needed and benefit from cross training with Guro, but now it's to make me better in my Jiu Jitsu.  For this reason, I think you need to have some time studying something so you can have the confidence and understanding of what can benefit you on your journey.

I've also cross trained out of sheer necessity.  For a couple of years, I was on shift work that prevented conventional 2 or 3 nights a week study.  I could only make 3 classes a month in my chosen art due to my schedule.  So I went to another club that had classes on different days and at different times.  I was lucky to find another Sensei that understood my issues and welcomed me to his club.  He appreciated my background and didn't feel threatened by differing opinions (I was lucky).

To sum up, I believe cross training is beneficial for most people.  I do agree that some dedicated study is beneficial before branching out.  I believe that when you find an art that works for you and that you enjoy, search to improve yourself in that art.

I will continue to cross train to improve myself, but at the end of the day, I'm a Japanese Jiu Jitsu man through and through.

I'd love to hear any opinions on this topic.

Train safely and with an open mind.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Appearances can be deceiving...

Lately, I've touched upon the importance of making your training dynamic and working with resisting partners and realistic attacks.  It is too easy to slip into the habit of always standing face to face with your training partner, having single attacks thrown and left out there for you to work your way through the defense.  This is part of learning the basics of a technique, and as such is both necessary and safe, but we can't get lulled into the false sense of security that real attacks come this way.

There are lots of great blogs, websites, articles and books which touch on this topic and most martial artists who train with a mindset towards real world application are working with this tricky area.  Put in too much movement, adrenaline and strength into technique, and your training partners, or you for that matter, can easily get hurt.

It is for this reason, that you need to gradually add in movement and make the process more and more dynamic with committed attacks and controlled responses.

The fact remains, however, that once training becomes dynamic and realistic, it no longer looks like the fluid beautiful art that originally wooed you.  It looks sloppy and it looks ugly.  Videotape yourself doing more advanced Randori, or free practice, and you'll see what I mean.  Once you don't know what attack is coming next, you'll see the appearance of the technique degrade rapidly.  This can be upsetting to watch as it look nothing like the you that you normally watch in the mirrors.

The questions you need to ask yourself are:

Did it work?  Did whatever unscripted, probably ugly ass, technique work?  Did it stop the attack?  Did it lesson the severity of the attack if it got through?  Did you neutralize your attacker?  Did you buy yourself  time and/or distance?  Did you create an escape route?  Put yourself closer to a weapon?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then what you did was a success.  Maybe not the success you dreamed up in your mind or the one you've practiced hundreds of times and demonstrated in a test or exhibition, but it is a success none the less.

This is very important.  This will be, for many, the closest they get to real combat in a controlled environment.  I've previously discussed the importance of Randori, of being a good Uke, and reacting and doing something, anything! when attacked.  These all tie in here.

So the next time you are involved in a dynamic training exercise such as Randori, bear the following in mind:  If you react to each attack by doing something, (anything!) and you continue from there without pause, adapting to whatever position you and your attacker end up in, and you finish your attacker or neutralize them, or create time, or distance etc..., then you are on your way to truly understanding and applying real world, realistic self defense.

"It ain't pretty, but it works."  This can be said for most realistic combat effective martial arts training.

At first glance,  dynamic training may not look very polished or advanced, but then again, looks can be deceiving...

Train effectively, and safely.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to everyone.

The new year is a good time to look ahead to what you wish to accomplish over the next 12 months.  For me, it's about maintaining my work/life balance and training consistently with an open mind.  For my martial arts, I have lots of goals and ideas bouncing around in my head, and many of them will likely show up as blog posts over time.

While I don't necessarily agree with making resolutions, this is a good time to look ahead to where we want to be a year from now, and how we're going to get there.

One of the better articles I've read lately setting and achieving goals can be found here at Jiu-Jitsu Sensei's blog.  Basically, it's about making sure that the things you are doing in your life are moving you towards or supporting those things that are truly important to you.  In my opinion, it's a worthwhile read for anyone.

I hope everyone has enjoyed the holiday season.  I have had a great and extremely busy few weeks and I have to admit that I'm somewhat relieved that things will get back to normal soon.  I hope this year brings lots of positive experiences for everyone, in training, and in life.

Here's looking forward to the next year.