Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holiday listening/reading

If you are taking time off to let the chronic injuries heal over Christmas, but looking for some brain food as well as the usual heart-attack-producing fare, may I suggest:

Daniele Bolelli's Lectures on Taoism

Daniele Bolelli is a university professor teaching comparative religion and a number of other subjects. He also trains in jiu jitsu and MMA, has his own podcast, The Drunken Taoist, and has appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast several times. His lectures are accessible and entertaining, delivered in a strong but endearing Italian accent. Taoism is difficult to access but he does a pretty good job. Under $10 for over 7 hours of interesting stuff.

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History - Wrath of the Khans

A spellbinding account of the exploits of Genghis Khan and his extended family, masters of thirteenth century military strategy, at one stage ruling from Eastern Europe all across Asia to the easternmost parts of China, displaying an appetite for domination, ruthlessness and bloodshed that makes Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot seem like bashful amateurs.

(The above link is to an accessible site for download called podbay.fm. Dan Carlin has his own site. The other stuff there is excellent listening as well).

Books - two texts on meditation

10% Happier - Dan Harris

Waking Up; A guide to Spirituality without Religion - Sam Harris

That ought to keep you out of trouble and help to start the new year pumped for training.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

John Will Seminar 24 August 2014 - a Spider Guard Plan

Spider sweep

The brain has a tendency to equate things based on similarities. Look instead for what is different.

A hyena is not a dog:

This sweep looks similar, superficially, to the basic scissor sweep. But if you try to do it like a scissor sweep, it won't work. To do it properly, the mechanics are VERY different. Almost nothing is the same.

From "baby" spider guard (shin on bicep guard) "hip escape" around to your left until you are at an angle and onto your R side and out of the "Corridor", leaving a space into which you can sweep him. Rather than moving back away from him as a regular hip escape might do, instead try to stay close and compact.

Put your L foot in his bicep. Lock your L leg straight. Try and stretch your body out away from him as much as possible while keeping the spider grips and control. Your R shin goes to the floor, in front of his L knee. Do a sort of situp, but without pulling him in or crunching,  and bring your R elbow back and come up on it, ideally moving still further clockwise up to 180 degrees. This movement should sweep him onto his back. Mount is probably your best option from here.

The Hybrid Sweep against Combat Base

Hybrid, in that it is a combination of hook, spider and X guard sweeps

You set up the spider guard as before from baby spider, moving around to your L and onto your R side. This time he posts on his L foot to stop the sweep (posting on the R foot does nothing to prevent the sweep) and ends up in combat base position:

Straighten up so you are flat on your back. Your R foot should go flat to the floor assuming he is going to continue to stand up; once you realise he isn't going to stand up fully. put your R hook behind his L knee. Pull him forward with your arms, L foot, and the R hook, using the R hook as a flagpole, guiding his L foot up next to your R ear so you can underhook his leg and grab the knee with your R hand as if taking X guard. Push his elbow to the floor with your L foot in his bicep. If he doesn't fall over he will end up on his R elbow and knee with you controlling his L leg.

From here:
  1. The quick move with smaller payoff:  Let go his R hand with your L and stand up in base - L elbow, L hand, move back to knees and technical standup. At best he will turn and you will end up in his open guard, at worst he will run away, pulling his leg out and escape.
  2. Adding extra steps for a delayed but superior payoff: Keep the spider control and grip on his R arm. Hip escape backward to give yourself enough room to get your R foot, but not the knee, under his R leg so the R foot is next to his  hip. The R knee doesn't go through. Now you can Kick out his L knee with your L foot, pull it back, and roll him over, rolling over your L shin and coming up to kneeride. The extra steps allow you to in effect pass his guard before you sweep him.
If you let go the L grip. you have no choice but to do option 1. A good spider guard player will always be reluctant to give up the spider control on the arm and in this case that certainly makes sense.

The deeper lesson here is to forego the immediate payoff of the first option, for the delayed, but much larger payoff  of the second, ending up in kneeride, having in effect passed his guard BEFORE you swept him, rather than sweeping him first and then having to pass his guard.

A concept exemplified by: The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.


Also: simplicity isn't always the best thing, nor is complexity a bad thing. A complex technique like the twister may have more steps, but just do each one, one at a time, and don't think about the later steps until you have accomplished the one at hand.

Spider guard to back sweep, when opponent stands up 

You have set up the spider controls from baby spider, this time the opponent stands up. You square up to him, your R foot goes to the floor, foot flat, knee bent. Use both feet and your arms to pull him in so he steps towards you, so that his feet are close enough for you to grab both ankles for a back sweep. Back sweep him with your L leg. In a competition you could stand straight up and get your three points. A better strategy would be to sweep him, but do not come up straight away; instead once he falls, stay on your back and retract your L leg, then roll over your R shin and go to your knees. Keep hold of at least one of his ankles and keep a foot or feet off the mat so he cannot stand up or go to his knees. This is  good position to set up a pass; the leg drag pass is right there.

The underlying concept here is that you may already have or know a solution (the back sweep) to a new problem (standing opponent in your spider guard). This may often be a better strategy than assuming that every new problem requires you to invent a new solution.

Don't reinvent the wheel.

This in some ways conflicts with the "notice the differences" concept described earlier, but this quantum universe is not always consistent and orthogonal, nor is it immune to paradox, contradiction, grey areas, or conflicting and complementary ideas. Dare I say it's a yin/yang situation?

A Drill

Your partner is on his knees. You get baby spider / shin on bicep guard.

From baby spider, shrimp out to the L and  onto your R side and get spider control on his R arm and set up for the spider sweep.

If your partner stays on his knees, drop your R shin to the floor in front of his L knee.

He brings up his left foot, going either to combat base, or as a prelude to standing up on both feet.

Put your R foot flat on the floor between his legs and square back up to him.

If he stays on one knee in combat base, put the R hook in behind the L knee.

If he stands up completely, leave the R foot on the floor and pull him toward you slightly.

If he goes back to his knees, shrimp out and onto your side again, R shin to the floor in front of his knee.

Your partner cycles randomly between  kneeling, standing and combat base, you change position and R foot placement accordingly.

(Apologies to Kit Dale)

Shrimping - 4(+) types

John discussed at length the possibilities and value of going deep into a technique, rather than going broad and accumulating techniques. His example was shrimping and hip escape. You think you know hip escapes. Are you sure?

There are at least four types of hip escape:
  • Backwards -  the first one you usually learned, most useful for escaping side control and going to your knees
  • Fishtail / diagonal  - to escape side control, you may need to move your head away, then your hip to escape. Moving your hip first may allow him to control your head
  • Parallel - moving directly backward so your body is on its side perpendicular to the direction of travel - usually moving backward, but you can move the other way too
  • Reverse - moving feet first down the mat, useful/necessary to escape front control
and hybrids of all the above, like the type you use to set up the spider sweep, which is a hybrid of the parallel and reverse. Or is it fishtail and reverse?

(Since then I have remembered at least two more types or subtypes of shrimping:
  • Backwards, pushing with one leg keeping the other flat per the elbow/knee escape from mount
  • Backwards, moving the shoulder and head to the side first so the hips can move straight back rather than out to the side - useful for escaping side control where he has switched base towards your feet
and I strongly doubt that exhausts the possibilities)

Sao Paulo pass

Keep the underhooked shoulder on the mat and switch base / drive with the hips as many times as necessary to get the spinal twist happening. When his legs open, go flat with your legs together and just inch over his bottom leg to avoid the half guard.

Against a taller lanky opponent, drive your head under his R armpit to isolate his R arm. Run your L hand down his arm to the wrist to grab and control it. Your head goes to the floor, tripod up on your head and walk around clockwise until his hips are past his R hand. Pass his R hand from your L to your R hand, under his back. Your L elbow now goes to the far side of his L ear. Now work the Sao Paulo hip switch to open his legs and go flat, legs together to avoid the half guard as above.

John took me to task a bit when he asked me what problems I was having with Jiu Jitsu and I said I wasn't really having many. That's only because I've gone into cruise control for a while after both retiring from work and being awarded my black belt. It of course didn't take long at all to come up with at least a couple of problems, particular individuals were giving me in rolling. I'm training up to five classes a week, but concentrating on having fun, going with the flow, and just getting through the class way too much. A lack of apparent obstacles indicates you aren't trying hard enough to run up against them. The obstacle is the way, and it is pressure that builds diamonds. There's still SO much to learn, and life is short. John told me, "you have lots of problems" and he wasn't being mean. Problems are what allow growth. Bring it on.

How does the current Australian budget "emergency" affect Jiu Jitsu?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Perce the Pelican

The mind and memory never cease to amaze me. Just occasionally, a fragment of something bubbles up from the depths, years ago, and somehow dovetails into your current interests or obsessions. In my case, this was a vague memory of a magazine or newspaper article mentioning someone - I couldn't even remember the person's name or the context - who used a visualization of a pelican called Perce, skimming above the surface of a lake, which they used to stay calm, reduce anxiety, and whatever else.

Google is my friend. I found the article without difficulty: Nowadays all is fair in sport too.

 The pertinent piece was only a sentence:
The Olympic shooter Don Brook used to psyche himself down - and his pulse rate - by visualising a pelican called Perce skimming across a mirror-finish lake.
A few years ago Pat and I were driving home to Sydney from a holiday on the Sunshine Coast. Arriving after dark, we stopped at a quirky little motel at Nambucca Heads, had dinner in the restaurant (decor was unremarkable but the food was good) and slept overnight. The next day I woke and went outside to find myself in a beautiful part of the world, a grassy area surrounded by bushland right on the bank of a long, straight stretch of the Nambucca River. Really quiet and pretty. The pair of pelicans blasting down the river, skimming the water less than a meter above the surface, was thrilling to see, without disrupting the serenity of the natural setting. These big, long necked, huge billed, goofy looking birds with big webbed feet turn into a sleek, graceful missile with a huge wingspan when they are in the air. Like this (video). Or this:

The birds' behaviour exemplifies part of a journal entry by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

After much wandering and seeing many things, four snakes gliding up and down a hollow for no purpose that I could see— not to eat, not for love, but only gliding ...

Now, linking the memories of the newspaper article, and my experience by the river, I felt strongly that there was something there which was demanding closer attention.

Instead of just counting my breaths while in seated meditation, I now made an effort to visualize Perce, the pelican, skimming forever over a smooth body of water, near twilight, the water a clean purplish gray. No effort, just little adjustments of his wings to stay on track and at the correct low altitude. Exemplifying the flow state sought by extreme sportspeople, surfers and performance junkies everywhere.

I switched between watching Perce from above, from a point just near his right shoulder (where the GoPro camera might go, I could see the individual feathers on the back of his head) and from Perce's point of view, as if I myself were the pelican.

I find sustaining this visualization to be difficult. I think it works better in a dark room or with an airline eye mask on, but I want to be able to do this anywhere. I have been hammered for a long time by articles and books from professional sports psychologists, and countless blog and Facebook posts by amateurs, about the values of visualization in physical skill development and achieving optimum arousal level for performance. Now it's time to stop avoiding this and put in some effort - or "non-effort" - with Perce.

Despite those difficulties, I found flying with Perce to be more calming and relaxing than I did counting my breath. I tried closing my eyes and flying with Perce during a dental appointment. I wouldn't say I totally zoned out, but it did help me relax and felt it was a good use of the time in the chair.

I shall pursue this further. Perce exemplifies the flow state, flying for its own sake ... only gliding. Life lived effortlessly. Perhaps my Jiu Jitsu could benefit from visualization of the technically perfect, effortless, X guard sweep chain. My writing, Android programming, everything else ... there's only one way to find out.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Carlos Machado seminar - 8th May 2014

Held at Langes MMA.

Passing open guard

You are standing, he is controlling both your sleeves. Bring elbows in to your thighs and rotate the palms up - as if holding a tray. This should stop him getting his feet in your hips.

Squat and go heavy on him with your hips, pressure forward. Drop down to one knee, still heavy on him with your hips. The other knee should be flared out so he cannot get an outside hook.

To get grips on his pants at the knee, move your head away from the targeted knee and "look at your watch" with the hand on that side, raising the elbow and getting the grip, then the other side.

If he is strong and you cannot easily get the grip, use the knee on that side behind his hamstring to drive his leg to a position where you can get the grip. Then the other side.

If he gets a foot on your bicep, either from underneath or over the top, "hide" your hand behind his calf, turn the head and upper body and roll your elbow over the top of his shin, then use the forearm to push his leg down on top of the other to pass. You may need to reinforce this with footwork, taking small steps toward that side until your hip is pushing into his leg along with the use of the elbow.

Passing closed guard

You are kneeling inside his guard, he is controlling both your sleeves again. Move your head and upper body to the right, making it possible to step up on your left foot, right next to his hip. Use your hip and knee to torque against his guard, restricting his movement. Stand up on the other foot, slightly staggered to avoid the back sweep. Use posture and climb your hands back until you can grab his belt or his pants near his hips. Step laterally to either/both sides to put extra pressure on his guard. Don't move straight back, zig zag. If his guard remains closed, go back to your knees, but do not allow him to pull you in closer and lose the ground you have gained. Move side to side, "zombie"-fashion, and keep pressure on his guard.

You can alternate between standing and kneeling as often as necessary. Be patient, do not rush.

Once his legs open, you can move your head to one side, creating a gap to get your elbow in on the other side., and then perhaps getting a knee up. Drop that knee to the floor and start setting up a knee through pass. Do not rush. drive your head forward into the "tunnel" per the previous Carlos seminar and start working the pass. Control the hip on the other side to the knee with the arm and hand on that side. Wait for his reactions and steadily improve your position. Don't worry about the grips, just keep him under control using your weight. My practice here indicates you want to try and get an underhook ... eventually. Just so he can't grab your legs and start working half guard chicanery or similar. If he has a half guard death grip on the other leg, you can push on his legs with the ball of the knee-through foot to free it. But work slowly and patiently, no big or drastic moves.

Hook flip from butterfly guard

He is kneeling in your guard. Open your guard, take your head over to your left. come up on your left elbow and get your right hand in his right collar in the "Who's the boss?" grip. Get your left foot on his right hip, right foot on his left thigh. Swing your head and torso to the right, pulling him down and past you to the right with your right hand grip, at the same time reaching over his shoulder and around his back and grabbing belt or cloth, and get your left hook inside his R thigh. His face should be close to the mat and you on your right side with him to your right. Your R hand now moves to grab his left collar. Lift with the hook, "walk" to your right using your right foot and pull and or push on his collar to sweep him.

If he posts on his left hand, move your right hand to his elbow and "chop", pulling his elbow in and removing the post. Continue with the sweep.

If you still can't sweep him this way, you can move your hips to your right, get on your left side and use your right hook to sweep him back the other way.

Carlos has released a streaming video called "Unstoppable - secrets of the hook flip" or similar, which goes into this move in great detail at


He has another video called Domination there as well, which is about wrist control, and is excellent as well. Each costs $19 US to rent for a year.

Survival attitude from the bottom

Keep your elbows and hands in. Get a grip on whatever limb he gives you with both hands. Pull him towards you rather than push him away. Breathe slowly. Carlos recommends a three count exhalation or 1-2-12. If there are no openings, jut lift your hips off the floor and "walk around" a bit using one foot. This is very hard to explain, better just trying it out.

Top game, extracting the arms

You have side control on his right side. Hips are heavy on his right arm, immobilizing him. you can use head drive or similar techniques to extract the left arm.

Walk around from side control through front control to the other side and back, pressuring his arms and trying to create a gap. If he pushes you away with one arm, say the right, swim your right arm under his armpit and reach toward his head with your hand. Move around to side control, facing toward his head so that his right arm is now trapped between your torso and right arm with your weight on it and his upper arm pinched in your armpit. He cannot use his right arm now. You can forearm choke him with your left thumb in his collar from here. You can also hold his left arm down with yours to stop him turning towards you and come up in a short base, flipping your right foot up toward his ear, setting up the snap armbar with his right wrist trapped in your right armpit.

No one is really smiling in the photo above, but I'm pretty sure we're all grinning like hell on the inside.

Carlos, a top bloke

and a few more top blokes and sheilas.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

More Advanced Spider Guard exploration

 I went to Rick Spain's gym this morning to train Jiu Jitsu with Henry, March, Matt, Barwin, and Leeroy this morning. Something I plan to do a lot more often.

We were running through the stuff John Will taught us at his last seminar on Advanced Spider Guard.

We managed to come up with a couple of new options riffing off the "Alternate Side Spider Guard Sweep", used when you try to get the leg lasso and he pulls his elbow back to his hip to stop you. So you instead get your shin under the alternate side armpit, and kick the leg up and over to sweep him to that side (see the previous blog post for detail on the sweep).

Barwin inconveniently countered the sweep by posting up on his outside foot. Within five minutes we had collectively come up with a counter to that counter, and a variation of the sweep to preemptively prevent the counter.

The sweep modification that prevents the counter:

Set up the sweep as above, but instead of putting your R foot flat on the floor,  take it across the front of him and hook his R hip with your R instep. Sweep similarly to before. You won't get the same amount of drive unless you are flexible and strong, but anyone should be able to more or less twist his body to the left so he falls onto his back.

The counter to the counter:

You have your L leg under his L armpit, both grips, and have your R foot on the floor. You try to sweep him to your L by lifting with the L leg, pushing with the R foot, and pulling the grips. He counters the sweep by posting  with his  R foot. Throw your R leg over his head and hook behind itwith the knee, push the L  knee through so your ankle is in his armpit  and pull hard on the R arm to set up an armbar. He may fall over, no problem, just finish from wherever you are. Similar to the "armbar waltz".

Similar but different armbar technique shown in the middle of this clip by a couple of Caio Terra and a couple of his training buds:

This clip is interesting because it gives a whole new sequence of techniques if the guy has one knee up - "combat base".

This is Jiu Jitsu. Trying a technique, finding a problem or a counter to it, and working ways to either neutralize that problem or counter, or use it to your advantage. Definitely a thinking person's art.

Monday, February 24, 2014

John Will seminar 23 Feb 2014 - Advanced Spider Guard


In every BJJ position there are numerous small details that can lead to the position alone becoming much easier for you to keep. At the same time, the position becomes more threatening to your opponent and opens up additional opportunities for submissions. The position itself when properly applied can make him want to move in a way that gives you submission opportunities.

This is what Rickson Gracie calls Invisible Jiu Jitsu, and what Rigan Machado calls "Royal" positioning. Often the details are difficult even for an experienced observer to see, and can only be felt.

"Royalize" your positions, including the various guards. Once you have successfully royalized one position, you will have the desire and confidence to do the same with all others.

From closed guard, get grips on both his sleeves. Turn the palms up, lock your elbows to your sides. Put both feet on the floor,  turn on your R side and bring your L knee and shin inside his R arm so both knees are together, creating a barrier. Place your L foot on his R hip and turn the knee out to your L. Bring the R knee through, foot on L hip. Keep elbows in tight, flare knees out so he should have difficulty passing to either side.

Push off your R foot as you turn onto your R side and move your hips back so you are at 90 degrees to him on your side. This should create a big gap between his torso and his R arm, so that you can thread your L foot over his arm, and under his armpit. Thrust your foot through and pull it back so you can use it as a hook behind his shoulder to pull him in. Keep your L grip high up on the crease between your thigh and your hip with no space for him to circle his hand or pull it out and break the grip.

This is known as the "leg lasso" in many BJJ circles (including the big BJJ circle called the internet).

Square up to him and put your R foot in his bicep/elbow. Push him away with your R foot and use your L instep and grip to pull him in. He should NOT feel stable, but uncomfortable and off balance. His shoulders should be twisted. He should feel that he needs to stand up to keep his balance. Let him stand.

Learn to "steer" him from this position. If tries to pass around to your R, push his L elbow far out in that direction with your R foot, at the same time pulling him forward with your L foot and the lasso. If he comes around to your L, pull his L elbow down to the ground using the lasso While lifting his R elbow with your R foot. You should be able to block his passing attempts and perhaps sweep him just like this.

Most Jiu Jitsu people know how important it is to be able to get and keep a dominant position, like side control, mount, or kneeride. A much smaller number apply the same philosophy to the various guards, though the principle is just as applicable. Learn to maintain the spider guard, and all others, to make it impossible for the opponent to escape.


Use your legs and grips to  make him step forward , feet parallel, within reach of your hands. Release your grips and grab his ankles, as low as possible. Drive over and forward with your hips, similar to the basic back sweep from closed guard. Grab his collar and go to mount.


  Bring him forward as before. Your R foot moves to his L hip. Pull him forward and directly overhead. You must get his centre of gravity right over you. Use the R foot to lift him, then push his hip up as you use the lasso to pull his L shoulder down. He more or less spins in mid air, the lasso pulling him onto his R shoulder. Use your L knee to pin his R arm so he cannot roll away from you. Push his L hand to the floor with your R hand as you come to your knees and consolidate side control.


Use your legs and grips to bring his L foot forward. Grab the ankle with your R hand. Your R foot goes to his hip. Now your L foot goes to his hip as you turn onto your R side. You R leg drops to the floor and hooks behind his R ankle. Push with the L foot and you pull his L ankle with your R hand and reap his L leg with your R. AS he falls, bring your L leg back to come to your knees. You may be able to use your L heel to trap and extend his R leg so you end up on your knees with his R leg trapped in top half guard.


Move your R foot to under his R arm, near his hip. Keep the L grip tight, but drive your L leg all the way through, invite him to go to side control on your R. AS he does, grab the pants of his R leg, lift it as you roll to your L, using the grip to pull him over he top of you to finish in side control.

This sweep is a fine example of STRATEGY. You let him get what he wants, or thinks he wants, but in a way that gives you what you want.

At an intermediate level, you fight your opponent to get the underhook. At a more advanced level, you let him get the underhook, but clamp down on it with your overhook and hook sweep him to that side.

Here, you give him the pass because that actually sets up the sweep. The harder and faster he tries to pass, the easier the sweep becomes.


You have spider guard. You cannot bring him towards you because he is backing away. Hook the outside of his R ankle with the instep of your R foot. Spin, to invert, and reach for his R ankle with your R hand pulling yourself in until you can hook his R ankle with you R elbow. You still have your L grip. Pull your L shin down until it is horizontal, hook you L ankle with the back of you R knee. Pull down on his R arm with your L grip and your legs and lift his R  with your R hand. He should fall forward onto his L shoulder. Follow him over and sit up, weight on your L hip and thigh trapping his arm, shins out to the R similar to an omoplata position ("hula hula legs"). Consolidate your side control.


You get the feet on hips from closed guard but when you attempt to get the lasso, he pulls his R elbow to his hip leaving you no space to get your foot under his R armpit. Instead, Keep the grips but thread your L foot under his L arm pit. Square up to him, get your shin through so you will be sweeping him with thee top third of your shin nearest the knee (using hip flexors) rather than using the quads to straighten the knee.  R foot goes to the floor. Push with the R foot and kick his R shoulder with your L leg to the side of your L ear. He should fall onto his R shoulder to your L. Trap his R arm with your L knee/thigh as before and consolidate side control.


He stays on his knees and is pulling back. Turn on your R side and  straighten you body, pulling your head and shoulders back away from him. You are trying to get his R hand across your centreline without him realising it, setting up an arm drag. Once you have achieved this, extricate your L leg from the lasso and sit up , L leg to the outside, grabbing his R tricep with your R hand and grabbing his lattismus dorsi with your L hand Come up on your R knee and get a seat belt grip. then take you weight off the knee and put it on his R shoulder, so he collapses onto it. Hip escape backward so you can get his back while on your R side ("master" side, with the top arm underhooked), rather than rolling him over you.  Set your hooks and consolidate back control.

This guard is really flexible with a huge number of techniques coming off it, dozens of sweeps, triangles, omoplatas, back takes, armbars, etc. Search "leg lasso" on Youtube once you have drilled the techniques above and mastered them. You need to master fundamentals, not have an encyclopedia of techniques you aren't that good at.


I asked John about grip training, how to make your grip more effective, etc. He replied that he didn't think it was a great idea as it is as likely to cause later problems as it is to strengthen your grip. We need balance in our lives and not to end up with 20 gold medals but a physical wreck at 40 with no prospects.

Learn to apply the lessons you learn in mastering one technique to all the other techniques. And learn to apply those lessons to areas outside martial arts.

Learn to really observe. Some of the oldtimers in the US can see a technique once and shortly thereafter have understood it well enough to be able to apply it in sparring. Not perfectly, but adequately.

People fail on the mat and in other areas of life because they do not respect the process. You may have an end game (knowing where you want to end up is essential for strategy) but if there are six steps to get there you must put 100% of your effort into the first step. Then (and only then) the second, etc. until you reach your final goal.

People want to rush to the end (living in the future) or oversweep (remaining too long in the past). Live and roll in the moment. Do not fall behind or get ahead of the timeline. Respect the process.

Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You've Got - Jay Abraham

The Book of Five Rings - Miyamoto Mushashi

"You let go of that grip and your mother falls off of a cliff...and dies!!!" - Kurt Osiander

(Kurt is awesome. Check him out on Youtube. Good free instructional clips. He swears a fair bit).

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Transmission and Evolution Models of Martial Arts Instruction

The big problem here is that too many people believe, because they have been so told, that martial arts skill development only comes from a teacher (Sifu/Sensei/Guro/Guru/Kru etc.) transmitting the information to the student. The passage of real info only occurs once per generation, and only one real successor is chosen. The transmission of the style's secrets (and secrets they must be) only occurs after many years, perhaps preceding the death of the master by the shortest possible period.

This seems more prevalent to Chinese styles than any other, though this may only be my opinion coloured by decades of involvement and training in those styles. We even have situations like that claimed in one version of Yip Man Wing Chun where Yip Man's teacher, Chan Wah Shun, allegedly was only taught a modified and crippled version of the style. This after he originally tried to learn the style by watching his teacher Leung Jan teach his (the teacher's) son from a secret hidey hole. Leung Jan of course could always tell when Chan was or was not watching and taught his son the modified version when Chan watched, and the real version when he wasn't. Eventually Leung Jan agreed to teach Chan, but continued teaching him the fake version, not the real thing. Must have been very confusing and hard to manage ... lies usually are, just watch Fawlty Towers.

The problems with this are legion. With only one successor, the odds of styles getting lost are not insignificant. If you are the master, and the guy you chose as successor turns out to have issues (and a case can be made that many of the alleged successors have such issues), I guess you are honour bound to take the sacred knowledge to the grave with you. And what if your guy has an accident or dies in one of the challenge match of which there were supposedly plenty in the pre-internet era but rather fewer now?

Not a great business model, is it? Only one student? He's going to pay your bills? Or take on a whole lot of patsies, bilk 'em by showing 'em crap and only select one near the end to show the real stuff? Better hope like hell he's just stupid enough to put up with this, but not much stupider. Or he doesn't get greedy. Or smart.

Aside: I actually went to a Kwoon where a few of the students tried to sue the instructor because he wasn't showing them the "secret" stuff and thus not providing the goods that were advertised for sale. Surprise! It didn't work.

Secrecy itself presents a problem. Like everything else, fighting techniques require exposure to resisting opponents to determine whether or not they really work, what effective counters might work, and how to change the technique to lessen the effectiveness of such counters, or to counter the counters. The parallel here that comes to mind is cryptographic algorithms; the best ones are fully publicized, and the best cryptographic minds around the world invited, indeed encouraged, to hammer the things, to try to find weaknesses or shortcuts. You can have a pretty good level of confidence in an algorithm that is still standing after years or decades of the best cryptanalysts on the planet trying to knock it down.

If the fighting style has secret techniques, particularly those determined to be too deadly to spar with, then their effectiveness is never really tested.

If you've only got one guy showing the full system to one other guy, because of some cosmic rule set down by no one that says you can't have several successors, then it eventually becomes like making a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of a ... bits are forgotten or misunderstood, the quality slowly but surely and inevitably leaches away, a very long and complicated game of, no pun intended, Chinese Whispers.

Nearly all other fields of human endeavour work differently. Knowledge rarely springs fully formed from the void, appearing as the result of a dream or hallucinogenic vision. There are exceptions - Kekule, the dream of thee snake biting its own tail and the benzene ring, but these are rare. And Mr Kekule ws well and truly putting in th 99% perspiration that allowed him that 1% of inspiration. Knowledge is build on previous knowledge, tested and peer reviewed. The lone genius exists but is the rare exception. Generally knowledge increases because previous knowledge is built on or refined. "If I have seen further it is only because I have stood on the Shoulders of Giants" - Isaac Newton. Mr Newton was not exactly a dumbass.

You wanna be a martial artist? Go sit at the feet of some old guy in a cave or temple somewhere and hope like hell he's going to pick you and not some other dude with more talent, a smoother presentation or deeper pockets. Good luck.

No. Go somewhere where an instructor will show you the basics. While you want to be sure he knows what he's talking about if he's taking your money, your success in martial arts will be pretty much up to you, not the instructor.

In Kung fu, there is a set of stone tablets that supply the totality of the system. No one other than the founder has ever been smart enough to tinker with, let alone try to improve or upgrade the system. having the arrogance to try, or to mix other influences, is to start down the road to perdition and failure.

In non traditional MA's, you need to have a basic understanding of the fundamentals. But after that, if you aren't using your brain and attempting to solve your own problems using your own unique experience and initiative, you aren't going to get very far. While unfiltered input at the start is confusing, once you get the fundamentals understood you damn well better start using that brain in your head. Martial arts is about self discovery, not reading someone else's lecture notes.

The TMA guy will excommunicate you, cast you into outer darkness, for daring to seek another's opinion. Go train with them, you'll have embraced the dark side. Loyalty and truth are important, and it's only polite to tell the instructors in your life what you are up to and who you are training with, but generally a wide range of experience is a good thing. Certainly more interesting.

You are the master of your fate. You don't want to abrogate that responsibility to anyone. It's called SELF actualisation for a reason, because you have to do it yourself. There are people who can and will help you, people who have walked a path similar to yours. But you don't want to become them or their idea of a disciple or descendant. Take the helm, navigate your own course.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

So you've done Kung Fu and want to learn BJJ, huh?

I started BJJ after doing Kung Fu for about 15 years, including reaching an instructor level in Wing Chun under Rick Spain. At first, it seemed that the Wing Chun principles I had learned in my previous training were applicable to everything in BJJ. After a long time (IIRC after I got my blue belt) I found this approach of trying to see BJJ through Wing Chun coloured glasses was actually holding me back.

The temptation is there to think or hope you can shortcut the Jiu Jitsu learning process by using your other martial arts knowledge as a base.I know I'm not alone in this.

The facts are that Wing Chun is probably a poorer base to start learning Jiu Jitsu from than, say, surfing. As much as we all might want it to be otherwise. As Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying, "Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler." Assuming you can base Jiu Jitsu on Wing Chun is to make it too simple. In some ways this is intellectual arrogance. Wishful thinking.

I really had to let my old knowledge go to learn this new art properly.

In Zen and related disciplines, like, allegedly, Kung Fu, much is made of the story of the empty cup. The new disciple goes to the master, and yabbers on about how long he has studied and practiced, how much he knows about Zen, blah blah blah. The master serves him tea, and fills his cup. The cup is full, but the master keeps pouring, soon there is tea everywhere. "Master, the cup is full!" cries the disciple. "That is your problem," says the master. While your cup is full, I can serve you nothing. Empty your cup."

Cool story, bro, oft quoted by Kung Fu guys, including myself (obviously, see paragraph above). I needed to empty my cup to learn Jiu Jitsu. So I think, does everyone else in my position. The Jiu Jitsu saying is "Leave your ego at the door." Your ego isn't just about winning or losing on the mat, it's about how much you think you might know about Jiu Jitsu. So ... leave your ego (and all your preconceptions) at the door. Please!

Many martial arts saying say that the final phase of learning is integration of everything you have learned, the resolution of the contradictions, simplification, removal of the useless and redundant. But you can't possibly know what might or might not be useless and redundant at the start. Maybe after a few decades in the arts.

There is tactile sensitivity and tactile sensitivity training in good Wing Chun, but assuming it is the beez kneez is arrogance in the extreme. Sensitivity in BJJ is a whole body thing you have to learn (and in a Wing Chunster's case, RE-learn) from day one. Again, assuming that the sensitivity you learned in Wing Chun is necessarily translatable to everything or anything else is arrogance.

The highest graded guy in BJJ I know, a fourth degree black belt, goes to seminars or to train with other black belts with an empty cup.  The seminar guy says, "you know how to do this, right?" He always says "No. Please explain it to me." This approach often allows him to glean new ideas and fresh approaches, even regarding the fundamentals. If he's still doing this after a couple of decades of full time training and teaching, maybe you should consider how sensible it is to bring your preconceived notions, from Wing Chun, BJJ, or anywhere else, into a situation like this where you are there to learn.

He also told me that in his opinion there is no limit to how deeply you can analyze and work on a technique. All analysis and no training leads to analysis paralysis, of course, but there is a time for both. There is always room for improvement. In this regard maybe arts like BJJ are fractal, as much as we might want them to have limits and be simple. As unfortunate for those of us who might want to fully master Jiu Jitsu in its entirety this might be, Jiu Jitsu seems to be effectively infinite.