Sunday, May 31, 2009

Where to train in Perth

A martial arts colleague of mine, Mark Dransfield, has recently moved back to Perth, Australia. He has started a once-a-week class with fellow instructor David Brown:

When: Saturdays, 2 - 4 pm
Where: Nine Dragon Martial Arts Academy, Unit 2, 489 Nicholson Road (Cnr Panama Street), CANNING VALE

I expect that they're teaching mainly Jiu-jitsu and classical Judo (similar to me), but Mark is also accomplished in Chinese Boxing, so don't be surprised if that enters the mix too.

If you're in Perth and are looking to learn, go check 'em out!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Heard around the dojo

In my previous post my mentioned that Goldilocks principle: "Not too little, not too much, just right".  Here are other memorable expressions that I have heard from my instructors (plus the occasional fellow student) that I like to pass on:
  1. The Fonzie principle: We like to do the first armlock (juji gatame) with uke's thumb pointing up (like Fonzie from the TV show Happy Days) because it makes it more difficult for uke to resist the lock by flexing his or her bicep.
    Fonzie or "The Fonz"
  2. "Elb-b-bow": Used to emphasize certain painful locks of the elbow.  Try saying it that way; it's fun.
  3. "It's the way it shatters that matters": Said immediately prior to slamming uke's elb-b-bow into the mat, during self-defence practice.
  4. "Hiza guruma - and he certainly is!": Said while performing -- you guessed it -- hiza guruma (our 3rd leg throw), pronounced "he's a guruma ...".
  5. "Funny leg": A reminder for the unusual first step that we practice for the fifth leg throw (o uchi gari) in tori steps forward and turns the left foot 90 degrees away from the center line, to allow the hips to pivot.
  6. "Death throw": Our "final" shoulder throw.   It is only practiced to the point-of-throw because -- if completed -- uke would land vertically head-first, with likely permanent consequences.
  7. "Who's buying the drinks?": A question to ask your partner while applying a painful joint-lock.
What are some of the catch-phrases from your place of training?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Distract, distract, distract!

Last night we spent the bulk of the class applying jiu-jitsu tactics to escaping from common holds: An exhaustive variety of wrist grabs, plus a few chokes.

The beauty of being grabbed is that you can feel exactly where your partner's hand or hands are, and with a little sensitivity the rest of his or her body too.  If (s)he moves you can sense that as well.

On the downside, you are now under attack, so distract!  Strikes and kiais are the obvious way to go, but off-balancing and mis-aligning can help too.

Now: In every class of any size there will be people who are strong enough and non-cooperative enough (at least when starting out) to prevent some of the basic leverage tricks of jiu-jitsu from working in their unadorned form.  They know what to expect in terms of the specific escape being attempted -- it's a pre-arranged exercise! -- and use this knowledge plus their strength to foil the technique.  They are in fact cheating.  So it's reasonable to tell them to upbraid them, but there is an alternative: Distract!  Take their mind somewhere else.  Strike and off-balance, and -- if necessary -- strike again!   Even threatening a vulnerable area (please don't make actual contact in training) should be enough to weaken the grip.

If you are skilled, you can use their resistance to flow into something else, ideally making use of their force.  But early on, to keep it simple, distract!

After a while everyone should learn that when practicing this kind of self-defence that the name-of-the-game as the attacker is to provide appropriate levels of force to allow the defender to refine his or her technique.  It's the Goldilocks principle: Not too little, not too much, just right!

Once the technique is technically excellent and second nature for the defender, it is fun to play with high levels of resistance, but to be realistic this should be during practice where the attacker does not know what the defender's response will be.  Don't try to skip to this stage straight away!

That's a key difference between learning or refining a technique vs. testing out your self-defence capabilities under a bit of stress.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Don't just crank it on!

When someone actively resists your attempt to apply a joint-lock, most people fall into the trap of applying more and more force.  Besides being dangerous -- if it eventually works you may well hyperextend the joint -- this approach contradicts the "minimum effort" part of this month's theme.  Pretty soon you find yourself exerting maximum effort to minimum effect.

Three better alternatives:
  1. Distract: A light strike or -- even the threat of a strike -- to a vulnerable will take your partner's focus away from their resistance for a moment, and that should be long enough to apply the lock.  [Other distractions: pinches, kiais, etc. can also do the same job.]
  2. Change the focus of the lock: Most locks either use or have the potential for a two-way action.  Usually the resistance will arise at the point where you are applying most of the force.  Switch your emphasis to another point of contact (and maybe back again).
  3. Flow into a different technique: Make use of the resistive force supplied by your partner to power the transition.  Now the resistance is working for you.
All of these options emphasize skill, sensitivity and knowledge over brute strength.

As the Borg of Star Trek say: "Strength is irrelevant. Resistance is futile.  We wish to improve ourselves."  

And Bjorn Borg (former tennis great): "You have to find it. No one else can find it for you".

Sunday, May 03, 2009


What's the board-game of choice for the dedicated martial artist? Chess!*

Chess is  a two-player simulation of a war.  Players start with equal forces and take turns, with first-mover advantage going to white.  Unlike competitive sports in which physical skill can help determine the success of a maneuver, chess is pure tactics and strategy.  Unlike most card games, there is no hidden information.

Like combat one must try to inflict damage on the opponent, by "taking" pieces while defending your own, and -- more subtly -- work on position, lay and spot traps,  and fight for eventual victory.

* * *

As a child I quite liked chess, but beyond learning the basics I was never really taught, and every time I  tried to read a chess book I fell asleep.

More recently, I watched this amazing interview with Josh Waitzkin, chess prodigy turned t'ai chi ch'uan champ now turning into a competitive BJJ-er (he's clearly a very competitive kinda guy!).  It got me thinking: "I wouldn't mind having another go at chess".  So I had a game with an old friend and tried to apply some of my martial arts approach to my play: Even though I lost it was a lot of fun.

In the interview Waitzkin says that chess, t'ai chi and Brazilian jiu-jitsu are all the same to him (at a deeper level).  Waitzkin has a new book out -- The Art of Learning -- in which he writes about these parallels, but I am having fun exploring them for myself.

Recently I bought Waitzkin's entertaining and educational book, Attacking Chess, and have been working through the problems.  His book has the virtue of interleaving his experiences in chess with lessons in the game, with almost all of the problems taken from matches that he played.  Repeatedly, a concept is explained and then you are given a problem and challenged: What's the best move from here?  The context usually gives a hint, and explicit additional hints may follow.  It's a gripping format, but you have to be careful to cover the solutions (which immediately follow the problems) with a bookmark so as not to inadvertently cheat.  

I thoroughly recommend Attacking Chess if  you know the rules of chess and would like to get a bit more deeply into it.  Waitzkin's relentlessly aggressive approach is also refreshing, especially if you tend towards a more conservative mindset in chess (or martial arts).

*Or possibly Go, but I haven' t  gone there yet.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Theme of the month May 2009: Minimum effort, maximum effect

The founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, used -- in part -- the criterion of "minimum effort, maximum efficiency" to select techniques from the older jiu-jitsu schools to include in his new syllabus, and labeled this criterion as one of the two key principles of Judo, along with the goal of practicing for "mutual welfare and benefit".

This month I will be exploring ways to reduce effort and simultaneously increase effect, together yielding higher efficiency (since efficiency = effect / effort).

The first point when learning a technique is that when it isn't working, don't just apply more force.  This is just adding extra effort (which we should be minimizing!).  Instead, assume that something is amiss and vary it until it starts to work.

Conversely, when a technique is working reasonably well, can you reduce the amount of applied effort and achieve the same effect?