Can traditional masters beat MMA?

Friend of the Notebook, Byron Jacobs, who runs the Mu Shin Martial Culture Youtube channel and the Hua Jin Online Learning Program for Xing Yi and Baguazhang, just posted this monologue about Xu Xiaodong and the challenge matches that happened between him and various (self proclaimed) Chinese martial arts masters.

Now we’re a few months/years away from the high point of the Xu Xiaodong controversy it’s good to get a reasonable perspective on the matter from somebody who actually knows him and moves in the same martial arts circles in China.

It’s quite a long talk, but you can think of it like a podcast and listen to it while you’re doing your conditioning exercises. Wait, you are still doing those, right? 🙂

New podcast! Seymour Yang on the Art of Brazilian Jiujitsu

The latest Tai Chi Notebook Podcast is out!

In this episode my guest is Seymour Yang, a long time acquaintance of mine who is also something of a legend in the BJJ world, where he goes by the name Meerkatsu and is famous for his BJJ artworks, which get turned into beautiful t-shirts, rash guards and gis. 

Seymour is also a black belt in Brazilian jiujitsu and teaches at the Roger Gracie academy in South Hertfordshire. So, it’s no surprise that this episode is highly focused on the art of Brazilian jiujitsu.

We’re talking right after we both attended the same jiujitsu seminar up in Stafford with Priit Mihkelson (my guest in episode 5 of this podcast) so that’s where we start our conversation. I hope you enjoy it!

Links:

Meerkatsu Original Artworks: https://www.meerkatsu.com/

Seymour’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/meerkatsu/

Roger Gracie South Hertfordshire https://www.rga-south-herts.co.uk/

Priit Mihkelson https://www.defensivebjj.com/

Some options from BJJ Side Control

Let’s take a little diversion into the world of Brazilian Jiujitsu. Here is a video I shot this morning that shows some of my favourite options for getting submissions from side control. For some reason the sound didn’t work, but hey ho, let’s roll.

Here it is:

I’m demonstrating how I like to keep my knees off the mat, so that my body weight is going straight into my opponent, which I use to pin him, freeing up my hands. The hands are then free to see submissions. I show some chokes and armbars. The very last choke, where they get choked by their own arm across their body is my most common submission. It’s quite opportunistic, but the opportunity is there quite a lot if you know to look for it.

If you enjoyed this sort of content then you’ll probably enjoy my chat with BJJ black belt Stephan Kesting of GrappleArts.com. We talk about a lot of BJJ issues and also how BJJ has changed over the years.

Don’t try

One of my poetic/literary heroes, Charles Bukowski had “Don’t try” written as an epitaph on his tombstone. To many people he was simply an alcoholic, womanising, bum who pissed way his talent, but I bet Charles Bukowski did more honest days work in his life than a lot go his critics ever did. Writing was his way out of a life of oppressive blue collar jobs that had ground him down, and he only succeeded as a writer late in life, and that gave him a unique perspective.

 There’s a video that explains his seemingly paradoxical philosophy of “Don’t try”.

But if you don’t have time to watch it then Bukowski explained it himself in one of his letters:

“Somebody asked me: “What do you do? How do you write, create?” You don’t, I told them. You don’t try. That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks, you make a pet out of it.”

    – Charles Bukowski

I think anybody versed in the philosophy of Tai Chi can see an instant parallel here to the Taoist ideal of Wu Wei – “not doing”. Quite often if you can wait for the mud the settle the water becomes clear all by itself, and the right action becomes obvious.

There are a number of quotes you can find in the Tao Te Ching that elucidate on this idea, right from the start of the book, where in chapter 2 Lao Tzu states: “The sage acts by doing noting”, then later in chapter 22 he says “Because he (the Sage) opposes no one, no one in the world can oppose him.” And in Chapter 48, “When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.”

Now I wouldn’t say that Lao Tzu and Bukowski have exactly the same take on this idea, but they’re not a million miles apart.

There are obvious applications of “Don’t try” in all areas of your life – from creativity, as Bukowski found, to business and your home life, but one of the most obvious I find is in martial arts.

If I find I’m engaged in too much of a struggle during sparring, rather than go harder, I have slowly learned to back off. Rather than fight through something it’s much easier to change track and go around it. 

In Tai Chi push hands you can encounter this idea whenever you feel resistance from your opponent. How do you react? Do you push harder, knowing if you do, you can impose your will on them? Maybe you can, but you’re just engraining a bad habit that’s not going to lead to success when you try it on somebody bigger than you. 

In Jiujitsu I often find guard passing is the best example of this idea of Don’t Try. If you try and force a guard pass, like a knee slide for example, when your partner is defending well then quite often you can make it work, but it’s a lot of effort and ultimately you’ve depleted your energy reserves more than you had to. And again, it won’t work on somebody bigger and stronger. That’s when the words “don’t try” tend to appear in my mind. If the knee slide pass is defended then change the angle, work something else, see if you can switch to a bull fighter pass instead. Or change to a back step. There are always ways around the problem instead of having to power straight through it.

Don’t try. This is the way.

Stephan Kesting on the martial arts life

In the latest episode of the Tai Chi Notebook podcast I’m talking to the man, the legend, that is Stephan Kesting. Stephan has taught thousands of people martial arts through his famous website grapplarts.com which, back in the day, was one of the first sites to put out quality Brazilian jiujitsu instructional material and is still putting out top notch instructional material today.


Stephan is a fireman, he has competed in marital arts, he has trekked across the Canadian wilds with a canoe and recently he’s undergone a full hip replacement and documented his recovery – and he’s about to return to training again, so he’s one tough old dude.


Stephan also hosts his own podcast, the Strenuous Life Podcast, which I’d recommend you listen to – because it’s always super interesting, especially his episodes debunking conspiracy theories.

Special podcast edition: Brad and Joe from The Fight Bible on Brad’s upcoming fight with D.K.Yoo

Hello and welcome to a special bonus edition of the Tai Chi Notebook. This time I’m interviewing Joe and Brad from The Fight Bible, a popular YouTube martial arts channel.

I used to train jiujitsu with Brad back in the day, before he went on to become a UFC fighter, so I’ve known him for years. Brad is retired from the UFC now, but he recently accepted a fight offer from the famous D.K. Yoo, who teaches martial arts seminars all over the world. The fight is scheduled to happen on December 4th on pay-per-view here:

Brad and Joe are flying off to South Korea in just a few days for a boxing match that looks set to make a huge impression on the martial arts scene. 

So, let’s find out how it all happened, how Brad’s training is going and what the boys think is going to happen on December 4th.

Why BJJ should really be considered a weapons-based art

Picture Grog, the caveman. He’s sitting around the fire with his tribe, wearing animal skins and singing the songs of his ancestors, while his kids run around the back of the cave and paint bison on the walls. Compared to the sabre tooth tigers with their man-splitting canines and the huge giant sloths with their throat-cutting claws that roam freely the valley below, Grog hiding in this cave, doesn’t look like much. But in a mere 10,000 years Grog is going to become the dominant species on this planet. In fact, he probably already is.

Homo sapiens special power is that we’re a tool-making and tool-using creature. Our opposable thumbs gave us fine motor control to skillfully manipulate objects, and our brains have the super power of being able to picture what an object is going to look like before it exists in reality. These two factors, combined with our other abilities, like language and social bonds, put us on track to dominate the earth thousands of years ago. From humble beginnings, like making spears and flint knives, our tool use has grown exponentially into the today’s miracles of engineering like cars, planes, and penis-shaped space rockets. And don’t forget, in the past we’ve managed to build huge, complex structures with what would be considered only basic tools by today’s standards.

When it comes to combat, it’s no different. Our ancestors didn’t charge into battle barehanded as well as bare-chested. Well, maybe some of them did, but they’re not around anymore. We devised a whole range of deadly tools to effectively chop, sever and dismember our opponents, while wearing skillfully-made armor designed to protect our vital organs as best it could. In today’s more peaceful society our preference is for safe, unarmed martial arts, which we use to de-stress ourselves with after work. But these toothless tigers belie the long and bloody history of deadly weapons use amongst humans. And in terms of effectiveness between armed and unarmed, it’s not even a contest: even a professional boxer has very little chance against an unskilled man wielding a sharp knife.

Modern interpretation of a Viking warrior: Photo by Fernando Cortu00e9s on Pexels.com

I remember having an interesting conversation with my martial arts mentor and teacher, Damon Smith, about what kept him interested in a martial arts over such a long period of time. He said that, for him, a marital art needed to contain weapons or he loses interest. While they might not be practical in the modern age, adding weapons to a martial art increases its difficulty level as well as its effectiveness hugely, providing a new physical and cognitive challenge in the process. And by ‘adding weapons’ I mean actually learning to fight with them, not just performing a solo form.

Of course, there is a long history of weapons usage in martial arts. In fact, many modern martial arts started off as weapons systems before transitioning into purely bare-hand arts in modern times. Weapons are found in almost all ‘traditional’ Chinese martial arts and consist of things like spears, nunchucks, swords, throwing darts and wooden staffs. European martial arts use quarterstaff, sword and buckler, amongst other things. The gladiators in the Colosseum in ancient Rome use swords, shields, tridents and nets.

But there’s one marital art that most people would consider a purely bare-hand grappling art, which I think should be more accurately categorised as a weapons system, and that’s Brazilian Jiujitsu, (or BJJ for short).

While most systems of Japanese Jujitsu train with traditional weapons you rarely see them shown in BJJ beyond basic defences to a few random knife or gun attacks, and we certainly don’t train to use things like swords or spears in defence or offense. However there is one weapon that we use all the time – the gi.

BJJ in a gi: Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Jiujitsu was an import to Brazil from Japan, and adopted and taught by the famous Gracie family in Brazil in the early 20th century. It was originally practiced in the kimono, or “gi” as we call it today , and that is still how the majority of clubs train around the world, although the “no gi” or ‘spats and shorts’ version has been proving more popular in recent years.

The gi is a thick, and durable uniform that can stand up to tugging and wrenching without falling apart. It’s tied at the middle with a belt, which changes colour as you progress through the grades. For adults it goes from white to blue to purple to brown and finally black. There are belts after black, but most normal people don’t reach these.

Choking with the gi from back control in BJJ:Photo by Samuel Castro on Unsplash

The gi doesn’t look like it, but it is actually a weapon. Chokes can be performed in BJJ with almost any part of your body. The famous triangle choke, for instance, uses the legs to shut off the bloody supply to the head, causing unconsciousness, unless the person taps first. However, when you’re wearing the gi the number of chokes available increases massively. Chokes using the collar can be performed from almost any angle. You can also wrap the lapels of your gi, or their gi around the neck to create a choke.

Attempting a collar choke while rolling in BJJ: Photo by Samuel Castro on Unsplash

Soft weapons, like the rope dart in Chinese martial arts, have long been respected in martial circles for their efficiency and the gi is no different. In the hands of a skilled exponent of the art, the gi becomes simply another weapon with which to attack. While some people might consider that ‘cheating’ and no use for ‘the street’, there are plenty of others who point out that most people wear clothes when they go outside their house (and usually in their houses too), so these skills are transferable to real life situations.

There are plenty of videos online showing how gi chokes can be done even on somebody wearing a t-shirt:

I’ve stuck with Jiuitsu for 11 years now myself. and I think a large part of the attraction is the gi and the huge number of possibilities it offers. And while I favour a basic collar and sleeve grip when playing guard myself, there are whole systems of BJJ guard playing dedicated to intricate lapel grips, popularised by famous practitioners like Keenan Cornelius, the most famous of which is his Worm Guard:

The gi offers the same level of cognitive challenge that using a weapon does in other martial arts. And while Brazilian JiuJitsu takes the use of the gi to new levels, I think the same could be said about other grappling arts that make use of clothing, like judo and Mongolgian wrestling. Modern judo has become all about the grip fighting, for instance, and a good grip on the opponent’s clothing can give you a real advantage in arts like Mongolian wrestling.

There are downsides to fighting with the gi of course. Firstly, the damage to your fingers is real, especially as you get older. Too much gripping of the gi really takes it out of your fingers, especially once your grip gets twisted and your opponent is trying hard to break it.

The gi game tends to be a little bit slower-paced as well, since just having one grip somewhere on somebody can stop an attack completely. But while some people find that frustrating, to me it’s just another problem to solve, and more brain-tingling fun to keep training the mind as hard as the body.

Ep 5: Priit Mihkelson – Meet the BJJ Turtle Master

My guest in this episode is my first from the world of Brazilian Jiujitsu. He’s Estonian Jiujitsu coach Priit Mihkelson.

For over 15 years now Priit has been pioneering an innovative, logical and defensive style of jiujitsu that has been taking the BJJ world by storm.

He’s just back from running a training camp held in a castle in Italy and his seminars are sold out until mid June next year, so it was great to grab some of his precious time and catch up with him before he jetted off for his next training camp.

In this podcast we talk about defensive BJJ, training methods and technical innovations.

Show Notes:

Priit’s talk at BJJ Globetrotters Iceland Camp in 2020
“Want to get better at Jiu Jitsu?”

Priit’s online coaching website:
www.DefensiveBJJ.com

Paul Bowman on Bruce Lee, martial arts studies and martial arts comedy

A new episode of the Tai Chi Notebook podcast is out, featuring Paul Bowman.

Click the link above, or you’ll find it on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Search for The Tai Chi Notebook.

Paul Bowman is a professor of cultural studies at Cardiff University. He’s the author of multiple books on martial arts, including several about Bruce Lee, and most recently, “The invention of martial arts: popular culture between Asia and America”, which was published by Oxford University press in 2020.

Paul also helped establish the academic journal Marital Arts Studies, and organised conferences for the Martial Arts Studies Research Network.

In this chat we reminisce about our times training together, talk about paul’s recent discovery of Brazilian jiujutsu and discuss the emergent field of martial arts studies.

Show notes:

10.15: The Bruce Lee period
Theorizing Bruce Lee: Film-Fantasy-Fighting-Philosophy
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Theorizing-Bruce-Lee-Film-Fantasy-Fighting-Philosophy-Contemporary/dp/9042027770/ref=sr_1_1

Beyond Bruce Lee: Chasing the Dragon Through Film, Philosophy, and Popular Culture 1 Mar. 2013
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Bruce-Lee-Chasing-Philosophy/dp/0231165293/ref=sr_1_1

16.00: I am Bruce Lee, the movie
https://vimeo.com/96517261

17.30: Marital Arts Studies
https://mas.cardiffuniversitypress.org/

22.40: Understanding Identity Through Martial Arts, with Prof Adam Frank
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BZb3WjosTs

23.53: On How to Talk about Taekwondo, with Professor Paul Bowman
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cALt0O3Y5_s

31.05: The invention of martial arts
On The Invention of Martial Arts with Prof Paul Bowman
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOyAllbfYsM
The Invention of Martial Arts: Popular Culture Between Asia and America 24 Feb. 2021
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Invention-Martial-Arts-Popular-Culture/dp/0197540341/ref=sr_1_1

44.50: David Carradine – No Limitations Be Anything
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3q85cV3GOMw

55.00: Comedy and honour around martial arts styles
Are Filipino Martial Arts Realistic? | Master Ken
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiuTGP-jnT8

Sensei Seth: If Every Martial Arts Style Taught Each Other
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGo2_f50GLo