Anti-vax jokers are everywhere in martial arts

Be careful who you train with, because anti-vax jokers are everywhere in martial arts.

Photo by Jhefferson Santos on Pexels.com

The COVID 19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the world economy, and it’s been equally as bad on martial arts practice. Chinese martial arts have proved more resistant to complete collapse because the majority of the training can be done solo. Taolu or ‘forms’ are prevalent and can all be done outdoors and socially distanced, and on Zoom. Things like BJJ however have really suffered, since it requires close contact. A solo drill version of BJJ is really just an exercise class. 

Now there is talk of a vaccine for COVID 19, and maybe before Christmas. The vaccine has the potential to return us to ‘normal’ in the martial arts. At least we’ll be able to train together safely again. You’d think that would be great news for martial artists, but now I’m noticing just how many of my martial arts associates won’t take a vaccine, because they are complete anti-vax nut cases. Sorry! I mean “vaccine hesitant”. Yes, that’s what we have to call them now.

All the conspiracy theories, stuff about Bill Gates wanting to microchip the world, COVID being made up, it all being a plan-demic, etc, it’s all, 100%, posted on my Facebook feed by martial artists, not by the other people I’m friends with.

For example, there’s one kung fu teacher I had from around 30 years ago, who I really respected, who has turned out to be a full on anti-vaxxer. He hasn’t even got his child immunised against measles because “I believe in Chinese medicine”. Well, that’s nice for you (man), but you’re putting weak, old and vulnerable people at risk from a killer disease because you have chosen to ignore science and not to get your child immunised against a potentially fatal disease. Your child might be healthy and fine, but they can pass it on to somebody who is recovering from cancer treatment and has a weakened immune system. But you don’t really give a crap about that do you? You’re too busy jabbing yourself with acupuncture needles and drinking herbs to care.

Next time you break a limb, just put some crystals on it. Job done.
Photo by Alina Vilchenko on Pexels.com

As you can tell, it makes me angry. So, apologies, but I’m going to go on a bit of a rant. 

There’s a reason nobody has polio anymore. We had a vaccine, and enough people took it that we achieved a herd immunity. The less people that take a vaccine the less effective it is overall, which is why measles is making a comeback in parts of the UK and the US.

“But we don’t know the long term effects!”

Hey, guess what, nobody knew the long term effects of any vaccine. It’s not like these new vaccines haven’t been tested – that’s all they’ve been doing to them. Testing them over and over to make sure they’re safe. History has told us that bad side effects happen within 2 weeks of taking a new vaccine, or generally not at all. Nothing is 100% risk free, and nobody is saying it is, but it’s all about balancing the risks. 

Perhaps it’s social media, and the sorts of idiots who post links and make youtube videos packed full of conspiracy theories that are to blame. But it’s the people who think watching them counts as “research” that are the problem. And why do so many marital arts people specifically succumb to this? That, I don’t know. They seem particularly vulnerable to strange beliefs. It probably explains why martial arts cults exist and why kung fu masters in China keep getting beaten up by a middle aged MMA guy.


And before you hit the reply button with “Yeah, but what about..” Just don’t. It’s your very whataboutism that is part of the problem. You spread confusion about vaccines every time you post these things – you’re part of the problem. Please stop it!

Anyway, rant over. 

Why so many grappling styles stop when things go to the ground

If you throw your opponent to the ground in almost all of the old, traditional folk wrestling styles then you win. That’s it. Game over. To modern day martial artists that seems very odd, as we’re now all used to seeing MMA and BJJ fights on the ground, sometimes lasting minutes. But in olden times, if your shoulders touched the ground or you were pinned (or some version thereof), it was all over.

Why is that?*

Photo by Alan Stoddard on Pexels.com

You’ll find the answer in the latest episode of the Sonny Brown Breakdown in which he interviews Ruadhán MacFadden of the Hero with a Thousand Holds podcast.

“I talk to Ruadhán MacFadden. He runs a project titled The Hero with a Thousand Holds which looks at the culture and practice of folk wrestling styles around the world. In particular the people and places that the styles have emerged from and not just the techniques which they used. We discuss some of the mythology and culture behind these styles and what the future holds for them. And we get into some of the particulars of Icelandic Glima and Irish Collar and Elbow Wrestling and Scuffling.”

* Ok,I’ll tell you the answer, (or one of the possible answers anyway). Wrestling between males (and sometimes females) was often used as a form of socialisation, and entertainment in tightly knight communities, or as a way of settling disputes without recourse to serious violence. Killing valuable members harmed the community’s chances of long term survival. In any case, there was nothing to be gained for the community from people getting seriously hurt either, so there had to be a simple way of declaring a winner without things escalating to the point that somebody was bludgeoned to death with a rock. Hence, once you landed on the ground, it was over.

A better way to do martial arts

I’m thinking again about my theme for the last couple of posts, the subject of myth busting and how it can lead to disillusionment in martial arts.

Essentially the question I grapple with is: How do we make martial arts better without all the bullshit?

One guy who is doing a lot to change things in martial arts – specifically in his area, which is BJJ, but I don’t think it takes much to apply it to a wider context – is Priit Mihkelson. In this lecture he gives one possible version of what this “how to make martial arts better without the bullshit” might look like.

Perhaps the specific things he’s talking about don’t relate to your particular martial art, but it’s the thinking behind it I like. It feels progressive, scientific, hopeful and perhaps a glimpse of a better future for martial arts: training methods based on progressive resistance, feedback and success, rather than failure.

The real Carlos Gracie

It’s Carlos Gracie’s birthday today, or it would be if he was still alive. Carlos Gracie is the man who is perhaps solely responsible for BJJ existing in the modern world, as a separate entity to Judo, which is something we should all be grateful for. He would have been 118 today. Because of this my Facebook feed is currently flooded with inspirational quotes from Carlos Gracie – particularly “Be so strong that nobody can disturb your peace of mind”.

Carlos Gracie

Unfortunately, like a lot of the stories that have built up around him, and his brother Helio Gracie, the true story is different to the myth. In fact, he stole that quote (and all his other philosophical ramblings) from a short poem called the Optimist Creed written by Christian Larson, an American New Thought leader in 1912. *

The story we are told by the Gracie family is that Carlos learned from the famous Mitsuyo Maeda – the “Count of Combat” – a famous student of the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, who was in Brazil teaching Jiujitsu and engaging in prize fights for money.

Mitsuyo Maeda

In a parallel to the Yang LuChan story, we are also asked to believe that Carlos’ younger brother, Helio, who was too weak and sickly to learn Jiujitsu in classes, managed to learn the whole art by simply watching Carlos train.

In reality, Maeda had come to Brazil to retire, and there’s very little evidence he actually met Carlos at all. Helio Gracie was not weak or sickly – he was an athlete, a champion swimmer. True history is never simple, it’s always complicated and the history of BJJ is no exception. Without Carlos Gracie though, and his resistance to folding his Brazilian branch of Judo into the Japanese version, there would be no BJJ today, but it might be time for a more honest look at his legacy.

You can find out more about the true history of Carlos Gracie in the Sonny Brown Breakdown podcast where BJJ legend Robert Drysdale discusses his new upcoming film Closed Guard, about the history of Brazilian Jiujitsu.

The website for Closed Guard by Robert Drysdale.
  • The full text of the Optimist Creed is as follows:

The Optimist Creed

Promise Yourself

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

– 1912 Christian Larson.

Can traditional martial arts survive COVID-19?

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

There’s a great article over on Kung Fu Tea (Chinese Martial Studies) that talks about the long term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on martial arts training, but as usual takes in a lot of other stuff.

I really like this quote:

“Setting questions of charlatans, deluded masters and outdated training methods aside, I am going to hypothesize that even in the best-case scenario, there is a pretty simple reason why professional boxer/mma fighters will always beat the traditional martial arts master in those YouTube videos.  It comes down to specialization, or simply putting in the hours.  All else being, equal the individual who trains all day for one task will be beat the individual who trains for four and then runs an afterschool program to pay the bills.  It is a mathematical fact, and the reason why ever-increasing degrees of specialization have become the dominant paradigm for social development in the current era.”

Invest in Loss: Hope for Traditional Martial Arts

Of course, the question of “deluded masters” is quite a large one. Or maybe it only appears that way because of the media exposure these events create.

But his point is that traditional martial arts have to be all things to all people. MMA, boxing or San Da classes are designed to develop a very specific set of skills, and are full of people who all want to do the same thing. Traditional arts tend to have all sorts of different customers, and provide varied social functions, including kids classes. This obviously has disadvantages for the traditional arts when it comes to competing against practitioners of highly specialist fighting arts

“All else being, equal the individual who trains all day for one task will be beat the individual who trains for four and then runs an afterschool program to pay the bills.”

Invest in Loss: Hope for Traditional Martial Arts

However, Ben’s argument is that it gives the traditional arts more flexibility, both economic and organisationally, when it comes with dealing with the challenges thrown up by the global pandemic.

Narrow specializations presupposes economies of scale that may be achievable in some-times and places, but not others.  In periods of prolonged economic contraction a neighborhood martial arts schools which can do a little bit of everything might have a better chance of surviving than the large BJJ academy focused only on competition, the reality fighting school focused only on paramilitary knife/gun defense ,and the Wushu program with an emphasis on gymnastics.

Invest in Loss: Hope for Traditional Martial Arts

My first time sparring in BJJ

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I was reminded recently of a blog post I wrote for Cook Ding’s Kitchen a few years ago about starting BJJ after years of doing Tai Chi. I just re-read it and decided it was ‘not too bad’, so I’m sharing it again here.

Here’s a quote about my first time sparring in BJJ.

We fist-bumped again and went for round 2. He then proceeded to act out a BJJ clinic on me. He was tapping me out using every sort of conceivable lock or choke hold I could think of at a rate of one tap every 2 minutes. And worse, he wasn’t even trying. I quickly realised he’d let me tap him the first time just to see what I could do. This went on for the full 30 minutes. It wasn’t a matter of being out-muscled – it was clear that he possessed a knowledge that I didn’t. I wanted to lie down, curl up and die after about 10 minutes, but something in me refused to give up and I lasted until the end of the class. The black belt running the class was keeping an eye on me, and expressed some concern about the curious wheezing noises my breathing was making and asked if I’d like to sit out, but my pride wouldn’t let me. I kept going until the end. It took me about 2 days to recover fully. My next class was the same, but this time the blue belt I fought was a smaller female, who repeatedly jumped on my back and tapped me out with chokes until time was up.

That was it, I was hooked.

There was a type of knowledge here I could learn, and it worked in a fight, and it didn’t matter if the other person was stronger than you. There were no forms, deadly techniques or imagining ‘what if’ scenarios. You were hit by reality from the first fist bump.

 

Elite Sports Ultra Light Preshrunk Adult Gi Review

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So far I’ve mainly reviewed martial arts books, but I’d also like to branch out into reviewing other martial arts products, so, being a BJJ enthusiast, I jumped at the chance to review the Elite Sports Ultralight Preshrunk Adult Gi when they offered to send me a review sample. Here’s my review.

Elite Sports Ultra Light Preshrunk Adult Gi review

Price: £59.99

Web: Elite Sports (UK)

Direct link to product

Verdict: Great value!

What is it? The Elite Sports Ultra Light Gi is a kimono for wearing in Jiujitsu classes. Jiujitsu gis differ a little in style and shape from Judo gis, and they also need to take a lot of wear and tear. They need to be tough, yet light enough that you don’t end up drowning in your own sweat.

How did it look? See for yourself. Here’s a video:

The video is also on our new Instagram account.

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There’s a nice range of colour options available. I went for the navy colour, which I really like. If I was being picky I’d say there was about a 10% difference in colour shade between the trousers and the top. That’s not a big problem for me though.

Is it tough enough? Yes, there were no signs that it was going to rip any time soon, and at under 3kg in weight, it was also light and didn’t feel cumbersome. The Elite Sports Gi manages to hit a great balance between toughness and lightness. The stitching looks solid and there were no problems with the tailoring at all.

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Did it fit? I went for the A2 size and it fitted me perfectly. The cut is great – called “fitted” – and being preshrunk it fits nicely as soon as you put it on. Flowing through jiujitsu movements the gi felt great – it’s been tailored so that there’s enough room for your arms and legs to move freely. It’s got a nice balance between stiffness and softness so that it keeps its shape as you roll. It’s not going to end up wrapped around your head like really soft gis can, but it also doesn’t feel too stiff.

The trousers are tied with a chunky cord, which looks like this:

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The cord might feel a bit odd to start with compared to other gis, but they didn’t untie once for the duration of a whole class.

The material of the gi itself is really smooth – this had the advantage that it’s easier to flow around people, and makes your jiujitsu feel really silky because there’s slightly less traction against the other person, but equally, it could make it slightly harder to hold people in positions.

What do you get in the box? Along with the gi you also get a free white belt. Like the gi, it’s good quality, and thick.

Did it shrink in the wash? No. I washed it at 30 degrees (which the label recommends)  and there was no shrinkage at all. There was also no colour loss.

How did it smell? Some cheaper gis can have a nasty smell when you first open them, but it’s important to note that when I first got the Elite Sports Gi, the gi smelt great – apparently there’s an “Antimicrobial Inner Lining” to this gi which has the effect of reducing sweat odour over time as well, which is a nice feature. I’d say it works too – even after a heavy rolling session, the gi didn’t smell that sweaty.

Would you recommend it? Yes. At just £60 this is a great value product: recommended!

 

 

 

 

 

Tai Chi should be heavy, like a stone

 

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Move your hips! Photo by: Samuel Castro

One of the most frequent things you hear in BJJ is “move your hips“.

Brazilian teachers tend to say “escape your hips“. Which is an odd-sounding translation of presumably something that sounds better in Portuguese. In American and English it usually gets turned into “hip escape“, as in, “do a hip escape here“, “it’s not working because you need to hip escape more“.

 

We hip escape up and down the gym as a warm up (also known as “shrimping”) because it’s a fundamental movement you need to have in your tool box that you can pull out without having to think about it.

But why? What is it? Simply put: It’s designed to create more space between you and your opponent on the ground.

You can use hip escapes for escaping bad positions like side control and mount. But it also has benefits for attacks too. Basically a good rule of thumb is that if what you’re doing isn’t working try doing a hip escape and doing it again. The change of angle and leverage will probably fix it.

Now we know what a hip escape is, let’s get to the point of all this.

When we say “move your hips” that’s not the part of the body that you need to move from. If you just moved from your hips you’d never go anywhere.  You’d just spasm on the floor like a dying fly having its last buzz. What you actually need to do is push with your toes and feet on the ground so that your hips move.

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Your hips moving is the result of the action, not the action itself.

Which brings me onto Tai Chi Chuan and the dantien (the lower abdomen area of the body).

All wise and knowledgeable Internet-enabled Tai Chi practitioners know that we need to “move from the dantien” in Tai Chi Chuan. (This is the supposed secret to Tai Chi that you get told by your wise master only after you have paid the required tuition fees for a number of years. 🙂 )

 

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Cheng Man Ching, Single Whip posture.

But again, where does the action originate? I would say that, just as in JiuJitsu, you don’t actually “move from the dantien” by originating action there. Your dantien moves, but it’s your foot that provides the impetus. Your foot pushing against the ground is where the ‘power’ comes from in Tai Chi Chuan.

(A side note here for the Order of Advanced Tai Chi Wizards of the Internet: When you get this concept of the power from the ground you will find that you can actually originate the movement in the dantien as a kind of dropping force that is then rebounded from the ground, so it’s less of a push with the legs. File this under “advanced” if it makes no sense right now and come back to it later).

What Tai Chi Chuan specialises in is transmitting this power to the extremities without interfering with it as much as is humanly possible. We know that in Tai Chi we need to be relaxed (song), which seems like the last thing you’d want to be if you have to hit something hard, but there is a method in the madness.

In Tai Chi Chuan you are trying to transfer that power – the ground reaction force – from your foot all the way to your fingers as smoothly as possible and directing it with the dantien. This is called ‘threading a pearl through the 9 crooked gates‘ in the Tai Chi classics. The gates here are the joints of the body. All the breaks in connection between your foot and fingers are the points where power leaks out. Usually we cover these things up by using muscular strength to get by – you can spend years fooling yourself with this, and it’s a very hard habit to stop.

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Points of interest, where we generally mess this up, are the lower back (keep it open) and the shoulders (stop using them as a power source). The whole body should be Song.

‘Relaxed’ doesn’t mean light and floaty. It means heavy and rooted like a stone.