Nonsense Boy was a superhero of some kind, I think. He fought crime using the endless stream of nonsense that poured out of his mouth. And when he wasn’t doing that he spent his time annoying me.
Nonsense Boy turned up at my class convinced that it was a no-gi Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) submission grappling class. Which it isn’t. I told him so… I might have been a bit subtle; he might have missed the point when I said ‘this is not a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school’, but for whatever reason he remained convinced that’s the class he was attending. Or maybe he thought that he could change our class into a BJJ school by sheer force of delusion. Whatever, he came to the class on and off for two and a half years. A lot more off than on, but he kept reappearing. I really don’t know why.
Now, Nonsense Boy was a Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu when he arrived. I know that because he told me so. For those that don’t know, Blue belt is a very high standard in BJJ. There are arts where anything short of Black Belt represents a fairly basic level of competence, but a BJJ Blue belt is pretty impressive. I was expecting good things.
Nonsense Boy wasn’t a BJJ Blue belt. After being handed his ass a few times he demoted himself to ‘soon to be grading for Blue Belt’ and eventually reached ‘trained a bit’. He never lost the habit of telling everyone how great he was though, even when everyone was beating him.
Anyway, Nonsense Boy approached me one day and told me he was training for Mixed Martial Arts. He wanted to fight on a few shows. And to do this he was learning Judo at the local club, plus Kickboxing and Ju-Jutsu (Japanese, not Brazilian, if you know the difference) from me. I’m not sure he was learning anything from me, but that’s not the point.
The point is that, okay, sometime around 1995 you might have had to put your own ‘mixed’ martial art together from different classes, but today there are MMA schools that will give you what you need prepackaged. You can add extras if you want, but everything you need is there in one school – striking, grappling, conditioning, competition-specific training and a fight team to spar with. So why was this guy not doing that if he wanted to train for MMA?
What he was doing was a bit like running around the side of a swimming pool shouting about what a great swimmer you are. Claiming to be an MMA fighter might impress a Kickboxer in the Kickboxing class or a Judo player in the Judo class, but saying the same thing in an MMA class won’t impress. Nonsense Boy would have been called on his claims, and… well, I’d have paid money to see that.
This sort of thing is sadly common in martial arts. It’s very easy to talk about your Mad Submissionz Skillz in the Kickboxing class where you can’t be called up on demonstrate competence. It’s something else to jump into the pool with the other swimmers and see if you can keep afloat.
But that’s the secret. If you want people who know about swimming to believe you can swim, it helps if you’ve actually been in the pool at some point.
I train fighters. I’m good at it. But in the end, how much a student gets out of training depends very much on how much they put in. Some of the hardest people to train are the ones that come in with some experience and want my class to be exactly the same as the one they left. You might wonder why they left, but sometimes there’s a reason…
Anyhow, it can be quite frustrating to work with these people. One example is a former Karate student who passed through our Kickboxing program. I’ve seen good and bad Karate, and he was definitely on the ‘bad’ side. He claimed to be a black belt, which doesn’t say much for everyone else at whatever class he came from.
Anyway, we teach a fairly vanilla-flavor striking syllabus with an emphasis on hitting hard with basic techniques. There’s a way you hit when you’re trying to deliver impact, and it’s different to the way you, err, perform a punch-like movement and hit empty air. It always take a while for students to convert from one style to another, but that assumes they want to. Or that they’ve noticed that anything is different in the new class.
A few months in. Yes, months after coming to us, this individual was still not hitting hard, still performing karate strikes instead of throwing the more western-style shots we use. But finally it was time to spar. Karate dude was put up against one of the beginners for a light sparring introduction. Beginner was naturally nervous and did a bit too much standing around trying to decide what to do. That gave Karate dude his chance to, well, to stand somewhere near his opponent and perform slow, clumsy Karate-type strikes that looked like nothing we teach.
I mentioned months of attending our classes, at least intermittently, right? Well, I believe you should judge a class and its coach by the students. In which case I suck. This person learned absolutely nothing from us in several months, and eventually stopped coming to the class. Can’t say I was sorry about that.
This is a problem with a certain kind of student. The kind that already knows it all when they arrive. Rather than learning anything, they just trundle along doing what they already know. Sometimes they come around in time, sometimes not. This one didn’t. As a coach all you can do is show the way; it’s up to the student to decide whether they want to take any notice.
I guess that if you’re going to take horses to water , the odd one will fall in and drown.
We were invited a little while ago to an event called ‘Sword Chase’, which is a mixed-styles sword fighting event. Yes, really. It caters for everything from sport fencers to kendoists, but mainly the European Sword Arts.
With the event in mind, we did some mixed-styles work of our own:
Sabre vs Rapier: These two weapons never met in reality; they’re 200 years apart. But one of the sabre’s predecessors is the backsword, which was used against rapiers quite a lot. A backsword is a bit like one of those Scottish basket-hilted broadswords, or claymores - there’s a claymore vs rapier duel in the film Rob Roy. More importantly, there’s a body of technique for dealing with a backswordist that works pretty well against a sabreur. I found this out the hard way – my trusty sabre was outreached by the rapier and I kept getting stabbed in the face when I tried to close in. ‘Just get past the point and move in close’ seemed to be the answer but strangely it’s not so easy when the opponent knows that’s what you want to do. On the plus side, when I did get in close my sabre had the advantage.
Sabre vs Longsword: That’s right, a 19th Century cavalry saber against a medieval longsword. Which is used in both hands, by the way. Well, as you’d expect the longsword has a power advantage but you can parry it if you get it right. The sabre is faster but the longsword isn’t slow so there’s a narrow window of opportunity. The sabre has the advantage at medium range but in close the longsword is actually handier – having both hands on the weapon really helps. Exchanges were short – either I got in and landed one, or I defeated an attack and landed one, or I died in a variety of inventive ways. There wasn’t much in between.
Sabre vs Kris: I tried taking on a Filipino Kris sword with my sabre. The Kris is shorter and has a straight (but wavy) blade; it’s like an overgrown knife. For once I had a reach advantage! The technique is quite similar in some ways as well; attacks come down the same lines so the defences are similar. We found that most exchanges consisted of some medium range fencing, with cuts, thrusts and parries, and then one of us would commit to a kill shot. If it landed, great. If not, we’d end up in a wrestling match with two swords involved. Because that always ends well….
We do get some wonderful toys to play with. The last section of Captain Alfred Hutton’s treatise on the sabre is techniques for use against the musket and bayonet. Everyone needs to know how to deal with a crazed foreigner with a bayonet, so we had a look at that one the other day. But how do you train to deal with a musketeer? Well, you get yourself a fencing musket, obviously.
Wait… a what?
Yes, a fencing musket. Basically it’s a mockup of a musket with a spring-loaded ‘bayonet’ on the end. It’s blunt but you still know about it when it hits you. Of course, that’s the point… you don’t want to get hit. So now you have one guy with a saber and the other with a long pointy thing, both trying to do each other in. The trick is to get past the point of the bayonet, in close where the sword can cut and the bayonet can’t stab. Simple.
Well, not really. Because the other end of the musket is really heavy and if you’re a bit careless you’re going to get it right in the face. Not that anything like that happened to me, of course….
A guy we’d not met before came along to the class a while back. Decent enough guy, very good ground game. Problem was, he had no standup at all. He struggled to cope with something as simple as an opponent throwing a front kick or even a bunch of punches at him. But like I said, he was pretty good on the ground.
I was a bit shocked to hear he was training for an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) match, and a lot more shocked to find it was that weekend. This guy simply wasn’t ready for it, and afterward I heard it went exactly like I predicted.
Our new friend had been training for a few months and was up for his first fight. Problem was, he was loving the ground a bit much, and spent a lot of his training time on technical submission and submission-defense work. That’s important, but not if you get knocked out before you can take the opponent down.
His plan was to take the opponent down and look for a submission, but what actually happened was that he ate a bunch of shots every time he tried. Then he got taken down, or both fighters went down without any real advantage. Our visitor was a tough kid; he managed to stay in the fight and even attempted some submissions, but his lack of a standup game meant that he was always disadvantaged when he went to the ground. He then couldn’t put his opponent away before the referee stood the fight back up and the process started again.
I’ve seen this before. A lot of fight schools enter relative noobs (newbies, beginners, etc.) on the shows, and the promoters match them up against equally unskilled opponents. That’s fair enough I suppose, and it fills out the card. Noob fights can still be exciting to watch – we’re not talking about totally incompetent people here; a few weeks of good training can create a very decent fighter.
And the fighters gain experience from it. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a noob-fight early in your career. But this guy simply wasn’t ready. He’d over-emphasised one aspect of his training and never stood a chance. It doesn’t matter how good your ground game is if you can’t get the opponent to the ground on terms that give you a fair chance for victory.
So what I’m saying is that the first requirement for a good ground game is the ability to fight standing up. Counterintuitive? Maybe. But it’s called Mixed Martial Arts for a reason. Leaving a bit out creates a one-dimensional fighter. A skilled opponent will demolish one of those.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) started out as exactly what it sounded like – different martial arts matched up against one another. Or mismatched, in some cases. It’s like the ancient arguments: who’d win out of a Judo player and a Karate practitioner? A Wrestler and a Kickboxer? An Astronaut and a Caveman?
What happened fairly quickly was it became obvious that there were certain skills everyone needed for MMA competition. One-dimensional fighters, who could only strike or only grapple, could be at a severe disadvantage. So the strikers had to learn a bit of grappling and the grapplers had to learn to hit. More importantly they had to learn to deal with one anothers’ styles.
A body of technique emerged over time that covered all the basics. This ‘generic MMA’ technique includes takedowns and submissions, strikes and kicks, and how to deal with the common methods used by most others. Different fighters and fight schools have their own take on the body of technique, and often augment the core techniques with aspects of their favoured systems.
Some schools are heavily influenced by Wrestling, Judo or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, others by boxing, kickboxing or Muay Thai. Sometimes a more unusual style makes an appearance, which can cause an upset if nobody knows how to deal with it, but pretty soon counters are devised and pass into the common body of technique.
Thus to some extent Mixed Martial Arts has sort of become a style in its own right. At least, a lot of people think so. Guys regularly come into my classes and say they want to learn MMA. Not to compete, just to train. At another time they’d have wanted to learn Karate or Gung Fu, I guess. These days it’s MMA they want because that's what they're seeing on TV.
I wonder what’s next?
Sunday 20th May 2102 was the All-Styles Martial Arts Association (ASMAA) Spring Seminar in Doncaster. That’s a 2-hour drive from here, down a strangely empty motorway. The vast expanse of roadworks at Leeming Bar has finally gone, so we ended up being early. That in turn let to us (me and Nate Zettle) standing around wearing fencing jackets and fingering sabres while everyone checked in. There were a few puzzled looks – this was a martial arts seminar about striking and grappling, so what were these two guys doing with the ironmongery?
What we were doing was demonstrating European Sabre technique as formulated by Captain Alfred Hutton in the 1880s. That, and trying to carve bits off one another with steel swords. The, err, ‘demo’ got a bit competitive and we both came away with a few lumps, but it went down well. There was a point to all this – we’re an all-styles organization and that really does mean all-styles. Traditional martial arts, combat sports, cage fighting, even Western fencing… we’re supporting all the fighting arts.
The seminar proper was taught by ASMAA head Dave Turton, who’s a 9th Dan in self-defence and various other forms of mayhem, assisted by various senior members of ASMAA. ‘Assisted’ in this case means that Dave brutalized us for the amusement and edification of everyone else.
The morning was all about grappling methods and their applications. A lot of martial arts are very stylized, but underneath the differences there’s a common body of technique. Not surprising really; there’s only so many ways to drop someone on his head. The afternoon moved on to striking and kicking techniques; how to deliver maximum impact and demolish an opponent efficiently.
Overall it was a good day with an excellent turnout from various different styles – we had Kickboxers, a couple of Mixed Martial Artists, Aikido and Ju-Jutsu guys and some multi-styles people. It’s good to see how violence and mayhem can bring people together like that…
Highlights of the day for me included a Lancashire Catch Wrestling technique called a Grovit (European wrestling techniques have some truly fascinating names, don’t they?), which is a combination of a face bar and neck crank. Basically you get your head crushed while your neck feels like it’s about to break. Which it will, if you don’t tap out. Catch wrestling isn’t about being nice to people.
I also took a shot in the head that left me semi-conscious for several seconds. The four steps sideways that I travelled wasn’t a record, but it was the longest I’ve been ‘out’ from that particular shot. Not that we were trying for a record or anything! This was sort of counterbalanced by being awarded my 3rd Dan in Combat Ju-Jutsu. So I guess I’m now a 3rd Dan in being hit in the head.
Well, that’s all right then.
The webpage builder software has a blog page option, so I now have a blog page. And here it is!
Right at this moment my current task is getting this website into a condition fit to publish... then finding most of the typos and republishing it with corrections. Once I'm done with that I have some sample text to write for a prospective Zombie-related project, then 2-3000 words on the current gun book.
Not sure what I'll do after that. Have a beer maybe.