Is Athleticism the Alpha Attribute?

img01I’ve written about athleticism before and its place in the martial athletics. In review, athleticism has to do with movement. More specifically, it has to do with a high degree of motor quantities including but not limited to:


In the previous article, we examined whether athleticism or technical ability wins. In this article I want to further examine when technique can overcome athleticism. And, of course, when athleticism trumps technical ability.

Technical ability has to do with highly developed movement quantities through the martial ranges of motion. But, like all movement disciplines, moving in martial arts, doesn’t move you through all possible ranges of motion. This is where athleticism comes in.

Someone who is considered athletic has more available movement quantities than the average practitioner in that specific sport. It’s likely they are not as technical in that sport. This is likely because practicing a limited set of motions limits other motions.

“Going With” and “Stopping” are our two prime metaphors in Movement Martial Arts. These metaphors are very useful in predicting the outcome between the technician and athlete. And the outcome is easily predicted.

In many cases, a contest is determined either by the “going with” or the “stopping.” In the case of this contest between the technician and athlete, it is a contest of stops. If the technician can stop the athlete’s superior motion, the technician wins. But if the athlete can evade/outmaneuver the
technician’s stops, the athlete will win. I think this should inform martial practice.

As you become more an more technical, your feel, or your ability to feel will naturally improve. But your “stops” must improve commensurately. The accuracy and speed by which you apply your stops must get better and better. Otherwise, athleticism wins. Be athletic, but prioritize technical skills…especially stopping and the athlete will not be the alpha.

Off-Base the Base of Support

judo throwFor those of us without a grappling background,
takedowns can be incredibly challenging.

For those of us who are gi oriented,
we gravitate towards Judo to supplement
our BJJ.

For those of us who prefer No Gi,
our takedown sport of choice is more likely wrestling.

Dependent upon who is teaching the takedown art,
they may have a very forceful approach to the takedown.

They may advocate forcing the takedown…
going in a particular direction
no matter the direction the opponent is already going.

This approach makes boys into men
and men into bulls
but some of us don’t have the physical integrity
to withstand going against forces.
We have to be Matadors.

As a matador,
I have to go with my opponent’s force
and find it possible to do so
even when taking him down.

Going with means going with your opponent’s center of mass
whether he is applying force to you or not
and in doing so
you move his center of mass
beyond his base of support
and if you stop a part of his base of support from following
it often ends in a takedown.

But sometimes you can’t directly access the center of mass
likely because your can’t get past your opponent’s upper body guard.
It’s then when you have to take a more indirect route.
Instead of attacking more towards the center of mass,
attack the base of support.

The base of support is never equally weighted.
Attack the less weighted leg.
This often (but not always) means elevating this leg
towards the center of mass
and then taking center of mass
beyond the remaining base of support.

If there is sufficient downward force,
the ground is enough to stop your opponent
from changing his base of support.

It there isn’t enough downward pressure
apply a stop opposite the direction of travel…
and take your opponent down.
At least that’s how a biomechanics nerd does it.

Is Your Grappling the Answer to Every (Sport) Problem?

It wasn’t long before I became disillusioned with BJJ. It started in class. I saw college wrestlers (some, but not all D1) come in and mop up the floor with everyone Purple and below as well as a good percentage of the Browns and Blacks. Once they knew submission defense, they beat all the Browns. If they took off their Gis, the Black Belts couldn’t get them.

I saw this same trend in MMA. For the most part, Black Belt BJJ fighters can’t get wrestlers to the ground, or keep them on the ground, sweep, or submit them once they are there. Wrestling has proven itself to be the dominant Martial Art.

So what to do? “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?” Should we take off our kimonos and put on a singlet?

I think we should take off the Gi, but I don’t think we should necessarily become wrestlers. But I do think we should specialize…Specialize in answering the curious problem wrestlers pose.

We’ve got to shed the maximum amount of BJJ philosophy and practices that aren’t helping us against them. We’ve also got to adopt the minimal amount of wrestling we need to defeat them. We’ve got to find a way to get the fight to the ground, keep it on the ground, learn how to sweep them, and submit them.

If we can do this, we can reclaim the top spot in both grappling and MMA. But make no mistake, wrestlers are #1…by a big margin. We’ve got our work cut out for us.

Full Body Guard

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 9.42.45 AMThere is a concept that is applicable across all martial arts…but in order to see it, we’re going to have to revise some terms. BJJ largely happens on the ground…off the feet…and so feet based stance is largely ignored and instead posture is focused on. But there is an umbrella term that encapsulates both stance, posture (which usually refers to spinal position), and upper body positioning: guard.

Wrestling doesn’t use that term, but striking arts usually reserve that term for the upper body. BJJ usually applies “guard” the position of the legs relative to the other player’s legs…but I believe there is a better way to use it.  That ways includes the entire body.

Guard, or “Full Body” Guard, is a simplification of arms, legs, and spinal positioning. In order to be effective offensively or defensively, all parts of the body have to be in a particular position relative to each other. That’s why I call this master position “full body guard.”

It’s such a useful metaphor because it is incredibly predictive. When looking at a match at any point in time,it’s very easy to see who is ahead. Who is ahead is whoever is more in “full body guard.”

To win in Martial Arts, take your opponent out of their full body guard: whether that be there arms, legs, or spine (including head, it’s attached). But here’s the caveat: you have to do so by remaining more in your full body guard than they are in their full body guard. Win the “full body guard” game and you win the whole game.

Movement & Technique


I love this translation,
“When I move…techniques are born.”
But I think there is a far more textured way to look at it.

All techniques are made of movements…but not all movements.
There are movements to make and movement not to make when performing techniques.

For each technique, there is a correct way to perform it.
-Eyes go here
-Hand goes here
-Elbow goes here
-Knee goes here
-Foot goes here
-etc, etc.

These techniques are often judged by how they look.
But what is often forgotten is that while a technique can look good,
there is something else far more important
that makes it a good technique.

When performed correctly,
your techniques will move you into base (a good base of support)
or keep you in base.

Martial Art doesn’t really happen alone,
to truly practice Martial Art,
you need someone to practice with.

And no matter which branch of Martial Art you practice,
all techniques have one thing in common:
they move your opponent

Just as your techniques can you move you,
there are two ways they can move your opponent:
-into base
-out of base

An ineffective technique would move your opponent into base.
An effective technique would move your opponent off base.

Effective techniques are the movements you make that move you into base and your opponent off base.

No matter what it is: a kick, a punch, a knee, and elbow, a block, a parry, a slip, a trap, a trip, a takedown, an escape, a reversal, or a submission…Make it so that you move into base and your opponent moves out of base.  This is the basis of all effective martial art.

Eddie & Rickson

eddie-bravo_rickson-gracie-600x330I am an Eddie Bravo fan.
I am a Rickson Gracie fan.

It was pretty cool when they got together here:

and here:

While I am fan of both, I am a follower of neither. For all their differences (and there are many), there is a similarity in their approach to BJJ. I think that similarity can be summarized as: they believe in stopping their opponent from moving. While this isn’t pervasive in their practice of BJJ, it is part of their philosophy. They are interested in keeping their opponent in a position.

Keeping an opponent in a position I believe to be a vestige from Judo and Wrestling. In sports where pins are one of the goals, keeping an opponent from moving makes a lot of sense. But how much sense does it make to focus on keeping your opponent from moving in a sport where it isn’t required and against larger opponents (especially without the Gi) may be impossible.

Martial Arts work but not because the little guy can stop the big guy from moving. I believe Martial Arts work because the little guy can learn to use the big guy’s movement against the big guy. I believe this to be the spirit, the impetus, and the effectiveness of all Martial Arts, thus “Movement” Martial Arts.


scramble-logoHave you heard the term, “Scramble?”
Better yet, have you heard a definition for it?

There is a Zen saying,
“Music is the space between the notes.”

I think in much the same way,
a Scramble is the space between BJJ (or wrestling)

Whenever there is a lot of movement going on in a match
and the players are moving outside of standard positions in BJJ,
we consider them to be in a Scramble.

That isn’t exactly how I would define a scramble, though.
The kind of submission grappling that I endorse
has to do with maintaining intentional contact (focusing on contact, not pressure or how hard one contacts) with one’s opponent.

I believe each time intentional contact is lost, we are in a scramble
and we have to wrestle
instead of using our Jiu-Jitsu.

While I don’t like this phrase,
I’m going to use it:
If you’re “Scrambling,” you’re doing it wrong.

Even if you are escaping a bad position
and you’re going to win the scramble…
I still think you’re doing it wrong.

The principles I teach of go with your opponent
but stop a part of his body
are espousing that intentional contact.

No matter how unorthodox a position you may find yourself in,
the answer lies in the principles…
and not in the Scramble.

Your Weapons

skulls guns the expendables 1920x1080 wallpaper_www.knowledgehi.com_38I was watching another episode of The Ultimate Fighter a while ago
and it happened again:
A fighter was striking from top guard and got triangle-d.

I’ve written an earlier post
disagreeing with the strategy of striking from the guard…
so I don’t want to do that here.

Here, I want to talk about a very simple metaphor
to make use of in all “combat sports” applications:
Get Your Weapons back.

Your arms are what you will use to submit your opponent.
They are your weapons.
But they are also part of what is attacked:
more specifically the shoulder, elbow and wrist.

And so,
when your opponent grabs one of your weapons…
get it back
because giving your opponent your weapon
makes your weapon your weakness.
Which brings me to another dove tailing concept:
If you cannot bring your weapon back to your body…
bring your body back to the weapon.

So let’s go back to that TUF contestant.
His opponent in bottom guard grabbed his arm.
At that point, if he could not pull his weapon back to his body,
he would bring his body to his weapon…
get both his weapons back,
posture up,
and start striking
or even better…
pass the guard.

But no matter your Martial Art,
no matter your strategy,
if you’re going to win,
you can only win if you’re armed with weapons
and at least some of those weapons
are your arms.

Change in the Martial Arts

ufcd0_royce_gracie_v2_mcIn 1993, Royce Gracie changed for me
what it meant to be an effective Martial Artist.

Being from stand-up disciplines
and having never encountered Judokas or wrestlers,
I thought I knew enough…
but this new champion changed my mind for me…
and changed a lot of other people’s minds, too.
Consequently, many of us are now BJJ practitioners.

That is the wonderful thing about Martial Artists
contrasted by those from the thinking disciplines.
Once we see that something works,
overall, we stop doing what doesn’t work
and start to learn what does.

But isn’t there evidence of what works
before there is a champion for it?

Was 1993 the last time that the Martial Arts paradigm will shift?
Doubtful. Very doubtful.
What will you do whenever the next discipline emerges?

Will you need, as I did,
a champion to uproot you
from solid ground
and plant you in richer soil?

Will you listen to what coach and Martial Arts
(and otherwise) Philosopher extraordinaire,
John Danaher recommends,
and look at competition record
and lineage before you listen?
What if there really isn’t much of a lineage…
or a record?

There is a change coming in Martial Arts.
There always is.
Will you cling to the dying
or embrace the emergent?

Open Hand, Closed Hand

open-closed-handsOne of the elements that separate how we at Movement Martial Arts approach all Martial Art is how small we look at it.  Martial Art is just a collection of movements and all movements matter… especially hand movements.

Entire categories of Martial Art are defined by whether hands are opened or closed. But every Martial Art, including the grappling arts, have both open and close handed techniques. In grappling (submission or otherwise), offense is usually characterized by closing the space while defense is usually characterized by making space. In general, hand movements are no exception to this rule.

While the hand is capable of many degrees of articulation, let’s examine opening (extension mostly) and closing (mostly flexion) the hand. The very act of closing the hand moves the fingers closer to the body closing space while opening the hand moves the fingers further away from the body making space. It’s no coincidence that these actions of the hand correlate the offensive and defensive movements.

If opening the hand makes space, you can utilize this movement defensively in terms of a block. If closing the hand closes space, you can utilize this movement offensively in terms of a grip. While there are exceptions to this concept in grappling, try opening your hands in defense and closing your hands in offense. I think you’ll find your offense and defense more effective.