Blog Archive

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Had an interesting conversation with M the other day.

We use a lot of bad analogies and terms when we talk about fighting. Well, perhaps not bad, but incomplete. I think that incompleteness trips people up.

"Chess with muscles at 100 miles an hour" sounds good, and it captures some of the strategic elements of a duel, but chess is turn-based. Even in speed chess, it's still "you go/I go". No such requirement exists in a fight. It can be "I go/I go/I go" (or you go/you go/you go). We can both go at the same time. Thinking in terms of you "you go/I go" turns out to be horribly unproductive (and for self-defense, almost completely useless).

The offense/thing is a similar problem. Somehow, the analogy of football came up: in football, you have one side on offense, and one side on defense, and the two don't mix. Hell, at the highest levels, you don't even have the same players doing both jobs. The guy who is on the offensive line does not play on the defensive line. Different job.

In a fight, offense and defense are relative. They can happen at the same time. They can be happening in different directions. I got on this thought because I noticed that, while M does better overall moving forward, he tends to get hit a lot. Turned out that in his mind, moving forward meant "offense", and he completely forgot about "defense". The idea that he could parry (for example) while moving forward hadn't clicked.

The flip side--there are plenty of great counterfighters who do well moving backwards. This is an arguable point, but I think if you're knocking people out while moving backwards, then you are on "offense" when you are backing up.

Mostly, I think this is a language thing. Fighting is weird and complex, and putting it into words tends to necessarily simplify the complex thing. It's understandable, but sometimes, it puts weird ideas into our heads (or our student's heads).

The Elite and You

There's a common assumption (and marketing tool) in the martial arts/self-defense/physical fitness industry that if a program, training method, or piece of equipment works for the "elite" (special forces, top-tier fighters, superior athletes), then that program, training method, or piece of equipment MUST be good for everyone.

It's a really tempting logic chain, but mostly, it doesn't work.

Dan John's Quadrant model outlines this very clearly for physical training. The elite just don't need the same things that the average person does. Honestly, the elite mastered the thing that the average person still struggles with on regular basis a long time ago. They are building on an incredible foundation: if you don't have that foundation, trying to build on it doesn't make sense.

The martial arts counterpart here: I see people trying to get good at showboat tricks without having the foundation. A few years ago, Anthony Pettis shocked the world by pulling off something straight out of a Jackie Chan movie in an MMA fight. And hey, that was genuinely impressive. But I was then forced to endure at least a month of watching people who can't kick well when standing on the ground try to throw that kick. Look, let's be real for a second here: if you can't throw a proper body kick when you're just standing in place, you probably shouldn't be trying to jump off walls to do it.

My wife and I caught a bit of the Olympic swimming competition the other night, and she remarked that the difference between the silver and bronze medalist was one tenth (that's 0.1) of a second. At the highest levels, a tenth of a percent matters. For the average person, a tenth of a second probably isn't measured. It just doesn't matter.

And here's the thing about that: those elite level swimmers? They have training programs designed to add that 0.1 seconds to their swim time, because that matters in their world. It probably does not matter in the lives of the average person. Chasing it means chasing that little percentage point to the exclusion of more productive uses of your training time.

Also, most of those programs assume a lifestyle that is not compatible with the average persons. You can train really, really hard when that's your job. If you don't have eight hours a day to devote to your chosen activity, you might want to rethink the idea of using a training method designed for someone who does.

Equipment is a little different, and the argument that people who do something seriously need very good equipment is occasionally legitimate. I say "occasionally" because sometimes, that equipment is really overkill. I mean, I could buy a barbell that would left me lift 1000 pounds, and it's probably a really nice barbell, but I'm in no danger of pulling a 1000 pounds, and a cheaper bar would probably serve me just as well.

It all kind of boils down to this: just because the elite do something does not mean you should do it. Evaluate based on your own goals and abilities, and be honest about what those are. It may sound cool to train like a navy seal, but unless you are one, there's no necessarily any point.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Return to Form

Long ago, I used to try and do a weekly post called, creatively, "This Week in the Web." I eventually abandoned the concept, partly because it became too much of a chore to keep up with, and partly because social media seemed to have created a new, easier way to share information that I liked.

At the moment, however, I'm in the midst of a month long (minimum) Facebook hiatus, which left me seemingly unable to share articles. Then I got my weekly "Wandering Weights" from Dan John, and it reminded me that there are other ways to share info. I get emails from a couple of sources (Dan John, Skill of Strength, Rodney King) that are all basically collections of articles, sometimes with commentary. It works pretty well. So I'm going to try going back to doing it here.

There will be, for the moment, no set schedule of this. It's just me sharing stuff I think is cool, thought-provoking, or both.

Here we go.


Lore and I had a good conversation one evening. She wrote a blog post about it, and captures a lot of my own thinking as well as hers.

"Where training falls in their spectrum of priorities is going to be different for every single person."

There's a lot of other stuff buried in the post, but that is the core premise. People have different priorities, and that is a-ok. Train as much as you can. I've noticed in my own coaching, I've moved more and more into a position of telling people "look, just come train. Do what you can do. Something is better than nothing." This is not directly related, but it's part of the same thought process.

Doing a Muay Thai seminar a couple of weeks ago, I overheard one student apologize to another for her pad holding. Because she was new to holding pads, the student felt like she wasn't making her partner "sweat enough."

Which is, of course, not the point of pad work.

Chip Conrad gets at the whole problem more eloquently than I did.

"When we work on improving our skills, there is a byproduct of getting tired. Through the course of fitness industrial history, it was deemed easier to sell the byproduct than the actual skill-building journey. We’re now, as a culture, distracted by our belief that getting tired is the goal. Getting tired is somehow the magic path, and the industry currently markets it under another name."

Another one from Lore. This was mostly interesting to me because I've had this idea kicking around in my head that many of the benefits that are touted as products of martial arts training (which often have a pop-Zen fortune cookie attachment to them) could be found in other endeavors, including strength training (and that, in some respects, strength training might be a better vehicle for some of those concepts). I have a lot of learning to do on both the strength end and the mindfulness end, but the concept intrigues me.


I think that's a good start. I'm going to bed. Enjoy the reading.