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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Links and Chains

This is a thought process that got started when I was trying to think of how to describe some of the drills I'm planning at presenting at an upcoming seminar.

Essentially, I was trying to figure out a way to describe how to build combinations. Not in terms of individual strikes (jab, cross, etc.), but in terms of broader principles. While I've talked about this in some classes at Sityodtong before, I always found that I didn't have the language to describe what I was talking about. Now, I think I have something. This is me thinking aloud.

So far, the model is designed for kickboxing systems. I don't know if it makes sense for a weapons-based system (Maija?). It doesn't seem to make sense for grappling, but maybe I'm missing something.

I started from the premise that combinations are essentially strings of movements chained together. The word "chain" got something going in my head, and that lead to the rest of the model.

Knots, Links, and Chains

Four Knots

In Intervention, Dan John talks about the concept of the "four knots", a term he apparently got from Mark Cheng, who (I think) took it from a Chinese Martial Arts system. The four knots are the hips and shoulders, and those are the points from which just about every strike in Muay Thai (or most kickboxing systems) originates from. Yes, you're hitting with your fist or elbow or forearm, but if you go back down the movement chain, it's either a hip or a shoulder. In other words, a jab and a lead elbow both originate ( or at least, are tied into) the lead shoulder. A rear knee and rear kick, regardless of targeting, originate at the rear hip.

[Yes, that doesn't cover head butts, biting, and possibly some other esoteric movements I'm missing.  Like I said, kickboxing model.]

Six Links

If you start drawing connections between the four knots, you end up with a total of six ways in which those points can be connected. This looks like a box with an X through it, or the bottom part of a kid's
drawing of a barn. It's possible to move in two directions on these links, which gives you a total of twelve possible directions of movement. Again, at each point, you could be using a punch, elbow, or whatever, but that gets into a greater degree of complexity than I wanted at this stage of the model.

The first two links are horizontal lines
Link 1: Shoulder to Shoulder

This is the classic "one-two" (Jab/Cross) punch. Or, if you go the other way, the somewhat less classic "two-three" (Cross/Hook).

Link 2: Hip to Hip

This could be a leg kick followed by a switch kick, or an inside leg kick followed by a body kick.

The next two links are vertical lines

Link 3: Lead Shoulder to Lead Hip

The Jab/Teep is the classic example here. Or the switch knee followed by the lead elbow, if you're going the other direction.

Link 4: Rear Shoulder to Rear Hip

Cross/Leg Kick. This is a big power movement. The rear knee followed by the rear elbow makes sense as well.

The last two links are diagonal lines.

Link 5: Lead Shoulder to Rear Hip

Jab/Leg kick. A pretty common set up. Rear knee/Lead Elbow for the other direction.

Link 6: Rear Shoulder to Lead Hip

Cross/Switch Kick. Again, something pretty common, especially with "Dutchy" style fighters. Switch Knee/Rear Elbow is this link as well.

Chains (Combinations)

Most combinations are built by tying two or three of these links together in sequence. For instance, the Jab/Cross/Rear Kick combination is a movement from Link 1 (Shoulder to Shoulder) to Link 4 (Rear Shoulder to Rear Hip). The Rear Shoulder here is the connection point between the two links.

You can keep going with this, of course. I started writing it all out on the initial notes I made on this idea, but I'm not sure that actually writing them all out is useful or necessary. Maybe it is.

Interesting note: connecting parallel links (1 and 2 or 3 and 4) always takes you through another link to get there (Jab/Cross/Rear Kick/Front Teep is Link 1+ 2,but you have to go through Link 4 on the way).

What's the Point of All of This?

Is all of this valuable? I have no idea. I don't necessarily expect to see coaches in fights years from now yelling "Link one to link five!". Hell, I don't expect myself to be doing that. This is mostly just a model I needed to figure out how to explain some things we do, and to clarify some thinking on a couple of things. I think it will help me explain this set of drills we have more clearly, and it may inspire a bit of creativity on my part.  As always, I'd love feedback.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Random Reflections from a Half Day with Rory and Co.

Got to spend a chunk of Thursday hanging out with Rory and the usual suspects (Jeff, Bill, Lisa, Tia, Chris, and Norm), and participating in the filming of part of Rory's DVD on Infighting. The DVD itself should be cool. I like Rory's ideas a lot, and it's always fun to get to play with his material.

It's been a while since I got to just go be a student and play. I miss it, a lot. Being a coach is not the same thing--even when you get to go onto the mat and play, the dynamic is different. There are expectations that you bring onto the mat, and that your students bring onto the mat as well. It is fun, but it is a different kind of play then just going out to play on your own.

It's extra fun when you're playing with people who you know well enough to trust, but who aren't a direct part of your training circle. Getting independent feedback is fun.

Grappling and infighting are wicked fun, for the record. I need to play with them more.

The power generation stuff was neat. Again, stuff worth playing with.

Uechi Ryu, like Aikido, remains on my list of arts that I find peripherally fascinating, but will probably never get around to seriously studying again. 

I need to get the Experiment going again, and will probably try to do so within the next month or two. Interested parties, hit me up.

Rory said something toward the end that resonated with me a lot. I'm going to paraphrase, and probably expand, but the gist was that the goal of the next generation of martial arts instruction needs to focus on teaching people how to be better, and how to get them better faster.

I think this is true, and key. During lunch, we were talking about the teaching of techniques, and whether or not Rory should do more of it. I don't think he should. The world is full of techniques. People don't need more techniques. They need better teaching methods. This is a theme that's been hitting me over and over again for the last couple of weeks.

We have the technical knowledge for a lot of things. We know how to win fights. We know how to make people stronger, faster, or more mobile. The need exists not for better ways to do these things as much as the need for better ways to teach people these things.

Seems like a worth pursuit.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Set Up Is Everything: Notes and Reflections on the StrongFirst Barbell Certification (SFL)

I spent this past weekend attending the StrongFirst Barbell Instructor Certification (SFL). This was my second experience with a formal StrongFirst course (the first having been the SFG last year), and while I'm still processing a lot of the information, I'm going to try and get some thoughts out while they're still fresh in my head.

SFL Versus SFG

Naturally, there's an impulse to try and compare the SFL to the SFG. In some ways, they are very similar, but many others, they are vastly different.

The similarities: both the SFL and the SFG required, at least for me, some fairly intense prep. The strength standards for the SFL were, for someone relatively inexperienced in the barbell lifts, somewhat daunting (especially the bench press test--more on that later). While the nature of the prep was different, both courses had me putting a lot of time in the weight room beforehand.

The SFL was, like the SFG, extremely well-organized and structured. There was a plan, and it was followed. Never once was there a sense that Doc Hartle or the other coaches (Mike Perry and Joe Sansalone) were lost, or struggling to figure out what to do next. That may not sound like much, but having trained with people who were pretty much making it up as they went along, that's huge.

Both the SFL and SFG place a huge emphasis on technique and proper movement. This was not about just getting the reps was about getting them in right.

That said, for all the similarities, the feel of the two courses was very different. A large part of this is size--the SFG I attended easily had over 100 people, all broken up into small teams that were relatively isolated. Sure, there was some occasional cross-talk on a break, and some large group workouts where everyone came together, but honestly, I could probably walk by someone who attended my SFG on the street and not know it (not someone from my team, but others...possibly).

By contrast, the SFL was seventeen people, and three coaches. That meant everyone got to interact with everyone, and there was a greater collective unity among everyone in the course. I can't imagine walking past one of the people from the SFL on the street and not recognizing them. It was just a smaller, more intimate environment. And that was cool.

The coaching at both courses was excellent. Again, the SFL was smaller (just three coaches for the whole group, instead of...I don't even know how many at the SFG), but that just meant we got more attention from each coach. I got some excellent help from Doc Hartle and Joe Sansalone, and Mike Perry is always excellent to work with.

As I noted, there was a lot of information to take away from the weekend, and I'm still digesting it, but these are a few things that stood out.


Programming is one of those aspects of strength training that I really do not know enough about. This course gave me a LOT more tools to work with on that front. It's actually slightly overwhelming, and it will take me a while to process (and even longer to play with), but it's nice to have. I'm actually glad to have this information early in my strength training journey--it means I'll have a long time to experiment with it.

What You Practice Is What You'll Do (Or, How I Missed the Bench Press Strength Test)

I know, I know. I've said this before. Other, much smarter people, have said this before. It is not a new concept.

It is, however, totally the reason I missed the bench press strength test.

See, the test requires you not just to bench press one and quarter times your body-weight for one rep, it requires you to do it in a strict, powerlifting style fashion. That means a pause before the descent, a pause at the bottom, and a pause before you rack the weight.

I did not practice the pause at the bottom nearly enough, so under duress...I didn't pause. Blasted the weight right up, and then realized I had blown it. Fortunately, I have six months to submit the press on video, and I know I can make the lift...I just have to do it right. Still, it was a good reminder. You fight the way you train.

Pick A System

This came up in the SFG, but it me more clearly in the SFL, partly because of the greater depth of the programming discussions/lectures, and partly because of some other thoughts that have been rattling in my head lately.

The short version of the idea is this: pick something, anything, and get good at it. Want to try a system where you lift once every two weeks? Fine, do it. Lift twice a day? Fine, do it. But really do it. Dig into it and work at it for a significant period of time before you decide if it works for you or not.

This has some obvious carry over for martial arts as well, and probably warrants a separate post.

The Set Up Is Everything

This definitely warrants a separate post, but I can't finish writing about the SFL without talking about this. Over and over throughout the weekend, Doc Hartle emphasized the importance of a correct setup in making a good lift. The better you position yourself, he reminded us, the better the rest of the lift will be. There's a lot of carry over for this concept in martial arts and life, so I'm going to leave some of my thoughts on that for a separate, longer post.

The Bottom Line

The SFL was, like the SFG, a really amazing course, and between the two, I feel like I have a huge box of tools to play with and experiment with for a pretty long time. While I have no intention of stopping learning (there are a lot of holes in my knowledge I want to fill), the two courses together have given me a very solid foundation. I'm looking forward to growing more, and working this material some more.

Highly, highly recommended. If you have an interest in the barbell lifts, this course is worth checking out.