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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Silva, Segal, Secret Techniques, and Other Shams (Bullshit Didn't Alliterate)

So, in case anyone missed it, the big news of the weekend in the MMA world was that Anderson Silva knocked out Vitor Belfort. This, in of itself, is not necessarily that shocking. Anderson Silva knocks people out pretty regularly. Admittedly, he did it pretty quickly, but even that isn't shockingly rare. And yes, Belfort is a tough fighter, but Silva has knocked out tough fighters before. So why all the hubbub?

What has everyone talking is not the fact that Silva knocked out Belfort, but HOW he knocked him out.


Anderson Silva's before cutting weight?
Now, let's be fair. That is a pretty nasty kick. Well timed, well placed. Yet for reasons that are unclear to me, the world seems to be reacting as though this is some bizarre, hitherto unseen maneuver pulled from a secret Shaolin scroll that only the chosen one could read. Some of that, of course, may be ignorance on the part of the general public. Some of it has to do with the rhetoric of one of the last people you'd ever expect to be associated with MMA: Mr. Steven Seagal.

Yes, Steven Seagal, Aikido practitioner and 90's action movie star, claims that he was instrumental in Silva's victory. Depending on what interview you look at, he's either claiming to have helped Silva perfect the kick, or, in fact, to have completely invented it. Silva even backs him up, according some sources, saying "He perfected it. I did that kick for a long time and he actually helped me perfect it, along with (fellow fighters) Pedro Rizzo and Feijao (Rafael Cavalcante). That was a kick we were working on right before I stepped out (Saturday against Belfort) and actually there Steven kind of corrected me on a few things." (Maclean's Article).

What are we to make of this seemingly spectacular claim? Could Seagal have really been instrumental in helping Silva perfect that kick?

“You may not realize it, but I’m harmonizing with the universe right now”

The kick that Silva used is called a Teep. It is a fundamental technique in Muay Thai, one that Nak Muay have been using for a long, long time. The Teep is usually directed to body, not the face, because in Thai culture, putting the bottom of your foot in someone’s face is rude. Even if they’re trying to knock you unconscious. No, it doesn’t make sense to me either, but the Thai probably think the Jewish aversion to certain types of fish is weird, so who am I to judge? In any case, it’s perfectly LEGAL to Teep someone in the face in Muay Thai, it’s just rude. That doesn't stop people from doing it when the situation calls for it (i.e. when you don't like the other guy very much).

In MMA, of course, it's neither illegal NOR rude to kick someone in the face. MMA fighters are much more open-minded in that way.

Now here, here is where I get hung up. I’ve been studying for Muay Thai for about ten years. I’ve fought once as an amateur. I’ve coached for five or six years (I really can’t remember when I started). And for many of those years, I have been telling students that the Teep is the most underrated weapon in Muay Thai. Most of them don’t listen, but I tell them. And I show them how to throw it, and some of the set ups that I’ve learned; one of which happens to be, look low, sell the Teep high. In other words, the set up that Silva apparently used to KO Belfort.

Oh, and I have a shodan rank in Aikido. Or at least I did. The damn thing really should be considered expired, at this point (side note: martial arts ranks really should have expiration dates. Use it or lose it.).

What's my point? Am I a master of the same level of Silva and Seagal?

Hell no. Well, I'm certainly not on Silva's level. The dude could destroy me with one limb of his choice, and about all I would be able to do about it would be to eloquently beg for mercy. Frankly, regardless of what else you can say about Seagal, the honest truth is, from an Aikido perspective, he'd outrank me, and probably spent a lot more time training that art than I did. (Though I did get to wear the hakama.)
I can't lie. Hakama are pretty sweet.

And YET. I know how to teach the mystery kick. I even know the mystery set up. Because the mystery here is not the kick. The mystery is that everyone is so fucking gaga over it.

Don't misunderstand me. It was a spectacular kick. Well timed, well placed, well executed. I am not suggesting that we should not be impressed by Silva's performance. It was very impressive. Shocking, even. I don't think anyone predicted that the fight would go that way. (Except, in fairness, maybe Seagal.)

But this nonsense about perfecting secret techniques is just that. It's nonsense. And the thing that pisses me off about it so much is that there's already hordes of young combat athletes out there who spend way to much time chasing after "the move" or "the secret technique" (funny how last night, everyone was working the rear Teep) instead of realizing that they need to just knuckle down and learn the fundamentals.

Hey look, it's the secret kick!

Let me lay this out for you. If there was one super invincible technique that no one would counter, that would be the only thing you'd ever learn. There would be no systems of martial arts, no combat sports, no Blauer Tactical Systems, nothing. You'd just learn "the move" when you were five years old, and that would be it. You'd be able to beat up everyone and anyone who threatened you (except that no one would, because they'd all know "the move" too).


Maybe that damn Panda was on to something...
There is no secret technique. No magical scroll. Those things are for the movies, and while they sometimes make great stories, in the end, there's nothing really there.

Now go train.


Shelley said...

Once again you had me howling! Great article and I loved the kick!Could watch it over and over again for some strange reason. If you notice way back when in my fight with Rachel...I was trying to teep her in the face! LOL with love of course!

Mark said...

I have a mystery technique*!

Took me 3years, 100's of sparring sessions, and multiple tournaments to perfect. People always want to know the mystery of how I can pull it off from any angle.

The mystery: practice.

*Drop Knee Seio Nage

Don Herbert said...

Nice to see one of the most basic techniques in karate (front kick, shomen geri) used. People can call it a Teep, just depends which language you want to speak I guess.

sjs43 said...

I agree that there is nothing secret about the front kick, and that the antics around the "secrecy" of the technique induce multiple shakes of the head.

To be fair, I don't think the tool Silva used (and which every tiny tot taekwondo student learns) is the same thing as a teep. In fact, it is precisely because his kicks draws from traditional martial arts that I found the knockout so newsworthy. Let me explain.

One of the things that grabbed people's attention about the UFC in its early years was that it held the possibility of settling the question of which among all of the fighting arts would reign supreme--was taekwondo better than karate better than boxing, etc? In the context of UFC fighting, the traditional martial arts haven't fared well; combative arts like muay thai and jiu-jitsu have dominated the landscape. So when we see someone like a Machida bringing in Karate effectively into the octagon, we are understandably amazed.

And therein lies my astonishment with Silva's knockout--he used a traditional martial arts snapping front kick. It would be like someone doing a spinning crescent kick and knocking someone out--techniques you learn to master a martial art that seem inapplicable to MMA.

The basis of my argument is that I see the teep being more like a jab--generally more effective in combative arts because it is more powerful. (I tend to assume the Thais pulled all that is useful from traditional arts to combat sports.) The snap front kick is substantively different, and in this case shocked me more than if he had teeped Belfort!

Jake said...

A lot of interesting feedback.

I disagree about the kick not being a Teep, but explaining why will take a bit longer than I have right now.

Similarly, I believe that Muay Thai is as deserving (perhaps more so) of the appellation "Traditional" than most Tae Kwon Do or Karate systems. Again, more on that later.

Any way you cut it, the whole "secrecy" thing is pretty ludicrous.