Sunday, March 31, 2013

Training - Part One

The martial arts I train in – American Kenpo and Danzan-Ryu Jujitsu – are complimentary; where one stops, the other begins. Both can be considered complete martial arts; meaning that they cover all ranges of combat, and teach techniques appropriate for each range. They are mechanically similar, sharing stances and patterns of movement, but the tactics they emphasize are different. Danzan-Ryu focuses on closing distance to throw or grapple with an opponent while Kenpo uses strikes to control or create distance and exploit openings in an opponent’s defenses.

Studying a martial art does not mean that you are learning good fighting skills. Some arts are incomplete and specialize in one range of combat, or teach a method of fighting designed for sport. The rules that make those sports safe disconnect the sport-fighter from reality. For example, a boxer could be taken to the ground and overwhelmed by someone trained in submission wrestling.

The early days of the UFC demonstrated the problem with focusing on one range of combat. By taking fighters to the ground, into the grappling range he specialized in, Royce Gracie was able to win three of the first five Ultimate Fighting Championships. He is still considered one of the greatest submission fighters of all time; his first eleven victories were by submission within the first round. He was a expert in a range that many fighters overlooked or failed to adequately train in. By choosing the battlefield and taking the fight to the mat, Gracie followed the advice of Sun Tzu and gained the advantage.

Today, the Gracie name is synonymous with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a martial art that began as an offshoot of Judo. In the early 1900’s, Mitsuyo Maeda – Count Koma – brought the art of Judo to Brazil. He taught the art to Carlos Gracie, who taught the art to his brothers. Helio Gracie, the youngest brother, adapted the art and helped transform it into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Count Koma was a master of ne-waza, the grappling techniques taught in judo, and his expertise is reflected in BJJ’s emphasis on ground-fighting. That focus made Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu an integral part of modern Mixed Martial Arts.

Many MMA schools teach a blend of BJJ, Boxing, Wrestling, and Muay Thai. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Wrestling teach fighters to take their opponent to the mat, and what to do once they get there. Muay Thai and Boxing teach a fighter to use strikes effectively, using their hands, feet, knees and elbows as weapons. These four disciplines cover the basic ranges of combat, so MMA fighters are not specialists. They become well rounded, able to smoothly shift from one combative range to another. This gives them an edge.

When Matt Hughes faced Royce Gracie at UFC 60 he didn’t just win the fight, he dominated it, and defeated Gracie during the first round. At the time, Hughes was believed to be the greatest pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world. But Royce Gracie was a living legend, and many commentators - and even Hughes himself - believed that Gracie would have the advantage if the fight went to the mat. At 2:51 in the first round, Hughes caught Gracie in a kimura arm lock – named for Masahiko Kimura, a judoka who used the lock to defeat Helio Gracie in 1951 – and when he did, those same commentators thought the fight was over.

Gracie lost to a fighter who didn't specialize. Hughes' training, along with his athleticism, helped him win. Over the course of his career, Hughes demonstrated his ability to fight in every range; of his 45 career wins, 17 came by knockout and 18 by submission. That ability is one every martial artist should try to develop, regardless of the style they practice. There are always ways to improve.

At the very least, a good martial artist should be aware of their weaknesses.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Beard's Blue Belt Exam

Justin Thomas - aka - Beard - being thrown with Tomoe Nage

Thursday, March 28th, my good friend Justin Thomas earned his blue belt in Danzan-Ryu Jujitsu at the Corvallis Jujitsu-Kai. In the animation above, Mick Carter is throwing Beard with Tomoe Nage, while our instructor, Jeremy Jones, looks on. It was a good night. The men of the Corvallis Jujitsu-Kai have become friends I hope to throw well into my old age. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tiger and Dragon

For over a year, I've been studying Danzan Ryu Jujitsu. Founded in the 1920's by Professor Henry Seishiro Okazaki, DZR blends the traditional jujitsu of the Yoshin Ryu with elements drawn from other martial arts. It is devastating, emphasizing throws, joint locks, and constrictions; but it is also a conscientious art that teaches control, restraint, and healing.

In September I began American Kenpo, another blended art. Kenpo was founded by Ed Parker, who drew on the teachings of William K.S. Chow and the Kosho-Ryu of James Mitose. Kenpo uses strikes to create openings that can be exploited. While it appears brutal, and looks like a mauling, every technique I've learned begins with the practitioner being attacked, and ends when they escape.

The Tiger and the Dragon are traditionally associated with the martial arts. The Tiger symbolizes physical strength and skill, while the Dragon represents mental and spiritual strength. The Tiger is aggressive and direct; the Dragon reserved and subtle. Jeremy, my jujitsu instructor, believes that the Tiger reacts, but the Dragon responds.

The difference is control. The Dragon possesses clarity, which allows understanding. The Tiger is pure instinct, all claws and fang, with no room for restraint. And while it may seem that claws and fangs are the ideal in the martial arts, Ed Parker once said: "Mastery of the Art comes when the Tiger is seen but the Dragon prevails."

That statement could just as easily apply to mastering your self. The Dragon prevails when you are able to control your instincts and rule with reason. Marcus Aurelius wrote: "You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength."

In the West, we see the Dragon as a monster, a scaled devil that hordes gold and belches fire and brimstone. Among the martial arts that imitate the movements of animals, the Dragon is the sum of all creatures. It is a shapeshifter that moves with the suppleness of the Snake and strikes with the precision of the Crane. It possesses the cunning of the Leopard and the strength of the Tiger. The Dragon adapts, and that makes it formidable.

The internal strength of the Dragon is what defines it, what sets it apart from other animals. We begin as Tigers, but we should strive to be Dragons.