Saturday, November 25, 2017

Transformation; a Personal Odyssey

Metamorphosis, M.C. Escher

Many people say how martial arts has changed their lives.

I've heard people say the same about attending a Barbara Streisand concert. I didn't go, they may be right.

I do feel that my martial arts training was a driving force behind, not just a series of mental transformations and attitude adjustments, but an actual physical transformation and real physical healing. A transformation that would not have happened otherwise.

I am by nature a reserved and introverted person. Jordan Peterson's "Understand Myself" Big Five Personality Test has me very high in Agreeableness, and very low in Extraversion (that's how he spells it) and Assertiveness. If I'm not paying attention, I'll let people walk all over me and think it's my fault.

My wife may take exception with the Agreeableness part.

I have, by necessity, developed strategies to work around these traits, to make my way in the world after a fashion.

I had moved to Canberra in 1977 to take up my first real job. I was grappling with the issues of early adulthood, heavy Impostor Syndrome, my first time living in a different city alone, dealing with the cold, and the soul-crushing loneliness of Canberra. I took that job because that seemed to be all that there was to do.

I was adrift in the ocean of life, buffeted around, I had no sense of there being waves to catch, waves you could ride.

An affable workmate organised for another guy who worked in the same building, and was a kung fu instructor, to run some informal introductory training sessions in the park across the road from work. This was David Crook. He was a wonderful teacher, a fabulous technician, and managed it all as a regular working stiff and family man. No guru here.

He would occasionally give us a moderately painful punch to the solar plexus, or dig his fingers unerringly into painful pressure points, while demonstrating a technique. "A good boxer is stung frequently and hurt occasionally" was one of his mottoes. More than one student suggested he enjoyed inflicting pain and could not be truly happy otherwise. Perhaps, but I suffered no injuries at his hand.

I found I could take the knocks. With some surprise, I found I was not a total wimp after all. I began to see warriorhood as a possibility.

I saw great potential here. A path with heart. A means to self-transform.

I also ran up against my limitations PDQ.

I had suffered a back injury, resulting from a fall from a wharf at a school swimming carnival, onto hard sand. I had a lumbar spondyliolisthesis with L5 slipped anteriorly on S1. My L5 vertebra is misshapen.

My sole treatment at the time had been six weeks enforced abstinence from physical activity, as ordered by my GP. Nothing else. These days, your GP will happily send you to an orthopaedic surgeon and for a course of physiotherapy for just about any injury. At the time of my injury, sports medicine was in its early stages, and only in the communist bloc.

I found my hip mobility and flexibility, especially abduction (the side split), was terrible as a result. I developed a pretty good front kick, but had godawful trouble with round and side kicks.

This was incredibly frustrating. And, it seemed, unfixable, at the time.

Despite this limitation, I persevered, and progressed. David waived the one dollar per session he was charging me, once he saw I was sincerely keen on following his path. He wasn't teaching a class while I was there, only a couple of private students, who I got to meet and train with. I was taught privately for eighteen months at little or no charge. I was incredibly fortunate, and David incredibly generous.

I did my best to stretch and develop more flexibility working toward the side split. I had a huge amount of involuntary tension in the muscles around my lower back and hip. It would take me twenty minutes of stretches to be able to function well enough to train.

A holiday at Christmas on the South Coast, with some old and new friends, motivated me to wind up my affairs in Canberra and move back to Sydney. My only regret was the losing the benefits of David's top notch instruction. He very kindly stepped up the training, and made sure I learned all his forms up to instructor level before I left.

There weren't many good training options back home. There was no internet, you had to rely on word of mouth, and MMA wasn't around to provide that certain level of quality control.

I met a guy who had been training with David a couple of years longer than me, and trained with him, but we were both looking for a decent club.  His brother in law lived a a squat in the back of Darlinghurst where one of the guys had taken up with an older Wing Chun student of William Cheung, under whom both David Crook and Rick Spain had trained. This guy's flexibility was even worse than mine.

Training in the squat was too weird. It was impossible to tell who lived there, who was an invited guest, and who was a stranger who had just walked in off the street. There was a heavy bag hanging in the front room, and one night a guy on ice or PCP burst through the front door and, screaming, started wailing on the bag, trying to destroy it. Somehow the collective managed to navigate him out the door, headed back toward whatever savage fate destiny had in store. People of both sexes were coming in to bathe naked under the tap in the backyard while we were training.  I'm pretty broadminded, but ... talk about distracting. I saw a cute young blonde go walking down the street with a couple of guys, and a little while later they all come staggering back, eyes rolling, drooling like the smackheads they were.

My training bud and I concluded quickly that this was way too ghetto for us.

Chan Cheuk Fai had and has some excellent fighters, but the Jin Wu Koon Double Dragon style looked too different to what I was used to. My training bud suggested that David would have been disappointed, had we taken up so hard a style. Laughable when considering the technical chasm between kung fu and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu which I enthusiastically navigated later, and Rick Spain's own pursuit of Kyokushin and BJJ black belts in more recent times.

I took up Xingyi, Bagua, and Taiji with a then prominent instructor, who no longer teaches. There's quite a story there, but I'll just say I found David Crook and Rick Spain to be more suitable instructors. But the guy was also a chiropractor and acupuncturist.

I sought chiropractic treatment for my hip and back issues from several sources, including my new instructor. I tried acupuncture, but mine was a structural problem for which needles and moxa were not the solution.

Over a long time I made small, incremental improvements. But I still had flexibility problems, and my kicks did not improve. Treating the symptoms, but not the disease. Small criticisms, and occasional vague encouragement here and there about my kicks, but nothing that motivated me enough. I was as self critical as they came, and frustrated, but not to the point of formulating a solution.

That academy ceased to serve my purpose - after about five years (!) - and the accumulated negatives of that experience had me take a break. I went surfing and applied myself to my IT work, which started to click, and pay dividends across multiple facets of life. I had already met my future wife at the office.

A dream made me realize that martial arts remained an irritation that would not be salved.

Rick Spain had started up a club in Sydney. At the time he was William Cheung's most senior and accomplished student. I thought Wing Chun would suit my limited flexibility, as it was meant to employ only low level kicks.

Of course, once I started, I saw Rick Spain dropping into the full side split and throwing fluid multiple side, round and hook kicks up in the stratosphere. Something he strongly encouraged his students to also work towards. The easy way out I was hoping for? Not around here.

Rick/Sifu did demonstrate an exercise in class that would allow me to work my way out to maximum flexibility and relax the muscles around my back and hips without unnecessary pain, or taking undue time.

A  year or two after I started there, we had a grading. "Your kicks let you down," was my instructor's blunt assessment. Damn straight. I had one option.

I reread all the material I had on sidekicks. I was an avid reader, and book and article collector, so there was a lot. Video was still in the far future. I spent about an hour a day, over a fortnight or so,  holding on to the kitchen bench top experimenting with lifting my kicking knee, pivoting on the supporting leg and extending out fully so my whole body was in a straight line.

I started to get an inkling. Next time in the academy I was kicking a partner-held focus bag with my new side kick. Sifu said, "Yeah, now you're getting some power." My partner concurred.

I was sparring a while later, throwing in a few round kicks. Rick advised me to stick to front kicks and side kicks. It was pretty easy to connect the dots. *Your round kicks suck, man.*

I had a mortgaged house and backyard with a gum tree, a small heavy bag, and a rope, by this time. I returned to the reading material. I began weekend sessions experimenting with the kitchen benchtop again, but spending more time out in the backyard throwing endless round kick attempts into that bag. My left leg was much better than my right, so I did rounds of a hundred, forty five with the left leg, fifty five with the right. I couldn't do too much, or my back would give me hell for days, but I did do a lot.

I started to loosen up more with continued chiropractic treatment and stretching. I could kick now, but in small doses. Much of the tension had gone, but now something was weak, or too loose. If I pushed it too hard, I'd have pain for days. Sometimes to the point where I needed a walking stick. The chiropractors gave me only temporary symptomatic relief. One of them mumbled something about my spinal alignment being OK now, but that I needed some stabilization exercises. But he didn't prescribe any exercises, and because of the offhand delivery, I discounted it.

For a long time I had to give myself a mini chiropractic adjustment to get everything working properly for training. Otherwise I'd have a restriction in my hip to train under. My personal adjustments didn't always work, either. Always, a veneer of frustration.

A while later, I'm kicking the focus bag again. This time Sifu says, "Ah, Mr Nerlich is showing us a roundhouse kick!"

I felt that I had exhausted what chiropractic had to offer. I had invested much time and cash. No doubt beneficial, but it wasn't going to get me all the way.

I changed tack and went to a physiotherapy clinic in North Sydney. A guy called Kingsley assessed me, and diagnosed significant muscular weaknesses and imbalance around my hips. I was shredded with a six pack, did tons of ab training, but somehow still had weak abdominal muscles in critical ranges of motion. Kingsley prescribed a series of exercises which required close attention to proper form, but were not unduly onerous or taxing.

Maybe ten visits over three months, and my back pain was pretty much gone forever. I might get a twinge every six months or so. The stabilization exercises my chiropractor had mentioned, in passing, were my keys to the highway. I could stretch and kick as much as any student could wish. I was fixed. And stoked.

After a while, my body turned the corner. My frustrating rigmarole of self adjustments became unnecessary. I couldn't do side splits, or kick high without a warmup, but I felt that my body was no longer an obstacle.

A while later in sparring I saw a gap and popped my sparmate with a fast but controlled round kick to the head. A couple of sessions later I popped another guy in the ear with a low/high round kick combo. Another time I faked a round kick, and when the guy reacted, I drove a side kick with the same leg into his solar plexus.

Rick gave a little speech about perseverance and overcoming obstacles during one class. He used my own development as a kicker as the example. As an agreeable introvert, I did not react much. But, I had arrived. I was exemplary. Validation rocks.

I had completed a transformation. It took many years. It was a task in personal alchemy that I would not have begun, except for my strong interest in martial arts, and the attention of my instructors.

My aptitude at the start was probably average, and I had challenges. I am in no way special or unique. Some have dealt with much more adversity than I have.

At nearly sixty-three years old, I have achieved many things I had once thought impossible. Through determination, but also through lots of help.

Perhaps this is what "internal kung fu" is about. Invisible but significant change within. Just because most people can't see it, doesn't mean it isn't real, or isn't profound.

Without fail, my teachers were kind and tried to encourage me in the right direction without driving me too hard. In a class full of students, it's very hard to give the exactly right individual attention at the perfect time.  The windows of opportunity appear and disappear about as fast as those on a car going the opposite way to yours on a motorway.

I needed to be pushed. What ultimately helped me transcend the problems, attitudinal, mental, emotional, and physical, was a realization that someone saw the leap I needed to make, thought I could make that leap, and told me I needed to do it. And once I realized that I could do it, I worked on a plan to do it, executed that plan, and did it.

If one of my teachers had come up and, instead of being so nice, had screamed in my face like a drill sergeant, "Your kicks suck! They are what's holding you back! You have to fix them! Now! Or forget it!" I might have concentrated harder on that weakness, got past it quicker, progressed faster, and been happier.

The Tree of Life from the Kabbalah. Pillar of Mercy on the right, Pillar of Severity on the left 

Sometimes as a teacher, you DO have to be cruel to be kind. The Pillar of Mercy and the Pillar of Severity are managed by the Pillar of Balance, in the Kabbalah. But, Severity seems to be at least a third of it.

The pillars of Severity and Mercy (Bohas and Jakim) also appear in the Tarot

Sometimes you need to back yourself into that corner of the Mirror Maze, where there is only one way out, and all you can see are unflattering reflections of yourself. Sometimes you need someone to force you there, because you can't see what you need on your own.

Seeing yourself objectively, without veils of self deception, is so difficult, but so necessary.

I wish you well in your own journey of self discovery, healing, and transformation. If this article helps or inspires you in some way, all the better.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Living the Dream

Freshwater Beach, November 2017

Wednesdays and Fridays I take a lunchtime Jiu Jitsu class at Lange's MMA, at North Manly. Wednesday is no gi, Friday gi.

Jiu Jitsu always resets my mood. If it's a warm day, or sometimes even when it isn't, the beach is a short drive away, and that makes the day even better.

Most times I go to North Curl Curl or Freshwater, and most often with Luca Altea. Other occasions Sean Quilter, Big Stu "Gut Rupture"Morton, or Sonny Brown have joined us. If I'm on my own, I might go to North Curl Curl and do some sandhill sprints before I swim.

That's what I'm talking about

Sonny, Luca and I swam at North Curl Curl on the 2017 winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Probably not the coldest. Definitely not the warmest.

Winter Solstice, 21 June 2017, after lunchtime no gi class and a swim at North Curl Curl. L to R: Myself, Luca Altea, Sonny Brown

Entering the water is an electrifying but pleasant assault on the senses. Bright sunshine, waves crashing on the shore, the shock of the cool water in your skin, the salt spray in the air, and on your tongue and in your nostrils.

A natural ice bath, aiding recovery, washing away the sweat, maybe a few bodysurfing waves too.

Out of the ocean, now a cold shower with fresh water - usually colder than the ocean.

Fresh, we dry off, change, and chat for a while.

Luca says to me one day, "When we do this, Jiu Jitsu and a swim, I feel like I'm living the dream!"

It's true. For those few hours I'm doing exactly what I want to do, nothing more, but nothing less.

I realize I am even more fortunate to be more or less financially independent with a comfortable home and a wonderful wife. Even if we're getting older day by day. Life rocks.

Those countless Facebook ads trying to sell you the lifestyle with oodles of first class travel, huge boats, Lamborghinis, non-stop parties on tropical island beaches, and the rest, set the bar too high.

Pleasant days or even minutes doing exactly what you want are the fulfillment of dreams. Aim high, but don't discount the temporary paradise that appears right before you, however fleetingly.

North Curl Curl, Winter 2016

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Creativity and Martial Arts Training IV

Tribuna of the Uffizi, Johann Zoffany (1772-78), showing many famous works of European art

This is part IV, the last of a four part article.

Part I Part II Part III

Limitations and Constraints

Unlimited freedom paralyses creativity. You need somewhere to go. You need a problem to solve.

I was rebuked as a black belt by a highly ranked instructor for not being able to immediately think of a problem I was having with my game when he asked me. He was right - my game has no shortage of holes, same as just about everyone.

Freedom of Choice - not always a good thing

Ricardo de la Riva developed his famous and eponymous guard being one of the smaller guys on the Carlson Gracie Team, in a gym full of tough competitors on whom he could not impose a top game, and who were some of the best guard passers in the world. He developed his outside hook guard as a way to keep his opponents off balance; his training partners called it the "guarda pudim", Pudding Guard (a nice metaphor), because of the way it made their base unstable and "wobbly". Accounts vary, but he fought Royler Gracie, then undefeated as a black belt, around 1986, and depending on the account, beat him, or lost a tied match due to a referee's decision.

Half guard was seen as the last line of defense before your guard was passed, prior to Gordo Correa being forced to work from it pretty much exclusively due to a knee injury, which limited the positions form which he could roll. He pretty much turned it form the last line of defense into a position from which many attacks can now be launched, and in which many competitors now specialize.

Many people have seen their guard game improve dramatically after a hand or arm injury which forced them to train one handed. They were forced to make greater use of their legs, and use them in ways that they may not have learned to unless forced to by the injury. I believe Dave Meyer was some such person.

You do not need to wait for injury to strike to take such steps. Put yourself in the positions you hate, deliberately, so you are forced to problem solve. Try wrestling with one or both arms tucked in your belt, or without using one or both legs. Ban yourself from your favorite passes or passing on your favorite side. Ban yourself from certain guards or positions. Come up with your own limitations and see what new pathways emerge.

Positional rolling is a form of limitation which can deliver good outcomes.

In the video below, Jack White of the White Stripes discusses the benefits of limitations and time limits on his own considerable creative output.

Jack White on limitations as seeds for creativity. From the documentary "It Might Get Loud"

I like Seven Nation Army, but I like this even better

Away from the Gym and off the Mat

We've all seen the videos of guys training the berimbolo with chairs and wheelbarrows. If your time in the gym is limited, find other ways to train.

This guy trains Jiu Jitsu in water.

Personally, I came up with quite a few ways to drill techniques with a small heavy bag. What you can do from top positions is pretty obvious, but with a little imagination I worked out how to drill the Hip Bump Sweep, Wing Sweep / Reverse Basic Sweep, Catapult Sweep, and Shaolin Sweep, among others, along with some takedowns. 

I found a foam roller makes a pretty good prop for drilling the lockdown and some butterfly and X guard transitions. I've heard of guys using pieces of wood to drill Ezekiel chokes and become very effective with them in the gym as a result - you can use the foam roller for that too. 

I made a grappling dummy from a coathanger wire skeleton, and a hoodie inside an old full length wetsuit stuffed with rags, and a head made from about a thousand plastic bags. It could benefit from a neck made from pool noodles, as it has an annoying habit of headbutting me if I try to work triangles. It's not great for guardwork but is pretty good for drilling top techniques and leglock transitions.

My silent (training) partner

Nothing beats a partner to drill with, but the right inanimate objects can be useful, because they never get sore throats from getting choked too much, or sore knees, elbows or wrists. Plus they never get tired or make other arrangements when you want to train.

The best training tool ... IMAGINATION.

The Creative Environment

"Environment triumphs will" - Chris Haueter

To really be an innovator and creator in martial arts, your environment need to support you. You need:
  • Time to experiment and think
  • Support from your training partners
  • The ability to take risks and maybe fail without getting injured
  • Freedom to come up with weird and nonsensical ideas without judgement
  • Dynamism and energy
  • Humor and a sense of play to keep things light and interesting
  • Challenge, resistance and debate, but at a level that extends and doesn't crush the participants. argument, not conflict
  • Trust in your training buds
  • Openness to ideas, whatever the source
Do your best to work in and develop such environments, especially when you are the teacher. 

"If you want to improve incrementally, compete, if you want to improve exponentially, co-operate!" - Phil Grapsas

Go for it!

There's a new sweep out there, just waiting for you to create it. Name it after yourself and become a Jiu Jitsu immortal! Develop the Covfefe choke! Get crazy, get creative! Do it now!

Part I of this article
Part II of this article
Part III of this article

Happy trails, Universal Traveler

Sunday, November 12, 2017

John Will Seminar 11 Nov 2017 - Pirate Grip, Russian Tie

Seminar group, I was the photographer

The seminar was held at Universal Combat Arts, Castle Hill. Thanks to Kirk Sicard and Simon Farnsworth for their hospitality.

Russian Tie (2 on 1)

Stand facing your partner, feet parallel, so your four feet form a square.

Your partner gets a neck tie on you with his R hand.

Grab his R wrist with your R hand.

Step around to your R with your L foot and then your R, at the same time lifting your R shoulder and then driving it down and across to your R to dislodge the collar tie. You should now be at his R side. Grab his R upper arm from underneath with your L hand. Get your shoulder on top of his and put all your weight in his shoulder. Try to hover. Also drive your forehead into his R ear to stop him turning back toward you. Drive down hard, stick his R foot to the floor. Your L leg should be behind his R.

Thumbless grips are generally best - though there are exceptions, detailed later.

As you drill the technique more and more, you should develop the habit of grabbing the Russian Tie a quarter second before he gets the neck tie.

This pirate did not tap to heel hooks. Don't let this happen to you!

Russian Tie to Single Leg

If he stays there, drive down so your face is close to his knee. "So you can spit on his knee"- John Will. Drive into him, bumping him so his R leg becomes like and you can scoop it up for a high single leg takedown.

Russian tie to "Muchi Mata", to Ankle Pick

If he tries to square up and gets his R foot behind your L, do a  mini Uchi Mata ("Muchi Mata"), hooking his R leg upward with a backward hooking lift of your L leg. Mainly to disrupt his balance and clear his R leg. Hook your L foot behind and outside his L foot, toes up. Retaining the grip with your L hand, drop down and pick his L ankle with your R hand, lift it and take him down.

Russian tie to Double Leg

He squares up to you and tries to pull his R arm out. Lift his R arm up with your R to around head high, thus crossing it under his L arm and removing that defense. You are in perfect position to change levels and shoot a double leg.

Changing your R hand grip from thumbless to using the thumb will give you better control with which to lift his R arm, for this particular technique.

Russian Tie to Back Take

To get the back from the Russian tie, do NOT turn to your L and try to run forward to his back. You are unlikely to make it. Instead, run backwards to take the back.

John also demonstrated how you can get an arm drag to the Russian tie, then arm drag again from there to get the back.

Russian Tie to Gooseneck Come Along

The gooseneck hold is a control or "come along" technique used often by security or law enforcement.

Get the Russian tie. You need him to bend his elbow, which he will often want to do if you let him. The video below shows another way Slide your hand down to his palm and bend his wrist forward as you bring his hand toward his shoulder. Trap his elbow against your body. Grab over his knuckles with your L hand, then put your R hand on top. The R hand on top is best, if the L hand were on top hie could attack your fingers with his other hand. Apply pressure and lift him up on his toes.


Pirate Grip

Standing Pirate Grip

You have the Russian Tie on his R arm. Now move your L hand to get a fingers-in grip on his L gi collar. Cinch it in. This should feel very strong. This is the Pirate Grip.

John says it used to be called the Double crossed grip or similar, but John took to calling it the Pirate Grip, due to the skull and crossbones, or something.

Pirate Grip to Drop Throw

You get the Russian tie, then the Pirate Grip. He is squaring up and pushing your face away, trying to free his arm. Turn to your L so your L foot is about a foot outside his. Step your R leg between his R leg and your L and drop to your butt and then to your back, effectively pulling him on top of you into a kneeride position, but keep rolling to your L. He will not be able to keep the top position and will be pulled over the top of you. Keep your grips and use the momentum to end up on top on side control on his R side.

Seminar group - I was not the photographer

Pirate Grip from Closed Guard - Two Entries

Pirate Grip from Closed Guard

He is inside your closed guard. Get a cross grip on his R sleeve with your R hand, pull your R elbow to your side. You do not need to pull his sleeve all the way across. Slide your L hand under his R arm and get a deep grip fingers inside his L collar. Flare your L elbow out so the crook of your elbow prevents him pulling his R elbow back and freeing his R hand. This is the Pirate Grip from guard.


Get a deep grip, fingers inside his L collar with your L hand. Pull him down hard with your L hand. Your L arm may even have temporarily trapped his R. Bring your R hand to the centreline and wait. When he brings his R hand over the top to try and get some posture back, grip his R sleeve with your R hand. Flare your L elbow out as above to trap his R elbow. You have the Pirate Grip. This entry is more complicated but higher percentage.

Realise that if he does try really hard to free his R hand, the Cross Collar Choke is always an option.

Hooking Sweep

Get the Pirate Grip. Open your legs, turn on your R side and get your L foot on his hip, Push back and get the L foot on his other hip in an open guard. Move your feet one at a time to a butterfly guard and sit up. You are perfectly positioned for a very strong hooking sweep to your L. Retain the grips and use the momentum to come up on top in side control.

To sweep effectively from butterfly, you need a strong connection to your opponent. Grabbing the belt is the strongest connection, but this is pretty much impossible from closed guard. The Pirate Grip allows a very strong connection without the need to grab the belt. It is fairly easy to get this grip from closed, open or half guard, and then move to butterfly. Very versatile in that way.

A video from a later seminar showing several Pirate Grip options

Locked Russian Tie

A no gi analog of the Pirate Grip is called the Locked Russian. Get the Russian Tie from standing. Bend his R elbow and push his R hand towards his stomach. Release your L grip and grab your own R wrist. Your L arm should loop behind his elbow and upper arm. A bit like a figure 4. You can use this grip in closed guard as well. It may work better if your R grip is overhand rather than underhand, especially in the guard.

Kick Out to Side Back Control

Get the Pirate Grip and move to butterfly guard as above.  Elevate him with your hooks, then lift with your R leg and extend your L leg so he falls to your R, face down. As he falls, come up on your R elbow and then to your knees  on his R, Grips are still in place, your chest is on his back is a side back control position. Transfer your grips to a seatbelt control with your L arm under his L armpit.

Spin the Pig

Get the Pirate Grip and move to butterfly guard as before. Elevate him as before. This time extend your R leg and lift with your L, so he spins to his L in the air, moving him slightly toward your feet. You should be able to spin him far enough to take his back with a good seatbelt control, then get your hooks in. Is easier than it looks or sounds.

"Spin the pig" refers to the spinning action, not unlike rotating a pig on a rotisserie to cook it.

"Side Kick" and Roll Underneath

You get the Pirate grip and start moving to open guard. Your opponent tries to back away. Get on your R side and put your L foot on his R hip, but with the this of the foot pointing to your R, so it is like a Sidekick. Keep your grips, bring your head down towards his knees, rolling beneath him and pulling him over the top of you. End up in the usual position in side control on his R.

Kick Out to Russian Tie, to Head to Head, to Arm in Guillotine

Get the Pirate grip, move out to butterfly guard. Elevate him and kick out and go to your knee and side back control as earlier. Get a Russian tie on his R arm and drive into him, forcing him to post with his L hand. This will give you the opportunity to move around to head to head, catching his R arm between yours as if setting up an Anaconda choke. Grip the blade of your L arm and wrist with your R hand. This way round will be the most secure. Pull his arm to his head - best done by moving your legs to your R rather than dragging his arm with yours.

Come up on your toes and drive his butt to his heels. Come to your feet, running around in a semicircle to your L, trapping his R arm and head next to your R hip with good posture. Change your grip to the opposite side so your L hand is grabbing the blade of your R hand and wrist. Sit down and pull him into your closed guard and finish the choke. 

The first hand position is better for securing the arm, the second better for choking.

Kick Out to Russian Tie, Crucifix

Get Pirate grip, butterfly guard, kick out to side back with Russian tie, head to head with his R arm inside both of yours as before. This time you are less concerned with getting his arm and head together, by accident or design. Come to your knees, drive forward and stand up as before. This time his R arm is between your legs. He will be tempted to grab your R leg with his R arm. Pinch your legs together to trap his arm and move around to his R side. Get a seat belt control on his back with your L arm under his L armpit. Fall down to your L rear, pulling him into the crucifix.

Pirates from Lange's MMA - Anthony Lange's 50th birthday

Other subjects

Books John has been reading:

God is not Great, Christopher Hitchens

Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb

John's autobiography. Three volumes. Ripping yarns and great advice.

John Will's seminar schedule. Get on board with one of the best Jiu Jitsu coaches on the planet.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Product Review: Joe Rogan Utility Belt by Datsusara

The Joe Rogan Utility Belt is the Crown Prince of bum bags (what we call them in Australia) or fanny packs (the term used by our American friends).

Fashionable? Maybe not. However notable fanny pack antifashionistas are legion. I include only wrestling and MMA celebrities here. The wider circle includes Kardashians and Jenners ...  you'll thank me later for sparing you.

Joe Rogan

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

Chuck Norris

UFC Champion Georges St Pierre with his coach - and fanny pack proponent - John Danaher

Hulk Hogan

Matt Serra giving props to John Danaher's fanny pack at 4:40 (Viewer advice: very frequent coarse language)

The JRUB is made from hemp - "the ultimate natural fibre, 4X stronger than cotton". It is very strong and Datsusara advertise it as having antibacterial properties. The stitching on the bag is precise and strong. Zippers are plastic, "self healing" (check the Tech Specs on the purchase page link below), and precisely stitched in. It looks and feels strong and well put together.

It has a flap in front with a zip pocket which can be used for small flat items like train passes, credit cards, tickets, etc. A large zip pocket on one side just a bit too small for your wallet that you can access without popping the top flap. You're wallet will fit inside the main pocket of the bag just fine, with room for your phone, eyeglasses and case, passport and plane ticket, and more. There are a couple of additional smaller pockets (one zipped, one with velcro tabs that can be used for coins, notes, etc. 

Front zip pocket for passes and tickets and quick access

Fully loaded with room for more

Datsusara corporate product video

It has loops on the outside that you could attach other things to, keys, etc. Though the thing will get so big it starts to weight you down. I found that wearing it slightly off center allows me to balance it on my hip bone so it doesn't feel like it's pulling my stomach and spine forward.

This is a quality piece of equipment. The bag itself is not expensive, but shipping from the USA is pretty steep. Maybe consider bundling it with one of their other, larger travel bags, or try to pick one up on a visit to the US, if that is a concern.

Rockin' the JRUB, ready for anything

Monday, November 06, 2017

Creativity and Martial Arts Training III

The third article in a series of four.


In Part I and Part II of this series, we looked at how rearranging or reversing the sequence in which the movements within a technique are performed can sometimes lead to superior results, specifically referencing the kimura from under half guard, and the front kick.

We reversed the order of a couple of movements in setting up the kimura. Instead of grabbing the wrist and wrapping our other arm around the elbow, we catch the elbow first and separate it from the hip and rib cage. Then we control the wrist and finish the lock.

This concept is extended by creativity researchers and the related science into a wider range of verbs than just reverse. They are often referred to as SCAMPER.

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify (Magnify, Minify)
  • Put to another use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse (Rearrange)
In applying these concepts, remember that learning, and even more, teaching, Jiu Jitsu, has many more aspects than just the application of specific techniques.

You want to get better at takedowns - Substitute one of your weekly Jitsu classes with a judo class, or private lessons with a wrestler, for a while.

Parents of your Jiu Jitsu kids complain they can't take their kids ot every lesson because of homework commitments. Combine Jiu Jitsu with flash cards of times tables, etc. to get the best of both worlds.

Find ways to adapt sweeps and takedowns that end up in guard, so that you bypass their guard while still on your feet for takedowns, or you set up the sweep in a way that ends up with you finishing on top in kneeride or side control rather than inside their guard. Many people first learning the basic elevator sweep from butterfly guard find it natural to try and finish in the mount. Yeah, you swept them, but a decent Jiu Jitsu guy will put you in half guard every time if you try this. You need to adapt this idea to go to side control instead by putting your knee on the mat next to his hip after you sweep him and putting him in side control.

Modify the lengths of rolling rounds from the standard five minutes to keep things interesting. Magnify to ten or twelve minutes, concentrating on endurance and pacing. Minify to a minute or thirty seconds, going for the submission. Mix it up and randomise the round lengths.

If the cage in your gym is getting worn out and you replace it, or you got it second hand and have extra length, Put it to another use as a lattice from which to hang medals, old belts after promotions, photos, kids' paintings. etc.

Always look for ways to simplify techniques, and how to teach them, by Eliminating unnecessary steps, or information not pertinent to beginners. Start with a low resolution approach to techniques at the beginning, and increase the resolution as they advance.

And John Will's kimura from half guard, discussed above illustrates the potential value of reversing or rearranging the order of things.


As no doubt the above examples show, not every idea is a great idea, practical, or even feasible. The objective of the ideation process is to come up with lots of ideas, wild and weird and out there. Then winnow them down to those that might actually work. Let one idea spawn several others. Most human progress is made by extending what already exists. More ideas leads to more good ideas.

These are not the only verbs you can use. Nor do you need to use them in isolation.

The Hybrid Sweep  against Combat Base described near the top of my notes on John Will's "A Spider Guard Plan" seminar details a sweep from the lasso guard which combines the hook, spider and X guard sweeps. John also details a way to tweak (adapt) the setup of this sweep by adding a couple of extra steps, allowing you to finish in kneeride rather than inside the opponent's guard.

A strong competitor with excellent guard passing skills may elect to finish the sweep in guard, and then pass the guard, so as to rack up points. However, a Jiu Jitsu purist would elect to bypass the opponent's guard whenever possible. Your creative approach should reflect your goals at the time.

Forced Connections and Metaphors

Forced connections in creativity refers to taking an object or concept unrelated to the problem you are trying to solve, and seeing what new ideas come to mind when you look at or consider this object. You could take a mental walk through an imaginary place and force connections with whatever your mind's eye sees. A more formal set of techniques for accomplishing this is "Synectics", which from the original Greek has the meaning of "the joining together of apparently different and irrelevant objects". The use of metaphors and analogies can be of great value in generating ideas.

Metaphors abound in the naming of Jiu Jitsu techniques (tripod sweep, tomahawk sweep, breadcutter choke bow and arrow choke), and can be particularly useful in teaching. An appropriate metaphor can be invaluable in communicating the essence of the technique or concept. A short list of such metaphors I've heard over the years:
  • Zombie Attack
  • Monster Shoulder
  • Shoulder of Justice
  • Hip of Doom
  • Triangle of Death
  • Corridor of Death
  • Fireman's Carry
  • T Choke
  • Stocks
  • Banana Split
  • Crotch Ripper
  • Guillotine Choke
  • Spiral Ride
  • Donkey Guard
  • X Guard
  • Catapult Sweep
  • Lego Principle
  • Porcupine
  • Corkscrew Principle
  • Stab Yourself in the Heart
Longer ones:
  • To keep your weight on them in side control - try to hover, so all your weight goes on them rather than on the mat
  • Sink the stirrups - using your weight in open guard
  • Heavy legs - to prevent the pass and make triangles, omoplatas, etc. work better
  • Stomp and curl - how to use your legs to finish once you get the proper angle on the triangle choke
  • Three-legged table - concept for sweeps
To a martial arts teacher, good metaphors are gold. The right metaphor can convey a concept so much better than several paragraphs worth of literal description.

Reverse Engineering

Reverse Engineering is a term often used in software or other engineering, which refers to disassembling or analysing there operation and behaviour of a program or other machine to understand how it works, for the purpose of duplicating it, reproducing its functionality with more modern tools, or to improve one's understanding and knowledge about it and its operation.

Reverse Engineering is spoken of differently in Jiu Jitsu, by John Will and perhaps other advanced practitioners. In Jiu Jitsu, Reverse Engineering is a process of working out how to get from one position to another position, or perhaps to a specific submission, by working backwards from the final position, trying various alternative paths, until one can end up back at the starting position. Like rewinding a video, but in real time.

How to get from front control to a Gogoplata finish? Start in the final Gogoplata position, then work backwards until you end up in front control.

You probably can't literally do some thing in reverse due to the laws of physics. But when you set you drilling mode back to Play after Reverse, what you have might work.

I learned a legbar from front control at a seminar. That would be very difficult to do backwards, but not so forwards.

In a similar vein, at John Will's second Ashi Garami seminar, he showed us a progression of techniques working towards Eddie Cummings' setup of the 411/ Saddle / Honey Hole from Butterfly guard, often closely followed by a  heel hook victory.

Saddle from Butterfly Guard, as performed by Eddie Cummings

John had been asked to work such a sequence out by attendees at a previous seminar. The steps he came up with were:
  • Standing Kani Basami (scissor takedown) finishing in the Honey Hole
  • From butterfly guard, go to a modified Kani Basami on the knees
  • From butterfly guard, lift the opponent with an elevator and hop the supporting foot out to the side away from him
  • From butterfly guard, elevate the opponent, move the other foot out, and then drop him down, scissoring his leg into the Honey Hole
I discuss the teaching sequence in more detail in my notes on the Ashi Garami 2.0 seminar from John Will.

While one needs a wide knowledge base and more creative problems solving techniques besides Reverse Jiu Jitsu Engineering to come up with such a sequence, I feel this is illustrative. It would be enlightening to hear how Eddie Cummings (and perhaps his coach and/or training partners) actually devised this technique and how it was developed as an aid to further insight and experimentation.

On to the final, Part IV.