December 2013

How to provide a Muay Thai training program that removes the hard contact sparring and still retains the authenticity of real Muay Thai?

This is a problem that many of us die-hard Muay Thai trainers are faced with. Many of us are ex-fighters and have learned our Muay Thai the “Old school” way; long hard training sessions and hard-core sparring.

Usually our goal was to fight either in the ring or out in the street if the occasion presented itself. Ultimately we got hooked by the game and stayed with it as it became part of our life-style. Consequently, in time, we experienced the many other benefits of intense training.

The benefits of training in kickboxing are many:

·         Great for fitness

·         Excellent weight management method.

·         Very skill intensive, thereby, developing both the mind and the body.

·         Confidence building form many angles.

·         Health benefits that include, cardio-vascular fitness, strength development and coordination.

·         In addition, the whole Muay Thai training experience is interesting and presents a personal challenge in every training session.

It is these benefits that I, as a teacher, want to make available to all people who want to learn the art of Muay Thai, but at the same time wish to maintain the authenticity of the art and not allow it to gravitate to the “McDojo’s” level of martial arts school that offers systems that are ineffective and useless.

However, experience has shown that the single most dominant factor in the attrition of students from contact sports, particularly the martial arts, is that of sparring, and this is certainly the case with Thai boxing.

No matter how hard us trainers try there is always the problem with ego from stronger students, that gets in the way of keeping the sparring to a level that a student who is interested in the more lifestyle skills and training regime that Muay Thai has to offer. It is a problem that training in martial arts has faced since it first appeared in the west. Existing students and many instructors working with the belief that there had to be a rite of passage to learn a martial art and students who forgot where they started from, once they have reached a level of competency,  going too hard on new practitioners.

This couldn’t be further from the truth as the martial rats were developed from military fighting techniques and distilled into systems that developed the whole being, both mind and body.

The goal was to give any body the skills and attributes that the martial arts offered so that they would benefit with greater health, confidence and ability to defend themselves against thugs.

It is with this philosophy in mind that I teach all of my martial arts systems at the Academy of combat in Christchurch. I teach with the maxim “Most students who come to learn, from me, already know how to get beaten up; they come to me to learn how to not get beaten up!”

In order to address this, sparring is offered as an optional part of training and now I am going to trial a system in which it is performed at two distinct levels; touch contact and fighter preparation contact. Both are heavily controlled by a third man. The goal in mind is for those that wish to spar will have an enjoyable and rewarding learning experience, in which both participants gain something of worth, not engage in an ego driven slug fest in which no one learns anything.

Watch this space for an update on how it works out.

Our Responsibility As A Martial Arts Teacher

Another great year has almost passed and once again it is testing time for the kid’s classes at the Academy.

This is a time when they try their very best to demonstrate the various martial arts skills that they have learned during the year so that they can achieve a new belt level.

This always brings many things to my mind as I watch them work and assess their ability.

My awareness is particularly drawn to the effect and responsibility that I have to their development in these early days of their lives.

The majority of them really enjoy showing what they can do and in many cases reach a new level in their martial arts ability as they put their very best performances forward.

I see the results of some who have really striven hard, the expressions on their little faces and the pride and congratulatory support they get from their families at the end.

It is these experiences that remind me of why I, and many others, do martial arts. It is about striving for accomplishment and self-fulfillment. This builds confidence and character which stays with them and helps them in all areas of their lives.

Training in martial arts has the ability to develop so many aspects of our lives and goes far beyond some people’s idea that it is all about fighting and violence.

For the majority of us who have stayed with martial arts, making it part of our life-style, we have gained all manner of benefits. And to see these children obtaining these benefits at such an early stage of their lives, and my being part of it, is a great reward to my martial arts teaching.

And as instructors we must be aware of, and pay attention to, the responsibility we have to our students of all ages because we do have a considerable effect on their lives and have the ability to make real changes for the better.

I look forward to, and wish everybody in the martial arts world, especially all of my students at my Christchurch martial arts school, the Academy of Combat, an enjoyable and fulfilling experience in their martial arts training.

Build Your BJJ, Muay Thai Or Any Martial Art On A Strong Foundation of Basics

One of the most important aspects of training, whether BJJ or any other area of achievement we may be pursuing is attention to and the learning of the basics. All good coaches will stress this in their teaching, however, in this time of fast, easy and cheap in which the majority are looking for the “magic bullet” that will allow them to dominate and win. And while this may be rewarded now and again, in the long-term experience and history has shown it to be a very flawed strategy. Unfortunately in the current social and business climate students and clients are always seeking the latest shiny object and those more seasoned and grounded trainers they are rapidly becoming relegated to the ranks of dinosaurs.

However, a good example of the consequences of having this “magic bullet” mentality occurred recently in an Australasian BJJ competition match. The student set up De La Riva guard and then proceeded to execute a beautiful Berimbolo sweep after which he took the back of the opponent.

A great set of techniques and magnificent display - by a white belt! However, once he took the back he had no idea how to finish his opponent. The opponent subsequently escaped and finished him with an armbar, winning the match.

My point here is not that it was a white belt performing advanced moves but his apparent inability to follow through to a finish in one of our most basic and dominant positions in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, positions that have a high probability of ending a match. Myself, now a practitioner of over 20 years, still trains and uses basic finishes from, not only the back but all positions and to this day, with all the techniques I have at my disposal, still favor forearm choke from side control and spinning choke from knee ride.

For me the back choke series; lapel chokes and no-gi back chokes, that constitute the main back control finishes are white belt basics, whereas, De La Riva Guard and Berimbola sweep is are taught after Blue belt and do not constitute what I consider as major techniques.

We are all practitioners of a fantastic martial arts system which has an incredible richness of techniques, but we owe it to ourselves and our students to embrace and train the basics so that we can have the confidence of a robust game at what ever stage we are at in our learning. Not a short-lived, attention seeking, ego driven game fueled by looking good for a brief time, only to be vanquished by an opponent with solid basics.

There are so many great examples of this out there in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but for a good inspirational lesson in appreciating the basics I highly recommend heeding the example of Roger Gracie, and his use of the basics against very competent fighters.

Spend your time to develop and hone your basics so that your have a solid game core and then add to that to increase your versatility and you will reap huge benefits and satisfaction as you continue in your pursuit of your chosen interest.

To Use Supplements or Not.

Once again I hear the same rhetoric from an academic about the “in his opinion” unnecessary consumption of health supplements, this is despite the huge number of people who appear to have been assisted by their use, myself included.

And while I agree with him to a certain degree when we are considering average lifestyles, and the irresponsible and fraudulent claims of apparent cures for some ailments, I certainly do not agree when we look at more active individuals, such as serious martial artists, and the quality of lifestyle that they are able to live, with supplementation and exercise.

The report is usually summarized by saying that there is no substitute for a balanced diet.

Therein lies the problem with the academics opinion, firstly what is a correctly balanced diet, secondly how do we acquire such a diet in these busy, stressful lives that we live today which, combined with the abundance of processed foods, makes it very difficult to get the correct nutritional balance that is required.

Then there are those of us, I speak from a professional martial artist’s perspective, who lead very physically and mentally demanding lives that would most certainly place more demand on the nutrients required, than the average person. How are we to get the necessary nutrients throughout our day so that we can operate at peak performance?

I for one, use supplements on a consistent daily basis and at 60 years of age still live a very physical and mentally demanding existence with only modest reduction in my performance compared with a similarly trained person, half my age.

At times, I have taken time off supplements for extended periods and I always notice a decline in performance, gradually over 2 weeks. When I go back to supplementation the performance and effects on my well-being manifest again within 2-3 days.

And yes there will be those that cry out that it is the placebo effect. May be so, I have no empirical proof, but even if it is the placebo effect well I am happy to embrace it and if it costs me the price of some supplements, which do me no known harm, then I am happy to pay it.

I consider it far more rewarding than going to a medical doctor and receiving drugs that do have known side effects and, at best, only relieve the symptoms, or being labeled with some hitherto unknown syndrome that has been classified by the symptoms presented and does not appear to have any solid physiological basis and deems that I will supposedly be never capable of doing what I am doing. Too many of us live in that shadow.

I also put forward the evidence that numerous traditional herbs and medicines have now been shown to have empirically significant effects. One only has to look no further than the humble aspirin.

In my opinion, and from experience, I would recommend that any serious training individual should compliment their training with supplements. Again, in support of this, bodybuilders, power-lifters and high level athletes from many sports operate at far higher levels in this day and age then there  counterparts even just 10 years ago.

Advances in training methodologies, understanding of biomechanics and nutritional knowledge have all contributed to the developmental advances that have occurred within all areas of human development and nutritional supplements are part of the essential fuel of that mix.

Certainly if you are competitive or even very active martial artist you should use at least a basic multi-vitamin and mineral tab.