Due to the nature of information transfer of the martial arts, many schools teach stretching methods that are not in line with modern sports medicine theory. Instructors follow the methods taught by their instructors that were taught to them by their instructors before them and so on. That’s why it’s very common to see martial arts instructors leading warm-ups that include long periods of static stretching, rather than following the advice of modern medical authorities that suggest that dynamic stretching is a better way to prepare muscles for the rigors of exercise.
Modern research is finding that static stretching not only provides no real benefits in terms of injury prevention, it can even hinder students’ movements for up to 10 minutes after the stretching period. Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, stretches the muscles using gentle (not explosive) movements. Some research suggests that it is a superior method of stretching for injury prevention. An article was recently published in the New York Times on this topic.
In my Vancouver martial arts school, we only use static stretching at the end of class as a cool down and to help students improve their overall flexibility. For warm-ups, we choose dynamic stretches that prepare students for the upcoming class. When relevant, I like to use methods that closely simulate the techniques to be covered in class.
I always try to keep up with modern sports medicine and use up-to-date methods for my class’s physical regimen. I consult with my students who are doctors and try to read up on medical research reports as they are released. Many of my students use my Jiu-jitsu classes as their sole method of staying in shape, so I have responsibility to ensure that they are getting proper fitness training.
Chris, my dojo’s other instructor, was recently asked what the main difference is between his old style of Jiu-jitsu (Shorinjikan) and Can-ryu (our style). His answer was as follows: “It’s not Can-ryu if there isn’t some kind of groin strike involved.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Of course, it was an extreme statement designed to elicit a laugh, but there is a certain degree of truth. A truth he met with full force just last night.
In my dojo, we always wear groin protectors because our self-defense oriented style uses a lot of strikes to the groin. It is as much a part of our uniform as our belts.It is so ingrained that everyone wears a cup while training that when someone forgets their cup, we have safety precautions that we take to remind everyone when someone is not wearing. I have a roll of red electrical tape that is used to mark a large ‘X’ where the groin is to remind everyone not to strike that target with force. Without the reminder, people tend to forget… like I did last night.
Chris decided not to wear his cup last night. He had recently bought the shock doctor compression short groin protector and he was finding it to be not very comfortable. He decided to take it off since he was only teaching last night and not likely to receive any blows to the groin. Unfortunately, the teaching situation changed and we team-taught the class.
I was demonstrating an after-throw technique that had an optional strike to the groin from a tendon twisting lock. Basically, if the uke lifts his hips and makes the groin an easy target, you take it. And in this case, the target was offered and there was no red ‘X’ to remind me not to take it. The class laughed, not at Chris’s pain (which was intense to say the least), but at my embarrassment at having forgotten. There aren’t too many times when the class gets to see me blush.
The moral of the story is: The red ‘X’ marks the unprotected spot. No exceptions.
Being a smaller woman, I have naturally attracted a few students who are smaller in stature. One of the things they like about training at my Vancouver Jiu-jitsu dojo is the fact that they can relate to me physically. They see me throwing and applying joint locks/ submissions on much larger people and it’s easier to imagine that they too can do these things. That being said, when you start out as a smaller individual with no martial arts experience, the challenges can seem insurmountable at first.
When starting out, bigger people usually have less trouble because what they lack in technique, they make up for using strength. Then, with practice and good instruction, they will make adjustments to eventually do it without relying on their strength (in theory). Smaller people don’t have this luxury when training with bigger people. They often struggle to perform the same techniques and naturally get frustrated when they can’t do them as easily.
What I often suggest in these cases is for smaller people to try out techniques that are more challenging on people closer to their size at first. That way they can develop the feel for the technical details (i.e. stance, footwork, weight transfer, leverage, balance, momentum, etc). Once the person develops that ‘feel’ or at least a sense of it, it then becomes easier to apply it on a bigger training partner.
And if you happen to be a smaller, struggling martial artist, fear not. It gets easier. In fact, you’ll have the advantage over the bigger students in the long run. Since you can’t rely on strength for shortcomings in technique, you will develop stronger technique in less time than it takes a person who continually uses strength to make things work.
I recently re-watched the Affliction fight between Fedor Emelianenko and Tim Silvia. I’ve posted it here so you can see it for context (and so I don’t ruin it for people who haven’t seen it).
The first time I saw it, I was amazed by the brutal efficiency with which Emelianenko struck down and finished Silvia. While Silvia stopped it by tapping out, ultimately, the beginning of the end was the heavy handed hits Emelianenko dished out prior to taking Silvia to the ground. They didn’t look like much but there was something about the strikes that just cleaned Silvia’s clock. If you watch more of Emelianenko’s fights, you’ll notice that this is one of the cornerstones of Emelianenko fighting form. He is a “heavy-handed” hitter.
One day, while watching UFC with some of my trainers and training partners, I asked, “What does it take to get heavy hands?” The general consensus was that you can’t develop it, you’re just born with it. I found this difficult to accept as an answer. There surely had to be something about the physics that makes it happen, which to me means that it can be developed on some level.
Later, when I was training on the pads with Louis, he told me in his direct manner of speaking, “You wanted to know about gettin’ heavy hands? Well, babe, you got em’. They’re not there every single time you hit, but when you’re on, you can feel it in the way you smack the pads.” Louis went on to point out the sound and feel that showed when I was hitting in a “heavy-handed” way as we worked.
From what I can tell of the feeling of those hits is that hitting heavy-handed is more about having just the right distance when you strike someone so that you get maximum power transfer from your strikes. If you’re working the pads, you can immediately feel the loss of power when you strike from too close or too far. But when you’ve got it right, you can feel a significant increase in power. The reason why people tend to think of being heavy-handed as a natural ability is that it’s difficult to actually see the difference between the perfect distance and slightly off the perfect distance. Also, some people just naturally have a better sense of distance than others.
Of course, having good punching form that starts from a solidly balanced stance, uses the hip, and twists the fist counts for something too, but without the perfect distance the power that is is generated from good form is completely lost.
I remember one time, back when I was married, when I had a terrible nightmare. I was being attacked by a man on whom none of my strikes were affecting. In my dream he took me to the ground while laughing at my fruitless attempts to defend myself. As I fell to the ground I thought, “I have to do something!” I then grabbed him by the hips and gave a full power knee strike to his groin. At that moment I awoke to the sound of my rudely awakened husband yelling at me, “Lori! You just kneed my in the balls!” As I was dreaming, in reality, I performed the technique with great accuracy on my sleeping husband.
Since I took up martial arts, there were a number of times that I had dreams in which I used techniques in an attempt to defend myself. At first, in most of these dreams, I would strike with all my power and nothing seemed to work. My attackers would just laugh at me as I hit them and it would continue on until I woke up in a cold sweat.
Later on, the dreams shifted and I was able to use my martial arts training to defend myself effectively, but the dreams never seemed very real. It was more like watching an action movie in which I was the star.
Not too long ago, I told some of my students about the nightmare I had with my husband. A couple of them, ones who had trained for martial arts for awhile, admitted their own stories. One fellow woke from a nightmare having elbowed his wife in the head. Another had kicked their partner in the calf. Out of curiosity, are their many of you out there that have had experiences like this?
I recently wrote a post about dealing with size differences when grappling. One thing I forgot to mention is that flexibility, especially in the hip and inner thighs, is another way to combat an opponent with greater size and strength. I find it particularly useful when I’m in the open guard.
People who are bigger and stronger often aren’t as flexible and this can be a way to prevent such opponents from passing your guard without using as much strength. That’s why I tend to favour open guards when grappling, no matter who my opponent is. I simply keep my legs loose and active and use my speed and flexibility to stop my opponent as he or she tries to power through my guard. A closed guard, on the other hand, tends to utilize more strength when keeping your opponent within your guard or preventing him or her from passing.
Here is a video of me using my flexibility against an opponent who is 25 lbs heavier than me (please excuse the fogginess, it was a steamy day in the dojo when we filmed this):
Flexibility doesn’t come easily for everyone, but you can always improve it with a regular stretching regime. If you’re serious about improving your flexibility, you shouldn’t just be doing it at the dojo. Here is a good video that demonstrates various ways of doing the butterfly and other related stretches for increasing hip/ inner thigh flexibility and leg rotation:
Another stretch I like for stretching these muscles is the pigeon pose from yoga. I find it provides more leverage for increasing the stretch even further. You can see it here in this yoga video:
Even if you’re not planning to use flexibility as a cornerstone of your ground game, it’s a good idea to work on it to increase your range of motion, which helps to improve your overall ground game. This is true whether you’re training the ground for competition or self-defense. Check out my new book When the Fight Goes to the Ground: Jiu-jitsu Strategies & Tactics for Self-Defense for more information on my approach to ground defense.
My students come in all shapes and sizes. I have one tiny student who isn’t much bigger than an 11-year-old, despite being a fully grown adult. I also have a few very large students who are significantly taller, weigh quite a bit more, and are much stronger to boot. When we grapple, however, we all end up working together, using all different sizes of partners. Being a smaller person myself (5’4″, 130lbs), people often ask how I am able to make up for it when grappling with bigger, stronger people. Here’s how…
Develop Superior Technique
When your technique is spot-on, you use less strength and energy to shift your body or apply locks and submissions. If you’re going to grapple with people who are bigger and stronger than you, you should strive to make your technique superior to theirs. This is what helps me get the better of my bigger opponents.
Being smaller usually means you can develop your speed more easily since you don’t have as much body weight to drag around. When you can shift your body more quickly, it’s easier to prevent larger opponents from using their weight against you by staying in or shifting between optimal positions. You can also use your speed to slip into submissions and get them locked down before they can use their strength to get out of them.
Use Strength Wisely
When you do get a submission locked down, don’t fool around. Use your strength at these key times to ensure submission. If you were fast enough to get your submission locked down, your opponent is less able to rely on technique to get out. In which case, you can bet your opponent will try to use his or her strength to stop your submission, and, because he’s bigger and stronger than you, you can justify using a bit of strength to solidify your submission attempt with less risk of injuring your opponent. That being said, be careful when using strength to apply joint locks. If you use it too explosively, your opponent may not have the chance to tap out before you cause them injury.
End It Quickly
If your opponent is bigger and stronger than you, time is not on your side. The longer it takes you to end the match, the more likely you’ll eventually tire out trying to manipulate your opponent’s bigger, stronger body, especially if he has decent technique. And once you’re tired out, it’s very easy for them to get a submission in. Your goal in dealing with a larger, stronger opponent should be to try and end the match as quickly as possible, before your body gets tired and you’re less able to defend yourself.
Go forth, Davids and take on your Goliaths! Here’s a little inspiration for you to take with you. The fight between Fedor Emelianenko (6’0″, 235lbs) and Hong-Man Choi (7’2″, 330lbs). You can guess who wins…
In a recent post, I discussed 5 ways of treating muscle soreness. One of them suggested ice baths as a valid way of not only treating, but preventing muscle soreness from workouts. Jenny, one of my students who is a doctor, the one who hasn’t faltered in her attemts to get me onto the ice bath regime, read my blog post and sent me a few methods for doing ice baths. I’ll post them here.
This one comes from an article from Runner’s World:
“First you have to get ready. Prepare your post work out recovery smoothie, protein drink or recovery bar, set it next to the bath. Collect reading material.“Overcome pain” would be a good choice, the latest edition of “Runner’s World” or “The Ultimate Fighter” works too. Undress. Put on a woolly hat, woolly scarf and mitts. Step into the empty bath. Turn on the taps for a lukewarm flow of water and sit. Once there is an inch of lukewarm water covering the bottom of the bath, turn off the hot tap and just let the cold water fill up the remainder of the bath to cover the legs completely, higher if you also did a hard abdominal muscle work out or arm training. Screech, shiver and curse a few times. The cold water is usually cold enough, but for the masochist reader, you can add ice cubes once the body is covered. Make sure you keep your hands dry. Wait two minutes. The shivering usually stops and you can reach over, grab the food and book, sit back, relax and enjoy for 15 minutes. Dream of future glory. No sane competitor will be doing this: You are the champion.”
And here is the method that Jenny uses herself from an article written by physical therapist and runner Nikki Kimball:
“Over the years, I’ve discovered tricks to make the ice bath experience more tolerable. First, I fill my tub with two to three bags of crushed ice. Then I add cold water to a height that will cover me nearly to my waist when I sit in the tub. Before getting in, I put on a down jacket and a hat and neoprene booties, make myself a cup of hot tea, and collect some entertaining reading material to help the next 15 to 20 minutes pass quickly.
Though scientific research exists to support the use of ice baths to promote recovery, no exact protocol has been proven better than others. In general, water temperatures should be between 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit, and immersion time should ranges from 10 to 20 minutes. Among top runners, I see ice bath techniques that vary within and on either side of these ranges. My favorite method is the post-race soak in a cold river or lake with fellow competitors.”
Or if you’re like me, you might have to get a friend to assist you and use the method as applied in torture sessions by certain military dictatorships as depicted in the following image:
Sometimes when I do intense sessions of grappling, throwing or breakfalls, I’ll wake up the next day or two days later with sore, aching muscles due to the strain of the training. Here are a few treatments for muscle soreness that can help.
1. Gentle exercise. Medical research suggests that you shouldn’t completely avoid exercise when dealing with muscle soreness. It’s quite the opposite. You should instead do light exercise that keeps the affected muscle(s) in motion. Blood circulation helps clear up the lactic acid build up that causes muscle soreness.
2. Ibuprofen (aka – Advil). While Ibuprofen doesn’t speed up muscle recovery, medical studies suggest that it does decrease the pain in the meantime.
3. Baths. A hot bath won’t cure muscle soreness, but it does help to take the edge off. I find it helps to throw in a cup of Epsom salts, which is said to help reduce muscle stiffness. According to a student of mine who is a doctor and avid fitness enthusiast, cold baths are a great way of preventing the soreness before it sets in. She says that if you can stand to immerse yourself in ice cold water for 5 minutes soon after you do an intense work-out it can do wonders for muscle soreness prevention. I’ve used cold water immersion for treating joint injuries, but I just can’t bring myself to fully immerse my body in ice water.
4. Stretching/ Yoga. They say that stretching doesn’t really do anything for reducing muscle soreness, but many people find that it helps make them feel better. There are some studies that the regular practice of yoga does help prevent muscle soreness. I find that yoga helps me, but only when I do it regularly.
5. Proper warm-ups. Medical studies suggest that properly warming up helps reduce post work-out muscle soreness. Experts suggest that you should do 3-5 minutes of exercise that gets your heart beating faster, like skipping, running, or gentle shadowboxing. This can take longer though if you’re training in a cold environment. Once you’re warm, it’s also a good idea to do some dynamic stretching, using movements that are similar the ones you’ll be doing in your work-out. These kinds of stretches should be done with steady, controlled movements, not explosive ones, which can injure muscles.
When you start skipping as a cardio workout, at first even a few short minutes can seem hard to do. But then as you become more coordinated and your fitness improves, you can go for longer without feeling as much strain. After a while longer, you start finding it difficult to get your heart rate up enough to work your cardio. When you reach this stage, the answer is to start doing double-skips.
Double-skipping is done by jumping once, but rotating your skipping rope around your body twice before your feet touch the ground. If you can keep your legs straight and pike your body, you can get a bit of an ab workout while doing it. Here’s a video of me doing double-skips:
It takes a bit of practice, but once you get the technique and timing down, you’ll notice that it greatly intensifies your skipping workout. So if you ever feel like you need to increase your heart rate more while you’re skipping, you can throw in a few double-skips. Even after 3-4 you can start to feel your heart working faster.
Myself, I like to do 30 seconds straight of double-skipping at the end of each 5-min round of skipping. I find it’s a great way of working my overload capacity, which can be pretty important for competition fighting, whether it’s boxing or MMA.