Striking & Sparring

The Importance of Sparring for Developing Distance, Timing & Reflexes in the Martial Arts

Sparring to learn distance, timing & quick reflexesOver the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing some fencing teaching for a group of stunt performers. There is a film that is going to be shooting in our area that requires a group of women who can do sport fencing. Having done lots of fencing in my past, I was asked by a stunt friend of mine who is also a fencer to help him out by teaching some stunt women some foundational skills to get them up to speed for this film in addition to being considered for it myself. I was happy to oblige.

All of these women had little to no experience with sport fencing, but most have some sort of martial arts background. Even amongst the martial artists, some were able to pick it up faster than others, the ones who trained in sparring as part of their practice. (more…)

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How to Train the Use Adrenaline for Martial Arts & Self-Defense

Sparring as a form of adrenaline use training in the martial artsProduced by the adrenal glands in our body, adrenaline is released when the body experiences high-stress mental or physical situations. It stimulates a variety of bodily functions, including increased heart rate, increased blood to muscles and increased oxygen flow to the lungs, etc. It can be used to  increase your performance in sport or self-defense, making you faster, stronger and less affected by pain. It can also enable you to process information while taking actions at a rapid rate, making you more responsive to threats. These reactions, however, are not a given. Everyone has different reactions to adrenaline and the stressful situations that causes its flow. This article explores these reactions and how to train yourself to have more useful reactions for martial arts and self-defense. (more…)

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How to Keep Adrenaline Under Control for Martial Arts (Or Anything!)

Adrenaline can be a great tool for self-defense or martial arts sports. It can give you an extra rush of energy when it really counts. It can help you cope with taking hard hits. It can make you more aggressive when aggression may be needed to give you the edge. But it also has its downsides for self-defense, sport or even when you’re just training. It can narrow your field of vision, make it difficult to hear (whether it’s your attacker’s buddy coming in to help or instructions from your coach while in the ring). It can even cause you to use more force than necessary to quell an attacker. (more…)

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4 Key Principles for Defending Against Larger Sized Attackers

Being a smaller woman, I’ve had to practice my Jiu-jitsu/self-defense techniques with a different mindset throughout my martial arts career of nearly 20 years. I’ve had to learn to compensate for my inherent physical disadvantages while making the most of my advantages. When it comes to self-defense though, I’ve identified 4 key principles  that help provide the greatest efficiency when defending against larger sized attackers with greater strength when unarmed. (more…)

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Need for Speed: 3 Principles that Shouldn’t Be Sacrificed to Go Faster

As you progress in your chosen martial art into more advanced levels of development, you start to work on higher level skills. At our dojo, higher level students, usually purple and up, start to learn to apply their skills with more speed. Speed is important in the martial arts. The faster you can move, the more likely you are to catch your attacker off guard and get out of the way of incoming attacks. That being said, there are 3 principles that should not be sacrificed in order to become faster. They are as follows: (more…)

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Pressure Point of the Day: Lateral Femoral

In the Police Pressure Point System developed by Professor Georges Sylvain, founder of Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, the lateral femoral area is not actually a pressure point but a motor point. The difference is that an attack to a motor point can result in a motor dysfunction when struck, while a pressure point only causes pain. In the case of the lateral femoral area, when attacked, it can result in a motor dysfunction in the leg, making it difficult to stand on or use it. It can also be quite painful.

The lateral femoral is centred on the outside of the thigh, around midway between the hip and the knee, where the nerve is closest to the surface of the leg. The nerve affected is the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve (see area in red on the right in image below). Please note that the centre point in which the effect is greatest can vary from person to person, but a strike to this spot within about a 5″ diameter will still affect most people.

The best way to utilize this motor point for self-defense purposes is to deliver a penetrating strike to the area with a hard surface, such as a shin, knee, baton, etc. When striking, it is best to leave your strike on the target for 3/4 of a second (known as T.O.T. or “Time On Target”) to allow the fluid shock waves to transfer from the striking surface into the nerves for greatest effect. This is principle is generally true for all motor points.

Probably the most widely known way to attack the lateral femoral is used in Muay Thai and MMA, commonly referred to as a leg kick. The following video demonstrates a foolhardy boy who volunteers to take a full force leg kick, demonstrating the effects (*Note: If you find verbal profanity offensive, do not watch this video.)

In my early training days, when I was young and stupid, I didn’t think that a leg kick using the shin could be as effective as a knee strike. To prove the point to a Taekwondo black belt friend of mine, I volunteered to take a leg kick to the lateral femoral at 50% power. I didn’t fare much better than the fellow in the above video, hitting the ground like a sack of potatoes, gasping in pain. The full story of this embarrassing anecdote is in in chapter 10 of my book, Weapons of Opportunity.

In Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, we teach the above leg kick, but we also like to use our knees to strike the lateral femoral. Knee strikes to the lateral femoral can be useful for law enforcement for controlling an unruly suspect that is causing trouble while being escorted. It’s nice because it is a low-level force option that doesn’t generally cause injury. That being said, my favourite self-defense technique that uses the lateral femoral is against a side headlock before the attacker gets it fully applied. See the video below for a quick demo (not our greatest film work, but you can get the idea).

If you decide to train strikes to the lateral femoral, or any motor point, it is safest to limit the amount of power you apply on your partners, otherwise you’ll find yourself short of volunteers to receive said strikes. We stick to around 5% power (or less depending on the partner) when training, enough that your partner will feel it when on target so they can provide feedback on target location, but not so much that they’ll experience lingering pain or difficulty using the leg for the rest of the night. This is the amount of power I used in the above video.

One last note on the lateral femoral is that it may not be effective against people who are drunk, high or in the middle of an adrenaline dump. When in these states the responses of the subject’s nervous system don’t always register the effects of strikes to this area. They may feel it after they have sobered up or have come down from their adrenaline dump, but that isn’t useful if you need the effects in the moment, so in this situation, it may not be a great choice.

What’s your favourite way of using the lateral femoral? Please feel free to share in the comments. 🙂
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Forget What You “Thought” You Knew about Aikido

This week I started reading a book, Aikido Shugyo: Harmony in Confrontation, that my friend and mentor Robert Mustard Sensei gave me. Written by the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido, Gozo Shioda Kancho, it provides a personal and direct experience of the man as though he were telling us his stories right in front of us. Each story describes a different principle of Aikido. Some of the principles featured would surprise many a martial artists who “thinks” they know what Aikido is all about, including those listed below.

“Atemi are 70% of a Real Fight.”

This is one of the first principles listed in this book. Atemi, for those of you unfamiliar with the Japanese word, translates to “strikes to nerve centres or vital points.” Ueshiba Morihei himself, founder of Aikido, once said, “In a real fight, 70% of Aikido is atemi and 30% of is throwing.” There is a philosophy of striking that it’s not simply about learning to punch and kick, but to use any part of the body to affect specific contact points. But wait… there’s more.

“The Straight Punch Comes off the Front Knee.”

Whether you’re using a right lunge punch, or reverse punch or any other strike for that matter, Shioda Sensei says that the body’s centre of gravity should ride on the right foot. He says that one must use the knee when generating power by the forward movement of the centre of gravity or else the energy stops there without being transferred into the upper body. This leg engagement is something that is practiced in every Aikido training session. But wait… there’s more.

“Atemi is all timing.”

Citing boxing as an example, Shioda Sensei goes on to explain that oftentimes it is only a very casual looking punch that knocks a guy out. He says that striking effectively is more about “judging an opponent’s changing movements and punching with absolutely perfect timing” and that “if it is timed perfectly, you do not need a lot of power for the punch to be effective.” Apparently Mike Tyson himself saw the benefit of Aikido principles and even travelled to Japan to visit Shioda Sensei’s dojo to learn what he could from the style’s body movements.
These are but a few examples. If these statements intrigue you, I suggest you pick up this book. It is excellent. A great read for any martial artist. I can’t believe I only found it now. It’ll give you a perspective on Aikido that will make you rethink what you thought you knew about it. It is giving me an itch to train in Aikido myself. Good thing I’ll be attending Mustard Sensei’s monthly Kenshu Aikido class at his dojo in Burnaby this Friday. He is also going to teach a special class at my own dojo on April 3, which is an excellent opportunity for my students to experience his knowledge and skill.
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Muscle Memory & Confusion for Building Technical Ability & Strength

My last two posts addressed Muscle Memory and Its Role in Self-Defense, as well as 4 Factors that Affect Muscle Memory Development. This week, I’ll be discussing how muscle memory and muscle confusion work into martial arts training regimes to build technique and strength.

Warm-ups are not only used to get the body warm to prevent injury. They also help develop body movements, and strengthen the body, to help students improve their performance of the techniques learned in class. To this end, I try to work in movements that relate to the techniques I plan to teach later in the class to develop both strength and technique.

If I’m running a ground defense class, I’ll use shrimping, bridging and rolling and/or turtling as part of our warm-up. These movements not only develop strength, they develop the students’ technique in movements that apply directly to ground defense. By having these drills, students get to work on their muscle memory as they warm up and build strength. (*Be sure to check out all the ground defense drills I teach in my new ground defense book!)

Here is a video of me doing these drills:

These are just examples from my ground warm-up, but these principles can be applied to any other aspect of martial arts training. If you’re working punches, try doing punching with hand weights or resistance bands as part of your strength training. If you’re working on kicks, try doing isometric leg training by going through the movements of your kicks slowly and holding your leg out in the extended position. If you’re working on throws, try throwing a heavy bag or weighted throwing dummy. Breakfall training also strengthens the body and prepares you for being thrown. If you’re going to be sparring or you’ll be taking hits to the body for some other reason, do a medicine ball ab toss to strengthen the muscles you use to absorb hits(see video below).

Muscle Confusion for Further Development

After a while, students get very comfortable doing strength training exercises like the ones shown above. And that’s good because if it’s in their muscle memory, they’re more likely to use it on the street when it counts. That being said, if students are to continue to develop their muscle strength/endurance, they can’t just keep doing the same strength training drills all the time. Muscle memory makes people more efficient at doing the movements, using less efforts for the same results. This is a hindrance for muscular development. That’s why I like to switch things up and do movements that are not natural and are not trained often. This leads to “muscle confusion”. When the muscles aren’t use to a movement, they tend to exert themselves much more so to make the action happen. This in turn helps develop muscle strength and endurance.

Below is a video of another drill I like to throw in to my ground defense warm-up. I uses the same core muscles that are important on the ground, but using movements that are counter-intuitive to the way the body naturally moves. Basically, you swing your arms and legs in opposite directions while lifting your hips, causing you to move across the floor. Even if you don’t manage to move much, it’s still a great ab workout. The embedded version is a little cut off, see the full size version here).

How about you? Do you have any special exercises in your pocket that you like to use to develop your skills (or confuse your muscles)? Please share them in the comments. 🙂

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How to Practice Good Strike Targeting

A little while back I discussed the importance of good strike targeting in my post The Difference between Fine & Gross Motor Striking Skills. But how does one improve their targeting skill? Here are 3 different ways to actively improve your strike targeting:

1. Make Contact. Whenever safe to do so, make contact with your intended target. It makes it a lot easier see if your targeting is accurate rather than doing your strike “in the air.” While this is not possible to do safely for all targets, like the nose and eyes for example, with most targets, you can make light contact in a safe manner. Nerve motor points (i.e. solar plexus, brachial plexus origin, lateral femoral, etc.) can easily be practiced safely, restricting the amount of force applied to 5-10% depending on your uke. You can also make light contact to the ribs with an elbow. If you’re receiving strikes to the solar plexus or rib area, make sure you tense your abdominal muscles and breathe out to lessen the effects of the impact because even a light strike can cause you discomfort if you’re not expecting it. If the students in your dojo wear groin protectors like we do, strikes to that area can also be practiced with contact. If contact cannot be made safely, just make sure your strikes are well placed and that if you were to follow through, you would clearly be making contact.

2. Communicate. The beauty of making contact is that your uke can help you improve your targeting by letting you know when you’re on or off target and by helping you to make adjustments so that you improve. People should not be shy or arrogant about doing so, nor should people be embarrassed if they’re not perfect. It is all part of the learning process. You don’t even necessarily need to talk much about it, you can let the partner know even just by taking their striking surface, whether it’s a fist or an elbow and repositioning it casually.

3. Practice on Moving Partners. Once you’ve started getting a good sense of targeting on a static, compliant uke, you should move on to practicing on moving, non-compliant uke. So rather than having your uke bear hug you and just stand there, like you would when you were just a beginner, you should have your uke bear hug you and pull or push you around more so that his targets are harder to access. Another way you can practice on the move is by reacting to your attacker as she moves in rather than waiting for the grab.

Actively practicing good targeting is important because when you’re in the mud and the blood and the beer, you ideally want your strikes to hit accurately instinctively, without having to think about it. But when the combat stress is high and your adrenaline is pumping, the less well trained you are, the less likely you are to hit accurately. Something to think about…

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How to Use Your Whole Body to Improve Martial Arts Technique

One of the things that is very much appreciated by students of the martial arts is how regular training not only makes you good at the martial art you’re studying, it also has a way of making people better at other physical pursuits. One aspect of this comes from the way martial arts helps you to integrate your entire body into your movements for maximum power and efficiency. Whether you’re throwing a punch, applying a joint lock, batting a baseball or throwing a football, there are three things you can do to help integrate your entire body.

1. Initiate Movement from the Hip. When you initiate any techniques with hip rotation, it allows you to coordinate the power of your lower and upper body for more efficient, more powerful movements. When throwing a punch, for example, if you initiate the punch with the rotation of your hips, it allows you to engage the muscles of your leg, core, upper back and shoulder muscles. When you start your movement from the hips, all the muscle energy of these body parts can be coordinated. The energy then travels up through the body and materializing into your punch, much like a whip. See The Difference between Fine and Gross Motor Striking Skills Part 2 for details.

2. Stay Loose. For your body to be used like a whip, it must be loose and supple. Think of how a whip works. It flexes all the way up the length of the whip so the energy can travel through and explode out the end. If there is any stiffness in the whip at any point, the energy would stop dead at that point. This is also true of the body. If you’re throwing a punch, and you’re stiff in the shoulders, for example, it won’t matter how well you use your hips. The energy would get caught up within the stiffness of the shoulders, preventing you from using your whole body. You must therefore stay relaxed and loose so the energy can travel.

3. Breathe Strategically. Your breath is a good way to both focus your movements and relax your body. By initiating your breath from deep within your core from the diaphragm or from the Hara/Tanden area, it helps you maximize the use of your core muscles. Breathing out also helps release tension in the body, allowing energy to flow freely. You can do all this by timing your breath with your punch, initiating your breath as your engage your hips and completing your breath as you make contact.

By using these 3 principles effectively, you’ll see a big difference in how much power you can generate and how much more effortless it will feel. These principles can also be used to improve joint locks, breakfalls and throws, though it’s easier to describe when it comes to strikes.

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