Striking & Sparring

How to Be a Good Uke (Training Partner)

When people first take up Jiu-jitsu, they find the idea of willingly letting someone “beat you up” a little odd. They don’t know whether the idea in being an uke is to be a difficult, resisting attacker to make the applications “more realistic” or whether they should be trying to make it easier for their partners by going to the ground actively for them. As with most things, the secret to being a good uke is somewhere in between.

When your training partner is just starting out, you shouldn’t offer much in the way of “active” resistance as an uke. Attacks that you make on your partner should be slower and done with less intensity so your partner can focus more on learning the defensive techniques without being put under too much pressure.

As a student gains more experience, you can increase the speed and intensity. When your partner strikes you as their uke, protect yourself in a way that won’t interfere with the person’s training. Turn your chin away for strikes around the head/neck area. Breathe out and tense your abdominal muscles when receiving a strike around the midsection. When receiving a strike to the groin, trust in your groin protector and in your partner who will do the strike in a controlled fashion.

When someone is taking you to the ground, try to stay relaxed and focused on doing a proper breakfall to protect yourself. Don’t go to the ground prematurely (i.e. before your partner has properly taken your balance). But don’t actively fight being taken to the ground. In our style, Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, we use strikes to weaken, distract and/or off-balance a person. If the person lands their strike in the proper location, the throw or takedown comes much more easily when done with real power. You must pretend a little, knowing that as long as the strike was on target, your partner should have been theoretically been able to set you up for the takedown. The reason for this is that it is simply not safe to practice on your partners with full power when connecting on target. Only use active resistance against throws when it is the purpose of the exercise.

When someone is practicing applying a lock, don’t use your strength to resist the application. If your partner knows proper technique and they fight through your resistance, your strength may give out quite suddenly and then you have all that extra force being put into your joint, which could easily result in an injury. If you’re free grappling with your partner, resistance is expected because that is the point of the exercise, but then in that case neither of you are playing the role of uke, so it’s a different situation entirely.

Have fun and play safe everyone!

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What to Do When Your Bell Gets Rung

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of doing some sparring with Chris, my second-in-command at my dojo, during open training. It was my first time sparring since my elbow injury just over 6 weeks ago. Needless to say, I was a little rusty, but still keen to give it a go.

As Chris and I sparred and increased the intensity, we each managed to take a couple of solid hits. The solid hit I took to the head in the form of a left hook that really hit home and rang my bell. I actually saw stars briefly. My response, as I’ve trained myself to do, was to let loose my own strikes, and to keep at it until I had regained my composure.

The reason for responding this way is to keep from being overwhelmed. This logic is applicable whether in a self-defense situation or in the competitive arena. If you give in to the hit and go on the defensive, there is a solid chance that your attacker or opponent will press the attack and get the better of you, both physically and mentally. Instead, you’re much better off throwing your own attacks back, even if they don’t end up being effective. It will hopefully be enough though to throw off your attacker’s initiative so that you can regain your composure.

This attitude follows the same logic discussed in my blog post about the power of intention. Have you personally had any similar experiences continuing to fight after taking a solid hit, whether in a belt test, a self-defense situation, or a competition? I invite you to share these in the comments section.

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The Difference Between Fine & Gross Motor Striking Skills – Part 2

It’s not that hard to learn how to learn the basic mechanics of a strike, whether it’s a punch, elbow strike or knee kick. (I’ll leave out kicks like side kick, roundhouse, and any other kick that requires you to develop a good sense of balance for them to be effective.)

That is why strikes are emphasized in the core curriculum of my style of Jiu-jitsu. Many of them can be learned and applied quickly because the basic mechanics of most of our strikes only require gross motor skills to apply them.

That being said, fine motor skills can be learned and applied to strikes to improve their effectiveness for long term development in the martial arts. In my last post, I talked about strike targeting (in relation to nerve motor/ pressure points) as a fine motor skill. In this post, I’ll discuss “snap” as a fine motor striking skill that also improves strike effectiveness.

Many moons ago, I trained in Shotokan Karate. I trained in it for a few years, long enough to earn my brown belt. While Karate is not as complementary to my style of Jiu-jitsu as a striking art as say boxing, I did none the less take away some very useful concepts that I still apply to my training now. One of these is the concept of snap.

To use “snap”, you keep your body relaxed throughout range of motion of a strike, then tensing your body and/or twisting your striking surface right at the moment of impact. This can greatly increase the power of your strikes.

Think of your body like a whip. Your striking surface, whichever one you’re using, is the end of the whip, your hips & legs are the handle, and your rest of your body in between is the length. You start your movement from the handle and, because the length of the whip is supple, the energy transfers all the way down the length as the handle continues its movement. Then, at the decisive moment, the handle sharply changes direction, an additional burst of energy shoots through the whip culminating at the end, resulting in a powerful “crack.”

Here’s a video showing whip cracking to help illustrate:

With the case of a punch, for example, you initiate the strike from the legs and hips (the handle), thrusting your fist out toward your target. You keep the rest of your body relaxed (the length of the whip) and then at the moment of impact, you twist your fist (the end of the whip) into the target while you tense your body. This takes the kinetic energy you have generated from your relaxed body and localizes it into your strike.

Here’s a good visual explanation on these mechanics that was provided on the TV series, the Human Weapon:

By focusing doing additional focus on fine motor striking skills like targeting and snap, you can vastly improve the effectiveness of your strikes over the long term (and this can be a very long term indeed!). But, of course, the long term development of the martial arts is what makes it so interesting. Or at least it does for me anyway. Plus, being a smaller person, I need every advantage I can get should I need to actually put strikes into practice in a self-defense siuation.

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How Good Are Your Perceptions Skills?

It is amazing to see the difference that good perception makes when it comes to martial arts and self-defense. People with greater perception are able to see openings that others are not able to detect.

Try the following perception test and see how good yours is:


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The Importance of Using Distractions

The other day, one of my students who is a member of the RCMP (Canada’s national police) came to me and told me of how he recently had an on the job experience in which the importance of using a distraction was emphasized.

This student is not large, but still has to apprehend people all the same. In this recent incident, a very drunk man was walking in the middle of a busy city street during rush hour. He first tried to talk the man off the road, but he was resistant. My student had to arrest the man for his own safety so he asked the man to put his hands behind his back, while he took hold of his wrist. The drunk man, however, was resistant and pulled his arms into his body, saying no and refusing to cooperate.

At this point, my student kicked him in the shin. The man, distracted by the sudden pain, relaxed his arms, making it easy for my student to get control of his arm, take him to the ground, then cuff him.

This is a perfect example of how a distraction can be used in a law enforcement scenario. It also works well in a self-defense context. The reason why it works is because the conscious mind can’t focus on two things at the same time. The sharp pain caused by the shin kick caused the man to distract his focus from his resistance to the more immediate shock of the pain. It need not be a shin kick specifically though. It can be a strike to a nerve motor point, pressure to a nerve pressure point, a pinch to a sensitive area, a strike to the groin, etc.

The shin kick is one of my favourite choices as a distraction (if you’re wearing strong shoes). Because it is low, people often don’t see it coming. When you use a shin kick, your hands are free for defensive purposes. Also, in my student’s case, he was very visible in the public eye, dealing with his suspect in a busy city street. The shin kick in this case is pretty innocuous and doesn’t look overly violent, even though it performs the task effectively. It is much more subtle than using fists, knees or elbows.

Anyway, I was very pleased to hear how this student applied our martial art effectively to accomplish what he needed to do on the job, only using as much force as was necessary to nullify the situation. Does anyone else out there have any similar experiences using distraction strikes that they would like to share?

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3 Things You Must Know to Defend Against Multiple Attackers

The other night, some of my students and I ran through a high-stress sparring drill in which the defender had to defend against multiple attackers. There are a number of different tactics a person can use in a multiple attackers situation depending on their body type and how the situation unfolds, but there are two overarching concepts that are common to everyone are as follows: awareness,positional strategy and heart/aggressiveness.

Awareness. You must stay aware of your surroundings by constantly scanning around you to make up for the effects of adrenaline that can cause you to experience tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, etc, when you’re under the stress of an attack. Read Conditioning the Mind to Look Out for Multiple Attackers for more details.

Positional Strategy. The most important tactical aspect of defending against multiple attackers is to position yourself so that only one person can effectively attack you at a time. Basically, you want to avoid being “monkey in the middle.” You want to avoid moving between your two attackers if it can be avoided.

Heart/Aggressiveness. Being on the receiving end of a multiple person attack, you are at a severe disadvantage. You have to make up for it by engaging the attackers aggressively in the hopes of keeping the fight on your terms. By being aggressive, you might also cause your attackers to hesitate, which can give you an opportunity to exploit them in a weak moment. But it’s not just about being aggressive. It’s about having an abundance of heart, a never-give-up attitude that keeps on fighting in the face of insurmountable odds. You want to have the mindset that no matter how many times you get hit, how hard you get hit, or how disadvantaged things may seem, that you WILL keep fighting and use any and every opportunity you get. Anyone out there a Star Trek fan? Captain Kirk has this idea down.

Beyond the two overarching concepts, there are lots of different types of tactics you can use to survive a multiple person attack: throwing/tripping attackers to the ground, pushing them into each other, holding one while kicking another, attacking unexpected targets, using reach advantage strategically, etc. And this list doesn’t even take weapons attacks into account. But no matter what you do have to, if you should try to be aware of your surroudnings and defend yourself with heart and sound positional strategy,

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5 Useful Open Hand Strikes for Self-defense

Last week I wrote a post about the usefulness of open hand strikes vs. punches for self-defense. This week, I’ll discuss 5 specific open hand strikes that I teach for self-defense and how they are useful.

Here is a video of the 5 open hand strikes I will discuss:

1. Straight Strike. A straight strike using the base of the palm is best used to the bridge of the nose. This can cause a lot of pain, as well as the tear ducts to empty. It can also break the nose. In a social situation self-defense situation in which you don’t want to injure a person seriously, you can place your palm on the tip of the nose and vigorously press it back and forth as you push your palm into the nose. The resulting pain from pushing into the many small nerve endings in the tip of the nose can be an effective way of pushing someone away.

2. Open-hand Hook. The body mechanics of this strike are similar to that of a hook punch. It looks like it’s just a big old slap, but it’s much more than that. The difference is that you get greater reach and that it causes knock-outs in a different way. This strike causes a concussive effect on the brain, which can effectively stun a person or knock them unconscious. Think of the skull as being like a pickle jar, while your brain is the pickles. When you hit the skull hard it rattles the pickles against the inside of the pickle jar” (i.e. your brain on the inside of the skull), which is what causes the stunning effect. Also, if you happen to hit the ear, you can break the ear drum and cause a lot of pain. Even if it lands only on the face and not the head, the resulting “smack” can be distracting enough to give a person pause.

3. Ridge Hand Strike. We most often use the ridge hand strike on the brachial plexus origin, a nerve motor point that results in stunning and potentially knock-outs when struck. When attacking this area, we use the inside of the wrist bone, rather than the hand itself. A ridge hand strike using the inside knuckle as the striking surface, can also be used to attack the nose when on an angle or the temple from straight on. Warning: a strike to the temple has the potential to be a fatal blow and should only be used in life-threatening situations.

4. Back Hand Strike. We use this strike also on the brachial plexus origin, using the back of the wrist bone.

5. Open hand Uppercut. This works in much the same way as a traditional uppercut. You need to close to your attacker to use it. When you strike the jaw right on target, the impact can stun or knock a person out, as is evidenced in many professional fights. It is said that this is caused by the temporal mandibular nerve, located directly behind the “hinge” of the jaw. Essentially, the jawbone slams back against the nerve, basically causing a form of sensory overload that can shut down the brain.

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The Importance of Contact for Developing Strike Targeting

I’ve been to lots of different dojos, some that were the same art (Jiu-jitsu) but a different styles, and some that were different martial arts altogether. One concept that I have come to appreciate in my own style is that of training strikes with light contact.

One of our training rules that we apply every time we’re on the mats, is that when we train with our ukes all strikes should be practices with light contact, about 2-5% power (to start with) depending on the person’s strength. There are several reasons why, which I would like to elaborate on in this post.

1) Targeting. A number of the targets we use are nerve motor points (i.e. brachial plexus origin, solar plexus, lateral femoral, anterior femoral, etc). These targets all have very specific locations and are by far more effective when accurately targeted. Anyone who has trained these targets knows that, in some cases, the difference between being on and off target can be as small as millimetres. The only way to develop an intuitive feel for the locations is to get feedback from your ukes all the time. Eventually, your muscle memory takes over and you don’t have to intellectualize it. And that’s when the use of those targets becomes really useful. This also applies to some targets that are not nerve motor points, like the groin. Of course, we wear cups so that we more safely practice our targeting, but even with the groin protection, it’s important not to use much more than 2-5% power for obvious reasons.

2) Time-On-Target (TOT). This concept makes strikes to nerve motor points even more effective. When we strike these types of targets, we emphasize leaving the striking surface (whether it’s your elbow, knee, fist, forearm, shin bone etc.) on the target location for 3/4 of a second. This allows the fluid shock waves to transfer from your striking surface into the target, increasing the effects. Think of it like hammering a nail. If you hammer a nail and pull the hammer back as it strikes, the nail doesn’t go in as far. Conversely, if you hammer the nail and leave on the nail head, the nail drives in much further.

3) Understanding the effects. If a student doesn’t understand the effects of their strikes from the uke’s perspective, they won’t be able to help other students with their targeting. Also, when a student knows what it feels like to receive blows to the various nerve motor points, it gives them respect for the power that comes from their use. Nerve motor points like the lateral femoral, anterior femoral, radial nerve, etc. can cause great pain. While points like the brachial plexus origin can knock a person out, and the solar plexus can leave a person winded and breathless. By training with contact, students will understand and respect how effective striking to nerve motor points can be and will not be as likely to “goof around” with them amongst their non-practicing friends and family.

I can understand many dojos’ reluctance to train with contact. They fear that it might get out of hand and that students will get hurt. And even if students don’t get hurt, they may find the process altogether intimidating and not want to train. But contact need not be injurious or intimidating. Students should start by doing very light contact at slow speeds, gradually increasing the speed and power levels as they come to understand the effects. I’ve used this method with even the meekest, mildest individuals with positive results.

Without any contact training… well, I’ve seen high level martial art practitioners doing strikes with little to no understanding of the targets that they, in theory, are trying to affect. And from watching these people strike targets, it’s easy to question whether they would be able to affect an attacker in a real situation in the way they intend.

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What It Takes to Get “Heavy Hands”

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.

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Kiai: What It’s For & How to Do It

The kiai is used on our dojo fairly regularly. We use it during breakfalls, in Jiu-jitsu circles, during tests, etc. Students are often confused about how to do a kiai so hopefully this blog will clarify things a bit.

The concept of the kiai goes back to ancient Japan. Samurai warriors were renowned for their powerful kiai in battle – a startling battle cry that was reputed to paralyze opponents with fear. A warrior who could release a powerful kiai would rarely be viewed as weak or fatigued by his opponents.

The Purpose of Kiai

The purpose of the kiai is three-fold:

1. To focus your mental and physical energy. (More details about this in The Benefits of Kiai for Sharpening Focus & Form for Breakfalls.)
2. To startle your attacker/ opponent
3. To draw attention to your need for help (in a self-defense situation)

When you learn to kiai properly the additional focus that it gives you helps reinforce your technique. You also learn not flinch and freeze at sudden loud noises, making it easier for you to quickly assess the source of the noise, whether it poses a threat and whether any response is required.

Meaning of Kiai

The word kiai is made up of the Kanji characters “ki,” meaning energy or spirit, and “ai,” meaning unification. Many East Asian people believe a force flows through all things, known as “ki” in Japanese and chi (or qi) in Chinese. Kiai is taken to mean “the harmonizing of ki” or “unification of spirit.”

How to Do a Kiai

The sounds martial arts students make when sounding a kiai are varied, including “Hai-ee,” “Huusss” and many variations. The exact sound of the yell varies from person to person. I encourage my students to experiment to find the best sound for them. When I teach women’s self-defense classes, I teach them to vocalize using a word that helps bring attention to their need for help, like “Nooo!” or “Stop!”. Whatever sound you use, it should emanate from your hara (your lower abdominal area), not your throat.

As for timing, the kiai should be sounded:

1. At the moment of impact of a technique, whether it be a block or an attack
2. When you are taking a blow to the abdomen
3. Anytime you want to accentuate an action you are performing

When I’m training, I don’t necessarily limit my use of kiai to the appointed times. Oftentimes, when I get in the zone with techniques I’m very familiar with, I find my kiai just comes out as naturally as breathing.

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