The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, September 19, 2014

Using Redundancy to Become Antifragile

Nassim Taleb is a favorite author of mine and his books have been quite influential on my thinking. His latest is named Anti-Fragile.

We live in a world where everything is optimized, which is fine when everything is running well, but can be catastrophic once a monkey wrench gets thrown into the works.

Below is an excerpt an article from The Art of Manliness, where the topic is how redundancy builds our ability to become not only resilient, where you can bounce back; but anti fragile, where you actually thrive from the knocks that you take.

The full post may be read here.

Two Is One and One is None: How Redundancies Increase Your Antifragility

The word “redundant” typically has a negative association in our culture. It means something that is needlessly repeated, and thus superfluous.

But in engineering, redundancies are often intentionally built into a system. By duplicating critical components, if one piece fails, the other can act as a back-up and keep the machine functioning.

Think of the lives saved because airplanes have redundant everything – spark plugs, fuel pumps, even engines (aircraft can often easily fly with just one working engine).

These kinds of redundancies are also built into the human body. As philosopher Nassim Taleb observes, “We humans have two kidneys…extra spare parts, and extra capacity in many, many things (say, lungs, neural system, arterial apparatus)… Layers of redundancy are the central risk management property of natural systems.”

Taleb argues that redundancies aren’t just useful in human and technological machines, but in many others aspects of our lives as well. In fact, intentionally cultivating some redundancy can make us more antifragile. As we discussed in our post on this concept last year, antifragility is a quality that goes beyond mere resilience. Resilient people meet a challenge and bounce back to where they were before. Someone who is antifragile, on the other hand, is able to use setbacks as a springboard to even greater strength – like a phoenix rising from the flames. When things, and people, are falling apart, the antifragile are able not just to survive, but thrive. They’re positioned to actually “gain from disorder.”

How redundancies increase our antifragility is obvious: if you only have one of something, and it fails, you can be up the creek without a paddle. Members of the military have a maxim that neatly sums up Taleb’s philosophy: “Two is one and one is none.” If you bring one piece of gear on a mission, it’s bound to break, and when it does, you’ll find yourself in a real pinch. Far better to have not only a Plan A and a Plan B, but a Plan A, B, and C. Former Navy SEAL Richard J. Machowicz calls the intentional creation of strategic redundancies “advantage stacking” – “you want to stack so many of the advantages in your favor that, when the order comes, when the opportunity presents itself, you can’t help but win.”

“Two is one and one is none” may sound fatalistic, but it’s also realistic; Murphy’s Law is far too often in effect. Or as Taleb puts it, “Redundancy is ambiguous because it seems like a waste if nothing unusual happens. Except that something unusual happens—usually.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Cost of Training at a High Level

Below is an excerpt of a post that appeared at the Ross Training Blog. The full post may be read here.

The topic is the cost of training and performing at a high level. Not is the monetary sense, but the toll it takes on your body and life style.

Is it worth it? Only the individual can answer for himself.

I recently read an article from the website that highlighted the lives of several former powerlifters. And while I have no personal interest in powerlifting, I thoroughly enjoyed their journalistic piece. Before I explain my reasoning, you may wish to first read the article at the following link:

Price of the Platform

As you will see throughout, many of these lifters sacrificed their lives for the sport that they loved. They essentially put aside work, health, and personal relationships in pursuit of their passion. Now, several years later, many of these lifters continue to pay the price. Several suffer from past injuries and are addicted to pain medications. Their quality of life has forever been changed based on the decisions that they made as young lifters.

Was it worth it?

After reading such an article, it is human nature to ponder whether such sacrifices were worthwhile in the end. In fact, after sharing the elitefts story on Facebook, I had several readers ask me that exact question. Many young athletes wanted to know how much they should sacrifice. How much is too much? I heard from football players, boxers, mixed martial artists, lifters, and more.

Unfortunately, I did not have a worthwhile response for any of them. It is not my place to decide how much an athlete should give to his sport. Each individual must be comfortable with the sacrifices that he makes in pursuit of his goals. You need to decide for yourself, and there is no right or wrong answer. The correct answer for you is one that you are comfortable making once you understand the risks that accompany such a decision.

Speaking as a boxing coach, I enjoyed the powerlifting article primarily because the journalists did not hold anything back. There was no sugarcoating of facts. They laid out what the lifters did and the price that they have paid as a result of their actions. The reader is then encouraged to make his own decisions. Once again, you need to decide for yourself, but let’s not pretend that real risks do not exist.

Instead, we need to let more athletes know exactly what they are up against. I am no powerlifter, but I do train fighters for a living. When speaking with fighters, I am as honest as they come when discussing the risks faced in our sport. More fighters need to be aware of the risks. Stepping inside the ring or cage is dangerous. Whether you realize it or not, you put your life on the line each time that you fight.

I tell everyone that it is not healthy to be punched in the face and that every serious fighter will eventually be injured. When you are cutting weight, your life will be miserable. There is nothing fun about it. You will be forced to make sacrifices that close friends and family do not understand. That’s reality. You are going to get hurt. You are going to suffer. You will experience fear and anxiety. It is not all fun and games.

And after all the sacrifices have been made and you have eventually hung up the gloves, there is a good chance that you will have earned little or nothing in the sport that you loved. I do not have specific figures, but there is no doubt that less than 1 percent of fighters make more than 99 percent of the money. I have close friends who were accomplished professional fighters who struggled to put food on the table even during the prime of their career.

Yet despite the struggles faced both during and after their fighting careers, many of these individuals would not have it any other way. I say this not to suggest that the pain and struggles are not real, but once again to remind you that you must decide for yourself. It is not my place (or anyone’s) to tell you what you should do with your life. If you are passionate about something, by all means pursue that passion. I simply encourage you to understand the risks that accompany such passion.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Six Martial Arts Tournaments

You can't make this stuff up. Below is an excerpt from an article describing six absolutely crazy martial arts tournaments. The full article may be read here.

 Next to sex, there's nothing that delights the old primate tendencies quite like dealing someone a good ol' fist upside the cranium. Sadly, the vast majority of us have candy for an ass and are far too removed from our caveman days to get our own knuckles all scuffed up. So instead, we watch people fight our battles for us on the TV, while assuring all within earshot that we could totally whip their butts if we wanted to (we just don't, and never will want to). But like any spectator event, martial arts tournaments must fight tooth and nail to hold on to our ever more fickle attention spans. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we end up with certifiably insane competitions like ...

#6. Hip Show

#5. Knight Fighting Leagues

#4. Pillow Fight League

#3. TFC: Team Fighting Championship

2. Russian Wall-on-Wall Fights

#1. Dambe




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Training Tips From the Budo Bum

Below is a an excerpt from an excellent post over at The Budo Bum on getting more out of your practice. The original post may be read here.

Training Hard And Training Well Are Not The Same Thing

We want to get the most out of our training.  We look up to people who train hard and constantly push themselves.  It seems obvious that the harder you train the better you will be.  In judo we respect the people who train harder, with more intensity than anyone else.  All that sweat dripping on the mat has to mean something, doesn’t it?
I was practicing piano and one of my weaknesses there struck me as identical to problems most of us have in the dojo practicing budo. All practice is not equal.  Some kinds of practice give far superior returns on the time and effort invested than other types of training.  Poor training habits and techniques waste time.  Worse, they can lead to ingraining bad habits and techniques which actually make us worse at what we are studying than we were before the training
I was practicing some etudes (French for, get this, kata) that are fundamental exercises for training the fingers on the piano.  These are the boring exercises everyone rushes through so they can get to the good stuff, the real music, the real budo.  Music etudes are like kihon waza practice in budo.  These are the fundamental movements that you have to practice beyond the ability to do them properly, beyond the ability to do them properly without thinking about them, to the point where you can’t do them incorrectly.
The tricky part is practicing them correctly in the first place so you don’t develop bad habits that slow you down later.  The first, most common, and biggest mistake with etudes and kihon waza is to treat them as mindless, boring exercises.  These exercises teach your body and mind the most critical foundations of everything else you will do.  If you try to rush them, or try to avoid thinking about them by thinking about your laundry or your job or your friends while doing them, you will likely be doing them wrong, and drilling this wrongness into your bones.
To do basics correctly as a beginner, you have to think about how you are doing them.  When you have stopped being a beginner, you probably don’t have to think about the basics when you are doing more advanced things, but when you are practicing the basics you still need to think about them.  If you don’t, you risk letting mistakes and poor technique slip in.  You also miss all the benefits that come from mindful practice. Be aware of what you’re doing.  As you are practicing basic techniques, look for things that can be improved.  In 100 repetitions you’ll be lucky if you have 10 that you love.  You’ll also be lucky if you only have 10 that you hate.  The rest will be somewhere in between.  The goal is to be aware of every repetition and to try and drag your worst reps up to the quality of your mediocre ones, and the mediocre reps up to the level of the best.  Like all of budo, this is a never ending activity, since as soon as you improve, you’ll start trying to reach a higher level.
Another pitfall on the practice path is rushing. If you’ve ever heard a young (or in my case not so young) musician rush through a section of piece, you’ve heard how wrong rushing can be.   Don’t rush your practice, even if you don’t have much time. Rushing through things is worse than not practicing. If you don’t practice, you don’t improve, but you also don’t pick up bad habits. If you rush something you are doing it at the wrong speed, which is just wrong. If you don’t have a lot of time, just do what you have time to do properly. When you rush, correct form is only the first thing that is lost. You also sacrifice the rhythm and feel of proper technique, and you lose the awareness of what you are doing. In this sort of situation, you’re training can only move backward as you reinforce bad form, bad timing and poor thought.
One of the most popular parts of Judo practice is also one of Judo practice’s biggest weaknesses. Randori, or Judo style sparring, is fun, so much fun that often students would rather do this than work on their basics. There are lot of things that can go wrong with randori though.  The first problem is all that fun. We are all susceptible to this one. It’s easy to spend all our time doing the fun parts of training, whatever it is, and neglect the parts that don’t grab our attention and gratify our hearts. This is true in all arts, even in koryu budo where there is very little sparring type practice. There are some kata that are just more interesting, and others that frustrate me until I am ready to scream because I just never seem to get them right.  
One particular form this trap takes is practicing what we are good at. We enjoy practicing things we are good at much more than the parts that we haven’t mastered yet. I love doing harai goshi  and tai otoshi  in judo because I do them better than anything else. That’s exactly why should limit my practice of them though. The fact that I can do them better than anything else should tell me how much more I need to be practicing everything else. Spend most of your time practicing what you aren’t good at. That’s where you’ll improve the most.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

TaiShan, the Great Mountain of Boxing.

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared in SFGate. The full post may be read here.

Chinese boxer has big ambitions

Updated 11:05 pm, Wednesday, July 16, 2014 
Two journeys, one long and one short, have brought 6-foot-11 Taishan Dong here, ready to step into the boxing ring in San Francisco on Friday to make his professional debut.
Dong Jian Jun, 26, is from the northwest province of Gansu, China, and found his fighting name six years ago when he made the trek up Mount Taishan, one of the Five Great Mountains in China.

"When I reached the peak of this gigantic mountain and I looked down, I liked that feeling and I want to have it again when I am on the top" of the boxing world, Taishan said through a translator.

Then in December, the former basketball player and kickboxer stopped in a lawyer's office next door to his gym in Monterey Park (Los Angeles County) for some legal advice. Taishan met George Gallegos, who is not your everyday criminal and personal injury lawyer.
Gallegos is also a big boxing fan and mixed martial arts referee. He asked Taishan, in passing, what he wanted to do, and Gallegos said his mouth dropped when the giant mentioned boxing.

"It's bigger than a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me," Gallegos said. "What are the chances a 7-foot Chinese boxer who has some training, who's built like him, walks into your office and needs a manager?"

After six months of training, the 285-pound "Great Wall" will take on Ronny Hale (2-7) at Longshoremen's Hall on Fisherman's Wharf. The heavyweight bout is the first of three fights televised on Fox Sports 1 at 7 p.m.

The seven-card bout is being promoted by Golden Boy Promotions and Don Chargin. The main event pits lightweight contender Mercito Gesta (27-1-1) from the Philippines against Luis Arceo (28-12-4) from Tijuana.

The weigh-in is Thursday at 2 p.m. at Madame Tussauds and is open to the public.

On Wednesday, Taishan got a kick out of seeing the wax figures of Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee and even tried to block Jeremy Lin's shot on a walking tour. Taishan, after all, was handpicked by Chinese officials at the age of 15 to be the next Yao Ming. But Taishan didn't need the translator on hand to assess his basketball skills - scrunching up his face and moving his hand in a seesaw motion.

Taishan, however, made a much better impression when he stepped into Glendale Fighting Club to work with former heavyweight and trainer John Bray. Bray has sparred with Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis.

"He's a huge puncher who is learning how to box," Bray said. "He hits so hard that even when I am holding the cushion, my whole body shakes. Nobody hits like this kid.

"I want him to work off his jab and not just flail away Friday night. But he's a hard worker and very teachable, and if he picks up from where we left off with his training, we could have a star on our hands."

Said Taishan: "I will do my best and my performance will be the reward for the fans coming out."

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Analysis of Ronda Rousey's Throwing Skills in MMA

Ronda Rousey won her last fight in 16 seconds. 

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared BJJ Scout. The full post may be read here.

Ronda Rousey is an Elite Judoka

Being the first woman from the US to ever medal at the Olympics is no small feat. Even as a pure judoka, her technique was very good.  The mechanics of her main throws are perfect with no errors and she was not a crude “leg grabber”/wrestler type of judo stylist that tried to muscle through with pickups and counters but rather to chain attacks, constantly pressuring the weak plane.

Rousey uses combinations to target weak planes

Amazingly, Rousey has managed to apply uchimata/hip throws as her main takedown in MMA. In general giving your back is suicide but because of her combinations, trying to slip behind to suplex/drop for the legs/get back hooks is not easy.

Her uchimata/kouchi/ouchi combination attack was devastating at the elite judo level and at the MMA level where wrestling awareness is not so prevalent for women(at least so far), it simply bamboozles her opponents. Through her training , Rousey senses the weak plane moving about her even when her back is turned and so far any attempt to circle/replant once she locks on the clinch has been met with an immediate throw response to the correct plane. It’s hard to see, but in literally 1 second, she can “jab” you with kouchi/ouchi to probe where the weak plane is moving and commit to the required throw.

Head Control is a Major Weapon

One big thing she guns for the moment the bell rings is to secure a tie up of the head to mimic her left handed judo grips. Once she grabs the head, her right hand is quickly switching between knee pick/wrist control/underhook depending on her opponent’s reaction. Her cage awareness is excellent, and she expertly backs up the fleeing opponent into the cage where she can go for the best grip. When she gets to connect her hands (left hand head tie and underhook on the right) it’s pretty much game over as she can go right into her hip throw/kouchi setup.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Not NOW Kato!

"Not NOW, Kato!" are words frequently heard from the movie character Inspector Clouseau famously played by Peter Sellers (and others) in the Pink Panther series.

Inspector Clouseau had an Asian valet with whom he would practice martial arts. The valet was to unexpectedly attack him any time of the day or night to keep Clouseau on his toes and sharp.

Here is a compilation:

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Essential Principles of Budo

Below is an excerpt from an excellent post from The Budo Bum blog. The full post may be read here.

The Most Essential Principles In Budo: Structure

A question came up in a budo group I’m part of asking what the 3 most important concepts in budo are. It’s an interesting question. What ideas are most fundamental in the art you practice? These concepts undergird and direct your training. They direct the focus of your training and what sort of things you are practicing. People offered quite a few ideas, including:

Keep your body relaxed.
Always keep your center (or be centered).
Keep your elbows down, and close to your body
Always try to control the first move

Many of the ideas offered were specific to Aikido, which is the point of that group. My thoughts are more general and apply to any form of budo.  My list  is structure/stance, spacing and timing, in that order.  Each builds on where the previous concept is, and without effective use of the previous concept the next cannot be employed effectively.  All apply regardless of whether you are doing kung fu, judo, boxing, aikido, swords, staves or scary stuff like kusarigama. This my list, and I make no claim that it is definitive.  I offer it in the hope of sparking good conversation and consideration of the most important elements of practice and application.   I’d thought to do these all in one post, but it looks like it’s I’m going to have to give each one it’s own post.  

My first principle is structure/stance.  Without a solid, connected, supported structure you can’t accomplish anything.  This why I’m only partly joking when I say that the only thing I really teach is how to walk and how to breath.  Good structure is what allows the fastest, most effective, stable and strong movement.  If you are slouching and rolling your shoulders, tipping your head at the ground and not supporting yourself, you can’t breathe deeply or efficiently.  Slouching and poor posture compress the torso so it cannot hold as much air.  You will get tired more quickly just because you can’t get enough oxygen into your body fast enough.