30 years of fighting in different martial arts clubs - looking for a short review:
30 YEARS, 80 COACHES: PRO FIGHTERS, HOOLS, TRUE SENSEI AND WHAT I HAVE(N'T) LEARNED
For all the good-hearted who seek answers
Table of contents
1. Cucumbers and dummies
2. Embrace the grind
3. The highest truth
4. A gentle way to the ground for the benefit of all
5. The eye of the cyclone
6. Stomp his face for a two dollar medal
7. Keep distance from the drunken master
8. The masters of everything
9. The Jedi, the middle path and life from upside down
10. Caucasians, extremists and a test of will
11. The flying grandpa finds a niche
12. Unbalancing the blind
13. Fight lightly cause your balls are of steel
14. Study everything and slow down time
15. Samurai hippie and the zone
16. The power of stupidity and ego waiting outisde
I think I should start with some fancy quote, right? Ok, here it goes: ,,with great power comes great responsibility". Who said that? Sun Tzu, Miyamoto Musashi, Alexander the Great, Julius Ceasar, Napoleon or some other genius of the art of war? I think it was Spiderman or his uncle, even though last time I watched such movies around 15 years ago. They probably got this phrase from someone else but why do people need to be reminded of such things which are rather obvious?
All too often I've seen abuse of power, not only in political sense, as I've been interested in history and international affairs for many years, but directly - in life and in martial arts. I've seen ideals and values misinterpreted and misused accidentally or on purpose, by different instructors whose mouths were full of beautiful slogans. Those people who are able to cripple or kill in less than a minute 99% of others walking down the streets just using their limbs and could often get away with it, often turned to the dark side or were somewhere in the many shades of grey.
The truth is I don't like to fight. I don't like to beat up, choke people, throw them to the ground with great speed or break their limbs. So what am I doing here and why writing this? I don't like to fight in the sense of trying to impose one's will onto the opponent, I hate telling other people what they should do and I hate them trying to tell me that. All of us value freedom and that is what martial arts should be for. Apart from that, a tool for development of individuals in physcial and mental aspects, and a good and usually healthy activity, it is hard to list all the advantages.
Actually, I haven't been training for 30 years exactly - in calendar years it's been ca. 25, if you count it as training 3-4 hours a week it's around 35 years so we can approximate that. I haven't trained with 80 instructors as there were almost 90 of them but I lost count, with some I've been only to 1 or 2 trainings and I didn't do it all to make numbers or to break some records - instead I was 'hungry' for various techniques, wanted to learn fighting in all dimensions of unarmed combat and I have been living in another city for some time so was searching also there. In case someone is wondering, I haven't become enlightened thanks to this training and I still can't levitate - cause it appears that many Westerners associate the highest wisdom mainly with that. And I don't think I have become much wiser thanks to just fighting people. What I've gained, apart from physical aspects and getting very tired, is that I've gathered a lot of information on techniques and experiences, including about behavior patterns of different instructors and groups, most of which get surprisingly repeated. It's a lot about 'human studies' or 'studies of humans', to phrase it better. As the old saying goes, ,,you do not truly know someone until you've fought with them" and I've seen there's a lot of truth to that. I don't focus here much on my everyday training partners, many of whom were 'normal' and some were really fine people, mainly it's about instructors who chose to have a smaller or bigger influence on others. And I also try to pinpoint some parts of fighting, self-defense and the process of learning which can be helpful for everyone.
If you are reading this, I assume that you might be interested and benefit from it in some way - so below are some of my experiences and pieces of advice from people who have trained longer than I. Maybe there are even more questions than answers but I doubt if I can do much more about it - in case you know the answers, you can let me know.
1. Cucumbers and dummies
,,-I'm looking for a great warrior.
-War makes no one great."
- Luke Skywalker meeting Yoda
I must have misheard. Did he really say that or are the sounds getting distorted from rolling around on the mat? For a long while I do not know how to react and decide that making scenes in front of the whole training hall is not my favorite way of handling situation. But he seriously said it and not joking, not to me, but to my training partner:
- He's as green as a cucumber, if this was with me, I'd fuck you up like a pig!
And I was the supposed vegetable. Well, at that point I had about 20 years of martial arts training, including several years of MMA. This was at an MMA training and the guy in charge had not much more experience than me. I chose not to talk to him about that or anything else, and during that and my only training at the club, I heard a few more of his "kind words of wisdom" directed at other people. The most sad thing was that this was the club of my childhood role model, a well-known judoka, and that this judoka has such coaches and colleagues. Then I found out about other uncool things related to him - a bit like destroying childhood fantasies and ideals.
That day I was doing average, neither good nor very bad, but soon I found out about many more dimensions of fighting on the ground while training 4 years in one of the best grappling clubs in Poland and in other places over the following years. But what does "best" mean here? "Coolest", "most effective", with "best people", "smartest coaches" or what exactly? About this and other aspects of fighting I was supposed to write about.
Here goes another few years of training - seemingly ,,in vain". A 15 kg lighter, world and European champion in ground fighting, multi-medalist of national and international competitions and the head coach of a nationally recognized club, once again strangles me during a 5-minute sparring - this time he squeezes my stomach with his legs because I managed to defend the neck. But it's still not really possible to win and he knows practically all possible counters and counters to counters. He didn't even get tired and didn't care to take off his sports watch. I could break down mentally, especially since I have been training in his club for about 3 years already, intensively learning and "studying" hundreds of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) techniques. Well, that's how it is, supposedly "you shouldn't feel offended by reality" and everyone loses with him - I know 2 cases when someone won, but only in leglocks in the no-gi formula (somewhat modified BJJ "without kimonos", mainly for MMA), in which he was not a specialist at the time.
Anyway, it's weird to feel somewhat like a training dummy, but it's a feeling very familiar to all people who practice grappling martial arts, especially at the beginning. You think you know what to do, you often know what a master or an advanced opponent wants to do, but he does it anyway thanks to the knowledge of hundreds of nuances of each move. Either way, it ends with a choke, some kind of armbar or leglock, or possibly a very controlled crushing of the chest and abdomen, which also often chokes and one can't breathe. Sounds a bit psychedelic and scary? Possibly, but that's what BJJ looks like. And yet from the outside, it's like two guys puffing on top of each other in weird, ambiguous positions. It may look like this, but while fighting you quickly forget this weirdness because, especially as a novice, it is almost just a strength contest with constant muscle tension for several minutes, which is more tiring than interval running.
As you practice, you get less of this strength contest and more of efficient technique, looking for the right angles for levers and getting into favorable positions, but there is still a lot of wrestling here - too much for me and it's one of the things that bothers me in this sport. i.e. there should be some use of force and otherwise you can't fight effectively or check the art's effectiveness, check if "it actually works on the street" but a lot of strong people overuse their strength and from the "gentle art", which was originally about winning with a stronger opponent through better technique (,,jiu jitsu" just means "the gentle art" or "the art of gentleness / softness") there are contest of who lifted more weights. I still don't know where the golden mean is - masters of this sport actually win almost with all the heavier opponents, but only when there is a big technical discrepancy between them. Strength and weight are of great importance, especially when there are people who combine them with good technique. There are almost no ways to win with such people on the ground - I've tried a lot of options and it almost never works out when there is a large difference in strength and weight. You can trie to tie them up using their kimono, become a master of leglocks or of 'taking the back', getting behind them to choke. But that's theory, if they're good they know many nuances and will not let you do that. "Strength is not afraid of technique", as the old BJJ proverb goes. This is one of the things that distinguish grappling styles from striking styles because in the former it matters less - i.e. it's hard to fight against strong, heavier boxers and heavyweight competitors, but big muscles slow down the strikes. In simple terms, the static force slows down the dynamic force; I don't think it's physically possible to have a very large amount of fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers in muscles. The former are of decisive importance in sports requiring speed and dynamics, e.g. sprints, jumps in basketball, with quick punches and kicks. The latter matter in marathons, endurance sports, while remaining in long-term tension, e.g. in grappling martial arts.
Physiologists say that the most effective solution is to constantly change your training routine. You can focus on the methodology affecting the development of slow-twitch fibers for some time, and then move on to fast-twitch ones. An interesting method is holistic training, with exercises varied in terms of the number of repetitions and modifying time of breaks between series. Thanks to this, we are able to stimulate all muscle fibers during a given exercise - for example, doing a different number of repetitions of a given exercise and changing the time of breaks.
In striking martial arts, precision and timing are key. There have been cases of 50-60 kg boxing champions knocking out people twice as heavy by hitting nerve points (jaw, solar plexus) and heavy people just punch too slow for trained people who can see what's going on - with some experience and technique, you can feel incoming strikes after tiny cues, tiny movements and changes in body position. You can also have a more technical and tactical approach - as the number of possible strikes is limited, especially from certain positions, the defender knows what he can be attacked with and is prepared for it. As in chess and other games, there are a limited number of available moves - in striking arts there are fewer moves but they are faster and more direct, in grappling styles there are more moves but they are slower. Judo and BJJ are often compared to chess, and in a way rightly so, but there are also big differences and it's a longer topic on which a lot has to say Josh Waitzkin, a genius and multiple chess champion, a champion in sports Tai Chi and a BJJ brown belt under another BJJ genius, Marcelo Garcia... more on this later.
For me there were only a few cases when I had a hard time fighting on K1/kickboxing rules with people large physically, and these were mainly Polish MMA champions and UFC fighters. Big people usually just aren't fast enough and don't have the ability to use their static power due to the distance between the combatants. Of course, this does not apply to striking style geniuses, I am generalizing a little: Muhammad Ali embodied his favorite saying "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee", he used to dance around the ring as if he weighed 30 kg less than he did, and is therefore considered the best boxer of all time. Some very good heavyweight boxers are also fast, but the real explosive power can be seen in those in the lighter weight classes. In boxing, the biggest problems for me was this one middleweight teenager, dynamic and aggressive, actually too aggressive. If he competes maybe it will be useful to him, but he didn't know when to stop and practically every fight with him was too intense, as if we were fighting for something important. Such people and fights have the other side of the coin - that they push everyone to their limits and beyond and in a way, that's what skill development is all about but it should be done only sometimes and most of the time devoted to work on controlling technique, power, positioning and tempo.