By Jehiah Burchfield, TCB Instructor
One of the hardest things you can hit someone with, or be hit with, is the entire planet. Whether the covering at your particular locale at the time happens to be asphalt, concrete, grass, or just plain old dirt, there is something distinctly unforgiving about the earth when your (comparatively) soft body runs into it. Add to that the tendency of many humans to either land in such a way that their body hits first, followed shortly thereafter (in a violent, whipping fashion) by their skull, or to try to break their fall by posting with an unfortunate appendage, which is then injured in the process and doesn’t do what they intended anyway. We see this in football, in funny YoutTube clips of home video mishaps, and we all experienced it in various skinned knees and elbows throughout childhood. Falling and injuring a hip is even a significant health risk for the elderly…but what does this have to do with self-defense?
I would argue that the misperception of how common this problem is when a physical altercation occurs is one of the biggest weaknesses in so-called “self-defense” instruction today. This includes much of what passes for “Women’s self-defense” classes, or the many YouTube videos on the topic out there, and also encapsulates a lot of material that is marketed as more “combative” in nature, whose target audience is supposedly very concerned with reality when it comes to the physicality of what happens in fights.
Let me be blunt about two things real quick, and then flesh out some ideas from there: 1) Unless you have trained in a very specific environment, it is probably a lot easier than you think to pick you up and slam you on your skull, and 2) If that happens to you, it is quite likely you will be rendered unable to defend yourself, which means you are rolling the dice on what an attacker chooses to do next.
Sound scary? Well, it can be sobering for sure. Now…let me back up and preemptively state that everything I am writing about in this post is based on the presupposition that a physical altercation is taking place. I am not addressing tactics of prevention, verbal de-escalation, initiation of force, legal considerations, none of that. I am simply isolating the physical considerations. Those considerations add up to this-very commonly, what is taught as the primary focus in a clinching or grabbing type of scenario will get you promptly slammed on the deck, and the highest probability outcome of that is that you will be seriously injured or at a significant disadvantage.
So what exactly am I talking about? Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some examples and start talking specifics. Before we get into “combative” style instruction (I will treat this as a broad general category), let’s start with Women’s Self-defense (WSD). Ever seen any videos suggesting some sort of heel stomp, eye poke, head-butt or ear slap, or maybe a backwards kick to the groin once she’s lifted into the air?
Let’s take a look at how quickly these sorts of things transpire in real life. Below this paragraph, I have a link to a video of a young lady who has, among other things, a very poor understanding of tactics and strategy. But, she also has been blessed with a large measure of luck because she actually survives this ride relatively unscathed considering some of the results we will see later. None of those points are the subject of this conversation, though, just pay attention to how much time there is once her target decides to initiate a grab around her torso (you can start about 30 seconds into the video if you want). See if there is ample opportunity to recall the details of a WSD seminar and put them to use. See if you think she has leverage to pull off any sort of lock or strike or “move” in retaliation.
Here is our first educational link:
Did you notice what happened there? Did you see an opportunity for a slick, fight-ending strike that she could slip in on her attacker? If not, why not? If she wanted to launch any sort of response what would she have to regain first? What was her main problem to solve?
One of the most basic things that has to happen if someone gets ahold of you is that you have to get your base arranged properly. This will primarily have to do with hip movement-specifically, getting your hips down, and creating distance between your hips and theirs. In positions that resemble what wrestlers call a “double leg” takedown, this kind of response is referred to as a “sprawl”, and in the more bear-hug-looking attacks, which we would generally call the family of “body lock takedowns” the response will still involve a level change and retraction of the hips, along with various turning motions, frames, arm positions, etc. but the bottom line is that without immediately reacting by addressing the problem of base, you run the risk of taking a violent, dangerous ride.
This takes timing and it takes practice, even against mediocre opponents. All the other intricacies and “cool move” details are irrelevant if you don’t have clear understanding and good habits formed based on this priority. This is where I part ways with so many of the more “combative” videos I see, whether they are meant to instruct for empty hand self-defense, or to show weapon retention, defense or offense, too often it is very clear that the instructors are simply not spending much time dealing with true resistance or else they would know that the real priorities are simpler, you just have to put a lot more work into them. To illustrate these points, here is a video showing a very simple ending to an altercation that one of the parties thought was going to be considerably more complex:
It appears that the moment of the clinch has not been a part of this person’s training landscape very often. The priorities are wrong, and the uncomfortable result of misunderstanding in this case was instant unconsciousness from a cold tile floor. Same guy would be much, much harder to take down with a little bit of training that was based on a more realistic understanding of how fights happen. If you get pulled up off your base immediately like that, you’re going to get tossed with ease.
Now let’s talk about an area in which MMA training offers a very specific strength. In the preceding paragraph I mentioned two commonalities to maintaining your base so that you don’t take a ride-both included moving your hips back. I also mentioned moving at angle, and that is definitely good, but let’s stay with the sprawling idea for the moment. There will often come a time where you can’t just move your hips back because you run into some solid object in the environment (wall, vehicle, etc.), and this is exactly the problem that MMA athletes encounter when an opponent runs them into the cage wall.
Working off the cage is an art unto itself with specific goals and drills, and I think any good self-defense training should spend some time familiarizing students with this. Also, as always, you have to put in time working it to be good at it-you won’t just magically remember things when the excrement hits the cooling device. So, am I just selling MMA training? Do we have real world examples of this being practical? I’m glad you asked! And yes, we do!
Check out the belligerent fellow in the following video to see how much of a detriment it can be to get run into a solid object and lose control of your hips-in this case it is an instant fight-ender, all because his reactions are poor. Lucky for him, it’s the good guy doing the “rendering unconscious” because this situation could go terribly wrong if his opponent had bad intentions.
Now, that’s a knockout! I told you the planet hits hard J.
In summary, there are many more videos I could show to make these points, but the best way for anyone to understand them is to go get some training themselves so that they have their own experience to inform them. I would encourage you to do just that. Having misinformed ideas about what you would like to happen if you were ever in a self-defense situation might feel good, but it can be dangerous if you’re ever called upon to take action in reality. Regardless, I think those of us who have a more accurate understanding of that reality have a responsibility to speak about it in a way that (hopefully) is interesting, informative, or fuels the curiosity of those who might want to seek further training.
Go work on your clinch!
There is only one place in this world where I don’t mind getting my ass kicked by a 135 pound fighter, and that is at TCB. Keep in mind now, I’m 295 pounds, bench in the 500’s, deadlift in the 700’s. TCB is unlike any gym I’ve ever been to, everyone is a family. I’ve never had a coach like Aaron. I say coach because Aaron is so much more then a trainer, he helps monitor my diet, and he has a way of making me feel great, but never satisfied. The best thing about any of the trainers and even fighters that are at TCB is that they love it, they are passionate about it and that’s what will separate 1st and second place. Many people make up excuses that they have a bad back, or that they don’t have time. I came into the gym first day with a bulged disc, I could barley kick to chest level, couldn’t squat down very well, and had to take a break every 5 minutes of training because my back was swelling up. A few months later, I’m back to squatting over 400 pounds for reps and I don’t feel one ounce of pain. TCB boxing was able rehabilitate me when the Arkansas Razorbacks Chiropractor couldn’t. And for the time aspect, even money aspect, I don’t know how you could ever put a price or time limit on making a change in your life for the better. My life has changed so much, I came into TCB in a very bad time in my life, no one judged me, everyone was accepting, a few months later I’m better than I’ve ever been in my life, with goals that are not only higher than ever but goals of which I can reach. There is a video from Kai Greene which reminds me so much of anyone that I meet at TCB which is called Kai Greene Rage Philosophy; but I’ll summarize if for you and put it in the aspect of TCB. When I see these guys pushing themselves to the very last second, as if it is life or death, you can tell that these nice guys in this gym is full of rage, and you only see it when they are hitting the heavy bag, or just doing an exercise that takes everything. Some people will always talk about how hard things will be in their life, the people at TCB talk about how hard things were. You don’t meet someone that is all talk at TCB, and if you are all talk I really don’t recommend that you go to TCB. But if you want a gym that will make you feel like family, that will make you want to go to the gym even when you can barley walk because how hard you trained the day before, TCB Boxing is the place for you. I started at TCB just wanting to learn basic self-defense, now I have found a passion for MMA, and I have a fight scheduled. Before going to TCB, I never thought that I would EVER want to do an MMA fight, now I’m excited and ready. I know that with everyone at TCB being behind me, helping me push through all the pain that it takes to succeed, that I will succeed. I cannot put a dollar amount on what I’ve gotten out of training at TCB, I have a group of friends that understand who I actually am, I have confidence in anything I ever do or want to do, I’m healthier then ever, and I found a passion in life. I’d recommend this gym to anyone, no matter how out of shape you are, you’re previous injuries, or how much time your limited to. I hope one day to be able to welcome you to the TCB family.
When you train, sweat, and bleed with someone and experience the highs of victory an the lows of defeat like we are accustomed to with our sport you develop a bond unlike anything else in the world. We know each others strengths, weaknesses, and breaking points. We learn to trust ourselves to our coaches and our teammates (sometimes almost blindly) and lift each other up when we are weak. We treat one another like family and get to understand each others quirks and personalities and overcome difficulty together. We melt together and take on parts of one another and synchronize on a whole different level. We push each other until we are absolutely broken and then pick each other up and hug like blood family.
There is no way for someone on the “outside” to know how much love and respect we have for our brothers and our team. I tell my boys I love them every single day without fail. They are everything to me. I am devastated to my core about our loss. Some of us have gone our separate ways and chosen different paths in both training and in life but that doesn’t change the time we spent,the reps we’ve logged and the hours, days, months, and years we’ve spent together in the ever-continuing break/build lifestyle we lead. I can’t say enough about Philip and I feel like a piece of me is gone too. I hate to see such a good guy have to go and I hate even more this feeling of helplessness. I wish words existed to provide some comfort to his family.
We’re all adrenaline junkies and I know that we all flirt with danger or even death routinely (I know i sure do) but when something like this happens it puts things into a whole new perspective for us and our loved ones. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow so I encourage all of our people to treat each other, each day, like it may be the last time you see them. Show love, express gratitude, share kisses and hugs, give forgiveness, and hold no regrets later on.
I could go on and on but I’ll close with this. Our lil brother Philip was a special guy and I want us all to share a few memories on here no matter how small, big, funny, sad, etc it might be. We love you “mongoose” and your memory we will carry with us forever. Thx for leaving some special memories on our hearts and in our minds, you were one of a kind. Love you brother, AK-
Imagine trying to teach a child to read by teaching them each word of a famous poem or piece of literature. Trying to convey the nuances and depth of great pieces of writing to a new reader would require constant steps backwards and excessive repetition; and while some gifted few would eventually grasp the beauty therein and simultaneously learn to read, most would suffer in frustration and miss the opportunity they had both to experience a superb art form and to acquire a valuable utility.
In other words, if you learn the basic elements first, everything else has a chance to fall into place; and poor methodology can ruin even the most potentially beautiful activities (insert sexual joke here).
Things work the same way in the gym. If you don’t know the basic stuff, you won’t be able to play the game as quickly or as well, which means you will appreciate your time on the mat less. There is nothing fun about constantly getting your guard passed and/or getting choked from mount over and over and over and not really getting much better at prolonging the inevitable. However, if this is happening to you, the answer is not to work on the latest way to control someone’s hands with their gi skirt while pulling a crazy upside down helicopter guard “whose your daddy?” toe hold sweep-I don’t know if that even exists, but if does, leave it alone for now.
Focusing on things like that will continue to get you smashed.
Actually, no matter how you train someone will smash you, but if you want to get smashed less then focus on what is actually holding you back. I will bet you money it is something very straightforward that you simply have not practiced enough. For example, at the end of a long rolling session the other night one of the students asked me “How do you keep passing my guard?” to which I replied “I move your legs out of the way”. I was partially joking with him by giving an understated answer, but the comment was also meant to encourage him that it really is pretty simple stuff that makes the biggest difference. So, we talked about that briefly, and it turns out he could tell some of the main reasons why he couldn’t pass my guard and I could pass his-he just needed to reinforcement that he was on the right path.
There is a concept known as “capacity constraint resource” in operations management, which basically means you need to identify the primary limiting factor of a system if you want to make the most useful improvements to its performance. Obviously there are a number of things you could get better at; the question is which one has the best tradeoff in positively affecting performance? There are a lot of data out there to be considered, but what you need is information that can be put to use.
I realize that many athletes do not come to the game with the ability to do this for themselves, and it is my opinion that coaches should be primarily working on providing this service. A student can run you tube searches for the snazziest technique of the week, they do not need me for that (and honestly, I know disappointingly few). On the other hand, what will put them on the fast track to actually being able to play the game they have chosen to play is to learn their way around it so they can get to the business of rolling instead of continuing to be confused spectators in their own grappling matches.
This is what I strive to provide, and this is what I want from a higher level BJJ coach when I go train somewhere. I would rather have someone simplify what I currently see as complex or correct me on something I am already pretty good at. That changes your game much more than a glut of new techniques. A coach should have a sharp eye attuned to the present moment; they should be a source of relevant information, and a dispenser of the next thing that a student needs to hear, not the next thing the coach wants to say.
In a later piece, I will write about the one conceptual model that has most affected my learning and teaching in the last couple of years, and that I feel brilliantly captures the points I am making above. I came upon it through SBGi ( www.straightblastgym.com
The truth gorilla: J
I would leave you with this thought-try to pay attention to what is missing and what is working well in your game. A lot of what is important will be clear to you if you pay attention, and guidance will provide you with a number of shortcuts that will be completely common sense as soon as you see them. If you ever feel I have strayed from this path and am showing you something extraneous, feel free to call me out on it. If it is not apparent why something is useful, ask, because maybe it is not.
This place is my brother, my father, my teacher, and my friend.
These mats are my playground, my gym, my confessional, and my home.
These walls contain greatness, pain, sadness, and sacrifice.
These people are my teammates, my opponents, my coaches, and my family.
This cage is my foundation, my medicine, my property, and my trade.
This game is ruthless, violent, peaceful, and poetic.
This gym is my love, my passion, my heartache, and my blood. It IS our DNA, it is us and we are it. It is my breath.
BJJ, TKD, Boxing, Kickboxing, Wrestling, Strength/Conditioning…ect…
In one place.
I hear these kinds of statements all the time at fights and it never fails to make me smirk. I will make no bones about the fact that I find this kind of “pumping up” through junior-high level poseur bullshit amusing at best. This is another thing I like about the way it is with the TCB team backstage. No mean frowns while singing Slip Knot songs, no wildly gesticulating Eminem imitations, no putting your face in front of a teammate and telling them that they are a “bad mother fucker”, demanding that they “get mad”, etc. I will detail below what I think is so important about getting this approach right.
Take off your mask 🙂
Displays of aggressive music, chest thumping, etc. leading up to a competition-think about what is behind that. Very often these behaviors are a response to fear-they are an attempt to cover up the truth that there is a certain aversion to what is about to happen. There is a certain attraction to it as well, but I believe you miss the most attractive part if you insist trying to cover up your concern by blasting your favorite music for angry souls and loudly proclaiming that you are going to “destroy” or “kill” your opponent or whatever other pretentious overstatement you prefer.
This guy never threatens to kill his opponents…
…which should make you feel silly if you do.
By doing this, you are missing the opportunity to face your fears for what they are-you are failing to be honest with yourself and you are putting up a front to keep the fear at bay. This is why I have always liked fighters like Randy Couture, Fedor Emeliananko, GSP, etc. These kinds of competitors have the air of the quiet professional; they don’t feel the need to convince anyone that they are there to fight, they know that the fight will happen soon enough and that it will be what it is. I also have respect for each of our competitors who step up in the cage and face their own fears with composure. It is a maturing experience if you let it be, and you can see the mark it leaves on people’s lives when it is handled correctly.
Not quiet professionals:
This is why I don’t like trash-talking and self-aggrandizement. Time and time again in my life I have seen the loud over-actors break and quit. What that looks like to me is that some people spend a lot of energy trying to convince themselves that they are not afraid of something when they are, which leaves little energy for actually rising to a challenge. It is more authentic to simply recognize that humans have natural aversions to certain situations and that they respond psychologically to these types of predicaments. In my opinion, the only worthwhile reason to subject yourself to this is to grow from the experience. However, if you never look deeply enough at your experience then the opportunity for increased self-knowledge is missed and the growth does not occur.
This spills into other areas of life as well. For instance, if you can learn to not experience excessive anxiety when your ego, reputation, or body is at risk, if you can be sincere in trying circumstances, you will experience a level of authenticity that will greatly change your entire life experience. You will learn more about worry and anxiety through true introspection in difficult conditions than you would learn from reading 200 self-help books and continuing to blast “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” every time you “need to get psyched up” for a situation involving a modicum of stress.
I have faced a (very) few combative situations where death or serious physical maiming was a real possibility, and I never left the situation feeling more arrogant for having escaped unscathed, I never felt like fist-pumping or “raising the roof”. I know a number of men who have more experience in this regard than I do. Without exception, those experiences have left them more humble, friendly and realistic. They are not your boastful caricature of a “tough guy” who acts like a one-man mosh pit at parties, I can promise you. I think the reason for this is that facing your own mortality is not the kind of experience that makes you mouthier, it makes you quieter. As Denzel Washington’s character in American Gangster said “The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room”.
Combative sports can be viewed as a microcosm of this kind of confrontation with your own finitude. They offer the opportunity to experience the fear that comes from threats to self. Maybe not all-or-nothing, “death in battle” threats , but very real threats to ego and to physical comfort. And I believe they are superior to all other competitive activities because of this. So if you are ever at a fight and see me respond to someone’s fervent plead to “kick his ayy-uss!” by chuckling to myself, now you know what I am thinking. Enjoy your training.
Why do you train?
There is a method in management circles known as “the 5 whys?”. The point of this method is to continue to ask “why?” until the deepest root of an issue is reached. There is nothing magic about the number 5, but I think a similar concept should be applied by participants in combat athletics.
Some people will cite their primary reason for martial training as “self-defense”, others “to get in shape” and others may say “I just like competition”. Any of these goals may be laudable and healthy, depending on the way the goal is pursued.
For instance, there is nothing wrong with the desire to defend yourself and your loved ones, but taking the laws of probability into consideration will likely lead you more down the path of using a seatbelt, flossing your teeth and staying away from places that are obviously unsafe than down the path of carrying six knives and a Rottweiler at all times and mentally rehearsing the “proper” way to gouge out someone’s eyes or bite their flesh (google “Kino Mutai” if you think I am exaggerating).
It is also possible, though less common, to pursue conditioning in a way that is detrimental to your health and happiness. And, as great a medium as competition is, it is definitely possible to pursue it for reasons that do not end up enhancing your life to the degree possible if a more thoughtful approach were undertaken.
I certainly do not have a magic lens of insight into what makes a given individual happy, but I do believe that people are capable of discovering their own bliss, and I have an opinion based on my experience and that of many close friends related to living this way.
If I had to (very) briefly articulate the reasons I train number one on the list would be the quiet state of mind that comes from immersing yourself in a challenging activity. The quiet is multiplied when a bit of a threat (physical or psychological) is involved. There is not room in our mind to carry on with internal dialogue while being confronted with an environment that requires our undivided attention.
And who wouldn’t benefit from quieting that internal dialogue we all incessantly experience? Isn’t that constant conversation with yourself often a root of psychological discomfort? With that voice we continuously tell stories to ourselves about our experiences, we paste a script on top of our sensory data.
The chatter of the mind is quiet, however, in a few rare places. That is what meditation is, the cessation of chatter. You do not have to be seated in the lotus position or on a retreat somewhere, and you do not need to go meet someone who calls themselves a foreign, mystical-sounding title. You can access this state anywhere. On the other hand, it is a skill that has to be developed like any other and combat athletics are a great way to start practicing in my experience.
The pleasure is magnified when you go past your comfort zone (which is where all growth occurs). Everyone can experience this part of training, and no one can take that experience away from you, there is no fear of losing it, it is right there for you every time you put on the gloves or get on the mat or in the cage.