I don’t have a “BOB” training dummy.  And this is the first place I’ve lived that I haven’t installed a makiwara in the backyard.  So the other night when I was resting between sets of pull-ups, I just started pounding the 4 x 6’s and it gave me an idea.   Why not use the support posts as a surrogate BOB or Makiwara?

So I created some target areas.  One at knee height, groin height, solar plexus, and face height as a reference point. So now in between sets of pull-ups, I’ll do 10-20 kicks – front kicks, step to the side kicks, crossover kicks (see photos).  With or without a finger jab or palm heel as an “entry” or just to judge
distance.  
 
I find a lot of benefit in kicking a target that is firmly mounted and doesn’t have “give” or flex.  It requires you to have a strong foundation.  It requires good balance.  It helps with your judgment of distances.  And it makes you get used to hitting something firm and unforgiving. There’s instant feedback when you hit the post - if you’re off balance or the distance isn’t right, then you get thrown off upon impact or you can’t effectively absorb the counter force.   A valuable learning experience no matter how you slice it. 

This is a training method that goes back hundreds/thousands of years.  From
the “Pell” used by ancient Romans for practicing sword strikes (a DIY Pell found here), to the traditional Okinawan makiwara (interesting article and plan here).  I remember reading about Mas Oyama in “The Kyokushin Way”, punching and kicking trees and boulders while training alone in the mountains.  Always seemed pretty cool to me in a crazy kind of way.  
 
Bottom line, find something hard to hit and practice hitting or kicking it. You may be surprised what you learn.
 
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Last night we were working on sparring combinations.  When someone starts free sparring, there’s a strong tendency to throw single techniques, stop, regroup, then throw another one.  Unless you’re a skilled counter-puncher, most successful “points” are scored with a series of techniques thrown in combination.   For some reason there is often a mental block in how to get started or how to string techniques together.

One of the easiest ways I know to jumpstart the process is to throw some “bones” or dice. 
Each technique is given a unique number, throw the dice, and write down the result.   Obviously some of the combinations may not flow perfectly or may need some tweaking in
implementation, but their purpose is not perfection. Their purpose is to get a series of movements linked together and prompt the student to throw more than one technique at a time.  So what did we come up with?   We used this matrix:

1  Front Leg Round House
2  Rear Leg Round House
3  Front Leg Front Kick
4  Rear Leg Front Kick
5  Front Leg Side Kick
6  Rear Leg Side Kick
 
1  Back Fist
2  Reverse Punch
3  Ridge Hand
4  Front  “Jab”
5  Rear “ Cross” 
6  Wild Card or Hook

Since we didn’t have dice in the dojo, I just had folks close their eyes and call out a # while I built the combinations.   I first built a kick, punch, kick; then a punch, kick, punch; and finally a kick, kick, punch.  You can easily add a 4th technique or even another category
(blocks).

We ended up with 
a) Rear Leg Round House, Ridge Hand, Front Leg Side Kick
b) Reverse Punch, Front Leg Round House, Ridge Hand
c) Rear Leg Side Kick, Rear Leg Round House, Ridge hand

You quickly find that some combos work better than others.  I like to start with a kick to bridge the gap, then adjust depending on what response I’ve created (does he move
backwards, to the side, stand his ground?).  So starting with a Reverse punch wouldn’t be my first choice, and that also brings the rear hip forward which would better load a front kick than a round house (at least for my body mechanics).   I’m also not a huge Ridge Hand fan in application, but for point sparring it gives some variety and it’s uncommon enough that you can easily surprise someone with it. When judging, I usually only score a Ridge Hand thrown to the face, my thought being the back of the head is too damn hard, and body shots too weak for most people to be effective unless they can wind up and bury it.  
 
So we worked thru these up and down the floor, allowing the partner to move (or not) at their discretion. This caused us to work thru different foot positions, stances, distance
 covered, and targets in order to apply these effectively.   Point being that we now had folks delivering multiple techniques and having to be purposeful in their application of techniques and targets vs. delivering solo shots and then stopping.

I’ve used dice, numbered pieces of paper pulled out of a hat, playing cards, and/or coins to generate random sequences of combinations.  This is an excellent way to keep things
fresh and interesting and a great way to prep for tournaments by forcing reps and combinations.  Give it a try and see what happens.


 
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Although you can’t always be prepared for an altercation
(surprise does happen), there are some things that you can do to facilitate a better outcome if your situation suddenly goes bad in a hurry.   

One habit to ingrain is the position of your hands.  As
Guro Crafty says “hands are more useful when they’re up” (actually his is a more colorful variation, but we’ll leave that for another time).   By assuming a classic “interview stance” with the body bladed, dominant
leg (& weapon) usually in the rear, and one or both hands up and open in a  non-threatening manner, this does several things.   

a)  Provides a barrier if necessary between the opponent and your head/torso/duty
weapon.
b) Puts one/both of your empty hand weapons closer to your opponent, reducing your time
to contact if necessary. 
c) Gets your hands up in a non-threatening manner and puts them in a closer position to
block/parry/intercept an attack.

As Matt Powell from Pramek discusses in this video, practice your responses – blocks, strikes, counters - from a variety of starting points with one or both hands up. Make sure
they are open hands, since posturing with fists in a classic “boxing”pose is perceived as aggressive by an opponent (and/or bystanders) and can escalate things that may otherwise be talked down.  I’m not a huge proponent in having the hands together or crossed, but as
Matt discusses, there are ways to do it successfully.  



 
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Good article titled “From Beginner to Black Belt” by Alwyn Cosgrove found here.  Not only are there applications to the martial arts or fitness, but to your professional and
personal life as well (if they don’t happen to be one in the same).  
 
One of the early motivational series I listened to (can’t remember if it was Dennis Waitley or Brian Tracy) discussed spending 3% of your income every year on your own personal development. 
At some point this would lead to such acceleration in your learning/earning potential, that you wouldn’t be able to spend that entire 3% on training & development.  I’ve tried to practice elements of this for the past 30 years in both the martial arts and professional arena.  
 
I remember back in the mid 80’s, my roommate and I each kicked in $25 to buy a tape on this new thing we heard about called Gracie Jiu Jitsu.  Because it was new, it was interesting, and we wanted to know more.  (That probably was equal to 3% of my income at that point!)  But each year I would try to order a tape (now DVD), buy a book, or attend a seminar in a style different than what I normally studied.   I did this to expand my knowledge base, get exposed to new things, and learn how to learn outside my comfort zone.  And it worked and continues to work.

Cosgrove is right.  Black Belt is just the beginning - as long as you keep learning.


 
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Just a quick one for today - link to a great message from Ross Enamait that relates to multiple areas. Not just fitness, but martial arts, careers, family etc.  Guess what? There are no fast, easy, painless solutions. 
Things take hard work and dedication, as well as time spent.  Even then there are no guarantees.  There are times when bad luck and trouble screw up all your well
intentioned efforts.  Life isn’t fair.  Get over it.

But, the reality is that if you want results, you have to work for them.  Often for a long
time.  That may be an unpopular message for many living in today’s instant gratification society.  But it’s a message that a lot of people need to hear, pay attention to, and live by.  If you already are, good for you. Continue on that critical path.  If you aren’t, then figure out why not, what’s holding you back, and commit to make a change & embrace the journey.  It’s time well spent.


 
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Since February 23rd is “International Dog Biscuit
Appreciation Day
” it seemed like perfect timing for some “Dog Bone” Self-Defense.  Your average dog biscuit or chew toy is a perfect size and shape to be used as a kubotan, yawara, or “Palm stick” in a self-defense
situation (your average cat toy, or even the cat itself, is not worth much of anything).  
 
What made me think of this was a guy I knew that trained in his family style of karate (he was Okinawan).  His father used to carry a small wooden dowel (~ 5” x ½”) that he had let the dog play with/chew on.  He carried it in his back pocket as a palm stick and if he ever forgot about it or was asked what it was, he just said “Oh, that’s my dog’s chew toy”.  Friendly and non-threatening enough to be carried onto planes, into schools, or any other non-permissive environments.  
 
Palm sticks are used in a variety of cultures/martial systems.   Whether it’s called a yawara, kubotan, Koppo, Dulo Dulo, or Olisi Palid, they follow general principles in application.  They can be used as a “fist load” to increase the mass and/or decrease the compression of the fist which increases the amount of force that can be transferred onto/into the target. 
Depending on the length of the palm stick, either end can be used to strike sensitive targets.  The stick can also be used to grip or squeeze the opponent’s limbs and is often
useful for joint manipulations/compliance.   

A variety of objects can be used as a palm stick (see photos below).  Most can be made from objects already available around the house or in the garage.  Of course, there’s the true dog biscuit or chew toy.  Or a wooden dowel.   Or the Cold Steel Koga (although these look like weapons and in my opinion aren’t very discreet.  TSA is likely to get their boxers in a bunch if that’s found in your briefcase).   Or a “true” Kubotan.  Or an ASP canister of pepper spray.  

Tactical Pens (or any sturdy pen) work great.   Cold Steel’s Sharkie is a weapon hidden in plain sight, but why buy it from Cold Steel? Why not use a dried out (or fresh) Dry Erase marker?  The narrow tip on the cap makes a great focal point for strikes.  If you’re worried about the cap coming off, just crazy glue it on to make it permanent.   Or a Hi-Liter.  Or a flashlight (of any size, but as they get larger, for example C or D cell, they’re more of an impact weapon).

I think that with very little effort you can find ½ dozen items that can be used as true or improvised weapons.  Once you find some, take the time to hit some focus mitts with them in your hand.  Most empty hand techniques translate easily, but some quick familiarization and applied resistance would increase your comfort level.    And don’t forget to give Old Yeller a biscuit.  Woof!


 
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This past Sunday marked the beginning of the Year of the Snake, one of the 12-year cycle of animals appearing in the Chinese zodiac.  According to HanBan.com, “People born in the Year of the Snake are reputed to be thoughtful and wise and to approach problems rationally and logically, seldom instinctively.”  
 

These are also characteristics found during the effective use of the “Snake” series of disarms (although we’d also like them to become instinctive).  There are some that refer to the live/empty hand application as “snake” disarms and when using the weapon a “vine” disarm.  For our purposes, we will refer to them both as a form of “Snake” disarm, since they follow a common principle – the weaving or intertwining/wrapping of your limb around your opponents limb/weapon in order to effect a disarm or immobilization.   These can be applied empty hand to empty hand (for example versus a wrist grab), empty hand
vs. weapon, or weapon vs. weapon. 

Scenario 1 - Hand vs. Hand
If the attacker grabs my R. wrist with his L. hand, I have 2 primary options.  I can start to circle my hand either Clockwise or Counterclockwise.   If I circle CW, usually I get a release or I end up in an outer wrist lock/throw position (kotegaeashi).  If I circle CCW, I either release or position myself for an inner wrist lock position.  Students ask –  Which way should I circle?  It really doesn’t matter.  If you get flustered or confused, just start circling.  At some point they won’t be able to maintain their grip and you should achieve a release.  What if they are significantly stronger, bigger, taller, etc.?  First, don’t let them grab your wrist and clamp down (Duh).  But, assuming they have grabbed you, then you might have to take their mind off of the grip by applying some form of“diminishment”.   Any strike to the face/nose/eyes, a kick to the knee or groin, either of which may accomplish the release without any further snaking. Lacking that release, it may give enough time or distraction to allow you to work on a snake release.  As a wise trainer once
said: “All jiu-jitsu/locks/holds/throws work after you break someone’s nose.”

Scenario 2 - Empty hand vs. Weapon
If an attacker strikes with his R. hand using a stick/club towards the L. side of my head (Angle 1 strike) and I am unarmed (and assuming I have to stay to defend and can’t pull a Sir Robin and “Run away!”), then I should jam or block his swinging arm with both of my palms.  I can then use my L. hand to perform a CCW snake around his wrist, then making a “hitchhiking” motion with my arm.  This should leave the stick either trapped under my arm or ejected.  
 
Scenario 3 - “Weapon” vs. Empty hand
Using the setup from #1, if someone is grabbing my R. wrist with their L. hand (or R. hand, it doesn’t matter) and I happen to be holding a Tactical pen in that hand (in this case a Timberline Lightfoot Tactical LCP, although I also really like the Schrade Tactical), I can use the same CW or CCW snaking motions and use the pen for added leverage or pain compliance.  If it’s especially pointy you get the added benefit of sticking it in their arm (Hey, they grabbed you, remember?).   This same approach can be used if you are holding a knife (as a weapon, although I suppose someone could attack you while you’re chopping onions for dinner) and they grab your wrist.  The length and the edge of the knife now give you added leverage and pain compliance tools at your disposal.  Circle the tip of the knife either direction while sawing and levering down on their wrist. Chances are they’ll let go.  
 
Scenario 4 – Weapon vs. Weapon
If we’re both armed with sticks and they attack with an Angle 2 (high backhand) towards the right side of my head, I can block it with my stick, tip pointing up.  As I start to snake the tip of the stick CW around their stick hand, I feed the end of their stick into my Left hand, trapping it.  As I continue the stick snake, I will reach a point where I can push on
the back of their hand with the stick, while pulling on their stick with my hand, accomplishing the disarm.  (It’s easier to do than describe).

Those are just 4 basic scenarios that demonstrate the versatility of the “Snake” disarms.   With a “rational and logical” approach to your practice of these techniques, you too will appear “wise” in the ways of the Snake.  
  
{Note – the Rattlesnake picture was taken during a hike last October near Bear Meadows Natural Area, Rothrock State Forest, CentralPennsylvania}


 
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As I was listening to Penn State’s Baroque Ensemble play Heinrich Biber’s “Battalia a 10” last weekend, it made me think about karate.  Strange?  Perhaps, but let me explain.

The Ensemble focuses on music from the Baroque period and often uses the style of equipment (ex. Bows) common to that period, rather than modern equivalents.  They feel that it’s truer to the sound as it was intended to be heard.  The Director explained that many of the themes and elements within the piece would have been familiar to audiences in the 17th Century and meant to evoke specific events or happenings (ex. Battles, death, resurrection).  While listening, it made me think about how great it is as musician, or even a listener, to have
this form of music available and how it provides a connection to musical history.  Playing this music transports you back over 300 years, and it’s easy to imagine a similar Ensemble in Salzburg creating the same sounds, evoking the same emotions.  

Which led me to Bunkai.  By practicing the traditional kata and associated Bunkai, we retain a connection with our Karate forefathers.  When I practice Seisan or Kusanku, it links me in some small way to Pechin Takahara (1683-1760) or Tode Sakugawa (1733-1815) and the various forms they may have passed down that ended up as foundational elements of Okinawan Karate.  I think it’s pretty cool that what I’m practicing here in the hills of Central PA is linked to what was practiced 300 years ago in China and Okinawa.

 
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Been recently spending some time banging on my version of the Hillbilly Mook Jong.   I built it a couple years ago out of 1 ½” PVC.   Yeah, I know that you can’t apply a lot of force to it, but that’s not why I built it. 
I wanted to use it to work on form, not power.  I had dabbled a little bit with Ip Man’s Wooden Dummy form, but never learned the whole thing.  I finally decided to drill the individual sections and have it complete by the end of the year.  At this point I’m thru 4 of 7 “sections”.  

Some may ask, why bother with a wooden dummy form? 
As Samuel Kwok states: “The Jong’s purpose is to reinforce correct structures and angles, to foster the development of flow and to allow the correct, full expression of Fa Jing (last moment energy) which we can never use on a live training partner without the risk of seriously injuring them.”  I find that without always
having a live training partner, it’s a useful way to practice pak sao, tan sao, bong sao, lop sao etc. and flow between the techniques.  It’s also an interesting way to explore insights into the application of various hand positions, traps and guards from some of the traditional Okinawan katas.  

If you’re looking for resources, there are a couple of videos of Ip Man on YouTube doing the form. Some of them are of decent quality. The best book I’ve seen is “Traditional
Wooden Dummy” by Samuel Kwok& Tony Massengill
.  If you can afford to drop $500 - $1,000 on a true Wooden dummy, and have a place to put it, good for you, go for it.  If not, there are plenty of plans out there to make one out of PVC, whether it’s 1.5” or up to 8”pipe.  In an afternoon with $20 in pipe, a hacksaw and some PVC cement, you can
rig something and be ready to play in no time.  Have fun!


 
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Do you like casserole?  All your favorite things mixed up and baked into wholesome goodness?  Easy to make, easy to eat, and easy to clean-up.  What’s not to like?

 
So at last night’s workout, we had a little casserole of chaos.   Several of my favorite drills all stirred up and strung together into some martial arts fun.

 

Ingredients:
12-Step Solo Focus Mitt drill
Burpees
Padded impact weapons
Heavy Bag
Partners

Step 1) Partner A stands on far side of room with single Focus Mitt.  On command, performs 12 Step Solo focus mitt drill (based on a Stinger workout by my friend Pete Kautz).  If you don’t know that specific drill, make up your own consisting of assorted palm strikes, punches, elbows, knees & kicks on a focus mitt that you are holding.

Step 2) When finished with the 12-step, drop focus mitt, sprint to other side of the  room in front of the heavy bag and do a burpee.

Step 3) When you get up (or while you’re getting up) Partner B tries to hit or stab
you with their padded weapon*.  

Step 4) Partner A evades/blocks/defends against semi-sneaky attack and counter
attacks with any kick to the heavy bag.

Step 5) Partner A performs another burpee while avoiding getting hit in the face/head
with the now swinging heavy bag.

Step 6) repeat sneak attack, evade, kick sequence.

Step 7) Return to other side of the room, pick up Focus mitt, repeat entire sequence
as desired.

This little bundle of chaos accomplishes multiple things.  The focus mitt section forces you to get comfortable in applying force to something at the end of your arm – after all, that’s the ideal distance because that’s where the opponent ought to be, right at the end of your arm.  It trains cardio/conditioning.  It forces you to change planes, and trains getting down and up off the ground under stress.  The padded weapon forces you to react and then respond with a counterattack, often before you’re ready, and without having perfectly “set” stances.  Being aware of the swinging heavy bag forces you to be aware (duh), and also often creates an isometric hold position in the pushup position, further fatiguing the muscles and making a more realistic feel when having to block, evade, or counter strike.  

All in all, a nice little drill that trains a bunch of different elements and breaks up the monotony of standing in a static position in front of a pad/bag and just working on an individual technique.   Was it always pretty or form perfect?  Of course not.  It was mostly messy, like a good casserole, but it was very filling.   Why not give it a try?

*Note - padded weapons can easily be made using ½’” PVC pipe covered in pipe
insulation wrapped in duct tape.  Make different lengths, for example I have ones that simulate the length of a 1903 Springfield .30-06 with a bayonet attached (sorry President Obama, I didn’t know that bayonets were no longer in use/fashion.  I guess our “Commander in Chief” forgot to check with the Marines), a Louisville Slugger, escrima sticks of assorted lengths, and knives of assorted lengths.  This forces you to react in different ways to the different reach involved.  I’ll do a separate post about the padded weapons with pix.