BJJ 101 – Defending the guard pass. Frame and hip escape

Welcome to a new, occasional, series looking at the basics of BJJ. This is BJJ 101.


Now that I’ve got to brown belt in BJJ I find myself wanting to refocus on the basics and get them really tight. By basics, I mean the fundamental moves that you use most of the time, rather than the spectacular spinning back takes or flying triangles that get all the attention. I mean the boring stuff. The bread and butter of BJJ, if you will.

The first thing I’d like to focus on is defending the guard pass. I’ve noticed that when I get my guard passed it’s always because I didn’t do something quite basic correctly. Everybody knows that when somebody’s weight is bearing down on you, you are meant to make space and hip escape to get your guard back. And that’s ok against a white belt who hasn’t learned how to put a lot of pressure on you through their structure yet, but against an higher belt, simply making space and hip escaping can become next to impossible… unless you do it absolutely correctly.

When you feel the weight and pressure of a higher belt coming down on you, you tend to freeze up and try and hold them off. Well, I do anyway. Inevitably that leads to you getting your guard passed because gravity is on their side and you have stopped moving. The problem is that to do the correct response you often have to give up the perceived safety of your position and open up, and all your instincts are telling you not to do that.

Frame and hip escape

The guard pass defence we’re going to look at today is a particularly fundamental skill in Jiujitsu because it uses the most basic of all movement, the hip escape, but because its so fundamental, I find that there is rarely time spent on teaching it in detail. Here I want to looking at exactly how and when to use a hip escape to defend the guard pass, because there are some details you need to know which can make all the difference – like which way to face, how to use your hand as a frame against your opponent’s ‘leading edge’. Against high level opposition all these little details matter.

As a frame of reference for this article I’m going to use this YouTube video, which is produced by Stephan Kesting and Rob Biernacki on the Frame and Hip Escape. The video is taken from a longer DVD, which I own the smartphone version of. I’d really recommend you buy it because the guard maintenance concepts he shows are excellent, containing over 2 hours of essential BJJ information, although I have one minor grumble… Rob deals almost exclusively in ‘conceptual jiujitsu’, which means that he’d rather spend time teaching you concepts and principles than teach you specific techniques. So, in a way you’re often left to you work out the fine details for yourself. That’s all well and good, but my problem with the conceptual approach is that there are some fine technical details that do matter, and these often get brushed over in favour of imparting a higher principle to the audience. I tend to think that in order to get the concept to work you need to have a technique broken down in a technical way so you can understand everything, which is what I’m going to try to do here.

Here’s the full video:


Defending the knee cut pass

Because we don’t start on our feet in rolling most of the time, the knee cut, or knee slide, pass is one of the most common passes in jiujitsu, so it’s important that you have an answer to it, because you’re going to come up against it time and time again.

Usually the way we start rolling in jiujitsu is that we both start on our knees then one person usually sits back and starts playing guard. He’s on the ‘bottom’ and the other person in on the ‘top’. The top player then usually stands to pass because this minimises the number of submissions and sweeps available to the guy on bottom. It also reduces the risk of being pulled into the closed guard. When you are standing and the other person is on their back, the knee cut pass and the x pass/step pass/torreando variations are the two main passes you’ll have to deal with.

There are various videos online showing the knee cut pass, all with slight variations.





Nic Gregoriades:

Here’s Rob’s defence again, as a GIF:



The frame and hip escape defence is very basic, but it works. Things to note:

  1. The ‘thumb down’ grip on the collar, with the stiff arm is acting as a frame.
  2. He gets to his elbow with the other arm immediately.
  3. Once frame and elbow are in place, you can hip escape and get your guard back.
  4. Don’t wait – if you wait for them to settle in with their knee on the ground, you’re going to get passed.

But perhaps the biggest thing to note is that he is using the hip escape in conjunction with a frame. You need the frame to stop their weight from landing on you. But Rob always has his other elbow on the mat when he does this. If you frame while you are lying flat then you’re not going to be able to hip escape out of there. So, the main thing is – move! Get up, don’t stay there.


Defending the X pass/step around pass

This one is left to last in the instructional, and Rob doesn’t spend much time on it, so you can easily miss out the fine details because it only gets one run through. That’s a shame as it’s of equal importance to me as the knee cut defence.

The X pass is a common pass in jiujitsu.

X pass by Saulo:

The defence Rob shows also relates to any kind of pass where the attacker steps around your leg and puts a shin in just past your hip, looking for a knee on belly. As I said, I find the standing step pass is just as common as the knee cut, so should be been given equal attention.

Standing step pass, demonstrated by Peter Robson:


Rob’s defence to both would be the same:


Rob is using the same concept of frame and hip escape here, but notice the key detail that he’s facing in an entirely different direction to the way he used it to defend the previous knee cut pass. When that knee comes in towards you, you need to get the habit of blocking it with your hand to frame and then turning away before recovering guard with a hip escape. This is often difficult for BJJ students, since we are usually taught to never turn away from the attacker because you give your back. Here’s there’s no danger of getting your back taken as your frame is between your back and them.

If that knee comes in deep you need to use your elbow as a frame sometimes. Which Rob also shows:


Defending the folding pass

This one is mentioned second in the video, but I don’t think it’s as common, so I’ve mentioned it last here. This time the wrestling collar tie is used as an option to make the frame, then the hip escape happens:



It’s worth practicing both these defences a lot – the knee slide and the step around pass particularly, as they require quite different mind and body responses, even if the concepts are the same. Get somebody to drill it with you, so they repeat the pass and you repeat the frame and hip escape to get your guard back. Try both sides. That’s important too.

There are other guard passes to deal with in Jiujitsu, and different defences, of course, but I feel that if you can get the basics of framing and turning in and framing and turning away to hip escape, and knowing when to use each one, you have the fundamental pattern ingrained to deal with most problems.

I’ll see you next time in BJJ Basics 101 where I’ll be looking at escaping Side Control.



Don’t use (the) force!

I keep hearing this idea from martial arts instructors of fighting somebody by “not using force”. Sadly that’s impossible, but that doesn’t seem to stop people saying it.


Every martial art seems to come with a bit of nonsense as part of the furniture. One of these that’s attached itself to Tai Chi is that you must learn to fight without using force. However, and to a man (because they are usually men) the people who say this seldom go beyond pushing the opponent away as the final solution to dealing with an attacker.

I think this misconception arrises because, with a little skill, you can get somebody off balance and push them quite a distance away, so long when they are unsteady, using minimal force.

But guess what – if you push somebody away… they come back! (Unless you push them off a cliff of course, but then, there’s never a cliff around when you need one, is there?) A determined attacker is not going to be impressed by how effortlessly you pushed him away. He’s going to come back and probably be even angrier than before!

I’d suggest the best thing to do with somebody you are trying to incapacitate is drop them at your feet, where you can control and restrain them until help arrives. Maybe the best thing to do is run away. But before you have that as your go-to option, consider the situation where you are with a family member and you are both under attack – what are you going to do, run away and leave them? Or maybe there are multiple attackers, in which case getting tied up with one of them on the ground is not a good idea.

Either way, the idea that you shouldn’t use force crumbles in the face of reality.

So where does this idea come from in Tai Chi? (I should note, I’ve heard the idea expressed in Aikido as well). When you’re doing Tai Chi push hands you also get a lot of comments like “too much force!”, “don’t use strength!”, which is all well and good (what they really mean is ‘don’t use brute strength’), but I think it tends to get translated into “never, ever, use force!”

Do no harm

There’s another variation on the theme which involves the notion that you should be able to subdue somebody without hurting them. Again, I’d say this was impossible. The closest I’ve seen to this idea is the sort of skill you get from BJJ where you can take a person down and mount them (sit on them) so that they can’t get up without having to punch them. You can then wait for help to arrive. Alternatively you can put them to sleep with a choke. But while they may not be getting injured, I don’t think the attacker would call it a pleasant experience!

I’m reminded of this video of BJJ noteable Ryan Hall, where he subdued an aggressive male who was trying to start a fight without throwing a single punch:


He might not have injured the guy, but he ended up putting him to sleep so he was not a threat to anybody.

So much for not using force!

Two points on a circle

Let’s look at how moving in a circular way can produce effortless power.

If you rotate a circle then different parts on the circumference will move in different directions relative to each other. This is crucial to the art of Tai Chi Chuan. Let me explain.

This video of rollback from Yang style is very nicely done. Although I don’t speak Chinese, so I have no idea what he’s saying, the application is nicely shown and very clear.


Let’s take a circle.


Notice that the two points in black on the outside that are directly opposite each other.

If you rotate the circle clockwise, or anti clockwise, then the two points will rotate relative to each other. And from the perspective of the centre of the circle, they will be moving in opposite directions.

Now, if you imagine the circle is the view of a Tai Chi practitioner in the video of rollback, but viewed from above, you can see that if they rotate around their centre then the parts of the body on the opposite sides of their circle will be moving in opposite directions.

Now, unless they are spinning constantly, they won’t keep this up for long in the same direction, but it will be happening continually throughout a Tai Chi form, just in different directions and with different parts of the body.

So, while his left hand is rotating backwards to the left, clockwise direction, his right shoulder is moving equally forward to the right, still clockwise. They are the points on opposite sides of the circle. Obviously he then hits the limit of his rotational possibilities (without stepping) and stops.

Obviously Tai Chi is more of a sphere than a flat 2D circle, but hopefully the point stands and shows how circular movement around the centre point can produce power from the whole body.

“Possible Origins”, now in paperback.


Scott Park Phillips’s book on Martial arts is now available in paperback/Kindle. (I’m getting the Kindle version, being a cheapskate and all). I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve seen a condensed presentation Scott did based not the material and I therefore expect it to be well written, disruptive, controversial, and at the very least offer some mind-bending new perspectives on what martial arts really are (or rather, were). I also think he’s tapped into something very important with his premise that seems to be on the nail.

The premise is simply that martial arts, theatre and religion were once a single subject.

Fascinating stuff!

Click the “look inside” link on Amazon to read more.



In Tai Chi you have to go down to go up

The writings in the Taiji Classics really only make sense if you understand what they’re saying already. As we’ll see…



Everybody who practices Taiji and has read the Taiji Classics is familiar with the idea of using the legs as primary generators of force, rather than the shoulders and arms.

As it says in the classics:

“The chin [intrinsic strength] should be
rooted in the feet,
generated from the legs,
controlled by the waist, and
manifested through the fingers.”

Reading that, you’d think that it’s talking about simply pushing off the ground with the legs to generate force. But that’s not the whole story. It couldn’t be – I mean, a good boxer punches from his legs in a similar manner, getting the force of the whole body into the shot. Taijiquan is supposed to be ‘internal’ and involve a different way of moving than regular athletic human movements. Isn’t it?

This mention of ‘controlled by the waist’ here is the key. It’s referring to the fundamental idea in Taijiquan that the dantien area of the body (basically, the waist, but inside, not just on the surface) is controlling the actions of the arms and hands, so they don’t move independently of the movements of the body. This should be true of any Taiji movement, regardless of the particular style of Taijiquan being practiced.

This is such an important concept to Taijiquan that in a lot of interviews (like this one) Chen Xiao Wang, the head of the Chen style branch of Taijiquan, calls it his “1 principle”:

CXW: “There is just one principle and three kinds of motion. The one principle is that the whole body moves together following the Dantien. In every movement the whole-body moves together but the Dantien leads the movement and the whole body must be supported in all directions. This is very important. One principle, three kinds of motion: the three kinds of motion are as follows…First, horizontal motion, the Dantien rotates horizontally. The second kind of motion is vertical motion, the Dantien rotates vertically. The third kind of motion is a combination of the first two. Any movement that is doesn’t follow the principle is a deviation. So when we are training every day we are trying to find and reduce our deviations from the Taiji principle.”

You could also sum up this concept using the phrase, “Hands follow body”. (Later on you get ‘body follows hands’ – but let’s not worry about that right now).

It’s important to note that this mode of movement is contrary to the way we normally move in everyday life. It’s very common for people to be able to understand it intellectually, but not be able to physically embody it. It’s also very difficult to do it consistently. In Taijiquan you need to do it all the time, and without cheating! Take your mind of it for a second and you’ll find you revert to using your ‘normal’ movement again; you’ll use your shoulder and upper body to move your arms. Throw in working with a partner who is providing resistance and it becomes even harder to always move from the dantien.

Incidentally, I think one of the reasons for the incredible amount of solo form work found in Taijiquan is that you need to practice this stuff for months and years for it to become ingrained in your body, so that it becomes the default way you move, even under pressure. Hence the need for regular form practice.

So, the dantien moves, and it moves the hands. So far, so good. The next question is ‘how?’ How, exactly, can moving your legs, hips and dantien control the actions of the arms and hands?

The answer lies in the muscle tendon channels that connect the body internally. They (generally) stretch vertically from the hands (fingers) to the feet (toes) either on the front of the body (yin channels) or on the back of the body (yang channels). It’s important to note that the channels themselves don’t really cross over the body from side to side – they generally run vertically. Credit needs to go to Mike Sigman here, for introducing me to this concept of muscle-tendon channels.


The theory is that muscle-tendon channels were the precursor to the acupuncture channels that we’re all familiar with these days, and are a roadmap of the strength flows and forces of the body. If you really want to get into it, there’s a fuller explanation of the theory on Mike’s website, but the TLDNR (too long, did not read) version is basically that if you create a stretch on the muscle tendon channels from end to end, so they are somewhat taught, then you can start to manipulate them via their central nexus – the dantien – so that a movement of the dantien can power a movement of the hand (or foot). Yes, it’s more complicated than that (there is more than one dantien, for example), but that’s the basic idea.


If you remember back at the start of this blog post, I quoted some lines from the classic that says the progression in generating movement in Taijiquan starts from the bottom and goes upwards, yet at the same time we’re being told that all movement starts in the dantien, which is definitely not in the feet. So, we have a contradiction. Or do we?

Here’s the thing: If you use your legs to push upwards off the ground to generate force you get a kind of “muscle jin”,  since you’re not using the power of the dantien, as described by Chen Xiao Wang. To really get to the meat of what it means to use Jin (refined force) in Taijiquan you need to learn how to send force downwards from the dantien to the ground, and bounce it back up simultaneously. So, the originator of the upwards force is still the dantien, and the general direction of force is still upwards from the feet.

For example, when you’re loaded onto the rear leg, and ready to push forward you’d actually start by sending force from your dantien area downwards, “sink the qi”, and the bounce back force that comes up from the ground is what you use to push the opponent away. It should be noted that sending forces down to the ground from the dantien and bouncing it back into the opponent is simultaneous – there’s no time delay.

The next time you go swimming dive down to the bottom of the deep end and stand on the bottom then push off the floor and send yourself upwards to the surface. What you’ll notice is that you naturally want to drop your weight down before you push up. This is a crude kind of approximation of what’s going on in a Taiji push.



The Tai Chi Magician, redux

I wrote about this phenomena before in one of my most popular blog posts called The Tai Chi Magician, but these guys keep coming back for more, so here we go again!



I’ve just watched another YouTube video where a ‘Tai Chi master’ makes his student hop all over the place at the merest touch. I was going to link to it, but after talking about it with a friend I’m considering that might be unnecessary – maybe these Tai Chi masters that do this don’t need to be taken down – if the student is happy being made into a jumping bean, then maybe there is some sort of valuable social function being performed… even if I don’t know what it is.

As an aside, philosophically it could be strongly argued that Chinese martial arts have always had a strong performance element (via Chinese Theatre), both culturally and historically, and that the magic show is part and parcel of the deal.

But at the same time, I feel I have a responsibility to the general public about the perception of what Tai Chi is, and to the beginner looking to start learning Tai Chi, so I’m going to say something.

So, let me just say, for the record, these reactions are not what you can expect without a high degree of co-operation from your push hands partner. Tai Chi will not give you superpowers like this against a determined attacker. These problems are not unique to Tai Chi, obviously Aikido springs to mind as suffering the same ‘dive bunnies’, but somehow the vibe is different in Aikido – because of the different setting – in a Dojo, with uniforms and mats – people don’t automatically think it’s quite as ‘real’ as it is in Tai Chi superpower demonstrations. The even more dramatic flips and somersaults of Aikido Uke’s also indicate that there is compliant training going on. At least that’s how it appears to me.

Common traits:

These videos are done with the same tricks you find in stage hypnotism – the power of suggestion. And it you look at all these videos you start to see common traits. Here are a few you’re going to need if you want to set yourself up as a Tai Chi Magician:

1. Physical cues are important. Adopt a slight air of arrogance. Look beyond the opponent, into the distance, as if they are not there. In fact, this whole enterprise is beneath you, so remember they are nothing to you. You are looking beyond this physical realm into the spiritual, where you are dancing with the immortals. They need an enlightened master to follow, so act like one.

2. Condition your partner to be ridiculously over compliment. Maybe tell them that if they don’t ‘go with’ what you are doing, by hopping away to dissipate your force, then they will injure themselves, probably severely! This conditioning process can be subtle and take many months until they are ready for a primetime video. A few cold stares when they resist here and there, a few subtle shakes of the head when they don’t fall correctly. That sort of thing. After a few weeks or months you’ll notice they start to understand their role and act accordingly. Having a cult you’re getting them to join helps too! Get the group to reinforce your position as leader and ensure their subservience.

3. Your narrative is important – remember to say what you are about to do before you do it – key words here being things like, “down”, or “away”, so they know which direction to throw themselves in. Also say “I” a lot – remember, it’s all about you, not them.

It’s interesting that he says in his YouTube comments that he’s not very interested in fighting. (Guys that do this stuff never are, are they?) Of course, that line of reasoning is always a convenient excuse for getting out of a situation where they are asked to demonstrate these powers on somebody who is not as compliant!

The Tai Chi customer needs to treat these videos as valuable warnings. I can see how a beginner could easily start out looking to learn “Tai Chi”, not knowing what it is, and ending up in something that’s a bit cult-like with a teacher who subtly conditions and directs you to fall over at the merest touch. Trust me, manipulation is subtle and you wouldn’t even know it’s happened to you.

Don’t be that guy.


Fighting goes to the clinch. Why don’t people know this?

The clinch is going to happen, so learn to deal with it.

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 07.51.54

Do you remember the mantra, ‘statistics say that 90% of all fights go to the ground’? That meant we all had to learn ground fighting, and everything else was useless. Then there was the backlash to this mantra, which was, essentially: ‘that’s bullshit, what about knives and guns and multiple attackers?’, which meant that traditional martial arts still had a place even if they couldn’t succeed in the UFC.

Both camps had some hold on the truth, and these days traditional martial arts are used in the UFC more than ever before, but the problem is that the original premise was flawed – fights don’t always go to the ground, they go to the clinch, as this video showing real fights demonstrates. Unless there is a quick KO, fights go to the clinch because nobody wants to get punched in the face. It’s as simple as that. If you’ve ever done any sparring then you’ll know how instinctive it is to grab and pull the other person close, so that they can’t punch you.

Crucially, from there the most dominant grappler will always win, unless there is an intervention from a third party. I experienced this again myself this week when I met up for some ‘push hands’ with a friend. From my perspective I was trying to do push hands, but he seemed more intent on just attacking me, so I ended up just trying to deflect his strikes until I got bored of that and moved into a clinch, at which point I could easily take him down and submit him on the ground, as he has no grappling experience.

So kids, learn some form of grappling, OK?

This point deserves repeating and emphasising, as so many people don’t seem to get it, especially people who train an art full of ‘deadly’ striking techniques.

Today I watched another video of a guy lost in a Kung fu fantasy land where he deflected the non-committed attacks from his compliant demo partner, then performed a number of deadly moves on the guy’s face and neck while he just stood there and let him do it.
People, please wake up! This is not going to work!

Sadly, in my experience,  you can’t change these people’s minds using something as unglamorous as logic and reason. They have a teacher who they trust more than you who is deeply invested in this stuff. Thankfully a real encounter with violence or resistant sparring session can always provide a wake up call.

Kung Fu is full of really interesting stuff, with deep cultural and historical links, and it’s fun to practice. I love it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it so long as we understand what it is, and what it is not. Just try to remember the realities of fighting when you practice it. That’s all I ask.

Angry Baby Gods and Lightsaber duels: A visit to the Martial Arts Studies Conference 2016

image1 (4)

Well, hello delegate! A brief sojourn at the 2016 Martial Art Studies Conference in Cardiff…

As somebody not involved in academia or academic publishing, I’ve viewed Martial Arts Studies from afar for a while now, slightly scared of getting too close, in case I get bitten by the big words, like “phenomenological” and “liminoid”.

So, it was with some trepidation that I boarded the train to Cardiff for the Martial Arts Studies Conference 2016. Happily my fears were unfounded. This was my first time getting amongst the martial arts studies crowd, and what a lovely bunch of people they turned out to be! Academics are open minded, intelligent people looking to increase their knowledge through discourse. Contrasting views are often encouraged, treated with respect and pondered rather than rejected. It’s a refreshing change from the bitchy world of online discussion forums I’ve inhabited, which seem grumpy, trite and shallow in comparison. Or maybe it was just that meeting people in the flash is always so much more genuine.

Talking of which, the day started well, when I introduced myself to the random stranger I had sat next to for the first keynote and he said “Graham? Wait… are you THE Graham? The nice, funny guy from Rum Soaked Fist? Man, that place has gone downhill!” Ha! Ha! (By the way, yes, that genuinely did actually happen.)

I’ve been trying to think of how to define what martial arts studies is exactly, and I think one of the best ways to describe it is that these people are not interested in the practical ‘how to’ of martial arts, but rather what it means when people do martial arts. For example, what do the kata (or forms) of martial arts signify? What’s really going on when people perform a kata? And are they really performing, or practicing for their own sake? What are the participants of a sparring session actually engaged in? What are they really there for? How is the media selling this? Those sorts of questions.

Here are some of the titles for the talks given, to give you some idea:

“Embodied Enquiry: reflecting on embodied practices as ‘dynamic events’.”

“From Martial to the Art: Slow Aesthetics in Transnational Martial Art-house Cinema”

“Masculine identities and the performance of ‘awesome moves’ in capoeira class”.

Since we’re dealing with a subject that is physically practiced there’s always the opportunity for tactile engagement within the subjects, although this isn’t encouraged officially within conference itself (I can imagine the insurance nightmare this could lead to). But while there was no scheduled ‘hands on’ sessions, there was a bit of push hands outside in the rose garden before the conference started, which I sadly turned up to just as it finished, but I did manage to exchange some Choy Lee Fut techniques with Daniel Mroz who practiced the same style for a while, but through a different lineage. Indeed, I thought that the majority of participants in the seminar were also probably martial artists themselves. In short, it wasn’t all pie in the sky.🙂

image2 (1)

Ben Judkins with group photo of the CLA (Central Lightsaber Academy)

This line of thoughtful enquiry into martial arts mixed with real world interaction, humour and observation was typified by the opening keynote speech of the day by Ben Judkins, the author of the excellent Kung Fu Tea” who delivered a talk entitled “Liminoid Longings and Liminal Belonging: Hyper-reality, History and the Search for Meaning in the Modern Martial Arts”, which was about a class on Jedi lightsaber fighting that had sprung up in a mall in America, a trend that is appearing in Europe too, with Ludo Sport at the forefront. How does a lightsaber class fit into a martial arts school’s syllabus? What sort of people are attracted to it? What are they identifying with? All these questions were asked.

They take this lightsaber duelling seriously, too. I’ve got to be honest and say that it looks like great fun – I want a go.


Ludo Sport in action!

Aside from the keynotes, 4 different lectures went on at the same time, so you had to choose what you went to. So, I missed a lot of stuff I’d have like to have seen, like “Yin Yang, Five Elements and Rhymed Formulae: Traditional Chinese Concepts in the Teaching of Wing Chun”, and “Capoeira Bodies, Two Movies and Every day ‘Realities’”. I could go on – there were a lot of interesting talks I missed, but hopefully a lot of it was video taped, so I can watch it later.

image1 (2)

Scott Park Phillips, doing his slide show thing.

I did however get to see my old friends Scott P Phillips deliver his impossibly titled, “Baguazhang: The martial dance of an angry baby-god“. As you can tell from the name of the talk, Scott likes to hit controversy head on, but give his ideas time to percolate in your mind and they start to make sense. Using copious historical examples, photos and videos, Scott exposed the theatrical and religious roots of Baguazhang, and how they are at odds with the conventional theories of the arts development, which you’d have to agree are unsatisfying and incomplete. Linking Baguazhang to the Chinese god Nezha opens many new lines of enquiry. For instance, Nezha is often depicted holding a cosmic wheel:


Look familiar?

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 2.43.23 PM

Perhaps a bit like this?


Li Zi Ming with wind wheel swords

And those big weapons associated with Baguazhang… what do they do to the practitioner? How do they make him look?


One of the oversized weapons associated with Baguazhang.

I can’t go into the whole thing here. Scott had 3 hours-worth of material, (which had to be crammed down to 30 minutes), so he had to leave a lot of it on the table. I’d love to watch the full 3 hour version of his talk, and I hope he gets the funding he’s looking for to get it turned into a proper film. If you’re interested in his theories or helping with the project then, drop him a line or buy the book.


Daniel Mroz starting his keynote on taolu.

I also got to watch Daniel Mroz’s excellent keynote on “Taolu: credibility and decipherability in the practice of Chinese martial movement” which kind of took off from Scott’s ending point and looked a new perspectives from which the practice of taolu can be understood. Fascinating stuff, including a practical demonstration of how to add credibility to a taolu performance.

image1 (3)

Daniel shares a method for adding credibility to taolu performance.

I noticed there were a lot of talks discussing whether or not recreating martial arts from European medieval instruction manuals – “fight books” – by groups such as HEMA can be considered a sound scientific method. I caught a couple of these talks – (the short answers seems to be “no, but it’s not without merit”). The most interesting talk I saw however didn’t seem to care about the pervading academic opinion, and was all about recreating the moves described in ancient Icelandic sagas as modern day wrestling techniques. There was some great detective work going on there.

The conference actually lasted for 3 days, but I only managed to get to the middle day, which made me wish I had more time there. There was so much I missed and so much more I’d liked to have seen.

Overall, it was a refreshingly and fascinating day that will stay with me for a long time, and it was good to meet up with old friends as well as make new ones from across the seas.

Thanks to Paul Bowman for putting on a great conference. I hope to go again.

Muskelkater: Taiji cures the muscle hangover

Feeling beaten up the morning after martial arts practice? Tai Chi is the answer.


The Germans have a special word for that beaten up, tired and sore feeling you get when you wake up the morning after BJJ class – “Muskelkater” – it literally means “muscle hangover”.

That word accurately reflected how I felt this morning after we did 10 x 6 minute rounds of sparring last night in BJJ class. I had no injuries, just an overwhelming sense of body tiredness and stiffness. The feeling is so common that it’s quite often known in BJJ circles as the Jiujitsu Hangover.

I looked at my Yoga mat, but the thought of doing something as strenuous as a downward dog made me wince. Instead, Tai Chi was the answer. Gentle, soft movements that ease the body back into motion. Even after just one run through the form I was feeling 50% better.

Doing the Taiji form slowly and gently can be as relaxing as a hot bath. As a recovery method from a Jiujitsu hangover, or any sort of muscle fatigue, I’m convinced there’s nothing finer. I just wish more people knew about it.