Japanese martial arts: from the battlefield to MMA

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I’ve written a guest blog post about my Heretics podcast and our history of Japanese martial arts series for Holistic Budo, a blog run by my friend Robert Van Valkenburgh.

Here’s a quote:

After the Tokugawa-era ended with the bloody Boshin war followed by the Meiji Restoration (1868), Japan slowly opened up to the outside world. In fact, it was forced open by the British and Americans using violent gunboat diplomacy, but eventually the new era was embraced by the new rulers and also reflected in a new spirit of openness within the martial arts. Aliveness was back in fashion and innovators like Jigoro Kano breathed new life into the martial arts they inherited using the practice of randori (free sparring). His approach was so effective that Kano went from never having trained martial arts at all, to founding his own style in less than 6 years. Ultimately Kano’s Judo would outshine all the other styles of Jiujitsu and change the course of martial arts in Japan entirely, not to mention the rest of the world.

Check out the whole post here.

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The BJJ Notebook (refreshed)

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Just to let readers of Tai Chi Notebook know, this site also has a sister site dedicated to BJJ. It’s more technique and breakdown orientated than this site, but you might enjoy it too, especially if you practice the Arte Suave.

I’ve given it a little New Year’s refresh too, so check it out!

The BJJ Notebook.

 

My podcast with Ken Gullette – BJJ, XingYi, Tai Chi and Choy Lee Fut

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I was interviewed for Ken Gullette’s Internal Fighting Arts podcast recently. It was a fun show and Ken is a gracious and generous host and a new friend in martial arts. We had a really wide-ranging discussion about so many different subjects. I’m sure each topic we touched on could have been a podcast in itself, but Ken did a great job editing it to keep it on track.

We start talking about what it’s like starting BJJ later in life, then move on to Chinese martial arts like Tai Chi, Choy Lee Fut and XingYi and if they are still relevant today for self-defence. Hopefully, you find something here of interest.

Thanks to Ken for the opportunity. I’d suggest checking out his other episodes, too.

Here’s the link to mine.

 

Early morning class

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There’s always that moment after we bow out.  After we shake hands. After the sparring where we’ve played at killing each other until one of us taps. After we’ve collapsed exhausted at the merciful interjection of the buzzer. When we’re letting the body catch up with itself. Stream rising and puddles of sweat appearing.  Hard stares into the blue vinyl, waiting for the breath to return.

I look around the emptying mats, still glistening with sweat. I see the people getting changed, leaving, ready to get on with their day.

But some remain. Now the work is done the defences can come down. The body relaxes and we can reflect. People get philosophical and start asking the big questions. Questions like, ‘Why do you do this?’

“I see it as a form of self defence,” says Mike. “I don’t want to miss a single class because I might miss that one technique that saves me in a real fight”. He goes on to talk about all the ways that self defence is important to him and how it could save his life. Or maybe the life of his wife and child. How it could be the most important thing he ever learns.

Mike looks at me, wordlessly, expecting me to contribute my own details and honorable reasons for studying the noble art for so long. For so many years. Pushing myself. Accumulating techniques and polishing them until they work under the worst sort of pressure. Finally earning a black belt, yet not stopping there. Still continuing.

I stand up and head to the changing room.

“I just like to fight”.

The ultimate guide to the guillotine choke

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Just look at those two guys and tell me they aren’t having fun! Nothing says “macho martial artist” quite like standing on one leg and having a guys head wrapped under your armpit in a guillotine choke while he’s pulling your leg into his groin.

But seriously, I think every martial artist should know how to do a guillotine choke, not just grapplers. The power of the guillotine is that it’s a very versatile choke. You can do it standing, on the ground and in all the positions in between. It looks like a deceptively simple technique – you just wrap your arm around their neck and squeeze – but as you’ll discover, there’s a whole load of subtle variations, tricks and positional requirements you need to know about to make your guillotine effective.

Rob Biernacki has produced a series of video clips that form a great free online instructional on Grapplearts about how to perform this simple choke. Trust me, it’ll be a great use of 30 minutes of your life and it’s good enough for them to have charged for it, but they’ve kindly provided it for free.

Confessions of a hobbyist Black Belt

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Incidentally, I heard a story from a long time black belt this weekend. He was talking about a bout he refereed at a tournament a while back. The match was between a well known world champion black belt who’s name everyone would immediately recognize if I said it. The black belt was matched up against a no name purple belt. The black belt got destroyed by the purple belt. It happens. Black belts aren’t indestructible and the cult that exists around the belt is unhealthy as it sets up unrealistic expectations. We all lose. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Nice article that gives a fresh perspective on what it means to be a black belt in BJJ when you’re just a hobbyist, not a world champion. The comments are worth reading too.

It also inspired this podcast by Brandon MC.

 

 

Your daily Tai Chi ritual – creating order out of chaos

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Scott posted some answers to various questions he gets over at Strengthness with a Twist, his blog. I thought the first one was most interesting:

What do you mean when you say martial arts are rituals?

Rituals are ways of making order out of chaos. Martial arts are about unleashing the greatest forces of chaos and bringing them into order. It is a daily ritual that has deep, lasting, and profound effects on every aspect of our being. This is true of martial arts world wide, but it is particularly clear in the structure of Chinese martial arts as they were understood before the Boxer Uprising.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote since it’s pretty clear to anybody who does a daily practice of Tai Chi (or related martial/yoga/chi kung type practice) in the morning, that it soon becomes a kind of ritual, whether you like it or not. Not a ritual in the Western religious sense, but a ritual for your body (which Scott is arguing is, in fact, the true essence of religion in the Eastern sense).

I like his definition of “bringing order from chaos” even if it does sound a bit Jordan Peterson fan-boy-ish 😉

But if we can separate the phrase from the alt-right ideology it has become attached to, that phrase is what you are doing to your body when you practice Tai Chi in the morning. Having just woken up in the morning you can consider your body to be in a state of ‘chaos’ – you’re not yet functioning at 100%, your tendons will be shortened from lying down for so long and your body might ache from uncomfortable sleeping positions, and it needs to stretch. In fact, we stretch as a reflex action once we wake. Mentally you are also not yet “with it”, at least not until you’ve properly caffeinated.

A morning Tai Chi “ritual” (or “routine” if you like), can bring you back into occupying your body properly and get it ready for the demands of the day. When I think about what the main health benefit of Tai Chi is, I think it’s this. People tend to treat Tai Chi as a panacea that cures everything from a bad back to an ingrowing toenail. I take all the latest ‘scientific’ research about the miraculous healing benefits of Tai Chi with a pinch of salt. I think its best feature is simply this: it’s a way of gently ordering and strengthening the body in the morning, ready for the day.

I also like Scott’s later quote,

Martial arts are about unleashing the greatest forces of chaos and bringing them into order

This one brings to mind a whirling Baguazhang practitioner spinning in circles, taming the elements he is working with, or two sword fighters caught in the midst of a leaping blow.

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It all sounds a bit fantastical, but again, I think there’s some truth buried here.

Through techniques in martial arts, we are bringing order to the chaos of the fight. This is perfectly demonstrated in a Jiujitsu match – it’s all scrambling, spinning madness, then order is established as a joint lock or choke is put in place, as one practitioner controls the limbs and body of the other through correct position, leverage and technique, and the ‘fight’ ends.

Performing the Tai Chi form is an analogy for how the whole universe was created out of chaos, and order established. When you start the Tai Chi form, in a still, standing position you are in a state of Wu Chi – the undifferentiated primordial state of emptiness, but always with the possibility of giving birth to something. Then the big bang happens and you start to move – Yin and Yang become differentiated and you are continually moving between these two opposite poles. The body opens and closes in a continuous spiral. As one part of the body is opening, another is closing until the final movement – often known as “Carry the Tiger back to the mountain”- when you return to stillness. The mountain here represents that primordial stillness. You have brought order to chaos and returned to the mountain.

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Tai Chi vs BJJ in China

It’s all in Chinese, but I believe this video is a Tai Chi guy entering a BJJ competition in China… or maybe it’s a challenge match. From the way everybody is watching this one match, in particular, I get the feeling this is a special challenge.

Here’s the video. The match starts at around 8.30.

 

I can’t understand what is being said, but based on what I can see the “Tai Chi” guy showing a terrible lack of respect – he keeps hitting the BJJ guy, which is against the rules, then saying sorry to the audience, apologising profusely, then just doing it again. There’s lots of drama. The “Tai Chi” guy tries to walk off at one point when he realises the way things are going. Well done to the BJJ guy for keeping his cool.

When the  “Tai Chi” guy inevitably gets submitted the ref separates them and then he tries to attack the BJJ guy after the match has ended, at which point the ref restrains him with a choke hold and chaos ensues.

Only in China 🙂

In a world where you can self-identify as anything, anybody can claim to be a “Tai Chi guy”, but apparently the guy is Zheng Jiakuan, known as the apprentice of Ma Baoguo, and the BJJ guy is a blue-belt player Zhang Long from Alliance.

Ma Baoguo produced this famous video which he claims showed the effectiveness of his techniques… while the MMA fighter claims otherwise.

 

Anyway, I think that says it all.

I don’t really know what the Tai Chi guy expected to achieve by entering a BJJ tournament, but by behaving so badly he’s ended up looking even worse than you’d expect. All the traditional Chinese values of respect are all displayed by the BJJ guy.

A better video for “Tai Chi vs BJJ” is the video of Marcelo Garcia against a Taiwanese push hands champion. Of course, lots of people don’t think these push hands champions are doing Tai Chi either, but at least respect was shown:

 

The most perfect BJJ match ever?

In terms of the matra of: takedown, pass guard, submit, Jeff Lawson’s performance at Polaris 6 is possibly the most perfect BJJ match ever. Completely flawless and so quick! We were drilling this exact Seoi Nage (shoulder throw) this week. Great to see it used exactly as we drilled it in competition against a resisting opponent.