Does Cormier’s dirty boxing point the way for CMA in MMA?

I’m always looking for ways that the sticky hands-like training found in Chinese martial arts like Tai Chi Chuan, Wing Chun, Praying Mantis, White Crane and Hung Gar, where contact between the forearms or hands is maintained and the practitioner is encouraged to ‘listen’ to the movements of the opponent through this contact, can be used in MMA.

A clip of Bruce Lee showing sticky hands training

 The problem with transferring these sorts of skills to MMA is quite obvious: nobody in a ‘real’ fight is going to offer up their arm to you to stick too. Instead, they’re just going to punch you straight in the face, and not leave their fist hanging in the air afterward for you to grab.

Perhaps the most famous MMA practitioner ever, Conor McGregor, is a master of counter-attacking and timing. He waits for the opponent to commit to a strike before throwing his deadly left hand and catching him just as he comes in. He mixes this up with kicking techniques straight from a Tae Kwon Do instruction manual.

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Other fighters like Nate Diaz are known for their straight-up boxing style hands and fighters like Gobrandt and Cruz have evolved the MMA striking game into a movement based style.

One of the names you don’t often hear mentioned regarding striking is the UFC light heavyweight champion, and now the new heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier. Cormier, a former Olympic Wrestler, has a strong background in grappling but has dominated the light heavyweight division (despite two losses to Jon Jones, who keeps getting disqualified and banned for failing drug tests), achieving 10 TKO or KO victories from striking.

MMA: UFC 226-Miocic vs Cormier

Using wrestling as his base he’s developed a style of clinch-based dirty boxing that has been very successful. He doesn’t look like a typical striker, with both his hands outstretched, instead of in a typical boxing guard. When engaging an opponent on his feet Cormier seeks to smother the other guy’s hands, and feed in strikes once they are out of the way, moving into a clinch position, then looking to land a strong hook as either he or his opponent exit the clinch. And of course, once in the clinch, he can use his wrestling to get a takedown. Video here.

If he can catch his opponent with his hands down as he exits the clinch then a short hook can mean its lights out, as the ex Heavy Weight champion Stipe Miocic found out to his cost this Saturday at UFC 226 when Cormier moved up a weight division to challenge for the belt, becoming a two-division champion in the process as Miocic collapsed to the floor following a clean hook to the chin from Cormier.

Cormier’s tactics have a president in boxing. Jack Johnson and George Forman used to smother opponents hands to set up their own fence and draw loopier punches that they could cut inside of.

MMA Analyst Jack Slack has broken down the stylistic punching of Cormier in Clash of Kings: Tactical Guide to Stipe Miocic vs Daniel Cormier, ahead of the UFC 226 heavyweight clash. Slack calls it the “mummy” style of guard, presumably because it resembles a horror movie mummy approaching with outstretched arms.

Jack Slack breaks Cormier’s style down further in a subsequent article, after the event, which looks at Cormier’s use of a blocking arm, known as a barring arm. Video here.

But what peaked my interest was the idea that this style of fighting could be the ‘way in’ that Chinese Martial Arts practitioners are looking for when transitioning to MMA (or heck, just even real fighting). Cormier’s style makes extensive use of subtle angle changes and sensitivity that push hands and sticky hands training builds up.

If you’ve got a background in this style of sticky hands then read those Jack Slack articles and take a closer look at what Cormier is doing because it could be a style of fighting that would probably work for you too.

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Jin in Chinese martial arts (and tennis)

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Looking at Chinese martial arts from our stand point in today’s modern world is very confusing. There are so many styles – so many different approaches and so many different theories of its evolution. In fact, it’s bewildering!

Human beings like patterns. It’s our nature to see patterns in things. So, naturally, we start to classify these myriad arts in different ways – Northern or Southern is a popular way to do it since you can generalise some characteristics about each branch. Internal and External is another way to do it. So is ‘long range’ and ‘short range’. And so on.

Without exception, however, all these classifications ultimately break down. They’re good for talking in the general sense, but once you dig down into individual cases it soon becomes a little murkier. For instance, you’ll find a style that is known as a ‘kicking style’ has a few punches in one of its forms. A style that is ‘long range’ actually contains quite a few short range techniques in one of its obscure forms, and so on.

But perhaps there is one all encompassing thing we can say about the subject. All Chinese martial arts make use of Jin ‘refined strength’ to great or lesser extent. Now, as always, language is a problem. It would be foolish to suppose that what a professional boxer is doing isn’t a highly refined method of punching. Of course, it is. In fact, under boxing rules, it’s obviously the best way to punch. Secondly, which ‘Jin’ are we talking about? A lot of Chinese martial arts have a long list of ‘Jins’ that they contain and practice, so which one do I mean? Also, a lot of them also don’t even use the word at all.

What I mean is using the ground as a path to power, rather than your physical structure or power derived primarily from your local muscle use. This is my definition of “basic jin”.

Obviously we need to use our muscles to stand up at all, but in the case of punching, for example, most punches originate from the shoulder. In contrast, I’m talking about using the power from the ground and bypassing the shoulder as a generator of power completely when punching. Instead, the shoulder switches function to a transmitter. for the power coming up from the ground.

So, how do you do this?

Well, let’s start in the most sensible place – Tennis. 🙂

It should be no surprise that if this method of using force exists and can be done by humans, then its use isn’t limited to martial arts. I’ve noticed recently that sports coaches are starting to catch on to these Tai Chi, or Chinese Martial Arts, concepts these days. Watch the following video:

Now, while he doesn’t explain what’s happening much, he’s getting across the concept of pushing down into the ground to increase the upward force that bounces back. If your body is relaxed (‘Song’) then this is upward rebound of force can be utilised as power.

From www.feeltennis.net/ground-force-for-power/

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By “sending the force” downward – which you can see on the weighing scale – you can generate more upward force.

This is the basic mechanics for the Tai Chi “Push” you see demonstrated so often. Instead of pushing into the person you first push ‘down’ from the dantien into the ground and use the rebound force as the power generation.

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It requires a relaxed frame – which is the “Song Jin” of Tai Chi Chuan. The more you can push ‘down’ from the dantien, the more force you can exert back up. Try it!

To return to my subject about Jin in Chinese martial arts. The Tai Chi example above is what I’d call a very ‘pure’ example of using the ground force. Tai Chi specialises in this very relaxed ‘song’ way of doing it. Other Chinese martial arts use different postures and different methods and can augment the pure ground force with specific trained muscle use in various ways – which is one of the reasons you see the characteristic rounded back in Southern Chinese marital arts. You could called these a type of ‘muscle jin’.

I found a video recently that I thought really showed this ground force being very nicely used in Wing Chun. It’s by a master called Chu Song Tin, who is now sadly deceased. I posted it on a discussion forum and it got me in some very hot water, as I’ll explain below.

 

In the video he says the following:

“now let my force go to the ground,…. don’t fight me by pulling up.”

“now it’s going down to his feet(i.e the ground)”

“if i use strength to push on him and he use strength to fight me.”

“now pull up, and can you feel it in your shoulder? and this way the force can’t go down to his feet.”

Now, it turns out that CST didn’t ever use the word “Jin” to describe what he was doing – he created his own term “nim tao”, and if you suggest that what he was doing was Jin… then people in his lineage will get really upset with you because you don’t have the necessary lineage to comment and it is disrespectful if you do. It becomes a lineage and politics game and there’s no way to really get anywhere once that happens, better to just yield.

According to the next video, CST never felt he could adequately describe what he was doing, which I find really interesting. His students have kept the lineage alive and if the following video is to be believed are still trying to work out exactly how he did it.

I’m happy that they’re continuing the research, and I don’t really have any desire to get involved in the politics of lineage, but my question would be, if it isn’t ground force, then what is it?

Jack Dempsy in full colour

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Heavy weight boxing champion Jack Dempsy is one of those legendary old school boxers whose name is still talked about with reverence. He fought in the 1920s, when cars still looked like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Jazz was just becoming popular and the BBC started broadcasting public radio.

He wrote a book on boxing that is still regarded as a classic, Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense and also co-authored How to fight tough.

A new video has been released showing him in full colour. One thing I always notice about Dempsy is his head and neck alignment. He’s always “pressing up the head top” as it says in the Tai Chi Classics. His neck is kept extended and (crucially) aligned with the direction of his spine, so that his chin doesn’t stick out. I think this is one of the keys to his legendary power. Have a watch: