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.

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Podcast: Byron Jacobs on what martial arts in China are really like

 

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I’ve blogged about my friend Byron Jacobs before – he’s a Westerner deeply immersed in Chinese culture and martial arts and living in China at an interesting time.

We’re currently in the era where Chinese martial arts are opening up to the West in a way they’ve been prevented for doing for a long time. MMA and Jiujitsu (BJJ) is finally making an impact and people are starting to realise that modern training methods offer something that traditional methods are lacking. It will be interesting to see how the future plays out for Chinese martial arts, and what happens to traditional arts and skills.

Byron has just recorded an episode of the Real Fake Swords podcast where he addresses these issue and tells you what it’s actually like in China when it comes to martial arts. It’s fascinating (and probably different to the way you think it is) and well worth a listen. (If you are pushed for time start listening at around 15 minutes in.)

I hadn’t heard of Real Fake Swords before, but it looks like a good podcast series. I notice they’ve got episodes with other interesting martial arts personalities.

 

 

Taiji Master KO’d by Xu Xiaodong now trains in kickboxing

(I think the word “Master” is being used a little bit too liberally here 😉 )

Do you remember Wei Lei, the Tai Chi dude that set the Internet alight by being starched by aging MMA coach Xu Xiaodong in about 20 seconds? Well, he’s back, but this time it looks like he’s decided that his Tai Chi skills aren’t up to the job and he’s training kickboxing.

 

Of course, this simply raises questions. Should he need to train kickboxing? Isn’t Tai Chi enough? Should he seek out other Tai Chi teachers to learn from? Is this the most practical way of learning to fight? If so, then what does that say about Chinese martial arts?

 

 

 

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.

Henan Village Chang family Xiao Luohan

I was reading through this excellent interview with Matthew Polly, author of American Shaolin, (a book which has somehow has escaped my bookshelf – a situation I should rectify promptly), when I came across this video of a man performing Chang family Xiao Luohan in a rural village in Henan.

It’s a great little video for a number of reasons. The first is that this is something old and precious that is in danger of dying out as people lose interest in WuShu in modern life. The second is the authenticity of the presentation – it really does look like a rural villiage where he has lived all his life. The third is – it’s a really good performance!

These are the sorts of “old school” martial arts skills that are in danger of dying out in China. To quote from the Matthew Polly interview above:

“As I mentioned in American Shaolin, the idea of chī kǔ (吃苦 ), eating bitterness, is central to the Chinese understanding of learning martial arts, and the value of suffering. And the way in which that contrasts with the western idea of trying to avoid pain in any way. We have an entire society built around the idea of alleviation of pain. We have an opioid crisis because we’re trying to avoid all sorts of pain. I admire progress and evolution in the way mixed martial artists do, but I have a nostalgia and sentimentality for tradition and the way that old man practised the same form for 60 years. There’s something beautiful about that and a sadness in seeing that wiped away as MMA goes like a bulldozer through the traditional kung fu and karate world.”

Chang family boxing is one of the precursors to Taijiquan, at least in terms of martial arts theory, although there are several similar postures to Chen Taijiquan found in its boxing sets, so the connection may be more literal than just in terms of theory.

I think research into Chang family boxing would reveal more about the origins of Taijiquan than wondering if it was Taoist. Luckily this research has already been done by Marnix Wells in his book ‘Scholar Boxer: Cháng Nâizhou’s Theory of Internal Martial Arts and the Evolution of Taijiquan‘. Again, another shocking omission from my bookshelf, but by all accounts, this is a very deep piece of research. According to Jess O’Brian (author of Nei Jia Quan: Internal Martial Arts) – “For those interested in the theory, history and practice of the internal martial arts, this book is going to blow your mind.”

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Byron Jacobs: incovenient truths in “Da Dao Taiji” documentary

My Facebook friend Byron Jacobs is the Technical & Events Manager and Technical Committee Member at International Wushu Federation in China. That’s a pretty high up in Chinese Martial Arts for a guy from South Africa 🙂

This is a YouTube video about him:

As you can see from the video, he’s fluent in Chinese and lives in China. He trains Xingyiquan under his Sifu, Di Guoyong.

Recently Byron appeared in an episode of the Chinese TV documentary “Da Dao Taiji” in which he was interviewed about traditional Chinese martial arts, its utility in the modern age and the problems it is facing both in the mentality of practitioners and their methods today.  I don’t think they were quite expecting such a frank interview!

Unsurprisingly, it was edited quite heavily, and they only kept some of these “inconvenient truths” in the documentary.

The good news is that here on Tai Chi Notebook you can view his whole interview, complete with subtitles. It may have been too hot for Chinese TV, but nothing is too hot for you, my dear readers!

(As an interesting sidenote, the new laws in China were passed last year prohibiting people with tattoos from being shown on TV, so they had to smudge out his tattoo for the aired version of this!)

Enjoy the inconvenient truths video:

 

And here is the entire episode 2, as it appeared on Chinese TV:

Wing Chun (Ding Hao) vs MMA (Xu Xiao Dong), in China

After his fight with the “Tai Chi master” Wei Lei, which rocked the contemporary martial arts scene in China, Xu Xiao Dong, the MMA fighter on a mission to expose “fake masters” is back on the scene this time showing his skills against a Wing Chun fighter.

China doesn’t have the sort of government regime which tolerates people who rock the boat, so I’m pleased to see that Xu is no longer under detention, as I feared we may never have seen him again after what happened last time.

Here’s the fight:

 

It’s a pretty ugly fight. Here are my takeaways:

  • Ding Hao clearly lacks realistic sparring experience, as he falls apart pretty quickly. His grappling was non-existent.
  • Xu Xiao Dong is pretty much a ‘stand and bang’ type fighter. Or maybe he felt so unthreatened by Ding that he didn’t feel the need to do much of anything else.
  • The ref makes some daring saves!
  • Why are they wearing such different clothing? Ding has shoes on! Only Xu is wearing gloves. Xu is grabbing Ding’s clothing to throw and control him. It’s a mess.
  • Why are they fighting on what looks like a red carpet used for movie premieres or award shows?
  • If you watch Ding throughout the fight you can see him try to adapt as he realises what he is doing isn’t working. He starts off looking very much like classical Wing Chun and ends up looking more like Jeet Kune Do. It’s like watching the evolution of Bruce Lee in microcosm!

Here’s some background about Xu Xiao Dong and his fights and detention by police in China:

 

Fight against Wei Lei:

 

 

 

Using movement for self defence, not blocks

I really liked the above clip by Rob Poynton of Cutting Edge Systema. It’s about the idea of using movement, rather than a fixed, rooted stance or hand blocks, to defend yourself.

To break down the message:

  • Your first reaction should be to move.
  • Use the legs for defence (stepping) and not the arms to block.
  • With your arms free you can use them for other things – like takedowns or strikes.

It’s simple, common sense advice when it comes to martial arts. The XingYi I learned was based around exactly the same concepts, incidentally. If you look at a lot of MMA fighters you see the same set of principles in action. If you think about it, you generally don’t see them doing a lot of blocking with their hands. Instead, they are moving and slipping punches. Obviously, there are exceptions – for example, the last MMA fight I watched was Yoel Romero vs Luke Rockhold, at UFC 221 in which Romero did a series of bizarre-looking arm blocks throughout the fight, yet came out on top.

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To be fair though, it wasn’t getting him anywhere – he was getting him picked apart by Rockhold until Romero finally broke through and delivered a knockout blow, possibly by virtue of being one of the toughest human beings alive at the moment.

I think Rob’s right in saying that the traditional arts are slow to teach this concept of movement, though. Generally, you hear things said like “if you don’t spar you’ll never be able to use it”, which is true, of course, but how about actually breaking down and analysing what you learn in sparring, and bringing it back into training to refine it? I think that’s what Rob is showing here.

The point about a fear-based response vs a confidence-based response is also very interesting.

Of course, the counter-argument is ‘where are all the great Systema fighters, then?’ But it’s pretty clear that Systema isn’t really designed primarily for being used in a cage. It seems like a pretty useful life skill though, full of concepts you can more easily transfer to your day to day existence.

The legend, BJ Penn

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Really nice article by Jack Slack on MMA and Jiujitsu legend BJ Penn.

There have been few falls from grace as ugly and lengthy as that of BJ Penn. Nobody who knows the game is hung up on his 16-10 record, he has nothing to prove to anyone who knows their onions in that regard. It is simply that Penn spent so many years being in many ways remarkable, in a few ways wanting, and continued to drag out his attempts to find the mythical ‘motivated BJ Penn’ rather than addressing the actual issues in his game.