I get bored with weights. I get bored with running. I try to avoid doing these things as much as humanly possible, so I like to come up with fun ways to work out. I don't necessarily have access to awesome things like giant tires, or even kettlebells, on a regular basis. This weekend, I found myself out in the woods with a group of eighth graders working on leadership training.
During the weekend, I realized that I had a few extra hours to kill while some of the other adults ran the program. I wasn't needed and, in fact, really needed to get out of the campsite. I also realized that there was an axe that was going to be used to work on some wood skills during the weekend. So I went for a short walk out of the campsite, and took the axe with me.
There are a few things that I really love about working out in nature:
The air.I live in a city that smells like cow ass. I was raised in a city that, while environmentally friendly, is still a city. I don't like the smell of the tailpipe anymore than I like the smell of agriculture. Being able to open up my lungs without closing my nose is nice.
The loneliness. I don't like working out around other people. I find them a constant distraction when I am trying to advance myself. The solitude of a workout keeps my focus where it belongs, on me.
The quiet. I leave the volume up on my iPod to keep myself from listening ot the sounds of other people working out. I deeply appreciate having the opportunity to listen only to the sounds of my own breathing and whatever it is I'm doing in the workout.
The aesthetics. I really do love the space in the wilderness. Being able to take a breath and do something other than bathe my ears in the music from my headphones is a really important aesthetic experience. It also makes it much easier to lower my heart-rate as I take a breath.
There is also something nice about taking an axe to a piece of wood. After the workout is done, there is something that has been broken. There is a task that has been accomplished. The problem with my workouts at home is that I don't find the numbers that motivating. I also don't like to keep track of those numbers.
They feel arbitrary to me. Why am I doing 12 reps per set rather than 14? Why am I running three miles and not four? When I have a task, I can focus on the work at hand and not think about the numbers. I find that the absence of this distraction makes my life much easier. Also, the presence of the task acts as a particularly useful motivator and a good opportunity to explore my own motivational methods.
Anyway, I don't get the opportunity to work out like that very often. I likely will never have that opportunity more than rarely, though I may periodically create that opportunity for myself, as I did this weekend. It was a wonderful experience, and a good reminder of what it feels like to have a successful workout, and what the muscles feel like afterwards.
I should also say that I appreciate the woods as a wonderful place to think. I pride myself in having embraced a philosophical worldview that includes the body and mind in the project of living a productive, happy and healthy life.
While I was out in the woods, I found myself considering some of the approaches to martial arts and philosophy that I had not pondered in a few years. It reminds me why I appreciate, so deeply, the project of an individual style of martial arts; the codification of a series of ideas (which is what a martial arts system ought to be; what matters are ideas and not techniques) is not a simple task.
It is similarly not simple to pass that series of ideas on through generations o practitioners, and allow it to evolve. There are some groups who hand down techniques: the idea that there is a way that a move should be done, and a certain set of moves that work. This isn't something I've ever been able to empathize with.
Anyway, I figured I would share, as I haven't posted nearly enough on here the last few months.
I'm back at Rocha BJJ or, as I've come to think of it, home. I really do love that place, and its been a wonderful thing to come back to while I'm living in the bay area. A lot of folks there have left, but those that are still there are really family to me, as are many who have gone.
My first few days back were pretty rough. I took a little over a month off to finish my undergraduate degree (graduate cum laude from Fresno State; will be pursuing a masters in the fall, probably at San Francisco State) and do some academic work. Now that I'm out of classes, though, I have time to get back to the grind. I've been spending 4 or 5 days on the mat for the last two weeks, and I'd like to get back to multiple classes a day on my days off.
Anyway, I'm working tonight, so I went to the open mat this morning. It was a very small group, as the size of the open mats is always sporadic during the day. It was me, one white belt, and a female brown belt who is one of my favorite people to talk to, Heidi.
My game is getting back to where it was, and I was getting good easy passes against the white belt, and establishing side control pretty firmly. Locked in a few armbars when I decided he should be on top for a while and started pulling guard. Overall, that was a nice drill for me. I've been trying to get my guard passes back, since my side-control has been pretty solid lately, and in competition that's a good route for me.
Anyway, I was working with Heidi a little bit and she was, as always, kicking my ass. The point she made to me is that when I was passing and she was threatening submissions or sweeps, I was taking my weight off to set my base back up on my knees.
Instead, and this is a fairly common piece of jiu-jitsu theory that I had forgotten, she suggested I actually commit more of my hips to my pass, keep my weight down and just play more aggressively. This is a particularly good piece of advice for training, since during training there are times when it is ok to play a little more aggressive that we might in competition, and developing comfort with attacks and staying aggressive over the course of the technique can be very important.
The point was this: When defending a submission, there are times when it feels intuitive to be aggressive. It is common knowledge for most jiu-jitsu guys to stack in various armbar positions, but there are lots of positions where it is not intuitive. In some of the positions where we wouldn't intuit an aggressive, heavily weight response, such a move might be wholly appropriate.
Anyway, that was my piece of jiu-jitsu theory for the day. I'm starting to feel really good about getting my game back. My goal is to spend every weekday on the mat for at least one class, since my work schedule will likely allow that, and get myself back up to fighting fitness. I'm starting to already feel the strength and power in my legs and arms again, perhaps even more than I did when I was younger, and it is very rewarding.
Also, a treat for those who actually read this thing, a video I ran across on a particular training program in MMA, the Black House gym. Those who know that I'm interested in the politics and the lifestyle (though always secondary to the history) know that these are the sorts of things that catch my eye:
My life has been in a state of flux. I thought I was likely to go and do my MA at SF State, in south San Francisco, but that didn't happen. Instead, I got accepted to a much better program at NYU, and decided to travel all the way out to New York to take full advantage of the opportunity.
At any rate, I'm very happy with my new life in the big city, though I've only been here about a week, and I'm still adjusting.
I found a gym that I liked: Mendez Boxing. The gym is a very traditional boxing gym, but [realistically] that is probably a good thing for me right now. The last few years my body has deteriorated in some important and troubling ways. I'm experiencing a lot of joint pain, especially in my neck and back and knees, and I think that a lot of that had to do with judo and jiu-jitsu. Those are still forms that I love, but I think that giving them a break for a while will be good for me.
Anyway, I did my first day at Mendez boxing today, and I'm feeling the burn in the cardio already. I worked with one of the trainers, Hector, and he was very helpful, though most of the form we were working through was fairly basic. He did have me drilling some new approaches to the uppercuts, and using them in rapid succession, which is something I've always thought would be very useful in boxing, but hadn't really drilled properly.
Overall, I'm looking forward to a new start in NYC and some time training in something a little more focused on the hands, with a very different understanding of conditioning.
So, I'm working out at Mendez Boxing four or five days a week right now, which is good. My hands are beat to sh*t, and I have some early-onset arthritis problems already, so I'm trying to take fairly good care of them right now. Going from primarily grappling-centered workouts to boxing full time does a toll on the hands, but the change in muscle groups getting worked on is nice, also.
After my workout, there were a couple of big heavyweights sparring and most of the gym was standing around watching. I watched about three rounds of the session, and was really struck by how few punches were thrown by these two guys. Neither of them really were as interested in hitting the other guy as they were not getting hit. I didn't really comment on this to the coaches, but I think the coaches were well aware of this problem.
One of the things about boxing is that the guys do hit so hard that there's this major concern with defensive boxing. I don't think that "defensive boxing" is necessarily bad, I should say, but I do think that timid boxing is something that has to be discouraged, and there's a fine line there. I also think that recognizing something many MMA fighters know [which is that sometimes you're going to have to make yourself vulnerable to create an opportunity] is important for a lot of boxers. Historically, this has been a part of professional boxing, but it does seem to be an unpopular thought right now.
The lesson that I'm working through with Ivan, one of the coaches, is actually about staying off of the balls of my feet. I tend to lean in a bit and leave my shoulders a bit out in front of my toes, because of my grappling background. I really like that position, and I find it well balanced and powerful. The point that Ivan keeps hammering me with is that I need to be more concerned with mobility and the versatility of a position than with being a hammer on the inside.
As we work through how I work angles and slip punches, it becomes pretty clear to me that actually what I want is something more straight-backed and on the centers of my feet than what I'm used to. I'm still adjusting to the feel of that position, but it is certainly one that is working a lot better for pad work and general head movement. I have fairly quick hands and my punches pop well, but its become good for me to focus on not worrying about hitting so hard.
The other concern is about keeping the movements sharp and quick. One of the things that it is easy to get into the habit of as a grappler in MMA is that it is acceptable to hang your punches out a little when setting up shots, in part because you're trying to bait the strike that you're working off of. I particularly like doing that when it comes to set up the clinch, especially off of the left hook. In boxing it is a terrible habit, and one that I'm working on breaking to improve my awareness of how I'm throwing my punches and to make sure that the punches are crisp and the punch defense is staying strong and together.
I'll try to start posting a bit more. The last few months of boxing were great, but I didn't really find it all that fulfilling. I miss grappling a lot, and I'm back on the mat rolling again at New York Combat Sambo. "Sambo Steve" Koepfer is a legend in American martial arts, and so that's what I'm doing.
Spent a good portion of last night working on throws, and I didn't realize how much of my judo was still built into my body. The same for my ground game. I had no trouble sinking some submissions on some of the somewhat experienced students, and getting my ass kicked by Steve. There are a lot of lessons to come; I'll try to post some of them.
As I get more into Sambo with the new coaches, I'm realizing more and more how impoverished my knowledge of leglocks really was, and how much I'm able to figure out from general grappling principles. We had a guest instructor on the mat tonight walking us through a 10th Planet variation on the deep-half guard that I really enjoyed, and attacking some toe-holds and calf-compressions off of the technique.
It was the first time I'd played with toe-holds since starting working in Sambo; I've been drilling the straight achilles just to get a feel of the various positions to lock in control of the legs and get a feel for the fight there. But in working the technique on the toe-hold I realized that I'd been torquing them in an awkward way, one that works but is not as effective, rotating around the ankle instead of compressing the toes more directly. The change in effectiveness was huge. [I've noticed similar changes in the effectiveness of my straight ankle, too.]
Anyway, there's a lot there to learn, and it definitely helps with generalizing out principles.
I'm ramping up my training to 5 days a week, plus conditioning, to get ready to do some competitive grappling and competitive Sambo focussing on a big tournament at the Arnold Classic. I've been pretty negligent in managing this training log, and I'm not sure that will get any better in the near future. We'll see, though, as I have a few things going on in the training (new diet, new approach to calisthenics, and revamped Sambo training) that might provide some material.
Some notes from the last week:
I've long been of the view that attending to what you eat is a big part of maintaining a healthy diet. Cooking for myself has always been one of the best ways to lose weight, since I control portions, focus on vegetables, and eliminate red meat almost altogether. When I put on weight, one of the big parts of that was not having access to a kitchen; I'm in a new apartment now where I'm preparing most of my own food. That goes a long way on the diet front, and I'm already starting to notice a number of differences in performance.
Kneebars scare people, both in training and in grappling competitions. I've been working on them a lot lately, but one of the things that I've found is that there are situations where an opponent might be able to escape, but they feel like they're trapped or that the knee is in serious danger, so they tap anyway. (This happens even more than with things like heel hooks, which are far more likely to accidentally cause a serious injury.) Still, a good kneebar is a serious threat off of the back, because of the transitional angles that you get when an opponent is trying to escape the straight ankle lock, and because of the position that a good kneebar puts your hips in to facilitate future leglocks.
In sambo, the guard is seriously underrated. While the closed guard is a sort of non-factor for reasons that have to do with stalling penalties (very much the same as judo) both the half guard and the butterfly go a long way in allowing for the threat of sweeps and of good transitions into leglocks. Because of the added threat of attacking the legs, some of the extreme approaches to avoiding getting swept (like posturing up or stacking with the legs back) are very easy to attack.
Fighting over leglocks in training is both important and dangerous. It puts a lot of pressure on the ankles and feet, but it's important to develop leglock defense. There's a balance between fighting over the leglock too much (and risking an injury) and just giving up. That balance is not immediately obvious but, like most of grappling, it is important to consider with regard to your training, recovery time, and focus on the defenses.
I'm going to attend some amateur MMA events, including one where I'll be rejoining the press… it's been well over a year since I've done any serious writing on the sport, and so it'll be interesting to get back in and see a couple of amateur shows.