You Do You

One question or topic of discussion that comes up from time to time is; “I know this isn’t an effective/practical/useful art/exercise/movement BUT, I like doing it.” Now I know what they are really saying is; I want to keep doing this even though now that I’ve trained with you guys I realize it serves no purpose.


But they don’t want to say it. Because that sounds goofy. I’m going to do something that has no other purpose than it makes me happy. It won’t make me stronger, more conditioned, or greater skilled fighter or in anyway contribute to my multi-disciplinary pursuit. But I like it.


You know what my answer always is? Then do it. You do you boo. I only ask this; Have you put all the big rocks in the jar first?? Have you covered your essential skill bases?


If you have, then it’s okay to do something simply because you like to.


Life is short. Get the big rocks in the bucket first, then add all the sand you can.

Swing For the Fence

When we examine the use of an impact weapon to defend ourselves we find a lot of complicated ways to approach something that should be fairly simple. I know I spent quite a few years doing a lot of things that were little more than a fancy choreographed dance routine with an impact weapon as an accessory. Through trial and error my training partners and I were able to boil impact weapon work down to a few essentials.


Impact weapon work is similar to any other weapon we might use to defend our life and limb. Some principles are universal such as; 1) Choose the right tool for the job. 2) If you aren't regularly practicing with the tool don't expect skill to magically materialize when you need it. 3) Hit what's available until something better to hit becomes available.


Coach Matt Thornton, president of the Straight Blast Gym, International streamlined impact weapon work within the SBG in the early 2000's using the acronym SMAC to best summarize our approach. Through the process of constant pressure testing we had discovered a few truths regarding impact weapon work. We found a target hierarchy of; 1) weapon bearing arm, 2) lead leg, 3) the head to be the best way to deal with an armed opponent. Particularly if our opponent was armed with an impact weapon, aka we were stick fighting, the best way to deal with them was to beat on their weapon bearing arm to take away their ability to hit us, attack their lead leg to reduce their mobility, and finally attack their head to knock them out. We found it worked best if we used this hierarchy within our stick fighting strategy.


(It was also through this impact weapon testing process in the 1990's that I discovered the Helmet, now called the Default Response by master trainer Craig Douglas. We learned a lot of valuable lessons beating on each other with sticks… mostly that it hurts. A lot.)


When it comes to using an impact weapon to defend ourselves outside the arena of a consensual stick fight, there are a few things we need to understand. (Beyond the legal aspect. For that you'll need to speak with an attorney that understands the law and self defense). I'm a believer in attacking the limbs with impact weapons. A shot from a sap across the wrist or top of the forearm will make it difficult for your attacker to hold onto you. The same can be said for shots to major muscle groups. A baseball bat or table leg to the outside of your attacker's upper arm or thigh will most likely cause them to alter their immediate plans, and a second and third shot will create some mobility issues for them.


Regardless of the size of the weapon I try to keep my hand within the four corners of my upper body meaning I don't lift my hands above my shoulders or let them drop below my hips. If I'm swinging an impact weapon in an X pattern I won't let my weapon bearing arm go outside of the four corners of my upper body. Power is generated by rotation of my upper body, weight shift of my lower body, and the weight of the tool I'm using. This really becomes important when using the shorter impact weapons such as an extendable baton, a sap, or a short improvised impact weapon. With longer impact weapons that require two hands we can loosen this rule a bit however, it's never a good idea to develop bad habits.


In the next post we'll get into some specific concepts and principles as well as some training ideas we can use to develop our impact weapon skills.


What is First?

First Things First by Stephen Covey is a great book on time management. It takes us deeper into Covey’s system for managing our most valuable asset; time. During a seminar on time management one of the presenters said something that pertains to working towards our goals and objectives that stuck with me. He said; the first thing you do upon waking is the first thing. If the first thing I do upon waking isn’t taking me towards my goals, then I need to think about my goals, and what’s really important to me.


If one of my goals is to improve my Jiujitsu escapes from bottom then the first thing I should be doing upon waking is something that takes me closer to this goal. Get out of bed, and get the coffee brewing. While I’m waiting for my coffee I can do hip escapes/shrimps,  bridges/upas, sit-outs or any number of solo drills that prime my mind and body to think all day about my goal of improving my Jiujitsu.


This also applies to any other goal in the multidisciplinary practice. If we want to improve our pistol skills then the first thing I should do is dry practice. If I want to level up my standup game then I should be shadowboxing as soon as I’m awake enough to move around. The mental act of starting to work on reaching my goal as soon as I’m awake is important. It sets the tone and pace for the day. Coach Cecil Burch of Immediate Action Combatives has spoken and written quite often about using every available minute for our daily practice as we are all on a time crunch. Those moments while waiting for our coffee to brew, or the shower water to regulate is a few more minutes or reps.  It’s a simple way to get into the mental state of using every available moment when we start our day working on our goal.


As I recall the presentation on time management, and reaching goals I think about how many times I have started my day looking at what others are doing. I surf social media to see what my friends, and family are doing, check emails, or my RSS feed. While these things are all interesting, there is a good chance none of these things are helping me reach my goals. I have effectively told myself what others are doing is more important than my goals, and what I want to do. It might sound self serving yet, I think it’s okay to focus on ourselves and our goals for the first few moments of the day.


Think about your goals. Think about how you start your day. If those two things aren’t congruent maybe it’s time to put yourself and your goals first, at least for the first part of your day. Try it for a few weeks, and see if it doesn’t move you closer to reaching your goals.


Plan? Forget the Plan

As multidisciplinary trainees we are trying to cover a lot of ground as efficiently as possible. We want to be as proficient as possible in everything from verbal skills to driving to expedient medical skills, and everything in between. To accomplish this we have to plan our work and then work our plan. Organizing everything into bite sized chunks, setting, and reaching goals is an absolute necessity. If we don’t approach this endeavor in such a manner, we can quickly spin in circles or spend most of our time on things we enjoy rather than things we need to develop. A plan keeps us on task.


However, there are times where it is beneficial to scrap the plan. Have you ever had a moment during a practice session where things really started clicking? A moment when you had a breakthrough? Has that moment happened at the last few minutes of a scheduled training session? If we stick with the plan we have to end the practice session right when we are hitting that Flow state and that seems counter productive. Unless we are on a time crunch, I would recommend forgetting the plan and flow with the go. Even with a time limit on the session unless there is something pressing I would stay with the flow. The purpose of our training plan was to bring us to this point where we begin to do things we previously couldn’t do… why would we want to stop? 


One of the moments that helped me realize it’s okay to stray from the plan happened during a squat session. My planned session was 10 sets of 2 reps using 75% of my 1 rep max. After the third set my training partners noted that my squat speed was really fast, and the weight appeared light. I agreed, and we decided to add weight to the bar. Before the session was over I was working multiple sets of 2 with heavier weight than my previously projected 1 rep max. I experienced a breakthrough in technique, and strength. For whatever reason everything was working together, and all systems were go. I said to my training partners, and coach that we were deviating from the plan. I was concerned this might derail my training plan. My coach told me that the purpose of the plan was to get me to this point so now is not the time to stop, let’s keep going, and ride this wave for all it’s worth. We can always re-write the plan based on this breakthrough. That’s when something my coaches have always said finally sunk in; the plan is just a template. Keep it fluid, learn to adjust on the fly, and when those breakthrough moments happen ride that wave. We’ve all experienced this in different ways during our training evolution like that dry fire session when everything was going smooth, we forgot how many reps we had done or how many were left to do. We lost track of time, and just worked. When those moments happen it’s time to forget the plan. We can re-write it later. For now, it’s time to flow with the go. 

What Would You Do?

*Disclaimer – My attorney really appreciates when I stay out of these discussions. However, a few friends have sent this one to me and asked my opinion. I won’t get into any kind of discussion that will cause Tim or Suyash to call me. I promise.*

Usually when friends ask my thoughts on a use of force or response to resistance incident that makes the news they will ask, “what would you have done?” It’s difficult to answer these questions because I’m not there, and having done this for some time I’ve watched a lot of people jump to conclusions on either side only to find there is more to the story. For those reasons, and more I tend to avoid these discussions.

However, I will discuss training issues I see, (admittedly from the luxury of my Monday morning quarterback position), and how I think this could be handled better in a world of good, better, and best options. Also understanding that my perspective is skewed because I’m pretty good at Brazilian JiuJitsu, Wrestling, and Judo so I’m confident in my ability to out grapple most people I encounter, and the ones I can’t out grapple I can still hang with for a little while before they catch me. I realize that might sound arrogant but it’s just a fact that also colors my perspective when it comes to these things.

Okay, lets dive in…


1) I wouldn’t use a baton/impact weapon at that point. The suspect is on the ground, still resisting, (I think), but not throwing punches. Now is the time to switch gears and establish control. More pain in the form of strikes won’t, and isn’t gaining compliance. We have to guard against fixating on the tool driven action we’re performing. When it’s time to transition we have to be ready to transition quickly to a more effective tactic. The strategical objective is to get the suspect into cuffs, not ineffectively swing a baton.


Coach Chris Haueter covering the fine points of the knee ride with me circa 2002. Although I’ve been perfecting this position for quite some time even a rudimentary understanding of this position would help officers control the vast majority of the folks they encounter in a use of force incident.

2) He was set to knee ride, which is a dominant position. Use it. We use it all the time in JiuJitsu for a really good reason. It allows me to maintain control and have mobility in case a bystander gets involved. They weren’t getting involved beyond verbally so on to the next step. BTW, I’ve used the knee ride on actively resisting people to pin them, and wait them out. If I can knee ride athletes that train everyday to get out from under that pin, I can knee ride someone that never trains to get out. Criminal offenders for the most part are not athletes and in this video there seems to be a size/weight disparity that favors the officer so use it. Knee ride until they burn out/gas out, and they’re done fighting. Which leads me to number 3.


3) Control one of the arms using a Kimura/double wrist lock, using that hold to lock down her upper body turning her while moving the arm behind her. First cuff goes on.

Kimura aka Double Wrist Lock while in the S-Position. This is a photo from a SWAT Magazine article written by Ed Lawrence. Photo credit M Abonce

4) Turn again while maintaining control of the cuffed arm and she’ll go flat on her stomach, in the ISR Matrix series the guy’s call this the S-Position. S stands for safety. It’s safe for me, because from there I have a lot of control over the suspect, I can assess my surroundings to make sure no one else gets involved, and it’s safe for the suspect because they can’t do anything. They’re pinned. They can squirm but they’re not going anywhere. At this point in my career I’ve cuffed a metric ton of people from that position, quite a few of those people were much larger than me. 100% of the time there was no fight left in them because mentally they knew it was pointless since they couldn’t move.


5) This is why I keep beating that JiuJitsu drum. Everything I wrote above could be performed against a resisting opponent by any Blue or Purple belt in any JiuJitsu gym anywhere in the world. That’s not an exaggeration. Maybe even most seasoned White belts. Heck man, by the time I was a Blue belt I rarely used the tools on my belt because I had this supreme confidence that once I made contact with the suspect I would be able to outperform them, get them under control with minimal effort, and get them cuffed up. 99.99% of the people I ran into on the street that resisted were nowhere near as hard to deal with as most of my daily training partners. I felt no need for most of the tools I had to carry, and only did so because it was dictated by SOP.  Again, this might sound arrogant yet it’s the truth, I’ve never encountered anyone outside of the gym or competition that was a problem. To paraphrase Rickson Gracie; for someone trained in Jiujitsu a fight or use of force incident is the ocean, the JiuJitsu trained is like a shark and most people can’t even swim. 


6) What training would I recommend for most Police Officers? I’m biased because I am one of the co-creators of this system, (although I am no longer involved), I think the ISR Matrix is one of the best systems out there. We filmed the first series in the late 1990’s where we preached the message of pressure testing, incorporating Brazilian JiuJitsu and MMA into Police Officer’s training. I also highly recommend Cliff Byerly of Hill Country Combatives. Cliff has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and is highly dedicated to seeing the standard of training in Law Enforcement pushed to a higher level.

Just for giggles here is the original ISR Matrix trailer filmed in the late 1990’s. I make an appearance or three in this clip. Enjoy.


Thanks to Greg Ellifritz of Active Response Training for encouraging me to make this a blog post.

You Always Have One More

We’ve been talking about the mental game over the last two posts and I’d like to share a few practical methods to begin building this skill set just as we build any other skill set. Fortunately like many things we do in this endeavor there is plenty of overlap so we can work toward multiple objectives with one drill or exercise.

One of my strength training mentors loved to say, “if you have one more rep then you have five more reps.” As much as I hated to hear him say that during yolk walks or car deadlifts I also hated to admit he is right. Every single time I reach what I perceive to be the end of my efforts I find I can dig a deeper, and find more gas in the tank.  It’s painful to admit to myself that there have been times in my past training history when I had stopped long before I should have simply because fatigue beat me mentally. I was mentally weak and as a result I lost a valuable opportunity to toughen myself. Building physical toughness is good but building mental toughness is great. Everything we do on the mat, in the ring, or under the bar is about building that indomitable will, that mental toughness, and resilience that will carry over to everything else we do.

Here is a simple, immediately applicable mental toughness exercise we can do. At your next strength or conditioning session, whatever it is your doing do it beyond the point where you think you are done. If you’re doing sprints on the Airdyne forget the time/interval you’re scheduled to do. Instead go as hard as you can for as long as you can… then go 5 seconds longer… then 5 seconds longer until your legs and arms refuse to move. Only when you can’t move do you stop. Rest then do it again, and again. I predict that at a certain point you will forget how many reps you have done or how long you have been on the bike, and it will be purely about how far or deep into that zone you can go. You start to realize the physical fatigue isn’t the issue, it’s the mental game. This is where you start to build that mental game that refuses to quit, refuses to stay down, that is indomitable. Once you start to train like this you won’t be able to go back to any other way. This is where we start to learn what this endeavor is really about.

Another mental exercise is to simply roll one more time. Say you’re at open mat, and your mind says that’s enough. Your body is tired, maybe you’re a little banged up. Now is the time to build that mental game. Refuse to come off the mat. Roll one more round. Then one more, and then another. Winning or losing doesn’t matter in the gym, and it really doesn’t matter when the objective is building mental game. Mental toughness is built in those moments when we are burnt out physically, one side of our mind saying let’s go home, hydrate, stretch, do some rehab work, and then we’ll come back another day. Ignore that voice, and roll more. Start in bad position, and work from there so it’s even harder. Punish that inner voice that wanted to call it a day. Dominate it, take advantage of this moment, and build that mental game. Essentially any physical exercise or movement that allows you to work past your perceived point of failure is an excellent opportunity to develop mental game.

This is hard work however, anyone involved in this endeavor already knows that. I’ve yet to meet anyone pursuing this multidisciplinary art that is lazy. What I want to get across to you is the transformative power of this endeavor once we understand the physical exercise is only a vehicle. Yes we want to build life saving skills however, as we’ve talked about before we might go the rest of our life without ever having to fight anything or anyone. The mental toughness we build once we know that’s what it’s really about is the key to the kingdom so to speak. This mental toughness opens all the doors we want to go through in life. The refusal to give up, to listen to fatigue, inner doubt, even voices of those that care about us that don’t understand the journey we’re on, the ability to persevere despite the odds. That’s the mental game we take with us when we leave the mat, and go to our place of business. A project that needs to be done, goals that need to be met, or business competitors that want to go head to head have no idea what they’re getting into. We’ve learned to dominate, and control ourselves, taking on something outside of us is so much easier. We know we can always dig deeper, we can always push a little harder, we know we can do anything we choose to do and that’s a fantastic feeling.

Keep On Keeping On

One of the purposes of martial arts is to be a better, more productive human being. There are a lot of lessons we learn as we pursue this lifestyle, and some of the most important lessons we learn are mental toughness, agility, adaptability, and perseverance. While it’s important to develop those traits physically, it’s imperative that we develop those traits mentally. These are the mental traits we’ll take with us into the other areas of our life, and help us to be successful in those areas. The mental aspects of this pursuit should make us better fathers/mothers, brothers/sisters, friends, business owners, employees, and members our local communities. The mental toughness we develop in our martial arts practice prepares us to keep on keeping on when those around us give up, and give in.

Before we get to far into this let’s acknowledge that there has been some debate in various circles on the topic of mental toughness. The debate is usually between the camp that thinks mental toughness aka heart is something you’re born with and the camp that thinks it’s something that can be developed. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. I think mental toughness, agility, adaptability, and perseverance are present in all of us to some degree, and can be developed. For some the starting point might be a little more ideal so they need a little less work while for others this might be something they really need to put some concerted effort into developing. Either way there’s nothing to it but to do it. We can spend time debating the subject or we can get busy building our mental game.

In the next post we’ll talk about some simple, easy to implement exercises we can use on a daily basis in addition to our time on the mat or in the ring to develop our mental toughness.