Recommended VI: Functional Fitness, Nutritional Problems, Crime Decline and Fighting Monkeys

I encourage everyone to write. When I think of the exceptional individuals I have trained with, trained under or talked to, I get frustrated with how few of them have been able to properly convey their knowledge and experience to willing learners. A good interview can do a reasonable job in getting this over, but it’s a poor substitute for well-written pieces coming direct from the instructor. With the advent of Web 2.0 writing need not be the only or even the most effective medium to convey useful information, but again this means the teacher needs to have other skills, such as being reasonably adept with internet technology. Fortunately everything is becoming more accessible, so the future is bright. However, the future web-savvy/writer instructors have a very tough act to follow if we are to look at the following trailblazers on the scene. These guys provide a prolific ad regular output of good quality material – not just their own, but also carefully selected other quality pieces.


Iain Abernethy

Iain is a good friend of mine. Considering he is a militant traditionalist and I am an aggressive progressive, it might seem strange that we get on so well. Actually, from a political stance I am probably a lot more conservative than him, but that’s another story! Iain not only shares my love of punk rock, we also have incredibly similar ideas about martial arts and self defence. I was a fan of his stuff for several years before I met him. Although I had left the traditional circles by then, he was the single individual that convinced me many on “my side” were dead wrong about the pragmatic side of traditional training. Iain backs all his work up hard evidence and it is difficult to see why the majority still cling to their own ideas about what traditional karate was all about.

His website is a very generous resource indeed. Not only does it contain a tremendous number of articles written by Iain and many top guest writers from all over the world, but it has loads of great free services. Iain publishes “Jissen!” a free quarterly PDF magazine on pragmatic martial arts. Not bound by advertising or any sort of partisan agenda, the magazine only contains quality material Iain chooses to best promote. He even publishes pieces that present good counter-arguments to his own. Martial artists take note! He also has a regular and very popular podcast, regularly puts up informative links on Facebook and Twitter, regular video footage of his class training and has a lively forum featuring many top names in the pragmatic and traditional martial arts community.

With an eye on relevant news pieces, here Iain comments on the UK government’s decision to better clarify the law regarding self defence.


Mark Dawes

When it comes to the law, Mark Dawes, who I recently attained an instructorship under when I took the newly created BTEC Level 3 in advanced self defence instruction, has made this area his niche. He is one of the country’s only expert witnesses on the use of reasonable force and has trained students in the security sector for 25 years. His National Federation for Personal Safety website has an regularly updated news feed on relevant items.


Hock Hocheim

Hock Hocheim is an extremely experienced combatives instructor based in the USA. Those in the know, know of Mr Hocheim and I highly recommend you attend the open seminar he is apart of this November in the UK. If I am not in Saudi Arabia teaching I will be at the seminar learning and sweating beside you. Those in the US, you are very lucky people! Like Loren W. Christensen, Hocheim’s strength comes from having a strong background in the military, law enforcement and martial arts. I regularly recommend his site, which is choc full of free information and perfect place for resources.  Here is one of his most famously controversial pieces.


Ron Goin


Ron Goin is something of a best kept secret in the world of truly progressive martial arts and combatives training. I have mentioned it on here before, but the man has an extensive background in the military and formal martial arts training. He is the first person to admit to making various mistakes in his life and then turning them into grist in his mill of experience. He was a cross trainer before it was cool to be a cross trainer, a grappler before it was cool to be a grappler, a knife and stick man before it was cool to be a knife and stick man and, best of all, a critical thinker before our community have yet to realize the potential of this powerful learning tool. Ron’s blog contains discussions on the latest psychological and physiological studies, very much in line with the work of Hock Hocheim who gave Ron his senior instructor grade. However, Ron is very much his own man and has an eclectic mix of subjects that I find incredibly appealing. Just check out the imagination for analogy along with his scientific motivations with this excellent series of articles:

The Martial Arts Genome Project


However, Ron’s most recent piece is perhaps the most controversial to date. It challenges a popular chapter/essay found in “On Combat” by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman and Loren W. Christensen. What I like about Ron is that he doesn’t allow personalities or personal likes or prejudices get in the way of his reasoning and investigation. This is at the heart of critical thinking. Martial arts too often resemble religions and are full of their own sacred cows. This is not unique to the traditional sector either, but rife among combatives and combat sport communities. I like “On Combat” and just about all the works I have read or heard by the two aforementioned authors. I even cite the “On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs” piece and see it has some value, but I also take on Ron’s points and appreciate his concerns of the overall philosophy being presented. 


Health Drinks Bad, Hot Chocolate Good?


I duly apologize in the promotion of a tabloid newspaper on this site as a worthy resource, much less this otherwise biased, often badly informed, shamelessly political and occasionally radical rag. Nevertheless, this article highlights part of the problem I am seeing within the sports nutrition and supplement industry. Health drinks, much like tracksuits worn for comfort by morbidly obese individuals and trainers made for anything but training, are now consumed in the same way as any other sugary drink. Think Red Bull and Vodka! The mystique of nutrition is a subject I wish to cover in a full-on article, as it is something that has permeated the whole physical activity lifestyle and misunderstandings have led to a lot of problems. Essentially what people tend to forget about drinks originally formulated for athletes is that they are there to aid active people. More active people require more energy. More energy comes from consuming for calories. If you don’t use those calories they end up becoming fat. Furthermore, there is a good reason why decaffeinated beverages were brought out. If you are an active person then a moderate intake of this stimulant has obvious benefits. However, as Dave Grossman pointed in “On Combat”, heavy users can not only experience heart-related problems, but also fast tolerance build-up.  A good blog post written by "A Police Wife" highlights the problems illustrated by Grossman. Sleep deprivation is not to be taken likely if you are a physically active person and especially if you are involved in the security sector. Studies have shown that driving whilst tired can be worse than driving whilst intoxicated and recent studies have demonstrated that parts of the human brain can actually shut off and sleep whilst experiencing sleep deprivation. Grossman talks a lot about making up your sleep debt, something he actively encourages to law enforcement and military personnel at his Killogy institute.


The discovery of the damaging effects of the cult of health drinks has coincided with more evidence to support the benefits of consuming chocolate. Actually the good side of the often calorie heavy, fat heavy and tooth decay causing confectionary is not really new news at all. Put in "Is chocolate good for you?" and you see loads of articles helping to ease our self-justification for desiring the snack so often associated with mortal sin. From the presence of antioxidants and the raising of "feel good" chemicals in the brain, there are plenty of articles telling you about the benefits of the moderate consumation of chocolate (read moderate!). When reading most of the articles, one ponders how many foods when broken down wouldn't contain at least something that is good for us! Nevertheless, a small in the MMA fitness magazine "Train Hard, Fight Easy" alerted me to the new research into chocolate milk as a good post workout drink. I found further online resources that backed up this research. The whole thing makes me reconsider my joke about my post-workout shake these days being a Newsquick!


Do you still have time for abstract exercises?


Those of you have attended my Vagabond Warriors workshops and certainly if you have read my article “The Hierarchy of Training” you will know my bias towards relevant training. For too long martial artists of all flavours – sports, traditionalists and self defence exponents – often waste their time with abstract exercises when they could be managing themselves better with more relevant training. For example, if you are a grappler, an MMA exponent or any type of fighter that trains all ranges of combat shouldn’t you be warming up with something resembles this rather running around the gym doing jump jacks! Ginastica Natural was the brainchild of Alvaro Romano, a student of the late and revolutionary Rolls Gracie. Just about every Brazilian jiu jitsu class you can attend has parts of Romano's Ginastica Natural in its warm-up programme. It is entirely combat specific for the grappling arts and blends together ground work positions and movement with traditional wrestling exercises into seamless routines. Combine it with shadow kickboxing and wrestling positions for a comprehensive and specific routine – no jump jacks required! As Andy Norman, the co-founder of the Keysi Fighting Method, once said to me: "You shuold be able to shadow everything!" If you think about it this was at the heart of katas, forms and patterns – solo specific movements you can train alone in order to better recall certain tactics and techniques, and build up what now call "muscle memory".  


MMA training is the place many of us need to look today in order develop “work” muscles as opposed to “gym” muscles. Objective defines everything, so I am not saying that a pure combatives orientated professional need do hundreds of cross-collar choke sit-ups, but I cannot think of any field in the fighting arts that works so hard on the cutting edge of physical development. Caveman training, a development of activities made popular in strongman competitions, has become a big part of both MMA and RBSD training. Intensity training like the Tabata method and UFC champion Sean “The Muscle Shark” Sherk’s workouts  have gripped the imagination of the fighting world, as the relevance of extensive roadwork and bodybuilding orientated weights work is challenged. In some ways it harks back to the days when boxers and wrestlers took on manual labour jobs to develop functional fitness. Many wrestlers of the ‘50s actually shunned lifting weights in favour of lifting people!


Functional or Fad?


However, are a lot of the popular exercises really that beneficial? I was shocked at the overly protective responses I saw fly up on the internet when this article was written about kettlebells. The article’s title is intentionally provocative – no problem there, it gets people’s attention. However, the author, in his replies to the many comments posted states that he teaches kettlebell routines in addition to dumbbell and barbell exercises.  

Agree with it or not, the article raises some interesting points. I read it when looking at some reviews on this Russian kettlebell manual. Amid the largely positive and often fawning reviews, I spotted one that simply said "Bought this book, broke my arm". This reviewer really had an ongoing row with other kettlebell users and he provided a link to the said article. Interestingly the author of the article was careful to point out that, despite arguing the potential dangers of kettlebell use such as motions that can potentially break your arm, all training regimes run the risk of incurring serious injuries.

The crux of the argument put over in the article is that kettlebells require more technique to use and are far harder to lift than their equivalent weights in dumbbells or barbells. To many of us this seems to translate to the reason why free weights are, on the whole, a more functional than using machines. Most weights machines strengthen us along fixed grooves. This does not seem to lend well to the nature of fighting, where muscles are used in all different directions and the physical movements are unpredictable. The author in this article makes a similar argument regarding the weakness of kettlebells and their apparent fixed grooves. He also states that this obsession with mastering technique can result in the user only really getting good at using kettlebells and its functionality not transferring over into combat training.

However, a contrary argument is made by critical thinking coach Jamie Hale.  Here Coach Hale argues that the fact one has to fight to stabilize a grip when lifting a kettlebell provides a better workout. Interestingly an article in issue 18 of “Fighting Fit” magazine by Ollie Richardson argued that traditional weight training exercises are generally better for fighters than strongman exercises. Again, it comes down to this point about the sheer awkwardness of the exercises, not to mention the fact that a lot of strongmen use traditional weight training methods in order to help them with the strongmen events rather just rehearse the actual feats. However, the same article did argue that one thing strongman exercises have over their traditional counterparts is the way they work core muscle strength.


The cult of self-help


Martial artists seem to often go into philosophy of some kind. I guess it is the mental toughness they strive for when they are pushing themselves to their physical limits or regularly facing fears most humans hope never to endure. The self-help industry is not really what an academic would call a proper philosophy, but nevertheless it clearly sells better than Plato, Confucius and Nietzsche combined. I have mixed feelings about it all. Good friends of mine in the martial arts community have written some great inspirational books and largely speak commonsense under a heading that many would call “self-help” and I admit to thoroughly enjoying a couple of the works of Stephen Covey. However, as time as go on I have become more sceptical of the heavyweights in this culture that seem to selling nothing more than an addictive service that does little to actually make difference in anyone’s life.  For more on this I recommend you read Steve Salerno’s excellent if rather lopsided expose on the self-help industry, SHAM: How the Self-Help Industry Made America Helpless. Here’s my review. This article was also brought to my attention regarding the dangers of the self-help industry. The bubble seems to be bursting, but I don't see any obvious signs of Dr Phil or Tony Robbins having cause for concern. After all quack medicine and superstition persist to this day in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary of any benefits. On the subject of quackery…

The Secret History of Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine, particularly those of exotic Asian origins, have often saddled up beside Asian martial arts in popularity in the west. Many arts have a direct relationship with traditional Chinese medicine, their combative applications, for example, having a direct medicinal counterpart. Think yin and yang. Since the 1960s the western world have become very interested in traditional Chinese medicine. The irony is that Chinese doctors are becoming less interested in their traditional heritage and far more concerned with learning western medicine. In fact, as far back as 1949 China had perhaps the best hospital practicing western medicine. The trouble is it existed in the industrial part of China, which accounted for only 2% of the country's population. This fascinating insight, written by Skeptoid's Brian Dunning, reveals what happened in Mao's China and how the desire to improve medical education in science-based medicine resulted in an unforeseen by-product in the west – the mass prolification of pre-scientific and pseudoscientific "trendy" complimentary and alternative medicine.  

Crime decline?  

The serial killer although a regular and recognized felon in our society is, of course, one of the rarest murderers we are ever likely to encounter. The good news is that they are on the decline and have been since the 1990s. If anyone tells you that research into these anomalies is a waste of time and that cops in the old days were better, this article alone stands as an example of the fantastic progress. I find this rather morbid subject very interesting, as many do, and also educational. The serial killer is the most extreme example of the recreational criminal, a type of offender that rose in the 20th century.

Unfortunately although terrorism is a minor threat compared to what we feared during the Cold War, it would appear that maths shows us our enemies will only get worse in the future, at least in hostel territories. It’s an odd situation really. We live in perhaps the safest times on record and I refer you to Dan Gardner’s excellent “Risk” (US title “The Science of Fear”) for references and evidence to support this assertion. Please see my review on this superb addition to any self protection teacher's library, recommended by Hock Hocheim from his excellent book club. Hopefully it will help dispell a lot of fears believed by most and also combat the siege mentality a lot of combative instructors feel is healthy. However, this article in “Scientific American” provides us with some sobre bad news.It argues that the maths shows us that insurgents and terrorists follow a predictive learning curve and their attacks escalate in severity.


Is what happens when world’s collide?


And finally, years on and this online debate continues. My friend, the fantastic pragmatic wing chun teacher Alan Gibson called me into help bring my experience to a question regarding how a human being might defend themselves against a chimpanzee. This was after chimp attacks on humans had been spread by sensationalist press and equally melodramatic TV documentaries. Growing up on a travelling circus, having a great-uncle that founded the first safari park and parents who own a private zoo for the film industry, Al saw me as also being a self defence instructor being the perfect person to comment. I will let you draw your own conclusions as to how well my points went over. 

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