We focused on the stand-up range. This began with two sets of five minute rounds, which I used to derive information to influence the training for the rest of the lesson.
Front kick/round kick combination
Clinch and knee
We monitored carrying a high guard when throwing punches. Western boxing’s typical guard used to rest at the jawline. Nowadays I have seen many gyms prefer to hold it at temple height, which is very similar to muay Thai. In muay Thai the reasoning for this is that it is to protect against the close range slicing elbow strikes. However, as Mo Teague, once explained to me, when you get tired your guard will naturally drop. Therefore, if you are trained to carry a guard at jawline it will drop to your shoulders and leave your head unprotected whereas if you hold it at temple height it will drop to your jawline. I also discussed the importance of using defence offensively. This includes cutting an attacker off and closing as you evade strikes.
On the kicking side of things I came back to the importance of allowing one technique to start as the previous one withdraws. I also emphasized the importance of the withdraw side of striking. As previously mentioned on here, not only does the withdrawal increase impact via elastic force but it is also of tactical importance. When kicking it is crucial to keep light-footed, as balance is always a major issue. Therefore we looked at delivering rapid kicks to a target with the emphasis on touching the ground lightly with the toes in-between strikes. We looked at certain exercises that can increase performance in this area. Twisting from a jumping burpee helps activate all relevant muscle groups delivering round strikes – loading up the legs and oblique muscles in an explosive action.
We next moved onto clinching. I focused on getting better penetration with the knee strike. It commonly thought of as being a sharp jabbing striking, delivered as if marching. However, when executed with full force the knee has the potential to be the most powerful strike of all. It also has a good accessible range of targets, including the head, especially when it is brought down whilst clinching. We examined the plumb position using it to better manoeuvre the body by manipulation of the head. We covered footwork and the beginning of a basic takedown. This was then combined with the knee strikes. I recommended commando and neutral-grip pull-ups and zercher squats to help strengthen the plumb position. The pull-ups help with the pulling down motion. The zercher squats help strengthen the grip of the position.
A major point of discussion at the end of this session (that the student said he regretted ever asking!) was why I emphasize teaching training exercises so much more over actual technique. I am proud to say that I am not a technique-led person. My mind is focused on cultivating an individual’s abilities so that they produce their own style, so that their techniques are an honest expression of their ability. The usual method to teach martial arts – and I have done this myself for many years – is to focus on text book techniques. I grant you that you need to have an understanding of technique. However, my interest lies way below the surface. I want to have principles in place. I would rather create activities that bring out natural techniques and then cultivate these techniques through exercises based on improving physical fighting behaviour. I find this to be a highly effective way to train people. I like to look at a person’s ability and put them into exactly what they wish to achieve as early as possible and then work my way backwards. Having said this, I noticed with this particular student that my demonstrating something greatly improved his performance. This is food for thought. My aspiration might be to create a series of activities that coach rather than instruct a student along their own path, but there is still a lot to be said for actually showing and copying.
I take my exercise and activity orientated approach back to my circus roots. Recently I have been exploring certain other skillsets as a form of attribute training via training with a circus friend. I am a keen cross-trainer in all senses and I take information – both practical and theoretical – not just from different martial arts but also other activities. Having spoken to several other people in the circus community all agree that they rather see what a person or an animal does first before they begin teaching. Furthermore, most of the skills acquired come from a process of repetitive activities or exercises. For example, aerial work (trapeze, cradle, Roman rings and similar circus acts) can often be broken down into a series of exercises designed to get the muscles working in the correct way. This is comparable to “work” muscles that people acquire through manual labour and, in particular, skilled manual labour. Your body works out the balance and its stabilizing muscles thicken or elongate to suit the required activity. You are also increasing the milin in the brain to strengthen the neural pathways that help create behaviours. As Mo Teague would regularly tell me “practice does not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect”, so it is important to make sure exercises have self-correcting mechanisms in place and you are constantly testing yourself.