Matt Thornton and Rickson Gracie

SBG’s Matt Thornton conducted an interview with Rickson Gracie and it was released overnight.  Great interview. Rickson provides his thoughts on training in isolation or ‘positional sparring’ and connection among other topics.  Well worth th 30+ minutes.

Systema Training Methods

My first experience with the Russian Martial Art of Systema, or “The System” came in 2006 with senior Systema instructor Martin Wheeler in LA.  At the time he was teaching in a park in Santa Monica, CA with a small group of students.  Martin has an extensive martial arts resume in addition to work in the entertainment industry that includes screenwriting and fight choreography.  Most notable of his work would surely include fight choreography on The Double with Richard Gere.  He now operates an exclusive training facility tucked away in Beverly Hills with BJJ Coral Belt, Rigan Machado.  Although my training with his group was only a few sessions over a few months from 2006-2007, I took away a deeper curiosity about its training methods.  Specifically, its focus on breathing and its integration with relaxed movement along with spontaneity and creativity in response to partner movement has captured most of my interest in this art.

My curiosity led me to continue to seek training in Systema albeit on and off over the last few years.  Most of my additional training was with DC Systema while assigned to the Pentagon from 2010 to 2012.  One doesn’t realize just how hard it is to remain relaxed, breathing, and moving at the same.  This becomes increasingly more frustrating when you add in some additional complexity of a training partner who is trying to purposely disrupt this harmony.  Add a weapon and additional partners and things get really interesting.

I recently visited The Academy Beverly Hills and trained with Martin again for the first time in a number of years.  Since my first introduction in 2006, I’ve tried to be mindful of its training methodologies as I focused my training primarily in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Over time, I’ve found that it has increased my capacity of breath and given me the ability to see opportunities of adaptation in technique.  In the last couple of years I’ve moved away from drilling as my primary method of jiu jitsu practice to a methodology that is more focused on the sparring (or ‘rolling’) aspect of jiu jitsu.  I did this in the spirit of how training is approached in Systema.  I’m still convinced that this is a quicker path to proficiency once AND ONLY ONCE a solid understanding of fundamentals, principles, and basic technique is understood.  In my opinion, you must have a foundation before you can gain freedom in your movement.  I will continue to integrate more Systema work into my practice going forward.  There are some health benefits in its focus on breath, movement, and structure.  It just so happens that it has also been helpful for my jiu jitsu.  Consider the following videos to become more familiar with these topics.

Gracie Self Defense and “Aliveness”

The thing that first drew me to training in Gracie or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was its undoubtable effectiveness in unarmed combative situations.  All martial arts have their strengths and weaknesses, but jiu jitsu has continuously proven itself as the most effective martial art when faced with stronger, faster, and more athletic attackers.  However, there can be some downsides to any grappling based art.  How do you handle multiple attackers?  There are strategies that a jiu jitsu stylist can implement to handle these situations, but that’s not truly the topic I’d like to tackle today.

The Helio Gracie self defense methods include striking and weapons defense.  In many jiu jitsu schools across the world, these techniques are becoming less and less the focus of training.  There are a few instructors, however, that make it their mission to keep Helio Gracie’s system alive.

The system is composed of situational responses to scenarios involving unarmed attacks (punches, grabs, etc.) and weapon attacks (to include stick/baton, knife, and gun).  Here’s a couple of examples:

There is a stark difference between these defense techniques and the usual free-sparring training method (rolling) used to increase reflexes and auto-responses (Boyd’s concept of implicit guidance and control) to your opponent’s full resistance.  In fact, the self defense techniques have a feel of WWII-era combatives to them that is undeniable.  The problem from my perspective is that they do not add an element of “aliveness” to them which makes the more sportive aspects of jiu jitsu so effective.  For more on aliveness read through Matt Thornton’s Straight Blast Gym’s philosophy.  This aliveness is critical to the development of real skills to be utilized and called upon when needed in the most dire of circumstances.  This should be kept in mind when further evolving and developing training methodologies that build upon the spirit of Helio Gracie’s self defense method.

There is an example of this aliveness that was shared by the Gracie Academy a while back.  It was something that I had not seen before, and showed an example of how the concept of Gracie Jiu Jitsu self defense should evolve to create this aliveness when training weapons defenses.  In the video Rener Gracie removes a training knife hidden inside his gi and begins attacking his rolling partner with it mid-roll.  It was an interesting exchange and created an increased level of realism in how an attack might occur during an assault.

An interesting video that shows the dynamic nature of knife attacks:

As you can see an attack can occur in the blink of an eye.  An change to the training methodology is warranted in order to increase the preparedness for such an encounter.  Aliveness is the answer.  Consider Matt Thornton’s explanation of this core concept of his from the link above.  It could be what is missing in your self defense training, armed or unarmed.