11 Years In…Brown Belt

I was honored to receive my Brown Belt in Gracie Jiu Jitsu on January 14, 2018 from my long time friend and jiu jitsu instructor, Ricardo Bayona.  One more step forward in this never ending journey.20180115_165648329_iOS

The Reality….

There is a lot of buzz in martial arts circles recently concerning a video from China showing a challenge match between an amateur MMA fighter and a Tai Chi master.  Take a look below:


It is clear in the video that the young MMA fighter dominated the Tai Chi master.  What isn’t clear is really what was going on in the cognitive of the Tai Chi master as he was receiving the beating that he did.  Was he thinking that his skill would eventually ‘kick-in’ and save his hide?  Now I can’t actually tell you how the Tai Chi practitioner trains; however, based upon this evidence it would appear that he was not prepared for the realities of the engagement.

So what went wrong?  The ‘master’ clearly had no idea of how to manage and control the distance with the MMA fighter.  His response appears to be one of backing up while flailing the arms.  He gave a typical response once on the ground from the initial onslaught of punches.  That is, he appears to instinctively try to protect himself by avoiding being flat on his back and ultimately goes belly down to protect his face from further damage.  I say instinctively because it would appear that he was loosing consciousness towards the end of the engagement.  The aftermath of this shows a wounded ‘master’ wiping the blood from his face.

Now we also can’t really know how confident the Tai Chi master was in his abilities.  However, would he have not taken the fight if he truly thought his practice was useless?  If there was just one thing that I have learned in all of these years of study and in my military service it is this:  you have to train as you fight.  And by that I mean that you have to train with aliveness.  Matt Thornton highlights three things that make up his concept of aliveness.  Those are: timing, energy, and motion.  By energy, he means resistance.  If you don’t have those elements as a part of your usual practice then you may be engaged in a fantasy martial art or self defense system.

I am sure that there is some value to Tai Chi and other related internal and Chinese systems.   I am also certain that there are some that may practice some level of aliveness.  However, it is clear that the Tai Chi man in the above video was woefully unprepared for the confrontation, and he paid the price.

If your intent in practice is health…great.  If it is to preserve and ancient system…great.  However, if you plan to be able to save your ass…train functionally and with aliveness.

More on aliveness from Matt:

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.

“The primary objective of Jiu-Jitsu is to empower the weak who, for not having the physical attributes, are often intimidated. My Jiu-Jitsu is an art of self-defense in which rules and time limits are unacceptable.” – Grandmaster Helio Gracie

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.