No Absolutes!

On one of the first courses we had with Steve Morris, he opened proceedings with a dialogue, part of which stated that there were no absolutes. The thrust of the argument was that as Martial Artists we should be striving to evolve and progress, continuously checking and re-evaluating our understanding and performance of our physical and psychological abilities.

I found this approach refreshing and unusual. Being used to ‘traditional karate’ where often students are corrected on form to the nth degree, there are absolutes galore. For example, the insistence on movement in stance holds rigid rules about form which absolutely have to be obeyed. Or something as daft as the Crane stance in the final fight scene in Karate Kid. This, ‘no absolutes’ thing reminded me of something puzzling during my time at university.

 No Absolutes!

Zenkutsu dachi, a karate absolute

As part of my undergrad research methods course, we were told that any theory has to be disprovable. You think about a problem, come up with potential solutions, test these and form a theory to explain it. Great! But then you have to go and disprove it.

The whole premise seemed very strange to me. Isn’t it pretty counterproductive to create a theory which has to be disprovable? Surely we are searching for the truth? By disprovable the lecturer explained that the theory must be testable, experimentally! Ah that’s a little more understandable. The theory must be testable, unlike Freud’s ideas which are difficult to test to say the least.

The lecturer then went into detail concerning the design of experiments (tests) for hypotheses (questions) and statistical procedures based on these designs. Great, it all started to fit into place, other than the rather odd ‘disprovable’ thing. But over time it became clear, science is a beautiful evolving beast, it morphs over time as theories come and go due to the development of better, empirically tested explanations. That is, as scientific study proves a theoretical explanation of some phenomenon a previous sub-optimal theory is replaced.

Scientific literature rarely, if ever, talks in absolutes. Statements tend to suggest, propose, imply or evoke; claims of unequivocal evidence are few and far between. This is partly due to methods of testing experimental evidence with statistics. Some people say that stats can be twisted to say what you want them to say. But stats do not deal with absolutes either.

Statistical procedures are developed by mathematicians and rely on probability of the reliability of an effect rather than a chance finding. That is an effect, such as kick a delivers greater force than kick b, has a probability ‘score’ of between 0 and 1. For the effect to be acceptable, statistically significant in scientific terms, this score must be less than .05, i.e. it must have less than a 5% probability it appeared due to chance. In broad terms what this is what scientists base their findings on.

In anyone’s book this approach does not deal in absolutes, as 5% equates to 1 in 20, so it follows that science does not deal in absolutes. Thus if as Martial Artists we evolve by continual re-evaluation and testing we are taking a scientific approach to our training. Not all Martial Artists, or scientists for that matter, actually take this approach. After all it would be difficult to accept that your life’s work is flawed, perhaps seriously, whether as a scientist or martial artist. Therefore, a progressive approach to martial arts training is scientific.

It occurred to me how motivating it must be to be continually progressive, continually re-evaluating and striving to evolve? Taking the ‘rule book’ dissecting it, tearing it up then starting over, not once, or twice but continually, both physically and psychologically. Often people talk about going beyond the comfort zone, or thinking out of the box. More often this is merely given lip service. After all the comfort zone is, well, comfortable. But if we base our reality on there being no absolutes there can be no comfort zone, there can be no box to ‘escape’ from we simply work at improving everything through testing. As long as the testing procedure is valid we’re onto something.

The simple statement “there are no absolutes” sets us free. Free to experiment and progress. Free from limits. Free from the idea that technique a is THE way to punch, technique b is THE way to get power, technique c is THE way to avoid attack d. Yeah, there are no absolutes.

Originally posted 2009-03-04 09:17:10. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Sanchin Kata – Sinking in Sanchin Dachi

The phenomenon of ‘sinking’ or dropping your weight was first shown to me by a Go ju ryu instructor in Southampton on a sanchin course I attended many years ago (thanks Mike). I’d gone down there to learn more about the kata that underpins Go Ju ryu Karate. He showed us how the structure of sanchin dachi hourglass stance allows you to drop your weight and make yourself heavier!

miyagishime Sanchin Kata   Sinking in Sanchin Dachi

To ensure that you actually drop your weight correctly the following procedure was followed. Firstly, stand upright, as if standing to attention. Your partner stands behind you squats and places their arms around your middle to lift you up. Unless the other guy is huge you should manage this fairly easily.

Then you adopt sanchin dachi, ensuring each part of the stance is adopted and the body is aligned correctly. Then your partner adopts the lifting position and lifts. At least they attempt to, because the sanchin person will be significantly heavier than before!

I was pretty blown away by this revelation at the time and still enjoy showing people this trick. If the structure of the stance is adopted as intended the sinking of weight can be used to your advantage. Much later on I met and did a very little amount of training with a karate bloke who had been doing some wrestling. He was a big bloke and insisted on showing me some bits and pieces. In the clinch he grabbed me and threw me around a bit but not as easily as he had thought. We discovered that sanchin had saved me, I had naturally dropped my weight and made it difficult for him to chuck me around.

When you drop your weight your ‘centre of gravity’ is lowered and you are more stable than otherwise. This and other facets of sanchin helps in the clinch enourmously as not only are you more stable but you become strong throughout your body making you a much more difficult proposition than if you were upright and stiff legged.

For myself, I have found that many bigger guys have had more trouble with me in this position than if I’d had no experience of sanchin. The problem for many Goju practitioners is appreciating the mobility within sanchin, but that’s another story. Suffice for this article to reiterate the sinking and stability of sanchin dachi.

Clinching 300x222 Sanchin Kata   Sinking in Sanchin DachiIn addition to the sinking it is important to tighten the body when in the stance to add to the stability benefits for two reasons. Firstly, if you fail to connect the upper and lower portions of the body the sinking at the feet will occur on its own and not be passed onto the upper body. This is beneficial in itself if you want to prevent someone lifting you up, or at least make it more difficult; limp upper part, sanchin sunk lower part. Secondly, by pulling into your centre you pull on the opponents limbs (or whatever you are grabbing) helping to control him in some way.

In the clinch, for example, it is important to keep the shoulders down and pull in with the traps to fix the arms to the opponent while dropping the weight. Further, doing a little sit up with the pelvic floor muscles pulls the body down slightly further adding to the sinking action and connecting the upper and lower portions of the body. This is one way to use sanchin dachi.

Originally posted 2011-02-07 05:00:44. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Speed 1 – pushing, pulling and the big bang!

 Speed 1 – pushing, pulling and the big bang!

A recent post over on Marks Training called illusion of speed has got me thinking. It’s all very well saying that to become quicker you need to create an illusion of speed by blocking and striking simultaneously or whatever it may be. That provides us with an example of what to do but not how to achieve it. If you train in Karate’s Ippon Kumite you may soon be blocking and striking simultaneously in response to an Oi Suki, lunge punch attack. This is great but the timing is not representative of a real fight. The point is the ‘what’ is achieved but because the methodology used to achieve it is flawed the outcome is also flawed.

To be fair to the blog cited, the author does elaborate on the ‘how’ of achieving speed development elsewhere. He describes some methods of improving speed and provides a drill called “red line” which has worked well for him. Personally, I’ve never been fast, that is until I started training with Steve Morris, who has managed to improve my speed immensely. While I’m not exactly Usain Bolt or anything, at 42 I am now quicker than I have ever been, both in technique and on my feet. It may sound ridiculous but there you have it.

The first thing that got me moving quicker was pulling punches instead of pushing them. Now this doesn’t mean stopping them before hitting the target, rather it refers to concentrating on the pulling action of the returning limb rather than the actual striking limb. Well at least that’s a way of noticing the difference. It’s such a simple thing, but if you have a tendency of pushing out your strikes to the target by simply replacing the pushing action with a pulling action, punch speed increases. If you rep out your fastest strikes for a few seconds and then change the emphasis you’ll see the difference, try it. The improvement is instant! It also better allows the throwing of the body when whipping in a punch.

It may take a little while to ingrain the pulling action but you will feel and see the difference. Another way to improve speed is to work on explosive movement. By definition explosive is fast! Morris gets you to access the startle reflex as a way of understanding what explosive/fast is. That may sound daft but I believe part of the problem I had was, not truly knowing what quick actually was. The image that stuck with me was of the deer grazing in the wood as the hunter approaches. He makes a noise which startles the deer, which jumps and runs off in one explosive action.

When demonstrating this Morris will get you to ‘jump’ as if a big bang has gone off, then you simply adapt the movement, as the deer does. Again this is simple. You can even say BANG, which helps, but it really has to be

 Speed 1 – pushing, pulling and the big bang!

rather than a mumbled half-hearted effort of a bang! The verbalisation leads and reinforces the action but thats another story.

Originally posted 2009-07-23 08:27:04. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Fighting Arts Alliance Forum

Some of you may remember the Q&A section Steve Morris had on the self-protection forum some time ago. This was a vibrant information rich section of the forum. In the end though Steve closed it because it was very time consuming, his responses were in depth and incredibly helpful. It’s fair to say he caused some debate.

On Morris’s main site he has created a new section called Fighting Arts Alliance which will launch in the next month or so. There will be a forum involved, which will be heavily monitored by Steve, there’ll be no chance of silly internet forum games such as multiple identities etc. Simply it will serve as a great resource for people interested in the Morris Method.

A few of us have joined up pre-launch to test out the features and to get some content up there. Steve has uploaded some previously unavailable video footage which looks very good. So far I have only been able to view a few videos, taken from a private lesson with a professional boxer. It’s very good, the boxer already has very good ability but Steve manages to get a lot more out of him almost instantaneously. This section of video alone is well worth watching for the succinct insightful content.

There’s a lot more on there and it promises to be a fantastic resource, look out for it!

Originally posted 2009-07-09 12:47:31. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Power Punching Tips: Throwing the Kitchen Sink

Dempsey 236x300 Power Punching Tips: Throwing the Kitchen Sink

Power Punching

We recently had a BJJ session with a very young coach who put together a great session for us. He really is a young man and is tiny, weighing only 50 kilos. His assistant told me how strong the coach was despite looking like he wasn’t. I mentioned that no-one would like to be hit with 50 kilos.

It’s an important point but is often forgotten when considering how to increase punching power. When looking at a 50 kilo, 5 foot 6 high bloke most of us would be forgiven for thinking he would not pose much of a threat but anyone that size still has the potential to cause damage.

Power Punching Tips – using your mass/weight

If you were in the way of a 50 kilo anvil travelling toward you at speed you’d be keen to move out of the way! Similarly, if stood on the top of a high building and said anvil was attached to your neck then thrown from the top of said high building you would probably follow it! While 50 kilo anvils pose little threat as they are usually restricted to cartoons, a person of equivalent weight also fails to impose a threat, unless this person was able to throw themselves at you in the manner of a cartoon or a baby falling from a window. The question is how to manage throwing the entire 50 kilo’s when power punching!

What would happen if a year-old baby fell from a fourth-floor window onto the head of a burly truck driver, standing on the sidewalk? It’s practically certain that the truckman would be knocked unconscious. He might die of brain concussion or a broken neck. Even an innocent little baby can become a dangerous missile WHEN ITS BODY-WEIGHT IS SET INTO FAST MOTION. – Jack Dempsey

Most people hold something back when power punching, even when they think they are giving it their all. This occurs for a number of reasons one being poor alignment and/or posture. Karate stances are often guilty of this as they tend to restrict the transfer of momentum into the target. This is pretty easy to correct and I have written about it elsewhere – on your marksgetting on the bus

mike tyson kos frank bruno 300x212 Power Punching Tips: Throwing the Kitchen SinkAnother way people fail to get everything into their punch is by holding back. It’s a weird thing and really is a hurdle that needs to be overcome. It’s not holding back by being lazy rather it’s more of a sub-conscious thing.

At Primal, on one occasion I remember being told that I was holding back when trying to hit a pad as hard as I could. I kept making adjustments but just couldn’t ‘get it’. It wasn’t like I was unable to produce power, my punches were hard, but the elusive extra was precisely that, elusive. It just didn’t feel like I was holding anything back although I was being told that I was. Frustrating!

Power Punching Tips – letting go!
Now, however, I know that I was AND I know that it was something that is difficult to describe because it is happening at a sub-conscious level. I think of this holding back as inhibition similar to that of stretch receptors which prevent severe overstretching in elongated muscles.

The body has numerous receptors with all manner of functions some of which are involved in stopping muscles stretching too far and tearing. If you slip on ice and end up doing the splits quickly receptors notice this and cause the legs to contract preventing the splits going too far, hopefully. If you are performing stretching exercises you must overcome this ‘block’, or inhibition, before you can stretch further.

In a similar way you have to overcome an internal inhibition to be able to maximize your punching power. One way to help overcome this ‘block’ is to imagine you are hitting someone you dislike intensely. We use this often and it does work, some people really get a boost from this taking them beyond regular power punching.

Originally posted 2011-02-11 03:22:24. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Our Amazing Feet

I recently wrote about the importance of the feet in the delivery of ground reaction force to the hands while striking. That is, by driving from the feet the power of a punch can be enhanced. I was reminded of this concept when skipping through an old text book Joint Structure and Function: A Comprehensive Analysis Our Amazing Feet
from the Functional Anatomy course I took at university.

It’s been a while since I had a good look at the anatomy of the foot and it struck me how amazing the structure is. Previously, I couldn’t imagine that the foot/ankle complex comprised of 28 bones which formed 25 joints. That’s incredible! I had always thought of the foot as a pretty solid structure with joints at the ankle and the toes, and very little else.

Obviously the foot/ankle complex has a weight bearing role within its stability and mobility functions. It provides the base of support for the body and acts as a lever for ‘push-off’ when initiating movement. During mobility it has a dampening effect of rotational movement while it’s flexibility helps absorb body weight  as the foot contacts the ground and contorts sufficiently to conform to the terrain on which it is placed. This contortion is what I want to consider in this post, although the other functions are intrinsically linked and cannot really be considered separate.

The structure forms three arches – medial longitudinal arch (on the inside), lateral longitudinal arch (outside) and the anterior arch (across the foot) -  which combine to allow the foot additional movement to simple extension and flexion* at the ankle  (more than just a hinge action at the ankle). Actually, an incredible range of motion across the foot/ankle complex is possible which is used during regular gait. The two diagrams below illustrate this nicely (from root2being)

pronation foot Our Amazing Feetsupination foot Our Amazing Feet

This means that the front portion of the foot can remain on the ground during extreme pronation and supination, thereby enabling optimal push-off at a variety of angles. Put simply the foot bends and twists, and internally compensates for the resultant contortion, to ensure we can push against the floor as long as possible in a given direction. This maximises traction at the front of the foot allowing ground reaction force to be transferred into the movement.

The amazing range of movement at the ankle and within the foot mean we can stay ‘grounded’, and so press against it, while moving and adjusting our position. Of course we need to be able to do ‘grounded’ in the first place and maintain it during movement.

Naturally, we press against the floor and can push off effectively in a variety of angles, when playing football for example. However, certain training methods in the martial arts,  can encourage us to use our feet less effectively than natures default. I often observe people who fail to use the feet while striking, they are often pointing away from the target allowing only a small portion of the foot to press against the floor in the optimal direction.

You wouldn’t use penguin feet to push a car, so why would you do the equivalent of this while striking?

*this motion at the ankle is known as dorsiflexion and plantarflexion

Originally posted 2010-04-04 21:39:41. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Superfrau and more bow bending

As mentioned in the previous post, we ‘created’ a Superfrau strike. It’s not easy to describe, but I will try.

  1. The front (left) leg is on the toes, with the left side of the hip pushed forward and arm up, in guard, facing the bad guy.
  2. This position is adopted after moving from a fighting position that Steve Morris favours, which has the back in a concave shape. Meaning that the c-shape has been bent back on itself.
  3. The leg is thrust down and backward a little, ensuring the hip is pushed back on the left side.
  4. This action forces the shoulder and arm forward, driving the fist to the target.
  5. In essence, we bend the bow of the back

George St.Pierre used a very similar action to fire in a jab in his recent fight with BJ Penn. At the start of the 3rd round with 4.50 on the clock he hits Penn with a Superfrau! Kinda….

 Superfrau and more bow bending

Now, one person that benefitted from ‘bending the bow’ was Tyson, certainly in the early years. Here’s a clip of him training, there are a lot of instances when he’s bending and releasing the bows in his back and across the shoulders. The clip should give a clear illustration of this concept.


Originally posted 2009-02-22 20:03:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Nigel Benn vs Gerald McClellan – The fight of their lives

Someone commenting on my original post concerning the Nigel Benn vs Gerald McClellan world title fight from way back in 1995 indicated that a new documentary about the fight was going to be screened on ITV in December. I missed the screening on the 5th but have just watched it on ITV player (there are still 21 days left to watch the documentary – The Fight of Their Lives). The bloke who commented mentioned that the fight still sent shivers down  his spine, well the documentary does an excellent job of doing that too.

It’s brilliantly put together and portrays the fight, the before and aftermath spectacularly well. The vicious damage the two fighters dished out on each other and the incredible turn around Benn managed still gets me out of my seat. As Frank Bruno says in the documentary the fight was completely absorbing and although he had Frank Warren and Don King on either side of him it could have been Mickey Mouse and Batman!

Nigel Benn vs Gerald McClellan – the build up

Nigel Benn vs Gerald McClellan 300x202 Nigel Benn vs Gerald McClellan   The fight of their livesNigel Benn vs Gerald McClellan came about as Benn was World Champion and McClellan was a devastating power puncher on the way up, at 31 Benn was supposed to keep away from such a difficult opponent. But Benn being Benn he didn’t avoid anything and instead took the challenge right on. Despite everyone saying he was going to lose, which he almost did, he went on to overcome the odds. To me it really is the most overwhelming example of underdog defying the odds. The French ref gave Benn a chance, more than once during the fight, as his trainer said, luck was on their side that night. In the first round, when knocked out of the ring Benn was given a long time to get back in, McClellan’s corner though he should’ve won at that point, which is a good point. However, with incredible grit and ferocious spirit Benn made it through to round ten.

Nigel Benn; born again

After boxing Benn partied and apparently attempted suicide. Going off the rails and associated struggles had a lot to do with the injuries that McClellan suffered that night. Benn needed forgiveness and even arranged a benefit dinner which McClellan and his sister, who cares for him, both attended. The scene in the documentary where the three of them meet after 12 years is intense and extremely moving. Both parties seem to have benefited from that and Benn is now a Christian which seems to have straightened him out.

Gerald McClellan still struggles today

McClellan has terrible injuries from the bloodclot on the brain that was removed. He needs care all the time and the pitiful amount of money he was paid for the fight is all gone. It’s shocking how little he was paid. King and Warren apparently gave the family much more than they were obliged to but he still struggles, there is a Gerald McClellan trust fund which helps to keep him going.

After this fight a boxing ban was apparently debated in parliament but refuted. As Barry McGuigan suggests boxing saves more lives than it takes, many more. This site has indicated this previously, what with the Astoria Boxing Club and the outdoor gyms in Sao Paulo giving people hope where there is very little. The appalling injuries could’ve been averted, according to the experts in the documentary, there were problems with the ref and with Gerald McClellan’s corner – Brendan Ingle’s opinion is very damning – if only he had kept Manny Stewart as trainer! But that is all history now, the fight was extraordinary, this documentary is a must see, so get to the ITV player and watch it!

Originally posted 2011-12-15 00:38:35. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Freeze, Fight, Flight and Martial Arts Training

This is the first of two posts that describe the wonders of the human response to stress. Many people in martial arts refer to the stress response (or freeze, fight or flight) in a pretty negative manner. ‘Adrenaline dump’ is a term used to highlight a detrimental natural phenomenon that needs to be overcome during a self-defence situation. In fact, the stress response involves a complex integration of the body’s systems involving a powerful mix of neural and hormonal factors, preparing the system for survival.

caveman bbq Freeze, Fight, Flight and Martial Arts TrainingOriginally coined by Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon “fight-or-flight” response, later extended to include freeze, describes the body’s automatic response to perceived threat or danger. A product of evolution this in-built safety mechanism is designed to protect not harm us. For the caveman, threats were best dealt with by freezing, when movement could alert the threat to his presence, by fighting if the odds were in his favour, but if not by fleeing.

fightorflight Freeze, Fight, Flight and Martial Arts TrainingFor instance, when a caveman’s BBQ bison was on the go and a nearby monolithic bear smelt it, wanted it and came charging into the party uninvited, it’s a fair assumption that running away was the best option. If your survival mechanism wasn’t up to scratch you were bear food. Survival of the fittest ensured the stress response evolved to the marvel that it is. Unfortunately, in today’s society where bear threat is low, social stress and the freeze, fight or flight response are not compatible. Chronic social stress is a killer but acute stress in the form of danger from a potential attacker or impending disaster is not only valid but also highly valuable.

The stress response gives us the strength, power and speed to avoid physical harm to ourselves or significant others when we perceive danger. The sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (the part responsible for subconscious body maintenance) initiates the fight-or-flight response, while the parasympathetic branch returns the body to homeostasis, calming us down and bringing everything back to normal in both emotional and physiological terms.

We perceive threat or danger, real or imagined and the sympathetic nervous system sets off a flood of emotional and physiological activity which enables us to increase power, speed and strength as required. The amygdala ‘sounds the alarm’ and the hypothalamus notifies all the other systems in the body via the nervous system, while instructing the endocrine system to begin the secretion of powerful hormones, mainly adrenaline and cortisol. These flood into the bloodstream and activate cells to aid the preparation to freeze, fight or flight.

This internal activity results in many complex changes with the purpose to divert resources from unnecessary functions to systems vital in the process of increasing speed, power and strength. These changes include increased heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, brain activity and blood flow being redirected to the muscles (vascular shunt) while digestion, the immune system and the reproductive system for example are switched off. We are hardwired to resist threat and be able to protect ourselves from danger. This system is poetry in motion, the stress response is a powerful, useful process which kicks in as reliably as flicking a switch once danger is perceived.

Martial Arts and the Freeze, Fight, Flight system part two

Originally posted 2010-05-03 00:58:24. Republished by Blog Post Promoter



Fedor Emelianenko

Cool, calm and destructive, Fedor Emelianenko is considered by most to be the greatest fighter in MMA. I love how the calm approach explodes into destructive violence as he mashes opponent after opponent.

Dana White (UFC boss) offered Fedor an ‘unsignable’ contract when UFC took over Pride Championships, which effectively removed any chance of Fedor fighting Couture, which was THE fight everyone wanted to see. This was and remains a big shame.

Since then Fedor destroyed Tim Sylvia in little more than half a minute and still remains the top fighter. I’d like current UFC heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar to have a try with Fedor, that’d be a good fight. Lesnar is huge and quick with it, a big test for Fedor, but my money is on the Russian.

Fedor seems to train only for the fight and isn’t interested in ‘looking the part’, no tattoo’s or ripped body, just a destructively efficient body with excellent ground and stand-up skills and vicious ground and pound to go with it. He’s calm til he explodes into the opponent, wasting no energy until he has to, his attitude is spot on.

Here’s a link to an American documentary about Fedor. It’s excellent, apart from the tabloid-esque compere, who’s a little too American for my reserved English palate. This does not, however, detract from an excellent insight into a great fighter. It’s about 40 mins in total, but a well spent 40 mins; illustrating that there’s plenty to be gleaned from Fedor. Watch, enjoy and learn.


Fedor v Nogueira

Originally posted 2009-03-13 08:30:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter