Morning class

Morning class: Nothing wakes a person up faster than a man highly skilled in the arts of strangulation and joint breaking doing his best to do exactly that to you. The troops at RGA NYC go at it in sparring rounds (randori) while the rest of the big apple slowly wakes up outside. Georges St-Pierre works elements of back attack and ashi garami systems with Eddie Cummings and Garry Tonon in some hard fought rounds as the action unfolds across the room. The unifying factor across the room - performance improvement in the kingly art. Some are professional athletes with specific upcoming goals, others are amateurs with a more general goal of skill enhancement- but the path forward is the same for both - increasing knowledge and embedding that knowledge in a set of physical skills that can bring you closer to those goals.

Three the hard way

Three the hard way: The full squad is back in action in truly great competition action against three of the best grapplers in the world in the near future. Gordon Ryan starts it off with a very tough match up against IBJJF no gi world champion Lucas Hulk" Barbosa for the 205 pound title at Fight to Win Pro 30 in New Jersey on April 8th. Mr Ryan's last matches were at his actual weight - 170 pounds welterweight

Varying intensity

Varying intensity: Sometimes people hear about the frequency with which my students train and ask how they are not over trained to the point of injury and breakdown. The reason is because we know how to vary the intensity of workouts according to the context in which the workout is performed. If every workout is at maximum intensity, the injury and burn out rate would be unacceptably high. Intensity must be varied as part of a program leading to a specific goal, rather than as a constant hammering towards a general idea of getting better at jiu jitsu. Typically, if there is going to be a very tough morning workout, it will be followed by a relatively soft evening workout. This ability to SEE TODAYS WORKOUT IN THE CONTEXT OF A WEEKS WORK TOWARDS A GIVEN GOAL AND SCALE IT UP OR DOWN DEPENDING ON THAT CONTEXT IS A HUGE PART OF DEVELOPING THE LONGEVITY NEEDED TO MASTER THE COMPLEX SKILLS OF THE SPORT OVER TIME. Last night was a perfect example. I went to Long Island to join Chris Weidman and his two primary trainers, Ray Longo and Matt Serra for some fine tuning of grapple boxing skills (the interface of striking and grappling skills on the ground in MMA) in preparation for Mr Weidman's bout against the very tough and talented Gegard Mousasi at UFC 210. Mr Weidman had already had a very tough sparring workout earlier in the day and has only a week left in another very tough training camp. Thus the second workout consisted of light technical and tactical drills - perfect for a second workout that will improve performance without causing physical problems for the athlete. It was a pleasure to see once again the incredible grace and power of this great middleweight as he whipped through the drills with the same vigor and skill I saw so many times in his lead up to winning the middleweight title. I demand that my athletes workout every day - but I do not demand they workout HARD every day. Learning to pace your workouts over time, scaling back when necessary, is the key to long term development that can garner great results over time.

Reflections on my students - The master of distance - Georges St-Pierre

Reflections on my students - The master of distance - Georges St-Pierre: More than any other athlete I worked with, Georges St-Pierre was a master of the subtleties of controlling and exploiting the distance between himself and his opponent. This mastery of distance management is an absolutely critical part of MMA. In the vast majority of professional fights, more time is spent in this part of the game than any other. When people talk about the development of Mr St-Pierre's game, they often make reference to his many coaches and the influence these people had on him. Interestingly, the whole skill of distance control and covering distance to the takedown, WAS A SKILL THAT MR ST-PIERRE MOSTLY TAUGHT HIMSELF. As a teenager under the sometimes unorthodox tutelage of Kristof Midoux, Mr St-Pierre was constantly put in sparring situations where he had to box his way to a takedown on much older, more experienced opponents. As time passed, trial and error, experimentation and eclecticism in drawing in disparate skills from various combat arts produced an uncanny ability to strike into takedowns. Sometimes during fight camp after dinner or during some free time Mr St-Pierre will ask me to take a fighting stance and he will practice his repertoire of feints, deceptions and misdirections that enable him to get to his opponents legs for the takedown. I have done this with him for well over a decade. Yet to this day, he invariably misdirects me and easily gets to my legs - leaving me feeling like a fool as once again I am deceived by the same tricks Thus was born this great athletes best weapon - he had many influences - but his primary weapon, the one which more than any other was the source of his success, was his own invention. It was a peculiar blend of his early days in sport karate, his wrestling training, fencing tactics and most of all, his adaptation to the demands of takedown sparring in his early years. Here he works with MMA standout David Branch on the theory of distance, both men are about to return to the UFC later in the year where once again they will be able to show the importance of this critical skill

Every major move has its own character

Every major move has its own character: All the major moves of the sport of jiu jitsu have their own unique character - their good points and bad points - which are a reflection of their mechanical features. As students, it is exceedingly important we try to increase the depth of our understanding of the character of all the moves we intend to make a big part of our game so that we apply them in the appropriate context. When we look at Kimura (ude garami), we see it is among the most complex and interesting of the major moves of the sport. Like many of the main submission holds, it can function as both a means of submission and a means of control through grip. It often functions in jiu jitsu in much the same way as the knight functions in a chessboard - a means of unorthodox entry into tight situations that resist normal methods and which can open up many other attacks from other pieces. Here, Shy Ace, among the best of my students in the specialized use of our Kimura system, uses a fine rolling entry to open up a defensive opponent and bring his submission game into operation.

Reflections on my students - the birth of the wolverine

Reflections on my students - the birth of the wolverine: Most great deeds have inauspicious beginnings. When Eddie Cummings first entered my morning class I saw him as a squirmy fellow armed with nothing more than a mediocre high elbow guillotine. One morning I came in and my regular Uke (demonstration partner) was absent. I chose Mr Cummings as a replacement and he proved very good. Afterwards he asked intelligent questions and we talked. I learned he was a graduate student in physics - a problem solver. As weeks and months passed I noted how he never missed classes and was rapidly learning. He expressed interest in more leg lock material. I started showing him more details of my approach to lower body submissions. Then he and Ottavia Bourdain decided to take leg lock study to a new level and do private classes every day - almost always in leg locks. An interesting part of this period is that Mr Cummings was initially VERY set against the outside ashi garami position that is one of the signature moves of our leg lock system and for which he would become famous! He thought it was totally wrong headed and would never work! I still tease him about that to this day! In time I managed to convince him of it effectiveness and he made incredible progress in application skills and theoretical understanding. As he began competing he quickly accumulated a vast number of submission wins, usually via leg lock. His defining moment in those early days however, a series of matches never recorded. Mr Cummings was invited by a friend of a friend to compete is an underground open weight grappling event in the basement of a gym somewhere in Brooklyn where he was obviously the smallest competitor. That night he fought around twelve men, winning everything by submission - fighting on a tiny mat on a grimy concrete floor in front of a crowd of maniacs gambling on the outcomes. As the smallest and nerdiest competitor, everyone bet against him. When he won, he was offered the princely sum of twenty rumpled one dollar bills! When people today see Mr Cummings win big events like EBI and take $20,000, they don't realize that it all began with crazy bouts for less than $2 a match

It all begins in the training room

It all begins in the training room: The squad was thrilled to watch team mate Garry Tonon put on another match-of-the-year-candidate performance last night in Oklahoma- but each member has their own upcoming goals - so after a brief discussion, it was noses to the grindstone and hard training time. A specialized triangle (sankaku) session followed by some very tough sparring. Eddie Cummings, Gordon Ryan, Nicky Ryan, Matthew Tesla, Frankie Rosenthal, Ottavia Bourdain and Jake Shields show the wear of a hard session with top competitors while I sit there and pretend I was part of it I am always fascinated by the contrast between the the big shows and the humble and tough conditions that make success in the big shows possible. The big shows may be the FACE of the sport - BUT THE TRAINING ROOM IS THE SOUL OF THE SPORT. In thousands of small, obscure gyms across the globe are tens of thousands of dreams and ambitions - from those origins a few will emerge with the skills and attributes to make their dreams become real.

Flawless Victory

Flawless Victory: Garry Tonon defeated the outstanding grappler Justin Rader in Oklahoma last night in a thrilling display of brilliant attacks versus resolute defense. Mr Tonon had trained extremely well prior to the belt and went in with great confidence- as always he showed every bit of it onstage on a match filled with spectacular movement all pushing in the direction of submission. Ultimately it went to a decision as a stranglehold was being applied with seconds left on the clock. There was never any doubt which way the decision would go and Mr Tonon had successfully defended his welterweight no gi belt. Fight to Win put on another fine event and the squad is proud to help out with a display of jiu jitsu that was both crowd pleasing, yet a fine display of the a full range of the techniques of our sport applied at a very high level against one of its toughest competitors. For those in Oklahoma- don't forget that Mr Tonon will be teaching a seminar showcasing many of the very techniques he wowed the crowd with last night! 12pm at Oklahoma Martial arts - check his Instagram for details! He is as good a teacher as he is a competitor and his show at the seminar will be every bit as good as the show he put on last night The whole squad now has amazing bouts coming up in the near future - details coming out soon! We are all looking forward to Mr Tonon's return as he, Gordon Ryan and Eddie Cummings, along with all the kohai, resume training for big upcoming events that will require them to push to a new level of development

Back in the saddle

Back in the saddle: Propped up by some cortisone I came back to limited teaching duties today. It was great to see youngest squad member Mikey Wilson back on the mats. He and Nicky Ryan worked on elements of our back attack system, an area that Mr Ryan excels in. Joining us was the formidable Jake Shields, who continues to impress us with his development here with the squad. I got a chance to teach our approach and philosophy of back control and attack, and also display my superior taste in walking canes There is more to my style than just rash guards! It felt great to teach even if recent problems with my body made the physical side of teaching impossible today - there is so much about our game that is mental/philosophical that I felt that some valuable input could be made regardless. There was much excited talk after training about Garry Tonon's match tonight at Fight to Win in Oklahoma tonight. Mr Tonon has trained extremely well and is excited to put our approach to the game to another test against the very talented and tough Justin Rader. Keep your eyes on that show - it should be a fine one indeed!

Entering into the unknown

Entering into the unknown: Those moments when an athlete faces an opponent for the first time are always an entrance into the unknown. There is a danger in this. We all fear the unknown and our imagination can work upon us in ways that make it all terrifying. It is natural to wonder if the opponent has skills, techniques, knowledge, strength or tactics that we don't. That fear can have disastrous effects on performance. As fear increases, we become increasingly conservative in our choice of technique to use. We limit ourselves to only our must trusted techniques and hesitate when opportunity arises. Learning to deal with and overcome this fear of the unknown is what separates the great performers in the gym from the great performers on the stage. Interestingly the presence or lack of presence of fear is not an indicator of whether the athlete will perform on the stage. I have seen athletes who felt no fear perform poorly and others who are terrified every time they fight perform brilliantly. Each must find their own way around those moments of entering the unknown. I have my own opinions about this problem and often use them with my athletes. It is far too long for an Instagram post - but one day I hope to write or speak about it, for in all honesty, it is the last critical obstacle that the athlete must learn to master if he or she is to maximize their performance in competition