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Mittology – A Review

by Coach Al

I’ve borrowed some of Roger Mayweather’s mittwork for the live, conventional mittwork that I do. But by no means can I ever condone it solely to be proper mittwork. A New Jersey based trainer, Coach Rick, or his corny pseudonym, “The Mittologist,” sells this stuff on youtube and even has some $199 con for becoming certified in Mittology. Floyd Mayweather wannabes across the globe are following suit.

Say goodbye to the old-time art of live mittwork.

Mittwork nowadays across the US consists of guys throwing fast combinations of quarter punches with their hands held really low and little hip being used. The Mittologist is not the only one selling this. Coaches get into the set patterns and find that it’s the easiest way to take people’s money (I’ve heard that from a few coaches themselves). Because this Mittology, above all benefits (if any), is fun for most people – especially beginners. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be just a money maker and flashy, but after the set patterns are learned, this stuff is disgustingly easy – especially for the coaches.

First of all, the coaches don’t have to go through the grueling hard work of coaching distance, angles, and strategy when doing this Mittology stuff. There is no randomness, bumps, clinches, spins, getting hit, punching at the same time as blocking, and there are no options (you must move in the set patterns). Second, it is still exciting and fun, yet it has the incomparable variable of being safe. It’s like the TaeBo of mittwork – the people, even actual boxers, think they’re really getting authentic boxing mittwork, but they’re getting more of a workout as opposed to real moves and real education.

After having one vapid boxer of mine – one who came to me already brainwashed by Floyd Mayweather Jr. – actually purchase the Mittologist’s videos, I watched a few of them with an open mind (just on November 19, 2012). No doubt, I think the Mittologist guy probably knows better and is just making a business move on the sport, making videos that are virtual knockoffs of Roger Mayweather’s set patterns. This whoring is what I have a problem with. I can’t say that technical and detailed work isn’t done with fighters away from his mitts, but I am saying that this mittwork is brainwashing viewers into thinking that it’s “the secret to better boxing and coaching.” I’ve heard no mention that sparring and alternative work is essential. Not once did I hear mention that conventional mittwork is good to work into his routines. And it really gets on my nerves that there is a stupid certification that seems like anyone can buy. What governing body gave him the right to certify anyone? Can any coach make up some stupid gimmick and certify it? I have a number system that I created for communicating angles and head locations and punches; should I certify people who pay me? Where is the profession and years of understanding boxing inside and out that goes into the coaching? He calls it technical mittwork, but it is almost absolute in being the opposite of that. This is my issue with many youtube coaches. There are probably only 3 known ones that I can cosign. There are innumerable hacks on youtube, but at least some, even the non-boxers, don’t make up catchy names and rename boxing moves like this guy.  My point is that much of the sale of these videos gambles on people’s perceptions and their false correlations: they think Floyd Mayweather Jr. was successful doing this stuff, so they think this stuff must work the best. It is the classic idiot’s trap. It’s akin to an ad hominem argument – an argument made against an opponent, as opposed to an argument against the opponent’s argument. If I said Roger Mayweather sucks on the mitts, someone might retort that I don’t have the best fighter in the world, so I must be wrong. Such illogic are important factors to understand when deciding for or against this type of stuff. Many coaches I speak to agree with me, yet some of them are doing this mittwork because white-collar recreational boxers buy into this stuff.

The Mittologist claims that this mittwork instills fluidity and reaction. I contend that live mittwork does that and more. Live mittwork, on the other hand, doesn’t have the shortcomings of fake blocks and shoulder touches and quarter punches. When I do mittwork, I really punch at the fighters, and I really review the techniques and strategies. I have mittwork for opposite stances and for same stances. I mimic different fighting styles and throw punches in different ways. I often wear a body-shield so fighters can go to my body at will. I catch punches with the mitts on my head, too. My mittwork is comprehensive, not just aerobic. Fighters get to feel almost like they’re in a fight. I treat every boxer differently, and I feed the mitts differently to each of them. They, in turn, learn fluidity and reaction without the hoax. How is Mittology any better than this convention? How is Mittology any good, period? Is it like Karate’s Katas versus sparring. Do boxers even shadowbox the way they do this mittwork? Do they fight that way, too? The answer is an expletive and “no.”

I am knocking this stuff because I think its widespread appeal is based on gimmick and exploiting the ignorance of people who don’t know boxing. Perhaps the guys who do this know more than what the rote mittwork exhibits, but I am only going off on the mittwork itself. Check out the mittwork on the internet. The boxers often don’t protect their heads, they don’t turn their hips, and they don’t turn over their punches. They don’t even really roll or block punches. They aren’t even actually punching too much of the time. This doesn’t make all these mittwork routines necessarily wrong, but the fake stuff is a major part of the selling of this crap. The appeal is that it’s fast and non-stop; it looks cool to people who don’t know how easy it is. Manny Masson does a similar routine with Yuriorkis Gamboa, but the techniques are almost fully completed, thus the punches and movements are more realistic; this is much more difficult, although Masson also just touches Gamboa’s shoulders. And I question how random any of their stuff is, as well. When you watch live mittwork, you will see mistakes every round (e.g. missed counters, late moves, hesitations, and people getting touched with punches). Live mittwork is not based on set patterns and solely verbal queues. It’s live, physical, and cerebral, and you benefit from getting as close to sparring as you can while practicing detailed strategy and technique. Even the set patterns have their randomness as it’s mixed in with all the other work. Mittology seems to be just another workout drill, like bad double-end work in which guys don’t really throw complete punches and don’t move realistically.

When I argued with my ignorant boxer on how stupid I thought the patty-cake Mittology mittwork is, the young boxer even said to me, “If this mittwork is so bad, why is the Mittologist’s wife a golden gloves champ?” I told him to look up Logical Fallacies and then, only then, work on an informed opinion.

No matter what, I will never give him a behind the back mitt feed. I’d rather lose him to the grift.

The Jab vs. The Straight Lead of JKD

By Al Alvir

Having just read The Straight Lead by Teri Tom, I was compelled to write about “The Boxing Jab.”  The straight lead works as a more powerful jab than the boxing jab, and it indeed has more reach than the classic boxing jab.  The problem is that the straight lead serves no additional function from a ‘regular jab’ than to make up for its lack of power in the wrist (as the straight lead’s form is to not turn the wrist) with explosive hip rotation.  JKD people tend to overstate the effectiveness of hip rotation in the jab, simultaneously underestimating the effectiveness of shifting weight and the dynamics of not rotating the hip with the jab.

The boxing jab serves as a tool for measuring distance and for setting-up an opponent.  The boxing jab, too, has numerous contact spots (aka pop spots, meaning the point of snap (this is discussed in other articles on Shootafairone.com), as a fighter has the luxury to jab shooting his hip with various torques.  This is a bad habit, however, for an educated fighter, because he is giving away positioning and taking his 2 farther from his opponent.  Also, when a fighter shoots his hip for a jab, it’s wasted energy, as it complicates such a simple weapon.  If a fighter can be successful throwing a straight lead, I promise that it will only be situational and will not happen against a person with better attributes.  I, myself, used to train the straight lead and was effective with it when it was effective (I meant to state it that way), but I found that I was way out of position for intelligent onslaught after missing.  But as I always say, “test it.”

It’s just a jab, either way.  It’s likely not going to knock-out anyone worthy of fighting.  The reason jabs are so important and effective is that jabs can be thrown rapidly and at repetition without unwise commitment.

The biggest problem of JKD’s straight lead teachings is that the teachers often aren’t schooled, or simply don’t teach, the progression of functionality; in other words, they skip the education on all the functions of that lead hand.  One example is keeping that lead hand up as insurance for 2’s coming from the same stance (same lead).  Simply put, JKD men often complicate the functions of the lead hand.  This complication, or over-complication, coupled with trapping and kicking and groundwork, makes it a ridiculous testament to its absurdity.  I mean, a damn book on a single punch was written for an amalgam of students the world over who are at opposing ends of JKD practice, and from which the majority of the pool is no good.  My friend, Bryan Lamont, is a JKD coach – one of the few good ones – who criticizes the poor JKD concept guys as well as acknowledges that most traditional JKD guys as sloppy and “all over the place.”  He remains loyal to JKD, yet I see him stray as I think any good JKD man should.

The straight lead mumbo jumbo and the detailed stance to the deferential treatment of Bruce Lee’s “writings” are all akin to hero-worship and go against what I believe were Bruce Lee’s teachings which were to keep things simple and direct.  The Straight Lead, as every single JKD book I’ve ever come across, is all about teaching style cookie-cut to a whole flock.  When Tom “scientifically” talks about stance, she undermines the effectiveness of infinite stances.  Boxing coaching – like baseball batting coaching or any proven sport – is broken down into the most fundamentally simple functions, allowing for the individual to evolve from that foundation in a very personal way.  Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson to Roy Jones Jr. to Floyd Mayweather Jr. got their styles from that foundation.  In JKD, Bruce Lee made a horrible mistake, as he himself prophesized, by setting specific “rules” or a “way” on style by detailing “his style.”  (*Aside:  Teaching such a linear stance will handicap some people from evolving and finding their own styles, as it is a more difficult way to learn how to shoot hips, weaving, slipping, offense, and moving in angles. This may be better explained in a different article, but I digress…)

Now, I am not against the straight lead, as it is called here.  Great boxers do it all the time.  Floyd Mayweather Jr. does it, but many boxing men call it an “up-jab.”  It’s a sneaky way to fit the punch between a opponent’s guard, and to find him from a greater distance.  Many boxers practice it as a sort of uppercut with the palm up and the punch rising under the chin from jab distance.  I always dismiss that stuff as signature stuff not to be taught on a greater scale.  Furthermore, it is important to know the most basic way of jabbing effectively before progressing into jabbing from different body angles, shooting the hips, and throwing the jab away from the face (aka “Lead hand no man’s land”).  Turning the fist and not the hips will provide for the best distance finder and the most practical use of energy.

Even if a well-schooled fighter throws a straight lead, he will not throw the straight lead from a high guard.  And well-schooled fighters sometimes have to have a high guard.  He may have to jab down and without turning his fist, he cannot produce the snap behind the shoulder; the vertical fist would have to be thrown with all the triceps muscle.  On a smaller note, a jab covers a little less area with the vertical fist and doesn’t cut someone as easily – this common boxer contention, however, is not the major reason turning the fist is better.  Additionally, a Floyd Mayweather Jr. shell stance is the best proven stance to throw the straight lead, but it’s important for fighters to get that chin behind that shoulder.  Mike Tyson did his version of the straight lead, but his speed advantage and his size made it necessary at times to turn his hip so explosively.  Punching up also naturally protects a fighter on that side, as the shoulder blocks the chin.

JKD practitioners such as Teri Tom discuss science behind punching, as I have in some earlier articles, and she and I are on par with the science.  Bruce Lee said “several inches and snap,” and I say “2-4 inches and snap,” but the difference is arbitrary.  But Tom discusses the Impulse-Theorem and retraction, to which I contend the reason turning the fist is better (again, see my other articles on the science of punching).  Take the hip out of the equation, and anyone will see a little more pop with the turning of the fist.

The Straight Lead is a great conversation starter, but it’s filled with misleading information and points that are amiss.  If Tom knows what she is talking about, the semantics can be challenged.  The cookie-cutter science may seem to simplify, but that’s a fallacy.  There is nothing simpler than custom skills and honest, uber-personal evolution while maintaining what this book complicates:  basics.

After all, it is just a jab.

I can hear it already… Straight Lead zombies swearing that it is much more elaborate than that.

New York Daily News Golden Gloves 2012 Fight Log

A Sojourn In Doing Work

by Al Alvir

Walking out of St. Bernard’s Hall after the opening round of the 85th Annual New York Daily News Golden Gloves, I was struck with a feeling of anger.  Anger at amateur boxing scoring, and anger at ignorant spectators.  Friends, fans, and fake-friends can say whatever they want about what could have been done, but they don’t know what the camp knows about what was done.  No one else knows what went into that fight.  No one knows the discussions and the preparation.  To lose on the brink of victory was an agony that a fighter can be proud of while the misery weighs on his stomach alone.  Well, my stomach too.

My head even felt like it was ringing from some good shots, and I was only working the corner.

6 months ago, I invited my friend DJ Morrissey’s younger brother, Eric, to come train at my house gym.  He didn’t know anything about boxing.  He punched like a baseball player, but he moved like clay and he followed commands like a robot.  He convinced me that he wanted to absorb every nuance of boxing from the foundation up.  After a couple days, I instructed him to get comfortable throwing touches because boxing is a fine skill, not a toe to toe brawl.  He understood that he was not really a big guy, so I wanted him to box and move.  He was an average looking heavyweight, weighing in at 194 lbs., and I thought, “If I could get him to sit on those shots right, he could rock someone.  But can he be calm and take a punch?”  After two weeks of showing up on time, not flinching during mitt-work, and doing what he said he’d do, I considered that this kid might be a fighter.

I was used to years of guys who couldn’t remember to bring their hands back to their faces.  I knew Eric from some previous acquaintance, but he was another type of good, respectable, and respectful guy in my gym.  Sort of like a soldier.  He took boxing more serious than anyone else I’ve trained as a beginner.  I know he did his homework.  Other guys clearly lie.  When you come back and you don’t bring anything new to the gym like a new pop in a punch, a quicker step, or an extra round, a trainer questions you.  I tracked his punch output and the number of ab-work reps he did per round, and they increased every week.

Eric showed up every day.  He was on time.  He muscled through training and sweated faster and more than the regular guy.  I promised him, if he would just stay mentally strong, I’d guide him.  I welcomed him to test me, test my knowledge, in order for him to know that I was the real deal when it comes to the technical skills of boxing.  I wasn’t going to let him in that ring throwing punches “like an asshole,” as we vulgarly describe how it looks when guys with bad technique dare shadowbox in public.  He worked out with DJ and lapped his progress exponentially.  There were only one or two times Eric showed frustration unbecoming of a fighter.  I remember telling him that I was disappointed that he reacted like that.  I told him what I tell all my fighters, to “deal with it and keep going.  I’m right here.”  From that day on, Eric didn’t stop until he heard my command or heard that bell – even in the gym.  He had the look, dejected at himself, and he told me, “That’s my bad.  It’ll never happen again coach.”  I believed him.  He made me believe him.  He asked for a locker and retracted, “Actually, I know you want me to earn it.”

I have experience, so I figured this guy I outweighed by about 70 lbs. couldn’t hurt me.  I also knew that meant I couldn’t box my own overweight shadow for any serious fighting, but I asked Eric to move around with me for one round.  He didn’t hesitate to put on the gear.  I remember catching him with two decent shots and he didn’t “get retarded,” as we call it in the gym.  Eric didn’t turn his back or do some move we never practiced.  He didn’t even leave the pocket.  And he didn’t seem hesitant to punch me back.  The biggest thing I noticed was that he didn’t lose any cool in there.  I was so impressed; it’s hard to put something so subtle and intangible into words, but I just saw something in him; maybe it was just instinct.  The next day, I asked Eric if he wanted to sign a contract and make the New York Daily News Golden Gloves our goal – a lofty one at that.

He enthusiastically signed his life to me.

___________________________

My fighters go by a number system that I developed along with MotionFACT Fight Analysis – a software system I conceived many years ago and developed with Wilson Lee, engineer.  In it, every punch has a number.  Body-blows have numbers.  Head movement has a number to indicate location.  For communication purposes, we train cut-offs and pick-offs.  Everything is broken down into a system.  Even counter-punching and “punching while the other guy is punching” is tracked.  All boxing trainers do the strategy to varying extents, but it’s just my way of simplifying what needs to be done with fighters.  It sounds complicated, but it is ridiculously easier than drawn-out instructions.

Eric knew nothing about MotionFACT software, but he learned early what something like a “slip the 2-1-12-deep 3 spot-13-pivot” was.  In a regular boxing gym, that’s a whole lot of confusing jargon.  So, I think it helped Eric, as it does with other guys, shortening the learning curve.  Eric was a tough Irish kid who began moving like a greener version of John Duddy, pun unintended.  He didn’t turn his hips quite like I wanted.  He didn’t know how to get cute even shadowboxing.  And he wasn’t fluid like a dancer.  But in time, he learned how to pop his shoulders at different spots.  He understood the strategy and set-ups.  He approached boxing with the respect the science deserves.

I only wondered: does this kid have the heart I believe he will have?

Eric wasn’t a typical Floral Park kid.  He was “never a herb” as one of his close friends noted.  Unassuming is a clichéd way to describe fighters who don’t look the part, but Eric actually does look like a fighter to anyone who knows fighters.  In a crowd of annoying loudmouths and chest-puffing pussy-cats, one would be smart to assume that the guy who doesn’t have his hat cocked sideways eyeballing every guy who walks in the room is the fighter; that’s Eric.  Eric doesn’t do drugs but he was humble enough to be associated with self-described quasi-junkies.  Eric, not a street-kid by any estimation, seemed quietly confident in any situation even before becoming a fighter.  He’d fight anyone.

By many accounts, Eric was always just a good kid who didn’t get into problems unless DJ got him into one.  I see him as a Queens kid who didn’t suffer from the insecurities of a lot of adolescents who live on a border of two towns where two identities oppose each other, where idiotic youth have to prove they’re from the realer side.  As an adult with a Master’s degree in psychology, he proved to be someone who not only didn’t care how big the next guy was or where the next guy was from.  Eric never gave two shits about his own size or where he himself is from.  It’s just whatever.  That’s real.  So, I had a guy whose approach was so right that only two things changed outside of that phone booth ring (what we call my ring): his weight and abstinence from the occasional beer.  I was invested in the kid and he probably didn’t know it.  I began to care for Eric almost like a son; I thought, “Imagine when my real son fights.  I’m gonna be a mess, then.”  I wanted to do everything I could to make sure he realizes the achievement of being able to compete with someone who trains to take him out.  I thought, “I now have a 165 pound monster-to-be… with determination and discipline… we just gotta get some sparring and find that hunger?”

_________________________

When I was a kid who jumped from boxing gym to boxing gym, I used to say, “I’d drop out of high school if someone believed in me.”  It goes to show my lack of character that I needed someone else to validate me and see my potential, but it’s a great anecdote that precedes my work as a trainer.  I still don’t understand how those trainers didn’t see how devoted I could have been with the right guidance, and that’s what I want to offer any child or adult who I train.  I aim to offer guidance and to find something to believe in my fighters, even if it’s the most minor goal to someone else.  All I wanted in return was them doing work.  I give, they give.  I just don’t want my kids dropping out of school.  When I see a fighter who gives his time and commitment and his own motivation to the art, it makes me work harder.  It’s a bond maybe only the trainer feels.

_____________________________

I called about 30 boxing gyms in the five boroughs for sparring.  I got zero call-backs.  Zero.  Some guys I managed to speak with said they’d call me back.  It never happened.  I even followed-up to no avail.  Steve Gentile of Core Boxing in Howard Beach was my first success.  Steve was a great help for me, as he had one of his guys, Carl, spar Eric.  Eric felt the nerves of going to another gym.  Two new guys with little ring experience, but good training, managed to do good work.  Eric worked some planned moves that made me realize, just that night, that Eric is making some fast progress.  Another trainer would say it is premature, but I felt Eric could get better to at least win the first round of the Golden Gloves tournament.  Plus, the guys at Core Boxing were nice enough not to let Eric get beaten-up too bad.  He walked out with his chin down but his head high.  I owe thanks to Steve, Carl, and the other guys who offered the good work.

After that, training took off.  Eric was moving better every week.  He got his locker, and his confidence soared.  Yet I didn’t have to check his ego because he was humble.  Against a 201 pounder, Pierre, from Kingsway BC, Eric got bloody, as he was every other week, but he held his own.  DJ makes fun of Eric’s nose, bound to break but bloody with every breath.  “His nose bleeds when he sleeps,” DJ mocked him, along with other borderline anti-Semitic pokes.  Pierre surely had to hold back some, but the boxing was good on both sides.  Eric faced guys of various sizes.  The best day of sparring was also our low point of camp.  It was at the Westchester Boxing Club.  Nicky “Knuckles” Delury, a very knowledgeable boxing trainer, asked me to train some fighters at his gym.  I told Nick about Eric needing some more work, as he had hopes of going into the gloves, so we set-up a 5 round round-robin.  Eric had some medical issues that week, but I had a rule: no copping pleas and no missing sparring with other gyms.  I note that because I learned something from that experience – Eric could deal with adversity, even if it’s not just the tall, heavier, and more experienced guys on the other end.  Eric got his head-whipped.  He didn’t jab and he didn’t move his head.  He threw too few punches.  He kept looking for his shot, but didn’t control the pace and make his own openings.  The sparring seemed like a set-back, but it happens to everyone who boxes.  I knew Eric would never quit in the ring.  The scary thing was that I thought Eric was going to quit by the next week, with or without his medical condition which I will not disclose.  Thankfully, it actually made Eric work harder once he got better.  I discussed pulling Eric’s golden gloves plans, but we collaboratively decided that he’s going to have to spar a couple more guys and step up his work to get my approval.  He did that.  I had my concerns about winning, but I believed he would hold his own.  Eric knew I was behind him and he took the entry saying, “Let’s fuckin’ do it.  Whatever happens I’m going to fuckin’ win.”

A lot of blood, boogers, sweat and tears went into this camp.  Fight date was scheduled for February 1, 2012, at Mary Queen of Heaven – St. Bernard’s Hall in Brooklyn.

______________________________

I don’t claim to know more than any decent trainer, but I’ve had my hands taped before.  I’ve taped guys in the gym.  I’ve even pulled a mouthpiece out of a pro-fighter’s mouth in the corner at a sparring session.  Wow, that was a big deal, right?  And I’ve worked with fighters at all amateur levels and a couple of low-level pros.  But this was my first actual fight working the corner.  No, not standing in a corner shouting instructions.  My body-of-work, a boxer I developed from a blank canvas only 6 months ago, was on center-stage.  I was coolly nervous.  I had my tape ready to go, precisely counted pad and all.  Then Brian Adams, 3-time champ and golden gloves director, brings out three 10 yard rolls and tells me to use half a roll of tape.  “Eric’s the first fight,” he ran over and told me.  It threw off my taping science, but I acted cooler than I was.  I lined up little desks around me and started racing the other trainer to tape.  Eric probably heard me say, “There’s no rush,” thinking I was talking to him.  I was really talking to myself so I’d slow down.  I put my strips of tape all around the chairs.  I dried Eric’s damp palms and began working.  “It ain’t brain surgery, but it’s an extension of the brain to me.”

When Eric put on those gloves, he seemed tentative and uneasy.  I told him no lies – I always say it how it is.  “Man, you did the work.  You have a better education than these guys.”  I said in my usual confidence.  “But this could be the hardest day of your life.  I believe in you.”

As Eric continued to hop around, I noticed a room full of fighters and veteran trainers just watching us in the middle of this warm-up room that was actually an elementary classroom.  I whispered to Eric, “Let them shits go.”  If he can shadowbox confidently in front of these guys, he can let it go in the ring.  I stood in front of him and let him punch me in the shoulder and chest.  He looked like he was in the zone, but he didn’t let his punches go right away.  It reminded me of Westchester.  So, I looked him in the eye and broke the ice.  I started shadowboxing with him and he snapped a few punches at my chest and almost punched my shoulder out of its socket.  It was a most relieving pain; Eric is mean today.

_____________________________

Eric and I have become friends.  I’m the senior-most of our group, and boxing is the focal point of all of our new friendships.  I hope my son becomes a fighter.  Even he comes downstairs and knows that “daddy is not the fighter.”  I’m like no one in my own gym, a guy with a quarter century of information on fighting, but too absorbed in boxing to absorb in myself.  Yes, I’m the boss.  But when guys like Eric come around, or “become,” I find myself admiring them.  I once wrote this poem that puts it well:

“Men adore fighters, the purest of whom must get up. We fall in love, the closest thing to a love for a comrade, when we witness even a stranger traversing through the blood and sweat straining his mind to find an angle, omitting emotion, deferring affliction, and battling back from the very position where he birthed his wounds… On ground that bares no advantage at any moment, but of will and skill.  And as he appears to be beaten, men of all applaud him, their eyes embrace their tears, in victory or loss.”

It’s we to me when Eric bodies this kid.  It’s we to me if anything bad happens to Eric, but I don’t foresee that at all.  The hard work is his.  The glory will, too, be his.

_______________________

In the moment, I only hear some jerk cheering on the other kid’s jab. He was one of the trainers who sat in the back room while Eric warmed up.  “That kid doesn’t hear you,” I wanted to say. “But I can’t hear myself because you’re sitting here rooting for the blue corner.  My kid is gonna whip on yours.”  Eric did appear stiff, but he used his good footwork to move in and out.  The other kid was strong, but Eric was tough and smart with better technique.  We were doing well, but the other kid hit him with some thudding, clean blows.  “Not the right pop to stun E’s chin.  He can’t turn his punches over too well,” I said to DJ (the other second in our corner). “E’s gonna get this kid.”

After round 1, I looked at Eric’s face.  I will never forget that look.  It was a winner’s look.  “Oh, man, this motherfucker’s mine,” Eric told me.  I usually advise my fighters in sparring to do at least one specific thing.  I find it helps all fighters.  But Eric is a thinker, and I didn’t want him thinking any more than he naturally does.  So, I smiled and said, “I know this kid can’t hurt you.  And he’s acting hurt all over. He don’t want a fight.  Let’s step up the activity, let the 1’s go.”

Round 2, the crowd was all Eric.  People tend to not like the guy who runs.  Eric did exactly what we trained.  Not enough head movement, but he “stalked and moved.” He threw big shots and it appeared to everyone that the other guy was hurt on several occasions.  I could hear the crowd as it grew in favor of Eric.  The other kid was good, but I like my fighter.  Just a bit more output and we could win this.  At the bell, DJ said, “It’s close.”  I went into the ring and I let Eric hear me give a little laugh.  I wanted him to know I was confident in him.

“Eric, you’re the better man.   It’s close, but the kid is punching more.  You’re walking through it and the kid keeps looking hurt.  You gotta let it go.  You hear these people?”

Eric looked me in the eyes.

I bent up and spoke through the side of the headgear.  “They fuckin fell in love with you.  Your family loves you.  Everyone is loving you right now, kid.  Let’s give them what they want and make them love you more.  Let’s go for ours.  This is it, son.”

“2 minutes?” Eric asked while he was still very focused.

“Knock this muhfucka out.”

“2 minutes. Let’s go!”

I put the mouthpiece back into his mouth properly. “I luh you, kid.”

Round 3, I felt like I was gonna drop the guy in blue.  I felt like I needed one more punch to the body and he would go.  Punches were whipping from all angles.  The kid was reeling back.  Every punch Eric threw, I felt was mine.  I heard the guy behind me and he changed his favorite.  Eric was stalking and stalking.  He was bleeding, of course.  Eric then gets hit with a straight shot and continued stalking the other kid, and the referee jumped in and called a standing 8.  The crowd went crazy, booing.  The guy behind me started yelling at the referee.  But I know USA Boxing, and those bad referee calls are so common.  I believe the referee was looking for a way to have the doctor look at Eric’s nose, but the pace was so hectic.  The nose was fine and we knew it.  Eric just bleeds.  Eric continued pressing the fight and making the pace.  At the bell, Eric walked over to the other corner and congratulated them for a good fight.  I thought there was a chance Eric got the nod, but that is probably just bias.  The other kid was good and deserving of the win.  All my respect goes out to him.

On the way back to the makeshift locker room, the classroom, that guy who sat behind me stopped me and asked me, “Do you guys train out of Gleason’s?”  Still focused on the fight, looking down at my bloody towel, I replied, “No, unattached, but I have a gym, Eastern Queens BC, not yet registered.”  He shook his head, “Man, you guys did great. Tough call.” I bumped fists with him and thanked him.  A few other people said that they thought Eric won it. “At least if it were a professional fight,” one guy added.

As a trainer, I found that you learn who your friends are and you learn who the people are who don’t know boxing.  You also learn who is not on your side.  When you take on such a challenge in life, some of your closest people may wish you the worst, haters wishing failure on people doing things they only wish they had the courage to do.  No one knows what we expected and if we met our goal for being in this tournament, so when anyone in our association said Eric did “okay,” I am really bothered.  He did amazingly.  He was a warrior.  You have no respect for the sport if you don’t realize that I in no way taught him to be tough.  And this is why I only respect fighters and people directly involved with fighters.  Still, no one knows what Eric went through to make it those 8 minutes.  No one knows what he was feeling.

_________________________________

I came home from the fight and took my son, Mason, to the gym to play.  I spent an hour staring at him jumping around the ring, making sure he didn’t do anything crazy while I was rerunning in my head what I could have done differently to help Eric to have taken a victory.  Maybe if I had waited till next year?

I watched Mason put on headgear that covered his whole face because his toddler head didn’t fit into it yet.  He couldn’t see, and he made a cry.  In a somber tone, I led him with my common mantra, “Whateva, don’t be a bitch.  Deal wit it.  I’m right here.”

My fighters know I’m with them every step and slide, too.  If I don’t like you, I don’t train you.  My fighters should be certain that I would never let them get into something that they couldn’t walk out of proud, that they couldn’t do what they set out to do.  The only uncertainty we all have is if next year ever comes.

Considering Eric Morrissey’s camp and the heart he bore in the ring in that finale, we all should be proud.  Now.

* Thank you to Nick Delury and the whole Westchester BC, Steve Gentile and the whole Core BC, and Kimera MMA.  DJ, Eric’s brother, also deserves credit for his support.

The Inherent Cowardice of Ground-fighting

 

(This is a follow-up to Garrett Morris’s “What Makes MMA Gay?”  I preface this commentary by making it known that I am a full supporter of mma and want the sport to grow.  I want people to see that mma can be so much better so that fighters from all disciplines may follow mma in the future.)

Grappling (Greco-Roman wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, etc.) is just not satisfying for many fighters, no matter how effective it is in MMA competition.  Aesthetically, it isn’t pleasing to the worldly viewer or to many a fighter.  Even in real life situations, as in avenging a wrongdoing, wouldn’t it behoove one to do damage to one’s enemy by taking that person’s dignity through beating him on equal ground? – equal ground meaning “equal leverage.”  By equal leverage I refer to a free standing position in which there is no intrinsic safe ground, as in clinching positioning or grappling.  Isn’t this why we fight instead of shoot guns?

Consider this:  Two uniformed lawmen get into an argument about their schedule.  One guy smacks the other in the face.  The other reacts by tackling him.  They wrestle until one officer manages to gain dominant positioning, and he puts handcuffs on the other cop.  Then, he lies on top of him and starts beating the downed officer.  And maybe he puts the helpless guy into a knee-bar.  What is so cavalier of any of that? What does it prove on the playing field of fighting? What fighting need does it satisfy?

This is subjective, and it could vary from opinion to opinion, but the above situation would probably warrant a rematch by the logic of fighting principles.  The guy who was handcuffed would probably think it was unfair (perhaps he would never use his handcuffs in a supposed fair fight with a fellow officer), and he’d want to fight again.  Fighting, beyond the visceral anger and self-defense notions, is about satisfying a curiosity, “who would win on fair ground?”  It is about damaging an opponent while an opponent can damage you (not after gaining unfair positioning), and it’s about making the statement that you are worthy.  Borrowing from Rocky Balboa, fighting is about saying, “I am.”  Even when someone’s intent is to humiliate another person, he chooses to do so through fighting because it satisfies his personal duty to earn it.  There is honor in fighting.  And if it were only about self-defense, one should walk in droves, carry a gun, or just be a sissy.  That old cop-out of “self-defense” is virtual nonsense.  Fighting is almost always a choice.

Many grapplers choose to tumble and toss on the ground, perhaps, to satisfy some desire; they like to fight that way.  This is precisely the root to why people talk about mma sport with the tongue-in-cheek reference of it being “gay,” or homoerotic.  They want to be close, in tactile quarters.  Of course most fighters probably have no homosexual thoughts when they are wrestling.  The same goes for any sport with head-to-toe bodily contact, like football; “it’s only gay if they make it gay,” as the saying goes.  The question so many people pose against mma is: “Do they make it gay?”  Surely, there must be more gay people drawn to grappling arts than stand-up arts because of the nature of grappling.  Its latent and suggestive intimacy is almost distinct.  Why do guys wrestle their girlfriends and their children?  There is a closeness stimulated by the fun and varied positions of dominance in wrestling, even without the sexual innuendo.  On top of that, it’s safer; you can practice wrestling without getting hurt.  Wrestling is akin to play-fighting, so why would anyone choose to turn real fighting’s intense emotions (although it’s better to be calm) into a wrestling fight?  If two friends were wrestling as a joke and it became serious, they wouldn’t continue to wrestle-fight.  They would probably stand-up and square-off.  This is the notion of eroticism that wrestling toils with: when a couple wrestles, rubbing bodies, it may get hot and heavy.  So, two men wrestling just seems inappropriate.  Whatever the case, many guys like to roll around twisting and contorting with other men because it’s more accentuated to those guys’ senses – gay or not.  Is that why so many kids seek contact sports?  But they should remember, however, that more surface area bodily contact does not connote more impact.

Stand-up fighting has never been about jockeying for such positioning in which one fighter gains unfair advantage then proceeds to hit his opponent.  Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is awesome in that respect—it is all about leverage—but this is exactly what also makes it a yellowbelly game.  Boxing and kick-boxing have always been about the use of fine idiosyncratic skills encompassed in a moment, or on the opposite of the spectrum, the ever exciting “free-for-all” – standing in front of a foe and brawling, shot for shot.  But stand up arts have always maintained a grave element of danger that is less prominent in grappling arts.  For the majority of the public, wrestling seems more strategic than boxing because it holds true for people who don’t know anything about fighting.  If you get two guys who never boxed or wrestled, they are going to be more strategic in wrestling each other.  They wouldn’t know the angles, defense, set-ups and traps that are part of standing up, but they could probably improvise with some holding maneuvers however technically incorrect they may be. And every guy thinks he can wrestle – even if the last time he wrestled was in elementary school.  Not too many guys think they can box unless they proved it to themselves with some correlating experience – stand-up is simply much scarier of a pursuit.  There are many smaller guys who may rather wrestle Brock Lesnar than stand up with him because he’s so intimidating, and Brock Lesnar was an All-American wrestler.

A guy can roll at the gym for hours without damaging himself.  Imagine light sparring for an hour.  It would surely be much more afflictive.  Millions of people with my sentiments of boxing and kickboxing don’t understand the appeal of men rolling on the ground together.  Rolling by itself, the part of training important for fighting in mma, may be more frolicsome (gay) than any and all aspects of martial arts.  I, personally, have no understanding what joy guys get out of it.  I’m not homophobic, but the close wrestling is not for me.  When I did BJJ, I was uncomfortable to the point when I wondered if the guys I was rolling with were ‘getting off’ on the grappling – they fancied the heavy contact, but I did it just because it was an aspect I wanted to know in case someone took me down.  I understand that everyone has different boundaries of discomfort.  And that is exactly it – it is what it is on its surface – discomfort.

Grappling is unsatisfying and sort of tasteless to viewers who want to see competition, not dominance (or worse, tumbling that appears to be more consonance than competition).  It lacks the bravado and valiant aspect of stand-up fighting.  One fighter said, “There’s much more skimble-skamble in MMA.  If you can’t stand you can get on the floor.  There is an anticipation of so many possibilities.”  Those possibilities tend to overshadow the bore of it all and it is a lie to many new viewers of mma who see fighters either stand up and box poorly or get on the floor.  They don’t see a true assortment of mixed martial arts.  The grapplers grapple and the stand up guys stand.  The freestylers flail until they fall.  And when they each clash it turns into a stupid stalemate until the usual grappling match or the skill-less stand-up.  In boxing, it can be argued that there is more talent needed and more discipline – a chess match of offense and defense, skill versus skill.  In mma, one could figure out how to gain advantage by not matching his skill to the other fighter’s skill, and rather by “playing a different game.”  Grappling itself is about maneuvering positioning to a safe and unequal ground.  Wrestlers are, perhaps, drawn to mma because of this dynamic.  If your hands are really good, the other guy can try managing to wrestle with you, or vice versa.  In boxing, you can’t get away from danger by taking someone to play Scrabble instead of chess if your chess game is weak.  Corollary to this, any big guy could be thrown into mma and he could roll around or punch and possibly survive for a long time.  This is much less likely to be done in boxing without the guy getting mauled and humiliated.  And in mma, it’s easier to give up; you can tap before any damage has incurred or you can lay in a fetal position covering any significant blows from landing while the referee hurries to halt the fight.  No one will notice your “no mas” in mma.

Grappling is a tedious game of maneuvering that usually takes much too long to produce excitement, if any.  Many grapplers even express that it is more gratifying to win on their feet by KO.  Conversely, it is often a greater blow to fighters’ dignity when they’ve been KO’d.  One mma spectator said that getting on the ground always seemed like hitting or being hit in the balls – “a B.S. fight, a cheat,” if you will.  “Whether someone wins or loses on the ground, it always seems to be a jip.”  Even after a hundred mma events, the ground and pound and even the submission have lacked the valiant factor—how much blood and guts and determination did it take.  One bit of pressure on a joint and you tap.  And once you’re in a dominant position, it’s academic.  “If that’s what a good fight comes down to,” a friend suggested, “may as well get a gun instead of fight like these guys and forget these corny martial arts.”

What is it about choking someone out that appeals to some people?  I somewhat see the value in clutching someone into a helpless position and feeling his body go limp.  It is an exhibition of domination.  But this tells me that the person who would rather choke-out someone hasn’t learned how to hit, hasn’t ever cracked someone hard, or can’t hit that hard. One Muay-Thai boxer who converted to mma said to me, “When you’ve felt the exhilaration of hitting someone in the face for real, you will never want to tackle or take-down another man again – unless that’s your thing (sarcasm).” The thing about grappling is that any man can choke-out someone in the right position.  Knocking-out someone is so much more difficult—it’s arguably a truer display of skill and power than outwrestling someone with weight or muscle.  I’m not saying that knocking-out a 16 year old boy is more impressive than choking-out a Gracie, but knocking-out a Gracie could cause so much more damage to a Gracie than choking him out.  It may even be more demeaning.  Knocking-out someone is just so much more electrifying and to the point.  It’s sudden and quick.  And for those who say, “In the street, working submissions, if you choke someone out you kill him, or you can break his arm,” how often is that going to happen?  Really, what bar brawl or real self-defense situation is anyone going to be granted such an opportunity without being pulled-off the opponent, stomped-out, or imprisoned?  How practical is it even in its most primal, non-cowardly application away from any organized competition?  And don’t responsible martial arts practitioners always preach for people to just give up their valuables in any real situation such as robbery?

Fighting on almost every level is about pride and bravado.  Skill versus skill.  Man to man.  Except for the rare self-defense, life or death situation, there are unwritten rules to fighting.  There are actually morals.  Whether in a neighborhood beef or stepping outside a bar, a fight is almost always about respect, not survival.  One can walk away in tact, unharmed and with all his possessions in most encounters even if he may end up looking like a “sucker.”  So fighting is not just to exist; if you fight, it’s out of dignity.  And nothing gets respect like standing up and “fighting like a man.”  Consider that if someone bites (unless he is crazed and out of his mind), grabs testicles, or lays and waits for someone to break it up, he is arguably the coward of a fair fight.

Then is it so ridiculous to have an unexpressed agreement on how to fight a streetfight?  If not, then you can incorporate weapons or cheating.  Fighting, anyway, is not the fighting we imagine without an absolute isolation of weapons, whichever those weapons may be (no use of garment or inanimate objects, no spitting, no fish-hooking, no clawing, no biting, no jumping-in, no ear-tearing, etc.).  Because when you allow some weapons in certain positions and prohibit those weapons in other positions, only then, do you have an utter farce.  When speaking of three types of fighting (mma, street, and self-defense), mma grappling and street-fight grappling each exude this contradiction.  I once watched a barfight in which one guy laid in some amateur side control-like position and began vomiting uncontrollably on his foe’s face, much of which went into the supine guy’s mouth, seemingly accidentally.  It was the most hysterical and appalling sight, especially as the man seemed to use his throw-up to blind his opponent while he viciously beat him bloody.  My friends and I walked away shocked, but we also realized there was a moral to the story, aside from any jokes:  The outcome of the fight was inequitable, empty; it was just plain “unfair” or it was a fluky way to good self-defense.  At that moment, I knew that any grappling could only be completely rule-less in order to be an appraisable martial art.  No one could know its value unless it was used in no-holds barred, life-or-death situations (like JKD, this would be almost impossible to test).  In other words, grappling should only be used for complete self-defense, as even grappling in mma does not incorporate the most effective possibilities (“cheats” as I call it) that could be so useful in any life-or-death setting:  biting, heat-butting, eye-gouging, crotch striking, ear-tearing, etc.  And, I guess, vomiting.  It is arguable that the new mma is just a diluted sport with displaced skills, displaced strategy, and the restriction of bodily weapons.  Basically, grappling in mma, or in a civil street-fight, is just a bad representation of fair-fighting.  Stand-up fighting is simply not close-range enough to exude any of the contradictions I speak of.

There is cowardice inherent in grappling, even with the use of extreme self-defense tactics (“cheats”).  Because one would have to “cheat” to make it efficient and without the “cheating” the danger is limited.  Furthermore, people who don’t like the idea of being hit in the face and standing on fair ground would rather be in positions they think they can squirm out of.  They want to smother the danger that they conceive and jockey for position, jockey for a mismatch.  Even if two skilled wrestlers battled, it would come down to one of them finding some convenient advantage—but they often fight a boring match made up of defense, no openings, and no risks.  Wrestling combatants use the ground as a weapon, and even if they both have the weapon at their disposal, they are only sort of “trying to use the weapon first.”  It’s almost like they are not purely matching skills; one guy gets a hold, by chance more often than one may think, and then the other guy is left at a disadvantage until some other slip-up.  In wrestling, strength and size accounts for too much to be considered a supreme skill-set.  For people in a fight who are pinned and pounded, what then?  It may not even prove anything but dominant size.  If a stand-up fighter is choked-out, he may even say, “What could I do?  He beat me, but he didn’t want to match his skills against mine.”  This is the culturally opposing outlooks on the two styles of fighting; of course a wrestler is going to want to take a stand-up guy to the ground, but to stand-up guys it just seems like the sissy way to fight.  It’s like a “bitch-fight” in which two girls are trying to control the other person in order to beat-up the other one – the only difference is that girls pull hair.  In stand-up fighting, fighters don’t care about controlling, manipulating, or dominating the other person.  The sentiment of stand-up guys seems to be “do whatever the hell you want, you ain’t worth my time but to knock your ass out without having to lay-down with you.”  Most people tend to grapple because they know that anyone, to some extent, has the possibility to wrestle to a stalemate in a given situation, avoiding jeopardy (even if only for a minute).  Many guys have been known to hold-on for the duration in mma contests.  People who don’t know anything about fighting will wrestle if they fight.  And the stronger, bigger guy is almost always the one who wants to grapple.  If that’s not a big red flag indicator of cowardice, you must have missed the object of what fighting is about: fairness and honor.

And so, when applied to mma, while I do recognize the greatness and importance of ground fighting in self-defense and overall martial arts, I personally second the old notion and applaud it: “I’d rather die on my feet, than live on my knees.”

* …It is common opinion in the fight game that there is nothing sweeter than knocking out someone who is trying to knock you out.  Such is the reason why “the Manly Art” has been better known as “the Sweet Science.”