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Black Belt Bull

By Al Alvir

If I met a guy who had a black belt in any form I wasn’t familiar with, I’d bet he’d show me some momentous stuff I didn’t know.  Big whoopee!  A yellow belt is liable to do the same.  Because I would not know much of the art anyway.  A black belt hardly means a thing unless the person who wears it stands above everyone else through competition and he faces relinquishing his belt.

What does it mean to be, or own, a black belt?  Does it mean the owner stands alone as the best?  With the most knowledge?  The best in Kata?  Fighter?  Is he the best instructor?  Is he the chosen one for improving the given art?  And how many other black belts are there?  Does it mean he went to the same dojo 5 days a week for a couple of years, or did he go there on and off, perhaps once a week, for several years?  What discretionary test did he have to pass—did the Master Sensei just make up a challenge that has no checks and balances?

My hunch is that black belts are like master’s degrees—many a halfwit can pain (or pay) his way for one.  I’m a boxer recognized in small circles to be highly knowledgeable about boxing.  I’d fancy myself a black belt at boxing if there were such a thing, but I don’t want to toot my own horn so I’d settle for the lowly title of “expert.”  I’ve even schooled some talented guys one on one.  Compared to Lennox Lewis, I’m going to guess that I know more, but I’m quite confident that he’d edge me on points.  Okay, he’d knock me the hell out, but I still think I’d have a higher degree black belt.

Black belts have no real design.  There is no standard to represent what a black belt precisely connotes—even in the best of the “belted arts.”  A black belt Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu guy could roll with me and make me tap from every angle.  I’d probably be impressed, never knowing for sure what he actually achieved to receive his belt.  He could know his stuff without even having a belt, or he could be lying.  Is there not one single purple or brown belt that can beat this guy?  How does he compare with the other black belts?  If he bangs his head on someone’s kicks a little too much in practice and gets amnesia of jiu-jitsu, I think he should be liable to lose his black belt.  I don’t mean to be coy, but the process is that laughable to me.  All belts should be burned, but people need them to fill their voids and match their insecurities.  Of course black belts often have an expertise earned from dedication and many years of hard work, but because there is no defining characteristic to a black belt, any belt is never enough on its own.  Thus, black belts should be dated and have renewals and expirations since they tend to fool people so much.  And there should only be one black belt per art or maybe per weight class, just like the combat sports that take precedence over all these belts, stripes, bells and whistles.

Ultimately, belts give people a fallacious definition of mastery.  Fighting, however, is perpetually evolving and unable to be mastered.  Belts cause people to be followers ignoring the chance to develop their unique styles, the most imposing of all masteries.  As belts may be an adolescent hallmark for discipline and persistence, what adult needs to have a black belt for anything other than profit?  Black belts make people stop wanting to learn; they are a placebo for truth.  They are achievements devoid of competition.  The process of gaining a black belt is almost always without having to fight a way to the top.  Obtaining a black belt is a nice thing in lieu of winning a fight against the best.  For the rare person to whom a belt of any sort means little, success is only personal, or it is for all the public to share through competition.  It is triumph or defeat that matters to him, not the trophy.  In belt promotion, it is only the trophy that matters.

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My nephew had his first black belt when he was 13 years old.  He has always been pretty awesome at whatever he does, but trust that he’ll find out one day that his black belt had meant little to nothing outside of himself, his own worth from someone else’s perspective.  If that’s what belts signify, then I’d tell any son of mine, “have your favorite color, grow up and become your own person.”

The Difference of Realities—Bar Brawls, Being Jumped, and One on Ones

re-post from 22 January 2008

The Difference of Realities—Bar Brawls, Being Jumped, and One on Ones

By Al Alvir 

Most “head-up” fair fights end up on the ground.  Lack of striking skills, fear, or one’s superior grappling ability, are each reasons that a fight does not stay on the feet.  According to collected incident reports in Queens and Brooklyn precincts in 2007, 84% of fights consisted of multiple participants.  Those numbers don’t include domestic incidents, except for 41 incidents involving brothers.  20 of those 41 incidents were ultimately excluded from the study due to weapons.  Out of the 84% of multiple assailant fights, approximately 60% (50.4% of all fights) were at a bar or nightclub.  There were thousands (estimated due to unclear reports) of incidents of gang fights (empty hands, as no weapons were indicated).  The rest were robberies and felony assaults.  These numbers, according to Compstat and Uniformed Crime Reports, are consistent with the rest of the country.

 Taking into account that 84% of thousands of fights in Brooklyn and Queens Do NOT consist of one on one fighting, striking arts must take priority in a self-defense repertoire.  Going into a hand to hand fight against 4 thugs, who would you want to bring with you?  If you could only take one fighter, who would you take?  If you could take 3 fighters, who would you take?

 In a reconsideration of fighting and who you’d want to rumble along with, surely Sean Sherk and Randy Couture should not be at the top of the list.  Lumbering size could arguably be considered useless (more useless than before)—see Tim Sylvia.  Conversely, when considering street brawls, size and strength gains the validity it lost from years of Royce Gracie triumphs.  The likes of Mark Coleman and Tank Abbott may be fit for Multiple Adversary/Ally Mixed Martial Arts (MAMMA).  The skills of out-flanking, lethal striking, footwork, cooperation, and speed, become more pertinent as well.  One may consider some professional fighters who could make up great teams.  Mike Tyson and other boxers could fare more than well in MAMMA. Mirko Fedorowich and Mark Hunt may be the most valuable fighters for their finishing ability, but kicks can be a liability in closed spaced brawls like in a small bar.  Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Shamrock maintain their favored regard due to being so well rounded.  Judo experts such as Hidehiko Yoshido can play into their strengths in MAMMA.  Dark horses fill the spectrum (e.g. Bob Sapp, Phil Baroni).  But it could make you look at fighting in a different way.

 Ultimately, the abilities of shooting and submitting may become nonfunctional.  In the urban population especially, MMA lacks the realistic nature of hand to hand incidents.  Stand-up is more relevant to what actually happens outside the ring or cage:  Punching and running or being punched until the cops come. 

 Some people think that MAMMA is just chaos and unreflective of a fighter’s abilities.  Whatever it may be considered, MAMMA takes conditioning, braveness, speed, urgency, and intelligence.  MAMMA fighting is simply the closest reality.

The Compu-Box Fallacy – the Numbers Just Don’t Add Up

by Al Alvir

Fights have always been best judged the day after, when the viewer is poised to watch objectively and not get caught up in the hype. The hype, meaning everything from the crowd’s jeers, the commentators’ biases, the sound of punches landing on the gloves, to the noises that the boxers make, does not escape anyone. Even judges have to guess that a punch landed flush when a fighter’s back is turned to him. Not to mention, in order to score rounds—in one aspect—judges have to rule whether a fighter did more damage than the other fighter. Compu-Box, like Punchstat numbers or any of the popular statistic coverage on major fight networks, perpetuates these flaws of scoring fights, because people, not computers, are pressing buttons and tallying punches during the action of the fight.

I have taken it into my own hands to take punch-stats, and the results prove to be better than Compu-Box. The way I take stats, Motion-Count as I call it, is simple and, similar to Compu-Box, not very technologically advanced: Motion-Count is the method of carefully computing stats after replaying and analyzing all the action of a fight in regular speed and slow motion after the live action. I use the same standards that Compu-box uses for scoring the punches, but I have the tedious luxury to replay and analyze all the action of the fight. Compu-Box is still somewhat reliable in its data of punches thrown, but it sorely misinforms the public in punches landed. Motion-Count is more reliable in judging the standards of clean, connecting punches. Motion-Count uses the same objectivity that judges and scorers are taught, only without the random biases and difficulties of doing it live.

Of course, Motion-Count may take away from some of the drama of a bout’s conclusion, but in the pursuit of fairness and truth, post fight analysis is the only logical way. Having a Compu-Box stat taker for every single kind of punch and for each fighter would not even allow accuracy because there will be unavoidable human error. If I were the stat-taker for, let’s say, boxer A’s left hook to the body, there would be numerous instances in a fight that I would be unsure whether one did or did not land on boxer B. Even as I carefully watch every second of a bout using the Motion-Count method, I need to replay over and over again, in regular motion and slow motion, numerous instances in a bout when punches don’t seem to clearly connect or miss. With that said, stat-taking in boxing is always going to be a judgment call. I think it’s our duty to cut down on the errors and make a science out of scoring the punches in the sweet-science. Some punches look like they go off gloves and others look like the impact is flush. Sometimes a boxer rolls a punch, and perhaps slips a punch, that looks like it was a clean shot. Sometimes boxers just paw as opposed to punch and, conversely, power punches sometimes look like jabs. It is important to signify what is a rub, push, or an illusion, and what is a clean and clear connecting punch. These problems are consistent with scoring punches and recording statistics, so it is impossible to do a sufficient job ringside. Certain punches we cannot even see from a video’s angles, like when one of the fighters has his back to the camera—but at least we can rewind and assess the action. I have sat ringside dozens of times and I know that it can even be more difficult to assess punches from bad angles when seated ringside. Perhaps, Motion-Count can eventually implement multiple stationary cameras for post fight analyzation. With the right equipment, Motion-Count may not take the 15 minutes per round that it takes for me with my standard VCR’s rewind and slow-motion. Still, Motion-Count, as I use it after every significant fight through a regular television taping, is so much more reliable than any Compu-Box data ever taken. This proves that Compu-Box is virtually obsolete and has left a trail of misinformation. I know it would ruin the tradition of boxing—and corruption—but maybe all boxing decisions outside of the actual ring action should be made the following day. Wrong decisions have happened hundreds, even thousands, of times in the sport of boxing. Post fight decisions would have helped avoid a whole lot of those. Though I am not disputing decisions based on scoring punches, I am disputing the story that Compu-Box tells after all is done in the ring. Motion-Count is at least a good start at adding some accurate stats to all the debates. I recognize that it’s crazy and fanatical, but what true boxing man isn’t a little nuts?

Here is an example of Motion-Count numbers compared to Compu-Box:

Ronald Wright v. Sam Solimon Compu-Box Connect Numbers
Ronald Wright: 300 total punches, 105 jabs, 195 power punches
Sam Solimon: 174 total punches, 10 jabs, 164 power punches

Ronald Wright v. Sam Solimon Motion-Count Connect Numbers
Ronald Wright: 193 total punches, 81 jabs, 112 power punches
Sam Solimon: 155 total punches, 27 jabs, 128 power punches

*Since this article was first published, SAFO Group LLC has moved forward and created MotionFACT™ Analytics.  Visit www.MotionFACT.com for more information.

A Boxing 10 Point Must Proposal

July 18, 2009

Editorial by Al Alvir

A Boxing 10 Point Must Proposal

After the ambiguity of the Floyd Mayweather Jr. v. Oscar DeLaHoya and Jermaine Taylor v. Corey Spinks fights, even the most dedicated boxing fans must acknowledge the sport’s flaws in scoring. First, boxing needs to define what is the object of the sport? By that, I don’t mean to solicit the usual boxing cliché, “to hit and not be hit.” That slogan is a euphemism for pitter-patting amateurs who score points for merely touching opponents’ headgears, not kill or be killed professionals and their action lusting fans. The object of any combat sport should simply be to inflict more damage to an opponent than he inflicts upon you; this often gets mistaken for “hitting an opponent harder than he hits you.” The latter ignores the notion that some people can absorb pain, some people don’t feel pain, some people are bleeders, and others have weak chins that literally can’t even stand up to pain. By implementing the damage principle, boxing gives more leverage to fighters who have “good chins” and who don’t easily cut or wobble. Can boxing purists deal with the notion that JC Chavez would have clearly beaten Meldrick Taylor even by decision for the mere fact that Chavez inflicted more damage to Taylor?

The Sweet Science is so caught up with the idea of effective aggression that it discredits “ineffective aggression” more than it discredits “ineffective non-aggression.” One of the few exceptions was when Felix Trinidad got the decision win because Oscar DeLaHoya was “on his bicycle” for the last four rounds of their fight. Boxing should carefully restrict fighters who plan to win on points. The best way to secure the chances of fighters not “running” is to deduct points for excessive avoidance of engagement. Also, there should be “effort to finish the fight” (similar to MMA). If a fighter is settled on going the distance, he should have points deducted by the referee and/or the judges who should score against his “survival tactics.” This should also apply to tired fighters and excessive holding. “Counter holding,” or the strategy of hitting and holding, should simply be banned like rabbit punching and low-blows.

Another huge problem with boxing is the subjective nature of assessing punches. It can look like one fighter is landing the bigger shots, but if both fighters are not showing any effects, who is to say what the verdict is? Conversely, if a fighter has lost stamina more than his opponent, is that an indication to who is winning the battle? Stamina needs to be assessed subjectively, but it should generally be considered irrelevant in itself. Damage, again, is the only thing that should matter. Not balance, sloppiness, or lack of boxing skills.

It is understood by any boxing man that there is a science to boxing, and the principle of hitting and not being hit verbalizes it. So, I don’t mean to impose cutting someone as absolute extra points on the damage principle. And I wouldn’t want fighters sacrificing the science of boxing for the effort to finish fights. I’m simply referring to how the fighters and the course of the fight, overall, are affected by the punches. It is subjective, but it can be less subjective than so much of the other aspects of scoring boxing.

Pacquiao v. Marquez II in slow-motion exhibits the lesser skills on Pacquiao’s part, but the only thing that should matter—damage—proves to be Pacquiao’s advantage. Subjectively speaking, going into the bout Pacquiao has bad balance and his unconventional defense sometimes can appear like he’s getting hit. Pacquiao is infamous for blocking a punch and falling out of a balanced boxing stance. He even sometimes falls off of balance when he punches. It is common knowledge, however, that he hits hard and is very durable. So, when you see him hit Marquez 3 times and is hit once and appears to be reeled, you should judge correctly: Pacquiao won the damage contest of the action. This is where a judge’s general fight experience and historical knowledge becomes important. If damage still cannot be clearly defined, a fight should be considered a draw. In the case of Pacquiao v. Marquez (I and/or II), a draw should not have been a problem.

Why judges think it is poor work to score an even round is beyond logic. If a fighter is not clearly winning a round, it should be a 10-10 round. It’s ridiculous that a fight can be a draw, but a round is hardly ever ruled as such. Judges shouldn’t make a ruling just because they couldn’t make out the action and only noticed one good punch. Judges often call close rounds on a whim as though they just flip coins or make an arbitrary subconscious choice (ex. I liked one guy’s tassles more, or one’s footwork looked crisper, one’s in better shape, etc.). This is outrageously unfair and adds to the aesthetic of corruption of boxing.

Boxing should also implement Championship Round Scoring—a final quarter of the fight that means more in the overall scoring. Championship Rd. Scoring would be final quarter of all fights, not just rounds 11 and 12. Winning Championship Rounds subtracts 1 pt. or 2 pts. from opponent (the latter if final round is one of the won rounds; eg. In the championship rounds, rounds 10-12, if fighter A wins 10 and 11, his opponent gets -1, or if fighter A wins 10 and 12 or 11 and 12, his opponent gets -2)

Non-incidental holding would be an added foul. As opposed to the current allowance of holding, under these new rules any strategic holding would be controlled by the referee. A referee would manage these fouls identically to how he would manage low blows. To understand the difference, incidental holding cannot ever be strategic. When hurt, holding should be acceptable—it would then be up to the judges to score accordingly using the Damage Principle. Tired fighters, though a subjective call by referee, would not be allowed to hold.