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On Luck and Referee Discretion in MMA

by Al Alvir

I will continue to study the goings-on of mma, but I will not stop complaining about its flaws until change is made. Fedor Emelianenko’s defeat to Dan Henderson was fun to watch on the surface, but it contained the underlying contradictions and drawbacks of the sport. Although this bout did not have the feature of a buffoon jumping up and down in a dry pre-fight warm-up or doing some victory dance after landing a Hail-Mary overhand, the outcome can arguably be credited to luck. Emelianenko knocked Henderson down after rushing in, fell into being swept, got punched, went limp, got punched in the back of the head a couple of times, seemed to recover, then the fight was stopped.

The halting of bouts in mma is much too subjective – to the point of exacerbating chance. After Cheick Kongo recovered and knocked out Pat Barry, no one cried foul at Dan Miragliotta not stopping it earlier when it seemed Kongo was out. That is, perhaps, the finest example of professional refereeing. With the protocol of stopping contests understood, and safety being the primary goal, consistency is essential for the evolution of mma. Let the fighters go out on their shields, as the saying goes. With the amalgam of prohibited moves in mma, it is negligent for referees to be given liberty to pick and choose when rules may be ignored. There are times in a bout, boxing or mma, when an illegal strike is made at no fault of the person throwing the strike; sometimes incidental contact is made in a controlled assault. When the person throwing a strike has an urgency to finish a fight, however, he often loses control and punches the back of his opponent’s head, and referees tend to allow it in mma as though it is just incidental. Incidentally, mma fighters habitually lose control, and it’s one of the most glaring pieces of obliviousness in these sportsmen’s existences. I had never before opposed hitting to the back of the head in any form of fighting, because I believe that it’s a fighter’s fault for having the back of his head exposed. But in a sport such as mma in which there is an overabundance of small rules, as well as an overabundance of immature/amateur artists of stand-up fighting, “no rabbit punches” should be enforced in a timid ground and pound as well as in a near conclusion to any fight. It’s an unspoken convention of fighters to hit the back of the head if it’s available. One prominent mma figure (who I will not name) told a class of fighters to “punch the back of the head of an opponent when he’s hurt, the ref won’t say anything.” It’s bad luck – and some bad technique (even Fedor the Great ran in like a schoolboy at a fight during recess) – that landed Emelianenko on his hands and knees, but the fight should arguably have gone on. Not to say that he wouldn’t have been really hurt, but I’d bet he would have liked the opportunity with whatever outcome.

On wrestling in mma:

When fighters aren’t running in and trying to get lucky doing the “rush and punch,” they often seem to just lay down – pure wrestling. I can think of a dozen ways to fix the problem of having a Tyrone Woodley rest on Paul Daley, or a Tim Kennedy lay on Robbie Lawler. (Yes, it is a problem because it undermines the object of fighting: to inflict more damage on an opponent than he inflicts on you.) Besides applying a Hierarchy of Fight Action for scoring fights (see article on Shootafairone.com), a “no advancement time limit” on the ground must be put in effect. If a person cannot transition or advance on the ground in a given time, the fighters must be stood up. There can’t be an indefinite amount of time spent in limbo. Again, the current provisions allow too much subjectivity and too much referee discretion. Improved definitions are overdue, as they would limit the variety of interpretations of inaction on the ground.

How To Take a Punch – The Interpretation of Taking Blows

Soft Chins, Hard Temples: The Interpretation of Taking Blows

by Al Alvir

Absorbing shots to the face and body is often a matter of interpretation.  I call it “interpreting force.”  Some shots, of course, have the impact beyond the realm of interpreting; fighters just get layed-out.  But the great majority of hits in a fight are not going to be KO worthy.  And everyone gets hit.  So what does one do when he gets hit one of those times hard?  Does it depend on how sturdy his chin is?  Can his chin get sturdier?

Interpreting force is not some spiritual idea.  One doesn’t have to reach an inner Chi to start taking good shots.  It’s not a psyched-up state of mind, necessarily, either.  Interpreting force is a matter of experience.  One will only know how to interpret the force of blows depending on two simple things: 1) Having seen it coming and felt it in the past, and 2) Not having seen it coming and felt it (being blind-sided) in the past.  The two criteria must be met in order to really know one’s capabilities to further one’s fight education.  And it’s very important that all interpretations in a fight should be positive.  That way, a fighter can just tell himself, “I’ve been hit like that a million times before, and it does nothing.”  If a fighter interprets a good shot saying, “Uh-oh, I’ve been rocked with shots like that before, if I get hit again, I might get knocked-out,” it means his fighting spirit might need a re-evaluation before his chin does.  At the threshold, however, some point in one’s experience of taking the most damaging shots, a fighter will know what his body can and can’t take.  Even body blows and other kinds of force can be prepared for to a shorter extent.  Fighters often wilt and stay down from a great shot to the body because it’s debilitating – if it happens, it may only happen once in a fighter’s career.  But other fighters have been known for getting up only for the reason that they’ve felt the pain at least once before.  It is arguable that Oscar De La Hoya may have gotten up if he had already felt the same exact pain of Bernard Hopkins’s knockout punch to the liver.  Knowing the threshold of pain is why experienced fighters sometimes know when their opponents simply cannot knock them out after feeling the other fighter’s power.  And experienced fighters are only “tried and true” when they have been down and have had to feel how it was at that threshold of trying to survive.  This is why trainers often dwell on a fighter “never being down before” or “never going deep in a fight.”  Fighting has enough overwhelming pressure by just being alone in combat that one needs experience, as much as civilly possible, to be productive.

Generally, chins and temples are a genetic grace, but once a fighter has the experience of knowing what it feels like to be hit, he can start “interpreting” the force (again, as long it’s not knocking him out).  What does it mean that it hurt so much?  How much abuse can be sustained?  So much of a fighter’s ability to interpret force depends on him seeing it.  The saying goes, “It’s the one you don’t see that knocks you out.” Seeing shots coming is so important because it provides a fighter with another source of information – he saw it and felt it, then he processes it.  When a fighter sees a shot coming, he can prepare if he has experienced it before.  He knows he can take it and he eats it, or absorbs it.  “Eating” a shot is like having a “prepared relaxation,” no tensing up, per se, and no allowing the shot to topple the fighter over.  Some trainers wrongly encourage fighters to roll their heads with shots like Shannon Briggs does, but that can only get a fighter knocked-out with another punch he doesn’t see, and it looks to judges like punches are really snapping the head.  Plus, if a fighter keeps his eyes on his opponent and the punches, maybe next time he can defend it or counter it.  Taking blows and “doing something with it” is part of the chess game of boxing. 

But how does a fighter interpret getting hit with a hard shot when he doesn’t see it coming?  He has to use it as a wake up call and treat it like it can’t hurt him, he’s felt it before.  And then he needs to know what he did to be put in that position, because it shouldn’t happen too often in a fight.  If he can’t adjust, he might have to be woken up off the canvas.  And the problem is that knock-outs blows are never a force that can be interpreted.

The Problem With Bruce Lee’s JKD – Afterword

Faith Based Training

JKD has adopted the deficiencies of traditional martial arts (TMA): faith based martial arts training, as I call it. Without questioning all facets of martial arts through the process of simulation training and mere skepticism, all TMA falls short of reality. And JKD is a peripheral victim. The fact is that martial arts training involves pain and frustration and randomness, and it’s not for everyone. It is not glorious at all in all the suffering that goes with it, yet it is a passion like anything else. Even disciplines that are proven through sports must be proven to each successive practitioner. For example, no matter how convinced we are that an arm-bar works, we cannot even trust a Royce Gracie without trying it for ourselves. We cannot know viscerally—not just theoretically—how to do it to an opponent until we actually do it.

Faith based training is what has become of martial arts. Coaches don’t tell why and students don’t ask why. Their training itself doesn’t answer why. Even mma gyms seem to have allowance for quasi-practitioners who just go to classes, do partial-contact drills, but don’t do the free sparring with minimal protection. Minimal protection is important, because you must be free to release genuine force and also process the pain. JKD men often put full gear on (shin protectors, head-gear with mask, and even stomach protectors); this allows fighters to release force upon one another, but it does not allow fighters to process the pain and react to it. Conversely, “gear-less sparring” generally does not allow fighters to release real force on one another, and then there’s nothing to process. No pain, it’s like play-fighting.

The adoption of instructor titles and monikers is another indirect perpetuation of faith based training. It causes students to become followers who don’t question. It’s like religion of martial arts. A coach’s ability to communicate a way of thinking about fighting is better than any coach brainwashing. Anything that lends to brainwashing—as in “believe this because I’m saying so, trust me”—should be extinguished from martial arts. Such things like Sifus and masters and Professors have zero effect on improving martial arts. In the army they break you down to nothing, and on so many levels they brainwash you. Martial arts is not like the military in which you are taught to sacrifice yourself completely to your military’s cause. In martial arts, you sacrifice completely to and for yourself. A hierarchy on almost every level of martial arts stunts the only thing that matters: fighting ability. And respect, in combat arts, is inherent, if not earned on an individual basis. The point is that everyone is equal in martial arts and should question every skill, as fighting is a never ending evolutionary process among the vast array of disciplines.

In JKD, their three main aspects—efficiency, directness, and simplicity—is misleading. It seems inherently correct, but once you put it as a numbered aspect of a way (be it ‘of no way’ or whatever), you make it a “rule.” I would rather sacrifice efficiency, directness, and simplicity for something that simply works for me. Plus the 3 aspects are subjective. It can be argued that boxing is the least simple of martial arts, as it may be the most rigorously strategic. I question, for example, the effectiveness of trapping ala Wing Chun. JKD men all over the world are convinced that this stuff works. It seems efficient, direct, and simple enough, but how do we know? No one has ever used it in full contact combat with any bit of exclusivity. There is no known use of it in combat, period. Paul Vunak, a JKD man who was known for his excellent trapping skills, had plenty of instructional videos exhibiting the trapping range in what I call “contractual sparring.” By that, I speak of sparring in which one guy is limited from using at least one technique that his opponent is not limited from using, or one man’s goal is different from the other man’s goal. Something like this is really just a drill. The truth is that a fighter cannot trust any technique for himself because somebody says it works. A fighter cannot even trust a technique for himself even if he has seen it in action; he must practice it himself and ask the questions in every way he can. Mainly, “how and why would this work for me?” So how can the masses trust a technique they have never seen in use and have never tried themselves? And I don’t know about some of those Brazilian Jujitsu moves either; they don’t seem too simple, direct, or even efficient, but they sure as hell worked for other people. They just don’t seem as cockamamie as, let’s say, Ninjutsu. But hey, maybe that deserves some inquiries of its own.

Only an individual can answer what is best for him in combat, but he should be honest and realistic. If a technique works, is it the best move for a fight? Is there a set-up, follow-up, and counter? Is it a one time move like a Superman punch (meaning you can’t do it over and over because you give the move away)? What does it “working” mean? What if it worked 75% of the time before, but it’s completely failing this time? Do you have the proper tools to solve the problem? What if your technique doesn’t offset another fighter even one-bit? What if the move does the intended physical damage, but the guy keeps coming? Then what?

Question everything…Even what you are reading right now…1…2……3. You are cured.

I thought religion was “the opiate of the masses.”