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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.

Lack of Mastery What Boxing Fans Knock about Other Fighting Sports

by Al Alvir

MMA, as well as all forms of kickboxing, have found little acceptance from the boxing public, and the reason for the divide has been recently toiled over by experts, over and again.  Besides the cultural divide that adds to the boxing-mma discord – poverty versus prosperity, individuality versus class structure, way of life versus self-defense – boxing people seem to just not respect how everyone else boxes.

That sounds fair enough.  But mma fans argue that their sport is more exciting, produces more knockouts, and provides better match-ups.

“MMA?  Better match-ups my [expletive],” historian Arthur O’Toole angrily explains with distinct sarcasm. “They get knocked-out because they don’t know the game they’re playing.  They seem great rolling around, but just because Mayweather doesn’t fight Pacquiao, it doesn’t mean mma has better match-ups.  Who wants to watch guys who don’t know what they’re doing trying to box?”  It depends what school of thought you come from when you explore what makes up a better match-up.  If you like a fast pace with the unambiguous game plan precursors in lieu of the intensive strategy of championship boxing, mma appears to make better match-ups, especially when those fights don’t go the distance.

Wilson Lee of SAFO Group says that “people want the immediate satisfaction of mma; short fights, hardly any pawn moves standing up, and mma is easy to understand on the feet.”  The less nuanced mma is exactly what makes some people love it and others hate it.  Lee added, “Besides the fanfare and clichéd effect of mma, and its feigned hardcore imaging, I guess it just doesn’t live up to boxing even in that skill-set [of punching].”

It’s not to dare and say that boxers are superior to other stand-up fighters or that a top Muay Thai kickboxing fighter would never beat a top boxer in a duel of skills; Muay Thai is a fantastically devastating art with many more tools at their disposal than boxers – 6 more limbs and a head butt.  And an mma fighter simply beats a boxer on the ground.  But the argument that O’Toole, for one, makes is that boxing at its best is so much more intricate than any other stand up fighting at its best.  “When these [other martial arts guys] use all these moves, it’s practically always complete stupidity that gets one guy beat.  He gets hit with some retarded haymaker that he showed for 4 rounds or some stupid jumping trick,” O’Toole explained. “They suck at what they do, how the hell am I gonna wanna watch them employ someone else’s art like boxing.”  This notion that fundamentals is lacking in the muddled composition of mma, and even kickboxing, may be as much in your face obvious as it is pervasive to the fighters’ understanding of any detail about strategy and technique.

Not all fighters – even the best – are going to know how to do all moves in most sports.  There are too many moves even in a single discipline of boxing, and there are too many styles of fighting.  There can be a slick pocket fighter like Pernell Whitaker, a stick-and-mover like Muhammad Ali, a workman like JC Chavez, or a stalker like Mike Tyson.  And within those styles are innumerable attributes and signatures and variations.  But all boxers start with only the fundamentals, then they are expected to build their own style of their own constitution.  The problem is that outside of boxing there is a class structure by which fads and imitation rule.  You have practicing fighters learning in groups in settings that don’t address their individual demands.  What works for one fighter is adopted by all, even when inappropriate in style.  “Even in baseball camps, you have a bunch of kids reviewing and practicing the same moves as everyone else,” said Eric Morrissey, an amateur pitcher who recently started boxing training. “But no one gets the particular attention they need.  That structure just never works.”  Like baseball, this problem causes the identities of many mma fighters, besides a few elite ones, to become a confounded mess of borrowed go-to moves that lack the application of any technical process.  Their game plans prove to be overly simple.  O’Toole cites that “mma at its best is just as good as mediocre amateur boxing” and many objective pros on all sides may agree.  I’d say that top stand-up in the mma, to be generous, is more at the level of semi-finalists in USA Boxing amateur tournaments.  They seem like robots with all the poorest habits.

In regards to the more advanced facets of boxing skills, in mma there are so many options that the fighters seem to perceive that they don’t  really need to set-up any brilliant traps.  How often is there what is called “the game within the game” in mma that isn’t obvious even to a confounded viewer or commentator?  At best, and it really is not so impressive, the strategy of mma is almost always “box the wrestler, wrestle the boxer.”  Boxing people argue that mma fighters’ stand-up fundamentals are so poor the majority of the time that deciphering habits in mma is as simple as noticing that one guy holds his hand low:  It’s as though mma trainers can deduce, “His rear hand is a little low so you can throw 5 overhands back to back, and hope for 20% accuracy and a knockout.”  I joke, but to boxing people, they can see mma is that bad without exaggeration.  The material fact is that good strategy at a high level of any sport is not cookie-cutter game plan just as it is not mystery work or mindless trial and error.  “Styles make fights,” so there is great individual application for every top fight, moves and subtleties that are very hard to pick-up on and take months of training aside from instinct.  For a boxing trainer, it takes a quarter of a lifetime to be able to notice the little things that mean so much.  But the intrigue of a masterful competition can only be accomplished when all the details of pure fundamentals are met by both fighters.  Then and only then can good strategy be extracted in stand-up fighting.  It’s less about applying a new move than it is about setting-up the move.

The greatest boxing trainers – like Cus D’Amato, Eddie Futch, Chickie Ferrara to name legends – are masters of psychology, body language, the mechanics of pain, illusions, and historical perspective.  And the fighter applies what his trainer communicates to him; the great fighter takes all he is showed and improvises.  It becomes brutal jazz at its best.  There is an old truism that “a great boxer is a great liar in the ring.  He makes you think one thing and puts you to sleep with the other.”  And good boxing consists of every variation of all those things mentioned.  But it’s not guesswork.  And it’s not just simple science.

Fundamentals are not only about form and the physics of technique.  The surface of basic boxing is even more complex than average fight fans may think.  Because boxing is so much about timing, it’s the “when” that matters more than anything.  Situational knowledge that can be applied through “between round” instruction or on a whim’s command seem to be absent from most “world-class” mma stand-up.  And proper fundamentals – even after a beginning fighter learns how to throw perfect punches and movement – means finding the right distance and following the basic conventions before the subtleties (i.e.. don’t start with a hook to the body from the outside, don’t reach over the jab when you throw a 2, throw touches until the time is right, throw straight punches when opponents have good hooks, scatter the jab, move then punch, punch then move, slip to the back foot is safer, and the list goes on – still, the margin between great amateurs and top professionals is enormous).  Many of these basic kind of things, mma guys and kickboxing coaches don’t seem to communicate to their fighters.  It’s as though they treat these simple practices as advanced boxing, if they treat it at all.  I, personally, have never heard any of those mma coaches even touch upon any simple boxing conventions on the line of those listed.  I never heard any valuable tips besides the most obvious throughout my years in martial arts gyms.  The things everyone hears in even the lamest McDojo atmospheres are tips to “keep your other hand up when you’re punching” or to “turn your fist over on the hook” or to “keep your chin down, shoulder and eyes up” or “to stay on your toes.”  Do seasoned practitioners ever get the more strategic basics outside the boxing gym?

The claims that stance and distance are different in mma and boxing is a convenient lie that helps bolster the image of other fighting arts.  The fundamental boxing stance should be exactly the same for Muay Thai and mma.  Distance, too, doesn’t change from fundamental boxing mechanics to other arts.  One boxing trainer sarcastically said, “you should neither reach nor be too close…  That’s the art of distance.”   And boxers are not conventionally taught to stand linear to their opponents – that’s a myth.  Boxers are not even taught to be in a crouch.  The only thing that changes is that boxers have the luxury to stray from the fundamentals – e.g. turning sideways like a Floyd Mayweather Jr. with his shoulder roll, constantly attacking from a crouch like Mike Tyson.  There is also an added necessity of having to be aware of other weapons in other arts which makes the need to be fundamentally sound arguably more important.  Yet mma is littered with fighters who continue trying to discover how to punch.  Fedor Emelianenko tells people to bend their wrists, flexing their fists slightly and to always make a fist – a laughable non-boxing fundamental (although some fighters turn their hands slightly to match the angles).  Bas Rutten used to say that not turning the fist over was the proper way to punch.  If the whole sport of mma ignored the mumbo-jumbo and focused on the nuance of action of fundamental boxing, maybe the mma fighters would be better in the boxing range.

Other combat sports athletes may compensate for their lack of decent leveled boxing skills by never being in the pocket, because they don’t have to be.  They usually have to be stronger or more in shape to win in mma especially (in regards to stand-up), almost never smarter.  All fighters seem to love to talk about it being a chess match and a science, but the only arts that can claim that legitimately are Jiu-Jitsu and boxing – everything else is strength and attrition based.  Even world-class kickboxing is made up of kicking and brawling, and when the brawling gets too intense, they start kicking more.  There are inside games in Muay Thai, but again, it’s more physique than intelligence.  In boxing, Freddie Roach pointed out, “It’s not the mistakes that the other guy makes I care about, but I’m trying to pick apart all the habits… not whether he’s fast or slow.”  This makes sense in the world of elite skills because mistakes there are more restricted and not as handily exposed as they are in low level fighting; they’re not so loud and obvious and countered so easily.  You have to, then, attack habits, even good ones.

When mma fighters adopt a new move or a “cool technique,” it is often overused to the point that it becomes insultingly predictable.  The fact that those moves still work proves that the quality should be insulting to a schooled audience not fooled by the hoopla of the UFC.  From Dan Henderson’s KO of Michael Bisping to Jake Shield’s left Thai kicks against Jean St. Pierre, the nuance is virtually absent from stand-up fighting in mma.  For all the few boxing talents like BJ Penn, GSP, Anderson Silva, and Junior Dos Santos, you have a bunch of empty handed hacks.  And if anyone thinks that Frankie Edgar running from BJ Penn was top-notch boxing, I’d agree only if it were the novice quarter-finals of the New York Daily News Golden Gloves, not main event pay-per-view (even in the amateurs, experts like to rule those points wins as robberies of the nature of amateur boxing).  The hand-skills of Muay Thai fighters to K1 kickboxers are also outrageously low-level from boxers’s perspectives.  Shannon Briggs alluded to the mma and K1 fighters he trained with and fought against (in his brief stint at K1) as being like beginners with their hands.  But the argument is that they are different sports.  But they box because boxing is a major part of every combat sport.  Perhaps, it is just not good enough.

In mma, the bout structure exacerbates the problem.  Long-term damage to the body in mma (punches, knees, kicks) is almost a non-issue because the fights are so short (11 minutes less action than in championship boxing bouts (18 minutes less including breaks), 15 minutes less action in seasoned non-title boxing bouts (22 minutes including breaks)).  If a body shot has any affect on a fight in mma, it usually is immediate.  And studies have shown that a greater elapsed time in sports including breaks adds to the mental toll of rigorous physical exercise; in other words, getting it over quicker by having fewer breaks is easier because “sportsmen find ways to take rests on the playing field when they are given fewer rest periods.”  In boxing, the longer bout duration, shorter round duration, and more rest periods have made for more strategic and competitive fights.  Before timed rounds were incorporated into boxing over a century ago, fighters would create their own lulls in activity which made for boring, drawn out fights.  “Hug fests,” they were called even then.  Sound familiar?  Even Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock II was a half-hour survival fest – in retrospect, it was not at all that exciting.  In ancient Greece, boxers developed cauliflower ears from avoiding the grueling punching battles, and incentives to make action were often matters of life and death after the fight.  If the rounds were a little shorter in mma, maybe we wouldn’t see in-shape guys flailing and buying time or just lying on top of people.

Rest plays into strategy.  5 round UFC championship bouts often appear to have a clear winner whom the tides seldom change against by the conclusion of the fights.  The winner is often consistent with who is winning in rounds 2 or 3, and it often only changes with a lucky punch or a desperate submission – seldom is it controlled strategy.  If one guy expends himself, it is usually due to bad pacing or being out of shape.  The championship round drama evident in boxing is ever missing in the current mma format.  The less prevalent midsection punching slowing down the other fighters typically does not happen.  Only leg kicks show that cumulative effect, but leg kicks are more easily defended than body-blows, as evidenced in today’s mma.  Of course there are some extenuating reasons that make the games different, but arguing that boxing doesn’t translate into mma is reprehensible merely for the fact that mma fighters try to do everything I mention (and even bobbing and weaving, which I haven’t mentioned, is more common in mma today by the better fighters); the majority just do it so poorly.  Perhaps nine 4 minute rounds would be a good compromise for championship mma.  The 5 and 7 rounds suggested by Dana White may just add more of the same low quality fighting.

It can safely be said that in mma, their ignorance counts on viewers’ ignorance to propel their sport at every outing.  On one mma site, closing the distance was discussed, but not a single bullet matched sound boxing (that’s where I read that an overhand is used to close distance – but that is called lunging in boxing).  When Kenny Florian said in the postfight wrap-up of GSP vs. Jake Shields that the fight was a great example of strategy and top level stand-up, my company and I were floored (figuratively, of course).  St. Pierre, who is a great fighter and who mentioned, by the way, that he didn’t know boxing before he met Freddie Roach, fought a terrible fight and practically had only one eye.  The fight was a bore of anticipation, a tragedy of stagnancy.  Thank Jake Shields, however, for that.

It should delight fight fans who want mma to excel “righteously” that people like George St. Pierre are trying to evolve the sport and take every facet of it to a level that is acceptable on every one of its playing fields.  Frank Shamrock is one of the first mma practitioners to comment on mma’s lack of growth.  “MMA has progressed very little in the last 10 years.  The weakness in mma is punching and it has been like that since 1999,” Shamrock explained on Inside MMA.  “Boxing is the hardest, most finite sport to learn.  [It’s about] timing.  Punching is the fastest, easiest way to mash somebody.”  For now, whenever mma exhibits a high level of mastery in the stand-up, one guy is usually humiliatingly outclassed.  Otherwise, it’s usually a tough man contest in which they trade blows without a semblance of science.

In time, perhaps we’ll witness great mma stand-up like we have consistently witnessed great boxing for many decades – literally great boxing.  Until then, would anyone care to see Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao wrestle each other?

Well, besides their wives?

New Rules for MMA (a la “Real Time with Bill Maher”)

By Garrett Morris

  1. Mike Goldberg must stop referring to fighters who have 7 fights as great when proceeding to praise them just because they didn’t lie down.  Hell, even when they lie down he sucks up.
  2. No more “cool” gimmicks. New tattoos for every next match, ring-walks that are as rehearsed as their victory laps.  Everyone trying so hard to be cool.  Simply, it’s not cool.
  3. People must realize that the 8 sided ring was just a gimmick from Chuck Norris’s movie so aptly named….”The Octagon.”  It’s just a fenced ring in which the fences affect the fighting, not really the shape of the ring.  What a way to brand a product.  What about a hexagon or jumping it to 10 sides?  “10-Sided Fence” just doesn’t sound cool.
  4. Gyms with names of famous fighters who are still fighting or are never around to coach must come with disclaimers.  What’s so Miletich about a Miletich Fighting System in another state than where Miletich actually trains?
  5. Successful fighters must stop selling their success as a sign of being qualified as a coach. The qualification for coaching is being able to communicate knowledge.  It takes patience and a love for coaching itself.  Being a successful coach is a sign of being a good coach.  But be careful about what success means.  If there’s a famous coach, people are going to flock to him even if he knows little.  And champions will still arise from a quack coach.  Show me how he coaches me and I’ll tell you if he’s any good.  That’s the best gauge.
  6. Fighters must be checked for body stench and bad breath before a fight and especially before training.  It’s one thing in boxing, but when your face is in someone’s ass-crack who is a bit swampy that day is going to result in quick submission after quick submission.
  7. Not everybody who says, “thank you, I respect him as a fighter” is “a class act.”
  8. No more bowing except before and after fights, and no uniforms.  Fighting is one of the most thoroughly self-serving pursuits and it works for a reason: it’s fundamental discipline, private and personal.  Everyone’s journey is separate. Bowing and wearing uniforms is just a way to institutionalize people.  Throughout history nonconformists have turned out to be the greatest fighters and the greatest fight minds.  Fighting culture is based on social competitiveness and individual expression, not team spirit and synchronization.
  9. Your equipment sucks if denim and shoes ruin it. Gone are the days of the grimy gyms that fueled the fires of young kids and seasoned fighters looking for inspiration. Today, gyms everywhere have pretend ruggedness embellished by chain-link perimeter fences and blasted hardcore music.  Nothing says “This place is not hardcore” more than anything that says “THIS PLACE IS HARDCORE.”  What’s with gyms filled with a line of crap heavybags and a lack of assortment for complete training? And no jeans?  Wtf.  They seem more concerned about dress code than fight training.     
  10.  If you don’t know how to punch, don’t use weights or resistance in shadowboxing, and don’t sledgehammer tires.  Learn form before brawn. 
  11. No more calling out numbers to a group of fighters to throw combinations.  I’ve been to Muay Thai gyms where they have these idiot line classes in which a large group of newbies are throwing combinations they have no ability to pull off.  And if a fighter knows his stuff already, why the hell does he need some ass-clown yelling what combinations to throw?

Fit But Not To Fight – Commentary on the State of Training and Over-training

by Al Alvir

“The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”  “It’s not how strong you are, it’s leverage.”    “Skills pay the bills.”  These are some oft spoken training maxims, but pure fitness has always been a center piece of martial arts, romanticized and necessary in its core.  Now, with the boom of crossfit training, the popular implementation of strongman routines, and the everyday mma poseur who thinks he’s showed talent in some bravado bar brawl, how much muscle under one’s bench means so much more.

There may be a false pretense because being in shape is starting to mean more than being in fighting shape to many people trying to be fighters. 

MMA guys are spending so much time in the gym body sculpting (whether they call it that or not) that they inadvertently sacrifice fighting technique.  Tire flipping for hours, then benching, then sledge-hammering tires, then throwing medicine balls in every angle for another couple of hours is becoming the norm for mma practitioners.  Macebells.  Chains.  Kettlebells.  Ropes.  Sandbags.  War hammers.  Indian clubs.  Clean and press….  It’s usually followed by 20-30 minutes of hyper mitt work, a small chunk of which may be technical mitt work.  Fight studying is left to the few professionals who solicit it.  Even their skill drills consist of contrived ways to achieve fitness without actually doing the boring thing they’re training to do.  E.g. Sprawling on medicine balls.  But consider that relying on attrition and drilling over strategy is one way to be unprepared.  And some fight camps only have sparring twice a week.

Martial arts training has always dangerously revolved around cute trends.  “What’s cool at the moment” has always meant more than good ol’ boring work.  On a lesser scale than other martial arts, boxers have found ways to escape the monotony of training since the adherence of the Marquess of Queensberry rules.  Bouncing handballs to train hand-eye coordination and training to jazz music are examples.  Speedbags, heavybags, shadow-boxing are accepted today as good drill work, but they have been around for as long as we can track back in time.  New training routines and training apparatus are regularly being introduced to martial arts.  Until the 1970’s and 1980’s, old-time boxing trainers were wholeheartedly against any weight training, as they believed it ruined flexibility and took snap out of punches.  Today, everything the everyday martial artist does revolves around weight training.

In Rocky IV, the “cool” trend that Rocky contrasted in the series’ obligatory training montage was the costly machines and expensive regimens.  His character basically favored the strongman/circuit training that is coincidentally the fad of today.  The displacement and unpredictability of the weight indeed lends to a more well-rounded work-out (you have to stabilize the weight and use your core), but how many drills does a fighter have to do?  Is the idea that strength and size replaces skill?  The arguably dumbest line in the history of combat movies may be Rocky’s response to Paulie when he was asked where he’s going to spar.  “”I don’t think I need it anymore, Paulie.” dismissed Rocky on his arrival to fight camp.  Perhaps this is a sentiment of today’s martial artist, specifically the mixed martial artist who seems to put technical-training on the backburner of fitness.

The cliché of the fight game, “styles make fights,” seems to have missed the mark in mma.  It’s not how a fighter wears his tattoos or designs his board shorts that style refers to.  It’s not whether a fighter is sprinting on a road or on a track.  Style is fighting style – habits, strengths, weaknesses, moves, and how each relates to the other fighter’s style.  (I was going to edit out the condescension, but it may really have been needed to be said).  The ultimate fact is that training should consist of as much simulation as possible to improve style; attrition will come with the intensity of work and the several complimentary drills.  But a fighter doesn’t need to do every damn drill in lieu of the real thing. Perhaps it is because trainers are trying to make it fun for their students that they try to implement new regimens and new training devices. 

But fight training is not supposed to be fun.  It’s supposed to be hell.

Overtraining muscles over skills is a problem, and the proof is in the quality of fights that are put out.  Guys have great physiques.  Some of them are fast.  So many of them are powerful.  But no one seems to have timing anymore.  And for such fit people, they don’t last the marathon of professional fights well.  This can be attributed to the lack of experience and savvy of being in the situation.  They suck air while punching like bums.  They lack technical proficiency.  They lay on the ground to rest, or they paw and push punches while struggling to get to the bell.  I can spot 7 out of 10 televised mma fighters who are simply mediocre.  And the numbers of top ranked boxers who are showing less than expected technical skill are also alarming, perhaps 3 out of 10.

Simply, there are too many work-outs to build specific techniques’ muscle memory and strength, so fighters must narrow down their work-out programs in order to focus more on ring or cage hours.  Any technique building exercise is more valuable than too much strength work.  And if the technique work supplements strength work (padwork w/ weighted vest), it’s even better.  But an honest assessment of training needs to be made.  If technique is suffering – a ubiquitous problem in mma – refocus needs to be made for its improvement.  And more weight training is not the solution.

A fighter is not a weightlifter or runner or strongman contestant.  He is certainly not a swimmer.  So, a professional fighter, especially, usually cannot be a professional of any of those pursuits simultaneously.  Imagine a fighter training to do the butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke, and aiming to increase swim speed over an 8 week training camp. Then, that fighter practices throwing barrels, lugging sleds, and doing farmer’s walks?  Each workout takes some serious technique and practice in order to perform well and, more importantly, decrease the chance of causing injury. The fighter’s focus, therefore, is removed from fighting in every one of the grueling workouts.  Doing a few things to enhance a specific fighting need where there is a deficiency is certainly encouraged.  I, for one, think strongman training is actually the best fitness training in the world.  But fighting is a game of skill and needs as much practice as possible in itself, as any other pursuit does.

How can a fighter improve his routine after falling for all the trends?

The individual fighter simply has to know what matters.  The drill sergeant coaching needs to be put into extinction for any fighter in the world.  The fighter has to not be a follower.  The fight game is a self-motivating discipline in which coaches are there to spot weaknesses and remind fighters to focus, not baby them into mindless onslaughts of hard work.  It’s not the military in which a kid may just be trying to get through his service tour and have his college tuition paid for.  The fight game is “exclusively” for people who love fighting and are compelled to do the work that goes into fighting.  It’s not for people who need to be psyched-up like power-lifters and football players.  They need to drop the ego that goes with all the “cool” and “hardcore” routines.  Because there’s nothing more hardcore than fighting.  The fight game is for composed warriors, warriors composed in all trials.  The discipline of fighting is like no other because it should be boring.  The discipline is in the routine, the monotony.  Bob Jackson, an old trainer of mine, once told me, “There’s no music in a fight.”  The “fun” in training and preparation was supposed to be in the “hunger” to be the best.  The question is: What is the goal, really?  Surely, not just image.

I forget which famous fighter once said this: “You wanna know how you practice fighting for an upcoming fight? Fighting.”  And no martial artist can ever disagree.  And so it goes for sprawling, too.

9 Real Problems of MMA

By Al Alvir

  1. Cirque de Soleil of combat.  It’s shoved in your face in all its growing clichés.  Is it becoming a pseudo-sport of WWE?
  2. It is not embarrassing for fighters to be stopped.  This causes a culture of quitting, whether it’s unanimous or not.  The tapping out and the honor of being choked out (or even the rare limb breaking or joint tearing) is acceptable even to the fighters.  Fighters have already admitted to pretending to go limp to show “guts” in not tapping, and tappers escape fights without any damage.  If a boxer acted like he couldn’t get up, because his will is too broken to continue, it wouldn’t matter—that boxer has already shamed himself.
  3. New rules are just making it increasingly unrealistic.  The correlation to real life martial arts, the thing that gave birth to and made MMA so great, is dissipating.  It has become a street fight with too many rule technicalities.  Boxing, BJJ, Muay Thai each have fewer technicalities and, ultimately, fewer rules.  Those arts are just isolating skill-sets, not confusing reality and sport by way of an arguable set of prohibitions.  Rules should be in place to make it more difficult to compete, to decrease the chance of luck, and to decrease things that slow down the game and take skills away.
  4. All new rules are being added, and they all ONLY preserve the ground-game.  The fairness of the game is not studied, tried, and tested at all.
  5. The ambassadors of the sport are cheerleaders.  We witness it best when they are lined up as analysts or reporters patronizing and exaggerating the moment.  They can watch two seconds of a fight and proclaim a man as “being sharp.”  They can see 99 jabs, and proclaim the hundredth as “what a good jab!”  They can witness a one-punch knockout from someone losing [but not on the verge of getting knocked out!] and proclaim it as the most shocking knockout in the history of the sport.  We even see them hanging advertisements behind their fighters during the introductions.  Collectively, they are unknowledgeable about all the facets of mma incorporated into the sport, but they each play the part of the all-encompassing expert.  Even the best fighter can’t be an expert on promotion, nutrition, boxing, wrestling, training, and being an analyst while holding a black belt in BJJ.  How are they all doing it?  And they seem to be taking turns as reality tv stars acting as team coaches.
  6. The fighting is not selling itself.  Maybe because it can’t.  The ‘extracurriculars,’ like entrance gimmicks and hair-styles and pretentious stare-downs are hype that doesn’t satisfy quality.
  7. One Fight, Rashad vs. Rampage.  The criteria to win are not telling.  Speed can win without any damage being done.  Damage can be done without being able to stuff takedowns, so that person still loses the fight.  Octagon control can mean running and initiating holding someone against a fence without doing any damage there.  DJ Morrissey said, “You can hump a guy on the fence for a whole fight and win on cage control.”  Speed in boxing, on the opposite of the spectrum, only means anything if it encompasses effective aggression. Of course, boxing has its share of lousy fights with pointless wins, but it rarely happens without one guy getting clearly, empirically beaten and beaten up—even in a stinker.  In mma, you can literally win a fight by doing nothing, and even UFC’s Dana White acknowledges it with one of his mantras: “Don’t let it go to the judges.”  Why this is important comes down to the contradictory rules that a fighter can use to his advantage.  It reminds me of children martial arts tournaments.  Imagine if boxers got extra nods from judges just for getting the right angles but not throwing any punches.
  8. The cartoonish, sensationalized epithets geared towards 13 year olds and pro-wrestling fanatics who never grew up.  The Shark Tank, the Superman punch, the Anaconda, Hitmen…  The consumers are either stupid or they like the fantasy that it all offers.  No irony, no humor.
  9. All of the above are just turning sportsmen away from mma, regardless of how the pseudo-sport might be growing.

Standing and Banging

by Al Alvir

Since the days before Firpo and Dempsey, the public has had a love affair with the ideal of two fighters going blow for blow, shot for shot, in a violent show of bravado.  I remember being enthralled when I watched guys teetering on the brink of collapsing, exhaustion so merciless that their blood seemed to drain in slow motion from their cuts, and their lungs sounded too worn-out to gasp any harder, but their last punches all thrust like finish moves of knifings, only these weapons were punches thrown from passion repeatedly thudding against newly weathered skulls.  And I, like anyone else, would imagine how impossible it would be if it were me in there fighting. 

Maybe I’ve grown numb to the skill-less aggression and barbaric cinematics.  Because it no longer provides me with entertainment when it is anything short of two fundamentally sound fighters tempting death.  I don’t think anyone with a semblance of understanding fighting (not fighting history) should appreciate two bums winging punches at each other.  It is not violence, as I love violence, but it is the gratuitous ignorance of some fighters that makes it so dumb to watch.  Too many fights consist of guys who are only in a close match because they both keep their hands down and punch with the arbitrary timing of saying hike from the scrimmage line.  These guys just don’t know any better.

Still, I love a heavily contested fight with two great warriors whose skills wear deep into a fight at times when instinct – taught through years of training – takes over.  But the one thing that I’ve learned through my years of being in gyms and analyzing fighters is that if adding fundamental skills to a fight would change its complexity, it’s not worth watching.  Can you imagine 36 rounds of Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier sans any fundamental skills?  Or worse, 3 rounds over 3 fights of lucky knockouts? 

Welcome to the new martial artists’ “wail and flail,” courtesy of mma.    

MMA is stand-up fighting’s symbol of the dumbing-down of society.  Dojo’s across America treat stand-up as banging or going toe to toe as though it means going shot for shot.  This frustrates me beyond most contemplations, because I am one of the few pure boxing men who wholly support mma and I cannot understand why mma guys often do not exhibit a minimal understanding of the science of boxing.  For the record, stand up should not be about banging and going toe to toe when a fighter has a prerequisite skill-set.  Of course, at a fighter’s discernment, he can engage toe to toe, but it’s always for a reason.  He may be using his angles, setting traps, or taking calculated risks.  And the risk a good boxer makes does not get him caught with stupid punches that you see on almost every UFC card.  In order for a good boxer to be beat, he needs to be set-up and make a mistake caused by his opponent’s strategy.  And the ubiquitous “wail and flail” used by these street fighting Joes who we see climbing mma ranks is not what I’m talking about.

I used the term “wail and flail” around the time when I watched my final paid UFC card.  Besides the bore of unwilling fighters “laying and preying” (more like praying), I was very discouraged by how weak some of the apparent top mma fighters in the world performed standing up.  More so, I was bothered by how their proven trainers, too, referred to stand-up fighting as some “shootout,” implying that it couldn’t be an immensely technical range of fighting.  This mentality causes a landslide of fighters everywhere entering mma who fight like they’re in tough-man contests.  They go in looking for a knockout, and it happens almost every time with “Hail Mary” luck.  The cliché “There’s no such thing as a lucky knockout” was a lie told to kids to build their confidence, so don’t buy it.

The only way to stop the problem of horrible stand-up is to educate fighters, teach them boxing from the basics forward, and groom them.  But without the focus on any single discipline, I fear that mma will never exhibit a top level of stand-up.  For many years, even kickboxers have gotten rudimentary boxing wrong.

Perhaps the only way to overcome that is to have more fights.  Grooming, again, may be the key. 

But mma must stop pitting the best talents against the best talents before any of them reach their highest levels.  It’s this “now generation” mentality that is exacerbated by the culture of mma: fast, intense, and extreme.  The projected fury that the sport is trying to impress upon people seems to provide a correlation – from the angry ring-walks to the impassioned work-out routines (arguable overtraining) to the athletes who appear not to pace themselves even for the short 15 minute fights, mma seldom provides an example of composure.  It’s like ADHD MMA, and it may be ruining the quality of this combat sport.  MMA is weeding out its talent, and talent is the only thing that will produce quality.  Until then, we’re going to see many more lucky, laughable knockouts and chest-bumping cheers at Hooters.

The thing is boxing experts respect a good brawl, too, but as there are spectacularly dramatic Arturo Gatti’s who come around every once in a while, there are fewer Floyd Mayweather’s who come around.  And all of us know, when compared with the latter, any Arturo Gatti really sucks as a fighter even if we adore him more.  Furthermore, if it were mma’s promotion style guiding Gatti and Mayweather, they would probably have been forced to face each other early in their careers and Mayweather may have been knocked-out courtesy of a “wail and flail,” ending his career and denying him his potential.  That would have been bad luck for us all.

And if you think that would have been a good thing, you must think Chuck Liddell has great hands.

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