15 ways to become a better martial artist

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people ask me a bunch of questions, but one category of questions always comes back: how do I become a better martial artist? I always try to give them an answer but most often, I’m not terribly satisfied with whatever I come up with. Simply because they want something short and precise and I don’t think there’s such a thing.

During our podcast interview, Kris Wilder asked me to give one piece of advice I thought would be important.  As always, I was left with that feeling of not having done a really good job. That’s what triggered me to write this “15 ways to become a better martial artist” post.

So what can you expect? A bunch of things:

  • I’ll touch on various subjects I feel are important but I don’t place one above the other. I think they’re all relevant so don’t assume the numbering is meant to convey a sense of hierarchy.
  • This list is by no means complete. But I had to limit it one way or another so I chose 15 as the cut-off number or it would turn into an epic-length post. I’ll add more later in a follow-up post.
  • The topic is “becoming a better martial artist”. That means something very specific to me but might mean something else for you. So we’re bound to have a difference of opinion on some things. That’s fine. Discard what you think doesn’t apply to you and I hope you still find a couple of useful ideas.
  • These are things that have worked for me, my students, and clients. In other words, I know they work because experience taught me so. That said, they still might not work for you, no matter how hard you try. So I propose you view this list as a bunch of ideas to try out or as an inspiration to make your own list. But it sure ain’t no gospel, as a buddy of mine likes to say.

That said, let’s get to it. [Read more…]

How to train Joint Locks and Limb Destructions on the Heavy Bag

Here’s this month’s video: How to train Joint Locks and Limb Destructions on the Heavy Bag. I made this video a few weeks ago but only now got to finish the editing part. Anyway, take a look first and then I’ll give you some more details.

I took a couple random techniques, not specifically from a particular art. But you can find similar joint locks and limb destructions in ju-jitsu, silat, arnis, kali and many other martial arts. Before you go out to train this stuff, here’s some additional information:

  • They’re just examples. Don’t get hung up on the details of how I do the joint locks and limb destructions or which ones I’m showing (there are tons more). That’s not important because I have my own preferences and they might or might not be the same as yours.  So if you prefer to do these techniques differently, by all means, go for it. The purpose of this video is not to teach these techniques but to show you a way to practice them full-power and full-speed, which you can never do with a training partner (unless you’re a really, really naughty person…) [Read more…]

How to refill a heavy bag without having to empty it first

One of the most annoying things about training on a heavy bag is that you eventually have to refill it. Invariably (especially with the less expensive models) the filler ends up bunched together and it makes the bottom part of the bag rock-hard while the top becomes empty. When that happens, your joints take a beating when you strike the bottom part as there isn’t enough “give” in it anymore. Striking the top part is just as bad as it has too much give there and doesn’t absorb the impacts enough. So you risk hyper-extending your knees and elbows when you punch and kick high. The only option you have left then is to empty out the heavy bag and refill it.

Talk about a boring and mind-numbing job…

This is something I encountered a lot when I was doing research for my heavy bag book. Almost everybody I interviewed said they always postponed refilling the bag because they hated it so much. It felt like a total waste of time to them. Which I completely understand. However, you have to do it because, as I mentioned before, you risk serious injuries if you don’t.

That’s why I started looking into ways to get the bag in good working order without having to empty it out completely first. I’ll explain a couple things you can do here below but first a caveat: they aren’t perfect. Eventually, you’ll still have to empty out the bag and refill it manually. But with these tricks, you won’t have to do it nearly so often. You’ll also get some extra training in too, so there are no downsides here.

Here’s how you go about it: [Read more…]

How to transition from competitor to coach

A while ago, Mike wrote something on my Facebook page.

I have a topic suggestion for you: Making the transition from competing to coaching.

And that’s how this “How to transition from competitor to coach” guide was born.  I’ll try to give you some thoughts here but have to say upfront that I’m not the best guy to write about this. Because I’m a bit of a special case (Peanut gallery dwellers, keep your mouthes shut…) Here’s why.

A long, long time ago…

When I was 16 or 17, my teacher asked me to start class for him. He’d come in a bit later (he had a real long drive to get there) and I’d do the warm up and get everybody started. After a while, he asked me to start teaching beginners. So I did. More time goes by and I’m teaching a full class now. Fast forward a few years, and my teacher asks me to take over and run the school. Which I did.

I was 18 when I started competing so by that time, I’d already been teaching (or something that passes for teaching anyway) for a little while. By the time I started competing internationally, I had been teaching for several years. In that regard, I didn’t really make a smooth transition from competing to coaching as I started out the other way around.

But there’s something else:  I competed in Sanshou (IWUF rules). Think of it as kick boxing but with throws and take downs, no groundwork. Back in the day, it wasn’t all that popular so finding teachers was hard. My own teacher had fought under different rules decades earlier and he couldn’t help me much either. So I was left to fend for myself and figure it out on my own. Which explains why I’m such an opinionated asshole sometimes, but I digress…

That meant looking at all the information I could find: kick boxing, muay Thai, wrestling, judo, etc. If people competed in it, I tried to learn from that art. For the record, I don’t claim I was all that good at those arts, just that I looked for inspiration there because there were precious few books or videos on Sanshou back then.  As a result, I developed a personal, hybrid style that incorporated a lot of the elements from other arts but tweaked and adapted to the Sanshou format.  When I looked at what my fellow competitors were doing, I wasn’t that far off the mark.

What’s your point?

I was a coach and a competitor at the same time; I didn’t transition from the one to the other.

I coached myself because I didn’t have a choice: I didn’t have the means to go study abroad and didn’t know of any local teachers who specifically taught fighting under Sanshou rules.  Obviously, I made tons and tons of mistakes. I lost to fighters I shouldn’t have because I trained in the wrong way, messed up my conditioning, didn’t know enough about strategy and tactics, etc.

Looking at the other guys out there, I wasn’t bad, but I most certainly was not the best fighter out there.

But despite all these downsides, I learned a lot. I learned to look for information, analyze it and try to apply it. The real irony is that I became a much better fighter after I had stopped competing. With some time and distance between me and the competitions, I saw things in a different light, with a better perspective. And I made huge progress in my fighting skills. But it was too late to do anything with them because there was no money in Sanshou fights (still isn’t really) and I was married, bought a house, etc.  All nice things to have but incompatible with a competitor’s life, especially one who isn’t sponsored.

The biggest upside is that it made me a better coach. Primarily because I learned firsthand what not to do and can now help my students avoid those pitfalls. Here are some of the things I picked up along the way and you can use to transition form competitor to coach: [Read more…]