Saturday, November 18, 2017

Living the Dream

Freshwater Beach, November 2017

Wednesdays and Fridays I take a lunchtime Jiu Jitsu class at Lange's MMA, at North Manly. Wednesday is no gi, Friday gi.

Jiu Jitsu always resets my mood. If it's a warm day, or sometimes even when it isn't, the beach is a short drive away, and that makes the day even better.

Most times I go to North Curl Curl or Freshwater, and most often with Luca Altea. Other occasions Sean Quilter, Big Stu "Gut Rupture"Morton, or Sonny Brown have joined us. If I'm on my own, I might go to North Curl Curl and do some sandhill sprints before I swim.

That's what I'm talking about

Sonny, Luca and I swam at North Curl Curl on the 2017 winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Probably not the coldest. Definitely not the warmest.

Winter Solstice, 21 June 2017, after lunchtime no gi class and a swim at North Curl Curl. L to R: Myself, Luca Altea, Sonny Brown

Entering the water is an electrifying but pleasant assault on the senses. Bright sunshine, waves crashing on the shore, the shock of the cool water in your skin, the salt spray in the air, and on your tongue and in your nostrils.

A natural ice bath, aiding recovery, washing away the sweat, maybe a few bodysurfing waves too.

Out of the ocean, now a cold shower with fresh water - usually colder than the ocean.

Fresh, we dry off, change, and chat for a while.

Luca says to me one day, "When we do this, Jiu Jitsu and a swim, I feel like I'm living the dream!"

It's true. For those few hours I'm doing exactly what I want to do, nothing more, but nothing less.

I realize I am even more fortunate to be more or less financially independent with a comfortable home and a wonderful wife. Even if we're getting older day by day. Life rocks.

Those countless Facebook ads trying to sell you the lifestyle with oodles of first class travel, huge boats, Lamborghinis, non-stop parties on tropical island beaches, and the rest, set the bar too high.

Pleasant days or even minutes doing exactly what you want are the fulfillment of dreams. Aim high, but don't discount the temporary paradise that appears right before you, however fleetingly.

North Curl Curl, Winter 2016

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Creativity and Martial Arts Training IV

Tribuna of the Uffizi, Johann Zoffany (1772-78), showing many famous works of European art

This is part IV, the last of a four part article.

Part I Part II Part III

Limitations and Constraints

Unlimited freedom paralyses creativity. You need somewhere to go. You need a problem to solve.

I was rebuked as a black belt by a highly ranked instructor for not being able to immediately think of a problem I was having with my game when he asked me. He was right - my game has no shortage of holes, same as just about everyone.

Freedom of Choice - not always a good thing

Ricardo de la Riva developed his famous and eponymous guard being one of the smaller guys on the Carlson Gracie Team, in a gym full of tough competitors on whom he could not impose a top game, and who were some of the best guard passers in the world. He developed his outside hook guard as a way to keep his opponents off balance; his training partners called it the "guarda pudim", Pudding Guard (a nice metaphor), because of the way it made their base unstable and "wobbly". Accounts vary, but he fought Royler Gracie, then undefeated as a black belt, around 1986, and depending on the account, beat him, or lost a tied match due to a referee's decision.

Half guard was seen as the last line of defense before your guard was passed, prior to Gordo Correa being forced to work from it pretty much exclusively due to a knee injury, which limited the positions form which he could roll. He pretty much turned it form the last line of defense into a position from which many attacks can now be launched, and in which many competitors now specialize.

Many people have seen their guard game improve dramatically after a hand or arm injury which forced them to train one handed. They were forced to make greater use of their legs, and use them in ways that they may not have learned to unless forced to by the injury. I believe Dave Meyer was some such person.

You do not need to wait for injury to strike to take such steps. Put yourself in the positions you hate, deliberately, so you are forced to problem solve. Try wrestling with one or both arms tucked in your belt, or without using one or both legs. Ban yourself from your favorite passes or passing on your favorite side. Ban yourself from certain guards or positions. Come up with your own limitations and see what new pathways emerge.

Positional rolling is a form of limitation which can deliver good outcomes.

In the video below, Jack White of the White Stripes discusses the benefits of limitations and time limits on his own considerable creative output.

Jack White on limitations as seeds for creativity. From the documentary "It Might Get Loud"

I like Seven Nation Army, but I like this even better

Away from the Gym and off the Mat

We've all seen the videos of guys training the berimbolo with chairs and wheelbarrows. If your time in the gym is limited, find other ways to train.

This guy trains Jiu Jitsu in water.

Personally, I came up with quite a few ways to drill techniques with a small heavy bag. What you can do from top positions is pretty obvious, but with a little imagination I worked out how to drill the Hip Bump Sweep, Wing Sweep / Reverse Basic Sweep, Catapult Sweep, and Shaolin Sweep, among others, along with some takedowns. 

I found a foam roller makes a pretty good prop for drilling the lockdown and some butterfly and X guard transitions. I've heard of guys using pieces of wood to drill Ezekiel chokes and become very effective with them in the gym as a result - you can use the foam roller for that too. 

I made a grappling dummy from a coathanger wire skeleton, and a hoodie inside an old full length wetsuit stuffed with rags, and a head made from about a thousand plastic bags. It could benefit from a neck made from pool noodles, as it has an annoying habit of headbutting me if I try to work triangles. It's not great for guardwork but is pretty good for drilling top techniques and leglock transitions.

My silent (training) partner

Nothing beats a partner to drill with, but the right inanimate objects can be useful, because they never get sore throats from getting choked too much, or sore knees, elbows or wrists. Plus they never get tired or make other arrangements when you want to train.

The best training tool ... IMAGINATION.

The Creative Environment

"Environment triumphs will" - Chris Haueter

To really be an innovator and creator in martial arts, your environment need to support you. You need:
  • Time to experiment and think
  • Support from your training partners
  • The ability to take risks and maybe fail without getting injured
  • Freedom to come up with weird and nonsensical ideas without judgement
  • Dynamism and energy
  • Humor and a sense of play to keep things light and interesting
  • Challenge, resistance and debate, but at a level that extends and doesn't crush the participants. argument, not conflict
  • Trust in your training buds
  • Openness to ideas, whatever the source
Do your best to work in and develop such environments, especially when you are the teacher. 

"If you want to improve incrementally, compete, if you want to improve exponentially, co-operate!" - Phil Grapsas

Go for it!

There's a new sweep out there, just waiting for you to create it. Name it after yourself and become a Jiu Jitsu immortal! Develop the Covfefe choke! Get crazy, get creative! Do it now!

Part I of this article
Part II of this article
Part III of this article

Happy trails, Universal Traveler

Sunday, November 12, 2017

John Will Seminar 11 Nov 2017 - Pirate Grip, Russian Tie

Seminar group, I was the photographer

The seminar was held at Universal Combat Arts, Castle Hill. Thanks to Kirk Sicard and Simon Farnsworth for their hospitality.

Russian Tie (2 on 1)

Stand facing your partner, feet parallel, so your four feet form a square.

Your partner gets a neck tie on you with his R hand.

Grab his R wrist with your R hand.

Step around to your R with your L foot and then your R, at the same time lifting your R shoulder and then driving it down and across to your R to dislodge the collar tie. You should now be at his R side. Grab his R upper arm from underneath with your L hand. Get your shoulder on top of his and put all your weight in his shoulder. Try to hover. Also drive your forehead into his R ear to stop him turning back toward you. Drive down hard, stick his R foot to the floor. Your L leg should be behind his R.

Thumbless grips are generally best - though there are exceptions, detailed later.

As you drill the technique more and more, you should develop the habit of grabbing the Russian Tie a quarter second before he gets the neck tie.

This pirate did not tap to heel hooks. Don't let this happen to you!

Russian Tie to Single Leg

If he stays there, drive down so your face is close to his knee. "So you can spit on his knee"- John Will. Drive into him, bumping him so his R leg becomes like and you can scoop it up for a high single leg takedown.

Russian tie to "Muchi Mata", to Ankle Pick

If he tries to square up and gets his R foot behind your L, do a  mini Uchi Mata ("Muchi Mata"), hooking his R leg upward with a backward hooking lift of your L leg. Mainly to disrupt his balance and clear his R leg. Hook your L foot behind and outside his L foot, toes up. Retaining the grip with your L hand, drop down and pick his L ankle with your R hand, lift it and take him down.

Russian tie to Double Leg

He squares up to you and tries to pull his R arm out. Lift his R arm up with your R to around head high, thus crossing it under his L arm and removing that defense. You are in perfect position to change levels and shoot a double leg.

Changing your R hand grip from thumbless to using the thumb will give you better control with which to lift his R arm, for this particular technique.

Russian Tie to Back Take

To get the back from the Russian tie, do NOT turn to your L and try to run forward to his back. You are unlikely to make it. Instead, run backwards to take the back.

John also demonstrated how you can get an arm drag to the Russian tie, then arm drag again from there to get the back.

Russian Tie to Gooseneck Come Along

The gooseneck hold is a control or "come along" technique used often by security or law enforcement.

Get the Russian tie. You need him to bend his elbow, which he will often want to do if you let him. The video below shows another way Slide your hand down to his palm and bend his wrist forward as you bring his hand toward his shoulder. Trap his elbow against your body. Grab over his knuckles with your L hand, then put your R hand on top. The R hand on top is best, if the L hand were on top hie could attack your fingers with his other hand. Apply pressure and lift him up on his toes.


Pirate Grip

You have the Russian Tie on his R arm. Now move your L hand to get a fingers-in grip on his L gi collar. Cinch it in. This should feel very strong. This is the Pirate Grip. John say it used to be called the Double crossed grip or similar, but John took to calling it the Pirate Grip, due to the skull and crossbones, or something.

Pirate Grip to Drop Throw

You get the Russian tie, then the Pirate Grip. He is squaring up and pushing your face away, trying to free his arm. Turn to your L so your L foot is about a foot outside his. Step your R leg between his R leg and your L and drop to your butt and then to your back, effectively pulling him on top of you into a kneeride position, but keep rolling to your L. He will not be able to keep the top position and will be pulled over the top of you. Keep your grips and use the momentum to end up on top on side control on his R side.

Seminar group - I was not the photographer

Pirate Grip from Closed Guard - Two Entries

He is inside your closed guard. Get a cross grip on his R sleeve with your R hand, pull your R elbow to your side. You do not need to pull his sleeve all the way across. Slide your L hand under his R arm and get a deep grip fingers inside his L collar. Flare your L elbow out so the crook of your elbow prevents him pulling his R elbow back and freeing his R hand. This is the Pirate Grip from guard.


Get a deep grip, fingers inside his L collar with your L hand. Pull him down hard with your L hand. Your L arm may even have temporarily trapped his R. Bring your R hand to the centreline and wait. When he brings his R hand over the top to try and get some posture back, grip his R sleeve with your R hand. Flare your L elbow out as above to trap his R elbow. You have the Pirate Grip. This entry is more complicated but higher percentage.

Realise that if he does try really hard to free his R hand, the Cross Collar Choke is always an option.

Hooking Sweep

Get the Pirate Grip. Open your legs, turn on your R side and get your L foot on his hip, Push back and get the L foot on his other hip in an open guard. Move your feet one at a time to a butterfly guard and sit up. You are perfectly positioned for a very strong hooking sweep to your L. Retain the grips and use the momentum to come up on top in side control.

To sweep effectively from butterfly, you need a strong connection to your opponent. Grabbing the belt is the strongest connection, but this is pretty much impossible from closed guard. The Pirate Grip allows a very strong connection without the need to grab the belt. It is fairly easy to get this grip from closed, open or half guard, and then move to butterfly. Very versatile in that way.

Locked Russian Tie

A no gi analog of the Pirate Grip is called the Locked Russian. Get the Russian Tie from standing. Bend his R elbow and push his R hand towards his stomach. Release your L grip and grab your own R wrist. Your L arm should loop behind his elbow and upper arm. A bit like a figure 4. You can use this grip in closed guard as well. It may work better if your R grip is overhand rather than underhand, especially in the guard.

Kick Out to Side Back Control

Get the Pirate Grip and move to butterfly guard as above.  Elevate him with your hooks, then lift with your R leg and extend your L leg so he falls to your R, face down. As he falls, come up on your R elbow and then to your knees  on his R, Grips are still in place, your chest is on his back is a side back control position. Transfer your grips to a seatbelt control with your L arm under his L armpit.

Spin the Pig

Get the Pirate Grip and move to butterfly guard as before. Elevate him as before. This time extend your R leg and lift with your L, so he spins to his L in the air, moving him slightly toward your feet. You should be able to spin him far enough to take his back with a good seatbelt control, then get your hooks in. Is easier than it looks or sounds.

"Spin the pig" refers to the spinning action, not unlike rotating a pig on a rotisserie to cook it.

"Side Kick" and Roll Underneath

You get the Pirate grip and start moving to open guard. Your opponent tries to back away. Get on your R side and put your L foot on his R hip, but with the this of the foot pointing to your R, so it is like a Sidekick. Keep your grips, bring your head down towards his knees, rolling beneath him and pulling him over the top of you. End up in the usual position in side control on his R.

Kick Out to Russian Tie, to Head to Head, to Arm in Guillotine

Get the Pirate grip, move out to butterfly guard. Elevate him and kick out and go to your knee and side back control as earlier. Get a Russian tie on his R arm and drive into him, forcing him to post with his L hand. This will give you the opportunity to move around to head to head, catching his R arm between yours as if setting up an Anaconda choke. Grip the blade of your L arm and wrist with your R hand. This way round will be the most secure. Pull his arm to his head - best done by moving your legs to your R rather than dragging his arm with yours.

Come up on your toes and drive his butt to his heels. Come to your feet, running around in a semicircle to your L, trapping his R arm and head next to your R hip with good posture. Change your grip to the opposite side so your L hand is grabbing the blade of your R hand and wrist. Sit down and pull him into your closed guard and finish the choke. 

The first hand position is better for securing the arm, the second better for choking.

Kick Out to Russian Tie, Crucifix

Get Pirate grip, butterfly guard, kick out to side back with Russian tie, head to head with his R arm inside both of yours as before. This time you are less concerned with getting his arm and head together, by accident or design. Come to your knees, drive forward and stand up as before. This time his R arm is between your legs. He will be tempted to grab your R leg with his R arm. Pinch your legs together to trap his arm and move around to his R side. Get a seat belt control on his back with your L arm under his L armpit. Fall down to your L rear, pulling him into the crucifix.

Pirates from Lange's MMA - Anthony Lange's 50th birthday

Other subjects

Books John has been reading:

God is not Great, Christopher Hitchens

Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb

John's autobiography. Three volumes. Ripping yarns and great advice.

John Will's seminar schedule. Get on board with one of the best Jiu Jitsu coaches on the planet.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Product Review: Joe Rogan Utility Belt by Datsusara

The Joe Rogan Utility Belt is the Crown Prince of bum bags (what we call them in Australia) or fanny packs (the term used by our American friends).

Fashionable? Maybe not. However notable fanny pack antifashionistas are legion. I include only wrestling and MMA celebrities here. The wider circle includes Kardashians and Jenners ...  you'll thank me later for sparing you.

Joe Rogan

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

Chuck Norris

UFC Champion Georges St Pierre with his coach - and fanny pack proponent - John Danaher

Hulk Hogan

Matt Serra giving props to John Danaher's fanny pack at 4:40 (Viewer advice: very frequent coarse language)

The JRUB is made from hemp - "the ultimate natural fibre, 4X stronger than cotton". It is very strong and Datsusara advertise it as having antibacterial properties. The stitching on the bag is precise and strong. Zippers are plastic, "self healing" (check the Tech Specs on the purchase page link below), and precisely stitched in. It looks and feels strong and well put together.

It has a flap in front with a zip pocket which can be used for small flat items like train passes, credit cards, tickets, etc. A large zip pocket on one side just a bit too small for your wallet that you can access without popping the top flap. You're wallet will fit inside the main pocket of the bag just fine, with room for your phone, eyeglasses and case, passport and plane ticket, and more. There are a couple of additional smaller pockets (one zipped, one with velcro tabs that can be used for coins, notes, etc. 

Front zip pocket for passes and tickets and quick access

Fully loaded with room for more

Datsusara corporate product video

It has loops on the outside that you could attach other things to, keys, etc. Though the thing will get so big it starts to weight you down. I found that wearing it slightly off center allows me to balance it on my hip bone so it doesn't feel like it's pulling my stomach and spine forward.

This is a quality piece of equipment. The bag itself is not expensive, but shipping from the USA is pretty steep. Maybe consider bundling it with one of their other, larger travel bags, or try to pick one up on a visit to the US, if that is a concern.

Rockin' the JRUB, ready for anything

Monday, November 06, 2017

Creativity and Martial Arts Training III

The third article in a series of four.


In Part I and Part II of this series, we looked at how rearranging or reversing the sequence in which the movements within a technique are performed can sometimes lead to superior results, specifically referencing the kimura from under half guard, and the front kick.

We reversed the order of a couple of movements in setting up the kimura. Instead of grabbing the wrist and wrapping our other arm around the elbow, we catch the elbow first and separate it from the hip and rib cage. Then we control the wrist and finish the lock.

This concept is extended by creativity researchers and the related science into a wider range of verbs than just reverse. They are often referred to as SCAMPER.

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify (Magnify, Minify)
  • Put to another use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse (Rearrange)
In applying these concepts, remember that learning, and even more, teaching, Jiu Jitsu, has many more aspects than just the application of specific techniques.

You want to get better at takedowns - Substitute one of your weekly Jitsu classes with a judo class, or private lessons with a wrestler, for a while.

Parents of your Jiu Jitsu kids complain they can't take their kids ot every lesson because of homework commitments. Combine Jiu Jitsu with flash cards of times tables, etc. to get the best of both worlds.

Find ways to adapt sweeps and takedowns that end up in guard, so that you bypass their guard while still on your feet for takedowns, or you set up the sweep in a way that ends up with you finishing on top in kneeride or side control rather than inside their guard. Many people first learning the basic elevator sweep from butterfly guard find it natural to try and finish in the mount. Yeah, you swept them, but a decent Jiu Jitsu guy will put you in half guard every time if you try this. You need to adapt this idea to go to side control instead by putting your knee on the mat next to his hip after you sweep him and putting him in side control.

Modify the lengths of rolling rounds from the standard five minutes to keep things interesting. Magnify to ten or twelve minutes, concentrating on endurance and pacing. Minify to a minute or thirty seconds, going for the submission. Mix it up and randomise the round lengths.

If the cage in your gym is getting worn out and you replace it, or you got it second hand and have extra length, Put it to another use as a lattice from which to hang medals, old belts after promotions, photos, kids' paintings. etc.

Always look for ways to simplify techniques, and how to teach them, by Eliminating unnecessary steps, or information not pertinent to beginners. Start with a low resolution approach to techniques at the beginning, and increase the resolution as they advance.

And John Will's kimura from half guard, discussed above illustrates the potential value of reversing or rearranging the order of things.


As no doubt the above examples show, not every idea is a great idea, practical, or even feasible. The objective of the ideation process is to come up with lots of ideas, wild and weird and out there. Then winnow them down to those that might actually work. Let one idea spawn several others. Most human progress is made by extending what already exists. More ideas leads to more good ideas.

These are not the only verbs you can use. Nor do you need to use them in isolation.

The Hybrid Sweep  against Combat Base described near the top of my notes on John Will's "A Spider Guard Plan" seminar details a sweep from the lasso guard which combines the hook, spider and X guard sweeps. John also details a way to tweak (adapt) the setup of this sweep by adding a couple of extra steps, allowing you to finish in kneeride rather than inside the opponent's guard.

A strong competitor with excellent guard passing skills may elect to finish the sweep in guard, and then pass the guard, so as to rack up points. However, a Jiu Jitsu purist would elect to bypass the opponent's guard whenever possible. Your creative approach should reflect your goals at the time.

Forced Connections and Metaphors

Forced connections in creativity refers to taking an object or concept unrelated to the problem you are trying to solve, and seeing what new ideas come to mind when you look at or consider this object. You could take a mental walk through an imaginary place and force connections with whatever your mind's eye sees. A more formal set of techniques for accomplishing this is "Synectics", which from the original Greek has the meaning of "the joining together of apparently different and irrelevant objects". The use of metaphors and analogies can be of great value in generating ideas.

Metaphors abound in the naming of Jiu Jitsu techniques (tripod sweep, tomahawk sweep, breadcutter choke bow and arrow choke), and can be particularly useful in teaching. An appropriate metaphor can be invaluable in communicating the essence of the technique or concept. A short list of such metaphors I've heard over the years:
  • Zombie Attack
  • Monster Shoulder
  • Shoulder of Justice
  • Hip of Doom
  • Triangle of Death
  • Corridor of Death
  • Fireman's Carry
  • T Choke
  • Stocks
  • Banana Split
  • Crotch Ripper
  • Guillotine Choke
  • Spiral Ride
  • Donkey Guard
  • X Guard
  • Catapult Sweep
  • Lego Principle
  • Porcupine
  • Corkscrew Principle
  • Stab Yourself in the Heart
Longer ones:
  • To keep your weight on them in side control - try to hover, so all your weight goes on them rather than on the mat
  • Sink the stirrups - using your weight in open guard
  • Heavy legs - to prevent the pass and make triangles, omoplatas, etc. work better
  • Stomp and curl - how to use your legs to finish once you get the proper angle on the triangle choke
  • Three-legged table - concept for sweeps
To a martial arts teacher, good metaphors are gold. The right metaphor can convey a concept so much better than several paragraphs worth of literal description.

Reverse Engineering

Reverse Engineering is a term often used in software or other engineering, which refers to disassembling or analysing there operation and behaviour of a program or other machine to understand how it works, for the purpose of duplicating it, reproducing its functionality with more modern tools, or to improve one's understanding and knowledge about it and its operation.

Reverse Engineering is spoken of differently in Jiu Jitsu, by John Will and perhaps other advanced practitioners. In Jiu Jitsu, Reverse Engineering is a process of working out how to get from one position to another position, or perhaps to a specific submission, by working backwards from the final position, trying various alternative paths, until one can end up back at the starting position. Like rewinding a video, but in real time.

How to get from front control to a Gogoplata finish? Start in the final Gogoplata position, then work backwards until you end up in front control.

You probably can't literally do some thing in reverse due to the laws of physics. But when you set you drilling mode back to Play after Reverse, what you have might work.

I learned a legbar from front control at a seminar. That would be very difficult to do backwards, but not so forwards.

In a similar vein, at John Will's second Ashi Garami seminar, he showed us a progression of techniques working towards Eddie Cummings' setup of the 411/ Saddle / Honey Hole from Butterfly guard, often closely followed by a  heel hook victory.

Saddle from Butterfly Guard, as performed by Eddie Cummings

John had been asked to work such a sequence out by attendees at a previous seminar. The steps he came up with were:
  • Standing Kani Basami (scissor takedown) finishing in the Honey Hole
  • From butterfly guard, go to a modified Kani Basami on the knees
  • From butterfly guard, lift the opponent with an elevator and hop the supporting foot out to the side away from him
  • From butterfly guard, elevate the opponent, move the other foot out, and then drop him down, scissoring his leg into the Honey Hole
I discuss the teaching sequence in more detail in my notes on the Ashi Garami 2.0 seminar from John Will.

While one needs a wide knowledge base and more creative problems solving techniques besides Reverse Jiu Jitsu Engineering to come up with such a sequence, I feel this is illustrative. It would be enlightening to hear how Eddie Cummings (and perhaps his coach and/or training partners) actually devised this technique and how it was developed as an aid to further insight and experimentation.

On to the final, Part IV.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Chrome Dome HOWTO

For those so good looking their face is taking over the rest of their head.

Patrick Stewart

Maynard James Keenan
Credit: Rolling Stone - Paul Bergen/Redferns/Getty

Some other dude
Courtesy: Stuart Nairne

I've been shaving my head for about ten years. With my father and grandfather both slapheads before their fifties, it was pretty much preordained at a cellular level. I knew what was coming and prepared myself well ahead of time. "Accept yourself" and "tell the truth" are powerful statements to live by.

The benefits of going bald

I didn't want the John Howard style hubcap, 

John Howard

let alone the Skullet.

Might be time to accept, change it up and grow old disgracefully, Lars

And definitely no rugs or hair transplants. Andre Agassi has some awful stories to tell about that in his book. 

The thought of a hairpiece coming off while training Jiu Jitsu, and the inevitable unsympathetic reactions of my training partners, was a nightmare situation not to be countenanced. I would deserve derision. Totally.

Once the number three haircut at the barber was no longer cutting it (no pun intended), I knew the time had come ...

I started using the cheap disposable blade razors, and bought a barber-style electric razor and took it all off during one Christmas break.

Both tools took surprisingly long to finish the job if I did it myself, and made it hard to get one hundred per cent right. 

I'd often ends up with bits missing - or rather, not missing - unless I went to the trouble of using a hand mirror to see the back of my head in the wall mirror, which is challenging if you are also trying to wield a razor. 

It also usually took at least five minutes. A bit longer if I was more than usually concerned about leaving the house looking intellectually capable of grooming myself.

I avoided the cut-throat razor lest it live up to its name.


 Vincent van Gogh was not good with cutthroat razors. Image from Wikipedia

It was too easy to nick myself with the disposable blades, and I'd too often have to stop mid-roll at Jiu Jitsu to stop a bleeding shaving cut with tissue or toilet paper Norman Gunston style. 

The purpose made blades for shaving the head might work, but I'm too cheap and fearful for that.

The barber type electric razor was less risky, but quite heavy and slow to use. I also had trouble negotiating it around my ears and the bumpier parts of my skull.

Not my preferred options

Aldi, which, as some of you know, is my favourite supermarket by far, were having a sale and I decided to take a punt on a cheap ($29.95), triple head rotary, chargeable, electric razor. If it didn't work for my head, it would still work for my face, hopefully.

This turned out to be an excellent decision. I could get my entire skull, face and neck down past the T shirt line done in less than two minutes. Zero scratching or irritation, and effortless coverage of the spots the other tools couldn't reach without determined effort.

The price point turned out to be a little low - the light indicating charging, and fully charged, when the shaver was docked in its charger, stopped working after a couple of days. It continued to charge and work OK after that for maybe a couple of weeks until ...

I knocked it off the bathroom counter onto the tile floor. And it shaved no more.

You can see now why the cutthroat razor would not have suited Mr Clumsy here.

The Aldi shaver was a Special Buy ... and of course they had sold out on the day. NO!

I replaced it with a similar unit from Woolworths, which cost about ten dollars more, and had to be plugged into the wall. It's not a cordless phone and I don't don't have much call to wander around the house or the backyard while shaving as a rule, so this didn't bother me that much. Fewer pieces and moving parts is always a plus.


Once you accept the chrome dome lifestyle, and find a workable solution, life becomes simple. Low maintenance, cheap.

If the aerodynamics and other worthy attributes of this non-hairstyle appeal, or if like me, your choices were limited, hopefully this information will prove useful to you.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Creativity and Martial Arts Training II

"You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." Maya Angelou

This is part II of a series on Martial Arts and Creativity.  Part I.

Me? Creative?

You may not think you are creative, but you are. Every time you work towards a new goal, or find a unique (to you) way to solve a specific problem, no matter how small, you are creating.

Problems and goals can be almost trivial in nature, or close to cosmic in scale and significance.

The lives of most martial artists abound with problems and challenges of varying scope and complexity.
  • When I get the Whip Up and go for the Old School sweep, he stands up on the foot I want to grab, thus foiling my sweep. What should I do then, or instead?
  • How do I get inside this guy's killer front kick?
  • I've got a new job (which helps solved some financial problems). How can I fit regular training in around the scheduling changes of the job and my other responsibilities?
  • I'm sixty-two years old. How can I keep improving at Jiu Jitsu without getting injured and smashed?
  • I have an injury or a disability. How can I train, or keep training?
  • I have a new gig teaching martial arts a couple of days a week. Awesome! But how can I keep my own training up to scratch with that "me time" gone?
While all of us find a way, if we are still training and didn't give up, a systematic approach to problem solving could assist us in coming up with the best solutions, and maybe let us reach them more quickly.

The Creative Process

The book, The Universal Traveler, which I discussed in Part I, divides the creative process up into phases or energy states:
  • Acceptance - you accept you have a goal, problem or challenge for which you want to devise a solution.
  • Analysis - gather information about the problem. As you can explore many topics, like Jiu Jitsu, effectively forever, it might be best to set a time limit.
  • Definition - In the light of your analysis, what exactly is the real problem you are trying to solve? What are your objectives.
  • Ideation - generate ideas for possible solutions. As many as possible. Defer judgement, go wild.
  • Idea Selection - consider those ideas you generated and select those which most closely match your objectives?
  • Implementation - implement and act upon your best ideas.
  • Evaluation - How did you go? What did you learn from the process? What new problems or opportunities can you identify as a result?
It is important to understand that this is not necessarily a linear process, it may go an an iterative circular process or loop back one or more times between the various phases.

For example, it may be difficult to select which of your ideas will best help solve the problem. You may need to go back and define your objectives more clearly.

You may find, while trying out your selected solution idea, that you hit some unexpected obstacle or an unforeseen limitation makes it impractical as is. "No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy." * You may not have to go all the way "back to the drawing board" every time, but you may have to go back a bit and select another idea to try, or you may generate some new ideas that you can now add to the list for idea selection.

[*German military strategist Helmuth Graf von Moltke.]

There are other methodologies and demarcation of the various phases or energy states involved. An online course I took about eighteen months ago, Coursera's Ignite Your Everyday Creativity, broke the process up into four phases:
  • Clarification
  • Ideation
  • Development
  • Implementation
Yes, this is meant to be a martial arts and Jiu Jitsu blog, and I will get back there soon, I promise.

What was also mentioned in this course, much more so than in The Universal Traveler, were the concepts of Incubation and Illumination.

You've been mulling over this problem for a while and can't quite seem to get anywhere.

Gary Larson, The Far Side

Go outside, go to the beach, go train.

Get out of your head for a while. Let your research and analysis incubate.

Maybe, a little later, in the shower, while walking around, or when you wake up in the middle of the night from a dream ... BANG! There it is. A possible solution. Illumination.

Archimedes. Be a little more restrained than this at home, kids

Not exactly systematic or repeatable on demand ... but we have all hopefully experienced illumination and know the feeling. Powerful stuff, and not even the most regimented and rational of us can ignore it. Counting on illumination to strike without the preliminary effort is ill advised, though. The muse is saving grace indeed, but you have to have skin in the game first.

Enough theory. If you want to find out more about problem solving methods, I can't recommend The Universal Traveler too highly. And the online course I mentioned might better suit those who don't like reading (if you got this far, presumably that isn't you).

Generating Ideas

OK, I've gone a long way off the martial arts track and risk falling off a cliff. An example.

I'm dissatisfied with my straight front kick. Or, more likely, my instructor told me HE wasn't satisfied with it. Too slow, not enough control or accuracy, I can't hit anything with it, or when I do I knock myself over, or they catch my leg, ...

Perhaps I'm an instructor and looking for a multiplicity of training methods for a front kick to keep classes interesting.

Front kick. WKA World Championship 2011

I accept I have a problem. Or a challenge. My sub-par front kick.

I analyse the problem. My particular problem could be one of the shortcomings I mentioned, or several. I need to seek information, ask my seniors and peers, watch myself kicking on video and in the mirror, get as much information as I can about what I am doing well and what I am doing badly.

I try and define as precisely as possible what I am doing incorrectly or what I need to improve, and what my objectives are in undertaking the search for solutions.

Once I have a pretty decent understanding of what I want to achieve or fix, I go to ideation, and use a number of documented methods to generate ideas. For this I need to undertake divergent thinking, casting my net for ideas and possible solution. Dismiss no idea, no matter how apparently absurd or impractical it sounds. If you run out of ideas, go back to existing ideas and change them a little or a lot, keeping the old and adding the new, riffing off what you already have. Get a group of people involved. Cooperate.

Back in the late 1990's, Rick Spain challenged his senior students, including me, to come up with as many ways as possible to train the front kick. The objective here was to come up with new ways of training to keep our own and the junior student's training varied and interesting, and have many strings to the teaching bow that could be tailored to develop the individual.

I spent a little while on this on evening at home, and after a slow start, got on a roll and quickly came up with over thirty different ways to train that technique. I still have that list handwritten in a volume of my training diary.

Training diaries going back well into last century. Just about all electronic for the last few years

Ideas went like this:

1. Single front kick - concentrating on form
2. Doubles/triples - one side or both
3. Numbers for duration or speed
4. Lead/rear leg
8. Slow kicks with or without ankle weights, for strength and balance
9. Between two sticks held horizontally or vertically for accuracy and knee elevation
10. Against focus bag, partner stationary
11. Against focus bag, partner moving in - for stop kick, teep, timing
12. Against focus bag, partner moving away, chasing
18. In combination with various other kicks, hand strikes, parries/deflections
23. With bungee cord used for resistance
24. With bungee cord used for overspeed
27. Squat and front kick for leg strength and endurance
28. Upkick from the floor, from various guard configurations
32. Isolate in sparring, only technique either one or both sparmates can use

After John Will's recent seminar I'd add stepping into range then kicking, and throwing the kick while hopping/sliding into range.

Once I got going, I felt I could have gone on to more and more options had I so decided.

Coming up with lots of ideas isn't that hard. Remember to defer judgement and not reject ideas out of hand or jump on the first half decent idea you come across.

Selecting the most useful ideas from the list requires a bit more work.

Select and Execute

Now we need to use convergent thinking. We assess each idea against the objectives we determined in the definition phase. We choose the top three of four ideas which seem most likely to take us in the direction of those objectives. If we have trouble working out which ideas are best suited to our objectives, maybe we need to back up for further analysis, or more precise definition, of those objectives.

If we our our student's most pressing problem was that he falls backwards whenever his kick connects with a decent target, from our list of ideas we might come up with the following short list:
  • Kicking an immovable object like a wall to get used to recoil
  • Specific exercises for leg and hip strength (like what? A new problem! Now you have a process you can follow to come up with solutions)
  • Kicking a swinging heavy bag as it comes towards you
  • Slow kicks for strength and balance
  • Kicking a focus bag held by a partner who rushes at us (starting slowly and ramping up the speed might be a good idea)
We implement the solutions and get the student to do the drills. We monitor and evaluate the student's performance. Some ideas might turn out to be useless, some might work really well, or the experiment gives us new ideas, or ways to tweak those we have for greater effectiveness. We can go back a phase or a few and start again.

So, there's one example. The process you go through to work out how to counter to counter Harry Kimura's setups for his signature submission might be different, but the conceptual steps I mention of of inventing or reinventing possible solutions can almost certainly be applied effectively to any situation requiring creative problem solving.

I will look at more specific ideation techniques and other possible sources of illumination in the next article in this series, Creativity and Martial Arts Training III.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Creativity and Martial Arts Training I

The Natural Order of Things?

A recent seminar with John Will brought home to me the value of imagination and a creative approach to martial arts training, and, specifically, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

The seminar was on half guard on the bottom - more specifically, a type of Z guard - and we were looking at how to attack from there with a kimura.

As white belts, students are usually taught to force the opponent to put his hand on the mat, and then grab the wrist with the same side arm, then sitting up and overhooking the elbow, securing the kimura grip, and applying the kimura submission.

John explained that this hardly ever works on an experienced grappler, as they will rarely put their hands on the mat, or allow you to grab the wrist, as they have seen that setup so many times before. And even if you do manage to pull that off, you may still have to contend with them grabbing their belt or inner thigh to avoid being submitted.

John's alternative was to overhook the elbow first, kick the top leg out and rip the elbow away from the hip and rib cage as he flattens out. Then grab the wrist. This will significantly reduce the size of the window of opportunity he has to grab his belt, and give you a significantly better chance of completing the submission.

John discussed the possibilities involved in kickboxing when, instead of stepping into range, then throwing the kick; instead, throwing the kick, while/then sliding or hopping towards the opponent. Old-time greats Bill Wallace and Chuck Norris' premier fighter,  Chip Wright, both employed this tactic to great effect.

More generally, by changing the order in which things are done, we may end up with a significantly better result. It doesn't always work, but when it does ...

This seemed to be a good jumping off point for a wider consideration of creativity and its role in martial arts training and evolution.


From a strict psychological perspective true creativity is very rare. In this context, creativity can defined as your ability to, from one idea, come up with a number of ideas that are both useful and novel. "Novel" here meaning ideas that that not nearly everyone else will come up with in the same situation.

Monetizing your creative output to any meaningful extent is extremely difficult and rare. The number of people who can make a decent living solely from their creative output is vanishingly small.

One of my intellectual heroes, Dr Jordan B. Peterson, discusses these issues in considerable detail in this video:

About 45 minutes, worth it if you have an interest in this area

The good news, however, is that just about everybody can - and does - harness their creativity in everyday life. Much of it is extending pre-existing ideas or concepts in various directions, or combining them in different ways. There are heuristics and methodologies for this which we all can employ. 

If you don't think you have a creative bone in your body, the book "Steal Like An Artist" may change your mind and give you some confidence. No Jiu Jitsu in here ... not specifically, that is. 

This applies to  Jiu Jitsu and other martial arts training, and indeed just about all areas of life.

Creativity and Evolution in Jiu Jitsu

Many Jiu Jitsu positions and techniques have been invented through necessity. The mother of invention. As John Will states often, it helps to understand the origin of how and why techniques and positions originated. Also, finding out how a top Jiu Jitsu player learned a technique, rather than how they do it now, and only then learning about the steps in between that led them to the current way they do, may be highly instructive to understanding that technique fully.

The de la Riva Guard (as one story goes) was invented out of necessity because people got really good at blocking Ricardo de la Riva from putting his feet on their hips in open guard. Swinging out to the side and getting an outside hook is one counter to that strategy.

The X guard came about when opponents started standing up to avoid the butterfly guard.

You don't need the berimbolo if you can sweep them to their back from DLR guard and thus just lie there. You can go to mount. It's when they begin to struggle to get back up, and that mount is no longer an option, that the berimbolo and subsequent back take can come into play.

Many chains or groups of techniques come about as responses to counters that people developed to an original lone technique. The techniques John Will showed at the most recent seminar at Red Boat were an example. 

From Z guard, you kick up and get the underhook and frame on the opposite elbow. Then:
  • If he does nothing, come to your knees, drive him forward and go to his back
  • If he whizzers to stop the back take, go to tthe Dogfight and take him down with the Dogfight Double (Eddie Bravo calls it the Half and Half)
  • If he whizzers to avoid the back take, and stands up on his far foot to stop the Dogfight Double, you roll under and sweep him over you with the Plan B.
There are more techniques from Dogfight - limp arm out from the whizzer to take the back, a triangle entry called the Powder Keg, and a roll to the Spider Web position called the Drowning Wizard. And more, much of which is still to be invented, no doubt.

Z guard itself is arguably the solution to a common problem, the battle for the far side underhook in half guard. If he wins the battle, he can flatten you out and will probably pass. If you get the underhook, you get to try your stuff. Using Z guard rather than the flat style of half guard increases your chances of getting the half guard from 50/50 to 80/20 ... or thereabouts.

These are a series of creative solutions to a succession of related problems. One problem arises, you find a solution. Somebody counters that solution, they present a new problem. You work out a solution to THAT problem, someone will eventually come up with yet another counter. And this arms race continues, indefinitely. In this way, Jiu Jitsu becomes truly endless.

Creative Problem Solving

I bought a book back in the early 1970s called "The Universal Traveler", by Don Koberg and Jim Bagnall. The cover blurb goes on : "A companion for those on problem solving journeys, and a soft-systems guidebook to the process of design." It is still in print today. The fact I still own and use it 45 years later indicates that I continue to find it significant.

 Jiu Jitsu is, at one level at least, a continuous process of problem solving.

The Universal Traveler describes creativity in this way:
The 'design process' is a process which demands creative, constructive behavior ... it is an exercise in the activity of attempting to improve existing conditions. 
... Although  partially necessary, problem solutions which merely 'work' and last for a time do not represent what we refer to as 'creative solutions'. Creative problem-solutions are those which lead, which inspire, which provoke; those which help us to imagine more advanced problems or which provide us with the models for solving other, similar problems, and which generally turn others on to the correctness or appropriateness of themselves.
Essential to creativity, the book goes on to say, is an attitude of constructive discontent.
... constructive attitudes are necessary for a dynamic condition; discontent is prerequisite to problem solving. Combined, they define a primary quality of the problem solver: a constantly developing Constructive Discontent.
Martial arts training is a constructive activity. Being unable to complete a sweep from half guard because the other person counters it, or getting swept yourself from half guard, are pretty strong sources of discontent in my experience.

I discussed above how problems posed by the opponent in Jiu Jitsu obligate creative problem solving. One of the reasons Jiu Jitsu is so attractive to "assassin nerds" like us.

We also briefly discussed one method we can try to solve a common problem, where the most common entry to the kimura, grabbing the wrist. results in the common counter of the opponent grabbing their belt. John Will's solution to this problem was to REORDER the sequence of movements in which we applied the kimura, resulting in significantly reducing the window the opponent has to grab his belt and shut the submission down.

What other methods are at our disposal to creatively solve Jiu Jitsu problems? I'll discuss that in part II of this article.