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The Wrestler's Guard is a concept we've been toying with and tweaking for quite some time. We've discussed releasing it in dribs and drabs on various RAW DVDs here and there over the past year and a half, but we thought the material might best be served by being presented as one cohesive whole as in some of our marathon Paladin releases.
Rather than take it to Paladin where long titles can get held up for some time, (we've still got our 6+ hour Street-Reality Combat series sitting in the can) we've decided to go the RAW route.
The next several RAW releases in a row will be one-extended inter-locking chain of instruction. Individual volumes will work as independent training tools, but we intend this work to be one-cohesive whole.
Rather than show piecemeal chains here and there that we leave to you to re-assemble as circumstances warrant, we intend The Wrestler's Guard to be a working off the back system unto itself. The accompanying syllabi will be key to this system. Once all of the volumes have been released we will offer an interlocking Wrestler's Guard Flow Chart free to RAW Subscribers so that you can have a quick-reference visual aid as to interlocking the individual branch flow.)
The Wrestler's Guard operates on the premise that wrestlers and MMA fighters are more comfy in the top position where they can apply pressure as opposed to carrying weight or being on the receiving end of strikes.
The Wrestler's Guard takes each tie-up common to the stand-up clinch (vertical position) and shows their horizontal correlates. In other words, we will treat the bottom scissors/wrestler's guard as a horizontal clinch and work from that tactical premise.
Each tie-up blooms into an immediate defensive response (to protect you from strikes) and that then triggers your attempts to limit shoulder exposure (to reduce the weight you carry) reduced shoulder exposure then leads to A) Stand-Up/Sweep Attempts or B) Submissions. (Leg-Lock enthusiasts and hardcore Leg-Riders will find much of interest in these volumes.)
Top players who never plan to be on their back, well, just allow me to say--it happens--let's be prepared, but never fear there's plenty of top work to be found on these volumes as each horizontal clinch tie-up is never abandoned once we transition to top--the transition to top is just that, a blend directly into a hard-driving top game.
Some of The Wrestler's Guard branches to be covered are: The Shuck & Wizzer Series (With Post & Without); The Shuck & Switch Series; DWLs as Prompts Series; The Biceps Ride Series; The Arm Drag Series; Horizontal Hand-Fighting; The Collar & Elbow Series; The Underhook Control Series; The Body Lock Series; The Head Drag Series; The Bar & Chancery Series; The Power Wizzer Series.
We've always tried to be as thorough as possible in our material, but with The Wrestler's Guard (and our yet to be released Street Series) we have taken the next several steps in attempting to provide an interlocking system complete unto itself. We're confident that once you've drilled the 12 Units and internalized their initial starting points and blending points (that's where the Flow Chart comes in handy) you'll be giving as good as you get, whether off your back or on top. (While RAW volumes will feature this series over the next year, we will occasionally drop in some topics from other areas to keep all aspects of the game up to speed.)
Before we get into today's comparison/contrast, pros/cons rigmarole, let's all get on the same page. And, trust me, this page is mighty familiar to anyone and everyone who has ever worked out--ever. But...let's be clear about terms all the same.
First, a repetition is a single iteration of any exercise whether that be a push-up, or a back squat. You perform one push-up, that is one repetition, if you perform two push-ups, that is two repetitions. Rocket science, huh?
Ok, obvious point number two, a set is a designated division of a given exercise. For example, if I were to make a goal of doing 100 push-ups (100 repetitions) in a single workout, I could do all 100 at once for a single set of 100 repetitions, or I could divide my work in many ways. I could do 10 sets of 10 repetitions to build my 100 push-ups, or 5 sets of 20, 4 of 25, hell, I could do 100 sets of 1 if I so choose. End of condescending defining of terms. On now to the real subject of today's missive.
You will notice that in the definition of set that these is a designated division of repetitions, that is, X many repetitions of a given exercise conduct the set. The set number is, well, set, in other words, the set number doesn't alter according to your ability to do the work. If you are on a set and you are required to do 2 sets of 50 push-ups, but you find that you gas at repetition 33, that doesn't mean you get to stop there and declare 33 as the new set goal. Nope, you are just 33 reps into a set of 50, with 17 reps to go, so it would behoove you to get back to those push-ups ASAP.
The purpose of setting sets and reps in advance, apologies for retuning to the obvious, is to set strictures on the work to be done so that oxygen debt, lactic acid build up, and other hallmarks of physical entropy are not the cognitive limiters to the goals we have in mind. Let's face it, sets and reps are, optimally, designed to move us into areas of discomfort so that we continue to spark growth.
Ok, with those horses flogged, let's ask the question is there an optimal way to design sets so that we foster the best conditioning environment? One, that allows us to build both strength and stamina? A set design that allows us to stay cognitively/emotionally engaged so that we still finish strong? Well, it turns out that the answer just might be--maybe. But first, a little on how sets are usually constructed.
Sets and reps are usually notated 3/12, 3/8, 21/15/9, or something along those lines. The numerator in the first two examples is the number of sets and the denominator is the number of reps per set. In the third example, we are required to do 21 reps for our first set, 15 for the second, and finally 9 for the third.
The first two examples of set/reps (3/12 and 3/8) are solid-state sets, meaning that the number of reps stays constant. In other words, even if you've just knocked out 12 gut-sucking reps of a push-press at bodyweight, you still have 2 more sets of 12 to go.
The third example (21/15/9) is one form of a countdown set, that is, you are required to do less reps on each successive set, and I'm here to postulate that countdown sets just might be the way to go. Here's why...
Solid state sets encourage either low workload up front, or longer rest times. If I asked you to do 3/12 front squats and you were allowed to set the weight you have two ways to approach the division of labor to get the job done. You can set the initial weight low enough so that you can still finish the third set, or you can increase the amount of time you rest between sets so that you can come at each set of 12 as fresh as necessary to complete the task. Solid state sets require that you give more consideration to how well you will preform in the third set than the first two. There's really no way around it, if you hit killer weight on set one and two the body is going to experience entropy--you'll have to drop weight, reduce reps, or extend rest time. Each of these curtailments are not exactly conducive to building elite conditioning fast.
Now, example three (21/15/9) our countdown variant is a vast improvement on the solid state set. We know that each time we return to a task there is a bit less to do and there can be quite a psychological bump in that, in and of itself (more on that in a moment). But...if this countdown idea proves to be significant might there be an even better way to tinker with set numbers? Yep, as a matter of fact, there is and this tinkering can lead to greater strength gains and more stamina as we are encouraged to up workout pace naturally all the while doing more total reps than solid state sets or 1/2 measures in countdown sets.
This suggested countdown improvement is pretty easy to remember, 10 sets of counting down from 10. In other words 10/9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1. Think launch countdown and you've got the idea.
Allow me to offer four reasons why counting down may benefit us. (Keep in mind, researchers offer these "reasons" provisionally--these are only maybes at this point.)
Reason #1--Pushed Pace. Counting down reps in a circuit means that each time you return to a task there is always less to do. This whittling away at set/rep numbers encourages you to keep the pace up through the beginning and middle portion of the conditioning session and fosters a sprint pace towards the end where reduced rep numbers are at hand.
Reason #2--Work vs. Perception. Off the top of your head, to many at least, counting down reps and sets from 10 seems like far less work than solid state sets, or 1/2 measure countdowns, but the contrary is true. 3 sets of 12 gives you 36 reps total, 21/15/9 give you 45 reps total, and a countdown from 10 gives you 55 reps total. So far more work, psychologically tricked at a faster pace. Now, strength.
Reason #3--Pyramiding. Strength trainers have long used this strategy to push successively heavier loads. The concept is as follows, your first 10 reps can be at a moderate weight, your next 9 a little heavier, and so on and so forth with reps 3, 2, and 1 being quite heavy and with the added benefit of all the work that came before these final reps. Working in this manner some major strength (and stamina, if coupled in a circuit) can be built simultaneously. Even if you don't up weight per set the initial weight can be set higher than a solid state set as the initial lift number (and each successive number) is perceived to be less.
Reason #4--Relaxation (?). Note the question mark as I offer this reason with a bit of skepticism, but there seems to be some very good research that counting down elicits a calming effect in the athlete. As a matter of fact, this counting down/calming effect has a name: The Jacobsonian Muscle Relaxation Principle. The theory is that we humans are conditioned to find this backwards counting relaxing (relaxed in the midst of effort is a relative term) and this lends itself to better focus and increased activation of muscle.
So, there we have four possible reasons to opt for countdown sets over solid state or 1/2 measures. It is with these four reasons in mind that we design our inTENS Conditioning Program, a program designed not merely to exploit the best science to push our bodies forward, but also the best science to trick our minds into doing higher quality work at a faster pace. You can do the same, it's as easy as 1-2-3, or let's make that 10-9-8-...
First, a definition of terms so we're all on the same page (both literally and figuratively). Designated weapons are any tool or applied technology created for the specific purpose of being an instrument of harm. Pretty straight-forward, huh? Some will split hairs, saying a firearm can be used as a means of technical cultivation as in target-shooting, or as an object of aesthetic beauty as with some collectors who acquire firearms while never firing them. These weapons-as-not-weapons examples can move beyond firearms to fighting knives that are used to cut bait and rattan sticks used to adorn dojo walls, et cetera, et cetera. The aforementioned alternate uses are all valid, reasonable uses but it does not diminish the fact that some tools have been created with the primary purpose (whether stated or unstated) to do harm if need be. No value judgment here whatsoever, simply an observable fact.
Improvised weapons, on the other hand, are any too or technology that while not created specifically for the purpose of inflicting harm can be used for administering harm all the same. A ballpoint pen has been manufactured to jot down notes although it can be used to jab soft tissues. The tire iron was created to assist motorists in tire-changes and yet you can still bludgeon to your heart's content with the instrument. To belabor the point, any object in your environment that can be wielded as a weapon, even if that was not the original intent of the objects manufacture is an improvised weapon.
OK, now that we know what we're discussing, back to today's subject: designated weapons versus improvised weapons. To say that one class is "better" than the other is a false dilemma. Any tool whether made for a specific purpose or none used in an ad hoc fashion should be evaluated only on how efficiently the tool performs the given job. For example, let's say you thwart an attacker using a rattan escrima stick (a designated weapon) and you're having a spectacularly bad day and thwart a second attacker later that same day using the aforementioned tire iron used in the exact same manner as the rattan stick. Which tool is better, the designated or the improvised?
As long as a given weapon (designated or improvised) serves its purpose it passes the test of utility. We're in no-brainer territory to this point, but we've been comparing apples to apples, thus far. A rattan stick and a tire iron are very much alike and it is easy to envision the transfers of technique from the designated weapon to the improved device. As a matter of fact, I wager that you are already a fantastic improviser; if I were to ask you to list 10 other items that could be wielded in the same manner as a rattan stick, I think you could generate this list rather easily. But, this is where the cognitive phenomenon known as tunneling may start to intrude.
Tunneling (also known as anchoring or priming) is fixing on one solution (or single class of solution) simply because you have been exposed to that class of solution. Tunneling isn't a problem as long as you aren't tunneling at the expense of alternative solutions. How tunneling applies to real-world self protection follows along these lines (and I've conducted this loose survey with clients for more than a few years and it manifests more often than not): let's assume two real-world self protection adherents who wish to up their training by adding improvised weapons, Fighter A has an extensive background in stick training and Fighter B has trained blade work for years. If both are asked to enter a standard environment (a convenience store, let's say) and make a quick inventory of the objects there that could be used as improvised weapons, Fighter A, for the most part, shows a strong disposition to find cudgel or stick-like objects while Fighter B shows a propensity for objects that can slash and/or stab--there is some overlap between the two, but for the most part they see what they tunnel to see.
Both Fighters A and B are correct in the weapons they catalog, but at the same time both have limited themselves simply by dint of what they "choose" to see (unconscious limiting). This is not really a problem if there are an equal number of stick-like or blade-like/thrusting type objects in the world, but that is not the case. Objects in our environment manifest themselves in myriad forms and not all of them are stick-like or blade-like. We limit our improvised weapons arsenal if we live inside a self-imposed tunnel.
Don't read this as an argument against designated weapons training, on the contrary, designated weapons training builds strong facility with a single class of weapons that can then be used to expand across different classes of weapons. What I am arguing for here is to dig out of the cognitive tunnel to better MacGyver your environment. To consider the possibility that your own self-protection is better served by learning the 14 Classes of Improvised Weapons (that's right, 14; more on that next time) and to educate yourself to the movement and tactical applications that are in common among these 14 so that you up your improvised weapons choices exponentially no matter what environment you're in.
Some might see the "splitting of attention" across 14 classes as a detriment, a sort of "Jack of all trades, master of none" phenomenon. I understand that concern but by approaching the 14 by what they have in common as opposed to how they differ goes a long way towards mitigating that doubt, and as we well know, in real world self-protection when it hits the fan is never of our choosing and if we have chosen to master the one (knife, stick, what have you) and you find yourself where there is no knife, stick, knife-like, stick-like objects then you may just be the master of none.
More on the 14 Classes of Improvised Weapons next time.
In a recent column, we spoke of the power of marginal improvements; to find these marginal improvements we can look to the above two sets of initials. Basically, if one is constructing physical training regimens that involve many elements (strength, stamina, speed, explosiveness, et cetera) there are only two broad ways to attack the subject: GPP or SPP.
First, a definition of those initials.
GPP--General Physical Preparedness
SPP--Specific Physical Preparedness
Second, a brief bit about each approach and then we'll discuss why it is vital to marry the two.
The GPP approach to training seeks to increase the body's adaptive systems to a variety of potential physical stressors, whether they are improved response to load bearing, increased adaptability to long-term endurance work, quick recovery post-anaerobic bursts and the like. The GPP approach does not assume specific end-tasks (training for this or that specific sport) and this lack of single focus is reflected in the make-up of the GPP program. A GPP program can consist of exercises and regimens from many sports, sports outside any specific area of focus, to contribute to the whole.
GPP choices can include lifts from power-lifting, Olympic lifts, bodyweight exercises, basic gymnastics work, sprints (short to mid-distance), rowing, rope climbing, sledgehammer work, tire-flipping, et cetera. In other words, a broad-based (general) variety of stressors/physical challenges. In short, GPP gives little thought to the end result or what the GPP will be used for. GPP is more concerned with "ifs" or "just in case" scenarios and not certainties.
The SPP approach is seemingly diametrically opposed to GPP in the sense that SPP begins with the end in mind. SPP programs assume certainty as you know exactly what sport/task is being trained for and thus makes exercise/regimen selections based solely on contingencies encountered in the specific outcome whether these outcomes are boxing matches, marathons, or long-range patrol missions. With the known outcome in mind, the trainer, coach, athlete is able to construct a program that is reflective of what most definitely will be and perhaps give a little bit of thought to "maybes."
A sample SPP program for, let's say, boxing would stun no one if it included roadwork, heavy bag training, focus pad sessions, some weight training, skipping rope and the like. You will already notice that there is more similarity between GPP and SPP than one would at first imagine in that although once one enters the boxing ring there is no lifting competition the boxer still trains with weights, there is no push-up competition and yet he still does push-ups, there is no running race and yet he still runs. SPP may train with a known outcome in mind, but the broad based (general) approach is still utilized.
Beyond the borrowing of a few conditioning methods from other sports there might be even more of a reason to marry the GPP and SPP approaches and that reason lies in one tiny crack in the logic behind SPP conditioning. The crack is certainty. Yes, sports have set rules and to some degree predictable outcomes (predictable as to how the play will be conducted) but assumptions beyond the limits of rule play may be a bit misplaced. I'll allow a quote from one of boxing's legends take a knock at certainty.
"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."
Don't misunderstand me, the uncertainty in a specific sport isn't a worry that you will suddenly be required to pole vault in the middle of round three or that tennis players will suddenly be confronted with a downhill slalom. The certainty of the rules of play is not in question here. We must marry GPP and SPP approaches within reason. What is in question are some assumptions about boundaries of conditioning performance required for a particular sport.
Let's take one aspect of a boxing match, the main aspect, the punch (any punch you choose) and hypothesize what fuels that punch and see if we can figure out exactly which approach makes a successful punch what it is, a GPP or a SPP approach.
Good Punching Technique--SPP, undoubtedly.
Good Footwork to get he puncher there--Again, SPP.
Good timing on the punch--Another one for SPP.
Good power--Could be the heavy bag work (SPP), the push-ups (GPP), the bench press (GPP), and since power comes from the ground up, it could also be the roadwork (GPP), the rope work (GPP), the squats (GPP), the plyometric box work (GPP), or perhaps all the core work that was done (GPP).
The punch was fired well under duress--SPP sparring work, here, definitely and perhaps a bit of the resolve forged by tough GPP metabolic sessions.
If the punch was fired late in the rounds after a bit of fatigue has set in this shows a good adaptation to continuing workloads--SPP sure, but we probably also have to tip the hat towards GPP.
Was the punch fired when the athlete was a bit off-balance?--If so, we might have to thank some GPP instability work that "woke-up" and conditioned muscles seldom used in predictable balance or terrain conditions.
You get the idea, we can be certain about the sport itself, its rules and technical approaches, but there just may be a bit less certainty as to how a system as complex as the human body will adapt to the work. Plans do have a tendency to experience entropy/change on the fly and when that happens we have only two ways to cope with change.
1-Hope our journey to 10,000 hours of mastery (SPP) has progressed enough to deal with the new variables, or
2-Hope that our varied conditioning (GPP) can buy us a little time to cope/cruise through the uncertainty until a bit of order can be restored.
Of the two, one is easier to control than the other (#2). We can't become time travelers and magically be 3,000 hours further into our 10,000 hour journey. No, we're all subject to the same 60 seconds per minute rate and will eventually get there in time. But, we do have control over coping strategy number two. While we're building our 10,000 hour bank of experience we can invest in GPP conditioning insurance and gamble that it will see us through some of the rough spots along the way where our hours haven't taken us yet.
The Marginal Revolutionary embraces both SPP and GPP recognizing that whereas sports are closed somewhat predictable systems, the human body is an open complex system. And that by committing oneself to the mastery of the given sports technical vocabulary and preparing oneself for unpredictable but reasonable variables, one can hasten the trip on the road to experience. In other words, utilize both SPP and GPP. SPP is your plan and GPP is your back-up for when you get punched in the face.
We can take the above adversarial title one of two ways, either empty-handed versus a weapon assault, or in the "let's weigh the pros and cons of weaponless self-protection training versus weapons training" sense. We'll address this topic by touching on both interpretations; let's start with the latter pros and cons tack.
First, a rule for how humans interface with technology and, make no mistake, weapons are indeed manifestations of technology.
The Inverse Weapons/Technology Rule: The effort required from the operator (we, the human) is inverse to the relative advanced nature of the technology (weapon) itself.
Wha? In plain English, the more advanced a piece of technology, the less effort required from the operator to use it. Let's go outside weapons technology for a moment to illustrate.
Let's assume that you're a modern day Pheidippides and you have been given the task to communicate a message from your current location in Marathon, Greece to Athens which is 26 miles and 385 yards away. Being a child of the 21st century you have many tools at your disposal to fulfill this task. For example, you could text, Tweet, e-mail, use your cellphone all in little under one minute. Let's assume no iPhone or insufficient coverage or some other satellite/cell tower stumbling block that renders your 1 minute task undoable. You could then opt to drive the distance--assuming you had a car and know how to drive, if you don't know how, most folks are up to speed on the basics in under an hour in an automatic. Assuming you drive approximately 50 miles per hour you could accomplish your task in half an hour. Now, let's assume you have no access to a car or any other form of motorized transportation, but alas, you have a bicycle. (Again, we're assuming you know how to ride a bike--if not please recall how long it takes a child to get the hang of this skill--tricycles and then months of training wheels.) Back to our message to Athens---You could hop on your bike and at a good clip deliver your message in 1 hour. And last but not least, no iPhone, no cars, no bikes, no nothing but you and your own two feet. Assuming you've put in the appropriate long-distance running training you could get that message to Athens in 4 and half hours (the average Marathon time for regular Joe runners).
Applying The Weapons/Technology Rule we can see that the more sophisticated the tool the less effort/training required from the user. Texting, Tweeting, and making a phone call? Any kid can do that. Drive a car? Teens and up. Bike? Kids and up, but we start depending on the physical capacity of the messenger at this point--technology up to now was far less dependent on the skills and or conditioning of the messenger. Running? All humans on two feet can do this, but honestly, how many people do you know who could get that message to Athens in less than 5 hours simply by running?
This brings us to an inverse corollary of the inverse technology rule--The ability to use the more complex technology does not infer that we can scale to the simpler technology, but that same does not hold for those who are capable of the less complex forms. In other words, just because I can text does not mean that I can run a marathon with equal facility, but being able to run a marathon more than implies that I have the wherewithal to ride a bike, drive a car, or send a text.
Let's now apply The Inverse Weapons/Technology Rule to, well, weapons. We'll start at the top end again work own in this arbitrary list: aerial drone used to deliver an explosive payload, firearm, blade, cudgel, empty hand. The aerial drone is operated by a remote user utilizing technology common to current video game play. Does anyone out there know a child who cannot operate a videogame? (Yes, I am simplifying military drone operation, but you get the point.) A firearm? Assuming one can aim, and pull the trigger this is well within the abilities of most human beings (again, this is a broad generalization to illustrate a point and not meant to impugn high-end shooting skill in any way). A blade? A razor-sharp edged weapon will still slit skin whether in the hands of a trained blades-man or my 12-year-old daughter. The cudgel? At this point we start requiring a bit more of our weapon-wielder; we'll need the strength, power and timing to deliver a useful enough blow to defend oneself, as well as a bit of understanding regarding angels of attack, zero pressure, et cetera. The empty-handed defense? Well, now we're at the point where, more than likely, some serious training is required (both conditioning and technical).
To re-state, The Inverse Weapons/Technology Rule says that the more primitive the technology, the more effort and/or training required from the operator with the understanding that zero-technology (the empty-hand) requires the most training of all.
Let's be clear about the stance I'm offering here; it is not that weapons training is useless, on the contrary, labor saving devices are manna whether they be Glocks or DVRs; I am simply pointing out that assuming the worst in self-protection scenarios (which is always a good idea) it is optimum to proportion training time accordingly with what calls for the most skill/work in the event of technology failure or absence. Yes, we must train with weapons, the technology that may save our lives or those of loved ones, but we must be ever vigilant, ever realistic about what we are capable of if we have to get a message to Athens and all we have at our disposal is our wits and our bodies.
Let's close with a quote from Marcus Aurelius (from The Meditations).
"The student as boxer, not fencer.
The fencer's weapon is picked up and put down again.
The boxer's is part of him. All he has to do is clench his fist."
Allow me the hubris to add to the wise emperor's maxim; let us be both the boxer and the fencer, able to use what we find clenched in our fists as well as the fist itself while never forgetting which takes more time to learn and to use that time well.
In past works we've labored the point of palm strikes versus the closed fist, and we've even tackled a portion of today's subject--the striking surface of the fist, but now, let's take the surface + alignment equation even further and show how a few simple changes can add significant power to your punches.
First, let's do a quick recap; to roll the fist properly roll the fingers one-by-one into the palm beginning with the little finger and rolling inward to the index finger. Then, close the thumb over the second joint of your index and middle fingers. Give the fist a few squeeze pumps to insure that there are no kinks in the closed fist--these usually manifest themselves in the form of knuckle pain.
Next, let's review the striking surface--we want to strike with the facing phalanges of the little, ring, and middle fingers not (I repeat, not) the knuckles of the first two fingers (index and middle). For details on why this is, see our previous column "The Devil is in the Details" or our book BOXING MASTERY.
Let's next build proper surface-alignment. To surface-align any punch properly we use The Wall Test to check for structural defects in our punch end point. To perform a Wall Test for a jab :
1- Hit your stance in front of a wall at punching distance.
2-Extend your fist and place the prescribed striking surface against the wall.
3- Driving from your feet, push through the striking surface as hard as you can manage checking for wrist wobble or knuckle pain.
4- If there are wobbles or pain signals, keep the pressure driving through your fist surface and gently adjust your wrist until the problems disappear.
The surface-alignment Wall Test should seat the wisdom of the prescribed striking surface; now we'll move on to how to align the punching arm itself to add maximum power to your punches. Before we do so, keep in mind we are informing punch alignment with elementary bio-mechanics and not simply conforming to "Well, I was told to always punch with a (Horizontal/Vertical) fist" anecdote. A revised Wall Test at the end of this article will allow you to seat your own best alignment.
Before we punch with power, let's look to other areas where physical power must be expressed along similar planes of motion. To start, let's look to the bench press. The bench press has you rest the bar on your palms as you grip the bar--you will notice that when you grip the bar your hand conforms to a quasi-fist position. As you press the bar you naturally feel the weight not equally across the entire surface of your palm but primarily along the outer-heel of the palm--this area of contact gives you the greatest alignment for pressing power. You will notice that with the closed fist this point of contact in the palm is driving through the prescribed fist striking surface thus allowing for efficient power transfer. In other words, punch as you would press.
You can use another pressing test to allow your body's natural intelligence to inform your punching-power alignment. Step before the wall again and place both hands on the wall. I give you the task of using all of your might to push the wall down. You will notice two things in the execution of this impossible task.
1- Your primary power alignment will again fall upon the bottom-outer heel of the pam behind the prescribed-fist striking surface and not towards the inside heel of the hand.
2- You, in all likelihood, have placed your palms on the wall in a fingers pointed up (horizontal fist) position and not fingers pointing outward (vertical fist position). By all means experiment with both palm placements, but I think you'll find that you generate the greatest power in the first placement.
Let's look to one more strength/power exercise before we return to alignment-the lying dumbbell fly. In this exercise you lie supine on a bench with a dumbbell grasped in each hand. Extend your arms to the sides laterally and then, leaving your arms extended, bring the dumbbells to meet above your chest. You will notice that your palms are facing in throughout the exercise and not rotated so that your thumbs face one another. This palms-in position informs us as to how best align ourselves for powerful hook punches. Again, by all means experiment with this, perform flies in both hand positions and note for yourself where you are able to generate the most power.
Lastly, let's return to the wall and re-align our punches. Place the contact surface on the wall for a series of jabs and/or crosses and align the body for power--drive with all your might checking for defects and positions of improvement. Next, locate a wall with an extended corner and align your hooks with the proper striking surface (palms facing you) and again, hit your drive adjusting where necessary.
By using these simple re-adjustment tools and the experimental method you can find your own best striking surface, best fist position and your own best alignment for punching power. Once you have the muscle memory from the Wall Tests under your belt, it's time to bang the focus pads and the heavy bag and turn up the power.
We humans, are a curious species in ways too numerous to mention here, so let's limit ourselves to one quirk today--our uncanny ability to see what we expect to see and rule out or simply be blind to what we don't want to see (or don't know to look for). I call your attention to a simple experiment that shows just how ridiculously tunnel-visioned we can be.
Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris of the University of Illinois Visual Cognition Lab concocted an experiment that seems borne out of many hours of viewing Monty Python's Flying Circus. Simons and Chabris wanted to test for the hypothesis that when we pay attention to detail(s) we often miss things that are obvious to others (the old can't see the forest for the trees proverb). This phenomenon is known as inattention blindness--in other words, rapt attention on pre-determined stimuli can lead to serious inattention deficits for stimuli outside your attentional set. Enough of my yakking, let's allow Simons and Chabris's experiment to do the talking.
The duo showed a video of a basketball game with the crowd plainly seen in the background to test subjects. The test subjects were asked to count the number of passes made by players on the team wearing white shirts. At one point in the video an assistant wearing a gorilla suit (yep, you read that right) walks through the middle of the game, stops in the middle of the screen and then walks out of frame. Keep in mind, the game never halts and there are more than a few passes that occurred with the gorilla suited accomplice partially obscuring the action. After viewing the video, test subjects were asked to report the number of passes, (most of which did quite well at this task by the way) and then they were asked about the presence of the gorilla. Approximately half of all test subjects never saw the gorilla.
What's going on there is two things, the first--the aforementioned inattention blindness--the second is a bit of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a fascinating concept from cognitive psychology that says that we humans tend to search for and interpret new information in a manner that confirms our preconceived notions while at the same time discounting evidence that contradicts those preconceived notions--the old liberal/conservative divide with zero gray area in between. We are all subject to confirmation bias to varying degrees of irrationality that may differ from subject to subject. Confirmation bias can be seen in the amusing statistic that approximately 90% of the US population considers itself above average in intelligence and above average in looks. It's nice to like yourself despite the mathematical impossibility of the proposition.
Let's bring inattention blindness and the confirmation bias to our world of interest combat sports, MMA, and street-defense. We, being human, often view data (fight footage, assault accounts, et cetera) under the sway of both stumbling blocks. The strikers often see evidence for striking solutions where it may not exist, grapplers often look for submission answers where they just may be inappropriate, and street tacticians may often try to apply certain concepts or strategies where the ideas may simply be out and out wrong. In our two books NO SECOND CHANCE and THE ESSIENTIALS we argue (in both the street and sportive environments, respectively) that we should not allow ourselves to shape our research but rather to allow the research to shape us.
We must be ever vigilant that inattention blindness and the confirmation bias may allow us to distort what we see (or don't see) leading us down literal blind alleys causing us to train for contingencies that don't exist, or apply techniques or tactics that hold little water in the real world. We must always keep our eyes open to look, really look at what's before us and see if there is, indeed, an obvious detail staring us in the face that may aid our training. By being aware of our shortcomings, we can better compensate for these stumbling blocks and see, perhaps a bit more clearly, just what strategies and tactics might really be called for in situations where our health and safety are on the line rather than simply retro-fitting what might be an outmoded (or completely wrong-headed) game plan onto a situation full of "hidden" gorillas. In other words, stop looking for favorite trees in a forest, look at each and every one of them and always be aware that there just may be gorillas in the woods--right in front of you.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Nah, scratch that, I'm going to say it anyway. I'm going to hit you with something you've already heard time and again; something you already know. Something you've heard come out of the mouths of boxing coaches, trainers, and ringside commentators hundreds (if not thousands) of times and we can only assume that this bit of repeated advice was being uttered in some form or another long before someone decided to write it down.
Are you ready for repetition number 4,347,771?
"Fights are won in the gym, not in the ring."
Too bad we can't track down with any surety who first uttered these wise words so we could give them full credit, but my guess is that some form of this advice has been around as long as human beings decided to make a sport out of smacking each other around. We can easily imagine pancratium masters in ancient Greece exhorting their protégés with these wise words, or gladiator trainers (doctores) urging their charges on with some version of the phrase.
This advise holds true not just in boxing but in all combat sports--wrestling has a long tradition of brutal training regimens, today's Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters have adopted this axiom as well. In truth, the axiom holds for all human endeavors that require any level of elevated performance whether that be competitive sprinting, heightened musicianship, chess prowess, military endeavors, you name it, if it requires a level of skill the key to successful performance lies in the training, not the mere observation of the end result. In other words, to paraphrase the axiom "What we see in he ring is indicative of what preceded it in the gym/training phase." Or performance is a reflection of the work that preceded it. You don't like what you see reflected-you know how to change it.
I repeat, performance level in the ring, or any endeavor, is more a reflection of preparation than that of any other variable. Yes, luck does factor in--no doubt about that; I mean we have to accept the phenomenon of the lucky punch, the "out of nowhere" dropper, et cetera, but then again, we can draw some comfort from a corollary to "Fights are won in the gym, not in the ring" (Repetition # 4,347,772). That corollary axiom is "Chance favors the prepared mind." (BTW-We can source this one, Dr. Louis Pasteur.)
Let's be precise and respectful of Dr. Pasteur and give the more literal translation of his quote, what he actually said was: "In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind." The literal translation is a bit narrower, but this is to our advantage as it more readily highlights the wisdom of the first axiom. The "nice" more loosely translated version of Dr. Pasteur's quote leads one to think that preparation is ideal, but apparently chance also favors random individuals in an infinite number of scenarios. In other words, if we were allowed to put 100 professionally trained boxers in the ring with the best version of Mike Tyson we can imagine, we would expect a sizeable proportion of that professionally trained 100 to do rather well. But the loose version of the quote also allows for the possibility that out of 100 non-trained folks entering the ring mano y mano with Iron Mike, a handful might do well via chance alone.
Now honestly, can you picture any of the average Joes you meet on a day-to-day basis coming out on top in a head-to-head match with the 21-year-old Iron Mike? I can't. Let's return to the strict interpretation of the esteemed doctor's quote "Chance favors only the prepared mind."--that word "only" is key. Your "luck" is wholly and solely dependent on your level of preparation.
Ok, I've re-stated an obvious training axiom and belabored the loose translation of the words of a dead French scientist; to what purpose you may ask? There is a tendency to focus on the end result of training--the glory of victory, the appreciation of smooth performance, but again, what we see in the ring, the end result is but the tip of the iceberg.
I want to take away all wiggle room regarding getting your butt into the gym. I want to kill any excuse-generating mechanism that may be employed that allows anyone to not do what must be done to be a successful boxer (successful anything, for that matter). I want to remove any and all barriers between you and luck. As we know, luck, by definition, is a chance thing and maybe, just maybe, if you are so l lucky as to have some once-in-a-lifetime-luck break in your favor and you see it and recognize it for what it is, but....you didn't do the prep work, well, then you have no one to blame but yourself.
#4,347,773: "Fights are won in the gym, not in the ring."
We'll open with a paraphrase from the premier philosopher of randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, "Nature is not smooth." Taleb applies this axiom across all domains and uses this observation to deconstruct assumptions regarding financial markets, top-down policy "solutions," and computer models, among many other endeavors of spurious human prediction. He has briefly digressed on nature's "roughness" vs. the "smoothness" of gyms and it is this observation that I want to expand upon as I see it holding huge implications for how we approach both our conditioning training and our fight training.
In a nutshell, Taleb's axiom is an evolutionary perspective on how the human body and mind developed. If we take this long-view we must allow that man evolved and adapted to a world far more random, far more dangerous, and far more variable than the one most of us inhabit today. A world where food must be pursued with actual cunning and physical work and run down in terrains and conditions that never exactly duplicated previous hunts. A world where the "knowable" was a bit less certain (the path home may always lead to home, but the potential for diversion/interruption may be more dire than a spot of traffic). A world where the sprints may not be of "regulation" distance, the loads not necessarily equally distributed or easily grasped, the work-to-rest intervals not precisely measure, the thermostat not adjusted just so before effort is exerted, the tasty protein bar not consumed before the task that "requires" it an so on and so on.
These observations should be of no real surprise to anyone steeped in evolutionary history or even those who are adherents of the varieties of paleo diets. There have been moves made towards moving the dial from the smoothness of gyms towards the "roughness" of nature with any of the somewhat randomized conditioning regimens that alter tasks on a daily basis such as the CrossFit model. These efforts are a significant move in the right direction, but if we embody the full spirit of the axiom we must recognize that further moves in the direction of "roughing up our training" can be made.
The current efforts at randomization, excellent as they are, still lean heavily on predictability/smoothness. The runs/sprints are measure distances culled from smooth sports, the lifts (for the most part) are two handfuls of smooth lifts, the calisthenics are dictated by smooth sport standards and performed on (or with ) industry-standard equipment (similar circumference pull-up bars, et cetera). By all means, do not see this as an indictment of this approach, far from it. In the current environment the randomized smooth sports being mixed and matched are head-and-shoulders above most dictated approaches. But the logic of the axiom seems to dictate an even further push to roughing up the game.
Assuming we are on board for an evolutionary/paleo perspective and the view that adapting training and diet closer to the circumstances under which this species evolved, then it's not much of a stretch to see that the move towards roughing may have some merit to it. Just as we see gains made by randomizing exercise circuits and mixing running/sprint intensity with lifting intensity it is surmised that we may see even greater gains if we occasionally rough or randomize within the standard routines. We can do this by making all or the majority of our runs/sprints not on tracks, paths, or treadmills, but off-trails, up and down hills, over, under, and through a variety of urban environments. We can lift unwieldy objects, or we can rough our gear by increasing bar circumference occasionally, experimenting with uneven grip positioning, or uneven-loading the bar. (Note: It doesn't take much to throw your lifting form off so approach in increments.) We can decide to exercise outdoors more often than not; we can experiment with conditioning at different times of the day; with eating before the workout, 3 hours before, or not at all that day. We can wear thick winter gloves when performing pull-ups; we can narrow our stance on squats to decrease balance; we can strive to alter terrain (simply jumping rope on gravel alters that task, for example). If you workout to music try the occasional switch to music completely outside your taste to see how or if something as simple as that affects your performance. The potentials for variability seem limitless.
It is with this eye on constant variability that we use to inform our own conditioning with our inTENS program and our fight training with our Outer Limits Drills. (You can find samples of these at our site). By roughing the gear, roughing the routines, roughing the sparring your will find a tendency to focus less on questions such as "What do you bench?" or, "How fast is your mile?" How do you answer these when your last bench was 240 pounds, 15 pounds of that loaded asymmetrically; and the time before that your bench was only your bodyweight, but one foot was allowed on the floor and the other was held awkwardly in the air? Or your last mile was run holding a 45 pound plate alternately in the right and left hand, but never both hands at once, or the mile before that was ran in dress shoes?
When we rough the gear, rough the routine, the game becomes less about how well your times or lifts match or beat previous smooth iterations, but along the lines of how much intensity can you bring to the rough task at hand. If 'roughing" the diet by moving towards paleo works for those who experiment with it (and quality research seems to support this assertion) and randomized conditioning seems to deliver greater results than adherence to smooth dogma, then it seems reasonable that the occasional introduction of roughness to smooth approaches at least a few time per week may potentially elicit similar gains.
"I have trained in and taught martial arts for over fifteen years. In all my years of training I have never experienced a better system than ESP. Training with Mark pushed me beyond what I thought were my physical and mental limits. I would consider Mark's teaching style similar to a graduate professor at UCLA. He has clearly used an analytical as well as practical approach to his training methods. I am a better martial artist, athlete, instructor, and thinker after training with Mark."
--Jesse Marez, Submission, Folkstyle, Catch Wrestling Coach