Taking Notes on Jiu Jitsu

I have all these notes from jiu jitsu classes. I’ve always learned through writing, and with jiu jitsu I’ve found it super helpful to have a journal of the techniques I’ve gone over. I was going to just paste in my notes on a recent class, but it got me thinking about the writing process itself when the subject is martial arts.

Technical Writing and Jiu Jitsu

I was a technical writer for two years, so it was my job to break down arcane concepts and write procedures for non-experts. Writing good instructions for martial arts is a classic tech writing challenge in that it’s difficult to decide how much detail to include. For example, I know you have to stay tight to the shoulder whenever you’re setting up a straight arm bar. But if you’re writing for someone new to the game, you should probably make a note of this somewhere, right? Should this be included in the procedural explanation of a technique? Or should it be noted beforehand to keep the procedure concise?

I also like to keep my instructions ambidextrous, which presents its own challenges. I’ve noticed you can usually refer to the “inside” and “outside” half of the body, because you’re rarely totally square with your opponent. And when you’re perpendicular in side control, you have a “head side” and a “foot side” with reference to your opponent. In the midst of a technique, you can also refer to the “same” or “opposite side” of the body you were just talking about. It’s best to use this kind of language when you’re demonstrating live, as well, because it puts less demand on your listeners.

There’s a BJJ black belt who instructs at the Combatives schoolhouse. At lunch, he teaches jiu jitsu to the other instructors, and I’ve been scarfing down a Clif bar and joining them. His style reminds me of my BJJ instructor, Jay Jack. He does the same variation on the side choke (link to instructional by Jay). These are my notes on a class he taught last week.

Osoto Gari and Baseball Choke to Armbar Series

3 March 2011 – Gi class during Lunch @ the Combatives Schoolhouse – Lvl 3 Combatives

Pull to Osoto Gari – Exaggerated pulling kuzushi: Instead of driving forward from the start, yank him backwards, hard. He’ll probably plant and lean back. This sets you up to step in for the throw.

After landing Osoto Gari: Side control to baseball choke: From modified scarf hold side control (hips turned toward his head, deep underhook on far side, pulling up on near side).

  • Instead of underhooking on the far side, control his far-side collar with a thumb-inside grip, pinning his solar plexus with your elbow. Keep the elbow tight to prevent his underhook.
  • Control the near-side arm at the elbow, gripping the gi at the elbow and pulling tight. He shouldn’t be able to bend his elbow.
  • Use your near-side hand to open the far-side collar and switch the far-side hand (the one controlling the far-side collar) to a thumb-outside grip.
  • With the inside hand, put in a thumb-inside grip on his collar.
  • Switch base and walk around to north-south to choke.

He pushes on your chest: Step up to straight arm bar:

  • Roll your shoulders back and turn your chest up, pulling his arm past you.
  • Trap that arm with the far-side arm.
  • Pop up to a high knee-on-belly mount. To get up, push down on the elbow on his stomach. It should be pretty uncomfortable for him Make sure your shoelaces are tight against him and high up in his armpit.
  • Step around for the straight arm bar, maintaining the far-side grip on his collar.

He turns away from the arm bar: As you step up, your opponent may try to flip over on his belly away from you to escape, probably thinking of attacking your legs. Transition to a face-down arm bar on the far side.

  • Release the grip on the collar and post that hand on the ground.
  • Switch the foot that’s over his face to the back of his head.
  • Complete the arm bar by driving your hips to the ground, spreading your knees to make room, if necessary.

They all deserve it.

My instructor, Muhsin, posted this on Facebook. Enjoy this man’s vocal stylings.

Modern Jiu Jitsu stays sharp through competition. The emphasis on live sparring and competition was one of Jigaro Kano’s innovations in Judo, and we carry that tradition on in BJJ.

Competition isn’t for everyone, but it’s crucial to the art. It fuels innovation and keeps people working hard. It’s the gun to your head  Chuck Palahniuk wrote about in Fight Club. When you know you’ve worked hard enough in training, you’ll walk into a tournament or a fight with a smile on your face.

Modern Army Combatives Level 3 – Week One

Whew. I’ve been trying to get a post in but I haven’t been able to scrounge up the motivation. Even now, I’m feeling super flat, but I’m going to power something out. I have been keeping a journal of what we’re doing each day.

The Program

The new MACP logo is pretty gangster, if you ask me

The Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP) is controversial for a number of reasons. The biggest issue is that it’s badly taught throughout most of the Army. It’s really still in its infancy, and there aren’t a lot of good instructors to go around. Secondly, there’s the question of whether spending valuable training time on hand-to-hand combat is worth doing in the first place.

Then, there’s a host of minor quibbles with the program itself, which are common to debates over martial arts in general: Why the emphasis on groundfighting? Why do we teach this or that in the first level of instruction? People ask why we’re teaching wrasslin’ when someone in a war zone is probably just going to shoot you? (Duh – We’re in an asymmetric war in civilian-dense war zones.  Soldiers need to be able to respond with non-lethal force in all situations)

My overall impression of the course so far: It’s a very practical crash course in self defense techniques. The schoolhouse maintains a high standard of instruction and expects a lot out of the students. If MACP was run this way Army-wide, people would understand the philosophy behind it, and it would get a lot more respect.

So here I am at the end of week 1. What have I seen so far?

The Schoolhouse

The Combatives schoolhouse is located in a nondescript brick building on the main part of Ft Benning, a stone’s throw where Airborne students practice parachuting from large cranes. The facility itself is very nice. The main area is padded with those 1×2 meter Zebra mats – enough space for four regulation competitions to be held at one time, with curtains that can divide the space into four separate spaces. There’s also a full weight room and a heavy bag room. The instructors wear ACU bottoms and black MACP Instructor t-shirts. Students wear full ACU uniforms with everything stripped off or, when we’re boxing, PT shorts and tan shirts with our names written in sharpie on the front and back.

Week One

The first week of the level three course is mostly a crash course in western boxing. We’ve learned footwork, punches and combinations. We moved very quickly from drilling single punches, to doing combinations, to high-intensity combination work on heavy bags and pads. Throughout it all, the instructors have been very good about fixing errors in our technique.

On Friday, we actually did some live sparring. Aside from having horrible technique, I did very well with this – I’ve definitely had more harrowing sessions with the gloves on.

We’ve also been reviewing all the material from levels 1 and 2. On Friday we took a test on running competitions and ran mock tournaments with students acting as referees.

The course is very physical. So far it’s been nothing outside my comfort zone, but we’re told it gets more intense in the second week, when we move into kickboxing. The third week is going to integrate takedowns, and the fourth week is going to involve “tactical” training, whatever that means. Somewhere in there we’re going to learn police-style control and detainment techniques.

Not on Brazilian Time

The atmosphere between students, and between the students and instructors is very laid back. There are lower enlisted, like me, along with Drill Sergeants, Special Forces platoon Sergeants, Captains, and even one Major in the class, but we refer to each other by last name only in class. It’s pretty surreal for me to be here, where I went to Basic Training, wrestling and boxing with Drill Sergeants. And one of my favorite guys here is Captain Murph, a Judo brown belt who calls me “dude.”

It’s definitely a military school, though. When I showed up a couple of minutes late the second day of school, I was bawled out by the cadre’s platoon sergeant and sharply reminded that, in the Army, on time is 15 minutes early. We’re not on Brazilian time here. The brisk pace of instruction is typical of Army instruction, as is the way we’re expected to do everything with a lot of hooah enthusiasm. We’re all expected to help clean up before and after class as well.

In Future

There are a lot of  characters in the class, and stories and subplots I’ll have to get to later. I promised myself I’d write something this weekend, and now it’s past my bedtime on Sunday.