Category Archives: Martial Arts

Sparring from a TMA background

So, most of my sparring experience (outside of swords) has been in a TMA background.  Not much ring experience via kickboxing / boxing / etc.

It’s itneresting and as Randy pointed out, causes a problem with the way I spar in that I generally don’t follow-up.  I set up a single, clean shot and take it but never do a follow-up – instead bouncing back to safety.  It’s great for point sparring – not so much for actual fights.

Went and sparred against a boxer on Monday.  He’s got a few years of boxing experience and some kickboxing experience, has done a lot of sparring recently for sure.  Me… well, first time I’ve put on gloves in months.

It wasn’t as one sided as you’d think. My understanding of measure kept me just out of range for a lot of his shots, my ability to fade before attacks meant that he only managed to land a few good shots.  I still don’t check as many kicks as I should, but I got a handle of that eventually.

He had trouble with my ability to pop-shots in to his centre and I got a few good kicks in.  No real combinations, though I managed to do a few nice spin kicks.  Towards the end I started to read his movements and checked quite a few kicks perfectly – both using Thai checks as well as savate shin kicks and straight kicks to his rising thighs.  That screwed with him for sure – he’s not used to that idea.

I got to work on making myself do combos more and work some of my TMA stuff into combos. Still, it’s fun and certainly not a rout.

Mentality and Sparring

Had a semi-serious challenge happen this week.  I lost – badly.

Watching the fight, and as Randy pointed out, I was holding back.  Significantly.

Personally, I’ve realised I have major issues in the mental department for sparring / duels.  Especially when it comes to sparring with swords.  Basically, they break down to:

1) Inability to take sword-fighting seriously.  It’s a general thing, but it really shows when sparring in tournaments.  I don’t necessarily take the entire tournament thing seriously, so I don’t fight to win or go in thinking ‘I will win’.

2) Inability to warm-up fast.  I really, really need to work on that – I warm up to fights real slow -it generally takes at least 4 to 5 passes before I’m ready to fight, often 4 to 5 minutes of pre-sparring at full speed with a good opponent before I feel ‘ready’ to fight.  I cool down from that mental mode fast too.

3) Not caring – or caring too much.  I don’t have a lot of in-between gears, so I’m deathly afraid of making this a ‘serious’ sport – because then I’ll want to take it seriously.  It’s better (or so I tell myself) to not care…

Something for me to think about and figure out.  It’s definitely something I have to work on if I ever want to get really good at this sport.


Oooh, stances.  Not going to write much here today, but I thought I’d discuss stances.

I’m a right-hander, so I should be fighting orthodox.  It puts my strongest side back, lets me hit hard with my right fist / kick and allows me to block with my left.

However, due to years of fencing and some Tai Chi work, I actually automatically assume southpaw.  I move more fluidly in southpaw, I block faster, I hit faster and chain combinations more smoothly in that stance.  However, my left side is weaker, so my stronger side is forward.

It’s weird too because I know my left side can grow stronger.  I just haven’t gotten the iterations up.  It’s mostly due to practise – I practised a lot of strikes & kicks in orthodox while learning (Karate, etc) in the beginning and just continued practising in that stance.

However, because I fight southpaw normally, I just don’t have the muscle memory to turn on the power on my left side as much.  With practise though, I’m hitting harder and more smoothly and soon should be able to ramp it up – though I think I’ll always be weaker.

Still, all these changes do mean that I shift quite fluidly between the stances, striking from either without hesitation when I am sparring.  I often don’t even think about stances, just hitting and moving when I am in the groove. Not as good for training specific responses, but great for sparring…

Training while sick

I am sick a lot.  It’s just a part and parcel of my lack of luck with my immune system being shitty. Lots of cold, lots of flu symptoms.  These days I get a lot less muscle strains / aches and damage, but that’s mostly because I’ve slowly gotten pass the ‘I am a weakling stage’/

So, should you train while sick? From what I’ve read – it seems to be a case of – it’s mild sure.  If it’s a flu – no.  If it’s below the neck; no.

My problem is that a lot of the time, I have a cough / cold addition.  That sucks because it’s hard to do anything because your cardio is out and doing a major routine like the MMA training requires a lot more energy / oxygen than I can handle.

It’s weird, but being an adult sometimes means staying away from things even when you want to do it.  Bah!

Valyrie, WMA & Traditional Training

Since I’m not in Vancouver right now, I’ve been doing training at an MMA Gym up here in the Great North.  It’s actually pretty solid and the teacher knows his stuff (especially grappling) so it’s been good.  I’m going to focus specifically though on the warm-up / exercise section in this post.

Valkyrie WMA

The breakdown of warm-up for the class is relatively simple.  It generally is only 30 minutes long before we go to focused training, so I’ll discuss that part here.  It breaks down into:

  • Animal Walks / Springs- 10 – 15 minutes generally
  • Gymnastics strength training  – 5 – 10 minutes
  • Movement work (handstands, six-steps, cartwheels, etc.) – remainder 5 – 10 minutes.
  • Break

That’s the general breakdown.  There are numerous short breaks after each portion – e.g. after we do a single animal walk, we have a short (10 second break) then move on.

So, what do we see with the training? From experience, the focus seems to be on muscular strength (absolute) and power (explosiveness), with power the main focus.  In addition, there’s more focus on developing a ’rounded’ core and improving general mobility.

WMA Training

Now, WMA strength training at the gym I’m at seems to be more ‘traditional’.   It’s pretty much a 30 minute workout using traditional exercises – pushups, situps, jumping jacks, wind sprints, wheelbarrows, standing jumps, etc.   If you did it at Physical Education class, we’ve probably done it.

Quite often there’s no breaks between each exercise, so you go full-out completing each repetition of exercise before switching to a new one.

From my experience, even after my time with Valkyrie; I’m ‘gassing’ out.  The focus seems to be on cardio (muscular endurance) more than anything else.  Some muscular power obviously and probably a bit of hypertrophy added in.  However, endurance seems to be the major focus of this – classes are a constant ‘go-go-go’ (other than grappling, where things have to slow down).

Traditional Martial Arts

From my experience (and obviously, this is a very broad term I’ve used), TMA warm-ups are more focused on stretching and gentle warm-ups.  We might do 10 push-ups, 20 sit-ups the entire warmup and the warmup is often only 15 – 20 minutes long.

The goal is to get the body mobile and ready for class, not to improve physical strength at all.  In my years doing TMA, while my overall endurance and strength might have gone up; it’s more a by-product of the training (forms, punches, etc.) rather than a specific focus.

Again, this varies – I’ve had TMA warm-ups / classes which are much more vigorous than others; but compared to the above two, the differences are still striking.


It’s interesting to see how the different systems of warm-ups work.  TMAs, due to their need to be ‘everything’ for most people have extremely simple / relaxed warm-ups.  The focus seems to be on getting through the warm-ups fast so that you can focus on learning the ‘art’, with some expectation that individuals will develop their strength / etc outside of class.

Valkyrie’s system seems to work very well at getting people who have little to no experience at exercise to exercise.  The idea of ‘play’ is important, as does the constant mini-breaks.  While cardio / muscular endurance doesn’t increase at the same rate as the MMA training, I couldn’t see some of the students I’ve known / had doing WMA coming to an MMA gym.  They’d be frightened off / wiped immediately.

MMA training is in some ways the most intense.  The expectation is that most people have some minimum level of fitness.  While the Beginner classes might be less intense, they are still intense.  There is little directed training, with the focus on ‘go-go-go’ exercises.  It’s great if you are already fit, but I’m not sure I’d put someone who is new into it.  It’s also less useful as mentioned for building absolute strength – there’s an expectation people are going to go out and lift weights if you wanted that.

The Winning Mindset

So, at my last class at Valkyrie I was asked by Randy to change what I was doing.  I had intended to take the time to continue working on a particular flaw in my style – my tendency to launch attacks whenever I saw an opening, whether or not I am covered.

Randy asked me to change that and to speed up, to go full speed.  He noticed that I was running at a lower setting (as usual) and wanted me to go fast.
I resisted. I didn’t like doing it, but I did it and I grumbled a lot aftewards.  At first I thought it was because I had a plan that I wanted to work on.

Later on, I realised why…

I don’t play to win.  I almost never play to win – and it’s something I’ve done all my life.  I didn’t bother competing in the exams at school because I saw no point.  I don’t train to be the best or take part in tournaments to win…

Don’t get me wrong, if it’s serious I can get serious too – work and business being one of them.  Even there though, I never go all out (at least, not anymore).  It’s just when it’s not serious, I don’t play to win…

So training a natural advantage I have (speed) seems a bit strange.  Not only have I not trained it at all; in fact often training myself to fight slower and slower – but a part of me doesn’t see the point.  Why train to beat people by being faster than them when I know I am? Where’s the challenge in that?

The obvious point of course is that I’m not the best there is yet, I’m not even in the tippy top ranks of fighters. I’m good, but not great.  Still… a part of me always asks – why bother?  Why ‘win’ when the win is so easy?

I guess that’s the problem – I’ve never sen the point of winning for the sake of winning.  I’d rather fight / compete / play and enjoy the journey, working the harder parts for me and eking a win out that way rather than working the easiest parts, becoming super good at it and then winning.

I’m not sure this is the healthiest response – or even best, but it’s something I have to think about. further.

Sports, Martial Arts & Combat

The more I think about it, the more I realise that training happens for one of 3 areas.  We shift between each focus depending on the individual, style and class but it helps to understand what each side brings and is best at.


Perhaps most easily seen in terms of MMA training.  In sport training, the focus is often on duels in a controlled environment.  There are rules, there are prohibited attacks, there is a perfect ‘balance’ of opponents (weight classes at least).

In sport training, you train to win the tournament / fight.  It’s great training and it adds a sheen to your fighting that is hard to duplicate other than ‘live’ testing; but it’s also very artificial.  It’s resistance training at its best and worst.

Martial Arts

To me, Martial Arts training is different.   You can train in a Traditional Martial Arts School (TMA School) and train sport training and miss out on the actual martial arts training.  As Ip Chun and every good martial arts teacher I’ve known has emphasised – martial arts is for health and self-defense.  It’s not for fighting.

So, you train martial arts with a focus on self-defense, on getting healthy (mentally and physically) and you might never step into a ring or do a tournament.  You should spar (somethings you can’t learn without sparring – though  not necessarily full speed all the time) and work against a resisting opponent (scaling up drills slowly) but at the end of the day, if you never step into a ring; you’re not a bad martial artist.

Ignore all the UFC-wannabes who say any training that isn’t sports-focused and doesn’t put you into the ring is not worth it.  Martial arts training, done well; will improve your life in ways sport training by itself won’t.


Okay, last difference.  The first two training styles are meant for civilians.  The third, combat training starts adding in things you don’t expect and probably (like 99% of the time) ever encounter.  Things like:

  • multiple attackers
  • weapons
  • body armour
  • scenario training
  • surprise attacks / targeted attacks

Martial arts training or sport training will generally allow you to deal with 1-on-1 attacks.  It starts breaking down in the above situations quite often as we just don’t train in it enough.  In addition, the need for scenario training isn’t there in the vast majority of  the cases.

If you think of it as the various confrontation situations, you are great at vocal & social confrontations and can head those off, but you aren’t trained to deal with ‘real‘ violence. That’s where combat training comes in – and it’s the kind of training that police officers, soldiers and the like receive.  It’s training often given for those who need it, and hard to find otherwise.


Class formats and styles

I’ve been doing martial arts for quite a few years.  Taken from when I first started, we’re looking at 18 years or so.  Total number of years though is significantly less – probably only about 7 -8 years.  It’s hard to tell – there’s a lot of gaps in between and right now; I’m practising / learning when I can but it’s not often.

Anyway, the point is I’ve been at this for a while.  I’ve probably gone to over two dozen schools, trained in (i.e. did more than 1 class) about 5.  I’ve seen a lot of teaching and training styles and I’ve practised everything from Ninjitsu to Tai Chi (both forms & martially) to Western Martial Arts.  So I have a wide range to draw from, though not necessarily depth.

And one thing I’ve realised – there’s no one ‘best’ style of teaching.  Setting aside the fact that different people learn differently (auditory, tactualy, repetitively or visually come to mind); the different ways I’ve been trained have worked well to improve me in different ways.

Form work has given me an amazing level of body awareness.  Doing Tai Chi forms at 1/10th of full-speed means that I have to pay attention to each muscle as I shift.  Every time I practise (properly); I feel and sense something different.  It’s one of the reasons I pick up motions much faster these days.

Unpaired drills help generate and set specific body mechanics I want to become innate.  Whether it’s punches or kicks, repeating them slowly and quickly makes them part of my body’s repertoire of ‘tricks’.

Paired drills adds an edge of realism and adaptation that unpaired drills just miss.  Speeding up; especially for blocking drills drills them into flinch response level territory.  One of my main flinch responses is ‘block’.  When I used to drill regularly, both our responses to everyday ‘fast moving object to body’ was block. Or in his case, catch (shuttlecocks being the main enemy).

Technical discussion has added a layer of understanding to what we do and why something works.  Often paired with drills to then drill in the correct actions.

Slow work starts putting our drills into a dynamic environment at a safe level.

Full speed duels (or 80% in unarmed)  has taught timing, distance and tactics in a dynamic environment.  Drills can help, but there’s nothing that replaces doing it against a resisting opponent.

I have to admit, the two areas I’d love to do more of are:

  • scenario driven drills (ambush, attacks from behind, weapon against unarmed, etc.)
  • group combat

Unfortunately, for both you need both the right group and the time to do it in; and often neither is as plentiful as I’d like.


This is a short post.  I just wanted to get it out before I had to run off.  There seems to be three major forms of confrontations out there:

– Verbal

– Social (Monkey Dance)

– Ambush

In fact, you could say (and I know others do) the first two are the same.  Any verbal confrontation is part of the social confrontation.  As a man though, a monkey dance confrontation is very different from a verbal confrontation (e.g. a shouting match with my wife is not the same as one with a random dude in a bar).

Training in martial arts often seems to focus on part 2 – the social / monkey dance aspects.  You can, with good training be quite confident you can handle the violence stemming from a monkey dance (so long as it stays to 1 person at least).

Ambush training though, I just don’t see happening a lot. Which is a shame, though it obviously requires a lot different training. I’m reading a lot of Rory Miller’s work right now, and hopefully I’ll be able to find some people to work some of those drills with.  Especially the group / blind ambush tactics.