Monday, November 30, 2015

BJJ For Self Defense Part Deux

In a previous post I talked about my take on why I feel BJJ makes for a strong foundation for a protective skillset.

For me, the primary driver is the stress inoculation, pressure, and immersion in an environment where no one is allowing you to do your thing and you must fight it out with a skilled resisting opponent trying to enforce their will on you. This is key. But in this post I'd like to discuss more directly about the technique and what skills should be focused on for a effective game that translates well to a world of weapons, hard surfaces, and the presence of multiple opponents.

If, dear reader, now is the time you expect me to list off some tired stale collection of basic sweeps and passes that are "street effective" than alas, you have come to the wrong place.

I will say in my classes at Stout Training Pittsburgh / Team Renzo Gracie when we focus on the ground work I put a heavy emphasis on escaping from bottom and getting to the feet. We look at robust, simple escapes and how to modify the traditional "technical get up" for a real world environment. The ability to choose to return to the feet is huge in our context. It may not be the choice we want to make based on circumstances, but if we need to get up and get away with urgency those skills must be sharp.

Beyond that the "sport vs street"argument so often parroted about is utter nonsense. I believe in a well rounded game that encourages creativity under pressure. If your school doesn't teach spider guard because "streetz" I would suggest they don't know as much about that environment as they claim to, and that perhaps a grappling session with a guy with a SIM gun or a NOK Knife  will through experience show how the ability to control distance and limbs as you fight over an object can be a useful skill to have.

Worm guard might have been the joke of the day for the street combatives crowd for a hot minute, but when someone with a good grasp of the lapel game uses a seat belt to control your thigh in a fight in a car and I think your tune might change. Its not the specific position, its the ability to use your environment, to develop a sense of balance, to exploit leverage, and to understand pressure while someone bigger, stronger, and younger than you is coming for your throat.

Primarily I prefer my "A game" to be one of top pressure and passing with a heavy focus on side control and knee on belly. Top positions that allow me to transition easily and get off someone safely. I'm always looking for places where I can control both of my opponents hands and leave one of mine free. This translates directly, and it makes for good fundamental jiu jitsu.

On bottom I like play an open guard that uses the feet to control range and keeps hands tied up. Spider guard works well here, and being long in the limbs plays this into a game that builds on my strengths. The ability to then transition through other guards as the range changes like using De La Riva  or butterfly makes for an effective delivery system that keeps me adaptive and agile whether the fight is for submission, over a weapon, or trying to escape.

My friend, mentor, and coach Cecil Burch has done and excellent job articulating specific BJJ positions and how to modify them for our purposes. It is often the small tweaks and adjustments that make all the difference. I highly suggest studying his material for anyone truly interested in the subject.

I'm of the opinion that rolling with strikes and rolling trying to keep someone from accessing/using a weapon reveal the modifications in an experiential manner, and I've seen the experienced practitioners adapt rapidly once the paradigm is revealed.

This isn't new stuff. When I first started down this path I read a great guard tutorial by Paul Sharp on the subject that blew me that he wrote in 2006. Years before I even knew what BJJ was, back when I carried a 1911 and did Taekwondo these dudes where already years into this stuff!

So if its been around awhile, its not top secret stuff, and its robust and works in real setting under real pressure then why is this such a niche blog in a niche topic even inside the generally small self defense market? Because its hard. It takes work, and time. You cant get it in a weekend. Its not an easy path. You cant just buy it. Your going to get smashed, punched in the face, your going to experience failures and pain over and over. As much as I wish it was for everyone, not everyone can take that path. It might just be you and me dear reader. Lucky for us that's enough to train.

Antifragile Training

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Aridus Q-DC Shotgun Side Saddle

I've been both a friend and training partner with Adam Roth (The owner of Aridus Industries and inventor of the Q-DC) for years. How many I cant recall, most like due to the number of times he's punched me in the head. Adam has always been a intelligent and hard working training partner. Always looking to improve, always putting in the work, and always getting better and better.
I've been shooting competitively (not that I'm any good at it), and taking/hosting firearms courses for over a decade. I put that out there only to give folks an understanding that these thoughts are from someone more active than your average casual shooter.
When he first told me the concept for the Q-DC it was one of those moments where you go "and nobody has done this yet?". I mean seriously, I've had all kinds of side saddles and they all have some part of them that sucks. The Velcro ones are less than robust, don't index consistently to the receiver if you try to toss it on quick, and get beat up and loose over time. The big solid ones are cool, but usually have pin shear issues with the mounting, bad retention for the shells over time, are hard to refill under time pressure, and lack the ability to replace that the Velcro ones have.
I received a QD-C beta test model a few months back for my 870. First off, I'm not a shotgun guy, never really liked them much or shot them much. Signing the beta test and NDA agreement on the QD-C required me to shoot 250 rounds of buckshot at minimum. Over the course of the testing I shot 300 buckshot, a handful of slugs (less than 50) and while I stopped shooting the birdshot and target loads to get through the buckshot I estimate I shot around 300 of that as well. Most range sessions would be shooting 50 rounds. I tried to concentrate on single loads from the carrier to test the shell retention, and changing out the carrier to get used to the mechanics of the device. Adam provided a few different carriers with different dimensions and varied leaf springs to change retention that he wanted feedback on. I must say this forced me into actually started to enjoy shooting the boom stick.
The testing became mundane. I really cant imagine how this unit would fail in any way. I mean this isn't a youtube lets drop it from a helicopter and run it over with a tank review. Just normal use in real practice. Dropping carriers in range dirt, gravel, mud, and exposing it to the elements while shooting. I did mock runs around the house, deployed from the trunk, used my sling on transitions and with movement and experienced no hang ups of any kind.
I imagine once these go live it will become a must have accessory for everyone running a shotgun. 
Shawn Lupka

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Situational Awareness

"How do you aware?"
-Craig Douglas

In the firearms training community the term "Situational Awareness" gets tossed around quite a bit. Normally we are simply told we need to have more of it, whatever it is, with very few giving guidance as to how, or what exactly that means practically. 

Am I supposed to be some kind of ninja? Constantly hyper vigilant and ultra focused on all the little minutia at all times? Frankly I don't see how that's possible without a mental disorder. Will doing a "scan and assess" range kata after a string of fire improve my ability in real life to come out of tunnel vision under stress? I'd like to first understand what awareness is and what about the situation I need to apply it to.

"Awareness is not a passive state, but an active process. On the lower levels of awareness, a complex neurological process is required is to enable man to experience a sensation and to integrate sensations into percepts; that process is automatic and non-volitional: man is aware of its results, but not of the process itself. On the higher, conceptual level, the process is psychological , conscious and volitional. In either case, awareness is achieved and maintained by continuous action."
-Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology

So, what we need is conscious action. This may be a bit on the not so ninja side but out here in reality I like to do some really simple things to keep my head out of my ass and improve that first line of self defense. I like to ask myself some questions and look for the answers as I enter an area.

Where are the exits?
Who is here, and does anything look amiss? 

Simple, really. If I'm driving I want to know if I can be easily blocked in where I'm parking.  Is the spot well lit and easily visible? At night when I'm approaching my car I give the area a quick flash with my pocket light to see around the car.

If I'm coming home I take a split second in the drive to see my front door, and look at the windows. Is anything out of place? 

In Craig Douglas's excellent Managing Unknown Contacts coursework he teaches a number of pre assault cues the student is to look out for. When being approached by a stranger are we paying attention to their mannerisms and what exactly are we looking for?

One of my training partners wrote at length about an encounter he had that I posted here. Take note of how much of the situation he was aware of. The mannerisms, the environment, how his clothing choices (leather soled shoes for a meeting) where interacting with the icy ground. This wasn't spur of the moment, we didn't download the super observation skills to his brain. It was training. He was able to observe and digest a great amount of information and use that to make decisions under stress in real time.

We don't need to be super heroes, but I would suggest it is reasonable to take a look in the gas station window before you run in and see if the place is being robbed before you walk into it. Simple easy observations we make with a conscious decision to collect information will keep us actively participating in the world around us and less likely to be caught by surprise in our day to day lives.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Self Defense Classes in Pittsburgh

With the guidance of my good friend and mentor Craig Douglas I am pleased to present a regular weekly class based primarily on his work at Stout Training Pittsburgh. I have been a student of Craig's for years and it was under his direction I first started training at an MMA gym and later found Warren Stout. With the support and help from guys like Cecil Burch , Larry Lindenman, and Paul Sharp I've been honored, truly, to teach this material at the academy.

The coursework is what can be best described as a modern Mixed Martial Arts ( MMA ) approach to self defense. We utilize the proven techniques present in Boxing, Wrestling, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ( BJJ ). We just do it with guns, and knives while accounting for concerns such as multiple adversaries and real world environments.

We utilize the training method of introducing a skill, learning that skill in a controlled setting with a partner, and then working on that skill with live resistance. I will not ask anyone to take my word for it, you get the chance to validate the techniques yourself under real pressure in a safe environment.

Each month focuses on a different element. One will be stand up work while another focuses on the ground, and so on. The curriculum repeats through a cycle while constantly reinforcing fundamental skills. Training will include live role players, training weapons, and a variety of scenarios to mirror the realities of practical self defense.

We will work with firearms, and knives. But we also will train with pepper spray (using inert trainers) and look at the usefulness of small flashlights and other items for self defense.

This is the perfect setting for the BJJ player to get to experience what grappling over a gun is like and how it changes the game, as well as the average person who doesn't practice any combat sport to learn the fundamentals and see how they are applied to the problem.

I'd like you to join us.

For questions contact Stout Training Pittsburgh , or email me

Antifragile Training

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Get a Good Coach

When talking with people about nutrition and exercise there is no lack of opinions. Seems at times even the sedentary have some sort of sound bite they picked up off daytime TV to tell me. The irony pouring off them as they try to give me advice is lost on them.

But it's not just that out of shape acquaintance carrying all those extra pounds of fat telling me I shouldn't be skipping breakfast or "blah blah blah, organic, blah blah blah gluten," it's also often a variety of input from serious physical specimens. People in excellent shape. Some squat this way, while others have strong opinions about another way. I have a very large, very in shape vegan friend who crushes kettle bells, and another who likes to eat ice cream by the quart.

What are we to do! The temptation is to dive in, to read, to learn. But with so many experts with so many approaches, and so much information it can be overwhelming.

I won't espouse my own opinion as being the one true path. What I will say is that every moment I'm reading conflicting articles on when to consume protein is a moment I'm not spending watching BJJ video's, not shadow boxing, not dry firing.

This blog is for the multidisciplinary tactician, we have a lot on our plate. I don't have the luxury of time to waste and I don't have any emotional attachment to being right or having an opinion on every subject. If you're a fitness junkie and want to delve deep into the topic for yourself that's great but right now I have to make time for force on force simunitions training in an abandoned structure. There is no spare time or extra attention I can spend.

"Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength" 
-Arnold Schwarzenegger

I got a coach. My coaches' advise is easy for me to follow. He has a background and degrees dealing with nutrition and fitness and he has a ton of experience in combat sports and firearms training. He's done what I'm doing and has a specific knowledge base grounded in academics on the subject matter. That's enough for me.

My strength and conditioning plan: do what Larry says.

I don't try to change the program on my own. I don't think I'm special. I don't read the newest articles or try the next hot thing. I just do what I'm told and reap the rewards.

Be teachable.

Antifragile Training

Friday, August 21, 2015

Gettin Reps Son!


I recently had the pleasure of Hosting Frank Proctor for his excellent Performance Pistol course here in Pittsburgh. Frank was very clear about the distinction in practicing shooting between “running drills” and “shooting exercises”.

The analogy that Frank made that really stuck with me was one akin to lifting weights. If your goal was to bench press XXX pounds would it be wise to just go to the gym and put XXX pounds on the bar and go at it? Or would it be more effective to learn form, to start lighter, and to gradually work your way up? Why then, as shooters, do we think hitting the range and going full out at that one max rep over and over and until we luck one into the A zone is “practice”?
This is a such a strong analogy I think we can extrapolate a great many useful training points from it over our more generalized skill sets.
"There are no shortcuts. Everything is reps, reps, reps."
- Arnold Schwarzenegger 

Let's say I’m working on my boxing (which I am currently) and trying to refine my cross. I’m really working on max range and turning my hips and shoulders into the strike. There are a lot of small technical points. I have to think about keeping my chin tucked and head forward with eyes on my target, I have to keep my shoulders loose so the scapula can move freely and quickly, I need to drop my weight with the movement putting torque into the blow as I turn the fist over and connect. That’s a lot of details! The training outline that seems reasonable to me is to work on those elements in isolation without pressure during shadow boxing (dry fire!), then get reps in with contact on mitts and a bag (live fire!), and then work under pressure and resistance (competition shooting, force on force, live training).
I believe that we, as shooters, can maximize where most of our range time is spent and that our precious time resource can be used more effectively to yield better results if we take this approach.
If my goal is to decrease my time on target transitions, rather than spend 200 rounds of ammo and the only hour I have free that week chasing a score at max speed I would suggest taking a more refined approach. How does a typical weight lifting session go?
  • Warm up
  • Work sets
  • Max effort
  • Cool down
Do we do max effort on every trip to the gym? Maybe when the weight is low setting a PR happens every time, but as we progress and everything gets heavier and more technically demanding that sort of self congratulatory training becomes less and less effective. Having the self discipline to hit the range with a goal like “see my sights settle as I enter the shooting box” takes a different approach than a goal like “hit sub second draw”.
Yesterday I hit the range with 300 rounds and about an hour and a half total shooting time. I wanted to work on my target transitions, specifically focused on seeing the shot break before visually indexing the next target.
I set up 2 IPSC targets about 7 yards apart. With my firing position 7 yards out this is a good triangular set up for me, and means I cant keep both targets in sight at the same time but can keep the target I’m not engaging in my peripheral vision.
  • Warm up:
    • Draw and 1, then draw and 2 to the Upper A zone (Credit card)
    I feel like this gets me moving and warms up my eyes to visually be able to lock in on that sight picture. It works my hand movement, vision, and accuracy. I like to do the first few sets for time to just to see where I’m at cold on the timer, but then I leave the timer alone and finish the warm up with a focus on performing technically perfect shooting.
  • Work sets:
    • Draw and 1 to each body through a 6 shot string x 50-60 rounds.
    • Draw and 2 to each body through a 6 shot string  x 50-60 rounds
    • Draw one body left target, head right, head left, body right x 50-60 rounds
    • Draw two body one head each target x 50-60 rounds
I will use the timer for some of these strings, but I’m not chasing any sort of score, I’m simply taking note of my time between targets to get a feel for how that time relates to what I saw.
  • Max effort:
  • Cool down:
    • Dry fire
I like to run through a few of the day's exercises without shooting, some draws, see my sights, maybe reloads or anything from the day that stands out.
One of the many benefits to a multidisciplinary training program is the ability find commonalities between skill sets. We get to enter a world where outcomes become greater than the sum of their parts. Its not just the shooting, or the jiu-jitsu that I love. Its the place where these things meet and complement each other, where synergy happens and suddenly 2+2=5.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Failure and Resilience

In October of 2012 I participated in Craig Douglas' ECQC coursework . This was the 2nd time I had taken this course, I had also attended Several of his other courses, Edged Weapons Overview (EWO), Armed Movement In Structures (AMIS), In-Extremis Knife (IEK), and Managing Unknown Contacts (MUC) more than one time.

I wasn't new.

After my first experience training Force on Force with Craig I started attending a local MMA school, getting in shape physically, and "doing the work" as it where. It was over a year later and I had managed to do more work on my own ego than on my actual fight skills though. I came in a little boastful, ready to show off.

On day 2 the illusion I built of who I was came up against reality.

There it is. I'm the guy on the bottom gassing out, grunting, overwhelmed and suffocating in that helmet.

I was the host that weekend. Many of the attendees knew me, trained with me, and I can hear them laughing. It was a crushing experience. I'm no stranger to real violence, and I FELT victimized, weak, powerless and humiliated on such a deep level that it sincerely fucked me up for some time to come. I couldn't sleep that night, I'd wake up sweating feeling like I was suffocating. I had to go back for day 3, and I was terrified.

When it came time to get back in it, to man up, to put the helmet back on I broke down. I couldn't do it. I was shaking and embarrassed. I backed out.

I was face to face with a decision. I thought about stopping, never going back there. Sell the guns, stop training, just walk away. I couldn't lie to myself.

Craig called me. He talked to me. He shared his experience with me. I got messages and txt from my training partners. I had hard dudes tell me about how it felt to see yourself show up in some other guys highlight reel. I was told no one gets good without failure, without tough times.

When I was younger I never really understood how I would hear about successful writers working for ages with nothing but rejection letters, or those that struggled, those that tried and tried, and failed and failed, and never stopped. I'm quite sure I never realized winning was hard. Figured those who where good at some things where that way, came that way, or simply worked hard to get there. I'm sure I never really internalized that many people try hard, fail hard, and come back again and again and what that process might feel like.

I posted about this openly on a forum of like minded individuals, Total Protection Interactive , and support and feedback was overwhelming. I couldn't ask for a better group of hard ass dudes to walk this path with. I'm forever grateful.

The next week I found and joined a legit BJJ school Stout Training Pittsburgh, Team Renzo Gracie and started training all over again. No stopping, no letting the failure overcome me, no chance to sit in it, right back to work.

I felt it was time to update this story, years later and I still get messages about it or see new guys going through the same thing pointed towards that post. That failure was the best thing to happen to me.

“Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.” - J.K. Rowling

Here I am at a recent BJJ tournament. It's no highlight reel, I didn't win that match, but Im a far cry from where I was and I'm out here in the arena testing myself.

There is one way to assure you don't lose. Stay the fuck home. I'll be out here putting the work in.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Being a Good Training Partner

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” – Muhammad Ali

There are few better feelings than when someone I respect wants to train with me. When a buddy of mine who's a high level competition shooter makes sure to invite me out on range trip, or when a guy who I respect with good game on the mat grabs me to partner up for class I know I'm doing something right.

So what is that thing? What makes a good training partner.

You don't have to be the best, I know I'm often low rung on the pole, so its not raw overall skill, but you cant be a flailing mess. Work at getting better. Focus on technique. I know that when I see someone truly working at developing skill that that's someone I want to be around. That's someone I want to train with. I need to be working at getting better if I want to attract others who are doing the same. Water seeks its own level.

I have a limited number of hours in the day and a great many demands on them. Every moment I spend is valuable and irreplaceable. I'm not spending those with people who are toxic. I don't have any extra life to waste on people who don't enhance it. I better make sure I'm a positive influence on those I interact with. Every good training partner is a blessing. I can't do this alone.

This part is touchy. It could perhaps be better said to be sensitivity to pressure. I cant put the same pressure on the new guy that I do to someone at my own level. The really skilled guys who can give you just as much as you can handle are priceless, that's where I want to be one day. At the same time there is huge difference between pressure and just being a dick. There are guys I roll with that go hard, whom I am thankful for, and then there are guys who try to replace skill with their notion of going hard who I tend to steer away from. Same on the shooting range. I have friends who will up the ante, make me bring my A game, and then there are dudes who may be really really good who are just trying to show off or prove how awesome they are, and the vast mass of folks who just outrun their headlights.

Work ethic.
We've all done it. Had a shit talking session on the range geeking out over gear, or gone off the script when we should be getting our reps in. I know I'm guilty. I also know its not generally how I operate. I want to get my work in, and when I'm showing up to get my time in I'm steering towards those that are also focused. I don't want to be that off topic guy when your trying to improve yourself and I appreciate training with guys that are doing the same.

There is truly very little of what I do in regards to training that isn't dangerous. If I think this guy cant keep his muzzle in a safe direction, or my rolling partner is going to go a little too far too fast on the arm bar I simply can't take that risk. The pain, the injury, the recovery time as I age, the missed training, no thank you. Control is a combination of skill, emotional stability, and mindfulness. Its something I look for, and something I strive to develop.

This is not all inclusive. There are several other factors worth discussing, perhaps another time. How do we train with new people, what about rolling with the ladies, when is it time to be selfish, and how do we train leading up to an event?

Interactive training means working on our interpersonal skills, it means building a community, a tribe, and that team can make all the difference when it comes time to perform.

Thank you for being a part of this journey with me. I'll hold up my end.

Antifragile Training

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Thank You

When I have a room full of people having fun and learning, when I see the lights click on, and when people thank me after class and tell me how much they enjoyed the experience the fulfillment is real and palatable. By and large these are truly some of the best people I have in my life. They give me their precious time and work hard trusting the process. I couldn't ask for more.

And so this is perhaps a post about gratitude. A thank you to everyone who comes out to train, and for all the guys who have helped get me to this place. Who have guided, nurtured, and encouraged me along the way.

Its a symbiotic relationship the way I see it. This is not about playing instructor, looking for titles or accolades. This is about us leaving it all on the mat and enriching each others lives. We become better people through the work. We practice empathy, we get out of our comfort zones, and there is a certain kind of trust you need to have when you practice breaking limbs and choking each other unconscious on a daily basis. Lets not forget we are practicing killing each other over and over again in the mat room, that we are out on the ranges with little killing machines we carry around, and we are having a great time dealing with some of the most dire of subject matters.

For years now the local crew has had a private training group. We would get together at each others houses, strap gear on, and beat on one another trying see what worked and get better. We would go to training courses, come back, demo what we learned, and then go all in. We didn't know much. We went through phases on what material we focused one. We would get together and shoot, got simunition guns, did role playing. I have a lot of old video and man is it ugly!

A few of our guys went to a Shivworks (Craig Douglas) course called ECQC. When they came back to the group it was dramatic. It redefined how we saw wins and losses, it gave us performance goals, and we started to look deeper. I was skeptical, and my good friend Paul at Alias hooked me up with a class Craig was teaching. I had been hosting courses through Paul for some time and he said "You'll really like Craig, its just what your looking for." He was right.

Over the years I've attended multiple Shivworks courses, have brought them here to Pittsburgh, and from there met, trained with, and hosted a crew of dudes all working together. Cecil Burch has become another good friend and my sounding board for all things BJJ related. Paul Sharp has given me freely of his time and experience, pure gold, his love of the work is contagious. Larry Lindenman has gone so far as a distance health coach for me he will review video of my lifts, give diet and nutrition advice, and has added untold quality years to my life. Seriously.

Its been a special kind of intimidating honor to have been able to develop to a point where I can co teach with Craig. To have the responsibility for live training evolution's during his courses has been amazing, and I take that responsibility very personally as I present that material now.

I have been truly blessed to have found Stout Training Pittsburgh , and Warren Stout as a friend and teacher. Hes done the coursework, and loves learning. He trusts me enough to allow me to present the material in his school, and I'm honored to do so.

I love this work. I cant do it alone. Come out and train, we are happy to have you.
Antifragile Training

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Practicing Courage

noun: courage
  1. the ability to do something that frightens one.
    "she called on all her courage to face the ordeal"
    • strength in the face of pain or grief.
      "he fought his illness with great courage"

I loathe the saying "you cant teach heart". You most certainly can improve your ability to face adversity and fear if you want to. If there is willingness, courage can be cultivated, it can be grown, and it most certainly can be taught. 

~Rebbeca Hill

I competed in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) tournament last week. One of my teammates during the rules meeting was overcome with anxiety. He found a corner of the warm up mat and laid down. Deep breathes. He got his head on straight and went up for his match. This is a man who has dropped 75 pounds since I met him, who couldn't complete a warm up before class. This is his first match as a newly minted blue belt, and he stepped out on that mat and gave it his all in front of crowds of strangers and a referee. He had earned my respect many times over, and I don't doubt he will continue to do so. He has been practicing courage.

Sometimes it gets easier. Sometimes the stress inoculation starts to make it easier, and after time it takes more and more pressure to elicit a response.

Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the fear is there. The sweaty skin, the nervousness, the racing thoughts. And we need to move forward anyway. We need to face the fear, and walk through it. This takes courage. This we can get better at.

So, how does one get better at anything? Practice. I cant say the fear will leave, I wont make promises that every individual will become some sort of fearless juggernaut crashing through life's obstacles. But what I can say is that the more you face fear, the more you practice courage and do the work, the better you will get at summoning the mental fortitude needed to keep moving.

Get out of your comfort zone! Push your limits! We don't get stronger without adding weight to the bar, we don't get better doing what we are already good at, and we certainly cant practice courage if we are never in fear.

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
~Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Most people will never put themselves in a position to feel fear, even some seemingly tough guys will simply never go into a fight they can lose. Last minute excuses, mysterious emergencies and injury. The fear can feel overwhelming, the pressure unable to bear.

I'm blessed to have truly awesome training partners, supportive friends and colleagues, and a wife who is fighting right along side me on her own journey. The support structure we operate within is key. I want to be surrounded by people who support me, who build me up, who challenge and drive me. Life is short, time is at a premium, I have none to waste. These support structures allow us to expose ourselves over and over to ever increasing levels of pressure in a healthy, positive manner. That might be our shooting buddies, it may be our belief structure, it may be our teachers and family, it most certainly should be all of the above. Like a pyramid, the wider the base, the higher the pinnacle. 

I've backed out before. Felt overwhelmed and unable to continue. It would be easy to never expose myself to that kind of pressure again. I wouldn't need to even make up an excuse. I could take up some sort of endeavor that wouldn't threaten my ego. I could take the easy path. And I could spend what little time I have on an unremarkable existence with no pain or triumph never knowing what I could have experienced. Like the great poet once said, I aint going out like that.    

Antifragile Training

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Why are you guys always trying to fight somebody?

Its like every time I turn around there's a challenge match. Recently my younger sister told a guy on facebook she would throw down with him, anytime, anywhere, no holds barred. He made one demand after another. No gloves, ok.  No mouth guard, ok, we have to sign a waiver..... yeah dude, we do that all the time. If your not signing waivers your probably not doing anything fun I say!

So here have a small girl, completely comfortable with the idea of a fight with a dude shes never met knowing only that he thinks he has an "unchokeable neck" from his "steel neck technique" and that fighting styles built by monks and mysticism practiced via kata trumps modern MMA. Yeah, this is what our white belts think of your style.  Bring it.

Of course he backs out.  For some reason these never seem to actually go down.......

But whats the deal here? Why is our crew always trying to throw down with someone, and why has the MMA revolution thats more than a few years old now not overtaken the world of self defense?

One would think after the Gracie's stomped all over other styles across the globe and with professional mixed martial arts available to the masses on TV that the argument over what makes an effective fighting style would be over. Not so much in some circles it seems. There is still threads of folks stuck in the era of the karate kid and the McDojo who think martial arts are some sort of mystical endeavor where you learn to harness your chia pet to stop a mans heart. Because reasons!

So here's the thing. We aren't challenging people to fights, or shooting matches, in order to be tough. Or because we are angry, mean, meat heads, or any other such notion. Its because we are used to working in an environment with resistance. Every day we train we are expected to be able to perform under real pressure. I don't consider that I truly know a technique until I can perform it against someone resisting it. I don't ever have the expectation that someone will take someones word that something works, or a video, or a well laid out rational argument, regardless of the source. I believe deeply in personal experience.

"I love being in the lab." ~ Craig Douglas  

So this is the mindset under which our tribe operates. Throw down. Not for ego, or with malice, but because the truth is in the training. Because this is where we prove our theory, where we audit our skills, and where we sharpen our dull edges. 

"Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. Likewise with randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind."
~Nassim Taleb, from Antifragile 

There is a reason this is Antifragile Training.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Everyday I'm Hustlin

Last year I hosted Frank Proctor for a carbine course. Frank is a special forces dude and USPSA ranked Grand Master level competition shooter. The first thing Frank asked us out of the gate was by a show of hands who there wanted to be a better shooter. Frank raised his hand too.

That's an important statement.  That a dude at that level is still working, still drilling, still looking for improvement. Still doing the work.

“There are certainly problems within all this training business, but for the record...again...they are really NOT what many people believe them to be.
Mostly, we definitely, absolutely, do NOT have a 'not enough stuff' problem...contrary to what all those people constantly seeking the next magic trick seem to think.
However we surely DO have a 'not good enough at stuff' problem, with people fooling themselves into believing they will achieve outstanding results with mediocre performance.”

Monday after work I hit jiu jitsu, train through 2 classes, hit open mat.  Tuesday strength training, squats, press, deadlift.  Wednesday is a heavy no gi day, self structured BJJ followed by fundamentals and intermediate no gi. Thursday was shooting day, USPSA practice, about 2 hours and 250 rounds of ammo. Friday Im training in the gi through 2 classes and open mat.  Saturday is squat, bench, row, maybe have a few friends over to train.  This past weekend I had two separate stand up weapons based grappling sessions fighting a dude with a training knife, drilling duck under, arm drags, tie ups. Sunday I shot a USPSA match, then trained at home with a buddy, sometimes me and the wifey hit open mat and go out for some quality time.

I'm not training for "good enough". I'm not just passing by on this path. I'm here to do the work, sometimes that means every day, sometimes that's one more round when I'm gassed and spent. This isn't the path for everybody, and I'm not saying it should be or needs to be.  But its the path for me, and for those walking along it with me understand what its like.

The "outstanding results with mediocre performance" is often what I see hustled in the self defense industry. The notion that with a quick weekend you can learn "one weird trick" or that with minimal effort one can overcome a much larger attacker that has taken us by surprise. Bullshit. Skill can overcome size and strength, have no doubt, but to have that kind of skill takes hard work over time.

I'm a bit driven at the moment.  I want to get better.  I want to defeat the me of yesterday.  That translates into some long days at times, but today I got a call that one of our guys owned a in car evolution in ECQC , he buys dope in cars for a living and we've spent a lot of time in the car. That gets me all fired up!

Another training partner came in second after me at the match today.  He's out working me on the shooting piece right now.  I gotta up my level!  He's coming for me!

These guys are always making me better, always raising the bar.

This is a lifestyle, its a journey with many milestones and no end.  Its every day.  And its worth every moment.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Its The Little Things

"I try to do the right thing at the right time. They may just be little things, but usually they make the difference between winning and losing."
~ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 

Yes, it is the little things. Minor modifications that have huge implications. There are some different thoughts on this in the training community. My favorite logical fallacy is the one in which the tactical firearms trainer asserts that because the sport shooter in USPSA may engage multiple targets from a stationary open position with an opening in a barrier (read: doorway) that sport shooting will "get you killed in the streets" since standing in a doorway while engaging in a gunfight with several opponents is generally regarded as a bad tactic. 

Believe me, no one is going to need to tell you to get behind cover once bullets start flying.  Find any video online of a shooting in a public place and you'll see the vast unwashed masses run over hill and dale diving behind anything they can find. If we want to be literal your dry wall house and range prop of a door isn't stopping bullets anyway.  

What we hear often in combat sports is that some minor detail will totally change the outcome of a fight, and so then the entire sport must be useless.  This is the "you cant tap out on the street" crowd. Politely speaking, fuck those guys.  All I hear is that they never train so hard that real injury and risk is present, or that they never push to a place where they cannot continue and so they don't need a safety valve. Anyone who taps out on a regular basis can tell you, this is the surest way to get tougher, this is the antifragility in the system. No one keeps their hands up until they get punched in the face.

I'm not going to exhaust myself dispelling every absurd statement I've heard in this regard, especially when my good friend and coach Cecil Burch does such an excellent job of this.  I'd like to take some time to discuss some of the modifications we do need to make, and why.

"What you'll note is a distinct absence of head control."
Craig Douglas,  spreading the good word nearly every weekend somewhere near you

Having said that, there are some changes we need to make to our base MMA skills as we learn to apply our martial arts to real world concerns. One of the first we come across is a distinct paradigm shift in our grappling with a emphasis on hand control. Its the hands that bring weapons to bear, that grab a bottle off the bar or a brick off the ground. Its the hand reaching into that waistband that comes out with a steak knife or handgun. Its the hands that kill.

I'm not saying head control is bad, or we need to delete it from our grappling.  What I am saying is that I have only two hands, and so if I have one on his head that likely leaves one of his free unless I have otherwise tied them both up. This is a small change that has huge effects.

The foundation is the same, the strongest part of our combative approach is the base.  Posture, pressure, position.  Sensitivity to balance and aggression are not items we build by watching youtube videos or contemplating really hard.  This foundation can be built, and built strong, at a decent gym with a good instructor and training partners.  People are doing it every day.

What we need to do is work on that 5% change.  That part that brings on a sense of urgency when we lose track of a hand or gets us moving behind the engine block as we are setting up for our shot. Its a simple proposition really.  Take the base skills, apply competitive pressure within a contextually sound model, and expose the holes. Take two experienced grappler's , and have them fight over a  nok knife. Pressure exposes the truth, and the adaptations will reveal themselves.

Take two good shooters, and have them take turns hunting one another within a structure with simunition or airsoft guns and audit the experience.  Expose the foundation to the changes present when we plug them into the correct setting. I take an open source approach. I want to know what works.  I need to find those gaps, the holes in my game, and fill them.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mike Pannone, Course Review, April 2015 Pittsburgh PA

Mike Pannone 2-Day Handgun
Pittsburgh PA
April 11-12 2015

The first things Mike said to us as class began:
"There is a lot talk about competition shooting getting you killed in the streets.  I'm here to tell you there is no street or sport.  There is only skill and application. The skills are the same, we just have to adapt them to the application."

I may or may not have pumped my first in the air and muttered a "fuck yeah".

I had heard good things about Mike in the community from a variety of sources. He certainly has a compelling story, and I knew it would be a good shooting course, but I didn't expect him to be such a breath of fresh air.

Over the course of the weekend we shot a variety of challenging drills where Mike was always sure to explain to us in detail the why.  He laid out the intricacies of his curriculum, the reasons we where shooting the courses of fire, and what he wanted us to get out of them.

The coursework was full of what he called "conscious contradictions"  forcing students to perform skills driving often in opposite directions, make rapid observations and changes, and staying mentally engaged.  I found it challenging while offering learning points for all levels of shooters, and we had a wide range of people out for this class.

Mike's advise on students questions about close quarters fighting was direct and to the point:

"You need to get a SIM gun and a helmet on and get out on the mats and fight somebody for that gun."

Damn straight.  Mike advocated strongly all weekend for shooting sports, combat sports, and competition pressure. His input was straightforward and refreshing in a world overflowing with bluster, false promises, unearned accolades, and stylized nonsense.

His level of attention to detail is unsurpassed in my experience, and he made time for individual timed and scored runs with every student and gave feedback to each participant on a one on one basis throughout the course as well as putting everyone in multiple man vs man shoot offs and drills in front of the class. Making the time for this, and spending the energy on working with each of us marks Mike as a "true believer" and one that really cares deeply about his students and the work.

I'll be training with him again.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Multidisciplinary Training in Real Life

combining or involving several academic disciplines or professional specializations in an approach to a topic or problem.

X ALL THE THINGS - Train all of the things!

Its a large undertaking, for anyone really.  To become proficient at several skill sets. There is overlap, one could argue that there is some generalization among the various skills, and its true of course. When I train my boxing that footwork and agility help with my shooting for example.  But it doesn't cover up the fact there are several separate and important skills that need trained in isolation before integration into an overall multifaceted, varied, far reaching methodology for a total protection strategy. 

Lets take a quick inventory.  In no particular order we have striking, stand up grappling/clinch, ground work, shooting, vehicles, medical, knife work, low light, in structure work, strength, conditioning, interpersonal interactive skills, and on and on and on.  That's a lot even if you don't have a job, a family, a house to take care of.. you know.. things worth going through the trouble of protecting. I cant imagine the logic of missing a child's parent teacher conference day so you can practice with your home defense shotgun.

It can seem overwhelming. Unapproachable for the normal guy.  It isn't. Do work.  Lets look at how.

First lets set the stage.  I have a job and family.  Those come first.  My schedule must start there. That means I only have so many hours per week to train, to rest, to study, to learn new skills, and to blog about it and generally be awesome.

The temptation is always to try to write some streamlined schedule where I somehow fit everything in and go seamlessly from one thing to the next.  On paper it might even look good.  But reality is messy.  We stay late at work, we get tired, the lawn needs mowed, the car needs inspected, and it can get frustrating trying to run a tight schedule with no room to move over the long haul.  And I am in this for the long haul, so my planning needs to reflect that.

I spent a long time trying to do everything, at all times.  Early on it can seem that you have to work 25 hours a day to catch up, to even get started.  But time is our friend.  I don't need to set a record today as much as I need to insure I keep moving forward.  I need to take a long view.  I start thinking about being on a 10 year plan and put it in perspective.  Its consistency that I need to nurture, build my endurance, practice patience and keep moving forward. 

“Someone once asked Somerset Maughham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. "I write only when inspiration strikes," he replied. "Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp.” 
― Steven PressfieldThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

This perspective of starting with my reality and taking a long view on development makes the task manageable. 

What I have found works for me is consistent work across the spectrum while cycling through periods of focus on one aspect at a time.  I try not to be too rigid and set in stone plans for X months of this followed by X months of that.  What works best for me is to allow myself to enjoy the journey and embrace whatever I'm feeling at that time, as well as pushing myself into specific work when audits reveal areas that need it.

For example, this past year I had really really been enjoying my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training.  I was hitting a spot where I was seeing a lot of improvement and just having a great time of it.  Shooting wasn't really doing it for me. I used to shoot a lot.  So I embraced the BJJ and rather than try to do both things at full bore I allowed my shooting to taper off and made some limited time for it mostly focused on fundamentals and skill checks to stay sharp.

I then went through a phase of doing a lot of in vehicle work, and was all jazzed up over it after being honored to act as assistant instructor to Craig Douglas ( for his Vehicle Combatives And Shooting Tactics course (VCAST). Right now I have a very exciting shooting year ahead of me with some awesome instructors, a new schedule change has allowed me to shoot more regularly, and Frank Proctor ( has invited me to join his WOTG Shooting Team.  I'm pretty amped about shooting again!  I plan on embracing it! I wont stop doing the other things, but what I will do is prioritize my time to reflect my current goals.

Keeping steady on a variety of overlapping general skills, strong focus on one area at a time, and allowing myself to love the work keeps my head on straight and making headway as life keeps coming at me.  Jobs change, children grow up, time passes, I keep doing work.

Friday, March 13, 2015

BJJ for Self Defense

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu  for Self Defense

“Never go to the ground!” ….. hmmmmmmm…. “never”
I have a friend in law enforcement who has an excellent story of using bottom half guard to keep a guy between him and a group of dudes trying to kick his skull in with his back to a wall while he waits for backup to arrive.
Or let’s say you’re at a holiday party, there’s family and friends all stuffed into a little kitchen while the food is coming out.  Children are running around at ankle height.  Just then the door comes in, and here comes your one friend’s baby daddy fresh from jail.  He’s screaming he wants his kid; he grabs a knife off the butcher block.  Now I've seen plenty of systems where you NEVER get entangled with a guy, you NEVER go to the ground willingly, and I’m sure there are some “I’ll just shoot him” types… in a room full of people… in front of his child… that’s your choice to make.  Personally I think having a skill set that allows you to effectively control someone while your buddy calls the cops and lends a hand is probably a good choice given the totality of the circumstances.
Let me repeat:  totality of the circumstances.
We are having a training session focused on firearm disarms.  I start back to a wall, helmet on, and a Simunition gun shoved into my rib cage with a dude bearing down on me.  Miracles happen, ninja shit, and I pull off a picture perfect disarm. Now we are in the clinch fight. I lose my balance, pitch the gun, and get tossed.  There is a moment as I'm going down where I make the choice to use an open guard, ready for him to pounce on me and look for up kicks.  Seems like a good plan… until he runs a few steps and picks the gun back up before I can get back to my feet.  In hindsight, pulling guard to keep control of him with a loose gun in the environment would have been the better choice.
On the one hand yes, staying upright, mobile, and conscious are priorities.  On the other hand is the “all fights go to the ground” mantra.  Well, here we are as a student stuck with catch phrases and empty slogans in a rich, chaotic, messy tangle of limbs and uncertainty.  What’s the answer?   What if I told you, it depends?  What if the capability to stay upright and keep someone off you is not independent of the ability to take someone down at will and control them?  Or that those same take down skills translate directly into one’s ability to stay upright?  And there’s the rub.  The guy training BJJ isn’t just learning cool submission moves from bottom, he’s also defending them, and trying to stay on his feet while another grown man tries to throw him around and pull him down.
Here’s a performance driver:  if I’m going to the ground I want it to be on my terms, because I've made a choice to do so based upon the circumstances.    The one dimensional fighter doesn't get to take the fight where he wants; he tries desperately to keep it wherever he is comfortable.
"A boxer is like a lion, the greatest predator on land. But you throw him in the shark tank and he's just another meal." - Renzo Gracie
In Renzo Gracie’s book, Mastering Jiu Jitsu, he speaks at length about the early days of MMA and about all the ranges of the fight and why the BJJ fighter had such a dominate advantage in those days.  The part that translates best for our discussion is simply that it is easier to take the fight to the ground than it is to keep it standing once the players have become entangled.  Simple as that.  You need to not just be better than your opponent, you need to be MUCH MUCH better if you want to stay upright and he does not.  Further, the number of fights we see where guys simply fall over one another, curbs, slip on gravel or ice, etc and wind up going down with no intention to do so is too large to ignore.  Gravity is out to get you, it takes effort to stand even when you’re not being punched in the face.
Once we hit the ground, without some basic horizontal grappling skills we are in for trouble.
And then we could go down the rabbit hole on this discussion.  What techniques or styles translate best to the Weapons Based Environment (WBE, as per Craig Douglas)?  What about Gi vs no-gi ?  What BJJ do we see in modern MMA where everyone has some sort of grappling and strikes abound?  Id like to talk about some of those points later, but for now I want to talk about why I believe in BJJ as a core element for self-defense.
From day one the BJJ student will face a live adversary.  There will be technique, and there will be drilling,  there will be learning a new skill, and there will be some guy that’s bigger, stronger, younger, and more experienced than you attempting to force his will on you while you try to execute it.  From the very first you’ll need to deal with suffocation, panic, making observations and decisions when your gassed out tired and hit with adrenaline.
Over time, it will take more and more pressure to overwhelm the practitioner. We learn piece by piece to deal with stress, to become functional in the jumbled mess of limbs, and be able to execute complex techniques based on intuition and feel.
This is where BJJ shines.  Constant, relentless pressure.
Its not about under what circumstances the triangle choke is appropriate for self-defense, or whether breaking an arm will stop an attacker.  Its about what you do when your overwhelmed, when you can’t breathe, when your muscles give out and dizzy from exertion.
The BJJ practitioner knows this place.  He goes there every day.