Monday, December 11, 2017

Team Loyalty

Fidelity: Faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty or support

I'm not one for fake traditions, I don't give my trust or my loyalty easy. In fact I tend to react with rebellion more easily. My first instinct is always FUCK YOU I WONT DO WHAT YOU TELL ME FUCK YOU I WONT DO WHAT YOU TELL ME. For better or worse my inner teenager is alive and well.

So lets talk about the notion of fidelity to something like my martial arts academy , Stout Training Pittsburgh - Team Renzo Gracie . I get that to some people the idea of loyalty to team seems a little outdated, that in a world of easy access to online information, multiple competing schools, and the general free sharing of information it can seem silly to fly a flag and to take personal stake in a for profit business. I am not suggesting my way is the right way, or you need to feel the same why I do, but what I wish to do is convey why the relationships I have built at our school hit me on a deeper level.

To state is simply its because they have earned my loyalty and never have they demanded it.

My coach doesn't care if I go to a seminar at another school, if I hit an open mat somewhere else, he doesn't care because he is not insecure. And while I like to get out and visit, make friends, learn new things, and get different looks at other schools on occasion when it comes down to who I support with my time energy and money I keep my resources planted at home. They have earned it.

What do I mean by earned? Why do I feel this way?

Let me start by saying I did not start at my current school. I started somewhere else that no longer exists. I did not improve there. Not because they where bad people or anything, in fact I have lots of love for my old teachers and how they helped get me started. They just did not have the teaching experience and the curriculum needed to be able to share the skills I needed with me. I am if nothing else utilitarian. If you cannot give me what I need in this transaction I am not going to have any emotion about leaving. First things first, my current school has both highly skilled practitioners and take great care in making sure we are able to share those skills with the students.

Now my professor, the school owner, my primary coach, and my friend Warren Stout. I will tell you two stories about Warren so that you know what kind of person he is. They are not the only stories I have but this is a blog post not a book.

A few years back I hosted Craig Douglas for his world class Edged Weapons Overview course. Its two looooooong days of exhausting physical training and hard competitive live training evolutions. Warren, despite being the monster in the room, the school owner, and the one dude everyone was in fear of having to go live with took the entire class as a student. He sat and listened, he drilled along with us, he soaked it all in and I got to see my teacher enjoy being on the other side. He got beat up and exhausted right along with us. At the end of class we go around the room and everyone gives their feedback and closing thoughts. When it came to Warren he thanked us. He thanked US! He said how grateful he was that we allowed him to train with us that weekend and how welcome he felt. It was honest, it was real, and it showed me what kind of man he was. I had been under him maybe a year or more at that point, but I got a hard dose of respect that day, and I knew that was a dude I could admire as a human being.    

" Nor have I seen
a mightier man-at-arms on this earth
than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken,
he is truly noble. This is no mere
hanger-on in a hero's armour"

Some years after I started there I was showing Warren a video of one of my friends, a student at the school, in a live training evolution. Its a rough affair, close to full contact, minimal safety equipment, simulated weapons, real clothes and gear, just two dudes beating the shit out of each other in a gravel pit. The student in question wasn't fairing well. I was asking for technical feedback. I wanted to know how to improve this, where should we be working, what did he think of the validation exercise. Warren unprompted did a free private lesson with this student. He told me he was 'one of our guys" and he needed to help him. He was genuinely concerned for him but also it showed me what being "one of our guys" meant. It meant he took your performance personally. it wasn't just a reflection on him, it was his just as it was mine. We may perform as individuals but we win and lose on the backs of our team. 

These actions and countless others like them have earned my fidelity. I am proud to be a part of it and to fly our flag.

My teammates have become my friends, and in some cases close and dear ones at that. They have been there for me when I needed them both on and off the mats and I have had the absolute pleasure to be there for them.

This has gone beyond simply training. We have confided in one another. We have been there through injuries, through divorce, through babies being born and loved ones passing. We have laughed together, and we have cried. I am fully invested. I don't just have skin in the game, I have my heart in it too. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Combat Jiu Jitsu

If your a fan of current Jiu Jitsu competition, especially the submission only trends as promoted by guys like Eddie Bravo and his invitational tournament then you have seen it. If your not familiar the basic explanation is that its a sub only grappling match where open handed strikes are permitted on the ground.

Seems simple enough.

While to me this sounds completely reasonable, it seems the "open handed" part becomes quickly viewed as "slap fighting" and silly by many viewers. Especially in Jiu Jitsu circles. It's always odd to me the type of in fighting and division inside such small groups of people. This happens in the firearms community all the time. Hunters who's world view doesn't include your particular rifle, guys that carry a gun but don't see the need for normal capacity magazines, and so on. Truly in these small groups we can be our own worst enemies. 

" Combat Jiu-Jitsu... Lots of back and forth banter on if its good or not.  Who really cares? If you want to do it, do it. If you want to watch it, watch it. If you don't want to do it, don't. If you don't want to watch it, don't..  Stop hating."
-Tom DeBlass

Let me just say I'm a fan. It's fun to watch, and especially for the readers of this blog interested in self defense its applicable and accessible. What we have is a safe way to incorporate striking with our grappling while maintaining real ungloved gripping ability and without the practitioner needing to go full in on MMA ground and pound. It's a step between the two. And it's not entirely new for anyone that has heard of Pancrase.

We often hear BJJ guys contemplate if their deep half will work "in da streetz" or how effective their guard game will be once strikes are introduced. Its not often though that most people (current company excluded!) get the gloves out and get at it. Sometimes the step between pure grappling and dropping bombs on a dude is just too big of a gulf.

Personally I'm excited to see it evolve as it picks up popularity. I always enjoy watching the adaptations that happen in new environments, new rule sets tend to push the desire to innovate and improvise. The athletes today, even those with MMA experience, are still just learning how to maximize their effectiveness in this context and it should prove outstanding for us to see what we can learn from their experience.

This is but one more expression of the core art that is Jiu Jitsu. I often have discussions about what people prefer. Wether thats GI or No GI, points, sub-only, MMA, wrestling, playing guard vs passing, and so on. Personally I love it all, and I like to be well rounded and able to thrive in any rule set. At least that's the long term goal. My rules, your rules, his rules, or no rules at all I'm down! I want to be free to experiment, to be curious, to adapt, and to feel out those core principles that tie it all together.

Shawn Lupka

Friday, November 10, 2017

Structuring Training

I'm a big believer in organized, focused, and mindful training. It's been my experience that I see more consistent meaningful progress when I train with goals and structure than just showing up. I've spoken about this before but lets discuss some specific tools we can use to help us.

"Learning how to learn is one of the keys to success in life in general, and jiu-jitsu in particular." 
-John Danaher

I know some people like to use a Mind Map to study their training. I personally like more of a Flow Chart structure.

My mind map attempts sometimes go a little off the rails

For example as a white belt one of my first flow charts looked something like this:
Closed Guard
>>Cross collar choke
>> Flower sweep > mount > cross collar choke
>>> Posture up > hip bump sweep > mount > cross collar choke
>>>> Post > kimua
>>>> Pressure in > guillotine 

To use something like this as a tool to direct my practice I would suggest focusing either getting to the start position or starting from position and then trying to execute the plan. As reactions and failures appear pay attention and fill in the gaps as they present.

For example lets say my hip bump to mount is straight fire..... but...... often when I mount my opponent they escape by executing a knee elbow escape. This highlights a hole in the system, and informs me of where I am weak. I can then speak to my coaches intelligently about a specific technical issue rather than just vague "How do I get better?" or "My mount sucks." The type of counter I see will inform where the flaw is.

Now, armed with this knowledge I can say ok, I've defined a weak spot, I can train open mat this Tuesday and try to start from mount, or schedule a private lesson where I have an idea of where the flaw is, and I can more clearly see when this spot approaches in a live roll and be more mindful and attentive to the details as the position evolves. 

In the shooting sports for example I found when walking my stages that often I would drop a shot wide on the last target in a array before a movement. By being mindful and reviewing video I was able to see that I was not staying in position until the shot broke but would start to move and break my eyes as the shot broke. This is why I could never call those shots, I was leaving early and would drop an uncalled D zone hit on a wide open target usually laterally. With this information I could structure some focused training on this specific issue and isolate the skill in drills.

Often this will also reveal counters. As I pay attention perhaps I will see that all the upper belts do a specific counter to my plan, or otherwise deny me a control that's a prerequisite for the technique to work. Often times I see the newer practitioner write a move off, claim it wont work for their body type, or otherwise disregard a technique due to initial failures. The flower sweep was like this for me. As a new white belt I recall being in a tournament and attempting it over and over again as I gassed out and was cursing myself ever aware of my team mates watching, my wife, the video being taken, and I just failed and failed. Surely this technique just wouldn't work for me! My hips aren't right! I'm not fast enough! It wasn't until years later that I hit one at open mat and realized all this time I just wasn't getting the right angle! Had I not disregarded what is a pretty common fundamental sweep so early on I could have had years more of reps improving on it and improving my overall understanding of jiu-jitsu. Lost opportunity.

As a good general rule, if its in the fundamentals curriculum trust the technique and try to get all the details correct over a period of time. Like a long period of time. Like years.

I have normally 3 dedicated 1-2 hour drilling sessions a week. Currently I am working on a Single Leg X passing strategy, a back take from scorpion hook that needs added to an already developed series, and tuning up some details on my knee cut pass. I also do one dedicated session working on take downs. Add to this several classes and open mats and the schedule fills up pretty quick!

It's up to me to take responsibility for my progress. Even if I do occasionally get the gift of someone pointing out a flaw, or highlighting a strength, they aren't there all the time. They wont be there whispering in my ear at open mat "don't forget to work on your back take" , they wont be waking me up an hour early to lift weights, they wont be popping into my living room and forcing me to dry fire or watch videos. It's on me. It's always on me. It's ok if I want to just relax and have fun for a little while, I'm not a professional athlete, but when its time to improve then its time to go to work!

Shawn Lupka

Friday, October 6, 2017

Safety Is An Illusion

I believe reality is more random than most people are willing to get comfortable with. Its a core tenant in my personal philosophy of life. Bad shit happens to good people, and the inverse is also true. There's no rhyme or reason for it, and there doesn't have to be.

The human animal is a pattern recognition machine. Its a survival instinct and it serves us well. If the brush starts moving and we hear a growl its a good idea to wonder why, not just to say well shit happens as a lion sneaks up on us. If clouds form overhead we should recognize rain is likely. Finding reasons for things correctly and navigating through the chaos is how we steer ourselves through life and survive.

But this positive impulse can lead us astray as we search for meaning where there is none and grasp at incorrect conclusions just so we can have an answer.

Time and again we see the safety theater in our society. We put up more metal detectors, hire more screeners, place more cameras, and over and over we respond with more and more reactions to the last event. Always behind the curve, always just trying to make people feel better or look like we did something, anything, even if its senseless. It's an act and its useless at best.

There are things we can do, within reason, real reason. Things that can extend our quantity and quality of life.  We can not text and drive, we can lose fat, live an active healthy lifestyle, sleep enough (my big deficit), we can learn to better manage and control stress. Of interest to the readers here we can study firearms, learn to use and own them safely, we can train in fighting arts, we can get first aid and medical training. These things make us safer and more capable for those items that we can respond to, but to be clear, not everything is in our control.

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing"
~Helen Keller

I caution against the notion that I can ever prepare, or even that I want to prepare, for everything. I'd like to spend my time living my life, loving my friends and family, and making sure I am enjoying the process. If someone decides to drive a bomb into my building, starts to fire from an elevated position into the crowd I'm in, or just falls asleep at the wheel of a semi truck while I'm driving there is very little I can do about it. Carrying a tool for self defense, keeping some medical gear like a tourniquet in my pocket, maybe an emergency bag nearby, and spending a little time training seems reasonable to me.

I'm not paranoid, I'm not scared, I'm just a little prepared as I embrace the chaos that is this short ride we get in the universe.

Antifragile Training

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

When The Alarm Goes Off

Its 5AM and my alarm is going off.  I don't feel particularly inspired.  I don't feel motivated.  In fact I feel sore as fuck from last nights training. If I "listened to my body" I'd lay back down.  If I listen to my mind I'd take a rest day.  It would be reasonable, rational.  It's hard to get out of bed. That little voice in my head is pretty loud right now with YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO THIS. Its true, I don't have to. YOU NEED MORE SLEEP, yeah that's prob true too. I've splashed some cold water on my face, brushed my teeth, and grabbed the tea and honey I prepared last night from the fridge. I've gripped the hand rail and slowly gotten down the stairs. I look at my phone and its 5:07. I wasted too much time fighting this I think, I can get down here faster, I can get out of bed faster, I look at the squat rack and it's time to start warming up.

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 Pressfield, The War of Art

A year from now it wont matter how motivated I felt this morning in regards to how strong I am. It wont matter if I had a good day or a bad day on the mats. It wont matter if I felt like going to the range or not. Its only going to matter if I did the work, and I did the math on this long ago and committed to it.  The long term reward is of greater value to me than the short term desire.

That's not to say I don't enjoy what I do. I very much do. I have good days. I have days I can't wait to get at it, I have days where everything clicks, where my front sight is always steady on target, where my posture is in perfect alignment, where my techniques are smooth and my pressure is just on tap. If I only trained on those days though, I'd have less of them. Recognizing this truth I commit daily, over and over again, to investing in myself over the long term.

There are plenty of blog posts and articles about how motivation is bullshit, about THE GRIND, about the need for perseverance and grit. They are all true. I'm not writing anything new here. I'm just saying it again, and again, and again. The alarm will go off again, and I wont want to get out of bed, but I'm going to try to start warming up within 5 minutes next time. 

Shawn Lupka

Friday, June 9, 2017

Shivworks AMIS, Live Fire Exercises, Part 2

We are going to move forward assuming you have already read part 1 .

In this post we are going to focus on agility, specifically making hard turns at speed in tight spaces. AMIS grads will be familiar with the need to be able to take corners hard, change directions without losing speed, and keeping our footing. In Part 1 while the movements did include turns the space to do so was large and the focus was more on absolute speed with large areas to accelerate into.

Here in Part 2 we will be focused on clean cornering, restricting the room to move within, and acceleration in short bursts. The set ups are built to focus on this.

"I couldn't have become a great goalkeeper without power, agility, and quickness."
~Hope Solo

Diligentia - Vis - Celeritas 
(Accuracy - Power - Speed)

Our first set up.
The small white barrel to the left is Position A, and the end of the row to the right is Position B. The white fault line on the ground represents the limit of the shooters movement (over penetration). The steel target is slightly inboard from Pos B, such that you cannot see it immediately when taking the corner and it does not become visible until you are 3/4 of the way down the line of travel.

Exercise 2-1 walk through
Shooters perspective

Exercise 2-1
Start hands relaxed at sides at Pos A, on signal draw and hit target, advance to Pos B and hit again. Our focus is on taking that corner efficiently. As I approach the corner I look at where I intend to plant my foot. I want to turn my hips sharply at the corner. I achieve this by slightly lowering my center of gravity, stepping with the outside foot to the spot I have chosen, my weight shifts down into the planted foot as I pivot my hips and drive forward pushing off the ground from the planted foot. I keep the gun high and compressed and run it straight out as I decelerate and locate the target.

Exercise 2-2
Starting at PosB, hands relaxed at sides, Toes touching the fault line. On start signal hit once from Pos B, move to and hit once as soon as possible when approaching Pos A.
You will notice I run this muzzle back as I run up range, this will be familiar to AMIS grads when bypassing the "don't shoot - yet" , and leads to good practice on getting the gun back up high into the eye line especially making a right turn as a right handed shooter inside the compressed space created by the corner. I'm looking to get my second hit as soon as its visible passing the barrels as I approach Pos A. I should have my eyes up and rapidly looking around that corner as I approach it. 

Exercise 2-3
I will remove one barrel aprox 2/3 of the distance down the first line of travel. This creates a third shooting position the shooter must "Port and Bypass". In the AMIS coursework the shooter is called upon to be able to navigate past uncleared space when being driven by circumstances. Think about a loved one screaming for help at the end of a hall, and you need to pass an open door to get there. You cannot just run past it blind, but neither can you stop and methodically clear the space in an emergency.  We want to look at and point our gun at this space as we pass it. Creating this port along the travel lane will require the shooter to throttle down their speed enough to be able to see and address that space. Requiring a shot there is proof that we have effectively looked at this space and had our gun pointed at it. Again, this is not contextualized, there is no decision making here, only the raw athletic and visual skills required to perform the task.

Exercise 2-4
One port is good but two ports is gooder!
The second port adds both the need for finer control of our momentum, good balance, and stability as we lose and regain visual on the target while running the gun in and back out along the horizontal line of presentation. Remember we are working on Agility today! 

Exercise 2-5 set up
Now we will change our path again. Position A will again be the small barrel to the left, B will be inside the structure at the blue barrel, C will be to the right within the fault line. We will gain both a hard left and right turn. I want a narrow door way to navigate on the first turn, the shooter is not to run into or make contact with the barrels. Using these pretty common range barrels that doorway is one barrel wide. We will need to be nimble. The target should not be visible until we are within arms reach of the new second shooting position. Notice the white fault line at the final position, again I want to be able to stop without over penetration based on a visual index.

Exercise 2-5
Starting at Pos A on start signal draw and hit once from each position A-B-C.
This will give us good agility work as we pivot both left and right with shorter travel lanes requiring hard acceleration and precise footwork in compact spaces. Keep focused on the visual lessons of Part 1 where we are looking through the corners with a distant focus looking for the next target while developing intensely accurate footwork.

The focus on this session as prescribed is agility. The ability to be both fast and accurate, not just with our shooting but with our movement. We also have the opportunity to develop our visual skills as discussed in Part 1 , and practice maneuvering in structures where we need to reach a certain location to see something gives us good practice at our Spacial Intelligence. There is also good secondary work here on footing. There is nothing quite like running full steam and trying to stop on a piece of thin carpet sliding on hardwood or running over some garbage to make one appreciate good footing. Range conditions will generally dictate our footing, here I am running on loose gravel, mulch, and spent brass wearing minimalist shoes mainly because I forgot my good range shoes (Adidas Turf Hogs). Little things like developing an intuitive sense of balance, learning how and when to appropriately lower our level, and having a high degree of control over acceleration and deceleration will pay huge dividends when it comes to keeping our footing sound.

Agility and complexity of stage design is one reason I prefer USPSA as an avenue for skill development over other types of shooting sports. The ability to focus on the raw athletic and shooting skills needed without trying to play make believe on the range lets us develop a high level of skill in the fundamental abilities required to dominate the environment. But we should not confuse this raw delivery system with the application of the skills under pressure in a live complex and ambiguous environment.  Application should take place with live role players in realistic settings, and complex problem solving. I will look at this further in another post.

Fast Is Fast !

Shawn Lupka

Friday, June 2, 2017

Shivworks AMIS, Live Fire Exercises, Part 1

The 2017 Shivworks Pittsburgh Armed Movement In Structures (AMIS) course has recently ended. It is always deeply fulfilling for me to work under the guidance of my mentor, Craig Douglas. For the first time in this course I presented a short block, about 30 minutes with Q&A, on live fire exercises for the shooting skills that are presented in class. The local training group has worked on this extensively and it has come up repeatedly over the years. While some of the work seems rather straightforward to me coming from a competition shooting background it was clear that for many shooters training in this way was not something they where acclimated to. My hope here is to clearly define a few options for these exercises and to communicate the concepts of skill isolation and focus in a way that allows translation into contextualized training.

These are presented devoid of context, do not read into them as situational training. They are for the express purpose of isolating specific key attributes. The marksmanship required is not a high standard, do not try to make them harder just for the sake of making things harder, we want the focus to be on the skills as presented. If you need to fix your accuracy issues go shoot bulls, seriously.

"Cardboard doesn't shoot back, and if it did this barricade won't stop bullets. It's just an exercise, so get your reps."

Let's talk first about a few key attributes and their application.

Simply put, you cannot deal with something you are unaware of. If its a shooting problem, we need to locate the target before we can shoot it. The AMIS coursework is intensely visual. The practitioner must seamlessly alternate between slow methodical clears where they are trying to pick out shadows and the tip of a shoe through multiple rooms and portals to sudden changes of focus into close corners or behind obstructions while moving. It can be a very high cognitive load, and many become overwhelmed at the level of detail and cannot process what they are seeing fast enough to make decisions. 

We must be able to call on explosive movement in a precise manner with sudden starts and stops. Footwork is key. The ability to break into a full gallop at a moments notice and brake on a dime is a key attribute that is expressed in context during in-extremis room entry, port and bypass on exposures, and limiting our exposure time in areas where the field of threat is unmanageable. We need to be violently agile on demand.

When moving within a structure a high level of intuitive understanding of geometry is a key attribute. We need to be able to understand, to imagine, what the space beyond that door frame may look like. We need to be able to see a window and know where someone outside that window can see when they look into the room. We must understand how far into a space we can penetrate before we are ourselves exposed to uncleared space from off angles and where those lines connect.

These exercises are designed to help strengthen those attributes within a shooting context.

Set up 1
This set up allows the most variety of use and me and the crew work this heavily.
Position A is the white barrel furthest up range, near the camera from this picture. Position B is the white barrel to the left, and C is to the right.
A is 20 yards directly in front of a steel target , B and C are 11 yards to the front of the barrels from the target measured on the diagonal. B/C steel at 12 yards (rough shooters position behind barrel to target) is aprox to A zone USPSA hits at 7 yards if I recall my math correctly. If you need to change the distances due to range limitation or targets available keep in mind the focus of the exercise. There needs to be enough distance between positions for you to get into a full on run, and the target should be such that you can hit it at speed but not sloppy (from the near barrels think A zone at 7 yards).
If you do not have barrels to use a target stand with cardboard targets attached to the outside left and right and one low in the middle for stability will work just fine. I really prefer to use steel B/C size targets for this or large pepper poppers. Immediate feedback and less time to reset lets me get my reps in efficiently. If your going to use paper I suggest using a negative target by cutting out the A zone of a USPSA target and reducing the range to a level that is appropriate to your skill level. If you need to stop dead in position and take careful aim to make your hits your not going to be working on the attributes we are focusing on here. If you cannot yet make the hits at all without either dramatically reducing range or stopping completely to take your time to shoot then the fundamental marksmanship issues need addressed first. We cant race before we can drive. this set up works exceptionally well with .22 conversion kits as we are not placing multiple hits on target and the focus is on the vision and movement.

Exercise  1-1
Starting at Position A, hands relaxed at sides, on start signal draw and hit target once from each station in order A-B-C-A , ending where you started.
You must hit from each position before you can hit from the next one. The only metric we care about here is total time.
What I am looking for is muzzle and gun orientation appropriate to direction of travel, ability to dig down and gain traction to accelerate with maximum effect, and ability to switch visual focus as needed and index as we move into position.
Notice specifically as I move from B to C how I am looking first at the spot I will stop on the ground, then my head finds the target, I am looking THROUGH the barricade as I enter position and drive the gun. The up and down range movements allow me to practice both muzzle front and rear techniques, this is not just an artifact of a "180 rule", I do want to practice from both positions. AMIS students will note that the up range movement mimics bypassing the "don't shoot yet" and looking back while the forward movement will resemble the chase exercise that leads to port and bypass.

Exercise 1-2
Starting in Position C on start signal draw and hit once from stations C-B-C-B
This is the same focus as 1-1 but here we have made shorter lateral movement and we we get both left to right and right to left practice. As we have removed up and down range movement and only have the shorter range shots I expect extreme focus on absolute speed and agility. You should be panting for air after you run it a few time in a row.

Exercise 1-3
Starting at location B on start signal we will draw and hit from the left side of the barricade , then middle, then right.
These movements should be less than 2 full strides but more than 1, the shooter should have limited space to move back so that he cannot keep the gun at extension. I want the gun to have to move in and out on the horizontal plane into each space. This gives us good visual practice of losing sight of and then regaining visual on the target as we drive the gun from a compressed position. I am hyper focused on the gun firing as soon as possible as it is presented and staying high through the movement.

Exercise 1-4
Starting at location B center on start signal draw and hit from center, then left, then right.
This is not just a variation on 1-3, the one movement to the left is identical, but the key movement is from the left to the right. This is a short movement but long enough that the shooter can break off the gun turn the hips in the direction of travel and accelerate violently only to stop again while picking up the target. I'm looking to see the hips turn aggressively to the right then re-square as we present and the head to be up and looking for the target before the barricade is passed.

That's a good start!
I will continue with more exercises to address other aspects of the shooting problems presented in further posts.

The exercises I am outlining are not ground breaking or new, they are just specially tailored to the specific demands of the environment. The core of practical shooting, Diligentia Vis Celeritas, keeps a strong focus on the base attributes so we have a strong delivery system in place when we need to apply them in context. For a great guide to this type of practice specifically tailored to practical shooting and dry fire I highly suggest Ben Stoeger's books.

For those familiar with the Shivworks coursework I have often said that ECQC should make one want to do jiu jitsu and wrestle , EWO should make one want to box and wrestle, and AMIS should make one want to shoot USPSA. To put it plainly if you want to be able move, shoot, handle your gun, and place rounds on target with accuracy reliably then competition shooting as expressed in USPSA is hands down the best way to practice those foundation skills. If you strip away the politics and opinions and focus cleanly on performance the path to follow becomes clear. The practitioner must come face to face with the truth. Only performance matters. It can be both the attractant and repellent to realistic opposition based force on force on training to many people.  Its up to them what to do with that knowledge. Practical shooting is but one piece of the full canvas.

Part 2, click here

Shawn Lupka
Antifragile Training

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

There Is No Subsitute

There is no substitute for mat time. None.

There are plenty of accessories, just like with lifting. Maybe my main lift is the dead lift and after that I do some Romanian variations, rack pulls, reverse's , whatever. Sure , that's cool, that helps, it  gives me volume and variety, but if all I do is the accessory work and never hit my main lift, never perfect that form, never push it? I've heard it said not to "major in the minors".

I've been pulled that same way shooting too. There's a challenging test or drill and I would shoot it over and over and over until I could rock some real impressive score, and sure it helped my shooting some and got me some trigger time, but the kick ass score on that one drill wouldn't translate to every expression of the foundation. Shooting one classifier until I can shoot it at Master level doesn't turn in a Master level match performance.

And so it is with "this thing of ours" , there is no good enough. There is no if your a B class uspsa shooter, a blue belt in bjj, and can squat your body weight for reps you automagically can use those skills or better yet combine them under duress in a chaotic and ambiguous real time event.

But here's the crux of the thing. If we want to be able to be multidisciplinary, we do need to have multiple disciplines we can base off of first! You cannot work application with no delivery system, and the foundation must be strong, stronger than whats needed in application I believe, as base skills will degrade under ever increasing layers of complexity.

Punch a Black Belt in the face he becomes a Brown Belt. Punch him again, a Purple...
-Carlson Gracie Sr.

So how much is good enough? I don't think that matters. Good enough for what? We cant predict precisely what our needs might be. We might be able to make some generalizations of risk profile based on profession and environment, but beyond that, esp for the armed citizen, sometimes just being aware and willing are enough, and sometimes the boogeyman comes knocking.

I stay hungry, I'm always pushing for more. Why? Its not cause I'm concerned about the boogeyman, it's not because I don't feel I'm "good enough" or any other sort of insecurity and fear. No. I keep at it because I keep getting better. Because this puzzle is deep and fights you back. Because I'm a better person for it. And because the better I get at understanding the paradigm the more able I am to help you down that path and be a part of good people taking self ownership, finding confidence, and overcoming adversity.

If you want to walk that path you know where to find me.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Purple Belt Thoughts

I recently received my purple belt in BJJ and our school is notoriously conservative at promoting people. I was a blue belt for just over 3 years, and this is 5 1/2 years total training time there with a prior year at another school that didn't have a real bjj program at the time.

So this is a fairly short time to make it to purple at our school where blue for 4-5 years is the generally accepted norm if your  training regularly.

My coach, Warren Stout, always says some words about the people he’s promoting and it struck me that he spoke about the improvements I have made quickly and how while sometimes you want to just come in and get some mat time or roll with your friends he always sees me studying and drilling and taking a lot of care in improving. Due to that I've had some questions from people and some great interactions revolving around training methods with my teammates.

I do not claim to be any sort of expert, and I feel like purple is just the beginning of starting to get deeper into my base, but I do feel confident in my thoughts on learning in general and applying them to this area so I'd like to share those thoughts and ask for feedback from the community, especially those who have come down through this space before me and can give me guidance as I try to move forward. If I'm off on anything or there are considerations I haven't perceived I ask for your help.

General thoughts:

Having strong mentors is fantastic, using them is what makes the resource work though. The people who gave me so much support and guidance thus far have been amazing to me. They have always given freely of their time  and experience but it is always up to me to ask for that help. No one hunted me down to answer questions I had not asked. I would have quit entirely had not Jeff Bloovman given me an epic beat down and Craig Douglas not reached out to me. Craig has guided me and supported me beyond my ability to express, but it has always been on me to do the work, to ask the questions, and to keep showing up.

Something is better than nothing. I have friends who never got past just getting started, who ask about how I train so damn much. I wish they would just show up two days a week. Over a year or so that's better than nothing, and its better than the inconsistent three days this week , no days the next and so on. When I started two or three days a week kicked my ass! I couldn't get out of my car when I got home, everything hurt every day. Over time it got easier and easier to do more. But it started with just something, with just two days. I imagine if I was convinced it had to be all or nothing I would have gotten nothing, never gotten started, and never had the opportunity to enjoy training like I do now. This is where it starts, taking that first step, doing as much as I can, and giving it a chance.

Consistency over time.  Cecil Burch told me early on a parable about consistency over time, about laying one piece of paper on a desk each day not seeming like much but over time it will be a book. Over time the volume of training hours I have put in has grown as I’ve learned to manage my time and energy better but I have stayed consistent. I have taken no time off, no breaks, no pauses except for the small injuries I have had and even then I stayed active showing up to watch, studying video, or modifying my training. In my promotion picture my hand is all taped up because I have been training with some sprained tendons in my hand for a few weeks. I trained with no hands for solid week with my finger in a brace, then one handed for a week after, and had just then started training carefully with it taped. In the mean time I broke a toe. I did not miss one day. I worked around it as I was able, and had terrific training partners I trusted who worked with me. I have plenty of friends who started when or before I did who have taken breaks, sometimes of their own choice, some not, and plenty who have lost interest for times. That’s fine, I have committed to staying locked in. If my interest wanes I double down, if I’m tired I double down, if life gets in the way I adjust as best I can and get that work in. I may not enjoy training today, but I will enjoy the fruits of my labor when they ripen. I trust the process and drive forward.

Volume Volume Volume. There is a big difference between saying I train 5-6 days a week and I train 10-12 hours a week. I started to log actual mat hours last year and try to find ways to increase that number. We may both train one day, but if I come for a one hour class then stay for an hour of open mat after and you only come to class I am getting double the volume. That adds up. I will caution against doing more than the body and mind can handle in one session, but also against doing less. The only way to get better at doing more is to do more. I found out quickly if I could get in a half hour before class and drill with someone I could increase my hours dramatically over time (see consistency).  On Wednesday nights I do no gi open mat, then there is an hour until I teach my class, I grab a corner of mat space and a partner and drill or work back through anything interesting from open mat I need to dissect or sharpen up on  before I teach.
Pablo Casals is 81. He agreed to have Robert Snyder make a movie short, “A Day in the Life of Pablo Casals.” Snyder asked Casals, the world’s foremost cellist, why he continues to practice four and five hours a day. Casals answered: “Because I think I am making progress.”

Larry Lindenman told me to “practice in the dead spaces”. Sometimes that means getting up from my desk at work to do air squats, sometimes that means practicing a grappling stance and movement for a sec or two throughout the day, and other times I find a lot of useful reps by using useful movements as warm ups. I lift usually 2-3 days early before work during the week (and one day on the weekend) and when I wake up and splash some water on my face at 530AM I warm up with some quick ground movements. I tell new people in my class all the time that doing a set of hip escapes, hip heists, sit outs, and technical get ups every day will only cost you 10 minutes but it will both get you moving and over time get your body better at core movements.

Regulating intensity levels. If I’m going to train as much as possible I can’t go 100% every day. Some days I need hard competitive rounds, but those are generally fewer by magnitudes. As I improve I find this is easier, both because I'm better capable of dealing with a variety of partners and because I can use less energy to do more work. As an example one week may look like:
Monday: train at home 45 min drilling/ 45 min positional sparring (light)
Tuesday: Drill before open mat (light) , open mat (med to high), Fundamentals class (light)
Wednesday: Open mat (high) drill an hour before I teach (light) , after my class try to get a couple rounds in if I can with whatever I left in the tank sometimes mma rounds rolling with little gloves (high)
Thursday: Shooting day (rest)
Friday : Advanced Gi class (high)
Saturday: Early morning with the killers open mat(HIGH), drill (light), then teach
Sunday: Back at it with open mat early (High), or lately if I’m shooting Sunday I try to also schedule some drilling at home (light)

Paul Sharp told me there’s no win/loss record at open mat. That hit me immediately at the time. I see it all the time, train to improve but compete to win. I do need some hard competitive rounds but if I’m going to improve I have to learn new movements, test strategies in real time against tough opponents, and get out of my comfort zone. That’s a lot of getting beat. Suck it the fuck up. This also means it is not worth getting injured during training. If a new white belt gets my neck all twisted up as he’s going for a spazoplata its ok to tap, its ok to tap once there is no technical way out. If I have to resort to escape through superior athleticism (not something I really have to begin with) then I have already lost. I’ve learned to frame most training as playing a game, yes it’s a violent game, but it’s still a game.

Don’t get injured. This is a meshing of the “no win/ loss at open mat” and “managing intensity levels” above. It’s a contact sport, I cannot 100% avoid all risk. I can avoid needless risk and people who I don’t trust. There is a difference between people who will go hard, smash me, crush my soul and people who will break my arm if I don’t tap in time. What little I may gain from rolling with those people is not worth an injury that may take me off the mat for 6 or 9 months or worse. This goes both ways, I am fully dedicated to not hurting my training partners.  My #1 goal needs to be to not injure anyone or get injured during training. So long as that happens even if I don’t improve that day I can continue to train and be exposed to the chance of improvement later.

Study. One of my earliest mentors on the mat, Mike Flor, told me if he was going to do this thing he was going to take it seriously, he was going to treat it like going to school. Private lessons I did with him came with a printed curriculum of what we covered. He would take notes after class, he would truly study. This approach has in my opinion been the biggest factor in me improving. I try not to come in without a plan, and I spend time thinking about and studying that plan. I know ahead of time that for example right now I’m working on a series from lasso guard when my opponent brings up his near knee behind my lasso thigh. I will drill the permutations  of this position in my drilling sessions that week and focus my rolling on getting there and getting that reaction from my opponent and executing my plan. I will make note of my successes and failures, study those, ask for feedback from the more experienced, and go back at it again. I very rarely come to open mat just trying to get some rounds in. I like to tell myself, out loud, before I get to the gym, “ok, today you’re going to get to X position and work that series” , “today is leg locks on blue belts and up, and getting to the back on white belts” etc.

Video study. I spent close to a year studying Romulo Barral’s  spider guard DVD set. I would watch one excerpt at a time and drill it and work to pull it off before moving onto the next. I had a friend who was out for 9 months with an injury come back, he asked me when he got back what I was working on, I told him oh this spider guard series. He said “you were working on that when I got injured!” . Yep, and I think I’m starting to get it! While working on that DVD I also found it incredibly helpful to watch his competition videos. I would study and look for the techniques in real time and review and replay the exchanges to see what the real timing against high level players looks like.

Finding my game. Wow, this could be a whole book! I prob spent the first year of blue just learning how to pass, then I spent months focusing on one guard then another. I didn’t want to perfect any of them, but I didn’t want there to be huge gaps in my knowledge either. I don’t need to master deep half, but I should at least learn how it works and what it feels like. I would say ok, this month I’m doing nothing but knee cut passes, or half guard, and along the way I found some things that fit my purposes and that I really enjoyed and discarded stuff that used to be my game. The second year of blue belt was almost entirely this type of experimentation and switching of focus. While I did not get better in my ability to win against those of my partners that focused more, I do feel I was able to broaden my understanding of jiu jitsu and also find things that were not before on my radar.

Get some solid training partners. I cannot drill, study, and stay consistent over time without good partners. My friend Jeptha said once about finding people near enough your size and skill that you can be evenly matched and always pushing each other, and that this was one of the biggest factors in his improvement. When I heard that I took it seriously. To have a good partner first you must also be a good partner. I try my best to not only get my work in, but to do as much as I can for others. Injured and need a dummy play light bottom for you while get back to just moving on the mat? I’m grateful for the opportunity to help. Took some time off and need to work back in? Hit me up! Need someone to get swept 50 times in a  row while you work your timing? I am your man! I cannot take take take and not give back.

The arms race. Good consistent partners who push me and know my game force me to become ever more technical. I learn spider, they learn a spider pass, I learn to counter that pass, they learn another. As we both chase each other we get sharper and sharper, then when you meet that guy who doesn’t know that first pass they never get a chance to hit your second or third line of attack. They know my game, they know where I am strong and where I am weak and they are constantly anticipating my every move. These matches become both incredibly fun and extremely technical. This is the embodiment of the chess match that is jiu jitsu in my mind. All my pieces are on the table, I don’t get success by surprise or power, I get it only by perfect execution, set ups, and counters.  This strengthens the core of my game to a point where when someone is caught by surprise I have an overwhelming advantage.  

Extra credit points. Seriously. Any day I train when I have legit reason not to I get double points. Long day at work, overtime, just got back from a  trip that morning? Get them bonus points! Christmas morning? I’m training. Anytime no normal human being could possibly expect me to train? I’m getting that work in! Those little extra rounds, the one more round once everyone is gone and I’ve been there rolling and teaching from 5-9? That last round with the brown belt who comes in only for the late class and everyone is gone? Triple points! I’ll take em!

Love it. I remember why I started, but also why I continue, and I remind myself when I get caught up in my head that even if there were no belts, no outside recognition, that I would train just as hard. It isn’t always fun, it’s still often intimidating, I get crushed, I fail, I’m tired, I’m sore, sometimes I feel like I take two steps back, but I don’t stop. I used to say I won’t let anyone out work me. That’s bullshit. You may work harder than me, you may be capable of working more than me. Doesn’t matter. I’m not stopping.
Shawn Lupka
Shout outs:  , Warren Stout, my academy, Team Renzo Gracie , Craig Douglas , Cecil Burch , Jeff Bloovman

Sunday, March 12, 2017

You Make Me Better

Last Wednesday nights class was focused on using a small knife to keep an attacker off of you. As with most of the curriculum its mainly sourced from my mentor Craig Douglas aka southnarc , and its tough, demanding physically, and ultra-violent. 

There is a eclectic group. I have a couple law enforcement officers, a fern loving ecologist, men, women, a father and son, some BJJ guys, and some very new folks. Most of them have done my class before, even if not this lesson. So I know that they know there will be some form of live training at the end. I know they see the pile of Fist Helmet's , boxing gloves, and Nok Knives at the side of the mat.

"The best things in life are beyond money; their price is agony ans sweat and devotion ... and the price demanded for the most precious of all things in life is life itself - ultimate price for perfect value."
-Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers 

I gather the class and grab two of our most seasoned guys to start us off. Lay out the exercise. Gloves and helmet on one, training knife for the other. I stick the knife bearer in the corner of the cage with one direction, GET OUT. Its brutal training for a violent world.

And I am in awe.
I am filled up deeply with respect for anyone who does this work. Those that show up for it over and over again. It breaks down all my biases, all my first instincts about people when you see 7 foot muscle bound men back out of conflict and petite  young women grin and rush into the breech go out the window. It sharpens me. Their questions, their feedback, their work and sweat and blood. I breathe their breath in the helmet , I feel the fear they have to tame, I know their path as my own. And I am honored they allow me to hold their hand and guide them down it. And over and over they push me further than I thought I could go. I owe them only my very best.

Thank you