“That Won’t Work in the Street” A Primer on Joint Locking

Kote Gaishi or Wrist Turn | Full Circle Jujitsu | Full Circle Warrior Arts

How many marital art instructors does it take to screw in a light bulb?  One to screw it in and 99 to say it wouldn’t work on the street/ring/cage etc. There’s not a student in the world that shouldn’t heed this advice: Just because you don’t get it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

I’ve heard it a lot over my years as a student and an instructor: “That doesn’t work.” Whether it’s in regards to a general style or a particular technique, it doesn’t “work.” Most martial artists tend not to believe in technique that their art doesn’t train in. The “that won’t work” factor is a reflex for most.

What if a particular technique doesn’t “work”? My first sensei, Master Zulu always said, “Nothing is guaranteed.” All techniques and training have a point at which they can fail. However, just because one technique has failed, it doesn’t mean your whole arsenal should fall by the wayside. Utilize the practice of flow, and move on. A failed exchange opens up opportunities for new ones. Should I try to apply a basic kote-gashi (wrist turn) and my opponent pulls his hand free, their retreating energy has now given me entrance for a Capoeira Angola vingativa (a sweep that takes a person over your thigh with the aid of an arm or head butt).  

Joint locking itself is a very misunderstood and misapplied art form. No two bodies are the same, hence not all joints are made the same. Many styles attempt to incorporate joint manipulations into their styles, but without proper context or training method, students never develop these skills past a beginning level. Joint lock study should be a daily practice, not just something reserved for when the instructor wishes to add some flavor to the class.

Is your joint lock not working? Relax your shoulders and move from your center. Take the muscle tension out of your limbs. This is the key to all technique. Remove your affectations.  Listen to the feedback your partner’s body is giving you. Some are more flexible than others. If you “listen,” you will know the correct pressure to apply to each type of individual. This takes diligent practice to perfect.  Are you actually relaxed? When a beginner applies a joint lock they tend to hunch their shoulders or put so much tension in their hands that they are effectively working against themselves throughout the technique. Relax completely. This doesn’t mean go floppy; think of the relaxed motion of a horse in full gallop, and move your body unified with single purpose.

Have you eliminated joint slack? Many beginners go through the entire motion of a lock only to find their partner staring at them at the end. This is usually caused by a failure to take up the appropriate slack before entering the throwing phase. The amount (degree) of slack you want to take up is determined by the amount of damage you wish to cause your opponent. Obviously, we only take this so far when training in class.  I’ll go over the slack principle in more detail later.

Are you aware of your surroundings, and most importantly, your partner? Many students grab a hand for a basic wristlock, for instance, and their mind immediately becomes completely focused on that hand. They lose sight that there is a whole independent body connected to the hand! In the dojo this can lead to accidents. In actual defense it can lead to disaster. Maintain a 360-degree awareness at all times.

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The First 20 Years of Your Training

Side Kick Professor Alessandro Ashanti 1994

There is a point in everyone’s martial arts career in which they have an epiphany that they don’t know as much as they thought they did. This is a natural process. The five-to-fifteen year student of the arts wears their training like a teenager wears adulthood. They are aware that people know more than they do, but they are pretty sure they’ve figured out a better way just the same.

The bubble burst of this line of thought can feel like one is suddenly in a possession of limited skill. However the truth is that they’ve now reached another level in their practice; there is a clearing of pretence that allows and facilitates further lessons. Those who don’t go through this find themselves repeating the first five to fifteen years of their training over and over again, never advancing to a higher plane of understanding. The cycle, like all cycles, should come full circle and eventually repeat itself, once again clearing the path for the martial artist’s future.

The amount of work to gain relevant insight into the martial arts, I would dare say, takes more effort than becoming a neurosurgeon (not that I can accurately speak to the process of becoming a neurosurgeon.  Bear with the analogy on its own terms.). The neurosurgeon, just like the martial artist, can arrive at a point of great competency, but is in reality just repeating and reiterating their schooling. To own your training takes far more work. I find the ten-to-fifteen year student thinks they’ve arrived at this point consistently. I was no different and no more or less wrong.

In the martial arts you spend most of your first fifteen to twenty years unable to see where you are in your practice. You’ve developed some skills, but you are never in a position to truly see what your next level is. This can lead a practitioner to think their skills and understanding are finely honed. If this person keeps training they will eventually find a whole new level opens up. Their previous skills will apply going forward, but their mind will forever see how much more there will always be to learn.

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How to Open Up a Martial Arts School Part 1

You’ve been training long enough in a martial arts style and have always had in the back of your mind that maybe one day you would open your own school and run a successful business.  You are passionate about teaching and training and as a result you are convinced the public will see this in you and flock to your school.  After all, you’re a better instructor than Master XYZ, who has a lousy reputation.

People throw around the term “McDojo” way too easily these days.  They view this as a school that is watered down and pandering to the public.  While this can be partially correct, but not always, there are certain things to keep note of.  These are successful business owners.  McDonalds (where the term McDojo originates from) is THE most successful restaurant in the world.  They have two things going that they do correctly.  Their food is tasty (never mind void of sustenance) and they have incredible marketing/advertising campaigns.  The food doesn’t have to be 5 star quality for people to want to buy it.  They just have to enjoy the experience of eating it.  They are also the first restaurant that comes to mind (for most people) when wanting fast food.  This is not by accident.  This is a model of consistency and innovation while keeping their identity.  McDonalds has never changed what it is at its core: a burger joint.

Martial arts schools that promote a clear message and deliver on their mission statement (every successful business has one of these) consistently will attract a parents that want their kids involved and adults that enjoy the experience.  Regardless of quality, all students are better having trained than not trained.  These students will never go to the school of blood, sweat, and tears.  The commercial school fills this niche.  Anyone can develop warrior skills but not everyone has what it takes to be a warrior.

There are many ways to open a school.  What type of school you want should be in correlation to the amount of risk you are willing to assume financially.  Everyone single martial arts instructor in the world has their “dream school” that they fantasize about.  Many might have had them for a time only to wind up in bankruptcy not too long afterwards.

The Park

This is the easiest place to get started with any martial arts class.  They are free to use and for the most part easy to find.

Pros:  Free!  Open space.  Built in marketing from onlookers and passer-bys.

Cons: Adherent to weather conditions. You are displaying your technique outside.  Limited growth potential in a United States market (typically you top out at 15 students).

Parks and Recreation

Parks and Rec programs are a great place to start a class when you have zero students.  All parks and rec departments have a listing of courses that they send out to all residents of the city they are located in (huge cities, not as much but still there is adverting).  A class that fills a niche can fill up quickly with students.  Kids programs are most successful in this type of venue.  Pay is modest but you have no worries on overhead or advertising.

Pros: No rent or advertising!  The city handles all you promotion and you start off with several to many students.  They city will also provide you with the proper equipment that is reasonable to the practice.

Cons: The city can cancel your class at anytime they choose.  You can’t start right away but rather have to wait until they next cycle of classes are available.  You are limited by what space is offered to you and the times you are given.

 

I’ll continue this post in a “Part 2” going over the other types of schools you can open with pros and cons.  Coming soon.

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How to Survive a Street Fight

Full Circle Jujitsu How to survive a Street Fight

I worked as a bouncer doing nightclub security for five years in New York City and San Francisco.  I saw a lot of crazy stuff during this time, though I got out of it relatively without a scratch.  I was a young black belt in my 20s, weighing in at 165 pounds and standing 5’9” tall. Typically I was the smallest of the security staff at the club I worked in, although I had full respect of my co-workers due to seeing me deal with situations.  I was never able to visually intimidate most people.  However, intimidation was never my intent at a bouncer.  I was there to diffuse and (if I’m very honest) to put my training into practice.  During this time I saved a number of club goers from danger, but there were those that weren’t so lucky.  This was never due to any fault of my own; some people are just hell-bent on fighting.  I once saw a one-on-one fight turn into a five-on-one fight in the span of 5 seconds.  The loser was beat to a pulp.  I would bet good money he never forgot the experience. So, if you want to know how to survive a street fight, here are some personal observations from my experience.

 

Don’t get into a fight with a stranger if you can avoid it.  You never know whom you are fighting or what their capabilities are.  You also have no idea the level of insanity the other person may posses.  In all reality, dusting it up over something that can be talked out is just bad for personal business.  It’s not worth it.

Talk your way out of it.  Please take my advice on this one and let your ego be bruised. An extremely low percentage of fights are worth it.  Let someone else think they’ve “won” rather than risk damage or worse.

Should you be unwittingly dragged into a fight, don’t ever underestimate the capabilities of your opponent.  Looks can be deceiving!  Take my example of being small for a bouncer.  I was just as, and sometimes a lot more, effective than my peers who had 100 pounds of weight on me.

Watch out for their friends and even strangers.  There is no such thing as a fair fight.  Rarely will you see in this day and age friends who will let their buddy fight one on one.  Especially if their buddy is the one losing! Always assume that there is a potential second or third opponent and watch your back.  Keep moving, and don’t stand still.  This will help you catch your surroundings.

Get out of there.  Don’t stick around to gloat.  Get to your car or to anywhere that would be safe.  You run the risk of being hurt further or winding up arrested.  You might not be charged with a crime, but the police are well within their rights to arrest people who are fighting and sort it out later in the courts.

Don’t do any more damage to someone than it takes to defend yourself.  Should you find yourself in legal trouble, you will have to be able to prove that your response wasn’t excessive to the incident at hand.  For instance, say you wind up in a fight in a bar and your opponent is on their last legs.  For good measure you wind up hitting them one last time and their head hits the bar railing, killing them. You are now potentially (depending on the local laws, I’m not a law professional) on the hook for involuntary manslaughter.  You can’t at that point in front of witnesses prove that you felt in fear for your life.

At the end of the day, just don’t fight.  If you have to fight, keep good awareness of your surroundings and get the hell out of there as fast as you can.  Don’t hurt anyone in excess to the danger of the situation.

This article written by Alessandro Ashanti originally appeared on https://www.thisismorpheus.com/2016/02/survive-street-fight/

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The Importance Of The Book Of The Five Rings In Modern Times

Miyamoto Musashi | Full Circle Jujitsu | Full Circle Warrior Arts

If you ask a martial artist to name the greatest warriors of all times, among them they might say Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), the author of The Book of Five Rings. Musashi was a legendary Japanese swordsman who is known by having cut down 60 men in his time as a duelist. Far from being the only duelist in Japanese history, what separates Musashi is that he took the time to document everything into the paper in the form of the Go Rin No Sho – The Book of The Five Rings, a manual on swordsmanship strategy.

At first sight this seems like simply another book about martial arts, however the truth is that when Miyamoto wrote the book he was already old and had nothing to lose about revealing his fight secrets. Although a lot of the content is specific to the feudal period of Japanese swordsmanship, there are endless things that martial artists and others can learn from the text. Strategy can be transcendent to context.

Mushashi’s book is divided into 5 different parts:

#1: Ground:

In the first chapter of the book, Miyamoto clearly focuses on the idea that if you want to succeed in combat, you need to have a plan. This is something that you learn in each martial arts style in varying degrees. You need to first study and, only then, fight.

Knowing your capabilities and skills as well as understanding the dynamics of the conflict will help you succeed. Despite not knowing in advance who will win any situation, the better you’re prepared the better odds you have to be the winner.

#2: Water:

Within this part of his book, Miyamoto refers to one of the major difficulties many martial arts have: adaptability. When fighting an opponent, you need to utilize all the tactics and techniques you know and use the best one to defeat your opponent; not the one that you prefer. Before the fight even begins, you need to know what movements you’ll be applying to your opponent and always be ready to change your tactic.

#3: Fire:

This is the part of the book that concerns about being a fierce fighter. One thing is for sure: you may have been trained by a renowned master and be in great shape. But if you lack the ferocity, you will lose the fight if your opponent has only ferocity. You don’t have to be like Miyamoto who never slept or never washed his body. You just need to apply what he said: “The way of the warrior is the resolute acceptance of death.”

#4: Wind:

You need to focus not only on your martial art system but also to study your opponents. And who are they in the 21st century? You need to learn who they are, what they wear, and how they operate.

The lesson behind this part of the book is pretty simple: let’s say that you’re learning karate. You can consider taking Eskrima or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, to expand your horizons.

No matter how much you want to run away from the idea, you know, even though it may be deep in your heart, that combat is animalistic, violent, and simple. You can only understand it and accept it.

#5: Void:

In this last part of the book, Miyamoto explains that you need to focus on 2 different aspects:

— Mental: When you’re with the right mindset, even though you’re in the middle of combat, you won’t have any fear. This doesn’t make you either stupid or brave; it just shows that you were focused on winning. When you study the martial arts as well as you can, when you know all the parameters, when you have a backup plan for any action, you will know what to do.

— Technical: Knowledge and learning are meant to be forgotten. And only when you are able to fully acknowledge this, is that you’ll be ready to fight because your body will move as if it is automatic.

As you can see, the Miyamoto’s The Book Of The Five Rings couldn’t be relevant to the modern era. Yes, things have changed since Musashi’s age. However, all the knowledge and insights written in the Book of Five Rings can still be applied to everyone’s lives.

 

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The Late Night Chase

Car Chase Alessandro Ashanti Full Circle Jujitsu Full Circle Warrior Arts

The late night chase.

22 years ago my girlfriend (many relationships ago) asked me how work was the night before.  I had to think for a second since I had just woken up.  “Hmmm, I had some guys head on the hood of a car and then the police showed up to take over.”, I said to her.  Not a sentence everyone can say about their job.  At the time I had been working as a nightclub bouncer for the last 5 years in New York City and San Francisco.  This gave me invaluable insight into the psychology and physicality of the martial arts.  I had been a martial artist since I was 10 though more seriously since I was 16.  This was and has been my life’s work.  Not all martial arts stories are about how you defeated someone through one on one “combat”.  The following is a story about how I dealt with a car chase through the streets of San Francisco one late weekend night.

When I drive, I’ve always found that my martial arts training applies to how I deal with the road and other drivers. I had one very unforgettable high speed chase in San Francisco in the early nineties. Martial arts strategy helped me out drive a group of four guys trying to do me in.  This was the era of wannabe gangsters thanks in no small part to the popularity of gangster rap.  What the music inspired at the time was every middle and upper middle class kid thinking it was cool to go around threatening to shoot people or giving “threatening” looks outside of the window of a car.  Having grown up in New York City and known actual thugs, this looked ridiculous to me.  Here is what followed that night in San Francisco. I had a group of young very suburban clean-cut types; probably on the swim team, four of them, drive up on me.   The passenger of the car started giving me what they called a “mad dog” stare.  Seeing him with his blonde hair and baseball cap, I couldn’t help it.  I started to laugh.  This was my one mistake.  As I drove off I heard their car start to speed up behind me; sure enough I had given them all the reason they needed to pick their fight with me.  I heard them start to pass, unsure if they had a weapon or not I told my girlfriend calmly that I might have to crash her car into theirs.   They drove up past me.  One of them started to reach out the window with his whole body, something was in his hand but I couldn’t’ tell what.  I swerved the car slightly to the left knocking into theirs on the tail end.  Something hit our windshield from the thrower.  Their ultimate gangster move was to toss a cup of liquid from a red plastic tumbler.  Things then took a more serious note as we started to get into a high speed chase down Church St in the Castro district.  I decided to apply some jujutsu to my driving and lock them into a side-by-side engagement speeding up my car so that they would match my speed.  I then suddenly slammed on the breaks, sending them flying about 50 meters in front of us before they were able to stop.  I sat and waited as one of two things could happen.  They would either have to drive back to me or they would get out of their cars can try to chase me down on foot.  For all I know these kids are now successful doctors or lawyers, however their decision to get out of their car and chase me on foot wasn’t exactly the smartest move.  I waited until they were about ten feet from my car then I swerved around them and took off.  I asked my girlfriend if she could think of the nearest police station.   The other car eventually caught up with us throwing a tire iron out their window.  I found a police car before reaching a precinct.  With the police present it was comical to see the gangster façade on my “assailants” fade.  I was even able to give one of the young men my card (“Martial Arts Instructor”) and ask them to call me so we could work out the damages.  That call never happened directly, instead the driver got his mom on the phone to speak with me.

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