By: Joel Gelfand
For some people it could be a Bruce Lee movie or a crazy boxing Match or the first UFC. For me, it was a life and death brawl with terrible odds.
My wife often mentions how closed off I am to sharing some of my experiences in street fights when I was a young and dumb teen living in Chicago. She suggested that by sharing I could help prevent others from making the poor decisions I made as a young man. I also think it important for my students to understand that my perspective as a teacher has been shaped by experiences that I ultimately wish their training would help them avoid.
The following story has never been shared with anyone but my wife. The individuals who were involved in it are identified only by their first initial.
As a teen I wouldn't start fights, but I would never back down or walk away from one either. I was very confident in my martial arts skills at the time which included: a Black Belt designation in Tae Kwon Do, extensive experience in the boxing and kickboxing ring, training in Judo/Japanese Jiu Jitsu and a spot on the varsity wrestling team that was getting me scouted for a university scholarship. In Chicago during the early 90's DJ Party's got huge which attracted a lot of gang bangers. Myself and 6 of my friends were at one of these parties at The Purple Hotel (they never had one of these parties again). I remember about half a dozen fights broke out during the party itself and the DJ kept announcing that the party will be cancelled. But we were having a great time dancing up a storm. When we left, we started walking to the parking lot to get to our car, and all of a sudden guys were coming out the side door and about 5 cars showed up and more guys started coming out of the cars. We were slowly getting surrounded. A very large guy came right up to me and started mouthing off. Being who I was at the time, I knew what was about to happen and did nothing to stop it from happening. I put myself in jeopardy but more importantly my friends too (for which I still carry some guilt). I walked right up to the large man and said "let's see what you got". (My thinking was if I knock him out right away the rest would back down, sparing me and my friends from a crazy brawl.) He throws the first punch at me which I easily block and I hit him back with a straight left. I was able to identify that his friend was sneaking up on me so I utilized a sweep on him. My friend beside me was able to punch him while he tried to come back at me. It was chaos! Our group of 7 was instantly swarmed by 25-30 guys - it was so crazy I accidentally hit my friend (who stopped someone from hitting me earlier) in the face. He was hurt badly but got up to continue fighting and was then struck on the back of the head with a bottle, he fell to the ground bleeding and was kicked repeatedly in the head while lying on the ground, unconscious. I fought back with a combination of rage and skill knocking out several guys and managed to pull off a spinning back kick which I knew broke several ribs on impact (I mention this because looking back, it seems highly unlikely to efficiently utilize such a technique in this situation).
The fight was over almost as soon as it happened, when someone yelled "cops". (I recently reached out to two of the guys in this story and together we recalled details from this night. Turns out it was one of our buddies yelled “cops” but there weren’t even any. We do remember security just watching entertained as this fight unfolded. They did not follow protocol or call police. They just watched.) A buddy of mine, M. had his nose badly broken and his Gold chain which was very valuable stolen (in Chicago you usually get your jewelry robbed while fighting). Another friend, R. had a hole through his cheek, not sure if it was from an ice pick or a ring. After the fight we limped back to R.'s house to asses the damage. I had only had a cut on my lip, and my friends had gotten the worst of it. It turns out the guys were from a gang called The Spanish Cobras. And they had mistaken us for football players from a local high school who jumped their friends. A case of mistaken identity could have cost us our lives. This gang was known for some vicious stabbings. Looking back now, we were lucky not to get stabbed or worse. My friend B. mentioned to me that he suffered a concussion that night which caused slurring of his speech from time to time 25 years since the incident. M. had surgery to repair his badly broken Nose. The fight was big enough to make 2 local newspapers.
As a Martial Artist, I immediately began to consider how the styles I was currently practicing helped me survive but each had limitations in dealing with multiple attackers and weapons. So I started to look to different styles like Jeet Kune Do and Israeli Martial arts. I still continued to train in Boxing and Jiu Jitsu because I felt they each had elements that would help in a street altercation. Not long after the fight I had moved to Toronto, where I continued this Martial Arts journey. After many years and many different combat styles, I settled on Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu both which I am privileged to teach to this day. I truly believe that had I been a Krav Maga expert at the time, things might have ended different or I would have been smart enough to walk away from the situation being educated in what could happen in an all out violent brawl. Every now and then I would think about that night and my friends who experienced it with me. When I reconnected with B. and M., I realized that each individual involved had a different scenario and their own fight they had to deal with at the same time. I was sorta surprised how much detail they remembered, both mentioned they would never forget that night. As for me I won't forget it because it changed my outlook on Martial arts.
Contributor: Chaim Grafstein
So you’re a Martial Artist, and you want to take your training to the next level.
Whether you want to increase your balance and flexibility to throw a higher kick, increase your cardiovascular endurance to start competing in grappling, or any other goal you might have in mind, there is no question that proper strength and conditioning will support you in achieving those goals.
With this starting point there are two probable issues which tend to arise when a Martial Artist begins to enter the world of improving their fitness:
1. Copy and pasting your Martial Arts (MA) in your Strength and Conditioning (S&C).
2. Over focusing on your S&C and working out too much.
My very first Martial Arts instructor has the best line for overly eager students who push themselves to injury in their training: “Your warrior spirit is writing cheques your body can’t cash.” This idea really resonates with me, and it is a good phrase to keep in mind when thinking about these two issues.
Copy and pasting your Martial Arts in your Strength and Conditioning
Let’s say you’re a boxer, you could end up battering your shoulders with strength training if you do too much pushing. Likely you’ll incorporate push-ups, bench press, overhead pressing, etc. in your Strength training on top of whatever pushing movements you’re already doing in your Martial Arts training (think of every punch you throw as a push movement).
Sure, one or two push exercises in the gym (3-4 sets of overhead pressing for example) once a week is going to support you in your Martial Arts, but too much more than that is going to lead to overuse injuries. If that happens it’ll set you back farther than if you hadn’t even been to the gym at all!
Over Focusing on your Strength and Conditioning
If you follow a cookie-cutter “fitness program”, a marathon runner’s training schedule, or an Olympic weightlifter’s programming, I can almost guarantee you won’t be optimizing your training. You’ll probably end up taking away from the quality of your Martial Arts training, and before you know it you’ll give up on your added workouts.
Take the example of a marathon style program. If you’re a wrestler and spend 3-4 days/week training, between your warm up, drilling, sparring and every other aspect of your classes adding 5 days of jogging per week might be a bit too much to handle. You’re going to end up trying to cash a cheque your body can’t handle, and one of the two programs will have to go. Why not start off with something more manageable? Try jogging 2 times a week tops. Keep it short and don’t try breaking any land speed records.
The majority of the mentioned above is about what you shouldn’t do. What can you do? How can you build a Strength and Conditioning program that supports your Martial Arts training? A good place to start is with a minimal and effective Strength and Conditioning program.
Like I said above, light cardio once or twice a week is certainly a good beginner Conditioning regimen. But be cautious! If you want to do more than that, especially if you find you train Martial Arts more than 2 times a week, make sure you have adequate time to recover or you might give up before you benefit from it.
In terms of Strength training a basic and minimalist “primal pattern” style program is going to support most Martial Artists. The only precaution is avoid overworking yourself and working to failure. Everything you do should be challenging but not difficult. There are so many ways that this sort of program can end up looking, so consider this an introductory blueprint:
Light Static Stretching (don’t overthink this! If it feels tight, or restricts you from performing movements, then stretch it!)
Dynamic Warm-up (This can be anything from jumping jacks, or throwing in a few warm-up sets before each movement below, whichever one feels best for you!)
Movements for the day:
Barbell Back Squats: 3 sets of 5 reps
Lat Pull-downs or Weighted Pull-ups: 4-5 sets of 6-10 reps
Weighted Walking Lunges: 2 sets of 12 reps
Light Static Stretching
Movements for the day:
Barbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Dumbbell Rows: 4-5 sets of 6-10 reps
Plank: 2 sets of 30+ seconds
Nothing in this workout is total dogma (okay, maybe the squat is... in my 4 years of personal training, especially working with fellow Martial Artists, I have yet to meet someone who wouldn’t benefit from more squatting). Following this sort of general guideline will translate to improved performance in the dojo, on the mat - whatever and wherever your Martial Art practice is!
Alright, if you’ve made it to the end of this article you deserve a few take home points:
1. Don’t overdo your training! Too much S&C will take over your training and throw your MA out of balance...
2. Pick the right movements for you! If you’re a boxer, maybe pass on doing 5 variations of the bench press twice a week...
3. Last but not least - keep learning! Look for credible sources. Learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Get online and watch a video or read an article. There is so much free information available online; if you are serious about your training you will take advantage of it!
Contributor: Avigayil Basser
You are paying for a service. You want that service to:
a. Be the actual service you are seeking
b. Be the best possible version available
c. Be the most affordable
a. When choosing to train a martial art, it is important to first define your goal, this will help you find an answer to point a. Is your goal fitness? Excitement? Gaining confidence? Competition? Or the most likely and most important – surviving a life and death altercation. Actually most likely all these aspects and more combine to form the reason you are seeking some form of martial arts training. The answer to these questions will also vary depending on the potential student, is it you? Your child? Your spouse?
Research. Don’t follow what is popular, and don’t fall for finding the first half decent provider. Based on the above specifications do a Google search: “most proven method of self defence”, “what is better for children to learn karate or jiu jitsu”, “what is Muay Thai”. A simple search can really help you narrow down so you can pinpoint what you are really looking for.
b. Once you have selected your choice, or maybe at least narrowed down your interests, it is time to find the best service provider. Always ask for certification/ history, it is your right to request from the instructor teaching you to prove that they are authorized and capable. Even if a heart surgeon went to medical school, would you trust him if he didn’t complete his residency? This might be about your survival or protecting your family. Ask for references, talk to students. And be smart, don’t believe unbacked claims. There are multiple fraudulent instructors who have been exposed, but continue to teach because their students will not perform a simple online search to uncover this information.
Next, ask about a trial class, or a trial month of classes. Many gyms/ dojos will have some sort of arrangement. If you are interested in more than one style, perhaps you should seek an MMA gym which will teach all of these styles under one roof. But again, do research. Gyms have been known to jump on current fads and claim they teach styles other than their own. They might hire a novice junior instructor to teach the new style, or they might even make it up as they go along. If your Karate school offers kickboxing, ask what the difference is, it might simply be karate kicks demonstrated on a B.O.B. with loud music and much sweat. If this is what you enjoy – go for it. But recognize this is not the same kickboxing utilized in the UFC cage or K1 ring.
c. Pricing: sometimes you pay for the quality of training, sometimes for the luxury of the gym, and sometimes simply because you are being squeezed for more. Ask if the dojo charges for belt promotions or for graduating to the next level classes (I trained at a gym that did this. They made you sign up for a test, and pay a fee before graduating to the L2 Krav Maga class. A good instructor will pay enough attention to measure your skill and allow you to advance when ready without charging $40). This is not in reference to achieving higher level adult belts which require specific testing and often are charged for by the organization granting the belt (also, a money making business, but necessary to regulate the system), but you should not be charged a fee when your child is up for Tae kwon Do yellow belt testing. If the only membership option is a yearly contract, and you are not sure you can make that work – find a place that offers a monthly option. On the other hand, be mindful, it costs money to run a gym, rent, utilities, and association memberships are costly and many instructors struggle to make ends meet. So as long as the fees are not outrageous and you are continuously benefiting from training, respect the gym and your teachers by paying membership dues on time and with a smile.
I will finish this piece off with advice from a great martial artist who fought and won what was arguably the first style vs. style (wrestler against boxer) match back in the 60’s against Milo Savage.
“In the early days of Ultimate Fighting you would have a guy who’s 10th degree in his style and he would go against one of the Gracie kids and get choked out in a matter of minutes. Now that guy was tenth degree… but he would go into his karate pose and get choked out for his trouble… You have it all to take it all and you can’t just train in one style anymore – you have to train in all of them” (Gene LeBell, The Toughest Man Alive).