Krav Maga is not Muay Thai…..

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So the other day I came across a local MMA school that over the years has altered their syllabus several times in respect to what they teach. On this occasion I was surprised to see that they are now teaching Krav Maga… I found that interesting as there are not a great deal of Krav Maga gyms in my city and wondered who they had studied under here and what their affiliations were. I was not able to find any of that information on the website, what I did find however was their stated ambition that they wish to teach Krav Maga in such a way as to ‘return it to its roots in Muay Thai’….

I confess that I found that an interesting statement, especially since I have spent quite some time studying the history and lineage of Krav Maga and the founder Imi Litchtenfeld and some of his first students. It is my view that there is absolutely no evidence at all that Krav Maga has or had any roots at all in Muay Thai.

Let me be quite open and say that I am not knocking the martial art of Muay Thai, there is a reason that it is becoming popular and that it is because of its sheer efficiency and skill set. I also have a massive amount of respect for the way that students build up their leg muscles like rock to withstand repeated kicking and bruising in training. People could do a lot worse than taking some training in Muay Thai if the opportunity was presented to them.

Yet the fact remains that Krav Maga is not Muay Thai no matter how much someone wishes to make it appear that is the case.

What we do know is that Imi Litchtenfeld first combined Western Boxing and Wrestling together to defend himself and his people in the pogroms of Europe. We then know that he joined the British armed forces and learnt their combat training and applied it in fighting for the allies in northern Africa. We know that after the war Imi made his life in Israel where he worked to develop his system of Krav Maga. The first two black belts awarded in Krav Maga were to people that had training in Judo and Aikido. At this point some of the discussion about the development of Krav Maga goes on to become conjecture at best. Yet it is blatantly obvious to even a novice scholar that its ‘roots’ are in wrestling and western boxing.

It becomes difficult to really prove with any level of primary documentation what influences fed into Krav Maga post WW2. There is some evidence that rather than Thai, that the indigenous martial arts of the Philippine Islands – Kali/ Escrima were an influence into Krav Maga. There is some evidence to suggest that some Jewish people did find refuge in the Philippine Islands going back as early as being persecuted by Spain and through to prior to WW2. It is suggested that some of these people may have returned to Israel with this knowledge accordingly.  Yet again it sounds okay in theory, but having actual primary documents to prove it becomes somewhat more of a difficult challenge.

Perhaps the other thing to consider is what we traditionally call the ‘Taekwondo Breaking Techniques’ taught in several schools of Krav Maga, and by this I mean the specific training techniques to counter the Muay Thai style high kicks and to simultaneously counter attack someone that is attempting to kick you. Some examples are the necking technique where the kick is stepped into, the attacker is taken around the neck, taken to the ground and either has their neck broken or is choked out. Alternatively the stepping back and striking  the groin technique. The point that I am making here is that Krav Maga trains pretty openly to counter high kicking techniques, so why then would we wish to go to a point where we have to then introduce foreign content into Krav Maga when there is already a specific reason and training syllabus for what that content is not there in the first place?

It is also suggested that Muay Thai has been itself influenced by Western Boxing and French Savate.  in its own striking patterns, defences and feet movements. Yes the stances are different, yet not all of the striking content is as different as you might consider if you care to study it for yourself.

Perhaps it is a nice Idea in theory.-  Yet not really all that practicable when you go a little deeper into it.

Shalom!

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Some good advice there, – in an ideal world you would have been able to ‘walk away’ or have defused the entire situation before it got started, yet the reality is that if someone wants to start a fight with you, it will not have been done in any manner that is ‘fair’, most likely you will find yourself having to respond after being hit from behind. As is stated above, if you do find yourself in that situation where someone has struck you and is preparing to get off several more then you do need to ‘make damn sure you win”.

Krav Maga, – So that one may walk in peace.

Bodybuilding and Aikido

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Bodybuilding and Aikido,- at first glance this might seem something like water and oil and the fact that most people may assume that the two just do not mix! Yet if we go a little deeper into the subject we can see that both Bodybuilding and Aikido can in fact be in harmony together and can compliment one another.

To start out, it is important to realise that Aikido and Muscle Training have numerous health benefits for those that wish to give it a try. Aikido maintains health and teaches people falling techniques that can be used in older age. Muscle Training is  now being recommended for Over 40’s to restore and replenish muscle mass with the result of reversing some of the negative aspects of the ageing process. Google ‘Muscle Training and Parkinson’s Disease’ and some interesting research comes up.

When we look at the early life of O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba we learn that he made his living by being a logger with hand held tools. Reports from the time suggest that he was physically strong and well developed in muscle. Prior to his creation of Aikido he was a champion of Daito-Ryu Jujitsu and trained physically under his master Takeda Sokaku. Still we do know that O’Sensei goes on to teach the principals of “Ki” as opposed to physical strength.

From the point of view of body building, If you first put yourself in the shoes of someone who is serious about training in body building you will soon realise the sheer commitment level that body builders put into their programmes. – Training different body parts usually six days a week often early AM and then afternoon / PM training and strict adherence to protein based diets along with strict supplement programmes are par for the course. At the same time studying the various muscle groups of the body and getting to know your own body and working out via trail and error what works and what does not work. It is a 24/7 commitment.

An Aikidoka conversely will have a training programme of their own, usually time spent in the dojo doing training hours, learning techniques and preparing for gradings. The amount of time spent there will depend largely on the individual Aikidoka and how much time they wish to put into it. Many will invest time into learning philosophy and history of Aikido and how to apply Aikido to different areas of their everyday lives.

I think that there can be a common stereotypical misconception amongst people in general that if you are into body building that you are some type of ego driven person with comments made along the lines of “all brawn and no brains” and so forth. The reality is very different. People that train in body building come from all walks of life and its is ridiculous to make those type of statements, as is making comments that any one that is good at body building ‘must be on steroids’ that is another fallacy more often that not perpetuated by people that are simply jealous. Yet as is the case with chinese whispers, if you distort the truth and continue to repeat it you generally end up believing it yourself. Many people that train are ‘gentle giants’ and great candidates to train Aikido.

One of the selling points of Aikido is that anyone can do it irrespective of physical ability. Perhaps people get a little carried away here, yet the fact remains that Aikido is inclusive of all different types of people from all different types of background and that it uses a persons own strength against them very effectively. Yet it is also true that people that are physically strong can also learn Aikido techniques and use them in the same way.

There are however two problems that people that have strong amounts of muscle mass will find on an Aikido mat, – firstly the lack of flexibility can be a problem, not so much for the person but for your training partner that needs to maneuverer your arms into the lock positions. For people that have build up their lats, delts and so forth it can be hard to physically get the arm behind into these positions. Secondly and I mean no offence here, you will soon discover that there are Aikido techniques that do not work on people that have their muscles pumped up. This can come as somewhat of a surprise to an unsuspecting person. The reason is this, when you train your muscles you do both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ techniques to build your muscles. Training your deltoid muscles for example trains you to be able to stretch your shoulders / arms out against heavy weights. When someone then locks your arm our shoulder, your ability to push and pull from muscles that in most people are relatively weak is increased to the point where you can easily break out of the lock or pin that is being applied. The key thing here for the Aikidoka is to realise that its okay for not every technique to work in every circumstance and to have the capacity to simply switch techniques to ones that do work in the situation that you find yourself in.

When you repeatedly train your muscles it can become both fatiguing and hard to stay motivated. Aikido is the perfect counter as you can go and train Aikido and learn to use your body in a completely different way that works around the flow of energy as opposed to the creation of energy via force. By learning Aikido movements such as Tenkan, Irimi and Tai Sabaki you are able to feel your body move out of the constant repetition in movement in training fixed techniques.

Perhaps on reflection Aikido and BodyBuilding may seem to be polar opposites, yet even polar opposites curve around and meet one another at some point. As Yin balances Yan, Aikido and Bodybuilding can compliment one another if you are willing to give them a try and to experiment with both yourself. If you train Aikido, perhaps try not to take a blinkered view that there is no point in weight training because your techniques don’t need to come from a position of strength, yet perhaps look at how body building can enhance and further train your body – take for example a simple ‘chin up’ on a bar, is it reasonable that if you hang from an overhead bar that you might be able to complete at least one chin up with your own body weight? Doing so will enhance your health dramatically and at the same time strengthen your body for repeated breakfalling techniques as you train as the uke in your dojo. If you are a serious body builder, do yourself a favour and attend a training session at an Aikido dojo, It can feel awkward and strange to have your own joints reversed upon themselves and to be taught how to breakfall forwards and backwards, yet learning the fluidity of body movement and not the automatic reliance on muscle memory can also enhance your capacity to train your muscles further in new ways.

Its my view that Aikido and Bodybuilding have a lot to offer each other irrespective of how both might be portrayed in our media today. That has been my experience and I suspect if you look into it also that you to might end up coming to a similar conclusion!

What does Aikido offer to people today?

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If we were to take a straw poll of the reasons that keep Aikidoka practicing Aikido today, I suspect we would likely get a fairly diverse group of answers. The popular ones could be along the lines of – Self Defence, Fitness, Confidence, Health, Spirituality and our list could clearly go on with a number of other good suggestions.

These are all good reasons to train Aikido, yet at the same time I do think that a similar list could fairly easily be raised for any number of martial arts.

Along these lines then, what is it, that this system of Aikido that dates back to the 1930’s really offers for people in our modern world today?

This is not an easy question to answer, yet I would like to at least try and put up a few thoughts for your consideration.

It is my view that O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba was a mere mortal not unlike anyone else, yet at the same time I believe he held certain attitudes that gave him prophetic insights into the future and into our modern era today. O’Sensei was a soldier for Japan in the Japan Russo war and he had trained under Takeda Sōkaku a man who had killed people. O’Sensei reached a point where he eschewed violence and went his own way, he openly refused the request of the imperial Japanese leadership to train Aikido to people to use it for training for WW2, he not only refused but packed up his dojo and went to a rural area in Japan and encouraged people that although Japan would fall to the west in the war, that it would be a good thing for the nation and that the true nature of the Art of Peace would be realised, 

When someone joins an Aikido dojo and begins to learn Aikido, they are learning the same Art of Peace that O’Sensei had in mind for the future world including all of us today. I reflect here on the fact of the violence that O’Sensei had been exposed too in his life and see the fact that many of the rest of us have been constantly bombarded with more of the same for most of our lives. Modern terrorism, wars, hatred all seem to be par for the course and saturated on our media 24/7. Perhaps one answer can be to go on to learn a martial art or combat system and learn to fight fire with fire, one popular quote is ‘if a man comes to kill you, kill him first’, and it is along these lines that many people openly live their lives.

Yet then we have people like myself who experience violence and at the same time see how futile it actually is. Hollywood might make fighting out to be something that defines people as something to be revered and emulated. The reality is that even when its in pure self defence and you injure someone, you feel terrible, your actions go on to live with you throughout your life span.

What Aikido offers you is a chance to put things right in yourself. It is okay to have a desire to wish to reject violence and to want another way to live your life and Aikido offers you that. My experience was that training in aggressive martial arts began to negatively affect my personality and brought me unwanted feelings of aggression and began to change my personality. Aikido helped me rebalance my life, not just the physical actions and training of Aikido, but with the study of the philosophy of Aikido as taught by O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei, Sensei Abbe and Terry Dobson amongst others.

In a way, I cant tell you or convey to you what it is that I have learnt via the study of the masters of Aikido, we each walk our own path and sometimes you have to feel something to really experience it in your own life. What I can do is simply encourage you to go deeper, far deeper into Aikido, into a place that exists beyond the external techniques and movements. There is more, much more, yet you have to be the one to step out and experience it for yourself.

Can a person really come to a place where they feel their life changing to the point where they make the choice to reject violence, abuse and hatred? That has been my story, perhaps it could be yours if you are are prepared to go deeper into Aikido!

Shalom!

Training in an Old School Gym.

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Recently I went in for a tour of a new 24 hour gym that has opened in my city, a number of these chains are opening up at present, there is generally no room for Cardio classes, but a selection of exercise machines, a section for free weights and cable resistance machines. To the novice gym user it all looks pretty good, a good selection of modern equipment, albeit crammed into somewhat of a smaller shopfront styled space. The joining fee is $99 – but not if I sign up today to take part in their ‘special offer’. Interestingly I also have to pay $99 for my special ‘access key’ to get me into that gym or any of their franchises across the city. Then finally $700 will fix me up for a 12 month membership.  Naturally for some additional fees I can even pay them weekly, fortnightly or even monthly!

My own gym is not a modern 24 hour gym and is a cavern of various rooms, having been built originally as a squash centre and then at some stage when the popularity of playing Squash in Australia began to decline,  converted and redesigned to become a gym. There are still various tell tale signs of the old squash courts and reception area. There is a large area for Cardio class workouts, a women’s only gym area, a large selection of exercise cardio equipment, spin room, childcare facilities and a large weight training and cable resistance machine area. It is however old and you can tell the various eras that the equipment has been purchased by the colour and type of the equipment. Cooling is provided by the way of antiquated evaporative coolers slung from the ceiling and heating via ancient gas flued heaters plumbed into the aerated concreate block walls. Musical entertainment is provided by a massive ‘Hi-Fi’ styled system that replays VH1 from cable with speakers conveniently located over the cardio areas. Still the equipment is old and you can find chips and even rust on some of that equipment, some of the upholstery has been taped or repaired with a slightly different coloured vinyl.  the walls and the floor have been patched several times after being damaged by people dropping weights  -despite the signs asking members not to.

Conversely down at the 24/7 shopfront gym all the equipment is new and sparkling. Yet upon closer inspection, all is not really as it appears to be. The first thing that catches my eye is the allocated space for free weights. Three benches in front of a weight rack and a mirror. Having spent plenty of time working on the bench I can tell you that being crammed in like a sardine in that area is not going to work out well for you and your training partners. Often two benches cross ways can be required for different sets depending on where you are with your programme. Ideally you need a 360deg space around you for your various techniques to be done effectively and to provide a safe working area for you and the other members, it is not a good thing to skimp out on! Then I notice the maximum weight size on the dumbbell rack – 45kg (99lbs). Personal choice only but to get into serious body building territory a pair of 68kg (150lbs) dumbbells really should be available along with incremental sizes to 68kg. Moving on to the pin loaded machines I notice the same problem, a pin loaded stack that maxes out at 100kg (220lbs). Whilst I accept that all people are different, anyone that has any real tenacity and trains regularly is likely going to be through the stacks on most of those machines in less than 12 months.

The manager of the gym came over to me and gave me the sales pitch and I made enquiries about the fee structure then said that I would ‘let them know’ when I was ready. Whilst I have no intention of joining, I did come away with several unanswered questions. Largely if they really want serious people to train there with the intention of building muscle and hard training? I wondered how such people would be received there? Perhaps I also felt a little uneasy at this point, I love muscle training and martial arts, it concerns me that new people who know little about what they are getting themselves into can be so easily sold into something that really does not meet their needs. Sadly the realisation is that for many gyms, the five minutes that they are interested in you and your training is the five minutes that you are there before signing the paperwork and hand over the $8-$900 for the 12 months membership, at which point they hope you will then simply not return freeing up the space for prospective new members to repeat the cycle.

I then reflected on my own gym, old and ragged as it may be. I thought of the various friendships that I have made there, the members that will happily spot for and train with you if you need a training partner. I thought of some of the older members that are both ripped in physique and only too happy to have a chat and give advice to new members starting out on the journey. It occurs to me that many of the techniques that work the best for me, come from having trained with and watching more experienced members running through their sets at our gym. It is true that much of our gear is old school, yet it is also potently effective in getting real results as opposed to disappointment.

I hope my gym is there for many more years to come, I hope we don’t ever end up getting new owners and new plans  to change it all to compete with the mainstream shopfront gyms. I feel that the product we have is what people want, I hope people do not make the mistake of judging the book by the cover and discovering that they have bought a flog (1), because of slick sales talk and poor knowledge of the product…

(1)  flog. A brilliant multi-purpose word: (verb) to sell something. Generally the price is either low or the goods are dodgy.

Well…, you just have superior genetics…

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There is an experience that you will no doubt encounter as you move from being a beginner in your training and into the intermediate stage as you begin to build muscle and develop your techniques to a level that gives you recognition amongst your peers that train with you.

This experience is simply jealousy… Jealousy from individuals, family members, work colleagues and perhaps even from people that you consider to be your friends,

When you set out on your journey into Martial Arts or Gym Training. You may think that the people around you might well be happy and even pleased for you when you overcome the various obstacles and make progress.. Sometimes it can come as somewhat of a surprise to discover that in cases it simply invokes an acidic response based around jealousy.

The classic comment is “Well…, you just have superior genetics…”

The comment that ‘superior genetics’ is required for a person to become good at weight training or martial arts is total and utter BS. ‘Superior genetics’ don’t give you the determination to train and to keep on training when it gets tough and not to walk away and give up.

If you have done your homework and chosen the Marital Art and Gym Programme that is right for you, with the right attitude and commitment, you can achieve realistic goals if you really are prepared to put in the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to get you there, it is as simple as that.

The fact is that people that simply dismiss your gains as genetics do so, because you remind them of what they feel bad about in themselves. If you are prepared to be at the gym at 6:00am in the morning for training, then you can, and you will achieve your dream.

Let me leave you with an old but true saying,

“DO TODAY what others WON’T. So TOMORROW you can DO what OTHERS can’t ….’

The size of the fight in the dog.

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It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

This quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, yet that is not actually able to be confirmed in any primary document. What we do know however is that the quote is an older quote and has more than just one meaning.

My personal view of this quote is that it is a good example of perseverance as opposed to fighting someone with your fists as many may take it to mean.

For many people the ‘fight’ is not 30 seconds of flailing about with fists, but rather a long term fight that they are having perhaps with themselves, perhaps with someone else, to overcome some type of personal hardship or struggle.

In our training in Martial Arts or Combat systems we train for and learn methods to counter various types of physical attacks. Yet often we can find ourselves in life being overwhelmed with problem that are not a physical attack, but perhaps an emotional or spiritual problem. Financial problems, relationships with others, family, the list can go on and on depending on your personal circumstances.

It is my view that our training in Martial Arts can in fact help us overcome other types of problems if we utilise some of the same attitudes and strategies that we take into training.

As per the quote above, – ‘Perseverance’. Anyone who has trained for a grading will have some idea of the personal cost that is involved in the grading process, – hours of training, failing, repointing your techniques, being corrected, learning from your Sensei or Instructor, performing under pressure, overcoming and finally achieving your goal. The thing to remember here is that many of the problems that you may be struggling with did not simply appear overnight, often these problems occurred over several years and simple fixes are not always going to happen overnight. By utilising patience and perseverance along with a commitment to put the effort into working on your problem can in fact bring it to a resolution, it sounds easy enough until the subject comes up of being personally prepared and committed to putting in the time to deal with those problems.

In Aikido, the techniques can work around using an opponent’s own strength against them, allowing a person of lesser strength to overcome a stronger person. – Parrying, Deflection, Movement, Pressure Points, Joint Manipulation, Atemi Points all come into play here. Often you can use your techniques to work your opponent into the space that you wish them to be in where you can apply the technique that you feel will work for you. A similar scenario can occur when we face a larger problem in our own lives, as opposed to meeting it head on we can parry it into position and work around the problem and even carry that problem to move it to where we can get to a place where we can effectively deal with that problem – having laid in the ground work and being confident in our own mind where we are going to head with it and what it is that we are going to do with it when we get to that point.

If you read many self-help books and literature, you will find an unrealistic belief system that suggests that positive thinking alone will assist you to deal with problems and that as a result these problems will simply disappear. The fact is that problems that you are committed to resolving need to be carried and managed by you in the best way possible and a strategy put in place to take care of them. By placing perseverance into the forefront of your positive thinking, you can overcome what you are facing right now if you are prepared to commit to the long haul to do what it takes to make it happen.

Addendum,

If you would like to take this subject a little further, Let me recommend you to a great book “Aikido in Everyday Life” by Terry Dobson. In this book Terry Dobson discusses both Verbal Aikido and Aikido techniques used in everyday life situations. It is a great read and a great addition to your collection of books on martial arts and combat systems. –  http://www.amazon.com/Aikido-Everyday-Life-Giving-Your/dp/1556431511