There is a guy named Joel Jamieson who works with a lot of MMA pros. A while ago he showed up on some message boards and got creamed by regulars for appearing to be a snake-oil salesman, until they found out he was actually very knowledgeable about energy systems and MMA. I bought his book a while back and found myself fairly surprised by how much I didn't know about energy systems and improving them. THe basic idea in the book is that MMA obviously involves a lot of different dimensions of energy use, but individuals have varying strengths and weaknesses and cookie-cutter exercise programs aren't going to get the job done. You actually have to find out where you're weak and how to improve on that.

Anyway, last year, Jamieson came up with this assessment idea and called it BioForce. It's still in beta testing, but the idea is that you run yourself through a battery of tests and it spits out data on your absolute and relative strengths and weaknesses. If you're curious about the nuts and bolts you can input your e-mail at and get some interesting PDF documents to read, but if you're just curious about my results, they look like this:

A lot of the raw numbers are pretty underwhelming and unimpressive because the instructions are (imo) super-nitty. Like the triple jump was from a standing start, measured front toe on the first jump to back heel of the last. Chest had to touch the floor on pushups, arms had to be folded and no foot anchor on the situps, bar had to touch chest on bench press, and so on. A lot nittier than I'm used to. Oh well, the idea is not to put up big numbers, it's to see where you're at.

And as you can see, I've got a long way to go! All the scores are on a 10-point scale where 1-3 is beginner, 4-6 is amateur level, 7-8 is professional level and 9-10 is world-class level. From one of the PDFs: "a 10 on the BioForce scale represents a result equal to those at the highest levels, the best of the best in that particular area of physical fitness. Scoring in the upper range of explosive power, a 9 or a 10 for example, would mean
that your explosive power is on par with the best of the sport in that area that I’ve tested...Keep in mind, however, that even the best in the spot will rarely score a 10 in more than one category."

Will test again after my fight and see if the numbers have changed at all. It's unlikely they'll change all that much because you have to undergo specific exercise to promote specific adaptions, but it's probably too close to the fight to do that now.

(kind of) friends-only

I will continue to post general thoughts on MMA and fighting, but specifics including things that I'll be working on, how my training camp is going, and similar such day-to-day training stuff will be private. If you are a friend, you may comment here and I will add you to the whitelist.

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bottom submissions in MMA

It was not long ago that Jon Fitch proclaimed "the guard is dead in MMA", causing much uproar among the jiujitsu community. Now, this is certainly not quite an accurate statement. While being on the bottom in MMA is for the most part quite bad, the guard is still the best of all the bad positions. If you're going to be on the bottom, you want to be in guard. I don't presume to speak for Fitch, but I think his true meaning was something like, "you soon won't be seeing guys regularly tap guys from guard at the elite level," which I think could easily turn out to be an accurate prediction.

It's generally considered the case that it's harder to submit someone from the bottom in MMA than it is in pure no-gi grappling. A lot of functional reasons are given to why this is the case: gloves make it trickier, guys are sweatier, and the most important -- that the bottom guy is regularly getting punched in the face.

Now, I don't want to understate the importance of these things. Getting punched in the face by a guy who is on top of you is no fun. But most people who choose to fight are pretty tough people and they can take a punch. And at my level, there are very few guys who are highly advanced ground-and-pounders who would scramble my brains so much that I would forget jiujitsu. But I want to consider whether there are reasons for the difference that are in fact tactical, things that go beyond the Carlson Gracie adage of "hit a black belt, he turns into a brown belt; hit him again and he turns into a purple belt."

One thing I may have stumbled on is that of holding. There is not nearly as much holding (with the hands) inside the guard in an MMA fight. Suppose we are in a grappling match, and I am playing seated guard, and you are standing over me. One thing you might do is grab my ankles, pin them to the floor, and pass. In MMA you're very unlikely to do this. One is that you'd be worried I'd up-kick you in the face, and the other is that there's no need for it; the path of least resistance is to just pounce on me and punch me in the face.

A lot of guard-submissions in grappling occur from someone making a mistake holding the wrong thing. If you are passing and you pin a wrist, maybe the guy escapes his hips and triangles you. If your hand ends up grabbing the other guy's hip and your elbow is flared, maybe you get hit with a kimura. If you reach too far into someone's guard you can get armbarred. There are all these "bad holds" that the bottom guy can make you do because when you are in the guard, your only goal (unless you're winning on points and trying to stall out the match) is to pass the guard. You have no other strategic options from guard. Passing is the only offensive thing to do.

This is not the case in MMA though, where you really don't have to pass the guard. You can just hit the guy. By hitting the guy you stay in motion and are rarely static (unless you get gassed from all that hitting, at which point you might do something dumb and get tapped). In MMA, because the goal is so singular (pass), and both guys know it, positions are often quite static. You see this from white belt to black belt, even among very athletic, fit guys. It's how BJJ gets the (overused) comparison to chess; often you watch a grappling match and the guys are locked up and both guys take a pause to analyze the position and decide on the best course of action, like chess players staring at the board. Then some guy initiates, the other guy counters, and there is a re-counter and on and on, until a new position is established or someone gets tapped.

In MMA there are some guys who get a reputation for being boring "lay-and-pray" guys. But lay-and-pray isn't really fully accurate. If they literally did nothing but lay on their opponents, they'd get stood up. So they stay active enough not to get stood up and they are submission-savvy enough defensively not to get caught. They keep hitting, and the fight never becomes a grappling match, and the bottom guy doesn't have the opportunity to lock up his opponent to set up a submission or even a sweep.

UFC 129

I haven't done anything meaningful in terms of training since getting to Europe, but was UFC 129 not awesome? So much diversity of finishes: a big left hook counter by Ellenberger, a wicked standing elbow from Ivan Menjivar, a beautiful spinning backfist from Makdessi, a fucking crane kick from Machida and a straight-up "I want my submission of the night bonus money" flying triangle from Garza. Good shit.

I take it back.

...I didn't gas this morning. I gassed this afternoon. And wow, is it a terrible feeling.

I'm not talking about "wow, I feel like crap, I'm going to have to sit out the rest of class." I'm talking about it being 45 minutes after the end of class and I'm still breathing hard, and I'm not sure I could keep down solid food right now. I'm talking about being in the last minute of the last round of sparring and just lying there getting punched in the face because being punched in the face -- as much as that sucks -- feels way easier than expending the effort to escape the poor position. That the mere idea of expending the effort to escape that position makes you want to quit.

MMA is *tough*. I think my standup cardio is about average, and my ground game cardio is about average. But puting it all together is exhausting. The first round of sparring was fun. I was against someone better than me, and in beter shape than me, and I got beat up, but I felt okay. But then I had no rest to take on the second guy, and that was much less fun. I hit a lot of sweeps and threatened a lot of submissions but also got my good positions reversed and pretty much shot my wad on this oen.

I got a two-round rest and got in here again, this time against a guy who has some good hands, but thanks to the morning class I know I have a bit of a technical advantage on the ground. I managed to get it to the ground somehow but in the ensuing scrambles and battles for position I was again toast for the back half of the round. I was still on my hands and knees when the coach, Victor, called my second sparring partner. Victor got me going by saying, "hey, this is what you paid for" and I got to my feet.

I sparred against the same guy but his gas tank was just way better than mine. Again here I was probably the superior technician but that counts for *so* little. He got on top, got me in a crucifix, and just hit me in the face for a minute straight. There's very little that is more demoralizing in fighting than being crucified but I just had absolutely nothing left.

Nevertheless, Victor was definitely right about one thing: this is what I paid for. And while I'm going to be in a *lot* of pain tomorrow, I'm pretty happy about work put in today.

link of the day -- MMA sparring

Came across this very thoughtful and well-written article on sparring in MMA:

The first time that someone participates in sincere sparring, they go from the theoretical to the living; From what they "think" they know, to what they can actually perform. Sparring is the main vehicle that transfers static techniques learned in class, into real fighting skills...

Someone can practice a jab in the mirror or thousands or repetitions on a heavy bag or wooden dummy or even against a compliant partner who knows the jab is coming, but until they can actually deliver the jab while sparring against someone trying to avoid their strikes, (and counter) they have not integrated that skill into their fighting and when the stress and contact level of sparring rises, the skills they can rely on will narrow to their most engrained, most successful techniques.

Or, in other words, "boards don't hit back."

Dominance MMA in Melbourne, Australia

Despite having obligations for HeroPoker and the actual playing of the Aussie Millions, I did manage to get a reasonable amount of training in Melbourne. In fact, Hero wanted to do some lifestyle stuff to promote the pros, so we actually hired a private MMA class for me, Gavin, and David Jung. I think the idea was to get some footage of me looking really badass and tough. But somewhat embarrassingly, in the sparring round I got taken down by David (who weighs about 280 and has a judo background) and got laid on for a while. Kind of pathetic that I couldn't sweep him or get up at all. My only solace is that he nearly died on the mat and spent the rest of the week complaining about one of the three leg kicks I managed to hit him with.

As for the gym itself, I've never seen a gym so professionally run. And my home gyms (in Vancouver and HK) are both very well-run. Most gyms are informal as heck, which can be great, but it often means they're really unreliable. This gym had proper people at reception who were in contact with the owners, knew policies and so forth, and were very accommodating about setting up our private lesson and filming. The mats were high-quality (the Australian Olympic judo team practices on them) and the facility was very clean and large. At the end of both the Muay Thai class I did there was a speech about upcoming seminars and fight, a notice about a guy at the gym who is giving massage at a good rate, but also reminders to keep clean and hygienic and respecting partners. I've visited so many gyms that just simply did not care. Everything would be run on a totally ad-hoc basis. But without a doubt this place has their shit together. They also seemed to be doing a good job of getting their newer students into competition fairly quickly; I noticed a board of upcoming fights where fighters with only a few months of experience were getting amateur Muay Thai matches. In my experience it's pretty rare to see gyms actively going out there to get experience for their newer guys, and this was nice to see.

The drawback for such professionalism is, as you might guess, is some amount of inflexibility. They weren't able to offer me any kind of rate for the two weeks I'd be in town, so I had to shell out $25 for each training lesson, so coupled with round-trip cab rides it was over $50 per training session. Certainly would not be worth it to anyone, but I'm fairly price-inelastic about my training so it worked for me. All around a thumbs-up for DMMA.

Fight Zone/Check Mat Copacabana

I've trained at Fight Zone/Check Mat in Copacabana four times now. It has been an exceptionally humbling experience. The first day I showed up at the end of the class because I was told the class started at 5:30 when it had in fact started at 4:30. Still, I rolled a couple of times with some of the guys who were still keen to roll, and got thoroughly smashed. I was astounded when in a room of 15 people, there were no blue or white belts except me and a guy from Britain. I did the 10:30 class on Tuesday and Wednesday morning and there were more blues and whites, but because it's competition season, they added a 12 noon competition class. 7-minute rounds, start from standing, for the entire duration of the class. Simply badass.

I stayed to watch this session on Wednesday and it was amazing. I counted 12 black belts and maybe a half dozen browns and purples. The German girl I was talking to was saying that there were more black belts in the room than in all of Germany, and I believe it. It was amazing to watch this incredibly high level of grappling. And they were not "rolling", they were going at it, hard. They were still cognizant of each others' safety, but they fought for every inch. You can tell these guys are in full-on competition mode. I saw one pair locked up in the 50/50 for over two minutes, neither willing to budge. But for the most part, it didn't look like actual tournament fights where guys are super-conservative for fear of giving up advantages. Most of the guys were attacking aggressively and dynamically. It brought to mind a hockey or football scrimmage, but with much greater intensity. And the skill level is so incredibly apparent. When you watch blue belts roll, you can see them set up their moves and attacks. They all have things they are really good at, and they are familiar with a majority of the common positions. But black belts can get twisted into the most weird, subtle, complex positions and still work out where they want to be and how they want to get there. They may not all study leverage and biomechanics, but on some level they clearly just know it, in the same way that some very un-mathy but elite poker pros know when they are getting the right price in a pot.

The schedule here is very simple: they train four times a day, Monday through Friday, and always in the gi. The gym is spacious with good quality (though very thin) matting, but there is little ventilation and it is stiflingly hot. There are two fans which I've never seen turned on. Some of the gringos speculated to me that head instructor Ricardo Vieira likes it that way to toughen people up for competition. I know I've been dripping buckets of sweat. I've really never felt as hot and gross and exhausted as I have been training in Rio these last few days. I've trained in greater heat in Thailand but in Muay Thai you are not wearing a gi and with some heavy guy all over you. I've gone through two liters of water in each 90-minute class, and I haven't even been training that hard. In Vancouver or in Curitiba, training five or six rounds was not any problem at all. But today in Rio, it was at least 35 degrees with 80% humidity. Today was the first time I was actually able to do more than two rounds, and I'm sure a lot of that had to do with going against less experienced sparring partners. A lot of the gringoes say it takes over a week to get used to it, which means I won't really have enough time. Oh well, mental toughness and all.

One interesting thing they do here is that the same techniques are taught all week. This week we have been escaping the back. Each of the classes I've been to, we did the same eight escapes from the back, and as such, I can easily recall them all:

1. From turtle, trap the opponent's far-side wrist, roll through and sweep.
2. From turtle, try for (1), but if opponent blocks it by posting his far leg, go to all fours and duck your head underneath which forces his arm to bend back as though in a kimura. You will typically take the top position somehow instead of submitting him.
3. Opponent does not hold you tightly, so you aren't able to trap the wrist. Simply fall on the hip to guard.
4. Same as (3), but the classic shoulder roll into guard.
5. Opponent gets double underhooks and jumps on your back. Fall to your side, scoot your butt to the ground. Keep your hands on his chest as you retract your trapped legs, then sprawl on your opponent's legs and pass.
6. Opponent gets double underhooks and jumps on your back. Fall to your side, then go to all fours, jump over your opponent, sprawl on your opponent's legs and pass.
7. Opponent already has one hook in, the top hook. Get your butt to the side where you have a free hip.
8. Opponent has the bottom hook in. Go to all fours, jump, extract your half-guard trapped leg, sprawl on opponent's legs and pass.

This is so interesting to me because if instead of learning all eight movements three times, I just learned 3 of them on each day, there's no way I'd remember all of these different escapes. But because of the way we've done it, it's much more ingrained into my memory and hopefully also my muscle memory. If one day way in the future I ever run a school or act as an instructor, I will definitely do it this way.