Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Learning With the Right People

At my first martial arts school, I used to be a part of the testing of students for their belt advancements. Students from satellite schools in different cities would come to test in front of Grand Master Shin. It was always interesting to see the difference in those students and those taught in the mother school. There was always something "off" with the satellite school students. Their technique was just not as sharp as the students from the mother school. It wasn't that they didn't train as hard or were less dedicated, it was because they were learning the techniques second hand, or even third hand, from teachers who barely understood the technique themselves. I always thought that I was fortunate to have learned directly from the source, and got all of the little details that these satellite students missed.

After three months at American Top Team OKC, I have realized that I was the satellite student when learning BJJ and Muay Thai. Again, my instructors and training partners were not incorrect in their instruction. They had passion, but many of the techniques we were left to puzzle out on our own knowing the base technique, but without the details that made the technique most effective.

The time I have to work out is in the mornings, and ATT OKC has a 7am BJJ class, and a 9am Muay Thai class. The good thing here is that, not very many people come to these classes. I will typically get at least one private lesson per week with the head instructor. This has helped out in all kinds of ways. During these private classes, I just ask about details for techniques. Most of the time they are about mistakes or places I get stuck when sparing these instructors... But these small details have lead to great improvement.

In BJJ the improvements that have stuck out the most are when I am in the top position in half guard. I continually got swept, or my opponent re-acquired guard. I thought I was doing everything correct in my technique, but I could never seem to nail it down. The small detail that helped me out the most was where I was putting my base. I was up on both of my knees. This left space for my opponent to sneak a knee in, or to slip under my leg for the sweep, or left me close enough so that my opponent could get an underhook, and escape. One small change was made. Instead of being on both knees, I now go down on to my hip closest to the opponent's head. This puts me on my side, makes prevents my opponent from getting under the leg for the sweep, and puts me far enough away from his arm to prevent the underhook. At the same time, I can still put pressure on his chest, and, since I don't have to worry about the underhook, use my hand to push his knee away, freeing up my joint for the pass.
Such a simple thing, such a big impact on my game.

In Muay Thai, the small detail is to slightly retreat after throwing a combination. I had just been standing in front of my opponent, wide open to counters. With a slight retreat, it makes space for you to begin to circle your opponent, and forces your opponent to move forward for their attack, the extra space gives you time to block or counter. If you don't retreat, you have no time to block or counter, so you get hit.
This small detail has helped tremendously with the flow of my sparring, and with improving my defense. Teep push kicks become much more useful as a distance tool, because now you have the space in which they can be effective to stop opponent's attack.

Good stuff so far at the gym. My worry now is that because I am so frequently the only one at these morning classes, the they will cut them from the schedule. That would put me back in a situation where I would have to find a new gym... And I really don't want to get away from the source.

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