Rey Diogo seminar review

Way back before I moved to Lexington, I started my BJJ training under Mike Patt, head instructor at the Dayton MMA Academy. It’s always fun to stop by and see how the school has grown over the years.

The reason for the visit this weekend was a seminar with Rey Diogo. Ricardo “Rey” Diogo is a 4th degree black belt under Carlson Gracie Senior with an impressive list of tournament championships. He’s also an excellent instructor and a generally nice guy. I had attended a couple of his seminars previously and was looking forward to this one.

The class was devoted exclusively to the sportive aspect of BJJ, primarily competition with the gi. The theme for the day was passing the closed guard and the half-guard. Rey didn’t show anything wild or esoteric. All the moves were either high-percentage fundamentals or else variations built on those fundamentals. I learned several new variations on old techniques and picked up some subtle details on the standard variations that I was already familiar with.

Rey is an exceptionally engaged instructor. As we drilled the techniques, he would continually move around the mat, watching every student, giving feedback as necessary and making himself available for questions. Several times after answering a question for one student he would gather the group together to share the point that had been raised.

At the end of the class, Rey made himself available for a Q&A session covering any topic that students cared to bring up. At every point in the day he was friendly, encouraging, and enthusiastic.

I’d like to thank Mike Patt and Dayton MMA for hosting the seminar, Professor Diogo for teaching a great class, my friend Oscar Kallet for paying my way, and both Oscar and Mike Cox for helping me fix the flat tire I discovered at the end of the seminar.

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An interesting experience

The other week I was contacted by a gentleman who had read this blog and asked if I was interested in a paid gig writing short self-defense related articles “aimed at beginners interested in protecting themselves against random attacks” for another website. From the vagueness about the website in question I figured it was probably a content farm, but I went ahead and submitted a proposal with my qualifications and the rates I would charge. Shortly thereafter I received an enthusiastic e-mail from the owner of the website, stating that he was interested in a long-term collaboration and providing me with links to his website.

I was wrong. It wasn’t a content farm. It was, to be blunt, a scam. The front page of the website was nothing but a video with a sales pitch. The speaker opened with an account of being woken up in the middle of the night by home invaders with a gun pointed to his head and how those invaders proceeded to brutalize his family while he watched helplessly. (Really, the whole thing could have been lifted from a movie script.) He then went on to explain how this event motivated him to create a remarkable self-defense system which would allow anyone, regardless of age or fitness, to effortlessly defeat anyone from armed gangs to trained MMA fighters. Since he was now too busy training celebrity bodyguards to teach everyone who needed this information, he was offering an instructional video which would confer invulnerability for the following, low, low price …

I used occasionally to see these sorts of spiels in the martial arts magazines ads. I wonder if you can still find them there or if the search for suckers has entirely moved to the internet.

The owner of the site had thoughtfully provided me with a link to the actual video being sold. This was possibly even worse. A guy who had obviously never practiced any form of martial arts in his life appeared to read from an off-screen prompt while demonstrating moves that he might have found in a basic self-defense book but didn’t understand how to peform correctly. Judging from his thick accent, he was not the same person who had delivered the sales pitch.

I wrote back to the owner asking why he thought any legitimate martial artist would want to be associated with such a scam. We ended up talking for a bit. He swore that he had just bought the site from someone else and was looking to “improve the product.” I made it clear that the “product” was beyond improvement and that he would have to start over from scratch if he wanted to offer something legitimate. I declined the opportunity to record a new video for him, but said I would be willing to write some articles if he started a new website that wasn’t built on blatant lies.

Amusement factor aside, I thought I’d highlight some tidbits from this bit of silliness that are worth pointing out to the unaware.

1) “…protecting themselves against random attacks” – Violent attacks are generally not random. They have reasons, they have patterns, they have rules. If you don’t understand them, then they may seem random. If you do understand them, then you are on track for learning how to defend yourself before the violence even starts.

2) Focus on the most likely situations, not the scariest. The scamster’s story starts with home invaders who had silently gotten past locked doors and an expensive security system in order to wake up his family with guns to their heads. Later on he mentions that his system would enable the buyer to protect his family after the government fails, society collapses, and armed gangs openly roam the streets. These scenarios make for exciting movies, but they aren’t anywhere near the top of the list of things to worry about in real life for most people.

3) There are no secrets. If there really were some simple technique that you could easily learn from a video that would enable you to instantly destroy an armed attacker, then who do you think would be the first to learn it? That’s right – the same people who you would want to defend yourself from. In real life there are no magic tricks to fighting. If you want to defeat someone who has the advantage in size, weaponry, numbers, or surprise, then you better be willing to put in a lot of hours of hard, hard work. This leads us to …

4) There are no guarantees. You might be the best martial artist on the face of the planet, but if you are taken by surprise by a gang of bloodthirsty, well-armed attackers then your odds are not good. Dedicated practice with a good instructor may give you a chance to defeat an attacker who is bigger and stronger, or who has a weapon, or who has a couple of buddies, or who catches you by surprise. It does not make you invincible.

Ultimately, scams like this one are aimed at people who find the world scary and want something magical to eliminate that uncertainty. Because this particular example is so overblown, it’s easy to point and say that only the most gullible would fall for it. It’s good to bear in mind that there are more subtle ways that we can all fall into the same trap of wanting some perfect guarantee of safety and success. Life is inherently uncertain. It’s best to accept that and move on.

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An Experiment in Progress

Periodically I get jealous of the guys who are really, really good at jiu-jitsu and I vow to try to catch up somehow. Perhaps I can take my lunch break to attend the noon classes or start being more consistent about making it to all the weekend classes.

The problem is that my almost 50-year old body has only so much capacity for healing and recovery. I average 12 hours per week on the mats doing jiu-jitsu. Occasionally I do more, but I can maintain higher levels of training only so long before I become one big walking mass of pain and injuries. What I need is some sort of training supplement that doesn’t break me down. Yoga is helpful for recovery, but doesn’t do much to help my technique. Conditioning exercises are boring. Instructional videos are fun, but they just add to the backlog of techniques I need to spend time drilling with a partner.

A possible solution came to me the other week. I was preparing for a recent Neil Adams seminar by reading his 1986 book A Life In Judo. Adams mentions that he always kept up a daily training diary. He recorded not only the techniques and training methods that he was learning, but also the details of each randori or shiai session, his observations of other competitors, and how he felt physically and mentally each day. He claims that maintaining this training diary helped his development enormously.

This seemed like something I could do to accelerate my growth without overloading my body. I have tried to take notes on my training before, but have been sabotaged by my illegible handwriting. This time I decided to use technology and to be more disciplined with my approach. Each evening before bed I type up a detailed account of the days training. I review each technique and training drill that I practiced along with any details I’ve learned. I review each class I taught, with observations of how well the students are absorbing the material. I review each sparring session, with as much as I can remember about what was working for me and for my sparring partner. I record my physical and mental state for the day. Once I’ve typed everything up, I save copies on my computer, in the cloud, and I print out a hard copy for my training notebook.

Already I’m noticing a few things. Spending the time to mentally review and visualize the details of the days training is helping me to remember things much better even without going back to read my notes. Doing it shortly before bedtime helps my brain to fix those details in long-term memory. I’m realizing how much I was forgetting before starting the diary – and I probably have a better natural memory than most people for the nuances of training.

It does take a certain amount of willpower to make myself spend 30 minutes typing up my notes after I get back from a 3 hour training session. It helps my motivation to think of this as actual training time and not just a writing exercise.

This is an experiment in progress. I’ll report back in 6 months with an evaluation of what impact the journal-keeping has on my actual progress in jiu-jitsu.

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Neil Adams Seminar Review

If you know anything about judo, you know who Neil Adams is: World champion. Two-time Olympic medalist. Five-time European champion. 8th dan. Author of numerous books and videos. Adams is one of the foremost judo instructors in the world.

Being familiar with Adams’ name and accomplishments, I was thrilled to learn that he would be coming to my town for a seminar, sponsored by the University of Kentucky Judo Club and by the Valhalla Academy. I was even more thrilled when the decision was made to hold the seminar at my home gym – Four Seasons Martial Arts. (At a ridiculously low price as well. Don’t get me wrong – I’m grateful – but I would have been willing to pay significantly more.)

Despite my excitement, a part of me was wondering how much I would be prepared to actually learn from a judo legend. My judo skills are … rudimentary at best. Obviously Adams would have a lot to offer the advanced competitor, but would he be showing much that was relevant for someone who still struggles with the basics?

I needn’t have worried. Adams is a world-class teacher as well as judoka. Participants at the seminar ranged from white belt up to at least 6th dan*, and I suspect that everyone was able to take away something of value.

*(6th dan Eberhard Kieslich was on hand to act as an uke and I saw many other senior instructors from the Kentucky judo community. Miscellaneous note – at BJJ seminars I’m used to being the oldest person present. That was far from the case for this class.)

For warmups, instead of the standard calisthenics, Adams had us playing judo-relevant movement games. We started out moving around the mat in fighting stance, trying not to run into anyone else in the crowd. Then we had to try touching other participants on the left shoulder without being touched ourselves (no blocking allowed, only movement). Then we tried touching the right shoulder, then the back. Then we tried to grab sleeve grips, then lapel grips without being grabbed ourselves. No blocking, only constant movement.

Once we were warmed up, we got down to serious instruction. Adams covered a variety of techniques, primarily tai otoshi, uchimata, some gripping tactics, and some entries into juji gatame. Besides the specific techniques being demonstrated, he focused quite a bit on the underlying principles that apply to all the tachi waza. He came back repeatedly to emphasizing proper head position and the coordination between feet and hands.

I came to realize that I have been fundamentally misunderstanding tai otoshi and uchimata for as long as I have been practicing them. I have some work ahead of me to reprogram old habits.

One thing that was different about Adams’ teaching approach: all the throws and entries were applied off of movement with our partners. There were no static uchikomis. Adams actually refused to dictate any specific footwork for an entry. He pointed out that the standard stepping patterns we all normally learn in our initial judo classes don’t really work that way once both parties are moving around. Instead, he wanted to make sure we understood exactly the position we should be in relative to uke at the moment of the throw and then find our own footwork to arrive there in the moment.

After the seminar Adams took questions and offered insights into a number of topics, from the process that led to the recent changes in the rules of judo to effective ways of coaching and practicing.

I’d like to thank Robert Burge of the UK Judo Club and Brian Jones of the Valhalla Academy for arranging this amazing training opportunity.
Neil Adams seminar group picture

Update: Brian has posted a short interview with Neil Adams that took place immediately after the seminar. Neil Adams interview

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Carlson Gracie Jr Seminar Review

Sometimes it just takes a while before I’m ready for certain lessons.

I’ve mentioned before that I love attending weekend training seminars. Over the years I’ve attended dozens of seminars taught by a wide range of instructors covering a variety of arts. Besides the fun of learning new material and meeting new training partners, it’s always interesting to see how different teachers approach the same art.

My BJJ instructor is a second-degree black belt under Carlson Gracie Jr., so we get Carlson out to our gym about twice a year for seminars. I’ll be honest. When I first started showing up for those seminars (as a blue belt) Carlson was my least favorite of all the BJJ instructors I had seen. He didn’t have the fluid agility I’d encountered in practitioners like Renzo Gracie. Despite being 5 years younger than I am, Carlson moved like an old man with bad knees. Of the material he showed, half I thought I’d seen before and the other half I didn’t see the point of.

Times change. As a brown belt, I’m much more appreciative of what Carlson has to show. He does have bad knees and probably some other old injuries as well. He’s no longer particularly athletic or flexible. As a result, his style of movement is very economical – what I like to refer to as “old man jiu-jitsu.” Seeing that I am rapidly approaching my 50th birthday, this is a style of movement I am trying to emulate. It seems more sustainable in the long term than a more athletic approach.

I’ve also come to realize that I was mistaken about the material I thought I already knew. Carlson often shows moves which superficially resemble standard basics but which actually work very differently. It took time and experience to recognize what he was actually showing instead of shoehorning the moves into a pigeonhole of my own preconceptions.

The moves I didn’t see the point of are now recognizable as part of a deeper, more sophisticated game than I was familiar with as a blue belt. Carlson doesn’t usually explain so much about the larger context of the moves in the seminar – that I had to pick up from my regular instructor.

All this goes to explain why I thoroughly enjoyed the seminar that Carlson taught last weekend at Four Seasons Martial Arts. According to my notes he taught a total of 9 different techniques, mostly sweeps and guard passes. Of those moves, I had done only one before – and he gave me some refinements on that one. The rest introduced me to some new ideas about movement that I will be exploring in the upcoming months.

Carlson himself is very friendly and personable. He makes a point to walk around the room to watch every participant do the techniques and he is always available for questions. I’m looking forward to the next time he comes to town.


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Book Review: ConCom: Conflict Communication A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication

I’m starting to think that everything Rory Miller has ever written should be required reading for all martial artists, regardless of their style.

Miller is an experienced martial artist and corrections officer. He came to the attention of the larger martial arts community in 2008 with his publication of Meditations on Violence, a book which conceptualized the dynamics of real-world violence and explained how it differed from what most martial artists train to deal with in the dojo. Any serious martial artist should read that book, if only for his explanation of the difference between the “monkey dance” of ritualized social violence and the actions of predators who will stack the odds in their favor to ensure that the violence they instigate is entirely one-sided.

Miller’s latest book is ConCom: Conflict Communication A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication. (Unfortunately currently available only as an e-book, otherwise I’d be buying copies as gifts for several friends.) This book originated as a course taught by Miller and Marc MacYoung for teaching law enforcement officers the communication skills to deal with potentially violent criminals. Based on feedback from their students they realized that the principles of the course applied not only to calming down an aggressive suspect but also to handling interpersonal conflict elsewhere, whether in the workplace or in a relationship.

The genius of Miller’s work lies not in any uniquely original insights. Rather it rests within his ability to explain concepts in a way which is simple enough to be understood easily, yet accurate enough to be genuinely helpful. (In a refreshing contrast to most writers of self-help books, Miller does not insist that his theoretical constructs for explaining his ideas are literally true – just that they map the territory well enough to be useful.)

Miller’s model for understanding conflict rests upon the idea of the triune brain, although he has put his own spin on the concept. Most of the book is spent teaching the reader how to understand conflicts arising from the “monkey brain” which governs much of our social interaction. By recognizing how the scripts played out by this “monkey brain” can create or escalate conflict, the reader can learn how to either break out of those scripts or use them to create a better outcome.

The book also examines the mindset of a predator using those social scripts to enable violence and explains how tactics designed to defuse social violence may play into the hands of such predators.

Many martial arts instructors give lip service to the idea of only fighting after all other options (such as avoidance or verbal de-escalation) have been exhausted. The problem is, unless you understand the dynamics which give rise to violence in the first place your attempts to avoid or de-escalate that violence will be so much thrashing around in the dark. This book will help you shed light on that darkness.

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Steal My Technique

Being a great martial artist or a great fighter doesn’t make you a great teacher or a great coach, and vice-versa. The ability to demonstrate flawless skills in a fight is different from the ability to communicate those skills to another. Some martial artists have one ability, some have the other. A very few have both.

I’m at the point in my life where I’m well aware I’m never going to be a great fighter. I’m still holding onto the goal of becoming a really good coach/instructor. I prepare lesson plans for every class I teach. I pay attention to how other instructors teach to see what seems to work and what doesn’t. I’m constantly trying to figure out better ways to explain movements and principles, to arrange a curriculum so one lesson supports the next, to inspire students, to understand what each student needs and to communicate that information to them.

Maybe one day this effort will pay off and I will become that mythical perfect guru who knows exactly what every student needs at each moment in their development and exactly how to communicate it so that they can reach their full potential just by following my instructions. Probably not, though. I used the term “mythical” for a reason. Anyone who tells you they always know exactly what is best for each student is either self-deluded or running a cult. No one is perfect for everyone. Even if I get to be a really, really good martial arts instructor, there will always be some students who would learn better from someone else. The best I can hope for is to be as helpful as possible for as many of my students as possible.

In a perfect world, we would all have instructors and coaches who are really skilled at the art of teaching and coaching. Furthermore, we’d find the coach or instructor who really spoke our personal language so that we’d understand exactly what they were trying to communicate.

In the real world, most of us aren’t so lucky. Some instructors have never made an effort to learn the art of teaching. Some teach exactly the way they were taught, even if that system of pedagogy is less than effective. Some teach in a way that would work well for themselves and can’t adjust for a student who learns differently. Some are naturally talented at movement and can’t teach the fine details of how they move because they aren’t consciously aware of those details. Some aren’t verbally or socially skilled. Some are not very fluent in the language that their students speak. Some are spread too thin and don’t have the time or energy to pay full attention to each student. Some just don’t care about being good teachers. Some teach at a school with a bunch of other instructors, each of whom teaches a little differently.

If you want to get the most out of your training, then you have to be actively engaged in the learning process rather than waiting for your instructor to spoon-feed you everything. Is your instructor skilled in his art but unable or unwilling to explain things in a way that makes sense to you? Steal his art! Watch him move and see if you can figure out the subtle details that make his movements different from those of someone less skilled. See if you can absorb and imitate the overall flavor of his movement. See if you can figure out the reason why he sometimes does a technique one way and sometimes another. Read or listen to discussions of the art by other senior practitioners and see if you can glean insights into how and why your instructor does what he does.

If you have multiple instructors and each teaches the same technique differently, that is a wonderful learning opportunity. Try to figure out the common principles that underlie all the variations. Try to figure out the reason for the differences. Is one variation better suited for a certain individuals body type? Is another better suited for a certain style of movement? Are there certain trade-offs that would dictate using one or another in a certain situation? By the same token, sometimes it can be useful to look at how an equivalent situation or technique might be handled in a different martial art. If you can understand why things would be done differently in that other art, you are a step closer to understanding why it is done a particular way in your own art.

If your instructor is open to answering questions, then use that opportunity to learn. That doesn’t mean interrupting class with a continuous series of “what-ifs.” Figure out the time and place and type of question that get you the most useful results. I find that concrete questions about specific problems you are having tend to be most useful. “I’ve been trying that side-mount escape you showed last week, but every time I go for it in sparring my opponent does this and shuts me down. What should I do in that situation?”

Be a scientist. Experiment with everything you learn and find out what works for you. Keep an open mind and be willing to reconsider your conclusions as you gain more experience. Take as much as you can from your instructor, but understand that no matter how good he is, he is not infallible. The best martial artists tend to be those who know how to teach themselves.


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