Wednesday, August 5, 2015

In Defense of the McDojo

"McDojo," a word that makes that skin of Martial Artists crawl. It is synonymous with poor training, bad quality classes and instructors that are teaching unrealistic methods that transcend the boundaries of reality and into fantasy. These institutions are the bane of the true Martial Artist as they dilute the standards, cheapen the accomplishments of those putting in real time and churn out black belts just for showing up. While many people characterise McDojos as anchors dragging down the arts very few will acknowledge that they actually help all of us float. 

What is a McDojo: Since the "McDojo" is such a dreaded force in the community they should be easy to define and clearly visible. However, in practice the "McDojo" tends to be any other school than the one you are currently standing in. This reasoning is simple. Most Martial Arts Instructors believe themselves to be teaching quality lessons and distributing the "correct knowledge." Ignoring the subjectiveness of "correct knowledge," teachers are genuinely good people that want to help their students. However, explaining the differences between their programs and other programs can be challenging. The easiest way is to label your competitors a "McDojo."
Mmmmmm.... McDojo.......
Photo Courtesy of "Karate by Jesse." You can read his "93 signs your Dojo is a McDojo"

Martial Arts can generally be divided into three broad pillars. The first, Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) that can trace their lineage back through time. These might include Karate, Wing Chun, etc... The second, Reality-Based Martial Arts (RBMA) focus on self-defense and the modern world. Krav Maga and Systema are good examples of RBMA. The third, Sport Martial Arts (SMA), focus on the competitive aspects of an art and testing your ability to apply it in a controlled circumstance. Mixed Martial Arts, Judo and Taekwondo all have strong sportive elements. 

Example of how the three pillars argue. 

Each of the three pillars has arguments against the other pillars in order to turn them into "McDojos." Peeling back the layers and diving deeper you will find many schools even consider other schools in their pillar "McDojos." People will argue that "School X" is what gives their Martial Art a bad name. Of course their own school is redeeming it but there is only so much good they can do. 

Why is the McDojo good? Follow The Money: Money in Martial Arts is already a contentious subject filled with a differing views. Ergo, it becomes necessary to split the the term "Money" into two parts. The "Martial Arts Industry" and "School Financing." Since School Financing is so varied and doesn't affect all Martial Artists as a whole we will look past it to the Industry. 

If we define the "McDojo" as a place where there would be Martial Artists, those with little to no skill or knowledge of the arts, gather in great numbers and boast arrogantly of their knowledge then there is a place that has dominated the scene since 1993. It is, of course, the bar on UFC Fight Night. Here is a place where all the three pillars come together to discuss their love or anger towards sport fighting. Now, it has to be said that MMA fighters are amazing Martial Artists and this isn't a dig at them. Rather, go to any bar on fight night and listen to the fans. You will hear "Table Ninjas" who have never trained beyond watching videos and fights offer advice on how they would hit harder or escape a submission. The bar is the truest "McDojo" there is. 
22 years later the bar is the biggest "McDojo" there is and it's a good thing.
All photos courtesy of Google Image Search. 

Pause for second and consider what MMA has done for the industry. UFC 1: The Beginning had 7,800 in attendance and an 86,000 person buyrate. UFC 189: Mendes Vs. McGregor had 16,000 in attendance and 1,000,000 person buyrate. UFC 189 generated $7.2 million in sales from the gate alone. 

This explosion of growth has benefited all the Martial Arts Pillars. In my travels I have seen that almost every school has taken gear from other schools. For example, you will find MMA gloves in TMA Schools across the globe. The cost of training equipment has plummeted to a point BJJ Gis are being given out for free upon joining a school. Furthermore, companies like Cold Steel now produce a huge selection of affordable training weapons thanks to volume. Overall our equipment is better and cheaper than ever which drives schools to be better and safer on all levels. 

I remember training with the cheap cotton mitts that stank and rubber knives that broke if twisted.
Today for the same price I can acquire superior hand protection at Walmart and unbreakable knives.
All photos courtesy of Google Image Search. 

The "McDojos" have not only driven the cost of equipment down they have made earning a living in Martial Arts much more possible. At UFC Ultimate Fight Night 3 in 2006 the event had $183,000 in disclosed pay. By the 2015 at UFC 182 over $1.5 Million was given out in disclosed pay. Calculated out that is close to 720% increase in disclosed pay with 17 events held in 2006 against 26 events as of August 5, 2015. 

This surge in demand has inspired video games, cinema and television to feature Martial Arts. Not only are pro-athletes jumping from the ring to film like Ronda Rousey and Randy Couture to shoot action sequences but actors are learning Martial Arts and representing them on screen. Lucy Liu practices Kali which she brought to "Kill Bill" and Robert Downey Jr. took Wing Chun to Sherlock Holmes. Even Presidents are getting involved with Obama practicing Taekwondo and Putin practicing Judo. 
Top Line: Robert Downey Jr., Ronda Rousey, Barack Obama
Bottom Line: Lucy Liu, Randy Couture, Vladimir Putin
All photos courtesy of Google Image Search. 

When Obama was given a Black Belt by South Korean President Lee Myung-Back or Putin was awarded his 8th degree black belt by the Kyokushin-kan International Honbu it helps drive people to schools. Both promotions were political in nature but those "McDojo" moments get people talking about training. Whether you agree or with his politics how cool is it that you can watch President Obama's Blue Belt Test at Gracie Barra  (Sorry. The last one is a hoax. I guess you can't trust the internet.)? 

Conclusion: You get the privilege of deciding where you fit into the pantheon of Martial Arts. Are you Traditional or Sportive? Maybe you like the self-defense of militaries and police officers? Perhaps you fit somewhere in between. "McDojos" are subjective to individual expectation and desire making them a personal definition instead of a fixed term.

Next time when you see that school that has a hundred students in their rainbow assortment of belts throwing the sloppiest techniques you have ever seen don't belittle them. Stop thinking, "What a belt factory. I am glad I don't train at that McDojo." Instead say, "Thanks McDojo. You aren't for me but you sure make my journey easier."

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham

Martial Science Magazine on the web:!english-magazine-/c3uy

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

How to Engage Anyone: The Four Circle Method

“Hey Coach? How would I defend myself against this guy?” Questions like this can be heard in Martial Arts schools across the world. The reason it is asked over and over again because of the terrifying prospects of being forced into an engagement and not knowing how you should handle it. As a global traveller I have had the privilege to train with fantastic Martial Artists from coast to coast. While this has provided me with unique training opportunities it has also meant I am always working with different people, body types and styles. Consequently, very early into my travels I had to deal with the incredibly complex question of how to engage any opponent.

In order to accomplish this I fell back on Occam’s Razor as a guide. I wanted to make as few assumptions as possible while raising my odds of success. You obviously can’t “beat” everyone but you can improve your ability to fight back.

The Four Circles comprise of three primary circles that overlap inside the larger circle of endurance.

The Four Circle Method has three primary circles, Skill & Techniques, Strength and Speed. Surrounding these is the larger circle of Endurance. This enforces the mindset that none of the circles can exist without each other. For example, you cannot throw a punch without Strength or Speed or if you don’t have the endurance to lift your arm. Everything is connected but you can use more of one attribute over another.

With a quick glance over your opponent you can make a series of snap judgements. Is my opponent stronger? Do I think they are quicker or more athletic? Does this person look to be more skilled or simply more proficient at their art? Based on this momentary information you now have a basis to engage your opponent or opponents.
You may need to make that snap judgement very fast.

The goal is to get to balance point at the joining of all three circles. If you can then you will largely control the fight. Short of a lucky punch, which does happen, your opponent’s only hope is to wear you down with and hope that their conditioning will outlast yours. Simply put if you are stronger, faster and more skilled than your opponent you should be able to successfully engage the opponent.

However, realistically you will only control two or even one of the circles. Smaller opponents will likely be faster, while larger opponents will often have a strength advantage. It is hoped that in a real confrontation you will hold the edge in skill and technique, yet once more, this isn't always the case.
DSCN9259 - Windows Photo Viewer_2015-01-23_22-47-40.png
My friend, Sifu Tom, is highly skilled and given our relative body dimension faster. However, I can surmise that if I use it properly, my size likely confers a strength advantage.

Looking at the circles they tell you your best method of engaging an opponent. If you are facing a stronger opponent then you need to hit them with blisteringly fast techniques and technical combinations that change levels and work angles. If you were rolling with an opponent you and using your speed you might be transitioning positions and forcing your opponent to deal with attacks from all sides. You also hold the advantage that by controlling two of the three primary circles you should be burning less energy by fighting in a more efficient manner.

If you only control one of the circles then you are forced to acknowledge that you are burning more energy than your opponent.  Should you only control the strength circle you can’t compete with fast slips and trading combinations. This would be a moment to return to your basics. When working in the strength circle think "heavy." Big punches, elbows and knees are basic techniques that hit hard. If you were on the ground grinding your opponent with a strong mount or side control is another way to look at it.

The more circles you control the less energy you need to expend.

The Skill & Technique Circle needs to be addressed as it is often over valued in many cases. There is plenty of evidence that shows “masters” losing to someone that can hit hard and fast. If you only control this circle beware the fighter with fast, heavy hands or the beast that just flattens you on the ground with a linebacker tackle. A snapping jab and thunderous cross have ended many fights and are among the first techniques you learn. Should you find yourself in this situation you need to pull out your more “advanced” tools. This could be the time to throw a rolling kneebar or spinning hook kick.
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A Superman Punch is a great example of a more advanced technique to end a fight.

The final circle that surrounds the three primary circles is the endurance circle. This is perhaps the most important circle of all. You might control a fight but if you can’t sustain your advantage the tide will shift against you. The example that comes to mind is Brock Lesnar versus Shane Carwin for the UFC Heavyweight Belt. Carwin spent the first five minutes demolishing Lesnar in every aspect of the match. However, out of energy, Lesnar rebounded in the second round and won the fight. His endurance allowed him to continue despite being hopelessly overmatched at first.

In conclusion, this strategy may not allow you to win every time but it will significantly raise your odds of success. Dog Brothers Martial Arts has a moniker that I like which goes, “Die Less Often.” It is impossible to always win but it is always possible to increase the likelihood of a favourable outcome.

If you are interested in training together I would love to get together with you. Drop me a line on facebook and we can connect. I would love to learn from you. 

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham

Martial Science Magazine on the web:!english-magazine-/c3uy

Find me on Facebook for more updates and daily videos:

I also have the privilege of writing for Martial Science Magazine. They have great articles and you should go take a look.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Tae Kwon Do: Parma Family Martial Arts: Columbus, OH

Background: Tae Kwon Do is one of the most popular Martial Arts in the North America and it is easy to see why. They produce some amazing athletes with some absolutely phenomenal techniques. In the early days of MMA we watched Tae Kwon Do fighters get taken down and dominated on the ground. Today, with the evaluation of Mixed Martial Arts, Tae Kwon Do fighters are producing some of the most spectacular knockouts in combat sports.

Tae Kwon Do has amazing kicks!

I got talking to the fine folks at Parma Family Martial Arts about school ideas and sharing stories about our experiences. They invited me out to attend one of their classes if I was ever in the area and I assured them I would. Almost a year later I ended up in Columbus, Ohio and reached out. Without any hesitation they welcomed me in.

As I was arriving I was terrified that the classes would be cancelled due to the driving snow storm. Yet when I pulled into the parking lot the lights were on and the black belts were all there and ready to train. The other thing that delighted me was how many kids showed up to the class. It is incredible to see the so many members of the next generation of Martial Arts and it highlighted the importance that family orientated Martial Arts play in the community.
This kick is both a demonstration of amazing skill and trust. 

What did I learn: Whenever you get together with specialists you get to see just how much polishing your techniques could use. Parma Family Martial Arts is a Tae Kwon Do school and as such they concentrate a lot on their kicks. I was expecting their kicks to be awesome, however, what blew me away was what how they attained their flexibility and what it highlighted about my own flexibility or lack thereof.

This kick is an imitation of how I was bending wrongly during my techniques. 

Based off a couple of kicks they were able to determine where I wasn't flexible and what I could do to improve it. The thing was I could actually kick high so I had never thought it. The folks at Parma showed me that although I could do the moves I was cheating to accomplish it. Sometimes I would take a step to accelerate my leg so I could kick higher instead of being able to kick from a standing position. At other times. I would bend over in order to get the height I needed. There is a big difference between doing a technique and doing it right. With a lot of expert help I started to sand off some of the rough edges to my technique.

What was Awesome: I am always inspired by instructors that can change their instructional style to fit different scenarios and people. Normally, you will find an easy going coach teaches all his classes in the same easy going manner and a strict coach will do the opposite. However, really great coaches alter their teaching styles not only with each class but with each student, adapting as necessary to individual learners and learning styles.
A crescent kick blows past my face. 

Getting to spend the evening with Parma Family Martial Arts, I got to hang out with both their Black Belts and take part in their kids class. The difference between the two was night and day. In the Black Belt class we laughed but mistakes didn’t slide and I was called out each and every time I cheated. As an adult appreciated the mix of humour with the blunt assessments of my weaknesses. However, when the kids class started they shifted effortlessly into a more disciplined fun and along with encouragement and positive reinforcement to achieve the desired behaviours. Mistakes weren’t allow to slide but they were certainly corrected differently.

Conclusion: I love working with community leaders that are concentrating on developing Martial Artists of all levels and all ages. Getting to see the potential of youth just embarking into the world of Martial Arts to seeing what they could become is phenomenal. I was really grateful to Parma Family Martial Arts from allowing me to participate in this amazing evening. 
The kids watch a wicked wheel kick crash into the pad.

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham 
It was great night of training with a fantastic school.

If you are interested in training together I would love to get together with you. Drop me a line on facebook and we can connect. I would love to learn from you. 

Find me on Facebook for more updates and daily videos:

I also have the privilege of writing for Martial Science Magazine. They have great articles and you should go take a look.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Goju Ryu Karate: The Karate Studio: Myrtle Beach, SC

Background: I started my Martial Arts journey with Goju Ryu Karate as a child back in Calgary, Alberta at a local community center. It was my first foray into the world of Martial Arts and my first exposure to tournaments where I won a bronze medal for sparring. Ultimately, I would get as far as my green belt before moving on to something new as fickle-minded children often do. After two decades away for the Goju Ryu I have forgotten just about everything I ever learned. It was a good thing I ran into The Karate Studio.

I have loved Karate for a long time. I was a passionate supporter when Johnny Rhodes came out to represent Karate in UFC 2. With fighters like GSP and Lyoto Machida rising to the top of the MMA world I was delighted to see Karate taking the center stage and showing the Traditional Martial Arts were still very relevant. The Mixed Martial Arts scene was exploding with the styles represented by athletes that I had grown up with.

 Shihan Nelson demonstrating a lock and throw.  

However, my love affair with Karate was cold when it came to writing this blog and filming the "Fighter's Eyes" series. Karate schools have been incredibly unreceptive to the idea and despite numerous attempts I had yet to find a school that was opened and accepting. On a whim I decided to drive to The Karate Studio while I was in Myrtle Beach. What I found amazed me.

Shihan Nelson Melendez welcomed me in and within seconds of explaining the project invited me back the next night without any hesitation. He had travelled all over the world with the military and personally learning from some great masters. By the time I left the Dojo I couldn't wait to get back in.

I execute one of the throws we worked on.

What did I learn: There were numerous lessons I took away from The Karate Studio. However, the biggest one I would mention is the way class was taught. Many of the lessons that were taught took the skills we were learning and broke them down to a component level and then built up. This way of isolating certain aspects of techniques allowed you to slow the movements down, build on the foundation and finally, explode when the time came.
Shihan Melendez extends my arm for the break. 

An obvious criticism leveled at many Karate schools is to look at drills and say, "that isn't how you will fight." This is completely true as you will never fight like all the drills that you do. However, without working these drills in isolation you might not learn the necessary muscle memory to execute them under pressure. I have witnessed fantastic Martial Artists in all types of competitions fold under pressure and not have the muscle memory to fall back on. They have to think on their basics making them slow and beatable. I was incredibly impressed with how hard students of Karate drills those techniques to make sure they don't fail under pressure.
Practicing drills in isolation before working with a partner. 

What was Awesome: Something that always stands out in a school is when the instructors have practical experience. Shihan Melendez was both a soldier who spent time in Korea and had a distinguished career as a Law Enforcement Officer with the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention in Seattle, Washington. You could see that knowledge at work in the way the class was structured and taught.
Putting isolated drills to work. 

Moreover, the experience lead the instructors to focus on practicality over aesthetics. In Goju Karate you won't see a lot of flashy, overly complicated movements. Instead you get solid, direct techniques that come together with razor precision and focus on subduing an opponent. Having fought in numerous tournaments I can appreciate the emphasis on this approach.
Shihan demonstrates that without structure and mobility you get hit 
even if you are successful with your strike. 

Conclusion: Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju Ryu, said, "the ultimate aim of Karate-do was to build character, conquer human misery and find spiritual freedom." I think he would be proud of the Karate Studio. Shihan Melendez offers courses to all people regardless of colour or creed and often holds classes for the underprivileged. It was great night to get back to my roots and The Karate Studio was right group of people to do it with.
An amazing night of Goju Ryu Karate.

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham 

If you are interested in training together I would love to get together with you. Drop me a line on facebook and we can connect. I would love to learn from you. 

Find me on Facebook for more updates and daily videos:

I also have the privilege of writing for Martial Science Magazine. They have great articles and you should go take a look.

Martial Science Magazine on the web:!english-magazine-/c3uy

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Action Martial Arts Convention Review - The Great, the Good and the Ugly.

Background: The Action Martial Arts Magazine & Hall of Honours Convention is an annual event in Atlantic City. Put together originally by Master Alan Goldberg it now is one of the largest gatherings of Martial Artists around the globe.* Knowing that several of my friends were going to be teaching at the convention I couldn't wait to check it out.

The event was a fantastic time which had some solid highlights and good general qualities. However, like any event there were some parts that need improvement. I will cover the great aspects of the conference, the good aspects and the parts my friends and I thought were ugly.
My friend Sifu Tom Lugo drives a punch into my solar plexus.

The Seminars: One of the major strengths of this convention was the fact that you had so many Martial Artists getting together and exchanging knowledge. I had the privilege of training with some very well known people like Robert Samuels, Bill "Superfoot" Wallace and Michael Jai White. Certainly star power was on hand giving seminars.

However, it wasn't just the star studded seminars that stood out. I attended a great seminar on Knife Defense Instruction with Nik Farooqui and another on Superior Striking with Tom Lugo. In fact all the teachers whose seminars I attended were great. This speaks a great deal to the vetting process that Master Goldberg puts into selecting who will teach.
My wife and I hanging with Bill "Superfoot" Wallace. 

Adaptive Martial Arts Association: Adaptive Martial Arts blew me away. A huge component of Martial Arts is physical fitness and strengthening your body. Yet, so often we forget that there are people who are challenged mentally and physically but would love to participate in Martial Arts. If Martial Arts is truly for everyone then it actually has to be for everyone which means catering to the deaf and blind, those missing limbs and the autistic.

This is where Adaptive Martial Arts comes in. Not just showing that anyone can be a Martial Artist but acting as a portal to connect people. On one end Adaptive Martial Arts helps people with challenges find schools that can teach to them. Should an instructor want to help people they may not have the resources to do so despite their desire. Just as Adaptive Martial Arts connects people to each other it also connects instructors to tools on how to teach. I highly recommend you look them up.

The Vendors: The convention had numerous vendors, many of whom had amazing products. However, their were some that rose about the rest.

Damsels in Defense: If you have ever tried to get a woman into Martial Arts you quickly see that the industry is extremely one sided. There are pages of "Men's gear" online and "Women's gear" is typically confined to a single section or tab. Although some people might laugh at Damsels in Defense with their bright pink kubatons and other accessories one cannot deny that in an activity dominated by men this is a company that caters to women. If you are a woman or interested in getting more women into Martial Arts Damsels in Defense is a great place to start.
Sam and the Damsel in Defense Julie Greene.

AquaBag: Punching bags haven't changed much since their inception. Virtually every Martial Art has a history of filling sacks with a semi-pliable substance from sand to beans and hitting it. AquaBag moves away from the traditional fillings and created a bag filled with water. The first benefit is weight. Water weighs more per volume than grain or sand which gives you a good target without having an enormous bag. Second, because a bag filled with water is more forgiving you don't need wraps and wrist injuries are reduced. It really felt good to unload on. (My wife liked  it too!)
AquaBags felt seriously good to hit.

JiuJitsuThing: I have seen a lot of "Martial Arts shirts" over the years and they are pretty standard. They will have a famous quote from someone like Bruce Lee that the maker found on the internet. JuiJitsuThing goes above and beyond by showing they clearly do Martial Arts as well. Their jokes are a subtle blend of geek culture and Martial Arts references that real Martial Artists will get a great laugh out of.
Some of the awesome shirts that JiuJitsuThing sells.

The Networking: I would never have met gentlemen like Sifu Paul Cheng or other any of the other fantastic crew at Blue Phoenix Entertainment. There is something to be said about the people that you can meet at the convention. The seminars were a highlight but the downtime that you get to spend just talking with various people is certainly made the trip to the convention worth making. I now have contacts in cities across the country to work with.
Myself, Sam and the awesome Blue Phoenix Entertainment crew.

The Experiences: There is certainly something to be said about the experiences that you will have at the convention. Just getting the chance to talk to former WBO Boxing legend Ray Mercer was worth gold. Watching his face light up as he talked about knocking out former UFC champion Tim Sylvia and the joy at shutting him up after "all the shit he talked" was amazing. You could see the fire that built a champion Boxer.
Hanging with Ray Mercer

The Organization: There isn't much bad to say about the overall experience. However, like any event there is room for improvement. Some instructors had their classes mislabelled and the times weren't always accurate. This led to some confusion as some instructors found out they were teaching seminars on subjects they had no qualifications in. It would also be nice to have an interactive schedule they gave me an instructor bio and their credentials. Otherwise I was forced to pick people by how cool their name sounded.
Jeet Kune Do Instructor NiK Farooqui is promoted to Krav Maga 
instructor and is giving a 7 hour seminar?

They claim to have five tournaments but I couldn't find any registration for the "Sticks of Thunder" tournament. It must have been one of the secret tournaments that they have in Martial Arts Movies. The "Main Stage" was similarly hidden so I had a hard time seeing any of the demonstrations. However, with the map being mislabeled it could have been my own lack of literacy that lead me astray.

Conclusion: All in all the Action Martial Arts Convention was a good event. I am not sure I would make it an annual pilgrimage unless the organization improved dramatically. However, to check it off every few years or if you have never been before it is worth it. I will certainly be curious to see what they do next year.

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham 

*I don't have numbers on other conventions so we will take them at their word. 

If you are interested in training together I would love to get together with you. Drop me a line on facebook and we can connect. I would love to learn from you. 

Find me on Facebook for more updates and daily videos:

I also have the privilege of writing for Martial Science Magazine. They have great articles and you should go take a look.

Martial Science Magazine on the web:!english-magazine-/c3uy

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mixed Martial Arts Striking: United Elite MMA: Dekalb, IL

Background: One of the many things that I love about the sport of Mixed Martial Arts is the diversity it brings to the table. By blending so many different styles we get a melting pot of techniques that highlight the most devastating techniques across so many arts. In general terms MMA can be broken into two distinct areas, the standup game and ground game. Both are equally important for fighters to know and train in.

The standup game in MMA was born from a variety of Martial Arts, however, kickboxers were the first to forge a name for themselves. Early MMA was dominated by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu whizzes and wrestlers. These early days taught us that despite what the claims of being able to crush someone with one punch likely the fight would be much rougher. Kickboxers made the transition first based not on the fact kickboxing was “better” but rather on the fact you had a great pool of highly skilled athletes that had the physical prowess to defend against takedowns. Guys like Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva and Mirko CroCop are all great examples of the early “Sprawl and Brawl” kickboxers that took the sport to its next level.
This is what a Superman Punch looks like a split second before it hits you in the face.

I met the head coach of United Elite MMA at a business lunch for Martial Artists and we hit it off. When he started describing his gym I knew I had to see it. A full cage and ring along with grappling mats sounded just like the place for me to spend a night. Yet, much more than equipment or the facility I wanted to see Coach Villamar’s striking class.

Standing at 6’6 I stand a good deal taller than Coach Villamar. At first glance this may seem like a horrible mismatch of body sizes. Many Martial Artists seek to find a coach similar to them and emulate their style completely forgetting that different body sizes and types force fighters to come to different ways of seeing a problem. As a counter-puncher I have a great grasp of distance and timing but I have trouble carrying the fight to my opponent. As a shorter man Coach Villamar is constantly bringing that pressure to his opponents. Grabbing my bag I set off to learn how to close the gap in between me and my adversaries.

Sparring with United Elite MMA was awesome.

What did I learn?: I wanted to learn how to close with my opponents better and I showed up on the right night to learn. In class we went right back to basics and started with some slipping. Coach Villamar caught me leaning back to slip and encouraged me to slip forward instead. This sounds incredibly basic, however, as a tall guy I have the habit of rolling back and tucking my chin behind my shoulder while countering with a jab. While great to do defensively it left me a limited offence. By slipping forward I had many more options in terms of attacks including combos and takedowns.

Coach Villamar also caught me doing the same thing with my kicks. Something I love to do is to sway back and throw a kick. I throw a lot of lead leg kicks especially the front kick and inside round kick. Again this pulls my head and shoulders away from my adversaries granting me a strong defensive position but a limited offence. By staying over the kick I got more power and kept myself in-line for a better follow up. It added a lot to my arsenal to close between myself and an adversary.

Ben throws a wicked kick into the pads.

What was Awesome?: Sometimes when I travel to other schools I hone in on a technique or training methodology that stands out. Sometimes it is an extraordinary move or combo that blows me away. With United Elite MMA what I found was incredible was one of the most basic exercises done in almost every gym and dojo under the sun. It was their shadowboxing.
Coach Erick Villamar working with his students during the shadowboxing rounds.

Here is the standard format for Shadowboxing. The instructor says something like “3 rounds of shadowboxing!” and retires to the side of the class. Occasionally the instructor may yell at his students to “keep their hands up” or “don’t quit.” Ultimately, this is a great way to kill 10 minutes of class time without having to work. Students are paying for the privilege of flailing wildly at the instructor’s air while he or she relaxes and takes a break. It is so ingrained in many schools they just consider it part of the warm up.

Where Coach Villamar surprised me is he was actively involved in his student’s shadowboxing. All throughout our rounds he was circulating and giving real advice to his fighters on how they were moving and what would help smooth their techniques out. Shadowboxing moved from being “just a warmup” to legitimate time spent drilling technique.
Putting our drills to work.

Conclusion: I had an absolute blast with the guys and girls of United Elite MMA. They run a great program that has you working hard but also developing skills the entire night. Between rounds they laugh and joke making for a fun and dynamic atmosphere where one moment you can be exchanging techniques and the next rocking out to Bruce Springsteen. 
 United Elite MMA is a great crew to train with.

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham 

If you are interested in training together I would love to get together with you. Drop me a line on facebook and we can connect. I would love to learn from you. 

Find me on Facebook for more updates and daily videos:

I also have the privilege of writing for Martial Science Magazine. They have great articles and you should go take a look.
Martial Science Magazine on the web:!english-magazine-/c3uy

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