Monday, February 17, 2014

Mixed Martial Arts: Pound for Pound MMA: Nashville, TN

Background: I heard of Pound for Pound via a colleague at work while visiting Nashville. When I told him that I did Martial Arts he mentioned that I could go down the street and check out this “new” place he had seen. With no knowledge of who this school was I drove over expecting to find a new, sparsely populated school desperate for students. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Instead I arrived at a school that was packed with students. I came in at the transition between the kid’s class and the adult class and it was wild. 6000 square feet of floor space was alive with bodies. From the gym in the back to the ring and octagon people were training everywhere. Immediately Coach Brandon Bolton walked over and we struck up a conversation. After having to deny that I fathered any of the children in his class we talked about the project and Coach Bolton said he’d be happy to participate. He also took the time to introduce me to their head striking coach, Bernard “Swiftkick” Robinson.
Pound for Pound MMA sports a gorgeous facility complete with an Octogon.
The facility is so large I couldn't fit it in a single frame. 

I will admit that I was nervous when I returned to film the “Fighter’s Eyes” video. Both Coach Bolton and Coach Bernard were accomplished Martial Artists with a lot of experience on the competition floor. Coach Bolton has competed in numerous MMA and grappling competitions and Coach Robinson holds a 62 – 8 record with 32 finishes by knockout.  This was the largest fight camp I had ever been to and there were butterflies in my stomach. Both these guys were amazing fighters and camps tend to reflect their coaches. I didn't what I was going to be doing but I was actually worried of being busted up by their top guys.

However, like most of our fears in life mine turned out to be entirely baseless. Coach Bolton and Coach Robinson welcomed me into their classes and paired me up with great people to work with. On their website they say “No egos, no BS, just like minded individuals getting together to better an art and the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.” That was exactly what I experienced when I walked through the door. They worked with me at my level and showed patience and a good laugh.
I fade back from a punch during the boxing training. 
My partner had enormous patience as I memorized the patterns. 

What did I learn: Coach Bolton’s No-Gi Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was an incredible learning experience for me. I should preface this by saying that I am a capable grappler. I know enough of what I am doing to be dangerous but I lack polish. I win most of my grappling matches because of my Sanda experience. I control the takedown and establish a dominant position and against most low to mid-level grapplers I can secure the victory. Yet my game has some major holes in it. Most critically what happens when someone gets me in Side Mount. As a big guy with much of his height in his legs I can shrimp and get a leg in but I have trouble sliding the rest of my leg through to bring them to guard. Most of time to exit Side Mount I will bait the Full Mount and roll with them because I can bridge high. Although, this works against low level fighters it falls flat against more experienced fighters which can leave me in a dangerous place.
Coach Bolton demonstrates how to roll an opponent using the X-Guard.

Whether by chance or by fate it turned out that Coach Bolton was working on escapes from side control. I had never practised the “X-Guard” before in any length and it proved to be an extremely enlightening class. Suddenly I didn't have to get my leg all the way through to get guard. Rather, I just had to shrimp out and then get my knee on my partner’s belly. The other leg hooks the foot in and forms an “X” with your first leg.
An advanced student invites me into the world of BJJ. 

Once I had the basics of the X-Guard down I began to learn a plethora of ways to tackle the problem of getting out of Side Mount. First I worked a couple of ways to roll my partner over me. This established a dominant position and allowed me to work submissions. Following the rolls we moved into using the X-Guard to pop your partner’s hips back and secure a choke. Finally, we moved back to a basic escape about how to escape an opponent that is smothering you. Coach Bolton showed how to use basic human nature to outsmart an opponent. It was hands down a fantastic series of lessons I will always carry with me.
Coach Bolton will continue the roll into a submission. 

What was similar: Pound for Pound is an MMA school and as the name suggests it is about mixing Martial Arts. The first class of the evening was a boxing class with Coach Robinson. When I spoke to Coach Robinson he had mentioned that he had fought alongside a fighter from Ottawa, Ontario where I used to live. To know that he had fought on the same cards as Jean Yves “The Iceman” Theriault reminded me what a small world Martial Arts is.
Coach Robinson walks us through the striking drill. 

Coach Robinson had us doing pad work and striking drills to improve our hand speed. I have done a lot of pad work as it is a staple of just about every striking Martial Art. However, I have never done pad work like this before. Normally when we doing pad work it consists of shorter combos and the partner holding the pads gets to “rest.” What struck me about the way Coach Robinson taught his class was that the drills got increasingly complex as the class moved on. However, it wasn't just the fact that the drills got more complex for the striker but also that the partner holding the pads had to be involved as well.

The pad holder is required to be almost as active as the striker throwing a variety of straights and hooks. This forces the striker to keep sharp and slip the shots. I loved that it forced the partners to work together instead of just “holding the pads.” Because both fighters were invested in the training it kept both fighters active and engaged. When you see the hand speed this develops it causes you to wonder about some of the drills I have seen demoed. Youtube is full of “How to beat a boxer” videos that show a fighter blocking a boxer’s punch and delivering 3 or 4 punches before blocking the next punch. It is clear they have never seen the hand speed of Coach Robinson’s team because there is no chance of that working at Pound for Pound MMA. This was a great lesson to have learned and a wonderful addition to the pad work I will do in the future.
My partner slips a punch. I had to work and stay active even while holding the pads. 

Conclusion: I have said in previous articles fight camps take on the attitude of their coaches. Pound for Pound MMA is no different. Here you have top coaches that want to push their fighters. In return you get great fighters that want to be pushed and will work hard. Pound for Pound MMA has the coaches and the facilities to develop top fighters. Look for them to be contenders on the regional MMA scene as solid place to train or get your start as a pro fighter. 
Myself and the BJJ Class at the end of the night. Pound for Pound MMA is an amazing training camp.

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. On Facebook:
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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Capoeira: Grupo Agua de Beber: Montreal, QC

Background:  Capoeira. Brazilian Dance Fighting. A Martial Art without teeth. This was what I thought of Capoeira all those years ago when I was first exposed to it. I had just started training and with the typical arrogance of someone just beginning their Martial Art journey I knew my style was the best. While I was training to throw down they were singing songs, playing on instruments  and dancing “against” each other in a circle. It was silly and a waste of time.
One of the players shoots past me with a cartwheel.

My Sifu, John Hum, was thankfully much wiser than me and encouraged me to look beyond my own limited vision. He pointed out that they were in fantastic shape and the coordination it took to do Capoeira. Not quite understanding the depth of his opinion I pointed out that this "Brazilian" Martial Art really wasn’t designed for combat. With a smile and a raised eyebrow he laughed at me. “They used to cut Capoeira fighters hamstrings. They don’t do that to fighters that aren't effective.”

Over the years I learned that my original observations were largely mistaken. I looked into this Martial Art that convinced the authorities of the time to maim its practitioners. My name of “Brazilian Dance Fighting” was given in ignorance. I hadn’t realized that Capoeira had a history and culture that traced itself across the Caribbean back to Africa. This “dance” disguised the players and kept them safe on the streets.
I practice a scissor technique as Derek hopes over me. 

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has become the proving ground for Martial Arts. Whether you are a fan of the sport or not it is impossible to deny that a Martial Arts’ success is judged by its champions, at least to the layman. Having been a fan of MMA from the early days of the UFC I have watched many Martial Arts be declared as “useless” or” ineffective” only to see that position reversed once they began to claim wins. Capoeira is no different and suddenly exploded onto the MMA scene with a series of brutal knockouts in the last few years. I had to choke on my previous words about their fighters and reverse my position. Thankfully, experience allowed me to realize how foolish my original position had been and abandoning this viewpoint was no hardship.

What did I learn: Training with Grupo Agua de Beber taught me a lot of lessons on body mechanics. Fights can often come down to which fighter has more “heart.” This is a generic term often used to describe a fighter who shows great determination to keep battling through the punishment that he has received often claiming victory from a superior opponent while coming from behind. Although that explanation is the storyteller’s definition of “heart” the truth is that it comes down to cardiovascular and muscular fitness. The fighter that can throw effective strikes for a longer period usually wins.
 I play in the Roda working on my cartwheels. 

Jeroo Jamaji’s class is a wonderful way to test your fitness level. I like to think that I have really good cardio because I can spar and drill for hours. However, my performance in Capoeira was laughable when I started (Author’s note: It was still laughable when I left, just slightly less.) and I have never been so sore. Because Capoeira is fought low it is comparable to doing squats for an hour and a half. Couple that with all the cartwheels and prone positions where you are supporting yourself with your arms and you quickly come to the realization that your endurance isn't quite what you though it was.

Despite the techniques being so physical Jeroo makes sure you are drilling proper form. All my kicks have gotten crisper and I am burning much less energy. Due to the demands that Capoeira places on you as a fighter every small inefficiency begins to add up. It was the hardest physical workout I have ever had and it tests you so much as a Martial Artist to keep throwing techniques even when you are on the verge of exhaustion.
Siamak ducks down below my crescent kick. 

What was similar: “Think guys! In Capoeira you have to be tricky!” This is the call that Jeroo repeats to us all. I loved it. Many Martial Arts hold themselves to the principle of honourable combat. You are to best your adversary in an honourable and straight forward manner. Capoeira is not held down by this view. Not to say that the Capoeira players are rude or disrespectful to each other. Rather they are extremely polite but once in the Roda they are encourage to trick the other player and catch them in elaborate traps.
Capoeira is tricky and played at every conceivable angle. 

This is my kind of fighting. At 6’6 I have never been a graceful fighter. I lack the polish and poise of many of my peers. Many of my Kung Fu forms look just downright ugly. However, what makes me a good Martial Artist is pattern recognition and the ability to trick people. I use body language and theatrics when I fight because it unnerves people. Therefore getting to play with fellow tricksters is a treat. Jeroo and the players from Grupo Agua de Beber taught me an awful lot about how to be even more tricky and cunning.

Conclusion: Capoeira is an amazingly fun Martial Art and one of the most muscularly demanding arts out there. The music and theatrics that accompany it are simply a trick to the casual observer. Look at Anthony Pettis of the UFC and you will see a champion who has training videos of Capoeira. Grupo Agua de Beber embodies this. You would still wondering about their playful jokes and goofy grins as they set you up to be hit. A good group and a fun school that I hope I will have the opportunity to visit again. 
A great evening of training with the crew from Grupo Agua de Beber.

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. On Facebook:
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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sanda / SanShou: Institut de Wushu de Montréal: Montreal, QC

Renald Meunier Daure* will always have a special place in the history of the “Travelling Ronin” project. Up till now I had relied on friends in order to provide me a spot to film and write about. Sure I had contacted people out of the blue before and gone to train with them but Renald was the first gentleman who agreed to be featured on this blog and on YouTube with no prior relationship. I don’t like the expression that he “put himself on the line” by allowing me to come out. However, that was exactly what he did and I will always be grateful.

A Sanda competition was arguably where I learned my biggest lesson in my development as a fighter. I was at a tournament in Toronto and was matched against a smaller opponent for my fight. There where only two of us in the big lads division and he told me that he had almost no experience. I was coming off my first MMA victory and strutting around like a peacock. After all he was fresh meat and I was an “experienced killer.” Looking back my own arrogance was unbelievable. My Sifu, John Hum, tried to warn me but I would have none of it. I never considered that perhaps my opponent might not be telling the truth and instead had a habit of knocking guys out.
Your's truly learning a lesson about the pitfalls of hubris.

We got in the ring and I waded forward into the storm confident I was going to knock him into next week. At the moment he hit me and then didn't stop. I have fought all kinds of fighters from amateur to pro but I have never been hit like that before or since. One moment I was staring him in the eyes the next I was looking at the mats barely supported by my shaking arms. I don’t mind admitting that suddenly this “experienced killer” was terrified. Let me tell you, being scared and hurt in a fight sucks. Although I rallied in the second and third rounds winning the fight I never forgot the lessons that I learned that day.
Claiming victory but the real prize was learning that 
confidence doesn't equal invincibility.

What did I learn: Having done Sanda in the past I found Renald’s class enlightening in several ways. First was the specialization of training. Because you wear chest protectors in Sanda we threw the kicks in ways designed to achieve maximum penetration. Strikes that lack penetrating power get soaked up by the pads and leave your opponent unhindered to strike you.
I practice my front kicks hoping to get maximum force transfer.

We also worked on variations of the single leg takedown and a hip toss. I have done these techniques before and knew the basic concepts. However, Renald took these and really focused them for Sanda fights. For example, I almost execute my single leg takedowns standing higher and using more muscular strength. I do this because I fear getting trapped in a guillotine choke. Renald showed me a way to hit lower using less strength which will yield a lot of points in a match. These specialized drills are the mark of a good instructor. Renald knows his game and how to exploit it for the maximum effect. It is exactly what you want to see in a fight camp.

The second thing that stood out was the structure of the class and the “guided creativity.” After the warm up we moved into striking drills. These were structured to give the fighters focus and a toolkit to bring into the ring. Afterwards we hit the heavy bags and had free time to do whatever we though fit. Following the drills on the heavy bags we returned to combat drills, once more working structured drills. Finally we sparred against each other and played with whatever we thought fit.
A dodge away from a scorpion kick that passes in front
of my face and surprised me. 

It was a great approach to teaching. Renald grounds his fighters with basics then allows them the freedom to explore and develop on their own path. Instead of letting fighters get sloppy as can happen with too much free time he reconnects them to their roots before sending them out once more. It was a very good way of educating fighters.

What was similar: It felt good to be back in a serious camp. The warm up was cardio drills, running and skipping. If you don’t have the energy to throw techniques or block your opponent’s strikes your skill level become irrelevant. Rather, you need to be able to keep moving. Many fights have been won by “lesser” fighters who simply had the will to hang on and the energy to keep fighting once their more technical opponent faltered.

The “Rule of Three” is another way concept I was familiar with. It is said that you need to show a behaviour three times in order to teach it to someone. Therefore, if you find yourself being repetitive it won’t be long before your opponent figures you out. However, you can use this rule of thumb to train your opponent. Once you see that he is catching your pattern you switch it up and catch them anticipating the prior technique.
I use the rule of three to land an inside crescent kick.

A camp or school will largely get their attitude from their trainer. If your trainer is overly aggressive you tend to have over aggressive camps that lead to injury. Without enough aggression the situation lacks realism and fails to prepare fighters for the ring. Renald finds a comfortable middle ground to train his team. We exchanged solid combos with flurries of punches and kicks but no one got out of control. I landed a beautiful crescent kick against the face of one of his fighters. I didn’t carry any power through it and he acknowledged the hit with a smile. Next exchange he caught me with a left hook but didn’t try to remove my head from my shoulders. I complimented the strike and we moved on, neither fighter hurt both able to keep training, both having fun.

This attitude is a directly attributed to Renald’s leadership. He caught of my front kicks and could have dumped me hard on the floor. Very easily he could have “made a point” or “showed me up” by slamming me down on the hardwood. Instead, he held me for a second. I said, “thank you” in my appreciation of not being hurt, Renald winked and we carried on. Great, safe, technical fun when we didn't have mats to fall on. Travelling Ronin Note: Remember, if you have been an asshole to the teacher all class they will have the opportunity to dump you on your ass, hard. Rule #1: Don’t be a dick.
Renald snags my foot and could have sent me to the ground hard.

Conclusion: If you are looking to compete in competitive Sanda “Montreal  Wushu” is a great academy with a great teacher in Renald. His experience in the ring is obvious and there was a reason that he was a champion. His fighters have great attitudes which makes for a fun but competitive environment. 
Myself and Renald at the end of a great evening of training.
Did I mention the gorgeous facility?

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham 

* Normally I will put titles like "Shihan, Sensei, Sifu, etc..." however, Renald doesn't use them at his school hence the break in formality. 

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. On Facebook:
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Check out Montreal Wushu: