Friday, December 5, 2014

Sun Tzu's Art of War: Pettis vs Melendez

Saturday night’s (Sunday morning in the land of didgeridoos) matchup between Champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis and Challenger Gilbert “Niño” Melendez promises to be pure fucking excitement from start to finish. Using Sun Tzu’s masterpiece, “The Art of War,” to break down the fight, we can lay down our life savings on a sure winner.

1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the moral law? (Who is harder to finish?)
  • Neither guy has ever been finished in their professional MMA career. Not for lack of opportunity though, as both fighters have had to fight out of gnarly situations before. Melendez survived a shoryuken uppercut when he fought Diego Sanchez, and Pettis escaped a fully sunk Rear-Naked-Choke in his first fight with Benson Henderson. DRAW
2) Which of the two generals has most ability? (Who has the better camp?)
·         For all the controversy surrounding Duke Roufus and the tragic death of his student Dennis Munson Jr, the fact remains that the guy knows how to build great fighters. His coaching practices may be up to debate, and time will tell how much Munson’s training regimen contributed, if at all, to his untimely passing. However, what is known is that under the tutelage of Roufus, Pettis became one of the most dynamic and exciting fighters to ever compete in Mixed Martial Arts. On the other hand, Gilbert fights out of the famous Gracie Fighter network that produced such beasts as Nate Diaz, Nick Diaz, Jake Shields, and David Terrell, all of whom competed for a UFC title at some point in their careers. Both guys come from proven camps with proven instruction, but the relationship between Roufus and Pettis is special. Advantage: PETTIS
3) With whom lie the advantages derived from heaven and earth? (What advantages surround the fight?)
  • This will be the 17th title fight in Gil’s career. He has a wealth of experience competing at the highest levels all around the world. He was a Shooto Champ, WEC Champ, Strikeforce Champ, and competed in Pride FC during the promotion’s prime. As a 12 year veteran of the sport, Melendez has seen everything the fight game has to offer. In addition Vegas is also closer to San Francisco (his adopted home) and Santa Ana (his hometown) than Milwaukee (Pettis’ hometown). Finally, Pettis’ long layoff since winning the title also works against him. Advantage: MELENDEZ
4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced? (Who's in better shape?)
  • At 155lbs if you gas out you don’t fight for titles. Both guys have had drawn out 5 round wars. DRAW
5) Which army is stronger? (Who's stronger?)
  • Neither guy is a real “horsepower” kind of fighter. Both utilize technique, timing, and speed to win their fights. It’s hard to say who’s physically stronger. DRAW
6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained? (Who's more well rounded?)
  • At 155lbs if you’re not well rounded you don’t fight for titles, but these two are well rounded in different ways. Arguably the best striker in MMA, the champ excels at knocking people unconscious, but has some slick submissions that need to be respected. His wrestling is also on point and was even able to take down Ben Henderson in their first fight. Gilbert Melendez on the other hand has fantastic boxing and top level wrestling. He out-struck Jorge Masvidal in their Strikeforce title fight, and dominated Shinya Aoki on the ground with his defensive grappling. That being said, Pettis is more offensive from every position and that counts for a lot. Advantage: PETTIS
7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment? (Who can finish the fight?)
  • Pettis has a finishing rate of 82% split evenly between submissions (7) and knockouts (7). In comparison, Meledez, an aggressive fighter himself, has a finishing rate of 55%. Though Melendez’s finishing rate may pale in comparison to Pettis, it should be noted that he’s been fighting top level guys for a lot longer. However, despite being a talented grappler, Meledez only recorded one submission as an MMA fighter. Although known for his cool samurai kicks, Pettis will actively hunt for a finish wherever the fight goes. His flashy strikes on the feet are fun to look at, but his proficient use of jiu jitsu should also be appreciated. Watch Ben Henderson’s first fight with “Cowboy” Cerrone, and watch him escape every submission attempt thrown at him. Then watch Pettis catch him in a simple armbar from the guard, a move white belts learn their first day but only black belts master. Advantage: PETTIS
HOW MELENDEZ WINS: After an exciting back-and-forward battle the fight goes to the judges’ decision. Consistent pressure, strong right hands in transition, and relentless takedowns will guide Melendez to a hard earned Unanimous Decision.
HOW PETTIS WINS: After a grueling 2 rounds Pettis begins to find his range and starts keeping Melendez at bay. He drops Melendez in a wild exchange, and catches the challenger with a guillotine late in the 3rd.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Saved Life: My Compadre Hyungsu Kim

On December 23rd Kron Gracie will make his highly anticipated debut in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. His reputation and accomplishments warrant the vast recognition he has earned around the world; his opponent however, is unknown outside of his home country of South Korea. He happens to be my friend. While the majority of attention will be on the great Kron Gracie, people should know the amazing story behind his opponent Hyungsu. This is his story:

The moon glow engulfed us in a blue hue staining the ground around us. Our friends Ovi and Faithna had already gone to bed, leaving Hyungsu and I to finish the Soju and beer. It was a daunting task but we were up for it; after all we were the ones who decided to buy all this shit. It was a few weeks before my friend Ovi and I left Korea, so we decided to take a big trip down to Namhae Island. Hyungsu offered to drive his car down for the exhausting 8 hour trip. After we arrived we spent the day eating fresh meat from the market: samgyeop sal, galmegi, and what Hyungsu called “sea snake.” All of that was gone, the only thing left was some rice and his mom’s homemade kimchi (which was amazing). A few embers lingered in the grimy old grill we used to cook our food, and the table was littered with the empty bottles of soju, beer, and Fanta.

“Are you going to fight?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders. “You’re really good man, you can do it all. I bet you can fuck up all the guys in your weight class,” I told him trying to build his confidence. Hyungsu tentatively smiled. At that time, I could tell that that he was unsure about being a fighter, but in reality, he already was one.

At 13 years old Hyungsu already impressed the top wrestling recruiters in the country. He was a national champion in both Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling. Scholarships from the best programs were dangled in front of him ripe for the picking. Tragically, this was the year he was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia; a disease which required him to undergo a bone marrow transplant. At a young age Hyungsu saw his ambitions as a wrestler fall apart. The doctors told him having this procedure likely meant he’d never wrestle again; thus his life as a sportsman would come to a crashing halt. He remembered how upon hearing that, he “got up and stood by the window, and I got into my wrestling stance.” With his IV still attached he stared out the window lost in his thoughts. “I thought ‘fuck them.’ I don’t know why I did that… It felt right.”

Recalling the days of the procedure stirred up a lot of emotions in Hyungsu. We continued drinking and in his broken English he explained his fears going into the operation. “I’m not afraid of wrestling and MMA and Jiu Jitsu, but this, I hate [sic]. But I said, ‘just go.’ [I hated the idea of a transplant] because [another person’s marrow was] not I [sic].”  I asked, if at the time he still believed he could compete. To which he answered, “I wanted to, [even if it meant on one leg]… just go! I live, I don’t die. I felt: I don’t die [sic].” He chuckles as if to dismiss the gravity of his words. Most people aren’t strong enough to endure seeing a promising future be ripped down in front of them, and have to stare at a meek reality filled with treatment and medication. “I’m crazy,” he explained. “My mom, my father is very careful. I’m so sorry [for] my mom and my father and my brother, [but] I’m crazy [sic].” I saw the conflict on his face as he relived those days, and I admired him. He held on to his dream to continue competing despite the hardships before him. “My family thought, ‘No way, Hyungsu, no way. We do long and [hard road],” but fuck it, he fought.

Suddenly a black figure swooped right over us and nearly hit Hyungsu. “FUCK! AHHH SHIT!” I yell! The tension was suddenly broken after a bat flew over us and then jetted away. “That went right over your head!” We laugh it off and get back on topic. He explained to me that his bravery paid off. To his good fortune, the procedure went off without a hitch, and his body accepted the new bone marrow. Through rehab and regular check-ups he began to rebuild his health, but unfortunately, the world around him began to crumble.

For almost 7 years Hyungsu dealt with the weight of being afflicted with Aplastic Anemia. He was bedridden, tired, weak, and away from the wrestling mat. At times he felt alone and forgotten. Not only did he have to deal with the physical costs of this affliction, but also the emotional and even social costs that came with it. The procedure left him weak, and was prescribed a medication to aid his recovery. Sadly, this medication was deemed as performing enhancing and the wrestling body barred him from the sport. To make matters worse, his girlfriend at the time was forced by her parents to break up with him. When her parents found out he was kicked out of wrestling for using “steroids”, they decided it would bring shame to the family if their daughter continued seeing Hyungsu. In a tragic turn of events, the world Hyungsu lived in was gone. In Korea, young kids choose a path early and stick to it. Hyungsu’s path was wrestling, it’s all he ever knew, and then it was gone. But it was in this dark place where Hyungsu found a new passion: the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.

Even after reaching his nadir, Hyungsu found the silver lining. He decided to become a physical therapist; something he picked up during his recovery. Which put him in touch with Deahwan Kim. Deahwan is the Korean commentator for the UFC and Road FC, and at the time he was opening his own gym. “I was suffering from neck [problems]… He started to visit me several times a week and I got so much better. At the same time he started to teach me wrestling… So I offered him [a job as] a coach at my gym and he accepted.” Hyungsu found a way to wrestle outside the reach of the governing body.

When I first met my friend Hyungsu, he was still very green in terms of fighting ability. His wrestling was on point, but he was still developing his jiu jitsu and striking. Unsurprisingly, this development didn’t take long. That same fire that brought him to the heights of wrestling as a youth, that pushed him through his disease as a teen, brought him to the highest levels of Mixed Martial Arts. After only 2 years in MMA Hyungsu developed the skills to be invited on the inaugural season of XTM 주먹이운다 (“Crying First”). “Crying First” is a reality TV show where fighters compete and train together much like the UFC’s “Ultimate Fighter.” After sharing his life story, and being introduced to the nation, Hyungsu became a beloved member of the cast. He was so popular that the producers asked him to stay on the show as a wrestling coach. His career as a fighter has also blown up as he’s been offered fights in South Korea and Japan.

Despite his fame, despite his success, and despite his glory, Hyungsu still stays loyal to his roots. He has the words “SAVED LIFE” tattooed across his chest, and “wrestling saved my life” written just underneath that. These words carry a deep meaning to Hyungsu, a meaning most people will never truly understand.

But Hyungsu’s fighting spirit didn’t stop with his recovery; he continued to volunteer in the children’s Leukemia ward. I asked why and he poured more soju in my glass, and then into his and looked at me to cheers. “During [my] experience,” he explained after we force down the last drop of that terrible bottle, “many children gone too… [in] my bed, next to [me on the left] and next to [me on the right] I wake up and the kids [were not] there.” He chuckled dismissively to shelter himself from the sad memories. “Where? What? Where?” he symbolically asked. “[The] nurse said, ‘he’s gone to home [sic].’ But always I knew, he’s gone to the sky… after I finished [my treatment] I had many soju and many beer [sic]. I [thought of the children] in [the] hospital… fighting with the sickness.” He struggled as he got out the words. He continued, “I give [them] the power… I say… ‘You can do it! Look at me! Look at me! You can do it!’ I said [you are] the same [as] me. I fight. Look at me.” He smiled, “I hope.”

A few years later, after I already left Korea, I found this news article about Hyungsu stopping a pervert from sexually harassing a gal on the bus. After finishing volunteering with the kids, he was on his way to his own birthday celebration and saw a man inappropriately rubbing himself against a young girl. So he called him out and held him in place while the police came. I remember reading this and thinking, “Jesus Hyungsu, stop making us all look bad.”

Whether in athletics, in selflessness, and in social responsibility, the guy proves to be standard we should all try and meet. That night in Namhae, after we finished the booze and the embers in the grill had finally burned out he told me, “after I [started] wrestling, jiu jitsu, and striking… I don’t die. I live.” The guy is a fighter; long before he ever laced up 4oz gloves, he was fighting. No fight in a cage will ever compare to the battles he’s already waged, no punch or kick will ever compare to the pains he’s already withstood, and if Aplastic Anemia couldn’t do it, then no man will ever break his spirit.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Fight Moment: American-Iranian Tensions During the '96 Olympics

Sporting events often find themselves at the center of political conflict. At times, the environment surrounding the event itself exceeds the mere spectacle of competition. This was the case in 1996 when American Kurt Angle and Iranian Abbas Jadidi reached the Olympic finals in the men’s 100kg weight class. By 1996, United States settled into its role as the world’s sole super power. The Soviet Union, America’s former nemesis, collapsed five years earlier. Without communism as an ideological enemy, the US shifted its focus to the rise of radical Islam and the anti-western governments in the Middle East; specifically Iran. Meanwhile, the historically anti-imperialist nation of Iran was under the control of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and that guy fucking hated the west. This animosity between the two nations played out in 1996, but instead of on a battlefield, the tensions boiled over on a wrestling mat. The two competitors entered the match with the weight of national pride resting firmly on their shoulders; moreover, the match itself went on to exemplify the global narratives held at the time by the United States and Iran.

For many Americans, Iran easily filled the antagonistic void left by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The two nations already had a history of disliking each other. One of the first major hostilities between the US and Iran began when 66 Americans were taken hostage while working in the American embassy in Tehran. Additionally, Iran also backed Hezbollah, a terrorist group responsible for airliner hijackings, kidnappings, and attacks on the US and its allies. Furthermore, the rise of jihadist groups in the region only fueled American bitterness for the Middle East as a whole. On television, the Iron Sheik, with his Iranian flag in hand, was the most hated heel in the World Wrestling Federation. Also, in the box office hit “True Lies,” Arnold Schwarzenegger shot Islamic nationalists at helicopters to blow them up. American cynicism of the Middle East peaked during the Iraq War in 1991, and resurged after the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Though Iran was not involved in either the Iraq War or the WTC bombing, by the mid 90’s Americans began seeing the whole Middle East region as the new “Evil Empire.”

On the other hand, Iranian animosity towards the US began in 1953 when a CIA backed coup overthrew the democratically elected Mohhammed Mosaddeq; to reinstate the more western friendly yet highly disliked Shah. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979 overthrew the Shah, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came into power riding a wave of resentment towards the United States. The resentment grew stronger when the US gave Saddam Hussein weapons and cash during the Iran-Iraq war. Moreover, hatred of the US reach an all-time high in 1988 when the United States shot down a passenger airliner flying out of Iran. Needless to say, this act only further infuriated the Iranian people. In fact, the Persians were so pissed that they even ran a postage stamp depicting the American carrier shooting down Iran Air Flight 655. Even when the US invaded Iraq (Iran’s regional rival) during the Gulf War, Iran’s disdain for the US led them to offer humanitarian aid to the Iraqis.

Thus, going into the 1996 Olympics finals, both Kurt Angle and Abbas Jadidi must have been aware of the political tension between their respective nations. How much that pressure served to motivate each man is arguable. After all, who is to say either man would have wrestled any easier if they had been facing a Japanese wrestler, or an Italian, or any other opponent without the added political enmity. What is undeniable is the atmosphere in that arena. The American and Iranian fans in the stands felt the heat of political rivalry. The energy in the crowd is evident when watching the walk-ins. Angle entered first, eagerly he ran towards the mats and leapt onto the platform ready to go. Then from the other side of the arena, Jadidi calmly approached the mat amidst chants of, “USA, USA, USA,” seemingly dismissing the crowd.

The match started and Angle came out aggressive, but it was Jadidi who scored the first point with a picturesque leg lace. Once back on their feet, Jadidi looked to widen his lead with a takedown only to be reversed by Angle thereby bringing the match to a tie. As time ran down, Jadidi become the aggressor and nearly scored a throw to win the match. Jadidi’s aggression was rewarded and Angle was put down. Jadidi went right to work for a chance to score using his trusty leg lace. Unfortunately for him, Angle’s will proved too strong and despite the best attempts from Jadidi, Angle survived the onslaught. Suddenly, with only 30 seconds left, Angle shot a low single and put Jadidi on his butt. Driving with every ounce of strength he had left after 7½ grueling minutes, Angle tried to score, but Jadidi refused to wilt. In the end, the match ended in a tie, and the outcome was left in the hands of the judges.

As the referees deliberated, the American anxiously waited, hopeful that his hard work was enough to sway the judges; while Jadidi hovered over the referees vigilant of a system he did not trust. Finally, the announcement was made and Kurt Angle got the gold leaving Jadidi in disbelief. Suddenly the theme from Rocky started playing, barely audible over the roaring Atlanta crowd. Angle ran laps around the arena with the Stars and Stripes draped across his back, while Jadidi was left dumbfounded. Futilely trying to change the minds of the officials.

In the end, the match only served to reaffirm already existing narratives in each country. For Jadidi, the ’96 Olympics only reaffirmed the already existing belief that playing by western rules was pointless. The system was rigged. After the games he said, “I'm upset because they took what was mine.” Jadidi continued, “I am respectfully asking the press of the United States and the wrestling federation to hear my protest and give me what is truly mine.'' For Angle, the win confirmed the American adage that hard work pays off, and the American spirit, despite all odds (Angle had a broken neck and had his coach murdered before his Olympic run), can persevere past anything.

The competitors personified the national pride of their respective countries and played out the political tensions that existed between the US and Iran. But as spectators, we will never know just how much Angle and Jadidi saw this match as a chance to represent their country against its political enemy. Angle eventually seized the magic surrounding that match to start a successful career as a professional wrestler. As for Jadidi, even after disputing the decision, he made it a point to assure everyone his ire lied with the officials and not the American people. Regardless of whether or not the two men bought into the narrative surrounding their match, it was a moment where history and martial arts collided to create an almost palpable tension in the arena. Whether they knew the significance of that match or not does not matter. It was more than just an Olympic final; to the fans it was a culmination of the political, historical, and cultural tensions between two rival nations, but though the fans projected this tension onto the wrestlers, Angle and Jadidi just wrestled.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Sun Tzu's Art of War: Henderson VS Khabilov

Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War thousands of years before Mixed Martial Arts existed. Though he aimed to breakdown what aspects of military planning decided the winner of a battle, we can adapt his vision to the sport of MMA. So, what does one of the world's greatest military minds have to say about Sunday's match up between "Smooth" Ben Henderson and Rustam "Tiger" Khabilov?

1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the moral law? (Who is harder to finish?)
  • Khabilov has never been finished in his professional career, and it's doubtful that Bendo will be the one to break that streak. Henderson on the other hand tapped to an anaconda choke early in his career, and lost his championship belt to Anthony Pettis via armbar. Though he has a BJJ black belt, Henderson tends to put himself in compromising positions on the ground; as evident in his first fight with Donald Cerrone, Clay Guida, and the aforementioned Pettis. With his high level sambo, Khabilov may be good enough to snatch a sub should Bendo get too reckless and leave an opening for the Russian to exploit. Advantage: Khabilov
2) Which of the two generals has most ability? (Who has the better corner?)
  • One doesn’t travel from Dagestan to Albuquerque, New Mexico without good reason. The salsa may be better in ABQ, but what brought Khabilov nearly 7,000 miles from home was the training under Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn. Henderson’s home base, “The Lab” in Glendale Arizona is run by an MMA mastermind named John Crouch. Crouch’s deeply rooted connection with Henderson has developed over the long career of his prized pupil. Though Jackson/Wink may be one of the best in the business, Henderson’s relationship with Crouch is much stronger. Advantage: Henderson
3) With whom lie the advantages derived from heaven and earth? (What advantages surround the fight?)
  • To Khabilov’s benefit, the card takes place in Albuquerque meaning the Russian will have a sort of home court advantage. The undercard is filled with Jackson/Winkeljohn fighters which could build a sort of momentum for Khabilov to ride on. However, this is his first time headlining a UFC event, he’s never gone 5 rounds before, and he’s never had so much limelight on him. These are tall obstacles to overcome when dealing with Ben Henderson, a guy who doesn’t seem to know the meaning of anxiety. Advantage: Henderson
4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced? (Who's in better shape?)
  • Bendo has gone a full 5 rounds a total of seven times in his career and never once slowed down in a fight. He arguably has the best cardio in the Light Weight division and he uses it as a weapon though constant pressure and a heavy offense. Khabilov has only gone the distance once in the UFC; a close scrap against Jorge Masvidal. In the final round Khabilol was still fresh enough to land a thunderous wheel kick and follow up with a barrage of punches. However, I doubt Khabilov can keep up his high-output style for 5 rounds against a guy like Henderson. Advantage: Henderson
5) Which army is stronger? (Who's stronger?)
  • Watching Khabilov rag doll Vinc Pichel looked very scary. The guy is as powerful as they come and uses that strength to either throw hard shots or score takedowns. Henderson is no pushover though, the guy is huge for 155 and has legs like a running back. Both guys are strong, both guys like to clinch, but Khabilov looks like he can suplex a tank off the ground. Advantage: Khabilov
6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained? (Who's a more technical fighter?)
  • Both guys are very well-rounded. They both mix punches, kicks, takedowns, submission, and clinch work very well. Khabilov likes to use his explosiveness and strength to impose his will. He throws powerful punches and kicks at range but leaves himself open to counters like he did against Jorge Masvidal. On the other hand, Bendo prefers to use proper technique to win fights, but is not afraid to use his athleticism to get himself out of trouble. Though they’re both good in every area, there is a reason they call him “Smooth.” Advantage: Henderson
7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment? (Who can finish the fight?)
  • A legit Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Henderson has a superb guillotine but hasn’t finished an opponent since 2010. Tiger on the other hand knocks people out with his slams, and threw a wheel kick that sent the durable Masvidal tumbling to the mat. Advantage: Khabilov

THE PICK: How well Khabilov is able to handle Henderson’s pressure down the stretch will be the determining factor in this fight. Should the Russian not be able to finish, he must get an early and dominant lead on the score cards. A tall order against a guy in Ben Henderson who keeps his cool under fire, and who seems to always get the nod in close fights. Khabilov may come on strong at first, but Henderson’s pressure and pace will guide him to another Unanimous Decision. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Gym Spotlight: Kim Daehwan MMA and Boxing (Seongnam, South Korea)

Seohyeon Station in Seongnam, South Korea is known for its high end shopping that includes Gucci, Coach, Channel, and other shops I will never afford to go shopping in. However, just outside exit 5, on the top floor of the first building on the left lies Kim Deahwan MMA and Boxing. You can't miss it, there's a giant picture of a cute Korean kid punching his handsome Korean daddy in the belly. It looks like a scene out of the opening credits of "Commando." Deahwan Kim is the owner and face of the gym. His day job includes announcing for Road FC and commentating for UFC events on the "Action Network" while also juggling being a father and husband with owning his gym. The gym barely opened over a year ago, but it's already built a big student following due to Deahwan's popularity.

It is a really nice facility with locker rooms, heavy bags, elastic bands, pull up bars, exercise balls and tons of mat space for students to use. There are two TV screens used for studying video of UFC fighters, famous grapplers, and boxers. National wrestling team members, pro fighters, and special guests like "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung, Ben Henderson, and ADCC champs are known to drop in from time to time. The students themselves are generally more interested in losing weight and staying healthy than fighting or competing, but some students are looking to crack into an amateur level of competing.

Deahwan is very hands on during class. He teaches all aspects of Mixed Martial Arts and focuses on the "in-between" areas of the sport. By that I mean he emphasizes blending the striking and grappling games together to open opportunities to land takedowns, submissions, or strikes. His style resembles that of an old school Team Quest with a big focus on dirty boxing, Greco roman wrestling, and clinch work.

Deahwan’s coaching staff consists of Tea Min Kwak and Hyungsu Kim; both fantastic coaches in their own respects. Tea Min Kwak handles the striking and exercise drills while Hyungsu Kim takes care of the wrestling and conditioning classes. Tea Min generally warms up the classes and acts as an all-around coaching hand to Deahwan. Hyungsu, a national champion in both Greco and Freestyle wrestling, focuses on teaching raw wrestling technique rather than MMA wrestling. He also works as the team doctor, which in my opinion is really freakin cool. An experienced physical trainer goes such a long way towards building a solid team. Students at this gym have someone to help them recover and rehab lingering injuries. Especially since being a physical trainer and athlete gives him a perspective regular doctors just don’t have. Should someone get injured in practice, Hyungsu is there to help

Though the gym is not geared towards producing professional fighters, Deahwan does have top notch training for anyone looking to pick up MMA as a hobby or in search of a fun way to stay in shape. It is possible to develop a strong foundation to start an MMA career, and Deahwan, Hyungsu, and Teamin make fantastic sparring partners, but the gym motto is, “easy, fun, together.” It’s a friendly atmosphere and very open in terms of sharing knowledge and getting better. If you’re ever in the Bundang area and looking to punch a bag, check out Deahwan MMA and Boxing.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Beauty of Sport Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu spread out of Brazil riding on the principles of innovation, practicality, and effectiveness. In a sense, it started a martial arts enlightenment where the basic assumptions of martial arts were reconsidered and forced to either adapt or be abandoned. Techniques began being measured by their practicality in a real fight, and how effective a weaker man/woman could use them to subdue an attacker. Originally, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu developed as a way to defend oneself in live combat.  As the sport grew some practitioners began developing techniques to best other BJJ fighters in a pure grappling match rather than in a no-holds-barred setting. This resulted in a move away from a combat based jiu jitsu style to a more sport based style. Recently, practitioners of Sport Jiu Jitsu and Combat Jiu Jitsu have started a bit of controversy regarding the usefulness or merit of each style. Enter Renzo Gracie, a legend in both the combat world and the sport world, and according to him, “To try to separate Sport Jiu Jitsu from [Combat] Jiu Jitsu is a sin… Like comparing the beauty of two women... Both are beautiful in different ways." He’s right, both styles have their own unique beauty, and Sport Jiu Jitsu's beauty lies in its innovative, practical, and effective nature within the realm of a grappling match. It is not my intention to convince the reader Sport JJ is in any way superior to Combat JJ. Instead I simply want to explain the benefits of Sport JJ, and address some of the criticisms surrounding the style.

It’s difficult to define Sport Jiu Jitsu as there is no uniform set of rules that everyone abides to. The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) is the closest thing to a governing body that exists in BJJ, but it’s complete shit (more on that later). Generally speaking, Sport JJ is a grappling style that emphasizes submissions through joint locks and chokes. The rules vary from tournament to tournament, but this holds true for every jiu jitsu competition held around the world. And though there are no punches allowed, the positions generally emphasized are based on the positions developed for self-defense. Positions that are advantageous in a real fight like the mount or the back are awarded with points.

Combat JJ advocates may argue that emphasis on these positions and points are arbitrary, and in all honesty they are right. In a real fight it doesn’t matter if you got your guard passed 17 times as long as you defend and in the end are able to get a finish via submission or knockout. However, since Sport JJ is not a real fight, and it is merely a test of one’s grappling skills against another’s, the points are there to find who was able to impose their will more thoroughly on his/her opponent.

Ideally, these points are only there to help decide the victor should the match end without a submission, but some critics say Sport JJ competitors rely too much on the point system. It’s hard to argue against that sentiment when one watches the stall-fests that go down at the Mundials and other big tournaments. However, it’s not fair to generalize against all Sport JJ competitors. Some guys/gals do go out there and work tirelessly for a submission. Unfortunately, the downside of being active is that it opens up opportunities for the opponent to score. This wouldn’t be a problem if both competitors are willing to be active, but the reality is that many competitors decide to stall after getting their points.

Opponents of Sport JJ see these inactive styles of grappling as a result of the point system and time limits. However, recently “submission only” competitions have sprung up like The Gracie Nationals, Metamoris, and The Eddie Bravo Invitational. The Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) does not keep score until the second half of the match; thereby encouraging competitors to open up and attack without the fear of giving up points (at least for the first 5 minutes). These organizations look to encourage offense and action from competitors. One could also argue that points are just a necessary evil as sometimes it’s hard to finish guys regardless of one’s aggression; especially in a context with time limits.

However, the beauty of Sport JJ goes beyond what can be done in the competition world, its true beauty lies in the creativity of its practitioners. Without the fear of strikes, a Sport Jiu Jitsu competitor frees him/herself up to open more angles and leverage points to sweep, attack, and submit opponents. Thus, Sport JJ by nature is far more innovative, creative, and improvisational than Combat JJ. This is not to say that Combat JJ practitioners can’t be innovative or creative (they don’t call Javier Vazquez “Showtime” for nothing), but it is true that there are more positions to explore in a grappling match when one doesn’t have to worry about being punched in the mouth.

Whether or not some of the techniques work in real life is irrelevant, they work in a sport setting and that’s all that matters. Tae Kwon Do may not be the most effective martial art in the streets, but it’s better than nothing, and if a TKD practitioner enjoys his/her training, so be it. The same goes for Sport Jiu Jitsu, a practitioner may not be the most effective ground fighter, but they’ll be a lot more prepared for a scrap than the average dickhead looking for a fight.

Furthermore, if MMA has taught us anything it’s that nobody knows what works and what doesn’t. Anderson Silva likes to say, “I’m not the best. I just do things that people think are impossible.” It was impossible to beat a deadly Kung Fu fighter with a mullet until Royce Gracie came along, then it was impossible to beat a powerful wrestler until Pete Williams kicked Mark Coleman’s teeth in, then it was impossible for Karate to work in a fight until Lyoto Machida made Rashad Evans do the “stanky-leg.” Over and over again we find ourselves redefining what is practical for a fight and what isn’t. Whether it’s jumping off the cage to land a head kick or hitting a gogoplata, it seems like a lot of thing are impossible until someone does it.

Sport Jiu Jitsu may not be structured by what will work in a real fight, but the ingenuity of its practitioners should be embraced by the community as a whole. Can some of those techniques developed in a pure grappling setting be adjusted for a live fight? If we can see the “crane” technique from “The Karate Kid” work in the octagon, then anything is possible.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Merit of Combat Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu spread out of Brazil riding on the principles of innovation, practicality, and effectiveness. In a sense, it started a martial arts enlightenment where the basic assumptions of martial arts were reconsidered and forced to either adapt or be abandoned. Techniques began being measured by their practicality in a real fight, and how effective a weaker man/woman could use them to subdue an attacker. Originally, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu developed as a way to defend oneself in live combat.  As the sport grew some practitioners began developing techniques to best other BJJ fighters in a pure grappling match rather than in a no-holds-barred setting. This resulted in a move away from a combat based jiu jitsu style to a more sport based style. Recently, practitioners of Sport Jiu Jitsu and Combat Jiu Jitsu have started a bit of controversy regarding the usefulness or merit of each style. Enter Renzo Gracie, a legend in both the combat world and the sport world, and according to him, “To try to separate Sport Jiu Jitsu from [Combat] Jiu Jitsu is a sin… Like comparing the beauty of two women... Both are beautiful in different ways." He’s right, both styles have their own unique beauty, and Combat Jiu Jitsu's beauty lies in its innovative, practical, and effective nature within the realm of a live fight. It is not my intention to convince the reader Combat JJ is in any way superior to Sport JJ. Instead I simply want to explain the benefits of Combat JJ, and address some of the criticisms surrounding the style.

At its basis, the philosophy of Combat Jiu Jitsu comes down to self-defense. This is not to say Sport Jiu Jitsu isn't a valid form of self-defense, it just doesn't emphasize self-defense as its ultimate goal. Yes, Rafa Mendez would most likely beat the shit out of anyone who messed with him at a bar. Yes, if you can pass the guard of an experienced competitor, you'll likely have no trouble getting to a dominant position against an untrained attacker. However, proponents of Combat JJ would argue that in order to truly maximize one's chances of leaving an altercation unscathed, one must train for all the variables that surround a real fight. This includes: striking, clinching, takedowns, ground-and-pound, up-kicks, and cheap stuff like sucker punches and head-butts. Those who practice BJJ understand that only through repetition can someone truly feel comfortable in any position. Thus, without proper training for strikes one can never master the techniques that minimize damage taken and maximize the chances for victory in a street fight or MMA fight.

Just like in Sport JJ, one must put themselves in different situations time after time in order to minimize reaction time. Whether it is utilizing a berimbolo guard or a closed guard, good BJJ fighters only start anticipating an opponent's actions after spending countless hours in each position. Thus, sparing with punches in the gym helps the fighter anticipate strikes so they aren't an unknown variable in a live fight. Everyone can agree that repetition is the only way to get better, and by constantly rolling with light strikes a Combat JJ practitioner is more confident dealing with live punches than someone who only grapples. This reality is a huge benefit that comes with training strike based jiu jitsu.

Competition wise, a Combat Jiu Jitsu fighter translates easily into Mixed Martial Arts, but can also adjust for Sport JJ. Rorion Gracie originally started the UFC to expose the effectiveness of BJJ to the world. Today, every fighter in the sport must at least be familiar with jiu jitsu in order to be successful. However, the BJJ moves they learn must be practical and effective within the rules of an MMA fight since anytime spent working on techniques that aren’t applicable is time taken away from focusing on skills that will bring them success. Just like if a Sport JJ practitioner is looking to win the Pan-Ams, he/she should focus on the techniques that work best within the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) rules and not techniques to block punches.

Furthermore, it is possible to stick to the basics of Combat JJ and find success in a sport setting. A solid closed guard and a tight top game are tough to beat in any setting. However, this can only be done by keeping an open mind and training with guys/gals with a good understanding of Sport JJ. Just like you don’t want to be in a real fight without being prepared for every potential scenario, you don’t want to be in a Sport JJ match underprepared for the potential techniques utilized by an opponent.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is pragmatic by nature, but the question is what is the practitioner being pragmatic for? In Combat Jiu Jitsu, the goal is simple, to be able to win a fight. Whether it is a street fight or an MMA fight, Combat JJ focuses purely on how to beat someone trying to knock your head off. It is innovative because it redefined fighting forever by making the ground game a crucial aspect of being a well-rounded fighter. It is practical in the sense that only moves that work in a fight are emphasized. It is effective in how smaller fighters can use leverage and positioning to out maneuver stronger/bigger guys. The beauty of Combat JJ lies in its practicality, effectiveness, and innovation within its own realm, and those who practice it, especially at the highest levels, are artists interpreting BJJ in their own way.

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