sexta-feira, 25 de setembro de 2009

The New Greatest Fight Scene Of All Time

Back in the 1980s, choreographing a fight scene was simple: Jean-Claude Van Damme would simply block all of his opponent's attacks with his face until he was inspired by a motivational chant/his friends' lack of faith in him/a child's laughter, and then retaliate with a series of spinning kicks that no real life non-blind person would be hit by. This was maybe based on the idea that Western audiences would be unable to understand anything more complex than a horribly telegraphed roundhouse, and worked just fine until somebody had the brilliant idea of hiring Yuen Wo-Ping to work with people who didn't have horribly off-putting Chinese names. Ten minutes after the Matrix was released, JCVD's back catalogue immediately went from 'amazing' to 'holy shit, we thought that was what fights were like?'

That's progress. The problem is, until recently scientists had no idea how to apply this logic to MMA, simply because things happen in the UFC every fucking night that are ten times more awesome and unbelievable than anything you could come up with for a film. Also, there's no dramatic tension, because it isn't a real fight, so anytime people circle each other while not hitting, things are incredibly boring. And finally, in Never Back Down, the best move anyone does is a slow, horribly telegraphed triangle choke. In Fighting, it's a slam from a horribly telegraphed triangle choke. In Red Belt, it's a backflip off a fucking wall.

I'll admit that I had no idea how to rectify this problem: but fortunately, Donnie Yen did, and now it seems blindingly obvious. The solution is threefold:

1. Chain between submissions at speed that is literally impossible in real life.
2. Have a man counter a triangle choke by bouncing his opponent's head off a METAL FUCKING RAIL.
3. When someone locks on a heelhook, let them snap the other man's leg like a breadstick.

Your move, Hollywood:

Bonus round: if you watch the whole thing, there's a really basic BJJ mistake somewhere in there. First commenter to spot it gets an ice cream.

sexta-feira, 17 de julho de 2009

Another Level

This is how I play Street Fighter:

I'm completely average at it. I can do the special moves, I can do combos like Ken's four fierce or whatever, and I even have a pretty decent idea of which moves are high 'percentage' and what to do against most characters. But I play sloppily. I leave gaps. I jump into a lot of moves 'hoping' they'll work, and when other players make mistakes I don't always capitalise. This is a fine way of playing Street Fighter with friends, and that base level of competence is enough to beat dabblers most of the time - but it was never good enough to beat the elite cadre of kids that played at my local arcade.

This is how I do most things. This is how you probably do most things. K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University points out (in an essay about chess, not Street Fighter, but whatever) that:

'It is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time.

Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance - for instance, keeping up with one's golf buddies or passing a driver's exam - most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement.'

Which is fine. The trouble is, I've moved to a new, tougher, jiu jitsu academy - more on that later - and while I don't much care about getting better at Street Fighter, I would quite like to get better at jiu jitsu. And my jiu jitsu is like my Street Fighter - I know enough to beat up reasonably decent people, but I leave openings. I don't punish mistakes. I throw up moves, but I'm relying on the other person falling for them, rather than forcing them to work.

The internet's come a long way since I was playing Street Fighter, and now you can watch tournament champions play Street Fighter. And they don't leave gaps. They create their own openings. They force mistakes, and then they punish them.

I'm starting to realise that this is how top-level jiu jitsu players fight, too. And if I want to get my black belt - instead of trundling along happily at an amateur level - I'm going to have to do the same. I couldn't do it with Street Fighter - I haven't done it with pool, or dancing, or boxing, or any of the other things I vaguely like. Can I do it? Could you?

Effortful study, baby. It's on.

sexta-feira, 6 de março de 2009

100 Taps: or, Why Not To Fight A BJJ Blue Belt

Something I've been thinking about recently, partly because I've been training like fucking crazy.

First, the maths. To get your blue belt in BJJ takes, usually, at least a year. Training at least twice a week, and sparring for – roughly – three or four rounds every time you train. At the start you’ll get tapped out all the time, but eventually you’ll start to tap out other people – sometimes in one or two of your rounds, sometimes in all of them, sometimes twice in one round. Let’s say that, conservatively, that averages out at one tapout per training session, per year. Let’s also say that, somewhere along the line, you take a couple of weeks off – although not too many, because you’d never get your blue belt this quickly if you did.

50 x 2 x 1 = 100

Easy. Now, what this means:

By this stage, you’ve pretty much ‘won’ 100 fights. Not by getting more points than the other person, or hitting them in the face or pinning them on the floor, or even throwing them on the floor – although on concrete that’d be a pretty definitive win – but by doing something that would knock them unconscious or break one of their big, important joints if they didn’t politely ask you to stop. And sure, some of the people you’ve won against will be small or inexperienced or not trying their best, but plenty will be big, and aware of exactly what you’re trying to do, and trying very hard to do the same thing back.

Most boxing gyms won’t let you spar anywhere near that much, or that hard. No decent Muay Thai academy is going to let you knock out 100 people. Plenty of karate schools don’t even let you touch each other.

Yes, not every fight will end up on the floor – although you’d be surprised how often they do, especially if one person wants them there and the other isn’t a rugby player or a judoka or a wrestler. Yes, punching and biting makes things a bit trickier, although people tend to forget that the BJJ guy can do that as well. And yes, the addition of knives or mates changes a lot. But the fact remains that if you fight a BJJ blue belt – *any* BJJ blue belt – you’re fighting someone who’s fought a lot of well-trained, aggressive people. And won. 100 times. Oh yeah.

domingo, 13 de julho de 2008

The mousy girl screams "Violence, violence!"

In many ways, the following photo is the culmination of every bit of fightyness in my entire life up until now. In other ways, it's as clear an indication you could want that I've gone completely mental. It's also one of the things I'll want deleted if I ever get accused of anything 'wrong' and am hounded by the Daily Mail.

But it's mainly a photo of the day I went to the Bristol BJJ open wearing a t-shirt with the Street Fighter logo on the front, then choked a man out to take third place in the tournament. It can't be coincidence that, in the five minutes before I had to fight, I was visaulising the incredible moment in Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie, where Ryu gets set to Hadoken a furious Sagat in the chest at full power, while the music swells and the wind blows the grass nearly horizontal. And if it was, then ask yourself this: how come I lost the second match, when I wasn't thinking about Ryu?

domingo, 6 de julho de 2008


Three miniature stories:

1. Several years ago, at the start of my freelance career and for reasons to do with me wanting to impress potential employers, I ask a large professional wrestler to smack me in the head with a STOP sign. After some coercing, he obliges, I get a photo of it and I go on to have a glittering freelance career which leads me, several years later, to Tokyo. I go to the Tokyo Dome area because that's where the arcades are, and on a whim, go in the official New Japan Pro Wrestling shop. The stairwell's covered in signatures of wrestlers who've stopped by, scrawls and kanji and unrecognisable signatures - but the one that I notice at eye-level as I leave, is Mad Man Pondo. The STOP sign guy. I smile, and it's probably only my imagination that my head twinges slightly.

2. Several weeks ago, in Las Vegas for the launch of the UFC game, I'm pounding Caipirinhas at the bar mid-afternoon when a Japanese girl asks if I'm English. I am, but I'm also dehydrated and drunk enough to immediately start rambling on about fighting and how much I love it. She, of course, turns out to be an ex-international judo tournament competitor, and we spend ten minutes talking about ko-uchi-garis and seoi-nages before I have to take drinks back to my friends. I walk away with a renewed determination to take up judo.

3. Yesterday, I'm training for an upcoming tournament in a near-deserted dojo when a little fat guy with no front teeth turns up, carrying a drum and looking for the owner. 'I do guided meditation with him,' he says, 'I'm a medium, and a spiritual healer.' I don't laugh because my mum raised me right, but then he starts talking about how he boxed in the army. He gave it up after he got a kicking from a lance corporal: 'There were three hits - him hitting me, me hitting the floor, and the ambulance hitting 90.' We have a Right Old Laugh.

The point? I don't know. Maybe - again - that fighting brings people together, because the things you know everyone in it has put up with convinces you of their worth as a person. Maybe just that I mostly enjoy the way my life's turned out, and that it's a good life if you don't weaken.

Next week: less bullshit, more CHOKING PEOPLE OUT. Promise.

domingo, 15 de junho de 2008

Better Than The Undertaker

So that last post was a bit sombre, but I thought I'd lighten the tone by saying that I pulled off my first gogoplata in sparring yesterday. I've never even practised it before! I just saw the Undertaker do it on telly, and he doesn't even do it for real.

Yeah, I'd fucking mash him.

On Not Knife Fighting

So I was in Japan the other day, and I got to Akihabara about half an hour after a knife-wielding maniac stabbed and killed seven people. And inevitably, when I got back, one of my friends asked what I'd have done if I'd been there at the time. As if I hadn't asked myself already.

For the record, I don't think it's that clear cut. From what I hear, lots of people thought there was a traffic incident and that the maniac, unrelatedly, was just pushing through the crowd, so nobody realised that anybody was getting stabbed until it was much too late. But assuming I'd been there, and seen a guy stabbing people like a character from Final Fight, would I have charged in to the rescue?

Honestly, probably not. Best-case scenario, I might have thrown something at him.

Here's the thing: before I got into Brazilian jujitsu (not good for 'knife defence'), I did about two years of Japanese jujitsu, which involved a lot of 'knife defence.' It involved a variety of more or less stylised counters to the six 'main' knife attacks (straight stab, forehand and backhand slashes, lunge to the kidneys, stab to the groin, downward Norman Bates classic), and we sometimes practised with real knives.

It was completely useless.

The reason I'm putting 'knife defence' in brackets is that there's almost no such thing. After jujitsu I did a couple of months' kickboxing with Bob Spour, a very nice man who used to be in the SAS and has probably been in more fights than the entire jujitsu faculty. On the subject of knife defence, he simply waved a knife around – like you, I, or anyone else might if we were seriously trying to murder someone – and said 'How're you gonna defend against that?'

If anyone's still unconvinced, here's a little game you can play: give a friend a marker pen. Wear some old clothes, maybe some glasses if you're feeling safety conscious. Now, the rules are simple: you have to get the pen off your friend. He has to draw on you with it.

If, by the time you get the pen away, you've got scribbled around your chest, you're probably dead. On the inside of your arms? You're dead? On the outside? You're injured, maybe badly enough that you'll bleed to death? On the face? You're almost certainly dead.

For an idea of how damaging and stupid most self-defence classes are, imagine somebody who teaches you to play football by making you dribble around cones and do keepy-ups over and over again but never actually lets you play against anybody else. And when you can do the cones without hitting any and 100 keepy ups in a row he gives you a black belt in football, and tells you can beat anybody at football. And then you enter a football match for the first time, except that the rules are if you lose, you die.