I’m usually not that interested in UFC. While it is very similar to the stuff that I’ve been training and teaching for years, I’m usually opposed to the hype and nonsense that accompanies sporting events such as UFC. The athleticism of the fighters is pretty incredible and I find myself enjoying the technical aspects of the actual fights, but there’s rarely a reason for me to be excited in any way about a fight.
Today is one of those rare times. This will be a first for the UFC: the first women’s championship fight. I think it’s great that more and more women are becoming involved in sports that are traditionally considered to be men’s events. I’d like to think that CrossFit, had a small part to play in the “Strong is Sexy” revolution that we’re currently going through, though it’s more probable that CrossFit’s popularity is due to said revolution. I think it’s great to see strong, fit, tough women competing in a mainstream combative sport.
In addition to my interest in this event as a consequence of positive social change, I’m also very interested because it will feature a modern judo legend. Judo has recently been overlooked in the martial arts world, with a variety of other styles becoming popular for tactical applications, and Brazilian Jiujitsu and others dominating the MMA front. But judo is still a very relevant and applicable sport, as demonstrated by Ronda Rousey, who has currently fought five professional MMA fights, winning them all in under one minute of the first round with the classic judo strategy of nageru to ude shime, roughly translated as throw-you-on-the-ground-and-break-your-arm. The MMA fights are impressive, as are her other athletic accomplishments, including multiple gold and silver medals at the World Championships and Pan American Games, and a bronze in the 2008 Olympics. She’s the first American to earn a medal in women’s judo in the Olympics.
Here’s a highlight reel of Rousey:
I hope you get a chance to watch this event this Saturday. And, if you’re interested, please feel free to come visit the judo class at The Cave sometime and learn how to do some of these things.
Good self defense techniques follow the same principles of functional movements, and you need many of the same mental tricks to be successful at both. An efficient lift moves from core to extremity, as does an efficient strike or throw. To do well in a WOD, you need a good mental map, the article refers to it as a “plan,” of how to pace and deal with the hard parts of the workout. You need a plan for self defense, as well.
In CrossFit, the workout is different every day, but we come to learn our strengths and develop some general guidelines for how we’re going to deal with each WOD. Self defense is no different. You might not know when or how violence will appear in your life, but you can still create a general plan for how to deal with it when it does.
The next Self Defense Seminar is scheduled for February 16, from 1:00 - 5:00. You should plan to come to it and learn a little more about violence and your plan to deal with it.
It was Saturday July 5th, 2008 and the first day of the 2nd Annual CrossFit Games had just come to a close at The Ranch of the ever hospitable Castros in Aromas, California. My legs were beat to death having completed 3 gruesome WODS earlier in the day (for those of you who care, it was the hill run of death, Snobby chest-to-bar Fran, and the heavy Deadlift-Burpee WOD), and there was one more to do on the next day, but that wasn’t on my mind anymore. A couple of the CrossFitters that I had just made friends with, and the rest of us who were still there after the event were actually waiting for the title fight between Forrest Griffin .vs. Quinton Rampage Jackson featured in UFC 86. Back in 2008 not only did the UFC have our attention, but it also had an estimated worth of $1,000,000,000. The growth of Mixed Martial Arts and the UFC has been astounding since the inception of its modern form on Nov. 12th 1993. It started with a little experiment that set out to determine which style of martial art would be more effective by pitting champion fighters from several different disciplines in an elimination tournament titled UFC 1 with minimal rules to impede the action. Since those early days the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) has evolved through a unique history of challenges and breakthroughs and is rumored to be worth closer to $2,500,000,000 that 2 million that the current owners were said to have purchased it for back in 2001. I’ve tried to look up sources estimating the number of “mixed martial arts” gym in the country, but the statistics don’t exist since they are too hard to track and the definition and standards for an “MMA” gym are somewhat unreliable. Supposedly there are about 28 MMA gyms regularly producing professional level fighters regularly (as opposed to the perhaps tens of thousands of gyms, studios, and health clubs with “MMA classes”) After all at that level the fighters tend to cluster and train together. But here are a couple of links related to “The World’s Fastest Growing Sport”:
This Sports Illustrated article came out in 2008 during the trough of the stock market crash and economic collapse:
I think that the only thing that would stand a better chance of capturing the unguarded attention of the masses would be armed gladiatorial fighting ancient Roman style. Is Mixed Martial Arts soon to be surpassed by CrossFit as the world’s fastest growing sport? I for one am fascinated by MMA matches and merely intrigued by watching CF Games competitions, nevertheless one thing that CrossFit has going for it over MMA is that it has a broader range of possible participants who once they experience the “sport” of CrossFit themselves are more likely to become spectators of the CrossFit Games that they can empathize with from their own experiences. It’s kind of like a baseball player being more likely to watch a baseball game than someone who has never played in their life and doesn’t necessarily understand the sport. (If you care to have a little bit of MMA-type excitement in your CrossFit life? Well, if you’re a Caver at least you can get some grappling in during the Judo classes on Mondays & Wednesdays at 6pm with instructor Nick Wise.) Please post thoughts, comments, questions, or observations regarding the growth of Mixed Martial Arts to comments.
During a conversation with a relatively recent Caver who has been doing CrossFit with us for a few months, I asked her if she’d be interested in taking a parkour class. I was very surprised when she told me that it seemed to her that Parkour was more of a “guy thing” or a boy’s sport than a girl’s. Now, in my opinion, there may be some good reasons why not to try parkour, but that should definitely not be one of them. Parkour isn’t a guy’s sport, especially not any more than CrossFit is a guy’s sport! I can see why some people may think that, say, boxing is more becoming for men than for women (that is not my personal opinion, women can be boxers if they so choose, but I can understand that line of thought more so than for other sports.) but women excel and love to practice most sports, and especially parkour! It is actually more beautiful to watch, in some ways, than guys doing parkour. While elite traceurs (male parkour practitioners) can be more powerful and explosive, traceuses (female parkour practitioners) are generally more graceful and have beautiful “flow” and lines. It’s hard to explain, but I really don’t have to because I have a video to prove it and you’ll see what I’m talking about:
So now we’ve settled that issue. Parkour isn’t “for boys”. How about for CrossFitters? Well, depends what kind of CrossFitter you are. It seems that these days CrossFitters are interested simply in CrossFit. Old school CrossFitters had a broader interest. Back in the day, when no one knew what the hell CrossFit was, some of us (including Roger and myself) were like CrossFit evangelists telling everyone about it, and Greg Glassman would travel around with his posse talking to people and having seminars and explaining to people “What is CrossFit”. This is a partial quote from the “What is CrossFit” page on CrossFit.com:
“Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.”
Back then it wasn’t about simply decreasing your Fran time, or 1-rep maxes, it was about being exposed to a wide variety of movement stimuli. ”Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survivial, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness..” part of the prescription was to go out and try all these things, including gymnastics. As a matter of fact, my second exposure to parkour came at a CrossFit certification seminar in Sta Cruz where Glassman had guest speaker Jesse Woody from American Parkour do a little presentation on parkour as part of the cert. In my own Level-1 certification I assisted Roger in teaching the gymnastics segment (we taught handstands, back handsprings, round offs, rolling, presses, etc- not just “handstand push-ups” leaning against a wall) and we got to learn combat from John Hackleman. It was all part of the program just as much as working with a barbell was. The CrossFit that I was exposed to at first which drew my attention included all these interesting things and the piece that resembles it the most is when I see it at the highest level at the CrossFit Games. At least they got to do a triathlon, run an obstacle course and throw stuff. So my point with all of this is that it saddens me when Cavers box themselves in to just “specializing” in CrossFit. You should go out and try stuff! But you’re afraid of getting hurt!- OK, be extra conservative. Don’t do anything rash or be reckless. Swim in a pool, not in the open ocean. Try parkour in a safe gym environment with instruction, not on a wet metal rail over asphalt. Try rock climbing in a gym first before you go do it at the Red River Gorge. Recently not only Cavers but thousands of athletes went off to do the “Tough Mudder”. I heard about a lot of injuries, not just from our gym but from friends of friends. I can guarantee you that if these people trained Parkour in a gym environment first before going off and trying obstacles with a 10 mile run built in they would have been far less likely to get hurt than if they just “winged it”. Their prior experience would have left them much more confident as well. Sure it’s possible to get hurt training new sports in the gym, but it definitely makes you more robust in other activities and the real world!
Now this relates to the ”American Ninja Warrior & Parkour Seminar” that I am hosting here at our very own Cave on Nov. 4th (for adults) and Nov. 3rd (for kids). (The kid’s event is basically sold out but if the weather forecast is for no rain we will open 12 more kids slots.) This, believe it or not, is the perfect situation to step out of your comfort zone and do something new- and relatively safe. How “relatively safe”? As safe as your CrossFit class. Seriously.That safe. Maybe safer. We are very good at designing and scaling obstacles and as long as people listen to instructions and don’t go try something stupid that they’re asked not to do, the risk is minimal. Usually athletes surprise themselves and have big smiles on their faces the whole time and thank us later. What if you can’t make it or it’s not your thing? That’s fine, but try something else. Dance. Judo. Gymnastics. Try something that involves different types of coordination, agility, body control and timing. Maybe it’s picking up an old ball sport that you used to play with your friends as a kid like tennis, baseball or basketball or perhaps it’s going biking, skiing or snowboarding with some of your fellow Cavers. Maybe it’s taking your old skateboard out of the garage, albeit going to the sporting goods store to buy a helmet, wrist guards and knee pads. Live it up, use your body. It’s rewarding!
Recently Patricia M. suggested that we should have a dedicated “falling and rolling” class. She pointed out that this is the type of thing that she would like to feel prepared for and competent at. Surely knowing how to fall and roll is a boost to your “fitness”. At least it was important in “old school” CrossFit. Here are two videos, one with Roger Harrell teaching shoulder rolls in what was probably the 2nd ever gymnastics certification. This video goes over some of the basics movements. Russell Bruel is always a great demo-guy:
But shoulder rolls are mostly useful if you are falling forward and in a somewhat predictable manner. There are many other ways that you can fall. In our Parkour-1 Foundations, the pre-requisite for The Cave’s adult parkour classes, we teach and emphasize shoulder rolls, as well as falling backwards and “break falls”. Nevertheless, those are merely three “orientations” in which you can fall. As in illustration check out this Ukemi video. Ukemi has been referred to as “The Art of Falling”.
This guy is so good at falling that it’s almost weird.
As a disclaimer, I would like to add that even with a lot of training, you shouldn’t be over-confident that you can “always” save yourself in a fall no matter what happens. My friend and former Cave employee Travis Furlanic has several stories where he whizzes down a steep hill into an intersection on his skate board ( I personally do not recommend this- some Ninja Warriors are crazier than others) and saves himself from certain death or paralysis by doing a shoulder roll over the hood of the car of the poor freaked-out driver that happened to be crossing the same said intersection. Of course, Travis lands on the other side of the car on his feet while some bystander is screaming how that was the most awesome thing he’s ever seen. But recently a bearing broke inside the wheel of Travis’ skate board while he was skating down a steep hill. The wheel locked up and when Travis tried a shoulder roll on the fall he under-rotated and dug is shoulder straight into the pavement, separating the joint. He’s ok and doesn’t need surgery, only having a level-2 separation, but it will still take months to heal. This goes to show that even if you have elite instincts and extremely good reaction time, you can’t always save yourself in every situation, but it certainly does reduce the risk of injury.
Last week I wrote a blog post titled “Mental State and Competitive Performance” which briefly discussed controlling your emotional and mental state in anticipation of competition. Jacqui asked the obvious question, “…but how do you “practice” controlling your emotions before a competition?” A couple of ideas come to mind. First and most obvious would be putting yourself in competition situations often so you get better at dealing with your emotions from the experience. This is how rookies become veterans. Of course, you may be a rookie and want to get some of that experience before your big competition. In this case you can set up smaller mock competitions with your friends and gym-mates that may have some of that “go time” feeling to them. You may also want to try visualization exercises where you see yourself in that high pressure situation and try to create the atmosphere in your mind and to bring yourself to the emotional state that you want to be in at that moment. One of the things that I would suggest as a long-term habit is regularly placing yourself in new high-pressure situations where you’re going to be nervous trying something new or even slightly dangerous but where you’re still likely to succeed. Gymnasts, traceurs and rock-climbers do this all of the time when they’re trying a new trick, parkour move or climbing route. My old gymnastics training partner used to say things to the effect of “o.k., now I know I’m doing real gymnastics” whenever he started feeling the butterflies fluttering in his stomach. Of course, “real gymnastics” in this context basically meant he was trying something far enough out of his comfort zone to be scared. One way to keep this fear from controlling you is to “look past it” or your relation to it, and focus exclusively on the movements, mechanics and body positions themselves. If you can make yourself do the moves, you’ve achieved the skill, fear or no fear. There is a level of mental control over your emotions that you have to start getting a grip over when you’re putting yourself in this type of situation. There is a point where you know what you have to do and you know you can do it and how to do it, but still, you’ve never done it before. At that point you just have to go for it and once you do you’re committed, there’s no going back and you know that the biggest obstacle is your own head and self-preservation instinct screaming at you to stop. As a matter of fact, if you do try to stop or “go back” once you’re “in”, then you’re in real trouble because you’re a lot more likely to get hurt; there’s no hitting the breaks in the air. It’s time to fly. It really is a beautiful and frightening feeling, and when you start “getting used to it”, although you never really get used to it, you realize that you’ve started to attain an ultimately desirable level of self-mastery, and you can do it again more easily and apply this self-mastery to other skills. Nevertheless, you still have to be careful not to get too cocky because you can still get hurt or die if you make a mistake. It’s always seemed to me that this emotional control applies well to competition situations, at least from self experience and observation of most other people with similar skills, nevertheless I do know at least one excellent and naturally talented gymnast and one amazing lady-rock climber who kind of freak out and aren’t all that good at high stake competition situations but perform extremely well when they’re just practicing their disciplines, so I guess it must not apply universally. Also, people can get comfortable taking new risks in their “field” but may experience more serious mental blocks in something that is similarly frightening in a different discipline. I for one am far more comfortable working through gymnastics progressions, taking that last leap for a big precision jump, or even taking that sixteen foot fall on a lead rope climbing outdoors, but when it comes to going over the edge of even a five or six-foot wave while surfing, oh my God, that really freaks me out. It feels like I’m plunging over a rolling cliff that is about to toss me into an unknown abyss. I’m just not used to it at all. So to me the guys in the following video have achieved close to the consummate level of emotional and mental control. This has got to be one of the scariest things a human being could possibly do. You have to have absolute commitment, and you know you’re going to fall and a mountain of water is going to take you for a roll and you may die, but you do it anyways. This is truly amazing.
I remember a defining character-building moment of my youth. I was about 10 years old and we were on our way to a camping and backpacking trip in Yosemite with the San Francisco Police Activities League (PAL) youth program. We stopped along the way at a pool spot along a river that our instructors were familiar with. At this spot the river widened enough for the current not to be too strong and there were a lot of folks who were bathing or lounging about at the pool spot. Some of them were diving or jumping off of a rock that may have been about twenty feet over the water. I remember telling our guide who was a great mentor to me, Walter Scott, that I was going to jump off that rock into the pool. He said that it was fine and that he would watch, but once I was at the top of the rock my legs literally froze in place and I could not move, I was so scared. I knew that it wasn’t high enough to be unsafe and that the pool was deep enough and that the people who were there to take care of me could pull me out of the water if I needed it, but changing that knowledge into self-confidence was a completely different matter. My friends counted me down at least a dozen times while I had at least that many false starts up at the top of that rock. Finally, after about twenty minutes of waiting Walter gave me “one last chance” at least three times and then waved me down. It was time to go and everyone was packing up. I was so disappointed in myself. I just wasn’t brave enough. I slowly turned around to walk back down the way I came up when I suddenly told myself ”No. I’m going to do it now.” I turned around and ran right over the edge of that rock and as I felt that I had nothing but air underneath my feet I was regretting that last step, looking over my shoulder to see how far away the ledge was but it was too late to get back. It was time to fly. My regret immediately turned to thrill as I dropped and plunged into the freezing cold water. I easily swam to the shore and saw Walter Scott’s concerned and curious look as he asked me if I was O.K. ”I’m Great!” was my strong reply. I couldn’t have possibly felt more alive and excited. During my childhood that moment always reminded me that I was brave and I could make myself do what I decided to do if I really wanted to. It helped form my self-perception for years to come and since then I’ve had a lot more practice. Special thanks to my P.A.L. instructor Walter Scott for the contribution he gave to the lives of so many children growing up, privileged or otherwise. I think that the moral of the story is to regularly put yourself in new and scary situations “outside your comfort zone” where you have to control your nerves and where you have to learn something new about a discipline, skill or maybe just about yourself. Make it a part of your life’s history, just as it is part of the history of human beings and our struggle in life and survival. Just be careful not to get yourself killed.
A couple of things. First, our monthly challenge for January is Goal Setting. Make a fitness goal for this year and post it on the board. Make it something specific, such as “hold a 30-second free handstand,” or “do a 100kg deadlift.” What challenges you and what do you want to overcome? Check the board often and don’t be shy about putting 2-3 goals up. Maybe you can find somebody else with similar goals to work out with. Feel free to call people out, too. If you know somebody in class who has been chasing a pull-up or a muscle-up for months, now’s the time to push them into doing serious training for it.
Second, I’d like to get a feel for interest in two possible new programs.
1) Kids martial arts & self defense. Age groups will be 7-9 and 10-13. Possible class times are Tuesdays / Thursdays at 3:30, 4:30, and 6:00. Or Mondays / Wednesdays at 4:00 - 5:00. If there’s enough interest from the home school community, we could also do a session mid-day, starting at 1:00 or 2:00 any two days of the week. If you or someone you know is interested, please leave a comment, fill out an interest survey in the gym, or send me an e-mail.
2) Tough Mudder Preparation Course. Want to do the Tough Mudder this September, but haven’t gotten over your fear of heights or freezing cold water? Maybe you don’t even want to do the event, you just want to try a couple of challenging workouts in extreme conditions, or learn strategies and skills for overcoming obstacles that we don’t face regularly in the gym, such as high walls, swimming, steep trail runs. This workshop would be a series of 4-5 classes held at the gym and in off-site locations. We’d probably do a couple of sessions of this class, more as we approached the event in September. If this sounds like something that interests you, please leave a comment as to what days / times you’d be available, or fill out an interest survey in the gym.
There are some other exciting programs coming in the near future, so stay tuned!
Hébert was born in Paris. While an officer in the French Navy prior to the First World War, Hébert was stationed in the town of St. Pierre, Martinique. In 1902 the town fell victim to a catastrophic volcanic eruption. Hebert coordinated the escape and rescue of some seven hundred people from this disaster. This experience had a profound effect on him, and reinforced his belief that athletic skill must be combined with courage and altruism. He eventually developed this ethos into his personal motto, “Être fort pour être utile” (”Being strong to be useful”). [Italicized and boldened- by the blog author, not as it appears in the article.]
Hébert had travelled extensively throughout the world and was impressed by the physical development and movement skills of indigenous peoples in Africa and elsewhere:
Their bodies were splendid, flexible, nimble, skillful, enduring, resistant and yet they had no other tutor in gymnastics but their lives in nature. }
Of course, as the Wiki article also mentions, Hebert’s teachings heavily influenced the emergence of Parkour, or “The Art of Movement”.
Also, according to the article, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who influenced Hebert taught that through the observation of nature people could arrive at the true methods of physical development and that the final goal of physical education was to
“…make strong beings. In the purely physical sense, the Natural Method promotes the qualities of organic resistance, muscularity and speed, towards being able to walk, run, jump, move on all fours, to climb, to keep balance, to throw, lift, defend yourself and to swim.” The natural method to these educators was a synthesis of physical, virile and moral development, and not just any of these alone.
Please read the full article and comment on the blog. How does it relate to CrossFit? To Judo, or Self Defense? To Parkour? To specific sports? Have you ever trained on an obstacle course or “parcours”? How about a ropes course? What did you like/ dislike about it?
People have asked me what keeps me motivated to work out. My answer is, “I want to be harder to kill.” That answer is based partly on my years of martial arts training and the philosophy of bushido– the way of the warrior. According to the Bushido Shoshinshu, the first thing that a samurai needs to do is to keep death in mind at all times. This makes plenty of sense for a professional warrior– their business is death. But the practice of being aware of death, of overcoming the fear of it and realizing how quickly life can end, can help us live longer and better.
Bushido - Way of the Warrior
First, the idea is to keep death in mind– to be aware of it– not to fixate on it or be afraid of it. There is a difference between keeping death in mind and being preoccupied with it. Remembering that your time is limited shouldn’t be a source of anxiety or an excuse to indulge in risky or unethical behavior.
If you’re aware of your own mortality you’re actually less likely to die doing something stupid. For example, if you know that car accidents kill many people or that a particular city has a reputation for murders, you are more likely to drive safely or to avoid walking alone in that city. If you really know that you’re going to die and you have no choice in the matter, you’re more likely to take actions that will help to prevent your own death.
Similarly, if you know that bad habits like smoking, eating poorly or not working out can lead to your death, you’re more likely to not smoke, to eat well and to work out. People who indulge with the excuse of “life is short, might as well enjoy it,” are in the denial phase of the understanding of death. They’re proving that life is short by shortening their own life.
Also, If you are aware that everybody else is going to die– and could die at any moment– it puts things in perspective. Petty quarrels and arbitrary hierarchies aren’t important. Your boss and your subordinate are all equal with you. And every time you see your friends and family, if you remember that it could be your last meeting with them, you will appreciate them more. Keeping death in mind is the refusal to be complacent or to take for granted the good things in your life.
In the gym, we often say that we’re not working out to live longer, we’re working out to live better. If you think about it, this is the essence of keeping death in mind. Live not just a long life, but a good one.
We frequently forget that part of the prescription of CrossFit is to regularly learn and play new sports. This is in large part because two holes in the CrossFit program are lateral and rotational movement.
Most of the movements that we perform are limited to forward/backward and up/down– movement along the sagital plane– because those are the directions in which the spine has the most stability. Presumably, these movements are rarely included in CrossFit because a high volume and high intensity of them can be harmful to the joints. However, real life frequently demands that you be able to move side to side, twist, or perform some combination of those movements. And like everything else, if you never practice it you’re going to have trouble doing it in the real world.
Most sports– especially contact sports– require that you be able to switch quickly between lateral and frontal motion, or change from a twisted to an aligned spine. This stimulus is all but missed in many other hands-off sports. Here’s two extreme cases, pro football and high level judo. These videos are entertaining to watch on their own, but try to pay attention to the lateral and rotational movement of the athletes.
Don’t lock yourself into the sagital plane. Go play football in the park, or try out the parkour and judo classes.