Author Lori O’Connell has released a new book entitled “When the Fight Goes to the Ground“, exploring how jujitsu methods can be used for real self defense encounters. Notably, this book comes packaged with a DVD filled with technique examples and training drills. I had a chance to review both the book and DVD and would like to share some of my impressions.
When the Fight Goes to the Ground
First, I’d like to explain how I approached this work. My primary background is in karate and kobudo, which means the ground is not my preferred fighting range. Luckily I’ve had a chance to train with some good jujitsu and aikijujitsu people over the years so I’ve graduated just slightly beyond “floundering fish” when taken down. Additionally, I’ve never been keen on sport competition; while I believe it can ingrain a strong fighting spirit and high level of performance I also believe it can instill bad muscle memory habits that the body will fall back on during moments of stress. When this book came to my attention I was particularly interested since it filled a tactical weakness of mine (ground game) while staying focused on real self defense (not sport fighting).
As you read the rest of my review, keep this perspective in mind and use it to inform your own opinion regarding what value this book might bring to you.
What You Get in the Book
They say never judge a book by it’s cover, but how else are you going to get a first impression? When I initially picked up “When the Fight Goes to the Ground” I was quite taken by the sheer quality of construction. The paper is very thick stock and features photo gloss finish which makes each page feel substantial and allows the images to pop with clarity. This may seem like a trivial matter, but when trying to understand techniques from a few action pictures every detail counts.
Once I was done ooh-ing and ahh-ing over paper quality I actually cracked into the content. There are 18 chapters in total, but they can be broken down into two major sections:
* Section 1: Information. Ms. O’Connell explores statistics about ground fighting, good and bad ideas when grappling, and overarching strategic objectives for her self defense methods.
*Section 2: Techniques. After laying down the groundwork (pun?) Ms. O’Connell provides detailed examples for some of the most common methods of getting attacked and makes recommendations for fighting back as well as escaping.
My Thoughts on the Book
Long time readers know I rarely slam books that I don’t like, but I’m also not afraid to make a critique now and then. That being said, I really liked this work. Right from the get-go Ms. O’Connell addressed almost every nagging concern I had stemming from previous “ground game” books I’ve read. For example, if an instructor starts a book or seminar by saying “80-90% of fights go to the ground” I am immediately suspicious of their ability to do basic research. Ms. O’Connell, despite being a ground game enthusiast, makes no such unsubstantiated claims. In fact she provides some of the real research on how many fights actually do go to the ground, and the context in which those studies were conducted (ie: law enforcement).
Her candid nature continues as she explains that going to the ground and staying their isn’t necessarily the best choice when it comes to self defense. Variables like dangerous environment, multiple assailants, and more play into her self defense methods. She is also keen on striking vital points whenever possible (which warms my karate heart).
One issue I did have while reading the book is that I couldn’t grasp the intricacies of some of the techniques being demonstrated. While the pictures were high quality they couldn’t quite capture how Ms. O’Connell was shifting her weight, manipulating the opponent, and sequencing her strikes. As a non-jujitsu-ace I felt informed, but not to the point where I could put her tactics into practice for myself.
Luckily for me there were visual aids, which takes us to the second component of the review…
What You Get in the DVD
The companion DVD is a step-by-step re-creation of the tactics described in the book. Ms. O’Connell provides a brief introductory explanation and then launches directly into body movements, methods, and scenarios.
Much like in the book, the topics discussed include:
*Defense Against Standing Opponents
*Defense Against Mounted Opponents
*Applying Joint Locks
*Defense Against Joint Locks
*Defense Against Multiple Attackers
Here are a few words from the author on why she decided to create “When the Fight Goes to the Ground” and some clips from the DVD:
My Thoughts on the DVD
Making videos isn’t easy but I think Ms. O’Connell and her assistants did an admirable job. First and foremost, I was happy to see the techniques put into action. Jujitsu can be very subtle at times and requires acute control of body weight, balance, and momentum…all of which can be tough to capture via static images alone. I also enjoyed Ms. O’Connell’s presentation and execution. Many self defense DVD’s feature 200 pound ripped ex-marines whom I have a hard time identifying with. Ms. O’Connell is very fit and very capable but also the size of a normal person (like myself), so I got a lot more out of seeing her execute techniques than I would…say…a pro-level UFC fighter.
One subtle thing I liked about the DVD was the use of one tall and lanky attacker and one stockier attacker. Ms. O’Connell discusses the importance of body type in the book and then carries that concept through to the video. Watching the different challenges presented by both attackers was valuable.
“When the Fight Goes to the Ground” gets my endorsement. This is a work I intend to visit again in order to integrate some ideas and methods into my own training and teaching. If you’re looking for practical, repeatable self defense tactics for ground fighting that don’t require high level acrobatics then this might be the book for you too. When taking into consideration the extremely reasonable price point it’s tough to pass up.
When the Fight Goes to the Ground
Lately I’ve been studying two works by Rory Miller, a highly experienced martial artist and corrections officer. I say ‘study’ because simply reading the material wouldn’t result in any long term benefit. Miller takes decades of experience inside law enforcement and applies it to the civilian world. The information is important enough to warrant the kind of serious focus one might expend in the dojo.
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It is a traditional martial artist’s responsibility to differentiate between the timeless aspects of an art and the timely. The human body has not changed significantly since the beginning of recorded history. As such, the brilliant individuals that developed effective classical arts should still be heeded carefully. Of course, the tools and environment in which man lives has been changing constantly. Therefore, it requires an adaptive mindset to adjust and improve with the times.
Think of it this way – gunpowder may be old, but efficient and concealable hand guns certainly are not. Furthermore, law enforcement ‘back in the day’ was often as complex as chopping off a limb or tossing someone in a dungeon for X amount of years. Nowadays, law enforcement is a little more subtle.
Training and Teaching with the Law in Mind
It’s often said (accurately) that martial arts training should consist of simple, repeatable tactics that can work under high levels of stress. As such, clouding the mind with complicated thoughts of lawsuits and use-of-force specifics may end up leading to tragedy. On the other hand, in the modern world even the most obvious cases of self defense can lead to extensive jail time, loss of job, and utter disaster for individuals and families.
It turns out martial arts for life protection is a little more complicated than we all would hope.
Even more thought provoking than training with the law in mind is teaching with the law in mind. After all, instructors only see their students for a few hours each week. Is it up to the sensei to focus on technique and leave the law study outside the dojo? Is it even ethical to try to define the moral line where self defense should be used as opposed to staying hands off for legal purposes?
Addressing Tough Force Questions
Balancing the law and effective self defense can be extremely difficult. Most of the time martial artists have to come to a personal conclusion about when and where they will use force, and to what extent (control, pain, damage, death). Unfortunately, coming to a personal conclusion is not necessarily the same as coming to an informed conclusion. That’s where Rory Miller comes in. He provides a foundation of information that helps demystify legal factors of force and gives the reader tools to quickly navigate murky situations, even when the best possible outcome is the death of another human.
These two books, “Force Decisions” and “Scaling Force“, are not necessarily a pair. By that I mean they can be read separately with no sense of lacking. However, I found reading them in close succession to be informative and useful.
“Force Decisions” is set up in the following manner:
* Training – Explaining how police officers are trained and what they are taught when it comes to force on the job.
* Checks and Balances – Describing what happens to an officer if his/her behavior is called into question.
* Experience – Exploring how on-the-job incidences come to inform and enhance an officer’s ability to use appropriate force.
* About You – Explaining how to take the lessons from law enforcement and apply them to citizen life.
Throughout the book the author provides a series of ‘hard truths’ which help readers understand the conundrums they may encounter when thinking about force seriously.
“Scaling Force” is more focused yet also more extensive. In “Force Decisions” Rory Miller touches upon the levels of force officers have at their disposal and the circumstances in which they might use it. “Scaling Force” takes that concept of a force continuum and explores each and every phase in detail, adding the thoughts and experiences of Lawrence Kane as well.
“Scaling Force” is set up in the following manner:
* Intro to Violence – Describing common scenarios and mental states in which violence occurs.
* Level 1 Presence – Using authority, body language, etc to de-escalate and control.
* Level 2 Voice – Using tone, volume, etc to dominate or dictate a conversation.
* Level 3 Touch – Using non-damaging physical contact to calm, direct, or distract.
* Level 4 Control – Using technique to restrain or control a violent situation.
* Level 5 Less Lethal – Using strikes, bone breaks, sprains, etc to eliminate a violent threat.
* Level 6 Lethal – Using lethal force to eliminate a deadly threat.
One of the most important concepts stressed in the book is the lack of clarity or linearity in which the force continuum is used. Activating the right level at the right moment is a combination of situational awareness, training, and wisdom (ie knowledge applied in real life to optimal effect). If that sounds difficult, trust that it is. One might be tempted to forget all this and just go with the old saying: ‘I’d rather be judged by twelve than buried by six’…but with resources available like these books relying solely on that mindset is lazy rather than courageous.
I recently had a chance to review the DVD "Kung Fu Body Conditioning (2)" by Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming, and would like to tell you about some of my findings.
Most martial artists starting out have a rather romantic vision of what traditional training should look like. Especially in the realm of Kung Fu, the imagination conjures up images of clandestine monks meditating on rocks, leaping through trees, and balancing deftly on top of slender objects. Most of us settle into more modern environments for our training, but the students at the YMAA retreat keep some of the old spirit alive, and this DVD lets us in on the fun.
I was particularly interested in this video because it relates closely to the Okinawan concepts of kiko and hojo undo. Kiko is a term that refers to the Okinawan methods of energy movement throughout the body. It is a combination of breath, meridian opening/closing, posture, muscular coordination, and mindset. Kiko practice often shows up in kata like Sanchin and Tensho, where the form is executed slowly and deliberately. Hojo Undo is a term referring to basic practice methods that often involve body developing implements like chi ishi, nigiri game, makiwara, and more.
When put together, kiko and hojo undo form the basis for body conditioning in karate. When done properly, karate strikes can become exponentially more effective and the body far more resistant to taking blows. Concepts such as iron palm, iron shirt, and kyusho jutsu are all related to these methods of training.
Interestingly, these aspects of karate which blend internal and external have a close relationship with Chinese arts. As is well known, karate's forebearer tode (or just "ti") was heavily influenced by Chinese sources. Whether it was Okinawans traveling to the Chinese coast to study White Crane or Chinese sapposhi visiting the islands and staying in Kumemura, the spread of chuanfa (kung fu) was subtle but deliberate.
Viewing the Kung Fu Body Conditioning DVD was an excellent chance to "compare and contrast", as well as learn new things about the intricacies of internal development.
What's On the DVD?
In short – a lot. Normally when you purchase a martial arts DVD you can expect somewhere between 1-2 hours of content. Some are even stingier. This DVD provided FOUR HOURS of content, and it wasn't fluffed out with unneccesary repetitions of drills.
That being said, here is a quick run down of the major sections of the video:
- Basic Qigong – Grand circulation, hard/soft white crane movement, taiji ball, candle staring. This section is a nice mixture of groundwork ideas that seem simple but are difficult to execute proficiently. For hard stylists it's full of useful drills to ponder, soft stylists may find it remedial.
- Arm and Leg Conditioning– candle punching, use of weighted body gear, bag punching, brick rooting, jumping technique. Normally when you hear the terms "arm or leg conditioning" you think of beating your body with various implements to toughen them. That's not really the focus here. Instead the body is conditioned to behave properly to transmit power and move energy effectively.
- Kicks and Stances – Useful for individuals looking to integrate more kung fu into their repertoire, although not critical for understanding the other concepts in the video.
- Partner Drills – reaction speed, reaction time games, bridge hands, distance drills, arm conditioning. A series of useful activities that two or more students can use to develop enhanced ability. Included is body toughening exercises.
- Outdoor Training – post punching, weighted exercise, cinderblock flipping, monkey running, tumbling and trampoline. Ideas for integrating nature into development activities. Low tech body conditioning solutions.
- Philosophical Discussions – Dr. Yang pontificates on some of the finer aspects of preserving kung fu, the deeper meaning of training, and focusing on character development.
For the visually inclined, check out this short video filled with clips from the DVD:
How Good Was the DVD?
There's no question, this video is a welcome addition to my collection. From a sheer value perspective, YMAA has done an excellent job of giving customers the most for their money. Many companies would have broken this information up into four DVDs, one hour a piece and charged $30-$40 each. This DVD is one disc, $39.95, and they didn't cut corners on production value. While you wouldn't mistake this for a Hollywood movie, the quality of filming and clarity of information is well above average. Interestingly, this particular video is the second in a 2-part series, yet it doesn't feel as if the first is needed to understand the content. Both parts appear to be separately functional.
The format begins and ends with discussion from Dr. Yang. He guides the viewer through qigong exercises and philosophical discussions. The bulk of the actual physical training is done by his retreat students. They perform aptly, and while their presentation is a bit more stiff than the veteran Yang, each exercise is thoroughly understandable.
I approached this video looking for ways to enhance my kiko and hojo undo training, and I got just that. The internal qigong aspects emphasized throughout the tape are very interesting and clearly applicable to classical training. Individuals who don't care for discussions on chi or energy may find some of the drills too esoteric for their taste, but that's ok. With so much content, the viewer can easily pick and choose which pieces they want to incorporate into their own regiment. I, for example, have no real use for tumbling or parkour-esque monkey running. I won't be utilizing those drills, but I did appreciate the skill it took to do them.
Any Gripes, Complaints, Curmudgeonly Mumblings?
I have one complaint. Throughout the video we see the young students executing various body/technique development exercises. But what about Dr. Yang? Sure, tossing cinderblocks helps build good core and grip muscles when you're young, but at what time do you stop doing that? What kind of body development training does Dr. Yang do at his age and skill level?
I would have loved to see a "mature" version of each exercise. As the young students wailed away, Dr. Yang could have shown how a 40-50 year old might do it. After all, many martial artists are middle aged or older; they can't be jumping around from railing to railing all day.
One of the great pleasures I get from studying under good senior Sensei is watching them execute techniques and training at a higher level. This video missed a chance to show off Dr. Yang and the subtleties of his expertise.
If you're interested in low tech training and want to gather new ideas for combining the internal and external aspects of your art, this DVD is a fine choice. I found a few drills I can put to immediate use, and others that may take time for me to understand.