Letters: Intensity, intensity, intensity

7 April 2006

If I am playfighting with a taller opponent are there any basic strategies that I could think about? Are there ways of working on my timing when I don’t have a training partner to work with?  I have reflected on a situation that happened years ago when I was on the end of a good kicking with a Karateka who had about a 9 inch height advantage (He was a sadist who enjoyed the dishing out of punishment in various forms to many people), I did have a couple of opportunities to grab him and dump him onto the floor but didn’t have the information /experience that I have now (Your web site/DVDs & MMA tapes) If we had of gone to the floor I think I would of had the advantage. I still get very pissed off about this even though it happened about ten tears ago! At that point in my training I did not think about the possibility of wreaking havoc and confusion (Although this would of been difficult within the narrow confines of Karate rules). In my Fantasy about the situation I grab him and drop to the floor anyway! 

Kenneth Milling

It’s a universal problem, of either ‘bridging the gap’ or preventing somebody from coming in on you if they’re taller than you are.  There are a lot of factors involved, including timing.  What I boiled it down to in the 70s when facing a larger opponent, was that I could either make that entry using sheer speed, or power where you charge in with intimidatory striking (even if they don’t hit, they’ll preoccupy him from countering you); or deception (using feints, or not being where he expected me to be–a lot of this is about using the head to evasively enter); and in my opinion, the best of all, the use of the cover.  Where you cross-cover or protect your head with double hand/forearm as you make the entry.

Naturally, all this has got to be done with an appreciation of red zone.  You need to have already anticipated what’s going to happen once you’ve stepped inside his red zone.

The one thing about when you enter somebody’s space if you’re a smaller guy, the big problem comes in leaving it.  It’s a long way to back home.  So the best idea is to stay in there and work from the inside or outside position to get him down to the ground, and then go into your ground and pound or submission.

All of that refers to taking the fight to the taller guy.  But if he starts to bring the fight to you, you can’t afford to be there.  ‘Getting on your bike’, as the expression goes, in the ring or arena, isn’t going to work–there’s nowhere to run if he’s really intent on pursuing you.  The only real option, again, is that every man will make an initial move towards you.  And perceiving that change in his position is critical.  That’s where your timing and your response is based.  If you haven’t seen that one essential cue within all this chaos, then you’re fucking dead.

If you catch him early, you can intiate your entries (as above).  If you’re late, then you have to either cut an angle (taking an outside step–but it’s difficult to articulate, it’s subtle and not what most people think–I’d have to show you)  or change level.  Changing level is simpler: you simply drop the head and hips to a level at which you can initiate a move (pickup, dump, clinch, or slip to a new position).

A great way (most people only say it can be done on the mat but it can also be done in the street) is to drop to both knees, but with the idea of taking his leading leg, and then either cracking him down from that position using your head or shoulder, or standing up with him and flaring him or dumping  him with the leg you’re holding, and then going into your ground and pound.

But in this case, a picture’s worth a thousand words.  Somewhere on my videos, it’s there, but it’s hard to explain the details of movement and timing on paper.

If you understand the concept of what I’m talking about, you then can take that concept of the way you’re going to fight a taller man and work it out in technical and situational drilling.  Initially, just get familiar with what you have to do, and then go up to full power so that whatever you’re doing is being translated within a reality-based environment and not an idealized one.  That’s how you test if it’s really going to work for you.

Once you become instinctively familiar with ways of dealing with a taller or larger opponent, you then have to take what you’ve learnt into conditional fighting, where you now have a task to perform.  A mission.  And your mission is, in thirty seconds, to go in and take this man down by clinching or low-level attacks to the legs, whilst he’s trying to knock you down.  You then, to keep the intensity up, repeat it another thirty seconds with either that man or if he’s tiring, another man, until you’re effectively taking on the whole class for a period of five minutes–no rest for you, but they keep coming in on you fresh.  And you do that for as many rounds as you can, up to 30 to 45 minutes.  And you can repeat this with any process.

Hopefully you’ve now learned to deal with going to him, so you’re going to reverse it and deal with him coming to you.  Now if we’re saying he’s a standup fighter, for example, he can come at you in a designated way.  So say to start off with, until you get the hang of it, you designate him to do a left jab/right cross for example.  You know what’s coming, but you don’t know when.  He’s going to try to knock you out.  Now, his game plan is not to be caught by you.  He’s not going to wait around for you to close with him.  Your problem becomes, getting him down.  You do that for 30 seconds.  Once that time is up, in comes the next guy, and you keep repeating as described above.

You can mix these two methods together.  In fact, you can mix anything together for your 30 minute workout.  But this is how you train it.  First you learn to see the cue in technical drilling so you learn the moves, then you move to situational drilling which is more realistic, and finally you progress to conditional fighting.  And in the last example of conditional fighting, you can gradually make it more free.  You don’t want to get stuck just doing a left/right combination, you need to have snapshots of the fight you envisage you’re going to fight, and then put them into 30-second intense ‘missions’ where you each play a role.  He gets to rest, you don’t.

Now, not everybody in the class is going to be 6’6″, so to a degree you’re going to have to use your imagination.  Ideally, it would be great if you could get a whole room of big guys together, but if you can’t, just the fact that every guy is different is going to help you.  The good thing about working in this way with the class is that not only does it allow you to train at high intensity and reduce some of the inherent dangers of going ‘free’, but it allows you to work with different types of guy, rather than working with one partner.  Equally, if you’re clever, you can actually ‘edit’ the fight into these snapshots, and then after a week’s training, you paste all the snapshots together and you’ve got all the scenarios of the fight.

This is all done with a view that if you spar at full power for 30-45 minutes or even less, somebody’s going to end up with a serious injury. But if you spar too light, it’s a complete waste of time. So you have to somehow find a way to fight in your training that’s going to replicate what you have to do on the street or in the ring.

As for training your timing without a partner: ground-ceiling speedball is a great way.  Solo racquetball is also great, where you play close to the wall and you chase yourself, rather like a dog chasing its tail.  This is great for footwork, hand-eye coordination and reactions. You can also do it with a football. If I’m walking down a busy street, I look at the other pedestrians as if they’re opponents and I mentally work my footwork and time my shots as we approach each other.


2) I have noticed that when members of our small training group play fight they all unconsciously fall into a pace and rhythm that you have high lighted many times in your writing & on tape/DVD. Most of the group are relative novices (Up to one year of training) and have never engaged in the practice of Karate/Taekwon do etc. I often construct various drills such as ground and pound on a punch bag (Laying on the ground) and emphasise hitting that internal high gear with ‘vicious intent’ for 60 sec’ rounds. The main difficulty seems to be in replicating that dynamic into the playfighting. I noticed in one of the  replies to a letter that you commented on how difficult it is for many people to hit ‘over drive’ and that you had seen a bit more of that in Thailand (Thai Boxers). I could say that I come across this dynamic often in my work as a Psychotherapist in a more general sense (Holding back from life/relationships). I would also add that the more primal aspects of our personal psychology/physiology can potentially be accessed and harnessed in order to animate our being in potentially constructive ways, but the catch is that many people are deeply terrified of going beyond the personal persona and potentially losing their sense of perceived self (Civilised and in control). I know that from reading articles on your site (And articles written about you that I came across years ago-Fighting Arts/Combat mag) that you have accessed and lived experience that goes beyond what might be called ‘the normal/usual parameters of experience’.

Where does this restrained pace’ come from that I have made reference to ? I could see that in one of the DVD‘s ( Liverpool ) the guys at one point did not (could not?) hit that high gear and despite what you clearly said seemed to remain unconscious of their own physical/psychological actions, it was then neither vicious or brutal. You even changed the exchange drill in order to facilitate a more dynamic exchange but it still didn’t happen. This is not meant as a criticism of the guys who I am sure could flatten many so called martial artists, I’m grappling with the thought of ‘what is going on’. (KM)

There are two possibilities. First, I think that a lot of guys just can’t shift it out of second gear, even if their house is burning down. Second, with the success of submission fighting within the MMA, a lot of fighters have adopted the training tempo of submission, which is far lower than what’s required of MMA. That’s one reason why a fighter like Fedor Emelianenko has had the success he’s had. He’s in overdrive. He sees the situation in fighting as an emergency. He needs to get the job done quickly.

That’s one of the problems: people haven’t got a perception that they need to perform a task in a given time. Now here’s a domestic example. We are pretty pressed for time around here to get everything done. This morning, Trish took our son off to playschool and I knew she’d be back with our daughter within half an hour. I needed to do my training in that time. Normally I’d have 45 minutes, but today I squeezed everything I was normally going to do into 15 minutes: I went like a fucking madman, so that when she got back, I was already done.

Now a lot of guys, when they look at fight training, they follow a rule of thumb of doing three times as much as you need to do in a fight; e.g., if you have a 15 minute anticipated fight, you do 45 minutes of very intense training. OK, fine. But there’s another way of looking at that. You could try reversing that: cram all the work into a shorter space of time. Whatever you would have achieved as an energy deficit in the 45 minutes, now try to create that same deficit in the 15 minutes! And still make it effective work. Riding a bike is one thing, but punching, kicking, etc. is another.

What you’re going for is a perception more than anything. To create a sense of emergency. Playfighting that you’re referring to is normally experimental and can last up to 30-45 minutes. It’s essentially aerobic. The way you give it reality is if you’ve understood the principle of conditional fighting, where you’ve set a specific task to be perfomed and nominate roles for each fighter, and then you call ‘fight.’ Then, within that 30 seconds, they play out their roles at high intensity. For example, one may go for submission while the other goes for ground and pound. Depending on the phase of the fight you’re working on (standup open/closed or ground open/closed) you predetermine their mission, and then let them go for it against the clock. And usually, with regards to strikes, you reduce the interval to increase the intensity. Submission takes a little longer. (By the way, with striking the shorter the intervals, not only the more intense the work, but the greater the safety factor. Whereas with submission, you can extend the interval because you have the tapout option. But you don’t want to extend it to the degree where they’re starting to pace themselves. You want to see them produce a maximal effort.)

Now the way you can use this conditional fighting is to embed it within the playfighting. So you go from a lower tempo, experimental playfight, then the coach calls out ‘hit it’ and they go into whatever conditional fighting task you’ve set as I’ve just described, and then at the end of the interval, the coach calls ‘time’ and they go back to aerobic playfighting. This allows them to recover, and then you hit them again. Initially you can do this in a regular way, so that they have recovery time but not too much and also develop their playfighting. But as you progress, you want to decrease the playfighting side of it and go more for the reality.

If you don’t do that, a lot of guys when they train, they will tend to pace themselves. They’re setting themselves for whatever length of workout they anticipate, and they want to get through it. With this method, you can interfere with their expectations and force them to deal with a situation they haven’t anticipated. The way of ‘beasting’ in the Army is when everybody thinks they’ve had a really fucking hard workout, the trainer makes them do it again. Or, they’re out on a forced march cross country, they run up to the truck and it’s pulling away from them. Mental and physical toughness are key components in any fight training.

The idea within the training is to exhaust the system, physiologically and mentally in the training because you don’t’ want to experience that for the first time in the fight. You want to either not go there at all in the fight, or if you find yourself there, you want to be familiar with it so that you can rise to the occasion.

That’s why, if you’re doing the playfighting idea, you’re learning to not only perform the skills when you’re fresh, but also to do the work when you’re fatigued, which is very, very important.

One of the reasons, I think, why people approach training at the lower tempos they do is because they’ve transferred their experience of work in everyday life into the gym. The regularity of the work, the set pace, the predetermined, safe nature of doing most jobs. And they take that same work ethic of an eight-hour day into the gym. They can’t get out of it. They’re fulfilling that part of their psyche of doing work, rather than the requirements of the fight, which is only going to last 15-30 minutes. To be quite honest, most people I’ve observed look like they’re training on Valium.

As for me personally, I’m just a live wire. I’m either like a lazy fucking tiger lying on the ground, or I’m up and after my prey. I don’t do second gear. That’s just inherent in my personality, but I also have trained myself to be that way. I’ve trained myself to work in bursts; I don’t want to do marathon work. For me as a fighter, it’s pointless.

But here’s the catch: if you’re going to work in the anaerobic zone for 15-30 minutes and challenge the phosphocreatine and lactic acid systems (effectively working without oxygen) you’ve got to be mentally tough. And be motivated out of the need to be able to do that, because you know the fight is not going to be all over in the first 30 seconds. And that it’s not going to happen at an aerobic pace either, unless both fighters decide to do that.

One way you can keep the intensity coming at you when doing situational drilling or conditional fighting, is to keep changing your sparring partners. They’re always fresh, and you ain’t. Until you cover 15-30 minutes.

Again, as a trainer, when you’re doing the situational drilling/conditional fighting, the trick is not to give them a choice. The Liverpool session you’re referring to actually got me thinking about how I could force them to adopt that higher pace. And so I reintroduced what I used to use in the Earlham Street days (you see this in the tape where I’d get Mark Tobin or Vince Jauncey to attack me at full intensity and try to knock me out in situational drilling). Now, with the new training method I’m using, they don’t have any choice. They know what’s coming in the drill, and if they don’t rise to it, they’re going get knocked out in that 30 seconds. And, because of the nature of the way I organize the rounds, they’re going to have to repeat those intense bursts (30 seconds say) for a total of 5-minute rounds, and then repeat all that for a total of 30 minutes. That’s a lot of intense work.

There’s only three words I know: intensity, intensity, intensity. You can stick that on my tombstone after I finally blow up.