Letters: More detail on DVDs

More detail on the films

30 May 2005

Attending a workout in Steve’s area would be way out of my budget right now, as I live in Nevada, USA, and money is never easy to come by, plus the dollar grows weaker every day. However, I plan to order a few of his DVDs in the next month or two, but I have some questions.

What’s the difference between NHB 1 (Stance, Positioning, Footwork and Striking while Standing) and NHB 1A? It sounds like NHB 1 is more in-depth as far as head movement, stance, & short range striking goes, is that correct?

Also, what is on the Fight Training Methods, Principles and Concepts dvd?

What specifically does he teach on each of the above DVDs in terms of drills, footwork, mechanics, mindset, positioning, transitions, and explosiveness, etc? I’m particularly interested in his ideas of being more effective during the transitions between moves or positions. I want to have more striking power at short ranges, and in all positions. I want to be more explosive at closing the gap.

I’m curious about his methods of fight prep, striking power development, and making exercises more fight-specific. I’m also fascinated by the fact that many people write that Morris, at 61 years old, moves like a much younger guy. What training does Morris do to keep his movements youthful? The biggest fight isn’t against the man across the cage, it’s against Father Time. Morris sounds like he’s winning that one too. How does he do it, besides the fact that he doesn’t think about aging?

I have experience competing in amateur boxing and NHB matches at the amateur level. I prefer striking over submissions, and my training is mostly sparring (including ‘handicap’ sparring where I can only use one or two techniques but my partner can use any move he wants), running, and lotsa heavy bag work. I’m always looking for ways to make my heavy bag training more effective– it’s my favorite piece of equipment. Even if I stopped competing tommorrow, I’d still hit the heavy bag every day. It’s lotsa fun, a great workout, but I wish I had more ideas on how to attack it to get the most out of it. Based on what I’ve read on Morris’ website, there’s probably a DVD or two that can address all that and more.

I really hope that he continues write articles and to share his wisdom & experiences on his website.

R. Morales, Nevada

When I did these films, I never made them with any script. And because of the type of training I’ve engaged in, I’ve never had many students. So on films, I’ve always been limited to what I can do with them. The level of the students has never been very high in recent years. And so, when I teach, other than when I go one-on-one with the camera in what I call the ‘PS’s, I’m somewhat limited.

When Trish decided to catalog what I was doing, we were never envisaging selling the films except within our limited group at that time. She was concerned that there was no documentation of what I was doing, much less anybody to pass my information on to, so she started to film the sessions. Later, we made the NHB series with the specific intention of making a film. With those movies, we had Floyd Brown and Mark Perry to demonstrate the moves. Floyd Brown was a former British/European Muay Thai champion and also world-ranked. Mark is a high-standard recreational fighter. NHB1A was the first one we filmed, in which I tried to cover some of the faults I was seeing in their fundamental skills and their key moves in the standup, particularly with regards to their stance (i.e., shoulder to hip rather than shoulder-knee) and footwork, and ways by which to change level quickly and effectively for the shoot. As well as various ways of developing power for strikes. Not everybody’s built the same, and there are different ways of skinning the cat.

When I first viewed NHB1A, I thought I could do it better, so I did it again, and got NHB1. So I had two films about the same thing, but from a different perspective. I don’t work from a syllabus; it’s not teach by rote. I then saw the opportunity on NHB1 to add a ‘ps’, covering all the key points on the film, using the heavy bag as my ‘partner.’ This is what sets NHB1 apart, though there are some interesting angles in NHB1A which I don’t cover in NHB1. Over time, I’ve come to realize that NHB1A is the better film in terms of the training session part, but because NHB1 has the PS, it probably has more information.

The new 2-dvd set was made up in Liverpool with two guys who had been training in their garage using my videos, plus a couple of other guys. Again, there’s a limitation, not in what I’m saying and demonstrating, but in how it’s being interpreted and performed. So the warts are there, because they’re learning much of this for the first time. But I do plenty of demonstration myself, so you can see how it should be done.

Basically what I go through again is stance and positioning, because I’m a great believer that if you’re going to start a race, the better position you are in when it kicks off, the further ahead you’ll get. Not that you can’t catch up, but who wants to? I go through the fundamental skills, which are the foundation of the key moves. Anybody can learn a move, but it’s the fundamental skill that makes it work. The other really important factor is how, dynamically and tactically, to make transitions between movements. That’s an area, particularly for those people coming from TMA, that’s never been covered, and it leaves a huge gap in their armor, because the transition is the most vulnerable point within the fight.

I then go on to teach the drills and conditional fighting methods by which to learn and train those fundamental skills and key moves so that they are familiarized and made instinctive. You could learn all of these just by fighting, but when you fight as a method of training, you’ll only ever be as good as the guy you’re fighting at the time, and on that basis you’d have to fight an awful lot of guys in order to cover all the situations that might come up. So I break down the positions and situations which are likely to occur within the fight (standup open/closed, transitions, and ground postions). In that way, rather than just fighting, we can cover both from a technical standpoint and at competitive high intensity, those problems and opportunities you’re likely to encounter in much less time than it would take to spar.

I’ve always been a believer in breaking things down at a technical level, tactically, and dynamically, into all their components. I create the situation using current references that I’ve seen in recent fights that I’ve analyzed, and with my understanding of biomechanics, tactics, strategies, etc. I clearly identify the components (psychological, physical and technical) that are influential upon this phase of fight (e.g, standup open/closed, ground, transitions, etc.). Once I have collected all the pieces of the puzzle, so to speak, I can train them specifically. Now when I encounter that situation again, I know the solution lies in there somewhere in my unconscious, though I might not know where it is. But, and not to be too esoteric but this is what I’ve found, my unconscious will sort that out for me. All I do is put the pieces of the jigsaw in, and the unconscious makes the picture. Rather like driving a car: the driving process is at an instinctive level, so I’m free consciously to take in cues and plan ahead. I’m not thinking about my foot on the pedal or my hand on the wheel.

A key point here is that when I’m constructing situational training drills, I’m looking to get the closest representation of the breakdown of the fight that I can get. But I don’t want to get too stereotypical of that, because in reality there’s a significant element of chaos. But I do know the factors that will be influential upon the solution, and that’s my approach. Cover the situations as close to the reality as I can, and find ways of enhancing each of those components at the highest intensity and in the safest way that I can. There’s an element of abstraction in breaking down the fight, but you don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The submissions and stuff can be performed at full power with a training partner, because you’ve got the tap-out opportunity. But for striking, although you have equipment, the last thing you want the training session to degenerate into is a fight with the possibility of serious injury. Because all that will develop out of that is the ability to fight, not necessarily the ability to fight better. We want the balls, but we want the procedures as well. That’s the inspiration behind the mixed-equipment training and the very high intensity drilling. The drilling isn’t what you might assume it to be, but a very high intensity exchange that is initially pre-determined, but which gradually becomes more free until it evolves into a form of conditional fighting.

In other words, for example, you say that you handicap yourself in your sparring. Back in about 1980 I used to do early versions of these fight drills and conditional fighting methods with my students Mark Tobin and Vincent Jauncey (Muay Thai). In one example, if I want to work on my defence, I’ll get somebody to keep attacking me in a specific way (trying to knock me out, for example, or take me down, or on the ground lock or choke me out). I know what’s coming, but I don’t know when, and the guy is really seriously trying to put me away, rather than sparring with me. So both of us get a practice. He gets to practice full power trying to hit me, and I get to absorb him. Building a strong defense is key to a strong offense, so you get used to being really hit hard. You’re not worried about being hit, so you can fully concentrate on hitting. This is probably the first drill you should do, to which you can then add exchanges. You can start countering him back with a prescribed move that he has to deal with, and so on, and so on.

It can get more complex from here. I have mirror drills: you do a left hook, I do a left hook. You do a right hook, I do a right hook. Or any other prescribed combinations (and it can then move on to freer exchanges, but it’s still ‘you do, I do, you do, I do’) These drills are performed first at low intensities to get the feel of the technique, then at very high intensities for short durations (intervals) representative of the round. If you had three fighting partners, for example, you could make that even more intense: one rests, two train, in a round robin. With a class of ten you could do ten guys for thirty seconds each on one guy, giving you your five minute round. You can use this approach for anything: standup, shoots, anything. What I’ve learned is to take the guy who’s being trained into the anaerobic threshold level and teach him to still be able to execute his skills.

The problem with sparring is that it often is a workout in the aerobic zone, and you can’t always guarantee that’s going to be the case in a fight. In fact, part of your strategy of taking the fight to the opponent should be to put him in a zone he’s not comfortable in. Not only from a standpoint of skills and mindset, but conditioning.

That’s basically what’s on that DVD. Conditional fighting methods, for example, are competitive. They are not what I call ‘play fighting’ (which is an experimental phase where you at low intensity try a move, your opponent gets out of it, and he tries a move; or where you set yourself a mission to achieve a move and either tell your opponent what that is so he can build the defenses against it, or don’t tell him what it is, and he might also have his own mission). Conditional fighting breaks down the fight into various fight scenarios and allows you to work at very high intensities. In other words, start the fight in the guillotine, not full-on, but your partner can put it on so he learns how to put the submission on you and then eases up on it just enough so you could neutralize it and start working out escaping it and reversing it. That’s your start position. Now somebody gives you a command, and you hit it. Try to get out. He’s going to try to choke you out, and you’re going to try to escape it.

You can do this with anything. That’s what I mean by breaking the fight down. When you can’t hit the man or do power dumps, hit a piece of equipment. Use a bag, hanging or free, or a pad man.

In this way you can break a fight down into minute intervals of doing various specific work; e.g.., standup open position exchanges at very high intensity–don’t go prancing around, get on with a ferocious exchange. Then without any break move straight on to some bagwork and sprawls for another minute. Or, you could do the same work on a padman, progressing on to takedowns and ground and pound. That’s all the open work. Then move on to pummelling for position or takedown/power dump position, and do that for a minute. You could then introduce power dumps with the bag and some ground and pound with the bag on the ground to simulate the man for another minute. From there you could move on to takedowns (make getting the guy to the ground your objective), for a minute.

The next phase would be to start the fight on the ground in the various positions or situations, again fight for a specific goal (e.g., get out of a position or attain a position, or get out of a submission or get one) at very high intensity for 60-90 seconds to make up a 5-6 minute round. Have a minute rest, and do it again. Repeat the whole thing for 5-6 rounds. Do that 3X a week.

Training has to be specific to what you need to do and the time period you have to do it in, plus a bit extra.

On the second of the two-DVD set there’s a long ‘PS’ covering the principles and concepts of what I do: psychological state of mind, stance/alignment/motion, penetration steps, changing level, half-man theory, red-zone theory, tie-ups, short-range angulation striking. The PS is not done in a gym so you don’t get the power demonstrations, BUT (and this is a big but) there is an awful lot of information on there. More than I could put down in writing. Trying to describe this thing in words is pretty challenging, but you can pick it up easier off the film.

If you’re not doing reality-based work with a man, you have to translate that reality to the bag. And not the other way round. It’s the same thing with the pad work. You’ve got to be attacking the man, not the pad. So with your bagwork you’ve got to have the right image and the right sense of the interval of time of exchanges. That’s one of the big problems with developing power on the bag; you can do it, but it takes too long. You need the reality check of somebody trying to hit you back. That’s why short-power striking is the key. It leaves less interval of time between each strike, less opportunity for him to get in and more opportunity for you to cover him if he tries. You’ve got to have a really strong visual impression of the man. A lot of guys stand too close to the bag. That’s great for developing the way to align the body to develop power within that space, but you’ve got to then visualize the man and the situation, open/closed, whatever. MMA involves a longer red-zone or distance to cover with both strikes and shoots than boxing or Muay Thai, so you’ve got to work the bag with that in mind. Otherwise, it’s just too much development time.

So on the bag, you’ve got to use your feints, false, attacks, covers, to make your penetrations. Everything is about capturing reality. And the best way to get your impression of that is by watching and analyzing the fights, breaking them down, and reconstituting that into your training. We do have the archive footage which includes some good bagwork and padwork, but at the time (1998) we had mainly TMAs trying to make the conversion to realistic training. That’s why NHB1 is the best starting point, because it puts any of the older reference materials into proper context.

With regards to your specific concerns on striking/explosiveness/transitions, there comes a point of realization that whatever you’re doing is based on fundamental patterns of movement that are inherent. And this isn’t some esoteric Oriental bullshit, but fact. And the reason I’m able to remain youthful from the standpoint of movement is that I don’t contradict those patterns. I simply adapt them. And consequently I’m able to do the movement more efficiently and effectively as well as avoid injury and the consequences of wear and tear through repeated practice of unnatural movement. Children respond in a natural, functional way to whatever they’ve got to do. Formal education of whatever kind (particularly with coaches who haven’t got a fucking clue) takes those natural responses away.

In other words, these are things which can be rationalized, and they have been by sports scientists. And some natural athletes will perform instinctively, but they usually become specialized within their sport. It’s not what you read in a book, but the intuitive sense of these patterns that is very important.

So when you watch my films, listen to what I’m saying, even look at what I’m doing, but try to pick up on me intuitively. You’ve got to pick it up on a subconscious level.

I was always someone looking for power. And in each generation, there’s been somebody representing that power for me in different ways, whether it was somebody throwing a javelin, or Tyson’s left hook in the 1908s. And what I’ve been able to do and refine is to pick up not only the physicality of the move, but also to feel the raw emotional mindset and the physical energy that has gone into making that move successful. I’ve taken the immediate short-cut to learning the move. And I’ve gradually refined that procedure over the years, breaking it down and putting it back together again many many times. I feel the move. I feel it. Rather like if you’re watching a boxing match and you’re weaving and bobbing with the guy you’re watching. You’re feeling it at a neural level, even a neurochemical level.

I’ll pick up the move that way, whether it’s watching a man or an animal. It’s nature’s shortcut. And that’s what you’ve got to do if you want to get to the next level. The other stuff is extremely important to condition you and give you the skills, but to get to the next level you need to find a representation, absorb it, and empathize with it.

And on a subconscious level you’re always looking out for clues. I had a big problem with short-range punching. I wanted to make my shots shorter and more effective. Then I was walking and I watched a deer startle. When I saw how its body suddenly dropped for a split second and then exploded away, I suddenly saw what plyometrics were really about. It’s the sudden load/unload (muscle spindles, serial elastic component of muscle fibre). And how it’s the stimulus that produces that explosive effect through the startle reflex. And I realized that when you startle, you jump. You suddenly shift all of your body explosively. And I thought, ‘A-ha, I can use that.’ Went in the gym, simulated that feeling of sudden startle and explosiveness and translated that into my strikes. It exponentially increased my power.

The answer isn’t where you think it is. Not all the answers are in the gym.