Too stressful? Not stressful enough!

Just a short post about an idea I just had.

Maybe you know the feeling of having a cramp in your stomach when you’re afraid. Maybe you’re mindful enough to literally feel the effects of cortisol on your body when you’re under stress. You definitely know how it’s a highly unpleasant feeling. That feeling when you had to exit the school building and you KNEW that you had to confront your bully. You feel the stress flow through your veins!

This is a very bad feeling, but I think we shouldn’t avoid it. We should embrace it. We should, instead of being in “neutral” all the time, feeling neither true relaxation nor true fight-or-flight, neither true testosterone nor true cortisol – instead of that, we should actually seek these more extreme states of body and mind. High stress and also high relaxation.

When you, as a grown person, have fear of ticket controllers in trains, when you have stomach cramps for what your boss or landlord is going to say about this or that, you know that you’re definitely not on the right track, at least if you’re trying to become Overhuman. An Overhuman must be able to navigate high-stress environments with ease. The mode of fighting for your very life should be very easy to slip into. It’s very important to be able to do this, and it is only practice that ensures that you will actually be able to do it. Fighting in MMA? Joining the army? Who knows. I don’t know what the best way to practice this is, but I do know that it actually has to be practiced.

Lessons by Mars, vol. 1: “What I did wrong today at Jiu-Jitsu class”

I’d like to introduce a new series called “Lessons by Mars” (Mars being the god of war, hence the term martial arts) where I share little nuggets of martial wisdom that I happen to pick up at class, during a fight, watching an altercation, listening to a master, sparring with a friend, and so on. It’s probably not going to get technical – videos are a more appropriate method for showing technical stuff – but philosophical.

So, what did I do wrong today at Jiu-Jitsu class? I mistook the will to win for overcommitment, and so I did not commit sufficiently.

I’m new to Jiu-Jitsu: I started training when I lost my first (and only) two MMA fights, due to the fact that I lost both of them on the floor. And since any technique that is good enough to beat me once is good enough to learn myself, I decided that I must improve (read: learn anything at all) my ground game.

Fight is aggression. Fight is emotion. Fight is anger and determination. Fight is wishing to hurt someone. A martial art teaches one to fight. Any martial art that ignores the reality of fighting is missing the point of its existence. And the saying goes: “You don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training”. Thus, we must make acquaintance with violence if we are to get better at performing violence.

I come to class. We warm up. We drill technique. We roll. At the warm up, I warm up. During technique, I am relaxed and precise, trying to do the technique correctly, getting it in my muscle memory. But, during rolling, I try to win, or at least survive.

Now, with such a fighting mindset, rolls are not technical, nice, and flowy. They are ugly and messy and I’m not trying to do new stuff, but I’m trying to choke or lock in the fastest, most efficient way. I am trying to win.

We are often told to relax, to roll more playfully, more flexible, not being stiff. This is sound advice. However, my bad tendency is to mistake relaxation and flexibility and not overcommitting with limpness, with not trying to win, with not putting up a fight. A real fight does not look like that. In a real fight, you try your very best to win. You try your very best to survive. You don’t let someone catch an armbar. You don’t let someone get on your back.

There is a a world of difference when a black belt gives up his back and when a white belt does the same thing. They are both relaxed at that moment, true. But the black belt can allow himself to make a deliberate mistake just so that he can get out of a funny spot. The white belt should be more careful and more humble.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have just positional sparring, or flowing technical sparring where the point is explicitly not to win, but to try new stuff. These are things that are valuable, but I feel that, at least for me, it is important to also do the fighting sparring; the “I want to win” sparring; the “I want to hurt you sparring”. armbar

Do not be stiff, but be fast and decisive.

Do not overcommit to something, but try your best to win.

Let go of that armbar if you know you’ll never in a thousand years be able to finish it, but don’t lose the
fighting will.

That’s what I need to do. How about you?

Why I gave up teaching martial arts (at least for now)

EDIT 20/5/17: I changed my opinion on this significantly, but I’ll still leave the article here. In short, my new position is this: ideally, you want to learn from more experienced people that have legit skills. In martial arts, one criterion could be the number of fights your teacher had, but it’s not the only criterion nor necessarily the best one. You just want to make sure in some way that the person and the knowledge are legit, and extensive experience in fighting is a plus.


I have been training EBMAS Wing Tzun Kung Fu for over six years. I have reached the ninth of the twelve student degrees and I have been awarded an instructors licence. I was in the process of starting my own school a couple of months ago. I gave it all up – at least for now. Why?

No XP.

Sure, I’ve been in a couple of street fights when I was 16 (3 or 4 of them) and that was that. I started training Wing Tzun when I was 18 and since then never had any sort of fight, only the practice during class. The point of someone having to clock real fights before they can claim to be an expert was made also by Bas Rutten in Joe Rogan’s podcast. Even sparring isn’t enough, says Bas Rutten, because it is not the same thing as a fight. When I first heard about it, my teacher disagreed and I guess I went along with what he said – until a couple of months ago, when I found out about Steve Morris. I looked at a bunch of his videos on Youtube, then I read some of his stuff and then something clicked. I realized that it would be completely wrong for me to teach if I hadn’t fought – and I hadn’t.

Think about it. You want to learn to drive a car. Do you A) hire an instructor that’s absolutely incredible on the course, that can do all kinds of impressive things around those cones but never drove on the road or B) hire an instructor that has had a couple of years of experience driving on the road but can’t do all the flashy stuff on the course? I think the answer is clear – you hire the guy experienced with driving on the road because you will be driving on the road, so his input is that much more important than the input of someone good only on the course.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t learn a useful thing or two from the course-guy. But you will want to learn from the guy that actually drove his car in traffic.

Then why would you want to learn from someone like me, someone who never had a fight, or had a fight ages ago before he ever started training? You would want to have someone that can say “Yes” to the question “Have you ever had to use your [insert martial art] and did it work?”

My friends have given me the counter-argument that despite my lack of experience, I still know MORE than regular people do about fighting. Maybe so. But just because I have a more developed idea about fighting doesn’t mean it’s the right idea. And if you don’t know if your idea is right, you test it.

So naturally, I went and tested it in two amateur MMA fights, which I both lost. Now I can say with confidence that I actually do know a couple of things about fighting. However, without even more experience in fighting, I will not be teaching fighting because it would be irresponsible to the students: they have no business listening to someone that is so inexperienced as I am because they might make mistakes that will cost them their health (or life) because of my inexperienced advice.

And just to dismantle the “MMA is not real fighting” argument: no, it’s not, but do you know anything closer to it that you can practice safely? Me neither. So, MMA is as close as it gets and as good as it gets to train for real fighting.

I have no problem teaching certain concepts I know, but I don’t want to teach people how to fight if I don’t have empiric evidence that I myself know how to fight. In other words, if I was asked, I would show them sensitivity drills from Wing Tzun but only if I warned them that it’s not all there is to fighting – only an idea they might want to consider.

There is a bunch of stuff in traditional martial arts that pertains to things other than just fighting: meditative practices and everyday philosophies. That is all well and useful, but my personal motivation is only about learning to fight. Learning discipline and mindfulness are good things, but my primary goal is to learn to fight. Then we can go to discipline and mindfulness and avoiding fighting and so on, but without the groundwork it’s irrelevant to me.

Changes in my fighting training now:

  • I don’t do forms anymore. I simply don’t see them translate into useful movement in fighting.
  • I do a lot of shadowboxing and visualization.
  • I train BJJ in order to handle myself on the ground.
  • I hit the heavy bag with the intent of hurting, being angry, instead of just being technical.
  • I jump around and shake so as to be more relaxed. Standing and “grounded” breathing don’t work for me.
  • I don’t hit if the hit isn’t the strongest and the fastest hit I can produce, because I am now aware that most hits will simply be ignored by the opponent.

I still do sensitivity drills because they are of great use on the floor (and also sometimes on the feet) but I don’t do a lot of technical repetitions, I focus much more on sparring and fighting.

Hopefully, I will be able to test my new approach soon in another MMA fight and we’ll see how I did.