Joe Rogan and the narrow focus of MMA

A while ago, somebody forwarded a video to Joe Rogan and he shared it on his social media. In it was a friend of mine, Bobbe, doing a drill in which he works his way around a training partner via several half-kneeling positions. I immediately understood what the drill was about as I’ve seen plenty of similar drills before.
Turns out a whole lot of people hadn’t. And they saw it fit to ridicule Bobbe to no end.
The video went viral thanks to Joe and to this day, Bobbe gets shit over it. Hence me writing this article.

If you go through the comments, aside of the insults, the criticisms boil down to:

  • The partner is just standing there.
  • This isn’t realistic, nobody fights like that.
  • The arm movements Bobbe does aren’t effective.

I’ll address all these points, but first something else.
I Like Joe Rogan. I like his stand-up comedy, his podcast and often like his UFC commentary. However, to the best of my knowledge, the bulk of his training is in Tae Kwon Do and Ju Jitsu. Apparently, he’s done some muay Thai/Kickboxing training as well, but I’ve only rarely heard him talk about it.
We’ll get back to that.

 

Some thoughts

MMA has become the dominant combat sport in modern societies around the world, but in particular in the US. As a result, MMA is used as the gold standard: “if it doesn’t work in the cage, it doesn’t work”. Such a statement betrays a staggering amount of ignorance or even stupidity. The first can be helped and is nobody’s fault, the second, well, some people could do worse than not talking about things they don’t understand.

Here’s the thing: this dynamic is not new. Not at all.

Most Western countries were introduced to Asian martial arts with judo and jujitsu, sometimes all the way back to the 1940s and 50s. Because these are so different from Western boxing and wrestling, people latched on to them and there were plenty of matches between practitioners of those systems to figure out which style was better.

Fast forward to the 60s and 70s and Karate came along. Suddenly, it was seen as more effective than the previous arts, because it focused more on striking. A few years later in the 70s, Bruce Lee introduced Chinese martial arts to the public. Because he was such a charismatic presence on the screen and his physicality, Chinese martial arts challenged the status quo regarding which martial art was best when it comes to fighting. And so on it went until we are now in 2018.

The dynamic is this: anytime a new martial art shows up, people wonder if it is good enough to take on the ones that are already established. This results in conflicts, mixed fights and one art/style/system eventually becomes dominant in the minds of the general population as it gains popularity. Today, MMA is dominant and everything is compared to it.

Unfortunately, that comparison offers a false equivalency. MMA is not self-defense, nor is it a traditional martial art. These are all separate things, though they overlap in some regards.

MMA has a very narrow focus: it is a combat sport (and a violent one at that) focused on empty-hand dueling. It excels at that and being an MMA coach myself, I have nothing but praise for it as a sport. But it is not the only filter through which you should view fighting and violence. Many things that matter in the cage don’t matter in the street and vice versa.

Now some enthusiasts get upset when I say this and dismiss it out of hand. I find that a bizarre way of reasoning. I’ve already written extensively about using Mixed Martial Arts for Self-Defense, so I won’t repeat it all here. In short: in the Octagon, there are no multiple opponents, you are never attacked by surprise, your opponent is never much heavier or stronger than you, there are no weapons involved, and much, much more.

In self-defense, all these factors are of critical importance. They have a huge influence on how you train and fight. Here are some more, but compared to traditional martial arts:

In many Japanese martial arts, there are techniques to stop somebody from drawing a sword and to beat him before he completes the draw. If you can stop the guy from getting his weapon out, it is useless to him and you can beat him as he tries to go for it. This has zero relevance in the cage. There are no weapons there, so if you see somebody doing a Japanese form with that technique, it’ll look stupid to you. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t look stupid to practitioners of combatives and law enforcement. They know that stopping a thug or attacker form getting his knife or firearm out is one of the best ways to not get killed. So that traditional technique still has relevance today, but not in the MMA paradigm.

A lot of low stances and traditional footwork looks ridiculous and is not usable in an MMA fight. That’s because it was developed and perfected to be used in a South-East Asian jungle during monsoon season: using typical MMA footwork and techniques in that unstable and slippery environment means you fall flat on your ass in no time and the guy you’re facing will crawl all over you, cutting you up along the way, until he is close enough to slit your throat. Again, irrelevant in the cage, but outside of it…

There are loads more examples, but I’ll leave it at that. My point stands:

MMA as a sport has a narrow focus and it doesn’t encompass all there is to fighting, not by a long shot.

So with that out of the way, here are some thoughts on the whole incident.

 

Drills? Why do that?

The key point so many of the commenters whined about was how Bobbe’s drill was useless. This means two things: they don’t know the goal of the drill or they think drills are useless.

Let’s look at the second first, what about drills?

In every single competitive sport, practitioners use drills. There are all kinds of drills and they teach all sorts of things, but, they are designed to focus on one (or several) aspect(s) of the sport and improve the skills needed there. For example:

Apply the same faulty logic here: “No football player runs like that!” So this drill is useless, right? So we must now ridicule these players, right?

It is a fundamental error of reasoning when people dismiss drills as useless simply because they don’t know or understand them.

Then there’s the goal of Bobbe’s drill.

As mentioned, I’ve seen loads of drills like this in Silat and they all tend to teach specific things:

  • Getting used to working near an opponent.
  • Learning all the different positions you may find yourself in.
  • Learning how to transition from one position to the next.
  • Learning which angles of attack are available and which aren’t.
  • Attacking targets without having to look for them.
  • Etc.

These drills are usually taught with an immobile partner at first, to make it easier to learn all these things. In more advanced versions of the drill, there is more movement, a back and forth and even resistance from the partner.

So the example in Bobbe’s video is just a basic drill and the method of training shown is pretty standard for traditional martial arts as well. MMA enthusiasts said this is useless for training to fight in the cage. Yeah, about that:

Every single criticism leveled against Bobbe’s video can be thrown at Firas Zahabi.  Every. Single. One.
The partner is just standing there.

Nobody fights like that.

His techniques aren’t effective.

So following the same logic, Firas is full of shit and knows nothing about MMA, right? Oh wait

The disappointing thing about the BJJ crowd’s negative comments and ridicule is that they should know better: they do compliant-partner drills all the time:

Using the same logic from the commentators, Emily Kwok must be full of shit, know nothing about BJJ and her drill is useless, right? Oh wait

Something else:

Did you notice in the previous examples how Emily and Firas did their drills in a relaxed, flowing manner instead of going fast and hard? Kind of like how Bobbe went relaxed and flowing? Do you have any doubt that Firas and Emily are able to go fast and hard with their techniques should they choose to?

If not, why on earth would you think Bobbe is unable to go much, much faster than in that drill?

Double-standard much?

On a final note: If you can imagine Bobbe going much faster, imagine him doing that drill at speed but with a knife in his hand or with a palm razor (see picture in the Update below.) You’re having difficulty picturing that? Here, let me help you a bit:

 

Conclusion

People mistake the intensity of MMA as an accurate way of measuring the validity of any given martial art. These kinds of “that wouldn’t work in the Octagon” comments are stupid and juvenile. They’re juvenile because they make as much sense as arguing over which one is better, Star Wars or Star Trek? They’re stupid because they compare apples to rubber bands; there’s no point. Do you see tennis fans saying Federer could beat all the best badminton players? Do you see Nascar fans claiming their champions could easily win Formula One races? Same thing: there’s no point. Different sport, different context, different environment, and so on. Such dogmatic comparisons are useless.

MMA is not the only filter through which you can see fighting and neither is BJJ the only one through which you can see ground work. There is a wide range of martial arts out there and they all have something to offer that doesn’t work in the Octagon, but is most certainly useful outside of that narrow context.

I’ll leave you with this:

To to get a black belt in his system, my Kuntao teacher, the late Bob Orlando, made you do a project. You had to list all the different martial arts in the world. List every single one you could find and explain how they were connected to each other. With that list, you could see that his style was only a very, very small part of all the knowledge that is out there in this field.
This teaches humility and makes the newly minted black belt understand just how little he actually knows compared to how much there is to learn.

It also drives home the point that it is unwise to talk about other martial arts because you don’t train in them. If you don’t understand why another system does the things they do, there is no upside in criticizing them as speaking in ignorance is stupid and arrogant.

How much better would the world be if a whole lot more people did just that before they spout bile or ridicule on a video they don’t understand the first thing about?

 

Update:

Bobbe explained the purpose of the drill in a response on social media. He kindly allowed me to share it here:

I’m not going to defend this video, but I will try to explain it.

I am primarily a South East Asian practitioner, with a passion for knives, close range and sensitivity. I’m an in-fighter, and I fully believe/condone trickery, deception and wetwork in application. So before I teach anything, this is the stance I come from.

This is a piece of a drill which focuses on sensitivity from a kneeling position, and circling a body without LOOKING at it, feeling where you are, and working different joints, limbs and body parts against levers and pressure. Some have mentioned the knee cranks and destructions in the drill, yes, those are there as well.

Let me say, about this drill: It’s called “Puteran” (meaning; “Turning”) in Mande Muda Pencak Silat, and before I explain it, let me tell you what it’s NOT:

1: Defense against an incoming attack.

2: A speed drill against a stationary opponent.

3: Things you can do if you *happen* to be kneeling in front of an opponent.

4: A Kata

5: A homoerotic knee-dance

Having said that – there are over a dozen variations of this drill, including with the opponent moving in various directions, adding attacks, counters and stealing the line. What you’re seeing here is step one – nothing more. I used my student’s incoming punch as a reference point to start from, because I like to begin that way. It can easily be trained with a person just standing there, not attacking at all, the attack isn’t the point.

This is not a “dead drill” – there are several directions to both arrive at this point, and to go to from here as well. What you are seeing is a piece of an interactive method from a system that emphasizes unique angles and unusual entries.

There are lots of versions where BOTH people are moving, attacking and countering simultaneously, in a free-flow style with no choreography. This little snippet was filmed after class, where I was teaching a beginning student how to achieve this. This is simply the baby steps.

Puteran addresses several things at once: Position AROUND the body, at various angles and levels (you only see level one here) both facing and with your back turned, as well as side-to-side sensitivity, foot placement at close range, and what’s known in silat as “Badan Dasar” – “Body Basics” when interacting with an opponent.

Some have mentioned what would happen if a blade was in my hand – yes, this drill also has bladed variations, but the most important lessons are in the first level: How many arts address leg attacks and moving from low, seated or kneeling positions *fluidly*? Further, you don’t “have” to kneel, doing this drill, try it standing up and just maneuvering yourself around a person.

I am a *touch* surprised at the reaction from the BJJ crowd – they do, like, several variations of this, for the EXACT same reasons! The biggest argument I’ve ever heard when confronted with this is something like “Yeah, but…we don’t wear a SARUNG!”

Okay, what-evs.

Examine the drills and forms of any classical martial art, and you’ll find that they often reflect the direction that the art itself is pointing you towards. For example, “Sink-Root-Punch” could qualify many Karate systems in a nutshell, and the forms and drills certainly reflect this. Pencak Silat is flow-based, it advocates moving and attacking off-line, obliquely, in a way that the opponent doesn’t see coming.

To accomplish this, you must actually train such lines to be common technique. Watch the last few turns, I don’t even touch my opponent, I’m just moving my body in a circle around his. This is something many other arts do standing up.

I don’t keep a plethora of drills in my repertoire anymore. I believe that the only way to achieve a modicum of skill is to cross hands, roll, flow and spar. To that end, the drills I retain and teach are what I call “blanket” drills – they can be used and modified to reflect multiple principles, so the student doesn’t spend years memorizing choreography over developing actual skill, or confusing recital with ability. This drill opens the door for flow when both people do it together, and can be done standing up, squatting, or kneeling – so it fits my criteria of necessity, but again, it’s one ingredient in the recipe of Harimau (tiger) Pencak Silat.

If your art or method doesn’t address low-line fighting from a kneeling or seated position, this drill will look strange to you. If this is the first time low-line attacks have ever crossed your path, you will probably be dismissive of the drill. There are precious few “systems” I’ve seen that even address the legs, outside of “stance” or “to kick with”. Similarly, if your art or method doesn’t address realistic knife attacks or defense…how can you expect to understand the sheer weight of consequence and responsibility that comes with even the simplest of training?

I’m including a clip of my late teacher demonstrating a few applications straight out of this drill – maybe that will do a better job than I can. You can also see some smaller variations of the drill.

Lastly – take one of these palm-razors that I frequently carry, and do the drill. Let me know if it opens your eyes.

Bobbe Edmonds Palm Razor

Palm Razor

I would like to thank Marc MacYoung for his patience with me, and generosity in allowing me to respond on his page.

I would also like to take this opportunity to extend my hand to the Seattle TSA, and let them know I’m available for pat-down seminars in your area.

Lastly, I wish to offer a free pat-down to any Asian or Latina cheerleaders who are ignorant of this country’s customs and laws, and/or need a Green Card. Please apply at the black 1978 Chevy van parked at the Target superstore in Renton, WA.

Wear uniform.