Wednesday, November 24, 2010


A recently posed question to me asks;

Mr. Lewis, many people are adamant that a martial arts instructor must be a master of executing techniques and fighting. However, many of the great boxing instructors such as Angelo Dundee, weren't fighters. How much emphasis would you personally place on an instructor's ability to perform technique and fight? Should an instructor be proficient in combat to teach it, or is it only essential that one be able to show a fighter how to master the moves without being a master of them yourself? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

“What counts most is not the martial arts skills you’re able to perform or to teach someone, but rather the confidence you leave within them that enables their effective use of those skills.”

When Angelo Dundee’s Brother, Chris, wanted his own Son to learn how to defend himself, he did not send him to train with the Uncle, Angelo; instead, he send him to take karate lessons from one of our Florida studios.

Some of my instructors taught me technique, and others taught me about how to fight. In other words, some trainers are good at teaching “style” and others are better at developing ones “substance.” A fighter needs both.

I’ll leave you with another of my quotes: “It is not what you’ve done that makes you what you are (a great trainer), it is what you are made of that determines that.”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Preventing Lactic Acid Build-up

A recent question;
Mr. Lewis, fighters intuitively/instinctively shake their arms/legs during a fight to release lactic acid. What are some ADDITIONAL things one could do besides shaking arms/legs to release lactic acid?
This is a great question all trainers need to be able to answer. Since I do not have a degree in exercise physiology, let’s not get into an unnecessary discussion of any lactic acid hypothesis on a molecular level. To keep what is important in focus, initially there are three factors all anaerobic or aerobic athletes (particularly fighters) who compete need to understand. You must know how to relax and also how to pace yourself. The third asset is being able to maintain the right mind-set; that is how to remain determined----never yielding the perseverance of effort to remain engaged.

“I never even think about quitting; next to dying, it's the last thing I'd ever do.”

A number of fighters believe that lactic acid gets released during hard sparring or strained, unaccustomed exercise drills and that this diminishes one’s performance while also causing soreness and residual stiffness. First of all, lactic acid does not exist as an acid in the body; it exists in another form called “lactate.” Lactic acid will be gone from your muscles within an hour of exercise and the stiffness sets in one to three days later. Most of the stiffness in muscles is due to muscle damage from the exercise and other factors.
For a more technical understanding of the “Lactic Acid” phenomena check out the following link.
Your muscle cells convert glucose or glycogen to lactic acid. These cells have “energy assimilators,” called mitochondria that use the lactic acid for fuel. Real intense training, like a body-builder doing a lifting exercise to failure, can make double the mitochondrial mass. The theory here has evolved by coaches and trainers realizing that by increasing the muscle mitochondria, allowing for greater efficiency in burning of lactic acid, that athletic performance improved.
“Shaking of the arms/legs” may seem like a way to release lactic acid buildup; however, logic would tell one that the effort to do such movements may only produce more lactic acid. Such a circumstance---wondering what to do once the lactic acid buildup reaches this point---is like asking what does a combat unit do on the battlefield once they run out of ammunition.

Some tips from field experience:
  • Just before a race or bout, train very hard with a few brief sprints or sparring combinations.
  • Maintain proper hydration of the body, paying attention to the balance of your sodium and potassium levels.
  • Digest some bicarbonate fluids prior to hard exercise like fighting.
  • Learn how to use your “core” muscle groups instead of your multi-joint muscles for certain skills. Example: When doing a rear naked choke, try to completely relax your arms from the shoulders to your wrists. Instead of squeezing with arm strength, only use your core and back muscles for pulling----the lats, the posterior deltoids, the lower trapeziums, and hunching your pelvic diaphragm upwards.
  • Flip flop muscle usage----when arm wrestling, learn to switch between using only the forearm muscles for a brief segment while relaxing the upper arm, and then switch that part of the arm you are using with the other. Breath control is critical here as part of this technique. I’ve seen guys who could be extremely hard externally and completely relaxed internally---and then switch in a split second.
  • As you approach your pain threshold, practice maintaining full effort to bust through it occasionally, or learn to find your rhythm as to when to back off and for how long before you reengage. Learning to control your rhythm builds inner confidence. A runner may drag behind to trail another runner in order to regroup. A fighter or arm wrestler may relax for a round or for a minute or two and just play defense allowing his opponent to offensively burn out.
  • Lastly, again, let us not forget the overall importance of the balanced conditioning of one’s attitude and body---that both can be affected by many factors. Lactic acid is a by-product of hard exercise; however, well-conditioned athletes are better able to recycle it back through the liver for energy. This is why their performance is not as limited by a buildup of lactic acid.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Loss of Motivation or a Loss of Consciousness?

One of the most familiar experiences any long term martial arts practitioner has dealt with is acknowledging an ongoing battle between having once enjoyed a burning desire to train, and now, an emerging state of mind that lacks even the energy to make it to the gym. If you are one of these people or want to help someone who is, please pause for a second and just let the reality of this thought sink in. This is your beginning, the point from which you make your first step.

Some day you will realize that this place in your life will become more important than pursuing any first step into some self-motivational course or immediately attempting to take action for change. You did not get here quickly with just a few, short steps, and nor will you leave this place quickly with a few, short, quick-fix steps either.

Sometimes we are manipulated by fear, perhaps a fear of being humiliated by failure, and at other times, the responsibility of success. I've seen this with school owners and I've watched sport champions self-destruct over the fear of feeling unworthy of their own good fortune. The sport of boxing comes to mind here.

Human nature has structured us to live more to avoid pain than to experience pleasure or joy. Therefore, we tend to allow these "fears to sabotage the efficacy of consciousness, thereby worsening the initial problem"---to quote one of my mentors, Dr. Nathaniel Branden. Over time, we gradually make ourselves emotionally numb to certain things that once inspired us. Emotions have a propensity to encourage and discourage thinking; they can draw us towards wanting to train or away from doing so.

This emotional resistance is what makes taking a first step towards change very difficult. When we make ourselves able to feel less, we make ourselves psychologically blind---we become in effect more unconscious. We feel safe there; this behavior makes life more bearable. I have always said that one's self-image or self-concept is imperative to becoming great. If you have worked yourself into a temporary negative self-image, and have also allowed this to dictate your actions, then your performance, or lack of, to consistently engage in purposeful training will reflect this definition.

Hopefully, at this point you can begin to sense whether you have been motivated by fear or by confidence. One will lead you to being the martial artist you admire and the other will lead you to avoid challenges by allowing you to continue to hide in fear of being exposed.

Any motivation begins with a higher awareness of self---that is the key to what martial arts is about. This awareness is about knowing who you are, and about in what do you trust (the method of your own thinking processes), and also about a strong commitment to that which you call your inner reliance. Now you have a position from which you can take a first step. How does one know to where or why he is going if he does not know (to embrace, to fully acknowledge, and to own) from where he is starting?

My feelings are the keys to my motivation and my desires. My spirit is my energy and my pathway. My mentor and/or instructors are my guides and my escorts. Don't leave home without any of them.

"The emotional brick walls are not there to sidetrack you or keep you from training; they're there to give you a chance to show the courage to prove which is stronger, the will to overcome or the lack of."

Joe Lewis

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Flux in the Matrix

Set-point Control Question

Hi Joe Lewis,

I have a problem with the set-point control tactical strategy. I work the exercise you describe in your web site video and that all works well, but when I do this in sparring I become more passive and less assertive. It appears to have kind of taken the drive out of my attacks (could just be I need more practice integrating it into my game) Many Thanks, Andrew

Answer: This is a good question. Many instructors will find students with a similar predicament, that of discovering a loss in self-assertiveness when initially learning this principle. This is all part of the integration process, which for some, may take more time to adjust.

First, you must realize that when your mind becomes more actively engaged (focusing on controlling the set-point), the body is functioning at a different frequency, and in the beginning when attempting to learn something new, the rhythm between the two is not in sync. Give your body time to catch up with the actions of the mind. Your mind is functioning on a higher level than your ability to execute appropriate physical skills.

Secondly, the instant you become aware that something is different or missing, your focus becomes split. Now you are experiencing an additional problem; you are monitoring yourself and wondering what's wrong. You cannot watch yourself and pay attention to the actions or non actions of your opponent at the same time---too much is taking place inside the conscious mind to digest all at once.

Your conscious mind is a faculty and has a limited capacity. If you fail to pay attention to only what is necessary in a given moment, then you limit the available capacity of your consciousness to be able to deal with that which is of greatest importance----the actions of your opponent.

Thirdly, you must learn how to allow thoughts to simultaneously participate in your actions (that aggressive behavior combined with profound strategic certainty). If you find yourself thinking for a split second about not letting your opponent get set-----without exercising action at the same time----then your timing is off, and you WILL perform passively.

Fourth----Any good strategy has two parts, defense and offense. When using set-point control, remember that there are only two things one can do when sparring---you can move or you can fire. With any good strategy, there has to be an appropriate balance. If you are on the battle field and currently engaged in a fire fight, and you know you only have enough ammo to last about another hour before more arrives the next morning, are you going to use it all up within the next sixty minutes in an act of desperation?

Some fighters let frustration lead to desperation----not smart. Definition of a smart fighter:

"One whose actions are in alignment with his strategic purpose"

This means BALANCE----his actions are congruent with his goals, to survive first and to win second. With set-point control, there are two factors which co-exist----not separately-----when to move and when to fire. What happens if I only move and never fire, or if I spend too much time moving and not enough time with the usage of effective firepower?

You get the picture-----without appropriate balance, anyone will fall into this trap called passiveness----too much thought and not enough action, or thought separate of action.

Cardinal Rule in Sparring:
(To avoid doubt or frustration)

"When in doubt, INSTANTLY stick and move!"

I believe, as is the case of most who spar, that the issue here is mental, not physical and that a committed work ethic will quickly put you ahead of the game. Sometimes an instructor will have a student who gets easily frustrated and finds the task or assignment given him too complex. Let me leave you with a quote from a former Commandant of the Marine Corps who I served under.

"The galleries are full of critics. They play no ball. They fight no fights. They make no mistakes, because they attempt nothing. Down in the arena are the doers. They make mistakes, because they try many things. The man who makes no mistakes lacks boldness and the spirit of adventure. He is the one who never tries anything. He is the break in the wheel of progress. And yet it cannot be truly said he makes no mistakes, because his biggest mistake is the very fact that he tries nothing, does nothing, except criticize those who do things."
--David M. Shoup (General, United States Marine Corps

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Overcoming a Fighter’s Black Hole

A Method of Analyzing Sparring

Let me first establish an instructor's point of view when observing a sparring session or a fight. I want everyone's perspective to be consistent with what is going to be the most important common factor we should focus on in order to achieve an optimal or appropriate academic assesment.

So at this point, let's level the playing field by not looking for the usual attributes such as who is the fastest, who's more aggressive, or who's scoring the most points. This tends to make the observer result oriented rather than purpose oriented.

I want to invite you to study these posted sessions and to learn how to look for and how to identify patterns. For example, if a taller opponent is keeping a shorter one just out of range, he is demonstrating a pattern of maintaining an appropriate distance. If a fighter consistently steps into the pocket and instantly covers up rather than firing, this is another example of a repeated behavior that we call a pattern.

The 40 Universal Fighting Tactics listed on my web site can greatly help any teacher to quickly and easily learn this instructional art form. On our web site you can see that they have been broken down into the Five Pillars of my fitness self-defense and fighting system.

Patterns can be changed and altered; however, if you are slow, or if you are very short, or if you psychologically lack any degree of willingness to engage, your problem (for lack of a better term) may be permanent. There are many known physical and mental patterns exhibited in the fight game. Exploring this phenomenon together is going to be an eye opening and insightful experience.

Sparring session I

Click here to view:

This first session that I was asked to review is between an older practitioner (wearing red head gear) and someone much younger (wearing blue head gear). The older fellow makes just about every (physical) mistake in the book although he stays in the fight and exhibits no passive state of mind. This clip is good for the older guys to acknowledge and to remember to identify each missing tactic when they watch it. The younger fighter may be stronger, but there's no excuse for allowing him to also beat you mentally.

Roll Clip

Time clock:

  • :30 Note neither corner man knows how to properly hold gloves to place on fighters.
  • 1:25 Red corner sets pace---gets off first. Good mental start.
  • 1:35 Red fighter walks him to ropes, smothering Blue's offense, but allows him daylight to escape.
  • 1:50 With each punch Red fires, he drops opposite hand----Blue fails to take advantage.
  • 1:50 Blue fires counter overhand right----fails to follow with left hook. He lacks balance.
  • 2:02 &
  • 2:06 Note Blue drops right hand before he fires straight right punch. (Telegraphing)
  • 2:40 Red steps into pocket, stops and covers. Bad habit----fails to dominate pocket. This becomes a pattern.
  • 2:52 Red fails to step in on right jab to smother kicks. (No aggressive defensive) Eats counter stop kick.
  • 2:55 After being dropped by front kick, Blue stands straight in front of opponent and then fails to reassert himself.


This is an important point. Fundamentally, neither fighter projects any sense of using some type of strategy. I do not get a strong sense of what either fighter is trying to make the other execute. Either you make your opponent perform, forcing him to react to your will, or you yield and allow him to do whatever he pleases. This is typical of most undisciplined fighters; two combatants wondering around the ring taking turns attacking each other void of any purpose.

Neither fighter uses head rhythm to take away other's cranial shots. They constantly remain a bit too upright. Adding head movement should be easy since neither is body punching or using any two- and three-point combinations.

Red needs to work on getting in, then executing without hesitation, and then getting out of the pocket without waiting for a receipt.

Since Red's kicks are mere slaps and lacking conviction, Blue should simply smother Red's lead kick with jamming footwork and use a low/high punching combination.

Red needs to learn to cut off the ring (ring generalship). He had Blue on the ropes at least three times and let him off.

There was a lack of any assertive jab from either to set up their attacks or to keep opponent from getting set. All these patterns carried into round #2; however, we already have a volume of material to work with. Never overload or force feed your fighters an excess of things to think about, especially in the corner. My recommendation----work on one tactic at the time----only one!


Blue has a decent right hand but fails to use it enough. He needs to learn to bring a left hook behind it. Once he has this balance issue down, then he can close the door with a low cut kick.

Red needs to work on taking away Blue's main weapon, that looping right hand. This will give him an added aggressive defense with his offensive attacks. To attain this skill, he has to roll his forward shoulder (right) inside with a slight crouch…..thus taking Blue's punch on the back side of the shoulder, and then quickly ride the punch back in with a straight left and then right shovel hook to the head.

"I Believe...either you control your attitude or it controls you"."

The collective use of both a sound offensive attack together with the disciplined use of an aggressive defense (what you're taking away from opponent) will enable fighters to appropriately focus their mental energies in exercising the use of a constant visualization necessary to authoritatively control any opponent.

This is an example of what I offer all JLFS members on my web site: (click)

I cannot stress how helpful it is for each of you to go there and to explore all the benefits I can offer present and new incoming members.

"The ultimate competition is not against an opponent, but to compete against yourself."

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Critiquing Fights: The Art and the Science

Virtually all forms of martial arts seem to have or claim to offer some traditional form of a spiritual or philosophical base. Each appears to adhere to the premise that the practice of any such martial art discipline will eventually enable one to become enlightened and more evolved as a person. This phenomenon is not automatic nor is it infallible.

Man's mind is his ultimate tool for survival, both in life and in martial arts. His fundamental efficacy as a martial artist is based on his ability to trust in his method of thinking, and this has little to do with what discipline or in which style of martial arts he participates. The objective process of rational thinking, (being more critically conscious), will enable a martial artist to avoid accepting the unchallenged, out-dated teachings of those self-appointed authorities that still permeate our field, and also to be able to avoid imagining that our feelings are an infallible guide to truth.

How does one find the best way to make these critical judgments about his training---his system as compared to others, or evaluating his technical skills, or to identify and correct any flaws in his competitive endeavors such as sparring?

There has always been an intellectual excitement when it comes to the challenge of being able to analyze the actions of a competition bout or its final outcome. This process can be made easier if we have access to a proven method of analyzing the action that anyone can understand and use. Allow me to offer these suggestions that a number of world class fighters and champion trainers have worked with over the years.

To begin, of course, one has to know what to look for as he observes any martial arts bout. There are both physical attributes one must identify such as speed, power, and fluidness, and also, there are psychological or mental factors that also play an important role such as aggressiveness, a sense of courage, sound focusing, or an indomitable will.

This interaction between ones physical attributes and ones mental actions will determine how well a fighter exercises the abstract principles (his strategy) needed to perform with rhythm, sound judgments, speed, timing, or accuracy in order to achieve a successful outcome. On my web site I have broken these abstract principles down into the "40 Universal Fighting Tactics." I have placed them into five categories which I have called "Pillars" to make them easy for any trainer to memorize and to teach his students.

If you are one of the many world-wide martial artists who has taken advantage of becoming one of our JLFS members, you will enjoy sharing in all of the upcoming critiques constantly placed on our site. The following is a possible example of how easy it would be for someone to use this process to cross-reference a change in one's performance I may critique. For instance, when you see me state that one combatant is "covering up and stopping inside the pocket after an attack," you will immediately know how to refer to that subject under the Pillar called "Dominating the Pocket."

Most of the terms and vocabulary we use have been around in the fight game for decades. For example, when I state----close the door, turn him, walk him to the ropes, shovel punch, fish hook the neck, reflex-timing, the forty-five punch, full-torque or half-torque punching, critical distance line, farewell knee strikes, or an upright slip vs. the crouching slip, or what's the defensive triangle, or the difference between a quick step and the drop step, these universal terms will immediately become part of your teaching vocabulary.

Members of our JLFS team are privileged to be able to send me their personal sparring/fighting sessions to be critiqued. The better academic ones will be selected on a frequent basis to appear as part of my blog and/or for membership viewing.

Take advantage of this never before offered opportunity!

Regardless of whether we're doing light sparring or we're in a real match, we should not waste the opportunity to gather feedback on our weaknesses so we can adjust our practices, which in turn will improve our actual skills for the next fight. As such, we should always have someone video tape our matches so we can evaluate them – or, even better---have a senior trainer evaluate them.

That's the main reason I just initiated a new fight video evaluation service on the members-only section of my web site. JLFS members can submit videos (YouTube clips) of their fights and I will post my evaluation for all of the members to see. That way, not only can the person posting his fight get feedback, but everybody else can learn as well. They can either study items that likewise apply to them or they can become more adept at identifying similar weaknesses in their opponents the next time they are in the ring.

However you go about it, don't waste these opportunities to turn your fights into learning experiences by reviewing the videos afterwards with someone who can offer you valuable feedback.

"Fights are never lost; you only lose if you fail to learn something."