In the 1990s, a new category of martial arts emerged: reality-based self-defense. It was spearheaded by systems such as krav maga, Tony Blauer’s Tactical Systems and senshido, along with padded-assailant programs like Peyton Quinn’s RMCAT. The emphasis on practicality and real-world applications was also fueled by the rise of the mixed martial arts, which took off around the same time. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the development of conditioning programs that mirror, in the world of fitness, the results-oriented nature of RBSD. The best-known one, called CrossFit, has made great headway among MMA fighters, military personnel and law-enforcement officers. CrossFit is booming; it hardly needs this article to act as its advocate. However, it’s interesting to note how quickly RBSD teachers have adopted it and to explore why that’s so. Tony Blauer recalls how he first discovered CrossFit: “[Creator] Greg Glassman and I consult for many of the same clients in the special-forces and law-enforcement communities. We both had been hearing about one another’s programs for several years. At a certain moment, we made contact. He invited me out to Santa Cruz for a cert, and I was officially hooked.” A number of schools in the krav maga community teach CrossFit. One of the first instructors to adopt it was Jeff Martin, the owner of a facility near San Diego. “I had always thought I was in shape, but I was amazed at how fast I became exhausted doing stress and fatigue drills,” he says. “More important, I realized my technique suffered. I started upping the training I was doing—tried to do more cardio and spent more time in the gym—but nothing made a significant impact on my abilities under stress. There seemed to be little carry-over from my efforts in the gym to the stress and fatigue drills we were doing in krav maga.” In trying to simulate real-life violent encounters, RBSD systems react with high-intensity, short-duration bursts of energy—complete with adrenalization, unsustainable levels of exertion, and the recruitment of multiple muscle groups and bodily systems for punching, kicking and running. Traditional cardio workouts are not so relevant because the training focuses on quick bursts, while the typical cardio workout involves long-duration, steady-paced exertion. At first, Jeff Martin attributed his exhaustion to his age, which at the time was 43. “Then it dawned on me that the current model for training wasn’t really helpful in preparing me for a fight,” he says. “I could run forever but got winded after a few minutes of drills. I was pretty strong, but again after a few minutes of drills, I was weak as a kitten. So in 2003, I started Googling different ways to work out and ran across CrossFit.” CrossFit, as it turned out, had a fitness approach that matched krav maga’s approach to self-defense. “In my first certification,” Jeff Martin remembers, “coach Glassman said, ‘Strive to blur the line between cardio and strength training—nature has no regard for this distinction.’ That makes sense to a fighter. When you’re attacked, you don’t get to say, ‘Today I’m going to punch a little.’ Chances are you’re going to have to lift, throw, punch, run, grapple and kick. You move from one thing to another, yet when they work out, most people segment the training.” Tony Blauer makes a similar observation: “CrossFit is the only organized functional fitness program that consistently prepares its athletes for the unknown and unknowable. The workout of the day is always varied, and it challenges and conditions the athlete from head to toe. I can’t think of a more dynamic and complete program to prepare the warrior athlete.”
Talks About Being a Smaller Fighter in a Combat Sport Ruled by Giants
At first glance, most people — most martial artists, even — will zero in on the smaller person in any fight and deem him or her to be at a distinct disadvantage. It's a natural tendency to draw this conclusion based on obvious attributes such as height, weight and reach. However, that tendency does not always lead to accurate conclusions.
Fighting Style<p>Johnson attributes much of his success to his background in pankration and wrestling, a foundation he laid before he embarked on a career in <a href="https://blackbeltmag.com/arts/mixedmartialarts/" target="_blank">MMA</a>. Both styles emphasize the strategic use of leverage, which makes them ideal for smaller fighters."</p><p>I try to find my opponent's weakness and exploit that," Johnson said. "Being well-versed and competing in several types of martial arts in my amateur career allows me to find that weakness, take [my opponents] there and then put them in that realm where they can't survive — and beat them there!"</p><p>This strategy, inspired by the teachings of pankration and wrestling, has proved a viable solution for Johnson time after time. In fact, it's his proficiency in both systems that's enabled him to excel in MMA. Consider the following:</p><p>Any observer of the fight sport will tell you that plenty of practitioners are proficient in one discipline, which they often augment by cross-training in techniques extracted from other styles that are believed to help them round out their skill set. These fighters tend to lean on their adopted techniques for setups and fakes designed to engage their opponents. Unfortunately, when fatigue sets in, they frequently fall back on their primary skill set in an effort to gain the upper hand — or, in some cases, just to survive.</p><p>This isn't the case for Johnson. He represents a new breed of combat athlete who's gained extensive experience in a variety of fighting disciplines. Being well-versed at executing a mass of moves, fighters like him need not rely on their primary martial art, which winds up making them more adaptable and unpredictable in a match.</p><p>Johnson's record of 30-3-1 offers tangible proof of his ability to exploit his opponents' weaknesses. Those 30 wins consist of 12 submissions and five knockouts via punches, head kicks and knee strikes, a testament to his proficiency in all the ranges of combat.</p>
BODY JAB TO HOOK PUNCH TO HEAD KICK
TAKEDOWN TO ARMBAR
Technique Alteration<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3OTQ5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjgxMjcyOH0.4UkgOc1GZ7yTg669vPYYZyapzuJhaTJmn137mIW17z4/image.jpg?width=980" id="b07bf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5dd1006607f5c8bb7c069aa8adb2b1a7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Alteration With the right coaching, almost any basic martial arts move can be altered to make it work better for a shorter fighter, Johnson said. He brought his point to life as he walked through setups for his combinations and takedowns designed to fell taller opponents during his Black Belt photo shoot. He started his explanation with the simplest punch of all.</p><p>"When a jab is thrown from someone at a lower angle, you can fit it between [the opponent's] arms and into this wide-open gap to the body," Johnson said. "[The opening] just isn't there with guys the same height as you."</p><p>He went on to say that this observation can allow you to elicit reactions from your opponent as he defends himself. That, in turn, can open other areas for you to target.</p><p>The same logic, Johnson noted, applies to takedowns. Here's how: Against a taller opponent, the conventional double- and single-leg takedown normally do the job. A shorter fighter's size, however, enables him to shoot in at a lower level, which makes the techniques harder to defend against and the shooter harder to grab. Furthermore, the shorter person's often-superior speed permits him to transition to a follow-up grappling technique before the pair even hits the ground.</p><p>"By grabbing the right spot on the wrist during a single-leg or starting to climb up their body as they fall during a double-leg, you can put yourself in the right position," Johnson said. An expert at such tweaks, he noted that advanced concepts like this have allowed him to dominate in the cage despite disadvantages in height and reach.</p>
New Challenges<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3OTUwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMjkwNjY3OH0.cdhkoclQKHqpeRWm3QDkeET7-uJIvVkkSXUkqPzxTaY/image.jpg?width=980" id="b7dc2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1c786eb156d34f93628ff1422aeaa94b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>New Challenges Johnson's decision to join <a href="https://www.onefc.com/" target="_blank">ONE Championship</a> in late 2018 means that his previous success as a flyweight in other fight franchises may be in jeopardy. </p><p>That's because the Singapore-based promotion touts a strict "no weight cutting" policy that will force the American to take on heavier opponents in his normal 135-pound weight class.</p><p>The new challenge is nothing he can't handle, Johnson said confidently, because he's well-versed in using his size to his advantage. On top of that, he has years of experience on the North American MMA circuit to back up his skill set.</p><p>Nevertheless, Johnson admitted that a fight is a fight and therefore unpredictable, and that his opponents from the Far East will not be easily conquered. In fact, because ONE is based in a part of the world where fighters tend to be smaller than in the West, he likely will have his work cut out for him.</p><p>"I'm fighting guys who are a lot taller," Johnson said regarding his ONE Championship opponents. "In my last fight, I fought [Tatsumitsu Wada], who is 5 feet 9 inches tall, and when he took my back, he was able to get a triangle on my body so easily." That feat, he added, is rarely accomplished on a person who is equal in stature.</p><p>Johnson's solution? When preparing to take on a taller opponent, he likes to abandon the "fighting tall" mentality that's so common in his sport. It revolves around the urge to strike the taller person's face while squaring off. That tactic is simply not an option in such situations, Johnson said.</p><p>Instead, you need to focus on your strengths as a smaller fighter, he said. Get low and use your leverage for offense and defense. Take advantage of the gaps that exist in the taller person's stance. When you strike, do so with intent. Get in, execute and get out. Don't get caught in between, taking your time — because sooner or later that mistake will catch up with you</p>
Future Fights<p>Whenever you're the first person to gain fame for achieving something, it means you have to pave your own road to success. When Johnson entered the martial arts in 2007, he found no prominent examples of smaller fighters who consistently saw success in the cage. Consequently, there was no one he could turn to for inspiration.</p><p>"When I jumped into martial arts, there was no avenue for me to go," Johnson explained. "[I was] sitting there as a kid, watching these guys who were all heavyweights in boxing and MMA. With me weighing a buck twenty-five, I never thought those were the professional athletes I wanted to be like."</p><p>The fight sport is different now. As Johnson enters his 13th year as a professional mixed martial artist, he serves as an exemplary lightweight role model — precisely the kind of person he failed to find early in his career.</p><p>As scores of smaller martial artists scramble to follow in his footsteps, Johnson has inadvertently secured the future of his weight division on the global stage. For an athlete as disciplined as Johnson, the notion carries no added burden.</p><p>"I'm at a point in my career where I'm just focused on the grind of putting on great performances," he said. "That way, when I'm done with this sport, that's it. I'm good. I can be done with it and with no regrets."</p>
SIDE CONTROL TO MOUNT TO ARMBAR
2019 MMA Fighter of the Year<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3OTU2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTU2MjM3Mn0.LrW3wCdX6bc_Ago2X34P1EG87EwZP6pUhXwJbpZ-Iec/image.jpg?width=980" id="ffa02" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21aff8779f96ba47af9b40ef6aaedcb3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>When he hit the MMA circuit in 2007, Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson was a human tsunami. An immediate force to be reckoned with, he dominated the bantamweight and featherweight divisions of the sport thanks to his lightning-fast fists and his arsenal of grappling techniques. Like a true martial artist, he hasn't let his success go to his head.</p><p>"I am very happy with where I'm at in my career," Johnson stated. "The martial arts have given me and my family a wonderful life. If I were to stop fighting today, I'd be satisfied with the way everything has turned out."</p><p>That said, Johnson has no plans of bowing out of the ring anytime soon. In fact, he's gearing up for his next big fight, which will have taken place in Japan before this issue of Black Belt hits newsstands.</p><p>"I'm training for the World Grand Prix — ONE: CENTURY in October,2019" Johnson said. "It's a big event! This is the 100th time [it] has been held, and I'm very excited to be part of it. I grew up watching Japanese MMA, and now I get a chance to win one. It's awesome!"</p><p>From the moment Johnson first came to grips with an opponent in the cage, it was apparent that he was a rising star. Now, with a string of victories under his belt and numerous awards and honors bestowed on him, he's been dubbed one of the greatest mixed martial artists in the world. In a sport abundant with talent, Johnson has achieved rock-star status with legions of fans glued to his every move.</p><p>Why are they so devoted? A glimpse into Mighty Mouse's makeup comes from one of his most-talked-about fights in which he squared off against Miguel Torres. After breaking his fibula when he checked a leg kick in the second round, Johnson continued to wage war. He ignored the pain and concentrated on his grappling skills to survive. In the end, he won a unanimous decision.</p><p>"The key to winning, and sometimes the key to surviving in order to win, is having the ability to stay focused and take care of the task at hand," Johnson said. "That is how I approach my fights and my personal life. I know what I really want out of life, and I stay focused on that task — whether it's winning a fight or taking care of my family. My wife Destiny and my three children are the most important things in my life."</p><p>Because of his past accomplishments, his bright future and his pervasive martial mindset, Black Belt is pleased to make Demetrious Johnson its 2019 MMA Fighter of the Year. </p><p><em>— Terry L. Wilson<br>Photography By Patrick Sternkopf<br>Event photos Courtesy of ONE FC<br></em></p>
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The 5A-rated NASKA event is the most recent world martial arts tournament to announce a virtual format amid COVID-19 concerns.
The Pan American Internationals in Miami, Florida is a well-respected North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) world tour event that is also sanctioned by a variety of other leagues including the World Kenpo Federation (WKF), Southeast Karate Alliance (SKA), National Martial Arts Circuit (NMAC), and more. Promoter Manny Reyes Sr., a Kenpo master and professor, announced Thursday that the 2020 installment of the event will now take place virtually on August 21 and 22.
Among Native Americans, honoring your ancestors is a long-standing practice. Every powwow, every sacred ceremony and every tribute to the creator — they all begin and end with remembering those who have come before. There's a sharing of the knowledge and comfort that they're up there in the great beyond, pulling for you and finding ways to guide you when you need help.
Native or not, at the very least, we all owe our ancestors a certain amount of respect. After all, it was their love and great determination to thrive that got us where we are today. I, for one, will go out of my way to make sure I remain grateful in remembering these sacrifices — all of them — from 14 different nationalities. Understanding their hardships helps me realize who I am today and what my blood has recorded within my veins.
Why did you begin teaching the martial arts?
I always wanted to be a teacher, and nothing seemed as rewarding as teaching martial arts. The martial arts combine many different disciplines: history, philosophy, kinesiology, wellness and more.
What is your school name and how did you choose it?
My school name is Rising Phoenix Martial Arts. I chose this name because my students, like the phoenix, ascend from their former conditions and become stronger than before.