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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.
<p>This should not come as a complete surprise given the underlying premise of the martial arts, which were created to overcome inherent physical advantages bestowed at birth. Some fighters have capitalized on this aspect of the arts and gone one step beyond — by learning how to use their smaller stature as an advantage. This encompasses not just using the speed advantage that's enjoyed by fighters with smaller physiques but also altering the techniques themselves to make them more functional against a taller foe.</p><p><a href="https://www.onefc.com/athletes/demetrious-johnson/" target="_blank">Demetrious Johnson</a> is a master of these tactics. The 12-time flyweight world champion has built his combat career on being a smaller fighter who isn't slowed down by size. At 5 feet 3 inches, the 125-pound Johnson — who goes by the nickname "Mighty Mouse" — holds the record for the most <a href="https://www.ufc.com/" target="_blank">UFC</a> title defenses (11 in a row) and is considered by many to be the best pound-for-pound fighter on Earth. Many regard Johnson as the first lightweight superstar to emerge in the sport of mixed martial arts.</p><p>Black Belt recently had the chance to sit down with Mighty Mouse and learn about his views on being a winning fighter who's never hampered by size.</p>
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
<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3ODg2NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMjg5MjgzOX0.OwAO8c33aJX_qpL7D0lRKgcZkMG22RNVJBwBfJ-ujys/image.jpg?width=980" id="c0e76" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8ba667deda0b000b99f015429afd49ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
<p>After squaring off against his opponent, Demetrious Johnson (right) uses his lower stance to launch a jab to the man's exposed abdomen (1).</p>
TAKEDOWN TO ARMBAR
<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3OTMxNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDA0ODEwMX0.huSfg_Gfz2XmwLfWdI6eJsLxc2dTGUeovuM9JvIYBws/image.jpg?width=980" id="9bab4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd9806b3b1d98d43be0b0b3623b9270f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
<p>Again taking advantage of his lower position, Demetrious Johnson shoots in for a double-leg takedown without encountering any resistance from the taller opponent (1-2). </p>
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
<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3OTUzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzU2NzM1MX0.a_kmdKYx57zwUbGemxrEFnJmloi7gmYyvrUPkD01xc0/image.jpg?width=980" id="580e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4194b4d2d8f4002518a3e9b05ae79a0c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
<p>Demetrious Johnson begins in the side-control position (1). </p>
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 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.
<p>The event is set to join the AmeriKick Internationals and the Ocean State Grand Nationals on NASKA's virtual tour. The placements received and subsequent points awarded at these events will not be included in the official NASKA world rankings, but they will be tracked as part of a separate rating system for virtual events. According to the Pan American International's press release, forms, weapons, breaking, Kenpo, and "Fighting Challenge" divisions will all be available under the virtual format. </p><p>You can register for the event at <a href="https://virtualpanamerican2020.myuventex.com/" target="_blank">virtualpanamerican2020.myuventex.com</a>. It is expected that the virtual event will function through video submission as opposed to live divisions through video chat services. Competitors will send in their videos before a particular deadline and these entries will be scored by a panel of judges on the date of the event. These details are subject to change and any new updates will be available here at Black Belt Magazine. </p>
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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.
<p>We all must answer the question of who we are meant to be. And like in a tapestry that gets woven over the years of our lives, each and every thread is a contribution that helps us find our way.</p><p>I think of my native ancestor Jesse Brock, who fought for this country in the Revolutionary War. He was a documented Cherokee Indian. I can't help but wonder if he knew the fate his own people would face when more than 400 treaties were broken and the land he fought for was eventually taken away. I wasn't there, but it's in my blood; I can feel it.</p><p>I also think of my Japanese ancestor who fought with the forces of Oda Nobunaga during the shogun wars of the Sengoku period. Is there a reason that I have seven black belts today and still can't stop after 30 years?</p><p>One of my ancestors was the offspring of King Edward I of England. His notorious battles to preserve his religious beliefs with a "long shank" are well-documented. His blood trickled down into my grandmother's lineage — something even she did not know.</p><p>I also have an ancestor who married a slave woman. Her ancestors arrived in the New World chained to the bottom of a boat. It affects me and the way I think because it's in my blood.</p><p>As a martial arts instructor, I keep all this in mind with every new student who walks through the door. They all have their own history, and they all are here for a reason. That reason more than likely will entail me contributing my wisdom and knowledge to help them complete their own tapestry of life, just as my own instructor helped me with mine.</p><p>Therefore, with every class, regardless of how many students show up, you will find me teaching to the best of my ability. I don't get discouraged and I won't hold back because I, too, am being recorded in their DNA experience. Will what I do in some way be passed down in their generations to come, as well? I firmly believe that the people who impact us always will be a part of us.</p><p>That's why I dance hard at powwows and write about my founding fathers who have risked their lives to preserve their way of life and the lives of their offspring. They considered me worth the risk and sacrifice. And I am forever indebted to remembering them.</p><p>My stories documented by my own DNA are endless. Many of them I will never know about, but whatever my ancestors did, it must have worked — because here I am. I think of that often when I am faced with a challenge in life. Like those before me, sometimes I can only do the best I can and wait to see what happens next. But being the best version of myself was the way of my ancestors, and it has to be my way, too, for the good of my own generations to come. Perseverance: May we live it and teach it every day.</p><p> To contact Karen Eden, send an email to <a href="mailto:mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a> or visit the Facebook group "The Eden Assignment."<br/></p>
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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.
<p><strong>What is your school's motto or student creed?<br/></strong>"Those born in the fire fade not in the sun." It's very similar to an ancient Indian proverb, which my grandmother gave me to read at my grandfather's funeral. I remember reading it and thinking how well it captured the spirit of my fledgling school.</p><p><strong>What is your personal teaching philosophy?<br/></strong>I try to meet people where they are and encourage them to be the best that they can. I love teaching all ages. With the 3- to 5-year-olds, you can radically change their trajectory. With the older folks, you can give them a feeling of physical accomplishment they haven't felt in years. I also really enjoy the unique challenges and rewards of teaching those with ADHD, autism and behavioral issues.</p> <p class="shortcode-media shortcode-media-rebelmouse-image"> <img class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="23a9d4d071ca8d286fc2cbedbd2477db" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" id="5caea" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0MDkwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzk0MzYxOH0.cWZxl46RvgwdKnRKKhRIuCXJX12nw0xNB71js33Zhig/image.jpg?width=980"/> </p> <p><strong>How long have you taught?<br/></strong>I started assisting with classes when I was 12. When I was 15, I started running classes for my head instructor. When I was 18, I went off to college and started my own program. After college, I went to Korea and taught over there. Coming back, I started my new school in Kyle, Texas, and that's where I am right now. In total, I have been teaching for about 20 years.</p><p><strong>Who or what inspires you?<br/></strong>My father and mother, of course, but also my grandfather Glenn A. Olds Jr., who was both an intellectual and a professional boxer; my great grandfather Glenn A. Olds Sr., who was a bare-knuckle boxing champion and, for a time, coached Jack Dempsey; and my masters throughout the years, in particular grandmasters Ki Moon Kwon, Jin Sup Hong and Bong Soo Ko.</p><p><strong>What is something unique that your school or your student body does well?<br/></strong>We have a very strong community, especially among the teens and adults. The class atmosphere is very positive and warm. I teach my leadership team to be the best friend of anyone that comes through the door. My school feels like my family. When I see my students becoming best friends, it makes me feel like I'm using my life well.</p><p><strong>What do you find most rewarding about working in the martial arts?<br/></strong>Bringing people together to share in a journey that has profoundly affected my life. I believe strongly in the benefits of the martial arts, and I think the most rewarding aspect of this business is when I see that same passion ignite in the eyes of my students.</p><p><strong>If you could give one bit of advice to fellow martial arts school owners, what would it be?<br/></strong>Start small. If you are persistent, you will eventually get there. In the game of life, the turtle beats the hare.</p><p><strong>School Owner<br/></strong>John Olds</p><p><strong>School Name<br/></strong>Rising Phoenix Martial Arts</p><p><strong>Location<br/></strong>Kyle, Texas</p><p><strong>Styles/Disciplines<br/></strong>Taekwondo and Oneway</p>
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