A Vagabond Warrior I shall be, or how I learned to love the Switch

Vagabond Warriors 2.1, Kyushinkai Martial Arts, Telford, 31 March 2012

“No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training … what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”
Socrates (c.469 – 399 BC)

PART ONE: DIARY ENTRY

I was struggling to catch my breath on the mats after attempting to fight off two determined opponents, and a question occurred to me: “why isn’t this seminar packed to capacity? Where are the enquiring minds, the desires to be challenged and tested?” I was at a Vagabond Warriors seminar, my third such visit, and given that the Vagabond Warriors approach had completely changed my approach to training and coaching in the martial arts over the last 12 months, it was a question that came to me many more times during the day.

For those that don’t know, Vagabond Warriors is the brainchild of respected martial arts, combat sports and cross-training coach and sceptical thinker Jamie Clubb, founder of Clubb Chimera Self Protection and Mixed Martial Arts. Stepping firmly outside the idea of styles and systems, Jamie encourages practitioners of all combat systems, whether they are practiced for fighting, self-defence, sports or self-development to view their system with clarity, scepticism and individuality. As he says on his explanatory page:

Our unique workshops and seminars develop training regimes with groups of like-minded free-thinking people to further the study of effective and efficient methods for self defence and combat sports.

The following three areas are the most lacking in the education of combative systems – be they for self defence or sport – and “Vagabond Warriors” uses them as guide for our training programmes.

C.S.I. – Clarification, Scepticism and Individuality

Clarification – Beginning with the objective in mind. Defining and addressing everything we do with a clear single short-term and long-term target. Objectives dictate the exercise from the warm-up movements you do to the classes you choose.

Scepticism – Rational critical thinking. We find flaws in training exercises in order to progress learning experiences and to reduce personal weaknesses. CCMA tests concepts and creates experiments to test claims.

Individuality – Interpersonal violence is personal, so above all else the single learner should be at the centre of all aspects of training.

So what does this mean in practice? The day itself was a combination of lecture and hands-on training. Following the opening lecture we warmed up using combative concepts – no jumping jacks and running round the gym here. Shadow boxing from all levels, standing, kneeling and on our backs we were quickly  warm enough to start co-operative grappling and sparring. Yes, from near-cold, in less than five minutes! As long as your partner is trusted and respectful there’s no reason at all why the combat practitioner should not warm up doing what he or she is meant to be doing, namely combative exercises and drills. This is intelligent training for the time-limited combat arts practitioner.

Following some functional fitness drills we moved on to two concepts which, alongside functional fitness, are at the core of Vagabond Warriors, specific training and attribute training. Specific training is the practice of the actual techniques that you will use in your combat system; attribute training is the use of other systems, schools, exercises and concepts to enhance the physical attributes needed to perform that technique as efficiently as possible. In this case we looked at two specific techniques. Focusing on the arm drag from a stand up clinch position, we used as heavy bag drag to enhance the performance of that technique. Focusing on the double leg takedown, we used tyre flips to improve both our technique and our leg strength, with Jamie emphasising the correct flipping technique needed to tie it in to the takedown.

Now while these are MMA or grappling-related movements, neither of which are particularly my forte nor norm, it doesn’t take long to start to apply this any style of fighting or self-defence. This kind of attribute training and functional fitness has a long and honourable tradition in FAST Defence and that comes as little surprise,as it’s a 40 year-old synthesis of world class practitioners’ own cross-training journey. In the more traditional martial arts, however, this approach is rare or absent. This is where the beauty of Vagabond Warriors lies, the chance to re-examine and improve the way you train and coach. Already during the double-leg takedown exercises I had thought of a way to adapt the approach to Yi Ji Kim Yeung Ma, the core training stance of Wing Chun and following this seminar, successfully integrated it into the functional warm-ups that I’d introduced to my Wing Chun students.

A further lecture segment followed and after lunch we tackled another important core concept of Vagabond Warriors, “quarrying”. Using a system where one person aims to create distance, by pushing, striking, evasion and so on, while the other attempts to close that distance by grabbing, grappling and capturing, both persons attempt to identify, under pressure, instinctive techniques or tactics. These techniques, once isolated, can be progressively drilled and tested. This time, we did the exercise two-on-one as well as one-on-one. It’s a very taxing exercise, quickly making demands of your combative fitness and your heart and spirit against a determined attacker. I was pleasantly surprised that this time, my instinctive techniques were split between the combative palm strike and the multiple straight punch of Wing Chun, no doubt brought to the fore by my current exposure to the Wong Shun Leung method of that fighting system. That’s another story, still in the making …

However, no time for complacency as Jamie moved the goalposts yet again to – a regular feature of these seminars – and asked us to repeat the exercise but this time switching from a combat sports mentality, limiting our techniques to those allowed in the MMA cage, to a self-defence mentality where anything goes, including controlled biting, finger breaks and eye gouge attempts, all carefully defined by Jamie for reasons of safety beforehand. This was defined by Jamie as ‘the Switch’ and it was both challenging, frustrating and enlightening in equal measure. The object of the exercise as I understood and applied it was to be able to go from zero or Condition White to a full-on fight, or to change gear or tactics during a fight or confrontation. In this respect, the exercise succeeded in spades and was easily – even beyond heavy bag drags and tractor tyre flipping – the most challenging part of the day, bringing to mind that quote by Patrick Swayze’s Dalton in the film “Roadhouse’, “I want to you to be nice until it’s time to not be nice.” It’s any serious self-defence practitioner’s challenge and state of cognitive dissonance to be able to switch from being a civilised member of society to a violent warrior in defence of his or her loved ones. Any system which doesn’t address this is in danger of producing either victims or uncontrolled violent thugs. I felt that this exercise at Vagabond Warriors addressed this issue, above and beyond the physical challenges and attribute training it tackled. Following a brief concluding lecture segment, we salvaged what was left of our brains and bodies and left, invigorated, challenged and inspired.

PART TWO: REFLECTIONS AND CONCLUSIONS

So, I return again to my question. Why are these seminars not packed to capacity? Why are combat arts and system practitioners not willing to engage in the invaluable and wholly essential process of examining their practice and training closely?

Paraphrasing Socrates, an unexamined fighting art isn’t worth practising. If you’re serious about your development as a fighter, combat art practitioner or self-defence then there are many things that you must do. Find the best way to support and enhance the techniques that you use and get used to thinking creatively of ways to do so. Put what you practice under pressure (you should be doing so already) and find ways to test your system outside of its bubble. Find the gaps and weak points in your system and address them, either by looking closely at what you have or using ‘outside’ concepts. Be combatively fit by challenging your body in a way that relates directly to how you move in your system. For the dedicated intelligent cross-trainer, this is the stuff of life. But for those who are less inclined or don’t have the time to deviate too far from their chosen path and goals, it’s still an essential and invaluable approach. Few systems have this kind of approach built in, though there are a few; most operate within their own belief system, whether or not that stands up to empirical and objective reality. Many, many practitioners lack the critical and practical tools to do this and this is where the Vagabond Warriors approach excels.

In short, it’s my belief that all dedicated combat art practitioners should get themselves to a Vagabond Warriors seminar. You’ll take away more vital concepts and information than you could unpick in a month and it will inspire you to look anew and critically at what you do. It may, as it did in my case, help you improve, re-focus and re-think your approach and direction. Time to throw that switch.

Contact Jamie Clubb for more information about Vagabond Warriors.

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One thought on “A Vagabond Warrior I shall be, or how I learned to love the Switch

  1. charliedw says:

    Good post. I thought a couple of times that I would like to attend one of Jamies’ seminars after seeing what you and Dave have to say about him. Can’t make the 28th April, but I’ll try to make the next 🙂

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