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5.20.2020

Illinois COVID-19 Reopening and What I Think It Means for Combat Sports

 Disclaimer: What follows is not medical advice. The best way to avoid COVID-19 is NOT to train until herd immunity has been established or a vaccine discovered. This is a theoretical discussion and nothing more. Proceed at your own risk.

Let's start by being absolutely clear: we do not and will not have a treatment for COVID-19 in the foreseeable future. If you or your loved one gets a bad case of this the best modern medicine can do is support your body while we hope you recover. Second, a vaccine remains over a year away. Finally, we are weeks to months away from herd immunity, if we can even develop that with a virus that has rapidly mutated into several strains. If you want to minimize risk to yourself, your loved ones, your friends, and coworkers the only things that will do that are:
  1. Clean: Hand washing or sanitizing for at least 20 seconds before and after touching yourself, another human, or an object. If your academy were to open this would basically mean at the beginning of practice, before each round, after each round, and before leaving class. It also means showering thoroughly before and after practice. It means thoroughly wiping down each piece of nonlaunderable equipment with bleach wipes. So that’s a lot of sanitizer and bleach solution.
  2. Cover: Wearing a mask that decreases the spread of droplets. Not all masks are created equal so it needs to be a mask that blocks viral droplet particles. All masks are not created equal and masks are designed to protect others from you not you from them. We do not know if masks remain effective as we sweat and get them wet.  Note that exercise training masks and running masks contain filters that viral droplets go right through. They allegedly are rated for pollution and bacteria much larger than the diameter of a droplet. They look cool but they won’t do much other than provide an illusion of safety.
  3. Clear: Social distancing or being at least 6 feet away from other people. Thus the ultimate way to stay safe is to train by yourself. This is a great way to get stronger, more flexible, and better cardio. But it is not going to improve your technique or your timing. If your academy does open up strongly consider a single dedicated training partner and only training in classes of less than 10 people. If you are or live with some at high risk, don't train.
You are likely safer in an area with a greater volume of distribution, e.g. outside, than in a small volume of distribution, e.g. in the academy or gym.
The Illinois Reopening Plan is a regionalized 5 phase plan that can move us as a community closer to normal if public health indicators are favorable or reassert more restrictions if they are not. The plan uses cases, testing availability, and hospital resources (e.g. beds and ventilators) in predefined geographic areas. In the central part of the state we appear to be in Phase 2 with a good chance of moving to Phase 3 in June 2020. We don't need to rely on laypeople determining risk, the phases will shift based on public health data.
There is, of course, no specific instructions for combat sports in my state’s plan, the nearest things that we might be compared to are health clubs. This is a specious comparison, in health clubs, you can continue to social distance more than 6 feet, wear masks, and sanitize your hands between exercises while still getting a fulfilling workout. Combat sports like boxing, wrestling, muay thai, kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and mixed-martial arts however all involve core doctrines that include significant physical interaction and contact. USA Wrestling has released its Return to the Mat Guidelines, a phased approach that like the Illinois Reopening Plan avoids or minimizes organized, group, physical contact for the duration of time before herd immunity or wide-spread vaccine deployment. The Illinois Reopening Plan recommends masks and social distancing until the last phase. In phase 3 groups of up to 10 people can gather and in phase 4 up to 50 people with appropriate behavioral alterations. One-on-one personal training and small group classes may begin in phase 3.      
Reopening gyms and academies like they were before the pandemic is unrealistic before we have a vaccine or herd immunity. That said, these are small businesses that will not get sufficient support from the state or federal government. It is up to the martial arts as a community to save our gyms and schools. This may mean paying for classes at the same or reduced rate as instruction goes more virtual and classes are limited in both contact and population density. If we lose the societal checks on this novel coronavirus too early, academies and clubs will be the hot spots of their communities, the source of deaths for the old and the medically compromised. If we maximize social distancing with dedicated training partners, frequent hand sanitization, and mask adherence, we mitigate this risk. This means that practice will be a lot more hands-off and more often without interactions that we felt were the norm for our training. For example, as detailed in other plans starting with solo training and then adding partner drills at range (e.g. long-range stick or pad work) and forgoing body to body contact, e.g. knee play, wrestling or grappling until much later than anyone wants. It also means getting frequent testing, likely every two weeks as they become increasingly available and free. It means symptom checklists before each practice, likely completed on-line at a distance, and temperature checks at the door. It means a thorough cleaning of the gym and equipment before and after each session.
I do not believe that we are prevented from rolling, sparring, and other close-quarters work for the duration of the pandemic. However this will likely mean forming “pods” or small groups not including immediate family. In other words, it’s about finding one “monogamous" training partner that you will train with for the duration, either privately or in group settings. There is a two to three week “cooling off” period before switching partners to limit spread. Your risk is likely decreased if you only train with that person in a private setting, but with symptom checklists, strict hygiene protocols, temperature checks, frequent testing, and mask use. Masks are likely a custom made cloth mask that can withstand the rigors of training. Based on the Illinois plan I would not consider this sort of training until Phase 3 and it is likely more prudent to wait until Phase 4. Best case for Central Illinois that would be July. Any negative change in phase would place an immediate moratorium on training.
However, if this pod model means you quit your academy then we are destroying the art by eliminating the small businesses that are martial arts studios. We must balance our personal training needs by considering using pods while simultaneously supporting our academies and clubs. One way of doing this would be to run social distancing academy practices in parallel with pod classes virtually. Thus people who had access to private training spaces could work with their designated partner more closely without significantly increasing risk to others. Simultaneously those without a private training space could workout in a different fashion with alternate but still likely minimal risk. If things improve we could work gradually closer to how things used to be while realizing that they will never return to that baseline.
Stay safe.

5.06.2020

Commentary on Reopening Combat Sports in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Let me preface this with a little about non-combat sports me. I’m a doctor. An internist by training who now does mostly palliative care with some bioethics. So I’m trained to be an adult person doctor either in the clinic or the hospital. I have focused my practice in palliative care, the area of medicine that deals with the quality of life and wellbeing in people who have advanced, life-limiting illnesses. I see a lot of suffering and I see a lot of death. Obviously from this blog I have substantial interest and experience in combat sports including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Jeet Kune Do, Muay Thai, and Mixed-Martial Arts. Yes these two interests seem widely antithetical but I’m complex like that.

I am NOT an epidemiologist, infectious disease physician, or public health expert. So this is my opinion on medical topics that I have some familiarity with but I am NOT an expert on. Sadly I do not know of any of these specialists who also train in combat sports, who could likely give us better guidance. I will further caveat this with that ANYONE who trains has a secondary gain in their gyms and academies opening up again. We need to acknowledge this implicit bias exists in any conversation where those who participate have a deep-seated desire to get back on the mats and into the ring. I know I do. I want to train so bad I can taste it.

You may be familiar with Dr. Chris Moriarty’s Guidelines for Opening Up Jiu-Jitsu Academies During the COVID-19 Pandemic. It is an interesting read. Dr. Moriarty has certainly put a lot of thought into this. But if I agreed with everything he suggests I wouldn’t be writing a commentary. I do suggest reviewing this document as it is clear that the intent is to resume training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as safely as possible. I cringe a little bit at the use of the word “Guideline” as typically in medicine these are based on research and consensus opinion by a large group of experts rather than one person. I believe he is spot on with this being a phased approach with different activities being acceptable at different times. Personally, I would suggest following your state’s reopening plan rather than the federal plan as your state is more likely to police, fine, or incarcerate you if the case of any intentional or accidental wrongdoing. Also even in neighboring states, such as Illinois and Indiana, can have massively differed. I plan a follow-up discussing my state of Illinois and Indiana’s plan at a later date.

I agree with Dr. Moriarty that the first part of returning to our academies will involve careful planning and continued social distancing which makes practice largely composed of solo drill and conditioning, due to social distancing and in a mask to limit transmission. We know little about how this novel coronavirus travels through the air so we do not know the optimal distance for avoiding this kind of transmission. For example with the guess that each student requires 64 square feet that means that a 1000 square foot space can only hold 15 students. That likely means longer hours of operation to accommodate everyone and a lot of cleaning between classes. This may be prohibitive in reopening smaller academies in a financially stable manner.

When COVID-19 initially hit we all were inundated with fever being a ubiquitous sign of this disease. We are learning that fever is not as common a presenting symptom as we thought. This means using the absence of fever as an objective marker of who is “safe” to train with is likely spurious and a waste of time and resources. I do agree that a checklist to limit risk makes a lot of sense but will be difficult to realistically implement. As a clinician working in an area with community spread and with active COVID-19 cases within our hospital walls I witness abundant accidental behavior in myself and others that increase the risk of transmission. We would rapidly violate the checklist for everyone if we were aware and honest about their daily activities. We are not.

I live and practice in a community where rapid testing is available. Turn around is about 24 hours. However we don’t have enough testing swabs and medium to test people once or twice per week. Besides no insurance is going to pay for testing this often. And the risks of repeated use of deep nasopharyngeal swab sampling have not been tested. In other words, imagine having someone shove an extra-long Q-tip into the back of your nose, roughly at a distance into our skull where your ears create a line twice per week. No thanks. In addition, we don’t know what immunity looks like and we don’t know the meaning of what positive serum antibodies actually is. Positive antibodies likely mean you are immune to the strain that caused the antibody reaction but for how long and how well to other strains is unclear. Furthermore you don’t have to be infected and immunity doesn’t mean you cannot transmit COVID-19, it could just be on your hands or equipment.

Many reopening plans have included the use of 50% capacity, arguably as a way to help continue social distancing. That makes sense for fitness gyms where limiting capacity limits population density using equipment hypothetically making it easier for people to spread out. However limiting capacity makes less sense for combat sports, the entire point of which is to interact at close range and as a consequence of this lead to the swap of sweat, tears, snot, spit, and other mucus.
Dr. Moriarty does a good job of saying if you have risk factors, live, or work with people who do (such as healthcare staff) then training may be out of the question for you. We don’t know how to best mitigate those risks but we do know distancing ourselves from others decreases the risk of transmission. It is up to all of us to ponder as individuals what our decisions can do once we have more autonomy to do so.

I do not believe that training is closed to us until a vaccine is developed (and not simply because the development of a coronavirus vaccine has never been done before). I am saying that we may be better served by adapting state reopening plans to the specific conditions that combat sports have and look at the best way to mitigate risk. Dr. Moriarty has several good ideas for decreasing risk, some of which I believe are less than realistically achievable. I encourage more discussion on this topic to get the best answer for returning to the martial arts that keep us fit, sane, and make us better people.

10.07.2019

Midoriyama-jitsu

Wrestling practice today working on set-ups:

  • Kiss the bicep / Steering wheel: From a neck and inside arm tie, drop your weight as you try to push your partners head to their arm.
  • Snap to underhook: From neck tie, switch step out of the way to punch the opposite undertook in. Get a praying mantis grip on their head with your tie hand
  • Kiss the bicep reaction: When your partner stands upright, use a penetration step to place your forehead on the center of the chest. This is an inelastic collision, your head is stuck. Now grabbing the near leg step laterally with you lead foot as you grab their other leg. Now pull there legs past your legs as you transition from head pressure to shoulder pressure into the side mount.
High crotch set-up requires you to "open the window”. Two options shown today were when with the kiss the bicep set-up or when they overreach your tie. Take a penetration step and roll to your knee, grabbing between their legs and clasping the back of their thigh. Step through with the rear leg and punch with your free hand to turn the corner, becoming perpendicular with your opponent hips. Overgrip your wrist and look toward their contralateral scapula.
  • Use your overgrip hand to grip their anterior thigh and grab their opposite leg with your original high crotch hand. Step in front of them as you pull their legs laterally past your rear foot. Your shoulder will go to their abdomen and you will end up in a low side side control.
  • If they block your anterior reach hand, pivot backwards about 90* as you “bow” dumping them front of you.
 
Next we worked on some ground-n-pound (GnP) principles:
  • From the situation where they have fallen in front of you, use your rear hand to grab the ankle of the ipsilateral leg. Lift it at drive it laterally, kick the lateral and posterior side of their leg. Throw their legs across your body and away, insert your lead shin behind their thighs. Throw a solid rear shot. Step past their hip into knee on stomach, throw three punches.
  • From the low side control, free your superior arm and obtain head control. Snack your arm under their head and grip the anterior side of their axilla. Throw three downward elbows to the flank. Then control their biceps with this hand and deliver three forearm smashes.
  • From knee on stomach throw your lead hand, rear hand, lead hand, and rear hook. Jump to the other side and repeat for the round.

While the junior students worked on our fundamental self-defense techniques, senior students worked on the Kesa Gatame Kill System.

9.12.2019

Kimura Trap Transition To Rear Mount

These are some notes on some work in progress. Your opponent is in four points and you are controlling the back from the side. Reach across and obtain a kimura trap on the far arm grabbing their wrist with your lateral hand and using your medial hand to underhook the forearm and grip your wrist, Briskly pull up making lifting their chest and twisting their torso.

If they do not defend their near hip, place your near hook and pull them to rear mount by placing your free hook in the space created by your kimura trap as you pull them laterally,

If they do defend their near hip by closing space and compressing this area, pull them laterally toward you by your kimura trap and place the near hook and then the far hook.

Once you have the rear mount you can either transition to straight arm bar or try to do a reverse Americana by bracing your elbow against the back of their head and pulling their wrist posteriorly.

You can also hook their near arm with your leg and you can roll your hip over their head as you pull them to crucifix

9.08.2019

Fall 2019 Introduction to Wrestling and Notes on the Figure Four

In the Fall 2019 Goshin Jitsu Mixed-Martial Arts introduction to wrestling we started with the pummel. The pummel exchanges overunder positions with your partner, you switch sides by slapping your chest on the overhook side and swim through, under their arm pit. Your partner does the same      thing on the other side to switch the over under. Your lead foot is on the underhook side. One of  the keys in the pummel is to make your opponent carry your weight, pull on their underhook arm to disrupt their posture. We worked on repositioning our opponent with the pummel. The way to do this is to drop step a quarter turn with  your underhook side, pulling with the underhook as you push with your head. Their foot should make a loud thud demonstrating that you have shifted their weight to one of their legs. You can then easily pick up the other leg for a takedown.

Next we worked on using the head and arm tie to do the same thing. The head and arm tie means you have gripped their neck with one hand and are controlling the other arm inside their biceps Drop step away from the arm tie as you try to make them kiss their bicep by pushing their head toward their arm. They should pop up, as they do the head tie hand pushes their shoulder as you grab behind their knee of their lead leg.

The figure four is a solid submission grip. If they have a joint you can twist it enough for a submission with the increased leverage of the grip. Today we did pattern recognition for the Americana and kimura. We did the “surrendering gorilla” basically doing sit-ups in the closed guard and getting “batting practice” looking for figure four set-ups. We did the “figure four clock face” (or Every 60°) where from the side mount you look for Americana, straight arm lock, and kimura on one arm depending on the angle of their arm.

I often have trouble with opponents “pulling through” when I attack with the kimura. They simply pull their arm toward their opposite shoulder, trapping my  overhook and putting me in a reverse kimura. I have two tactics for mitigating this:

First, from the closed guard or half guard  I straight arm their wrist backward, behind the plane of their body. Then, I pivot my body to their arm, and secure the overhand grip. Now i force the bend in their arm and pull their elbow to my chin. To finish I attempt to place their hand behind their head.

The second way I attack from the closed guard is to create a shin shield on the inside of their elbow. I keep a solid grip on their wrist and then reach over their arm to secure the figure four grip. Only once I have a solid grip and have broken them down do I slide my knee out a finish the submission.

8.18.2019

Fusion Cooking

Today I covered some mixed-martial arts style grappling from the closed guard. The first was a series I picked up from BJJ Mastermind II:

From closed guard clinch your opponents head like a muay thai plum and use the other hand to block punches. Catch their arm off the punches and place shin shield in their biceps, cupping their triceps with your hand. This should roll their arm, rotating their hand posteriorly, setting up the kimura.

If they defend the kimura by cupping their thigh, use the hand nearest their head to reach posteriorly and wrap their head grabbing their chin. Drop your arm on top of their head like you are gripping a football. Scoot your hips backwards to create space on the contralateral side from your grip, feed your hand in to secure the guillotine. Lift your hips and arc toward the ipsilateral side as their head.

If they defend the kimura by extending their arm, retain your grip on their wrist and cup their elbow with your other hand. Pull it over your head, trapping their triceps against your head. I pull with my legs to get the proximal insertion of their triceps against my head/neck. Wrap their neck in a deep figure four putting your free hand against your head.

You can also use this position to block punches, then swim underneath their punching arm with your contralateral arm to obtain a rear neck choke position.

We also discussed using the this set-up and setting up a shoulder clinch: block the strike and then roll your arm underneath it, Gable grip at their shoulder, pulling their torso down. Now slide out to this side on the contralateral hip, place your top foot in the near hip and place your knee on the shoulder. Essentially a vice grip with your legs on their torso. Pinch their wrist between your shoulder and head. Now slide down their arm with your Gable grip until you are just proximal to the elbow. Complete the arm bar.

If they bend their arm with their hand pointing inferiorly, hug their arm at the elbow with your top arm grabbing the biceps of the opposite arm. This hand grabs their wrist for the reverse kimura. If they bend the arm with their hand pointing superiorly, shuck it past you and take their back.

If they attempt to stack, keep pressure on their shoulder to force the contralateral leg to extend, raising their hips more on this side. Open your guard and inset the hook on this side. Use the forearm on this side to lift under their chin as you elevate your hook and sweep them.

Next Matt covered the Russian tie, starting with using a shrug to lift their tie off your neck. Reach across with your opposite side hand to grab their wrist. Use the same side hand to under hand and grip the anterior deltoid, placing  pressure on their arm at the shoulder joint. If they are carrying your weight, release the wrist grip, undertook and grip the posterior deltoid. Free your other hand and grab their contralateral hip. Now step forward and guide them to the floor, pull slightly with your hip grip to pull their back toward you (placing them in a less defendable ground position).

If you can not break them down, fold their forearm toward them and figure four, lifting with your hips. Their reaction should be to push their arm downwards, again allowing you to guide them to the floor.

From the wrist grip and posterior axillary undertook, you can place your near foot behind their foot and as you push with the near forearm lift their foot to your opposite hand. Set up the single leg of your choice. If they step back to avoid the sweep, step forward and pull them to the mat. Alternatively sweep their opposite foot.

Lastly Adam ran through a trapping sequence off the jab cross. For the jab he did a split entry, that is catch and move the head to the outside while jabbing/eye poke/neck shot. Then cover the cross on the inside with a similar shot using your other hand. Roll the cover hand over their forearm and pass it across your body to your opposite hand, freeing your near hand for the uppercut to the jaw. Now fold their hand down with their elbow up to pull them close to allow your near hand tie their neck in a half Nelson. Knee, elbow, or throw as desired. 

2.10.2019

Kick Defense Agility Drills

  1. Jab: Catch, Rear Leg Kick: Lead Leg Cover
  2. Jab: Catch, Rear Leg Kick: Lead Leg Cover, Rear Leg Kick: Lead Leg Cover
  3. Jab: Catch, Rear Leg Kick: Lead Leg CoverRear Leg Kick: Lead Leg Cover, Rear Leg Kick: Lead Leg Evasion, Lead Kick
  4. Jab: Catch, Cross: Catch, Lead Leg Kick: Lead Leg Cover
  5. Jab: Catch, Cross: Catch, Lead Leg Kick: Lead Leg Cover, Rear Leg Kick: Lead Leg Cover
  6. Jab: Catch, Cross: Catch, Lead Leg Kick: Lead Leg CoverRear Leg Kick: Lead Leg Cover, Rear Leg Kick: Lead Leg EvasionLead Kick
  7. Jab: Catch, Rear Body Kick: Lead Body Cover (knee to elbow, elbow sits on lateral surface of thigh, glove on head)
  8. Jab: Catch, Rear Body Kick: Lead Body CoverRear Body Kick: Lead Body Cover
  9. Jab: Catch, Rear Body Kick: Lead Body CoverRear Body Kick: Lead Body Cover, Rear Body Kick: Lead Kick CatchLead Kick
  10. Jab: Catch, Rear Body Kick: Lead Body CoverRear Body Kick: Lead Body Cover, Rear Body Kick: Lead Cut Kick
  11. Jab: Catch, Cross: Catch, Lead Body Kick: Lead Cross Body Cover (lead knee comes to contralateral elbow, elbow on the medial side of the knee, glove on head)
  12. Jab: Catch, Cross: Catch, Lead Body Kick: Lead Cross Body CoverRear Body Kick: Lead Body Cover
  13. Jab: Catch, Cross: Catch, Lead Body Kick: Lead Cross Body CoverRear Body Kick: Lead Body Cover, Rear Body Kick: Lead Kick CatchLead Kick
  14. Jab: Catch, Cross: Catch, Lead Body Kick: Lead Cross Body CoverRear Body Kick: Lead Body Cover, Rear Body Kick: Lead Cut Kick