All posts by David V Nelson

Martial Artist, Veteran of the U.S. Army, Pharmacist, Actor, Writer, Producer, Author and Fitness Enthusiast.

Stretching for MMA, Part I–Calf Stretch

Stretching for MMA, Part I-Calf Stretch

This is the first of several installments on stretching for MMA, specifically to improve your kicking ability. If you stretch well enough that head kicks are easy and fast you will also help with many other techniques (i.e. Rubber guard, etc.). The major areas where you have to improve flexibility are calves, hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, adductors, abductors, hips and low back. I will start with calves because relaxing the tissue in your calf will make it easier to stretch your hamstring.

For this stretch, sit on the floor with your legs straight. It is better to sit during a stretch instead of stand because when you sit you are not weight bearing and you will be able to stretch and relax your muscles more easily.

Move your non-stretching leg so that your ankle rests above your knee on the stretching leg. This holds your stretching leg in place and keeps it from moving during the stretch.

Next, lean your upper body forward. Your tendency will be to back out of the leaned position during the stretch, so pay attention and remain leaned forward. This happens because the human body naturally tries to make things easier. Leaning forward helps you to isolate your calf and get more out of this stretch.

Tibialis Anterior is the muscle located in your shin area on the front of your lower leg. Breathe out and use this muscle to activate into the stretch, moving your toes toward your knee (decrease the angle of your foot in relation to your leg). Hold the stretch for about 1 to 2 seconds and release. Move your foot far enough out of the stretch (by pointing your toes) so that you can rest in between stretches.

This is also an effective way to use your calf to stretch your Tibialis Anterior.

Do 3 to 10 repetitions per set and stretch both sides equally. Repeat sets as needed.

This stretch and a lot more will be covered in my book, Focusing Martial Arts Power, 2nd edition, which I am currently finishing. Thanks and look for Part II, Glute Stretch.


MMA vs Football

I was at the gym today lifting weights and training footwork and defense when I noticed there were football highlights on TV. I love football, so I watched an analysis of some of the Quarterbacks in the NFL.

I found myself comparing MMA and football, specifically the position of QB. I noticed how the different players were using footwork to escape blitzes. Each QB seems to have his own way of eluding those sudden, unexpected corner, safety or overload blitzes that would have most people panicking. The best players appear to almost have a sixth sense as they move away from the pressure (in the correct direction) to avoid the sack and deliver the 30 yard TD pass.

Aside from the obvious differences of MMA and football (single fighter vs team sport; rules; object in football is NOT to draw blood; etc) I thought about how once you are tackled in football, the whistle blows and the play is over. You get up and reset for the next play. In MMA when you hit the ground, you are only getting started.

Until you have spent some time training MMA, you don’t fully appreciate how much fitness, knowledge and work is involved. It will definitely get you into the best shape you have ever been in your life, while also preparing you for what happens if someone takes you to the ground. The kind of stamina you build with MMA can’t be achieved through running, circuit training, or aerobic/kickboxing/zumba classes, etc.

This is because until you learn to control your mind and breathing (anxiety) when someone is trying to slam you to the ground and choke you out, your stamina is basically worthless. Even a marathon runner can have his/her energy sapped in seconds when the anxiety of being in an MMA fight hits. I tip my hat to anyone who has ever stepped into a cage and fought using MMA rules. You have to be ready for everything and it is definitely a challenging thing to undertake.

See you in the gym.


A Chip and a Chair

I recently took a trip to Vegas for some fun and some poker, but mostly for poker. I arrived on Wednesday, June 12 and took a cab to the Luxor. I was early and check-in was not available yet, so I headed to the Luxor Poker Room for a warm-up tournament.

I then headed to the Rio where the WSOP was underway. I quickly found a single table satellite game for $175 and sat down to play. The winner would get $1500 in chips to use toward a WSOP buy-in plus $125 cash. Out of the 10 players in I made it to 4th before going out with AK. I am still trying to figure out why I play AK; It looks good but rarely wins.

At this point, I headed back to Luxor and went to their gym. The weight room was more than adequate (unlike some hotels/casinos) and I got a good work out before heading to get a protein smoothie at “Blizzed.” It was late enough so I called it a day (3 hour time difference, so my body thought it was 10 or 11 pm).

The next day I headed back to Rio for another shot at a satellite. This time I played a $75 game with a payout of a $500 chip plus $50 cash. Out of 168 people I made it to 34th, losing with another bad beat (KK vs QJ). It was getting close to noon, and I wasn’t quite getting there with my luck, but I was there to play event #24 no matter what. I put up the $1,500 buy-in and got something to eat before heading to my table.

It was a long, grueling day of poker from there. We stopped for breaks, but didn’t finish day one until after 2 am. My chip stack was very low, but I was very happy to have survived day one and made it into the money for the first time.

The next day I headed in and played for about 30 minutes before the blinds and antes forced me all in with Q8. I went up against QJ again and did not catch. I did manage to out last 37 players who had more chips than I did at the start of the day and I moved to the 2nd payout level as a result. Overall, I am happy that I cashed but would have liked to break into the top 100. I will be back next year for another $1,500 event and maybe next year I will have better luck and even make it to a final table.


My first cage event, XFP4

I was recently invited by Jose Torres of Dominion MMA to check out their local MMA event. It was held at the Longbranch in Raleigh, NC and there were 8 fights. As I walked into the bar I was impressed by the very professional set up. Walking toward my ring side seat I could feel the energy and excitement in the room. This side of the Longbranch has been used as a country bar for many years and I have been there are several occasions. Never before has it looked as good as it did with the octagon sitting in the room.

As the fights began, I was impressed by the ground techniques used by several of the fighters. I had a good view of a text book rear naked choke early in the evening and there was some good wrestling as the fighters used take down defense and worked to get up after a take down. The two main event fights were for titles, and both fights lived up to my expectations. Trey Singleton pulled off a dominant performance on the way to a decision victory against a game opponent (Garrido). The Kenna vs. Roberts fight was quick, but I had a good view of the Americana  (which is also one of my favorites to use) and it was a solid technique.

I am definitely looking forward to XFP5 and I am very excited to be able to say that I have been to an event with an actual octagon (instead of a boxing ring). Hope to see you there.


Lao Warrior Update – follow up

We recently filmed two great scenes for Lao Warrior; Phantasm and Candlelight. The Phantasm scene was very exciting and involved Jennifer Williamson, Miles Snow and a SWAT team. Kenji Saykosy choreographed some incredible martial arts scenes for this shoot and Directed a long but rewarding day of filming. Kenji was also a part of most of the scenes. Earlier scenes that day involved Jennifer and Nina Bartula. Jennifer’s parts in the movie have now all been filmed, and we will miss seeing her on set. Hopefully, we will see her at the premier.

The Candlelight scene was a re-shoot from earlier this year. We did it this time as an outdoor night shoot and the lighting for the scene, set up by Sean Pollock (cinematographer), was perfection. This scene is a very special scene for the cast, and for Kenji especially. In this scene we see Kenji’s Master (also Tyler’s Master) pass the sword as Kenji takes over teaching at the school. This scene shows the mixed emotions of the main character as he is happy for the promotion but also not sure how Tyler will react.

We are set for more filming this month and July is going to be very busy as well. Thanks to all of our contributors and sponsors for your support and to all of the incredible actors and martial artists for continuing to make Lao Warrior a great project.

Lao Warrior Update

April has been a busy month. On the 7th, we went to Triangle Jiu Jitsu in Durham, NC to film some fight scenes for the movie. We had several talented actors from Charlotte (Mike Gutowski, Brittany Bass and Jennifer Williamson) and local incredible actor Tony Basile present for a great day of filming. Kenji Saykosy was directing as myself and several stuntmen spent hours in the cage knocking out some great scenes. Sean Pollock and Daniel Calvert were the cameramen and Jonathan Carvajal was running sound.

On the 14th we had a huge night of filming at the local bar Mosaic here in Raleigh, NC. Except for one person, we had the entire main cast and crew together. This was the first time we had this many main characters together since the photo shoot for the movie posters last year. Once again, the energy was incredible and we filmed until about 2 am. Many thanks go to the extras and supporting actors who stepped up to make it a great night.

For the weekend of the 20th, Kenji headed out to Wisconsin for the Lao International Film Festival. Kenji did a martial arts demonstration and showed the music video from the movie (also released this month), our initial trailer and a promo reel. The reception was great and many new friends were made for the star of Lao Warrior.

We look forward to what May brings as we plan to film several more great scenes for the movie in addition to training a lot to make the fight scenes great. Thanks.


More about my fighting experience

Although I have competed in Taekwondo tournaments over the years (record 8 wins, 3 losses with 5 gold medals), my real fighting experience starts in 1987, the first time someone pulled a knife on me. When he opened it up (remember, this is the 80’s, so people carried buck knives) I remember the effect seeing that blade had on me. I went into survival mode, grabbed him by the wrist and throat and slammed him onto a car so hard that the knife went flying. He then slid off the car onto the pavement. Thankfully, that was the end of that conflict.

In 1988 I joined the US Army at age 17. I think most people know by now when you throw a bunch of young guys together from different backgrounds, and force them to live in a confined area (no, this wasn’t TUF and we weren’t in a nice mansion in Vegas) there are going to be problems. Added to this, the stress level was intentionally kept high by the Drill Sergeants most of the time mixed with sleep deprivation and general hazing.

In this environment there were a lot of fights, I remember one day a guy from 4th platoon was trying to bully me so I smacked him. At the time he did nothing about it. Later that day when I was in a line unloading a truck, someone suddenly hit me in the head from behind. I spun around and there was my friend from 4th platoon on the ground. Without even thinking about it, I had punched him in the face.

In 1990, when I was in Fort Hood, we had the night off and headed downtown to a bar. Two of my friends left the bar and ran into trouble. When the rest of us (about 7 guys) went looking for them, we found them facing 3 or 4 members of a gang. When the gang members saw us, they made some sort of sign and about 20 other gang members were suddenly on us. Despite the odds, we were winning this fight badly when suddenly someone yelled, “I’ve been stabbed.”

We were up against several people with knives and pipes. Two of my buddies got stabbed and one got his nose broken. I managed to make it out safely by staying calm and watching my back while watching the backs of 3 of my friends. After the stabbings, the gang vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

In 1995 I was hanging out with friends at a bar and making general conversation with a group of people. Suddenly a guy from the group said he had been looking for me for over a year (over a girl–stupid–and for the record, if you want to “look” for someone, it doesn’t take a year). He was drunk and I wasn’t, so I tried to talk him out of fighting. Eventually, his shenanigans (love Super Troopers) got him thrown out of the bar.

Then his friend comes over to me and starts telling me it’s a fair fight, and I am just scared, etc. Again, I tried to tell him that I would just hurt his friend and it was not worth it to me to go to jail (I was actually on probation at the time for assaulting a police officer–but that misunderstanding is an entire other story).

Eventually, I reached my limit so I headed to the door where the bouncer did not want to let me go outside because he knew there would be a fight. I used a Jedi mind trick on him, and he opened the door for me. Once outside, my opponent, an Army Ranger who had about 40 pounds on me and was about 4 inches taller, charged me and went for the take down. Unfortunately for him he walked into a right jab (I have twemendous power in my wight hand). Since his guard was down, he only had his nose to stop the punch. I won’t bore you with the rest of the fight (there wasn’t much), but basically his friend from the bar (Mr. Fair Fight) jumped me from behind and I elbowed him in the head. He wanted no part of me after the elbow, so I headed back inside the bar.

From my years of training and experience I have learned the difference between a pro fighter, a semi-pro, an amateur, someone with training and the average person. As with most sports, the difference between average and pro is like going up against a super hero; you will lose badly. I have trained or fought with the whole gamut and I have seen many differences within each of the five types that I list above. As with what I do every day at the pharmacy, my goal is to help people and I hope that I can provide something useful to everyone with this blog, even the pros. Thanks.


Follow the Leader

Anyone who has fought in the ring, cage or on the street knows how fast things can happen. In a fight, your anxiety level increases and your ability to think is affected. Often, you will see a fighter revert to the style that was his first (his base) or to the techniques he has trained the most over the years. An example of this is a wrestler who has started training MMA (kick-boxing, Jiu-jitsu, etc), but during his fight takes his opponent down and holds him there instead of using his new skills.

I mention this to make several points. It is important to control your anxiety so you stay in control and make good decisions. It is important to train with good form so that when you revert to techniques you do them well. But, I want to focus on the mindset you are in when you are “under fire.”

You often see a fighter’s corner yelling at him to use certain combos or techniques that will work in the situation. An example is someone yelling, “Elbow!” If both fighters hear and listen they will both be reminded to use elbows. If only one fighter hears, the first time he hits his opponent with an elbow (and doesn’t knock him out) he is reminding him about using elbow strikes and in fact encourages him to use them (I call this the “hit you back” effect).

This also applies to someone in a self-defense scenario. Know that if you try a technique you learned in a self-defense class and it doesn’t work or you miss, you have just made the attacker mad and given him ideas about what to do back to you. Be prepared for this. If you don’t know the defense against a technique, don’t use it.

Train hard and keep learning.

Abs of Cold Steel

I was thinking about my abs workout and suddenly remembered the unfortunate story of a friend of mine (lets call him, “House”) from basic training. During the four months we were at Fort Knox for basic, we spent a lot of time getting dogged out by Drill Sergeants. This included grass drills, long road marches with all of our gear, and of course push-ups—lots and lots of push-ups. I tried counting how many push-ups I did one day but stopped once I hit 1,000.

During one of these nice, relaxing days, my friend House injured his wrist. He pushed on (no pun intended) through the pain but eventually his wrist gave out. In mid-push-up he rolled over in pain. Luckily the Senior Drill Sgt was there to apply first aid. He grabbed House by his wrist and began shaking it while saying, “There’s nothing wrong with your wrist.” We stood quietly (and that wasn’t easy) as we watched his hand shaking back and forth while he yelled in agony until someone finally realized he actually did need medical attention. My memory is blurry, but I want to say he was diagnosed with a stress fracture.

A day or two later, he returned with a cast on his arm and a physician’s order for light duty with no push-ups. In theory, this should have made his life easier, but this was not the case. Every time I saw him over the next few weeks he was on the floor doing some kind of abs exercise; V-ups, air bike, leg raise, crunches, sit-ups—you name it. He must have had crazy abs after this ordeal. This continued until he was finally sent away to heal enough to repeat basic training (that’s right, he had to repeat basic training—that alone makes me cringe).

So, next time I am struggling through my abs exercises (or any other exercise) I will think of House and let that motivate me to work harder and keep going. Find a similar motivator you can use to push yourself to the next level and don’t forget to work those abs! See you in the gym.

“Check” it out

David training

David Nelson training

I love it when I watch a fight and see someone using techniques I learned in Tae Kwon Do (TKD). TKD was my first martial art and I studied it for about 16 years before branching out, so I will always have a great appreciation. One of my favorite techniques (from TKD) is “checking.” The definition of checking is using a feint or movement that makes your opponent react. If your check is successful, your opponent will think you are attacking and you can see what he does. This allows you to assess his skill level, speed and his preferences for evading and/or countering.

At the level of MMA seen in the UFC, checking has a very valuable role. A fight between two experienced professionals who have trained hard and are relaxed (they have gotten past first time ring anxiety) becomes a very serious chess game. These pros usually have a strategy that was put together based on watching fight footage and compiling data on their opponent. They look for weaknesses; the way the fighter evades, how aggressive he is, etc.

But, in order to know what you should do, you need to assess the person you are fighting that day. They may have changed during their training camp; added new footwork, techniques, and sometimes styles. You also need to discover what your opponent’s strategy is for the fight. Did he notice something in your game that he intends to take advantage of? Will he keep it standing or go straight for a take down? Does he want to put you against the fence and work from the clinch?

The way to answer these questions is to “check” your opponent. If you do a kick feint and he shoots in, you know he hopes to take the fight to the ground (possibly because of your great striking/kicking game). If you do a punch combo feint and he evades you know he likely wants to keep it standing up (possibly he thinks his striking is better or his ground game is worse than yours). In order for your check to work, it has to be convincing. If it is not, your opponent will not react and you learn nothing.

Spend some time looking in a mirror and work on your feints. Also use stepping, switching or footwork to simulate an attack until you are happy with the way it looks, and start using it on your training partners. See if you can get a reaction from your opponent. The most fun thing is when you get so good with your “checking” that you make people do the counter you want them to do so you can do the counter to that. When you reach that point, you are doing it right. Good luck.