My First MMA Match

It still sounds funny to say it.  I went to Las Vegas and competed in an MMA tournament. No, there wasn’t a cage involved! As part of the ATA Nationals Taekwondo tournament, the organizers ran a special “demo” event for the ATA’s Integrated Martial Arts Systems (IMS). Traditional Taekwondo sparring is fun and athletic, but not totally practical. IMS is an attempt to change that.  It allows takedowns and submissions. However, competitors wear head gear for safety and a few moves the UFC would allow are illegal.  For example:

  • No straight punches to the face
  • No striking on the ground
  • No elbows and knees

A match consists of two 2-minute rounds and fighters score points for different type of maneuvers.  The rules advertise this as light to medium contact and it’s supposed to be all in fun. It’s a way to test your skills in an environments that’s broader than traditional TKD sparring. I decided I had to try it. My first serious martial art was Jiujitsu and I’ve been training hard at TKD lately. However, I’ve never had the chance to mix them. This seemed like my best chance. Here’s how things went down.

When I got to the event, I found about 20 competitors signed up for the IMS event. We all had to weigh in. I was aiming to come in under 150 and fight in the lightweight class.  I hit 146 at the weigh in.  I was pleased about that. However, it kind of back fired on me.  After all the weigh ins, they built the brackets.  It turns out about 8 of the competitors were women and had their own division. For the remaining men, I was the only lightweight and there was only one other middleweight (170 and under). The offered me the option of taking a match against the middleweight.  It would be a single fight for the title in our own division.

My opponent was slightly taller than me, more than a decade younger than me and I was giving up 20 pounds. What else could I say except, “I’m game.”  With that, the match was on. Here’s how it went down. I’m on the right in the picture below.

As the referee started the match, my opponent moved forward and threw an outside leg kick and connected. Kicking to the legs isn’t allowed in traditional TKD sparring, but I had been training for this. I woke up and started throwing kicks back. I tagged him a couple times and was feeling good.  Then he went for a double-leg takedown. I wasn’t going to let that happen, so I went for a standing guillotine. I didn’t get it locked in tight, but I had him in a nice headlock where I could control him.

I tried to sweep his legs, but couldn’t get them. We came out of the clinch and I threw some body shots. He came back and started firing back punches to my head.  In ATA traditional TKD sparring there is no punching to the head — kicking is encouraged, but no punching to the head at all.  In IMS, punches to the headgear are allowed, like a hook, but no straight punches to the face.

When he started going for my head, I admit it took me off my game. I didn’t have a good defense reflex for it. I backed away and then he tagged me with a right cross.  The ref broke the fight at that point and issued a warning to my opponent. He even docked him points. No straight punches to the face are allowed.  The punch opened up a small cut on my nose, but we continued.

We exchanged some more leg kicks. I’m pretty sure at this stage that I’m ahead on points and we’re getting near the end of the first round.  Then he threw another leg kick. I should have just checked it, but my TKD reflexes decided to try and block it.  My low block left my face wide open and he followed in with another right cross direct to my nose. You can see it below. Here is me trying to block the leg kick:

Here is me trying to get up to block his punch, but I’m too slow. He tags me right in the nose – hard!

And here is my block arriving too late to do any good. Ouch!

He doesn’t knock me out with this. However, I promised myself going into this that if I thought I was going to really get hurt that I’d fold.  I covered my face and went down to get out of the way. I’m not going to be a UFC fighter and I needed to be back at work at my professional job on Monday.

The ref came over to check me out. He saw how much blood was coming out of my nose (a lot!). He told me to stay down and called over the medic.  He then walked over, chewed out my opponent and disqualified him from the tournament. Rule number 1 was no straight punches to the face.  He’d done it once and been warned. This second time was over the line for this type of tournament and the fight was over.

The judges awarded me the win, and by virtue of that I took first place in the division. After I staunched the bleeding in my nose, they gave me a card and told me to go collect my trophy.

All I could do was take my trophy and head back to the hotel with my Little Ninja. BTW, she was totally nonplussed by the whole thing.  She’s seen me spar plenty of times, and does it herself too.  I don’t think she thought this was much different.

On the way back to the hotel, I couldn’t decide how to feel about the whole thing. DId I win or did I loose? Should I feel proud of myself or did I fail. Despite technically winning, he’d hurt me more than I hurt him and that meant something at a primal level. It upset me. However, everyone I talked to told me I fought a good fight and that it wasn’t my fault if the other guy couldn’t follow the rules.

Surely the whole affair pointed out a hole in my game I’ll work on in terms of protecting my head, but I’ve decided I have nothing to be ashamed of. It was a pretty good first time out. When we got back to the hotel the Little Ninja insisted on taking a picture of me with my trophy (and my rapidly developing black eye, and a blood soaked tissue stuffed up my nose).  I find I actually quite like this picture now after looking at it for a while.

Of course, the even more interesting picture if of my face the next day!

So, how do you think I did?  Why don’t you watch the video and leave me a comment? I’d love to hear from you.


The Little Ninja Goes to Vegas

Back around new years, the Little Ninja and I decided we were going to go to the ATA Nationals Taekwondo tournament in Vegas. This would be her first “real tournament” (not counting local intra-school), and her first trip to Vegas.  It promised to be fun and it was! There was too much that happened this past weekend to cover it in one blog post.  I probably need three, so here is the first installment.

We skipped work/school and Friday and headed to Vegas on Southwest first thing. We checked into our hotel and headed direct to the Convention Center.  Her first events were the XMA Weapons and Creative Weapons categories.  These are both non-traditional forms categories that focus on intensity and showmanship. She loves this stuff — and she gets to wear a cool black uniform for the events. Here’s a picture of the Little Ninja (far left) looking sassy (with her deadly looking Kamas) while lining up with the rest of her ring (all 7-8 year old girls).

The competition in the ring was fierce. Some of these girls clearly practice night and day.  However, she wasn’t intimidated (even though several of the girls were sporting State Champ or even World Champ patches on the back of their uniforms. She went out and did here thing.  Here are a few snapshots (click to enlarge).


She didn’t place top 3 in this event, but all the girls got “awesome competitor” awards that were well deserved. She was happy to wear her medal. She watched one of my events after hers (another post on that later). We then declared victory and headed out on the town!  Of course, out on the town with a 7 year old doesn’t mean the casinos, it means ice cream!

The next day, it was time for the traditional competition. She has never like to do traditional forms.  It’s her lead favorite part of Taekwondo.  However, she set a goal to completely learn her black belt form.  The ATA 1st degree black belt form is called Shim Jun and contains 81 precisely proscribed moves.  She worked hard on it for weeks and just recently has reached the point where she can do the entire form herself without help.  Of course she’d only done it at the school and in our living room before the tournament.  It was still to be seen if she could do it under pressure.  While there were a couple of shaky parts, especially towards the end, she did the whole thing!  She didn’t place Top 3 here either, but I couldn’t have been prouder.  Here’s her form.

Here are the competitors from her ring. Have you ever seen a scarier looking bunch?

After my events (more on that later) it was time to party like rock stars.  We tooking in a the Cirque Beatles show and then headed home on Sunday.  It was a super weekend with my Little Ninja!

Almost Time!

The last twelve weeks, I’ve been on a training program to get me ready for the ATA Nationals tournament. The tournament starts on Friday.  Almost there.  I don’t know how I’ll stack up against the competition, but I feel like I put in the time and met my goals of sticking to the program. Over the past twelve weeks, I’ve put in over 80 hours of training (while continuing to work long hours at my full-time job).  I’ve done well over 5,000 push-ups to boot.

On the nutrition side, I’ve been good about following my Fighter’s Diet program.  I’ve dropped my body fat percentage from 15.5% to around 13.5%, and feel like I’ve gained some strength in the process. You can see a chart of my progress below.

You can see a lot of variability in the day to day measurements, but the trend is clearly downward.  And, trust me, I wasn’t starving on this diet. In fact, I was eating like a horse most weeks. The only real break from the program came from a week-long international business trip earlier this month where I broke my diet almost everyday — and you can see the backslide on the chart.  Overall though, I’d say the diet part of the program has been doing what I wanted. However, my next challenge in this area is to put on more muscle mass and I expect to make some adjustments there.

Mid-way through my program, I did a warm up tournament in Rocklin, CA.  Results were mixed. I placed in sparring (my strongest event), but I bombed in my other two events. In fact, I was disqualified from my weapons event because my form didn’t meet the black belt forms requirements. That meant I had only six weeks to learn an entire new weapons form. While it isn’t perfect yet, I’m pleased to report that I’ve learned the form and feel confident I can perform it at the event. We’ll see how I place! If you want to check it out, here’s a little video of a practice run.

Next week, I’ll report results from the tournament!

Rank Testing

A big part of most martial arts is testing for your next rank.  This past weekend, the school I train at held testing.  The  Little Ninja and are both helped to officiate at the promotion for the advanced colored belts and then we tested for our own mid-term stars with the other black belts.  Here’s a nice picture of the black belts who tested that day.  You can see my Little Ninja is still the smallest of the bunch — even though she’s outgrowing her uniform!

Here is a picture of the colored belts completing their testing

The testing was followed by a fun pot luck lunch and gave everyone a chance to bond and to celebrate what they’d accomplished the past few months.  This school is now about a year and a half old and it’s great to see it start to come together with such a feeling of family.

If you’d like to see more pictures you can check out the slideshow below.  Music is courtesy of one of my favorite 80s “hair” bands: Telsa!

Rocklin Regional Tournament Results

As part of my training program for ATA Nationals in Las Vegas next month, I decided to do a tune up tournament. Last month I competed in the ATA Regional tournament in Rocklin, CA.  This was my first tournament as a black belt, and I’m really glad I went.  I competed in three events.

I was lucky enough to be joined at the tournament by two of the top junior students at my school.  Here’s a picture of our team at the tourney.

Now, the first event I competed in was forms.  Here’s a picture of my near the start of my form.

The ATA first degree black belt form has 81 moves and I’ve only been working on it for a month.  I actually felt pretty good until half way though.  Then I totally lost my way.  I didn’t place in that event, but this went a long way towards showing me what I need to know for my next tournament in this event.

My next event was weapons.  This one was even worse.  I did my form and felt pretty good about it.  However, I found out the form (that my instructor helped me select!) was an not eligible form for competition.  I was disqualified!  Of well, I now know what forms are acceptable and I’m learning a new one.  This will be tough to get ready for Vegas, but I’m working hard at it.

Lastly was sparring.  This is my best event and after my poor showing in the other two events, I was determined to make a good showing.  Here’s a quick shot of me getting psyched up.

Here’s a video of me sparring in the semi-finals for my division.  I’m on the left and I’m “white” when the judges call for points.


I won that round 5 to 1!  I didn’t win the finals, but I was pleased to take home at least a second-place medal.


I’m now about half way through my training program for Nationals.  Lots more work to do! Thanks to all of you for your support.

1,000 Push-ups!

I’m now four weeks into my training program for the ATA Nationals Tournament.  One of the goals I set for myself was to work up to 1,000 push-ups a week.  It turns out that it didn’t take me 12 weeks to reach that mark.  I did it in four!  Last week I did 1,100 push-ups!  I worked up steadily from 400 on week one to 1,100 last week.  I’m pretty pleased with that, and I’m feeling stronger for it.

Why did I choose push-ups as part of my program?  Here are some good reasons to like push-ups:

  • They’re portable!  No equipment required and they require minimal space.  You can do them practically anywhere.
  • They’re a whole body work out. They work your chest, arms, shoulders and core.

In order to work up to my goal level I did a few simple things.

  • The first week I figured out how many push-ups I could do in a set before failure.  I started out around 50.
  • The first week, I did two sets / day, every other day.
  • Over the course of the next few weeks, I cranked up my set size from 50 to 65, to 70, to 75 and even sometimes up to 80.
  • Then I moved to more sets on more days.  Last week I did between 1 and 3 sets on all seven days.
Pretty quickly I’ve managed to move up to 1,000 for the week!  Now, there is nothing really magical about that number, but as a target it kept me motivated.  Now, I need to figure out another goal around push-ups so I can keep exploring this exercise for the rest of my training program.  I’ll post more updates on what I do with push-ups here over the coming weeks.

Week 3 Nationals Training Results

Well, week three of my 12 week training program was a rough one.  After feeling like I’d had a very strong week 2, the wheels came off a bit this week.  I trained all seven days in week two and went right on training the first day of this week.  No rest days!  By the last day of week 2 my legs were sore, but I decided to power on through.  My Monday morning, my legs were hamburger.  No training on Monday and it took me two days before I even felt human again.  Here’s my week 3 summary.

Here’s a table that shows how my first three weeks compare, and then I have a couple of charts that visually show some of the same data.

So, here’s a summary of how I did on key metrics:

  • Training hours – this was my lowest week so far.  I had to slow down the start of the week and then was traveling on Friday and Saturday.  That being said, I did make some really good progress on my Traditional Weapons form.  I’m getting that into really good competition shape.
  • Push-ups.  I moved from sets of 65 to sets of 75.  I’m near my original 1,000 / week goal.  I’ll be sure to pass that goal in week 4 and then will have to set a new goal!
  • Weight – My weight is pretty flat.  Any fluctuation here appears to be water weight.  I am starting to gain some strength and definition in my upper body, but I’m going to have to hit the weights harder if I want to see real progress there by the end of week 12.  I’m sticking pretty close to my diet plan, so I’m feeling OK about that.

Thanks again to all my virtual training partners out there.  I really appreciate the encouragement!

Week 2 Training Results

At the turn of the new year I kicked off my 12 week training program to get ready for the ATA Nationals tournament.  As part of that program, I’ve put together a system for tracking my progress.  You can read an overview of that (and see my week 1 results) here.

I’ve just completed week two of my program.  Here’s the quick summary of my week:

And here is how I stacked up this week vs. last week on my key metrics:

So, how did the week stack up?  Let’s look at the key elements:

  • Total Training Minutes – I feel really good about this.  I came in at just under 90 minutes / day.  Given that I have a full time job and a family, I’ll have a hard time keeping up that pace, but it felt really good this week.
  • Push-ups – One of my big goals with this is gaining strength and I have a goal to reach 1,000 push-ups a week.  This week I did nearly 600 which was up from 400 last week.  Last week I did sets of 50 at a time.  This week I did sets of 65 and eventually moved to sets of 70.  Making good progress here
  • Diet – The cheats column measures how many times I went off my Fighter’s Diet program.  I actually did great on my diet this week (right up until the 49er game today — I’ll see that on the scale tomorrow!).  One of the things I’ve had to focus on more is eating enough to match this level of training.  This week I ate more than I’m used to eating, but still lost weight.
  • Weight and body comp – I don’t have a goal to lose weight on this program.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  I still have a few pounds of fat I wouldn’t mind shedding, but I really want to gain muscle.  This week and last week I lost weight.  However, I think it’s mostly been shedding water weight so far and my overall weight hasn’t moved much.  I’ll keep an eye on this.

Now, in terms of skills I need for the tournament, things are coming along.  For my Weapons Form event, I have a good knowledge of the form and I’m really working on cleaning it up.  For my Traditional Empty Hand form, this is going to require major work.  There are 81 moves in the form and I can get through about half of them now (and it doesn’t look great).  Lots more hours to put into that.  For Taekwondo sparring, I got some good work in this week.

For my IMS/MMA event, I need to find a way to get some focus here.  I’m having trouble finding good sparring partners for this and I only made MMA class once this week.  I’ve got to find a way to put in more here.

Thanks to all my virtual training partners out there who read my blog or comment on my twitter.  I really appreciate the encouragement.

Testing for my Blackbelt

Last night I tested for my ATA “Blackbelt Recommended” rank. This is something I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time and I’m pleased to report that I passed! I didn’t feel like my performance was perfect, but it got the job done. Here are a few pictures of the event along with a few pictures of my Little Ninja and I afterwards (she’s already a blackbelt).

Getting warmed up

First Board Break (Reverse Punch)

Finishing my first break (see half the board down by the holder’s knee?)

Second break (spin heel kick)

Looking sweaty after sparring

Tying on my new belt

The Little Ninja giving her old man a hard time about how much he sweat!

With my instructor (5th Degree Blackbelt Mr. Indalos)

I also have some videos of my poomsae (form) and sparring matches (I had three that were back-to-back-to-back). I’ll try to get those uploaded soon.

Thanks to all of my Twitter and Blog friends who have supported me the past few months while I’ve trained for this. You really helped keep me motivated! For those who are interested, I’ll be posting some details about my training program too. I calculated it out the other day and realized that I’d lost 28 pounds since I got serious about martial arts training!

Best of ZZNinja

I’ve had this site up for about 4 months and I get more visitors each week.  I really appreciate those of you who stop by to read and comment.  I was looking at the site statistics and was surprised to see what some of the top entries were in terms of what people are reading.  I have enough entries on the site now that some of the best ones aren’t on the front page anymore, so you might not have seen some of the older ones.  Here’s a listing of some of the top posts:

#6: What Would Bruce Lee Have Thought Of Twitter?

After starting to read Bruce’s The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, I had a realization about Bruce.  I think he would have liked Twitter

#5: How I Learned To Hate Luke Skywalker

Why is Luke Skywalker a bad role model for future martial artists?  Find out in this posting

#4: I’m Calling Out Steven Seagal!

He’s one of my heros, but in a recent interview he said some things that set me off.

#3: Evaluating the Dolce Diet

I’ve recently started a project to build a Fighter’s Diet for myself and I’ve been evaluating different popular programs.  Get my take on this program from popular MMA fighter and coach Mike Dolce.  There is a lot of interest in this program, so I’m getting a lot of traffic from Google for this posting.

#2: Top 5 Movie Martial Arts Masters

What can movies tell us about what makes a great martial arts teacher? Here are my thoughts.

#1: My Little Ninja

Meet my daughter Little Z and share the first steps of her martial arts experience.  I’m a little surprised, but quite pleased this is my most popular posting.

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