Tag Archives: MMA

Destruction and Creation in Sport and Physical Culture


John Boyd was an American thinker. The fact that he was an Air Force Colonel beloved by Marines gives you some idea of what a paradoxical character he must have been. As 40 second Boyd, he was the fighter pilot instructor at Nellis Air Force Base who could wax the tail of any opponent in less than 40 seconds. As an engineer, he developed the Energy-Maneuverability theory, which for the first time allowed the flight characteristics and capabilities of existing aircraft to be compared and the performance of prospective designs to be predicted. When he “retired”, his cross-disciplinary studies led to three major breakthroughs: Destruction and Creation, the OODA Loop, and Patterns of Conflict a “brief” that took Boyd a minimum of five hours to deliver and changed modern American military strategy.


DESTRUCTION AND CREATION is the foundation of Boyd’s theoretical work and it is this piece that I want to draw to your attention.  Destruction and Creation deals with the creative process in a fundamental way.  For Boyd, the creative process begins with an observation of existing domains (mental patterns or concepts of meaning).  Domains are made up of constituent parts. If we shatter the correspondence between each domain and its individual parts, we can keep the parts and discard the domains. From this pile of parts, we can select and coordinate items that fit together to create a new domain (provided of course, that we don’t reassemble them in a fashion that merely recreates previous domains).  Then, we test the new domain for soundness, as not all creative ideas are sound ideas when tested against observed reality.

Boyd used the following example as an illustration of destruction and creation, forging a new domain from constituent parts of existing domains.


You are on ski slope with other skiers — retain this image.

You are in Florida riding in an outboard motor boat – maybe even pulling water skiers — retain this image.

You are riding a bicycle on a nice Spring day — retain this image.

You are a parent taking your son to a department store and you notice he is fascinated by the toy tractors or tanks with rubber caterpillar treads — retain this image.


Pull skis off ski slope; discard and forget rest of image.

Pull outboard motor out of motorboat; discard and forget rest of image.

Pull handlebars off bicycle; discard and forget rest of image.

Pull rubber treads off toy tractor or tanks; discard and forget rest of image.


Skis, outboard motor, handlebars, rubber treads.


What do we have?

Photo by: branewphoto

Examples from Physical Culture: MMA and CrossFit

The early days of MMA were a carnival freak show.  It’s primary purpose was to promote the Gracie Brazilian Jiu Jitsu system by demonstrating that BJJ was superior to all other martial arts and hand to hand combat systems.  In creating a forum where practitioners of different combat sports repeatedly pitted their skills against one another, inadvertently, the Gracies created an event which shattered the domains of traditional martial arts and combat sports.

Over a relatively short period of time, you could watch the weaknesses and strengths of various traditional arts being exposed, broken down into their constituent parts.  The athletes added the skills, strategies, and training methods that were effective and ignored those that were ineffective. They synthesized new systems designed to make them more competitive. A new domain was born. MMA no longer refers to an event where a Judo practitioner competes against a Jiu Jitsu practitioner.  In fact, now, this idea seems ridiculous.  MMA is its own domain.

Over a similar time frame, CrossFit has had an impact on physical culture. The CrossFit approach breaks down various sports and associated training methods, then synthesizes workouts of the day which include aspects of callisthenics, resistance training, gymnastics training, Olympic lifting, sprinting, high intensity interval training, etc. The popularity of CrossFit has surged.

Observation and Instability

Boyd points out that even particularly stable domains are not perfectly consistent with observable reality. In fact, as we refine our observation, the mismatch becomes more glaring.  To resolve the error (in our mental pattern), we resort to analyzing (un-structuring) various domains. Opening up these domains gives us the constituent parts needed to synthesize a new domain.  As we test this new domain, our feedback will indicate whether or not our new mental pattern correlates well with observed reality.  Low correlation patterns are discarded, as they are not useful. If there is a high correlation, then the domain is relatively stable and the mental pattern is useful.  But, with further observation, even the slightest disparity between a particular domain and reality will lead to instability and the need to develop a new domain. Thus, as Boyd sees it, the process of Structure, Unstructure, Restructure, Unstructure repeats toward higher and broader levels of elaboration.  This is an elegant idea, which I hope I haven’t damaged too badly by my description.

We can see that this process took place within MMA at a fairly rapid rate and has since slowed. At this point, slight modifications are being made, but in general, as a sport, this new domain is relatively stable. (Note: Outside of the domain of sport, MMA has some obvious weaknesses. If the goal is to visit violence on another human being, then MMA training is not the most efficient system for this. If the goal is to defend oneself against real world violence, then the MMA practitioner will face the same problem encountered by martial arts film-makers through the years: What does the hero do, when faced with a gun or multiple opponents?)

As the above process dictates, MMA as a domain will be unstructured again in the future and resynthesized in a new form. My prediction is that this will be the result of fans demanding more entertaining fights. Something similar happened in boxing in the late 19th century, with the move away from bare knuckles and the adoption of the Marquess of Queensberry rules. (Here the social impetus was a move away from the base desire simply to win toward a greater emphasis on the importance of playing by the rules.)

The unstructuring process for CrossFit is progressing more slowly.  Part of this may be attributed to the fact that, at the higher levels, the community shuns those that question the methods within the domain.  Consequently,  key innovators leave the community to explore ideas outside of the CrossFit domain. Mark Twight, Mark Rippetoe, Dan John, Greg Everett, and Robb Wolf form a Who’s Who of notables with public splits from CrossFit HQ. Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether CrossFit meets their stated goal of providing broad general fitness, as questions frequently arise about whether the program does more harm than good.  Think CrossFit induced rhabdomyolysis as the most publicized example. Remember, low correlation patterns will be discarded.

But, much as the Gracie’s inadvertently unstructured traditional martial arts, the CrossFit games may be the mechanism that kick-starts the process of unstructuring and restructuring CrossFit.  To better compete at the games athletes are tearing the CrossFit domain and other training domains down to their constituent parts and synthesizing programs that correlate to success in competition. For practitioners and fans of CrossFit expect a new domain to emerge.

Control Mechanism

Boyd concludes Destruction and Creation by noting how this process oscillates between disorder and order.  Unstructuring begins, because there is a recognized weakness in the current thought pattern as it relates to achieving a real world goal.  Left unchecked, unstructuring leads to higher and higher levels of disorder. However, because achieving a particular goal requires increased order, there is a necessary shift away from analysis toward synthesis of a new system.  This shift reverses the trend, away from disorder toward order. Paradoxically, then, an entropy increase permits both the destruction, or unstructuring, of a closed system and the creation of a new system to nullify the march toward randomness and death. For Boyd this paradox results in a harmony between destruction and creation that drives and regulates a dialectic engine. It is this engine that creates new mental patterns that allow us to shape and be shaped by our environment, whether that environment is on the mat, in the gym, or some other aspect of life.

Conquering Conditioning – How to Use the Pool to Improve Your Training

Too hot to run sprints…get in the pool!

Last week’s Straight to the Bar twitterchat on conditioning, sparked a great conversation.  Rob DeCillis of Combat Trainer hosted and the ideas and information were flowing.

Photo by: jurvetson

The conversation got me thinking…with the importance of breath control and conditioning for MMA and boxing, why don’t we hear more about fighters using the pool as part of their training.

I tossed a few ideas out and there was definitely interest in the topic.  So, as promised, I’m following up with some more ideas about conquering conditioning in the pool.

Swimming alone will do wonders for your breathing and cardiovascular conditioning.  But, if you get bored easily and find following a black line tedious, then here are 7 ideas that will hold your interest, challenge your cardiovascular conditioning, and teach you to better control your breathing.

Swimming Underwater

Nothing teaches you to measure your breathing and stay focused like swimming underwater (watch how relaxed Kevin Busscher is in the video).  Swimming under water, teaches you to take deeper fuller breaths, to measure your exhalation, and to become familiar with functioning without panicking in the absence of oxygen.

It’s also very easy to measure improvement.  Keep in mind, you have to be ever more careful as you improve.  With greater time and distance underwater, you will want to have a spotter and/or let the lifeguard know what you are up to.

Safety fact: underwater swimmer’s can drop into unconsciousness, but appear to continue swimming, as their arms and legs continue to rhythmically pull and kick.

Sprints With Bodyweight Exercises

Pick your swim distance (25 yards or 50 meters).  Pick a stroke.  Pick a body weight exercise and number of repetitions.  Sprint to the end of the pool (or to the end of the pool and back).  Quickly and carefully get out of the pool and up on the deck.  Complete your body weight exercises.  Get back into the pool, sprint, repeat.  Remember, pool decks are slippery.  You want to pick bodyweight exercises that are stable.  This is not the time for burpees, handstand push-ups, or pistols.

Let’s run through a few examples:

(25 yard freestyle sprint / 25 push-ups) x 4 = 1 set

(25 yard freestyle sprint / 25 push-ups / 25 yard freestyle sprint / 50 flutter kicks) x 2 = 1 set

(25 yard butterfly sprint / 25 push-ups / 25 yard backstroke sprint / 25 body weight squats / 25 yard breaststroke sprint /50 flutter kicks / 25 yard freestyle sprint / chair dips) = 1 set

You get the idea…lots of possible combinations.

Add Some Resistance

Put on a sweat shirt, get in the pool, now swim.  Not easy.  Once you get good at swimming with the sweat shirt, add sweat pants.  Need some more resistance, put on your favorite pair of Chuckie T’s and do it all over again.  The sneakers add weight and decrease the efficiency of your kicking.  This is an old school workout that never goes out of style.

Fun With Dive Bricks

A standard dive brick weighs 10 pounds.  The easiest way to work with one is to swim across the pool while holding the brick with both hands.  At first, you will need to keep the brick close to your body.  Eventually you will be able to hold it out in front, while you kick across the pool.  Doing this works your core and taxes your cardiovascular system.

Individual Relays

For these relays, rather than switching swimmers, switch to a different piece of gear with each sprint.  I like to use a kick board, a pull buoy, and hand paddles.  Get in the pool.  Leave your hand paddles behind.  Use the kick board to carry the pull buoy to the other end of the pool.  Once you get there, put the kick board on the deck, grab the pull buoy and sprint back.  When you touch the wall, swap the pull buoy for the hand paddles.  Drop off the hand paddles and freestyle sprint back…grab the pull buoy…keep cycling through.

Drown Proofing

This is an exercise made famous by the US Navy SEALs.  It’s very easy to explain.  Head to the deep end of the pool.   Keep your hands behind your back.  Exhale and drop to the bottom.  Kick off the bottom of the pool.  As you break through the water’s surface, take a full deep breath.  Sink back to the bottom, by controlling your exhalation.  Kick off the bottom.  Repeat.  If you get a good rhythm going, you can do this exercise for extended periods of time, longer than you can tread water…hence the name.

The Dreaded Water Bottle

Last, but not least, the dreaded water bottle.  Take an empty 5 gallon water bottle to the deep end of the pool.  Sink it.  Swim down to the bottle, lift it above your head, kick off the bottom of the pool, then hold the bottle above your head and in the air until all of the the water in the bottle drains out.

If you are like me, that is to say, without a massive upper body or particularly strong legs, then technique is your friend.  I follow a three step approach for solving this puzzle.  In the early stage, while the bottle is mostly full, kick to the top, hold the bottle above the surface, drain some water, then use the weight of the bottle, to drive you back to the bottom.  Rebound off the bottom of the pool, surface, and let some more water out.

The middle stage is the toughest.  The bottle is 1/3 to 1/2 empty.  It is no longer negatively buoyant.  So, you have to tread water with the bottle above your head, but the weight from the bottle, keeps your face beneath the surface.  Remain calm, as you kick furiously and your lungs burn, water will slowly drain from the bottle and you will start to rise.

If you don’t lose your focus, you can initiate the third phase by rotating the bottle.  As you rotate the bottle, the water will start to circulate.  The swirling action increases the rate that water drains from the bottle (or, maybe it just gives you something other than your lungs to focus on).  As the water drains and the bottle lightens, you can switch it to one hand, relax a little bit and enjoy the oxygen you are now able to pull into your lungs.  This is a great exercise at the end of a workout, as it is both a mental and physical challenge.

Time to Hit the Local Pool

There you have it, seven fun ways to work on your tan and your conditioning at the same time.



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