'LONELY DOG' by Matt Tucker
In the medieval Swiss capital of Bern is one of the stickfighting worlds best kept secrets. Instructor Matt Tucker travelled to Bern to to spend a week training with the Dog Brothers Martial Arts Chief Instructor for Europe, Guru Benjamin 'Lonely Dog' Rittiner.
Forward by Guru Marc 'Crafty Dog' Denny
When Benjamin first came to train with me (1997 or '98) with some students of his I was very impressed with how much he had absorbed on his own. We hit it off well, and he continued to come to train with me in LA and would assist me on seminars that I would give in Spain, England, and Italy. This, combined with his outstanding work ethic and natural talent enabled him to grow very well in DBMA even though he lived in Switzerland and I in California.
Although we the Dog Brothers are known for an intense kind of fighting, we are about something much more than all that-- something which is revealed through the fighting perhaps, but something that is not about the fighting. As Benjamin fought at the Gatherings, everyone was very impressed not only his skill as a fighter, but also for the man he showed himself to be. He made Dog Brother in the minimum number of Gatherings required (5).
As he continued to host me in Switzerland our friendship grew (likewise my friendship with his wonderful wife Cornelia) as did his skill and knowledge in DBMA--he became the only other person I have promoted to Guro in DBMA. Because of the age disparity (about 20 years) I have almost paternal feelings for him which has allowed me to transcend the secretive nature I had about certain things when I was still fighting and teach him as if he were a son. Tomorrow is promised to no one, and if something were to happen to me he would be the one to step into my role in DBMA.
As I continued coming to Europe, I felt the desire that many people had to become part of the Dog Brothers and I realized the difficulty of repeatedly flying to California for people in Europe. I discussed this with Benji and shared with him what I thought were the ingredients and building blocks necessary for a Dog Brothers Gathering. For several years we worked together to prepare the way. In the spring of 2006 we held an "Invitational Gathering" to make sure that we had the nucleus of people necessary to establish the respect necessary for the "Dog Brothers code" and were ready to take the next step. We were ready.
This past October first we held the first DB Gathering ever outside of Los Angeles. The plan was for all three founders of the Dog Brothers (now the governing body of the Dog Brothers known as "The Council of Elders"-- because we are old)-- Top Dog (Eric) , Salty Dog (Arlan) and me-- to witness the Gathering, but Salty had business matters that intervened and so it was only Top Dog and me. I proposed to Eric and Arlan that Benji become a member of The Council of Elders and they enthusiastically agreed.
Eric and I were very, very impressed with the fighting skill at the Euro Gathering. Even more important though was the strong Dog Brother feeling shown by all the fighters there, regardless of which system they came from. Indeed, we consider this Gathering to be one of the best Dog Brothers Gatherings ever-- a very special day!
The Dog Brothers Gathering is now an established event and people fighting at the Gathering are eligible to be considered part of the Dog Brothers tribe-- regardless of which system in which they train. To become a full Dog Brother, one must make it to the main Gathering in Los Angeles.
And so ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Guro Benjamin "Lonely Dog" Rittiner: highly regarded Dog Brother, member of the DB Council of Elders, Guro in DBMA and head of our organization in Europe, and my very good friend.
The Adventure continues,
Marc "Crafty Dog" Denny
Guiding Force of the Dog Brothers
Founder/Head Instructor Dog Brothers Martial Arts
Matt Tucker: How did you first get involved with Martial Arts/Fighting?
Benjamin Rittiner: My first contact with the martial arts was at school when I was around 7 or 8 years old. We had a project to make a short movie and some of the older children had the idea to make a short Kung Fu movie. Sadly I was one of the younger children tied to the tree awaiting the heroes (The older children), to come rescue us. This was when I first saw my first Ninja Shuriken/Throwing Star. When I was around ten years old I got my first Nunchaku and played around a bit with it until I started my formal training 1984 with Karate after which moved onto other other Japanese Martial Arts, such as Judo, Ju Jutsu, and the Bujinkan. Later on I trained also in Boxing, Thai-Boxing and Sanda wher I experienced competing and fighting in competition.
MT: How did you first come across Dog Brothers Martial Arts?
BR: Whilst I was attending a Tai Kai Seminar in Luxembourg my teacher had a friend who trained in the Inosanto Blend so we went to his gym to train for a couple of hours on some basics, Sumbrada and Heaven Six etc. This type of training realy interested me and I wanted to continue training in the Filipino Martial Arts but I couldn’t find a teacher around here in Switzerland at that time. I started to collect as many instructional videos on FMA so I could continue to learn. 1994 I came across the Dog Brothers Real Contact Fighting Series and it suddenly hit me 'Thats cool, I want to do this' and I realised that this was the direction I wanted to go, so I started to train with some friends for about 4 years with these videos.
MT: So it was 4 years before you had any formal training under Marc Denny?
BR: Yes I just trained from the DVD's, I would watch them again and again, hundreds of times, perfecting each specific move until the tapes eventualy broke!. But, after a few years I knew that if I wanted to go any further I would have to go to the USA. So I wrote a letter to the Dog Brothers address in Hermosa Beach California. Mark Denny replied to my letter and invited me over. Some months later I made my first visit to Hermosa beach.
MT: How did the training differ from what you had been doing on your own?
BR: It was pretty interesting, Marc just asked me to do some Carenza (shadow boxing). He commented that I moved quite well and he asked me who my teacher was, to which my reply was 'My teacher is VCR!'. During the 5 day PTP we covered a lot of material and mostly he was surprised at how fast I could adapt to the material. It was not until the 5th day when Marc showed me some techniques really gave me a hard time and I think he was he was quite glad to find something I could not do straight away...Over all he was impressed that someone could learn so much from just videos.
This first training with Guro Crafty changed my understanding of Stickfighting greatly. As far as the fighting went I had already developed a pretty solid structure in what we call “regular lead”. This is with the stick in right hand and the same leg forward and used to shuffle forward and back. He teached me to use both leads, means that I could fight with the right foot forward but also with the left foot as a lead. This and the knowledge of using the triangle footwork and to have over all a sense of angleing footwork help me a lot in making my fighting game more alive…. This was a very important lesson for me.
The deepest lesson I got over the years through the training with Guro Crafty was the capability to analize my opponents. To understand that I will face different structures and the better I can analize them the more solutions I have against these different structures the better it is. It’s truly like Sugar Ray Leonard once said "You don't beat the man, you beat his style."
Guro Crafty is a great teacher and he was a very feared fighter, but what I admire the most when I think about him is his great capability to analize structures and through that of course the fighters. This is truly the reason why he is the “Crafty Dog”….
I always was a talented and skilled fighter. But he maked me also a smart fighter. I never forgot the sentence I heard one day from Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje: “easy to be hard, hard to be smart”…
MT: Was it hard to find training partners to help you keep progressing when you came back home?
BR: It was harder to keep them because in the beginning we would train just 3 or 4 techniques and we sparred a lot. In those days because I knew a bit more and was inexperienced I believe I may have pushed things a little too hard and this is why people stopped training
MT: Do you believe it is important to spar, even if it is controlled sparring from day one?
BR: Its different from student to student. If a student has no experience then he should perhaps wait longer than for example someone who takes up boxing. In boxing you can start with easy sparring from day one. Stickfight sparring could be more dangerous or it you make it too safe with too much protection or padding then you can learn a lot of mistakes. In general I think most students should wait about 6 months before they start sparring but sometimes you may get a beginner who is a natural fighter who does not care about bruises so he can jump in to sparring a bit earlier. I truly believe it’s better to build up a student without getting him too many bruises in the beginning. The difficulty is not to break the students spirit as too much pain too early will cause the student to quit. It always easy to teach fighters to fight and much harder to get regular people to do a Gathering. The latter is the most interesting goal for me personally as a teacher.
MT: Your nick name 'Lonely Dog' is I presume because you had no one to train with when you came back to Bern?
BR: No, actually it was to do with the sense of tribe in California amongst the DB group. It was such a great warm feeling to be part of this tribe at the Gatherings that when I flew back and saw this huge distance between California and Switzerland I did feel somewhat on my own.
MT: Can you explain the sense of tribe within the Dog Brothers?
BR: To fight like we do is very intense and dangerous. To make it happen we need something that controls the energy. If it were just a competition to see who is best it would be extremely dangerous and therefore you would need a lot of rules, however the idea is not to limit the person through the rules but if you have no rules, heavy sticks and less protection then you need something else that controls the violence.So the idea that we are one tribe, we are all friends and we all want to learn & grow together intalls the 'safety' in our fighting and its very very special. In normal competition you dont get people fighting and then afterwards discussing the fight at the side of the mat. In my amatuer boxing days I was very nervous when I competed yet there were rules, head gear and protection. I was more concerned about winning, I did not know my opponent and did not know what kind of person he was. At the 'Gatherings' I have never felt this kind of pressure. If I have to tap then its simply a good lesson
MT: How dangerous is Real Contact Stick Fighting?.
BR: It depends how smart the fighter is! (Laughs). Actually it is quite dangerous. We have sticks and we hit each other, but there are 2 things that reduce the risk. One is the code, to not break your opponent spiritually or physically. We want to show him his weaknesses but if he is stunned we wont take the final blow that may seriously injure them.
The second is how you fight. I want to have clever fights, many fights are tough fights and attract types of people who are attracted to the danger, those who want to test their balls, which is a fair reasons to take part and many people walk away from a Gathering a different and more confident person.
For me its more about controlling & dominating a fight through my strategy and the more I apply this the less chance of injury, but a fight is a fight and in real contact there is always a risk. If you take the risk away then it would not be the same experience and through this risk you make bigger steps in the progression as a martial artist.
MT: How long before a fight do you start to concentrate your training on it?
BR: It changed over the years.At least 8 weeks of preperation both the cardio and technique. I tend to keep my cardio at a basic level. It is more important to have your head right and to be ready for the Gathering mentally. There were fights that I had where I had just recovered from flu and had 5 days to prepare to fight. You cannot build any cardio in such a short amount of time but you can do a lot of mental preparation in 5 days. So over the years I now try and keep my Cardio at a base level, I am always working power so the mental game is more important to me. Many people spar very hard up to a week before a fight which can be dangerous as you can walk into a fight already injured, personally I stop hard sparring at least 6 weeks prior to a fight as it takes about 6 weeks for a broken finger to mend.
MT: How does the use of rhythm training (training to music) improve a students performance with regards to fighting in a Gathering?
BR: Again this varies from fighter to fighter and some people just have no rhythm! Someone does not need to have rhythm to be a good fighter. if someone has no rhythm I dont force them to train with rhythm but if they have a bit of feel for it then it can help a great deal. I have developed something called the 'Boogie Woogie' as a specific shadow boxing drill and since I have done this I have discovered how to break rhythm, maintain rhythm and control the pace of a fight. I believe its a major point in fighting to dominate the rhythm you want to fight and how to change that rhythm to disrupt your opponent and force him to create an opening.
MT: You have assisted on DBMA's instructional DVD's with Marc Denny and were recently asked to shoot a your own DBMA instructional DVD. What are 'Cycle Drills' and how did you come up with the idea?
BR: 'Cycle Drills' is a very basic drill where you just defend and counter. The reason I came up with this idea was to have some thing more defence / counter orientated.The biggest problem many people have is that they train in medio (medium) range and when they tap in for a fight they find themselves outside of largo (long) range in what we call 'Snake' range and they find serious problems closing the gap to use their medio techniques. To help them to close the gap from largo to medio range Guro Crafty developed many training drills, like the Snaggle Tooth progression and the Attacking Blocks drill. However in Cycle Drills I wanted to face more the idea of what to do if the opponent is pushing the fight. How to use our techniques we have in counter fighting structure. Cycle Drills is a generator that can be used by both beginners and more advanced students and allows the fighter to develop the ability to counter strike safely with stick, complimentary hand or even power kicks. It also helps with closing to 'Corto' (Close) range to clinch and onto take downs and grappling
MT: Can anyone have the opportunity to advance in Dogbrothers Martial Arts and can one refrain from Real Contact Stick Fighting and still train the DBMA system?
BR: Absolutely, Indeed, MOST people who train in DBMA are what we call "Practitioners" interested in our mission statement of "Walk as a Warrior for all your days."
I think to fight RCSF is not for everybody but to have the knowledge gained from these experiences brought to the Dojo is for everyone so the practioners can benefit from the fighters
MT: I have often heard comment from other martial artists who criticise the Dog Brothers for being nothing more than brawlers with sticks. Could you give us your thoughts on this and explain the difference between Full Contact Full Armour matches and Real Contact Stick Fighting (Low Armour)
BR: Actually, I don't have a lot of view about the Full Armour tournaments but I have seen a few videos and I have seen how they train. To be honest these are brawls, I don't see any strategy. I see skill, a lot of cardio some nice looking techniques but not the strategy you need when fighting with real sticks. If you used the Full Armour approach in Real Contact Stick Fighting you will make your way to the hospital sooner than you think. There has to be a lot of strategy and skill involved to survive. To the naked eye of someone just training in FMA then the fighting looks different to how they expect it to look. So many people say that they can't see the skill but its the same in MMA and you need a fighters eye to see this skill, to see the strategy, skill and timing because its all happening so fast in a RCSF. One of the nice things about the DBMA DVDs is the "if you see it taught, you see if fought". The teaching material is illustrated with actual fights and slow-motion is used to slow the fight down to where people can actually see what is going on.
MT: How do you want to see DBMA in Europe grow from here on?
BR: I am really happy to see whats happened over the last two years and if it carries on like this then I am very much looking forward to it. The training groups at the moment are pretty small and I am really excited to see them grow and develop. I am glad that the sense of tribe is allowing the different groups to work together. Last year Top Dog and Crafty Dog came to open our first European Dog Brothers Gathering here in Bern and I was very surprised to see how much interest we had with 42 fighters. It was a long day with a lot of fights. I am also seeing a unique fighting style appearing for the European Dog Brothers much like in Boxing with European boxing being different from American and American is different from Mexican boxing etc.I am already seeing a direction that will make us different (laughs)!
Also Dog Brothers Martial Arts has a lot to offer the practitioners (those that don't wish to fight) with a full self-defence system and healing arts for both men and women and I would like to see this grow along side those who wish to fight at the 'Gatherings' . Within the system we organize this under the headings of "Ritual" and "Reality" which are combined to yield a "Totality". The Real Contact Stickfighting falls within "Ritual", street application matters are within "Reality". (There is also a Law Enforcement/Military component to the system) Some DBMA people are more interested in one, some are more interested in the other, some seek to blend the two and some people start with one, but wind up focusing on the other. This applies to our instructors as well! To have the adrenal state experience of Real Contact Stickfighting I think is very useful in helping people to understand what they are capable of and what skills need to be capable of in real time for the street. In summary I would say that we like to let people explore and grow as they will.
MT: Finally , Can you tell us a bit about your first ever London Seminar later this year?
BR: Yes I am very happy to be teaching a 2 day seminar on 9th & 10th June 2007 in Plumstead, London. The plan is to give the participants an overview about DBMA. This time I want to focus on Single Stick. I’m going to cover different areas with the single stick. There will be our blend of Kali and Krabi Krabong (Los Triques), Clinchwork with the Stick but also some Self-defence material.
I will also be visiting our Glasgow Group in August.
MT: Thank you for a fantastic weeks training and I look forward to our next adventure.
BR: Woof woof