Can you be More Specific Please?

 If you cared enough to keep up to date with what is going on in the fitness industry you will have noticed the never ending discovery and challenges of new exercises. To the fitness junkie these are pretty exciting because something new on the market, just as exciting as the arrival of a new fitness apparatus, marketed on television, brainwashing millions of people this is the answer to thei weight and fitness problems.  Like many Instructors, we have been introducing new fitness routines to compliment the martial arts rather than stay with the old fashion push-ups and sit-ups, specialty of the ‘70’s and ‘80s.  As martial artists, our exercises have to be sports specific and not to get carried away with the many new thousands of exercises. Exercises have to suit our needs; eg it would be a waste of time training a boxer to be flexible like a ballerina.  Whilst exercises should be specific for each particular sport, consideration should also be given to some exercises which may only be suitable for specific people.  To avoid any confusion, sticking to the basic fitness routines will just about suit everyone – they worked very well for me when I was training to be a Police Officer, 29 years ago; I was super fit by doing just the basic cardio and fitness routines!

There is also another consideration.  A newly discovered exercise usually has not been researched and long term tested.  Today, they will tell you it’s great, and tomorrow, they will tell you how bad it's for you.  We were told to do sit-ups with our legs straight (great for your back if you wanted to retire early) and today you would scold anybody for even thinking about trying it that way.  But history has a habit of repeating itself.

One final thing – fitness machines look much better on television than what they really are ie under the bright lights with all the good looking guys and gals with smiles on their faces.  The marketing overinflates the price, quality and effectiveness of the machine.  The only good thing about them is that you will at least do some form of fitness, until you're bored or they break down. They all have one thing in common, once you stop using them, you will probably never use them again. Thank goodness for eBay.  Don't worry too much about the new machines and DVD's, you are already getting fit just by training in the martial arts.  I hope you like the picture which has nothing to do with this blog, the same as those machines on TV which have nothing to do with fitness.

See you on eBay.

Pursuit of Excellence

 Perfection can be defined as faultless or high degree of excellence. However, it is more of an ongoing pursuit than an end result. Perfection in the martial arts is what keeps us training because, to the martial artist, there is no end to the pursuit of excellence. As students, we do like praise from the Instructor but too much of it can breed complacency resulting in a reduction in enthusiasm to further progress. That's how it was done in the old days.

Perfection is especially important in the traditional martial arts where respect for the arts is maintained; these techniques are effective in their own right. Just because something is old does not mean it is useless. However, techniques do evolve at the higher levels, especially in BJJ, but at grass root levels, the techniques passed onto the student should be learnt and performed almost exactly the same, in principle.

When I observe students I am always scanning for imperfections in the techniques. What’s most important is that a technique should not be compromised because the student, who will one day be an Instructor, will pass that onto their student. If a glass of juice is watered down each time it is passed onto the next person then you don’t end up with 100% juice. So this is what can happen with techniques not taught or learnt correctly. They are not original and may have defects. So when your Instructor points out your mistakes, that's a good thing. Imagine reporting a problem to a Doctor and they can't tell what's wrong with you. It's all about finding out your mistakes and fixing them!

Perfection is about discipline, regular reviews and critique if we are to improve our skills. So FAIL can be good because you need discipline to accept it, listen to critique and review the process for a successful result.

It is the journey, not the destination, that makes it exciting. See you on the next trip.

Why Should You Shout

 This is not about buying drinks for friends in a pub. This is the yell made by martial artists during training called KIAI.  There are many purposes for this, but to begin with, it is when one focuses all the energy to one particular strike (or any other movement) with explosive power. Another, is to control the breathing at the moment of impact. A third reason is to distract or even intimidate your opponent. But it doesn’t end here if we start talking about the spiritual side.

A point which is often overlooked is the psychological affect it has on you, the person doing the KIAI. In ancient battle times lines of soldiers running at each other with crude weapons, when some were too scared to fight, would yell at the top of their lungs as they charge the enemy. This shout of courage can bring out the animal instinct within to address the "fight/flight/or freeze" syndrome.

KIAI is a valuable tool for the Instructor. When I ask students to KIAI I am asking them to fully focus their mind and energy on a particular strike. If I get a poor response from anyone it is very likely the student is not focused during the entire training session. This is wonderful feedback for the Instructor. I assess students by their reactions to the KIAI command ie who is focused on their training, or not, and then I can do something about it. Also, the KIAI assists the student to stay on track or fully reengages their attention if off target.

A weak KIAI can reveal a lack of confidence or spirit in a student which could give the Instructor the heads up on such person . The Instructor should use the KIAI command seldom so it will not lose the effect it has on the student. Furthermore, too much KIAI, during a sparring match will also lose the effect it may have on an opponent.


Licence to Kill

 A Black Belt is has been often thought of as a licence in the martial arts. Some of us older guys might remember the rumour you had to have your fingerprints taken when you got Black Belt because you would be considered lethal (the title of this blog is supposed to be a pun, hopefully, not offensive). If a Black Belt is a licence in the martial arts then there is almost a direct correlation to that of a drivers licence. People training for these ‘licences’ are students required to log the minimum amount of hours, gain the experience to be able to handle situations and demonstrate both mental and physical ability.

When a person starts learning to drive they are stacked with many rules and regulations. The same goes, in the martial arts, the moment you walk in the dojo (gym) with rules and etiquette. Then you are bombarded with a whole list of instructions which come standard with martial arts training, and some of these do not too much sense, but with time and patience, you eventually get to see the picture. Each lesson is like adding a jig saw piece to the puzzle which eventually takes shape. When enough hours are logged up, and the student can finally make out the picture, that’s the time to go for their licence.

If Martial Arts Instructors can picture their students as Learners, then the students see their Instructors as Driving Instructors. In the martial arts there are no motor vehicles but, ‘when there is enough drive in the student, the wheels are in motion’. I would like to be the one to issue your licence one day!


Get Real

 Like most young people, my teenage daughter has a saying ‘get real’ (typical teenage response which means nothing). However, that could mean a lot in the Martial Arts which have come a long way from the mystical perceptions of the 70s & 80s where they had people believe they can beat their opponent with one strike. This may be true depending on how well the person is trained, where the strike is placed and who they come up against. But that is usually not the case.

There has been a long struggle of ‘belief versus knowledge’. Belief is when you accept something to be true or real, or have faith in. Knowledge, on the other hand, is to be sure of something; have true information about. Many Martial Arts Instructors are very good at giving students the right information but sometimes an Instructor needs to investigate further. If I want to know about BJJ I go straight to a BJJ expert, if I need information about reality based self defence I go straight to the experts etc. This is how I keep my students well informed.

Getting back to ‘get real’ (bless my daughter), there are probably well over 1,000 ways you can defend yourself but there is only one way to do it. I remember, at the age of 12 years, whilst walking in formation to the park for lunch, I was being picked on by several much stronger lads. I absolutely ‘lost it’ and beat them all senseless (that is with no martial arts skills at that age). I only knew one way, which in this case, worked! This illustrates a paradox; a trained fighter has a huge artillery of weapons to choose from which could result in too much time being wasted in choosing the right technique in a real fight. Whereas, the novice has no idea and nothing to choose from which can be an advantage for them where time is valuable.

There should only be very few simple and effective techniques to draw from in a real situation which means practicing them over and over again. It comes down to putting aside your beliefs and using your knowledge.


Perception and Boredom

 Boredom is a sad word in the martial arts which is an excuse for being lazy. It can usually result from doing a technique many times over but that’s what it takes to develop a technique into a reflex action before becoming useful in a ‘live’ situation. Next time you are sitting back watching dancers on television, think for a moment about how many times they practiced to get it that good. Boredom should be treated as a challenge, just another hurdle to get over. Boredom can also result from not focusing so it is important to give your full undivided attention to training. Learn as much as you can while you’re there. Go home and write things down; you’ll probably never going to refer to your notes (I never have) but the point of this exercise is the processing of writing ie you are recalling information and consolidating what you have learnt.

Perception of things may also add to boredom. Sometimes we may see ourselves going backwards but that is an optical illusion. How many times out on the highway you reduce your speed from 110kph down to 60kph and it appears you are going walking pace (you are still doing 60). It just looks really slow. The same goes in the martial arts. You never go backward; you may have just slowed down but you are still advancing. Other times you perceive going backwards because the other person seems better than you. Have you ever thought they may be just advancing a little quicker than you but that does not mean you are going backward. This works for me when I wrestle with opponents who just seem to put it over me on particular days. I prefer to say they are getting better instead of 'I’m not doing so well'. The same goes when I do well against others; I don't think of my opponent going backward but, 'I'm improving'.

Boredom can result in missing out training sessions. Maybe, there is a solution. Write down the real reason for each class you might skip out on (you are the only one who has to know this, so be truthful). You will be quite astonished but this may be just what you need to overcome this pitfall.

Have a nice Easter.

The Qld Trip

 I had just returned from the Sunshine Coast after spending 3 glorious days (minus the sunshine) with our Qld students. My good friend and Qld Instructor, Darren Grieve, was waiting for me and the twins (John and Tim) at Maroochydore Airport last Friday morning. John and Tim headed off with Instructor, Dean Taylor, and his student, Lee. Darren and I made a pit stop at Noosa Heads for the last chance to get good coffee before heading off to Tin Can Bay and Rainbow Beach. Darren, the local Police Sergeant, runs Budoshinkai Karate and a small BJJ class for his students, and police officers. Early afternoon, it was time to get on the mats and do some work! Conducting seminars gives me the opportunity of analysing and consolidating my knowledge; it’s like actually attending somebody else’s seminar. We were later treated to a BBQ at Lee’s house which was well deserved after a 3 hour workout. Darren handed me over a bowl of grapes and said, “Sorry, we don’t have oranges” (please refer to previous blog).

The next morning, I conducted a 2 hour Karate session and grading. Those who were game enough stayed back for an extra 2 hours training – Jiu Jitsu and some Reality Based Self Defence. I was absolutely exhausted. But it didn’t finish there; we had Darren in our apartment learning Richard Norton’s complexes. This man would not stop! Every time I said 'let's do something', he was already changed in his gi. The evening finished with dinner at Rainbow Beach. Dean and Lee kidnapped the twins and I did not see them until 1am! That's what happens when Victor's not there to keep the boys under control.

Back into BJJ, the following morning, and that was pretty much the end of a really enjoyable weekend. It was really nice to see and train with our people who really appreciated us coming up there. Many thanks to our Qld Instructors, Darren and Dean, and Lee for taking good care of us. I have to make a special mention re one of Darren's brown belts, Pat Green, putting up a brave face the whole weekend who was suffering a broken rib which he sustained 5 minutes into his BJJ training. The picture shows speed limits along the sands of Rainbow Beach. Those signs will certainly not slow down Darren (in the martial arts, of course).

Lowering the Bar

 Just about every martial arts student would like to earn a Black Belt one day. Is it because they like the colour or is it because what the colour represents? If most of us will pick the latter answer then why is that an increasing number of Martial Arts Instructors seem to be lowering the bar which reduces the value of the Black Belt? There is an important lesson to be learnt from the way BJJ students are graded. BJJ grades are not easy to get and wearing the same colour for a long time, might not appeal to most people. It takes about 3 years to get the first grade (Blue Belt) then another 7 or 8 to get Black (if you ever make it that far). In most Karate systems it takes about 4 years to get Black. If a student is dedicated and persistent there is no doubt they will eventually succeed. Whilst there may be martial arts styles/schools lowering the standard, I’d like to keep the bar up high enough, in our school, so there is an incentive for the student to train to the highest level they can reach. The students who drop out may have never really wanted it. I was recently talking to John Will, our QC of BJJ*, that I hope Instructors don’t ever lower the bar in BJJ. I’d rather work hard and wear each grade with pride. I believe this approach will ensure everyone will really appreciate the meaning of a Black Belt. Chief Instructors of all martial arts schools have the responsibility to maintain quality control for this to happen. I hope our students share my philosophy.

Don't worry, we will help you get over the bar!