Behind Closed Doors

We live in a world where the martial arts once were taught behind closed doors so very little was known about anything and anybody in the martial arts.  In a world of rapid advancing technology, information about those arts can now be found easily as just browsing the web on the phone.  Information is so accessible so when someone has something to show to the world it can usually be found through schools with open door policies, seminars, on line training, media etc. 

Here’s the thing; how long would it take to invent something (even just the one thing) and then become good at it?  The truth is we personally may not really have the zest, ability or time to come up with something new.   The chances are, if you are looking for something different or new, then it’s probably out there.  The martial arts industry is like a giant supermarket and the cliché, ‘buyer beware’ makes sense when looking around so the Teacher is a bit like a broker making sure the student gets the best advice and training.  It should give piece of mind to the student when the Teacher is very active, innovative, always updating their skills and interacting with the right people because the fruits will be passed onto the students.

Many of these seminars which are always open to everyone (this would have been unheard of 30 years ago), are a quick way to pick up information and ideas which might take years to find out (or maybe never).  There is so much to do and learn out there and it is most important, particularly for Instructors, to exploit the industry.  I’d rather shop at a supermarket where everything is available to me compared to those who slip into a 7/11 store with only a couple of things in mind.

Changes Ahead

I was talking to an interested party about BJJ on the phone tonight, and whilst I don’t normally spend too much time with many people who are just window shoppers or ‘tyre kickers’, I find it interesting to elaborate my thoughts and speak what's on in my mind.  I was talking about BJJ being like computer hardware and software which constantly  need updating; there seems to be no end to this.  This can be sometimes frustrating compared with other martial arts such as Karate or Kickboxing because it is like not settling down.  But in essence that’s what is good about it; the complexity is what keeps our minds continually engaged. it is invetiable, martial arts evolve, especially BJJ, which makes it interesting to keep doing what we do. The changes are usually slow and unnoticeable but they do take place.

Cross training in martial arts, one usually aids the other, resulting overall learning being accelerated by this process; this has been proven.  Everybody has a sweet spot for a particular martial art and that is an advantage because they can become really good at what they like. Gone are the days if you don't step in the ring or cage, you should forget taking up Kickboxing or MMA.  All arts are there to be exploited and indulged by anybody who hears their calling.  There are very few who enter the gladiator arenas but that is not what the martial arts are all about.  For many of us we just enjoy the fruits of what the martial arts have to offer. 

The instructors are there for students but the students have to be there for the instructor.  Students should not miss out on training for the sake of it, because then it will likely happen again.  A thief is a thief because they cannot stop at one.  Once they start, they will steal again so don’t go robbing yourself of lessons.  If you have the time, we (instructors) have the patience.  Just turn up with an enthusiastic smile.

Wear a White Belt for 6 Months

The thing about the martial arts, as it is taught nowadays, the classes have to be innovative and students need to be updated with new training methods and techniques.  The days of just training the same stuff over and over again is not always popular with most people but that's what it takes to strive for perfection – a lifetime achievement.  If you look around at those who are really good at something, it is because most of their time is devoted to that.  Take, for example, a person who trains shot-put; that’s all they do which takes a special kind of person who doesn't get bored and gives up, and understands that is what's needed to win or perfect.  It really is a balancing act between repetition of techniques and collection of techniques. 

However, in the modern world of martial arts training, people like to see what else they can try out to add to their repertoire.  They have their core business eg karate, kung fu etc but in order to further stimulate their minds, people like to take on other challenges to beat boredom rather than resign to Foxtel or Facebook. 

It takes a special kind of person to achieve a Black Belt; it’s all about technique, attitude, ability and understanding the purpose of achieving that belt.  I have heard of a particular school that when a student is preparing for Black Belt, they have to wear a white belt for 6 months prior to examination!  I think that says it all.

How to Become a Menace

There are so many ways to becoming a menace – at work, school, around friends etc.  Nobody likes a menace except for the person who does the menacing so that's really not a good thing.  Now a good menace is one you find in the martial arts because although they, too, may not be liked, it is only because they have superior skill.   

You usually have to visit foreign pastures to test out if you have menacing skills where people don’t know what to expect and hopefully you can catch them completely off guard.   It’s actually a compliment when they start abusing you, tell how ‘stubborn’ and ‘belligerent’ you are (I think my Jiu Jitsu must be working).   

The truth is you can really learn from these types of people and I am not talking about the pest style menace who are of no value to you but just annoying.  Look for the ones who have something to offer.  These people are probably good at what they do and seem to exasperate you because they have a counter for everything you do.  How do you annoy your opponents in the martial arts?  The answer is become a menace yourself by training longer and harder.

Rock Around the Clock

What I particularly like teaching are drills and techniques which can be shown across all ages, the only difference being in the delivery for each group.  This is best illustrated by a drill which I use called the Clockface.  Basically, 12 o'clock is where you first face in the fighting stance.  You give the first count for the students to shuffle forward in that direction.  Point to their left for 9 o'clock and they shuffle to the left.   Then shuffle back to 6 o'clock and to the right for 3 o'clock completing a full loop, and then start again.  You can then complicate it by breaking up the rhythm by randomly selecting the directions.  It seems simple enough but there's more to it than meets the eye, especially to mature students.

To the really youngs, it’s a lot of fun and even a great education about time and clocks.  The little older ones might find that more game of challenge.  The seniors see that as a great way to better their footwork.  The Kickboxers see that as a necessary part of their training.  The MMA fighters depend on this as a strategy to defend takedowns by Grapplers.  The Fitness people – it’s fitness and coordination.

The drill is shown exactly the same way for all groups.  The young learn many skills and drills and continue to do so as they grow older, the only difference being they have different reasons for doing them.

How does one answer a child when they say, 'what about 2 o'clock and 5 o'clock’?

On the 900th hour …

Since the beginning of my training in BJJ I have been keeping a log of the hours put in; 900hours to be exact!   Quite a few BJJ people have told me how they love that idea and wish they could’ve kept a record themselves.  The purpose of keeping a log is to keep track of what I'm doing and measure my dedication and progress.  It is also a personal reward rather than preoccupy with rankings because, in BJJ, they are so far and few in between. 

One has to continually learn and update skills in the martial arts so I have to take a seat as a student in order to do this.  The difference is not only that I have to learn the techniques but I have to be able to teach them to my students so my learning approach has to be different.  It's actually quite rewarding when you can demonstrate and teach what you have learnt. 

It is not easy for Instructors to take the plunge to open their minds and take on new ideas because the realisation is they may have to take off their Black Belts. The principle of our martial arts organisation was built on trying out and introducing new ideas, otherwise, we would not be where we are today.  As the Chief Instructor, it was up to me to work with and learn from people who are expert at what they do.  I have made many good friends along the way and you realise there are many good people out there.

A sample of my log

To our students we have done a lot of hard work to bring to them everything on a silver platter, however, it is sometimes difficult to convince students of everything we teach them but they only have to look around at those who will take on everything given to them and they will soon realise what they are missing out on.  Looking forward to 1,000 hours.

“I remember the days ………”

This is worthwhile blogging – our first BKJ Kickboxing grading at our full time martial arts centre just recently.  Over the years we have been cross training Karate students in Kickboxing because of our passion in other martial arts but difficult to do in a regular class environment where Karate is the main focus.  Finally, we were able to kick off separate Kickboxing classes under the auspices of Kyoshi Richard Norton.  It is almost 4 months now and we were impressed with the results of our students who just walked off the street to sign up for Kickboxing not that long ago.  Kickboxing today is much more user friendly, inviting and safer than it ever has been.

 I remember, in the early '90's, training Thai Kickboxing, at the Everly St boxing gym in Redfern working out with World Champion Alex Tui and the legendary trainer, Kru (Master) Sakaad Pethyindee for 2 years.  Sakaad was infamous and a legend in Thai Boxing (with over 320 professional fights and 10 world titles to his name).  If you were game enough to walk down that street and didn't get mugged or attacked (let alone in police uniform), you were going to do alright except for the hard punishment you had to endure in class.  Luckily for me, my car was never stolen or ever damaged because I was regarded as a 'brother'.

It was difficult learning from a Thai coach.  Little communication, no manners, no promises – just hard training.  I would come home sometimes at 2am because to be part of the group, we had to hang out and drink Japanese Sake (crazy).  But that is what it took those days if you wanted to train with the best at the time.  At the end, I was rewarded an Instructor’s certificate from Kru Sakaad and Alex Tui.  Sakaad has long gone back to Thailand but Alex is still at the gym and now training his own people.

It is just so nice to be able to do this all over again but now with our own students.

It’s a Numbers Game

I had a really good time teaching the Kid’s Karate class this afternoon because it gave me a chance to test my teaching ability and skills standing in front of a younger group.  The question is ‘do I have what it  takes to get my message across’?  If I am to be a Master Teacher I should be able to walk into a room and take on any group whether it be young, old, experienced, inexperienced etc.  When dealing with a group such as beginners or very young persons, the skills of the teachers have to be much more acute.  The Instructor has to look for various ways to get the message across in the best way possible.  A good Instructor should have the ability to teach one student or a hundred.  There would be many inexperienced instructors who will start to fold when the numbers go up purely because of not being to address large groups (maybe even stage fright) or even lack the skills to control such large numbers – now there's a new meaning for that cliche 'it's a numbers game'.

These are all challenges.  Standing in front of the ACT & Qld students last month, many of them for the first time, one has to quickly look at faces and assess how they should they be spoken to and look for visual signs to see how well it is working out.  It is not an easy task but after years of experience this personally has not been a problem for me.  Kyoshi Richard Norton and Professor John Will will ‘perfectly’ take charge of any group by getting their attention and asking them to be able to do exactly what they want.

My Kids class was great and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  There was something in it for the kids and there was something in it for me.  Straight after that, I jumped in and taught the MMA class. That's another notch on my belt.  Great night!

I want my Black Belt now

Gradings are based on benchmarks which are necessary for students to aspire to a particular level.  They should be within everyone's reach and not just for the elite few, which would, otherwise, discriminate the older person, the less strong and the not so athletic etc.  Martial arts is an education for everyone and it is the job of Instructor to ensure students have the best chance possible of achieving their goals.  The benchmark should be at a level so everyone tries hard, really hard. 

How is the standard set?  Instructors have certain expectations but take into account the student’s attitude, ability to learn, physical attributes and class attendance.   There are varying degrees of learning so not every technique taught is achievable by everyone, however, the 'try' factor takes the student to another level. 

The Black Belt Marathon benchmarks in the past are just a memory.  I knew Instructors who sent their students on a 15km run before starting their Black Belt test.  They could barely stand on their own two feet let alone do Karate; the Instructor asked me if they should pass.  What a silly question I thought.  

How hard would it be for the Teacher if a student asks for their black belt?  (don't ask the question if you don't like the answer).  It's a lot more prestigious to wear a black belt when its given to you because you deserve it rather than ask for it.   


As adults, why do we play scrabble, monopoly or video games?  Apart from the entertainment value and the social aspect of getting together, we do it because we want to see how good can we get when we are up for challenge and even compare ourselves to others.  If we seriously want to get better, we observe others who are good at them.  In a martial arts school the student develops largely with the instructor's guidance.  However, the more keen and forward thniking students always look at the persons who are good at something they might want to learn.  It is just a matter of asking that person which is a compliment to those who have something to offer.

The martial arts school is like a challenging playground of obstacles to develop skill.   I like the idea of students getting in early and working on something.  Socialising before class just drains energy and enthusiasm.  We can learn something from kids who waste no time when they drop in at McDonalds and go straight to the playground.  They see it as a challenge, game and fun. The dojo should be no different.

Don't waste precious time when you're at the school.