Distance, Timing and all that jazz…

I’ll start by saying what follows is my opinion, my way of looking at things, my way of training and my way of fighting. It works for me, works for most of my students, but not all, and works in every context I found myself in so far. If you disagree , that’s good, as we need multiple paths to multiple destinations within martial arts. I am going to be talking about Timing and Distance , there are other elements just as important but if I bring in too much I will ramble on for  pages, so I’ll try to confine myself to these parameters.  It must also be noted that how important any element to martial arts is for you is very much dictated by your aims and your reason for doing martial arts in the first place. Anyway, let’s begin.

For me, the key to any fighting art is Timing and Distance. These two elements are the keys that unlock everything no matter the art, the weapon (extra or the ones you are born with), or the context. I tell my students a simple truth. If my timing and distance are perfect then any technique I try will work, if they are poor then no technique will work no matter how good I think it is. You could say get timing and distance correct and you can ignore everything else.  While this is not totally true it is a truism that imparts how important these concepts are.

This is one of the reasons why, for me, technique is way down the list of priorities when it comes to fighting and training for fighting. My aim is twofold (I teach HEMA so weapons are a HUGE part of what I do)…

Don’t get hit

Hit the other person,

As you can see if these are my goals for fighting then Timing and Distance are key and technique almost become inconsequential.  Now before the shouting begins notice I say almost, because, in reality, technique is important and is vital to keeping classes and fighting in general, interesting and fun. Plus if I have good technique on top of good timing and distance then my fighting becomes better and my options within a fight open up. There are other elements I concentrate on before technique like Body Mechanics, strategy, tactics etc , but we can discuss them another day.  Every time I teach and train technique it has two elements to it…

How to do the technique correctly to make it effective

How can I build the training of principles like timing and distance into my technique training.

The training of principles such as timing and distance can be repetitive and let’s face it dull, but it needs to be done and repeated over and over to enable it to be used well and in context, so keeping it front and centre of everything I do, makes the training more relevant, more fun, and much more useful. This does lead to another question though, even for us old hands….

What is Timing and what is Distance?

We all think we know the answer, even beginners do, and on the most part we do, but what it means , how we use it, and most importantly how we think about it are key to making it work. Like everything else within martial arts our thoughts on this subject will of course change over time, which is as it should be.

I was recently introduced to a different way of looking at all this and it has almost immediately changed how I train and how I fight.. It’s nothing new; it’s nothing magical, just a different way to think about it from what I had been using.  As always within martial arts it is much easier to impart ideas and information face to face but I’ll give it a go, I hope you can follow my train of thought but if not, please send me questions and I will try to answer them.

The concept of timing and distance is on the surface quite simple. If I control distance I keep myself from getting hit, if I control my timing I can hit my opponent at any time. While this is correct it’s not very useful and does not explain a great deal. I’ll take it almost everyone reading this will be a martial artist of some sort so I don’t think I need to go into great detail about how we use timing and distance and what it is for, but I will mention that it almost always involves more than we think if we only stopped to think about it a little more.

I was recently re-introduced to the works of a 16th Century military gentleman and commentator on the arts of personal combat,  ‘George Silver’ by a good friend Martin ‘Oz’ Austwick  from English Martial Arts who I must thank for working with me on understanding these principles and how to use them. (I’ll link to his YouTube channel and Facebook page at the bottom of the article). Within his works George talks about the…

‘The four grounds or principals of that true fight at all manner of weapons’.

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It was here that I found a much better way of thinking about and executing the principles of timing and distance. His four grounds are as follows…

  1. Judgment,
  2. Distance,
  3. Time,
  4. Place.

George goes on to explain these ideas and their importance…..

‘The reason whereof these 4 grounds or principals be the first and chief, are the following, because through judgment, you keep your distance, through distance you take your time, through time you safely win or gain the place of your adversary, the place being won or gained you have time safely either to strike, thrust, ward, close, grip, slip or go back, in which time your enemy is disappointed to hurt you, or to defend himself, by reason that he has lost his place, the reason that he has lost his true place is by the length of time through the numbering of his feet, to which he is out of necessity driven to that will be agent.’

The language and use of words is a little odd to our modern eyes, but not too much so we can’t gain their meaning with some work and effort. I say this as on first reading and through our modern brain filters you could be fooled into thinking you understand all he says here and it’s quite clear and simple. You could be correct of course but for many that is a trap that can lead you down a very different road of understanding from the intended one. But to keep it simple let’s look at his four grounds.

It must be said that although George Silvers works primarily deal with weapons of all types I will add that his basic principles hold true for unarmed as well as armed combat. We can look at his ‘Grounds’ in turn and I’ll try to explain my understanding of them. George begins with Judgment as it underpins the other three but I will take my lead from Mr Austwick and start with Distance.

  1. Distance

When looking into the works of George Silver it becomes apparent that when he talks about Distance he is actually talking about two concepts not one. Being IN Distance and being OUT of Distance. Using this idea you can see that at any point in time during an engagement  you and your opponent will be either in distance or out of distance. For George being in Distance is when your opponent can strike you without taking a step.

This concept is key and if you watch enough fight/ comp videos you will see people utilise this concept time and again, often without really breaking it down or fully understanding it.  Distance keeps us safe (Don’t get Hit), controlling distance allows us to control how your opponent strikes and when. This can confer a great advantage to you if you learn how to use it. Your hand can and does move faster than a brain and muscles can respond, this makes this concept deadly when mastered. This may seem like a bold claim but it is not. Go experiment with it, you will soon see what I mean.

To a fighter it means if you are caught in distance you can be hit faster than you can defend, but if you can control the distance then you can hit faster than they can respond. You can use your movement, your opponents movement or a combination of the two to make sure you are only IN Distance when you want to be, and ONLY when you want to be.

  1. Timing

Timing is simply performing the required action at the correct time, with enough speed to make it work. Another definition that sounds good but is not of much practical use. So I will go back to Mr George Silver to try to break it down and be a little more useful.

George first breaks timing down into two categories. True Time and False Time.

True Time is basically actions performed at the correct speed to make them work (mostly without the need to step).

False Time is actions that are slower and so are inherently flawed and mostly doomed to failure. (Mostly they need a step to work).

A little better but still not much practical use is it. George knows this and so he breaks it down further.

So George breaks it down further in 4 ‘Times’ for each, here are the True Times….

The time of the hand.
The time of the hand and body.
The time of the hand, body, and foot.
The time of the hand, body, and feet.

And here are the False Times….

The time of the foot.
the time of the foot and body.
the time of the foot, body, and hand.
the time of the feet, body, and hand.

You may have spotted that the Tue Times involve the feet as well as the hand. Surely this goes against Georges teachings???  Well. No it doesn’t.  He advocates a false time is when the action RELIES on the movement of the foot or feet. His True times can involve a movement of the foot or feet AS LONG AS the action does not rely on that movement to be successful. Go experiment with it, you’ll find he is correct.

So we now have some definitions for Timing and Distance with some practical advice from someone much more qualified than me to speak on such matters. I simply take his words and try to interpret them into something that makes sense. You should try it to.

BUT what of his other two Grounds that make up this topic, Place and Judgment?  These can be a topic on their own but it would be remiss of me not to at least address them, so I will…

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  1. Place

When talking about Place George has this to say….

“Keep your distance & suffer not your adversary to win or gain the place(3) of you, for if he shall so do, he may endanger to hurt or kill you.

Know what the place is, when one may strike or thrust home without putting in of his foot.

It may be objected against this last ground, that men do often strike & thrust at the half sword & the same is perfectly defended, where to I answer that the defence is perfectly made by reason that the warder has true space before the striker or thruster is in force or entered into his action.”

There is more but this gets the basic idea across. Being in the correct place can be thought of as target specific.. While being the correct distance to strike is very important, you  need ask “Strike What”?  What is your target, what is your goal? Being in the correct Place allows you to complete your desired action while not allowing your opponent to complete his. This can be a large and important area of discussion but let me give a small and pretty silly example to try to explain.

Stand at the correct distance from another person so you can hit their head without moving your feet. This is the ideal distance and Place to complete that action. Now turn around and face away from your opponent. You are still in the correct distance but boy are you now totally in the wrong place.. Play with it, have fun, go study Mr Silver for more insights into how to train and use it.

4. Judgment

Let’s go straight to what the great man has to say about this….

“The first governor is judgment which is to know when your adversary can reach you, and when not, and when you can do the like to him, and to know by the goodness or badness of his lying, what he can do, and when and how he can perform it.

He goes on to say…

“First when you come into the field to encounter with your enemy, observe well the scope, evenness and unevenness of your ground, put yourself in readiness with your weapon, before your enemy comes within distance, set the sun in his face traverse if possible you can, still remembering your governors.

Let all your lying be such as shall best like yourself, ever considering out what fight your enemy charges you, but be sure to keep your distance, so that neither head, arms, hands, body, nor legs be within his reach, but that he must first of necessity put in his foot(1) or feet, at which time you have the choice of 3 actions by which you may endanger him & go free yourself.”

Judgment gathers in all we have discussed plus your awareness of surroundings, environment, your opponent, their movement, demeanor etc. It is to remind you to use all available information to gain you the advantage, constantly assessing and reassessing at every moment. This may be obvious but sometimes the obvious gets over looked or not studied correctly.

I hope you have enjoyed  reading my thoughts and ideas on these matters and I hope they will be a some use. I assume some will agree and some will disagree, all ideas and comments are welcome. Thank you for reading and keep up the good work folks.

Links ….

Duncan McEvoy

mcevodf@yahoo.com

https://m.facebook.com/profile.php?id=324942460949021&ref=content_filter

Martin Austwick

https://www.youtube.com/user/EnglishMartialArts

https://www.facebook.com/EnglishMartialArtsAcademy/?fref=ts

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Duncan has been studying and teaching HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) for 17 years. He started at the Royal Armouries in Leeds in 2000 and after a few years training created his own group in Liverpool. Duncan has spent many years training with as many different martial arts groups as possible to gain a wide knowledge of fighting arts including spending time with groups in Israel and the USA.
This included spending time with the teachers of arts such as Krav Maga, Escrima, Boxing, Aikido, Sambo, Fencing, Tae Kwon Do, Wrestling, Pugilism and many more. He continues to cross train as much as possible. This is to aid his study of the Historical European fighting arts.
In his own group Duncan teaches all manner of weapons including Longsword, Arming Sword, Staff, Sword and Buckler, knife etc. At the moment he is studying the works of George Silver in particular. His Group now trains regular on the outskirts of St Helens, a town near Liverpool.

Do kicks have a place in self defence?

Do kicks have a place in self defence?

We think martial arts, we think kicking, punching, snapping and cracking! We think Bruce Lee literally kicking the crap out of multiple opponents, flying kicks and massive Ki-ai’s! We look at the Olympics and Taekwondo and see all sorts of wonderful kicks where legs get wrapped around people’s heads twice round in a split second. Basically kicks are awesome, impressive and a massive feature of the martial arts. What about self defence though? Do kicks have a place or will they land you in more trouble than their worth?

Me, personally, I’m not a massive fan of kicks. I’ve never used one in a real altercation but I can see their application if done right. I don’t use them as I’m no good at them basically. But what about the guys and girls who are good at them, the Taekwondo practitioners, the Karate experts, where do you guys stand on this?

Low level kicks up to about waist height I can see the advantage of. People normally won’t be expecting it, and a well timed outside leg kick to the knee or thigh can easily put someone out of action for quite a while. Look at some of the UFC guys leg’s after a fight, black, blue and difficult to put weight on. Waist kicks and front kicks, again I can see the practicalities of. The leg is longer than the arm and so is therefore great for getting a strike in early and creating distance, which as I’ve repeatedly said, I believe to be one of the main principles to take from martial arts and into self defence. Distance is everything and leg kicks can certainly keep the opponent at a distance if done correctly (even for me who’s the height of a borrower).

Effective use of leg kick here, low risk, high result

Any higher than the waist and I think we’re in danger territory. Kicks here are easier to telegraph, leave you off balance on one leg for longer and in general are just far riskier in my opinion. Even if I had studied head kicks and kicks above waist level for many years, I would still be reluctant to use one in real life as there are just too many what ifs? What if I don’t connect? What if I do connect? What if they grab my leg? Personally for me, I want both feet to be on the ground and planted as much as possible.

There’s also the practicalities. If you aren’t wearing shorts or loose training gear, as well as being properly warmed up, high kicks can be near impossible. Imagine attempting a high kick and not only missing but also pulling you leg muscle…not cool… If you’re a Justin Bieber wannabe and wear skinny jeans, its going to be difficult simply walking, let alone throwing a leg kick regardless of where it is. If you do wear skinny jeans though you may be deserving of a kick or two… 😛

So me personally, not a fan of leg kicks for self defence, but only because I’m no good at them, am as flexible as Jeremy Clarkson’s views on the Argentinians and see too much risk involved. Have people used leg kicks in real altercations? Have they worked? Have they gone horribly wrong?

Bob Breen Interview Part 3!

Bob Breen Interview Part 3!

Here it is folks! The final part of the awesomely fantastical Bob Breen’s interview. Here he talks about plans for the future and 4D as well as his branding partners in Andy Norman, Phil Norman and Eddie Quinn. Enjoy!

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Lets talk about the collaboration with Andy Norman, Phil Norman and Eddie Quinn then.

I used to teach Andy back in the 80’s. He was an amazing determined guy that would come to see me in London from Hull once or twice a week and so when people say to me they can’t come to training for whatever reason, I always say there are no excuses! I taught Andy for a few years and we got on great, he was one of the best students I’ve had. I’d beat him up then he’d go back on the train thinking how he would beat me up next time in a tit for tat kind of way! We always kept in touch and then I met him in Italy last year and started talking about projects. I talked about 4D and he said why don’t you come and join me with the Defence Lab as we all have the same aim. Then with Phil as well who was an old JKD guy too. They’re all super brains! Phil was gladiators champion twice, Andy’s taught the Hollywood stars etc so why don’t we all work together. Andy has been the inspiration for it and he’s been a huge kick up the arse for us. It will be great fun and since we’ve been doing it I’ve had a great time. Then Eddie is on board too and he’s a great guy, fabulous communicator. We’re all pushing each other, it’s like a new wave happening and a new evolution that will take everything by storm!

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So leading on from that what are your plans for the future?

Well we start the online university in the New Year, some of which will link up with Taken 3 as Liam Neeson is a student of Andy’s. We’re all filming crazily as I have 50 years of experience I want to show, lots of techniques too, but also showing how to get them to work practically. We’re all different heights, Phil’s tall and athletic; I’m about medium height but had a double hip replacement in the past so that taught me how to find space within space. Andy is shorter than all of us so his is all inside game. So when we look at everything together it’s like a jigsaw and if you learn all three, you would be an incredibly well rounded guy! Everyone there is so much fun as well. It’s almost like the old days of JKD, everyone has high energy and everything is new and exciting! Who else has done anything like the Defence Lab World Conference last month? There were 300 people there all learning together and everyone was just so revved! That was just the start we’ve got huge plans.

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So finally what are your developments? How do you progress in the martial arts?

I’m collaborating with Matt Chapman at the moment with the 4D ground stuff. The 4D has a code, and a map which in essence can be seen as a timeline saying I’m here; I do this, etc so we want to do that with the ground too. I’m just training the 4D stuff hard now, we have a team we train at 7am in the morning with, all the high grade guys just bashing each other and testing the concepts and learning. We want to make sure it’s perfect for the guys we’re going to teach out there. We have discovered link points where you can go into Ghost or DL so my people can go into that so its cross branded, and also cross training. The big thing with 4D is a 4D fighter is never in front of you. We did a GoPro test where European BJJ champion David Onuma and I put a GoPro on our chest and we put it on every half second and attacked each other with blades. There are only 2 pictures with us in front of each other. All you catch is a bit of a shoulder, or a finger in the eye. It’s a great test as it shows, look; this is where you’re at. It’s not just you hit me, I hit you. A core concept is across all our systems is we don’t like or want to get hit. Myself, Andy and Phil and all the guys never want to get hit and that’s what we’re all about! We’re trying to do the martial arts we all dream of, we’re aiming at excellence.

Bob Breen Interview Part 2!!

Bob Breen Interview Part 2!

Here’s part number two of the awesome interview with the incredible Bob Breen! Enjoy and as always like, share, comment and get involved in The Martial View Community :).

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So what are the main principles of 4D Combat?

So firstly its total stand-up combat. All fights start standing contrary to what people believe. That’s where we want to end it. They all start standing and we do total stand up fighting – striking, clinching, weapons and group attack. You can’t choose the format any fight will be in, or morph into, so you have to be adaptable. Similarly we’re all short of time so you need a simple format that works whatever is happening. We try to have a code that covers 60% of that so we aren’t learning 4 different arts; we’re learning 1 art with 4 different aspects. One of the aims is to be faster by making the opponent slower, so that’s the Kali kind of influence, making you heavy or off balance.  You can hit me really hard when you’re stood up straight, but I’m never going to have you standing straight, I’m always manipulating you all the while, mentally and physically. It integrates really well with Phil’s GHOST approach where you need to be fairly athletic. That’s fabulous which is why we have cross-branded as there are obviously times where you do have to be athletic and conditioned, but equally working hard for the sake of it isn’t good. You want them to work hard, and you to work less. Its minimum input, maximum output, keeping it simple and less is more!  Amazingly you get all that stuff you dreamed of happening like the fancy arm locks as they give it to you!

Youre obviously a world authority on self-defence and especially knife defence. There are a lot of schools out there at the moment that claim to teach self-defence, but its not really that realistic, what are your thoughts on effective self-defence teaching and training?

Real fighting is always a lot faster and more chaotic than you think it will be, that’s part of the 4D thing. I’m either running, or hitting or clinching; I don’t want to be where you are going to hit or stab me. Take knife, the amount of people with experience knife fighting is not a lot, not healthy ones anyway! I had my first knife altercation when I was 11 outside of school and I’ve come up again knife, axe, gun etc. I haven’t been heroic or done incredible things, but we’ve tried to take the traditional stuff, the Filipino stuff mainly as I think it’s the best and use it.

The Filipino stuff is the best, but it’s almost the very best of a bad bunch, so we try to take that, test it, upgrade it and thin it so that the criteria is very rigorous on it. What happens with the majority of dojos is you get the conformist thing. I’ll come at you in a certain conformist attack; it’s all big and slow. There’s no interruption where I poke you in the eye with one hand and stab you with the other, so we embrace all that, but we do it in a classical way where we have the idea of total freedom where you can do anything, but we break it down so it has a traditional structure.  That way you can learn and develop. It has to be tested though and have a chaos element or people lose the plot and think everything’s possible. Which of course it is but only when you really know it. Sometimes less workable aspects have their place.  Take disarms people say disarms don’t work, but what’s good about them is that you get to be holding the guys arm at a slower pace than him stabbing you repeatedly and fast. So you get to learn things there, body knowledge as well as practicing the disarms which do happen. So everything works, but you need to train it rigorously and not have weird training routines where it’s too collaborative.

What are your thoughts on pressure testing? Is it possible?

It’s alright, but even that can be forced where they come and you one on one. The best pressure testing I can see is Andy’s DL stuff in a group and Phil Normans Ghost. Andy’s is a simple idea done really really well. Often in a group attack where he’s always on the move. Phil likewise but with one on one, My own 4D is replete with pressure testing, it’s built into the training at every level. Take knife for instance you have to try and stab me, not just stab a spot two feet away. You want to get to the cutting edge, but not the bleeding edge as that doesn’t help anyone! There needs to be a balance. My old Chinese Tai Chi teacher used to say to me Mr Breen! How many times you fight?! So I said once, twice a year maybe at the most, then she would say how many times do you trip up?! So I would say everyday then she would say better to practice not tripping up then! And I think that’s where people get into a whole paranoid thing about what could happen, but really life is about having fun. Train hard and functionally, but it has to be fun! I want my 4D guys to be the best they can be, but they have to be a decent person, keep their fitness, keep safe and keep their spirituality too! I want guys training when they’re 85 and be really balanced individuals yet still kicking arse!

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Bob Breen Interview Part 1!

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Bob Breen Interview Part 1

Here it is guys and girls! The Bob Breen interview part 1! A legend in the martial arts, and go to guy for self defence, here Bob talks about his early days in martial arts, his own philosophy of self defence, and his cross branding with Andy Norman and Defence Lab, Phil Norman and Ghost, and Eddie Quinn with The Approach. Enjoy and as ever please feel free to comment, subscribe, share and like 🙂

How did you begin your training in the martial arts?

I started Karate at the end of 1966, getting my black belt in 1970. Roundabout then I opened my own school one of the first schools in the  UK to be run by a non-Japanese. I fought for England and captained the England team and things like that. Then in 1971-72 we started doing a bit of grappling, so we were cross training even then really, predominantly Judo stuff. I was always interested in the cross-training approach, it resonated with my personal experience. There was a comic strip in the Evening Standard  called `Modesty Blaise`, books too, and that had the idea of cross training and fighting in it. It was JKD before JKD had even happened! So I was enthralled by this idea of combat as I’d had quite a few fights on the street growing up so knew it didn’t quite go as it did in the dojo! In many ways I was primed up for JKD and Kali. I got into Eskrima in 1978 and met Dan Inosanto when I invited him over the UK in 1979! I became a huge advocate of JKD and Kali after that, and have followed Guru Dan from that time onwards.

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Would you say that your previous experience having fights on the street etc led you into the martial arts?

Not especially, I was just intrigued by it. I’d had fights and I remember having a fight with a guy called Andy who was an amateur boxer. I had loads of spirit but no technique, I was just scrappy! So for me it was just a journey of enquiry, it looked beautiful and it wasn’t just about the fighting it was the discipline and speed. I remember my first teacher Tatsuo Suzuki, just being unbelievably fast! It was of the age as well, there was `Odd Job` around and things were opening up changing, people were getting interested in the martial arts. Nowadays I don’t think people understand how closed everything was then, but times were changing.

In terms of the JKD, what was it that originally drew you to it and made you think this is for me?

Initially I don’t think it was the art of JKD specifically,  I was into Bruce Lee before that had been publicised , I used to go to China Town and watch the films in Chinese and be the only English person in the audience! I was intrigued by the idea of Bruce, Definitely the best and most realistic on the screen. When JKD articles came out showing pictures of his approach I thought ‘Well we do that anyway’ but what set Lee apart was the level of his integration and thinking. He was on a much higher level. What intrigued me about Dan Inosanto was the Filipino arts and what he did with that. His visit with Jeff Imada was amazing. It showed how they could go from empty hand, to knife, to stick, to battle axe, to grappling, back to empty hand. They wouldn’t have a plan; they would just flow and could handle everything. It was amazing and in truth I still think that evening in 79 was one of the best demos of the art I’ve ever seen.

What do you think JKD can offer today?

JKD was the original cross training or MMA as Bruce was into everything. Done well I think it’s what many of the top fighters are using today, at least conceptually. Lee’s influence has been immense. However I think a lot of it has been lost as people are caught up in technique, they know everything but can they do everything? This for me is why I developed 4D. It’s a sort of reference back to the original principles of JKD. 4D is functional, you have to be able to use it practically and apply it. 4D is nearly 50 years of sparring and fighting in every format and thinking how do you take all that knowledge and make it really easy to learn. prioritise it, adding a strategic structure to it, so that whatever happens you’re in charge. All the guys doing 4D now say they feel less fear, are more confident, and get more things to happen due to the simplicity of it. The choices are small, but because of that you get everything. If I’m punching you in the head you can’t have 20 thoughts in your head, its fight or flight. All the decision making is binary like this and natural so it’s quick.

Then we work on the what would be traditional JKD concepts like non telegraphic striking so when we hit you can’t stop it! However in 4D it’s not acceptable just to know it, you have to be able to make it work. It’s almost like a computer game; if you want the next level you need a certain score. If I want to progress I need to land 8 out of10 jabs against a defended target, then I understand and really know the jab and can move on. We do this on everything; everything is tested. It’s an evolution of the JKD idea, Bruce’s ideas were fabulous but it’s been evolved. You’ve interviewed Phil Norman, and I think you’re interviewing Andy Norman too, and all these guys have done the same thing, they’ve evolved and simplified. 4D have taken practicality first and built from there. People seem to like it, I’ve been hitting world champions in the head and they all say it’s like WOW! Mind blown!

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The Myth of Black Belt

Old belt 225x300 The Myth of Black Belt

The Myth of Black Belt

Many achieve black belt….few achieve more

It’s a well known fact that many people quit martial arts after achieving their black belt.  I’ve always wondered why this is?! Do they think that once black belt is achieved, that that’s the end of the journey, there’s nothing more to learn? If they are studying martial arts for self defence, do they have the misguided belief that they are now indestructible and able to effectively protect themselves in all situations based on the skills they have acquired? If they are looking at martial arts for fitness or the acquisition of techniques, do they feel they have reached the peak with nothing more to learn? Or is it that the black belt as an image is so engrained in the martial arts, this is what people aim for, not the study of the martial arts itself?

Everyone who has looked at martial arts in any depth knows that there is a distinct difference between martial arts and effective, real world self defence. This was highlighted and emphasised recently in my three part interview with one of the leading figures in the self defence world – Geoff Thompson (Link to part one of interview can be found here). Geoff attained a high grade and skill set in the martial arts, but found through his real world experience that his training in the traditional martial arts had given him overall, a very poor impression of real world violence. We constantly see martial arts schools offering effective self defence training for those that join up, but you have to ask yourself, what is this based on? Does the instructor have any experience of real world violence, or has his self defence experience to date been based on techniques practiced with a partner in the comfort of the dojo or academy? An image is associated with martial arts, and with the idea of a black belt. You think martial arts, you think Karate Kid, you think Bruce Lee, able to defeat anyone with his bad-ass skills! Someone finds out you hold a black belt in a martial art and the usual response is either “Oh better not mess with you then”! or “Waaaaaayaaaaaaa show me some moves karate kid”! I like to think a very small minority of people sign up to the martial arts purely for training in self defence, as martial arts can offer so much more than this and to join for this reason is a very one dimensional view. I like to think an even smaller amount believe that once they achieve that somewhat illustrious rank of black belt, they are now able to handle themselves effectively in any given situation! Teachers or academies that promote this view are in my opinion dangerous, giving people false ideas that if you learn the techniques and achieve the grades, it will then make you effective in a real world situation.

martial arts healthcare simulation 300x184 The Myth of Black Belt

I hope the view above really is the tiny, minuscule, teeny weeny proportion of people who study martial arts, but it still begs the question as to why people seem to leave after achieving the rank of black belt? I was always told that achieving black belt means you have a solid understanding of the basics – that’s it! Now it’s time to really start getting into the technical detail and that for me was the driving force behind my training. I wanted to get more in depth information and try (and mostly fail) to understand the trickier concepts associated with the martial arts and this was due to my instructors. I wanted to do what they did, to throw with that amount of power, to be that quick and to have that knowledge. The fact that they had a black belt around their waist wasn’t nearly as important to me as the knowledge they transmitted. I’m fortunate, I’ve had good instructors, but I wonder if some schools or academies simply wish to get people to black belt as quickly as possible so that they can say they have “progressed 100 or more people to black belt status”. I’m all for martial arts becoming more recognised within the business community, the same as personal training or yoga has become, but quality still needs to be assured. On-line courses to achieve black belt, or quicker promotions to black belt done internally in order to set up more satellite schools are in my opinion a waste of time. The belt means nothing, the knowledge acquired on the road to the belt is what matters. Those rushed through a course, or promoted quicker than usual to become an instructor can easily miss the details needed to teach, leading to a dilution of the martial art, and frankly, people making it up as they go along. Have you ever trained with someone who had an instructor level status, but could barely perform basic movements and was unwilling to answer questions as to why we do the movements and the reasoning behind them? I know I have and it makes you question how these people became instructors. Maybe some people are rushed through these belt progressions, ultimately to gain a black belt, then when that belt is achieved, the realisation sets in that they are not a rarity as they have a black belt, and that their knowledge is not what they first thought it was. Some people may either rise to this challenge and want to achieve more, whereas others may simply go “well I’ve got my black belt, that’s the main thing, let’s start working on something else now”

Black Belt 300x229 The Myth of Black Belt

People may quit a martial art once they’ve reached black belt for a variety of reasons, but it’s interesting to analyse possible reasons so that instructors can set up safeguards to this happening. Black belt is the start of the fun in my opinion, where you get into the more technical aspects and start looking at the art in more depth. Instructors should acknowledge this from the get go, saying that black belt is only the first rung on a very large ladder! Courses that promise a black belt in 6 weeks, or 6 months are one-dimensional and will lead to more dilution of the martial arts! Try doing a 6 week on-line business course then going out and teaching it. I’m sure it would be exceptionally difficult as the underlying understanding and deeper knowledge simply isn’t there. Good instructors can draw from experience and knowledge to provide insight and effective transmission of learning. Poor instructors simply teach the syllabus as it was taught to them then make the rest up as they go along. Martial artists need to realise that black belt is only the first stage and that so much more learning is required. The image of a black belt is engrained within society through media, yet the reality is a very different image.