So in the sporting world we have the FIFAs, the PGAs, the NFLs, the mainstream, massively funded and massively fan based sports. The closest equivalent to this in the martial arts is arguably the UFC and I think its fair to say that MMA is getting bigger and bigger on a global scale, with more and more people becoming interested in both training and spectating mixed martial arts. Should the martial arts be more mainstream however? There are obviously plus and minuses for both sides of the argument and I think it’s an interesting debate topic.
Let’s imagine the martial arts were MASSIVE, I’m talking football, rugby etc massive. Football wouldn’t be the main option in schools for children, you wouldn’t go down to the local park to kick a football around, you’d go down to the local gym and kick a punchbag around. This sounds great yeah, the martial arts as a mainstream skill or sport? I agree it does, and I want martial arts to be a bigger thing within society for the discipline, fitness and confidence that they can instill in people, especially children, however if this were the case would it make the martial arts less special?
Imagine there was a massive governing body for the martial arts, the FIFA of the martial arts world. Again, would this lead to more problems? I’ve discussed before the prevalence of politics in the martial arts (Here’s a past article) and how ego can often get in the way of the simple formula of fantastic people, fantastic training and fantastic development and progression. Get this right and I think you’re on to a winner in the martial arts. The emergence of a massive governing body for the martial arts will bring forth its own problems and as the old saying goes, where there’s people, there’s politics. How long before standards start slipping, people start falling out, and more and more McDojos pop up offering online course black belts and guaranteed success in self protection, all due to mainstreaming? Newsflash, there is no guarantee when it comes to self protection, and black belt requires hard work, dedication and sweat, not the watching of various online videos with the promise of black belt bad-assery at the end.
Even as martial arts are at the moment, there are enough egos needing to be massaged, falling’s out over trivial matters and frankly ridiculous and awful examples of self protection, that are not only misleading but frankly dangerous! Would martial arts becoming more mainstream improve or increase this? Is there any full proof way of ensuring quality and quantity in the martial arts?
Sifu Declan Lestat is the founder and chief instructor at The Forge in Minneapolis, specializing in Jeet Kune Do and Lau Kuin Kung Fu. He is a student of world renowned JKD instructor, Sifu Lamar M Davis II and a proud member of the prestigious Five Thunder Chinese Martial Arts Association. His website can be found here at www.theforgeacademy.com Here he speaks about children and the martial arts…..
I spend a lot of time teaching children. In fact, my time is probably split 50/50 between children and adults at the moment. As much as I love teaching adults – there’s always something new to challenge me when training a fighter of police officer – I’ve always felt that, when it comes to martial training, we have a lot to learn from children.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spoken with an adult who, when they find out what I do for a living, shows great interest and enthusiasm for martial arts. More often than not, they’ve even trained in an art some years ago. Unfortunately, within minutes of their interest catching light, the flame quickly dims as real life dumps a bucket of water over their aspirations. I’ve heard it all, and you probably have as well:
I’m too old to start all that Bruce Lee stuff now.
Where would I find the time?
I’d never be able to do that, I’ve got a dodgy hip (Back, knee, shoulder, whatever)
I haven’t got a clue where to begin, I’d look stupid!
I can’t afford it right now. Maybe after Christmas (Easter, holidays, etc)
I have asthma
I’ve got two left feet!
I’m too tall/short/fat/thin/female
The list goes on, and I’m sure you could add to it with reasons you’ve heard too. It’s not much different for existing students who hit a plateau, or are about to be challenged in a new and different way as they advance in grade. It’s important to note at this point, that these reasons aren’t always excuses. They’re often genuine beliefs and fears held by the grown up in question, so I’m not passing judgment on anyone who offers a line similar to one of those above. Just making an observation.
Now, compare this to children. Children are notoriously unreasonable, in my experience. Wonderfully unreasonable. Over the years, I’ve trained children of all ages who you would never expect to see in a martial arts class. And if they were grown ups, you probably wouldn’t.
I’ve trained kids with learning difficulties and physical disabilities (From the partially sighted to the asthmatic). I’ve trained kids who were overweight, and some who were skinny. Some were tall, some were shorter. I’ve taught kids with anger management issues, dyspraxia, various degrees of Aspergers syndrome, and diabetics. I’ve had burly junior rugby players sharing the mats with dainty girls who would have loved to have frills on their uniforms (I actually had that request!)… This list, too, goes on.
But whatever the challenge, the child has seen what we do as martial artists, and said to their parents “Gimme some of that!”. They just want to have fun and train. Their personal shortcomings don’t even enter into their decision making process. Like I said, they’re wonderfully unreasonable. Not to mention unrelentingly optimistic.
But of course, they’re just children and aren’t old enough to know better.
As we continue our journey in the martial arts – or if you’re thinking of starting your journey – I suggest we do our best to not know better. We may just surprise ourselves.
Interview with self defence expert Matt Frost, Part 3
This is the 3rd and final part of the interview conducted with head coach at Function First Lincoln, KFM Top Team Member, and developer of the Combat Resource Centre, Matt Frost. Part 1 can be found here and part 2 here. Links to the Combat Resource Centre can be found here. Enjoy! 😀
A big thing about self-defence nowadays is the legal aspect. KFM has been criticised for being quite smash and dash which sometimes wouldn’t be classed as self-defence. Has Renegade Street Tactics built on this in a legal aspect?
It certainly has, the programme has threat levels from stage 1-3. I was talking to Tony about this the other day and maybe you have experienced this where you train and the instructor says, “The guy comes up to you, postures at you and points a finger. You break it off, headbutt him”. And you’re going Woah!!! He’s just pointed at you and you’ve broken his finger and headbutted him! Not just in a legal sense this is wrong but also as a decent human being! Anyone can escalate the situation and there’s not going back from that. Is that the outcome we want? We have our three basic threat levels, there’s posturing and peacocking, then pushing and shoving to a full blown attack. Now obviously if you get blindsided, it goes to threat level 3 and do what you need to do to get out, that’s where KFM is great and you just survive. But the other elements were missing, and it doesn’t fit in with the family, community aspect! Teaching kids head stomps doesn’t really go with my philosophy of family community and development! It’s about redirecting the threat if possible, but if you can’t you go to the next level of force. Today with CCTV camera’s etc., you can’t just grab someone, head-butt them and stamp on them, you’re off to Prison. I’ve been to seminars where this has been taught. We teach stomps but from a defence, learning how to defend against it, not as an attack. We do not teach you how to go to prison but the opposite. It’s not acceptable martial arts behaviour. There’s also a lot of bravado and macho talk in the martial arts which can lead to delusion in people which is dangerous. I’ve had to use violence on people and it was one of the most shocking things I’ve ever done. I went home and broke down. I used violence and kept it to a level that was reasonable, but I didn’t expect the way it would affect me after it had happened. I went home and burst into tears at the thought of doing that to someone, I wasn’t prepared for. I’ve been shot at and beaten up, but this really affected me. It’s great in theory, smash them and get out, but it’s not that simple, and it’s not something people talk about or consider really.
So finally, what’s the future for you, Function First and Renegade Street Tactics?
2015 will see the launch of the new satellite schools and coaching courses with great business backup for us so we can replicate what we have done here in Lincoln and in Louth.
This is not your average franchise, its an exclusive opportunity and model for those who are prepared to put in the work. We are limiting it to maybe 6 new school owners each year, this is quality not quantity.
It’s a little Utopian but why the hell would anyone settle for less eh? To build full time professional schools, and raise the level of martial arts in the UK is a massive goal. Martial arts are still in the past in terms of pricing structure and the way it’s perceived. There’s nothing wrong with church halls etc. that’s where we came from but, people don’t value it as much, it has a stigma. Modern fully equipped full time academies are what your students are paying for so they get the best of everything. We should be on the same playing field as a professional business which is what we’re trying to do here. Build coaches and savvy business people, deliver honest products and keep it really high level martial artists and schools, not the watered down Mcdojo model as you mentioned before.
Function First full time professional academies throughout the UK?
That’s the vision. The martial arts changed my life, saved my life, it’s done that for a lot of people, I’m sure it’s changed yours. I believe that’s what I’m here to do now. To transmit that knowledge and grow it more from a place of experience. I think that can be achieved through the people we have here and it’s an exciting time! I just love the martial arts and want to continue growing as much as I can. I’ve just competed in my first BJJ competition and look forward to progressing more and more in that for a new challenge and something to learn. I’m 45 now, MMA is great but I’m not too keen on a shin in the teeth or a punch in the face with a 4oz glove anymore, I know im getting soft! I love the sparring but it’s much lighter now. All martial arts have something to offer and I want to learn as much as I can from all of them! As long as I, my coaches and students keep progressing I’m happy!
Interview with Self Defence Expert Matt Frost Part 2
This is the second part of the interview conducted with Matt Frost, KFM Top Team Member, Head Coach and Function First Lincoln, published author and, along with Tony Davis, developer of the Combat Resource Centre self defence programme. You can see part one of the interview here.
You’ve said about the bad experiences you had. Presumably this was pre any martial arts training. Are you OK to talk about some of them?
….This one though, I knew it was real and he was going to kill me. It was a rifle to my forehead and I grabbed the barrel, pulled it to one side of my head shouting “he’s got a gun” I then front kicked him in the stomach, falling backwards but firing the gun as he fell. It sounded like an air rifle, and my girlfriend went “he’s shot me”! I thought it was just an air rifle so said it would be ok. The gun ripped through my fingers and my girlfriend pulled me off as he ran away. I slammed the door of the truck we were living in and heard him shooting, I then realised it wasn’t an air rifle. I looked over at my girlfriend and there was blood just squirting everywhere then she just said, and I’ll never forget it “it’s like bloody reservoir dogs in here”! It was so surreal and electric, everything was super enhanced. I said I’ll go for help, luckily the guy had gone but we didn’t know that, so I went and got an ambulance. She lived and all is good now. But those are just some of the experiences I’ve had and how it escalated from some kicking’s in Lincoln High Street to a gun attack in Portugal.
That’s certainly some very intense experiences you have had which I’m sure give you some very unique perspectives on realistic self defence training. After Portugal did you then come back to the UK?
We travelled for a while longer in Czech, Germany, Poland etc and had a really good time. We were a bit cautious after everything that had happened but then came back to the UK in the late 90’s where I started training with Andy in 1999 until last year really. In the beginning it was mainly Andy I was training with, Justo came over for seminars but I still didn’t really understand the Keysi thing at this time. Then I joined the instructor programme to immerse myself more and in my second year training I went to Spain and that’s when I really met Justo and the European Keysi scene. I didn’t have a job at that point, I had money from travelling and I ran sound systems for festivals in Europe, I was still running those businesses but my time was pretty much free so I just absorbed the training in that time. Andy offered me a position coaching and it went on from there. The position was in Spain coaching the coaches. I used to do an obscene amount of time, 50-60 hours training a week, morning till night straight through as it just gripped me so much. Andy offered the job to coach the coaching courses in Spain and I just said Yeah! That’s fine but didn’t think much about it. I didn’t realise until I got out there that I’d never actually taught anyone. I was training hard and meticulously going through lessons plans, teaching people in different languages for 8 hours a day, that’s a bit of a brain melter. That’s why I opened the Priory in Lincoln, it wasn’t for a business, it was to learn more how to teach and develop myself, gaining more experience. The instructor programmes for Keysi were becoming popular, I was teaching in Norway, Spain, Italy, America and Australia and it was growing massively and I knew that it was going to be a big part of my life so I had to know how to coach at a high level. I went on coaching courses with people such as Mark Dawes, NLP coaching courses and National Federation of Personal Safety courses and started getting really interested in the coaching styles. In 2005 I opened the Priory two nights a week, adults only. Andy then shut down his academy in the UK and rewrote the Keysi syllabus in Spain. That’s where the Urban X came from. Keysi at the start was very different to what people know as KFM now, there was a lot of JKD in there and other art forms such as ground work that isn’t in there now. Andy moved to Spain and after about 2 months rang me asking me to come teach the new programme the next day. So I jumped on a plane the next day and spent 4 days looking at the syllabus and working on the first yellow grade. For the next year, I was there every other weekend for 4-5 days where we restructured what the world now knows as Keysi Fighting Method.
When did you make the decision to jump to a full time academy and step it up?
It was actually Paul, one of my coaches that suggested the jump to move to the current location. I was thinking about a full time academy. I’d been at the Priory 4-5 years and was only teaching adults. I was getting a bit bored of flying around doing the KFM seminars. In the beginning it was good fun and I enjoyed it, rock star lifestyle….but on Ryanair….but then it wore off. The coaching and seminars didn’t, but travelling all the time wore off. I was thinking about the transition where I could build a healthier lifestyle when we found a unit, checked it out and the second I saw it, picked up the phone and made an offer.
KFM is now obviously split up with Andy Norman taking the Defence Lab route, and Justo developing Keysi by Justo. What are your thoughts on the split from someone who trained so closely with them for so long?
It’s sad that they split. It was such an amazing experience and group of people that I don’t think will ever be replicated, definitely not in the KFM circles. Andy’s pushing 50 now, Justo is pushing 60. We virtually lived together, Andy has kids as does Justo and things are different now. I’m 46 this year and I’m a different person to what I was. At the time there were a lot of people involved that just taught and developed Keysi travelling around the world. It was intense, but incredible and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s just really sad that it went wrong. I learnt a lot from it, I learnt a lot of what not to do, and how to do things. I’m sure Andy and Justo are grown up enough to admit the same. There were a lot of things done wrong but a lot of really cool things done too. It’s just a shame that couldn’t be worked out, but the whole split and fighting for public attention and stuff, I just stay out of, I’m not interested. The nonsense questions people ask, Is KEYSI better than DL? I mean you may as well as is Batman better than Spiderman, come on. At this level its pointless to ask that question. No one art is any better than any other. Ask yourself, Do you like it? The people around you? Are you enjoying the journey and development? That’s all that should matter.
So you now have the Renegade Street Tactics programme that is being developed. Tell me all about it!
Oh yeah!! I’ve just been working on it this morning actually. I’ve gone through the whole hard-core thing, you know fighting in car parks, toilets and years of crazy realistic training. Ask anyone about the Priory training days in Lincoln, they are legendary. People that were not there even talk about them. But you cant maintain that level of intensity, you cant run a business like that if you want to help the majority and its only a small % of the bigger picture. As I said my experiences of violence are extreme and I don’t think a lot of people can relate, some people don’t even believe me. I’ve only told you a few, there’s a lot more. But because of that, my self-defence has to be realistic and from a place of truth. I have to sleep at night knowing that what I teach is based upon my experiences.
Everyone has different experiences. At the end of the day, who can say what works and what doesn’t, its dependent on the situation at hand. So The tagline for the new programme Renegade Street Tactics Program is `The Art of Self Defence` so a bit of play on Sun Tzu, but that hard-core mentality is not even 5% of what we do or want to do or transmit to people. That doesn’t mean it’s diluted, I got to a very good level in that, and me getting to an even high level isn’t going to help the general student that trains twice a week. I mean I did over 10,000 hours in the first 10 years. Most students wont do that in a lifetime. Me polishing my skills is great for me, that’s a personal thing, but it’s not going to help most of my students. Then I started looking at the traditional arts and liked what they had to offer in some of them, not all. The Renegade Street Tactics part of the new name stands for the hardcore realistic no nonsense training. The tagline “The art of self defence” represents the ethics, morals and community, nutrition, well being, balanced life and so on. I mean we even do postural assessments on our students as they train to prevent injury in the future. We do all this with simple realistic self-defence.
Well actually we do this with all our program’s, MMA, Kickboxing, Kids classes, Fitness. For example, we have kid’s classes now, with parents coming and saying to us that the kids are asking to eat more vegetables. It’s a simple thing but it’s massive for me that they’re conscious of their nutrition. Others come in with problem children, where they don’t actually like their child, which is a difficult thing to admit as a parent, that you don’t like your own child. But they come back to us in 6 months’ time and comment on how we’ve changed the family and it’s become tighter, they enjoy spending time with the kids, pad feeding for them etc. and this for us is a massive thing. It’s not just the kids either. My coaches, some of them were packing eggs for a living and not enjoying it, but now you see they have responsibility and professionalism and love what they do. Its changed their lives which has changed their families’ lives. Its things like this that are in the new programme, looking at how we coach, mindful training in a world where we are easily distracted.
You’ll go for a drink with a friend in a pub but spend all the time on the mobile phone, it’s almost a disease and perhaps a reason for the misdiagnosis of ADHD, we don’t know the knock on effect of this in the years to come. The programme is designed through education and teaching people how to learn and stay mindful through the drills we do and that’s much more what I’m about now. The hard-core thing needs to be real, but the delivery system is more about the lifestyle and community. The hard-core stuff is very niche, we had 30 students maximum, which was great, it was a great moment in time, but it’s not where I’m at now. We still train hard as you work through the ranks but we don’t scare off new students the second they look through the door, were much more professional now.
You’ve said about the coaching courses and now you have satellite schools running in Newark, Stamford, Retford and Louth. Are you planning on doing more in the future?
Yeah. We started the coaching course last year as an experiment for years 1 and 2. Next year it gets launched to the public. Year 1 was to get feedback and iron out the wrinkles. I wanted to build this place here in Lincoln as the business model has to be built around the main academy, this is what we can achieve for anyone looking to get into the business, it’s a great advert. I wanted to grow it to a place where I had employed staff, dealing with HR issues, legal sides VAT sides etc, it’s a complex beast and it’s been a really interesting journey. We now have a full time business manager on board to take it to the next level. What I wanted to do was build this as a tight ship to build other models around. Im in no rush to do this, its going to be done well, tight and right. It has to be done right for the people who trust us to look after them when we roll it out to the public and we need some successful schools to show people what we can do. But what happened was a couple of people came to me that were having problems with their schools, it just wasn’t working for them. James from Louth came in January 2013 nearly in tears; he was going to lose his business and had little to no back up from the people he was paying to help him run his business. I didn’t want to step on other people’s toes so we introduced kids’ programmes, as they didn’t do that, we built the business up that way. Eventually he just said “Matt the way you do things is much better and that’s the way I want to go’”. He was with another Martial arts Franchise so I rang the owner and said this is what we’re doing and if there’s issues we won’t do it, so it was all above board. He gave me his blessing, I don’t do business any other way. It wasn’t in the plan, but now he’s up to 80 students in less than a year and has moved to a bigger academy and is in a really good place. He’s just had another refit and the place looks incredible, this is what we plan to do with the new Function First Franchise model around the UK.
The model we have works well and so that’s what we plan on doing in Newark and Stamford. The course will be launched to the public next year with business back up, renegade street tactics programmes, fitness, kids leadership programmes etc. so it’s just a really tight package. I believe our business model to be unique in the martial arts industry, What we are offering is taking people to the full time professional academy business. We have encountered many problems growing our main academy but learnt a lot from it. Hitting the 150 students and then employing staff and sales people in the academy pushed us to 300 very quickly which again brought all sorts of problems. Managing that and leading a team is a skill set that we are now very lucky to have covered with our business guru Mark. He ran teams of over 100 people that he built from scratch for huge multi billion dollar (yep billion) dollar companies. The guy is a genius, I love learning from him as much as I love learning my martial arts. Sitting with him is like sitting with the master and he is now responsible for looking after the new franchise schools and business training. You see were training our new school owners to be business people as well as great martial artists.
If this is being filtered down through all the schools, are you at all worried that the level of knowledge will also be diluted? I tentatively use the word “McDojo” and it’s sad to say but a lot of martial arts now have become filtered down from what they were in the beginning through knowledge being passed down inaccurately with the root of the art being lost.
It’s a valid question. The term McDojo is a funny one. I know what people mean by it, but I actually think that if they were McDojo’s I’d be impressed. I understand what they mean, cheap low quality product, but my business head is different now. I see McDojo as systems and procedures which in my opinion help us deliver a product. The McDojo is a low quality product, unethical, large business sort of model, but I am a fan of systems and procedures that make it easier to transmit knowledge. We are going to teach coaching skills to everyone in the new programme as it means we have to sharpen our skills and keep progressing. In terms of the systems and procedures, if you think of it like this. You had to go in and teach an elite team of soldiers, going into high intensity warzone in 6 months. You go in as a paid coach to teach self-defence or whatever. You teach things in a certain language and certain way, but one day you’re ill and have to get someone to cover. They then teach in their language. A takedown could be a double leg to someone, a shoot to someone else. The message is mixed and confused and its not completely clear where the coaches are coming from. Therefore to get the best, the coaches all need to speak the same way. That’s the essence of McDojo to me, the delivery system. Its sleek and a blueprint for teaching. There’s no room for misinterpretation, so its 100% understood by everyone and delivered the same. So if someone ever says to me you’re a McDojo, and no one ever has yet but im sure they will, part of me will say thanks very much! But equally I know what they mean. The systems and procedures we have for our coaches are to get all our coaches to transmit the same way. They have their own personality, they’re not robots, but they work to a system and structure we all understand so that if people come here for a grading, everyone knows where they stand. It’s an efficient way. Did that answer your question?
Partly, if you could just say a little bit more about the quality of the syllabus being kept strong and not being filtered down through satellite school openings?
It’s been a big discussion with the coaches on our course so far. I can’t ever measure someone against my level. That sounds egotistical, but when I’ve trained that much and have a good understanding of coaching and can transfer between arts quite quickly. That takes time, maybe 10 years to develop and I’m still developing. So you have to be realistic but have metrics and standards in place and constant growth for all. We constantly assess our coaches both in business and the arts, we don’t accept anyone. I think that’s what people mean when they call things Mc Dojo, it’s the ones who just accept anyone and let them go out and teach after 3 days training. Were not that model, you have to apply to join us and you have to pass a lot of requiremnets. For coaches we have to see them teach and they have to deliver to a certain standard each year.
They have to understand certain concepts and principles and there has to be a certain movement of body mechanic. If we’re talking straight jab, is their shoulder replacing the fist? Is the chin down? Is it tracking in a straight line? There are variables for each movement, and have they got them right and can they transmit that? It’s self-coaching. We get our students to learn like that it’s great. It happened in class the other day; stick this in the interview, Stu one of my coaches will kill me for it, but I don’t care! We break all movements down to lots of beats, so he was teaching a move in the MMA class, and it was down to 3 beats at a time so people don’t get confused. So moves one, two, three, then four, five, six. Then putting it all together. So he then said we’re going to stitch it all together and missed a beat out. I saw it and someone went, “Stu, you aren’t putting the arm over the head”! The student hadn’t seen the technique before but picked up on it through the use of the beats! Showing our way of teaching is replicable, our students get it, and then our coaches have to get it or our students will be the coach’s case as we cultivate that type of culture. It raises everyone’s game. By the end of an hour class, no matter how complicated something is, it should be able to be broken down and explained. Especially in self-defence where it needs to be simple and effective. You then add your personality and individualism into it and that’s really important!
Let’s talk Combat Resource Centre then!
When KFM split, we were in a bit of limbo stage. What do we do? The Renegade Street Tactics is the result of the Combat Resource Centre that I did with Tony Davis. We said let’s get together and put an online programme together to see feedback with our interpretation. The feedback was amazing, its selling really well all over the world. It was myself and Tony putting our name out there, not just copying KFM but adding our own bits too. KFM is sort of one dimensional, it’s awesome at it and possibly the best self defence method in the world in that range but it didn’t deal with all the ranges of combat and all the natural instinctive reactions to threat, so for us was not complete. Myself and Tony wanted to show a bit more, such as how to use trapping to protect someone else you’re with. We wanted to show we’re not just KFM and the Renegade Street Tactics programme came out of that. It was really enjoyable and we also learnt quite a bit filming, training developing stuff. It was really enjoyable.
Links to the Combat Resource Centre Page can be found here
Success or failure in everything we do in life relies on our habits and this is especially true in the martial arts or self defence. A common problem with people studying the martial arts is consistency in their training, and staying on track with their development. You may join a martial arts school full of enthusiasm and eager to learn new skills, improve fitness or make new friends, yet as weeks, months or even years go by, that initial enthusiasm begins to subside and you find yourself making excuse after excuse about why you can’t train that day. Maybe you’ve had a busy day and are too tired, maybe you ate too late and don’t want to make yourself ill training. A whole wealth of excuses are at your disposal. Yet this is a very slippery slope.
To begin with we have formed a good habit in making the step to join a martial arts school as well as forming a habit to attend 2 or 3 times a week maybe. Then something happens out of your control and you miss a class due to perhaps illness. Suddenly, the habit has been broken and you say to yourself “well I missed this class so ill miss the next one and start again fresh next week”, sound familiar? Problem is, when the next week comes around, another excuse is found and you are out of the habit of going training.
Big corporate gyms rely on this with many tying you in to year long contracts, safe in the knowledge that the vast majority of us will sign up to a gym in January, determined to work off the excessive alcohol and food consumed, only to have lost interest by February after an initial surge of determination and enjoyment with working out.
With martial arts this is slightly different. To become even slightly reasonable at the martial arts, severe dedication is required, and a lot of hours on the mat are needed to build up muscle, fitness, technique and to teach your body to move in the correct way, according to style of martial art. Those wanting to learn self defence or martial arts cannot do so in a couple of months or even years, its a lifelong pursuit where we aim to adopt consistent behaviours and actions to improve ourselves. We aim to develop good habits that last a lifetime.
Its impossible to change all our bad habits, and this will only lead to failure, yet what we can do is select one behaviour we wish to adopt or change, and stick to it. Maybe it will be “I will train twice a week, every week” or “I will do an hour of my own research after my martial arts class”. This of course takes willpower, but research has suggested that willpower can be seen as similar to a muscle, in that the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Then, the stronger it becomes and the more engrained the habit is, the easier it is to maintain until you are suddenly not even thinking about the habit, it has just become autopilot.
Those in the martial arts and self defence world need to try and make training an autopilot habit where by we just go and train. What motivates you? For some it might be the next grading, for others the people they train with, some just love learning self defence or martial arts and want to delve as deeply as they can into it. Regardless of motivation, we should aim to turn this motivation into habit so that we can internalise techniques or principles learned in the martial arts and ensure we are constantly developing.
So you join a martial arts school. Fantastic! Regardless of style, whether it be MMA, traditional martial arts, or pure self defence you could be there for any number of reasons. You could want to develop yourself further, in terms of knowledge, fitness, flexibility or being out of your comfort zone. You could simply want to add another social circle to your life. It doesn’t matter, you’ve taken the step to reach out and try martial arts, and as a result of this, your life will be improved in some way I’m sure.
Where we encounter difficulties however, is when we fail to question what we do, and why we do it. Questioning techniques, principles and the way we do the things we do it central to both the understanding of the student, and the instructor. The student learns more than simply the movements of techniques, but the depth behind them and why they are effective. The instructor then constantly needs to develop in order to be able to answer the student’s questions and improve their own understanding. This questioning of techniques and their effectiveness and use is what keeps everyone developing, as well as keeping the martial art true to form. If this questioning does not occur however, the unfortunate situation where a so called Master of the martial arts, who may well have many students and a successful school, gets asked to demonstrate on someone other than his students and fails to have any effect on them whatsoever.
Above we have an example of this. The `Shihan` demonstrates throwing a number of his students from a distance with just a wave of his hand? The force is certainly strong with this one, but some of the moves I think even Yoda would be scratching his little green head at. How does this occur? I counted at least 8 people in that demonstration falling over for the `martial artist`. They all look reasonably young, fit and healthy by their acrobatic falls so why on earth are they falling over when this guy waves his hand from a meter away?!
Is it hypnotism? The power of mass suggestion? Or is it simply conformity? You find one student that is willing to fall over without you even touching them, as they are so eager to learn the secrets of the martial arts and unlock the mysteries within! Another student then comes with no previous martial arts training, sees guy number one falling over, and thinks this is just the way you train, it must be Ki, or Chi (or the force)!! Before you know it you have 8 or 9 people willing to fall over for you when you sneeze and you look amazing!! You market this as a martial art, and go around with your group of trusty rag dolls (who admittedly are really good at falling over stylishly), showing off your skills around the world, and generally being bad-ass. This is great, until someone who has training in a real martial art, and doesn’t believe in the power of sneeze throws asks to challenge you. That’s when this happens…..
This is unpleasant to watch as no-one wants to see someone get beat up, but it serves a point. What the hell was he thinking? And more than this, what were his students thinking? This is where we need to constantly question what we do in the martial arts. In traditional martial arts especially, there is a very high emphasis on respect for the instructor. Respect is great and one of the many things that can be learnt from the martial arts as I’ve previously highlighted here. Subservience and blind obedience to your instructor is not a good trait however as it allows the martial arts to become something else. What is being seen here is not martial arts, but a cult, where one all powerful and charismatic leader manipulates the minds of others.
The martial arts, and especially the traditional ones need to be kept alive in their intensity, effectiveness and ability to improve people’s lives. With the rise of MMA, softer, more traditional arts are constantly being questioned in terms of their effectiveness in today’s world, and videos and instructors like this tarnish the name of all martial arts. Blame also needs to be placed on the students who allow this ridiculousness to be continued and called martial arts. We constantly need to develop and evolve as martial artists, getting stronger, fitter, more technical and most importantly, questioning what we do! Martial arts are great and offer many benefits, but the above examples in my opinion cannot be called martial arts as they do not improve or develop anyone’s life, nor teach anyone anything other than how to be a fantastic, nimble, but powerless guinea pig!
Disclaimer – These guys could actually have special powers….If I trip up tomorrow I’ll know everything I have said was wrong and that somewhere, Shihan Sneezey throws just waived his hand……
When people first come to study Aikido, Jiyu Waza, or freestyle movement is the first thing that impresses them about the art. When done correctly, it is fast, dynamic, athletic and skillful, making both people involved look like they know what they’re doing! What is the actual point in doing Jiyu Waza for the Aikido practitioner however? It is unrealistic practically and somewhat choreographed between those involved.
Jiyu Waza has many learning elements within it, both from the point of the Shite (doing the technique) and the Uke (receiving the technique). Aikido in general does not have competitions, and so in a way, jiyu waza is our form of competition between the shite and uke. Techniques are performed from a certain attack in a more dynamic way than regular basic training, allowing for improvement from both partners. The job of the uke is to receive the technique and then get up and attack again as soon as possible. The role of the shite is to perform the technique well and effectively, in a dynamic way, and to respond to the uke’s speed in order to avoid being hit. Jiyu Waza in this way then becomes a game of cat and mouse, where, although the partners are working together to improve technique, endurance and ukemi (falling), an element of competition can be introduced with who can perform the techniques faster, or get up and attack quicker.
Jiyu waza as already said should be kihon waza or basic techniques, but done more responsively and dynamically. This is not an easy task and there is a tendency to want to do jiyu waza quickly when training begins. This can lead to sloppy techniques as well as injury as a level of control is lost in relation to kihon waza. Having said this however, simple jiyu waza and free movement should be taught fairly early in my opinion as a way of improving ukemi. From my experience, people are comfortable doing a fall if given time to prepare for it, yet when they are asked to do the same fall within a technique, find it difficult as the control has been taken out of their hands. Jiyu waza can allow that control to be taken away, but at a slow pace to start with, allowing the uke to fall from different throws, different directions and different partners in a safe and controlled way. The pace can then be built up gradually, until eventually we see examples of near perfect jiyu waza with awesome ukemi from uke, and awesome technique from shite.
Jiyu waza is there to improve technique, endurance and falling as well as adding an element of pressure to regular training. It should be built up from a fairly early grade to improve ukemi and ensure that the aikido does not become too static or rigid.
For many studying the martial arts, black belt is the goal to work towards, and even those who have little interest or knowledge of martial arts have some idea of what black belt means. If I am speaking to someone new and the topic of my training comes up, inevitably the first question that is asked is whether I have a black belt or not. What does it really mean to be a black belt however?
When people learn you have the rank of black belt in one form of martial art or another, there is the general thinking that you can handle yourself well in a fight, and are in fairly good physical condition. This may well be the case, yet the idea of the black belt is more than this. The black belt means simply that you have not given up, you have worked hard and acquired a certain level of skill in the chosen art. I remember being told once that a high percentage of people stop doing martial arts after achieving black belt, as for them, the goal has been reached. They have the certificate, they have the black belt, and they have the right to say they are black belt. For them the goal has been reached. This is the wrong way to look at it in my opinion however. Black belt is simply the second step on a very large flight of stairs! The first step is making the decision to study a particular martial art, choosing to go up the grades and progress which in itself can take any number of years. Black belt is simply the second step, recognizing some technical ability, but recognizing more than you continue to come to class, work hard and seek to improve yourself. Black belt is not the destination, it is just one pit stop on the very long journey…
With the rank of black belt comes responsibility as well. You are there to set an example to other students who may well wish to achieve their black belt one day. You may start instructing and imparting the knowledge that has been acquired over the years studying your martial art. All this comes with responsibility to represent your art, and to set the tone for other lower graded students.
The black belt itself means very little, but it signifies that perhaps you are ready to study the art in more detail, and acknowledges the hard work and effort put into your training. As already said, it is just one stop on a very long journey :). An interesting discussion with more detail on this can be found here
As always thanks for reading and feel free to get in touch with any topics you’d like to see discussed via the comment section below or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last blog we looked at how the traditional martial arts need to bear in mind the constantly changing world and society in which we live in, and be fluid in response to this in order to still be relevant today. Combat effectiveness is a priority for many studying the martial arts and as said, with the rise of mixed martial arts (MMA) more traditional martial arts are being questioned in terms of practical application. Traditional martial arts in my opinion, offer far more than practical effectiveness and can be a blueprint for living ones life, instilling many traits that are applicable in today’s world. This is especially true in relation to children.
I started Karate when I was 6 years old, continuing this until 9 when I started Aikido which continues to be my passion now at 23. I feel exceptionally fortunate to have fallen into the martial arts, where so many others have not, turning more to football or cricket. Martial arts, whether traditional or contemporary i.e. MMA, offer so many skills to young people that if it were up to me, they would be part of the national curriculum and taught in every school in the UK. Speaking from my own personal experience, martial arts and its effect on me have completely shaped the person that I am today, through its instilling of discipline and respect from an early age. The traditional martial arts in particular hold respect, discipline and the lineage of the art in extremely high value and this can only be seen as a good thing. At the risk of sounding old before my years, there seems to be a decline in general respect and manners in younger people today, whether this is compounded by media with stories of ASBOs left right and centre is open to debate. The martial arts instills this respect in you so that it becomes a second nature and I cannot help but feel that if more people took up martial arts at a younger age, the world would be a better place.
Me giving an instructor demonstration last year
As well as this issue of respect and discipline, other factors such as fitness, self confidence, teamwork and coordination are all greatly improved by the martial arts. Again it seems that children in today’s society are more overweight and sedentary than previous years, preferring to spend hours playing on the PS3 or Xbox rather than doing some form of physical exercise. Having done martial arts since I was 6 years old, I got into the habit of being active and so have never been overweight or physically unfit. Yes, children do P.E at school and join football or rugby teams, yet for many this is simply a hobby to do with friends and few continue as regularly in teenage years when other things take priority over physical exercise. In my experience, the martial arts have a way of hooking you in, making you want to learn more and more to develop onto the next stage, earning the illustrious `black belt` that is held in such high regard. I received my junior black belt, then immediately wanted to start on my adult black belt. I then wanted my 2nd degree black belt and am now hoping to test for my 3rd degree black belt this year. I’m sure this want to continually get better in martial arts will continue with me for the rest of my life, or at least I hope it will, and look forward to seeing kids who started at my age achieve black belt or instructor status.
Self confidence, teamwork and coordination are all built through the martial arts as well. From the first time you enter the training facility you are working with new people, meeting and communicating with others, making new friends, working together to understand techniques or ideas, and coordinating your body to perform them. This, if instilled in children, has great potential for their future development where their self confidence could secure them that dream job. Their ability to work with others will make them popular within their social circle, and able to communicate themselves clearly and articulately.
Do the Martial Arts still offer something?
The traditional martial arts still hold true in today’s society in relation to both combat effectiveness and the development of children in my opinion. As already said, if it was up to me, martial arts would be taught in every school due to the life lessons it teaches and instills through the training, regardless of style.
This is only my second blog and if there are things people wish to discuss or read about, I would encourage you to contact me with ideas and ill do my best to make it happen! Please read, share, like, discuss and comment in order to build the blog up more so that I can soon get my own domain name. Then we can really get the ball rolling, discussing all things martial arts, training, instructing, fitness and nutrition.