Are you too old to train? The Mike Tyson comeback…

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

I’m excited. Amid all the doom and gloom of Coronavirus and the fear in the world today, I saw something to potentially get excited about… The return of Mike Tyson to boxing.

That’s right… THE Mike Tyson!

Sure it will be for some exhibition matches raising money for charity, probably for 3 or 4 rounds, but hey! This is exciting stuff and got me thinking…

At what age should you hang up for gloves for good?

Tyson is now 53 years old and has his last fight 15 years ago at age 38. His return to the ring for some will be exciting and even inspirational, yet others, most notably George Foreman, have warned him to stay out the ring and that he has nothing more to prove.

So what do you think? Is there a time when a fighter should just retire, never to step foot in the ring or cage again and when is that time?

I’ve heard a few times martial artists say that the difference between martial arts and combat sports is that combat sports often have a peak. An age where you are as strong, fit and agile as you can possibly be.

After this peak has been reached, there is a steady decline where the body simply cannot take the same amount of punishment as it did before. Skill diminishes therefore retirement happens.

With martial arts however, the peak doesn’t reach as early as skill level increases consistently. A fine example of this would be Dan Inosanto – aged 83 and still hosting seminars around the world (pre-corona) and as skilled and talented as he ever was.

This may be due to a number of reasons:

The punishment the body takes…

Professional fighters put their bodies through so much on a daily basis. From regular hard sparring sessions, to fitness building that takes you to the edge and pushes you both mentally and physically – combat sports are tough man! That’s not even counting the fights themselves! Repeated kicks to the legs, punches to the body and head and general wear and tear take their toll and this for sure is a reason why combat sport competitors reach a peak.

Martial artists on the other hand – by broad stroke and not all, tend to train a little less intensely. Many don’t fight competitively, preferring to train for their own reasons such as fitness, health and personal safety perhaps. When and if they spar, it’s technical sparring which doesn’t kill you at the end and the level of punishment the body takes simply isn’t the same.

The martial art you choose…

Some martial arts are built with health and longevity in mind. If we look at some of the more esoteric martial arts such as Tai Chi or even some forms of Aikido (I know, I trained Aikido), the movements are more flowing and graceful. Many cite martial arts as a fantastic way to stay healthy, but this really does depend on the martial art you choose!

Enter the shark tank in an MMA gym, have an hour rolling session in BJJ or a hard sparring session and ask yourself at the end if you feel healthy! I’ve even had Aikido sessions where I have thrown up from exertion and the next day every inch of me has been bruised and achy – Thanks Joe Thambu Sensei…

The martial art you choose and it’s main function will often depend if you hit a peak. You don’t see many active 60 year olds in a kickboxing gym, but will see that age practicing Kung Fu or Tai Chi perhaps. Certain martial arts hit a certain demographic and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

So to bring it back to the original point… Should there be an age where you can no longer fight competitively?

Are you fighting competitively now and what’s your plan for the future? Will you do a Tyson and fight until you can’t anymore?

Are you getting older now and has your training adapted and changed as a result?

Are you young and simply wanting to just kill someone in training?!

Let me know!

The Martial View – Joe Thambu Shihan Interview

I was lucky enough to be one of Joe Thambu Sensei’s students while studying Aikido, spending 1 month as a live in student with him at his dojo in Melbourne, Australia.

Joe Sensei began training at aged 11 in his Uncle’s dojo in Malaysia. At an early age he was lucky enough to be exposed to martial arts, and come into contact with high level martial artists such as Donn Draeger. After studying with his uncle, Thamby Rajah, he then moved to Australia and after trying other styles of Aikido and finding they didn’t suit him – he set up the first Yoshinkan school.

In 1993 Joe Sensei tested to 5th Dan under Gozo Shioda Kancho – the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido and was both the youngest non-Japanese to test to that level, and the last to be tested by the Yoshinkan founder.

Now an 8th Dan and head of the Aikido Shudokan. Joe Sensei is know for his speed and dynamic Aikido even at 59 years of age. He talks about his history in Aikido, what a functional martial art really is, and the future of Aikido in the 21st Century and why it has such a bad reputation in some circles.

A man I could spend hours talking to about martial arts (while drinking beer), as I say in the interview, if I lived in Australia and trained with him, I would still be practicing Aikido I think! A man that deserves a huge amount of respect, we are honored to have part one of our interview with Joe Thambu Sensei below.

5 top tips for taking your martial arts business online.

The Covid-19 panic has unfortunately meant that many martial arts instructors around the world have been left in the difficult position of having to close their academies and take our business online.

For some, this is an inconvenience – we’re all martial artists, we want to get to the dojo or academy and we want to train with people and pass on any knowledge we have.

For others however, this is a much more serious problem, as their income and survival depends on their academy and students. For the first time ever, well established and successful martial art schools, through no fault of their own, are facing the possibility of never opening again.

A pretty somber thought right?

We are martial artists however, and when times get tough, we tighten our black belts and solve problems. Determination and success through adversity is what we teach right? Time to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

Let’s look at the positives. 10 or even 15 years ago, we would have been in a much more dire situation. Why? Because the technology wasn’t around for us to reach our students from wherever we were. Before the rise in technology which was a comparatively short time ago, if you wanted to train with someone, you had to physically drive, walk or even catch a plane there! Now however, we have this wonderful thing called the internet and wonderful technology that allows us to reach out to our students and provide them with tuition, even in the crazy times we are now facing.

Many martial artists are already doing this, moving their physical academies to online within a matter of days – and that truly is incredible. Some however are still a little reluctant, or even scared to learn this new skill, and yes it is a new skill! Teaching online is most definitely different to teaching in person where the buzz of the class and atmosphere can raise you up and give you that drive.

For those a little bit reluctant, here are 5 simple tips for taking your martial arts business online and making it a success. These tips are based on what I’m doing at my own academy where we are lucky to have a fantastic community. The vast majority of my students have stayed with me during this crisis and are engaging online with us. Yes because our community is strong, but also because we are providing the right content for both now and when we get back training.

Start off simply…

A big mistake I made when we first moved our academy and business online was doing too much, too soon. I wanted to provide everything for my students and was desperate to keep them when the academy closed. After all, this is my job, it’s my passion and it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. No students = no academy = no income = no training = no happy Dan. See the progression?

Therefore, I immediately went into overdrive, planning everything from kids activities to last 30 days, to adult 30 day challenges, to social events, to live classes, to pre-recorded material, to Instructor training, to Junior Instructor training, to guest sessions and more. The result? I got a lot of half jobs done and very little full jobs completed.

I realized this, and realized I was burning myself out and couldn’t keep going at this pace for the sake of my health and mental well-being, as well as the quality of the lessons I was teaching. So I looked… What is the main thing I want to achieve here?

I want to keep my students happy, keep them progressing, and keep them training on a regular basis. Right, how do I go about that?

I looked at my timetable while we were at the physical academy – what nights were most popular for adults and kids? Tues and Thurs. Okay, so step 1, let’s put on sessions every week for kids and adults Tues and Thurs, keeping the same times as physical classes.

1 live class each on a Tues, and 1 pre-recorded class each week on a Thursday. This will get people training, get them engaged with us, get them used to moving online and also get me used to teaching online.

Start off simply. Don’t try to do everything. Once the Tues and Thurs were in the diary every week, our students were notified and the classes were planned. Only then did I move onto step 2 – offering more. 1 job at a time and keep it simple.

After our first online workout…

Keep it fun and know your worth

With the current climate as it is, we all need a little bit of light relief and fun in our lives. We wake up, read the news, regret reading the news and then spend the day trying to avoid social media posts about 5G turning us all into mutants because Bill Gates is a reptilian lizard man owned by the super rich 1% who want world domination… or something.

We need to lighten the mood, and your online business and classes can be a great way to do that. Keep things light, keep things fun and realize that you are providing a great service in this time. People are craving some semblance of normality right now. People want to be connected to others and your classes are a way of doing this.

Our kids all got invited to join our online superhero training academy when we closed the physical academy. The world needed them to battle the evil Dr Heisenberg (think I was watching Breaking Bad as I designed it…) but they had to go through the superhero online training first. This consisted of weekly workouts, challenges and jobs around the house. See the angle? Keep it fun and entertaining, the kids loved it.

For those already teaching, how many parents or adult students have messaged you thanking you for doing what you’re doing? Whether this is keeping the kids occupied while they do your classes, to providing some stress relief and fun in your adult sessions.

Know your value and realize you’re doing a great job even moving your business online! Many people and businesses still haven’t and are just waiting for this to blow over…

Plan, plan and…. plan

Plan your classes! Especially as you start out! Even if you have been teaching for 30 years physically, teaching someone online who is on their own is a completely different ballgame. Your energy needs to be THROUGH THE ROOF and you need to over plan! Why? Because you need to account for the fact they won’t necessarily be changing partners!

Some people are lucky enough to live with people they train with, awesome, they can pad feed each other, or work through the drill. What about those that live on their own however, or with people who aren’t interested in training? We need to account for these people too and so we need to over plan. The first few classes, you will think the 45 mins or hour has gone by only to look at the clock and find its 20 minutes into the lesson…. shit! Time to get inventive!

Option 1… Huge magnets….
Option 2…. Online classes!

Plan your classes or workouts and over plan if anything, especially as you get used to the online format.

Also, as a side note – test your live classes before you run them! Our first session I got carried away, forgot to look at my clock and we cut out of a zoom meeting after 40 mins right in the middle of a workout. Oooops. Since then I’ve paid to upgrade so I don’t have to clock watch but it was a lesson learnt.

Mix it up!

Mix it up and keep it fun! Add some new concepts or skills you haven’t looked at in class before. Take the time to investigate areas you don’t usually have time for. Go back to the basics for everyone. This is exactly what we did when we first started our online sessions, we went back to the basics.

This meant not only did I as an instructor get to ease myself into the online format, but the students got to revisit some fundamentals on stance, striking, covering etc that perhaps we hadn’t looked at physically for a while.

For the kids, add games, props and activities both during class and after that they can do. Think of a 30 day challenge they have to complete every day. Use props in classes such as a sword they have to virtually jump, duck and bob and weave out the way of as you slash towards the camera. Keep it engaging and it’s not only fun for you, but fun for the students.

Keep the students guessing and interested and engaged. Have a technical session, then next session have a fitness session, then have a grueling pad work/shadow boxing session, followed by a theory session. Mix it up and engage with your students….

Engage with your students!

See how well that followed on!

We need to engage with our students at this time and make sure they are getting what they need from the classes and the sessions. Do they want more fitness? Do they want more technique? Do they want to see less of your face on camera (It’s was a legitimate request)?

Ask them what works for them and what doesn’t. Some of my students wanted more fitness. So we added 3 half hour workouts into our timetable a week. No we have family members who previously had sat and watched classes, actively involved in the workouts with us and helping the kids with their punches. Therefore, guess what, we’re keeping the online workouts when we get back to physically training in the academy!

We now have a full weekly timetable including intro slots for new members to come in for a private 1-1 session. We run live classes for kids, adults and families as well as 3 workouts a week and a stretching class every Sunday taken by my very talented girlfriend all the way from India! Think outside the box and use your imagination.

To sum up…

These can be really difficult times for a number of reasons, but don’t let your online business and academy be one of them. Keep it simple and built up. Don’t overthink it, just get your students moving and having fun. You are all amazing at that I’m sure, so just translate it to online. Once you’ve got that sorted, think outside the box as to what else you could do at this time. How about social events for the adults who are no longer at work, but are at home with their kids all day? Maybe they need some adult time so suggest a virtual night at the pub for your members! Quizzes, or video challenges work great and really engages people. Think what you would find fun, and do it! Chances are your students will find it fun too.

So go, enjoy and let’s hope it’s not too long before we’re back training at our physical academies but keeping some element of online business maybe! The man to talk to on moving your business online is Matt Chapman and you can see our interview with him on online training here

The Martial View – `MittMaster` Interview

Okay then folks! Here we are, our 2nd official interview since relaunching this blog with the MittMaster himself, Matthew Chapman.

When the Covid-19 reared it’s ugly head, a lot of businesses were caught with their pants down – martial artists included. We were suddenly faced with the prospect of having to close down our physical locations indefinitely!

What to do? There were 2 options. Get online and offer remote training, or wait for it all to blow over and rely on the goodwill of your students to keep paying their fees – not ideal.

Luckily, the majority of people have now moved online – interestingly even some who have previously been so vocal in their disdain for online training! Needs must right?

One man who has been advocating the need for online training for literally YEARS is founder of MittMaster, Matthew Chapman. We’ve reviewed MittMaster products before, and are a big fan and I’ve trained with Matthew a number of times. A completely legit martial artist with fantastic skills and undefeated MMA champ, Matt has now moved his martial arts completely online! He offers training for students and instructors in a number of different areas including:

  • JKD
  • Boxing
  • Kickboxing
  • MMA
  • Self Defence
  • Filipino boxing

He is now helping other instructors get online through his community – Teach Your Passion Online and I know that many instructors, myself included are incredibly thankful for his help and support in this difficult time.

Therefore, who better to talk to about online training and the future of it?

He’s always been a big supporter of the blog and it’s always fantastic to catch up and chat with this man, so thanks Matt and enjoy everyone!

`Brutal Bouncer`- The Martial View Interviews Russell Jarmesty!

We’re starting off with a bang for our Martial View videos blogs now. We’ve set up our Martial View YouTube Channel! Have a brand new shiny Facebook page as well as our group and are full steam ahead for some fantastic interviews in the next couple of weeks including Peter Consterdine, Bob Breen, Joe Thambu and Matthew Chapman!

Our first interview since the relaunch is with a man who doesn’t really need an introduction! One of the main men in the self defence scene, a man who honed his skills on the doors of Manchester’s nightclubs. It’s Russell Jarmesty.

Russ began training in Karate when he was younger, before seeking out something that was more functional for him and finding the fantastic Trevor Roberts. After breaking his neck training, his fight career was put to an end, and so he instead tested his skills on Manchester’s doors. 1 year turned to two, which eventually turned into 15 years of experience in real life violence. He now runs Jarmesty Martial Arts Academy, based in Atherton, Manchester, teaching applied martial arts and MMA.

Never one to shy away or speak his mind, Russ is well known in the martial arts industry and in the interview below we discuss the state of martial arts, his history, times on the doors and much much more! When this man speaks on personal safety and self defence, we listen! Enjoy folks and be sure to subscribe to us on YouTube and email as well as giving us a follow on social media!

New Martial Arts YouTube Channel and Interview Time!

I am really excited to be relaunching the martial arts blog in the midst of all this Covid-19 chaos and it’s been great to have support from some fantastic martial artists, instructors and individuals who have agreed to be interviewed by moi! We’ll be posting these interviews on our new YouTube channel – and once things get moving again hopefully doing some home visits, training and video blogs too! So get subscribed to us at The Martial View on YouTube!

This week I’ll be interviewing:

Russell Jarmesty – Jarmesty Martial Arts and Brutal Bouncer
Matthew Chapman – MittMaster
Joe Thambu – Shudokan Aikido Australia.

Their names should be familiar with many, but here is a run down of their martial arts experiences for those that aren’t aware!

Russell Jarmesty

  • Russell was featured on the cover and pages of Martial Arts Illustrated “Self-Defence Special Editions”
  • Winner of numerous awards at the British Martial Arts Awards
  • Interviewed previously for Martial Master Volume 1
  • Inducted into the Martial Arts Illustrated Hall of Fame in 2012, 2013 and 2014 due to his continued work and commitment in the field of martial arts.
  • Worked as a doorman in Greater Manchester for 15 years, which has influenced his training methods incorporating ‘applied’ self-defence into his training syllabus.
  • Has taught in the local area for over 20 years, with over 200 students actively training each week.
  • One of the UK’s most sought after Self-Defence Coaches, looking after many celebrities including the one and only Frank Bruno
  • Holds Dan grades in Karate and Jujutsu
  • Teaches practical applied Jujutsu and street techniques and coaches kickboxing and MMA competitors
  • Teachers include the great Trevor Roberts (8th Dan Hanshi)

Matthew Chapman

  • Training in martial arts over 30 years
  • Undefeated ex-MMA competitor.
  • Experience in JKD, Kickboxing, Muay Thai and Ghost among many other systems
  • Coach and author
  • Owner of MittMaster
  • Owner of Teach your Passion Online

Joe Thambu Shihan

  • Began training in 1972 under his Uncle in Yoshinkan Aikido.
  • Studied Kendo, Jodo and Ju-Jitsu before establishing the first Yoshinkan Aikido dojo in Australia.
  • Tested to 5th Degree black belt in 1993 under Soke Shioda Gozo, the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido, and was the youngest non-Japanese to receive this grade at the time.
  • Worked as a doorman in Melbourne nightclubs for a number of years.
  • In 1997 received the Blitz magazine Hall of Fame Aikido Instructor of the Year award.
  • In 2005 received the award for the best demonstration at the 50th All Japan Yoshinkan Aikido Demonstration.
  • Awarded 8th Degree black belt in November 2015 by Inoue Kyoichi Kancho, 10th Dan and founder of the Aikido Shudokan.

Has Covid-19 changed the Martial Arts forever?

I’ll be honest everyone… I’m a little concerned right now and the reason for this is Covid-19…

I’ll be the first to admit that 5 or 6 weeks ago, I was definitely in the “corona-what” camp. The mindset of it’s no worse than the flu, it will all blow over in a few weeks and we were making a big deal out of nothing. I’ll also be the first to admit that I was proven wrong as time went on…

There is no doubt that the Corona pandemic will go down as a moment in history. This is the biggest world problem since the end of the second world war and those who are not a little concerned, no matter what the reason, must be living a different day to day life than the majority of us.

The health risks are for sure, very real, and potentially very scary, but the economic uncertainty is also at the forefront of people’s mind – and rightly so.

Nearly everyone has been affected by Covid-19 in some way. This could be personally, through contracting the virus, or knowing someone who has, or financially through the furloughing or jobs, or closing of non-essential business. The topics, debate and implications of Covid-19 could easily be a never-ending blog site in itself, but this is a martial arts blog and so the topic must obviously be how this industry has been affected and may even be in 2 parts! Let’s see how badly I word vomit all over this blog post!

Covid-19

On Friday 20th March 2020, the UK government announced the closure of all restaurants, pubs, non-essential shops and gyms in order to try to contain the spread of Coronavirus. For some martial arts instructors, this was a shock, for others, it was only a matter of time.

In my own academy, we had been expecting this and so had made every effort to film our pre-recorded content, establish our online members group and keep all our students in the know about the next steps. Some instructors however, were most definitely caught with their pants down when this happened.

Regardless of this however, as an industry, I feel we should be incredibly proud of ourselves in how we have managed our schools, adapted to the situation and in most cases, made the best out of a really crap situation.

After all, is this not what being a black belt is about? Is this not what we try to teach and instill in our students? Overcoming adversity, adapting to change, staying positive and focusing on solutions rather than problems. Time to practice what we preach perhaps!

In a matter of maybe a few days or a week, the vast majority of professional martial arts academies had moved their schools online. Needs must. We all love being at the academy, we love interacting with the students face to face, and we love the atmosphere of a busy class. This is no longer possible right now though, so what do we do?

There is no other option. Either give up and wait for it all to pass, hoping on the goodwill of the students to keep you afloat. Or up your game and serve your students the best you can – online.

Online training is something I have been looking at, admittedly for a number of years, but have never really prioritized, preferring to build a physical academy before focusing on a virtual one. I also questioned to what efficacy martial arts could really be taught online and I know this was (and for some still is) a major concern.

Before the crisis, virtual/online training and academies were almost sneered at within the martial arts community. Words like “selling out”, “mcdojo” and “lowering of standards” often came up, not all the time, but definitely some of the time. I admit that, I myself even struggled to see how people could effectively learn martial arts online.

Respected martial artists I knew were heading for the online platform model or were already well established – most notably Matthew Chapman, who sold his bricks and mortar school and now runs completely online through his fantastic Mittmaster courses – several of which I have purchased and regularly use (insert shameless backlink to a review I did of his stuff…here). He is now helping other instructors launch their products online with great success through his Teach Your Passion Online page – something I’m sure we are all very grateful for during the Covid-19 pandemic.

And so my question is – will this pandemic change the face of Martial Arts forever?

For some – online training is a tool to be used at the moment when there is no other option. As soon as they get given the go ahead, they’ll be straight back into the dojo/academy and Zoom classes will be a distant and painful memory.

Others however, myself included, are seeing this as a possibly new way of ADDING to our physical locations. I still have reservations that you can learn martial arts from scratch as a white belt – purely online. I think as already experienced instructors/martial artists, online training can supplement our own training. It can give us new concepts or ideas to work with and new material to teach, but to learn purely online, from white to black grade, may be a stretch I personally feel.

Adding an online element to our existing academies however, I feel is a fantastic way to provide value to our students and also show we are moving with the times. The owner of G Force Martial Arts Academy, and business coach Gordon Burcham is world class at picking up on new trends and establishing them in his business to great success. Online training is a great example of this. He has a PHENOMENAL full time academy, which he has now moved online, booking new 1-1 intros online, providing value, and ensuring people still benefit from the many benefits of martial arts.

I think that now is the time when martial arts are needed the most. Kids are at home, bored and perhaps needing some structure, discipline and exercise. Adults are also at home, raiding the fridge, midday drinking because the sun is out and gradually expanding! This is where our online training can help both physically and mentally during Covid-19 and lockdown.

Physically to release some endorphins or feel good hormones, as well as lose some weight and learn some new skills! Mentally, to feel a part of something bigger than just the confines of your own four walls. Connecting with people has never been more important than it is at the moment and this is a great medium for this – even if it is online!

Can we or should we grade online? Personally, I think not. I know my classes have been far more fitness based than technique in our online classes.

Firstly because even though technology is a great thing and the students can see me and I can see them, some aspects of martial arts, you simply need to feel and be there physically for. Secondly, although a purely technical class can be good and is definitely needed, it simply doesn’t release the same feel good vibes as a high intensity class. You don’t leave a technical class sweating but smiling. You may have learned something, but this is more for the further advanced grades. At the moment, I feel people need to sweat, smile and feel they’ve worked hard.

It’s up to each individual school owner to decide the best way forward for their academy in these unprecedented times and no-one can judge I feel. For me though, a grade needs to be earned in person. You need the nerves, the adrenaline, the pressure which I feel may be lacking in your living room while your mum, dad, brother, partner etc is cooking breakfast in the kitchen next door!

Can online martial arts training have a place both now and in the future however? Most definitely and I would argue that online training is not only viable right now, but also completely necessary. In part 2, we’ll question what will happen when this pandemic ends (and it will end people). We’ll ask some leaders in the field their thoughts on the future and what the next few months hold and who knows, maybe we’ll try for some video interviews too if people are up for it!

For my own sanity I’ll be looking to reconnect with some martial artists I know around the world at this time and relaunch this blog which I let drift a little in the past year or so. The Covid-19 crisis seems to be a perfect opportunity for this so here goes! If you have any thoughts, feelings, ideas or things you’d like to discuss, feel free to get in touch.

We don’t know when, but we will be back punching each other and we’ll remember the Covid-19 Spring of 2020 when we all got told to sit indoors and save the world.

Stay safe everyone.

Is hierarchy destroying the Martial Arts?

A system of hierarchy is something that the Martial Arts, and especially traditional Martial Arts, are built upon. While the elusive and often coveted Black Belt (gasp, oooh, ahhh) should not be the main goal of training, it is often a useful motivational tool for those who struggle with self-discipline and attending class, especially after the initial high of learning a new Martial Art has worn off. So while hierarchy, or belts and levels can be a fantastic tool within the Martial Arts, there are also some drawbacks which are often overlooked or not address.

Levels or grades can be intimidating for those just beginning in the arts.

I am sure we all remember our first ever martial arts class – walking in to a sea of white pajamas, feeling completely out of place and wondering why the hell you walked through the front door in the first place. Let’s face it. Walking in to a room full of people willingly kicking, punching and throwing each other about, and agreeing to participate when you have no clue what you’re doing – can be a little scary.

Of course, those of us that teach know this and should instantly make the new person feel super welcome. We should let them know there is nothing to worry about and that we won’t go in to full on sparring until at least week two right…?

It can still be a little scary however, and the presence of colored belts or grades adds to this intensity. The black belts are the ones to be avoided at all costs as they are basically ninjas and you can just stand at the side of the class with the other white belts, desperately trying to remember your left and right as a fully grown man or woman. All while doing your best to ensure you don’t make a nasty stain in your beautiful new white gi bottoms…

At no time is this more prevalent than at major seminars. I have been lucky enough to attend a number of seminars with high ranking instructors in various martial arts and often saw the instructors gathered together. Black and brown belts together, and then lower grades together, both in training and socially after.

In training at these events, if you can pluck up the courage to ask a brown or black belt to train with you as a beginner, this can be a big deal, but I remember seeing the disappointment on their face at being paired with a lower grade. The clock watching from them began and you could tell, they just weren’t feeling it. This obviously left me… and I’m sure other beginners, feeling a little dejected! I seemed to be an annoyance and someone holding them back from really achieving the maximum in their training, and this happened on a number of occasions, not just with myself, but with many other lower grades I talked to. Black belts trained with the black belts and the white belts trained together slowly mastering the art of putting one foot in front of the other without falling over from nerves.

This seemed an unspoken rule but saying this I have been to other seminars where the visiting instructor has actively encouraged the senior grades to train with the lower grades for a while, before then training with someone equal in terms of experience. This does however, seem the minority, not the majority.

This – as stated above, also translated to hierarchy off the mats at the socials afterwards. The post training beer at the local boozer and meal would see a similar situation. Instructors and high ranking students sitting on a table together, laughing, joking and drinking. While lower students would often be on a separate table, missing out on the experiences and stories from the high ranking instructor’s years in the arts. It seemed as though this almost had to be earned in a way – an almost VIP to hang around with the cool kids!

Is this the way it should be?

Levels or grades can lead to some delusions of grandeur.

We have all done it and all been there. The new “black belt dickhead”. You’ve just got your black belt, you think you’re the dog’s danglies. You walk into the dojo, chest out, head high, smiling and nodding to all the stupid lower grades that know jack shit.

This could last a day, a week, a month, but at some point – you will realize. You are not the dog’s danglies, your head will go down, your chest will sink in and you will realize you are that dickhead you took the piss out of when you were a white belt. The guy who thinks he knows it all!

For some this can take quite a long time to realize. For others, they have yet to realize…

But in terms of the arts, this can be an issue. As a black belt, you instantly want to start teaching and imparting the knowledge you have acquired. But here’s the thing. It may not be all that good!

Sure you have a black belt. But that just means you have put the hours in and know the techniques/requirements to pass the grade. Oh my friend, the journey is just beginning ad you have such a long way to go until you are ready to impart the knowledge you think you are capable of!

Sure you can help out with some basics, but trying to teach too much too soon can just be more detrimental than anything. You can teach bad habits which then need to be un-learnt by the student. Or, heaven forbid, you teach something that is completely the opposite or in contradiction to what your instructor is trying to convey, be it in a class or seminar.

For some, black belt means you are ready to teach and nearly at the end of your journey, this is completely the wrong attitude and can be a problem with having this hierarchical nature in the martial arts – especially the traditional ones.

At the end of the day, we are all just students

We are all just students of the martial arts at the end of the day, whether you have been training for one month or for 10 years, you still want to just improve yourself and learn more. The best teachers and martial artists are those that continue to learn even though they are considered by many to be at the very top of their game. An excellent example of this can be Guro Dan Inosanto. In an interview done with one of his top students – the legendary Bob Breen in my book Martial Masters Volume 1 – Bob talks about Dan’s day to day routine and how he is constantly on the go and learning new arts, be it in striking or ground such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu!

Hierarchy can sometimes hinder this when we think we have reached the illustrious black belt, we can rest on our laurels and chill. This should be where the training really ramps up, test what you know, evolve it, develop it and make the style uniquely your own – Bruce Lee Style.

How many of us truly do this however, and how many of us simply think we know what we are doing now all due to the fact we now have a different colored bit of cloth around our waste? We all unfortunately have an ego, and we all like it when that ego is massaged, especially on the mats.

The traditional martial arts can be a great place to have your ego massaged as once you reach black belt you are sometimes placed on a pedestal and thought to have more knowledge than others. This is fine until it’s tested and if you can back up the goods, awesome, if not. Your ego may be a little bruised rather than massaged.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a great example here of an art that has adapted more to this hierarchical system through competition. Any newbie walking into a new BJJ class should know that they will be tapped out… a lot. It is part of the process and keeps your ego in check from the get go.

Even at black belt level, competitors still compete or even just roll with their students, and it takes one mistake to be caught in a submission and realize that you are not invincible and some sort of black belt demi-god! Sure you should be tapped out WAY less than a white belt, but it can still happen! Yet how many traditional martial arts have this same mentality where the instructor is shown to be a mere human?!

For me, martial arts are about ego checking and we often tell our students to leave their ego’s at the door when they train. How many instructors follow through with this too however…?

Always interested to hear your thoughts… Let me know!

Why Aikido has lost its relevance…

It’s been a while guys I know and I apologise for this! It’s been a busy time building my business and just general life along with a lack of inspiration for posts recently, but we’re back and you can start seeing more from The Martial View again.

I was scrolling through Facebook a few days ago as I tend to do along with most of the global population when I saw that Steven Seagal was coming to my hometown of Lincoln for an evening with event…

Intriguing I thought and although I’ve never been a huge fan of his personally I thought I’d read on and see what people thought…

Wow that guy is not popular haha! So many derogatory comments on him as a person, his films and also him as a martial artist. This got me thinking… Why has Aikido become in a way, the laughing stock of the martial arts?

I’m a big fan of the art, having studied it for over 20 years and holding a 3rd Degree black belt in Yoshinkan Aikido but that doesn’t mean that I also can’t see its (eek, many) limitations! But just when did Aikido go from being a well practiced and respected martial art to losing it’s credibility and more importantly, why did this occur?

Did it all go wrong? If so – where?

Steven Seagal Aikido

The founder of Aikido – Morihei Ueshiba was born in 1883 and died in 1969. A passionate martial artist, he mastered the arts of Daito Ryu Aikijiujitsu, as well as Ken Jitsu (Sword) and Jo Jitsu (Staff) as well as being a deeply religious and spiritual man, following the practices of the Omoto Kyu and it’s founder Onisaburo Deguchi. This martial influence, combined with his spiritual beliefs, led to the development of what would become Aikido.

When Aikido was first being developed, it was a highly sought after and popular martial art in Japan. Indeed you had to have two referrals from current students in order to study, and many famous martial artists from other styles regularly came to the Hombu Dojo to train with Ueshiba Sensei.

Morihei Ueshiba Aikido
A young Morihei Ueshiba

To understand what changed, it’s important to look at the roots of Aikido and therefore Daito Ryu Aikijiujitsu. Jiu-Jitsu as an art was originally developed by the Samurai to defend themselves in battle if they lost their weapon and therefore focused on the weak points of the body when armor was being worn. However, when the Samurai class was disbanded in 1868, jiu-jitsu and other martial arts began to be seen as distinctly uncool and irrelevant to society as a whole.

Many martial arts teachers at that time then ceased to practice their art finding it impractical yet there were a few exceptions – one of whom was Jigoro Kano who not only started to practice Jiu-Jitsu but mastered it and developed it to fit a more modern era, and hence Judo was born.

Jigoro Kano – Founder of Judo

Kano competed against many other styles of Jiu-Jitsu, consistently winning and showing its ability as a martial art not to be messed with, so much so that he sent his top students across the seas to the USA where there was no Donald Trump and so the Japanese were free to come and show the martial art of Judo in various competitions.

In 1914, Judo hit Brazil and in 1917, one Carlos Gracie was introduced to Jiu-Jitsu and I’m sure you can see where this is going…

Carlos continued to study Jiu-Jitsu and pass it on to his brothers, one of whom was Helio Gracie, who, as a skinny child, was unable to perform many of the techniques required of him. This led him to adapt the techniques to overcome his physical boundaries and hence the foundations of what we now see as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) emerged. This art was so effective it led the Gracie brothers to start hosting a no holds barred competition, style vs style called Vale Tudo where they cleaned up at competitions! When they went to promote this style in the USA, the name Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emerged to differentiate between the traditional Japanese style.

Then 1993 happened which I am sure we are all aware was the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event. This aimed to pit style against style, striker vs grappler, striker vs sumo, sumo vs the salad bar etc etc and see which art would come out on top. Guess what – Royce Gracie smashed through the competition and BJJ was crowned victorious.

How fair the contest was is now in debate after the video below from legend Bill Superfoot Wallace aired a few home truths after he commentated on the first UFC, but no-one can doubt that BJJ is a functional martial art for sports and competition and was a main influence on the development of what is now known as MMA combining striking, wrestling and grappling.

Hence function and applicability became the basis of modern MMA and martial arts in today’s society.

And this folks, is where Aikido loses its relevance. The founder O Sensei, as already said was a deeply spiritual man and therefore disapproved of any form of competition, preferring to see Aikido as a way of uniting people together, rather than seeing who is the victor and who is the loser. A lovely sentiment I’m sure we can all agree – but a little tricky to navigate in the martial arts world…

Hence Aikido failed to develop through competition. It failed to be tested and therefore evolve through it’s weak points and even in training, partners work together to make the techniques work with very little if any active sparring or real resistance bar a few schools/instructors that do offer this. Aikido is steeped in tradition and spirituality which is exactly what the founder wanted, but does leave it open to criticism today as it has never truly been tested. Many of the top teachers also failed to develop themselves after the founder’s passing, wanting to respect and preserve the art he had developed. Some went off to study more of the spiritual side such as Koichi Tohei who practiced Ki Aikido otherwise known as Jedi Aikido…

Whereas others looked at more dynamic, precise and arguably more practical Aikido such as Shioda Gozo who developed Yoshinkan Aikido that was taught to the Japanese Riot Police and looked less at spirituality and rather body mechanics of putting yourself in a strong position, while putting your opponent in a weak one.

The problem still remains however that Aikido is steeped in Japanese tradition, even down to the way the techniques are practiced. As you can see from the video above, strikes are given willingly and usually pre-arranged as well as being traditional sword strikes e.g. Shomen Uchi (front strike), Yokomen Uchi (side strike) etc. Do they have power? Most certainly and just one look at Yoshinkan Aikido and the video above and I’m sure anyone can see the power as well as the evidence from knockouts in videos. Yet rarely do we see these techniques being applied in a real context to any great effect without the use of Hollywood effects and a certain Aikido practitioner with a pony tail, inflated ego and delusions of grandeur.

So

There are of course exceptions to the rule and I have been fortunate enough to train with some fantastic Aikido Sensei’s, most of whom also have experience of other martial arts however or at least train with others who also study other arts. These are the guys that are able to make Aikido work for them and adapt it to a real situation in terms of self defence. They arent stuck in tradition, but respect the art. They also understand however, that Aikido needs to evolve with the times if it is to stay relevant or risk becoming simply a way of staying healthy, much like Tai Chi has become to many, rather than a martial system.

Maybe it is time to see the roots of Aikido i.e. Jiu-Jitsu applied in a more realistic setting? Do wrist locks, shoulder locks etc work in the street? Arguably yes. But how? How many people grab your wrist in a street? How can you apply a wrist lock against a fully resisting opponent really wanting to hurt you?

Maybe this is what we need to see more of if Aikido is to be relevant…

Watch this space…

3 Tips (and a bonus one) For Teaching and Learning!

Teach me, master!

Master?

Where art thou, master?

That is the question!

Who do you learn from when you “move out” of your home dojo and open up your own school? Do you have to quit training in order to become a teacher? Say it ain’t so!

Well, good. Because it ain’t so.

Aside from the typical get up early/stay up late and make time to train, there are plenty of ways for you to improve your martial skills. And just as many, if not more, reasons for you to do so.

Let’s cover some of the important reasons for you to keep up with your training:

  • Your students get to improve more due to your increased ability and capabilities
  • You can teach better because your understanding of what you teach improves further
  • You can better relate to the students because you remain a student yourself

With all these great reasons under our black belt, let’s dive into how we go about it.

1) Train WITH your students!

I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t always possible. It is an excellent option if possible though.

If you are doing a drill where they are partnered together, you can grab a partner as well.

If they are doing something on your count, face them (or the mirrors if you have them) and do it too. Especially if it is an exercise or warm up drill.

Again, depending on the difficulty of what you are working, the skill level of your students, and the size of the class, you might not be able to do this. It’s easier for the students to make mistakes that slip by unnoticed if you aren’t able to be walking around the mat.

A major benefit about doing this is that it shows the students how the exercise or movement should be performed though.

Thing is…it forces you to be honest. As honest as a ganguro girl without any makeup. Your students get to see your skills, the good ones and the bad ones.

They get to see you sweat and realize that you aren’t a god.

If you are a good teacher, hopefully you will realize that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

2) Activate “Challenge Mode”!

Let’s use sparring as an example.

Maybe you are a tournament sparring competitor and you don’t want to get rusty.

You can always work with some of the students afterwards if you couldn’t train during class without losing focus on the student’s learning and safety. There are often students that don’t mind sticking around a little longer (sometimes even a lot longer) after class has finished, especially if it means working directly with the sensei and getting the chance to further improve.

Now the question is how can you seriously improve your sparring (or any other skill) when paired with a beginner student or someone else below your skill level?

Easy! Do you play video games?

When you complete a video game, are you done? Not really. Y’see, good games have something called replay value. Even when you “finish”, there is still lots more to learn, er, I mean do! Everything from a harder difficulty setting to knocking out that high score or best time.

In sparring, you can do the same. I’m not saying you use this as the time to turn part-shark and chow down on fresh meat. Rather, I recommend you use this time to train smarter, rather than harder. Focus on technical improvements.

  • You can try to primarily use one hand for offense and defense
  • Use evasion and footwork instead of blocks and redirections
  • Use blocks and redirections instead of evasion and footwork
  • Work in a different range than you are used to
  • Force yourself to be unorthodox and fight with your bad leg forward
  • Use the round to explore how to utilize new tactics
  • Use only your worst techniques and try to refine them

It is important to remember your goal is not to win the match but rather to learn.

3) Get to know your local martial artists!

Listen to your mom and “go out and makes some friends!”

If the problem is that it is no longer feasible to consistently train with your teacher because of distance, then look to the people near you. If there is a Muay Thai gym nearby, converse with the Kru. If it is a Kung Fu school, speak to the Sifu.

Get together with the other local martial artists to talk about tactics and training. Give a little, get a little.

There are too many times where teachers will ignore or even diss other schools. That is called having an ego, one of the most detrimental things to your growth as a martial artist and a living and learning human being.

To grow and learn something new means admitting you didn’t know something previously.

Ego has no place in a martial artist, especially not within a teacher.

3.5) Stick with it!

This. Is. Important! I can’t stress this enough.

You are blessed with one of humanities greatest professions: teaching.

And the fact that it is not just about surviving skills, but also life skills…

The fact that it can extend to all ages and ethnicities, that it can be taught to either gender…

The fact that it is sharing your passion and what you have dedicated a good portion of your life to

That is something to never to forget.

Teaching martial arts will help your own personal improvements and the longer you stick with it, the further those improvements extend. It’s taking the things the martial arts naturally taught you when you were only a student (discipline, courage, self defense, confidence, interpersonal skills, philosophy, body movements, control over yourself, etc.) and makes you learn them all over again, this time from the other side of the mat.

At least, as long as you sincerely keep up with it. If you give up, obviously you lose those benefits. Not cool.

Golden rule to avoid teacher burnout? Have a passion and remember why you have it.

Enjoy what you do and never regret it! There will be days where you are dead tired and maybe class didn’t go as you hoped and planned it would. That’s ok. You’re ok.

The journey to where you are right now was never easy. If it were, everybody would have a black belt  and teach classes (McDojo’s excluded) 

Why expect things to get easy now? Always remember that just because it’s tough, doesn’t mean it’s impossible though.

Now you need to know EVERY technique, movement, and concept inside and out, because not everybody’s going to be able to learn or use them the same as you.

Now you need to be ready to answer questions you never even thought about before.

But now you get to fulfill the role your teacher had and experience what they did.

Enjoy it and learn from it as they did.

About the author…

Hi! My name is Cup of Kick!
I know what you are thinking and no, that’s not the name that you’ll find in my school yearbook. It is the name I go by for the purpose of martial arts blogging though. I am simply a martial artist. Now, if you are thinking “That’s it? Why should I trust this dude/dudette?” then that is good! Excellent even. The answer is…you shouldn’t trust me. I could say I’m a master martial artist with black belts in five different arts and 1st place trophies from many world tournaments who has been at it for fifty plus
years. But I’m not. Don’t just instantly take my words in as the gospel. Do your research. Do your OWN thinking. I’m just Cup of Kick