Last Sunday I was lucky enough to attend the Martial Artists Supporting Children with Cancer charity event at the awesome Twin Tigers Dojo in Scunthorpe organised by Lucci Del-Gaudio of Combat Ju-Jitsu in Nottingham. The event was attended by well over 60 people and numerous self defence styles and martial arts were on offer such as Jeet Kune Do with Rob Jarvis, Urban Krav Maga and Empower Self Defence. The event was for a fantastic cause and it was great to see instructors from different backgrounds and styles all teaching and training on the mat together, without any politics or differences in opinion, showing that this can happen!
The event was the third of it’s kind with others in Basingstoke and Walsall, and more are planned for the future, with locations including Leicester, Nottingham and Lincoln. I’d highly recommend getting down to one of these events as there are so many different styles on offer, new people to train with and just a generally awesome atmosphere for a generally awesome cause! Cohesion in the martial arts for a worthy cause such as this one is to be commended and goes to show that martial artists and self defence instructors from different areas and styles can work together and showcase their styles, free from politics when needed!
Follow Martial Artists Supporting Children with Cancer on Facebook here and if you want to donate, feel free to at the Just Giving website found here
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!
Relatively speaking, there is still relatively few who choose to dedicate their lives to studying martial arts and self defence. In terms of sports, many choose more mainstream past times such as football, rugby or cricket as supposed to Judo, Aikido or MMA and so what makes some people choose to study the martial arts? On top of this, do some people naturally have the killer instinct, technique, athleticism and timing needed to succeed in martial arts, or is this again something that can be taught over time? Can someone who has studied martial arts all of their life be superseded by someone naturally inclined to the martial arts in a relatively short period of time?
Many people fall into the martial arts by accident, seeing an advertisement for a class regardless of style in a local hall and deciding to either give it a go for themselves, or being made to go by their parents. I began Karate at aged 6 after my parents saw it advertised at a local hall. After a few years I moved on to Aikido and now continue to do this, having also studied MMA, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu and KFM for varying degrees of time. I feel that martial arts are a massive part of my life now and want to learn as much as possible from everyone that I can. I wonder however, what would have happened if I hadn’t gone to that first Karate class? Would I still be writing this and be as heavily involved in the martial arts as I am? Was I naturally more inclined to the martial arts than to sports such as football which I have very little interest in?
Me aged 9
Me aged 23
Martial arts – a lifelong pursuit
I believe that the traits of martial artists such as patience, courage and humility are natural and made better through the right instructors. Martial arts are a lifelong pursuit and one that is never perfected, and for many this is a difficult thing to comprehend. To play football, rugby or other such sports certainly takes skill and athleticism, yet a lifelong pursuit it is not. Many martial artists stop when they reach black belt, thinking that the goal has been reached, the illustrious black belt has been attained, yet for those committed to the martial arts, this is simply one step up a very long flight of stairs, one that you are unlikely to reach the top of.
Natural athleticism and timing certainly play a part in the martial arts as well. Those more naturally athletic will be able to copy and reproduce moves far quicker than those that are less fit or supple. As with everything in life, some people have to put very little work into something to be very good at it, while others have to work very hard to achieve half that skill level. This can be said of the martial arts in some respects and to learn martial arts is a personal journey, one that the instructor can only guide you on. An instructor can teach you the movements, forms or techniques used, but the individual has to take this teaching a step further, investigating movements for themselves, seeing what works for them and what doesn’t to make the martial art personal and effective for them. For many, this is too difficult a task and once the moves have been spoon fed in, no further study is thought to be needed, leading to one dimensional techniques that lack power, control or intelligence.
The martial arts are unique in the fact that they are a lifelong pursuit that you can constantly improve upon. Numerous 7th, 8th and 9th degree black belts I have spoken to over the years still say how they are learning and that every lesson they teach shows them something new. They admit they will never achieve perfection in the martial arts, and for some this makes the martial arts difficult to study. To others however, we see this as a challenge and wish to learn as much as we can, from everyone we can in order to be the best well rounded martial artist we can be, even though we know perfection will never be achieved. Some people are more driven into the martial arts due to their personality traits such as patience and humility, as well as natural ability, but these traits and abilities can also be developed and harnessed through the training of martial arts. Martial arts are a lifelong pursuit and one in which we never stop learning, and this for me is the best thing about training in the martial arts.
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Ukemi or breakfalling is arguably one of the most important skills to master in Aikido and the martial arts in general. From the very first time we enter an Aikido school and our very first class, we are working with a partner and so need to breakfall. This is different to some other martial arts where the first few classes are spent practising form or certain strikes. Aikido, day one you work with a partner and so the need to breakfall correctly is of paramount importance.
The back fall
Aikido at first looks at the back fall breakfall used in techniques such as shihonage where you are taken down in a certain way so as to end up on your back. Protecting the head and back is of critical importance here, and ukemi is built up slowly so that we can take progressively harder and harder falls without hurting ourselves. The neck is tucked in to prevent the head hitting and bouncing off the mat, and the knees are bent to ensure you land butt first, not back first which will just knock the wind out of you.
When we are comfortable with this breakfall, we step it up a notch and progress to the high backfall, mostly used during dynamic jiyu waza techniques such as irimi tsuki and irimi nage. Here the legs are kicked up to head level to take the high breakfall, and the impact is dissipated in the shoulders and arm you use to break the fall with. The key component in the high breakfall is controlling the legs. If the legs are controlled and together at the time of doing the fall, the rest of the body can be controlled, and so the impact is minimal. Conversely, if the legs are separated, it can be difficult to control the rest of the body and the impact may be taken on the back or even worse the neck. Below is a demonstration of high back falling at around 1 minute 40.
The forward roll
In terms of forward rolling, Aikido employs a kind of sideways forward breakfall whereby we roll up the arm to the shoulder, and from the shoulder to the opposite hip in a diagonal line down the back, avoiding the spine. This is different to traditional gymnastics rolls where the roll is taken over the head and down the spine. Due to the nature of Aikido it is possible to throw people very hard using the hips, and so taking ukemi over the spine is not recommended for impact. Progressing on from this we look at the flipfall, again used in jiyu waza or techniques such as kotegaeshi. The flipfall is in many ways an aerial forward roll with the impact being taken on the arm we use to break the fall.
The clip below illustrates the power in the throws and the need to be able to fall correctly, as well as demonstrating the backfall, high backfall and flipfall breakfall as used in Aikido techniques.
Protect the body, build the body
Break falling correctly can help us protect the body, but can also help us to build the body. While recently teaching Aikido at a secondary school I was amazed to find how many of the students of only 13 or 14 years old couldn’t complete a simple forward roll due to lack of strength and coordination. Rolling and break falling helps to build core muscles that protect the spine, as well as developing coordination, fitness and agility. Simple break falling practice can build the body in a number of ways as well as protecting it and so is crucial to the development of children in my opinion.
Falling correctly and making this second nature can help in everyday life. How often do we hear of people falling down the stairs and breaking and arm or leg? Could this have been prevented if someone had an idea of how to fall properly without injuring themselves? Also in terms of self defence, many fights end up on the ground and so if taken down we need to be able to protect the head, shoulders and limbs. In sport martial arts such as MMA or Judo, take downs are key component and so before being taught to take down and throw, practitioners are taught how to breakfall. This allows us to increase in confidence with our ability to fall properly. In everyday life, a flipfall or high back fall may not be useful, but the principles it teaches, and the way it allows us to comfortably take a breakfall, protecting the major areas may one day save us from serious injury. Due to this, I believe ukemi or breakfalling is key to any martial arts training, as well as just training in everyday life. Breakfalling must focus on a strong core and form to begin with, then gradually built up, introducing new falls from different angles, or faster falls that you perhaps weren’t expecting. When we can comfortably fall from a technique or throw where we don’t know where we are going, this is surely a good sign that our training has allowed us to process and absorb the form, and so if we ever need to break a fall in real life, our training may instinctively kick in.
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.