Cultivating the `Martial Mindset`

How do we cultivate a martial mindset? People are struggling right now and our industry has been one of the hardest hit. For instructors who’s sole ambition and aim was to run a full time martial arts facility – these are exceptionally testing times. We can of course, move our classes online, but nothing will ever replace the feeling of training at a gym or academy with people, and let’s face it – we teach martial arts, we require physical contact!

I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the past year or so, both personally, and through the blog and chats for the podcast and I have to say – things feel a little different at the moment. At the start of the pandemic there was some uncertainty, but there was also some optimism and ingenuity going on. Some instructors I spoke to were feeling slightly fatigued from running their academies, and used the closing down as a kind of reset. Others used the closing of their academies to focus on other projects such as building an online academy, or filming and publishing online courses they had been putting off for a while. No-one was glad we had to close, but there was opportunity and excitement to try something new.

This was nearly a year ago, and the optimism is slightly drying up with instructors I speak to now. I have to admit – I feel the same. I used the first period of lockdown to focus all my efforts into an online academy and film a few online courses which I then proceeded to do nothing with… idiot. Only recently have I started pushing these course such as my Breakfalling for Martial Artists course! (Shameless plug).

Teaching online was a new skill to learn and something new for my students. We revisited the basics, kept things fun and active and set challenges. This has been going on for a while now and everyone is beginning to feel that lockdown and zoom fatigue.

Every instructor I now speak to (and I speak to a lot between general chatting and the podcast), simply wants to be back at their classes, with people and doing what they love to do most – imparting their knowledge and training martial arts. This is where the martial mindset comes in…

But what exactly is the martial mindset? Instructors speak of it all the time in various forms – whether it is black belt attitude, or never back down ethos etc. It’s the thing we try to impart to our students – don’t give up, stay positive and keep moving forward no matter what.

This sounds great – but I think the events of the past year have shown just how hard this can be sometimes. The constant uncertainty, the moving of goalposts, the glimmers or hope, then that hope being extinguished. Do we still think having a martial mindset is always possible?

I know at least 3 academies that have been forced to close their doors permanently due to the financial constraints put on them during this time and my heart truly goes out to them. However, these 3 academies also offered nothing to their students during the pandemic other than a quick check in via Facebook live once in a while. No online classes, no online courses, no community – they just waited for a time that they could reopen. A time that kept getting pushed back.

We often speak about the martial arts showing determination, perseverance and development of character and past year has been the most testing time anyone in the industry has ever faced. This is where the martial mindset kicks in.

It’s important to stay positive, to focus on things to work on, to constantly try something new, even if it fails. But it’s also important to recognize that we are all human and that sometimes that martial mindset needs to slip or we come dangerously close to becoming a martial robot. It’s okay to have an off day where we feel unmotivated, or struggling with the current circumstances. Setting the example and leading from the front is crucial, but self care is also crucial. Take the time to vent, yell, cry and do whatever you need to do to unwind. This is all part of cultivating the martial mindset too – accepting you are human and being humble enough to admit you are struggling.

However, have your worry time – then bring yourself back to reality. This is the reality we find ourselves in. This won’t last forever and we have done nearly a year. The longer we go on like this, the harder is becomes, true – but if you are communicating with your students and providing them as much as you can – they will support you just as you have supported them and continue to support them at this time.

Chin up guys, we are hopefully nearing the end of this dreadful era of our industry. Recognize it’s okay not be okay sometimes, but remember you are a martial artist and focus on something that is in your control – your reaction to the current circumstances. Think about the advice you would give your students if they were struggling – then take it yourself! Easier said than done I know, but let’s focus on the future when all our classes will be packed with smiling, happy people who are loving the fact they can socialize and punch each other in the face again…

If you wish to control others, you must first control yourself

How are you cultivating your mindset during this testing time? What coping strategies would you share or how have you grown?

My first attempt at a Vlog! Here’s 5 tips to keep your zoom classes fresh!

Here are 5 tips to keep your zoom classes fresh.

Hopefully the end is in sight guys! It’s been a long old road this past year or so, from the first initial months of moving our academies online, to those wonderful few weeks where we could re-open in some capacity, to then having to close again!

Zoom has been a godsend for many and thanks to technology many of us have kept our academy doors open – through the virtual world! I know I will never take for granted the atmosphere in my academy again and cannot wait to get back open and see everyone.

Although the end is hopefully in sight – we are not quite there yet and zoom will still be needed for the time being, and hey, maybe we should keep some level of online training available for people – it may not be a bad idea and we’ll be ready for the next global pandemic… yay! 😛

So here are 5 top tips to keep your zoom classes fresh, fun and interesting in a time when many are really suffering from lock-down fatigue.

1 – Bring in guests

Guest instructors have been awesome for my academy! We had 18 of them over a 24 hour period during our 24 hour challenge last summer, but I have always kept bringing guest instructors into our regular adult classes on Zoom.

I’ve done this for a few reasons…

Firstly it gives me a break as teaching online can be a little stressful at times! It’s hard to translate some things online or into solo work and hard to keep the motivation going for people, especially if you’re like me and quite a hands on coach! Every cloud has a silver lining however and it’s certainly improved my teaching ability and taught me some new skills!

Bringing in a guest instructor means you can chill and enjoy learning for the hour rather than having to host the class. I’ve made sure I’ve kept learning this lock-down, signing up with the Minnesota Kali Group for some JKD and Kali I will introduce into my academy at some point. Bringing in a guest instructor takes the pressure off for one lesson and you can just enjoy the process of learning something new or having a workout again.

Secondly – it keeps it fresh for the students. I’ve already said they’re suffering from lock-down fatigue, the last thing you want is for them to get your-face-fatigue too! I think some of my guys have had this for months, but their troopers can keep on training. Bringing in a new instructor, especially from a different style to your own, adds value to your academy, shows you are willing to look outside your own ego and also gives the students a new perspective on something. It’s also great publicity for the guest instructor as to what they do, so a win-win for everyone involved!

I’m always willing to do a guest spot/workout for someone if they’d like so just get in touch!

2 – Use props!

This is must, especially for the kids classes. A 40 minute class with kids where you simply go through drills or patterns is going to get tiring pretty quickly. You can be the most passionate and enthusiastic instructor in the world, but sometimes we all need a little help in the form of a prop or two!

For my junior students (and some adults…) a pirate sword has worked great. We can do virtual evasions where they jump, duck, slip and roll out of the way of the sword cuts, and it can be a good way of learning basic footwork too!

For my adults – along with the pirate sword – we also do virtual pad feeding drills occasionally. This is a great workout for the students and means you can simply pad feed towards the camera, doing a certain number of rounds for a certain length of time e.g. 10 x 2 minute rounds.

Invest in some props and use them to keep your zoom classes fresh! Think outside the box a little and get your students to make their own props too!

3 – Think about more than just classes

A lot of the time people come to your classes for a sense of community as well as the physical aspect of martial arts. This should translate to online as well. Are you simply doing your classes, then logging off, never to be seen or heard from again until the next class? If so, you’re missing an awesome opportunity to build your community stronger through a global pandemic. Be the academy that helped people through this and give as much as you can of your time, energy and brain power!

Use Facebook community groups for your students to post things that are only for current members. It could be drills done from class, or special event e.g. a guest instructor! But it could also be more fun things like links to a zoom quiz night or funny videos/bloopers from your online filming if you are doing any for a course or project!

Build the community up now and you’ll have students who are also friends and big fans of your academy who in turn, speak to their friends, hence building the word of mouth we all love. Plus it’s just a nice thing to do at the moment – be sincere and give to your students, without them you’re just someone with some martial arts skill but no-one to teach!

4 – Set challenges

Challenges have worked great for us in the past, so I think it’s probably time to set another one! Unlucky any of my students reading this! During the first lock-down we completed a 5000 rep challenge – 10 exercises, 50 reps each for 10 days. We then completed our 10,000 rep challenge – 10 exercises, 100 reps each for 10 days. We then set ourselves the 24 hour challenge and not only did we raise £2000 for charity, but 8 of my students all completed the full 24 hours. Trust me, there is nothing that brings an academy closer together than knife drills with a butter knife at 5am after too much coffee slashing away at our zoom screens!

Set challenges for short term, medium term and long term and keep the motivation high in your students.

5 – Communicate

Communicate with your students on a regular basis and I cannot emphasize this enough. Talk to them! What do they like? What don’t they like? What would they like to see or change? They’re the students, you’re there to provide a service – listen to them!

On top of this – communication is key for people’s mental health at the moment, so check in on your students. Some of them may be living alone or struggling with the current circumstances, so if you haven’t seen them in class online for a bit, check in and see how they are and if you can do anything. It takes a minute, but means the world to people – trust me!

Let’s hope we’re out of this pandemic soon and can get back to doing what we all love ASAP. Until then, think about your business and try your best to keep it afloat so there is something to come back to. Also be kind, be human and be there for your students though who have supported you financially and perhaps emotionally this past year too. I hope these tips help you to keep your zoom classes fresh and see out online training until we can open again!

The quick and easy break falling system.

Let’s face it, if you study any form of martial arts, there is an element of break falling involved. Traditional arts place heavy emphasis on the need to break fall such as Aikido or jiu-jitsu, but these principles can just as easily be applied to MMA or Thai Boxing when being swept or taken down.

Break falling is one of the most crucial aspects of martial arts to learn, especially as a beginner for a number of reasons.

Safety first

The first and most important reason to learn how to break fall safely is obviously safety! In most martial arts, traditional or sport based, at some level you will have to learn how to take a fall. This could be from a sweep during sparring in kickboxing, or Muay Thai, to a single or double leg in MMA. From a wrist lock in Aikido, to a hip throw in jiu-jitsu, break falling is a crucial aspect of the martial arts to learn to prevent injury and keep you learning and on the mats.

The idea of the break fall, is to do exactly that – break the fall. We land in such a way as to absorb the impact, reduce damage and prevent any long term injuries. Break falling can start simply – with a simple back fall to protect the head, neck and spine, but quickly progress. At the most advanced levels we have silent break falls or high break falls, gymnastic in approach, but also functional in controlling the impact you receive off the technique or takedown.

Progression

In many martial arts, break falling is crucial in order to feel how the technique is done. Arguably, the best way to understand a technique is to feel it first hand from the coach, sensei, professor etc and if you can fall well and safely, you are more likely to be able safely feel how the technique works.

A single leg takedown can be drilled over and over again, but 1 demonstration of the single leg where you feel how it is meant to be applied is worth 100 drills on your own or with a partner who is also figuring it out.

If you get good and competent at safely falling, your skill level will increase. You’ll be able to feel how the technique works, and you’ll also be able to safely train, meaning less time off the mats for any niggling injuries! Win, win!

Drill development and principles

A lot of the principles found in learning to break fall occur in learning a martial arts. We learn the form, we learn the main points to consider, then we figure out how it fits best for us. I’m of small stature, so my break falls are likely to be quicker and more compact than someone who is 6ft tall and 18 stone. The way we teach the break fall is the same to ensure safety first, but the way it is applied and made your own differs.

The same can be said of martial arts. We teach the jab, the main points, get the range right, rotate the hip and shoulder and retract it with speed. Then we play! We experiment with the angles in light sparring, we try to improve our success rate of hitting it. My jab again, will be different to a jab of a 6ft tall practitioner simply because they have a longer reach! Therefore, we learn and adapt, same as in break falling.

When we figure out these core principles we can develop drills to help with agility, speed, flexibility and cardiovascular and muscular fitness – all important for martial arts.

The Break Falling for Martial Artists video series.

Time for a shameless plug now! As a 3rd degree black belt in Yoshinkan Aikido, break falling was instilled into me from a young age. Say what you like about the efficacy of Aikido (I may even agree). but one thing they do do well is break falling! This has served me well during my time cross training in other styles both in terms of the practical break falling element, and also the principles it teaches.

I’ve packaged what I’ve learned about break falling into my own course this lockdown! Starting with the simple basics of how to do a simple backfall, then progress to slam backfalls and angled ones, then moving to forward and backward rolls. Then finally flip falls and more gymnastic, but less practical break falling. With this I’ve added some drills and skills you can train yourself, or alternatively use in classes if you instruct kids/adults and want to add some break falling in. The basics, up to advanced, with some drill ideas to implement into your class. Super simple, but also super needed!

I’ll be launching this course at a 50% discount rate at the end of June, so be sure to subscribe to The Martial View to receive this discount if you want to take your martial arts training up a gear, or want another element to add into your classes.

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