Suck It Up Or Go Home… The toughest martial arts course in the world…

Today I’m writing about Simon Gray’s new book Suck It Up Or Go Home and his time in Senshusei Yoshinkan Aikido course in Japan.

Whenever I write about Aikido, I’m always slightly careful with what I type. For a long time, it was a huge part of my life. I began training at aged 9 and stopped training when I was 23 after achieving my 3rd Degree Black Belt. I spent a month in Australia training full time as a dojosei or live in student and loved it! However, I also cross trained in MMA, combatives, boxing, jiu-jitsu etc and saw some of the shortcomings of Aikido.

In the martial arts world, Aikido is often seen as the weird uncle at a party… and I say that in the most affectionate terms. The uncle who tells you all about his younger days chasing ladies, getting in scraps outside pubs and downing 10 pints… of whiskey…. You like him, he’s nice and there’s nothing wrong with him, but you take what he says with a pinch of salt.

Aikido can be seen as kind of similar nowadays. No doubt, Aikido has it’s place as a martial art, but as a combatives system or self defence system, there are some serious shortcomings – the main one being a lack of pressure testing and sparring. Some, due to this, question to relevance of Aikido nowadays as a practical martial art and I’ve written about this topic here. This is not true in all Aikido schools and I’ve been fortunate enough to train with some incredible instructors who were not only genuinely incredible people to be around, but also knew their stuff!

If you teach Aikido for fitness, health and studying a martial arts and budo, Aikido is a great choice. If you want something fast and effective for self defence, or want to competitively fight, it isn’t for you.

However, someone who has a wealth of experience competitively fighting in Muay Thai, as well as training in BJJ is Simon Gray – the author of Suck It Up Or Go Home.

Simon and I actually met years ago in around 2004 training at the Shudokan Academy in Nottingham and he took his 1st Degree black belt test the year before me! I recently interviewed him about his book and why, after studying Muay Thai and BJJ, he chose to undergo what has been called the hardest martial arts course in the world. You can check the full interview out here.

Simon traveled to Japan to undertake an 11 month course in Yoshinkan Aikido, designed to create black belts and foreign instructors who can spread the Yoshinkan system around the world. 11 months of training 5 days a week and being treated as the lowest of the low in the dojo. Drop out rates are high and only a select few who start the course actually complete it due to injuries and general attrition.

As Aikido is often seen as a soft martial art, it’s interesting to see the juxtaposition of this with being labelled one of, if not the, toughest martial arts course in the world.

The course was first bought to the public’s attention through the book Angry White Pyjamas by Robert Twigger. This recounted Rob’s 11 months in the senshusei course taught to the Japanese riot police in the early 1990’s when arguably Yoshinkan Aikido was in it’s prime. The founder, Kancho Gozo Shioda, was still alive and the top and most notable Yoshinkan teachers were all instructors at the Honbu Dojo.

Mike Tyson visits the Yoshinkan Aikido headquarters with Kancho Gozo Shioda.

Although Simon’s book is similar in terms of his journey in the course, it takes a different approach, focusing more on Simon’s ability to suck it up or go home attitude. When thing’s get tough, you either deal with it and carry on, or give in. This, as Simon has said, is something that was instilled in him from the senshusei course, and something he has carried with him after.

Simon sent me a copy of Suck It Up Or Go Home, to have a read of and asked me to write a few words for the start of it, and after reading it in 2 days, I was more than happy to do so. This is a great book and I honestly couldn’t put it down. As a martial arts blog, I’m sure the vast majority of people reading this are martial artists, but I will also say that you don’t have to be a martial artist to enjoy the book. This has something for everyone and the lessons and essence can be applied to anyone regardless of martial arts background or not.

From dealing with the daily struggles of living in Japan, to adjusting to a new way of training as the lowest of the low in the dojo, Simon candidly speaks about his time on the course, doesn’t pull any punches and you can tell he is writing from the heart. He talks about continuing to train in Muay Thai and BJJ while in Japan (even though it was forbidden to train in other styles on the course) and as far as an ambassador for Aikido as an effective martial art, I’d rate Simon pretty highly!

I’d highly recommend Suck It Up Or Go Home to anyone interested in martial arts, and even those with a passing interest in Japanese culture or self development – there’s something in it for everyone.

The book is available on Amazon now in Paperback form and also kindle and you can grab your copy here.

The starter system to building explosive power.

The ability to generate explosive power quickly, and efficiently is arguably one of the most important aspects of the martial arts. From quickly sending out a powerful low leg kick, retracting it and following up, to sending out a mystical chi ball from 10 feet away – explosive power is crucial.

Disclaimer: I’m kidding about the mystical chi ball… Though given current circumstances an social distancing…

Delivering the big knockout punch is ultimately what many martial artists aim for. Whether this is for one hit stopping power for self defence, or K.O power for competition, explosive power is something we all strive for.

But what exactly is it….?

Simply put, it’s exerting more power, in less time. There are some AWESOME examples of this in all martial arts, hard styles and soft. From board breaking (boards… don’t hit back), to kata, all are examples of explosive power.

So how do we build this? Stand under a waterfall? Break chopsticks with your fingers? Grow a white goatee and name yourself Pai-Mei?

All valid and indeed I would encourage this… however there are some other ways too..

Martial Artists aren’t the only ones who need explosive power. Look as baseball players, American footballers, curlers…

Okay, maybe not curlers….

But almost all forms of professional sport require explosive power and there are a number of exercises we can do to build this type of power and improve our ability in any given sport – especially the martial arts.

Top Exercises for building Explosive Power!

The Kettlebell Snatch

Kettlebells are awesome for developing raw and functional power. Relatively cheap and easy to transport around, you can get a whole body workout in using just a kettle bell so they come highly recommended on my list of equipment.

To perform the kettlebell snatch, stand feet shoulder width apart, kettlebell on the floor. Squat down to pick it up, ensuring good form. Drive up using the legs and pick the kettlebell up through your centre and extend your arm straight above your head. Then lower the kettlebell down. This is one rep!

The explosiveness from this movement comes from pushing from the ground and extending the arm, using the feet, knees, hips and shoulders especially. A fantastic exercise to work multiple large muscle groups and develop explosive power.

Box Jumps

Another fantastic exercise to really get the legs burning, the cardiovascular system fired up, and a great way to build EXPLOSIVE POWER! Which is something we would all like right?

To perform…. Find a box… Jump on it…. Repeat….

Okay it’s slightly more technical but not much. Awesome for plyometrics and developing fast twitch muscles (crucial for those genuine K.Os, not so much for the no touch…).

Find a raised surface, or a study, preferably weighted down box, the height of which will be dependent on your ability. New people, try a curb or something… athletes… a double decker bus, you get the idea.

Stand shoulder width apart again. Bend the knees and get your body ready for some air time! Swing your arms in the air like you just don’t care, drive up from the floor and (hopefully) launch yourself onto the box. Either you’ll make the jump and if so repeat.

Or you won’t make the jump, so ensure you film it first because that shit goes viral. Then go for a smaller box until you can complete it. Make sure you land softly, bend the knees and keep good form throughout so as to reduce injury.

Plyometric pushups

Ah the good old push up! A great exercise for building multiple muscle groups again, and also one fantastic for building the explosive power we are all looking for.

The focus here is to perform your push up as usual, but really focus on pushing up as hard as you can, like you are pushing the ground away from you as you push your body up. Again, great for developing fast twitch muscles meaning you’ll be faster AND more powerful.

If this is just too easy and you’re too much of a pro for this amateur shit. Add on some clap push ups. Push off the floor, get some air time and clap your hands before you land!

Still too easy?

Double clap push ups! Clap in front of you, then clap behind your head before you land. Requires more air time, therefore more explosive power, therefore more chance of face plant.

Side note – want to be featured in a Martial View video? 100% guarantee of fame if you send me a video of you face planting while double clap push ups.


B

The Burpee

Because no fitness article is complete with a bastard burpee! Hated by many, loved by few, yet kind of usual as well, the burpee can be easily be compared to our current government, yet I digress.

Start standing, crouch down and hop back into a push up position. Perform said push up. Jump forward to a crouch, stand up. Jump in the air. Complete.

Lots of jumping. Lots of plyometrics, lots of cardio, lots of pain, lots of swearing, lots of explosive power.

A workout build around any of these exercises done consistently will build explosive power. Combine it with technique, pad work and bag work and you’re speed and power for martial arts is bound to increase.

Start slow if you’re a beginner and build up. For example

x10 Kettlebell snatch left and right

x10 Box Jumps

x10 Plyometric Push Ups

x10 Burpees

Rest for 1 minute and repeat 5 times, three times per week. As this becomes easier, either increase the reps, increase the sets or decrease the rest time and see your explosive power increase!

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.

`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!

Review! The Mittmaster Vault!

Hey everyone!!

I know it’s been a while since last posting and for that I apologise! It’s been super busy building my own martial arts school, training up some assistant instructors and of course getting my own training in too!

It’s calmed down a little now so what better way to kick off another post in The Martial View than with a article on Matthew Chapman’s Mittmaster Vault!

I’ve previously written articles on Matt’s products before, specifically his 99 ways to get a student book – a review of which you can find here.

I’ve trained with Matt on a number of occasions and know he has a wealth of knowledge to transmit both in terms of martial arts and also business knowledge! As a result I was super excited to get stuck into his Mittmaster vault and I wasn’t left disappointed!

The first thing that really stands out about the vault is the ease of use and professionalism of the videos. The layout is simple and easy to use and you can immediately see what video you are going to watch and what the topic will be on! This is different to other online platforms I have seen which have many different folders, meaning it takes time to navigate to the particular section you want.

Not the case with The Vault! You can just click on the month, then see the videos available and what art they relate to, be it MMA, Muay Thai, Filipino Boxing or Boxing! Click away and the video plays…

Now on to the videos! All in all – AWESOME! Many of you have seen Matt’s approach to teaching before in his previous MittMaster videos or even in person and his relaxed yet informative tone means you get a lot out of the videos in a relaxed and fun way. The videos are show in HD and special attention is paid to certain areas of the drill or common mistakes that people make, meaning you can get some great knowledge from Matt to improve your own training or introduce into classes you run.

With this all in mind I would recommend the MittMaster vault to anyone seriously into martial arts as either an instructor or just a student. The videos can really add to your own knowledge and ability to both pad feed and perform the drills from Boxing, MMA, Muay Thai and Filipino arts and there really is a wealth of information in the vault easily broken down and able to digest in small and easy amounts.

The Vault is available here and would be a great addition for any martial artists resources out there!

 

 

 

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