Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Warrior from Heaven

I would like to take a minute to publicly recognize and congratulate my friend, my instructor, and brother in Christ, Marcus Relliford (better known as "Rev. Wind") for his recent promotion to 6th dan.

I've known Rev. Wind for years since we were both brown belts, and in addition to my own life, he's left a lasting impression on countless lives of students and parents that have had the pleasure of working with him over the years.

I'd also like to recognize all of my PaSaRyu brethren that were promoted along with Rev. Wind. Hopefully once things slow down at work, I will be seeing many of you more often.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Tell me if this sounds familiar...

You're learning a new technique from your instructor, maybe a particular sequence in a new kata. There's a couple of moves that you're unclear about the meaning of, or what exactly you're doing when you perform that particular technique. You ask your instructor and he/she tells you something like,

"It's there for show." (Then why in the hell am I doing it then? And more importantly why are you teaching it to other people???)

"It has no purpose." (Oh really?)

"It enhances the beauty of the kata." (Yes, I've competed in tournaments and katas are judged aesthetically, but I REALLY don't think that was the creator's original intent)

"Horse stance? Oh it's for strengthening your legs." (Uh in other words, doing squats with 350 lbs. on my back at the gym isn't doing enough in that category.)

"You're looking at the heavens." (Believe it or not, I have literally been told that before. Any karate practitioner that's done the opening sequence of Kanku Dai/Kushanku/Kong San Kuhn in which you form a triangle with your hands knows what I'm talking about.)

After hearing your instructor's answer, you stand there confused and either ask them to elaborate (based on some of the responses above, that's probably a bad idea or would be a rather amusing one depending on their next response) or you just take it at face value and keep going.

Instead of making up some B.S., or simply tell you what their instructors passed down to them, whatever happened to the instructor simply saying:

"I don't know..."

I guess sometimes as instructors run into the problem of thinking they have to know everything that is asked of them to save face (we're not the only teachers, sales people, managers...the list goes on and on), when the better thing to do would to be honest in admitting they don't know, but can do some research, or they could challenge the student to do some research themselves.

Just a thought...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Here's wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday.

Cherish those around you, and don't forget about those who don't have anyone around to cherish.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Black Belt Is For Life

One of my fellow bloggers Michele posted a while back "Once A Black Belt...Always A Black Belt?"

In a nutshell, she asks if one attains the level of black belt and then stops training for whatever reason, are they still a black belt, or if the rank stops if the training stops. The title of this blog was taken from a sign that hangs in the dojo at the PaSaRyu headquarters in Cordova, TN (right outside of Memphis, and I suppose kind of supports my answer to Michele's question.

To make this a bit easier, I'd like to compare this to a personal story of mine. After all the years going through grade school, junior high, and finally high school, I decided to go to college and earn a degree in music. After four years of study, various assignments, tests, projects, etc., I received my Bachelor's degree in Music. In the years since, I haven't attended a single music class, studied anything from Bach to Beyonce, nor (outside of maybe a combined 2-year stretch of piano playing at church) have I done anything else musically inclined (and at this stage, probably never will), but for whatever reason, I'm still a college graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Music (I even have the piece of paper given to me by the President of the college to prove it!).

Referencing back to that sign I mentioned earlier, Master Kang Rhee says that a black belt is for life, and once gained, no one can take that away from you, just like that college degree. Once you've paid your dues and earned that rank, it's yours...for life.

Monday, December 21, 2009

First Point

A note on point sparring...

Anyone that knows anything about point sparring in the martial arts is more for sport than it is for actual self-defense.

First of all; it has rules. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that anything goes in a real fight. Then there's the rules themselves: only light contact permitted; only specific target areas are allowed to be hit; only certain techniques can be used for striking and kicking; protective gear must be worn (some exceptions apply depending on the style); and the list goes on. As my original instructor once told me, while point sparring does have its uses, it's NOT real fighting; it's more like fencing in which you maneuver to get the quickest and clearest shot on your opponent.

Fast forward to nearly 10 years since I first heard that statement from that instructor, I'm suddenly having a revelation and realizing that there is one very important thing learned in point sparring that is probably the 2nd most important rule to a real fight (in case you're wondering, the 1st one is to do whatever possible to avoid the fight in the first place). Almost every time he's conducting sparring sessions in class, my current instructor is always saying to "be fast, be first, and make it clear," which brings us to that 2nd rule: strike fast, strike first, and strike decisively.

To make the correlation, in point sparring, the first to strike and strike decisively is usually the one that scores the point. In a real fight, when the fight itself becomes imminent, the first to act decisively is usually the one that comes out on top. Unfortunately in too many cases it's the attacker and not the victim that acts first and is therefore the victor more often than not.

The other important correlation from point sparring to real fighting lies here: once you move in to score, do so and then get out of there, mainly to avoid being scored upon yourself, and also to regroup and plan for the next attack. On the street, ideally by striking fast, first and decisively (side note: by "decisively" I mean striking in a target area or such a manner that ends the fight immediately) the fight should be over; if for some reason it's not, hopefully it did enough to buy time to escape, or if escape is not possible, to reassess the situation to try again.

And people say that sparring has nothing to do with real fighting...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rank Testing (Part III)

A question that frequently comes up about rank testing is the standards of passing; more simply put, what determines who passes and who fails? To further answer this, there's two main schools of thought.

Basically, there's skill-based ranking (as in understanding of techniques taught) and there's performance-based ranking. My belief is that there should be a certain level of the understanding of particular techniques at all levels, whether it be the katas learned or different types of techniques (such as different types of kicks for example), while performance ability should have nothing to do with ranking. In today's age, all types of people are into martial arts, from the athletically gifted to the athletically inept. Should a 3rd degree black belt demonstrate better understanding in basic techniques than a purple belt? Of course, but to say that their performance level should be better is total hogwash. If performance ability were the indication of ranking, then just about everyone would be demoted once they hit their 40's as their bodies naturally slow down due to advancing age. If it's performance ability that needs to be tested, that's the purpose of tournaments.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rank Testing (Part II)

Just what is a rank test anyway?

Through my experience, I've witnessed two main kids of tests, each with it's pros and cons.

The Rites of Passage Rank Test

This one is a test in which the student(s) basically rehash everything they've been taught since their previous rank test. Every type of stance, punch, kick, block and kata are performed over and over again. In many cases, other physical activities such as pushups are done as well.

Pros: Because these tests can last a good while (sometimes days for black belt levels), the amount of "suffering" students endures can strengthen their sense of accomplishment and make them feel that they've truly earned their rank; students get to demonstrate what they've learned; creates a feeling of tradition; easy to pass since all the students are doing is following instructions

Cons: Because these test can last a good while (heard this one before?), the level of danger can increase due to fatigue and decreased concentration (on a personal note, I can remember striking my instructor dead in his spine while testing for my black belt because I was simply too tired to focus on my control like normal); the extra stuff like pushups and running laps (yes, I've seen it...) have nothing to do with everything else; instructors have been known to do the extra stuff simply because it was done to them when they were testing themselves; demonstrating proficiency isn't the top priority

The Sample Test

A little simpler test in which the instructor has the student perform a few random requirements with a proficiency that's to the instructor's liking, the main one usually being the kata required for that belt level.

Pros: not very time consuming; students can demonstrate their proficiency level; test sticks to the curriculum

Cons: can be seen as non-traditional (taking away from the "Rites of Passage"); because the test isn't physically taxing (usually), students may not feel as though they've earned their rank

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rank Testing (Part I)

I have a simple but yet intriguing question about rank tests in the martial arts: is it me, or does it seem impossible to fail one?

It seems that just about everyone that takes a rank test passes and receives their promotion with no worries whatsoever. I'm sure there's a few reasons that factor into that, such as running the risk that students will quit (and schools will lose revenue as a result) if they receive a failing grade, or running the risk of upsetting parents whose kids receive a failing grade while other students are being promoted.

On one hand, it basically reminds me of the "No Child Left Behind" ideal that promotes students even if their skill levels don't match up. On the other hand, there's the basic tenet that people don't like failure, and thus would be highly unmotivated if they go through months of preparation for their rank test and fall short when their instructors fails them (or gives them a retest option--politically correct for saying "you've failed"). After all, who would actually spend money every month to pay for classes and then take tests in which can possibly fail?

Just a thought...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why Learn Kata Anymore? (Part I)

News flash: kata isn’t as popular as it used to be. There’s hundreds of reasons for this, so here’s a few of them along with reasons why they really shouldn’t be.

The rise and evolution of MMA

Thanks to the rise of events such as the UFC, Pride, and similar ones, MMA has probably done the most to give people reason that katas are no longer “valid.” While it can be easy to see why, the one advantage that katas have over MMA is that kata were originally (and still is if done correctly) taught with an “anything goes” mindset. While MMA is about as close as you can get to a real fight, there are still rules, unlike a real fight in which anything really goes.

Traditional but non-kata based styles such as Brazilian Jiujitsu

The Gracies and their Brazilian Jiujitsu brethren were the main catalysts behind the martial arts community realizing the importance of ground fighting, using the premise that most fights wind up going to the ground. Anyone with any realistic fighting background (talk to any bouncer, bodyguard, military personnel who’s actually been in combat, etc.) and they will tell you, while it’s good to be adept at ground fighting, you would be foolish to actually do so on purpose, as many grappling experts advise. When taught correctly, there are numerous grappling applications taught in the katas. (On a side note, check this title out from Iain Abernathy)

The rise of reality-based martial arts

The argument I hear most from this school is that people today don’t fight like they did centuries ago when most traditional kata were invented. No argument from me on that point: times have definitely changed. However, certain truths taught in katas don’t change: a knife hand to the throat hurts just as much today in the 21st century as it did in the 8th century.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why Enrolling For Discipline Doesn’t Work

Every day, parents around the globe enroll their kids into martial arts. There are various reasons they do this, but one of them at the top of the list is “My kid needs discipline.” While I’m sure there will be many that don’t agree with me here, but it’s my belief that if that’s the reason for doing so, then immediately I feel that it won’t work. I don’t have some ancient secret to this, so here’s my simple reasoning behind this belief: it’s the parent’s job to teach discipline to their children.

Before I go further, I’m not saying that children can’t learn discipline from the martial arts. I’ve seen it happen in many cases, but even then it’s more so because the kids are learning discipline at home and what they’re learning there is being reinforced in class. In my experience, children that haven’t learned proper discipline at home will 9 times out of 10 display that lack of discipline outside of home as well.

Another thing that I’ve observed is that parents that have kids who lack discipline will notice that their kid somehow learns how to exercise that discipline while in class but tends to throw it out the window once they leave the dojo.

While I’m not exactly what one would call an expert in discipline (my children are 2 years old…they haven’t exactly cracked the surface on discipline just yet…LOL), I believe that the martial arts actually increases self-discipline more than discipline itself. The one thing about the martial arts, especially those styles with a ranking system, is that the ability to regulate one’s self is what contributes most to success. Assuming that the instructor isn’t simply promoting students just because, each student has to look inside himself and do whatever is necessary to move to the next level.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What I’ve Learned From Teaching Kids

Anybody can point out mistakes.

Anyone that’s ever been around kids would know that kids will very often point out someone else’s shortcomings, and seemingly many times they enjoy doing so. Very often in class, you’ll have a kid saying something like, “He’s got the wrong foot in front,” or “She forgot to kick before she turned,” and the list can go on for days. The funny part is that usually the kid pointing out the mistake is very likely making a mistake of their own, if not the very same mistake. As kids (and many adults) prove all the time, anyone can take the easy road by pointing out the mistakes of others. The hard part is seeing past those mistakes and finding the underlying strengths to build on.

Kids don’t care.

What I mean by that is that unlike most adults, kids generally don’t have that filter in their minds that keeps certain things to themselves. They can (and will) say things that are both rude and disrespectful. It’s usually not that they’re trying to do so; they’re usually thinking a lot of the same things that us adults think (but have the tact to keep them to ourselves) but simply don’t understand the importance and impact of what they say. As we well know, sometimes the mouth moves quicker than the mind, and that’s more so the case with kids. The statement “Kids say the darndest things” couldn’t ring more true.

They can be the ideal student.

The problem with teaching adults is that because of the experience we’ve gained by simply living life, we come to class with all sorts of preconceived beliefs, filters and thoughts. While not always necessarily a bad thing, they definitely affect how we react to certain things: how we think certain techniques will work; if we think certain martial arts customs are beneficial or a bunch of hogwash; how we treat our fellow students; if we quit at the first sign of difficulty or keep pressing on; how they respond to instructions. Kids, for the most part, don’t have these filters and are like open books, willing to try just about anything—especially if it seems like fun.

Having fun is of the utmost importance.

Ask an instructor what the number one reason they see students quit, and the lack of fun will typically be the first thing (or not far behind) that comes from their mouth. Above all the reason parents put their kids in martial arts, whether it’s self-defense, discipline (which, by the way, I believe it NOT the best reason for putting kids in martial arts…I’ll blog on that one later), physical fitness, etc., kids will not want to do it (or anything else for that matter) if they’re not having fun. As adults, many of us forget how important having fun should be. Of course, there are serious matters that have to be taken care of (bills, family, and the like), but just like we’re more likely to work in a job/career that we enjoy, so are kids more likely to attend and enjoy the martial arts.

I’m not perfect.

Not that I didn’t already know this, but in many kids’ eyes, the authority figure in front of them (school teacher, karate teacher, parent) is about as perfect as they come…right up until the point that said authority figure makes a mistake, and just like one of my previous points, the kids that I work with will gladly point out any of my and all of my shortcomings. Because of this and me being the quasi-meticulous person that I am, that keeps me on top of my game and be as close to perfection as I can—if not, I will surely be informed by the kids.

In actuality, teaching kids actually teaches me how to deal with adults.

If you think about it, all of these points revolve around how to deal with adults.

For example, think about how many divorces come about due to my first point.

On the second point, kids aren’t the only people who say exactly what they’re thinking; knowing how to handle it will make life a lot simpler.

Seeing things from others’ points of view is the simplest way to get around the mental roadblocks we all have.

We all need to remember to enjoy life and have fun every once in a while.

Granted nobody’s perfect, that kid in front of you thinks you are (the teacher MUST know everything since they’re the one teaching, right?). Because you know you’re not and they’re quick to point it out if you’re not, you must continue to refine yourself.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Think Like A Bad Guy

One of the biggest mistakes we tend to make in any martial art when it comes to sparring, katas, and self-defense applications is failing to, what I call "thinking like a bad guy." A perfect example for you: from years of training in a traditional style such as karate would make one think that if you were ever attacked, your opponent would be walking around wearing a gi and no shoes, cock his/her punching hand tightly against their belt, and give you enough time in advance to not only see the attack coming, but to also drop into a wide stance, deliver a block while simultaneously cocking your other fist to your belt and punch back...all while your attacker is still standing there...and God forbid, if they happen to be carrying a weapon, it will be a traditional kobudo weapon like a bo or sai. As we all should know, outside of the dojo, this is about as much likely to happen as it would be for it to literally rain cats and dogs.

First of all, the stereotypical "bad guy" simply is not going to fight fair: they're going to have some kind of weapon (whether it's a typical one like a gun, knife or a bat, or an improvised one like a 2x4 lying on the ground), attack from behind, attack in numbers, etc. Next, consider the mindset of the "bad guy": this could be a career criminal who could care less about going back to jail; the guy at the bar who's had one too many beers; an insanely jealous ex-spouse; a junkie trying score some quick cash for their next fix; and the list goes on. Considering that, it would be highly unlikely that they care enough to alert you when they'll be punching at you and be conscious enough to pull their punches like your classmate.

The next time you're working on self-defense techniques, think about it from the "bad guy" perspective and see if that doesn't change your way of thinking some.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Yet Another Reason for Weapons Training

This one's going to be very simple...

For those of you that follow the news, how many times have you seen a story about a violent attack/mugging/robbery/etc., in which a criminal didn't use some sort of weapon? Almost never will you encounter an attacker that will only use empty-handed techniques that you see in traditional martial arts.

With that said, I would encourage everyone to not only train with weapons, but work on defending/avoiding weapons attacks as well. Not only that, but don't limit yourself to the traditional weapons such as the bo, kama, and sai--prison inmates prove daily how effective improvised weapons made from everything items can be, just ask any corrections officer.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I'm back!


After a long layoff, I'm back....stay tuned...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Damn This Hurts...(Part 2)

Well, in reference to my previous post, the prognosis is................

A sprain.


According to the doc, unless the radiologist finds something that he missed, I'm only on the shelf with a sprain instead of any type of tear.

Once again.....


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Damn This Hurts...

Well, tonight's class was rather interesting for me. Anyone that knows me can tell you that my knees aren't exactly in tune with the rest of my body. Luckily, it's only a condition called chondromalacia (which hurts like hell behind the kneecaps, especially when going down a flight of stairs) that can be remedied by doing a few strengthening exercises consistently, which I've been doing up to this point and have been steadily feeling less and less pain.


While doing a jumping side kick (FYI, I'm not a fan of any technique that requires you to leave the ground. In this case, it was just part of the kata I was doing) I landed on my left foot and felt a slight twinge. Since it wasn't excruciating and it felt like the same pain that I'm accustomed to feeling, I dismissed it, especially since I was able to continue with no problems whatsoever. But of course, it doesn't end there (that would just be too easy, wouldn't it?)...

While sparring with the head instructor of our class, everything was fine until it happened: I'm throwing a round kick combo and suddenly when my left foot hit the ground, my entire body except for my knee kept moving forward.....hopefully, mine isn't (I'll find out soon enough), but anyone that's torn an ACL knows this feeling: I heard a pop in my knee and immediately fell to the ground while clutching my knee.

The only real training fear that I've ever had outside of being paralyzed has come to fruition. Like I said, hopefully I haven't become a member of the torn/reconstructed ACL Club like a lot of my martial arts blog brethren like Michelle and Black Belt Mama, but I'm getting checked out tomorrow and praying to God.

I'll keep you guys posted.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Amazing Courage, Finishing Strong

I just read the very first entry of a book that my wife got me for Father's Day (my twins are only 1 year old, so that still feels kind of strange to actually get a Father's Day gift...LOL) called Amazing Athletes Amazing Moments written by Steve Riach. I thought I'd share that with the folks reading my blog.

The year was 1968. The place was Mexico City, site of the 1968 Summer Olympic Games. It happened late one night in the main track and field stadium.

Out of the cold darkness, John Stephen Akhwari from Tanzania entered the stadium. He hobbled slowly and unsteadily. Pain filled his every step., Blood ran down his bandaged leg. His dreams of Olympic glory had long since faded into the shadows of the night.

More than an hour earlier, the winner of the Olympic marathon had already been declared. The other finishers began streaming across the line shortly thereafter. By the time Akhwari approached the stadium, only a few spectators remained in their seats. There was no cheering, no flag waving. Yet the lone runner pressed on.

As he neared the Olympic stadium, word circulated that there was one runner still struggling to complete the 26.2-mile course. Other Olympians and spectators quickly came back to the stadium to watch the scene unfold. The stadium lights flickered back on. Akhwari entered the stadium and began to wearily pound out his final lap around the track. As he neared the finish line, the small crowd that had gathered began to roar with appreciation. They stood and cheered the lone runner all the way to the finish line. After crossing the white stripe, an exhausted Akhwari nearly collapsed. Yet in his anguish, he managed to stay on his fee and acknowledge the faithful few who had witnessed his final steps.

After it was all over, a reporter asked Akhwari why he had not retired from the race, as he had fallen so far back and had no chance of winning.

Akhwari seemed confused by the question but finally answered. "My country did not send me 5,000 miles to Mexico City to start the race," he said. "They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Source

Studying my particular style (PaSaRyu, FYI) in the Memphis, TN area, I'm privileged to have a distinct advantage that many martial artists don't get to experience. At least once a week, I get to work with the creator of the PaSaRyu system, Master Kang Rhee. Typically, Master Rhee begins class by recognizing the white belts, the Little Dragon's class and the black belts (each individually by name), and then he offers to demonstrate a kata, even though lately it's been 3 different katas (which, in his words, at his age might make him drop dead...LOL).

As I said earlier, not many people can say that they've had the opportunity to work directly with the man that created a martial arts system. Getting information and ideas from the source is invaluable.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Don't Think...

Here's a problem that I'm sure every martial artist has had at some point...we think, more specifically, we tend to over-think. If you don't believe me, tell me if this sounds familiar: you're in class working with a partner doing something like point sparring, bunkai, self-defense applications, etc., and numerous types of techniques/applications are running through your head (example: "I can hit him with a round kick to the chest" or "If she does throws that backfist again, I'm cutting her off with my side kick."). By the time you've thought about it and decided what you're going to do, your partner's already hit you once or twice (or more....).

The three main things I tend to tell people that seasoned martial artists can learn from beginners (yes, we learn as much-if not more-from teaching as well as being taught) are open-mindedness, excitement, and plain common sense. What I mean by that last one is that, for the most part, anyone without any martial arts training would, in a self-defense situation, tend to do what comes natural and do whatever simplistic technique(s) necessary to end the conflict. Granted, there have been many instances in which a novice may freeze up when attacked, but there are just as many instances in which they have been able to defend themselves by simply doing what comes natural. Instead of thinking about which elaborate joint lock/manipulation you can do if someone grabs you, simply stomping on one's foot may be enough to suffice. Of course, common sense would dictate that not allowing yourself to be grabbed in the first place would be best!

*A quick point to point-sparrers* There's a reason that the great fighters in history teach the basic techniques such as the front, side and round kick day in and day out. While there's nothing wrong with experimenting with more elaborate kicks such as crescent and spinning kicks, the basic kicks are not only easier to pull off, but many of the more complex kicks are based on them.

Monday, June 8, 2009


One of the most important things that we tend to forget as martial artists is the importance of mixing things up every once in a while (hence, variety). For many reasons, such as tradition, simply practice, repeating what we're taught, or simply because we many not know any better, it's very typical to settle into a routine and not vary from it. Of course, there are things that need to be repeated over and over again in order to commit them to muscle memory so they become second nature. For example, it's very likely that karate people have done millions of reverse punches, right?

While some repetitions is important (and some times unavoidable), there is are a few problems with sticking to the same routine day after day after day. For one, from a physical standpoint, the genius of the human body is its ability to adapt to any given circumstance. Muscles and bones adapt to weight training by getting bigger and stronger; the cardiovascular system responds to aerobic training by moving oxygen more efficiently to shorten recovery times; muscles release less and less lactic acid as they get accustomed to stress (in layman's terms, your muscles are less and less sore as you get in better shape); the list goes on. Do you remember performing a particular workout (or a single exercise) to the point where it doesn't seem to give you the same benefit that it did when you first started it? That's your body adapting.

Another good reason for variety is so simple that it's easy to miss it when it's obvious: it helps eliminate boredom. How many times in your life have you stopped doing something because it simply got boring doing the same thing over and over again? Outside of the martial arts realm, we see this all the time with couples in relationships that are trying to "add some spice" to their relationship. The same thing applies here as well.

How do you change things up? That's up to you. It could be as simple as changing the order in which you do things in your workout or class. Instead of working on basics first, try doing kata work first and leaving basics for last. Try doing a class in street clothes instead of a gi. Perform the bench press with dumbbells instead of a barbell. Switch up the time of day you work out for a couple of weeks. Do a class or two outside. Have a class in the dark (with enough light for safety reasons of course!). Run a fartlek workout instead of jogging 4-5 miles at the same pace. Perform katas as fast as you safely can without worrying about technique. Do whatever in the world you can think of!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Training The "Right" Way

It's not uncommon for many of us as martial artists to workout outside of the dojo, whether it's weight training, jogging, etc. However, many of us tend to work out the "wrong" way. Granted, in my opinion, some activity is better than no activity at all, but in many cases there are more optimal ways of working out.

Most of it depends on the particular style you study. The main mistake people tend to make is doing the same type(s) of workout no matter what style they study. Different styles have different physical requirements, and thus the types of workouts done should differ as well. The main physical attributes in play are aerobic power, anaerobic power, flexibility, muscular strength and muscular power.

Aerobic power, by definition, is the ability to move oxygen through the body. An example of good aerobic conditioning is being able to perform series of katas continuously. This is probably the most common attribute many people work on.

Anaerobic power basically is the opposite of aerobic power: the ability to work without oxygen. Delivering quick punching and kicking combinations is anaerobic power at play. The importance of anaerobic conditioning is to be able to efficiently perform rapid movements and techniques (such as combinations) over a longer period of time.

Flexibility mainly refers to the range of motion of a particular muscle, muscle group and/or joint. Obviously, some techniques require a larger range of motion than others.

Muscular strength and muscular power are commonly confused with each other, and also sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably. Strength is basically the amount of force that can be generated in one all-out movement; power is how quickly that force can be generated in the shortest amount of time possible. How much weight one can lift would indicate strength; how quickly they can lift said weight would indicate power.

Putting it all together, the best way to excel at a particular martial art would be to maximize the more important corresponding physical attributes needed for that style. I've compiled a list of styles with some of the important attributes needed. While this isn't by any means a 100% complete list, it does give a general idea.

Grappling arts (aikido, jiujitsu, judo, etc.)-low aerobic and anaerobic levels, moderate flexibility (necessary for many joint locks and holds), moderate muscular strength and power (since many throws are performed due to leverage or because an opponent is trying to alleviate the pain caused by a joint lock); judo requires high levels of strength and power due to their style of throws; moderate to high aerobic and anaerobic levels are also need for judo

Striking arts (taekwondo, karate, kung fu, etc.)-moderate to high aerobic and anaerobic levels (for kata performance and sport-style sparring), moderate to high flexibility (necessary for kicks), high muscular power (a.k.a. speed and quickness) and moderate strength

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My Introduction to San Soo

I've been a little lax in posting here lately because I've been back and forth between Memphis and Nashville the whole month of May, but I'm back home for good now. While I was in Nashville, I had the pleasure of attending a Kung Fu San Soo class after being invited by an old college friend of mine (Thanks Mason!). I was highly eager to participate in this class because (a) it's something new and (b) many of the techniques and advanced level kata in my style are Kung Fu-influenced.

I've been to many different martial arts schools in many different styles, but this particular school made an outstanding (that's an understatement) impression on me. First off, the class was held in a small room at a downtown Nashville church, which right off let me know that this is far from being a commercial "McDojo." I was greeted by a couple of students, Tony and Gaby (forgive me if I'm misspelling Gaby!), as the instructor hadn't arrived yet. Those two confirm what my friend Mason had already told me about their instructor, which I'll get to later. After shooting the breeze with them and Mason, a few minutes later Master Chuck Cory (or "Master Chuck "as his students called him) showed up along with a young lady (whom I assume was his wife) and Kenneth, one of his assistant instructors. Just like Tony and Gaby, they were very cordial and seemed genuinely pleased that I decided to join them in class. That made a great first impression since I've seen many instances in which I've seen people to prejudice visitors to their class, especially those with a black belt in another style like me. At first glance, Chuck reminded me a lot of my original instructor: not a imposing man (a tad shorter than me, I'm about 5'8"), probably in his late 50's or early 60's, has the obvious physical limitations that a typical man his age would have, and probably one of the most both knowledgeable and humble people I've ever met.

Before we got down to some action, Tony and Mason had a few questions for Master Chuck, and just like Mason told me before, he had a highly detailed answer for each and every question they had...I suppose when you've trained under the man who is credited for inventing San Soo (Grandmaster Jimmy Woo), you're probably going to know what you're talking about...and just like Tony told me, Chuck looks more like a banker than a martial arts instructor. Afterwards, we began class by going over a form. Going through this form quickly dispelled a couple of myths that I've heard since I started training: (a) Kung Fu is a flashy art, mainly because all of the big and circular movements, and (b) in my style, we typically don't get into the kung fu techniques until black belt level; many of the techniques we practiced are seen as early as white belt.

At any rate, we then warmed up a bit more by moving into a self-defense drill that's similar to one-step sparring; a couple of exceptions is that we were in groups of up to 3 or 4 people and one person attack at a time, and the attacking person doesn't assume a stance...they simply come at you with a straight punch toward the face and the defending person basically does whatever they want to them, and believe me, I didn't see a single sport technique. Everything was straight to the point in an attempt to end the confrontation (with control, of course, for safety reasons), and any target on the body was fair game. As you can imagine, there were plenty of eye, throat and groin strikes in addition to the back and the spine. I actually had plenty of fun working this drill, especially working with so many different body types. To give you an idea, I myself am about 5'8" 215 lbs.; Mason's about the same height but about 20-30 lbs lighter and more muscular; Gaby is a somewhat petite young lady; both Tony and Kenneth are some BIG guys (both about 6'3" and well over 260 lbs.) but VERY nimble. The beauty in that is that you find out really quick which techniques can work with different body types. At one point Mason wore a body shield to allow us to deliver full-power strikes to his body (that was fun!).

Later on, we drilled a simple defense technique against a street-style front kick. Before I we even began working on it, I saw some pure genius in this technique because:
(a) As martial artists, we tend to work on defending against other martial arts techniques instead of street techniques. A street brawler is likely not going to throw a perfectly chambered front kick leading with the ball of the foot, so it makes sense to work on defending what you're most likely to see on the street.
(b) The actual defense was plain common sense: if someone is trying to strike you, move the hell out of the way!

Throughout the entire class, Master Chuck sat back and observed everyone. The genius of his teaching is that he allowed us to make mistakes and learn from them instead of trying to correct every little thing. He gave me a few common sense pointers on my stance (since I've been concentrating on point sparring lately, my stance is naturally a little wider than normal) and the importance of pivoting instead of stepping. He showed me things in a way that made it seem natural instead of making seem like I was doing something wrong (which he practically admitted that I wasn't really doing anything wrong, but there just was a more efficient way to do things.) After drilling for a while longer, we ended class with a salute to each other and left.

After class, Mason and I were talking with Master Chuck, and he gave me an outstanding compliment by saying that a good student is simply a reflection of a good instructor, and he was impressed with how I as an outsider was able to come in and work with them like I've done it before. That comment made me immediately think back to my original instructor (Master Bill Miller), my longtime instructor (Master Sarah Hatgas), my weapons instructor (Master Mike Slack), my current instructor (Master Rev. Marcus Relliford), and my chief instructor/creator of the PaSaRyu style (Master Kang Rhee). After talking and working with his students, I can honestly say the same of Master Chuck. Even at the green belt level which is considered a beginning level in many styles, Gaby was very well schooled and refined.

Even though I've made somewhat of an attempt to do so, words can not begin to describe the great respect and admiration I have for Master Chuck and his students that I worked with in this class, and hopefully I will get to work with them more in the future.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Common Sense

It amazes me how much plain old common sense comes into play when working in the martial arts and self-defense. As martial artists, especially at advanced levels it becomes rather easy to over-think and over-analyze certain situations. The big problem with this is, as my instructor puts it, "that belt don't mean a thing," meaning that a 5th dan black belt can be taken out by an everyday Joe on the street despite all of his training. We tend to think about all of the numerous techniques we've learned and what may be the best one to use, instead of using common sense. Here's some examples:

*In order to counter any technique or escape any situation, there is one best technique: to not allow yourself to be in that situation in the first place. As I've told students time and time again when they ask me how to defend against a certain technique, if you find yourself in that situation in the first place then you're likely in trouble. One of the few techniques I learned from "The Karate Kid" movie series comes in the second movie when Mr. Miyagi is teaching Daniel the drum technique (I'm paraphrasing here) "the best defense is to not be there." How many times did you get in trouble as a kid and remember your mom telling you "You shouldn't have been there in the first place!" Same thing.

*In continuing with "not being there," at the first glimpse of an escape possibility, running would be the best and most sensible option. In today's society, it's rare that people fight "fair;" they carry guns and other types of weapons, and tend to fight in groups. Staying there trying to finish your opponent off not only now carries legal implications, but it also gives those "unfair" advantages more time to manifest.

*As mentioned earlier, many martial artists tend to over-analyze situations and think about how many different techniques they can use. I've personally done this myself, and I know I'm not the only one because I've been in discussions with many other artists that debate the very same thing. Many attack victims prevail due to honest fear and common sense more so that martial artist that tend to think about what they're going to do. While trying to think about the numerous joint locks one can pull off when they're placed in a bear hug, simply stomping his foot would make more sense and can be more easily done!

Monday, May 11, 2009

St. Jude PasaRyu Tournament

Here's some pictures from our 2009 benefit tournament for St. Jude Hospital. Special thanks to my man Marc Lane for taking these pictures and getting them posted.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Three Skills of a Situational Leader

In continuing with my "series" about Situational Leadership, I'll discuss the three skills of a situational leader. In order to apply the Situational Leadership model, it is necessary to understand these skills. They are diagnosis, flexibility and partnering for performance.

Diagnosis, as defined by the model, "is the willingness and ability to look at a situation and assess others' development needs in order to decide which leadership style is the most appropriate for the goal or task at hand."

Flexibility "is the ability to use a variety of leadership styles comfortably."

Partnering for performance "involves reaching agreements with others about the leadership style(s) they need from you to achieve their goals and the organization's goals."

Thursday, April 30, 2009


Ladies and anyone who knows a lady needs to read this post by Black Belt Mama. This is one great reason why many women begin martial arts training in the first place.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Situational Leadership Overview

As I was looking for something to read on my bookshelf at home, I came across some study material that I kept from a workshop I attended when I was a sales manager for T-Mobile, and I've decided to share this with everyone over the next few posts.

It's called "Situational Leadership," and it was created by a gentleman named Ken Blanchard (FYI, anyone who's read the books "The One Minute Manager" or "Whale Done" knows Mr. Blanchard's work). Because this was designed with leadership in mind, the model can be applied to all walks of life: work, home, class, church, etc.

To give you an general idea, here's some of the overview taken directly from my participant's workbook:
Situational leadership is a language and a strategy for reaching agreements with others about what they need from you in order to develop their skills, motivation, confidence, and ability to contribute to the organization's a result...leaders and the people they manager and influence become more skillful, adaptable, and are open to new challenges.

In a nutshell, this model allows you to analyze the needs of the situation you're dealing with, and then adopt the most appropriate leadership style. There are 4 leadership styles discussed in this model:

  • Directing (referred to as "S1" in the model) Leaders define the roles and tasks of the 'follower', and supervise them closely. Decisions are made by the leader and announced, so communication is largely one-way.

  • Coaching (S2) Leaders still define roles and tasks, but seeks ideas and suggestions from the follower. Decisions remain the leader's prerogative, but communication is much more two-way.

  • Supporting (S3) Leaders pass day-to-day decisions, such as task allocation and processes, to the follower. The leader facilitates and takes part in decisions, but control is with the follower.

  • Delegating (S4) Leaders are still involved in decisions and problem-solving, but control is with the follower. The follower decides when and how the leader will be involved.

The key is that effective leaders should be able to to move from one style to another depending on the situation; hence, there is no one best style. With that said, the right leadership style is dependent on the person being led, and this model also includes corresponding development levels.

  • The Enthusiastic Beginner (D1) The individual is enthusiastic and excited about the goal or task but lacks the skill and experience. (low competence, low commitment)
  • The Disillusioned Learner (D2) The individual has some experience and skills relevant to the goal or task but may be frustrated by not meeting expectations. (some competence, low commitment)
  • The Capable, but Cautious, Performer (D3) The individual has pretty good experience and capability but may not be properly motivated due to their shaky confidence. (high competence, variable commitment)
  • The Self-Reliant Achiever (D4) The individual is an expert at the goal or task (maybe more skilled than the leader himself), is confident in his/her ability and highly motivated. (high competence, high commitment)
Just like leadership styles, development levels are also situational. A perfect example in the martial arts is that a purple belt student may be rated at D4 for the green belt kata since they've mastered those skills but be rated a D1 at their current level since they've just promoted and hasn't learned the required purple belt skills.

You should be able to see where this is going, and why it is important to match the leadership style to the corresponding development level. Just like you wouldn't have a yellow belt teach the entire class, you also likely wouldn't teach a 2nd dan black belt a white belt kata step by step as if they've never done it before. Over the next few posts, I'll talk more in depth about each leadership style and corresponding development level.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

How To Provide Feedback

By no means is this "The Way" that will work universally for everyone, but this is what has worked for me and hopefully others can learn from it and/or I can learn from others and incorporate their ideas.

*Instead of looking for something wrong, purposely look for something right.

By nature, we are accustomed to trying to correct and perfect things, so we tend to worry too much about looking for what's wrong. By finding what they're doing right tends to make students feel better about themselves (because they're doing something right!) and instills confidence in them to correct the "wrong" stuff themselves and as a result get more positive feedback.

Now I'm not saying that we shouldn't correct the wrong stuff at all, so here's how to address that:

*Look for the root cause of the problem.

By finding every little thing that needs to be corrected can cause frustration in both the student and the instructor. The student feels that there's so much stuff to correct that they're practically wasting their time and not learning anything, and the instructor frankly gets tired of having to constantly correct the student whom he/she feels isn't learning anything at all. Find out what is causing the problem and work from there.

*Ask the student how they feel (about a particular technique, kata performance, sparring match, etc.)

What they tell you is the key to how you approach your feedback. Believe it or not, many problems can be corrected by themselves when this is done. The "improper" way they're doing something could be a misinterpretation on their part or they could simply be doing it the way they were taught. Of course there are other examples; the key is too listen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What I Learned About Martial Arts From Music

I first began training in martial arts while I was finishing up my music degree in college (actually my junior year...close enough...). Oddly enough, I found many similarities in the two.

Basics must be mastered before and above all else.

Typically, music students will learn how to read music before anything else. They'll learn what note to play, for instance, if there's a note on the 4th line of the staff, and the different types of notes in order to determine how long that note is to be played. Without knowing these things, it would be rather difficult to play a piano concerto by Mozart let alone "Mary Had A Little Lamb." While many students try to rush through the basics so they can get to more complex topics, those same students may be surprised to know that many songs are based on just 3 or 4 basic notes.

In martial arts, the basic punches and kicks must be mastered before conquering more complex techniques. Jumping side kicks may look nice, but it would make sense to be able to do a side kick while standing on solid ground first.

Musical rests are just as significant, if not more significant that the periods in which there is music playing.

In any musical ensemble, no one plays sounds all the time. For one, they'd probably fall out! Secondly, those silent periods can make one appreciate those sounds more once they're gone. Lastly, rests allow musicians to recuperate (as a trumpet player I DEFINITELY liked rests during long pieces!).

The human body needs rest periods to recuperate from strenuous activity before breaking down from going all-out all the time. In addition, it has been medically and scientifically proven that the body actually grows (as in muscular growth) while resting...a great benefit for those who are looking to lose weight and/or build muscle.

Use ALL of the senses when playing the music.

Merely playing or singing the notes as seen written on the paper isn't really doing the music justice. Composers tend to write instructions on how they want the music to be played, such as "sweetly" or "solemnly." This gives the music "feel" and emotion. The hearing part I believe is obvious....

All of the sense can be used in a self-defense situation. Sight and touch are usually obvious, but how about smell? Many attack victims can recall a particular scent from their attackers, so it would make sense to utilize the sense of smell whenever possible. Hopefully you'll never have to taste anyone on the street....

"Master your music, master your instrument, then forget all that bullshit and just play."

This quote by Charlie Parker (considered by many to be the greatest jazz saxophonist or saxophonist period that ever lived) speaks volumes. This was paramount is jazz, which is built almost exclusively on improvisation. When improvising, the musician has little time to think about what to play, so they literally have to "forget all that bullshit and just play." About the only real "rule" is to stay within a certain key, and even that rule is broken from time to time.

In the martial arts one, one must be flexible to say the least. Every situation is different from the one before it, so learning particular techniques that can only be applied to particular situations is asking for trouble. Yes, basics are basics no matter what, but techniques must be adaptable to different situations. There simply isn't time to remember all of those techniques you mastered, so "forget all that bullshit..."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Can You Love Your Weapon Too Much?

Anyone that knows me can tell you that I'm an advocate of weapons training, which makes what I'm about to say next seem rather contradictory, but all in all makes perfect sense:

Believe it or not, your weapon can actually hinder your overall self-defense skills.

Before everyone starts cussing me out, consider many of us in the martial arts have been told something like this from someone who doesn't train in the arts: "I don't need any of that kung fu mess because all I need to do is pull the trigger on my gun." Don't get me wrong; a gun can stop any one from a white belt to a 10th-dan grandmaster to Bruce Lee any day. What I'm getting at is being overconfident and depending too much on that gun (any weapon for that matter) to defend yourself. For a perfect example, you can look at any good knife training class. They spend countless hours working on things other than knife attacks themselves.


With a knife (or any weapon), it is typically concealed in a sheath, in a pocket, or somewhere in which you have to actually get to it in order to use it. In a worst-case scenario, you may not be able to pull your knife out, or if you manage to get it out, it doesn't open. The same thing with a gun: you have to get it out first, and it just may not fire for whatever reason (jammed, safety still on, improper cleaning, etc.).

In the event any of these scenarios occur, you'd have to fall back on empty-handed self defense, right?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Measuring Stick

Last week in class, my instructor taught all the black belts in class a very important lesson that I've decided to put out here for others to see. To paraphrase him, he said that we will be measured by the same stick we use to measure others. In other words, we will be held to the same standard we hold others to.

This is of utmost importance for us as instructors since we are typically setting the standards for those we instruct. We tell them when they are ready to test for their next belt, how their stances should look, what they should be thinking while performing a particular kata, how much effort to put in a workout, etc. While there's nothing wrong with any of this, just beware that an exceptionally high or an unreasonable standard can and will be imposed on us. That can come from the students themselves, the students' parents (in the case of children), your instructor, the landlord....the list goes on.

Of course, the same can be said about setting too low a standard....

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Striking Points

In a continuation of my previous post, I'll discuss some of the areas used to deliver those proper strikes. Instead of particular techniques (jab, reverse punch, side kick, etc.), here I'll discuss particular parts of the body.

There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to the part of the fist one should strike with. Probably the most popular in the martial arts (karate and taekwondo immediately come to mind) is the first two knuckles. Others emphasize using the last two knuckles (as in some styles of boxing), while some others teach using the flat surface created by the three knuckles running from the middle finger to the pinkie. Whichever you use, the best target areas are the solar plexus and the sides of the body.

Extended knuckle
The extended knuckle works well in both striking motions (like throwing a punch) and also by digging into areas like the throat (as a last resort of course) and the sides of the body right under the ribs.

Hammer fist
Personally this is one of my favorite areas (the palm is the other) and one I tend to teach to novices in self-defense seminars because of the decreased chance of injury to yourself and the strength in the techniques. Because of it's versatility, it can be used to strike virtually any target area. Some of my favorites are the bridge of the nose and the collarbone.

Heel of the palm
I like this one for the same reasons as the hammer fist. Probably the best target area is the chin from below.

Elbow strikes are best delivered when thumb is parallel to the target area, for example, when striking on a horizontal plane (like striking the temple) the thumb should be horizontal as well. This places the forearm bones (radius and ulna) in their strongest positions. Another versatile area, the temple, solar plexus, and the throat are viable targets.

While not commonly taught outside of various kung fu styles, the bent wrist (also referred to as crane head or chicken wrist in some styles) creates a hard surface that can attack soft areas such as the groin.

This may be the area that everyone has used at some point in their lives. The groin, the solar plexus, and the thigh (especially the front and inner thigh) are great target areas.

Bottom of the shin (where the shin and foot meet)
Muay thai specialist love this area when performing leg kicks to the inner and outer thighs, which are also the most practical area to strike.

Along with the elbow, the heel is one of the two strongest bony areas in the body (anyone who's ever had their feet stepped on can second this). The most practical target area is the instep, but it can also be effective at the knee and thigh areas.

Edge of foot
A forgotten area outside of taekwondo styles, two of the best areas to target with this are the knee and shin.

Toes (while wearing shoes of course!)
Think of striking with the toes as being akin to extended knuckle strikes with the hand. The thighs are outstanding target areas for this weapon.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

No Conditioning Necessary

In today's times, it is not necessary to practice the antique art of hand and foot conditioning in which you would intentionally try to harden the knuckles, palms, heels and balls of the feet. The reason it has been practiced for years is that in ancient times, it was necessary to desensitize the hands and feet to be able to strike through armor when necessary (think Samurai armor for example).

However, times are now different.

In today's sport competition, strikes are either forbidden (examples include judo and submission wrestling) or pads are worn (sport karate competitions for example). Any time has been spent on hand and/or conditioning would be nullified since those areas would be covered.

In practical self-defense, conditioned hands and feet can give lawyers a field day in the courtroom. It may be pretty hard convincing a judge and jury that you haven't been preparing for fighting instead of defending yourself.

Also, with an understanding of appropriate target areas on the body, you can easily avoid striking bony areas that would normally damage an unconditioned hand, or if you do strike a bony area, you can do so with an appropriate strike that will damage the opponent instead of yourself. As the old maxim goes, strike a soft part of the body with a hard part of your body and vice versa. For example, a fist to the forehead can potentially break your hand, but a hammer fist to the bridge of the nose would work wonders. In my next few posts, I will discuss some of those target areas on the body.

Another potential problem with conditioning is the likelihood of doing permanent damage, especially with the hands. Anyone that uses their hands to perform intricate skills for a living (surgeons, musicians, massage therapists, etc.) would definitely have issues with hand conditioning.

Let The Punishment Fit The Crime

Granted in a real-life self-defense you don't really have time to think about what you're doing, you still have to use that most important weapon: the brain. Especially in today's society where people sue first and ask questions later, and you're just as likely to be arrested for defending yourself as the guy who just tried to rob you, you have to be conscious about how you choose to defend yourself. The simple maxim I use is that the punishment should fit the crime. Just like a judge or jury would give a first-time car thief life in prison (this is of course assuming stealing the car was all that he did!), you shouldn't rake someone's eyes out and cause potentially permanent damage when they're just drunk and simply being a little extra flirtatious. By all means, if your life is truly in danger, then do whatever it is you have to do to survive, but be prepared to justify your actions afterwards.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Useless and/or Ineffective Techniques

Two-Handed Choke
First of all, it eliminates the use of the primary weapons (the hands) while leaving the entire body open to counterattack. Second, it is mechanically inefficient as it provides zero pulling power, which makes the hold rather easy to escape.

The technique itself is not the problem; the problem is how it's commonly taught. Because it's performed at chest level in many katas, it's generally assumed that the target area is either the chest (namely the sternum) or the abdominal area. Common sense dictates that striking any bony area with outstretched fingers is just asking for trouble. Striking anywhere other than the throat would cause more damage to your fingers (and possibly the hand and wrist as well) than it would to your opponent.

Standing Headlock
Primarily for the same reasons listed for the two-handed choke. An additional problem is that due to the position of the opponent, many counterattacks can come without being seen beforehand.

Check out this previous post for the long explanation. Here's the short one: blocking does nothing to prevent the attack from stopping. Also, because of the close distance in street fighting, there isn't enough time to block in the first place.

Roundhouse kick using the instep
Ask a muay thai or old-school taekwondo practitioner why this is ineffective. The instep contains some of the most sensitive (anyone ever had their foot stepped on before?) and easily breakable bones in the body. Anyone who's ever had their kick block by their opponent's knee muay thai-style knows what I'm talking about. The better alternative would be the bottom of the shin or the toes (while wearing shoes of course).

High Kicks
I think this horse has been beaten to death.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What If He Does This...?

Anyone that has ever taught martial arts has gotten this question when teaching a self-defense technique or bunkai: "What if he (the attacker whom you're defending yourself against) does _______?" While many instructors get irritated--or worse--by this question, on many levels this question has some merit. To explain this, let's look at some of the most common things that make people ask this question in the first place.

*Many self-defense techniques are taught and practiced with other martial artists.

The problem with this is that on the streets, an attacker will likely not be a martial artist. They will not step forward and punch with a lunging punch and just sit there, nor will they throw a perfectly chambered front kick, and most importantly, they are 1,000 times more likely to resist against your techniques than, say your classmate.

*Many self-defense techniques try to predict what the assailant will do.

How many times have we heard this one, or something similar: "If the attacker does _______ (insert random attack here), then I would do ______(insert response technique here), and then he will do ______, and then I can do______." Common sense should tell us that there is no way to predict what an attacker will do, let alone how they'll respond.

*However, predictable responses should be considered.

There are some responses that can be realistically predicted. Examples include bending over after being hit in the groin, and closing the eyes and/or covering the face when something's coming toward the face.

*Many techniques are taught at unrealistic distances.

If most fights begin within grappling range, then why are so many techniques focused on attacks coming from so far away that even the most inept fighter can react?

*Many techniques require too many complex movements and/or too much thought.

Any technique that requires thought under duress is sure to fail when applied in a real situation. When in doubt, simplicity is the best answer.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


In reference to an article I read a couple of days ago (great post Michele!), many students train while trying to be "like" someone, usually their instructor, but also the list may include their parents, a celebrity (I get the "I want to be like Bruce Lee" deal all the time), a senior student, etc. etc. While this runs rampant in children, this is more common with adults than people may think. It can be anything from "I want my horse stance to look like his horse stance," or "My side kick doesn't look like his. What's wrong with mine?"

While there is nothing wrong with having a model to look after, or an idea of what you'd like to be, the most important thing to remember that you are you, and not someone else. Even if, for example, two people perform the same kata, person A's kata should be different in some way from person B's. Even though they have the same basic movements and techniques, each person's individuality should shine through somehow, and this can depend on many factors: each person's different interpretation of the kata, their personality types, their current moods and/or mindsets, their physical makeup (a 6'5" 230 lb. person's movement certainly would be different from one that's 5'4" 120 lb.).

Each of us have been given special talents, abilities and insights that makes us all unique individuals, and it would be a waste not to let those shine.

P.S. Of course, this applies to just about everything else in life outside of martial arts, right? :)

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Correlation Between Kata and Kumite

Check out any martial arts blog, website, article, etc., and you will find some topic that speaks about the relationship between kata and sparring, or even if there is such a relationship to begin with. I personally am under the belief that such a relationship does indeed exist, but not necessarily in the way the consensus would say. To explain, let me mention a few points first:

1. In this post I'm speaking about karate katas since that's what I am most familiar with. Those of you in different disciplines please feel free to comment on your style.

2. Most people that I have encountered tend to argue the relation between kata and kumite as far as sport karate fighting (point fighting, full-contact or kickboxing for example) is concerned. The one thing to remember is that these kata were made LONG before there was a such thing as sport karate.

3. Katas were made for self-defense purposes, namely to defend one's life in a life-or-death scenario.

4. To help spread karate to the masses (especially children) many of the more lethal techniques were substituted or "covered up."

As you may have guessed, the correlation I'm speaking of is kata to kumite as far as actual street fighting/self-defense is concerned. Granted there may be some correlation to sport karate (correct technique, focus and timing immediately come to mind), this is not what the katas were originally intended for. They were intended to show the best basic techniques designed to defend one's self and to end such a confrontation quickly and decisively.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Keep That Hand on Your Belt!

Anyone that has ever studied any traditional martial art such as karate or tae kwon do has probably heard their instructor say this hundreds of times during their training. Like probably 98% of those students, I myself used to wonder why we're always taught to keep that hand (the hand "that's not doing anything") tight on our belts. Is it to make the kata look pretty? To give "the hand that's not doing anything" something to do? Because the instructor said so? Just for the pure hell of it?

While these may make sense to some, none of them are their intended purpose. To put it in perspective, think about what that hand is doing before it gets to your's out in front of you doing something: punching, blocking, grabbing, etc., and then you're pulling that hand to your belt. This motion is most evident when performing the basic blocking motions (actually, strikes, remember?) that we learned from our first days of training: the high block, low block, middle block, knife hand block, etc. In other words, one hand grabs the opponent and pulls him toward you while you execute the block/strike to amplify it's effect.

The pulling hand is also used for many other reasons, such as pulling to gain leverage on your opponent, unbalance him, to set him up for a follow-up technique, or to throw him altogether. Many katas show these techniques, probably none more so than the Naihanchi/Tekki/Chul Ki katas. For my PaSaRyu brethren, a perfect example is the second move in our yahk soak deta (promised sparring) 1st set number 2, when the opponent's punching hand is pulled toward you.

Now keep that hand at you belt!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Rev. Wind Martial Arts Summer Camp

For those of you in the Memphis area, I would like to invite you all to check out my instructor's annual summer camp.

For more information, visit the link below.

Rev. Wind Martial Arts Summer Camp

Think About It...

Just a quick thought for today....

I'd like for everyone to think about how they go about teaching a new technique. For this example, let's use a kata. When teaching a kata, do you teach the way that you've been taught, or have you thought about the actual applications and teach from your perspective?

If you think about it, this can be applied to a lot of things in life. A perfect example is religious beliefs: for instance, do you attend a Baptist church because you wanted to attend one, or is it because your parents raised you one and you never thought about any other religion?

What I'm saying is that many people (yes, myself included) tend to do things simply because that what we were shown to do, without really thinking about if that's the way we ourselves would like to.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Everyone Should Start Weapons Training!

Yes, I'm a little biased toward weapons training, so allow me to explain why.

1. It's something different. What I mean by this is that it breaks the monotony of always working on katas and sparring. Anyone that has ever taught children knows the importance of changing things around and working on new things.

2. It forces you to concentrate on your technique. While this should definitely be a focus of empty-handed training, in weapons training this increases ten fold, if for no other reason, out of safety concerns. Imagine what could happen if you're not paying attention while performing a kama routine!

3. It's adaptable. If you look at it, many weapons techniques can be applied to empty-handed fighting as well. Kali/Escrima training is the perfect example.

4. It's practical. Training with weapons also translates to the real world. For example, think of how many everyday items can be used in a similar style as a bo or jo staff: a walking cane, an umbrella, a baseball bat, a random stick lying on the ground, and the list goes on.

5. It makes sense. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a "fair" fight, especially if your life is in danger. People use all kinds of weapons to get the upper hand, from beer bottles to knives to batons to clubs to guns to chains and on and on. If you know that 9 times out of 10 an assailant is going to be using a weapon, wouldn't it make sense for you to use one too?

The White Tiger Rules of Self-Defense

OK, I admit I didn't suddenly make up some iron-clad rules of self-defense. But in using one of Bruce Lee's idioms, (I'm paraphrasing here) "keep what works and leave out what doesn't," and also being a man that thrives on simplicity, I came up with 2 simple rules I teach. Here they are in order of importance:

1. Avoid conflict by whatever means possible. The best fight is the one that's not fought, and you live to fight another day (hopefully not though).

2. If conflict is unavoidable, end the conflict quickly and decisively, and with appropriate force. Unlike what's shown on TV, the longer any fight goes, the more exponentially dangerous it gets. "Appropriate force" is similar to The Golden Rule ("treat others as you want to be treated"), except in reverse. For example, you don't react to an overly flirtatious guy who really means no harm by raking his eyes out and possibly blinding him for life. In today's lawsuit-happy society, the "appropriate force" portion is highly important.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Battle of The Sexes, Part II

Now, it's time for some of the biggest problems with martial arts training from the male perspective.

Problem #1: Being chivalrous inside the dojo

Anyone that knows me will tell you that probably my biggest peeve is men hitting women, for obvious reasons. While it is inexcusable to for a man to hit a woman (only exception: if the man's life is in danger, then all chivalry goes out the window), inside the classroom men should forget all about chivalry. While it's understandable and admirable to not want to hurt your female (and fellow male for that matter) counterparts in class, those women need to be prepared for the stereotypical male assailant on the street that could care less about not hitting a woman.

Problem #2: Strength solves everything

The first few UFC fights threw this theory out the window when the average-sized Royce Gracie defeated opponent after opponent, with many of them having an obvious size and strength advantage. Another point is that strength means nothing without accuracy, technique and timing (i.e., a strong right cross does nothing if it doesn't hit its target, right?). As my chief instructor, Master Kang Rhee tells beginners (especially males) "no power, no speed," meaning proper targeting and technique comes first; you can always improve power and speed later, but you have to actually hit the target first!

Problem #3: Training only with other men

There are quite a few things men can learn from training with women. One thing I have personally picked up from sparring with women is how to deal with a smaller and quicker opponent, and also a blitzing opponent, as many women like to go all out with men since "we can take the punishment." On another note, there is an increase of women attacking men (stop laughing male chauvinists), so it would help to train with women to better understand them.

Problem #4: Being "Number 1" or "The Man"

By nature, men are accustomed to being in charge, or being "the man." Two big problems with this are (1) pride, which needs no further explanation, and (2) being more concerned with advancing through the ranks than learning the material while advancing.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Battle of the Sexes, Part I

In this two-part post, I will discuss some of the top problems I've encountered specifically in each of the sexes. Of course, ladies first!

Problem #1: Training only with other women.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with training in a women's only class here and there. One big pro is the absence of the stereotypical male ego, and the fact that many gender-specific issues can be more fully explored with the absence of men. The biggest problem lies in what I call "preparation for the field:" in a real self-defense application, statistics show that women are more likely to be attacked by male perpetrators than female ones. Of course there will be "girl fights" to be had, but it makes sense to be prepared for the most likely scenario as well.

Problem #2: Being too passive

We can blame society for this one. Even in today's "independent woman" society, from the day they're born, the majority of women get messages every day on how a woman "should" be: submissive, docile, feminine, "sugar & spice and everything nice," nurturing, etc. I realize how sexist this sounds, but that's the message conveyed on TV, magazines, and so forth. Many of those same "feminine" traits are what dooms many women in a self-defense situation.

Problem #3: Misunderstanding the ugly truth of self-defense

This is a big problem with men as well, but more so with women simply because of how the two sexes are raised (see Problem #2). Seeing women cringe at the fact that at some point they may have to scratch and claw at someone's eyes, throat and/or groin to save their lives further illustrates this point. Self-defense affairs are ugly, and the sooner this point is understood, the better.

Problem #4: Being too concerned about the other person

This one is most prominent when it comes to sparring, and typically when women spar each other. Out of concern for safety (nothing's wrong with that by the way) women tend to check on each other after one hits the other ("Are you ok?!?! I didn't mean to hurt you!!!). What this is doing is setting up false pretenses for both parties, as on the street, it may be necessary to hit, hit and hit again (as opposed to hitting once) and to frankly not care if the assailant is hurt or not. In class, of course safety comes first, but the habit of hitting a person and stopping to check on them (unless they're truly hurt) creates a bad habit that can be hard to break.

Problem #5: Expecting chivalry in the dojo

Also a problem for men as well, many women don't expect to be hit hard (or at all in some cases). Regardless of whatever reason a person begins taking martial arts classes, self-defense is still the primary focus. It is totally unrealistic to expect a rapist or mugger to not hit you, right? Yes, everyone (men included, even though many won't actually admit it) has at least an initial fear of being hit. The only way to get over that is to mix it up in class in order to prepare you for the street.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Think Small

A few small points to think about the next time you're practicing or teaching kata...

*Hand positioning: Why is the "hand that's not doing anything" always at my belt? Why wrap up for blocks? Why are my hands in a particular position while kicking?

*Stances: If common sense tells you that you would never fight someone while in a horse stance, why does the kata call for one? Why do this move in a cat stance instead of a front stance? Why am I standing on one leg?

*Blocks: Why would a kata end with a block instead of a "finishing blow?" Why am I blocking 3 times in succession? What am I blocking?

*Foot Positioning/Footwork: Why is it important to point my feet a certain way? Why turn away from the fight instead of toward it? What does turning accomplish in the first place?

*Targeting: Where is that punch supposed to go? Does it make a difference it that kick is knee-high or waist-high? What target area would do the most damage?

*Other Intangibles: Would this technique work in multiple situations, or is it designed for one particular outcome? Am I fighting multiple opponents or one relentless one? Could I perform this technique under stress? Does the technique make sense?

What A Martial Arts Instructor is NOT

* A Spiritual Master
Thanks to pop culture and old kung fu movies alike, the popular opinion is that an instructor is, for the sake of shortening this, is like a cross between Yoda, Mr. Miyagi, and a wise old chess player. Granted any instructor should probably know as much material as his students, to expect him/her to be otherworldly is just asking too much. If it’s spiritual guidance you are looking for, a pastor/priest/rabbi is your best bet.

* A Babysitter
It still amazes me how many parents use martial arts classes as a mere “drop your kids off” service. One school of thought says that parents should stay and observe their kids in class, mainly for safety reasons. The flip side to this is that parents should not stay because they can, unknowingly or purposely, distract their kids during class. While I have no problem with either decision, my point is the parents that are merely getting the kids off their hands for a couple of hours. As a parent myself, I can understand the urge to do so, but realize that there are other places to do so.

* The “Maury Povich-Boot Camp Style” Drill Instructor
Many parents enroll their kids to martial arts for discipline, and usually the kid is an “out of control” (or close to it) kid. While the martial arts in my opinion do more for self-discipline and self-control than controlling an out-of-control kid, I have also observed that kids tend to act the same no matter what environment their in. For example, kids that talk back to their schoolteachers tend to talk back to their parents or any other adult as well. I’m not saying that the arts can’t help these kids, but enrolling kids simply for that reason (especially when discipline should start at home) is just asking for it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Insurance Policy

Every once in a while, I see people putting down the martial arts, especially when taught to children. Along those lines, the biggest argument I've encountered against the arts is teaching violence to kids. It doesn't seem to matter about all of the other things taught, like self-discipline, goal setting, and so forth; they still harp on the violence aspect. True enough, kicking and punching are violent activities, but allow me to explain it this way:

From a student's first day (especially when that student is a child) any instructor worth anything will tell that student the most important lesson of fighting is to not fight; that one should avoid fighting if at all possible, and that one shouldn't use any fighting techniques learned unless it's the very last resort. To quote everyone's favorite karate instructor, Mr. Miyagi from "The Karate Kid" movies, "Rule #1: Karate is for self-defense only. Rule # 2: Always remember Rule # 1."

Here's an analogy I often use to put this into perspective: we pay all kinds of money for insurance (health, auto, life, homeowners', etc.), but deep down, we all pray to God that we never have to use that insurance policy--but if the need arises, we're prepared (anyone ever had a wreck while they didn't have insurance?). The same applies to martial arts; no one in their right mind wants to be in a predicament in which they have to defend their lives and/or that of their loved ones, but it helps to be ready if it happens, right?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lessons for The Young and Old Alike

Anyone that knows me can tell you that my two favorite types of people (other than my wife and my children of course) are kids and and the elderly, for various reasons in each instance. In working with both groups of people in and outside of the dojo, I have learned two main concepts that apply both in and outside the dojo, one from children and one from the elderly.

Key concept learned from children: open-mindedness.

Children tend to be more receptive to new ideas and thoughts than adults, mainly due to their small time spent on Earth, they haven't developed any filters like adults tend to over time. Children aren't afraid to try doing their kata different ways or mixing a little grappling with their taekwondo that will help them become a better martial artist.

Like the "old folks" say, " a closed mouth never gets fed." Neither does a closed mind.

Key concept learned from the elderly: simplicity.

The elderly love and embrace the concept of simplicity, whether it's because (as some elderly say) they're too old to learn new things or (my favorite) because simple works. They could care less about being able to throw a picture-perfect side kick to the head of a 6'8" opponent or the elaborate escape from a choke hold that takes 2 minutes to perform and looks pretty during a demonstration....especially when a kick delivered to the knee and a old-fashioned foot stomp will do the trick.

"Easy does it!"