Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Continued Growth

Getting a black belt seems to be one of the main goals of anyone that begins martial arts training (at least it should be if you in a belt-ranking style), along with other things like self-defense, spiritual develepoment and so forth. The black belt is looked at as the epitome of training; it's similar to getting a high school diploma (you're not going to school juist to get to the 8th grade are you?). Just like graduating from high school, many people stop training after getting their black belt because they think "that's it," or they're done learning. In other words, they're done growing.

As we see more and more these days, more and more young adults are going to college and/or some kind of schooling/training after high school, much more than people did during my parents' generation. There's numerous reasons for this, but the main reason I'm hitting on today is continued growth. People are realizing that in this competitive world, many of us are obsolete if we stop growing after high school. This isn't to say there's anything wrong with not wanting to continue your education after high school, but no matter what the field of profession, you have to at the very least do some kind of training that wasn't received in high school or before in order to succeed at said profession.

To tie this back into the martial arts world, once that black belt rank is achieved, it doesn't stop there if you want to succeed as a martial artist. My original PaSaRyu instructor once told me that "earning a black belt doesn't mean you've gotten there; it means you've earned the right to get there." I'm not necessarily saying that you need to train until you a 10th dan, but realize that your growth hasn't ended simply because that cloth around you waist is now black.

One of the best ways to continue growth is to teach others. Anyone who has ever taught anything in life will agree with that statement. When you have to teach someone else something that you've learned, it makes you apply what you've learned so you're no longer just going through the motions.

One of the things I love about the PaSaRyu style that is unusual to other styles and schools I've been to is that it is very common (almost required in some PaSaRyu schools) for colored belts to teach lower colored belts. In addition, there's an unwritten rule that the highest ranking person in class--even if that person happens to be a blue belt--runs the class (granted I've only witnessed this maybe twice in my 9 years of training, and even then it was only because the chief instructor was running late). In fact, we actually have an Instructor ranking (technically, it's called "Brown Belt Instructor") that falls between brown belt and red belt. This may cause those that are accustomed to black belts doing all the teaching cringe at the very thought of this, but it does help the colored belts reinforce what they've learned, and as a result are much better instructors once they become black belts themselves. They also learn something I learned from my instructor they very next class after I myself earned the Instructor rank, what I call "The Golden Rule for Instrutcors,"--put the needs of others before you own. This ties into the traditional Golden Rule, in addition to treating others as you want to be treated, teach others as you want to be taught.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Defending The Masters

Recently I was on YouTube watching some vintage videos of some matches fought by Joe Lewis, Bill "Superfoot" Wallace and Chuck Norris. Anyone that's followed martial arts for even a week knows that these 3 guys are amongst the most revered and respected people to ever put on a gi. I observed a kickboxing match between Lewis and Wallace, which was interesting because they were 2 of the greatest fighters that ever lived in the same ring (think Ali vs Frazier), and also because they were both in their 40's and in EXCELLENT condition, giving us normal people something to look forward to if we are as diligent in our training as they were.

What surprised me is some of the comments that were left by viewers on a video of a Joe Lewis point fighting match. To paraphrase, a few viewers were highly criticizing the "sloppy" techniques of these "so-called masters," and that they were basically overhyped by Black Belt Magazine and other martial arts media. One viewer in particular felt disgusted because Lewis wasn't doing anything particularly fancy and just "slapping around."

Well, I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no matter how "right" or "wrong" they may be, but this "new school" martial artist is about to defend the "old school" guys. In fact, I can do so in one sentence:

Fights (real fights, point fights, boxing matches, etc.) weren't meant to be pretty.

Granted, the match that the viewers left their negative comments on had some ugly techniques performed by both combatants, the last time I checked there aren't any points given for a pretty round kick to the head or a picture-perfect Ali-type jab--of course, unless you're in a kata competition, and katas weren't originally designed to be pretty (That's another topic for a future post I guess). Watch any fight--in or out the ring--and see how ugly they get. To quote Iain Abernathy (check my "Recommended Reading" link for some great titles by him), "Real fights are sloppy affairs." Anyone with sparring experience knows this applies to any type of fighting.

Meanwhile, I'd like to the effectiveness of those "pretty" techniques apparently possessed by those viewers.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Real Weapons Training

A few days ago in class, my instructor and I were going over some weapons techniques and wound up having a semi-conversation about weapons applications. Typically what you see when someone's doing a weapons kata, in tournaments for instance, there's a whole lot of spinning, flipping and other techniques going on, but there isn't a lot of practical applications in the kata. For example, when the need arises you want to simply hit your opponent in his ribs with your staff without twirling the staff!

What we found is that many styles teach kata applications or "bunkai," and teach concepts such as one-step sparring. These actions do what I call "making sense of things;" in other words, they teach you how to use the techniques that are learned in the katas and in sparring.

Why not do the same for weapons? Get a training partner and do some one-step sparring drills with a bo staff for example, or mix it up with a bo versus the sai. Afterwards, you can progress to two-, three-, and four-step sparring. Another great drill is to take a section of your weapon kata and turn that section into a three- or four-step sparring drill. Believe me, as a result you will learn so much more about your weapons techniques.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The True Purpose of Blocks

In my previous post, "Does Blocking Really Work?" I presented the question of why we teach and practice blocks if they really don't work. Before I answer that question, let's look at the main reason blocks are taught in the first place: to stop an impending attack. Remember, one of the main tenets of self-defense is to quickly end the confrontation to avoid serious injury. As mentioned in my previous post, blocking an attack does nothing itself to prevent that from happening. After the attacker throws one punch, he can punch again and again and throw more techniques because nothing has been done to stop him from doing so. With this in mind, there are two schools of thought:

(1) Blocking with the intent to strike. As described perfectly in the blog entry "Blocking Incidental to Striking," blocking and striking performed as a simultaneous act is far better than blocking alone. Going along the same train of thought, many styles teach students to grab the attacking limb immediately with the blocking hand and pulling the opponent toward you while delivering an attack of your own. In the event one is able to get the block of in the first place, this does far more to satisfy the almighty self-defense tenet than merely blocking alone.

(2) Blocks are actually intended to be strikes. To better illustrate this point, it is better to think of this one in a close-quarters fight (which is the majority of fights I might add!). Think of the typical knife-hand block: you would use hand furthest from the attacker grab his shirt, jacket, hair or whatever else you can grab hold of, pull him toward you while using your other hand to perform a knife-hand strike to the side of the neck. If you think about it, any other block can be used in such a situation with similar results.

Does Blocking Really Work?

From day one in martial arts training, the typical student learns how to perform all types of blocks: the high block, low block, middle block, knife hand block, etc. These blocks are taught as actions to stop an impending attack. This is all fine and dandy except for one thing: blocking rarely--if ever--works in a real fight. A couple of points will illustrate this.

*Think about how a real fight works. Typically, there is some kind of verbal exchange ("What the f*** are you looking at?!?!" or "Give me your wallet!"), and at some point (usually very quickly) the two combatants are within punching distance and then, if the fight proceeds further, to grappling distance. At this distance it is virtually impossible to block any attack; any punch or kick is coming from too close a distance and simply moving out of the way would be much quicker than trying to block. To illustrate this point, pay attention to a boxing match (in which they are within punching distance about 90% of the time) and see how many blocks are thrown.

Then why-as many people ask-do blocks work in settings such as free sparring and one-step sparring? Blocking works in these situations because of the exaggerated distance between the combatants. They start outside of kicking range, in which there is plenty of time to block an impending attack. If someone starts 10 feet away from you, with the exception of the exceptionally quick fighters, anyone can effectively throw a block.

The other problem with blocking is that it breaks one of the fundamental rules of self-defense: blocking does nothing to stop the attacker from completing his attack. In other words, blocking a punch does nothing from preventing the attacker from throwing another punch or any other attack.

This leaves the question of why we teach and practice blocks if they really don't work. I'll answer that question in my next post.

Until then...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"...I didn't want to push him..."

Every day, parents enroll their kids in martial arts class for numerous reasons, and we've all heard them before: structure, discipline, self-defense, exercise, and so forth. And thus, there will very likely come a time when your child will say something like "I'm too tired to go to class today." This is a highly important and critical point in a child's development in both the martial arts and in life.

Progress in the martial arts takes discipline, concentration and determination, and also support from the family (it's a little difficult for a 10-year-old student to drive himself to class!). I have seen many students skip classes and quit altogether when the intensity of classes start to build up, as it is a natural part of the progression (much in the same way that things get more difficult when going from 1st to 2nd to 3rd grade in elementary school). Many parents are worried about not wanting to "push" their kids. They also want their kids to love them and simply don't want them to face the consequences of their actions. What if the kid was "tired" and wanted to drop out of school?

Not to say that my generation is any better than any other one, but in my day, we weren't allowed to quit ANYTHING, especially if it was our idea to begin in the first place. Two reasons behind this was:
(1) It taught us commitment and discipline. Simply put, if you say you're going to do something, then do it. My definition of discipline is committing to doing something even though it may be something you don't want to do, and seeing it to the end.
(2) We (we meaning kids) didn't call the shots. The parents did (and should do so now). When you allow the kid to quit simply because they don't want to go anymore, who's really in charge?

Children will understandably put up resistance to commitment, and it is up to us as parents to instill the importance of a "no-quit" attitude to prepare them for life down the road.

I heard somewhere that the world is full of great starters; teaching children the commitment and discipline to see things to the end will give the world more great finishers as well.