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.