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.