The number one lesson I learned

I am sorry for the unannounced brief hiatus, but I had bronchitis  and then my eldest son got sick…we’re fine now, but it wasn’t pleasant. I figured since I’m back now, I’d post about the biggest and greatest lesson I’d learned from the martial arts…

Everyone knows that the martial arts are great for health, self-defense, discipline and the like, but the number one thing that martial arts gave to me was perseverance.

Life isn’t always easy, times get tough, situations arise that challenge our resolve, our character and our very mettle. We lose loved ones, struggle at jobs, accidents happen and things just truly come our from left field to test us and force us to genuinely look at who and what we truly are.

In the martial arts, training grows increasingly difficult, classes get harder, bumps, bruises, sprains, small cuts and minor injuries are not uncommon. Training hard can make us throw up, drain us of energy, can take a lot of time etcetera. Learning new techniques can sometimes be very difficult and take some longer, failed testings and the lot.

In martial arts, much like in life, we may face a host of challenges and adversity that causes us to draw from the wellspring of strength within. Facing these challenges in the dojo, kwoon or dojang, builds up that inner strength, that ability to persevere through the rockiest of times in the school and in life. This is how things learned in the martial arts school, directly have an effect on life outside of it.

I have lived in some of the worse areas of the United States of America and it’s the will to persevere and push forward that kept me alive and got me out. That one lesson has probably saved my life a half-dozen times alone and is why I have been involved with the martial arts for thirty years now. If only the ability to persevere translated from dojo to life, martial arts would be worth it!

Sure there’s a ton of reasons why martial arts are amazing, but the one thing that is the most powerful and transformative is pushing on, persevering. This causes one to grow, overcome obstacles and limitations, get better at everything in life and to meet daily challenges head on.

If there is one thing I hope to impart on the students I teach… that is the one lesson I hope they take…. OSS!

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update 5/30/2018

A lot has happened since the last update here, firstly this blog has gotten a facelift, what does everything think of the new look?

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Work is well underway on the martial arts book, but with the amount of photos needed for it, it’s going to take a bit of time before it is available for purchase. I want this book to be chock full of illustrations demonstrating everything in every little detail.

Next, I am proud to announce that in July I will be officially getting recognition as a Soke for Renketsu-Te Karate-Do. This has been decades coming and it’s finally happening… I cannot begin to express my gratitude to everyone involved.

Next, I am working on a YouTube channel about the martial arts, which is still in the planning stages, but is coming together very nicely!

Finally, I am in the process of finding two disciple students, in the PHiladelphia, PA area, to teach the entirety of the Renketsu-Te Karate-Do system to. Once I find them, I will feature them on the Cook-Ryu Hombu-Dojo website and here.

Board breaking revisited

I have written briefly on the benefits of board breaking (Tameshiwari) practice here, but after a good deal of thought on the subject, I’d decided clarification and more detail was necessary. Bruce Lee said it and countless of the uninitiated into the martial brotherhood have repeated it, “Boards don’t hit back,” and again I’ll say, “Nor do heavy bags, punching mitts, kicking shields and speed bags.”

Boards aren’t meant to do what many think they are, even those in the martial arts. If you haven’t studied the classical martial arts of Japan and Okinawa, there’s a good chance you just think it’s a demonstration or a part of testing. A board break can tell a seasoned instructor more about a students progress, than kicking and punching air ten-thousand times can.

Herein I want to remove the misconceptions and false information floating around about the practice and hopefully inform and entertain in the process.

Tameshiwari under the supervision of an instructor or master, is firstly an art within the art. While it is used often in demonstrations, its traditional purpose was to gauge a students technique, form, the application of force, targeting and the application of striking through instead of at a target. Here is how…

If a students strikes a board and it does not break, they are not striking with enough force, or striking through a target essentially striking behind it. Often several attempts are allowed, in case a lack of focus on the first attempt was the proverbial culprit behind it.

Okay so you hit the board and it broke…what does it mean?

Firstly, a board is roughly the density and strength of a floating rib, if you broke the board, you hit it with enough force and struck through your target properly, good job!

The rest is up to the keen eye of the instructor or master presiding. Now they can look at your broken board and see how well your targeting was towards the center of the board. If the break wasn’t clean and caused some splintering, it shows that you didn’t strike far enough through the board.

Is there a slight dent where your hand or foot made contact with the wood? Then you pulled your power too much and didn’t drive through with your whole body into the attack.

Did you feel any pain or discomfort from the board (A slight tingle is normal), if so you need more conditioning to toughen up your bodies weapons. When the board broke, did it bow from a pushing force, or cleanly snap from the attack?

All of these aspects are important to knowing what a student needs to work on and where they are in their training. No, boards don’t hit back, they give feedback and a lot of it!

Respect in the martial arts

In the martial arts one element is often at the cornerstone of practice, respect. From bowing to titles to the shouts of yes “Sir,” “Sensei,” or “Ma’am,” respect is the at the core. We respect our arts, our instructors, our fellow students, our dojo or wherever we so train, we respect our weapons we train with, our uniforms, our belts… this builds character and honor.

Masters and instructors respect other styles masters and instructors, and all respect their students. We respect the blood and sweat and efforts our students put into each and every class. We respect their perseverance and dedication to their tutelage and growth in the martial arts.

Suffice it to say, within the martial arts, respect is a law!

Respect is everything in the martial arts world, it shows your character or lack-thereof when meeting people from other arts and displays your growth as an individual in the arts. Proper bowing, titles, how one speaks all play into the show of respect for others, especially those of higher rank.

The first element a student should develop in the martial arts, is respect and how to show it to others, and to have self-respect for themselves. Everything comes after respect!

Without respect, a student will be made to focus on that lacking aspect, whether through lessons, humility work or similar means to develop such. If you lack respect in a dojo, kwoon, dojang etc… you will spend your earliest lessons being taught proper respect, because it is paramount to the arts.

Respect requires that false ego and personal differences be set aside, this is sometimes easier said than done. Sometimes self-respect is lacking, but over time it can and is developed through classes and individual growth therein. In all cases, martial arts builds these things and find respect and self-respect as paramount attributes of the martial artist.

Book in the works

You’ve read correctly!!! I am currently writing my first book on the martial arts!

Take a look at the cover and let me know what you all think…

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It has been a long time coming, but I am adamantly trying to get my art out to the masses and this book will have all of the requirements from white, to first degree black belt. I am including a lot of minoot detail in every area of the book, with next to no stone left unturned. Images? You betcha and a whole lot of them, from art, to photos, everything is and will be  fully illustrated in it.

Quite literally someone who is already advanced in the martial arts, could very well teach themselves Renketsu-Te Karate-Do through this manual…I’m not kidding!

I’ll keep everyone updated on it’s progress and will give updates periodically on it.

Martial arts and ego

Go to many schools and you’ll find one thing lacking…ego!

In Jiu Jitsu schools there’s often a sign that says “leave your ego at the door,” hanging in a prominent place in the school. Ego is something that will stifle progression, worse than missing classes will. Let me say this, there is healthy ego, that is knowing what you’re genuinely capable of, and unsubstantiated or unhealthy ego, thinking you’re the best, thinking you’re something you’re not et cetera.

Ego will make you believe that you’re better than you are, it will cause you to make mistakes and halt progress. Ego will push other students away from you and make them not want to train with you. All in all…ego is the enemy of the martial arts!

Lower yourself, as Musashi said, “Think light of the self and heavy of the world.” Do not let ego stand in the way of all that the martial arts has to offer you.

Belts and titles are nice, but they are not what the martial arts are ultimately about, it is about developing the self and being a better you each and every day. I would never have a student of mine call me master, though it is the level of instruction I have received, in my own eyes, i am still just a student myself…and I always will be. My healthy ego says, you’re pretty good and you can hold your own and discuss the martial arts with almost anyone.

Only an unhealthy ego fixates on titles, ranks and being better than another individual in training. I am better than no one, however I am a better me than who I was yesterday and that is always the goal. Ego has no place in a martial arts school of any style, all it will do is hamper your abilities and make others flee from you.

My 30 year reflection on the arts

As of this July, I will have embraced my inner warrior and studied the martial arts for thirty years. I have learned numerous systems, met a great many friends, some of whom I still talk with from way back then, met and learned under some of the finest instructors and humans I’ve ever known and so much more. This article is my reflection on the past thirty years of study, practice and martial addiction.

When I look back on myself as a child, I was five when I had truly fell in love with the arts, thanks to books by Grand master Fumio Demura and Bruce Tegner. I read those books about fifty times and began watching Saturday morning kung fu movies on television. My uncle brought me a book on Kenpo Karate basics by Ed Parker and that just fueled my desire even more…I was consumed.

By the time I was ten, either through my enamored desire or by sheer annoyance, I was put into a school in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. I will not say I was the best student, or even a very good student honestly, I was an impetuous kids with kung fu cinema and ancient masters on my mind.

I started taking my classes more serious and realized that it wasn’t 1,600’s China and indeed began getting better and better. A few years passed and I started studying Tae Kwon Do as well, then Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do and it just kept going honestly. Some arts I stuck through into advanced level, some arts I learned for a while and moved back into the systems I’d studied before.

It was no disrespect to my teachers, they were in fact proud that they helped spur me onward to learn as much as possible. Every art I studied, every nuance within them, I loved and held close to me, even today.

I couldn’t have stuck with just one system honestly, I wanted to learn from them all and while this is humanly impossible, I sure tried over these decades. I’m no where near done, as a matter of fact, after thirty years, I feel like I’m really just starting to crack the shell of understand the martial way. It’d be an understatement for me to say that there’s far too much I still want to learn, more techniques, systems and masters I want to study from.

Looking back on the ups and downs, the failures and triumphs I’ve had, there is nothing I can say I would do over. Especially the failures, losses and injuries, have taught me lessons that no great master could have ever imparted. Titles, degrees, belts all of that aside, I am still and will forever remain, just another student…

Oh…and I still love martial arts cinema too!

Tips to get better-quicker

Over the years, I have learned some tips, some tricks of the trade so to speak, to get a student to improve their martial arts quicker. These aren’t secrets, but they are often neglected truths, that some  either ignore, or forget. I can personally attest to the effectiveness of each of these tips, as I personally use them and teach them to students I instruct.

1.) Train at home – This one is preached often in schools, but is seldom followed. While taking a few classes a week is fine, to truly get better and to do so faster, you need to train at home and in the school. Training just an hour a day at home (alongside standard classes) will take your martial arts to the next level.

2.) Sequence techniques – Even if you’ve thrown a thousand of the same kick, break it down starting with chambering the leg and technique and ending with retracting it and returning to the relaxed position. This will help develop proper form and make you much more apt with the techniques you’re drilling.

3.) Slow down – Performing a technique incorrectly a million times isn’t worth throwing it correctly five. Slow down your techniques, move as slow as possible with them and let speed naturally build up.

4.) Stance work – One of the most looked over parts of training is developing proper stance and learning how to fluidly move between them. A proper stance offers balance, stability, speed and strength and is the very foundation for everything else. Practice moving through the stances, they aren’t meant to be static and stationary!

5.) Train with weights – This doesn’t mean you need to get “jacked,” but adding long lean muscle to the body helps in every avenue of the martial arts. Throwing punching while holding weights or with weighted wrist bands, kicks with weighted anklets et cetera… improve speed and strength, while building muscles and stability.

6.) Hit pads and bags – Having great techniques means nothing if you don’t know what it feels like to hit something and can’t target your shots. Bag and pad work cannot be over stated, it teaches you more in a one hour session, than punching air for a year can.

7.) Break down kata – Break down kata into sections of three to five movements and once you’ve learned those work on the second set and so on. Once you know each section, combine them into six to ten part sections and continue doing this until you know the entire kata.

Striking points

In the martial arts there’s many misconceptions and dare I say frauds who mix up legit striking point for magickal one touch knockout points. This has been prevalent for the thirty years I’ve been in the arts, long before then and is still ongoing. You would think that all of the kwoons, dojos, dojangs et cetera doing all of that sparring, thousands of kicks and punches, that bodied would be piling up all over the world!

The fact is striking points are real, more often than not, mystical touch points are not and are psychosomatic responses when given cues by an instructor…like a no touch knockout. So what are striking points then?

Simple, striking points are areas of the body that hurt, cause a reaction such as shortage of breath, or cause an electrical shortage in the brain shutting it down temporarily. Points like the chin, jawline, sides and back of the neck, solar plexus, ribs, liver, kidneys et cetera. Those are real targets, genuine striking points to train to strike, to incapacitate an adversary. MMA fighters, boxers, kick boxers, muay thai and a great many sport oriented martial arts train this and you can see the fruits of their labors in events.

Striking points can be dangerous as well, if you kick or strike the floating ribs with enough force, they can puncture a lung for instance. Striking and knocking an opponent out can cause a concussion, which means the brain bumped into the walls of the skull and swelled. So when practicing or using striking points, caution should be the name of the game.

In sparring contests, often (but not always) students will wear gear to protect these striking points from severe damage. No one has ever worn sparring gear to protect mystical point #9625 on their body!

An art should be usable, it should function as it is intended to, psychosomatic responses to make believe, has little function in any capacity in reality. Striking points however, serve well on the streets, in self-defense applications and in sport applications.

The street fighter story

Out of all of the stupid and disparaging remarks that the proverbial uninitiated in the martial arts says is, “I’m a street fighter, I’ve knocked black belts out.” Okay, now I’ll try not to laugh myself into a coma while writing this but….

  1. If you were in that many streets fights, you’d have a lengthy jail record.
  2. I’ve knocked out boxers so Mike Tyson pffft cake!
  3. You have a fragile little ego and you seek substantiation from that which isn’t even remotely true.
  4. You crave validation as a badass, but in reality you’re a broken little person.
  5. Every martial art is different, there is no “karate,” there’s goju, kenpo, kyukushinkai, et cetera… there literally hundreds of karates, kung fu’s, dozens of judos and jiu jitsus and more….so which one?
  6. An art doesn’t make the student or belt, the student makes it through hard work and discipline and every students level of dedication is different.
  7. Did you verify that the person is really a black belt and how?
  8. Was their school a McDojo black belt mill, or a serious school?

if you can’t answer all of these factors…you’re not a street fighter, you’re an idiot with an opinion on something you know absolutely zero about. Ever watch UFC? Over half of them have black belts tough guy, challenge an MMA fighter and tell them your story…when you wake up I’m sure you’ll all have a great laugh.

The whole street fighter story myth began back in the 80’s when men’s egos were tested by the constant barrage of buff martial artists kicking their way to stardom on the big screen. Guys felt inadequate and small compared to the likes of Michael Jai White, Jean Claude Van Damme and the like. The stories started springing up by every 120lb dad who felt their kids worshiped those badass stars and looked at them as less of a man.

Those kids then continued the tradition and myths and the lineage of bullshittery continued with those frail individuals and their frail children. Rather than put forth the effort, the time and hardwork, the blood, bruises and constant training, they’d rather be legends in their own minds only. It comes down to this…you can be respected by your kids and microcosm with a lie, or you can be respected by your family, friends and peers within the greater macrocosm for the truth.

Become a legend, or act like a legend….the choice is yours!