Huge news

I have huge news to report and I wanted to let my readers know about it first and foremost. I have been contemplating and mauling over whether or not to do this for several years and am finally taking the plunge…I am founding an at-home instructional system!

You read correctly, but I will not just have people buy some DVD’s and be done with it, my plans are much grander in scope. I will have several DVD series, books and even online one-on-one classes via skype or another online conferencing program to ensure students are learning everything properly and progressing. This is already in the works and I may utilize kickstarter in the near future to help fund it all to it’s fullest capability.

I had been wondering how I could get everything up and running for my physical school here in Philadelphia and this will help facilitate that!

Many of the details are already fleshed out, but it is still in development as of my typing this update. I will keep you all in the mix as it progresses and moves forward…

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Slow down for perfection

One thing most newer students don’t often understand right away, is why it is often better to slow down, when learning techniques. I decided it was time to fix that egregious error in this article.

Let me ask you this, is it better practice a technique a thousand times incorrectly, but fast, building muscle memory of improper form, or a thousand times slowly, being sure everything is structurally sound first? End of article, good night ladies and gents….

Just kidding, but that unto itself should explain why the primary reason for performing techniques slow, is necessary. Get the technique proper, keeping everything in alignment and within proper form, before building up any sort of speed with it. If you have trouble, lose your balance or otherwise stumble while doing the technique as slow as humanly possible, you’re not ready to move any faster with it.

A well trained technique, that is powerful, fast and as devastating as it should be, begins as slow as a turtle. I don’t care if someone throws ten-thousand improper kicks, all I care about is one proper one and to build from there!

Doing a technique wrong for the sake of throwing it out there with speed and force, is not only teaching poor muscle memory, but is also dangerous. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of people tearing ligaments, dislocating joints and otherwise hurting themselves, throwing a technique improperly for speed. Even if your full power and speed kick hits the intended target, are you balanced enough to recover? Did you feel the full brunt of force from it in your body, force throw is force received you know?

Slowing down also has benefits aside from proper form, such as further developing the muscles needed during the technique. As anyone who has lifted weights will tell you, taking your time, isolating the muscles and pumping slow, will yield the greatest results and the same can be said about slowing down with techniques. When those specific muscles are further developed from proper form, slowness and tension, when you actually throw the kick with force, you’ll find a noticeable increase in speed and strength with it.

it is important to throw every technique, not just kicks slowly, strikes, blocks, kicks, turns, stance switching et cetera… all slow!

Trust me, in the end your quest for martial perfection will thank me and you’ll have great form, more power and speed and suffer less injuries in the long run. Literally this is one of the secrets to martial success and development, which many schools leave out due to time restraints in class.

Slow down…. you’re not in a race after all….

Myth vs truth

In the martial arts, there’s a lot of theories and practice, some very valid, some very misled. In an age when combative sports like MMA and Vale Tudo are commonplace, it is good to see many of the fallacies of some of the theories dispelled and thrown to the wayside. People are more knowledgeable on what is real and what is not today and if you’re looking for a martial art that is street ready, that’s a great thing.

Don’t get me wrong, MMA and combat sports are not street systems, on the streets there are no rules, but many of the classical theories once held as truth, have been dispelled through application in the cage/ring.

Take the sweep for instance, often times in classes you’ll find the technique being taught as if it were a sure fire way to drop an opponent to the floor, but reality is, if it is not perfectly timed while an opponent is mid-technique, it is best served to wear the opponents leg down. The sweep is also a great setup to deliver a more powerful technique, think in terms of a jab with the lower body. Do not fall for anyone telling you that a sweep instantly knocks down any adversary, a sweep even the most powerful, is focused on one leg, the human body has two!

Another myth is the one strike knockout and stop. While yes, one hit knockouts are a possibility, even the best trained over decades, would find it difficult to land one on a moving opponent. Sure boxers and pro fighters and athletes can do so often in a cage, but after how much time? Was their opponent possibly armed, did they have friends ready to jump in?

It is far better to teach overwhelming force, where once your initial strike makes contact, it is immediately followed up until the attacker no longer wishes to engage in conflict or is incapacitated. Teaching and learning every strike is a knockout and to cease after initial contact, is outright dangerous!

Mystical invisible powers that grant your super natural fighting abilities, such as no-touch knockouts and throws by waving your arms. This is simply bull crap that is as dishonest to teach, as it is dangerous. Someone feeling like a Jedi, because their instructor taught them these “powers,” are going to get hurt in a street encounter. If your instructor starts teaching this nonsense, sue them and get your money back immediately!

There’s many more myths and bad theories out there, this is just a few…it is always best to grow and learn and to put those theories to the test, before taking anything at face value. Remember that the martial arts, are arts and each individual expresses themselves and what they know, through their art differently.

Recovering from an injury

Let’s face it, most people who study the martial arts, will suffer bumps, bruises, sprains, cuts et cetera… once in a while, a student might break a bone or be side lined by an injury. This is because martial arts are contact, even the arts that are not, use a lot of muscle groups that most people outside of the arts, do not use and train. You’re training in the warrior arts after all, the occasional injury is par for the course, but it shouldn’t take you out of training…

I’m crazy I know, I must be some sort of obsessed madman….hear me out…

Yes you need to nurse your injuries and recover, but you don’t need to miss classes. You can attend classes and watch, if your legs are the injured part, still work your upper body techniques and vice versa. There is no reason that all classes, learning and even practice to an extent, needs to stop. There are students who are missing limbs and they work around it, so an injury to a body part, can often be worked around too.

Some schools offer makeup classes, I myself do, but during makeup classes, you may still miss out on something huge from the class you didn’t attend. It’s important to not miss classes, as even one or two sentences during a conversation during it, might bring a new perspective to you.

You shouldn’t push yourself on an injury however, but attending a class as an observer should not be a big deal and shows dedication on the part of the student. Don’t let an injury hold you back too much, but make sure you’re careful and don’t injure yourself further. A sprain can turn into a tear, a minor chip in a bone, can turn into a compound fracture et cetera.

Minor injuries are expected in the martial arts, after all even in non contact sports there are injuries. Don’t let a minor injury hold you back, but also don’t let it escalate into a worse injury… find your balance and listen to your body, it knows best.

Every art has its place

I teach Sanshou, Karate, Kung Fu, Pa Kua Chang internal kung fu et cetera… so it may come as a surprise to some to hear that sometimes, I refer students to other schools. No, this isn’t done out of malice, it’s just that sometimes what I can offer them, they aren’t looking for or in need of. Some students want to learn dynamic flips and tricking movements, I will send them to an XMA school I’m friends with, some want ground fighting and I’ll refer them to a jiu jitsu school.

There’s as many martial arts as there are reasons why a potential student would want to study them, it’s just a matter of matching up. Every martial art I have ever studied served a purpose to me and i have never seen a legitimate martial arts system, that was useless.

No, not every system is geared towards street use, no, not every system can be used in MMA or tournaments, but none of them are useless, they serve definite purposes. Ask any high ranking student in those arts what they’ve gotten from them, what uses their system serve et cetera…. Many students don’t do this, instead they go to whatever school is closest and accept them as all the same.

Those who just go to classes, with the believe that all martial arts are the same, will drop out of classes, thinking it’s not for them or that the martial arts aren’t what they expected. The truth is, there is a martial art for everyone out there, that will meet their expectations of what they’re looking for, but it takes research and work to find it. Not only are the martial arts separated by aesthetics, terminology, weaponry, belts et cetera, but also by the very nature and philosophy which govern each of them.

There are systems that are internal, external, grappling, striking, no weapons, weaponry, kata, no kata, competition oriented, street oriented, modern, traditional and many more variations that make the systems each unique. Then atop those choices, each art is uniquely inspired by the culture which founded it, this includes all different variants on platitudes, dynamics, terminologies et cetera. There are few cookie cutter martial arts systems and none that meet all of the aforementioned criteria in one art.

As a forewarning however, is even if you discern between the arts and find one that is perfect for you and meets your every criteria, finding a good teacher is another story…best left for another article…

It is difficult finding the perfect martial art(s) to meet your needs, but it is ultimately rewarding once you do (and from the right teacher as well). It is well worth the work put into finding out what you want out of your martial training, then finding an art and class to study that meets your goals and aims. In the end, you will find that every art has validity and is useful, depending upon the needs of those who study them.

Kata and forms and poomse and sets oh my

Most martial arts, especially classical or traditionally based martial arts have kata, but what purpose do these prearranged or choreographed movements serve? I hope to answer that in this article and maybe, by the end convert some of the anti-kata crowd, back to this important training.

Firstly, allow me to explain what kata, forms, poomse, sets et cetera are; Kata is a a series of prearranged movements, strikes, kicks and the like, imitating simulated response to aggressive stimuli. Kata is a training exercise, a practice that most branches of karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu and martial arts in general, have. Some modern forms of the martial arts reject using kata, such as Jeet Kune Do and Krav Maga, but those who practice traditional arts, couldn’t imagine life without it.

So why practice Kata?

Kata is not an exact science of self defense, let me stress that much, you will not perform kata in the middle of a fight and expect to defeat those wishing you harm. Bunkai or application of specific parts of kata, broken down and taught alongside kata, are where  the self-defense applications are. Kata without bunkai, is sorely lacking!

Next, kata is utilized when an individual is training and practicing alone, to work on learning how techniques flow together and can be linked, and how to move with proper form. Just in this facet alone, kata is a highly useful tool for training in the martial arts. Remember, training inside and out of the dojo in equal parts, is required to truly progress in the martial arts.

Kata is also useful as a physical reference manual of techniques, helping students to remember key techniques, to build upon foundational knowledge. Building a strong base is pivotal in the martial arts, as the basics are where all other more advanced techniques came from and return to. A flying side kick, a skipping side kick, a spinning side kick, are just variants of the basic side kick in the end.

Kata is also excellent as a form of cardiovascular workout, bringing sweat like rain and working each and every muscle group in the body in the process. It’s cardio, but with the purposes mentioned above attached to it, far better for the martial artist than just using a treadmill!

In many martial arts styles, the kata will be learned, refined, broken down in bunkai and applied in 2-man versions of the practice, whereas one or more individuals will serve as attackers, while the individual performs the kata techniques in sequence. In using the 2-man methodology of kata, the individuals also further condition their body for combat, while also working on coordination, timing, speed et cetera… in the process.

…then there is free-form kata, whereas a student is expected to on-the-fly, create a kata off the top of their head. This practice allows the student to utilize and learn better improvisation ie. using the techniques they learn, in a spontaneous capacity. This also shows instructors the students knowledge of how the arts techniques flow together and their degree of knowledge of technique.

Kata has innumerable uses and the benefits are truly insurmountable… to the point where some arts are nearly defined by their kata’s. Kata will always have its multitude of uses and will always have a space in the hearts of those who practice them….OSS!

My love affair with weapons

I began my journey into the martial arts, thanks to a book called “Nunchaku: Karate weapon of self-defense,” by Fumio Demura at age five. I loved the book and had toy nunchaku that I practiced with from the book daily. This began my love of weapons, alongside my love of the martial arts itself. As I began taking formalized lessons at ten years old, I constantly asked my Sifu, when I could begin studying weapons, I’m pretty sure it annoyed him.

Afte ten years of study and practice in Shaolin kung fu, four years in Tae Kwon Do, almost five years in Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do, four years in Doce Paras Kali et cetera…. I knew a plethora of weapons.

  • 18 Kung Fu weapons
  • Kubudo
  • Escrima stick and knife fighting
  • Sekiguchi-Ryu Swordsmanship
  • Korean WTF TKD weaponry

I was and still am in weaponry heaven, but until several years ago, I didn’t understand why I loved them so much. Classical weaponry requires absolute focus, understanding of body mechanics, making the weapon a part of yourself (awareness), understanding of flow (for each weapon) and so much more. It is truly a challenging undertaking to learn a weapon!

Weaponry provides a host of benefits, which I’ve covered in past articles here, which greatly assist the individuals empty hand training. Classical weaponry also just looks cool when a skilled user performs a kata or demonstration with them.

Weapons are a great source of inspiration, to keep students motivated and pushing on to continue training. More so than belts, weaponry can serve as a better form of motivation, to keep students pushing onward. This cannot be stressed enough, that only McDojo black belt mills hold belts and ranks as carrots in front of students to keep them learning.

New affiliation

It has been made official, I am officially affiliated with Shintai Ryu Mixed Martial Arts and received my lifetime certificates today…

SRMMA certs

These will proudly be displayed alongside my ranks and SRMAA certs in my dojo once established this year, and until then will be on the wall at my home. I will be offering Red Tiger San Shou, Karate-Do, Gung Fu and Pa Kua Chang, alongside MMA oriented classes. Once I attain a black belt in Jiu Jitsu, that too will be offered in our classes.

I…am…psyched!!!

Music and martial arts

Sometimes classes can feel repetitive, especially when you’re going over the same thing over and over again or just practicing kata. Students might be less motivated or feel like they don’t have the energy to push on, but fear not, there is a great solution….MUSIC!

Music motivates, creates a rhythm, helps timing and drives a workout harder, that’s why you’ll hear tunes playing in nearly every gym in the world. Music has been a staple in working out for a long time and should not be taboo in the dojo either. From quiet contemplative music during meditations and such, to pumping tunes to push everyone to give 110%, music is a force for martial excellence.

In Tae Kwon Do, back when I’d practiced it, they had musical forms/poomse, which showed how music can drive the rhythm of training and kata especially. This was a fun element that every kid in my class loved at the time.

Just like martial arts can find inspiration in music, music has also found inspiration in the martial arts!

Hip hop artists like Dead Prez and Wu-Tang clan have been pumping out martial arts themed rhymes for years and Rza of Wu-Tang clan has even ventured into martial arts cinema. Martial arts have penetrated music and vice versa and it has been a match made in heaven since.

The battle within

One of the biggest battles an individual faces in their training, is a battle which many lose. There is no blood lose, no death or bruises, it is in fact, a battle with themselves.

Few reach the level of black belt, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu alone there’s a joke that 90% of students quit at blue belt…but it’s less a joke and more of an observation. It’s not that students of any martial art are kept from reaching black belt, it’s that the journey is a long one and requires an inner strength and fortitude that fewer and fewer possess today. We live in an instant gratification society, whereas everyone wants what they want and they want it and expect it now…regardless of the work.

The inner battle is the lazy self saying;

  • We can skip a day.
  • We have a sprain/bruise/pain we can miss a few classes and catch up.
  • I can smoke or drink this and be fine for class.
  • I don’t need a good nights rest before class.
  • I don’t HAVE to practice at home, if I do so in the dojo.
  • I trained that technique enough.
  • I don’t need to diet for working out.
  • I don’t need to workout a top doing my classes.

Those are the things that you must fight back to excel and grow as a martial artist. Sure you need down time to recoup, you can have a cheat day, but it’s when you extend those things beyond their necessity, that it becomes an issue. This is where self-discipline becomes the cornerstone of life and where the warrior spirit is driven to new heights.

It is this inner battle, that makes or breaks a martial artist… it forges their spirit in steel, or breaks them like brittle dry wood. This is where the martial spirit is found, this is where it’s honed, this is where the student finds out what they are made of.

Martial arts works in the way that, you get only what you put into it!