Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Kobudo: Shodan Edition

On Saturday, November 18, 2017,  I took my Kobudo Black Belt test (for Shodan) from the American Karate Tae Kwon Do Organization's kobudo program.

Spoiler alert: I passed.



My first class was in January, 2015, so I'm a couple of months shy of the program taking three calendar years.  Weapons covered in this session were bo (6 foot staff), tonfa, nunchaku, and sai.  Looking at our first test for Green, nine women and fifteen men tested.  At our black belt exam, eight women and seven men tested.

I've been knuckling down and practicing pretty hard, and I knew as long as I didn't absolutely quit, I would pass this test.  But, as always, about 24 hours before test time, I got pre-test jitters.  I slept poorly that night, I was having trouble remembering things in kobudo practice that morning, and the closer I got to the time to go a huge rock built up in my gut.

On the drive over, timed to arrive 45 min before the test started, I hit a really bad traffic jam due to two big, terrible accidents.  That scared the bejeezus out of me - I can't be late to my test, after all - but I got through it fast enough to arrive 1/2 hour before test time,  which was plenty.

Just as we prepped to go into the room, all of my nerves went away and I felt calm and confident and ready to go.  This is normal for me - freaking out for a day until time to go and then everything becomes smooth sailing.

I won't detail everything we did here.  We did our forms. We did our blocking drills, striking drills, and two-man drills.  We hit the "BOB" bag with our weapons (although we were cautioned not to stab him with sai).

Hitting BOB with sai, bo, tonfa and nunchaku

I didn't hiccup on anything, so that was pretty nice.  I think I absolutely rocked nunchaku - easy to do since it's my favorite of the four weapons we covered and the most arnis-y.  I did drop my sai during warmups (they told us to stop, and I did, automatically, and the sai flew out of my hand thanks to sweaty palms and inertia) but that was my biggest blunder overall.

I did get a tonfa burn on my right thumb, and then sometime during two-man drills and the "BOB" striking drills I strained the daylights out of that same thumb. Thankfully the test was almost over and I no longer had to manage the finer points of sai manipulation!

On two-man drills I was lucky enough to be paired with my friend Jessica, my favorite person to pair with in the room (she's competent and knows what we're doing, and we're of similar height so we don't have any weird targeting issues to deal with).  She must have made me look good, because the feedback on my test from the instructors is that I did really well on the two man drills (which they expected of me, apparently).

Upon receiving my rank certificate, I was told, "Good job, killer".

KILLER.

Aww yiss.

L to R: Sensei Mike Proctor, "Killer", Sensei Keith Yates

Our main instructor during nunchaku/sai, Aaron Barnett, was also promoted to 3rd Dan in Kobudo at this test. Congratulations to him!

So what now?

We move on to the Seniors class in January, which is less pressured as there's no set time or schedule for testing anything at all.  Basically, it's a great time to just learn and nerd out on weapons.

Just the thing for the Stick Chick, friends.

We're going to study kama next - sticks with KNIVES on them? YES PLEASE! although we will only use all-wood practice weapons.  Nope, no aluminum rainbow tape wrapped dancey-dance pseudo-kama for yours truly.

I'll take a short break to rest and heal, but I'll be back practicing in December, even if I'm not going to get tested on anything. I don't want to forget what I learned, but I think I'll spend a lot more time on nunchaku because, well, I can. I'm also planning on trying to find someone to teach me more nunchaku, as I plan to try to get very, very good at it.

So there you go.  My first step in the long journey to understanding and using ALL THE WEAPONS is complete.

Here's some more pictures from the test:

The second move of our "Bo Ichi" form

Part of our "Tonfa Ichi" form

Nunchaku Ichi.

Sai Ichi

Two man drill.  Nunchaku vs. Bo.

Nine women entered, eight women leave.

Receiving my rank certificate

The Hidden Sword Martial Arts crew. Kimberly was complimented on having the best technique on the test.
Yeah, well... I could take her!

The Shodan Class of Group 10 of the AKATO kobudo program and our instructors


Saturday, November 18, 2017

My Week in Stick Chicktivity - 11/18/17

Here's how my week of training, writing, teaching, and miscellaneous Filipino Martial Arts-y goodness went.

What have you been up to this week?

THE WEEK DAY-BY-DAY:

Saturday:  Two hours of kobudo practice, then I went with my teacher out to Bridgeport for the Arnis Instructors monthly session.  Always a fun time working with the folks in that class, and I always seem to gain a bit of new insight into what we do working with them.
Sunday:  Chores and such.  More kobudo practice.
Monday:  My back has been bothering me for the past week or so, so I decided to stay home and rest it.
Tuesday:   Good thing I did, because my back officially "went out" on me during the day and I spent the day on a heating pad and with many muscle relaxers.
Wednesday:   Felt a lot better, but it was the last opportunity for Mr. Chick and I to see "Blade Runner 2049".  Really glad we did - I enjoyed the film big-time. Also, this is the day I ordered my kobudo black belt present to myself - custom made Bahi (aka Heart of Palm or Black Balm) nunchaku sized to yours truly from Henry at USA Nunchaku Co.  I will be writing about these in a couple of weeks and I can't tell you how excited I am about them!
Thursday:   Took younger daughter to Hidden Sword and got in some kobudo practice.  Resting this week was the right move. I think I've been overdoing it a bit and that's why my back has been so problematic earlier this week.
Friday:  Took the whole day off work to take older daughter to take her driver's license test (which took us three months to get an appointment).  Because our paperwork did not have the right checkbox checked, she could not take the test and we have to reschedule.  Whew, the good people of the state of Texas dodged a bullet on that one.  Thank goodness we don't have some crazy person with a wrong box checked on a piece of paper driving on our roads!  Later that night, worked on review (we're prepping for testing) at Mid-Cities Arnis and got in some kobudo practice.

No new picture of me this week, but this is a picture of my new nunchaku. Yes, it's okay to be completely jealous.

BLOGGY GOODNESS:

Here's the new posts or reshared older posts I sent out this week:

MondayHow to Get Started in the Martial Arts - for Grown Ups
TuesdayThe Intimidation Factor
WednesdaySumbrada With the Big Stick
Thursday: Kobudo: Testing the Big Stick
FridayKobudo: Testing the Big Stick and Two Smaller Sticks

OTHER STUFF THAT I SAW/DID:

+Kai Morgan published a super-good blog post that rang so VERY TRUE with me, as someone who seems to always be fighting off an injury or three.  I plan on sharing with with my doctor: Seven ways martial artists are unique as physiotherapy patients

And our friend and totally cool Karteka +Joelle White wrote about her experience at a women's self defense course: Another Self Defense Seminar

If you don't believe "it is all the same", here's proof.  There's tons in here that we do as Arnisadors.  Really cool video:


On a sadder note, an individual that we've written about before - Ralph Aaron Hall (fake ninja, fake Ranger, and a guy who abused one of his martial arts students and did time for it) is out and about and peddling the same story he always has.  Here's an update to that post, which is a repost from my friend Don Roley's blog. SPECIAL SHENANIGANS CROSS-POST: RALPH HALL

Ugh, can't leave this week's roundup post on that sour note. So here's an nice piece of advice:



And finally:



If you run across cool martial arts stuff you think I should see, please do post them in the comments!

FINAL THOUGHTS OF THE WEEK:

Whelp, today's the day.  Kobudo black belt test at 4 pm Central time.

I've practiced my head off, so I feel confident that things will be fine, really and truly.  I GOT THIS.  BUT, it's the 24 hour period before the test where I get jittery and nervous.



This morning I have to cover Tae Kwon Do classes for my teacher (I can make them do calisthenics and work their kicking drills as well as anybody) as well as teaching Arnis, so I won't get in as much practice as I'd like before it's time to drive over to Dallas.  Mr. Chick gets to go to an Arnis seminar (here) so I won't even see him until it's testing time.

Not ideal, but hey, that's how it goes.

Compound this with a holiday week (Thanksgiving in the USA) with all sorts of goings-on, it's going to be a long and stressful week.  I'll be posting here and there but I'll be offline for much of it, as I'm booked up all week long.  I won't be doing much in the way of martial arts so I probably won't even do a "Stick Chicktivity" post next week.

If I don't see you, I hope USA readers have a fantastic, peaceful, and abundant Thanksgiving, and do take a moment out of your time to celebrate and be grateful for all we have.

So what did YOU do this week?  What did you train? What did you teach?  Did you see any really cool martial arts stuff online?  Let me know!

Monday, November 13, 2017

How To Get Started in the Martial Arts (For Grown Ups)



It's not easy to get started in the martial arts as a grownup. If you're an adult who never trained, or someone who trained as a child but dropped martial arts training and want to pick it up again later in life, it's confusing and difficult to know how to start.

Where should I train? What style should I train? What's the "best" thing to learn for self defense? For women? For old people? Around injury? What style will help me get physically fit?

I wrote this guide so my answers to these questions are all in once place, as an attempt to help all of you grownups out there wanting to get started in the martial arts but have no idea how to begin.

You see, I was you once.

This is a long post, so grab a coffee or tea and settle in.

I hope this helps.

WHY DO YOU WANT TO TRAIN IN THE FIRST PLACE?

This is an important question only you can answer. This is the key to every consideration when choosing a school and a style.

The most common reasons people seek out martial arts training are for self defense and for physical fitness. These are not the only legitimate reasons to train, mind you, just the common ones.  

Other reasons might be to gain self confidence, to learn physical and mental discipline, to socialize and make friends (especially when you have just relocated to a new place), and to resume training after a long break. Or hey, you've always thought that martial artists were cool and wanted to be one.  Or it just looks like a heck of a lot of fun.

Arnis sticks, six foot long sticks, five foot long sticks, ropey whacksticks...

All of those are legitimate and fine reasons to train.

List your reasons for wanting to train in order of importance.  Literally, write it down.

Ask yourself if competition is important to you, or not, or if it's even something you want to avoid.  Many martial arts schools participate in tournaments, and some require it, and some don't. Include your answer to this question on your list.

Maybe you want to train with a child, together, as a family activity. Maybe you don't but you're fine with kids or teens being in the same class with adults. Or maybe you want to only train with other grownups, and not have any kids around. This is an important consideration, so put this on your list.

Write down your budget for training. The general costs of training vary widely depending on the school and locale and what's included in training, so I can't give you a great guide here. I can tell you, in my area of Texas, training typically runs about $50-90 USD for rec center programs (and may include uniforms, some equipment) and I've seen up to $200 USD for unlimited access at private martial arts schools. We'll get into fee schedules a little later, but make sure you have an idea of your budget before you move forward.

And finally, are you sure you want to train in the martial arts?

Do you understand what martial arts are all about? Here's how I define the term:



The difference in strategic choices and decisions is what makes one style different than another.  These strategic choices include (but aren't limited to):
  • Striking and kicking and grappling
  • Fighting with/against weapons empty handed, or armed
  • Aggressive action to inflict maximum damage or passive action to redirect or inflict as little harm as possible
There is one big "yeah but" style that often comes up, and that's tai chi.  Make no mistake, if taught as a martial art, it totally is a martial art. But it is possible to learn the style as an exercise pattern only and not see or apply the martial applications found there.

Yes, there are differences in how violence is though about and practiced, and sure, there's plenty of martial arts performance out there that isn't intended for fighting at all. Look up "XMA Weapons" for a great example of this. But make no mistake, it is all grounded in violence.

If you train, you'd better.

You can get many of the benefits of the martial arts in other activities, including sports, yoga, and Crossfit and other exercise programs.  So be sure that you're okay with violence before you start training in the martial arts.

Other than being comfortable with violence, don't overthink the whole "this style is better than that style" debates we get into.  When you are just getting started, style isn't terribly important, and there's no such time as wasted time in the martial arts.  No matter what you study, you will learn something useful.  You can gain experience and then change to something else that suits you better later, if you like.

Another differentiation is the training culture.  Is it derived from a specific culture (China, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Brasil, etc.) or not? Fans of a specific culture often end up training in that culture's martial arts systems.  If you have an affinity for one of those cultures, it may influence your choices.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN YOUR AREA?

When getting started, this is your most practical consideration. The truth is, you're most likely to stick with training that is convenient for you to attend. You do have a life - job, family, and other hobbies and commitments - that you have to manage as well as martial arts training. There's no point in making it hard on yourself when you're first starting out.

You should consider areas around home, around work, along your normal commute, and around any other place you spend a lot of time (such as a church, or a child's activity at a recreation center). Unless you live in a very rural area, I'd recommend searching within 10-15 minute commute of home, and 5-10 minute commute of work. If you do live in a rural area, you need to expand your search a bit as you tend to have longer commute times to train.

Using a tool like Google Maps, search for "martial arts" in your target areas, and make a list of all the schools you find and what they say they teach that meet the location criteria. Save their contact information in your list (address, phone, web address, and email address).

Wait, does that sign say... karate?

If they have it posted, also write down the cost(s) of training (some will, some won't). This will be an important consideration later.

Find out the class schedule of each school on your list. Note if they adult classes or not. This may be posted on the school's web site and social media sites like Facebook, but they may not be, and you'll have to contact them to find out more.

Note - many schools have early morning and mid-day classes. That's why a school near your work place might be ideal for you.

Eliminate any schools that don't fit into your schedule. That is, if Sensei Joe's Karate Emporium only meets on Wednesdays and Fridays, and that's when Junior has basketball half the year, that might not be the best choice for you starting out.

As an aside:  if you end up having to take months-long yearly breaks for things like sports seasons it is very difficult to make long-term progress. It's not impossible, but very difficult, and in my experience, people who have to do this end up not returning to train. So keep this in mind.

If you decided you wanted to only train with adults, eliminate any schools that do not have adults-only classes.

Be sure to check out the martial arts program at your local recreation center, community center, or YMCA/YWCA. These can be very good, high quality programs at a reasonable price. The big plus with these programs is that they often have child care available during class. This is very important if you have very small children at home.

One alternate way to find places to train is via sites like Meetup.com and on Craigslist. Small, less formal or new training groups often promote themselves this way, and their classes may be in public parks or in backyards or garages (and sometimes the fees for training are minimal or even free). This does not make them any less legitimate than schools in rec centers or in stand-alone facilities, but they tend to vary in quality.

One other idea - if you just can't find a schedule that suits you, and everything else checks out, inquire about private lessons.  They usually cost more but you'll train one-on-one and get a lot more work done in class than in a group setting.  Sometimes a couple of students can get together and buy private lessons instead of group classes.

A NOTE ABOUT ONLINE (VIRTUAL) DOJOS: I do not believe that an inexperienced person can train online-only and become proficient at the martial arts. So I can't give you advice there, as I think it's a waste of money for people new to the martial arts.

VISIT THE SCHOOLS

Time to visit each of the schools on your list.

You should attend one or two sessions of the actual class you are planning to attend. That is, don't go see the Little Tigers class for toddlers as it will not look anything like the class you'll be taking. You will also want to make an appointment to speak to the owner/instructor/leader of the group.  Sometimes this has to be at a different time than class time due to how schedules work.

If it takes the instructor a long time to get back to you via phone/email (24-48 hours) that may be a bad sign.

Note the condition of the place you'll train. Generally speaking, you have the right to expect cleanliness, orderliness, and for it to not smell like dirty feet. It may smell sweaty like a gym, but not acrid.  Equipment should be in good repair.

Make sure to go to the bathroom. It should be clean and well maintained.  HYGIENE is super important in martial arts training and the facilities should be promoting this.

Remember your list of why you want to train?  Now's the time to look for those things. Some things to look for include:
  • If it's for self defense, do they do or talk about things related to that topic? Many schools promote themselves as being about self defense but don't actually teach it.  Do they understand the legal constraints around self defense where they are located (for example - if they teach someone to kick a bad guy in the head after throwing them down, that's a huge red flag, as that's illegal in many jurisdictions).
  • If it's for physical fitness, do they do exercises as part of the class, and do the students/instructor look physically fit? Schools very serious about physical fitness will often have workout equipment in the school, such as bar bells or other tools. If you see that stuff around, that bodes very well for it being a school with an emphasis on physical fitness.
  • If it's for mental and physical discipline, does the class look organized and focused, or is everyone sort of doing their own things willy-nilly? Adult classes are often a little less formal than kids classes, but people should still be quiet when the instructor is teaching, not wandering around, and working on what they're supposed to be working on instead of chatting.
  • If you want to train weapons, do you see any in the room? The particular class you are attending may or may not be working with them that day, but will typically have some displayed around the room.
  • Do the students look bored, or are they engaged and having fun?
  • Can you picture yourself on the mat, doing what the people there are doing?
Sweet nunchuck skills? Check.

At your instructor meeting, tell the instructor what's important to you, and listen to their answers. Do they answer your questions directly, or do they avoid them? Are they honest about what they do, or do they try to claim they are all things to all people?  Do they listen to your questions, or do they talk over you?

I think these are big red flags:
  • If they claim "It's better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6" or claim that legalities don't matter in self defense. This person is clueless and will get you in trouble.
  • If they spend a lot of time putting down other schools or styles. It's not about the downsides of other styles, it's about the upsides of theirs. To me, that suggests a struggling school with an insecure instructor.
  • Lineage issues: not willing to name who taught him/her, claims to have been taught by a mysterious Asian master as a small child (the name of the master might not even be remembered), created own style after earning a black belt rank as a child.
  • Not being up front about training fees and charges
It is also a good idea to search the instructor's name online, and see what you find. Is there anything out there that bothers you?

Trust your gut. If the instructor doesn't seem "right", and you're not sure if you can like or trust that person, don't pay money for the privilege of spending time with the guy, no matter how objectively "good" he might be.  Trust is important in the martial arts, and if the instructor doesn't seem trustworthy, your training will suffer no matter what.

At the school visit/instructor meeting you should also get a full accounting of fees and charges. If there is a trial class offered, get the costs BEFORE that class if possible.  There is no point to a trial class if you can't afford it.

DO attend that trial class if the costs are reasonable to you.

FEES AND CHARGES

These may include:
  • Monthly training fee. There may or may not be a contract, and it may be for so many hours of training time a week/month. This may be tiered, offering more hours training for a higher fee schedule.  Make sure to read the entire contract, if there is one, and understand the fees and and penalties if you end up leaving early.
  • Testing and/or belt fees.  A belt fee, to cover the cost of the belt and rank certificate (if your school has belt ranks), is very common, often in the $20-30 USD range. Other testing fees vary widely, depending on the organization/school/style. It is not unusual for it to be a higher cost for higher ranks. This often includes the cost for board members to attend the test.
  • Mat fees.  This is often the drop-in fee for training outside of normal classes, during "open mat" sessions or charged to visitors to train.
  • Equipment fees: the cost of training/demo weapons, if needed, plus other school-wide equipment, like exercise equipment, striking bags, rolling dummies, etc.  Equipment (like bo, tai chi swords, etc.) is usually purchased through the school.
  • Uniform fees.  Required uniforms, such as gi/dobok and other things like shoes or protective equipment for sparring. Also for shirts/shorts, rash guards, etc.  Often this is purchased through the school like equipment.
Before you sign up, make sure you understand all fees, what they are used for, and when they are incurred.

Yeah, sometimes.

There is no rule of thumb as to what's "reasonable" or what isn't. A low-fee school might be the best one in town. Or it could be that you get what you pay for, and the highest fee school is the best. The most important consideration in terms of cost is that it fits your budget.

Now you have enough information to actually step on a mat.

PICK A SCHOOL

The school you should choose is the one with the fee schedule you can afford, offering classes convenient to you and your schedule, that is clean and hygienic, has an instructor that doesn't skeeve you out, and meets your initial reasons for training, whatever they are.

Now it's time for the hard part.

Stepping on the mat.

Yes, fellow grown-up, it's not easy to step on the mat the first time.  You feel out of your element, kinda shy, a little scared, and afraid that you'll look like an idiot.  You'll be afraid your personal hygiene isn't up to snuff. You're worried that you'll hurt someone, someone will hurt you, or worst of all, you'll hurt yourself.

That's all normal and some of those things - especially looking like an idiot - will be absolutely true.
Been here, done this. But not as well.

You're a newbie.  Newbies know nothing, are often pretty clumsy, and often look like idiots.

It's all right.

You've joined the fellowship of people who get bruises for funsies, the folks who get put into a painful position and grin and say, "Do that again!".  Every one of us, at one time, were newbies too. Train for a while, and you'll be the one helping the newer crop of newbies and assuring them that everything is all right.

Starting training for the first time at age 39 was the best decision I ever made. I had zero martial arts experience other than watching my kid yell "KIAAAA!" and break a board on tests. I started training to get more physically active after I realized I am gonna get old and it was gonna suck if I didn't change my ways. I went to the same school my daughter and husband were in when I started, in a martial arts style I do not train in today.  I've changed schools, cities, and styles, and have kept training since 2008.

I went from "maybe I'll try this punch-kicking thing as an alternate to gym" to weapon-oriented martial arts instructor (who knew, right? I certainly didn't!).  I belong to the tribe, and you will, too.

Welcome!


Saturday, November 11, 2017

My Week in Stick Chicktivity - 11/11/17

Here's how my week of training, writing, teaching, and miscellaneous Filipino Martial Arts-y goodness went.

What have you been up to this week?

THE WEEK DAY-BY-DAY:

Saturday:  Took naps. Went shopping.  Practiced kobudo on my own.  Yep, a day off from running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  While I was slacking, the Hidden Sword crew was racking up the wins at the AKATO tournament.  Proud of 'em!
Sunday:  Slept a lot. Did chores.  Went grocery shopping. Watched the Chiefs lose.
Monday:  Arnis class at Hidden Sword. Worked on two-on-one drills and single stick entry drills (the kind of stuff that you do in tapi-tapi).
Tuesday:   Took younger daughter to class at Hidden Sword. Got in a short but pretty intense practice session in Kobudo.
Wednesday:   Covered the Juniors Arnis class at Hidden Sword (my teacher was ill).  Only myself and another kobudo student in the adult class, so we ended up practicing kobudo.
Thursday:   Took younger daughter to Hidden Sword and again got in a lot of practice at kobudo.
Friday:  We're entering the time where attendance on Fridays will be light due to holidays.  No students showed, so I got in some more - you guessed it - kobudo practice.

What the kid doesn't know is that he's stepping right into my left cross.  (insert evil cackle)

BLOGGY GOODNESS:

Here's the new posts or reshared older posts I sent out this week:

MondayWhat's in Your Toolbox?
TuesdayThe Need for Flexibility in the Martial Arts
Wednesday: Five Ways to Suck Less at the Martial Arts
Thursday: Why Study Weapons?
FridayQuestions from Quora: Can a Martial Artist Beat a Normal Average (Person) In a Fight?

OTHER STUFF THAT I SAW/DID:

New video from +Ando Mierzwa:


Poor Todd got injured!


Well, hell, I had no idea this was possible. Maybe I need to reconsider my whole "golf is boring" positon:


Oooh, I wanna see this!


If you run across cool martial arts stuff you think I should see, please do post them in the comments!

FINAL THOUGHTS OF THE WEEK:

I get two hours of Kobudo practice this morning, then I go out to Bridgeport with my teacher to help him teach his monthly four-hour Arnis Instructors program.  Gonna be a very long day.

And yep, today marks one week out from the kobudo black belt test.



So what did YOU do this week?  What did you train? What did you teach?  Did you see any really cool martial arts stuff online?  Let me know!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Questions from Quora: Can a Martial Artist Beat a Normal Average (Person) In a Fight?


Quora is a leading internet site where questions get asked and answered by people from all over the world!  As you can imagine, lots of questions get asked about the martial arts.  "Questions from Quora" shares a question I find interesting, and my answer to the question.

Got a martial arts question you want me to answer?  Send me an "Ask to Answer" on Quora, and I just might!