Tuesday, September 30, 2014

TROY-KWON-DO: Intrigued by Wrestling

Here is the most controversial question of all time: “Which martial art is the best?”

This question can break off into many, many, many different tangents, including but not limited to… What situation? Are there weapons involved? How many attackers are there? Are we talking about fighting on another planet? For self-defense, competition, or fitness?

Tim McFatridge (pictured top right blue shorts) taught our school some basic wrestling a while back. That’s me getting slammed by my uncle in the top left – he’s about 6’ 2” 225 lbs, so that did not feel good!
All side notes withheld, I believe wrestling is the single most effective art form when all things are considered – and it’s not even considered by most to be a martial art!

Sure you may hit a wrestler a few times, but once he has you in his clutches – its game over. Having been on the receiving end of some vicious takedowns, I have never felt as helpless as to when I was sparring a fighter with a strong wrestling background and they got ahold of me. What most impressed me was how solid they felt, even when they were just blocking. It was like hitting a brick wall!

Their balance and stability is frightening, even if their punching is lackluster. If you allow them to lock you up, every striking skill you thought you had is rendered useless.

It also has the benefit of de-escalating a situation on the street – you can stop an attacker and pin him down without actually hurting him. Or if a fan jumps on to your football field, you can humiliate him in front of everybody.

For Example...

I should mention that even though I have an extreme respect for wrestling, I have only had maybe 10 hours of training time in it. Even with a couple of years in jiu jitsu, my main focus has always been the stand-up arts – TKD and Boxing. I believe every martial artist can benefit from wrestling, if not just to learn more about core balance and a strong stance.

I honestly have no idea if wrestling is something you can casually train outside of school (that is, public or private educational institutions). I did not wrestle in high school or college (much to my detriment) and I have no interest in learning “entertainment wrestling”.

Are there even schools out there that teach wrestling without strings attached (school sports or entertainment purposes)? If so, sign me up!

Troy Seeling is a 1st degree black belt and instructor in Tae Kwon Do, with 5 years experience in Boxing and a two-year white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Troy also instructs a strength and fitness class, and helps to manage his families' dojo, North Texas Karate Academy  In his spare time, he enjoys trying different forms of physical fitness, including Olympic weight lifting and distance running. He also enjoys film photography with antique cameras.  You can contact Troy at troyseeling@aol.com.

Ed note: Opinions in "Troy-Kwon-Do" posts are those of Troy Seeling, and I don't always agree. As the scion of a wrestling family (seriously - my Uncle is in the Missouri Wrestling Hall of Fame), today's post gives me too many flashbacks of keeping time and throwing rolled up and taped towels at  referees at tournaments.  -The Stick Chick

Monday, September 29, 2014

MOTION MONDAY: GGM Ernesto Presas at the World Head of Family Sokeship Council 2001

Happy Motion Monday!

Today I'd like to share with you GGM Ernesto Presas' demo he did at the World Head of Family Sokeship Council in 2001.  In this video, you can see GGM Presas demonstrate some of the principles of Kombatan, his version of Arnis.

Also in this video is his son, Ernesto Presas, Jr., who heads up the Kombatan organization today.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Five Awful Reasons To Try the Martial Arts

My friend +Andrea Harkins  wrote "Six Awful Reasons To Not Try The Martial Arts" on her awesome blog the other day, and I really enjoyed what she had to say.  Make sure you check it out and share it with your friends who do not acquire bruises for funsies.

Her post inspired this one, although I only came up with five (maybe you can give me some more in the comments below!)

While there are many reasons to start training in the martial arts, I suggest that these five reasons to start should prevent someone from trying the martial arts.

1) To Hurt People (aka, Bully Training)

Look, it's true we do get injured in the martial arts, some more than others, depending on individual physical fitness, the level of contact and aliveness of the art.  However, that's not our purpose for training - we don't seek injury, or to injure others.

If you want to take up a martial art merely to learn how to hurt someone else - for revenge, for power, or just because you like to hurt people - do not step on the mat.  Most folks in the martial arts are actually not trying to seriously hurt their training partners! It's why we have trouble replicating the reality of an attack with intent - because in our hearts, we actually don't want to hurt people, especially our training partners!

Savages like this are a rarity in the martial arts - I'd like to keep it that way.

This, but the kid on the right is going to knock his block off.

2) To Fulfill Your Fantasies

For some of us, the lure to the martial arts is the idea of playing a role, like a ninja warrior, or a samurai, or a fantasy action character from a movie. Thus, what it takes to be really successful at the martial arts - hard work, lots of repetition, and time to master skills - tends to become rather boring to them very quickly, so they seek short cuts.

These are the people who'd rather pose with a sword than really learn how to use one effectively.  These are the people who will take pictures of themselves looking cool in a costume versus sweating and acquiring bruises.

These people are a time suck for the rest of us who want to work hard and learn.  So if you're driven primarily to look cool, and thinking that you can have what you need to know downloaded into your brain like Neo, please, just dress up like Afro Samurai or something, and go to a Con instead.  It's less work for you and we won't have to cope with you in class.

Oh, you knew you were going to see this one again.

3) Because Someone Else Makes You

Maybe you're not all that interested in learning the martial arts. I don't understand you at all, but hey, it takes all kinds.

If you're a kid being forced into class, this means you won't pay attention, sometimes even disrupting class. Because you won't really learn the material, you can become at best the person in class nobody wants to work with because you don't care, or at worst, a danger to others and yourself.

So, the parents of that kid should take them out of class and let them do something else that they can do with a passion.  The martial arts aren't for everybody, and forcing the kid in class benefits nobody, and can be a pretty miserable experience.

If you're an adult, you might be in a class because your significant other wants you there, or because someone scared you into going (insisting that if you don't, you're just a target for all the bad guys out there).  In any case, without that other person, there would have been no way you'd step on a mat.

So don't.  Don't be there if you don't like doing it, and don't let anybody else pressure you into it, as you won't get any of the real benefits of doing the martial arts.  If you like doing yoga, or playing video games, or collecting Disney plates, or whatever - have at it, it's better than wasting your time (and everybody else's) in a martial arts class.

Awwww, do I have to strap on that black belt again?!?
4) Bravado

This is probably more relevant for the guys reading this (but women do it too, for slightly different reasons), but please, do not attend a martial arts school if you're there to prove your manhood or how tough you really are.

You don't have to know the martial arts - or even be able to fight - to be a man.

You don't have to prove how tough you are, if you are a woman, to anybody else.

It's simply not necessary, and most martial arts training is not about bravado at all (for some arts, it's the exact opposite, being about modesty and restraint).  Your need to prove how tough you are can get you and others hurt pretty badly, for no good purpose.

People driven by bravado make terrible training partners, as they won't give an inch to help somebody else learn. Like most serious martial arts students, I'm there to learn.  Please, go be Butcher-Than-Thou somewhere else.

Dude, I'm telling you, this is not how Pinan Shodan goes!
5) Boredom

I've only seen this once, but when I spotted it, I found it very annoying.

There are some people out there who are in martial arts classes because they're bored with their lives. Maybe going to the gym is boring (and I think it totally is, personally) and running is boring and other activities are boring, so these people decide to study the martial arts as something to do with themselves.

For them, doing the martial arts is equally interchangeable with other activities, they just are tired of those other activities.

Speaking as a martial arts student as well as an instructor, I'm not there to keep you entertained (although I definitely try hard to keep students engaged, learning, and having fun).  We are there to learn a martial art, be it a sport, a performance based art, or self defense. It matters to us, and it isn't reciprocative with playing dodgeball or doing crossfit.  We certainly aren't going to allow the class to be organized to keep you happy and entertained.

If you're bored, martial arts class isn't going to fix it, and you're a drain on the energy of the rest of us.  Go entertain yourself a different way.

An hour of this.  Ugh!

So there you go - Five Awful Reasons to Try the Martial Arts.  Did I miss any?  I'd love to know what you think!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Five Things You Can Do To Help Your Favorite Martial Arts School

Today's post is aimed more at parents of martial arts kids versus adults, but these tips will work for everyone.

Do you love your martial arts school?  Do you think your teacher is the best?  Want to help them be more successful and grow classes?  Here's some ideas!

1) Leave Positive Referrals and Reviews Online

If you like your school, why not let people know it?  Give them positive reviews on places like Yelp, Google Local, and Facebook.  Offer to be a reference to potential students if needed, and offer to write a testimonial for the school's web site.

In today's world, online reputation can make or break a martial arts school - help keep yours positive to potential students checking them out online.

"Best Martial Arts School Ever"?  I'M IN!!
Don't underestimate how much impact taking a few moments to leave a positive review for your martial arts school can have.

2) Source your stuff (if possible) through your school

Many schools use equipment and merchandise sales as an extra revenue to support the school. Sometimes this can make the difference between a school being profitable or not!

So before you go buy a piece of equipment or merchandise online or at a martial arts supply store, check with your school and see if you can get it from them.  Why not have some of the profit go to supporting the school you love?  Chances are, you can get it as inexpensively as you can online through your school anyway.

If you have a good idea for merchandise - like a parent's t-shirt, for instance - suggest it to the school owner; maybe she can get it made!

I'm certain this would be a huge seller.

3) Provide free advertising

You can provide free advertising for your favorite martial arts school!  Some methods include:
  • Like, share, follow, etc. your school's content on social media channels.
  • Buy and wear school t-shirts out and about (even better, keep a few of your school's business cards on hand in case someone asks you about it
  • If they have them, some schools have yard signs you can put in your yard to advertise the school and that you or your child studies there (much like some communities do this with high school sports or extracurricular activities)
  • If your school offers them, do take and display window clings and/or bumper stickers.

Helping your school become more visible in the local community will help them acquire new students and grow.   And don't forget the classic "word of mouth" marketing, which is making sure you actively refer people interested in martial arts study to your teacher.

4) Volunteer at extra curricular events

Your school might attend tournaments and seminars, or they might perform demonstrations, or they might hold school-specific events like promotion ceremonies and parties.  Whatever the event, step forward to volunteer to help with these events.  As they say, "Many hands makes light work", and your help can make events much more successful!

Of course, my school is attended by Muppets.
Like other activities, martial arts schools are very dependent upon the parents and family of students to help out at things like this.  Plus, there's a benefit for you, too, as it builds community around the school. You might make new friends out of it!

5) Volunteer with school cleaning and maintenance

If your school is in a stand-alone facility (versus a rec center program), odds are, the owner is cleaning the school after class and on the weekends, plus, performing any maintenance (painting, repairs) themselves.

Volunteering to help with these activities would be very much appreciated!

Cape optional.

Cleaning and other maintenance - repairs, installation of new equipment, painting, and so forth - is a big job for your martial arts instructor to attempt alone.  By pitching in, you help keep the school a comfortable and nice place to train.

So there's five ways you can help your martial arts school, most of which are low to no extra cost on your part.  Did I miss anything important?  What other ideas do you have to help out your favorite martial arts school?  I'd love to know!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

TROY-KWON-DO: Natural Selection

Two weeks ago I started up a weight lifting routine in the mornings before work.

Not sure if that's rust, or blood.
I finally feel confident enough in my running ability to do half marathons and support some Bro-Science. It is a Monday-Friday routine involving 8-12 rep sets with all the classic lifts. Needless to say, going to the gym to pump iron introduces you to some interesting characters. Everybody there is awesome once you get to know them, but at first, it is like being the new wolf in the pack.

There is no greater place an Earth (short of prison) to see how little humans have developed past their animalistic behaviors than the gym.

NSFW Language (but that  makes it moar funny - the Stick Chick)

Once you step into the weight lifting area of the gym there is a disturbance in the force. Immediately the other guys start sizing you up – you are the newbie in their hunting grounds. Unless you want to make your lifting life Hell, you gotta show some respect. You will be faced with grunts, mean mugging and general posturing. Before you ruffle your feathers, you gotta make sure you have them to begin with. A bro benching 1 plate (135 lbs) is not going to earn respect from his lift – it has to be from BEING respectful and knowing your place.

In the wild, the biggest animal is the Alpha male, unless a smaller animal can physically dominate them. This is true for the gym too – and since its not likely that you will be kicking asses all over the place to assume dominance, it is safe to assume that the Bro with the biggest bench is the Alpha. Saw a guy benching 3 plates (315 lbs) the other day, he has the throne for all I care.

This is MY House
So after people see where your lifts are at, your place in the gym food chain is established. The balance in the force has returned. This is where you start making friends. Bros will “spot” you if you need it and its crystal clear who has right of way at the weights.

Then some females mosey over into the weight area. This is where things get interesting. They immediately have the right of way to even the biggest guys. In fact, some of the guys will take turns flirting around with them – and even if the girls dont even know them, the guys will look at each other like they are their property. They will give you the “they're mine” look even if they have never seen the girls before. Its such a funny thing to see. Every guy in the gym is now ruffling feathers. More weight is suddenly added to every machine occupied and the room tempurature literaly goes up from all of the exertion.

So, like, do you come here often?

I'm surprised that mirrors havent broken from all of the ego-driven self admiration that comes from a heavy set. Ever heard of a “pump?” Yeah, you gotta admire it.

Everybody is at the gym for one reason – to get in shape. Whatever shape that may be is up to them. In the realm of weight lifting it is to gain muscular size. Ultimately that is good for two things – to climb up the food chain and to attract mates. That's it.

Even after you make friends and fit into the food chain, there will still be a minimal amount of talking going on. Guys say all they have to say with their lifts. We are so primal when we are in the gym that its hard to believe that we can even function in normal society when we leave for work.

You looking at my weights, Bro?

Now let me add that I absolutely LOVE this side of humanty. I am in no way the strongest guy in the gym, but being around all of this testosterone fueled posturing is extremely motivating. Yes, I feel intimidated when my 185 lb bench workout is nothing compared to some of the guys in there, but it makes me lift harder every day. Something about reverting into our primal state is extremely liberating and it reminds me that no matter how far technology comes along – we will never stop being what we truly are. We are creatures on this planet just like everything else. If you don't believe me, step into a  gym and go hang out with the gym rats.

So what does this have to do with the martial arts at all? Everything. This same kind of stuff goes on in the dojo too – just replace the weights with sparring. Yes we are better at being humble than the bros, but you know who the best is, who's the Alpha. Its in our nature to establish a pecking order. So whether you have a pack, a pride, or even just a flock, embrace it – we're only human!

Troy Seeling is a 1st degree black belt and instructor in Tae Kwon Do, with 5 years experience in Boxing and a two-year white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Troy also instructs a strength and fitness class, and helps to manage his families' dojo, North Texas Karate Academy  In his spare time, he enjoys trying different forms of physical fitness, including Olympic weight lifting and distance running. He also enjoys film photography with antique cameras.  You can contact Troy at troyseeling@aol.com.

Ed note: Opinions in "Troy-Kwon-Do" posts are those of Troy Seeling, and I don't always agree.  Now if you'll excuse me, broham, it's leg day.  -The Stick Chick

Monday, September 22, 2014

MOTION MONDAY: Intro and Kickoff with Professor Remy Presas Wrist Lock Cane Takedown

Happy Motion Monday!

Welcome to a new series here on the Stick Chick Blog.  On Mondays, I will feature a video from a martial artist I admire, an instructional video, or a video that is just super-cool and fun to watch.

To kick off this series, here's a video from the founder of my art, Professor Remy Presas, where he demonstrates the Wrist Lock Cane Takedown.


Click here if you can't see the video.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

THAT GUY: The Philosopher

So, you're in your martial arts class, and the instructor has given you a technique to practice.  You pair up, and after one or two tries at the technique (because one or two attempts is plenty to judge the efficacy of a given technique), your partner says, "Bruce Lee said to use only that which works. I think I'm going to not include this one."

Later, the two of you are practicing a specific strike against the bags.  You've been doing it for a while, and you pause to catch your breath, and your friend says, "Great work!  As Bruce Lee said, I'm not afraid of the man who's practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who's practiced one kick 10,00 times."

Congratulations, you've been paired up with the Bruce Lee Disciple, one of the variants of THAT GUY: the Philosopher.

The Philosopher is the guy in your school who reads more about the martial arts and related philosophy than he actually does the martial arts in real life.

Depending on the particular variant (the Zen Master, the Bruce Lee Disciple, the Budoista, the Confucian... there's as many variants as there are arts), the Philosopher can always be counted upon to make a comment or provide insight from what she's read about the martial arts, versus physical experience.

True story:

I once got into a discussion about the "universality" of moral precepts in the martial arts.

My friend insisted the values of Bushido are universal to all martial arts.

For those of you who don't know what they are, these include rectitude (or righteousness/justice), courage, benevolence (or mercy), politeness (or respect), honesty, honor (personal dignity), and loyalty (or obedience).

While I agree that many of those virtues are useful and good, it doesn't make it fundamental to my performance or understanding of the martial arts. We never talk about these things in the FMA's as I have known them, although some of these values certainly exist.

His reply?  Well, if it didn't live up to this code - which is Japanese in origin only, by the way - then it isn't a "real martial art".

Real Martial Arts.  Not Japanese.
In my opinion, we all have some aspects of the Philosopher in each of us, but what makes him or her THAT GUY is when they use philosophy instead of actually practicing the martial arts, as if the philosophy is a substitute for training - as if the philosophy is more important than the training itself.

The Philosopher, training.
So, THAT GUY: The Philosopher is the guy who will quote the Zen maxim about emptying your cup every time you ask a question about a particular technique.

She is the one who, when presented with training scenarios, will say, "The supreme art of war is to win without fighting", quoting Sun Tzu.

And as noted above, the Philosopher always has a Bruce Lee quote for every situation.

So, are you The Philosopher?  Got any stories about one you've met in your training?  I'd love to know!

To see all of the THAT GUY posts, click HERE.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

KIAAA-HA! The Awesome Films of Cüneyt Arkın

In the pantheon of the titans of action films, there is one man who stands alone in his own special category of badass.

I speak, of course, of Turkish international action superstar, Cüneyt Arkın.

10 pounds of awesome in a five pound bag.
Mr. Arkin is best known in the west for "Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam" , popularly known as "The Turkish Star Wars", as the film blatantly steals actual footage from the real "Star Wars" film (the first one - the REAL first one, from 1977).  The whole movie is below (and it's a doozie) but in case you can't see it, here's the synopsis:

However, Mr. Arkin is familiar to most of us in the martial arts world due to this particular video making the rounds:

My legs get tired just watching this video.

But this fight scene takes the cake. Huge ridiculous swords?  Check.  Weird posing with said gigantic swords?  Check.  Ninja-esque guy?  Check.  Martial arts screaming (ala Bruce Lee flicks)?  Oh yes. Bad sound effects? Of course.  Sword twirling?  YOU BETCHA.

I bet this movie was responsible for a whole generation of Turkish kids running around in their back yards with big ridiculous swords doing this:
I just love sword twirling, I really do.
I don't know which of his films the above scene is from, but I bet there's more awesome fights like this in it.

Here's one more.  I... have no words.

I created a .gif for this that I affectionately entitled "Ways to Get Your Arms Broken".

Ouch, ouch, ouch.
Finally, I'd like to share with you this gem, in which Arkin is shot by arrows and he... well... watch the clip.

Mr. Arkin is still alive, and making films according to his IMDB bio.  Whatever you think of the quality of his movies - and they were working on very small budgets, obviously - you can't deny they are entertaining!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

TROY-KWON-DO: On Respect

Respect is earned – we've all heard that… but why is it important? In the first Fast and the Furious movie, Walker said to Vin Diesel that he didn't want the money, he wanted the respect if he won the street race…

So very grateful for a reason to insert a picture of Vin Diesel - The Stick Chick

Much like other social animals, humans are constantly jockeying for status.  Earning the respect of your peers shows that you have what it takes to belong on the “Alpha ladder” – that you have been recognized as a legitimate contribution to your social circle of interest.

In school, there would be hazing or “jumping people in”. It all comes down to belonging and “knowing your place”. Yes that sounds cruel, but it’s a fact of life. Humans have been naturally establishing rank-and-file in every aspect of life since the dawn of time. That’s why we wear suits to a job interview. That’s why we have competitions. That’s why we have titles and belt ranks. (Even if your school doesn't have an official belt ranking system, I’m willing to bet that there is a crystal clear rank-and-file in the air).

Or you could join Globo Gym.

Control – and who has it. That’s all this is. Having respect means you have control. You have control of how people treat you, of how they will listen to you… but most importantly, how they think of you.

We want to control. It’s in our nature. Gaining respect is vital in your chosen social circles because it is the only clear way of knowing where you stand in the minds of your peers.

There is a reason you will not gain another’s respect by seeking it. What I am referring to is when you blast your mouth off about how awesome you are or demand that a person respect you. They may say “Yes Sir/Ma'am”, but they may not actually respect you.

First of all, actions are greater than words. The reason most people brag or boast is to attempt to elevate themselves to whoever they are bragging to. How many times have you heard someone tell you how great they were and actually believed them? Or they tell you about that one time they did this move and totally dominated their victim? We usually just think they are just arrogant and brush it off. Respect gained? I think not.

Not saying anything... just... saying. - the Stick Chick

There was is an older black belt at our school that came in having earned that belt in another art. Though he was a Black Belt in Karate, he insisted in starting over out of respect for our program. He always lines up behind those he technically out ranks and to this day has no trace of an ego. We constantly have to insist he take his place as a Black Belt in our school. Here’s the interesting part.

The man is incredibly skilled and has some of sharpest techniques I have ever seen. He never tries to “Full Cup” anything. He has a totally open mind and is incredibly respectful of others. And guess what. He has earned his place and more respect than most people ever get in a relatively short amount of time.

He did nothing to force others into thinking of him a certain way. He never brags about himself or his achievements. But we see how he carries himself every day. He may have slain a dragon with his bare hands, but you wouldn't know it. And even if he told that story, it wouldn't gain him anywhere near the amount of respect that he has earned by carrying himself properly and letting his actions do the talking.

Have you ever met a celebrity of some sort and found out that they were jerks? Same thing. A career full of admirable laurels can be derailed by one sour event – even though that time they refused to acknowledge you pales in comparison to the millions they have made doing something extravagant.

But to you, that feels much bigger. To you, respect for them is lost.

Respect is earned through actions, not words. These actions are inspirational and not a means to gain reward of any kind.

But all we have the desire to talk big. We all have the desire to passively brag about ourselves on social media. We all have the desire to be respected.

Remember, when it comes to gaining someone else's respect - it is their thoughts that matter, not yours. Carry yourself in a humble manner and let your actions tell your story. If you deserve respect, you shall have it.

Troy Seeling is a 1st degree black belt and instructor in Tae Kwon Do, with 5 years experience in Boxing and a two-year white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Troy also instructs a strength and fitness class, and helps to manage his families' dojo, North Texas Karate Academy  In his spare time, he enjoys trying different forms of physical fitness, including Olympic weight lifting and distance running. He also enjoys film photography with antique cameras.  You can contact Troy at troyseeling@aol.com.

Ed note: Opinions in "Troy-Kwon-Do" posts are those of Troy Seeling, and I don't always agree. I'm pretty impressed we kept the Vin Diesel pictures down to two in this post.  -The Stick Chick

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pondering Promotions

Today we're testing some of our kids to move up in rank in our Arnis program.  Our program is relatively new (about a year and a half old), and these are the highest ranked kids we have to date.

It's pretty exciting!
JCVD can't hardly contain his joy!

As we're gearing up for the test, it's got me thinking about the process of testing for rank and how people legitimately get promoted in rank in the martial arts.

As you might know, I've actually trained in several arts under many instructors, mostly due to moving cross country three times in a period of about five years.  As a result, I've either been the student - or the parent of the student - in lots of different systems and schools.  Accordingly, I've experienced lots of ways that people move up in rank in the martial arts.

Here's what I've seen (or in one case, heard about) thus far:

1) The Formal Test

This is a test where the students are asked to demonstrate in front of the instructor and/or a board of judges that they understand and can perform the requirements to be promoted to the next rank.   Students are made aware of the test date well ahead of the test, and usually the test is held in a public forum outside of the normal class schedule, where parents, relatives, friends and others may attend.

I'm not easily impressed, white belt.

These tests can last anywhere from as short as an hour to as many as several days. Sometimes ranking instructors in the same or related arts from outside of the school or organization may sit on the board.

2) The Informal Test

Much like a formal test, but with less pressure and in a normal class environment with the regular instructors.  I've seen this type done most often with low-ranking belts where testing them doesn't take a whole lot of time.  For schools that "test" for belt stripes, this is how stripes were given.

Well, that was quick.
3) The Surprise Test

It's a test like the first two, but, there's no warning.  You show up to class or a seminar or camp, and it's testing time, no preparation time given.  You pass or fail right now.

4) The Secret Test and Surprise Promotion

This is how I was granted my black belt (Dayang Isa).  The person being tested is unaware that there's any test at all.  They are evaluated by several qualified instructors in an informal environment (like the "play time" before or after a seminar or at a camp).  They are then assessed a rank and given promotion if the testers believe they deserve it.

One of the few times I've been rendered speechless.

5) No-Test Promotion

The person is granted the next rank when the instructor determines that he or she is now performing at the next rank level.  Mostly, this is a surprise promotion, like the Secret Test.

You WISH yours was as great as his.
I have experienced all but the Surprise Test personally.

I definitely enjoyed the Secret Test and Surprise Promotion when I was raised to Black Belt. I literally had no idea I had been tested up until just before my teacher asked me to step forward at the end of a seminar we were all attending to give me my rank certificate and new belt.  Of all the ways I was promoted, this was obviously my favorite.

I think that formal and/or informal testing is necessary for kids, as they need that a concrete feeling of the rite of passage and achievement as they move up in rank.  This is also why using "stripes" on belts for certain milestones between ranks seems to work really well for kids.  I also think it's needed for the parents of the kids as well, to demonstrate to them how their child is progressing in their studies (much like a dance or music recital).

For adults, I don't know if formal/informal testing is always the right thing to do, even if it's pretty traditional and the most common method of rank promotion in the martial arts.

I think we earn rank in class on a daily basis, and performance on a test is not necessarily an accurate measure of how well someone knows the art and can do what is required for rank.

BUT - if you believe the pressure of a test is an important way to measure if one is worth of a given rank, I think the surprise test has a lot going for it.  Having to perform at high level with no warning is far better than giving them warning and preparation time!

In any case, today's test is an informal test (sort of) as it's happening during regular class time.  I know our kids will do fine and we'll have a couple of some new blue belts, a green belt, and a yellow belt after today's test is over.

What do you think? What are the pros and cons of testing (or not testing) for promotion? Do you have a favorite story about a test or promotion you've experienced or attended?  Did I miss a form of testing in my list above?  Tell us about it!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We're All Full of It: The Pervasiveness of Shenanigans Amongst Serious Martial Artists

I've covered this problem in more detail here and here, but given that it's just so pervasive, I wanted to bring it up again.

For a short time, I studied Tae Kwon Do (I actually possess blue belts in two different variants - jealous?). I was once told this story by a high rank black belt in Tae Kwon Do (HRBBTKD), when I asked about the purpose of the high flying side kick in self defense situations.  Note, this person was NOT a teacher of mine, thank goodness.

Flying Double Side Kick in Martial Arts
This kick, right here.
HRBBTKD: "It's more of a battlefield move. It's for kicking people off of horses."

Me:  "But you can't get as high as a person on a horse with that kick."

HRBBTKD: "Korea is mountainous and Korean horses are short."

I was being kind.
First:  if they mean the Cheju Pony, it is short - anywhere from 10-11 hands tall (40-44 inches, or 101-112 cm) - shorter than I stand at 62 inches (157.5 cm). But they're draft animals, not really of a size for cavalry. While some people can jump pretty high when doing this kick... it'd be incredibly difficult to do in battlefield conditions, especially when wearing armor of any kind.

Second: Wait, so, there's no flat battleground in Korea? Then why are they using horses in warfare, as mounted units aren't best on rough, mountainous ground?

Third:  Let's say it's actually used to ambush a solider riding along at a slow enough pace that you can catch up and launch this kick at him, and he's riding along a ridge or something (which I can buy, I guess).  Why use a kick when a tackle to pull them off the horse would work a whole lot better? Yet I do not see "flying tackles" in TKD.

Honestly, that explanation smells an awful lot like bullshit.  Perhaps flying side kicks have a real self defense purpose, but I don't see it, as unless you sneak up behind me and flying kick me as an ambush or something - and is that self defense?

I know what it looks like, but my master says it's a platypus.
If the explanation was: "It looks really cool for demonstration purposes and it's an example of athleticism and skill", that sounds much more reasonable, and that is a good enough reason to work on developing expertise in this kick.  In fact, this reason seems to be the most common when you search online (for example, it's cited here on Wikipedia:  Flying Kick).

But if you are teaching self-defense, do not even try to tell me that you can use a flying side kick when Joe Schmoe tries to mug you in a parking lot or Chad I-Done-Drunk-Too-Much takes a swing at you at the bar.

Is this a symptom of people mastering basics so well, they get bored and start making up wilder and wilder techniques, just to keep themselves engaged and entertained?  Then, lower level belts see this, and start thinking it's for real?

Possibly.  Probably!

Look, we don't have to have combat or self defense justifications for everything we do.  "Boards don't hit back" - but there is a legitimate argument to be made for studying breaking in the martial arts.  Sometimes, a drill is teaching more abstract principles that are hard to explain to beginners.  Sometimes it's a feat of athleticism. Sometimes we do it because it's fun.

Sometimes we do stuff because it looks cool.

Yes, we do, don't pretend we don't - we wouldn't have so many sword twirlers in the world if we didn't!

And that's okay!  It really is!  As long as you are up front about the real purpose, there's no reason you can't do this stuff.

Don't let your need to justify it cause you to make up bullshit stories about combat or self defense effectiveness or purpose.  Because then, you look like a liar, and you (and your school, and your students, and your art) becomes suspect.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

TROY-KWON-DO: Martial Arts Photography for Parents

If there is one thing I love doing as much as martial arts, it is photography.

I spent several years photographing equine sports and martial arts events and in the process learned how much more I like using film than digital. I could talk for days about how light waves change when “stopping down” the lens to give you more “depth of field”, but I don't think that is going to help anybody here.

I plan on doing a more in depth article on the finer points of sports photography using DSLR cameras, but this article is just for the parents. That's right, I'm talking to the professional phone / tablet photographers.

Here is a sample from one of our belt tests. With proper technique, you can get nicely exposed shots even in a dim environment. (face has been covered for privacy reasons).

For those of you who do not know, my family owns and operates a Tae Kwon Do school. Other than doing my usual instructor duties, I take all of the photos at events like belt tests and tournaments with professional equipment.

There have been several times when parents have asked me how to take better photos and almost all of what I tell them has nothing to do with their equipment, it is how they are using it. With proper lighting and timing, a cell phone can do just as good as a DSLR for most purposes (posting online, small prints, etc). Here is a quick list to improve your shots next time you are in the dojo.

1) No “Granny Shooting”. Granny shooting is when you frame the subject in the center of the field of view. When quickly snapping a shot it is natural to want to put the subject's head in the dead center of the photograph until you teach yourself otherwise. This almost always results in the shot having way to much negative space above the subject and immediately pulls the focal point away from what you are shooting. To correct this, think of the screen as if it had a tic-tac-toe board on top of it. Try your best to line the subject's head on the top horizontal line. If you wanna get really snazzy, give the subject more “nose room” - more negative space in front of the subject than behind. Don't just “center” everything!

I have drawn crude tic-tac-toe lines on this picture from someone's camera phone when Grand Master Pat Burleson came to visit. Notice how in the cropped picture on the right the top lines meet with Mr. Burleson's eyes? This makes it a much nicer shot.

2) Shoot away from windows or bright lights. Many dojos have large windows near the entrance, allowing a lot of light to shine through. Most, if not all mobile device cameras have some kind of auto exposure system. It is critical to shoot with your back facing the windows, or else the light bleeding through the window could make getting a decently exposed shot very difficult. The resulting contrast from shooting into the light is not very appealing and will usually give the camera a hard time when autofocusing. Shoot away from the brightest light source.

Notice how the blown out windows in the background caused the white balance and exposure of the shot to look funny? Not only is this unappealing, it is much harder to even get a good shot when your camera sensor is battling extreme exposure changes from a dim foreground and bright background. (faces have been covered for privacy reasons)

3) Stay still. Dojos are particularly tricky for photography because of the poor lighting. Light is what makes a photo, so a camera must slow down its shutter speed to properly expose the shot. I do not recommend flash in the dojo for several reasons (I will explain why in the DSLR post). To keep the images from being blurry due to the slower shutter, hold the camera as still as possible.

4) Don't shoot the action. Because of the blurriness explained in the 3rd bullet, it is extremely hard  to get a good photo during fast action without a “fast” lens on a DSLR (1.2 – 2.8 F stop). Wait for “pauses” in the action, like the “top” of a kick, or a paused moment in a kata to snap the shot, or else your photo will always be blurry or just silly looking. Remember – the action may look cool to your eyes, but a picture only captures a brief moment of that movement. You need flash or a fast lens to “stop” the action properly, but honestly the shutter is too slow (both in finger-response time as well as actual shutter speed).

Nine times out of ten, this is what will happen during action moments. The shutter is too slow to clearly take the shot and the camera has backfocused to the background behind the subjects. No bueno.

5)     Get close. There are two reasons to get as close as possible to your subject. One, you want to cut out all unnecessary negative space to make sure your subject is the focal point. Two, the closer you are to the subject, the nicer the “Bokeh”(blurry background) is. Due to the small sensor size and tiny aperture, a camera phone will never have that super blurred portrait look we all love. But you want to give it the best chance its got to make it as creamy as possible. I know it is hard to get close sometimes, but it sure beats using the crappy digital zoom on the camera. The more you zoom, the shakier your shots become – not to mention, most camera phones digitally zoom, not optically, so your quality degrades the more you zoom in.

I think I was supposed to be the subject of this photo. Getting closer to me lifting the weight would have solved the “subject” issue. Waiting until I was at the top or bottom of the lift would probably have kept the shot from being blurred as well.

6) Shoot the photo as “raw” as possible. There are a lot of custom settings and filters available on your device. Ignore them all except maybe HDR if you have it. The device does a great job of setting everything up for you. Once you have the raw image, you can always apply these filters to it later using one of the million different apps there are out there.

7) Touch the screen on your subject. Most people know this – but you can tell your device where to focus by touching the subject on the screen. It will find the correct focus most of the time, but this ensures that the focal point is right where you want it. This is especially helpful if you are doing some artistic shots and your subject is way off to the side or otherwise nowhere near the center of the frame. I use this technique often to include our logo in the shots (it is painted on the back wall so I frame it off to the side).

8) Take lots of shots! The greatest advantage that digital has over film is the ability to take millions of shots without consequence. You can also “chimp”, which is reviewing your last shot to see if you like how the photo came out before taking the next one.

9) Keep your lens clean, but not TOO clean. I have noticed my phone camera collects a lot of dirt and other stuff from moving it in and out of my pocket all the time. I often leave it on surfaces without even thinking of whats collecting in the lens – like in the sand at the beach! It is best to clean it with some solvent and a Q-Tip every now and then (use an air can to blow off as much as possible first). The less blocking the lens, the more light you get! The flip side is that you are scratching the lens surface every time you do this – so clean it is infrequent as possible to avoid permanently damaging the lens. I have never bought a lens cleaning kit for my pro camera in my life. If the pro lens looks bad enough to need cleaning, then I just unscrew the UV filter and replace it with a new one. Lens cleaning kits are a scam, you will never need them as you are almost always doing more damage to the lens than helping it when “cleaning” it.

This a shot of my Mother at a Tae Kwon Do tournament. The low lighting, fast action and chaotic environment make these shots tricky to get.

There are an infinite number of ways to get a good shot and beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder. I understand that some of my tips are not the “best” way to handle these situations, but anything involving “pro” equipment or ridiculous measures defeats the purpose of this article.

This guide is for the Moms and Dads of martial artists – the ones who don't really care how the camera works – just that it makes good photos! I plan to get super nerdy in my explanation of using pro DSLR cams and manual point and shoots like at Best Buy in my next camera post. Feel free to email me any of your shots for critique, I love seeing other people's work!

Troy Seeling is a 1st degree black belt and instructor in Tae Kwon Do, with 5 years experience in Boxing and a two-year white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Troy also instructs a strength and fitness class, and helps to manage his families' dojo, North Texas Karate Academy  In his spare time, he enjoys trying different forms of physical fitness, including Olympic weight lifting and distance running. He also enjoys film photography with antique cameras.  You can contact Troy at troyseeling@aol.com.

Ed note: Opinions in "Troy-Kwon-Do" posts are those of Troy Seeling, and I don't always agree. I am gravely disappointed Troy didn't cover how to get the best selfies in this post.  -The Stick Chick