Wednesday, July 29, 2015

And Then There Were None

Time for another one of those annoying parentbrag posts I make from time to time.

Not one little bit.

Long-time readers of the blog know that both my husband and I train and teach the martial arts together.  You also know that Older Daughter is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do (and has started fencing).

We had one more human being in our household not in a gi on a regular basis: Younger Daughter.

We started working with her at home about a year ago, hoping she'd get to the point where she'd be ready to join a martial arts class.  She wasn't quite ready to follow instructions, she got bored very easily and her physical coordination wasn't quite there.

So, we waited.  Worked with her at home a bit, and waited.

Older Daughter insisted that we don't force Younger Daughter in the martial arts.  Of course we wouldn't force her!  But her entire family is doing martial arts nearly every day of the week - of course, when we asked her if she wants to try it, she said yes.

Then came the time where we were pretty sure she was ready, and we took her up to class for her to give it a try.

And she backed out.

Younger Daughter has this shy streak, you see.  And when she thought about getting up there in a room full of people she didn't know with "all those people looking at her". It was just too much for her to cope with.  She just didn't want to do it, even when we explained that the parents there were watching their own kids, not her.

She wanted nothing to do with that, regardless.

So we backed off and said no more about it.

A few weeks later, Younger Daughter said, "When I am going to go back to Karate?" (In our house, all martial arts are "Karate", thanks - it's just easier to say).  I was sort of surprised that she asked that question so shortly after she'd backed out.

We agreed to try it again, but she said she was still scared.  So I made her a deal - I'd do the first class with her, see how she felt about it.

So, two weeks ago, we lined up together in the Tae Kwon Do White/Yellow/Gold/Green class, Younger Daughter at the "new white belt" end of the line.  She was in shorts and a t-shirt, and I was in my martial arts uniform.

Class starts with a game - which she loved, as long as I stood along the sideline of this game of "Spider" nearby - then with stretches.  I did the stretches with Younger Daughter, reminding her to watch and copy Older Daughter and Red Belt Teenager, who were leading the drills.

Younger Daughter was smiling and following directions and paying attention to what she was supposed to do.

So far, so good.

Master Lynn directed a Purple Belt Teenager to work with Younger Daughter on some basics, and asked Younger Daughter if she would help the Purple Belt Teenager learn how to teach karate.  Younger Daughter indicated she would.  So she stood next to Purple Belt Teenager, listening and following directions.

As she and Purple Belt Teenager got to work, I slowly backed off the floor, and sat down, grinning ear-to-ear and with tears in my eyes.

Younger Daughter was doing it, and without needing me to stand next to her.

Younger Daughter in shorts & t-shirt.  Older Daughter in Black Gi, leading class. 

We got to the end of class, and Younger Daughter needed me to come up and bow out with her, but still - she made it though class without feeling too shy to do it.

After the class, I asked her how she felt about it.  She said that she thinks she'd do better if she had a uniform like everybody else so she wouldn't stand out so much.

No problem, kid.  We got her gi and white belt and she was ready for the next class.  She didn't even need me to line up with her!  I stood in the back of the room where she could see me, ready to help her if she felt shy again, but she did just fine, all on her own.

So now, there's four people wearing belts and uniforms in our house.  I don't know if Younger Daughter will stick in the martial arts like the rest of us - that's up to her - but for now...

Well, let's just say I pity the dummy who breaks into our house when we're at home.

Are you a martial artist and a parent?  How did you help your child into the martial arts?  I'd love to hear about your experiences!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Style Wars

This meme has been making the rounds lately:

This is one of the most succinct-yet-accurate observations on martial arts culture I've ever seen. 

It's part of the Style Wars that all of us engage in on one level or another.

You know what I mean by "Style Wars".  We argue and argue about who's style is best, whose training methodology is best, whose lineage is best, over and over and over and over.

If you participate in martial arts discussion groups online, you see this on a daily basis.  Really, get three martial artists together, and invariably, discussion will end up talking about why (x) martial art style is bad, wrong, or ineffective versus the ones they practice, which are obviously superior in every way.

Why is this? Why can't we just accept that there a thousand different paths to similar goals (or even that not all of us have the same goal)?

If you study a martial art seriously, you put a lot of time and effort and money into it.  In order to justify all of the time we spend, on some level, we have to believe that the martial arts style we've chosen is the ONE style that's best (at least, best for our goals).

In order to justify our decision, not only do we need to believe in the virtues, utility, and effectiveness of what we study, but we also have to believe the alternate martial arts styles around us that we chose NOT to study are not as good.  We need to believe that our way is the best way.

Add in ego... and well... you get into the Style Wars.

It is the rare martial arts animal indeed who has not at one time engaged in this debate.  I know many of us try to say, "They're all good, it depends on who you are and what your goals are".  You guys are a minority.

Images like this make the rounds:

You and I both know that it's completely silly.  Mixed Martial Arts aren't those things at all, although some people who DO MMA might be.  Not every traditional martial art teaches these things either - heck, it's not inherently integral to my art, which many would consider to be on the "traditional" side of the fence.

You get people making posts and videos about why their favorite martial arts style rules and somebody else's sucks (for example, here and here and here and here and here and here). Endless discussions are started about "Why (x) style sucks" or "Why (y) is the only effective martial art".

And then we devolve into nerdy and frankly, kinda dumb discussions over the meaning of the word "martial" (including endless links to various online dictionaries) and why (x) martial art can't call itself a "MARTIAL" art.  Or the difference between "Self Defense" and "Fighting" and why one is better than the other.  Or why ground fighting is better (or worse) than stand-up striking... 


Look - the martial art you are studying right now, if you enjoy it and it meets your goals, is the best one.  Train hard at it, do as well as you can in it, and be happy.

It doesn't make my enjoyment of my art, my martial arts path, my goals and how I train any lesser if it's not the same as yours.

If you don't like Arnis for whatever reason, that's perfectly fine too.  But you don't have to tear it down to justify whatever martial arts style you do.

One more thought - I think we get into these Style Wars when we insist that everybody's goals has to be the same.

We insist, to be called a martial art, you must be able to win a fight.  Or survive a self defense situation.  Or be useful on a battlefield.  Or be useful on "the street". Or have underlying moral and ethical values that encourage spiritual or mental growth.

This is also untrue.  You can want to be a great fighter, but it doesn't mean that I have to want to be the same thing to be a legit martial artist.  As a late 40's suburban mom with a full-time job, that might be a VERY difficult goal for me to reach.  But there is no reason why I can't learn a martial art for self defense, for fitness, and for emotional confidence.

Your goals are good, and mine are, too.  Your style is good, and so is mine. It is the very rare martial art "style" (versus organization, school, or teacher - different matter) that doesn't have something worthwhile to offer some people.

You don't have to tear others down to prove that yours is good.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

More on Strike Mechanics

Let's get NERDY WITH IT!

Awwwww yiiisssss.

So, both at Mid-Cities Arnis and at Hidden Sword, we have new students.  We've been working on Modern Arnis 12 Angles of Attack (below) and some basic striking and pokes.  I believe in getting this right early, so we don't have to overcome bad habits later, so we spend a lot of time here in the white band level getting the little details straight.

Having different students with different natural levels of ability helps you really think hard about the process of striking and poking.  Because different students learn different ways, you have to combine little coaching cues - auditory, visual, and written - to help students fine-tune the technique.

I mentioned this briefly before in my post FOUR HAND  about some cues I use to forehand and backhand strike - "FORE Hand", "BACK hand" and "FOUR FINGERS!"

Here's a few more.

(Note - the butt end of the stick we call a "punyo")

When striking, the punyo leads the way to the target.  That is, the butt end of the stick "arrives" before the tip does.  I do not mean that this is a punyo STRIKE - the tip doesn't "arrive" in one of those at all.  I mean that in space, the punyo will arrive and then pass *through* your target area (but out of range), then the tip comes around and actually HITS the target.

You can see the punyo leading in the image marked #1, #2, #3, #4, #8, #9 and #12 above.

If your tip passes through the target before the punyo does, then the tip is leading. This is critical to get right - if the tip leads the way on a strike, you end up not engaging all of the muscles of the arm.  This is a very weak strike.

So if you see the tip arrive before the punyo goes through the target - fix that before it gets ingrained as habit.

Another issue, often related to the "tip lead" problem, is breaking the wrist and locking the elbow.

This is extremely common - heck, I had to break this habit myself!  I think it partly comes from not having the world's best handle on range.  If you "break" your wrist, you actually gain a couple of inches.  Which is fine, but you drain all the power out of the strike. Since we are not dealing with lightsabers here, taking the power out of the strike just as it arrives is going to make your strike far less effective than it could be.

You can tell if you are "breaking the wrist" by watching your strike in the mirror. If the punyo is hidden by your stick hand, you've "broken your wrist".  You should be able to see the punyo.

Inevitably, if you "break your wrist", you tend to lock your elbow in place.  Do that, and you risk hyper-extending your elbow.  If you've ever done that... well, you won't do it twice voluntarily.  It hurts a lot. Plus, we never lock our elbows or our knees (hard to flow with locked joints).

Another cool tip comes from my teacher Mark Lynn.  He showed us the connection between empty hand (in his case tae kwon do) martial arts and Arnis - it's really awesome to use with students who are very familiar with empty hand arts that have these blocks/strikes.

The high forehand strike (#1) is nearly identical to the movement called the outside-inside or the outside forearm block in empty hand arts - including the chamber.  The low backhand strike (#8) is the same (basic) thing as a down block or down strike.

Here's some images from this awesome site - and look what he is doing.

Here's a "chamber" for a #1 strike:

And here's the strike:

Watch this video, and you'll see the #1 strike in the "Soto Uke" and you'll see the #8 strike in "Gedan Barai".

Click here if you can't see the video.

Now, it's not a perfect analog, but it's close enough that empty-hand martial artists taking up the sticks catch on very quickly to the mechanic when you explain it this way, especially in reminders to chamber.

One final note - on the forehand strikes, the palm is up. On backhands, the palm is down.  Coaching "palm up!" or "palm down!" seems to be very effective as a coaching cue.

That's enough geekery for today.  Rest assured, I'll find an excuse to nerd out on you another time.

Do you have any cool tips about the way you coach people to strike in YOUR art?  I'd love to know!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Big List of Martial Arts Values

I need your help.
You're my only hope.

One of the credos of Mid-Cities Arnis is "Modern Martial Arts with Traditional Values".

The "Modern" part is pretty obvious - we don't wear traditional martial arts uniforms, we don't have belts (we use wrist bands instead), and well, the core art of what we teach is MODERN Arnis.

However, many people expect certain things from a martial arts program.  In particular, parents expect martial arts program to teach ethical and moral values.

Hence the "traditional values" part of the credo.

We talk about a different value every week.  Right now, our list includes:
  • Courage
  • Discipline (expressed in different ways, such as the discipline to practice, discipline as self control, and discipline as focus)
  • Respect (for others, and for self)
  • Loyalty
  • Humility
  • Integrity
  • Trust
  • Courtesy
  • Honesty
What am I missing in our list?

One obvious one is a value that means "never give up", like "Indomitable Spirit".  I like the value but the way it's said is very closely associated with Tae Kwon Do, and I'd rather use different terminology.  "Tenacity", maybe?

So here's how you can help a Chickie out:

First, I'd like to know how you think the above values - pick any that appeal to you - apply to the martial arts.

Second, which values did I miss that you think are important, and why?

Friday, July 17, 2015

FACE-OFF FRIDAY: Are Short-Term Self Defense Courses Useless?


Today's topic is about SHORT term self defense courses.

These are usually aimed at women, and are anywhere from four to eight hours long.

It's generally understood that these courses can't possibly cover every topic or give you the variety of skills you might possibly need in a self-defense scenario.

These usually focus on topics like situational awareness, verbal self defense, and a few basic gross-motor skill techniques.

Some folks think these classes are useful, while others think they're too short to be of any real use.

I want to know what you think.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bo: Why I Suck (and What I'm Doing About It)

So yes, I'm still studying bo.

Nope, no pic of me in a white gi yet.

As a refresher (read more here, here and here), I'm in a two-and-a-half year program studying Kobudo weapons with A-KATO that started in January 2015.  Once a month, I put on a white gi, drive an hour over to the Dallas side of town (a major sacrifice for this Fort Worth-er), and train with some awesome and very skilled people.  Assuming I'm allowed to keep training, theoretically, at the end of this program, I'll earn a black belt in kobudo. If I pass the test.

I also attend a kobudo class with my regular martial arts teacher weekly on the other Saturdays (when we have class or I'm not as a seminar or something).

I've been so busy with work, getting MCA off the ground, seminars, and travel, that for the last two months, to be honest, I haven't been practicing as I really should be.  Not having the regular class more often than not has made it a lot worse.

And man, it shows.  I suck.  I suck hard.

So, I'm taking this week's martial arts value for Mid-Cities Arnis - Discipline,especially when it comes to PRACTICE -  and applying it to my bo studies.

Starting this past Monday, I will study my Kobudo class weapons daily for a minimum of 1/2 hour.

Between work, Mid-Cities Arnis, Arnis classes and seminars, running around with children, the business of daily living, and sleeping (wait, is there any food in there?)... finding 1/2 hour daily wasn't exactly easy.

Well, right now all I have is bo, which makes it a little less difficult. I have found 1/2 hour in which I will practice forms on Monday and Tuesday nights while my daughter is studying fencing.

I use the stick in the middle (shown below) to practice with in the parking lot (as toting a six foot bo is a little weird and a bit alarming to passers by when I practice in the parking lot).

Left - regular Arnis stick.  Middle - HUGE Arnis stick . Right - my Bo.

I can at least review all of the basic movements, the grip, the stances, and the patterns of the forms, so I can just do them, versus having to engage my brain as hard as I do now.

Wednesday night is my Arnis class, so I'll do a run-through of forms when I get home from class.

On Thursday, I'm going to use my 1/2 hour practice to hit the bag with the bo as well as run through the forms a few times.  Ditto Friday.

Saturdays I usually have Kobudo class - either 1 hour in my home school, or 2 hours over in Dallas, so that day is covered.  If I am in a seminar that day, it will be difficult to get in quality practice, but I don't see why I can't run through the motions with my arnis stick (I get in practice here and there exactly that way now).

Sundays are going to be like Thursdays and Fridays - I'm going to hit the bag with my actual bo. Hard.

So I'm going to add a minimum of 3 hours a week to my practice of kobudo weapons.  That will bring up my practice time from an ideal 5 hours a month to 17 hours a month, minimum.

Additionally, when I'm just riding in the car (not driving), no reason why I can't run through it mentally a few times, right?  Or how about when I'm doing chores or working in the kitchen?

Okay wait, spin parry thrust... ?

Maybe I'll start sucking less if I keep to that schedule.

Oh, did I mention I'm going to run through the bo forms and techniques both right handed AND left handed?

I need to know how to do it left handed - we are expected to know this - and much to my chagrin, I am finding it incredibly difficult. I don't know why, but I've never been able to do the mirror image.  The thing is, I can do Arnis anyos left handed, and I use my left hand all the darn time in Arnis.

But for some reason I have a huge mental block with the bo, and I'm going to break that block, come hell or high water.

Of course, this daily practice of the bo won't stop when the class moves on to tonfa.  What that will mean is when that begins, I add another 1/2 hour or so for tonfa.

And then another 1/2 hour for sai, then another 1/2 hour for nunchaku, when I get to those weapons.

Because I have to know bo just as well in two years as I do now.  When the time comes for the additional weapons, I will have to find another 1/2 hour somewhere to practice it.  And honestly, I want to keep my skills up.

It doesn't seem like a lot of time objectively, but it's how I can fit it in without giving up other necessary things.

So how do you fit in practice time in a busy life?  I'd love to know how you do it!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Mighty Forest Starts With a Single Acorn

Mid-Cities Arnis opened its doors about a week ago, at the beginning of July.

Once thing we learned very quickly, in the sense of "we knew this, but now we KNOW this" is that July is possibly the single worst month to start a martial arts program.

We had, on day one, a single student sign up.


Now, all of the other classes like ours - fitness classes - are down at the community center.  When asked if we wanted to do the class with a single student, I said yes, of course we would. If that one person wanted to be there - I wanted to be there.

In our second class, we had a second student sign up.

So now we have two.

Ya'll avoid making nut jokes in the comments, ok?
If you think I'm disappointed by the initial turn out - I'm not.  I'm thrilled to have two students!

Those are two more than we had in June, right?

Look, every program has to start somewhere.  So many of us started with a couple of friends training in a park or a garage, to grow into a community center program, to grow into a studio and the instructor teaching martial arts nearly full-time.

We found a way to skip the park/garage stage, but we have to undergo the same process.  We understand this, and we know that with persistence and a good marketing plan, those two students will turn into four and eight, and sixteen...

And so on and so on and so on...
Click here if you can't see the video.

Plus, well, as I think I mentioned before, we originally planned on doing marketing all summer and opening our doors in September, but then we were asked to start two months early.

No way we wouldn't do it, even if we were relatively unprepared.  We rushed to buy sticks, shirts, and marketing materials. We couldn't execute everything in our plan for July 1, though, so much of our marketing stuff is just now getting off the ground so that we can bring in more leads and students.

The good thing about starting early is that we have the opportunity to build the momentum to reach the "back to school" audience at the end of August.  If we are successful, we should end up with a much larger group in September to build the program on going forward.

It was one of those situations where you just can't let opportunities like this pass by, no matter what. We are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be at NRH Centre, which is a beautiful and busy facility in a great part of town.  It's a nice place to be.

With our two little acorns, we're growing the forest to come.

So tell me about your experiences building a martial arts program - in a park or garage, in a community center, or in a studio.  How did you grow your forest?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Four Hand

In class, with our new students, we're working on strikes.

Long story short, you can break down strikes into two basic types - forehands, and backhands.

Explaining the mechanics of each can be tricky.  Not everyone is a visual or kinetic learner and can copy what you do, so you have to work on ways to help students remember the proper mechanics in various ways - visual, kinetic, aural/verbal, and written.

I've found myself relying on a little verbal coaching method to help students remember the forehand and the backhand.  While it's not the only way to teach this stuff, it's one of the many cues I use to get students on the right path.

So, let's take the backhand first.

Ever consider why it's called a backhand?  Well, I don't know for sure if this is the reason, but I think it's called a backhand because when you make a strike that way... you can see the back of your hand.

I can see the back of my hand from here!

Explaining the forehand mechanic is a little trickier, but here's one way that seems to help.

In a forehand strike, you can see the four fingers of your hand. Yes, I know a thumb is a finger but work with me here.

I can see my... danggit, already made that joke.

If you do a forehand properly, as the strike approaches the target, you should see your four fingers.  A FOUR hand, see?

If you think I'm kind of amused by that, you'd be correct.

But here's the thing - the "FOUR FINGERS!" prompt helps me remind students of the proper mechanic as we are working on the strikes.  It's an easy way for the student to see - really see - if they're doing the strike properly.

Of course there's lots of other details about proper strike mechanics - I nerded out a bit that topic here, if you're interested in delving a little deeper.  But for new students struggling with the forehand mechanic -  the "FOUR FINGERS" prompt seems to help.

Try this sometime with a student struggling with the mechanic, and let me know how it goes.

Do you have little tricks like the "FOUR FINGERS!" or "FOUR HAND" cue that you use with your students?  Tell us about it!

Monday, July 6, 2015

GUEST POST: Hurt vs. Harm

After 30+ years in the martial arts, I've discovered something interesting about myself: I like hurting people.  Not only that, I like it when they hurt me, too.

But hurting someone is wrong, isn't it?  Doesn't society condemn me as a Bad Person if I deliberately hurt people, and even more so if I enjoy it?

Not necessarily.

Before you get the wrong idea, let me clarify.

"Hurt" is a term used in this case to describe a sensation of physical pain.  That's all it is: a sensation.  A nerve response to a particular stimulus.  When you remove the stimulus, the response stops and the hurt ceases.

For example, reach over and pinch yourself on the back of your own hand.  If you do it with much force, it will hurt.  Now let go.  Unless you really put a lot into that pinch, the hurting stops.  A strong pinch might briefly leave a red mark on the skin, but that is the extent of the "damage."

Now think back to a time when you've gotten your hand slammed in a door, hit your finger with a hammer, or some other sort of "pinching" movement.  (You can go do this to yourself if you really want to, but I don't advise it!)  Do you remember how badly it hurt, even after your hand was freed / the stimulus was removed?  That was because your hand had been damaged and would take time to heal.  You had gone beyond Hurt and into Harm.

"Harm" is a different matter entirely.

Martial arts, at their root, are about preventing hurt or harm to those you are protecting (including yourself), sometimes by inflicting hurt or harm onto someone else.  Let's face it, even the term Martial Arts means "the arts of the ancient Roman god of war, Mars" -- the art of warfare, on whatever scale.  Yes, martial arts can be used for the pursuit of enlightenment, self-knowledge, self-perfection, and many other things, but even many of the "softer" arts like tai chi can still be put to devastating use if applied in certain ways.

If I am practicing a particular martial art for the purpose of defending myself, I need to know if I'm doing the techniques in an effective manner.  The only way I know of to be certain of that is to do them on a partner and judge how it affects them.

But if I harm my partner today, who am I going to train with tomorrow?

So when we train with a partner, we train to hurt them -- but NOT to harm them.  This lets us practice the techniques, find the subtleties that make it most effective, and let our partner train ukemi (how to safely receive the technique) as well.

My goal therefore should be to hurt my partner without harming him.  Likewise, if he hurts me without harming me, he has succeeded, too.  That's why I like hurting them, and like when they hurt me -- because it means that we've both done our techniques correctly AND with a proper level of control.

I explain to every new student before their first class about the difference between hurt and harm.  I tell them that there will be a lot of times in or classes where they will do things that hurt...

... but I will move Heaven and Earth to keep them from coming to HARM in my class!

Okay, we've talked the talk, now let's go walk the walk.

Clif Bullard began his martial arts training back in 1984 at University of Mississippi in an Okinawan style called Isshinryu.  Over the last 30 years he has studied a variety of arts, earning a black sash in Ching Jwa Gung (Golden Talon Kung Fu), and a 6th degree black belt in Kempo.  He is also a certified instructor is Dayan ("Wild Goose") Qigong.  He currently runs Memphis Martial Arts Center in Memphis, TN.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Criminals Gonna Crime

There's a misconception out there, I think, that leads some otherwise well-meaning people to advocate a very bad idea.

Generally speaking, the concept is that we should teach rapists not to rape, not teach women self defense.  If we teach women self defense, and that woman gets raped, then we're saying it's her fault if she's trained in self defense.

It's the victim's fault for being victimized if she (or he for that matter) has trained to defend one's self.

Or rather, that's the claim these people are making that we, as self defense instructors, are teaching and advocating.

Of course, this is nonsense.

Many of people making this argument have never actually studied self defense, and I can see how that might be the perception if you haven't actually studied the subject.  I'll grant that there are probably some instructors out there who use language and terms that could be misinterpreted that way.  It's not their intent, but sure, it could come across that way.

So let me be perfectly clear.

The victim of a crime of any kind is not at fault when they are victimized.  

That means that it doesn't matter where they are, how they are dressed, what they are carrying... the person at fault is the bad guy who does the attacking.  In a civilized society, people should be able to go about their peaceful business and not have to worry about such things.

Unfortunately, we are not exactly 100% civilized (and we might never be).  For the foreseeable future, there are going to be people who are not interested in being good citizens and cannot be shamed or guilted or finger-wagged into being good citizens.

They're bad guys. If they cared about your feelings, they wouldn't be victimizing people in the first place.

What self defense training does, hopefully, is help us try to mitigate the circumstances in which violence might occur, and should it actually happen, survive it. You can be perfect in self defense and still get targeted and defeated by a bad guy.  There are no 100% guarantees here.

Just as we are advised to take simple precautions to prevent home burglary - such as locking our doors and windows - self defense training is the precaution we take to prevent assault and other serious personal crimes.

Just as locking your doors and windows doesn't perfectly protect you against home burglary, self defense training can't and does not perfectly protect you, either.

If your training fails, it's still the criminal's fault, always.  No matter what.

Criminals gonna crime.

That means that you can make it a little harder for them by locking your doors and windows, by keeping valuables out of sight in your car, and by training in self defense.

Does it mean you'll never be the target of a criminal?  No.  But it's better than doing nothing at all.