Sunday, September 22, 2013

Part I of Keep a Martial Arts Journal

My Current Journal with Dojo Sticker
    Welcome back!  In a previous post I talked about why it would be beneficial to keep a martial arts journal.  This time, I'll give you some ideas or hints for what to put in your journal, and how I've done it, and have kept doing it (that's the tricky part). has a couple of good articles about keeping journals in general, but I'm going to be specific to a martial arts journal.

On a side note, in one of the comments, though in support of journals, Shawn Howard said "...I know what my instructors would say: instead of writing about my techniques, katas etc... I
should be practicing them."  I would respond with a hearty agreement.  However, if we make martial arts only about the physical, we loose all the mental, spiritual, and historical goodness that combines to make martial arts.  A journal is a good place to keep those other aspects.  Those are the reasons most of us do martial arts in the first place.  The second thing, is I in no way have any affiliation with any of the brands or websites listed below, except through my own experiences as a customer.  Now on to the column...

    If you are reading this column, the idea of writing a martial arts journal has already piqued your interest.  Now that you think this is a good idea, you may be wondering "how do I start one."  The following is just some advice.  Everything in your journal is
ultimately for you, and you can pick and choose what you like and don't like.  What you want to do, and don't want to do.  It is all just suggestions.  Whatever works for you, works for you. 

Step 1: The Journal
3.5" x 5.5" Journal
    The first thing you'll need is a journal.  This can be an important step for the long term use.  If you get a journal that doesn't fit your way you're using it, you're going to stop.  The journal can be any type of consolidated writing book that you want.  There are only two real requirements.  It has to be paper, and it has to be bound together somehow so that it keep the
papers organized.  That being said, there are a bunch of options for you.  Here are some things to consider in what you want.
    First is the size.   There are couple of common sizes that would work well for a martial arts journal, but each has its advantages and disadvantages.  The first size is 3.5x5.5 (inches for those from
countries smart enough to use the metric system).  This size is very portable.  It can almost fit in a front pocket comfortably, but it has less area to write/draw in.  Personally, I keep mine journal in my gi bag, so the size isn't as important issue for me.  The next size up is 5.5x8.5.  This is my favorite.  I think it is a happy medium between size, and writing space.  It is easy enough to
carry around in a bag, but small enough that carrying it by hand isn't a bother.  I feel there is enough space to write/draw on any given page.  The largest size I would recommend would be a full sized notebook, 8.5x11.  There are sketchbooks that come even larger, but I honestly think this would be too big to carry every time to the dojo.
Interior of my journal 8.5"x5"
    Second, there are four basic layout options.  Lined paper, no line paper, graph and dots.  Some people like the lined paper because it helps them write neater, if that's you, have at it.  I like to add pictures, and the lines bug me, so I opt for the unlined.  The dotted is halfway in between.  It gives you guidelines for writing straight, but it isn't so structured that pictures get overwhelmed.

    The final consideration is quality.  The paper and the binding are the two main parts of this.  Thinner paper means more pages in the journal, but you get "ghosting" when you write on the backs of pages.  For me, that irks me, so I opt for what are called sketch Gfeller that fits on my Moleskine sketchbook journal.  Besides looking more rugged and personal, it protects the cover of the journal.  My journals get thrown in my gi bag, and banged around pretty regularly, so for me quality is a more important quality.  Rhodia is another very good, high quality brand.  If you're looking for one of these, I would recommend The Goulet Pen Company.  I've dealt with them numerous times, and they're extremely quick and very good with their customer service.  If you're looking for less price, there are plenty of options at the local giant books stores. 
paper.  There is absolutely no ghosting from the backs.  The binding also tends to increase the cost.  Some are just constructed better than others.  I went a step farther, and purchased a leather book cover from

My Lamy Safari Al-Star
Step 2: The Writing Instrument
    This step isn't crucial, but I think it is important.  If you make writing in your journal a special process, you're more likely to enjoy the writing, and continue doing it.  I've started using fountain pens, and now I can't stop.  It makes everything I write feel special, no matter what it actually is.  Plus, I can change the ink color every couple of days to any color I can image.  Fountain pens just give a little bit of class to the feel of the writing.  If you're interested in using a fountain pen, again I suggest Goulet Pens.  I use Lamy Safari, which is an affordable version.  You don't have to use a fountain pen, some people prefer ball point, or gel pens, but I would suggest using a pen that has a special feel to it.  This is your martial arts journey, might as well make it look nice as you go.

Now that you've got your supplies, next time I go over some tips and examples of writing for a continuous and joyful experience.


  1. I think you took this a little to far. Americans are not by nature morons. It is however arrogant to think that everyone should be familiar with our arbitrary arrived at system of measurement (do you know how many Ts are in a Qt?), when all but three countries in the world use the systematically developed metric system. It negatively affects trade with other countries.

    In 1980, President Reagan said we were going to convert to the metric system. People however stubbornly stuck to their old ways of doing things, and all we got out of it was 2 liter sodas.

  2. FWIW, I just started my MA journal and have been using the Black n' Red brand of journal/notebook (no affiliation other than a happy customer). They're very inexpensive when compared against Moleskin or Rhodia but there is no ghosting whatsoever and, when I use the Pilot G2 pen, there is no bleeding of the ink and the gel ink dries immediately. Plus, the plastic coated cover helps it withstand the bouncing around it takes in my equipment bag.

    Thanks for the articles (parts I & II) - always good to find what other people are writing in their journals.

    1. Awesome. I'd love to see what you keep in your journal.

  3. Hey - good post, and there is something really special about keeping an old fashioned paper journal, but for those of you looking for a different option we have recently launched Combat Academy, an app based journal and network for martial artists. Find out more at