Monday, November 25, 2013

How Many Weapons Do You Have?

Not mine, but I love the 300 sword at the bottom.
    I recently moved and had to pack up all my stuff.  This is always a good chance to take inventory of all the things you've collected.  And man, I collect way too much stuff.  What struck me as kind of disturbing, was putting all of my weapons in one place to move them.  I've collected a lot of weapons and had them scattered all over my house.  There wasn't really a room, save maybe the bathroom, where I wasn't within a couple steps of a weapon.  Granted, a lot of them were training weapons, but they could definitely be used in home-defense situations.  This got my thinking.

    Besides my actual weapons, what improvised weapons could I use?  I started off by sitting on my couch, and thinking what is within hands reach if I had to.  My first thought... my remote.  Anything a little longer than your fist, that you can hold in your hand can be used like a yawara!  Looking at it like that, my house if FULL of weapons.  Imagine being hit in the temple with a hammer fist with a Matchbox car sticking out the bottom!  Or between the ribs.. or...anywhere.  And because I have a two year old, there are little cars stuck everywhere.

    Second I went to my bathroom.  I had said this was the only room in my house without a weapon.  I found out through moving, that a toilet plunger hurts when its dropped on your foot.  It works like a club.  There, I weaponized the bathroom.  Almost everything can become an improvised weapon when it needs to be.  Roll up a magazine and fold it in half.  There now you have a club.  I've even seen someone stab through a watermelon with a rolled up newspaper.

    My point is, everything can be a weapon.  You just have to think about them that way.  As humans we tend to think in terms of categories.  It's hardwired into us.  We place items into categories of use.  Go for a minute and look into a tool box.  Most of them are filled to the brim with improvisable weapons.  Just change your perception.  For your own safety do it now, before the adrenalin starts to flow and you can't think.  Walk around your place, or office, or where ever you spend a large amount of time, and find all the weapons you can.  You'll be amazed how many there are.

Anyone got a good story of improvised weapons use?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wanted: Martial Arts Instructor

Indiana Jones teaching
    All of us have practice being students.  We've all gone through a formal system where we were taught.  Many of the people reading this have gone through state-sponsored education systems, i.e. school.  In the US we have 13 years of mandatory public education.  Then, on top of that we have College level education.  Usually for 4 years (or more...).  This means by the time we're "adults", we have between 13 and 17 years of practice being a student.  Some people may not be the best students, by choice, but if they wanted  to, they know the skills necessary to be a successful student.  Then we also have martial arts classes, which reinforces the student identity even more.  At some point when we're ready, we test, and hopefully we earn our shodan.  In many systems, that means "congratulations, now you can teach!"  Okay awesome... how do I do that? 
Ip Man and his student Bruce Lee
    Teaching is as much an art as martial arts are.  The difference is, most of us have very little training in it.   I've never seen a martial arts system that includes learning to teach as part of their shodan curriculum.  I happen to be, in my day-job, a mild mannered high school teacher.  Even then, I've never been instructed on how to teach.  It's a kind of learn as you go method (I wasn't an education major).  It took me about 5 years to feel completely comfortable with the ability to stand in front of a class and teach them whatever I needed to.  In martial arts, once I got my shodan, our dojo has everyone student teach a little before any classes are thrown their way.  Our head instructor half teaches classes with our shodan for a while, until he feels they are comfortable.  Everyone will end up teaching their own way, just like everyone's martial art will be done their own way.    That being said, teaching is a very rewarding opportunity.  Everyone who teaches learns more than as a student.  Below are some ideas of things to look out for, both good and bad, that may improve your teaching.  In the end remember, your teaching isn't about you.  It's about improving your student's understanding.

Class Size
    Class size may play the biggest role in how you teach.  If you are in front of a class with only a couple of students, then the interaction will be more personal.  You will be able to deal with the individual's needs.  What does Bob need to work on to become a better at Kung Fu?  Maybe he's quicker at learning forms, but needs a longer time with learning and seeing applications.  Mary may be better at applying the form, but needs to work on her conditioning.  With small class size, you can split your time between both of these extremes.  In larger classes, there are too many people to fully gain individual instruction.  A good teacher will tend to teach to the middle ground in this situation.  They will work with ideas and concepts that everyone needs practice with.

Different Learning Styles
    Everyone learns differently.  There are three basic forms of learning modalities: Visual, Auditory, and Tactile (Kinesthetic).  Everyone has a smattering of each of them, but generally leans towards one or the other.  Visual learners, learn by seeing something, shapes, pictures, etc.  They will often benefit from seeing things at different angles.  They will use visual clues to learn something.  Auditory uses sound, including explanation of techniques.  Kinesthetic learners, learn through feel and touch.  They often like to have the techniques done to them.  Personally I know I'm a very visual learner (hence the drawings in my journal), but I also need to feel a technique before I can understand it.  Be aware of the different learning models when teaching, and try to include all aspects of learning.  Some students may respond to one method over another.

   Modeling is a method of teaching by demonstrating.  This is the most common method of instruction in martial arts.  The instructor demonstrates a technique, or principle, and then the student follows their example.  The amount of explanation depends mainly on the system.  From what I've heard, in the old school Japanese systems, the instructor would demonstrate the technique a couple of times, and without any explanation, tell the students to go practice.  When the students got the techniques I believe they were able to internalize them a lot more than we do today.  I think our western brains require us to intellectualize something before we can do it.  We have to have explanations.  If you teach, try it both ways, and find your own happy balance between explanation and intuitively learning the technique.
Teaching means you learn more.

Teach what you know
    One of the biggest pitfalls of instruction is ego.  It is OK to not know everything.  One of the weirdest situations I've ever encountered was a fellow high school science teacher.  When he didn't know an answer, he was so scared of looking foolish or ignorant in front of students that he'd make answers up.  Many times he was dead wrong with his answers.  When a student would try to, politely mind you, call his answer wrong, he'd have to back-peddle, and flub his response, which made him look more foolish.  It is much wiser to say "You know I'm not sure, let's find out."  Students will have more respect if you don't know an answer, but can point them in the direction to find it.
  As part of this idea, don't go beyond yourself.  Don't try to instruct a subject you don't understand, that you haven't internallized.  You can teach a form, but unless your sure of yourself, don't try to reach beyond your understanding and teach the applications of the form, your students will know.  Remember they have a lot of practice being students.

There are lots of other hints that people can give to newly minted instructors.  There are whole fields of psychology dedicated to the methods of how the human brain learns.  These are just a few pointers.  Because I've met many great martial artists, who cannot teach what they know effectively and that means their information is trapped.  It cannot reproduce itself in the next generation.  And that is a real problem for their art.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Right, Wrong, and Respect in Martial Arts

"Sonkei" Respect
This was cut and pasted from the link below.  I didn't make this up.

"So where I train BJJ some aikido guys roll on the mats when we arent there. I left my gi there so i went to pick it up while Aikido was having a class, because the doors would be open then. You hafto cross over the mat to get to the locker room. I quietly entered the building, took my shoes off and proceeded to cross along the very edge of the mat against the wall where nobody was. About 3 steps in I was yelled at by one of the students, "BOW WHEN YOU GET ON THE MAT!". I did not want to be disrespectful but I also wasnt gonna bow to a picture of some guy on the wall so i simply turned and said "No dude" and kept walking. On my way back I was confronted by the instructor, a 7th dan black belt. He questioned me briefly, asked why i was there and why i didnt bow etc. It seemed like he wanted to fight me. I could tell he wanted me to back down so he could look tough with all his students watching but he seemed like a bitch so i just kept moving closer and staring back as he tried to stare me down. After a couple seconds of that he went back to his class and i left.

My question is, had it come down to a fight, could I guy with 2 years bjj experience and a strength advantage beat a 7th dan black belt in aikido?"

Brazilian Jiu Jutsu
Wow, where to start?
First off, this is one side of the story, so I'll take everything with a grain of salt.
    I think people that behave like this, is what can gives MMA people a bad reputation in the minds of traditional martial artists.  That being said, I know many MMA guys, BJJ practitioners, and other such martial artists who do not present this lack of respect for other arts.This guy shows no respect any other arts, or other martial ideas other than his.  "some aikido guys roll on the mat when we arent there."  This shows that the writer is ignorant of what aikido is doing, or what it is all about, and has no desire to learn what it is.  I don't like watching baseball or basketball, but I respect the skills and effort that goes into mastering it.

I'm guessing this was the "some guy" on the wall
    The author does try to intercede as quietly and unobtrusively as possible when the other class is on the mat.  He takes off his shoes and stays out of the way.  So maybe there is some general respect for the mat.  Then some aikidoka yells at him (at least I'm guessing that's why it is in caps). 
    This is where communication breaks down, and ego starts to get in the way.  The aikidoka wanted to enforce their ideas onto a newcomer.  I understand that for some schools, discipline and tradition are important, but explaining the importance usually works better than just yelling them at people.  Especially Americans (I'm guessing he's American by the bad grammar).  This is an old idea.  When General Washington brought over Hessian officers to train the fledgling American army, they were aghast that Americans wanted to know why they doing everything, not just accepting the drills.  The author then further works from a point of ego by flippantly disregarding the aikidoka's rather loud request.  He shows his ignorance and lack of respect by referring to the picture of O-Sensei as "some guy on the wall." Although he's not wrong in not wanting to bow to someone he doesn't know, this goes back to the general lack of respect.  If you were in a different part of the world, and they asked you to take your hat off in a church out of respect, I think most people would do it out of basic respect.

    When the author came back, he was confronted by the class's Sensei.  Who, according to the author wanted to fight him.  But the aikido sensei kept backing up/down.  It could be the author was right, and the Sensei had an egotistical need to appear tough before his students, or it could be that he was asking why he was being disrespectful.  Either way, they both ended the conflict correctly.  You'd be surprised how just walking can disrupt a conflict.  Also, backing down when the conflict is unneccesary is also a good strategy.

    Then the final kicker, the ultimate question "Who would win a fight?"  I have never seen a fight that wasn't about ego.  A fight doesn't have self-defense aspects to it.  A fight is about defending face, trying to prove something to someone.  This is not where martial arts lives.  MMA is the ultimate expression of a fight.  It seems to me, at the levels of competition I've seen, to be mostly about ego, money, and fame.  All three things associated with martial arts right?  There are some people I've talked to who practice other martial arts, and use the fight as a pure testing ground, but they seem to be the exception. 
To be honest, I think the BJJ guy, with his superior physical conditioning would have won a fight for that reason alone.  But so would an NFL linebacker whose never taken a martial arts class in his life.  The physical aspect has a lot to do with it.  But that's a subject for its own column.

    The end result is both parties, the BJJ guy and the aikidoka did things that were both right and wrong behaviors.  In the end there was too much ego involved, and a lack of respect by both sides.  Smaller egos and increased respect are supposed to be part of the goals of martial arts, so unless they both used this as a growing experience, they both failed as martial artists.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Inspiring Seminar!

Dr. Powell at 1965 World's Fair
    This past weekend, I attended our system's annual seminar, The Moses Powell Memorial Seminar.  The goal of this seminar is to show the same things we all know, but in a different way, or different application.  There were three days of hard working out, and each one had a different aspect.  Thursday we worked on what we call the "20 Movements" of aikido.  You know, ikkyu, nikkyu, sankyu, etc. through the familiar locks, pins, and throws.  The difference, was doing them from the ground.  Our system's goal is to not be on the ground, as it is a vulnerable place, but to be able to get off the ground.  I (pardon the pun) was floored by these applications.  I've been doing this for over a dozen years, and I've never seen these applications.  I also ways feel so humbled by these seminars.   
Dr. Powell and Master Vee
    The second day, we worked with another instructor whose main art is Wing Chun.  We learned, and quickly practiced some basic Wing Chun blocks.  Then, for the next hour and a half, we were shown ways that these blocks can be used in Jujutsu/aikido.  Again, such simple things applied differently can change the whole way I look at certain techniques.  I both hate it and love it when that happens.  It's good to know that no matter how long I do this activity, that there will always be a larger world out there that what I know.

    Now, time to get back on the mat.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Martial Artist's Guide to the Internet

    The internet maybe the culmination of humanity.  It communicates the enlightenment of human ideas, and highlights all the fears and insecurities that exist within us too.  In "non-virtual/real life" (I despise that we have to distinguish this), martial arts often exposes both of these aspects as well.  The whole initial purpose of the internet was to share ideas.  It has done some of this, but it also gives some people the courage of anonymity to rave and rant, often saying things they would never say to a person face-to-face. 
    That all being said, for martial artists the internet has been a great communicator.  I remember when the only martial arts I was ever exposed to was either Tae Kwon Do on one end of town, or Karate on the other end.  I was lucky enough to stumble onto a great system, more by accident than design.  However, now I can look at, compare, or contrast between different arts with the click of a mouse.  I can watch the masters perform techniques from beyond the grave.  I can ask martial artist their opinion from a world away.  And I can listen to specialized talk shows on martial arts any day I want, by downloading a podcast.  I've gotten in on the idea now.  I along with a small group of friends have recorded our first episode of the "Martial Thoughts Podcast," so stay tuned for that.  As a final point, you are reading this on the internet.
    This proliferation of information has the downside of overloading our minds.  Information overload (also known as infobestiy or (my favorite) infoxication, is the difficulty to make an informed decision, or understanding an issue based on too much information.  Looking at information on martial arts we can suffer from this as well.  Even picking a school or style of martial art we can suffer from this.  As such, I wanted to try and create a list of good, informed websites or internet resources that talk about martial arts with an open, and honest methodology.  Below you'll find a list of some websites that I like, or respect.  If you have any other websites or internet resource that fit this category, please post in the comments, and as long as its not an self-advertising site, I'll include a hyperlink in the post.

Love these guys!
Hiyaa: The Martial Arts Podcast
This is a good honest look at martial arts.  They don't pull their punches, but they are open to all practitioners of all arts.  They tend towards Chinese martial arts, but only because that's were their knowledge base lies.  I love these guys, their ideas and sense of humor would fit right in in our dojo.  They have 45 episodes, and are worth downloading from iTunes.

Ikigaiway Blog
A blog by Matthew Apsokardu which deals mainly with Okinawan Kenpo Karate, but is broad enough to be applicable to many martial artists.

This is a good resource for those interested in traditional Japanese martial arts.  There are book lists, essays, and a guide to different ryu.

Rory Miller's Blog
I'm a big fan, without being a fanboy, of Rory Miller's books.  If you have an interest in self-defense, pick up any one of his books.

If your art happens to be aikido (so this is a little specific), then I agree with the Katy Garden's comments, is a great resource.  I don't know who is putting up this information.  It doesn't seem to be based on any one specific school.  There is information presented on all the major schools, and as such tends to be a little generalized.  Which actually makes the website more reliable.

On a more generalized note, again going with the Gwen Martin's comment, has a good start of being a positive website.  It goes through various styles, from different Asian regions of the world, and describes the basics of them.  One thing that seems weird is that it doesn't differentiate between different styles of, say, kung fu.  It could be that they're waiting for people to write the pages, but the different forms of Kung Fu have very different ways of presenting themselves.  If you are new to the arts, then this is a great place to start.  If you're more involved in the arts already, and just want a cursory description, then this site would work great for that as well.