Sometimes the best lessons are learned in unexpected places. In this case I received a great defense lesson in a tradecraft course. I took a blacksmithing class and forged my own knife. I ended up gaining a greater understanding of knives than I received in many of the martial arts class I have taken.
When taking a knife fighting or knife defense class, you are typically handed a plastic knife and you are taught techniques on how to use the knife. You are taught proper blade orientation, slashes, thrusts and defensive moves. These classes have been essential to my learning how to use the knife. The blacksmithing class gave me something else. It helped me get a better understanding of the knife itself.
In the design and construction of the knife I learned basic blade geometry, knife balance and blade to handle orientation. This gave me a new perspective on the knife and how to use it. The blacksmithing class did not show me how to effectively use the knife. It gave me a new perspective on the blade itself. It really enhanced my understanding of using the knife. Having forged the knife made the knife a part of me. I got a whole new appreciation for the knife when I forged one.
Whether you defend yourself with your hands, a knife or a firearm, you need to be comfortable with your weapon of choice. You need to be able to defend yourself at a surprise moment. You need to know your techniques and if you are using a defense tool, you need to understand it like it is part of your body. Forging a knife gave me that comfort. I found that forging the blade gave me that understanding and a better appreciation for my knives.
When I am holding any knife now, I have a deeper appreciation. When I was younger, I would have a “survival knife” or some other poorly constructed knife that looked cool but was basically a stylized letter opener. Taking defense classes that used plastic knives for practice taught me technique but did not give me a deeper appreciation for the blade. Once I took the blacksmithing class I understood the weakness of the blade I was carrying and I saw that I would have had trouble if I ever needed to use it. I switched my carry piece and worked with the new piece until I was comfortable with it.
The exciting part is that I am still consider myself to be a novice. I have so much more to learn. I am ready for more technique and forging classes. If you can stay enthusiastic about an art and always have a curiosity you will be a successful practitioner.
I have seen a lot of sniping on social media about the fitness of martial arts instructors. There are some instructors that tout their fitness and insult heavier martial artists. On the other-side I hear instructors tout their technique and dismiss the relevance of fitness. It can get nasty. One online altercation led to one martial artist accusing another of body shaming. Making people feel bad about themselves is not fitness motivation. Inspiring people to be something greater than they are today is fitness motivation.
As I have discussed many times, we must remember the tenet of respect. You can’t expect students to be respectful, if the teachers are online disrespecting each other. There are positive ways to demonstrate value of martial arts. We do not need to denigrate another instructor to show our value. I know some heavier martial artists that would crush some of the fitter ones I know. I also know some very effective fit instructors. Fitness is not necessarily indicative of effectiveness in the teaching of martial arts. However, being fit is healthier.
Being heavy does take a toll on the body. As I have mentioned before, I am overweight and am on a mission to get fit. I am getting fit for my own health, not to impress people online. I try to stay out of the online chatter (not always successfully). I am not going to tell a heavier instructor they are ineffective because they are less fit than another instructor. I might advise them that they should consider their health and ask them if they think they will be able to continue the same level of activity at their weight when they are 50. In my experience as I find myself a couple of years away from 50, the answer is no. If I want to continue at an aggressive level of activity, I need to lose weight.
There are people who can continue at higher levels and stay heavy. I was in a 5K race last year and an older gentleman ran by me and the back of his shirt said: I’m old, fat, diabetic and you’re behind me. How you manage your health is a personal decision. How you act online is also a personal decision. I ask you to consider being positive in both cases. Live your life in a healthy way in the physical world and online. Live in a way that would make your students proud.
Remember that as an instructor you have an impact on your students and their parents. If you are negative and disrespectful, you will find that your students and their parents will act the same way. You have a responsibility as a martial arts instructor to be an ambassador to the martial arts. You are an example to your students and their parents. If you are negative, your students and their parents will only have a negative narrative to share with others. Wouldn’t it be better to have them communicate a positive narrative?
Body shaming is very common today. It can make people, especially kids, feel bad about themselves. As a heavy martial artist, if you can lose weight and use your online presence to communicate a positive message of fitness and respect for others, you can have a positive impact on students who feel that they are too heavy to start martial arts and who avoid fitness programs. I have been communicating my struggles and have heard from students and readers that they believe they can succeed because they have seen me succeed. They have also seen that it is hard as I have slipped but that being persistent can get them to their goals.
You won’t see me running around with my shirt off this summer (maybe next summer) but you will see me teaching the importance of respect and fitness in martial arts. Martial arts can have a positive impact on everyone. Don’t let our words scare away the people who can benefit the most.
We all need to make choices in life. We all have 24 hours in a day. We have priorities and responsibilities. We also have excuses. I made choices and excuses over the last year when it came to my martial arts. I was very busy and I was a bit overwhelmed. I was not sure what I wanted to do with my career. I had a lot going on outside of work and I was feeling a lot of stress.
As I have mentioned in earlier articles, the martial arts are a great way to relieve stress, focus and get back on track. I did not take that path. I began stress eating and other unhealthy habits. I found my energy declining, my weight increased and I was less motivated.
I was only training two or three times a month and there were a couple of months that I did not train at all. I was getting farther from my martial arts. I was losing my inspiration. I was distracted and I slid backwards. I stepped off the martial arts path but the path was there waiting for me when I came back. I got back on the path and am training regularly again. I am not happy about the poor quality of my technique, but that is the result of not training regularly.
It was hard to go back. I was nervous. I knew my technique would not be great and as a black belt my technique should be excellent. I needed the classes to help me improve but I had to show my rusty techniques when taking a class. I decided that it was my pride keeping me out of class. I needed to be humble and take the criticism. Now that I am back, I do see fast progress in my improvement. I feel more flexible and am on my way back to my previous skill level.
I am glad I bit the bullet and started training regularly again. I feel more at home in the dojo each time I go. I am more comfortable with my techniques and I am practicing correctly at home.
If you have stopped training and are hanging around the edges, get back to it. It is not easy at first but it is worth it.
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