Just For Kicks – Finding the style you like

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Whether you are a beginner wondering where to start or an accomplished martial artist looking to expand your horizons, you need decide what you are trying to accomplish before choosing a martial art style to study. Do you want to learn self-defense; do you want to get fit; are you looking to explore the spiritual side or any number of different goals. There are many martial arts styles from many counties around the world. There are systems that teach blocks and strikes, joint manipulation, ground fighting, throws, chokes and combinations of those which can be traditional, modern defense, or sport karate schools. After you have decided what your goals are, you need to look at availability in your area. If you are looking to learn Mantis Style Kung Fu and you live off the beaten path, you may have trouble finding a school.

As a beginner you should look to build a solid foundation in martial arts and avoid the flash. As with any worthwhile pursuit, you need to build a solid foundation before you can properly learn more advanced techniques. Jump spin hook kicks are great to look at, but you can’t learn the proper technique until you have mastered the standard hook kick. You need to go to a school that teaches you to walk before you are taught how to run. Teachers that teach flash and push you through belts are not helping you build a strong foundation. An experienced martial artist may want to expand their martial arts knowledge by studying at multiple schools. If you are a beginner, I do not recommend studying at multiple schools. Building a foundation requires focus and it’s difficult to focus on two styles at once.

If you are not sure which style you would like to pursue, a good opportunity to sample different martial arts styles is a seminar. Seminars offer a snapshot of a style and an introduction to the teacher for relatively little money. You have the opportunity to meet the teacher and ask questions. There are a lot of seminars available. It can take some work to find them at first but if you join martial arts groups on social media, you will get information on seminars all over the country. Seminars can range from a couple of hours to several days. Bring a notebook and if you can, a partner. To fully benefit from a seminar you need to record what you’ve learned and drill it soon after so you don’t forget the techniques. In addition to getting a sample of different martial arts styles, seminars are good places to network with other martial artists, make friends and expand your understanding of other styles and how they relate to your style.

An annual seminar that I recommend is the Gathering of the Styles (GOS). GOS offers multiple seminars in one day that gives you a taste of each style. This seminar is perfect for the undecided or curious martial artist. You get the opportunity to see many styles. Then there are opportunities to network with the teachers and fellow students.
After you have decided on a style, you should also look at the reputation of the school. If a teacher has a really good reputation but does not offer exactly what you want, you may want to choose that school over one with a poor reputation that may appear to have what you want. You will have trouble reaching your goals if you have a teacher that focuses on belts rather than good technique, allows students to get injured often or will be out of business in a year.

For an experienced martial artist, exploring other styles can keep you fresh. As a respectful student, you need to be cognizant of your teacher’s feelings. Some instructors are very sensitive about their student’s pursuing side studies. There are teachers that believe that a student should choose one art and stick with it. The pursuit of studying and mastering one style is a solid path and can lead to great satisfaction. A friend of mine has studied one art for several decades and studies in Okinawa every couple of years. He is accomplished, satisfied and continues to learn new things about his art.

Whether you are a beginner or a master you need to put thought into what you want to achieve before choosing a style to study. Do your research, choose a school and stick with your studies until you build a solid foundation, then decide how deep or wide you want your martial arts experience to be. Now go train!

For more information on Gathering of the Styles go to the information page on http://www.dauntlessfightclub.net. While you are there, like us on Facebook. GOS is also producing a martial arts news show that will be debuting in a couple of weeks. Make sure to check it out.

Perfect Execution: Kata – where brain meets body

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There is disagreement today about the continued relevance of kata in martial arts. Some schools consider kata too old fashion or think the only place for kata is in the realm of flips and kicks in front of a panel of judges.

I am no master in kata (or martial arts in general) but I am continually striving to build more understanding. As a kid I took Tae Kwon Do for a few years and only saw kata as a requirement for testing and something that had to be done before we could spar. As an adult, I received my first black belt in an American Mixed Martial Arts system that does not include kata as part of the curriculum. The testing is based on sets of techniques that are learned at specific belt levels along with punch and kick combinations. It wasn’t until recently (about 3 years ago) that I added kata, pinyons and weapons forms to my martial arts curriculum, both traditional and competition.

When I started my exploration of kata, I was going through the motions. I had only a cursory understanding of what I was actually doing. I thought of kata as only as a demonstration of techniques. Some of the techniques I just didn’t understand. I used kata as physical exercise, a measure of my martial arts skill and something fun in which to compete. It wasn’t until one of my martial arts mentors explained to me that I was only scratching the surface of kata that I started to ask questions and explore their real meaning.

I started to ask what certain moves meant and why would techniques be used in a specific order. I started my research reading books, talking to masters and reviewing my kata to better understand what I was doing. When I get information on a technique or a set of techniques, I drill those moves until I understand the purpose and flow of the techniques. I then practice the move with an opponent, so I can really understand what I am trying to accomplish with the move.

When executing my kata, I still visualize myself against an opponent, blocking strikes and striking back. I even go as far as looking at the starting positions to understand the strikes, blocks and joint manipulation they represent. Kata offer a surprising amount of hidden knowledge. Those who just think of kata as jumping around for the entertainment of the judges at a tournament are missing a huge learning opportunity. From my reading I discovered that kata was originally the main (sometimes sole) method used to transfer knowledge of a system from master to student. Traditional kata are not dances. They are the recorded techniques and expressions of the martial arts system’s key movements and behaviors. They are a blue print to be used in building martial artists.

Martial arts is not a purely a physical art. It requires an understanding of patterns and the use of those patterns as an appropriate response to outside forces. Kata offer a guide to those patterns and help build the bond between mind and body.

I am not here to say that one style of martial arts is better than another whether or not the study of kata is included in the curriculum. I will say that as a martial artist you are missing out on an enriching experience by not exploring kata. My exploration of kata has enhanced my experience as a martial artist. It has helped me develop a stronger understanding of techniques and helped me develop better fighting strategies.

I have only scratched the surface in my study of kata. I am looking forward to continuing my journey and am excited about the things I will be learning. I encourage you to explore kata as well.

Get up! You are more likely to fall down than get into a fight.

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In my MMA classes before being taught how to throw someone, I was taught how to fall. It is unlikely that a mugger will try to hip toss me, but slipping on the ice or a wet floor is more likely. Self-defense includes not getting hurt falling down.

About three years ago we had an ice storm in our area. Coincidently, both my brother and I both slipped in our respective driveways. My brother broke his wrist. I bruised my pride. Actually, I did get some nasty bruises but no serious injuries. What was the difference? I broke my fall. My brother didn’t.

As I have mentioned before, this blog is not a sensei and the internet is not a dojo. If you want to learn specific techniques of breaking your fall and rolling, you should find a reputable school in your area. I will however discuss the concepts of fall protection.

1. Protect your head – concussions and other head injuries are serious and can have lasting consequences.
a. If you fall backward, tuck your chin to your chest to keep your head from striking the ground.
b. If you fall to the side, use your arm to cushion your head.

2. Spread your weight – One of the worst things you can do when falling is putting all of you weight on a fully outstretched arm. When you do that, all of your weight is focused on the weakest area, the wrist. One of my coworkers’ wives slipped on the ice, had both arms fully extended to stop herself from falling and broke both of her wrists. That meant no driving, no typing, challenging eating and other complications. A reputable sensei in your area can teach you how to fall in a roll or a break-fall to spread your weight and prevent injury.

As with all things, it takes practice to do effectively. It may seem silly to practice falling but falling safely does not come naturally. You will need to practice the falling techniques until they become second nature. Few things cause people to panic more than falling. Falling is even one of people’s most common nightmares. Until the falling techniques become second nature, your body will rebel against the fall and leave you prone to injury.

Falling effectively can help you against attackers as well. When being attacked, you may fall. You can be struck and dazed, tripped or thrown. Falling without injury and being able to get up can save you.

What goes down, better get up – If you are being attacked and fall down, you need to be able to get up. You are in more danger when you are on the ground after being attacked, so getting up quickly in a defensive posture is very important in preventing further injury.

In my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training I learned the technical stand up. This is a technique that allows someone to get up quickly in a defensive posture. I practiced it so much that I even use it when I get up from sitting on the floor.

Learn how to fall and get up safely and practice the technique until it is second nature.
– Don’t let a fall beat you.
– You don’t need Life Alert.
– Even though you have fallen, you can get up.

fall seven

Stick ‘em up – Carrying a weapon is not a replacement for training

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In the United States, the second amendment of our constitution with limits from the federal, state and local governments allows for the carrying of weapons. This article is not debating whether this is right or wrong. It is the law and there are real dangers on the street.

As we discussed last week, talking about martial arts can get different reactions from different people. The reactions I find most interesting are the reactions of weapon holders. Most of them are adamant that they do not need self-defense training and it is OK that they are out of shape because they have a weapon. Many of the weapon holders I know (I call them weapon holders because I know people that not only carry guns but knives, small bludgeons, pepper spray and Tasers), believe that a weapon is a reliable replacement for martial arts training. I disagree for several reasons.

“You can only fight the way you practice.” Miyamoto Musashi – Book of Five Rings.

1. Training – A weapon does not protect you just by being present. If you do not train with it as if you are defending yourself, the weapon will be more of a danger to you than to your assailant. Most people don’t train to realistically defend themselves. Using a gun as an example, people usually only train with the shooting portion of the defense process. At most gun ranges you are not allowed to draw the weapon as part of the shooting routine. The gun needs to be pointed down range at all times. So even if you go to the gun range often, you are not necessarily ready to defend yourself, since:

– You never practice drawing the gun. Getting a gun out of a holster effectively takes practice.
– You don’t practice releasing the safety. Unless you have a revolver, your gun probably has a safety which is easy to forget in a stressful situation.
– Aiming at a target is a lot different than aiming at a living person.
– Typically, your target at the range is stationary, not running at you.

If you want to use a gun as defense, you need to take a class on how to do so and then practice regularly. It takes a lot of training and practice to properly handle a weapon. Ask any police officer. I would say it takes as much practice as a weapons free self-defense system.

As I mentioned before, I know people who carry knives, pepper spray, Tasers and small bludgeons. These weapons also take practice to use effectively. Just having a weapon on you does not provide self-protection options. In fact, if you don’t train, it can make you less safe since you can injure yourself or have the weapon taken from you and used against you.

2. Speed – There are frequent debates about police officers shooting suspects who “just have knives”. It is amazing how fast someone with a knife can injure or kill you even if they are 10 feet away.

If you are confronted with a knife wielding assailant from 10 feet away and you have a gun, you probably don’t have time to draw, aim and fire your gun before they stab you. The speed of a knife attack is shocking. I recommend you watch this YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_KJ1R2PCMM  to see the speed of a knife attack. To have a better chance of survival, one needs to be able to counter the attack and attack back with adequate force to get oneself out of danger.

3. Accessibility – The number of places you can bring a weapon is shrinking. If you are reliant on a weapon for defense and you are in an airport, or at work, or in a school, what do you do?

Even if you are a fully trained weapon practitioner with the speed to address any threat, what happens if you are attacked in the shower of your gym or if a coworker starts hitting you?

You will not always have a weapon on you but you don’t go anywhere without your body. Having defensive skills that do not involve weapons is the only way to protect yourself in a “weapons free environment”. I put that in quotes because only law abiding citizens feel the need to make it weapons free. Criminals by definition disobey laws and rules so you cannot assume a weapons free environment is weapons free, but it is still inappropriate for you to bring a weapon into one. You need to consider how you will defend yourself in these areas.

4. Excessive Force/Unintended Injury – The quote “It is better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6” sounds really cool on Facebook but is not that great in real life. If your life is in danger, you have every right to defend yourself and you should. You just need to understand that there are consequences to any actions. Crying self-defense is not a get out of jail free card.

Shooting or stabbing someone, even in self-defense, can put you in jeopardy of jail time and wrongful death law suits. On the other side, pepper spray and Tasers widely available to the public, may not have the stopping power needed to disable your attacker, leaving you vulnerable to continued attack.
– With guns you can injure or kill innocent people in your quest to disable your attacker.
– With pepper spray you can disable yourself rather than your attacker.

Weapons are not always reliable and can put you and the people around you in additional danger rather than safety from your assailant. Also, even if you are in the right and were defending yourself, you can be held responsible for the death of someone. You need to understand the reliability issues and consequences before you act with a weapon.

What does all of this mean?

It means that you are better off if you have self-defense options other than just weapons. The best way to accomplish this is to:
Stay in shape – Being healthy and limber can get you out of harm’s way.
Train to defend yourself – Realistic training scenarios are the only things that will prepare you for self-defense.
Don’t just rely on weapons – It may be your right to bear arms but they do not provide a shield of safety.

You have the right to and should defend yourself if you can’t avoid a dangerous situation. You just need to remember:
– There are innocent people around you.
– You are less likely to be successful if you do not practice.

Be safe out there and don’t fall into the trap that a weapon will save you from all situations. Train for your defense and be ready when you can’t get away.

A Black Eye in the Board Room: Co-workers Reaction to Martial Arts

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Man with swollen jaw, black eye

Most people’s experience with martial arts is either cage fighting on television or their 7 year old taking Tae Kwon Do for a year and a half and quitting at green belt. This lack of experience with martial arts can make it hard for your coworkers to relate to your martial arts activities. Since they don’t know the roots of martial arts, they don’t have the context to start or carry a conversation. This means that your martial art is not necessarily a good base for starting conversations at work or for networking. While your coworkers are playing softball or golf (or just watching TV) you are probably the only one training in the dojo. Many times, you are better of talking about what your coworkers can relate to, like what was on TV last night.

I am proud of my martial arts and have brought it up in conversation at work with varied success. I am a pretty big guy at 6’3” 260 (I should be 220, but I am working on that) and I keep my hair cut very short. Some people might consider me intimidating. I found that the martial arts conversation can make some people nervous, so I am now careful with whom I discuss it. A coworker of mine used to be an amateur boxer, so he and I talk about my training and my competitions. One of the partners of the firm overheard how intense some of the sparring sessions could be and it caused a bit of tension. The sparring sessions I participate in can get intense and some people might consider them violent. It appeared that was the case in this situation. I do not want to be considered a violent person. I am a martial artist not a bar room brawler. I used humor to ease the tension of that situation and now I am greeted on Monday mornings with a humor filled “Did you beat anyone up this weekend?”

Injuries can also bring up uncomfortable conversations. An example of this is a meeting I was in with a very senior executive of a company I worked for. I had a BJJ class the night before and had really bad marks on my neck from a choke that I fought out of. I wore a collar to try and hide the marks but a co-worker saw the marks and very enthusiastically brought them to everyone’s attention in the meeting. As I explained how I got them, the executive was looking at me like I shot someone’s puppy. Again, I used humor and an attitude that I did nothing wrong that eased the tension and ended the distraction so I could get back to the meeting agenda.

Be proud of your martial arts. Just understand that not everyone will understand why you do martial arts and some people will be intimidated by it. Think about what people’s reaction might be, especially at work, before you talk about your activities, particularly if they might be construed as being violent and when you are injured, especially a facial injury, be prepared to discuss it and not leave the impression that you hang out in the wrong bars.

Martial Arts is not the Same as Self Defense

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May 19, 2015

self defence

Many people use the movies and television to measure the usefulness of martial arts in a fight or defending oneself. I know many martial artists from white belts through multi-degree black belts. The degree of their ability to defend themselves in real life situations is as varied as their belt level. I also know people who have no training, who can defend themselves well.

Even rigorous training in the martial arts will not guaranty that you are able to defend yourself. It will help. Being able to block and attack are tools in self-defense. Sparring can sharpen your skills and kata will help improve your technique. However,to defend yourself you need to add some other things to your training.

1. The most important skill you need to learn is SITUATIONAL AWARENESS. You need to have a good idea of what is going on around you at all times. Watch videos of the knock-out game. Look at the victims. See how engaged they are in observing their surroundings. If you are in a parking garage with your ear buds in and completely engrossed by something on your phone, you are vulnerable and will find it hard to avoid problems. Whereas, if you are fully engaged in observing your surroundings, you will many times see trouble before it starts or at least see it at the point of impact. Situational awareness also includes being aware of: what time it is, what state of inebriation you are in, where your friends are in a bar, where your car is parked and other mundane factors.  Know what is happening around you at all times.

I was at a bar several years ago. It was late in the evening and I noticed that there was some commotion in the parking lot. I was driving and I told my friends it was time to go. They were not happy with me but we left and went somewhere else. We read in the news the next day that there was a large violent altercation in that parking lot. The best defense is to NOT be there when trouble starts. Keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to tell people it is time to go.

2. YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO BE HIT. If anyone is hit hard enough, they will be hurt, but most times being hit or grabbed is more shocking than injury causing. It is the shock that stuns us and causes us to hesitate. This hesitation can lead to trouble. Not acting when you are hit or grabbed, leaves you open for further injury or worse. You need to be able to take the first attack (hopefully, a deflected attack since you were practicing situational awareness and saw it coming). Then you need to be able to react, either fighting back or getting away.

There is only one way to get over the shock of being hit or grabbed, practice. Sparring and grappling are the best ways to practice but if your style of martial arts does not offer those, you should practice these skills in a controlled environment somewhere else. This needs to be done with realistic attacks and defenses. As you practice, so will you fight.

A good friend of mine teaches a solid, hands-on self-defense for women class. My wife took the class and when my friend initiated a choke attack, my wife’s hand trap and groin kick defense was a little too enthusiastic. We laugh about the over exuberance still, but the training was realistic and that is the only kind that can prepare you adequately for attack.

3. YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO ATTACK. This is where your martial arts comes into play. If an attacker gets a hold of you or is between you and safety, you need to be able to act in a way that preserves your well-being even if it comes at the cost of your attacker’s. If you are in danger of grievous injury or death, you need to be willing to inflict damage on your attacker. This does not mean that you perform an eye gouge on a drunk guy in a bar that bumps you. However, it your life is in danger you need to be willing and able to inflict damage to your attacker or there is a good chance you will be a victim.

I am not going to discuss attack techniques in this article. The internet is not a dojo or a self-defense class. If you need training, I recommend that you find a reputable school in your area to learn.

Remember, you are responsible for your well-being. The police or security cannot be everywhere and many times are only able to take the report afterward.

  • Be aware of your surroundings and avoid trouble.
  • If you are attacked, avoid hesitation from the shock of the attack
  • When necessary, fight like your life depends on it, because it might.

None of these things are easy and they all require practice. Many of us will never be attacked but being prepared is important. Consider it in the same light you would a fire extinguisher. You will probably never have a fire, bit it is prudent to have a fire extinguisher anyway.


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This is the inaugural post of Dauntless Fight Club. We will be exploring the martial arts, especially for people 40 and over. We will have articles, interviews, and in time videos that will inform and entertain. I look forward to sharing the martial arts experience with you and to hear your thoughts.