Bjj white belt, Karate black belt

Things I’ve Learned From BJJ As A Karate Black Belt

The first and most obvious thing I’ve learned attending BJJ classes is BJJ. But, if you’ve been involved in the martial arts as long as I have, you know that there is a lot more to gain than just technique. Often, these secondary benefits can outweigh the primary goal of acquiring a new skill.

From the beginning of my BJJ practice, I’ve been cognizant of how my past martial arts experiences can facilitate the acquisition of new information, and how that new information can enlighten my past.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what I’ve gained as a BJJ white belt from the perspective of a Karate black belt.

#1 – I don’t know everything. . . Thank god!

Coming into BJJ, I already had a high-performance background in wrestling, and 18 years of Karate with Japanese Jujitsu thrown in. It’s safe to say that I had far greater experience than the average white belt in terms of technique and formalities.

I recall walking in with my white belt on. Not only was it tied correctly, but in such a way that it would not fall off while training, a dead giveaway to my instructor that I wasn’t completely new to the martial arts.

Despite this, and as one would expect, in my first class, I got my ass handed to me—thank god!

I’ve always enjoyed a good ass-kicking, and that day, I received it. It was a reminder that I didn’t know everything. It was also a sign that I was in the right place. Those around me had something to offer, and I would have lots to learn.

#2 – Reinforced Importance of Aggressive Resistance

Essentially, at the end of every lesson in BJJ, there is a rolling session. Rolls are a means to explore techniques you have learned and to apply them under pressure.  You aren’t really studying violence unless you pressure test. You can practice a technique over and over again, but if you don’t apply it under aggressive resistance, there’s no proof that it really works. I think this is one of the reasons that BJJ has served those in MMA so well. They’ve always made pressure testing a part of their regular practice, allowing them to enter an arena with the utmost confidence.

#3- A Background in Martial Arts Helps

Even if a martial art system offers a different emphasis, a background in any martial arts goes a long way.

I had the following going for me:

  • I didn’t feel silly or awkward putting on a gi
  • Having spent time in this male-dominant industry already, I wasn’t intimidated to be the only girl in the class
  • I already had excellent body awareness and was familiar with many of the movement patterns
  • I knew how to get hit and keep moving
  • I could immediately see the levers that make techniques work

I didn’t have to learn to overcome anything. Any obstacles that did arise were familiar ones. Because I felt more comfortable than the average white belt, it lent itself to an ease of adaptability in the context of BJJ.

#4 – Generalists Versus Specialists

The style of Karate that I currently practice is Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jitsu. In this style, we practice everything: submission, throws, chokes, percussive impacting, and of course, kata. In short, in Koryu Uchinadi we study violence.  Because violence has no specification in terms of techniques, we have a fairly wide curriculum that allows for specialization for those who choose. Our study is broad, which defines us as generalists.

Studying martial arts from a broad manner lends itself to many benefits

For example:

  • Understanding of contextual premise
  • A Comprehensive view of violence
  • Comfortable in most positions

Brazilian Jiujitsu practitioners are ground specialists. You don’t learn the proper mechanics of how to punch in a BJJ class, but as the Gracies have proven, you don’t necessarily need to. If we view BJJ as a web, all variables centre around a single point, the ground. While the opponent can kick, punch, grab, and so on, if the BJJ practitioner can grab you, they can control you.

Specialization also lends itself to unique benefits.

  • Hick’s Law—the idea that the more choices you have, the longer it will take to choose—is a non-issue
  • Highly proficient in a subset of techniques
  • Sub-specializations

#5 – The Principles Are All the Same

For most, we have 2 arms, 2 legs, torso and a head. The human body and physics don’t change based on the martial art you choose to study. My Sensei has always said, “if you close your eyes, let one karate black belt, one boxer and one Thai boxer punch you in the face, would you be able to tell the difference? Of course not, they would all hurt!”

The same would be true concerning an arm-bar applied by a BJJ, Sambo and Judo practitioner.

Often martial arts schools like to promote the idea that their method is better than another. The reality is the principles that govern the techniques of one school are exactly the same as any other. It’s a teacher’s understanding and how they communicate those principles that determine the strength of their methods.

The principles that govern ALL martial arts systems include:

  • Force
  • Momentum
  • The 5 ancient machines
    • Pulley
    • Wheel and Axel
    • Wedge/Inclined Plane
    • Screw (which is a variation on a wedge)
    • Lever
      • Class 1 (Load, Fulcrum, Effort)
      • Class 2 (Effort, Load, Fulcrum)
      • Class 3 (Load, Effort, Fulcrum)
  • Tool, Location, Intensity, Angle, Direction = The Application Formula

It is important to be reminded of this because looking at martial arts as a set of principles allows you to transcend individual techniques and see the practice as a whole.

Conclusion

In Japanese martial arts, we liken our study to a path. Often, we quote the following:

“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but there is only one moon to be seen for those who achieve its summit.”

– Chinese Proverb

Over the years, I have walked several paths simultaneously, enjoying each new road as much as the next.  Taking the time to walk these unexplored pathways may initially require greater investment, but it’s has proven to show some useful shortcuts.

But as we all know, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Despite my background, I know my exploration of BJJ will offer many peaks and valleys that are yet to come. When I meet them, I look forward to greeting them like old friends.

Want To Be Good At Martial Arts? It’s About Time In.

“It’s not who’s good, it’s who’s left. It’s hours on the mat. If you put in the time, natural athlete or not, you’ll be a black belt. . . You just can’t quit.” – Chris Haueter

I love this quote. It touches on so many points that some people miss when pursuing the martial arts.

“It’s not who’s good, it’s who’s left.”

There’s always going to be someone better than you.

Perhaps you get beat by the same person at every tournament, or there’s a person in your club who seems to go through rank faster than you.

No matter the situation, some people, despite their talent, often quit. Their reason for quitting may stem from boredom because they don’t feel challenged. Alternatively, those who are identified as “talented” will quit from frustration when they eventually do face something truly challenging, but lack the experience to cope.

Those of us who have to work a little bit harder to maintain our skills organically learn the patience and persistence necessary to be a life long martial artist.

“It’s hours on the mat.”

There’s just no substitute for time. Martial arts isn’t like cramming for an exam, where you have the information accessible for a little while and then lose it immediately when you don’t need it any more. What you learn needs to become a part of you and accessible in an instant at a moment of complete surprise.

At the end of the day, the mat doesn’t lie and certainly knows how to tell time.

If you put in the time, natural athlete or not, you’ll be a black belt.

In life, some of us have a head start. Some parents put their children in physical activities at a very early age, and as a result, acquire the body awareness and skill to be better martial artists than those who haven’t.

But all skills can be learned and acquired with time, no matter an individual’s starting point. Yes, for those who haven’t been exposed to movement patterns that make for a good martial artist, it will take them longer, in many cases, much, much longer. But, if they put the time and mental energy that is necessary specifically for THEIR individual success, then they will attain the skill of a black belt eventually.

You just can’t quit.

If your goal is to be the best at your craft that you can possibly be, then quitting is never an option. Perfection is an illusion, but it’s only by continually practicing that we can come as close to perfection as humanly possible. And, when our goal is to be the best we possibly can be, then there is never an end in sight, no matter the rank we have or are hoping to achieve.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a serious competitor or just pursuing martial arts as a hobby, it’s all about how many quality hours of work you invest. I don’t care how long you’ve been in a club or how many months you’ve prepaid for. Sure, there will always be outliers. There are some people out there who will just never get it and there will always be people who pick things up easily. But for all of us who lie in between, it’s the time you spend working technique and the energy you expend to master it that determines your skill and rank. . .Or, at least, it should.

Beginner’s Guide to Surviving a Koryu Uchinadi Gasshuku

At the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku, you will experience 4 – 8 hour days of physical and mentally demanding training. It will be a whirlwind of information covering everything from throws, ground techniques, weaponry, striking, “bunkai”, 2-person flow drills, and of course kata, from some of the world’s most knowledgeable and talented martial artists.

If you’ve never attended the event before, you might not be sure what to expect and you may be a little intimidated. So, I made up a short guide to help those who are new get the most out of their training and the extracurricular activities at this year’s event.

#1 – It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

8 hour long training days over 4 days is guaranteed to take its toll on you mentally and physically, so be careful not to overdo it on the first day.

My first Gasshuku, I most certainly did and I literally had a sleeve of bruises, which affected my ability to make a fist and drink a beer for the rest of the week. . .

It was quite the ordeal, specifically the beer part.

So, don’t make the same mistake I did! Remember, it’s not about showing off, it’s about learning, so take your time and move at a pace you’re comfortable with, both for your safety and the safety of your partner.

#2 – Stay hydrated.

I suppose this should go without saying, but for those who have never trained over an extended period of time before, it’s an important reminder.

The KU Gasshuku will be strenuous, at the least. To help keep you focused and healthy throughout the event, always keep a water bottle handy and try not to overdo it at the bar.

#3 – Listen!

I’ll say it a little bit louder for the people in the back. . .

LISTEN!

I mean really listen! And, by that, I mean close your mouth and open your ears!

For many of us who attend the event, we’re professional martial artists, we’re black belts, we’re teachers and we almost always take on the teaching role. If you’re attending the Gasshuku as a participant, your job, your only job, is to learn.

The key to do that is to. . .

At the Gasshuku, this is your chance to really be a student again. And, to get the full advantage of the lessons, take on the beginner’s mind, “empty your cup” as they say, and remember that in the martial arts, you’re “always a student, sometimes a teacher”.

#4 – Remember your etiquette and your hygiene.

Anytime you attend a martial arts event for the first time, scale your etiquette towards the formal side until someone tells you otherwise. Remember to bow when entering the dojo or greeting a senior student or instructor. It’s always better to lean further towards formality and tone it down when asked than to not show enough formality and be seen as arrogant or disrespectful.

In continuity with etiquette, remember good hygiene! You are going to sweat A LOT, so please make measures to ensure you have a clean gi and fight gear. Also, remember to keep those fingernails and toenails cut short. . . You don’t want to be that guy!

. . .Or, do I?

#5 – Have Fun!

Last, but not the least, have fun! At the event, we train hard and play hard. The sweat, the tears, the hangover — it’s all in good fun. Try not to take yourself too seriously and come in with a child’s mind. Don’t worry about making mistakes; that’s a part of the learning process. We’re just here to play and explore and in doing so have a better understanding of the art we love so much: Karate.

We hope to see you there!

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Beauty and The Beast: Balancing Femininity and Prowess as a Female Martial Artist

Beauty and the Beast was and is my favourite movie. I still get chills from the opening scene.

A tale as old as time, it tells the story of an unlikely romance between an intelligent, yet odd beauty and a rash, aggressive beast, that a little town, a quiet village, tries to squash with fire and pitch forks.

As a female martial artist, internally I feel this same tension between beauty and beast, the conflict between outward societal expectations of femininity and the inextinguishable aggression within.

I channel the forces of both beauty and beast, femininity and prowess, always simultaneously.

These forces are always in flux, and for each of us these ratios bend and play out in different ways.

I love physicality. I grew up watching pro wrestling. My brothers and I would act out the flying feats of Ray Mysterio and the dropping elbows of The Rock off our couch in the living room.

Often when family friends would drop by, they were surprised that I, a girl, would engage in such antics usually reserved for boys, “Wow! She jumps in there, too.”

At the same time, I loved barbies, dress up, and the colour pink.

I still love those things.

But I also loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, and Hot Wheels.

Now, as an adult, I love martial arts and the prowess it expresses.

Now, as an adult, I love make-up and the femininity it expresses.

I love the feel of executing a good heel hook.

I love the feel of wearing a good pair of heels.

Females are often pressured to think that we need to choose between the two. To choose would be to deny an element that makes us whole, an element that makes us human. And, I think when we express femininity and prowess in a way that is true and complete to our nature that that’s where true beauty lies.

Enjoyed this post? Check out “A Good Training Partner Is Hard to Find“!

Title Image for Blog "Just Because You're Injured. . ."

Just Because You’re Injured. . .

Doesn’t mean you can’t participate.

With most injuries, you can still be an active participant in your martial arts community.

Recently I hurt my ribs, which restricts my participation in Karate, BJJ and Krav Maga.

But just because I sustained an injury doesn’t mean I can’t still participate in the community.

“The martial arts is a journey that goes beyond the cultivation of physical skill, and hones both mind and spirit.”

Instead of staying home from training, I grabbed my camera and took pictures of others working through the lessons.  This served my community by providing content for their social media feeds, aided in remembering the content presented, and my presence in the dojo allowed me to provide feedback to participants.

At events, I’ll often see my older colleagues grab a note pad and pen to take notes when there is a technique that doesn’t “jive” with their sore joints. In doing so, they can understand and remember the techniques so when they return to their own dojo, they can help coach those who are capable of such movements.

For those who are experienced enough, there’s always the option to help teach. Even if you can’t perform a technique in all circumstances, you can still talk someone through a movement or explain a concept aiding in the progression of those around you.

When you can’t physically perform a task, there’s always an option to make it an intellectual endeavor by taking notes and help instruct or a creative one by taking videos or photos.

But whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s in line with your goals. At the same time, always be cognizant of the limitations that injuries can have on you both physically and mentally. Some injuries can certainly take a larger mental toll than others, so do what’s best for you.

It’s easy to find reasons not to do something, but if there is will there is “the way”.

The choice is yours!

Enjoyed this post? Check out “Being A Good Uke; It’s Harder Than You Think”!

Bruising Easily, A Reflection on Martial Arts

There are girls out there who use filters on Instagram to make their face look better. I use filters to accentuate the colour of my bruises.

Martial arts and bruising

I don’t wear this palette of black, purple and blue as a badge of honour; these spots are simply a natural representation of how the martial arts affect me.

That being:

“I face enough negative experiences to give me character, but not enough to make me callous.”

The martial arts force us to confront negative experiences on a daily basis and sometimes one experience may be more intimidating than another.

With time these experiences leave a lasting impression, or in the case of my bruises, a rather large imprint.

But these experiences are usually not enough to truly hurt us. They’re just sketches of what COULD harm us; shading that is easily erased by the next time we train.

A fine example of this may be an elbow to the face while grappling. We know such a thing could happen. We know that such a thing could happen in real life. But, when it does happen unexpectedly in the safe confines of a class, it leaves a lasting impression in our mind and most certainly on our body. However, if we were to let it affect us beyond acknowledging its possibility, occurrence and surprise, we would likely never return to the classes.

Accidents like an elbow to the face, a knee to the groin and a good ol’ poke in the eye are all common. But, it’s never enough to make us leave or feel fear. If anything it naturalizes the blows we are taught to face and the pain they can inflict, and often we even laugh in the face of it. But, unlike the real threat of violence, it doesn’t leave us callous (or at least it shouldn’t if you’re in the right school).

Receiving these ink blots of the skin builds a certain type of immunity to violence; it doesn’t hold the same influence it once did.


With time it develops our character. You learn these so-called “injuries” are only skin deep, can result from both hitting and being hit, and the sight of them is no longer a cause of concern for you.

So, perhaps my bruises are a badge of honour. They prove practice. They prove force. And, as long as they only occur on my arms and legs, it proves I’m pretty damn good at blocking.

Your body is your canvas. Your training is your brush and paint. Bruising, pain and discomfort is a natural consequence of our training and with each class you paint your own masterpiece. It is a natural consequence of the art and with each lesson the image you create becomes more vivid.

Enjoyed this post? Check out “Dojo Disillusionment”!


Friction in the Dojo: How It Can Move You Forward

Friction. . .

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It can be the thing that helps drive you forward. . .

It can be the thing that slows you down. . .

As yellow belts, my friend Tracy and I had a silent competition against each other.

Our Sensei told us that the only person we should compete against was ourselves.

“Os! Sensei!”

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In lip service, like so many still do, we professed to one another and our instructors that this was always our goal, to simply be better than we were the day before.

A selfish attempt to be more idyllic than the other.

When we stood next to each other in line, our eyes would always glance to the other.

Watching, sensing, checking. . .

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“Is her horse stance lower than mine?”

“Did she do more push-ups than I?”

“Did the Sensei compliment her and not me?”

As these thoughts and insecurities arose in me, I later learned that she thought the same.

It was the unspoken friction that propelled us forward.

For everything she did well, I was committed to doing it. . .

better,

faster,

stronger,

than her.

And with that, Tracy would double her efforts in return.

In the presence of one another, our efforts were exponentiated. Our skill improved through the silent desire to be the best in the dojo, better than the other.

But. . .

One day, Tracy stopped attending classes. So, I was left  alone to to find another “Frienemy” to silently compete with.

As the years passed, there would be others. . .

Watching, sensing, checking. . .

Better, stronger, faster. . .

Wash, rinse, repeat. . .

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But, they would all eventually leave as well.

By the time I achieved my Shodan, there was no one left to compete with.

The Senpai above me were so far ahead, there was no competition there.

And, my students were not close enough yet to truly challenge me (although, I look forward to that day).

Without this traction, I could feel myself slowing down.

For the first time in my life, I had no one to compete with but myself.

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Where I once targeted my critical eye on those around me, I was now forced to point it at the one person I could neither defeat nor be defeated by: myself.

It was in that moment I understood what my Sensei was getting at when he said, “You should only compete with yourself.”

There is, of course, value in silently competing with those around you, as a type momentary motivation to challenge your physicality and fitness.

But, in the long run, you should define your success on your own terms. Each individual in the dojo has their own unique objectives. Sometimes people pursue martial arts for fitness, others for camaraderie, or just because they find it fascinating.

Would you want to compete against someone who is purely interested in the history of karate when your interest is biomechanics?

Of course not.

In this sense, it’s not so much about competing, but defining your unique objectives. Give yourself the recognition that you deserve. Observe the distance you’ve gone to achieve your goals. Have enough self-awareness to ask “Can I do better?” and to answer “I will do better”.

Now, when I step in line and look in the mirror, I sometimes see the gawky, awkward, teenage, yellow belt I once was and I wonder. . .

“Is her stance lower than mine?”

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