What Is Violence?

Violence is gross.

Violence is sticky.

Violence is intimate.

Violence is a solution.

Violence is a tool. 

Tim Larkin has a quote, which I’ve touched on before, “when violence is the answer, it’s the only answer.” 

Because violence is all these things, it is something that many people covet, and for those who study it, hold it and wield it with the utmost respect. 

When two or more people enter a violent encounter, they’ve entered a unique human relationship. And I think many, even those with martial arts experience, underestimate the intimacy, closeness and extremely gross nature of real violence. 

One such element is the fact that you may well be exposed to, ingest and be showered in human bodily fluids. Blood, sweat, piss, feces, tears, saliva – you can encounter one or more of these when interacting with violence. Movies only show a portion of these, while training may expose you to a few more. Those who have accidentally choked out a partner may know that when someone passes out, things release, and if you’re behind them, they’ll release on you. It’s sticky. It’s disgusting.

Violence is one of the few situations where you’ll be in the type of proximity with another person usually only reserved for romantic interactions and familial relationships. Intimacy is one of the key elements of violence and probably one of the reasons, I think, it’s so frightening. 

Violence has to be intimate. If you’re close enough to kiss, you’re close enough for a head butt. And just like love, it targets the most vulnerable parts of you. Intimacy targets your weakest parts.

This is why martial arts have such an emphasis on respect. Funakoshi said, “Karate begins and ends with respect.”

Every class, we enter into a violent relationship, but not true violence. It’s more like theatrical violence. It’s an act of play. You play one role while your partner plays another. “All the world’s a stage, all the men and women merely players.”

But if we don’t respect the roles we play, we can easily break the 4th wall into reality. Those who understand and respect violence know this. When we lose sight of playfulness in the dojo, we enter into the realm of real violence, which becomes increasingly intimate and gross.

But this playful nature can also land people in a complete fantasy world.

There are martial arts out there that avoid the ground, grappling, and closeness in general. If they claim to sell self-defence without integrating these aspects, they most certainly don’t understand violence.

I heard a story once of a traditional karate practitioner at a seminar that involved hand wrestling, and she said she wouldn’t participate because “she doesn’t like being grabbed.”

Do you know who cares less about your comfort level than you do? Everybody.

The unfortunate thing about violence is it doesn’t care about your comfort level for touch, and if you’re a target of it, you generally don’t have much say in the matter.

I’ve seen those with machismo claim that they could handle x-z violent situation, and I’ve watched chi-ball flinging nutcases say the same. Those who have experience in real violence and understand it aren’t usually too quick to throw judgement, make outrageous claims about beating others, or “wishing a guy would.”

Why? Because violence is literally one of the worst things imaginable, to be a victim of it and to be in a situation where one would need to use it.

Do you know the sound of the ligaments snapping beneath you?

Have you felt life leave someone’s body as their brain is denied oxygen by your hands?

Have you heard the howls of pain as bones are shattered by your intention?

Even worse, have you been on the receiving end of these?

No? Me either!

But, surviving soldiers of war will be the first to tell you how awful the reality violence is. When I spoke to my grandfather about WW2, he shook his head and said, “war is hell.”

As students of violence, we need to walk the middle path of it. We need to explore it at a depth that allows us to do so safely but also with just enough breath to not enter into the realm of bullshido.

Only those with extensive experience know how to create an atmosphere and culture that balances the play and realities of this unique and extremely human interaction. That’s why it takes so long to get a black belt, or at least, one that most acknowledge and respect.

To understand it, you need to both push and respect the boundaries of the theatrical violence we engage with within our gyms and dojos. And this symbiosis is easily disrupted with poor attitudes, bad intentions, and ignorance, easing us out of play into real violence or pushing us further into unreality. Both are unhealthy and lead to potentially dangerous and even deadly consequences.

So what are we to do as teachers and students of violence?

To replicate the intensity, we must pressure test.

But always with the concern and well-being of our partners.

And always with respect for the tool of violence for which wield.

Enjoyed this blog? Check out Does Your Karate Have “Flavour”?!

Does Your Karate Have “Flavour”?

“It is necessary to drink alcohol and pursue other fun activities. The art [karate] of someone who is too serious has no flavour.” – Motobu Choki

I have a karate friend, sharing the sentiments of Motobu, who said, “if you can’t do a kata drunk, you can’t do it at all!”

I know of many BJJ practitioners who choose to smoke weed before training. Even while attending BJJ tournaments here in Canada, where marijuana is legal, I’ve seen dozens of practitioners smoke a joint before their matches. In the hopes to, as Eddie Bravo as said, “rely more on your instincts,” and let “your body take over. . . you don’t think about it, you just do it.”

Although I’ve never been high while training, I have taken CBD before practice and can speak to its benefits. I was far more relaxed both mentally and physically. When hitting mitts, I didn’t get gassed out as quickly, and my technique was far more on point. While grappling, I didn’t feel as anxious while being smothered in bottom positions, which allowed me to see more openings for escapes and various submissions. I also cared less about making mistakes; I took more risks that I might otherwise be afraid to take. Because of this, I found the experience generally more enjoyable. I embraced the experience of training.

One doesn’t need to do drugs or alcohol to gain these benefits. Simply, one can embrace child-like playfulness. Hence, so many speak of the importance of the beginner’s mind, shoshin, a concept from Zen Buddhism, for which I find many advocate but rarely actually practice.

I’m not necessarily trying to support alcohol or drug use in training, but there’s something to be said about the quality of someone’s practice and their relaxed nature towards their martial arts.

Rigidity does not breed creativity.

In the video below, Firas Zahabi speaks to the importance of this.

He uses Muay Thai and Russian wrestlers as an example. The Russians don’t go full out every practice; they have a type of focused play. Because they’re not too serious when practicing, their training is more explorative and allows for more consistent, quality reps.

Regarding Muay Thai practitioners, who have also been known to smoke and drink before their matches, Firas speaks about when they train with someone too serious or aggressive; they’ll view the individual as “too amateur.”

In an episode of the Ultimate Fighter, George St. Pierre introduced a French Muay Thai fighter who would get drunk before training and referred to him as a “free-thinker.”

GSP has also been known to have a glass of wine during his training camps. One of my favourite pass times on a sunny weekend afternoon is to enjoy a glass of wine while going through kata, or practicing weaponry. Not unlike having a beer at the golf course, it makes the practice more enjoyable and makes it an act of unwinding.

The underlying principle of using alcohol or drugs to facilitate practice, I think, is to allow for a flow state, which, as Firas Zahabi points out, is key to consistent and enjoyable training. So when Motobu speaks of flavour, perhaps he means that someone who is too serious has no flowwhich I think most can agree, is essential for creativity and functional spontaneity. 

Regardless of whether you choose to use alcohol or drugs or reap the benefits of integrating it into training, practicing martial arts should always be fun. Instructors who take themselves and their art too seriously tend to be less than enjoyable to train with, can be insufferably traditional and a complete bore. Do you think Motobu’s quote was directed at Funakoshi?

Martial arts like a fine wine, you don’t drink it with the purpose of finishing the glass, but to enjoy every sip. If you’re not enjoying the journey, why continue on the path?


Enjoyed this blog? Check out Karate and The Sunk Cost Fallacy!

5 Tips To Avoid Failure In Martial Arts

With 20 years in martial arts, I’ve watched a lot of people fail. Not necessarily in the physical or technical sense, but a whole lot in the philosophy and attitude sense. 

On a side note, it can often be those who excel in the physical arena that lack the correct attitude to realize their potential, while those who fail to pick up techniques easily possess the true grit to succeed. 

Whatever your ability, I’ll hope you’ll enjoy and apply these five tips to avoid failure in the martial arts.

#1 – Self-Respect

Why did you join your martial arts club? Was it a fun way to get fit? Did you want to learn self-defence? Were all the cool kids doing it? 

Whatever the reason is, always try to be conscious of what motivates you to be there. 

You’ll have a lot of muggles out there who will never understand why you choose to spend your evenings getting hit, thrown, and mauled by other human beings rather than sit on the couch, eating chips, binge-watching Netflix. Many muggles will also try to convert you to the dark side: “It’s so warm underneath this blanket. . . Why don’t you stay in with me?” 

Remember, it’s warm under a 250lbs guy in BJJ, too! 

And, yes, the dark side has cookies! But just say no! 

The seed that inspired you to join your martial arts club is one of self-respect. You’re there to improve yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. Every time you step on the mat, you’re doing something that most of the population is unwilling to do. Don’t let unmotivated people unmotivate you.

Self-respect is the foundation to excel in martial arts.

#2 – When There’s A Correction, Always Assume It’s You.

Often, instructors will stop a class to provide corrections, usually with a few people in mind. Always, ALWAYS, assume it’s you. 


When you assume, “I’m not the one making a mistake,” that’s a mistake. 

Generally, those who believe they are not the culprit needing correction, their minds tend to drift off, and they pay no attention to the instructor. However, observing and listening to the instructor during these moments are essential for acquiring new information, whether it’s for you or not. If the class’s general populace is not getting things right, the instructor usually will phrase it differently or emphasize elements you may have missed the first round. 

Also, everyone, even black belts, has areas on which to improve. When the instructor takes the time to stop the class, try two things: 

  1. Be very mindful of how you are applying the technique and ask yourself, “Am I truly performing this as I was instructed?” 
  2. If you perform the technique in line with the instruction, be very mindful of what the instructor did to make it look so fast, smooth and accurate, and try to implement those elements. 

#3 – Be Humble & Have Faith In The System You Practice.

When you join a martial arts club, you’re not just learning a martial arts style; you’re learning a curriculum and system specifically designed by your head instructor. 

Just because you have experience in another martial art or the same martial art but in a different club doesn’t mean that you will be successful in the current organization you attend. 

Some misguided wrestlers often assume they should be promoted to a blue belt in BJJ faster than other participants just because they have grappling experience. What determines your level at any given school is your ability to pick up the head instructor’s curriculum. If you don’t know the curriculum, you won’t get a belt, no matter your previous experience.

If you don’t trust your instructor to make a fair assessment of your technique, then why are you still there? If you are going to learn from a specific instructor, you have to have faith in what they teach. You’re not going to get very far if you question their motives and reasonings all the time. And, if you do feel inclined to do so, then you’re obviously in the wrong place.

#4 – Patience 

There’s just no substitute for time. For many martial arts schools, it can take up to 10 years or even longer to achieve your blackbelt. That’s quite the time commitment. Your success in any martial art is 100% dependent on your willingness to invest time and effort into acquiring the skill.

To be good at martial arts, you have to be willing to drill techniques repeatedly, attend multiple classes per week, get slammed around a whole lot, and then patiently wait for a promotion. 

In my dojo, we often tell our students, “If you have to ask to be promoted, then that’s a good sign you’re not ready to be promoted.” Those who are ready to be moved up are given a new rank on the day they are ready. So, if you haven’t received your belt, then you don’t deserve it yet. 

#5 – Reciprocity 

One of the most important concepts I learned in martial arts is reciprocity. Whether it comes to how people treat you, the standing you have in the dojo and the belts you receive, it is all dependent on the efforts you apply. You always get back what you put in. 

When I started teaching in my dojo, it was because I wanted to learn more. I started volunteering my time as a green belt to help out with the lower belt classes. I didn’t get paid any money. I got paid with further instruction from my Sensei. As a volunteer, I was able to take advantage of the extra time spent with my instructors. I could ask them questions before and after the additional classes I attended, not to mention the value that comes with learning to effectively communicate the execution of any given technique. 

I was told once to “always give 30% more than what you expect in return,” I try to apply that in all my relationships, whether with friends, family, colleagues, students or teachers. The value you offer will always be obvious, and you are, therefore, indispensable–at least, to those who also understand the concept of reciprocity. 


At the heart of all these concepts is respect. Respect for yourself. Respect for your classmates. Respect for your teacher. Sensei Funakoshi once said, “Karate begins and ends with respect.” This phrase, of course, extends across all martial arts. If you’re wondering why you’re not as successful in a martial art, ask if you have demonstrated: 

  • Respect for yourself and others
  • Patience and humbleness
  • Reciprocity

If not, it’s not technique you need to work on. It’s yourself. 

Message from The Martial Arts Muse:

Hi there! I hope you enjoyed my most recent blog, 5 Tips To Avoid Failure In Martial Arts ! To show my appreciate for checking out my blog, you can get 10% off at Diamond MMA with the code JENN10. Click here to check out Diamond MMA’s website and products!

Thanks again for reading! Happy Trails!

Jennifer Thompson

Enjoyed this blog? Check out Are You Practicing Bullsh!t Bunkai?

Bunkai, Karate, Oyo, Kata Applications
How To Train With Females

How to Train with Females

I’m on many martial arts threads and forums and along with common questions like “how to get the funk out of my gi?” and “how to prepare for your first tournament,” “how to train with a female partner” also tops the list.

There are quite a few people out there that would say “just like anyone else”.

But is that really true?

I can’t say that I treat any one partner exactly the same as I treat another. There are several variables that make a training experience enjoyable, and each of us are, in one way or another, partially responsible for the enjoyment and rewards that are gained through our martial art community. 

I think the reason this question comes up so often is that most people are good people. Most people in the martial arts are men. Most men don’t want to be “that guy” or be accused of being “that guy”. Most men also don’t want to do any harm, especially if they’ve explicitly been taught their entire life not to hurt women. 

To best help my male martial arts friends, here are 3 ways to help make your female partners feel comfortable so that you can feel more comfortable too.

#1 – Communication

No matter who you’re working with, training in cold, icy silence can be a bit awkward. It’s not to say that you should be jabbering on, but check-ins are important when you’re working with someone with different abilities and sizes. Check-ins should be initiated by the senior person in the pairing, if there is one. For many joining classes for the first time, they may be timid in communicating their needs, as often times there is the assumption that if the first-timer is feeling uncomfortable that perhaps this is just the way things are at that training centre. Simple questions like, “Am I putting too much pressure?” or “Is this working right?” can provide enough insight into how your partner is feeling or enjoying working with you, while at the same time indicate elements of improvements in your performance as a senior person.

If you’re reading this as a beginner, you also have a responsibility and right to communicate your needs. The majority, if not all, of those attending martial arts classes do so with self-defense in mind. If you are practicing at a martial arts school and feel like you’re getting hurt while working with an uncontrolled partner, then you’re not practicing or learning self-defense. . . You’re getting hurt. In most instances, when a partner is muscling through technique and overpowering you, they’re often unaware of it. Simply mentioning to your partner, “I think you might be using too much strength there,” may be all that’s needed for you to have an enjoyable and safe class.

No matter the circumstances, whenever two parties are in communication, they have equal responsibilities as the transmitter and the receiver. However, when you are either stronger, bigger, or more senior, a greater responsibility may fall on you. Why? Because organically, you’re more capable of unconsciously hurting others and you’re more likely to get in a dominant position where communication will be difficult for a smaller or weaker partner.

#2 – Don’t worry. We know sometimes body parts will be “grazed.”

Nowhere are breasts more feared than when a man is grappling with a woman for the first time.

Don’t worry guys, its’ pretty easy to tell the difference between someone trying to grope you and someone accidentally jabbing you in the boob on their way to an arm bar. Truly, the difference is HUGE!

Most martial arts are male dominated. Often times when there is a boob graze, it is because that’s where a partner (no matter the gender), may tend to place their hand during a technique. As a woman, I know I’ve accidentally touched my fellow female partner’s breast because I’m used to putting my hand in that position when working with male partners, with whom I work with the majority of the time.

Martial arts, particularly grappling, are close contact; very close contact. Every body part may accidentally be grazed, punched, grabbed, etc. It’s the nature of the sport and most of those entering it have that understanding. Returning to the point of communication, if it does happen, a simple and genuine, “My bad!” is enough to show concern for the well-being of your partner and express your feelings of dread for it happening.

#3 – Be Conscious of Size/Strength Difference.

Whether you’re bigger or smaller, stronger or weaker, female or male or anything in between, being conscious of your size is important when working with your partner, but it is also important for understanding what strategies will work best for you.

If you are 250 lbs, you need to be aware that putting all your weight on someone who is half your size is likely to cause your partner injury or at the very least a level of discomfort that is not conducive to an enjoyable training experience. At the same time, if you’re 90 lbs, you need to realize that trying to use strength against bigger opponents won’t be an optimal strategy, and may also result in you injuring yourself and your partner.

Body awareness is pivotal for understanding your own capabilities. But having that body awareness also lends itself to greater overall awareness, like in regards to mat space and body language of your partners.

As Sun Tzu says:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War


As some of you may have commented in your internal dialogue, these aren’t guidelines just for working with females, but for any partner, of any size and ability. More than anything, if you always practice with respect, empathy and awareness, you’ll contribute to a welcoming and fun community that will be enjoyable for everyone of any size and capability.

Kata, Karate

Is This The Return of Kata?

Up until this point, Karate seems to have been having dwindling participation in recent years.

In my club, particularly amongst our kids’ classes, the numbers have steadily been going down.

It seemed that Karate was becoming a bit passé in comparison to the trending martial arts, like BJJ and Muay Thai. I suppose if a child is going to choose a martial art, they’re more likely going to want to choose a martial art that their parents enjoy on television like what they see in the UFC.

But now, we’re all in self-isolation. Martial arts that are dependent on partners (which SHOULD be all of them) are having trouble selling their art because it is so reliant on proximity with another human being.

If you’re not fortunate enough to be locked in with someone who also has a love for hitting and strangling other people for fun, what is one to do?


Since COVID-19 has forced us all into isolation, famous martial arts practitioners, like John Danaher, have been promoting their solo drills—something karate students have been practicing since its conception.

Of the martial arts schools I’ve seen with the highest success since self-isolation policies were implemented, karate schools have reigned supreme with minimal loss in students.


Because solo templates are and have always been a pivotal part of Karate’s practice, a focus on solo practice has lent itself to an ease of adaptability in current times. Let’s look a little bit further at why.

#1 – Little Adjustment for Karate Students

Unlike other martial arts, solo practice has been a heavy focus in karate. Yes, other martial arts will use solo practice in a warm-up, but very rarely do they make it a focus for an entire class. In karate classes, you will train hours and hours of getting your body in just the right alignment, so that it will be as you train it with a partner. Because karate practitioners are already accustomed to practicing solo in the dojo and at home, there is minimal adjustment for them.

#2 – Trained To Use Imagination

Some Karate schools teach kata first, then the applications. Other karate schools teach the opposite. Whichever way they choose, because Karate has always used solo templates, they’ve always been encouraged to imagine an opponent, and different scenarios when practicing their kata. This is an ideal tool when in self-isolation.

#3 – Strong Sense of Tradition & Discipline            

Most martial arts also have a strong sense of traditions, but Japanese martial arts seem to place a stronger emphasis than others. A greater sense of tradition may lend itself to a strong sense of discipline, which is an important quality; without it, many may not be motivated enough to take the time to train at home. A sense of tradition may also promote a stronger feeling of loyalty amongst its karate students. If the Sensei says there is a virtual class, most students will follow through, simply out of a sense of commitment to their instructor and their club.

#4 – Meditation In Motion

Recently, I’ve seen an increased interest in meditation. Self-isolation may be a trigger for mental illness for some individuals, a common remedy is meditation. Kata can certainly be identified as “meditation in motion”, the focus derived from its practice and the focus on breathing, may promote the same rewards as meditating in a seated position. Kata as a holistic practice also allows for improved cardio, strength and flexibility. Because kata allows for the so many rewards, it’s easy for the karate practitioner to feel inclined to practice kata on a regular basis.

#5 – Pathways In The Brain See No Difference

The connections in your brain see little difference whether you practice a movement pattern with a partner versus during solo. Whether you practice the movement patterns on your own or with a partner, you’re still reinforcing similar neural pathways. Because, as previously mentioned, Karate Sensei teach to imagine opponents and scenarios from the beginning, it lends them the greater ability to reinforce these neural pathways in isolation, which ultimately will improve their performance with a partner.


More now than ever, solo practice or kata is one way martial artists can continue to build on their technique while in isolation.  But while kata offers many great rewards and should be practiced regularly, I think karate practitioners should stop to ask themselves a few questions.

  • Do you think when you did have a group of people in a room together that you used your time as wisely as you could have?
  • Could you have spent more time on practical two-person drills when you still had the opportunity?

Kata is a pivotal part of karate as a practice, and as discussed, an important tool in karate training, however, a tool that is over used, also becomes useless. For some schools, kata is over-practiced, used as a substitute for realistic, pressure tested scenarios. Although kata has it’s place, when you do have people to train with, that is the time when we should be practicing techniques and scenarios with one another.

But now, isn’t just the time for solo practice, but for self-reflection.

At this moment, it’s the world’s version of “Go to your room and think about what you’ve done!”

No matter the art you practice, also ask yourself:

  • Could I have been a more compassionate teacher?
  • Could I have been a more understanding student?
  • How could I have helped those around me, when I still could have?

The world has given us an opportunity to reflect. And, when you do, are you satisfied with what you see?

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.


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.


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. . .


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!


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”!