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?

Cheers!

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. 

YES! 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. 

Conclusion

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. 

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Bunkai, Karate, Oyo, Kata Applications
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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?

Kata.

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.

Why?

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.

Conclusion

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.

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.

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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The Road Less Travelled Is Not Always A Road

“There are many paths to the top of the mountain. . .”

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One night, I had a dream that I slid down a mountain and I was about to fall into the ocean. Before I hit the water, I caught onto something and started to climb back up. At this point, there were other people around me—most of which were people I loved and respected—and they were climbing faster than me and with bigger loads on their back; some were even carrying other people as they climbed upwards.  I was constantly losing my footing and slipping; I was afraid to fall, anxious to get to the top and frustrated that everyone else was doing better than me.

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Then, I noticed a river flowing down the mountain beside me and a long time friend said to me, “Let’s swim up, it’s easier that way.” He jumped into the river and swam up, reaching the top before anyone else.

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I was afraid to follow because the current flowed downwards, but because I trusted him so much, I jumped in anyway and began to swim. I wasn’t sure in what style to swim in, because my friend reached the top with front stroke, I tried his way, but I went further down. So I started swimming doggie paddle; still didn’t work. Then, I went with breast stroke and found that I reached the top before everyone else.

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Although unorthodox, I realized that by jumping into the river, I didn’t have to be afraid of falling anymore, because one cannot fall while in water. And even though I had to fight the current in the river, it was easier to flow upwards than if I had followed the methods of the people around me and I need not compete with them, because it is only through my own technique that I may reach the top of the mountain.

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“. . .But there is only one moon to be seen for those who achieve its summit.”- Chinese Proverb

9 Stupid Reasons to Be In the Dojo. . .And, The 1 Good Reason YOU SHOULD!

Have you ever met someone in your dojo who just doesn’t get it!?

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The student (and sometimes teacher) who will do martial arts for every reason under the sun, except for the reason they should!

The reason that will give them the best results. . .

The reason that will give them the greatest satisfaction. . .

So here are some of the ignorant, the creepy and at times downright stupid “reasons” to train I’ve seen over the years from students and teacher alike, and the simple answer I have for all of them.

1) When your Mom drops you off and you don’t want to be there. . .

JUST TRAIN!

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2) When you’re trying to escape your personal problems. . .

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3) When you want a way to flirt with the girls in the dojo behind your wife’s back. . .

That’s creepy! Stop it! JUST TRAIN!

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4) When you want to believe training will make you a Jedi. . .

Do or Do not. . . JUST TRAIN!

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5) When you  fake an injury just to get attention. . .

JUST TRAIN!

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6) When you have a crush on the Sensei. . .

Ugh. . .Grow up! JUST TRAIN!

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7) When you want to be the next Karate Kid. . .

Wax on. Wax off. JUST TRAIN!

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8) When you’re looking for a father figure. . .

Get therapy! JUST TRAIN!

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Well, maybe not therapy from him. . . 

9) When you want your next belt. . .

JUST TRAIN!

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10) When you want to be a respected martial artist. . .

That seems legitimate. . .JUST TRAIN!

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“JUST TRAIN!” It’s Chuck Norris APPROVED!

When you enter the dojo, there’s only one reason and one reason only to be in that room.

So, Shut up!

JUST TRAIN!

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You Invested In The Wrong One. . .

You know the one. . .

A Student

A student who showed so much promise. . .

With the ability to pick up movements with ease and grace,

An ability to strike and kick as if it was second nature, leaving you with the feeling you have found a prodigy.

You know the one. . .

A Teacher

A teacher who showed so much promise. . .

With skill and knowledge so far beyond your own.

A paradoxical ability to challenge and encourage you, leaving you with the feeling you’d be lost without them.

But then. . .

Something happens. . .

The masquerade ends. . .

And, something dark deep down seeps out from beyond their mask.

They are not what we hoped them to be. They never were.

You know the one. . .

A Student

A student who speaks wrongly behind your back

With the natural ability to lie and deceive;

A prodigy with the cloak and dagger.

You know the one. . .

A Teacher

A teacher who lacks moral stamina.

The ability to choose vice over virtue.

They submit to nothing, except their own temptations.

But perhaps the mask they once wore was not one of their choosing

It is a mask we projected.

We were so desperate to grasp at the hybrid of elegance and ugliness that we put what we desired most in the forefront only to watch it dissolve away, leaving you with this empty feeling. . .

You invested in the wrong one.

Post Script:

No matter the reason—whether it was simply a talented student who went off to university, a teacher who started teaching “chi- balls,” or something far more insidious—being disappointed by someone in whom you’ve made the careful decision to invest your time, energy and, dare I say, love is never easy. But, as the Buddha says, “all things are impermanent” and as that emptiness passes, you’ll find that in its place friendships with more dedicated students and respectable teachers will blossom far greater than the void that was left. Those are the people worth investing in.  

Martial Art Talks: Renshi Paul Lopresti

Welcome to Martial Art Talks! The MAT is an interview blog series where I speak with the best and brightest the martial arts industry has to offer.

This week on the MAT, I speak with Shotokan 5th dan and Aiki Kenpo Jujutsu 5th dan, Renshi Paul Lopresti. Renshi Paul has over 40 years of experience, first starting in Karate with his father at 7 years old!

Renshi Paul Lopresti

Today he shares his experiences training MMA fighters and what he will be teaching at the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku. Feel free to watch our interview or read below.

JT: What is it about KU and Sensei McCarthy’s method that made you want to stick with it?

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PL: The fact that it was eclectic. It had everything that I didn’t have in my training as a Shotokan stylist. We were good at kicking, punching, kata and kumite, but I hadn’t done a joint manipulation, strangle, any ground work or throwing; those parts of my game were missing.

And, I guess in the late 90’s, UFC had started to become very popular and I knew that the parts of my game that were missing were either going to get me hurt or get me killed if I had to use it in real life.

Overall, I felt that KU was a complete system and I needed to go in a direction that was going to give me those missing elements.

JT: How would you describe your teaching style?

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PL: As you may or may not know, adult learners are generally classified three ways: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. I find that I have a direct hands-on approach and I use all three of those methodologies when I teach in a regular class or seminars.

JT: What is the process you go through when teaching or assessing your students?

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PL: I roll with every one of my students every week. I get physical with them because I want to feel their progress, so I know where their weaknesses are. I’ll identify those whether it be in class or the next class where I’ll do something like guard passing or something I know a bunch of students are struggling with.

I also have a two-hour open forum. The first hour we basically work on technique, usually directly from or something that relates to our curriculum. The second hour is an open roll for about 45 minutes or so. Then at the end of class, I take open questions from anyone on our curriculum material or on anything they encountered while rolling that they had trouble or difficulty with. Then lastly we finish up with some conditioning. That’s a typical class, step-by-step, how I run it.

And, just like anything else, there’s no magical pixie dust that I can sprinkle on somebody, it’s just hours on the mat.

JT: Your club participates in cage fighting, how is the preparation different from BJJ or Karate tournaments?

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PL: If you look at wrestling, wrestlers are put under intense cardiovascular and strength training, dietary restrictions and then they’re wrestling. Cage fighting encompasses the same thing.

Generally, we’ll have a eight to ten week camp before a cage fight. I don’t like the cut a lot of weight for amateurs only because dehydration sets in, it’s not good for their body long term, and they lose a lot of muscle mass. I don’t really like weight cuts. I determine their weight before we start a camp, generally within five pounds up or down. Then, we’ll start a camp with a lot of cardio and strength training. I have a minimum requirement for cardiovascular stamina and speed; if my fighters can’t perform to that level, I do not let them fight for me. Their strength training has to be done outside of the dojo. They have to put in their cardio and their weight training. I’m not standing over them with their weights and cardio. However, I will work on their striking, grappling and transitional game, whether its throws, takedowns or whatever.

Generally, we work for their strengths. If they’re good at striking we work mostly their striking. If they’re good at grappling were going to work their grappling and takedowns and try to close the distance.

At the end of our eight weeks, depending on when the fight is, we have the weight, the strength, the cardio, the grappling and the striking; it all comes together.

We’ve been very successful in the amateur scene and we’ll have a few pros soon and keep going.

JT: What is your greatest strength as an instructor?

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PL: My experience. I’ve had a long career and had the opportunity to train with some of Shoto Kan’s greatest instructors in the US and beyond.

Obviously now, I’m with an international group of like-minded people and obviously Sensei McCarthy is world renowned as an author, competitor, instructor, as an instructor’s instructor, and as a practitioner!

JT: How do you acquire new knowledge?

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PL: I classify myself as a visual learner. If I can see and I can question, then I can learn. I don’t have to do it because the visual pathway for me is conceptual. If I can see what’s going on, if I can see the pathway, then once I see, I understand.

JT: What do you plan on teaching at the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

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PL: I’ve been asked to run over a set of drills I’ve shown a few times in Canada. We’re going to look at those as an addition to our core curriculum. We’re looking at the ne-waza material.

I also plan to marry the lessons of the other instructors and my own. I intend to modify or amplify what has already been taught for students who need to work more on a certain principle or process.

JT: How does it feel to go from a attendee to an instructor at the Gasshuku?

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PL: First of all, this is a great honour! This is a big deal. I’ve only taught in front of Sensei McCarthy twice. So, for me to be asked to teach along side him is a HUGE honour. It’s very intimidating; he’s a world-renowned martial artist. To share the stage with someone like that, it really is a phenomenal experience for me, and very enriching.

JT: What would you say is the best part of the Gasshuku experience?

PL: You’re going to get good training. You’re going to get good information. You’re going to get good learning.

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The real “umph,” the real thing you’re going to take back is the extracurricular: the conversations that you have, the people that you meet, train and share with. THAT is what’s going to make the Gasshuku. THAT is the piece you’re going to remember.

JT: If you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

PL: You NEED to be at this event. You really do! If you do one thing this year, come out to this event, even you are going to have Sensei at your dojo, come out and get the group experience, get the senior instructors’ experience along with Sensei McCarthy’s.

My God! How do you get that much experience into one place for five days! You have GOT to get there!

JT: Wow! That sends the message loud in clear! Thanks so much for your time Sensei Paul!

 You heard the man! Get your ass to the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku!

KU_IRKRS

Martial Art Talks: Sensei Darrin Johnson

Welcome to Martial Art Talks! The MAT is an interview blog series where I speak with the best and brightest the martial arts industry has to offer.

This week on the MAT, we speak with Koryu Uchinadi Shidoin, Sensei Darrin Johnson. Sensei Darrin has 35 years of martial arts experience, a 6th dan in KU, is an avid researcher, and has pursued other martial arts such as, Muay Thai, Aikido, Kobudo and holds rank in various styles of karate.

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In our chat he shares his controversial opinions about martial arts today and how he integrates KU and Muay Thai into his weekly practice. Feel free to watch our interview or read below!

 

JT: How did you get introduced to Koryu Uchinadi and Hanshi Patrick McCarthy?

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DJ: When I was growing up in Spokane. Sensei McCarthy would come to tournaments and I would see him in the divisions and he would always win! And, as I was growing up through the martial arts my instructors would always have a Patrick McCarthy story, so I knew him before I even knew him!

JT: What about KU made you want to stick with it?

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DJ: Well, for me, it was the answer! I had spent my entire martial arts career looking for a style, a technique or a kata that would give me the answer. I couldn’t tell you how much I spent on videos of kata that I thought would give me that.

Then, I get with Sensei McCarthy and started looking at these things called tegumi and two person drills; they were so realistic. For me, KU had everything I needed and there was no reason for me to look any further.

That being said, there are things that aren’t really in KU right now that I like in Silat, Kali or Bagua, but I can bring it in because KU isn’t a style, it’s a methodology. I can bring anything I want into that methodology that works for me. I like impact, so I bring in Muay Thai, which is already similar to what we have with our Heishu Waza. For me, there’s just nowhere else to go. If I want to grapple, I grapple. I don’t need to go out and become a BJJ Master. I can just work that within my Koryu Uchinadi practice.

JT: Based on your experience as a martial arts business owner, what is the most important thing you have learned? 

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DJ: Don’t go into business. If you want to run a daycare, then yes, own a business. For me, I enjoyed myself much more when I was a club or a community centre or practicing at home. The market right now is just little kids. That’s why I started teaching Muay Thai, because that’s what people wanted. People would come in and ask “You don’t wear gis, do you?” and I’d say “No.” Then, they’d say “Good! Because, we wouldn’t want to come here if you did.” They don’t want the gi. They don’t want the belt. They don’t want the ranking system. They just want to train, like cross fit or tennis, just train.

If you want to do it as a business, you’ve got to have your ducks in a row, and you’ve got to make sure the kid market is there. If you don’t want to teach kids, you’ve got to have something else that’s going to bring in adults on a regular basis.

JT: You mentioned that you don’t use the gi, could you elaborate on that?

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DJ: I wouldn’t wear a kilt or a suit of armor to workout in; it’s irrelevant. That type of uniform and training methodology was meant for the 1890’s and early 1900’s Japanese because that’s what they wore. People today wear hoodies and t-shirts. If you go down to Florida, they wear flip flops and tank tops. Your training methodology should match the culture you’re in.

JT: How would you describe your teaching style?

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DJ: My teaching style is stern, but fun. I’m not going to spend a lot of time fixing everything, every second. I’ll mention it and move on. I’ll come back, fix it again, and move on. I might skip it for a few weeks and then come back to it.  If you just focus on correcting the entire time, than the student won’t get the overall lesson plan.

JT: Take me through the step-by-step process you go through teaching or assessing your students.

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DJ: There’s no step-by-step process; it’s a feeling. Every student is different. There’s no cookie cutter method for me. Sensei McCarthy uses the term mitari geiko “to watch and learn,” but sometimes I’ll have them do a technique and if I see a pause, I’ll just pull it out and work it until it doesn’t pause anymore, so it becomes functional spontaneity.

JT: What do you think is the most frustrating part for you as an instructor? 

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DJ: It’s time, meaning that I wish I had more time to teach. I wish the student’s had more time to learn. People don’t practice at home like I used to, but most people don’t have that type of time or dedication to it. There’s always so much to teach. I wish I could do more grappling, more throws, more chokes and strangulations; I just don’t have the time.

JT: What is the most rewarding aspect for you as an instructor?

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DJ: It’s not money. It usually costs me more than I make on it, that’s for sure! It’s rewarding when you have somebody come in that’s timid, shy and not very athletic, then six months to two year later, they start to look good and they feel the difference and that’s the most important thing.

Having someone train with me, it inspires me. They want so much knowledge and I have so much stuff to give. It’s fun to give that knowledge and watch people accept it and enjoy it, it makes you feel worth something.

JT: What do you plan on teaching at the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

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DJ: I am an impact guys. I love to smash! I make jokes about being “hulk smash” or “smash mouth”. We’re going to work on impact drills. If somebody grabs me by the throat, I’m not going to try a joint lock, because that’s hard, they don’t stand still for you. Smacking them in the face is quick and easy, that’s what I’m going to teach.

JT: How do you plan on going about teaching it?

 

 

 

DJ: Usually, you start with the HAPV or a mutual confrontation situation where you square off. In this case, I like to use focus mitts, Muay Thai pads and boxing gloves, because it allows the person to really extend their power through and get the idea of what it’s like to hit something. As well, the person holding the pads gets to feel what it’s like to get hit, without getting hit. It’s safe, yet they’re learning what it feels like to get smashed with fists, kicks and knees.

JT: What do you think is the best part about the Gasshuku experience?

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DJ: The gathering is always nice and to get like-minded people together, to see old friends again and meet new friends.

JT: If you have one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

 

 

DJ: Whether you’re a beginner or if you’ve been around for seventeen years, the idea is you don’t know it all, never think you know it all.

JT: Thank you so much Sensei Darrin Johnson for taking the time to speak with me. I look forward to working with  you at the Gasshuku!

Want to learn more? Check out the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku Facebook Page!

KU_IRKRS