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.

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Martial Art Talks: Renshi Danny Spletter

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. 

The first person to hit the MAT is Koryu Uchinadi Renshi, Sensei Danny Spletter. In addition to being a 4th dan in KU, Sensei Spletter also holds a 3rd dan in Shoto Kan. 

Renshi Danny Spletter

In our talk he shares what he feels are the most rewarding and sometimes frustrating aspects of being an instructor and gives us a taste of what he will be teaching at the 2017 North American Gasshuku! Feel free to watch our interview or read below!

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

Hanshi And Renshi Spletter

DS: I was a part of the Australian Karate Federation in Brisbane; they would bring him over every year for a seminar. He would explain, in depth, katas we were doing and until then I had no idea that they had applications—or had asked and never received an answer.

JT: How would you describe your teaching style?

Renshi Spletter Teaching

DS: I fall back on the JKA style of teaching, which is more Kihon oriented, in the KU sense. I still very much like that formality. I roll out with that more traditional style karate. I like things to be fairly disciplined and orderly.

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

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DS: That’s hard. It depends on the student. The way my curriculum is set up is we have the solo first and then the two person. I think that gets some muscle memory about where the body should be moving. But, sometimes it’s very difficult for people to imagine that other person there, so there’s some fusion.

JT: What do you think is the most frustrating part of teaching? In KU and/or just generally.

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DS: I’ve thought about this the last few years: KU really requires a good partner and it’s very difficult when you have mismatched students. It occurs to me that’s probably what happened with the evolution of Karate from Okinawa to Japan. You originally have these small classes with individual attention, possibly two to three people, then moving to larger classes, it would be a very difficult task to make that transition and teach two person drills to a mass amount of students. I find it works better for us to have smaller groups, more individual attention and to limit the ratio of students to instructors. It certainly works out and I find the students progress much faster when they have a evenly matched partner.

JT: What’s your greatest strength as an instructor?

Sensei Darrin Johnson, Hanshi Patrick McCarthy, Renshi Danny Spletter

DS: I try to be pretty organized. I’m a chef by profession and the culinary term is mise en place, which means “to put everything in its place.” That’s why I’ve set the curriculum up to be very orderly. That works for me in my personal life. The students that we have seem to be very comfortable with that. They know where they’re headed and there are no mysteries.

JT: What is your greatest strength as a student?

Renshi Spletter Kaishu Waza

DS: The stand up from JKA. The stand up impacting is where I probably feel the most comfortable.

JT: What’s the most frustrating part for you as a learner? 

Tsuki Naka Ken

DS: As KU has progressed, it’s gathered a lot of drills. With the limited amount of time I have, its sometimes difficult to practice those drills and I really have trouble keeping up with them. We have a group of black belts now that are learning those drills and we’ll be able to work them together. Like the old adage says “karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.”

JT: What will you be teaching at the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

DS: I’ve volunteered to do the Kihon section at the start. We call it the Kihon Kickoff, with “old school” Volume 9 (Basic KU Curriculum) and REALLY work those drills. Hopefully, we’ll get a bit of a sweat up to start the Gasshuku!

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

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DS: The thing I love about the Gasshuku is the networking and the people. Sensei McCarthy always says it attracts like-minded people, but I guess its not just like-minded in the martial arts, it’s a group of people I genuinely enjoy spending time with. I’ve been all over the world and it really seems to attract a similar group. They’re all pretty good people to get along with. I always have fun.

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

DS: Follow your passion. Do what you want to do because life is short!

JT: Thank you so much Sensei Danny Spletter 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

Guest Post: “The Instructor-Student Gap: Why Your Students Still Suck” by Josh Stewart

Any good instructor’s process is always under scrutiny. The instructor looks at the students and wonders, “Why aren’t they doing what I asked?” or “Is that really what I showed them?”

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Self-doubt is a valuable tool in martial arts both as a student and as an instructor. As a student, when the instructor makes a correction or provides feedback, there should always be the assumption that you are the one doing it wrong. If that’s the baseline assumption, then if it’s not true, you have reminded yourself of something you are doing correctly, and if true, then you have found an area to fix.

As an instructor, this can be somewhat more difficult. The reality is that there will always be a gap between what you teach and what somebody else learns. It could be physiological differences, miscommunication, or varying learning styles that cause this discrepancy to exist.

Physiological Differences:

Age and injury account for a number of physical limitations that may prevent students from doing exactly what the instructor does, but there are also a number of other biological factors that affect how an individual performs a particular technique.

Flexibility, or lack thereof, has a vast effect on how the body moves. Stances and kicks are obvious areas where flexibility provides a greater range and may limit a student from copying exactly how an instructor executes a movement. Grappling is another area where strategy or technique selection can be largely determined by flexibility. For example, Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet system is designed with the assumption of a certain range of motion, and someone without that capacity may struggle to emulate those exact sequences.

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However, I have also noticed that double-jointed students often have difficulty limiting their flexibility by contracting muscular groups effectively at the right times. Even a simple straight punch, executed by someone with a lot of flexibility, sometimes gives the appearance and feeling of being floppy when joints hyperextend without suitable muscular contraction to support the energy transfer.

Stature is another contributing factor. Bigger, more muscular people may rely on their size and strength advantage when working with a smaller partner, leading to neglect of correct footwork, positioning, or body mechanics because they can “get away with” doing the technique incorrectly—until they encounter a training partner their own size. Conversely, smaller students may have to supplement their techniques with extra kicks, knees, or groin slaps to help bring larger partners down to their own level. Otherwise, they may struggle to achieve the intended outcome because they simply can’t reach the targets designed in the training exercise.

Miscommunication:

As the word suggests, this occurs when one or both parties involved are not on the same page in regards to what is being asked. Any martial arts instructor who teaches kids knows that lack of listening or focus has a vast impact on this process, but it is certainly not limited to children.

Adults, especially advanced ones, tend to experience miscommunication because they believe that they already know the message being delivered. Again, the correct default for a student should be to assume they know nothing and are doing it all wrong, but naturally after several years of training, the ego may want us to assume otherwise.

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Of course, it takes two to tango. Instructors sometimes give vague or contradictory pieces of information about how a technique or strategy should be applied. Another source of miscommunication that can be blamed solely on the instructor is talking over the students’ heads. At times there may be too much technical jargon that learners will not be familiar with, in which case the verbal instruction may not transfer any useful information to the group. Instructors always need to remember who their audience is to ensure that the right level of detail is being provided at the right time in the learning process.

To limit miscommunication, creating an environment where it is safe to ask questions is vital. If a student asks for clarification and gets an abrupt, rude response, that will be the end of the process. Unfortunately an instructor’s ego is also involved in this process, often leading to the conclusion: “Well, I explained it clearly . . . What’s wrong with these students for not getting it right?” Just like the student, the instructor’s baseline assumption should be the opposite. If the students aren’t getting it, the onus should first be on the instructor to try again to deliver the lesson clearly and effectively.

Learning Styles:

Of course, there has been a lot of research into kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learning. The established reality is that, while we may rely more heavily on one rather than the other, each is a spectrum, and depending on what we are learning, we use each to varying degrees. In martial arts, we virtually always rely on them all: we listen and watch as the instructor presents the material, then we practice it physically.

Learning style also affects how an instructor delivers lessons in terms of how much context to give. Some learners are “big picture” oriented—they won’t understand the piece of a puzzle unless they know what the entire scope of the puzzle is. However, others are happy just to take one piece and practice it, and worry about the next step in the process when they get there. While one learner might be confused by being asked to deliver a technique without knowing what came before and what will come after it, another will be bored by the teacher’s long, unnecessary rant about the history and functionality of a certain sequence that they haven’t had the chance to practice yet.

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Body language is a key to understanding a student’s learning style. An auditory learner stands closely to the instructor and leans in to hang on every word; a visual learner re-positions to get the best angle to see what’s happening; a kinesthetic learner mimics the instructor as the movement is being demonstrated. Global learners may walk back to their partner shaking their heads or linger longer than others, hoping for more explanation. Analytic learners may look restless when the big picture is explained and will be the first one back to their partners.

In any group of students, there will typically be a standard distribution of students who will learn faster than average with less practice, those who will achieve proportionally to the amount of effort they expend, and those who are ultimately destined for failure despite their best efforts. The instructor’s role dictates catering to those in the second category. If students are struggling to perform the technique as being explained and demonstrated, the instructor should first look at the potential of his or her own failure before moving to the conclusion (although sometimes correct) that the student is the one responsible for missing the mark.

Author Bio Josh Stewart

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