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!

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Karate and The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy is when you make a decision based on the desire NOT to see your past investment go to waste, rather than on the best outcome.

Nowhere else do I see this phenomenon as much as in karate.

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I have listened to many karate students and teachers explain to me that they are disenchanted with their current karate practice:

“The application practices are unrealistic.”

“The body movements are mechanical.”

“The teaching style is too militarized.”

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Yet when I ask, “Why don’t you quit or switch styles?”, there is always an excuse. Sometimes, they quote loyalty to their instructor or peers.

OR

It’s just the way they’ve always done it.

Denial-san at it’s best!

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The real reasoning is they cannot bear the thought that they’ve invested their entire life for a method that is now or always has been worthless.

It’s a security blanket that is worn, tattered and useless!

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I’ve also seen long-time students make no meaningful commitment to training, but show up for the last 15 minutes of class once a month, do a kata and leave, while claiming they are still passionate about martial arts. It is obvious their interest has faded and they’d be happier somewhere else.

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Why do they continue to come to a class when they aren’t getting anything from the class mentally, physically or even socially?

They hold on by their fingernails because they fear that if they completely stop, that all those years of real commitment and work will have been a waste.

As Julia Galif explains, “whatever you have already spent is called the sunk cost. It’s gone no matter what you do going forward.”

The irony is that the desire to not see your past investment go to waste makes you waste even more time clinging to something that you no longer enjoy.

My advice is to not waste any more time pretending martial arts is something you actually want to do. Put yourself in a place you want to be, even if that means leaving the Dojo behind.

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For instructors who are disenchanted, find a methodology that truly fits the outcomes you want to achieve. It may mean biting the bullet and starting over again from the beginning, but once you realize you are on the wrong path, the only option is to correct the course you are on.

For the students who have lost interest, your time hasn’t necessarily been wasted. The benefits of pursuing the fighting arts are far and wide and the lessons you’ve learned will always be with you. Remember, it’s better to have loved and left than to have never loved at all.

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Dojo Disillusionment

The martial arts world attracts strong egos, big politics and more drama than a high school play.

Maybe, someone received a rank that you felt they didn’t deserve or someone of high esteem lacks what martial arts writer Dave Lowry calls “moral stamina.” Perhaps, there’s constant gossip and you hear more about the people training than about the skills you should be mastering.

Because of this, at some point, you may feel disillusioned and disheartened. You might even have the urge to quit and think “I don’t need this drama in my life. If this is what the martial arts attract, why am I still doing this?”

That is the question, isn’t it? Why am I doing this?

Japanese martial arts have been likened to a path. As many of us know, the term “do” is attached at the end of martial arts, like Judo and Kendo, that means “the way.” This suggests that the martial arts is a journey that goes beyond the cultivation of physical skill, and hones both mind and spirit.

There are many things that attract us to the martial arts when we first begin our journey. Some pursue the martial arts for self-defense, physical fitness, to avoid boredom and even just for a sense of community.

But, there’s something beyond physical reasons that makes us return to the dojo time and time again. It’s an intangible, not qualified by how hard you kick or the belt you wear.

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Something more. . .

Something deeply personal. . .

Something else. . .

It’s the calm that radiates through the dojo when you’re the first and only person in there practicing.

It’s the final breath of your kata, when you know it’s the best you’ve ever done it, but bow with the knowledge it will never, ever be perfect.

It’s the effortlessness in which someone slams to the floor when you get a throw JUST right.

It is the moments that lie between aggression and tranquility. A harmonious combination of our most animal nature with our greatest serenity that paradoxically brings us into a frame of being that transcends words and our human imperfections.

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An internal stillness propelled by breath and what I call a “return to centre.”

It’s sometimes easy for our compass to become skewed in the mist of frivolous nonsense that seeps into our practice brought on by human inadequacies.

So, when you lose your way along the path, focus on the most basic of human functions, breathe and return to centre.

It’s in that moment you realize there was no trick of the light. . .

No magical unveiling. . .

And, there was no illusion to begin with.

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