Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Helping competition be positive for your martial arts training.

Competition within martial arts can be a very good and positive aspect to the training. Remembering that it is a Martial Art with a sporting aspect and not the other way round. The martial code or Tenets should also be practiced in the sporting aspect.

If competition is to truly benefit the training the first pit fall to avoid is comparing yourself to others. By all means look to others to inspire you to improve. It is all about improving on your previous self as opposed to bettering others.

Using a task oriented approach instead of an ego oriented approach is more beneficial. Having said that the ego or confidence is still very important if under control, as it fuel's one to do better. The problem comes in when some get totally disheartened or give up due to not "winning" against another.

Entering is never losing! Looking at the many aspects in your particular category entered, there are many victories and losses in one match. You should pat yourself on the back if you improved on a certain aspect from the last time because have been working on it or tell your self to focus on a particular weakness you may have come across during the match. This task or climbing the ladder approach yields fruit over time, as I have seen time and time again. Seeing someones perseverance pay off is extremely rewarding to the individual and to me as an instructor.

Perhaps someone has a mental block against a certain category or entering in general. Just getting over the hurdle and doing it is a win in itself. You see there are many victories to be had !

Also if only comparing ones skill to others is totally unrealistic. As there are so many factors involved. Imagine the person you always go up against happened to be Bruce Lee or alike. Not winning and improving time on time would not be a loss. Infact the tougher the opponent the better one gets. Sharp blades sharpen each other.

The many lessons learned through competition can help forge positive characteristics for everyday life. The highs, the disappointments and how you react all reflect to many aspects of ones life. They could range from gaining tenacity, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control, indomitable spirit or endeavoring to remain humble. Each persons journey will dictate the lessons to be learnt from competing.

I mentioned some pitfalls in my previous red flags article which should be avoided in order to make competition more valuable for the martial artist.

Also remembering the martial arts and ITF Taekwon-Do in particular is one of the hardest disciplines to judge in competition. Some descisions can very disappointing to a competitor, coach or parent. I have been on all of those sides of the coin. Until technology can fully catch up with the needs and even then Patterns for instance can be very much up to individual taste and the many organisations and even clubs emphasis.

Until then we rely on humans and sometimes even though doing ones best to have fair decisions it can slip. One has to make it extremely obvious and be many points ahead to try to guarantee a decision.  It is better to take what one has improved on as the main motivation at the end of the day. As difficult as it can be sometimes.

All of that was not even mentioning the many health, fitness, skill, camaraderie and general improvement gained from the training for a competition, which is actually the biggest reason to compete in the first place.

Competing is exciting & winning is exhilarating, but the true prize will always be the self-knowledge and understanding that you gained along the way.” Sebastian Coe

Red Flag warnings to look out for when joining a club or instructor.

Staying with the theme of knowing you are in the correct martial art for your self and acknowledging all of the difficulties of what to look out for in order to make the martial arts training a long term positive aspect of ones life.

There are some red flags to look out for after witnessing some negative aspects through my years involved in the scene.

Poaching of students

For any looking for a martial art or for some within a club who get approached by others, some red flags should be looked out for: One of the largest red flags is a clubs members being contacted (poached) either by a similar or same style club “instructor or owner” (often less authentic organisations).  Or another fighting style, often being one such as explained in my earlier article as only focusing on the fighting aspects. Lately some clubs are being started by non martial artists, but "business" men.

Though “poaching” might happen in the business world perhaps. It is definately a red flag for True Martial artists. There is an unsaid code! I have never approached anyone from another club to poach them (even when in the early days our club and organisation had large attempts to stop us) . Firstly I am not that desperate to lower my standards and secondly I consider myself a martial artist, following the moral code of especially integrity (also mentioned in the earlier article). Having said that, I have been around a long time and my compatriots from most other organisations  respect that I would not do that to them and in turn wouldn’t do it to me or even in times have stopped any rogue rookie newcomers in their tracks.

Generally many promises get made by these fly by nights , normally unrealistic to maintain a long standing club in the long run. Very, very few new martial arts clubs go the distance. Again I emphasise, a martial arts instructor, like it or not will have a big influence over a practitioners life and even more so on your children. Is a person who is willing to go so low as to break a warrior code, and possibly having practiced less than savoury practices on other occasions, be the person you would want to train under or have your kids train under?

Even though rare in happening to my clubs, I take it as a positive. It allows me an insight into peoples loyalty, integrity and actual goals for themselves or children.

I also never say blind loyalty, if there are very good reasons to leave a club or instructor such as the instructors moral compass going in the wrong direction, if after following the correct avenues in the the club and organisation don't work out. I also know that not all puzzles pieces fit and one of the reasons we have become successful time tested clubs is that we have parted ways with some in order to keep our clubs main goals central.

Winning at all costs

Of the many red flags to look out for, many show up in the sporting aspect. Remembering that our training must be balanced and primarily build characteristics through the training that are positive which influence our everyday lives.

Sadly there are many instructors/coaches out there who's focus on winning in competition can cloud moral judgement and therefor damage what martial arts is supposed to instill. I could write a book on the many different ways I have seen to cheat, go into very grey areas or influence a persons aggression in an unhealthy way.

Without going into too much detail, some that upset me is when illegal techniques are done by "accident" and taking into account sacrificing a warning etc. This would normally be done to try break the opponents spirit etc and hence give an advantage. Also annoying is when one pretends to have a glove etc come loose or fall or the worst of all run out of the ring near the end if ahead (Not even talking about skillful dodging, but turning and running) in order to avoid having a point scored. If an instructor encourages favour for club members in competition judging or umpiring even by shunning a person for not voting in the way of a fellow member, this is a huge lack if integrity.

Gladly these are rare but can happen. If instructors are encouraging less than clean ways to win a match, this can clearly lead to people taking that sort of behavior into the real world which could be a gateway to leading to more serious crimes etc.

We do teach the nastiest techniques in our Hosin Sul and self defence oriented part of the training, but within competition the rules must be obeyed to the letter.

I often say. Even if you become a world champion. You could still have lost. As is it worth "winning" if not done with integrity or if one becomes arrogant thereafter?

Monday, March 20, 2017

What makes a true Martial Art ?

Having been around martial arts, training and teaching for much of my life, I have seen allot. I also know how confusing and misleading the martial arts scene may be to someone looking to get themselves or children involved.

The word Martial arts conjures up many images in one’s mind.  Some examples are martial arts movies , their stars like Bruce Lee and alike. Martial arts popularity definitely was boosted a lot by the rise in the way martial arts movies exploded onto the scene especially in the Seventies. Hopefully many see martial arts as a way to hone one’s mind and body with discipline and a moral code, although sadly that image has seen some tarnishing with the rise of “martial art” entertainment or combat sports, which image generally is the opposite of humbleness, balance & projecting a moral code to the public in general. That is not entertaining enough unfortunately.
I have no problem with it necessarily and many have great match fighting skills,   except that it gets confused with martial arts sometimes due to the name, causing confusion with what a traditional martial art wants to display to the public.

The many styles that focus on this type of sport or the sport aspect mainly, unknowingly take themselves further and further away from what a true Martial Art is. As said before, if it is called or classifies as something else other than martial arts I have no issue.

We have always tried to stay as true as possible to the martial arts code in our clubs. We practice ITF Taekwon-Do under the Original founders Son, showing loyalty and the importance of being closest to the original source. I have remained in our art so long not because of pure blind faith or habit, but the fact that it meets my requirements. What are my requirements? Not only for me but my children as well.

It is an all round martial art if taught correctly. It is brutally effective in pure self-defence, with people of appropriate age learning simple effective techniques to undo pretty much all holds and scenarios (this of course takes tons of training and hard work, including being put under pressure in order to utilize it if necessary instead of freezing  and is by no means magical).

It has a centering, balancing and focusing effect with many aspects including Patterns.

It has a great and challenging fitness aspect to it. It challenges one to have a body that can withstand a lot more pain, be supple, strong , healthy and bones forged like metal. (Again all from years of blood sweat and yes tears.)

It has a great sporting aspect for those keen on being competitors. I find it the most exiting to watch and in my opinion puts most combat sports to shame in terms of blinding speed and combos as well as the breaking, specials and patterns categories being fantastic. As an instructor this allows me to also enjoy a coaching role.

The moral code. General Choi Hong Hi, the founder of Taekwon-Do was sure to include many moral teaching in his art. We all recite the Tenants at the end of class: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self Control & Indomitable Spirit. These all being very positive objectives to try to strengthen through our challenging physical training. Sadly many might say them but not take them seriously or even care.

Many, dare I say most fighting styles have only a focus on the fighting side of the style. Many also not having patterns. I am personally not a huge fan of that. Why? Because the person runs the risk of becoming unbalanced, overly aggressive and basically project a bully or unsavory demeanor . A club should endeavor to forge powerful  warriors who are positive ambassadors in society  who can use the many, many life lessons gained through their training to enhance their life in a positive way.

"I know a pattern"

I always find it amusing when a student says they know a pattern or technique. This is very common, especially when requesting to grade or young members get bored with a pattern because they "know it". It is understandable as to why this is so common, mistaking knowing the sequence of steps for knowing the pattern. The truth is, to know something is to have reached perfection. It is impossible to reach perfection! It is therefore impossible to ever fully know a technique.
What should be strived for is to get as close to perfect as possible. That is our aim, with this mountain that has no peak.
This can also be said especially when one reaches black belt first Degree. Many see this as the end goal, while it is actually only the beginning of ones training after passing through the basics.
Also some believe that once they believe they can beat another person, they now know Tkd and need not continue anymore. Well, that is a whole other story, with a person not understanding that the training is about self improvement as discussed before.
Lets try to persue perfection in every technique and aspect of training and not rush through to only know the sequence without a deeper understanding of the mechanics of each technique.

How can one benefit most from the belt ranking system ?

I have always been a proponent of the belt system in Taekwon-Do and martial arts. It has many pro's and as in life there can also be unintended con's. The positives for me out weigh the negatives. One should look at belts in a way that will benefit you. The goal orientation is very valuable as we as humans beings improve and work harder when there are set visible targets and rewards. Belts are also very valuable to the instructor of the class in a more practical sense. With a quick glance the instructor knows at what level the student is and can apply their syllabus accordingly. The pride in what the belt represents is important for the student.
Image may contain: one or more peopleThe general belt system as we know it today was started by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo I the late 1800's starting with white and black belt and colour belts added in the early 1900's. Many asian martial arts followed suit. Now adays many styles including non asian styles use a belt system.
Each belt has a syllabus and certain expectations to be met in order to pass the grading and move onto the next level. Taekwon-Do also uses stripes in between belt colours. Different age groups often also have variation in the amount of stripes and time between gradings. It is important to remember that children need more time and usually therefore more stripes between gradings as their ability to take in and physically meet the standards required takes longer due to their coordination still developing. Kid syllabuses vary greatly from club to club and organisation to organisation. This is due to the fact that the original Taekwon-Do was innitially designed for adults in the military. Following an exact replica for adults in a childrens class is not beneficial. Therefore it has been adapted by each country organisation as Tkd has become more and more popular for children aswell, to meet the childrens development needs and age limits for Dan belts.
Some of the issues that can arise from awarding belts are the fact that we can become competitive even with the belt system. Many start to compare them selves to others. It is very important to use the belts to guage ones own progress and not focus on others. Taekwon-Do is a solo journey seeking self improvement. Compare your self to your previous self ! We cannot controll the tempo of improvement in others, only oneself. We all develop at different paces, due to many factors including practice and genetic predispositions. Be inspired by others improvement, not discouraged !
Sometimes feeling done in can be justified unfortunately, due to some instructors who might give rank too easily. In our clubs we actually do not double grade students, which some clubs are permitted to do if allot more training was done in that period (ITF does allow for double gradings, under special circumstances). While I respect that some clubs use that correctly. The problem is that most of the time double gradings get awarded even if the amount of training was not met. I have even heard of tripple gradings. I don't practice double gradings in my club as a personal choice, as I believe one needs to let the techniques sink in with time and not rush, extra training will be of great benefit but doing it to get a double or even tripple grading should not be the goal.
I find that double gradings also cause a huge amount of problems in a club with undue questions of favouratism etc arising. Personally if I did do double gradings, I know it would be purely on merit, but at this stage personally don't believe it to be beneficial enough for the student, also putting undue pressure to learne double the amount. This is and has always been our country organisations viewpoint although I believe it is unusual and I respect others right to do it if under correct supervision. What might happen if a worthy competitor for World Champs is close to achieving blackbelt, extra training would be given and they might have a slightly shorter time between the grading as World Champs is only open to 1st dan and up. This is only if there are no existing black belts in that division and the person has proven themselves very worthy competitor. They would still need to pass the full grading.
Sadly some clubs or organisations hand out belts far quicker or easier than our club. Some see people who began at the same time, become many belts ahead after seeing them at the tournaments. Questions then arise. Often the students or parents who might not necessarily have the mindset of our club seek faster results and more belts. I always use the metaphor of being a high quality restaurant over a fast food outlet. There are many McDojang/ McDojo's out there. Lately I have seen online courses advertised to achieve black belts in Krav Maga and Karate online. I am waiting for the Taekwon-Do one.... Clearly this is when belts are misused. Also different styles all use different belts, times between belts, criteria and different numbers of dan ranks. In ITF Taekwon-Do 9th Dan Grand Master is the highest. Master is from 7th Dan. Many styles including some Tkd styles have more dans or the title Master or Grand Master is at a lower dan etc. You would not have to look to far to see a 20th Dan super grand senior master etc. This is normally done as marketing gimicks for the lay person. I mean obvoisly a 20th dan is higher that a 9th dan......
Belt chasing is another unintended consequence of the belt system. Some see the belt as overly important and want to grade for belts sake as quickly as possible, in order to get the shiny new belt. While the motivation is good, it should not be all consuming. One should feel they would be worthy of representing that belt. Soon enough, in a worthwhile club, that person would learne , that may result in not passing. Instructors should give permission to grade, if a person chooses to not listen, then often not passing a grading or not being allowed will either set that person on the correct path or they will realise that club is not for them and perhaps will move onto a McDojo to feed their need for fast and instant gratification where paying automatically equals rising in rank. In my club I also use a stamp system on a card for a minimum number of classes being attended before they can ask permission to grade. Some still believe that reaching that number means automatic permission to grade, but it only allows to ask permission from that point. The person might need more time as we all develop at different speeds or they might have attained that number over a long period of time with long breaks inbetween.
There are those also on the other side of the coin who take too long to grade even once the instructor has suggested they should. Find the balance and trust your instructor, provided they are not a Mc Dojo instructor after your money when you grade.
Often children don't understand as they grade slower or receive more stripes inbetween belts than those in the older class. Due to their brain development stages. I have even had kids having a problem being taugt by adult or high teenage assistants who are equal or slightly higher belts. Children need to understand that age also plays a major factor in terms of seniority. A child that has moved to the older class, might move a little faster through the ranks perhaps, once in the older class because their age dictates they can handle more info and syllabus work. The problem can arise when children in the kids class see that person as an equal, but possibly moving at a slighty different pace. There are even age limits for 1st Dan and the different Dan levels, which kids would reach too early if extra stripes and junior black belts were not awarded. This is all for the good of the childs continued motivation. If belts are the only motivation and not looked at as an extra incentive to help, problems will arise and people could get demotivated.
Taekwon-Do is a journey of self improvement. If a certain jealousy arises, which is often human nature. Check yourself or ones child and look at it as a life lesson and be reminded that self introspection is the goal of the belts, to help ones own improvement. Looking and focussing on others is not the pathway to long term martial arts training.
Humbleness is also an important lesson not only for the lower belt person, but especially for the wearer of the higher belts. The untended consequence that can arise from the use of belts is that sometimes the wearer of the higher belts might take the belt overly serioisly. Making the wearer possibly closed to learning from people below their rank or seeing themselves as a higher lifeform. While I believe in the rank system to keep order in the class, lower belts should always respect the rank, like in the military, as it was intended. Correct protocalls as dictated by the rules should be observed. This needs to be seen for its uses and benefits. If overly focussed on, it could make the wearer arrogant and inflexible. I can truly say I have learnt so much from teaching and observing white belts and lower belt ranks. If ones mind is closed and shut by ones belt rank, then it is not benefitting ones training or life improvement at all.
Remember we want and should gain from our training and use of the belt system as intended and just keep an eye on the ourselves to keep it that way. I would still defend and take the belt system over the styles that dont use it and take pride and respect authentic achievers of their belts.
Taekwon !

Patterns benefits & misconceptions

A very important aspect of our Taekwon-Do training is patterns. A coriographed set of techniques. At each new belt level new patterns are learnt.
There are proponents of many Fighting styles who see no use in patterns. This is understandable firstly if one does not understand that is part of the training and not the only training we do.
Patterns training under GM Choi in Canada 2015
Taekwon-Do ' s many aspects work in unison with each other in order to make a complete martial artist. Patterns and traditional floor exercises should be seen as the sharpening of the sword. One wouldn't go into battle with with a blunt sword. Each aspect helps, improves and strengthens all of the other aspects. If we never did partner work or self defence training where we utilise the techniques learnt in patterns, then I would understand that it would not be as effective. Also unfortunately there are many martial arts or copies of once effective martial arts which are mere shadows and bear little resemblance to combat effective techniques. Often due to over focus on looking good for competition. This reflects badly on true martial arts.
I am sure you might have heard the phrase. Fear not the man who has practiced a thousand techniques, but the man who has practiced one technique a thousand times. I am of the firm belief each technique is connected through the 9 training secrets of Taekwon-Do as emphasised by the late founder of Taekwon-Do General Choi Hong Hi. Each technique, even though very, very many all should follow the rules of thumb of the training secrets. Therefore each technique would be rendered effective. So focusing on the aspects of the training secrets over and over again is emphasised during patterns, even though the technique, heights or angles may change, the practice of the rules of thumb is being drilled. For instance one learns to drive in certain country. Those rules apply even when driving in a part of the country never visited before. This applies to each different technique and also when we cover Hosin Sul (Self defence verse any attacks). There are thousands of ways to be attacked so focusing on rules of thumb is very important.
Even the most basic technique becomes highly technical and needs allot of practice to fulfill all of the rules of thumb. Once the rules of thumb or training secrets are coming through on basic techniques it will also filter into the more advanced techniques.
It is human nature to focus more on finishing the pattern. Essentially it is or should be seen more as as a form of meditation. Focusing on each technique and the training secrets in each individual move, without thought of past or future, only the present. This takes allot of practice and is something we should all strive to get more in tuned with.
For instance I see patterns, even in competition slightly differently than most. I am more focused on the individual techniques and while it is very important to know a pattern, without forgetting a move, the training secrets concern me more. For instance a practitioner getting through techniques but punching with the hand angled slightly up, is a huge deal to me. My main focus is on would it work if ever needed for self defence or would one break their wrist and fingers. Remember the more powerful our techniques become the more damage one could do to themselves if performed incorrectly, not conditioned or incorrect breath and tension at the end of the technique which as well as generating more snappy, Jarring power also should protect the joint.
I will focus on these aspects in more detail over the next few weeks. Also including why we do some techniques one way in patterns and very differently in match fighting. They also seem to contradict eachother, such as the pulling of the reaction hand etc. So stay tuned....

Instructor or Coach ?

 In our art we are referred to as instructors and not coach. I am however a coach at certain times. A coach is there for a specific purpose or competition which has a beginning and an end, it is only related to the sports aspect of our full martial art. If I am at a competition with students with the purpose of coaching or observing for selection for an international competition, I am in a coaching role. An instructor is much more than a coach, observing and guiding in a much larger capacity beyond a specific competition.
Many sport fighting styles or combat sports refer to their trainers as coach, rightly so, due to the fully sport nature of those styles. This tends to not be the custom in traditional martial arts.
Also in Taekwon-Do an instructor, especially a senior should be referred to as Sabum-Nim. Sabum translated as Instructor and Nim loosely translated as Sir or Mam. However one cannot call them selves 'Nim'. Therefore it is understandable why so many do not fully understand this.Here in SA, calling the instructor Sabum and not adding the Nim became common place for quite some time . I thank Grand Master Han Sam Soo one of the pioneers for his concise clarification on this. Taekwon