Don’t Get Bent Out of Shape When Getting In Shape

“Getting in shape” is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions. It’s a great goal, but, unfortunately, it’s also one of the hardest resolutions to keep. We’re almost halfway through January, and many of the people who just knew 2018 was going to be their year to get fit, are already struggling - some may even have decided to give up already.

Gym memberships skyrocket at the beginning of each new year, but while gyms may see an initial spike in attendance, those numbers quickly decline. Why? Because getting in shape is hard. 

We all know why physical fitness is essential. We grew up hearing about the benefits of exercise in elementary Physical Education and learned about body fat from unforgiving middle school bullies and learned about muscles and ligaments in high school health and physiology classes. As adults, we get to hear about the endless benefits of eating green, leafy vegetables and taking brisk, daily walks from our concerned mothers or spouses or doctors. No one here is arguing that exercise and a well-balanced diet are bad things - everyone knows they are good. That’s why so many New Year’s Resolutions are some variation of a physical, mental, or nutritional improvement.

So we aren’t going to spend the next few minutes waxing on and on about why getting in shape is good for you. Instead, we are going to talk about all of the reasons it’s HARD, and look at a couple of strategies that might help you get through it.

1. Get Out of Your Own Way

From my own experiences getting back in shape after periods of inactivity, I know that the first thing I have to do is get out of my own way. For anyone that has a job or a family, taking time for yourself - even just an hour or two a week - can leave you feeling guilty and even stressed.

These feelings are totally normal but totally unnecessary. Taking time for yourself is vital for your overall well being, and as we all know from those elementary school PE classes, exercise can release stress and improve focus. Taking time for yourself can put you in the frame of mind to solve that problem you’ve been working on at your job or help you be more patient and present for your kids. How can you take care of your other responsibilities if you don’t take care of yourself?

Get out of your own way, and unabashedly take time for yourself!

2. Lose the Negative Perceptions

While you’re getting out of your own way, let go of the negative perceptions you have of yourself and the perceptions you project, accurately or inaccurately, on the people around you.

Being in shape should increase your confidence, but I’ve been merrily on my way to a healthy body and mind and found myself stuffed into workout clothes that I think make me look like a busted can of biscuits. Self-consciousness happens to the best of us, but we have to let those negative thoughts go.

Everyone thinks they look weird when they run. No one’s stomach stays perfectly flat when they’re sitting down. Most people have a smidgen of fat on their arms that they think flaps in the breeze when they wave. I have wheezing asthma that makes me honk like a goose whenever I do aerobic exercise. Everyone has insecurities, don’t let them hold you back from everything you are capable of and everything you can be.

3. Stay in Your Own Lane

And while you’re on the road to getting in shape, STAY IN YOUR OWN LANE.

In the past, I’ve fallen into the habit of comparing myself to the people training around me whom I’m sure are thinner/stronger/faster/more graceful than I’ll ever be. Focus on your own accomplishments and strengths instead of dwelling on what others can do. Spend your time challenging yourself and learning what your body is capable of instead of being envious of what you see others doing.

If you keep comparing yourself to others, you’ll never feel like you’re good enough. You might start thinking, “what’s the point?”, and give up when you’re really only just getting started. There will always be someone who is better at something than you are. You can’t be the best at everything; you can only do your best in everything. Let go of your spirit of comparing. 

4. It's Uncomfortable

Let me tackle the most obvious hardship of getting in shape last: It’s uncomfortable - even painful at times. Getting in shape is no joke. Your muscles will be screaming one minute and then feel like jelly the next. Your chest will get tight because you can’t breathe and you’ll feel like your heart’s about to pop, but somehow you keep breathing (or wheezing in my case) and your heart keeps beating, and eventually you finish that first jog. The first run turns into a second run that turns into a weekly run and then a daily run and before you know it you have run farther and faster than you ever thought possible.

In the beginning stages of getting in shape, everything can feel overwhelming or difficult. It’s achieving that end goal that feels so good: fitting into that old pair of jeans, seeing your cholesterol or blood pressure go down, passing that stress test, or just having more energy to spend on your family or hobbies.

So how do we get from exhaustion to exhilaration in one piece?

Here are a few things that worked for me:

1. Don’t go it alone.

Find an accountability partner. It can be a friend, family member, or a training partner. It can be as simple as discussing your goals together or strategizing for how you can help each other get there.

My training partners started dragging me on a weekly run with them after I came back from an absence. The farthest I had run before these weekly meets was 1.5 miles - and I thought it was AWFUL. Before I knew it, I was running 3…4…5…miles with them, and the next thing I knew, we had completed a half-marathon together. It was one of the most rewarding experiences, and it will be a favorite accomplishment of mine (though I hope to never do it again…ever) forever. I would never have met my goals without their encouragement and, some days, them physically dragging me on my run to keep me accountable.

Me and my training partners the morning of our 1/2 marathon!

Me and my training partners the morning of our 1/2 marathon!

2. Find something you love to do.

I’m a martial artist, and I love it. My classes provide an excellent full body workout, and the supplemental workouts I do outside of class are to improve my skills as a martial artist (and also because I really like cake). I’ve found something that I love to do that keeps me fit and motivated. If you are looking to get in shape, discover that for yourself: dancing, running, rowing - there are endless opportunities. Fitness doesn’t have to be limited to a gym.

Yeah, that's me. Scary, right?

Yeah, that's me. Scary, right?

3. Keep Going

Finally, have the mettle to keep going. When the path to your goals gets uncomfortable, don’t give up. That goal is right in front of you if you only push through.

Remember, you’ve come too far, to only come this far. You can do it; I believe in you!

2017 PMA Year in Review

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is one of my favorites of the entire year. After getting extra time with family for Christmas, we have a week to look back on the past year and plan for the year ahead.

This year was full of many good memories, but I’ll take just a minute to highlight some of my standouts and then the video can do a pretty good job with the rest!

February 2017 - Gary Hall and Linda Davis were promoted to Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU Kenpo!

April 2017 - We took our Youth Competition Team to NAGA Atlanta, and they earned 6th place at their first significant tournament!

May 2017 - Brittany Corrigan and Kristie Fox finished their instructor training program/test, and became official PMA instructors!

May 2017 - Brittany, Charlie, and I had the opportunity to spend 11 days in Brazil, with our close friends Felipe and Ana, and their son Bento. This trip will forever be one of our greatest adventures and favorite memories. We can’t thank Felipe enough for bringing us to his home and showing us his city.

July 2017 - PMA students took a field trip over to my Dad's dojo in Knoxville to surprise him during his class for his birthday!

September 2017 - My brother, Nick, and his wife, Kylie, welcomed their first child, RJ Corrigan, into the world!

October 2017 - PMA’s Youth Competition Team brought home 2nd place at the NAGA Tennessee Grappling Championship out of 38 teams!

November 2017 - Sempai Madelyn Fowler competed in her first tournament and brought home the silver medal at the NAGA North Carolina Grappling Championships in her No-Gi division, and the gold medal in her gi division!

I liked competing when I was a child and young adult, but it never became a love of mine. However, coaching Jiu Jitsu has genuinely become one of my favorite aspects of my life. This year, we have had some incredible performances from our students (in both wins and losses), and I couldn’t be more proud!

December 2017 - Progressive Martial Arts Academy turned 15 years old! And December couldn't have been a better month. Brittany Corrigan and Kristie Fox were promoted to Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU Kenpo! And Austin and Eli Fox were promoted to Junior Black Belt, along with many other students earning their next rank this month. We closed out the year with a wonderful holliday party, and some fun last classes of the year. For the kids class, we had 60 kids out on the mat together! 

Here are our Top 10 songs played from 2017 at PMA (dominated by Imagine Dragons this year!):

1. Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man
2. Believer by Imagine Dragons    
3. Whatever It Takes by Imagine Dragons
4. Thunder by Imagine Dragons    
5. Shape of You by Ed Sheeran
6. Rise Up by Imagine Dragons
7. Stay by Zedd & Alessia Cara
8. Something Just Like This by The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
9. Hard Times by Paramore
10. Shine on Me by Dan Auerbach

You can listen to the playlist while working out this week and getting ready for the new year here:

We had a crew of senior students and instructors in over the holiday break helping us update the dojo a little bit, so get excited about a new look when you come in next week! Thank you so, so much to the people that helped us out with that - you know who you are! :-)

We expect incredible things out of 2018, and can’t wait to share it on the mat with all of you.

Now, enjoy this video to wrap up 2017.

Happy New Year!

David Corrigan
Owner/Chief Instructor
Progressive Martial Arts Academy

The Slow-Moving Plague

Consider some of the following information from the CDC:

More than one-third (36.5%) of U.S. adults have obesity.

Over 70% of U.S. adults over the age of 20 are overweight.

Approximately 84 million American adults—more than 1 out of 3—have prediabetes. Prediabetes is a serious health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Of those with prediabetes, 90% don’t know they have it. Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

The good news is that if you are prediabetic, or are overweight or obese, we know what lifestyle changes need to be made to prevent, delay, or even reverse these conditions.

The bad news is that SO DO YOU. The problem we are facing is not a lack of information. In fact, you could argue that we have way too much information. The amount of information practically freezes us. And it changes on a daily basis.

Carbs are good…no, carbs are bad.

Fat is good…no, fat is bad.

You should do more cardio…no, you should do more strength training.

This diet is the best…no, THIS diet is the best.

These conflicting statements that are thrown in our faces all the time confuse us, and freeze us in our tracks. We aren’t sure if we have the PERFECT diet or exercise plan, and so we just stay put and continue deeper and deeper into this hole.

That is until something we see on Facebook, or someone tells us about something that convinces us we have found the perfect plan. And we follow it for a little while, but that idea was such a significant overhaul of our current lifestyle that we started to slip a little.

We gave into some cravings.

We skipped a workout.

We just don’t feel like this plan is the one for us. 

But Monday is coming right around the corner, so let’s try again next week!

And we make it a couple of days into the new week before inevitably slipping again. Before you know it, this cycle brings us back to where we were before the plan, and we give it up. Only to fall out of shape even worse than we were before the miracle plan tried to save us.

But it’s okay because a NEW YEAR is coming up!!!

On this magical day, January 1, everything will change. I will overhaul my life and finally be the person I want to be. Even though nothing makes this day any different than any other day, the difference is now the New Year motivates me.

Well, we all know how that works too, don’t we? Eventually motivation from the new year will be gone.

So, let’s not fool ourselves this year.

Try something a little different this year: I want you to take your time and write out 26 habits that you think are the most important for you to change your life. Just to get you started, think of some things like:

Eat slowly and enjoy your food.

Stop eating before you are stuffed.

Exercise daily, but make it something you love.

Eat a few servings of vegetables every day.

Eat REAL food.

Take 5 minutes to meditate every day.

And so on and so forth. With all of the information you have available to you, what habits would you pick? Now, lay them out in a logical sequence, where one habit builds into the next one whenever possible. What order would it make the most sense to learn all of these habits?

Now plot them on your calendar, and spend 2 weeks working on each one for the next 52 weeks (year), and tell me where you land this time next year.

Our problem is not a lack of information, it is understanding how to make change happen. One habit at a time is the way to do it!

This is the way Precision Nutrition (PN) has built their nutrition and lifestyle coaching program. We teach our students that martial arts training is a "Way of Life," and that means you should integrate things like healthy lifestyle habits, nutrition, yoga, meditation, fitness, etc. into your life. The Precision Nutrition platform has powered our ability to offer nutrition and lifestyle coaching to our students, and we couldn't be happier with it. 

We can only open up a few spots in the program at a time because we just don't have enough time to coach a ton of people. We'd love for all of our adult students at Progressive Martial Arts Academy to go through this program because it lines up so beautifully with the "Martial Arts Way of Life." It is the missing link we were looking for for so many years. Unfortunately, we cannot take everyone on at the same time.

We will be accepting a small group of men and women that wish to embark on a year-long program to build the habits and skills necessary to reach and then maintain the healthiest version of themselves. This program with either myself or PMA instructor and certified PN coach, Kristie Fox, as your coach will begin Monday, January 1, 2018.

If you are interested, please email me at to reserve a spot and get more information.

Changing your nutrition and lifestyle doesn't have to be complicated, boring, or ineffective. If you are sick of trying new diets and exercise programs year in and year out, this is a 1-year program that will help you slowly change your habits to live the healthy lifestyle that you want.

Through PN's ProCoach software, we will provide the nutrition and lifestyle portion of coaching online with daily habits, lessons, and assignments. We’ll get to see your progress, provide feedback on a regular basis to your assignments and progress, and answer any questions you may have along the way. This program can be done 100% online! So wherever you are in the world, don't hesitate to email me.

Space is extremely limited, so please do not wait to email -

I recently heard someone on a podcast I was listening to refer to what’s happening with health in this country as a “slow-moving plague.” I view this element of what we do at Progressive Martial Arts Academy as maybe one of the most important. We’ve always been able to make a large impact on people’s lives through martial arts training, and we are so excited to now be able to help with nutrition and lifestyle coaching too.

I hope you have a great 2018! Even if you don’t go through our coaching program, I hope you will take the advice above and give it a shot. Let me know how it works out. Remember, one habit at a time!


Break the Enemy without Fighting: The Avoidance of Battle and How to Win by Losing

Nonviolence is not to be used ever as the shield of the coward. It is the weapon of the brave.
— Mahatma Gandhi

As a martial artist, and a Kenpo practitioner in particular, I have understood from the moment my training commenced that fighting is wrong. Humans were never meant to be pitted against each other: robbing and cheating, hurting and humiliating, striking out at one another until bruises form and blood pools. Killing each goes against humanity - or at least the quality of being humane; which I equate with being human. 

Brittany in the very beginning of her martial arts journey - training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at 17 years old.

Brittany in the very beginning of her martial arts journey - training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at 17 years old.

Fighting is wrong. But sometimes, it’s necessary.

It’s necessary because, despite the fact that we shouldn’t hurt each other, we do. Children shouldn’t be kidnapped. Women shouldn’t be raped. Men shouldn’t be drafted to die in wars that shouldn’t be happening in the first place. But they are. 

Fighting is wrong, but sometimes it is necessary, and if I need to fight, I’m going to do it well. I’m going to fight as instinctively as I blink, as competently as I walk, as confidently as I know my name. I’m going to study and practice and learn, and, in doing so, I’m going to know how to avoid the fight in the first place. (The Creed of the Kenpo School, n.d.)

As a student of FILKENJUTSU, I pledge to fight “only if attacked or provoked by what I recognize to be a real threat,” but I hope to resolve every confrontation in a non-violent way and only after I’ve exhausted every effort to avoid the confrontation in the first place (Corrigan, B., n.d.). Kenpo is not a weapon - it’s a secret. And winning is not my goal - peace is (The Kenpo Creed, n.d.). But at the end of the day, “survival is my main objective,” and I will do whatever is necessary to protect myself and my family (Corrigan, B., n.d.). 

When faced with a potentially dangerous confrontation, avoiding violence would obviously be the best case scenario, but how do we do that? The man who brought Kenpo to the United States, Grandmaster James Mitose, laid out some steps for us to follow in his book, What is Self Defense? (Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu)

When discussing Go Shinjutsu (the art of self-defense), Mitose advised practitioners to steer clear of trouble, to examine conscience before acting out of anger, to decide never to use fists in public unless it’s inescapable, and, in those cases, “exert every effort to defend yourself and others.” (Mitose, 1981)

Brittany with a couple of her closest friends and training partners, Kristie Fox and Linda Davis, before running in the Secret City Half Marathon.

Brittany with a couple of her closest friends and training partners, Kristie Fox and Linda Davis, before running in the Secret City Half Marathon.

So how can we steer clear of trouble?

In my opinion, this is a two-part answer: through awareness AND by walking the fine line that blends confidence with humility.

I shouldn’t have to worry about walking home alone at night or accepting a drink from a friendly acquaintance at a bar, but the reality of the world I live in is that, at the very least, I will have to ignore cat callers on that walk home and dump that free drink into the potted Ficus in the corner because it might be laced with a date rape drug. 

Before I continue, let me state this very clearly: it is never a woman’s fault when she is attacked. I don’t care how short her dress is or how friendly her smile is - at the end of the day, men should and do have the ability to NOT rape women. But since one in five women will be raped in their lifetime (CDC, 2012), I follow a few easy, and non-violent, tips to proactively protect myself - or steer clear of trouble.

In In Search of Kenpo (1984), Mitose writes that “awareness is the essence of Kenpo,” and I believe it is also the essence of self-defense.  So my first step in trying to avoid a fight is to be aware - of my surroundings, of the people around me, of any circumstance that could affect me. 

I pay attention to where I am. Am I inside or outside? How is the lighting? Is it public or sheltered? What is the fastest route to safety in the event of an emergency or altercation? 

I pay attention to people in the area. Is that person following me? Why is that person approaching me? Why did that person park their van next to my car in an otherwise empty lot? That person is acting erratic - be cautious. That person has been drinking - be mindful of that.

I also pay attention to what I’m doing. I don’t want to appear to be an easy target. When I’m walking to my car, I make sure I already have my keys in hand so I don’t appear distracted by digging for them in my purse and so I can get into my car quickly. It’s also a good idea to keep your finger on the panic button. In the event you are attacked, the alarm will draw attention to you - and attention is something criminals want to avoid.

The last thing I’m conscious of is what I’m wearing. Hear me out before you get offended - I stand by what I said earlier. It should never matter what a woman chooses to wear; clothing is not consent, but if I’m unable to avoid the fight, I like to know that my footwear won’t impede me from surviving. Obviously, wearing close-toed shoes with a thick sole would allow for a more damaging kick should I need to use them as a tool to defend myself, but my biggest concern is making sure I feel confident running in whatever I have on my feet. When it comes to fight or flight, flight is the best option! 

Speaking of confidence, that’s the final piece of attire I don. I never want to appear timid to passersby. I make eye contact with people as they pass or approach so there can be no doubt in their minds that I see them. I make my boundaries clear. If someone is approaching, and I feel unsafe in any way, I tell them plainly to stop. If they need directions, I can help them from a comfortable distance - the worse case in that scenario is that I feel embarrassed because they think I’m weird. If they have darker intentions, I’m already drawing attention to myself and signaling to my would-be attacker that I won’t be an easy mark. Never be ashamed to establish boundaries - whether with an acquaintance or a stranger. Like Sun Tzu (5th century BC/1910) said, “Invincibility lies in the defense.”

Brittany began her Kenpo training under the founder of PMA and FILKENJUTSU, SiJo Bruce Corrigan. Here she is after earning her purple belt in Kenpo, alongside her husband (SiFu David Corrigan), father-in-law (SiJo Bruce Corrigan), and mother-in-law (SiGung Meg Corrigan).

Brittany began her Kenpo training under the founder of PMA and FILKENJUTSU, SiJo Bruce Corrigan. Here she is after earning her purple belt in Kenpo, alongside her husband (SiFu David Corrigan), father-in-law (SiJo Bruce Corrigan), and mother-in-law (SiGung Meg Corrigan).

I’ve been speaking about awareness from a woman’s perspective, but it’s important for everyone - including children; confidence equally so. Carrying yourself with confidence is key, not only in identifying yourself as a poor choice for a victim but also in shutting down bullies. And shutting down bullies is an essential part of steering clear of trouble and avoiding a fight.

In Zen in the Martial Arts (1979), Joe Hyams describes a real-life situation he faced when he nearly caused a traffic accident, and the other driver was overcome with a case of road rage:

The driver shouted abuse at me. I apologized, but he kept up the tirade and blocked my exit. He then got out of his car and came to my window, continuing the harangue. Again I repeated my apology, but he said he intended to teach me a lesson. I scrambled across the passenger seat and got out the side door to put my car between us.

 “I told you I’m sorry,” I said.

He started to edge forward. I shifted my body minutely so that my weight was centered. I     had taken a classic “ready” position from which I could move instantly. My mind was calm, open and relaxed, and I was confident in my ability to handle whatever happened.

 “I had to jam on my brakes to avoid hitting you,” he said a trifle less aggressively.

 “It was my fault,” I agreed.

 “Yeah, well, okay,” he said, and walked back to his car.

Although I stood confident and ready to respond to an attack, it was unnecessary. By apologizing for what was indeed my fault, I had defused his hostility. And by not acting aggressively, I had removed the necessity for him to prove anything by attacking me. 

I had ‘won by losing.’
— (p. 132)

Accidents happen. They’re just a part of life. But when our accidents affect the lives of others, things can get tricky. We have the power to control how we react to “spilled milk,” but we can’t always control the reaction of the person we spilled the milk on.

The scenario above and the angry man’s reaction is quite common, especially among men. Whether over a fender bender or a perceived verbal slight, men often respond by posturing. 

Sometimes posturing is a defense mechanism. The man wants to appear big, loud, and intimidating to ensure he maintains the upper hand in the situation. Other times, posturing is a form of bullying or a means to escalate trouble for the thrill of it.

Whatever the case, it is important to respond to posturing - and bullies - both cautiously and confidently, as Joe Hyams did. He addressed the man calmly, never allowing his tone to encourage the man’s rage. Though it was clear that Joe didn’t want the confrontation to end in a fight, he prepared for the need to defend himself from a physical altercation by putting space and an obstacle between him and his would-be attacker and staying guarded in his stance. 

His stance not only prepared him to deflect or intercept an attack, but it also telegraphed to his opponent that he was prepared to fight if need be which gave the other man pause and took the edge off of his anger. It made the angry man question his next step. Did he really want to “teach Joe a lesson” if Joe wasn’t going to be a cowed target?

The other step Joe took to diffuse the situation was to accept responsibility for his mistake and apologize for it. It took a couple of tries, but eventually Joe’s humble acceptance of fault and his refusal to be argumentative took the wind out of the angry man’s sails.

Brittany alongside some training partners after a hike to the top of Charlie's Bunion in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Brittany alongside some training partners after a hike to the top of Charlie's Bunion in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Ed Parker once said (as cited in Hyams, 1979, p.132-3), “The only reason men fight is because they are insecure; one man needs to prove that he is better or stronger than another.” Joe’s expression of: ‘It was my fault. I’m sorry. I don’t want to fight you, but I will if you force it,’ defused the other man’s aggression. He, “balked the enemies power,” and “forced him to reveal himself (Tzu, 5th century BC/1910).” The angry man had nothing to prove after Joe accepted the blame.

It can be hard to humble yourself during emotionally charged or potentially dangerous situations, but sometimes it is necessary in order to avoid the fight or even just to survive it. Your pride is not worth your life. If all it takes is a simple apology to get out of a threatening situation, then by all means, apologize. If someone points a weapon at me and demands my wallet or purse, or even the shoes on my feet, you better believe I’m giving it to them. And by doing so, I’ll be steering clear of trouble - or at least not fanning the flames.

In a situation like that, depending on whether my mugger is armed and what his weapon of choice is, I might be capable of winning the physical confrontation and keeping my purse. Maybe he doesn’t appear to be armed, and I become so angry with him for having the audacity to take what’s mine, that I decide to fight back.

Maybe I overpower my attacker, subduing him and watching him get carted off to jail. Or maybe my attacker pulls out a gun from his waistband and shoots me. If the latter, I not only lost my purse, I lost my life. 

Anger can be one of the hardest emotions to control. It makes us impulsive, almost unstable at times. We can’t think through problems the way we normally would, and as a result, it’s easy to end up doing something we regret. That’s why, during conflict, it’s important never to act violently in response to anger, only danger. With only a letter difference, how do we learn to identify the difference between anger and danger in regards to hostility? (Corrigan, D., personal communication, 2017)

Brittany at the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Brittany at the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Let’s look at an example:

If someone bumps into me in a crowded aisle of a grocery store, and I respond by shoving them back, did I act in response to anger or danger? I let my annoyance of the situation get the better of me. Instead of showing the stranger grace and striving for peace, I let the frustration of the noisy crowd and my exhaustion from shopping at the end of a long day guide my senses. I let an accidental or even an intentional, careless push be the straw that broke the camel’s back and I pushed back.

Now, if I had been the original pusher, and the person I shoved responded by pinning me up against the wall of canned beans and screaming at me, we’d be looking at a different situation. My reaction now would be in response to danger. I am being threatened and have a right and a desire to defend myself. The person’s angry response led us into dangerous territory.

So when facing an angry opponent, how do we avoid the battle? If possible, resort back to your posturing steps and try to diffuse the other man’s anger and make a safe exit. If, however, the situation continues to escalate and a physical altercation is eminent, the use of force is necessary. If avoidance is no longer possible, as per the rules of FILKENJUTSU (Corrigan, B., n.d.), “I will employ 100% force, commitment, attention, and single-minded purpose to defend myself, my family, and those in my charge.”

Pay attention to yourself and your opponent. Are they angry and posturing or have they become a danger to you or those with you? Is your response motivated by your temper or a threat? Avoidance is always our goal, but if the fight is unavoidable, it is imperative that you defend your life. “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight (Tzu, 5th century BC/1910).” 

In order to examine a conflict clearly and to determine if fighting or avoidance is the best response, just like anger, you have to be able to see around your fear. Fear is not always a bad thing. In fact, it’s usually a response to something we perceive to be dangerous; our brains analyze the situation and tell our bodies we need to stay alive. Fear can increase your endurance, physical strength, and adrenaline - all in the name of survival. It’s a tool that helps keep us alive, but problems arise when we stop using fear as a tool and let it overtake us completely. As I mentioned earlier, when attempting to diffuse potentially violent situations, we have to remain calm. We cannot cower away from bullies. 

Over 60 hours into her Black Belt test, showcasing self defense techniques.

Over 60 hours into her Black Belt test, showcasing self defense techniques.

My instructors often say, “Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real.” When we’re still in the avoidance phase of a confrontation, this idea is more important than ever. We aren’t in danger yet, and any fear we feel is in response to the perception or anticipation of danger. We’re balanced on the point of a knife. If we’re able to resolve the battle non-violently, we’ll fall back to the side of safety, but if the battle escalates into a fight, we tip over the edge into danger. We have a better chance of landing the outcome we hope for if we stay centered in the present moment, focused on dispersing tension instead of dwelling on what hazards could come if we fail.

So how do we learn to control our fear before it overtakes us? By making a friend of it. This concept, once again, leads us back to confidence. We have to develop confidence in our ability to handle our fears by growing familiar with them. This could be as simple as visualizing what scares us most or as heart racing as facing our fears in person. (Hyams, 1979)

And if our fear is that we will be physically attacked and forced to defend ourselves or loved ones, face it head on. Decide now that you are willing to fight for your life if it comes down to it. Think about what is important to you and what you are willing to do to protect it. I know that if I am threatened, not only will I be fighting for myself, I will be fighting to make it back to my family because they need me. 

Fear has no place in a battle for survival - there’s no room for it. In a life or death situation, take advice from Bruce Lee, “Forget about winning and losing; forget about pride and pain. Let your opponent graze your skin and you smash into his flesh; let him smash into your flesh and you fracture his bones; let him fracture your bones and you take his life! Do not be concerned with escaping safely - lay your life before him!” I am willing to walk away from an attack bloody and broken as long as I walk away alive.

Luckily, it probably won’t come down to that! Our minds usually blow scenarios out of proportion. By visualizing our fears and how we plan to react to them, we can shrink them back to their proper size. Things are not usually as bad as we first imagine them to be. As our confidence in our abilities to overcome our fears grows, the possible outcomes - real or imagined - become easier to manage. (Hyams, 1979)

But what if, during the moment, we lose our control and negative thoughts, images, or fears fill our minds? Visualization can be as instrumental in getting us back on track here as it was in helping us overcome the thoughts in the first place. I like to imagine myself grabbing the stressful thoughts and clenching them in my fist until they’re ground into dust. Then I take a deep, fortifying breath, and as I exhale, I imagine blowing the dust away. If you find your mind filling with negative thoughts and “what-ifs” during a confrontation, seize them and destroy them before they have a chance to take hold. (Hyams, 1979)

Bottom line, you’ve heard the age old adage, “There’s nothing to fear, but fear itself.” As cliche as it sounds, it’s still very true. Don’t let fear hold you back. Don’t let it control you. Don’t let it make the decisions in your life. One of my favorite quotes about fear came in a commencement speech at Tulane University given by actress Dame Helen Mirren (2017). She said, “Don't be afraid of fear. Throw caution to the winds. Look fear straight in its ugly face and barge forward. And when you get past it, turn around and give it a good, swift kick in the ass."

Brittany and her 4 year old son, Charlie, on the day she received her Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU Kenpo.

Brittany and her 4 year old son, Charlie, on the day she received her Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU Kenpo.

My last piece of armor in avoiding the fight is what I have affectionately named “The 3 Itys.” Flexibility. Adaptability. And Ingenuity.

Be flexible and opportunistic. Being trained in the martial arts, I have equipped myself with the tools necessary to overcome an opponent both violently and non-violently, but often times the actual opportunity for success is provided by the opponent. I have to be prepared to alter my game plan to capitalize on my opponent’s weaknesses. “The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself (Tzu, 5th century BC/1910).”

Adaptability goes hand in hand with flexibility. One of Bruce Lee’s most famous quotes is about water and it’s ability to adapt to whatever container you put it into. It adjusts its game plan to deal with whatever environment it finds itself in, and wholly examines that space.  It lets go of expectations to live in the present, and forgets the past immediately when it finds itself in a new and different space.

Brittany and her 1 year old son, Auggie, enjoying a family favorite meal on Cow Appreciation Day!

Brittany and her 1 year old son, Auggie, enjoying a family favorite meal on Cow Appreciation Day!

In our lives, we will face numerous conflicts. You can try to be hard and unmoving, determined to hammer at your problems until something breaks - them or you. Or, you can try to be like water. Go with the flow. When you encounter an obstacle, slip through it’s cracks and take possession. Just don’t forget, if you come across a situation where it is necessary to use force, water can crash too. Bottom line, don’t try to make your environment or problems adapt to you - adapt to, and overcome, them.

The final, and my personal favorite, “ity,” ingenuity, is all about outsmarting your opponent. Perhaps the best description of this comes from one of Bruce Lee’s better known movies, Enter the Dragon. In one particularly memorable scenes, Bruce Lee is on a ship out to sea when he’s approached by an arrogant martial arts practitioner that tauntingly asks what system Bruce Lee trains in. His response, “the art of fighting without fighting,” is met with disbelief, and the arrogant man demands Bruce Lee show him some of his art. 

When Bruce Lee refuses and tries to peacefully leave, the arrogant man blocks his exit, posturing. Lee seemingly relents. He agrees to show the man if they take a small boat to an island close by as there isn’t enough room on the ship they’re on. The man agrees and proceeds to climb into a rickety, wooden dinghy at the side of the boat. Once he’s on it, Bruce Lee takes the line securing the dinghy to the ship and casts the man out to sea giving the line to another passenger with instructions for him to drop the line if the man tries to reel himself back in.

Bruce Lee eliminated the threat without violence - the best outcome you can hope for from a confrontation. That is the art of fighting without fighting.

Brittany and her close friend/training partner, Kristie Fox. They went through their instructor candidate training and Black Belt candidate training together, culminating in their 3-day Black Belt test on December 1-3, 2017.

Brittany and her close friend/training partner, Kristie Fox. They went through their instructor candidate training and Black Belt candidate training together, culminating in their 3-day Black Belt test on December 1-3, 2017.

So how do you break an enemy without fighting? First and foremost, it is my belief that you should study and train some form of martial arts. Knowledge is power, and the knowledge and skills I have acquired through my martial arts journey have instilled in me a physical and mental ability to defend myself and others, first by using my mind to avoid the battle, and finally, by using my physical ability to end a fight if avoidance alludes me.

The practice of Kenpo and Jiu Jitsu has also grown my confidence and self-esteem immeasurably, traits this paper has discussed in depth as contributing factors in the avoidance of battle. 

Apart from the actual study of self-defense, you should learn how to steer clear of trouble by being aware of your surroundings and the possible threats you may find there. You should build both your confidence and ability to stand up to bullies and your manifestation of genuine humility when the situations warrants it. Never let your ego dictate your actions - your life is not worth your pride.

Learn to differentiate between a person’s inconsequential anger and the threat of danger as well as how to respond to both situations. Know how to control your own anger and the reactions it impulsively encourages.

Make a friend out of your fear. Get to know it. Get comfortable with it. Then barge through it and give it a kick in the ass on your way by.

Be flexible - change your game plan when necessary. Be adaptable - adjust to your environment. Be ingenious - outsmart your attacker. 

Know when to walk away from a fight, and be happy to do so. Know when it is necessary to fight, and commit your entire self into surviving.

Know yourself and recognize that it is okay, wonderful even, to win by losing.

Brittany alongside her husband, David Corrigan, on the day she received her Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU Kenpo.

Brittany alongside her husband, David Corrigan, on the day she received her Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU Kenpo.

On a final note, I was reminded recently that even my masters have masters (Hyams, 1979). My chief instructor, SiFu David Corrigan, though an accomplished practitioner Jiu Jitsu, believes he pales in comparison to the legacy of his late teacher Professor Pedro Brandao Lacerda. 

My stand up system, FILKENJUTSU, wouldn’t even exist if the founder, SiJo Bruce Corrigan, had not started his Kenpo journey under the tutelage of the late Professor Nick Cerio who left a gift behind in his quote, “To win the fight without fighting, that is the true goal of a martial artist.”

And I know from following the example of my masters and the masters who came before them that I want to be a true martial artist too.


Cerio, N. (n.d.). Personal Communication. 

Corrigan, B. R. H. (n.d.). The FILKENJUTSU Manual. 

Corrigan, D. R. (2017). Personal Communication. 

Hyams, J. (1979). Zen In The Martial Arts. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Lee, B. (1975). Tao of Jeet Kun Do. Santa Clarita, CA: Ohara Publications, Incorporated. 

Mirren, H. (2017). Commencement Speech. New Orleans, LA: Tulane University. 

Mitose, J. M. (1981). What is Self Defense? (Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu). Sacramento, CA: Kosho-Shorei     Publishing Company.

Mitose, J. M. (1984). In Search of Kenpo. Sacramento, CA: Kosho-Shorei Publishing Company.

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control - Division of Violence Center. (2012) Sexual     Violence: Facts at a Glance. Atlanta, GA: Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tzu, S. (1910). The Art of War. (L. Giles, Trans.). London, UK: British Museum. (Original work published 5th century BC)

Weintraub, F., Heller, P., Chow, R. (Producers), & Clouse, R. (Director). (1973). Enter the     Dragon [Motion Picture]. China/United States of America: Warner Bros.

The Kenpo Creed. (n.d.)

The Creed of the Kenpo School. (n.d.)



*The next two blog posts will be longer posts featuring articles written by our two most recent Black Belts, Kristie Fox and Brittany Corrigan, in preparation for their Black Belt Test. This week we are featuring Kristie's article, which takes a unique look at the concept of "grafting." It was fun to read her perspective on this as a scientist. Come back next week for a great post from Brittany on the avoidance of battle.

Grafting is a horticultural technique used to join parts from two or more plants so that they appear to grow as a single plant (Bilderback, NC State).  These techniques are used to change varieties, repair damaged plants, increase the growth rate of seedlings, and get double benefits from combined strong varieties.  As horticulturalists combine trees of complimentary traits to breed a more resilient or fruitful variety of tree, martial artists have combined the best traits of one martial art with another to breed not only a long lineage of influence and wisdom but also the benefit of combining the best of numerous cultures and people into a single system of self-defense. 


 I’ll never forget one of my very first classes with SiJo Bruce – it was the first time I had heard the word “grafting” used in connection with the martial arts.  We were taking one of the easier punch defense combinations and adding it to the end of a club defense.  Now I had been fairly proud of my combination in the past, and I had learned the club defense reasonably well.  However, when I attempted to “graft” the techniques together, it was a disaster.  I couldn’t get the motion down and I kept mixing the order of the techniques.  It was painful.  The idea was to take the lessons from each of the techniques together and make them a stronger, more robust form of self-defense.  That was four years ago.  I didn’t realize at the time that this was just the beginning of the application of grafting into my own martial arts experience.  As I began to learn techniques from some of the different arts in the FILKENJUTSU method, including Filipino Kali, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Kenpo with deep Asian roots, I was inspired by the international and historical significance of all the different arts – all in their own way contributing to the whole, complex idea of self-defense. I’m a bit better at grafting now, and I understand better what Bruce Lee meant by “A so-called martial artist is the result of three thousand years of propaganda and conditioning.”  

Kristie with some of her training partners after testing for Purple Belt in Kenpo. Purple belt is a big step in a student's Kenpo journey as it is the first intermediate rank, and the student switches to a black uniform.

Kristie with some of her training partners after testing for Purple Belt in Kenpo. Purple belt is a big step in a student's Kenpo journey as it is the first intermediate rank, and the student switches to a black uniform.

The martial arts have grown out of many years of challenging oneself, fighting, and training individuals throughout history.  While some of the arts have died out from lack of usefulness or changing cultural conditions, each has left its mark on the martial arts that we practice today.  The application, adjustment, and improvement of each art into a new culture or time period has developed into a grafted system stronger than any of the original arts in their independent state.  As the martial arts developed and traversed many Asian countries into the Hawaiian Islands, throughout Brazil, and finally across mainland United States, each movement configured a more complete and thorough system, improving each former technique in its weaknesses and maintaining and developing its strengths.  The result is a method like FILKENJUTSU that draws on these grafted ideas and produces a more robust living system that continues to grow and improve in the same manner as its ancestors.

Kristie's 5 children all train martial arts too! Photo credit to Julio Culiat.

Kristie's 5 children all train martial arts too! Photo credit to Julio Culiat.

While we are not completely clear on all the details, it seems that somewhere between the 5th and 6th century BC, Daruma, a Buddhist monk, prince, and warrior from India who traveled to a Shaolin temple in China discovered the monks had become physically weak.  He taught them simple movements that developed into what we now know as the martial arts.  Later, those traditions, which became the roots of the Kenpo system of martial arts, migrated to Japan most likely through the Buddhist temples.  Of course, our written records from this time are sparse and the details are unclear, but the tradition of training with movement for physical strength is certain.  The Kenpo practices developed and were passed down within families for many generations.

Kristie with friends and training partners, Brittany Corrigan and Linda Davis before running the Secret City Half Marathon.

Kristie with friends and training partners, Brittany Corrigan and Linda Davis before running the Secret City Half Marathon.

There are many other roots that we see develop in these Asian countries.  In Japan for another 1000 years, there was much upheaval and turmoil. Power struggles amongst wealthy landowners were common place.  The samurai developed as warriors that fought for local lords to rule a particular area (Usborne 271).  These were highly trained individuals with a strong code of honor.  Jiu-Jitsu was the art developed by the Samurai.  They were usually armored and on horseback.  Jiu-Jitsu developed as a way to fight when they found themselves on the ground and without a weapon and it evolved to include throwing, joint-locks and strangles due to the restricted mobility and agility from the armor.   As Japan opened its borders to Westernization in the mid to late 1800s, the samurai tradition fell out of favor.  Jigoro Kano (1860-1938), an educated man and a practitioner of Jiu-Jitsu, recognized the usefulness and importance of Jiu-Jitsu, and took many of the same ideas and techniques but developed a new name –Judo meaning the gentle way and adjusted the art so that it could be practiced both safely and realistically and would be more accepted by a people ready for the samurai traditions to fall by the wayside..  It was the official art used by law enforcement in the late 1800s, and continues to be popular to this day.  As each of these arts in China and Japan grew and spread throughout the country, it retained the best traits of the tradition from which it came while grafting in new and more progressive ideas as it developed with the people and culture of its time. 

Kristie with her teacher, David Corrigan, after being promoted to Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Kristie with her teacher, David Corrigan, after being promoted to Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Another significant development emerged as Kenpo spread across the Pacific Ocean and was introduced to the island of Hawaii.   James Mitose was born in Hawaii in 1916 but was sent to Japan at an early age for his formal education at the family temple.  The martial art and religious system his family practiced had been taught only to family members in secrecy due to the upheaval in Japan for the last several hundred years.  It was called Kosho Shorei Ryu – The Old Pine Tree School.  He returned to Hawaii and started teaching his art in Hawaii.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Mitose recognized the need for a shift in precious family traditions.  He opened a school so that all races could be instructed in his family’s art.  This was a significant shift in martial arts training which had historically tended to stay within family groups (specifically, particular castes of society).  It began to take on a distinctly American flair.  The idea that all races could benefit from this type of training was a “melting pot” influence brought to the forefront by Mitose’s experience and struggle with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.  This particular “graft” of new ideas into old ones became the major branch from which most Kenpo traditions in the West have stemmed.  

61 hours into her Black Belt test, over 40 years old, and mom of 5.

61 hours into her Black Belt test, over 40 years old, and mom of 5.

Around the same time, Maeda, a Japanese practitioner of Judo, migrated to Brazil.  He was a direct student of Jigoro Kano and skilled in the art of Jiu Jitsu & Judo.  He was assisted by a local politician, Gastao Gracie.  In thanks, Maeda agreed to teach his son the art of Jiu Jitsu.  Subsequently, the Gracie family opened the first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school in 1925.  They continued to develop the style with no-rules fighting contests both in the academy and on the streets.  Similar to the Hawaiian neighborhoods, Brazil was known for its rough and rowdy neighborhoods and gangs.  This “testing” of their style of self-defense helped to draw back in some of the more ancient but very practical and tangible techniques of self-defense.  Nonetheless, the training maintained its “sustainable” status using techniques that could be continually practiced throughout the lifetime of the student without great injury. Once again, the political and cultural landscape helped to determine the growth and direction of a practical and useful method of self-defense as martial artists grafted some old ideas back into a more developed and progressive system.

Kristie, with her husband, Sam, and their 5 children - Austin, Eli, Maggie, Grady, and Mollie. The whole family trains at PMA!

Kristie, with her husband, Sam, and their 5 children - Austin, Eli, Maggie, Grady, and Mollie. The whole family trains at PMA!

The Gracie family and Mitose’s students were trained and tested in Brazil and Hawaii, respectively and continued to develop their arts.  Eventually both arts moved across mainland United States.  Mitose’s student, William Chow, trained Adriano Emperado, who together with the Black Belt Society, developed the system of Kajukenbo – which recognized the need to combine all the greatest aspects of different martial arts including Karate, Judo & Jiu Jitsu, Kenpo, and Kung Fu.  These martial artists gathered together in Hawaii and trained one another. They shared methods that combined hard powerful techniques with throwing, locks and sweeps, fluid hand motions, flexibility, agility, and evasions.  This major graft once again had a distinctly American ideal in recognizing the gifts and talents of different histories, the weaknesses of each system, and  combining them to create an even more efficient and successful system of self-defense (Walton, Kajukenbo History).  Students of the Kajukenbo system eventually moved to the United States and the art that developed from so many various arts spread across the U.S.  Additionally, the Gracie family migrated to the U.S. and created the Ultimate Fighting Championship which tested their Jiu Jitsu style against any other system of self-defense.  While for a time Jiu Jitsu was a completely dominant system in these fights, over time it created a new style of student who must learn numerous styles of martial arts in order to become a complete competitor.  As these arts migrated across the US, many wise students continued to recognize the need to draw on the various styles of martial arts and sought training under various instructors. The grafting of techniques from one art to another continued.

Female FILKENJUTSU Black Belts!

Female FILKENJUTSU Black Belts!

The story of the martial arts throughout history is a great parallel to the history of our people.  There were many creative developments and inventions, as well as numerous failings and abuses throughout history.  None of the fathers of any of these arts were without mistakes or shortcomings.  Each story is laden with missteps, pride, and arrogance.  Yet the strength of the story of the self-defense system we use today lies not in the perfection of a single person or system, but in the idea that we can draw on the experience and history of those before us, and by applying their wisdom and adding our own, we can continue to grow into a life-giving system that’s strength is far beyond what one people or system could create on their own.  It is quintessentially American.  Our forefathers, in the creation of our own system of government, took the ideas of many different governments such as England, France, and even the native Iroquois people, to come together and create an even stronger system of government.  Grafting is not seamless.  John Bunyan said it this way, “Where there is grafting there will always be a cutting, the graft must be let in with a wound; to stick it onto the outside or to tie it on with a string would be of no use. Heart must be set to heart and back to back or there will be no sap from root to branch.”  John 15 in the Bible says, “No branch can bear fruit by itself, it must remain in the vine.” (New International Version, John 15:4). There have been numerous breaks in relationships resulting in irreparable divides as students parted ways with their instructors.  Nonetheless, we find that those minor injuries where the grafting actually occurred and NOT the severing of a branch – those are the places that become the strongest and offer the most life to the tree of modern self-defense.

Kristie on the day she received her Black Belt, with her FILKENJUTSU Black Belt brothers and sisters.

Kristie on the day she received her Black Belt, with her FILKENJUTSU Black Belt brothers and sisters.

The FILKENJUTSU method is a great example of the power and elegance of grafting.  By patiently pursuing various martial arts and their histories, SiJo Bruce Corrigan has created an extremely strong and deeply rooted system by grafting well-tested systems into a complete system that will fit any person regardless of their strengths and weaknesses.  The opportunity to learn both the system and history of FILKENJUTSU will not only grow a student in the methods of self-defense but will also introduce them to the martial arts way of life that seeks out tried and true techniques and grafts them into their own lifestyle.  Bruce Lee said, “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” As a student of FILKENJUTSU, I recognize that I must remain patiently attached to the tree to receive the benefits, knowledge, and experience of what is useful.  Launching to seed and going off on my own would only lead to cutting myself off from the resources that I gain from an extensive root system.  I hope that we as martial artists are more interested in the root of martial arts than the different decorative branches, flowers or leaves.  It is futile to argue as to which single leaf, branch design, or attractive flower you like. When you understand the root, you understand all that contributes to the growth of the art and the individual.

Works Cited

Bilderback, Ted, et al. “Grafting and Budding Nursery Crop Plants.” NC State Extensions Publications, NC State, 30 June 2014,

Bingham, Jane, et al. The Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History. EDC Publishing, 2009.

Birch, Jane, et al. The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia. Kingfisher, 2004.

Cho, David LoPriore Sensei Kai. “A History of Kosho Shorei Ryu.” Portal - Home, Kosho Shorei Shin Kai,

Gregoriades, Nic. “A Brief History of Jiu-Jitsu.” Jiu-Jitsu Brotherhood - Grappling & Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Videos and Techniques, Jiu-Jitsu Brotherhood,

Lee, Bruce. Tao of Jeet Kune Do. Black Belt Books, 2014.

Mitose, James M. In Search of Kenpo. Kosho-Shorei Pub. Co., 1984.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Zondervan, 2005.

Walton, Charlie. “Kajukenbo History.” Kajukenbo History,,

The Dynamics of Our Kenpo

Many years ago, long before the term “Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)” was ever coined, this logo was designed.


 I chose the triangle to represent strength and improvement.  A triangle represents structural strength, but it is also the mathematical symbol (delta) for incremental change.  This change is what a good martial artist must continuously seek as necessary to remain effective.  However, change doesn’t mean that you abandon your art for another – through the process of refinement and change, you make your art stronger and better.  In my case; Kenpo.

The three characters on the triangle represent the base concepts that develop the dynamics of my Kenpo. 

The kickboxer represents the use of constant and energetic movement along with the inclusion of aspects from every possible philosophy of kickboxing/boxing, i.e. western boxing, Pananjakman, Panantuken, Savate, American rules, European, Thai – and whatever else the future brings.

The Kali warrior represents the dynamics of weapons; not in the form of just memorizing a weapons kata, but complete integration.  This integration means – if I can do it empty hands, I can do it with weapons and vice versa.  Weapons training will also significantly develop the awareness of range and entry into combat.

The ground-fighters not only represent the full integration of ground and throwing arts, but also represent the study and mastery of the points of transition from vertical combat to horizontal combat and horizontal back to vertical.

The center of the triangle contains the symbol “taijitu.”  The color of this particular version of the symbol represents Jeet Kune Do (JKD).  JKD is the root of the inspiration that “started it all,” and opened my path to acceptance, redesign, and change while still maintaining the art of Kenpo.  This symbol also represents “integration to create one.”   That means we don’t practice each art as a separate way but practice one art (Kenpo) that incorporates aspects of arts with other origins and primary focus.

However, and probably more importantly, the taijitu (Yin & Yang) represents the natural balance of traditional with modern.  If you only accept the modern and discard the proven methods of traditional arts or the way Kenpo develops a way of life which includes ethics, benevolence, warrior tradition, and health – you lose balance and meaning.

The Benefits We Can't Measure As Easily

“I walk taller now.

“My posture is better.”

“I’m so much happier on the inside.”

“I’ve become a better parent.”

 “I feel healthy.”

"I feel confident out in public."

“I feel confident in my food decisions.”

“I’m more organized.”

“I am stronger… inside and out.”

“I’m determined.”

“I'm more focused.”

These are real things that our martial arts students tell us on a regular basis. Sometimes we get too wrapped up in the goals, outcomes, and benefits that we can easily see or measure such as pounds and inches lost, promotions, or the number of push-ups we can do. 

Don't get me wrong - those measurable things are PHENOMENAL too. But we can't lose sight of all the other ways our lives are improved by martial arts training, exercise, or changes in our nutrition and lifestyle habits.

So, what are some ways your life has been impacted by the martial arts way of life?

This Saturday at our annual holiday sale from 10 AM - 1 PM, we will be offering our lowest price ever on our 1-year nutrition and lifestyle coaching program. This 100% online program is regularly priced at $1,999, and has only been discounted to our students to $999 in the past. We are going to take on 10 additional students into the program to start on Monday, January 1, 2018, and will be offering the entire year of coaching for $899. This price will be available at the holiday sale only.

If you'd like to go ahead and lock in your spot now, email me at and I will make sure your spot is saved on Saturday. Then we will check you out at the sale (even if you can't make it in person!). 

Learn more about the coaching program here -

Check out the event page on Facebook for more information on sale items, and RSVP to make sure you don't miss announcements as they come out this week:

Tournament Breakdown (Videos)

PMA instructor, FILKENJUTSU Black Belt, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Blue-Purple Belt, Madelyn Fowler, competed in her first ever competition this weekend in Concord, North Carolina. After a few months of hard training in preparation, we picked out the NAGA North Carolina championships to be the battleground! With her being an instructor, we thought all of her students, training partners, friends, and family might like to see her matches!

We drove down on Friday night for weigh-ins, and Sempai Madelyn weighed in at 112 pounds and would fight in the 109-119 division (flyweights). After fueling up with a good dinner, we went back to the hotel to rest up before she'd compete on Saturday.

In her very first match, Madelyn demonstrated her skill and strength, executing a couple of takedowns before finishing with a perfectly executed guillotine choke. Our Brazilian Jiu Jitsu students will recognize the final move, as it was the EXACT variation that was taught on Thursday night last week!

Then, in the No-Gi finals she was matched against a very tough competitor who put Madelyn in danger early in the match with an arm bar submission. Madelyn would escape and counter with an ankle lock submission to tie the score 2-2, and in the final seconds, her opponent achieved the side control position to win 4-2. This earned Madelyn the silver medal in the No-Gi division, but it would not be her last time facing this opponent!

Now exhausted from experiencing how quickly energy is drained by the adrenaline, nervousness, etc. it was time to switch to the gi. Madelyn faced another new opponent in her first match and planned to use her guard this time to control her opponent and set up an attack. After multiple close attacks, Madelyn won via referee's decision.

She would now face the same opponent that defeated her in the no-gi finals, in the gi finals! After analyzing Madelyn's first match with this opponent and another one of this competitor's matches, we decided that her opponent really wanted to be on top. So this match, we would let Madelyn use her strength and skill in takedowns to keep the fight standing and fight for the top.

She landed a beautiful ogoshi (hip throw) into side control to go up on the scoreboard and would later score an advantage point for a near guard pass, and these would be the deciding points in the match to win the gold medal!

Most importantly, Madelyn is leaving this competition with a tremendous amount of experience. We would be so proud of her regardless of her results, but the wins make it even more sweet! Her results were great on their own, but when you consider that this was a pure grappling competition and she spends more than half of her time teaching and training in a striking art it is even more impressive. 

She demonstrated mental toughness, skill, sportsmanship, and even the proper way to handle a loss all in this one tournament. We could not be more proud of her and the way she prepared for and then carried herself in this tournament.

Martial arts and combat sports. Which is better?

At our academy in Oak Ridge, we teach a few martial arts. These arts, when combined, prepare a student for every empty-handed scenario (no weapons) that they could find themselves in if in a self-defense situation, and most attacks involving weapons too. Specifically, we teach FILKENJUTSU Kenpo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), Filipino Kali, Jeet Kune Do, and Kickboxing. Or as we like to call it a "Full House!" There are 3 K’s or Kings (Kenpo, Kali, and Kickboxing) and 2 J’s or Jacks (Jiu Jitsu and Jeet Kune Do), a "full house" in poker. 

This weekend I will be taking our Youth Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Competition Team (that's some of them in the picture above after our last tournament) to their next grappling tournament - a combat sport. So I thought I'd spend this post discussing the difference between a martial art and a combat sport. What are the pros and cons of each? By the end, I hope you can tell the differences between them and distinguish whether you’d prefer to be training in one over the other, or both!

We often talk about there being five steps to learning a martial art:

  1. Learn
  2. Practice
  3. Master
  4. Functionalize
  5. Maintain

Here’s a quick video briefly explaining each step if you want to learn more:

At the “functionalize” phase, sparring becomes a crucial part of training. This is when two martial artists engage in a "live" training exercise where they are both attempting to use their techniques on the other, simulating some element of a real fight. 

Since each art tends to focus on specific areas of the fight (punching, kicking, grappling, weapons, etc.), rules are put on these sparring drills to make them more focused on the techniques taught in that particular martial art. These rules can be both good and bad. 

The good is that the techniques themselves get much more refined and efficient for that specific ruleset, often leading to a more effective way of performing the technique. That is the core reason Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the most effective martial arts on the planet - the heavy amounts of live sparring, or "rolling" as BJJ practitioners like to call it, has led to the techniques being refined and perfected generation after generation to an extremely high level of effectiveness. 

The bad is that sometimes the student becomes too comfortable with the specific ruleset for the particular sparring drills of his art.

In most cases tournaments start to pop up as a way for students of these arts to test their abilities against other martial artists that train in other places around the world. This provides a unique opportunity to not only test your skill set against other martial artists but, more importantly, to learn about yourself and how you handle stress and adrenaline. These tournaments have rules, and often the academies that participate slowly but inevitably adapt their curriculum and techniques to this specific ruleset to have more success at these championships.

This process has happened multiple times with multiple martial arts, and ultimately led to many “martial arts” being taught purely as “combat sports.” Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Judo, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are all perfect examples of this process.

 Interestingly, what sometimes leads to more success in the tournaments can bring an art’s “street effectiveness” down. How can this be? Wouldn’t it make sense that if the original goal of sparring was to be able to perfect or functionalize their techniques that it could only serve to make them more effective in a fight?

Unfortunately, no.

What happens instead is that over time the techniques themselves are adapted to fit the specific ruleset for the tournament they are fighting in.

For example in basic Tae Kwon Do sparring competitions the rules are:

“Kicks are allowed to the torso and head. Punches are allowed to the torso. Kicks below the belt and strikes with any part of the hand other than the knuckles are not allowed. Points are awarded for solid kicks and punches to valid target areas as long as the attacker stays on their feel (i.e., no falling down).”

This specific ruleset made the stance, movement, and strikes of Tae Kwon Do stylists adapt to being good for this format but extremely vulnerable to other techniques that wouldn’t be allowed in this form of competition such as leg kicks.

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, no striking is allowed - only grappling. And therefore, students that only train for this specific ruleset are often not prepared for the realities of a real confrontation when their opponent would be throwing strikes.

One of the most recent examples in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) community was a rule that fighters could not be kneed or kicked in the head if at least one hand was on the ground. This led to fighters intentionally putting themselves in positions that would completely expose them to a knee or kick to the head in a real fight, but their opponent couldn’t take advantage of them because of the rule.

Obviously, the rules are put in place to protect the athletes, but in doing so, they are also changing the way that participants will prepare for these competitions. That is neither good or bad, just fact.

Here is what’s outlined in the “Martial Arts Catalogue” on the difference between art and sport:

“Art, as the word applies to martial arts, is the specific application of skill in perfect traditional form. Sport, which has come to be considered the antithesis of art, is the specific application of skill to obtain effective results.”

So, what do you do about it? Is one better than the other? Should you train a martial art or a combat sport?

The key is to ask yourself first why are you training? 

For most individuals, a martial art is at least where they should start. They are often interested in learning to defend themselves, getting in shape, relieving some stress, maybe meeting some new people, and having fun. A martial art can be perfect for this.

Unfortunately, they have to be careful as many schools that claim to teach an art such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu even, really focus the majority (or all) of their time on the combat sport side of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Therefore a new student that is interested in learning to defend himself will be spending the majority of his time preparing for a ruleset that he doesn’t have any interest in trying to become a competitor in and not preparing for the realities of self-defense.

As an academy, we try to be very clear about what we teach so that the students are receiving exactly what they are looking for. 

This weekend, I’ll be taking our competition team to a grappling tournament (combat sport) that they have been training for separately from their regularly scheduled group classes in the martial arts that they are learning. Here's one of our kids at their last tournament in April. He's the one in the PMA gold shirt and is only 8 years old. Watch the determination and skill presented and imagine how talented he will be as an adult if he spends the next 10 years of his childhood perfecting these skills!

I hope this helps someone navigate the sometimes tricky path of finding a martial art (or combat sport!) to take up learning, and the right academy to do it at. I hate that martial artists feel such a need to put down one or the other, as there is a space and niche audience for both. Traditional martial artists like to point out the flaws in the sportive side for not being “street” enough, and sport practitioners often point out that traditional arts aren’t “live” enough. When in reality, there is a place for both.

We can all learn to be a little more understanding, compassionate, and open-minded towards others. Especially in this crazy world we seem to be living in right now. Let’s leave our egos behind, try to keep making the best decisions for our personal journey, and let others have the freedom to do what they think is best without your criticism.

There is nothing wrong with a healthy discussion or even argument, but this pick a side and be closed minded to anything that might potentially mean that we've been even a little wrong about something has got to stop. After all, do any of us really have all of the answers?

Does Size Matter in Martial Arts?

Bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to martial arts training. Although height and weight may be advantageous in other sports, martial arts rely more on technique and therefore when choosing whether or not to learn the arts, your size should be irrelevant. 

All sizes can and should train martial arts to learn how they can effectively fight with their body type. Executing correctly and on point is what delivers victory over an opponent. Keep in mind too that training with people of all different sizes helps understand better what tactics to apply during an encounter. 

Now, power makes more of a difference than size does. Strength training and development gives you the energy, momentum and force to deliver faster strikes, stronger throws and sustain balance. Whether you’re short, tall, big or small, strength is more important than feet and inches. A small frame can develop the strength necessary to execute powerful techniques.

The nice thing about martial arts is that men, women, children, and seniors can all enjoy the physical benefits from an ancient sport and not be overly concerned about size playing a significant role in their ability to perform. Learning techniques and applying them comes from practice and dedication. For individuals who are studying martial arts for its health benefits and acquiring the self-defense skillset, size is irrelevant. 

In some techniques, it can even be beneficial to be smaller. The tallest person in the room may appear to be intimidating, but a smaller person can easily throw them off balance. 

It's also important to keep in mind that martial arts isn’t always about fighting and that means that you don’t have to dwell on your size. The health benefits that martial arts provide on a physical and mental level are tremendous. A complete range of motion and mental concentration require participants to exert energy on many levels which result improved muscle and aerobic conditioning. This has nothing to do with your size. 

Whether you’re 4’ nothing or 6’ something and you’re looking for a way to get fit, build strength, feel a sense of calm, and maybe even lose a few pounds along the way then martial arts is a great option for you. If you’re feeling self-conscious about numbers on the scale or the ones that say how small or tall you are, then martial arts is beyond a great option, it’s the perfect one. 

Now to answer the question: does size matter?

Yes. A larger opponent does have an advantage over a smaller one, but that is one of the most important reasons to train. The techniques taught in the martial arts are designed to help you overcome those disadvantages. We don't have any control over who may potentially attack us, and therefore training to overcome brute strength with technique is one of the most critical and most empowering aspects of training.