Using the “10,000-Hour Rule” and the “20-Hour Rule" to Your Advantage

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of “Outliers,” proposed years ago after studying experts in many different fields that on average it takes a person 10,000 hours to achieve excellence at his job or hobby.

This concept is so important for us to remember as martial artists. It helps to prevent frustration along the journey when we are not improving as fast as we think we should be. It’s a long process, and it takes a ton of practice, but time is going to pass anyway so why not be a talented black belt in a martial art ten years from now?

It helps to remember the five steps to learning martial arts (or anything!): 

1. Learn
2. Practice
3. Master (Mushin)
4. Functionalize
5. Maintain

If we have adopted the martial arts way of life, and plan on continuing to train martial arts after receiving our Black Belts (maintain), then what is the rush?

Every practice will be focused on improving your skill and technique, regardless of the color belt that is around your waist. So take your time, enjoy the process, and keep chugging along towards your 10,000 hours.

Now, this past week I’ve been talking about a concept from this video I recently watched about learning anything in 20 hours. The concept is that the 10,000-hour rule came from looking at the elite performers in a given area, but if you are a white belt walking into your first martial arts class the situation is entirely different.

While it may take you 10,000 hours to become an Olympic Gold Medalist like Helen Maroulis, within 20 hours, you could learn to wrestle really well compared to where you are right now. I have seen it happen so many times with new students.

Without a doubt, a new Jiu Jitsu student after 20 classes would demolish their former selves in a grappling match. After just 20 lessons! But they won’t often see it that way because they are too busy comparing themselves to the other people around them who are also improving every class, and many of whom are farther along the journey then they are.

So I propose that you keep both the 10,000-hour rule and the 20-hour rule in mind, and use them to your advantage. Remember that it will take 10,000 hours to reach excellence, but 20 hours of solid practice can make a huge impact on your skill level. 

Since you are likely already 20 hours into your martial arts training, you should use this rule for more specific skill-sets within the martial arts.

Want to get better at kicking? Spend 20 solid hours working on your kicks this month, and I bet there will be a huge improvement.

How about guard passing? Spend 20 hours this month practicing your guard passing with a partner, and starting every roll inside your partner’s guard. There will be a massive improvement.

Want to improve your forms? I think you get the idea…

It is normal to get frustrated with your progress, but when was the last time you spent 20 committed hours to developing or improving one skill? Next time you see an area in your life that could use some improvement, don’t whine about it. Fix it!

You don’t need the perfect workout plan or a magic diet. There usually aren’t any secrets behind the curtain, just many hours of hard work and discipline. Sometimes 20, and sometimes 10,000.

And if you haven't started your martial arts journey yet? What are you waiting for!?

3 Things to Avoid Saying to Your Training Partner

It’s hard to believe that I have been training for over ten years now!  When I first started my martial arts journey, I was an awkward seventeen-year-old who thought Jiu Jitsu would be the perfect fit for someone like me - gangly and graceless and likely to trip on air.  I figured if my training started on the ground, my lack of coordination and surplus of clumsiness wouldn’t be noticeable.  

I was right and wrong.  My lack of grace was, and is, very much noticeable, but despite this, Jiu Jitsu was perfect for me.  And from it, my love for training expanded into other areas of martial arts.

Brittany sparring with her friend and training partner, Elizabeth, at 17 years old.

Brittany sparring with her friend and training partner, Elizabeth, at 17 years old.

Now, with ten years of experience under my belt, I can say a lot has changed - both for me personally and for the dojo that I call my home. 

Personally, I have grown faster, stronger, and healthier.  I’ve received a wealth of information that has improved every aspect of my well-being, from my knowledge base and execution of techniques to mental strength and peace of mind. 

I’ve also acquired a number of valuable friendships and acquaintances over the years.  I’ve had the privilege of training with partners of every shape, size, age, gender, skill level, temperament, etc., and I deeply value the relationships that are built among training partners.  

You have the ability to learn invaluable tips and tricks from them, and the honor of returning the favor with helpful skills of your own.  Your training partner is there to help you, encourage you, and constantly challenge you.  Training with others forces us to be vulnerable (it’s how we learn and grow as martial artists!), and because of this, there is a level of mutual trust and respect that is necessary for any training partnership to be healthy and beneficial.

Many things can get in the way of a healthy training relationship - ego, pride, and hygiene are a few that come to mind - but the way we talk to and about each other is paramount when building the rapport needed to maximize our mat time.

I can speak from my own experiences, both positive and negative.  I have unfortunately put my foot in my mouth more times than I’d care to count, and I’ve also been on the receiving end of a few too many well-meaning “can you believe a girl did that?!” jokes.  From these experiences, I’d like to share a few basic comments or quips that I’d love to see leave the mat.

1. Compliments are appreciated - patronizing is not.  

Please don’t compliment your partner’s technique and then undermine it by telling them you were really/actually trying to escape or maintain the position.

While the sentiment can be appreciated, I know personally that I will always try my best in class and hope my partners will do the same.  Please follow the instructor’s directions where intensity and resistance are concerned within a specific drill.  If he or she tells you the goal is to maintain the mount, please give it your all and assume your partner expects that of you.  While there may be some exceptions, you typically won’t need to tell them.  The favor will be returned when you switch top and bottom.

2. Please do not comment about anyone’s fight/feistiness to them or anyone else.

I hate overhearing one training partner telling the other that they “have alot of fight” in them during a roll.  It’s a pet peeve of mine that might come second only to hearing someone warn the class to “watch out - she’s/he’s a feisty one!”  

Always assume that your partner’s skill has more to do with their focus, execution, and consistency in training than their feisty personality.  Your partner might have successfully landed that sweep only after weeks or even months of practice and failed attempts.  Don’t take away from their moment of success by belittling their hard work.

3. Let the instructor be the instructor. 

I know it can be hard, and it almost always comes from the best of intentions, but try to avoid coaching or teaching your training partner - especially during sparring/rolling.  When your working technique with someone, it’s natural to point out a tip you use to make something smoother or share something someone told you that helped you remember which side your blocks start on or which hand goes on top in a Palm Up - Palm Down choke, but don’t overdo it.  

Don’t spend the majority of your practice time breaking the technique down for your partner, and try not to ruin their enjoyment by pointing out too many mistakes they’re making in the technique they just learned five minutes earlier. 

Avoid slowing down the flow of a roll or the momentum of a sparring session by stopping to point out something to your partner.  Instead, try to remember the details to discuss after the training session is done so you can both get the most out of your randori.  

Something that goes hand in hand with this is focusing on your own training.  Don’t play down your partner’s recent improvements by saying things like, “looks like someone’s been getting some extra training” or “you must have learned that in a private lesson.”

Instead of making excuses for why someone’s forms might be looking sharper or why someone is suddenly having success completing all of their arm bar attempts, try taking advantage of the training opportunities that are available to you.  Try maximizing your repetitions in class as an alternative to worrying about how much mat time other people are receiving. 

Let the instructor worry about teaching and keeping track of everyone’s material while you simply enjoy the class.

At the end of the day, no matter our respective motivations, we all just want to have the best training experience possible.  In order to learn and improve, we have to help each other - as training partners, as peers, as human beings.  Communication, among other things, can help build mutually beneficial and strong relationships with our training partners and even our instructors. 

So let’s build each other up and encourage each other with our words as well as our actions!

Do you have any other comments or habits that you'd like your training partners to stop doing? Or maybe something you enjoy that you'd like to see more of? Leave me a comment below!

Self Perfection: The Key to Enjoying the Journey

My dad always says that there are two main components in martial arts training:

1. Self-Preservation (Self-Defense)

2. Self-Perfection

Number one is by far the easier of the two. Self-preservation is relatively straightforward:

Avoid the fight.

Use verbal Jiu Jitsu (see video).

Control the distance.

Hit first, hit hard, and don't stop until your opponent is no longer a threat.

Survive!

Some key components must be mastered, and of course, there will always be room for improvement, but you can learn to defend yourself fairly quickly. 

Self-Perfection is a much longer journey, and self-perfection in our everyday lives is what martial arts is all about.

Peace, Serenity, Balance, Strength, Control, Determination, Discipline, Coordination, Patience, Humility, all of these and many more are to be taught through martial arts. There is so much more to it than punches, kicks, chokes, and armbars. Through the training, we find a means to perfecting ourselves and go back into the world better spouses, parents, coworkers, friends. 

Better people!

If you are not receiving these things through your training, then you need to re-evaluate immediately.

I have been on the mat my entire life but am still and will always be “self-perfecting” on and off the mat. The key to “perfection” is to break everything down into smaller easier steps. If you can figure out how to do this, then you will work more efficiently, and enjoy the journey, no matter how long it takes.

Let's take a look at an example of how we can do this on the mat.

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I consider one of the most important concepts being to get to the top position (sweep or escape). So if I wake up tomorrow and set a goal that when I train with Joe (who has been kicking my butt every time we roll), I am going to put him in my guard, sweep him, and get the mount, then I most likely will fail. I will be frustrated, miss out on the benefits of training, and leave the mat with stress, anger, and disappointment. 

Instead, I should set the goal just to put Joe in my guard. 

Once I am successful, take it another level - this week I am going to put Joe in my guard and break his posture. 

Then, put Joe in my guard, break his posture, and sweep. 

Then, put Joe in my guard, break his posture, sweep, and control him in the mount.  

If I take this baby-step approach, I will be much more successful, enjoy my training and receive the full benefits of martial arts while always perfecting myself.

A good example of this approach off the mat is Dave Ramsey's 7 Baby Steps for taking control of your money. I learned about these in a personal finance class in high school and they truly helped shape my approach to personal finance and budgeting as I went into adulthood.

Precision Nutrition also takes this approach with nutrition and lifestyle coaching. My students that go through this 1-year program with me as their coach are slowly introduced to one habit at a time to introduce into their lifestyle and change their approach to nutrition and fitness for long-term success. It is not a diet or sudden workout plan that is put into action. It's baby steps.

Break your goals down, evaluate your training, and make the adjustments needed to ensure you are working towards self-perfection. Many times these adjustments are in our attitudes and mindsets. 

Most importantly, enjoy the journey!

Zen and the Martial Arts Way of Life

*On February 19, 2017, Linda received her Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU Kenpo at Progressive Martial Arts Academy. This was written by Linda in the preparation process.

Most people would probably agree that being in good health ranks high in things that can contribute to a happier and longer life.  So in general people may seek to adapt an exercise and or nutrition regimen to achieve this goal.  

On my personal path to becoming healthier, I began training in martial arts. The more I train, the better physically conditioned I become, my self-confidence is improved, and I feel empowered as I continue to build my self-defense skills.  

Linda performing a push up exercise with cinderblocks.

Linda performing a push up exercise with cinderblocks.

But what else can I add to achieve overall well-being? 

A few years ago, I was given a book by my instructor, my Sifu, entitled “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979).  The only thing I knew about Zen was that it included some kind of meditation and peace. Meditation was not something I incorporated into my daily life.  

After reading this book, I found that Zen is not easy to define, so it was something that intrigued me to explore further.  I can now see that employing tools and methods of Zen can enhance someone’s life in general or as part of the martial arts way of life.  

Linda receiving a promotion from her SiFu, David Corrigan.

Linda receiving a promotion from her SiFu, David Corrigan.

Originally Zen was just one way, of many, that Buddhists incorporated in their religion to attain liberation from delusion and suffering and ultimately find enlightenment.   According to “The Zen Way of Life,” (ZenBegin, 2014), Zen Buddhism originated from India in the 6th century.  It began with the Prince, Siddhartha Gautama, who left his riches and his life at the palace to embark on a spiritual journey.  He became a monk on a quest to find the real nature of all things through thought, meditation, and fasting.  He was regarded as the enlightened one, otherwise known as Buddha.  

Bodhidharma, who was one of Buddha’s successors, traveled to China to spread Buddha’s teachings, “the Dharma,” which they named Chan.  The teachings of Buddhism and even Zen already existed in China but the idea that Zen pointed directly to the mind to reveal one’s true nature was introduced.  

Bodhidharma was trying to portray the nature of emptiness, the absence of self, and the truth in everything as well as other Zen teachings to find enlightenment.  As noted in “Everything Zen Book,” (Sach & Faust, 2004), Bodhidharma was credited with being the first Zen patriarch to China and also credited with being the founder of martial arts because of the physical and spiritual training he provided to the Shaolin monks.   

In the twelfth century, Bodhidharma’s teachings on Zen spread to Japan and the Samurai Warriors.  The Japanese knew Bodhidharma as Daruma. 

After receiving her Black Belt, Linda presented a gift to her teacher and academy featuring Daruma/Bodhidharma's famous words, "To Fall Seven Times. To Rise Eight Times. Life Begins Now."

After receiving her Black Belt, Linda presented a gift to her teacher and academy featuring Daruma/Bodhidharma's famous words, "To Fall Seven Times. To Rise Eight Times. Life Begins Now."

The Samurai class used Zen to become aware of the nature of things to be able to move without hesitation in battle.  According to the “Everything Zen Book,” (Sach & Faust, 2004), there were two schools of Zen in Japan.  The Rinzai and the Soto schools which are still very prominent in Japan today.  The difference in them is the view of approaching the mind of enlightenment.  

The school of Rinzai believes Zen happens at one great moment and the Soto school believes Zen occurs in little flashes.  In Japan, Chan was pronounced Zen, and this is the name we know of today.  Although Zen meditation and its beliefs were used by Buddhists to achieve the liberation of truth, today it has evolved into so much more.  

Three Asian immigrants, Zen masters Roshi,  Harada, and Roshi Yasutani, introduced Zen Buddhism to the West.  And although there are many Americans that practice Zen Buddhism as a religion, there are also many Americans that have just adapted the principles of Zen in their everyday living to live more wisely and more fully.   

Linda with two of her training partners, Brittany and Kristie, at the Secret City Half Marathon.

Linda with two of her training partners, Brittany and Kristie, at the Secret City Half Marathon.

To the latter group, the Zen practice is more methods and tools to change a mindset and behavior to achieve enlightenment rather than a religion.  

As stated in “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979), it is interesting to see that methods and principles of Zen have become part of the martial arts way of life.  Several styles of the martial arts have the ending of “do” which means “the way” or more fully “the way to enlightenment, self- realization, or understanding.”  For example, Aikido, Judo, Taekwondo, Jeet Kune Do, etc. Zen can be thought of as a state of mind or attitude when confronting circumstances in any situation.  

So how does Zen relate to martial arts, when a martial artist is viewed as a warrior, but Zen portrays tranquility and peace?  

In actuality, the martial arts places lots of emphasis on discipline, awareness, and unity, over fighting.  The connection in the Zen and the martial arts is in the mental training. Therefore, Zen can become an invaluable tool for any martial artist.  

Linda served 6 years in the United States Navy.

Linda served 6 years in the United States Navy.

Detailed below from “The Four States of Mind,” (Roadtoepic, 2012) are just a few of the many methods and states of mind or consciousness one can practice to achieve Zen in a martial arts way of life.  Although one can read about countless ways to achieve Zen, ultimately Zen is something only one can experience intuitively.  It is not about thinking but about telling your mind to be still to attain insight.

 In Japan, the word Shoshin is referred to as “beginners mind.”  This is described as entering a situation without a preconceived notion or expectations of how the situation is going to play out.   This helps us from over thinking or over analyzing the situation. It also helps us to think outside the box and therefore be open to learning and new ideas. 

According to “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979), Bruce Lee was a student of Zen, and one of the lessons he mastered was to always approach a situation or a training session with an “empty cup” or a beginners mind.  He studied many forms of martial arts and took from each the techniques that he found useful. He was always learning because he approached things in the Shoshin state of mind.  

Linda and her son, Jared, at a PMA Christmas Party.

Linda and her son, Jared, at a PMA Christmas Party.

Zanshin is the state of mind where one is aware of their surroundings and their emotions to have more freedom in the way they choose to respond.  This translates to “remaining mind.”  One application of Zanshin in martial arts can be when you are fighting an opponent you are focused on them, but not so much that your focus takes you away from also being aware of an attacker that may be coming up from behind.  It is about achieving a focus while keeping a mental awareness with unity and flow.  

Linda and her sister, Tanairi, after running in the Ninja 5K.

Linda and her sister, Tanairi, after running in the Ninja 5K.

Another state of mind in Zen is referred to as Mushin.  Mushin can be described as having “no mind.”  One can think of it as getting to the point of doing something effortless.  A way to achieve Mushin is by practicing something to the point that it becomes automatic or second nature.   

A lot of athletes are said to experience Mushin when they are “in the zone.” When one becomes what it is they are doing, then it is thought to be in the zone, “Everything Zen Book,” (Sach & Faust, 2004).  I believe I have experienced Mushin when running but I didn’t know that is what it was. Often my mind quiets and frees itself of wandering thoughts during running, so I can embrace nature and travel for miles and miles without realizing the distance I have gone.  It is my desire that I will ultimately experience Mushin in martial arts as I spend more time in the discipline.

Linda with her husband, John, and two sons.

Linda with her husband, John, and two sons.

 One state of mind that can be beneficial in any walk of life is referred to by the Japanese as Fudoshin.  Fudoshin is described as having an immovable mind.  One is said to experience this state of mind when they can easily control themselves under the most stressful situations.    Fudoshin is attaining the ability to remain calm and collective when it seems like the world is falling apart around you. 

 I can see where being in this state of mind can also be critical when your actions can determine your survival.  For example, if there is a house fire, if one has Fudoshin they can remain in control, access the situation and act appropriately to remain unharmed.  

On February 19, 2017, Linda became the 5th female FILKENJUTSU Black Belt. Pictured from left to right: Olivia Cannon, Gracie Hall, Meg Corrigan, Madelyn Fowler, and Linda Davis.

On February 19, 2017, Linda became the 5th female FILKENJUTSU Black Belt. Pictured from left to right: Olivia Cannon, Gracie Hall, Meg Corrigan, Madelyn Fowler, and Linda Davis.

According to “Zen Living,” (Burk, 2014), “The central Zen method is Zazen or seated meditation."  Za means seated, and Zen means meditation. Zazen, when practiced regularly even daily, can be very beneficial. The mind will start to settle the longer one sits.  Beginners may start with 5 to 10 minutes but a normal classic Zazen period is 30 to 40 minutes.  Zazen can be done anywhere, but it is recommended to find a place with minimal distraction to you. It is recommended that you keep your eyes open to avoid daydreaming or drowsiness. Thoughts will come as you meditate, but it is important to let them be passing thoughts and not mull over them.  

Practicing Zazen increases the awareness of mind, building its attention muscles.  Zazen teaches you to declutter your mind and achieve serenity.  With Zazen we try to see things purely, letting go of discrimination and the subjective.  

Linda with her Black Belt Test partner, Gary Hall.

Linda with her Black Belt Test partner, Gary Hall.

In the Western culture, there are other ways people meditate that are different to Zazen.  For example, one might focus on a passage from the Bible and how we can apply the concept to our life.  Some concentrate on repeating a mantra, or some might try to set aside distractions as they focus on visualizing something. 

According to “Zen Living,” (Burk, 2014) “mindfulness is the practice of Zazen except it is done while engaging your daily activities.”  “In contrast, mindfulness is cultivating awareness during an activity; you don’t do Zazen while washing the dishes, you wash the dishes.”  It is being in the present and focusing your awareness on the action you are performing. 

Most people have trouble remembering to be mindful.  Our minds tend to wander to the past or the future and find it difficult to stay in the present.  If we are actively doing something with our body, our mind becomes active as well.  But with mindfulness, one is always taking care of everything around them, whether it be a person or a situation.   

The best way to keep in the present while meditating is to focus on your breathing.  As noted in “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979), Zen breathing is a method of controlled or focused breathing that can restore calmness, confidence, and strength.  Visualizing the air entering your body through your nose and entering the lower part of your lungs as it completely fills to the top.  Then imagine the air traveling through your body as it fills every inch of your body and before it leaves your body, you take the next breath.  One cannot force the breathing so that it is unnatural.  This type of breathing has proven to relieve anxiety, fear and even to heal our minds, bodies, and spirits.  Breathing can also be used to manage pain and provide insight into the way your body responds to different situations.  

Doing something with focus and concentration, in other words, being in the present, is a practice of Zen referred to as Kime.  It is the process of tightening the mind. Bruce Lee was quoted in “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979) with saying “A good martial artist puts his mind on one thing at a time.”   

Linda learning a Jiu Jitsu technique from her teacher.

Linda learning a Jiu Jitsu technique from her teacher.

Many times I would arrive at martial arts training, and my mind would be drifting elsewhere.  This would interfere with my mental state.  I could not give my all to the technique I was learning because my mind was not in the present.  This hindered my training because I could not retain the information when the class was over.  

I train a lot better now as I leave whatever it is at the door.  I can tell from my experience that practicing Kime helps me retain information and train with enthusiasm.  The same thing can be applied to life in general by staying in the moment of whatever task you are doing from the most mundane to spending time with the family.   
 
Practicing Zen methods and tools to adjust your attitude and find yourself in any of the Zen states of mind mentioned above can attribute to a healthier quality of life.   It is my desire that these principles that I have reflected on in regards to Zen will make their way into my daily martial arts way of life.   

Linda and SiFu David.

Linda and SiFu David.

 

Works Cited

Hyams, Joe.  Zen in the Martial Arts.  New York:  Bantam, 1979.  Print.

“The Zen Way of Life, Buddhism.” ZenBegin. 2014. Web. Feb 2017

Sach, Jacky and Jessica Faust. The Everything Zen Book. Massachusetts: F&W Publications Company, 2004. Print

Wik, Adam. “The Four States of Mind.” Roadtoepic. 22 May 2012. Web. Feb 2017

Burk, Domyo Sater. Zen Living. New York: Penguin Group, 2014. Print

Bunkai and Me

* Gary recently tested for his Black Belt in Kenpo at Progressive Martial Arts Academy and this was written during his preparation process.    

 Among the many misgivings and general sense of discomfort that a middle-aged man might have upon embarking on a journey in the martial arts, is the necessity to engage a new vocabulary. Words of foreign origin that define what you train, where you train and even what is “hidden” within your training both fascinate and intimidate at the outset. Bunkai is such a word. Mysterious and powerful, meaningful yet elusive, bunkai has been a source of curiosity to me since I began my journey. I hope this is a sign of normal human learning and not just another personal inability of mine, but the sheer volume of material that I have encountered along my path has at times left me struggling to just remember foot placement, type of strike or the orientation of my opponent. This struggle has many times prevented me from truly engaging the material in order to gain a more nuanced understanding. At times I do feel like I am moving beyond mere rote memorization of my material to a place of greater engagement and understanding, only to then again find myself mired in an inordinate preoccupation with steps and heel orientation and points of exhalation. With this in mind, any chance to learn and engage this subject with a goal of discerning a deeper meaning can only be of benefit.

Gary (pictured in middle) with some of his instructors and training partners at Progressive Martial Arts Academy.

Gary (pictured in middle) with some of his instructors and training partners at Progressive Martial Arts Academy.

     Now would be a good time for a disclaimer: I am solely a product of FILKENJUTSU-KAI. Any biases, misconceptions or flawed analysis I bring to this work are purely the result of my ignorance and relative inexperience related to the martial arts. I hold no latent loyalty to a system, house or style.

    Japanese in origin, one recognized translation of bunkai is “analysis” or “disassembly” and is most commonly used to breakdown through demonstration the techniques performed in katas to show their practical application against opponent/s. Basically put; Here is your kata, it is made up of “X” movements, let’s take movement “X” from the kata and this is the how it could be used in reality (“Bunkai”, 2016). Another source defines bunkai as meaning “application” in Japanese. It refers to a type of training, usually performed as formal one-step kumite, in which the practitioner studies the application of the individual movements performed during kata by applying them as defenses against the simulated attacks of a training partner (“Kata and Bunkai”, 2016). Still another uses “The bunkai of kata teaches us the true meaning and relevance of kata as a whole.  As stated, bunkai means application, more specifically how can I use these moves that I am practicing to devastating effect against an opponent” (“The meaning of Kata”, 2016)

Gary and his daughter, Gracie.

Gary and his daughter, Gracie.

    The definitions vary slightly, but there is often passionate disagreement as to the relevance, origins and relative importance of the concept. To this end, however, there is a consistency in the references I encountered in that they all use kata as the backdrop for the study of bunkai. A working definition of kata is, “an exercise consisting of several of the specific movements of a martial art, especially a pattern prescribed for defending oneself against several attackers, used in judo and karate training.” (“Kata”, 2017). A more nuanced meaning would have kata originating from the practice of paired attack and defense drills by ancient Chinese martial artists. However, as the numbers of attacks and defenses being practiced increased the difficulty of remembering all of the drills also increased. An additional problem with the drills was the requirement for a partner to be present for all practice. Kata forms were created as solo forms containing the concatenated sequences of movements of the defensive portions of the drills. The initial forms being simply strings of movements, sets of rules were created to allow the creation of kata which could fit comfortably within training spaces (Toguchi, 2001). 

Gary with his wife and daughter at the PMA Christmas Party this past December.

Gary with his wife and daughter at the PMA Christmas Party this past December.

    So, with kata as the backdrop for the study of bunkai, we can begin to see where those passionate voices diverge. Ian Abernathy, a prolific writer on the subjects of kata and bunkai, states “The recording of information through physical movement is probably as old as mankind itself. Ancient cultures often used sequences of physical movements as a method to pass on their culture to the next generation. Part of this culture would undoubtedly be the fighting and hunting techniques that the group had refined and found to be most successful. Since combat is a physical activity, there can be little doubt that the most effective way for an individual to learn the combative skills of the group would be to copy the physical movements of those who were more experienced. The elders would demonstrate the various combative movements and the younger members of the group would try to emulate them. These skills would eventually be further refined and then passed on to subsequent generations. It is in this way that the first ‘katas’ would have been created.(Abernathy, 2012.) He records that during the 11th century, a number of Japanese warriors fleeing from the Taira-Minamoto wars made their way to Okinawa. Many of the Minamoto samurai took Okinawan wives and remained upon the island for the rest of their days. The bujitsu (specializations to the combat arts practiced by the military class prior to roughly 1600) of the Minamoto samurai had a large influence on the fighting methods employed by the Okinawan nobles. One part of Minamoto bujitsu that had an influence on the development of karate was the idea that all motion is essentially the same. Whether striking, grappling or wielding a weapon, the Minamoto samurai taught that all combative methods relied upon similar physical movements (like a left lead holding escrima sticks where the shoulder, hip and foot movement would be the same as in boxing. Lessons learned in parking lots are often the one’s that stick with you the best). An individual would be taught a particular physical movement and would then be shown how that movement could be adapted to achieve varying goals. The results of this combat philosophy can still be seen in modern day karate. It is not uncommon to see a single movement in a kata to be given several different applications. This use of multiple applications, whilst sometimes controversial, is historically correct. By affording a movement multiple applications the founders of what became known as karate ensured that great amounts of information could be contained in katas of a manageable length. The use of multiple applications also helps ensure a quick response in combat. This is because the practitioner has not learned many different movements for many different situations, which is extremely undesirable as the brain will have to sift through large amounts of information before being able to determine the appropriate movement. Instead, the practitioner will have learnt a relatively small number of movements that can be applied to many situations. (Goodin, 2006)

Gary and his SiFu (teacher), David Corrigan.

Gary and his SiFu (teacher), David Corrigan.

    I believe it can be said that Abernathy feels the movements made available/practical by the kata are the bunkai contained within. Could he in fact be stating that the bunkai of the kata is the platform for movement that could be applied directly to fighting/combat, not any particular movements themselves? This supposition is buttressed by the writing of Schmeisser who states that “in the west we tend to use the word "bunkai" as a blanket term for kata applications. This is actually an incorrect usage of the Japanese word. Literally translated,  the term bunkin karate kata refers to solo practice drills in China and Okinawa where these drills were practiced much like the scene from Enter the Dragon, where each person is amassed and executes the actions in unison. This was an Asian form of drill & ceremony for older times, Western armies used marching. Likewise, the kata could be practiced by individuals alone and was a form of moving meditation, physical exercise and a "text book" for martial arts where bunkai (literally "to disassemble") is used to analyze the form to discover alternative applications and techniques. Here a single form taught lower ranking soldiers might have a totally different meaning to the initiated higher ranking soldiers. Kata Bunkai has three ways of viewing Kata... Omote is literally "surface" so Kata Bunkai Omote is the first form of initiation, the surface application of the form that would be taught to the lowest ranking of soldiers. At the Omote level what you see is what you get, a punch is a punch, a kick a kick and block a block. Here kata forms the process of exercise and teaching basic fighting techniques.

An American military family. Gary's daughter, Gracie (also PMA Black Belt), pictured in top left is in the Air Force ROTC, his wife, Kat, is pictured top right and was a graduate of West Point, and Gary is pictured in the middle of the bottom photo with his son, Nate (US Army), and father who is a retired Navy warrant officer.

An American military family. Gary's daughter, Gracie (also PMA Black Belt), pictured in top left is in the Air Force ROTC, his wife, Kat, is pictured top right and was a graduate of West Point, and Gary is pictured in the middle of the bottom photo with his son, Nate (US Army), and father who is a retired Navy warrant officer.

    In our ancient Asian army we would have our "NCOs" (Non-Commissioned Officers) or "Sergeants" (if you are a civilian) who would be initiated into the Ura Bunkai, Ura literally means "Behind" and it is what is behind the form. Here techniques are not just techniques, a Juji-uke (cross block) and pivot may be a trap and break or throw. This is the "secret" teaching of the kata. And finally our last level of initiation is for our "Officers" this is called Honto Bunkai. Honto literally means "true" or "truth" for the largest part, and because few Karateka wrote down their teachings much of Honto Bunkai has been lost to history, but this is where the intentionally "hidden secrets" in kata are laid bare. 

     So in our ancient context, bunkai actually means analysis of a subject by detailed dissection or disassembly of the whole. In practice, when we suggest possible applications of the techniques, we are actually discussing "oyo" or possible examples. The term "bunkai" would then suggest that we are taking a kata apart, analyzing the movements and then attempting to discover all the possible applications. This attitude is important when practicing kata bunkai: there is never just one possible application, just numerous applications of which some are most likely best.”  (Schmeisser, 1999)

    Deliniations or stratifications of bunkai are found throughout the subject writings. It would seem that the classification is level is determined by the experience level of the practitioner. An interesting take on this delineation is offered up by Collins, “Many times throughout history in both Okinawa and China this level of initiation was used due to armies having conscripted soldiers. Many of the documents which survived to present day are written in a form of metaphor that served as a code. Understanding these metaphors was part of the Honto Bunkai level of teaching though not directly related to Kata where strategy and tactics could be concealed in the form at the Honto level. One claiming to know the secret codes would have to be initiated at various levels. This of course is like an ancient form of security clearance. That prevented misuse of knowledge by those who would seek to overthrow their leaders” (Collins, 2014).

     Another take has the levels of bunkai taking on an ordinal ranking. Level I is the simplest and most apparent. It is always singular in range. Striking, blocking and kicking rule the understanding of this level. Strength and speed along with emotional involvement occur. Level II involves basic combinations, plural in scope. The techniques begin to link discovery of technical continuity. Level III is the advanced or compound combination. Himitsu, unseen movements, become apparent at the physical level. Level IV is where internal and external consciousness begins. The overall picture forms on all levels. Personal perceptiveness and development occur. Level V is concerned with internal manifestation and the transition of secret knowledge. At this level one experiences wholeness, Chi and true spiritual wisdom. Levels I-III can be taught, IV and V must be experienced (“Levels of Understanding Karate and Bunkai”, 2015).

     Jesse Enkamp breaks this stratification down along similar lines, but with more of a modern practitioner bent. He believes greater commitment and engagement is what affords someone the enlightenment to move beyond Omo to the Honto level of bunkai, not purely someone’s place in the hierarchy.  It would seem that he is promoting willingness over necessity, seeking over finding (Enkamp,          )     

FILKENJUTSU KAI's most recent Black Belt candidates, Gary Hall and Linda Davis.

FILKENJUTSU KAI's most recent Black Belt candidates, Gary Hall and Linda Davis.

    As a black belt candidate, I have benefited greatly from the opportunity to research a particular facet of the martial arts. The Venturi tube of physical preparation required for the test (practicing material, physical conditioning) doesn’t necessarily lend itself to studious thought and research into something beyond the reach of the fist or foot.  My research into bunkai has provided me a great opportunity to seek answers to some questions, but more importantly, I think, it has generated tenfold more.

Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! 'Have courage to use your own reason!'- that is the motto of enlightenment.      ― Immanuel Kant
Absorb what is useful, discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own. - Bruce Lee
Gary, with some of his PMA family on a hike in the Fall of 2015.

Gary, with some of his PMA family on a hike in the Fall of 2015.

     My academy, dojo, Family, does not countenance hubris or self-aggrandizement. As it is, the path is too long, the way too humbling to sustain these feelings. Rather, my journey has presented me with a canvas onto which I have been able to realize a better me through work, and a sincere desire to improve. The years have passed so quickly; a rush of relationships, experiences and emotions that I didn’t think at my age and station in life I would have the opportunity to experience again. I remember distinctly my emotions as I took my first step onto the mat: excitement, trepidation, curiosity.  The intervening years have brought joy, satisfaction, frustration, and a true concern for the well-being of my friends and training partners (which to the outsider seems incongruous because of what we do to and with each other on a regular basis). Now, 5 years later, as I prepare to step onto the mat for the latest challenge in my journey, my emotions are still: excitement, trepidation, curiosity.  My SiFu posed this question some time ago: Do you consider yourself a martial artist? I remember being confused and very uncertain as to how I felt, thinking that I didn’t know what level of competence was necessary to answer in the affirmative. As I write this, the indecision is gone, replaced by a quiet, but firm confidence. I do consider myself a true martial artist, not because of reaching some arbitrary skill level, but because of how my training makes me feel and the lessons I have learned on the mat that carry over to the rest of my life. Patience, greater empathy toward others, and an honest appraisal of my inabilities are all direct byproducts of my training. I have learned to be more at peace with these inabilities being acceptable parts of me, and while always wanting to improve, I feel I am now better equipped to enjoy the process without an eye towards the “bottom line”.

 Liberating. 

Bunkai: to analyze a kata. FILKENJUTSU-KAI: to analyze one’s self.

Gary and his Black Belt candidate partner, Linda Davis, after receiving their Black Belts on February 19, 2017.

Gary and his Black Belt candidate partner, Linda Davis, after receiving their Black Belts on February 19, 2017.

 

Works Cited

Abernathy, Ian. Bunkai-Jitsu: The Practical Application of Karate Kata.NETH Publishing. 2012. Print.

“Bunkai”. Shotokan Karate Training. 2015. Web. 17 January 2017.

Collins, Ron. Black Dragon Ninjitsu. Lilu.com. 2014. Print.

Enkamp, Jesse. “The 3 types of Bunkai (Omote, Ura & Honto).” KaratebyJesse. 2016. Web. 1 February 2017.

Goodin, Charles C. “The Why of Bunkai: A guide for beginners”. Classical Fighting Arts, Issue 8, 2006. Print.

“Kata”. Dictionary.com. 2017. Web. 17 January 2017.

“Kata and Bunkai”. Kyokushin-Kan International Honbu. 1 December 2016. Web. 27 January 2017.

“Levels of Understanding Karate and Bunkai”. World Sansei Karate and Kobudo. 2015. Web. 4 February 2017.

Schmeisser, Elmar. Bunkai: The Secrets of Karate kata. Damashi Publications, 1999. Print

“The Meaning of Kata”. Seishin Shotokan Karate. 2011. Web. 27 January 2017.

Toguchi, Seikichi. Okinawan Goju-Ryu II: Advanced Techniques of Shorei-Kan Karate. Black Belt Communications, 2001. Print.

Confidence vs. Overconfidence

In most athletic endeavors or any endeavor for that matter, mastering the fundamentals is probably the most important thing you can spend your time doing. The difficulty is that this isn't usually the most exciting activity. However, it does pay off in the end.

One of my favorite examples of this is Peyton Manning, and he is a legend here in East Tennessee so his story resonates well. You can find a video of Peyton practicing the same footwork drills in high school at Isidore Newman School, in college at the University of Tennessee, in the NFL while playing for the Indianapolis Colts, and at the end of his career before winning the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos. He stayed committed to the basics throughout his whole career no matter how many records he had broken and understood the game as good or better than anyone to ever play. 

Sometimes it's easy to look at someone that is at an elite level and assume that they got there because of luck or some natural talent. And while those things certainly help, you will often find a bunch of hard work and a commitment to basics as well.

You will experience difficulty with sticking to basics though because as you begin to master them and have success, there is a tendency to become overconfident. You may start to tell yourself that you have mastered them and don't need to work on them anymore. When it comes to physical movements, though, once you reach a level of mastery, you must maintain it. 

Think back to the last time you saw an undefeated team or athlete come out, play sloppy, and have their first loss handed to them by someone who is obviously not as talented. How does this happen? Sometimes they just had a bad night, but often overconfidence has snuck in, and they may have stopped doing some of the things that helped them achieve their position in the first place.

Check out this video of one of the kids on my Youth Brazilian Jiu Jitsu team. This particular student stays driven throughout the duration of every practice. If I tell him to practice the technique 100 times, then he will do it 100 times without question. In fact, he did just that with this basic armbar from the guard. 

My student, Connor, is the one in the black gi. You will see him control the posture of the kid on top of him, using his arms and legs to keep his opponent close. Then he will pull one arm across the centerline, pivot his hips, and pass a leg over the head of his opponent. This movement puts him in a position to break/hyperextend his opponent's arm and the other kid taps out to avoid injury. I also love that he applies the submission carefully not to harm the other child, and immediately gets up to console his opponent afterward. The genuine spirit of a martial artist is demonstrated here.

He is a white belt in this video, and this is his first tournament, but he trained hard and stayed committed to practicing the basics during class every day. Now as he advances, I will be curious to see if I can keep him as committed to his foundation as he was before this first tournament. 

The fun thing with kids is they believe in the technique right off the bat, whereas adults can often be skeptical. Adults tend to wonder if the move works or if the movement will work for them, and they hesitate, not trying or committing, and thus, failing. 

So in your practice, seek to walk this line between confidence and overconfidence. Stay committed to the basics, and it will increase your confidence. Master the fundamentals! And hey, maybe even try to act like a kid sometimes!

Meet the Candidates

In May of 2016, two of PMA's Filkenjutsu students, Gary Hall and Linda Davis, were selected as Black Belt candidates and have since been preparing for their Black Belt Test. The date is set for Friday, February 17 - Sunday, February 19, 2017.

Check out these videos from earlier in their training to meet the candidates and learn a little more about their stories.

Gary Hall - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nuDqrrH3fU

These Black Belt Candidates hope to have their friends and family on Sunday, February 19th witness their ceremony and take part in a luau to celebrate this tremendous achievement.

The final day of the test is a public demonstration of their acquired skills, and all of those in attendance will serve as witnesses to the promotion. Students are encouraged to attend with their friends and family members (adults and children) to observe the final day of this incredible journey.

Details and Reserve Your Seats - https://goo.gl/eeabvN

The Black Belt Problem

If you haven’t had the chance yet, I recommend you take a minute to read my post on “The Importance of the Black Belt.” Go ahead; I’ll wait here.

The Importance of the Black Belt

Okay, now that we’ve discussed a few of the reasons that earning your Black Belt is important, I’d like to talk about “The Black Belt Problem.”

Goals can be fantastic tools for helping us achieve things in our lives. Setting a goal weight helps people stay on track with their health and fitness when tempted by delicious foods and laziness. Setting a financial goal helps people stay on track with their budget when tempted by the latest gadget or desire to go out to eat. Setting your sights on Black Belt helps people keep showing up class after class when laziness, doubt, fear, and frustration start to creep into our training. And if those things haven’t crept into your training yet, just wait. They will.

Goals can be incredibly useful. Many times the temptations and distractions listed above will take us off course when it comes to our goals, but the desire to reach that goal will help us get back on track.

But what happens when you reach your goal?

Many people that use dieting or fitness plans to reach a goal weight end up back where they started a few months later.

Many people that reach a savings goal end up back in debt and spending out of control briefly after reaching their goals.

Many people that achieve their Black Belt will not be consistently training a few years after they’ve arrived at this significant milestone.

Spending some time thinking on this is maybe one of the most important things you can do to improve your quality of life in all areas. Let’s ditch those other two examples and focus on the Black Belt example for the rest of this post, but just fill in the blank, and you may find that understanding “The Black Belt Problem” can help you understand other areas of difficulty in your life also.

Why does this happen? Well for starters, one of the things that keeps you coming back is that feeling that you get every time you receive a promotion. We don’t want to fall behind, we are eager to earn our next rank, and this keeps us motivated to get to class. When this goes away, feelings of laziness, doubt, and frustration are much harder to overcome because there is less incentive to be in class now. 

The training isn’t any different after you reach your Black Belt. You continue to learn new material, you continue to be pushed physically, and there is still massive room for improvement. My father always said that your martial arts training was analogous to building a house. The training from white to black belt is the process of gathering all of the tools and supplies that you are going to need to build the house and getting all of the preparatory work done. Once you receive your Black Belt, the house still needs to be built and then maintained and lived in!

You know a good majority of the “how” to do things and are now learning the “why” and what makes the techniques work. You now learn the little nuances and learn to teach others which deepens your knowledge of the art (more on this later). You now begin to personalize your training or as Bruce Lee stated:

Research your own experiences for the truth.
Absorb what is useful.
Reject what is useless.
Add that which is specifically your own.

Because the truth in combat is different for each individual.

I can’t even express the difference in myself, or some of the other Black Belts that I know have maintained consistent training after Black Belt between when we received our Black Belts and now. In comparison, I feel as if the amount of growth between White and Black Belt may be smaller than the amount of growth between when I received my Black Belt and now. I am learning new things every day both in training with my teachers and in teaching my students.

So if learning and growth are still happening, why do so many stop training?

This is not the case for every Black Belt that falls off along the way, but for many, it could simply be because the physical sign of progress (a new belt or rank) is not present.

Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition calls this phase in his nutrition and lifestyle coaching program, “The Grind.” It’s the place we reach when maybe the number on the scale doesn’t quite move as quickly as we’d like. We are still eating the right foods, doing the right exercises, and becoming healthier individuals or maintaining a level of health previously achieved but we don’t have that physical proof of the number on the scale showing us how good we are doing.

Let’s say you reach your goal weight. Congratulations, now just keep doing what you are doing over and over again for the rest of your life. It’s not super exciting. That’s why it’s so important that you reach your goal by doing things that you are comfortable with doing forever.

So you’ve made it to Black Belt? Congratulations, now just keep training forever. While this isn’t the most exciting thing to hear, it is a magnificent thing. It is a very healthy thing.You are now working towards becoming a master at a skill that is treasured and respected. You are maintaining all of the skills that you’ve acquired along the way in case you ever need them. And you are continuing to receive the multitude of benefits that martial arts provide for the rest of your life: stress relief, focus, fun, exercise, peace of mind, humility, respect, discipline, camaraderie, I could keep this going all day.

So how do you combat “The Black Belt Problem” or “The Grind”?

I’ll give you a couple of ideas, but mostly you just need to embrace it. This is a good place to be, so enjoy it!

Find your “why.” Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why - which became a best-selling book in the business world, writes about business and great leaders inspiring action in others by focusing on the why of what they are doing. 

Most businesses and people can quickly answer the question of “what” they are doing or even “how” they are doing it. But the ones that know “why” they are doing it can speak to their audience in a way that sparks action and loyalty.

You need to know why you are training. It may have changed since you began your martial arts journey. The most common answers on our students’ applications when they start training are things like "get in shape" or "learn to defend myself." Those may be part of the reason they continue training, but by the time they make it to Black Belt the answer usually evolves into something like:

“Training martial arts helps me to know more fully who I am.” 

“Training helps me reach my potential and be the best version of myself.”

“When I’m on the mat, I'm where I belong. It makes me happy and brings joy to the other areas of my life.”

“Training martial arts helps bring clarity and perspective to my personal life and my career.”

So dig a little deeper than those surface answers and get down to the bottom of your why. Check out Simon’s TED talk if you haven’t seen it before (which has now been viewed over 30 million times).

https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

You also cannot ignore the evidence that the martial artists with the most success when it comes to longevity and continuous training throughout their life are usually teaching martial arts in some way. For some, it has become their full-time occupation as it is for me. For others, it may be something they do a few hours per week. Some may just teach a friend or family member one day or assist in classes at their dojo. Regardless, the value added to your life by passing on this gift to others is one of the most inspiring things you may ever do. That alone can keep you on track with your journey.

It doesn’t matter so much where you find your motivation. Whether it’s from within because you know your why, or you are externally motivated by inspiring and guiding others, just keep training. Build a habit of getting up and getting on the mat no matter what life throws at you; it will always be worth it. 

If you are a Black Belt, but something has been getting in the way of your training, I encourage you just to take that step to get back on the mat. Forget about how out of shape you are or how much you have forgotten, don’t let doubt, fear, or frustration ruin one of the greatest treasures in your life. 

Remember “to fall seven times, to rise eight times; life begins now.” We have a clean slate policy and know that these things burden every martial artist. You aren’t the first and definitely won’t be the last (though I hope this post helps decrease that number), so don’t stress about it. You are the only one stopping you. You just have to decide to do it. Ready, go!

If you are on the path to Black Belt, don’t be afraid to set that goal, just remember what comes later. Don’t be in a rush to get there. Enjoy the process and all of the benefits of training. Let that be what keeps you coming back, instead of the excitement of promotions. 

Enjoy the promotions as they are a fantastic sign of your progress, just don’t let them be your sole motivation. I can’t wait for you to get your Black Belt and experience that joy, but more importantly to keep training and to live the Martial Arts Way of Life for the long haul. 

When you reach the stage that training is just part of what you do every day for no other reason than it is a part of you, it is incredible.

The Importance of the Black Belt

"You know the belt isn't really that important to me."

"The belt just holds the gi together!"

"I'm not interested in earning rank; I just want to get better."

On the surface, these thoughts and ideas may sound okay. Heck, you may have even said some of these things yourself at some point. And that's okay. I'm not going to tell you that these thoughts are bad or wrong. Let's talk about why the Black Belt is so important, however.

Having your instructor recognize your abilities and tie the Black Belt around your waist will probably rank up there as one of the proudest moments of your life. Earning your Black Belt from a legitimate martial arts instructor means that you have reached a certain level of skill and someone with expertise in that field acknowledged it. Without the belt, this level of competence can be difficult to distinguish and leave a student wondering if they have ever reached a level of mastery. 

While being validated by another is not necessarily crucial to continuous growth and enjoyment in an activity - it can certainly help.

Let's talk for a second about why we should learn from an instructor in the first place? Why not just try to figure it out on our own?

Finding a qualified expert in any field to guide you at least through your initial steps on your journey isn't so much necessary as it just saves you a lot of time and headache. By finding a good instructor with a legitimate lineage in the art you want to train in, who is skilled in the art of teaching, you get to learn from the successes and failures from not just your instructor, but all of those that came before him on the family tree.

This assumes that the art was taught well from person to person. If one martial artist in your branch of the tree split off to start instructing others before he learned the necessary skills from his teacher, it breaks down this continuous learning stream from the people before you to you. Virtually it's as if this person that went off on their own started a new tree because you are no longer learning all of the successes and failures of this person's ancestors. He didn't stick around long enough to learn them!

Imagine if an island popped up in the middle of the ocean. It is inhabited by people who have never had any experiences or contact with the rest of the world. Now imagine that this island declares war on the United States. Fortunately for us, they would not stand a chance. They haven't even discovered how to make fire yet, let alone all of the military weapons, technology, scientific discoveries, strategy, logistics, etc. that we (both the USA and humanity in general) have learned over the years. They couldn't even get to us for probably thousands of years because they won't have boats, airplanes, etc. In fact, they wouldn't even have declared war because they don't know we exist yet. You get the idea.

That is one reason to study history - we can learn from the successes and failures of those that came before us and hopefully not make the same mistakes (hopefully being the key word there).

All martial arts were made-up at some point. But if you choose to start making something up now, it is HIGHLY unlikely that you would figure out all of the techniques and strategies that have proven to be the most effective and efficient ways to fight by all of the various arts and instructors that have advanced us to where we are today.

That is why we learn from someone else. When I teach a technique today, I know that what I can teach to someone in 1 hour is the result of many years of hard work and trial-and-error from myself and those that came before me. If we continue to uphold strong traditions and standards for our Black Belts and Instructors, then the arts we teach will continue to progress, rather than deteriorate (as we've seen so many arts do).

Therefore, choose an instructor who meets the following qualifications:

1. Is an accomplished martial artist in the art you wish to study. A caveat to this one would be to make sure that the instructor and/or those that came before him have tested this art in battle if combat effectiveness is important to you.
2. Originates from a legitimate lineage of other successful martial artists in the art you want to study (which means it should trace back to where the art originated or else someone along the line just made it up).
3. They are continuously training, growing, and honing their own martial arts skills, physical fitness levels, and lifestyle outside of the academy.
4. Their philosophy and approach to the art make sense to you.
5. Their approach to training makes sense in your situation (age, physical limitations, available time, family status), and their focus will be on training YOU.

It sure helps if they are smart, kind, inspiring, and have any other positive attributes you can think of!

Another importance of the Black Belt is confidence. No matter how many times someone tells us not to compare ourselves to others, we cannot help but judge our abilities by the people around us. 

Assuming you are not the top dog in your group of training partners, this can be frustrating. It often can feel like we are not making progress because the people around us are also making progress. So if in a group of 10 people you are number 10 in skill level, you might train for ten years and still be number 10 in that group of individuals. As you look around, all you see is that the people you are training with are better than you!

That is where your instructor and your rank come into play. There is not one standard for Black Belt. Each student is unique and has an individual set of strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. A student that begins training at 70 years old can earn their Black Belt, but physically may not be able to do the same things as someone that starts training at 20 years old. The Black Belt ultimately comes down to some degree of understanding of the art, and a level of ability determined by where that person started and their potential.

If you have chosen an instructor that meets the qualifications above and is upholding their standards, then you can have confidence in your teacher's assessment of your abilities. When you make it to Black Belt, you truly have made it to Black Belt, and that confidence gained is invaluable.

What if you are number 1 in that group of 10 students? It will be necessary that you have faith in your teacher's experience and judgment. If you look around the room and see that you are of a higher skill than those that you are training with, that doesn't make you a black belt.  

You have to trust your teacher to advance you on your journey, and in the meantime, you should put all of your efforts on making the people around you better. You aren't the first person to be in this position, and your instructor will know how to keep you improving. In the process of doing so, your skill will increase significantly by helping those around you, and the experience will be truly rewarding. 

Remember that the undefeated, number one ranked boxer in the world probably is number one in his gym too. He has confidence in his coach who helped him get to this level, and his trust, loyalty, and relationship to that person is hopefully an important thing to him at that point. 

What if you are somewhere in the middle of that group of 10 students? Well, you have it made! That doesn't mean your training will be easy, but it does mean that you're in a good position of having people that you are "better" than, people around your skill level, and people that are "better" than you. That gives you the best of everything!

I could go on about the benefits of training martial arts, and achieving your Black Belt, but I will stop here and leave you with this:

We are slowly losing the value of working hard for many years and learning a skill in our society. The feeling you will get when you achieve your Black Belt after so many years of hard work will make choosing to train martial arts one of the best things you do in your life. I promise!

Coming up soon, we'll discuss the problems with the Black Belt. Unfortunately, many who achieve this level then lose motivation and quit their training. We'll talk about why and how you hopefully can keep this from happening!

Bottoms Up!

Let's talk about drinking!

Water is the most abundant substance in your body and makes up 55 to 75 percent of your weight. Drinking enough of it is not only vital to your health or any good exercise program, but it is also one of the most neglected aspects of health and fitness.

Are you unsure about how much you should be drinking? Use the following formula from the ISSA to find out how much water you should be drinking and starting today, make it happen!

Multiply your weight (in pounds) by the appropriate need factor to arrive at your recommended water intake in ounces. It is recommended to drink water about 8 to 12 times per day. So divide your recommended water intake by about 10 and that would tell you how many ounces should be in each glass of water that you drink.

Need Factors
0.5 - Sedentary (No Training)
0.6 - Light Training or Jogging
0.7 - Moderate Training 3x/week
0.8 - Moderate Daily Training
0.9 - Heavy Training Daily
1.0 - Heavy Training Daily with Weights and Aerobic Training (2-a-days)

For example: Someone that trains martial arts 3x/week and weighs 150 pounds should drink about 10 10oz. glasses of water per day.

Now, get drinking! Water, that is...