What Style Do You Teach?

This is probably the second most popular question from prospective students walking into a dojo, second only to "How much do you charge?". At Progressive Martial Arts Academy, the easy answer to "What style do you teach?" is simple - Kenpo. At the heart of our method of teaching (FILKENJUTSU) is Kenpo. The thing is with Kenpo though, when you trace our lineage back to where our family of Kenpo (KAJUKENBO) got started, you find that even then they recognized one "style" didn't cut it. Hence the name KAJUKENBO, which is an acronym for many styles integrated into their method of teaching - KArate, JUdo and JUjitsu, KENpo, and Chinese BOxing.

While KAJUKENBO got started before Bruce Lee's heyday, Bruce Lee was a major contributor, if not the main contributor, to this idea of not being confined by your "style." Around his personal emblem or logo that he used for his method of teaching (Jeet Kune Do) were the words "using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation." He was one of the first to forget about trying to decide which "style" was better and just train to be the best martial artist you can be. This was the founding belief my father had behind both our method of teaching, FILKENJUTSU, and the name of our academy, Progressive Martial Arts.

So the next time you are talking to a friend, coworker, or family member and they ask what style of martial arts that you train in, you have to make a choice: "Should I give them the easy answer or the real answer?" Either one is okay! Decide which one they want to hear, and go with that. If you have the time to explain the above and tell them about all of the "styles" involved in our method of teaching, that's great. If not, just go with the easy answer and tell them Kenpo, Karate, Jiu Jitsu or something along those lines.

And if they have 30 minutes to spare, you can send them to the PMAOakRidge YouTube channel to watch my family's presentation on our method of teaching. Here it is if you haven't seen it yet:

Gracie Hall: Why I Train Martial Arts

I train martial arts for many reasons: self-defense, fitness, strength, and countless other benefits training provides. The main reason I continued training, though, is that it gives me something to live and work hard for. Besides my loving family and good health and fortune, much of my life has been unstable. My military family moved around a lot, and I never really knew where I fit in or what I was a part of. Sometimes, I’ve even thought I wasn’t good at anything. I have felt like a disappointment in the shadow of my incredible older brother, I’ve felt worthless when being used by boys who made me uncomfortable, I’ve had a terrible self-image, I've struggled with my faith, and I've felt lost.

I used to find stability in terrible, unhealthy ways, and I became someone I wasn’t proud of. In fact, martial arts came to me when I was at my lowest point, and everything changed. Training renewed my entire perspective, not only letting me become someone I love, but also showing me that this person had been there all along. It gave me a much better self-image, confidence, pride, and something I know I am good at, and will only improve in time. Most importantly, it gave me something to have faith in, and something to let me know it’s okay to have faith in myself.

Martial arts training is my stability, because even if I won’t always be able to physically train, the morals, principles, and confidence they teach are ways of living that I can believe in. Martial arts are a way of life, PMA is a family, and I am someone so lucky to be a part of it, it really saved my life.

Fitting Down the Chimney Is Overrated Anyway

In the midst of the holidays, temptation is everywhere.  Decadent desserts like pumpkin or pecan pies, fruit cake (yuck), king cake, and cookies of every kind.  Holiday treats like figgy pudding (again, yuck), candy canes, and hot wassail.  Traditional favorites such as honey ham, bread everyway it can be kneaded, baked, and buttered, and potatoes – mashed, baked, fried, au gratin, julienne, sweet, and boiled.  Stockings full of candies and chocolates.   Mugs overflowing with hot cocoa and marshmallows (why have one without the other).  Frosty glasses of holiday punch.  Like I said, temptation is everywhere.

So what can be done this holiday season to avoid the scrumptious delicacies peeking out from every store window and hiding in every relative’s kitchen corner?

The answer is simple (at least to me).  Nothing.

You don’t need to go back and re-read that last line.  You read it right the first time.  I don’t want you to avoid the delicious and decidedly un-nutritious holiday treats we all love so much (because where’s the fun in that).  Instead, I want you to enjoy those holiday treats…I just want you to be smart about it.

Don’t worry; this isn’t a trick.  I’m serious.  Like many of you, I’m only human, and I enjoy every chestnut and cherry cordial I pop in my mouth between Black Friday and New Years.  I have no intention of giving up the satisfying warmth of a peppermint mocha on a cold day to spare a few pounds in the long run.

I am more than a number on a scale.  I am a daughter who loves baking and eating Christmas cookies with my family – hands covered in powder, hearts full of love.  I am a friend who enjoys nothing more than a marshmallow eating contest at a holiday party – cheeks full to bursting with puffs of pure sugar.

I am more than a size on a pair of jeans.  I am a memory maker, and I am going to enjoy every minute of this life that I live even if it means wearing my stretchy pants from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day.

That being said, I want to share with you three tricks of the trade to help slow the gaining of those very thoughtful holiday pounds that keep us warm every winter.  They’re easy and painless, I promise.  Are you ready?

1. Have a little self-control.

Do not refrain from eating a piece of fully loaded pecan pie complete with ice cream and whipped cream.  Instead, refrain from eating the entire pie.

Enjoy, thoroughly, one large piece with all of the fixings, but don’t go back for seconds…or thirds…or fifths.  You can still enjoy all of your favorite foods while making good (or at least good-ish) choices.

2. Eat until you’re sluggish, but don’t actually be sluggish.

Get up and get going.  Don’t neglect your physical fitness during the holidays.  Spend at least fifteen minutes a day getting your heart rate up.

This isn’t as hard as you might think.  With all that time spent with family, get them up and moving with you.  Go outside (in a coat) and throw a football around with your brother.  Give a piggyback ride to your niece or crawl around the floor with your newest nephew.

This next one is my favorite.

3. Don’t drink your calories.

I’m not telling you to cut back on your holiday beverage of choice (remember, I’m a peppermint mocha kind of girl).  I’m simply suggesting that you limit yourself to one cup of Irish Cream at the party.  Try replacing soft drinks with water.  Use fresh juice in your holiday punch.  Make your cocoa with skim milk.

We can easily cut out a few calories and a few buckets of sugar by changing what we drink this holiday season.

This year, as you sit down with friends and family, in your extra stretchy yoga pants, to stuff your face with your favorite Christmas goodies, remember these simple tips.  Enjoy!

The Real Octagon

One book that should be on every martial artist’s bookshelf is “In Search of Kenpo” by James Mitose. Even if you have never trained Kenpo and don’t plan on it, this is a collection of Japanese stories that teach many great martial arts lessons. Many of our readers however are Kenpo students and will value these stories even more!

I just finished reading this book to my Junior Leadership team and they loved the whole thing. I personally enjoyed re-reading “Appendix II” at the back of the book. If you’re like most readers, the stuff at the back of the book often gets skipped, but in this instance, it is worth the time - kind of like the end of a Marvel movie.

“Appendix II” is a detailed explanation of the Kosho Family Crest. This crest is the symbol of the Kosho Kenpo system, the system that James Mitose (and therefore most Kenpo students in the United States) will trace back to. The crest is fairly involved and the appendix breaks down every symbol within it, but I’m going to focus on one piece - the octagon found inside the circle.

The author writes that “the octagon represents the eight aspects of the Kosho Kenpo system:

  1. Energy Collection
  2. Meditation
  3. Philosophy
  4. Japanese Yoga
  5. Proper Nutrition, consisting of proper diet, healing arts and herbs
  6. Kenpo arts of punching, kicking and self defense techniques
  7. Push-Pull arts (Judo and Jiu Jitsu)
  8. Jumping patterns which permit escape from danger with no physical contact (evasions)”

I think this view of martial arts should be taken on by all teachers, no matter the style. This is a holistic approach that will develop a true martial artist. This is the “Martial Arts Way of Life.” How sad to think that at many dojos only number 6 (striking arts) is taught. Then due to the popularity of Jiu Jitsu, in some schools only number 7 is taught. And in the rare instance that the two are taught together, the other 6 may be missing. As you can see, Kenpo was intended to be taught alongside Jiu Jitsu and the other 6 items outlined above!

Another one of Grandmaster Mitose’s books is titled “What is Self Defense? (Kenpo Jiu Jitsu).” Again notice that Kenpo and Jiu Jitsu are together and presented as one method - Kenpo Jiu Jitsu, not Kenpo and Jiu Jitsu. This was taught along with developing a healthy lifestyle and striving to be the best possible version of yourself. We love this concept and have reorganized the categories above with some slight modifications:

  1. Health/Fitness
  2. Meditation
  3. Philosophy/Mindset
  4. Yoga/Stretching
  5. Nutrition and Health
  6. The Stand Up Arts
  7. The Grappling Arts
  8. Self Defense

If you want to pick up “In Search of Kenpo,” the back of the book lists a price of $6.95, but my last Amazon search listed a used copy for $75! And “What is Self Defense? (Kenpo Jiu Jitsu)” will be well over $100. But worth it!

We’ve had a logo drawn up for this blog that integrates the octagon with the red and black color scheme on the cover of "In Search of Kenpo." While most people will make the UFC connection, our readers will now know the real meaning. Do you like it?


Why I Train Martial Arts

I don't remember ever making conscious choices to train martial arts when I was growing up. It was just something that my family did. I cannot remember a time that I was not training martial arts, or that my older brother Nick wasn't training, or that either of my parents weren't training. I come from a family of martial artists. When it is something you have always known, it is part of who you are, and to not train makes you feel like something is missing. And it is! It wasn't until high school that I started to really ask myself why I was training. Questions about my future led me more and more to meditate on my motive to keep training.

What are you going to do when you graduate high school? What are you going to major in? What are you going to do when you graduate college? What do you want to do? Who do you want to be?

Thousands and thousands of kids just graduated high school last month and are being asked the above questions over and over again. The worst part is that most of them don't know and this will stress them out. I didn't know either.

But one of the first times I remember realizing how important training and teaching martial arts were to me was when I was a sophomore in high school. My brother and I were both on the wrestling team and there were many nights that I had to miss training at the dojo for wrestling practice or meets. This really used to bother me. I hated the feeling of not being around the academy when things were going on. So at the beginning of my Junior year of high school, I did one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I told my wrestling coach that I wasn't going to wrestle for the high school anymore so that I could dedicate my time to the academy.

Over the next couple of years of high school (and throughout college), I came to the realization that I really enjoyed teaching martial arts. I realized that I was making an impact on people's lives. All sorts of people! From the 4 year old Lil' Dragons up to the grown men and women with successful careers. I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And I've never looked back.

Goals: When to Use Them and When to Lose Them

We all set goals. We set S.M.A.R.T. goals (more on that acronym later). We set STUPID goals (that one isn’t an acronym, just emphasized). Some goals we achieve, and some we don’t. The problem is, between the goals that we never achieve and the ones we achieve at first but lose afterwards, we end up with a net growth of close to zero! Let’s take a look at how to set the right goals, know when to use them, and know when to lose them.


Learning how to set SMART goals was really helpful for me. For those that haven’t heard of this before, SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. This is a method of setting goals that is taught in many different branches of study because goal setting is useful in almost any activity, career, or lifestyle.

A specific goal means taking the time to think about the details, rather than setting a general goal. For example, instead of saying, “I’m going to get back in shape,” you could say, “I’m going to join Progressive Martial Arts Academy and train 2-3 times per week.” :-) We want to lay out a plan for our goals to help achieve them.

A measurable goal is just what it sounds like. Make your goals things you can measure. This enables you to actually track your progress, which will keep you motivated. For example, numbers on a scale, waist size, money in savings, and time spent with loved ones can all be measured to give yourself some numbers to check.

Setting an attainable goal means setting goals that are possible to achieve. For me, it means setting smaller goals along the way that help me see that I am growing closer to my ultimate goal. This will increase your confidence and determination to reach that final goal. The obvious martial arts connection here is the colored belts we use to measure progress. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to get from white belt to black belt if there weren’t any belts in between (it used to be that way)! The other colors are extremely useful for tracking our progress, seeing our progress, and feeling like we’ve made progress at each level. All of these smaller progress indicators will help you reach your BIG goal.

Realistic goals come back to being attainable. This doesn’t mean you should only set small goals. In fact, the big goals are sometimes the easier goals to achieve because you want them so badly! Have you ever completed a big task and felt so good afterwards that you said, “That was a lot easier than I thought!” Chances are the task wasn’t easy, you were just highly motivated to do it.

Timely means to put some timeframes on your goals. Sooner than someday, though! Don’t use the “someday” word, although this one has to tie into the rest of the points. For example, saying you want to achieve your Black Belt in 2 years could be very unrealistic. This is both something that is ultimately not your decision, and highly unlikely depending on the martial art that you are training in. On that note, I don’t recommend using belts as your goals to try to achieve a belt by a certain time. For weight loss, timely also means in a “reasonable” time. It’s best to shoot for between a 1/2 pound to 2 pounds per week. Any more than this is not encouraged.

When to Use Them and When to Lose Them

Goals are great to use in the beginning of a journey. The first few weeks of working towards a goal are usually the most difficult to get through. During this period you are breaking bad habits or building new ones (usually both) and this can be both very challenging and very frustrating. This time is where many people lose motivation. During this period, if you have set some SMART goals, they might just be the motivation you need to keep going.

Have you ever reached a goal only to lose the progress you made shortly afterwards? Of the thousands of people that have tried the famous BeachBody workouts (such as P90X or Insanity), most people don’t make it through (because they are challenging!). But of the few people that do, all of them that I have met have fallen back to where they were before the program within a year of completing it! The problem is that most short term programs usually aren’t maintainable. If you can’t maintain what you did to reach your goal after the program finishes, you will likely fall back to where you started.

Try this for analyzing a program before you start:

What if we lay out not only intermediate goals and plans for the timeframe we think it will take to reach our ultimate goal, but also a maintenance plan for after we do? With fitness I think this is a lot easier than we make it. Find some exercise that you enjoy doing, and then follow a healthy but maintainable and enjoyable diet and you are all set (just kidding, I know it’s not always that easy). If we have to do a workout plan to achieve our goal that we won’t be able to maintain afterwards, let’s NOT do it! Wouldn’t it be better to lose that 20 pounds over the course of a year if it meant it stayed off for the rest of our lives?

The same applies to martial arts. If you set your sights on Black Belt as your goal, and follow a training plan to get there that you aren’t going to maintain once you achieve it, will it really be worth it? If your goal was just to scratch it off a bucket list, then that answer may be yes. But if your reasons for achieving your Black Belt include growing as a person, learning to defend yourself, being more confident, and getting in the best shape of your life, then you won’t be happy to learn that those benefits will all disappear within the first year of quitting your training.

The Answer

What if we learn to set SMART goals for the items I just listed (growing, defending yourself, confidence, fitness, etc.) at the beginning of our journey? Then, as we grow closer to reaching the goal that we originally set out to achieve, we wean ourselves off of using goals and learn to just enjoy what we’ve achieved. We become motivated to maintain what we have because of the value it adds to our lives. If you learn to set smart goals, enjoy the journey, enjoy the training, and then enjoy the benefits of reaching your goal, you will continue to reap the rewards for the rest of your life. Remember the name of this blog - The Martial Arts Way of Life.

In a sense we could call these lifestyle goals. We set small goals towards making something part of our lifestyle - healthy eating, fun exercise, spending time with loved ones, relieving stress, getting (and staying) out of debt, and the list goes on! Then once we have made them a part of our lifestyle, the goals disappear. You are now motivated by the joy that you get from living a positive, healthy life with the people you love. This phenomenon is what occurs on the mat. It may take you many years to make it to Black Belt, but once you get there you realize that it was only the beginning of the journey, because now the rest of your life is in front of you. You used the goals in the beginning (white to brown) but then ditched them and just enjoyed the lifestyle once you got there (black).

On a final note, we should never stop growing. So once you have achieved a goal and integrated it into your life, remember to move on to another area that needs growth (or reduction!).

"In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it." - Robert A Heinlein

How Many Calories Does Martial Arts Training Burn?

Martial arts is one of the most effective weight-loss activities around. It offers a full-body workout by employing movements that exercise all major muscle groups as well as incorporate balance and dexterity. Using punching, kicking and fight stances, individuals work their arms, legs, glutes and core through an activity that is challenging and fun at the same time. Despite martial arts stereotypes, it is not strictly about fighting techniques. It’s about improving fitness levels, self-discipline and overall health.

The Winning Number

So the big question is how many calories does an hour’s worth of martial arts burn? Quite a bit actually. An average 145 pound person engaging in one hour’s worth of martial arts can expect to burn up to approximately 870 calories. In order to burn the same amount, a runner of the same weight would need to run an 8 minute mile for 60 minutes or bicycle at 14 miles per hour for 90 minutes.  Comparatively, martial arts is a hot calorie burner.

Healthy Benefits

Although there are many forms and variations of martial arts, they do share a few common traits, such as heritage and philosophy. Regardless of the type of martial arts that you choose to participate in - karate, judo, kenpo, jiujitsu - their physical activity levels offer many of the same benefits:

  • Improved heart and lung function
  • Strengthening and toning of all major muscle groups
  • High calorie burn for a leaner, more svelte physique
  • Better posture and balance
  • Enhanced core strength and stability

What Can You Expect

Martial arts is a fantastic fitness alternative for men, women and children of all ages. The great thing about martial arts is that it’s a departure from the gym or average aerobic class. Like any physical activity, mixing up your routine with something fresh and fun can give you a boost in reaching your fitness goals. This is especially true for individuals that may be experiencing a plateau in their goal cycle.

If you live in or around Oak Ridge, TN visit our studio (Progressive Martial Arts Academy) to learn more about the different programs that we have available. We can help you choose a fitness plan to meet your needs and schedule. Call or stop by to set up a complimentary class to learn what it’s all about.

So Awkward

Revel in your awkwardness.

With great effort I think I’m able to freeze my face into an impassive mask before my skepticism shines through. At the very least, I’m able to refrain from laughing out right in my instructor’s face.

He’s looking at me expectantly, and all the while, his words echo in my head. Revel in your awkwardness. Revel in your awkwardness. Your awkwardness. Your awkwardness. Changing and morphing until all that’s left is my own personal anthem: You’re awkward…You’re awkward…You’re awkward.

I manage a stiff nod to show my understanding, but inside, I’m appalled. Revel in my awkwardness? Impossible! How can I revel in something that causes me so much embarrassment?

As clearly as if I’d spoken my thoughts aloud, my instructor answered my desperate question. “Everyone is awkward when they’re learning. The problem is that we focus so much on our awkwardness that we end up hurting our performance. We are so afraid of embarrassing ourselves that we are unable to see what we might actually be capable of.”

It gave me a lot to consider, but I was still unsure. Or rather, still so sure. So sure of my nervousness that I couldn’t see beyond it. So sure of my embarrassment that I couldn’t see it for the learning moment it could provide. So sure of my awkwardness in one self-defense technique that I couldn’t see the other twenty I was capable of executing perfectly.

Sometimes I feel so awkward working a technique, that I’m sure I will embarrass myself if I really go for it. Instead, I hold back, am unable to perform the technique, and feel embarrassed by my lackluster performance. Maybe if we can try our best – and keep trying – despite the embarrassment we sometimes feel at our awkwardness, we would end up learning, growing, and achieving much faster.

Imagine what we would learn, what we could accomplish if we stopped worrying so much about embarrassing ourselves and started enjoying our awkwardness. Imagine, like my instructor suggested, what we might actually be capable of.

As a side note: I went home, still considering the advice I’d been given in my lesson. When I logged onto my computer awhile later, I stumbled across this video, and finally, everything clicked into place for me.

The Perfect Fighter

UPDATE: It has been almost one year since Ronda Rousey was knocked out with a vicious head kick that the whole world heard connect. This week it was announced that Ronda would make her return to the octagon at UFC 197 on December 30 versus the current champion, Amanda Nunes. The following article was my initial thoughts following her brutal loss last November (written immediately following the match) take a look:

Tonight I feel for Ronda Rousey. Not because she lost, as I knew that would happen if she fought long enough. I feel for her that she rose to a position in her career that people viewed her as invincible. She rose to a position in her life that people saw her as superhuman. But she is not. Nor is anyone. 

I am thinking about an article I shared earlier this week from Precision Nutrition that discusses “that person.” “That person” that has “got it all together.” It hits home the point that we are all human and “that person” doesn’t exist. If you haven’t read it yet, take a few minutes (it’s worth it) - http://www.precisionnutrition.com/that-fit-person-whos-got-it-all-together-doesnt.

Coming into the fight tonight Ronda was the favorite and all week I answered the question, “Does Holly have a chance?” Despite only having fought three fewer fights than the champion, I have to admit I was skeptical that maybe they had thrown Holly to their money making machine a little early as her other UFC fights thus far, while wins, were not super impressive. However, my response was that if Holly can circle and use her reach and movement to avoid Ronda’s rush, then she has a chance. As far as the stand-up aspect of fighting goes, Holly was coming into this fight with lightyears more experience. Just as Ronda was coming into the bout with lightyears more grappling experience. Congratulations to Holly Holm and her team of coaches and training partners as she had a perfect gameplan and executed it. Flawlessly.

I wish as a society we didn’t feel the need to raise someone up so high when they are doing well because it makes the fall so much harder when they inevitably fall. Fighting is far too complex with far too many aspects for one person to possibly be the best at them all. No one is perfect. Everyone will lose if given enough opportunities. It just takes finding the person that is better than you at one aspect and with the game plan to exploit it.

I don’t know if it was just for promotion or if she actually felt this way but leading up to this fight Ronda stated in an interview that she wants to also win the boxing world championship and jiu jitsu world championship when she retires from the UFC. If she did believe that she was the best at all aspects of fighting, tonight would be a reminder that she is human. And that’s okay! As a martial artist, I appreciate the sacrifice that she and other fighters make to enter the octagon so that I can take these valuable lessons from their performances. I am not disappointed in her or any other great champions that have ever lost.

I will save some of the more technical aspects of the fight for another post or classes I teach on the mat, but I hope that Ronda’s team handles this loss well and that she gets back to the training camp and gets right to work on filling these holes. Ronda was picked apart tonight but not by a “better” fighter. Holly Holm had a better strategy and executed it flawlessly. I believe Ronda could dominate the fight just as well if she comes up with the game plan to take the fight to the areas where she knows she has the advantage. It will require fighting smarter and of course - she'd have to be prepared to counter the counter game plan that Holly will develop for the rematch.

So tonight we did not see “the perfect fighter” and we never will. Tonight we saw the perfect fight. I hope you can take this lesson with you on the mat as well as into other aspects of your life. Remember that while we may strive for perfection, it is not attainable. What’s important is that we grow every day. Let’s try to avoid comparing ourselves to others and never forget that we are all human. Despite some people having great success, they are not perfect and still face struggles and hardships as the rest of us. Tonight Ronda fell, let’s all hope she gets back up and gives Holly one hell of a rematch.

“To Fall Seven Times. To Rise Eight Times. Life Begins Now.” -Daruma

6 Tips to Block Stress from Your Life

While I think the ability to live "stress-free" is slightly dependent on your personality, there are definitely some things you can do to block stress from your life and focus on the things most important to you. Here are 6 tips to start living stress-free!

1. I love "to-do" lists. Something about crossing an item off the list is very rewarding, and no matter how much is left to get done, crossing one more thing off helps me feel accomplished and motivated. Over the last year, I've been using the "Clear" app for this - it's fantastic! You literally swipe your finger over each item on your list and cross it off. Very helpful!

2. When you start to feel overwhelmed, walk away. This was a technique I learned from my middle school chess team believe it or not - if it was your move and you couldn't find the best solution, our coach taught us to stand up and walk away (even in timed games). This helped you clear your mind and comeback with a new perspective. It works unbelievably well! Sometimes the answer you need is right under your nose, you just can't see it because you are looking too hard.

3. Find your "thing." For me this is obviously martial arts. Find the activity that makes you want to work. Once you find that thing, treat it like gold and never let it leave your life. Even in desperate times - find a way to never lose your "thing."

4. When there are certain people in your life that stress you out or frustrate you, be the change you want to see in them. It is very easy to become bitter, angry, and negative but this almost NEVER helps.

5. Find your inspiration. Sometimes all I need is to listen to some good music, put on a podcast, or read a good book to get inspired again. YouTube comes in handy too (just don't go down a black YouTube hole)!

6. SLEEP - I understand this is not always easy and not always possible in some lives. But if you can manage to get the right amount of sleep, do it. I can always feel a difference when I don't get 8 hours of sleep.

What do you do to keep your life stress-free?