Remember the Environment!

Don’t let the title fool you, this is not a post about going green or saving the planet; this post is about self-defense. Many people are aware of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, more commonly referred to as MMA. This form of martial arts competition is a sport. A fun sport to watch no doubt, but it is just that – a sport.

It incorporates techniques from various martial arts, but it is not the total martial arts package. With that said, what I want to address today is the importance of the environment in martial arts.

Why do you train martial arts? Many of you are in it to learn self defense. While the techniques presented in MMA and the UFC are some of the same techniques we teach at our academy (Progressive Martial Arts Academy in Oak Ridge, TN), we will also teach you how to defend yourself with and against weapons, with and against grabs and strikes not legal in competition, and with consideration of other various factors that separate competition and reality.

For example, in a real life-threatening situation, you will not be on a soft mat or canvas floor. You will be faced with the reality of concrete surfaces that may be littered with broken glass, rocks, nails or even covered with rain. This is not a very forgiving surface to land on. Your opponent will be wearing more than spandex shorts and gloves. It’s possible that you will be shoved against a wall or grabbed from behind by a surprise attacker. Your environment may present objects that both you and your opponent could use as weapons. There may be a curb stone right behind you that, after successfully holding off your attacker, you trip over, giving them time to recover and attack again!

These kind of things make training how to safely fall, roll and stand back up some of the most important self defense techniques you will ever learn. Maybe even more importantly is training to make sure that you don’t end up on the ground at all, where in competition that might have been your strong suit.

Just something to keep in mind – be prepared for reality.

Let’s Start with Choices

You are in control of your body and make the choices that will ultimately form your habits. To create an excellent habit, we must choose excellence. What are the areas of your life that you are always looking to make changes in?

Eating better? Exercising more? Sleeping more?

No matter what area of your life you are striving for excellence in, let’s start with our choices. The little choices day in and day out that we make will ultimately form a habit. So let’s make the first good habit that we form consciously thinking about the small choices we make each day.

The next time someone hurts you emotionally and you want to make an entire box of oreos disappear, make the choice to make them disappear into your trash can instead of your stomach (they shouldn’t be in your cabinet in the first place!). When it’s time to get up off the couch to exercise, and your mind start’s convincing your body to stay put, make the choice to get up and exercise. Building a strong habit will ultimately come down to making choices.

As a martial artist, I promise you will have days that you think you’d rather stay home. For whatever reason, there is something else pulling you away from the mat that night. These are the most important nights to get to the dojo and train. Make the choice right there to not even consider the idea of skipping class anymore, and get up and go! You know that you won’t regret your decision once you get on the mat. You just have to make the choice to get yourself there. Your instructor will do the rest!

Let’s stop wasting time and start making choices for excellence.

It's What You Do That Defines You

I’d like to discuss how Batman relates to my journey in martial arts.

In one of my favorite movies, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” there is a part in which the maniacal Joker has rigged two boats to blow up, one filled with innocent passengers and the other with criminals. He gives each boat a trigger that will blow the other up, but both will explode if no one takes action. Of course, this situation sparks a huge debate amongst the two boats about who should get to live. In an extremely powerful scene, a huge, scarred, and angry-looking criminal approaches the ship captain with the trigger. He says, “Give me that trigger, and I’ll do what you should have done ten minutes ago.” The captain shakily hands him the trigger, and the criminal throws it out of a window.

Now you’re probably thinking, “What did that possibly have to do with martial arts? There was no fighting!” Naturally, I have learned techniques, forms, attacks, defenses, and other fighting skills in the time I’ve been at PMA, but martial arts has taught me a much more important lesson: To ignore labels.

In the movie scene, everyone expected the criminal to blow the other ship up simply because he was wearing the orange jumpsuit. Instead, he chose the higher moral path. He was not his label. This concept is something I’ve had a hard time grasping throughout my pubescent time in public school as I tried to be someone I thought would make me cooler. Instead, it sent me down a bad path and caused me to lose sight of what kind of person I wanted to be.

When I started lessons at PMA, my self-esteem was rock-bottom. I never imagined I would be where I am now. As I grew as a martial artist, my vision began to clear, and I saw the parts of myself that weren’t so great as well as the ones that made me “me.” Martial arts pulled me off of a bad path and set me firmly on one full of light and success.

Now, I’m independent, confident, and I strive to be the best person I can be. As difficult as it is to ignore the judgments and opinions of others, what really matters is what you think of yourself and being the kind of person you want to be.

You are not your label.  You are not a dork, nerd, loser, four-eyes, fatty, dummy, jerk, wacko, ugly, or anything else you may have been called. Everyone is made up of too much, good and bad, to be labeled. Labels don’t define you; it’s what you do that defines you. So, just like Batman, do what makes you the best you can be!

Madelyn Fowler: Why I Train Martial Arts

I am training martial arts for all of the same reasons now that I listed on my application when I first signed up: self defense, I like to keep in shape, and I think it’s fun. All these reasons are over simplified as I now see, but they all still motivate me to train, just now in a more complex, deep way.

Had you asked me to write this a couple of years ago, I would have answered nearly the same as I am now: I feel empowered just being here at PMA, and empowered knowing that I am leading my own journey in self perfection. I feel strong in my abilities, a feeling I have never felt through any other outlet. I also feel confident and unique; this is something I am doing all by myself. Though I am part of a team, my journey is different. I am different.

Now that I’ve taken the Black Belt Test I can add more to this answer. The weekend I went through helped me not only find out who I wanted to be, but who I was, and how to accept that person. I’ve always had a self image problem. Through three days of sweat (gallons of it) and tears (not as much as sweat) and no make up (the longest I’ve gone in years) I felt totally cleansed and pure. I looked at my pale, beat up face and thought, “I am pretty. Not the make up.”

So in short, martial arts broke me down and gave me the ability to see myself at my deepest level, something I sadly couldn’t do myself. Martial arts makes people, not just warriors. I am forever indebted to my [Filkenjutsu] family.

Martial Artist or Student of the Martial Arts?

I asked the question on our Facebook Page recently:

“Are you a martial artist or a student of the martial arts?”

We had a few people brave enough to post their answers publicly, some sent me an email and others were discussing the question before and after class. I think our students were split about 50/50.

The students that answered, "we are all martial artists," liked the idea that anyone that habitually practices the martial arts should be considered a martial artist. Habitually being the key word there. For example, someone that drops in on a class here or there wouldn’t be considered a martial artist as they have not really adopted the practice into their way of life. One of my black belts, Terry, made the suggestion that if you practice the art with passion you are a martial artist.

On the other hand, some students were suggesting that they must reach a certain skill level (such as Black Belt) to be considered a martial artist. Their humility was telling them they had not yet mastered the art enough yet to be considered an artist.

The argument to this was that even someone that is not very skilled at “art” can be considered an artist if they paint/draw/etc on a regular basis and have passion for their work.

So what is the answer?

Obviously, what I think is right is the “correct” answer. (Just kidding!)

I think everyone was right in this circumstance. Every person training martial arts is on his or her own journey. No matter what stage of that journey you are on, you should always maintain the mindset of being a “student.” At the same time, I consider all of my “students” debating this question “martial artists.”

If you care enough about this activity that we are all practicing to debate whether or not you can call yourself a martial artist, it must mean something to you!

Whether you are a white belt that has only been training for a few months or a black belt that has been training for many years, if you have adopted what this blog is all about as your own than you are a martial artist - “The Martial Arts Way of Life.”

What is “The Martial Arts Way of Life?” To answer this I think you have to ask yourself why you are training martial arts? If the answer is to better some aspect of yourself, than you are on the right track.

Whether that is you increasing your confidence in your ability to protect yourself and your family, increasing your mental focus, getting in better shape, or becoming a more kind and peaceful person, we’re all here for one reason – to be better. That’s what it’s all about. What makes it a way of life is that we will never achieve perfection; we will just always strive for it.

So martial artists, let me ask you this:

“Why are you a student of the martial arts?”

I am a woman. I am empowered.

I am many things.  Rash.  Romantic.  Sarcastic.  Compassionate.  Impatient.  Funny.  Short tempered.  And I’m a woman.  But my gender doesn’t define me; it isn’t all that I am.  So when a gentleman holds the door for me, I appreciate it.  When he offers to carry my groceries, I say thank you.  When he compliments me, I smile.

Because I know I can walk through a door without help, I know I am strong enough to carry my own groceries, and I know that if he becomes too forward, I can destroy him.  A gentleman may treat me a certain way because I am a woman, but I choose to react the way I do because I am more than that.  I am an empowered woman.

Some people might look at me, see a woman, and think weak.  But when I look in the mirror, I see a woman and think capable.  Because I can style my curls like a professional and I can work a dress like a runway model, but I can also grapple like a division one wrestler, throw an opponent like an Olympian throws a javelin, and choke out a man twice my size like…well, like a capable 24 year old woman who is also rash, romantic, sarcastic, compassionate, inpatient, funny, and short tempered. I am sarcastic because I appreciate dry humor and wit.  I am compassionate because I have feeling and heart.  I am emboldened because I train in self-defense.

I am a woman.  I am empowered.  And I am not afraid.  What about you, ladies?

Home Dojo

One of the things we emphasize at Progressive Martial Arts Academy is truly making the martial arts a lifestyle, or a way of life. Something that can really help you on that path is having a dedicated space in your own home to practice martial arts. Some of the greatest martial artists of all time trained and began teaching from their “home dojo.”

One of the first memories I have of training martial arts was in our garage in Chesapeake, VA. Check out this old picture of a group of students that just finished training. You can see SiJo Bruce Corrigan, Sigung Meg Corrigan and Sigung Shawn Riquelme in there!

Chesapeake Garage Dojo

When creating this area, you want to be very efficient as to not waste space, and make sure that your dojo doesn’t encroach upon other parts of your house that people may enjoy. One of the most difficult aspects of building your home training area is getting the equipment you need to train by yourself. Try building your own equipment, as this can be a very rewarding project that will feel fulfilling every time you practice.

Rorion Gracie's Garage

My father's first teacher in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, was Rorion Gracie. Rorion began teaching from his garage when he brought his family's martial art to the United States. Rorion would offer one free private lesson to anyone who brought in a new student to try a class. He knew that if someone could experience the effectiveness of his art, they would be hooked! I think the intimate training environment of being in his own garage helped with this because everyone got 1-on-1 attention.

As a teenager, I often made trips out to California with my father to train with Paul Vunak. We would stay in SiFu Vunak's home and often training was done in his garage as well! And most recently, we traveled to train with Master Virgil Cavada in the Filipino Martial Arts and spent a week training in his garage and backyard.

So as you can see, even some of the greatest martial arts instructors of all time have Home Dojos!

Most Common Mistakes - Incorrect Fundamental Technique

I'd like to start a series on this blog for those of you already training or getting ready to start your martial arts journey that addresses some of the most common mistakes with martial arts training. Today, let's discuss a mistake that is very easy to make as a white belt but can sneak up on the black belts too!

Incorrect Fundamental Technique

One of the things I hear all the time is "that seems so logical now that it has been pointed it out to me!" This is the way martial arts should be - logical. For the most part, the fundamental techniques of the martial arts are not composed of highly complicated movements or secrets. Remember that the arts were created out of necessity for application on a battlefield or on the street. It was essential for them to be composed of natural movements and simple techniques. These techniques must be reliable when the martial artist is under extreme duress and experiencing massive amounts of adrenaline.

Understanding these basic concepts is essential to successfully applying techniques. Therefore, one of the most common errors in performing techniques is focusing on the amount of power and speed applied to the technique rather than the fundamental details. My Dad (Bruce Corrigan) always emphasizes that speed should result from constant repetition of an effortlessly and flawlessly performed technique and should not be forced.

Now we understand that practicing incorrectly can be detrimental, but exactly how detrimental can it be? How long will it take to master the ability to execute the desired technique without thought or flaw? Let's imagine it like this:

Let's say it takes 300 steps to reach our goal of mastery. We've found that mastering a new technique is different for every individual, but we know for sure it will take hundreds of repetitions. Every time we practice the movement perfectly we take one step towards that goal. Every time we practice it incorrectly we either move nowhere OR worse, we move backwards. We've found that while a few hundred repetitions may be what it takes to master a technique, it could take thousands of repetitions to break and correct a bad habit. That is a HUGE difference.

So, we need to try our hardest not to create bad habits while training martial arts - or in anything for that matter. This is why when I speak to a new student at my academy (Progressive Martial Arts Academy in Oak Ridge, TN), I ask them whether they have trained martial arts before. The reason being that if they haven't trained previously, my job is usually much easier! If they have trained, it's possible it was with someone that taught them well and corrected their mistakes. However, if someone trained them incorrectly or didn't take the time to correct their mistakes, it will take thousands more repetitions to correctly re-learn even the most basic techniques like a fighting stance.

Long story short, practicing a technique slowly and perfectly will help you reach your goal of mastery much sooner than executing techniques hurriedly.

Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect!

The Art of Fighting without Fighting

This is one of my favorite martial arts movie scenes of all time. If you haven’t seen the movie “Enter the Dragon” starring Bruce Lee, please stop reading this post and come back when you have. In this scene Lee demonstrates the art of fighting without fighting.

This idea of avoiding conflict even when provoked and prepared to defend yourself is demonstrated by Bruce Lee in this scene. If Bruce Lee, the man considered by many to be the greatest martial artist of all time, is avoiding conflict, shouldn’t we also strive to do so?

“To win the fight without fighting, that is the true goal of a martial artist.” – Professor Nick Cerio

This concept seems to be lost in the martial arts world, and the rise in popularity of the UFC and MMA is only spreading the problem. Martial arts should teach real self defense that can be used in real confrontations. Martial arts should also teach a student to avoid conflict whenever possible, and definitely not to encourage it! My father posted a video earlier today, and discussed this exact topic on his Facebook page.

WARNING: the content of this video is mature as it contains strong violence. Click here to watch. Be sure to read his commentary to understand the scenario because the video is not in English.

5 Steps to Handling a Bully

CounterBully by Progressive Martial Arts Academy

School has started back here in Oak Ridge, and, unfortunately, that means many children are waking up each morning fearful of coming face to face with a bully in their school. We hope your child is not one who has to confront this fear each and every day, but the sad reality is that many do!

Here are 5 strategic steps to follow if your child is experiencing bullying:

  1. Stand Up for Themselves - Right away establish that the behavior being demonstrated by the bully is not acceptable. Your child needs to make eye contact with the bully and tell them firmly to stop. Unfortunately, most children will not do this out of fear of injury if things escalate physically. This is where martial arts training comes in!
  2. Tell a Teacher - Make sure your child knows to report any bullying incidents to a teacher. Here, they also must practice making eye contact and speaking like an adult. We need clear, concise statements to bring the problem to the teacher's awareness. Whining will not get the job done - confident and respectful communication is key.
  3. Talk to You - If bullying continues after standing up for themselves and telling a teacher (which it often will), your child needs to know that they can and should have a strong line of communication with their parents. Ask them about their day, what's troubling them, and make sure you listen when they bring you their concerns.
  4. Bring It to the Principal - Depending on the severity, sometimes it will now fall into your hands to bring the issue to the principal's attention. Keep in mind that their plates are full of many issues going on at school, so a calm but concerned approach is necessary here to make sure they are aware of what is going on with your child.
  5. Back to Rule #1 - When all else fails, your child needs to be prepared to stand up for themselves. Unfortunately, even after parents, teachers and principals have been involved, bullies may still continue to harass your child (they'll just wait until they're alone)! Ultimately your child is the only one that will always be present when the bullying occurs. Giving them the physical and mental tools they need to stand up for themselves can do miracles for their confidence, peace, and happiness at school. This will lead to better grades and an overall happier, healthier, and more confident child. 

There is one more HUGE tactic that we can bring into our school systems to combat bullying and that is reaching as many kids as we can with our CounterBully program. This program teaches children the steps outlined above, but most importantly dives deeper into the root cause of bullying, why it exists and what we can do when we see it happening. We offer this seminar as a free service to our community.

Click the link below to sign you and your child up for our upcoming FREE CounterBully seminar or contact us at (865)481-8901 to host a CounterBully seminar at your school.


Upcoming Seminar - https://www.eventbrite.com/e/counterbully-seminar-tickets-27185958935