The Dangerous Risk of Not Training

Last week I was talking to one of our adult students that will be turning 50 this year. We had a funny conversation that comes up fairly often when teaching martial arts about how he could beat up his former self. This student didn’t start training until his late 40s, but now that he has been training for a few years, the skills he has acquired would enable him to defeat his 30-year-old, stronger, faster, younger self in a fight.

The important thing to take away from this is that with every passing year one of two options is happening:

1. You are training martial arts. In this scenario, the percentage of people in the world that would beat you up in an altercation is decreasing year after year. Or depending on your age, at the very least it isn’t increasing as quickly as it would be without training.

2. You are not training martial arts. In this scenario, the percentage of people in the world that would beat you up in an altercation is increasing year after year.

It’s as simple as that.

Sometimes, when talking to someone over the age of 35 or so, they make the assumption that their time to train has come and gone. In all actuality, that is never the case. No matter your age, 35 or 75, it is important to train for self-defense (and so many other benefits).

While you should always try to avoid a fight, through training you are increasing your chances of being able to survive an attack.

Sometimes people say they will just keep themselves out of situations that they might need to fight. That’s really good - I will too! Unfortunately, sometimes there are situations we cannot avoid. As we’ve discussed in previous entries, men can avoid many altercations as long as they check their ego and alcohol consumption. But not all.

And if you are a woman, you have an even more important reason to train, as there is a much greater chance that you could be targeted in an abduction or sexual assault.

So, how would 50-year-old you fare against 30-year-old you? I can GUARANTEE that 50-year-old you will be much better off if he/she is consistently training.

See you on the mat!

Let Your Guard Down: Don’t Be Afraid Of Imperfection

Being successful in any aspect of life does not mean always being right, always winning, and always doing things by yourself.

It is okay to not know an answer. It is okay to lose. It is okay to ask for help. It is even okay for these things to happen when others expect them not to.

This barrier that people put up and think is making them appear to be all-knowing and perfect, is actually the thing that not only adds unnecessary stress and anxiety to their life, but keeps them from reaching their goals.

The mindset we should strive to develop is giving a perfect effort, but being okay with a less than perfect result. Trying is good enough, and then we can learn from and build from our experience. You don’t have to pretend you know something that you don’t. You don’t have to be afraid of losing or making a mistake.

On the mats, this mentality pops up and every student would get so much more out of their training if they could eliminate it. Every time I see a higher rank begin “coaching” their training partner at the slightest sign that the lower rank student might be doing something well, inside I am cringing and shaking my head in disappointment. Don’t do this. It’s okay to lose to or get help from a student that is a lower rank than you. It only means that this student is also receiving good training - it does not mean that anything is wrong with you.

In fact, you will get better by allowing these circumstances to happen and getting the most out of them.

Your fear of losing is putting you in a position to lose more.

More growth comes from situations that we don’t know what to do, accept that, and then learn from it, than when we put on an act as if we know what to do.

You are not perfect, and you never will be. Neither am I, or anyone that I have ever met. Except my wife, of course. (Hey b!)

You will not get things right on the first try, but try anyway.

You will not know every answer, don’t pretend like you do.

You will need help from other people who have experienced what you are experiencing, don’t be afraid to ask for it.


The Reality: Routines, Time, Priorities, and Your Life

We are nearing the end of February, and you are probably comfortably out of the holidays and back into the grind of your routines. 

Your New Year’s resolutions have probably been squashed. You had tons of enthusiasm a couple of months ago but maybe now you are facing REALITY. You might think to yourself:

"Those dreams and goals I had were too lofty."

"I don’t have enough time in the day to accomplish what I want to accomplish."

You can’t make it to martial arts class, there is too much going on. You can’t get your workouts in because other stuff takes priority. You can’t meditate. You can’t spend time playing with your kids. You can’t walk your dog. You can’t meal plan, grocery shop, and prepare meals either!

I talk to students all of the time that tell me when they are on the mat training they are happy and inspired to make changes in all of the other areas of their life. They might be kneeling at the end of class during meditation, soaking up the vibes of the dojo, and thinking about how inspired they are going to be to make a change starting today.

BUT THEN, they walk out the doors of the academy back into the world and get caught up in the chaos of our culture. Before you know it, work, commitments to family and friends, iPhones, traffic, Facebook, Netflix, and so many other things start to battle for our attention again, and we might never even think about those plans we had while we were kneeling on the mat.

In fact, they tell me that often they won’t slow down and think about those things again until the next time they are in the academy. It happens with their martial arts practice too, they have full intentions of going home, making some notes on what they learned, practicing a little bit or going over the techniques in their mind, but then they walk out and never think about it again until the next class. By that time it’s too late - they’ve already forgotten the technique.

*A huge tip for this one, by the way, is to sit down inside the academy with your notebook and take some notes before you leave the dojo. Then pull out your notes before the next class and go back over them - even if it is right before class! We see students that have tons of success with this formula.

I hear you. I really do. But the reality is that you have the same amount of time in your day as every other human being on the earth. And if your day truly is too full to do the things that you said you’d do at the beginning of the year, the reality is that it’s not because you don’t have enough time, it’s because your true priorities are revealing themselves.

Your priorities are what you spend your time doing. We might say that our priorities are things like our family or our health, but if we aren’t spending our time in those areas, then they aren’t our true priorities.

So what are your priorities?

If you really want to know, keep a genuine time log for a week, but don’t change anything about what you do right now. Funny thing is, you probably won’t be able to stop yourself from changing just a little bit, because when you start realizing how much time you are spending on Facebook, or watching Netflix, you almost can’t help making some changes.

Some of the things that we are spending our time on might be out of our control, but are there any areas that are in our control? And sometimes other things are genuinely just more important.

I don't want you to quit your job and train all the time. I don't want you to skip out on playing with your kids to get a workout in.

But I do want you to just stop at the store and buy a few groceries instead of waiting in the drive thru line. I do want you to put your phone down and get a workout in. 

Your health is a crucial piece to you living a long, happy, and fulfilling life. You have to make it a priority too!

The question is do we just tell ourselves that we are too busy when there is actually quite a bit of free time in there?

Try your best to just track and not change anything about what you are doing. Then add up all of the time doing the different activities and discover what your TRUE priorities are.

Now, if you want to make a change…pick one of those categories that you’d rather not be spending so much time and allot that time to doing one of the things you do want to be doing. 

You have to curate your lifestyle. You have the same 24 hours as everyone else, you just have to decide how you’re going to spend them, and then do it!

Choki Motobu - Brawler, Ruffian, Master.

**Today's blog post was written by PMA FILKENJUTSU Black Belt, Gary Hall. Today also happens to be his birthday! This was written by Sempai Gary in preparation for his Black Belt Test this time last year. This is a longer post, but a great look back in history at a prominent martial arts figure. As we have discussed in previous posts, our Kenpo lineage traces back to a man named James Mitose, and many believe Choki Motobu to have been one of Mitose's teachers.

Sempai Gary does a great job of bringing his story to us - enjoy!

- SiFu David

Brawler, ruffian, master. Choki Motobu has to be considered one of the most unconventional karateka luminaries of his very special time.


Choki Motobu was born on April 5, 1870 in Shuri, Ryukyu Kingdom (now Japan). His father Choshin was a descendant of the sixth son of the Okinawan King, Sho Shitsu, namely Prince Sho Ko, also known as Motobu Chohei (Iwai 1994). Due to this lineage, the male members of the family were permitted to retain the "CHO" character in their given names (Sells 1996).

Young Choki, as third son to Choshin, was regarded by the Okinawan culture of the day as the rough equivalent to a feudal lord in social status. It has been stated by the noted historian Kinjo Hiroshi that although Choki was fathered by Choshin, Choki's mother was not his wife, but a courtesan. Choki was thus only a half-brother to his elder Choyu, the eldest son in the family. It has been further suggested that he was constantly reminded of this fact as a child, and this may have contributed to his rather stern temperament. Choki's eldest brother Choyu, in the Okinawan tradition, was given a fine education. He was also taught the family's secret "Ti" (fighting art) tradition that was only passed on to the eldest son. Young Choki was never allowed to participate. By some accounts, however, Choki secretly looked on at his elder brother's training and picked up many rudiments of the art. (Ross, 2012)

MArtial Arts background

The background of these Okinawan fighting arts can be traced from their origins elsewhere up to and through China. With the coming of the Bronze and Iron ages, weaponry and the means for employing such weapons improved. Early Greece (approximately 700 B.C.) recorded a systemized and cultivated form of self-defense called pyrrhic and pankration which utilized kicking, punching and wrestling in combat. In India, around and about 1000 B.C., the warrior class Kshatriya was believed to have a martial art skill known as vajramushti. 

China’s introduction to the martial arts is somewhat vague, but according to historians, it is widely accepted that Boddhidharma, an Indian monk and first patriarch of Chan or Zen Buddhism traveled by foot in the sixth century across the Himalayas into China’s northern province of Hunan. There, he settled in the Songshan mountains at the Shorin Ji (Shaolin temple) and introduced to the priests in the monastery 18 exercises and 2 sutras called Ekkinkyo and Senzuikyo. With the passing of time, these exercises of Boddhidharma (called Daruma Tashi by the Japanese, also known as Tamo by the Chinese) which represented the movements of animals, both real and mythical, were furthered refined and developed into a fierce form of self-defense known as the Shaolin temple fist method (shorin-ji-kempo). Thus, the shaolin temple is believed to be the birthplace of systematized martial arts. This is especially significant to the development of Ryukyu martial arts, as generations of secrecy have created a veil of mystery around the development of Okinawan karate. It is known that this Chinese method of self-defense flourished throughout Asia and eventually found its way to Ryukyu archipelago. 

okinawan history

History has recorded that in 1392, 36 families emigrated from China to Okinawa for cultural exchange. It is known that among the 36 families were experts in the martial arts who solidified the growth and interest of Chinese Kempo in Okinawa. Since the Ryukyu people were able seafarers and traders who frequented foreign ports, wares purchased in Indonesia and Southeast Asia were brought to Okinawa and were reshipped to China, Korea and Japan. Through this extensive trading and foreign contact, the already existing methods of self-defense in Okinawa expanded. The establishment of the Sho Shin ruling dynasty in 1477 brought about a ban on weapons across Okinawa. This move to more completely control the citizens became a very important development in the refinement of both armed and unarmed combat.

The year 1609 remains one of the most significant in Okinawan history. The outcome of one of the many Japanese civil wars of that time saw the Satsuma clan of southern Kyushu defeated by the Togukawa clan. As per the customs of the day, close governmental scrutiny was maintained over the losing (Satsuma) samurai. By decree of the ruling Togukawa clan, the Satsuma was permitted to march against the Ryukyu islands. This was done to both punish Okinawa for its refusal to provide with materials needed by Japan for an earlier attack on China and to remove the Satsuma’s samurai from the Japanese homeland because of the persisting armed threat they posed. This military expedition effectively took away Okinawa’s independence, making way for complete Japanese control.

A number of prohibitive ordinances proclaimed by the Satsuma warlord,  Shimazu, addressed a complete ban on weapons by the Okinawans. Arms found in their possession were immediately confiscated and the owner severely punished. Many clashes ensued, with the Okinawans being forced to utilize any and all weapons available. These weapons often took the form of hands and feet as well as agricultural and fishing related. Several failed attempts of disunited resistance led to the various kempo and tode societies banning together to form a unified front. The result was a new fighting style that was simply called te and was translated as hand

During the early years of development, te was shrouded in secrecy due to draconian laws addressed at eradicating all semblance of any Okinawan martial art. Eventually, Japanese occupation ended with Okinawa becoming an official part of the empire. However, the centuries-long underground training and application of te did not end overnight, it was too ingrained. However, the passing down of these necessarily brutal techniques had been done without being committed to writing so they were effectively only handed down to a select few. With the occupation lifted, the martial art now known as karate (the name having been changed from te sometime in the 1800s) was now the fighting art of Okinawa. Methods or systems began to evolve and became categorized as different ryu (styles). These ryu took on the characteristics and thinking of those destined to become the masters of that particular system. By 1903 karate had become more or less standardized into these ryu, many of which are still being taught today. (McCarthy, 1987)

Motobu's Style

Against this history, Choki Motobu’s personal fighting style was primarily his own invention rather than a reflection of any established system of the time. He learned some of the Motobu family style by watching his brother practice and utilized the knowledge by bullying others into street fights so that he could test his techniques in action. He had a great deal of enthusiasm for the martial arts, but most Okinawan masters refused to teach him for fear he would certainly misuse the skills (Wilson, 2010). McCarthy seeks to debunk the entirely self-taught notion to some degree, “Although he was reputed by his detractors to have been a violent and crude street fighter, with no formal training, Motobu was a student of several of Okinawa’s most prominent karate practitioners. Many teachers found his habit of testing his fighting prowess via street fights in the tsuji (red light district) undesirable, but his noble birth may have made it hard for them to refuse him instruction (McCarthy, 2002).

In 1923, perhaps in an effort to find greener pastures, Motobu moved with his family to the city of Osaka on mainland Japan and was hired as a night watchman at a textile company. ( Iwai, 1994)     One day he attended a series of exhibition matches by a Russian (or German) boxer who had been touring Japan as part of a cultural exchange program, fighting Japanese jujitsuans and other martial artists (karate was then unknown in Japan). Motobu, though 52 years old at the time, could not resist entering the competition. He is said to have simply dodged and blocked the Russian’s punches for the first round, without countering. In the second round the Russian charged in and was abruptly stopped by a front kick to the solar plexus, then felled by a single strike to the temple (or under the nose). The Russian was knocked unconscious—some say he never fully recovered—to the great astonishment of the audience, who had never seen such techniques. (Wilson, 2010). This great victory, however, was the catalyst to what some martial artists would characterize as one of the most famous conflicts between leading exponents of their art, the two Okinawan karate masters who helped pioneer the introduction of karate into mainland Japan (Apsokardu, 2012).

motobu and funakoshi

As background, Funakoshi Gichin is the founder of what is now called Shotokan Karatedo. He is commonly referred to as the father of Japanese Karate, and rightly so. No one did more to bring karate to the forefront in Japan, and Funakoshi's efforts to get karate recognized by the Japanese Butokukai (the Japanese organization established by the government to oversee, preserve and promote martial arts in Japan) were immensely impressive. Interestingly, among his peers and teachers, Funakoshi was never considered a dominant fighter or technician. He gained his reputation as a gentleman of elegant thought; a man of philosophy, linguistic skill, political acumen, and of course karate talent.(Apsokardu, 2012) Standing in stark contrast to this elegant and culturally polished rival was the practical and pragmatic Motobu (his detractors were in the habit of referring to him by a childhood nickname “Saru” or “ the Monkey”. Which interestingly enough was a nod to his unusual agility).

When the aforementioned boxing event was reported in a 1925 issue of Kingu, (a popular national magazine),  it was Funakoshi's image, not Motobu's that appeared, although Motobu's name was correctly reported. Some have suggested the reason for this error was purposeful, the articles having been authored or information augmented by Funakoshi's students. Another explanation is that image of Motobu just was not available and the magazine just substituted an image. Whatever the reason, this event exacerbated a rivalry that was really based on professional and personal animus. The differences between Funakoshi and Motobu weren't just theoretical; they encountered and disliked one another. Motobu considered Funakoshi to be rather soft and superficial in his understanding of karate. He observed the changes Funakoshi was making (considered school karate) and decried them as moving away from the true core of Okinawan karate that he had seen and experienced.

Funakoshi on the other hand looked upon Motobu with disdain due to his constant rough behavior and his apparent lack of social grace.  Funakoshi did not believe Motobu was a proper representative of karate. Perhaps this was only natural. Funakoshi was a natural politician. He was also organized and philosophical. He had been an Okinawan educator, taught Okinawan school karate, was fluent in Japanese and its social customs, and was comfortable as a karate educator in Japanese society. Motobu, in contrast, had avoided formal schooling on Okinawa, thus never became fluent in the Japanese language or its culture. Motobu's karate was also somewhat self-developed, partly from experience in small personal classes by his karate instructors, partly self-taught in challenge matches the back streets of Okinawa. In personality, Motobu was also much more direct, outspoken and opinionated. 

What is without question, is the popularity generated by this unexpected victory propelled both Motobu and karate to a degree of fame that neither had previously known in Japan. Motobu was petitioned by several prominent individuals to begin teaching. He opened a dojo, the Daidokan, where he taught until the onset of World War II in 1941. Motobu faced considerable difficulties in his teaching, chief among those was his inability to read and speak mainland Japanese. As a result, much of his instruction was through translators, which led to the rumor that he was illiterate. This rumor has been largely discredited by the existence of samples of Motobu's handwriting. Motobu was active in the martial arts until his death on April 15, 1944 in Shuri, Japan. It is worth mentioning that his legacy is being carried on by his third son, Chosei, who at age 91 still teaches his father’s style, Motobu-Ryu.

My introduction to the life of Choki Motobu has brought me back to what FILKENJUTSU SiJo Bruce Corrigan has said on more than one occasion (I will paraphrase): “We know what we teach works, the history of martial arts is populated by some rough individuals, but as a consequence of their lifestyle these techniques are street tested”. Choki Motobu was a fascinating figure to research: practical, pragmatic and dedicated to his craft. 

Gary Hall, February 2017

Gary Hall (1st on the left, back row) is pictured here after receiving his Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU Kenpo - February 19, 2017.

Gary Hall (1st on the left, back row) is pictured here after receiving his Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU Kenpo - February 19, 2017.

Works Cited

Alexander, G.W. Okinawa, Island of Karate. Lake Worth: Yamazato Publications, 1991. Print.

Apsokardu, Matthew. Funakoshi vs. Motobu. Fighting Arts. 2012. 11 Feb 2017.

Bishop, Mark. Okinawan Karate; Teachers, Styles and Secret Techniques. London: A. & C.                  Black.  1999. Print.

Iwai, Tsukuo. Koden Ryukyu Karatejutsu. Tokyo: Airyudo, 1994. Print. (Partial translation by    Joe Swift)

McCarthy, Pat. Classical Kata of Okinawan Karate. Valencia: Black Belt Communications,    1987. Print.

McCarthy, Patrick and Yuriko. Motobu Choki: Karate, My Art. International Ryukyu Karate                    Research Group. 2002. Print.

Ross, Tom. Choki Motobu: Through the myth to the man. Fighting Arts. 2012. 11 Feb 2017.

Sells, John. Unate. London: W.M. Hawley, 1995. Print 

Wilson, Wendell. Essays on the martial arts. Mineralogical Record. 2010. 11 Feb 2017.

The Triumph of Human Intelligence Over Brute Strength

Jiu Jitsu represents the triumph of human intelligence over brute strength.”
— Helio Gracie

Helio Gracie is the founder of the famous martial art, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. His son, Rorion Gracie, was my father's first teacher in Jiu Jitsu and the creator of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Helio's quote above is one of my all-time favorites, and this past Winter Break I even had it put on the wall in our academy. The thing is though, when people see this quote and the word "triumph" or are told that martial arts teach smaller people how to overcome someone bigger and stronger than them, they tend to think that "triumph" or "overcome" means "to dominate".

If you watch any footage of Helio Gracie fighting, you will see something much different.

In the following fight, notice how Helio is thrown like a rag doll a couple of times before finally securing a move that will render his opponent unconscious and win him the match. This match is narrated by Helio's son, Rorion.

You see, the primary goal of Jiu Jitsu is just to survive against your attacker. Ideally, that would end with you choking them unconscious so you can get up and get home safely, but it may be just protecting yourself until help arrives, or until such time that you can run away.

Recently, I heard of a scenario in which an untrained male (internet troll) is claiming that he could defeat female mixed martial arts fighters because of how much stronger and faster the average man is. A female MMA fighter decided to take him up on the challenge, and it was held at an academy (as such a match would probably never be sanctioned by any organization).

Take a look:


As a martial arts instructor, I have seen this exact scenario play out multiple times. We get the opportunity to see our female students, smaller male students, older students, or any of our students for that matter, train with brand new students who are just getting started.

When I was a kid, I witnessed my Mom choke out a local wrestling coach with the same choke Helio used in the above video. 

I remember at age 18 watching my wife (girlfriend at the time), control a man that outweighed her by at least 80 pounds (of muscle). He started the match telling her that he was not going to use his strength. About midway through the match, he said, "I take it back, I'm going to use my strength." It didn't help.

You see it isn't that size, strength, and speed don't matter. They certainly do, as we've touched on many times on this blog before. It's just that they CAN be overcome with training.

One of the key takeaways from the video above is how quickly the in-shape male runs out of gas. An untrained opponent is not conditioned to fighting the same way as someone trained will be. In fact, not even close.

I will always remember a student coming to train at our school here in Knoxville when I was a teenager. He was an Olympic marathon runner, sponsored by Adidas. Arguably, one of the most "in-shape" athletes on the planet. He can run 26 miles faster than almost anyone else alive. BUT, within 30 seconds to a minute of grappling, he was utterly exhausted - just like every other person that begins training in Jiu Jitsu. This alone is one of the most important reasons to train.

Solely by training martial arts on a regular basis, you are preparing yourself physically and mentally for an altercation that your opponent will be grossly underprepared for if they do not train. We will teach you to weather the storm, and when their gas runs out, your opportunity to come out on top or to get away will present itself.

The funny thing is, in the interview after the match, the man states that it went about the way he expected and that he dominated until he gassed. What he should have said is that he dominated until she dominated! While his strength and speed allowed him to win the early exchanges, it quickly deteriorated, to the point that he actually tapped out to the exhaustion. That means he gave up (defeated both physically and mentally) due to just exhaustion - not from being hit or submitted by something like a choke.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned Rorion Gracie creating the UFC. Well that was now 25 years ago. At this past weekend's UFC event (the two hundred and twentieth event), we got to witness this exact scenario play out.

In the main event for the Undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the world, Stipe Miocic weathered the storm of the fearsome striker, Francis Ngannou, to keep the belt and remain the UFC Heavyweight Champion. In the process, he set a new record for Heavyweight title defenses (3). The strikers are so powerful in this division, the fighters have an extremely difficult time keeping the belt for very long before someone else comes along and knocks them out.

Francis Ngannou was promoted as the most fearsome Heavyweight to ever step into the octagon with the most powerful punch ever recorded at the UFC Performance Institute. In his last fight, Ngannou knocked his opponent out with one punch - an uppercut so hard that his opponent was lifted off of his feet by the punch.

Ngannou came out swinging this fight too but had run into an opponent with a gameplan to avoid Ngannou's punches, use his wrestling and Jiu Jitsu to get the fight to the ground, and control him. Despite Ngannou's 20-pound weight advantage, he was unable to escape from underneath Miocic. He had zapped all of his energy trying to knock Miocic out and defending against the grappling positions with a lack of technique (he is still relatively new to the sport). 

The fatigue allowed Miocic to cruise to his 3rd title defense, but gave the rest of us another clean example of overcoming strength. 

The Dynamics of Our Kenpo

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Reasons Martial Arts Training Is The Best Activity for Your Brain and Memory!

A recent Consumer Reports article presented the latest research on keeping our minds sharp, especially as we age. As I read the article, I couldn’t help but notice that each of the five areas discussed could be addressed by being actively involved in a Martial Arts program!

1.    Reducing Stress

Exercise is well known for its ability to aid in the reduction of stress. Add to that the myriad of stress-reducing benefits of the Martial Arts in particular and you have a true stress buster. 

2.    Staying Connected

By this, the authors meant staying connected socially with others. The social aspects of a training class such as a Martial Arts class cannot be underestimated, not to mention Martial Arts classes are fun and engaging, helping you to commit to the long term benefits. 

3.    Feeding the Brain

Consuming a nutritionally-balanced diet is key to any Martial Arts program and your overall healthy lifestyle. The recommendations for maintaining healthy brain function are much the same as for maintaining overall healthy body function: minimizing trans-fat intake, reducing saturated fat intake, and consuming more fish and other foods that contain healthy fats. 

4.    Staying Fit

Physical activity is the best-known way of protecting your brain against aging. The recommendation here is the same as for general health and well-being: at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days. Martial Arts training incorporates daily exercise into your routine in a fun and exciting way so that you can stick to it. 

5.    Flexing Brain Muscles

Use it or lose it. The mental aspect of Martial Arts training provides this type of mental stimulation along with a great physical workout. This is something I discuss with our adult students on a very regular basis. Adult students often notice that the martial arts we teach are so technique oriented, cerebral, and detailed that they sometimes have difficulty remembering the techniques. That is exactly why it is so beneficial for you. Using the brain to make the mind and body work together performing a complicated Jiu Jitsu technique, or a long Kata in Kenpo is exactly the kind of workout that your brain needs!

Keep in mind that “aging” doesn’t mean you’re heading toward your 90s. Depending on your lifestyle, aging-related changes in your brain such as memory loss can begin as early as your 20s or 30s. So stay committed to your Martial Arts training. Your mind will thank you for it.

Some people plan on doing crossword puzzles and sudoku to keep their minds working as they age. I for one plan on rolling and practicing my forms/techniques when I’m 90!

Leave Your Ego at the Door

Any student at Progressive Martial Arts Academy should be familiar with the phrase: “Leave your ego at the door.” We did not coin this phrase but consistently encourage our students to follow it. The thing is - this phrase means much more than what it may seem on the surface. This phrase is an essential component of “the Martial Arts Way of Life” and something that we can all do to grow our sense of true self, become better martial artists, and live more in the moment than ever before.

At first glance, I think most students believe that this phrase is telling them not to be afraid of making mistakes, losing sparring sessions, or admitting weaknesses. They are right, but when you examine it, it means so much more. 

What is an ego?

An ego is something every person develops at an early age that can influence anything from the way we dress to the way we speak and behave in social situations. At a very young age, we realize that people around us expect us to act a certain way, and we learn that certain behaviors cause people to “like” us more so we conform to those expectations and develop a version of ourselves that we “put on” when we leave our homes.

Many times, if you pay attention, you may notice that you might have different egos for when you are with different people. You might speak one way when with family members, another way with friends, and a completely different way with co-workers. That is a classic example of the ego in action.

When you walk onto the mat, we would love for you to leave your ego behind and be your true self. Many factors may make this easier than it would be in other situations - starting with the uniform and the belt. Every student at PMA starts with the same white uniform (gi) and the same rank (white belt). You do not have to think about dressing a certain way to impress anyone or fit in. It doesn’t matter where you come from, who you know, how much money you make, or what your gender, age, or race is - everyone starts at the same rank and has to earn their position in the dojo with hard work, dedication, and consistent training. 

Why Should We Leave Our Ego Behind?

In our academy, we have this phrase (Leave Your Ego at the Door) hanging on the wall; partly because we know it is essential for a student to keep this in mind or they may not make it far in their training. When the ego is not left behind, and emotions are allowed to enter the dojo with you, you are bound to run into issues. 

The martial arts we teach are extremely functional, and you cannot “pretend” to be skilled in them if you are not. For example, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, if someone allows themselves to mistakenly believe they are more skilled at grappling than they are, that they should be able to defeat a particular training partner, or that they have the ability to perform a difficult technique, they will quickly be faced with reality. There is no way to pretend in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that you are what you aren’t.

Bringing any emotion onto the mat can be detrimental to a student’s training experience. We encourage pride, expectations, stress, anger, frustration, sadness, anxiousness, and even positive emotions like happiness and excitement to be left at the door because they can cloud our judgment, decision-making processes, and ability to learn. Doing this can prove to be extremely challenging and something that takes most martial artists years to master but is one of the most defining qualities of martial arts masters around the world from many different arts.

How do we leave it behind?

Start with insecurities, expectations, and self-consciousness. This week in training, avoid coming into class with any expectations for your performance. That includes how quickly you should be able to learn the techniques, or how much you think you already know, who you think you can “beat,” and what you should or shouldn’t be able to do. 

Starting with your words, do not talk about yourself or compare yourself to other students (this already shouldn’t happen because of another martial artist quality - humility), but also include your thoughts. Before, during and after training resist the urge to judge yourself and other students. 

Here are some classic examples of the ego not left behind that you can try to avoid:

Example #1:

"I'm not very good at ________________."

We make statements like this to lower our teacher's or training partner's expectations of our performance. This insecurity will get in the way of your training. At least in our academy, your teachers and training partners will not be disappointed in you for doing your best and falling short of perfection. We will be impressed with you just showing up and training hard!

Example #2:

"Hey, when I caught you in that arm bar, do you remember how I did it?"

If you do something well in training, don't draw attention to it. That is a classic example of the ego in action.  I know you are proud of your accomplishment but drawing attention to it will only make your partner feel sad or angry, and make you look too proud! Again, just show up and train hard!

Example #3:

**Teacher walks by to watch you practice a technique, and because you are a little embarrassed by what you might look like if you mess it up, you stop and ask a question instead of doing the technique.

Your teacher does not expect you to be already able to do the technique, that's why you are in their class! If you try your best and mess it up, your teacher should be embarrassed for not teaching it well enough if anything.

Instead, when the teacher comes by - do the technique to the best of your ability and show them what your best looks like right now. They might make some corrections, or they might be happy with where you are now and move on. Afterwards, if you genuinely do have a question - now ask it.

Example #4:

**Getting angry or frustrated when you don't "win." Or sometimes worse, trying too hard to win.

In our kid's classes, we have "mat chats" from time to time where we talk about "the spirit of competition." The spirit of competition is when everyone is having fun. The nature of competition is that you have to try to win, but when you start letting your desire to win become so important that your partner's well-being or safety are at risk, then you have let your ego get in the way of the training.

Don't be overly happy when you win, and don't be overly frustrated or sad when you lose. After all, we are not opponents in the academy - we are training partners, and we are all co-trainers for each other. 

We are so proud of the culture and training environment we've built at PMA because of rules and mindsets like this. Training in an environment where you are challenged, safe, having fun, and getting better every class is how you set yourself up to train for the rest of your life - which should ultimately always be the goal.

In closing, come to class with a clear mind and empty cup, and you will leave with one of the best training sessions of your life. Hopefully the first of many. Share this post to help eradicate egos from martial arts academies around the world!

Loyalty and the Martial Arts

When someone is committed to a cause, person, or thing, we call that loyalty. Loyalty is a feeling of devotion or faithfulness no matter what the current circumstance. 

Some of you reading may already have some people or things you feel loyalty towards coming to mind: your family, your nation, your faith, your friends, your partner, or a favorite sports team (Go Vols!). Loyalty is asked of us a lot, and some people are even uncomfortable about the idea of commitment. 

Let’s break loyalty down in a martial arts context and explore its application:  

Loyalty may be what leads you to start training. Perhaps loyalty to your health and fitness goals inspired you to research ways to stay active. Maybe you wanted to be sure you could protect yourself and those you love. You were committed enough to your values of bettering yourself that you took action. That is loyalty. 

From the second you take your first steps into an academy, your instructors should be loyal to you. They should be committed to giving you the best impression of martial arts possible. They shouldn't do this to “make a sale” or fill their class size, but rather because of their loyalty to martial arts in general. They should believe in its benefits and be committed to accurately portraying them. That way, even if this school is not the right fit for you, you keep looking for martial arts elsewhere. That is loyalty. 

If you do discover the school is right for you and decide to join, they should ask for some loyalty in return. You may be asked to uphold the academy rules. There are countless reasons for these rules, but it is also one of the small instances you are asked to show your commitment to the academy. Albeit small, that is loyalty. 

At some point in your training, you may hit a plateau. This plateau is well-known among martial artists but not talked about that often. It is when you start to feel stagnant (like you’re not progressing). Perhaps you haven’t gotten any new material lately and start to feel bored with your current techniques. You start wanting to skip class, but you don’t. You don’t because of your trust in your instructor’s plan for your journey in the martial arts. You don’t because of your commitment to bettering yourself and all the reasons you started training martial arts in the first place. That is loyalty. 

Fast-forward years and years down the road. You have demonstrated determination, commitment and an understanding of the core material. At this academy your brown belt is replaced with a white one, signifying you are now in preparation for your Black Belt test. For the next several months, you are asked to show humility, conviction, perseverance, grit, and most of all loyalty. You show commitment to your training by increasing your attendance and your time outside of class practicing material and getting in the best shape you can. You show this loyalty to prove that when the mentally and physically grueling test does come, you will not quit—no matter how hard it is. 

Really the Black Belt test at its core can be seen as an expression of your loyalty to your training and yourself. No matter how tough things get, no matter how you feel that day, loyalty stays constant and quitting is never an option. When the test is over, nothing changes. 

This allegiance to your training, training partners, and instructors stays—forever! 

If this level of devotion seems crazy to you now as a beginner student, don’t worry. By the time you’re at that level, just like you have practiced punching and kicking, you will have practiced loyalty so much throughout your training that it will feel natural. It will never be easy, but it will be natural. 

I’ll leave you with a poem written by PMA student and Black Belt, Jack Tuberville, that you can find hung up in our lobby:

Black Belt

The white belt learns to kick and punch
And take another down.
He trains in use of stick and knife
And grapples on the ground. 

The Black Belt still has much to learn, 
But nothing left to prove.
All fear he’s long since put aside;
He walks in different shoes.

He lives to serve both kith and kin,
And keep this pledge held true:

In time of trouble
If you call
I will stand by you. 

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).

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.