Sunday, January 22, 2012

Migrating to New Domain -

Though this blog is still in its infancy, it has already become clear that the Blogger platform, while wonderful, will not meet all of the needs that I have in mind for this site. As such, I have decided to create my very own website -

Though this format requires more work, it also gives me much more flexibility and control over the layout and content. Head on over to the new site and click the RSS feed button on the top to follow along! There are also a number of Like, Tweet and etc buttons to share with your friends. Don't forget to comment on your favorite posts. You can also use the contact form to make suggestions and share your thoughts.

See you there!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Making Time for the Family as a Martial Artist

Does your wife (or husband), ever say that they'd like you to be home more often?

For many, martial arts is simply a hobby. But, for a select few, it is something much more.  These unique people realize that to truly get the most they can out of the martial arts, a significant amount of time and energy has to be put into it.  Unfortunately, unless you are single, or have found a way to stretch out time, all that time you spend in martial arts could mean time away from the family.  Take my story as an example.

This is a schedule that represents my time out of the house, away from my family.  All of this is on top of my full time job.

Monday - 5:15 - 6:45
Tuesday - 6:15 - 9:00
Wednesday - 4:45 - 8:30
Thursday - 6:15 - 9:00
Friday - Free day
Saturday - 2-4 hours at the studio
Sunday - Free day

(Extra stuff, ie: visiting other studios/instructors, tournaments, etc takes place a few times a month, usually on my "free" days)

By no means am I a full-time martial artist (yet).  However, it is pretty obvious that, on top of my full-time job, I spend a significant amount of time away from home.  Even with my current load, I want to spend even more time training.  I have two projects now that I want start (experimenting with Bruce Lees workouts, and a 100,000 technique challenge) but I'm not sure exactly where to fit them without reaching the breaking point with my family.

Even if you have a family that is fully supportive of your training, it is still extremely important that you recognize their needs, which may not always be spoken.

Many have heard the old adage, "Quality over quantity".  It may be that this is the key with both your family and your training.  What are your thoughts?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

7 Exercises to Test Fitness, Flexibility and Balance

Bruce Lee - Two Finger Push-ups
How important is it to test your students (and yourself) in fitness and flexibility?

In 1908, Anko Itosu (considered to be the father of modern karate), wrote his "Ten Precepts of Karate" to the Okinawan Ministry of Education as a way to introduce karate to the Okinawan school system.  His 7th precept stated, "You must decide if karate is for your health or to aid your duty."

(To get more info on Itosu's Ten Precepts, check out this excellent blog post by Iain Abernethy)

It should be safe to assume that the majority of people practice martial arts primarily for the health and other (non-combat) benefits that they provide.  Even the advertisements for most schools focus on the health, coordination and similar benefits that martial arts provide.

Unfortunately, I am not convinced that many martial arts schools really fulfill their claims.  After all, I've certainly seen my share of overweight black belts.

I believe that martial arts truly can provide some outstanding health benefits when practiced often and with intensity.  However, therein lies the sticking point.  Most martial artists do not train often enough or hard enough.  So, I decided to perform a test on my martial arts students (and myself) to see if they really were getting any measurable health benefits.

I chose seven exercises that were simple, measurable and repeatable and tested 46 students across a variety of ranks, ages ranging from 5-18.  The first test was taken in the beginning of January to create a baseline.  Subsequent tests will be held every two months up until the 6 month mark to gauge progress.

The exercises included:

Fitness -             Pushups - Maximum amount in 1 minute
                           Crunches - Maximum amount in 1 minute
                           High Jump - Highest Jump out of 3 attempts

Flexibility -        Modified Sit and Reach - Maximum Stretch out of 3 attempts
                           Wall Leg Stretch (V Stretch) - Maximum Stretch
                           Shoulder Stretch - Maximum Stretch

Balance -            Balance Board - Maximum Time in 1 attempt

(Click for downloadable Exercise Instructions and Fitness Assessment Form)

The tests were easy to demonstrate, simple to perform and the largest class (18 students) took just under an hour to complete.

I timed the test to coincide with the New Year so that I could also introduce the idea of goals to the younger students.  I also made sure to stress that while the initial numbers give us a baseline, the improvement is what I'm really interested in measuring.  And, to make it more exciting for them, the students with the greatest gain in each area and the student with the greatest gain overall will be recognized!

I have attached the test scores for my students (yes, mine are there too, on the bottom) in the below image.  How did you students do?

Monday, January 16, 2012

How to Make or Modify Your Goals Using the SMART Model

According to the statistics, 40-45% of adult Americans made one or more resolutions this year.  These resolutions typically fall under three categories: Weight Loss, Exercise and Stopping Smoking.  Unfortunately, if you are among those who made a resolution, you may also be one of the approximately 30% of people who have already broken their resolution.

So, why are resolutions important if less than half of them will be followed after 6 months?  The answer comes to us in yet another statistic - Those who make explicit resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals!

I believe that one of the main reasons that goals are unmet is that we don't know how to make proper goals.  The goals we make aren't SMART.

So, what is a SMART goal?  It's simple, the goal must be:

S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Achievable
R - Realistic
T - Time-bound

(Iain Abernethy,  one of the UK’s leading exponents of applied karate, does a great job of explaining how to use the SMART model to create your goals in this podcast.)

So, using the two of the common goals, let's examine them and see how we can make them SMART.

Weight Loss - Typically, the makers of this goal do no more than state, "I am going to lose weight this year!"  While this is an admirable goal, it is not a SMART goal.  For example, how much weight are you going to lose?  How often and by what standards will you measure that goal?  What will you do to achieve your goal?  Is the amount of weight you want to lose realistic?  How quickly do you plan to lose the weight?

Now, how can we restructure our original goal to meet the SMART model?  Try this - "I want to drop a total of 20 pounds by the end of the year, or I want to lose one pound per week".  Remember though, while this goal meets the standards of the SMART model, there remains one more key element - HOW are you going to meet your goal?  It could be by reducing your daily caloric intake (again, use the SMART model to make this a new goal).  Or, it could be through exercise.

Exercise - "I'm gonna get off my butt this year!!"  Ok, perhaps you phrased it a bit more eloquently than that, but this is another very common goal.  However, it's not a very specific goal.  After all, you could theoretically meet this goal by simply parking farther away from the entrance to the next store you visit.  If that constitutes "more exercise" to you, then perhaps that will suffice, but most people have something more in mind.  If you are new to exercise, this one may be rather difficult to define.  In fact, I'm still trying to define it.  With all of the various methods of exercise, how are you to choose which would be best for you?  Running, Yoga, Weight Lifting, Team Sports, Martial Arts (my favorite), the list can go on and on.  Then, once you have decided on an activity, how do you determine how often you perform it, how far you will run, how much weight you hope to lift?

I believe there are a few ways to go about this; 1) trial and error, 2) join a class/group or 3) hire a professional.  All of them, in truth, are going to involve some trial and error.  The second two choices, however, are more likely to yield real results and probably a bit quicker as well.

I use a mix of all three.  Late last year, I spoke to a personal trainer and took a complete fitness evaluation.  That served as the basis and helped jump start my exercise goals.  Spending my own money to help attain my goal, while not a requirement, reminded me that I was serious about attaining my goals - after all, money is the great motivator!  Though I didn't follow the specific routine that we laid out (the purpose of me exercising more has changed since then), I still plan to meet with her again in a few months time to track my improvement.

Also, I regularly attend a cardio fitness group.  Personally, I think that this is one of the best ways to keep reaching for your goal as you are usually surrounded by a group of like-minded people.  After a while, a bond begins to develop and your new friends help to motivate you on those days that you'd rather spend the evening in front of the TV.  Search around, find a class and group of people that you enjoy.

The last option mentioned, trial and error, definitely takes the longest and requires the most will-power.  When you aren't spending your money for someone else to tell you what to do or to pay for that exercise class, you have to rely on your own personal will-power to keep you going.  Decide what it is exactly that you hope to attain.  Initially, I wanted to get bigger.  However, during the course of my research, I determined that bigger is not better and now my goal is to achieve greater functional strength. As I'm still in the research and experimentation phase of this, I can't yet give you an exact routine that I follow, but I will begin keeping a detailed record of my activities as time goes on.

This brings me to another important point regarding goal-setting.  It is very important that you write down your goals and then record your progress.  This serves a number of important purposes.  First, it reminds you of your goals and can help to provide direction if you begin to stray off track.  Second, it gives you the opportunity to modify or change your goals if you decide that they aren't reasonable after all or you develop a greater understanding of what exactly it is that you want to achieve.  Third, and perhaps most important, tracking your progress ensures that what you are doing is actually helping you to reach your goals.  This can be a great motivator in itself.

I also recommend proclaiming your New Years resolutions to the world!  Ok.. maybe not the entire world, but having a group of people that are aware of your goals and can help to keep you accountable and striving toward those ends.  You might even end up motivating them with your progress!

I have one more thing I'd like to point out.  Yes, the New Year has passed but don't let that stop you from making your goals now.  In fact, waiting for a particular date or event to occur only shows that you may have a lack of resolve.  Make the change today!

So, what goals have you made?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How To Become a Martial Arts Master

A very long time ago, I heard a story about a flea.

Sitting in Wendy's, a dear friend and mentor took a glass and put a piece of paper on top of it.  "Imagine there were a flea inside of the glass" he said.  "At first, the flea would jump as high as he could, trying to escape the glass, only succeeding in hitting the ceiling.  However, after a little while, the flea would stop jumping so high so that it no longer hits the ceiling.  After a little while longer, the flea will forget that it even can jump that high.  Once enough time has passed, you can take the paper away but the flea will never jump out."

This story had a profound effect on me and I swore to never be that flea.  I grew up in a family that rarely had an excess of money.  In fact, we might have even been referred to as "poor" at times.  Additionally, while my family passed on some positive influences, particularly the hard work of my mother, there were a number of negative influences as well - smoking, alcohol and even the occasional drug use.  I decided relatively early that I wanted to follow a different path.  I didn't have to live the same life that those around me did.  That was the first time I escaped the cup.

It would be many years before I could apply the same philosophy to my martial arts, and it would first come through a different art - motorcycling.

Me attending one of the post track days
I began motorcycling about seven years ago while I was in the Marine Corps.  I went through the training required by the military and set about improving my skills little by little.  After a few years, I began attending the track days that were offered on post.  After attending a few, I was approached by the base motorcycle program manager.  After a very brief discussion, he asked me if I would be interested in becoming an instructor.  Sure!!  I was excited to be able to learn more about the activity that I had so come to enjoy.

I became an instructor and was eventually chosen to be the "motorcycle expert" for my unit.  One of the requirements was that I attend a higher level of training which was provided by Lee Parks, who was to become a good friend of mine.  The course expanded my knowledge of motorcycling to a level that I hadn't imagined and I was surprised, yet again, when I was recommended to become one of his instructors as well.

This opened my eyes to a whole new world of motorcycling.  I learned an incredible amount of information but what I learned the most was this - there was so much more out there, and more importantly, it was within my reach.

Unfortunately, despite having trained in martial arts for twice as long as I've ridden motorcycles, I only recently learned that I had been viewing and studying the art from the confines of my little cup.  As I have mentioned previously, I was discouraged by many of the studios that I attended through the years, feeling that they had little to teach me.  What I truly felt was that there was little more to learn.  Of course, there are styles with different kata, and certainly there are belts that I have yet to attain.  But a kick is a kick, a punch a punch and while there's an astounding variety of ways to throw someone through the air, they all end with them landing on the ground.

I began training at my current studio last year.  The style, Shaolin Kempo Karate, is new to me and I had been out of training for a while so I started out as a white belt.  However, after my first belt test with them (in truth, the first test I had taken in over 12 years), I was promoted to blue belt, literally skipping half of the belt ranks.  Instead of being pleased, I was again discouraged.  After all, if I make it that far after training with them for only a few months, how much longer would it take before I had learned all there was for them to teach me?

So, I quit.  I stopped going to the studio, as I had many studios before, but I couldn't give up my love for the art.  I had to be missing something, there had to be more. 

I did what any person in need of an answer does, I turned to Google.  Not surprisingly, "how to become a martial arts master" yields very few helpful results.  Watching videos of martial arts masters in action revealed that their techniques look surprisingly similar to mine.  The kata they perform, while I have not yet studied them, look like nothing spectacular or beyond my abilities.  They have trained for longer, sometimes much longer than I, but surely time isn't what makes a master.  So, what was it?  How does one become a martial arts master?

I have come to believe that the answer is simple - jump out of the glass.  Refuse to be bound by the limitations around you and in you.  Take responsibility for your own learning and absorb even the tiniest lessons from those around you.  Understand that there is so much more out there and that, yes, you can achieve it.  Sure, significant time and effort is required, but don't let that effort go to waste by living in the confines of your little glass.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Evolution of a Martial Artist

I first started training in martial arts at approximately age 15.  I recall that I was at a neighboring school  doing some accent training for an upcoming play that I was to perform in.  The room that we occupied was situated near the school gym and throughout our practice I could hear the loud yells of a group of young people.  After my accent training, I went to the gym and was instantly drawn in by the collective motions and energy.  "I want to do that", I decided then and there, and so I did.

For a number of years, I continued training in Tang Soo Do, striving to be the best in the class.  I'm not an outwardly competitive person, but inside, I was only satisfied with being on top.  One night in class, I was practicing Chi Sao (sticking hands) with an older gentleman who, admittedly, was better than I was.  It was much to my relief that our instructor announced that we were to switch from Chi Sao to traditional sparring.  Very soon after that transition, I caught my partner with a spinning kick to the ribs.  It was a few weeks later that I learned that I had injured him.  Though my actions were unintended (causing injury at least), they struck a painful chord in me and taught me a valuable lesson: the understanding that I could, and did, hurt someone.

After that point, I backed away from karate, going infrequently and eventually falling away from that class and the friends I had made there.  Life took a number of unexpected turns, leading me overseas and, upon my return, around the states.  Whenever I found myself in one location for a period of time, I would check out the local studios, join for a while and wish for the old days.  I didn't know it back then, but my first instructor and the classes he held were of a standard that I have rarely seen since.

Another realization that became depressingly clear over the years was that, though my training had been broken and inconsistent, I often found myself at the top of the class, wherever I went.  For many years, despite my desire to be the best, I found this to be a great discouragement.  After all, how was I to learn if it seemed that I was above those who were to teach me?

I have often referred to myself as a perpetual learner.  I have always thrived on new information, even as a young child.  My mother still has no hesitation in telling me what my favorite question was while growing up - "Why?"

After many years and experiences, I eventually came to realize that every one, every single person, has something to teach you, as long as you are open to learning.  Sometimes they teach what you are looking for, sometimes they teach something completely different.  And occasionally, if you open your mind and look inside, they teach you something profound about yourself.

Martial arts, I have come to understand, is not simply about the physical movements that I yearned to perfect as a teenager.  It is about improvement on every front - an evolution of the body, mind, and spirit.  My intent for this blog is to share that evolution.