Leave your ego at the door

A friend of mine wrote an interesting blog a little while ago. Read it here before you read the rest down below. Bear in mind that he is outspoken in his views and opinion. In other words, don’t complain if what he writes upsets you: you were warned.

Don lived in Japan for many years and he is fluent in Japanese at a level most Westerners can only dream about. So not only does he have a more in-depth understanding of the country and its language, he also received a different kind of training than those who don’t speak Japanese well and only visit for a few weeks at a time (at best). I’d advise students of Japanese arts to take into account his writing when they study with a Japanese teacher. It can help you avoid all sorts of problems.

That said, I’d like to offer some thoughts on what he wrote. Be prepared for some rambling and jumping from one thing to the next.

Here goes.


Talent is overrated

As I’ve said before, I wasn’t talented when I started training at age 13. I was strong for my age, but I was neither flexible nor well-coordinated. I was also a slow learner and still am to this day.  I was tenacious though. I very quickly fell in love with martial arts and would come home from class to train some more in my room. Or I’d be in the garden kicking and punching an old tree we had there. I also routinely showed up to class at least 30min. early and practiced on my own before the teacher arrived.

I was a lot of things when I started, but I wasn’t talented.

It’s been almost 30 years since I started training an I learned a lot since then. Some of my peers tell me I’m really good now. My critics say I’m full of shit and suck blocky nuts. The flattery strokes the ego and the vitriolic criticism is usually best ignored, neither changes anything about whatever skill I do have.  Personally, I think I’m pretty good at some arts and OK at others. When I look at my teachers though, I see how much more work I have to do to be at their level. That’s the most exciting prospect for me, but I digress.

My point is that I only improved my skill level by working at it very hard for many years. That’s not a big deal, by the way. Anybody who’s good at something works at it to get that good. “Getting good” can only be done in one way: improve what you can do now so you can do it better tomorrow. The only way to improve something is to grind away at whatever is making it “not right”. The only way of doing that is knowing what is wrong to begin with. That’s where your teacher comes in. [Read more…]

Basic Striking Drill for Stand-Up Fighting

I’ve written a lot about self-defense lately and apparently, this has given the impression to people that I either have something against combat sports (MMA, muay thai, etc.) and don’t train in them myself. Neither of those two statements is correct, on the contrary. I love combat sports, they’re great. I also competed in them when I was younger and still teach them in my classes and to private students. Given the feedback I received, I thought it might be fun to show some of the things I teach to students.

So here’s a basic striking drill for stand-up fighting. Take a look first and then I’ll explain the reasons behind it.

First, a couple of things I have to mention:

  • We shot this video on my cellphone, near the end of class. The video quality is OK but not awesome, given that my cellphone isn’t a full-fledged camera. It’s all one take and there’s no editing. That’s also why you see the mistakes I and my student made (he was a little thrown by suddenly having to perform for the camera.) I chose to keep them in there instead of starting over until we did it all exactly right. That way I can point them out to you, because learning to correct the mistakes is an essential part of the drill.
  • There should be more footwork. Typically, we move around a lot more when we practice this drill. Doing so would have made it more difficult to shoot the video and we’d also lose the best background we have in the gym. The yellow curtains aren’t great, but they sure are better than a dark brown one or one with lots of visual noise all over the place.
  • We don’t do the drill at full speed or power. We reserve that for when we work on the pads. I’ve found that students get injured if I let them cut loose during the drills. So we hold back a little and focus on other things like timing, distancing, technique, etc.
  • I’m still nursing a bunch of injuries and am not allowed to do certain things. As a result, the drill isn’t as smooth as it could be. I also have to adapt it a bit to make it work. This is most visible when I throw a right punch: I should be turning into it more. Right now, I can’t do that so I have to pull that punch a bit. But you shouldn’t. The same goes for my arm position in my on-guard stance, the way I block, the way I turn my hips into a kick. There are a bunch of things I should do differently, but right now, I’d only injure myself more by doing them.
  • It doesn’t matter how I do each technique. It’s not about punching or kicking in an MMA or muay Thai way. If you do a lead hook or any other technique in a different way, by all means keep doing so. I have reasons for each of my technical choices and you might have other reasons for them. For instance, in the basic version of this drill we don’t drop our weight in the overhand right. I teach level changes later on in a student’s development because otherwise they don’t learn stability first. I also found it slows down a student’s progress in developing the ability to throw fluid/fast combinations if I let him lean or drop his weight from the get go.


What’s in in the drill?

Let’s take a look at the different components now:

  1. The entry. You have to start out of reach and then step in with the jab, followed by a cross and lead hook.
  2. The first counter. The partner fires a lead hook as soon as he blocks yours. You block that one and counter with another lead hook followed by an overhand punch (short, medium or long, depending on circumstances). [Read more…]

How to use an android tablet computer for martial arts training and teaching

As I mentioned before, I’m a bit of a nerd and have been using computers and IT products for over thirty years now (Remember the Apple II? I do…) Just recently, I bit the bullet and bought a 7-inch Galaxy Tab2 to replace both my paper planner and all the printed-out client files I always had to drag along. Now I have everything in one place, can keep it synchronized on all my devices and can do a whole lot more too. This gave me the idea to write a post on how to use an Android tablet computer for martial arts training and teaching. As you will see, with a little bit of preparation and creative thinking you can make your life a whole lot easier while you improve both your own  skills and those of your students.

A couple of things before we get started:

  • This guide is not only for practitioners but also for students, teachers and coaches. You can use the information here for your own needs, though you might have to adapt it a little bit so it fits your particular situation.
  • If you do buy a tablet, pick the one that is right for you. I’ll give some recommendations here below but do your own research to make sure you’ll be happy with your purchase. Everybody is different and needs different features, there is no one-size fits all approach.
  • If you buy a tablet without a camera then certain things I write here won’t work for you. Today though, there really is no reason anymore to buy one without a camera, so make sure your tablet has one.
  • To a degree, this information also applies to Android phones. However, the size factor does make a difference: showing something on a 7-inch screen instead of a 4-inch one makes it a lot easier to show things to others. Handwritten notes or drawings are also not very practical on a cellphone. And so on. But feel free to give it a try on your phone and if it works for you, then that’s great.
  • Input takes some getting used to. I use a 7-inch tablet and found that the best way to type is to hold it vertically. Then the on-screen keyboard has the best compromise between lay-out and button size for my fingers. Landscape mode didn’t work for me. For you, it may be different so go out and test a few tablets in stores before buying one. Also, don’t forget that there are multiple input methods: different kinds of on-screen keyboards, with or without predictive text, speech-to-note, etc. If one doesn’t please you, another probably will.
  • Consider using a stylus. Especially if you are training hard, your fine motor control will go down, making it harder to use a touchscreen. In that case, a stylus could be the answer for you, especially when you want to draw on your tablet.

These are some practical considerations to consider before you decide to get a tablet. Of course, the crucial factor will be your budget. How much money you can (or are willing to) spend on non-essential gizmos plays an important role in just how much satisfaction you’ll get out of it. Spend too little and you buy crap that doesn’t work well or breaks down. Spend too much and you’ll piss off your significant other or end up disappointed that there isn’t more whiz)bang to the thing for all that money. My view is that you should spend the most money you can reasonably afford to come as close as possible to your ideal tablet. In my experience, that always leaves me at the very least happy with the amount of money I spent even if the product ends up being less amazing than I thought. But again, to each his own so consider this aspect carefully too.

How to use an android tablet computer for martial arts training and teaching

My Galaxy Tab, showing the video I took in class to show a student he was dropping his covering hand when he punches. The quality is very good but I made this image low-res so it wouldn’t suck up bandwidth.


All that out of the way, let’s take a look at how you can use a tablet for your martial arts needs. [Read more…]

Martial arts and Life-coaching

Yesterday, I put this on my Facebook page:

Somebody just asked me why I don’t offer life-coaching based on what I learned from the martial arts. I replied that if you strip MAs down to their essence, it’s all about injuring, maiming and killing people. Sure, there is more to it but that stuff gets added to it and is not at the center of the arts.
So asking that kind of advice from me is like asking Hannibal Lecter to be your therapist. Sure, he has the required degree but that is not what he is at the core level.
Got a blank stare in response… Maybe I should have just smiled and said “That’s a great idea.”

I received a bunch of comments on this, some of which I agree with where as others not so much, which prompted me to write this post.


First, a couple of things to make sure we’re on the same page:

  • With “Life-coaching”, I mean the “Empowerment now!” or “Believe in yourself and become confident!” and “Achieve inner happiness!” style services some people offer. That was what the person who asked me the original question meant, so that’s what I’m responding to. Nothing else. If your definition of life-coaching is different from this, that’s fine. But understand that we’re talking about different things then.
  • I’m sure there are life-coaches out there who do a good job, it’s just that I haven’t met any of them. Doesn’t mean there aren’t any though. It only means I don’t know them. That said, you can imagine my opinion of their services isn’t all that high…
  • I’m not saying the life-coaches I have in mind when I write here are all bad. What I am saying is that I have reservations about the job in and of itself. These two are not the same thing.

Now that we have this out of the way, let’s get started. What’s my beef with using martial arts as life-coaching? Well, like I said, I don’t think it’s the best source of information for that goal. Which isn’t to say there are no valuable lessons to learn from martial arts, lessons that apply to everybody. But those lessons can be learned elsewhere too. Perhaps even better.

The only lessons you can’t really find elsewhere (barring certain exceptions) are those related to fighting. And then we’re back to the killing and maiming part, which is what martial arts amount to at their most basic level.

I’ll get back to all that but first, here are some of the responses I received. First from Craig: [Read more…]

Martial arts instructors know everything, even when they don’t.

I’m a big fan of the Freakonomics book and discovered the website with its podcasts a while ago. There was an episode recently that touched upon a fundamental problem in the martial arts and self-defense community:

The instructors know everything, even when they don’t.

In a way, this is only human. You’re in a position of authority and are expected to be able to answer questions. Because, you know, your students pay you to teach them so if you can’t answer every question with absolute authority then you’re not a good teacher, right?

I don’t think so.

I may be wrong but I never saw it written anywhere that a martial arts or self-defense teacher is supposed to know everything. That’s just not possible; and like Logen Ninefingers aka The Bloody Nine always says: “You have to be realistic about these things.”

I believe you do your students a disservice by giving them an answer that is either wrong or incomplete when you go out on a limb like that. What’s worse, when they eventually find out you were full of it, they might end up questioning the knowledge and information you offer that is accurate. So even in the long run, you’re better off telling the truth and admitting you don’t know. No matter how difficult it is for your ego to do so.

When I was younger, I fell prey to this very mistake but after repeatedly being wrong, I learned my lesson. Now I just say “I don’t know.” or “I’ll ask my teacher.” or “I’ll look it up.” If a student presses for an answer, at best, I’m willing to give them my opinion and then label it as such. That way they at least have a qualifier to put the information I give into proper context instead of taking it as gospel.

By the way, this applies to everything I write on this blog too: I’m an island of one, just one guy sharing a little knowledge and personal experience. I make no claims other than “This is what I think is right at this point in time.” So don’t take my word for anything other than that. I’ve been wrong about lots of things and fully expect that to happen again in the future. (Though this doesn’t seem to stop me from having an opinion, some people might say…)

The corollary to that is that I may (and probably will) change my mind somewhere down the line. Which is another aspect the authors mention in the podcast: [Read more…]