Monday’s Martial Madness: I Like White Belts (Sung to the Tune of Baby Got Back)

In all honesty, I love white belts.  I was one once just like every other martial artist.  So I more making fun of myself than anyone else.  Nonetheless, I took A LOT of poetic license here to poke fun at the white belt phenom.  Have fun!

 

I like white belts and I cannot lie

You other belts can’t deny

That when fresh meat walks in with a earnest pace

A smile creeps ‘cross your face

You get sprung, want to pull up tough

‘Cause you notice that white belt’s buff

Deep in the martial art’s he is staring

She’s got the bug so a gi she’s wearing

Oh White Belt I’m gonna got twitchy

Cuz your feet’ll get all switchy

My sensei try to warn me

But with that belt you got makes me so scorny

Ooh, Fresh meat come on in

Into the dojo you enter in

Well, ‘scuse me, ‘scuse me

‘Cause you are that average groupie

I’ve seen you floppin’

Down on the mats your moppin’

Up your sweat

Goin at it like Bruce Lee fanboy

I’m tired, cuz you make me employ

Sayin’ its the right foot, you bring

Take the left back, and swing it right

Then punch me with you right

So, white belt (yeah), white belt (yeah)

Has you got the guts? (Oh, yeah)

I tell to make it (make it) make it (make it)

Back to class

Make it back to class

Make it back to class

The Most Important Martial Skill: Humility

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The line between arrogance and confidence is very thin.  Once crossed the budoka becomes something I don’t want to encounter on the mats, or anywhere else for that matter.

Arrogance is a human problem.  We want to believe that we are (always) right, more skilled than others, or possess a quality that lords it over others. Arrogance shows up in various ways, such as being unteachable, or bragging about prowess.  In truth, arrogance is often a symptom of fear.  Facing the weakness of one’s body or mind is difficult and hard to admit.  Perhaps this because of what other people say to us about us, or perhaps one doesn’t want to be seen as weak and therefore vulnerable to attack.  Whatever the case, arrogance has no place in the dojo.

A confident person has no need to brag or puff up their knowledge in front of others.  Rather, a confident person can rest in their skills and knowledge with no doubts or fears.  Confidence is gained when one can measure their success against standards set by other people.  Generally, in the martial arts, this is in the form of belt tests and the like.  Then their true skills will shine through when needed without every saying a word.  Most people can spot someone with real skill versus a braggart.

The key component to confidence, and what makes a person that way as opposed to arrogance, is humility.  Among other things, humility is defined as a lack of false pride (a.k.a. arrogance).  Humility is characterized as being other focused, bending low to receive, serving others, and etc.  A humble person realizes some key things about their training: they don’t know everything, they have much to learn, and need guidance from experts to be their best.  This comes with allowing themselves to be molded, guided, and taught by another.  If one is too stiff-necked they miss out on the best parts of training.

Sure, it’s great to achieve things and move forward in training.  But let’s remember who helped us get there with grateful hearts.  When we martial artists are on the mats, let’s keep in mind our greatest skill so that we can get the greatest amount of training.

Monday’s Martial Madness: To the Hawker of Horror and Hijinks, the Purveyor of Punishment and Purpose, the Retailer of Reality and Regurgitation: An Ode to the Sensei.

O Madness! You bring

That most sinister of gleams

You rub your hands and sing

“It’s time for some real FUN.”

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From the highest of fears

To the lowest of tears

As I land on my rear

I question your definition of “fun.”

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O Blackbelt! You slay me!

Upset and repay me!

Your madness, so cray cray!

As your eyes gleam in your “fun.”

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I find myself down here

On the mats, as I lay here

Reeking of sweat

And the elements of undeserved fun.

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Rife with butt cruises

A thousand contusions

I’ve gathered here

All from that maddening gleam

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O Sensei! O Sensei!

You help me out plenty,

As I land on my back

And rub my sore hiney

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Let’s do this some more

One more time on the floor,

Here we go again!

All in the name of fun

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The Moral Center of Martial Arts: Emotions, Beliefs, and Spirituality.

When people talk about the martial arts, most of what I hear is how cool this move was, or that kick, or how flexible or physically skilled so and so was in their competition.  Training to hit, kick, take down, and otherwise incapacitate someone is the basic premise of martial arts.  Necessity being the mother of invention means she birthed warrior training, and for obvious reasons.

Every tradition has it’s own methods of combat and weapons use.  But, all of these styles come from the same need for an efficient way to harm or kill someone.  The key points of combat are the same in modern military training, find the most efficient way to take someone down.  Those of us who train in traditional arts, and are not necessarily in the military, are carrying on the essence of combat but without the actual maiming or killing (that is unless we are attacked and need to use our training in self-defense).  Rather, we are, or should be, focused on self-development.

Self-development mostly involves the inner person, our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and beliefs.  Sure, the body develops muscles and flexibility, but the mind develops new neural pathways with training.  I’d wager that 70 percent of any physical training takes place in the brain.

The samurai developed schools of training according to whatever the need was in their region.  Battles were primarily fought with katana and other swords, so hundreds of sword schools opened around Japan, some of which survived to today.  The need for hand-to-hand combat arose when swords broke and there was still an enemy to kill or subdue.  As these schools developed so did certain philosophies about life.  The samurai began to understand that there was a moral responsibility to not being merely efficient killing machines, they were human and desired peace above all else.

The samurai developed general moral codes to live by, ways to live above their physical skills in peace and harmony until such time that they had to battle for their lives, lords, and resources.  Otherwise, they could, and sometimes would, indiscriminately kill. Constructs like the Bushido Code, spirituality and and moral standards gave the warriors something else to focus on besides killing, or else they would just be violent people.

In the Karate Kid this conversation ensues during one of several training scenes:

Daniel: Hey – you ever get into fights when you were a kid?

Miyagi: Huh – plenty.

Daniel: Yeah, but it wasn’t like the problem I have, right?

Miyagi: Why? Fighting fighting. Same same.

Daniel: Yeah, but you knew karate.

Miyagi: Someone always know more.

Daniel: You mean there were times when you were scared to fight?

Miyagi: Always scare. Miyagi hate fighting.

Daniel: Yeah, but you like karate.

Miyagi: So?

Daniel: So, karate’s fighting. You train to fight.

Miyagi: That what you think?

Daniel: [pondering] No.

Miyagi: Then why train?

Daniel: [thinks] So I won’t have to fight.

Miyagi: [laughs] Miyagi have hope for you.

The idea of training to fight so one doesn’t have to fight has almost become a cliche in the martial arts.  But, just because it’s cliche doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  My sensei likes to occasionally ask us to think about why we train.  What are our moral reasons for doing so? If we don’t have any, then, he says we are just practicing violence.

Which brings me to my point.

In my experience, the greatest challenges of martial arts training is developing my inner life. Controlling my emotions to avoid a fight, finding compassion for other’s in my heart, pushing myself past my fears are the most essential parts of my training.  My spirituality is enhanced by my experiences, my feelings and beliefs have changed on account of the physical challenges presented to me each class.  I need grit and strength of character to do that which scares me week after week.  The combination of emotions, feelings, and spirituality help me get there.

My first challenge in my training was overcoming of my fear of falling.  To overcome I had to push through the dread in the pit of my belly, get to class, and keep trying.  I felt fear because I believed I would get seriously hurt.  I had to change my beliefs, trust in God that I wouldn’t hurt my body (especially since He called me there), and control my emotions enough to try.  Once the seeds of change begin to grow, the fruits show up in my interactions with people.  My compassion is stronger, my patience is longer, and my heart becomes purer over time.  Considering that I am not that special, I suspect that serious martial artists experience this phenom as well.

To conclude, the difference between a physically skilled, but violent, person, and a martial artist is their moral and spiritual center.  The reasons we train matter and make a huge difference in the use of violence in our lives.  Keeping our inclinations at bay through self control and offering the world the best version of ourselves is key to developing oneself as a complete warrior.

Questions for reflection:

Do you experience the emotional and spiritual effects of training? Has training changed your life in any significant way? If so, how? And, if not, what could you change to make a difference in side your mind?

Monday’s Martial Madness: The Art of Saying Dumb Things (a.k.a. What NOT to Say in the Dojo)

You ever just say something that seemed like a good idea before it left your lips but caused a chain reaction that ended up in blood, sweat, and/or tears? No? Well your life must be normal.

For some reason, martial arts instructors (sensei’s) inherit a twisted sense of “fun” and contrariness when they first put on their black belt.  Maybe it’s part of DNA of the person handing them their belt and it’s passed on like a virus.  Maybe it was already there and just ACTIVATED by the smell and feel of that new belt.  They’re enthusiasm for making us work hard and actually LEARN stuff is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

The nerve.

Whatever the case, I have said some pretty dumb things in the presence of my sensei and wish that I had just kept my mouth SHUT.  You’d think after the first time I’d learn my lesson but NOOOOO.

Someone please install a dumb idea filter soon!

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To save the rest of you from the pain of wishing you could take it back, I’ve developed a helpful guide of what NOT to say in the dojo or with in earshot of your instructor/sensei.

Oh, you think they aren’t listening?  HA! You are dumb my friend.  Get a clue!

Some of these I’ve actually said out loud, some I made up for fun, but I’m probably right.

ME: “My (pick a body part) is sore from my workout today.”

Sensei: “Oh, your thighs are slightly sore from lunges? 10 sumo squats now!” (Okay, well, I mean sensei really isn’t a jerk who likes to torture people for fun.  He’s just looking out for us, right? RIGHT??) (Because we need strong legs for everything we do!)

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ME: “Sensei, we really need a Swiffer to mop up all this sweat off the mats.”

Sensei: “It’s a good thing that old school guy is here.  Time to wash the mats (in the most awkward way possible.  I exaggerate.  I just don’t like washing the mats THAT way.  Who am I kidding, I just don’t like washing the mats, PERIOD)!” (Because EVERYTHING we do is training!)

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ME: “I was wondering if you could explain the principles of Seoi Nage (that would be Japanese for ‘shoulder throws’)?”

Sensei: “Sure, come on over here (I get thrown), now let me break it down for you.” (Because we really need to experience the technique to understand it!)

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ME: “It’s my birthday today!” Sensei: “Get ready for birthday grappling!” Let me explain this phenomenon.  I have no idea who started this, or if any other schools do this, but if it’s your birthday, and you are at class, you get to grapple with every student for one minute, including sensei, from lowest rank up.  Imagine if 5-6 people show up for class, plus sensei (who is better at grappling than everybody else and will pin you in 30 seconds FLAT), that’s 5-6 grueling minutes of grappling with every body type. Grunting, sweating, and trying to keep from getting pretzeled and give a tap out.  BECAUSE FUN.  Oh, you LIKE grappling for you birthday? You need help. (Because birthday grappling is our tradition, and it’s fun!)

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ME: “I really need to work on my upper body strength so I can punch better.” Sensei: “Ten push ups (with every striking hand position we use.) Fist, blade of hand, fingers, and etc.” (Because proper striking technique is important!)

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Alright, now look sensei’s of the world stop being, so… so… RIGHT about everything being good for us! Give us a break!

Sheesh.

The Greatest Irony of Martial Arts (and Life): Failure, pain and loss as accurate measures of success.

This week in the dojo, both nights were what I call hard training.  I was thrown harder than normal (for me) to the mats, my limbs were twisted into painful pretzels, I acquired a few bruises, bumps, went through a round of sparring with five separate attacks I had to avoid or fend off.  I got hit in the face.  I was put in chokehold.  Another person had my face and body smashed into the mats.  By Thursday morning I was pretty sore and tired (My chiropractor had a field day with all of the loud CRACKS! my body was making).

This is what I call a successful week.  Sound crazy?  Maybe it is a little.  I learned, I grew, and now I’m writing about it.  See? Success!

I believe one of the greatest ironies of in life is how much we have to throw ourselves into something to find success.  Our willingness to fail, fall down, bleed, bruise, and generally feel pain is directly correlated our success in whatever we are called to do with life.

This is especially true in the martial arts.  One cannot learn how to land properly without actually let someone throw you.  Learning to avoid a punch requires someone aiming at a body part and occasionally landing a few hits.  Getting out of chokehold means you have to let someone get painfully close to cutting off your blood supply.  Hitting someone hurts.  If I do it wrong, it hurts like a mother.

Failure fits right into this scenario.  The more I try the more opportunities I have to fail.  The more I fail, the more likely I am to succeed.  Why? Because failure is a hallmark of learning.  If everyone were able to wake up knowing everything ever, we wouldn’t need teachers (or maybe we’d be in the Matrix).  No one ever succeeded in anything standing there and looking pretty.

When learning a martial art loss immediately takes up residence in the process.  In many cases the first thing to go is arrogance.  Arrogance creates an impenetrable wall into an empty brain. A good student knows that they know pretty much nothing and have everything to learn.  Learning to accept failure and pain as a part of training and life humbles the heart and makes the person malleable.

Allowing failure, loss, and pain to be our guide means we are trying.  Never giving up means one day success.

Are you a person with dream? Have you tried and failed a few times?  Did you stay down on the 7th fall?

Get up friend and try again!