Monday’s Martial Madness: New Year’s Resolutions for the Martial Artist

AAAaaaaand I’m BACK! I took a bit of a hiatus because Christmas snuck up on me like merrily clad ninja then it was GO! GO! GO! for like 2.5 weeks. That’s all over now. So, it’s back to Monday’s Martial Madness for me, and you.

Today I’m offering a very unequivocally punctilious (ha ha, made you look up words!) list of New Year’s Resolutions that every martial artist should make. This list will insure that you are the best martial artist you can be for the coming year.

Do it all RIGHT NOW: I think it’s important to get your black belt as soon as possible. That means you have to spend every moment obsessing over every exhaustive trifle of your martial style. When you’re that awesome, who needs sleep?

The Hurticane is the only technique you need.

Punch and kick at ANYONE and ANYTHING: They say practice makes perfect, right? Well, how can the quintessential martial artist be the BEST if he doesn’t throw strikes whenever possible? Truly, one must use his skills on every unsuspecting street light, tree, and grandma on the street.

Or in this case, every unsuspecting Bob.

Start a YouTube Channel about your martial art style: Why NOT use the best platform for telling all the people why your martial art is the BEST and every other kind SUCKS? Surely everyone deserves to know as frequently as possible, right?

Because everything else is bullshit.

Tell EVERYONE you care about how deadly you are: Your loved ones need to come into alignment with the TRUTH. How else you could they know if you don’t tell them? Make sure you how you’re going to KILL the next person that messes with you, frequently and loudly so they don’t miss a word.

I dye my clothes in the blood of my enemies.

I hope you feel more inspired to get out there and be as insufferable as possible!

Happy New Year.

Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast: The Learning Curve

Lately I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with a new white belt during class.  We are working through his first kyu (belt) level so he can complete his first test. Last night we were working on his punching and kicking techniques when Sensei came over to help my fellow student smooth out some parts of his punching technique.  He said to the student, “Slow is smooth.  Smooth is fast.”  Our instructor often says he would rather us take our time learning the technique and do it correctly than be fast and hard but doing the technique incorrectly.  Incorrect movement leads to injury, or being defeated.

Earlier this year, I was able to attend a seminar by Roy Goldberg Sensei, 7th Dan in Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu.  He was teaching us how to move in a way that was almost like not moving that produced an amazing finish.  It was like watching the tiniest atom bomb produce a world-ending explosion.  As I watched Goldberg Sensei demonstrate the technique and explain what he was doing with his body I was amazed at how smooth and barely perceptible his  movements were to my eyes.  I, of course, was clunky and using too much strength in my attempts to match his silkiness.  What he wanted us to accomplish seemed to be an awareness of our body movements and how to coordinate everything from the top of our head to the soles of our feet.  That felt like an impossible task at the time and I knew I would have to continue to train in this style if I wanted to achieve even the tiniest sliver of the kind of control he had.  Compared to his mastery I felt like a new born giraffe attempting to stand: all legs and no balance.  Goldberg Sensei is in his 70’s and has been practicing his art for many decades.  Smooth is fast was in play before my eyes.

I’ve been training in Ninpo Bugei for almost 3 years now.  I remember watching the black belts at the beginning of my training and feeling amazed at the effectiveness of their movement.  The end result of a throw seemed grander than the actual technique because the movements were so smooth. I am by no means a master of this art, but I have mastered some very basic things.  I find some of my movements are instinctual and habitual.  Some things are smoother than they were at my newborn giraffe stage of training.

Everything in life worth doing has a learning curve.  The above graphs show what the learning curve is like.  My experiences are probably more like the top graph, but feel like the second one. Whenever we start to learn a new thing, the initial attempts are bumbling and slow.  There’s no coordination, balance, or precision.  This is as it should be and where “slow is smooth” becomes a thing in training.  If I take the time to connect with my body via my thoughts, and really think about what I’m doing eventually the neural connections I need form between my body and brain.  I am creating coordination by practicing until the neural connections solidify and the synapses fire faster and faster. 

This is the learning curve.  Coordination, balance, and precision become second nature which results in smoothness.  I no longer have to think so hard about what I’m doing, it just happens and now “smooth is fast.”  Which leads to me to today’s encouragement:

Anyone can follow this principle no matter what they are learning.  Frustration tends to occur during the slow beginning for many people.  “This is taking too long,” “I’m so stupid,” “This is so HARD” enter our thoughts at this stage, and is where the greatest amount of mental gymnastics becomes essential.  Giving up too soon on the learning curve ensures failure.  Humans are super adaptable beings with an amazing ability to learn.  If we want to attain anything we must push into and work with slow is smooth until smooth is fast.  We must stay on and climb that learning curve until we reach mastery. 

Be patient with yourself and keep going, you’ll get there eventually. 

There’s More Than Meets the Eye: A Look at the Hidden Features of Martial Arts Training

You know, you should really check out The Stick Chick Blog.  She’s sassy, smart, and funny.  I really enjoy reading stuff by a martial artist who knows her stuff.  She practices Presas Arnis and Kobudo (Okinawan Weapons), very different from what I study in a lot of ways, but I find some of the themes she writes about translate over to any martial art style.

Last week she wrote a blog titled “The Myth of Wasted (Martial Arts) Time” that busted the myth that only certain styles of martial arts are worth pursuing.  Many people believe that if it isn’t usable on the streets, or sticks too closely to tradition it isn’t worth the time spent learning that style.  I’ve ready many online forum debates where a dude in one style poo pooed a dude in another style because second dude’s forms and katas weren’t practical in a street fight.

It IS sometimes true that what we learn is impractical in a street fight, it’s foolish to claim otherwise.  However, as I’ve learned some of what we are taught is not meant to work in a street fight, it’s meant to train us to move and think a certain way.  A lot of martial arts curriculum start with really basic stuff, like how to block a certain way, then add to this basic concept with each level.  In Ninpo, when we teach blocking, we start with a basic circular motion with a back fisted blow to the inside of the forearm close to the wrist.  As the student progresses, we advance closer and closer to the armpit.  Each advance down the arm teaches another (painful) location to strike for maximum effect.  When we teach parry blocks (from Classical Ju Jutsu), we simply teach a person to move their arm and hand outward to meet the opponents strike. Both have practical purposes in that they teach the student how to respond to threat.  But most importantly, these different methods of blocking are choices we can make in a fight depending on what is happening.  Not every blocking style is useful for every strike.  Much depends on the angle of the strike and body position.

I often train with the bokken, a wooden replica of a katana.  To be sure it is impractical, not to mention illegal, to carry a sword around in public.  Duels to the death just aren’t a thing anymore.  That doesn’t stop me from learning various strike patterns, stances, etiquette, and kata.  While learning to use the sword may seem useless, what does it give me in terms of an actual fight? It teaches me how to use any longish weapon like a stick, a baseball bat, or an umbrella to it’s greatest affect.  Etiquette and kata teaches me awareness, automatic response (sometimes muscle memory), and ways to effectively wield my weapon.  Some of the kata and strike patterns aren’t that effective in an actual duel, but that’s not the point.  The point is to provide me, the student, with an opportunity to practice the principles in Shuhari (守破離).   Shu is obey and protect the technique (learning the basics), Ha is detachment and digression from the technique (breaking with the traditions and basics), and Ri is separating or transcending the technique (the movements become natural and instinctual).  Eventually I will be able to transcend the kata and be able to make choices (click on link for another great blog by the Stick Chick on this exact topic) in the moment in how to respond to a threat.

If you are a martial artist and look down your nose at other martial arts as “ineffective” take a moment and reflect on what you learn.  Is it always useful to maximum effect?  Does every repeated training techniques actually help in a fight?  The answer is likely “no.”  Arrogance has no place in training no matter what you do or how you do it.  I suggest that we all take a moment and appreciate that each style is an art, and all arts have techniques that while only useful for certain kinds of art do add to the technique over all.

The Woman Warrior: What Does That Even MEAN?

Tachibanna-hime ukiyo-e
Tachibanna-hime fighting a dragon under a bridge

As you might’ve guessed, I’m a woman (10 Awesome Points for you if I didn’t need to tell you that).  And, I’m a martial artist which puts in the category of warrior (if you’re someone who believes that the term warrior is only reserved for people who have experienced actual combat, that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m interested in discussing mindsets. So, put your diatribe a side and just listen), because I’m training very closely to the ways ancient people did to fight each other in battles and wars.  Also, I’m philosophical so I like to think about things and find answers to my questions.  Questions like, I represent a minority in the martial arts, why is that so?  Why are many women not-so-inclined to become martial artists?  Is it too male? Too violent? Too… something? I’ve spent many hours researching the warrior mentality, what it means to be a martial artist as a woman, and etc.

Up until recent history, traditionally men were the warriors in many societies.  Modern politics aside, men are physically stronger and have more endurance than women so it makes sense that they would be the ones to fight wars.  A quick Google search on the how to be a warrior and such and almost all articles are for men.  I think I found maybe one article on women in combat and in police forces.

I know that some civilizations had women warriors. For example, archeological studies show that many of the burial sites for Vikings were actually women who fought alongside the men.  The ninja had females who were called kunoichi (くノ一).  These women infiltrated households as spies often posing as domestic help, sometimes using their sexuality to gain trust and extract information.   The samurai had the onna-bugeisha, samurai women who sometimes fought with the men and defended the home.  But, this seems to be against the norm, warrior hood was generally for men.

So, why are women underrepresented in combat oriented fields and activities that are typically male oriented when they have equal access to the same opportunities as men?  What does it mean to be a woman warrior in today’s society?  The only place I can go is to my own experiences and observations at this point.

In my martial arts group, most of the time I’m not treated especially differently by the men.  However, I do occasionally run into someone who doesn’t want to do a technique on me with any strength because they were raised “not to hurt women.”  Conversely I’ve had guys go a little rougher and say something like “I’m helping you by doing this with strength so you learn how to get out of it.” Or, I’ve been called “one of the guys” when I’m the only female in the group and I complain about penis talk.  I’ve been told that kunoichi are “special.”  No one has really explained why that was true.  Are we really special? I speculate that this means that kunoichi were a much smaller percentage of ninja than males.

These kinds of phenom leave me feeling a bit conflicted at times.  I don’t want to be treated differently, I want to be taken seriously, and I want to hold my own against those bigger and stronger than me.  But, I have to fight through fear, doubt, feeling left out, feeling “too” included, feeling like I have something to prove.  These problems don’t even scratch the surface of what it means to be a woman warrior.

Looking to the few examples we have in literature and the like, women warriors were fierce and a bit scary.  The Valkyrie were creatures feared by men in various prose, Wonder Woman is part god and nearly indestructible, the Amazon are fierce female warriors who mainly lived to fight battles in a brutal manner. In stories, it’s all well and good to create near super humans women to be effective warriors, but in real life that’s no so easy.  Eschewing the virtues of women to have what seems like men with boobs does real women who choose the warrior lifestyle a great disservice.

The main problems I think we have to overcome to be seen as legit warriors in our own right is our roles, function, and makeup.  Speaking in huge generalities, women are potential life-givers.  We bear the children and raise them, for the most part.  We nurture and grow ourselves, our families, and our resources.  We are focused on relationships, our emotions, and overcoming.  Men are generally singly focused on one thing at a time.  I’m guessing (because I’m not a man) this means when it’s time to fight, that’s what a man focuses on, when it’s time to work, fighting is put aside and work becomes the focus.  I can see this being an incredible asset for a warrior: singular focus on the task at hand, hell-bent on winning.  For women, I think our tendency to think about everything can get in the way of really going for it in battle.  We’d have to train ourselves to maintain a singular focus.  My emotions can be a distraction and slow me down.  I have to push past them and remember what I’m doing and why.  Maybe this is why women have a hard time thinking of themselves as martial artists: learning violence, going up against men, and generally being overwhelmed by the need for focus is intimidating.

I really haven’t settled on any particular reason for the difficulties that I face as female martial artist, but I hope I’m headed in the right direction.  I’m open to more ideas and discussion to get a rounder point of view.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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.”

From the highest of fears

To the lowest of tears

As I land on my rear

I question your definition of “fun.”

O Blackbelt! You slay me!

Upset and repay me!

Your madness, so cray cray!

As your eyes gleam in your “fun.”


I find myself down here

On the mats, as I lay here

Reeking of sweat

And the elements of undeserved fun.

Rife with butt cruises

A thousand contusions

I’ve gathered here

All from that maddening gleam


O Sensei! O Sensei!

You help me out plenty,

As I land on my back

And rub my sore hiney


Let’s do this some more

One more time on the floor,

Here we go again!

All in the name of fun


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?