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

https://martialartsmedia.com/martial-arts-quotes/

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.

Monday’s Martial Madness: The Art of the Fart (a.k.a. How to Break Wind like a Ninja)

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Farts come, and farts go.  We’ve all been there, right? RIGHT?? Hello?? Farts are one of the many major pitfalls of group dynamics.  Some of the great questions of human society are, how does one let one out and not sending the team packing?  How loud is too loud? Is it ok to use the Ninja Fart method?  Can I blame the person next to me without casting suspicion on myself? Was it really THAT bad?

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I gotta fart out in public.  Maybe we had beans for dinner, or it’s just my day for butt explosions.  Sure, I’ve let out a few loud ones when I couldn’t help it, like when I’m grappling and going for a leg lock.  You see, I’m not exactly a quiet fart-tress.  Maybe God thought it was funny to make my tooter so, so squeaky or something, but I needed to find ways to get it out that A. Isn’t noisy, and B. Can’t be traced back to me.  In the dojo for example, I’m often the only girl in class, and girls don’t fart, like ever, right?

 

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Before embarking on any fart-venture I ask myself: Can I get away with letting out a stinker so no one will notice?  The answer is usually “yes” because I’ve become so practiced at dropping SBD’s I’m practically a fart ninja.  I mean if they were handing out belts for secretly ripping one, I’d be at least a 10th dan by now.  Because I’m such a master, I’ve decided it was high time to share my skills with the rest of the world and lead us into an enlightened age of Cheese Cutting On the Sly.

 

To ensure the best results I’ve compiled this list after many years of mastery just for you.  Here are my three methods of How to Break Wind Like a Ninja

  1. First and foremost is learning sphincter control.  That tiny muscle needs to be worked out regularly for maximum control.  First eat whatever produces maximum gas for you.  Beans, cruciferous veggies, and milk for the lactose intolerant do wonders for your fart-ability.  Once the gas is built up I suggest taking a bath and straining just enough to let the gas out in silence.  At first you will create a lot of bubbles and noise.  As a side note: You’re dog might faint if you let him the bathroom with you, so keep him out while you exercise your tooter.  Eventually, you will learn to fart quietly and let out just enough to bowl over the even the biggest football players.  Although once you reach sphincter supremacy, you might need a gas mask in case  you surprise yourself with a deadly stink bomb and pass out.  How would you explain that to your family or roommate?
  2. Once you’re able to pinch one out unnoticed, it’s time to learn butt placement.  This skill is key.  Where you point your tooter matters.  If you’re backside is facing INTO the crowd and you let ‘er rip you could easily get blamed, I mean it’s SO obvious that it was you.  I suggest you learn how to casually and slightly step into the crowd to crop dust those around you.  An alternative version is to drop one and casually leave the group.  The SBD’s usually are concentrated enough that it takes time to spread around so that by the time you’ve left no one knows it was you.
  3. And finally, control over your emotional expression will keep you safe from all accusations.  There is science to back up what is called “micro expressions,” tiny movements of the face that give away your emotions.  For example, it’s too obvious when you make a face of disgust or back away yelling, “Who farted?” After all, the one who smelt it, dealt it.  Rather complete control over your facial expressions are paramount to your Ninja Fart skills.  No sidelong glances, no smirks, no smug expressions, or angry faces.  Rather, acting like nothing happened at all will win the day.

 

If you follow these three easy steps you too can become a Fart Ninja Master, just like me.

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Bruce approves of your fart skills.

Desire, Will, and Morality: The Holy Trinity of Grit

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My friend, bestie, twin and fellow homeschool mom, Evelyn was teaching our boys a portion of a high school writing course, One Year Adventure Novel.  This particular lesson was “someone to care about” which is generally the hero.  As I was sitting there watching the lesson and doing my duty as the TA/Lunch Lady, I saw the three elements of a hero we care about evolve on the whiteboard.  Desire, will, and morality are the three things we need to give to our heroes in stories. What makes them keep going in the face of danger? What give them determination and strength? What makes them relatable. We need to make them realistic and someone we relate to so we want to finish the story.  After all, why would we continue to watch shows like The Walking Dead if the hero’s weren’t like us?

As Evelyn wrote those three words on the white board, I was contemplating the subject of my next post, then the bulb lit up over my head. This holy trinity of words bring together the idea of grit- firmness of mind or spirit unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).  So, let’s examine each one and how they play into each other and form grit.

Grit

Desire is something we want or long for in life.  It’s a conscious yearning that propels us to take action and obtain the object of our desire.  Do you want to be a martial artist? The desire to train will propel you through the door of some school, put you in a gi, and on the mats.  Desire will justify what you will spend on gear, training, and other accoutrements.  Desire will eventually grow into passion given enough time, energy, and practice.

Will is one’s control over one’s own emotions and actions.  Once you’ve entered into what you desire, your will must kick in to keep you coming back, to push through the failures and hard moments.  Desire and will interplay and begin forming grit in a person’s psyche.  The desire to do something, coupled with the will to see it through helps us to not give up easily.  It takes strength of character to accept all that comes with trying a new thing and do it anyway, no matter how many times you fall on your backside.

Morality slides in from the side to glue desire and will together permanently.  It seems like an odd fellow in this group of concepts, but it is absolutely necessary to keep the whole shebang together.  Morality, in this sense, is one’s virtue, or code of ethics.  The difference between posers and the real thing is morality.  Both sets of people have desire and will, but morality? Not so much.  Morality will keep a person honest.  In other words, if a person of grit says they’re going to do something, they will.  A poser will say they’ll do something, but never show up because they lack the courage.

When installed, desire, will, and morality come together in an unbreakable bond.  They will move you forward and keep you going until you reach your goal.  Grit, much like the other kind (sand and gravel), is tough and strong withstanding the worst storms in life.  If you’re having trouble staying motivated, I suggest a systems check.  Is your morality wavering? Reassess what you believe and why.  Is your desire waning? What is it you believe about yourself and your activity?  And finally, is your will weakening? Confirm your goals to yourself thereby recommitting to see it through.

Be the person who does hard things.

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Monday’s Martial Madness: WE ARE NINJA! (Sung to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”)

*Disclaimer: I study Ninpo, Ninjutsu, Ninja Weapons, and Classic Jujutsu.

So, yeah, I’m a ninja and I’m making fun of myself.

Buddy we here, we don’t make no noise

Hangin’ from the roof we gon’ make you have a bad day

We got masks on our face

We sealed your fate

Kickin’ your can all over the place

Singin’

We are, we are NINJA!

We are, we are NINJA!

Buddy we here, don’t show our face

Sneaking in the walls gonna take over your place

We got swords in their place

Ain’t no disgrace

Throwin’ our stars all over the place

We are, we are NINJA!

We are, we are NINJA!

Fling it!

We are, we are NINJA!

We are, we are NINJA!

Buddy we ain’t bad men, mad men

Pleadin’ with your eyes we gon’ make

Find your peace some day

We got blood on our face

No disgrace

Somebody betta get ya’ out of this place

We are, we are NINJA!

Fling it!

We are, we are NINJA!

Everybody

We are, we are NINJA!

We are, we are NINJA!

All Night

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The Woman Warrior: What Does That Even MEAN?

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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: 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