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. 

The Deluded: The Most Dangerous Enemy in the Martial Arts

During a TV show, the bad guys were discussing an upcoming event.  One of the bad guys made a comment about people who are deluded.  The other responded with something to the effect that we can’t let the deluded run the show.  Delusion happens to anyone and everyone.  The only ingredient needed is resolute faith in something no matter the actual evidence.  On an episode of Dr. Phil a woman said she was 1000% percent convinced that she was pregnant with multiple babies and had been pregnant for multiple years.  She even believed she had more than one uterus.  It didn’t matter if top notch OB/GYN’s did ultrasounds, blood work, or anything else that conventionally shows pregnancy.  She didn’t care about the evidence, she only believed what she wanted to believe.

In the martial arts delusion is an insidious snake.  I see, read, and hear about people getting into things that are pretty questionable.  “No touch” martial arts is right at the top of the list making the rest of us look like snake oil salesman.  Folks fight about what is real, and what is not real in forums, on Facebook and etc.  At the end of the day everyone looks the fool. Its an unfortunate side effect of the delusion.

Delusion in the martial arts can be silly, but also downright dangerous.  One’s ego can get in the way and make that person believe they are far more capable than they actually are in their skill.  Sketchiness in the effectiveness of technique could mean that a person’s skill in actually stopping an attack is questionable.  This means danger for the martial artist because if I don’t stop the knife headed towards my torso, I’m probably going to be very injured, or dead.  I once saw a video of a guy taking the knife-wielding psycho attacking him to the ground for grappling and ended up getting stabbed in the abdomen multiple times.  Clearly he was deluded into thinking he could handle the attacker with his (BJJ?) skills.

The most unfortunate part of this is that someone taught them to think like this.  I have on occasion watched people walk into the dojo with obvious ego problems, but most of the time when people walk into a school they really don’t know much and are starting from scratch.  Whatever they believe, they probably learned from their instructors.  Obviously avoiding delusion is an important martial skill.

How DOES one avoid delusion in their training?  Because delusion is grounded in believing things that aren’t true the greatest cure for delusion is humility.  Humility, for those who are unsure, is a “modest or low view of one’s own importance.” (Oxford American Dictionary).  Below is a list of ways to make an honest and true assessment of one’s skill and the effectiveness of technique.

  1.  Be comfortable with saying “I don’t know.”  It’s okay to admit to not having all of the answers, or knowing enough.  It’s in your best interest to be honest enough and say you need help from those that are more experienced.
  2. Question the effectiveness of a technique in a real world scenario.  So many techniques are passed down from ancient war methods that worked for certain scenarios but won’t necessarily work quite the same way in current times.  To be sure, we CAN learn distance, timing, and such by practicing ancient methods, but we have to realistic about wielding a modern version of an ancient weapon.  Will it stop someone? I suggest learning the technique as is AND seeing how to adjust and make it work for a real attack.
  3. Practice, practice, and practice.  Try different things, use different modern versions of a weapon (a han bo and a baseball bat can be used similarly), work with different body types and levels of strength.  I learned a lot about grappling by requesting various guys to grapple with me and make it difficult for me to get out of whatever pretzel shape they put me in.
  4. Bug the experts.  Look for people who have experienced real violence, who have a realistic view of the martial art they teach, ask questions.  Like, tons of questions.  Not the disrespectful kinds of questions, like “How could THAT possibly work??!!”  I’m talking about realizing you know nothing and asking questions that dig deeper into the actual technique.
  5. Pressure test yourself.  Sparring is an excellent way to see how well you know your techniques and your level of skill.

Keeping it real, staying humble and maintaining the mind of a student will keep you safer than you realize.

Monday’s Martial Madness: The True Meaning of Martial Arts Memes

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I know what you’re thinking.  Memes are pretty straightforward, right?  I mean it says right on the meme what it’s all about, duh.

What if I told you there is a hidden message that only truly great masters can understand?  Ancient wisdom passed down through the ages must be hidden in the most archaic forms of art, philosophy, and religion.  Those of lucky enough to find this wisdom can indubitably become better versions of ourselves.

Out of the kindness of my heart, I have decided to use my training in the art of faux jutsu from the great lineage of Pul Ur Leg and the Five Farces to interpret martial memes for you.

1.

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In this first meme we have the ubiquitous and obligatory martial arts master with excessive facial hair.  As we all know, the whiter and longer the hair, the more wisdom and fractious the master.  It is essential to note the length and prodigious volume of the eyebrows.  As the saying goes, “Eyes are the window to the soul” and in this case, the soul is mostly curmudgeonly from the eyelids holding up so much impressive fuzz.  Note that the tone of the meme is on the slightly petty side.  Perhaps his students forgot to “mow the grass” that morning, a martial technique only taught to the most serious prodigies.

2.

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This next meme is surely a tricky one.  At first glance it seems obvious that the student is merely messing up because he gained the notice of his instructor.  If you look carefully can see that this student is demonstrating the reverse crane kick.  In the Karate Kid, a visual interpretation of an ancient karate scroll cleverly disguised as a cinematic masterpiece, we see the first version of this technique, the crane kick.  Of course, the masters that put forth the Karate Kid could not allow the crane kick and this technique be connected lest they give away their ancient information to any old fanboy or fangirl.  They decided to hide this gem in bowels of the interwebs so that those that are clever enough can find it.

3.

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Everyone loves memes with animals.  After all, animals are the cutest and fuzziest of all creation, especially monkeys.  Who wouldn’t look at this and think “Awww, kung fu monkeys, isn’t that cute!”  By all appearances this monkey is especially cute in a karate gi and his well-earned black belt.  Or is he?

Deep in the jungles of Hollywood there are tablets that speak of an ancient prophesy.  A prophesy so terrifying that the glacial winds of  the heebie-jeebies will freeze your very soul.  It is said that this prophesy shows that these seemingly harmless creatures will learn martial arts and take over the world.  Humankind will be lulled into stupefied and moronic state by watching these monkeys “perform” their martial arts shenanigans.  And when they least expect it, the monkeys will karate chop them in the knees and make them rue the day they ever taught them kung fu.

4.

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Ah, Chuck Norris.  Classic memes at their finest.  Many things have been said about Chuck on the internet.  He is credited with many extraordinary talents.  Chuck is said to have defeated death itself and mete out punishment to the unruly anytime and anywhere in the form of invisible kicks.  Many think that these memes are merely a rib-tickler about a normal man run amok (or is that aChuck?).  I submit to you that this is truly not the case.  Rather, these are pages from the Bible of Norrisium, written by the Cult of Chuck.  They believe that he is the god of the dark web, here to scare everything and get it under his will.   And it would seem that it’s working.

5.

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Considering that the martial arts often attracts the great unwashed (aka young teenage boys) it should come as no surprise that personal hygiene, especially nail cutting, is a major issue in the dojo.  But that’s not what we are seeing here in this meme.

This meme is a clear representation of a master who decided to throw in his lot with trainers to teach martial skills to creatures regularly captured for what is reported to be glorified wrestling matches.  These creatures delight in fighting one another but regularly are defeated and need to level up in their fights to gain new skills.  Obviously each trainer wants the creatures to win on a regular basis so paying a master to teach their minions how to win fights is de rigueur. When these little creatures peek at you through their trainers legs they seem pretty harmless, then they move toward you and out come the pointy things on their brightly colored bodies.  Just like white belts in the dojo, the novices are the most dangerous creatures of all.  Obviously, teaching grappling skills to a bunch of spiked out, large toothed, and clawed noobs is hazardous.

Well! There you go my friends!  I hope you feel more enlightened and will consider the hidden meaning of memes next time you encounter one on the Facebook!

Sayonara.

 

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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