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Practice what you want to be able to do… and don’t always colour within the lines

This seems obvious, but it isn’t always as obvious as we believe.

In order to get good at something, we have to practice it.  This is a fundamental concept when you look at study and learning skills in anything.

I was always a very practical learner, I learnt things by doing them.  I got good at math, computers, (and martial arts :))… things where you did things and solved problems.  I had a harder time in subjects that required more memorization.  Names, dates, terminology… those tests didn’t go as well.

After school and getting involved in teaching, both in Martial arts and post secondary, I think I figured out why.  I didn’t study for those right.

I could memorize things well enough, if they where things I was interested in.  But when it came to studying things I wasn’t interested in and had to memorize it didn’t happen.

Anyways, the trouble is if you want to be able to remember things you have to practice remembering them.  Seems simple, yet high school me re-read the same text over and forgot it all by the next day anyways.

This is why flash cards work really well in things where you have to remember information.  They force you to practice recalling the information, which makes it easier to recall.  Practicing reading the same information will make you better at reading it… but not always recalling it.

The same thing applies in the martial arts.  If I want to teach you to get good at taking someone down that is resisting, I need to get you to practice doing so.  Static drilling makes static drilling better, and that is important in developing technique.  But to truly get good at something to where you can do it live, you have to practice doing it live.

This is also something that sometimes is lacking in martial arts schools.  The goal becomes appearance rather then function, classes get run like military drill practices to keep things looking crisp and clean…  Creativity and learning to do things live looks messy at times, it is something that comes out of chaos.

It’s the difference between using a app that you scribble your finger in to paint a picture by filling in the area and it won’t colour on the outside of the lines anyways vs freehand drawing.

Sometimes we need to colour within the lines, it’s easier to get something that looks good that way.  It teaches us a isolated aspect of the whole, and is a good way to learn about important concepts.  But, in order to learn real skill and be able to freestyle we have to practice free styling, and sometimes it will look like scribbles.  :D

Bullying pt 1: What is Bullying?

Bullying is a subject that comes up far too often, and I’ve been fortunate enough to attend workshops with some of the top experts on the subject in North America. So hopefully this will be helpful to some of the parents out there. This is a pretty big subject, and one that I am going to split into a series of posts rather then one massive one.

The unfortunate truth is the problem is one that often goes unreported.  Part of that is failing to recognize what it is, and that there are ways to deal with it.  4 out of 5 cases of bullying go unreported to teachers / parents and everyone.

First, it is important to define what it is we mean when we say “bullying”, there are other behaviours that sometimes get confused with bullying, but bullying is a defined sort of behaviour. This is important as how we handle and teach childrento handle these different sorts of problems varies as well.

For something to be considered bullying it must be both intentional and repetitive. The behaviour must be aggressive, and with a (real or perceived) unequal balance of power.

Bullying can be physical, but it is mostly psychological.

Bullying behaviours is an attempt to take power from others, building themselves through knocking others down. It includes things such as:

  • Hurting others feelings
  • Public humiliation
  • Spreading rumours / gossip
  • Name calling
  • physically hurting them
  • etc.

Someone who is annoying, but unintentionally is not using bullying behaviour.   With younger kids especially some have a hard time keeping hands to themselves, or respecting other boundaries.  But without intent, it is not “bullying” and requires a different approach.

If someone is intentionally rude, but without consistence and repetitive behaviour this is also not bullying.  Bullying requires deliberate and repetitive behaviour designed to harm others.

Kids often don’t want to talk about being bullied, and find it embarrassing and shameful.  The things that receiving that sort of treatment tend to invoke.   This can often result in behaviour that comes across as disrespectful or acting out.  Faking sick, not wanting to do anything with a group, self isolating behaviour, talking back, etc.
In fact a lot of bullies where once vic
tims of bullying, and the bullying behaviour becomes a way of trying to take back the power that was taken from them.

It is important to remember that people that bully aren’t necessarily bad people.  They are often people that are hurting and lacking real confidence.  They attempt to coup with this through pushing others down to make themselves feel bigger.

It provides a short term and immediate sense of power, but it doesn’t help with real happiness.  Once bullying becomes a habit it is like an addiction, it is hard for them to have true friends and hold onto relationships that matter, and as they transition into adult head it will be hard to hold a job.  Bullying behaviour is an addiction, it hurts the people around the bully, but it also hurts them.

That is in a nut shell what bullying is, and is not.  Stay tuned for part 2 and we can start looking at how to deal with bullying.

What is a Submission?

One of the key concepts in martial arts is the idea of a “submission”, a point where one person taps out conceding the match.

This concept has been around for a long time, it is documented right back to ancient wrestling and pankration in Greece.  The means have varied in different times and places.  Raising 2 fingers, saying uncle, tapping out, etc.  But the idea has always been the same.

In a match one person places the other in a situation where they are forced to concede, recognizing that they are caught in a position where they would end up seriously injured if the match where a real fight.

Basically the “checkmate” of the martial arts.

Most people are familiar with the concept, it’s been getting used in Pro-Wrestling for years as a carry over from when the matches where not scripted.  UFC is now a household name as well.

But yet there is still some confusion around exactly what is going on.

A tap out is not one person giving up because something hurts.  It is one person giving up because they are in a position where they could be hurt.

When a person taps out due to being caught in a arm bar it is not because there arm is in excruciating pain, it is because they recognize that they are in a position where their opponent could cause serious injury to their arm if the fight where real.

Generally waiting until your arm is hurting to tap out is a terrible idea and will lead to damaged joints pretty quickly.

Of course pro-wrestling plays things up… but they are acting, not really trying to cause pain or injury.  And in professional MMA fighters will at times try to hold off on tapping out longer and sometimes to the point where they are doing damage to their joint, but they are professionals with a lot of money and their career on the line.

For the rest of us, that should never be the case.    We tap out because we recognize we lost, not because we are in pain or already hurt.

Why is the receiver the one that is responsible to surrender?  Martial Arts is a funny thing, it is an activity that both builds confidence and teaches humility when done right.  In the process of getting good, you have to surrender 1000′s of matches to people bigger, smaller, older, younger, stronger, weaker and every thing else.    Everyone gets caught sometimes, and everyone has to be willing to admit that they where physically defeated by anyone else on the mat if they get caught.

This is something I see as a huge benefit to building character over styles where all the scoring is done by a ref or judges.  Scoring points for hits which is fuzzy in the best situations too easily leaves the humility part lacking and the confidence turns to cockiness.  When you tap out it’s not a bad ref call, you lost, and you admit it.

Don’t forget to train your posterior chain!

One of the key things that often prevents people from developing functional strength vs mirror muscles / beach muscles is neglecting the posterior chain.

Basically these are all the muscles on the back side of you, the ones you don’t see in a mirror.  Part of it is likely just a out of sight, out of mind issue.

But the other part is those muscles are a little harder to train, especially without at least some equipment.  As a result a lot of home workout programs manage to do a decent job working the anterior chain (muscles on the front of you) but neglect the posterior chain.

The reason they are harder to train is in general these muscles work the “pulling” side of things, where as the other side of them is the push.  Using your weight and the floor gravity can help give you resistance for pushing exercises, but it is a little harder for pulling.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is strength training is all about balance.  Each muscle has an opposing muscle, your quads to your hamstrings, your biceps to your triceps, etc.  One pushes, the other pulls.

When your workout stresses one side and neglects the other you risk injuries doing ordinary things.  In the “real world” most things involve rotation.  If you throw a ball one side of your body pulls, the other pushes creating a rotation.  Same for shovelling, racking, pretty much anything.

When those muscles are unbalanced you have a strong muscle attempting to work with a weaker one, and it can’t keep up.  This can lead to pulled muscles in your back, hamstring, it can cause knee injuries, etc.

We already live a fairly anterior chain dominated lifestyle.  A lot of people spend pretty much their whole day using their glutes and hamstrings as something to sit on and little more.

So don’t neglect the posterior chain, it is vital for athletic performance as well as injury prevention.  It might not be as easy to train, and the aesthetics of it might not be as important if you are just looking to look good, but it’s a vital part of proper training and getting the best results you can.

Martial Arts Culture pt 6 – Language

Language in martial arts gyms is a funny thing. For us, we speak English, and we train in English, and there is a reason.

Over the years I’ve seen and been guilty of some terrible misuses of language during my training. Coming originally from a Karate background my decision to teach in English came, oddly enough, after taking a Japanese language course.

So let’s start with some examples:

First, a obvious one, and one that I mentioned in a previous post on titles. “Sensei”, in western schools this is treated as a title meaning martial arts instructor. But it’s not a title, it’s a honorific term. It is used to refer to teachers, as well as anyone in a position of authority. So if you’re talking to your lawyer, it would be appropriate. If you are a 20 year old karate instructor teaching a lawyer, you’d probably be using it towards them, not the other way around. A person would also never introduce themselves as “Sensei Andrew”, or put it on a business card (which gets done over here all the time), it’s something others use towards you. There are teaching titles in Japan… “Sensei” is not one of them.

And now a funny one: In Japanese “Mae Geri” roughly means front kick, “Yoko Geri” side kick, “Mawashi geri” is a young kick and so on. So “Geri” means kick, pretty obvious. Except it’s not. “Geri” means diarrhea. “Keri” means kick, unless it comes after another word, then it becomes “geri”.

I’m not sure why in the west we like to try and use… and end up misusing foreign language as a part of training. I imagine some feel it gives their training some sense of authenticity. But without context it is so incredibly easy to misuse language in a way which I think is disrespectful to native speakers, especially when we teach it as part of classes.

The other thing to keep in mind is this didn’t really happen with the countries of origin for those systems.  Karate used Japanese, not Chinese when the Okinawans imported things.  When Koreans learnt karate during the occupation they went back to Korea and taught using Korean and renamed everything.  (Granted Korea was pretty anti-Japanese in general at that time.)

Some things have names in a language that don’t really have a direct translation or a name in English.  In those cases it makes sense to import the word, and thats what is generally done outside of martial arts.  “Sushi” is still “Sushi”, we don’t really have a English word for it.  It makes sense to use “Sushi” instead of inventing a new one.  But even when we go to a Japanese restaurant most of us still call “rice”, “rice” because we do.

Anyways, one more, “Osu” and I’ll leave this one to a link: http://www.karatebyjesse.com/meaning-oss-osu-japanese/ the amount of “Osu-ing” that goes on in some places is almost silly, using it as a general word for everything possible and thinking it is respectful. It’s a “low class” word, and IMO has little place in a educational environment.

Anyways, we speak English.  Hopefully we are able to get that language right.  :)

Types of Martial Arts for Kids pt 2

A little while back I did a post on some of the popular forms of martial arts, you can find that here:

http://www.innovativema.ca/929/types-of-martial-arts-for-children/

And this time I want to expand on that a little.

As it is not just the styles that have a wide range of things, but the way people train does as well.

You could take two martial arts styles and not have a single overlapping technique between them.  Some are based around punching and kicking, others don’t use punches or kicks at all.

The same goes for training methods which can also vary greatly.

In the same way that not a single “style” of martial arts is best for everyone across the board, the same goes for training methods and school culture.

Some places will almost resemble military drill practice… and there is a reason for that.  A lot of “modern” arts where implemented as military training.  Or rather pre-military training, a way to get youth mentally and physically prepared to join the military.  This was one of the stated aims of the Dai-Nippon Butokai (Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society) until it was disbanded at the end of WW2 as a result of the allied forces conditions to disband all military organizations.

As for us, we are less drill line like and our culture is much more based in creativity and dynamic problem solving.

We don’t do forms or kata, and we try to base our teaching methods more on modern sport science and child psychology.

At the end of the day I think the program that is going to work the best for any given kid is the program they enjoy the most.  We all learn best when we are having fun, we all learn best when what we are doing is something that interests us.  As parents / adults in kids lives sometimes they need a little push to keep going, motivation in anything tends to peak and valley, often in sync with plateaus that need pushed through.

So what do we do?  We practice techniques that are age and skill appropriate… and then we play.  If we are working on takedowns we will play a game (or “drill” if you prefer) that lets the kids try and take each other down.  We will use games that are designed to teach them balance and off balancing, games that are designed to teach them to advance position. We will use games that emphasis teamwork, strategy, conditioning.

With the younger kids we will even use games designed to teach them to resist the urge to run around when they are supposed to stay in place. We will have games that are designed to not just give them techniques, but teach taking turns and co-operating.

Fitness, teamwork, sportsmanship, confidence, leadership, balance, etc.  These things always progress the fastest through dynamic experiences and “play”, not through rehearsed patterns and pre-set responses.

Have your child come “play” with us, it can make a world of difference :)

 

Happy St. Patricks Day! – Irish Martial Arts?

Happy St. Patricks Day everyone!

Did you know that Ireland is the home to several types of martial arts?

Most people are familliar with Irelands reputation for bare-knuckle boxing.  

At this point bare knuckle boxing has become almost a caricature of Irish culture thanks in part to that Notre Dame leprechaun.

Bare knuckle boxing tended to take on some distinctive characteristics from modern boxing, without the gloves to protect your hands both offence and defence have to change a little to keep your hands in tact until the end of the match.

Especially considering that a lot of bare knuckle matches could go on for a very long time…

 

But Ireland is also the home of a form of wrestling called “Collar and Elbow” which was done both with a jacket similar to Judo and without one.  This style utilized a lot of the same sort of trips, sweeps, submissions and controls as modern Judo and Jiu Jitsu.

Irish wrestling was also very popular in early North America.

Irish collar and elbow wrestling had a influence on other forms of wrestling at the time and it’s influence can still be seen in modern wrestling as well as staged pro-wrestling matches where the collar and elbow tie up is very commonly used to start matches.

 

In addition to the empty handed boxing and wrestling techniques, Irish martial arts include the use of the Shillelagh, or club.  The Shillelagh has become a bit of a symbol of “Irishness” over the years.

In addition to self-defence purposes Irish stick-fighting ended up becoming associated with gang or faction violence and largely faded away by the turn of the 20th century.

 

 

Martial Arts Culture pt 5: Effort and Achievement

Participation trophies get a bad rep, and perhaps rightly so. Participation in itself shouldn’t really be cause for reward. But, it does have one idea right in concept, and that is that winning is not everything, especially with kids.

Even if the ultimate goal is to be the best, winning isn’t everything.  It’s something we can’t control, all we can control is ourself and our own effort.

The thing is, in the long run effort, attitude and persistence will always win over talent when those things aren’t there.

When we have a talented white belt that is great, but, the unfortunate thing is a lot of talented white belts do not follow through to becoming talented black belts.  And a lot of untalented white belts turn out to be very talented black belts.

Attitude, effort and determination decides who gets to reach  high level of skill, because even the most talented white belt is still a white belt.

Martial arts training is not a sprint, but a marathon and who is ahead at the 1 mile mark doesn’t matter as much as who actually finishes the race.  Same as everything in life, effort and persistence will win over the person that got a early lead.

While we will give awards for winning, the awards for attitude  and effort are equally important.  Those are the things that determine long term success.

We can’t control our natural talent, we can’t control our opponents talents, the only thing we can control is the effort we put in, that’s what we should encourage and recognize in kids.

The trouble with machines for strength training…

Pretty much anyone that is serious about fitness will tell you free weights are better then machines, yet machines still take up a huge chunk of gym space.

In one sense they are easier and safer to use, they keep the weight on the track it needs to be on for you, allowing you to safely do the push or the pull without worrying about it slipping, tipping, falling on you or anything else that could injure you if you lose control of it.

The trouble is you train the “big” muscles, but not the stabilization of them, which is very important in injury prevention.

Think of it like upgrading a car, if you hook the car up to a track and increase the engine power all is good and the car flies down the track. But as soon as you take it off that track you are going to be in for a crash as the steering, stabilization and breaks aren’t able to cope with a much more powerful engine.

Machines can have their place, but just because a exercise is safer to do does not mean it is safer for you in the long run. Properly developing stabilization is just as important as developing strength when it comes to safe training.

Martial Arts vs Seasonal Sports

As a martial arts school it might not come as a surprise that we prefer martial arts and other similar pursuits over team sports as a primary pursuit, but perhaps what is not as clear is the reasons.

Year Round

Martial Arts is a year round activity, just as health and fitness should be. Fitness needs to be part of day-to-day life, not a seasonal thing but part of your routine.

The other aspect of this is that in order to reach a high level of skill in anything you need consistency. It can’t be something that you do for 3-4 months of the year, especially as kids. In that time their bodies change so much that by the time the next season starts they will have taken a step backwards from where they should be.

And finally with a big lay off it is very easy to decide not to go back. Seasonal sports participation drops off pretty severely as kids get older and tends to retain mostly only the top tier of players. This makes sense, after not playing a sport for 8 months going back to a team is going mohave some anxiety that comes with it. Not to mention it is no longer part of their routine.

Individual Accomplishment

Martial Arts is a team effort, you can’t train on your own.  You can’t be selfish in training and expect to get far.  You can only get better through the help of your “team”.

But the accomplishments are individual.  When a student earns a belt it is because of their hard work, because of their knowledge and because of their skill.  It is not because they have a couple star players that carried them.  It’s not because the other team choked.  It’s because they did it, on their own.

When the goal of any sport is not really the sport itself, but the fitness, confidence, and other character traits that come from participation this is a big deal.   Every accomplishment they reach is because they did it by themselves.

Clear Goal Setting

There is a path from white to yellow belt and on.  It is very clearly laid out so that they know exactly what they need to do to reach their goals.  The only one in control of their actions to those goals is them.  It doesn’t matter it the team skips practice, or if their goalie quits the team mid season.

Every student is in charge of reaching their own goals, yes, they need their “team” to do it.  But the control over reaching those goals goes to them.

They earn their belts, they are not given to them.  They don’t choose to sign up for “orange belt”, they earn that belt.

Scheduling Freedom

I know from talking to parents one of the hardest things about team sports can be the schedules.  Missing a practice or a game means letting the team down.  You can’t go a different day to “make up” a missed game.

And if it’s not you, it’s someone else on the team missing that causes problems.

In martial arts if you have to miss a class it’s ok, we train 6-days a week and it can be made up if you like.  You don’t let the team down because they are then short their goalie because you where on holidays or had a cold.

Leadership & Starting Skill

One of the other interesting things about martial arts over team sports is you can start at any age and be fine.  Differing skill levels is part of the culture in most classes.  They more experienced students help out the newer ones, which in turn develops their leadership and understanding of the techniques and concepts to a higher level.

Starting a lot of team sports at a later age can be a tricky thing, if everyone else on the team has been playing for 5 years already joining the team as a beginner is a hard thing to do.

Part of what makes a martial arts class work is that the experienced members help the newer ones.  Leadership is a built in feature of the higher level belts.

—–

In the end every kid is different, and every parent needs to make the decisions that they feel best suit their kid.

Sports aren’t their to teach the child to just play the sport.  They are their to teach them confidence, to teach them to keep going when they are tired, to teach them to push themselves, to teach them to work together, to teach them not to give up, etc.