Category Archives: Our Philosophy

The Cycle of Success

This image is on the first page of our Instructor Training manual, and it is one of the key pieces of our teaching philosophy.

The basic idea is when people are more confident they apply effort in a more meaningful way, greater applied effort leads to success, and success leads to a increase in confidence.

As coaches & instructors our job is to create and feed that cycle, meaning create opportunities for our members to feel success, which leads to a increase in confidence.

One of the great things about martial arts is that pretty much everyone can achieve success to some level as it is a individual sport, accomplishments are individual.

Success is something every child needs to find, and as the adults our job to make sure that they are able to find that success.

One trouble is often when the child’s primary area of success doesn’t match with adults.  In those cases the adult can often attempt to push the child towards that particular area, and in some cases pull them away from the area that the child has actually been seeing success in.

Confidence gained through success tends to bleed out into other areas, so when a person achieves a high level of success in something, anything really, it can boast their confidence and therefore increase their applied effort in other things.

This is the basic idea behind how students often start in martial arts, or other activities, see some level of success and recognition and the result is a increase in grades and focus in school or other areas of life.

On the flip side one thing that we see that doesn’t work that is all to common is taking something away from a child that they are good at in order to try and redirect their focus to something that they aren’t seeing as much success in.

The truth is not all people will be good at all subjects, however most students can find success in something.  If a student is lacking in school, taking the things that they are good at outside of school away will not help their school, it will only cause the cycle of success to break and can end up hurting their confidence and their level of success.

As a martial arts school we also believe we have a distinct advantage over many other extra-curricular activities.  Our program is set up with the idea of progressing through ranks in a mixed rank environment.

After a few months in the program just about any kid will be able to demonstrate a level of competence over any beginner.  After a year or two they will be able to start assisting beginners in learning basic techniques. A few years in and they will be well on their way to being leaders within the class.

Contrast this to a team sport where the team progresses along as a unit, and in most cases the top players remain the top players and the weaker ones remain the weaker ones.

Their is also something very real about the martial arts when done right.  The confidence that comes from knowing that you can effectively pin / control / submit another person is a very real confidence.  It’s unfortunate that so many martial arts schools have drifted away from reality to choreographed routines and “self-defence” where an attacker throws a punch or does a grab then freezes while the defence does 8 return hits against a opponent standing still…

Anyways, whatever your child is good at, encourage them to that and recognize their success in it.  Success in one thing and recognition for that success will bleed into all other areas of their life, even if the thing that they are seeing success in isn’t what should be the top of the priority list.

Transparency in Pricing

I’m not going to lie, we did listen to this advice once upon a time, but to be honest it felt wrong then.

But there is a “standard” practice in the martial arts and other related industries to not tell you the price until you give them something. Whether it is coming in to talk in person, a email address or something.

The logic is reasonable in some sense, or at least it was at one point.

The basic idea is people are often price shoppers, so unless you are the cheapest you have to show them the value of what you do before showing them the price. And unfortunately if you are the cheapest it is impossible to deliver the best product and trying to do so will put you out of business fast. There is no product or service where you can deliver the best option while being the cheapest. The best car is going to cost more to make then the price of a cheap car by far.

In other words if I call around and ask a bunch of places the price of a tv and they all give me prices but nothing else I’ll go with the cheapest. But, some of those tv’s where 13” CRT’s and others 60” LED’s and everything in the middle with good brands and poor brands all mixed in.

But something changed, and that was the internet.

Back when the only information you could find on a school was the yellow page ad without actually going in this practice made a little more sense. Now however you can find videos, blogs, reviews, in depth websites, and more on pretty much any school.

You can find out a lot about any school without speaking to anyone nowadays. The schools themselves lost control over the information that goes out about them. This is a good thing for everyone, it makes us up our game and it put all the places that hooked you into long term contracts with shady sales tactics and collections enforcement out of business.

Our prices are all available publicly, as is pretty much anything else we get asked about. We aren’t the cheapest, we couldn’t do what we do if we tried to be. And we are also trying to put as much public content about our school and what we do out there as well.

It’s not about the person at the top, its about the people at the bottom.

One thing I’ve noticed with a lot of people in my profession is a dislike of teaching beginners. I suppose I get it, it can be a little repetitive teaching the same basic concepts everyday. It doesn’t really challenge your technical knowledge or force you to improve your own technical knowledge in the same way as teaching adult students.

I’ve also noticed a correlation between those people, and the schools that have the top person of the school or the organization plastered everywhere, right down to the school name. The website is all about them, everyone bows to them and addresses them as “sir”, or “master”, and treats them as something special.

The unfortunate thing is that while martial arts schools claim to teach humility, the culture of many schools seems to do the opposite.

Beginners are in many ways the most rewarding to teach. Someone going from 0 to 6 months training makes a huge and noticeable improvement. Someone going from 10 years to 10.5 is a much less noticeable change.

As instructors / coaches our job is to serve our students, not the other way around.

One of the most dangerous things in any activity is when the instructor begins to think the students serve him / her rather then the other way around. Whether is in the martial arts, team sports, academic or anywhere else, as soon as that switch gets backwards it is a open door for disaster.

Our school culture is very intentional, there are elements of “traditional” martial arts that we will never allow in our school. No one here will ever be called master. Instructors will never be on a pedestal, but always expected to speak to everyone, from the 3 year old beginner to the 20 year veteran with respect and to serve their needs, not the other way around.

We believe that one of the most important lessons you can teach a child is that leaders serve others.

Let’s Talk Discipline…

The word Discipline comes from the latin word “Disciplina” meaning teaching or instruction.  In modern culture it is often used as a synonym for punishment though, and that is far less of a useful skill.

This draws a line between to meanings of the word.  Internal discipline and externally imposed discipline.

An example of externally imposed discipline would be military boot camp.  Discipline in that context is doing what you are told, when you are told and not asking questions.

This is different from internal discipline which can’t be learnt through having someone direct your actions and behaviours and using punishment to ensure compliance.

Internal discipline is learning to teach yourself, controlling your own behaviour and making the most of your own abilities.  It is a skill that is gained through freedom and making your own choices.

External discipline is, in my opinion, far more superficial.  Using punishment and strict direction can certainly give a strong impression of discipline, but in our current culture is that enough to set a person up for success?

Much of todays educational practices where designed with factory workers in mind during the industrial revolution.  In that context external discipline was desired to keep people doing repetitive work grinding through the week.

In the martial arts much of the current practices have roots in military training.  Japanese arts where used to prepare boys for service, most of the eastern styles where brought to the west by military personal.

If you want external discipline for your child, and kids in straight lines punching and kicking in sync… we aren’t where you should go.  That’s not what we do or value.

Our flavour of martial arts by its very nature requires thinking and creativity under pressure.  It requires adaptability and staying calm under pressure.

Confidence and self-discipline can only come from believing in yourself and your own ability to make choices and take action.  Those things require freedom and with too much external discipline freedom to make choices disappears and confidence and self-discipline are never learned.

Now I am not saying external discipline should be completely removed.  It definitely needs to be there at times, but the bigger lesson is choice.  A child should learn that they can’t run around screaming and making a mess in the store, but the lesson should be in empathy not fear of punishment.

Nor does punishment need to go entirely, missing out on something for being disruptive is a lesson as well.  But the lesson can be you missed out because your choices caused other people to miss out when you where being disruptive.

So for us “discipline” is not about command and control alone.  It is a teaching empathy, thinking under pressure and other behaviours that lead a person to be successful in life.



Help Us Crush the Competition!

But first, let me tell you who my competition is…

It’s not some other martial arts school in the area, and we’ve had a couple open up in the past few years.

It’s not other sorts of gyms and sports.

It’s far larger then any of those…

We compete against bullies, that break down the confidence and self-esteem in kids that we are trying to build up.

We compete against Junk food companies, that makes our community over weight and lazy when we are trying to keep it fit and healthy.

We compete against big chain gyms that charge people for access and then let them fade away, paying for a membership they never use.

We compete against video games, that keep kids seated when they should be active.

We compete against a aged culture that says girls should look pretty and not be strong and fighters.

We compete against the diet industry that sells shakes, wraps and other “miracle” products that prevent people from doing things that actually make a difference.

We compete against a educational system originally designed to train workers rather then leaders.

So help us crush our competition, it’s not other sports or other martial arts schools. Those are our allies and we are fighting the same battle.

Martial Arts Culture pt 7 – Why So Serious?

I’ll be honest, we are goof balls.

Yup, it’s true, if you are looking for the stereotype of everyone always lined up yelling, looking serious and angry and appearing to be a military drill practice in funny pyjamas… well, that’s not us.

Study after study shows that both kids and adults learn best when they are having fun. They pay attention best when they are entertained. Even when serious topics are being discussed on a platform like, the most successful and impactful presentations and speeches often involve humour.

Kids tv figured this out years ago, hosts and actors are silly, fun and highly animated.

The truth is I’ve seen / heard so many martial arts instructors complain about teaching younger groups. They don’t like it, the kids won’t stay focused, they lack attention spans, etc. Yet for us all our staff love working with the younger groups and we see amazing results with them.

But we make a point to bring people on as instructors that are fun, animated, will be silly and play with the kids at their level. The most successful young kids instructor I’ve met started out in a Mickey Mouse costume at Disney… Getting results, real results, requires fun in our opinion :)

A taking the back drill turns into a pony ride…?

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

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.

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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: 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:

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 :)