Category Archives: Our Philosophy

Martial Arts School Culture pt 2: Who Serves Who?

The next part of culture I want to talk about is who serves who.

In the martial arts it’s not uncommon to put the head of the school or organization up on a pedestal.  They get their picture on the wall, the picture gets bowed too, you aren’t supposed to speak to them unless spoken too.  We even had a guy in the city that had students “volunteering” to go out and build his on temple in the religion he started with him at the top…

This is very contradictory to so much of the traditional values of the martial arts.  “Samurai” translates roughly to “one who serves”, humility has always been a core belief in martial arts from all over the world.

Our goal is to be accessible, human, and to be here to serve your needs, not the other way around.

So if you want to know who the master is at our school is, it’s the students.  The white belts.  The person that just stepped through the door for the first time.  We are here to help you get better, to use our experience to serve you.

And it is our hope that one day many of our students will also be able to serve others by sharing their experience.

In the words of Albert Einstein “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”

Keep following our blog for more thoughts on our schools culture

Martial Arts School Culture pt 1 – Titles

Martial arts schools all tend to have their own unique culture, just like most places do.  In the martial arts world sometimes things can get a little… “overboard” at times.

We’ve tried to keep our school culture healthy and in the next few articles I want to look at a few pieces of culture and why we choose to do things the way we do.

I guess the first thing to acknowledge is there is no single right way on any of these things.  Just preferences and how they fit into the larger picture of the culture of a school.

The other thing to keep in mind is that martial arts has had a impact on the entertainment industry, but that influence goes both ways.  Some of which are good… others not so much.

So, first topic:  Titles

And boy does the martial arts world love titles.  For a community that stresses the importance of humility some of it seems a little out of place.

In the west we generally had “coach”, “instructor”, etc.  In Japan it would be “sensei”, which isn’t a title as much as a honorific, more like Mr, Ms, Mrs, etc but used towards someone in a higher position.  Teachers, doctors, lawyers and other positions of authority.  Roughly translated as “born before”, or more along the lines of a way to refer to someone who has experience and is passing that along.

Anyways, other languages have similar words (shifu, euro,  sah buh nim, etc)

But at some point in the 50′s / 60′s we started getting some serious title inflation…

I am not “Master Andrew”, never will be.  language plays a part in how we view things, and I am not anyones master.  Just a coach, that’s what I do.  I try to make people better at martial arts.

To put it in context suppose you or your child joined a soccer team and the coach introduced himself as “Grandmaster Joe” and wanted the players to call him that… it would seem a little odd.

Some schools try to keep a “mystic” element to what they do, putting high ranking people as capable of inhuman feats like they are in the movies.  But, we are all just humans, even the most experienced martial artist is still human.  They can’t really run up walls, or blast you with chi from across the room.

Even if someone can be said to have reached a mastery level of skill, calling them “Master Bob” in the martial arts seems as strange as calling a master carpenter “Master Stan”.

The other thing that we have is language related, but also adds some confusion.  For example the term “Professor” gets used in some styles.  In the native language “professor” means teacher, and is used at all levels.  However in English it has a very specific meaning.

Language and context matter, and in English in Canada we have perfectly suitable words.  I suspect people would give me a puzzled look if I used the term “Doctor” a title for teaching martial arts, however in Rome “Doctore” was the term used for the person training gladiators.

It’s sometimes marketing, sometimes ego and sometimes a sort of cultural appropriation.

What makes it more interesting is that when Kung fu went to Japan and karate was formed, it took on Japanese terms.  When Korea was occupied and Karate went into Korea, it took on Korean terms.  When Judo went to Brazil it took on a lot of Portuguese terms.

Yet for some reason in English speaking places we feel using foreign words gives credibility.

Funny little piece of trivia.  In Japanese a front was “Mae Geri”, a side kick being “Yoko geri”, etc.  The word for kick being “geri”, except context matters and on it’s own it does not mean kick, but poop.  Without something in front the word should be “keri”, not “geri”.  So we spent a lot of time practicing our poops until someone informed us of what was getting said :D

For our school we choose to go with first names, or if the child prefers “coach” is also good. Misusing another languages terms is something I’ve seen enough of in the martial arts, and I think it’s a little disrespectful to people that actually speak those languages to be butchering them constantly.



The Most Important Experience…

One thing I’ve noticed lately is a some parents want to give their kid a wide range of experiences.  Trying a little of everything to see what they like.  This is awesome, kids should experience as much as they can without getting overloaded.

But one thing to be careful of is skipping a very important experience, and that is seeing things through.  Learning what it takes to not just taste a skill, but to get good at it.

Whether it is music, dance, martial arts or pretty much anything.  Most people are, at some point, going to think about and possibly want to quit.

You start something, you get real excited about doing something new and it’s great… but pretty much everyone in anything is going to have a point where they want to stop.

It makes sense, we go through stages in learning.  And different people have a hard time with different stages.

For a lot of people, getting started in the first place is the hardest thing.  That first trip through the door.  If all you do is sample different activities you might get good at starting things, and that is a good skill to have.  But learning to coup with the other stages is just as important.

Once you get started you quickly realize how much you don’t know and how hard it all is at first.  (Conscious incompetence in the 4 stages of learning).  This is the second hurdle to get over.  Showing up and learning a skill, even when it is not going well.  We start playing a instrument with a vision of playing well, or start martial arts with a vision of being able to pull things off.  But it’s hard, it takes time, and in the beginning… everyone doesn’t know what they are doing.

If you can get past the second stage you get to where you know what you are doing, but it doesn’t yet come naturally.  You have to think about it and be deliberate.  (conscious competence) .  At this stage there is a lot of repetition, It’s not as much learning new things as it is making things you know instinct and second nature.   The repetition and frustration with making mistakes when your brain tells you that you know better can get the better of you here.

And finally, you get to where things flow.  Where you can pick up a instrument and freestyle, where you can wrestle and move well instinctively.  Where the real joy of the skill kicks in and creativity and the “art” side of it comes out.  At this stage, for those that make it.  Quitting is a lot less common, it becomes a part of you.

That is a experience worth having, taking a skill to the point of unconscious competence.  No one regrets getting to this stage, but a lot of people wish they had.  The number of people that will say they wished they had kept at playing guitar, or kept at martial arts, or stuck with painting is a very high number.  But finding someone that says “I wish I’d been able to quit years ago when I wanted to” is a lot harder.

A short introduction to something is a good experience, taking a skill to the point of unconscious competence, where it becomes instinct and creativity… that is a truly amazing experience and one worth more then any number of introduction to _____’s.  Give your kids the experience of “Mastery”, and the process of reaching it.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.


Iceland knows how to stop teen substance abuse but the rest of the world isn’t listening

It’s really basic stuff, but easy to forget. Teens need a place to belong, and something to belong too. And there is a period in there where it’s sometimes hard to fine. If they don’t find it in a productive and healthy place, it’s easy to find in a unhealthy place.

Kids hit a age where they feel they should be more independent then they are able too, where there is a gap in between being a “kid” and being able to work and gain independence. I think the best thing that can be done at this age is to keep them involved in something outside of school and to help them find a way to feel they bring value to something.

Sometimes stubborn is all it takes.

Until May 1954 the 4 minute mile was largely considered a impossible barrier. Once it was beat the record holder only held it for 2 months before 2 more had beat it.

So much of what our bodies can and can’t do is all in our heads, if we don’t believe we can do it, we aren’t going to be able to. As soon as beating the 4 minute barrier became something achievable, people started achieving it. What was once considered impossible is now the standard for high level racers.

Can you get that one last rep in? or hold that plank another 30 seconds? Probably, but you got to refuse to not be able to.

Input => Output: Who you spend time with matters

One fundamental concept when working with just about any sort of processor is that input controls output.  The numbers you put into a calculator lead to the numbers you get out of it.  The ingredients you put into a recipe control the finished product.

We aren’t much different, our inputs control our outputs as well.

This covers diet, if you eat low quality food you’re going to have low quality energy and feel poorly.  If you eat high quality food you’ll have more energy and be healthier.

It covers our fitness, if you exercise right you’ll end up strong and in good shape, if you don’t exercise you won’t.

And it also covers our mindset, which is going to lead to all those other things.  A person that grows up surrounded by people that are out of shape and complain about those “health nuts” that eat vegetables and exercise is most likely going to end up in a similar situation.

“Garbage in, Garbage out” is a common concept in software.

A person that is surrounded by people that don’t value education is most likely going to end up not getting one.

A person that surrounds themselves by people that love to learn is going to likely end up doing the same.

A person that is surrounded by people that take care of themselves through diet and exercise is likely going to end up healthy.

If you don’t have the right inputs in your life it is going to be very hard, if not near impossible to get the results you want.  The people we surround ourselves with make a huge impact on the way we see the world.  As does the media we consume, the books we read and the activities we do.

Perhaps the worst offenders are the complainers… complainers are the people that always have something to complain about.  Complaining is a terrible input to have because it shifts responsibility away from the things we can actually change.

Now I’m not talking about legitimate complaints.  Things like “I bought this tv and it doesn’t work”, things like that are a different sort of complaint that has a resolution.

“I have bad genes, I can’t lose weight.”

“Rich people got lucky, and exploit the poor.”

“I can’t afford to eat healthy”

“I have no time to exercise”

Now in some cases there may be some level of validity to the complaint.  But focusing on the complaint shifts your mindset to “It’s not my fault, I can’t do anything” away from finding a solution, which is where it should be.

Consider the things that matter to you in life.  Health, finance, family, work, relationships, etc.  What are the inputs are you surrounded with in those regards?

Do all your friends and co-workers creed going to work and spend the whole week avoiding doing as much as possible while complaining about not earning enough?  Probably won’t like your job either.

Do your friends spend much of their time complaining about their significant other… chances are you’ll end up unhappy in your relationship too.

Do you eat lunch with people that eat junk food and make fun of the health nuts that eat salad?  Chances are you’ll have a hard time with your diet.

Garbage in, Garbage out.

Choose who you surround yourself with wisely, and choose who you listen too.


I’ll start Monday…

I'll start next Monday...


We humans are natural procrastinators… we like to plan to start things we really don’t want to do later.  Maybe Monday, or the First of the month… or maybe for New Years, after the holidays.

Of course when those days come around we still won’t want to do it. If it was something we wanted to do we’d already be doing it.  So Monday comes around, then it’s Tuesday… then it’s might was well just start Monday as the week is half over already.

The difference between success and failure is action.  Start now, not tomorrow, not next week, not after the holidays.  If you want something start now.  The time will never be perfect, you’re probably never going to run out of reasons not too.  But by starting, even if imperfectly, at least you are moving forward.  And as long as you are moving forward you’ll get somewhere.

Start and stay committed to continuing, even when you might not want to.  That’s the secret to succeeding in so many things.

Putting our money where our mouth is…

One of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do since I started teaching is hire staff to help teach the kids classes, who started off in the kids classes.

Watching people grow from student to instructor, teaching kids that are the same age group they where when they started is really a neat experience.

When I started teaching kids I had one age group… same as a lot of schools.  Since then we’ve grown to 4 age groups for kids.  Seeing how much progress the kids that started in the 3-4 year old class 4 years ago when we started it have made is amazing.  And I am excited to see the first graduate of that class grow up and go back to teaching it, even if we are a few years off from any being old enough for that roll quite yet.

Leadership is one of the key traits we want to develop in our advanced students, and seeing them become staff within our school as they enter the working world instead of working fast food or retail like most teenagers do is the best result I can hope for :)

Where is all the screaming?


Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 9.54.00 PMIn the movies, screaming and yelling is certainly common.  It’s also a staple of a lot of traditional martial arts, ever wonder where it came from and why?

Or why if you watch a actual match, whether it is kickboxing, boxing, MMA or really anything with actual contact it never shows up?

Quite simply it gives you a bit of tunnel vision, having your mouth wide open is a bad idea when someone is trying to hit you unless you like drinking all your meals.

Anyways, all that was probably well and good if you where a samurai who was set to live and die on orders.  Might need that little boast if you are walking into someone else sword as you attack.

So how about Karate & Tae Kwon Do?  Well, traditional karate only really goes back to the early 20th century, and Tae Kwon Do branched off of that.  It was in the lead up and aftermath of WW2 that it really took it’s shape in Japan.  Karate became a tool to train children in Physical Education, which in imperial Japan meant prepping for battle.  Taking a lot of influence from Kendo (way of the sword) it developed into it’s modern form.

A big piece of this was attacking with everything, for one hit.  Forgetting about the after, and focusing all you got into landing that single hit.  From this we got modern point fighting competitions, where action is halted every hit.

We don’t believe in this at Innovative Martial Arts, our philosophy is not one hit, one kill.  While yelling can, at times, be used to develop confidence, so can many other things.  We believe in tactical and strategic fighting, protecting yourself first and foremost. Remaining calm and acting intelligently under pressure…  and not upsetting our neighbours too much :)