Kaizen: Continuous Improvement And Martial Arts

Kaizen is a Japanese concept which basically means “continuous improvement”.  It can be applied to business, engineering, management; in fact, just about anything.  It is a very powerful tool for self development.

The idea is that you take one small area and work on it for a week.  Depending on what field you are working on, it can be something as simple as just smiling more often (which can be good for building business or personal relationships).  By the end of the week, it should have started to become a habit.  Then you pick some other small improvement to focus on.  After a year, you should hopefully have made 52 small improvements.  This obviously all adds up to a very substantial (and very deliberate) overall improvement.

Very interesting you may say, but what has that got to do with martial arts.  Well our grading system is roughly based on just this same principle.  It should not be a surprise then that it was the Japanese that created the coloured belt system which was later copied by the Koreans, Chinese and many others.  Most martial arts have gradings every 3 months though it will vary from style to style.  Although Kaizen looks for a different subject of focus each week, it would obviously be impractical to have gradings every week.  However, the belt system is clearly following the same underlying principle.

Each grade has clearly specified requirements for kata/patterns, basic techniques and sparring (free or pre-arranged) and generally the student will not move on to the next level of training until they have been examined for the current level.  It is a very well defined and structured system that ensures that the student learns the required skills in logical and progressive sequence.

Another powerful tool for self development is goal setting.  Everybody who teaches self development always recommends goal setting as it is a way to focus the mind in order to achieve the best results.  The belt system sets our goals for us.  As soon as we decide that we want to take a grading, we set ourselves the goal to learn the next set of techniques (or combinations), the next kata/pattern, and the next sparring drill.  We also set ourselves the goal learning them to the required standard.

Kaizen is actually a very structured form of goal setting.  The Japanese really took this process very seriously as they rebuilt themselves from the devastation the Second World War to become almost an economic superpower.  The South Koreans who took a similar approach punch well above their weight economically for such a small country.  Yet the principle of Kaizen is intimately ingrained into our martial arts and goes almost unnoticed as we take it for granted.

This is another serious lesson that we can learn from our martial art and take into every area of our lives.  There is nothing in life that cannot be improved by looking for constant small changes and practicing them until they become ingrained, just as we do with martial art training.

Some purists will point out that originally there were no grades in martial arts.  However, martial arts was usually taught secretively in very small groups, with a master and just a few select students.  Those students would normally be motivated by wanting to stay alive if they become involved in a physical conflict (rather than scoring a point or keeping fit, etc).

They were warriors.  Most of us today are not, but that’s OK, we don’t need to be.  Our motivation and mind set is often different to their’s, therefore its reasonable that different things will work for us as worked for them.  Gradings may not be necessary in small motivated groups, but make it much more practical to teach in today’s much larger classes.

It’s a shame that some people just become obsessed with getting a grade and they miss out on learning some of the finer points and applications that are not included in the grading syllabus.  However, they still have to perform the syllabus for their grade to the required level so some standards are still maintained.  There are definitely faults and limitations within the grading system.  There are also many abuses on many different levels, by students and examiners.

But overall, it is a very good system which when you look at it more closely, teaches us a method to live by as well as for learning martial arts.

 

Is Joint Pain Interfering With Your Training? And What Can You Do About It?

It is very important to look after our bodies, especially those of us who put extra duress on our bodies with regular training.  However, many people develop joint problems throughout their martial arts careers and simply assume that it is the price we pay for training and/or getting older.  But although some training methods can be damaging, there are other things that we should look at too as I’ve learned from my own personal experience of consistent knee problems.

Although I’ve had some knee injuries caused by training, my knees actually got a lot worse during an extended period when I was out of training due to domestic issues (very long story).

Did you realise that our feet were not designed to walk on a completely flat surface.  But what do we walk on all day (indoors, at work and on the roads); then go and train on in bare feet?   Yes, flat surfaces!

The reason that our feet have an arch in them is that back in our cave man ancestry our feet were designed to walk on earth, sand, muddy fields and so on, where the foot would sink in slightly and the arch would be supported.  However, without well designed footwear, we often have no support in our arches at all these days.

On average most people take 8,000 – 10,000 steps per day.  This is a high demand on a foot that is not properly supported.  As each foot contains 28 bones, it is not surprising that some thing is going to start moving around.

This lack of support in the arch can often lead to it collapsing.  In itself that is quite innocuous.  However, a collapse arch causes the foot to pronate (most of the foot twists inwards, whilst the heel turns the other way to compensate).  When you walk, as well as your foot going from heel to toe, it also rolls from rear outer edge to front inner edge.   This in turn causes the bones of the legs to re-align in order to compensate (knees tend to turn inwards).  Over a period of time the muscles, tendons and ligaments will actually re-adjust themselves too and take up new positions.  Then when you train, muscles that have become overly strong on one side will start pulling your knee joint to that side, whilst the weakened muscles on the other side are unable to balance it.  Tendons and ligaments that have been pulled out of place will rub against the bones, especially when doing fast kicks or deep stances.

Joint PainThis is what happened to me.  When I first started training again after a long break, I was not sure that I’d be able to continue due to constant pain in my knees.  Fortunately the problem was not too severe in my case.  If left unchecked, pronation can also go on to effect the hips and spin, as they adjust to compensate for the mis-aligned legs.

Women in particular are vulnerable.  I don’t know why, possibly it’s due to woman’s shoe fashions, possible the effects are made worse by carrying extra weight during pregnancy, but I’m guessing here.

So if you think this may be a problem that is affecting you, what can you do about it?

You can start by going to see  an osteopath or chiropractic.  They can check whether or not you are pronating.  If you are, then you may be recommended to use orthotics.  These are inserts which are placed inside the shoes, which support the arch and restrict the heel from rotating.  It is a slow process, but after a while your foot should become accustomed to this new corrected position.  This will of course reverse the procedure described above and the rest of the body will start to realign and correct itself.

orthoticMy knees are still far from perfect, but they have made a very notable improvements due to orthotics.  My ability to kick and go lower in my stances are much better than when I first returned to training.

Being naturally flexible and fastidious about technique, I was noted as a good kicker in my younger days.  But I could hardly kick at all on my return to training.  Now I can kick reasonably well most of the time.  For the first hour of training I usually feel quite good.  Sometimes if I go over that I start to get sore knees, but I am able to train and I know that I’ll be able to for many years to come.  It’s a slow process, but martial arts are for life.  So if you are having joint or back problems which effect your training, then I seriously recommend that you get your structure checked.

Many people turn to supplements when they have a joint problems, but if the the joints are not aligned correctly then you are throwing your money away.  Don’t get me wrong, some supplements can be very good and I use them too.  But the most important thing is to correct the structure first to prevent further damage.  Then you can look to repair the damage that has been done before.

Many people often have to face the stark choice of whether or not they give up the training that they have loved for many years, and it’s a horrible choice to have to make.  I know, I’ve had to consider it; but I always look for a way to solve my problems.   If you know anybody who you think can be helped by this article, then please pass it on to them.  Don’t just assume that it comes with age, because sometimes it doesn’t have to.

Do Our Training Methods Damage Our Bodies?

We so often hear that martial arts are good for our health and well-being, but is this always the truth?  I would say in the main . . . . yes.

However I do feel that there are exceptions.  All to often you hear of the more mature warriors amongst us having hip or knee operations.  Many (who are not professional teachers) have to give up training all together.  So if martial arts are a lifetime study (as is often said) how come the people who are left training over the age of 50 is such a small percentage.

Funakoshi, who introduced Karate from Okinawa to Japan, said in his latter years that the Karate being trained at that time in Japan was very different to the Karate of his youth.

The Karate that Funakoshi would have learnt in his youth in Okinawa would have had a very strong emphasis on combat effectiveness.  It also had a strong emphasis on health.  Many masters were originally introduced to Karate training in their childhood because they were sickly children and Karate was seen as one of the best ways to improve their health.

So what happened to Karate after Funakoshi introduced it to Japan in the 1920’s?

At that time, having relatively recently been forcibly dragged out of centuries of isolation, Japan was modernising very fast.  As such the Japanese saw the modern weapons imported from the West as the way to go and saw the old martial arts as obsolete except for physical and character development.  Furthermore, Japan’s militaristic character at that time, especially during the build up for the war, meant more emphasis on toughening up and strengthening up quickly, rather than looking to the longer term health.  Physically gruelling training was good for the spirit!

Emphasis on real combat was not really necessary in traditional martial arts as Japan was far more focused on how to use the newly found power of guns, warplanes and battleships.  The subtleties of Okinawan karate would be dumbed down to make it more acceptable to Japanese popular ideas of the time.  A more physical emphasis was required.  Dumbing down also made it easier to teach to large classes.

Funakoshi focused on teaching in Universities which meant introducing Karate to the higher strata of Japanese society (hence more respectability for Karate).  It also meant that as Karate was now being taught to relatively large numbers and as students left University and moved on, they did not form the deep relationship that the Funakoshi and his peers would have formed with their masters, so the transfer of knowledge would not have been quite so deep.

Unfortunately many of Funakoshi’s top students lost their lives during the war.  By the end of the war, Funakoshi was in his late 70’s and although still training himself, was getting a bit old for regular teaching, so to a certain extent the surviving students had to work it out for themselves.

Furthermore the occupying American’s banned martial arts training.  During the war, the Japanese had displayed a ferocious fighting spirit which for obvious reasons the Allies wanted to curb.  The Japanese had to make a case that Karate was not a real martial art, but more a way for self development.  As such, they got permission to train.  However, traditional weapons like the Bo, Tonfa, Sai etc were dropped from the syllabus as the Japanese realised that they would really be pushing their luck to ask permission to train weapons (of any kind) as well.  Karate was dumbed down even further.

With Funakoshi’s influence diminishing and most of his most knowledgeable students gone, Shotokan began to evolve (or devolve depending on how you look at it) into a forceful system with a heavy emphasis on the physical side.  This led in part to the stances becoming longer and deeper placing more stress on the lower body joints.  If you look at any photo’s of Funakoshi demonstrating technique, he is always in a fairly high stance.  Shotokan was mainly derived from Okinawan Shorin Ryu (created by Yasutsune Itosu).  If you go to Youtube and search for “Shorin Ryu kata”, you’ll see that most of their movements are done in a higher stance than modern Shotokan.

Just compare the Shorin Ryu and Shotokan versions of the same kata below:-

Shorin Ryu

Shotokan

A large group wanted to hold competitions which Funakoshi vehemently opposed.  However, after Funakoshi passed away in 1957, the movement to introduce competition went full throttle ahead and the first All Japan Championships were held that year.  Again the emphasis on being fit, strong and athletic grew with the short term goal of winning competitions rather than longer term goal of life long health.

Okinawan Karate was would have expected most fights to be at relatively close range (which is how most real fights are) so it would have geared its techniques that way.  But the new competition fighting where neither fighter was allowed to grab their opponent necessitated a longer range of fighting.  This in turn necessitated being able to take long steps, to cover relatively large distances.  This again creates more stress on our bodies and joints as we get older and was absent from the original Okinawan Karate.

High kicks (which had barely existed in Okinawan Karate) become much more common place, putting even more stresses on the body (especially hips and knees).  Again if you watch Shorin Ryu kata on Youtube, you’ll see less emphasis on kicks.  Furthermore, you won’t find Side Snap Kicks anywhere.  In Shotokan kata where we use a Side Snap Kick, Shorin Ryu uses a Front Kick).  Not only that, but the Shorin Ryu Front Kick is usually no more than groin height.

Side Snap Kick is one of the most difficult kicks of all for people who have hip and knee problems.  It is also not nearly as practical as a Front Kick in most real combat situations.  So why did Side Snap Kick replace the Front Kick in so many Shotokan katas and why did it end up usually being done at head height rather than groin height?

Well at that time, the Japanese had very little understanding of bunkai (fighting applications of the kata).  Not only that, most of them were not really interested either.  Kata competition was becoming very popular too and that was the driving force.  Kata had to look good.  The head height Side Snap Kick looked much better than the mid level Front Kick.  Many techniques performed in Neko Ashi Dachi (Cat Stance) in the Shorin Ryu kata were changed to a much longer deeper Kokutsu Dachi (Back Stance) in Shotokan kata.

Much of this has improved over the years and many branches of Shotokan has change quite radically even in the time that I’ve been training.  When I first started, we had to keep the back leg straight when performing any technique in Forward Stance.  This put pressure on the lower back and hips.  Now the back leg is slightly bent, relieving the pressure.  This and many other modifications have greatly improved the way that we train today.  In many ways many schools of Shotokan have become much “softer” in their training (and I softer as in how technique is performed, not as in “taking it easy”).  However, many still train the old way and many styles (Japanese & Korean) which are derived from Shotokan still bear some of those old hallmarks.

Training can be great for health, but if you are not careful, it can be damaging to your body, especially hips, knees and lower back.

Martial Arts: Fighting Spirit Vs Technique

Sometimes you see in martial arts forums and/or magazines, debates on what is most important in training; focusing on pure technique or developing a fierce fighting spirit?  Everybody seems to have an opinion and as the old saying goes . . . . opinions are like a**e holes, everybody has one.

So I though I’d add mine to the mix as well.  Opinion that is.  Obviously both are very important and nobody will get far without a certain amount of both.  However, as for which is most important . . . . . . I would say that depends on what stage of your training you’re at.

For beginners, I would say that more emphasis should be placed on technique.  Good technique is the foundation to traditional martial arts.  It is the basic building block on which all else is built.  People often argue that pure basics are unrealistic in a real fight.  I would agree.  However, when you build a house, the first thing you do is dig a great big hole and fill it in with cement.  This is your foundation.  When the house is built, you don’t actually see the foundation, but without it the house will fall down.

It’s the same with fighting skills.  When you fight or spar you take short cuts and you seldom see pure basics being used, but without good basics the techniques that you do fight or spar with will be limited.

I do think it is good to do some reality based scenario training (see the video’s in my post below) early as well, as that does teach the student tactics to deal with the raw aggression and pre-fight stage when somebody is trying to pick a fight with you.  This form of training can yield very quick results, particularly at overcoming any likelihood of “freezing” in a confrontation, so I don’t really feel that you need to do a lot of it.  Also, it should be separate from technique training, at least in the early days.

To learn good techniques takes time and is best learnt in a relaxed environment.  Learning under pressure tends to hard wire results into your brain very quickly, hence bad habits from early training can become hard wired and be difficult to remove later.

However, when the student becomes proficient at their techniques, then you can bit by bit build up the pressure and intensity.  But by this time, there should be a good foundation in place.  This can of course be done through several different methods:

  • Sparring is the most obvious as the student is on the receiving end of random attacks and has to react to them as they happen.
  • Even pre-arranged sparring can be intense.  When you are partnered with somebody who is fast, powerful, accurate and they come in at you with full intent (and you have to wait for them to initiate), it can requires full attention.
  • Kata/patterns/forms or even basics can be used too if you really visualise an opponent in front of you.  The body’s nervous system does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined (that’s why you heartbeat goes up and you jump at a scary movie, even when you brain knows that you’re safely snuggled up on your sofa).
  • More reality based (scenario) training, though now you can involve more technique.

This is particularly good at the approach to 1st Dan, when the balance can shift in favour of emphasising the spirit a bit more than technique.  Throughout the kyu/kup grades the techniques have been emphasised, but when the student goes for their Dan grade, they really need to show that they have the will to fight for it (mentally as well as literally).   It is often said that it is harder to live up to a black belt than it is to earn it, as a black belt is supposed to be courageous, confident and an example to others.   Somebody who folds under pressure (no matter how technically competent) cannot really be held up as an example.

Besides, martial arts are not only there to teach us to take the physical knocks of the Dojo (or even a street fight), they are also supposed to teach us to take the mental and emotional knocks of life itself.  That certainly requires great spirit.

However, as you continue to progress, (especially as you get older), you should learn to relax both physically and mentally under pressure.  This means switching back to focusing more on technique again.  I would say that by the time you’ve passed 2nd Dan or above, you should be accustomed to being place under pressure and rather than continuing to meet it with a “GRRRRRRR” mentality, you should be looking to casually evade, become deceptive, learn how to incapacitate using the least amount of your energy as you can.

Why?

Two reasons.

Firstly, martial arts are a lifetimes study and if you want to keep training as you get older, you need to consider the implications of age.  A lifetime of martial arts does not mean that you the same thing throughout your life.  A martial arts matures as the martial artist matures. Why would people in the 60’s or 70’s want to kick head height?  But without evolving into pure (and softer) technique as we move throughout our lives, then we bring forward our sell by date when we are forced to stop training.

Secondly, its a far more effective and efficient way of fighting, especially against multiple opponents.  A real fight can be exhausting, so using up all your energy fiercely and spiritedly defeating the first guy, just to find that his mates want to have a go too, is not wise.

True Martial Arts Spirit . . . . And He’s Only 11!

I came across this story by chance in a local paper.  It was just so awesome that it had to be shared.  Next time you feel too tired to train, or think you’d rather watch the telly instead, think of this young lad from the Bath TKD club.  This is where the grown ups can really learn from the kids.

The following is copied from the Bath Chronicle On-Line paper:

 

A boy who had to learn to walk and talk again after a brain tumour is now heading for a black belt in tae kwon do.

Daniel Kimmins, 11, from Odd Down was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2006.

Martial art spirit

 

 

 

 

 

After a battle to walk and talk again, he returned to school and tae kwon do in 2009, and has won his red belt and is now working towards his black one.

Bath Tae Kwon Do Club Instructor Rob Morris said: “I truly never thought I’d see the day Daniel would return, let alone reach such a high level.

“He continues to be an inspiration to all members at the club.

“In the 20 years I have been teaching I have never seen anyone with as much fighting spirit – it is truly humbling.”

Daniel was six years old when he started suffering from constant headaches and vomiting, causing his worried mum Heidi to take him to the Royal United Hospital.

She was told he had a virus and they were sent home, but when his health started to deteriorate, the health problems returned.

Daniel was then diagnosed with a brain tumour, and was transferred to Frenchay Hospital near Bristol for two operations.

Five weeks later, he was moved to Bristol Children’s Hospital for chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Daniel faced another challenge to learn to walk and talk again, after one operation to remove the tumour left him mute and unable to move the left side of his body.

The cancer had also spread to his spine, confining him to a wheelchair for two years.

Now, five years on, Daniel still has six monthly MRI scans at the RUH, and check-ups at Bristol Children’s Hospital. Although he is not yet in remission, he is improving all the time, but still has problems with balance and walking up stairs.

Heidi said she was very proud of his courage and determination.

She said: “Everything Daniel does amazes me.

“He is so determined to have a normal life and carry on with all the things he loves, like tae kwon do.

“I am just so proud of him. He is a very brave and determined boy.”

As a mark of his courage Daniel was awarded an award from his club for his “indomitable spirit”.

He has also been given a Cancer Research UK Little Star Award in recognition of his achievements.

Respect  🙂

How To Keep Calm In The Face Of Danger

I asked the following question on my Facebook page:

“Many martial arts include meditation of some sort. Does this help us in combat? Or is is just part of being a better person?”

As I have a lot a high grade and intelligent martial artists on that page, I got quite a bit of intelligent feedback as I expected.  However, I personally think it goes a little bit deeper than most people give it credit for; both for combat application and for making you a better person.

Starting with combat application however, most experienced people will tell you that fighting is actually more mental than physical, so there’s the first big clue.  Many say its about 90% mental.  However, this concept is not often explained in depth.

If you face somebody in a real street situation and your mind is on the point of panic, you won’t be able to think or focus.  This will manifest in your physical movement as your body becomes tense, your techniques become short and choppy and all sense of timing, rhythm and distancing disappears.  Worse still, you might just freeze altogether.

It not just important that you maintain calmness under pressure, it is essential.  Regular training in martial arts teaches us to do this mainly by subjecting us to regular pressure training.  Even if its just the pre-arranged fighting sequences, as the attacker increases the intensity of the attack so the defender has to react faster and more accurately to avoid being hit.

Of course this can be taken to a higher level with scenario training which is common in reality based martial arts training.  But some form of meditation is also often used to calm the mind before and after training.  Karate has it “moksu” at the end (and sometimes the beginning) of each class and I’m sure many other martial arts have their own equivalent.

Calmness of mind is easy when kneeling (or sitting) in a nice quiet dojo (training hall), focusing on our breathing under no pressure at all.  But how exactly does this help us when some great big muppet from hell is screaming in your face “who the F**k you looking at”, you’ve just had an adrenalin dump and your legs are turning to jelly?

I’ll come back to that in a moment.  Have you ever noticed that you often have a little voice inside your head?  Have you noticed that unless you consciously control this little voice it is usually negative, telling you that you can’t do something or you will fail.  Ironically, most people know that it is there, but 99% of the time they are completely unaware of it.  When something goes wrong and that little voice “oh no, this always happens to me”.  Did you stop and consciously think that thought, or did it just materialise automatically?  If we’re honest, it usually just materialises without us giving it a second thought.

When somebody cuts up in their car how often does that little voice shout out a string of expletives questioning the other drivers parentage?  Again, was that a conscious thought, or was it just automatic?

For most people (if we’re honest), it is just automatic with no conscious consideration.  But does that reaction help us in any way?  Does it do anything in any way shape or form to make the situation better?

No, of course it doesn’t.  If anything it makes us feel worse.  So why do we have this mechanism inside our heads that automatically responds to situations, usually making them seem even worse?

OK, back to Mr Muppetfromhell.  What will that voice be saying when confronted by him?

He looks real big”.  “Oh god, he’s going to kill me”.  “I’m a black belt, this will be so embarrassing if I get beaten up”.  “Should I run”.  “Will he chase me”?  “What if I hit him and it doesn’t stop him, he’ll be even more angry”.

And so it goes on and on.  As with the other examples, does this voice help you or hinder you?  Do you have any real control over it, or does it just happen automatically?

You really need to silence that “nutter” inside your head.  The more dangerous the attacker that confronts you, the more difficult this is to do.  Ironically, the more dangerous your attacker, the more essential it becomes to be able to do this.

This is where the meditation (moksu) comes in.  This is why you focus on your breathing in an attempt to silence your own personal little nutter.  This can also be done with kata/forms too, which is often described as a moving meditation.  However, if you’re a high grade, try to think back to when you were a beginning.  Whether it was kata or moksu, did you find it really hard to focus without that little voice coming in, saying things like:

“My knees are aching kneeling here”, “how long will this last for”, “that was a good session”, “I scored a good roundhouse kick against Charlie tonight”, “I could murder a pint of beer after that session”.

Sound familiar?

How many of you have those thoughts, (or can remember having them) when you meditate/moksu?  If you can’t silence the voice in those peaceful conditions, how on Earth do you expect to do it in the face of Mr Muppetfromhell when he’s frothing at the mouth?  But over time, often a number of years, many learn to do it.

However, most people are not aware that part of the reason for meditation/moksu is to silence the voice (your personal nutter), never mind being aware of why that is important in combat.

I’ve recently been listening to an audio book by Andy Shaw called Creating A Bug Free Mind.  Although it is not a martial arts book, it has a direct read across (as described above).  In it, he gives you an exercise to do to see how in control of your own mind you are, which I would ask you to try.  The real life combat applications (as described above) will become apparent.   Simply think of any happy memory.  It can be a promotion, first date, birth of a child, holiday, absolutely anything that makes you feel good and happy.  Now try to hold that thought and that thought only for just 15 seconds without any other thoughts coming into your mind.  Please stop reading and try that now!
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I’ll guarantee that most people will not able to hold that happy thought for just 15 seconds without another thought interrupting.  I would guess that many of the higher dan grades can do it due to their years of training.  If you are an instructor and you can do this easily, then I suggest that you ask your class to do it and you’ll probably be shocked how many can’t.

So now hopefully I’ll have changed a few minds as to what the meditative side is for and what you are actually trying to achieve through it.  Understanding what the point is, goes a long way to helping achieving it more quickly.  It might also help to understand why many senior martial artists include Tai Chi and Chi Gong as they advance.

So if actual fighting really is 90% mental, how can we control our minds in a real fight, when we can’t hold a happy a thought for 15 seconds?  How do get that control over your mind so that you can hold a thought for 15 seconds or more?

There are ways that this can be achieved quite easily (without years of meditation).  I can’t really do it justice in a few blog postings, as it took me several chapters to really get my head around it.  However, if you go over to Andy Shaw’s website, you can download the first 5 chapters of Creating A Bug Free Mind completely free.  I’ll tell you in advance, this book is heavily marketed, but it really is the most profound self development book I’ve ever come across and it will show you how to silence that voice (without costing you a penny).  This can be done in days or weeks rather than years.  As such, I believe that it will really accelerate your martial art training.   I’ve used the example of Mr Muppetfromhell screaming at you, but it applies just as well to friendly sparring in the club, or focus on your kata/forms.

It also applies to dealing with business problems, money matters, driving or relationships.  In fact it can apply to just about any situation in your life.  I seriously recommend that you go to http://www.abugfreemind.com and get those first 5 free chapters.

 

Martial Arts & Psycho Cybernetics (Part 2)

This post continues from Part 1, looking at how some elements of the book, Psycho Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz applies to martial arts.

The author, Maxwell Maltz, makes the compelling case that our brains act as a goal driven mechanism that works on negative feedback to achieve our desires.  Now before people jump up in arms at the use of the phrase “negative feedback” when modern day political correctness and education tells that we should always be positive, bear with me while I explain.

If you’re driving a car down a completely straight road and you line the car up parallel with the road, sooner or later you’ll start getting nearer and nearer to the centre of the road or the curb, so you need to adjust the steering in order to keep going straight.  This heading for the curb is the “negative feedback” telling you to make an adjustment to keep you going on the correct route without having an accident.

It is like a baby learning to walk.  At first they keep falling down.  Then they manage a few step and learn from it.  The more they fall down (negative feedback) the more they learn to adjust their steps to prevent it happening again.  Negative feedback in this sense is essential to tell us when we are going off from our true path or goal.

However, once the driver adjust the steering he/she does it automatically and forgets about the slight variance of their car’s path; just as the baby forgets about the falls once it has learnt to walk.  So it is with all aspects of learning, including martial arts.  Once we become adept at a technique (walking, driving, jumping spinning kick) we forget how we did it wrong.  In fact the wrong way starts to feel un-natural to us.

Problems do set in however, (with any facet of life), when people start to focus on the negative feedback instead of the correction that it should indicate to them.  Ever heard somebody say, “Oh I’ll never be able to do that”.  They are focusing the negative feedback instead of using it to prompt them in the desired direction.  When we have a goal in life, we should pursue it aggressively.  I don’t mean knocking people out of your way to get there, but you should be very pro-active and determined in achieving your desired outcome.

This applies to every single aspect of your life, be it physical, spiritual, emotional, relationships, business, martial arts, whatever.

This is one of the strengths of traditional martial arts training, as it always teaches you to you strive for perfection of technique, gradual improving bit by bit taking you up in small bite size steps (grading syllabus).  For any able bodied person who trains hard and regular, getting the coverted black belt is achievable.  Many people who are not fully able bodied have achieved their black belt.

Now I know that many will say that the the belt does not really matter . . . and . . . well . . . they’re right.  That said, it is a very significant and tangible symbol of success and achievement.  Whether we train for combat, or sport, or just for the art; we train our minds to accept the negative feedback and to move forward.

In fairness, many endeavours can have a similar effect on the practitioner.  Martial arts however do deal with facing up to violence.  The fear of violence is one of our most hard-wired primal instincts.  To quote a wise friend of mine, Dave Hayward:

Acts of violence are the single most terrifying thing that can happen to us or those we love. The type of training we partake in gives us the confidence and ability to deal with it. I believe this is what makes the martial arts holistic as we learn to deal with and conquer fear by dealing with the worst fear of all.

Martial arts are geared up (as David says) to conquer our worst and most primal fear.  Furthermore, they are designed to overcome this most basic animal instinct within us in a methodical step by step manor (grades) which is designed to set us up for success.

Psycho Cybernetics also quotes from a published article by Prescott Lecky:

Lecky has said that the purpose of emotion is “re-inforcement”, or additional strength, rather that to serve as a sign of weakness.  He believed that there was only one basic emotion – “excitement” – and that excitement manifests itself as fear, anger, courage, etc., depending upon our own inner goals at the time – whether we are inwardly organized to conquer a problem, run away from it, or destroy it.  “The real problem is not to control emotion, but to control the choice of which tendency shall receive emotional reinforcement”.

This has an obvious relevance for us as martial artists.  Whether in a competition, or (god forbid) you are assaulted by a real street predator, you will feel that excitement.  It will usually be accompanied by adrenalin.  We must train ourselves to use that excitement to re-enforce our courage and our determination to get away safely (whether by running or fighting).  We mustn’t let this excitement overly re-enforce our feelings of fear and panic.

Maxwell Maltz relays an example of an old time boxer, Jack Dempsey, who apparently used to get so nervous before a fight that he couldn’t shave and couldn’t sit or stand still.  However, Jack Dempsey did not interpret this nervousness as fear; instead he used it to fuel his blows in the match.

This is what we as martial artists must also do.  Traditional martial arts do this by repeated exposure to somebody putting pressure on us at training, whether by free sparring or pre-arranged drills getting faster and more determined.  Reality based training does of course accelerate this process (as per part 1).

Martial Arts & Psycho Cybernetics: Train For A Crisis

On and off over the 6 months (when I actually get the time), I’ve been reading a fascinating book called Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.  It’s a great book about how the brain works and how to use your own brain to get the best out of life.  I’ve also been struck several times on how much of it applies to martial arts.

One chapter, Crisis Into Creative Opportunity, is particularly applicable.  There are few crisis more immediate than that of being violently assaulted.

Here’s an extract from that chapter:

Although we may learn fast, we do not learn well under “crisis” conditions.  Throw a man who can’t swim into water over his head, and the crisis itself may give him the power to swim to safety.  He learns fast, and manages to swim somehow.  But he will never learn to become a championship swimmer.  The crude inept stroke that he used to rescue himself becomes “fixed” and it is difficult  for him to learn better ways of swimming.  Because of his ineptness he may perish in a real crises where he is required to swim a long distance.

This is where advocates of reality based martial arts should be sitting up and paying attention, as much of their training is more psychological than physical, to hard wire the brain to act under the most extreme circumstances.  The scenario based training where the aggressor shouts, threatens and swears at the defender are intended to induce an adrenalin rush, (to create the the feeling of a crisis).  It is known that under emotional pressure (adrenalin dump), blood goes away from the brain and it the muscles (ready for flight or fight).

However, with the lack of blood to the brain, the defender is not able to think as clearly as usual and will therefore tend to rely on remembered experience.  If the last experience of being attacked led the defender to cower and cringe, then that is what the defender will probably do again.

The scenario based training is designed to put the defender into an emotional/adrenalized state and hard wire (or “fix”) a different response, which the defender can fall back next time the blood is drained from their brain.

This type of training is akin to throwing somebody into water over their head to teach them to swim.  In light of the paragraph above from Psycho Cybernetics, what conclusions can we draw?

Well firstly, this type of training will get very fast results.  But just like the guy who is thrown into water over his head does not learn to swim well, they do not really learn very much in the way of self defence skills.  The main thing they learn is that when the crunch comes, they will fight back ferociously.  In many cases that will be enough, as many street predators are just looking for an easy target.  If they can see that their intended target is going to fight them ferociously (however badly), many street predators will move on and look for somebody else.

However, if you are picked on by an experienced street fighter and who just wants to fight no matter what, then this type of training is limited.  A street fighter is used to “training” in this emotional/adrenalized state.  So this type of scenario training just means that the defender will fight back without cowering or backing down.  It does not mean that they will in any way be a superior fighter, or have any other advantages.

This type of training therefore is ideal for somebody who just wants to do a short course and get good results and does not want spend years training at a martial art.

But what about the person who does want to become very good at martial arts; someone who does want to take self defence skills to a much higher level?

Maxwell Maltz says to be really good in a crisis, we should practice without pressure.  He also writes in Psycho Cybernetics:

Dr Tolman found that if rats were permitted to learn and practice under non-crisis conditions, they later performed well in a crisis.  For example, if rats were permitted to roam about at will and explore a maze when well fed and with plenty to drink, they did not appear to learn anything.  Later, however, if the same rats were placed in the maze while hungry, they showed they had learned a great deal, by quickly and efficiently going to the goal.  Hunger faced these trained rats with a crisis to which they reacted well.
Other rats which were forced to lean the maze under the crisis of hunger and thirst, did not do so well.  They were over-motivated and their brain maps became narrow.  The one “correct” route to the goal become fixated.  If this route were blocked the rats became frustrated and had great difficulty learning a new one.

Another example given was that of fire drills.  Those who practiced fire drills in a controlled manner were more likely to safely get out of a burning building, than those who had to find their way out under crisis conditions of that fire.

So as martial artist who want to react well under crisis conditions, we have to first learn in a non-pressure environment.  Once a technique or drill is learned, we can of course always up the pressure later.  In fact it would be foolish not to.  However, always training under high pressure hard wires and fixes responses in the brain which makes it difficult for the trainee to respond to should the circumstances suddenly change.

My Sensie, Paul Mitchell teaches over and over to practice movements slowly in order to perfect them.  As perfecting technique takes a very long time, whilst hard wiring a response under pressure gives very quick results, there is a clue to how you should train.  Most of it should be relaxed with a small (but regular) amount of pressure training.

It would seem no accident that most people who teach reality based self defence have a background in traditional martial arts, thereby covering both aspects.  Kevin O’Hagan who is a world renowned teacher of reality based self defence has said that traditional martial artists always pick it up fastest.

It also explains why Tai Chi is considered a higher level of martial art which martial artists should progress to (not start with).

Although Psycho Cybernetics is not a martial arts book, I would seriously recommend it to anybody who is interested in self development.  I’ve certainly found it eye opening.

The Louis Thompson Interview

Louis Thompson is the son of martial arts pioneer, author and modern day legend, Geoff Thompson.  As such he has had the unique opportunity to grow up practicing reality based martial arts with the very best instructors in the world from a very early age.  As an adult, Louis has often assisted his father teaching at many seminars.

Now Louis is set to branch out and teach independently.  Although still quite young, he has a wealth of knowledge and experience beyond his years as he has had a start in martial arts that most of us could only dream about.

I’ve been lucky enough to secure an interview with Louis and I believe that I am among the first to do so.  Without any more ado, here is that interview below and I hope you find it as interesting as I have:
CW:     Hi Louis and thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me.  Obviously you have grown up with martial arts in your blood.  Your father would have been a big influence (as he has influenced the whole martial arts world).   However, apart from your father, who else were the main influences on your martial arts development and in which ways did they influence you?

 

LT:     I try to take my influences from everywhere, not just martial arts. If I see someone who is highly successful in their field then I will take the same method that they used and apply it to my training. That is how my immersion training idea came about. I noticed that if people wanted to learn a language or skill quickly, if they completely immersed themselves then the gains were massive. I just make whatever I am doing a massive part of my life and that is how I get ahead of the game.

As for people who have influenced me there are many. Obviously my dad has had a huge effect on the way I view the world especially in martial arts. I feel like he has sifted through a lot of things arts and techniques and taken the essence and passed that onto me. Now it’s for me to go and find out of those things what works for me. I have been around Peter Consterdine since I was a child and I have massive respect for him. He has such a wealth of experience in so many different areas and he is someone I really would like to be around more. Obviously all of my dads students (Lea and Matty Evans, Tony Somers, Al Peasland, Justin Grey) have all played a massive part in my MA education. My first and probably favourite art is Judo. For me it is the missing link in this new MMA culture we have and I find that it is dismissed far too quickly. Within Judo people like Neil Adams and Katsuhiko Kashiwazaki are such amazing players and it would be an honor if I could ever get on the mat with them.

CW:     Reality based training obviously involves a lot shouting and swearing at each other to de-sensitise yourself to that kind of raw aggression.  When growing up, did it seem strange acting out these aggressive scenarios with your own father?

 

LT:     I have been around the shouting and swearing so much that it is a very normal part of my training. I try to treat it like a drill. It is such a great tool that you have to include it in your training. In essence what you are doing is acting. You access the base energy in you and project that as pure aggression. For me doing this with my dad is no different to hitting the pads or practicing throws. It’s just a part of what we do.

 

CW:     Do you practice traditional martial arts alongside your reality based training?  If so, which ones?

 

LT:     As I said Judo was probably my first real ‘art’. I love it and think it is massively underrated. I have also trained in western boxing as well as various forms of wrestling. My main focus is reality based self defence and taking from the arts the techniques I can apply to that. I am constantly looking for new things to learn and new techniques to drill.

 

 

CW:     Having a famous father has some obvious advantages in getting started in the martial arts field, but do you sometimes feel that it is a double edged sword?  Do you feel that you have a lot to live up to and that people will always judge you as “Geoff Thompson’s son” rather than as your own person?

 

LT:     My dad has set the bar high but for me that is great. It gives me something to work towards. Hopefully I can prove myself in my own right and people will respect what I do as an individual. Ultimately I am teaching what my dad has taught and it means a massive amount to me what he thinks of what I am doing. I think the only person I have to prove anything to is him. As long as he is happy with how I am teaching then what the rest of the world says is irrelevant. There will be lots of people out there who have and will continue to criticize what my dad has done and I have seen small pockets of that. People who feel that way will no doubt always view me as Geoff Thompson’s son but it is a label I am grateful to have.

 

CW:     What do you feel are your own unique strengths and talents to offer which are specific to you as a martial artist?

 

LT:     I can only really offer people my experiences. I can’t claim to have been in hundreds of fights or worked the door for 10 years but I can certainly say I have had world class instruction for my whole life. When people go to train with anyone they go to get their experiences. I am the only person in the world that can offer my experience and deliver it in my style. When it comes to the Real Combat System or The fence and pre-emption I have lived and breathed that for 20 years. I know how it should be taught and I know the theory behind it and if I am ever unsure I have the creator at the end of the phone. I am in a unique position and I am very excited about teaching people everything I can and learning lots in the process.

 

CW:     I see that you are running special courses.  Can you tell us a bit about those courses?  Is this the only way that you teach or do you run a club as well?

 

LT:     My 6 week course focuses on all aspects of self defence right from becoming more aware to being able to hit very hard. My favourite way to teach is through immersion training. 4 hours of intense tuition focusing on whatever area the student wants. I have been doing a lot of this recently and the gains people get are tremendous. I don’t have a class as yet but it is something I am organising very soon.

 

CW:     What kind of response have you had?  Have your courses been filled up?

 

LT:     I have had a great response so far and people seem to be getting lots from it. I tend to keep the groups small so I can make sure that the progress is good and identify and address specific needs with people.

 

CW:     On your website you mention that you strive to improve your skills in all areas, both physically and spiritually.  Can you tell us what your spiritual beliefs are and how they affect both your training and you daily life?

 

LT:     I am a great believer in the fact that I create my own reality. I have created amazing things and also watched them crash down all because of the way I think. Meditation is something I am trying to do more and more. For me it is far more difficult than any physical training. My mind is incredibly active and I find it really difficult to keep it centred. Ultimately I am looking to be congruent which is really difficult at times.

 

CW:     Do you believe (as I do) that developing some kind of spirituality is important to all developing martial artists?

 

LT:     I think developing some kind of spirituality is important to all aspects of life although I am not sure that spirituality is the right word. It seems to scare people. The masses hear spirituality and assume religion but it’s not really the case. At a basic level they are all the same thing. I think it’s important to develop integrity and congruence because if you don’t have that then things will come crashing down at some point.

 

CW:     Having learnt directly from some of the Worlds very best martial arts instructors, do you feel that their message is properly understood by the wider martial arts community, or does that message get a bit diluted and confused along the way?

 

LT:     If you are looking at what my dad has developed then I would say it is massively distorted by the wider MA community. You only have to type the fence in to YouTube to see people doing it wrong. I think people take it away and try to make it work within the realms of their own art and that really isn’t possible. I have seen people using the fence and then teaching blocks and counters of trapping from the fence but when you start doing that you destroy the main message which is pre-emption. People misunderstand and then pass that on to their students and the wrong message starts to spread.

 

CW:     What advice would you give to traditional martial artists who realise that their training has become either sport orientated or stylized, to make their training more effective for the street?

 

LT:     I would say look at what is available to you in a real situation and when I say that I mean what is very easily available. What will guarantee you results. Look at the range you have. It’s is real difficult to let go of your art and see that all you really need is one really good punch and the ability to strike first and you will be leagues ahead of anyone. The key to effective self defence is always pre-emption. The only way to really remove a true threat is by KO. Use the fence to maintain the distance. If they try to close the distance and you feel there is a genuine threat then strike the jaw which will cause a KO.

 

CW:     Sometimes traditional martial artist feel that they only want to train in their own system and don’t want to “confuse” themselves training outside their style.  I personally find that training outside my style often helps me to understand elements of my main style better.  However, as most of the readers of my website are traditional martial artists (mainly Karate, Teakwondo, Kung Fu); what do you feel your courses have to offer to a die-hard traditional martial artist?

 

LT:     I think people who feel that training outside their art will confuse them don’t really understand their art. When you look at all the different arts they all have very similar elements that are styled in different ways. All I can offer people is the opportunity to get excited about educating themselves with new and interesting techniques and show them that by making all the techniques from all the arts interchangeable you can make something that is overall stringer and more durable.

 

CW:     On your website shop you recommend/sell a number of DVD’s and books.  Do you plan to produce any such products yourself in the future?

 

LT:     I am building up slowly but surely and although I have no plans to create my own products yet I am sure it is something that will come up at some point. When you want to get your message out to a wider audience it is a necessity.

 

CW:     What are your plans to for the future and how do you plan to continue developing as a martial artist?

 

LT:     I am taking each day as it comes. I have achieved a lot of goals in a short space of time so I think this is a great time to make sure that they can all sustain themselves. I want to keep growing Louis Thompson SD as a brand and a company and try to get my message on a global level.  I have my own SD/MA studio which is a lovely space and I am getting more and more students as time goes on. To develop as a martial artist I just look at training privately with as many great people as possible. I will continue to train and teach with my dad and just continue to push myself as an individual and hopefully that will translate in what I teach.

 

CW:     Louis, thank you for doing this interview for BunkaiJutsu.com.  On behalf of myself and the readers, I would like to wish you every success in your career and we hope that we’ll all be hearing more from you in the future.

 

Tai Chi: For Advanced Martial Artists

Many martial arts are misunderstood.  I have written a number of times about how Karate and other arts have become dumbed down and stylised to a point where a lot of what is practiced would not work under pressure.

However, I don’t think any martial art is more misunderstood than Tai Chi.  I think this is for a number of reasons, but mostly:

  • Many people practice it purely as a for health and well-being, with no martial applications at all.
  • Many people do not believe in the concept of “Chi” energy on which Tai Chi is largely based.
  • With more and more people getting into “reality based” training, “hard” styles being seen by many as stylised and ritualistic; the slow practice of Tai Chi seems even further from being a real form of combat.

So lets have a closer look at Tai Chi.  Firstly we should look at the modern emphasis on health and well-being.  I am told that the Chinese communist government wanted to exploit the the health properties of Tai Chi as a simple way to keep people healthy and keep down expenditure on their health service.  They therefore called together a number of top Tai Chi masters and told them to create a simplified version of Tai Chi for introduction to the masses.  When the masters initially refused, they were told that they and their families would be sent to labour camps.  So they agreed.  The simplified Tai Chi that they created was nicknamed “Beijing Tai Chi” and this is the version that spread most rapidly around the world.

As for the concept of chi, some people will never believe in it which is fair enough, we are all entitled to our own views.  I just ask that if you are somebody that does not believe, then please just respect the views of those that do.

As for a combat system that is performed slowly, that one takes a bit more to get your head around.  The part which is often missed is that Tai Chi as a combat art was never designed to be, or expected to be the starting point.  In China, in the Shaolin monasteries and elsewhere, they would alway start with a “hard” style first and only after they mastered that would they move on to Tai Chi and other internal styles.  It is not simply that they start young and young people relate better to harder styles (which is true in itself), but learning Tai Chi is actually easier if you have experience in a harder art.

By learning the hard art first (such as Kung Fu, Karate or similar), the practitioner learns about speed, raw power, distancing, dealing with somebody steaming in full power, aggression, adrenalin and all the primary aspects of combat.  Many people will be quick to point out that Tai Chi does not teach these things.  In the main they are right; because Tai Chi is designed for people who already know them.  Tai Chi is not a stand alone fighting art, it is the polish and finish on other fighting arts, which takes them to higher levels.

As my instructor Paul Mitchell says, most martial arts teach you to be substantial, whereas Tai Chi teaches you to be insubstantial.  What does this mean?

Well in most martial arts, we learn the things mentioned above (speed, power, aggression, etc); how to meet somebody head on, or even when evading how to hit them like a hammer when you do strike.  These make you act and feel to the opponent very substantial indeed.  But with Tai Chi, somebody attacks and you learn to almost “melt” out of their way letting them finish an attack after you are no longer there.  To be able to move like this requires a high degree of relaxation.  This is being “insubstantial” so that you can just not be their when the attack is completed.

So why is everything practiced so slowly?

Firstly, it is learn the relaxation to be able move in an “insubstantial” way.  This primarily uses the internal muscles of the body rather than the major muscle groups (as most other martial arts do).  Learning to use the internal muscles can not be done by practicing fast.

Secondly it is learn to use and move your internal energy.  As mentioned above, I know that a lot of people reading this probably won’t believe in Chi, but again, please just respect that this is the belief of most people that do practice Tai Chi.  The idea is to learn to co-ordinate your internal energy with your physical movement and this can only be done slowly.

Thirdly (and this is where some people will probably think I’ve gone mad) it is to learn to deal with the effects of adrenalin and to stay calm when confronted by a hostile person.  Now people who do the reality based scenario training that I’ve discussed in earlier postings will probably have trouble seeing how moving slowly through a form can possibly prepare you for the effects of adrenalin.  Well the short answer is it doesn’t, that should have already been accomplished by the previous martial arts training (Kung Fu/Karate etc).  By the time you take up Tai Chi you should already be familiar with the effects of adrenalin and confrontation.  What Tai Chi aims to do is to keep you calm in the face of confrontation and to actually negate the effects of adrenalin.

Scenario based training as discussed in other postings is geared to giving you an adrenalin rush (so that you get used to operating in that state), which is fantastic when you start your martial arts career.  However, Tai Chi being geared to advanced martial artists is geared to stop you having an adrenalin rush.  This will not happen overnight and will take years to achieve, but it is a long term training program and that is what is works towards.  That is why as a martial art, it is only really for already accomplished martial artists.  As a form of health and well-being, you can start it anytime without any experience in other martial arts.

The slow movements are designed to give the feeling that you “have all day” when somebody attacks you.  Of course you don’t.  Of course you have to move very fast.  But that’s why you should have done another martial art first.  You are also training to achieve a deep state of relaxation which permeates into every facet of your life.  This includes staying relaxed when in a violent confrontation and we all know that you move faster when you are relaxed.

Some people may be concerned by the idea of negating the effects of adrenalin as it boosts strength and speed (which are obviously useful) so why loose these positive effects?  Well again, we go back to already being an accomplished martial artist.  You should be strong and fast already.

But what about the negative effects of adrenalin (which will vary from person to person and situation to situation)?

  • Blood goes away from your brain and into the major muscle groups so you loose some of your fine motor skills.
  • You tend to get tunnel vision (which is not good for multiple opponents).
  • You can’t think so well and you may blank out verbal advice from friends/allies trying to help.

So if you could function with speed and power (from previous training) without losing fine motor skills, without losing mental faculties, being aware of multiple assailants and being aware of helpful/warning shouts around you, then you can take your fighting ability to a whole new level.