Sparring and the truth

Two professional female karate fighters are fighting royalty-free stock photo

A while back, I was talking to a friend of mine and he was telling me that he doesn’t want to tell people the truth….about themselves. At first, I was curious to know why, but then it hit me: Being the flawed individuals we are, we have a tendency to do things that people are not comfortable with. Even our closest friends and dearest relatives see us this way at times. However, because they are our friends and they don’t want to hurt our feelings out of fear of being yelled at and rejected, they tell us want we want to hear, sometimes.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking: what does this have to do with sparring? Well, here it is: Martial arts sparring helps us put into form the techniques our instructors have drilled into us since day one. As we progress through the ranks, we become more advanced and coordinated, thus being able to spar effectively. I’ll admit I was never a fan of sparring because I didn’t want to get hit too hard, especially in the head! lol.

Anyhow, as we become better at sparring, our instructors will pair us with students who are on the same skill level. If anything, sparring should be fun, and above all, a learning experience. But, there are those who enter martial arts schools wanting to prove themselves. They’ll challenge  the instructor just to see how skilled she is. Keep in mind, most schools would not tolerate this type of behavior and utter disrespect to the teacher, students, and the school itself. But, there are always exceptions….

Let’s just say Macho John, a 6’3″ former football player jock, comes into the class one evening. The instructor may be getting ready to start class or the class is about to pair off for self-defense practice. So, here’s Macho John, taunting the head instructor, daring her to hit him as hard as she can. Against her better judgment, she accepts. Well, before he knows it, he’s flat on the ground, gasping for breath because she nailed him in the solar plexus with blinding speed. He recovers, but he never doubts her again, and most likely leaves the school for good.

At the end of the day, we must be careful about asking people to “hit us as hard as they can”, whether its verbally, emotionally, and most especially, physically. Because nine times out of ten, we will get much more than we bargained for.

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Ex-martial artist

Currently, I’m not practicing martial arts. Does that mean that I’m an ex-martial artist? In my humble opinion, no, not at all. Just because one is not actively participating in something, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are no longer a part of that particular something. For instance, I’ve heard people use the term, “ex-Marine.” There’s no such thing…. The reason I say that is because this person became a part of a group, and will always remain a part of that group. He or she has established themselves within that group, worked long and hard to be productive and to never fail those within that group. Your body remembers the basic skills that have been drilled into your mind since day one. You may not remember the more advanced skills of martial arts training, but your muscle memory will bring those skills to bear when needed.

The same applies to martial arts. If you stopped your training at yellow belt or black belt, you’ll always be a martial artist. That’s because martial arts is so much more than just the physical element. You’re a martial artist at heart, because the training teaches you to be someone who wants to help people, not be a self-serving fool. Again, you’ve worked long and hard to develop as a person through training. The lessons of the martial arts are so deep and expansive that it’s doubtful that one will ever know every last one. That’s why it’s always great to keep an open mind when it comes to dealing with everyday life.

Like the military, the martial arts community is a family. Even though students will have different ranks, everybody is the same at the end of the day. That is because we are all human.

Fighting vs. Self-Defense

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Confrontations are scary, period. No one likes to get into a confrontation if at all possible. That is, unless that person is an egotistical fool. The truth is, no one knows how a fight will turn out. Fighting in real life is not like the choreographed Hollywood fight scenes. Fighting in real life is about survival.

Many people mistake training in martial arts as “learning how to fight”. Martial arts has nothing to do with learning how to fight. If anything, martial arts teaches the practitioner how to effectively defend oneself. In martial arts, the idea is to never throw the first punch, but to defend so that the assailant can no longer harm anyone else.

Sensei Andrea Harkins touched on this issue in one of her previous blogs. She reiterated the idea that you train so that you don’t have to fight. This idea is what the old masters of every martial art would strive for. She went on to point out that she wouldn’t know how to start a fight. I concur 1000%. Moreover, why would anyone want to start a fight? Well, that brings me back to my earlier point that only a fool would engage in such behavior….lol.

When it comes to martial arts, if you want to learn how to fight, there is such styles as American boxing, and the ever-popular MMA fight training. Again, even with those people, they don’t go looking for a fight, in general. The interesting thing is, throwing a punch puts that person in jeopardy, because there is too much shoulder movement and the assailant has basically told the intended receiver what they are going to do. As for me, I am looking for what martial arts truly stands for, which is to cultivate a strong mind, body, and spirit through training.

Confrontations are scary, period. No one likes to get into a confrontation if at all possible. That is, unless that person is an egotistical fool. The truth is, no one knows how a fight will turn out. Fighting in real life is not like the choreographed Hollywood fight scenes. Fighting in real life is about survival.

Many people mistake training in martial arts as “learning how to fight”. Martial arts has nothing to do with learning how to fight. If anything, martial arts teaches the practitioner how to effectively defend oneself. In martial arts, the idea is to never throw the first punch, but to defend so that the assailant can no longer harm anyone else.

Sensei Andrea Harkins touched on this issue in one of her previous blogs. She reiterated the idea that you train so that you don’t have to fight. This idea is what the old masters of every martial art would strive for. She went on to point out that she wouldn’t know how to start a fight. I concur 1000%. Moreover, why would anyone want to start a fight? Well, that brings me back to my earlier point that only a fool would engage in such behavior….lol.

When it comes to martial arts, if you want to learn how to fight, there is such styles as American boxing, and the ever-popular MMA fight training. Again, even with those people, they don’t go looking for a fight, in general. The interesting thing is, throwing a punch puts that person in jeopardy, because there is too much shoulder movement and the assailant has basically told the intended receiver what they are going to do. As for me, I am looking for what martial arts truly stands for, which is to cultivate a strong mind, body, and spirit through training.

Atlanta’s Warrior Women-Interviews(1999)

 

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Some years back, while I was attending college at Georgia State University, I came up with the idea of interviewing some of the state’s top female martial artists. I didn’t get the chance to work in the world of Journalism upon graduating college, but this interview come close. So, without further ado, let me go ahead and introduce these awesome women of the art! First, there is Mrs. Natalie Bravy. At the time, she was a Sandan instructor of traditional Okinawan Karate-Do. She also taught both adult and children’s self-defense.

What is your biggest inspiration for being in the martial arts?

NB: The biggest inspiration for being in the martial arts is to watch me grow as a person. It is very exciting, noticing changes within myself, even the small ones.

As an instructor, do you feel that the entertainment industry(Hollywood) has a certain type of influence on people’s decision to study the martial arts?

NB: Definitely. As Hollywood repeatedly shows us, the overwhelming amount of people want to join a martial arts school every time a new action film that displays martial arts hits the screen. Kids, especially, want to learn martial arts after watching their favorite superheroes kick-butt onscreen.

When had you decided that you were going to be an instructor?

NB: Once I reached Shodan, I found that the more time I spent teaching, the more enthusiastic I would get, and my enjoyment and desire to instruct grew daily.

What do you enjoy most about the martial arts?

NB: Well, when I look back to a long, and at times, a very demanding, difficult journey towards the place I am at today, I am very proud of my accomplishments, my dedication and refusal to quit. Noticing improvements in my technique: faster snap(kicks), stronger punches, and lower stances, makes me happy. The martial arts journey never ends, and learning, along with improvement, always continues. Watching myself grow is a big satisfaction(for me).

What is your take on women instructors in martial arts?

NB: Frankly, I do not separate martial artists to men and women. Gender division is absolutely unnecessary. The ability to perform a particular technique, for instance, has nothing to do with gender; rather it has to do with a person’s body structure, time, and effort put into polishing that technique. There is nothing that a man can do that a woman can’t, and vice versa. As far as I am concerned, I am willing to take advice and instructions from either gender, as long as they know what they are talking about.

On the subject of instructors, what kind of reactions have you received from people in general?

NB: Most of the time, the reaction was rather positive. People treated me with respect, especially after watching me perform. Sometimes, very seldom though, male students would look rather skeptically at me at first. However, I never took it personally. In my opinion, it is just their expression of inadequacy, and prejudice towards women in general. As a rule, with time, the male’s attitude towards me changed for the better.

For instance, there was one little boy, as I recall, who was about 5 or 6 years of age, who refused to take my classes, because, as he expressed it bluntly, “I was a woman, and there was nothing that he could learn from a woman”. Interestingly enough, it was in the presence of his mother. She just smiled, and said nothing. One can only guess the relationship between the boy’s parents, and the example they set for him…

To what can you attribute your success in the martial arts?

NB: The person who succeeds in any endeavor, is not the one with the most talent, but the one who puts the most effort towards achieving his or her goals. I have seen so many talented students drop out, or putting minimal effort into their training. And, on the other hand, those with very little obvious talent and natural abilities surpass the talented ones. I have never been involved in any other sports or athletic activities. I believe the reason  for my success is the result of hours of hard training, sweat, and tears. Sometimes tears of joy, at times tears of pain. Again, sticking with it, not quitting when it gets tough–is the key.

For beginning martial artists, would you recommend that they get involved in the tournament scene as soon as possible?

NB: Tournaments are a great place to watch others perform, and it is a place of inspiration. As I believe, the only person you ever truly compete against is yourself. And with this understanding, it is okay to compete in tournaments. There will always be someone who is better than you, but it is not as important in comparing how good you are today with how good you were yesterday.

Aside from experience, what is the most important lesson that students can glean from competing in tournaments?

NB: Dealing with disappointment, but also coming to terms with the fact that another competitor was better than you today. But, that can all change tomorrow, depending upon how willing you are to do something about it. You can’t get better by just sitting and whining over a loss. Overall, tournaments cane be a very positive learning experience for adults and children alike.

Is there anything that you dislike about the martial arts?

NB: It is the negative attitudes of some people that really pushes my “off “buttons, rather than martial arts per se. The idea of putting one style ahead of another, comparing. There is no such thing as a “better martial art”. All of them are great for defending yourself, and all of them have their advantages. It would be unfair to compare. I would say it is a matter of personal choice. rather than the quality of the particular art.

What is your opinion on how some instructors/styles charge a very high price for training?

NB: If a person is willing to pay so much per lesson, and honestly believes that he/she gets the value worth spending so much on, why not? Why are people paying megabucks for items they can get the equivalent of for much cheaper? Because, in their opinion, they get their monies worth, or it could be that they want to impress their friends.

Do you believe that martial arts have become too commercialized?

NB: Yes.

What advice do you have for aspiring martial artists?

NB: It will take years to become a good black belt. Some schools will award a black belt to you in a year or two. But, only you know how good of a black belt you are. So, get ready for a long and exciting journey. There will be lots of bumps and victories. Do not quit!

Next up is the late Ms. Mary A. Davis, Shichidan in Cuong-Nhu Oriental Martial Arts

Ms. Davis began training in the martial arts in 1971 in Gainesville, Florida, with Grandmaster and Founder Ngo Dong. He is from Hue, Vietnam and brought this style into existence in the USA at that time. She trained under his guidance as a student in his first class. the class was known as the Dragon Class and he inspired all of the students with his love, warmth, and strict discipline. The students were taught to overcome themselves through training of mind, body, and spirit. He asked the students to be responsible, serve the people, develop confidence, self-control, modesty, and a non-defeatist attitude through training.

Answers:

The reason I began studying the martial arts was for balance and to continually work on development of mind, body, and spirit through the cultivation of humility and a non-defeatist attitude. Through martial arts training you gain the courage to overcome obstacles, face your fears, and work on discipline. It has become a lifetime endeavor of self-development.

Obviously, the media has a skewed view of the martial arts and has totally missed the real importance and value of training. If they truly understood its purpose, they would not cast it in a light of pure violence and flashy technique, just to promote ticket sales. An individual interested in martial arts should establish a first hand opinion by visiting schools and doing deeper research to find which kind of training is beneficial for them.

I was inspired and encouraged to teach Cuong-Nhu in 1973 under the guidance of Grandmaster and Founder, Ngo Dong. Teacher and student should grow together.

I enjoy learning, growing, and the deeper level of spiritual development. Teaching is learning and the black belt is only the beginning.

It is inspiring to train with women martial artists and to see women develop confidence, strength, and maturity in their bodies and mind.

I have always received positive reinforcement and those that come to train with me are looking for the kind of dojo, discipline, and training that we offer[here at Sung Ming Shu dojo]. The challenge is in one’s self-development and improvement. The gentlemen in my dojo respect themselves and their instructors.

I see competition in tournaments as valuable, but not the only gauge for your development and skill. I competed in tournaments in the early 70s and enjoyed it, but also found the attitudes and competitive spirit to be very shallow. For me, it became a matter of the only true competitor being mental and overcoming oneself.

Perseverance!

Tournaments allow the martial artist to gain experience and make new martial arts friends.

To continue to teach and train myself and others to become valuable members of society and to benefit the community and world as a whole through the vehicle, the martial arts.

Martial artists that disrespect themselves and disrespect other styles through a display of improper attitude and etiquette. Courtesy in training is paramount.

No comment please.

No comment please.

The philosophy of Cuong-Nhu is open mind, open heart, and open arms. A martial artist should train hard, develop spiritual understanding, and start the revolution within. Training in the martial arts is a very valuable tool for discipline, motivation, and inspiration. It can become a cornerstone for developing overall fitness, proper attitude, and for self improvement to benefit oneself and society.

Laura Armes, head instructor and owner of Laura Armes Karate:

Karate is something that I have always wanted to do. As young as 5 years of age, I recalled asking my mother if I could take karate lessons. I do not know what first inspired me, just that I always wanted to do it. Being in it now for 17 years, many things inspire me to continue: 1) Teaching a child to have respect and confidence. 2) Seeing my students excel in competitions. 3) Helping people realize goals such as fitness, or staying safe.  4) My journey to continue to improve my skills.

The entertainment industry hurts several areas. The violent films are examples, whether people want to realize it or not. If people watch something long enough, it is learned. Karate teaches respect, not to be a bully. However, there good instructors and bad ones, just as in some martial arts films. That is life.

I loved seeing people learn that they could succeed. I also knew that I enjoyed teaching and giving back to karate what it had given me.

I love kicking the most.

Women instructors…they are great! 🙂

Hmmmm, mixed reactions on both. Even my own instructor told me long ago, that if I opened my own studio, that I would have to have a man there or no one would come. (However, I was teaching most of his classes!) I opened and for two years, I was the only instructor, but I really had no problem. Most men can see my skills and appreciate them with respect. All others I classify as boys, not men.

My success, just as with anyone else, had to do with how badly enough I wanted it.

I was big on tournaments, so I encourage my students to try…I also tell them that they may lose or get a bad call and to expect that, but let it be a learning experience. We have fun going as a team.

Students get a lot from tournaments, but it is the closest thing to real fight in terms of they are fighting someone for the first time and do not know what they will do, and they are also very nervous, but still must try to fight. That helps to build confidence.

My future plans as a martial artist is to keep learning. Most people do not realize that once you have reached Black Belt level, you are now just ready to begin. As an instructor, my plans are to produce the best, most respectful, nicest, polite students ever!

What is a high price? This is the big city, where most studios pay $4000/month or more in rent, $2000 in YellowPages ads and then there are a lot of other expenses like ah, maybe pay themselves…that would be nice. Teaching is hard. Dealing with people and effectively helping them learn takes a lot. Most people cannot do it, so if you find a good teach(as in academics!!!) I think they should be paid TOP dollar.

Some studios have sold out. I still believe in working for the belts. Some can do it, some cannot. I myself am not a singer, but can do karate. Some people cannot make it to the black belt rank, but they still benefit greatly from the martial arts experience.

For aspiring martial artists, I would say to look within. Tell yourself you can do it and then PRACTICE so you can. Do not expect something will be transferred from the instructor to you….students have to earn it, just as their instructors did.

Ms. Ginny Whitelaw, Godan instructor in Aikido:

I took a self-defense class in college due to attacks on women on campus. Later, I studied Tang Soo Do, Shotokan karate, Tae Kwon Do, and then tried Aikido.

I have trained in the martial arts for 25 years thus far.

In 1986, while working at NASA, I started an Aikido club. I was a Nidan at that time. Actually, I had started teaching in 1982, while in Chicago.

Aikido

I am aware that there are students who train, will not want to train with me because I am a woman. However, I like to teach with a teaching staff that has men on it so students will be able to train and learn from a male perspective as well. It is also about different sizes of people as well.

I would like to see more women in Aikido, but I do not feel at a disadvantage. Aikido is a great equalizer for men and women, though it is especially great for women.

I love being an instructor, and I do not think of it as difficult. The challenge is after teaching as long as I have is finding out what each student needs for their development. The idea is to reach people and discover where they are as a student. Students must find the time in their lives to commit to training. Your body has to change to adapt to an art. Seeing your way through the dark times in training is important.

There is a Japanese term we use in training, called ‘shugyo‘, which translates as the deepest level of physical, mental, and spiritual training. We [the studio] are committed to the growth of the dojo, and always appreciate the opportunity for more intensive training.

I think my path has been carved before me by some wonderful women in the martial arts. I think that the part that is pioneering here is that the art is about much more than self-defense. It is about the way to use the art for physical and spiritual development.

Find a teacher you want to train with, look at a style that you want to learn. Check out different schools and talk to the instructors. It’s better to start than not to start. Find one you love and get to it! (laughs).

Energy. I love the energy!(laughs) Seriously though, natural power that you can use to help you in your daily life, as well as in your training. The energy helps you find a balance.

One thing: Male instructors who take advantage of female students. It happens a lot. And there is a certain kind of relationship between teacher and student. It is not unusual for female students to be attracted to male teachers and vice versa. But, when that line is crossed, it can be very damaging to the student. I have a problem when there is a power imbalance inside the dojo. That’s where I have a problem! (laughs).

I’d like to know what they’re charging!(laughs). Our school is a non-profit organization. We make every effort to keep our fees low to help people to be able to work within their budget. A lot of martial arts schools are trying to bring in a more popular element to gain wider interest. And that’s fine, but it’s not what I’m about. As a martial arts instructor, I believe the fees are way too low compared to what people will pay, for say, a massage therapist. I would like to see the art become more on a professional scale of salary.

No, I don’t think so. I do work very hard; that’s my nature. But I did not think that I had to do it because I had to overcome some bad impression my teacher had about female students. I didn’t get that from him at all. Even after 25 years, I’m still learning things about the martial arts, and I have learned things I would not have learned when I was younger. The body is the hard copy of the mind, but you are working the body to change the mind. And because the martial arts involves such deep training, it has a profound effect on our full development.