Saturday, December 31, 2016

Krav Maga for Firearm Management

Do you carry a firearm? Are you prepared to use physical skills to manage and employ that firearm?

Prior to last month I had not fired a weapon since Air Force basic training in 1990. Last month, however, my wife and I attended a four hour introduction to handguns class. This started my journey towards increased proficiency with firearms. The intersection with Krav Maga happened shortly afterwards!

I started December by taking a 4 1/2 hour seminar on Krav Maga for Concealed Carriers and Handgun Users. Pat Hards from First Defense Krav Maga was the lead instructor, and NoVA MMA hosted the class. The picture above shows our group, which was a mix of Krav Maga students and civilians simply interested in the material.

Pat emphasized three main skills. After warm-ups, Pat first drilled striking without a weapon, i.e., using empty hand techniques, along with kicking. Second, we practiced using a gun as a blunt object, for situations where we cannot use it as a firearm. Third, we trained firearm management, especially weapon retention. Over the course of many drills, we struggled as our partners sought to gain control over our weapon, whether holstered or drawn. This proved to be invaluable for all students!

The summary drill was my favorite part of the seminar. One of the other instructors, a big Australian named Richard, dressed in protective gear -- helmet included. Students were led one-by-one into the darkened studio with their eyes closed. When given a command, they opened their eyes and found themselves interacting with Richard.

I volunteered to go first. When I opened my eyes, I caught Richard using my peripheral vision. He was at my 4 o'clock, lunging at my practice gun, holstered at my right side roughly in the 3 o'clock position. I immediately thrust both of my hands onto the pistol grip, catching Richard's hands, and we struggled to control the practice firearm.

I managed to maneuver such that I could employ my only weapon, my free knees. I needed to keep my hands on the pistol until I won the struggle. I was too close to throw kicks. I could have tried a head butt, but Richard was wearing a helmet!

I threw several knees to Richard's midsection and he loosened his grip on my holstered weapon. I raced to put some space between us, and I drew the practice gun and ordered Richard to lay on the ground, face down.

I do not usually consider my military experience at the US Air Force Academy to be all that special, but in that training situation it helped immensely! I issued short and sharp commands with enough force and clarity that Richard complied. Shortly thereafter the lead instructors called "time" and we debriefed the scenario.

Within a minute or so I became aware of the effects of the adrenaline dump that had happened when I felt Richard lunge for my pistol. It took me a few minutes to really consider what had transpired. I learned that it may take a while to give a third party an accurate assessment of what happens in an altercation, so be wary when giving an official account to first responders. You don't want to say something that turns out to be wrong, or puts you in a bad light when facing a jury.

Each participant encountered a slightly different solo scenario. Some had no physical interaction. Some involved being tackled. One participant forgot to bring his practice firearm into the arena! One former law enforcement officer ordered his assailant to get on the ground, when Richard was already simulating unconsciousness on the ground. Several participants drew their weapons despite facing no obvious threat, and many could not remember how their scenario began or what was said.

I thoroughly enjoyed this training, and brought these lessons with me to another training opportunity.  A few hours ago I completed the Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) class at Silver Eagle Group in Ashburn, VA. This class offered a mix of range and class time. The goal was to teach candidates for Virginia concealed handgun permits the essentials of decision making when armed. I very much enjoyed this class as well, which I took with my wife Mrs B.

I wish every member of today's class could have joined our Krav Maga seminar as well. Today's instructor, David, emphasized that a concealed weapons carrier can be an asset or a liability. The armed citizen is a liability when he or she uses a weapon in a reckless or illegal manner. A carrier who loses control of his or her firearm during a confrontation is certainly a liability!

Krav Maga is the perfect complement to anyone carrying a weapon, whether as a civilian, soldier, or law enforcement officer. Without learning distance management, de-escalation, escape, evasion, striking, and other Krav Maga skills, a firearm carrier can be at a severe disadvantage, despite being armed.

I believe the two schools plan to conduct joint classes in the new year to address these issues. I look forward to reporting on those as well.

Stay tuned for more blog posts in 2017, and thank you for reading in 2016. Happy New Year!

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How Does Online Video Change Martial Arts?

Have you considered the effect of online video on the martial arts?

The publication of the newest Krav Maga Global technique Review of the Week and a recent thread on the /taekwondo Reddit reminded me of how interesting this topic can be.

Consider the training environment 400 years ago, when martial arts in China, Okinawa, Japan, and the Philippines were developing into forms we might recognize today. If that is too distant for you to imagine, going back even 100 years is sufficient.

In those days, one could not capture motion, or even sound, using anything like a movie camera as easily as we do now. Perhaps 100 years ago one could use an imaging camera to take still pictures, but they would have been largely staged scenes.

In such an environment, how could one make a record of the movements, tactics, and philosophies that comprise a martial art?

One method was the creation of forms, or patterns. These sets of movements might capture the essence of a martial arts style. Iain Abernethy argues that individual karate kata, in fact, represent complete fighting systems, or at least the kata creator's presentation of his or her fighting system.

Another school of thought regarding patterns, especially with respect to Chinese forms, is that they were developed to represent a fighting style for demonstration purposes. Peter Lorge's excellent book Chinese Martial Arts offers many historical examples. Sometimes martial artists used forms to demonstrate fighting excellence before the emperor or visiting officials. Chinese schools also performed in public squares to attract business (such as protecting trade caravans or towns) and students.

In either case, a powerful tool to transmit knowledge from one generation to the next was required. Fighting styles were physically embodied in martial arts forms. Books were another option, and many survive to this day. They show foot patterns, hand gestures, and the like. These methods made the best use of available resources and technology.

Now return to the modern environment. If you wanted to transmit martial arts knowledge to others, how could you do it?

Forms and books are still options. Both are still in use. However, modern technology offers two powerful supplements.

First, consider the jet airplane. In 2014, Bloomberg magazine wrote that "No Invention of the Past 85 Years Had a Greater Impact on the World." The head instructor of Krav Maga Global, Eyal Yanilov, spends hundreds of days per year (I believe over 250?) outside Israel, training students worldwide.

Alternatively, students from anywhere in the world can visit him in his own school. My instructor, Nick Masi, just returned from another trip to Israel, joining the KMG Global Instructors Team to work on curriculum issues for the new year. (The group, from all over the world, is shown at right.)

Thanks to the jet airplane, you can even visit other schools for seminars, camps, or grading opportunities. Without the airplane, my visit to Las Vegas for the annual KMG camp would have required a 36 hour car drive -- and that is only one-way!

What amazing opportunities the jet airplane provides us, delays and all.

As incredible as international flight may be, it doesn't scale as well as the second invention: the Internet and online video. One example is the latest Technique Review of the Week, published at MaxKravMaga.com. This is one in a series of videos that Eyal has been publishing this year. Each video is over 10 minutes long, and it focuses on various aspects of a specific Krav Maga technique.

Beyond the Technique Reviews of the Week, MaxKravMaga.com offers videos for the entire KMG curriculum from P1 to G5. There are also videos of seminars and other topics, like Combat Mindset, Fitness and Stretching, Anti-Car Jacking, and so on. This is not meant to be an advertisement for the site, but I have found it indispensable. I am constantly reviewing the videos, and I pay even closer attention as my next grading approaches!

The bottom line is that online video gives students and instructors anywhere in the world access to the teaching resources of a system's head instructor. The learning mechanism is one-way, which is why it is necessary to have in-person training as a primary instructional method. Without guidance from the instructor, one cannot close the educational loop. However, online video creates an opportunity for the transmission of martial arts knowledge more or less exactly as intended by the leader of a system. This is revolutionary, and in my opinion a welcome development.

One final note: the advent of online video does not mean that a martial arts style must become frozen, locked into the technique and approaches depicted in video form.

The proper use of date/time sequencing can differentiate between older and newer videos. Instructors can incorporate changes into new videos and tell students that they have adapted techniques to meet evolved understanding or new environmental conditions. Krav Maga Global is constantly evolving, and Eyal's videos sometimes mention changes from older versions of techniques.

How does your martial arts practice use online video to transmit knowledge?

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Friday, December 9, 2016

How Bruce Lee Affected My Career in Cybersecurity

Would you believe Bruce Lee affected my career in cybersecurity?

For several weeks I've been listening to the Bruce Lee Podcast. The "Bruce Lee Moment" is a segment where a listener explains how Bruce Lee's life and/or philosophy affected him or her.

In this post I'd like to share my submission to the podcast.

Hello Shannon and Sharon,

I love your podcast. I want to share how Bruce Lee's philosophy affected my career in cybersecurity.

In 2000 I was an officer in an Air Force cybersecurity unit. The previous year my wife and I enjoyed a three-week honeymoon in China, and I was a practicing martial artist. A top-tier book publisher saw me speak at a conference and asked if I would write a book on detecting and stopping hackers. I considered this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I declined. I distinctly remember saying that I wasn't ready to write a book yet. I did not feel that I was prepared to authentically express myself in written form.

I spent several years refining my thoughts, and in 2003 I sent a detailed outline to the publisher. They accepted it, and in 2004 "The Tao of Network Security Monitoring" arrived in book stores. I named it after Bruce Lee's most famous book because I felt that I was expressing myself through my philosophy and practice of network defense. My first book was 832 pages, and I wrote a 416-page sequel the following year because I still had more to say about the topic.

The first book featured a praying mantis on the cover, and the second showed a tiger. I selected these to represent two of the five animals of kung fu.

I've written and contributed to other books since then (http://www.taosecurity.com/books.html), but my first book is the one people most often ask me about. They say that it changed the way they thought about and performed computer security. I believe I achieved my goal of authentic expression by aligning my energy with my work, and I channeled both into my writing. My book has helped me find rewarding jobs and communicate my philosophy to colleagues, students, and policy makers worldwide.

Today I am done with writing security books, and my interests largely lie elsewhere. However, after a 15 year break due to health and family issues, I've resumed my martial arts training. Thank you for sharing Bruce Lee's philosophy on a regular basis. As I work to transition into a new life phase, I find his words and your thoughts enlightening and inspiring.

Sincerely,

Richard Bejtlich ("bate-lik")

Has Bruce Lee's philosophy affected your life outside the martial arts?

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Is Fighting Inner Demons the Way to Greatness?

Is fighting inner demons the way to greatness?

This is a question that has bothered me for years. Steve Jobs is one person who may have achieved greatness by battling inner demons. A review of a Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs notes "[f]rom his childhood, Jobs suffered from the emotional wounds inflicted by his unmarried biological parents, who put him up for adoption." Would Jobs have been so successful creating, and then saving, Apple, without inner demons from his childhood?

I was reminded of this question when I listened to another great edition of the Whistlekick podcast, featuring Jose Dimacali. In the episode, Kyoshi Dimacali describes how winning tournaments was a way to seek approval from his father. When he won a local tournament, his father didn't say anything. When he won a state tournament, his father didn't say anything. Even when he won a national tournament, his father remained silent. Kyoshi Dimacali went so far as to win a world title, but at that point his father had passed away.

Listening to his heartfelt and sad story, it occurred to me that Kyoshi Dimacali achieved greatness by battling inner demons. He admitted as much, saying that if his father had praised him after winning his first tournament, he would not have been driven to higher levels in search of approval.

This seemed like a rough way to progress through life. Could there be another way?

The photo of Bruce Lee's statue in Hong Kong hints at my answer.

I also listen to the wonderful Bruce Lee podcast. The message I have been absorbing through hosts Shannon and Sharon Lee is that there is another path to greatness. Bruce Lee provides the example. He achieved greatness by aligning his personal energy with the direction of his life and the activities he pursued. While he battled many challenges during his short life, I sensed that he succeeded because of his ability to authentically express himself in all situations. He channeled his energy towards those tasks that fit his life goals and best represented his interests and ambitions.

As Shannon and Sharon Lee make clear in their podcast, aligning one's energy and tasks will not guarantee becoming an exceptional martial artist or movie star. However, it is the best choice when a person wants to make the most of their talents and realize their goals and dreams. The alternative, whereby one's energy is wasted on tasks that do not align with their authentic self, will never be as productive or enjoyable as an "aligned life."

This realization gives me hope that one does not need to have suffered demoralizing hardships as a child in order to produce confrontation-ready demons. It is a more uplifting message to identify one's interests, skills, and abilities, and make life changes that best fit them, in order to maximize a person's potential life energy.

Are you living an aligned life?

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Top Three Favorite Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals

There are some great deals happening today, or today through Monday. If you need some martial arts gear, consider these offerings.

DiamondMMA is offering a 20% discount through Monday. Check out my July post that explains why I think they make the best male protective gear. Use code GIVETHANKS.

The KMG USA store has some Black Friday deals. I picked up another sweatshirt and pair of pants.

The Kali Center is offering 25% off their store items, and 20% off their online videos.

Did you find any good deals that you want to share?

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Top Seven Favorite Martial Arts Podcasts

Podcasts keep me sane. If you're at all familiar with the traffic in the northern Virginia area, you know what I mean. I spend hours every week driving, many times slowly and with the company of thousands of my not-so-closest friends and neighbors. Thanks to podcasts, the experience is much more enjoyable.

When I returned to martial arts training in January, I switched from listening to courses-on-iPhone-or-iPod to podcasts-on-iPhone-or-iPod. (Yes, my car is old enough to require me to use a 2007-era iPod as my primary digital music player!)

In this post I share my favorite seven currently active podcasts. I finish by listing a few that were recently active, and perhaps will make a return in 2017.

I am not listing the podcasts in order of preference. Many times whatever podcast I'm listening to at the moment is my "favorite." Each offers something novel. The order below does not reflect any favoritism.

1. Bruce Lee Podcast. The Bruce Lee Podcast is relatively new; it was first published on iTunes in July 2016, and is currently showing episode 19. Hosts Shannon Lee (Bruce's daughter) and Sharon Lee (no relation) share Bruce's philosophy and wisdom with the audience. They publish almost every week. I recommend this podcast if you want to learn how Bruce Lee's outlook can help you identify your authentic self and live up to your potential. Shannon and Sharon communicate in a very friendly and positive manner, and I always find new ways to connect with the deeper meaning of Bruce Lee's message.

2. Kung Fu Podcasts. Kung Fu Podcasts (note the "s") is one of two podcasts by kung fu sifu T.W. Smith, who lives in the Charlotte, NC area. He explores the culture, adventure, and impact of Chinese martial arts. I like to think of Sifu Smith as a bridge between the worlds of martial arts researchers and martial arts practitioners. For example, I recently listened to sifu Smith explain the content and meaning of a scholarly article about an aikido school in Calgary. Sifu Smith is a big fan of martial arts history and grounding one's practice in physics and structure, not "rainbows and chi-balls." This podcast first appeared in iTunes in July 2014 and is currently showing episode 102.

3. Finding the Path through Kung Fu. Finding the Path through Kung Fu is sifu Smith's other podcast, and appeared in iTunes in June 2014. It is currently showing episode 88. Sifu Smith publishes this content mainly for his students, but the material is broadly applicable to any martial artist. While Kung Fu Podcasts are more about the wider martial arts world, Finding the Path tries to help students develop as people first and martial artists second. It is a more personal journey with fewer outside references than its companion podcast.

4. Whistlekick Martial Arts Radio. If you like interviews with martial artists, Whistlekick Martial Arts Radio is the place to be. Host Jeremy Lesniak uses a set of thoughtful questions to elicit stories and advice from each martial artist each invites on the show. He takes suggestions from listeners for future guests. I took advantage of this opportunity to get my friend Jeremiah Grossman an interview, and he turned out to be the first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player on the podcast. Jeremy manages to land some amazing interviewees, and even the less well known guests are generally interesting. This podcast first appeared in iTunes in April 2015 and is currently showing episode 136. Check out this podcast if you want exposure to a variety of martial arts styles and personalities.

5. Confessions of a Martial Arts School Owner. Do you want to run your own school? If you respond "yes!" then Confessions of a Martial Arts School Owner is my podcast recommendation. I'll mention a defunct podcast shortly that is also a good choice, but Confessions podcaster Zach Hayden is still active. He first published to iTunes in May 2015 and is currently showing episode 71. Zach is a TKD instructor, but he addresses a diverse set of issues for school owners and martial artists in general. he encourages interaction with his audience via Facebook, and is an avid user of new technology and social media. Although I do not yet run a school, I enjoy Zach's enthusiasm and willingness to share tips and tricks.

6. Off the Centerline Podcast. Off the Centerline Podcast is my only active podcast that makes the three-host format work well. Three TKD, Hapkido, and BJJ practitioners in Florida -- Brian Stanton, Shelby Creech, and John Combs -- cover a variety of topics, including martial arts events in the news. The three person format is evenly balanced, with each host offering a distinct point of view. Shelby usually takes one side, with John on the other, and Brian somewhere in between. Shelby is a school owner, so he can integrate that aspect of the industry into the episodes. They also answer questions from the audience and have been kind enough to provide feedback on some of the material in this blog! The podcast first appeared in iTunes in August 2015, and is currently showing episode 34.

7. Iain Abernethy Podcast. The long-running Iain Abernethy Podcast just made the "active" list, having last published an episode one month ago. Iain is currently showing episode 80, but his podcast first appeared in iTunes in October 2006! Iain is one of the leaders of the practical karate movement, so you might wonder why a Krav Maga practitioner like myself would be interested in his point of view. In reality, Iain emphasizes many of the elements that Krav Maga embodies -- powerful, hit-to-knock-down striking, realistic training, understanding violence outside the ring, and related concerns. I really like how Iain makes sense of the martial arts world; for example, I addressed one of his frameworks in my post All Over the Map? Krav Maga and Iain Abernethy's Martial Map. I'd like to congratulate Iain on the latest addition to his family, and I hope to hear from him again soon.

Those were my top seven active martial arts podcasts. The following four are currently inactive, not having published in the last month or two. I'll list them here, and if they return I will say more about them in a future post!

Fight for a Happy Life by Sensei Ando Mierzwa.

Conquest BJJ Business Podcast by Lance Trippett, Kail Bosque, and Nate Grebb.

The Martial Arts Business Podcast with Mike Massie.

Martial Arts Lineage Podcast by Tim Johnson.

What martial arts podcasts do you like? I have a few others queued for listening later. What do you recommend?

UPDATE: As you can see in the comment below, Sensei Ando reports Fight for a Happy Life will be back soon! Therefore, I'll share my thoughts on his podcast. Fight began in February 2013, although iTunes starts with episode 5 from May 2013. The latest episode is number 44. Sensei Ando uses martial arts as a vehicle to teach life lessons. He puts a lot of thought into each episode and frequently publishes an accompanying blog post. I feel comfortable having my kids hear the posts and I believe the wisdom he shares is appropriate for anyone in, say, fourth grade or higher. Sensei Ando packages action steps into each podcast, which will help us all get off the couch and marching toward our goals!

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Five Reasons to Camp -- Plus Two for Krav Maga Global

Eyal Yanilov addresses the group.
Have you ever trained in your martial art for a weekend or more?

I just returned from the annual Krav Maga Global (KMG) Practitioner and Graduate ("P&G") camp, hosted by Battle Born Krav Maga. It was my first camp and I'd like to share five reasons you might want to attend similar training, whether in KMG or your own system or style. I finish with two bonus reasons for the KMG family!

1. Instructors everywhere. I am fortunate to train regularly at First Defense Krav Maga in Herndon, VA. Our lead instructor, Nick Masi, is an E-2, and USA director for the system. As of yesterday's grading (more on that shortly), we also have an E-1 instructor, and multiple G-level instructors. I do not take these instructors for granted! However, at the camp we had access to even more instructors -- and this was an amazing opportunity.

At P&G Camp, participants learned from some of the highest ranking people in the system -- starting with the head instructor, Mr Eyal Yanilov. Instructors flew in from all over the US, and in a few cases, from around the world.

The benefit of so many instructors in one place should be obvious, but let me give one example. At one point on Sunday we had time to practice individual material. My group needed assistance with P-3 headlock releases on the ground. Within seconds of asking, we received help from E-level instructors and members of the national team. These men and women, with years of experience, got on the floor and showed us how to execute the techniques. I was so impressed with their willingness to get on the ground and help those of us at the other end of the experience spectrum!

2. Students everywhere. The pictures accompanying this post do not do our group justice. I do not know how many people attended, but I would not be surprised if there were around 100 active participants. With so many students in one place, I was able to meet people from all of the other KMG schools in the US. All of the people with whom I interacted were polite and interested foremost in learning. I didn't meet any over-sized egos, or students who felt the need to prove something to others.

In one memorable part of the camp, a few other P-2s and I worked on how to do a technique. I felt that I had learned a certain move differently, but they made a compelling case for another approach. This situation could have gone south quickly in another setting, but I was pleased to be able to work with genuinely helpful colleagues from other schools. They were very helpful and patient with me.

The final ladder exercise during G testing looked tough!
3. Push yourself. I did not test at the event (also more on that shortly). However, I still trained about 8 hours each day. Those 8 hours were far longer than I usually train. Thankfully, over the past 9 months I've been preparing myself mentally and physically for extended training days.

During a regular session I might train 2 straight hours. I've attended a few intense combatives seminars that have lasted 5 straight hours, and I've also attended a few day-long seminars that lasted 6-9 hours, with a lunch break. In September I participated in the KMG Combat Mindset Class, which was a mix of physical training and lectures over a 3 day period. Recently I also took part in SFG, GFM, and Jungshin events, described here. All of this helped me get ready for the camp.

The bottom line is the day-long camp format expects a lot of students, both physically and mentally. By the middle of the third day I felt like my brain was overflowing. My training partner had the same comment at the same time! Still, the benefits outweighed the costs, and besides a few bruises and sore muscles, the push was worth it.

4. Test yourself. The P&G Camp was a massive testing event for all but 10% or so of the attendees. I was not eligible to test, because I had just tested in September. (KMG includes a 5-6 month delay for P and G testing, and a year or more delay for E testing.) Rather than test on the third day, I did more training with my fellow non-testers. At the end of that period, I watched the final components  (sparring, ground fighting, and a grueling "ladder pushup-sprawl" exercise) of one of the G-level tests. It was inspiring and impressive to watch a few of my instructors (plus other testers) leave it all on the mats.

First Defense Krav Maga attendees pose for a photo.
If anyone had simply described the testing experience, I'm not sure I would be able to imagine myself passing or even attempting the G-level exams. However, witnessing so many people pushing themselves to their limits inspired me to think that, with the necessary time, effort, and training, I have a shot at the G grade.

I wish I could have watched the E level testing on day four, but I had to return to my day job and family. (Thank you to my family for supporting my desire to train away from home!) During that E level testing, one current and one remote member of my school passed their E-1 ranks!

5. Camaraderie. Although I feel a bond with my fellow students and instructors at my home school, I really sensed camaraderie with the extended KMG family at the camp. It was cool to see people representing their regions and homes. I enjoyed training with people who were unranked, or from different systems. I liked training with people in their twenties, and even a gentleman who was 74!

One of my favorite parts of the camp involved a giant sparring session on the second day. I think I fought half a dozen people by the end of it. I lost one of my contacts lenses during the session, but I decided to press on and not lose time. No one I met acted like a jerk or tried to put on a show for any onlookers. It can be difficult for non-martial artists to accept that one could build friendships on hitting each other, but it happens!

I believe the previous five lessons were key to our KMG event, and you can relate to them even if you don't practice Krav Maga. However...

Two bonus reasons for the KMG family:


Eyal Yanilov discusses mental training.
6. Diversity and Quality of Training. During the camp, I participated in distinct sessions teaching each of the following: mental training, kicking, striking, open hand defenses, sparring and combinations, knife defenses, gun disarms, and stick defenses. The quality of each session was excellent. We also integrated third party protection with fighting and self defense.

Although each instructor displayed a different teaching style, I was able to keep up with the pace and apply what I learned in meaningful ways. The drills all made sense and I even had a chance to take a few notes. I am sure the structured training program required to be a KMG instructor played a big part in the success of these sessions. I also perceived that each instructor truly wanted to teach what he or she knew, and  thereby benefit the lives of the students.

7. Training with Eyal. In my experience, it is rare to be able to train with the head instructor of a martial arts, self defense, or fighting system. Every day of the P&G camp, however, started with Eyal sharing some wisdom and mental training exercises. Next we ventured outside for warm-up. It must have been quite a sight for visitors -- a hundred KMG students running around the building, then dropping to the concrete for drills!

Eyal always makes time for pictures.
Eyal also personally taught, formally and informally. Because he leads by example, I found all of his senior instructors shared the teaching duties. For example, UK director Jon Bullock integrated his experience teaching around the world, highlighting common mistakes he saw at other events and schools. He then showed proper technique and, importantly, why it mattered.

I also had a chance to go to dinner with members of my school and some of these instructors, and they were friendly out of uniform as well.

If Krav Maga interests you, and you would like to attend future global training events, visit the Krav Maga Global site. In the US, visit kmg-usa.com.

Thank you to everyone who made the camp a success -- Eyal, Jon, Nick, Pat, host school owner Kimi, instructors, and students!

To receive notice of my next blog post, follow me on Twitter -- my handle is @rejoiningthetao.

Did you attend the camp? What did you think? Have you experienced similar events elsewhere? Leave a comment here or let me know via Twitter!

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Three Complements to Martial Arts Training

Are you a martial artist who pushes his or her limits? Do you look for ways to extend your experiences outside the martial arena?

Over the last few months I've tried a few new exercise programs to complement my martial arts training. I describe them here and share why I think they could help you as well!

1. Jungshin Fitness. In August I attended an instructor workshop for Jungshin Fitness. Jungshin is a Korean term meaning “straight spirit” or “awakened mind.” I learned about Jungshin via this Fox News Health TV segment. Annika Kahn, a fourth degree Kuk Sool Won black belt, developed Jungshin as a physical and mental conditioning program.

Jungshin workouts are unique in that they use either one 40" wooden sword or two 21" wooden swords as levers to enhance the exercise experience. Classes integrate strength, breathing, balance, precision, aerobic conditioning, and meditation. Participants execute a variety of sword cuts, footwork drills, stance transitions, fingertip push-ups, jumps and kicks, and choreographed two-person exercises similar to controlled sparring.

During the all-day certification seminar, I participated in two full classes plus dozens of individual movement exercises. Ten minutes into the first class, I looked at the clock and thought "I've only done ten minutes?!" The combination of the overhead sword striking and the continuous movement made the workout much tougher than I expected. I'm sure my shoulder mobility issues were not helping the situation, but I tried to think of the exercise as "extreme therapy!"

I recommend checking out a Jungshin class if you are looking for a new type of workout that incorporates a lever, i.e., the single or double wooden swords. This is a very innovative approach to mental and physical fitness. You can learn more here.

2. StrongFirst. In September I attended a full-day introduction to StrongFirst, or SFG, which stands for StrongFirst Girya. (Girya is kettlebell in Russian.) Although one of my sisters had become a kettlebell instructor several years ago, I had never tried them. I first learned about SFG when I noticed one of the highest ranking Krav Maga Global (KMG) instructors, Tommy Blom, was also highly ranked in SFG.

Soon I discovered Pavel Tsatsouline and how his SFG organization helped people improve fitness through a strength-first approach. The kettlebell is the most prominent, but it is not the only method. Because of my shoulder issues, I knew I could not even think about trying to become certified as a SFG instructor. Instead, I looked for a class which would introduce proper kettlebell form and practices.

Through the SFG Web site I found Brian Wright, a local personal trainer. He offered a one day introduction to four core kettlebell exercises: the swing, the get up, the goblet squat, and the military press. I really enjoyed the experience. Brian helped me modify some of the exercises so I could manage them despite my shoulder issues. I highly recommend working with a trainer like Brian and taking a course before you try to swing kettlebells on your own. I also suggest reading Pavel's latest book, Simple and Sinister. It has the core information you need to begin a kettlebell program.

3. Ground Force Method. This month (October), my Krav Maga school advertised that they were offering a two-day certification course in Ground Force Method (GFM). GFM was previously called "Primal Move," and it is a body-weight-centric exercise program invented by Peter Lakatos. Peter is also a KMG instructor and is SFG-certified like Tommy Blom. Incidentally, Tommy is also a GFM instructor! As you might have sensed, there is a partnership among KMG, SFG, and GFM to promote fitness and healthy lifestyles for all practitioners.

Andrea U-Shi Chang from Kettlebility flew all the way from Seattle to teach our GFM class. I'm a seminar junkie, so when I saw the GFM opportunity at my school, I signed up. We had already been doing some GFM exercises in class to improve our strength, coordination, and flexibility. Essentially, GFM uses a person's body weight and positioning, usually on the ground, as the core workout method. It's much tougher than it sounds or looks. Within a few seconds of crawling on the ground, you're likely to feel your core and shoulders asking for relief!

The GFM class was awesome, but early on the second day I pushed one of my shoulders too far. I had to gut-check my way through the rest of the day, including the certification test. I was able to modify some of the exercises prior to the test so I could continue participating, and I pushed through the certification successfully. I plan to re-engage with GFM soon, after my shoulder can handle the movements again.

Summary. I'm still working on integrating all three fitness modalities into my regular regimen. Some weeks are better than others! Next week I'm seeing an orthopedic specialist to determine what steps I can take to improve shoulder mobility. If I can restore flexibility in my right shoulder, especially, it will permit me to exercise better form in Jungshin, SFG, and GFM exercises. I will also be able to use those programs to continue to strength and rehabilitate my shoulders. I may even feel confident enough to spend more time on the mats doing ground-centric martial arts. I also need to complete the Jungshin level 1 certification process, so I'm trying to figure out how best to accomplish that goal. An SFG instructor qualification could be a much more distant goal, but I'm not going to worry about that today!

Finally, if you have a chance to train with Annika, Brian, or Andrea at any time, I recommend it! All three are professional, highly skilled, knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful.

Have you tried any of these programs? What did you think?

Stay informed of new blog posts by following me on Twitter @rejoiningthetao.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Never Try This at Home, or Anywhere

Has your martial arts trainer ever crossed the line? I recently watched a YouTube video that, in my opinion, went too far to supposedly demonstrate a martial arts technique.

I subscribe to the Funker Tactical YouTube feed because I like seeing Doug Marcaida's Filipino Martial Arts. On September 12, 2016 they published a video titled VIP Knife Defence | INSANE LIVE BLADE DEMO by Fred Mastro!!! The link starts at the 5:15 mark, with the screen capture at left 12 seconds later.

In the video, Fred Mastro instructs his demonstrator to hold a real knife to Doug Marcaida's throat. Fred then strikes the knife holder in the leg to disarm him, without harming Doug.

My read of Doug's body language and facial expressions is that he did not think this was a good idea. However, he trusted Fred and the demonstrator enough to not expect his throat to be cut.

There is absolutely no reason to use a live weapon in a demonstration like this, for three reasons:

1. It's more dangerous than necessary. Iain Abernethy has said the following many times on his podcast, and I agree: it makes no sense to introduce live weapons in training, because that makes the training environment the most dangerous place the student will likely ever visit.

The dojo might already be the most dangerous location a student visits, due to sparring, physical exertion, and the risk of an accident. However, live weapons introduce an entirely new level of risk of bodily harm.

It defeats the purpose of self defense training to expose students to situations that are unnecessarily dangerous, in order to teach them to handle danger.

Of course it makes sense to ramp up the danger when the stakes are higher. For example, military personnel sometimes train for more dangerous conditions (battlefields) with live rounds, but they employ rules of engagement to introduce acceptable levels of risk.

2. Costs greatly exceed benefits. There is almost nothing to be gained with a live weapon, in a civilian setting, that could not be adequately simulated with a safer alternative. For example, Fred could have demonstrated the effectiveness of his disarm technique using a marker or a Shocknife.

One could argue that the person threatened by the knife would not feel the same stress or fear when a marker or Shocknife is held to his throat. That is true, but irrelevant here. The point of this video exercise was not to simulate that situation; it was testing a disarm. The potential costs of this demonstration -- cutting Doug's throat -- do not exceed the benefits.

3. It proves nothing. Using a live blade proves absolutely nothing. The demonstrator would never intentionally try to cut Doug's throat.

If Fred had failed to disarm the demonstrator, he would not have said "you lose!" and made Doug pay with his life!

The only dimension that live blade introduced was the possibility of a catastrophic accident.

Let me finish with a clear statement: I am not questioning anyone's skill. I'm simply saying they don't need to hold a live blade to Doug's throat in order to demonstrate it.

Have you encountered similar risks in training? What did you do?

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Five Take-Aways from Combat Mindset Class

Fellow martial artists: do you train your mind for violence as much as you train your body for violence?

This was the question I pondered last week at the Krav Maga Global Combat Mindset and Mental Conditioning class taught by Mr Eyal Yanilov at First Defense Krav Maga in Herndon, VA.

This was a three-day class that combined mental and physical drills with lecture. We shared part of the time with the Combat Fighters Instructors Course practitioners, who somehow endured a separate, unbelievably intense eight day class. The CFIC candidates called our group the "Mentals" and we joked that we were busy staring at goats while they hammered each other into the mats.

In this post I will share five take-aways from the mindset class.

1. Three elements comprise mental training to enhance self-defense, fighting, and third party protection. These three are 1) courage (alternatively: determination, persistence, aggression, and confidence); 2)  focus (or concentration); and 3) relaxation (or escape from distracting emotions). I was not sure how I measured against these three, but the drills quickly let me know I needed work in all areas!

Mental skills require training, just like physical skills. Without exercise, both atrophy. I considered that I had developed these three components to a decent degree during my time at the Air Force Academy, but had not sufficiently and exercised them in a purposeful manner since.

2. Triggers are powerful. Do you recognize the movie scene at right? It's from one of my favorite films, Gladiator. Before he fights, general Maximus grabs dirt and rubs it into his hands. I realized that he used that as a "trigger" to switch his mindset into combat mode.

At the seminar Mr Yanilov helped us develop the feelings and mindset necessary for combat mode, and incorporate a more practical trigger. When you need to explode violently, you will not have time to bend down and pick up dirt. However, you can move your fingers in a unique manner (one example), in a move that is not related to everyday activities. I found this approach very useful to help "switch on" the burst of violence needed in a self-defense or combat situation.

3. The body influences the mind and the mind influences the body. This was a core theme of the three day class. We worked drills in both directions. The reason this works is that parts of the conscious can't tell the difference between real and imagined behavior.

Breathing is an example of using the body to affect the mind. When the mind becomes calm or agitated, it can similarly affect breathing.

I also learned that I can tell myself to not take a certain action, but in a crisis the body can react completely on its own. With training these survival instincts can be fought, but it takes work!

4. Visualize, visualize, visualize. Building on the last point, I learned I should spend more time visualizing as a mental and physical development tool. Because parts of the conscious can't tell the difference between real and imagined behavior, you can essentially practice scenarios, techniques, and tactics mentally and experience measurable improvement.

This does not mean that mental training can replace physical exercise. You can't simply imagine your way to success. However, visualization can be a powerful tool. For example, you can visualize a self-defense situation from three points of view: 1) as the first party (yourself); 2) as the second party (your opponent); or 3) as a third party (a neutral observer). Imagine how the scenario could play out from all three view points.

5. Stress kills, but it doesn't have to kill you. We are far more likely to die from stress-related conditions (high blood pressure, heart diseases, and the like) than we are from a violent confrontation, assuming we live in decent neighborhoods and avoid risky locations and behavior. While exercise is an excellent way to relieve stress, we should complement physical relief with mental approaches.

For example, we learned a few ways to better manage stressful work situations. We learned about the effects of body posture and how you can "fake it until you feel it" to make your posture work for you. We applied visualization to stressful interactions to make a hypothetical confrontation with a corporate "Mike Tyson" a less intimidating experience. We also learned ways to empty our minds through focus drills to gain relief from stressful thoughts.

This post can't due justice to the pages of notes I took on a 25 hour class, but I wanted to give you a feel for the excellent class. Thank you to Mr Yanilov for visiting the US from Israel to teach us, and to First Defense Krav Maga for organizing and hosting the event.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Five Tips for a Successful Krav Maga Grading

On Saturday I tested for the Practitioner level 2 in Krav Maga Global, at the regional grading event at First Defense. The test came a little over five months since my P1 test.

It was my first experience testing with students from other schools. It was cool to meet other Krav practitioners and see how they interpreted and expressed Krav culture and technique.

The event featured testing opportunities for all Practitioner and Graduate ranks. There were so many participants we occupied space in the First Defense school and the nearby dance school!

In this post I want to share five tips that helped me pass the P2 test. By writing these tips I do not intend to portray myself as obsessed with rank. Rather, I want to share some thoughts to consider if you are interested in progressing through the KMG levels.

1. Approach every practice session with the next test in mind. I did not implement this suggestion until July. Previously I was happy to soak up whatever knowledge I could gain in my practice sessions.

At the start of July I heard we had a grading event planned for the fall, and I realized I needed to make it count. Beyond P1, all KMG grading is now done at regional tests, unlike P1, which can be done in one's local school.

With a new sense of urgency, I kept the test process in mind throughout July, August, and the beginning of September.

2. Understand in great detail what is expected of your next test. Once I understood when the next test opportunity would take place, I began familiarizing myself with the P2 curriculum. Our school makes worksheets available at the front door, so I collected one and studied it.

I also subscribe to MaxKravMaga, which provides the curriculum and videos for all or nearly all required material.

By better understanding the curriculum, I could identify when P2 material was being taught during group sessions. This added an incentive to pay extra attention to that technique or method.

It's not that I zoned out when learning P3 or higher material. I enjoy learning higher material when it's offered, as I see it as a "preview" of the future.

However, by knowing that the group session included specific P2 techniques, I could ask questions and try to be sure I understood what we were learning that day.

3. Review videos daily. In July I also added a MaxKravMaga video review to my daily routines. I started with P1 material and continued through P2. I ended up watching P3 and some P4, but the few weeks prior to Saturday's test I concentrated on P2 videos.

These videos have been exceptionally helpful for me. I often need a lot of time to digest and process new techniques. Using video is helpful because I can slow down the explanation. Sometimes I take screen captures of key moments to use as technique "checkpoints." The videos also help me predict what the graders would be looking for during the test.

4. Schedule private lessons. Prior to my test I scheduled two private lessons with Mr. Nick Masi, owner of FDKM. I scheduled the first lesson ten days before the test and the second three days before the test.

During the first private session I asked Nick to help me with parts of the curriculum that I hadn't seen that often during our group sessions.

During the second private session I asked Nick to review common problem areas for P1 and P2 material. I also reviewed a few techniques that were still giving me trouble since our last session.

These private lessons were the final piece I needed to add confidence to my grading experience.

Mike (testing partner), Pat (grader), Me
5. Approach the test as an extra-long, extra-intense training session -- but don't make it your first extra-long, extra-intense training session. I was nervous the week prior to the test, and especially on Saturday. I took the advice sent in a pre-test email:

"Don't think of it as a test, just think of it as more time on the mats, training. The only difference is that someone is asking to see what you know."

This approach helped me quite a bit.

I was very motivated to see so many of my fellow classmates gathered together. Seeing everyone helped me think of the event as a giant seminar. It was also really cool to see my instructors testing for higher G ranks, and to see the KMG founder Mr Eyal Yanilov walking around the school watching the event.

The P2 test was over twice the length of the P1 test, which lasted 90 minutes. The P2 was over 3 hours 20 minutes. The P3 candidates tested over 4 hours, and I believe the P5 and higher grades were still going after the 5 hour mark. The test schedule said 1-7 pm, so the highest grades tested for at least 6 hours.

The duration of the event meant that it helped to have experience with lengthy martial arts training sessions. Prior to the test I had attended a four hour seminar with Eyal in Las Vegas, multiple two hour sparring sessions ("fight nights"), four two-and-a-half hour combatives sessions, one five hour combatives seminar, and a six hour Inosanto seminar. The longer sessions, particularly the five hour combatives course, helped me understand how I would perform under long duration conditions.

Final Note: I'd like to thank my testing partner Mike for asking me to work with him Saturday afternoon. He and I worked well together and we both passed. I'd also like to thank our grader, Mr Patrick Hards, for providing a fair testing environment and for giving us honest feedback for improvement. Pat spent about a half hour giving specific comments and general group feedback for the new P2s, which I captured via some iPhone footage and digital notebook.

Overall I enjoyed the P2 grading experience. Rumor has it the next opportunity will occur in the spring, probably six months from now in March. Although I am attending the P & G Weekend in Las Vegas in November, I must wait 5-6 months for my next testing window. I'm putting steps 1-4 in practice now in the hopes that I am invited to test again in the spring.

If you plan to test at the P & G Weekend in November, now is the time to put these five steps to work for you -- good luck with your training and testing!

How was your last grading experience? Any suggestions?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Deal with Used Equipment

Used martial arts gear. Serious person not included.
How does your school manage its inventory of used training equipment?

In How Super Was the Martial Arts SuperShow? I promised to share more martial arts business tips that I picked up at the SuperShow in July.

In this post I will share a brief note on managing used training equipment.

When I train, I don't place a lot of emphasis on the condition of the equipment. So long as it still performs its intended function, I am fine with seeing signs of use.

Newer students might not think this way. They have not yet developed the cues of quality that a more experienced martial artist might use.

For example, I am much more interested in watching how the more senior students move than I am in the condition of a kick shield.

Nevertheless, all equipment can degenerate to the point where it's not effective, or potentially even unsafe for use.

As an instructor, I believe you have a duty to your students to train them in a safe manner. You can achieve this goal and also serve the more aesthetically-minded audience if you consider the following tip.

Keep an eye on your training equipment -- kick shields, focus mitts, heavy bags, and the like. Watch for signs of wear. Using your own threshold -- whatever that might be -- establish a standard for removing the gear from school use.

The tip which I learned at the SuperShow is this: don't discard the used equipment. Instead, offer it for sale to your students, at some discount -- say 50% off retail. Students will be happy to get a kick shield or heavy bag for a steep discount. After all, it's the same equipment they were just using in class.

Collect the money you receive from these sales and put it towards buying replacement equipment.

In this way, the gear your students use in class is always meeting your standards of good condition.

The SuperShow speakers recommended selecting a corner of your school as the "sale area" where used equipment can be bought. You might want to keep a couple of each types of equipment in this display area, with the remainder in storage. Students are more likely to want to pick up gear if they perceive scarcity.

What do you think of this approach?

Friday, September 2, 2016

All Over the Map? Krav Maga and Iain Abernethy's Martial Map

Iain Abernethy's Martial Map
For the last month I've been listening to the outstanding Iain Abernethy Podcast, starting with the first episode from 2006. The January 2011 edition was titled The Martial Map, and it introduced Iain's model for thinking about what he calls self-protection, martial arts, and fighting.

He argues that these are three distinct disciplines, but they do overlap. The graphic depiction of this concept appears in the figure at left, and Iain's podcast (which he describes as an "e-book" due to its length), explains what the seven areas mean for those of us doing combat-related practices.

I really enjoyed learning about this model because it helps me better understand my own journey. However, it does introduce some problems. For one, is there an overall term that captures all three elements? Naturally I would expect the term "martial art" to include self-protection, fighting, and the activities Iain labels "martial arts." I'm not sure I agree with Iain's separation of martial arts from self-protection and fighting, but I understand his explanation for doing so.

Another issue to consider is the idea of being a "complete" practitioner. The explosion of the ground game following the UFC brought this reality to light for many martial artists. Unfortunately, too often we think only in terms of tactical considerations. Being "complete," for many of us, means being able to fight at all ranges: long/leg range, medium/punching range, short/trapping or clinching range, and ground or grappling range. (Even this topic is subject to many interpretations, including "out of range," or even finer gradations of distance or interaction.)

However, being proficient at these ranges cannot equal being "complete" in my mind. How do you deal with weapons -- either blunt, edged, or projectile (firearms)? How do you handle multiple opponents? How do you protect third parties? There are many other topics that one could introduce to be considered "complete," and only within the "fighting" discipline -- never mind the self-protection or "martial arts" worlds!

The advantage of Iain's martial map is clearly stated in his podcast: use the model to determine how your system's practice fit within self-protection, martial arts, and/or fighting. We are very clear about this in Krav Maga, as I wrote in an earlier post titled Is Krav Maga a Martial Art? Using the martial map, I would align Krav Maga with the self-protection area, as supported by Mr. Eyal Yanilov's statement that "Krav Maga is not a martial art.. it is a reality based self defense system." (emphasis added)

At the higher levels of Krav Maga (emphasized in the Graduate and above ranks), there is more emphasis on fighting, but at all levels there is hardly any of what Iain would call "martial art." This is why I like to supplement my Krav Maga training with a traditional kung fu style, which is much more "martial art."

Have you heard Iain's podcast? How does your practice align? Do you think there needs to be an "uber term" for all three areas, and if yes, what is it?

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Friday, August 12, 2016

This Is How I Roll

This week I attended several extended training sessions offered by Trident Martial Arts. One of the sessions included Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu-styled grappling, with a focus on extracting elements for combatives situations.

It sounded like I needed a BJJ gi. The last time I wore anything like that was my sophomore year at the Air Force Academy, when I took a judo class for one of my physical education requirements.

I turned to online vendors with a very clear mission: buy a gi that was of decent quality, and was as plain and white as possible. I had read about the "plain white gi" requirement in several articles.

Basically, when visiting another school, you don't want to be an advertisement for your home school. Now, I don't train BJJ at my home school, but I still didn't want my gi to look like the inside of a MMA octagon. Therefore, I searched for plain white gis.

I bought the Your Jiu Jitsu Gear Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Uniform White with FREE BJJ White Belt pictured above, from Amazon.com. I was a little worried about buying a product sold by a company called "Your Jiu Jitsu Gear," but the reviews were strong and the plain white color was right. I am 5'9", 155 lbs, so I ordered size A2.

I immediately like the gi when I unpackaged it. It felt solid and well-constructed. It also fit me perfectly. I thought it might have interior ties like a karate gi, but I was wrong. The belt would keep it closed.

Speaking of the belt -- it initially confused me. I was not familiar with the concept of a "grading stripe." This is the black end of the belt, and its use is described in this IBJFF page. Originally I planned to just use one of my white belts from another martial arts style, but I was glad the YJJ company shipped a proper BJJ belt with the gi.

In class, the gi held up well -- much better than my right toe. You can see me in the gi in the picture above. I enjoyed the session and thought that Jordan, Jim, and Ben were great instructors. I described my experience to a friend who is a BJJ black belt as "learning to speak a new language, but at least recognizing a few words."

After class, I washed the gi in my washing machine. However, I only dried it for a few minutes on low heat. Then I hung it to air dry. I wanted to minimize any shrinkage. It seems to have weathered the washing process well.

My verdict? If you are looking for a reasonably price beginner BJJ gi for visiting other schools, I recommend the Your Jiu Jitsu Gear Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Uniform White with FREE BJJ White Belt. It met my needs and I hope you have a good experience as well!

What else can you share about what sorts of gis people wear for BJJ?

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

These Aren't Steph Curry's "Dad Shoes"

I'll admit it. Last week I checked out what sorts of shoes the guys in my Krav Maga classes were wearing.

I prefer to wear sneakers when training, because I wear orthotics. I also don't walk barefoot on the street, so I like to train in shoes. I didn't always practice martial arts in shoes, but at this point in my career I prefer to wear them.

For the last seven months I wore black Nike Air Monarch IV cross-training shoes. These worked pretty well, but they suffered a few drawbacks, especially weight and undue contact with mats. I primarily chose them because they were sold in wide sizes, they were black, and they were cross-trainers.

Last week I decided to take a closer look at the shoes the instructors were wearing. That primarily means you, Sam and Chris. I noticed these two high-ranking gentlemen were wearing wrestling shoes. I hadn't wrestled since high school gym class, and certainly not in special shoes. However, I decided to do some research and buy a pair.

The major problem I encountered was that most wrestling shoes are very narrow. I found only a few options for those with wide feet. The shoes I decided to buy are ASICS Snapdown Wrestling Shoes, pictured above. I bought them from Amazon.com because it was difficult to find them in local stores.

My verdict, after wearing them for about 8 hours of class doing striking, kicking, groundwork, weapons, and Kung Fu forms, is that they are keepers. I like how light they are, and that they allow me to pivot more easily. They remind me a little of the racing flats I wore in high school track. I'm using a set of orthotics that are half-inserts, meaning they sit at the heel but don't reach into the toe of the shoe. They fit well and support my feet as necessary.

A word of warning: pay attention to the reviews which recommend buying a full size larger than your regular sneaker. I wear size 10 in the Nike Air Monarch IV cross-training shoes, yet as you can see I bought size 11 ASICS. The ASICS are not as wide as I would have liked, but they still fit well.

If I encounter any unforeseen wear or product failure, I'll update this post!

What sort of shoes do you wear training? Do you prefer to be barefoot?

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Give Me a Break! Kids Breaking Boards

Have you ever broken a board? If you practice a Karate or Tae Kwon Do-related system, I assume the answer is yes. So what's the point, especially for kids?

In this post, part of my series on martial arts business practices, I will share why board breaking might be a tool for attracting and motivating younger martial artists, and perhaps even their families.

Several of the Martial Arts SuperShow (MASS) speakers talked about the power of board breaking, especially for kids. At the time of the show, I had little experience with the kids version of the exercise. I had only broken boards as an adult during my year in military intelligence school, when I studied Tae Kwon Do. I remembered thinking it was a fun exercise, and that I needed to pay close attention to placement and punching or kicking "past the board." So how could this be useful for kids?

The MASS business consultants discussed board breaking in several contexts. First, they offered four benefits for kids who break a board at some point in their practice:

1. Confidence. Boarding breaking can help instill the message "yes, I can." Just as you can succeed in breaking a board, you can succeed whenever you apply yourself and work hard.

2. Focus. A child breaking a board cannot succeed by hitting the board off-center. The same focus you exercise during board breaking can be applied when listening to parents or teachers.

3. Determination. Breaking a board requires the determination to succeed. A nonchalant attitude will not yield results inside or outside the dojo.

4. Follow-through. Kids can't stop short of the board and expect to break it. They have to power all the way through it. The same sense of follow-through will serve them well in life.

The second aspect of board breaking discussed at MASS was the family bonding experience. The MASS consultants recommended making the board breaking a family event. Ideally, one family member, say one parent, holds the board for the child. Another family member, perhaps another parent, sibling, or extended family member, records the event using smartphone video. The board breaking takes place on the dojo floor.

The key to the bonding experience is the parent seeing the child's face when he or she breaks the board for the first time. This can be a magical event for younger children. Of course, this exercise should be structured to help the child succeed. Use the appropriate equipment to ensure that a child of a given age, striking the board in the proper location, will break it without injuring himself or herself. This is not a military drill for adults, but a confidence-building exercise for children!

Furthermore, "family" board breaking invokes the power of getting the parents and/or siblings onto the dojo mat. Most people are intimidated by the dojo, and there is a psychological barrier of sorts separating the mat (or wood) floor from the waiting area. A board breaking exercise, whereby the family supports the young student by joining him or her on the mat, helps cross that psychological barrier. I will have more to say about this phenomenon in future posts.

The third and final aspect of board breaking involves attracting new students. This aspect was completely foreign to me, but it made a big impact. The MASS consultants discussed board breaking as a tool to capture the interest and imagination of prospective students. They shared how board breaking could be used at booths and demos. They discussed using board breaking at school visits and birthday parties. I will have more to say about this when discussing those events in detail, but apparently board breaking can be a compelling tool for grabbing the attention of prospective child martial artists.

At this point you may have several objections. Maybe you've read Board Breaking Tips: How Anyone Can, Why Nobody Should. That post documents how board breaking can be a demotivating experience, and how some can see it as a fraudulent activity. To me, it depends, like so many aspects of the martial arts, on what you are trying to achieve.

Consider the point of view of a child, aged between 6 and 10 years old. The idea of putting a fist through a piece of wood, of any kind, can seem intimidating! Successfully breaking a board takes faith, trust, and belief, three concepts emphasized by Krav Maga Global founder Eyal Yanilov -- faith in the system, trust in the instructors, and belief in yourself. Breaking a board is a tangible representation of those concepts.

Since attending MASS, I've seen the power of board breaking for children in my family life. My nine year old daughter is training in Tae Kwon Do, and she broke her first board last month. She recognized that she was not demolishing granite slabs, but she was still scared. She was thrilled when done! She did not know she could accomplish that feat. These are the sorts of progressive steps that build the four benefits mentioned earlier.

A final objection may be that your system doesn't break boards. In my case, board breaking is not a part of Krav Maga, or Kung Fu, or Filipino Martial Arts. However, as a motivational tool for children, as an instructor I would consider introducing it into the curriculum for the reasons outlined here.

What is your perspective on children breaking boards?

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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Seven Tips for Solo Forms Training

In Five Tips to Maximize Private Training, I blogged about how I returned to my Kung Fu school near Boston to relearn material I first practiced in the 1990s. I wanted to concentrate on forms, which are sets of techniques and movements performed in a specific manner. Most if not all "traditional" styles practice forms, also called kata, patterns, and the like.

In this post I will document the process I have been following to maximize the results of this training. For me, success means I am increasing my capability to execute forms properly. "Perfection" is not the goal -- consistent improvement is my target.

1. Begin with in-person lessons. It is simply too difficult to begin learning a form in a completely solo manner. You are likely to make mistakes without realizing it. You need an instructor to teach you the form, and then monitor your progress as you learn it. As with any martial arts activity, you are going to need some small, some medium, and perhaps even some large adjustments to your execution. A live instructor is the best teacher and instrument of correction.

2. Record the instructor executing the form, if possible. I simply could not have made the progress I'm making without recording my instructor's execution of the form. He was patient with me to do so, and generous with his time and commentary. When recording, try to pick the best angles to catch the subtle movements you know exist in the form, because you've been learning it prior to recording it. Don't ask for multiple recordings -- be respectful! I've found that an instructor wearing a dark uniform against a light background, under sufficient lighting, produces excellent results when captured using a modern iPhone camera.

3. Review the videos using an app or program that permits speed adjustments. On my PC and iPhone I use VLC to watch the form videos. I like VLC because it offers fine-grained playback speed adjustment, while playing sound. By slowing the video to 2/3 or 1/2 speed, I can follow along more easily when executing the form. Because the instructor is saying the movements as he does them in my videos, I can still hear his commentary at slower speeds using VLC.

4. Take notes on form movements. I am primarily a visual learner, but I've discovered that the more mechanisms I use for learning, the better the outcome. I mentioned watching video and listening to commentary in step 4. I also write down the commentary, or my interpretation of the movements, for each form. This is particularly useful for complex movements. Don't get too carried away, though. At one point I was documenting every motion in great detail, and my notes became too complicated! Record problem areas or the big picture, not minutiae.

5. Carefully consult online and printed material, if available. At right is the cover of Wah Lum Kung Fu First Fist Form, a book by Master Pui Chan. This book documents one of the forms I have been practicing. There are several examples of the form, of various quality, recorded on YouTube as well. While it can be risky to rely on videos without in-person instruction, if the form is done correctly it can illuminate your own learning experience.

6. Practice something every day. This is one of the toughest tips, but it is probably the most important. If you are trying to study a large body of material, you must practice every day -- even if only for a few minutes. Over the last 6 weeks or so I have come close to accomplishing this goal. I find that if I miss even 1 day, I am twice as worse off than if I practice something every day.

7. Regular instructor check-ups are required. I finish where I began -- with an instructor. It's difficult to know how much progress you're making if your instructor never sees you again. While I have not tried using Facetime or Skype for video sessions, I've heard some people use it to receive feedback from instructors. I've also heard of some students recording themselves via smartphone, and sending a copy to their instructor for evaluation. Whatever you do, close the loop through a check-up with your instructor.

How do you practice solo forms?

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Quick Stick Tips

This week I had the chance to share a few Filipino martial arts (FMA) sinawalis with fellow students at my Krav Maga school. A sinawali ("weaving") is a training pattern one can perform solo or with a partner. I promised I would share what sort of sticks I use and where I buy them.

My oldest pair of sticks are rattan, slightly more than 28" long and 3/4" in diameter. They are fairly light and are good for solo speed and demo work. One of my instructors, Mr Jim Conklin, advised me to not use them for partner work because they are more ornamental in nature. I listened, so you won't see them here.

My primary sticks (shown at left) are rattan sticks, roughly 26" long and 7/8" in diameter. I bought them from Kombat Instruments Limited.  I really enjoy these sticks. They are heavier than my 28" sticks and are great for partner work.

I wrapped the top, or striking portion of the sticks, with green electrical tape from Home Depot. Why green? I figured everyone uses black, so if I used green it would be easier to recognize my sticks at the school if they got mixed up! Why wrapped? Mr. Conklin told me it would help keep the rattan sticks from splintering during moderate to heavy use against a partner's sticks.

Not pictured are a set of new sticks, roughly 28" long and 7/8" in diameter, also from Kombat Instruments Limited. I sent these to my Kung Fu school near Boston. When I fly I don't check baggage, and I don't want to explain why I'm trying to carry rattan sticks onto a commercial flight! I figured I would try slightly longer versions of my favorite sticks and see how they work out when I next visit the Boston area. When I'm not there, they're available for anyone to use.

When you visit KIL you will see many other stick options, ranging from 24" to 31" long, and 5/8" to 1 1/4" diameter. I will probably get 24" and 31" sticks at some point, just to see what it is like to train with them. I will most likely stay with the 7/8" diameter, which seems comfortable for the size of my hands. I can't imagine what it would be like to hold and swing a 1 1/4" diameter rattan stick! I'm 5'9", and 155 lbs. If you're larger, you might want larger sticks, and vice-versa if you have a smaller frame.

You might be wondering about the swords in the picture above. Those are Chinese training double broad swords, a gift from my Kung Fu instructor, Sifu Michael Macaris. They are much heavier than my sticks. However, I can use them the same way as their rattan cousins. In fact, some FMA systems teach students to consider sticks to be substitutes for bladed weapons. Therefore, you can imagine "cutting" rather than applying blunt force. One of the cool aspects of FMA is that practically all of the weapon techniques have empty hand applications, or single stick versions, or knife versions, and so on.

Do you practice FMA? What sorts of sticks do you prefer?

Disclaimer: I simply like KIL gear -- I'm not getting compensated for referrals.