Saturday, June 25, 2016

Five Tips to Maximize Private Training

Have you considered learning martial arts through private training?

Prior to this week, my experience was limited to traditional group settings. Once or twice I can recall being the only student in a given group session, so I did benefit from one-on-one instruction. This week, however, I decided to I wanted to try private classes.

Twenty years ago I stopped learning a Chinese Kung Fu style when the Air Force sent me to intelligence training in San Angelo, Texas. I stayed in touch with my teacher, Sifu Michael Macaris (pictured above), but I didn't practice what I had learned during my two year assignment near his school. I switched to Tae Kwon Do and Modern Arnis, then later Ed Parker-style American Kenpo Karate. I wish I had kept practicing my Kung Fu forms, even though I enjoyed learning new styles.

Earlier this year I decided to get in touch with Sifu Macaris to see if he might be interested in offering private classes. My goal was to begin gradually re-learning the Chinese forms I had practice in the mid-1990's. Although I very much enjoy practicing Krav Maga, I felt that its self defense-orientation would be balanced by learning some self expression-oriented Chinese forms.

Sifu Macaris was happy to help and he asked one of his senior instructors, Sifu Steve Mulloy, to teach me.

Richard and Sifu Steve
I had a great experience training with Sifu Steve, and Sifu Macaris taught me as well. Based on these sessions I offer these five tips to maximize private training.

1. Choose instructors wisely. If you're going to take private classes, you must be comfortable with the instructor. In a group setting, the instructor or instructors divide their attention across multiple students. You might get 5-10% of their undivided attention, depending on class size. In a private session, there is nowhere to hide! If you don't sync with your instructor, it will be an unproductive session for both of you.

2. Be realistic about training times. I was not prepared to study for many hours per day, multiple days in a row. My work schedule wouldn't allow it, but more importantly my brain and body wouldn't allow it.  We decided to train for 90 minutes in the morning five days in a row. I added two 60 minute evening group classes, and two 15 minute solo pre-sessions, for a total of 10 hours of in-studio training over five days. When I had time during the day, following the studio workouts, I practiced on my own. This solo time was crucial for integrating what Sifu Steve was teaching me.

3. Record what you can. Sifu Steve allowed me to use my iPhone to record the exercises and forms he taught me. These recordings were incredibly helpful when I practiced on my own. I plan to continue using them as references going forward.

4. Activate other learning modes. Beyond physically performing the forms I was learning, and reviewing the recordings, I added other learning modes to my study. I captured the key points of the exercises in a notebook, and I tried some sitting visualization. I found that I really need to work on visualization, because if I can't visualize the exercises I will likely have trouble performing the forms physically.

5. Listen to your body. When planning the training, I had originally intended to attend two adult fitness classes (think cardio-kickboxing) in addition to the private sessions and two adult Kung Fu classes. When the time came for the first cardio class, I felt the impact of doing so many deep horse stances and other moves not found in Krav Maga. I ended up skipping the two cardio classes. I was worried that I would aggravate soreness in my back and hamstrings, making it difficult or impossible to perform the private sessions. The individual classes were the focus of my training, so I did not want to jeopardize those opportunities! Therefore, especially if you are an older practitioner like me, stay focused on your goals and listen to your body.

I thoroughly enjoyed my private training sessions and I intend to keep practicing what I learned!

Have you tried private sessions? What was your experience? Respond here or via my account.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

It's a Wrap! Three Reasons and Three Tips for Buying Hand Wraps

Do you wrap your hands when practicing martial arts? If you don't now, but want to, what wraps should you buy? In this post I will offer three reasons for hand wrapping, plus three tips for buying hand wraps. I will also suggest a set of wraps I recently bought, and hopefully save you some research time.

I wear hand wraps to for several reasons.

1. Protect Your Wrists. When worn properly, they help provide better wrist alignment. This means you are less likely to strike a bag or focus mitt with a bent wrist, which could result in injuring the wrist.

2. Sweat. Wraps absorb sweat. When sharing focus mitts during training, this is of benefit to you and your training partners, and keeps the gear a little less damp.

3. Sizing. I have found most boxing gear, when properly selected, is sized for hands that are wearing wraps.

If you agree that wraps are a good idea, what should you buy? Look for these three features.

1. "Mexican" Wraps. I recommend so-called "Mexican" wraps. When I first heard this term, I trained in Texas. I believe the term "Mexican" simply refers to longer wraps, in the 180 inch range. I like wearing wraps this long because they give you more options for wrapping, and they can provide more wrist support. The Wallsa wraps below are 180 inch wraps.

2. Secure Velcro Straps. Buy wraps with a secure velcro strap. My oldest pair of wraps feature a 3/4 inch wide, several-inch-long velco strap. They work, but not as well as these new Wallsa wraps. See the next photo for the strap detail. The velcro here is immense and will keep the wraps in place.

3. Secure thumb hooks. Select wraps with secure thumb hooks. These go around your thumb when first wrapping your hands. My oldest set of wraps look like the thumb hook is about to fall off, because it's a thin piece of cloth. These Wallsa wraps appear much more durable.

By now you can see that I've recommended the Wallsa wraps. They are sold in a pack of three at  I wore them last night during an intense sparring class and they worked very well.

If you need guidance on how to wrap your wrists, I thought this video was useful. It turns out there is a mix of good and bad advice on hand wrapping posted on YouTube, but I thought this specific video gave useful guidance.

What suggestions can you provide on wraps or hand wrapping?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Five More Criteria for Choosing a Martial Arts School

Bejtlich w/Curtis Abernathy (left) and Ed Parker Jr (right), 2001
Need more than five criteria for choosing a martial arts school?

As I continued looking at Tae Kwon Do programs for one of my daughters, I realized my original post needed a second part.

Therefore, here I feature criteria six through ten for choosing a martial arts school.

6. Curriculum. What does the school teach? When I first stepped into my Krav Maga school, I noticed a series of flyers sitting on a place to stow shows and clothing. The flyers listed the requirements for passing the Krav Maga Global ranks of P1 through G1. I could see what was expected of a student and what I could expect to learn at each stage.

7. Class Composition. Does the student mix, for the classes you wish to attend, match your expectations? Some students, or parents of students, may not care about this element. For example, they may not mind that six-year-olds are training with sixteen-year-olds, or twenty-six-year-olds. In my case, I wanted my daughter to at least train with kids of similar age, and ideally, of similar skill level.

8. Class Management. How does the instructor, or how do the instructors, manage the class? What is the instructor-to-student ratio? In many schools I visited, one instructor managed each class. In one school, I saw four instructors divide the class evenly among themselves. On a related note, how is the class run? One school I visited contained many drills involving the sole instructor holding pads while the students individually kicked them. This approach left the rest of the class waiting in line for their turn. This seemed boring to me and most of the students. Also, does the noise level match the student's temperament? My daughter in particular doesn't want to train in a school that features blaring music. I was surprised to encounter this at two schools.

9. Facility. Does the facility match your expectations? Bigger schools do not necessarily mean better results or a superior training environment. However, a school that is essentially an empty rectangular room, with hardly any training equipment, may be lacking compared to a facility with more space and plenty of training equipment. The school I mentioned in item 8, where the single instructor held pads for each student, may have found itself conducting that sort of drill because it didn't offer much in the way of training equipment.

10. Schedule and Location. Does the school provide classes when you can attend, and is it close enough to not be an undue burden when visiting it? Location is probably the number one criteria for casual martial arts students. However, I am much more interested in a quality school over a nearby school. My Krav Maga commute is 35-40 minutes one-way, but it's worth it to me to get training that exceeds my expectations. However, that's at about the limit for a school I visit at least three times per week. Finally, if you find a great school, but the class times just don't match your availability, you won't be able to train there, or bring your kids there.

I still plan to report back with news on my daughter's experience.

What criteria do you use to choose a school?