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.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

All the World's a System

Does your martial arts school run using systems?

I was unfamiliar with this approach until I attended the Martial Arts SuperShow earlier this month. I participated in several excellent business-oriented seminars designed to help martial arts school owners and instructors improve the quality of their operation and offerings.

I took pages and pages of notes, and here I will begin converting them into coherent posts that I hope you will find valuable, either as a martial arts school owner, instructor, or student.

The term "systems" refers to methods of conducting business or offering services to prospects and clients. In my military and corporate lives I've heard the terms "playbooks" or "standard operating procedures" (SOPs) as synonyms. The idea is to define sets of actions that you purposefully implement in order to maximize your chances to accomplishing a desired and explicit goal.

For example, your school could establish systems for any or all of the following aspects of school operations:

  • Demonstrations
  • Booths
  • Phone contacts
  • Adult "birthday parties"
  • Child birthday parties
  • Buddy weeks
  • Enrollments
  • Private lessons
  • Evaluations
  • Coach's days
  • Community involvement
  • Breaking boards

For each of these events, the school executes a playbook, or system, designed to attract, retain, and/or otherwise improve the experience of the student and family, and/or improve the business prospects of the school.

Although it may not seem revolutionary to those familiar with business practices, I learned a lot from the seminars that introduced these concepts. In fact, I plan to elaborate on all twelve of the systems listed above in future posts! Stay tuned for more.

Are there other systems you know? What did you learn at the SuperShow?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

How Super Was the Martial Arts SuperShow?

Many of us have participated in tournaments, seminars, and workshops, but have you ever attended a martial arts business event? Earlier this month I attended my first Martial Arts SuperShow. I wanted to learn more about the business side of martial arts, and the SuperShow seemed to offer exactly what I wanted.

The SuperShow is the annual conference presented by a partnership of the Martial Arts Industry Association and Century Martial Arts. It combines business-themed seminars on attracting, retaining, and developing students and teachers, with physically-oriented training by well-known martial arts and combatives instructors.

What really sealed the deal for my attendance, however, was the prospect of two of non-business seminars. The head of Krav Maga Global (KMG), Eyal Yanilov, was scheduled to teach a three hour session on one day, and a separate one hour session on a second day. The chance to train personally with Mr. Yanilov was too good to pass up!

My plan for blog posts during the next few weeks is to share my SuperShow experience with you. I will write at least one post about training with Mr. Yanilov. I will also render my many pages of notes into a series of posts with tips for martial arts school owners and instructors.

Although I am not currently a school owner or instructor, I learned many aspects of the business that may be useful to those of you who do own schools or who teach martial arts.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed my SuperShow experience. I am interested in returning next year, but the need to coordinate my schedule prevents me from signing up too early.

Did you attend the SuperShow? What was your experience?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Martial Arts Present of Being Present

Martial arts provide a gift that many desire, yet can be difficult to find. The present is "presence," also called "being present."

A search for those terms yields many articles about presence. For example, the Huffington Post offers tags with links to dozens of articles on the subject.

They extol the virtues of being truly integrated with your immediate surroundings. In brief, it's possible to be happier and more productive if your mind is on the task and environment at hand, rather than elsewhere.

I experienced the gift of presence earlier this month at my Krav Maga school's "Friday Fight Night." (See my Februrary post Back to Sparring for thoughts on my first experience with this tradition.)

There is no opportunity for "being absent," the opposite of presence, when you are sparring. If you check out from the immediate environment to think about problems at work, or an upcoming vacation, or your favorite TV show, you are likely to be punched, kicked, or otherwise struck. Not being present has its costs, in immediate, physical terms!

I learned this lesson a few times during Fight Night. I wasn't even pondering the deep secrets of the universe. A few times I was thinking about what part of my sparring game I should try to improve. In those few seconds, or sometimes fractions of seconds, I found myself at a disadvantage to my opponent. Only when I checked back into the immediate here and now did I regain my position and improve my sparring experience.

The sparring duel is more than a person-to-person engagement. You also have to consider not walking backwards into a wall or piece of equipment. Furthermore, in our school we have everyone sparring at the same time. This means we might find another set of fighters crashing into "our space." All of this is relevant and useful, because the addition of extra variables reflects the world outside the school in a slightly more realistic way.

I don't mean to use a sparring mindset to focus your thoughts in non-martial situations. In other words, don't approach life as a fight requiring your utmost attention in order to survive or prevail.

Rather, I recommend recalling how it felt to focus and be acutely aware of the sparring environment, including your opponent. That ability to focus can help you listen, learn, and hopefully be a more engaged person when interacting with family, friends, coworkers, and others with whom you wish to connect.

You don't even need to spar in order to experience the value of presence. I've felt the same way when learning and practicing Chinese kung fu forms, and patterns and techniques for Filipino Martial Arts.

Have you found ways to be present through the martial arts?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Nothing But the Best for My Stuff

If you've heard anything about Krav Maga, you've probably heard about the need for groin protection. This Simpson's video, starting at the 45 second point, makes that requirement abundantly clear!

When I started training in Krav Maga six months ago, I realized I needed to upgrade my personal protection. I had relied on my old hockey cup and strap when practicing other martial arts. For Krav Maga I decided to do some research, buy some gear, test it live, and let you know my findings!

The first product I bought was the Shock Doctor Core Compression Short with Bio-Flex Cup. At the time of writing, the Web site shows this product for $29.99.

Using compression shorts was a new experience for me, but I quickly adjusted. This product relies on a pouch positioned inside the shorts to hold the cup in place.

While this system seemed to be an upgrade from the simple cup and strap I wore under my hockey equipment, I didn't stay with it. The cup was not comfortable and it did not stay where I needed it to stay.

Martial arts readers know that a cup that doesn't stay in place won't help you when you get kicked or punched while practicing or sparring!

I decided to I needed to try something different.

The next product I tried was the NuttyBuddy Cup / Compression Shorts Package. I found plenty of people online who raved about this product. At the time of writing it sells for $39.99.

The innovation here is the shape of the cup. As you can see in the photograph, the cup protrudes on the left and right sides, such that the cup positions itself against the wearer's pelvic bone (I believe). Situated in this way, it can absorb strikes to the groin by transmitting the force into the wearer's pelvis.

This was my go-to cup for months. I wore it training and sparring, upright and on the ground. After ground sessions I found bruising caused by the pressure of the cup protrusions. At the time I thought "this is the price for protection!" I thought I would stay with this cup for training, despite the fact that I found myself adjusting it several times per class.

Last month I was planning my equipment needs for a seminar in another state. I thought it might be a good idea to bring an extra set of compression shorts. I tried the Shock Doctor shorts with my Battle shorts, built for the Nutty Buddy. The Shock shorts didn't hold the Nutty Buddy properly, so I tried to purchase another set of shorts from Battle. They were out of stock and the company never replied to my customer service inquiry.

For the heck of it I decided to do some more research into protection equipment.

Somehow I came across glowing reviews for the Diamond MMA Compression Jock & Athletic Cup System, advertised as "THE LAST ATHLETIC CUP A MAN WILL EVER NEED TO BUY." Could it be true?

Dear readers, I am here to tell you that I am a believer. It currently sells for $89.95 online, which is double the Nutty Buddy. However, my experience with this product tells me that it is worth it.

I wore it to Krav Maga class several times, and I had the best protective experience yet. The cup stayed exactly where it needed to be, and I did not need to adjust it once.

The secret appears to be two-fold. First the cup itself is very large, and covers what it needs to cover. It sits in the most secure pouch of the three products. I liked the Diamond MMA compression shorts' velcro patch, which helped keep the cup in place.

Second, and more importantly, the compression shorts have a "4-strap jock system" built into the shorts. The photo at left shows the rear of the shorts. The two blue straps are part of the 4-strap system. These can feel sort of odd on one's behind, but after moving them where I wanted, I didn't notice them. Under my Krav Maga pants, I doubt anyone noticed either!

In the third picture of the Diamond MMA product, at left, I tried to show the inside of the compression shorts. You'll see two more blue straps. When you carefully place your legs through these straps, the magic happens. Essentially the 4-strap system keeps the Diamond cup in place. I was surprised just how well it worked.

While I have not done any ground work yet while wearing this cup, I did not have to adjust it after running, training, or sparring. I also felt like I could take a decent strike due to the position of the cup.

In brief, while you can save money by buying other products, I think it is worth it to buy nothing but the best to protect your stuff. I arrived at this conclusion on my own and did not receive any promotional compensation for writing this review.

I wish I had read a story like this before spending over $70 on the two earliest cups, so I am sharing my experience with you.

What is your experience with protective gear?