I don’t know anyone (including myself) who is totally immune to the “should I train today?” self argument. Training can be a physically and mentally draining experience, so our bodies and subconscious find all kinds of excuses to do something less strenuous. Among the classic cop-outs are:
“I had a tough day at work today.”
“I’m not feeling very good.”
“The kids/spouse/pet/house plants are being a real pain, I should pay attention to them.”
“Ohh my ______ is feeling weird and sore, I should rest it.”
“But American Idol is on tonight!”
Let’s be honest – we’ve all made these excuses. It happens. The trick is recognizing when we are setting up artificial barriers in order to allow ourselves to stay away from exertion without any sort of guilt.
A personal experience helped me put this into perspective a few years ago.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve hated flossing. Unfortunately, I also have soft teeth which are prone to cavities. This combination resulted in many unpleasant trips to the dentist. Every time I went I was reminded that I needed to floss more, but I knew better. Instead I doubled my brushing time, integrated mouthwash, and cut down on soda and high sugar juices…everything I could do except flossing.
My brilliant plan failed and I kept getting cavities. One day my dentist explained that the cavities were occurring in between my teeth because I wasn’t doing anything to clean those areas out. Being extremely frustrated with the situation, I decided it was finally time to bite the bullet and floss.
I knew if I just told myself to floss (in the same way people make New Years Resolutions) it was never gonna happen. So instead I went out and spent some money on these devices:
I left them out on my countertop and told myself that I would create a routine of flossing two times a week. My initial instinct was to shoot for every day but I knew I would abandon that venture quickly, so I set a more reasonable goal. When it came to this routine there was no negotiation. It didn’t matter what I had done that day or what I was doing that night, the flossing was going to happen.
Since then I’ve managed to maintain my system and occasionally increase it when I’m feeling motivated. You natural flossers out there might think this is all very quaint and silly, but for me it was real progress.
The trick to winning the training self argument is exactly the same – no negotiations.
Make it a Routine
There are certain things in our day-to-day lives that are simply routine: going to work, brushing our teeth, packing the kids lunches, etc etc. Training can be the same way. The key is to recognize when you are negotiating with yourself.
There are times when you have legitimate reasons not to practice. Things like serious injury, jury duty, Ebola, and getting caught by Cuban Militaristas are all valid excuses. But beyond that, most of the time we are just trying to convince ourselves we have an excuse.
Learn your own tendencies and recognize when you are trying to negotiate.
There are also active decisions you can make that will help establish martial arts as a resilient habit. The strongest of which is teaching.
Teaching – Full Instructor and Sempai
Teaching is a great way to establish a rhythm in your training. When you’re the teacher, there is no option – If you don’t show up there will be no class and you’ll likely get a raised eyebrow from the dojo head about your absence. Furthermore, you gain a sense of what students need to work on – so you already have a mental commitment for future classes.
In case you’re not at a rank yet where you can take a class by yourself, you have the option of exercising your status as a Sempai. Sempai means elder student to Kohai, or newer students. As a Sempai, it is your duty to set a good example for the Kohai of the dojo; but, should you be motivated, you can also take an interest in their development.
As you get to know younger students better, there may be instances where you can arrange little workouts before or after class to help them out. This can be as short as 15 minutes, but it is still a commitment made by you. This obligation makes your arrival in the dojo not just important to you, but also to the students you are assisting.
External and Internal Goals
Although I’m a big pusher of the internal benefits of martial arts training, external goals can be helpful when motivation starts to wane. Things like rank tests, tournaments, and other achievements can place a tangible deadline or horizon on your training which can help structure your day-to-day workouts.
Ranking and tournaments are a very slippery slope as they can easily become a sole source of motivation; but when kept in perspective, that drive can be the kind of pick-me-up you might need.
Pace Yourself – Consistently
When I started flossing I only did it two times a week because I knew being more gung-ho than that would lead me to long term failure. The same can be true of training. Don’t let yourself get burned out by over-training or commiting yourself too emotionally to an external goal. Pace yourself, set realistic goals, and don’t let yourself off the hook when you begin to negotiate your training for other tasks.
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This is a story. Once upon a time there was a karate student. The student trained hard and ultimately passed his Shodan black belt examination. Upon returning home from the dojo he threw a large party and invited all his friends, family, and neighbors.
Some years later the same student passed his Nidan black belt examination. Upon returning home from the dojo he hugged his family, called a few close friends, and had a drink in celebration.
Years after that the student passed his Sandan black belt examination. Upon leaving the dojo he quietly slipped his belt and certificates into his bag and walked home, making no effort to draw attention to himself.
Here’s another story. William Dometrich was the first non-asian student to study under the renowned karate expert Tsuyoshi Chitose of the Chito-Ryu. Dometrich Sensei flourished as a karateka and after his tour of military duty was over he returned to America as a Sandan. While Dometrich Sensei was trying to establish the first United States Chito-Ryu Karate Federation, Chitose Sensei sent him his Yondan rank, which Dometrich Sensei reluctantly accepted with great humility and gratitude.
After a few more years of teaching and building his federation, Dometrich Sensei received word from Chitose Sensei that he was to be promoted to Godan. A week later his certificates arrived in the mail. So aghast by this and overcome by his feelings of inadequacy for such a rank, Dometrich Sensei attempted to hide the certificates in his sock drawer. If it weren’t for the subtle unveiling of the rank by his wife Barbara a few months later, no one would have known about the promotion.
The Difference Between Sharing and Gloating
At one point or another we’ve all felt that rush of enthusiasm regarding martial arts. We want to talk people’s heads off, show them crazy new techniques, and discuss the intricacies of what makes our art so great. This is completely normal and is actually a good sign that martial arts are becoming a valued part of daily life.
As time goes by, this enthusiasm can transform into two different things – quiet determination or loud ego stroking.
In the first story above, the karateka initially wishes to share his success and hard work with everyone around him (which is only natural). As his training continues, he begins to learn about the core concepts that make martial arts what they are – humility, dignity, justice, courage. He starts to realize that flamboyant displays stand in stark contrast with these qualities. Furthermore, he becomes better acquainted with the higher ranking members of his school and federation, which in turn shows him how far he has to go. Ultimately, the black belt runs into the stark realization that he is not a master, and that if he wants to excel, he needs to quiet down and get to work.
On the other hand – martial arts rank and achievement can give practitioners a taste of success and power that feels so good they wish to reproduce it whenever possible. This kind of person finds excuses to talk about their success. They wear karate t-shirts, talk about fighting or ufc or some such, and quietly hope they can find a way to turn any conversation toward something they’ve accomplished.
Keep it Low Key For Self Defense Purposes
Martial arts arrogance isn’t just annoying – it can actually be dangerous! One of the primary goals of martial arts is to improve your ability to defend yourself, and part of that is the art of deception and posturing. Body language is a huge part of social interaction, and one of the key principles for self defense is not appearing like a victim. To do that, you have to exude a sense of confidence and self assuredness. But, if you go too far and start appearing arrogant and puffy chested, you’ll be just as certain to attract problems.
Troublemakers of the world are looking for two kinds of people – weaklings they can harass, and people they can hammer down because ‘they think they’re so great’. By being very conscious of your demeanor you can avoid both of these stigmas.
Keep it Low Key For Dignity Purposes
There is one thing I’ve come to learn – real martial artists can size each other up within minutes. Body language, movement, eye contact, demeanor, conversation topics…it’s all so subtle and yet so telling. Think of it this way – when you first started learning how to spar, you probably used big movements and techniques right? But, as you progress, you learn how to control center line and conserve motion, thus allowing you to counter attack with speed and fluidity. Character is the same way.
People who’s personalities seem to entail large strokes are like the white belt beginners and are generally mildly tolerated by martial artists who have learned better. The Japanese as a culture (and in the business realm) are famous for this kind of subtlety and it is just as important within martial arts. An expert martial artist will let you reveal your flaws to him, just as if you were over extending a punch.
Literally – Don’t Wear Martial Arts on Your Sleeve
Analysis and philosophy aside, you shouldn’t wear obnoxious martial arts attire because it can make you look stupid.
Seriously – this stuff is lame sauce. If you’re promoting something like Livestrong that has a purpose, then I understand. But no one cares about your MMA or black belt status. The best possible scenario here is if someone punches you in the face and says “why didn’t you block it mr. black belt?”
There is a Time and a Place
Blogging…teaching at the dojo…a dinner with fellow students…these are all healthy ways to get martial arts energies out. They are appropriate because you aren’t forcing yourself on anyone – it’s understood that martial arts will be discussed. Even still, in those situations we have to be careful how much we talk about ourselves and not the art itself. It’s a fine line. If you aren’t sure if you’re an offender, just take note of other people that clearly cross the line and make sure you aren’t doing the same thing. In the long run, you’ll find martial arts conversation much more meaningful when nothing is forced or based on bravado.
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The bo is one of the most used (and abused) weapons in Okinawan kobudo. It’s an immensely useful weapon with practicality both in the realm of martial arts training and real world self defense. But, when you come right down to it, the bo is just a stick. What’s to talk about?
A bo should be straight (relatively), hard, long…that’s pretty much all there is to say about this ancient device. But behind that essence of simplicity lays a whole culture built around the tiniest minutiae that makes this “stick” a deadly weapon. Today I’d like to talk about just one of the pieces of that puzzle: methods of holding.
What’s In a Name
First a quick note: the term “bo” is short for rokushaku bo (in most instances). Roku means six, and shaku is a unit of measurement somewhere around a foot. So rokushaku means ‘six foot’ bo. There are other lengths and variations including the shorter jo, but normally when you hear someone talking about bo it’s the six foot variety. Please don’t call it a bo staff. That’s some weird name we westerners came up with and it doesn’t really make sense. It’s like saying staff staff, but just switching languages. If you wanna hang with the cool kobudo kids, learn the long name.
The Two Main Methods
Ok, on to the main event. When it comes to holding the bo, there are two main methods. The first is what you see most frequently, and it entails holding the bo in thirds. Like this:
This style is strong because it allows for quick use of both sides of the weapon in rapid succession and rhythym. Unfortunately, using the bo in thirds suffers from a deficiency in length. While you happen to have a six foot weapon, you are only really expanding your reach by about two feet, if that. Also, the power of each strike is lessened by the lack momentum you could generate by swinging the weapon fully.
The next style of handling entails using the full length of the bo whenever possible. Like so:
This method capitalizes on the full reach of the weapon. It also benefits from a large momentum build as the force of the weapon expands with the arc of the swing. But, conversely, it is slower in rapid strikes than its counterpart and offers the opponent less confusion as to which end of the bo could be readily used before a hand change.
So, which way is better? Which way is the best?
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know I’m not going to give you a straight answer. So here we go:
Welcome Back to My Two Friends – Distancing and Timing
Although stylistically most systems focus on one method of holding over the other, they are both applicable depending on distancing, timing, and weapons involved.
Let’s take a look at how distancing plays its part:
Here we have two brave kobudo practitioners. On the left is an individual utilizing the full-length method, and on the right is thirds. When distancing is taken into consideration, the thirds approach is at a distinct disadvantage. Not only is the front wrist extremely vulnerable, but the blue fighter is also susceptible to very quick thrusting attacks (which puts him on the immediate defensive). As you can tell by the circles, the black fighter leaves none of his bo behind, while the blue fighter has a lot of wood still behind him.
When timing gets involved, the scenario can change. Say the blue fighter predicted the intentions of the black fighter (who wants to throw an overhead strike). The blue fighter proceeds to preempt the attack like so:
By cutting inside quickly, the blue fighter evades the long, dangerous end of the black fighter’s bo. Now that he is on the inside, he has two ends of his weapon ready and able to strike. Although those strikes might not be as devastating as the initial long overhead, they can do plenty of damage in a short amount of time.
Besides the two big issues of distancing and timing, another factor to consider is weaponry involved in the conflict. For self defense purposes, acquiring a stick of any length is helpful, but you can never be sure what your opponent will have. For example, historically, a bo practitioner would probably have to worry about swords. In that case, it would probably be wiser to use a full length grip so as to evade the brutal cutting edge of the blade. But if for some reason the kobudoka stumbles across someone using two shorter weapons, he might need the quickness of both ends of his staff.
In addition to unknown weapons is unpredictable environment. If a conflict is one-on-one outside in a field, then there needn’t be any concern for space. But if for some reason trouble starts indoors or in a crowd, one would need to consider those factors as well.
Variety is the Spice of Bo Work
Although we discussed the two main hand positions for bo, we didn’t take into account the different kamae, or postures, one can assume. Here are just a few examples:
What are the strengths of these positions? The weaknesses? Play around with them and I think you’ll find some great results (and enjoy the journey!)
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