We often hear that black belt isn’t an end goal, but instead a point where true learning can begin. We all generally accept this as sage wisdom even though it can be difficult to understand such an esoteric concept at first. After all, how can learning BEGIN at black belt?
Sometimes we rationalize the idea intellectually by observing highly skilled individuals and comparing our meager skills against them. But still we have a hard time grasping that we haven’t really learned anything after four or five years of diligent study. Only a few monk-like individuals are so devoid of ego that they truly believe they know nothing when going for shodan.
So how does one explain this mystery, especially to those students who are brimming with “self confidence” and don’t want to hear that their studies are only beginning?
Here’s an analogy that might help shed some light on the situation.
Consider spelunkers (individuals who explores caves). Spelunkers don’t just walk up to a cave and hop in…unless they’re idiots. Instead, they first carefully collect the proper tools for the job. They prepare themselves mentally and physically for the rigors of cave diving through hiking, rock climbing, and other gateway activities. They also find an experienced spelunker to tag along with and learn from.
It takes a lot of time, preparation, and experience for a cave adventurer to actually get into real caves and begin to appreciate their beauty and complexity. If they don’t take the proper time and precautions, their experiences can be baffling, unpleasant, and even dangerous.
Martial arts training is no different. Kyu ranking is a very colorful way to accumulate the proper tools for the job at hand (life protection). A punch is a tool, as is a kick, block, or self defense technique. Eventually, after the tools are assembled, the fledgling martial artist utilizes gateway activities (yakusoku kumite, blocking drills, etc) to orient themselves to the demands and rigors of the task. If they’re smart and lucky, they’ll find guidance from someone who has traversed a proper path ahead of them – a competent sensei.
Eventually, after a few years (let’s say four or five), that martial artist is ready to take some real steps into self expression, creativity, and effectiveness. Furthermore, the arts can then be used to slowly coagulate the body, mind, and spirit into a formidable whole.
Martial arts are deep and cavernous…so deep in fact that you can spend your whole life exploring them, appreciating their beauty, and never reach the bottom.
Black belt means you have the tools, but it takes patience and perseverance to finally reach the caves and dive down in without getting lost or worse.
(pictures: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/40/Kholki_cave_entrance1.jpg, http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_Mi7AIQ22soI/SQG1tflOj4I/AAAAAAAACl4/ZOZsye0fyX8/s400/gigantic_cave_room.jpg)
Read More / Comment
This is another story from the IKKF 2010 Annual Training.
One of the guest instructors at our training was a gentleman named Miguel Ibarra. Ibarra Sensei studies and teaches aikijujutsu and has a dojo based out of Bronx, New York. Ibarra Sensei has been a probation officer in The Bronx for decades (now retired) and has what you might call ‘real world experience’. Let’s put it this way, if your interest is in street effective and tested methods, Ibarra Sensei is your guy.
That being the case, I asked him what he thought was more valuable during his time on the New York streets, striking or grappling. His answer was essentially as follows:
For a police or probation officer, grappling is a much much more valuable tool. You have to remember – when a cop strikes someone, the immediate reaction of everyone around (including the suspect) is to cry abuse and try to sue. That is not to downplay the seriousness and reality of police brutality, but perpetrators who are struck tend to believe they are innocent victims.
The recent video of a Seattle Police Officer was of particular interest in the conversation, which you can view here:
This officer was in a dangerous situation, being grabbed at by two irate women and surrounded by individuals who were looming in a threatening manner. it was within the cop’s legal right to strike the woman who accosted him. Yet, as we can see, this video has become an internet hot topic and has sparked controversy. If the officer had been able to handle the situation without striking, there would be no news at all from this arrest.
Ibarra Sensei’s aikijujutsu (known for grappling and joint-locking) is swift, direct, and punishing. It has to be for his purposes. He explained that since law enforcement officers need to avoid striking whenever possible in order to prevent lawsuits and scandal, they need to have an excellent ability to use the force of physics and joint manipulation to gain compliance. He also noted the unreliability of pain compliance when dealing with an adrenaline pumped, drunk, or high assailant who would like nothing better than to stomp your face.
Interestingly, when the conversation shifted to civilian self defense, Ibarra Sensei had a much more accepting view of striking. The continuum of force for civilian-to-civilian is much more even than that of cop-to-civilian. Therefore, for a citizen, a threat of being struck can be responded to with a strike.
Unfortunately, if you defend yourself at all during violent situations, our litigious society might still come knocking at your door. That’s why it is good to actively de-escalate a situation and make sure bystanders see you trying (if you are lucky enough to get the chance).
Most experienced instructors I have encountered tend toward the mindset of “defend yourself first, worry about the legalities second”. If in the heat of the moment you can stay within the continuum, that’s optimal…but don’t get yourself killed trying to play nice.
Read More / Comment
The town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado is known for its outstanding natural hot springs. None are more famous than the Hot Spring Pool nestled in the town proper.
This immense swimming area is filled naturally with mineral water from beneath the Earth and is built like an Olympic swimming pool. One end features diving boards, swimming lanes, and water slides. The other provides a tranquil wading pool lined with natural rock benches.
My girlfriend Lauren and I realized that we couldn’t miss the chance to attend this hot spring, and were extremely excited at the prospect of a “night swim”. As we returned to town after a day of hiking, we decided to grab our suits and trek down.
As amazing as the scenery around the hot spring was during the day, the setting evening sun was even more stunning. As night fell, lights came on all over the facility and created a relaxing and soothing atmosphere.
Lauren and I settled onto a rock bench between an older couple and two young girls between the ages of 16-18. As the benches were long and public in nature, everyone simply shared the space together.
At first Lauren and I were occupied by the unusually hot water and the slight sulfur smell around us. It was a shock to the senses and warranted quite a bit of remarking. Eventually though we acclimated and began a quiet, restful dip.
As our conversation dwindled we couldn’t help but see and overhear what was going on right next to us. The two young girls were conversing with a slightly pudgy man of middle age. He was unassuming looking and quick with a smile.
The man chatted with the girls for awhile and asked questions about their trip to Glenwood.
What shocked us as we sat there was not that a middle age man would try to chat up young girls (that’s all too common), but the careless answers which the girls gave.
When asked if they had family in Glenwood one girl responded: “Ohh no I have some family back home. They actually don’t even know I’m out here. I basically do whatever I want.”
When asked if they were there with anyone they responded: “No it’s just us. We’re out traveling and having a good time.”
When asked if they had seen the whole town yet one girl responded: “Ohh no we’ll probably do some more exploring tonight and tomorrow.”
If you were to create a checklist of “things young girls should not do or say”, these two would have accomplished most of the items on that list. Whether or not the middle aged man was actually a predator, the girls gave him all the information he would have needed to know that they were alone, unaccounted for, and easily manipulated.
One would think that in today’s society of easily accessible news and increased awareness of rape and stalking cases that young women would be on high alert for this kind of behavior. However that assumption would be dead wrong.
With youth and adventure comes a sense of invincibility, and young girls (especially entitled and potentially sheltered ones) never get the dose of reality that it takes to actively avoid potentially risky situations.
As martial arts instructors it is not our role to give boy advice or dating tips, but it is our role to improve situational awareness and the ability to place oneself in a defensible position. This situation was a stark reminder to me of yet another way martial arts training can help young individuals who walk through the door. I hope those girls turn out ok, and I hope the young women at all of our dojos take a note here of what not to do!
Read More / Comment