Should you practice your techniques on both sides of your body?
I have heard instructors state that you should be able to do your moves well with both sides of the body, left and right. I have heard other instructors preach that it is beneficial to focus on making one side as skilled as possible with a certain technique, with less need for balance. There are strong arguments to be made for either viewpoint, and I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer. I recommend that students practice new moves on one side only, until they feel comfortable with the move, at which time they may start learning it on the other side.
While I do not have a definitive answer to the original question, I would like to explore certain reasons why either viewpoint has merit, and in which situations one might be more practical than the other.
Ideally, we would like to be able to do a move well on both sides of the body. Realistically, however, it is much easier to become proficient on one side of the body with most techniques, at least in the beginning. Generally, I would rather be very good at doing a technique on one side than mediocre on both sides.
However, with certain techniques and positions, such as escaping side control or sweeping my partner from half guard, I try to practice both sides equally. With these moves, I may be forced to do the move on either side of the body in sparring; I generally will not be able to choose.
So here are a few questions that might help us determine which strategy might work best in a particular situation:
1.) Do I understand the move well enough on one side to attempt learning it on the other side?
2.) How much time do I have to train? Do I have lots of time to learn both sides, or should I focus on one side only?
3.) Is this a move which I could be forced to do on either side of the body, or is it a move where I can generally choose the side, regardless of what my partner does, in a sparring situation?
Keep this in mind when practicing and you could see even greater progress!
Why is right now the best time to study martial arts?
There are many reasons why this is the best time to be a martial artist, or to begin training in the arts. One reason in particular really seems to stand out to me. In the past decade or two, the arts have really gone through a renaissance of sorts, taking them from an interesting form of exercise to a profound art of self-development.
I began training in the martial arts approximately 25 years ago. Since then, I have been very fortunate to study several different styles of martial arts with many great instructors. These instructors taught me wonderful things, and their teachings represented some of the best knowledge and material that was generally known at that time.
However, due to recent advances in training methods, techniques, and a deeper understanding of what actually works, I have made the majority of my progress in the last 4 years. I believe that the arts have come such a long way that one year of martial arts training now might be as valuable as 5 years of training would have been a few decades ago.
To understand why this might be, consider the recent surge in popularity of the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Here we have a sport that allows for a wide variety of techniques, with two fully resisting opponents. However we feel about such spectator sports, MMA has definitely opened our eyes to new ideas and training methods regarding self-defense.
There are some martial artists who were fortunate enough to be using these methods long before MMA became popular; for most of us, however, the growth of MMA represented an awakening that helped us identify gaps in our old training methods. Certainly, others will have had different experiences, but I feel that my own journey through the martial arts has been the norm over the past several years: a shift in training to place more emphasis on benefits to the student.
This should also come as no surprise if we consider all the advances being made in other fields. Professional athletes are able to enjoy longer and more productive careers thanks to a deeper understanding of the way the body works and improved training methods. However, the advances that have been made in the martial arts recently are, I believe, even more radical.
I have no doubt that right now is the greatest time to study the martial arts!
WOW! Our first ever in-school tournament yesterday was amazing! I hope that it was as fun to participate in as it was to watch. The effort levels we saw were nothing short of stupendous, and I think it is safe to say that everyone earned their trophy several times over.
First of all, the heat made things even more challenging, and I can only imagine how much hotter it must have seemed to the competitors, who were working so hard, often while wearing their sparring gear. Despite being packed in like sardines in the smoldering heat, I didn’t hear anyone complain (other than me), as the audience was very enthusiastic and the competitors were too focused on giving their all to worry about anything else.
We had a very large turnout, filling the dojo to its capacity, so competitors had to wait while others were competing. Again, there was no complaining, only cheers and support for their fellow students who were competing.
Our adult students began with their sparring, as there were only four of them, but they provided enough effort for 20 people. With very little rest in between rounds, these four champions got things going with some very exciting and skillful sparring.
Next our youngest competitors, our Little Ninja students (4-6 year olds), demonstrated their katas and training tools. Everyone was very impressed, as it was obvious that they had worked hard in preparation for this day, and they didn’t seem to be phased by the fact that so many eyes were on them. What confidence!
Our youth students (ages 6 and up) demonstrated their katas, training tools, and sparring skills next. The skill levels of these students made me, and all in attendance, very proud, as all of the hard work that these students have put in was plain to see. It was non-stop action for over an hour as student after student got up, and wowed the audience with their techniques, as well as their courage to perform in front of a large audience.
The final event of the afternoon was the advanced sparring. This sparring division was for Black Belts and any student that had earned the Sparring Patch. This event showcased our most experienced students and they did not disappoint.
Time and time again I saw one student gain the upper hand on another. However, just when I thought the match was over, the student on the bottom, sometimes through expert technique, sometimes through a near-superhuman effort (and usually some combination of the two), would find a way to use what energy they had left to escape or reverse the position. Bear in mind that this was at the end of the day. I was exhausted by the end of the tournament, and I wasn’t even competing! The fact that these champions were able to compete at such a high level in such challenging conditions amazes me!
If there was one thing that moved me as much as the efforts of the students, it was the support and compassion of the families in attendance, and the respect of the students for one another. All day I heard shouts of encouragement from all sides, for every student, and despite the heat everyone seemed happy to be there. It was an incredible atmosphere and made me realize how fortunate I am to be able to work with such a wonderful group of people.
As tiring as the event was, I didn’t even notice how tired I was until it was over. In fact, it wasn’t until I was on the way home late in the afternoon that I realized I hadn’t eaten lunch for the day, I was having too much fun to notice! I hope everyone had a great time, and we look forward to holding another tournament later this year!
You know, people ask me all the time, “Sensei Jon, what is your secret to success?” OK, so no one has ever asked me that, but I have had the great fortune of working with many individuals that seem to really excel at what they do, and I would like to share an observation with you. Every student is different; however, I’ve noticed some recurring trends among the students that become Black Belts, not just Black Belts in the martial arts, but “Black Belts in life.”
Black Belts (and future Black Belts) do not seem to be motivated solely by external rewards. It is easy for someone to say, “I want to be a Black Belt one day!” It is much harder to put in the hours of training and buckets of sweat that it takes to reach the Black Belt level. The students that experience the most success are excited to achieve the next rank, there’s no doubt about that, however they realize that excellence is a journey (not a destination). They enjoy training for the sake of training, and do the right thing even when no one is watching. This is how they are able to persevere and put in the countless hours of training required to reach Black Belt.
Now, some people may be more inclined to enjoy their training than others, and I feel that it is the instructors’ responsibility to try to make the classes as enjoyable and exciting as possible. However, as students, we can cultivate our own passion for the arts in many ways. First of all, we can focus on areas to which we feel naturally inclined. Maybe you love to practice your kata, or perhaps you are more at home in the sparring ring. Either way, that is fine. It is important to work on our weak areas, but many of the best martial artists are experts at only a few techniques (quality vs. quantity).
Figure out a training schedule that works for you. Set aside certain times each week for practice at home. Listen to your favorite music or political talk show while banging out your kicks. Start with 5 minutes a day. Once this becomes a habit, you will have laid the foundation for a very successful martial arts career.
Belts and stripes are wonderful things. However, it is only the hard work that goes into said awards that gives them any meaning.
To share a personal factoid, I have been a Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for two and a half years (it generally takes longer to achieve belts in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu than in other arts). My attendance at class has been fairly consistent over that time period. Sometimes I think one of the greatest things my instructor has done for me has been to keep me at Blue Belt for this long. It has taught me patience, humility, and to stay motivated by seeing progress in my skills, rather than external rewards. Additionally, when I do achieve my purple belt, it will be one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I have achieved Black Belts in several other styles of martial arts, but I have worked harder to earn my purple belt than any of those belts, and therefore it will be more meaningful.
Another point I’d like to add- it isn’t terribly important to me when I earn my purple belt. What is important is that I do earn it. A wise person once said, “Goals are dreams with deadlines,” and generally I think that is great advice, but in this case, I am enjoying the journey so much, that I’m happy to keep training hard, knowing that when I am ready, I will receive the next belt.
The other day in class I witnessed something that I would like to share with you. Two white belt (beginner) students were practicing a technique, designed to help a student escape when someone is on top of them. The student on the bottom was struggling, and giving their best effort, but didn’t seem to be able to make the technique work. This was one of those challenging times for me as an instructor, where I did not know what to say. Of course, I first looked for any technical errors in the execution of the move, but the student appeared to be setting everything up correctly. For some reason, it just wasn’t working. I gave the student a few general tips and words of encouragement, but she was still stuck in that position.
Anyone who has trained in jiu-jitsu knows how hard it is to be stuck in the mounted position. Oftentimes, this is due to the fact that if one’s training partner is skilled enough to achieve the mounted position, they are usually skilled enough to hold it very effectively. Therefore, I had a pretty good idea of what the student was feeling, but I didn’t know what else to do other than to think, “I feel your pain,” and tell them to keep practicing. However, at this point the student on top told the student on the bottom to make a minor adjustment, and voila! The technique worked.
There are a few points I’d like to make regarding this exchange.
1.) I was very impressed with the knowledge of the student (a white belt) to be able to tell the student on the bottom what they needed to do to make the technique work.
2.) I was equally impressed with his ability to explain it in a non-condescending manner. Both students felt better about themselves after the class, not worse.
3.) Sometimes when determining why a move isn’t working or what needs to be done differently, it helps to be the “uke,” or the partner that is actually having the move done to them.
This occurrence reminds me of why the martial arts are such a wonderful individual, as well as team activity. Few other experiences can help us to learn the value and ability of teamwork. In this class, both students were winners! I feel that these white belts already understand the true spirit of the martial arts as we study them.
On Friday we were extremely fortunate to have a guest instructor for our jiu-jitsu seminar, my instructor, Mr. Lee Synkowski. It was a lot of fun, with countless rounds of sparring, and everyone (including me) learned a lot that will help us to take our training to even higher levels.
At the seminar, I was reminded of the importance of maintaining a “beginner’s mindset.” I first began studying under Mr. Lee almost 4 years ago. At that time, I had already been training in different styles of martial arts for almost 15 years, but I had never had the opportunity to formally study Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. I knew that this was an art I had to study diligently to become a complete martial artist, as it places heavy emphasis on defending one’s self on the ground, an area in which I had little knowledge.
In my first class, it was clear that my prior experience meant little in a jiu-jitsu match. I was routinely taken down, swept, controlled, and otherwise dominated by students with as little as 1 year of experience in jiu-jitsu. I experienced a range of emotions at this time. One the one hand, it was very exciting to be learning this art that was clearly very effective and a lot of fun. On the other hand, I kept thinking to myself, “I already went through this process of being the new guy and getting beaten by everyone like 3 times (when I studied Ninjutsu, Kung Fu, and San Shou), it’s not fair that I should have to pay my dues again!” It was a frustrating and humbling experience.
Thankfully, I continued my training and started working my way through the ranks, attaining my Blue Belt over 2 years ago. I wish I could tell you that I was able to gracefully drop my ego and learn to be a beginner again, and certainly I was forced to swallow my pride somewhat, but I think that the main thing that got me through those first couple years of feeling like a fish out of water was the fact that the classes were just so much fun. As humbling as it was, I couldn’t wait to get back on the mats again.
I have been studying Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for about 4 years, about as long as it takes to get Black Belt in many styles, and am currently working towards my Purple Belt. However, I still train with Purple, Blue, and even some White Belts that give me serious trouble in sparring, and I am constantly reminded that there is always more to learn.
That’s the wonderful thing about martial arts; we can always get better through hard work, and because the techniques are based on leverage and positioning, our skills don’t have to decline once we reach a certain age; we are always learning, and growing.
This also helps instill a sense of modesty in the students. The students that make the most progress are the ones that enter each class ready to learn, not simply looking to show how much they already know. My goal for our students is for them to remember that any person that they meet knows more about them (the student) in some area(s).
Simply because we have more experience in the martial arts (or any other field) does not mean that we should not treat others with respect. Even if we have more experience than someone in the martial arts (or any other field) we should treat that person with respect. As a Blue Belt in Jiu-jitsu, I should try to treat the White Belts the way I would like for the Purple and Brown belts to treat me.
I am reminded of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Every man (or woman) I meet is in some way my superior, in that, I can learn from him (or her).”
I believe that maintaining this “Beginner’s Mindset,” is one of the keys to making progress and friends in our training. Take a look at our students and see if you agree.