Sometimes I think that we have some of the world’s greatest young martial artists right here in the Timonium/Towson/Cockeysville/Hunt Valley/Sparks/Baltimore metropolitan area. Mr. Archer and Mr. Azzie helped to confirm my suspicions last Saturday when they put on one of the most exciting Black Belt tests I have ever seen.
The techniques, sparring, and board breaking were all phenomenal. Even more importantly, however, is how each of these young men really acts like a Black Belt. They are very modest about their skills, always willing to work with younger students, and helping them to improve their skills, while making them feel good about themselves.
I am looking forward to watching Ms. Eliet, Mr. Johnathan, and Mr. Glenn earn their Black Belts this month! Those tests will be held on March 14 (Ms. Eliet) and March 15 (Mr. Johnathan and Mr. Glenn). Come on out and support them while watching an amazing martial arts demonstration!
-Jonathan Tissue is the head instructor of Maryland Martial Arts in Timonium. A 2005 graduate of Towson University in Towson, he holds Black Belts (or the equivalent ranking) in the arts of Taijutsu, Kung Fu, San Shou, a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and a green belt in Ninjutsu. He has taught martial arts in the Timonium/Towson/Cockeysville/Hunt Valley/Sparks/Baltimore metropolitan area for over 10 years.
Choosing a martial arts school can be daunting, but the good news is that there is a plethora of information available on the internet. Most of the martial arts schools that I’ve seen, at least in the Baltimore / Towson / Timonium / Cockeysville / Hunt Valley / Sparks / etc. areas, seem to include some sort of “selecting a school guide” on their websites. These include a lot of great information that is sure to be helpful to you. However, I want to share with you two new criterion you should use in you decision making process, that may seem rather unconventional.
1. Is the instructor still learning?
In my opinion, this question is even more important than the question “How much does the instructor know?” If the instructor is very knowledgeable, that’s great, but it can be nearly impossible to precisely quantify how much knowledge the instructor actually possesses.
If the instructor is constantly striving to expand his/her knowledge, by continued training and studying (in other words, they are still a student), then it hardly even matters how much they know right now, because they are learning and growing all the time. Each day they will have something new and exciting to share with the students.
Such an instructor is likely to be passionate about all aspects of the martial arts, and give his or her best when working with you. Since the instructor is still a student, he or she will have a helpful perspective and insight into your experience as a student, and can help you manage common pitfalls and challenges along the way.
Finally, I believe that instructors should always strive to continue learning because the martial arts are constantly evolving. New material, and new ways of teaching old material, are constantly being developed.
2. The other students in the class
The other students in the class might be even more important than the instructor, with regard to your progress. You and the other students will be interdependent upon each other for your growth and learning. If the other students are focused, hard working, and dedicated to their training, it is very likely that you will be able to make tremendous progress. The instructor can provide direction and knowledge, but only students, working together, can execute that knowledge and put it to use.
Last week, logging onto the computer, I saw a headline for a baseball story. Curious, I clicked on the
link. I don’t want to go into too much detail without the express written consent of Major League
Baseball, but the story can easily be found by doing a search for “Cincinnati Bat Boy.” Basically the bat
boy asked a player to hit a home run for him, which the player did. After the game the players were
crediting the bat boy for their win, calling him “good luck,” and stating how great it is to have someone
with his enthusiasm and positive demeanor in the dugout. It was an incredibly powerful story, and
I’ve talked about little else since seeing the video last week. Yesterday my wife finally said to me, “You
know, if you love this story so much, you should find a way to make it the topic of a mat chat.” At first I
laughed, but I think I have figured out a way to relate this story to performance in the martial arts, and
life in general.
The players called this bat boy good luck, because whenever he is their bat boy they play extremely well.
Now, this young man may indeed bring the team good luck, but I have another possible explanation as
to why the team seems to play so well when he is around. You see, the players remarked that this bat
boy brings an amazing energy and excitement to the team, as was evident in the video. He has a great
time, and anyone around him cannot help but have a great time as well.
Professional sports can seem like the most serious things in the world sometimes. Players’ and coaches’
livelihoods depend upon wins and losses, and we routinely see fighting between players and even fans.
Yet, the team in the story seems to be at their best when they are having fun, laughing, and joking
around. I believe that we do our best work when we are enjoying ourselves. Rather than worrying so
much about whether we are making progress, or how many points we are scoring, we can just go out
there and have a great time, and then we WILL succeed.
One form of bullying that our students frequently report encountering is cyber-bullying. I hope that the concept in this article will help readers to deal with all kinds of bullying, but I think it is especially relevant when discussing with cyber-bullying.
Sadly, bullying occurs in many different places, so it is no surprise that it occurs online. There is, however, one major difference: it is generally much easier for one person to bully another over the internet, and the bullying is often much more malicious. Think about it. How much easier is it to type an offensive remark and click send than to actually yell an offensive mark to an actual living, breathing person? I think that for most of us, if (heaven forbid) we felt inclined to insult another person, the former would be much easier.
I once read an article that put this situation in perspective very well. The article basically said that (sadly) the internet can often bring out the worst in people, and for a lot of people one of the primary functions of the internet is to vent and be nasty towards others. The article went on to say that getting upset by such nastiness is akin to walking into a public bathroom, seeing some offensive graffiti on the wall, and taking it personally. If I walk into a bathroom and see that someone has written “To heck with you!” I’m not going to stop and say, “To heck with ME? Why I oughta-“
But isn't that essentially what I am doing if I get upset over something someone has said to me over the internet, or in any bullying situation for that matter? As we discussed last week, bullying is generally not the fault of the person being bullied. The person doing the bullying is just looking to be nasty, and I just happen to be the one standing there.
I’m not saying that cyber bullying is OK, and that we should just accept it. I also don’t want to suggest that bullying isn’t painful for the victim; it is. However, “the bathroom wall graffiti” analogy has really helped me to take things less personally. Things may still get under my skin, but not nearly as much as in the past. When someone is mean to us we can always chalk it up to “Well, maybe they are having a bad day,” or many other possible reasons, but the answer is never, “They are bullying me because there is something wrong with me.”
Last week we began our workshop on bullying by examining one of the first rules to remember when dealing with bullying: when a person is being bullied, it is not that person’s (the victim’s) fault. Of course, if I bully someone, and they bully me back, than I may have brought that bullying on myself, but our students wouldn't bully another person, and I strongly believe that no one deserves to be bullied. There are many reasons why one person may bully another: the person doing the bullying may be having a bad day, going through a rough time, being bullied themselves, they may be jealous of the victim, they may bully as many people as they can, etc.
The point is, that while bullying can be very painful, we hope that to make it less painful by helping students to understand that it doesn't mean that something is wrong with them (if they are being bullied). I feel like this is a message that people need to hear a great deal before they fully believe and internalize it.
Another rule that we have been discussing is that we should always report bullying when we see it, whether we are the victims or observers. Reporting bullying to adults is not tattling; it is our duty. This is another message that we will constantly be repeating to help the students fully grasp the concept.
One of our students proposed the idea of telling a person who is bullying, “I don’t want you to get into trouble, but if you continue I will have to report this. Let’s talk about something else.”
Rather than threatening the person doing the bullying, this student came off sounding like a friend to that person, looking out for them. I thought it was a very clever approach.
We will be discussing more ideas and strategies for dealing with bullying over the next several weeks!
This blog is all about accepting ourselves and others for who we are. It seems like everywhere we look there are advertisements telling us we NEED something, as if something is wrong with us if we don’t wear the right clothes or listen to the right music. I’m certainly guilty of this as a martial arts instructor. For a long time I thought it was my job to help shy children become more extroverted, to help make loud kids be quiet, etc. in other words, to change people.
These days I’ve adopted a new approach. Our martial arts program is not about changing who a person is; it is about working with who they are.
In my early days, as I mentioned, I thought the goal was to change people. Of course the martial arts should help a person learn and grow to lead happy, fulfilling lives. However, there are many aspects of our personalities that I believe are difficult, if not impossible to change. My earlier attempts to change people, and myself, showed a lack of appreciation and understanding for the different things that can contribute to who we are: genetics, early childhood experiences, etc. It also ignores the fact that behaviors that may seem undesirable can actually represent an underlying trait that can be a blessing if guided properly.
Think of each one of us as a sailboat. The wind is all of the things that contribute to who we are fundamentally. It is out of our control. We can use the rudder to steer the boat, but if we try to paddle in the opposite direction, we will be fighting the wind, and we are unlikely to make much progress.
Children who we consider to be shy are often times very thoughtful, capable of making a few very close friends. Those who seem “negative,” can also be very successful, as they may be very realistic, wisely cautious, and detect problems earlier on. I might coach such a person to start each day by listing all of the things they are thankful for, but I would not try to change them, as there is nothing wrong with them.
Early on in my teaching career, while I may never have come out and told a student, “Stop being so shy/hyper/negative/etc!” I believe they detected the underlying message: That something was wrong with them and needed to be fixed. I did the same thing to myself. I would beat myself up wondering, “Why can’t I be more outgoing? Why am I this way?” Now, when observing behaviors in myself and others, I ask myself, “How is this a good thing?” and even if the behavior is undesirable, I can ask myself, “Does this represent an underlying trait that is actually positive?” Some behaviors, such as lying, may be regarded as immoral and undesirable, but perhaps a child who is having trouble telling the truth can find a positive outlet to their creativity, such as art or writing, while at the same time learning the importance of honesty.
I think of it as helping or guiding children, rather than changing them; respecting them as individuals. I would like to leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Thanks for reading.
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!
Please note: When I wrote this article about a week ago, I used the word bully to refer to someone who tries to make others feel bad. I have recently tried to stop labeling such people as “bullies,” for a few reasons:
1.) The person can turn around and start treating others better
2.) No one is perfect
3.) (to go along with point 1) I don’t believe a person is branded a bully for life
4.) I feel that calling someone a bully ignores that they are, in fact, a human being, and often in need of a friend.
For clarity I have left the article as I originally wrote it, but please understand that the term “bully” is used loosely here. Happy reading!
Let me start by saying that I used to think that a lot of the recent attention given to bullying was unwarranted. It seems like bullying is all we hear about nowadays, and it has always existed. Nearly all of us have experienced it, and it seemed to me like it should just be accepted as part of life. One day, however, I came across a heartbreaking article on the internet. The article told the story of a 12-year old who was tormented so badly by bullies at school, that in the end he took his own life. What is even more saddening was that at the end of said article were several links to similar stories of bullying with catastrophic results.
I realize now the gravity of these situations. After spending a lot of time thinking and reading about bullying, and talking with students who have been bullied, I’ve asked myself 2 questions:
1.) What is the best way for people to deal with bullying?
2.) How can we best help them to handle bullying if it happens to them?
Perhaps we should also start by listing some goals for dealing with bullying. Unfortunately, I do not believe that we can do a whole lot to prevent our students from being bullied, as we cannot be with them at all times. We can, however, help them to deal with bullying, and to prevent it from damaging their self-esteem. We do not want our students to fight bullying by becoming bullies themselves.
I have thought about this a great deal, and there are few main strategies/points that I feel really help people deal with bullying. This week I want to share one of my favorites: Role-playing.
I believe role-playing is extremely valuable, especially when dealing with the not-so-subtle forms of bullying such as name calling or teasing. The coach (usually a teacher or parent) can play the role of bully, saying things that a bully might say to the child, and together they work on developing an appropriate response.
One thing that we do not do is have the children play the part of the bullies. I have thought about this a great deal, and while I am not sure that it would be harmful to have them play the bullies, I suspect that it could be, for a variety of reasons.
While there are many possible answers, I generally like to respond with some sort of Dangerfield-esque joke, where I am essentially agreeing with the bully but trying to make a joke out of it. For example, if the bully says, “You’re an idiot!” I might respond with, “What are you kidding? I know I’m an idiot, the other day my teacher told me reading was like feeding your mind…so this morning I tried to eat The Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” OK so that wasn’t that good, but that is the point. We role-play these situations, discuss what happened, and work towards a response that we are happy with.
Another strategy, which may be appropriate in certain situations, might be to disarm the bully with kindness. For example, if the bully says, “He you, that backpack is hideous!” We might respond with, “Really? I like your backpack, it’s neat.”
The goal with these strategies (making a joke/complimenting the bully) is to respond in a way that does not exacerbate the situation, and allows both parties to walk away with their dignity intact.
Over the next several weeks, we will be exploring more strategies for dealing with bullying, since, as we always say, no one strategy works all the time. OSSSS!
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.
When Sempai Greg asked me to consider writing a guest blog I immediately said “Yes.” Not only was it
a complement to me, I saw it as a “duty” because my teacher had asked me to do something. I guess
that’s just the Navy Chief in me…always do what is asked of you to the best of your ability. In the Navy,
we had “Core Values” which we strived to live by…”Honor, Courage, and Commitment.” I tried to live by
them every day and to teach them to those that were junior to me. You see, as a Chief, I was responsible
to train, motivate, and care for those of lower rank than me. I see a similar pattern in martial arts and
especially at our dojo.
Anyone entering the dojo can’t help but see the Maryland Martial Arts sign which in essence
incorporates our “Core Values”…”Focus, Discipline, and Respect.” Sempai Greg discussed them in his
recent blog as well. In our world today, maybe more than ever before, it’s important to know what
you’re about, and what those that are around you are about as well. As students at the dojo we become
a type of family. We have trusted leaders who teach and mentor us, and who truly care about what
is best for us. We also have a fabulous student fellowship who also cares about one-another and who
supports each other as we train, progress, and grow.
Focus, discipline, and respect are so much more than words. They are a code to live by that improves
the lives of individuals and the group as a whole. By focusing on these values, we grow into the type
of person that we would like to be. We learn to set goals, we live up to the high standards that are set
by ourselves, our parents or partners, and by our trusted instructors. We also learn that “With privilege
comes responsibility.” Advancing in our belts is a privilege, and we must be ready to accept not only
increased status or prestige, we must also maintain a posture of modesty and humility. Our dojo honors
the respect of all towards one-another. With the PRIVILEGE of advancing to a new belt rank, comes the
RESPONSIBILITY to help others learn and grow as well. As we grow in our own skills and confidence,
we must pass on our knowledge to those of lower rank. The concept is one of unity, of caring for each
other, and for the group as a whole.
Accepting and embracing our core values gives us a code to live by. We learn that our privilege and
responsibility span much farther than our friends, classmates, and our school. For example, having
the privilege to own a pet means having the responsibility to care for the pet. Having the privilege
of taking karate lessons means having the responsibility to work hard and try our best in every class
that we participate in. And much more than this, we begin to see that the concept of “privilege and
responsibility” expands far beyond our immediate lives. Having the privilege of living in the freedom
of our country means having the responsibility to live the best lives that we can. We learn to care for
others less fortunate than ourselves, to have concern for our community, our nation, and our world. We
are martial artists, and we are so much more! When we take a moment to reflect on all that we are and
that we have, we see that we are privileged people and thus, we have much responsibility for ourselves,
our family, our community, and our world!