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.
Our students and parents do us a huge honor each week by making our martial arts classes a part of their busy schedules. We are very grateful to get to work with such an amazing group of people. You clearly believe that the martial arts can have a profound impact on one’s life and growth. We agree, and we take this responsibility very seriously.
Here is a list of tenets that will guide our school and instructors through 2014 and beyond:
1. Our instructors must always be learning
We will constantly strive to learn new material, and to learn improved ways of teaching old material. We must consistently train with OUR instructors to ensure that we are bringing the best martial arts that we can to Timonium, Towson, Cockeysville, etc. Each class will be better than the last, because each day our instructors know more than they did the day before.
2. New equipment
You may have already noticed some of the new equipment around the dojo (padded training tools, grappling buddies, new bags, etc.), but that is merely the tip of the iceberg, my friends. We will always provide our students with the most effective, innovative, and safest equipment available. This will further revolutionize our training and help our students to have fun, while staying safe.
3. Keep class sizes manageable
Class quality will always be more important to us than size. A nice sized class is a lot of fun due to the energy and excitement levels, but we do not want our students packed in like sardines. Some of the earlier classes were getting to be quite crammed, and adding a new youth class on Fridays seems to have helped spread things out a great deal. We've also added a new Teen class on Tuesdays. Additionally, several of our talented teen students are approaching the rank of Black Belt, and look to be making fine instructors. We plan on bringing more instructors onto our staff in the near future, which will further help to maintain a low student-teacher ratio. Each student deserves the individual attention that will take him or her to the next level!
In summary, you can always expect each class to be better than the last, because our class is fully committed to Kaizen (a term I first heard when attending Towson University), or “constant and never-ending improvement!”
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.
Ah, spring is the air again (that should be pronounced uh-GANE)! What a wonderful time of year!
Many of our students have told me that they are participating in other extracurricular team activities/
sports, and I think it’s wonderful that our students are so active. In an effort to help our students with
these activities, I’ve been doing some research. One great thing about the internet is we have access
to priceless information that was hitherto known only to a few. I’ve been reading several great articles
about coaching and working with children, and I think some of the things I’ve learned might be of
interest to our parents. Even if the child is not involved in team sports, these ideas apply to almost any
activity, including the martial arts, and child development in general.
OK, first off, let me admit that my research really got rolling while I was watching the NCAA basketball
finals. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if one day my future child grows up to be a collegiate or even
a professional athlete?” With less than altruistic intentions, I quickly set out to read everything I could
on developing young athletes. The first thing I learned was that my original plan (to have them dribbling
a basketball as soon as they could walk) would have been going about this the wrong way completely.
Children, and people in general, will excel in activities that THEY are passionate about, so if we want
them to reach their full potential we should let them choose their sports/instruments/activities/etc.
Secondly, children do not have to specialize in one activity to be successful. I used to think, “Instead
of having Johnny Jr. play soccer, basketball, and lacrosse, I’ll put him in basketball year round. He’ll be
thrice as good!” There are many problems with this line of thinking but here’s one of the main ones
(I know this is true in basketball but I would wager it is true of most physical activities): As the child’s
body grows, the technique they will use to shoot a basketball will change dramatically, so it doesn’t
matter much whether they can shoot the ball until a certain age. What is important is that the child is
increasing their coordination, speed, agility, strength, ability to concentrate, ability to work with others,
and, oh yeah, having FUN!
On a similar note, I remember once, after being cut from a Little League travel team, my dad said to me:
“Who cares how good you are now, you want to be good when you get older, like in high school!” Now,
I ended up getting cut from the team in high school as well, but that’s not the point. I think my dad
made an excellent point here, and one that we as coaches and parents should consider. At what point
in their lives do we want our children to reach their full potential? Is my goal to make my child the little
league, dance, karate, or curling star, by age 10, and burning them out from all the pressure by the time
they are 12?
We all know that youth activities can get very competitive. The ability to outperform others may seem
very important at the moment. Players, students, instructors and coaches may rely on strategies (that
will not work as the children get older) for the sake of winning. Which is more important: winning, or
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.”
I love martial arts books and videos. They are a lot of fun to read and watch, and are readily available in book stores and on the internet. Some martial artists say things like, “You can’t learn martial arts from books,” or “Videos are no substitute for an actual school,” and I would generally agree. However, I believe that these statements are referring to cases in which the books or videos are the ONLY methods of learning being used. By themselves, books and videos are practically useless. When the viewer or reader has access to an actual dojo or training area, with dedicated training partners, the books and videos become invaluable SUPPLEMENTARY training tools.
Besides learning new techniques, I find that reading books or watching videos at home makes me more excited to get back on the mats; it helps to cultivate a real passion for the arts.
On that note, I am excited to announce a new feature to our members section of the website, the “Technique of the week.” Videos will be posted each week with useful tips to help our students keep learning even outside of the school!
For the next several classes, our focus will be on the concept of teamwork. Teamwork is always important in the martial arts, as one cannot become proficient in most techniques without a partner to practice with, but for the time being we are going to challenge our students to think deeply about this concept. I would like to use the word teamwork in a general sense, relating to any situation in which we interact with others. My goal for this topic is to help our students to learn to get along with others.
Working with and getting along with others can be very challenging, and I struggle with it myself. However, two people, if they can put the pieces together the right way, can generally accomplish more than either could alone.
Additionally, many times in life, we won’t have much of a choice; we will have to find a way to get along with others, even when that seems very difficult.
Yesterday one of our younger students pointed out that two people could lift a heavier object than either of them could individually. I thought this was a good image of what teamwork is all about. I am very excited to hear more ideas about teamwork from our students over the next several classes. I only have one point that I want to throw out there to get the ball rolling, although, as you will see, it will lead to a couple of sub-points.
Getting along with others is tough.
This might sound negative or cynical, but I think that accepting this reality is the first step to getting along with others. I believe that if two people interact for any significant amount of time, there will eventually be disagreements and maybe conflict. Oh sure, if the two people are good friends or really seem to “click” right away that might take a very long time, but eventually some discord will surface.
I believe that the Black Belt views such “friction” as a natural part of life, which occurs whenever two or more people interact, rather than as a personal attack. Rather than saying, “Jon is difficult,” the Black Belt might say, “Working with others is always challenging, but it is also worth the effort.” The Black Belt does not become flustered or get defensive when such challenges occur. They expected the challenges, and were therefore better prepared to overcome them.
Let’s say that Andrew and I are partners, and this wasn’t my week to shower. Andrew might complain about my lack of respect for others, and ask for a new partner. But eventually that new partner would also do something that he isn’t crazy about. Then he would ask for a new partner. In all seriousness, it's important to shower daily, but if Andrew is looking for a partner who is perfect, he is going to be looking for a long time.
Teamwork is much easier said than done, but I feel that with the right approach, a little bit of patience, and a whole lot of compassion, we can accomplish great things together.
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!
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.
Ahhh! Spring is here and there has never been a better time to be training in the martial arts! The energy levels in class have been sky high. Many of our students are participating in other sports and I know that the focus, flexibility, and strength they are developing in the martial arts is carrying over to those other activities. How do I know? I used to play baseball and basketball as a youngster, while working towards my Black Belt and I know that my martial arts training gave me a distinct advantage on the field or court.
That’s one of many wonderful things about the martial arts: they impact all areas of our life. Sure, a youngster can learn the value of teamwork and get great exercise playing lacrosse, but how is lacrosse going to help them if they get attacked? The student could get in serious trouble if they use their lacrosse stick on a potential attacker.
Youngsters who are involved in so many activities are really setting the foundations for success and a productive life. If you want something done, give it to a busy man, woman, boy, or girl.
The only real drawback I see to such a lifestyle is that the child isn’t getting enough TV watching or video game playing (just kidding!).
Therefore, to all of our students that are staying busy with other sports, traveling, etc. over the spring and summer, and are continuing their training, I salute you. We actually have more students training now than we did in the fall/winter, and that’s because they understand the value of the martial arts, and how they permeate all areas of our life.
The students that stay so busy with productive activities are still children of course, just as an axe is still an axe after it has been sharpened. It’s just sharper, more efficient, and productive.
After all, how many parents think, “I’m worried that my kid is going to accomplish too much!” or “My child hasn’t watched enough TV this summer!”?
Now, there is certainly such a thing as “too much of a good thing,” and burn out is something we all need to watch out for. However, with planning, organization, and a clear definition of my priorities, I was always able to stay on track to earn my next belt while still participating in other activities and enjoying my summer.
Speaking of which, get ready for some amazing classes this summer, as we take our students to even higher levels!
When doing a faceoff in lacrosse reaction times are 90% of it along with quick movements. When I used to do faceoffs two years ago, I would win around 65% of them and now after 1.5 years of martial arts I win every single one. Martial arts also helps with dodging and everything else. I attribute my improved performance to my martial arts training! ~Casey Nelan, MMA Student and Lacrosse player