The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Informality and Conservatism in Brazilian Jiujitsu Ranking

Below is an excerpt from an article by John Danaher on the ranking system of BJJ at Eastern Europe BJJ. The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

John Danaher is universally known one of the best kept secrets in Jiu-Jitsu. The New Zealand born, BJJ black belt under Renzo Gracie has been praised by the BJJ community as being a master and brain of the art. Danaher is a highly intelligent individual, who has a Master degree in philosophy, and is totally focused on the evolution and improvement of Jiu-Jitsu. He is also the submission coach of none other than former UFC Welterweight Champion George Saint Pierre. Danaher trains at Renzo Gracie’s Academy in New York where he also teaches Jiu jitsu.

He wrote a very interesting analysis on the belt system in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This quote is from Mr Danaher,written in Renzo and Roylers book

“Brazilian Jiu Jitsu,Theory and Technique”:

“Most martial arts have a system of belts or similar ranks by which a student may assess his level of development. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tracing its roots back to Maeda’s influence Shares the Japanese system of belts. The belt system begins with White belt and progresses through blue,purple,brown,black,and various degrees of black, up to ,red belt for those whose influence and fame takes them to the pinnacle of the art.Compared with other styles,there are a relatively low number of belt grades in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Most styles have different grades within a belt colour,so that one can be a third stage orange belt,for example.This plentitude of belts levels ensures that students have a sense of constantly moving forward,since they are often being given a new level.By way of contrast,the student of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu must often endure long years holding the same rank.Few make it even to purple belt,with black belt being truly elite status.

What distinguishes the Brazilian system from others is its extreme INFORMALITY.There is no precise,agreed upon set of rules that determines who is a blue belt,who is a purple belt,and so forth.Part of the reason for this is the complete lack of forms,or kata (pre-arranged,choreographed sets of movements containing the idealised movements of the style in question,typically a collection of kicks,punches,blocks,and the like performed solo),in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu system.Most Martial Arts put a lot of emphasis upon learning these katas,this is often taken to be indicative of progress.One might try to differentiate grades in terms of numbers of moves that a student knows. Such a method is clearly inadequate.

It is often pointed out that a purple belt knows almost as many moves as a black belt – he simply does not perform them as well, or combine them aswell, or at the correct time. Also, some fighters do very well with a small collection of moves that they can apply well in any situation – should they be ranked lower that another fighter who knows a lot of moves but applies none of them well? A more objective method is to test fighting skill. If one fighter always defeats another when they grapple, this might be taken as firm evidence that he deserves the higher rank. Yet it is not always so simple. What if he is far heavier and stronger and this is the only reason that he prevails in sparring sessions? What if he is technically inferior? You can see that there are no easy answers to the question of what criteria we can offer for a given belt ranking.

Rather, the extreme informality of the Brazilian style is a direct reflection of the fact that it is impossible to provide clear cut rules as to how people ought to be graded. The most we can do is to provide very general criteria. The individual decision must be left to an experienced instructor who will take a range of criteria into account. For example, the size and strength of the student, depth of technical knowledge, ability to apply it in sparring sessions and competition, how he compares with students of other ranks both inside and outside his school, his ability to teach and so on. In general Brazilian Jiu Jitsu takes a very CONSERVATIVE stance toward promotion. This is a direct reflection of the fact that it is primarily a fighting style. It makes no sense to promote someone to a high rank if they cannot fight well – after all, should a highly ranked fighter be defeated it is a bad reflection on the school. So then, the two principle features of the Brazilian ranking system are it’s INFORMALITY and it’s CONSERVATISM.


Monday, February 23, 2015

The Concept of Power in Martial Arts



The Concept of Power in Chinese Martial Arts

By Jonathan Bluestein

It is often justifiably said that to understand deeply the Chinese martial arts, one has to research to an extent the Chinese language as well. One of the least understood ideas in Chinese martial arts happens to be the use of Power, and that misunderstanding stems from differences of culture and language.

In English terminology, using power in the context of martial arts is pretty simple and straightforward. You may use power, more power, or perhaps ‘explosive power’. So there’s power, and there is ‘bigger power’, and also that ‘explosive power’, which is just ‘power moved at greater speed’… whatever that may mean. But for the Chinese, power is expressed in two different ways, with a clear distinction between them.
One type of Power, the simple type is called , and written like this:

That character is basically a drawing of an iron plough. So in effect, Li is that type of thing which plows strongly through the earth, pushing against much resistance.

Another type of Power is Jìn, and is written like that: 

Unlike Li, which is just this one drawing, Jin is made of four drawings put together. The one on the right side is the same as Lì . We therefore learn that Jìn is something that already contains Lì within it, but also features additional components.
The character on the left within Jìn , is Jīng
The character Jīng is made up of three drawings itself:
Yī – One, or ‘whole’.
Chuān – A river.
Gōng – Work, or something being in the works.
So quite literally, Jīng hints at: “something working-flowing beneath the whole”, and means either “an underground river” or “to pass through something”. Therefore:
Jìn 勁 = Jīng巠 + 力 =
A power that passes through
(And does so similarly to the power of an underground river)

But in reality, it is even more than that. Consider that the drawing for Gōng is actually a carpenter’s ruler, and that the concept of the character Gōng is used in China to symbolize that “some work was done here”. As in 功夫 Gōng Fū (Kung Fu) – skill acquired through continuous effort. So the inclusion of the component Gōng within the larger drawing of Jìn tells us that Jìn is more than just a ‘power that passes through’ – it is also a power that required some previous ‘work’ to make happen. This brings us to the real and full definition of Jìn in the Chinese martial arts:
A power that passes through and requires skill to manifest
Therefore, we end up with two types of power:
1.      , or ‘dumb power’, which is brute force. The type of power anyone can use. Lifting something off the floor. Putting a book on a shelf. Breaking a stick. Opening a jar. Pulling a rope. Tractor digging a hole. These are all Lì – a natural power.
2.      Jìn , or ‘skilled power’, which is a power that manifests a skill or technique that required lots of work to become proficient at. A well-honed power. Like an Olympic weightlifter doing his thing. 

A vault-jumper propelling himself to the air. A master issuing a punch from zero distance. A bullet leaving a rifle. These are all Jìn – a trained power.

Thus in the traditional Chinese martial arts we talk less of ‘power’, ‘more power’ and ‘explosive power’. What interested the people who carried on these traditions throughout the centuries were the actual qualities contained within the different powers, and what these qualities meant. Lì is ‘dumb’, and is therefore limited. But Jìn may express as a concept some very advances notions of transferring energy. Hence, the use of Jìn for martial purposes is called Fā Jìn 發勁. Often wrongly translated as ‘explosive power’, but actually meaning ‘to emit Jìn‘. This issuing outwards of Jìn from one’s body to another can then take many shapes and forms. It can be Cùn Jìn 寸勁 (Inch Power) – a very short and fast explosive power issued from close range. It may express outwards as Dǒu Jìn 抖勁 (Shaking Power) – a longer Jìn that contains tremors and affects the opponent differently. Another is Làngtou Jìn 头劲 (Wave Power) – a mechanism that uses a waving pattern of the body, especially the spine, to generate momentum for martial applications. There could even be countless combinations of all of the above, and many more. 

Imagine then how intricate and rich the traditional Chinese martial arts truly are, if mere two words as such, Lì and Jìn, can contain so much within them, and require a whole article to be understood. Think of this minor example and remember, that the traditional martial arts are beyond the technical – they are a complete cultural heritage, and ought to be understood in that fashion.

______________________________________________

The author of this article, Jonathan Bluestein, can be contacted directly at:  jonathan.bluestein@gmail.com . Shifu Bluestein is a practitioner and teacher of Xing Yi Quan, Pigua Zhang and Jook Lum Southern Mantis. These arts are taught by him at his academy in Israel, and also in seminars abroad. Shifu Bluestein is also a best-selling author on the martial arts. Be sure to check out his popular books:  Research of Martial Arts and The Martial Arts Teacher



You may also subscribe to shifu Bluestein's youtube channel, which is regularly update with rare and fascinating martial arts videos


All rights of this article are and the pictures within it are reserved to Jonathan Bluestein ©. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission, in writing, from Jonathan Bluestein. Jonathan may be contacted directly via email:  jonathan.bluestein@gmail.com

Friday, February 20, 2015

Tang Dynasty Poems, #55: Parting at a Wine Shop in Nanjing

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. 

Some of the best poems of that period have been collected into an anthology known as The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A online version of the anthology may be found here.


Li Bai
PARTING AT A WINE-SHOP IN NANJING


A wind, bringing willow-cotton, sweetens the shop,
And a girl from Wu, pouring wine, urges me to share it
With my comrades of the city who are here to see me off;
And as each of them drains his cup, I say to him in parting,
Oh, go and ask this river running to the east
If it can travel farther than a friend's love!


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Lenten Challenge Starts NOW!

Every year, I throw out the Lenten Challenge to my martial arts buddies. It has nothing to do with Christianity or religion (unless you want it to). We are simply using this time as a convenient reminder to rededicate ourselves to our training. It’s kind of hard to miss either Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent, which is also Paczki Day!) or Easter Sunday (Bunnies, candy, colored eggs; that stuff). Several of us have been doing this for years now.

The challenge is this: from Ash Wednesday (Today!) until the day before Easter (April 4), train every day, without fail, no excuses; even if you have to move mountains. Simple enough said, a little harder to do.

It's not as easy as it sounds; things come up. Some days, you might only be able to get a few minutes of training in; but the point is to do it everyday, no matter what.

It doesn't have to be martial arts training either. Whatever it is that you need to really rededicate yourself to: studying, practicing an instrument, walking, watching what you eat, immersing yourself in something new; anything - do it every day, without fail.

In the past on some forums, people have posted what they’ve done everyday. I think everyone who’s done that has become tired of writing, and the others get tired of reading it. How about you just post if you’ve had some breakthrough, or you’ve had to overcome some unusual circumstance to continue your training? Maybe just check in every once in a while to let everyone know you’re keeping at it, or to encourage everyone else to keep at it.

If you fail, no one will hate you. If you fall off of the wagon, climb back on board. Start anew.

For those of you who already train everyday anyway, by all means continue and be supportive of the rest of us. For the rest of us who intend to train everyday, but sometimes come up short due to life’s propensity for unraveling even the best laid plans, here is an opportunity to put a stake in the ground and show your resolution.

Won't you join me?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu Documentary from the 80's

Below is 14 minutes of a Japanese documentary on Daito Ryu Aikijujitsu, the ancestor of Aikido. It takes a few minutes to get past Japanese text and old photographs and get to some techniques being demonstrated.




Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Old Film of Jigoro Kano, Founder of Judo


Before getting to the meat of this post, I want to make readers aware of the upcoming Lenten Challenge.

Every year, I throw out the Lenten Challenge to my martial arts buddies. It has nothing to do with Christianity or religion (unless you want it to). We are simply using this time as a convenient reminder to rededicate ourselves to our training. It’s kind of hard to miss either Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent, which is also Paczki Day!) or Easter Sunday (Bunnies, candy, colored eggs; that stuff). Several of us have been doing this for years now.

The challenge is this: from Ash Wednesday (Feb 518 until the day before Easter (April 4), train every day, without fail, no excuses; even if you have to move mountains. Simple enough said, a little harder to do.

It's not as easy as it sounds; things come up. Some days, you might only be able to get a few minutes of training in; but the point is to do it everyday, no matter what.

It doesn't have to be martial arts training either. Whatever it is that you need to really rededicate yourself to: studying, practicing an instrument, walking, watching what you eat, immersing yourself in something new; anything - do it every day, without fail.

In the past on some forums, people have posted what they’ve done everyday. I think everyone who’s done that has become tired of writing, and the others get tired of reading it. How about you just post if you’ve had some breakthrough, or you’ve had to overcome some unusual circumstance to continue your training? Maybe just check in every once in a while to let everyone know you’re keeping at it, or to encourage everyone else to keep at it.

If you fail, no one will hate you. If you fall off of the wagon, climb back on board. Start anew.

For those of you who already train everyday anyway, by all means continue and be supportive of the rest of us. For the rest of us who intend to train everyday, but sometimes come up short due to life’s propensity for unraveling even the best laid plans, here is an opportunity to put a stake in the ground and show your resolution.

Won't you join me?

Here is vintage film of the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano.




Sunday, February 08, 2015

From 98 Lb Weakling to Black Belt

This article appeared at the Japan Subculture Research Center. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here. Kushida Sensei used to teach the Tokyo Riot Police in Japan.

From 98-Pound Weakling to Black Belt

Posted by on Friday, January 16, 2015

By Benjamin Boas

Mou ikkai! Do it again!

Punching someone properly is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It was not enough to simply drive my fist forward and connect with the target. No, when selected to play the role of the model attacker for the Aikido training of a Japanese police officer, this is nowhere near sufficient. Hips must be aligned with shoulders. The wrist must only extend at the peak of the strike. And I must always, without fail, put my full weight into the punch, driving my front knee forward, as if it is the last punch I will ever make. “Chigau! Chigau!” my teacher screamed. Wrong, wrong!

Everything I was doing was wrong. I had to focus every fiber of my being on what the Fieldman, the head teacher, was saying to me. In all things his word was final; in all things he was right. “What you are throwing is not a punch,” he said as he towered over me. I knelt obediently on my knees. “What you are throwing is shit!” I planted my face into the mat of the Tokyo dojo in apology.

This was yet another day in the 11-month senshusei (専修生) course, the professional instructor training course of the Yoshinkan Aikido Hombu Dojo (養神館合気道本部道場), known to be one of the hardest martial arts courses in the world. Participants are taken from the absolute basics to a black belt and instructor certification in less than a year. The process to become a black belt in most martial arts normally takes several years of training. Yoshinka Akido typically takes four. But the full-time senshusei course is not normal. Training like the live-in dojo students of a foregone age, we braved 8 hours of exhaustion and injury day-in and day-out. My day as a punching model ended like many days did, running around the mats with a rag in one hand and disinfectant in the other. I cleaned the blood that had spattered out of my knuckles, rubbed raw from hundreds of full-contact punches. Far from thinking about the pain, my only concern was that if I did not work fast enough the Fieldman or his assistants would see the red spots and yell at me for having carelessly sullied the mats yet again.

If you had asked me anytime before 2011 if I would consider joining a program like senshusei, I would have laughed. Me? The computer nerd who only started studying Japanese in high school because he wanted to play the video games and read the comics that hadn’t come out in America?

The self-confessed “otaku” who spent whole days in the giant video arcades in Japan hunched over a screen? Prior to Yoshinkan I had never set foot in a dojo, let alone thought I would one day be a certified instructor. In fact, I had pretty much given up on myself athletically.
...
The mind works in mysterious ways. I had never thought I’d wind up doing athletics again, but after several years working in Japan, my subconscious sprung a trap on me. After a bad breakup and subsequent existential crisis, everything seemed pointless. I was so desperate to get out of my head that I told a good friend that I would try “anything” to get my ex off of my mind. “As long as you’re in Tokyo, why not try Yoshinkan?” he said. The very next day I called the dojo to ask if I could join. After receiving a brief reply in the affirmative, I informed them that I was coming over right then. I did not tell the man on the phone that I had very little idea what Yoshinkan was. But my subconscious seemed to have had a good idea.
...
Yoshinkan is a branch school of Aikido, a Japanese martial art that is known for being non-confrontational. Founded by Morihei Ueshiba in the early 20th century, it is one of the newest Japanese martial arts and arguably the most unique. Instead of defending by dodging or counter-attacking, Aikido practitioners use the energy of their opponents’ attacks against them, redirecting their energy in such a way that not only is the attacker subdued, but also left unharmed. Philosophically, Aikido is perhaps superior to all other martial arts in that, if done right, it results in the fight never having occurred in the first place. This philosophical side is probably what Aikido is most known for in the West. Most of the time the Aikido that is taught in America is presented as very peaceful and harmonious; many of the techniques looks almost like a martial arts version of ballet.

The Yoshinkan School is a bit different. Founded shortly after the end of World War II, it quickly grew to prominence as the dojo where the Tokyo Metropolitan Police sent their instructors to be trained. Instead of smooth techniques that flow peacefully, Yoshinkan practitioners focus on form and precision, preferring to do a technique powerfully rather than peacefully. Although the school is no different from mainstream Aikido in that the aim is to defend from an attack without injuring the attacker, Yoshinkan tends to cause a lot more pain along the way— non-injurious pain, but pain nonetheless.
...
As the weeks went along, I continued my twice-weekly pilgrimage to the dojo to huff and puff as the Fieldman continued to chuckle at my attempts to become adept at the basics. Eventually, I progressed to actual techniques, although these were not very effective. “Your technique should be strong, but it’s weak!” the Fieldman would say while pointing at my partner who had been unaffected by my joint lock. “Your partner is supposed to be straining, but he’s relaxing!” He then bent his arm behind his back to imitate being held in my hold and then used his other hand to mime smoking a cigarette, emphasizing how ineffective I had been. Mou ikkai! “Again!”

This routine continued for some time. As I became a regular, I started to become familiar with the other members of the dojo. There was the 64-year-old black belt who loved Aikido for its accessibility, having only started four years earlier at the age of sixty. There were the office staff, who were all black belts themselves. And then there were the senshusei.

Part of a program, which dates back over fifty years, the Yoshinkan senshusei are a special group of students who undertake an Aikido apprenticeship. Unlike regular members of the dojo who can come and go as they please, senshusei must treat their training as a full-time job, coming in early five times a week to clean the dojo before beginning their training, which involves at least four hours on the mats. Made up mostly of full-time policemen with an emphasis on those with riot duty, the senshusei course had opened itself to foreigners twenty years ago in the hopes of spreading Gozo’s teachings abroad.

I soon met two foreigners taking the course that year, a Canadian and a Scotsman. From their heavily battered arms and constant exhaustion, it was clear that the course was not regular training. Whereas I had struggled with maintaining hiriki-no-yosei ni for ten seconds, senshusei from their first month are forced to hold it for close to sixty seconds multiple times an hour. Participants toughen their arms by repeatedly striking them against their partners’ and regularly participate in usagi tobi (うさぎ跳び), rabbit jumps, an exercise so bad for your knees that it was banned in all Japanese schools thirty years ago.

The course is, to put it bluntly, a year of hell. Known throughout the martial arts world as one of the toughest courses on Earth, the dropout rate for the course is close to 40 percent. One day in the locker room I asked the Scotsman what the toughest part of the course was. He looked at me and gave a weary shrug. “It’s not how bad you get beat up. It’s showing up every day. Every damn day. The slog. That’s what gets you.”

Weeks turned into months and I continued my visits to the dojo. January came along and still dealing with my existential crisis, I decided that my job as an academic researcher was pointless as well. I had no idea what to do instead and surprised myself by beginning to consider what would happen if I were to join the senshusei course.










Thursday, February 05, 2015

Fighting Ranges


Today we have a guest post from Jonathan Bluestein. The topic is fighting ranges. Enjoy.

Fighting Ranges in the Martial Arts

By Jonathan Bluestein

There are many ways in which martial arts define themselves, and the differences between their practices and those of other arts. One of these ways would be through the spectrum of fighting ranges various martial arts choose to specialize in. This subject brings up the following question: ‘What can a martial artist do at a given distance?’. Seems simple, until one realizes that there are actually 5 such fighting ranges, and each contains many possibilities. Martial arts literature is usually self-limiting with just three ranges:  short, medium and long. To these are usually ascribed fixed tactics. Short is for grappling. Medium for bridging, initial contact and general striking, and long for kicks. A serious study of ranges in the martial arts reveals a far more intricate image, as I shall now elucidate.

Ranges according to where various martial arts stylists tend to feel most comfortable operating, without the use of weapons:



I should re-emphasize, that this chart does not determine by any means the full range of motion available in the arsenal of a martial artists who is trained in a given system. Rather, above are shown the ranges are which these arts tend to excel and find their best usage.
We see therefore that there are arts which attempt a very broad scope of mastery, while others focus on a more concise fighting game. I would like to argue that we can discern much from this kind of classification. Here are a few observations:

1. The breadth of technical focus does not necessarily determine the difficulty of gaining proficiency in a given art. Muay Thai is notorious for being able to yield some useful fighting skills within as short a time as even a few months of training, while Northern Mantis (Tang Lang Quan), which could be argued to work best through about the same ranges of combat, takes much longer to become good at. Bagua and Ninjutsu operate at a range roughly the same in width as Judo and Shuai Jiao, yet the former often take many more years to master than the latter.

2. Different arts solve range problems differently. Striking arts approach the closest ranges with a little light instant-grappling, but rely on the ability to use explosive power (fa jin) to break a grappling scenario before it becomes too dangerous for them. Grappling arts use the longer ranges as a set-up for the grappling game, and not as an even playing field.

3.  The mechanics of different arts may at times be similar, but the tactics and strategies could prove different. Xing Yi Quan, Bagua Zhang, Taiji Quan and Yi Quan are all Internal martial arts. Their share a lot of similar and often identical body mechanics. Southern Mantis too is a very Internal art among some lineages, and Wing Chun as well. Nonetheless, we see that they may spread across differing ranges of applications and fighting, based on the style and lineage.

Thus, by way of comparison of fighting ranges, we can learn more of the similarities and differences in the great cultural landscape of martial arts. Though this sort of comparison is often ignored, it is worthy of deeper investigation…


______________________________________________

The author of this article, Jonathan Bluestein, can be contacted directly at:  jonathan.bluestein@gmail.com . Shifu Bluestein is a practitioner and teacher of Xing Yi Quan, Pigua Zhang and Jook Lum Southern Mantis. These arts are taught by him at his academy in Israel, and also in seminars abroad. Shifu Bluestein is also a best-selling author on the martial arts. Be sure to check out his popular books:  Research of Martial Arts and The Martial Arts Teacher



You may also subscribe to shifu Bluestein's youtube channel, which is regularly update with rare and fascinating martial arts videos


All rights of this article are and the pictures within it are reserved to Jonathan Bluestein ©. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission, in writing, from Jonathan Bluestein. Jonathan may be contacted directly via email:  jonathan.bluestein@gmail.com

Monday, February 02, 2015

Loneliness and Martial Arts Training


Today we have a guest post by Neil Ripsky.



Neil Ripski has been training in the Chinese Martial Arts since the mid 1980's. Starting with a Chin Woo Master for the first 8 years of training before meeting Master Ma of the Ma Family, the style he now teaches (Ma Jia Quan - a northern Family Shaolin Based Style).This is the training where he learned his Northern Drunken Fist that he has become known for and written books on. 

Since the mid 1990's he has also been training in the Internal martial arts of Taiji, Baguazhang and Xingyi/Xinyi and is a formal Disciple of Master Chen Qi Ming of 18 Lohan Palm. He has published three books on Martial Arts and runs a full time live in training program three months each summer from his school in Creston BC. He is an Owner of Deep Water Martial Arts Magazine and a founding member of Deep Water Martial Arts Convention and the Kootenay Chin Woo Martial Arts Association. Neil now travels internationally to teach and share martial arts with other like minded people. 


Self Inflicted Loneliness

Loneliness. I never thought that the martial arts would lead me to a place where loneliness became the norm but it seems that it is a part of the path. I write this after hearing the same words from many of my colleagues in the arts, people who have studied different lineages of Chinese Arts, Masters in Japanese Arts and Taoist Scholars, all saying the same thing; “The longer I train, the less people I have to train and talk with.” It's interesting how much I wanted to talk about my martial arts when I started training, I wanted to tell everyone how cool it was and what I learned last class and eventually how hard I was working. But it slowly gradually becomes something that you want to discuss less and less with others since there seem to be fewer and fewer people to talk to about it.

Take the typical dinner party or social event with your peers. The inevitable question of what you do for a living comes up, hoping to break the ice in a conversation and suddenly mentioning martial arts becomes a confusing and sometimes startling statement to other people. Usually a polite enquiry about what that's like comes up and then if you want a real conversation killer dive into whats really going on in your training. “Well I have been exploring the use of drinking an opponents power with my torso while I try to cut through their torso with a strike meant to tear their liver....” Yeah that one is a real defense for any social normalcy. Truthfully even less involved discussions about how your training for a tournament and have been working a lot on how to catch an opponents limbs for use in high speed take downs seems to turn people off. Suddenly your the one person who is standing around listening to everyone talk about their facebook and television with a drink in your hand (probably not even a socially acceptable beer either, might interfere with tomorrows training).

But really where the loneliness starts is not at the dinner party, most of us serious martial artists are very used to not exactly fitting in with the cool crowd, I mean how many of us started training to try and get some confidence, defend ourselves from bullies and so on? Not the origin story of the popular kid in school. No instead it comes when we start reaching out to other martial artists for the conversation and sounding boards we are looking for. This has gotten easier throughout my training due to the creation and popularity of the internet. It used to be rushing to buy the latest martial arts magazine from the corner store to read the articles and maybe (if we were brave enough) to write a letter to the editor. Now of course we have the internet forums to rely on and of course there is one for everyone it seems. The Chinese arts, Japanese arts, MMA, modern arts, old arts, scholarly forums, sporty ones etc and when the internet took off I found a place to call home and starting posting all the questions I had and discussing as much as I could with those other anonymous martial arts people on the site. But you can only read or write about the mundane beginner subjects for so long. “I am X years old, am I too old to start martial arts?” “I want to learn to fight in the cage should I learn X?” and so on. So the pool of internet forums grows smaller and as the pool grows smaller so does the number of people in the depth of the water with you.

Eventually it seems you are answering questions more than you are asking them but the questions keep coming endlessly and while it may feel good for a time to the person who has some answers it does not (and should not) be the end of the road. Stroking the ego and being the all knowing one can be fine for a little while, grow your confidence, feel good about helping others etc etc but really get back to the work. The problem is that when you start asking questions that are really on your mind or posting something to try and start a discussion that you are actually interested in, eventually either you are ignored or very very few people work to engage with you. Now remember here I am talking about the internet, not in your own school or dojo, the pool there grows smaller even faster. Suddenly you feel more alone than ever in your training and then, one day, your Master will pass on too. Maybe it is not him or her actually dying, or perhaps you move far away and no longer have them in your lives. Suddenly you are surrounded by students who you care for and appreciate but really they are not looking to discuss the things you are wanting to work on. They are asking you the questions you asked twenty years ago. Lucky for them you have some well worn answers.

The state of your own martial arts are your responsibility and no one else s, either you are moving forward and pursuing them or your not. Its that simple. So there you are, Master gone or removed from you, class time spent mainly working out and teaching others instead of working on your own stuff. Remember the good ole days when you could stand in the corner and spend an hour or so with a technique or skill and just lose yourself in it? Not anymore there is always someone who needs some help and truthfully you owe your teacher and the art more than you can ever repay so you take the tie to teach and help them rather than on your own. So your training becomes a solitary pursuit, if you are a professional teacher like I am then it means training in the middle of the day before the students arrive, working on those things that you know you should be working on. Alone in the midst of the population of not only your town but many times your art as well. How often do we get to link to someone else who is working on the same things we are? Our Peers? Be they in our art or a different one we are all climbing the same mountain. But still there are barriers.

Although there may be other martial artists in exactly the same situation as ourselves, training and toiling in solitude in the same area there are still so many things standing in our way some that can be easily overcome (if we really have the fortitude to do it) and others that are most difficult indeed. Lets take as an example a large city for a population of martial artists. Say in a large city of two to three million people there are 300 000 people studying martial arts. (Nice easy numbers here, this is not a dissertation on percentages of populations that train). Of those 300 000 how many are say Black Belts? Well I have always found that the real truth is that about 1 of each 100 people who train can actually do it (which does not mean they actually will) but lets say then that of those 300 000 people there are 3000 black belt level players. Already this is a staggering and lonely number but at least a newly annoited black belt is still in some company and probably has lots of peers to discuss and train with. So of those 3000 how many will train 10 years? 20 years? 30 years? Even if we are generous and say that 1/10 of them will train 20 years that puts us down to 300 people in a population of two to three million. Think they are all friends? Have they ever really trained together in the past?

So here's the rub of it. Most martial artists do what they do because they believe in it whole heartedly. People who train for decades more so than dabblers who train say a more normal martial stint of say 5 years or so. So these 20 year veterans of which in our imaginary city there are 300 of them are all in different arts and schools. This means that even the best intentioned gathering of these people will be extremely difficult to really break through all the cultural, stylistic and personality barriers to allow them to just train, discuss and drink tea together in a real way as friends.  Culturally you have different rules of respect these people have been brought up in through their training and they can be so very different that in their heightened states during a meeting of minds, where everyones ego is at stake, that a small faux paux can create a huge issue and ruin any chance at friendship. Stylistically everyone will think differently too and if a real discussion takes place there will be differing opinions. Imagine the twenty years veterans from different styles discussion a statement like “All fights go to the ground.” Potentially dangerous ? Now if you have surpassed these barriers you have come down to personality types and whether or not, even with all their martial arts aside, they can be friends just as people. Not everyone is compatible and that's just the way it is, so what kind of number are we left with after all that? How many of those 300 veterans could actually, completely openly discuss, spar, train and fight with one another? Whats most interesting is we all used to do it with our classmates under our teachers, so what is so different about it now?


Some of the highest level people I have ever had the opportunity to train with or under have all in one way or another mentioned this phenomenon. From the Master who had been training 50 years to people I am proud to call my peers about 30 years in. What happens to them all? They train alone, have no one to bounce things off of for one reason or another and live in solitude. Sad state of affairs. But of course it is not so bleak a picture at all, they rewards of good training outweigh it all easily and of course we still have our friends, spouses and parties to go to. The topic is just not going to be about our one true passion with them, since they are not interested or just wont understand anyway and that's fine too.

So what to do about it?

If we can find the beginners mind and truly remove our ego from the conversations and training sessions with one another then there will be no issues. Everyone wins no matter the result of a sparring match or debate. But the ego is such a powerful thing, especially in martial arts teachers who are constantly reminded by their students how wonderful they are, that not everyone can tame it. My advice is to look back to when everything in martial arts class was amazing and getting your butt kicked was a great lesson. What has changed now from then? Only we have. You know why I have, with much help, put together the Deep Water Martial Arts Convention and the Magazine? This. We need to reach out to one another and embrace each others experience and do it without all the pomp and ceremony and ego that seems to be everywhere in the martial arts world. We are all just people and we are a small group that can really understand one another.  So lets just get out of our own way, put the black belts in the closet and become friends damnit! What have we got to lose?