Friday, March 28, 2014

Four Things Which Are More Important Than The Martial Arts

Why aren't the martial arts the most important thing in the world?

1) God's decision to let you into heaven (or send you to hell) is not going to be based upon your belt rank.
2) It's very difficult to build deep, meaningful relationships with people who you only meet up with twice a week to fight.
3) Showing off the latest technique that you mastered may impress the cute female cashier at the grocery store (or, if you are a female martial artist, the hours spent practicing that technique may get you into good enough shape to convince the hot male cashier to ask you out). However, that cashier will still expect you to pay for your food, and for that, you need money.
4) Most employers won't accept a national or world championship in lieu of a college degree.

For those four reasons, the martial arts should only be priority number five. Your eternal destiny, healthy relationships with your family and friends, your career, and your education are all more important. If you find that your training is causing you to neglect those areas, take a break from practicing the martial arts and fix your life. True excellence in the martial arts can only come if you have a strong spiritual, social, financial, and intellectual foundation.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lessons Learned The Hard Way: Pick A Style That Is The Right Fit For You

MMA has proven the value of amateur wrestling as a martial art. The overwhelming majority of American UFC contenders and champions have an amateur wrestling background, including Chuck Liddell, Rashad Evans, Cain Velasquez, and Chris Weidman. That being said, there is one person for whom amateur wrestling will never work: me.

It is not uncommon to spend your first year in a martial art getting your butt kicked. However, after that, you should be able to win consistently. If you have been doing it for two years or longer and you're still getting crushed, it's probably time to try something else. If you have been doing it for over three years and you're still getting dominated, then you shouldn't go anywhere near that particular style anymore. I know this because that was my experience in amateur wrestling. Even though I made the varsity team during my final three years of school, it was only because I was slightly better than the two guys I had to beat to get the spot (and one of those wins was by forfeit). My record was 0-11, 4-22, and eventually, 1-5. Finally, two-thirds of the way through my final season, I had enough and threw in the towel. Even then, I had overstayed my welcome. Too stubborn to quit, I took out my frustration on my coaches, my managers, and my teammates. In the process, I alienated a lot of people who wanted to be my friends. If I had simply accepted that amateur wrestling was not my thing early on and moved on to judo or Greco-Roman, that probably would not have happened.

Martial arts styles are like members of the opposite sex: you're not going to be compatible with all of them. Forcing yourself to stick with one that you are not a good fit for will just cause you to become frustrated, bitter, and resentful. If you stay too long, you will eventually take it out on your teacher and fellow students. That may lead to you getting kicked out of that school and getting blackballed in the local martial arts community. Why put yourself through that when you can find a style that is great for your body and personality? Perseverance is important. However, it is also important to know when to cut your losses and move on. I didn't do that with amateur wrestling until it was too late. Hopefully, you will learn from my mistake so that you don't have to figure it out the hard way.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

What A Martial Artist's Belt Really Means

It's a common misconception that everyone who has a black belt is an unstoppable force of martial nature. The fact of the matter is that this is rarely the case. First off, most martial artists quit when they reach 1st-degree black belt. Many of them don't even continue to practice the fundamentals to keep their skills sharp. Second, many martial arts schools are "McDojos." In other words, if you pay the instructor money, you get a belt, regardless of how good you are (or how much you suck). Third, when a legitimate instructor awards a belt, they look at more than just fighting prowess. They also consider the student's teaching ability, how much they care about others, their work ethic, and dedication to the art. While the best instructors consider all five factors, most will be biased towards one area. A master who promotes based on technique will be biased towards fighting prowess; a master who promotes based on understanding and application of martial theory will be biased towards teaching ability, and so forth. So at the end of the day, all that someone's belt tells you is how long that they have been training under a particular instructor. It tells you nothing about how good their technique is, the quality of the instruction which they have received, or if they could actually survive a common street attack.

So how do you know if Mr. Tough Guy (or Mrs. Tough Girl) is really as big and bad as they say they are? The best way is to spar with them at either their dojo or yours. If they kick your butt, they are obviously legit. If they don't beat you, but come at you with everything they have and the kitchen sink, that's a good sign as well. If they cower under your gaze (or simply wimp out of sparring with you completely), then their belt is not worth the cloth that it is made out of.

That being said, it is not always practical to challenge everyone you meet. Here are some other ways to find out if they can smoke the bad guys with their skills or are simply blowing smoke up your rear.

-Find out who they got their belt from. They should be able to trace their lineage back to either the founder of the art or, at the very least, to the culture where it came from. Obviously, if they got their belt from one of Bruce Lee's top protégé's or a member of the Gracie family, then they are probably legit. If it is from Angry Bob's Fighting Shack, you should be skeptical.

-Find out how long it took them to get their belt. While it is possible to earn a black belt in two years, it normally takes three to four to get it from a reputable master. If you are training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, it usually takes 8-10 years. For each additional degree (a.k.a. "dan") ranking that they claim to have, it should have taken them at least an additional one or two years, if not longer.

-Look at how old they are. While the key milestones in the martial arts vary from system to system, the typical ones are instructor (first dan), expert instructor (fourth dan), master (fifth dan), and grandmaster (ninth or tenth dan). In academic terms, they would be the high school diploma, bachelor's degree, master's degree, and PhD., respectively. Someone claiming to be a first-degree black belt should at LEAST be in their mid-to-late teens. Someone claiming to be a fourth-degree black belt should be in their early-to-mid twenties. A YOUNG fifth-degree black belt will be in their thirties. Realistically, you are unlikely to encounter a legitimate ninth or tenth-degree black belt. If you do, they will probably be in their late sixties (or older).

I once met a seventeen-year-old who claimed to be a seventh-degree black belt. Since I trained for a year at the school that he went to, I found this highly dubious. You should be equally suspicious of anyone who makes such grandiose claims.

-Do a background check on the person by speaking with their master and fellow students. Most masters won't criticize a student to an outsider (unless that student did something truly disgraceful). However, a master will usually praise an exceptional pupil. If the master acknowledges that they trained that person and says nothing else, then that student is probably average or sub-par. If the master has never heard of that person before, than you've been lied to. The person's training partners will usually be more forthright about how good (or lousy) that student is. However, you want to talk to at least three or four of them to account for personal biases. After all, the training partner who gushes about them might be their best friend. The one who trashes them might be doing it out of jealousy or because of a grudge.

The key thing is to remember that someone's belt only tells you how long that they have been training under a particular master. What's far more important than the color of the belt is the person who's wearing it, which is why you must find out as much as you can about that person before you allow them to impress you.