Monday, October 19, 2015

I have not heard "Quitting karate was a great idea!"

We love this picture - thanks Kris Hughes!

I have been teaching martial arts in the same town for over twenty years.   Our studio has been open so long that students whom we taught when they 7 & 8 years old are now bringing their 7 & 8 year olds to us.  We have taught literally thousands of students.

With so much history behind us it seems almost on a weekly basis I run into former students outside of the karate studio.  More often than not these former students will say “I wish I had never quit karate, just think of where I would be today.”   I never run into students who say “quitting karate was a great choice”.  Our response to our former students is simple “It is never too late to get back on the training floor.”

The purpose of this post however is not to talk to those that have quit, while we certainly would love to see them resume their training, our philosophy has always been to focus on those who are actively training.  This post is intended for those students (and their parents) who are contemplating quitting.  Today’s society throws an infinite number of opportunities in front of us.  Often times a student who quits is motivated by the short term gain of something new, or wanting to follow a certain crowd.  I would ask them to weight these options against the long term benefits of martial arts training. 

There are few activities today which can so profoundly impact a person’s long term growth, development and understanding as well as martial arts training. When you walk away from training you are walking away from a continual path of self improvement, surrounded by like minded individuals who believe personal excellence is a never ending journey and are eager to pursue that journey with you.  The friends you play sports with, while enjoyable to be around, are  focused on winning the game, not on winning the game of life.   For the great majority of people when school is done there is no more to sports other than to look back at the glory days.  The former students I meet who left martial arts to pursue sports always say “I wish my parents had never let me quit.”

Grand Master Shin has a famous quote “Kick Punch Easy Stuff”. This simple saying has many meanings. For the student in general its meaning relates to the changes that occur in the character of the student more so than they physical health and self defense skills that are attained by continuous training in martial arts.  Tang Soo Do training is a never ending journey of discovery and enlightenment.  With each new challenge that is overcome the student grows in their knowledge of the task at hand but also in their knowledge of what they can accomplish.  Achievement begets the desire for additional achievement.  Quitting begets regret.  Perhaps not in the short term but definitely in the long term. 

Kicking and punching in the martial arts ultimately leads to the opportunity to learn leadership skills. This starts early on when you are partnered with a less experienced student and you have to help them perform the skill at hand better.  Later on the student gets the opportunity to lead multiple students by conducting warm ups at the beginning of class.  After becoming Black Belts they are invited into our Instructors Training Program where they learn the specific skills of teaching each aspect of our martial art. These Black Belts are then given the opportunity to practice their teaching skills by leading various portions of class.  As their proficiency as an instructor improves they are eventually given the opportunity to be a substitute teacher for our classes, and then be assigned a permanent class to teach.  From this group of class instructors there is the additional opportunity of learning the business and administrative side of studio operations with the ultimate goal of someday having their own studio and continuing to spread the art. 

Not every student will grow into a studio owner; life’s circumstances may preclude this.  However, the skills of leadership translate easily outside of the dojang.  A teen student who is capable of leading a group of teens and adults through a portion of their karate class will be less susceptible to negative peer pressure often seen in high school.  This same student who has learned to be self motivated and goal oriented through their martial arts training now enters college.  With this major life change they experience more personal freedom.  The martial arts student is better able to stay focused on their academic goals and additionally make good social choices as opposed to the typical freshman in college.  As they are seeking career employment as they graduate college they are able to confidently handle the questions thrown out them by job recruiters.  Our experience shows that upon being hired they quickly establish them themselves in their new companies as both confident and competent workers.  As they become trusted employees they also begin to climb in leadership within the corporations who were smart enough to recognize their talents. 

When a student, or a parent of a student, is contemplating quitting; it is not karate they are walking away from.  They are walking away from the life lessons that martial arts teaches about goal setting, overcoming obstacles, challenging themselves to learn continually and leadership.  When seen from this perspective I would hope the student, and parent, is able to overcome the short term desire to quit and stay the path to a lifetime of positive growth and development.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Spoiling for a Fight!

Image from
Spoiling for a Fight
I have stewed upon this subject for the last few days and feel the need to say something.

Many a bad situation has followed the words “what are you lookin at?”   It is pretty much the universal announcement that someone is spoiling for a fight and they are ready to provoke one.  Once you hear that pronouncement, your guard is up.  

This is the start of a “Monkey dance”.
What is a monkey dance you ask?   Read Rory Miller’s Facing Violence.  The short description is that a Monkey Dance is the typical bar fight, some guy marking territory.  It is a social conflict to decide dominance.  Typically, a monkey dance is between two guys.  More and more they are woman vs woman but rarely does it ever cross genders.   The target of the announcement either backs down or fists fly.  While most monkey dances end at bloody lips and someone making a hasty exit, some go on to true violence and life threatening altercations.  Predicting which ending will occur is not so easy under stressful scenarios.  How do you know if the monkey dance is started by a guy who wants just impress the girl he brought by showing he can fight vs someone who wants to shoot up the place and really spill blood.
I suspect not one of you would say to your buddy something like “just ignore him, it doesn’t mean anything”.    ALL (yes I mean ALL) of my friends who train in self-defense would immediately have all their antennas up.  Even if visibly they were trying to de-escalate by ignoring the guy, none of them would turn their back or let their spouse, girlfriend, parent or child be in between themselves and that guy. They would deal with it, even if that meant paying their check and leaving.  That is if the instigator will let them leave without a fight.
Now let’s take the video making the rounds on the internet lately from the website Hollaback! (
A woman walks silently through New York.  She says nothing.  She has normal clothes on and is wearing nothing “provocative”. She doesn’t smile and she doesn't interact with anyone.  She just WALKS.  On average every 6 minutes for 10 hours she hears some kind of verbal comment from a guy on the street.  Some seem harmless (“hey beautiful”), some are a little more concerning by adding a sexual twist to it (“daaaaayamn”); others are downright creepy (a man follows her silently for nearly 10 minutes without a word). At least one follows her and jokingly (supposedly) gets on her case for not talking to him as he offers her his number and basically accuses her of not being nice (By the way, the words he uses are a classic manipulation technique used by predators. Read The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker)

Now I’ve seen a few people, men and women, comment online about how what happens in this video is no big deal.  But I propose to you that we women have different fears and safety concerns than guys.  One of the best quotes on this subject is the following:
“It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different--men and women live in different core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.”  
 ― Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence
This may seem dramatic but it’s not.  Rape and death are universal female fears.  It’s not always a conscious fear at the front of most women’s brain but it’s not far from it when walking alone somewhere.  
So gentlemen, just accept this premise for a second and then accept that every cat call on the street that your wife/girlfriend /daughter hears is heard by us the same way you hear “what you lookin at?”.  The antennas go up immediately.  The question pops into our brain “Is this the guy who will not stop at the cat call?”  From a self-defense standpoint, for me it’s the shot across the bow and ignoring it can lead to badness.  Confronting it may not stop it or even may escalate it.  
So why does this matter?  What are the consequences of that innocent “cat call”?  Certainly, most cat calls stop right there.  MOST guys realize that if they are ignored they just need to stop.  But even if they do stop, it has brought an aware female up to a more anxious level of alertness.  Your silly comment has made me walk on with more stress than I deserve.  And most women have learned at a young age to just walk on, if they let us.  
What if they don’t let us?  What about the guy in the video who followed for 10 minutes or the other who was verbally manipulating her?  Look at the fear on her face in the video.   And she KNEW the person in front of her was a team mate.  What if she WAS alone?   Well in a monkey dance if they don’t let you walk away, it’s a fight.  And it’s usually a fight that you mostly walk away from if it’s a true monkey dance.   In the cat call women’s scenario it’s not a fat lip and bruises we are worried about, its rape.  THAT is the reason for the high anxiety levels.  Rape is a life altering physical and psychological nightmare. No one should ever have to contemplate if “this is the one” every time someone thinks saying “daaaaaayam” to a complete stranger on the street is harmless.

So if you wish to dismiss the video and its intent that’s your right. But I encourage you to talk to your female loved ones about their experiences.  I bet most of you will be surprised.
And one final thought:  Think how you would feel if you heard “what you lookin at?” every 6 minutes of your normal day. 
Just ignore it?

~submitted by an anonymous female Black Belt~

Facing Violence
The chapter on the dynamics of violence alone should be required reading for anyone who says they train in or teach self-defense.

The Gift Of Fear
DeBecker states and demonstrates, sadly through countless stories of survivors of violence, that true fear is a gift, one that is designed to save our own lives, if and only if we listen to that gift and don’t ignore the signals we all receive about dangerous situations we encounter.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

PSPSP-C Tower to improving technique in all styles.

Regardless of the style of martial art that one practices, there are certain universal aspects of technique that are necessary to perform at a high level of quality and proficiency.   It is not profound to say that good technique contains: precision, speed and power.  But what gives rise to these elements of a technique and furthermore is there a relationship between these three and the fundamentals that are used to build these.
Power is a catchall that can be defined a number of different ways. For the purpose of this discussion we will focus on external power (weh kong) as opposed to internal power (neh kong) or spiritual power (shim kong). For our purposes in this discussion we will look at power from the perspective of mass transfer.  When we strike an opponent we desire to transfer as much of our body mass into the adversaries vital point with as much velocity as possible. The force we strike with is a function of mass X acceleration. To increase our power we either need to move faster or transfer more mass.  The study of martial arts to a large degree is a scientific examination of mass transfer. We are “Mass Transfer Specialists”.  We study the art and science of transferring our mass or our opponents mass explosively in the direction we specify. 

The last sentence of the paragraph above contains two important elements: explosive (speed) and specify (precision). Being able to move a large volume of mass slowly while an interesting skill, does not necessarily provide martial value in an dynamic self defense environment.  Bench pressing 300 or even 500 lbs does not readily translate into a useful combative skill.  Strength training is valuable to our overall health and development, however in regards to executing technique I am focusing on explosive movement.  The faster we move any given mass the more force we transfer to our benefit.  Furthermore while I wish to move that given mass fast, I do not want it to move randomly.  When I am striking I want to be able to focus the mass transfer quickly into a very specific target (Kup Soo).  The human body while strong has certain week spots that can be exploited for our self defense benefit.  Additionally if we look at the unit of force lbs/sq. we see that a given amount of mass transfer into a small area vs a large area results in a greater amount of force experienced. Someone who steps on your foot with a sneaker imparts less experienced force than the same person who steps on you with a high heel. 

Hitting effectively with power in combative training therefore requires both the elements of speed and precision. But which should you work on first.  The military and law enforcement communities use a phrase that sums this up best.  “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast, fast is lethal”. Precision starts by training slow, as you hit your target consistently at a slow speed you then are able to increase the speed until your accuracy fails.  You stay at this speed of training until such time that your accuracy returns and you are once again consistently hitting the target at your new speed.  This incremental process allows you to achieve a high degree of accuracy at high speed by programming muscle memory at achievable speeds.  When you are taking your time and going slow you are giving yourself the opportunity to take corrective action.  If you work to hit a target at full speed without first trying at slower speeds, you do not develop consistency in your motor skills and will not achieve the desired results consistently or quickly.  Precision therefore should be focused on before speed. The way I present this to my students is: “Precision allows for speed, speed provides power”.

This then begs the question, what tangible factor can a student of the arts work on to improve their precision?  The effective use of mass transfer requires an intuitive understanding of body structure. Body structure is most directly, but not exclusively, evidenced by stance. The platform (stance) a student uses to apply a technique requires stability, consistency and durability. When the student is working on the precision of a technique it is important that they do so from a stance that is consistently strong. If the stance is unstable, inconsistent or collapses under duress it is impossible for a student to consistently program muscle memory.  Through dumb luck they will occasionally hit the target, but we do not want our safety to rely on dumb luck, we are aiming for 100% accuracy.  In the martial arts our stances provide the consistent platform on which our techniques are launched.  In order for a student to establish consistent precision in their technique they must first develop consistency in the strength and durability of our various stances. Understanding of course that each stance has its own inherent benefits and weaknesses.  Part of stance training is to understand which is the optimal stance to use with different techniques and circumstance and how to transfer effectively and efficiently from one stance to another. With a well developed platform the student is ready to more diligently and effectively work on developing their precision which allows for speed and produces power.

What then is the critical element of all stance work, regardless of style, that we should establish first and foremost?  The simple answer is posture.  Poor posture, aside from being unhealthy, causes a cascading series of problem in the student’s technique. When the posture is bad it is impossible to have a stance that is consistent, stable and efficiently mobile.  Poor posture is the critical visible element where most techniques begin to fall apart and problems arise.  Once posture is corrected, the difficulty a student had hitting the target will often go away. Good posture allows for consistency and stability in the weapons platform (stance). When you see a student struggle with a technique it is easy to see that their stance is often bad as well. Bad stance is not the causative factor it is an indicator of a deeper issue. The causative factor is usually their posture. In the process of fixing their stance you will often unknowingly have them fixing their posture as well.  If you focus on the posture first the stance will almost always correct itself.  The more you can get the student to self correct their posture the quicker you can move them onto more advanced material.

Everything we have discussed up to this point is visibly tangible or measureable. A force meter can measure how much power is being imparted into a target, an accelerometer can be utilized to measure the speed of a technique at impact, we can visually see if a target has been hit with precision, we can video or photograph the student to show them the quality of their stance and posture and directly show them how these factors affect their precision, speed and power. Is there an additional element that has a demonstrable impact on the quality of their posture?  If we compare this example to building a house. We have framed in the house (stance) using good lumber (posture).  The solid framing allowed us to put up the roof, make the rooms, install utilities, finish, paint and furnish.  Making the house functional (precision, speed, power). We can do all this work but if the foundation is not sound in very little time the house will begin to experience problems and ultimately crumble well before its time. Most people think that our stances are analogous to the foundation of the house but this is wrong, there is something which offers a better correlation.  The foundation of our martial arts house is core muscle strength.  The below the surface strength of our bodies serves the same purpose as the below the ground foundation of our house. A person’s posture, balance, mobility and overall strength is profoundly dependent on their core muscle strength.  Our core allows us to connect the disparate parts of our body into one unified whole.  This allows us to increase the mass we strike with and the speed at which we efficiently move our mass. Developing core strength improves our posture which affects our balance and mobility. In short core strength develops our center, when you understand how to move your center and how you move your opponent’s center you will have the tactical advantage.

Core improves posture
Posture improves stance
Stance improves precision
Precision allows speed
Speed provides power

If you invert this series of equations you create a tower.
P             power                                  measurable
S             speed                                   measurable
P             precision                             measurable
S             stance                                  visible
P             posture                                visible
---           -----------                              -----------
C             core                                       unseen

In a tower if one level fails all the levels above it also fail.  You can have good stances but still be working on precision; if the precision is lacking then the speed and power are not relevant.  You can be faster and stronger than your adversary but if you cannot hit the broad side of a barn your technique is not effective.  Once we understand this tower we can begin to effectively and efficiently improve the quality of our techniques by looking to see which levels are well established and which are not, then put our focus on the level that needs our attention not the ones above it. If you are struggling with developing power in your technique begin to climb down the tower until you find the root cause of the problem.  Most times when helping students I find the fault in the posture and core areas – with a little attention in these areas we see dramatic improvement in a short period of time.

Please share this with your students and martial arts friends; my personal experience using this tower has definitively impacted my personal understanding of Tang Soo Do and also allowed me to better help my students.  I hope it provides you with similar results.

Tang Soo!
Master Scott C. Homschek