Martial Arts Instructor News and Articles

John Graden

John Graden

Executive Director

John Graden led the martial arts into the modern era by creating the first professional association, trade journal & instructors certification program.

The Black Belt is the most well-known symbol of the martial arts. We all know that people perceive that the higher your Black Belt rank is the more accomplished you are. However, many dedicated black belts like me were orphaned at some point in their career and left without an instructor to advance them in rank.

As I describe in my book, I was devastated when my instructor Walt Bone died in a plane crash in 1982.

In 1983, Mike Anderson (Founder of the PKA, WAKO, Professional Karate magazine, and this thing called semi-contact karate) stepped in and promoted me.

Then Joe Lewis moved in with Mike in 1984. We became close friends and training partners. Over the course of the next 14 years, Joe Lewis promoted me through the ranks all the way to 8th in 2007. 

Rank in martial arts is important. While there are no real standards, there is confidence in rank.

  1. Your students have more confidence in you because they see that you are still in the game.
  2. You have more confidence because you are advancing in the ranks of your profession.
  3. Regardless of the profession, advancement is always better than stagnation.

This is why I’ve created the MATA Rank Advancement Program. As the MATA Certification program has grown, graduates have been asking me if they could advance in rank under the MATA organization.

To be clear, MATA Certification is the first step to rank advancement. We’re not considering anyone who has not completed the MATA Certification course. In fact, we credit the certification fee for the rank advancement.

The requirements for the MATA Rank Advancement are not style oriented but are weighted on important technical skills and teaching ability.

Notice Tyson’s hand is by his face, not his hip.

His chin is down instead of up.

His shoulder is up instead of pulled back.

His body is sideways to his opponent instead of squared off.

His legs are under his body not spread apart like he was riding a horse.

With this kind of form, he would fail his orange belt exam in most schools. 

How does that make any sense?

Sensei Tyson?

If Mike Tyson or a world champion kickboxer came to your school to teach your black belts. What do you think he would work on? Double punches, square blocks, and keeping your chin up?

I’m pretty sure he would emphasize head movement, how to snap your punches and a defense that does NOT include pulling your punch back to your hip.

I’m sure the students would learn advanced applications to adjust for different fighters. Notice I said advanced applications, not advanced strikes.

When you focus on application, you can apply that to almost any technique.

For instance, if the drill is about how to fight a taller fighter, the answer is more about footwork to stay on the outside until you can secure quick access. My brothers are 6′ 3″ and 6′ 4″ so I know something about fighting a taller opponent.

Drills that teach that application do not require complexity. They require simplicity.

The more complex a skill becomes, the less chance it can be used. Have you ever seen a double punch? Only in kata and here:

If you eliminated all kata and traditional skills, you could devote that time to drills and conditioning that would give your students a true advantage in sparring or self-defense.

Imagine teaching fewer skills that are easy to teach and learn than traditional skills and kata.

You could spend more time on the application of those skills rather than stepping up and down the classroom and holding blocks and punches out in the air, which leaves you wide open for a counterattack.

Rather than spending student’s time with the complexity and frustration of spending years perfecting the bad habits of pulling their hand back to their hip, keeping their chin up, aiming and holding a punch in the air, and blocking with power while stepping forward, your retention will improve. Your student quality will improve. Your curriculum consistency will improve.

This is the core of our white to black belt curriculum Empower Kickboxing.

It’s an old saying, but true. “Less is best.”

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