“On his path of inspiration, motivation, and unparalleled success, John Graden has had a profound impact on the manner in which thousands of martial arts are operated worldwide.” — Martial Arts World magazine
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Recent MATA Certification Graduates
The MATA Instructor Certification Program provides teachers an effective process to create and maintain a productive classroom environment.
“MATA is a professional and quality organization. I wanted my Instructors and myself to be certified by the best.”
— Sidney Burns, Blue Ridge Martial Arts
“I am continually looking for ways to improve my teaching knowledge and the MATA Instructor’s Certification is one of the finest and most updated courses an instructor can take. I was impressed by the honesty of the content and detailed explanations of the various issues surrounding the teaching of Martial Arts these days.
“MATA is a professional and quality organization. I wanted my Instructors and myself to be certified by the best.”
— Sidney Burns, Blue Ridge Martial Arts
“Getting feedback on video from Mr. Graden was eye-opening. It was really helpful.”
MATA Instructor Certification Mission Statement To present a universal language and understanding of how to be most effective when teaching martial arts regardless of style. Four Parts to Teaching any Skills One of the biggest voids in all martial arts is a lack of...
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - A father alleges his son's leg was broken in a karate class in Feb. 2018 is suing the school. A father sued the school and his son's training partner, alleging they "negligently" caused his son's injury. The suit, filed in state Supreme Court,...
A beginner student called by an instructor to participate in a sword demonstration instead got an accidental blade through the eye that pierced his skull and left him blind, paralyzed and brain-damaged, according to a $9 million lawsuit filed against the teacher and...
https://vimeo.com/369583155 Live demo from COBRA-Defense Real Estate Agent Safety Seminar by Chris Sutton Here is a live demonstration of the realities of using a gun for self-defense. NOTE: The entire Real Estate Safety Seminar is available in the MATA Store. We see...
This is a sample lesson from our MATA Certification Program. By John Graden From 1984 until about 1989, I was training three times a week in a dark, dirty boxing gym with retired world heavyweight kickboxing champion Joe Lewis. The only reason we would miss the...
This is a sample lesson from ourMATA Certification Program. By John Graden
From 1984 until about 1989, I was training three times a week in a dark, dirty boxing gym with retired world heavyweight kickboxing champion Joe Lewis.
The only reason we would miss the workouts was the scheduling challenges his seminars sometimes presented. The fighting was hard contact and as intense as you can imagine it could be climbing into a 12-foot-square ring with the man cited as “the greatest fighter in the history of karate.”
Joe taught me that fighting should be as real as possible. He also confirmed my opinion that point karate had little value in instilling the tenacity or attitudinal conditioning necessary to go three rounds with anybody, which we agreed should be a minimum standard for a professional black belt.
My motivation has always been as a teacher, not a fighter or champion. Even though at the same time I was traveling to Europe regularly to compete with the United States Karate Team, I’ve never had a compelling drive to be a world champion or trophy collector. I’ve always competed for education and experience.
Whenever I’m in a learning environment, such as working with a great teacher or taking a personal development seminar, I am always asking myself, “How can I teach this to my students?” In the case of fighting with Joe Lewis, the question changed to, “How do I teach this to my students without driving them out the door or to the hospital?”
In most schools, sparring is one of the leading causes of drop out among students. Even when the school sticks to the relative stop-and-go safety of point karate, students still drop out. How, then, could I motivate these students to engage in sparring without hurting them or scaring them off?
I learned that the key is in the perspective you keep in working with your students. If your goal is to get your students to black belt, then you that you have three to five years to accomplish that.
It’s important, then, that you structure your curriculum to gradually introduce the student to sparring. There’s no rush.
A student that drops out of the martial arts because of sparring is a student we have failed.
White – Orange Belts
In the sparring program I developed, white and gold belts are required to learn simple block and counters while wearing pads on their hands and feet. These techniques are executed against the jab and reverse punch — but without any contact.
In addition, we will have them work slipping drills, target drills, defensive footwork drills, and set-point movement drills to get them moving and firing techniques.
Understand that this represents the first six to eight months of their training. Often, instructors have their students sparring within the first three months. Our students don’t even make contact for eight months.
Green – Blue Belts
When the students graduate into the green and blue belt class, they begin to actually spar following the rules of light-contact continuous karate. That is like point fighting without stopping to decide who scored a point.
However, there is still no head contact, but body contact is permitted. Of course, the students wear headgear, hand-and-foot protective pads, shin pads, a mouthpiece, rib guards, and a groin cup for the guys.
Limited Sparring Drills
Limited sparring drills are a great way to help students get comfortable and build skills while sparring. A limited sparring drill is a sparring match with a strategy other than winning as the goal.
For instance, one student might be limited to executing only a jab to the forehead. For these drills, we always target the forehead instead of the face, as a safety measure. The student’s partner could then be limited to using only positional movement (footwork) and head movement as a defense.
So, in this example, the jabber is working on stepping in and snapping his jab to the forehead, while the defensive fighter is learning to slip and move against an attack.
In the following round, we may have the defensive fighter add hand traps to his defensive choices. For round three, we may slow things down slightly and place the defensive fighter with his back against a wall to prevent him from running from his opponent.
The final round could allow a counter technique to be thrown.
So, through this structure, we’re preventing the fighters from being overwhelmed by trying to figure out on their own what to do. At the same time, they are actively, enjoyably and safely engaged in a sparring-like exercise.
The end result is, the defensive fighter gains confidence in avoiding contact.
You can see within this scenario that there is no winner or loser. Instead, the students are taught to judge the match by how well they stuck to the strategies of the drill.
While the majority of the class time devoted to sparring is spent on limited sparring drills, we will allow the students to go a round or two of free-sparring under strict black belt supervision.
The matches always begin with the students introducing themselves and shaking hands with their partner and a verbal review of the sparring attitude towards each other, which is, “I’ll make sure you don’t get hurt.”
Also, explain to the students that while control is required and demanded, they are going to get accidentally whacked on occasion just as they are going to whack someone else. Teach them exactly how to inform their partner if the contact is too hard.
You can even talk to them about the tone in which they make the request to lighten up. An angry demand may elicit a different response than a respectful but firm request.
Respect and courtesy are key attitudes. Make sure that the person being requested to lighten up is taught that “Yes ma’am or “Yes sir” is the only acceptable response. Only the person getting hit can determine the contact level and he cannot be questioned.
Graduating to Head Contact
After an additional eight months in that class, the students graduate into the blue and red belt level. At this point, they are allowed to make light head contact in addition to moderate body contact to the rib-guard area. Students are taught to strike the headgear and not the face.
You may think that twelve to sixteen months is a long time to wait to spar with head contact. I think many of your students might disagree with you. I would also argue that your students have a lifetime to spar from that point on.
Students must be mentally conditioned and have their confidence and tenacity built to prepare them for actual sparring, which is part of the Phase One Training explained in Chapter 2 in the Pedagogy section of the book.
At that point, mentally they are ready to face the challenges sparring will present. But now, after a year of training, they’re ready to meet it head-on with excitement and anticipation instead of anxiety and trepidation.
Eight months later, they graduate into the brown and black belt class, where the intensity and contact level is somewhat more “realistic.” But after close to two years of training and preparation, these students are ready for the challenge mentally and physically.
Take good care of your students and nurture them along to ensure they are going to be part of your school and part of our martial arts family for a very long time. When they enroll, they are investing a lot of trust in your leadership and guidance.
Few areas of the martial arts can be as confusing or intimidating as sparring. Keep a long-term black belt-oriented perspective on training your students and you will have a much better chance of having them stick around to successfully achieve that goal — and more.
One of my mentors, John Corcoran passed away on May 16, 2019. Seven days later, serial killer Bobby Joe Long was executed. 35 years ago, he killed at least 10 women in the Tampa Bay area during an eight-month span in 1984.
How are the two related? John Corcoran’s girlfriend was the first victim of Bobby Joe Long. It happened on May 13, 1984.
After working for virtually every martial arts magazine, John was living in Los Angeles in 1984, when he got a job offer as a writer for a new movie production company founded by his instructor, Glenn Premru.
A movie buff who never missed seeing a James Bond movie on opening day, John was excited about this opportunity. John and his girlfriend, Ngeun Thi Long, whom he called Lana, made the three-day drive to Tampa, Fl.
Unfortunately, the production company failed and the job vaporized.
John and Lana ended up living in a hotel in Tampa. John often told me what a great girl she was. He said, “Sometimes we’d have popcorn for dinner because that was all we could afford. She never complained. She would just say, “It’s okay baby. We’ll get through this.”
Lana got a job as a dancer in the Sly Fox Gentleman’s Club. However, when she quit the job, John hit the roof. He lost his temper to the point that she left the hotel to go for a walk.
Click image to see a one minute story on the murder of Lana Long.
When she didn’t return that night, John was concerned. The next day he called the police to file a missing person’s report. As if this was not enough stress, John’s car was stolen a few days after.
I first learned about all of this when Mike Anderson called to tell me he would like me to meet him, John, and Joe Lewis that night at Clancy’s, which was a popular Walt Bone pub before he died two years earlier. Joe was living in Mike’s big house on Madeira Beach and John was moving in as well.
I was excited to meet John. I am an avid reader and John Corcoran was the premier journalist in the martial arts world. I was amazed that the world I read about in the karate magazines was coming to me. Mike Anderson, founder of the PKA, Joe Lewis, a true legend, and now John Corcoran.
During dinner at Clancy’s, John told me that he had to be at the Tampa Police station the next day to file a report regarding his stolen car. I offered to drive him there and he gratefully accepted.
When we arrived, we were told to go to the fifth floor. We stepped into the elevator with a big guy in a suit. This guy glared at John with psychic daggers piercing from his eyes. His disdain for John was so palatable that I mentioned it to John. He told me that the guy was the lead detective on the murder case of his girlfriend. The detective thought John was the number one suspect. Of course, John’s story was solid and he was not a suspect for long.
There were nine more killings before they arrested Bobby Joe Long leaving a cinema showing a Chuck Norris movie.
I made a number of similar trips to help John over the next few months. Because of the emotional level of this experience, John and I became really close fast. John called me his brother and, as a sign of gratitude, he said he would help me become the local martial arts celebrity, which he did. That was the first of many projects we collaborated on.
John was a producer on my USA Karate cable TV show.
He was also the editor of my magazine, Martial Arts Professional (MAPro) for the first few years.
When kickboxing promotor, Howard Petschler purchased Fighter International magazine from Mike Anderson in 1987, he hired John to be the editor. John then recruited me to be an assistant editor and included me in many of the interior photos.
I distinctly recall an editorial meeting with them where I pitched them on a revolutionary idea. “There is a computer called Macintosh. You can layout the entire magazine in the computer with this software called, Adobe Pagemaker.” They were blown away. Up until that transition, we had to lay the pages out on cardboard and paste them in order. I learned a ton about the magazine business and really enjoyed working with John.
A few years later, I bought John his first computer, a Mac Powerbook 100.
John loved to share his knowledge and he gave to me in abundance.
After living in my Clearwater Beach condo and also with my brother Jim, John moved back to Los Angeles in about 2000, but his help for me only increased. A few times, I flew out to shoot magazine covers that he arranged.
John Corcoran was helpful in getting me my first couple of cover stories.
John also cast me in two films he was involved in. The first was with my brother Jim in the Don Wilson movie Black Belt and the second was Sworn to Justice. There was nothing cooler for me, at the time, that when the person next to me on a flight asked, "What takes you to L.A.?" Me, "Oh, I'm shooting a magazine cover." or, "Oh, I'm going to be in a movie."
I was in L.A. so much that John suggested I buy an apartment that he could live in so I would always have a place to stay. While I considered that, I never did. John ended up in an apartment building where Don Wilson also lived.
I love the creative process and Hollywood is the epicenter of creating wealth from creativity.
My death scene in Sworn to Justice. That's John Corcoran behind me.
It was in the Hamburger Hamlet on Sepulveda Blvd that I mapped out this idea to John that I had for a professional association dedicated to helping school owners run their schools. He thought it was brilliant. The following year, I launched Martial Arts Professional magazine and hired John to be the editor.
NAPMA grew to over 2,000 schools and an annual convention until Century sued us into bankruptcy in 2003.
This is the first NAPMA ad in 1994.
Much of this would have never happened had John stayed in Tampa after the murder of Lana. I'm sure Joe Lewis or Mike Anderson would have introduced us, but I'm also quite sure that many of the projects I've described would not have happened had we not been thrust into a surreal set of circumstances. There may have been no NAPMA, MATA, Martial Arts Professional magazine or USA Karate TV show. There certainly would not have been a MAIA, MASuccess, or MA Supershow since Century testified they were forced to create them to provide another voice than mine.
I find it amazing how my timeline would be different if it was not for the lessons my mentor John Corcoran taught me and the chain of events that were set into motion after a tragic loss of life.
Thank you, John, and may you rest in peace.
One the set of my first USA Karate TV show. Click to see John's segment on the state of the martial arts film industry.
In February of this year, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) debuted and then closed up shop last month. Why? The product was inferior to the NFL or College Football. My wife called the AAF flag football.
Most self-defense organizations are just like the AAF. Typically, they just offer some kind of certification. They don’t teach you how to market self-defense to generate income.
That’s why I look at COBRA-Defense as the NFL of the self-defense business. COBRA provides licensees with all they need to market and teach 12 different seminars include:
How to Market and Teach an Active Shooter Response Plan.
How to Market and Teach Real Estate Agent Safety.
How to Market and Teach Young Adults.
How to Market and Teach a Bully Prevention Plan.
How to Market to the Affluent (Annual $25k teaching one private a week).
There are plenty more but gives you an idea of the stellar support and training COBRA provides.
Google for self-defense, active shooter response plan, real estate agent self-defense and odds are, depending on where you live, that you will see COBRA in the search engine results.
I recently posted this “Fighting Form” from our Empower Kickboxing program on Facebook. I designed the forms in the late 1990s to replace the traditional TKD forms I practiced and taught since 1974.
While the video didn’t quite go “viral,” it did stimulate over 100 comments and a number of “debates.”
I loved kata. I won more trophies in kata than fighting. I was the first center judge for the WAKO World Kata Championships in Berlin in 1986-ish. I was the US Open Korean Forms Champion in 1982. Just like my instructor Walt Bone, I was a kata guy.
However, after opening and running my school for a few years, I had a few revelations that I’d like to share with you.
Traditional kata creates confusion and contradiction.
1. It makes zero sense to teach my students to pull their hand to their hip during basics and kata in the first half of the class only to yell at them to put their hands up during mitt work and sparring.
2. It makes zero sense to make students memorize and perform a clunky series of skills in stances that are way too deep and static only to yell at them to keep their legs under them and move during mitt work and sparring.
3. Each form and skill has an Asian name that students had to remember. For instance, one brown belt form was named Kwan Gae after the 15th Empower of some Korean dynasty.What do I care?
Why was I teaching Korean history in class? If I was going to teach history it would be American history. Remember, we won the war.
I wanted forms that taught the skills of sparring and self-defense.
Today, we can see what really works in self-defense because YouTube has hundreds of thousands of security and iPhone videos of real self-defense.
Do you know what I’ve never seen in a real self-defense video? I’ve never seen an attacker in a deep stance holding his arm out with his other hand on his hip.
Why on earth would I spend time teaching what is clearly decades old impractical theory?
Some will argue that the deadly skills of self-defense are hidden in the kata. Maybe they are, but people do not pay tuition to learn tedious forms in the hopes that one day they might figure out how it really works or, even worse, doesn’t work.
Think about it. Of all the skills that can be taught in a martial arts class, why would you pigeon hole yourself into the limiting jail cell of a style?
How often have you had a prospect contact you can say, “I want to learn traditional kata.” Never.
When I replaced my TKD forms with these fighting forms, the students loved it and retention skyrocketed. I replaced basic TKD blocks and lunge punches with dynamic boxing and martial arts based combinations that they could apply that night in sparring.
The reason that most of us are so emotionally attached to a style is only because that’s what the school nearest taught. If the school taught a different style, you’d be just as attached.
Attachment to any style is limiting. It’s limiting in what you learn and what you teach. Style attachment is like a brainwashing experiment reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate.
In my first white belt class, my 14-year old brain was ripe for influence when my instructor Walt Bone said, “We teach Tae Kwon Do. It’s the best style because it emphasizes kicking. Your leg is a much longer and stronger weapon than your arm. An attacker has to get past our kicks and then our punches in order to get to us.”
Three years later, a dad of one of the students didn’t think karate worked so he challenged Mr. Bone. Bone put sparring gear on the guy and bowed him in. After an initial clash, the guy tackled Bone. It was not pretty.
So much for the power of the style. Walt Bone is facing the camera in the dark grey gi.
Grab a copy of The Dark Side of the Martial Arts at WaltBone.com
Former Concrete Company Manager Grateful for COBRA and MATA
It’s a classic American success story. Sidney Burns of Bedford, VA, has grown from a karate crazed 8-year old to a master instructor with a well-established school and a year-old COBRA-Defense location that has rocketed out of the starting box.
Like many martial arts professionals, Master Burns started out teaching in a YMCA until 2012 when he opened Blue Ridge Martial Arts in Bedford, VA.
Sidney says that the best thing about his business is that he feels as though he hasn’t worked a day at it.
When he compares his current position to his days as General Manager of a concrete company, he can’t help but smile. But, he knows he didn’t get to where he’s at alone. Standing right beside him in full support is his wife of 29-years, Lisa and chief instructor, Lorna Coyle.
Sidney Burns and Lorna Coyle
Master Burns joined MATA in 2016 and quickly completed the MATA Certification course along with his staff. He says, “MATA is a quality, professional organization. I wanted my instructors and myself to be certified by the best. It’s just easier to follow the MATA program than to jump around chasing fads.”
He also discovered COBRA through MATA and quickly saw an opportunity to lock in the territory. According to Burns, “As with most martial arts schools, we struggled to enroll adult students. COBRA is an awesome program that fills that gap.”
His focused efforts with his COBRA school are already paying high dividends with group and high-end private classes.
Many MATA member schools teach COBRA as part of their school’s programs, but Sidney chose to open a separate location for COBRA. He said, “COBRA is so attractive to adults, that we wanted to expand to a larger town to reach more people. COBRA was surprisingly easy to implement. It gives you all the tools and support from headquarters for us to make that transition.”
As he looks back to his humble beginnings at the Y, he has learned some important lessons. He says to, “Be careful who you listen to and surround yourself with high achievers. Helping others see their potential is a tremendous honor. There is no better profession than teaching martial arts and self-defense.”
Sidney and Lisa Burns have made it a point to be a positive source of support for the community as well. From working with a suicide prevention group to sitting on the board of Bedford Christian Services, they are committed to leveraging their unique skills and talents to help make Bedford, VA a better place for all. It seems to be paying off.
Congratulations to Master Sidney Burns and the entire Blue Ridge Martial Arts team.