NOTE: No demo in the COBRA-Defense system is EVER rehearsed. We always pull a stranger from the audience/class and see how things play out naturally rather than a fake fight and fake responses.
Also, notice Chris is not using any special physical skills. 90% of the COBRA curriculum are mental strategies, understanding, and planning. The other 10% are skills you have to use if your prevention measures are breached.
What do you think? Please share and comment.
* Maybe that’s why my new book is titled, Unarmed and Dangerous.
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.
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.
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 mybook, 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.
Your students have more confidence in you because they see that you are still in the game.
You have more confidence because you are advancing in the ranks of your profession.
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.
Have you ever had a prospect come to you and ask, “Do you teach [your style]? Me neither, with the exception of people who had trained before. Most students know nothing about styles. They especially don’t know the complexity that most styles pride themselves in. People don’t know about styles because people don’t care about styles. They only care about their experience and the benefits of that experience.
Was the ONLY reason that you were raised in your style is simply that the school was the closest that you could afford? That certainly was the case for me and my brothers. Had we been raised in a different style, I’m sure we would have thought it was the best as well.
Have you ever told your students that your style is the best because of of…? I did too. We have to convince students that all the extra baggage we’re about to unload on them is worth it because “our style is the best.”
Here’s the kicker. If my style is the best, how can your style be the best? It can’t be because no style is the best.
The BEST thing I ever did for my school was to throw out the style. I mean everything. I stopped teaching front, back, crane, cat, and every other stance but fighting and horse. I focused on footwork rather than mastering these rigid, clunky kata stances.
I stopped teaching all traditional blocks and replaced them with the blocks that we used in sparring and self-defense. Instead of a rigid upright position with our chin up ala’ kata, we focused on head movement by slipping and weaving. I always felt like my head was being teed up like a golf ball during kata. Have you ever seen a self-defense situation where the defender takes a full step forward to execute a block? Me neither.
I kept all of the kicks but stopped requiring the difficult ones for rank. We did them in class, but it was no longer a belt requirement to do a jump spinning back kick for blue belt. This way, the less athletic 40-year old was not at a disadvantage compared to a 16-year old hotshot. The difficult kicks became a fun, athletic challenge more than an embarrassing belt exam exhibition.
I replaced traditional kata (which I loved) with fighting forms. They accomplished everything a kata did but were far more fluid and fun. Rather than “hiding the self-defense” secrets in the complex movement of a kata, the fighting forms were direct and clear. By the way, why would anyone teach “hidden self-defense?”
For the record, I was the 1984 US Open Korean Forms Champion and Center Judge for the first WAKO World Kata Championship in Munich. I loved kata, but it’s not about me. It’s about my students.
Overall, the effect of the change was congruency. It makes no sense to me to spend the first half of a class teaching students to pull their hands back to their hip and keep their head up and then when it comes time to do pad work and spar, we tell them to, “Keep your hands up! Move!”
The result of the change was 50+ students in white belt class. Our school exploded with much higher retention and enrollments.
We could integrate a new student into the class in less than four minutes. There was no more of this, “You wouldn’t actually use this stance and block, but in a few years, you’ll understand how to apply it. It just takes practice and discipline.”