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.

In the Big Dream, an employment agency, ran a series of commercials that I thought were great. These spots portrayed children describing their future. Most kids dream of jobs like doctor, fireman, or astronaut when they grow up. They dream big dreams. In the ads however, these kids would say things like, “I want to lay tar, all day long!” the next child would say, “ I want to be mired in middle management forever.” another would say, “I want to be a brown nose.”

The effect was both amusing and chilling. While the shock value of seeing a 10-year claim to aspire to be a brown nose was funny, it was also sad to consider that a young person would make their dream so, well, pedestrian. The power of the word potential is in direct proportion to the age of the person you are describing. A ten-year old seems to have endless potential. An 80-year old would, by most accounts, have less potential.

In seeing this spot over the months, I began to wonder what happens between the time a child dreams of being a rocket scientist and when he ends up nailing shingles on a roof all day long.

My dream as a kid was always to be either an athlete or a teacher. As a sports crazed kid, I read all the sports heroes biographies from Jim Thorpe to Babe Ruth. There was something very appealing about becoming famous for playing a kid’s game. I think the interest in teaching had to do with power and a feeling of significance. Either way, martial arts certainly helped me fulfill those two aspects of my childhood fantasies. I’m sure the same applies to you.

One of the most common questions I received over the course of the NAPMA 2000 World Conference was, “Did you ever imagine it would get this big?”  The first time the question was asked, I had to take a moment to pause and think about it. It was actually a flattering question that threw me off for a second. While not trying to sound cocky or brash, my answer was honestly, “Yes.” This was a lesson I learned from Brian Tracy years ago. Dream big dreams.

Brian taught me to focus on prosperity, not poverty. Rather than focus on what I don’t have, focus on what I wanted to achieve and then to throw myself into that work with abandon. I did and it worked.

Dreaming big dreams only makes sense to me. What’s the alternative? Dreaming of being a brown nose? Dreaming of being a roofer? As Brian also says, “Anything less than a commitment to excellence is an acceptance of mediocrity.” I never forgot that.

Prosperity thinking means you don’t say to yourself, “I can’t afford that.” Instead, you teach yourself to say, “How can I afford that?” The difference is huge. To use a tired phrase, one question empowers you while the other disempowers you.

One of the techniques I used to help keep me motivated was to visit luxury homes for sale. Typically, on a Sunday afternoon you could visit these homes under the pretense of being a potential buyer. I would walk in the house, and just visualize that I was coming home at night after classes. I could see myself throwing my black belt on the hook and heading for the hot tub.  This exercise worked as sort of a time machine for me. If I worked hard, stayed the course, did what needed to be done when it needed to be done whether I liked it or not, this was my future. It also showed me that, if I fall back into old habits and comfort zones, this is what I would be missing.

You have to understand that this was shortly after being so broke that I couldn’t afford to pay for my car insurance. I would run two miles to the school each day for six months because I didn’t dare drive. I’d tell the students it was my warmup.

In order to break out of this place, I had to “fake it ‘til I make it.” Part of dreaming big dreams is to expose yourself to the lifestyle you want to achieve. That’s why I always visit a five-star hotel each year to do my goal setting. Even if I couldn’t afford to spend a night there, I still wanted to put myself in an atmosphere of success and opulence as I reviewed the previous year and planned for the next.

I’m a very future oriented person. While I certainly “stop and smell the roses,” I’m confident the best is yet to come. That’s the beauty of a dream, especially the big ones. The martial arts can be a great career choice and it’s getting better all the time. Like many things today, your career in the arts is what you make it. Let us know how we can help your big dreams come true.

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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