The Powerful Influence of Authority as a Martial Arts Instructor

The Powerful Influence of Authority as a Martial Arts Instructor

The block that convinced me to stop teaching it.

Please read this objectively as you can. Some martial artists are easily insulted, which is not the purpose of this article. The goal is to stimulate thought and discussion. 

As martial arts professionals, most of us fell in love with the arts from our first class. 

You, like me, were probably hooked from that first class. 

Travel back in your mental time machine to the earliest moments you can recall learning martial arts. 

Here are seven predictions about that class. My experiences are in bold italics.

1. You started by learning the rituals of bowing in and out of class. Yes.

2. You were told to address the instructors as Mr., Mrs, Ms, Master, Sensei, Sifu, or some similar title? Yes.

3. The instructors were in full uniform. Yes.

4. The origin of the style explained to you as coming from the East and developed by martial arts masters. Yes. “Taekwondo was developed in Korea where they develop strong legs from climbing the hills.”

5. You were told the advantage of your martial arts style over others. Yes. “TKD is a kicking style. That’s best because the leg is a much longer and stronger weapon than the arm. 

6. You learned the horse stance from which you were taught to block and punch while squaring off to your opponent and pulling your hand to your hip and holding your punch out in the air. 

Yes, along with front and back stance.

7. Your instructor demonstrated a kata and explained, “This is a fight against multiple opponents.” Yes.

Now, imagine this…

The same exact skills are being taught, but what is the effect of eliminating the East from the class?

1. The class did fist bumps instead of bowing?

2. The instructor said, “Call me Joey.”

3. The instructor was in sweat pants and a t-shirt?

4. The instructor said, “I created this in the Bronx. I had to climb a lot of stairs as a kid, so I developed strong legs.”

5. The instructor explained the advantage of the style is that “It’s a kicking style. That’s best because the leg is a much longer and stronger weapon than the arm.”

6. The instructor taught the same horse stance from which you were taught to execute blocks and punches while squaring off to your imaginary opponent and pulling your hand to your hip, aiming and holding your punch still in the air. 

7. The instructor demonstrated a kata and explained, “This is a fight against multiple opponents.” 

If the skills Instructor Joey taught and the reasoning behind them were the exact same as we experienced in our actual first lessons, would anyone watching have readily accepted what was being taught as we did?

 

Suspending our Disbelief–East and West

Suspension of disbelief is the voluntary avoidance of critical thought and logic.

When you watch a Superman movie and accept that Superman can fly, that is the suspension of disbelief.

Do we suspend our disbelief about what is presented as self-defense and practical skills because it has Eastern origins?


Two Quick Stories

When I was a new 14-year old orange belt, my dad asked me to show his buddy what I learned. They were drinking beer and smoking at our dining room table.

I did the new orange belt kata, Tan Gun and I explained each step as I had been taught. 

When I got close to the end, I executed a square block while explaining, “This is how you block two guys at once. One overhead and the other to the side.”

At that point, Dad’s friend said, “That sounds like a bunch of bulls*** to me.” 

20-years later, and I’m at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, where I’m going to teach the inaugural ACMA Certification Program (now the MATA Certification). 

I was on a stair master in the gym when an adult karate class started on the basketball court. The instructor started teaching Tan Gun. 

When he got to the square block, he explained it exactly as I learned it. 

I thought, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! How can those students keep a straight face?” 

Blocking two guys? I can’t believe I teach this stuff.” 

I never taught a kata or basics again. 


Masters Talk A Lot About Kaizen

How have you improved and progressed over the past few decades, or are you perpetuating square blocks?

Have you ever questioned the sheer logic of what you teach your students? 

Have you always been taught that the secrets of fighting and self-defense are hidden in the bunkai?

Now that we have multiple videos of the Asian masters executing bunkai, you can see why the root word is bunk.

Have you ever seen a horse stance, square block, or a lunge punch in a real street fight or self-defense situation?

I have nothing against teaching kata it’s great for cardio and coordination.

But I object when it’s taught in anyway as related to fighting, sparring, and certainly not self-defense.

I was a US Open Kata Champion. I was the first center judge at the WAKO World Champions in Munich when they introduced kata as a division.

I also consider myself a life-long student of the martial arts, not a master. 

Given the choice in a 50-minute class, I personally would not spend any time on basic blocks, lunge punches or kata. There are way too many fun skills and applications are actually rooted in the reality rather than buried in bunkai.

 

Why Reconsidering Kata is a Good Idea Post-Pandemic

Why Reconsidering Kata is a Good Idea Post-Pandemic

DISCLAIMER
I am not against teaching kata as an art form. That is great. It’s like being a museum curator.

However, I am strongly against kata being presented as a tool for self-defense. That is fraud. That is what I am addressing here. 

I spent a decade of my life learning to be one of the country’s top kata competitors and teachers, only to discover that what I believed and taught was pure fantasy. At the bottom of this page, you can see me execute a kata and bunkai in my 3rd-degree black belt test.

Kata for practical training is worse than a waste of time because it creates terrible habits that can get you killed.

It’s confounding to me how many reasonably intelligent adult black belts believe that kata is the end-all to a martial arts curriculum. 

Unless it’s only for the art how can you justify spending 50% or more of your classroom time teaching traditional skills and kata?

How can you justify advertising that you teach self-defense when you’re spending 50% or more of your classroom time teaching traditional skills and kata?

In my experience, the best thing a martial arts school can do is to eliminate kata from the curriculum as fast as possible because there are so many far more effective drills and skills you can work on during the time that is wasted on kata.

Traditionalists talk about the “secret moves” in kata that you can only learn if a master reveals the hidden and protected bunkai of the form. These guys are in an eastern hypnotic trance.

Why not just teach the secret move instead of burying it in a bunch of useless moves? Remember, the root word in bunkai is bunk.

Before I get into the bad habits traditional martial arts create, let me help you with some perspective.

Kata was created by Asians that were probably about 5’ 5” foot tall and 130lbs. 

They did not fight 6’ 5” 250 lbs drunken males intent on smashing their faces.

As far as I know, they did not collaborate with law enforcement, prison guards, the military or anyone who deals with violent adults day in and day out.

Kata is one size fits all self-defense, which is foolish.

Where in kata can you adjust for a taller fighter? Where in kata can you adjust against someone trying to tackle you? Where in kata can you adjust to fight a shorter, stronger bull of an attacker? Where is there an in-direct attack using a fake in kata?

You can’t. You must execute all the steps in order or you are penalized by your instructor. 

Bunkai reveals that all kata are against multiple attackers. Why is the form designed so that you are standing between your opponents rather than moving to the outside and lining them up. That is rule one in fighting multiple attackers, yet kata does an awful job of teaching how to defend against more than one attacker.

Karate and Kung Fu Kata are all theory and teach TERRIBLE HABITS.

  1. Pulling the hand back to the hip instead of the face.
  2. Leaving a punch out for good form instead of snapping it back to a guard.
  3. Thrusting punches instead of snapping them.
  4. Squaring the center body-line to the opponent instead of turning it away to protect the groin, solar plexus, and throat.
  5. Becoming “one with the earth” in a deep stance rather than keeping your feet under you for instant mobility.
  6. Keeping the chin up for good form instead of tucking it down for protection.
  7. Pulling the shoulders back for good form instead of pulling them up for protection.

The best move I made was to replace traditional karate with modern skills that are much easier to learn and to teach. This is the basis of my  Empower Kickboxing curriculum at EmpowerKickboxing.com.

2 Ways to Teach Upper Elbow. Which Do You Like?

Do you think in the post COVID world, people are going to have the patience to spend 3 – 4 years to get competent at your martial arts style?

Pre-COVID, we were already in an “everything I want is just 1-click away” world.

This is a typically outdated and overly complicated presentation of an important skill. Most instructors who are still teaching this way are simply doing what they were taught. I am not trying to embarrass anyone. I did the same for decades.

But the truth is that these kinds of traditional skill presentations are full of smoke and mirrors and founded in folly.

1. It’s the black belt in a gi with stripes.
2. It’s the bowing in just to demo a skill that creates an “aura of authority.”
3. It’s the silly fake punch attack that a regular person would buy into, but we SHOULD know better.

That is all smoke and mirrors.

I don’t blame anyone. I’m just trying to open your eyes to see what is REALLY going on.

These skills were developed in a vacuum in a small village in an Asian country nearly 100 years ago. They did the best they could do at the time.

1. No collaboration with international experts.
2. No video to share and study.
3. Many skills are based on animal movements rather than real experience. Monkey kung fu?

It’s fine if this was a historical demo of, “How they used to do this in the 1930s in Japan…” But, it’s not. It’s presented as being valuable for self-defense in 2020. That puts us all in a sideshow.

I used to teach the same stuff, so I get it. I just want to help instructors move into the present and release the baggage of our collective traditional past.

This could be anyone teaching the same stuff, so I’m not faulting anyone. I’d like to help move us out of the mystery and mysticism that clouds our reality and perpetuates bad info.

There is an alternative. EmpowerKickboxing.com

martial arts curriculum log

There is a better way

Escape the Jail Cell of Style

Escape the Jail Cell of Style

Escape the Jail Cell of Style

 

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

Three Curriculum Questions for Martial Arts Instructors

martial arts curriculum

NOTE: There is a link to the curriculum at the bottom of the page.

1. What is easier to learn? A hook kick or a sidekick? I say the hook kick.

Which do you teach first? I’ve always taught sidekick first. Why? Because it’s always been taught that way.

In truth, when you are teaching hook kick, most students are actually doing a low hook kick. Why? It’s a more natural movement.

2. What is easier to learn? A spinning hook kick or a spinning back kick? I say the spinning hook kick.

Which do you teach first? I’ve always taught spinning back kick. Why? Because it’s always been taught that way. The reality is that most kids can do a spinning hook kick on their first day in class.

3. As white belts in your school, do students have to first learn the basic tradition blocks and stances before they move into more applicable strikes and kicks? Why?

Traditional anything is more complex (not more advanced) than most any strike or kick. The application of traditional material is also harder to grasp for the new student.

Do the traditional arts have value? Yes! Absolutely. It’s just a bit of a hard sale to retain a new student when he is hit with this kind of complexity right out of the gate.

For the past few years I have been working on a curriculum that makes teaching and learning martial arts easy.

Rather than spreading practice time over dozens, if not hundreds of techniques, we focus on a much smaller amount of techniques so we can spend more time on each.

The idea is that if you spend 45-minutes practicing a half-dozen techniques in various applications your students will feel much more progress than if you spend that class teaching or reviewing a 24-move kata.

We call a month a Module. Each month the focus of the module changes:

Three Modules  = One Term

Term One

1. Kickboxing

2. Weapons / Ground

3. Martial Arts

Term Two

1. Kickboxing

2. Weapons / Ground

3. Martial Arts

Term Three

1. Kickboxing

2. Weapons / Ground

3. Martial Arts

Term Four

1. Kickboxing

2. Weapons / Ground

3. Martial Arts