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

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


Little Dragons Curriculum Example

Be sure to visit the MATA Pre-Age Students section for great information on Little Dragons, Little Ninjas, and all pre-school age students.

Little Dragons uses a half white belt and a half colored belt. To get to the next belt level three black stripes must be earned and the next month they test for the next belt. Testing is every six weeks, so there is 24 weeks between new belts. Our particular program is put together to get students ready for our “regular” children’s program for ages 6-11.

Gold Belt 0-1 Stripe

Elbow Strike #1 ( Reach Back Arm To The Front, Look Over Back Shoulder And Fire Behind You)

Skip Up Side Kick

Guarding Stance, Jab, Reverse Punch Dropping To Back Knee

Gold 1-2 Stripes

Wrist Grab Escape- ( Bring Hands Together, Step and Pull Arm Away going towards the Thumb.)

Combo:Jab, Skip Side Kick

Low Parry Blocks Vs Front Kick Alternating Sides

Gold 2-3 Stripes

Elbow #2 ( Off The Back Arm, Face Elbow To The Ceiling And Bring Over Top On A 45 Degree Angle)

Combo: Skip Side Kick, Jab, Reverse Punch

Low Parry Blocks Vs. Front Kick, Counter Reverse Punch ( Front And Back Arm)

3- To New Belt- Perform All Gold Material And Recite Full Address.

Orange 0-1 Stripe

Elbow # 3 ( Thrown Off The Front Arm, Straight Across Much Like A Hook Punch)

Back Leg Cutting Kick

Dragons Form – Jab, Drop To Back Knee Reverse Punch, Left Side Kick ( Put Both Hands Down On The Ground Near The Right Hip), Left Upward Block, Reverse Punch, Kiai!

Orange 1-2 Stripes

Front Leg Round Kick

Jab, Reverse Punch, Back Leg Cutting kick

Choke hold escape- punch, knee, raise arm up, step away and load up for elbow #1

Orange 2-3 stripes

Jump front kick

Skip up front leg round kick, jab, elbow #2, elbow#3, front leg round kick, kiai!

Switch up front leg cutting kick, jab, elbow #2, elbow #3, front leg cutting kick, kiai!

Orange 3  to new belt-  perform all material and answer questions about what to do if a stranger approaches them and …..

*If you test your students once a month then this curriculum will last you one year. If you test every 6 weeks then this curriculum will last you about 18 months.

Children’s Curriculum – Introduction

Children’s Curriculum – Introduction

Click to see all of our Curriculum Related Content.


When the teacher asks the children, “What is the biggest room in the world?”  the well-trained students will respond, “the room for improvement.” 

The MATA Children’s Curriculum was born out of the idea that there is room for improvement in what and how we teach the martial arts to children. 

In many cases this approach works. In many other cases, it does not. The outcome is far too many children miss out on the benefits derived from the long-term study of the martial arts. They drop out of classes because they grow bored with the program or some reason akin to it.  

The actual numbers are not known, but it is a fair estimate that ninety percent of the children who enroll in martial arts classes fail to continue their study to the rank of first-degree black belt. 

The martial arts instructor often blames this problem on the children for their lack of discipline and perseverance, but the truth is, self-discipline and perseverance are exactly what we’re supposed to be teaching them. These goals we can’t accomplish unless our students stick around long enough to learn the lessons.

The MATA Children’s Curriculum was designed to be fun for children as well as to enrich their lives with its powerful benefits. 

As we were developing the curriculum we asked ourselves, “What do children in today’s world really need and how can the martial arts fulfill those needs?” 

The MATA Children’s Curriculum is simplistic yet diverse in its approach to a number of innovative concepts that nurture, entertain and motivate children. 

We also designed it to be easy to teach. It is strong enough to stand on its own or it can be integrated into any children’s system.

For the teacher, the curriculum serves as a foundation upon which to teach and build basic skills. It did not originate from any one style nor does it owe a debt to any particular individual.

It is not any specific style; it is simply “martial art.” It is a tool to help schools increase student retention with a fun, effective, and above all else, educational approach. 

It contains lessons in intensity, manners, anger management, non-violent conflict resolution, anatomy and physiology, history, goal setting, public speaking, teaching, and team building. 

MATA calls this approach to balancing education and technique an “education-based curriculum.” Remember this phrase, as it will be a key selling point for your children’s courses. 

An education-based curriculum is one that rests on a foundation of education above tradition, technique, countries of origin, above all else. What we place as the number-one priority on the list (and hope you will, too) is the quality of education for children participating in your programs.

The MATA Children’s Curriculum grew from a need to improve upon what and how we teach children the martial arts today. After all, it is today’s young students who will carry the martial arts and its potential for self-improvement, empowerment and personal transformation into the future.

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