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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.

This Video Exposes One Of The Major Gaps Kata Creates In Striking In The Ring Or In The Street.

When teaching martial arts students sparring, it’s critical to understand the habits you’re creating.

When virtually every technique of traditional kata contradicts self-defense or sparring, you have to make a decision.

Do you want your students to be good at kata or good at protecting themselves?

Some might think, well they can do both. I agree. I did for years.

It also took me years to get rid of the bad habits traditional karate created in my sparring and self-defense knowledge.

I realized I had been fed a bunch of ancient Asian smoke and mirrors. Just like my instructor.

If you chose one to focus on, the students would get better at that skill set faster.

If you chose sparring and self-defense, students would be better prepared to protect themselves than if they spent years uncovering the “secrets of kata.”

Students will follow your lead. To them, what you say must be the truth because they chose you as their teacher. You’re the black belt.

Therefore, it’s incumbent upon you to seriously reevaluate what you are teaching every year.

If you choose sparring and self-defense, you have to be careful of what kind of sparring.

Sport tae kwon do does not permit punches to the head, yet most street fights start with a punch to the head.

Point fighting is fake fighting that is based on the “killer blow” theories that a strike or a block from a martial artist could be deadly.

Another debunked theory is that most fights end up on the ground. Pick out a random selection of street fights on YouTube and you’ll see about as many fights go to the ground as you do groin kicks. Not many.

The most practical stand-up sparring system is continuous kickboxing. This means you don’t stop to honor a point. Instead, you hit the person back.



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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