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.

Imagine getting a call to be an expert guest on a national TV show to help viewers deal with their fear of being attacked by criminals taking advantage of the Defund the Police movement. 

The reporter says, “Gun sales are at an all-time high, but you don’t always have a gun with you when you need it. As a martial arts expert, what’s the best martial art for self-defense?” What would your response be? 

I think the answer is a little easier when you look at it from the prism of what styles NOT to choose for self-defense.

My response, I hope, would say to:

  1. Avoid any style that is not updated throughout each year as the instructors learn more about self-defense by studying current events rather than trying to mimic ancient traditions.
  2. Avoid any style that takes 3-5 years to get to the black belt level of martial arts expertise. Expertise in self-defense takes a few months, not years. 
  3. Avoid any style that spends time teaching complex movements that are at best theoretically related to self-defense. 
  4. Avoid any style that has you train in your bare feet and a gi because the odds are you will be in street clothes and shoes if attacked. 
  5. Avoid any style that demands you learn moves and skills that break every principle of smart self-defense. Examples include:
    1. Pulling your hand to your hip instead of your jaw to guard your head.
    2. Squaring your body towards the attacker exposing your center line instead of turning it away.
    3. Aiming your punches and then holding them in the air for good form. 
    4. Advancing with clunky steps and blocks against an imaginary attacker who must be punching at you while moving backward.
    5. Keeping your chin up for good form instead of down for protection.

Styles vs Systems

As far as what style is good for martial arts, there is no such thing. The best self-defense instructors teach systems, not styles. 

For instance, Empower Kickboxing is a Student Centric curriculum, not Style Centric.

Systems are constantly upgraded. Styles never change. That’s why it’s called a style. Any modifications have to be within the confines of the style. 

Given the choice of attending a martial arts school that takes years to learn self-defense vs signing up for a ten-week self-defense course taught by an expert with law enforcement training, the choice is easy. You will learn faster from a self-defense expert than a martial arts instructor.

Market interest for bare feet martial arts is dwindling vs the market for straight-forward self-defense training. That’s also why we’re seeing an increase in martial arts school owners who are either rebranding themselves as a self-defense school or closing the school and becoming a full-time self-defense instructor.

What do you think? How would you answer the question,

“What’s the best martial art for self-defense?”








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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