Thursday, October 9, 2014

Keeping it safe for everyone

As I mentioned in my last post, I like to use circuit training workouts to keep things fresh and entertaining for the kids in my class.

What I didn't mention is that you can modify many of the exercises for use by adolescents. For instance, the Pokemon Master workout..

While children between the ages of 5 and 12 can do most of these, the plank punches, rolls and plank to lunge are a little intense for their young bodies. It's hard to keep them aligned correctly*. Therefore, I modify them.

Plank punches can be modified so that they're done on all fours instead of in the plank position. This way the bodies are more stable and there's less of a chance of them ... face-planting.

The plank rolls can be more problematic... unless you flip them over on their backs. Now you're doing cross-body crunches, which also work the obliques.

Finally, plank into lunge can be modified slightly so that instead of plank into lunge, the kids are moving from a standing position to a lunge. Again, this is more stable and will keep them from falling.

It's good to keep in mind that many adults will require modifications to exercises as well. I know all my adults pretty well, but when we have new adults join the lass, I will ask them if they have any injuries or ailments they are aware of. I have one "wonky" knee that I want to keep from injuring. Therefore I don't do jumping jacks, but I will do calf-raises. High knees would likewise be out for me, so I run instead. And as for the squats, I make sure that instead of my knees going out in front of me, I send my bottom back out (in a chair position, rather than a squat), protecting my knees.

Most modifications can be found online with a little research. It's worth a little research to keep everyone safe. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Keeping it fun for everyone...

There are different reasons for people to take martial arts classes. The two main reasons are usually:
  • workout : all about the burn
  • protection: all about defense
That's not to say people might not have other reasons that don't fall neatly into these two boxes--people are complicated and their reasons for working out can be just as complicated. So it's important to never presume why someone is participating in a class or program.

Class should be carefully structured so that there is a good warm-up with cardio (followed by some light stretching) so the instruction that follows can be done with "warm" bodies. Circuit training is ideal for warm-ups, and if you use the right kind of moves, you can also incorporate some practical instruction (cross punches, kicks, squats, are all good for learning attack and evasion moves).

Take these two workouts:
 I use both of these for the "calisthenics" portion of the class. The Ronin workout is particularly effective on the days we are doing escrima stick fighting. The Batgirl workout is awesome for warmups on days we're going to be doing sparring.  (incidentally, if you like these, I highly suggest Neila Rey's circuit workout series)

Some days I'll instead go with yoga or maybe a Pilates workout, because we're going to be doing some serious kicking or punching. The teens seem to hate these the most, but I'm a big believer in keeping flexible. But it's good to mix things up so that you're targeting the areas you may not be working as hard, or to stretch out areas you have been working out instead.

Most importantly, make sure that when you are instructing you avoid using what could be considered inflammatory language or call out individual students. The exception to this would be if you notice someone that is doing a exercise incorrectly and it may injure them. Then you need to call them out or they will get hurt. Make sure to offer variations for the exercises when you can (if you have back issues, do kneeling plank; if you have shoulder issues, don't raise your arms above your head) to keep your students safe. And always listen to feedback. There may be complaining that is just whining (I hate planks), and then there's complaining that needs to be addressed (lunges make my knees hurt).

Keeping it fresh will keep your students entertained, and their bodies won't get too used to a particular workout. Have some fun, and keep them safe.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Making peace with the "warrior spirit"

I do both yoga and martial arts. One might think that these are incompatible with each other, but I find that both allow me to express what I like to call my warrior spirit.

If you were to ask any of my yoga instructors about my general attitude in class, they would say I'm an "experienced yogi." One of them has gone so far as nicknaming me "little miss hard-core," since I am willing to try just about any pose. Headstand? I'm on it. Handstand? I'm working on it. Flying poses? I'm all about it. I like a challenge. 

I view yoga as a great way to relax--when I am in a pose, I try to be IN the pose, mindful of my body's position in space, the tempo of my breath, trying to ground myself through the soles of my feet (or fingers, or even entire body, depending on the pose).  

Are there poses I can't do? Sure. There are a lot, actually. Because I also do martial arts, I've built up muscle in areas that prevent me from being completely flexible. Some days, it annoys me. I really want to be able to do ALL the poses, but I've come to accept that there are things my body is just not going to be able to do. It's ok. I'm just built that way.

If you were to ask my martial arts instructors about my general attitude in class, they would probably tell you that I take my classes seriously. When I am a student, I am focused on learning. When I am an instructor, I am focused on teaching.  Are there certain things I'm more willing to do in class? sure. I love working with weapons: sticks, staff, knives, swords... I love them all.  I also like to practice forms when I can. I think they're beautiful and lots of fun. It's like learning a dance routine that has a practical benefit. 

Martial Arts is also a way for me to relax. This is another area where I can be as much in the moment as possible. If you are not aware of where your body exists in relation to your opponent, you can hurt someone (or not, depending on what you're trying to do). 

Are there things I can't do? Sure. I have some hard limits on things because I have physical limitations. I messed up my knee playing kickball a few years ago, and now I have to be careful not to stress it. Same thing with my wrists. So when I spar or do stick work, I have to be conscious of what I am doing.

In both instances, you have to be relaxed in order to get the maximum effect from what you are doing. A tense body will not bend, nor will it be able to strike efficiently. It is through constant practice and muscle memory we eventually get to the point where we don't have to think about what we are doing--we simply DO.  Look at this quote from Bruce Lee:

Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.
 Now... how about a yoga quote?
Blessed are the flexible, for they will never be bent out of shape.
Looks like they're not so different after all.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

But it works in the movies / on TV!

There are two types of martial arts: 1) useful martial arts, 2) choreographed martial arts. I will be the first to tell you that choreographed martial arts looks SO much better than the useful stuff (most of the time). There are, of course, exceptions to that rule, but unless you have two (or more) masters, it's unlikely you're going to see anything as beautiful as this:

Beautiful, isn't it? 

I love watching stuff like this. In fact, all you have to do is run a search in YouTube, and you can find all kinds of martial arts fighting matches, or instructional videos on how you TOO can master moves like a tornado/hurricane kick, or using pressure points instead of fighting (I'm not endorsing either of those videos, BTW, they're just examples of what I'm talking about).

Here's the problem with choreographed / youtube martial arts: it is—to turn a phrase—hit or miss. For every useful video, you're going to find a bunch of just horrible videos. Also, while choreographed martial arts looks beautiful, it's not not the most efficient way to get out of a sticky situation. Often, it's made more convoluted to look more beautiful.

You want to know what ends MMA matches? a kick to the head. Is it a hurricane kick? not usually, normally it's an axe kick, or maybe a roundhouse (albeit a pretty high roundhouse). SIMPLE KICKS that get the job done. What about hitting? again, roundhouses and front punches to the head. No fancy pressure points, just an old-fashioned punch to the side of the head.*

Which is why I prefer to learn (and teach) styles that are simple and to the point. I'm not going to say that given an opportunity I wouldn't use a well timed spin kick or a good hammer to a pressure point -- but I would be more likely to use a good punch to the throat or kick to the knee. It's not pretty, but it works.

*don't get me started on grappling. You should NOT be on the ground unless you are sitting on top of an unconscious body, waiting for the cops. Seriously. I love watching ground fighting, but that has NO business in street-fighting—you do your best to stay the hell off the ground.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Unlike Tigger, we're NOT the only ones..

So there is a National Women's Martial Arts Federation..  and they offer self-defense training. As part of getting your NWMAF certification, you have to agree to the following statement (among other things)
Be in agreement with the philosophical assumptions developed by the NCASA Self-Defense AD-HOC Committee regarding the teaching of self defense presented:
  1. Women do not ask for, cause, invite, or deserve to be assaulted. Women and men sometimes exercise poor judgment about safety behavior, but that does not make them responsible for the attack. Attackers are responsible for their attacks and their use of violence to overpower, control and abuse another human being.
  2. Whatever a woman's decision in a given self-defense situation, whatever action she does or does not take, she is not at fault. A woman's decision to survive the best way she can must be respected. Self defense classes should not be used as judgment against a victim/survivor.
  3. Good self defense programs do not "tell" an individual what she "should" or "should not" do. A program should offer options, techniques, and a way of analyzing situations. A program may point out what USUALLY works best in MOST situations, but each situation is unique and the final decision rests with the person actually confronted by the situation.
  4. Empowerment is the goal of a good self defense program. The individual's right to make decisions about her participation must be respected. Pressure should not be brought to bear in any way to get a woman to participate in an activity if she is hesitant or unwilling.

You guys, these are important things, because it is important to teach how WRONG it is to engage in victim-blaming (and its relative slut-shaming). In the first sentence, it hits the nail on the head: Women and men sometimes exercise poor judgment about safety behavior, but that does not make them responsible for the attack.

I know far too many rape survivors. But even with the number of women I know that have come out the other side of rape, the percentage of those same women that reported the crime is soul-crushingly low. And of the women who were brave enough to tell what happened, to tell their story, they are far to often subject to armchair quarterbacking behavior: 
  • Why didn't you do [this]? 
  • Why would you go [there] with [him]?
  • What were you thinking [doing that]?
  • Were you [drinking / doing drugs / wearing something "inappropriate"]?
  • Why didn't you just [fight back / scream / get help]?
These are also covered in the guidelines above (see b and c, receptively). But it's the last one that gets my attention. And here's why: if we accept that rape is sexual contact without consent, we must accept that we (as human beings) need to respect people's feeling about participation in anything. In other words, you cannot force a survivor to participate in a self-defense program—it becomes counter productive.

So. When we are teaching classes, we must be particularly careful when instructing. I rarely ask female students to stand in for a victim when we are demonstrating advanced techniques that involve throwing or disarming the attacker. That may seem odd, but think about how you may normally instruct....  "ok, I'm attacking [student] so I throw a punch like so, and [they] counter by doing..." 
That might be problematic. So instead, I say things like, "okay, [student] is going to be the attacker," and then I make sure that's ok with them. Because not all students like to attack either!* So once I find a willing attacker, I will explain to them if I'm going to throw them or get them on the ground in any way. And then I demonstrate the technique.

And here's the most important part: if you're going to partner people to practice the technique, always look to see if there are people uncomfortable with what's going on. Not everyone is going to speak up and say, "excuse me, I don't want to do this because it makes me uncomfortable." They might not want to stand out. So make sure to walk the room, talk with the students, look at how they're participating. Are they avoiding working by talking or some other manner? Do they seem anxious? Are they finding excuses to not participate?

That's when you can take a moment, and take them aside (so one can hear) and ask them if there's something up, or if they would like to try a different technique that may be less aggressive. Don't single them out--be chill about it. You don't want to trigger any anxiety, but you can gently give excuses that will give them an "out."

And then, of course, try to follow up with them later--maybe after class or with a phone call. Be there to listen, be there to help. But above all, don't blame the victim.

* as an aside, my oldest boy HATES to attack me. It's a chore to even get him to practice hitting drills with me because he doesn't like attacking people, period. I'm OK with that, and luckily my younger boy is content to attack me whenever I ask.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

This conversation totally happened last night...

On Tuesday nights, our normal instructor allows us to learn from his instructor, Gat-Kuya Peña (who has his own dojo, Street Smart Self-Defence Systems). I don't think could explain in one post how awesome he is—he's patient, funny, and wicked talented in the Garimot Arnis system. 

Gat-Kuya Peña is losing his voice, so it fell to me to take most of the instruction—at least as far as the talking was concerned. We have a lot of new people in our dojo at the moment, so I was tasked with going over the basic strikes (there are five), calling out the names of the strikes in Tagalog as we went along. After we felt the students were comfortable with the  strikes, we paired up the kids so that the advanced belts were partnered with the new kids. 

During this time, both Gat-Kuya and I walk around and help the kids with corrections to their stances, or their strikes, hand positions, etc. One of the stances following the first overhead involves holding the stick outside your left arm, similarly to the way you would mimic holding a baby--like a cradle.  As we walk around, he notices that some of the kids are putting the their sticks under their arms, and stops the class.

Gat-Kuya: ok, the name of this stance [shows stance] is calon. what does that mean
various students : cradle
Gat-Kuya: exactly, it's like you're holding a baby. You don't hold a baby like this [puts stick under his arm], right?
various students: no!
Gat-Kuya: ok. let's try it again

(at this point most of the kids go back to partner work, with the exception of my oldest son, who's working with one of our newer teens)

Son: SIFU! 
Gat-Kuya: what's up?
Son: my mom held me like that when I was a baby; under her arm.
Gat-Kuya: (trying not to laugh) did she really?
Son: oh yeah, I was really small, so she could totally hold me like that!
Me: dude, shut it.
Son: um, I'm supposed to be not talking as much. I'm going to go back to teaching.

As we walked away, I explain to my instructor that I did indeed hold him that way, when he was a toddler, not a baby but he just laughed and went back to working with the other kids.

which is all to say: if you hold your babies under your arm like a football, it may come back to haunt you someday--and in the middle of a stick fighting class.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"This isn't BALLET."

This past week I was working as the assistant instructor for the teen/adult class, as is pretty normal. We had a mixed bag of teens this week, with about 1/2 as many females as males in the class. I opted to do some balancing poses for the stretching portion so we could work on their balance as well as build up some core muscle. Since we had a lot of new kids, I opted for tree pose. It's a good pose for beginners to advanced kids, because there are various levels you can take the pose. You can place your non-standing foot from just above your ankle all the way to the top of your thigh (or even move into standing lotus).  
As we were moving into the pose, I instructed the kids to find their balance on their standing leg, and use their other foot for support (which looks similar to effacé or à la seconde--see picture at left). This prompted one of the newer students to say (rather loundly),
are we doing karate, or ballet?
I don't normally answer smart-ass kids in class, that said, I wasn't going to let this go. So I turned to him and said in my most even tone, "look kid. When have the physique and endurance of a ballerina, you can question my warm-ups. In the meantime, get your leg up and stop talking back." He complied, and class went on. But it brought back some uncomfortable memories...

I once had a martial-arts instructor who, when trying to motivate the young adult class, would yell at us, "come on! this isn't ballet!" I let it go the first time. After a couple of additional times, however, I finally decided that someone had to say something. I walked up to the instructor, and said, "look, I don't know what you think you are doing by yelling, 'this isn't ballet,' or 'the dance studio is down the street,' but I have to tell you, I studied dance for the majority of my adolescent life, and these guys (motioning to the guys in the class) wouldn't last through the warm-up of a ballet class."  The instructor told me that it was a joke, and that it was meant as a motivation. To which I just shook my head and walked away.

The class—at the time—was almost exclusively male. I was one of two females in the class. So while I accepted that the instructor "didn't mean anything by it," the actual message of "this isn't ballet," was that the guys in the class were being "girly," and therefore "weak." 

Here's the thing. There are not a lot of females in martial arts, girls are pushed towards activities like dance and cheerleading. These are also highly athletic activities, and can be great for team building and bonding. There are not a lot of guys in dance and cheer-leading (at least not in the United States), so these sports are considered to be "girly." And girly means weak, or lesser. This is highly prevalent in America as evidenced in this article, and this video

In other countries (even those with a high level of "machismo" culture) male ballet dancers are considered "rockstars." Think of Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Vaslav Nijinsky (or if you want more contemporary references to power and grace, think: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Gregory Hines, or even Michael Jackson), and you think of power. Look at the image on the right -- does that look powerful, or weak? I know I can't do that, and I do a LOT of yoga. 

Or watch this....

But for my part, I feel that the more alienating aspect of this comment is in how it diminishes the females in the class. What if this hadn't been a young adult class? A comment like that in a class of adolescents could potentially alienate many young girls in the class. The insult is two-fold: 
  1. it makes the case that "girly" things are not as worthy and insults females in general,
  2. any females in the class that have previous dance experience are being directly insulted.
We need to keep our girls invested in our martial-arts classes. We can't expect to keep doing that if we make comments that, on the surface, seem innocuous but are actually quite damaging to a burgeoning female ego. Equating doing something "like a girl," with doing something weakly is to undo all the good we are doing by teaching them they can use their body to protect THEIR BODY.  I fight #likeagirl -- try to keep up.

Incidentally, if you want to try a barre workout (which is frighteningly close to ballet warm-ups), try this or this). Don't blame me if you get sore.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Less IS more

I'm probably part of a minority of people who read Black Belt magazine—particularly for the tips and tricks that apply specifically to women. When I saw this article, I ws particularly intrigued: The Art of Teaching Women's Self-Defense: Less is Best.

When you've been taking classes for a while, you forget how hard it was to learn those first few punches and kicks. Hopefully you've been practicing long enough that you don't have ot think about the position of your body when you're throwing a punch, or how to counterbalance correctly for a kick. It's like trying to remember what it was like to learn to walk. You don't think about it anymore, you just walk! And that's a problem.

Here's a practical example:
When my dad came back from Vietnam, he was gravely wounded with a lot of damage to his lower body. He had to undergo a lot of physical therapy, part of which was re-learning how to walk. He told me that it was probably the hardest thing he had to do, becaue you take for granted that you understand the whole walking process. But now it's different because you have to consciously control your muscles. If you don't believe me, try playing QWOP. Here's an image of someone who got further than I did:

It's a difficulty. When you've taken a lot of classes and know a lot of techniques you want to show people all kinds of neat tricks. There are so many ways you can kick and punch, and so many places to choose from! But attendees to a seminar are (usually) not seasoned martial-arts practitioners, and as anxious as you are to show everyone a whole bunch of cool stuff--you have to take it easy. 

Hopefully I'll remember that Sunday after next!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

well, looks like my dad was right about THAT....

When I was small(er), my dad set about trying to teach me with the basics of fighting. As I was a year younger than everyone else in my class, and small for my age, I was pretty consistently getting picked on.
His advice was short, sweet, and to the point (I have only two of those three qualities, myself):

  1. if you're going to punch, go for the face: eyes, nose or throat.
  2. if they're too tall for that, punch or kick in the crotch (boy or girl, it will hurt)
  3. follow up by knocking them down before you:
  4. run away.
This is actually VERY good advice. There are lots of strike points on the human body--and some of them are especially good. Just look at this:

I mean, there are some fun spots you can use to mess someone up, right? And that's not just "vital points," in that image, either, you've got some nice "nerve points," too. That seems like a LOT to choose from... almost too many, really.

But here's the thing, a good many of those points don't work all the time.
I, myself, don't respond to pressure on my Median Nerve. If someone has good muscle control, or a nice layer of fat, or maybe even a fairly thick sweater or coat, you won't get the same effect on body strikes to the ribs, diaphragm or kidneys.  Boots or shoes can prevent damage to the instep or Achilles tendon.

So what does that leave? Well, there's always the face. And here's the thing about hitting someone in the cranial area: your brain does NOT like that. A hit to the eyes will make them water, so will a good hit to the nose. Strikes to the temple or throat can possibly kill someone. They are vunerable areas, and can (and should) be exploited if your life is on the line.

But what if they're too tall? Yes, this can happen. I've sparred with people that I would literally have to stand on a stool in order to hit in the nose, and trying to hit them in the nose just looks stupid and wastes a lot of my energy. So I don't try to hit them in the nose... at first. First I find a way to bring them to me... say... a kick to the groin (or knee... or even a good roundhouse to the abdomen). Then I go for the face.

And usually that accomplishes step 3 -- knocking them down. The goal here is to get to step 4. If you can knock someone down, you can make it harder for them to chase after you, because you do NOT want to have a sustained fight with someone outside of the sparring ring. A well placed kick to the groin or knee will certainly help here. But often so will a good elbow strike to the jaw, the throat or the temple. 

The point is, don't make this too complicated. It's not about mastering the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique... it's about doing something simple and effective that can get you out of immediate danger. And in that respect--dad had some pretty good advice.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Well, hello there!

Oooooh. It's all coming together.

I'll be teaching a self-defense seminar at Kyle United Methodist Church (where you can find me most Sundays) on August 10th!  I'm thrilled that this is finally coming to fruition. I'm already working on putting together the curriculum, as well as some handy hand-outs and (of course) waiver forms.

You guys, this is a really big deal for me. I've taken quite a few self-defense seminars in my day. They've run the gamut from "here's how to slap someone with your purse and blow a whistle" to "here's how you disarm someone who has a knife to your neck." Heck, I've learned techniques on disarming someone with a gun to my back. I love those kinds of seminars--they are great fun. There are few things in this world I enjoy more than throwing people twice my size around (white chocolate macadamia nut cookies... maybe).

But what I've noticed more and more amongst my peers (and my peers' kids) is that people who have not attended a seminar or ever got in a fight at all, can't do things I consider fundamental like:
  • throw a punch without breaking their hand
  • kick without breaking their toes
  • know where to hit someone so they can run away
  • know how to get their wrist out of someone's grip
I don't think everyone should know how to toss some scumbag (who thinks you need an up-close and personal throat hug) across the room--I think they should know how to punch said scumbag before they get that close. Or where to kick them so they can't follow you. Groin kicks are great, don't get me wrong, but they don't always work. So I want to make sure that as many people as possible have some basic skills to get out of dangerous situations. 

I'll keep you updated as I get closer to the date.... this is going to be awesome!

PS. If you don't believe me about how awesome a groin shot can be... you should watch this: