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.