Thursday, April 23, 2009


This is the fifth post in a series of 10 outlining the qualities I feel are the most important for success in practicing the martial way in the modern-day world...

Every martial artist has their own battles they fight. Has their own struggles they face. Emotionally, spiritually and physically, life can, at many times, be suffering. But it doesn't always have to be suffering. Many suffer because they feel they need to. They feel that if they haven't suffered they don't have a right to be happy. To an extent that is true; but their comes a time when you have to adapt instead of suffer.

I run a martial arts class every Wednesday night. I have a slew of students in the classes I help my own sensei run, but during this Wednesday night I have three students, specifically, who come out of their way to train with me. Others come and go, but these three are some of the most dedicated karateka I have seen in my 16 years in the martial arts.

Each one has their own physical traits that enable them to perform some techniques very well. Each one also has physical traits that inhibit their movements, or their capability in certain areas of the martial arts. One student in particular...this student is 5'1". She is a sophomore in high school and has not yet come into her own in regard to her physical ability - but you wouldn't be able to tell that watching her perform a kata or kick you in the face during a sparring match (and you're taller tan 6').

However, her height keeps her from being able to make effective throws like the rest of the class. She wasn't able to execute the moves correctly, and she suffered. I could see her mentally berating herself for not being able to throw me like the other students do. This became apparent last night. So after class, just the two of us went out on the mats and she proceeded to try to throw me without much success.

Then, suddenly, it was as if a light bulb came on over her head - like when Wile E. Coyote gets an idea about how to catch the Roadrunner. "Let me try this." BOOM! I hit the mat harder than when most 40-year-old, 200-pound men throw me.

I looked up at her in amazement and excitement. "Do that again!"

She proceeded to throw me at least 10 times on each side. All she did was take a component of the arts she had learned earlier in her training and apply it her current situation. It was as simple as picking one leg up off the ground. She had found her stride. She adapted. She got creative. And I was inspired (I wasn't going to list creativity until #7, but this prompted an earlier post, for obvious reasons)

Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." This student proved her undeniable sanity. She also proved that she was smarter than Wile E. Coyote - her idea worked!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


This is the fourth post in a series of 10 outlining the qualities I feel are the most important for success in practicing the martial way in the modern-day world...

Spontaneity...when I think of this word I think of the frequency of these posts...yeah, sorry about the inconsistency. I'll persevere and work on that. Or am I just exercising restraint by not posting? (get it?) Oh I crack myself up...can't be a proper martial artist without a sense of humor, right? And so we begin...

If the other nine qualities I list in this series are the meat of life, spontaneity is surely the spice.

Spontaneity is a quality necessary to the successful martial artist for two purposes: fighting and living. Confused? You shouldn't be.

Imagine you found yourself in a fight. Your opponent comes at you with nothing but haymakers. That's it. No flip kicks. No straight punches. No knees. No feints. Just haymakers. Unless he's an impossibly fast powerhouse, this should be a relatively simple fight. You can predict his movements, thus you can counter them.

Now imagine you're facing a more skilled fighter. This fighter doesn't foreshadow his movements. He doesn't raise his shoulders before he moves in on you. His eyes don't look directly at his target. He changes up his moves and changes up his technique from one second to the next. You have no idea what's coming next.

This is a fun fight. The former was just a funny fight.

Which opponent do you think will be harder to defeat?

In order to be successful in the martial arts, your movements cannot always be predetermined. This is different from kata. Kata and repetition are key ingredients to mastering the art of spontaneity, as they infuse a certain muscle memory. Only through constant drilling and repeating the same move over and over and over can we truly be spontaneous in the martial arts.

Allow me to elaborate: if I wanted to, I could go on the World's Strongest Man competition and fight to be the "world's strongest man." I haven't trained a day in my life like those guys train, but if I really wanted to, I could go out and compete. I'd be spontaneous, right? Well, to an extent...because I'd also be dumb.

Spontaneity does not rule out the need for preparation. Someone who is illiterate won't go out and write a book. Someone who has never lifted anything heavier than a book bag in his life won't head to the gym and put up 200 lbs.

Now take those extreme examples, tone them down, and apply them to the concept above - in the martial arts, you must always drill and constantly repeat moves and techniques in order to be a spontaneous fighter.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Spontaneity in this is where I really excel.

Our lives are a continuous, unstoppable stream of experiences - separate in our minds but interconnected in the wheel of time. One experience causes, directly or indirectly, another experience. Causality. You flinch when your brother makes to punch at you even though you know he won't - you only flinched because he used to really punch you when you were younger. You don't sign up for e-mail lists anymore because you've been placed on others against your will and spammed like hell by immoral marketers.

One might say that every action we have is in equal and opposite reaction to something - or an accumulation of somethings - that happened to us earlier in our lives.

A key tenet in the classical martial arts - and ancient philosophies - is to escape this endless cycle of action and reaction. Become a free thinker, not constrained by your reactions to outward stimuli. Become spontaneous.

Do something no one expects - not even you - and start small. Don't live your life in constant reaction to the events transpiring around you. BE the events.

Be the spice of life.

Yume - "Dream"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


This is the third post in a series of 10 outlining the qualities I feel are the most important for success in practicing the martial way in the modern-day world...

The ability to persevere, to push through the odds, to overcome the obstacles, to drill into your muscle memory through constant repetition...this is a cornerstone, both physically, mentally and spiritually, in the martial arts. All the other qualities martial artists hold dear - strength, agility, quickness, and countless others - all of these stem from this one source. Without perseverance, without constant practice, these skills cannot be honed.

When I think of perseverance, one of the images that comes to mind deals with repetitive action: line drills up and down the floor; practicing that kata over and over; sparring bout after sparring bout, etc. Another image I get is pushing past the boundaries, going further than one has before - that's the only way we get better.

So when that instructor makes you stand in a horse stance for an extra 10 minutes or takes you up and down the floor a few more times, remember that through this repetition, through pushing past your initial limits, you will only become a better martial artist.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Restraint, cont...

I just read through the last post and realized I only addressed the physical side of restraint. So much more goes into that quality than its physical aspect. Restraint can be looked upon as a quality in one's personality, in how one interacts with others, and in how one goes through daily living.

Confucius' Golden Mean, or the Buddhist Middle Way, preach that "Everything should be done in moderation." - the modern addition to that is "including moderation." While banal, it holds true. To give an example: my generation grew up with videogames. In our earliest years, it was Atari. Then Nintendo came along, then SEGA. Now we have X-Box 360, Playstation 3 and the Wii dominating people's daily lives, not to mention online gaming. Put candidly, for my generation this was a way of life. Kids played videogames for hours on end, myself included. We lost track of the days and nights sitting in front of televisions and computer screens, losing ourselves to the addiction that was (and is) gaming. In and of themselves, videogames are not all bad. Taken in moderation, when their usage is restrained somewhat, they can be a nice mindless distraction, similar to sittin in front of the television and watching your favorite reality show. The problem arises when people begin to lose themselves in the game and spend whole days and nights doing nothing else. People lose perspective on the real world and all the wonders it holds. Exercise restraint with videogames, and you won't lose perspective.

When dealing with others, we must restrain ourselves from saying everything that crops up into our heads. If we said everything we wanted the world would be a bit more of a chaotic place. Thus another reason I admire the ancient Japanese culture. They have a social philosophy called honne and tatemae. Honne refers to a person's true feelings and inner desires. Tatemae, literally meaning facade, is a person's public behavior. Japanese custom dictates that a person's honne must be kept secret, only revealed to those closest, such as a spouse. That is the ultimate form of restraint, and one we as Americans, and I think much of the rest of the world (modern Japan included), have shunned in favor of letting our feelings shine through to reveal who we truly are within.

Nonetheless, many times it is better to let a slight roll off our shoulders, per se. By exercising restraint we are also exercising humility.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009


This is the second post in a series of 10 outlining the qualities I feel are the most important for success in practicing the martial way in the modern-day world...

If I had to take a worldwide survey of the top 20 most popular values and qualities in a person, my bet is that restraint would not even make the top 50.

As a martial artist, or a warrior, or someone who knows the smallest bit about fighting, restraint can be one of the most important qualities you ever embody. You know things other people don't. What's more, you know how to DO those things other people don't. Bottom line: what we know is a dangerous art. When forced to employ your knowledge to action, do not go further than you need to. If you can end a fight with a word, end it with a word and no more. If you can end it with one punch, end it with one punch, not two. If you have to take it down to the ground, do what you must to win, but once the fight is clearly over, walk away.

One reason for this is simply a legal justification. If you maim the person or do more than you have to, you will be held accountable for excessive force. So be reasonable with how much you hurt someone - the legal ramifications could hurt you worse.

Another reason is the aforementioned quality, of which I lend the utmost importance - humility. You know the damage you can do to someone - why is there the need to prove it to this person who apparently deserved your wrath? Or are you trying to showboat your knowledge to the people around you? Either way, it's dishonorable. Only put forth as much force as is needed.

I personally have never been in a full-out fight. That's because I've gotten out of at least a dozen fights with words, not fists. Irrationality spawns the vast majority of fights. I have been able to rationalize with people (primarily throughout my college career) why a fight would be pointless. Why fight over brushed shoulders? Or a misunderstanding? I'm reminded of an excellent quote by Gichin Funakoshi: "To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill."

That being said - don't initiate the fight. NEVER initiate the fight. But if you have to fight...well, allow me to employ another master's famous sayings: "If must!"

Thank you, Miyagi!


Tuesday, January 6, 2009


This is the first post in a series of 10 outlining the qualities I, and many others, feel are the most important for success in practicing the martial way in the modern-day world...

One of the most important qualities in any martial artist is this: humility. A key tenet in my school is "Karate is my secret." There are many reasons we present that in the saluation before all of our kata. But it all boils down to humility. If you don't have humility you haven't learned from any of the true masters. You may have read their books. You may know how to execute the most incredible hip throw or the perfect punch. You may be better than me (in fact you probably are!). But if you neglect humility, if you insist on letting bravado and ego rule your daily living, you are no true martial artist. You are no true warrior.

You are defined by others by your actions first and foremost. The Buddhist Eightfold Path may declare that you must first have the Right View, but in the modern-day world that is sometimes the hardest to attain. Try modifying your actions first, your thoughts will follow.

Do not brag. Do not gloat. You may feel like you want to brag. You may want to say "I'm right. You're wrong." That is the last thing you should say, especially when it's apparent that you're right. If everybody knows, why state the obvious?

Live humbly. You will find its rewards boundless.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Divide and Conquer - A Beginner's Guide

I recently discovered a new type of martial art. I had never heard of it until recently and it is beyond a doubt one of the most practical martial arts I've ever studied. After discovering this art and practicing it for some weeks, I came home and realized I had four or five books on the martial arts waiting to be read (and re-read). Finding myself slightly overwhelmed by all this, I began to ponder the vast labyrinth that is the martial arts.

Labyrinth means, according to, "an intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to find one's way or to reach the exit." (Please don't pass judgment on me for having be the first quote of this blog!) I find that a labyrinth is a relatively appropriate analogy for the martial arts. Nowadays, for someone looking to get into the martial arts, all they need do is open up the phone book and they'll find listing after listing of martial arts school after martial arts school - karate, tae kwon do, judo, jujitsu, hapkido, aikido, tang soo do, kendo, kung fu, tai chi, isshin ryu, shorin ryu, chito ryu, capoeira, kali, hwa rang do, arnis, shotokan...should I keep going? When confronted with such boundless opportunities like that, it begs the question: "Which one?"

As a martial artist in my relative youth, I've had the opportunity to study in depth two very distinct styles, with a smattering of experience with other arts through the years. And still, to this day, when thinking about which martial art I will choose to throw myself into next, I can't help but ask, "Which one?" It's a difficult decision, with each art having pros and cons, and much of the decision being based upon location - if you live in an area with only one martial arts studio, your options are rather limited.

But let's say, for example, you have a relatively fair range of choices. If you're not quite sure which one you want, go and check out the school first. Watch a class, talk with an instructor or two, and even talk with a student. Discover their perspective on the school and the instruction they receive. You may be surprised at their answer! After you've examined your choices and narrowed it down, attend a class or two. Chances are you'll have to work out a financial arrangement with the instructor, but most will probably be compassionate enough to allow you to train for a class or two at little or no cost.

NOTE: Beware the schools that charge you extensively for one class! If you're paying more than $40 or $50 for that initial class or two, you may have encountered a school whose goals are not in alignment with your own. I've found that some schools place monetary gain above the martial art, itself, and thus lose sight of the reason the true warrior enters the dojo in the first place.

Next step: DIVIDE AND CONQUER! Instead of trying to focus on multiple schools and styles, narrow your choice down to one style, maybe two at the most, and throw yourself into it headfirst. Glean as much information as possible from your instructors and students higher in rank than you. Attain rank, yourself. Or, if you're in a school that doesn't acknowledge formal ranking, attain respect as an aid to the instructor (this will be equivalent to rank). After you've spent years immersing yourself in a specific style, learning all the intricacies inherent in every technique and attaining instructor status, it's time to examine another art, if you haven't started dabbling already.

One thing to keep in mind: studying another martial art does not mean you throw your "old" style by the wayside. At this point it's too late for that. For better or for worse it's in your blood. It's a part of who you are: how you move, how you interact with others, how you walk to work or to school, it's a part of how you eat your food. If you've studied with enough dedication and seriousness, it will be more a part of your daily life than you ever imagined. This will influence you as you move on to the next style, and that's OK. Instead of being "green" to the world of martial arts, you now have a better idea of your own preferences within the art, of your own physical and mental limitations. And so you'll adapt.

This is the healthiest way to study the martial arts - with an open mind. Some stuff works. Other stuff doesn't. You will be the judge after you've tried it. What may look impractical in sparring may be the most sensible thing to do in a fight. And what may look practical for someone else may not be for your own body type. Regardless, try it. See if it works for you. Listen to your instructors respectively, try your damnedest to execute the technique properly, and keep learning! With such a healthy mix of martial arts styles, you have to treat it like the food pyramid. Mix a little bit of everything - some in greater quantities than others - and you'll wind up a wonderfully well-rounded martial artist.

- J