Martial, Martial, Martial…

Once in a while I get a little bored with the status quo of how I do things, which is rather ironic considering I dislike change within my personal life. Which is also odd, since Diabetes and my line of work throw nothing but constant change at me. Look at that, I’m still in the first paragraph and I’ve already started rambling. Anyway, I won’t admit that I sometimes hit a writer’s block and run out of material to write… I WON’T ADMIT IT, SO BACK OFF! Ahem, anyhoo…

I had someone ask me a weird question a few months ago; well before Christmas. Normally, I just answer the question and move on, unless it holds enough material for decent content. But given my current drought… The question was if martial law had anything to with martial arts. Yes. And no. And both. The answer isn’t as simple as either one or both. So, I’ve decided to provide a few simple definitions of all the terms I can think of that include the word “martial.”

Let’s start by defining the word “martial.” According to Dictionary.com, the word martial means relating to war, combat or military life. […] Less commonly, martial can mean warlike or characteristic of a warrior. Now that we’ve clarified that little tidbit, let’s move on to some terms…

Martial Arts: this is the first and most expected definition I’d provide. Martial arts refers to a codified system of training and protocol, typically in the combat and fighting arts. There are different definitions based on the reason why one trains in martial arts. Karate and Judo are examples of empty-hand martial arts. Kendo and Kobudo are examples of weapons-based martial arts;
Martial Artist: in simple terms, this refers to someone who practices the martial arts. On the more complicated side, a martial artists is some one who lives their life according to the martial way, but dedicates their life to the study and practice of whatever style of martial arts they’ve decided to undertake. This is mostly a personal definition, so I’ll include that a practitioner of MMA is NOT a martial artist. maybe a little jaded, but whatevs…
Martial Way: this term translates in Japanese as Budo, and is loosely defined as “way of war.” The martial way refers to the lifestyle and path you choose in life while practicing the martial arts, and not necessarily related to war. I could probably spend some time arguing over this one with some of my cross-styled colleagues, but luckily they aren’t here. Moving on…
Martial Law: since this one is what based the question my friend approached me with, I supposed I should define it, as well. Martial law is defined as a situation where local government and law enforcement personnel are overwhelmed by some critical emergency and surrender control and law enforcement over to military forces, including army and National Guard (depending on where we’re talking about). During martial law, typical municipal, Provincial and Federal (some) laws make way for military authority. Whoever is in direct command of an area’s military is given broad authority to enforce and even make, laws;
Martial Values: I couldn’t find an “official” definition for this bad boy, so I guess I’ll have to dip into my deep well of expertise on this one… (waiting for the sound of everyone to stop laughing). Martial values, in an unofficial way, refers to the values one carries with them during their journey through the martial arts. These can include but are not limited to, respect, honour, dignity, duty and obligation. There are many other values attached to this term, but those are the ones that stand out most prominently for me.

There you have it! A bunch of redundant definitions that y’all will likely forget by tomorrow. Of course, by tomorrow I may have some better content to provide as opposed to a batch of definitions that you could have likely have Googled instead of reading my usual, long-winded drawl. But, hey! They can’t all be winners! Keep reading, folks! ☯

What The F&%k Is Spinning…

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of changing up the ol’ workout routine whenever I get the chance. In fact, there are very few workout routines that I won’t try at least ONCE, although I’m certain as I get older that eventually there’ll be some exceptions. But I do still enjoy a challenge. This is where spinning comes in. Sometime in the early period of the past ten years, I travelled home to New Brunswick to visit my family. I brought along some fitness gear, since Sensei’s dojo was closed out for the summer but my aunt and uncle managed a local fitness gym that I knew I could frequent.

I was home for a few days, jogging the few kilometres required to reach the gym, paying the five dollar day pass and using the gym for about an hour before heading home. I felt light and easy, and satisfied at the fact that I was maintaining my fitness while on vacation. On the third or fourth day I ran into my aunt, who explained that she ran a spin class three times a week and invited me to join for one of her classes in lieu of going to the gym. She explained that it was a workout using an indoor stationary bike. When I found out how late into the morning it was, I stated I’d hit the gym THEN go to her spin class. She warned me that I’d be unable to do both in the same morning. How right she was…

I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I’d used stationary bikes before, but I obviously preferred the real thing. I walked into an open area with a dozen books lined up and a small group of women stretching their legs and chatting. My aunt approached and introduced me to the group, who all agreed how nice it was to have a man working out with them for a change. I was handed a 10-pound padded rod and told to place it on the front of the bike until it was “needed.” What the hell was going on???

The music started and everyone started peddling. What followed was one of the most intense hours of my life. In the seat, up from the seat, easy peddling, higher-geared peddling, hold the rod, shoulder press the rod, and on and on… I was drenched within minutes and it was a ridiculously brutal workout. It worked basically everything on my body that I could see as well as some muscle groups that I wasn’t aware even existed. It was so good in fact, I joined my aunt’s class as her guest for several more sessions on that visit and subsequent ones.

Spinning has a number of measurable benefits, including increased cardio, weight loss over the long term due to an increased calorie burn, muscle increase and helps to prevent lower back pain. It’s also a low-impact exercise, making it much easier on the knee and joints than running. The articles I’ve read have suggested that an hour of spin class can burn anywhere between 400 to 600 calories, which is not to shabby if you’re trying to burn through enough calories to be in deficit to burn fat.

If you’re looking for something that’s easy on the joints but high on the challenge scale, I highly recommend spin class. The benefits are many, and frankly there are very few downfalls, except whatever membership price you may pay for the class. I was reminded of my experience with spin class a couple of weeks ago when it was brought up during a conversation with one of my friends. Although taking part in an actual spin class may be a bit difficult at the moment, there are ways to access stationary bikes and do your own spin workouts at home. The benefits will be well worth it. ☯

You Can Buy A Black Belt At WalMart…

Karate and martial arts in general contain many intricacies, specifics and details surrounding ceremony and respect. Compared to other sports, this is one of the appeals (and hindrances) of training in the martial arts, as most people aren’t aware of them and often don’t know about them. And sometimes, even when they do, they don’t provide the respect that the culture deserves. I’ve written some previous posts about dojo etiquette, which you can read here and here, but it dawns on me that I’ve never really covered off something that’s not only important within martial arts circles, but is a serious disrespect and breach of etiquette when addressing someone in karate: asking about their black belt.

I’ll speak strictly from the karate standpoint, since this is what I’ve been studying my entire life. Training to reach black belt is a false goal. Any traditional karate instructor will usually tell you that the only thing belts are good for, are holding your pants up. In fact, I’ll push it one step further and point out that if you’re in my dojo and you tell me that you’re in karate with the sole purpose of obtaining a black belt, I’ll politely ask you to train elsewhere.

You may be asking, why would I say this? Well, first of all because it would be my dojo and I teach any who want to learn but only those whom I choose to teach. Truthfully, the use of coloured belts or any grading system in Japanese and/or Okinawan martial arts started in the late 1800’s with Judo. Prior to that, either everyone was dressed exactly the same or trained in whatever they might happen to be learning. In the 1880’s, Shotokan Karate was among the first to begin using this coloured belt system as well, and other karate systems followed suit soon thereafter.

But the honest reason I would ask a student who has the goal of achieving black belt to leave my dojo isn’t because they would be an inherently bad student or they wouldn’t work hard. The truth is that although there no truly “bad” reasons for training in karate (except for wanting to harm or suppress others), obtaining a black belt should be an incidental occurrence in your martial journey, not the end goal. In fact, my Sensei has always said that passing your black belt is a student’s way of formally asking their Sensei to teach them karate.

But one of the most disrespectful things a person can do, is ask a black belt ABOUT their black belt. Want to hear some stories about how I got here? No problem. Are you able to acknowledge the FACT that I’m a black belt? Unless you’re colour blind, you should, considering I’ll be wearing a black belt around my waist when you walk into the dojo. The disrespectful part is asking what grade of black belt someone holds, or what degree they have. Generally speaking, there’s really no reason other than unnecessary curiosity to ask someone this.

If I happen to be the head instructor, you’ll be receiving my tutelage regardless of my rank. I’ve seen brown belts open their own dojos. Although it’s pretty uncommon, it isn’t unheard of. But a traditional black belt usually won’t WANT to “brag” about what level they’ve reached and it’s usually considered impolite to ask. It reminds me of an exchange I had with someone a few years ago that went a little something like this:

CuriousGeorge: So, you do karate eh?
Me: That’s right…
CuriousGeorge: How long have you been doing it?
Me: A little over twenty years…
CuriousGeorge: TWENTY YEARS! Wow, you must be a black belt, right?
Me: Umm, well… yeah…
CuriousGeorge: What kind?
Me: Excuse me?
CuriousGeorge: What kind of belt?
Me: Black. I think we just established that…
CuriousGeorge: No, no, I mean what level!
Me: Black! I don’t think we’re understanding each other…
CuriousGeorge: No, I mean what level? What level of black belt are you? There are different levels right? Or degrees, I think?
Me: What does that matter?
CuriousGeorge: Well, I just want to know how high up you are…
Me: I’m a black belt. Anything else is an unimportant and private detail…

In this guy’s defence, despite being presumptuous in assuming that being in karate as long as I had at the time meant I held a black belt, he likely didn’t KNOW that I considered it disrespectful to ask about my rank. This is where the conversation became what many of us like to call a “teachable moment.” I know some people who have trained for decades and have never gone beyond white belt. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Karate and martial arts in general doesn’t REQUIRE you to progress through a ranking system. For some, the simple act of training is all they want/need.

But traditional black belts won’t usually want to brag about rank. You’ll rarely hear one saying, “I’m a 3rd degree black belt,” or “I’m a 5th degree black belt.” As I had indicated earlier, you’ll know I’m a black belt when you walk into the dojo and see me wearing one. To what degree matters very little. And it’s considered a faux pas in the dojo to ask. And karate is almost unique in the sense that I could drop my black belt on the ground and walk away today, and I would continue to retain my knowledge and skills. The belt is just a piece of cloth. So there you have it! A small piece of dojo etiquette that I haven’t covered before that you probably didn’t know. ☯

Own Your Anger

Anger is an insidious thing. Once one begins to feel it, very few people are able to contain it without some sort of mental and physical training. Don’t believe me? Just check out some road rage videos on YouTube and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Modern society allows its anger to run rampant to the point of rage, with little thought or concern about the effects it has on the people around it. And on the people who express that anger.

The worst forms of anger are the inherited ones. The type of anger that a person has nothing to do with, and technically have no right feeling. But they’ve inherited that anger from their parents and/or predecessors, and they express that anger in various forms and blame others for it, even if its an emotional anger they shouldn’t be feeling at all. Of course, what do I know? I have no inherent right to tell anyone what they SHOULD be feeling, but it’s how you deal with those feeling that matter.

The fact is, anger can have physical effects on your body that can be detrimental to your health. Constant anger can have a negative effect on your blood pressure, heart health, sleep and even your digestion. Anger can cause anxiety, headaches and also depression. Some of the articles I’ve read have even linked anger to skin problems, such as eczema. But I’ll let y’all do your own research on that, as that isn’t the focus of today’s post.

Anger can also be a useful tool in training. I remember during my basic training days when I was doing some bag work with one of my troop mates. He was smaller and slighter than I was and couldn’t seem to muster enough strength to effectively strike the bag. I could tell he was getting frustrated and asked me how it was that I was able to strike the bag so hard, every time. I explained that some of it had to do with the fact I had more mass than he did. But another aspect is that I used my anger.

In true Mark Ruffalo fashion, I explained to my troop mate one of my secrets to effectively working out and fight training is the fact that there’s always a bit of anger bubbling beneath the surface. If one can learn to use and channel that anger and energy into what we do, it can go a long way towards pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone and improving our physical fitness. Since I knew he was a father, I used what is probably the most sensitive area of a person’s life. I had him close his eyes and asked him to imagine how he would feel if someone abducted his child. Then I challenged him to imagine having the abductor in front of him and what anger he would feel towards that person.

Then I asked him to perform a properly executed punch against the bag using all that anger. The result was far more explosive than anything he had previously done. And that’s the critical point; anger (when properly focused) can be a useful tool and a good motivator. That’s for the training environment, of course. One needs to avoid allowing their anger to turn to rage, fury and violence against others. Although not always avoidable, violence should never be used unless it’s for the protection of yourself or those around you.

A lot of people believe that I fell into Buddhism through the influence of the martial arts. And although this is partially true, I can admit that in my late teens to early 20’s, I developed a pretty intense temper and needed a means to control, temper and maintain it. This is the part where I point out that regular exercise and meditation are important ways towards controlling one’s emotions. But as long as you use it as a source of fuel for your motivation and not against others, anger can be useful. ☯

The House Of 1,000 Kicks

“I Don’t Fear The Man Who Has Practiced 10,000 Kicks. I Fear The Man Who Has Practiced One Kick 10,000 Times.”

– Bruce Lee

I have no doubt that I’ve practiced most of my kicks more than 10,000 over 32 years of consistent martial arts training, with the exception of back kicks (I hate back kicks!). But sometimes it does some good to keep things light and simply work on basic kicks as an entire workout. Two weeks ago, I was trying to decide on what sort of a workout I could do to burn through an hour and move away from my usual habit of doing either forms, shadow boxing or lifting weights for a straight hour and calling it a day.

I recently spoke with one of the other black belts from the dojo I train with in Regina, and we got to talking about how it’s difficult training alone all the time as the lack of the dojo environment usually sees us working only on the things we like. In his case, striking the heavy bag. In my case, forms and shadow boxing. Without the class environment to motivate and push us (as well as force us to do the other stuff), we can easily fall into a rut where we have trouble climbing out without help.

This is where I decided to focus solely on kicks. As far as fighting skill goes, I have a definite preference for my fists. Although I’m not a boxer, I dislike the concept of leaving my bodyweight on one foot, which is an advantage that a quick and efficient opponent could take advantage of. I’ve trained to kick, I’ve used kicks and consider them an important part of my repertoire. But they definitely take a back seat when I’m not being pushed to drill them into my workouts.

The routine I used was pretty simple:

  1. Choose a kick
  2. Perform that kick 50 times at maximum effort on each leg;
  3. Perform 50 reps of an in-between weight exercise (arm curls, hammer curls, shoulder press, etc…);
  4. Move on to the next kick and repeat everything all over.

The result was each kick being performed at least a hundred times, peppered with some strength training for the arms, since I wasn’t including any punching that day. I took no rest periods between everything, which is either bad or good, depending on your perspective. But it was a fantastic burn and I was exhausted at the end. I only got to four different kicks with the weight sets in between, before I reached over forty minutes of exercise and decided to shut ‘er down.

The workout was a definite success and was a welcome change. That is, until Nathan decided it was a great idea to drop an 8-pound exercise ball onto my stomach while I was lying on my back, stretching. Picture dropping a lead weight into a bowl of jello. I seized an doubled over and could barely speak for a few minutes. Little bastard! I’m sure he thought he was just playing and didn’t mean to hurt me, but I’m sure it bruised my abdominal wall and my stomach aches for a few days. But I digress… At least he hangs out and watches the workouts. Eventually, maybe he’ll join.

The nice and fun thing about karate is that is allows for an endless variety of workout possibilities. There’s always SOMETHING to work on and improve, and there are always different ways to do it. Karate requires a bit of everything. You need cardio to built up your stamina. You obviously need technique and precision. And you also need some strength training, although not too much. You don’t want to get too bulky, as it will decrease your flexibility and speed.

This is why most serious weightlifters always move around stiffly as though they have a stick running from between their Gluteus Maximus all the way up to the base of their necks. They walk around like bloated balloons and I’ve never seen a serious weightlifter last more than a couple of weeks in karate because they’re unable to perform the movements. Not to say that weightlifting isn’t a wicked workout, because it is. Hopefully I haven’t offended any monstrous, buff people. Do you even kick? Come at me, bro!

Don’t be afraid to change it up and do something different. I used Bruce Lee’s quote at the beginning because it kind of represents what I tried to do and because I like it. But Lee was also a firm believer in making a workout out of different and unusual methods. Sometimes the weirdest workouts can be the best. They can offer some interesting results and keeping things varied can keep you from getting bored with a routine, especially if you’re stuck working out at home. ☯

Family Doesn’t Always Share Blood

I think one of the more important things we learn in life is that family isn’t always a blood relative. I can certainly attest to the fact that I’ve met a number of people who have had a profound effect on my life and have become family to me, without having any sort of blood relation to me. The best and most obvious example of this would be my wife. She’s family, and I couldn’t imagine what life would be like without her in the daily grind of my life. But often there are people who introduce themselves into our existence unintentionally, and leave a lasting impression.

A couple of years before I started karate, I met Guillaume (we just call him “Guy”). Guy was the same age as me, in the same class at school and lived in the middle of my Point “A” to Point “B” walk to school. We got to know each other reasonably well, and started befriending each other. Although we had some things in common, Guy was a bit of a complemented reflection of me. I was short, he was tall. I was stocky, he was thin. He had an obvious athleticism and was actually able to participate in sports, both at school and intramurally. But he also had a deep curiosity for science and the way things worked; a fact that was made obvious from the time he somehow made an incendiary powder from a kid’s chemistry set. But I digress…

I think one of the things that always drew us to befriend each other was the fact that both of us were outcasts and were picked on and bullied by a lot of people at school who considered themselves better and “cooler” than we were. Back then, there was no such thing as cyberbullying or using words to inflict harm, not that I’m belittling people who feel targeted now. But during my childhood, being bullied meant you were beaten to a pulp by one and/or many assailants. It seemed less prominent with him; maybe because he could walk both sides of the line with the sports side of the social circle and outside of it.

It wasn’t until the late 80’s that I realized he had a lot in common as well. We were sitting in his living room, eating chips and watching a martial arts movie (he was eating chips. I was sitting there snack-less). I had been dabbling in the martial arts for a couple of years at this point and had tried a couple of different schools. Nothing suited my health and purpose. That’s when Guy told me he studied karate. As was my custom, I started asking some key questions such as why he did it, what was required and why I had never seen him use it. He explained that martial arts didn’t require strength or speed, going in. It simply required commitment, dedication and the willingness to concentrate. He went on to explain that I had never seen him use his karate, not even in a bullying situation, because if he harmed someone else using the skills he was taught, he would be no better than they were.

To be honest, I thought he was full of shit and didn’t know karate. I figured he was just talking big and had actually never studied the martial arts. I mean, we were just about ten years old, full of pomp, piss and vinegar. Kids often say the damnedest things, and most often to impress their peers. I thought nothing more on it, until a later time when I called him on it and he challenged me to a “friendly” sparring match… Then he kicked the living shit out of me. Keeping in mind that my martial skills were far from their peak, I still had some rudimentary martial arts skills and should have been able to hold my own. That is, against an untrained opponent who had never actually done karate. This was obviously not the case with Guy.

A few weeks later when I was contemplating the next step in my martial arts journey, I considered the fact that Guy seemed not only skilled and competent, but there seemed to be almost a flow to his movement when we sparred. It seemed effortless. I decided that it might be worth looking into, so I called him. You know, since we’re talking about a time when texting wasn’t a thing and you actually had to dial someone on a shared, home phone and hope that your parents weren’t listening in. I called him up and explained that I was interested in trying out at his karate school. I asked him the usual questions, tuition cost, days and time, etc…

Curiously, he’d say “hold on a second” and talk to someone off the line after every question before providing a response. It didn’t dawn on me at the time that he was asking all these questions to someone who was there in his house. I would come to find out the following week that his instructor was none other than his father, my Sensei. In some ways, a lot of ways, if I had never befriended Guy, I never would have found Uechi Ryu Karate. As Jean de la Fontaine once said, “A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.”

From that point on, Guy and I became brothers. We grew up together and progressed together through the many challenges that young life threw at us, including karate. And of course, we enjoyed many more intense sparring matches that became more and more evenly matched as the years and my skills progressed. I was reminded of this last week, when Guy wished me a Happy New Year and sent me this photo:

The photo is dark and old, and I believe it’s from 2000 or 2001, but I’m actually wearing a shirt, tie and vest as we were going to a formal dance. I had my back to him he had my current girlfriend at the time hold a camera at the ready and asked me to turn around. When I did, he delivered a roundhouse kick to my face! Ah, brotherly love! I like to think that the fact I got my hands up in the blink of an eye before the kick was delivered speaks to the level of intensity I had back then, but he rang my bell pretty good.

We’ve grown somewhat apart in the past decade. We both got married and built families of our own. And of course, the fact I live on the opposite end of the country now kind of prevents even the occasional visit. But as is evidenced by the obvious smile on both our faces in that photo (mine might be pain, I honestly can’t remember), the brotherhood and connection will never be lost. And such is the way of it with family. The years come and the years go, but the memories remain. ☯

Let The Bells Ring

I decided to get myself a belated Christmas gift on Boxing Day and purchase a couple of 10-pound kettlebells and an 8-pound exercise ball. I like to change things up a bit and thought that kettlebells would be the way to go, since I don’t believe I’ve ever used them in an actual workout. The exercise ball was intended for a number of specific exercises but once I had the box open, I discovered it was a soft ball that was partially filled with sand. Not what I was expecting, but it’ll do for some of the exercises I had in mind.

Kettlebells are a special creature, and they seem to add a little “something” to workouts. As opposed to dumbbells, a kettlebell’s weight is focused in one ball with the handle acting as an added lever. Dumbbells have their weight equally distributed at both ends of a handle, making them a little easier to use in some respects. I started by doing a short, circuit workout with my wife on New Year’s day. We each held one bell and went through a series of different exercises, working different areas of the body. It was a good burn.

Some of the benefits is that the added lever created by the shape of the kettlebell works to activate the entire posterior chain of muscles. Dumbbells don’t usually do that. As you swing a kettlebell, different muscle groups are engaged depending on the grip you have and whether you allow the bell to roll with the swing or try and hold it stationary.

What I’ve found is that kettlebells can also be extremely effective at helping to condition and develop martial arts techniques. Different movements as well as some parts of my forms can be performed while holding a kettlebell, which provides a deeper intensity while training. Although the bells I’ve purchased are pretty light in comparison to dumbbells I’ve used (it’s always better to start off small when doing something new), I’m looking forward to using them regularly and increasing the weight as I get acclimated to them. ☯

Is Traditional Karate Dead?

I’ve been studying karate for over thirty years (yes, I know that I mention that a lot) and the benefits of the martial arts on my health, my Diabetes and my overall mental well-being can’t be over-stated. My reasons for starting karate have changed and/or altered throughout the decades and there have even been periods when I’ve walked away from it for a while, even though no genuine martial artist can ever truly quit; they’ll always maintain it or come back to it in some way, shape or form.

Martial arts hit the big screens in the mid-1950’s, although what they were showing on screen could hardly be called martial arts, in any true sense of the term. In the 1970’s, martial arts blew up the big screen with Enter The Dragon, Bruce Lee’s hit movie where he infiltrates an island tournament held by a monk turned criminal drug lord. Since then, people have been fascinated and infatuated by the presence of martial arts and will often whistle through their teeth if you tell them that you study it.

The 1980’s showed a huge surge of television shows that focused on the martial arts. One of my favourites was The Master, a show about an old ninja master taking on a younger student while they search for his missing daughter. It only aired for one season, but it was timeless (plus, I was 6-years old at the time so it all looked great!). By the time the late 1990’s and early 2000’s rolled around, there was a noticeable lack of interest in the martial arts.

Unless you had already been doing it and were part of a dojo that had enough students and enough steam to host tournaments and events and keep itself going, a lot of schools (especially back in New Brunswick) saw serious lacks in attendance and students. Sensei’s dojo also felt the sting of this phenomenon, with our classes going from several dozen students per class to about a half dozen students before I moved away for work. It was disheartening to see, and it took a certain something away from the ambiance of the class. This has led me to ask the question: Is traditional karate dead?

I remember watching the very first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993; back when it was actually ABOUT the martial arts and not about pitting two ‘roid heads in biker shorts against one another. I got to enjoy watching a variety of realistic fights, as the original events involved individual martial arts styles, no gloves or protective equipment and most importantly, no rules. It saw matches the likes of a sumo wrestler against a savate fighter, kickboxing against karate and traditional boxing against Jiu Jitsu. It was exciting, it was bloody and it was traditional. Everyone had on their specific gi or uniform and held true to their style.

These days, so-called MMA, or mixed martial arts has taken over, and people have become less and less enthused about traditional forms of fighting such as karate. It seems the growing trend is geared towards trying to discredit traditional martial arts, filming unqualified instructors and turning one’s preference on the more streamlined punch/kick training such as the MMA. People enjoy seeing some of the fancy, high-flying antics shown on the big screen, but very few people are interested in the actual training or disciplined required to learn the actual art.

Styles such as Tae Kwon Do have managed to ease their way through these troubled waters. But in many cases, this is because their style contains such dynamic techniques as to keep the students’ focus and attention, as well as include things like board breaking, flips and intricate spin kicks, which although look nice, hold no practical application in an actually fight unless your opponent has ABSOLUTELY no fighting skills whatsoever. It may look impressive to have someone hold a board and have you spin twice through the air before kicking through it. But explain to me in what world anyone will sit still long enough for you to execute that overly complicated maneuveur?

The MMA’s end goal more closely resembles that of traditional boxing, where two opponents square off and beat the living shit out of each other until one of them submits or gets knocked out. I know I harp on MMA quite a bit in my posts. This is mostly because I’ve seen the decline in its development from a sharing of various martial arts to the barbaric bloodfest they’ve turned it into. MMA’s goal is literally to get the opponent on the ground and keep pounding on them until they tap or pass out. Not exactly something that can be referred to as an “art,” which makes sense since a singular student can’t “mix” martial arts when training.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m not focusing on these two sports, I’m simply using them as an example of how society has lost its infatuation with the martial arts. In fact, one of the toughest opponents I’ve ever squared off against was a Tae Kwon Do black belt (looking at you, Jesse!) And there’s no arguing that training in the MMA is a ridiculously tough workout regiment and taxes the body. No question. But the prospect of convincing students to move slowly and smoothly, doing forms for an hour at a time is much more difficult when faced against spin kicks, board breaking and the television glam of MMA.

One of the true problems may also be the fact that the modernization of society has taken away the mystery. Back in Bruce Lee’s day, the martial arts was exotic and mystical; a means of fighting not seen by most people and it was something to be sought out. Modern times and the advent of high-speed internet has taken away that aspect, as everyone has the world’s information at their fingertips. Some of the mystery and mysticism is gone.

Karate is still a highly effective and potent fighting art. I should know, I’ve used it in both personal and professional settings to protect myself and others. And I can speak from experience when I say that it is every karate practitioner’s dream to find a student who will commit to the art so that it may be passed down to the next generation. I was that person for Sensei. His art lives within me and is carried in everything I do. I still hope to find such a student.

Traditional karate may not be dead, but its spark of life is certainly dwindling. In the modern, fast-paced world where everyone expects immediate gratification, spending a decade or longer trying to reach a black belt doesn’t appeal to the younger generation when you can walk into the neighbouring McDojo and get your black belt in two years. You won’t be able to fight worth a damn and God help you, should you ever have to protect yourself or someone else, but good for you! Hopefully someday, the appreciation that traditional martial arts held will come full circle and once again be prominent. ☯

And Touched The Sound, Of Silence…

Ah, Simon & Garfunkel… Part of the endless soundtrack of my youth, the Sound of Silence is a haunting classic with rich lyrics that stir the imagination and move the spirit. And most recently in 2015, a band called Disturbed covered the song and did a fantastic job. Both versions stir a little something in my soul and the song is fantastic. If you haven’t heard either version, I highly recommend you fall down the youTube rabbit hole and watch both. Then, you can judge for yourself. But enough about my musical preferences; let’s get on with the point of today’s post.

Today, I’d like to talk about silence. A beautiful thing, silence. Not many of us get to enjoy it. In fact, modern life almost makes it impossible. Depending on where you live, even if you happen to be childless and live alone, you’ll still hear the residual background noise of the world around you. And sometimes, the static can get to be a bit much. This is one of the purposes behind meditation. Quieting your mind can often be achieved through intense and mindful meditation. But what about being quiet yourself? There are plenty of stereotypes about Buddhism; in fact, I’ve written posts on that very thing. But one of the stereotypes that happen to be true is that some of us choose to take a vow of silence.

Vows of silence are used in many different religions and even by some non-religious affiliates of those religions. The reasons behind it vary, ranging from simply a disciplinary requirement of the particular religious sect, forms of protest and all the way up to helping self-enlightenment and the belief that it potentially brings one closer to God. But for the purposes of today’s post, I’ll focus on what’s familiar, which is the Buddhist aspect.

In Buddhism, taking a vow of silence can certainly represent will-power and self-discipline. But it also serves as a means of being at one with your thoughts, developing a better ability to listen to others (something most people should develop) and making certain that one observes Right Speech, which is part of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. A vow of silence helps to ensure that you have the ability to think about what you’ll say before it comes barreling out of your mouth. This prevents you from bringing harm o yourself or others by saying something foul or negative.

Definitely, one of the main reasons one should take a vow of silence is not only to stop talking, but to quiet one’s mind. I’ve spoken about how Zen involves achieving peace and enlightenment through meditation, and this is pretty difficult with a disquieted mind. During a vow of silence, one does not simply stop talking; one needs to be aware and be mindful of one’s thoughts, eliminating the negative and focusing on the positive.

That last aspect can be a challenge, and certainly one of my own, personal obstacles during meditation. Being mindful and in control of one’s thoughts is a difficult thing, requiring years of practice and self-discipline. After all, even though focusing on nothing is still focusing on something, trying to keep the mind clear becomes difficult because the human brain simply isn’t designed NOT to have thoughts coursing through it. A vow of silence can help with that.

Contrary to some sources and popular opinion, a vow of silence doesn’t have to be a life-long thing. Some monks will take a vow of silence for a specified period of time or for specific reasons and then resume speaking. Some will simply stop using verbal communication, although most are of the belief that even written communication is a form of speaking and will avoid writing as well.

Last but not least, silence can lend some physiological benefits to the body. According to an article I found on PsychCentral.com, even just short periods of silence can help lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, decrease stress, promote good hormone regulation and even prevent plaque formation in the arteries. The article goes on to suggest a variety of ways to achieve that silence, including a walk in the woods, meditating, deep breathing (which you’ll do while meditating anyway) and my favourite, which is staying in bed an extra five minutes before getting up for the day. That last one is pointless with two young boys in the house. But I digress…

Some people aren’t big fans of being in silence. Some can even say they have a phobia of silence. Be that as it may, there’s no denying that any period of glorious noiselessness can have a variety of physical and emotional benefits and isn’t simply restricted to the religious side of things. Interested in trying it out? It doesn’t have to be a vow or last for a significant period of time. Choosing one hour every day to simply enjoy some silence can allow for all those benefits as well. Of course, I know a number of people who could definitely benefit from taking a vow and keeping their mouths shut for years. But that would mostly be for the benefit of the rest of the world. ☯

Respect, A Dying Art

Respect is a bit of a strange creature. We all think we deserve it, we all think we’re entitled to it, but very few of us do anything to genuinely deserve it. You’ll notice that I include myself in there because there have been times in my life where I’ve definitely thought I deserved the respect, even when faced with scenarios where I did very little to earn it. One good example comes to mind from all the way back, twenty four years ago…

I had suffered my first failure during my time at college and decided to take a year off, get a job to raise some added capital and hit hard again the following year. Little did I know at the time, life gave less than two shits about my plan and what started out as a part-time job quickly inflated to a full-time one within a couple of weeks. Further training and effort on my part saw me become a shift supervisor within six months, overtaking several people who had been at their job for years if not decades. (Yes, I’m a bit of an overachiever!)

Despite the celebratory nature of that accomplishment, I suddenly found myself overseeing and supervising people that I had spent the previous six months becoming friends with. This is never a good situation to be in, but it’s even worse when you suddenly take stock of the fact that you think they should respect your current station. The reality is that there is a big difference between authority and respect, and the latter needs to be earned despite having the former.

The same can be said for the martial arts, where tradition and ceremony are an integral part of the learning process and where respect is a free-flowing river that goes both ways. Bowing is a good example. What is a bow? In the simplest terms, bowing signifies a number of different things including greeting, affirmative response, gratitude or reverence as well as being a show of respect. In a karate dojo, a student is always expected to bow when entering and exiting the training area and whenever addressing one’s Sensei. Although there may not be another person there to receive that bow, it’s a ceremonial gesture that shows respect.

But what about the Sensei him or herself? Do they automatically deserve your respect? They certainly have authority over matters pertaining to your martial training, but the question is whether or not they should be respected from day one. The simple answer is yes, they should. If for nothing other than their station and as the head of the school, your Sensei should be shown respect from day one. But the kind of in-depth respect or reverence one feels for their Sensei after years of tutelage falls under a slightly different category.

Honestly, students who found themselves unable to show the basic elements of respect within Sensei’s dojos never lasted very long. After all, if you aren’t interested in the traditions and ceremonies that come with karate, go join boxing or MMA. Martial arts may not be for you. But having respect for someone is something that is generally earned by the recipient through gestures, words and actions. It isn’t something that’s automatically given.

This is especially true in the example I provided at the beginning. I’ve had a significant number of supervisors, managers and bosses throughout my life. Some have been good, some have been bad, but all of them had authority over me in some way, shape or form. All of them had my obedience (within reason); only a few have received my respect. This is because only a certain handful have been able to show that their employees and staff mattered and issued directives in the interest of them, instead of in spite of them.

The last important aspect I’ll touch on, is that respect needs to be maintained. Just because someone has gained your respect, doesn’t mean that they’ll keep it indefinitely. Through their words and/or actions, there’s a great deal a person can do to lose your respect. Certainly, the first step towards gaining someone’s respect is by showing respect yourself. But then, if that person hasn’t gained your respect, this can be difficult. It’s a tumultuous back-and-forth process that isn’t easy to navigate. The important thing to remember is to always give respect where it’s due or deserved; never expect it without earning it. ☯