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SHORT ARTICLES - 4
IMAGE OF A MARTIAL ART MASTER
One of the greatest mistakes that people make is the way they view the typical image of the martial art expert. Many think of the good guys in the martial arts as being glamorous, handsome or rippling with muscles in someway and never with any bad habits in addition to always being truthful and generally looking the part. In comparison the bad guy, just like in the movies, are shown as evil looking and laughing manically all the time.
Practitioners of the martial arts in reality look just like anyone else even to the point of appearing out of condition or incapable of looking after themselves. It is their skill and experience which does not show on the outside that is often misleading to the onlooker.
Practitioners of the martial arts, even those who possess all the built-in qualities of a true master, can be found in all walks of life. They can be found holding down a boring job or having a beer just like anyone else but it is their acquired skills, knowledge, experience and their strength of character that is not always on show.
It is hard for the outsider who has never tried their hand at the martial arts in the proper way within classes to understand how high and demanding the training is within lessons, if you attend a good club of course, and often fail to grasp the meaning and methods used. Human nature like it is practitioners of the martial arts are often targeted by the public for what they do.
Students of the fighting arts are often ridiculed for their efforts or made a target of fun by so-called expert street fighters who are normally people that are not very bright, jealous or who feel bravado in front of others after several pints of beer in a pub. Of course there are those who will praise and acknowledge the efforts of those practising the fighting arts and some will even show great interest in what they do. This mixed reaction from the public, sometime out of ignorance, is very common towards practitioners of the martial arts.
The knowledge and acquired skills that a martial artist can gain can be of great value when it comes to a street fight. Students of the martial arts will come to realise over a period of time that a person cannot only become fast and strong through regular training but also able to inflict a great deal of damage within a short few seconds. The realisation that a person can disable someone very quick and very easily, if of course the circumstances are favourable, will make them more aware of the danger to themselves if trapped in a potential fight situation.
Realising that they themselves can inflict a variety of damage to an opponent in many different ways through their combat training will make them also realise that their opponent could be lucky that day and also hurt them just as bad if it came to a fight.
Knowing that a well placed kick could cripple them in a matter of moments this will make the true combat practitioner very reluctant to throw the first punch. This knowledge is a factor when faced with the very difficult decision as to what action should be taken when faced with a potentially dangerous street defence situation.
Based on the old saying of "hit first and hit hard so they cannot hit you first'' is all very well if you win but reacting too soon to what starts out as only a verbal argument could result in you losing the fight and you could not only come off worse for wear but also risk ending up in hospital.
The true expert of the martial arts will be so disciplined that they will exercise a great deal of restraint in the face of intense provocation, in many cases, knowing that they could easily inflict a great deal of damage often within a matter of a few seconds against the obviously untrained and much slower opponent.
The highly trained masters of the fighting arts will possess several skills that will allow him or her positive advantage in many situations. Regular practice at very high level with many different opponents, who themselves may be of instructor standard, will give the expert the advantage of knowing how to respond to all forms of attack.
Taking part in any sporting activity will enhance your physical and mental skills and learning the martial arts is no exception. In the case of the martial arts you will need to have a variety of skills and abilities to perform well and to be able to fight effectively.
To block an oncoming kick or punch for example will require not only the ability to react fast against a fast oncoming punch or some other form of attack but also the ability to time your defensive manoeuvre in the correct way. Block too soon before the strike has reached you will only result in blocking empty space which will result in the strike hitting you after your attempt at blocking the attack. In the case of not just blocking too slow but miss timing the block after the strike has hit you is just as bad, of course.
Timing is equally as important as speed or power if your attack or defence techniques are going to be fully effective but this requires both good timing and good hand and eye coordination in addition to good reflexes. To fully understand these remarkable skills that we all have to varying degrees we first need to look more closely at how the mind and the body works together as a team.
The first step in the process is the eye seeing the punch coming towards you. Your eye sees the punch travelling towards you and sends a message to the brain telling it what is happening, the brain then as to decide a course of action in response to the information that the eye has given it.
Does the brain, meaning you of course, think do nothing or should I avoid or block the punch in someway. Having decided to avoid and then block the punch the brain then has to workout the distance of the oncoming punch and stop it with a hand block at just the right moment in time and at the correct point in space. To co-ordinate the eye, mind and hand to perform this task takes all of around one second in time to assess and carry out to completion, but in the case of a close combat situation this hand and eye co-ordination and reaction time must be far quicker.
Regular practice will develop much faster reaction times and much faster physical and mental reflexes and speed but the story does not end there because now balance comes into the equation as being able to defend with good fast blocks and moves is fine but only if you can stay firm on your feet. Many a person has lost a fight simply due to being unable to maintain their balance when moving very rapidly from one technique to another but yet again with practice this problem can be reduced.
Balance, speed, strength, hand and eye co-ordination, timing and good reflexes all play their part in both sport and in the martial arts arena but learning and developing these mental and physical skills is not just restricted to these types of activities, developing these attributes can prove very useful in a person's day-to-day life in many ways.
One of the many skills that a martial artist will develop over the years is the ability to throw a punch at very high speed. Using a close range 'Straight Line Punch' from the centre of the chest area can be performed by a relatively new student to the fighting arts in around one third of a second.
Throwing alternating, left then right, punches one after the other in a rapid way can result in around two to four punches being released with a fair amount of power in less than a second. Some of the top experts in the close range combat styles can throw a punch in less than one sixth of a second and although you may think that such a skill cannot be of much use in ones daily life it does come in handy when smacking a fly on your nose.
'HOW' MANY BLACK BELTS?
It would be very foolish to think that all instructors within the martial arts are good honest people that uphold the values, traditions and disciplines of the martial arts to the full.
It is also true to say however that most, if not all, instructors, clubs and various other martial art related groups do try their very best to not only teach up to a good standard but they also try their very best to ensure that their 'instructor' members themselves are correctly graded and qualified but alas there are those who will not think twice about cheating for their own benefit.
Although during the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's there were many various associations and organisations around that kept records and details of qualified instructors, new beginners to the martial arts did not have the benefit, (or was not fully aware), with regard to checking to see if their instructor was a correctly qualified teacher or one of those bogus instructors who freely gave themselves a few black belts so that they could earn themselves some money from unsuspecting new students who would often take the instructors qualifications at face value.
Back then very few, if any, new beginners would take the time and trouble to find the correct association that their teacher was under and write a letter to see if the new class or club that they had joined was teaching the correct style of martial art under a proper qualified teacher. This situation gave rise to many bogus instructors that had no idea what they were teaching and students who had no idea that they were paying money into a total con.
Today, thanks to the development of the internet, new beginners can now easily access a wide range of websites that are specifically designed to provide information on the many available instructors who are willing to have their details and qualifications registered.
These 'black belt instructor directories' will take great care in checking and making sure that the person wishing to be registered is who and what they say they are before adding their name to the list, however with the greatest effort in the world by those that check a persons details there will always be the odd one, or few, that will slip through the system.
Imagine the surprise that one instructor had when he came across one of these instructor directories and found a former student of his listed as having two black belts.
The person in question did take and pass his 1st Dan, (first black belt), but left classes very shortly afterwards, never to be seen again.
It must have been around seven years since passing this student for his black belt test and this instructor understandably thought that he must have stopped altogether after all that time until he came across his details on this registration site and found that he had managed to get himself registered as a 2nd Dan despite all the checks before being registered.
On this occasion it would appear that this particular black belt directory had failed to fully check this persons qualifications and in addition should have contacted the examining instructor for verification of the grades awarded to this person.
To balance the subject of qualified and unqualified instructors it is well worth noting at this point that someone teaching the combat arts who has no formal qualifications at all could be teaching and operating classes to a far better standard than some of these so-called 'masters' who are registered with dozens of martial arts directories. There are a fair few highly qualified instructors around who despite their formal grades are not worth a minute of your time.
You can find loads of martial art masters on every street corner these days and many of them will come across as caring and genuine with a strong belief in family values and teaching children the way of discipline and the code of honour but just take one look at their face and see their reaction when you tell them that you and your little son or daughter are leaving and will be paying another instructor for future lessons.
SET THE STANDARD
Although some instructors prefer to be called by their first name and are not bothered about being too formal within classes there are those who will require the new student to call them by their traditional martial art title. In the case of karate and kung fu clubs the instructor of a karate class would be called a sensei, which simply means instructor, and in the Chinese martial art of kung fu they would be called a Sifu which means in rough translation 'father' of the group.
The term Si-fu was used because unlike the Japanese fighting styles that were taught in a military form the Chinese combat styles were often taught within the family circle with the elder or more senior students being regarded as the older sons and daughters of the class and the instructor being referred to as the head or father of the family style.
Some of these traditional combat styles are called by their family name such as Lau Gar which in translation means Lau family Chinese boxing. Lau is the family surname and Gar means family.
The instructor is not only a vital part of the class he, or she, is also vital to the nature and way the class is conducted. Different instructors will affect training standards a great deal from club to club depending on the nature and style of the martial art in question.
Some martial art clubs may be teaching a form of combat that is specifically aimed at streetwise defence therefore the teaching methods and fighting techniques shown will be, to a degree, intense and physically demanding with a great deal of focus on serious fighting disciplines, in contrast, the sport competition based club will be more focused on fighting techniques that are specifically aimed at point scoring and not necessarily the hard body conditioning and training methods of the street combat fighter.
Training standards also vary depending on the characteristics of the instructors with regard to how hard and how intense the classes are run. Some instructors will, regardless of the type or nature of the martial art style being studied, lead by strong example and will do everything that they ask of their students themselves.
This type of person will take their students through intense physical workouts and repetition practice to the point that none of the students, even the younger and fitter ones will ever be able match. Often these types of classes are well run and well disciplined with no time left over to mess about. Unfortunately, only the dedicated student will endure this level of training and the rest will soon leave. This type of class will normally only have a few students in attendance and very few, if any, child members.
In contrast some instructors, often based on the way that they were trained themselves, have such a laid-back approach to the training session that they will do no more than stand there throughout the entire session without ever doing anything or even breaking into a sweat.
This idle minded approach is often down to the instructors own simple idleness and couldn't care less attitude. Leading by example in this way will result in more members attending the class, who themselves may not like the idea of working too hard, but the overall training will have no true value. These type of classes are so relaxed that the students often ends up just standing there having a chat to others in the room even when the lesson is supposedly in full swing.
This situation could be compared to going to the gym for a workout. There are those who go to the gym and give themselves a good beneficial workout and use the time constructively while others use the time to socialise with others in the room. Of course common sense will tell you that a more elderly instructor will not be able to do the more physically demanding parts of a training session with the students in comparison with a younger able-bodied man but they will still have valued experience to pass on to others.
The impression that a laid-back instructor gives could make new potential beginners think that the instructor is only there to make money and not really there to teach and show by example what true combat training is all about, but in all fairness however, it is often true to say that some instructors will not bother to try too hard when they realise that their efforts are being wasted on students who will not make the effort themselves.
Unfortunately all instructors have their fair share of time wasters that only turn up to classes and do as little as possible in the hope of getting their next coloured belt without having to work too hard for it.
It is an unwritten rule in all the sporting activities, which require physical effort, to warm the body up first before attempting anything too strenuous. In the case of the martial arts that include high kicking methods the need to warm and stretch the leg ligaments is vital as kicking from a cold start can pull and rip tendons and ligaments very easily.
Many clubs will take the students through a set routine of exercises at the very start of a training session so as to help avoid ligament damage and to help perform the various striking and kicking techniques much better than when the body is cold and stiff. There are those however who say that to perform specific leg stretching exercises at the very start of a training session when the legs are stiff and cold will result in the students finding these leg flexibility routines hard and painful to a degree. There will always be varying degrees of discomfort experienced by the new beginner when attempting these exercises but there is an alternative that some may not have thought about or fully considered.
After warming the body in the general waist, arms and neck areas then move on to soft and slow combat technique training. Limiting kicks to no higher than the waist area and performing all the various basic blocks and strikes without the use of speed or power will warm the body further and through the simple act of moving, walking and performing low kicks will warm the leg ligaments better for when next moving on to attempting any full-on leg stretching exercises rather than attempting to stretch the legs from a totally cold start.
Although the new beginner will still experience discomfort when attempting stretching exercises further into the lesson it should be less noticeable than attempting this requirement from cold at the very start of the lesson period.
Some combat styles such as Wing Chun Kung Fu which specialise in close combat and low kicking methods do not require the need to stretch the legs to improve high kicking flexibility but all stretching exercises for both the legs and the general body area should be practised on a regular basis and not neglected.
Stretching the leg and groin ligaments to improve the range of movement in the kicking leg is not a natural function. You can go all through your life and never need to increase the range of movement in the legs, it is only when you need to kick high that this unnatural exercise becomes a vital requirement.
Children normally have very little problem with leg and groin stretching techniques because their bodies are naturally soft and flexible in the joints as they are still developing but for the adult who will lose this elasticity as they get older the need for caution against ligament damage through incorrect stretching procedures is important.
If you attend a martial art club that specialises in the striking arts like kung fu, karate and kickboxing and the instructors do not take you through body and leg stretching routines on a regular basis then this is often to do with the fact that the instructors are idle minded and cannot be bothered. If they do take you through these warm-up routines but do not do it themselves and only stand and watch then it would be advisable to seek out a better instructor that will teach and lead by example.
A good and fast way to warm the body, both at the start and at any time during the main part of the training session, is to do squats, sit-ups and press-ups as these muscle developing routines do not involve any form of ligament stretching.
Another good way to get a sweat on is the practice of the set forms which is a very good way of building stamina. Any physical workout like jogging or sprinting at a moderate pace will help warm-up the body without the risk of pulling any ligaments if done in a sensible way.
When the training session is drawing to a close, normally the remaining fifteen minutes or so, the instructors should then be thinking about the cooling down period of the lesson. This can be done in a number of ways such as focusing on any technical points or questions that the students have practised during the lesson rather than performing any physically demanding workouts or any high level technique training.
Practising simple wrist release or arm locking methods is a good way of cooling down as this does not require high levels of effort if restricted to simple and basic techniques.