Monday, February 28, 2011

On Blogging and Pretension...

I resisted creating a blog for awhile.  I actually think that blogging in general is a fairly pretentious thing to do.  Let's be honest. Pretty much anything I'm going to write here has already been said.  Usually it's been said by someone more qualified, or more eloquent, and probably both.   But here I am anyway, blogging away.  There will be more on what kicked this all off in a later post, but for now let me say that yes, this blog makes me pretentious.
At the very least, the blog itself is pretentious.


1. full of pretense  or pretension.
2. characterized by assumption of dignity or importance.
3. making an exaggerated outward show; ostentatious.

This blog is all of the above.  At some point, though, I came to the conclusion that just because something is pretentious doesn't mean it can't also be useful.   

Yes, it's all been said before. Many, many times over in fact.  However, just because somebody said it, it doesn't follow that the message has necessarily been heard.  So, at the risk of repeating myself, let alone the many others who have walked this path before me, I decided it was time to get some of the thoughts that have been buzzing around my head  out into the world.  Who knows?  Maybe somebody out there will hear the message.  Maybe they'll even agree with it.  There's nothing noble about this blog.  It won't go on to be my legacy. (God, at least I hope not!)  It is, however, a way for me look my own ego in the face and see if I'm actually "getting it."  So, I won't pretend this blog is really for you.  It's for me.  Call it cheap therapy. If you do happen to get anything out of it, though, I'll be content in that I can continue to call myself a teacher.

And yes, all of your blogs are pretentious, too.  That doesn't mean I don't think they're awesome.

Kick. Punch. Easy Stuff.

A new way to look at that one pesky tournament judging call...

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to be an arbitrator at the WTSDA Region 22 Championship.  While that experience itself may one day become a subject for a blog post, it is today merely the impetus for this one.

Once again, as it so often has in the past, a question arose on that one pesky call...

What do you do, when, as a center judge, you have the following situation:

One judge says Did Not See
One judge says No Point
One judge says Point - Blue
Two judges say Point - Red

The answer, as anyone who has been through the certification process now knows, is that one point is awarded to Red.  The confusion comes when people try to explain it.

Some look at it as different things canceling each other out.  So, if a No Point cancels out a point for Red, then it is down to one point for each color, and they cancel each other out, so there is no point right?  No, wait...the No point actually cancels out the Blue, so there are two points for Red, so it's a point for Red right?  No wait... one point for Red cancels out one point for Blue, then the No Point call cancels out the other point for Red, so there is no point, right?  No, wait, actually the one No Point cancels out one point for both sides, so there is then one point left for Red, so it's a point for Red, right?  And what about that Did Not See?  By today's rules, his vote doesn't count at all in this situation, and that makes it even harder for some people to understand.

We need to stop viewing this situation in terms of what vote cancels out what...instead lets look at each call for point as if it it were a political election.

In each election, we have three candidates running: Mr. Red, Mr. Blue, and Mr. NoPoint.  Mr. DidNotSee isn't a candidate.  He's a voter that didn't show up at the polls that day.   So, if we count the votes, we wind up it the following situation:

Mr. NoPoint received 1 vote.
Mr. Blue received 1 vote.
Mr. Red received 2 votes.

As I said previously, Mr, DidNot See didn't make it to the polls on time.  His vote doesn't count in the final tally.  So, who won the election?  When we look at it this way, it's actually fairly obvious that Mr. Red won.  Red receives the point.

This will actually work for almost every situation in sparring, except ties.  Mr. NoPoint always wins ties, even when no one votes for him ;).

Wait, what about Warnings?  That's a post for another day.

Kick. Punch. Easy Stuff.

New Links, and a note about a popular Martial Arts Blog

I've added some links to the right on some blogs I have read and found both interesting and worthwhile. Please check them out and see what you think.

As I get the chance to do some more research, I will be adding even more to the list.  They are in no particular order, so check them out at your leisure.

A quick note about 24 Fighting Chickens: While I admit that I tend to disagree with many of the conclusions he makes, I must acknowledge that Rob Redmond is an intelligent and insightful individual with a unique perspective on martial arts. I suggest that any serious martial artist read his work, and form your own opinions on whether the conclusions he presents ring true to you or not.  I only point this out because undoubtedly there will be some of you that are surprised by what he has to say, and there may even be some of you who want to argue with him. Don't.  You only diminish yourself in doing so, and you aren't going to change his mind, anymore than you'll change mine. I didn't say don't disagree, mind you.  Feel free to disagree with him , with me, or with anyone, and don't feel bad about telling someone that you disagree, including me. I did say don't argue.  One is constructive, the other destructive.  Don't be destructive.  Instead open your mind to a different perspective, and let it renew your own faith in whatever Path you choose to follow.

Kick. Punch. Easy Stuff.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Kick. Punch. Easy Stuff.

Grandmaster Jae C. Shin of the the World Tang Soo Do Association has a gift for making the simplest of statements have profound impact.  Perhaps that is because the statements themselves aren't really all that simple, but are in fact actually layered in nuance, for those who know how to listen, much as our techniques are layered in application for those who know how to interpret them.

Let's take the title of this blog, and its first post, as an example.

"Kick. Punch. Easy Stuff."

Grandmaster Shin once said this to another instructor I know in response to that instructor sharing some of his trials in running a school.  At first glance it might seem a sarcastic reply, if one didn't know better. Grandmaster Shin is, first and foremost, a teacher.  Even in this terse reply, there is a lesson.  I'm not sure I've picked up on all the meanings of this phrase yet myself, but let me share just a few of them.

1) Go Back to the Basics.

Inevitably, after we've trained for a number of years, at some point we become overly impressed with ourselves and our abilities, physical or otherwise.   As martial artists, a certain amount of ego is important.  I can't deny that I have one, and neither should any of us.  We do, however, need to keep it in check.  Ego, Grandmaster Shin has told us (on more than one occasion, so pay attention!) is the number one killer of good black belts.

Despite what we might think, we are NOT a super-secret clan of invincible warriors, however much we might prefer it to be so.  When we get to a point where we think we've learned it all (or more realistically, that point when we feel we're not learning anything NEW, or COOL) - it's time to go back to the kicking and punching we learned as a white belt; the "easy stuff."  We may find that it really isn't all that easy to fully comprehend. When we can realize this, we put our ego in check, and get back on the right path as students and teachers.

I've gotten to a point in my own training where I would rather spend several hours working on the subtleties of the low block than spend 10 minutes working on jump spinning kicks.  Is that wrong?  If I allow my own obsession with low block to stop me from teaching jump spinning kicks to my students who need to learn them for their own development, yes.  But for my own personal training?  I'll stick to the "easy stuff" for now, thanks.  I don't think I've got it down quite yet.

2)  Teaching: You thought it was going to be easy, didn't you?

Becoming a good teacher of anything is infinitely more difficult than those teachers make it seem.  You know the techniques, understand application, philosophy, and theory, right?  So getting others to learn from you should be a relatively simple task, huh?  Not so much.  When we become teachers, we learn that there is an entirely new skillset to develop, while trying to pass on the one we have already learned.  The kicking and punching really is the easy part. The mental and emotional component of teaching others is just a bit harder.

When you accept the responsibility of teaching your own art to others, you accept that you have become a leader.  When others view you as a leader. you now hold a certain responsibility to them, as well. Are you holding up your end of the bargain?  As teachers of the martial arts, we have to develop not only the physical skills of our students, but their attitudes and behaviors as well.

As instructors, we will always have to deal with the students who just aren't "getting it", those who are constantly argumentative, the ones who just won't TRY, and those who, with the best of intentions, will seemingly question everything we say and do. We will have to listen to and try to help the ones who come to us with problems, and differentiate between those that really need help, and those who simply want us to solve the problem for them. Ultimately, we will have to deal with those who leave us, as well. This puts an incredible emotional  and mental strain on an instructor.  Every time someone isn't getting the lesson; every time a student we thought was committed walks away, we question our own abilities as teachers. It is, however, how we deal with our failures, more so than our successes, that truly shows us what kind of leaders we are.

3) A subtle reminder

No matter how hard your job is, his is harder.  Even if my school grows to hundreds or even thousands of students, my job is still easier than Grandmaster Shin's.   Compared to him, I am still a white belt, and for all my complaints when it gets hard to manage two dojangs, I am in fact, just doing the "easy stuff."  Even if I expand my duties to helping at the Regional and Association levels, it is still nothing compared to what he does every single day to keep our Association together, to grow it, and to hold up its ideals of Traditionalism, Professionalism, and Brotherhood.  Despite the heavy burden of managing literally hundreds of studios and clubs around the world, he still makes each individual instructor and each student feel important, as if their problems are the most important things to him. Perhaps that's because he genuinely feels that way.  He hasn't forgotten that the success of a worldwide Association is based on the dedication and support of every individual member, and we can't forget that the success of our schools is based on the loyalty  and support of each student, and the families that in turn support them.

And so, as it so often does in the martial arts world, it comes full circle.  Go Back to the Basics.  See what more there is to learn there, and in so doing, you may find that the "big" stuff won't seem so big anymore, either.  Until you go back and look at it again, that is.

Kick. Punch. Easy Stuff.