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What’s In It For Me?

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I hate the ‘what’s in it for me’ people.
I love the people that support their family, club, association, charities and community.
I love the students and instructors that support seminars, tournaments and courses and enjoy both the learning and social aspects of the gatherings.
I love the Instructors that take all the right qualifications and continue their professional development.
Those that register, licence and insure their students and are confident enough and not afraid to let them attend association and other seminars to widen their perspective.
So many are happy enough to take their student’s money but are too tight to invest in both their own and their student’s development.
How short sighted is that?
The best way to get support is it to give it.
The happiest people contribute to a community without always looking for payback.
Don’t be tight – don’t be stingy – don’t restrict your own development – don’t restrict others.
Encourage support – encourage development in the broadest sense, not forgetting your own – invest in people – invest in the community.
You think people don’t notice when you don’t pay your dues, in all senses – believe me, even if they don’t say anything, they do – and if you don’t – that’s why you ain’t got no close friends.
Students – does your Instructor encourage you to develop and progress in this way or is he/she too tight and scared to expose you to the bigger martial arts world?

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Being A Good Student

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We often talk about what makes a good Instructor and what makes a good club, but what happens when we turn that on it’s head and ask what makes a good student?

The one thing that I discovered was that if I knew how to be a good student I could get far more out of my Instructors than anybody else and that as an Instructor I am far more inclined to teach a good student thoroughly than a bad one.

The inescapable facts are that many Instructors don’t get to choose their students, sometimes they teach because they feel it’s wrong to favour students and therefore ‘stick it out’ with what they consider a bad one and sometimes the reasons are financial, but either way I quickly discovered that there are ways to get far more than anyone else was getting and I didn’t have to compromise my morals to achieve it!

You don’t have to like a person to teach them well, a student doesn’t have to like an Instructor to learn from them, all it takes is a bit of patience and tolerance on both sides to get there. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with many students in the past and I can understand that they hate me for being blunt with them and for making them do things that they didn’t want to, if you don’t push them beyond what they think are their limits, how are they going to improve? If they don’t have that basic faith and trust in me even if they don’t like me, or what I’m making them do they can never grow as a martial artist. I never worried about popularity, just results.

What can a student do to make the relationship work better? This is the magic formula that I used to get that extra tuition and information that the others never got.

Always pay your fees. Seems obvious but isn’t to many. Never barter on a price. Always pay for your lesson whether you turn up or not. If you want that regular spot, book it with money, then it’s always yours and a bond of trust is formed. There is nothing worse than a student that books an instructors time, cancels and doesn’t pay. If someone who does pay regularly comes along they will naturally give the time to them and you will forfeit yours. The Instructor will also not be inclined to teach an irregular person well because they will see them as untrustworthy and think that they are wasting their time. If you are a long term student, raise the fees yourself, it is unlikely that the Instructor will do it and when you show that you value their time and consider their well being it will be appreciated.

Always make notes. Learn a training shorthand of matchstick men, arrows and keywords so that when you get home you will remember what you’ve been taught. Ask the instructor to film you doing what you’ve just learned on your phone and if you’re lucky he will give advice whilst doing it. If he doesn’t want to do this get someone else to do it as soon as possible afterwards. Between lessons train continuously on what you’ve been taught and think about it all of the time. Every time a question arises, write it down to ask on your next lesson. There’s nothing more encouraging for an instructor than a student who pays attention, makes notes, trains hard between lessons and then asks questions on the next lesson.

Listen and pay attention to what you’re being taught. Don’t give your opinion. Don’t talk about what you’ve done or what you think because you’re paying the Instructor to give you the benefit of their experience. There’s nothing more boring than a student who pays the Instructor so they can talk to them for a couple of hours about what they think and have done. Every minute is important not just from a financial point of view but that instructor could be dead tomorrow and you’re wasting precious time with your own ego. If you’re asked, “what do you want to do?” the Instructor is being polite, answer “whatever you think I need to work on”. You are likely being taught a system and it’s best to learn it in the right sequence put together by the expert, not randomly by your own desires.

Develop respect and care. If the Instructor is doing their best for you and you are for them, mutual respect is earned naturally. If there’s anything you can do to help or support in their home life, club and association development do it, because it means that your teaching environment is less likely to be affected by outside influences and it’s good to care. I’ve represented my Instructors on Governing Body Committees, helped them to write books, shoot videos, buy houses, helped with legal problems, opened clubs for them, taught on their seminars and helped them bring over their Instructors to the UK.

Every time you reach a milestone in your training, like a grading, winning a tournament or opening your own club, always thank your instructor before doing anything else and always give them credit for what they’ve taught you. Nowadays that courtesy has all but disappeared and you can see students prancing around with their new grade or trophy and everyone patting them on their back whilst the Instructor sits quietly in the corner. It’s not inappropriate to buy them a small thank you gift or at least give a thank you before celebrating yourself.

It’s easy to teach just the surface of a system and the student would never know. Often that’s done as a test to see if they’re worthy or capable of receiving deeper instruction. Courtesy is a given, respect is earned both ways. When the student and instructors ‘chi is in agreement’, respect has been earned and they are capable of working through the hard times together; the ‘hidden levels’ can be taught. Nothing is being held back, it’s just that the environment has to be right. The surface teaching is known as ‘eating sweet’ and the deeper levels as ‘eating bitter’. ‘Eating sweet’ is full of flashy moves and certificates and ‘eating bitter’ is made of sweat, blood, pain and a system that gradually alters the body and mind.

By all means find the right club and instructor, but remember that they are also looking for the right student.
By Steve Rowe

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Keep Your Child Safe!

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VERY IMPORTANT!

This is the time of the year that children are going up a school, from Infants to Junior and importantly from Junior to Senior and Senior to University.

Parents in their infinite wisdom decide that their children will have more homework and often drop their martial arts training and teenagers going to university often move away from the area of their club and don’t bother to find a new one.

THIS IS A BIG MISTAKE!

Why? The children going from Junior to Senior school will need to move up in their martial arts club to the adult training; because the bullies they will invariably encounter will be adult size and age. Their training needs to change to be able to deal with it emotionally and physically. They will soon be going out on their own and with friends and going to nightclubs and will encounter  nasty weaponised violence, their bodies are rapidly changing and they are likely to suffer attempted sexual assault, they will be changing friends and likely to befriend people that will try to introduce them to drugs. If they are able to keep their friends and be training in a healthy, challenging environment in a martial arts club and learning how to deal with all these new dangers they will have a MUCH better chance of staying sane, healthy and safe.

Homework and study can be challenging, the biggest enemies to academic success are distraction and laziness, the ability to be able train in a club and at home to learn to remain aware and focused are essential skills. you can only study for so long and need an activity that will correct posture, breathing, awareness and focus – what better than martial arts that will also keep you safe and can be practised anywhere, at any time without any special equipment?

Universities are the target of many different kinds of criminal, young, naive, distracted vulnerable targets make for easy pickings, muggings, rape, sexual assault and home invasion are most likely to happen at this time. Emotional intelligence, awareness and good training is essential to deal with these problems.

Schools and universities have become number crunchers and box tickers, they don’t like to admit they have these problems, at the end of the day the only person to keep youngsters safe at the time is inevitably the youngster themselves. They need good training.

The best thing parents can do is to keep their children and youngsters engaged in their martial arts wherever possible, make sure they are getting the right kind of training and give as much encouragement as possible – failure to do so can result in a very heavy price indeed.

 

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Stop Bullying!

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Stop Bullying!

I get very worried looking at a lot of social media posts by martial art instructors who have never undergone the holistic training of traditional martial arts and are still stuck in the neanderthal, excitable and violent mindset that the only way to deal with bullying is to become like the bully and hit them.  I grew up in that mindset on a South London Council Estate and would probably in prison for violence now if it hadn’t been for traditional martial arts.  For the past 45 years I have taught extensively in the education system, to police and security operatives of all kinds, in the UK and internationally and many social groups, from that broad base of experience I have drawn a few simple rules to start with.   Let me explain…..

Fear is contagious and violence begets violence. In traditional martial arts we start with the person and work outwards. Our first 3 commands are ‘stand tall, breathe deep and focus the mind’ – body language, calmness and a focused mind are the essential places to start.  We call this neigong – ‘inner work’.

Body Language
Child or adult, the first lessons are how not to be a victim, drawing yourself up to your full height, looking everyone in the eye and using an authoritative voice, moving with confidence and not looking hunched, vague or dithery means that you are unlikely to picked on in the first place.

Emotional Intelligence
In our Zan Zuang ‘standing post’ practice we work on getting a connected strength and also the yin and yang aspects of emotional intelligence training the emotions to be patient, kind, tolerant and compassionate alongside resolve, determination and courage. This teaches students courtesy, good manners and how to be helpful and function well with others but if pushed will not be afraid to stand their ground and deal with aggression and negativity without becoming aggressive and negative themselves. The last thing you want is a child or adult who becomes a bully to deal with a bully.

Personal Space
We teach that your body belongs to you and no-one child or adult has the right to touch you without your permission. Your ‘reach out and touch space’ is your personal space and inside that is the ‘red’ zone where you will be actively defending yourself, the perimeter is the amber ‘highly aware’ zone where you are ready to act and further away is the ‘yellow’ zone where you are aware and watching mindfully – we are never in the lazy or distracted ‘white’ zone.

Traditional martial artists are ‘peacekeepers’, the law says that anyone is allowed to use ‘reasonable’ force to defend themselves and this requires all the skills listed above. First we teach how to not get bullied, body language, emotional intelligence and social graces are essential, then how not to get hit or held, use of distance, angle and principles like the ‘wedge’ and ‘spiral’ are essential to make it work. We teach strategy for all occasions in school and personal life so everyone has a toolbox of ‘street savvy’ appropriate to their age and environment. Finally we teach the ‘last resort’ techniques of punching,  kicking locking, throwing and restraint to be used with the trained resolve, determination and courage rather than negativity and aggression.

Traditional martial arts is a lifetime study and contains all the depth and knowledge to keep you studying over the years, no ‘quick fix’ but a bank of life skills built over the days, months and years of study put together by people that learned in the same way.

Being a ‘peacekeeper’ gives you a life of health, happiness and social skills, far better than immersing yourself into a world of negativity and violence.

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Mindfulness

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MINDFULNESS

Our use of the word ‘mind’ in English can be quite versatile.  As a noun it describes our awareness, consciousness and thought, as a verb it can mean ‘to take care of’ like in ‘mind the child’ or when getting on a train ‘mind the gap’, so to be ‘mindful’ is to increase our awareness and consciousness and to take care of our thinking and feelings.

So we ‘mind the mind’, we take care of it.  All the time we remain mindful, we are watching our thoughts, emotions and actions and this act in itself is life changing. Most of the time we are not aware of them because we are them, this is the mindless state as written in the Dhammapada – ‘The mindless are as if dead already’.

When we start to watch and take care of ourselves we begin the process of investigating why we think or do things and the effect those actions have on ourself, others and our environment, this means we become aware of our karma and also begin ‘minding’ others and the world around us.

We realise that we have the choice  – ‘alive, aware, caring and careful’ or ‘dead, thoughtless, not caring and zombie like’, it’s scary when we realise how many ‘zombies’ there are in the world and that we were one of them – and will continue to be if we don’t practice mindfulness continuously!

Any activity that brings us to this calm, aware, focused and sensitive state is mindfulness training, focusing on our breath and/or a calming activity like Tai Chi, walking, sitting, standing or laying down, with good posture and deep breathing will help, too often people become ‘result driven’ and try too hard finding it self defeating. Good posture, deep breathing, allowing and watching the thoughts come and go will gradually reduce the activity of of the brain and bring us to that lovely mindful state where we become aware that we are far more than just one individual, isolated, emotionally damaged, zombie.

When we are in this engaged, mindful state we realise that by letting go our negativity, life becomes much easier as we become more emotionally intelligent, can see all points of view and not want to create unnecessary harm and friction. The irony is that we are more likely to live a happy successful life with meaning and purpose when we can ‘fit in’ with the right kind of lifestyle and people.

Good posture and deep breathing alleviates excessive tension and calms both mind and body, this reduces damage in the body, lowers blood pressure and reduces the likelihood of a heart attack, stroke and many other related illnesses.  It helps us to engage with others and a learning environment, meaning that whilst alive we are learning and using the brain cognitively, reducing the chance of dementia and other forms of early demise.

‘Mindfulness is the path to the deathless – the mindful never die, the mindless are as if dead already’ – Dhammapada 21

There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t begin a mindful life from this moment on, I started 40 years ago and have not regretted a single ‘engaged’ moment….

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Back To Front Martial Arts

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I think I live in an alternate universe.

Or everyone else in the Martial Arts does.

I see Instructors putting together their training/grading syllabus…

“Erm, for red belt we’ll do this… for yellow this…. for orange this….”

They do one set of techniques for basics, different moves in a form that don’t relate to the basics and then different pairs work that doesn’t relate to either basics or form.

And I’m like…..”That’s not only back to front – it doesn’t make sense!”

I ask, “what’s the end result you’re looking for at black belt and above?”

And guess what…. I get a blank look because they haven’t thought about it!

“Erm… good basics?……”

“Is that it?”  I certainly wouldn’t want to train in a club where even the coach doesn’t know where we’re all going!

So how did I do mine for Shi Kon?

I started with the end product.  What kind of student and Instructor do I want to produce?

I want my students to develop emotional intelligence, compassion, patience and tolerance, along with courage, resolve and determination.  to have good health, mental and physical.

I want them to be competent ‘peacekeepers’ to be able to defend themselves and others. To be able to neutralise anything an opponent throws at them, to competently punch, strike, kick, lock, throw, choke and strangle.

How am I going to train that?  They need progressive meditation and neigong for the mind, posture and breathing, then qigong  to prepare the body by softening and connecting the myofascia, opening the joints and learning how the body gets connected power.

I put the 8 principles in place that MUST be within every technique to make it work and mnemonically brought each principle into one word. Put the 13 strategies in from the Yang Family system that dynamically flow through combat and respond to whatever an opponent does these too mnemonically into one word for each one.

The major forms from brown to black had to contain those qualities, Sanchin for the internal system manipulating spine and core with breathing and connection, Tensho to add the core work powering the 5 Animal Boxing and Naihanchi for the fajin  and different ways to power the techniques.

Then I continued to work backwards listing all the techniques that can express these principles and strategies and grouped them into a principle for each grade.  Then each grade would have the techniques as basics, that had to be demonstrated against a range of attackers as pairs work, strung together for combinations and all put together for a mnemonic short form for them to remember what they have to do.  That’s obvious synergy!

I used allusion, mnemonics and application, right from the start they are learning towards a goal at higher grade without realising it, they had an easy way to remember everything and the grading was the ability to make it work!

A white belt is already training to be a black belt, everything has to be practical towards that end and used without any ‘fluff’ or ‘padding’, all training is synergistic with a specific goal in mind and everyone knows where they are going, why they are doing it, what they are doing and how it relates to the end product and what that end product is!

It makes me a genius in the martial arts world but normal everywhere else, if you wanted to be a top athlete you would be taught this way, or a musician, or dancer, or taking a university degree and so on….

So it ain’t me that lives in that alternate universe!

 

 

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Compassion

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Compassion

The human race cannot survive without compassion. It’s what joins us, makes us work together to resolve our problems and evolve.  As the World is becoming more insular, as we separate ourselves from and demonise groups of people, becoming inured to their suffering we are evolving in the wrong direction and ensuring our mutual destruction.

Compassion is to be able to see clearly into the nature of suffering and not be separate from it.  Compassion is itself untainted, it cannot be attached to an outcome, it’s enemies are pity, moral outrage and fear – it transforms suffering.

Meditation builds compassion, it joins us to our environment and others, it teaches empathy, to experience what others feel. Compassion also transforms us, we evolve, it hooks up all the parts of our brain, it enhances our immune system and makes us healthier. Many people turn away from empathy and compassion through fear, the modern zeitgeist teaches us to be selfish and unnaturally attached to those things that wisdom teaches us we cannot hold on to – in trying to hold on to them or aspire to have them we fear those that we are told will take them away from us – and yet ensuring the welfare of others is to ensure our own survival and evolution of the human species.

Compassion requires fearlessness, strength, resilience and an undefended heart. We need ‘a strong back and a soft front’ and that takes training. Truly compassionate people are definitely not weak. This is the ethos of traditional martial arts training. It trains the whole person. We often hear and read that ‘martial arts makes you a better person’ and it’s clear to see who has followed that path and who hasn’t.

We should teach compassion in schools, as very few people fully understand what it is and how it works.  We should teach it to our healthcare workers, our social workers, our politicians – and we should vote for compassion and compassionate politicians.

Compassion reaches out to everyone and all things, it bridges all differences. A compassionate martial arts instructor will have a diverse club that help each other and work out in the community to help those less fortunate than themselves.  You don’t have to agree with others to act compassionately towards them or love them or even like them! Compassion is pure in itself and joins and evolves people – try it!

Meditate developing compassion towards yourself, spread it out to those you love, then those that you like, then those that you feel ambivalent towards, then to those you dislike and eventually to those you hate. See how it frees you and rids you of anger and greed, the more you share, the better person you become.

Learn about it, read about it, listen to lectures about it, meditate on it and act on it, it has to grow upwards from the populace to change our society, politicians and media as they are the people that need to respond to our wishes and not the other way around – power to the people!

 

 

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