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Being A Good Student


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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Buddha Was A Proper Geezer


Translation by me….
Buddha was a proper geezer.
As a youngster he was a great martial artist.
Despite being a prince he became (in current slang parlance) ‘woke’.
The word ‘Buddha’ means ‘one who is awake’.
He left his wife and child (making sure they were cared for) and went ‘walkabout’ to find himself.
Buddha is not a god. He is not a son of god. He is not immortal. He was not a prophet.
He became a master of logic.
He was (in slang terms) a ‘proper geezer’.
When he found himself he put it in simple logical terms.

Life hurts.
It hurts when you want or don’t want something.
You can stop doing this to yourself.
He then gave 8 pointers to the way of becoming woke.

Here’s the 8 pointers:
Get perspective
Plan with that perspective in mind
Speak the truth
Behave yourself
Earn a living without hurting anyone
Put in the right effort
Stay woke
Stay focused

He gave 3 helpful truths about existence:
Nothing stays the same
This can make you suffer
We are all like waves rising from staying connected to and returning to the sea.

He said it helps to:
Stay woke
Always look for the truth
Have good mates to support each other

Buddhism is the path of logical self examination to discover the truth of who and what you are.

And that is why the ethos of traditional martial arts are steeped in this wisdom.

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2 Triples For Happiness

Photo on 03-03-2018 at 12.03

2 Triples For Happiness

Anicca – Dukka – Anatta

Today wisdom and happiness comes in 2 triples, the first is Anicca, Dukka, and Anatta, the triple gem of existence.

We all know this, but much of our suffering comes from not accepting it. Everything rises and falls without cease, therefore we need to be able to fully engage, to love, enjoy and then at the right time let go. To be able to do this we need to remind ourselves in daily meditation that all things will pass and just knowing this will broaden our perspective enough to give a deep happiness.

Suffering is borne from desire and aversion. When we have an unnatural attraction to have or an aversion to not have, we will suffer. Accepting what cannot be changed and is inevitable is important to be able to get on with life and change that which can be changed to contribute to the world in a positive way.

Not Self
We are not born into this world, we’re born out of it. Our DNA goes back to the big bang, we have always been here in one form or another. Our meditation connects us to the source and we understand that what we think is the ‘self’ is in fact just a wave riding on and fully connected to the ‘sea’ of the source of all things. We are much, much, more than the thinking mind, when that ceases in meditation, all is revealed.

Buddha – Dharma – Sangha

The second triple gem is the 3 essentials of enlightenment.

To Be Awake
To have a mind that is fully aware, focused, sensitive and has the right kind of intensity. Once this mind is developed we are not subject to the mental enemies of apathy and distraction that make many people into living zombies. Others are unable to manipulate us as we can see through the deceptions with clarity and are able to thin k and judge for ourselves.

The Pursuit Of Truth
Truth just is. It is our personal journey, we have to discover for ourselves. Wisdom and truth reside in and arise from the wordless mind in meditation. It’s intrinsic and often cannot be defined. There is a difference between knowing about something and actually knowing and fully realising it. We all know academics that know everything about martial arts but can’t actually do it. A big difference!

The Right Circle Of Friends
A ‘Dojo’ is ‘a place to find the way’ and like a church is not a building but a group of like minded individuals. Part of the pursuit of truth is solitary but the other part needs other people for mutual support and exchange. A ‘Sensei’ is ‘one who has made the journey’ and is able to guide you in following the path. He/she can’t do it for you but can certainly help with a map of how to get there.

So there you have it. Understanding impermanence, suffering and the truth of the self and how to be awake, discover truth and mix with the right people. 2 triples that really can be life changing!

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Come Together…

steve profile books

The Martial Arts are a broad church and should be based in respect.  You’d think that martial artists would always want to show how their training  had taught them patience, kindness, tolerance, compassion, respect, courtesy, resolve, determination and courage and many good practitioners do show those qualities, unfortunately those that make the most noise on social media don’t.

40 years ago we were a cult. There was a good and bad side to that. On the good side many were taught and showed those good qualities and on the bad side there were bullies and blind worship, we travelled the World to learn and suffered horrendous injuries in our training and were loyal to our Instructors and fellow students to a fault.  There was no internet or social media, children weren’t taught and martial arts were just practiced by a few nutty adults in dark corners.

With the advent of Bruce Lee in ‘Enter The Dragon’ and David Carradine in the ‘Kung Fu’ television series in 1973 the general population learned about Kung Fu and Karate and the arts started to change.

Business and politics moved in and constantly restructured the arts into what we see today. Now 75% of the students are children and many of the adults are parents of the children that train and the prospective students priorities tend to be how local the Dojo is, what days and times are the training, how much does it cost, how friendly are the instructors and students and can they lose weight, get fit and maybe learn a bit of self defence. It’s now congruent with modern gym culture with children’s classes.

A different world indeed.

The standard in martial arts has gone up – not down.  There are simply far more people training than ever. The MMA fighters are tougher and better trained than any of us were. With the knowledge from books, videos, DVD’s, online media, constant translations of the classics, ease of travel and everyone becoming more cosmopolitan, high end traditional training is far better than it’s ever been. The contentious world of self defence means that there is a far wider range of training and more information than ever.  The ‘high end’ of this training probably accounts for around 5% of the people training, the rest only want ease of access, good rates, friendly faces and to get fit and lose a bit of weight and the kids want active fun.

So the ‘McDonalds’ of the martial arts world, usually called ‘McDojo’s’ thankfully accommodate the bulk of leisure martial artists and children. I don’t see ‘McDojo’ as a derogatory term, most people want to start off with a version of ‘martial arts lite’ and if they like their training and need to move up there is plenty of high end instructors that can take them on.

We have no political structure to speak of in the Martial Arts because our politicians were incapable of working for the benefit of the Arts and all the structures collapsed leaving most martial arts clubs to structure themselves. Sport England and the Government’s interference only ever made matters worse.

But the law structures us. We can’t cheat, lie or bully anymore without repercussion. Some of the biggest franchises are highly successful and have made millionaires out of their founders, I don’t begrudge them a penny because I know how difficult it is just to run a few clubs and make a living let alone deal with 600 clubs, their Instructors and thousands of students!

The noise on social media comes from the few who either don’t think it through or begrudge them their success, mostly they are people trying hard to emulate them or are just generally unsuccessful in the way they are structured and want someone to blame. I think what makes it worse for them is the fact that one of the biggest secrets of success is ‘don’t wrestle with a pig, because you’ll get covered in muck and the pig will like it’ – and ‘don’t feed the trolls’. Successful people are too nice to rise to the bait and too busy to become embroiled in the mosh pit of internet trolling.

We see a lot of video clips on social media of people doing martial arts at what is purported to be a low standard by people ridiculing them, but why post them? Surely it would be better to post good martial arts? Social media is a good recruiting tool so we would do far better if we weren’t bitching, arguing, posting clips of people and ridiculing them but instead showed the best side of what we do and how martial arts has developed our character and emotional intelligence for the better.

Those clips are also inevitably old – and I’m sure we’ve all done demo’s etc that haven’t gone particularly well and we wouldn’t want people to keep pulling them up and drawing attention to them. Also, what’s ‘bad’ to one person, isn’t to another, like I said, the Martial Arts is a broad church ranging from meditating monk, to top athlete and street fighter.

If you run a successful franchise where you are constantly visiting your clubs and teaching famous TV and movie stars, you can’t be THAT bad, and any media exposure can only be good for us all.  The wider the net is cast and the bigger the pool of beginners the more people will rise up to us teaching at the high end.

It makes sense for us all to work together.  We may not like each other or even the martial arts we do, but what do we tell our students?

“In our club and in the Martial Arts we work with each other whatever our personal likes and dislikes so that we all develop together.  We NEVER bully or ridicule each other.”

Maybe we should all take a big spoonful our own medicine?



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Find Your Own Martial Art

Photo on 23-10-2017 at 17.52 #3 copy

Been training for a while and feel dissatisfied? Feel like you’re not learning the right things? The martial arts not meeting your expectations?

Meditate – ask yourself what you really want from your training, I don’t mean all the usual blanket answers but what do YOU want? What are YOUR individual expectations? This can lead to quite a few surprises because you’ve probably been taking on other people’s expectations without realising it and that’s why you have to go deep to discover what it is you REALLY need from your efforts.

Look at what you’re doing – having realised fully why you’re training, is your current path going to get you there? Look at the end result of what you’re training for and start to plot a path towards each bit. You will probably find that you will have take up separate aspects to get them to converge at the right point. I had to study philosophy, Buddhism, Zen, Taoism, and my own culture of Wicca and paganism, the healing arts of reiki and massage and the softer and more internal side of traditional Tai Chi to match the Kickboxing, Karate, Ju Jitsu, Judo along with the Chinese and Japanese weapons arts of Iaido, Jodo, Broadsword, Double Edge sword and Spear to reach the standard that I wanted and had to learn from the top Coaches in each field of study.

Be yourself – Everyone wants you to become what they want. Masters want soldiers and blind followers, students and family want you become what suits them. They will put their expectations on you. DON’T LET THEM! Be yourself! Don’t let anyone else put you in a box you are an individual and to be who you really are – and unlike them you have worked it out and plotted a path!

Be discerning – Can these people do what they say? How many top level practitioners and coaches have they produced? people lie, they exaggerate, they don’t put in the work themselves, they try and hide their lack of skill with mystique, secrecy and lineages – don’t fall for it!

Find balance – work at a pace that you can sustain. Become emotionally intelligent. Any path is only as strong as it’s weakest point, so know what your strong and weak points are – discover them for yourself, don’t wait for others to tell you! Other people always have an agenda know yourself inside out and find that essential level of balance.

Stick to your guns – have resolve, determination, courage, patience, tolerance, kindness and compassion and simply don’t give up. This is a lifelong quest! Fall down 7 times and get up 8. That’s the rule of thumb for life. That 1 step forwards through all the trials and tribulations is worth it’s weight in gold – it’s the winning step, it’s what sorts out the winners from the losers.

Do it – do it now – don’t put it off. Get your arse in that chair or on that cushion NOW, sit straight, breathe deep, calm your mind down and focus your attention – then ask yourself “what do I REALLY want?”



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The ‘Empty Force’ Of Tai Chi


Photo on 23-10-2017 at 17.52 #3

‘Empty force’ sounds nebulous and difficult to understand, but it isn’t. The body is a spring, when the posture is correct and the joints unlocked, when the soft tissue carries no unnecessary tension – the compression and release of a combination of the joints, including the spine, bodycore and soft tissue is a skill that can be trained in a multitude of ways.

The first level of skill is to unlock the body and keep it unlocked, start with good posture and then unlock the ankles, knees, hips, back and chest with the mantra ‘soften and connect’ when you can drop your bodyweight into the arches of your feet and feel them spread to the floor with the weight you’re ready to pump.

If you were to then jump in the air you would bend the joints and spring upwards, making the body ‘float’ upwards with an emptiness – and that’s what we’re looking for. Then try it without leaving the ground making the arms raise and float upwards with the Tai Chi technique at the beginning of the form called ‘raise hands’ although the hands float up they should still be connected to the feet so it they contacted the opponent at any point, the power would still come directly from the feet.

Then practice a series of exercises, (the Yang Family qigong is specifically designed for this purpose) making each part of the body float in every range of movement with that ’empty but connected to the feet’ sensation constantly unlocking and springing through the joints and soft tissue.

The next stage is the Tai Chi form with every technique practised in the same way so that you ‘float’ through the form with that characteristic soft, smooth, spiralling but still powerfully connected manner where at any point you can repel an opponent and also send an additional pulse in the same manner of a dynamic ‘pinball’ of energy into an opponent without overextending into them or collapsing from their pressure or your own technical failure.

This can then be applied to push hands and application work in a variety of skillsets.

The idea is simple. The action takes considerable training, but the skill is layered in at each stage. The purpose of this blog is to give you the vision of where to go and be able to recognise the training plan to get you there.

In Karate you may recognise the same process as ‘sink, swallow, float and spit’.

It’s an old internal skill that is rapidly getting lost as martial artists move from principles to technique only and a gym style of muscular development, throwing the baby out with the bathwater as they do so.

It wasn’t called ‘Soft Cotton Boxing’ and ‘Deceptive Boxing’ for nothing!


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Cognitive Dissonance In The Martial Arts

face claw

I posted recently on Facebook about Firemen who rescued some piglets from a fire and how the grateful farmer then slaughtered them and rewarded the firemen with sausages made from their carcasses. As a meditation I suggested that if that made the readers uncomfortable it might be because they were experiencing ‘cognitive dissonance’ because they might hold two opposing views about the piglets, one because they are cute and cuddly and the other because they like them as food.

This then made me think that it might be a good idea to draw some of my teachings together under this label to explain the difference between blind assumptions that create the condition and using it as a tool in our martial arts and in stressful times.

Let me explain.

In the book ‘The Prehistory Of The Mind’ Steven Mithen explains the development of the human mind as like ‘a Swiss army penknife’ with utilities like the need for survival, the need for love and affection, the need to procreate, the need to communicate and recognising what we need to eat and so on that develop faster than all other parts of the mind. These utilities are separate from each other and this explains why we can see baby pigs as cute and cuddly one moment and then be eating them later; as it utilises different parts of the mind.

Steven then relates how as humankind developed, some people have developed channels between these utilities and can start to relate one to the other, bringing about in some the need to reconcile the apparent dissonance between the two.

So in our meditation and self study we need to recognise the ‘blind assumptions’ about everything that our culture and upbringing has given us as a set of views and values and then apply our own critical thinking to them to decide if we really do think that way and to find what our views really are. This process dramatically changed me as a person as I realised that I had previously just adopted the views and values of my family and culture without challenging them!  I had been wearing a mask all this time and not known it, my deep rooted fears and anxieties were borne out of cognitive dissonance because the views I thought I held weren’t really me and deep down I felt uncomfortable with them.

Good meditation took me through this process of self examination to find out who I really was and to find my own resonance.  It was a huge relief to eventually discover who I was and the views that really resonated with me.

Then as martial artists we can train this dissonance as a tool when life serves up it’s usual unpalatable fayre. If we have to defend ourselves or someone else, or fight to keep the peace and we don’t like hurting anyone or anything, we need the skill to be able to disassociate our connection to another person to see them purely as a target to hurt them enough to stop them and this is where a trained ‘cognitive dissonance’ can work for good.

When I’ve had to take a loved pet to the vet to have them put down, when someone close to me is dying painfully, when all I want to do is to collapse in a sea of emotion but someone has to take action to get things done, that necessary separation, if well trained, can come to the fore.

If you are an empathic person and naturally link into someone else’s anger, pain, suffering or depression you end up taking on their emotions and life can be really hard! The person might feel better after an hour but you can still be walking about with their depression for weeks if you’re not careful! Again training for that separation, so you can deal with their emotions positively, you create that ‘cognitive dissonance’ until you can bring the resonance between you back is a real skill.

The ability to be able to ‘wake up’ using mindfulness, to examine our mind and opinions, to discover who we really are what we really think, to understand and connect the different parts of our mind and draw on that embedded ‘utilitarian’ part as a skillset takes regular daily training can be truly life changing – and it helps to develop the necessary toolbox to make us more emotionally intelligent.

That has got to be worth the effort!