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Come Together…

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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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Why ‘Positive Thinking’ Doesn’t Work…

steve profile booksWhy ‘positive thinking’ doesn’t work.

That happy mask, the fixed inane grin, the stupid idea that ‘anything’s possible’ if you think positive hard enough, usually comes from someone desperately unhappy or someone with their hand in your pocket.

Let me be honest. At least 50% of life is shit. It ranges from dissatisfaction to ‘please kill me now’ suffering. If you learn to deal with with it by becoming durable, it ‘enobles’ you. It means you’ve been hurt so bad for so long, nothing or no one can hurt you as much as you’ve been hurt already. It gives you depth and the ability to deal with life and help others from direct experience.

It means you REALLY appreciate the other 50% of life, when you have no pain life is incredibly beautiful. You appreciate all the beauty in the universe because it’s only beautiful because of it’s fragility, you know it will inevitably wither and die.

So deep happiness and sustainable success comes from wisdom and experience viewed from the right perspective. Life is about BALANCE understanding the way the universe creates it’s own form of harmony. In hindsight, what is hard and painful teaches you how to cope with life and appreciate that other 50%.

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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!

 

 

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Keep Your Child Safe!

Cerys guard

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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Direct Knowledge Is Different

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I used to get my knowledge and wisdom from others at lectures, in books and lecture tapes.  I would meditate for ages on the wisdom of the Buddha, Lao Tsu, Ajhan’s Chah and Sumedho, Alan Watts, Kahil Gibran and many others, I studied Buddhism, Zen, Chan, Taoism, Wicca, Paganism, Ritual Magik, Spiritualism and all their associated arts, but when the breakthrough occurred, I stopped.

No longer did I need to refer to others, because I was able to look inside and find my own ‘wisdom mind’. When I sat or stood still, I could access the part of me that I never could before and I found the true purpose of meditation.

Before, I knew a lot about these subjects and could quote a host of others and what they thought about them, but I didn’t really know what I was talking about because I didn’t have the direct experience. I thought I had because I had the knowledge, but it hadn’t changed me as a person. A big difference!

When a Buddhist monk lectured, they would sit quietly first and when they spoke it was like something spoke through them, they could answer questions with frightening honesty and humility but I never quite got what they were doing until it happened to me. In the Martial Arts I would see true mastery when a teacher could just respond with whatever someone threw at them with ease and never have to bully to impress. Eventually I realised that when you had absorbed the knowledge properly with the right kind of mind – you became it.

Meditation became my study instead of reading, instead of acting the part I became it.  My martial arts training became a meditation. Whenever I needed help or advice, instead of going to a book, I sat still, when I had a problem, in that stillness I always found the answer.

I could teach and lecture without notes, all I had to do was go to that place in my mind and everything came out in a well structured approach sensitive to the audience and students needs.

I had found the difference between knowing about something and actually knowing it.

There are many that know ‘about’ various subjects and can quote just about everyone, but those that really ‘know’ directly and are it, live it every day.

And they truly are like diamonds on a beach of pebbles.

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