Transforming a Temple, Creating an Art

3f555a46a49a3747As we prepare to move into our new martial arts school in the New Year, I am reminded of a talk given by my Tai Chi Instructor, Sifu Robert Brown, which he entitled, ‘Transforming a Temple, Creating an Art’.

The story is told of a temple that was situated high in the mountains, and this temple was a site of pilgrimage. People would come on a pilgrimage to the temple from all over the place, and when they got there they found the temple well tended, fresh flowers and offerings everywhere, incense perfumed the air, and there was an air of quiet purpose with an undertone of great rest.

There were over 100 monks who attended the temple, and it was a thriving place where people came to pray, and left feeling uplifted. The monastics were dedicated to their temple, and kept it swept clear of leaves, kept the incense sticks burning and the incense ash cleared away. It was a place of great beauty and great calm.

Over time, however, there started to be fewer visitors. Just quietly, over time, not so much that anyone would really notice, but the flood of visitors slowed to a river, then to a stream and then it was barely a trickle. The monks moved on, went to serve at different temples and eventually, over time their numbers dwindled to less than 20. With the visitors coming so infrequently, the monks so few, the temple fell slowly into a state of not disrepair exactly, but certainly not the great example that it once was.

The abbot of the monastery called the monks together for a meeting, and it was decided that he would pay a visit to another temple to see if there was any insight he might gain on how to bring the life back to the temple.

It was a week’s walk to get to the next temple, and while he was there he had plenty of time to think about what to ask the abbot of the other monastery. After his long walk, he arrived at the temple and immediately sought an audience with the abbot. He described his situation, and the other abbot thought about it carefully. At last he said, “well, at the moment, nothing really comes to me, I’m afraid. However, eat with us, sleep and rest after your journey, and I will meditate on your problem, and let you know what occurs to me.”Zen-Monk-in-Peace

The next morning, the abbot of the monastery came to the visitor and said, “my friend, I have meditated on your problem, and I am afraid I still have no answer for you. I am sorry you have had such a long trip, but there is nothing I can tell you.”

The visiting abbot was disappointed, of course, but thanked the abbot and started out the long trip back to his home monastery. As he was walking away, barely started on his journey, the abbot came running up to him. ‘I don’t know if this helps at all, but during my meditation it did come to me that one of your monks has made it – has become an enlightened person.” This was interesting, but neither of the abbots could think how this would be useful in revitalising the temple. So they took leave of each other and each went back to their own monastery.

Upon his return, the abbot called his monks together. They were eager to hear what the other abbot had to say. Everyone was disappointed to hear there was no instant answer, but they were all fascinated to hear that one of them had achieved enlightenment. They all looked at each other, asking the obvious question – who is it, which one of us has made it? No one knew.

Over the next few days, the monks all went around with very thoughtful expressions. One of us has made it! They would think. Then slowly, they started to think about their daily actions. If someone in their presence was an enlightened being, perhaps they should focus a little more in their mediation practice, so as not to distract the enlightened one with weak and mundane thoughts. If someone in their temple was enlightened, perhaps they should work a little harder on their cleaning around the temple, to be sure that the enlightened one had a pleasant place to live and would stay with them, and inspire them.

No one ever found out who it was that was enlightened amongst those monks, but over time, with the effort of the monks in their meditation, their concentration in their studies and their conscientiousness in their cleaning, the temple gradually once again started to attract more visitors, as those who did visit told others of the dedication, purity and peace of the monks.

It is interesting to think of this in relation to our new school. In any class, who knows who amongst out student will be the one who will one day achieve mastery, who will achieve greatness in the martial arts. It could be any of us, it could even be most of us!

If you knew that in your class, training right there with you was the future Tyler Weaver, Jet Li, Bruce Lee, Musashi Minnamoto, how would that affect the way you train? How would that make you treat the other students in the class when you are partnered with them? How would that make you treat the place where one of the greats had trained?

groupIf we can all adopt that attitude to our training, how much better would everyone who train with us become? When we build a new martial arts school, we will do everything we can to create the best possible training environment. How it evolves and it used comes down to the attitudes and intentions of the people who use the place. If we want to have the best training environment in the world, all we have to do is act as though we already have it, and that is exactly what it will become.

A Black Belt is not Something you Earn, it is Something you Become

12003973_10153622628455871_1018021166963204721_nWe held a Black Belt Exam in our school last month, where a talented young man achieved a goal he had been working on for four years. This was also the first Black Belt Exam in our school for a student who had trained exclusively at Fire Phoenix Martial Arts, so it was significant for the school as well as the student.

The process of getting a Black Belt is an intense, refining process. The Black Belt Exam is like a furnace, an intense heat that burns away the outer layers, the impurities and leaves a strong, solid core that is impervious to external factors. It is a process during which the Black Belt candidate internalises the principles of Hapkido and the martial arts and makes them a part of themselves.

There is a story told of a farmer who was inspired to mine for diamonds, and this story makes me think of the search for a Black Belt as well.

There was once a farmer who lived on a farm in a hilly area where he farmed sheep. It was a farm that made enough money for the farmer to support himself, but there was not a lot left over. He worked hard and he had everything he needed. He was content with this until one day some strangers came to his village, and told of how they had found diamond mines. Diamond mines – imagine that! How much wealth there would be! How could the daily grind of sheep farming ever compare to that?

So the farmer decided to sell up his farm and travel, searching for his diamond mine. He travelled far and wide, searching, follow new clues, listening to rumours of where the diamonds might be mined, dashing to mountainside caverns and beachside cave systems, always searching for the elusive diamond mine. At last, footsore, weary, with no money left and full of disillusionment, he returned back to his old village.

There, he discovered, diamonds had been found! Asking for more details, he found that they had actually been found on his old farm! He was devastated, and also amazed. He went and spoke to the man who bought his farm from him, and found that there was a cave on the farm in the hills that turned out to be a diamond mine. The farmer knew of the cave, he used to use it to shelter with his sheep in storms.

12038061_10153622630875871_1055340105642275361_nThe thing he didn’t realise was that diamonds in their raw state do not resemble the sparking crystal stones we see on diamond rings and necklaces. The look like dull brown stones. It is the process of polishing them, refining them, cutting them that makes diamonds what they are. By destroying them in their raw form, the beauty and wonder that is within can shine through.

This story always makes me think of the process of becoming a Black Belt. To become a Black Belt, we must be prepared to sacrifice what we are for what we might become. To become more than the dull brown stones, we need to put ourselves through a process that demands everything from us, that changes us into something much more than we ever were before.

The story also illustrates that sometimes on the path to our Black Belt, we look for a quick fix, a magic solution that will get us to our goal faster. We look for other options that will take the place of the hard work that is required to get our Black Belt. The fact is, there is not one. There is simply day after day of hard physical work, hard mental work to keep slogging away at the things we need to work on.

The path to Black Belt calls on us to make sacrifices. Some of the sacrifices we make are of our time – we spend a lot of time on our training, sometimes choosing to come to class when there are other fun things we could be doing. Sometimes we sacrifice comfort – we stretch a little deeper, we train a little harder, we collect bruises, bumps and knocks as we train. Sometimes we sacrifice our pride or ego, to submit to doing what our instructor asks us to do even if we don’t want to, or are scared to. It is making these sacrifices that builds us up mentally to be able to withstand a Black Belt Exam and come out of it on the other side stronger and more than we were before.

12042648_10153622625745871_4982656721780597830_nAfter the Black Belt exam, you understand that you ARE a Black Belt, it is not simply something you earn and can be removed when you change clothes. It is something that is a part of who you are, because it is something that you have had to work incredibly hard to become.

Sometimes when extended family members come to watch a Black Belt exam and they have not witnesses first hand the training, they are shocked at what a Black Belt exam demands of a student. They are scared for the Black Belt candidate because what they are being asked to do seems completely unreasonable. It is only unreasonable without the preparation of the sacrifices and hard work in the years of classes leading up to this one special event. This event is a once in a lifetime event that you always carry with you as a source of strength and motivation in daily life.

Congratulations to Ethan on his Black Belt, to all our Black Belt students and to those who are coming in the future.

Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo survives by bending with the wind

bruce-lee-kung-fu-quotes-24At some point in our martial arts training, students realise that strong, linear movements are painful to work with, and require a large expenditure of energy. The use of force against force is a crude way to get a result, and is not a true expression of martial arts. Students training like this may develop bruises in class training, and over time may even cause long lasting damage to their bone structure. This linear way of training is also difficult to maintain long term, as our bodies grow tired and age.

It is at this point that alternatives are sought out by the Martial Artist who wishes to continue practicing in a healthy body on a long term basis.

This is where the student starts to see the value, and apply the principles of circular motion in their movements to avoid attacks and re-position themselves in a more effective position. It is where students start to be able to apply the more advanced and complicated motions that incorporate circles. These movements allow the student the flexibility to respond to direct attacks by absorbing an attack and redirecting it, much as bamboo moves in the wind.

It takes considerably more time to learn to move in a circular way, however after time spent in studying the Martial Arts, students begin to naturally see the advantages of moving in a smoother responsive way instead of a binary linear way.

Understanding this way of moving also allows the students to respond differently to different situations. Students start to understand that the same response is not always appropriate, and that there are many ways of achieving the desired outcome.

Moving smoothly and circularly is a challenging skill to master. It is not the same as learning how to perform an individual technique, no matter how complex, as it requires us to have the presence of mind to alter something as fundamental as the way we move. The way we do this is we practice the ability to observe ourselves in action.

When we start our training, we have a bit of tunnel vision – we see hands and feet flying through the air towards us and we just concentrate on dealing with that – we see a target and we hit it, we see an attack and we block it, all the time trying to keep our heads above water.

Next stage in our training is the ‘Doh!’ stage. This is a frustrating stage as we can see opportunities to do something different and good just microseconds after the opportunity has passed. This is a natural and healthy stage as it means we are starting to be able to look wider than the tunnel vision of the previous stage.

mindfulness-gives-you-timeAfter time in our training, we develop the ability to relax in our training, to wait for opportunities and respond to the them as soon as they arise and make a decision about what action to take. This ability is taking the moment between stimulus and response and stretching it out to make enough time to choose between a variety of options, instead of shrinking the moment to be so small that all we can do is lash out, or do what we have been conditioned to do without thinking about if it is the right action to take.

We do this by looking outwards, away from the little details in front of us and at the bigger picture. We do it by trying to be in the moment and yet also distant from it, observing it. Most people will have, at some time or another been asked something and they instantly gave a response (usually in the negative) without thinking about, and later realised that was actually an opportunity that we passed up to change something for the better. When we go around on autopilot, or when we get caught up in busyness and respond without thought, we do not have the chance to move forward. When, however, we can be present in each moment, looking at each situation and making conscious decisions about it, then we are able to make good choices about the course of action we should take, and this shapes the person and the martial artist we become.

Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you are right

henry-ford-quote-whether-you-think-you-can-or-think-you-can_t-you_re-rightThe attitude we bring to our Martial Arts classes with us determines the sort of lesson we are going to have. When we come to class with smiles, ready to work hard and also to have fun, that is what will probably happen!

That is why each Martial Arts class at Fire Phoenix starts with a short time of quiet sitting simply breathing and clearing our thoughts. This short space of time is a chance to let go of any worries we have, forget about our troubles at home or school and instead think about our Martial Arts training.

We change our thoughts by controlling our breathing. If we breath in an angry way, fast and hard, we can become angry. If we breathe in a slow and calm way, we can become calm and focussed, enabling us to make good choices. This is why slowing and controlling our breathing at the start of the martial arts class is so important. It allows us to let go of the challenges and frustrations that may have occurred during the day, and think about moving forward with a clean slate. This is a great technique, and will work at home and school when you need to get control of yourself, as well as in a Martial Arts class.

There are some things we can control and some things we cannot control. Effective people accept the things they cannot control, and concentrate on the things they can control. Perhaps you cannot control whether you came to class today, perhaps you came because your parents brought you. We cannot control the actions of other people, however we can control how we react to people. We can choose to get involved in other people’s problems or drama, or we can choose to distance ourselves from the little things and concentrate on the important issues. We cannot control what is taught in class on any given day, however we can give our attention to whatever lesson is taught to us, and enjoy what is in that lesson.

What you can control is the attitude you bring to the class. We always have the ability to control our attitude, and this determines our experiences in life.

The Old Man

61Ce2CHn5YL._SX300_There was once an old man who owned a small farm high up on the hillside. He lived alone with his teenage son and their horses to help them with the farm chores.

One day a wild stallion came to the farm, and caused all the horses to run away. “What bad luck!’ sympathised his neighbours. “Maybe good, maybe bad, who knows” replied the farmer.

The next day the stallion returned , bringing with it the farmer’s horses and a whole herd of wild ponies with it. “What good luck!” exclaimed his neighbours. “Maybe good, maybe bad, who knows” replied the farmer.

The following day the son tried to tame one of the new horses and fell off and broke his leg, and was unable to help his father on the farm. “What bad luck!’ sympathised his neighbours. “Maybe good, maybe bad, who knows” replied the farmer.

Then an army recruiting officer came to the village, calling up to war all the young men who were fit to fight, sending them to uncertainty and preventing them from helping on their families farms. As the man’s son was injured, he was not selected to join the army. “What good luck!” exclaimed his neighbours. “Maybe good, maybe bad, who knows” replied the farmer.

This story shows us that any situation simply is, the way we look at it determines whether it is good or bad. In our lives, when we are faced with a situation, we can feel a range of different emotions – maybe disappointed, maybe sad, or angry. This is natural, however if we can control ourselves and our emotions, we can choose to show a positive attitude and find the good in a situation. Sometimes it might be that our disappointment is another person’s opportunity. It might be that our anger can lead to us to take action to fix a problem. It all comes down to the attitude we bring.

Honourable Founder of the Way – Ji Han Jae

A recent photo of Doju Nim Ji Han Jae
A recent photo of Doju Nim Ji Han Jae

There have been several times in class where I have referred to the founder of Hapkido, Ji Han Jae, spending some time in prison in Korea. This is just one aspect of this interesting man’s life, so this blog post will give everyone the details of the time in prison, as well as some other interesting facts about Ji Han Jae’s life.

Gramdmaster Ji Han Jae, or Dojunim, to use his teaching title, which can be translated as Honourable Founder of the Way, was a very influential person in South Korea. He was born there, in Andong in 1936 or thereabouts. At this time in Korea it was common to not register children’s births until after their first birthday, due to the high infant mortality rate.

Ji Han Jae credits three instructors as being influential in his martial arts development. The first is Yung Sul Choi. Choi is himself a fairly controversial figure, as he claims to have studied under the prolific Japanese instructor, Sokkaku Takeda, who was one of an old samurai family. It is clear that he did study with Takeda, as his techniques are clearly based on Takeda’s style, Daito Ryu AikiJuJitsu, however none of Takeda’s family will admit to remembering Choi, and in Takeda’s very comprehensive records of students, there is no record either of Choi or of the Japanese name he used while in Japan. Ji Han Jae trained with Yung Sul Choi from the age of 13, and from him he learnt the self defence techniques and strikes that are part of our Hapkido syllabus today.

Another instructor of Ji Han Jae was a man known as Taoist Lee. Ji Han Jae explains that this name was the best approximation he could offer in english of this man and his influence on Ji Han Jae’s practice. From Taoist Lee he learnt the spinning kicks and high jumping kicks that Hapkido is so famous for, also the Bo staff and the Dan Bong.

His final instructor was a lady monk who he refers to as ‘Grandma’ and is his spiritual instructor. This is significant to Ji Han Jae as the spiritual side of the practice of martial arts is very important to Ji Han Jae.

Ji Han Jae in Vietnam, around 1967
Ji Han Jae in Vietnam, around 1967

With these instructors, Ji Han Jae came up with a very effective and practical martial art style. He was gained a position instructing in the Korean Military Academy, due to his reputation as a highly skilled fighter and teacher. From there he was given permission to train the Military Supreme Council in Hapkido Techniques, and then a government position training the Presidential Security forces, who work on guarding the president in the Blue House, the Republic Of Korea’s equivalent to the US’s White House.

Due to such important officials being trained in Hapkido, it became known as the official martial art of Korea, while Taekwondo, which was also gaining in popularity at this time was known as it’s national sport.

As he increased in influence, Ji Han Jae had several opportunities, one of which was to travel to Vietnam in approximately 1967, where he spent some time training soldiers in Vietnam, and also training ROK marines.

Shortly after this, in 1969, Ji Han Jae had the opportunity to travel to the US as part of an exchange with President Richard Nixon’s security forces. While he was there, he had the opportunity to teach Hapkido to the US secret service, the CIA, the FBI and Special Forces.

It was also while he was there that he was introduced to Bruce Lee, who was very impressed with Ji Han Jae’s fighting skills. Bruce Lee asked Ji Han Jae to teach him, and Ji Han Jae was able to teach him the spinning kicks that he is now so well known for. Bruce Lee also insisted that Ji Han Jae accept a role in his film, ‘Game of Death’, which he did, and appears in a scene in the movie, and was also a martial arts advisor in making the film.

Bruce Lee and Ji Han Jae on the set of 'Game of Death'
Bruce Lee and Ji Han Jae on the set of ‘Game of Death’

During this time, Ji Han Jae was running a large school of his own, with over 500 students, and was active in his work training the military in Korea, including training the presidential bodyguards. Then, President Park of the Republic of Korea was assassinated. Ji Han Jae resigned his position, and he joined a political party run by a politician from Ji Han Jae’s hometown. The leader of the political party decided that this would be a good time to reorganise the presidential bodyguards so they could accompany the president when he travelled, not just guard him in the Blue House.

A political rival heard of this plan, and saw it as an opportunity to discredit his rivals. He informed the President that the plan was a plot to overthrow the President, and many of the individuals involved in this political turmoil were arrested and jailed, and some were executed. Ji Han Jae himself was sent to jail for one year, on a charge of tax fraud. The sentencing judge at the time said that if he did not imprison Ji Han Jae at this time, it was likely that more and more charges would be trumped up against him until he was facing a much longer jail sentence.

Ji Han Jae himself says that this time in prison was a very interesting time in his life, as it allowed him to experience people and situations that are not available to most people. He used his time in jail to develop a reinvented Hapkido, which he called ‘Sin Moo Hapkido’, which incorporated a number of very specific, close range kicks and meditation techniques.

This is interesting as it shows that our Art has come through a range of situations, from personal defence, to performance based work to meditation and study of the meditation and spirituality of martial arts to be the amazing system it is today.

Weapons of the Hand

c9f51538b48ed594e843a4ee67dc48e6In Hapkido, there are a number of striking surfaces of our hand. This diagram goes through some of the strikes we practice in class, and we will go through them and discuss their applications in this blog post. You will notice the names are in Japanese – I will use the Japanese name simply so you can see which diagram I am referring to – in our classes we use the english words for the strikes to keep our art accessible to everyone.


This is one of the first strikes we teach, yet it is in fact one of the more complicated strikes we learn. Therefore we need to have lots of practice to get it right! In the diagram, you can see the correct striking surface is the first two knuckles of the fist. When we strike correctly with a punch, the knuckles line up behind the wrist, which lines up behind the elbow, which in turn lines up behind the shoulder. In this way, when we strike, it hurts our opponent, not ourselves.


This strike is done using, as the name suggests, with the back of the fist. This strike is a simple strike to form up for, and so can be used quickly, right after a block. This strike is best used against hard surfaces, such as the temple, the bridge of the nose or the chin. This strike can be achieved either by pulling the arm across the body and striking outwards, by raising the fist upwards diagonally across the body or by striking in a downwards motion. This makes it a very versatile strike.


This strike also has the hand arranged in a fist position, however this strike uses the base of the fist as the surface to make contact. To perform this strike, the arm pulls across the body and strikes in an inward motion. Hammerfist strikes take some practice to perform with power, as they require the use of the shoulders and hips as well as the arm to deliver this strike with power.


This strike is usually performed at the neck, into the soft tissue. It can also be performed into pressure points, such as the inward of the upper arm. It is performed by forming a fist and then pushing the centre knuckle forward so the it sticks forward. This allows the strike to be highly targeted at a specific spot, to inflict damage on soft, vulnerable areas of an attacker’s body.


This is a strike in which the top of the fingers are curled over so that the strike is performed with the lower knuckles of the hand. This strike is also aimed at soft tissue areas such as the neck. The advantage of this strike over a punch is that it can reach more narrow areas than a punch can, so it can be used to strike effectively in areas such as the neck.


Knifehand strikes are used to strike into hard surfaces such as the temple. The strike is performed by tensing the muscles in the side of the hand, which is done by opening the palm of the hand as wide as possible. This can cause the fingers to curl slightly at the tips. The strike is done by pulling the arm across the body and striking outwards. It can also be done by striking downwards, or by pulling the arm back and striking inwards.


These three strikes all illustrate different angles that finger thrust strikes can be performed at. These strikes are aimed at soft areas such as the neck. They require all the finger tips to be lined up together in a straight line, and then the strike is performed by striking straight forward, much like a lunch.


The palm strike is a great strike to use as it can be performed much like  a punch, however with less danger of injury to the one performing the strike. The strike is done by pulling the fingers back and striking with the base of the palm. It is usually done toward the bottom of the chin, under the nose or into the solar plexus.


This strike looks as though it might be uncomfortable, however it is in fact a very direct and straightforward strike. It is done by folding the hand back and striking with the back of the wrist. This strike can be done very easily after a block, without even having to form up separately for the strike. It works particularly well when combined with a rolling block.


This is a very multi purpose strike which is used at close range. It can be performed in almost any direction, and is a great weapon for personal defence because of how close to the opponent the strike works at. For elbow strikes to be safe, thy should be done with the thumb in a downwards position. This will mean that the arm rotates into a position so that the strike is performed with the flat of the arm, and not the point of the elbow.

All of these strikes are specialised and work best when done at the correct angle and target. There are a large number of strikes so that at any position you end up in, there is a strike that will suit the situation. When we practice hand techniques, we work on variety as well as power in our techniques, so that we can be ready for anything.

Why we Do the Things we Do

Zen-Monk-in-PeaceThere is a story told of a temple where the monks would assemble every day for their meditation session in the open courtyard of their temple. One day it happened that a cat arrived just at meditation time, and started to mrowl and cry loudly. The abbot of the temple, having kindness for all living creatures in his heart, asked a monk to take the cat to the kitchen to be fed, so the cat would be content and would not disturb the monks in their meditation.

So the cat was fed and content, and the monks completed their meditation and went about their daily routines, and all was well.

The following day, as the monks settled into their midday meditation in the courtyard, the stray cat made another appearance, and mrowled and cried again to be fed. This time the abbot asked a monk to take the cat to be fed, but also to tie the cat up while the meditation was in progress, so the monks would not be disturbed. The cat was released as soon as meditation was complete, and the monks again went about their daily routines.

Each day the same process was repeated, with the cat crying to be fed at each meditation session, so eventually the cat was automatically tied up and fed and meditation time, and the monks went on with their routines with the cat a part of their monastery.

Over time, the cat grew old and died, and another cat arrived in it’s place. The monks continued to tie up the new cat, and over time and cats, this became a habit with the monks at meditation time, even when the cat was well fed enough that it was no longer necessary to tie him up, the cat was still tied up as part of a routine.

Many years later, a young monk wrote a scholarly paper on the importance of tying up a cat for correct meditation practice. All this because over the years, the monks had stopped asking questions about the cat, and made assumptions.

In our martial arts practice, it is important to ask questions. When we learn a new technique, if there is something we do not understand, or a method that does not make sense to us, it is always okay to ask why. If there is a good reason for doing things a certain way, your instructor will be able to explain it to you. If there is not a good reason, sometimes it might be done it certain way because that is the way it has always been done.

quote_pageThere is nothing wrong with following traditions, however, we need to understand the reasons behind the things we do. If we do things without questioning the reasons behind them, we can limit the opportunity for new understanding. If we can see a way to  do things better, we should be open to considering it.

If we only ever do things in the same way that they have always been done, we can only ever be a shadow of those whose paths we are following. To be the best we can be, we need to try, to experiment, to find out own path. We need to understand the theory of our martial art, and then try to apply those theories in our practice. We do this by trying out new combinations, new ways of moving, new approaches to our practice.

When we consider the way we do things, not just do them, then we have the ability to grow and develop our martial art for the future.

Weapon Called the Word

power-of-wordsIn martial arts, many of the activities we do are carried out with a training partner. It is important to our progress that we have skills to work with other people well.

Part of this is physical. A good partner is one who can hold a target in a way that challenges their partner to keep active, kick higher punch stronger. It is also a person with a sense of fairness and can take turns in a way that is supportive of their partner.

It is also someone who is aware of his or her partner. This means that they are looking at their partner for feedback on how their partner’s experience is going. Are your kicks hurting or scaring your younger or more junior grade partner? Are you doing things that are appropriate to your partner’s level of learning?

When we are physically engaged in working with a partner, thinking about their training just as much as our own, both partners have the opportunity to develop the deeper skills of the martial arts – the ability to keep those around us safe.

The biggest threat to most people in their daily lives through is not the physical attacks they might encounter, it is the attacks of words people say to them, and the words they say to themselves. To truly keep our partners safe, we need to choose our words very carefully, and also the way we say those words.

Words have the power to hurt us far longer than physical injuries. When we say something unkind, the words are said quickly, however the person who hears those unkind words holds on to them very much longer. It is never nice to have someone say unkind or mean things to us. It becomes even worse when we say those things in a place that is meant to be supportive and caring, such as our Dojo.

We try really hard in our Dojo to make it a special place. It is not the physical things that make it special – the hand targets and equipment we use are not special by themselves, it is how we use the space that makes it special. Sometimes students arrive at class and they have had a bad day. Perhaps it was nothing big, it just seemed that nothing worked out right, and everything was a hurry from the morning right through the afternoon. Perhaps someone had a rough day at school. Perhaps someone was super busy at work. Perhaps some people have a home life that is making them sad or worried.

3f555a46a49a3747The Dojo is a place where we can get away from all of those worries and stress. When we come into the Dojo, we take off our shoes. All worries and concerns are to be left in your shoes! Then when we tie our belt, the act of tying that knot indicates that you are about to start on the serious business of being more than you are in everyday life. Your uniform is a bit like a superhero uniform!

Having these start of class routines, and the brief meditation that we do in the start of class are like putting on mental armour. We are in a place where nothing else matters except being present in this class now.

In class, this armour cannot be damaged by punches and kicks that might get through our guard, that is what sometimes happens in warrior training. Making a mistake cannot damage it; we are here to learn after all. The thing that can damage the armour is the unkind, mean or rude words that other people say to us.

Ideally we will, over time, develop the strength that our armour will withstand unkind words as well, however that takes a lot of time. As humans, we experience emotions, and it needs thick armour not to experience emotion when someone is mean to us.

This is why, in the Dojo, we must be very careful about the words we say to each other. It is never appropriate to offer anything except encouragement to another student. It is also not appropriate to use language that you would not use in a place of learning. Phrases and words that are not okay in a library or special place are not okay in the Dojo.

Sometimes words come out of our mouth before we have a chance to think if that was a good thing to say. To help with this, we need to stand guard at the gate of our minds. This means we need to be very careful about the thoughts we allow to take root in our mind. If we are in the habit of thinking critically about other people, we will say critical things. If we are in the habit of thinking negatively about things, we will say negative things.

If, however, we train ourselves to the habit of looking for the good in people and situations, the words we use are likely to be positive. If we can think more about our goals and dreams and less about our fears, our words will be less about anger and meanness and more about support and encouragement.

burbujas_de_jabon_ze3_wideAs martial artists we have a responsibility to keep those around us safe. The best way to do this is create a safe space around ourselves – a bubble that lets in the people who are close to you; family, friends, training partners. In that safe space there is no room for unkindness or meanness. The safe space that we create is a place where people can experience calm, encouragement and a space to breathe, and dream bigger dreams, set larger goals than is possible in the negative world that is outside our safe space.

Stay Committed to your Decisions, but Flexible in your Approach

0f0bcb7361f9fe1316fdcd18bff9f113Loyalty is an important skill to develop if we want to reach advanced levels of our martial arts training. To be loyal to someone or something we need to trust that person. We get to choose who we want to be Loyal to, who we want to trust.

There are many people and groups or institutions that you might choose to be loyal to. These include friends, family members, instructors and coaches, our school, our religion, our beliefs. Sometimes we are asked to be loyal to someone. This can be obvious, such as brands or stores offering loyalty cards with rewards, or it can be more subtle, such as ‘friends’ demanding that we trust them without offering true friendship in return.

It is important to be able to recognise what people and groups deserve our loyalty. Usually, loyalty that is demanded is not true loyalty. It takes time to decide if you are going to place your trust in someone or something. It cannot and should not be a snap decision to be loyal.

We show our Loyalty to our martial arts by trusting our instructor. We show this trust by always following their instruction first time, as soon as they ask it. We are prepared to try their suggestions even if we are not personally sure they will work. By doing this we learn more, and we show our instructor that we are a willing student. We are prepared to try hard things because we trust our instructor will only ever ask us to do things that will help us on our martial arts journey. Once trust is established, we can move from the basics to the exciting and advanced techniques of the martial arts.

We also show Loyalty to our family. We trust that our parents make good decisions on our behalf, and we know that we can trust them to love us unconditionally. We show Loyalty to our family by helping the family work well together, by sticking up for family members when they need our support, and being there for each other.

We can also choose to show Loyalty to friends, to sporting teams and other groups. We show this Loyalty by making choices that consider how our friends might feel. We can show Loyalty to sporting teams and groups by being there at matches and events for the group or team.

Waterfall2Once a Martial Arts student approached his teacher with a questions.

“I’d like to improve my knowledge of the Martial Arts. In addition to learning from you, I’d like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style. What do you think of this idea?”

“The hunter who chases two rabbits,” answered the Master, “Catches neither one.”

This story shows us that if we want to succeed at anything, we need to dedicate ourselves to that thing. This does not mean that we can only ever participate in one activity, or belong to only one group.

Rather it means that while we are doing an activity, we should do it with our mind and body and heart in it. There is no good in trying to do Martial Arts while we are thinking about our homework! There is another quote common in the martial arts – ‘If you are going to stand, stand. If you are going to sit, sit. Whatever you do, don’t wobble!’ The message here is to give your training all your attention and focus when you are in class. Never step through your classes, always do everything to the best of your ability, each time you try something. That way you will train your body to perform as you need it to under pressure.

To be successful at anything we need to be committed to it, and Loyalty is demonstrated by our commitment.

Motivation is what gets you started, Habit is what keeps you going

qjwgfamiwvsuuk9s_400As students move from basic levels of competence in the Martial Arts, they will have developed many habits in their training. The first excitement of studying a new discipline has worn off and is replaced by a deeper desire to become skilled in the Martial Arts.

One of the most important habits a student can develop is that of attending classes and training in the Martial Arts. By making attending classes a matter of habit rather than a choice, we are setting ourselves up for success. If we can set aside regular time for practice, it becomes part of our day, rather than a decision that has to be made. When we have to ask ourselves, ‘shall I go to class today?’ there will definitely be times when the answer is ‘no’. If our training days are a habit, we resist the distractions of the outside world and build habits that support our goals.

Another important habit is that of mindful practice. Training mindfully means not simply going through the motions of the class, but being actively engaged mentally as well. Thinking about the techniques you have been asked to practice, and trying to to make each one a little bit better than the last. Thinking about how you can put your techniques together in combinations and creating your own sequences. Getting in the habit of thinking about your martial arts as you perform it. In this way we develop habits that help us take our training to the next level of understanding.45f659ca283ac672faed58b4f2318347

Yet another habit that supports us in our practice is letting go of expectations. We see some students in the habit of expecting tips or new belts at certain intervals. Unfortunately, this is relying on external recognition from someone else to feel good about our training. This is not a helpful habit. A better habit to form is to ask yourself the question after class – ‘Did I learn something today? Did I get better at something today? Did I enjoy training in martial arts today?’ If you are in the habit of asking yourself these questions, and answer ‘yes’ to even one of those questions, you will feel good about your training. Feeling good about your training is a great habit to get into!

Habits are formed by repetition. Over and again students hear their Instructors repeat basic phrases— ’Hands Up’ ‘Breathe’ ‘Look at your target’ – this is to try and set correct habits in students from the very beginning. In martial arts we repeat actions over and again to develop habits. Then we add extra factors – jumps, spins and jumping spins to build further skills, however everything is based on getting the foundations correct. This is why good technique habits are so important to develop.

The important thing to understand about habits is that the way we perform in class over time will lead to habits, and these habits are what will come to the front under pressure, such as at Gradings or in real life confrontation situations. The habits we develop in class can be supportive or hindrances under pressure. If we get into the habit of ‘walking through’ our practice, our bodies learn that this is the way to perform those techniques. If we get into the habit of always practicing with focus and power, this is how our body learns to perform.

The-most-exhilarating-achievement-is-breaking-a-bad-habit.Once we have developed a habit that we do not want to have any longer, we need to find a way to get rid of it. The easiest way to get rid of a habit is to replace it with a different one. So for example, if we have a habit of tapping our pen against a table, rather than making ourselves stop completely, instead we replace the old habit with a new one, so perhaps when we have a pen in our hands we twist it in our fingers, instead of tapping it on the table. While this is only a small change, once this change is made it is easier to then replace the habit again with something else. While this is just a little example, the idea holds true with larger habits as well.

Students should look very carefully at the habits they have when performing their basic techniques, and be sure that they are constructive habits that support the practice, rather than habits that get in the way of the correct practice of the martial arts.