Tag Archives: martial arts

stephfitblr:

that moment when your grandmaster stops class to help a black belt candidate learn how to do a brick break and then turns it into a life lesson 😅

I grabbed my phone to capture a video for when she breaks it, and I’m glad I got this motivating speech. The clip is just over a minute.

Caption: Grandmaster standing in front of a thick concrete block upon two others, with a student who is going to attempt breaking it, in front of a class: “think through, think through. This is, you know, guys, breaking is a metaphor for breaking through stuff. You know the challenges that you have – I’ve seen 240lb linebackers, football tough guys [tough guy noise] they can’t break one. It’s in here [points to head]. During testing, they got their black belts, they’ve been kicking everybody and they’re really strong, they’re like this, right? [poses like bodybuilder].

They come and they go ahhhhhh eeek [winds up to break but pauses short]. Stops. The reason is, the brain is really powerful and so what happens is, it tells you, ‘That’s a brick. That’s a brick. I cannot break that!’ And as soon as your brain says that, subconsciously when you say that, your hand just stops because your brain stops everything in motion. And so the biggest guys can’t break through this. Until they learn how to do that. And then after, after 2 years, 2 years, 240-50 pound guy, big guy [flexs again] he broke eleven after 2 years of training.

But he had to train himself to do that: ‘I can do it, I can do it.’ So, this is, you can do this. But you have to tell yourself you can do it. You know what I tell my little dragons (toddler class)? Yes I can? Or I say ‘can you do it?’ and they say ‘YES I CAN!’ It’s the same deal, you have to look at that and say ‘I can go right through that.’ And then you have to convince yourself, (student’s name), you have to believe it, and the belief has to become real, and then you make that happen.

And so, that happens with anything you can do. Any endeavor that you come across. Okay? Right? You wanna be the next Bill Gates? If you tell yourself, ‘Ah, man, that’s already been done’ then you’ve already lost. That’s exactly the same thing! You have to start thinking about that. That – [points at brick] – you have to break through that barrier.”

My reasons for posting this excellent motivational speech to this blog for you writers is two fold. The first is that it’s an important life lesson and reminder about mind over body. Overcoming your own inner negativity is difficult and something I still struggle with when approaching my daily life. Reminding myself that ‘Yes, I can’ and believing in myself are very difficult for me when dealing with depression. To fight through the feeling that I’m worthless and have nothing to contribute. I actually broke three bricks when I was eighteen after passing my third degree black belt test, the first two on the first impact using a palm strike and the third with my forearm/elbow. I had a bruise the size of my forearm for about a month and a tiny scar left over to this day. (That isn’t normally what happens.) However, it took me nearly ten years to accept the life lesson that the brick offered.

It was really scary because you have to look past the brick, aim beyond it, in order to break it. It also has absolutely nothing to do with physical strength, but in overcoming the barriers your mind creates for you. The truth is that we’re all a lot more powerful than we think we are. It’s not some mysterious gift that some people have over others, but rather a willingness to overcome the internal barriers we set for ourselves that say X is beyond us. As the Grandmaster states above, when you say ‘I could never’ then you’ve already lost.

The great misconception most people, not just writers, bring to martial arts or fighting in general is that’s about “the biggest and the best”. This pervades popular culture to the point that perfectly legitimate characters are seen as unrealistic due to the false reality created by the media. We get questions in our inbox all the time about “How can my physically weak character learn to fight?” or “How can my female character learn to fight?”

There is no special path to combat. There is only patience, dedication, and hard work. What is so beautiful about characters for authors who embrace this in their understanding is that they realize that there is nothing holding these characters back. They become action characters, driving their own narrative. Fighting is not some aspect separate from their personality, they are in control and that’s the moment when a character becomes empowered by their narrative.

They are an active force driving their story forward rather than a passive one. They control themselves, they control their own mind, and they are in control of their own destiny.

It’s not the act of violence which empowers a character or person in their life, it’s the realization of their freedom to make decisions for themselves and that those decisions push the narrative forward. They take power and the responsibility which comes with it. When someone is forced to do something, they are not empowered. When they choose to do something, even if they are afraid, even if it is terrible, even if it is a hard choice, a bad one, or a wrong one, then they are.

The ultimately best part about all of this realization is that it’s within your power to make the change. It will take time and hard work, it won’t happen all at once, but you can train yourself to overcome those things which make you afraid or fill you with the belief that what is before you isn’t meant for “someone like me”.

Even if you don’t believe in yourself now, you can train yourself to.

There is no right way, just a way and you’ll find the one which works best for you.

-Michi

Hello! Long-time reader, first-time query. I know y’all often talk about Tamora Pierce and her representations of fight scenes and fighting. Something I’ve noticed she often does is emphasize how her characters learn pattern dances or patterns with their weapons. How useful are these for someone learning how to use a weapon, or how central might they be to training? You wouldn’t be able to use them in battle very often, would you? Thanks! :D

They’re a real and important part of training, but the chances of using them in combat is close to never. About the most you’re ever likely to use are the transitions and the smaller combinations. Every martial art has their own term for “Pattern Dance”. In Japanese, which are the martial arts Pierce pulls heavily from in Protector of the Small, it’s “kata”. Kel’s glaive “pattern dances” are from naginatajutsu. (Or, at least, they’re supposed to be.)

For reference: Kata versus Sparring

Taekwondo Koryo

The usual, convenient english terminology used is “form” and that’s how I’ll be referring to the practice in this post.

Definition: A form is a routine or set pattern of movements, either preset or freestyle that is a major component of many different martial arts. Basically, it’s just a routine like any other. In concept, it’s not actually different from dances or the routines seen in competitive gymnastics. They can be performed in single or with a partner, as is often the case when practicing with weapons.

Forms predominantly emphasize their focus on technique and act as a means of of testing a student’s training by putting what they’ve learned together into a single routine. They advance in complexity as the student themselves advances in their training. Sometimes, you’ll hear martial artists refer to them as techniques usable in combat, but they’re not. Live combat itself has no room for such fixed patterns. Think of it like working from a script. Combat requires you being able to adjust yourself, to put your techniques together, and be spontaneous. Sparring is where someone the actual practice for combat occurs, but sparring is useless if your technique is crap.

Forms are where all the technical details are honed and perfected. It’s the student putting what they’ve learned into practice, in a specific pattern of movement designed to teach them about flow, transition, and synchronizing breathing to attack. The transitional flow from one technique into another, moving from one combination to another, from one stance to the next, changing direction, all while managing to nail each technique is exceedingly difficult. Forms aren’t where you learn to face multiple opponents, but they are where you learn how to change direction. They’re where you start to familiarize yourself with attacks outside of a single line and transition into different ones.

Mostly though, it’s a combination and compilation of every technical you’ve been practicing in training. The way one shows they’ve mastered their base and their techniques. How skilled your student is in their technique actually depends on how well they perform their forms rather than their sparring.

“Building your base” refers to the beginning, the way you stand, the way you breathe, your stances, and your single techniques. You start at the beginning and work your way up, repeating the same techniques over and over until you do nothing but eat, breathe, and dream them. The form is the culmination of that base, of those techniques, and how well it’s come together. Without a solid base, your technique suffers. If your technique suffers, nowhere will that be more evident than in your forms.

It’s a rote pattern, set practice, and beautiful when set into motion. Forms themselves comprise the major portion of the performance art aspect of martial arts.

If your character has “beautiful technique” then their forms are where that’s actually established. If they’re in a regular martial arts school training, then the forms are a part of their instructor’s evaluation of their ability and testing between belt ranks.

So, yes, they’re real. No, you don’t use the full thing in combat. What gets used is the smaller combinations inside them and the techniques practiced outside of that, often drills performed with a partner. Combat is, in large part, about pattern recognition. One of the major aspects of training is to teach your body to react before an attack begins or notice it’s early stages, to predict, and then either act or counteract while on the defensive.

It will be a major part of any character’s training, both by themselves and with a partner. Rote patterns practiced over and over and over in drills until they can do it while they eat, breathe, and dream.

As for the term “pattern dances” that’s the term Pierce chose to use for her fantasy setting. The Yamani culture is basically just medieval Japan with the serial numbers filed off. Patterns, forms, routines, or the proper corresponding term for the martial art like “kata” for Japanese/Okinawan martial arts are all acceptable.

Kel’s habits, like getting up early to practice in her quarters, those are good traits to have your character pick up.

-Michi

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Hi! So I am a blue belt in Tae Kwon Do and I was wondering if I could ask you for some advice. How do I not get so frustrated at my lack of skill? A few days ago I was in the kids’ class and I started freaking out in front of all the children because my kicks were coming out sloppy, then later in the adults’ class I started crying for the same reason. And every test I have, I always breakdown during the forms because I get stuck… Advice?

You’re thinking too much, you’re stressed, and you’re possibly making bad comparisons about where you think you should be at versus where you are.

Think about it this way:

White – Green: Beginner

Blue – Red: Intermediate

Red – Black: Advanced

Blue Belt is the transition period, the beginning of the intermediate belt ranks, where everything starts to get harder. You take on more responsibility (in your case teaching), you’re asked to commit more time, and the techniques become more complicated. You’re stepping out of the honeymoon stage and starting to realize how little you actually know. It’s just like writing actually, where you write a story, fall in love with it, think it’s the best thing ever, then you come back three to six months later and all you see are the flaws. Right now, you’re in the flaws stage. You aren’t as good as you thought you were. That’s okay.

More importantly, that’s normal.

So, take a step back and breathe.

Your instructors wouldn’t have you demonstrate for the lower belt ranks if they thought your technique was shit. If they thought your technique was shit, they’d tell you. Trust me.

They’re asking you to demonstrate because you’re an assistant and they like your technique. Your technique is where it’s supposed to be at for your rank (or it could be better). They have a better objective view of you than you do. Objectivity is good.

This is where I say that you’re thinking too much. You are so focused on doing it right that you’re forgetting to do it. Like most martial arts, Taekwondo at the higher levels is actually based in muscle memory. The more you do, the less you think. You perform the repetitions enough times that you don’t have to think about it, your body knows. You perform better when you’re relaxed. All that worry and confusion is sneaking in, and it’s making your technique worse because you keep trying to force it. Then, you punish yourself for not doing it right and it becomes a vicious cycle.

This is even more important when it comes to forms. If you can do it in class, then you can do it in the test. So, relax. Breathe deeply. Trust yourself. Your body knows what to do. Or, the actual Star Wars line I like for this, “Let go of your conscious self and act on instinct”. Turn off your inner critic.

Your head is what’s tripping you up here. So, let go of everything else. Stress. Fear. Worry. Or any of the parts which give you trouble. Focus on doing. Think of it like moving meditation, let there be nothing happening upstairs.

1) Ask your instructors what you can do to improve. They know you and your technique better than I do.

2) If you’re breaking down and crying because you think your technique is no good, then maybe it’s time to move back to a less stressful position. Tell your teachers about your problem and ask that they maybe call on someone else for a little while. No shame in that. Honest communication between you and your instructors about your mental state is important. You may not be ready for the responsibility and stress that comes with teaching. That’s okay. Teaching is stressful. More than that, it’s a learning experience.

3) Re-evaluating your technique while passing it on is supposed to happen. That’s normal. We teach because it helps us become better. The first step is recognizing the issues. The second is acceptance that we aren’t what we thought we were. The third is patience. Improvement happens slowly, gradually, inch by inch. Be patient with yourself. You aren’t going to be equal to your instructors tomorrow. They and the older students been doing this longer than you. Forgive your mistakes. Focus on the technique itself, on what you can do to become better rather than chastising yourself for not being good enough.

We’ve all been where you are. We were all white belts once. We all had terrible technique once. (Some of us still do.) We all thought we had terrible technique when our technique was actually kind of awesome. (Some of us still do.) We’ve all suffered from fear and feelings of inadequacy. (Some of us still do.)

Keep working at it. Be positive. Trust yourself. You will be better.

Giving back to your community is important, but not if it’s driving you to a mental breakdown. Your health what is most important here and if your teachers can’t or won’t see that, then that’s not your issue. It’s theirs. You may need to find another school. However, I’m sure that if they know the extent to which this is troubling you that they’ll be more than happy to help. Think about focusing on just being a blue belt.

Give yourself time to adjust. Your at the beginning of a journey that may last your entire life. So, no need to rush. We all travel at our own pace.

Remember, this is supposed to be fun.

Smile.

No, I mean it. Smile. Are you smiling? Good.

You’re doing just fine.

-Michi

Just stumbled across your blog. Love it. Omg the dancing thing, I trained as a fencer and while the dancers I trained with did have good core strength the problem was that in fencing you ARENT supposed to keep to a rhythm while you are moving. You can’t move in a predictable rhythmic way. We were NEVER allowed to do drills while music was playing. If you move in that fashion you will get nailed every time.

Yes. That’s pretty much the main issue with dancing. The body becomes trained to respond to specific rhythmic cues that are matched in time with the music. This is part of the reason why so many dancers have managed to cross-over into convincing stunt work. Stunt choreography is ultimately choreography, it’s predictable. The ducks and dodge rolls seen on screen are a routine, one that is practiced over and over and over again.

The performer is still working within that pattern. It’s important for safety that the pattern remains unchanged. Learning choreography can be helpful to writers when they’re trying to stage a fight inside their brains, but the issue is when this gets translated out into the belief that dancers make for superior martial artists. (A trait commonly given to female characters like Black Widow, rather than male ones. If anyone suggested that Batman train in ballet for undercover work and to improve himself as a combatant, most people would laugh. It probably would still be one of the best workouts he’d ever had.)

It’s a great point though. Thanks for contributing!

-Michi

What styles/weapons would you suggest for a fighter who is a bit shorter/stocky, and is modified (scifi style) and has to deal with multiple, large, or powerful opponents(aliens and such). She’d need to fight both ranged and up close and personal, and she would need to be able to completely dispatch opponents as well as remove them from a fight without (too) serious injury. (I know, far fetched) And does personality affect what style someone uses(in your opinion)? I’m sorry if this is too vauge.

We get these questions about body type a lot, especially in regards to fighting and what style an author should pick. Ultimately, it’s more of a perspective issue and it’s understandable since the vast majority of Hollywood and Anime have a love affair with the “Five Man Band”. Anime often puts forward unique and individual fighting styles which match a character’s body in order to make them more visually distinct i.e. the big guy usually wields the big honking ass sword and relies on physical strength and the rail thin glasses guy is a tactician who is dexterous and quick, often with flawless technique. The Five Man Band is a very successful technique, at least visually. It works under the same rules for writing which state that you shouldn’t give characters similar sounding/looking names because it because it becomes difficult to distinguish them.

It’s probably the worst decider when it comes to choosing a fighting style for a character. Training itself changes and molds the body. If your female character starts out lithe and lean, learns a combat art which heavily favors the upper body such as boxing or kick boxing, she won’t remain that way for long. She’ll develop musculature in her chest which widens it (her breasts will also, probably, shrink), her legs will become thicker and more stocky, she’ll become more weighted in her upper body, her neck will thicken from the development of her shoulder muscles. Depending on her dedication, she’ll gain some very nice definition in those arms. You can expect a little thickness in the jaw. Depending on the kind of training and how long she’s been doing it, she may possess a scar across one eyebrow and her nose probably won’t be entirely straight.

Training molds you to it. Stop and take a look at professional or Olympic athletes like gymnasts or runners. Look at the U.S. Armed Forces, especially by division, and you’ll see something similar. Even though there are slight differences, there’s also a fairly impressive uniformity of body type. That’s the training. If I had to state a real pet peeve, it’s that this gets routinely ignored for female characters because it often leads to them possessing an “unconventional” body. By unconventional, I mean that they aren’t often within the standards or weight range of what society considers to be feminine or beautiful.

There’s a part to training where the body is sculpted and can significantly change what a person looks like. Professional trainers in Hollywood who cater to actors employ different training regimens to achieve different looks, to create a specific type of body. It’s actually something to keep in mind when looking at any actor: you’re seeing months, if not years, of dieting and specific physical training to achieve a singular result.

The kind of training a character engages in won’t change their height or the length of their arms, but it will have a significant influence on what they look like. What that is depends on the training involved.

So, what are the deciding factors?

What are they doing? What are they fighting? What is their job? What is their background? Who is training them?

The problem with “short/stocky woman” faces “multiple larger/more powerful opponents” is that’s the life of every short woman ever and they will need to learn to deal with it regardless of the martial style they pick. Martial arts are designed around the idea that the opponent will be a human being, and everything from the approach to the psychology is geared toward that. You don’t go box a bear and expect it to work the same way, because a bear and a human come with different considerations, different dangers. Now, people did box with bears. Bear boxing was a real side show performance, but bear boxing and regular boxing are different. Why? One of them is a bear. Also, the bears were historically abused and mistreated by having their teeth and claws removed in order to make it possible. Or, the boxer would have died.

My point is that the enemy one faces is the deciding factor in how one fights. You don’t go hand to hand with a Xenomorph. You don’t go hand to hand with a tentacle monster. You can go hand to hand with a Klingon, but it will be unpleasant.

The problem is that there is no one size fits all solution, not in real life and not in a future where everything is much, much more complicated.

Combat is a form of problem solving. To figure out what you’re solving, you have to figure out what the problem is. Then, you justify the solution. Martial training is used to support a setting, but to have one you need an enemy and aliens come in all shapes and sizes. And, the more variety there is, the more new and inventive ways one must come up with to counter the threat.

Subduing an opponent is all well and good, provided the character has a means to support that approach. This could be through tools such as handcuffs or weapons like a taser or a futuristic form of stun gun. The question is looking at the right group for the solution you want. In this case, if you want a character who uses a form of professional combat that predominantly focuses on non-lethal takedowns and subdual, you’re looking at police, their martial techniques and their H2H. When you’re looking for professional groups with a combat focus that orient on using violence as a non-lethal means to solving problems that’s law enforcement. It’s their job, they develop down that route. Other combat professionals don’t have the luxury. A great example of a fictional militarized police force is the Peacekeepers from Farscape.

Martial arts that come off of bloodsport are the runner up with varying degrees of success. The reason is that unless we’re talking about a death match, bloodsport is primarily entertainment and the goal of the fight is to entertain so it shies away from quick kills or more pragmatic combat. It becomes a war of attrition. However, these are martial arts with a primary focus on dueling and fighting single opponents. If there’s one lesson to take from Gina Carano’s Haywire, it’s that putting the wrong kind of combat on a character is debilitating. Carano is a fantastic martial artist, but MMA is far too slow and discordant for a spy thriller.

Making combat work will require a decent amount of worldbuilding from you for each alien type, plus hammering out technology and how that affects combat. (Ray guns, stun guns, cybernetics, etc.) Martial combat is a form of both individual and cultural expression, showing their values and priorities, how they respond to threats. To know how a character fights, you need to understand the culture they belong to and how they navigate it. This goes far beyond a character’s moral makeup or their pragmatism, the values their culture ascribes to and the threats they faced are the deciding factors in how a combat style developed… which shapes a huge portion of their lives and who they are.

Start to think about creating a toolbox for this character, much in the same way you would if you were writing a paranormal story. Different strategies for different types of enemies. Depending on setting rules, you don’t use the same approach to dealing with zombies that you do with werewolves and the same is true of vampires.

Dealing with a genetically modified human will require a different approach, just like dealing with a psychic will require a different combat approach.

Dealing with different alien species will require navigating their culture as much as their combat. After all, their culture defines how and why they fight. Every alien is an individual with their own reactions and responses to the social mores they follow. And, depending on the advantages the character in question possesses, they might not even be able to go into hand to hand so they’ll need a tool to deal with that.

A character’s personality may lead them toward the job type, institution, or training they sign up for, but the training itself will have the greater affect on their personality. Whether they are an actual participant in the system or hold the job is up to you, but if you want a character fight like a professional combatant then they need a professional’s training. Which means a teacher who is a professional of some kind.

In the end, it’s really a question of what you want and the kind of story you want to tell.

-Michi

References, Resources, and Recommendations:

Farscape – We recommended this one just recently, but really. Farscape.There’s a bevy of aliens here, with characters having to make use of minimal resources in order to survive.

Babylon 5 – We usually recommend this for politics, but I recommend it for it’s worldbuilding. Everything from accounting for different alien physiology to the handling of telepaths among different races, to various martial styles based on alien cultures, to hilarious misunderstandings based on translator errors, this series has a a lot to love for any writer looking to craft science fiction.

Stargate SG1 – This may seem like an oddball recommendation, but a lot of science fiction settings have all their cultures progressing at the same rate. Stargate is all over the map and it’s an interesting look at the different ways cultures develop when dealing with or faced by advanced technology. Campy as it is, you might find some neat ideas hidden in this one.

Psycho-Pass – We rarely recommend anime, but Psycho-Pass is a wonderfully well-developed dystopic future that’s a love letter to many older cyberpunk settings from Ghost in Shell to Blade Runner to the cult classic Johnny Mnemonic. It references 1984, Gulliver’s Travels, and a surprising amount of literature in its first season. It’s for mature viewers only and is fairly disturbing. But the reason why I’m recommending it to you is that it does an excellent job with the idea of a computer deciding who lives and who dies, of guns that won’t fire unless a person is above a certain number and that will kill only if they reach another threshold beyond that. It’s cops attempting to hunt down killers in a society where their very emotions and ability to do their job are their own enemy. (I’d actually watch this one after Law & Order and Southland.)

Law & Order Law & Order isn’t just important for understanding cops, it’s actually very important to understanding people and why people commit violence.

Southland – I recommend Southland because it’s set in Los Angeles and, much like New York, there are a lot of different racial tensions that the cops need to navigate on multiple levels. It’s very informative for teaching you about how to look at and think about an environment, even one that we don’t initially perceive as hostile.

Trinity – This was a science fiction roleplaying game from White Wolf. The setting itself does a good job of bridging between real world politics, and a near future spacefaring civilization with exposure to alien civilizations.

We don’t usually add supplements for games to the list, but the Trinity Technology Manual is an exception. This goes into a lot more detail on the specific hardware in the setting, and if you’re wanting to think outside the box for dealing with enemies, this might give you some additional ideas. Just, be aware, you’ll need to have read the core book to fully understand a lot of the stuff being thrown around.

Shadowrun – As with Trinity this is another sci-fi roleplaying game. The setup is a little different, instead of traditional sci-fi, this is urban fantasy cyberpunk. You (probably) don’t need to worry about magic in your setting, but even ignoring that, this is still a setting where characters will routinely go toe to toe with things that are larger than themselves and inhumanly resilient. So it might be worth a look.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – this game is really good for dealing with and getting you to think about the different ways of dealing with transhuman enemies. Also, the tensions brought in by transhumanism itself.

Crysis 2 – Really good if you want to write a character who has been heavily modified, doing the impossible, being put through inhuman amounts of physical abuse, and treated as interchangeable by the people around them.

Alien and Aliens – How to deal with an enemy you cannot face in single combat.

Predator and Predator 2 – Stupid, yes, but relevant. These movies are all about dealing with aliens that are predatory and as intelligent as the humans with goals of their own. Predators have some great limitations and weaknesses, but they’re not human ones and aren’t what we expect.

Hi. I joined a martial arts club so I could learn self confidence/self defense. But yesterday I was taught by a guy who made me so uncomfortable, I don’t want to go again. I cant believe the irony! I wanted to learn self defense against misogynists & ended up being taught by one who roughed me up & pretended it was a lesson. He kept saying “girls are so much worse than boys” (about school bullies, like at over 20 yrs old that’s why I joined?) & when I disagreed he aggressively pulled me. Advice?

Get out of the class.

This guy obviously has nothing to teach that you’re interested in learning and in the words of the Karate Kid: “There are no bad students, just bad teachers.” You don’t have to go, you don’t have to stick it out, this is not a toughness test. You have the right to say “no” and go find an instructor who will help you achieve the goals you set for yourself as opposed to working out his personal issues on you.

This is not acceptable. It is not okay. Leave.

I cannot stress that enough.

LEAVE.

If this guy is the one running the school, then find another school. If he’s not and is working under a leadership then (if you feel comfortable talking to them), you should let them know. If this is a position or attitude that they endorse, then, again, leave. Unfortunately, that may be all you can do. Safeguarding yourself is important. You are important. You are entitled to a safe, constructive learning environment with someone you trust and who believes in you. This guy is obviously not giving you that, therefore he is neither entitled to your time or your money.

Abusive environments in martial arts schools are not normal. However, they do happen. Assholes exist and, unfortunately, regardless of training, shitty people will continue to be shitty.

So, get out. You don’t want to go back? Great. Don’t. You don’t have to. This is not you giving up. This is not cowardice. This is not you failing. He has failed you. If you do to get a refund, bring a friend. Don’t go back without one, or two, or three. There’s safety in numbers. Whatever you need to feel safe.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do.

Don’t let this guy scare you off getting what you want. Okay? He’s not the norm and those goals you mentioned: building self-confidence and learning to defend yourself? That’s admirable. I’m proud of you for finding the courage to go after what you want. Tackling new experiences is very brave and I’m sorry this situation has been so horrible. All my hugs to you. Those things you want? You deserve them. Find a different school.

Martial arts schools are like any community, they’re all different. Think about the different cliques in your high school, even the people who seem very similar can be vastly different. What you need is to find an environment where you feel comfortable. Find someone you want to learn from.

Martial arts require trust and respect, it’s a shared path between teacher and student. You need to find a teacher you respect and one who respects you. A good teacher is one who believes in you. They believe in their students, they are invested in their development, they are with you ever step of the way, and they are a second family. They will not disregard your fears, they will listen to you, and together you will work toward achieving what you need. It’s a partnership. Because of that, it’s important to remember that not every teacher can provide what you’re looking for. This is why finding the right one is so important. Remember, what’s right for me or Starke may not be right for you. We all learn differently and thrive in different learning environments.

Most importantly: This is supposed to be fun.

I’m going to borrow a section from The Ultimate Guide to Tai Chi, an article by Dr. John Painter where he discusses selecting a school. This is going to be specifically about Tai Chi, but really, it’s good advice for any martial art.

to find a school to suit your needs, you should first decide just what you expect to gain from studying tai chi chuan. Do you simply want better health, or do you want to learn tai chi to defend yourself, or to enhance your internal power? Or all of the above? Getting in touch with your needs is a good idea before you start your quest.

Where to Look
In most large cities across the United States, there are usually several teachers available. Look in the yellow pages or ask around to compile a list of candidates. Checking with the local community college programs is another option. Anyone who wishes to study this art should identify as many teachers as possible in the area. Then go visit the training sites of each. Some may be in a commercial gymnasium, or a church hall, or a college gymnasium, while other classes are taught in parks. The authenticity of the art does not rely on the place in which it is practiced. However, for a beginner, it generally is best to have a quiet serene environment in which to train.
If the site matches your needs, call the instructor and ask to visit an actual class. It’s most helpful to observe both a beginner’s and advanced class to determine how you might progress as a student of that particular school. Avoid a teacher who will not allow visitors during class time. Legitimate teachers have nothing to hide and do not conduct “secret” classes. (pg XIV)

I also suggest checking Yelp and other sites to see if the school is listed. Not all experiences are going to be favorable, but this is an easy way to check the pulse before leaping right in.

This part is the one I feel is most important.

Once you have located a teacher to visit, do what the Chinese say: “Empty your cup.” Let go of any expectations about how a competent tai chi chuan teacher should look, act, or sound.

Good teachers come in all shapes, sizes, and nationalities and in both sexes (genders). A teacher does not have to be Chinese to have a command of the art. A good teacher has to communicate the basic principles in a clear and concise manner—this is essential.
The hallmark of excellence in teaching is not how the teacher performs, but how he or she gets you to perform. No matter how many awards are won or how perfectly the forms are executed for the class, if the person in question cannot explain in simple terms, or communicate in some way how you can do the technique, you are not looking at a good teacher! (pg XIV, bolded for emphasis)

Learning is about you, the student. The teacher’s job is to serve the needs of the student. If those needs are not being served, then the teacher has failed or is not a good one. When you look for your next school (leave this one), look for someone who makes you feel comfortable, whose class is comfortable and relaxed, who promotes an environment where you feel comfortable learning.

You are not being selfish. It’s okay to say no. If the school cannot provide what you need, then feel free to look elsewhere. This is why looking at multiple schools is important. Much like applying to college, you’re looking for a place where the learning environment is right for you.

Do you trust this person? Do you feel safe? Are there other women present in your classes? Are they present in the higher classes? Are there female instructors? When you observe a class, how does the instructor treat them? How do the students behave? Do they look comfortable and happy?

Again from The Ultimate Guide to Tai Chi:

Taking the Pulse of the Class

When visiting the school, talk to the students and find out what they like about the program. Watch the classes and see if the students are having fun learning. It is best to avoid teachers who run their classes like a military camp or who never smile. Discipline is important and should be part of the class, but remember that tai chi chuan is based on Taoism, and Taoists do not take things as seriously as many of their Zen-oriented brothers in budo. Look for laughter.

You want laughter. You want comfort and friendliness. People who smile, who are warm, friendly, and welcoming. Community is what keeps you going when things get tough.

This is what’s most important. Women are often taught to sacrifice themselves for the good of others, to put aside their own needs in order to make someone else more comfortable. Screw that. Trust your instincts. They are right. If you find yourself having to make a lot of justifications, if this school is somewhere you don’t want to be, if you don’t feel like you’re learning, if you don’t feel valued, and you don’t feel respected both by your instructor and the other students then it’s time to go somewhere else.

Take care of yourself first.

I’m sorry this experience has been rough for you and your instructor is an asshole. Don’t give up. The sense of betrayal you’re feeling right now is natural. It’s not your fault. It’s his fault. You don’t have to go it alone. Most importantly, find a safe place.

Don’t go back.

(If you absolutely must, take a friend. If you are nervous about signing up at another school or even just visiting, again, bring a friend. Someone you trust, someone who will look out for you.)

-Michi

I’m curious – you mentioned in a previous ask that you can’t be a master of both gymnastics and a martial art at the same time. Does this also apply to someone who’s been doing a martial art since childhood and wants to continue on with it, is dedicated to mastering it etc… but also does *recreational*… I dunno, dancing? Would one influence or be apparent in the other? How far can you go with getting the dance forms down before the martial arts training interferes (if it does)?

You can do it until you run out of time. If you’re talking about someone who dances professionally, there is no time for martial arts. That’s their life. When you’re putting in a 16 hour work day on your physically demanding job, you’re not going to pop out and go for more exertion… well, most people won’t anyway.

Dancers that have free time do sometimes practice recreational martial arts. I mean, it’s one way to work off stress. Some forms like Tai Chi can be fantastic relaxation. But, unless they give up dancing, and commit their life to their martial art, they’ll never be masters.

They probably won’t even be particularly good, but so long as they’re paying their dues, putting forward legitimate effort, and showing some improvement, their instructors will probably be happy. The critical part is paying the dues. Remember: your dancer’s hobby is their job.

But, you will never achieve martial arts mastery by day tripping. It’s not something that you get for putting in an hour a week for twenty or thirty years.

It’s a time commitment as extensive and strenuous as their day job. You can be a professional dancer… or a professional martial artist. You can’t be both. There aren’t enough hours in the day. And, since I didn’t say it, but probably need to anyway, you can’t be an “amateur master” of anything. Actually mastering something anything requires a serious commitment.

Also, when I’m talking about training interfering, what I tend to glaze over is, this is something your character will be subconsciously choosing for themselves.

If one of these things is making them money, the other is costing them money, and they’re basically happy with their life, the priority will be obvious. If they’re not happy with their job, then that will show, and they’ll be looking for new employment; based on what I know of how competitive professional dance is as a career path.

Finally, training atrophies. Martial arts, and dancing, aren’t like riding a bike. If you don’t use it, you do lose it. Not all of it, not the information, but the ability to actually perform? Yes, that stuff needs to be maintained or it will slip. Just because your dancer was a martial artist as a kid doesn’t mean they can still perform as an adult. If they haven’t been using it, they won’t be able to keep pace with someone who has had more recent training, to say nothing of more training. In a real fight, without maintaining their skills, they’re going to have a hard time dealing with untrained opponents.

-Starke

“Martial arts each come with their own personal philosophies and ideologies, there’s an inherent outlook that changes how a student perceives the world around them as they train.” Can you tell me more about what they are for specific martial arts, at least those you know well? I think of starting to give my characters martial arts that fits their worldviews and personalities.

It might not sound like it, but this is really a very complicated question. The short answer is “no.” And, I’ve been wrestling with this question for awhile, honestly.

The problem is, a martial arts’ philosophy is baked in by the people that created it. Their philosophies were, in turn, influenced by their culture, and the world they lived in.

There are a few forms, like Tai Chi, MAP and Krav Maga that are fairly open about their philosophical cores. The vast majority however, don’t really articulate their philosophy directly. The reason for this is that the philosophy overall will be learned by practicing the martial art and become ingrained in the student over time. As the student advances in rank, they will begin to think about the martial art and how it applies to their own life. This is the point where the martial art’s internal philosophy is actively considered, but usually only as it applies to the individual student as part of their growth. In isolation, a martial art’s philosophy is nice but not relevant. The philosophies tend to make more sense once you know the context of where they’re from, why they were developed, and what the martial art was used for.

For example: Karate was originally developed in Okinawa and has a long martial tradition that predates the invasion and occupation by the Japanese. During the occupation, the martial art evolved to directly subvert the martial techniques of the Samurai. That’s traditional Aikido, Jujitsu, and the other Samurai martial arts. The recognizable Okinawan weapons, such as the nunchaku, and sai are not only designed to utterly subvert the traditional martial weapons of the Japanese like the katana and kill the occupying Samurai, but to do so with weapons that are not distinctly recognizable as weapons. Weapons which can be carried in plain sight carried by people who were risking death merely for owning them. In modern day Japan, the multiple variants of Karate are incredibly popular and have been adopted as part of the Japanese cultural tradition. While each vein of of Karate remembers it’s past differently, all come from a past struggle against an occupying force.

If you don’t know the history of Japan and Okinawa, or believe that the islands of Japan have always been one nation, then understanding the philosophy is going to be much harder.

I’ve said before, one of the central tenants of Aikido is the Dynamic Sphere. It is about making yourself the eye of the storm and encouraging the world to revolve around you. Now, from a purely American perspective, this draws up images of being selfish and self-centered (particularly for women). It’s worth remembering in translation that this is not a question of importance, it’s a function of the martial art’s physical philosophy. In practice, Aikido is not a mobile martial art. It works by creating a base connection to the earth, by stabilizing the body’s energy, and using this tranquility to turn the attacker’s force against them. This is where the eye of the storm metaphor comes from, the raging storm is defined by active, violent winds. At it’s center, the eye is peaceful and balanced. The struggle of the Aikido student is in becoming that center, in achieving their own balance with the world around them.

I’m being poetic, but the basic idea is sound.

Karate is about creating an irresistible force that cannot be diverted and driving forward through all obstacles. On the surface, they seem completely unrelated, but the ancestor of one informed the other.

If at this point, you’re starting to feel pretty good, I have to remind you that we are only discussing these philosophies on a basic, surface level. The Orientalism of Star Wars is that the philosophy of the Force is based on the Tao. Many of the pop cultural, quasi-mystical training soundbites we get from a thousand different authors aping the 1980s Karate Kid, Star Wars, and similar films are bastardizations of real training mentalities. Honest to god, the concept of being a stone in the river has a real place in some martial arts.

What you’re really asking is, “who are these people of Earth?”

Here’s the truth: every human civilization in history has fought. Every civilization has, at one time, been forced to answer “what does all this death and destruction mean to me?” The splintered philosophies of those peoples to violence are scattered across thousands of different answers throughout human history.

What are the philosophies of the various marital arts? We all are. And, I’m sorry if that sounds pretentious or pseudo-mystical, but all of the various civilizations have answered that question differently.

-Starke

PSA: What Do You Call A Chinese Martial Arts Master?

I’m not going to name names, but I read a novel recently that left me very upset. So, I’m going to talk about an aspect of martial arts that I’ve discussed before but this time I’m going to go in depth. Again, I’m not naming names, but if the fans recognize who I’m talking about…well, I’m sorry.

Terminology

When you choose a martial art, or a distinctive weapon from a martial art, please, please, please get at least some of the terminology right. In the novel I read, the heroine refers to the Chinese martial arts master who trained her on her weapon as “sensei”. Did you just cringe? I did. FightWriters, this is a five minute Google search. Really. If the character is trained in the martial art’s country of origin, they should know at least some of the basic terminology. “Sensei” is correct for the heroines other two martial arts, which are karate and aikido. However, “Sifu” is appropriate to China.

It might seem like a common mistake, especially if you’re practicing multiple martial arts at the same time. It’s not. The terms become an easy way to distinguish between instructors. I have never confused my Sifu with my Kwanjangnim or my Sabumnim with my Sensei.

So, please, don’t get caught out like that. It sends the message to the readership who knows that the author didn’t care at all about the culture, the country, or the martial art in question, that they were just looking for something cool or an easy out to make their character sound legitimate. I’m not even going to point out that most of the Chinese martial art traditions have a fairly strict hierarchy about when a trainee begins to practice the weapon and that learning the weapon in absence of any other martial art instruction is weird. A simple wiki search will tell you that this one goes with Baguazhang, the same martial art that was used as the basis for Airbenders in Avatar.

Movement Style and Philosophy

When you choose a martial style, it’s a good idea to work out through study (even just through instructional videos on YouTube) what the style looks like and how it behaves in a combat situation. In the novel, the main character is aggressive. We have her leaping over couches to slam another character into a wall, pressing guns into eyeballs, and other similar actions that represent a very swift, mobile style that requires an actively aggressive mentality.

Aikido and Karate on the other hand…

Aikido is a style that entirely about non-aggression. In fact, its philosophy involves hurting the aggressor as little as possible. A perfectly executed technique is meant to send an enemy away with such perfect control that they bounce on the ground and roll away entirely unharmed. It functions off of a concept called “The Dynamic Sphere”, in which the practitioner acts as the center of their axis and uses their body as the centralized point to redirect their opponents away from them. An aikido practitioner does not chase their opponents; they wait for their opponent to come to them. This is part of why aikido is such a popular self-defense style. It’s perfect for a character that genuinely does not want to hurt someone else and actively discourages aggression.

There are many different variations of karate and since the novel never specified, I’m going to assume that the author was referring to shotokan which is one of the most common and easily found outside of Japan. Karate is also not really movement based, compared to most modern forms it’s actually fairly stationary. If I was going to describe it in a fight scene, what comes to mind are the powerful fluid movements and solid connections when it hits. Shotokan, in particular, is very mechanical when compared to other martial forms like Muay Thai or Krav Maga. In the right circumstances, karate can be devastating, but those circumstances don’t really involve leaping forward to slam someone’s head into the wall as the opening move.

I can guess why the author chose aikido and karate. In America, they are both well-known and popular martial art styles. Karate specifically is one of the most recognizable “buzzword” martial arts. It’s like “black belt”. Say it and the average person on the street will know what it means, or at least, they’ll know the culturally accepted meaning that exists within the mass social consciousness.

Throwing the words out there just doesn’t convince me unless they get backed up and to back them up, you have to start by developing a basic respect for the style you’re inputting into your novel. You don’t have to get it 100% right. In fact, even just the basics that can be gleaned from Wikipedia articles and YouTube videos will be sufficient.

“What do you call a Chinese martial arts master?”

This has been a Michi rant.

-Michi

ofsevenseas said: Depending on which dialect region of China they’re in, it might also be inappropriate to use ‘sifu’, which is the Cantonese word for ‘master’

That’s true, I was trying to keep the rant uncomplicated. But the truth is that in depth research is always important and China is a diverse country with many different dialects.