Tag Archives: martial arts training

Q&A: More Demystification of Martial Arts and Romance

autumnimagining said to howtofightwrite:

I just read your excellent response to the question about the martial arts romance. I was wondering if one way forward to help increase a sense of sexual or romantic tension would be to have the couple slowly go through the moves together, rather like a couple learning to dance. Slow, soft touches and gentle placements of each other’s bodies around each other. It would eliminate the intense physicality of sparring while still being consensual and might resemble a fight without risk of injury.

The irony is that the violence of the sequence doesn’t matter so long as the individuals are on the same page and the audience understands the context. The romantic tension doesn’t come from the activity itself, it’s about two people engaging in an activity they both enjoy separately together. Here’s an example of a character dynamic that, in isolation, doesn’t seem romantic but is within context.

In the 2010 action comedy R.E.D. (Retired, Extremely Dangerous), the KGB agent Ivan (Brian Cox) explains his longstanding, complex romantic relationship with the MI-6 assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren) to Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) who is retired CIA officer Frank Moses’s (Bruce Willis’s) new girlfriend drawn into the plot’s craziness of Frank going to war with the American government after they put out a hit on him.

Ivan shows Sarah the scar on his chest where Victoria shot him as a parting gift when they parted ways at the end of the Cold War. A scar Ivan is still fond of to this day. Sarah visibly recoils, not understanding how Ivan could perceive Victoria attempting to kill him as romantic, and Ivan says (and I paraphrase), “she shot me in the chest, she could’ve shot me in the head.” What he means is, Victoria chose the maybe kill instead of the certainty. Giving herself cover to say, “well, I tried my best” when reporting in while giving him a chance to survive. This, for Victoria, was an expression of love and it’s one Ivan understands because he knows her well. They’re bonded together by a mutual shared understanding, respect, and admiration for each other’s skills even when they are, technically, enemies on opposite sides of a conflict. Ivan is one of the few individuals in Victoria’s life who knows and loves her for who she really is, a ruthless, badass, highly skilled, and extremely successful assassin. And his competence is a major reason why she loves him. (Enemies to Lovers, but We’re Still Enemies in the End.)

The problem is you’re still looking at it from the perspective of the physical interaction being what makes the interaction romantic, what shows the romance to the audience, but it isn’t. Violence isn’t romantic and martial artists physically touch each other all the time as a matter of practice. So, there’s nothing special or unique about them touching a specific person. What makes the interaction special is the context, what each character emotionally brings to the scene and their motivations.

If you’ve got two characters who really enjoy fighting and enjoy testing their skills against each other, you have the grounding for a scene where the fighting itself could become an expression of love (whether that love is romantic or platonic.) The street brawls of Yusuke Uremeshi and Kuwabara from Yu Yu Hakusho are a good example of platonic fighting that forms a foundation friendship. It’s not the fighting itself but the enjoyment of fighting for its own sake, the pride both characters take in their skills, and in testing those skills against each other which creates the bond.

Kuwabara comes back time and time again for another sound beating because he enjoys fighting a challenging, superior opponent. Kuwabara respects Yusuke’s raw, scrappy fighting talent (long before Yusuke ever dies and gains spirit powers) while Yusuke comes to respect Kuwabara’s bullheaded tenacity and realizes that his rivalry with Kuwabara wasn’t antagonistic like he thought but rather a gesture of friendship. This friendship wouldn’t work if both characters didn’t genuinely love fighting rather than using violence as a tool of domination or a means to take power over another individual.

One of the problems for some authors (mostly American authors) is that some cultures (American culture, especially for boys) are extremely touch-starved or engage in touch-starvation due to more rigid social mores and restrictions. So, the act of touching another person gains more importance, often being read by the audience as sexual even when there are other important connotations at play. The problem they face (which acts as a form of culture shock) is that martial sub-cultures are extremely touch-heavy by necessity, you can’t train without constantly touching someone else and being touched, so the expectations that might be perceived in the mere act of touching just aren’t there.

Example: the only characters who get really excited by an instructor laying a hand on their stomach to remind them to tighten their gut and breathe from their diaphragm is the neophyte and constant training quickly disabuses them of that romantic notion unless they choose to cling to it.

Now, the same action could become romantic. However, it’s the sort of the action which requires both characters to be on the same page, when screwing around instead of focusing becomes mutual as opposed to the same action detracting from the lesson.

What I’m saying is that it’s not martial arts that brings people together, but their individual love for the martial arts that brings people together.

The act of training is cooperative interaction, but we ultimately train because we want to become better. It’s difficult to focus when you’re thinking about how much you like (or would like to bone) your training partner. The martial arts trainee usually learns to compartmentalize and put aside those feelings for the duration of training. Romance becomes a secondary consideration dealt with in the before and in the after, rather than the moment. For romance to work it’s way into the scene, it has to be what the scene is about with both characters on the same page with both ultimately okay when it comes to screwing around.

The irony is, the same is true with characters in an all out battle against each other while on opposite sides of the conflict. If you can define your characters as idealogues who separate their personal interests or romantic feelings from their work, there’s nothing inherently abusive in them trying to kill each other. They love each other, yes, but there’s this belief or code or aspect of themselves which they love more. It’s when the romance is tied to the violence and the pain they inflict on each other that situation and romance becomes abusive.

Writing your character taking it too far in a training exercise, harming their romantic interest as a means to realize they have feelings, and using one character’s injury to justify them growing closer with the person who hurt them? That’s where the asymmetrical power structure and abuse are.

Two characters who really enjoy sparring, who especially enjoy sparring with each other, sparring together? That’s fine.

Characters training together? So long as they can put their feelings aside in the moment and knuckle down, it’s cool.

For romance to work at all, your characters need to be characters. What violence is useful for is creating challenging circumstances which push characters to grow, evolve, and change. The choices we make in response to violence and in committing violence can reveal us for who we truly are, stripping away the false notions and preconceptions common in the infatuation phase of a relationship. It’s very common for people to fall in love with who they perceive someone to be or who they decide they are, the person they create within their own heads, rather than the actual person themselves. (Ironically, it happens more commonly in the romance genre and fiction in general than most authors would enjoy to copping to.)

If you’re going to sit down and write a romance, regardless of whether it’s a romance with characters who are warriors or martial artists, ask yourself some specific questions:

  1. Why do they enjoy being with this person?
  2. What is it about them (beyond the physical) that they like?
  3. What hobbies and interests do they have in common?
  4. What are the quiet moments in your story where each of these characters looks at the other and goes internally, “I really like you.”
  5. What do they admire about the other character?
  6. What annoys them about the other character? (Not hate, annoys, irritates, gets under their skin.)
  7. Are the aspects that they admire and which irritate real or they are perceptions the character has that aren’t exhibited by the other character on the page? (Is what your character sees in their love interest representative of what the audience sees?)
  8. What do they believe in, in absence of their love interest?
  9. If they are a warrior, why do they fight? Who, or what, do they fight for?
  10. Are those feelings compatible with their lover interest’s goals?
  11. What do they respect about their love interest?

-Michi

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Q&A: Multiple Martial Arts

A lot of times in the comics/superhero stuff somebody will have this whole long laundry list of different martial arts they’ve studied. I can see how it could be beneficial to dabble a bit in different styles, but is there a point where it would be better to just stick to one style and learn that really well? Is there truth to the “knows every martial art” master, or is it mainly just the author trying to make their character sound impressive?

This the result of someone trying to make their character (or themselves) sound impressive and in the process, cuing you in to the fact that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Achieving mastery of a single martial art is a lifelong exercise. This will take decades of hard work. Even if you were to live forever, there simply wouldn’t be time to learn every martial art, as they evolved and changed. There isn’t enough time to keep up with everything, to say nothing of catching up.

If we focus on getting a character’s martial arts to basic combat proficiency, instead of actual mastery, that’s still going to take years in most traditional schools. You learn the fundamentals, and gradually learn to apply them.

If you’ve been paying attention to the blog, you’ll know this is the exact opposite of how practical hand-to-hand training works. If you’re studying something like the modern law enforcement variant of Judo, or MAP, you’re going to be learning how to use it on someone immediately, because you need to be up to speed within eight weeks of starting the class. This is proficiency, not mastery. You’re also going to need refreshers and updates because this is not static.

To an extent, when you start learning a new martial art, you need to start over. It’s not like you master a martial art, and then you can just roll over and pick up another one. You need to go through the basics, because they will be different. In many cases this is a point of failure. You have trained your muscle memory to do things one way, and you’re now being asked to do it differently. You’re being asked to do it, “wrong.”

I was supremely lucky. In college, I took Shotokan for the phys ed credits. The class’s Sensei was an off-duty cop who taught Karate as adjunct faculty. This meant he was more understanding of the residual Judo positions in my muscle memory. For example: he was more concerned that my curled knuckles on a palm strike were in a braced position, rather than that my fingers were extended. From a Karate perspective, I was trained to do it, “wrong.”

For many martial artists who try to start a new discipline, they will not have the benefit of an instructor who shares their background. Quirks that are a result of their previous teaching may be viewed as flaws. If you have a solid foundation. If your hand to hand style has a solid identity, this is fine. It will result in conversations with your instructor, and they may, or may not, be accepting of that. If the differences are irreconcilable, it may be impossible for you to learn this martial art.

So, we’re basically left with three real groups who practice multiple martial arts.

The rarest are actual masters. They’ve mastered a martial art, and now they’re auditing others. They’re not masters of those arts. They’re not even practitioners. They’re looking for something new to learn. In some cases they may be looking to start their own martial art. This is slightly more common than you might think. Most often these new martial arts are referred to as a school or style of the original martial art. The basics are the same, but there will be distinct elements that reflect the school’s founder. In some cases, you may see entire “genealogies,” where one school resulted in another, and another.

You can find masters who have extensively studied two martial arts, with the intention of producing a unified style. An example of this would be Ginchin Funakoshi, who fused two of the Okinawan schools of Karate together to create what would become Shotokan.

I skimmed over this, but it is easier to learn multiple schools of the same martial art. The fundamentals should be compatible, and even at more advanced levels, there will be similarities that make life easier for the martial artist. In contrast if you step out of your martial art entirely, you are, at best, starting over.

The second group are practitioners who have a martial art, and are looking for any techniques they can adapt. This is similar to the masters above, but tends to occur on the practical side. These are martial artists who are looking to expand their repertoire. Being able to perform the martial art as a whole is less important than being able to replicate specific techniques for themselves.

Mixed in with this group are experienced martial artists who are looking for, “something.” I made this sound a little mercenary earlier, but it can be philosophical, or even spiritual. A martial artist can take classes in another martial art simply because they’re curious about that style’s philosophy.

The final group have no idea what they’re doing. They’ll join a school, take classes until their interest wains, wander off, and then their interest is piqued, they’ll scamper in someplace new, and repeat the process. They have no foundation, or worse, it’s an unworkable mess of a half-dozen other martial arts. These are the ones who will proudly proclaim, “I’ve studied a dozen different martial arts.” You’ve studied eight, do you have belt rankings in any of them? Of course not.

Now, in defense of the last group, it is important to find a martial art that fits you, and that means you might jump through a few before you find one that’s a good match. That’s not who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the ones who bounce the moment things stop being fun.

Learning martial arts, particularly in traditional schools is not easy. It takes time and dedication. You need to find the drive to keep going even when you feel like giving up. You will be pushed beyond the limits of what you thought you could do. That is difficult. I would argue, it is worthwhile.

The funny thing about this entire concept is, there’s no point. Okay, so martial arts have their own strengths and weaknesses. Learning a second martial art can help shore up some of those weakness, in theory. In practice, if it’s a reputable martial art, those weaknesses won’t matter much. You were trained around those weaknesses, and they probably can’t be exploited in any meaningful way. Most of the time, picking up a second martial art wouldn’t benefit you. (Yes, there are some specific edge cases, where two martial arts may compliment each other, but that gets into very technical territory.)

Learn your style. Stick to it. The value in “dabbling,” is in expanding your knowledge of how other people solve the challenges they face. It can be valuable, but don’t do it at the expense of furthering your training.

-Starke

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Q&A: Incomplete Question

I wanted to try out martial arts so I was in a trial lesson today, and the first thing they showed us(my friend came with me), after stretches, was a joint lock. We were kinda just following along with a normal class but I thought….

We never got the rest of this, so I’m going offer my best guess.

In most martial arts joint locks are intermediate techniques. They’re not the basis of the martial art. They are very useful. So, they’re good to know, but not central.

With some martial arts (Judo and Aikido come to mind here), joint locks are fundamental. If you’re training in Judo you need to know some locks. That’s not negotiable; almost everything you do is based off of them.

In contrast, something like Shotokan doesn’t depend on joint locks, and they’ll probably be presented in abbreviated form, at least in introductory courses.

Both Shotokan and Judo do seek to control how your opponent can attack. However, they have different ways to do this, and as a result, different priorities in how they train you.

This isn’t intended as a jab at you, but, saying, “trying out martial arts,” is a bit like saying, “I decided to try that ‘car’ thing.” It’s not very specific, and could cover a lot of different forms of driving. With that in mind, I don’t know what your instructor’s priorities would have been.

Also, because you were auditing a class, it’s possible you were dropped into the middle of something. Joint locks are pretty safe to train people on, they restrict movement, but unless someone’s doing something very wrong, there’s no significant risk of injury.

When picking a martial art, you do want to make sure it’s a good fit for you. Reasons to learn a martial art include practical combat (and self-defense) training, physical fitness, sports, or even spiritual growth. Knowing what you’re looking for can help you choose the one that’s right for you.

The same thing is true of your instructor’s style. There’s a lot of different approaches to teaching martial arts. If you’re not comfortable with the school’s approach, you’re free to look elsewhere. This isn’t like public education, you do have the freedom to look around and see if another school will better fit your goals. Though, I do recommend if you have an issue with the approach you try talking to your instructors to understand their methods before simply wandering off.

Unrelated to everything above, as a writer, you do want to work within your limits. Tumblr’s Ask system has a fixed number of characters you can use. If you’re running up against that limit, you probably want to start making decisions on what to cut, so you can get under that. There’s an irony here, formal education will ask you to pad your work, while almost any other situation rewards brevity.

I hope that addresses the issue you were asking about, but like I said, we never got the back end of this question.

-Starke

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Q&A: Never to Late to Start

I want to learn a martial art but I am 25. I feel like I’m too old to train my body for something new. I even tried to take figure skating classes a year ago and it was embarrassing and frustrating. Everyone who great at something seemed to learn when they were kids. I read books all day and do well with learning new intellectual things but struggle with learning new physical skills.

Twenty-five is not too young. I’ve seen people get their black belts in their eighties, I’ve seen cancer survivors get their black belts, one of my major training partners for my third degree black belt was a woman in her mid forties who’d survived a stroke and the other was a man in his late forties/early fifties. Dave went on to get his fourth degree, and is still a part-time instructor at our martial arts school to this day. He got into martial arts because of his kids, and stayed long after they quit because he loved it.

Believe it or not, most martial arts masters and instructors at most schools actually started in their late teens/early twenties. You get the rare ones who start when they’re five or twelve, but most of the ones who start as kids eventually quit. They lose interest, and go on to do something else.

You’re not going to get past the embarrassing and frustrating part if you’re embarrassed by struggling, nothing regarding physical activity is going to click quickly. Training your body to do something new takes time. Realistically, in a recreational martial arts school where you train three days a week for forty-five minutes to an hour a day, the techniques will start to click about three months after you start. That’s if you’re consistent with showing up to training, and if you try hard. At two years, the techniques are going to feel good and you’ll be limber enough/coordinated enough to start doing them well. Four years to six years in is when you usually test for your first black belt, so that’s when you actually start getting good.

However, it’s only embarrassing and frustrating if you let it be.

There’s a real reason why willpower and fortitude are the most admired traits in martial arts. You don’t give up in the face of adversity. Mostly, this is a learned skill. The vast majority of people who start give up within the first three months. They get frustrated and they get bored because they’re not progressing fast enough. Physical activity is the beast where the conditioning part feels miserable until you reach a point where your body clicks, you plateau, it gets easy, and then you start all over again. There are no short cuts, you just have to do it.

It’s important to remember that the stunt actors you see in the movies have made martial arts and martial arts choreography their careers. The people you see who started as kids have all been doing this for anywhere between five to fourteen years depending on how old they are now. You don’t get to see how they looked when they started out, which most of them will admit was pretty terrible in comparison to what you’re currently seeing.

You’ve got to give yourself permission to suck. Give yourself permission to say, “yeah, I’m doing okay.” Realize everyone you train with has been where you are, at the beginning, at the bottom of the mountain and intimidated by the climb. It’s going to take awhile for your body to catch up to what your mind imagines, and you probably won’t be able to do a high kick day one. Or day two, or by day three. It takes time for your body to build up coordination, to develop your balance, and work on your flexibility.

Be honest with yourself about what you really want from the martial art experience. There’s nothing to stop you at twenty-five from eventually competing on the martial arts circuit if that’s what you want, but if you just want to practice recreationally or get skills for self-defense then try not to beat yourself up for not being Jet Li.

Focus on the progress you are making, rather than what you’re not doing right. Try to have fun. Find a good, supportive community, most martial arts schools aren’t what people imagine. They’re family affairs with people who start from all different ages and are from different walks of life. They’re communal, rather than competitive. They’ll push you to find the best version of yourself, if you’re willing to put in the time.

Learning not to be immediately discouraged by something your not immediately good at is difficult. It may take a few tries to find a martial art and a school which fit you. I can’t promise the experience won’t be frustrating at times and occasionally embarrassing because it is, you’re going to fall down even when you’re really good. You’ll get sweaty, and gross, and your face will be a red mess, you’ll get out of breath, you can pull muscles, even break bones. There will be days when you want to quit, want to give up. However, there’s no better feeling that conquering your own body. No better feeling than conquering your fear. The sensation you get where everything just clicks into place, and just works is great. The point where it stops being hard and starts really feeling good? The fantastic thud of landing a powerful kick on the training pads? Those are the moments you live for.

Martial arts is a fun, rewarding experience. Martial arts is for everyone willing to put in the effort. There is no cut off, only the hurdles you build in your own mind and your own perceptions. Ultimately, life is what we make it. Training in martial arts, what you’ll eventually learn is, most of the time, the only thing stopping you is you.

So, don’t let fear, frustration, or embarrassment stop you from getting what you want. The only way to know is to start, stick with it, and not give up if studying your martial art is what you want to be doing. Also, study a martial art you’re actually interested in because that’s half the initial battle.

-Michi

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Q&A: Anxiety

This might an odd question but I hoped you could give me advice. I’m currently in grad school for counseling and hope to work in a prison. I know I’ll have to pass a self-defense course in order to work there (and probably to intern there as well in two years). I’m less than 100 pounds and not very strong at all and have lots of anxiety about not being able to pass the class (more than the actual internship and potential job). Would it help to get a personal trainer to relieve the anxiety or no?

There’s a couple parts to this.

First, you’re going to get a variant of police hand to hand training. Probably very similar to what I got twenty years ago. When you’re done, if you keep up with that, you’re going to be able to defend yourself against 95% of the people you’ll encounter in your day to day life.

Most modern American self-defense courses use an adapted version of Judo, with a few tweaks. This focuses on leverage and momentum to control a fight. Size and mass only really help in the ground fighting component of that, and even then, your training will include means to minimize those weaknesses. Things like the throws are remarkably easy, with the appropriate training. Size works to your advantage here because a lower center of gravity makes the throws easier.

The anxiety is something you’ll need to address. Being able to project confidence is absolutely critical to maintaining control of a situation. and, probably, a major part of why this is in your curriculum.

Any combat training helps with self-confidence. It might be as simple as knowing you have a little more control over your environment. So, in a counter-intuitive way, your self-defense training will probably help with your anxiety.

There’s a number of ways to deal with it. Understand that everyone faces some anxiety in unfamiliar situations, and simply walk in. You can get to know the instructor outside of class before starting that class, during office hours is probably for the best. At that point you can decide if you’d want to broach your anxiety issues there, based on your read of them. You can audit the class, which is another opportunity to interact with the instructor, if meeting with them during office hours doesn’t appeal or is difficult to schedule.

I’m not sure a physical trainer would help with your anxiety. A psychiatric therapist may be a better option if you truly find this anxiety debilitating. If you don’t, then it’s probably helpful to remember that everyone experiences some anxiety. Anxiety over the unknown and unfamiliar is a normal experience. At that point, you may simply need some tools to help manage it. Ironically, one very good method is martial arts training, and the best way to become exposed to something unfamiliar is to dive in.

You’re not the first person who’s had anxiety about learning to fight. You’ll be fine.

-Starke

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Q&A: Tenth Degree Black Belt Takes Awhile

not sure if this is the right blog to ask this question but its the closest one that i know of, i have a character who started doing Karate at the minimum age (Age 6 from what i see) and so i want to know what is the minimum realistic age for him to become a first degree all the way through tenth degree black belt?

Assuming we work from the commercial martial arts school metric (which is the quickest), it’ll be around 45 years. A black belt past a certain rank (anywhere between two and five) will need to start journeying Japan on a semi-regular basis in order to be tested for their next belt ranks. And if they’re not, their master is the one who is making the pilgrimage. That also assumes the belt testing for the higher echelons is handed by one master, which it may not be. It something like eight official karate strands recognized by the World Karate Federation, and more unofficial. So, your character doesn’t just know karate.

That assumes the school goes to ten.

That assumes this is the belt system used by the school. (The classic martial arts legend is that in the old days, you trained so long that your belt turned black and that was when you achieved mastery.)

Assuming they allow any underage student to test for black belt. (Some schools don’t. If not, minimum age for a tenth degree is 63.)

Assuming they don’t have specific time constraints on your belt progression that has nothing to do with curriculum and everything to do with X amount of time spent in the school before they’ll consider it.

Your martial arts master is the one who decides when you get to test. If they say you’re not ready then you’re not testing. It is possible to fail the belt rank test, at any level. Commercial martial arts schools hold rank tests at specific intervals, usually spaced two to four months apart depending on belt rank level. You’ve got to be ready when the time comes, or you’ll have to wait until the next round. The Ernie Reyes school held black belt tests twice per year, but they were a large organization with over a hundred testing participants. In smaller organizations, it may happen less often. Usually, there’s a pretest before they allow you to test for your black belt. You can fail the pretest, and they reserve the right to fail you out of training prior to the test at any time.

Forty-five years training is a generous estimate. You’re not likely to hit tenth degree until you are eighty years old. Achieving mastery is a lifelong process. This is better than the traditional Chinese method for establishing a new martial art, which was go around and beat all the other masters in duels.

Trust me, having your ass handed to you by a sixty year old man is not a fun experience. It.. will also happen. Tradition in martial arts is you get tested in combat, to go up in rank you defeat those at rank, to become a master you defeat yours. “Now, I am the Master” is not just a trope, it’s tradition. (Not today, obviously. It used to be, in some cases.)

You’d reach the point around second or third degree in the higher ranks (and depending on style proliferation) where you’d be making the trip to Japan in order to be trained and tested by the school’s Grandmaster. A high ranking black belt would need to be at least partially fluent or speak passable Japanese, even if they could not read it. This is true for most Japanese martial arts, and for other martial arts too.

In the Ernie Reyes Organization, there is a monetary cost to testing. That metric rises by around a hundred dollars per black belt stripe. Fourth degree test costs around 400-500 dollars. Again, this is assuming a commercial martial arts school, not a school that is specifically training for active combat. If the school is training you for active combat, it’ll all take a lot longer.

In modern era combat, karate does not work unless it is modified. I got that from a Shotokan master who was also a Police Officer, and tested for his last black belt rank in Japan. (Third or Fourth degree.) He knew what he was talking about, and he was in his late thirties.

I was a third degree in Taekwondo by the time I was eighteen, but that’s out of a commercial system and that’s actually unusual. When looking at third degree tests, usually, they’re in their early to mid twenties.

In a traditional school, you can usually age your black belt rank per decade. First degree in the tens, second in the twenties, third in thirties, fourth in the forties, etc. 35-40 is the lowest age for a martial arts master, younger than that they’re usually technically good but not spiritually good and the spiritual component is what’s necessary.

Realistically, your character will never see tenth degree. When we talk tenth degree black belt in a martial arts system, that’s a number you can count on one hand and they may not exist at all. I’ve trained with seventh degree black belts and order grand masters in hosted seminars, but I’ve never seen a tenth degree.

The upper echelons past around rank five are spiritual journeys rather than technical or acquired skills, and this is especially true of tenth degree. You’ll get there when you get there, if you get there at all. That also assumes commercial approach rather than traditional, because traditional means you’re lucky if you see black belt at all. Ever. My shotokan master, one of his adult brown belts had been in training for about seven years, and his green belt training for five. Under this system, it could easily take ten years to reach black belt and you wouldn’t see a black belt testing under eighteen. (Not just danger, also maturity.)

The more sacred the belt ranks are in the system, the longer time it will take to reach and the harder it will be to reach them. However, those are the systems where the rank means something.

I’ll tell you right now, most martial artists at twelve who hold the rank of black belt aren’t actually worth anything on a technical level. (I say that having been a thirteen year old black belt.) The belt rank means something else in the commercial system. A child who got their black belt at twelve will be great by the time they’re twenty if they keep training, but they aren’t right now.

The amount of time necessary with traditional martial arts for rank progression is pretty much the reason why martial artists have the reputation for being godlike. The problem martial arts have in the modern era is they still have their place but combat moves too quickly for that kind of specialization. The counters are being developed while your character is training, so a hard counter will exist when they’re ready to put their skills into practice. However, many professionals train in martial arts because of the health and mental benefits and the flexibility the additions or alternative skill sets provide.

Traditional martial arts is not fair, it is not quick, and it takes decades of work. Commercial martial arts is/can be quick, but it’s balancing the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment with money. That is survival, and martial arts schools cannot or will have great difficulty surviving in the US without the commercial/business side. Usually, the first two black belt ranks get sacrificed to the commercial because kids are where most commercial martial arts schools make their money. That first black belt test is all important to the school, to the kid, and their parents. It’s an achievement, it’s a journey, and it looks great on a college application. It is real, but it means something else than what it would mean in a traditional system to someone who trained for ten years. Five years is much more reasonable/palatable to a parent and a child than ten. (That’s a long time, you’ll still have something like a 60% drop off between the kids who come for a few months to those who stay.) I know, that information kills the mystique some.

Understand, that every black belt earned their rank by the metric set for them. The question is do others agree, and the answer is usually no when we’re discussing more stringent systems. A lot of really popular martial arts will have that accusation leveled against them by others, and a lot of popular schools will as well. That their business model produces inferior students. Whether that is true or not is a matter of opinion and the opinions are diverse. I suggest carrying that knowledge with you into your fiction.

If you can’t tell me or anyone in your book which version of Karate they are practicing, then that’s where you should start working. Karate also gets used in the US as a catchall term for martial arts, just FYI.

-Michi

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So, this isn’t exactly a writing question, but I’m not sure where else to ask. Is it at all possible for someone with chronic wrist pain, such that they can’t take impacts on their hands for any significant length of time, to still learn a martial art? And if so, what martial arts would be best, like ones that focus more on kicks or grappling?

There are students with all sorts of disabilities who are training right now. So, don’t let that stop you.

I’ve worked with martial artists who had a variety of health issues, from those recovering from cancer to eighty year olds training for their black belts. I know of students in other programs ranging from blindness to deafness to only having one arm. Lots of kids with glasses train, and take their glasses off for sparring. One of my training partners for my third degree test was a woman who’d recently recovered from a stroke and had specific health concerns we worked around. There was a certain pace she needed to train at, which was fine. Master Reyes was upfront about it with me when he assigned me to work with her, and she was upfront about it with me. She passed her test by the way.

It is very common in martial arts schools to have students who have specific health concerns, chronic pain, and injuries. It is part of the job of the instructors at these schools to develop work arounds together with their students.  Whether the instructor needs to keep an eye on the time because one of the kids you’re training needs to take their meds during your class. These are all issues that can be worked out. (Consider the number of geriatric students who come in on the regular. There are quite a few.)

As martial arts instructors, we are legally obligated to care for our students when they’re on our floor. (And we care about them because they’re family.) You’ll find plenty of teachers who also have or have had injuries whether they’re permanent or not. One of my master’s had a blown out knee from a gymnastics injury, he was thirty years old and he limped around the floor.

People of all ages, all dispositions, and all backgrounds come through a martial arts studio’s door. Sometimes, they’re people with chronic pain, sometimes they have heart issues, sometimes they’re diabetics. 

A healthy body is not a necessary requirement for recreation the same way it is in the military or the police. In a healthy martial arts school, you will find instructors who are more than happy to work with you and find solutions that fit your needs. Unless you take a boxing-type martial art like Kickboxing or Muay Thai (and even then), you will be hitting air 90% of the time.

It’ll take time to work out your limits and to find alternative options. However, it will be up to you find those limits. Stay in touch with your doctor. Over time you will learn how to discern between good pain and bad pain, and you’ll be better able to moderate what you can do and how long your participate. It’ll also be up to you to keep your instructor updated.

As for which martial art would work best, I’d actually advise you to start with what you want to be learning (90% of success begins with interest) and work your way around to finding a studio in your area who’d be willing to make the accommodations you need. Those are the people you want to be entrusting your safety to. Those men and women are the good beans. Work with the people who want to work with you towards your success.

When you have a disability or chronic pain here’s what you do when looking for a school:

1) Start with a martial art that interests you.

There’s absolutely no reason why your disability or injury should stand in the way of you learning what you want. I guarantee there is a school out there full of martial arts masters who’ll become a second family to you. So, you should start with what you want. Want to fight like a ninja turtle? (I did when I was five, okay.) Run over to imdb.com or somewhere similar to figure out what the martial arts used in the movie were. Once you have that in hand, go to the internet and look up videos on the Tube. Want to study that? Great! To Google!

2) Do research over what is available in your area.

This is the tough part, your choices are going to be limited based on what’s available and feasible to reach. You may not find what you want available in your area. Google for the local martial arts schools in your area (this goes faster once you have a beat on martial arts you want), and see what comes up. Find one you like? Read the reviews, and make sure to look them up on other review sites like Yelp. Make a list of several (yes, several) you’d be interested in. Always have backups in case the first doesn’t work out. You’re probably going to want family schools, but go with what you want. You’re a customer, and if you sign up, you are going to paying them to provide you with a service. Keep that in mind.

3) Make the call

Once you have the schools and the numbers, give them a call. Most martial arts schools have someone working the desk and reception while the instructors teach. This is the person who makes the appointments and handles the gear.

Ask them if it’d be possible to visit the school, make an appointment, and look in on a class. (You don’t need to be upfront about your needs yet.) This is a common practice for students scouting out schools, so no need to be shy. I recommend looking in on an adult class as it’ll be easier to talk to those students after.

Remember, this is a business so they’re going to try to sell you. If you get easily flustered remember to write up and bring a list of questions to ask that you wrote up beforehand.

4) Look in on a class

Before you sign up for the first lesson, look in on a class first. Half the success of any martial arts program is going to be how well you sync with the people who are going to teach you. Watching a class lets you scout out an instructor’s teaching style and talk to the students without pressure. Come a little early so you can watch the students file in, how they interact with each other, and the warm ups.

Think about it like dating. You want a match who works for you.

The general feel and attitude of a good school is one that is relaxed. The teacher is in good spirits, humble, and explains easily. The students look happy when they’re on the floor, they’re in a good mood, social with each other both before and after class, and everyone is generally happy. They’re focused when they’re on the floor. Students who are happy with their school will try to sell you on it if you ask. They’re enthusiastic! You are looking for a warm, friendly, relaxed, and happy environment.

Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.

You don’t want to be in a school that’s controlling, where the instructor is uptight, angry, or yells at their students. If they’re prideful or act like the source of all wisdom, then you don’t want to be there. You don’t want a place where the students seem unhappy. If you walk into a place like this, leave. You don’t have to bring up your health issues. Know it’s not for you. Look elsewhere.

5) Talk to the instructor

Whoever you talk with on the phone will probably have told the school’s owner or instructor that you’ll be there, so don’t be surprised if they seek out out either before or after the class. If they don’t and you like what you see, introduce yourself. Express your interest and ask if you can set up an appointment (either now if you like it) or at a later date where you can talk more. Let the instructor sell you on their school.

You can either bring up your health issues at this point, or later when you talk to them again. See what they say. It is important to be upfront about it because whoever you will be training with values your health and safety. That is part of their job. Do not forget it.

You will, probably, find plenty of instructors who’ve worked with students that had health issues before. They’re either going to say thanks but no thanks, (if that’s the case, look elsewhere, you want the masters who want you) or they’re going to ask you some questions about your specific needs.

If you decide you like this person and their school, make an appointment to take the first beginner’s lesson. (This is usually free! Sometimes, you get a free gi too! Heyo!)

6) Take the First Lesson

What it says on the tin. They may ask you about your needs again, if they don’t remember or don’t bring it up then remind them. Anyway, take the lesson, see how you feel.

Like it? Like the price package? Yay! Sign up.

Don’t like it? Repeat steps 2-6 with another school.

7) Double Check With Your Doctor (Bonus, Important Step)

I’d double check your needs and discuss this course with your doctor in step 2, but do it again anyway. The school may ask for your medical documentation anyway, and you will, of course, need to sign a waiver. Have a list of everything that might possibly go wrong and what the signs are when your wrists have had too much. Give it to your new instructors, they will put it in your file and reference back to it over your time spent training with them.

8) Start Taking Classes

You’ve made it to Step 8. The last step. The big kahuna. Enjoy your new martial arts life. Remember to keep working to build the bond of trust between you and your teacher. Don’t be afraid to bring up your needs and remind them if they forget.

When I was a little bean, I broke my leg. During the latter half of my recovery after I finally got off the crutches, I still had specific activities I couldn’t engage in. I went back to my martial arts school, and started training again. I went from not being able to run (so I had to do other exercises when everyone else did) to not being able to jump (No jumping till June) until I was finally free. (”You can’t jump yet, right?” “No, busabumnim! I can jump today! I can jump!”) My instructors were with me every step of the way, easing me (twelve year old bean) back into it so I could test for my black belt the next year. It was a slow process, but it happened.

In the right school where you feel comfortable and trust your teachers, it’ll be the same for you. There’ll be things you can do, and things you can only do a little, and maybe things you can’t do at all. That’s not a mark against you.

The most important thing here is honesty. Your limitations are not insurmountable. A good school with good teachers will figure out how to work around them, and if you sign on that is what you will be paying them to do.

Now:

To my martial arts followers, please leave enthusiastic recommendations of your school and your master in the reblogs or comments so our Anon friend here gets an example of what to look for in their search.

Thank you!

-Michi

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Nine Steps for Training Techniques

So, we get a lot of training questions on this blog and, personally, they’re almost always hard to answer. Not only is training a very involved process, it’s also fairly difficult to break down even when you’ve been on both sides of the teacher/student relationship before. There is no set way to do it, and every technique varies in complexity. However, let me lay down the steps of learning a new technique.

Step One: Explanation

After warm ups, your instructor calls you over and gathers you together. They tell you what you’re going to be learning and, often, why you’ll be learning it. The “why” trends towards programs that focus on practical application (military or self-defense) or a simple basic explanation of what the technique is. Explanation is often coupled with demonstration.

The point is to get the intent behind the concept down.

Step Two: Demonstration

After they’ve finished, they’ll usually call on the assistant instructor or (depending on safety) a favored student from the audience. This student is usually one of the ones who have excelled in their training. The teacher is comfortable with them experiencing the technique firsthand without seeing it, and trusts them to follow instructions without questioning or putting up a fight.

Teacher then proceeds to demonstrate the technique. First, they show it fast and at full speed for effect. The student will rarely be able to follow fully, because they don’t know what they’re looking at. Then, they break the demonstration down step by step and run through it slowly so the students can follow while explaining each step in technical detail.

Then the teacher will perform the move again, so the student will get a better understanding and better conceptual idea.

You will always see the teacher demonstrate first before practicing yourself, even for very basic techniques like stances or footwork. Step by step demonstration, or call on a student who knows the technique to demonstrate before the class while they explain.

All combinations will be broken down step by step first before they’re brought together. A student will not learn the cross-step axe kick or slide front kick for example until they’ve learned the cross-step and the axe kick separately, and never will they begin with a partner unless the situation calls for it. (Exemptions being: grappling, chokeholds, joint locks, and others that require hands on for practice.)

Step Three: Step-By-Step Practice

Unless the technique (like some grappling or throws) specifically requires practice with a partner, this practice will be done without a partner. The student will begin performing the technique in its broken down form, step by step as their teacher calls out the number or name associated with each part.

For example, when you’re first learning to kick it’s often broken down like this: (from the beginning fighting stance) chamber, kick, recoil, plant. Each step pauses and holds, this serves a double purpose of not only teaching the student how the kick works but also building strength in their legs and allows them to work on their balance. Some kicks like the sidekick require a full foot rotation of 180 degrees on the stability leg that is simultaneous to the kick itself in order to remain balanced and to turn over their hips. Slow reduces strain on the muscles and limits chance of injury.

While the student might prefer to rush, the step by step practice is where they gain the fullest understanding of the technique and where they will come back to when they want to tweak or correct mistakes they’ve been making at full speed. It does a better job of building up their strength and flexibility due to forced full second holds, ensuring they are less likely to injure themselves when moving on to the next stage.

Step-by-step comes before you get to hit anything or swing in the direction of your partner. Sometimes, step-by-step can be the entire half hour practice.

Step Four: Put It Together, Slowly

What was practiced in pieces is now put together, and still usually performed in lines and on a count. The student practices the technique, sussing out the new problems that come from acting in a single smooth motion. The beginning stages are practiced slowly, and how fast a student grasps the technique will define how quickly they get to move on to the next stage.

Again, slow reduces the risk of injury and allows the student to get in tune with their body, finding out where in the technique they’re having trouble putting thought into action. They may understand the concept, but whether they’re body can follow is another question entirely.

Step Five: Put It Together, Quickly

Now that the student has gained understanding and can move with relatively less chance of hurting themselves, they get to go at full speed. Whee! Practice over, and over, and over again.

Step Six: Practice With A Partner, No Touching

Then, the students pair off and practice their new techniques together. This helps the student get a better grasp of distance between themselves and an opponent. The other student gets practice watching the techniques, memorizes the pattern, and grows more comfortable with fast moving objects coming near their face.

Step Seven: Hit the Pads

Hitting pads can come before partner practice. (And there are many different kinds. Big shields, handhelds, etc.) The point of pads is to allow the student to go full out without risking injury to themselves or someone else, they get a sense for what physical resistance and impact feels like so they can suss out the other problems they have with their technique or inside their own minds.

This is also where practicing with wood or other dummies comes in. You want to get around to punching or blocking hard objects, you’ve got to learn how to punch first.

Step Eight: Spar

A free spar is different from only being allowed to spar with specific techniques. There are many different kinds of sparring, all with different rules. The point of sparring is not just to simulate a real fight, but also to get the student used to the feel of physical resistance in a less tightly controlled environment. The point of sparring is practice.

Step Nine: Conditioning

I’m kidding, this isn’t a step. This is built in at every step. We’re taking a break. Time to… RUN WIND SPRINTS. Pushups. Situps! Burpees! Perform front stances around the track. Go jog it out. Come back, now when you’re body’s nearing exhaustion, to practice all over again.

Trust me, it’s harder when you’re tired.

Rinse lather repeat for every single technique in the character’s arsenal, and rinse, lather, repeat for when they practice them together as combinations.

Some Myths and Misunderstandings:

“Best In Class”: this is what that status earns you, by the way. You get more responsibility and taking a turn at being the test dummy getting thrown around the room. This is who the most popular kids in the dojo are, what their popularity gives them, and why they’re looked up to. If you just paused and imagined a couple characters squabbling over who sensei’s going to throw this week, congrats. That’s it.

I’ve been on both sides; the one who looked up at the school’s shining stars, and eventually became a star others younger than myself looked up to. A person whose skill they envied and who they wanted to be like. Status in a martial arts school isn’t like high school. Popularity is based on respect, and that’s decided by time, effort, and investment. Usually because you’re the “last man standing” i.e. still here after everyone else quit.

Often times, the most popular members of the school will be those out of reach. These are the older students who work as assistants for the instructor on the floor, or are seen practicing while waiting for their class to start. What draws attention to them is their enviable skill, and how easy they make advanced techniques look. I suppose we’ve all dreamed about beating up the seniors as freshman, and eventually came to realize how silly that was. If you want a rival for your character, this is the wrong place to look. You want a contemporary who is good but still at the same level they are.

Talented? Let’s Work You Harder: It doesn’t matter how talented a character is, they still have to go through the same steps as everyone else. They might move through them a little faster and get more frustrated with the process when their instructor takes them back to basics, but it’s worth knowing that the more talent one has then the more responsibility they will given both for their own training and that of others. There will also be higher expectations. Status is earned on the floor through the acquisition of skill, dedication, and effort. The one who persists and keeps at it will come out on top in the end. Talent offers a leg up on the competition, but it doesn’t secure victory.

My Master is Sadist: It is not uncommon to feel this way, though it’s usually only true in the same way as your well-intentioned gym teacher or coach. Physical exercise sucks all around. It’s messy, it’s sweaty, and at some point (no matter how good you are), you’re always going to feel like your arms are giving out. Huffing and puffing up and down the hill, freaking out about missing a step when climbing bleachers, etc. There are masters who are sadists, but this is not what they look like. We don’t attain skill or endurance through osmosis. The truth is our biggest barriers are in our minds and we often don’t know ourselves or our capabilities as well as we think we do.

Understanding Violence Makes One More Violent: Not in those who gain a real understanding of it, when you’ve proven your ability to yourself then you don’t need to with others. Demystifying violence is on the same level as demystifying sex, once you understand how it works it’s a lot less magical. The idea of punching out the high school bully is a lot less appealing when you know the consequences (and the bully is a lot less terrifying), just like waking up to an electronic baby squalling at one in the morning reminds us that safe sex might just be the best way to go.

-Michi

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Q&A: Training Elites

So how does one go about training elite, loyal fighters in a non-abusive environment?

By… not abusing them?

I know that the whole “training for martial combat is inherently abusive” is a popular concept, but it doesn’t work that way. Normal training is a slow process, and elites are the culmination of a process every single martial artist goes through. They are the ones who worked the hardest, who went the furthest, and continued long after everyone else stopped. An elite is the one who devotes their life to their art. From a martial combat perspective, you want the trainees who want to be training. You get your trainees to engage and commit to their training without forcing them because they already want to be there, and it not only works… it work better. I know. It’s an amazing concept, you get better results without abuse.

There are no elite warriors who were not once willing participants, wholeheartedly devoted and dedicated. Who ate, and breathed, and slept, and dreamed their training, who made it a foundational aspect of their whole life. A core aspect of their identity.

They became an elite because they wanted to be and because they worked hard for it. They passed all their tests, ground their way out through the muck and the dirt. Through the sweat, the tears, and the frustrations. Who celebrated their successes and mourned their failures.

Every training program will have a different metric for what makes someone capable of entering the ranks deemed elite. However, there are very specific general metrics for requirement which most follow. They will be people considered at or near the top by their instructors, who are experienced, and who have already completed the basic requirements. They will be martial artists who are in the highest belt rankings before this training or soldiers who made it through Basic with distinction and, perhaps, have field experience where they have shown a solid track record. They will be volunteers. They will be the ones previously identified as the best of the best by other trainers and commanding officers. They will either be chosen from the field or asked to apply. Offered, not ordered. Then, they will be “trained” as in they will undergo a stress test of their physical and mental limits that serves as their training.

When I say phrases like “considered near the top”, “shown exemplary skill”, and “served with distinction”, I don’t mean raw talent in someone untested. Raw talent is nothing but potential, and potential is worthless in someone who will not or is uninterested in making the most of it. These are the people who have already proven themselves, often above and beyond the call. They are chosen now because they have the potential and the drive to reach an echelon (often highly specialized) beyond that of the average trainee.

If you learn nothing else, learn this: any elite candidate is a classic overachiever.

One of the major purposes of normal training is to push a trainee beyond what they believe is physically and mentally possible for them to achieve. The extreme version of this is, well, it’s extreme. The point isn’t toughness, though. That’s far too simplistic and silly in concept. The point is to create a situation for the trainee to realize their true potential, that breaks all the boundaries of what they believed to possible. This is why high end of martial arts often feel like magic. Whether it’s staying awake, active, and functional for a full seven days, breaking nine bricks in a single strike, or bending a steel rod with nothing but their throat, you’re seeing someone who has a far better grasp of the true human limits than the average person.

Outside the real world, most authors are attracted to “abusive training” due to the angst factor. They often make the mistake of assuming that regular training is abuse (and taken to the wrong extremes, it can be), and mistake the purpose behind the extremes. They also think one can skip the boring, technical aspect and jump straight to those extremes. Again, mostly for the angst factor and to create a sub category of the trope Cursed with Awesome, which i like to call: Victimized Into Herohood.

In the real world, the theory behind abusive training isn’t that abuse makes you stronger (though many abusers and some abuse survivors have this outlook), it’s that the threat of death and desire to survive will make the subject work harder. That the desire to live is universal, and that it’s as good as the desire to learn. You’ll find this method used in cults, because its purpose is to ensure a specific kind of loyalty.

In the real world, that doesn’t get you past the bare minimum. So, all that abuse is just to get past the first mental hurdle for basic training. Do not mistake basic training for elite training. Never do this. You’ll find far more abuse (if it happens at all) happening at the beginning of training rather than at the end. You’ve got to learn to flap before you fly and expecting someone to achieve FTL by chucking them off a cliff is pretty damn silly. No one would expect a prospective student to be a black belt on day one.

The confusion, I think, most people have is with the intensity of the physical training. You will ask them to push beyond their physical limits, but that’s not abusive. They also consented to it first. Your working with someone who wants to be training, who has committed. You don’t put a gun to their head to say, “do this or die.” The point of pushing in this environment is not to break them, but rather to show them that they can do more than they realize.

Extreme training works best when the other person wants to be there. You will never be able apply more pressure or drive to someone via outside sources than they can apply to themselves.

Dragging some random schmuck off the street and beating the shit out of them misses the point. When we’re talking abusive training, it’s purpose isn’t to make you tougher, it’s purpose is to convince the trainee to commit. If they aren’t inclined toward it anyway, then they’re a bad candidate. The end point of the abusive outlook is to get your trainee to the point where they’re a willing candidate. That doesn’t produce elites though. Elites come from trainees who want to excel, not the ones who just want to live.

You cannot make an elite from a trainee who isn’t willing.

You can’t do it. 90% of an instructors job is to provide structure and opportunity for students to excel. That’s it. They teach, yes, but the student has to choose to learn. Being the best or competing for the opportunity to be the best, requires a step even beyond the choice or desire to learn. It takes real, honest to god commitment, devotion, sacrifice, not to mention time and energy. After all, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it think.

Like with anything else, an elite is born from the trainees who worked the hardest in basic training. The ones who pushed themselves, the ones who maybe struggled in the beginning but kept at it, the ones who were up late practicing their techniques after everyone else had gone to bed, and the ones who proved themselves in the field or to whatever criteria qualified them for this next step. You don’t get elites through abuse. You get elites through willing candidates, and then just train them the normal way. Elites aren’t training or talent, so much as they are personality. These are the people who want to be there, they’re willing to commit and do whatever they have to do to win. You put them in competition so they build each other up, then you cull. By culling, I mean removing the weak and sending them back to where they came from. Usually, these will be returning them to the positions they already occupied. You know, how it normally works?

The mistakes the inexperienced make when writing training is that they often believe:

1) That all martial combat training is what you get from training Special Forces.

2) That the Special Forces training is what makes them elite.

No, Special Forces training itself is the culling process. The point isn’t to instruct, so much as it is to test the limits of the trainee and how far they can (and are willing) to push themselves. These are people who have already proven they excel in regular combat environments, they exceed beyond the expected limits. They have been trained, they are now taking the next step.

Martial Training is a process involving multiple stages, it takes time, investment, and a great deal of energy. The creation of an elite or an elite unit doesn’t happen overnight, or over a few weeks, or even months. It starts with molding the raw materials through the basics. Then, if they prove themselves worth the time/show their mettle, they get to try passing the tests where you’re kept awake and active for a week straight.

The true point of extreme training is to push the student far beyond the point they believe to be their upper limits. Our minds instill false expectations and false limits based on our beliefs, our understanding, and our desire for self-preservation. The point is never to break and remold, but rather to introduce the trainee to their true capabilities.

However, the trainee needs to be willing to push themselves. They are the ones who do the heavy lifting, they are the ones who are taking control over themselves, and they are the ones who are breaking down those mental and physical limits within themselves in order to reach new heights. It cannot be done to them, they must do it themselves.

Everyone has the potential to be an elite warrior, they all receive the same training. The question is: will the individual choose to put in the effort and make the necessary sacrifices?

Understand these are active choices, made by people who want what’s being offered to them and are chasing it because this is what they want to be. This is not a choice made for them. They are not the victims of it. It is not a burden thrust upon them. They chose to take it up, then they turned around and pursued excellence with a vengeance so intense it makes the rest of us cry.

The highest echelons of any martial art or martial combat is almost entirely an internal battle. You are your own worst enemy, and you need to break past your own beliefs about yourself. It is a battle for self-actualization, fire forged in blood, sweat, tears, and competition. This is the aspect of high level training that is most often disregarded because it sounds hokey. It’s true though.

Elite training is there to teach us that the false limits we set for ourselves are our greatest barrier, and these beliefs keep us from reaching our true potential.

Regardless of anything else, the end goal of both abusive scenarios and non-abusive scenarios are the same. The only difference is their methods and the initial willingness of their participants. This is also why the holdouts are the ones who die in the abusive scenario. No amount of forcing will ever compete with the willing.

-Michi

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How would a instructor determine students in hand to hand combat ‘adequate enough’ to move on from the basics? Come to think of it… what would be the basics? Assuming your students have never been in a fight before, what would be the first thing you teach beginners to hand to hand combat?

Usually, there are tests. What those tests are depends on the martial art, and the teacher’s personal teaching style. The teacher has the student, or group of students perform the techniques they were taught then evaluates their performance to determine whether or not they pass or fail. If they pass, they move on to the next set of techniques and if they don’t then they continue to practice until they either eventually pass on the next go round or they give up. However, there may not be tests. The teacher may simply decide the student is adequate and move on, sometimes without ever telling them. The criteria becomes more complicated as they go up in rank.

It may be as simple as: can you do a front kick without falling over? (No, seriously, learning to balance all your weight on one leg is a challenge in and of itself before we get to moving it.) Can you survive me shoving you without falling over? Have you learned how to set your weight? Have you learned to slap the ground when you fall?

‘Basics’ mean the base of the martial arts style. What those basics are
and how they’re taught are dependent on the martial art in question.
There will be similarities, but you’ll do well by researching specific
schools rather than asking broad questions.

You’ll get more applicable answers that way.

As for the basics?

You start with the feet.

A good teacher will spend the first lesson on teaching you how to stand. You’re not going to do anything else. When you begin at the beginning, you retrain everything about the student’s physicality. You’re building their base, how they set their weight, their sense of balance, and how to breathe.

After all, if there are cracks in the foundation then the whole house will inevitably fall. It doesn’t matter how many flashy techniques you can perform if a stiff breeze will still blow you over, and your basics are your foundation. They are the difference between a skilled warrior and one that will inevitably die. Beginning at the beginning requires the “boring” stuff.

So, when you have a master in a martial arts action flick shoving their student around in ways that usually look rather abusive to an outside observer that’s what they’re doing. They’re testing their student’s base, which directly relates to their ability to adjust to and receive impact without losing their balance.

After all, if a simple one handed shove to the chest sends a trainee sprawling then they’re doomed against any actual techniques. It doesn’t matter how well you take it in your arms if you can’t in your legs, if you can’t keep your balance. Balance begins with your core (your stomach, your abdomen, your diaphragm), then your feet, then the lower body, and then we get to the upper.

The secondary test that comes with learning the basics is a mental one. Martial combat is a discipline, it requires patience, persistence, determination, humility, and a willingness to learn. There’s no place on the floor for fragile egos. The training styles of most Eastern martial arts traditions like Karate, Taekwondo, and many of the Chinese martial arts are intentionally designed to be frustrating for beginners. It’s a personality test, meant to weed out those unsuitable to the training and those unworthy of the teacher’s time.

When you train in martial arts, you fall down a lot. You’re consistently meeting new skill thresholds, your understanding is often upended as you realize what you thought you knew isn’t what you needed to know. A trainee needs the determination to keep getting up, the confidence to continue and the willingness to listen. Your ego will get battered and bruised far worse at the upper end of training than it ever will in the beginning.

The test is a question of whether or not the trainee has the fortitude to continue. If they quit as most do, or if they keep coming back for more. If they can make the necessary adjustments, if they can listen, and if they get back up after they fall down then you’ve got someone who might just have a chance at surviving.

This isn’t the mentality of a military organization or military training because they have fewer options of who they can say no to, but martial arts masters choose their students.

The question of fortitude is there from the beginning because the troubles and frustrations you face in training are nothing compared to those these trainees will face in the real world and in live combat scenarios. Where their fortitude to continue through injury and their ability to adapt on the fly, to learn quickly as they are faced with the unknown are necessary survival skills.

When you’re writing any training sequence keep in mind that the instructor wants their students to live and trains them in the hopes they’ll develop the skills they need to have a better chance at it.

Never forget, this is fantasy.

You, the writer, needs to weld the notion your character could die into everything and, especially, into their training. The character may be too young, too naive, or too stupid to realize it but you must never forget that death is always on the table. They need to earn their survival. For all their teacher knows they may very well be looking at a walking corpse. Their student is a bright star full of potential, someone they may grow to care about and become invested in, and may just as easily be snuffed out not long after leaving their care.

This is more true for some teachers than others, but its worth keeping in mind. Everything your character learns is meant to help them for when they enter to sphere of live combat, and that starts at the beginning. If the beginning becomes screwed up, then everything else that follows will also fail.

You may also want to check out our #writing training, #training, #basics, and #martialarts tags on the site.

-Michi

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