For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been learning to drive standard. Having driven automatic cars for over 16 years, it’s a difficult transition. This learning process is an excellent analogy for learning a martial art.
My first time driving standard was the worst. I was told exactly what to do to get the car in first gear, but ended up over-revving the engine, or worse, under-revving it, causing it either to clunk awkwardly into gear or stall it out. Making the transition between any gear requires a fine touch, letting out the clutch slowly while giving it just the right amount of gas. It took every ounce of my focus and I still screwed it up half the time.
“This seems dangerous! How am I supposed to concentrate on the road when it’s taking all my focus just to shift gears?” I frustratedly asked Chris, who was teaching me.
“That’s why we’re starting in a parking lot,” he smiled. “Once you get comfortable shifting gears, you won’t need to think about it. You’ll even be able to improvise creative shifts in emergencies.”
It was then that I realized how similar the learning process was to that of the martial arts. When you first learn a complex technique from a martial art, you use your conscious mind to walk your body through the motions. It’s awkward and slow. It takes all your focus because your conscious mind can’t think of more than one thing at a time and there are multiple technical points that make it work. People naturally wonder how the technique is effective. At that level, it’s not, of course.
The longer you practice the technique, the more you develop your muscle memory, which is governed by your subconscious mind. When you don’t have to actively think to do a technique, your reaction time is instantaneous and your body even starts to be able to improvise adaptations for different but similar defensive situations. And that’s when it really becomes fun.
Chris told me the same thing about driving standard; that when you can do it without thought, it becomes really fun. It’s hard to imagine how moving a stick around for the sole purpose of changing gears could ever be considered “fun,” but I can at least see a light at the end of the tunnel that is my frustrating learning process.
Ari Bolden Sensei, president of the Jiu-jitsu BC Society and owner of 10th Planet Jiu-jitsu Victoria (both a BJJ & a Japanese Jiu-jitsu school), recently expressed his frustration at the many grapplers/ MMA-ers out there who give him attitude about Japanese styles of Jiu-jitsu. He wrote an article called “Understanding Japanese Jiu-jitsu” about it on Submissions101.com. I hope lots and lots of people read his article and broaden their minds on the topic.
“The problem with the majority of the public is that they don’t understand the principles behind Japanese JuJutsu because all they see are BJJ schools or grappling in a MMA setting,” Bolden says.
It’s true. Sadly, self-defense doesn’t compete against grappling styles in a world in which more value is placed on things featured in public arenas. But just because the capitalist world isn’t rewarding self-defense oriented dojos doesn’t mean they provide nothing of value.
I know there are a lot of grapplers/ MMA-ers who are more enlightened and open-minded, but I can tell you from moderating my blog that there are a lot of squeaky wheels out there and many of the ones with whom I’ve come in contact on my blog are from that subset of martial artists. I can understand where the attitude comes from. These are people who measure a martial art’s worth by its effectiveness in the ring, however, there is no safe public forum for measuring a martial art’s street effectiveness.
“Make sure you know what you are taking and WHY you are taking it!” Bolden suggests at the close of his article. “If you think that all you need is spinning back kicks in a real fight you’ll be toast pretty quick when a real fight comes your way. If you want to study GI BJJ and want to compete-GREAT! If you want to study PURE self defense-AWESOME. But remember, doing well in one medium (the ring/mat) doesn’t mean it will translate well into another arena (the street). The same goes for JJJ stylists who think they can roll around with BJJ BB and come out on top playing the BJJ player’s game.”
Well put, Ari. If we all just lose the ignorant, pretentious attitudes and realize we are all just on our own paths of self-actualization, no matter what we’re studying, the martial arts world will be a better place. One in which we can all learn from each other.
The following day after a recent Shorinji Kan class, I woke up with sore muscles all over my body. This surprised me because I’m in pretty good shape and I hadn’t thought the class overly intense. And yet my muscles seemed to disagree with that conclusion.
After some thought I realized that the class had done more throwing than I had done in a while. I had led classes that had throwing in them, but I hadn’t actually taken part in such a class in some time.
Throwing, and particularly being thrown, is a great all-over workout. It uses all the muscles in your body from your neck down to your legs. And if you enjoy the training of throwing and being thrown, you don’t even notice how much work you’re doing at the time. If you do a lot of it, you can build up good endurance for martial arts training.
That’s why I like to do power throwing as an exercise on occasion in my classes. Students basically do their throws with a partner repeatedly with speed and power for a set amount of time, usually around 2-3 minutes. One partner throws the other and immediately after being thrown the uke bounces up and throws his or her partner in return. Lather, rinse, repeat, until the time period is up. I usually give my students a 1-minute break after which the students do a second round.
I highly recommend this as an intensity exercise for students with enough throwing experience. Throwing and being thrown repeatedly over longer periods of time is also a good way to develop the endurance that is required for higher level belt tests that are longer in duration.
Nosebleeds are not uncommon in martial arts schools. They can occur randomly during exertion or from being punched in the nose. There have always been disputes as the best way to stop a nose bleed. Some say to pinch your nose at the bridge and hold your head forward. Some say to pinch and hold your head back. I say give it the finger.
The method I use has worked every time I’ve used it and seen it used. I first saw it demonstrated during a black belt seminar when Professor Georges Sylvain, the founder of Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, used it to help a student who didn’t manage to keep his hands up high enough during a 2-on-1 sparring session. It looks crude and is mildly painful, but it works.
Here’s how it’s done. Support the back your patient (or victim’s) head with one hand. With the other hand, use your middle finger or the blade of your index finger to drive in and up into the infra-orbital nerve under the base of the nose at the top of upper lip (see photo below). Apply even pressure and hold the position for 30-40 seconds. The person receiving the treatment will likely experience mild discomfort (it is a pressure point). After the 30-40 seconds is up, gently ease off the pressure. The nosebleed should be gone. DO NOT use this method of the student is bleeding profusely and a broken nose is suspected.
I used this method just last night on a student who had a random nosebleed during class. He said it worked brilliantly at stopping the bleeding, plus his airway was clear since there was no clot blocking the passage. This is because it doesn’t work the same as the other methods that work on the basis of creating a clot. I think maybe the nerve stimulation causes blood flow to be directed away from the area. I don’t know for certain why it works, but it does. Every single time.
Give it a try, but do so at your own discretion and risk. I’m not a doctor, though doctors in my class have been impressed by its effectiveness.
I read an interesting article about peak performance in the NY Times. Part of it discusses the importance of the total number of hours of practice time vs. natural talent in the development of peak performance in a sport or art.
Having taught Jiu-jitsu for 12 years, I’ve seen all types of students and what it takes within them to excel in the long run in a martial art. I agree that hours of practice does correlate with excellence. However it’s not just about mechanical repetition.
My Sensei, Ed Hiscoe, always said: “Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.” This, of course, does not mean he expects everyone to only practice if they can do it perfectly. It means the student should practice and consciously make corrections as they practice to continually get closer and closer to their goal. If a student only mechanically repeats movements without analyzing them for improvement, they will never fix the problems they may be having with technique.
While practice is a key component in developing as a martial artist, natural talent is also factor. Every so often I get a student who can learn and adapt amazingly fast, even without prior training. If these students put in the hours, the have the capacity to become awesome martial artists. The practice process is the same as it is for other students, except that they take on corrections and adjustments faster, which leads to their faster development as a martial artist overall. That being said, natural ability isn’t enough on its own.
I’ve seen talented individuals come and go from my mats. The reason they don’t necessarily make it as martial artists is that they don’t have the motivation and temperament to continue their practice through the inevitable plateaus that appear, particularly in later stages of development.
On the other hand, I’ve also had students who are of average ability, but because they’re motivated, they maintain their practice through the plateaus to achieve great things. It may take them longer, but by maintaining consistent motivation to train, they get there eventually.
So what should we take away from all this? I can tell you from many years of having observed my students: It doesn’t matter if you have natural talent. If you have the motivation to put in your hours of training, you’ll eventually succeed in your goals, given the right training atmosphere. And if you love what you’re doing, you won’t care if it takes longer to develop because you enjoy training for training’s sake.