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"The best preparation for an event, is the event itself" -Bruce Lee

Drawing of Barbarian SwordmanRight: Pencil freehand by artist Elisha Bonilla. My sister!

Training is the single most important factor in your life. Whether you are a martial artist, a soldier, a concert pianist, or an accountant, training is what is going to make your life a success or a failure. So it is extremely important that you consider and evaluate for yourself, how you are training. Your instructor is not responsible for your success. You are. Therefore it is your responsibility to make sure that you make the time to train, know what you need to know, and  practice what you know, so that you can perform everything you know, on demand, at any time, anyplace, and under any conditions.

I use a lot of military and martial arts analogies because it's a quick way to get people to consider what they are doing, and how they are training. It's a quick way to make them realize that this is for real. It doesn't matter how good you look on the mat if you can't dish it out on the street. I also make references in traditional terms, but I have made it plain already that I consider any practice dealing with combat, a martial art. It is equally important to understand, that although these principles are here referenced to combat, they are applicable in all aspects of life henceforth becoming "a way of life".


I know career "white belts". They are people who expect everything to be handed to them. Nothing in life is free, and you shouldn't expect your martial arts training to be any different. You have to sacrifice and you have to sweat. You are not training for a dance demonstration , be prepared for discomfort. Everyone can agree that life is, at times, uncomfortable. Discomfort is a part of life and therefore of training.
                                                                                                                                                               
The following are key elements that I believe are essential to training.                               

Effort: Be self motivated. If you are not going to be self motivated, you are paying for nothing. You are wasting your time and everybody else's. If self defense does not interest you, don't do it. Go learn how to crochet or something else. Nobody is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to become a martial artist. If it is important to you, put out the effort. Show up for class, even if it is difficult or you are tired.  Pay attention, stop looking at the pretty girls, they don't like you anyway. Stop thinking about what other people think, or how silly you must look doing what you are doing. Do what you came to do and never give up. Eventually you will succeed. I know a man in his mid fifties that started taking our class. Nobody thought he would last through the first class, let alone a week. He would take five minutes to get up after falling to the ground, and he would breathe so heavily that you thought he would pass out. But he would never quit. Today, that man is a senior belt and he throws our 20 some year old students around with the best of them. He wanted it bad enough, and he didn't quit. He put out the effort.

Pain: It is the art of war... not the art of "hey do I look good in this uniform". If you have never experienced pain at your school it's time to take a serious look at your training. The event that you are training for, will have pain involved. It is an important part of the training to learn how to tolerate as well as inflict pain. You must be able to function, and carry on after you have been hit. And you must know how your opponent is going to react to pain. It is extremely important. However, for you sadistic people out there, I am NOT saying that you should train to the extent that you injure yourself needlessly, and keep doing it to learn how to "deal" with pain. You have one body, and you are not going to be much of a martial artist (or anything else for that matter), after you ruin your knees forever. There should be no severe or permanent injuries from your training. Soreness or minor injuries are common for martial artist, athletes, and military personnel, when they push their bodies to the limit. But if its your third time dislocating your elbow this month then you are an idiot.

Realism: If you are prancing around for 40 minutes out of a 45 minute class doing acrobatic jumps like a gazelle in heat, you better take a damn good look at what the hell you are training for. If you are training to fight off amorous gazelles, that is fine, but if you want to take down a man, you better be practicing how an actual opponent is going to feel. And you better be training on dealing with the most common attacks that men launch to hurt you. Are you actually going to have time to go to your gazelle stance, and launch a step spinning flying turning 720 degree flip kick? Everything in martial arts has its own "time and place". Learn what to use and when to use it. Keep your training as realistic as possible. Train to defend against knives, guns, and sucker punches. The emphasis of your training should be force on force exercises with real opponents in as close to a real situation as you can get it. The meat and potatoes of martial arts is in defeating a live, breathing, opponent.
Forms have a time and place, so do exotic weapons like swords, spears and axes.... but I don't usually worry about being attacked by a spear and ax wielding barbarian on main street. Do you? The meaty part of your training should be spent on what really threatens you. It doesn't have to look pretty. There are no right or wrong techniques, only effective and ineffective. And it matters very little what  they look like. When it all goes down it will never be pretty. Yeah, you look good in the dojo, all lined up marching up and down the floor moving all at the same time, but if this is all you are doing then you are in for a nasty surprise. If a military unit trains for war by parading, and doing no tactical training at all how do you think they will fare? Would you like to be in that unit when they meet the enemy? Better think about that for a sec...

Instructor: It is very simple. Some have it, and some do not. Unfortunately it is getting harder and harder to find good ones. They just don't make them like they used to. Today's schools are mixed in with Tae Bo and cardio Tai Chi and God knows what else to the point that you don't know if the person standing in front of you is there to teach you to defend yourself, or bring out that hidden six pack in you. Unfortunately it is hard for beginners to find good schools, let alone good instructors.
In many instances the instructor is more important than the martial art that is being taught. Good instructors are worth their weight in gold. You must never disrespect or argue with your instructor, even if you disagree, or you have previously been shown a "better" way. They are not your peers, and you are the one that is coming onto their property and  their class to receive their knowledge. Be like a sponge; absorb everything that works for you. Not everything will work for you, but make sure that you learn everything that does, and the "why" of everything that doesn't.

Here are some common pitfalls for Martial Artists:

 
Crouching turtle, leaping hyena:

Sadly, the martial arts are filled with armchair "experts", brimming with knowledge that they are all but too happy to impart on the unsuspecting, or uninformed individual. Everybody that has been in the arts for a while has heard the stories: (NO I did not make them up :)
-levitating warriors
-ninjas that attack without warning
-detailed instruction on how to beat "any man regardless of their size or ability"
-arduous training conducted in secret "I could tell you but I would have to kill you" locations
-black belt tests that require breathing underwater, walking on water, gargling upside down, or some other foolishness...
-a warrior that shoots fireballs from his armpits (I must acquire this skill)
-warrior spirits that chase you around in the middle of the night, and you have to fight them off before bedtime...
I could go on and on and on... Please note that I am not dogging on the old legends that are an important part of our heritage as martial artists. I am dogging on those that would tell their own made up stories as it happened to them.... sitting in their recliners, between puffs of their crack pipes.  They look at you in the eyes and tell you something like "yeah, I used to train in martial arts when I was younger... (puff puff) can't talk much about it though. I'm sworn to secrecy"..... and then the launch into a three hour monologue on how they were forced to catch flies at 100 mph with their eyelashes. And were attacked by mutated half tarantula, half human ninja warriors (no reference to sasha from the third grade). And this is only regarding traditional martial arts. There's also hordes of other "warrior" wannabes with expert degrees in military fields, and combat sports, who also faced similar hardships in life (in addition to being dropped as babies). To all those that are not familiar, please get the facts. And to you losers who aren't enough with what you are, you'll never be enough with anything else either.

Sport versus Martial Art:
We've already covered, that everything that involves combat is a martial art. So what about "combat sports" like boxing, fencing, wrestling. Or sport minded martial arts like Taekwondo? Many martial arts and sports are defined by who teaches them, however, there are some very important differences that must be taken into consideration. Like the absense of "rules" for instance. In sports there always are rules, like where and when you can hit, and there are legal and illegal techniques. In real war, there seldom is right or wrong. If you are still standing you are right. There are no medals awarded for second place. There is no second place at all. Even though you are still going to have your own set of rules like your personal moral ethics, military ROE (Rules of Engagement), or your department's policy (if in law enforcement), it is important to train yourself to utilize any and all options to your advantage. Athletes prepare themselves for a specific event in controlled conditions. I suppose it would be silly for a boxer to show up at the ring and run away, but in a real self defense situation, that is often what you should do. However, I disagree with some martial artists that consider themselves superior to said athletes just because they compete. Competing might test an isolated skill, but it develops that skill and tests it. I think that there is much to learn from our athletic counterparts. Anybody that has ever punched a boxer knows how much punishment they can take, and (a few seconds later) how much punching power they can deliver... always be ready to learn, especially from those that you think can teach you nothing.

Master Pee-pee:
Another foolish endeavor we as martial artist get into, is the "mine is better than yours" mentality. It sounds something like this: "Originally, there was Master Xin-pao-pin-gonzales-henderson from the Linu dynasty." (And then here comes the supporting evidence) "He fought Master Pee pee with the famous sword of repentance. And using the secret art of wishy-washy and the sitting bull drunken girlfriend technique he defeated him. (and the obvious conclusion:) therefore our style is superior to other styles, as it has been proven in combat. What? Just because your great grandfather beat up my grandfather, you can beat me? This is a "my dad can beat up your dad" issue. And some people need to grow up.  In the end your priority remains to fight and survive. You are not going to stop in the middle of combat, and abstain from using something because it doesn't belong to your "style". Pride assists your enemy to defeat you and harm you, your family, friends, and whoever or whatever else you are defending.

My art can beat up your art...
Here is another one: "The asian art of who-who is the original martial art. All other arts are derived from this one. That is why all other martial arts' kicking styles are so similar..." Like anybody actually cares. I guess that nobody fought anybody until your people "discovered" combat. There are only so many ways you can kick. And as far as I am concerned, martial art has been around on the planet as long as life has. "Martial art" literally means "art (or method) of war". It requires no holy cradle for origin. Through time, a particular "style" will evolve, morph and adapt, defining itself and acquiring a name... but it is still a martial art . Ever since Cruk, the caveman, picked up a club and bashed Ringo over the head over his girl, (those damn women) martial art has been. And just because a martial art reaches Montana, and becomes popular there, doesn't mean that the people of Montana had no "martial art" prior to that. Personally I think we all just share a huge martial art, kind of like musicians all share music. End of story.

Before I rob you I must ask you.... what is your rank again?
Rank is one of the necessary evils of martial arts. Most martial artist are below the level of black belt, and they toil for the magical piece of cloth that will make them invisible to enemy samurai, give them the power to leap over buildings, and make them immune to any attack from any number of opponents... to these people I say please... put the crack pipe down. Smoking that stuff is not good for you anyway. If it was as simple as that then there would really be no need for the martial arts period. I was talking to a police officer a few months ago that proudly said to me "I don't need to take any classes. I have a black belt in Karate since I was a kid". I laughed in his face. I pity his master for wasting his time on a pointless student that will never understand the essence of martial arts. I guess that the criminals that he goes to arrest will read the sign that says "warning black belt", and will know better than to attack him... even if they are hardened, armed, violent criminals that have done time in jail and are on pcp. Yes. They will have the self control to actually give a f--- that he is "trained". Take a soldier that has been out of the military for fifteen years... no training... how well will he shoot? how fit will he be? You think that bad guys don't train? Talk to a correctional officer. You'd be surprised. Ex-cons are fitter and meaner than you. And they have  very important advantages over you; They have initiative (they are attacking you), and they don't care about the consequences. People on the street aren't going to ask you if you have a black belt before they rob you. The only thing that matters is the skill of your reaction. Readiness is a perishable skill, and my friend the officer is betting his life on his ego. I hope he doesn't loose the bet. I don't gamble. Being a black belt only means that you have a general understanding of the martial art. How good is a general understanding of something if you have to defend your life with it?

The fact remains that anybody can be defeated at any place, any time, regardless of who you are and how "trained" you are. Be prepared.